Nancy Pelosi says US ‘will not abandon our commitment’ to Taiwan despite stark warnings from China

Nancy Pelosi meets Taiwanese president and says her visit to Taiwan makes it ‘unequivocally clear’ the US ‘will not abandon our commitment’ to the country as China warns trip pushes island nation into ‘disastrous abyss’

Advertisement

<!–<!–<!–<!–<!–<!–<!–

Nancy Pelosi said the US ‘will not abandon its commitment’ to Taiwan despite stark warnings from China that her trip is pushing the island nation into a ‘disastrous abyss.’

The Democrat, after receiving country’s highest civilian honor on Wednesday, said the US delegation traveled to Taiwan make it ‘unequivocally clear’ that they stood in solidarity with the nation.

China furiously condemned the visit as Pelosi hailed the self-ruled island as ‘one of the freest societies in the world’ in a speech to the parliament in Taipei on Wednesday.

Beijing demonstrated its anger with Pelosi’s presence on an island that it says is part of China with a burst of military activity in the surrounding waters, and by summoning the US ambassador in Beijing, and announcing the suspension of several agricultural imports from Taiwan.

Chinese officials also slammed Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, alleging her Democratic leadership would push the nation to its downfall.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi taunted China during her visit to Taiwan 's Parliament in a speech promoting 'security, economy and governance' for island nation

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi taunted China during her visit to Taiwan ‘s Parliament in a speech promoting ‘security, economy and governance’ for island nation

Nancy Pelosi hold a bouquet of flowers seemingly gifted to her by Taiwanese legislators

Nancy Pelosi hold a bouquet of flowers seemingly gifted to her by Taiwanese legislators

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan's Parliament in Taipei on her first full day of her trip to the island.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan’s Parliament in Taipei on her first full day of her trip to the island.

Pelosi said Wednesday that her delegation had come to Taiwan in 'peace for the region' after the visit enraged Beijing and set off a diplomatic firestorm

Pelosi said Wednesday that her delegation had come to Taiwan in ‘peace for the region’ after the visit enraged Beijing and set off a diplomatic firestorm

Pelosi, as a junior congresswoman just two years into her career, was highly vocal about the June 4, 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown on pro-Democracy demonstrators in Beijing. Reps. Ben Jones, Pelosi and John Miller are seen in 1991 holding a banner with the words To those who died for democracy in China

Pelosi, as a junior congresswoman just two years into her career, was highly vocal about the June 4, 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown on pro-Democracy demonstrators in Beijing. Reps. Ben Jones, Pelosi and John Miller are seen in 1991 holding a banner with the words To those who died for democracy in China

Pelosi, who met with vice president of Taiwan’s parliament Tsai Chi-Chang, Wednesday morning said the US had ‘come in peace for this region’ and issued ‘very strong, bipartisan way, in support of Taiwan.’

‘Now more than ever American solidarity with Taiwan is crucial. That’s the message we’re bringing here today,’ she said. ‘America’s determination to preserve democracy here in Taiwan and around the world remains ironclad.’

She referenced the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre during her speech to Parliament, claiming that back then bipartisan officials were ‘making the statement on human rights.’ Pelosi was one of three US officials who visited the square in 1991 and displayed a banner honoring the deceased protesters.

She praised the nation’s COVID-19 response, in terms of governance and economy, and said she wants Taiwan’s successes to be recognized worldwide. She also expressed concerns over China’s trade practices and technology transfers.

Pelosi, second in line to the presidency, is the highest-profile elected US official to visit Taiwan in 25 years. 

She and Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen have arrived for a closed door meeting. They waved to officials and reporters before introducing each other to their respective delegations.

 

Pelosi arrived to Parliament Wednesday morning local time donning a white pant suit, turquoise blouse, matching shoes and pearl necklace. She also wore a white face mask.

She was surrounded by a group of legislators wearing masks sporting the colors of both the Taiwanese and American Flags.

Pelosi said Wednesday that her delegation had come to Taiwan in ‘peace for the region’ after the visit enraged Beijing and set off a diplomatic firestorm.

‘We come in friendship to Taiwan, we come in peace to the region,’ she said during a meeting with Tsai Chi-chang, the deputy speaker of Taiwan’s parliament.

‘I accept all the kind words about me, on behalf of the Congress of the United States. Because all of that was done in a very strong, bipartisan way, in support of Taiwan. When you say I am a good friend of Taiwan, I take that as a great compliment, but I receive it on behalf of my colleagues.’ 

She compared the gesture of bipartisan support to the Tiananmen Square Massacre of 1989. Pelosi, as a junior congresswoman just two years into her career, was highly vocal about the June 4 crackdown on pro-Democracy demonstrators in Beijing. 

‘Just to go back to Tiananmen Square for a moment, that was bipartisan,’ she said in her Wednesday morning address. It was over 30 years ago. It was bipartisan when we were in Tiananmen Square. And we were there specifically making the statement on human rights.’

‘But our visit was about human rights, it was about unfair trade practices, and it was about dangerous technologies being transferred to rogue countries, to countries of concern.’

