Tensions between China and the United States are soaring, with a meeting between Taiwan’s president and the US House Speaker the latest point of contention.The Democrats’ House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has embarked on a tour of the Indo-Pacific, visiting Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea and Japan. But one country has drawn China’s ire — Taiwan.She’s already met with Taiwan’s foreign minister, Joseph Wu and is set to meet with Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen. She is the first US House Speaker to visit the country, that Beijing under its “one China” principle does not recognise as sovereign, in a quarter of a century.China’s President Xi Jinping , while foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian has said the visit would lead to “very serious developments and consequences” and that the nation’s army will not “sit idly by”.Meanwhile, the US has warned China against turning Ms Pelosi’s visit into a “crisis” and says it “will not be intimidated” from continuing to move freely in the Pacific region.And it’s not just a war of words that’s erupted — there’s been an increase in military activity too. China in the Taiwan Strait ahead of Ms Pelosi’s visit, while the US has moved aircraft carriers and large planes closer to Taiwan.So, why exactly is this visit so contentious, and what could it lead to?Why are there tensions between Taiwan and China?These stem back to the Chinese Civil War between the Kuomintang (Nationalist Party), which had most of the mainland under its control, and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). It began in 1927 and remains unresolved to this day.The Kuomintang retreated to Taiwan (formally known as the Republic of China (ROC) in 1949 after the CCP gained the upper hand in the war and went on to establish the People’s Republic of China (PRC).In the early 1970s, Taiwan was kicked out of the United Nations and its seat was given to the PRC. It was also a decade where nations began to switch diplomatic recognition from the ROC to the PRC, including the US in 1979.But in that same year, the US established unofficial relations with the ROC. Then-president Jimmy Carter ratified the Taiwan Relations Act, under which the US provides defensive weapons to the country so it can maintain “sufficient self-defence capabilities”. Nancy Pelosi will visit Singapore, Malaysia, Japan, and South Korea on her Indo-Pacific tour, and possibly Taiwan. Source: SBS News Jennifer Hsu, research fellow at the Lowy Institute, said a shake-up of Taiwan’s system of government had also diminished a desire among Taiwan’s population to unify with China.”Taiwan in the early 1990s went through a democratisation, in which the people of Taiwan could elect their own government,” she said. “So they moved from authoritarian rule to a democracy which is quite vibrant today.””So over the past 30 years, the Taiwanese population have become younger and their ties to China have become looser and looser. So there is agitation among many for a more autonomous, independent voice that is separate and different from China.”The CCP has never ruled Taiwan, but Mr Xi has set a 2049 “great rejuvenation” target that some believe is a deadline for reunification.Why is the visit so contentious?Ms Pelosi’s visit isn’t without precedent, although it is the first by a US House speaker in more than two decades.The last time someone in this position visited Taiwan was in 1997, when Republican Newt Gingrich stopped there after visiting then-Chinese president Jiang Zemin.Mr Jiang aired some concerns at the time about what this meant for the US’ “one China” policy (which “does not challenge” the position that there is one China and Taiwan is a part of it), but he was more upbeat, saying relations between Washington and Beijing had entered a state of “sunshine after the rain”. US House Speaker Newt Gingrich (right) speaks with Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui at a meeting in Mr Lee’s office in Taipei on 2 April, 1997. Source: AAP, AP / Eddie ShihThat no longer appears to be the case. Relations have grown increasingly frosty over the years since, including under Mr Biden who was inaugurated in January 2021. In his first foreign policy address, in February 2021, Mr Biden said China was “the most serious competitor to the US”. There was also the diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, and the two nations have also imposed sanctions on one another.While the US maintains its “one China” policy stance has not changed (indeed, the US State Department recently reinstated a line in its Taiwan fact sheet that notes it does not support the country’s independence), Ms Hsu said China has evolved substantially since Mr Gingrich visited and that could explain its current anger.”China is now a stronger, more assertive and some would say more aggressive power than it was 25 years ago,” she said.”Under Xi Jinping, the reunification of Taiwan has become evermore important for him and thus, the Chinese Communist Party.”China sees Nancy Pelosi’s visit as a real infringement on the “one China” policy… and … in the current geopolitical context, the [US-China] relationship is strained as it is, without Nancy Pelosi making this visit.”What could happen as a result of a Nancy Pelosi visit?Mr Biden initially cast doubt over Ms Pelosi’s Taiwan trip, saying he thought the military believed it “was not a good idea right now”.Days later, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said he had provided a “security assessment” to Ms Pelosi regarding her Indo-Pacific tour, but would not comment on the expected Taiwan leg.Meanwhile, Beijing was ramping up its warnings, saying it was “seriously prepared” for the possibility Ms Pelosi could visit Taiwan. It’s also said such a visit would be “very much dangerous, very much provocative”.”China will take firm and strong measures to safeguard our sovereignty and territorial integrity”, China’s ambassador to the United Nations, Zhang Jun, said on Monday.But Kevin Carrico, a senior lecturer in Chinese studies at Melbourne’s Monash University, is doubtful Ms Pelosi’s visit will result in military conflict.”The CCP’s proposed attack on Taiwan always seems to be permanently on the horizon, ” Mr Carrico said.”It’s something that the CCP talks about obsessively, but never in fact materialises.”I do think it’s a very real possibility when the military balance of power shifts in Beijing’s favour, and that’s something we need to pay attention to. “When the time does come, there will be an excuse for an attack, even if it’s not a real excuse.”- With Reuters and AFP.
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