Is Nancy Pelosi going to Taiwan in August, or not going? The most powerful Democrat in the US Congress and the Speaker of the House of Representatives can certainly be expected to do so. Apparently that’s what the Chinese leadership thinks, too, who on Monday tightened their warnings about a possible visit to the island republic by the 82-year-old.
President Joe Biden made it clear how the White House finds Pelosi’s possible trip. “I don’t think the military thinks it’s a good idea at the moment,” he said last week, not knowing the current status of the plans. It doesn’t take much imagination to read between the lines the concern of another escalating major conflict.
Ever since Russia invaded Ukraine, there have been fears that China is planning something similar for free Taiwan, which it sees as part of the communist People’s Republic and has repeatedly threatened to conquer. The US administration wants to avoid increasing tensions at a time when the confrontation with Russia requires the utmost attention.
Now Biden himself never misses an opportunity to refer to America’s “obligation” to support Taiwan in the event of an attack – and this repeatedly causes irritation. The US has pledged to preserve Taiwan’s defense capability. But what Washington would actually do in the event of a military attack is deliberately kept open.
Pelosi would be the senior Congressman to visit Taiwan — a title she appears to find attractive. As early as April, when the war was already raging in Ukraine, she was planning to travel when a Covid disease got in her way.
In principle, Pelosi has every right to make the trip – neither the White House nor Beijing have a say in that. On the one hand, it would be an important symbol of the fact that the USA, despite all the crises, is not forgetting the problems that democratic Taiwan has with its power-hungry neighbor.
On the other hand, the timing is more than delicate, since the trip could be seen as a provocation, while Washington actually wants to relax bilateral relations. Beijing has threatened serious consequences should Pelosi actually fly — consequences that Washington security experts say could destabilize the region.
The logistics are apparently particularly complicated: Pelosi would fly in a military plane, the trip would have to be protected accordingly, with all the risks of a possible confrontation.
The fact that Biden made his discomfort public created another dilemma: If Pelosi now cancels her unannounced trip, Beijing could take this as a sign that threats are working. The Sino-US relationship remains complicated.