Tensions rise in Taiwan Strait as Pelosi’s visit to the island looms

Updated on Aug 02, 2022 07:39 PM IST

China has repeatedly said a visit by the US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would amount to a serious provocation and violation of the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity

Televisions broadcast news reports on US Air Force in Taipei, Taiwan, on Tuesday. The White House sought to dial back rising tensions with China over House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s expected visit to Taiwan, insisting the trip doesn’t signal a change in US posture toward the island and urging Beijing to refrain from an aggressive response. (Bloomberg)
Televisions broadcast news reports on US Air Force in Taipei, Taiwan, on Tuesday. The White House sought to dial back rising tensions with China over House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s expected visit to Taiwan, insisting the trip doesn’t signal a change in US posture toward the island and urging Beijing to refrain from an aggressive response. (Bloomberg)

Tensions escalated rapidly in the Taiwan Strait on Tuesday with China, the US and Taiwan increasing military deployment in the region ahead of US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the self-governed island later tonight, despite weeks of warning from Beijing over the visit.

While the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) was conducting military drills on the mainland areas and international waters close to Taiwan, scores of civilian flights in the region were also cancelled against the backdrop rising tensions.

Taiwan and US media reports said that Pelosi was set to reach the island, a self-ruled democracy claimed by China, later on Tuesday night, the first for a US House speaker in 25 years.

China has repeatedly said such a visit would amount to a serious provocation and violation of the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Chinese fighter jets and warships were deployed near Taiwan to pile on pressure against Pelosi’s visit, media, including Reuters, reported from Taipei on Tuesday.

Two aircraft carriers operated by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy have reportedly moved out from their homeports amid the developments, state media reported.

The US too has dispatched warships to the maritime area around the island, and Taiwan’s own defence forces were said to be on alert.

“The danger of a military conflict over Taiwan is now far greater than at any time since the 1970s,” the state-run tabloid Global Times reported.

Some US politicians “play with fire” on the Taiwan question and there will never be a good ending for them, Chinese state councillor and foreign minister Wang Yi warned on Tuesday.

“The US is behaving like a bully, which makes the international community realise that the US is the biggest peace breaker of the world,” Wang was quoted as saying by Chinese official media during an interview after attending the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) foreign ministers’ meeting in Tashkent.

Wang, according to the official English channel, CGTN, said that some people in the US are constantly challenging China’s sovereignty and deliberately stirring up trouble across the Taiwan Straits.

China will never accept such moves, Wang said.

In Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, Hua Chunying, lashed out at the US, at the regular ministry briefing on Tuesday.

“The US is taking provocative actions that could lead to the escalation of the tensions across the Taiwan Straits, for which it should and must take full responsibility,” Hua said.

“The US would surely bear the responsibility and pay the price for undermining China’s sovereignty and security interests,” Hua said, according to Chinese state media.

Hua made the comments in response to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s remarks on Pelosi’s potential visit.

Blinken said that while a potential visit to Taiwan by Pelosi would be entirely her decision, China should not escalate tensions in the event of a visit.

“If the speaker does decide to visit and China tries to create some kind of crisis or otherwise escalate tensions, that would be entirely on Beijing,” Blinken was quoted as saying by Reuters after nuclear non-proliferation talks at the United Nations in New York.

“We are looking for [China] - in the event she decides to visit - to act responsibly and not to engage in any escalation going forward,” Blinken said

“Facing reckless moves from the US side which has ignored China’s repeated warnings, no matter what kind of countermeasures China takes, they are legitimate and necessary,” Hua said in her remarks in Beijing.

“The US should abandon any attempt of playing the Taiwan card, faithfully abide by the one-China principle. If the US insists on its way, all the serious consequences will be the US’ responsibility,” Hua said.

The two countries have been in communication over Pelosi’s visit, Hua added.

Pelosi’s planned visit is heavily trending on Chinese social media as speculation and tension mount about how Beijing will respond if she does visit the self-ruled island.

Millions of Chinese social media users have commented on the topic as well as on Blinken’s statement, blaming Washington for escalating tensions in the region.

Pelosi landed in Singapore on Monday on a four-nation tour including Malaysia, South Korea and Japan. There was no mention of Taiwan in her official itinerary.

Several Chinese warplanes flew close to the median line dividing the Taiwan Strait on Tuesday, Reuters reported from Taipei.

“Several Chinese warships had remained close to the unofficial dividing line since Monday,” the Reuters report said.

The PLA is holding multiple military drills including a live-combat exercise in Fujian province, which is located opposite Taiwan.

The Fujian provincial military command conducted a live-fire shooting in a sea area off the province to test its overall combat capability.

The PLA Eastern Theatre Command on Monday released a video on social media, along with the message, “We are fully prepared for any eventuality. Fight upon order, bury every intruder, move toward joint and successful operation!”

The video, according to Global Times, became a hot topic on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter-like social media platform.

“The hashtag on the topic has received at least 42.5 million views, with many netizens seeing it as a clear warning to Pelosi, who could make a surprise and provocative trip to China’s Taiwan island,” the Global Times report said.

Meanwhile, Biden administration officials have warned China not to take escalatory actions.

“There is no reason for Beijing to turn a potential visit, consistent with long standing US policy, into some sort of crisis or conflict, or use it as a pretext to increase aggressive military activity in or around the Taiwan Strait,” White House national security spokesman John Kirby was quoted by CNN as telling reporters on Monday.

In Beijing, the Chinese foreign ministry issued a stern warning on Monday against Pelosi’s visit, saying the PLA will not sit by idly if she has a Taiwan stopover.

“We want to once again make it clear to the US side that the Chinese side is fully prepared for any eventuality and that the PLA of China will never sit idly by, and we will make resolute response and take strong countermeasures to uphold China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, Zhao Lijian said on Monday.

“What the US should do is to abide by the one-China principle and the stipulations of the three Sino-US joint communiqués, fulfill President Biden’s commitment of not supporting ‘Taiwan independence’ and not arrange for a visit by Speaker Pelosi to Taiwan,” he said.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Sutirtho Patranobis has been in Beijing since 2012, as Hindustan Times’ China correspondent. He was previously posted in Colombo, Sri Lanka, where he covered the final phase of the civil war and its aftermath. Patranobis covered several beats including health and national politics in Delhi before being posted abroad.

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