What are the stakes of a visit of Pelosi in Taiwan

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Maybe by the time you read this, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will have landed in Taiwan.. Or maybe not. Will the drama, won’t she know if Pelosi and a delegation of Democratic lawmakers will visit the self-governing island on a longer Asia trip that is expected to be settled on Monday, with reports from Taiwan suggesting Pelosi could arrive as early as Tuesday evening.

Either way, the prospect of the visit of the third-highest-ranking US government official to the world’s only Chinese-speaking democracy has shaken Asia’s already choppy geopolitical waters. Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, attention in Washington has also focused on the risk of war over Taiwan. China regards the island as part of its sovereign territory and Chinese President Xi Jinping has called reunification with the mainland inevitable, the supreme ambition of his reign.

The United States, meanwhile, in practice gradually moved away from its official policy of “strategic ambiguity” about whether it would come to the defense of Taiwan. President Biden and a host of lawmakers in Congress all explicitly believe that the United States should help Taiwan fight off a Chinese attack. Amid growing bipartisan support for a closer U.S. embrace of Taiwan, Pelosi’s arrival would mark the most significant visit by a U.S. official to Taiwan in a quarter-century. But in the eyes of Beijing, it is a dangerous provocation and an attack on its “territorial integrity”.

“We once again sternly warn the US side that China stands ready and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army will never stand idly by,” foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said during the meeting. of a Monday briefing, adding that “China will take resolute and vigorous countermeasures.

White House warns China not to overreact to possible Pelosi visit to Taiwan

Experts have a rough idea of ​​what these countermeasures can be. “The response will almost certainly include a military component, most likely with a show of force first – live-fire exercises, a much larger military presence in the Taiwan Strait and…even missile testing,” tweeted Taylor FravelDirector of the Security Studies Program at MIT.

But the show of force will have to be accompanied by a show of restraint.

“The goal will be to underscore resolve without triggering escalation, but the likely size of the military component will include the potential for miscalculation,” Fravel said. “There are also significant US naval assets in the region at this time.”

Chinese state media has been cautious in its warnings to the United States, perhaps a sign of Beijing’s own mistrust of an unintended escalation.

“I don’t think there have been any signs so far that China will launch major military operations,” said Kuo Yujen, a professor of political science at National Sun Yat-sen University in southern China. Taiwan, to the New York Times. “If China overreacts, bringing countermeasures from the United States or Japan, for Xi Jinping, the losses would outweigh the gains.”

Ahead of a major Communist Party congress later this year, and plagued by a myriad of other issues including ongoing coronavirus shutdowns and a slowing economy, Xi and his allies may not want to budge the boat.

“There is no reason China would want to shoot itself in the foot by launching a major military confrontation and undermine the very stability it needs,” said Wen-Ti Sung, a political scientist at the Studies Program. on Taiwan from the Australian National University, to my colleague Karina. Tsui.

It’s also unclear how much the U.S. gains with Pelosi’s arrival in Taiwan. His presence will be a statement of support for Taiwanese democracy and perhaps even its aspirations for formal independence, although the United States generally avoids comment on the latter. The most enthusiastic U.S. supporters of a Pelosi visit to Taiwan include hawkish former Trump administration officials.

“A token show of support from the head of the US legislative branch could provide reassurance, while maintaining sufficiently plausible deniability and not overtly crossing Beijing’s red lines, as his decision does not represent US policy,” he said. Sung said.

But that is not how China will interpret the occasion. White House officials, including Biden himself, have suggested to reporters that they would prefer Pelosi not visit, given the delicate nature of the moment. Taiwan was at the center of a harrowing phone call between Biden and Xi late last week.

One reading of Pelosi’s determination to stop in Taipei may be that she is wary of the optics of backing down after it appears she might leave. This, according to skeptics, is not sufficient justification.

“If Pelosi hadn’t said she was going to Taiwan in the first place, no one would have suggested she should go to build American credibility in Asia,” leftist commentator Peter Beinart wrote. “The argument that she can’t back down now sounds like the argument that the United States couldn’t leave Vietnam because the war had become a test of American resolve.”

On Monday, the White House changed its tune, presenting a potential visit by Pelosi to Taiwan as a reflection of the United States’ continued commitments to the island nation.

“There is no reason,” a National Security Council spokesperson told reporters, “for Beijing to turn a potential visit in line with long-standing US policy into some kind of crisis.”

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Yet analysts on both sides see a crisis on the horizon. “Each of the major players – China, Taiwan and the United States – believe they are acting cautiously to protect their interests in the face of escalating actions across the Strait,” wrote senior researcher Ryan Hass. at the Brookings Institution. , in a preface to a new report on US-Taiwanese policy. “Officials and analysts are increasingly competing to predict when conflict might erupt, not whether it will.”

“The Biden administration has continued the Trump administration’s strategy of ‘using Taiwan to contain China,'” wrote Cao Qun, a fellow at the state-run China Institute for International Studies. “The chances of a clash between China and the United States in the Taiwan Strait are increasing.”

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