Will Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan ignite war with China?
After much speculation and threats from China, Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, landed in Taiwan last night. She was received by Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu at Taipei’s Songshan Airport.
According to Flight Radar 24, 2.92 million users followed SPAR19 from its take off from Kuala Lumpur to landing in Taipei at some point, making it the most-tracked flight ever.
Not only this, even Sina Weibo, China’s own version of Twitter, crashed due to huge traffic on the Chinese social media app.
Taipei 101, Taiwan’s tallest building and the world’s tallest from 2004-09, was lit up with a message welcoming Pelosi to Taiwan. Taipei 101 message became the first official announcement.
The skyscraper occasionally displays messages for visiting dignitaries and even displayed messages in support of Ukraine in its war against Russia for days. A strong message of support was sent to Ukraine by lighting up Taipei 101 in colours of the Ukrainian flag.
Speculation was rife that given the threat from China and the intense war of rhetoric, the visit would be a low-key event. However, much to China’s disdain, Taiwan and even Pelosi are being very vocal about the visit. From photo-ops to making public statements, this visit is far from being low-key. With the United States, particularly Pelosi, showing the resolve to stick to Taiwan, the latter too is seemingly ready to brace the challenge China might throw in response.
Her Taiwan itinerary included a visit to the Legislative Yuan, a meeting with President Tsai Ing-wen, a visit to Taiwan’s Human Rights Museum. Her visit to the Human Rights Museum and meetings with human rights activists in Taiwan were also noteworthy. She has been a strong critic of China’s human rights violations record and even visited Tiananmen Square in 1991 where she held a banner that read, “To those who died for Democracy in China.”
Taiwan Presidential Office conferred Pelosi the Order of Propitious Clouds with Special Grand Cordon for playing a vital role in promoting Taiwan-United States relations and her unwavering support for Taiwan. During Tsai-Pelosi meet, Tsai called Taiwan a reliable partner to the United States and expressed interest in working closely with the United States to strengthen the Indo-Pacific rules-based order.
In a great show of support, Pelosi said, “It is to remind some and inform others why we are here. 43 years ago, with the Taiwan Relations Act, America made a bedrock promise to always stand with Taiwan… This congressional visit makes it unequivocally clear that we won’t abandon our commitment to Taiwan.”
It is also important to acknowledge that her statement and the visit do not change the United States’ Taiwan policy. The United States still follows the much-debated policy of strategic ambiguity on Taiwan. However, while there was no mention of China during the speech, she sent across an important message of bipartisan solidarity for Taiwan.
Throughout yesterday, videos of armoured vehicles marching on a beach in Xiamen were circulated on social media, authenticity of which is yet to be ascertained. As soon as Pelosi landed in Taipei, Chinese officials launched a coordinated attack on Twitter with threats of grave consequences of the United States’ violation of the so-called One-China Policy.
Nevertheless, the situation is less likely to go out of control. China will only be compelled to attack if Taiwan officially declares independence or if the United States, for example, moves towards strategic clarity. Taiwan government has, on several occasions, stressed that it wants to maintain the status quo in the Taiwan Strait.
As far as the United States is concerned, exchanges with Taiwan do not mean it is in violation of the One-China policy. Taiwan-United States ties are still moving forward within the larger context of Taiwan Relations Act. However, China is completely disregarding the two countries’ will and rights to interact with each other even within the existing framework of the relations.
Shortly after Pelosi landed, China announced that it is planning to hold live-fire military drills in waters encircling Taiwan from August 4-7. This is to display that China has the capability to block Taiwan in case of an attack. The fact that the exercise is likely to take place once Pelosi leaves Taiwan conveys that China is not willing to escalate tensions with the United States and now that the Chinese officials have overreacted, they have to follow through the threats.
Such exercises and even encroachment into Taiwan’s Air Defence Identification Zone are a part of China’s intimidating tactics.
Another option for China is to economically coerce Taiwan further. This has already started. On August 2, it announced a ban on 100 Taiwanese food snack manufacturers. From August 3, a ban on imports of Taiwanese citrus fruits and chilled white hair tail and frozen horse mackerel is imposed. China is weaponising trade against Taiwan and this should be condemned by the international community.
Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan should certainly not be treated as a provocation. There is no departure from the past. In 1997, United States House Speaker Newt Gingrich also visited Taiwan, and congressional visits to Taiwan are common than most know.
European Union vice-president Nicola Bear was in Taiwan in July this year, while Czech Senate Speaker Milo Vystril visited Taiwan in September 2020. Even this visit should be treated as another congressional visit, and China should not attempt to change the status quo by using Pelosi’s visit as an excuse.
Such actions by China have the potential to undermine peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific, and therefore, Indo-Pacific countries’ voicing support for Taiwan is even more important now.