2022: Dagens Nyheter: PRC, Not Pelosi is Being Provocative

This editorial appeared in Sweden’s Dagens Nyheter on August 3, 2022. It is followed by a Google Translate machine translation of the Swedish Chinese affairs website article New Chinese military exercises around Taiwan after Pelosi’s visit [Nya kinesiska militärövningar runt Taiwan efter Pelosis besök].

Emanuel Örtengren: It is not Pelosi Who is Doing the Provoking

This was published on the editorial pages of Dagens Nyheters. The editorial board’s political stance is independent liberal.

by Emmanuel Örtengren

Not a provocateur. Photo: Saul Loeb/TT News Agency

US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan has been called “selfish” and “reckless”. But if anyone is stirring up the atmosphere, it’s the Chinese Communist Party.

Late Tuesday night local time, US Speaker Nancy Pelosi landed in Taiwan. Nearly three million people followed her journey in real time via the Flightradar24 service – a new record. At times, the website was so busy that some users could not access it.

Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan has been called “selfish” by US China expert Bonnie Glaser, and “utterly reckless” by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. Financial Times foreign affairs commentator Gideon Rachman went so far as to warn that Pelosi’s political legacy could become a third world war.

They are all wrong.

It is striking how usually level-headed voices have jettisoned a very basic principle: that aggressive superpowers should not be allowed to overrun smaller neighbours.

If anyone is playing with fire, it is Xi Jinping

The Chinese Communist Party and its General Secretary Xi Jinping could have ignored the visit. It’s not the first time a US Speaker has travelled to Taiwan – Republican Newt Gingrich did the same in 1997. Six other members of Congress were on the island as recently as last spring.

Instead, Xi warned US President Joe Biden not to “play with fire”. Nancy Pelosi had barely landed in Taiwan before the Chinese People’s Liberation Army announced that military exercises will take place around the island between Thursday and Sunday.

Meanwhile, journalist Jojje Olsson of the news site Kinamedia describes how users on Chinese social media have been disappointed by the countermeasures. By whipping up tempers with nationalistic rhetoric, the Communist Party has built up expectations among its own population of putting up a tough fight.

If anyone is playing with fire, it’s Xi Jinping. For the threats against Taiwan to be credible, he must escalate the war of words and the arms race even further. He may end up calling his bluff – or being forced to do as he says.

Google Translate machine translation of the Kinamedia China news website article mentioned above.

Sweden’s largest news site about China

Map of the areas China will hold military exercises with live ammunition later this week, as a countermeasure to Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan. (Image: Global Times via Twitter)

New Chinese military exercises around Taiwan after Pelosi’s visit [Nya kinesiska militärövningar runt Taiwan efter Pelosis besök]


 AUGUST 2, 2022

Hundreds of thousands of people followed US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s plane online when it became clear earlier today that it was headed for Taiwan. Given the seriousness of the situation, the visit was not publicized in advance, but instead gradually leaked to Taiwanese and international media over the course of yesterday.

Late afternoon Swedish time today, Pelosi landed at Songshan military airport in central Taipei, where she was received by Foreign Minister Joseph Wu.

As China Media previously reported , Chinese authorities — from the Ministry of Defense to President Xi Jinping — have issued a series of stark warnings since Nancy Pelosi’s travel plans first began circulating a little over a week ago.

Xi Jinping told Joe Biden directly in a rare direct conversation between them last week that whoever plays with fire will get burned, referring to the situation around Taiwan. As recently as yesterday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian guaranteed that the Chinese military will not sit by and watch if Pelosi goes to Taiwan.

With these threats, Beijing likely tried to scare Pelosi from going to Taiwan. But as I have said during the day in interviews with, among others, Expressen and Sveriges radio , it is mainly about repetitions of previous rhetoric, which hardly indicates that some dramatic military countermeasures are being planned from the Chinese side.

Joje Ollson Interview on Swedish state radio SverigesRadio

But at the same time, it is of course out of the question that China will not react at all to the visit. This fall, China’s Communist Party is holding the all-important 20th Party Congress, where Xi Jinping is expected to be elected as the country’s leader for a controversial third term. Before this congress, Xi cannot afford to appear weak.

At the same time, Beijing, with these threats – as well as the nationalist currents it has whipped up in recent years, above all regarding Taiwan – has created great expectations among the Chinese population.

Today, the Communist Party justifies its monopoly of power not primarily on economic development, but during Xi Jinping’s time in power at least as much as a guarantor of China’s honor in terms of standing up to foreign powers and correcting historical injustices – of which Taiwan is portrayed as the most serious.

