Nancy Pelosi’s Taiwan Visit Stoked Tensions With China. What Comes Next?

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has left Taiwan after a series of high-profile meetings with Taiwan’s pro-democracy president and other lawmakers. Pelosi’s visit made her the most senior U.S. official to visit Taiwan in 25 years and stoked tensions with China, prompting the nation to announce it would carry out new air and naval drills and long-range live-fire exercises in six areas around Taiwan beginning Thursday. The Quincy Institute’s Michael Swaine says President Biden should have done more to prevent the visit and uphold the One China policy, calling the move a “basic violation of the understanding that the United States and China reached at the time of normalization.” Taiwanese American journalist Brian Hioe rebukes Swaine’s claims, saying progressives should focus more on the desires of the Taiwanese than trying to cater to the whims of the two imperial powers of the U.S. and China, adding that the Taiwanese are not threatened by China’s retaliatory military escalation. “We cannot act as progressives or leftists seeing things in a bipolar world, seeing no other agency from any other force,” says Hioe.


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AMY GOODMAN: After a series high-profile meetings with China that raised tensions, Nancy Pelosi, the U.S. House Speaker, has left Taiwan. She is now the highest ranking official to visit Taiwan for 25 years. Pelosi met with Taiwan’s president and Taiwanese lawmakers. Part of their meeting was broadcast online.

SPEAKER NANCY PELOSI: It’s really clear that while China has stood in the way of Taiwan participating and going to certain meetings, that they understand that they will not stand in the way of people coming to Taiwan. It’s a show of friendship, of support, but also a source of learning about how we can work together better in collaboration.

AMY GOODMAN: Pelosi met with key pro democracy activists and discussed economic plans. Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen said she welcomed Pelosi’s visit.

PRESIDENT TSAI INGWEN: The speaker’s presence here in Taiwan serves to boost public confidence in the strength of our democracy as a foundation to our partnership with the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, China responded to Speaker Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan in part by announcing plans to carry out new air and naval drills and long-range live-fire exercises in six areas around Taiwan beginning Thursday. Taiwan said the military exercises are, quote, “tantamount to an air and sea blockade of Taiwan.” This is a spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

HUA CHUNYING: [translated]The Chinese military’s relevant actions are a deterrent for the separatist forces in Taiwan. They are also justified. You raised the issue of navigation in the waters. We have never had any issues with navigation in the waters. I think you should pay more attention to how U.S. warships and military aircraft have come so far right up to China’s doorstep to show off their force.

AMY GOODMAN: This is a major military exercise that the U.S. has been holding in the region, along with Indonesia, Australia and Japan for the first half August. Sumatra will host 5,000 soldiers. This is Charles Flynn, the commanding general for the U.S. Army Pacific.

GEN. CHARLES FLYNN: With all of the technical and procedural aspects of this, it’s just a really important expression of our teamwork and our interoperability and our — our unity, really, as a group of nations that are — seek to continue to have a free and open Indo-Pacific.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re joined by two guests. Taipei, Taiwan: Brian Qiu Qixin Hioe (Taiwanese American journalist, founder editor of New Bloom magazine. And in Washington, D.C., Michael Swaine is director of the Quincy Institute’s East Asia Program, longtime U.S.-China relations analyst. His books and briefings include America’s Challenge: Engaging a Rising China in the Twenty-First Century.

We are happy to have you back. Democracy Now! Brian Hioe, let’s begin with you. You’re right there in Taipei, where Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, has just left along with her congressional delegation. Can you speak to the significance of this journey?

BRIAN HIOE: That’s right. This is historic, in the sense that it hasn’t happened in 25 years. It is also fascinating to note the large response. The Biden administration has increased the frequency of announcing such visits after they are actually made. China is less likely to respond. The scoop by the BBC made this news much more immediate. Financial Times. There have been many weeks of discussion.

However, I believe it is important to note that, while Taiwan would be directly in the line of fire by China, there isn’t panic the same way as there was in international discussions. I think there’s not a lot of attention paid to that, Taiwanese and their own threat assessment of what this will lead to. And so, we’ll see about the exercises, because China claims it will only last for three days, and it does want to play them up as blockade now, but that is to be questioned.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Brian, what’s your sense of the reaction within Taiwan among the Taiwanese people to — and the government, as well, to Nancy Pelosi’s efforts? Some reports have indicated that there were concerns even within the Taiwan government about her visit.

