China has escalated its threats over Nancy Pelosi’s potential visit to Taiwan this week and conducted naval exercises across the region, just hours before the US House Speaker was expected to arrive in East Asia.
Pelosi’s office announced that a Congressional delegation headed by the Speaker had departed on Sunday for Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea and Japan. The statement did not confirm if or when Pelosi would follow through with her plans to also visit Taiwan, the self-ruled island that Beijing claims is an inalienable part of its sovereign territory.
The purpose of the trip, which has further strained fragile China-US ties, is to “reaffirm America’s strong and unshakeable commitment to our allies and friends in the region”, Pelosi’s office said. The six-member delegation includes the heads of the House foreign affairs and armed services committees.
The American Chamber of Commerce in Singapore has said it will be holding an in-person event with Pelosi on Monday afternoon.
Last week, during their first video call since March, Xi Jinping told Joe Biden that the US was “playing with fire” by not stopping such visits by American delegations, which the Chinese government regards as “interference by external forces” in its internal affairs.
In a Chinese social media post on Saturday, Hu Xijin, an outspoken former state media editor, said “it is OK [for the People’s Liberation Army] to shoot down Pelosi’s plane” if it was escorted to Taiwan by US fighter jets.
In an earlier post on Twitter, the former head of a tabloid published by the Chinese Communist party’s flagship newspaper group said that China should “punish” Pelosi if she did not cancel her planned visit to Taiwan. “[The] PLA Air Force will surely make her visit a disgrace to herself and to the US,” Hu added.
“Pelosi is one of the most important national leaders in the US,” said Lu Xiang, a US expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing. “For people in her position, every move comes with consequences. If she visits Taiwan without the consent of China there would be serious consequences, including military consequences.”
In a demonstration of its capabilities, the PLA conducted live-fire exercises on Saturday in Pingtan, a coastal area in southeastern Fujian province about 125km from Taiwan. State media also broadcast footage of a Chinese destroyer firing its weapons in the South China Sea, which the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier group is believed to be sailing through after visiting Singapore.
China’s Maritime Safety Administration has warned vessels that the PLA will conduct more live-fire exercises in another area of the South China Sea on August 2 and August 3.
Additional reporting by Xinning Liu and Maiqi Ding in Beijing