Taiwan, an island of 23 million people located 80 miles off the coast of China, has long been a point of tension between Washington and Beijing. Now this tension has reached a new high.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is expected to embark on a tour of several Asian countries soon, which may include a stop in Taiwan. Miss Pelosi will be the highest-ranking US official to visit the island since Newt Gingrich visited the island in 1997.
China claims Taiwan, a self-governing island democracy, as its territory and has vowed to take it back, by force if necessary. During a phone call with President Biden on Thursday, Chinese leader Xi Jinping bluntly warned the United States against intervening in the dispute. Beijing strongly protested Ms. Pelosi’s potential trip there, warning of unspecified consequences for the United States.
His warnings echoed at the Pentagon and Indo-Pacific Command in Hawaii, where US military officials were tasked with protecting Ms. Pelosi and assessing what China might do militarily in response to her visit. Taiwan, the world’s leading semiconductor manufacturer, is also vulnerable to mounting economic pressure from Beijing.
Here’s a look at the issues surrounding Ms. Pelosi’s proposed visit.
The Chinese leader has long set his sights on Taiwan.
China’s authoritarian leader Xi Jinping has made it clearer than any of his predecessors that he sees the unification of Taiwan with China as the main goal of his rule.
Mr. Xi is expected to be confirmed for an unprecedented third term as leader at the Communist Party Congress in the fall. Ahead of this momentous political meeting, Mr. Xi will strive to create an image of strength at home and abroad, especially on the issue of Taiwan.
Last month, Mr. Xi sent his Defense Minister General Wei Fenghe to an international conference in Singapore, where Mr. Wei warned that China would not hesitate to fight for Taiwan.
“If anyone dares to break off Taiwan, we will fight without hesitation, we will not be afraid of the price, and we will fight to the very end,” General Wei told his audience.
The timing of when Mr Xi might try to swallow Taiwan remains a matter of much debate among military and civilian experts on China, but it is not expected to happen any time soon.
“China really wants to ‘take back’ Taiwan, but that doesn’t mean it wants an early bloody war that will destroy China’s economic miracle,” the magazine wrote. current issue of Global Asia.
In a fiery speech on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party last year, Mr. Xi stressed the need to unite the Chinese mainland with Taiwan, which he called “the historic mission and unwavering commitment of the Chinese Communist Party.” ”
Read more about the relationship between Asia and the United States
- Opposition to China: In a bipartisan vote, the Senate passed a $280 billion bill aimed at boosting America’s manufacturing and technological superiority to counter China. This is the most significant US government intervention in industrial policy in decades.
- Taiwan: The Biden administration is increasingly concerned that China may try to move against the self-governing island over the next year and a half – possibly by trying to seal off the Taiwan Strait.
- Trade policy: The new trade deal, announced by President Biden during a trip to Asia, is based on two big ideas: containing China and moving away from the focus on markets and tariffs.
Any country that dares to stand in the way will face a “great wall of steel” forged by China’s 1.4 billion people, he said.
Taiwan is the biggest flashpoint in US-China relations.
China’s air and sea incursions near Taiwan have become more aggressive over the past few years, raising the risk of conflict.
In June, Beijing upped the ante when the foreign ministry said China had jurisdiction over the Taiwan Strait and could not be considered international waterway.
And last year, Chinese warplanes increasingly probed the airspace near Taiwan, forcing Taiwanese fighters into the air.
Some US analysts have made it clear that China’s military capabilities have grown to the point where an American victory in the defense of Taiwan is no longer guaranteed.
Oriana Skylar Mastro, a fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University, recently in a commentary published in The New York Times, spoke about the many weapons that China has stockpiled to fight over Taiwan.
China now has the largest navy in the world, she said, and the United States could use far fewer ships to participate in the Taiwan conflict. “It is also believed that China’s missile forces are capable of targeting ships at sea to neutralize the main US power projection tool – aircraft carriers.”
Earlier this week, the Seventh Fleet ordered the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and her strike group to sail north from Singapore towards the South China Sea and towards Taiwan. A Navy spokesman declined to say whether the aircraft carrier would sail near Taiwan or through the Taiwan Strait.
Taiwan is a political minefield for Washington.
Miss Pelosi embarrassed President Biden. She and her staff insist that the speaker, as leader of a separate but equal branch of the US government, has the right to go anywhere.
For his part, Mr. Biden doesn’t want to be seen as dictating where the speaker can go. He made it clear that he doubted the feasibility of a potential trip.
“I think the military now thinks this is a bad idea,” Mr. Biden said.
In a deliberately ambiguous diplomatic arrangement made when Washington recognized communist-ruled China in 1979, the United States has adopted a “one China” policy that recognizes but does not support the Chinese position that Taiwan is part of China.
President Biden has said three times, most recently in May, that the United States will send forces to help Taiwan resist a Chinese invasion. Each time, the White House has retracted its statements, saying that the policy of “strategic ambiguity” remains, in which Washington remains unclear about how much force the United States will come to Taiwan’s aid.
The United States maintains strong diplomatic relations with China, with a large embassy in Beijing and four consulates throughout the country. But relations are at a low level due to the military, economic and ideological rivalry between the two countries.
The current ambassador to Beijing, R. Nicholas Burns, is one of America’s most experienced diplomats. The US has a representative office in Taiwan, the American Institute in Taiwan, which is headed by a low-ranking official from the State Department. At the same time, Washington is supplying Taiwan with billions of dollars worth of military aid and weapons.
Ms. Pelosi has a history of poking China in the eye.
The speaker is a longtime critic of China. In Beijing, she is treated with hostility.
A two-term congresswoman from California, Ms. Pelosi visited Beijing in 1991, two years after Chinese troops opened fire on student demonstrators in Tiananmen Square, killing hundreds if not thousands.
Mike Chinay, then a correspondent for CNN, recalled in an article this week how Ms. Pelosi left the square in a taxi. The police arrested the reporters, holding them for a couple of hours, he wrote.
Ms. Pelosi is a strong supporter of the Dalai Lama and the rights of Tibetans. In 2015, with official permission from the Chinese government, Ms. Pelosi visited Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, on a tightly controlled trip that is normally closed to foreign officials and journalists.
The speaker’s plans to travel to Taiwan have attracted unexpected supporters. Senior officials in the Trump administration, including former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, have said they would like to join. Mr. Pompeo tweeted that he was banned from entering China but would be happy to accompany Ms. Pelosi to Taiwan.