Nancy Pelosi has embarked on a tour of East Asia that officials signalled on Monday was likely to include a stopover in Taiwan, the first by a US House Speaker for 25 years. China warned that its military will “not sit idly by” if the visit goes ahead to the self-ruled island that Beijing claims as part of its sovereignty. Though Washington has a right to try to shore up Taiwan’s position and discourage Chinese aggression, the Speaker’s visit is ill-conceived and ill-timed. If it goes ahead, this is a moment of danger that calls for responsibility and restraint from both sides.
The risks of Pelosi’s visit should not be underestimated. Xi Jinping, China’s powerful leader, warned US president Joe Biden last week that the US was “playing with fire”. According to Beijing’s official statement, Xi did not mention Pelosi’s name but said his government would “resolutely safeguard China’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity”.
The visit comes at a highly-charged moment. Xi is seeking another term in office at the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist party later this year. Yet internal tensions are high as the economy stumbles and Beijing’s “zero-Covid” policy attracts criticism.
It is not yet clear if China will launch retaliatory measures over Pelosi’s trip. In the mid-1990s, Beijing expressed ire over an unofficial visit to the US by the independence-minded Taiwanese president Lee Teng-hui by test-firing missiles into the sea near the island.
Beijing warned last month that a visit by Pelosi would represent a “serious violation” of “One China” policy, under which the US recognises the People’s Republic as the sole legal government of China, but only acknowledges Beijing’s position that Taiwan is part of China. Beijing’s assertion in the 1990s that Lee’s visit to the US breached the One China policy prompted the missile crisis across the Taiwan Strait.
There is, to be sure, good reason for senior US…
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