Crossing China’s Red Line: Pelosi’s Taiwan Visit on the Cards and Challenges Ahead
Recently leaked information regarding the possible visit of Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, to Taiwan in August created a diplomatic row between the US and China, pushing China to object to such a visit strongly. Pelosi is a long-time critic of China. Newt Gingrich was the last US Speaker to visit Taiwan, 25 years ago. With August being critical for President Xi Jinping’s leadership, it coincides with the Biden-Xi virtual summit. Although a statement from President Biden regarding the visit is concerning for the US-Taiwan ties, the visit being called off will only convince China that its deterrence worked and will strengthen its position over the Taiwan Issue.
With strong bipartisan support in the US Congress to counter China, the planned visit of Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, to Taiwan along with Indonesia, Japan, and Malaysia in August has created tension between the US and China. Details about the earlier hidden Pelosi’s Taiwan trip got leaked recently, causing a diplomatic row in the US-China relationship. As Taiwan is facing mounting pressure from China, the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict has only increased the possibility of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. Pelosi being a long-time critic of China, the White House has expressed concerns regarding such a visit. Recently, China has become vocal about the Taiwan Issue, as it has objected to sales of arms worth US$108 million to Taiwan and breached Taiwan’s airspace on several occasions. If Pelosi’s visit is materialized, it will be another blow to the US-China relationship putting immense pressure on the Biden Administration to protect Taiwan against any Chinese adventure in the Taiwan Strait.
Why Does a Need for the Visit Arise?
The proposed visit by Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan comes 25 years after that of Newt Gingrich, who visited Taiwan in 1997 as Speaker of the United States House of Representatives and warned China of the US stepping in and defending Taiwan if China invaded Taiwan. With tension brewing between the US and China on the issue of Taiwan, it is worthwhile to assess the Chinese capacity to conduct and sustain such an invasion as the Ukraine-Russia conflict. Meanwhile, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen reiterated that they would welcome diplomatic support to thwart any Chinese adventure in the strait. Recently, Taiwan has witnessed visits by many senior US sitting or retired officials, and in 2020 Alex Azar became the first high-ranking sitting US administrator to visit Taiwan since 1979.
Considering NATO vs Russia situation in Europe, in the wake of the Chinese threat, Taiwan needs support from the West to ensure that its territorial integrity is protected. On the issue of Pelosi’s planned visit to Taiwan, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said that if such a visit is formulated, it will push China to take strong measures whose consequences will be borne by the US. On the other hand, US President Joe Biden argues that the US military has assessed that the visit is ‘not a good idea right now’. The Biden administration is worried for it could cause another Taiwan strait crisis. Such an issue will be brought up as the US President is scheduled to speak to Chinese President Xi Jinping by the end of July 2022, bringing the One China Policy back to the limelight. With Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan next month, China could conduct even a larger military exercise around Taiwan to coincide with it.
Also Read: The Lessons for Taiwan from Russia-Ukraine Conflict
China’s Response and Impact on the US-China Relationship
Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan remains uncertain, with the US government objecting to her visit, as it could cause another Taiwan Strait crisis and further deteriorate the US-China relationship. As the trip was kept off the record and labelled as a security issue, Nancy Pelosi argues that there is a need to show support to Taiwan and it’s up to Taiwan to decide regarding their independence. However, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi argues that the visit by Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan would cross the “red line” and accuse the US of “a blatant double standard” while referring to the US stand on the Ukraine-Russia conflict. Furthermore, it raises the issue of the One China Policy, which was established after the Taiwan Relations Act 1979. Wang further reiterated that Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan would be considered a malicious provocation against China and its sovereignty and would be seen as gross interference in China’s internal matters, sending an extremely dangerous political signal to the world.
China considers Taiwan as a breakaway province that needs to be united with mainland China, even with force, if required. The proposed visit by Pelosi to Taiwan carries greater significance due to the power she wields in Washington DC. Meanwhile, Chinese experts like Shi Yinhong and Wang Jiamin argue that such a visit is provocative, which challenges China’s bottom line and requires strong measures from China to thwart any US plans to use Taiwan to control China. As US President Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping had a last talk virtually in March 2022, the proposed trip could upend the upcoming talk. Meanwhile, Lu Xiang, a US-China expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), argues moving forward with the trip would ruin all the efforts to maintain US-China bilateral ties as the risk and costs due to the visit will be huge. Wang Wenbin, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, argues the visit could shake the foundation of the US-China relationship as it will push China to retaliate with forceful measures.
Also Read: Decoding China’s Hegemony in Indo-Pacific Region and Its Repercussions
Further, regarding Pelosi’s visit, Drew Thompson argues that the visit is beyond Pentagon’s policy purview as Pentagon cannot recommend the timings of a visit by the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives. As the US maintained robust ties with Taiwan, a string of US lawmakers and former officials visited Taiwan to reflect the US seeks to build closer ties with Taiwan. Regarding Pelosi’s visit, US President Biden stated Pentagon is opposed to such a visit, which revealed a division in the US administration. On the other hand, the Biden Administration received China’s message that Pelosi’s visit could create troubles for the US with risks of aggravating ties with China amid the ongoing 40-year high inflation in the US .
The visits by US lawmakers and the planned visit of Pelosi to Taiwan were all meant to strengthen US-Taiwan relations. However, Yang Xiyu, a Senior Fellow at the China Institute of International Studies (CIIS) argues that such visits are done considering the midterm elections, and that the US government and Congress could use the opportunity and upgrade their relations with Taiwan. He further cautions China to be prepared for a change in the US-China relationship overnight. Moreover, the Chinese Ambassador to the US Qin Gang argues that the recent rise in tension across the Taiwan Strait and Taiwan’s position on the One China principle and seeking independence have put the One China policy under threat. Thus, he argues that the US and China should work together to oppose and contain Taiwan’s Independence.
In the context of Taiwan, China never leaves any exchange between the US and Taiwan unnoticed, and thus, Pelosi’s proposed visit to Taiwan has become a major concern for China and President Xi Jinping, domestically and globally. Moreover, Pelosi’s visit is coming at a sensitive time for President Xi Jinping, who will be engaged in August to strengthen his position in CCP and seek support to rule for another five years. Ignoring such a visit or going soft would rather project Xi Jinping as weak due to ‘foreign powers succeeding in breaking off territory from China’.
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Uncertainty over Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan coincides with contradictory signals from the US that have hurt Taiwan as it shows the US-Taiwan relationship is conditional. So far, the news of the visit has caused strategic constraints in the US-China relationship. However, the recent statement by US President Biden regarding the visit has only contradicted his statement made in May 2022 to defend Taiwan militarily against Chinese aggression. Whether China and its threat around Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan would deter the US from assisting Taiwan will be addressed in the upcoming Biden-Xi virtual meeting in August.
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About the author
Kashif Anwar completed his MPhil from MMAJ Academy of International Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia and currently working as a Research Associate at the Centre for Air Power Studies, Delhi. His areas of interest include military technology, geo-strategy, geo-economics, geopolitical development, the Indo-Pacific region, China, the USA, and the QUAD.
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