TAIPEI, Taiwan — Soaring U.S.-China tensions ahead of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s expected visit to Taiwan later Tuesday highlight parallels — and important differences — with the last major cross-strait crisis in 1996.
The big picture: The 1996 Taiwan Strait crisis was a dangerous flashpoint in U.S.-China relations that was sparked by a high-profile visit and featured a highly public split between the White House and Congress.
Flashback: In May 1995, the U.S. granted Taiwan’s then-President Lee Teng-hui a U.S. visa to attend an alumni celebration at Cornell University, his alma mater.
- The White House had opposed the visit at first, and President Clinton had assured Beijing Lee would not get a visa. But then Congress passed a resolution supporting Lee’s visit, essentially forcing the White House to issue the visa.
- It was the first time the U.S. had allowed a visit by Taiwan’s top leader, though it was not a formal state visit, and Beijing viewed it as a major provocation.
- Tensions between the U.S. and China rose over the next few months. China deployed more than 100,000 troops to Fujian and conducted missile tests, with missiles landing in waters off Taiwan and one flying almost directly over the capital Taipei. The U.S. sent two aircraft carrier groups through the Taiwan Strait.
The similarities with today are clear, as a visit of another top official has ruffled Beijing.
- Pelosi’s planned trip has garnered bipartisan support, while President Biden warned that the visit was “not a good idea.”
- China has held military exercises since Pelosi’s trip became known, and Beijing has warned of “forceful measures.”
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