World · August 2, 2022

Pelosi arrives in Taiwan, increasing US-China tension

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi arrived in Taiwan on Tuesday for an unannounced but widely anticipated and controversial visit that will surely aggravate US-China tensions and fears of a military conflict between the two superpowers.

Pelosi (D-San Francisco), an outspoken critic from Beijing, is the highest-elected US official to visit Taiwan in 25 years. Even before his arrival on an official tour of Asia, the prospect of a stop in Taiwan aroused the ire of Beijing, which sees the trip as a challenge to its claim to sovereignty on the self-governing island.

“Our delegation’s visit to Taiwan honors America’s unwavering commitment to supporting Taiwan’s vibrant democracy,” Pelosi tweeted minutes after landing at Taipei airport.

In an excavation of China, he added that supporting Taiwan “is more important today than ever, as the world must choose between autocracy and democracy”, but he also insisted that his visit “does not contradict it in any way”. US policy towards China and Taiwan that has held for decades.

Chinese officials were quick to threaten reprisals, warning that the country’s military is ready to act and that “those who play with fire will die for it.” Aggressive rhetoric has fueled concerns about military escalation, fueling a debate about the wisdom of Pelosi’s journey and the potential backlash to it.

The democratically governed island of 23 million has become a central point of contention in the deterioration of US-China relations. With growing distrust between the two countries, analysts said Pelosi’s visit could lead to communication problems and a military confrontation, although neither side wanted war.

“The risk of an unintended crisis due to China’s large-scale military stance is unpleasantly high,” said Amanda Hsiao, senior Chinese analyst at the International Crisis Group think tank. “Political leaders on both sides are very likely to radically misunderstand each other’s intentions.”

A lengthy phone call between President Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping last week on issues including Taiwan failed to defuse tensions over the visit. Given the heightened animosity, the US, China and Taiwan will have to proceed with caution to avoid aggravating the situation, Hsiao said.

China’s global power and influence has grown since the last such visit by a U.S. official of Pelosi’s rank, when then-speaker Newt Gingrich, a Republican, traveled to Taiwan in 1997 to meet with then-President Lee Teng-hui. Although some experts in the United States have warned that Pelosi’s trip, while offering little material benefit, could elicit a rattling response from Beijing that morphs into a broader crisis, others feared that a cancellation would be seen as a bending to the Chinese pressure and undermining confidence US support for Taiwan.

Although the Biden administration is reluctant to appear kind to China, it also has little interest in antagonizing the country’s leadership, particularly with the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine. The US has warned China against providing material support to Russia and would have a hard time addressing both countries’ challenges at the same time.

Prior to Pelosi’s trip, Biden said the Pentagon advised against him, but was taking steps to ensure his safety. White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the visit is not against longstanding US policy and should not be a reason for China to increase military activity.

Meanwhile, analysts said Beijing would be under pressure to carry out its warnings as it stops short of actions that could drag it into a war with the United States, which is bound by federal law to ensure Taiwan can defend itself. Biden previously said the US would intervene militarily if China attacked Taiwan, even though the administration withdrew comments each time. China’s response could include missile tests, more aggressive excursions of warplanes and ships, and large-scale military exercises around Taiwan.

Other possibilities could include a direct naval blockade to the main southwestern port city of Kaohsiung, no-fly zones over the Taiwan Strait, and targeted military exercises in the north, near the capital, Taipei and east, cutting Taiwan’s pipeline to the outside. world. These scenarios would represent a serious danger for the Taiwanese army, which would have to react by taking off warplanes and naval vehicles.

“The Chinese military will not target the United States,” said Yujen Kuo, director of the National Political Research Institute at National Sun Yat-Sen University in Taiwan. “China wants to punish Taiwan”.

Prior to Pelosi’s arrival, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army conducted military exercises, including live-fire drills off the coast opposite Taiwan. On Tuesday, Reuters reported that Chinese warplanes and ships approached the unofficial “midline” of the Taiwan Strait, signaling a more provocative military stance.

China has also suspended food imports from more than 100 companies in Taiwan, local media reported here Tuesday. China previously banned Taiwanese products such as pineapple and grouper, seen as an attempt to exert economic pressure on the island.

Concerns over the military conflict in the Taiwan Strait have increased as Beijing stepped up demands for unification and sent a record number of warplanes into the Taiwan Air Defense Identification Zone. Growing tensions and China’s expanding military capabilities have led some officials to warn that an attack is possible in the coming years.

Xi, who is expected to break China’s political norms by securing a third five-year term as president by the end of the year, considers unification with Taiwan to be of the utmost importance as part of his broader goal of “national rejuvenation.” The Chinese leader is juggling internal challenges ahead of the planned term extension, including a housing crisis and the economic impact of COVID-19 lockdowns. A weak response to Pelosi’s visit could undermine his leadership at a politically sensitive time.

How aggressively China chooses to push is entirely up to Xi, Kuo said. But if “he does not react strongly to Pelosi’s visit, he will face enormous challenges from other events within the Communist Party”.

Here in Taiwan, few seem to pay as much attention to Pelosi’s visit as those abroad.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has raised awareness of the potential conflict with mainland China, spurring initiatives to strengthen defenses in the Taiwanese military and among civilians. However, many locals are skeptical that Pelosi’s visit will lead to a substantial change in China’s military approach towards Taiwan.

“The visit should not be interpreted as a provocation, but rather as support for maintaining the status quo across the Strait,” said Wen Lii, director of the Matsu Islands section of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party of Taiwan. “I think it is important for Taiwan to continue to receive public gestures of support from other democracies.”

Yang reported from Taipei and Pierson from Singapore.