US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi was set to visit Taiwan on Tuesday, Taiwanese media reported, even as China said that its military would not “sit idly by” if she visited the territory claimed by Beijing.
The Liberty Times newspaper said Ms Pelosi was scheduled to visit Taiwan's parliament on Wednesday morning.
Ms Pelosi, who began a trip to Asia earlier on Monday in Singapore, was due to spend Tuesday night in Taiwan, sources told Reuters.
The White House has not confirmed the trip but on Monday, John Kirby, spokesman for the National Security Council, said Ms Pelosi has a “right” to go to Taiwan and that China should not overreact.
“There is no reason for Beijing to turn a potential visit consistent with long-standing US policies into some sort of crisis,” he said.
During a phone call last Thursday, Chinese President Xi Jinping warned US President Joe Biden that “those who play with fire will perish by it”.
Mr Biden told Mr Xi that US policy on Taiwan had not changed and that Washington strongly opposes unilateral efforts to change the status quo or undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.
China’s harsh rhetoric before Ms Pelosi’s possible arrival in Taipei could lead to “unintended consequences”, Mr Kirby said.
He added that military exercises China is conducting in the Taiwan Strait “increase the risk of miscalculation”.
This, in turn, “could lead to unintended consequences and that's really the risk”, Mr Kirby said.
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But he reiterated that any decision on making the trip would be Ms Pelosi's alone, not the Biden administration's, and it would not reflect a change in policy.
Under Washington's “One China” policy, the US recognises Beijing as the government of China and does not have diplomatic relations with Taiwan, but it does send military defence equipment to the island.
“We have been clear from the very beginning that [Ms Pelosi] will make her own decisions and the Congress is an independent branch of government,” Mr Kirby said.
“If she goes, it doesn't change anything.
“We've not ramped up the rhetoric, we've not changed our behaviour, everything we've done is consistent with our obligations.”
Ms Pelosi's office said on Sunday that she was leading a congressional delegation to the region that would include visits to Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea and Japan. It did not mention Taiwan.
One source told Reuters that the US had informed some allies about Ms Pelosi's visit to Taiwan. Two other sources said she was scheduled to meet a small group of activists about China's human rights record.
China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Zhao Lijian said earlier on Monday that it would be “a gross interference in China's internal affairs” if Ms Pelosi were to visit Taiwan and warned it would lead to “very serious developments and consequences”.
“We would like to tell the United States once again that China is standing by, the Chinese People's Liberation Army will never sit idly by, and China will take resolute responses and strong countermeasures to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Mr Zhao told a regular daily briefing.
Asked what kind of measures the PLA might take, he said: “If she dares to go, then let us wait and see."
Mr Kirby emphasised that Washington will not be involved in sabre-rattling and “will not take the bait”. He said, however, that the US “will not be intimidated” and “that Beijing's actions could have unintended consequences that only serve to increase tension”.
China views visits by US officials to Taiwan as sending an encouraging signal to the pro-independence camp in the island.
A visit by Ms Pelosi, who is second in the line of succession to the US presidency and a long-time critic of China, would come amid worsening ties between Washington and Beijing. Republican Newt Gingrich was the last House speaker to visit Taiwan in 1997.
A video from the People's Liberation Army's Eastern Theatre Command posted on state media sites on Monday evening, which showed scenes of military exercises and preparations, urged troops to “stand by in battle formation, be ready to fight upon command, bury all incoming enemies”.
The White House dismissed China's rhetoric as groundless and inappropriate.
“It is not uncommon for congressional leaders to travel to Taiwan,” Mr Kirby said in an interview with CNN early on Monday.
“As a country, we shouldn't be intimidated by that rhetoric or those potential actions. This is an important trip for the speaker to be on and we're going to do whatever we can to support her.”
Asked how the Biden administration will know that Ms Pelosi has arrived in Taiwan, Mr Kirby said she is flying aboard a US military aircraft.
“We’ll know,” he said.
Reuters contributed to this report