Tensions between China and the United States are skyrocketing, with a meeting between the President of Taiwan and the Speaker of the US House of Representatives the latest point of contention.
Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi embarked on a tour of the Indo-Pacific region, visiting Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea and Japan.
But China’s ire has been angered by one country: Taiwan.
She has already met Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu and is about to meet with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen.
She is the first speaker of the US House of Representatives to visit a country that Beijing, in accordance with its One China principle, has not recognized as sovereign in a quarter of a century.
Chinese President Xi Jinping while foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian stated that the visit would lead to “very serious events and consequences” and that the national army would not “sit on its hands”.
Meanwhile, the US warns China against turning Ms. Pelosi’s visit into a “crisis” and says it will “not be intimidated” into continuing free movement in the Pacific.
And not only a war of words flared up – military activity also increased. China in the Taiwan Strait ahead of Ms. Pelosi’s visit, while the US moved aircraft carriers and large aircraft closer to Taiwan.
So, why is this particular visit causing so much controversy and what could it lead to?
Why is there tension between Taiwan and China?
They date back to the Chinese Civil War between the Kuomintang (Nationalist Party), which controlled most of the mainland, and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). It began in 1927 and remains unresolved to this day.
The Kuomintang retreated to Taiwan (officially known as the Republic of China (ROC) in 1949 after the CCP gained the upper hand in the war and went on to establish the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
In the early 1970s, Taiwan was expelled from the United Nations and its seat was taken over by the PRC. This was also the decade when countries began switching diplomatic recognition from the Republic of China to the PRC, including the US in 1979.
But in the same year, the United States established unofficial relations with the Russian Orthodox Church. Then-President Jimmy Carter ratified the Taiwan Relations Act, under which the US provides the country with defensive weapons so that it can maintain “sufficient self-defense capabilities.”
Nancy Pelosi will visit Singapore, Malaysia, Japan and South Korea as part of her Indo-Pacific tour and possibly Taiwan. Source: SBS news
Jennifer Hsu, a research fellow at the Lowy Institute, said the shake-up of the Taiwanese system of government also reduced the desire of the Taiwanese population to unite with China.
“Taiwan went through a process of democratization in the early 1990s where the people of Taiwan could elect their own government,” she said. “So they moved from authoritarian rule to democracy, which is quite strong today.”
“Therefore, over the past 30 years, the population of Taiwan has become younger, and their ties with China have become weaker and weaker. So many are campaigning for a more autonomous, independent voice, separate and distinct from China.”
The CCP has never ruled Taiwan, but Xi Jinping has set a goal of “great rejuvenation” by 2049, which some say is the deadline for reunification.
Why is the visit causing so much controversy?
Ms. Pelosi’s visit is not unprecedented, although it is the first visit by a speaker of the US House of Representatives in more than two decades.
The last time someone in that position visited Taiwan was in 1997, when Republican Newt Gingrich stopped there after visiting then Chinese President Jiang Zemin.
At the time, Mr. Jiang expressed some misgivings about what this meant for the US “one China” policy (which “does not challenge” the position that there is one China and Taiwan is part of it), but he was more optimistic. stating that relations between Washington and Beijing have entered a “sun after the rain” state.
Speaker of the US House of Representatives Newt Gingrich (right) speaks with Taiwanese President Lee Deng-hui at a meeting in Mr. Lee’s office in Taipei on April 2, 1997. Source: AAP, AP / Eddie Shea
It doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. Since then, relations have become increasingly cold, including under Biden, who was inaugurated in January 2021.
In his first foreign policy address in February 2021, Mr. Biden said that China is “the most serious competitor to the United States.” There was also a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, and the two countries also imposed sanctions on each other.
While the US maintains its “One China” policy, it has not changed (indeed, the US State Department recently reinstated a line in its Taiwan fact sheet that notes it does not support the country’s independence), Ms. Xu said, that China has changed significantly since Mr. Gingrich came, and this could explain his current anger.
“China is now a stronger, more assertive and, according to some, more aggressive power than it was 25 years ago,” she said.
“Under Xi Jinping, the reunification of Taiwan has become more important than ever for him and therefore for the Chinese Communist Party.
“China sees Nancy Pelosi’s visit as a real attack on the One China policy…and…in the current geopolitical context [US-China] relations are already strained, without this visit by Nancy Pelosi.
What could happen as a result of Nancy Pelosi’s visit?
Mr. Biden initially questioned Ms. Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan, saying he thought the military felt “it’s not a good idea right now.”
A few days later, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said he had provided Ms. Pelosi with a “safety assessment” regarding her Indo-Pacific tour, but did not comment on the expected Taiwan leg.
Meanwhile, Beijing stepped up its warnings, saying it is “seriously prepared” for Ms. Pelosi to visit Taiwan.
It also says that such a visit would be “very dangerous, very provocative.”
“China will take firm and decisive measures to protect our sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Zhang Jun, Chinese Ambassador to the UN, said on Monday.
But Kevin Carrico, senior lecturer in Chinese studies at Melbourne’s Monash University, doubts that Ms. Pelosi’s visit will lead to military conflict.
“It seems that the alleged CCP attack on Taiwan is always on the horizon,” Mr. Carrico said.
“This is something that the CCP obsessively talks about but never really materializes.
“I think this is a very real possibility that the military balance of power will shift in favor of Beijing, and we need to pay attention to this.
“When the time comes, there will be a reason to attack, even if it’s not a real reason.”
– With Reuters and AFP.