By Kenneth Tiven in Washington
In the current climate of the Russian-Ukrainian war, there is nervousness when superpowers behave negatively. The stated purpose of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and a delegation of US representatives visiting Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea and Japan was to discuss trade, the Covid-19 pandemic, the climate change, security and democratic governance. Congress is on vacation and these trips are a political advantage.
Beijing’s pet peeve was its delegation’s one-day visit to Taiwan. The shutdown of delegations in Taiwan has prompted China to respond with a show of military force, which may benefit the US position that soft Chinese diplomacy is never really soft. The Chinese military often holds live-fire exercises in the 160-kilometre-wide Taiwan Strait as well as in the South China Sea. However, this week warships surrounded the main island of Taiwan and targeted areas in its territorial sea.
Chinese President Xi Jinping reacted to strengthen his international claim on Taiwan and for domestic support. China’s export-based economy has been hit by the pandemic’s impact on life and business around the world. Multiple internal issues in China can be obscured by an outburst of anti-American sentiment dominating all government-controlled media. As China’s most powerful leader for generations, Xi believes unifying Taiwan with the mainland is a primary goal of his rule and a key to what he calls China’s national rejuvenation as a modern and unified superpower. India has had its share of verbal and military clashes with China, most centered on territorial issues along their border. This negative propaganda response is not new.
What is happening is best understood with some historical perspective. In the five years since the end of World War II, India gained independence while China emerged from decades of Japanese rule with a communist government in charge. Taiwan was never politically part of the People’s Republic of China. When Chiang Kai-shek fled China after Mao Zedong’s communist revolution in 1949, he went to Formosa as the island was named. With the support of the United States, he imposed martial law on the Chinese residents and citizens who had accompanied him. China and the United States nearly went to war twice over Taiwan in the 1950s. When Cold War tensions eased in the late 1980s, Taiwan democratized its government. China at the time opened up its economy and the two are trading partners.
As American opposition to post-war Communism waned, it was possible in the 1990s to reach agreement on the One China concept for matters of global diplomacy. This allowed Washington to continue supporting Taiwan as a democratic enclave on an island 100 miles from the mainland. (Approximately the distance between Mumbai and Pune.)
President Joe Biden and his State Department advisers are sophisticated experts, not ideologues. Pelosi didn’t decide to take a frivolous summer recreation trip with several co-workers out of the blue. She has a lot of experience with Taiwan. She enjoys a close relationship with President Biden through decades of shared political experience in Washington. She also represents the district of San Francisco, California, with a large Chinese-American population.
A reasonable guess is that this stopover on a congressional trip to Asian countries offered a non-verbal message to Chinese leaders regarding US positions on international aspects of the South China Sea as well as its special relationship with Taiwan. Geographically, the United States is a Pacific nation with four states having Pacific Ocean coastlines.
Pelosi met with Taiwanese lawmakers and Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, offering assurances of US support despite threats from China. Today, the world faces a choice between democracy and autocracy, Pelosi said, adding that the Americas’ resolve to preserve democracy here in Taiwan and around the world remains steadfast. This was in keeping with its long history of poking China in the eye. She also offered economic assurances, calling a trade deal between Taiwan and the United States hopefully imminent and holding a cordial meeting with the chairman of Taiwanese chip giant TSMC. For Taiwan, this was a symbolic victory, regardless of duration or substance.
Pelosis’s trip made her the highest-ranking active member of the United States government to visit the island in 25 years and offered a rare moment of international support for the self-governing democratic island, which China has tried relentlessly to isolate. A holiday atmosphere followed Pelosi as she visited the capital Taipei, Hundreds of people turned out to watch her plane land. Taipei’s tallest building was lit up with greetings as protesters and supporters waited at its hotel.
Regional analysts say Xi’s growing interest in unification reflects domestic political realities. Seeking an unprecedented third term at the helm of a Communist Party congress in the fall, he is keen to project an image of strength at home and abroad, particularly on the Taiwan issue. While California’s Silicon Valley employs thousands of Indians in technical and managerial positions, Taiwan’s role in the digital world is different. This island of 23 million people manufactures 90% of certain types of critical computer chips. The United States would prefer a democratic Taiwan for this reason alone. Likewise, the government in Beijing wants to control this segment, recognizing the potential power it represents on a global scale.
