House Speaker Nancy Pelosi plans to depart Friday for a tour of Asia, though whether she stops in Taiwan remains uncertain, a person familiar with the plans said.
Pelosi’s trip includes stops in Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and Singapore – all US allies in the region.
But a drop-in to self-governing Taiwan was still only tentative as China issues warnings about the House speaker making a possible visit and US-China relations are at a low point.
Pelosi is bringing a delegation of fellow lawmakers on the visit. She has refused to answer reporters’ inquiries about her plans, saying on Wednesday in response to a question about a potential Taiwan visit, “I never talk about my travel. It’s a danger to me.”
Taiwan has emerged as a serious point of conflict between the US and China, as US officials fear a more imminent Chinese move on the self-governing island. National security officials have quietly worked to convince Pelosi of the risks her potential trip to Taiwan could pose during a highly sensitive moment.
In a lengthy and candid phone call on Thursday, Chinese President Xi Jinping issued a stern warning to President Joe Biden over the issue.
“Public opinion shall not be violated, and if you play with fire you get burned. I hope the US side can see this clearly,” he told Biden, according to China’s state news agency.
Pelosi would be the first sitting US House speaker to visit Taiwan since Newt Gingrich went there in 1997.
Pressure campaign on Congress
The Chinese embassy to the United States has urged members of Congress to tell Pelosi not to make the trip, which was planned for April before Pelosi tested positive for Covid-19.
“I would say there’s been a full court press from the Chinese embassy to discourage a trip to Taiwan,” Washington Democratic Rep. Rick Larsen, the co-chair of Congress’ US-China working group, told CNN. “I just don’t think it’s their business to tell us what we ought to be doing. That was my message back.”
Larsen said he met with China’s San Francisco Consul General in Seattle on Monday, and he also told Larsen to discourage Pelosi from traveling to Taiwan. The consulate did not respond to requests for comment.
“It’s not my job to tell the speaker what the speaker does or doesn’t do,” said Larsen. “She has far more experience in these things than I do. And so, I will trust her judgment.”
Liu Pengyu, spokesperson of the Chinese Embassy in the US, responded that his office is in “regular contact” with members of Congress, including Larsen.
“On the Taiwan question, we have made our stance loud and clear,” Liu said. “The Embassy is making all our efforts to prevent the peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and the stability of China-US relations being damaged by the potential visit of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan.”
“We hope serious consequences could be avoided,” he added. “This is in the common interests of both China and the US.”
Democrats and Republicans in Congress said it was Pelosi’s right to travel to Taiwan.
“It is Speaker Pelosi’s decision alone on whether or not to travel to Taiwan, not any other country,” said Illinois Rep. Darin LaHood, Larsen’s Republican counterpart on the US-China working group. “In our democratic system – we operate with separate but equal branches of government.
“It is inappropriate for foreign governments, including the Chinese government, to attempt to influence the ability or the right to travel for the Speaker, Members of Congress, or other US government officials to Taiwan or anywhere else around the world,” LaHood added.
Other members appeared to be more cautious about the potential, diplomatically sensitive trip.
California Democratic Rep. Judy Chu, the first Chinese American woman elected to Congress, said she has “always supported Taiwan.”
But when asked whether a Taiwan trip now would send the wrong message, Chu said, “You could look at it two ways. One is that the relationships are very strained right now. But on the other hand, you could say maybe that’s when Taiwan also needs to be shown the strength and the support.”
When asked what she thought, Chu said, “I leave it up to those who are going to make that decision.”
This story has been updated with additional background information.