US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s rumoured plan for a trip to Taiwan has infuriated China and left the White House with a serious geopolitical headache. How big a problem is this?
On Monday, China warned of “serious consequences” if Nancy Pelosi were to proceed with a visit to Taiwan in the coming weeks.
Second in line to the presidency, Mrs Pelosi would be the particular highest ranking US politician to travel to the self-governing island democracy since 1997.
However, China sees self-ruled Taiwan as a breakaway province that will eventually be part of the country again – and has not ruled out the possible use of force to achieve this.
The potential trip has not only rankled Beijing – the particular Biden administration has reportedly tried to dissuade the California Democrat from going.
Last week, President Joe Biden told reporters “the military thinks it’s not a good idea”, but his White House has called Chinese rhetoric against any such trip “clearly unhelpful and not really necessary”.
The state department says Mrs Pelosi has not announced any travel and the US approach to Taiwan remains unchanged.
Why would Pelosi want to visit Taiwan?
There is strong bipartisan support for Taiwan among the particular American public and in the US Congress.
And over a congressional career spanning 35 years, Speaker Pelosi has been a vocal critic of China.
She has denounced its human rights record, met with pro-democracy dissidents, and also visited Tiananmen Square to commemorate victims of the 1989 massacre.
Mrs Pelosi’s original plan was to check out Taiwan in April, but it was postponed after she tested positive for Covid-19.
She has declined to discuss details of the trip, yet said last week that will it was “important for us to show support with regard to Taiwan”.
28 many years ago, we traveled in order to Tiananmen Square to honor the courage & sacrifice of the students, workers & ordinary citizens who stood for the dignity & human rights that all people deserve. To this day, we remain committed to sharing their story with the world. #Tiananmen30 pic. twitter. com/7UqiJVRS3t
— Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi) June 4, 2019
Why does China oppose the visit?
Beijing views Taiwan as its territory, and has repeatedly raised the spectre of annexing it by force if necessary.
Chinese officials have expressed anger over what they view as growing diplomatic engagement between Taipei and Washington. This includes a surprise visit to the island by six US lawmakers in April.
On Monday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian warned his country would take “firm and resolute measures” if Mrs Pelosi went ahead with her visit.
“And the US will be responsible for all of the serious consequences, ” he said.
A spokesman of the particular Chinese ministry of defence seemed to suggest there could even be a military response.
“If the united states side insists on going ahead, the Chinese language military will never sit idle and will take strong measures to thwart any external interference and separatist attempts for ‘Taiwan independence’, ” Colonel Tan Kefei told China Daily.
A precarious balancing act
US policy on Taiwan is a balancing act: it acknowledges that Tiongkok considers the self-governing island to be part associated with “One China”. But it opposes any attempts to change Taiwan’s democratic status by force, and sells weapons to help Taipei defend itself.
That balance has looked more precarious with Russia’s war against Ukraine: administration officials are watching regarding signals of what lessons Beijing might be learning, if any, that this could apply to Taiwan.
They are also anxious about increasingly aggressive Chinese statements plus actions towards Taipei, including an assertion that the Taiwan Strait is just not international waters.
Chief executive Biden is expected to raise both Russia and Taiwan with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping this week in a phone call aimed at managing the complicated relationship.
But the spectre of the visit from the Speaker of the House in this incendiary political environment threatens to raise tensions sharply.
US officials fear some sort of military response from Cina, although analysts doubt any kind of imminent attempt by Beijing to annex Taiwan simply by force.
Citing the separation of powers, the administration has refrained from going public along with its views, but some prominent Republicans have been outspoken. In an unusual twist of the partisan divide, they are backing Mrs Pelosi’s trip and urging the White House to do the same.
How might the trip escalate tensions?
At its party congress later this particular year, the Chinese Communist Party is set to re-elect Xi Jinping to an unprecedented third term because president.
Leader Biden – who last spoke with President Xi in March – offers said they will speak over the phone again within the next few days, upon a range of topics including Taiwan and other “issues of tension”.
The call comes since US officials warn associated with a Chinese military build-up in the Asia-Pacific region and “aggressive and irresponsible behaviour” in the South China Sea.
The threats of retaliation over Mrs Pelosi’s go to have raised concerns more than China’s possible response.
When then-US Health Secretary Alex Azar flew to Taiwan in 2020, Chinese air force jets crossed on the mid-line of the Taiwan Strait — the narrow waterway between the island and the giant neighbour – within range of Taipei’s missiles.
Last week, the particular former editor of China’s state-run Global Times newspaper suggested a “shocking military response” may be in store for Mrs Pelosi.
“If Pelosi visits Taiwan, [People’s Liberation Army] military aircraft will accompany Pelosi’s plane to enter the island, making a historic crossing of the tropical isle by military aircraft from mainland for the 1st time, ” Hu Xijin wrote.