US-China relations on the brink after Pelosi visit to Taiwan

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S.-China relations are teetering on the precipice after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan.

Pelosi received a warm welcome to Taipei and was applauded with strong bipartisan support in Washington, despite the reluctance of the Biden administration. But his trip enraged Beijing and Chinese nationalists and will complicate the already strained ties even after his departure.

Already, China is preparing new shows of force in the Taiwan Strait to make it clear that its claims are not negotiable on the island which it considers a renegade province. And, as the United States continues its shows of support for Taiwan, arms sales and diplomatic lobbying, escalating tensions have heightened the risks of military confrontation, intentional or not.

And the trip could further embroil Washington’s already complicated relationship with Beijing as the two sides grapple with differences over trade, the war in Ukraine, human rights and more.

Wary of China’s reaction, Biden administration discouraged but didn’t stop Pelosi from going to Taiwan. He was careful to stress to Beijing that the Speaker of the House is not a member of the executive branch and that her visit does not represent any change in the US “one China” policy.

This was little comfort for Beijing. Pelosi, who sits second in the US presidency, was no ordinary visitor and was greeted almost like a head of state. Taiwan’s skyline lit up with a welcome message and she met with the island’s biggest names, including its president, senior lawmakers and prominent rights activists.

Chinese officials were furious.

“What Pelosi has done is certainly not upholding and maintaining democracy, but provoking and violating China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said. foreign Hua Chunying after he left.

“Pelosi’s dangerous provocation is purely for personal political capital, which is an absolutely ugly political prank,” Hua said. “China-US relations and regional peace and stability are suffering.”

The timing of the visit may have added to the tensions. It preceded this year’s Chinese Communist Party Congress in which President Xi Jinping will attempt to further consolidate his power, using a hard line on Taiwan to blunt domestic criticism over COVID-19, the economy and other questions.

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Summoned to the Foreign Office to hear China’s complaints, US Ambassador Nicholas Burns insisted the visit was nothing but routine. “The United States will not escalate and stands ready to work with China to completely prevent escalation,” Burns said, according to the State Department.

The White House also said Pelosi’s visit “doesn’t change anything” about the US stance toward China and Taiwan. Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the United States had expected China’s harsh reaction, although she called it unwarranted.

“We will monitor and we will manage what Beijing chooses to do,” she added.

Alarmed by the possibility of a new geostrategic conflict at the same time the West sides with Ukraine in its resistance to the Russian invasion, the United States rallied allies to its side.

The foreign ministers of the Group of 7 industrialized democracies issued a statement on Wednesday essentially telling China – by the initials of its official name, the People’s Republic of China – to calm down.

“It is normal and routine for our countries’ legislators to travel abroad,” the G-7 ministers said. “The PRC’s escalating response risks increasing tensions and destabilizing the region. We call on the PRC not to unilaterally change the status quo by force in the region and to resolve disputes across the Straits through peaceful means.

Yet this status quo – long identified as “strategic ambiguity” for the United States and quiet but determined Chinese opposition to any invention of Taiwanese independence – no longer seems tenable for either side.

“It’s getting harder and harder to agree on Taiwan for Beijing and Washington,” said Jean-Pierre Cabestan, professor emeritus at Hong Kong Baptist University.

In Taipei and in the U.S. Congress, moves are underway to clarify the ambiguity that has defined U.S. relations with Taiwan since the 1970s. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will soon consider a bill that would strengthen relations, require the executive to do more to integrate Taiwan into the international system and take more determined steps to help the island defend itself.

Writing in The New York Times, committee chairman Robert Menendez, DN.J., lambasted China’s response to Pelosi’s visit.

“The result of Beijing’s bluster should be to strengthen resolve in Taipei, in Washington and across the region,” he said. “There are many strategies to continue resisting Chinese aggression. There is clear bipartisan agreement from Congress on the importance of acting now to provide the people of Taiwan with the kind of support they desperately need.

But China appears to be moving forward with measures that could prove aggravating, including live-fire military exercises scheduled for this week and a steady increase in fighter jet flights in and near the air defense zone. self-proclaimed from Taiwan.

“They are going to test Taiwanese and Americans,” said Cabestan, the professor in Hong Kong. He said US military actions in the region, including a naval force led by the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, will be critical.

China had escalated the potential confrontation weeks ago by declaring the Taiwan Strait that separates the island from the mainland was not international waters. The United States rejected this proposal and responded by sending more ships through it. Cabestan said it showed that “something had to be done on the American side to draw red lines to prevent the Chinese from going too far.”

Meanwhile, Taiwan is on edge, air-raid shelters have been prepared and the government is stepping up training for recruits doing their required four months of military service – generally considered insufficient – as well as annual two-week refresher courses. for reservists.

“The Chinese have a feeling that if they don’t act, the United States will continue to slice the salami to take further steps towards Taiwanese independence,” said Bonnie Glaser, China expert at the German Marshall Fund Asia program. .

She said the US’ domestic support for Taiwan is actually prompting China to take a tough stance: “China feels under pressure to do more to signal that this is an issue China is dealing with. can’t compromise.”

Despite immediate concerns about escalation and potential miscalculations, others don’t believe the damage to US-China relations will be more lasting than that caused by other issues unrelated to Taiwan.

China “is going to make a huge fuss and there will be military exercises and there will be embargoes on the import of Taiwanese products. And after the screaming stops, you’ll see a gradual release,” said June Teufel Dreyer, a China policy scholar at the University of Miami.

“Things will never completely go back to normal, whatever normal it is, but it will definitely subside,” she said.


AP writers Zeke Miller in Washington, Joe McDonald in Beijing and David Rising in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, contributed to this report.

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