The US-China relations are teetering on a precipice following House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, a move that Beijing warned would merit serious consequences. China has kicked off its biggest-ever military exercises in the seas around Taiwan, launching missiles close to the Taiwanese coast, prompting the US navy to send its aircraft carrier into the area. The defiant Nancy Pelosi concluded her visit to Taiwan on Wednesday with a pledge the American commitment to the democracy of the self-governing island “remains ironclad.” China has responded with days-long military drills surrounding Taiwan and issued a stream of invective aimed at the US and Taiwan governments, accusing them of colluding to undermine the Chinese sovereignty and national security.
As China broods, Taiwan is in a “Pelosi lovefest.” The 82-year-old speaker received a rapturous welcome in Taipei and was applauded with strong bipartisan support back in Washington, despite the Biden administration’s misgivings about the visit. But her trip has enraged China which warned the US only a few days prior that “those playing with fire will get burnt.” The trip could further muddle the already strained relationship between two superpowers as Washington and Beijing struggle to come to terms on trade, human rights, the War in Ukraine and more.
Wary of a strong reaction from China, the Biden administration tried to dissuade House Speaker Pelosi from carrying out the visit, with Biden even confessing that the US military did not think it was a good idea. But the defiant speaker carried out the visit anyway, prompting China to announce military drills near Taiwan’s doorsteps days prior to the schedule. The Chinese Ministry of Defense and state television have confirmed that the Chinese navy ships have launched missiles near the southern coast of China, a move that prompted the USS Ronald Reagan carrier and her strike group to head towards a stretch of ocean that includes the southern coast of Taiwan. Even though the two sides are not confronting each other directly, the escalation will undoubtedly aggravate the already sore relations between the two.
The military drills are China’s main response to the Pelosi visit, although it has also blocked some trade with the island. Taiwan says that it amounts to sea and air blockade and violates the UN convention while the US said that the drills are rash and could easily spiral out of control. Japan has also expressed concern to China over the areas covered by the military drills, which it says overlaps with its exclusive economic zone (EEZ). In response, China said that it does not accept the “so-called” EEZ.
The last time the tensions between Beijing and Taipei got this bad was in 1996 when China held threatening military exercises and bracketed the island with missile strikes in waters north and south of its main ports. But the exclusion zones this time are much closer to Taiwan, and there are concerns that China is preparing to fly a missile over the top of Taiwan, to splash down in that zone. That would be considered a major violation of Taiwan’s airspace and a move that would spur retaliation. Taiwan has put its military on high alert and staged civil defence drills, while the US also has several key navy assets in the area
The White House has stressed to Beijing that the House speaker is not a member of the executive branch and her visit represents no change in Washington’s “one-China policy.” But that was little comfort for Beijing. Pelosi, who is in line for the presidency after Kamala Harris, is no ordinary visitor – she is the highest-ranking US official to set foot in Taiwan in 25 years and was greeted like a head of state as she landed in Taipei. Pelosi also has a long history of opposing Beijing – back in 1991, she slipped away from her official escort to visit Tiananmen Square and pay tribute to the democracy-loving protestors who were slaughtered there by the Communist regime; she wrote letters to Hu Jintao during his tenure as the Vice-President and President of China, stressing on the release of prominent political dissidents and activists; she even opposed China’s bid to host the Olympic Games back in 1993 and called for the diplomatic boycott of China’s Summer Olympic ceremony in 2008 and recently Beijing’s 2022 Winter Olympics.
The Biden administration, and Pelosi, have said that the United States remains committed to its so-called “one-China policy”, which recognizes Beijing but maintains informal relations with Taiwan. Nevertheless, China issued a series of harsh statements as the American delegation touched down in Taipei. Taiwanese President Tsai pushed back firmly against the revanchist rhetoric coming from Beijing.
“Facing deliberately heightened military threats, Taiwan will not back down,” Tsai said at her meeting with Pelosi. “We will firmly uphold our nation’s sovereignty and continue to hold the line of defence for democracy.”
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) called for calm in the Taiwan strait, urging against any provocation in the wake of Pelosi’s visit. In a rare statement, the 10-nation group, some of whose members gravitate towards China in allegiance and some towards the United States, said on Thursday that they were concerned the situation could “destabilize the region and eventually could lead to miscalculation, serious confrontation, open conflicts and unpredictable consequences among major powers.”