Well, this is indeed ambiguous.
Taiwanese leader Tsai Ing-wen greeted U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at the presidential office on Wednesday in a high-stakes visit that continues to enrage Beijing. Pelosi reaffirmed a pledge that the U.S. wouldn’t abandon Taiwan, saying solidarity was more important than ever in a “world [that] faces a choice between autocracy and democracy.” The two also discussed deepening economic cooperation and supply chain resilience, while the White House sought to distance itself from the visit and emphasized that the trip does not signal a change in its ‘One China’ policy.
Backdrop: The last high-ranking U.S. official to visit Taiwan was then-speaker Newt Gingrich in 1997, which occurred in the aftermath of the Third Taiwan Strait Crisis and the island’s first democratic presidential election in 1996. At the time, the Clinton administration responded to the Chinese military buildup in the Fujian province by sailing all of its most powerful weapons through the Strait of Taiwan and staging the biggest display of American military might in Asia since the Vietnam War. China backed down in response, but a lot has changed in recent decades with a more powerful Chinese military and a new zeal to “reunite” Taiwan with the mainland under President Xi Jinping.
Within minutes of Pelosi’s arrival, the People’s Liberation Army announced six exclusion zones encircling Taiwan to facilitate live-fire military drills from Thursday to Sunday. While the size and scope of the areas could disrupt traffic and shipping in the Taiwan Strait – one of the world’s busiest trade routes – the exercises would come after Pelosi’s scheduled departure. Cyber warfare also hit Taiwan before the visit, with the presidential office going dark for 20 minutes due to an alleged distributed denial-of-service attack.
Sanctions: Beijing has moved to ban imports of various goods from Taiwan, from fish and fruit to baby food and cookies. According to Chinese customs data, China’s imports from Taiwan reached $122.5B in the first half of the year, up 7.3% from a year earlier. Exports of natural sand to Taiwan – that are widely used for construction and in concrete – were also banned, while China vowed to take “disciplinary actions” against Taiwanese foundations that engage in pro-independence or separatist activities.