Amidst much speculation, the US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan on 3 August 2022, along with a five-member delegation as part of her tour to Indo-Pacific countries. Nancy Pelosi’s visit was the first high-profile visit in 25 years. Republican Newt Gingrich had visited Taiwan in 1997. Before starting her tour, Nancy Pelosi had penned an editorial in The Washington Post. In an opinion piece, she wrote that the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) sets out America’s commitment to a democratic Taiwan, providing the framework for an economic and diplomatic relationship that would flourish into a key partnership. At the same time, she reiterated the US commitment to one-China policy was guided by the TRA, the US-China Joint Communiqués and the Six Assurances[i].[ii]
The paper explains Nancy Pelosi’s visit, reactions from China and its implications for the Indo-Pacific region.
After arriving in Taiwan, she reiterated that “America’s solidarity with the 23 million people of Taiwan is more important today than ever, as the world faces a choice between autocracy and democracy.” She also applauded Taiwan as a “model to the world” in handling the COVID-19 pandemic. During her short trip, she met Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, Vice President William Lai and other senior officials. She visited National Human Rights Museum in Taipei and met prominent Human rights activists, thereby seeking to applaud the human rights situation in Taiwan as compared to China which she has criticized many times in the past. Tsai Ing-wen hailed her visit as “not only reflects strong [US] congressional support for bilateral ties-it also sends a message to the world that democracies stand together in the face of common challenges.”
Reaction from China
The Taiwanese President’s office and government officials reported an unprecedented number of cyber-attacks as soon as Nancy Pelosi arrived in Taipei.[iii] This was followed by a violation of Taiwan’s Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) and live fire drills. The Ministry of National Defense of Taiwan detected 45 Chinese planes and 10 ships operating in the Taiwan Strait with 16 planes crossing the waterway’s median line.[iv] China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) announced that it would be holding military exercises and fire drills in six areas around Taiwan from 4-7 August 2022[v] (But the drills continued even after the announced dates). The six areas are designated as “danger zones” by Taiwan, the closest of them was just 9 nautical miles away from Taiwan.[vi] It is not the first time China is holding such a fierce drill. In 1995, Taiwan’s President visited the US to speak at Cornell University. At that time, China had shown similar discontentment through a series of missiles drills. However, as compared to 1995 and 1996 military exercises, the present military exercises are much more intimidating and reflect an unprecedented aggressive posture by China.[vii]
China’s Military exercise areas and missile splashdown zones 1995-1996
Military analysts opine that the drills are aimed at intimidating the Taiwanese public about the developments taking place in the Cross-Strait relations.[viii] While on the other hand, China is defending its military exercises around Taiwan as a strong deterrent to collusion between the US and Taiwan.[ix] Wang Yi has opined that the US under the guise of so-called “democracy,” is doing the “heinous deeds” of violating China’s sovereignty.[x] Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said that all of the countermeasures will be “forceful, effective and resolute” and both the US and “Taiwan independence” forces will feel them gradually and in a sustained way.[xi] Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng summoned the US Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns and lodged strong protests against the visit.[xii] Chinese missions abroad have also been proactive in defending their stance. Qin Gang, Chinese ambassador to the US, called her visit “reckless and provocative”.[xiii] Chinese Ambassador in India has given an interview to the Times of India defending their position vis-à-vis the visit and cross-strait relations.[xiv]
Consequently, the Taiwanese Ministry of National Defense has raised its combat alertness which will be adjusted depending on the level of threat from the PLA. Taiwanese Foreign Minister alluded that China is just using the pretext of Nancy Pelosi’s visit “to prepare for an invasion of Taiwan”.[xv] Tsai Ing-wen has said that “we will neither escalate conflict nor instigate disputes.” She affirmed that Taiwan will defend its national sovereignty and urged the international community to stand by Taiwan. The escalating tensions will have reverberation in the Indo-Pacific region. It will affect the air and maritime transportation safety, as well as, normal functioning of international trade. [xvi]
