House Speaker's visit to Taipei draws furious response from Beijing
A possible visit by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan has prompted strong warnings from Beijing and growing concern in Washington. The region is in the throes of the biggest military-political crisis in recent times.
Photo: Frame from video
Although California Democrat Nancy Pelosi refused to publicly acknowledge the outrageous trip to Taiwan until the end, and invited both Democrats and Republicans to accompany her, according to CNN.
A source familiar with Pelosi's plans said she planned to tour Asia and that the trip would include stops in Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and Singapore, but it remains unclear if he will visit Taiwan.
China has scathingly criticized the possible visit of a third person in the American political hierarchy, vowing to take “strong and decisive action” if Pelosi's trip to Taiwan goes ahead. The PRC Ministry of Defense ominously warned the other day: “If the US insists on its own course, the Chinese military will never sit idly by.”
U.S. officials are concerned that the reported visit will be welcomed military response from China, which could provoke the worst crisis in decades on both sides of the Taiwan Strait.
The tensions were the backdrop to a lengthy phone call between Joe Biden and Xi Jinping on Thursday, during which the Chinese leader warned the US not to “play with fire” on the Taiwan issue. Beijing considers Taiwan its own territory and does not exclude 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 cutting back on its diplomatic allies to blocking the island's entry into international organizations .
Any move that appears to give Taiwan a sense of international legitimacy is met with strong opposition from China. And in the eyes of Beijing, foreign visits by high-ranking Taiwanese officials or visits by foreign officials to Taiwan mean just that.
In 1995, then-Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui's visit to the United States sparked a major crisis in the Taiwan Strait. Enraged by the trip, China fired missiles into the waters around the island, and the crisis ended only after the US sent two aircraft carrier battle groups to the area to show strong support for Taipei.
U.S. delegations have visited Taiwan repeatedly in recent years, composed of current and retired officials and legislators. This prompted an outcry from China, including sending warplanes into Taiwan's self-proclaimed air defense identification zone.
But, CNN admits, Pelosi's political status makes her potential visit to Taipei even more provocative in Beijing's eyes.
“Pelosi is the third public official in the line of succession after the president and vice president, and I think the Chinese take that very seriously,” said Susan L. Shirk, chair of the 21st Century China Center at UC San Diego. . So 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 policies and met with Chinese dissidents and the Dalai Lama. As early as 1991, Pelosi unfurled a banner in Beijing's Tiananmen Square to honor the victims of the 1989 protests, and more recently, she expressed support for the 2019 protests in Hong Kong.
Beijing warned that Pelosi's trip on Taiwan, if it takes place, will have “a serious negative impact on the political foundations of Sino-US relations.”
The US officially switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979, but for a long time followed 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.
The Americans also supply Taipei is defensively armed under the decades-old Taiwan Relations Law, but deliberately does not disclose whether they will defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion—a policy known as “strategic ambiguity.”
The sharp deterioration in Xi Jinping's relationship with Washington has brought Taiwan closer to the US orbit. This infuriated Beijing, which accused Washington of “playing the Taiwan card” to contain China's rise. Meanwhile, the United States has stepped up 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, according to CNN. The 2018 law encourages visits by US and Taiwan officials at all levels.
Taiwan featured prominently in Xi and Biden's two-hour and 17-minute phone call, and the Chinese leader urged Washington to abide by existing agreements with Beijing “In word and deed. China also pledged to “resolutely defend” its national sovereignty.
Pelosi's reported trip will not be the first time a sitting speaker of the US House of Representatives has visited Taiwan, CNN reminds. 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 then Beijing's reaction was limited to rhetoric. Now Beijing has signaled that this time will be different.
Over the past 25 years, China has grown stronger, more powerful and more confident, and its leader Xi has made it clear that Beijing will no longer tolerate any slights or challenges to its interests.
Pelosi's likely visit to Taiwan just so happens amid celebrations of the anniversary of the founding of the People's Liberation Army of China, and Xi Jinping is preparing to run for a third term as party leader at the 20th Congress of the CCP this fall. Chinese leaders are also expected to gather in the seaside resort of Beidaihe in August to discuss personnel changes and political ideas behind closed doors.
China has not specified 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 during the Taiwan Strait crisis,” suggests Shi Yinhong, professor of international relations at Renmin University of China.
Privately, Biden administration officials have raised concerns that China may try to declare a no-fly zone over Taiwan to disrupt Pelosi's possible trip, a U.S. official told CNN.
National security officials are working to convince Pelosi of the risks posed by her potential trip to Taipei, while the Pentagon is developing a security plan that will use ships and aircraft to keep her safe if she does decide to travel.
The US does not expect direct hostilities from Beijing during a possible visit by Pelosi. At least five Defense Department officials described this as a very unlikely possibility and said the Pentagon wants public rhetoric down.
Taiwan made several comments on the situation. When the Financial Times first reported on Pelosi's potential visit last week, Taiwan's foreign ministry said it had “not received any information” about the visit. Neither Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen nor his administration have made any announcements about Pelosi's possible trip.
Though the international media is following the events closely, the escalation of tensions in Taiwan barely made headlines this week. The Taiwanese media is mainly focused on the upcoming local elections and Taiwanese military exercises.
Analysts say the relative silence is because Taiwan is in an awkward position. They point out that the island is dependent on American weapons to protect itself from the possibility of a Chinese invasion and violent takeover, so he doesn't want to be seen as a rogue from one of the most powerful US politicians. However, if Taiwan appears overly enthusiastic about Pelosi's possible visit, experts say, it could stoke Beijing's anger.
Political scientists say part of the reason why Taiwanese officials are keeping a low profile is because that it could help him absolve himself of any blame if such a trip did take place: Beijing would then be more likely to pounce on Washington rather than Taipei, they say.
On the other hand, analysts say that if Pelosi does not come, the US risks showing that it is scared of a possible Chinese response. Meanwhile, growing rumors about what China might do in response could push Beijing into a corner where it feels it must do something to avoid losing face if the visit goes ahead.