TAIPEI: US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi was expected to arrive in Taipei later on Tuesday (Aug 2), people briefed on the matter said, as several Chinese warplanes flew close to the median line dividing the Taiwan Strait, a source told Reuters.
China has repeatedly warned against Pelosi going to Taiwan, which it claims as its own, and the United States said on Monday that it would not be intimidated by Chinese "sabre rattling" over the visit.
In addition to Chinese planes flying close to the median line of the sensitive waterway on Tuesday morning, several Chinese warships had remained close to the unofficial dividing line since Monday, the source told Reuters.
The source said both Chinese warships and aircraft "squeezed" the median line on Tuesday morning, an unusual move the person described as "very provocative"
The person said the Chinese aircraft repeatedly conducted tactical moves of briefly "touching" the median line and circling back to the other side of the strait on Tuesday morning, while Taiwanese aircraft were on standby nearby.
Neither side's aircraft normally cross the median line.
In a statement on Tuesday, Taiwan's Defence Ministry said it has a full grasp of military activities near Taiwan and will appropriately dispatch forces in reaction to "enemy threats".
China's defence and foreign ministries did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
In the southeastern Chinese city of Xiamen, which lies opposite Taiwan and is home to a large military presence, residents reported sightings of armoured vehicles on the move on Tuesday and posted pictures online.
Chinese social media was abuzz with both trepidation about potential conflict and patriotic fervour over the prospect of unification with Taiwan, and the topic of Pelosi's visit was the top-trending item on Twitter-like Weibo.
One person familiar with Pelosi's itinerary said that most of her planned meetings, including with President Tsai Ing-wen, were scheduled for Wednesday, and that it was possible that her delegation would only arrive in Taiwan early on Wednesday.
"Everything is uncertain," the person said.
Taiwan newspaper Liberty Times said Pelosi's delegation was due to arrive at 10.20 pm on Tuesday, without naming sources.
Pelosi was visiting Malaysia on Tuesday, having begun her Asia tour in Singapore on Monday. Her office said she will also go to South Korea and Japan, but made no mention of a Taiwan visit.
Taiwan's foreign ministry said it had no comment on reports of Pelosi's travel plans, but the White House - which would not confirm the trip - said she had the right to go.
Beijing's responses could include firing missiles near Taiwan, large-scale air or naval activities, or further "spurious legal claims" such as China's assertion that the Taiwan Strait is not an international waterway, White House national security spokesperson John Kirby told reporters in Washington on Monday.
"We will not take the bait or engage in sabre rattling. At the same time, we will not be intimidated," Kirby said.
Four sources said Pelosi was scheduled to meet a small group of activists who are outspoken about China's human rights record on Wednesday afternoon.
The meeting is likely to take place at the National Human Rights Museum at New Taipei City, according to a source with direct knowledge of the matter.
On Monday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said it would be "a gross interference in China's internal affairs" if Pelosi visits Taiwan, and warned that "the Chinese People's Liberation Army will never sit idly by."
Asked what kind of measures the PLA might take, Zhao said: "If she dares to go, then let us wait and see."
A visit by 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.
The White House has dismissed China's rhetoric as groundless and inappropriate.