The US has already positioned four warships, including an aircraft carrier in the waters east of Taiwan. Specifically, the Pentagon has directed the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan to be in waters near Taiwan “to monitor the situation”. The G7 grouping expressed their apprehension by reiterating “concerns by recent and announced threatening actions by the People’s Republic of China, particularly live-exercises and economic coercion which risk unnecessary escalation”.[xvii] ASEAN countries have not taken any sides in the development. Southeast Asian nations have asked for “maximum restraint” vis-à-vis the military drills.[xviii] Putin while speaking at the Moscow Conference on International Security denounced Nancy Pelosi trip as an “irresponsible politician” and her visit to Taiwan a thoroughly planned provocation.[xix] India has urged “the exercise of restraint, avoidance of unilateral actions to change the status quo, de-escalation of tensions and efforts to maintain peace and stability in the region”.[xx]
Implications for the Indo-Pacific Region
Taiwan is critical to the global supply chain, especially with respect to semiconductors and electronic equipment. Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company Limited (TSMC) accounts for 90 per cent of the world’s chips and is a pioneer in chip making. It has already invested US$ 12 billion in a plant based in Arizona.[xxi] Taiwan’s geopolitical position in the Indo-Pacific is of paramount importance. The strait is among the world’s busiest shipping routes facilitating the movement of technology and natural gas supplies. It is home to the largest ports in the world-Kaohsiung and the Taipei ports.[xxii]
Given the high degree of interdependence from both sides, it is unlikely that China will invade Taiwan for now. They will use diplomatic and economic tools to coerce Taiwan. China has often used trade as a weapon. Ahead of Nancy Pelosi’s visit, China banned 100 Taiwanese food brands and blacklisted commodities like tea, honey and seafood.[xxiii] China stopped shipping sand to Taiwan. Also, China banned citrus fruits and some seafood products on the pretext of pests and positive Covid-19 tests in the cold supply chain.[xxiv] China has cancelled dialogues between the PLA and the US military. China has already sanctioned Nancy Pelosi and her immediate family.
On 10 August 2022, the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council and the State Council Information Office of People’s Republic of China published a White Paper on Taiwan titled, “The Taiwan Question and China’s Reunification in the New Era”. The paper emphasised on the fact that Taiwan is part of China and reinstates unification. It is the third such paper after August 1993 and February 2000 and the first White Paper under Xi Jinping. In this paper, China has removed the clause that they will not deploy military personnel to Taiwan for reunification while reaffirming the commitment to peaceful reunification but states its readiness to use force, if it deems it necessary. It states: “We will work with the greatest sincerity and exert our utmost efforts to achieve peaceful reunification. But we will not renounce the use of force, and we reserve the option of taking all necessary measure. This is to guard against external interference and all separatist activities.” [xxv] They have retained the “one country two systems model” and reemphasizes that Taiwan is a part of China. Notably, it comes out with clarity on Taiwan’s international status after reunification.[xxvi]
The timing of the trip is crucial. The visit has come at the peak of US-China tension. Earlier, Xi Jinping in his telephonic conversation with Joe Biden had warned him not to send a delegation to Taiwan as it would be like “playing with fire”.[xxvii] Later during the year, the 20th Party Congress is scheduled. In 2017, at the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, he said that “resolving the Taiwan question to realise China’s complete reunification” is the shared aspiration of all the Chinese and the One-China principle is the political foundation of cross-Straits relations.[xxviii] At the upcoming 20th National Congress, Xi Jinping is likely to highlight the aggressive posture by China to showcase it, as his efforts to reunite Taiwan with the mainland. This in turn could add more credibility to him in his third term.
Given the intensity of the military drill, any miscalculation can have serious repercussions in the region. Nancy Pelosi’s visit could also have a spillover effect on the SCS and ECS dispute. China already has a military presence in the South China Sea. Pelosi avoided travelling over the SCS route and rather took a longer route.
