Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu welcomes Nancy Pelosi at the Taipei Songshan Airport in Taipei, Taiwan. Reuters
Despite Chinese threats, United States House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan. The question everyone is asking whether Pelosi’s visit had served any purpose apart from that of straining US-China bilateral relations. China had made it clear that it does not appreciate the US leader’s Taiwan visit. Chinese President Xi Jingpin told US President Joe Biden during a video call that those who play with fire will perish by fire, an indirect reference to Pelosi’s Taiwan visit. Biden reiterated that the US supported the One-China policy, but it would not allow the change in Taiwan’s status through force. Chinese foreign office spokesperson Zhao Lijian said that Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan would be considered “a gross interference in China’s internal affairs” and that it would lead to “very serious developments and consequences.” He also elaborated the Chinese view in more elaborate terms, verging on a threat. Zhao said, “We would like to tell the United States once again that China is standing by, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army will never sit idly by, and China will take resolute responses and strong countermeasures to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity.” This was a military ultimatum in so many words. China has always used very strong language when any other country referred to Taiwan, Hong Kong, Tibet, and even Xinjiang. Each of these parts are troublesome and world opinion has been critical of Beijing’s harsh policies in these regions.
The White House dismissed the Chinese warning as mere rhetoric. National Security Council spokesman Nick Kirby said, “It is not uncommon for congressional leaders to travel to Taiwan. We shouldn’t be as a country, we shouldn’t be intimidated by that rhetoric, or those potential actions. This is an important trip for the Speaker to be on and we’re going to do whatever we can to support her.”
Shi Yinhong, an international relations professor at Renmin University in Beijing, sees the articulated positions of both sides as their stated positions, and he thinks they would not go beyond them. That is, China will not attempt a military takeover of Taiwan, and the US would not be sending its military to defend Taiwan. He says, “Unless by accident, I am sure neither side would intentionally take military action that could lead to a majority risk.”
Meanwhile, when Pelosi and her delegation reached Singapore on their first stop, Singapore President Lee Hsien Loong emphasized on Monday the importance of stable US-China relations for the region. For Singapore and other countries in the south-Asian region, China is an important neighbour in economic terms, though these countries look to the US in terms of military protection. American military presence serves as a guarantee against the Chinese, though it is quite unlikely whether China is ever going to use its military force to make a point. A clash between China and the US puts the south-east Asian countries as well as South Korea and Japan in a dilemma. China is a big market for all the countries in east Asia, and Chinese investment is also crucial for Singapore, Malaysia and even South Korea. Though China would want to treat Taiwan as a province of China, Taiwan has built its own international trade relations in its capacity as a sovereign state. And Taiwanese role in China’s economic boom has been crucial.
So, it will be difficult to cut off Taiwan from the rest of the world. It would be unfair then for China to impose conditions on Taiwan and prevent other countries which have ties with Taiwan from visiting the place. The American condition that if the Taiwanese voluntarily merge with China, then there would be no dispute. Of course, Beijing believes it has a right over Taiwan even if the Taiwanese disagree.