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Pelosi's Taiwan trip had major significance — and potential consequences

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Speaker Nancy Pelosi was on Taiwanese soil for less for less than 24 hours this week. But China, which claims the island nation as Chinese territory, has demonstrated its dismay with military exercises and by shutting down avenues of cooperation. We're joined now by somebody who joined the speaker on that trip, Rep. Andy Kim of New Jersey. Thanks so much for being with us, Mr. Kim.

ANDY KIM: Thanks for having me this morning.

SIMON: China warned the U.S. about this visit. Now it's called off talks on a range of issues and, of course, is conducting military exercises all around Taiwan. Do you have any second thoughts about making the trip?

KIM: Well, first, we have to think about what we were trying to accomplish, what it is that we're trying to do. What we're trying to do is to preserve the status quo, not to change it. And our efforts were very much in line with that. What we did was normal. It's normal for our government to engage with our partners. It's normal for congressional members to travel to Taiwan or any other place around the world. And for China to try to move that - so they are the ones that are trying to change that status quo. They are the ones that are trying to move them. And that's why it was important for us to be able to go and show our partnership with Taiwan as well as all the other partners we engage with in the Indo-Pacific.

SIMON: But I have to ask, Mr. Kim, can't the case be made that Taiwan actually faces a greater security threat following your visit than it was beforehand? Because not only does Chinese determination seem to be renewed, but there's always the chance that military exercises - a missile can be misfired or go astray. Somebody presses the wrong button, and then we're looking at a shooting conflict.

KIM: Well, there is definitely a concern across the board there. But when we look at the context leading up to the situation, as I said, on our end, nothing changed. We're trying to protect the status quo. But on the other side, what has changed is that the Chinese government has declared the Taiwan Strait not - no longer to be international waters.

What we've seen as well that's new is the Chinese government declaring that they're increasing their defense preparations to be ready for a possible invasion of Taiwan as early as 2027. We're seeing that shifting constantly right now. So I don't want anyone to equate the current situation with stability. The current situation is one of constant Chinese government provocation and constant erosion of the democratic capabilities of Taiwan. So there is no sense of just stagnation right now. Things are moving away from Taiwan because of these Chinese provocations already with - even without us engaging or acting.

SIMON: Well, let me ask you, Mr. Kim, did you hope that your trip would demonstrate American commitment to a free and independent Taiwan regardless of Chinese reaction?

KIM: Well, look, the words that you just used, again, is not what we're trying to achieve. Our government has not been pushing for independence in Taiwan. In fact, we were very clear about that. And if there is any doubt about that, you know, I urge the Chinese government to, again, engage with us in these conversations.

It's not about independence. It's about the status quo. We don't want unilateral changes from either side in terms of how the Taiwan Strait is managed across the strait - the tensions that are there. So we don't want to see unilateral change from the Chinese mainland side in terms of force. We don't want to see Taiwan declare independence and try to change it unilaterally in that way.

SIMON: Well, let me rephrase it. You hope then that your trip would demonstrate American commitment to the status quo, at least the status quo as it was before you made your trip.

KIM: Well, I think every action we were trying to do when it comes to Taiwan is about trying to preserve that status quo. So, yes, we're trying to show our support in that way. We're also, again, trying to show our partnership on a range of other issues including on economic efforts when it comes to chips and semiconductors, something that we just passed in terms of legislation to be able to bolster U.S. capabilities when it comes to semiconductors, which will be in partnership with Taiwan and others. So there's a long and wide range of partnership there that we have to be able to engage on. We have tens of thousands of Americans living in Taiwan. We have the ability and the right to be able to go and visit and go and be able to engage. And what we see on the Chinese side is this effort to try to shut down that kind of engagement. We're not even seeing talks between mainland China and the Chinese Communist Party with Taiwan officials.

SIMON: I'm afraid I haven't left a lot of time for this important question, but it's not hypothetical anymore. Would the United States defend Taiwan if China moves against it?

KIM: Well, that question there is a very tough one. What we do say is that, you know, we're going to be able to make sure that Taiwan has capabilities when it comes to their defense. And they are certainly a strong partner on that. But that decision is not for me to make alone. Our country is - as a whole, needs to be engaged on that. And that's something that I think about when I saw the thousands of people in Taiwan showing up for our arrival. They're excited about American partnership. They know that they need it. And it's up to us now to decide how far we're going to go. But I hope it never gets there. And I hope that we can maintain the status quo, maintain these capabilities for peace.

SIMON: Rep. Andy Kim, Democrat of New Jersey, thank you so much for being with us, sir.

KIM: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.