Despite its fury, China's actual response to Pelosi's Taiwan trip looks like its standard playbook, experts say

Despite its fury, China's actual response to Pelosi's Taiwan trip looks like its standard playbook, experts say
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at the presidential office in Taipei, Taiwan, on August 3, 2022.Taiwan Presidential Office/Handout via Reuters
  • China threatened military action and heavy consequences if Pelosi visited Taiwan.
  • It made some military responses but kept within its tried yearslong playbook, experts told Insider.

China's response to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's controversial trip to Taiwan fits its standard playbook for when it is upset with events on the island, experts told Insider.

Their comments came as Pelosi was leaving after the trip that led to furious warnings from China and suggested a dramatic military act could be on the cards.

China sees Taiwan as part of its territory, and has for decades pressured governments not to recognize Taiwan as a sovereign nation. Some military experts believe that China may eventually invade the island.

Beijing warned that its army would not "sit idly by" as a high-ranking US figure like Pelosi visited, which it described as playing with fire.

China experts also warned of an "accident" during Pelosi's visit and that China may try to "interfere" with her plane and stop it from landing in Taiwan, Insider's John Haltiwanger reported. Thomas Friedman, the New York Times columnist, suggested it would start "World War III."


China's response was more muted. It chose to:

That would likely be all, said two experts talking to Insider on Wednesday.

Chinese aircraft flying through Taiwan's airspace are "very regular incursions," said Natasha Kassam, director of the Lowy Institute's public opinion and foreign policy program. The import bans are also "part of China's playbook around the world," she said.

Chris Hughes, emeritus professor of international relations at LSE, echoed the sentiment, saying: "I think everyone would agree that China has to make some sort of gesture."

Taiwan and China have strong economic ties, so Beijing has no incentive to wage a full-scale economic war, Hughes said.


"To cut off Taiwan's economy would be cutting off its own nose," he said.

Live-fire drills

China's military exercises, which include live-fire drills, around Taiwan are set to take place Thursday to Sunday, and represent the least predictable part of the Chinese response.

The map below, published by Chinese state media, show the planned locations. Taiwan said it amounts to a blockade of its waters that violates international law.

Despite its fury, China's actual response to Pelosi's Taiwan trip looks like its standard playbook, experts say
Map published by Chinese state media showing the locations of Chinese military drills around Taiwan from August 4 to 7, 2022.Xinhua

"The live-fire military drills are quite serious and they are targeted and closer to Taiwan's territorial area than they were in 1995 and 1996, so that on some level could be seen as an escalation," Kassam said.

Those dates were a reference to the third Taiwan Strait crisis, a monthslong standoff in the 1990s when China fired missiles and launched amphibious-assault drills after the Taiwanese president visited the US.


But what happens after the drills are done?

"From my perspective, there's one scenario where China delivers on these threats, conducts its live-fire military drills over those few days, and then we return to normal," Kassam said.

To Hughes, the drills are a bluff and "psychological warfare."

China has limited options when it comes to Taiwan, especially with the US acting as a deterrent in the region, he said.

Describing the prospect of an invasion, he said "the only reason they would do it is if the US showed it wasn't committed to Taiwan's defense, and if there was a wavering on that, it may encourage China to take a risk."


"That's why it's important for the US to maintain its credible deterrence, which is why Pelosi's there."

The experts told Insider that commentators in the West overstated how severe a Chinese response would be.

"It felt to me that the Western commentariat talked themselves into a fourth Taiwan Strait crisis all by themselves," Kassam said.

Pelosi's visit may even have encouraged more countries to visit Taiwan.

Gabrielius Landsbergis, the foreign minister of Lithuania, which has had high-profile clashes with China over Taiwan before, wrote: "Now @SpeakerPelosi has opened the door to Taiwan much wider, I am sure other defenders of freedom and democracy will be walking through very soon."