She added: ‘So over the years, it’s always been about security, economy, and governance.’

Pelosi waves as she arrives at the Parliament in Taipei on Wednesday

Pelosi waves as she arrives at the Parliament in Taipei on Wednesday

Pelosi arrived to Parliament Wednesday morning local time donning a white pant suit, turquoise blouse, matching shoes and pearl necklace. She also wore a white face mask

Pelosi arrived to Parliament Wednesday morning local time donning a white pant suit, turquoise blouse, matching shoes and pearl necklace. She also wore a white face mask

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, speaks during an event to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square April 15 to June 5, 1989 pro-democracy rally which ended with the deaths of hundreds or thousands of Chinese citizens killed by Chinese troops on Capitol Hill in Washington on June 4, 2009

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, speaks during an event to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square April 15 to June 5, 1989 pro-democracy rally which ended with the deaths of hundreds or thousands of Chinese citizens killed by Chinese troops on Capitol Hill in Washington on June 4, 2009

She also acknowledged Taiwan’s successful handling of the coronavirus pandemic and applauded the nation for being ‘one of the freest societies in the world.’ 

‘In terms of governance, we commend Taiwan for being one of the freest societies in the world for your success in addressing the Covid issue, which is a health issue, a security issue, an economic issue, and a governance issue,’ Pelosi stated.

‘And so now we look forward to our conversation about how we can work together, learning from you and, and sharing some thoughts ourselves on how to protect the planet from the climate crisis.’

She also said new US legislation aimed at strengthening the American chip industry to compete with China ‘offers greater opportunity for US-Taiwan economic cooperation.’

While Pelosi is not the first House Speaker to go to Taiwan – Newt Gingrich visited in 1997 – her visit comes as relations between Beijing and Washington have deteriorated sharply, and with China a much more powerful economic, military and geopolitical force than it was a quarter century ago.

Pelosi landed in Taiwan late Tuesday, defying a string of increasingly stark warnings and threats from China

Pelosi landed in Taiwan late Tuesday, defying a string of increasingly stark warnings and threats from China

'Our congressional delegation's visit to Taiwan honors America's unwavering commitment to supporting Taiwan's vibrant democracy,' the Speaker said in a statement shortly after landing

 ‘Our congressional delegation’s visit to Taiwan honors America’s unwavering commitment to supporting Taiwan’s vibrant democracy,’ the Speaker said in a statement shortly after landing

Nancy Pelosi is pictured Wednesday arriving in a car at her hotel in Taipei

Nancy Pelosi is pictured Wednesday arriving in a car at her hotel in Taipei

U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi leaves the parliament in Taipei, Taiwan on Wednesday

U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi leaves the parliament in Taipei, Taiwan on Wednesday

Pelosi landed in Taiwan late Tuesday, defying a string of increasingly stark warnings and threats from China, which views Taiwan as its territory and had warned it would consider her visit a major provocation. 

‘Our congressional delegation’s visit to Taiwan honors America’s unwavering commitment to supporting Taiwan’s vibrant democracy,’ the Speaker said in a statement shortly after landing. 

‘America’s solidarity with the 23 million people of Taiwan is more important today than ever, as the world faces a choice between autocracy and democracy.’

As Pelosi, who is on a tour of Asia, touched down in a military aircraft after days of feverish speculation about her plans, the reaction from Beijing was swift.

US Ambassador Nicholas Burns was summoned by the Chinese foreign ministry late Tuesday and warned that Washington ‘shall pay the price’. 

‘The move is extremely egregious in nature and the consequences are extremely serious,’ China’s Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng was quoted as saying by state news agency Xinhua. ‘China will not sit idly by.’

The Chinese military said it was on ‘high alert’ and would ‘launch a series of targeted military actions in response’ to the visit.

It promptly announced plans for a series of military exercises in waters around the island to begin on Wednesday, including ‘long-range live ammunition shooting’ in the Taiwan Strait.

‘China will take necessary and resolute countermeasures and we mean what we say,’ Xie said. 

‘Those who play with fire will perish by it,’ Beijing’s foreign ministry added.

Chilling footage shared on Chinese social network Weibo appears to show amphibious tanks on the coast of Fujian along the Taiwan Strait

Chilling footage shared on Chinese social network Weibo appears to show amphibious tanks on the coast of Fujian along the Taiwan Strait

Taipei claimed that more than 20 Chinese military planes entered Taiwan's airspace on day of Pelosi's visit

Taipei claimed that more than 20 Chinese military planes entered Taiwan’s airspace on day of Pelosi’s visit

Taipei claimed that more than 20 Chinese military planes entered Taiwan's airspace on day of Pelosi's visit

Taipei claimed that more than 20 Chinese military planes entered Taiwan’s airspace on day of Pelosi’s visit

The White House said they know Burns has been in discussions with the Chinese but refused to confirm the middle-of-the-night meeting.

‘We know that Ambassador Burns has had discussions with his Chinese interlocutors, but I’d refer you to the State Department in terms of being summoned in the middle of the night,’ said White House spokesperson John Kirby at Tuesday’s press briefing.

