US military makes plans in case Pelosi goes to Taiwan
SYDNEY (AP) — U.S. officials say they have little fear China will attack Nancy Pelosi’s plane if she flies to Taiwan. But the Speaker of the United States House would walk into one of the hottest places on earth where an accident, misstep or misunderstanding could put her safety at risk. The Pentagon is therefore developing plans for any eventuality.
Officials told The Associated Press that if Pelosi travels to Taiwan — still an uncertainty — the military would increase its movement of forces and resources into the Indo-Pacific region. They declined to provide details, but said fighter jets, ships, surveillance assets and other military systems would likely be used to provide overlapping rings of protection for his flight to Taiwan and at all times. ground time there.
Any foreign travel by a senior US executive requires additional security. But officials said this week that a visit to Taiwan by Pelosi – she would be the highest elected American to visit Taiwan since 1997 – would go beyond the usual safety precautions for travel to less risky destinations.
Asked about the military measures planned to protect Pelosi in the event of a visit, US General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Wednesday that discussion of any specific trip was premature. But, he added, “if it is decided that President Pelosi or someone else is going to travel and they request military support, we will do what is necessary to ensure that their visit goes smoothly. And I’ll leave it at that.
China regards self-governing Taiwan as its own territory and has raised the possibility of annexing it by force. The United States maintains informal relations and defense ties with Taiwan even though it recognizes Beijing as the government of China.
The trip is being considered at a time when China has stepped up what the United States and its allies in the Pacific describe as risky clashes with other armies to assert their vast territorial claims. Incidents have included dangerously close overflights that force other pilots to deviate to avoid collisions, or the harassment or obstruction of air and sea crews, including with blinding lasers or water cannons.
Dozens of such maneuvers have taken place this year alone, Ely Ratner, the U.S. deputy secretary of defense, told a South China Sea forum hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Tuesday. China denies the incidents.
US officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive security issues, described the need to create buffer zones around the speaker and her plane. The United States already has substantial forces spread across the region, so any increased security could largely be handled by assets already in place.
The military should also be prepared for any incident – even an accident in the air or on the ground. They said the United States would need nearby rescue capabilities and suggested that could include helicopters on ships already in the area.
Pelosi, D-California, has not publicly confirmed any new travel plans to Taiwan. She was due to leave in April, but she postponed the trip after testing positive for COVID-19.
The White House on Monday declined to comment directly on the matter, noting that it had not confirmed the trip. But President Joe Biden raised concerns about it last week, telling reporters the military thought his trip was “not a good idea right now”.
A Pelosi trip could well loom over a scheduled Thursday call between Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping, their first conversation in four months. A US official confirmed the plans for the call to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity ahead of the official announcement.
U.S. officials said the administration doubted China would take direct action against Pelosi herself or try to sabotage the visit. But they do not rule out the possibility that China could step up provocative military aircraft overflights in or near Taiwanese airspace and naval patrols in the Taiwan Strait if the trip takes place. And they are not preventing Chinese actions elsewhere in the region as a show of force.
Security analysts were divided Tuesday on the extent of any threat on the trip and the need for additional military protection.
The biggest risk during Pelosi’s trip is a Chinese show of force “gone awry, or some type of accident that results from a provocative show of action,” said Mark Cozad, acting associate director of the International Center. of security and defense policy at the Rand Corp. “So it could be an air collision. It could be some kind of missile test, and, again, when you’re doing this stuff, you know, there’s always the possibility of something going wrong.
Barry Pavel, director of the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council, scoffed at the reported consideration by US officials of aircraft carriers and warplanes to ensure the speaker’s safety. “Obviously the White House doesn’t want the speaker to go and I think that’s why you’re getting some of these suggestions.”
“She’s not going to leave with an armada,” Pavel said.
They also said a beefed up US military presence to protect Pelosi was likely to escalate tensions.
“It’s very possible that … our deterrence attempts are actually sending a very different signal than what we intend to send,” Cozad said. “And so you go into…a sort of escalating spiral, where our attempts to deter are actually seen as increasingly provocative and vice versa. And that can be a very dangerous dynamic.
On Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Beijing had repeatedly expressed its “solemn position” on a possible visit by Pelosi. He told reporters that China is ready to “take firm and strong measures to uphold national sovereignty and territorial integrity”.
Milley said this week that the number of interceptions by Chinese aircraft and ships in the Pacific region with US forces and other partners has increased dramatically over the past five years. He said Beijing’s military had become much more aggressive and dangerous, and the number of dangerous interactions had increased in similar proportions.
These include reports of Chinese fighter jets flying so close to a Canadian air security patrol last month that the Canadian pilot had to deviate to avoid the collision, and another close call with an Australian surveillance flight late May in which the Chinese crew launched a flurry of chunks of metal which were sucked into the engine of the other plane.
US officials say the prospect of an interception or show of force by Chinese planes near Pelosi’s flight is causing concern, necessitating the presence of US planes and other assets nearby.
The US aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and its strike group are currently operating in the Western Pacific and made a stopover in Singapore over the weekend. The strike group involves at least two other Navy ships and Carrier Air Wing 5, which includes F/A-18 fighter jets, helicopters and surveillance planes.
Before arriving at the Port of Singapore, the strike group was operating in the South China Sea. In addition, another navy vessel, the destroyer USS Benfold, has conducted freedom of navigation operations in the region, including a passage through the Taiwan Strait last week.
Knickmeyer reported from Washington.
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