Pelosi hands Xi strong incentive for retaliation as US Speaker spotted jetting to Taiwan

Signs of a military escalation on Taiwan doorstep

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Ms Pelosi has not confirmed any details about the visit – but last week said it was “important for us to show support for Taiwan”. She added: “I’m very excited, should we go, to the countries that you’ll be hearing about along the way.”

Tracking data shared by purportedly showed Ms Pelosi’s plane, a Boeing C-40-C, over the Pacific, having taken off from California, where she represents the 12th Congressional District.

China views the prospect of the high-ranking politician’s visit with enormous hostility, given it regards the autonomous, democratic island 100 miles off the mainland as part of its territory in accordance with its One China doctrine.

Bonnie Glaser, director of the Asia Program at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, told the Grid website China would “respond militarily” if Ms Pelosi travelled to Taiwan.

She said: “I don’t think that they’re going to fire or try to shoot down Pelosi’s plane.

“But there are lots of other ways that they could try to interfere with the aircraft that she’s on.”

Professor Steve Tsang, director of the China Institute at the School of African and Oriental Studies (SOAS) in London, was commenting on suggestions by US-based foreign policy expert M Taylor Fravel that China and the United States were on a collision course over the issue, with relations between the two countries entering a “perilous period”.

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Prof Tsang, speaking before details of Ms Pelosi’s apparent flight were shared, told China’s President was motivated by powerful forces within his own country.

He explained: “Taylor is right that Xi has a strong incentive to take a tough stance over Pelosi’s planned visit to Taiwan.

“Not so much because he feels under pressure from a specific quarter within the CCP but quite simply that he will not want to put his claim for a third term, thus the beginning of an indefinite duration in office, at risk.”

Prof Tsang warned: “Taking Taiwan is something that Xi has made into part of the rationale for his continued leadership.

“So he will not want to allow anyone to have any scope to cast any doubt on his determination and ability to have his way over Taiwan..

“Pelosi, third in line to the highest office in the US, going to Taiwan without being countered in some ways will make him look weak.

“With the economy faltering and Zero-Covid causing much discontent already, Xi will not want to add Taiwan to the equation.”

Prof Tsang nevertheless emphasised it was much too early to suggest Xi’s position was under any threat.

He said: “For Xi to be challenged, we will have to look at a sustained and severe economic downturn that gravely degrade both living standards for most in China and for the CCP to lose confidence that the top leader is in control and able to turn things around.

“We are not talking about significantly reduced growth rate but an economy disaster that cannot be disguised despite the Party’s monopoly of the truth and narrative in China. We are nowhere near that today.”

The United States has seen no evidence of looming Chinese military activity against Taiwan, White House national security spokesman John Kirby said on Friday when asked about Ms Pelosi’s possible visit.

He said: “We’ve seen no physical, tangible indications of anything untoward with respect to Taiwan.”

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