China’s saber-rattling has proven unsuccessful in discouraging Nancy Pelosi from visiting Taiwan. Late Tuesday, the U.S. House Speaker arrived in its capital of Taipei, Reuters reports. China, which considers the de-facto independent Taiwan part of its territory and does not tolerate foreign meddling, has promised “targeted military operations.”
Upon her arrival, Pelosi—who has now become the highest-level U.S. official to visit the island in 25 years—was greeted by Taiwan’s foreign minister, Joseph Wu. Pelosi said her visit “honors America’s unwavering commitment to supporting Taiwan’s vibrant democracy,” while emphasizing that the world “faces a choice between autocracy and democracy.” During her stay, which is expected to last until Wednesday, Pelosi will meet with President Tsai Ing-wen on Wednesday morning.
In a Washington Post piece published after she set foot on ground, Pelosi praised Taiwan’s democratic commitments while criticizing China over its drive towards escalation over Taiwan in recent years. “We cannot stand by as the Chinese Communist Party proceeds to threaten Taiwan—and democracy itself,” she wrote. China’s “brutal crackdown” on political dissent in Hong Kong and its treatment of Muslim Uyghurs and other minorities were also of concern to her.
Sino-U.S. relations are cratering in the wake of Pelosi’s actions and rhetoric. Just after her plane touched down at Songshan Airport, the Chinese foreign ministry released a statement which declared it “an escalation of U.S.-Taiwan official exchanges and a major political provocation.” Any support of Taiwan’s charting its own course, the statement added, is “like playing with fire,” and “those who play with fire will perish by it.”
Analysts fear it could spark a real crisis between the U.S. and China. The Global Times announced Beijing’s plans to “more actively dominate and speed up the reunification process with comprehensive measures including military and political actions,” stressing that “these actions will let the U.S. and the secessionist Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) authorities feel the pain.”
China has vowed to encircle Taiwan with military exercises. These would consist of joint air and sea drills, test launches of conventional missiles in the sea east of Taiwan, while live-fire drills and other exercises around Taiwan would commence on Thursday, lasting until Sunday. Hua Chunying, spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, put the blame for a potential escalation squarely at the feet of the United States. “It was the U.S. who took the provocative actions first and caused the escalation of Taiwan Straits tension,” he said, “the U.S. should and must take full responsibility for this.”
Such a state of affairs could not only risk an actual conflagration taking place, but it would hamper the island’s trade activity. Taiwan produces the majority of the world’s advanced semiconductors, widely used in smartphones and cars. Additionally, the Taiwan strait between Taiwan and the Chinese mainland is one of the world’s most important shipping lanes.
Despite official voices welcoming Pelosi, many people don’t understand the purpose of Pelosi’s visit to the island; some even oppose it. “One group does not want Pelosi to come, as this would only add conflicts for the Chinese mainland, the U.S. and Taiwan. The other group thinks that if Pelosi wants to support Taiwan secessionism, she could let the House pass an act to recognize ‘Taiwan independence,’ so why would she come to the island to create such a big mess?”
Meanwhile, National Security Council Strategic Communications Coordinator John Kirby told reporters on Tuesday that president Biden “respects the Speaker’s decision to travel to Taiwan.” He added that the president found it to be “perfectly consistent with American policy going back decades.”
Pelosi is currently on an Asia tour; having already visited Singapore, and Malaysia, South Korea and Japan are next on her itinerary. To reaffirm U.S. commitment to the region, Pelosi initially planned such a tour back in April. A COVID diagnosis prevented her from following through on it.
Pelosi’s Taiwan visit was never formally announced, yet suspected. A series of leaks from half a dozen sources—some from within the U.S. government—to the Financial Times corroborated this. It is still not known who leaked it, why, or whether it might have been due to a gaffe. When asked about it by reporters, U.S. President Joe Biden said that the U.S. “military thinks it’s not a good idea right now.” Pelosi, not happy about the leak, in turn refused to comment on her plans, yet did stress that the U.S. is in full support of Taiwan.
In anticipation of Pelosi’s visit, an article by the state-controlled Global Times considered Chinese warplanes firing “shells diagonally ahead of Pelosi’s plane as a further warning” as an option. A propaganda video, released by China’s People’s Liberation Army on the Chinese app WeChat, did little to ease tensions.
Beijing’s rhetoric was subsequently condemned by the White House on Monday, which vowed it would not “take the bait” and had “no interest in increasing tensions with China.”
The U.S., China, and Taiwan have been a volatile trifecta for decades. After the Shanghai Communiqué of 1972, the U.S. entered into diplomatic negotiations with the communist People’s Republic of China for the first time since its 1949 founding.
This communiqué acknowledged there was significant disagreement over the status of Taiwan. While the Chinese repeated their longstanding policy that Taiwan “is China’s internal affair in which no other country has the right to interfere,” (part of its One-China policy), the U.S. held that “all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China” while reaffirming “its interest in a peaceful settlement of the Taiwan question by the Chinese themselves.” To add to this game of semantic ambiguity, it did not explicitly endorse the People’s Republic of China as the whole of China.
Such careful diplomatic maneuvering paid off in 1979, when normalization of Sino-U.S. relations was at last achieved. For this, Washington broke off official relations with Taiwan. The U.S. however maintained unofficial relations with the country in the form of political contacts and military support, which have expanded in recent years.
David Boos is an organist, documentary filmmaker, and writer for The European Conservative and other publications.
Tristan Vanheuckelom writes on film, literature, and comics for various Dutch publications. He is an avid student of history, political theory, and religion, and is a News Writer at The European Conservative.