Taiwan, not US, may pay the price
When US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi touched down in Taiwan on Tuesday night, China was ready with its response.
In quick succession, a slew of government and political bodies fired off statements condemning the visit and warning of its "severe impact" on US-China relations, while China's military said it would immediately launch "air and sea exercises" and released a plan for 6-day drills surrounding the island.
Pelosi's visit -- the first by a top-ranked US lawmaker in 25 years and part of a larger Asia tour -- was seen by Beijing as a "major political provocation" and a challenge to China's sovereignty. China's ruling Communist Party claims the self-governed democracy of Taiwan as its own.
Pelosi's defiance of China's warnings not to visit the island may have aggravated troubled US-China relations, but analysts say the party likely to end up feeling the brunt of Beijing's pressure is not the United States, but Taiwan.
However, Beijing's response so far has been more restrained than some of the possibilities floated by nationalist voices in China in recent days.
An official map indicating the location of some of these planned drills -- initially set to run Thursday to Sunday -- suggest they are closer to the island than previous exercises -- and even encroach on Taiwan's territorial waters. Analysts say that indicates they are an escalation from previous threats leveraged by Beijing against Taiwan.
The map shows the drills will encircle the island more completely than previous exercises -- including the military exercise areas and missile splashdown zones during a major crisis in the Taiwan Strait in the mid-1990s.
With these drills, China has "gone a lot farther than they ever have before," according to Carl Schuster, a former US Navy captain and former director of operations at the US Pacific Command's Joint Intelligence Center.
"The geopolitical signal being sent is that China can close Taiwan's air and sea access whenever it wants," he said.
Taiwan's Defense Ministry in a press briefing yesterday called the plan tantamount to a "maritime and aerial blockade" that would "threaten international waterway, challenge the international order, undermine cross-strait status quo and endanger regional security."
Analysts spoken to by Reuters say it remains unclear if China will fire cruise or ballistic missiles directly over the island, or attempt a blockade for the first time.
Song Zhongping, a Hong Kong-based military commentator, said it appeared the People's Liberation Army wanted to practise blockading the island if it had to in a later war.
"The goal of these exercises, to put it bluntly, is to prepare for the military fight with Taiwan."
But how significant the exercises would ultimately be would depend on what happens in the coming days, according to political scientist Chong Ja Ian of the National University of Singapore, who said much was at stake for China's image at home and abroad.
"Beijing (does not) want to escalate things in a way it cannot control. At the same time, it cannot send a signal that looks too weak," said Chong, noting the latter would have domestic ramifications for Chinese leader Xi Jinping and potentially affect Beijing's ability "to make other regional states toe its line."
"What that sweet spot looks like (for Beijing) no one really knows," he said.
The planned military exercises, meant to "squeeze Taiwan," would likely be followed up with continued actions in the Taiwan Strait, according to Yun Sun, director of the China Program at the Stimson Center in Washington, .
"The Pelosi visit actually will lead to a new escalation of the Chinese military coercion of Taiwan in the foreseeable future. That punishment is the key of the Chinese response at this point, because it cannot punish the US," she said.
Taiwan is also set to bear an economic penalty for its actions, with China's Taiwan Affairs Office yesterday announcing a suspension on the import of certain citrus fruits and seafood products from the island. Chinese Customs in a separate statement pegged the suspensions to hygiene concerns, but it is not the first time China has banned Taiwanese products amid escalating tensions.
China's Ministry of Commerce also announced it would immediately suspend its export of natural sand to Taiwan, a key component for the production of semiconductor chips -- a move Taiwan's Bureau of Mines said would have "limited" effect.
And in the face of China's plans for military drills, Taiwan's Maritime and Port Bureau also issued three notices yesterday, asking vessels to use alternative routes for seven ports around the island.
Taiwan also started negotiating with neighboring Japan and the Philippines to find alternative aviation routes to avoid Chinese assets.
Now, Pelosi has departed the island, leaving a defiant Taiwan under even more pressure as China vents its fury.
When asked during a regular news briefing in Beijing whether the export suspension was meant to punish Taiwan over Pelosi's visit, China's Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs Hua Chunying refused to comment on specific trade actions but said "one thing is certain here."
"The US and Taiwan separatist forces must take the responsibility and pay the price for the mistakes they made," she said.