White House warns China's response to a possible Pelosi trip to Taiwan could range from military exercises to firing missiles in the Strait

White House warns China's response to a possible Pelosi trip to Taiwan could range from military exercises to firing missiles in the Strait
Military vehicles carrying HHQ-9B surface-to-air missiles participate in a military parade at Tiananmen Square in Beijing on October 1, 2019, to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Peoples Republic of China.GREG BAKER/AFP via Getty Images

  • The White House said China could respond in various ways to a potential Taiwan trip by Nancy Pelosi.
  • NSC spokesperson John Kirby told reporters this could include firing missiles or military exercises, among other things.

The White House warned on Monday that China could respond to a possible trip to Taiwan by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi this week in various ways, including with a military provocation.

White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told reporters that Beijing "appears to be positioning itself" for potential "military provocations" if Pelosi visits the self-ruled island democracy, which earlier reports suggested she is slated to do despite repeated Chinese threats and warnings.

Kirby said these steps could include China "firing missiles in the Taiwan Strait or around Taiwan," and "operations that break historical norms, such as large-scale air entry into Taiwan's air defense identification zone." China has previously flown military aircraft into the ADIZ, with some incursions involving dozens of aircraft including fighter jets and bombers, but there is room for further escalation.

He added that potential Chinese military actions could also include highly-publicized military exercises and air or naval activities that cross the "median line" that runs along the middle of the strait that separates Taiwan from mainland China, possibly triggering a serious increase in tensions.


That said, Kirby stressed that China has no grounds to use Pelosi's visit as "pretext" for conflict or increased military activity near Taiwan, such as the live-fire military exercises China conducted near Taiwan over the weekend.

China has suggested that it could carry out some type of military action if Pelosi visits Taiwan — a potential trip that has yet to be confirmed by Pelosi herself or the White House but has triggered significant speculation. Earlier on Monday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said China "firmly opposes" the visit and doubled down on its warnings, saying that the Chinese military will not "sit idly by."

Though Taiwan is a self-governing democracy, China regards the island as part of its territory and Beijing has consistently taken issue with the close ties between Washington and Taipei. The US does not have formal diplomatic relations with Taipei and does not officially support Taiwanese independence, but it is Taiwan's top arms supplier.

For years, the US has upheld a policy of strategic ambiguity on whether it would respond militarily if China attacked Taiwan, taking an intentionally opaque approach to the issue. But in the past year, President Joe Biden has undermined that longstanding policy by repeatedly suggesting that the US would come to Taiwan's defense in such a scenario. Each time, the White House has walked back his comments, which have appeared to cause confusion and frustration in Beijing.

This is the contentious backdrop to a potential visit by Pelosi to Taiwan, which is why the possible trip has become a major topic of conversation in Washington in recent days.


Top China experts have warned that a visit by Pelosi to Taiwan at present raises the risk of an accident that could spark a military crisis in the region.

"We keep claiming our One China policy hasn't changed, but a Pelosi visit would clearly be precedent setting and can't be construed as in keeping with 'unofficial relations,'" Susan Thornton, the former acting assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs at the State Department, told Insider last week.

"If [Pelosi] goes," she said, "the prospect of a crisis goes way up as China will need to respond. It would thus be accelerating Beijing's timeline on Taiwan, which is the opposite of what we should be doing."