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China threatens US again over Pelosi visit to Taiwan

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Speaker Nancy Pelosi at a press conference on Capitol Hill in Washington DC, in April 2021 (Photo: Ting Shen/Xinhua/IANS)

China issued a fresh warning on Monday following rumours that Nancy Pelosi, the US House of Representatives Speaker, may visit Taiwan as part of her four-nation Asia tour.

The warning came up during the Chinese foreign ministry's regular media briefing. Reuters reported from Beijing that spokesperson Zhao Lijian said that the Chinese military will not sit idle if Pelosi visits Taiwan, citing her senior status at number three in the US administration.

China has made the Pelosi visit to Taiwan a big issue following its One China Principle (OCP) under which it maintains Taiwan as an integral part of the mainland.

Pelosi arrived in Singapore on Monday and will visit Malaysia, South Korea and Japan as part of her tour. Her official itinerary does not mention Taiwan but speculation persists that she may fly in on an unannounced visit to the democratic island nation—a staunch US ally in the region.

Pelosi's visit to Taiwan has created a quandary for both the US and China. Her scheduled visit earlier this year had to be cancelled as she fell ill due the Covid-19 virus, but not after a major ruckus and the usual threats from Beijing.

US President Joe Biden's long phone conversation with Chinese President Xi Jingping last week did not help douse matters.

Washington is caught in a cleft as it cannot back down on the visit and hand over a moral victory to Beijing. If Pelosi does not visit Taipei, it also sends across a message of the US being an unreliable ally to not just Taiwan but other allies, particularly Japan, in the region. It may also embolden China to physically attack Taiwan as a no-visit will be seen by the communist country as a weakening of the American resolve to defend Taiwan.

On the other hand, if Pelosi visits Taiwan, it creates a dilemma for Beijing. Chinese Premier Xi Jinping has already threatened US President Joe Biden in their telephonic conversation. "Those who play with fire will eventually get burned... I hope the US side fully understands that", Xi had told Biden during their two-hour and 17-minute conversation. If Xi's military does not launch an attack on Pelosi, he will be seen as weak by the 1.4 billion people, who he had mentioned in his conversation.

On the other hand, if the Chinese military does attack Pelosi, China risks a retaliatory attack from the US forces in the region.

Pelosi can follow a precedent recently set by former president Donald Trump who met US troops in Iraq in a surprise visit with first lady Melania Trump during the Christmas of 2018. Trump followed it up with another surprise visit to the Baghram air base in Afghanistan, called the US' longest war, in 2019 where he announced the onset of peace talks with the Taliban.

Meanwhile, the forces of both nations are on their toes as Pelosi traverses the region. China ordered live-fire drills in the sea near Taiwan while the US moved its aircraft carriers closer to the island.

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