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A Pelosi Visit to Taiwan Could Inflame Tensions Between U.S. & China, with Little Benefit to Taiwanese

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China warned that there could be serious consequences, including a military response, if U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi follows through on plans to visit Taiwan in August, according to the Financial Times. If the trip happens, Pelosi would become the most senior U.S. official to visit Taiwan in 25 years. “The question is: Is this signal just intended to really stick it to China very quickly, without actually benefiting Taiwan, or is it something that should be best not done?” says Taiwanese American journalist Brian Hioe.

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StoryAug 03, 2022U.S.-China Tensions Rise as Pelosi Vows “Ironclad” Support for Taiwan During Controversial Trip
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Pentagon officials are reportedly planning to increase movement of U.S. forces in the Indo-Pacific region if House Speaker Nancy Pelosi makes her planned visit to Taiwan next month. China has reportedly issued stark warnings to the Biden administration over Pelosi’s proposed trip, which was first reported last week. China is threatening to take strong measures if Pelosi travels to Taiwan. According to the Financial Times, China has privately warned the Biden administration it may respond militarily. President Biden will speak with Chinese leader Xi Jinping on Thursday amidst the fresh tensions over Taiwan.

Pentagon officials told the Associated Press, in a report published today, that they’re, quote, “developing plans for any contingency,” and said, quote, “fighter jets, ships, surveillance assets and other military systems would likely be used to provide overlapping rings of protection for [Pelosi’s] flight to Taiwan and any time on the ground there.”

This comes as Taiwan held air defense drills in its capital Monday as its military holds annual military exercises this week.

If Pelosi’s August trip happens, she would become the most senior U.S. official to visit Taiwan in a quarter of a century. Pelosi postponed a planned trip to Taiwan in April after she tested positive for COVID-19.

For more, we go to Taipei, Taiwan, to speak with Brian Hioe, a Taiwanese American journalist, founding editor of New Bloom magazine, which covers youth culture and social movement politics. The magazine was founded after the 2014 Sunflower Movement.

Brian, welcome to Democracy Now! This is really coming to a head this week. We’ll see what happens when Biden speaks with the Chinese leader this week. What do you make of Nancy Pelosi saying she’s coming to Taiwan with a congressional delegation?

BRIAN HIOE: So, I think part of the issue, then, is regarding the timing. Particularly in April, this would have been viewed in light of the Ukraine invasion, to then drive home the point of U.S. support for Taiwan. However, now at this juncture it is thought that it might be too late and that this would lead to Chinese aggression. The question is: What steps would China take? How far would they be willing to go? And these are questions that are up in the air. But then, I think, particularly, one has seen visits from U.S. government officials to Taiwan. This is seen as a show of support, an attempt to send a signal to China. The question is: Is this signal just intended to really stick it to China very quickly, without actually benefiting Taiwan, or is it something that should be best not done?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Brian, why do you think that the speaker decided to take this trip at this time? Obviously, she represents a district in California that has a large Chinese American population, but what do you — what do you feel is her reasoning? And also, the Biden administration is publicly saying it’s not a good time for this.

BRIAN HIOE: So, this is very hard to judge. For example, it’s possible that Pelosi is attempting to pressure Biden because of the fact that Biden is scheduled to speak with Xi. There may be concern that Biden will say something regarding Taiwan policy that would then, perhaps, cause further issues, and she wants to pressure him regarding that.

Another possibility is because of the fact that the Republicans have intended to send signals to their voters with support of Taiwan. For example, Mike Pompeo recently visited Taiwan in order to launch — as part of his preparation for the presidential bid. And so, Pelosi may be seeking to answer to a demographic that sees the Democrats as weak on China, and then stepping up support for Taiwan may be intended then ahead of midterm elections.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And in terms of the conflict that has been growing between the Biden administration and the leadership in Beijing, how do you see this affecting that in one way or another?

BRIAN HIOE: So, it is quite interesting, because I think, particularly from the Taiwanese standpoint, whenever there are talks between the U.S. and China, there’s concern that Taiwan would be used as a playing card, in some sense, a chess piece, that perhaps the U.S. would be willing to negotiate on Taiwan with China. This was a matter of concern under the Trump administration, and it is also the case under Biden.