BRIAN HIOE: I don’t think the public was aware of this until recently. People joke that Pelosi was the name for a Typhoon. It was supposed to be a warning that something was coming. However, it wasn’t chaos. And so, now this visit’s happened.

But there’s also a question under what circumstances it took place. There was a report from a very pro-China media outlet, which has been reporting on — is taking funding and editorial direction from the Chinese government directly. The report claims Taiwan tried to disinvite Pelosi by refusing to accept her invitation, but Pelosi insisted. That’s hard to say. It’s hard to know the veracity of this report. However, Taiwan’s government is not in a position of saying no to the U.S. even when it comes down to issues that could put it in the crossfire.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I’d like to ask Michael Swaine — here we are less than a year since the disastrous end of the 20-year U.S. occupation of Afghanistan, just six months since Washington’s efforts to expand NATO triggered the Russian invasion of Ukraine and a conflict that’s destabilized the entire world, pushed us closer to nuclear war. Why would our political leaders risk at the same time a new confrontation with China, our planet’s rising economic power and its most populous nation?

MICHAEL SWAINE: Well, that’s an excellent question. I’m not sure I know the answer to it, why they would want to do this at this time. I think the administration was not, in truth, terribly happy about Nancy Pelosi’s decision to take a congressional delegation to Taiwan at this time, but they certainly knew about it well in advance, and they could have done a lot more to try to discourage it, but they did not. And I guess, from what they’ve been saying since her visit there, that this is really no big deal, there’s no difference here between what she’s doing today and what’s happened in the past, that they think the Chinese will sort of shrug and say, “OK, well, I guess, no big deal.”

But, of course, that is not exactly what’s happening. You’ve got, if anything, the reverse. The Chinese have embarked on, as you said in your setup, a series of military actions here that rival or exceed the military actions that they took back in 1995, ’96. And it’s very hard to see how the Pelosi visit has helped or advanced Taiwan’s security in light of this kind of Chinese reaction.

AMY GOODMAN: Brian, could you please give some background on the relationship between China, Taiwan? This is something that I believe a lot of people around the world are watching. The history, the nature of the relationship between China Taiwanese and Taiwan, and how is it similar to Hong Kong?

BRIAN HIOE: Yeah. It is a different situation. However, Hong Kong and Taiwan have always shared common circumstances despite being under threat from China. Taiwan is now settled by Indigenous and Han settlers who have come from past centuries of migration. But as we know it today as the Republic of China, as it’s officially known, though many do not like that name, it is because of the KMT’s defeat in the Chinese Civil War. It brought with it what are now the descendants of which 10% of the population. Around 80% were from previous waves. People have been living in Taiwan for hundreds and thousands of years. Taiwan was only included into China by the Qing Dynasty. And that’s only part of it.

So, that’s not surprising then that why people in Taiwan often have a different sense of identity from China. And the KMTWhen it came to Taiwan, the tried to portray Taiwan as having been part of China. This is similar in concept to what the PRC As part of its very recent territorial claims over Taiwan, it claims today. The PRC did not always, in fact — you can even quote Mao on this, Mao Zedong — make claims over Taiwan. This issue is now being contested partly because of geopolitics. If China wants to expand its power into the Asia-Pacific region, Taiwan is what it wants. And there’s also the desire for, for example, Taiwanese semiconductors or its resources and that sort of thing, because China is itself highly reliant on Taiwanese semiconductors for manufacturing, for its own supply lines. According to some reports, they even appear in the missiles that China has pointed towards Taiwan.

AMY GOODMAN: Michael, would you share Brian’s analysis of the past and the relationship between Taiwan and China?

MICHAEL SWAINE: Well, what Brian said is — as far as it goes, is fairly accurate. The important thing is to understand the context of the relationship between the United States of China and Taiwan at the time when normalization took place in the 1970s and Taiwan was recognized in 1979. The United States and China had reached an understanding about Taiwan at that time. This was a contentious issue at that time. To try and resolve that issue, the Chinese made it clear that they would prioritize peaceful unification. They wouldn’t give up the possibility of use of force, because they regard Taiwan as sovereign Chinese territory, and a sovereign state can exercise military force over its own territory. However, they said, “We will no longer seek to liberate Taiwan by force as our policy. We’re going to try a peaceful unification for years and work on that.” By the same token, China said, “OK, we recognize that China is the legitimate government — the PRC is the legitimate government of China, and we do not challenge the claim by China that Taiwan is a part of China.” Now, they didn’t say they officially recognized, in a legal sense, Taiwan as part of China, but they said they don’t challenge it. The One China policy, peaceful unification was what you had.

