TAIPEI, Taiwan — For Taiwan, a successful visit by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi this week is about more than averting an immediate crisis in the Taiwan Strait.

It is also an opportunity to signal to senior politicians around the world that they can show their support for Taiwanese democracy in person, despite the virulent opposition from Beijing.

Taiwan’s military bolstered its preparedness on Tuesday against expected saber blows from China, which claims the self-governing island is its territory and threatens to take it by force if the Taipei government ever officially declares independence. Pelosi (D-California) landed Tuesday evening local time and is scheduled to meet President Tsai Ing-wen on Wednesday.

Pelosi’s arrival is part of a broader trend by lawmakers in liberal democracies to pay more regular visits to Taiwan, particularly amid the war in Ukraine. “It’s highly symbolic, which is part of the reason why China reacted so strongly,” said Fang-Yu Chen, a political scientist at Taiwan’s Soochow University.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) landed in Taipei, Taiwan on Aug. 2, defying Chinese warnings against visiting the self-governing island. (Video: The Washington Post)

The trend, though years in the making, has accelerated rapidly in recent months as coronavirus-related travel restrictions eased and high-level delegations of former officials and lawmakers from other democracies traveled to Taiwan.

These demonstrations of democratic solidarity have been made more urgent by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has raised fears in Taiwan and around the world of a possible Chinese attack.

Chen added that Beijing’s promises of “strong measures” in response to the visit could backfire and end up galvanizing Taiwan’s international supporters. “China is not very smart because it demonstrates that it is a threat to a democratic society,” he said.

The visit comes at a time when high-level delegations from the United States, European countries and other liberal democracies, as well as return visits by Taiwanese officials and politicians, are increasingly common, reflecting Tsai’s efforts to elevate Taiwan’s international standing.

In the past two weeks alone, foreign delegations to Taiwan have included a vice president of the European Parliament, Nicola Beer; two former Japanese defense ministers; two former Australian defense ministers; and former Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves. Members of the British House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee are planning to visit Taiwan this year, the Guardian reported on Monday.

In the other direction, You Si-kun, chairman of the Legislative Yuan, the Taiwanese equivalent of the speaker of the House, also made trips to democratic countries, including the Czech Republic, France and the Baltic countries in July. .

China opposes all visits to Taiwan by foreign politicians, but is particularly concerned about the increasing frequency of diplomatic exchanges between the United States and Taiwan. Chinese scholars say this represents a shift in the United States’ one-China policy, which neither contests nor endorses Beijing’s sovereignty claims over Taiwan.

In an article published in May, Cao Qun, a researcher at the China Institute of International Studies, a think tank under the Chinese Foreign Ministry, argued that the United States had in recent years “emptied” its policy of a China alone and promoted the idea that Taiwan’s status is inconclusive under what he called a policy of “using Taiwan to control China”.

“The United States could step up efforts to publicize this ‘true meaning’ of its one China policy” and attract more members to a club of nations who say Taiwan’s status remains undecided, Cao wrote.

Taiwan analysts expect China to go beyond large-scale military exercises and adopt various forms of economic coercion to punish Taiwan for the visit. On Tuesday, Taiwan’s economy ministry confirmed that Chinese customs had halted imports of thousands of Taiwanese goods, affecting about 65 percent of products sent to China.

Any response from China must consider Beijing’s long-term interests and avoid a “counter-reaction” of escalating the situation by making the visit to Taiwan a kind of “pilgrimage” for US politicians, Ren wrote. Yi, a Chinese political commentator.

Both the United States and China fear the visit will set a precedent not in their interests, said Wen-Ti Sung, a political scientist with the Taiwan Studies program at Australia National University. For Beijing, the fear is that a visit by a political figure from Pelosi will normalize future visits, while Washington wants to avoid allowing China to effectively veto diplomatic exchanges by raising an outcry.

Chinese President Xi Jinping “faces a dilemma in optimizing the robustness of China’s response to Pelosi’s visit,” Sung said. “If China does not come up with a strong response, there is a risk that he will be seen as a weaker leader. At the same time, however, right now what he wants and needs is stability.

As evidence of the supposed shift in the US stance, Chinese analysts point to factors such as the Taiwan Travel Act, the confirmation of US troops in Taiwan, and President Biden’s vow that the US will defend Taiwan against Chinese military attack.

Last month, during a visit to Taipei, former Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper said the United States should “move away” from its longstanding position of “strategic ambiguity” which is intentionally vague about the circumstances under which the US military would come to Taiwan’s aid during a Chinese attack.

The White House, however, maintains that US Taiwan policy has not changed.

For Tsai and many others in his Democratic Progressive Party, raising Taiwan’s international status is not, as Beijing claims, a change in the status quo. Rather, it is Taipei’s only viable response to a decades-long campaign by Beijing to isolate Taipei by poaching diplomatic partners and seeking to block Tsai’s government from participating in multilateral forums and trade pacts.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine also undermined beliefs that the United States would come to Taiwan’s aid in the event of a Chinese attack. According to Taiwanese survey data, only 35 of those polled in March were confident the United States would intervene, down from 65% in November.

Some in Taiwan, particularly among opposition nationalist Kuomintang politicians, also accused Pelosi of not doing enough to make the visit substantial.

Yeh Yu-Lan, a Kuomintang lawmaker, wrote on Facebook Monday that the trip would do little to advance bilateral trade talks, let alone the prospect of Taiwan joining regional agreements such as the Indo-Indian Economic Framework. peaceful.

“But Pelosi is not to blame,” added Yeh. “The Speaker of the House leading members of Congress into loud support for Taiwan doesn’t mean executive branch officials will give Taiwan the help we need.”

Vic Chiang in Taipei contributed to this report.


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