Biden’s administration tried to tamp down the situation. Officials have said repeatedly that Pelosi made an independent decision to go to Taiwan. China sees the self-governing island nation as its own territory. Chinese President Xi Jinping has threatened to unite the two nations by force.

‘The United States will not seek and does not want a crisis. We are prepared to manage what Beijing chooses to do,’ Kirby said. ‘There’s just no reason to amp this up.’

He noted that the U.S. does not ‘support Taiwan independence’ and pointed out the Biden administration has communicated this repeatedly, including by the president himself in his two-hour call last week with Xi.

Kirby said there was no reason for ‘Beijing to turn this visit – which is consistent with long-standing U.S. policy – into some sort of crisis, or use it as a pretext to increase aggressiveness and military activity in or around the Taiwan Strait. Now or beyond her travel.’

Pelosi’s Air Force plane – with its distinctive blue and white colors and American flag on the tail – touched down in Taipei at 10:45 pm local time.

Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu greeted Speaker Nancy Pelosi upon her arrival

Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu greeted Speaker Nancy Pelosi upon her arrival

Police officers line up outside the Grand Hyatt hotel as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visits Taiwan amid Chinese fury

Police officers line up outside the Grand Hyatt hotel as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visits Taiwan amid Chinese fury

Chinese officials summoned U.S. Ambassador Nicholas Burns in the middle of the night for a meeting to protest Speaker Nancy Pelosi's trip to Taiwan
Burns was summoned to appear by Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng, who is specifically in charge of managing China's relationship with the United States

Chinese officials summoned U.S. Ambassador Nicholas Burns (left) in the middle of the night for a meeting to protest Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan; Burns was summoned to appear by Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng (right), who is specifically in charge of managing China’s relationship with the United States

The White House tried to tamp down the situation: 'The United States will not seek and does not want a crisis,' said White House spokesperson John Kirby. 'There's just no reason to amp this up'

The White House tried to tamp down the situation: ‘The United States will not seek and does not want a crisis,’ said White House spokesperson John Kirby. ‘There’s just no reason to amp this up’

Security is tight as all sides ramped up their military presence. Biden’s had a prickly relationship with China since he entered the White House but as tensions between Washington D.C. and Beijing have escalated since there were reports Pelosi would drop by the island.

The speaker’s hotel in Taipei was surrounded by security as China backed up their warnings with a show of force, including live-fire drills. 

Soon after Pelosi landed, Beijing said the People’s Liberation Army would hold military exercises around the island – despite pleas from the White House to tone it down.

The exercises will take place from August 4 to 7, when the PLA ‘will conduct important military exercises and training activities including live-fire drills in the following maritime areas and their air space bounded by lines joining,’ according to the state Xinjua News Agency

Additionally, Taipei claimed that more than 20 Chinese military planes entered Taiwan’s airspace on day of Pelosi’s visit. As the speaker’s Air Force C40 approached Taipei, Chinese Air Force Su-35 fighter jets were crossing the Taiwan Straits, local media outlets reported.

And chilling footage shared on Chinese social network Weibo appears to show amphibious tanks on the coast of Fujian along the Taiwan Strait. Further footage showed military equipment on the move in the city of Xiamen.

Biden’s administration downplayed Beijing’s military moves. 

‘What I would tell you is that what we’ve seen thus far, and she just arrived, is consistent with the playbook that we expected them to, to run, and we’ll just keep watching it,’ Kirby said.

But, he said, the White House will ensure Pelosi’s safety.

‘We’re going to make sure that Speaker Pelosi trip – the whole trip – is safe and secure for her,’ Kirby said.

Eight US F-15 fighter jet and five tanker aircraft took off from a U.S. base in Okinawa to provide protection for Pelosi’s flight, NHK reported.

Police officers stand guard outside Grand Hyatt hotel as demonstrators take part in a protest against U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit in Taipei

Police officers stand guard outside Grand Hyatt hotel as demonstrators take part in a protest against U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit in Taipei

Surrounded: China is planning live fire military exercises around Taiwan from August 4-7, the Xinjua News Agency announced

Surrounded: China is planning live fire military exercises around Taiwan from August 4-7, the Xinjua News Agency announced

Taiwan gave Pelosi a warm welcome. The island’s tallest building, TAIPEI 101, lit up with a welcome message for Speaker Pelosi and supporters held welcome signs out of the hotel she will reportedly stay in.

Her visit, which was never publicly announced due to security reasons, is part of a broader trip she is taking to Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea and Japan.

‘Our discussions with Taiwan leadership will focus on reaffirming our support for our partner and on promoting our shared interests, including advancing a free and open Indo-Pacific region. America’s solidarity with the 23 million people of Taiwan is more important today than ever, as the world faces a choice between autocracy and democracy,’ Pelosi said.

And she reaffirmed America’s one-China policy. 

‘Our visit is one of several Congressional delegations to Taiwan – and it in no way contradicts longstanding United States policy, guided by the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, U.S.-China Joint Communiques and the Six Assurances. The United States continues to oppose unilateral efforts to change the status quo,’ she noted.

