Pelosi’s planned trip to Taiwan highlights his long challenge in Beijing | Nancy Pelosi

Thirty-one years ago, a relatively new congresswoman from California surprised Chinese authorities by unfurling a banner in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square dedicated to the pro-democracy student activists who were massacred there.

Now House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is set to visit Taiwan on a tour of Asian countries this week, again challenging Beijing at a time of extraordinary tension between the United States and China. – but also creating a host of problems for Joe Biden.

The long-awaited diplomatic mission crowns a career in foreign policy defined by what she sees as an unwavering defense of human rights and democratic values ​​abroad. It’s a posture, honed over decades in Congress, that has made her a target of criticism in Beijing and, at times, put her at odds with leaders of both parties in Washington.

A visit by the Speaker of the House, second in the presidential succession, would make Pelosi the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit the self-governing island in a quarter-century. China, which claims Taiwan as its own province, has threatened unspecified consequences for the United States if Pelosi makes the trip.

Pelosi declined to confirm a visit, citing security concerns. But a stopover in Taipei is now widely expected – likely on Tuesday – and has been confirmed to the media by US and Taiwanese officials. The Financial Times reported that Pelosi was due to travel to Taiwan in April but tested positive for Covid and postponed it until August.

Asked recently about her interest in traveling to Taiwan, the 82-year-old lawmaker nodded to her own past representing San Francisco, where about one in three residents are of Asian descent.

“We have global responsibilities, whether it’s three things, I always say: security, economy and governance,” she told reporters during her press conference last week. “That will be part of it.”

Beijing’s stern warnings that the visit could provoke a military response from China put Washington on high alert. The US military has made preparations to protect Pelosi during the visit, as officials scramble to interpret Beijing’s slashes.

Nancy Pelosi holds a press conference last month. Photograph: Michael Reynolds/EPA

There are serious domestic risks, too, as Pelosi’s party faces a tough re-election in November with its hammer in the balance and Biden desperately seeking positive headlines on his economic program — no foreign issues.

Republicans are urging Pelosi to leave and are ready to accuse Democrats of bowing to Beijing if she doesn’t. The focus on Pelosi’s trip, during the House’s fall recess, also threatens to distract from a string of Democratic legislative victories at home.

Biden is preparing to sign a bill that would spend hundreds of billions of dollars to give the United States a manufacturing and technological advantage over China. And a snap deal with a Democratic resister has reignited Biden’s economic agenda, which was thought doomed just weeks ago.

The last speaker to lead a delegation to Taiwan was Republican Newt Gingrich in 1997. Appearing on Fox News, Gingrich said he hoped Pelosi would make the trip.

“Once it’s public, you can’t back out,” Gingrich said. “You have to stand up to the Chinese Communists or they will interpret it as a sign of weakness and they will become even more aggressive.”

At a press conference in July, Biden said “the military thinks it’s not a good idea right now” for Pelosi to travel. During a White House briefing on Monday, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said no one in the administration sought to change his mind about the trip and that states United would ensure she had a “safe and secure” visit if she had to. “The speaker makes her own decisions,” he said.

Pelosi has long been one of China’s most outspoken and outspoken critics, a position that has in the past aligned her with conservatives. She opposed China’s bid to host the 2008 Summer Olympics and pushed for the United States to leverage its economic power to improve human and labor rights protections in China. . His advocacy helped ensure China’s scrutiny as it joined the World Trade Organization.

During a visit to China in 2009, Pelosi personally delivered a letter to then-President Hu Jintao calling for the release of political prisoners.

China warns that its army “will not stand idly by” if Nancy Pelosi goes to Taiwan – video

“She doesn’t see Taiwan through the prism of what’s going on right now,” said Daniel Silverberg, a former foreign policy adviser to House Democratic leaders. “She sees it through the prism of a 30-year history of activism.”

Silverberg said Pelosi’s tour of Asian countries was consistent with his view that Congress, as an independent branch of government, has an important role to play on the world stage. In recent years, Pelosi has emerged as a global leader in her own right, meeting frequently with heads of state to discuss global challenges, led by the climate crisis. During the Trump years, his diplomacy took on even greater importance as a high-level counterweight to the former president’s isolationism.

She recently met the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, in Kyiv and traveled to the Vatican where she met Pope Francis.

A possible visit to Taiwan must “be seen through Pelosi’s perspective: it’s not just symbolism,” Silverberg said. “This is a critical exercise of Congress and, at the same time, the power of American foreign policy and the power of the moral bullying pulpit.”

Democracy advocates keen to see Pelosi visit the island say his long history of resisting China sends a powerful message at a pivotal time.

“The speaker is not only the most senior person who can take this trip, I also think she is the right person to take this trip,” said Samuel Chu, president of Campaign for Hong Kong, a Washington-based advocacy group.

two hold hands and walk beside the flowers
The Dalai Lama and Nancy Pelosi walk after a lunch meeting in Dharamsala, India, in 2008. Photo: Gurinder Osan/AP

Chu, whose father is a prominent human rights activist and met Pelosi when he visited Hong Kong decades ago, said the 1991 trip to Tiananmen Square was ‘formative and fundamental’ for his career.

Two years after Chinese troops with tanks crushed a pro-democracy protest in Tiananmen Square, Pelosi traveled to the site of the massacre alongside two other members of Congress. Standing in the square, teeming with tourists and international media, they unfurled a black banner that read: “To those who died for democracy in China.” The act caught security officials by surprise, and lawmakers were briefly detained.

Chu said it was the start of decades of advocacy that shaped her view of US foreign policy, pointing to a version of the line she often repeats when asked about China. “If we don’t speak out against human rights abuses in China for business reasons,” Pelosi said, “we lose all moral authority to stand up for human rights anywhere.”

Much of his diplomatic leadership has been relational, Chu said. She established a close relationship with the Dalai Lama, to whom she presented the Congressional Medal of Honor. In 2019, she angered Beijing when she hosted dissidents from Hong Kong and spearheaded a crackdown on atrocities against Uyghurs in China’s western Xinjiang region, which the US government now officially recognized as genocide.

Chu sees these relationships, built over his career, as a determining factor in his decision to visit the island.

“It must ultimately be about the aspirations of the Taiwanese people,” Chu said. “And the only way not to eliminate them is to be there and know about them and make them a central part of US-China policy-making.”