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China’s response to Pelosi’s potential visit to Taiwan could be ‘unprecedented’, but chances of military conflict still slim, experts say

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But last week, China’s warnings against… a possible high-stakes trip by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taipei seemed to have caused concern in Washington.

Since then, a series of comments from US officials have only heightened the sense of unease.

“I think the president said maybe the military was afraid my plane would be shot down or something. I don’t know exactly,” Pelosi said.

On Sunday, former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also weighed in and offered to accompany Pelosi on her reported trip.

“Nancy, I’m coming with you. I am exiled in China, but not freedom-loving Taiwan. See you there!’ Pompeo wrote on Twitter.
In private, officials of the Biden government have expressed concern that China could attempt to declare a no-fly zone over Taiwan to undo the potential trip, a US official told CNN.

But with Pelosi’s potential visit out in public, any decision to postpone or not go risks being seen as a concession.

“Speaker Pelosi must go to Taiwan and President Biden must make it abundantly clear to Chairman Xi that the Chinese Communist Party cannot do anything about it,” Republican Senator Ben Sasse said Monday. “No more weakness and self-deterrence.”

The Chinese government has not publicly indicated what “strong measures” it plans to take, but some Chinese experts say Beijing’s response may include a military component.

“China will respond with unprecedented countermeasures — the strongest it has ever taken since the Taiwan Strait crises,” said Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at China’s Renmin University.

Military conflict flared up in the Taiwan Strait in the 1950s – the decade after communist China’s founding, with Beijing shelling several outlying islands controlled by Taipei on two separate occasions.

The last major crisis occurred in 1995-1996, after then-Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui visited the US. Infuriated by the visit, China fired missiles into the waters around Taiwan, and the crisis ended only after the US sent two battlegroups of aircraft carriers to the area in a strong show of support for Taipei.

“If Pelosi continues with her visit, the United States will certainly prepare to respond militarily to a possible Chinese military response,” Shi said. “The situation between China and the US will be very tense.”

China's response to Pelosi's potential visit to Taiwan

Another time, another China

Pelosi’s trip wouldn’t be the first time a sitting speaker from the US House visits Taiwan. In 1997, Newt met Gingrich Lee, the island’s first democratically elected president, in Taipei just days after his trip to Beijing and Shanghai, where Gingrich said he warned Chinese leaders that the US would intervene militarily if Taiwan were attacked. .
According to Gingrich, the response he got then was “calm.” Publicly, the Chinese Foreign Ministry criticized Gingrich after his visit to Taiwan, but the response was limited to rhetoric.

Beijing has indicated that it would be different this time.

Twenty-five years later, China is stronger, more powerful and more confident, and its leader Xi Jinping has made it clear that Beijing will no longer tolerate any perceived disregard or challenge to its interests.

“It’s a very different regime in Beijing with Xi Jinping. China is in a position to be more assertive, to impose costs and consequences on countries that don’t consider China’s interests in their policies or actions,” said Drew Thompson, a visiting researcher at the National University of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

“So in that respect it’s a very different China than when Newt Gingrich visited in 1997.”

What you need to know about the tensions between China and Taiwan

On Monday, Gingrich weighed in on the conversation, writing on social media: “What does the Pentagon think when it publicly warns that Chairman Pelosi is going to Taiwan? If we are so intimidated by the Chinese Communists, we can’t even have a US Speaker of the House, why should Beijing believe we can help Taiwan survive. Fear is dangerous.”

Under Xi, a rising wave of nationalism has swept through China and support for “reunification” with Taiwan – possibly by force – is running high.

Hu Xijin, former editor of the state-run nationalist tabloid Global Times and a prominent aggressive voice in China’s online expertise, has suggested that the Chinese Liberation Army fighter jets should “accompany” Pelosi’s plane to Taiwan and fly over the island. .

That would be a significant breach of Taiwan’s autonomy. While tensions in the strait have risen to their highest levels in recent decades, China has sent a record number of fighter jets into Taiwan’s self-declared air defense identification zone, with Taiwan scrambling to warn fighter jets — but so far the PLA jets did not enter the island’s territorial airspace.

“If the Taiwanese military dares to fire on the PLA fighter jets, we will react decisively by shooting down Taiwanese warplanes or attacking Taiwanese military bases. If the US and Taiwan want all-out war, then the time has come to liberate Taiwan .” Hu wrote.

While Hu’s bellicose remarks against Taiwan have long resonated with China’s nationalist circles, they do not represent Beijing’s official stance (and some of Hu’s earlier threats against Taiwan have proved vain).

But as Thompson points out, the fact that Hu’s statements are uncensored in China’s tightly controlled media shows “a measure of support among the Communist Party” — even if it’s just for propaganda value.

Sensitive timing

A visit from Pelosi, a well-known public figure and high-profile critic of Beijing, would come at a sensitive time for China.

The PLA will celebrate its founding anniversary on August 1, as Xi, the country’s most powerful leader in decades, prepares to break conventions and seek a third term at the ruling Communist Party’s 20th Congress this fall.

While the politically sensitive timing could trigger a stronger response from Beijing, it could also mean the Communist Party wants to ensure stability and prevent things from spiraling out of control, experts say.

Frankly, this is not a good time for Xi Jinping to provoke a military conflict just before the 20th Party Congress. It is in Xi Jinping’s interest to manage this rationally and not create a crisis on top of all the other crises he faces. has to do with,” Thompson said, referring to China’s slowing economy, the deepening real estate crisis, rising unemployment and the constant struggle to curb sporadic outbreaks under the zero-Covid policy.

“So I think whatever they do, it will be measured, it will be calculated. They will certainly try to put more pressure on Taiwan, but I think they will stop anything that is particularly risky, or that can conditions.” shovels they can’t control,” he said.

Shi, the professor at Renmin University in Beijing, agreed that the tension between the US and China is unlikely to escalate into full-blown military conflict.

“Unless things accidentally get out of hand in a way that no one can predict, there is no chance of a military conflict between the US and China,” he said.

But Shi said it’s hard to predict what China will do at this point.

“It is a very difficult situation to deal with. First, (Beijing) must take resolutely unprecedented countermeasures. Second, it must prevent military conflict between the United States and China,” he said. “We don’t know how it will end until the last minute.”

CNN’s Brad Lendon and Kylie Atwood contributed to this story.


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