US HOUSE SPEAKER Nancy Pelosi has landed in Singapore on an, at a minimum, four-country visit to the region.
She has still not said whether she will make a fifth stop, in Taiwan, which is stretching strategic ambiguity to near breaking point.
Given Chinese officials’ high-profile warnings of the consequences of any visit, it will be difficult for her not to visit Taipei; otherwise, she will be accused in Washington of buckling to Beijing.
Word reaches this Bystander that US naval assets in the region are moving closer to the island and that the People’s Liberation Army is conducting live-fire exercises near offshore islands opposite Taiwan.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian’s description of Pelosi as the “number three official of the US government” may suggest a lack of understanding in Beijing about the US constitutional separation of powers. While Pelosi is second in line of succession to the vice-president in assuming presidential powers in the event of the US president’s death, incapacity or removal from office, she is not third in the line of command in the executive branch of government. As head of the legislative branch, she can act independently of the White House.
None of that constitutional nuance will prevent an escalatory response from Beijing should Pelosi set foot on the island or meet President Tsai Ing-wen, even in international waters.