China’s tough rhetoric around US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan reveals deep insecurity about Washington’s shifting stance towards the island, analysts allege, as well as efforts to distract from economic woes at home.

China held live-fire drills across the strait from Taiwan over the weekend, while Hu Xijin, former editor-in-chief of nationalist tabloid Global Times, suggested that Beijing could ‘forcibly dispel Pelosi’s plane’ or even ‘shoot them down’.

Analysts said that beneath the bombast there is insecurity, with China’s rulers threatened by what they perceive as increasing efforts by the US and Western allies to foster relationships with Taiwan and encourage the island’s independence.

At the same time, Chinese President Xi Jinping is anxious to project strength against the US – its greatest military and economic rival – ahead of a key political meeting expected to secure him an unprecedented third term.

Last week, Xi warned his US counterpart Joe Biden in a call that the United States shouldn’t ‘play with fire’ when it comes to Taiwan.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) warned American counterpart Joe Biden in a late July phone call that the United States shouldn't 'play with fire' over Taiwan

Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) warned American counterpart Joe Biden in a late July phone call that the United States shouldn’t ‘play with fire’ over Taiwan

Taiwan at centre of US-China tensions

Taiwan at centre of US-China tensions

The aggressive message serves to reinforce the Chinese leader’s domestic image ahead of his expected political coronation at the 20th Party Congress this autumn, said Steve Tsang, director of the SOAS China Institute in London.

‘As a strongman leader, the last thing he would want to show is any sign of weakness,’ Tsang told AFP.

Drumming up nationalist sentiment also serves to distract from China’s slowing economy and growing public impatience with Beijing’s harsh zero-Covid restrictions that have dampened the mood in what would have been a jubilant year for Xi.

‘For the Chinese communist party, there are two pillars of legitimacy — economic growth and nationalism,’ Willy Lam, a Hong Kong-based Chinese politics analyst, said.

Headlines and aggressive messaging on Taiwan have been ‘diverting the attention of the Chinese public away from economic problems’, he said.

There are also deep-rooted frustrations in Beijing over Washington’s shifting attitudes toward Taiwan.

China considers the self-ruled, democratic island as its territory and has vowed to one day reclaim it, by force if necessary.

U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi attends a meeting with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen at the presidential office in Taipei, Taiwan on Wednesday

U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi attends a meeting with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen at the presidential office in Taipei, Taiwan on Wednesday

Joe Biden posted a photo of him on social media speaking on the phone after a lengthy two hour phone call with Chinese President Xi JinpinG on July 28. Biden talked with Jinping in their first direct conversation in four months as tensions have risen over Taiwan

Joe Biden posted a photo of him on social media speaking on the phone after a lengthy two hour phone call with Chinese President Xi JinpinG on July 28. Biden talked with Jinping in their first direct conversation in four months as tensions have risen over Taiwan

Chinese President Xi Jinping, also general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and chairman of the Central Military Commission, delivers a  speech at the opening ceremony of a study session of provincial and ministerial-level officials on July 26

Chinese President Xi Jinping, also general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and chairman of the Central Military Commission, delivers a  speech at the opening ceremony of a study session of provincial and ministerial-level officials on July 26

Speaker of the U.S. House Of Representatives Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), center left, attends a meeting at the Legislative Yuan, Taiwan's house of parliament, with Tsai Chi-Chang, center right, Vice President of the Legislative Yuan (not pictured) on Wednesday

Speaker of the U.S. House Of Representatives Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), center left, attends a meeting at the Legislative Yuan, Taiwan’s house of parliament, with Tsai Chi-Chang, center right, Vice President of the Legislative Yuan (not pictured) on Wednesday

Beijing’s sabre-rattling stems in large part from a perception that the United States’ engagement with Taiwan has become more proactive and threatening to the mainland’s interests in recent years, said Li Mingjiang, associate professor of international relations at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University.

Since the Trump administration, some in Beijing believe Washington appears to have become increasingly ‘supportive of Taiwan independence’, Li told AFP.

Chinese diplomats have complained that the United States is no longer honoring what it claims is a binding tenet of bilateral relations, the ‘One China’ policy, pointing to arms deals between Washington and Taipei.

Visits to Taiwan by politicians from regional neighbors as well as Europe and the US have also increased.

Xi is ‘getting very impatient and irritated by the fact that in the past year senior leaders… not just from the US but from Japan, the EU and so forth have been visiting Taiwan,’ Lam, the Hong Kong-based analyst, said.

At the same time, there is a greater sense of distinctive Taiwanese identity among the younger generation.

Combined with the ruling Democratic Progressive Party’s pro-independence agenda, this means that to Beijing’s elite ‘the whole Taiwan issue does not really look positive,’ Li said.

Chinese leaders are turning to fiery rhetoric to ‘discourage the development of cross-strait relations and US-Taiwan relations from becoming even more challenging for mainland China,’ he said.

Despite all its aggressive posturing, few believe Beijing wants an active military conflict against the United States and its allies over Taiwan – just yet.

