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Why is China opposed to Nancy Pelosi visiting Taiwan? What could happen if she goes?

The diplomatic tour of Asia could worsen relations between the US and China due to the latter’s claim that Taiwan constitutes Chinese territory.

Update:
Pelosi to go ahead with Taiwan visit despite tensions
JONATHAN ERNSTREUTERS

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is expected to visit Taiwan as part of her tour of Asia, despite warnings from the White House that China may see such a trip as provocation.

CNN report that a senior official in the Taiwanese government has confirmed that the trip is taking place but the visit is not currently on Pelosi’s public itinerary. It is thought that the 82-year-old will stay in Taiwan overnight although the exact details are still being arranged.

In a foreign ministry briefing on Monday spokesperson Zhao Lijan warned of the “egregious political impact” of Pelosi’s visit. He told reporters:

“We would like to tell the US once again that China is standing by, and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army will never sit idly by. China will take resolute responses and strong countermeasures to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Why is Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan controversial?

The status of Taiwan is hotly contested and could have huge consequences for global politics. China’s ruling Communist Party claims the island of Taiwan as part of its territory, despite having never previously controlled it.

Taiwan is a self-governing island with its own system of democracy and is a key manufacturer of semiconductor chips. The Taiwanese chip-making industry is one of the largest in the world and contains Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co Ltd (TSMC), which is the world’s largest manufacturer of the chips.

With a real shortage of semiconductor chips globally, both the United States and China are eager to protect their access to this market. In the US’ case this appears to be through a strengthening of ties with Taiwan and offering additional financial backing.

Beijing, on the other hand, has escalated military tensions in recent months and Chinese Premier Xi Jinping has explicitly said that a “reunification” with Taiwan is a key objective of his. Last October China sent a record number of planes into Taiwan’s air defence zone, something considered a show of strength by many international observers.

What has the White House said about Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan?

On Monday John Kirby, National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications, confirmed that the Biden administration will support Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan but there are clearly reservations about the visit.

He told CNN: “We shouldn’t be as a country -- we shouldn’t be intimidated by that rhetoric or those potential actions. This is an important trip for the speaker to be on and we’re going to do whatever we can to support her.”

The sovereign status of Taiwan has emerged in recent years as one of the most crucial facets of the contentious US-China relationship. It is known to have been a key topic of conversation during a two-hour-long phone call between Biden and Xi last week.

“The question of Taiwan is the most sensitive, important core issue in China-US relations,” said China’s ambassador to the United States, Qin Gang, and Pelosi and her team will have to tread carefully on the upcoming visit to avoid provoking Taiwan’s ambitious neighbour.

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