Editor's Note: Tsai Ing-wen, the leader of China's Taiwan region, rolled out the red carpet for U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, knowing that such an action undermines the region's relations with the Chinese mainland and the stability in East Asia. Why has she done that? What's behind her aggressive pursuit of the so-called "Taiwan independence"? This episode of Reality Check provides the answers.
Hi, welcome to Reality Check.
One of my colleagues in a previous episode of the show commented on U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi's visit to China's Taiwan region as the world "entering a time where the law of the jungle reins, and rules wain."
True, true. By rolling out the red carpet for Pelosi, Tsai Ing-wen stopped even acting like there's only one China. But truth be told, she's been doing that for quite some time now. In an previous interview with BBC, Tsai said that "we are an independent country already. We call ourselves Republic of China, Taiwan. And we have our own system of running the country. We do have government; we have the military and we have elections."
Ever since coming to power, she has been going after "Taiwan independence." But alone, she's weak. So she looked to the Big Daddy the United States for help to achieve that. Since 2016, she had spent close to $20 billion on buying U.S. weapons in more than two dozen deals. Politically, she cozied up to people like former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and positioned Taiwan as part of U.S. President Joe Biden's "alliance of democracies." Economically, a so-called "U.S. Taiwan Initiative on 21st-Century Trade" was launched.
Then, comes Nancy Pelosi.
We've said Pelosi's Taiwan trip is about her legacy building. It's no different for Tsai. In three months, Taiwan will hold its local elections, the bellwether for the leadership election in two years. Tsai can't run for another term. These are her last chances to make her mark for her party. And things aren't looking good for her.
Recent poll shows that 44.8 percent disapproved her handling of the economy. Among the six major pillars of her governance agenda, the economy was the second most disapproved. Number 1 on the disapproval list is vaccine development with a 48.5 percent disapproval rating. She did the worst in the two most important and kitchen-table issues for the Taiwan residents. Interestingly, her handling of so-called "international relations" and "security matters" were the most liked, where 56.7 percent and 51.1 percent approved it respectively.
The Washington Post has done an interesting research for Pelosi's visit. They show that "a visit from a strong country's leaders is likely to push the smaller partner's public to be more supportive of the great power’s preferred security policy." It suggests that the visit "significantly reassures the people of Taiwan, enhancing public support on the island for military and defense spending as well as U.S. strategic policy goals."
But it's a nightmare for others who live outside of politics. Chen Chih-Hao, the Chinese Unification Promotion Party Spokesperson, said that "If anything were to happen between the Chinese mainland and Taiwan or between China and the U.S., who would bear the consequences? It would be Taiwan. Taiwan will become a battlefield and the people in Taiwan will die."
The absolute inviolable law in the Taiwan Strait is that there's one China and that Taiwan is part of China. Tsai Ing-wen has managed to chip this away over her tenure. Chinese people on both sides of the Strait are paying a heavy price for it. And that is her legacy.
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