Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi has tied her controversial visit to Taiwan to an alleged barrage of China-directed cyber-attacks against the territory.
Pelosi’s main reason for visiting Taiwan, as explained in a press release, is “reaffirming our support for our partner and … promoting our shared interests, including advancing a free and open Indo-Pacific region.”
“America’s solidarity with the 23 million people of Taiwan is more important today than ever, as the world faces a choice between autocracy and democracy,” the document adds.
In a Washington Post column, she explained that the visit “should be seen as an unequivocal statement that America stands with Taiwan, our democratic partner, as it defends itself and its freedom.”
The column details many Chinese acts that Pelosi alleges Taiwan has had to defend – including some in cyberspace, where she accused China of “launching scores of attacks on Taiwan government agencies each day.”
Perhaps coincidentally, the website of Taiwan’s president became unavailable on Tuesday afternoon, apparently due to a DDoS attack initiated by unknown parties.
In a government statement, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has described Pelosi’s visit as “a serious violation of the One China principle”, stated it “seriously infringes upon China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity” and “gravely undermines peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.”
Our visit reiterates that America stands with Taiwan: a robust, vibrant democracy and our important partner in the Indo-Pacific. pic.twitter.com/2sSRJXN6ST
— Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi) August 2, 2022
The One China principle has its roots in China’s 1946–1950 civil war, during which the government of the Republic of China retreated to Taiwan and maintained it was the legitimate government of all China, despite the establishment of the People’s Republic of China on the mainland.
That stalemate was never resolved. Taiwan later became a parliamentary democracy and is formally known as the Republic of China.
The People’s Republic of China refuses to acknowledge Taiwan’s status and considers it a rogue province that must be reunited with the mainland.
As Taiwan thrived and the nations of the world engaged for diplomacy and trade, the One China principle was developed as a workaround that sees governments acknowledge that there is only one China and that it includes Taiwan, but at the same time maintain a relationship with Taiwan on a footing that stops just short of giving it the status of a sovereign nation.
The USA’s Taiwan Relations Act also contains vague language suggesting Uncle Sam would offer military assistance to Taiwan under unspecified circumstances.
China doesn’t like that language, but has lived with it for over four decades – during which time the likes of TSMC turned Taiwan into a vital source of technology on which the US relies. US commerce secretary Gina Raimondo recently stated that losing access to Taiwanese tech would crash the US economy into a recession.
US president Joe Biden greatly annoyed China in May when he said the US is willing to defend Taiwan. While a member of Congress and not the Executive branch, Pelosi’s position as speaker makes her third in line to the US presidency. China therefore sees Biden’s remarks and Pelosi’s visit as thinly veiled assertions of US support for Taiwanese sovereignty, despite the One China principle supposedly putting that out of bounds.
China has responded to Pelosi’s visit with a ban on Taiwanese food imports, and live fire exercises in waters around Taiwan.
But China has not banned Taiwanese tech – it’s needed there as much as in any other nation. Indeed, Beijing so values Taiwanese tech that the island territory has been compelled to create laws restricting Chinese investment in its technology companies and alleged China has infiltrated local tech companies to steal their tech secrets.
The US and China have each called on the other to ensure Pelosi’s visit doesn’t escalate into something more than a very tense and angry diplomatic moment. The alternative is too terrifying to contemplate. ®