US military makes plans for Nancy Pelosi’s potential Taiwan visit

US officials say they have little fear that China would attack Nancy Pelosi’s plane if she flew to Taiwan. But the House speaker would nonetheless be entering one of the world’s hottest spots, where a mishap, misstep or misunderstanding could endanger her safety.

Officials said that if Pelosi goes to Taiwan – her visit has not been confirmed – the US military would increase movement of forces and assets in the Indo-Pacific. The officials declined to provide details, but said jets, ships, surveillance assets and other military systems would probably provide overlapping rings of protection.

Any travel by a senior US leader requires security. But officials said this week that a visit to Taiwan by Pelosi, who would be the highest-ranking US elected official to visit since 1997, would go beyond usual safety precautions.

Asked about military steps to protect Pelosi, Gen Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said discussion of any specific travel was premature. But he added: “If there’s a decision made that Speaker Pelosi or anyone else is going to travel and they asked for military support, we will do what is necessary to ensure a safe conduct of their visit. And I’ll just leave it at that.”

China considers self-ruling Taiwan its own territory and has raised the prospect of annexation by force. The US maintains informal relations and defense ties with Taiwan even as it recognizes Beijing as the government of China.

The trip is being considered at a time when China has escalated what the US and allies describe as risky one-on-one confrontations with other militaries. Such incidents have included close fly-bys and harassment or obstruction of air and ship crews, including with lasers or water cannon.

Dozens of such maneuvers have occurred this year, Ely Ratner, US assistant defense secretary, said on Tuesday at a South China Sea forum by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. China denies the incidents.

US officials described the need to create buffer zones around the speaker and her plane. The US has substantial forces spread across the region. The military would also have to be prepared for any incident – even an accident.

Pelosi has not confirmed any new plans for a trip to Taiwan. She was going to go in April but postponed the trip after testing positive for Covid-19. The White House has declined to weigh in directly. But Joe Biden last week raised concerns, telling reporters the military thinks her trip is “not a good idea right now”.

A Pelosi trip may loom over a call planned for Thursday between Biden and the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, their first conversation in four months.

US officials have said they doubt China would take direct action against Pelosi. But they don’t rule out the possibility China could escalate provocative overflights in or near Taiwanese airspace and naval patrols in the Taiwan Strait. And they don’t preclude Chinese actions elsewhere as a show of strength.

The biggest risk is of some Chinese show of force “gone awry, or some type of accident that comes out of a demonstration of provocative action”, said Mark Cozad, acting associate director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at Rand Corp. “So it could be an air collision. It could be some sort of missile test, and, again, when you’re doing those types of things, you know, there is always the possibility that something could go wrong.”

Barry Pavel, director of the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council, scoffed at US officials’ reported consideration of aircraft carriers and warplanes to secure the speaker’s safety.

“Obviously, the White House does not want the speaker to go and I think that’s why you’re getting some of these suggestions,” he said. “She’s not going to go with an armada.”

China’s foreign ministry spokesperson, Zhao Lijian, reiterated warnings over a Pelosi visit.

“If the US insists on going its own way and challenging China’s bottom line, it will surely be met with forceful responses,” Zhao told reporters. “All ensuing consequences shall be borne by the US.”

The Guardian