US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi landed in Taiwan on August 2, marking the first time someone in her position had visited the island in over 25 years. It was a move deemed highly provocative in Beijing’s eyes, given that normally low-profile officials make the journey to the island nation. Pelosi, as third in line for the presidential succession and a self-proclaimed supporter of “Taiwan’s vibrant democracy”, thus stood in huge contrast.
Her meeting with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-Wen came as cross-strait relations reached a new low point. In October 2021 Taiwan experienced a staggering 56 Chinese war planes crossing into their Air Identification Zone. In June, an additional 29 aircraft made their way into Taiwanese air space.
It was unsurprising when China responded to the diplomatic visit with severe economic and military repercussions. Beijing imposed a trade embargo affecting both imports and exports of seafood as well as a naval blockade, forcing Taiwanese ships to take alternative routes via the Philippines. In a dramatic show of strength, 27 Chinese war planes also flew into Taiwan’s AIZ whilst 11 missiles were fired in the island’s direction.
China’s foreign ministry deemed the measures appropriate, maintaining that Pelosi’s visit “seriously infringes upon China’s sovereignty” as well as “China-US relations”. The defence ministry also justified its actions by suggesting that Washington was a “disrupter and destroyer of peace and stability in the Taiwan strait”.
However, America’s objective is not to overturn the regional status quo, despite such misrepresentations by the CCP. It stands to lose more from Pelosi’s visit than it could gain, given the blow to their countries’ relations and threats from Beijing to gun down American aircraft within the strait. Instead, the American government is only concerned with bringing China away from its encirclement of Taiwan.
For many years the Taiwanese dilemma was more of a fragile peace than the tense standoff it has escalated into. Although China still declared Taiwan as a rogue province, it extended a close economic and diplomatic relationship with the island as part of the 1992 Consensus Agreement. Taiwan’s former leader, Ma Ying-jeou, was one of many government officials advocating rapprochement with Beijing. His policies of economic cooperation helped Taiwan foster a better relationship with the regional superpower.
But in recent times these ties have fallen apart. President Tsai’s vows to “safeguard the sovereignty and territory of the Republic of China” have put China and Taiwan’s relations at an edge. Her refusal to endorse as many bilateral ties as her predecessor have left Chinese officials frustrated. Several Taiwanese ministries experience cyber-attacks linked to China on a daily basis. More worryingly, China’s military economy continues to grow at an alarming rate while Taiwan struggles to staff its army.
With this context in mind, Pelosi’s congressional delegation, along with subsequent visits led by politicians Ed Markey and Eric Holcomb, can thus be considered a strategy of diplomatic deterrence. It sends a message to Beijing that further threats to Taiwan’s security will be met with increased recognition of Taiwan’s political autonomy, something which deeply threatens the CCP’s authority.
Although absorbing Taiwan is a crucial component in China’s foreign policy, it does not want to achieve this at the expense of its legitimacy in the international stage. But with a fourth American delegation arriving in Taipei in the coming days and a new trade deal proposed between Taiwan and the United States, Beijing’s self-proclaimed control of Taiwan faces only further ridicule.
China continues to respond to each new delegation with accusations of foreign interference and military exercises, but with every act of retaliation less severe than the last. Now, Japanese lawmakers have followed their American allies by meeting with President Tsai in the last few days. Only time will tell how long Beijing can resist the pressure before stability returns to the Taiwanese strait.