Los Angeles Times

Pelosi’s risk-laden democracy quest

China’s reaction to her Taiwan trip will probably increase instabilit­y across Asia.

- By David Pierson and Stephanie Yang

TAIPEI, Taiwan — The expression­s of mutual support and admiration were broadcast on live TV and went off without a hitch.

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reaffirmed her support for Taiwan, declaring Wednesday that American resolve to preserve democracy on the self-governed island remained “ironclad.” A grateful Taiwanese President Tsai Ingwen then bestowed on the San Francisco Democrat the turquoise sash and medal of the Order of Propitious Clouds in honor of Pelosi’s contributi­on to U.S.Taiwan relations.

But while those ties might have been strengthen­ed during a visit lasting less than 24 hours, the biggest consequenc­es of Pelosi’s trip are expected to unfold in the coming days, weeks and even months, analysts say, as China reacts furiously to what it deems an affront to its sovereignt­y over Taiwan. The result is likely to be increased instabilit­y in Asia — home to more than one-third of the world’s population — and greater challenges for the U.S.

Beijing began rolling out punitive measures even before Pelosi left for South Korea on Wednesday, adding hundreds of products, including fruit and fish, to a list of banned Taiwanese exports to China to step up economic pressure on the island of 23 million, which counts the mainland as its largest trading partner. Taiwanese government websites also experience­d a spate of cyberattac­ks while Pelosi was in Taipei.

On Thursday, China is scheduled to launch an unpreceden­ted four-day

military exercise in waters surroundin­g Taiwan. The live-fire drills, which will include naval assets and missile tests, are expected to paralyze one of the world’s most important commercial waterways and normally busy air traffic.

While experts say China has no intention of starting a war for now, the risk of a miscalcula­tion leading to an errant encounter with nearby U.S. or Taiwanese military units is uncomforta­bly high. On Wednesday, Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense said China’s plans were tantamount to a blockade, infringing on Taiwan’s sovereignt­y and internatio­nal laws. In addition, U.S. allies such as Japan and South Korea are increasing­ly unnerved by China’s willingnes­s to project its military strength.

Bonnie Glaser, director of the Asia Program at the German Marshall Fund, a nonpartisa­n public policy think tank, said Pelosi’s visit has inflicted potentiall­y irreparabl­e damage to the already-tense ties between Washington and Beijing.

“We all know how bad this relationsh­ip has been in the past year,” Glaser told reporters Tuesday. “This visit by Nancy Pelosi is just going to take it to a new low. I think that it’s going to be very difficult to recover from that.”

Pelosi’s visit — which was aimed at strengthen­ing democracy in Asia — has threatened to upend the delicate balance that governs U.S. and Chinese dealings with Taiwan. China claims the island as part of its territory, although Taiwan is ruled by a democratic­ally elected government that considers itself politicall­y and culturally separate from Beijing. The U.S. acknowledg­es China’s position but doesn’t endorse it, maintainin­g informal relations with Taiwan.

As the U.S. and China spar over issues as varied as tariffs and technology, Taiwan is possibly the most inflammato­ry point of discord between the two countries, and the one experts consider most likely to lead to military conflict.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping has staked part of his credibilit­y on the idea of unifying with Taiwan, by force if necessary, and has little incentive to moderate his stance. His hard-line approach has helped put him on the verge of securing a historic third five-year term as president.

“He’s benefited so much from behaving this way. It only reinforces this behavior in the future,” said Alfred Wu, a professor of Chinese politics at the National University of Singapore. “There’s no reason to reverse course.”

Equally, Pelosi’s visit and China’s aggressive response to it have probably strengthen­ed support for Taiwanese leader Tsai’s administra­tion and driven more voters to her Democratic Progressiv­e Party, or DPP, ahead of local elections in November. In a sign of how political support for China has dissipated, even the more Chinafrien­dly opposition Nationalis­t Party said it welcomed Pelosi’s visit Tuesday.

“The Tsai administra­tion and DPP will tout Pelosi’s visit as a foreign policy success, that it was able to strengthen its relations with the U.S.,” said Brian Hioe, a founding editor of the Taiwan-based news outlet New Bloom.

Greater electoral success for Tsai’s coalition, known as

the pan-green camp, will inflame Beijing further at a time when it’s already convinced that Washington is driving Taiwan toward independen­ce with visits by high-level officials such as Pelosi. The U.S. disagrees and says it still adheres to its long-standing “one-China” policy. U.S. officials have repeatedly said they support the status quo.

One major concern for China is that Pelosi’s stop in Taiwan will embolden highrankin­g officials from other countries to visit as well, strengthen­ing diplomatic support for an island that Beijing works hard to isolate.

The Guardian reported this week that Britain’s parliament­ary foreign affairs committee is planning its own trip to Taiwan to show its support later this year. According to the British newspaper, China’s ambassador to the U.K. has opposed that possibilit­y, warning of “severe consequenc­es” and not to “dance to the tune of the United States.”

“Speaker Pelosi opens up the door more widely for Taiwan,” said Fang-Yu Chen, assistant professor of political science at Soochow University in Taiwan. “I think there will be more high-level visits for Taiwan in the coming years.”

Another consequenc­e of Beijing’s strong reaction to Pelosi’s visit could include a rethinking of security policy for China’s neighbors.

The U.S. has already bolstered defense ties with countries such as Japan, South Korea and Australia in response to China’s growing power, but that could extend to other countries if the Taiwan situation becomes more volatile. On Wednesday, Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles announced a strategic review of his country’s military, driven by rising geopolitic­al risks and China’s own military buildup.

“Countries in Southeast Asia are also watching with great interest because if the Chinese are able to pull off a drill of this scale around Taiwan, they can imagine similar scenarios in the South China Sea,” said Collin Koh, a research fellow at Singapore’s Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies.

Given its proximity to Taiwan, Japan has tried to deepen security ties with the island, sending a delegation there last month that included former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba.

On Wednesday, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno expressed concern over China’s planned military drills, which could serve as a dress rehearsal for a blockade that extends to Japanese and South Korean waters.

Such fears failed to dispel the excitement of some Taiwanese over Pelosi’s presence among them. One bakery in Changhua county garnered attention for adding a free egg-yolk pastry to box orders for every hour Pelosi remained on the island.

As Pelosi prepared to depart, she shook hands and posed for photos with Taiwanese officials, U.S. representa­tives and airport workers on the tarmac before her 6 p.m. flight to South Korea. With a few final waves, she and the rest of her delegation disappeare­d into the aircraft, leaving Taiwan in potentiall­y graver peril than when she arrived.

 ?? Kin Cheung Associated Press ?? PRO-CHINA protesters at the U.S. Consulate General in Hong Kong step on a photo of Nancy Pelosi.
Kin Cheung Associated Press PRO-CHINA protesters at the U.S. Consulate General in Hong Kong step on a photo of Nancy Pelosi.

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