Xi tested as Chinese nationalists bristle at Pelosi Taiwan visit

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China’s Xi Jinping needs to react strongly to Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan without hurting the Chinese economy.

The political fallout of a recent visit to Taiwan by Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi is echoing in China.

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Pelosi’s journey to a self-governing democracy, which China claims as its territory, is testing Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s resolve at a politically sensitive time.

Xi is getting closer to securing an unprecedented third term as head of the ruling Communist Party of China at its upcoming 20th National Congress in November.

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Yet as China reacts to the Pelosi visit with a display of military force, Xi is likely weighing the economic cost and diplomatic repercussions against the need for the US and its allies to take tougher action on Taiwan because of growing tensions within China. Nationalist sentiment drives them to do so. More.

“It put him (Xi) in an impossible position,” Stephen Nagy, a Tokyo-based China analyst and senior fellow at Canada’s McDonald-Laurier Institute, told Al Jazeera.

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“They have to maintain economic growth, which will be severely hampered by any kinetic reaction from the US and the growing international recognition of Taiwan as a political entity,” Negi said.

“Yet he is under tremendous pressure from nationalist forces inside China, who expect a strong response for a clear violation of the ‘One China Policy’ … I doubt he can strike this balance.”

‘not finished yet’

China is conducting its biggest military exercise ever in the waters around Taiwan, including firing missiles at the island.

Chinese authorities have also banned the importation of more than 2,000 Taiwanese food products and halted the export of sand to Taiwan, while foreign cyberattacks on Taiwan’s government websites have surfaced this week.

“It’s not over yet,” Nagy said. “I expect more provocative military activity from China in the coming months…we are going to use more cyberattacks, sanctions on Taiwanese businesses operating in China, and even more to increase pressure on Taiwanese friends. One can also expect secondary sanctions.”

The growing aggression is partly a response to growing calls from the Chinese public for more drastic action.

On the evening of August 2, as Pelosi landed, Chinese social media blew up with anti-American vitriol, which many Chinese netizens called a “sleepless night”.

By the next morning, about a dozen nationalist hashtags about “reunification” – some pushed by Chinese state media – had generated several billion views on the microblogging platform Weibo.

“It was a truly international phenomenon and something that was evolving in a lot of real time,” Manya Koetse, a veteran Chinese social media analyst and editor-in-chief of WhatsApp Weibo, told Al Jazeera.

Coetse likens Pelosi’s reaction to the nationalist wave of the trip to a time when Chinese netizens tracked the homecoming flight of former Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou after he was released by Canada last year.

“But of course, this time Nancy Pelosi was not welcome,” she said.

“Many millions of people were watching it (flight tracker) at once … and state media were flying propaganda posts and military jargon and it felt like a lot of netizens were actually preparing for something to happen,” she said.

“And then the moment came when she arrived… and people felt frustrated and angry that the ‘old witch’, as they call her, had landed and China didn’t stop it,” she said. “There was a feeling that ‘she got away with it very easily,'” Coetse said.

‘countermeasure’

Hu Xijin, the former editor-in-chief of the Global Times newspaper, known for its hostility towards Taiwan, expressed regret that Beijing did not respond to the public as expected.

Yet another famous online commentator, Ren Yi, slammed Hu for creating unrealistic expectations among people that would “damage morale” and “destroy government credibility”.

On Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying urged the public to be patient and promised that the US and Taiwan would “feel a gradual and steady retaliation”.

“Hu played a big role because he suggested that Pelosi’s escort planes might be shot down,” Coetse said.

“Nothing like this happened, but some people really expected something like this.”

‘People are still very angry’

“There was a change on August 2,” Leo Chu, a research assistant at the US-based Foreign Policy Research Institute in China’s Anhui province, told Al Jazeera.

“Previously, the visit was about the Sino-US rivalry… but after Pelosi landed in Taipei, people started talking about it as an issue of reunification. People are still extremely angry with America But now he believes the answer is not to shoot down Pelosi’s plane, but to reunite.

According to Chinese analyst Negi, Xi remains under pressure to respond.

“China may not be a democracy, but the party needs to respond to the feelings of its citizens about issues that are important to the Chinese people,” Nagy said.

“People are raised to understand these issues through a nationalist lens and many will then wonder why Xi is not standing up for what he sees as his ‘core interests’.”

‘Anti-Xi faction’

According to Coetzee, China’s censors, which regulate online discourse in the country, may have been too slow to curb the nationalist enthusiasm of netizens.

“Topics like Xinjiang or Taiwan are usually very sensitive, and their discussion is quickly censored,” Koetse said.

“But the moment they can be framed within a nationalist narrative, as it did this time, you will see the censorship loosening… you will then see hundreds of thousands of new messages popping up on Chinese social media,” she said.

“Yet soon after Pelosi landed Weibo became inaccessible to many people because the servers were dealing with ‘some issues’…

The visit may also have initiated more aggressive forms of surveillance to ensure academic conformity with Xi’s official response.

Nagy said Chinese researchers told him last week that party officials at universities requested foreigners to install software on their phones to protect them from alleged cyberattacks. Academics suspect that the software is meant to monitor their interactions.

“This may be partly to ensure tighter controls on the domestic narrative… Beijing does not want to see the same criticism surface about its handling of the crisis as Putin’s attack on Ukraine earlier in the year,” Nagy said. It coincided with China’s response to the invasion.”

Soon after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, five prominent Chinese historians published an open letter condemning Putin and calling on China to condemn the war. The censor removed the letter within three hours.

Xi will also seek to quell dissent within the party, as his opponents see signs of weakness in his response to the Pelosi visit.

“The anti-Xi faction sees the last 10 years of its rule as taking China back. Its relations with the West have deteriorated, global compatibility is at an all-time low and the economy, both structurally and geopolitically, is in worse shape than it was a decade ago,” Nagy said.

“Many in this faction see that Xi has put the Chinese elite in a vulnerable position on the international stage … and will interpret the visit as Pelosi, peeping into Xi’s eyes, and when he Supposedly he will have to lose his face in the creation of the National Congress. Consolidate his legacy with Mao,” he said.

Despite internal opposition, Negi does not think the Taiwan issue will jeopardize Xi’s chances of securing a third term, adding that only a devastating new COVID-19 variant or natural disaster could pose such a risk at this stage. Is.

Credit: www.aljazeera.com /

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