Travel in the Face of Threats

Late Tuesday evening, local time, US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi landed in Taiwan (also known as the Republic of China) despite multiple warnings from the government in mainland China against the visit. Before her trip, the Chinese said they would shoot down her plane if it entered their airspace. That’s a severe warning…a threat to the United States of America. Murdering the Speaker of the US House of Representatives would be considered an act of war.

A significant reason for the heated Chinese response is that Mrs. Pelosi is second in line for the US presidency. She has been the most senior US official to visit the nation since Newt Gingrich’s visit in 1997.


Pelosi on the ground in Taiwan. Image Credit:

After landing at Songshan Airport a little before 11:00 PM, the Speaker was greeted by Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu and staff members from the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT). AIT functions as the de facto US embassy in Taipei.

A Little History

Taiwan is a self-governing democracy, home to over 23 million people. The Chinese Communist Party claims the island as its territory, despite never having governed it. A visit from a high-ranking US official such as Pelosi infuriates the Chinese government, which views it as support for Taiwanese independence. For years the Communist Chinese have tried hard to isolate the island diplomatically.

China takes all such matters extremely seriously, with President Xi Jinping threatening to incorporate the island nation into the “motherland” by force if necessary. It doesn’t take a massive leap of the imagination or a degree in International Affairs to make see an analogy between these kinds of statements and what is happening on the ground in Ukraine right now.

Mainland China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs calls the visit “a serious violation of the one-China principle and the provisions of the three China-U.S. joint communiqués” and that “China firmly opposes and sternly condemns this, and has made serious démarche and strong protest to the United States.” I’ll admit, after reading that, I had to look up the word “démarche.” It’s not the kind of language you hear every day. At least I don’t.

At any rate, it refers to a diplomatic line of action or countermove. I take this to mean they are formally telling us they are pissed off about the visit. After all, they did threaten to shoot down her plane. That’s not the kind of talk that can be brushed off lightly.

Pro-US and anti-Chinese protesters welcome the August 2nd visit of the Speaker. Image Credit: Lam Yik Fei/Bloomberg

Flexing Their Muscles

It wasn’t long after Pelosi’s plane touched down that Xinhua, the official news agency of China, released a statement from the People’s Liberation Army (the armed wing of the Chinese Communist Party). That statement informed the people of “important military training operations” that would take place in six different areas surrounding Taiwan. The live-fire exercises are scheduled for this upcoming Thursday thru Sunday, following the departure of the Speaker. Still, the message is crystal clear.

A Good Defense…

For her part, the Speaker strongly defended her trip. She stated, “Our congressional delegation’s visit to Taiwan honors America’s unwavering commitment to supporting Taiwan’s vibrant Democracy.”

She continued:

“Our visit is one of several Congressional delegations to Taiwan — and it in no way contradicts longstanding United States policy, guided by the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, U.S.-China Joint Communiques and the Six Assurances. The United States continues to oppose unilateral efforts to change the status quo.”

She is correct; back in April, Senators Lindsey Graham and Bob Menendez (chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee) made their own surprise visit to Taiwan. It should be noted that the Chinese were none too happy about this either. During the trip, Senator Graham criticized China for their increasingly close ties with Russia.

Speaking to Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen and referring to the Russian President, Graham said, “The support for Putin must come with a price,” Just what price is, he did not specify. But, the Senator continued, “To abandon Taiwan would be to abandon democracy and freedom.”

After returning from their trip, the two Senators jointly introduced the Taiwan Policy Act of 2022. A bipartisan bill, if passed, would provide the island nation with $4.5 billion in security assistance over the next four years. I guess that after hearing the Chinese President’s threats about wanting to reincorporate them into the motherland, they feared the aid might be needed. In addition, the bill would also designate Taiwan as a major non-NATO ally. This designation would provide additional security benefits and assurances for Taiwan.