A friend from Beijing told me today about the aggressiveness of the residents on social media and in private conversations. Many not only wanted to see, but were also fully convinced that the Chinese military will act against Taiwan as soon as Pelosi lands in Taipei, which was exactly the message that government officials sent out last week.

That this was not the case can be interpreted as a sign of weakness. The blog What’s on Weibo , which compiles trends on China’s largest microblog Sina Weibo, reports several examples from disappointed Internet users:

Many netizens expressed frustrations over how seemingly easy it was for Pelosi to land in Taiwan despite repeated warnings. “It’s not like I want us to go to war,” one person wrote on Weibo: “But they are getting off too easy. For days we shouted about countermeasures, what kind of countermeasure is this?”

“Even our community guard who makes 1500 a month [$220] does a better job; if he says you can’t come in, you can’t come in,” another blogger wrote.

The statements of dissatisfaction regarding the passivity, despite the fact that the own authorities beat their chests in advance, are likely part of the explanation for why Sina Weibo was shut down or did not work as usual in connection with Pelosi’s landing in Taipei.

Likewise, problems with software to bypass China’s internet censorship – so-called VPNs – have been reported throughout the day.

As I said during the day to Expressen, Sveriges radio and Aftonbladet , we will also see countermeasures from China’s military. But not in the form of offensive war, but rather through increased military exercises or, in the worst case, missile tests in the Taiwan Strait similar to those that took place in connection with Taiwan’s first presidential election in the mid-1990s.

Quite rightly, Pelosi had no more than landed before it was announced that China’s military is planning sharp military exercises between Thursday and Sunday in areas that will basically encircle Taiwan.

It’s worth noting how the areas the Chinese military is ordering outsiders to stay away from don’t just surround Taiwan. They are also closer than 20 kilometers from the Taiwanese coast, which under international law constitutes territorial waters.

This increases the already imminent risk of a mistake or miscalculation that could trigger a dangerous violent spiral of clashes, given the gathering of forces around Taiwan that Chinese media reported a week ago.

Aside from these military exercises, China – so far – has not done much of note in response to Nancy Pelosi’s visit.

In a number of Swedish media – such as on Rapport on SVT in the background while I write this – incorrect information is circulating that 21 Chinese fighter jets have entered Taiwanese airspace. This is not true; they have been targeted in Taiwan’s air defense zone.

The difference between air defense zone and airspace is large enough to constitute the difference between a provocative act and an act of war.

The fact that China last year sent close to 1,000 fighter jets on missions in Taiwan’s air defense zone shows how common this is. But as usual, the media are looking for dramatic headlines and fast-spreading formulations, at the expense of accuracy or even truthfulness.

A certain amount of deliberate disinformation also appears to occur. For example, China said it had sent a group of fighter jets across the median line that cuts through the Taiwan Strait, in the direction of the Taiwanese main island.

This claim proved untrue as the Taiwanese military was unable to identify any such planes. Nevertheless, the information was disseminated by major media outlets such as the South China Morning Post and in their quarters created a certain amount of confusion.

A couple of less significant punitive measures have also been observed. 35 Taiwanese food importers have been blacklisted from the Chinese market and the aforementioned microblog Sina Weibo has shut down its platform in Taiwan.

Taiwan cannot therefore sell, among other things, cookies and biscuits to China, while the Taiwanese’s access to a heavily censored and controlled microblog is cut off. Boohoo.

These are the only real measures that have been taken so far from the Chinese side, although at the same time they are trying to maintain a tough facade through harsh rhetoric. Influential diplomats and media voices continue to threaten “targeted military action” and other undefined consequences.

A series of videos and images of China’s military have also begun to circulate online and in the media, with the aim of appearing tough and terrifying.

However, it’s worth noting that none of the spectators in the clip above are wearing a face mask against Covid-19, meaning it’s likely at least two years old.

Of course, there is a risk that something will go wrong in connection with the military exercises later this week, or that other measures will be taken from the Chinese side depending on what is said and done when Nancy Pelosi meets the president of Taiwan and a number of other of the country’s politicians tomorrow.

But so far, China’s reaction to Nancy Pelosi’s visit has mainly prompted a reminder of the following Russian saying that circulated online today:

About 高大伟 David Cowhig

After retirement translated, with wife Jessie, Liao Yiwu's 2019 "Bullets and Opium", and have been studying things 格物致知. Worked 25 years as a US State Department Foreign Service Officer including ten years at US Embassy Beijing and US Consulate General Chengdu and four years as a China Analyst in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research. Before State I translated Japanese and Chinese scientific and technical books and articles into English freelance for six years. Before that I taught English at Tunghai University in Taiwan for three years. And before that I worked two summers on Norwegian farms, milking cows and feeding chickens.
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