Nancy Pelosi flies to Taiwan: what you need to know about the crisis between the US and China

The potential visit to the island has increased tension between the two countries.

The expected visit of Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan has prompted strong warnings from Beijing and growing unease in Washington.

The California Democrat is leading a congressional delegation to the Indo-Pacific with stops in Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea and Japan, her office said in a statement Sunday. The statement and Pelosi’s public itinerary did not mention Taiwan, but a senior Taiwan government official and a U.S. official told CNN on Monday that as part of her tour of Asia, she is expected to visit Taiwan and stay overnight. It is not yet clear exactly when Pelosi will land in Taipei.

The expected visit comes amid speculation in recent days that Pelosi may be planning to visit the self-governing democracy of 24 million people. China has strongly condemned the potential visit, vowing to take “strong and forceful measures” if it takes place. Last week, China’s Defense Ministry echoed that threat, warning: “If the US insists on its own course, the Chinese military will never sit idly by.”

US officials are concerned that the announced visit will be met with a military response from China, which could lead to the worst intercontinental crisis in decades.

Tensions sparked a lengthy phone call between US President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping on Thursday, in which Xi warned the US not to “play with fire” on Taiwan – though neither side confirmed whether Nancy Pelosi was discussed. flies to Taiwan. Preparation for the call preceded the announcement of a possible trip.

Why is Beijing outraged by Pelosi’s possible visit?

The ruling Chinese Communist Party considers self-ruled democratic Taiwan to be its territory – despite never ruling it – and does not rule out the use of force to “reunite” the island with the Chinese mainland.

For decades, Beijing has sought to isolate Taipei on the world stage, from pushing back its diplomatic allies to blocking its entry into international organizations. Any move that seems to give Taiwan a sense of international legitimacy is met with strong opposition from China. And in the eyes of Beijing, high-profile foreign visits by Taiwanese officials or visits by foreign officials to Taiwan are doing just that.

Beijing is outraged by the possible visit of Pelosi / photo
Beijing is outraged by the possible visit of Pelosi / photo

In 1995, then Taiwanese President Lee Tenghui’s visit to the United States sparked a major crisis in the Taiwan Strait. Angered by the trip, China fired missiles into the waters around Taiwan, and the crisis ended only after the US sent two carrier battle groups to the area in strong support for Taipei.

In recent years, Taiwan has been visited by US delegations of current and retired officials and legislators. This prompted an angry response from China, including sending military aircraft into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone.

Above, information about Nancy Pelosi was reported – who is this official, and what political status does she have. From this we can conclude why her potential visit is even more provocative for Beijing.

“Pelosi is the third government official in the line of succession after the president and vice president, and I think the Chinese take this very seriously,” said Susan L. Shirk, chair of the 21st Century China Center at the University of California, San Diego. she is a very important figure in American politics. She is different from the average member of Congress.”

Pelosi is a longtime critic of the Chinese Communist Party. She denounced Beijing’s human rights record, met with democratic dissidents and the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader who remains a thorn in the side of the Chinese government.

In 1991, Pelosi unfurled a banner in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square to commemorate the victims of the 1989 massacre of pro-democracy demonstrators. And most recently, she expressed support for the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong in 2019.

Why is the potential trip fueling tensions between the US and China?

Beijing warned that Pelosi’s trip, if it took place, would have a “serious negative impact on the political foundations of Sino-US relations.”

The US officially changed diplomatic course from Taipei to Beijing in 1979, but has long stuck to a delicate middle path. Washington recognizes the People’s Republic of China as China’s sole legitimate government, but maintains close unofficial ties with Taiwan.

Potential trip fuels US-China tensions / REUTERS illustration
Potential trip fuels US-China tensions / REUTERS illustration

The US also supplies Taiwan with defensive weapons under the terms of the decades-old Taiwan Relations Act, but deliberately does not specify whether it will defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion, a policy known as “strategic ambiguity.”

China’s authoritarian turn under Xi and a sharp deterioration in relations with Washington have placed Taiwan in US orbit. This angered Beijing, which accused Washington of “playing the Taiwan card” to curb China’s rise.

The US, meanwhile, stepped up its engagement with Taiwan, approving arms sales and sending delegations to the island.

Since then-U.S. President Donald Trump signed the Taiwan Travel Act into law in March 2018, U.S. officials and lawmakers have made more than 20 trips to the island. The 2018 law encourages visits by US and Taiwanese officials at all levels.

Taiwan dominated the 2-hour and 17-minute phone call between Xi and Biden, in which the Chinese leader urged Washington to uphold existing agreements with Beijing “in word and deed,” according to a Chinese Foreign Ministry statement. The statement added that China will “resolutely defend” its national sovereignty. Biden, in turn, reiterated that US policy “has not changed,” according to a report from the White House.

