Reports that US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is planning a visit to Taiwan have sparked tense exchanges between the US and China – and growing speculation about Beijing’s reaction.
While Pelosi – an outspoken critic of Beijing – has so far refused to confirm the reports, she said it was important the United States showed support for Taiwan, and lawmakers on both sides of the political divide from Washington urged her to leave. China, meanwhile, lashed out at the idea, pledging to take “resolute and forceful action” if a trip were to take place.
Much less vocal, however, has been the island at the center of controversy.
There were no statements in favor or against Pelosi’s potential trip from Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen or her office – although Premier Su Tseng-chang said on Wednesday that Taipei was “very grateful to President Pelosi for her support and kindness to Taiwan over the years” and that the island welcomes all friendly guests from abroad.
Analysts say the relative silence is because Taiwan, a self-governing democratic island of 24 million people that China’s ruling Communist Party claims as part of its territory, though it never controlled it , is in a delicate situation.
Taiwan, they point out, depends on American weapons to defend against the possibility that China could invade and take it by force – so it does not want to be seen as disheartening support from any of the politicians. most powerful in the United States.
Still, if Taiwan seems overly enthusiastic about the possibility of a Pelosi visit, experts say, it risks fueling Beijing’s anger.
On Thursday, Taiwan’s foreign ministry said it had “not received any specific information regarding President Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan” and had “no further comment on it.”
A person familiar with Pelosi’s plans said she plans to leave on Friday US time for a tour of Asia, and the trip will include stops in Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and Singapore – but whether it will stop in Taiwan remains unclear.
Political analysts said part of the reason Taiwanese officials are keeping a low profile is that it could help deflect any blame if such a trip takes place – Beijing would then be more likely to blame Washington rather than Taipei, say- they.
“It is in the interest of the Taiwanese government to keep a low profile and avoid giving the impression that Taiwan is actively encouraging Pelosi’s visit,” said Wen-ti Sung, a political scientist at the University’s Taiwan Studies program. Australian National.
“If Taiwan stays silent and Pelosi comes in, it will probably be read as a decision made by the United States or Pelosi,” he said.
“But if Taiwan openly calls for a visit, Beijing could portray it as a Taiwan plot. Countries in the region – such as Japan, South Korea or even Australia – could also become less sympathetic towards Taiwan if they sense that Taiwan is actively creating a problem out of nowhere.
However, that can only be part of the reason for Taipei’s relative silence.
While international media gave extensive coverage to Pelosi’s potential visit, it barely made headlines in Taiwan this week.
Taiwanese news has instead focused on scandals surrounding the upcoming local elections and the island’s largest annual military exercises.
Wang Ting-yu, a Taiwanese lawmaker for the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, said it was partly because the Taiwanese public had grown accustomed to threats from Beijing – which has had plans on the island since the end of the war. Chinese Civil War more than seven decades since.
Brian Hioe, a Taiwanese-American living in Taipei who founded New Bloom Magazine, covering Taiwanese politics, said Taiwanese are generally not too worried about the potential repercussions of Pelosi’s visit, as Beijing has made similar threats. in the past.
“Threats from China are happening with such frequency that it’s something like background noise,” he said. “And so people here don’t really think seriously about the possibility of repercussions from visiting Pelosi.”
At the same time, analysts caution against interpreting Taiwan’s lack of official response as meaning it is unaware of the potential dangers should Pelosi visit.
And as the hype around her potential trip grows, each side will feel they need to stick to their stances to avoid looking weak, commentators said.
The issue was discussed at length during a Thursday phone call between US President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping – who warned that “those who play with fire will perish”, according to a statement provided by China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Foreign Affairs.
Analysts have said that if Pelosi does not come, the United States may appear fearful of a possible response from China. Meanwhile, growing speculation about what China might do to retaliate could push Beijing back into a corner where it felt it had to do something to avoid losing face if a visit were to take place.
“At this point, because there have already been so many comments and discussions about how China might react, I think China is obligated to react at this point,” Hioe said.
“So I think there will be some sort of reaction from China, and they will try to make it look like it’s much more important.”
Despite these concerns, MK Wang said Taiwan was “nobody’s pawn” and that China should not be able to dictate who visits the island.
“There is no room for China to interfere in diplomatic interactions between Taiwan and the United States,” said Wang, a member of the House Foreign Affairs and National Defense Committee.
“We welcome all our friends from the United States and around the world. So whether Pelosi comes or not, we respect their decision. However, don’t let China interfere.
Su Tzu-yun, director of Taiwan’s National Defense and Security Research Institute, said the island “welcomes all friends from other countries and we appreciate any support from the international community.”
He said that if the situation escalated, it would be Beijing’s responsibility.
“Taiwan will never become a so-called freerider (over the United States). We will show our willingness to defend ourselves,” he said.