China cuts off vital US contacts over Pelosi Taiwan visit

  • Taiwan Air Force Mirage fighter jets taxi on a runway at an airbase in Hsinchu, Taiwan, Friday, Aug. 5, 2022. China says it summoned European diplomats in the country to protest statements issued by the Group of Seven nations and the European Union criticizing threatening Chinese military exercises surrounding Taiwan. (AP Photo/Johnson Lai)

WASHINGTON — China cut off contacts with the United States on vital issues Friday — including military matters and crucial climate cooperation — as concerns rose that the Communist government’s hostile reaction to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Taiwan visit could signal a lasting, more aggressive approach toward its U.S. rival and the self-ruled island.

China’s move to freeze key lines of communication compounded the worsening of relations from Pelosi’s visit and from the Chinese response with military exercises off Taiwan, including firing missiles that splashed down in surrounding waters.

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After the White House summoned China’s ambassador, Qin Gang, late Thursday to protest the military exercises, White House spokesman John Kirby on Friday condemned the decision to end important dialogue with the United States as “irresponsible.”

The White House spokesman blasted China’s “provocative” actions since Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan, which China claims as part of its territory. But Kirby noted that some channels of communication remain open between military officials in the two countries. He repeated daily assurances that the U.S. had not changed its policy toward the Communist mainland and the self-ruled island.

“Bottom line is we’re going to continue our efforts to keep opening lines of communication that are protecting our interests and our values,” Kirby said. He declined to speak about any damage to long-term relations between China and the United States, calling that a discussion for later.

Taiwan has put its military on alert and staged civil defense drills, but the overall mood remained calm on Friday. Flights have been canceled or diverted and fishermen have remained in port to avoid the Chinese drills.

On the Chinese coast across from Taiwan, tourists gathered to try to catch a glimpse of military aircraft.

A minister at the Chinese Embassy in Washington, Jing Quan, told reporters that Pelosi’s mission of support for the democratic government of Taiwan has had “a severe impact on the political foundation of China-U.S. relations, seriously infringed upon China’s sovereignty and (territorial) integrity and … undermines peace and stability across the Taiwan Straits.”

Long term, a significantly more confrontational relationship between China and the U.S. threatens an equilibrium under which Presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping’s governments have sparred on human rights, trade, competition and countless other issues but avoided direct conflict and maintained occasional top-level contacts toward other matters, including cutting climate-damaging emissions.

A joint U.S.-China deal to fight climate change struck by Xi and then-President Barack Obama in November of 2014 is credited as a turning point that led to the landmark 2015 Paris agreement in which nearly every nation in the world pledged to try to curb emissions of heat-trapping gases. Seven years later during climate talks in Glasgow, another U.S.-China deal helped smooth over bumps to another international climate deal.

China and the United States are the world’s No. 1 and No. 2 climate polluters, together producing nearly 40% of all fossil-fuel emissions.

Ominously, experts in China-U.S. relations warned that China’s diplomatic and military moves appeared to go beyond retaliatory measures for the visit and could open a new, more openly hostile era, and a more uncertain time for Taiwan’s democratic government.

China-U.S. relations are “in a downward spiral,” said Bonnie Glaser, head of the Asia program at the German Marshall Fund.

“And I think that China is likely to change the status quo in the Taiwan Strait in ways that are going to be harmful to Taiwan and are going to be disadvantageous to the United States,” Glaser said.

In recent years, other rounds of tensions between China and its neighbors over the India border, regional islands and the South China Sea have ended with China asserting new territorial claims and enforcing them, noted John Culver, a former East Asia national intelligence officer, now a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. The same could happen now over Taiwan, Culver said. “So I don’t know how this ends. We’ve seen how it begins.”

China’s measures this week are the latest steps intended to punish the U.S. for allowing the visit to the island it claims as its own territory, to be annexed by force if necessary. China on Thursday launched threatening military exercises just off Taiwan’s coasts, running through Sunday.

Some missiles were sent flying over Taiwan itself, Chinese officials told state media — a significant increase in China’s menacing of the island.

China routinely complains when Taiwan has direct contacts with foreign governments, but its response to the Pelosi visit — she was the highest-ranking American official in 25 years —has been unusually strong.

It appears to derail a rare encouraging note — high-level in-person meetings between top officials in recent months including the defense chiefs at an Asia security conference in Singapore and Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Secretary of State Antony Blinken at a Group of 20 meeting in Indonesia.

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