WASHINGTON — The White House tried on Monday to lower tensions over House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s expected visit to Taiwan, which China has already said would be considered a serious provocation.
“There’s no reason for this to escalate,” National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said at a White House briefing on Monday, reiterating that the Biden administration continues to endorse the “One China” policy.
“The speaker has a right to visit Taiwan, and a speaker of the House has visited Taiwan before without incident, as have many members of Congress, including this year,” Kirby said. “The world has seen the United States government be very clear that nothing has changed — nothing has changed — about our One China policy.”
The One China policy, which has been in place for decades, effectively concedes that Taiwan is a Chinese territory. Bound by a 1979 law to supply Taiwan with weapons, the U.S. has maintained an ambiguous position on whether it would come to Taiwan’s aid in the event of a Chinese invasion.
Beijing sees the self-governing island’s independence movement as a threat, one it could potentially answer with military force, although Taiwan has not yet taken the step of formally declaring independence from its vastly more powerful neighbor.
“We don't support Taiwan independence,” Kirby reasserted on Monday, a view that is consistent with that of previous administrations.
Then-Speaker Newt Gingrich visited Taiwan in 1997, the last House leader to do so. Since then, China’s regional influence has only increased, as has its confidence as a superpower.
Pelosi had initially intended to visit Taiwan in April, but a coronavirus infection scuttled those plans. She is now expected to arrive in Taiwan on Tuesday.
China bristled at the news. "If the U.S. insists on going down the wrong path, China will definitely take resolute and forceful measures to firmly defend its national sovereignty and territorial integrity," a Chinese Foreign Ministry official said the day after her intentions were made public.
The U.S. and its allies are still preoccupied with Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine. The fear of provoking a second nuclear power with enormous regional influence remains a top concern, and Kirby labored on Monday to depict Pelosi’s visit as distinct from the Biden administration’s own diplomatic priorities.
“We will not take the bait or engage in saber-rattling,” Kirby said. “There is no reason it should spark some sort of conflict,” he added of the speaker’s visit at another point during Monday’s briefing.
“At the same time, we will not be intimidated,” he said, acknowledging the immensely fraught geopolitical situation into which Pelosi may be venturing. During the past week, China and Taiwan have held competing military drills.
“We’re going to make sure that she has a safe and secure visit — because that’s our responsibility,” Kirby said. Pelosi is traveling to Asia on a military transport, giving the visit an official imprimatur the White House would prefer to downplay.
Pelosi began her visit to East Asia with a trip to Singapore. Her itinerary includes stops in Malaysia, South Korea and Japan. Kirby professed not to know what her message might be if she does, as expected, make a stop in Taiwan.
“I can’t speak for what Speaker Pelosi may say or do on this trip,” he said.