October 5, 2022


US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan drew praise for bolstering an American partner struggling to fend off China, but also sparked a response from Beijing that is raising new regional security risks and further straining relations. between the two forces.

In response to Ms Pelosi’s stand in Taiwan, China on Friday went ahead with a second day of large-scale military exercises, suspended climate change talks and some military contacts with the US and imposed unspecified sanctions on Ms Pelosi and her family. US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said Beijing was overreacting and Ms Pelosi sounded defiant.

“We will not allow them to isolate Taiwan,” Ms. Pelosi said in Tokyo, the last stop of her visit this week to some of the US’s closest partners in the region.

Ms. Pelosi said her trip was intended to strengthen mutual security, economic partnership and democratic governance. Particularly important, he said, was to show solidarity with Taiwan’s democracy and state the US commitment to defend it.

For Beijing, Ms Pelosi’s visit confirms a deepening suspicion that the US is backtracking on earlier pledges to limit ties with Taiwan and that its political and military support is bolstering Taipei’s resistance to China’s goal of political union with the island. – a goal Beijing has vowed to achieve by force if necessary.

A Chinese People’s Liberation Army aircraft flew over a Chinese island near Taiwan on Friday.


Photo:

ALY SONG/REUTERS

After warning of Pelosi’s visit, China sought to use current tensions to shift the security balance around Taiwan and shore up nationalist sentiment in favor of Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

The multi-day military drills, announced by Beijing as Ms Pelosi landed in Taipei, have encircled Taiwan and come closer than previous drills. Chinese forces fired missiles over the island and conducted air and naval maneuvers demonstrating what state media said was the ability to blockade the island.

Military affairs experts said they were watching to see whether the drills, which are due to end this weekend, morph into other forceful displays of control by China’s military and establish a new, tension-filled norm in the region.

“How much do they want to take advantage of this to routine military operations around Taiwan? How soon do they leave? Are they creating a permanently larger military presence?’ said Oriana Skylar Mastro, a fellow at Stanford University and the American Enterprise Institute.

Dr. Mastro said that Ms. Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan likely gave the Chinese military a pretext to conduct already planned exercises aimed at solving specific problems. Ms Pelosi also noted this, saying on Friday that Beijing was “probably using our visit as an excuse”.

Overall, military and political analysts said, the trip left Beijing asserting its military dominance around Taiwan and unsettling some allies while unsettling the White House, making the U.S. political leadership appear divided.

Many Republicans, including 24 senators, voiced their support for Ms Pelosi, saying China should not dictate US engagement with Taiwan. Democrats were less upbeat about one of their party’s most powerful politicians. President Biden did not speak with Ms. Pelosi before the trip, an official said, and has not immediately commented on the matter.

Beyond current tensions, relations between the US and China have been plagued by tensions across the board as the two major powers compete for global supremacy, military dominance and control of cutting-edge technologies. Areas where they once cooperated — including the global economy and North Korea’s nuclear program — have declined.

Taiwan has become a key frontline in the US-China rivalry, with both countries ramping up their military postures in the region. The WSJ explains why the US is showing support for the self-governing island that China sees as part of its territory. Photo: I-Hwa Cheng/Bloomberg News

China’s foreign ministry further narrowed its areas of cooperation on Friday, withdrawing talks on counter-narcotics, transnational crime and the repatriation of illegal immigrants, as well as suspending climate change and some military-to-military talks.

Before news of Ms. Pelosi’s trip leaked to the media in mid-July, the Biden administration and China’s leadership had engaged in tentative efforts to stabilize shaky relations.

China’s leader, Mr. Xi, is in the midst of securing a third term as Communist Party leader this fall, defying the rules set by his immediate predecessors. A crisis with the US could take the spotlight off him and tarnish the glory of that moment, said Yun Sun, a China expert at the national security think tank Stimson Center in Washington.

A crisis in China would also be a politically costly diversion for the Biden administration, given its efforts to keep Western allies united in supporting Ukraine against Russian aggression and a host of domestic challenges, from high inflation and weak economic growth to the low polls.

News of Ms. Pelosi’s plans, however, also presented a risk to Mr. Xi, who more than his immediate predecessors has made control of Taiwan a national goal. Beijing went into overdrive with officials issuing high-decibel warnings of serious, if unspecified, consequences.

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Mrs. Pelosi and her staff were briefed by senior military and National Security Council officials. While she was never told to stop the visit, the briefings made the case for why going to Taiwan was a bad idea, given the risk of causing not just short-term but permanent damage to an already strained U.S.-China relationship, a U.S. official with knowledge of the matter said. of the discussions he said.

The provocation could be used by Beijing as a pretext to take action against Taiwan or in the region, the official said. Some administration officials also saw no value in delaying the visit.

A aborted trip would confirm to Beijing that the pressure is working and raise doubts among allies such as Japan and South Korea about US credibility as China’s coercive power grows, former officials and regional affairs experts said.

A central feature of Mr Biden’s China policy is leveraging the US’s extensive network of alliances as a counterweight to Beijing. At the same time, allies in East and Southeast Asia, which are wary of China but also rely on its markets, do not want to choose between Beijing and Washington, administration officials said.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has gone further than his predecessors in making control of Taiwan a national goal.


Photo:

mark r cristino/Shutterstock

Allied ambivalence was an undercurrent of Ms. Pelosi’s trip to Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea and Japan, as well as Taiwan.

When he met Ms Pelosi and four other Democratic members of Congress who were traveling with her, Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong hailed the importance of stable US-China relations for regional peace and security, according to a statement from Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, a pro-American conservative whose country trades heavily with China, did not meet with Ms. Pelosi. A spokesman for Mr. Yun said the decision was made “taking into account the overall national interest” of South Korea.

Wrapping up her trip on Friday, Ms Pelosi said she was returning to the US “inspired to continue our work building a free and open Indo-Pacific”.

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