Pelosi’s planned visit to Taiwan raises concerns in the U.S. and China

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s plans to travel to Taiwan has created a stir in both Beijing and Washington. Susan Shirk, chair of the 21st Century China Center at UC San Diego and a former member of the Clinton administration, and Daniel Blumenthal, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a former senior director in the Defense Department under George W. Bush, join Amna Nawaz to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's plan to visit Taiwan has created a stir in both Beijing and Washington.

    China has warned of serious consequences if Pelosi visits the self-governing island nation that China claims as its own territory. If she goes through her plans, Pelosi would be the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Taiwan in over 25 years, at a time when U.S.-China relations are on shaky ground. The White House is expressing concern.

    Amna Nawaz has the story.

    A city at a standstill, as air raid sirens echo through the empty streets of Taipei. The drills were long planned, preparing for a potential Chinese invasion. But they come as Taiwan also prepares for a potential visit from U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, news met with a stern warning from Chinese officials.

  • Zhao Lijian, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman (through translator):

    Suppose the U.S. side clings obstinately to its misconduct. China is bound to take resolute and powerful measures to safeguard its national sovereignty and territorial integrity. All consequences entailed from that should be completely borne by the United States.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    When asked about a possible Pelosi visit last week, President Biden was not supportive.

  • President Joe Biden:

    The military thinks it's not a good idea right now. But I don't know what the status of it is.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Pelosi, a staunch China critic and vocal Taiwan supporter, was asked about the president's remarks the following day.

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA):

    The inference to draw on from your comment is that my going there is problematic. I think what the president was saying is the — maybe the military was afraid our plane would get shot down or something like that.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    To date, her office has not officially confirmed or denied a possible trip.

    Communist China has never controlled democratic Taiwan and considers it a breakaway province. Beijing opposes official relations between Taipei and Washington. Taiwan lies just 100 miles off the coast of China and controls islands near the mainland. And since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Taiwan fears that China could follow suit.

    President Biden has repeatedly said the U.S. would respond militarily if China attacked Taiwan.

  • Question:

    Are you willing to get involved militarily to defend Taiwan if it comes to that?

  • President Joe Biden:

    Yes.

  • Question:

    You are?

  • President Joe Biden:

    That's the commitment we made.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    But that goes further than existing U.S. policy. The Taiwan Relations Act says America will enable Taiwan to defend itself. This week's annual Taiwanese military drills involving naval vessels, fighter jets and overseen by President Tsai Ing-wen came as China has dialed up military activity around Taiwan.

    In June, Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe pledged to — quote — "crush" any independence effort by Taiwan and issued this message to the U.S.

  • Wei Fenghe, Chinese Defense Minister (through translator):

    If someone forces a war on China, the PLA will not flinch.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Should Speaker Pelosi visit, she would be the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Taiwan since 1997.

    For more on this now, we get two views.

    Susan Shirk is the chair of the 21st Century China Center at University of California in San Diego. She was deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asia and Pacific affairs during the Clinton administration. And Daniel Blumenthal is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. He was senior director for China, Taiwan and Mongolia at the Defense Department during the George W. Bush administration.

    Welcome to you both. Thank you for being here.

    Susan, I will start with you.

    You have said you don't think that Speaker Pelosi should go to Taiwan. Why is that? What are the risks you fear if she does go?

    Susan Shirk, University of California, San Diego: Well, I am really worried about it. I'm losing sleep about it, worrying that it might spark a military crisis that would threaten Taiwan's 23 million people and could very well draw in U.S. forces.

    So, why is it so risky? It's because of the situation, the domestic situation in China right now is extremely tense in the months leading up to the 20th party Congress, when Xi Jinping hopes to get an unprecedented third term, and when the party elite is gathering at the summer retreat at Beidaihe.

    So the risk is that a visit by Speaker Pelosi would be viewed as a humiliation of Xi Jinping's leadership, including by him himself, and that…

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Let me bring it Dan Blumenthal here.

