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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Lands in Taiwan Amid High Tensions with China. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired August 02, 2022 - 10:30   ET



HEIDI PRZYBYLA, POLITICAL JOURNALIST: Look, this race is not close as close as it was anymore. Eric Schmidt is pulling away. And so the president showed that when he has to, he's going to pull his punches in favor of an establishment candidate because they cannot risk this race. It is too important. President Trump won this state by several points but we're blunt, only won by a few points.

And to Seung Min's point about the races that really matter, so we're talking about a Senate race here but the races in August that are really important for us to be watching are the secretary of state positions, AG positions and governor's positions that are going to decide who is in control during the next election of actual elections administration.

We hear a lot about how the system held, Jim, in the last election. Well, this time we're looking at a number of these states. Arizona just this month, Arizona, Michigan, Wisconsin, all of these states where elections administration is now going to be potentially taken over by folks who have outright denied the election, and they're not just fringe candidates, right?

In Michigan, the gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon has said as recently as May outright that the election was stolen. She is the establishment candidate. She has all the establishment money from the DeVos family, for in instance, and these are the races in just like a handful of states.


PRZYBYLA: That will determine our democracy.

SCIUTTO: So you have Democrats in some of those races supporting those very candidates, making a political calculation they will be weaker candidates for Democrats to face in the fall while clearly undermining their own argument that those kinds of candidates undermine the Democratic process.

PRZYBYLA: And there are a number of Democrats, Jim, now who are very critical of that, going on the record saying, look, in some states, this might be a smart calculation like in Maryland where it actually seems to have helped elevate the election denier candidate but in other states where the races could be closer, it's a real political gamble. SCIUTTO: Yes.

PRZYBYLA: And they're going after people who walked the plank like Peter Meijer in Michigan.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Yes.

PRZYBYLA: To cast these really difficult votes, only 10 Republicans who were willing to stand up.

SCIUTTO: And now taking them out.

PRZYBYLA: And take that vote.

SCIUTTO: OK. Another thing we're watching, Seung, is a voter initiative on the ballot in Kansas which would amend the state constitution to allow abortion rights to be taken away because there is state constitutional guarantees of that there. Interesting because it's a vote taking place in the primary as opposed to in the fall when there is higher turnout.

KIM: Right.

SCIUTTO: Democrats say that's a deliberate effort by Republicans who control the statehouse to limit voters who support abortion rights from turning out.

KIM: Particular that as well, and also just the way that the actual question on the ballot is worded can be a little bit confusing. Basically you have to vote no if you want to protect access to abortion in Kansas, which has become pretty much kind of a safe haven for people in neighboring states to come to the state for access to the procedure, but it's going to be a really interesting test even honestly the August day of how motivating abortion can be particularly for Democrats in the upcoming fall elections.

I mean, we know Kansas as obviously a red state, a conservative state, but it does have, you know, competitive House races. You can look at that Kansas City area where the power or the suburban voters are swing voters and will be really watched closely this fall. How motivating abortion can be. People do really see this as a first test case in that matter.

SCIUTTO: Test case. Both motivation, I imagine, also how people end up voting in a race like this.

KIM: Definitely. But the important thing to watch, too, is that obviously in the fall elections people aren't going to be voting on just abortion, obviously.


KIM: They're going to be voting on the economy, inflation and other matters but still a very interesting test case.

SCIUTTO: Yes, it will be a big test case but actually voting against abortion rights was often a one issue vote for some Republican voters. We'll see if the same holds for Democrats the other way.

Seung Min Kim, Heidi Przybyla, thanks so much to both of you.

Well, right now one of the tallest buildings in Taiwan is broadcasting a welcome message for who? The House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Her expected visit to Taipei today has sparked back and forth threats between Chinese and U.S. officials. We're going to take you live to Taiwan right after the break.



SCIUTTO: New this morning, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is expected to arrive in Taiwan today. The visit is the first of the U.S. House speaker in 25 years. It comes amid heightened tensions between Washington and Beijing.

Joining me now to discuss, CNN national security correspondent Kylie Atwood, CNN correspondent Selina Wang in Beijing, CNN senior international correspondent Will Ripley who is on the ground there in Taipei, Taiwan.

