White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby denied Monday that there was any “drama” around House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s planned visit to Taiwan after a reporter pointed out that President Biden publicly said last month the Pentagon wanted her to cancel the trip.
Pelosi (D-Calif.) is expected to visit the island nation Tuesday aboard a US military jet despite multiple Chinese threats — including one to possibly shoot down Pelosi’s plane.
RealClearPolitics reporter Philip Wegmann asked Kirby during a White House briefing why Biden chose to “bother with this drama” and not tell Beijing to “pound sand when they started belly-aching about the possibility of this trip.”
“What’s the drama?” Kirby asked in response.
“Have you watched the briefings the past couple of weeks? I mean, there’s been this question about whether or not the president wants to see her go,” Wegmann replied.
“I haven’t seen any drama. I think you’re manufacturing it with your question,” Kirby fired back.
“Look, we have been nothing but clear with the Chinese about where we stand on the issues and the ‘One China’ policy and our support for a free and open Indo-Pacific. Look, I want to go back to what I said at the beginning because I hope you took note: nothing has changed,” Kirby added.
“There’s no drama to talk to. It is not without precedent for a Speaker of the House to go to Taiwan — if she goes, and I’m not confirming that she is. And it’s certainly not without precedent for members of Congress to travel to Taiwan. It has been done this year, and I’m certain that it will be done in the future.”
Biden said July 20 that the US military believed a reported Pelosi visit to Taiwan was “not a good idea now.” However, members of Congress responded by rallying behind the speaker — including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who said Pelosi would hand China “a victory of sorts” if she backs down.
Pelosi would be the highest-ranking US elected official to visit the island since then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) in 1997.
Beijing has made clear that a visit by Taiwan by Pelosi would be considered an endorsement of the island’s independence. China considers Taiwan to be part of its territory, while the US “One China” policy referenced by Kirby acknowledges — but does not endorse — Beijing’s claim.
Last week, China’s President Xi Jinping warned Biden during a discussion of Taiwan on a call between the two leaders that “those who play with fire will perish by it,” according to a readout by Beijing’s Foreign Ministry.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre would not confirm or deny last week whether Xi threatened Biden, telling a reporter at her briefing Thursday, “I’m not going to speak to that statement, that comment that you just read out.”
“The point that we have made — I made it again today and President Biden made it with President Xi — is everything is consistent,” Kirby said Monday. “There’s no reason to use a potential visit to justify or to spark some sort of crisis or conflict — we certainly have no interest in that.”
Biden said during a May press conference in Tokyo that “yes” the US military would defend Taiwan against an attack from mainland China’s military.
“That’s the commitment we made,” he said — prompting his subordinates to insist there was no change to the official US stance on the status of Taiwan, whose modern history dates to 1949, when the Nationalist government of Chiang Kai-shek retreated across the Taiwan Strait at the end of the Chinese Civil War.