The White House summoned China’s ambassador on Thursday to condemn China’s “irresponsible” military activities near Taiwan as tensions continue to escalate in the region following US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the island this week.
“After China’s actions overnight, we summoned PRC Ambassador Qin Gang to the White House to demarche him about the PRC’s provocative actions. We condemned the PRC’s military actions, which are irresponsible, at odds with our long-standing goal of maintaining peace and stability and across the Taiwan Strait,” National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications John Kirby said in a statement to CNN.
The decision to summon Qin came after days of warnings to China not to escalate tensions in the region following the speaker’s visit to the self-governing island, which the Chinese Communist Party regards as its territory despite having never controlled it. It represents a shift from the White House’s attitude about the trip before it occurred, when officials privately tried to warn Pelosi over the possible consequences of the visit and how it could harm US-China relations. The meeting was first reported by The Washington Post.
In the days since Pelosi left Taiwan, China has taken multiple bellicose steps, both diplomatically and militarily.
On the diplomatic front, Beijing is sanctioning Pelosi and her immediate family and said Friday it would suspend cooperation with Washington on several issues, including combating the climate crisis.
The pause in climate talks between the US and China is symbolically significant for the two nations’ bilateral relationship because the climate crisis was one of the few areas the US and China had continued to cooperate on in recent years, even during times of heightened geopolitical tensions.
The US and China announced in Glasgow last year a bilateral agreement to cooperate on the climate crisis, widely seen as a progressive step that would allow China to work on key issues – like reducing methane emissions – without having to join global agreements that it had shown resistance to. The nations’ climate representatives had been in regular communication to build on that agreement.
Taiwan’s defense ministry said Chinese warships and aircraft conducted drills in waters around the island and that Chinese forces crossed the median line – the halfway point between the island and mainland China – in a move the ministry called a “highly provocative act.”
Two Chinese drones also flew close to Japan on Thursday, prompting the country’s Air Self-Defense Force to scramble fighter jets in response, according to a statement from Tokyo’s Ministry of Defense.
Kirby said the White House told Qin the US does not want a crisis in the region and reiterated there has been no change to the US’ “One China” policy and that Washington recognizes the People’s Republic of China as the sole legitimate government of China.
“We also made clear that the United States is prepared for what Beijing chooses to do. We will not seek and do not want a crisis. 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,” Kirby said in the statement.
NSC Coordinator for Indo Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell met with Qin, according to a source familiar with the matter.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters on Friday that the US has repeatedly conveyed to China that “we do not seek and will not provoke a crisis.” He called China’s recent actions “provocative” and “a significant escalation.”
The speaker’s visit, he said, was “peaceful” and “there is no justification for this extreme, disproportionate and escalatory military response.”
Pelosi, a California Democrat, said the visit – the first time a US House speaker had visited Taiwan in 25 years – was intended to make it “unequivocally clear” that the United States would “not abandon” Taipei.
It came at a low point in US-China relations and despite warnings from the Biden administration against a visit to the democratically governed island.
The US maintains close unofficial ties with Taiwan, and is bound by law to provide Taiwan with defensive arms. But it remains deliberately vague on whether it would defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion, a policy known as “strategic ambiguity.”
The US postponed a long planned missile test because of China’s angry reaction to Pelosi’s trip. A US official told CNN that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin directed the Department of Defense to postpone the test flight of an unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile after China launched military exercises.
A top official at the Chinese embassy in Washington said Friday that Qin “totally rejected the so-called condemnation” by the White House of China’s cross-strait military actions when he was summoned.
“The only way out of this crisis is that the US side must take matters immediately to rectify its mistakes and eliminate the grave impact of Pelosi’s visit,” Minister Jing Quan said during a virtual briefing.
Jing reiterated that China views Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan as “a serious violation of the One China policy.” He said that they view the trip by the lawmaker as an official US government visit, noting that Pelosi flew on a US government plane. Using a government plane is standard for congressional delegations, especially for the House speaker who is high in the line of presidential succession.
He argued Pelosi “knows where China’s red lines are” but said she “still chose to deliberately provoke and challenge China’s position.”
Kirby on Friday responded to Qin, saying, “There’s nothing here for the United States to rectify – the Chinese can go a long way to taking the tensions down simply by stopping these provocative military exercises and ending the rhetoric.”
“We don’t want a crisis. We’re not seeking a crisis and quite frankly there’s no reason for a crisis to erupt out of this,” Kirby said in a response to a question from CNN’s MJ Lee.
He told reporters the US condemns China’s sanctioning of Pelosi and her family and said it was “unjustified,” maintaining the speaker had “every right to go.”
This story has been updated with additional information.