A Pelosi Trip to Taiwan Will Test China’s Appetite for Confrontation

Soon after Beijing’s last major confrontation with Washington over Taiwan, Xi Jinping, then a rising official in a Chinese province that fronted the disputed island, became involved in one. reserve artillery division, and He was later photographed in the Military GreensThe cap turned backwards as he looked through the sight of an antiaircraft gun.

Looking to the self-governing island, Xi learned long before becoming China’s top leader is essential to political survival in the ruling Communist Party.

That lesson hangs on him as he weighs in on how to react if House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visits Taiwan during a tour of the Asian countries that began Monday in Singapore. She will be the most senior US official to visit the island since 1997, when a past speaker, Newt Gingrich, visited.

Mr Xi has presented himself as the standard-bearer of a sacred cause – integrating Taiwan with China – and Beijing sees a visit by US officials to the island as an insult to that claim. of china Foreign Ministry warned She heads to Taiwan, as expected, of “serious consequences” for Ms Pelosi, and China’s military has issued a vague warning of its readiness to defend national sovereignty.

But Mr. Xi is also facing a brittle economic and political moment, and caring about the crisis on Taiwan could hurt him, even as he rallies for nationalist support.

He is focusing on a Communist Party Congress later this year, when he is likely to secure a third term as the party’s general secretary, surpassing the two-term precedent set by his predecessor. Is. He wants to garner widespread acclaim from executives in that new five-year term and ensure he dominates decisions on the leadership lineup.

While his record has attracted skeptics, China’s growth has faltered under the Covid outbreak and shutdown, and as Russia’s peace war in Ukraine has led to President Vladimir V. Questions have been raised about Mr. Xi’s closeness with Putin. Now, Ms Pelosi may have a possible meeting with Taiwanese leaders Challenge ahead Mr. Xi.

If Ms Pelosi goes ahead – she has not confirmed whether she will visit Taiwan – Mr Xi is likely to use a display of military might to express Beijing’s anger, while avoiding a volatile standoff. demand that will shake the markets and drag down China’s economy, the expert said.

“There will certainly be a very strong reaction, but it won’t get out of control,” said Chen Dingding, an international relations professor at Jinan University in southern China.

Mr Xi appeared to signal his concerns last week, when he called on President Biden to “not play with fire” and risk self-immolation on Taiwan. It was ominous language, but the same words that Mr. Xi used in a meeting with the US president in November. Neither Mr Xi nor Mr Biden mentioned Ms Pelosi in public accounts of their conversations.

“It’s really mid-level warning rhetoric, not high-level warning rhetoric, that signals an appetite for war-level risks,” said David Gitter, president of Advanced China Research Center, a non-profit research institute. “It doesn’t suggest they’re about to do something very crazy — like directly threatening the safety of the speaker.”

The Chinese government probably foresaw how it would react if the military went on a tour Live-fire exercise announced in water 80 miles from coast of neighboring Taiwan. On Monday, the 95th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Liberation Army, Chinese military media released more statements about the defense of sovereignty, as well as video China’s Dongfeng-17 ballistic missile, Chinese television also released Ms. Pelosi’s disaffected video profile,

On Monday, Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, told reporters in Beijing about Pelosi’s potential: “We once again give a stern warning to the American side that China is ready and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army will never slack off.” Will sit.” meeting. “China will take firm and vigorous retaliatory measures to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

But for now, at least the main newspapers of the Communist Party have not published editorials about Ms. Pelosi’s possible visit that would indicate a major escalation; Nor has the Chinese Foreign Ministry issued anything like the official statement that deepened the standoff on Taiwan in 1995.

Glaser, director of the Asia program at the German Marshall Fund for the United States, said that although Mr. Xi does not want to face a crisis, “if PLA aircraft approach Taiwan differently from the past, and if they do not approach Taiwan in the past, they will not be able to see the situation.” Entering territorial airspace, an incident could happen, whether Xi wanted to or not.”

rolling in Taiwan The crisis of 1995-96, China conducted military exercises from Taiwan, and the United States sent naval ships to intercept China. Beijing was angered after the Clinton administration allowed Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui to visit the United States, and Chinese leaders conducted missile tests in an attempt to hurt Mr. Lee in Taiwan’s 1996 presidential election. Instead, he won.

At the time, Mr. Xi was an official in Fujian province, facing Taiwan, and often attracted investors from the island. He became the top political Officer of the People’s Liberation Army Reserve Antiaircraft Division in 1996, when he became deputy party secretary of the province.

“We must clearly understand the serious direction of the conflict in the Taiwan Straits,” Mr. Xi Told the divisional officers in 2001According to the report of the China News Service at the time. “Peace is possible only by preparing to fight in fact.”

Even if Ms Pelosi cancels her trip or it passes without a crisis, many experts believe that rising tensions over the island’s future raise the potential for conflict in the coming years.

Mr. Xi has set eventual integration with Taiwan as one of his guiding goals for China’s “national rejuvenation” into a modern, unified superpower. He has said he wants to peacefully absorb Taiwan at some unspecified time in the future, but does not rule out force. China’s military modernization is reaching a point where an invasion of the island is conceivable, although it is still challenging and risky.

“The great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation will not be an easy task, achieved only by the fanfare of clocks and drums,” he told officials in Beijing last week. theme speech Party for Congress.

Mr. Biden told reporters Ms Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan last month “makes the military think it’s not a good idea right now”, and administration officials are said to have tried to persuade her not to travel. After Mr. Biden’s phone call with Mr. Xi last week, US account Ryan Huss, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and former director of China on the National Security Council, said it “suggested that Biden made clear that he was not looking for a fight with China over Taiwan right now.”

Even then, Mr Huss says in a new paperBeijing and Washington have become increasingly distrustful of each other’s intentions toward Taiwan, and “the communication channels for managing tensions have collapsed.”

Washington officials and many Taiwanese say China’s efforts to oust the island from international forums have deepened Taiwan’s frustration with Beijing. They also say that increasing Chinese military activity around the island has only added to residents’ misgivings about Mr. Xi.

Policymakers in Beijing blame the United States. They say Washington pays only lip service to its “one China” policy, and has expanded military and political ties with Taipei since Beijing and Washington established diplomatic ties in 1979.

“The Biden administration continues the Trump administration’s strategy of ‘using Taiwan to control China,'” said Cao Kun, a researcher at the China Institute for International Studies. In a recent assessment it is written, “The potential for conflict between China and the United States is increasing in the Taiwan Strait.”

Mr. Xi’s options for retaliation include conducting dangerous military exercises, perhaps close to Taiwan in the seas and skies. He could also send more aircraft and ships to Taiwan, including crossing the midline in the Taiwan Strait, an unofficial border that the Chinese military only frequently crosses.

After other US politicians and foreign delegations visited Taiwan, Beijing has increased flights into Taiwan’s “air defense identification zone”, an area that goes far beyond the island’s sovereign airspace, a military in Washington. said analyst Gerald Brown, who collects and analyzes the data. those flights. In November, China sent 27 military aircraft In the area shortly after US lawmakers visited Taipei.

Like in 1996, China could also launch missiles near Taiwan. At the time, however, China’s military was weak enough to seriously threaten US forces throughout the region. If Mr. Xi had done the same thing now, the global shock waves could have been even bigger.

“I don’t think there is any indication so far that China will launch a major military operation,” said kuo yu-jen, professor of political science at National Sun Yat-sen University in southern Taiwan. “If China overreacts to Xi Jinping by retaliating from the US or Japan, the losses will outweigh the gains.”

Amy Chang Chien contributed reporting.

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