‘The last thing Xi wants is an accidental war ignited,’ Titus Chen, an associate professor of political science at the National Sun Yat-Sen University in Taiwan, said.

Multiple scholars noted that Beijing’s military capabilities still lag behind Washington’s, and told AFP that recent military drills, while clearly intended to be intimidating, fell short of targeting areas immediately adjacent to the Taiwanese coast.

‘Xi’s Plan B would be to explain away, via (Chinese Communist Party) propaganda and thought control system, the sense of embarrassment or humiliation that Pelosi’s Taiwan visit brings to Beijing,’ Chen said.

Why Pelosi went to Taiwan and why China is angry 

When House Speaker Nancy Pelosi flew into Taiwan on an Air Force passenger jet Tuesday, she became the highest-ranking American official in 25 years to visit the self-ruled island. 

China announced military maneuvers in retaliation, even as Taiwanese officials welcomed her and she headed to her hotel.

The reason her visit ratcheted up tension between China and the United States: China claims Taiwan as part of its territory, and it views visits by foreign government officials as them recognizing the island’s sovereignty.

President Joe Biden has sought to calm that complaint, insisting there’s no change in America’s longstanding ‘one-China policy,’ which recognizes Beijing but allows informal relations and defense ties with Taipei.

Pelosi portrays her high-profile trip as part of a U.S. obligation to stand with democracies against autocratic countries, and with democratic Taiwan against China.

A look at some of the issues at play:

WHY DID PELOSI GO TO TAIWAN?

Pelosi has made a mission over decades of showing support for embattled democracy movements. Those include a trip in 1991 to Tiananmen Square, where she and other lawmakers unrolled a small banner supporting democracy, as frowning Chinese security officers tried to shut them down. Chinese forces had crushed a homegrown democracy movement at the same spot two years earlier.

The speaker is framing her Taiwan trip as part of a broader mission at a time when ‘the world faces a choice between autocracy and democracy.’ She led a congressional delegation to the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv in the spring, and her latest effort serves as a capstone to her years of promoting democracy abroad.

People walk past a billboard welcoming U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in Taipei, Taiwan on Wednesday

People walk past a billboard welcoming U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in Taipei, Taiwan on Wednesday

‘We must stand by Taiwan,’ she said in an opinion piece published by The Washington Post on her arrival in Taiwan. She cited the commitment that the U.S. made to a democratic Taiwan under a 1979 law.

‘It is essential that America and our allies make clear that we never give in to autocrats,’ she wrote.

WHAT IS THE U.S. STAND ON TAIWAN?

The Biden administration, and Pelosi, say the United States remains committed to its ‘one-China policy.’

Taiwan and mainland China split during a civil war in 1949. But China claims the island as its own territory and has not ruled out using military force to take it.

China has been increasing both diplomatic and military pressure in recent years. It cut off all contact with Taiwan’s government in 2016 after President Tsai Ing-wen refused to endorse its claim that the island and mainland together make up a single Chinese nation, with Communist Beijing the sole legitimate government.

Beijing sees official American contact with Taiwan as encouragement to make the island’s decades-old de facto independence permanent, a step U.S. leaders say they don’t support.

HOW IS THE CHINESE MILITARY HANDLING THE TENSION-RAISING TRIP?

Soon after Pelosi’s arrival, China announced a series of military operations and drills, which followed its promises of ‘resolute and strong measures’ if Pelosi went through with her visit.

China’s People’s Liberation Army said the maneuvers would take place in the waters and skies near Taiwan and include the firing of long-range ammunition in the Taiwan Strait.

China’s official Xinhua News said the army planned to conduct live-fire drills from Thursday to Sunday across multiple locations. An image released by the news agency indicated that the drills were to take place in six different areas in the waters surrounding Taiwan.

Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said early Wednesday that China had sent 21 planes flying toward Taiwan, 18 of them fighter jets. The rest included an early warning plane and an electronic warfare plane.

Supporters hold a banner outside the hotel where U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is supposed to be staying in Taipei, Taiwan on Wednesday

Supporters hold a banner outside the hotel where U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is supposed to be staying in Taipei, Taiwan on Wednesday

HOW HAS THE UNITED STATES RESPONDED?

While Biden has expressed some wariness about Pelosi’s trip, the administration has not openly opposed it and said it is up to Pelosi to decide whether to go.

Ahead of Pelosi’s visit, the American military increased its movements in the Indo-Pacific region. The aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and its strike group were in the Philippine Sea on Monday, according to officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss military operations.

The Reagan, the cruiser USS Antietam and the destroyer USS Higgins left Singapore after a port visit and moved north toward their home port in Japan. The carrier has an array of aircraft, including F/A-18 fighter jets and helicopters, as well as sophisticated radar systems and other weapons.

IS ARMED CONFLICT A RISK?

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Biden both have made clear they don’t want that. In a call with Biden last week, Xi echoed a theme of Biden’s – their countries should cooperate on areas where they can.

The biggest risk is likely an accident if China tries the kind of provocative maneuver it’s increasingly been executing with other militaries around the South China Sea. Those include close fly-bys of other aircraft or confronting vessels at sea.

