Ahead of Pelosi’s visit, defiance in Taiwan

TAIPEI, Taiwan – A curious debate has raged in Washington about whether Speaker Nancy Pelosi should risk the trip. Anger and threats are pouring in in Beijing. In Taiwan, where Pelosi is expected to land late Tuesday, the new flare-up in tension has been met with a weak defiance.

Politicians from two of Taiwan’s main political parties have offered support for the visit, a sentiment echoed by many in the self-governing democracy of more than 23 million people that China claims as its own. While China released videos of planes and missiles flying to dangerous music, a popular meme in Taiwan remade Ms Pelosi as a powerful Taoist goddess. A Taiwanese politician cheapens chicken cutlets during his visit.

To live in one of the world’s most dangerous geopolitical flashpoints, Taiwanese people have foresaw the possibility of mass travel. This steely infallibility belies a political reality that has been dire over the past decade: Many in Taiwan are tired of China’s threats and seek support from the United States.

Ms Pelosi’s visit, if done, would be the highest-level visit by a US official in 25 years, and a diplomatic coup for Taiwan, if mostly symbolic. Such major displays of international support are rare for Taiwan, which Beijing has systematically worked to isolate from global institutions and diplomatic recognition.

The discussion of a visit has not been without its concerns for Taiwan. On Tuesday morning, its military said it would strengthen war preparedness in anticipation of a possible response from China, while the island’s stock market plunged nearly 2% on geopolitical concerns about the trip dragging global stocks down widely. The percentage fell.

Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen has stepped cautiously into a frightening political moment. Although on the verge of a major diplomatic victory, she has made no public comment about the trip, perhaps to avoid making an already tense situation worse – as well as embarrassment, were it not to happen. Known as a cautious and practical orator, Ms. Tsai has instead let others speak.

There has been some support from unexpected corners. Two veterans of the generally friendly Kuomintang party, former President Ma Ying-jeou and the party’s one-time chairman Eric Chu, cautiously welcomed the possibility of Ms Pelosi’s visit over the weekend.

With the local elections approaching, politicians in Ms Tsai’s party spoke more freely. Kolas Yotaka, a former Democratic Progressive Party legislator and magistrate candidate in Hualien County, said the decision to travel was Ms Pelosi’s and that most Taiwanese would support the trip.

“It makes us feel less isolated, and gives us hope to see that even in difficult situations, there are still people out there who maintain their beliefs and ideals,” she wrote.

Some in Taiwan criticized the visit as unnecessarily provoking, while many others echoed Ms. Kolas Yotaka’s sentiments. Chen Mei-ying, a sales manager in the central city of Taichung, called it “a boost to Taiwan’s democracy”, adding that “we must confront China’s threat directly and welcome it bravely.”

Throughout most of its modern political existence, Taiwan has been torn between two huge adversaries: the United States and China.

For decades, it was subjected to repressive martial law by the US-backed regime of Chiang Kai-shek, who fled to the island after being overthrown by Mao Zedong’s revolution. In the 1950s, Beijing and Washington came close to going to war twice when China invaded Taiwan-controlled territories.

The dynamics of the Cold War eventually surfaced in the 1980s and 1990s in a more pragmatic relationship, as Taiwan democratized and China opened up its economy after the self-inflicted devastation of the Cultural Revolution.

The limits of the new housing were tested in 1995 and 1996, when China objected to then-President of Taiwan Lee Teng-hui’s visit to Cornell University, his alma mater. China fired missiles near the main island of Taiwan as a warning to Mr. Lee, and again as Taiwan prepared for its first open presidential election. The crisis ended when President Bill Clinton sent two carrier groups from the 7th Fleet to opposite ends of the Taiwan Strait.

Today Taiwan is again caught in the web of superpower hostility. China is its largest trading partner and the most serious threat to its existence. Under China’s leader, Xi Jinping, military currency has become more prevalent, with Chinese military planes and ships frequently hovering near the island.

The United States, the primary guarantor of Taiwan’s security, is often distracted by domestic issues and conflicts—most recently, the war in Ukraine—even as Taiwan enjoys rare bipartisan support from Congress. An economic powerhouse, Taiwan is also an important base of the electronics supply chain and perhaps the world’s most important source of advanced microchips.

Although a standstill exists between the two powers, it is unclear how long it will last, as stances on China’s claims over the island and its surrounding seas have diluted strained ties. For Taiwanese people, who are often overlooked in Sturm and Drang of great power over their own future, Ms Pelosi’s visit provides an unusual identity for the democratic and economic success story many Taiwanese are proud of. We do.

Wen-Ti Sung, a Taiwanese expert, said, “Most Taiwanese will be excited, and will see this as an important sign of strong US-Taiwan relations, as well as Taiwan’s progress towards democracy by the world’s leading democratic superpower. Will see it as a positive recognition.” Australian Center on China in the World at Australia National University.

Mr. Sung noted that some commentators saw the play on the trip possible as political theatre, but, he argued, “sometimes symbolism has substance,” according to President John F. Kennedy’s speech in West Berlin at the height of the Cold War. with citing a reference.

“For Taiwan, such a symbolic gesture would be particularly meaningful in the absence of official relations, and especially for US-Taiwan relations after the start of the Ukraine war,” he said.

Within Taiwan, partial bipartisan support for Ms Pelosi’s visit underscores how far Taiwanese politics has gone over the past decade.

Where mainstream public opinion in Taiwan once viewed China as an important trading partner and shunned anything that could shake the relationship, there is now a greater desire to push back. After years of Chinese threats, military expansion and the systematic dismantling of Hong Kong’s democratic institutions, support for China’s views in Taiwan has become untenable for most politicians.

If Ms Pelosi meets with the Taiwanese president, it will not be Ms Tsai’s first bold move to bring the United States closer. Ms Tsai’s phone call to congratulate newly-elected President Donald Trump in 2016 broke with precedent and rankled Beijing, with only negligible consequences for her or Taiwan.

When asked about Ms Pelosi’s visit on Tuesday morning, Taiwan’s foreign ministry declined to comment. One of the few key officials to address it was Premier Su Tseng-chang, who on Tuesday expressed strong gratitude for Ms Pelosi’s “support and kindness to Taiwan”, adding that “any friendly foreign guest is highly welcome”. Will be done.”

Not everyone in Taiwan was supportive of a liberal democracy, with some pointing out that Ms Pelosi’s visit made Taiwan a pawn in a larger geopolitical battle.

“Taiwan is in a dormant state. This can only happen between two great powers,” said Liu Shao-chang, a 65-year-old retired marketer in the southern port city of Kaohsiung.

He said he was not worried about the visit, but simply because there was not much Taiwan could do about it.

“Taiwan cannot express its position: we cannot refuse, and we cannot even welcome it. China will protest if we welcome them.

John Liu contributed reporting.

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