Asia - Pacific

Beijing should refrain from responding to US House speaker's provocative Taiwan trip, say experts

Experts weigh in on contentious trip by sitting US House speaker to Taiwan, the 1st in 25 years

Riyaz ul Khaliq   | 04.08.2022
Beijing should refrain from responding to US House speaker's provocative Taiwan trip, say experts Credit: http://eng.mod.gov.cn/

ISTANBUL   

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's recent trip to Taiwan is a "provocation," but China should "not fall into the American trap," say experts.

The move will also let the People's Liberation Army (PLA) expand military exercises around the self-ruled island nation, they added. 

Strongly advising against an aggressive response to the Pelosi trip, Mushahid Hussain Sayed, a keen China observer, told Anadolu Agency that "China's response should be measured and mature, not tit for tat, as the US wants China to be provoked." 

Pelosi made history Tuesday when she took a longer route from Malaysia, her US military plane carefully avoiding the South China Sea and flying over the Philippine Sea to land in Taipei, defying warnings of military action by China. 

She is the first sitting US House speaker to travel to Taiwan, which China considers a "breakaway province," in the past 25 years. 

In her meeting with Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen, Pelosi said that while China has stopped Taiwan from participating in multilateral meetings that "they understand that they will not stand in the way of people coming to Taiwan." 

Beijing has long held the policy of representing all of China, including Taiwan, at multilateral forums and has, in many cases, sharply reacted where the self-ruled island was invited. 

Calling the US House speaker's trip to Taiwan a "Pelosi provocation," Sayed, who is also a Pakistani lawmaker, said, "it was totally unwarranted and unnecessary, as it raises tensions between China-US ties and is destabilizing for Asia." 

'Chinese military expands its actions in Taiwan Straits' 

Wang Wen, a professor and executive dean of the Chongyang Institute at the Renmin University of China, said the Pelosi trip will have at least three major impacts. 

"The first is the normalization of the Chinese mainland's military in the Taiwan Strait," he wrote on Twitter. 

Soon after Pelosi landed in Taiwan, the PLA launched military drills and announced large-scale exercises surrounding Taiwan from Thursday until Sunday. 

The map for the military exercises released by the PLA almost replicates the conditions of the Third Taiwan Strait Crisis of 1995-96 when China held military exercises surrounding Taiwan. 

But since then, it has been rare to see Chinese naval or land forces crossing the Taiwan Strait towards the island. 

Jingdong Yuan, a senior research fellow at Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, told Anadolu Agency that China will "very likely respond with strongest rhetoric and condemnation." 

He, however, said Beijing will "still" resort to "selective actions that range from massive military exercises, threatened disruption of Taiwan's normal commercial activities as the PLA delimits areas for live-fire exercises." 

"It will make life difficult for selected Taiwanese businesses deemed or suspected of sympathetic with 'independence' elements; and some selective sanctions against US entities and individuals," the SIPRI scholar said. 

"However, these responses will be carefully designed and undertaken, so they do not escalate to a level that poses serious risks, especially between the Chinese and US militaries. Even with regard to Taiwan's military, the PLA will be a resolute and strong display of power without triggering real military clashes," he warned. 

As defense and economic exchanges between Washington and Taipei have increased in the recent past, there has been an intense jump in Chinese fighter jets crossing the air defense identification zone (ADIZ) -- which Taiwan identifies as its air space. 

The ADIZ is the airspace of a country plus an additional wider area over land and water in which a country tries to identify, locate and control any civil aircraft in the interest of national security.

China does not accept the ADIZ.  

'No economic fallout' 

Pelosi's trip to Taiwan came at a time when the global supply chain was under strain due to the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia's war on Ukraine.

Before Pelosi began her official engagements in Taipei on Wednesday, Beijing had already imposed import restrictions on over 2,000 food items from Taiwan. 

The PLA's exercises will also affect ports of the island nation, Taiwan's Defense Ministry warned. 

China is Taiwan's largest trade partner, with the island's exports to the mainland and Hong Kong reaching $188.9 billion in 2021. 

"The possible immediate impact of China-US relations in economic terms would be to stop or further postpone the schedule for cutting of mutual trade tariffs bilaterally," Chienyu Shih, an associate research fellow at the Taiwan Institute for National Defense and Security Research, told Anadolu Agency from Taipei. 

Jingdong agreed. He said the Pelosi trip may slow down or even prevent cooperation in other areas such as climate change and other ongoing negotiations regarding the lifting of tariffs on certain Chinese products "should the US consider Chinese actions in retaliation against Pelosi's visit as unacceptable." 

