Newt Gingrich went to Taiwan as House speaker in 1997.
There is precedent for a House speaker visiting Taiwan and stirring up geopolitical tension: Newt Gingrich did just that in 1997.
That year, Mr. Gingrich, a Republican from Georgia who served as speaker from 1995 to 1999, made Taiwan the last stop of a trip that also included visits to China, Japan and South Korea.
His trip to Taipei, the Taiwanese capital, lasted just three hours. But it still drew criticism from Beijing.
During the visit, Mr. Gingrich met with President Lee Teng-hui and made a speech at the American Institute in Taiwan, an unofficial United States embassy. In the speech, he exceeded the State Department’s formulations at the time about American security commitments to the island.
“It is important to be explicit with both the People’s Republic of China and Taiwan that should Beijing seek to reunify Taiwan with the mainland by force or intimidation, the United States will use all means necessary to prevent it,” Mr. Gingrich.
Mr. Gingrich had also spoken with rare bluntness for an American official about Taiwan during his trip to China a few days earlier, saying at one point that he thought Chinese leaders were “more aware now that we would defend Taiwan if it were militarily attacked.”
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman at the time, Shen Guofang, declined to criticize Mr. Gingrich during his trip or immediately after he left. A Clinton administration official in Washington said Mr. Gingrich had been “speaking for himself.”
But after the speech in Taiwan, Mr. Shen publicly accused Mr. Gingrich of making “improper” statements and urged the United States to speak with one voice on foreign policy.
Mr. Gingrich told Fox News this week that the choreography of his 1997 trip to Taiwan was the result of a compromise between the Clinton administration and the Chinese government. Beijing had resisted his plan to visit the island directly after China, he said, so officials in Washington and Beijing “worked out a deal” in which he would first travel from China to Japan before heading to Taiwan.
“That was that,” he said. “They backed down.”
The anecdote could not be independently verified.
Mr. Gingrich also said in the interview, which took place before Ms. Pelosi landed in Taiwan on Tuesday night, that he hoped she would not abandon her plans to visit. “You have to stand up the Chinese communists or they will interpret it as a sign of weakness, and they’ll grow even more aggressive,” he said.