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How Xi juggled wolf-warrior diplomacy & nationalism to ‘send message’ on Pelosi’s Taiwan trip

US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi says her visit is intended to support Taiwan’s democracy and does not alter the 'one-China' policy that the US abides by.

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New Delhi: The week leading up to US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan — despite repeated warnings from Beijing — was marked by a slew of nationalist remarks by Chinese President Xi Jinping, including two back-to-back speeches.

Pelosi landed in Taiwan Tuesday night and met its President Tsai Ing-wen Wednesday.

On 28 July, Xi sought to warn US President Joe Biden during a phone call to not “play with fire”, according to Chinese media, as reports about Pelosi’s visit first emerged.

Two days later, while speaking to service personnel ahead of the 95th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), which falls on 1 August, he stressed the importance of “reliability” and “loyalty”.

China lays claim to the entire region of Taiwan, while the latter says it’s a sovereign and independent country and not part of the People’s Republic of China.

At a conference Sunday, he urged the Chinese Communist Party to step up efforts to “win hearts and minds of people in Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan as well as overseas Chinese”. At the same event, he talked about the importance of balancing “commonality and diversity” and “innovating on the basis of what has worked in the past”.

Experts say Xi’s speeches show a combination of wolf-warrior diplomacy and a “softer tenor of nationalism”. Moreover, they feel, more of such rhetoric can be expected now that Pelosi has visited Taiwan.

During her meeting with Tsai Ing-wen, Pelosi reiterated that her visit is intended to support Taiwan’s democracy and does not alter the ‘one-China’ policy that the US abides by.

Pelosi’s visit comes as Xi prepares for arguably the most important moment in his career — the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in November, during which he is expected to be re-elected for an unprecedented third term in office.

The visit also comes at a time when the world is experiencing fuel and food shortages due to the Russia-Ukraine war.

Experts say Xi’s rhetoric has been heightened by Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, but the larger message, they add, is that this is now a China far different from the one in 1997, when Beijing had begrudgingly watched then US House Speaker Newt Gingrich visit it.

“Beijing cannot see Taiwan in isolation; it is seen in tandem with other sensitive areas like Tibet,” said Vijay Nambiar, who has earlier served as the UN Secretary General’s Special Adviser on Myanmar, to ThePrint.

It is “unlikely”, added Nambiar, that the US is taking China’s military threats seriously, although Beijing could react in the realm of cyberwarfare.

“As China continues to flex its military muscles, we can expect Xi’s wolf-warrior diplomacy to increase but along with it, you can expect a larger message of unity and loyalty to the motherland,” he said.

Also read: Talk of Nancy Pelosi’s Taiwan visit has China on edge. PLA ‘preparing for war’

‘Offering a softer tenor of nationalism’

Alka Acharya, Professor of Chinese Studies, Centre for East Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, agreed that the recent rhetoric from Xi is slightly different from that of last July, when he had warned that China’s “bullies” would get their “heads bashed” against a “steel wall”.

“The nationalist rhetoric we saw from Xi last week used a lot of bold metaphors, much like the one from last July when he warned that enemies would get their ‘heads bashed’ against a steel wall. But along with beating the drums of war, he is offering a softer tenor of nationalism by appealing to the ‘hearts and minds’ of people in Taiwan and Hong Kong,” she said.

“He’s clearly looking at the bigger picture, which is the 20th National Congress later this year,” she added.

Nambiar concurred that the timing of Pelosi’s visit is key, even amid the Ukraine war.

“One may ask why Pelosi is visiting Taiwan while the Russia-Ukraine war rages but if she doesn’t go now, it will be more difficult as the CCP National Congress approaches and even more provocative after that,” said Nambiar.

(Edited by Zinnia Ray Chaudhuri)

Also read: China launches media blitz to showcase military power, ahead of Pelosi’s potential Taiwan stop


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