From tracking her plane online to blacklisting imports to conducting military exercises, China has reacted furiously to Nancy Pelosi’s brief but controversial visit
China has grounded warplanes, blocked food imports and seen social media erupt in patriotic fervor following Nancy Pelosi’s controversial visit to Taiwan.
Visiting Taiwan’s parliament, the US spokesman said America will always “defend democracy” in the unannounced but highly-anticipated trip, which sparked outrage in China.
China claims the self-governing island as its own territory after the two split following a 1949 civil war. Taiwan has rejected China’s claims of sovereignty, saying only its people can decide the island’s future.
On Wednesday, the US said China had known about the planned visit for weeks and questioned whether it would be used as “some sort of pretext for moves that could escalate or somehow create conflict,” a senior State Department official said.
“China should not use this as an excuse to proceed with what it is trying to do to change the status quo on Taiwan,” the official said. “And if any escalation or crisis followed their visit, it would be in Beijing.”
China conducted a series of military activities and announced new drills in response. Taiwan said it was forced to warn 27 Chinese planes straight out of its defense zone in sensitive Taiwan on Wednesday.
In mainland China, many netizens picked up their keyboards to vent, outraged that Ms Pelosi had dared to visit the island.
“Last night when I went to bed I was so angry that I couldn’t sleep,” wrote blogger Xiaoyuantoutiao. “But what annoys me isn’t the online cries of ‘start a fight’, ‘spare the island but not its inhabitants’… (but that) this old she-devil actually dares to come!”
Hashtags related to Pelosi’s visit, such as “the determination to achieve national reunification is rock solid,” went viral on China’s microblogging platform Weibo. As of Wednesday, about a dozen had garnered several billion views.
Some bloggers have posted the phrase “There is only one China”. Others said China’s military should have done more to prevent their plane from landing, and thousands of users mocked a viral Weibo post published last week by an official People’s Liberation Army account that simply read, “Prepare.” to war!”
“Unless you are preparing for a strike in the future, don’t make these statements to deceive ordinary people,” said one user.
On Tuesday, a live stream tracking the journey of Ms Pelosi’s plane to Taipei on China’s dominant chat app WeChat was viewed by 22 million users. But Weibo crashed before her plane landed, leaving users in the dark for about 30 minutes to an hour before and after she entered the airport tarmac.
Without mentioning the events in Taiwan, Weibo said Wednesday the platform crashed because its broadband capacity was overloaded. But the level of outrage over Weibo was still peaking, with angry netizens calling for stronger military and economic countermeasures against Taiwan and the United States, and far outnumbering voices of moderation.
Still, some urged long-term patience amid mounting domestic challenges and unfavorable global sentiment toward China, and urged peace.
“If there really is a war, China will endure the suffering, currently the world powers didn’t really choose Team China, we wouldn’t get any help. Just like Russia, it would be a lonely war,” one user wrote.
Elsewhere, hackers were suspected of being behind digital signs displayed at Taiwan Railway (TRA) stations and 7-Eleven stores to mock the announcer.
On Wednesday morning, a TV screen at a TRA station showed a message calling Pelosi an “old hag,” while several screens at 7-Elevens began calling her a “warmonger,” according to the Taiwan News.
“The visit of the old witch to Taiwan is a serious challenge to the motherland’s sovereignty,” it said. “Great China will finally be united!”
Meanwhile, customers at 7-Eleven stores saw a sign inside the store that read, “Warmonger Pelosi out of Taiwan!” The company’s Taiwanese operator told local media that the devices had been jammed by an “unknown source.”
Taiwan has pledged to increase security against attacks, which have increased in recent days. Cabinet spokesman Lo Ping-cheng said security has been strengthened at key infrastructure, including power plants and airports, and cybersecurity vigilance has been heightened in all government departments.
He said Taiwan expects to become the target of increased “psychological warfare” in the coming days, detailing influence campaigns including misinformation to sway public opinion.
Digital Minister Audrey Tang said cyber attacks on Taiwanese government units surpassed 15,000 gigabits on Tuesday, 23 times the previous daily record.
China responded by blacklisting imports of thousands of foods from over 100 producers, from citrus to mackerel. It had previously blocked imports of hundreds of other foods from Taiwan, including cookies and seafood, although the timing was unclear. The customs website showed that their import status had been changed to “suspended”.
However, China refrained from cutting off the flow of microchips and other industrial components, a move that would send shockwaves through the shaky global economy.
“The global economy cannot function without chips made in either Taiwan or China,” said Carl Weinberg of High-Frequency Economics in a report.