Biden has, in recent memory, more often made statements that seem to be supportive of Taiwan, for example, expressing commitment to defend Taiwan, where there is actually no such agreement. There are also other points, too, in which he has suggested agreement between the U.S. and China on Taiwan when there is actually no such agreement. And so it’s then very hard to say what would happen regarding talks between the U.S. and China, and Taiwan would inevitably come up as an issue. And this is further politically charged in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine, raising concerns about what would happen, for example, if China were to invade Taiwan, and that could potentially entangle the U.S.

And there are further concerns, too, as mentioned, regarding semiconductors. Taiwan produces much of the world’s semiconductors, and both the U.S. and China are reliant on Taiwan in this way, that at a time of rising political and economic tensions between the U.S. and China, Taiwan is at the meeting point between the two, so to speak, regarding economics, politics, geopolitics, technology. There have even been reports that Taiwanese semiconductors are even used in the Chinese missiles that are pointed at Taiwan, for example.

AMY GOODMAN: On Tuesday, Taiwan conducted its annual Han Kuang exercises, a military exercise simulating an invasion of Taiwan off the northeast coast. This is the Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen speaking aboard a warship.

PRESIDENT TSAI ING-WEN: [translated] To all the brothers and sisters fighting on the waters, the excellent drill by everyone just now demonstrated the ability and determination by the soldiers of the Republic of China to defend the country. Let’s continue to work hard and guard our homeland together.

AMY GOODMAN: If you can talk about what this means, and also the fact that many who are supporting Nancy Pelosi going to Taiwan are Republicans? As a Taiwanese American, as we talk to you in the capital of Taiwan, in Taipei, if you can talk about the politics of this, both as an American but also as a Taiwanese who has often criticized both what you call Chinese imperialism and American imperialism?

BRIAN HIOE: That’s right. And so, it has long-standing been the case that Taiwan more often backs from Republicans, who are seen as stronger on China, more willing to support Taiwan because they are tougher on China, whereas Democrats are perceived in a view, that I think is a bit dated, that they are soft on China, they’re willing to accommodate China. For example, the Asia pivot sometimes is misinterpreted as not an attempt to pressure China by containing it, because of the fact that Taiwan was not always included in those plans, but just as an attempt to, for example, build stronger economic relations with China. There was even this kind of misinterpretation.

But then I think, particularly, when you do have Republicans now, such as Mitch McConnell expressing support for a Pelosi visit, or Mike Pompeo even saying on Twitter that he would go with Pelosi to Taiwan, Taiwanese people will then see this and see Republicans seemingly being very unified in their support of Taiwan, where Democrats, between Biden and Pelosi, seem to be more divided.

And so, in this sense, I think what is also worth noting is that if there are military threats from China, this will be directed at Taiwan. Taiwan is the one that stands to be caught in the crossfire between the U.S. and China. However, this is discussed not in terms of the damage to Taiwan or the threat Taiwan faces or the losses of Taiwanese lives, but in terms of the potential to embroil the U.S. in conflict, which is definitely a concern.

At the same time, Chinese military drills have continued for some time, and even reported on internationally. They’re not usually perceived as a threat in Taiwan. Life goes on. Chinese military threats occur with such frequency, on a near daily frequency, it becomes background noise. And so I think people don’t actually perceive necessarily that, the stakes that a Pelosi visit could have for geopolitics, because things seem as though they might just go on as usual, and there have been diplomatic visits from the U.S. recently.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And you mentioned Chinese military exercises. There have been on occasion also, periodically, U.S. warships that have gone through the Taiwan Straits. And obviously, China has protested on numerous occasions that if you believe in a One China policy, then — it argues that the Taiwan Straits are not international waters. Of course, the U.S. and some other countries differ on that. And so, there have been periodic military ships of the U.S. that have gone through the straits. Could you comment on that, as well?

BRIAN HIOE: So, I think the danger particularly with the U.S. and China is that they’re caught in a pattern of tit-for-tat escalation. Whenever one side makes a move, the other feels it necessary then to reciprocate with a move of equal measure as a show of strength. And Taiwan, then, particularly caught between the two, faces risks on both sides, faces risks from this escalation from both the U.S. and China. But I think what’s important to note is that both the U.S. and China do not perceive themselves as acting as the aggressor, but only responding to the other. And so, then the question is, then, regarding diplomat signaling: What would China then interpret as a threat?