Before departing from Taiwan, Nancy Pelosi said: “Make no mistake: America remains unwavering in our commitment to the people of Taiwan – now and for decades to come.” Last month, the US State Department approved USD 108 million for sales of military technical assistance to Taiwan. This is the fifth arms sale under Joe Biden administration. The US has sent a second delegation to Taiwan led by Massachusetts Democratic Senator Ed Markey. However, it remains to be seen if this marks the end of the strategic ambiguity of the US towards Taiwan. It seems that the present state of affairs may not last for long as it could disrupt the supply chains in the region. On the other hand, it is clear that the visit of Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan, cast in the framework of support for Democracy as opposed to authoritarianism, has led to escalating tensions in the region and increasing the risk of miscalculation based on sharpening mistrust and rivalry.
* Dr. Teshu singh is a Research Fellow at the Indian Council of World Affairs, New Delhi.
Disclaimer:The views are of the author.
[i] The “Six Assurances” to Taiwan, http://www.taiwandocuments.org/assurances.htm , Accessed on 22 August 2022
[ii] Nancy Pelosi, Nancy Pelosi: Why I’m leading a congressional delegation to Taiwan, The Washington Post, 2 Aug 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/08/02/nancy-pelosi-taiwan-visit-op-ed/, Accessed on 4 August 2022
[iii]Shelley Shan, Record number of cyberattacks reported, Taipei Times, https://www.taipeitimes.com/News/taiwan/archives/2022/08/05/2003783012, Accessed on 5 August 2022
[iv]Chen Yan-ting and Jonathan Chin, Military units conduct anti-landing drills in south, Taipei Times, https://www.taipeitimes.com/News/taiwan/archives/2022/08/10/2003783289, Accessed on 5 August 2022
[v] Eric Chang, 21 Chinese military aircraft enter Taiwan’s ADIZ, Taiwan News, 8 August 2022, https://www.taiwannews.com.tw/en/news/4614891?utm_source=SupChina&utm_campaign=a203c9e5ea-%20EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2022_08_03_08_41_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_03c0779d50-a203c9e5ea-165964898, Accessed on 10 August 2022
[vi] Chris Buckley, Amy Chang Chien, Eric Schmitt and David E. Sanger, Chinese Missiles Strike Seas Off Taiwan, and Some Land Near Japan, the New York Times, 3 August 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/08/03/world/asia/taiwan-china-military-exercises.html
Accessed on 5 August 2022
[vii] Emily Feng, China fires waves of missiles over the Taiwan Strait, raising tensions in the region, NPR, 4 August 2022, https://www.npr.org/2022/08/04/1115550972/china-taiwan-missile-exercises, Accessed on 8 August 2022
[viii] Minnie Chan, Beijing responds to Pelosi visit with days of military drills encircling, South China Morning Post, 3 August 2022, Taiwan, https://www.scmp.com/news/china/military/article/3187621/beijing-responds-pelosi-visit-days-military-drills-encircling, Accessed on 8 August 2022
[ix] PLA drills a deterrent to collusion between United States and China's Taiwan: spokesperson, People's Daily, 5 August 2022, http://en.people.cn/n3/2022/0805/c90000-10131416.html, Accessed on 6 August 2022
[x] Huaxia, Taiwan's return to motherland a historical inevitability: Chinese FM, Xinhua net,
https://english.news.cn/20220803/a48ea38adaca46f6aa1acdafc98b4661/c.html, Accessed on 8 August 2022
[xi] Cao Desheng, China unveils measures to counter Pelosi visit, 4 August 2022, China Daily, https://global.chinadaily.com.cn/a/202208/04/WS62eab040a310fd2b29e701f7.html, Accessed on 8 August 2022
[xii] China summons U.S. ambassador over Pelosi's visit to Taiwan, People's Daily, 3 August 2022, http://en.people.cn/n3/2022/0803/c90000-10130328.html, Accessed on 8 August 2022
[xiii] Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying’s Regular Press Conference on August 3, 2022, https://www.fmprc.gov.cn/eng/xwfw_665399/s2510_665401/202208/t20220804_10733756.html, Accessed on 8 August 2022
