Taiwan, an island of 23 million people 80 miles off China’s coast, has long been a point of tension between Washington and Beijing. Now those tensions are at a new high.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is set to embark on a tour of several Asian countries soon that could include a stopover in Taiwan. Ms. Pelosi would be the highest US official to visit the island since 1997, when Newt Gingrich visited.
China claims Taiwan, a self-governing island democracy, as its territory, and has pledged to retake it, by force if necessary. During his call with President Biden on Thursday, Chinese leader Xi Jinping strongly cautioned the United States against intervening in the dispute. Beijing has vigorously protested Ms Pelosi’s potential trip there, warning of unspecified consequences for the United States.
Her warnings echoed through the Pentagon and the Indo-Pacific Command in Hawaii, where US military officials were tasked with protecting Ms Pelosi, as well as assessing what China might do militarily in response to her visit. Taiwan, the world’s largest producer of semiconductors, is also vulnerable to increased economic pressure from Beijing.
Here is an overview of the problems with 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 regards Taiwan’s unification with China as one of the main goals of his rule.
Mr. Xi is expected to be confirmed for an unprecedented third term as leader at a Communist Party congress in the fall. Ahead of this momentous political meeting, Xi will be keen to project an image of strength at home and abroad, especially on the Taiwan issue.
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 part ways with Taiwan, we will not hesitate to fight, we will not back down from the cost, and we will fight to the end,” General Wei told his audience.
When Mr. Xi might try to absorb Taiwan remains a matter of huge debate among military and civilian experts on China, but it is not expected to be imminent.
“China really wants the ‘return’ of Taiwan, but that doesn’t mean it wants an early bloody war that would destroy the Chinese economic miracle,” wrote William H. Overholt, a senior fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School, in the current issue of Global. Asia.
In a fiery speech on the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China last year, Xi stressed the need for mainland unification with Taiwan, which he called a “historic mission.” and unwavering commitment of the Chinese Communist Party”. ”
Learn more about Asia-US relations
- Countering China: In a bipartisan vote, the Senate passed a $280 billion bill aimed at bolstering America’s manufacturing and technological advantage to counter China. This is the largest US government intervention in industrial policy in decades.
- Taiwan: The Biden administration has grown increasingly worried that China will try to move against the self-governing island over the next year and a half, possibly by trying to close the Taiwan Strait.
- Exchange 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 dared to stand in the way would 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 incursions into the airspace and waters near Taiwan have become more aggressive in recent years, increasing the risk of conflict.
In June, Beijing upped the ante when the Foreign Ministry said China had jurisdiction over the Taiwan Strait and it could not be considered an international waterway.
And over the past year, Chinese military aircraft have increasingly probed the airspace near Taiwan, prompting Taiwanese fighter jets to rush in.
Some US analysts have made it clear that China’s military capabilities have grown to the point that a US victory in the defense of Taiwan is no longer guaranteed.
Oriana Skylar Mastro, a fellow at Stanford University’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, recently described the range of weapons China has amassed for a fight against Taiwan in a commentary published in The New York Times.
China now has the largest navy in the world and the United States could throw far fewer ships into a conflict in Taiwan, she said. “The Chinese missile force is also believed to be capable of targeting ships at sea to neutralize America’s primary tool of power projection, aircraft carriers.”
Earlier this week, the Seventh Fleet ordered the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and its strike group to sail north from Singapore into the South China Sea, and towards Taiwan. A Navy spokesman declined to say whether the carrier would sail around Taiwan or cross the Taiwan Strait.
Taiwan is a political minefield for Washington.
Ms. Pelosi has placed President Biden in an awkward position. She and her staff insist that the president, as head of a separate but equal branch of the US government, has the right to go where he pleases.
For his part, Mr. Biden does not want to be seen as dictating where the President can travel. He signaled that he questioned the wisdom of the potential trip.
“I think the military thinks it’s not a good idea right now,” Mr Biden said.
In an intentionally ambiguous diplomatic arrangement adopted when Washington recognized Communist-ruled China in 1979, the United States maintains a “one China” policy that recognizes, but does not endorse, the Chinese position that Taiwan part of China.
President Biden has said three times, most recently in May, that the United States would deploy the force to help Taiwan against a Chinese invasion. On each occasion, the White House backtracked, saying the policy of “strategic ambiguity” remained, under which Washington remained vague about how strongly the United States would come to Taiwan’s aid.
The United States maintains strong diplomatic relations with China, with a large embassy in Beijing and four consulates across the country. But relations are at their lowest on military, economic and ideological competition between the two countries.
The current ambassador to Beijing, R. Nicholas Burns, is one of the most experienced American diplomats. In Taiwan, the United States maintains a representative office, the American Institute of Taiwan, headed by a low-key State Department official. At the same time, Washington provides Taiwan with billions of dollars in military aid and weapons.
Ms Pelosi has a habit of poking China in the eye.
The President is a longtime critic of China. In Beijing, it is considered hostile.
As a two-term congresswoman from California, Pelosi visited Beijing in 1991, two years after Chinese troops opened fire on student protesters around Tiananmen Square, killing hundreds, if not thousands.
Mike Chinoy, then a CNN correspondent, recalled in an article this week how Ms Pelosi then left the square in a taxi. Police arrested the journalists and detained them for a few hours, he wrote.
Ms. Pelosi is a strong supporter of the Dalai Lama and Tibetan rights. In 2015, with official permission from the Chinese government, Ms Pelosi traveled to Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, on a tightly controlled trip that is generally off-limits to foreign officials and journalists.
The president’s plans for a trip to Taiwan have attracted unlikely backers. Senior Trump administration officials, including former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, have said they would like to join her. Mr Pompeo tweeted that it was banned in China, but would be happy to accompany Ms Pelosi to Taiwan.