Pelosi Visit to Taiwan Could Force China To Show Its Hand

Beijing’s shrill response to the thought of the House speaker going to Taiwan raises fears that China may go beyond words in retaliating if she dares set foot on the island.

AP/J. Scott Applewhite, file
Speaker Pelosi at the Capitol on July 21, 2022. AP/J. Scott Applewhite, file

The speaker of the House has a rare opportunity to defy Chinese threats and visit Taiwan in a showdown that could determine whether Communist China is ready to go beyond rhetoric in its claim to the island province.

Speaker Pelosi has yet to say she’s going, but the mere possibility is inspiring fierce warnings from Beijing, worries in the White House and Pentagon, and calls for her to show she has every right to visit in bold defiance of whatever the Chinese say.

At a time when China has been increasing pressure on Taiwan, with flights into the island’s air defense identification zone, Mrs. Pelosi would be the first American member of Congress to visit Taiwan since Newt Gingrich led a delegation there in 1997. Like Mrs. Pelosi, Mr. Gingrich was speaker of the House, though of a different political persuasion.

Beijing’s shrill response to the thought of Mrs. Pelosi going to Taiwan raises fears that China may go beyond words in retaliating if she dares set foot on the island.

“We are fully prepared for any eventuality,” Communist China’s foreign ministry spokesman, Zhao Lijian, said, but he was careful not to say what China might do.  Instead, in a rhetorical flourish, he said if she “insists on making the visit, the Chinese side will take firm and strong measures to safeguard our sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Such bluster has everyone wondering if the Chinese are thinking of firing a few missiles, as happened before the Taiwan Straits Crisis of 1995-96, when President Clinton ordered a flotilla of American vessels, including aircraft carriers, into waters that China claims as its own. China eventually backed off what had been an attempt to disrupt Taiwan’s 1996 presidential election, but now China is far stronger and much more likely to throw its weight around.

“Every sign of U.S. action, such as Pelosi’s visit, or inaction matters to China,” a long-time analyst who covered Taiwan for years for the old Far Eastern Economic Review,  Shim Jae-hoon, told the Sun. “Even without her, the atmosphere is highly combustible already as Chinese aircraft make frequent fly-ins into Taiwan’s air space.”

Why upset the Chinese unnecessarily? That seems to be the view of President Biden, who quoted anonymous folks in the Pentagon as saying a visit by Mrs. Pelosi might not be “a good idea.”

The Pentagon isn’t commenting, but General Mark Milley, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, said while visiting Indonesia that “the Chinese military, in the air and at sea, have become significantly more and noticeably more aggressive in this particular region.” Might China actually endanger Mrs. Pelosi as she made the rounds at the Taiwanese capital, Taipei? Could her visit be a pretext for China finally to invade the island?

That’s not too likely, as there are no signs of the Chinese preparing an invasion force. Strong voices with Pentagon ties contradict the view that maybe she should hold back. Some analysts think it would be great if she called Beijing’s bluff and went there in a blaze of publicity that would surely enhance her image as a fighter.

“I do not think she has a choice,” a retired U.S. Army colonel who is now a senior fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington, David Maxwell, said. “We cannot afford to back down in the face of Chinese threats.”

Nor, Mr. Maxwell told the Sun, should the government “try to deny her support for her travel.” Such lack of nerve, he explained, would “simply embolden China to double down on its political warfare strategy.”

If Beijing did take military action, he said, “China’s intentions for initiating hostilities will be confirmed.”

Taipei isn’t taking chances. Just to prove its defiance of Beijing, Taiwan’s army, air force, and navy staged military drills. Said Taipei’s mayor, Ko Wn-je:  “We need to be prepared if there is war.”

The New York Sun

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