Amid escalating tensions between Washington and Beijing, a possible visit to Taiwan by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has prompted threats from the Chinese government, including remarks by a journalist with a state-controlled media apparatus suggesting that a plane carrying the American lawmaker could be shot down if it were to travel there alongside U.S. military aircraft, as the New York Post reports.
“If U.S. fighter jets escort Pelosi’s plane into Taiwan, it is [an] invasion. The [People’s Liberation Army] has the right to forcibly dispel Pelosi’s plane and the U.S. fighter jets, including firing warning shots and making tactical movement of obstruction,” wrote Hu Xijin, formerly of the Global Times, in a since-deleted tweet. “If ineffective, then shoot them down,” the post added menacingly.
The recent tensions began to mount ahead of a scheduled tour by Pelosi of several Asian countries, reported to include Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, and Singapore, a trip which was also thought to encompass a possible stop in Taiwan for the purposes of demonstrating American solidarity with the self-governing territory in the face of Chinese aggression.
Pelosi herself did not confirm whether she would, in fact, head to Taiwan, stating on Friday, “I don’t ever talk about my travel because as some of you know, it’s a security issue,” but also later adding, “I’m very excited if – should we go – to the countries that we, you’ll be hearing about along the way.”
The White House also remained essentially mum on Pelosi’s plans, with press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre stating, “We’re just not going to speak on her schedule. As we have said multiple times, we give advice and guidance to any members of Congress where they travel – to the region they travel, whether an – advice on [the] geopolitical situation in the region or in the country, and any national security issues that may arise, but again, I’m not going to speak to a hypothetical.”
President Joe Biden himself recently indicated that American military leaders had expressed a belief that a stop in Taiwan by Pelosi was “not a good idea now,” according to the Post, and Chinese President Xi Jinping was reported to have issued yet another warning after a Thursday phone call with the commander in chief, posting to his country’s foreign ministry website, “Those who play with fire will perish by it. It is hoped that the U.S. will be clear-eyed about this,” as the Financial Times noted.
As uncertainty continued to surround Pelosi’s itinerary as of Saturday, Hu issued another warning, saying on Twitter, “If Pelosi really visits Taiwan as planned, the Tsai Ing-wen authorities are accomplices. The mainland will definitely carry out severe punishment actions on Taiwan at the same time. The unbearable consequences will fall on Tsai authorities,” according to the Washington Examiner.
Naval exercises announced
In what was surely intended to be a strong show of resolve in the face of perceived American hostility, the Chinese military declared its plan to hold live-fire naval exercises over the weekend in the Taiwan strait, as Fox News reported.
According to Chinese state media, the exercises would be occurring over a period of 13 hours and will happen as American military officials continue shifting forces into the South China Sea.
A statement issued by Navy spokesperson Lt. Mark Langford confirmed that the USS Ronald Reagan was in the waters near Taiwan, saying also, “[a]s a matter of policy, we do not discuss future ship movements; however I will add that Reagan is continuing normal, scheduled operations as part of her routine patrol in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific.”
World on edge
Though Biden himself may be nervous about Pelosi’s travels, a number of Republicans, including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich disagreed, suggesting that if the lawmaker backtracks now, China will achieve a “victory of sorts” and asserting that the U.S. “cannot allow the Chinese communist dictatorship to think that it can bully and American speaker of the House. …It’s very important to show strength…that we’re real, and we’re not, just as Mao called us, a paper tiger.”
While the notion that an American politician would face real risk of the sort floated by Hu may seem outlandish to some, China expert Gordon Chang explained to Fox News on Friday that “[t]his very well may not be bluster. …China is lashing out. …This is an extremely dangerous regime at this moment,” and whether or not Pelosi’s journey ends up triggering a military confrontation, only time will tell.