Beijing grumbled but swallowed its irritation in 1997 when US House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich visited Taiwan, the island democracy claimed by the mainland’s ruling Communist Party as its own territory .
China had other priorities. President Jiang Zemin’s government was preparing to celebrate the return of Hong Kong and wanted to lock in Beijing’s exit from diplomatic isolation after its 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square. Gingrich, a promoter of closer ties between the United States and China, had just contributed to this campaign by meeting with Jiang in Beijing. China has avoided a disruptive clash with Washington.
A quarter of a century later, conditions have changed dramatically. Chinese President Xi Jinping’s government is wealthier, more heavily armed and less willing to compromise on Taiwan following reports that current President Nancy Pelosi could become the most senior US official since Gingrich to visit the island.
Beijing views any official contact with Taiwan as recognition of its democratically elected government, which the mainland says has no right to conduct foreign relations.
The timing adds to the political pressure. Xi is expected to seek a third five-year term as party leader at a meeting in the fall. That could be undermined if rivals can accuse Xi of not being tough enough on what they see as a US provocation.
Pelosi has yet to confirm whether she might turn herself in, but Beijing warns of “strong measures”, including military action if she does.
The United States “must not arrange Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan,” Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Tan Kefei said on Tuesday.
“If the United States goes ahead, the Chinese military will never watch and do nothing,” Tan said. “He will take strong measures to thwart any outside interference and separatist plans for ‘Taiwan independence’ and resolutely uphold national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Tan called Pelosi “No. 3 in the US government,” after her place in the line of succession to become president. This suggests that Beijing sees her as President Joe Biden’s subordinate, instead of his equal at the head of one of the three independent branches of government.
Biden told reporters the US military thought a visit was “not a good idea right now.” But, perhaps out of respect for his position, the president didn’t say Pelosi shouldn’t go. , the U.S. military would likely use fighter jets, ships, and other forces to provide protection for its flight.
The Chinese rhetoric on this is “quite troubling”, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. visit.”
U.S. officials said the administration doubted China would take direct action against Pelosi herself or try to sabotage the visit. But they do not rule out the possibility that China could step up provocative military aircraft flights in or near Taiwanese airspace and naval patrols in the Taiwan Strait if the trip takes place. And they are not preventing Chinese actions elsewhere in the region as a show of force.
Taiwan and China separated in 1949 after a civil war that ended in a communist victory on the mainland. The two governments say they are one country but disagree on the choice of national leader. The two parties do not have official relations but are linked by billions of dollars in trade and investment.
The United States transferred diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979, but maintains extensive commercial and unofficial ties with the island. US law obliges Washington to ensure that Taiwan has the means to defend itself.
Beijing has not hesitated to try to intimidate Taiwan with shows of force.
The army of the ruling People’s Liberation Army fired missiles into the sea near Taiwan to ward off voters from then-President Lee Teng-hui in the island’s first direct presidential election in early 1996. This backfired by allowing Lee to speak harshly about his position. to Beijing in front of enthusiastic supporters. He was elected with 54% of the vote in a four-way race.
The United States responded by sending two carrier battle groups to the region, a move that forced China to recognize that it could not prevent Washington from coming to the aid of Taiwan, which helped propel the Beijing’s massive military modernization in the years that followed.
The following year, Gingrich led a delegation of US lawmakers to Taiwan after a three-day visit to the mainland. This followed a visit to Beijing the previous week by Vice President Al Gore.
Previously one of Beijing’s fiercest critics in Washington on human rights and Taiwan, Gingrich hailed China’s economic development. He spoke sympathetically about the challenges Beijing would face in leading Hong Kong after 150 years of British rule. He said Congress supports China’s claim to Taiwan as long as unification is peaceful. He expressed hope that the two sides could evolve into one state.
Gingrich said he told Chinese leaders that “we will defend Taiwan,” but said they responded that Beijing had no intention of attacking.
After Gingrich’s comments, China’s Foreign Ministry said it was confused about US policy. “What the US government and leaders of certain branches of government say and what they promised is not the same thing,” ministry spokesman Shen Guofang said at the time.
In the quarter century since then, Beijing’s stance toward Taiwan has hardened and its military resources have grown. And the mainland has warned it will invade if unification talks between the two sides do not progress.
China overtook Germany and Japan to become the second largest economy behind the United States. Its military spending is also No. 2 after Washington at $293 billion in 2021 after a 27-year string of increases, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
The political landscape has also been changed by the rise of Xi, who has amassed more power in the past decade than any Chinese leader since at least the 1980s and wants to be seen as bringing the country back to greatness. historical. This means being more assertive abroad and stepping up pressure on Taiwan.
The ruling party has spent hundreds of billions of dollars to develop fighter jets, submarines, an aircraft carrier and other high-tech weapons. He is working on “aircraft carrier” missiles that are supposed to prevent the US Navy from defending Taiwan in the event of an attack. The PLA is sending increasing numbers of fighters and bombers to fly near Taiwan.
Beijing’s bigger economy and global role also give it more diplomatic tools to show its anger in Washington. The Biden administration wants Chinese cooperation on climate, the fight against the coronavirus and other global challenges, which Beijing could disrupt.
Washington and Beijing are already mired in trade disputes, Hong Kong, Beijing’s treatment of Muslim minorities and Chinese claims to large sections of the South and East China Seas.
Pelosi is not new to angering Beijing. As a rookie member of Congress in 1991, she unfurled a black-and-white banner in Tiananmen Square that read, “To those who died for democracy.” This happened two years after the bloody crackdown in which hundreds, if not thousands, of people were killed. Diplomatic protocol prevented Chinese police from detaining Pelosi.
A visit to Taiwan could harm U.S.-China relations in the long term, said Liu Jiangyong, an international relations scholar at Tsinghua University.
Allowing a visit “will affect the credibility of recent promises made by the Biden administration,” Liu said. Dialogue between Biden and Xi on other issues “could all be seriously affected.”
AP researcher Yu Bing in Beijing and AP writers David Rising in Bangkok and Lolita C. Baldor in Sydney contributed.
The Independent Gt