Why is Pelosi’s potential trip to Taiwan fueling tensions?


US officials are concerned that the reported visit will be met with a military response from China, potentially leading to the strait’s worst crisis in decades.

Here’s what you need to know about the potential high-stakes visitor.

Why is Beijing angry about Pelosi’s possible visit?

The ruling Communist Party of China claims Taiwan’s self-governed democracy as its own territory – despite never having ruled it – and does not rule out using force to “reunite” the island with mainland China.

For decades, Beijing has tried to isolate Taipei on the global stage, from tearing down its diplomatic allies to blocking it from joining international organizations.

Any move that seems to give Taiwan a sense of international legitimacy is strongly opposed by China. And in Beijing’s view, high-profile foreign visits by Taiwanese officials or visits by foreign officials to Taiwan will do just that.

In 1995, a visit to the United States by then-Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui caused a major crisis in the Taiwan Strait. Furious about the trip, China fired missiles into the waters around Taiwan, and the crisis ended only after the US sent two battlegroups of aircraft carriers to the area in a strong show of support for Taipei.

In recent years, Taiwan has received a flurry of visits from US delegations made up of incumbent and retired officials and lawmakers. That has drawn angry responses from China, including sending fighter jets into Taiwan’s self-declared air defense identification zone.

But Pelosi’s political status makes her potential visit to Beijing all the more challenging.

“Pelosi is the third official in the line of succession after the president and vice president, I think the Chinese take that very seriously,” said Susan L. Shirk, president of the 21st Century China Center at UC San Diego.

So she is a very important figure in American politics. It’s different from your regular member of Congress.”

Pelosi has been a longtime critic of the Chinese Communist Party. She has denounced the human rights situation in Beijing and has met with pro-democracy dissidents and the Dalai Lama – the exiled Tibetan 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 protesters. More recently, she has expressed support for the 2019 pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

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

Beijing has warned that Pelosi’s trip, if it materializes, “will have a serious negative impact on the political foundations of China-US relations”.

The US formally switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979, but has long walked a delicate middle ground. Washington recognizes the People’s Republic of China as China’s only legitimate government, but maintains close unofficial ties with Taiwan.

The US is also supplying Taiwan with defensive weapons under the terms of the decades-old Taiwan Relations Act, but it remains deliberately vague about whether it would defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion — a policy known as “strategic ambiguity.” ‘.

Biden speaks with China's Xi as tensions over Taiwan mount

China’s authoritarian turn under Xi’s leadership and plummeting relations with Washington have brought Taiwan closer to the US orbit. This has infuriated Beijing, which accused Washington of “playing the Taiwan card” to stem China’s rise.

The US, meanwhile, has stepped up its engagement with Taiwan, approved arms sales and sent delegations to the island.

Since the Taiwan Travel Act was signed by then-U.S. President Donald Trump in March 2018, U.S. officials and lawmakers have embarked on more than 20 trips to the island, according to a CNN count. The 2018 law encourages visits between US and Taiwan officials at all levels.

Taiwan played a prominent role in Xi and Biden’s two-hour, 17-minute phone call, with the Chinese leader urging Washington to honor existing agreements with Beijing “in both word and deed,” according to a readout from the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The statement added that China would “resolutely protect” its national sovereignty.

For his part, Biden reiterated that US policy “hadn’t changed,” according to a White House readout of the call.

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

Has a speaker of the US House ever visited Taiwan?

Pelosi’s trip wouldn’t be the first time a sitting speaker from the US House visits Taiwan.

In 1997, Newt Gingrich visited Taipei just days after his trip to Beijing and Shanghai. The Chinese Foreign Ministry criticized Gingrich after his visit to Taiwan, but the response was limited to rhetoric.

Former US House Speaker Newt Gingrich meets with Taiwanese Vice President and Prime Minister Lien Chan during a brief visit to Taiwan in April 1997.

Beijing has indicated that it would be different this time.

Twenty-five years later, China is stronger, more powerful and more confident, and its leader Xi has made it clear that Beijing will no longer tolerate any perceived disregard or challenge to its interests.

“China is in a position to be more assertive and impose costs and consequences on countries that do not consider China’s interests in their policymaking or actions,” said Drew Thompson, a visiting senior researcher at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. the National University of Singapore.

What about the timing?

Pelosi’s reported visit would come at a sensitive time for China as well.

The Speaker of the House had previously planned to lead a US congressional delegation to Taiwan in April, but postponed the trip after she tested positive for Covid-19.

The Chinese military will celebrate its founding anniversary on August 1, as Xi, the country’s most powerful leader in decades, prepares to break conventions and seek a third term at the 20th Communist Party Congress this fall.

In August, Chinese leaders are also expected to gather in the seaside town of Beidaihe for their annual summer conclave, where they discuss workforce movements and policy ideas behind closed doors.

Pentagon is developing a security plan for Pelosi ahead of a potential trip to Taiwan

“It is a very tense time in Chinese domestic politics,” Shirk said. “(Xi) himself and many other elite members in China would view Pelosi’s visit as a humiliation of Xi Jinping (and) his leadership. And that means he will feel compelled to respond in a way to maximize his strength.” to show.”

While the politically sensitive timing could provoke a stronger response from Beijing, some experts believe it could also mean that the Communist Party wants to ensure stability and prevent things from spiraling out of control.

Frankly, this is not a good time for Xi Jinping to provoke a military conflict just before the 20th Party Congress. It is in Xi Jinping’s interest to manage this rationally and not create a crisis on top of all the other crises he faces. has to do with,” Thompson said, referring to China’s slowing economy, the deepening real estate crisis, rising unemployment and the constant struggle to curb sporadic outbreaks under the zero-Covid policy.

How will China react?

China has not specified what “strong 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 crises,” said Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at China’s Renmin University.

In private, officials of the Biden government have expressed concern that China could attempt to declare a no-fly zone over Taiwan to undo the potential trip, a US official told CNN.

National security officials are quietly working to convince Pelosi of the risks her potential trip to Taiwan could pose, while the Pentagon develops a security plan to use ships and planes to protect her if she decides to proceed.

But the constant concern among US officials is that there could be miscalculations or accidental incidents or accidents if China and the US significantly ramp up their air and maritime operations in the region.

The US does not expect direct hostile action from Beijing during a possible visit by Pelosi. At least five Defense officials described this as a highly unlikely possibility and said the Pentagon wants to downplay public rhetoric.

Pelosi talks to reporters at the Capitol Visitor Center on June 24, 2022.

What has Taiwan said about Pelosi’s possible trip?

Taiwan has made few comments on the situation. When Pelosi’s potential visit was first reported by the Financial Times last week, Taiwan’s foreign ministry said it “had received no information” about the visit.

At a regular press conference on Thursday, a ministry spokeswoman reiterated that it had not received any definitive information about whether Pelosi would visit the island and had “no further comment” on the matter.

“Inviting members of the United States Congress to visit Taiwan has long been a focus of Taiwan’s State Department and our Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the United States,” spokeswoman Joanne Ou said.

Neither President Tsai Ing-wen nor the presidential office have made any statements about Pelosi’s possible trip.

On Wednesday, Taiwanese Prime Minister Su Tseng-chang said the island welcomes friendly guests from abroad. “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 closely following the events, the mounting tension barely made the news in Taiwan this week. Taiwanese media has focused mainly on the upcoming local elections and Taiwanese military exercises.

Earlier, Taiwanese officials openly welcomed the visits by US delegations, taking them as a sign of Washington’s support.

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