In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said further sanctions for the United States and Taiwan would follow. As for the specific countermeasures, what I can tell you is that they will include everything that needs to be included (they) will be firm, vigorous and effective.
The Chinese military is stronger and more emboldened under Xi Jinping. Recently, Chinese officials have also asserted forcefully that no part of the Taiwan Strait can be considered international waters. The United States disagrees.
The Taiwanese military has sought to signal that it does not wish to escalate the situation. Calling the military drills a blockade, he said the drills penetrated Taiwan’s territorial waters, endangering international waterways and regional security. We resolutely uphold national sovereignty and will counter any aggression against national sovereignty, said Major General Sun Li-fang, spokesperson for Taiwan’s Defense Ministry.
Hours after Pelosi’s arrival in Taiwan, Beijing added economic measures to its series of retaliatory measures, suspending exports of natural sand to the island and halting imports from Taiwan of certain types of fruits and Pisces.
The bans are a strong reminder to Taiwanese that doing business with China, the island’s biggest trading partner, can be risky in times of heightened geopolitical tension. Over the years, Beijing has sometimes pressured the islands’ economy by restricting access to China’s vast consumer market. Previous bans targeted Taiwanese pineapples, wax apples and grouper, among other products. Over the years, Taiwan has tried to diversify its trade relationship with China. While Taiwanese investment in China has gradually declined, the islands’ trade with China has continued to grow. Its economic dependence on China continued at the start of the pandemic, in part because the Chinese economy was doing well.
Some bans have caused persistent economic hardship. The one on Taiwanese grouper, in particular, was a blow to a lucrative industry that sent 91% of its exports to China. The precise impact of China’s ban on imports of natural sand from Taiwan was not immediately clear as of last week. Local media reported that Taiwan imports both natural sand and manufactured sand from China. The two prohibited types of fish, horse mackerel and white-striped roe deer, are not among the top 10 exported fish species.
Chiao Chun, an economic analyst and former trade negotiator for the Taiwanese government, said the fruit and fish ban is unlikely to have a major impact on the economy. The political message is more important than the economic blow, he said. Chinese social media is subject to stricter censorship and government guidelines, meaning user comments don’t always reflect public opinion. Even so, the goal of absorbing Taiwan into China is widely shared by many Chinese and the mood online reflects support for Beijing’s combative stance. However, a Weibo commenter said: All the war propaganda, all the shouting, the lies and the hate comes from those who never go to the battlefield. Another wrote: Reject any political posturing. Firmly oppose war.
Some comments on social media saw the geopolitical strife as a relief after China’s string of bad economic news. In a flash, everyone stopped worrying about bank accounts, mortgage strikes, abandoned building sites and private data leaks, he said. Pelosi cured everyone of internal mental exhaustion. But the official Chinese denunciations went far beyond the visit of the Speakers of the Chamber. The United States government must assume its responsibilities, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng told US Ambassador to Beijing Nicholas Burns, according to Xinhua, China’s main news agency. For a time, the United States has said one thing and done another, constantly twisting, distorting, nullifying and hollowing out the one China principle.
In the United States, the editorial board of the Washington Post criticized many aspects of the trip: of course, we share Ms. Pelosis’ strong support for democratic Taiwan, her condemnation of the Chinese communist dictatorship and her conviction, as she said in an editorial. for The Post, that it is essential that America and our allies make it clear that we never give in to autocrats. What we don’t understand is her insistence on showing her support in this way, at this time, despite warnings from a president of her own party that the geopolitical situation is already disturbed enough. Although Ms Pelosi, 82, might want a highlight for her time as a speaker before a likely GOP victory in November winds down in Taiwan now, as Chinese President Xi Jinping orchestrates his third term in office. , that was not wise.
The writer has held senior positions at the Washington Post, NBC, ABC and CNN and is also a consultant for several Indian channels.s
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