TAIPEI, Aug 2 (Reuters) – U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi was due to arrive in Taipei later on Tuesday, sources briefed on the matter said, as several Chinese fighter jets flew near the median line dividing the Taiwan Strait, a source said. Reuters.
China has repeatedly warned against Pelosi’s departure to Taiwan, which it claims to be its own, and the United States said on Monday it would not be intimidated by Chinese “saber-cutting” in the course of the visit.
Besides Chinese planes flying near the center line of the sensitive waterway on Tuesday morning, several Chinese warships have remained near the unofficial boundary line since Monday, the source told Reuters.
Join now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com
The source said Chinese warships and planes “pressed” the center line on Tuesday morning, an unusual move the person called “very provocative.”
The person said the Chinese plane repeatedly made tactical moves of briefly “touching” the center line and returning across the strait on Tuesday morning, while Taiwanese planes were waiting nearby.
Aircraft of both sides do not normally cross the center line.
In a statement on Tuesday, Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said it had full knowledge of military activities near Taiwan and would dispatch forces appropriately in response to “enemy threats”.
China’s defense and foreign ministries did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
In the southeast Chinese city of Xiamen, which sits opposite Taiwan and is home to a large military presence, residents reported sightings of moving armored vehicles on Tuesday and posted photos online.
Chinese social media was abuzz with both apprehension of potential conflict and patriotic fervor over the prospect of unification with Taiwan, and the subject of Pelosi’s visit was the most trending item on the Weibo Twitter.
A person familiar with Pelosi’s itinerary said most of his scheduled meetings, including with President Tsai Ing-wen, were scheduled for Wednesday and his delegation may not arrive in Taiwan until early Wednesday. .
“Everything is uncertain,” the person said.
Taiwanese newspaper Liberty Times said Pelosi’s delegation was due to arrive at 10:20 p.m. (1420 GMT) on Tuesday, without citing sources.
Pelosi was visiting Malaysia on Tuesday, having started his Asia tour in Singapore on Monday. Her office said she would also visit South Korea and Japan, but made no mention of a visit to Taiwan.
Taiwan’s foreign ministry said it had no comment on reports of Pelosi’s travel plans, but the White House – which has not confirmed the trip – said it had the right to leave.
Beijing’s responses could include missile launches near Taiwan, large-scale air or naval activity, or other “false legal claims” such as China’s assertion that the Taiwan Strait is not an international waterway, White House national security spokesman John Kirby told reporters in Washington. Monday.
“We’re not going to bite the bait or indulge in swordplay. At the same time, we’re not going to be intimidated,” Kirby said.
Four sources said Pelosi was scheduled to meet a small group of activists on Wednesday afternoon who are outspoken about China’s human rights record.
The meeting will likely take place at the National Museum of Human Rights in New Taipei City, according to a source with direct knowledge of the matter.
On Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said it would be “blatant interference in China’s internal affairs” if Pelosi visited Taiwan, and warned that “the Liberation Army of the Chinese people will never stand idly by.”
Asked what kind of measures the PLA might take, Zhao said, “If she dares to go, let’s wait and see.”
China sees visits by US officials to Taiwan, a self-governing island claimed by Beijing, as an encouraging signal for the island’s independence camp. Washington has no formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan but is required by US law to provide the island with the means to defend itself.
A visit by Pelosi, second in line to the US presidency and a longtime critic of China, would come amid deteriorating ties between Washington and Beijing.
The White House dismissed China’s rhetoric as baseless and inappropriate.
‘RIGHT TO VISIT’
Kirby said nothing about Pelosi’s eventual trip had changed US policy towards Taiwan, and that Beijing was well aware that the division of powers within the US government meant Pelosi would make her own decisions about the visit.
“The speaker has the right to travel to Taiwan,” he said during the White House briefing.
In a phone call last Thursday, Chinese President Xi Jinping warned US President Joe Biden that Washington should abide by the one-China principle and that “those who play with fire shall perish.”
Biden told Xi that US policy on Taiwan has not changed and that Washington strongly opposes unilateral efforts to change the status quo or undermine peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.
Beijing considers Taiwan to be part of its territory and has never renounced the use of force to bring the island under its control. Taiwan rejects China’s sovereignty claims and says only its people can decide the island’s future.
Join now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com
Reporting by Yimou Lee and Sarah Wu; Written by Tony Munroe; Editing by Stephen Coates and Simon Cameron-Moore
Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.