As the U.S. ponders the implications of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s potential visit to Taiwan, the island’s administration is finding itself in a tight spot. While Taipei fears China would “punish” them if Pelosi goes ahead with her visit next month, there are also concerns that “Washington might cancel the trip and effectively give China a say in the U.S.-Taiwan policy.”
“If the visit is called off, that means China’s intimidation tactics works. That will have a chilling effect as others will shy away from engaging with us,” an unnamed source close to Taipei told Financial Times. But, if Pelosi goes ahead with her trip, then the island will have to face China’s wrath.
This comes amid reports that Beijing has delivered “sterner warnings” to U.S. officials about Pelosi’s possible visit to Taiwan. The warnings are “significantly stronger than the threats that Beijing has made in the past,” as echoed in Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijia’s words.
“We are seriously prepared,” Zhao told reporters at a regular briefing on Monday. On whether the reaction would be “a military or a diplomatic response,” Zhao said: “If the U.S. side is bent on going its own way, China will take strong measures to resolutely respond and counteract.” He added that Washington should be “held responsible for any serious consequences.”
Earlier, to China’s warning that it would take firm and forceful measures, U.S. President Joe Biden had said that the military thinks that a visit to Taipei by the 82-year-old speaker was “not a good idea right now.”
Pelosi, however, had refused to give more details about her trip, citing “security issues. “I think what the President was saying is that maybe the military was afraid of my plane getting shot down or something like that. I don’t know exactly,” she added.
Meanwhile, the Financial Times report added that the Biden administration had not divulged the Chinese warnings or possibilities of Beijing’s response to Taiwan. “A lot of discussions are quite speculative and hypothetical. We haven’t had much info from the Biden administration,” a senior official was quoted by the news outlet.
This silence from Washington has prompted Taipei to believe that the U.S. is using Chinese warnings as a guise to avoid engagement with Taipei. Another unnamed Taiwanese official told the news outlet that they knew Biden is due to have a phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping and don’t want anything to disrupt it.
“We know that the Biden administration would like to improve trade ties, and maybe they don’t want that to be derailed by a Pelosi visit,” the official added.
According to Chen Fang-yu, an expert on US-China-Taiwan relations at Soochow University in Taipei, Washington needed to reassure the Taiwanese public. “There is so much public skepticism here that the U.S. could abandon Taiwan, a lot of conspiracy theories, because the China threat is so real. Therefore, the US needs to issue more public information about its engagement with Taiwan,” Chen told Financial Times.