Why Pelosi’s Visit to Taiwan Increases Tensions Between the US and China

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Taiwan, an island of 23 million people 130 kilometers off the coast of China, has long been a tension between Washington and Beijing. Now those tensions are at a new high when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi arrived in Taiwan on Tuesday. Ms. Pelosi is the most senior US official to have been to the island since 1997, when Newt Gingrich paid a visit.

China claims Taiwan, a self-governing island democracy, as its territory, and has vowed to take it back, by force if necessary. Speaking to President Biden on Thursday, Chinese leader Xi Jinping strongly warned the United States not to intervene in the dispute. Beijing has strongly protested Ms Pelosi’s trip and warned of unspecified consequences for the United States.

The warnings have echoed through the Pentagon and the Indo-Pacific Command in Hawaii, where US military officials have been tasked with protecting Ms. Pelosi, as well as assessing what China might do militarily in response to her visit. Taiwan, the world’s largest semiconductor producer, is also vulnerable to increased economic pressure from Beijing.

Here’s a look at the issues surrounding Ms. Pelosi’s visit.

The Chinese leader has long set his sights on Taiwan.

China’s authoritarian leader Xi Jinping has made it clearer than his predecessors that he sees uniting Taiwan with China as a primary goal of his rule.

Mr Xi is expected to be confirmed for an unprecedented third term as leader at a Communist Party congress in the fall. Prior to that all-important political meeting, Mr. Xi likes to project a strong image at home and abroad, especially with regard to the Taiwan issue.

In June, Mr. Xi sent his defense minister, General Wei Fenghe, to an international conference in Singapore, where Mr. Wei warned that China would not hesitate to fight for Taiwan.

“If anyone dares to secede Taiwan, we will not hesitate to fight, will not shy away from the cost and will fight to the end,” General Wei told his audience.

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The timing of when Mr Xi could absorb Taiwan remains a matter of great debate among military and civilian experts on China, but it is not expected to be imminent.

“China really wants Taiwan ‘back,’ but that doesn’t mean it wants an early bloody war that would destroy China’s economic miracle,” William H. Overholt, a senior researcher at Harvard’s Kennedy School, wrote in today’s report. number of Global Asia.

In a fiery speech on the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party last year, Mr. Xi stressed the need for mainland unification with Taiwan, which he called “an historic mission and unwavering commitment of the Communist Party of China.” mentioned. ”

Any country that dared stand in its way would face a “great steel wall” forged by China’s 1.4 billion people, he said.

Taiwan is the biggest flashpoint in US-China relations.

China’s incursions into the airspace and waters near Taiwan have become more aggressive in recent years, increasing the risk of conflict.

In June, Beijing raised the stakes when the State Department declared that China had jurisdiction over the Taiwan Strait and that it could not be considered an international waterway.

And in the past year, Chinese military planes have increasingly scoured the skies near Taiwan, sending Taiwanese fighter jets running amok.

Some US analysts have made it clear that China’s military capabilities have grown to such an extent that a US victory in defense of Taiwan is no longer guaranteed.

Oriana Skylar Mastro, a fellow at Stanford University’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, recently outlined the array of weapons China has amassed for a battle for Taiwan in a commentary published in The New York Times.

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China now has the world’s largest navy, and the United States could throw far fewer ships into a conflict in Taiwan, she said. “China’s missile force is also believed to be capable of attacking ships at sea to neutralize the main US instrument of power projection, aircraft carriers.”

Earlier this week, the Seventh Fleet ordered the aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan and his attack group to sail north from Singapore to the South China Sea and toward Taiwan. A Navy spokesman declined to say whether the carrier would sail near Taiwan or cross the Taiwan Strait.

Taiwan is a political minefield for Washington.

Ms. Pelosi has put President Biden in a difficult position. She and her staff insist that the Speaker, as the leader of a separate but equal branch of the US government, has the right to go wherever she pleases.

For his part, Mr. Biden does not want to be seen as dictating where the Speaker can travel. He has indicated that he doubts the wisdom of the journey.

“I don’t think the military thinks it’s a good idea right now,” Biden said.

In a deliberately ambiguous diplomatic settlement passed when Washington recognized communist-ruled China in 1979, the United States maintains a “one China” policy that recognizes, but does not endorse, the Chinese position that Taiwan is part of China .

President Biden has said three times, most recently in May, that the United States would use force to help Taiwan against a Chinese invasion. On each occasion, the White House backtracked on its statements, saying the policy of “strategic ambiguity” persisted, including Washington remaining vague about how vigorously the United States would come to the aid of Taiwan.

The United States maintains strong diplomatic relations with China, with a major embassy in Beijing and four consulates across the country. But relations are low due to military, economic and ideological competition between the two countries.

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Current ambassador to Beijing, R. Nicholas Burns, is one of America’s most accomplished diplomats. In Taiwan, the United States has a representative office, the American Institute in Taiwan, headed by an inconspicuous State Department official. At the same time, Washington provides Taiwan billions of dollars in military aid and weapons.

Ms. Pelosi has a history of poking China in the eye.

The Speaker is a long-standing critic of China. In Beijing she is seen as hostile.

As a two-term congressman from California, Ms. Pelosi Beijing in 1991, two years after Chinese troops opened fire on student protesters around Tiananmen Square, killing hundreds, if not thousands.

Accompanied to the plaza by several congressional colleagues and a small group of reporters, Ms. Pelosi a banner commemorating the dead students. The banner read: “To those who died for democracy in China.”

Mike Chinoy, a UKTN correspondent at the time, recalled in an article this week how Ms. Pelosi then left the square in a taxi. Police arrested the reporters and held them for a few hours, he wrote.

Ms. Pelosi is a strong supporter of the Dalai Lama and the rights of Tibetans. In 2015, Mrs. Pelosi, with official permission from the Chinese government, Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, on a strictly controlled trip usually inaccessible to foreign officials and journalists.

The Speaker’s plans for a trip to Taiwan attracted some unlikely donors. Senior officials in the Trump administration, including former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, said they wanted to join her. Mr Pompeo tweeted that he was exiled in China but would like to accompany Ms Pelosi to Taiwan.

The post Why Pelosi’s Visit to Taiwan Increases Tensions Between the US and China appeared first on New York Times.

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