Reports that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is planning a visit to Taiwan have sparked tense exchanges between the United States and China — and mounting speculation about how Beijing might respond.
Although Pelosi — an outspoken critic of Beijing — has so far refused to corroborate the reports, she has said it is important for the US to support Taiwan, and lawmakers on both sides of Washington’s political divide have urged her to leave. China, meanwhile, has lashed out at the idea, promising to take “resolute and firm measures” if a trip goes ahead.
Much less vocal, however, was the island at the center of the controversy.
There is no explanation for or against Pelosi’s possible trip from Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen or her office – although Prime Minister Su Tseng-chang said on Wednesday that Taipei “was deeply grateful to Speaker Pelosi for her strong support and kindness towards Taiwan over the years.” and that the island welcomes all friendly guests from abroad.
Analysts say the relative silence is because Taiwan, a democratic self-governed island of 24 million people that the Chinese ruling Communist Party says is part of its territory, although it has never controlled it, is in an awkward place.
Taiwan, they point out, relies on US weapons to defend itself against the possibility that China could invade and take it by force — so it doesn’t want to be seen as a disheartening prop from one of the US’s most powerful politicians. .
But if Taiwan seems too excited about the possibility of a visit to Pelosi, experts say, it risks fueling Beijing’s anger.
On Thursday, Taiwan’s foreign ministry said it had received “no definitive information about Chairman Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan” and had “no further comment on the matter”.
A person familiar with Pelosi’s plans said she planned to leave Friday, US time, for a tour of Asia, and that the trip would include stops in Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and Singapore — but whether she will stop in Taiwan remains uncertain.
Political analysts said part of the reason Taiwanese authorities are keeping themselves inconspicuous is that it could help stave off any blame if such a trip goes ahead — Beijing would then be more likely to blame Washington than Taipei, they say.
“It is in the interest of the Taiwanese government to remain calm and not give the impression that Taiwan is actively encouraging Pelosi’s visit,” said Wen-ti Sung, a political scientist at the Australian National University’s Taiwan Studies Program.
“If Taiwan remains muted and Pelosi comes, it will probably be read as a decision by the US or Pelosi,” he said.
“But if Taiwan openly calls for her to come over, Beijing could label it as a Taiwan conspiracy. Countries in the region — such as Japan, South Korea or even Australia — could also be less sympathetic to Taiwan if they feel like Taiwan is actively creating a problem out of nowhere.”
But that may be only part of the reason for Taipei’s relative quiet.
While international media has covered extensive coverage of Pelosi’s potential visit, it has barely made headlines in Taiwan this week.
Taiwanese news has instead focused on scandals surrounding upcoming local elections and the island’s largest annual military exercises.
Wang Ting-yu, a Taiwanese member of parliament for the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, said this was partly because the Taiwanese public had become accustomed to threats from Beijing — which has been designing for more than seven decades since the end of China’s civil war. Island. past.
Brian Hioe, a Taiwanese-American who lives in Taipei and founded the New Bloom Magazine, which reports on Taiwanese politics, said Taiwanese are generally not too concerned about the potential fallout from Pelosi’s visit, as Beijing is in has made similar threats in the past.
“China’s threats are so common it’s like background noise,” he said. “And so people here don’t really think too seriously about the possibility of repercussions from a Pelosi visit.”
At the same time, analysts are warning not to interpret Taiwan’s lack of official response as meaning it is unaware of the potential dangers if Pelosi were to visit.
And as the hype surrounding her potential journey grows, each side will feel they have to stick to their positions so as not to look weak, commentators said.
The matter was discussed at length on Thursday in a phone call between US President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping – who warned that “those who play with fire will die,” according to a statement from China’s foreign ministry.
Analysts said if Pelosi doesn’t come, the US risks looking like it fears China’s possible response. Meanwhile, mounting speculation about what China might do to retaliate would send Beijing into a corner where it felt it needed to do something to avoid losing face if a visit goes ahead.
“At this point, because there has already been so much commentary and discussion about how China might respond, I think China is obligated to respond at this point,” Hioe said.
“So I think there will be some kind of response from China, and it will try to make it look like it’s much more important.”
Despite such concerns, MP Wang said Taiwan is “not anyone’s pawn” and that China should not be able to dictate who visits the island.
“There is no room for China to interfere in diplomatic interactions between Taiwan and the United States,” said Wang, a member of the parliament’s Foreign Affairs and National Defense Committee.
“We welcome all our friends from the United States and around the world. So whether Pelosi comes or not, we respect their decision. However, do not let China intervene.”
Su Tzu-yun, director of Taiwan’s Institute of National Defense and Security Research, said the island “welcomes friends from other countries and we appreciate any support from the international community.”
He said that if the situation escalates, it would be Beijing’s responsibility.
“Taiwan will never become a so-called freerider (on the US). We will show our willingness to defend ourselves,” he said.