Just after US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi landed in Taiwan, she published an article arguing that her controversial visit was important to demonstrate US support for the country as it faces mounting pressure from China.
“In the face of the growing aggression of the Chinese Communist Party, the visit of our congressional delegation should be seen as a clear statement that the United States stands with Taiwan,” Pelosi said. wrote in The Washington Post, when she became the highest-ranking US official to travel since then-Republican Speaker Newt Gingrich in 1997.
The California Democrat drew a strong rebuke from China, which threatened massive military exercises around Taiwan starting Thursday. But he also ignored arguments from the White House, which were concerned with provoking the crisis.
President Joe Biden did not speak to Pelosi about the trip, but he sent senior officials to explain the risks. Asked on Tuesday whether Biden supported his visit, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said he “respected” his decision.
For Pelosi, the visit is the latest defense in a career standing with China on issues that include her human rights record in Tibet and Xinjiang, her crackdown on democracy in Hong Kong and her aggressive military activity.
Pelosi’s former chief of staff Caroline Bartholomew said the speaker was acting out of a longstanding conviction that was partially sparked by the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.
“She was horrified, it was distressing to see what was happening in Tiananmen Square. It was a defining moment in her view of China,” said Bartholomew, who now heads the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission. are commissioners.
Bartholomew said Pelosi would have taken into account the risks posed by the Biden team, but said he would have to weigh several factors, including after news of his plan leaked to the Financial Times last month.
“She’s a woman who absorbs a lot of information. I’m sure they took seriously what they were telling her,” Bartholomew said. “Other reasons prevailed, and once the news broke, not going would have been a dedication to China.”
Ryan Hayes, former White House National Security Council director for China and Taiwan, said Pelosi felt very strongly about supporting democratic partners who were under pressure from authoritarian regimes.
“He has a long record of not succumbing to Chinese pressure and feels passionately about the principle of Congress being an equal branch of government,” Huss said.
The biggest praise in Washington for Pelosi came from an unusual quarter: Republicans who believed that skipping his trip would show weakness. In the Senate, 26 of 50 Republicans signed a statement in support of the visit.
Democrats were more notable in their silence. Pelosi has faced criticism from some Chinese experts, including former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd, who told the BBC she was “setting the fuel on fire”.
“Taiwan is getting a bad deal, a permanent erosion of the security situation for the two-day Chinese high,” said a Chinese expert.
China expert Craig Singleton of the FDD think-tank said Pelosi’s visit was a mistake that risked a major escalation in US-China tensions.
“Beijing’s rhetoric shows that this is not a matter of a week. The exercises they announced are very serious,” said Singleton, who worried the US would face the biggest Taiwan crisis in decades. “China is going to regain the elements of power in the days to come when Pelosi returns to her very comfortable home in San Francisco.”
But others said China had not taken serious action because Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan reinforced why the US should be less concerned about its effects. “Newt Gingrich proved that despite the CCP’s condescending-rattling, the president . . . he could go to Taiwan if he wanted to. Decades later, Nancy Pelosi proved it was still true,” says Hudson Institute think-tank Rebecca Heinrich said.
While China rebuked Gingrich in 1997, its response to Pelosi has been harsh, partly because of the tense state of US-China relations and partly because the PLA is now stronger than it was a century ago.
China expert Jennifer Rudolph of Worcester Polytechnic Institute said the global landscape has changed with China’s emergence as a power.
“When Gingrich went to Taiwan, China was also furious,” Rudolph said. But she added: “We were not at the point where we are now actively challenging the US role in the world on multiple fronts with China. [and] The engagement is seen as dead in the water. , , That’s what makes this moment so frightening.”
China also has a particular grievance with Pelosi, which extends to 1991, when during a visit to Beijing he visited Tiananmen Square and hoisted a banner that read: “To those who die for democracy in China.” Went.”
Taiwan expert Richard Bush of the Brookings Institution, whose former boss accompanied Pelosi on a 1991 visit, said China was focusing more on its character than on the fact that there was a constitutional mandate for the presidency after the vice president. was in second place.
“Most important is whether they trust the intentions of the person they are working with, and with Pelosi they feel they have reason not to do so – mainly because they invited him to China in 1991.” And then she went to Tiananmen Square.”
Pelosi has also been a strong defender of Chinese dissidents, including championing legislation that provided a path to US citizenship for students who were trying to escape repression in China.
Wei Jingsheng, a prominent Chinese dissident who has been persecuted for calling for democracy in China and has dealt with Pelosi repeatedly since being expelled by Beijing, said his “major asset” was that he Listened to the workers.
“Over time, she has proved that she is often right on the PRC” [People’s Republic of China] compared to others,” said Wei, who echoed a view shared by friends and opponents, which may explain Pelosi’s determination to move to Taiwan despite warnings: “Once she makes a decision, Some may refuse him.”
A Democratic lawmaker said Pelosi was also cementing her legacy, noting specifically that the 82-year-old would have to relinquish the speaker’s role if Republicans take control of the House as expected in November’s midterm elections.
“It’s part of her farewell tour to her career, and she’s always wanted to go to Taiwan,” he said.
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