With a surprise visit, Nancy Pelosi wants to show her support for the ‘vibrant democracy’ in Taiwan. Her visit puts even more pressure on troubled relations between China and the United States. “It won’t take much for this to get out of hand.”
Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic Speaker of the US House of Representatives, did not say a word about a possible visit to Taiwan. Reports of this had been circulating for days before she left for Asia with an American delegation. But reports only referred to her official trip through Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea and Japan.
- China is furious with the US because House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is visiting Taiwan.
- Beijing immediately deployed military aircraft and ships in response and announced a large-scale exercise.
- Pelosi’s visit pushes China-US relations to new lows.
- An escalation seems unlikely, but cannot be ruled out.
It was therefore left to be guessed for days whether the visit would actually come. But when the Boeing C40-4 that brought Pelosi to Malaysia on Tuesday headed from Kuala Lumpur to the island in the East China Sea, it was almost undeniable: Number three in American politics went to Taiwan. She landed at the airport in Taipei at 23.00 local time, at 17.00 with us.
America’s solidarity with Taiwan’s 23 million people is more important today than ever.
“Our delegation’s visit to Taiwan is a tribute to America’s unwavering commitment to Taiwan’s vibrant democracy,” Pelosi tweeted after the landing. “America’s solidarity with Taiwan’s 23 million people is more important than ever today as the world faces a choice between autocracy and democracy.”
It has been since the visit of House of Representatives Newt Gingrich, a Republican, in 1997 that Taiwan again had such an important politician from the United States. In China they were already not happy about it, but Pelosi’s visit is causing even more bad blood in Beijing.
Pelosi tries to temper her statement by pointing out, like Biden, that nothing will change in the official US position on Taiwan independence. The US does not want Taiwan to officially become an independent country, but it provides weapons and military support.
‘playing with fire’
But it doesn’t make much of an impression on the Chinese. In a statement circulated via state news agency Xinhua, Beijing called the move a “serious undermining of peace and stability” and a “major political provocation”. “Those who play with fire will perish,” Beijing said.
“The Chinese see this as a signal from the United States,” says China expert Pascal Coppens, who has lived and worked in the country for years. Biden says the visit is Pelosi’s personal choice and he can’t ban her, but in China’s eyes the US is pushing a piece. That makes Biden an unreliable interlocutor. He says he’s not in favor of Taiwan independence, but he doesn’t seem to support China one hundred percent by not blowing the whistle on Pelosis.’
Even before Pelosi was on Taiwan’s tarmac, China had already sent military aircraft and naval vessels to the strait between the island and the Chinese mainland. Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said 21 Chinese military aircraft were spotted in Taiwan’s airspace on Tuesday. The day before there were four.
Biden says he’s not in favor of Taiwan independence, but he doesn’t seem to support China one hundred percent by not blowing the whistle on Pelosi.
The Chinese State News Agency also announced a series of military exercises near Taiwan on 4-7. August that involved shooting with live ammunition. It would be the biggest military show of force since 1995, when China launched missiles into the sea.
It is difficult to predict whether Pelosi’s visit will lead to war, says Coppens. “Although I don’t think China will start a war just because of Pelosi. First, China will make it clear that this is its territory and that the United States must respect it.’
Pelosi’s visit pushes China-US relations to new lows. ‘And the tires were already bad,’ says Coppens. “China feels threatened by the US military alliance with Australia, India and Japan. Arms deliveries to Taiwan have accelerated and Japan’s military arsenal is expanding. It gives China the feeling that NATO, led by the United States, is targeting Asia. Beijing responds with even more military buildup. Pelosi’s visit adds to existing tensions.’
There is something to be said for Pelosi’s criticism of human rights abuses and lack of democracy in China. But her visit to Taiwan looks set to lead to a predictable escalation and tension in the region. The question is what Pelosi thinks he will win. Various analyzes in the US media look at the midterm elections in November 2022. Anti-China rhetoric is generally well received by both Democrats and Republicans. ‘The Chinese also see it as a political stunt,’ says Coppens. “But imagine if there’s an accident or a plane flies too far into someone else’s airspace … It doesn’t take much to get this out of hand.”