Nancy Pelosi has confirmed her trip to Asia next week. On the itinerary are four countries and fuel stops in Hawaii. She and her congressional delegation will visit Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea, and Japan. There is no mention of a stop in Taiwan.

Did the Speaker blink? China has grown increasingly aggressive in its objections to Pelosi’s trip to Asia, which she originally said would include a visit to Taiwan. Pelosi and her delegation left today. Her statement included the subjects of discussion on the agenda.

“Today, our Congressional delegation travels to the Indo-Pacific to reaffirm America’s strong and unshakeable commitment to our allies and friends in the region,” Pelosi said in the release.

“In Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea and Japan, our delegation will hold high-level meetings to discuss how we can further advance our shared interests and values, including peace and security, economic growth and trade, the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate crisis, human rights and democratic governance,” she continued.

Pelosi added, “Under the strong leadership of President Biden, America is firmly committed to smart, strategic engagement in the region, understanding that a free and flourishing Indo-Pacific is crucial to prosperity in our nation and around the globe.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping warned against any perceived meddling in Beijing’s dealings with Taiwan in a phone call Thursday with President Biden. “Those who play with fire will perish by it. It is hoped that the US will be clear-eyed about this,” a Chinese readout of the Biden-Xi call said. The Biden administration has not released a transcript of the phone call. The readout released by the White House was rather brief, though the conversation lasted over two hours. (emphasis mine)

President Joseph R. Biden Jr. spoke today with President Xi Jinping of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The call was a part of the Biden Administration’s efforts to maintain and deepen lines of communication between the United States and the PRC and responsibly manage our differences and work together where our interests align. The call follows the two leaders’ conversation on March 18th and a series of conversations between high-level U.S. and PRC officials. The two presidents discussed a range of issues important to the bilateral relationship and other regional and global issues, and tasked their teams to continue following up on today’s conversation, in particular to address climate change and health security. On Taiwan, President Biden underscored that the United States policy has not changed and that the United States strongly opposes unilateral efforts to change the status quo or undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.

It’s a delicate dance the White House finds itself in since Pelosi first announced her intention to visit Taiwan. No one was suggesting a change in the One China policy but Xi Jinping is easily angered. Pelosi would be the highest-ranking elected American official to visit Taiwan since then-Speaker Newt Gingrich in 1997. I’m no fan of Pelosi but she does have a record of confronting China on human rights. It is reported that the Biden administration didn’t “explicitly” urge Pelosi to skip Taiwan but they have been careful to reassure China that a visit would not signal a change in policy.

The United States switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979, but maintains informal relations with the island. Washington is obligated by federal law to see that Taiwan has the means to defend itself.

Washington’s “One China policy” says it takes no position on the status of the two sides but wants their dispute resolved peacefully. Beijing promotes an alternative “One China principle” that says they are one country and the Communist Party is its leader.

There’s been no official threat issued by China if Pelosi goes to Taiwan but the Ministry of Defense has made his position clear.

Beijing has given no details of how it might react if Pelosi goes to Taiwan, but the Ministry of Defense warned last week the military would take “strong measures to thwart any external interference.” The foreign ministry said that “those who play with fire will perish by it.”

The ruling party’s military wing, the People’s Liberation Army, has flown growing numbers of fighter planes and bombers around Taiwan to intimidate the island.

“The Air Force’s multi-type fighter jets fly around the treasured island of the motherland, tempering and enhancing the ability to maintain national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” military spokesman Col. Shen Jinke said on Sunday, referring to Taiwan.

Whether the threats officially come from Xi or from his military, it’s clear that there is a real possibility that Pelosi’s plane may be at risk. Times have changed and China’s threats have to be taken more seriously than they might have been in the past. Its military build-up continues and China is trying to establish itself as dominant on the world stage. What if China shot Pelosi’s plane out of the sky to show it means business when it comes to Taiwan? Is her trip worth that risk?

I think Pelosi made a mistake when she first announced she would go to Taiwan. She should have just gone and not made a big deal about it. Now China and the United States are in face-saving mode. If Pelosi doesn’t go, we look weak and timid. If she does go, she’ll be reduced to sneaking in quietly. We don’t want China to invade Taiwan as Russia did in Ukraine, which is a real concern now. If that were to happen, the United States is obligated to defend Taiwan. The United States would be at war with China.

When push comes to shove, I hope she goes to Taiwan. Tensions are building in the region and China is throwing its weight around, whether with aircraft or in the Taiwan Strait. One lesson learned from Ukraine has been that world leaders should just show up and show support without fanfare before the fact. The visit signals support. Then the visitor gets out. Get in and get out. That’s what Pelosi should have done in the first place.

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