When U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi arrived in Taiwan on Tuesday, she evoked a sharp response from Beijing. It announced multiple military exercises around the island shortly after she landed, which according to some Taiwanese scholars is an overreaction. They also say some citizens are actually thrilled by the visit.
“I think (China) is way too much overreacting,” Fang-Yu Chen, an assistant professor of political science at Soochow University in Taiwan, told Global News. “And it is because of the rising nationalism in domestic politics in China. So, everyone is against the U.S. and everyone is just thinking that the U.S. is just doing something bad for China.”
“Pelosi is highly determined. She even went to Tiananmen Square 30 years ago, so she is not intimidated by China,” said Chen.
China is threatening the “wrong person,” said Chen, adding that Pelosi has a long history of criticizing China as a strong advocate for human rights violation in the area.
Pelosi arrived in Taiwan late Tuesday in an effort to reaffirm America’s support and promote their “shared interests, including advancing a free and open Indo-Pacific region,” according to her tweet on Aug. 2.
Pelosi is the highest-ranking American official to visit self-determined Taiwan in 25 years. China claims to have authority over over the island. She departed Taiwan on Wednesday.
China views Pelosi’s visit as recognition of the island’s sovereignty.
Several media reports and politicians claim that Pelosi’s visit has spiked tension between China and the U.S., but Chen says he doesn’t think Pelosi’s visit would affect the U.S.-China relationship any further as the “great power competition” between the U.S. and China has already begun.
On the Chinese social media platform Weibo, topics related to Pelosi’s visit are trending, with “Tapei citizens telling Pelosi to go back” occupying the top spot.
Many Chinese users are calling Pelosi “an old, wicked witch,” while some are calling for the Chinese government to start a war.
Prior to Pelosi’s visit, Hu Xijin, a commentator with Chinese state media Global Times, tweeted that Chinese fighter jets should shoot down Pelosi’s plane if she insists on visiting Taiwan, Reuters reported.
Hu’s tweet had been deleted since then for violation of Twitter’s rules.
On Monday, after Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan was confirmed, Hu tweeted “Let her go to Taiwan.”
“But pray before departure: wish herself a safe journey and wish herself not be defined by history as a sinner who starts a spiral of escalation process expanding military frictions to a large-scale war in the Taiwan Strait,” Hu wrote.
However, it is very tricky to determine what most Chinese citizens think because a majority of them have limited access to information due to the “Great Fire Wall” and lack freedom of expression, said John Chung-En Liu, an assistant professor of sociology at the National Taiwan University.
The Great Fire Wall is a mix of censorship measures and technological enforcement by the Chinese government to limit Chinese citizens’ access to the international network.
Contrary to the unwelcoming remarks from Chinese nationalists on the Internet, the Taiwanese are very excited about Pelosi’s visit, said Liu.
Liu says people are thrilled that she’s actually visited — people are watching the live broadcasting, and even tracking her flight from Malaysia.
“Instead of a sense of nervousness that you observe our international media, the Taiwanese people met Pelosi with a widespread joyfulness,” said Liu. “I think that’s because we are really happy that we are being seen and recognized.”
He said people are talking about Pelosi’s outfits, her energy and some are also discussing what she had for breakfast.
Liu adds that the support comes from both the Democratic Progressive Party of Taiwan and the opposing Chinese Nationalist Party, known as Kuomintang or KMT.
“There was a small protest outside of Pelosi’s hotel, but I will say that’s really the fringe versus the majority of Taiwanese people who are in favour of her visit,” said Liu.
When asked about how Taiwanese people feel about the military threats from China, Liu says they are used to threats from China.
“That’s what we have been through for the last many decades,” he said. “People may wonder why Taiwanese people are not nervous. And the truth is we are so used to that threat and it’s that’s why we had the reaction we had.”
According to Cheng-Yi Huang, a research professor at Academia Sinica’s Institutum Iurisprudentiae (Institute of Law) and a joint-appointment professor at the Institute of Law for Science and Technology of National Tsing Hua University, China’s government, under the leadership of President Xi Jinping, has mobilized “netizens” to spread disinformation and state-sponsored propaganda to manipulate public opinion based on the idea that Taiwan has been a part of China for the past 400 years.
He adds that the rising nationalism helps consolidate Xi’s leadership.
“If he wanted to maintain his legitimacy or his ruling class, they have to continue this kind of nationalism rhetoric, especially when there will be a very important meeting coming up in October inside the Communist Party related to his successive term,” said Huang.
Every October, the Chinese Communist Party holds a key meeting of its top leaders to discuss important policy decisions.
Huang said China’s upcoming military exercise around Taiwan Island from August 4 to 7 is “a gesture to show China is still watching and they will try to deter any further advancement of Taiwan’s international status.”
“I think the option left in China’s hand is very limited,” said Huang. The effects of China’s deterrence will decrease with time. The Chinese Communist Party has to think about other options other than deterrence and military practice.”