- Sam Cabral
- From BBC News in Washington
An alleged plan by Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the US House of Representatives (equivalent to the House of Representatives in Brazil), to visit Taiwan angered China and created a geopolitical headache for the White House. How big is this problem?
China has warned that there will be “serious consequences” if Pelosi does make the visit. Second in line to the presidency, Pelosi would be the highest-ranking American political official to travel to the island since 1997.
The gesture upsets China, which considers the self-governing island of Taiwan a breakaway province that needs to be part of the country again. Beijing does not rule out the use of force to ensure this.
There are reports that even the administration of President Joe Biden has tried to dissuade Pelosi.
Last week, Biden told reporters that “the military [americanos] they think it’s not a good idea.” But the White House said the Chinese rhetoric “clearly does not contribute and is unnecessary”.
The US State Department says Pelosi has not officially announced any trips and that the US position on Taiwan remains unchanged.
While the US maintains what is called a “robust, unofficial relationship” with Taiwan, the country has formal diplomatic ties with China, not Taiwan.
The news of Pelosi’s possible trip comes amid heightened tensions between Washington and Beijing — and ahead of a much-anticipated phone call between US President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
Why does Pelosi want to visit Taiwan?
There is strong US bipartisan support for Taiwan both among voters and in Congress.
Over a 35-year career, Pelosi has been a fierce critic of China. She denounced human rights violations, met with pro-democracy dissidents and also visited Tiananmen Square to honor the victims of the 1989 massacre.
Pelosi’s original plan was to visit Taiwan in April, but it was delayed after she tested positive for Covid-19. She declined to discuss details of the trip, but said last week it was “important for us to show support for Taiwan”.
Why is China opposed to the visit?
Beijing views Taiwan as part of its territory and has repeatedly threatened to forcibly annex the island if necessary.
Chinese officials have expressed anger at what they see as increasing diplomatic involvement between Taipei and Washington. That includes a surprise visit to the island by six US lawmakers in April.
On Monday (7/25), Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian warned that his country would take “firm and resolute action” if Pelosi proceeded with her visit.
“And the US will be responsible for all the serious consequences,” he said.
A spokesman for the Chinese Defense Ministry suggested that there could even be a military response.
“If the US side insists on moving forward, the Chinese military will never stand still and will take strong measures to prevent any outside interference and separatist attempts at ‘Taiwan independence,'” Colonel Tan Kefei told the local China Daily newspaper.
Rupert Wingfield-Hayesgives BBC News in Taipei
If you are a small island state with few allies, unrecognized by the United Nations and threatened with invasion by a much larger and more powerful neighbour, having a visit from the third most powerful US politician should be a good thing. Right?
This is why the Taiwanese government is unwilling to tell US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to avoid travel.
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen has long called for high-level engagement with the US. But there is also concern about why Pelosi is coming now and whether his trip might make the situation worse rather than helping.
On three occasions last year, President Joe Biden said the US would step in to support Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion. But his team has backed off at all times, insisting there is no change in US policy.
When news of Pelosi’s Taiwan trip leaked out, President Biden’s response was not supportive. Biden said that “the Department of Defense doesn’t think this is a good idea.”
In Beijing, this looks like weakness. In Taipei, this looks like confusion. What exactly is the US government’s policy towards the island?
Pelosi is 82 years old and is expected to retire in the second half of this year. Is she traveling with the clear intention of offering real support, or is this just a political ploy? Nothing is clear.
How can travel increase tensions?
At its congress later this year, the Chinese Communist Party is expected to re-elect Xi for an unprecedented third term as president.
President Biden – who last spoke to President Xi in March – said he would speak with him by phone again in the coming days on a variety of topics, including Taiwan and other “tight issues”.
US officials have warned of an increase in Chinese military presence in the Asia-Pacific region and the country’s “aggressive and irresponsible behavior” in the South China Sea.
Threats of retaliation for Pelosi’s visit raise concerns about a possible response from China.
When then-U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar flew to Taiwan in 2020, Chinese air force jets crossed the Taiwan Strait — the waterway between the island and China — within range of Taipei’s missiles.
Last week, the former editor of China’s state-run newspaper Global Times suggested there could be a “shocking military response” to Pelosi’s visit.
“If Pelosi visits Taiwan, military aircraft [do Exército de Libertação Popular] will accompany Pelosi’s plane to enter the island, making a historic crossing of the island by mainland military aircraft for the first time,” Hu Xijin wrote.
So far, Washington has adopted a policy of “strategic ambiguity” in which it does not clarify how the US would defend Taiwan in the event of a large-scale attack on the island.
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