(NewsNation) — U.S. President Joe Biden is planning to speak with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping for the first time in four months, with a wide range of bilateral and international issues on the table.
But Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s potential visit to Taiwan is looming over the conversation. China warns a severe response is in store if Pelosi travels to the self-governing island democracy Beijing claims as its own territory.
“If the U.S. insists on going its own way and challenging China’s bottom line, it will surely be met with forceful responses,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told reporters at a daily briefing. “All ensuing consequences shall be borne by the U.S.”
China has in recent years boosted its threat to use force to annex Taiwan, so it objects to all U.S. arms sales and contacts with the island government. The sides split after a civil war in 1949.
Pelosi’s office has not yet said when or if she will proceed with the visit. The timing of it is especially sensitive amid heightened tensions between Beijing and Washington over trade, human rights and Taiwan.
“If Speaker Pelosi goes to Taiwan, the Chinese view it as a real slap in their face and a challenge to their leadership, which, by the way, is the reason that she should go,” NewsNation’s Leland Vittert said. “If she doesn’t go and we back down, that says pretty much all that the world needs to know about who decides what America does and does not do. So we’re at a very critical crossroads.”
Maj. Glenn Ignazio, a retired U.S. Air Force Special Operations commander, told NewsNation he thinks if Pelosi and the Taiwanese government want her to visit, she “absolutely” should.
“We should not give them even the inkling that they have an ability to control our narrative or our objectives, especially in the Indo-Pacific realm,” he said.
China has not said what specific actions it would take should Pelosi visit Taiwan, but experts say it could launch additional incursions into waters and airspace near Taiwan, or even cross the center line of the Taiwan Strait dividing the two. Some have said China could even prevent her plane from landing, though this is considered unlikely.
If China does end up proceeding with these actions, Ignazio said it would be an “act of war.”
“China has been very, very negative in their approach to anybody that is facing them in the Pacific realm,” he said.
U.S. officials told The Associated Press that if Pelosi goes to Taiwan, the military will increase movement of forces and assets in the Indo-Pacific region.
Even if there are consequences for Pelosi’s possible trip, the consequences of not going are even greater, Vittert said.
Using a baseball metaphor, Vittert explained: If a pitcher keeps hitting one team’s players over and over, and they never come out of the dugout, it will keep happening, and “eventually somebody gets really hurt.”
However, “If the first time somebody hits your player, everybody runs out and shows the other side that they’re ready to fight, then maybe next time the pitcher doesn’t hit your player. So that tends to be the issue here with the Chinese: which is that they’re bullies,” Vittert said.
Pelosi would be the highest-ranking U.S. elected official to travel to Taiwan since Republican Newt Gingrich visited the island in 1997 when he served as House speaker.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.