WASHINGTON (UKTN) — U.S.-China relations are teetering on a precipice after President Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan.
Pelosi was greeted enthusiastically in Taipei and welcomed with strong bipartisan support in Washington, despite the Biden administration’s misgivings. But her trip has infuriated Beijing and Chinese nationalists and will complicate already tense ties even after her departure.
China is already preparing new displays of power in the Taiwan Strait to make it clear that its claims are non-negotiable on the island it considers a renegade province. And as the US continues with demonstrations of support for Taiwan, arms sales and diplomatic lobbying, escalating tensions have increased the risks of military clashes, intentionally or unintentionally.
And the trip could further cloud Washington’s already complicated relationship with Beijing as the two sides grapple with disagreements over trade, the war in Ukraine, human rights and more.
Wary of China’s response, the Biden administration discouraged, but did not stop, Pelosi from visiting Taiwan. It has been difficult to emphasize to Beijing that the House speaker is not a member of the executive branch and that her visit does not change US “one China” policy.
That was little consolation to Beijing. Pelosi, second in line to the US presidency, was no ordinary visitor and was greeted almost like a head of state. Taiwan’s skyline lit up with a welcome message and she met the island’s biggest names, including the president, senior lawmakers and prominent human rights activists.
Chinese officials were outraged.
“What Pelosi has done is certainly not a defense and maintenance of democracy, but a provocation and violation of China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said after her departure.
“Pelosi’s dangerous provocation is purely for personal political capital, which is an absolutely ugly political farce,” Hua said. “China-US relations and regional peace and stability are suffering.”
The timing of the visit may have increased tensions. It emerged at this year’s Chinese Communist Party Congress, where President Xi Jinping will seek to further bolster his power by using a hardline on Taiwan to fend off domestic criticism of COVID-19, the economy and other issues. weak.
US Ambassador Nicholas Burns was called to the State Department to hear China’s complaints and insisted the visit was nothing but routine. “The United States will not escalate and stands ready to work with China to prevent escalation altogether,” Burns said, according to the State Department.
The White House also said Pelosi’s visit “doesn’t change anything” in US attitudes toward China and Taiwan. Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the US had expected China’s harsh response, even though she called it unjustified.
“We will monitor and manage what Beijing chooses to do,” she added.
Alarmed by the possibility of a new geostrategic conflict at the same time as the West sided with Ukraine in its resistance to the Russian invasion, the US has sided with allies.
Foreign ministers of the Group of 7 Industrialized Democracies issued a statement on Wednesday essentially telling China — using the initials of its formal name, the People’s Republic of China — to calm down.
“It is normal and routine for lawmakers from our countries to travel internationally,” the G-7 ministers said. “The PRC’s escalating response threatens to heighten tensions and destabilize the region. We call on the People’s Republic of China not to unilaterally change the status quo in the region by force, and to resolve the disagreements over the Straits of Europe through peaceful means.”
Yet that status quo—long identified as “strategic ambiguity” for the US and quiet but determined Chinese opposition to any fabrication of Taiwanese independence—doesn’t seem tenable to either side any longer.
“It is becoming increasingly difficult to agree on Taiwan for both Beijing and Washington,” said Jean-Pierre Cabestan, professor emeritus at Hong Kong Baptist University.
Steps are underway in Taipei and the US Congress to clarify the ambiguity that has defined US relations with Taiwan since the 1970s. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will soon consider a bill that would strengthen relations, require the executive branch to do more to bring Taiwan into the international system, and take more determined steps to help the island defend itself.
In The New York Times, committee chair Robert Menendez, DN.J., wrote China’s response to Pelosi’s visit.
“The result of Beijing’s blunder should be a strengthening of determination in Taipei, in Washington and across the region,” he said. “There are many strategies to continue resisting Chinese aggression. There is a clear bipartisan congressional agreement on the importance of taking action now to provide the people of Taiwan with the kind of support they desperately need.”
But China appears to be continuing with steps that could prove escalating, including live-fire military exercises scheduled for this week and a steady increase in fighter jet flights in and near Taiwan’s self-declared air defense zone.
“They are going to test the Taiwanese and the Americans,” said Cabestan, the Hong Kong professor. He said the actions of the US military in the area, including a naval force led by the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, will be critical.
China had sparked a potential confrontation weeks ago by declaring that the Taiwan Strait separating the island from the mainland is not international waters. The US rejected this and responded by sending more ships through it. Cabestan said that showed that “something had to be done on the US side to draw red lines to prevent the Chinese from going too far.”
Meanwhile, Taiwan is on alert, air-raid shelters are being prepared, and the government is increasing training for recruits required to complete their four months of compulsory military service — generally considered inadequate — along with two-week annual refresher courses for reservists.
“The Chinese believe that if they do nothing, the United States will continue to cut the salami to take step-by-step actions in support of Taiwan’s independence,” said Bonnie Glaser, a China expert at the Asia-Pacific Association. program at the German Marshall Fund. .
She said the US domestic support for Taiwan actually gives China additional incentive to take a strong stance: “China does feel pressured to do more to signal that this is an issue where China cannot compromise.”
Despite immediate concerns about escalation and possible miscalculations, there are others who do not believe the damage to US-China ties will last longer than that caused by other, non-Taiwan-related problems.
China is going to “cause a huge commotion and there will be military exercises and embargoes on imports of Taiwanese goods. And after the screaming is over, you’ll see a gradual easing,” said June Teufel Dreyer, a Chinese political specialist at the University of Miami.
“The situation will never go back to normal, which is normal, but it will certainly weaken,” she said.
UKTN writers Zeke Miller in Washington, Joe McDonald and Christopher Bodeen in Beijing, and David Rising in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, contributed to this report.