Representative Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, is at the center of a diplomatic storm amid reports that she plans to visit Taiwan next month.

The Financial Times reported that Pelosi planned to visit Taiwan in August, making up for a trip in April that had to be canceled when Pelosi contracted COVID-19. “Six people familiar with the situation said that Pelosi would take a delegation to Taiwan in August,” wrote Demetri Sevastopulo and Kathrin Hille of FT. The trip would be part of a wider Asia tour that will also include stops in Japan, Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia.

There has been no official confirmation of the trip yet. Taiwan’s foreign ministry said “it had not received any information about a planned visit to Taiwan by Pelosi”, according to Taiwan’s Central News Agency. The ministry added that “it always welcomes the visit of members of the United States Congress to the country”.

In response to an email request from The Diplomat, Taiwan’s de facto Embassy to the United States, Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office, said, “We have no further information to share at this time. “.

Pelosi also declined to comment on travel news, telling reporters on July 21, “I never discuss my travel plans…it’s a safety issue.”

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The saga took a dramatic turn on July 22, when US President Joe Biden told reporters that the US military thought such a trip was “not a good idea right now”.

According to Politico, “White House and Department of Defense officials have already quietly relayed the risks of a potential trip to Pelosi’s office.” But with Biden’s public warning, the dispute is now playing out in plain sight.

Responding to reporters’ questions, Pelosi suggested that Biden’s comments stemmed from fear that “our plane might be shot down or something by the Chinese. I don’t know exactly…I didn’t hear it from the president.

Pelosi added more generally that “it is important for us to show our support for Taiwan”, while stressing that “none of us have ever said that we are for independence when it comes to Taiwan. It’s up to Taiwan to decide.

Amid the apparent disagreement between the White House and Pelosi’s office, questions turned to potential actions China could take in response.

Asked about Pelosi’s possible trip at a July 25 press conference, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said, “The Chinese side has made it clear to the US side of our serious concern about President Pelosi’s potential visit to Taiwan and our strong opposition to the visit.”

Zhao added, “We are fully prepared for any eventuality. If the US side insists on making this visit, the Chinese side will take firm and strong measures to safeguard our sovereignty and territorial integrity. »

It’s pretty boilerplate language from China about Taiwan-US interactions, and there’s usually little to no concrete reaction from Beijing after such visits. However, this time may be different, if the reports are correct that China is warning more forcefully than normal against Pelosi’s trip. The Washington Post’s Josh Rogin, for example, wrote that “administration officials tell me they have special cause for concern right now. China, they say, is planning a potentially destabilizing response.

There are certainly reasons to suggest that Beijing would feel compelled to respond vigorously. China’s political elites vie for position ahead of the Party Congress which takes place once every five years. Xi Jinping, currently seeking an unprecedented third term as leader of the Communist Party, cannot afford to be seen as weak in Taiwan.

More broadly, the Chinese government has already increased the volume of its warnings about US engagement with Taiwan, concerned about a gradual increase in the frequency and scope of such exchanges. At the Shangri-La dialogue in June, Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe devoted most of his remarks to strident warnings about China’s resolve in Taiwan.

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“If anyone dares to secede Taiwan from China – let me be clear – we will not hesitate to fight,” Wei said. “We will fight at all costs and we will fight until the end.”

More recently, Chinese officials have begun to respond to the Biden administration’s calls for “guardrails” in China-US relations by pointing to previous US engagements in Taiwan.

“The ‘guardrails’ of China-US relations already exist – the three China-US joint communiqués,” a Foreign Ministry spokesperson said on July 7. “…The United States must respect the provisions of the joint communiqués and the commitments that it has made in China.

If the United States goes ahead with another unprecedented trip to Taiwan, Beijing may well feel its warnings have no effect – and see the need to up the ante.

The Global Times, long a mouthpiece for nationalist sentiments in China, said Pelosi’s visit would be a “strategic-level provocation” and urged China “to make clear its resolve and show its strength, and let the American side decide to avoid a crisis”. In other words, Xi is under pressure to issue strident warnings – and back them up if the visit continues.

On the other hand, the Biden administration is now under political pressure to make sure the trip happens.

Republican Senator Ben Sasse has made it clear that he would view a decision to postpone Pelosi’s trip as a “weakness”.

“President Pelosi should visit Taiwan and President Biden should make it very clear to President Xi that there is nothing the Chinese Communist Party can do about this,” he said in a statement. “More weakness and self-deterrence. It’s very simple: Taiwan is an ally, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives should meet with the Taiwanese men and women who stare at the threat from Communist China.

Other Republicans have also spoken out to urge Pelosi to go ahead with the trip, suggesting that if the trip is canceled it would amount to capitulating to Beijing. Now, a high-stakes political game is underway, and Beijing or Washington are about to swallow some very public embarrassment at a politically sensitive time.

The current imbroglio is exactly why US congressional visits to Taiwan are usually not announced in advance. In November 2021, for example, four US senators and two representatives visited Taiwan. As Brian Hioe noted for The Diplomat at the time, “[T]The names of the visiting politicians were not initially confirmed by the Tsai administration, and the Foreign Ministry did not issue its official press release on the visit until November 15. It was several days after the departure of the delegation.

Similarly, a visit by three other US senators in June 2021 was not announced in advance. In both cases, US lawmakers were traveling aboard US military aircraft on wider tours of Asia before making their unprecedented stops in Taiwan. These are exactly the circumstances under which Pelosi reportedly took a congressional delegation to Taiwan in August.

The main difference is that Pelosi’s planned trip is now incredibly public, greatly increasing the pressure on the Chinese government to do something to stop it. And strident warnings from China are mounting calls for the Biden administration — itself facing a tough midterm test in November — not to bow to pressure from Beijing.

Biden and Xi are expected to hold virtual talks next week. Pelosi’s potential trip to Taiwan will certainly be on the agenda. Ultimately, however, Pelosi — not the White House — will make the decision whether or not to travel.