Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan will test China’s appetite for confrontation

Shortly after Beijing’s last major confrontation with Washington over Taiwan, Xi Jinping, then a rising official in a Chinese province bordering the disputed island, joined the reserve artillery division and later photographed himself in military greentossing his cap back as he peered into the sights of an anti-aircraft gun.

Looking strictly at a self-governing island, Mr Xi learned long before he became China’s top leader is essential to political survival in the ruling Communist Party.

That lesson hangs over him as he weighs how to react if Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the House of Representatives, travels to Taiwan on an Asian tour that started on Monday in Singaporeas expected by the White House. She will be the highest-ranking US official to visit the island since 1997, when the previous speaker Newt Gingrich visited.

mr. Xi has proclaimed himself the standard-bearer of a sacred cause – the unification of Taiwan with China – and Beijing regards visits to the island by US officials as an insult to this claim. China The Ministry of Foreign Affairs warned Mrs. Pelosi on “serious consequences” if she is expected to go to Taiwan, and China’s military issued vague warnings about being ready to defend national sovereignty.

But Mr. Xi is also facing a difficult economic and political moment, and a slide into crisis over Taiwan could hurt him even if he rallies nationalist support.

He is focused on the Communist Party convention later this year, when he is likely to win support for a third term as party general secretary, contrary to the two-term precedent set by his predecessor. He wants to organize widespread recognition from officials to secure this new five-year term and ensure that he dominates leadership decisions.

However, his track record caused a murmur of doubt, since China’s growth has stalled during Covid outbreaks and shutdowns, and because of Russia’s brutal war in Ukraine. suggestive questions o d. Xi’s closeness to President Vladimir Putin. Now, miss. Pelosi’s potential meeting with Taiwanese leaders could another challenge to Mr. Xi.

If Ms. Pelosi continues: she has not confirmed whether she will visit Taiwan. Xi is likely to use the show of military might to vent Beijing’s anger, experts say, in an effort to avoid an unsustainable standoff that will spook markets and undermine China’s economy.

“Of course, there will be a very strong reaction, but it will not get out of hand,” said Chen Dingding, an international relations professor at Jinan University in southern China.

mr. Xi appeared to express his concern last week when he urged President Biden not to “play with fire” and risk self-immolation over Taiwan. It was a sinister language, but same wording as mr. Xi used during a telephone conversation with the President of the United States in November. Neither Mr. Xi nor Mr. Biden mentioned Ms. Pelosi in his public accounts of their conversation.

“This is really mid-level cautionary rhetoric, not high-level cautionary rhetoric signaling military-grade risk appetite,” said David Gitter, President Center for Advanced Study of China, a non-profit research institute. “That doesn’t mean they’re going to do something very crazy, like directly threaten the speaker’s safety.”

On Monday, the representative of the National Security Council called for restraint.

“Beijing has no reason to turn a possible visit, in line with long-standing US policy, into some kind of crisis or use it as an excuse to increase aggressive military activity in or around the Taiwan Strait,” spokesman John F. Kirby said. briefing at the White House.

The Chinese government may have anticipated how it would react if Ms. Pelosi visits when the military live firing exercises announced in the waters 80 miles from coast of neighboring Taiwan. On Monday, on the 95th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Liberation Army of China, China’s military media released new sovereignty defense statements, as well as a video Chinese ballistic missile Dongfeng-17. Chinese TV also released unflattering video profile of Ms. Pelosi.

“We once again sternly warn the American side that China is standing by and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army will never sit idly by,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters in Beijing on Monday. Possible visit by Pelosi. “China will take decisive and vigorous countermeasures to protect its sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

But so far, at least the main newspapers of the Communist Party have not published editorials about the lady. A possible visit by Pelosi would mean a major escalation; and the Chinese Foreign Ministry did not release anything like that Official statement this exacerbated the standoff over Taiwan in 1995.

While Mr. Xi does not seem to want to escalate the crisis, said Bonnie S. Glaser, director of the US German Marshall Fund’s Asia Program, “if PLA planes approach Taiwan in ways different from the past, and if they are in territorial air an incident could happen in Taiwan, whether Xi wants it or not.”