Will, if I could begin with you, we were just showing pictures of a welcome sign going up on Taipei's largest tower just in the last hour there to Pelosi.

What is Taiwan's response to this potential visit?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we know that the foreign minister is at the airport. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has finally confirmed that they're waiting for a, in their words, VIP guest. But other than that, it's been remarkable to see this government, which is one of the most transparent governments I've ever covered, Jim, complete radio silence today from the president's office on down. Not even a neutral statement or message, you know, in support or against. Nothing.

They're not answering questions at the Defense Ministry. So we have no way to confirm what's being reported in Chinese state media right now that some fighter jets may have been approaching, you know, the median line of the Taiwan strait.


We just -- we're not getting any sort of response from Taiwan because, frankly, they don't want to exacerbate this situation. We do know that hundreds of Taiwanese food products have been banned from being imported into China, which may give us a preview of what measures China may take. If it's not a military show of force, they certainly have used their economic power in the past to punish smaller countries that they feel upset with.

Case in point, you know, Lotte in South Korea and now, you know, given that Taiwan's biggest export partner is China, we have to watch closely both military but also economic to see what measures Beijing may be taking to respond to Pelosi's visit and show just how angry they are that such a high level official is going to be welcomed here, meeting with the president here.

And basically at this time that Xi Jinping wants everything to be perfect for his unprecedented, you know, coronation for his third term and potential presidency for life to have somebody that high level from the U.S. landing on an island that he thinks is a province of his country and has vowed to take back eventually. You know, they can't be happy, but how far will they go, that's the big question.

SCIUTTO: Big question. They have used economic pressure before. They've used it on the Philippines, they've used it on Australia. A standard response from Beijing.

Selina Wang, in Beijing, tell us, Selina, what you are hearing from Chinese officials, from the Foreign Ministry about their response to, well, the impending arrival of the U.S. House speaker.

SELINA WANG, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This anger has just been mounting over the past few days. Officials calling this reckless and dangerous. Just moments ago also another statement saying that the U.S. is the biggest destroyer of peace because despite what the U.S. is saying that this is just another congressional visit, China does not see this visit in a vacuum. They are lumping it in with what they see as a broader U.S. strategy and policy that is slowly chipping away at the One China Policy.

And you cannot overstate just how important this idea that Taiwan is part of the motherland. How important that is to the very DNA of the Communist Party and its legitimacy. So that's why you're hearing this kind of language that this is a direct threat to China's sovereignty. That's why the military has said it won't sit idly by. But again, this is the kind of incendiary language that we have heard before from Beijing when it comes to Taiwan.

The difference, though, is that we've got a leader at the top who's China's most powerful leader since Mao Zedong, the president of China Xi Jinping, he is bent on this eventual reunification but at the same time that he needs to appear strong ahead of this key political meeting where he's going to be reanointed, widely expected to for that unprecedented third term. He does also need stability in China especially given all of the problems here at home, the economic devastation from Chinese Zero COVID policy.

So we should expect some sort of response that shows China isn't a paper tiger, that shows their anger, to Will's point, but that doesn't push this into a broader escalation. So that could be a combination of economic coercion, diplomatic coercion as well as a show of military force.

SCIUTTO: Yes, (INAUDIBLE) is not reunification is on Beijing's terms. It's not what Taiwan wants or the Taiwanese people want.

Selina Wang, in Beijing, thanks so much.

Let's go to Kylie Atwood at the State Department. Well, you're in New York but you covered the State Department. I'm curious when you speak to State Department officials, how severe are their concerns are that this inflames the situation there or are they taking these Chinese statements as empty threats?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's no doubt that there are real concerns and House Speaker Pelosi was briefed on those concerns before she actually made the decision to go forth with this trip during the planning process. We know, according to the White House, that she was briefed by Department of Defense officials about their concerns, about of course how China could potentially respond to this visit.

So even though a lot of what we have seen from China up until this point has been really rhetorical aggressions and threatening language, there are concerns of course, as Selina was saying, that China could actually take some action here, whether it is military, whether it is in the economic sense.

