It is a visit that is not even fixed. But the mere rumor that Nancy Pelosi wants to travel to Taiwan puts a strain on the tense relationship between the US and China. All eyes are on the US Democratic leader and Speaker of the House of Representatives: will she travel to the island democratic republic of Taiwan despite Beijing’s explicit warnings – and at worst provoke an escalation?
Or does she publicly deny the speculation, perhaps not going there after all? That, in turn, should encourage China to step up the pressure.
Notice to Washington
Tensions between the US and China have increased over speculation about a possible trip to Taiwan. Seemingly as a warning to Washington, China’s military conducted live ammunition exercises near Taiwan on Saturday.
As the authorities announced, parts of Fujian province’s waters were blocked. The area lies north of the Taiwan Strait, which separates mainland China and the island republic of Taiwan.
At the start of her Asia trip on Sunday, Pelosi leaves everyone guessing. His message only mentions Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea and Japan as stations. She doesn’t respond to media reports that she also wants to travel to Taiwan, which is what people around her say. “I never talk about my travels because, as some of you know, it’s a security issue,” she said Friday in Washington, when questioned by a journalist. According to broadcaster CNN, the Pentagon was already working on safety precautions if the 82-year-old really wanted to make a stopover in Taiwan.
The relationship between Beijing, Washington and Taipei is complex. China’s leadership views free Taiwan as part of the Communist People’s Republic and is trying every means to isolate it internationally. The 23 million Taiwanese, on the other hand, have long considered themselves independent. The conflict stems from the civil war in China. At that time, the Chinese national Kuomintang party was defeated and fled to Taiwan with its troops, while the communists founded the People’s Republic in 1949. To this day, Beijing threatens to conquer Taiwan for “reunification”.
The United States has committed to Taiwan’s ability to defend itself – which until now has mostly meant arms deliveries. US President Joe Biden warned China in May of an attack on Taiwan with an exceptionally clear promise of military assistance. The US has an “obligation” to defend Taiwan, Biden said. China has no right to take Taiwan by force. In a conversation with head of state and party leader Xi Jinping on Thursday, Biden stressed that nothing has changed, according to the White House.
Beijing generally refuses to allow representatives of foreign governments and politicians to travel to Taiwan and always refers to its “One China Doctrine”. Thus, a country cannot maintain diplomatic or other official relations with the island republic if it wants to maintain normal relations with the People’s Republic. In fact, most states do not have an embassy in Taiwan. Like the US, Germany – like Austria – only has unofficial representation in the capital, Taipei.
When Nicola Beer (FDP), vice president of the European Parliament, traveled to Taiwan last week, there were almost no consequences. As has often been the case, Beijing left with a verbal warning. But Pelosi’s possible trip goes too far for the Chinese leadership. It would be by far the most important visit by the United States in decades. Pelosi is number three in the US, after the president and vice president. And she is a Democrat, as is Biden. The whole thing puts him in a quandary, which is why he’s recently pretended not to know anything about the travel plans.
“Xi will see this as a personal affront,” Heino Klinck, a former senior US Department of Defense official responsible for East Asia, told Foreign Policy magazine. “In addition to all the domestic issues he’s already grappling with, whether it’s the zero Covid strategy, the mortgage crisis, or the fact that people are taking to the streets – whatever catches the CCP’s attention – this is only adding fuel to the crisis? fire, and he will interpret it as part of a well-targeted strategy.”
For President Xi Jinping, it would be a shame to turn a blind eye to Pelosi, especially as relations with the US are already seriously damaged. The 20th party congress is set for the autumn, when Xi Jinping wants to start a third term. He doesn’t want to look weak. Especially not in relation to Taiwan.
During the phone call with Biden, China’s president clearly warned: “Those who play with fire will perish.” If the United States insists on the visit, “China will use every opportunity, including the use of military force, to resolutely resist,” the state-run Global Times newspaper wrote. Fighter jets can “alert, intercept, interrupt or force a landing” on Pelosi’s plane. As a further warning, Beijing also held target practice in Taiwanese waters on Saturday. The US, on the other hand, is also showing strength by sending the US aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan on a “routine mission” to the South China Sea.
But while fears of a Chinese conquest of Taiwan grew under the impression of the Russian war of aggression, it does not seem certain that China would actually react militarily and thus risk conflict on its doorstep in already turbulent times.
In the event of an all-out Taiwan crisis or even a war, there would be a lot at stake, not just for Beijing, but also for Germany. The dependence of German companies on China is so great that the economy would be hit hard. In this context, sanctions against Beijing appear difficult to implement. With its dominance in semiconductor production, Taiwan is also a key partner for German industry. A conflict over Taiwan would also be clearly felt in Europe.
Observers speculate that Democrat Pelosi could make the controversial trip to Taiwan out of self-interest. Because in the US there are congressional elections in November. The Democrats’ poll numbers are bad, Pelosi could lose her post as House Majority Leader. Pelosi has repeatedly taken a stand against China throughout her career, denouncing human rights violations. Perhaps the 82-year-old can also worry about her own political legacy – and not traveling to Taiwan now because of pressure from China would certainly scratch him.