Now, what’s happened since that time is there’s been a steady erosion on both sides in the level of their apparent commitment to those original pledges. And Nancy Pelosi’s trip, this latest trip, represents yet another movement away from the different understandings and stipulations and procedures that were basic to the One China policy that the United States had been pursuing for years. She flew to Taiwan aboard an official U.S. military plane that looked similar to Air Force One. She described her trip to Taiwan as an official one. She made it very public, unlike Newt, who was the House speaker 25 years ago to Taiwan. Newt Gingrich was the first to go to Beijing. He stopped briefly in Taiwan before moving on. The Chinese didn’t like it then. Now, however, Pelosi’s actions are much more large-scale, much more publicized and has all the trappings that come with an official visit. As I said, this is a fundamental violation of the agreement between the United States of America and China at the time normalization was completed. And there have been a lot of other developments over the years —

BRIAN HIOE: I’d like to cut in here, actually. So, can I ask —

MICHAEL SWAINE: — that have moved Taiwan closer and closer to the U.S.

BRIAN HIOE: Can I ask, actually, why we are talking about a 50-year-old agreement without talking about the wishes of the Taiwanese people in the slightest, justifying that the present actions China takes are somehow justified towards Taiwan because of these two imperial powers — the U.S. and China — deciding on the fate of Taiwan? I think there’s often a misperception that Taiwanese people are irrational, pursuing independence at all costs, even if this means regional conflict. But I think that if you look at the way Taiwanese people vote, it’s pragmatic, the path that they think will avoid conflict, will allow to retain their democracies. And so, I don’t know, then, why we’re talking about 50-year-old treaties by imperial powers, as though this were the left-wing or progressive position here.

MICHAEL SWAINE: The point is not what the Taiwanese are actually saying. What I was just saying was about the United States —

BRIAN HIOE: So, then, it doesn’t matter, huh?

MICHAEL SWAINE: — and U.S. policy. The issue here — my point is the One China policy and the peaceful reunification agreement and understanding provided Taiwan with decades of stability and development. And that sort of relationship —

BRIAN HIOE: But, authoritarian rule is supported by the U.S.

MICHAEL SWAINE: — should continue. It should continue. This is a shift on both sides by the United States and China away from the original understanding, which is actually reducing Taiwan’s security. It’s undermining Taiwan’s own security. The Taiwanese don’t want changes in the status quo. They want a continuation of the status quo, and that’s not what they’re getting. They’re not getting that with Nancy Pelosi.

BRIAN HIOE: So, when will this happen? This is how you see Hong Kong’s future. You see the increasing Chinese threats to Taiwan. Even if Taiwan — you just claim as though if it do nothing, and then things would be all right. That’s not the case. China actively seeks to undermine Taiwan. China has kidnapped many Taiwanese, for example. Pelosi met today with Lee Mingche, for example. Obviously this is political stunt, but there’s that. The police crackdown in Hong Kong and the detention of Uyghurs at Xinjiang are not alternatives to the peace that Taiwanese consider peaceful. China is an expanding power. It wants to expand. It wants to challenge the U.S. It is following the U.S. model, even using antiterror discourse derived from the U.S. war against terror. So, why would you think that China would just allow Taiwan to live? That’s not how imperial powers work.

MICHAEL SWAINE: I don’t generalize to imperial powers, across the board, they all behave as such. I don’t want to get into that kind of argument, because you get into all kinds of exceptions when you talk about that. But in this particular case, I think the issue is what best serves Taiwan’s security interests over time. If you assume that the Chinese have absolutely —

BRIAN HIOE: Have you also spoken with Taiwanese people about their opinions on what is best for their interests?

