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

But last week China’s warnings against a potential high-stakes trip by US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taipei appears to have raised concerns in Washington.

Since then, a flurry of remarks from US officials has only added to the sense of alarm.

“I think what the president was saying was maybe the military was scared my plane was going to be shot down or something. I don’t know exactly,” Pelosi said.

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

“Nancy, I’ll go with you. I’m banned in China, but not in freedom-loving Taiwan. See you soon!” Pompeo wrote on Twitter.
Pelosi's possible visit to Taiwan raises fears of China interfering with airspace, US official says
Privately, Biden administration officials have expressed concern that China may seek to declare a no-fly zone over Taiwan to cancel potential travel, a US official said. told CNN.

But with Pelosi’s potential visit now playing out in public, any decision to delay or not go risks being viewed as a concession.

“President Pelosi should go to Taiwan and President Biden should make it very clear to President Xi that there is absolutely nothing the Chinese Communist Party can do about it,” Republican Senator Ben Sasse said Monday. “More weakness and self-deterrence.”

The Chinese government has not publicly specified what “strong measures” it plans to take, but some Chinese experts say Beijing’s response could involve 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 Renmin University of China.

Military conflicts erupted in the Taiwan Strait in the 1950s – the decade after the founding of communist China, with Beijing bombarding several outlying islands controlled by Taipei twice.

The last major crisis occurred in 1995-96, after then-Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui visited the United States. Enraged by the visit, China fired missiles into the waters around Taiwan, and the crisis only ended after the United States sent two aircraft carrier battle groups to the area in a show of strong support for Taipei.

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

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

Another time, another China

Pelosi’s reported trip would not be the first time a Speaker of the United States House has visited Taiwan. In 1997, Newt Gingrich met Leethe 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 United States would intervene militarily if Taiwan was attacked.
According to Gingrich, the response he received at the time was “calm.” Publicly, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs critical Gingrich after his visit to Taiwan, but the response was limited to rhetoric.

Beijing has indicated things will be different this time around.

Twenty-five years later, China is stronger, more powerful and more confident, and its leader Xi Jinping has clarified that Beijing will no longer tolerate perceived slights or challenges to its interests.

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

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

What you need to know about the Sino-Taiwanese tensions

On Monday, Gingrich weighed in on the conversation, writing on social media: “What is the Pentagon thinking when it publicly warns about President Pelosi going to Taiwan? If we are so intimidated by the Chinese communists, we can’t even protect an American president from why should Beijing believe we can help Taiwan survive. Shyness is dangerous.

Under Xi, a growing wave of nationalism has swept through China, and support for “reunification” with Taiwan – perhaps by force – is surging.

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

This would be a major violation of Taiwan’s autonomy. As tensions across the strait reach their highest level in decades, China has sent a record number of warplanes into Taiwan’s self-declared air defense identification zone, with jets jamming Taiwan to warn them – but so far PLA jets have not entered the island’s territorial airspace.

“If the Taiwanese military dares to fire on the PLA fighter jets, we will resolutely respond by shooting down Taiwanese fighter jets or striking Taiwanese military bases. If the United States and Taiwan want an all-out war, then the time to liberate Taiwan has come,” he added. Hu wrote.

While Hu’s belligerent remarks toward Taiwan have long resonated in Chinese nationalist circles, they do not represent Beijing’s official position (and some of Hu’s previous threats against Taiwan have proven futile).

But as Thompson points out, the fact that Hu’s statements have not been censored in the tightly controlled Chinese media shows “a degree of support within the Communist Party” – even if only for purposes. of propaganda.

Responsive synchronization

A visit by Pelosi, a well-known public figure and top Beijing critic, would come at a sensitive time for China.

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

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

“Honestly, it’s not the right time for Xi Jinping to provoke a military conflict right before the 20th Party Congress. It’s in Xi Jinping’s interest to handle this rationally and not trigger another crisis. of all the other crises it has to deal with,” Thompson said, citing China’s slowing economy, worsening housing crisis, rising unemployment and the constant struggle to curb sporadic outbreaks in the as part of its zero-Covid policy.

“So I think whatever they do, it will be measured, it will be calculated. They will definitely try to put more pressure on Taiwan, but I think they will stop long before anything that is particularly risky, or that could create conditions that they cannot control,” he said.

Shi, a professor at Renmin University in Beijing, agreed that the tension between the United States and China is unlikely to escalate into a real military conflict.

“Unless things accidentally spiral out of control in ways no one can predict, there is no chance of a military conflict between the United States and China,” he said.

But Shi said it was difficult to predict what China would do.

“It’s a very difficult situation to handle. First, (Beijing) must resolutely take unprecedented countermeasures. Second, it must prevent military conflicts between the United States and China,” he said. . “We won’t know how things will go until the last minute.”

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

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