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A crucial shipping route between Asia and the West is the Taiwan Strait, the waterway that separates Taiwan from mainland Asia. Almost half of the global container fleet and 88% of the world’s largest ships passed through this waterway this year alone, according to Bloomberg. Disruptions to the Strait would cause a major snag in the global supply chain, which has already seen its fair share of roadblocks from COVID.
Back in 1995 and 1996, China shot missiles into the Strait, messing up global shipping traffic in what’s known as the third Taiwan Strait Crisis. The US responded by sending two aircraft carrier battle groups to the area. Historically, the trigger for potential Chinese attacks on Taiwan has been any declaration of independence from the island, which China sees as a breakaway province that is still part of its territory. China’s President Xi Jinping has said “reunification" with Taiwan is a must at some point, whether through peaceful means or the use of force.
Now, US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, which China has vigorously warned against, could cause the fourth Taiwan Strait Crisis. On Tuesday, China’s state media reported that Chinese fighter jets crossed the waterway. A few hours later, though, Taiwan’s defense ministry said these were false claims. Now, Taiwan does confirm that 20 Chinese military planes entered its air defense zone. The region’s defense ministry stated it is ready to dispatch forces in response to “enemy threats."
“The risk of an unintended crisis resulting from large-scale military posturing by China is uncomfortably high," said Crisis Group senior China analyst Amanda Hsiao to Newsweek.
“In the face of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) accelerating aggression, our congressional delegation’s visit should be seen as an unequivocal statement that America stands with Taiwan, our democratic partner, as it defends itself and its freedom," Nancy Pelosi wrote in an op-ed for The Washington Post.
“Those who play with fire will perish by it," Beijing warned in a statement.
“There’s no reason for this visit to become a spurring event for a crisis or conflict," said White House spokesman John Kirby after Pelosi’s arrival to the island.