Washington (AFP) – US-China relations are teetering on the brink after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan..
Pelosi received a warm welcome in Taipei And strong bipartisan support was welcomed in Washington, despite the Biden administration’s concerns. But her trip has angered Beijing and Chinese nationalists and will complicate already strained relations Even after she left.
Already, China is preparing for new shows of force in the Taiwan Strait to make clear that its claims are non-negotiable over the island it sees as a breakaway province. As the United States presses ahead with demonstrations of support for Taiwan, arms sales, and diplomatic pressure, escalating tensions have raised the risks of military confrontation, intentionally or unintentionally.
The trip could further destabilize Washington’s already complex relationship with Beijing, as the two sides grapple with differences over trade, the war in Ukraine, human rights and more.
The Biden administration warned of the Chinese reaction, but did not prevent Pelosi from visiting Taiwan. It took a lot of effort to assure Beijing that the House speaker is not a member of the executive branch and her visit does not represent any change in the US “one China” policy.
This was not a relief for Beijing. Pelosi, the second-in-command of the United States, was no ordinary visitor and was greeted almost like a head of state. Taiwan’s skyline lit up with a message of welcome, and she met the island’s biggest names, including its president, top lawmakers and prominent rights activists.
Chinese officials were angry.
“What Pelosi did was certainly not in defense and preservation of democracy, but as a provocation and a violation of China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said after her departure.
“Pelosi’s dangerous provocation is only for personal political capital, and it is an absolutely ugly political farce,” Hua said. “Sino-US relations and regional peace and stability suffer.”
The timing of the visit may have increased tensions. It came ahead of this year’s Chinese Communist Party congress at which President Xi Jinping will try to consolidate his power further, using the hard line on Taiwan to soften domestic criticism over COVID-19, the economy and other issues.
US Ambassador Nicholas Burns, who summoned the State Department to hear China’s complaints, insisted the visit was anything but routine. The State Department quoted Burns as saying: “The United States will not escalate and is ready to work with China to prevent escalation completely.”
The White House also said Pelosi’s visit “does not change anything” about the US position on China and Taiwan. Press Secretary Karen-Jean-Pierre said the United States expected the harsh response from China, even if she called it unjustified.
“We will monitor, and we will manage what Beijing chooses to do,” she added.
Disturbed by the possibility of a new geostrategic conflict at the same time the West with Ukraine In its resistance to the Russian invasion, the United States rallied allies to its side.
The foreign ministers of the Group of Seven industrial democracies issued a statement on Wednesday asking China – by the initials of its official name, the People’s Republic of China – to calm down.
“It is normal and routine for lawmakers from our countries to travel internationally,” the G7 ministers said. “The escalatory response of the People’s Republic of China threatens to increase tensions and destabilize the region. We call on the People’s Republic of China not to unilaterally change the status quo by force in the region, and to resolve cross-strait differences by peaceful means.”
However, this status quo – long identified as a “strategic ambiguity” for the United States and quiet but firm Chinese opposition to any form of Taiwanese independence – appears to be no longer tenable on either side.
“Agreeing on Taiwan is becoming more and more difficult for both Beijing and Washington,” said Jean-Pierre Cabestan, professor emeritus at Hong Kong Baptist University.
In Taipei and the US Congress, moves are afoot to clarify the ambiguities that have defined US relations with Taiwan since the 1970s. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will soon consider a bill that would strengthen relations, and require the executive branch to do more to bring Taiwan into the international system and take more assertive steps to help the island defend itself.
Writing in the New York Times, committee chair Robert Menendez, DNJ, criticized China’s reaction to Pelosi’s visit.
“The result of Beijing’s clamor should be to strengthen resolve in Taipei, in Washington and across the region,” he said. There are many strategies to further counter Chinese aggression. There is clear bipartisan agreement in Congress about the importance of acting now to provide the people of Taiwan with the kind of support they so desperately need.”
But China appears to be pressing ahead with potentially escalatory steps, including planned live-fire military exercises this week and a steady increase in fighter jet flights in and near Taiwan’s declared air defense zone.
“They will test Taiwanese and Americans,” said Capestan, a professor in Hong Kong. He said US military movements in the region, including a naval force led by the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, would be critical.
China escalated the potential confrontation weeks ago by declaring that the Taiwan Strait that separates the island from the mainland is not international waters. The United States refused and responded by sending more ships through it. This shows that “something has to be done on the American side to draw red lines to prevent the Chinese from going too far,” Capestan said.
Meanwhile, Taiwan is on alert, air raid shelters are being prepared and the government is increasing training for conscripts serving the four months of required military service—generally considered insufficient—along with annual two-week refresher courses for reservists.
“The Chinese feel that if they don’t act, the United States will continue to slice up salami to take additional measures in support of Taiwan independence,” said Bonnie Glaser, an expert on China in the Asia Program at the German Marshall Fund. .
She said domestic US support for Taiwan gives China an added incentive to take a strong stance: “China does not feel pressure to do more to signal that this is an issue that China cannot compromise on.”
Despite immediate concerns about escalation and potential miscalculation, there are others who do not believe that the damage to US-China relations will be more long-term than the damage from other non-Taiwan related issues.
China “will make a big fuss, there will be military exercises and there will be a ban on the import of Taiwanese goods. After the screaming ends, you will witness a gradual calm,” said John Théophile Dreyer, a China policy specialist at the University of Miami.
“It never goes back to normal, whatever its nature, but it will surely go away,” she said.
Associated Press writers Zeke Miller in Washington, Joe MacDonald in Beijing and David Rising in Phnom Penh, Cambodia contributed to this report.
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