And the other thing that the Biden administration is doing right now is really trying to publicly bring the temperature down a little bit with the secretary of state saying yesterday, look, there has been a former speaker of the House who has visited Taiwan, albeit that was 25 years ago, Jim, so Xi Jinping wasn't even president at that point, and this is a very significant trip for House Speaker Pelosi to be making, of course, given these concerns.

But what the Biden administration is trying to say here is that this isn't unprecedented. Lawmakers have visited Taiwan. The One China Policy is still in place and they are calling on China to not escalate the situation with the secretary of State saying very clearly that if there is a crisis here, that would be a product of China's response and calling on them not to do that for fear of miscalculations.


SCIUTTO: All right. Kylie Atwood, Will Ripley, Selina Wang, thanks so much to all of you.

We have been monitoring events in Taipei in what appears to be Pelosi's plane has now landed in Taipei. We will bring you more details as that happens. Meanwhile, I want to speak to Jeffrey Bader, he's a former senior director for Asian Affairs at the National Security Council, this under President Obama. He was also once a foreign service officer in Taiwan.

Jeffrey, good to have you here. I suppose the biggest picture question here, and those are live pictures of what we believe to be Speaker Pelosi's plane arriving in Taipei, it's a risk reward question. The reward of the support this shows for Taiwan under renewed and growing threats from China versus the risk of further dividing the U.S. and China, perhaps creating escalation there. Where do you stand?

JEFFREY BADER, FORMER SENIOR DIRECTOR FOR ASIAN AFFAIRS, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: Well, Jim, I think that the people in the State Department as your correspondents are speaking to probably answered that question quietly that they are not happy about this visit. I think that what Taiwan needs is American deterrence, military deterrence against a POC attack and it needs for the U.S. to have an especially stable relationship with China so that China is not tempted to use force against Taiwan to the degree that the U.S.-China relationships goes off the cliff and to the degree that the U.S. is seen as moving away from the One China Policy, then Beijing feels it has to signal aggressive intent towards Taipe. Otherwise, they'll have no choice but to use force.

So I think this is a trip which does not serve U.S. interest. It's because of secretary -- Speaker Pelosi's desire so go, I think people in the administration were not enthusiastic about it from the start but unfortunately Speaker Pelosi apparently decides to proceed and required that President Biden call her to call off but she didn't do.

SCIUTTO: The -- we saw the Chinese president stand by the Russian President Vladimir Putin as he brazenly violated the territorial integrity of Ukraine in an ongoing invasion there. What is the substance of China's claims for territorial integrity when it comes to Taiwan? Taiwan today regardless of the One China Policy is a functioning democracy, a vibrant economy, supplies some 80 percent of the world's semiconductors. I mean, does it have a leg to stand on, China?

BADER: Jim, what you described is accurate and our goal is to keep it that way. To the extent that we provoke China into seeking reunification by coercion then we are putting at peril the peace and prosperity that has enabled Taiwan to become that effective, a member of the international community and supplier of semiconductors. It just referenced it's a Chinese nationalism which has considered Taiwan a part of China forever except when it was occupied by Japan.

That's a position that was never disputed by the United States. The objective is not -- the American objective is to prevent conflict, not to adjudicate further between -- about Taiwan's status.

SCIUTTO: Understand. Again, we are watching live pictures here from Taipei, Taiwan where it is coming up on 11:00 at night. That plane you see there with the American flag on its tail is Nancy Pelosi's plane just arrived in the Chinese capital. We believe, it's our understanding that Taiwanese officials will greet her as she lands there.

Jeffrey, just a quick question for you before we go to Capitol Hill, does Taiwan want this visit? Do Taiwanese officials welcome the speaker's visit?

BADER: That's a great question, Jim. I think that overtly they certainly welcome it. And there are good reasons for them to welcome it. Taiwan, as you know, has almost no diplomatic partners and the U.S. is their most important partner so any sign of support by the United States for Taiwan is welcome in principle. On the other hand, they do not wish to bait the bear. They understand that China has a particular perspective on high level visits to Taiwan. After all that's what caused a crisis in the Taiwan strait 25 years ago.

And so there -- I think that given the timing, right before the 20th party congress, I'm not sure that there was enthusiasm, you know, within the Taiwan government for having a visit right now. They might have preferred to have it later.