However, when it comes to the United States, with the world’s strongest military, ‘despite a chorus of nationalistic rhetoric, China will be careful not to stumble into a conflict with colossal damages on all fronts,’ said Yu Lie, a senior research fellow at the Chatham House think tank.

For China, the best approach is patience and time, Jie said – building toward the day when its economy and military could be too big for the U.S. to challenge.

Advertisement
 

Nancy Pelosi is taking a noble stance, but she’s dousing the fiery breath of the Chinese dragon with petrol, writes MARK ALMOND

Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, is a principled woman.

Her visit to Taiwan is entirely consistent with the admirable stance she’s displayed against the Chinese government since it massacred thousands of its own protesting citizens in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Pelosi has been a Cassandra figure on Capitol Hill for decades, warning of Beijing‘s menace but ignored by the Washington establishment – much as Winston Churchill’s warning about the danger of Hitler’s Germany in the 1930s was only heeded too late.

Pelosi doubted the consensus which held that as its economy grew, China would fold into Western institutions and begin to behave like us. It hasn’t. It won’t. And she was right.

Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, is a principled woman, writes Mark Almond. Pictured: US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi being greeted by Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu

Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, is a principled woman, writes Mark Almond. Pictured: US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi being greeted by Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu

Chilling footage shared on Chinese social network Weibo appears to show amphibious tanks on the coast of Fujian along the Taiwan Strait

 Chilling footage shared on Chinese social network Weibo appears to show amphibious tanks on the coast of Fujian along the Taiwan Strait

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi posed for photos after she arrived in Taipei, Taiwan. She became the highest-ranking American official to visit in 25 years

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi posed for photos after she arrived in Taipei, Taiwan. She became the highest-ranking American official to visit in 25 years 

But by visiting Taiwan – officially part of the People’s Republic of China but in reality an independent democracy for more than 30 years – Pelosi is dousing the fiery breath of the Chinese dragon with petrol.

I wonder how thankful for her principles the denizens of the Taiwanese capital Taipei would be when their city resembles downtown Kharkiv?

For her visit is dangerously provocative to the Chinese for whom having a Chinese-speaking democracy just 100 miles away from the mainland is unacceptable.

And with so much military hardware in the South China Sea region, the potential for one spark to light the tinderbox of war is alarming to say the least.

There are moments in history when one event defines an era. The shooting of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914 ignited the First World War, while the torpedoing of the USS Maddox in the Gulf of Tonkin, a few hundred miles south of Taiwan, in 1964 raised the curtain to the horrors of the Vietnam War.

Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu greets U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi

Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu greets U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi

Nancy Pelosi, right is greeted by Taiwan's Foreign Minister Joseph Wu as she arrives in Taipei, Taiwan

Nancy Pelosi, right is greeted by Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu as she arrives in Taipei, Taiwan

Could history judge a wholly unnecessary visit to Taiwan of a US House Speaker, now in her 80s, in a similar vein? History is important here.

There are those who see Pelosi’s pitstop to the disputed island (part of her tour of East Asian countries) as a show of strength, a sabre to rattle across the Strait of Taiwan at the swelling number of naval ships ranged against the island in China’s southern ports.

The exact same show of solidarity was lacking in the build-up to the Ukraine war. So, goes the thinking, if the West had only stood up more to Moscow, wrapping its arm more protectively around Kyiv early on, then Russia would never have felt emboldened enough to invade. I, however, am with the late historian AJP Taylor when he warned that we like to avoid history’s past mistakes by making new ones.

Beijing has certainly taken the bait. The Chinese government warned of repercussions if Pelosi pushed ahead with her trip, saying its military would ‘never sit idly by’.

The distinction that she is acting independently of President Joe Biden – who must be squinting at events through his fingers – will be lost on most Communist apparatchiks. On a visit to Japan in May, Biden made it clear that the US would be prepared to defend Taiwan if it were attacked.

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, walks with Taiwan's Foreign Minister Joseph Wu as she arrived in Taipei, Taiwan

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, walks with Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu as she arrived in Taipei, Taiwan

In the last couple of days, Chinese warplanes have buzzed around the median line that divides the two countries in the Strait of Taiwan.

Several of its warships have sailed provocatively close to the unofficial line too. Yesterday video emerged purportedly showing amphibious tanks lined up on beaches on the Fujian coast opposite the island.

But it is difficult to gauge just how serious the Beijing rhetoric is. President Xi Jinping is buffeted by domestic headwinds, not least by the state of the economy, hobbled as it has been by his zero-Covid policy.

From April to July, the country’s epicenter of world trade, Shanghai, a port city of 24million people, has been under lockdown.

Workers haven’t been able to get into factories, which, in an economy built around manufacturing, has crippled exports. So anything that distracts attention from his failing Covid strictures will be warmly embraced by Xi. Yes, he might be playing to the public gallery, but make no mistake, the gallery is fervently nationalistic and will lap up any show of might against the West.