[xiv]Chinese Ambassador to India H.E. Sun Weidong Gave an Exclusive Interview to the Times of India on US House Speaker Pelosi’s Visit to China’s Taiwan Region,
http://in.china-embassy.gov.cn/eng/embassy_news/202208/t20220804_10733759.htm , Accessed on 8 August 2022
[xv]Helen Davidson, China drills are invasion practice: Wu, Taipei Times,https://www.taipeitimes.com/News/front/archives/2022/08/10/2003783272, Accessed on 10 August 2022
[xvi] President Tsai delivers remarks on the live-fire military exercises China conducting in areas around Taiwan, https://english.president.gov.tw/NEWS/6295, Accessed on 10 August 2022
[xvii] Finbarr Bermingham, G7 slams China for ‘destabilising region’ over US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan. South China Morning Post, https://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy/article/3187626/g7-slams-china-destabilising-region-over-us-house-speaker?module=inline&pgtype=article
https://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy/article/3187626/g7-slams-china-destabilising-region-over-us-house-speaker?module=inline&pgtype=article, Accessed on 10 August 2022
[xviii]Shi Jiangtao and Cyril Ip, After raging at US and Japan over Pelosi’s Taiwan visit, China faces dilemma: escalate further or court its neighbours?, 7 August 2022,
https://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy/article/3187970/after-raging-us-and-japan-over-pelosis-taiwan-visit-china, Accessed on 10 August 2022
[xix] Cyril Ip, ‘Irresponsible politician’: Putin breaks silence on Pelosi’s Taiwan trip, South China Morning Post, 17 August 2022, https://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy/article/3189222/irresponsible-politician-putin-breaks-silence-pelosis-taiwan?utm_source=rss_feed , Accessed on 22 August 2022
[xx]Transcript of Weekly Media Briefing by the Official Spokesperson (August 12, 2022)
Accessed on 13 August 2022
[xxi] William Langley and Chan Ho-him in Hong Kong and Thomas Hale, How rising tensions across the Taiwan Strait could threaten global trade, Financial Times, https://www.ft.com/content/68871ec9-6741-4e0a-8542-940152df4e36, Accessed on 11 August 2022
[xxii]Melissa Cyrill, How Should India Read Escalating China-Taiwan Tensions, India Briefing, 5 August 2022,
https://www.india-briefing.com/news/how-should-india-read-escalating-china-taiwan-tensions-25645.html/, Accessed on 10 August 2022
[xxiii] Yang Yuan-ting and Liu Tzu-hsuan, Pelosi in Taiwan: China bans imports of over 100 brands, 3 August 2022, Taipei Times, https://www.taipeitimes.com/News/taiwan/archives/2022/08/03/2003782894, Accessed on 10 August 2022
[xxiv] Finbarr Bermingham, 7 slams China for ‘destabilising region’ over US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, https://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy/article/3187626/g7-slams-china-destabilising-region-over-us-house-speaker, Accessed on 10 August 2022
[xxv] Huaxia, China releases white paper on Taiwan question, reunification in new era, Xinhuanet, https://english.news.cn/20220810/d60e07b5a39e4f3b962e471ea22428d7/c.html, Accessed on 10 August 2022
[xxvi] Mimi Lau, Beijing removes pledge not to station military personnel in Taiwan and offer of ‘high degree of autonomy’ in new reunification paper, South China Morning Post, 11 August 2022, https://www.scmp.com/news/china/politics/article/3188454/beijing-removes-pledge-not-station-military-personnel-taiwan , Accessed on 12 August 2022
[xxvii] President Xi Jinping Speaks with US President Joe Biden on the Phone, https://www.fmprc.gov.cn/eng/zxxx_662805/202207/t20220729_10729593.html, Accessed on 6 August 2022
[xxviii] Full text of Xi Jinping's report at 19th CPC National Congress, https://www.mfa.gov.cn/ce/ceil/eng/zt/19thCPCNationalCongress/W020171120127269060039.pdf , Accessed on 8 August 2022