SCIUTTO: Jeffrey Bader, stand by. And you see there now in the light, United States of America, the familiar blue and white colors of U.S. government aircraft. Nancy Pelosi's plane has taxied to a halt at the airport in the Taiwanese capital of Taipei.

Manu Raju on Capitol Hill for us. Manu, as you know, this was not a visit that the White House at least was encouraging. White House officials have said to me it's up to the speaker and we will work to keep her safe while she's there, et cetera, but President Biden let on in his public comments that the Defense Department did not believe this was the right time for such a visit.

Did Pelosi -- is Pelosi going there over in effect the objections of the Biden administration?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and look, there were concerns that this is only going to exacerbate tensions at a critical moment in which the U.S. is trying to keep China out of the Russian war against Ukraine or a whole host of other issues that are leading to tensions between the two countries. But Nancy Pelosi has long been a very sharp critic of China, the China Communist Party.

This has been a key part of her record through the course of her long career in Congress. Of course, in 1991 when she was in China, she walked -- without permission of the Chinese leadership, she and two other members of Congress went to Tiananmen Square, unfurled a pro- democracy banner in that square --

SCIUTTO: Manu, hold the thought just for a moment. On the steps there, I believe that is the speaker, Nancy Pelosi, wearing a mask, setting foot on Taiwanese territory to be greeted by Taiwanese officials. Sorry, go ahead, Manu. I interrupted you.

RAJU: Yes. And look, this is the first moment, Jim, here that we have official confirmation that the speaker in fact here is landing in China, the first, the highest ranking U.S. official to do so in 25 years. She has not said that she is going to go to Taiwan. She has refused to publicly confirm it. We reported that at CNN yesterday that she was expected to go but this has been under wraps for some time because of concerns of security issues and the like, and because, as you mentioned, the pressure from the administration for her not to go but as you can see here, deciding that this is a key moment for her to appear here in Taiwan.

SCIUTTO: Yes, as you noted on Monday, China warned against the egregious political impact, China's words, of Pelosi's visit, saying that the Chinese military won't stand idly by. It is not clear what they mean by that. We do know that there were some Chinese warplanes that came very close to the dividing line between Chinese and Taiwanese territory as it's recognized internationally. It's a bit dark there as we watch this, but there is an official

greeting party. And here comes in fact the speaker of the House. It was not the woman seen earlier. This is the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, walking down the steps of her official U.S. government airplane and in just a second here will set foot on Taiwanese territory. The first time a U.S. speaker of the House has visited Taiwan since 1997. That was Newt Gingrich at the time, of course a Republican, during the Clinton presidency.

Will Ripley, he is in Taipei for us. Tell us how Taiwan has been preparing for this.

RIPLEY: Well, they certainly haven't been telling us anything publicly on the record reportable -- you know, that we can cite. But we have been piecing together, speaking with sources, you know, checking information that's been in, you know, various local media. So here is how we can kind of -- we assume, we believe based on our reporting, that this is going to go down. So we have the Foreign Minister Joseph Wu who's there greeting Speaker Pelosi right now.

And then, you know, she may do a few more informal meet-and-greets at the airport. But it is, you know, almost 11:00 at night here and so she'll be heading to her hotel. We believe it's a hotel right near Taipei 101, which as you mentioned just a few minutes ago, has been lit up with a welcome message saying that Taiwan loves the U.S. and then also saying Speaker Pelosi. That would be the most public demonstration that we've seen, you know, welcoming the speaker.

Other than that, it's been radio silence from the president's office on down. Not even reporter questions are being answered by the Ministry of Defense. It was Chinese state media, you know, unusually that talked about the Chinese claims that may have been flying towards the median, the dividing line on the Taiwan strait that a line that by the way China has never agreed to recognize. This is -- you know, they don't -- they think they can fly anywhere they want.


RIPLEY: They think that Taiwan is a province of their country even though the communist rulers have never controlled it, but yet, you have now Nancy Pelosi, you know, one of the highest level officials to visit as you mentioned 25 years, very long time, since Newt Gingrich back in '97. Second in line to the presidency.


She will be meeting with Taiwan's president tomorrow. She will be meeting with members of parliament.


