Nancy Pelosi fears China but Taiwan, not the United States, could pay the highest price

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When US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi landed in Taiwan on Tuesday evening, China was ready with her response.

In quick succession, a slew of government and political bodies issued statements condemning the visit and warning of its “serious impact” on US-China relations, while the Chinese military said it would immediately launch “air and sea exercises” and released a plan for drills surrounding the island in the coming days.

by Pelosi The visit – the first by a major US lawmaker in 25 years and part of a larger Asian tour – was seen by Beijing as a “major political provocation” and a challenge to Chinese sovereignty. The ruling Communist Party of China claims Taiwan’s self-governing democracy as its own, despite never having controlled it.

Despite Beijing’s objections, Pelosi and a congressional delegation undertook a series of high-profile meetings at the Taiwan legislature and at the office of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, where the California Democrat said his delegation she came to send an “unequivocal message” that “America is with Taiwan”.

“We want Taiwan to always have freedom with security and we are not holding back,” Pelosi said, praising the Taiwanese people’s courage in supporting democracy.

Pelosi’s challenge to China’s warnings not to visit the island may have exacerbated turbulent US-China relations, but analysts say the party will likely end up feeling the brunt of Beijing’s pressure is not the United States, but Taiwan.

Beijing wasted no time in expressing its displeasure as the US Air Force jet carrying Pelosi’s The delegation landed in Taiwan on Tuesday evening, but its response so far has been more subdued than some of the possibilities presented by nationalist voices in China in recent days.

The Chinese military will carry out exercises around Taiwan and initiate a series of “targeted military operations to counter the situation,” according to statements released Tuesday by its Eastern Theater Command and the Ministry of Defense.

An official map indicating the location of some of these planned drills – initially scheduled for Thursday through Sunday – suggests that they are closer to the island than previous drills – and that they even invade Taiwan’s territorial waters. Analysts say this indicates that this is an escalation from previous threats exploited by Beijing against Taiwan.

The map shows that the exercises will encircle the island more completely than previous exercises, including military exercise areas and missile launch zones during a major crisis in the Taiwan Strait in the mid-1990s.

With these exercises, China has “gone much further than it has ever been before,” according to Carl Schuster, a former US Navy captain and former director of operations at the US Pacific Command’s Joint Intelligence Center.

“The geopolitical signal sent is that China can close Taiwan’s air and sea access whenever it wishes,” he said.

Taiwan’s Defense Ministry in a press conference on Wednesday called the plan equivalent to a “sea and air blockade” that would “threaten international waterways, challenge international order, undermine the status quo across the strait and endanger regional security “.

But how significant the exercises would ultimately depend on what happens in the next few days, according to political scientist Chong Ja Ian of the National University of Singapore, who said much is at stake for China’s image at home and abroad. .

“Beijing (does not want to) escalate things in a way it cannot control. At the same time, it cannot send a signal that seems too weak, “Chong said, noting that the latter would have internal ramifications for Chinese leader Xi Jinping and potentially affect Beijing’s ability” to force other regional states to follow his. line”.

“What that sweet spot looks like (for Beijing) nobody really knows,” he said.

But even as China launches its response, Pelosi’s touchdown in Taipei, and its high-profile match schedule on Wednesday, marked a significant setback for Beijing, which had been trying for days to discourage its travel with. threats of retaliation and warnings of crossing a “red line”. . ”

And the disappointment at the failure of those threats was palpable in some Chinese circles.

However, Hu Xijin, a political expert and former editor-in-chief of the state nationalist tabloid Global Times – who had warned of Chinese military retaliation against the United States ahead of Pelosi’s trip – tried to moderate any discontent.

“Pelosi has landed in Taiwan, which obviously reflects that our deterrent power is not enough to stop her initial offensive,” Hu wrote in a post on her Weibo verified account Wednesday.

“But if you are very frustrated with this, to think that we have ‘lost’ and encountered a new ‘national humiliation’, then that is a bit of an exaggeration. Some individuals may think this way, but we don’t have to have such a collective vulnerability, “she said.

Pelosi’s visit came at a particularly sensitive time for China as Xi, the country’s most powerful leader in decades, prepares to break conventions and seek a third term at the 20th Communist Party Congress this fall. And that raises the stakes of China’s inability to dissuade the speaker from visiting, analysts say.

“The Chinese have tried to use the clink of the saber and to use rhetorical warfare to discourage Pelosi’s journey, and have exaggerated their threats,” said Yun Sun, director of the China Program at the Stimson Center in Washington, pointing to the rhetoric in China in the public sphere about potential actions such as the absence of flight zones or even the interception of Pelosi’s plane.

“Now Pelosi has decided to make the trip and that leaves the Chinese in suspense because they can’t really deliver,” he said.

This reveals “quite a lot of problems” in Chinese foreign policy, “who think that the rattle of the saber is enough to get what they want, but the cost of that is their future credibility,” he said.

And while the situation is unlikely to affect Xi’s move to third term, the visit, especially in the wake of his appeal with US President Joe Biden last week in which the Chinese leader warned the US against ” playing with fire “on the Taiwan issue was a” great embarrassment “nationwide, Sun said.

But while Beijing’s anger has been directed at the US speaker – whom Chinese officials have accused of “knowingly and maliciously provoking” a “crisis,” analysts said Taiwan will suffer the brunt of its fury.

According to Sun, planned military exercises intended to “squeeze Taiwan” would likely be followed by continued action in the Taiwan Strait.

“Pelosi’s visit will actually lead to a new escalation of Chinese military coercion against Taiwan in the near future. That punishment is the key to the Chinese response at this point, because it cannot punish the United States, “he said.

Taiwan is also set to face an economic sanction for its actions, with the Chinese Bureau of Taiwan Affairs on Wednesday announcing a suspension of imports of certain citrus and seafood products from the island. Chinese customs in a separate statement anchored the suspensions to hygiene concerns, but it is not the first time that China has banned Taiwanese products amid mounting tensions.

China’s Ministry of Commerce also announced Wednesday that it will immediately suspend its exports of natural sand to Taiwan, a key component for semiconductor chip manufacturing, a move that Taiwan’s Bureau of Mines said would have a “limited” effect.

And in the face of China’s plans for military exercises, Taiwan’s Maritime and Port Bureau also issued three warnings on Wednesday, asking ships to use alternative routes to seven ports around the island.

Taiwan has also begun negotiating with neighboring Japan and the Philippines to find alternative air routes to avoid Chinese activities.

Pelosi left the island on Wednesday, leaving a rebellious Taiwan under even more pressure as China unleashes its fury.

When asked at a regular press conference in Beijing whether the export suspension was intended to punish Taiwan for Pelosi’s visit, China’s Deputy Foreign Minister Hua Chunying declined to comment on specific trade actions, but said that ” one thing is certain here “.

“The separatist forces of the United States and Taiwan must take responsibility and pay the price for the mistakes they have made,” he said.