In response to China’s sanctioning US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi overnight, the White House has summoned China’s ambassador to the US, Qin Gang, on Friday morning to complain about Beijing’s “provocative actions” – also of course the massive PLA military drills which are ongoing around Taiwan.
Taiwan’s defense ministry has said the drills are an attempt at blockading the island, following Pelosi’s overnight trip earlier this week which infuriated China, also on Friday leading it to cancel a series of US-China bilateral talks, including military ties and dialogue.
“After China’s actions overnight, we summoned Ambassador Qin Gang to the White House to démarche him about the PRC’s provocative actions,” White House national security spokesman John Kirby confirmed to the The Washington Post.
The Chinese ambassador was officially informed that the Biden administration “condemned” the ongoing military drills, which have also seen dozens of military jets breach the so-called median line which separates the Taiwan Strait. Chinese state media earlier this week said it has effectively “ceased to exist”.
Despite Beijing’s protestations to the contrary, which has also highlighted months of US weapons transfers to the self-ruled island, Kirby also emphasized in his latest statements that “nothing has changed about our one-China policy” and that the US stands ready to respond to threats from China.
“We will not seek and do not want a crisis,” Kirby said in the fresh statements. “At the same time, we will not be deterred from operating in the seas and skies of the Western Pacific, consistent with international law, as we have for decades — supporting Taiwan and defending a free and open Indo-Pacific.”
Beijing for its part, in unveiling the personal sanctions targeting Nancy Pelosi (which however according to many reports remain “undefined” and unspecified – though without doubt it includes a travel ban to China), said further it will “definitely take all necessary measures to resolutely safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity in response to the U.S. Speaker’s visit.”
According to a Bloomberg report from earlier this week, Pelosi’s Taiwan visit was not backed by the White House, but instead left the administration in a desperate scramble to salvage the diplomatic pieces with China. “But behind the scenes, officials in President Joe Biden’s administration were fuming at her insistence on using the trip as a capstone for her career at a moment of highly delicate relations with Beijing,” the report reads.
This is an expected move as China summoned the US ambassador over Pelosi’s trip. China reacted similarly in 2010-11 when it disapproved of US policy towards Tibet, and the US summoned the Chinese ambassador after the COVID-19 pandemic https://t.co/bqje6aX95u
— Samuel Ramani (@SamRamani2) August 5, 2022
The White House sent national security briefers to warn her of all that could go wrong with such a trip, but were unable to alter her plans. Officially, the White House told the public that Congressional members “make their own decisions”. But behind the scenes, according to Bloomberg, it was an administration in full crisis mode: “When it became clear that Pelosi could not be swayed, the administration instead planned for contingencies, setting up a scramble to ensure communication channels with Beijing were functioning and any fallout could be minimized,” Bloomberg revealed.
According to more behind-the-scenes details of the lead-up to the controversial trip, White House efforts at preemptively defusing tensions with China “included meetings between US officials and their counterparts at the Chinese embassy in Washington, people familiar with the matter said. They were granted anonymity to discuss the private deliberations.”
“But even as they tried to convince Pelosi’s team that now was not the right time to go, administration officials knew they had to plan for the possibility that she would do so and gird for any Chinese response,” the report noted.
Also interesting is that the full itinerary and planned Taiwan stop had been kept even from lawmakers accompanying Pelosi on her Asia tour down to the last minute. And then there’s this astounding section from the Bloomberg reporting:
The more the administration tried to weigh in behind the scenes, the more Pelosi dug in.
At one point, her team suggested she might consider delaying the trip if the president publicly asked her to. Biden advisers didn’t believe that was a good idea, not least because they were unsure that she would comply, people familiar with the exchange said.
After days of treating the travel plans as a hypothetical, on Monday, White House officials changed their tone. Before Pelosi landed in the region, Kirby warned Beijing not to overreact to a potential Taiwan stop or use it as a pretext to increase tensions.
Indeed, Kirby has since condemned what he called on Thursday a China ‘overreaction’. Pelosi while in Japan on the last stop of the trip said that Beijing used her visit as an “excuse” to conduct threatening exercises to pressure Taiwan.
China’s foreign ministry has said all along that the White House could have stopped the Pelosi trip if it wanted to, but chose to allow it to happen.