“The United States strongly opposes unilateral efforts to change the status quo or undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” Biden said, according to the statement.

Has the Speaker of the US House of Representatives visited Taiwan?

Pelosi’s announced trip is not the first time a sitting speaker of the US House of Representatives has visited Taiwan. In 1997, Newt Gingrich visited Taipei just a few days after visiting Beijing and Shanghai. The Chinese Foreign Ministry criticized Gingrich after his visit to Taiwan, but the reaction was limited to rhetoric. But this time, Beijing said that things would be different.

Twenty-five years later, China is stronger, more powerful and more confident, and its leader Xi has signaled that Beijing will no longer tolerate any visible insult or challenge to its interests.

Nancy Pelosi in Ukraine / photo
Nancy Pelosi in Ukraine / photo

“China is in a position to be more assertive, impose costs and consequences on countries that do not take China into account in their policies or actions,” said Drew Thompson, visiting senior fellow at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore.

But if Nancy Pelosi’s plane does land in Taiwan, the decision not to include the stopover on the official itinerary “keeps the visit informal” and should be “good for Beijing and US-China relations,” Thompson added on Twitter after Pelosi’s announcement on Sunday. .

Picking the time to travel

Pelosi’s proposed visit also comes at a challenging time for China. The Speaker of the House of Representatives previously planned to lead a US congressional delegation to Taiwan in April, but postponed the trip after she tested positive for Covid-19.

As the Chinese military celebrates its founding anniversary on August 1, Xi, the country’s most powerful leader in decades, prepares to break convention and seek a third term at the 20th Communist Party Congress this fall. Chinese leaders are also expected to gather in the seaside resort of Beidaihe in August for their annual summer conclave, where personnel changes and political ideas are discussed behind closed doors.

“This is a very stressful time in China’s domestic politics,” Shirk said. [Xi] himself and many other elites in China will view Pelosi’s visit as a humiliation of Xi Jinping [and] his leadership. Which means he will be forced to respond in this way. to demonstrate their strength.”

Nancy Pelosi / photo
Nancy Pelosi / photo

While a politically sensitive time could cause a stronger reaction from Beijing, some experts believe it could also mean that the Communist Party wants to ensure stability and keep the situation from spiraling out of control.

“Now, frankly, is not the best time for Xi Jinping to provoke a military conflict right before the 20th Party Congress. It is in Xi Jinping’s interests to rationally manage the situation and not provoke a crisis in addition to all the other crises that he has to deal with,” Thompson said, citing a slowdown in China’s economy, a deepening real estate crisis, rising unemployment and a constant struggle to contain sporadic outbreaks as part of a zero-covid policy.

How will China react?

The PRC did not specify what “forceful measures” it plans to take, but some Chinese analysts say Beijing’s response may include a military component.

“China will respond with unprecedented countermeasures – the strongest it has ever taken since the Taiwan Strait crisis,” said Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at China’s Renmin University.

Privately, Biden administration officials expressed concern that China might try to declare a no-fly zone over Taiwan to disrupt a possible trip, one US official said.

National security officials are quietly working to convince Pelosi of the risk her potential trip to Taiwan could pose, and the Pentagon is developing a security plan to use ships and planes to keep her safe should she decide to go.

However, US officials constantly worry that miscalculations, or unintentional incidents or accidents, may occur if China and the US significantly increase their air and sea operations in the region.

The US does not expect direct hostile action from Beijing during a potential visit by Pelosi. At least five Defense Department officials called it a very remote possibility and said the Pentagon wants public rhetoric to be toned down.

Taiwan avoids talking about Pelosi’s visit / photo

What did Taiwan say about Pelosi’s possible trip?

Taiwan made few comments on the current situation. When the Financial Times first reported on Pelosi’s potential visit last week, Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it “did not receive any information” about the visit.

During Thursday’s regular briefing, a ministry spokesperson confirmed that she had not received any definite information about whether Nancy Pelosi would visit Taiwan and “had no further comment” on the matter.

“Inviting members of the US Congress to visit Taiwan has long been a focus of the Taiwan Ministry of Foreign Affairs and our Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in the US,” said spokeswoman Joanne Ou.

Neither President Tsai Ing-wen nor the presidential office have made any statements about Pelosi’s possible trip. On Wednesday, Taiwan’s premier Su Tseng-Chang said the island welcomes any friendly visitors from overseas. “We are very grateful to Speaker Pelosi for her strong support and kindness towards Taiwan over the years,” he said.

Although the international media is following the developments closely, the escalation of tension has hardly made headlines in Taiwan this week. The Taiwanese media has mainly focused on the upcoming local elections and Taiwanese military exercises. Earlier, Taiwanese officials publicly welcomed the visits of US delegations, viewing them as a sign of support from Washington.

(C)UNIAN 2022

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