August 10, 2022 at 8:15 am
The visit of U.S. politician Nancy Pelosi (Nancy Pelosi; Polosi, Polosi) has sparked fresh tensions between self-governing Taiwan and China, which it claims is part of its territory. Two BBC reporters currently in Beijing and Taipei analyzed China’s live-fire exercise near Taiwan, the significance of its response, and how each side of the Taiwan Strait viewed the exercise.
BBC correspondent Stephen McDonellfrom Beijing
Hardliners at the top of the Chinese Communist Party may be satisfied with the impact of Pelosi’s visit.
Pelosi opened a window for them, and they took advantage of it.
Now, a series of more extreme military measures around Taiwan have entered the acceptable range.
These moves – including the launch of missiles over the island of Taiwan – have become “acceptable” not because the international community agreed, but because they happened and Beijing escaped punishment.
Every time PLA fighter jets come closer or cross the Taiwan Strait in greater numbers, it becomes a new standard.
Moreover, the idea that mainland China will one day forcefully unify Taiwan is now considered a possibility by many Chinese.
This is seen as a victory by those who want it to happen.
On the other hand, some more peaceful strategies to achieve what Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi called Taiwan’s “return to the motherland” are now not being discussed or given any details.
A side benefit of this massive live-fire exercise by the People’s Liberation Army is that it underscores global perceptions of China’s inevitable rise by force, which could threaten its Southeast Asian neighbors, which also have competing claims in the South China Sea.
These massive military exercises require some planning. It’s hard to imagine that when news of Ms. Pelosi’s planned visit to Taiwan was leaked, the generals suddenly conceived of those plans.
More likely, they’ve got a plan ready and pulled it out of the drawer because the opportunity presented itself.
As one nationalist in Beijing said with a smile in an interview on the street last week, “Thank you Comrade Pelosi!”
It would be dangerous if the Chinese government got too caught up in its own belligerent rhetoric and began to convince itself that taking and occupying Taiwan might be relatively easy, rather than a difficult, bloody, catastrophic event.
Some analysts even believe that these war games have helped Taiwan and the U.S. military prepare defensive strategies to resist any aggression from the mainland.
But for Xi Jinping’s government, these exercises are not enough. On Friday night, China’s foreign ministry announced that cross-border cooperation between China and the United States in areas including narcotics and maritime security would be suspended. Also, all high-level U.S.-China military talks will be suspended.
U.S. media also reported that calls between U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley were not answered by China.
Crucially, Beijing suspended climate change cooperation with Washington. The world’s largest carbon emitter is no longer speaking out.
Tensions have certainly increased since Ms Pelosi’s visit, but Xi Jinping’s government seems to like it, at least for now.
war of words
BBC reporter Rupert Wingfield-Hayesfrom Taiwan
For the past few days, much of the focus has been on the gunpowder smoke that surrounds Taiwan. But equally important were the words of Beijing that accompanied the exercise.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has referred to a small group of Taiwanese politicians as “Taiwan separatist forces”.
Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen is the highest ranked. She was singled out for a special attack. Wang Yi called her “an unworthy descendant of the Chinese nation,” in other words, a traitor.
The aim is to try to separate them from the majority of Taiwan’s people, whom Beijing considers not an enemy, a small “faction” that China says is trying to separate Taiwan from the motherland.
The problem with Beijing is that this version of Taiwan is nothing like reality. Recent opinion polls show that the vast majority of Taiwanese oppose any form of reunification with China, and the majority consider themselves “Taiwanese” rather than “Chinese”, a growing number.
According to Wang Yi, this is because Tsai Ing-wen’s government has been “going all out to promote de-Sinification” and trying to create “two Chinas” or “one China, one Taiwan”.
That is why we heard the Chinese ambassador to France say that after Taiwan is “reunited” with China, the people of Taiwan “will need to be re-educated”. He said they were “brainwashed” into thinking they were not Chinese.
Again, this is completely at odds with reality. Taiwan is an open society where people are free to read what they want, think about what they want, and vote for who they like.
The question now is: what impact will all of this have?
Beijing’s goal is to intimidate Taiwanese into voting against Tsai Ing-wen’s party in the next general election in 2024. They want to see the more China-friendly Kuomintang return to power.
Beijing has tried this tactic before, without much success. Many Taiwanese businesses have been affected by Beijing’s sanctions, especially for fruit farmers. China’s ban on mainland tourists to Taiwan has already hurt Taiwan’s tourism industry.
But if the events of recent days continue, Taiwan’s stance toward Beijing looks set to get tougher.