Pelosi’s Taiwan visit triggers rhetorical and literal barrages by China

Posted on : 2022-08-04 17:27 KST Modified on : 2022-08-04 17:27 KST
China carried out live-fire drills off the coasts of Taiwan and issued scathing remarks aimed at the US over the House speaker’s visit to Taiwan
The US military released this photo of an airborne early warning aircraft being launched from the USS Ronald Reagan in the Philippine Sea as a contingency option during heightened tensions in the region during US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan. (AP/Yonhap News)
The US military released this photo of an airborne early warning aircraft being launched from the USS Ronald Reagan in the Philippine Sea as a contingency option during heightened tensions in the region during US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan. (AP/Yonhap News)

Mainland China was left seething with anger after a US military airplane arrived Tuesday evening at Taipei Songshan Airport carrying Nancy Pelosi, the first sitting US speaker of the House to visit Taiwan in 25 years.

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) staged live-fire drills the same evening shortly after her arrival, while the Chinese Foreign Ministry and others issued statements criticizing the visit. While Taiwan may be in China’s sights at the moment, it appears likely to also point its barrel toward the US before long.

While China had previously warned of Pelosi’s Taiwan visit that “those who play with fire will perish by it,” it did not make any reckless attempts to stop her aircraft from landing. This appeared to be based on the determination that it would be too much of a risk to physically threaten such an important figure, who stands third in the presidential line of succession of the world’s biggest military power.

In their meeting Wednesday, Pelosi and Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen spoke about the importance of democracy of freedom, but did not make any reference to Taiwanese independence, which Beijing views as a “red line.”

China’s immediate response was to step up military pressure against Taiwan.

Shortly after Pelosi arrived on the island, the PLA’s Eastern Theater Command carried out several joint military exercises in the area. Following her departure, China planned to launch military exercises Thursday that would effectively encircle Taiwan.

According to a map of exercise operations published by China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency, military exercises were scheduled in three locations to Taiwan’s north, two to its south and southwest, and one to its east. Few precedents exist for the Chinese military carrying out exercises as far away as the waters off of Taiwan’s eastern coast.

Analyzing the waters where the exercises would be taking place, the New York Times noted that some were located within Taiwan’s marine border. At the same time, by scheduling the exercises’ start time for after Pelosi’s departure from Taiwan, Beijing sent an implicit signal that it does not want its clash with the US to grow.

It also made sure to fire off numerous comments about the situation. On Tuesday evening, critical statements were issued by five different ministries and bodies in China: the Foreign Ministry, Defense Ministry, National People’s Congress (NPC), People’s Political Consultative Conference (PCC), and the Taiwan Work Office of the Communist Party of China Central Committee.

In an 863-word statement published that evening, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said that Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan as Speaker of the US House of Representatives was a “major political provocation.”

A Chinese Defense Ministry spokesperson also issued a statement saying the PLA “is on high alert and will take a series of targeted military operations in response [to Pelosi’s visit] to [. . .] resolutely thwart the interference by external forces and the separatist schemes for ‘Taiwan independence.’”

Numerous references were also made to possible economic retaliation.

The Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council, which oversees Taiwan-related matters for the Chinese government, announced Wednesday that it was designating the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy and the International Cooperation and Development Fund as “organizations related to die-hard elements seeking ‘Taiwan independence’” and imposing bans on any cooperation between them and organizations, enterprises, and individuals in China.

China’s General Administration of Customs also announced that it was provisionally suspending imports of Taiwanese mandarin oranges, as well as certain types of fish products as of Wednesday.

While China may not have targeted the US directly for now, the situation stands to pose an inevitable burden on all aspects of the two sides’ relations. Some observers are predicting a possible fourth Taiwan Strait crisis on par with the three previous ones between the 1950s and 1990s.

With Chinese President Xi Jinping naming reunification with Taiwan one of the major reasons and goals for his third term in office, the fact that a US speaker of the House was allowed to visit Taiwan appears certain to prompt Beijing to consider means of retaliation that are qualitatively different from the ones it has used in the past.

China’s state-run Global Times reported that in addition to military exercises, China may attempt measures similar to ones adopted during previous Taiwan Strait crises — including strikes against Taiwanese military targets by the Chinese armed forces — or the pursuit of new legislation for “national reunification.” It also mentioned the possibility of China ending its tacit cease-fire with Taiwan by sending its military aircraft and vessels into the airspace and waters controlled by the Taiwanese government.

“In terms of Taiwan issues, China is going to try to avoid any direct clashes as long as the US and Taiwan do not cross what it views as ‘red lines,’” said Ahn Chi-young, dean of the Academy of Chinese Studies at Incheon National University.

“But it does seem likely to take measures to make it difficult for the US and Taiwan to engage in any provocations related to this issue,” he added.

China’s overall approach on what to do about the situation and relations with the US going forward appears likely to come around the time of the 20th congress of the Chinese Communist Party, which is scheduled to take place this fall.

Ahead of that congress, where the decision is to be made on Xi’s appointment to a third term, Japan’s Asahi Shimbun newspaper reported that the “Beidaihe meeting,” where Chinese Communist Party officials and elder statespeople assemble, appears to have already started.

It also said there was a “possibility that President Xi is on site as well.”

By Choi Hyun-june, Beijing correspondent

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