In rolling Taiwan crisis of 1995-96, China held military exercises off the coast of Taiwan, and the US sent naval ships to contain China. Beijing was furious after the Clinton administration allowed Taiwan President Lee Deng Hui to visit the United States and Chinese leaders conducted threatening missile tests in what appeared to be an attempt to harm Mr. Trump. Lee in the 1996 Taiwanese presidential election. Instead of, He won.

Back then, Mr. Xi was an official in Fujian, face to face with Taiwan, and often attracted investors from the island. Have became the chief politician an officer in the People’s Liberation Army Reserve Anti-Aircraft Division in 1996, after he became deputy provincial party secretary.

“We must clearly understand the harsh direction of the struggle in the Taiwan Strait,” he said. Xi told division officers in 2001, according to a China News Service report at the time. “Only with real preparation for battle is peace possible.”

Even if Miss. Whether Pelosi cancels his visit or it passes without a crisis, many experts believe that rising tensions over the future of the island make conflict more likely in the coming years.

mr. Xi has cited eventual unification with Taiwan as one of the main goals of China’s “national rebirth” as a modern, unified superpower. He said he wants to peacefully swallow Taiwan at some indefinite time in the future, but does not rule out the use of force. China’s military modernization is approaching the point where an invasion of the island is possible, albeit still daunting and risky.

“The great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation will not be an easy task that can only be accomplished with the fanfare of gongs and drums,” he told officials in Beijing last week. topic-setting speech to the party congress.

mr. Biden told reporters last month that “the military doesn’t think it’s a good idea right now” for Ms. Pelosi to go to Taiwan, and administration officials are said to have tried to convince her not to come. After mr. Biden’s telephone conversation with Mr. Xi last week, US account of the exchange “suggested that Biden made it clear he’s not looking to fight China over Taiwan right now,” said Ryan Huss, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and former China director at the National Security Council.

However, mr. Hass speaks in the new paperBeijing and Washington became increasingly distrustful of each other’s intentions regarding Taiwan, and “channels of communication to manage tensions collapsed.”

Washington officials and many people in Taiwan say China’s efforts to exclude the island from international forums have exacerbated Taiwan’s resentment of Beijing. They also say that increased Chinese military activity around the island has only heightened residents’ fears about Mr. K. Xi.

Politicians in Beijing blame the United States. They say Washington is increasingly lip service to its “one China” policy and has expanded its military and political ties with Taipei far beyond what was agreed when Beijing and Washington established diplomatic relations in 1979.

The Biden administration has continued the Trump administration’s strategy of “using Taiwan to contain China,” said Cao Qun, a researcher at the state-run China Institute of International Studies. wrote in a recent assessment. “Chances of China-U.S. Collision in Taiwan Strait Growing.”

mr. Xi’s response options include holding threatening military exercises, possibly at sea and in the skies closer to Taiwan. It could also send more planes and ships near Taiwan, including crossing the median line in the Taiwan Strait, an unofficial border that Chinese troops only occasionally cross.

After other US politicians and foreign delegations visited Taiwan, Beijing stepped up flights to Taiwan’s “air defense identification zone,” a zone that extends well beyond the island’s sovereign airspace, said Gerald Brown, a Washington-based military analyst who collects and analyzes information about these flights. In November China cent 27 military aircraft into the zone shortly after US lawmakers visited Taipei.

In a pinch, China could also launch missiles near Taiwan, as in 1996. However, at that time, the Chinese military was too weak to seriously threaten American forces in the region. If Mr. Xi did the same now, the global shockwaves could be much larger.

“I don’t think there has been any indication so far that China will launch major military operations,” he said. Kuo Yu-jen, professor of political science at National Sun Yat-sen University in southern Taiwan. “If China overreacts with US or Japanese countermeasures against Xi Jinping, the losses will outweigh the benefits.”

Amy Chan Chien made a report.