US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi arrived in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday, Malaysian state media reported, her second stop on an Asian tour that has sparked anger in Beijing over a possible halt in Taiwan.
Beijing views Taiwan as its territory and has indicated through repeated warnings that it will view the visit as a major provocation.
State news agency Bernama reported that Pelosi landed at a Malaysian Air Force base ahead of a meeting with the prime minister and the speaker of the lower house of parliament.
After Singapore and Malaysia, her itinerary includes stops in South Korea and Japan – but the prospect of traveling to Taiwan has drawn attention.
While President Joe Biden’s administration is deemed opposed by Pelosi to a stop in Taiwan, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said she was entitled to go wherever she wanted.
“The speaker has the right to go to Taiwan,” he told reporters.
“There is no reason to turn a potential trip to Beijing into some sort of crisis in line with long-standing US policies.”
Kirby cited intelligence that China was preparing for possible military provocations that could include missiles into the Taiwan Straits or “large-scale” incursions into Taiwan’s airspace.
He said Pelosi was traveling in a military plane and that while Washington does not fear a direct attack, it “raises the stakes of miscalculation”.
However, Kirby reiterated that US policy towards Taiwan was unchanged.
This means support for its self-ruling government, while diplomatically recognizing Beijing on Taipei and opposing a formal independence declaration by Taiwan or a forceful takeover by China.
Taiwan’s government is silent on the possibility of Pelosi’s visit.
Premier Su Tseng-chang did not confirm the visit on Tuesday when asked by reporters, but thanked Pelosi for her support.
And Taiwanese newspaper Liberty Times, citing unnamed sources, said Pelosi would land on the island Tuesday night, then meet with Tsai the next day before departing in the afternoon.
More warnings from China
Taiwan’s 23 million people have long lived with the prospect of invasion, but the threat has intensified under Chinese President Xi Jinping.
In a call with Biden last week, Xi warned the United States against “playing with fire” on Taiwan.
And on Monday, China’s ambassador to the United Nations, Zhang Hun, said such a visit would be “very dangerous, very provocative”.
If that happens, “China will take tough and tough measures to protect our sovereignty and territorial integrity”, he said.
US officials often visit the island to show support, but will have a higher profile than any Pelosi visit in recent history.
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