Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi arrived in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday, Malaysian state media reported, her second leg of an Asian tour that has sparked rage in Beijing over a possible stopover in Taiwan.
Beijing considers Taiwan its territory and has indicated through repeated warnings that it will view the visit as a major provocation.
Pelosi landed at a Malaysian air force base ahead of meetings with the prime minister and the speaker of the lower house of parliament, the official Bernama news agency reported.
After Singapore and Malaysia, her itinerary includes stops in South Korea and Japan, but the prospect of a visit to Taiwan has dominated the spotlight.
While President Joe Biden’s administration is reportedly opposed to a Pelosi stopover in Taiwan, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby says she has the right to go where she wants .
“The speaker has the right to visit Taiwan,” he told reporters.
“There is no reason for Beijing to turn a potential visit in line with long-standing US policies into some kind of crisis.”
Kirby cited intelligence that China was planning possible military provocations that could include missile launches across the Taiwan Strait or “large-scale” incursions into Taiwanese airspace.
He said Pelosi was traveling on a military plane and that while Washington doesn’t fear a direct attack, it “raises the stakes of a miscalculation.”
Kirby, however, reiterated that US policy was unchanged toward Taiwan.
This means supporting its self-government, while diplomatically recognizing Beijing rather than Taipei and opposing a formal declaration of independence by Taiwan or a forced takeover by China.
The Taiwanese government has remained silent on the prospect of a visit from Pelosi.
Prime Minister Su Tseng-chang did not confirm the visit Tuesday at the request of reporters, but thanked Pelosi for his support.
And Taiwanese newspaper Liberty Times quoted unnamed sources as saying Pelosi would land on the island on Tuesday evening, then meet Tsai the next day before departing in the afternoon.
More warnings from China
Taiwan’s 23 million people have long lived with the possibility of invasion, but the threat has intensified under Chinese President Xi Jinping.
During a call with Biden last week, Xi warned the United States against “playing with fire” in Taiwan.
And on Monday, China’s UN ambassador Zhang Hun said such a visit would be “very dangerous, very provocative”.
If that happens, “China will take firm and strong measures to safeguard our sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he said.
US officials often pay low-key visits to the island to show their support, but a trip to Pelosi would be more publicized than any other in recent history.
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