WASHINGTON: US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is second in line to the Oval Office after the vice-president, flew to East Asia on Sunday with the diplomatic world’s eyes trained tensely on her aircraft to see if it would defy China’s warning and land her in Taiwan.
Air traffic trackers appeared to show the plane carrying Pelosi landing in the naval base in Guam in the Pacific en route to East Asia, amid tantalising speculation over it would then go on to Taiwan. China has warned that US will be “playing with fire” and would get “burnt” if Pelosi lands in Taiwan, and the next few hours will show which side blinked.
While Pelosi itinerary appeared to show she had dropped Taiwan from travel plans, speculation raged on whether she would pull off a furtive, unpublicised visit — perhaps on her way back.
In a pair of tweets before she flew out, Pelosi made no mention of Taiwan while outlining visits to Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea and Japan. She also disclosed that after a fuel stop in Hawaii, she and her delegation were “honored with a briefing from USINDOPACOM Leadership, as well as a visit to the Pearl Harbor Memorial and the USS Arizona.”
USINDOPACOM, short for United States Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM) is a unified combatant command responsible for the Indo-Pacific region. It was set up in 2018 in recognition of the increasing connectivity between the Indian and Pacific oceans, formalising Washington’s muscular commitment to the Indo-Pacific region in the face of Beijing’s growing assertiveness.
“I’m leading a Congressional delegation to the Indo-Pacific to reaffirm America’s unshakeable commitment to our allies & friends in the region. In Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea & Japan, we’ll hold high-level meetings to discuss how we can further our shared interests & values,” Pelosi said in her lead-in tweet.
“Under the strong leadership of President Biden, America is firmly committed to smart, strategic engagement in the region, understanding that a free and flourishing Indo-Pacific is crucial to prosperity in our nation and around the globe,” she wrote.
I’m leading a Congressional delegation to the Indo-Pacific to reaffirm America’s unshakeable commitment to our alli… https://t.co/LmJIbT1ulN— Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi) 1659247036000
Biden himself appeared to put a restraining hand on the trip by the head of that is regarded as a co-equal branch of the US government.
“Well, I think that the military thinks it’s not a good idea right now, but I don’t know what the status of it is,” he said last week when asked his opinion on the trip.
The trip is inevitably embroiled in domestic politics with some Republican lawmakers alleging that the White House leaked news about the potential trip to scupper it. US Senator Tom Cotton is among those urging Pelosi and the White House not to be intimidated by China, even as the Trump Republican rank and file, for whom Pelosi is a hate figure, is painting dire scenarios of what could happen if she goes.