War for what? Pelosi’s Taiwan trip irritates China & risks devastation

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi

A visit by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan has ignited anger in China, which sees the self-ruled island as a breakaway province that must be reunited as a part of the country. Beijing has not ruled out the possible use of force to achieve this.

Senior Taiwanese and US government officials confirmed that Pelosi arrived in Taiwan during her trip to Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea, and Japan. 

The Chinese army dispatched an unknown number of Su-35 fighter jets across the Taiwan Strait as the plane carrying Pelosi approached Taiwan.

The sorties came after a US Air Force jet that flew the House Speaker to Malaysia headed east towards Borneo before taking a detour around the Philippines, skirting the South China Sea en route to Taiwan.

China regards Pelosi’s trip as support for Tsai’s pro-independence administration. Beijing sees Taiwan as a renegade province under the one-China principle and to be reunited by force if necessary.

Most countries, including the US, do not recognise the self-governed island as a sovereign state. Washington acknowledges the one-China principle but is against any attempt to take the island by force.

The White House on Monday denounced Beijing’s rhetoric over an expected visit by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan, vowing the United States “will not take the bait or engage in saber-rattling” and has no interest in increasing tensions with China.

At the same time, little is gained by America’s provocation of the communist government, which has been building a thick interdependence with the United States, even as their rivalry is growing.

In 2020, China was America’s largest goods trading partner, third largest export market, and largest source of imports.

Exports to China supported an estimated 1.2 million jobs in the United States in 2019. Most U.S. companies operating in China report being committed to that market for the long term.

The widening gap in America’s and China’s overall national power relative to every other country in the world, continue to point stubbornly in the direction of deep interdependence as US hegemony in the international system has waned.

In the economic realm, trade and investment ties remain significant, even as both countries continue to take steps to limit vulnerabilities from the other.

American attitudes toward China have become more negative during in recent years, as anger has built over disruptions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, Beijing’s trampling of Hong Kong’s autonomy, human rights violations in Xinjiang, and job losses to China.

U.S. investment firms have been increasing their positions in China, following a global trendBlackRockJ.P. Morgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley have all increased their exposure in China, matching similar efforts by UBSNomura HoldingsCredit Suisse, and AXA. The Rhodium Group estimates that U.S. investors held $1.1 trillion in equities issued by Chinese companies, and that there was as much as $3.3 trillion in U.S.-China two-way equity and bond holdings at the end of 2020.

One leg of the U.S.-China economic relationship that has atrophied in recent years has been China’s flow of investment into the United States. This has largely been a product of tightened capital controls in China, growing Chinese government scrutiny of its companies’ offshore investments, and enhanced U.S. screening of Chinese investments for national security concerns.

Pushing emotional levers that can lead to war seems stupid, but United States officials said America would not be intimidated by Chinese threats to never “sit idly by” if she made the trip to the self-ruled island claimed by Beijing.

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby underscored that the decision on whether to visit the self-ruled island that China claims as its own was ultimately Pelosi’s. He noted that members of Congress have routinely visited Taiwan over the years.

“Put simply, there is no reason for Beijing to turn a potential visit consistent with long-standing US policy into some sort of crisis or use it as a pretext to increase aggressive military activity in or around the Taiwan Strait,” Kirby said.

Kirby said administration officials are concerned that Beijing could use the visit as an excuse to take provocative retaliatory steps, including military action such as firing missiles in the Taiwan Strait or around Taiwan, flying sorties into Taiwan’s airspace, and carrying out large-scale naval exercises in the strait.

China’s responses could also include further “spurious legal claims” such as Beijing’s assertion that the Taiwan Strait is not an international waterway, said Kirby.

While there have been no official announcements, local media in Taiwan reported that Pelosi will arrive Tuesday night, making her the highest-ranking elected US official to visit in more than 25 years. The United Daily News, Liberty Times and China Times — Taiwan’s three largest national newspapers — cited unidentified sources as saying she would arrive in Taipei after visiting Malaysia and spend the night.

Talk of such a visit is sparking fury in Beijing, which regards Taiwan as its own territory and has repeatedly warned of “serious consequences” if the reported trip goes ahead.

“If Pelosi insists on visiting Taiwan, China will take resolute and strong measures to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian in Beijing, without giving details.

“The Chinese side has repeatedly made clear to the U.S. side our serious concern over Speaker Pelosi’s potential visit to Taiwan and our firm opposition to the visit,” he said. “We are fully prepared for any eventuality. If the U.S. side insists on making the visit, the Chinese side will take firm and strong measures to safeguard our sovereignty and territorial integrity. The U.S. must assume full responsibility for any serious consequence arising thereof.”

In statements to different news outlets on Monday, Joanne Ou, the spokesperson for Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry, said that while Taiwan always welcomes visits from U.S. lawmakers, the government had not yet received any “definite information” about a visit from Pelosi.

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