RIPLEY: And we also assume she might be doing some other meetings with business leaders here, as well, because as you mentioned the chip manufacturers, the semiconductors. She might visit some, you know, historical sites. If she's going to be spending perhaps a full day here, there is going to be a lot of things that could happen that could make China pretty unhappy but the big unknown is how are they really going to show that. We're just going to get propaganda videos which will be in bluster which is fine, a rhetorical escalation is fine. What nobody wants to see, I think, Jim, is for that to evolve from a rhetorical escalation into an actual confrontation militarily, or economically, frankly.

SCIUTTO: Yes. And there you see her now, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, she has arrived, greeted, as Will was saying, by the Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu. We should note this is not an official as it were. They're treating it more like a normal visit, a congressional delegation of which we should note there have been several comprising both Democratic and Republican lawmakers in recent months.

The difference here is that this is the speaker of the House, third most powerful arguably person in the U.S. government. And that is a fact that Chinese leaders take very seriously, second in line to the presidency.

We have Selina Wang in Beijing. Now that this has happened, Selina, have you seen any reaction or heard any reaction from Chinese officials or state media?

WANG: Well, we have just heard from state media that there are some PLA fighter jets that are crossing the Taiwan straits. We have not confirmed how far they're going to take that. Of course China has been regularly sending warplanes around Taiwan's self-declared air defense zone so we have not confirmed where that's going to go. Most experts I've been speaking to say we could see a mixture of economic coercion that Will was talking about, as well as potentially diplomatic coercion including a show of this military force.

And the buildup to this moment, some of that also coinciding with celebrations for China's military day, we have seen more of these drills happening around China Seas including in the province that is closest to Taiwan. We've also seen this rhetorical escalation around preparing for war and these military propaganda videos but most do not believe China would engage in any sort of direct hostile action in response to this visit, but the concern is that with all the military hardware on the ground, how does that increase the risk of a miscalculations here?


WANG: You know, the other key questions are the ramifications of this, they're going to last far beyond her actual visit there. How could this increase China's coercion of Taiwan moving forward in the coming years?

SCIUTTO: It is an open question and we should note that this is part of a series of interactions between the U.S. and Taiwan, that China has not been happy with. President Trump, former President Trump's first call after his election was with the Chinese president, then Chinese president at the time.

Will Ripley in Taipei for us, can you tell us how the next hours will play out, how long this visit will be? RIPLEY: So what we believe, and of course because none of this has

actually been officially put on the schedule yet, I have to give you that caveat, Jim, but as we understand things to be, there will be, you know, overnighting at the hotel right near at Taipei 101 after these, you know, greetings at the airport which may already be over. I mean, I'm sure everybody is pretty tired and ready to get to bed.

And we believe that the speaker will have an early day. She'll get up in the morning and have meetings with some members of parliament. She'll be meeting potentially with lots of different, you know, perhaps some, you know, some working committees, you know, people who are certainly, you know, handling defense issues. She's going to want to, you know, hear what they have to say, learn about how, you know, their work flows are similar, are different.

I mean, this is a young democracy, a very vibrant democracy, and I'm sure that for Speaker Pelosi who was, you know, also very much active in politics at the time that this was a dictatorship here in Taiwan, up until the late, you know, 1980s there was martial law. Unprecedented long period of martial law. And the people who are now the leaders of this country were essentially meeting in basements illegally. And now they're -- you know, you have them in positions of power.


RIPLEY: I'm sure they would love to share stories with each other. Anyway, moving on from that, we expect meetings with some business leaders as well, we're talking about perhaps visiting some important, you know, monuments and sights as time allows. But it does seems that it might be quite a full day. We're still hoping that we have a chance to ask the speaker some questions but at this stage, anything like that is probably going to be thrown together and we'll a -- you know, might not get much notice. But we're watching just like you are and hoping to learn more information about her plans here.

SCIUTTO: Jeffrey Bader is still with us, former China director for the National Security Council under President Obama.

And Jeffrey, August 1st, Chinese military celebrating its founding. We're also coming up on a key party congress in Beijing where the Chinese president will break convention to take a third term as president. There were term limits there and perhaps be in effect president for life. Tell us how the timing of this is received in China.