Police officers line up outside the Grand Hyatt hotel as US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visits Taiwan

Police officers line up outside the Grand Hyatt hotel as US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visits Taiwan 

And Nancy Pelosi is a particularly incendiary figure in China. She was kicked out of the country in 1991 for unfurling a banner in Tiananmen Square commemorating those shot dead there two years before.

Now she is third in line to the US presidency. As Speaker, if anything were to happen to Biden or Vice President Kamala Harris, she would be given the keys to the Oval Office. A figure of her seniority hasn’t visited Taiwan since Republican Speaker Newt Gingrich did in 1997.

Back then, all China could do was blow hot air. It was seeking to join the World Trade Organization and needed then president Bill Clinton’s agreement.

A member since 2001, China is in a much stronger position now. Today it also has a forceful ally in Moscow which, 25 years ago when Gringrich was in Taipei, was mired in the economic chaos of Boris Yeltsin.

The war in Ukraine is also a telling difference. President Vladimir Putin is slowly degrading the West’s military arsenal. The sophisticated, American-made HIMARS rocket systems, for example, have been pouring into the Donbas of late. The Pentagon hoped each set of warheads would last the Ukrainians a month, but they are burning through them in two to three days.

Let's pray that those sirens are never sounded for real, for then the nuclear fuse will be well and truly lit ¿ and I'm afraid Nancy Pelosi will have held the lighter, writes Mark Almond. Pictured: US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi being greeted by Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu

Let’s pray that those sirens are never sounded for real, for then the nuclear fuse will be well and truly lit – and I’m afraid Nancy Pelosi will have held the lighter, writes Mark Almond. Pictured: US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi being greeted by Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu

Could the West really put up a fight in the South China Sea? Britain would certainly deploy one of its aircraft carriers to support the US and Japanese navies as a deterrent. But would they open fire on a nuclear-armed country? We haven’t yet. Would the West want the Taiwanese to do that with weapons donated by us? America’s condition for supplying Ukraine with rocket systems was that they were not fired into Russia, after all.

Xi could use the Pelosi visit as a pretext to a blockade of Taiwan. And while much has been made of the impact on global hunger of Ukrainian grain holed up in Black Sea ports, a sudden drop in Taiwanese-made electrical semi-conductors, used in everything from phones to computers, would hurt the West far more.

Xi may feel bold enough to even attack Taiwan’s smaller islands close to China’s coast, last done under Mao. Or, short of a very tricky amphibious invasion, its missiles could bombard the main island, turning high rises and shopping centers to rubble, much as Russia has done in Ukraine.

I wrote on these pages last week about the mournful wail of air-raid sirens clearing the streets in Northern Taiwanese towns as part of the Taipei government’s mass defense drill then.

Let’s pray that those sirens are never sounded for real, for then the nuclear fuse will be well and truly lit – and I’m afraid Nancy Pelosi will have held the lighter.

Mark Almond is the Director of the Crisis Research Institute, Oxford

A history of tensions between China and Taiwan: A battle for control and dominance in the semiconductor market that could spark a global supply chain crisis   

Just 100 miles separate mainland China and Taiwan – a distance shorter than the gap between Florida and Cuba – but for decades they have been locked in a diplomatic and political battle over control.

China sees Taiwan as a breakaway province that is part of mainland – but the island insists it is a separate nation with its own democratically elected officials and a standing Army.

It sits in the ‘first island chain’ and is surrounded by nations – including Japan and South Korea – who are friendly to the U.S. 

Nancy Pelosi and the controversy surrounding her planned trip to Taipei have put the spotlight on the tensions that have been slowly reaching boiling point.

The Biden administration has consistently said they do not back Taiwanese independence and the One-China policy in place since Jimmy Carter has not changed.

Only 13 countries, including the Vatican, recognize Taiwan as a sovereign nation. 

But actions by previous Presidents including Donald Trump suggest that the diplomatic situation is open to interpretation in the West, angering Beijing.

Taiwan also produces more than 60 percent of the world’s semiconductors – that are critical for operating smartphones, computers and the brake sensors in cars.

A conflict between China and Taiwan could plunge the pair into an economic crisis that could spark a global supply chain meltdown. 

 

When and where did the tensions begin? Centuries of displacement and friction

Taiwan has changed hands since AD 239, when Beijing sent an expedition to explore the area and ended up claiming it as its own. 

Between the 13th and early 17th century, the Hoklo and Hakka Chinese people started to settle there fleeing hardship and still make up the largest demographics on the island. 

It came to be known as Formosa by European nations when the Dutch set up a colony between 1624 and 1661 and the Spanish built a small enclave in the north of the island in 1626.

In 1662, the island changed hands to and became integrated into the Qing dynasty until 1895 when the Japanese won the First Sino-Japanese War and had to cede the territory to Tokyo – which was then known as Edo.

Modern China was then formed in 1911, after the revolution – and Taiwan insists they were never a formal part. 

Just 100 miles separate mainland China and Taiwan - a distance shorter than the gap between Florida and Cuba - but for decades they have been locked in a diplomatic battle

Just 100 miles separate mainland China and Taiwan – a distance shorter than the gap between Florida and Cuba – but for decades they have been locked in a diplomatic battle

Japan then surrendered the island after their defeat in the Second World War and handed the control of Taiwan back to China – with the backing of western allies including the US and the UK.

