TAIPEI, Taiwan — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made history and drew China’s ire with her visit to Taiwan that lasted less than a day. But the fallout for the Beijing-claimed island and the wider region could linger long after they leave.
China had warned for weeks about Pelosi’s visit, saying it violated the “one China policy,” under which the United States recognizes Beijing as China’s sole legitimate government and maintains unofficial ties with self-governing Taiwan.
The threats fueled fears of a possible US-China military standoff and elevated the political visit to a global showcase. According to the website, nearly 3 million people watched Pelosi’s flight at some point on Tuesday to see if she would land on the island, despite Beijing’s rhetoric Flight Radar24.
Within minutes of arriving in Taipei, the Taiwanese capital, China furiously condemned the visit and announced it would launch a series of military drills around the island in response – parts of which will enter Taiwanese waters.
But Beijing is also largely sticking to its usual playbook, experts say, with measures such as summoning the US ambassador and announcing the suspension of some trade deals with Taiwan.
China’s response so far is “certainly worrying but not surprising,” said Lev Nachman, a political scientist at National Chengchi University in Taipei.
“This does not read as a new or escalated threat beyond what they have done in the past or what we may have anticipated,” Nachman said Wednesday via a messaging app. “This isn’t meant to belittle a serious threat, but it’s a threat in the realm of what we might have expected.”
What is the background?
Taiwan was the Pelosi delegation’s third stop on a tour of Asia that also includes Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea and Japan. China viewed their visit to Taiwan as encouraging supporters of independence for the island of 23 million.
Pelosi, 82, a longtime critic of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, said it was important to support Taiwan, which has come under increasing pressure from Beijing in recent years.
“I think she has her own personal motivations,” said Kharis Templeman, former Defense Department director for China, Taiwan and Mongolia, in an interview ahead of Pelosi’s arrival. “She’s nearing the end of her career in Congress, [and] This would be the culmination of a career that has consistently focused on human rights issues abroad.”
U.S. lawmakers and other current and former government officials visit Taiwan regularly, but Pelosi was the longest-serving lawmaker to visit the island since then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich in 1997.
Beijing declined their visit in part because it “creates a kind of space for leaders of other democratic parliaments and legislatures around the world to visit Taiwan,” said Templeman, who studies Taiwan politics at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.
While Pelosi’s visit was seen primarily as of symbolic value, it sends an important message to US allies in the region, such as Australia and Japan, said Drew Thompson, a fellow at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore.
“Speaker Pelosis’ visit shows everyone that the US is not intimidated by China’s political, military and economic coercion,” he said Tuesday.
How is China reacting?
Pelosi’s visit drew attention in China, where 22 million people watched a live stream tracking her plane on the popular app WeChat. Another popular online platform, Weibo, briefly crashed amid a spike in traffic when Pelosi arrived in Taipei Tuesday night.
Social media was rife with nationalist comments, with some users expressing disappointment that the Chinese military had failed to stop Pelosi’s plane from landing, as some analysts had suggested.
“So what exactly is our country’s red line?” asked one user.
But China is acting.
On Thursday, the country’s military will begin four days of sharp drills and other drills around Taiwan’s coast, including in an area less than 15 miles away, with the state-backed nationalist tabloid Global Times calling the drills “unprecedented.”
Taiwan is also facing economic sanctions from its largest trading partner, which said it would halt imports of several of the island’s fruit and fish products and halt exports of natural sand, a key material used in making computer chips, a key Taiwanese export.
In a statement on Wednesday, the group of seven-nation leading economies expressed concern over China’s “escalating response,” which it said poses “the risk of heightened tensions and destabilizing the region.”
That might not be all, said Victor Gao, vice president of the Center for China and Globalization, a Beijing-based think tank. Pelosi and her fellow travelers could also be permanently barred from entering mainland China and its territories, he said, and diplomatic relations could also be affected in the long-term.
Pelosi’s visit “could actually serve to speed up and speed up China’s reunification with Taiwan,” he added, saying he had stirred up the Chinese public.
China has never refrained from using force to seize control of Taiwan.
That doesn’t mean that Chinese President Xi Jinping wants to see the situation spiral out of control.
Stability is key for Xi as he prepares to seek an unprecedented third term at a party convention later this year, especially as he grapples with serious domestic problems, including an economic slowdown resulting from his “zero Covid” policy results. Billions of dollars in cross-strait trade and investment are also at stake.
“There was a lot of noise, but the signal is very clear: China is not looking for a confrontation,” Thompson said, noting that a phone call between Biden and Xi last week was “fairly measured.”
How is the feeling in Taiwan?
President Tsai Ing-wen, whose government rejects China’s claim to sovereignty, said she is committed to maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait but also expressed her determination.
“Taiwan will not back down in the face of deliberately escalated military threats,” she said in an appearance with Pelosi on Wednesday.
The country’s defense ministry assured residents, used to Chinese threats, that it will defend the island’s national security while trying to avoid an escalating conflict. But she condemned the upcoming Chinese military drills as a grave violation of Taiwan’s sovereignty, tantamount to air and sea blockades.
Pelosi received a warm welcome in Taipei as her military plane took off in front of Taipei Songshan Airport and cheers erupted. Lights on Taipei 101, Taiwan’s tallest building, displayed messages of welcome and gratitude for the speaker’s visit.
Some Taiwanese TV commentators expressed support for Pelosi’s visit, but also expressed concern about the consequences for Taiwan after her departure.
Many Taipei residents said Pelosi had every right to visit and welcomed her arrival, seeing it as an opportunity for the world to learn more about Taiwan. Others were more skeptical.
“I think it’s all a conspiracy between politicians,” Xue Fang, a 50-year-old shopkeeper in Taipei, told NBC News, saying Taiwan’s future depends on the “luck” of its people.
https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/pelosi-taiwan-visit-china-united-states-relationship-future-rcna41098 What Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan means for China and the United States