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Tensions increase between Taiwan and China after Pelosi visits Taipei


Now we turn to China, which announced it would halt cooperation with the U.S. on a range of issues, including climate and crime, in response to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to Taiwan. China is also continuing its live-fire military exercises in the waters around the island. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called Beijing's show of force disproportionate and unjustified. And he told a news conference on the sidelines of a meeting with ministers from Southeast Asian nations that the U.S. is seriously concerned.


ANTONY BLINKEN: They've taken dangerous acts to a new level. The United States has conveyed to the PRC consistently and repeatedly that we do not seek and will not provoke a crisis.

FADEL: Obviously, things are tense. To talk about just how concerning this moment is, we're joined by Yun Sun, a senior fellow and director of the China program at the Stimson Center in Washington.

Good morning. Thanks for being here.

YUN SUN: Morning. Thank you for having me.

FADEL: So let's start with that big question. Would China go to war over Pelosi's visit to Taiwan?

SUN: The answer is no. China is having the 20th party congress in the coming fall. So in about three months, China will have this major domestic political event. And Xi Jinping is expected to secure his third term at the party congress, which means that at this point, it's very unlikely that Xi Jinping wants to start a war over Taiwan, which he may or may not be able to complete by the time that the party congress is hosted. And that's one of the lessons China learned from the Russian war in Ukraine - that once the war starts, it may not be under your control.

FADEL: So these military drills - is this China flexing its military muscle, or is it something more ominous?

SUN: I think it is both. So first, the Chinese do treat these military exercises as a retaliation to Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to Taiwan. And, in fact, before her visit, Chinese officials had threatened - privately and publicly said there will be military consequences.

FADEL: Right.

SUN: So there is a very strong retaliation component associated with it. However, looking into China's behavior down the road, these military exercises are going to set a precedent of what China is able and will be doing in terms of the Taiwan Strait and the surrounding waters off Taiwan Island. So China is going to use this opportunity to establish this precedent and repeat it again and again in the future. And this will constitute a major threat to Taiwan's security down the road.

FADEL: And how much of what we're seeing in these exercises is intended as a show of force for China's domestic audience?

SUN: It is a component because before Speaker Pelosi's visit to Taiwan, the Chinese media and especially the Chinese propaganda system has mobilized this campaign to try to threaten Speaker Pelosi and to deter her trip. So some of those threats put China in an extremely high position that is difficult to back out of. So after her visit - we know that China did not really take any actions during her visit or before her visit. So after the visit, there is a political need for Xi Jinping and his government to show the domestic audience that China is indeed taking this seriously and that China's threats have not been empty.

FADEL: Now, there's been a lot of concern since Russia's war in Ukraine began that China might make similar moves. And you mentioned that they're learning from what Russia is doing about how long a war will last. But remind us what makes Taiwan so important to China.

SUN: For China, there are a couple of reasons. First, before the Chinese Communist Party, the issue of Taiwan is directly related to its legitimacy. We know that China doesn't have democracy. There's no democratic elections. So the legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party as a ruling party pretty much based - is based on its performance. And in terms of the performance, the ability to guard China's sovereignty and to protect China's territorial integrity is regarded as a No. 1 priority. In that sense, the issue of Taiwan is directly related to the legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party. And secondly, for Xi Jinping's China dream, which is the rejuvenation of the great Chinese nation, national unification is an indispensable component of that China dream. So that also is about the authority and credibility of President Xi Jinping himself.

FADEL: Yun Sun is a senior fellow and the director of the China program at the Stimson Center in Washington. Thank you so much for your time.

SUN: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.