Ahead of Pelosi’s Trip, Defiance in Taiwan

TAIPEI, Taiwan – In Washington, there was anxious debate on whether Speaker Nancy Pelosi should venture to visit. In Beijing, there were angry and threatening. In Taiwan, where Ms. Pelosi is expected to land late Tuesday, flare up in tension was met with a subdued challenge.

Politicians from Taiwan’s two main political parties have offered to support the trip, a sentiment echoed by many in the self-governing democracy of more than 23 million people, which China claims as its own. . While China released videos of planes and missiles flying to threatening music, a popular meme in Taiwan portrayed Ms. Pelosi as a powerful Taoist goddess. A Taiwanese politician bet a gift of chicken cutlets during her visit.

Aiming to live in one of the world’s most dangerous geopolitical hotspots, the people of Taiwan have largely fulfilled the prospect of this visit in stride. That hardline indifference demonstrates a political reality that has become difficult over the past decade: Many people in Taiwan have grown weary of the China’s threat and yearning for support from the United States.

Ms. Pelosi’s trip, if carried out, would be the highest-level visit by an American official in 25 years, and a diplomatic coup, if mostly symbolic, for Taiwan. Such striking demonstrations of international support are rare for Taiwan, where Beijing has systematically worked to isolate itself from global institutions and foreign recognition. deliver.

Talk about the visit was not without its anxieties for Taiwan. On Tuesday morning, the country’s military said it would beef up its combat readiness in case of a potential reaction from China, while the island’s stock market fell nearly 2% on geopolitical concerns. The value of the trip dragged down global stocks.

President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan has cautiously entered a tense political time. Although on the verge of a major diplomatic victory, she has made no public comment on the trip, perhaps to avoid exacerbating an already tense – as well as embarrassing, situation. that didn’t happen. Known as a cautious and pragmatic executive, Ms. Tsai let others speak instead.

Some support has come from unexpected angles. Two staunch members of the generally China-friendly Kuomintang party, former President Ma Ying-jeou and party chairman Eric Chu, cautiously welcomed the possibility of Ms. Pelosi’s visit over the weekend.

With local elections looming, politicians in Ms. Tsai’s party have more freedom of speech. Kolas Yotaka, a former Democratic Progressive Party lawmaker and candidate for judge in Hualien district, said that the decision on whether to make the trip is up to Ms. Pelosi and that most Taiwanese would support it. visit.

She wrote: “It made us less isolated and gave us hope to see that even in difficult circumstances, there are people who hold on to their beliefs and ideals.

While some Taiwanese criticized the visit as needlessly provocative, many others countered Kolas Yotaka’s sentiments. Chen Mei-ying, a sales manager in the central city of Taichung, called this “Taiwan’s push for democracy”, adding that “we should face the threat from China directly”. Quoc and bravely welcomed her.”

For most of its modern political existence, Taiwan has been caught between two giant rivals: the United States and China.

For decades, it was the subject of martial law oppression by the US government backed by Chiang Kai-shek, who fled to the island after being overthrown by Mao Zedong’s revolution. During the 1950s, Beijing and Washington came close to war twice when China attacked territories controlled by Taiwan.

Cold War dynamics eventually led to more pragmatic relations in the 1980s and 1990s, when Taiwan democratized and China opened up its economy following the self-inflicted devastation of the Cultural Revolution. chemical.

The limits of the new accommodation were tested in 1995 and 1996, when China protested the visit of then-President of Taiwan, Lee Teng-hui, to Cornell University, his alma mater. China fired missiles near Taiwan’s main island as a warning to Mr. Lee, and again as Taiwan prepares for its first open presidential elections. That crisis ended when President Bill Clinton sent two carrier strike groups from the 7th Fleet to opposite ends of the Taiwan Strait.

Today, Taiwan is once again caught up in the hostile web of great powers. China is both the largest trading partner and the most serious existential threat. Under China’s leader, Xi Jinping, military activity has become more common, with Chinese military planes and ships often flying near the island.

The United States, Taiwan’s main security guarantor, often seems distracted by domestic problems and conflicts elsewhere – most recently the war in Ukraine – even as Taiwan receives support. Rare bipartisan support from Congress. An economic powerhouse, Taiwan is also a cornerstone of electronic supply chains and perhaps The world’s most important source of advanced microchips.

Although the stalemate between the two powers persists, it is unclear how long it can last, given each side’s repressive attitudes toward China’s claims to the island and its areas. the sea around it, has thinned tense relations. For Taiwanese, often belittled by the Sturm und Drang powerhouse about their own future, Ms. Pelosi’s visit offers a bit of an uncommon credit to a democratic and economic success story that many have enjoyed. proud Taiwanese.

Wen-Ti Sung, a Taiwan expert at the Australia Center for China in the World at the Australian National University.

Sung noted that some commentators see the film during the visit as possibly political theater, but according to him, “sometimes symbolism is essential,” citing President John F. Kennedy in West Berlin at the height of the Cold War.

“For Taiwan, such a symbolic gesture would be especially meaningful for US-Taiwan relations in the absence of official relations, and especially after the war,” he said. Ukraine explodes”.

In Taiwan, partial bipartisan support for Ms. Pelosi’s visit underscores how Taiwanese politics have changed over the past decade.

Where mainstream opinion in Taiwan once viewed China as an important trading partner and shunned anything that could shake the relationship, now there is more willing to push back. After years of Chinese intimidation, military expansion, and the systematic destruction of Hong Kong’s democratic institutions, support in Taiwan for China’s position has become unacceptable to Hong Kong. with most politicians.

If Ms. Pelosi meets the president of Taiwan, it will not be Tsai’s first bold move to bring the United States closer together. Tsai’s phone call to congratulate President-elect Donald Trump in 2016 broke precedent and ranked Beijing, with only negligible consequences for her or for Taiwan.

Asked Tuesday morning about Ms. Pelosi’s trip, Taiwan’s foreign ministry declined to comment. One of the few major officials to mention the matter was Prime Minister Su Tseng-chang, who on Tuesday expressed strong gratitude for her “support and kindness towards Taiwan”. Pelosi, adding that “any friendly foreign guest will be greeted with great enthusiasm.”

Not all in Taiwan, a tumultuous democracy, are supportive, with some pointing to how Ms Pelosi’s trip makes Taiwan look like a pawn in a larger geopolitical battle.

“Taiwan is in a passive position. It can only be between two great powers,” said Liu Shao-chang, a 65-year-old retired marketer in the southern port city of Kaohsiung.

He said he wasn’t worried about the visit, but only because Taiwan couldn’t do much about it.

“Taiwan cannot express its position: We cannot refuse, and we cannot welcome her. If we welcome her, China will protest,” he said.

John Liu contributed reporting.

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