Taiwan holds drills amid Pelosi visit concern, China tension
BEIJING (AP) — Taiwan’s capital staged air raid drills Monday and its military mobilized for routine defense exercises, coinciding with concerns over a forceful Chinese response to a possible visit to the island by U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. While there was no direct link between China’s renewed threats and Taiwan’s defensive moves, they underscore the possibility of a renewed crisis in the Taiwan Strait, considered a potential hotspot for conflict that could envelop the entire region.
US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi's rumoured plan for a trip to Taiwan has infuriated China and left the White House with a serious geopolitical headache. How big a problem is this? © Getty Images
On Monday, China warned of "serious consequences" if Nancy Pelosi were to proceed with a visit to Taiwan in the coming weeks.
Second in line to the presidency, Mrs Pelosi would be the highest ranking US politician to travel to the self-governing island democracy since 1997.
The potential trip has not only rankled Beijing - the Biden administration has reportedly tried to dissuade the California Democrat, 82, from going.
Xi, Biden to speak as possible Pelosi Taiwan visit looms
BEIJING (AP) — U.S. President Joe Biden is planning to speak with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping for the first time in four months, with a wide range of bilateral and international issues on the table. But a potential visit to Taiwan by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is looming over the conversation set for Thursday, with China warning of a severe response if she travels to the self-governing island democracy Beijing claims as its own territory.
Last week, President Joe Biden told reporters "the military thinks it's not a good idea", but his White House has called Chinese rhetoric against any such trip "clearly unhelpful and not necessary".
The state department says Mrs Pelosi has not announced any travel and the US approach to Taiwan remains unchanged.
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Why would Pelosi want to visit Taiwan?
There is strong bipartisan support for Taiwan among the US public and in the US Congress.
And over a congressional career spanning 35 years, Speaker Pelosi has been a vocal critic of China.
She has denounced its human rights record, met with pro-democracy dissidents, and also visited Tiananmen Square to commemorate victims of the 1989 massacre.
Pelosi to Taiwan would be career capstone, despite warnings
WASHINGTON (AP) — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi launched her political career being tough on China -- a new congresswoman who dared to unfurl a pro-democracy banner in Beijing's Tiananmen Square during a 1991 visit with other U.S. lawmakers shortly after the student massacre. More than 30 years later, her interest in traveling to Taiwan presents a powerful diplomatic capstone. It has also contributed to tensions at the highest levels in Washington and Beijing among officials who worry a trip could prove provocative. As the U.S. balances its high-stakes relations with China, whether Pelosi will lead a delegation trip to Taiwan remains unknown.
Mrs Pelosi's original plan was to visit Taiwan in April, but it was postponed after she tested positive for Covid-19.
She has declined to discuss details of the trip, but said last week that it was "important for us to show support for Taiwan".
Why does China oppose the visit?
Beijing views Taiwan as its territory, and has repeatedly raised the spectre of annexing it by force if necessary.
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Chinese officials have expressed anger over what they view as growing diplomatic engagement between Taipei and Washington. This includes a surprise visit to the island by six US lawmakers in April.
On Monday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian warned his country would take "firm and resolute measures" if Mrs Pelosi went ahead with her visit.
Blinken acknowledges ‘prospect for conflict’ with China over Taiwan
A looming showdown over House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s potential visit to Taiwan could test the ability of U.S. and Chinese officials to mitigate the risk of war. “We have many differences when it comes to Taiwan,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters Friday. "It would be important as part of our shared responsibility to continue to manage this in a wise way that doesn't create the prospect for conflict.”Chinese officials have issued a series of heated warnings against a visit by Pelosi, adding public pressure on an internal U.S.
"And the US will be responsible for all of the serious consequences," he said.
A spokesman of the Chinese ministry of defence seemed to suggest there could even be a military response.
"If the US side insists on going ahead, the Chinese military will never sit idle and will take strong measures to thwart any external interference and separatist attempts for 'Taiwan independence," Colonel Tan Kefei told China Daily. © Getty Images Speaker Pelosi unveils a statue of the 'Tank Man' from Tiananmen Square at a rally with Chinese dissidents in 2019 © BBC
US policy on Taiwan is a balancing act: it acknowledges that China considers the self-governing island to be part of "One China". But it opposes any attempts to change Taiwan's democratic status by force, and sells weapons to help Taipei defend itself.
That balance has looked more precarious with Russia's war against Ukraine: administration officials are watching for signals of what lessons Beijing might be learning, if any, that it could apply to Taiwan.
They are also anxious about increasingly aggressive Chinese statements and actions towards Taipei, including an assertion that the Taiwan Strait is not international waters.
In a banned tweet, a top state-media commentator reportedly said China could 'forcibly dispel Pelosi's plane' and shoot it down if it flies to Taiwan
Hu Xijin, a commentator with the Chinese-state-owned Global Times, appeared to threaten House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a tweet that has been blocked.Pelosi departed on Friday for a tour that could include a controversial stop in Taiwan, the self-governed island democracy at the heart of rising tensions between Beijing and Washington.
President Biden is expected to raise both Russia and Taiwan with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping this week in a phone call aimed at managing the complicated relationship.
But the spectre of a visit from the Speaker of the House in this incendiary political environment threatens to raise tensions sharply.
US officials fear some sort of military response from China, although analysts doubt any imminent attempt by Beijing to annex Taiwan by force.
Citing the separation of powers, the administration has refrained from going public with its views, but some prominent Republicans have been outspoken. In an unusual twist of the partisan divide, they are backing Mrs Pelosi's trip and urging the White House to do the same.
How might the trip escalate tensions?
At its party congress later this year, the Chinese Communist Party is set to re-elect Xi Jinping to an unprecedented third term as president.
President Biden - who last spoke with President Xi in March - has said they will speak over the phone again in the next few days, on a range of topics including Taiwan and other "issues of tension".
The call comes as US officials warn of a Chinese military build-up in the Asia-Pacific region and "aggressive and irresponsible behaviour" in the South China Sea.
The threats of retaliation over Mrs Pelosi's visit have raised concerns over what China's possible response.
When then-US Health Secretary Alex Azar flew to Taiwan in 2020, Chinese air force jets crossed over the mid-line of the Taiwan Strait - the narrow waterway between the island and its giant neighbour - within range of Taipei's missiles.
Last week, the former editor of China's state-run Global Times newspaper suggested a "shocking military response" may be in store for Mrs Pelosi.
"If Pelosi visits Taiwan, [People's Liberation Army] military aircraft will accompany Pelosi's plane to enter the island, making a historic crossing of the island by military aircraft from mainland for the 1st time," Hu Xijin wrote.
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The leaders of the two major powers will talk over existing frictions as well as new uncertainties thrown up by Nancy Pelosi's travel plans.The competitive nature of the contemporary relationship has left many fearing a mishap in Asia, one that could spark a wider conflict with global consequences. Crisis management between the two militaries therefore will be high on the agenda for the talks, their fifth in the last 18 months and the latest since March.