Heightened Tensions In The Taiwanese Strait Following Pelosi’s Visit.

Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, made headlines this week with a historic visit to Taiwan as part of her Asia tour. Although the visit lasted little less than a day, the ramifications have been widespread for peace in the Taiwanese strait. The heavily criticized move prompted Beijing to aggressively re-iterate its “One China policy” by carrying out widescale open-fire drills using live missiles, with over 100 planes and ten warships surrounding the island following Pelosi’s visit.

Pelosi is the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Taiwan in over 20 years and has received furious condemnation from the P.R.C. Zheng Zeguang, Chinese ambassador to the U.K., warned against any further “violation” stating that “those playing with fire will get burned.” Criticism of the visit has been widespread as many seek to re-establish peaceful relations between the two nations. G7 foreign ministers warned against China “de-stabilising the region” and encouraged the resolution of tensions by “peaceful means.” These sentiments were echoed by Kung Phaok, Secretary of Cambodia’s foreign ministry, speaking on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, who stated that the group hoped all sides of the conflict would de-escalate tensions.

Pelosi’s visit upsets the delicate balance between China and Taiwan, an unsteady relationship that has existed since the self-governing democracy was established. The U.S. has always stayed neutral on the issue, and the move by Pelosi to acknowledge Taiwan reflects a broader degradation of U.S.-China relations. The previous Trump administration was notorious for blaming China for America’s economic issues, as well as unfairly linking the nation with the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. However, the present administration has also thrown its hat into the ring concerning the issue, with Biden re-inforcing in May of this year that the U.S. was prepared to use force to protect Taiwan should a conflict occur.

Also worth noting is the context of Chinese aggression. In the past few years, Xi Jinping has seen his economic policy and covid-prevention strategy fail. The patriotic “re-unification” of Taiwan and China would see a bolster of support for the president and draw attention away from a faltering G.D.P. growth rate and a continued covid crisis. Additionally, a Chinese-controlled Taiwan would serve as a geographically strategic military base, increasing China’s influence in the South China Sea and preventing any potential threat to its coastline.

In an opinion piece published in the Washington Post just days before her visit, Pelosi defended her plan of action by citing the numerous human rights violations that have occurred in China, including the “brutal crackdown” of democracy protestors in Hong Kong and the horrific treatment of the Uyghur people. In a statement made shortly after landing, Pelosi underlined the importance of standing with the Taiwanese people and spoke of the choice between “democracy and autocracy.”

However, Pelosi’s democratic sentiments seem to have done nothing but increase the likelihood of the autocratic future she warns against. During her visit, Taiwanese railway station screens and 7-11 convenience store computer monitors were hacked to display messages calling her a “warmonger.” Taiwanese officials have expressed fears that military drills are simulating invasion tactics. Furthermore, Chinese aggression has begun to infringe on surrounding states, with Japan declaring that at least five missiles have landed in its exclusive economic zone.

There is no question that the democracy of Taiwan deserves international recognition, but the situation is volatile. To prioritise civilian safety, thought must be given to peaceful negotiation that recognises the effect of symbolic, potentially dangerous gestures. Regardless of Pelosi’s intent, the visit has only increased the risk for the 23 million Taiwanese citizens that live with a constant threat of invasion.