he US has been perceived to keep a policy of “strategic ambiguity” toward the Taiwan question for decades to prevent China’s reunification while avoiding military conflict with China. But in the past few years, Washington has sought to substantially boost its official ties with the island. China has criticized the US’s actions as using “salami slicing tactics to encroach upon, obscure and hollow out the one-China principle.”
In this context, the visit to China’s Taiwan on August 2 by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, second in line for the US presidential succession if both the president and vice president are incapacitated, and the highest-ranking US politician to visit Taiwan in 25 years, despite China’s strong opposition, is considered a serious political provocation by China, and triggered an array of diplomatic and military reactions from the Chinese side.
Ever since media reported in mid-July that Pelosi would include Taiwan in her trip to Asia in August, it was met with strong protests and stern warnings from China.
On July 21, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Wang Wenbin criticized Pelosi’s planned visit as being “a serious violation of the one-China principle and [that will] send a gravely wrong signal to ‘Taiwan independence’ separatist forces. Should the US side insist on making the visit, China will act strongly to resolutely respond to it and take countermeasures,” Wang warned.
On July 26, when asked whether China would respond militarily, Tan Kefei, a spokesperson for China’s National Defense Ministry said that the Chinese military “will not sit idly by” and will take “strong and resolute measures” if Pelosi was to visit Taiwan.
In a phone call between Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Joe Biden on July 28, Xi urged the US to honor its commitment to the one-China principle in the three China-US joint communiqués, which serves as the political foundation for China-US relations. Xi warned that “those who play with fire will perish by it.” The White House says that Biden “underscored that the US policy has not changed and that the US strongly opposes unilateral efforts to change the status quo or undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.”
But US Secretary of State Antony Blinken insisted that the US Congress is independent of the executive branch of the US government and Pelosi would “make her own decision” whether or not to visit the island.
On August 2, the very day Pelosi would visit the island, Hua Chunying, a Foreign Ministry spokesperson, cited the US commitment in the China-US communiqué on establishing diplomatic relations in 1979, which states “the United States of America recognizes the Government of the People’s Republic of China as the sole legal government of China. Within this context, the people of the US will maintain cultural, commercial, and other unofficial relations with the people of Taiwan.” She stressed that Pelosi’s visit is “by no means an unofficial action,” and warned that “the US side will shoulder the responsibility and pay the price for undermining China’s sovereign and security interests.”
The Taiwan question is a result of China’s civil war when the defeated KMT-led government, under the leadership of Chiang Kai-shek, retreated to the island in 1949. In its Resolution 2758 passed at the 26th Session of the UN General Assembly in 1971, the United Nations decided “to restore all its rights to the People’s Republic of China and to recognize the representatives of its Government as the only legitimate representatives of China to the United Nations, and to expel forthwith the representatives of Chiang Kai-shek from the place which they unlawfully occupy at the United Nations and in all the organizations related to it.” In 1972, the Office of Legal Affairs of the UN Secretariat stated in the official legal opinions that “the United Nations considers ‘Taiwan’ as a province of China with no separate status,” and the “‘authorities’ in ‘Taipei’ are not considered to... enjoy any form of government status.”
The one-China principle is a prerequisite for any country to establish diplomatic relations with China. It includes “there is only one China in the world, Taiwan is part of China, and the government of the People’s Republic of China is the sole legal government representing the whole of China.”
On the night of August 2, right after Pelosi’s plane, escorted by the US military, landed at Songshan Airport in Taipei, both China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of National Defense condemned Pelosi’s visit as a provocation, a serious breach of the commitments made by the US and a gross violation of China’s sovereignty, and vowed to take measures to “resolutely safeguard” China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in response to the visit.
The People’s Liberation Army of China (PLA) announced that it would conduct a series of military operations around Taiwan Island starting that night, and military exercises and training activities including live-fire drills around Taiwan Island from August 4 to 7. On August 8, China’s military announced it was extending its exercises. The PLA has also conducted drills in the Yellow Sea and Bohai Sea.
The military operation and drills are unprecedented in both duration, scale, and proximity to Taiwan. They crossed the “median line” in the Taiwan Strait, considered by Taipei the defacto line of control, but never recognized by the Chinese government.
Shi Yi, spokesperson for the Eastern Theater Command of the PLA, declared on August 10 that all tasks in the military operations carried out in the waters and airspace around Taiwan Island since August 2 have been accomplished. The PLA will “closely follow the development of the situation across the Taiwan Strait, continue to carry out military training for war preparedness, and organize normalized combat-readiness security patrol in the Taiwan Strait,” he said.
On August 5, the Foreign Ministry announced eight countermeasures in response to Pelosi’s visit, including suspension and cancelation of a series of talks and cooperation on military and legal affairs and climate change between China and the US. It also imposed sanctions on Pelosi and her immediate family members.
China’s unprecedented military drills around Taiwan quickly drew criticism from the US and its Western allies. On August 5, Blinken accused China of having “chosen to overreact” and “attempted to change the status quo on Taiwan for some time.”
The same day, Blinken and the Australian and Japanese foreign ministers issued a joint statement, urging China to “immediately cease its military exercises.” Before that, on August 3, foreign ministers from G7 countries and the High Representative of the EU condemned China for its “escalatory response risks increasing tensions and destabilizing the region” and for “unilaterally changing the status quo.” In both joint statements, they reaffirmed their commitment to the one-China policy, but only “where applicable.”
In response, spokesperson Hua Chunying said that the real status quo is that there is only one China, Taiwan belongs to China, and that it was Pelosi’s visit that challenged the status quo.
On August 8, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said that the application of the one-China principle should be “universal, unconditional and indisputable,” and that it is “illegal, null and void” to unilaterally add “preconditions and provisos” to the one-China principle. On August 10, China released a white paper on the Taiwan question titled “The Taiwan Question and China’s Reunification in the New Era.”
Reiterating that peaceful reunification and “one country, two systems” remain the “basic principles” of China, it says that “use of force would be the last resort taken under compelling circumstances.”
On August 3, the US Congress postponed a review of the proposed Taiwan Policy Act 2022, which includes a clause that turns Taiwan into a “major non-NATO ally.” The US is also trying to include Taiwan in its semiconductor alliance with Japan and South Korea which aims to exclude China from the supply chain. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi recently warned against “three dangerous trends” in the situation across the Taiwan Strait. First, the US may “beef up military deployment in the region” and attempt to “create a new and even bigger crisis.”
Second, “Taiwan independence” forces may “continue to intensify collusion with internal and external elements and go even further down the path of splitting the country and the nation.”
And third, politicians in some countries may attempt to “copy this political stunt to serve their political selfinterests.’’