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Chinese warnings fail to deter US Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s pivotal visit to Taiwan

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi arrived in Malaysia today. (Photo: IANS)

In all likelihood, US Speaker Nancy Pelosi will be visiting Taiwan on Tuesday. She is currently in Malaysia on the second leg of her four-nation tour to Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea and Japan.

At a press conference on Monday, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby signalled that Pelosi’s visit was not officially driven by Washington, opening the possibility of labelling the trip as a private one. "The Speaker has the right to visit Taiwan, and a Speaker of the House has visited Taiwan before without incident, as have many members of Congress, including this year".

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Pelosi’s visit was a done deal as people whom the congressional speaker  is planning to see in Taiwan have already been informed of her imminent arrival, though some details remain in flux. It said that some meetings are scheduled for Tuesday evening, but most are set for Wednesday, which include Taiwanese government officials.

The US in the meantime is urging China not to over-react to the visit. Kirby said that there is no reason for Beijing to turn a potential visit into some "sort of crisis or conflict, or use it as a pretext to increase aggressive military activity in or around the Taiwan Strait".

Nevertheless, Pentagon anticipates that China could respond by firing missiles around Taiwan, sending fighters into Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) or conducting military exercises around the island nation. But analysts say that the Chinese response could be harsher.

US President Joe Biden had spoken with his Chinese counterpart last week in a bid to defuse tensions. But after the Pelosi controversy, Chinese warnings have been stark and unambiguous. Zhao Lijian, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson went ballistic during his routine Monday press conference when he warned that, "If you play with fire, you will get burned. I believe the US is fully aware of the strong and clear message delivered by China."

If Pelosi visits the island of Taiwan, "the PLA will not sit idly by" and will take "resolute and strong countermeasures" to protect China's sovereignty and territorial integrity. As to what these measures are, Zhao said "if she dares to go, let's wait and see."

Military tensions are bristling ahead of the proposed visit. China is reportedly conducting live fire drills in the seas around Taiwan. The US has moved its naval forces closer to the island while Taiwan itself has put its military on alert and cancelled the leave of its officers.