The Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, began her Asia tour on Monday with a first stop in Singapore, continuing uncertainty surrounding a stopover in Taiwan that could exacerbate already tense relations between Beijing and Washington.
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In Singapore, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong called on her to work for “stable” relations with Beijing. A meeting with the president of the city state is also planned.
Pelosi announced on Sunday that she was leading “a congressional delegation to reaffirm America’s unwavering commitment to its allies and friends in the Indo-Pacific region.”
“In Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea and Japan, we will hold high-level meetings to discuss how we can promote our common values and interests,” she said in her way, without mentioning Taiwan in the post.
Tensions between the United States and China have risen for weeks over reports that Ms Pelosi was traveling to the island of Taiwan, which China considers part of its territory.
“If the Speaker of the House of Representatives […] If it goes to Taiwan, China will definitely take firm and strong countermeasures to protect its sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Chinese diplomatic spokesman Zhao Lijian warned once again on Monday.
He warned that the Chinese military “will not sit idly by”.
Representatives of US officials often travel to Taiwan to show their support. But the visit by Mrs. Pelosi, one of the state’s most senior figures and a heavyweight in American political life, was unprecedented since her predecessor, Newt Gingrich, in 1997.
The United States pursues a so-called “strategic ambivalence” diplomacy toward Taiwan that involves recognizing only one Chinese government in Beijing, while continuing to provide decisive support to Taipei, but refrained from saying whether they would. Defend the island militarily in case of invasion.
President Joe Biden is a key figure in the Democratic majority. Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan will singularly complicate the task of American diplomacy trying not to poison relations with China.
It also comes at a time of rising military tensions in the region.
Last week, in a telephone interview with Joe Biden, Chinese President Xi Jinping called on his counterpart not to “play with fire.”
On Monday, 4,000 American and Indonesian troops began a major military exercise, but Washington assured that the exercises did not target any country.
The Taiwanese military, for its part, held its most important annual military exercises last week, including simulations of intercepting Chinese attacks.
Meanwhile, the US aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and its flotilla departed Singapore on a scheduled mission towards the South China Sea, the US Navy said.
On Saturday, in response, China conducted a “live fire” military exercise in the Taiwan Strait – but much closer to China’s coast.
Ms. Washington tried to play down Pelosi’s visit and called on Chinese leaders to remain calm.
“We have many differences when it comes to Taiwan, but over the past forty years we have managed those differences and done so in a way that preserves peace and stability,” the secretary of state said Friday.
In Taiwan, opinion is divided over Ms Pelosi’s visit, but ruling party and opposition figures say the island should not bow to Chinese pressure.
“If Pelosi cancels or postpones her visit, it will be a win for the Chinese government and for Xi because it shows that the pressure he exerted has had some desired effects,” Hung Chin-fu from National Cheng told AFP. Kung University, Taiwan.