Actually, the escalating violence since the military coup in Myanmar should be the focus of the ASEAN meeting. There are no representatives from Myanmar itself, as the military has refused to send a non-junta representative. Myanmar generals are currently barred from ASEAN. Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen has harshly criticized the military junta. ASEAN will be forced to reconsider a peace plan agreed with Myanmar if more prisoners are executed.
At the latest when US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrives, the tensions surrounding Taiwan will be at the top of the agenda. Like his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi, he is expected in Phnom Penh from Thursday. According to US information, however, no direct meeting between the two politicians is planned. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will also travel to Cambodia, along with representatives from Japan, Great Britain and Australia. During a visit to Myanmar on Wednesday, Lavrov again emphatically backed China and condemned the United States.
Call for de-escalation
The meeting is an opportunity to calm the tense situation, said Cambodia’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Kung Phoak. It must be ensured that the situation in Taiwan is “safe and stable” and does not escalate into a conflict. All sides should contribute to de-escalation. Ten countries belong to the Southeast Asian community of states – including countries with close ties to China such as Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar.
At the same time, the State Department in Myanmar targeted the United States in a statement and criticized that Pelosi’s visit would lead to an escalation of regional tensions. China also continued to react irritably: On the fringes of the meeting, China’s Foreign Minister Yi accused the USA of disregarding Chinese sovereignty “under the cloak of ‘democracy'”. “Those who insult China will be punished,” he called Pelosi’s visit a “farce.” China, which claims the island as part of its territory, has already responded with initial measures.
Large-scale military maneuvers planned
Chinese military aircraft flew into Taiwanese airspace on Tuesday and Wednesday. A total of 35 sanctions have been imposed on Taiwan since Monday, including exporting sand to Taiwan and importing fish and fruit to China. From Thursday to Sunday, China wants to hold large-scale military maneuvers around the island. The first target exercises in six sea areas surrounding Taiwan started with Pelosi’s landing on Tuesday.
Taiwan said on Wednesday evening (local time) that almost 20 flight routes were affected by the Chinese maneuvers, and flight times, especially international flights, could be extended due to the alternative routes. According to the Taiwanese Ministry of Defense, some Chinese maneuvers will take place within the 12-nautical-mile zone of Taiwan – an unprecedented move, it said. Japan also expressed concern that the area near Taiwan overlaps with Japan’s exclusive economic zone.
Taiwan is preparing
According to a government representative, Taiwan is also expecting increased attacks as part of psychological warfare, above all with false information and corresponding campaigns. Cyber attacks have increased by a factor of 23, media have been called not to act as a propaganda machine for China.
The country’s economy minister said that the security measures for key infrastructure had been strengthened, and that controls, for example at ports and train stations, were also strengthened. The government in Taipei reacted with self-confidence. Taiwan is prepared and will not back down.
USA trying to de-escalate
The US government tried to de-escalate the situation itself. There is no reason why the visit should spark a crisis or conflict, said US President’s Office of National Security Spokesman John Kirby. US officials said Blinken had already discussed the possibility of Pelosi’s visit with his Chinese colleague Yi at the G-20 meeting in Indonesia last month. He emphasized that such a trip was solely Pelosi’s decision and independent of the US government.
Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan sparks crisis
Nancy Pelosi, as Speaker of the House of Representatives, the third most powerful politician in the United States, triggered one of the biggest crises in the region in decades with her visit to Taiwan. The reaction of the Chinese military shows how extensive the provocation against Beijing is – with maneuvers that are tantamount to a naval blockade of Taiwan. The relationship between China and the West has been severely and permanently damaged.
The EU Commission declared that tensions had to be resolved through dialogue. The EU stands by the principle of the “One China Policy” and recognizes the leadership in Beijing as the sole legitimate government of China, but also wants to preserve the status quo in the Taiwan Strait. The G-7 foreign ministers also expressed concern about China’s behavior and issued a statement: “There is no reason to use a visit as a pretext for aggressive military activities in the Taiwan Strait.”
The US government also continues to emphasize that US China policy has not changed. However, the symbolism of the visit cannot be dismissed out of hand. China’s head of state Xi Jinping sees mainland China’s “unification” with Taiwan as a “historic mission”. With reference to its “One China Doctrine”, the Chinese leadership is attempting to isolate Taiwan internationally.
Pelosi met human rights activists
Pelosi had traveled to Taiwan on Tuesday as part of her trip to Asia and flew on to South Korea and Japan early Wednesday evening (local time). Speaking with President Tsai in Taipei, Pelosi said the US would “always stand by Taiwan’s side.” The visit shows “that we will not give up our commitments to Taiwan”.
At the same time as she arrived, a comment was published in the Washington Post in which the US Democrat justified her trip. She also met human rights activists in Taipei, including Wuer Kaixi, the former leader of China’s pro-democracy movement that was bloodily crushed in 1989, as well as former Hong Kong bookseller Lam Wing-kee and social activist Lee Ming-chee, both of whom were detained in China. Lee had just returned to Taiwan from China after serving a five-year prison sentence for “subverting the state”.
In any case, the timing of Pelosi’s journey is delicate. With the outbreak of the Ukraine war, concerns had grown that Beijing might adopt a similar approach to Russia in its dealings with Taiwan. The visit has now raised criticism that the US-Chinese relationship could be further damaged and that another US flank could open up to the Ukraine war.
It is also unclear how far Beijing is willing to go on the Taiwan issue. President Xi Jinping is currently under domestic political pressure – due to the pandemic, but also before the 20th party congress in the fall, at which he wants to secure a third term.