In roughly 24 hours, Chinese officials and propagandists went from warning of a powder keg to pleading for patience as Beijing struggled to articulate a cohesive response to Nancy Pelosi’s landmark trip to Taiwan.
Ahead of Pelosi’s visit, the first by a US House speaker in 25 years, President Xi Jinping warned the Biden administration would get “burned” while nationalist Chinese commentators suggested she would “ignite the powder keg.”
Yet after Pelosi landed safely, stayed the night in Taipei and hailed US-Taiwan ties in a meeting with President Tsai Ing-wen, China’s tone shifted from belligerent to defensive. At a briefing on Wednesday afternoon, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying asked the public to give the government more time to follow through on threats to punish the US and Taiwan.
“We will do what we have said,” she said. “So please have some patience about that.”
China’s response to Pelosi reflects the complexity of dealing with Taiwan, the pragmatism of the Communist Party and Xi’s own political situation. The 69-year-old leader has been focused on eliminating risks to extending his rule at a party congress later this year, leaving little appetite for triggering a conflict that could spin out of control.
Even if Pelosi’s visit ultimately convinces China’s leaders they won’t be able to settle their claims to Taiwan peacefully, that doesn’t mean Xi wants that fight now. The country is already grappling with a property crisis and slowing economic growth after more than two years of strict pandemic-control measures.
“It’s important for Xi Jinping to respond strongly, but responding strongly and engaging in conflict are two very different things,” said Lev Nachman, assistant professor at National Chengchi University in Taipei. “There’s not going to be any kind of hot conflict because none of the three sides want that.” [Continue reading…]