Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi hinted Thursday that the military is concerned her plane might be shot down by China if she visits Taiwan. File Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI | License Photo
July 22 (UPI) -- U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi hinted that the Pentagon expressed concern her plane "would get shot down" by the Chinese if she makes a rumored visit to Taiwan this summer.
The California Democrat is planning a trip to the self-governing island next month, a report in the Financial Times earlier this week claimed, drawing an angry response from Beijing.
Pelosi refused to confirm the trip during a weekly press conference Thursday, saying "I don't ever discuss my travel plans."
"You never even hear me say if I'm going to London, because it is a security issue," she said.
Pelosi was asked about a comment by U.S. President Joe Biden on Wednesday that the military "thinks it's not a good idea" that she travel to the island of 23 million.
"I think what the President was saying is -- maybe the military was afraid our plane would get shot down or something like that by the Chinese," Pelosi responded.
"I don't know exactly," she added. "I've heard it anecdotally, but I haven't heard it from the president."
After warning against a Pelosi visit earlier this week, Beijing addressed the proposed trip again on Thursday, saying it would "have a severe negative impact on the political foundation of China-U.S. relations."
"Should the U.S. side insist on making the visit, China will act strongly to resolutely respond to it and take countermeasures," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said at a press briefing. "We mean what we say."
Wang did not specify what the countermeasures would be. An opinion piece in China's state-run Global Times on Tuesday suggested that Beijing establish a no-fly zone over Taiwan and "escort" Pelosi's flight with Chinese air force warplanes.
Pelosi's visit would be the first to Taiwan by a House speaker since Republican Newt Gingrich met then-President Lee Teng-hui in 1997. She had originally been rumored to make the trip in April during a scheduled Asia tour, drawing a similar response then from China, but her travel plans were canceled after she tested positive for COVID-19.
Beijing views Taiwan as a wayward province and has vowed to retake it by force if necessary.
The democratic island has become perhaps the focal point of contention in the relationship between Beijing and Washington, as concern about China's intentions grows in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which is in its fifth month.
Pelosi called China's threat against Taiwan "a very major issue" on Thursday.
"It's important for us to show support for Taiwan," she said, but added that Washington has not advocated for Taiwanese independence.
"That's up to Taiwan to decide," Pelosi said.
Under the "One China" policy, Washington recognizes Beijing's position that there is only one Chinese government. However, the United States maintains a "robust unofficial relationship" with Taiwan -- including weapons sales -- and does not concede China's sovereignty over the island.
China has ratcheted up military provocations over the past several months, with frequent incursions into Taiwan's Air Defense Identification Zone. Beijing also recently amplified its sovereignty claims to the Taiwan Strait.
The United States has responded by staging joint naval exercises with allies in the region and sailing warships on freedom of navigation exercises.
On Tuesday, the guided missile destroyer USS Benfold transited the Taiwan Strait on its third crossing in a week of China-claimed international waters.
Col. Shi Yi, spokesman for the Chinese military's Eastern Theater Command, called the move a "provocation" and slammed the United States as a "disrupter of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait."