Why China reacted to Nancy Pelosi's Taiwan visit with such an extreme show of force

ITV News Asia Correspondent Debi Edward reports on the latest ramifications of Nancy Pelosi's trip to Taiwan, as China responds with a burst of military activity in the waters around the island

There are two simple reasons - beyond the history that has led us to this point - why China has responded with such an extreme show of force in response to the Taiwan trip of Nancy Pelosi.

The first is the timing of the visit.

This week marked the 95th Anniversary of the founding of the People’s Liberation Army, a cause for great celebration, and opportunity to flex some military might.

For the Democratic Speaker of the House to defy warnings and continue with her stopover in Taiwan, infuriated and insulted Beijing.

Taiwan's Foreign Minister Joseph Wu, left, gestures while speaking with Nancy Pelosi as she prepares to leave Taipei. Credit: Taiwan Ministry of Foreign Affairs via AP

It is also a particularly sensitive time for the top leadership in China.

At this time of year they usually hold their annual summer gathering to discuss the government agenda and top of the program for this year is the 20th Party Congress in autumn at which President Xi will be confirmed as a president for life.

He will assume another five years in office having scrapped term limits that should have seem him succeeded this year.

Xi is already going into that Congress with the economy faltering, signs of public discontent at his strict zero Covid policy and with some high-profile domestic disputes such as a banking fraud and mortgage payment crisis.

Against that backdrop he cannot be seen to be weak in the face of US provocation, and Nancy Pelosi has long been a thorn in China’s side.

A poster showing Xi Jinping is seen outside barracks at the Forbidden City in Beijing. Credit: AP Photo/Ng Han Guan

She unveiled a banner in support of the Tiananmen Square students when she visited Tiananmen Square in 1991, and more recently has been a leading support of pro-democracy campaigners in Hong Kong and spoken out against the persecution of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

She is the most senior US politician to visit Taiwan in 25 years but she’s also a Democrat who has been challenging China on its human rights record throughout her whole career.

From Beijing’s point of view, she is also considered part of the Biden administration and to have an agenda to further Taiwan's independence.

So, both the timing and the Pelosi factor have provoked the Communist Party and their menacing response to just the prospect of this visit has left them with no choice but to follow through with military action.

ITV News Presenter Tom Bradby looks back at the historic relationship between Taiwan and China

There is one invasion for which the Chinese military has been trained, and this is the closest they’ve come so far to the real thing.

On Wednesday fighter jets breached Taiwanese airspace, warships began circling the island to form a blockade and missiles were lined up on the coast, ready for launch.

Commercial airlines and maritime agencies operating in Asia have been told to avoid six designated danger zones around Taiwan from Thursday to Sunday as China conducts a series of live-fire drills. It has put the entire region on edge.

One wrong move or missile that goes off course could result in potential conflict if Taiwan or the United States deems it an escalation which must be addressed.

I believe for some of the first issues I raised China is not seeking to launch a full-scale invasion at this point, but in the next few days it could come dangerously close and it wants the world to know that it is ready, when the time comes.

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