And I think that there are other also regional considerations to keep in mind. For example, after the death of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, William Lai, the vice president, visited Japan to mourn Abe. And this was the highest-ranking visit by a Taiwanese official in 50 years. And so, I think China particularly also does want to send a signal regarding other regional alignments, particularly regarding Taiwan, the U.S. and Japan.

AMY GOODMAN: What about a blockade scenario? And also, because there is what they call a CODEL, a congressional delegation, going, and it’s the highest-level person leading it, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in 25 years, the Pentagon will be forced to deploy more weapons to the region, more military equipment or ships — this just increasing the tension naturally in that region and could lead to some kind of mishap.

BRIAN HIOE: So, this is kind of interesting, as well, because one of the considerations regarding how much security to send for a Pelosi visit is that you don’t then want to scare China into thinking this is pretext for conflict or intimidating force in that sense.

I think another part of the politics is regarding how this is perceived. There have been delegations that are sent that seem much more strongly Republican than Democrat. And so, then, framing the visit as bipartisan is something that could occur, particularly after McConnell’s recent comments. But then, with regards to Pelosi visiting, that, I think, is particularly charged before elections are coming up later this year.

It’s a question, though, regarding how China would react, particularly because of the fact that Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to obtain a third term in office, which is unprecedented, at the 20th National Congress later this year. And so, for example, would he want stability from not having a conflict break out in order to secure that, or would he want something to happen that he could, for example, claim as an accomplishment, or even a distraction from his efforts at expanding power? I think that’s also another factor in this.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And also, could you talk about how the government in Taiwan is going to be reacting to the visit? Will she be received by official government leaders other than the parliamentary equivalent in Taiwan?

BRIAN HIOE: So, that’s actually a very good question, as well. I think what is noteworthy is the Tsai administration has not made a politically strong statement on the possibilities of the visit. I think because of the fact that it does appear that, at least publicly, Pelosi and Biden are in conflict, the Tsai administration does not want to take sides here, for fear of offending one side or the other. But then it is possible that if a visit were to take place, the Tsai administration would actually play it low-key.

What’s noteworthy about the Biden administration is that it has differed from the Trump administration insofar how it conducts visits. These are usually done much more low-key. They’re announced after this official is already in Taiwan, to prevent news from getting out, from granting a window of opportunity for China to react, and so forth. But it’s too late in this case. But that being the case, it is also possible the Tsai administration would try to be much more low-key about it. Inn the past, the Tsai administration did try to trumpet the building of ties with the U.S., particularly under the Trump administration, because of the fact that this could be then used as a domestic political achievement, saying that we have strengthened ties with the U.S. But in this case, it might not happen.

How much of a red carpet will be rolled out for Pelosi? I don’t know. When Mike Pompeo came to Taiwan, Taipei 101, the tallest skyscraper in Taiwan, once the tallest skyscraper in the world, lit up for Pompeo. Would Pelosi see a similar welcome? I think that really depends. But that also then will color the perception of whether Taiwan is leaning very strongly towards Republicans in terms of support and who it is banking on. And I think that particularly, then, the question is: What about other political forces in the U.S. that could perhaps support Taiwan?

AMY GOODMAN: We just have 30 seconds, but the messages of both Xi to Biden and Biden to Xi when they speak on Thursday, what do you think they should be?

BRIAN HIOE: So, Taiwan will definitely come up as an issue. But I think, then, it’s still an opaque question. Particularly Biden has a history of misstatements on Taiwan or other key issues afterwards. I think Biden will probably try to play down tensions, but it’s also possible that talks will break down. And so, I think this is really — remains to be seen.

AMY GOODMAN: Brian Hioe, I want to thank you for being with us, Taiwanese American journalist, founding editor of New Bloom magazine, speaking to us from Taipei, Taiwan.

Next up, “There is a global debt crisis coming — and it won’t stop at Sri Lanka.” We’ll speak with economics professor Jayati Ghosh and then with Marxist economist Richard Wolff about inflation, about recession, what all this means for workers in the United States. Stay with us.

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