'Mostly verbal threats': Ordinary Taiwanese shrug off China's warnings on Pelosi visit

News of a possible visit by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been widely reported by Taiwan's media. PHOTO: REUTERS

TAIPEI (REUTERS) - Many in Taiwan are shrugging off China's warnings about a possible trip to the island by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, saying they are accustomed to Beijing's sabre-rattling and see no cause for alarm.

Such a trip would be the first by a House speaker to the island since 1997. China, which claims the island as its own, has said it is prepared to act in response.

While news of a possible visit has been widely reported by Taiwan's media, front-page stories in the past week focused on election campaigns by political parties ahead of local elections this year, as well as record-breaking temperatures.

Waiting for a doctor's appointment on a busy street in Taipei, education professional Chen Yen-chen gave voice to a widely held view about China's remarks.

"That is mostly verbal threats and intimidation, so this time around I am quite at ease," said the 30-year-old.

Visits by US officials to Taiwan have become a frequent source of tension between Beijing and Washington, which does not have official diplomatic ties with Taiwan, but is bound by law to provide the island with the means to defend itself.

Despite fears that a visit could trigger a fourth crisis over the Taiwan Strait since 1949, politicians and diplomats in Taiwan say people are used to military intimidation by China's People's Liberation Army (PLA), which has never ruled out taking the island by force.

"To the Taiwanese people, Chinese threats have never stopped in the past decades. It's happening every day," Mr Wang Ting-yu, a lawmaker of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, told Reuters. "Taiwan needs to be on guard, but Taiwan will not cave in to fear."

A visit by Mrs Pelosi would be welcomed, said Mr Alexander Huang, director of international affairs for the main opposition party Kuomintang, and its representative in the United States.

"Of course, it raises Taiwan's visibility, and it shows the American commitment to Taiwan in a pretty formal way," he said, describing the impact such a visit would have.

Beijing's threats of unspecified "serious consequences" are merely the same old warnings for 26-year-old office assistant Hung Chien, who said, "I am already used to China issuing such statements, so I am not overly nervous."

In some cases, analysts say, military threats have only made the island more determined to stand up to Beijing.

During the last Taiwan Strait crisis in 1996, for example, the PLA fired missiles into waters around Taiwan ahead of its first direct presidential vote. That move was widely interpreted as a warning against supporting a candidate Beijing saw as pushing for the island's formal independence. Former Taiwan president Lee Teng-hui won by a landslide.

For Taiwan's government, which has avoided commenting on possible US visits, Mrs Pelosi could bring trouble. But it could also foster much-needed support for the diplomatically isolated island, which has official ties only with 14 nations, thanks to China's objections.

"If she does come, Taiwan's international visibility will be greatly boosted and it will encourage more allies to take more action to support Taiwan," one government source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

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