Official spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre says the White House won’t respond to Chinese state media threats to shoot down Nancy Pelosi’s plane should she visit Taiwan. “We’re just not going to speak on her schedule.”
At the same time, White House national security spokesman John Kirby said the United States had seen no evidence of impending Chinese military activity against Taiwan when asked about a possible visit to the island by Pelosi.
U.S.’s strategic ambiguity and Pelosi’s long history of opposing Beijing
The U.S. has a policy of “strategic ambiguity” regarding Taiwan. It implies the fundamental absence of the United States’ position regarding the island’s sovereignty, whether it is an independent state or part of China. A somewhat similar approach so far is the speaker of the House of Representatives of the U.S. Congress, a member of the Democratic Party, Nancy Pelosi, regarding her trip to Taiwan.
The hype surrounding the possible visit began with the July 19 publication of an article in the Financial Times. It claimed that six unnamed sources of the publication confirmed the information that during his rescheduled Asian tour, Pelosi would also visit Taiwan.
The tour was originally planned for April, and the speaker was supposed to visit the island on the 10th. However, the tour was cancelled as Pelosi contracted the coronavirus. At that time, reports of a possible visit by Pelosi did not cause such a storm of events as they do now.
The next day after the publication of the Financial Times material, on July 20, Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry stated that the American side had not submitted any notification of the upcoming visit. However, a day later, on July 21, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spoke out sharply against the possible arrival of Pelosi on the island. According to the ministry, this would be a violation of the sovereignty of the PRC and an encroachment on its territorial integrity.
There was no consensus in the U.S. regarding Pelosi’s visit. Her fellow party president Joe Biden voiced the opinion of the U.S. military that now a trip to the island was not a good idea.
Taiwan works up its Air Force
At this time, the 38th annual Hanguang exercise is taking place in Taiwan. They must check the readiness of air defense, the general combat training of the troops and the ability to carry out counterattacks. One of the scenarios being worked out will be the transfer of Taiwan Air Force fighters and spare parts from the west to the east of the island by transport aircraft in the face of an attack by Chinese fighter aircraft.
As part of the exercise, an attack on the port of Taipei, located on the island’s northwestern coast at the mouth of the Tamsui River, will be simulated for five days. The military will simulate an attack by Chinese planes and helicopters on the port. Taiwan’s armed forces will counter the simulated attack with mobile missile systems, anti-aircraft artillery and combat helicopters.
Such large-scale exercises cannot but attract the attention of the Chinese military. Japanese and Taiwanese military officers regularly watch the passage of Chinese Navy ships near Taiwan. On July 26, a Chinese reconnaissance drone flew around the island. Now the forces of several countries are concentrated around the island, and tension is increasing.
Bejing threatens the use of force
On July 25, the London Times wrote that China could use force if Pelosi arrived. Asked for comment by the newspaper, a spokesman for the Chinese military replied that the Chinese military would not sit idly by if Pelosi came, despite all warnings from the PRC. He urged the United States to confirm its statements about the commitment to the “one China” policy.
Will the U.S. chicken out?
On July 27, the Chinese South China Morning Post reported that the United States sent the Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier group from Singapore to the island. In response, according to the newspaper, China may organize a no-fly zone over the island.
Pelosi has not yet decided whether to visit Taiwan as part of her Asian tour. However, she had already invited congress members to accompany her in case of a trip. She called both Democrats’ allies and opponents of the Republicans. It is known that this list includes the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives, Democrat Gregory Meeks, and the leader of the Republican minority in the House, Kevin McCarthy.
Political opponents of Pelosi and the Democratic Party – the Republicans – unanimously urge the speaker to go to the island with this or that rhetoric. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said if Pelosi cancels the visit, she will give “victory” to China. Kevin McCarthy, who has refused to go to the island with Pelosi, said that if he becomes speaker instead of Pelosi after the midterm congressional elections in September, he will go to Taiwan.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo also spoke out in favour of Pelosi’s trip to the island. Unlike his colleagues, on July 25, he offered Pelosi to fly to the island with her. Pompeo had already travelled to Taiwan in early March.
He urges the U.S. to drop its “strategic ambiguity” policy regarding Taiwan and recognize its independence. Former national security adviser John Bolton is urging the administration to take the same step.
Now the position of the United States is that they do not have a definite position regarding the independence of the island. This principle is called “strategic ambiguity”.
The United States has repeatedly clarified that the difference between the “one China principle” proclaimed by the PRC and the “one China policy” pursued by the United States is that China asserts its sovereignty over Taiwan, while the United States fundamentally does not have positions regarding this sovereignty.
China is extremely sensitive to Taiwan’s foreign policy ties, especially with the United States. In January 2022, Vice President Lai Qingde travelled to Honduras for the inauguration ceremony of the country’s new president, Siomara Castro. On the way back, he stopped in Los Angeles and met Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Senator Tammy Duckworth. This caused a sharp protest from the Chinese side.
The Chinese military is also reacting to the arrival of American delegations in Taiwan. When Pelosi’s tour was cancelled in April, and a delegation of senators led by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez arrived on the island, China staged unscheduled exercises and patrols of the airspace and waters around Taiwan. The South China Morning Post then bluntly wrote that this signalled the U.S. senators who came to the island and Pelosi in case she wanted to postpone her trip to Taiwan due to COVID-19.
The situation around the trip was touched upon during telephone conversations between Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Joe Biden. “Those who play with fire will perish from it,” the Chinese leader warned his American colleague. Biden reminded the Chinese leader that the United States is categorically opposed to violating the status quo in the Taiwan Strait. He was referring to the alleged PRC invasion of the island, which Western and Taiwanese politicians talk a lot about.
With tensions rising between China and the U.S. and between China and Taiwan, Pelosi’s possible arrival could trigger a severe deterioration in relations between these countries, even if the crisis is resolved peacefully.
Pelosi’s Asia Tour began Friday, July 29. So far, she has not yet decided whether she will visit Taiwan, so the intrigue and tension around the island are growing more and more.