Why Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan is important for China


China pledges a “strong and resolute” military response to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s expected arrival in Taiwan on Tuesday.

Send the news: According to National Security Council spokesman John Kirby, Beijing’s “provocations” are likely to include rockets fired into the Taiwan Strait and a large-scale breach in Taiwan’s air defense zone.

What they say: Kirby argued that such reactions would be completely disproportionate, as there is precedent for Pelosi’s visit – then-speaker Newt Gingrich traveled to Taiwan in 1997 and lower-level lawmakers have only visited this year – and US policy toward of Taiwan is unchanged.

The other side: The Chinese government sees things very differently.

  • For starters, Gingrich had a three-day meeting in Beijing before stopping in Taipei, notes Ryan Hass, a Brookings colleague and former NSC director for China and Taiwan.
  • China’s relative strength has increased dramatically since then, as has the level of reverence it demands — particularly toward Taiwan, which he says is an integral part of its territory.
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Then there’s Pelosi himself.

  • “The Chinese have very strong feelings about the speaker,” Hass tells UKTN. Her public protest in Beijing over the Tiananmen Square massacre was more or less her “first attempt on the national stage,” he notes.
  • She has taken high-profile stances on Tibet and other human rights issues that infuriate Beijing for decades.
  • Now she is third in line for the presidency and expects to make the trip despite weeks of warnings of “serious consequences.” She has not confirmed the visit, but several media outlets have. According to the FT, she will meet with the president of Taiwan on Wednesday morning.
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The journey would come at the height of China’s annual military training cycle, a day after a public holiday in honor of the People’s Liberation Army, and when senior Communist officials gather for an annual retreat, Hass notes.

  • More importantly, it comes ahead of the party congress where President Xi Jinping is expected to seek a third term, making this an inopportune time for him to show any weakness over Taiwan.
  • “President Xi has spent the past 10 years building a political brand of being strong, determined and steadfast in the face of American pressure,” Hass said.

  • At this critical juncture, “any political incentive will point to him erring on the side of muscularity in response,” Hass added.

The big picture: A confrontation over Taiwan was always possible, even without Pelosi’s journey.

  • When Xi — who has repeatedly vowed to conquer Taiwan, by force if necessary — warned President Biden last Thursday not to play with fire over Taiwan, he echoed the language he used at their virtual summit last year.
  • And while Biden publicly said the US military thought Pelosi’s trip “not a good idea” at this point, he also infuriated Beijing by repeatedly saying the US will defend Taiwan from invasion.
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What to watch: It is unlikely that China will take any action that endangers Pelosi or poses a real risk of war.

  • The longer term question is whether the US and China will be able to reset Taiwan and find a stable status quo. If not, the possibility of a much bigger showdown across the island will loom larger and possibly closer.



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