    Then, Dan, do you share Susan's concern? Could this provoke some kind of response from China? We should note it's unusual for President Biden to cite the military in saying that's not why he believes it's a good idea right now. What do you make of that?

  • Daniel Blumenthal, American Enterprise Institute:

    Well, it's unfortunate that he made those comments, because, obviously, the House and Senate are different branches of government. And Speaker Pelosi has every right to visit.

    And, of course, President Biden should have been able to keep the option open, which is to tell the truth to China, which is, he doesn't have any control at the end of the day over what Speaker Pelosi does.

    But I do not agree. I think that she should go. I believe she has to go at this point. I think anything less than that would be — would just invite more intimidation, more bullying. There's never a good time. Xi Jinping — the reason we have been having this debate is because Xi Jinping and his PLA has been — have been stepping up their coercion of Taiwan, trying to intimidate us, and trying to intimidate Taiwan and break the world of the Taiwan people.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Susan, what about that?

    Now, if she doesn't go, does it look like that she's giving into Chinese intimidation? What message would that send?

  • Susan Shirk:

    Well, I think it would indicate that we're being prudent, and that, sure, everyone wants to stand up against Xi Jinping's China now.

    But given the misjudgments that Xi himself has made in the last couple of years, such as his draconian approach to COVID, cracking down on the private sector, aligning with Russia in the Ukraine, we can't be confident that he's going to behave in a prudent manner. And he could really launch some kind of serious military response against Taiwan.

    So it's important for us to behave prudently. Speaker Pelosi should make clear that this is her decision, it's not President Biden's decision, because, of course, there are going to be a lot of domestic political consequences in the United States. There will be a lot of criticism from Republicans and some Democrats that Biden is caving into China, just as we heard.

    So I think she needs to take this on herself. Of course, she's the Democratic speaker of the House. She wants the Democrats to do well in the midterm and in 2024. So this is a time to just postpone. Don't say you're not going. Simply say, timing isn't right for me. I'm not going.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Dan, what about that?

    Given domestic pressure here at home, given the unpredictability — I'm not sure if you share that — of what we could expect in the way of a response from China, is there a merit to postponing that trip?

  • Dan Blumenthal:

    No, there's no merit to it.

    In fact, if it was done now, given what leaked out, it would — no spin would fix the fact that it would look like a climb-down, that we're giving into China's increased rhetoric, its increased bullying. Nothing could invite more intimidation, more bullying, more interference into our own democratic processes than that sort of action.

    In fact, because it's such a bipartisan issue, I think the speaker might be well-served to take along a high-ranking Republican. There's great bipartisan support for this. China is trying to redefine the one China policy, and we cannot let them do that. We have a one China policy.

    This is completely consistent with the one China policy. Every day that it intrudes upon Taiwan's air defense zones, every day that it claims that the waters around Taiwan are its sovereign territory is a day that it's coercing Taiwan and it's violating its commitments to us.

    Its fundamental commitment is a peaceful resolution of the Taiwan issue, and it is violating those fundamental commitments. We're not changing policy. Speaker Pelosi's visit would be consistent with years of precedent.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    But, Dan, in just the few seconds we have left, I have to ask, are you confident that her trip would not provoke any kind of escalation from China?

  • Dan Blumenthal:

    Well, China is looking to escalate and whether she goes or not. So it would probably lead to China claiming the airspace over Taiwan, doing things of that nature, flying over Taiwan for the first time, that sort of thing.

    So China is going to escalate. China's incremental, creeping escalation, its creeping undermining of Taiwan's sovereignty and political will is going to continue whether she goes or not.

    If she goes, I think we will be in a better position to stand up to this kind of bullying.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    We will be following, for sure, a big potential trip, we should say. Has not been confirmed or denied. And we will be following it, for sure.

    Thank you both for your time, Susan Shirk and Dan Blumenthal. Thank you.

  • Dan Blumenthal:

    Thank you very much.

  • Susan Shirk:

    Thank you.

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