But then the Civil War broke out between Republic of China, led by Chiang Kai-shek and the Kuomintang (KMT), and the Chinese Communist Party, led by Mao Zedong.

Overrun by Mao’s forces, Kai-shek and the remainder of his government fled to Taiwan in 1949 and dominated politics on the island while the communists took over in Beijing.

Taiwan becomes an ally of the United States, which was at war with China in Korea. The United States deployed a fleet in the Taiwan Strait to protect its ally from possible attack from the mainland.

Kai-shek’s son began a process of democratization when there was an uprising by the rest of the people living on the island started to protest.

Since then the island has moved to put more democratic institutions. 

Chiang Kai-shek, the Chinese leader who fled to Taiwan after the CivIl War
Mao Zedong, the communist leader who took control of China

After the Second World War, Civil War broke out between Republic of China, led by Chiang Kai-shek (left) and the Kuomintang, and the Chinese Communist Party, led by Mao Zedong (right)

The ‘One China’ policy: The U.S. and its longstanding position on Taiwan

The policy acknowledges that there is only one Chinese government, and Taiwan is not an independent or sovereign state.

In 1979, after years of improving relations between the U.S. and China, Jimmy Carter travelled to Beijing to meet leader Deng Xiaoping and severed formal ties with Taipei.

He closed the U.S. embassy and established formal relations with China.

However, Congress also passed the Taiwan Relations Act. The legislation guaranteed that the U.S. would protect the island and help it defend itself – which is why the U.S. sells them arms.

Administrations since Carter’s have recognized the policy and stood by it. 

President Biden has insisted Taiwan should be independent, but the there was been remove to remove.

In December 2016, Donald Trump spoke to President Tsai Ing-wen to congratulate her on the election win – breaking three decades of policy precedent and angering China.

Trump noted in the call that the U.S. and Taiwan have ‘close economic, political and security ties’. 

The encroachment of the U.S. and their willingness to protect Taiwan has made the Beijing-Washington relationship increasingly tenuous in recent years and ramped up friction in the build-up to Pelosi’s visit. 

At the end of July, Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping held a two-hour call, where Biden underscored that ‘the United States policy has not changed – but strongly opposed unilateral efforts to change the status quo or undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. 

Xi Jinping fired back at Biden and said ‘those who play with fire will perish by it’ over Taiwan. 

In 1979, after years of improving relations between the U.S. and China, Jimmy Carter travelled to Beijing to meet leader Deng Xiaoping and severed formal ties with Taipei

In 1979, after years of improving relations between the U.S. and China, Jimmy Carter travelled to Beijing to meet leader Deng Xiaoping and severed formal ties with Taipei

 

Recent tensions between China and Taiwan – and the back and forth over relations

Chen Shui-bian wa elected Taiwan’s president in 2000, marking the first time in power for the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which supports Taiwanese sovereignty and formal independence. 

It was a move that marked the start of the island’s slow move towards trying to split from Beijing.

In March 2005, Beijing adopted an anti-secession bill in March that made secession by Taiwan illegal. 

That April, leaders of Taiwan’s major opposition KMT and the Communist Party of China meet for the first time since 1949 to try and ease the souring relationship.

In 2008, the KMT-backed President Ma Ying-jeou, who favored closer ties with China, came into power and set aside political disputes to discuss deals ranging from tourism to commercial flights.

But in 2016, Tsai Ing-wen of the DPP won the presidential race on a platform of standing up to China. Months later, Beijing suspended all official communications with Taiwan. 

In 2016, Tsai Ing-wen of the DPP won the presidential race on a platform of standing up to China. Months later, Beijing suspended all official communications with Taiwan

In 2016, Tsai Ing-wen of the DPP won the presidential race on a platform of standing up to China. Months later, Beijing suspended all official communications with Taiwan

Taiwan’s dominance in the semiconductor market – and how a conflict could cause a global crisis

Taiwan manufactured more than 60 percent of the globe’s semiconductors last year, and the industry is now in the spotlight.

The chips allow smartphones, computers and the brake sensors in cars to function. 

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), the world’s largest semiconductor manufacturer, counts Apple, Qualcomm and Nvidia as its clients and took in 54 percent of global revenue in 2021.

 TSMC Chairman Mark Liu said on Monday August 1 that there would be an economic crisis on both sides of the strait if China and Taiwan entered a conflict.

He told CNN TSMC factories will be rendered ‘non-operable’ in the event of a Chinese attack because the sophisticated manufacturing facilities depend on  connections with the rest of the world.

He stressed it would cause a supply chain crisis which would extend as far away as the U.S., which last month passed a bill trying to fix the shortage. 

Protesters gather in Taiwan to mark the anniversary of the Chinese crackdown on protesters in Tiananmen Square in 1989

Protesters gather in Taiwan to mark the anniversary of the Chinese crackdown on protesters in Tiananmen Square in 1989

Advertisement

Advertisement