U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s possible trip to Taiwan on Tuesday night has led to threats of a military response from China and even sparked fears of World War III. Now all eyes—more than 300,000 pairs of them—are on where she lands.
China claims self-ruled Taiwan as its own territory and sees any visits by foreign officials as a violation of its sovereignty. Pelosi, who is reportedly arriving in Taipei on Tuesday night, would be the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit the island in 25 years.
The 82-year-old Democrat landed in Singapore to begin her Asia tour on Monday in that plane, with the call sign SPAR19, although it’s unclear if she was onboard when it took off from Malaysia on Tuesday afternoon.
The second most-tracked flight, followed by 7,000 people, is a Taiwanese-operated passenger plane that left Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur at around the same time that the U.S. Air Force aircraft departed from the city.
Pelosi is leading a congressional delegation on a tour of the U.S.’ Asian allies, including Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea, and Japan. Pelosi’s official itinerary makes no mention of Taiwan, but Taiwanese and American outlets have reported that she would land in Taipei on Tuesday night after she visited Malaysia.
President Xi Jinping and other Chinese officials have warned of countermeasures should Pelosi proceed with her Taiwan trip. The Chinese government twice said its military would not “sit idly by” if the House Speaker visits the island.
Reports of Pelosi’s planned visit to Taiwan have dominated Chinese social media for days, as many call on the government to intercept her plane as well as to seize Taiwan.
A longtime critic of the Chinese government, Pelosi has been a vocal supporter of a free and democratic Taiwan, which Beijing has sought to isolate diplomatically. She planned to meet Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen on Wednesday.
The U.S. Air Force C-40C plane, a modified version of the Boeing 737, was last seen on Tuesday evening flying north toward Taiwan after crossing Indonesia.
Military activity has been reported on both sides of the narrow strait separating Taiwan and China ahead of Pelosi’s expected visit.
Chinese planes flew close to the median line dividing the waterway on Tuesday morning, according to Reuters. Taiwan raised combat readiness the same morning, the Taiwanese national news outlet Central News Agency reported.
Aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and several other warships are positioned in waters east of Taiwan and are prepared to stick around as a “contingency option,” according to the USNI News, an outlet run by the U.S. Naval Institute.
UPDATE: This article has been updated with the latest flight path of SPAR19.