Pelosi Arrives in Malaysia Amid Rising Tensions Over Taiwan

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi arrived in Malaysia on Tuesday for the second leg of an Asian tour that has been clouded by an expected stop in Taiwan, which would escalate tensions with Beijing.

Pelosi’s delegation and the plane that brought them arrived at an air base with tight security. Bernama, the national news agency reported.

Although there has been no formal announcement, Taiwanese media reported Pelosi would arrive in Taipei Tuesday night. She will be the first elected official from the United States to visit Taipei in over 25 years. The United Daily News, Liberty Times and China Times — Taiwan’s three largest national newspapers — cited unidentified sources as saying she would fly to Taipei and spend the night after visiting Malaysia.

China, which regards Taiwan as its territory, has warned of repercussions, saying its military will “never sit idly by” if Pelosi pushes ahead with the visit.

The White House on Monday decried Beijing’s rhetoric, saying the U.S. has no interest in deepening tensions with China and “will not take the bait or engage in saber rattling.”

White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby underscored that the decision on whether to visit the self-ruled island was ultimately Pelosi’s. He pointed out that Congressmen have visited Taiwan many times over the years.

Kirby said administration officials are concerned that Beijing could use the visit as an excuse to take provocative retaliatory steps, including military action such as firing missiles in the Taiwan Strait or around Taiwan, or flying sorties into Taiwan’s airspace and carrying out large-scale naval exercises in the strait.

“Put simply, there is no reason for Beijing to turn a potential visit consistent with long-standing U.S. policy into some sort of crisis or use it as a pretext to increase aggressive military activity in or around the Taiwan Strait,” Kirby said.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken also urged China to “act responsibly” in the event that Pelosi proceeds with the visit.

“If the speaker does decide to visit, and China tries to create some kind of a crisis or otherwise escalate tensions, that would be entirely on Beijing,” he told reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York. “We are looking for them, in the event she decides to visit, to act responsibly and not to engage in any escalation going forward.”

China has steadily increased its military and diplomatic pressure on Taiwan. Pelosi’s visit has prompted concerns about a potential new crisis in Taiwan Strait. This is a region that separates both sides and could cause chaos on global supply chains and markets.

Beijing sees official American contact with Taiwan as encouragement to make the island’s decades-old de facto independence permanent, a step U.S. leaders say they don’t support. Pelosi is the head of one the three U.S. governments branches. He would be the highest ranking elected American official to travel to Taiwan since Newt Gingrich, the then-Speaker, in 1997.

Pelosi started her Asian tour with Singapore Monday, however her purported visit Taiwan raised questions in the region.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong “highlighted the importance of stable U.S.-China relations for regional peace and security” during talks with Pelosi, the city-state’s foreign ministry said. This was echoed by Japan’s Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi in Tokyo, who said stable ties between the two rival powers “are extremely important for the international community as well.”

After the Communists won civil war against the mainland, Taiwan and China were split in 1949. Although they claim to be one country, the two sides disagree on who is allowed to lead their respective national governments. Although they do not have official relations, their trade and investment connections are worth billions of dollars.

In 1979, the United States changed diplomatic recognition to Taipei from Beijing. However, it maintains informal relationships with Taiwan. Washington has a legal obligation under the Taiwan Relations Act to make sure Taiwan is protected.

Washington’s “One China policy” says it takes no position on the status of the two sides but wants their dispute resolved peacefully. Beijing promotes an alternative “One China principle” that says they are one country and the Communist Party is its leader.

Bernama reported that Pelosi would call Azhar Azzizan Harun the Speaker of the lower house in Parliament. Then, she will go to lunch with Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob. On Thursday, she is to meet with South Korean National Assembly Speaker Kim Jin Pyo in Seoul for talks on security in the Indo-Pacific region, economic cooperation and the climate crisis, according to Kim’s office. Pelosi also plans to travel to Japan. However, it’s not clear when.

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