China tops trends as US official embarks on ‘provocative’ visit to Taiwan

Nancy Pelosi’s arrival to Taiwan marked the first highest-ranking visit of an American official in 25 years.

United States House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi has vowed Washington’s “crucial” solidarity with Taiwan during a visit to Taipei that has triggered online trends around the region and worldwide.

The visit is taking place against the backdrop of mounting warnings from China, which claims Taiwan as its territory.

“Our delegation came to Taiwan to make unequivocally clear we will not abandon Taiwan, and we are proud of our enduring friendship,” Pelosi said on Wednesday.

The US official flew into Taiwan on an Air Force passenger jet on Tuesday night and addressed Taiwan’s parliament Wednesday morning, ahead of holding a public meeting with Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen.

Pelosi called Taiwan “among the freest societies in the world” on Wednesday in a historic meeting with Tsai, who pledged not to surrender to China’s military threats.

Pelosi is in Taiwan for a controversial visit that has triggered a tense atmosphere in Southeast Asia, with heated warnings coming from China that have materialised with missile tests and military “operations” around the island.

Taiwan has dismissed these as a breach of international law.

Beijing has assured “consequences” as response to Pelosi’s visit, adding that six exclusion zones surrounding Taiwan will be used to facilitate live-fire military drills carried out from Thursday to Sunday, calling the drills around Taiwan Strait ‘necessary and just’.

Some of the areas cross into the island’s territorial waters, which poses a threat to airline traffic and shipping in the Taiwan Strait – one of the world’s most crammed trade routes.

However, Pelosi claims her high-profile trip as part of the ‘American obligation’ to ‘back’ democracies against autocratic countries.

China’s foreign ministry has dubbed the visit as “extremely dangerous” and accused Washington of “playing with fire”.

The Joe Biden administration has reiterated it does not support independence for Taiwan, which is only recognised by just 13 countries and the Vatican, or shifting the status quo, but that Pelosi has the right to visit the island.

Speaking on CNN late Tuesday, China’s envoy to US Qin Gang called Pelosi’s visit “completely wrong.”

Since her visit, Chinese commerce and customs authorities announced on Wednesday the decision to suspend exports of sand, a key material used in construction, and imports of Taiwanese citrus fruit as well as some types of fish.

China’s General Administration of Customs said the food imports were put to an end due to foundings of pesticide and the coronavirus in some shipments, while the ministry of commerce said it had suspended sand exports because of “unspecified legal provisions”.

Separately, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office said it would prohibit mainland Chinese companies and individuals from financial dealings with two Taiwanese foundations, the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy and the Taiwan International Cooperation and Development Fund.

Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan has gained traction under numerous hashtags on Twitter, with many concerned about a supposed “World War Three” due to her unexpected visit and mounting China-US relations.

“Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan is a repeated attempt to demonstrate American arrogance. Pelosi, who has always criticised Trump’s foolishness and his foreign policies, is making the biggest mistake today, the consequences of which may be dire for the region and the world,” one such user wrote.

Another has shed light on America’s interventionist approach, saying: “The coming hours will be decisive in the course of international relations and the balance of major powers. This crazy administration in Washington wants to set the world on fire as a whole, and it has not been satisfied with all the blood that it has shed so far.”

Several foreign government’s foreign ministries have condemned Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan.

On Wednesday, the European Union called urged dialogue and open communication channels with China to avoid a rise in tensions.

“The EU has an interest in preserving peace and the status quo in the Taiwan Strait,” a spokesperson for EU said. “We encourage a peaceful resolution of cross-strait issues. Tensions should be resolved through dialogue. Appropriate channels of communication should be maintained to reduce risks of miscalculation.”

Russia described the move as a “clear provocation, which is in line with the United States’ aggressive policy aimed at comprehensively containing China.”

Iran’s foreign ministry has dismissed the US official’s visit as “unilateralism and violation of international laws and obligations has become a constant measure of US foreign policy.

The Venezuelan foreign ministry also condemned her visit, saying it is “a direct provocation that seriously threatens China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity”.

People in Taiwan have also taken their concerns to the streets to protest Pelosi visit, condemning local politicians as US “puppets and traitors”, while allegedly chanting “we don’t need America to treat us as a pawn!”.

Meanwhile, other Taiwanese residents met Nancy Pelosi at the airport wearing masks in Ukraine flag’s colours, in support of the official’s visit to the island.

Decades of tensions

Decades of tensions between China and Taiwan over the latter’s status has mounted, with the former vowing to “unify” the island with the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

Home to 23 million people, Taiwan has its own democratically elected government. There have been fears over possible Chinese attacks on Taipei, with Beijing flying fighter jets near the island.

In 2020, Taiwan accused China of breaching its privacy by hacking into at least 10 Taiwanese government agencies and 6,000 official email accounts since 2018. Cyber attacks occurred during Taiwan’s 2020 elections, in which disinformation campaigns were launched on social media. 

In an effort to apply further pressure on Taiwan, China restricted tourism to the island, leading to a significant drop of tourists from more than four million in 2015 to 2.7 million in 2019.

Seeking to influence the global perception of Taiwan, China intimidated countries that had ties with Taipei, including Lithuania. In 2021, Beijing severed trade with Vilnius after it opened a Taiwanese representative office.

Despite the several attempts to undermine Taiwan’s sovereignty, it ranked as the world’s eight-most-democratic country in 2021 by the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index.

In sports, Taiwan competes in global events including the Olympics as “Chinese Taipei” in an effort to avoid issues with Beijing.

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