- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is traveling to Asia and may make a controversial visit to Taiwan.
- Experts say such a visit could increase the risk of an “accident” that would lead to a military crisis in the region.
- “If she goes, the prospect of a crisis increases because China will have to respond,” a former US diplomat told Insider.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi left on a tour of Asia on Friday that could include a controversial stopover in Taiwan, the self-governing island democracy at the heart of growing tensions between Beijing and Washington.
China’s top experts warn that a visit to Taiwan by Pelosi, who would fly on a military planeincreases the risk of an “accident” which could trigger a military crisis in the region.
“There is a risk of an accident, not a risk of an imminent Chinese attack on Taiwan,” Bonnie Glaser, a leading China expert and director of the Asia program at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, told Insider.
Pelosi would be the highest-ranking U.S. lawmaker in more than two decades to visit Taiwan, an island democracy of 23 million people that mainland China’s leaders, the same ones who have cracked down on democratic Hong Kong, have long had. in their sights.
The possibility of a Pelosi visit to the island has sparked fiery rhetoric and warnings from Beijing, and reports indicate the Pentagon is considering possibly call in US fighter planes and ships to provide additional security near Taiwan in the event of a visit by the Speaker of the House. And repeated mixed messages from the Biden administration on whether the United States would respond militarily to a Chinese attack on Taiwan could escalate tensions between Beijing and Washington.
Glaser said there is a risk that a Chinese military plane will try to “interfere” with a plane carrying Pelosi and, possibly, even try to prevent it from landing in Taiwan.
That said, Glaser pointed out that even if China sends in fighters and Taiwan scrambles its own warplanes in response, it’s “unlikely we’ll see any shots.”
“But that increases the potential for a crash, because those fighters would be flying very close to each other and in a way that they never did in the past,” Glaser said. “That’s the crisis we’re basically facing today.”
There is “real” potential for the “Chinese to use force against Taiwan”, she added, but it is more likely to happen “years from now”.
“It’s an interactive dynamic. The Chinese see what the United States is doing and what we’re saying, and then they react to that,” Glaser said.
“If she goes, the prospect of a crisis skyrockets”
China vehemently opposes Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, warning that such a trip could trigger a possible military response.
“If the United States insists on going its own way, the Chinese military will never sit idly by,” a spokesperson for China’s Defense Ministry said earlier this week.
As a result, Chinese leader Xi Jinping warned President Joe Biden not to “play with fire” regarding Taiwan as the two world leaders spoke on the phone for more than two hours on Thursday, according to a statement from the Chinese government.
Pelosi declined to confirm she would travel to Taiwan, citing security concerns. “I never talk about my trip. It’s a danger to me,” Pelosi told reporters on Wednesday.
America’s relationship with Taiwan has a complicated history, and Pelosi’s visit would come at a time when Beijing is rapidly vying to improve its military and adopting an increasingly belligerent tone in its interactions with the United States. Biden said the United States was competing with China to win the 21st century, and the Pentagon senior officials have repeatedly noted the challenges posed by increased Chinese aggression in the Indo-Pacific region.
The United States has not had official diplomatic relations with Taiwan since 1979, when Washington established official relations with Beijing. Under the so-called one-China policy, followed by successive administrations for decades, the United States does not support Taiwan independence and offers diplomatic recognition of Beijing’s position according to which there is only one Chinese government. But the US government still has a strong unofficial relationship with Taipei and is legally obligated to supply defensive weapons to Taiwan under the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979.
For years, the United States has taken a deliberately opaque stance on whether it would come to Taiwan’s defense in the event of a Chinese attack – a policy known as “strategic ambiguity”. Biden has been accused of undermining this longstanding approach by repeatedly suggesting that the United States would indeed respond militarily if China attacked the island.
The White House backtracked on Biden’s statements, saying there had been no change in US policy. But critics say the administration’s inconsistent approach to Taiwan has exacerbated an already contentious dynamic with Beijing.
“The Chinese see Washington as intentionally causing a crisis, and I don’t know what Biden could say to Xi to persuade him otherwise,” said Susan Thornton, another prominent China expert and senior fellow at the Paul Tsai China Center. from Yale Law School. , said Insider.
“We continue to affirm that our one-China policy has not changed, but a visit by Pelosi would clearly set a precedent and cannot be construed as consistent with ‘unofficial relations,'” said Thornton, former deputy secretary. acting for East Asia and the Pacific. Affairs at the Department of State, added. “If it goes, the prospect of a crisis increases because China will have to react. This would thus accelerate Beijing’s timeline on Taiwan, which is the opposite of what we should be doing.”
“We just haven’t been very consistent”
The United States must “be clearer and more consistent in its policy” toward Taiwan, Glaser said, adding, “The United States says it does not support Taiwanese independence. We must be clear about what that means we won’t”.
But Glaser also stressed that “it’s not a one-way street,” going on to say that the Chinese “have used economic, diplomatic and military coercion against Taiwan in extremely destabilizing ways.”
‘I think it’s not wrong to say that the Chinese are more to blame – certainly more to blame than Taiwan – for changing the status quo in the Taiwan Strait and introducing the degree of instability that exists today’ today,” Glaser said. “But the United States is a factor, it’s not just Beijing and Taipei. And I just don’t think it’s been handled very well by the United States. Congress is also a part of that. is Congress, it’s the executive branch. haven’t been very consistent.”
Last week, Biden told reporters that the US military “thinks it’s not a good idea at this time” for Pelosi to travel to Taiwan, although the White House has also said “The Speaker of the House makes his own travel decisions.”
Meanwhile, congressional lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have voiced support for Pelosi’s trip. Some have suggested that if Pelosi does not leave, it would send a dangerous signal that China’s threats are working when it comes to Taiwan.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said this week that if Pelosi does not go, she will have handed China a “a kind of victory.”
Democratic Representative Ro Khanna, who sits on the House Armed Services Committee, on Monday told CNN that Pelosi “shouldn’t” cancel the trip. “We are not going to let the Chinese Communist Party dictate where the House speaker should go,” Khanna said, saying the visit would not undermine the one-China policy.
Another factor weighing on Pelosi’s possible trip to Taiwan is the ongoing war in Ukraine. Many foreign policy experts have suggested that the conflict will have major implications for China’s approach to Taiwan, although it may be too early to tell what those are.
“The Chinese will learn from the war in Ukraine,” Glaser said. “There are more differences than similarities, but they will learn from it. They will learn from it on a broader strategic level.”
“I don’t think China will jump to conclusions, and I don’t think they will jump to conclusions: Now is the time to invade Taiwan,” Glaser added, noting that “China has its own logic when it comes to Taiwan”. .”