BEIJING (AP) — China warns it will react forcefully if U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi makes a visit to Taiwan, the self-governing island democracy it claims as its own territory.
Pelosi is second to the presidency and would be the highest-ranking US politician to visit Taiwan since 1997. China has threatened unspecified “resolute and strong measures” if it goes ahead, which analysts say could cause tensions to rise in the Taiwan Strait, seen as a major potential Asian flashpoint.
Here’s an overview of what’s going on.
WHY DOES PELOSI WANT TO VISIT TAIWAN?
Pelosi has been a staunch critic of China throughout her more than three decades in Congress, once unfurling a banner in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square commemorating those killed in the bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in 1989. She was also a vocal supporter of the 2019 pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, making her the target of harsh criticism from Beijing.
Taiwan enjoys strong bipartisan support in Congress, and Pelosi said last week that it was “important for us to show our support for Taiwan.” Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen has defied threats from Beijing, and her administration has promoted core democratic values and liberal policies Pelosi held dear, including same-sex marriage and a strong social safety net.
WHY WILL THE VISIT CAUSE A RISE IN TENSIONS?
China claims Taiwan as its own territory to be annexed by force if necessary and its military buildup in recent years has largely been geared toward such a mission.
Beijing opposes any official contact between Taipei and Washington and regularly threatens reprisals. This time the stakes seem higher. China launched military drills and fired missiles in waters near Taiwan in response to a 1995 visit to the United States by then-Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui, but its military capabilities have improved significantly since then. .
While experts say China is unlikely to use force to stop Pelosi’s US government plane from landing in Taipei, its response remains unpredictable. Threatening military exercises and incursions by ships and aircraft are seen as potential scenarios that would put the whole region on edge.
WHY IS TIME SENSITIVE?
President Joe Biden’s administration is keen to keep America’s crucial but often turbulent and highly complex relationship with China on an equal footing.
Pelosi had planned to visit in April but postponed after contracting COVID-19. She declined to discuss announced plans to travel to Taiwan in the coming weeks. It could coincide with China’s celebrations of August 1, the anniversary of the founding of the People’s Liberation Army, the military wing of the ruling Communist Party, and possibly overlap with a planned phone call between Biden and President Xi Jinping. .
A more robust Chinese response could also be prompted by Xi’s desire to bolster his nationalist credentials ahead of a party congress later this year in which he is expected to seek a third five-year term. Xi’s expansion of his powers in all spheres and his radical zero-COVID response to the national epidemic have sown some resentment and appealing to raw patriotism, especially on Taiwan, could help him fend off criticism.
WHAT IS TAIWAN’S ATTITUDE TOWARDS A VISIT?
Tsai welcomed all foreign dignitaries, serving and retired, from the United States, Europe and Asia, using these visits as a bulwark against China’s refusal to deal with its government and its relentless campaign to diplomatic isolation. Yet his rhetoric on such occasions has generally been relatively muted, reflecting his own calm demeanor and perhaps a desire not to further antagonize China, which remains a crucial economic partner, with an estimated one million Taiwanese residing in mainland China. .
The capital Taipei held a civil defense exercise on Monday and Tsai attended annual military drills on Tuesday, although there was no direct link to tensions over a possible visit by Pelosi. While the Taiwanese public firmly rejects China’s demands for unification, the island’s military’s ability to defend against the PLA without US help is highly questionable. Strengthening the armed forces has therefore been a feature of Tsai’s tenure.
Speaking at the drills on Tuesday, Defense Ministry spokesman Sun Li-fang said the military was monitoring all movements of Chinese warships and aircraft around the island. “At the same time, we have the confidence and the ability to keep our country safe,” Sun said.
The Associated Press