Former US President Donald Trump's administration had imposed extra tariffs on Chinese imports, which Beijing retaliated against. However, amid rising inflation, the Biden administration had indicated that it would roll back some of them. 

The bilateral trade volume between China and the US surpassed $615 billion in 2020, according to the US Trade office. 

Md. Nazmul Islam, an assistant professor of Political ‎Science at Ankara Yildirim ‎Beyazit University, told Anadolu Agency that Beijing is not in a position to resort to economic responses to the US. 

"China will have some sort of soft option to tackle the situation…like the summoning of (US) diplomats (by the Chinese Foreign Ministry) and a very low volume of economic sanctions. But certainly, it will not create any kind of economic fallout," he said, arguing that China is an export-based economy. 

"Therefore, they, unfortunately, do not have vast options such as military action against the US or even against Taiwan," he added. 

As China has already undertaken some economic measures against Taiwan, Jingdong, however, said: "Even before this current crisis, China signed contracts to purchase nearly 200 Airbus rather than Boeing, a clear signal of displeasure toward the US."

"Further and specific, but still carefully selected punitive actions against US business interests may also take place in the coming months," he cautioned.  

'Pelosi trip at domestic US voters' 

Islam believes "we need to understand Pelosi's trip to Taiwan through the impact of the Russia-Ukraine conflict," he said.

"At one point, the Biden administration takes this decision to protect (his) image, which somehow helps to increase his vote bank domestically, though its outcome in global politics is negative for the US," he said, referring to the many wars fought by the US outside its borders, including in Afghanistan and Iraq. 

"China's action or reaction, whatever it is, sooner or later, will be new hope for the US and particularly for the Biden administration to continue their hegemonic role in international politics." 

Sayed, the lawmaker, agreed. 

The Taiwan trip "is driven primarily by US domestic politics as Pelosi may no longer be (US House) speaker after the November 2022 mid-term elections in the US, and partly by geopolitics, as it contributes to anti-China hysteria stoked by warmongers in Washington," he said. 

Sayed said China should see the Taiwan trip by Pelosi "as one of the provocations by a divided country whose foreign policy is driven by domestic political considerations." 

Islam said Washington is in a race to "securitize" the Taiwan issue "in the new and volatile international political environment" triggered by the post-pandemic period and Russia-Ukraine conflict.

"Any harsh reaction from China will ultimately help the US to reach out to its allies as trustable partners (to counter Beijing)," he said.  

'US bankruptcy in China' 

Wang said the US moves against China will damage its image in the world's most populous country. 

"The image of the US will be completely bankrupt in China, and once again, the US has become a troublemaker of international chaos," he added. 

However, Shih, the Taiwan-based academic, believes the Pelosi visit could trigger a crisis that "could escalate, and the current development is a large-scale military exercise." 

"Whether Beijing will further escalate the military tension depends on what (President) Xi Jinping hopes to achieve through the exercise, symbolically flexing (China's) muscles, a fatal warning to the US and the West in general not to duplicate the Pelosi model in the future, or conquering Taiwan by force," he said. 

While Shih said Taiwan is "passive by all means under the current situation," he added that it allows Taipei to "use the occasion to expand connections with countries that do not have a comprehensive understanding of the Taiwan Strait tensions and hopefully may gradually convince them to amend their one-China policy." 

He said two factors are "extremely important" for strengthening Taiwan's defense in the future. 

"One is to consolidate social faith in resistance to China's threat, and second, to prevent a possible decapitation strike and paralysis of Taiwan's leadership by the PLA, such as (by) using tactical nuclear weapons," he added. 

Washington dispatched aircraft carriers and large-deck military ships to the Pacific and the South China Sea when Pelosi began her trip to Taiwan.

The US formally recognized China in 1979 and shifted its diplomatic mission from Taipei to Beijing, including Taiwan as part of mainland China – popularly known as the "One-China Policy" as the shift in diplomatic recognition of Beijing was adopted by the UN. 

The Taiwan Relations Act, enacted in 1979, has governed US relations with Taiwan. Bilateral agreements known as the Three Communiques have also influenced ties. 

Republican Newt Gingrich was the last US House speaker to travel to Taiwan in 1997. 

Shih, however, said that Beijing, in the long run, will "certainly work out a better military strategy to jeopardize Taiwan's morale and terminate the war in a speedy way."

"The US and Taiwan will also respond with wiser counter strategy."

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