US sees China plotting military ‘provocations’
President Joe Biden’s administration has warned that China is poised to stoke geopolitical tensions around Taiwan, perhaps through military “provocations,” raising the risk of an unintended escalation in Beijing’s row with Washington over US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s possible visit to the self-governing island.
“China appears to be positioning itself to potentially take further steps in the coming days and perhaps over longer time horizons,” US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Monday. “These potential steps from China could include military provocations, such as firing missiles in the Taiwan Strait or around Taiwan, operations that break historical norms such as large-scale air entry into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone . . . air or naval activities that cross the median line and military exercises that could be highly publicized.”
Kirby made his comments after Reuters, CNN, and other media outlets reported that Pelosi would visit Taiwan, in defiance of China’s warnings of a possible military response. The California Democrat is reportedly scheduled to arrive in Taipei on Tuesday as part of a five-stop trip through Asia-Pacific that began over the weekend.
Beijing has repeatedly warned that such a visit would damage its relations with Washington and violate the US’ ‘One China’ policy of acknowledging the mainland’s claim of sovereignty over Taiwan, which it views as a breakaway province. Kirby repeatedly emphasized that Biden’s administration had no control over Pelosi’s possible visit, given that Congress is an independent branch of government, and that her trip wouldn’t reflect any change in US policy.
“The speaker has the right to visit Taiwan, and the speaker of the House has visited Taiwan without incident,” said Kirby, alluding to a 1997 trip by Newt Gingrich. He added, “Nothing has changed about our One China policy … We have said that we do not support Taiwan independence, and we have said that we expect cross-strait differences to be resolved by peaceful means.”
That position was reiterated when Biden spoke by telephone with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Kirby said. “There is no reason for Beijing to turn a potential visit consistent with longstanding US policy into some sort of crisis or conflict, or use it as a pretext to increase aggressive military activity in or around the Taiwan Strait.”
He said any further steps by China to exploit the Pelosi controversy would continue “concerning trend lines that we’ve seen in recent years, but some could be of a different scope and scale.”
The White House critique of alleged Chinese provocations is ironic, given that Beijing has repeatedly accused the US of provocative meddling in Taiwan and elsewhere around the world. A US Navy strike group, led by the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier, may be heading toward Chinese waters amid the latest tensions with Beijing, a Chinese report suggested on Monday.
Asked whether Pelosi’s trip could put her or the Taiwanese people at risk, Kirby said the US would “make sure that she has a safe and secure visit.” He said that while Washington doesn’t expect a direct attack, Chinese threats and provocations could trigger a conflict.
“It does increase the risk of miscalculation, which could lead to unintended consequences,” Kirby said. He added, “We and countries around the world believe escalation serves no one. Beijing’s actions could have unintended consequences that only serve to increase tensions. Meanwhile, our actions are not threatening, and they break no new ground.
“Nothing about this potential visit . . . would change the status quo, and the world should reject any PRC effort to use it to do so. We will not take the bait, or engage in saber rattling. At the same time, we will not be intimidated. We will keep operating in the seas and the skies of the Western Pacific as we have for decades.”