Editor’s note: A version of this story appeared in CNN’s news bulletin Meanwhile in China, a tri-weekly update exploring what you need to know about the country’s rise and its impact on the world. Register here.
When US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi landed in Taiwan on Tuesday evening, China was ready to respond.
In quick succession, a slew of government and political bodies issued statements condemning the visit and warning of its “serious impact” on US-China relations, while the Chinese military said it would immediately launch “air and sea exercises” and released a plan for exercises around the island in the coming days.
by Pelosi The visit – the first by a top US lawmaker in 25 years and part of a larger tour of Asia – was seen by Beijing as a “major political provocation” and a challenge to China’s sovereignty. China’s ruling Communist Party claims Taiwan’s self-governing democracy as its own, though it has never controlled it.
Over objections from Beijing, Pelosi and a congressional delegation embarked on a series of high-level meetings at the Taiwanese legislature and the office of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, where the California Democrat said her delegation had come to send an “unequivocal message” that “America stands with Taiwan.
“We want Taiwan to always have freedom with security and we don’t back down from that,” Pelosi said, praising the courage of the Taiwanese people to stand up for democracy.
Pelosi’s defiance of China’s warnings not to visit the island may have worsened troubled US-China relations, but analysts say the side likely to feel the brunt of pressure from Beijing is not the United States, but Taiwan.
Beijing wasted no time in making its displeasure clear as the US Air Force plane carried Pelosi The delegation landed in Taiwan on Tuesday evening, but its response so far has been more restrained than some of the possibilities raised by nationalist voices in China in recent days.
The Chinese military will hold drills around Taiwan and launch a series of “targeted military operations to counter the situation,” according to statements released Tuesday by its Eastern Theater Command and the Defense Ministry.
An official map showing the location of some of these planned exercises – originally scheduled to take place from Thursday to Sunday – suggests that they are closer to the island than previous exercises – and even encroach on Taiwan’s territorial waters. Analysts say this indicates an escalation of previous threats Beijing has exploited against Taiwan.
The map shows the drills will encircle the island more completely than previous drills – including military exercise areas and missile landing zones during a major crisis in the Taiwan Strait in the mid-1990s.
With these exercises, China has “gone much further than it has ever gone before”, according to Carl Schuster, a former captain in the US Navy and former director of operations at the Joint Intelligence Center of US Pacific Command.
“The geopolitical signal being sent is that China can close Taiwan’s air and sea access whenever it wants,” he said.
Taiwan’s Defense Ministry, in a press briefing on Wednesday, called the plan equivalent to a “sea and air blockade” that would “threaten international waterways, challenge international order, undermine the international status quo -strait and would endanger regional security”.
But the ultimate significance of the drills will depend on what happens in the coming days, according to political scientist Chong Ja Ian of the National University of Singapore, who said a lot was at stake for China’s image in the country. and abroad.
“Beijing (doesn’t want to) make things worse in a way it can’t control. At the same time, it can’t send a signal that seems too weak,” Chong said, noting that the latter would have ramifications. for Chinese leader Xi Jinping and potentially affect Beijing’s ability “to get other states in the region to toe its line”.
“What that sweet spot looks like (for Beijing), nobody really knows,” he said.
But even as China launches its response, Pelosi’s landing in Taipei and his high-profile meeting schedule on Wednesday marked a significant setback for Beijing, which had for days sought to deter his trip with threats of retaliation and warnings about crossing a “red line”. .”
And disappointment at the failure of those threats was palpable in some circles in China.
However, Hu Xijin, a political pundit and former editor of the state-nationalist tabloid Global Times – who had warned of Chinese military retaliation against the United States before Pelosi’s trip – tried to temper any discontent.
“Pelosi has landed in Taiwan, which of course reflects that our deterrent power is not enough to stop his early offensive,” Hu wrote in a post on his verified Weibo account on Wednesday.
“But if you’re very frustrated because of that, thinking we’ve ‘lost’ and met with another ‘national humiliation’, that’s a bit of a stretch then. Some individuals may think so, but we mustn’t have such a collective vulnerability,” he said.
Pelosi’s visit came at a particularly sensitive time for China as Xi, the country’s most powerful leader in decades, prepares to break convention and seek a third term at the Communist Party’s 20th Congress this fall. And that raises the stakes of China’s failure to dissuade the speaker from visiting, analysts say.
“The Chinese tried to use saber rattling and rhetorical warfare to deter Pelosi’s trip, and they went too far with their threats,” Yun Sun, director of the China program at the Stimson Center, told AFP. Washington, pointing to the rhetoric in China’s public sphere about potential actions like no-fly zones or even intercepting Pelosi’s plane.
“Now Pelosi has decided to make the trip and that leaves the Chinese hanging in the balance because they can’t really deliver,” she said.
It reveals “a lot of problems” in China’s foreign policy, “that they think the sound of the sword is enough to get what they want, but the cost is their future credibility,” he said. she declared.
And while the situation is unlikely to affect Xi’s move to a third term, the visit, particularly on the heels of his call with US President Joe Biden last week in which the Chinese leader highlighted guarding the United States against “playing with fire” on the Taiwan issue, was a “major embarrassment” domestically, Sun said.
But as Beijing’s anger was directed at the American speaker – whom Chinese officials accused of “knowingly and maliciously” causing a “crisis” – analysts said Taiwan would feel the brunt of its fury.
The planned military exercises, intended to “squeeze Taiwan”, would likely be followed by continued actions in the Taiwan Strait, Sun said.
“Pelosi’s visit will in fact lead to a further escalation of Chinese military coercion on Taiwan for the foreseeable future. This punishment is key to the Chinese response at this point because it cannot punish the United States,” she said.
Taiwan is also expected to face economic punishment for its actions, with China’s Taiwan Affairs Office on Wednesday announcing a suspension of imports of certain citrus fruits and seafood from the island. Chinese customs, in a separate statement, linked the suspensions to hygiene concerns, but this is not the first time China has banned Taiwanese products amid rising tensions.
China’s Ministry of Commerce also announced on Wednesday that it would immediately suspend exports of natural sand to Taiwan, a key component for the production of semiconductor chips – a move the Taiwan Bureau of Mines said would have an effect ” limit”.
And in the face of Chinese plans for military exercises, Taiwan’s Maritime and Port Bureau also issued three notices on Wednesday, asking ships to use alternative routes for seven ports around the island.
Taiwan has also started negotiations with neighboring Japan and the Philippines to find alternative air routes to avoid Chinese assets.
Pelosi left the island on Wednesday, leaving a defiant Taiwan under even more pressure as China expresses its fury.
When asked at a regular press conference in Beijing whether the export suspension was intended to punish Taiwan for Pelosi’s visit, China’s Deputy Foreign Minister Hua Chunying declined to comment on actions. specific trades, but said “one thing is certain here”.
“US and Taiwanese separatist forces must take responsibility and pay the price for the mistakes they made,” she said.