Pelosi’s Taiwan trip plan apparently confirmed by US lawmakers

Nancy Pelosi has invited senior lawmakers to join her on a trip to Taiwan, according to a member of the House foreign affairs committee, providing the first apparent confirmation of the widely speculated visit.

The potential visit by the US House speaker to Taiwan is at the centre of spiralling tensions involving the island, China and the US, which analysts fear are at their most dangerous point in decades.

Military activity in the region is also raising concerns, with reports of a US strike group moving through the South China Sea, and a Chinese armed drone flying east of Taiwan as the island kicked off its annual defence drills.

Texas Republican and senior member of the House foreign affairs committee, Michael McCaul, and Democrat Anna Eshoo, who is described by NBC as a close ally of Pelosi, told NBC on Wednesday they had been invited to Taiwan by Pelosi. Both declined due to a scheduling conflict.

The on-record comments from McCaul and Eshoo are the first apparent confirmation of the planned trip since it was reported last week by the Financial Times. There has been no formal confirmation from the speaker or the White House, and Taipei will not comment until there has.

Supporters of the trip say it would be a strong show of support for Taiwan, which Beijing claims is a breakaway Chinese province which must be reunified, by force if necessary. However, some have expressed concern that the timing – reported to be next month – comes at a particularly sensitive moment in domestic Chinese politics which could cause a more aggressive response from the Chinese president, Xi Jinping.

“Any member that wants to go, should. It shows political deterrence to President Xi,” McCaul told NBC. “But [Pelosi] should also pay attention to the military if it’s going to cause a blowback and escalate things.”

Beijing has made strong objections to a visit by Pelosi, who would be the highest ranked US government official since the then House speaker Newt Gingrich visited in 1997. Officials have warned of “consequences” should the visit go ahead, with some speculation there could be military activity which could escalate or cause an accident.

In recent years the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) air force has sent increasing numbers of warplanes into Taiwan’s air defence identification zone (IZ) amid a ratcheting up of “greyzone” activities designed to test Taiwan’s responsiveness and wear out its resources.

On Monday, Japan’s defence ministry reported that a Chinese armed reconnaissance drone had flown near Taiwan on a solo mission for the first time. It tracked the PLA’s TB-001 drone through the Miyako Strait, from the East China Sea into the Pacific near Taiwan. The next day, Taiwan’s president boarded a warship in the area to inspect defence drills, prompting some analysts to suggest the drone flight was a warning. Taiwan’s military exercises this week are scheduled annually and are not specifically connected to current events.

It was not clear where the drone’s journey ended, with some news outlets reporting that it circumnavigated the island. The Guardian has not confirmed the reports.

Here’s the tracking map provided by Japan MOD of the PLA drone on Monday. There’s some reports around that it circled the island, but did it? Was it still out there when Tsai boarded warship off Yilan? — Helen Davidson (@heldavidson) July 28, 2022

Taiwan’s ministry did not report the detection, though did report other sorties by PLA aircraft into the IZ’s southwest that day. Chinese state media seized on Taiwan’s silence, accusing it of failing to detect the drone, demonstrating “huge loopholes in their air defence systems”.

The tensions around a Pelosi visit and the increased activity have sparked concern that the situation could escalate, but some analysts have warned against linking military movements. “For Taiwan, China’s military threats are always there,” said Fang-yu Chen, a political science scholar at Soochow University. “I am not saying they are not threat. I mean, the threats are so frequent that we do not have to over-interpret them.”

On Wednesday, US officials said that if Pelosi went to Taiwan, the US military would increase movement of forces and assets in the Indo-Pacific. On Thursday, the South China Morning Post reported that a US strike group, led by the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier, had left Singapore – where it had been conducting a port visit – in the direction of the South China Sea. It had previously been deployed to Yokosuka, Japan. The reason for its current journey was not clear, and the American representative office in Taipei declined to comment.