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Why China said a visit from Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan is the US 'playing with fire'

China’s ambassador to the United Nations said yesterday that a visit would be “very much dangerous, very much provocative”.

NANCY PELOSI has landed in Taiwan just hours after China warned that the United States would “pay the price” if the House Speaker visited the island during her Asia trip.

Pelosi, who is second-in-line to the presidency, left from Malaysia at the second stop in a tour that has sparked rage in Beijing after reports of a possible Taipei visit.

Chinese  warplanes are believed to be flying close to the median line of the sensitive Taiwan Strait between both nations.

China considers Taiwan its territory and has indicated through repeated warnings that it would view a Pelosi visit as a major provocation.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been tracking a pane with the callsign SPAR19, which is believed to be flying Pelosi and had has recently entered Taiwanese airspace.

Due to the fact that Chinese state policy is that Taiwan is a region of the People’s Republic of China, it has stated that if US fighter jets accompany Pelosi to the island it would consider this an invasion of its sovereign territory.

During the Chinese Civil War in the late 1940s republican forces supported by the United States were forced to retreat to the island of Taiwan following defeats inflicted by communist forces who went on to found the People’s Republic of China on the mainland.

Since then both groups have insisted that they are the legitimate China and refuse to acknowledge the other.

Taiwan has become less insistent on this in recent years as China’s larger size and economy means that it has had more bargaining power on the world stage.

President Richard Nixon’s 1972 visit to China marked a reversal of positions from the US and in 1979 the country switched its recognition of what was ‘China’ from Taiwan to the People’s Republic of China.

Since Nixon’s visit, every US president, with the exception of Jimmy Carter, has toured China.

Donald Trump also sparked significant controversy from China when he took a phonecall from the Taiwanese president congratulating him on his election.

It marked the first time since 1979 that a sitting US president had any official diplomatic communication with Taiwan and Trump also expanded the duties of the US’ de facto embassy in Taipei.

China refuses to allow Taiwan membership to the United Nations and only the Vatican City and 13 of the 193 UN countries recognize Taiwan.

It also competes in the Olympics under the name ‘Chinese Taipei’ and uses a different flag than its red and blue national flag.

The tension between the two countries, with the US still providing unofficial support for Taiwan as well as arms, is heightened because Pelosi is the highest-profile visitor than any in recent history.

Taipei 101, the tallest building in Taiwan’s capital, has been lit up with messages of support for Pelosi according to local media.

“The US side will bear the responsibility and pay the price for undermining China’s sovereign security interests,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a regular press briefing in Beijing.

The visit to Taiwan is the most senior by a US politician since then-House speaker Newt Gingrich went there in 1997. 

“The worst case – if they shot down her airplane, that would be literally an act of war. And we would have no choice except to retaliate massively,” he told Fox News.

More recently Donald Trump’s Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, visited Taiwan to convey Trump’s support for Taiwan’s leadership in fighting Covid-19 and to reiterate U.S. support for Taiwan.

China, which had promised unspecified retaliation ahead of time, sent air force jets close to Taiwan while he was visiting.

South China Sea

China’s other neighbours have been getting an insight into Taiwan’s situation as tensions continue to rise in the South China Sea.

Vietnam, the Philippines and several other countries have complained about Beijing building artificial islands in the area in order to intimidate neighbours and to strengthen its claims on the oil and natural gas under the seafloor. 

It has armed three islands with anti-ship and anti-aircraft missile systems, laser and jamming equipment and fighter jets US Indo-Pacific commander Admiral John C Aquilino said in March.

Jung Pak, deputy assistant secretary for East Asia at the State Department, said there was a “clear and upward trend” of Chinese provocations against other countries claiming parts of sea, as well as other states operating legally in the region.

There have been three separate incidents in the last few months where China challenged marine research and energy exploration within the exclusive economic zone claimed by the Philippines in the sea, she said.

In line with these moves Chinese President Xi Jinping warned the United States against “playing with fire” on Taiwan in a call with Joe Biden last week.

And China’s ambassador to the United Nations, Zhang Hun, said yesterday that such a visit would be “very much dangerous, very much provocative”.

While the Biden administration is understood to be opposed to a Taiwan stop for Pelosi’s trip, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Pelosi was entitled to go where she pleased.

“The speaker has the right to visit Taiwan,” he told reporters on yesterday.

“There is no reason for Beijing to turn a potential visit consistent with longstanding US policies into some sort of crisis.”

Kirby cited intelligence that China was preparing possible military provocations.

He said Pelosi was travelling on a military aircraft and that while Washington did not fear a direct attack, it “raises the stakes of a miscalculation”.

Kirby reiterated, however, that US policy was unchanged toward Taiwan.

This means support for its self-ruling government, while diplomatically recognising Beijing over Taipei and opposing a formal independence declaration by Taiwan or a forceful takeover by China.

Aircraft Carrier battlegroup USS Ronald Reagan and USS Tripoli  have been moved into the area but Kirby was quick to state that US assets were often moved around for diplomatic reasons.

The island’s military  said it was “determined” to defend it against increased threats by China over the potential Pelosi visit.

“The probability of war or a serious incident is low,” tweeted Bonnie Glaser, director of the Asia programme at the US-based German Marshall Fund think tank.

“But the probability that… (China) will take a series of military, economic, and diplomatic actions to show strength & resolve is not insignificant,” she added.

“Likely it will seek to punish Taiwan in myriad ways.”

With additional reporting from AFP

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