(NewsNation) — It’s still unclear whether House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is actually going to Taiwan, as part of her planned trip to Asia.
Pelosi would be the highest-ranking American elected official to visit Taiwan since 1997, and if she does, she’ll be entering one of the world’s hottest and most contentious spots.
In a phone call Thursday, Chinese President Xi Jinping warned his U.S. counterpart, Joe Biden, against “external interference” in Beijing’s dealings with the island in Taiwan.
China conducted military exercises Saturday off its coast opposite Taiwan, as Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi embarks this weekend on a trip to Asia that could include the island democracy, sparking conflicts between the U.S. and China.
From 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday, China’s ruling communist party, the People’s Liberation Army, conducted “live-fire exercises” near the Pingtan islands off Fujian province. Ships were warned to avoid the area by the Maritime Safety Administration.
These exercises usually involve artillery, but there was no indication on whether Saturday’s included missiles, fighter planes or other weapons.
Taiwan and China split in 1949 following a civil war that ended with a communist victory on the mainland. They have no official relations but are linked by billions of dollars of trade and investment.
A Ministry of Defense spokesperson said ahead of Thursday’s call that Washington “must not arrange for Pelosi to visit Taiwan.” He said the ruling party’s military wing, the People’s Liberation Army, would take “strong measures to thwart any external interference.”
In a now-deleted tweet, a columnist from Chinese state media said: “If US fighter jets escort Pelosi’s plane into Taiwan, it is invasion. The [Peoples Liberation Army] has the right to forcibly dispel Pelosi’s plane and the US fighter jets, including firing warning shots and making tactical movement of obstruction. If ineffective, then shoot them down.”
Reuters reported the columnist took the tweet down after Twitter blocked his account.
NewsNation’s Mike Viqueira said this is the clearest sign yet that the Chinese are willing to kill Pelosi if she goes through with her plan to visit Taiwan, setting off a chain of events that could lead to open military conflict between the U.S. and China.
Politico reports that Pelosi, who has declined to confirm specifics of her Asia trip, is scheduled to lead a small delegation of lawmakers to Pacific countries beginning this weekend.
Although a stop in Taiwan is still up in the air for the Speaker of the House, three people familiar with her travel plans told Politico that the Pentagon is moving ahead with preparation anyway.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.