GP Short Notes # 652, 7 August 2022
China: Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan engenders strong opposition from Beijing
On 2 August, the US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and five other Democratic lawmakers visited Taiwan and met with the Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen. During the meeting, President Tsai presented Pelosi with the Order of Propitious Clouds with Special Grand Cordon award, Taiwan’s highest civilian honour.
Pelosi appreciated and praised Tsai’s leadership and capable handling of China in the region. She said: “Our visit is one of several Congressional delegations to Taiwan – and it in no way contradicts longstanding United States policy, guided by the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, U.S.-China Joint Communiques and the Six Assurances. The United States continues to oppose unilateral efforts to change the status quo."
The Chinese Foreign Ministry strongly condemned the US Speaker’s visit to Taiwan and threatened Taiwan and the US with strong repercussions. On the same night that Pelosi landed in Taiwan, the Vice Foreign Minister of China summoned the US Ambassador to China overnight and registered a complaint against the visit.
As an immediate response to the visit, China imposed a ban on the import of citrus fruits, two types of fish and other food products from Taiwan. China also declared a four-day military drill in six large areas surrounding Taiwan’s main island. The Eastern Theatre Command of the People’s Liberation Army conducted precision missile striles, four of which landed in Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone, engendering strong reaction from the Japanese Defence Ministry.
While the US and the G7 came out in support of Pelosi’s visit and reprimanded the China from destabilizing the peace in the Strait, countries like Pakistan, Russia, Nicaragua, Cuba, North Korea, Venezuela, Bolivia, Iran, Laos, Belarus, Syria and Palestine have made statements in support of China’s response to Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan.
What is the background?
First, significance of Pelosi’s visit. Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan marks the second highest visit made by a Speaker of the US House since 1997. Although the President of the US does not hold the power to restrict the Speaker from making visits across the world, Pelosi’s visit signifies the US’ response to China’s aggression in the Taiwan Strait. Although there have been multiple US Congressional delegations that visited Taiwan, there hasn’t been one on the scale of Pelosi; which threatens China’s hold over the issue. Since its establishment as a republic in 1950, China has vehemently opposed the narrative of Taiwan being an independent and sovereign country. In fact, the one-China principle has been the basis of establishing and maintaining diplomatic relations with countries. China downgraded its diplomatic relations with Lithuania over the inauguration of the Taiwanese Representative Office in the European country. China has maintained its basic policy and not encouraged any relations with Eswatini, the only country in Africa who is not a part of the Forum for China-Africa Cooperation.
Second, China’s response to Taiwan compared with other conflicts. China has conducted numerous military drills in the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea, areas that it considers as its own. Taiwan has constantly reported on the Chinese PLA’s incursion into its ADIZ. Between 1 and 4 October 2021, while China celebrated its National Day, the PLA conducted the largest military incursion where almost 149 fighter jets and aircrafts entered the Taiwanese ADIZ. A similar intimidation tactic is used with Japan on the Senkaku/ Diaoyu islands dispute, but at a much smaller scale.
What does it mean?
Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan despite repeated warning from China displays the US determination to challenge the Chinese hegemony in the region. This also threatens the peace in the Taiwan strait, as China may now speed up its reunification process. For China, the “reunification of the motherland” is an emotional issue and the Communist Party of China is ensuring that the coming generations stay true this aim by repeatedly emphasizing the need to focus on retaking Taiwan.
China is likely to increase its rhetoric on the sovereignty of the island. In furtherance of this aim, China will phenomenally increase its military drills around Taiwan. China will also seek to isolate Taiwan and choke the island’s economy by imposing bans and creating blockades. However, besides the drills and trade bans, it is unclear if China would take the step to forcibly invade the island right away. Given the US involvement, a forced takeover is sure to initiate a major war between the two economic powers of the world.
Diplomatically, China will be forced to take strong measures against the US and reprimand the country for going against its basic principles of maintaining bilateral relations. China will also strive to make an example of the US to refrain other countries from visiting Taiwan, increasing its trade ties and recognizing it as an independent country.