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China’s Pelosi bombast shows uncertainty over Taiwan: analysts

#Chinas #Pelosi #bombast #shows #uncertainty #Taiwan #analysts

China’s harsh rhetoric surrounding US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan reveals deep uncertainty about Washington’s shifting attitude towards the island, analysts told AFP, as well as efforts to distract attention from economic woes at home.

The 82-year-old lawmaker landed in Taipei late Tuesday night, becoming the highest-profile American official to set foot there in 25 years.

But for days before the military plane landed with her at Songshan Airport, Beijing spoke increasingly belligerently, threatened “consequences” and demonstrated military violence.

China held target practice across the Taiwan Strait over the weekend, while Hu Xijin, former editor-in-chief of nationalist tabloid Global Times, suggested Beijing could “forcefully evict Pelosis plane” or even “shoot her down.”

But analysts told AFP there was uncertainty beneath the bombast as China’s rulers were threatened by what they perceive as increasing efforts by the US and Western allies to nurture ties with Taiwan and promote the island’s independence.

At the same time, Chinese President Xi Jinping is keen to show strength against the United States — its biggest military and economic rival — ahead of a key political meeting that is expected to secure him an unprecedented third term.

– demonstration of power –

Last week, in a call to action, Xi warned his US counterpart Joe Biden that the United States should not “play with fire” when it comes to Taiwan.

The aggressive message is designed to boost the Chinese leader’s domestic image ahead of his expected political coronation at the 20th party congress this fall, said Steve Tsang, director of the SOAS China Institute in London.

“As a strong leader, the last thing he wants to show is any sign of weakness,” Tsang told AFP.

The stoking of nationalist sentiment also serves to distract from China’s slowing economy and growing public impatience with Beijing’s harsh zero-Covid restrictions, which have dampened sentiment in what would have been a jubilant year for Xi.

“There are two pillars of legitimacy for the Chinese Communist Party – economic growth and nationalism,” Willy Lam, a Hong Kong-based Chinese political analyst, told AFP.

Headlines and aggressive messages about Taiwan have “distracted the Chinese public’s attention from economic problems,” he said.

– Hard time –

There are also deep-rooted frustrations in Beijing over Washington’s shift in attitude toward Taiwan.

China regards the self-governing, democratic island as its territory and has vowed to one day take it back, by force if necessary.

Beijing’s saber-rattling stems in large part from a perception that the United States’ engagement with Taiwan has become more proactive and threatening to mainland interests in recent years, said Li Mingjiang, associate professor of international relations at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore .

Since the Trump administration, some in Beijing believe Washington appears to be increasingly “supporting Taiwan independence,” Li told AFP.

Chinese diplomats have complained that the United States is no longer honoring what it calls a binding tenet of bilateral relations, the “One China” policy, citing arms deals between Washington and Taipei.

Visits to Taiwan by politicians from regional neighbors as well as from Europe and the USA have also increased.

Xi is becoming “very impatient and irritated by the fact that over the past year, senior executives … not only from the US, but also from Japan, the EU and so on, have visited Taiwan,” said Lam, the Hong Kong-based analyst. said.

At the same time, there is a stronger sense of a distinctive Taiwanese identity among the younger generation.

This, combined with the ruling Democratic Progressive Party’s pro-independence agenda, means that for Beijing’s elite, “the whole Taiwan issue isn’t really looking bright,” Li said.

Chinese leaders are turning to fiery rhetoric to “prevent the development of cross-strait relations and US-Taiwan relations from becoming an even greater challenge for mainland China,” he said.

– “The Last Thing Xi Wants” –

For all its aggressive stance, few believe Beijing wants an active military conflict against the United States and its allies over Taiwan — not yet.

“The last thing Xi wants is an accidental war,” said Titus Chen, associate professor of political science at National Sun Yat-Sen University in Taiwan.

Noting that Beijing’s military capabilities still lag behind Washington’s, several scholars told AFP that while the recent military drills were clearly intended as an intimidation measure, they were not targeting areas in close proximity to Taiwan’s coast.

“Xi’s plan B would be to use propaganda and the mind control system (of the Chinese Communist Party) to explain away the sense of embarrassment or humiliation that Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan brings to Beijing,” Chen said.

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