Why Nancy Pelosi’s planned visit to Taiwan drew China’s ire

Tensions between China and the United States are skyrocketing, with an expected meeting between two leaders being the latest point of contention between the two global superpowers.
House Democrat Speaker Nancy Pelosi has embarked on a tour of the Indo-Pacific, visiting Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea and Japan.
But one drew the wrath of China – Taiwan.

She is expected to meet Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and would be the first US House Speaker to visit the country, which Beijing under its “one China” principle does not recognize as sovereign, in a quarter century.

Sources say Ms Pelosi is expected to be there on Tuesday, and while the White House has not confirmed the visit, they have said she has every right to go.
Beijing, on the other hand, does not believe this is the case. Chinese President Xi Jinping while Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said the visit would lead to “very serious developments and consequences” and the national army would not “stand idly by.”
Meanwhile, the United States warned China against turning Ms Pelosi’s visit into a ‘crisis’ and said she ‘would not be intimidated’ into continuing to move freely in the Pacific region .
And it’s not just a war of words that has erupted – there has also been an increase in military activity. China across the Taiwan Strait ahead of Ms. Pelosi’s possible visit, while the United States brought aircraft carriers and large aircraft closer to Taiwan.

So why exactly is this visit so controversial and what could it lead to?

Why are there tensions between Taiwan and China?

These date back to the Chinese Civil War between the Kuomintang (Nationalist Party), which controlled most of the mainland, and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). It began in 1927 and remains unsolved to this day.
The Kuomintang retreated to Taiwan (formerly known as the Republic of China (ROC)) in 1949 after the CCP gained the upper hand in the war and subsequently established the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
In the early 1970s, Taiwan was expelled from the UN and its seat was given to the PRC. It was also a decade when nations began shifting diplomatic recognition from the ROC to the PRC, including the United States in 1979.

But that same year, the United States established unofficial relations with the ROC. Then-President Jimmy Carter signed the Taiwan Relations Act, under which the United States provides defensive arms to the country so that it can maintain “sufficient self-defense capabilities”.

A map shows the countries Nancy Pelosi will visit on her Indo-Pacific tour.  Nations include Singapore, Malaysia, Japan, South Korea and possibly Taiwan.

Nancy Pelosi will visit Singapore, Malaysia, Japan and South Korea on her Indo-Pacific tour, and possibly Taiwan. Source: SBS News

Jennifer Hsu, a researcher at the Lowy Institute, said a shake-up in Taiwan’s system of government has also diminished Taiwanese people’s desire to unite with China.

“Taiwan in the early 1990s experienced democratization, in which the Taiwanese people could elect their own government,” she said. “So they went from an authoritarian regime to a democracy which is quite vibrant today.”
“So over the past 30 years, Taiwan’s population has become younger and its ties to China have become looser and looser. So there’s a lot of agitation for a more empowered and independent, separate and different voice. from China.”

The CCP has never ruled Taiwan, but Xi has set a goal of “great rejuvenation” in 2049, which some see as a deadline for reunification.

Why is the visit so controversial?

Ms. Pelosi’s visit is not unprecedented, although it would be the first by a Speaker of the United States House in more than two decades.
The last time someone in the position visited Taiwan was in 1997, when Republican Newt Gingrich stopped there after visiting then-Chinese President Jiang Zemin.

Mr. Jiang expressed some concern at the time about what this meant for America’s “one China” policy (which “does not challenge” the position that there is only one China and Taiwan are among them), but he was more optimistic, saying relations between Washington and Beijing had entered a state of “sunshine after rain”.

Two men shaking hands.

U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich (right) speaks with Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui during a meeting at Lee’s office in Taipei on April 2, 1997. Source: PA, PA / Eddie Shih

This no longer seems to be the case. Relations have grown increasingly frosty over the years, including under Mr Biden who was inaugurated in January 2021.

In his first foreign policy address, in February 2021, Mr Biden said China was “the strongest competitor to the United States”. There was also the diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics in 2022, and the two nations also imposed sanctions on each other.
While the US maintains its “one China” policy stance has not changed (indeed, the US State Department recently reinstated a line in its Taiwan fact sheet that notes that it does not support not the country’s independence), Ms Hsu said China had evolved considerably since Mr Gingrich visited and that could explain her current anger.
“China is now a stronger, more assertive and some would say more aggressive power than it was 25 years ago,” she said.
“Under Xi Jinping, the reunification of Taiwan has become increasingly important to him and therefore to the Chinese Communist Party.

“China regards Nacy Pelosi’s visit as a real violation of the ‘one China’ policy…and…in the current geopolitical context, the [US-China] The relationship is strained as it is, without Nancy Pelosi making that visit.”

What could happen following a visit to Nancy Pelosi?

Mr Biden initially questioned Ms Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan, saying he thought the military thought “it’s not a good idea right now”.
Days later, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said he had provided a ‘security assessment’ to Ms Pelosi regarding her Indo-Pacific tour, but would not comment on it. planned stage in Taiwan.
Meanwhile, Beijing was ramping up its warnings, saying it was “seriously prepared” for the possibility that Ms Pelosi could travel to Taiwan.

It is also said that such a visit would be “very dangerous, very provocative”.

If that happens, “China will take firm and strong measures to safeguard our sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Chinese Ambassador to the United Nations Zhang Jun said Monday.
But Kevin Carrico, a lecturer in Chinese studies at Monash University in Melbourne, doubts Ms Pelosi’s visit will lead to a military conflict.
“The CCP’s proposed attack on Taiwan always seems to be on the horizon all the time,” Carrico said.
“It’s something the CCP obsessively talks about, but never materializes.
“I think that’s a very real possibility when the balance of military power shifts in Beijing’s favor, and that’s something we need to pay attention to.
“When the time comes, there will be an excuse for an attack, even if it’s not a real excuse.”

– With Reuters and AFP.