MICHAEL SWAINE: If you assume that the Chinese have absolutely no interest whatsoever in maintaining — in avoiding a conflict over Taiwan, that they’re just basically preparing to attack Taiwan, seize it and hold it, then we are in a different kind of situation from what we have been in for the last many decades. I wouldn’t assume that the Chinese are focused solely on a policy of invading and seizing Taiwan. They’re not stupid. They know that this would be a big gamble. They would prefer to have a relationship with Taiwan in which Taiwan was more inclined to deal with the mainland in a political manner and could end the situation peacefully. That’s what they’d like.

The Chinese have not done anything that makes that more likely. I’m not letting the Chinese off the hook here. I’m saying that the Chinese themselves have also been doing things that have been changing the status quo. Yes, they have raised concerns in Taiwan as well as in the United States. The United States has responded by increasing its deterrence. So what you have on both sides now is a heavy emphasis on military deterrence, heavy emphasis on worst-case outcomes, very little real communication about Taiwan and where Taiwan’s status lies and how you can stabilize the country. You’ve got this posturing going on and this positioning going on between both sides that is not serving the interests of Taiwan at all.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: If I can, if I can ask Brian, following up on this issue of the rest of the world not taking into account the aspirations of the Taiwanese people: If the Taiwanese people do wish, the majority of them, for independence from China, is it the responsibility of the United States to defend Taiwan’s viewpoints? Why should the United States be the country who is constantly the watchdog of the places where democracy is expressed around the globe?

BRIAN HIOE: Has it been? I mean, the U.S. supported Taiwan’s authoritarian dictatorship for decades under Chiang Kai Shik and his son Chiang Ching-kuo. In the present, Taiwan is a geopolitical game piece for the U.S. to trade off, or raise stakes for negotiation. It was quite evident under Donald Trump. He was idolized in Taiwan by some. And then, now, the present, the view from Americans is that, “Well, we should just fork over Taiwan to China,” that this is the way to keep peace. This seems like a very simple logic to people from an imperial power to maintain this.

So what do we hope for? It is not a conflict on either side. There will be enormous losses, Taiwanese or Chinese — more Chinese perhaps, in fact, based on some of the estimates — of an invasion. How can we prevent this? But we cannot assume that China will be an active rational actor here, when it’s increasingly authoritarian. Xi Jinping’s interests are not those of the Chinese people. For example, provoking a crisis, losing an enormous amount of — tens of thousands of young people, that might be the way for Xi to maintain power. It could be the way to increase his power. The assumption that it is impossible cannot be true. CCP It will act rationally, always hoping Taiwan will join China. But what we see is that Taiwan takes a velvet glove approach sometimes, offering financial incentives. At the same time, it tries setting examples with Hong Kong, Tibet and Xinjiang. So, that’s it. This world is not limited to the U.S.-China relationship. We cannot act as progressives and leftists in a bipolar world that sees no other agency or force. We need to think outside of this binary. And I don’t see that happening.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I’d like to follow that up, Michael Swaine, this issue of that we shouldn’t see this as a bipolar world. Where are the other nations and the United Nations when dealing with Taiwan and China?

MICHAEL SWAINE: Well, what we see is that the majority of countries in the world have either not challenged or have explicitly accepted some variation of a One China policy — that is, that they have recognized that Taiwan is a part of China, or they have not challenged that point. America and its closest allies hold very similar positions. Few countries recognize Taiwan as an independent country. A few countries, mainly from Central America, recognize Taiwan as an independent country. Most countries do not see Taiwan as a sovereign, independent state, and they don’t want to get embroiled, however, in the China-Taiwan conflagration or confrontation. They want to have good relations with both China and with Taiwan, so they don’t want to backstop actions that could really upset the stability of the situation now and lead to crisis or conflict. But, unfortunately, that is the direction in which we’re moving because of the kinds of calculations and the worst-casing and the zero-sum sorts of approaches that are being adopted by both the United States and China.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to leave it there. Thank you so much for being here with us. Of course, we’re going to continue to follow this issue. Michael Swaine, director of the Quincy Institute’s East Asia Program, and Brian Qiu Qixin Hioe, Taiwanese American journalist and editor of New Bloom Taipei Magazine, speaking to us

Next up, Senate Republicans reverse themselves again, after being humiliated by both comedian Jon Stewart and U.S. vets, and they agree to join Democrats in passing a bill to aid U.S. vets poisoned by the Pentagon’s use of toxic burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. We’ll talk about the impact of these burn pits on both U.S. vets and on Iraqis. Stay with us.