World

New government forming in Papua New Guinea. Violent protests in Democratic Republic of Congo over peacekeeper ineffectiveness. US assassinates senior al-Qaeda leader in Kabul.  By Jonathan Pearlman.

Beijing warns of backlash over Pelosi’s Taiwan visit

The speaker of the US house of representatives, Nancy Pelosi, receives Taiwan’s highest civilian honour, the Order of Propitious Clouds with Special Grand Cordon, from President Tsai Ing-wen, in Taipei this week.
The speaker of the US house of representatives, Nancy Pelosi, receives Taiwan’s highest civilian honour, the Order of Propitious Clouds with Special Grand Cordon, from President Tsai Ing-wen, in Taipei this week.
Credit: Handout / Getty Images

Great power rivalry

Taiwan: On Tuesday night, the speaker of the United States house of representatives, Nancy Pelosi, arrived in Taiwan for the highest-level visit by an American official in 25 years, despite China’s threat of “serious consequences” and US President Joe Biden’s warning that the trip was “not a good idea”.

Shortly after her plane landed, China announced it would conduct live-fire military drills in zones encircling Taiwan from Thursday to Sunday, including in waters just a few kilometres from the island. The Chinese military also announced separate naval and air exercises that would involve “long-range live firing in the Taiwan Strait”.

But Pelosi, who is second-in-line to succeed the president, pressed ahead, visiting Taiwan’s parliament and meeting its president, Tsai Ing-wen.

“The world faces a choice between democracy and autocracy,” Pelosi said.

“America’s determination to preserve democracy here in Taiwan and around the world remains ironclad.”

Pelosi, a Democratic member of Congress since 1987, has been a longstanding critic of Chinese curbs on democracy and human rights. In 1991, she visited Tiananmen Square in Beijing, two years after the massacre of pro-democracy protesters, and unfurled a banner that said: “To those who died for democracy in China”. At the time, she dismissed the angry response by officials in Beijing and ignored the concerns of US diplomats, who worried about damaging ties with China.

Her visit this week risks further inflaming tensions in the Taiwan Strait.

China views Taiwan as a breakaway province, and Chinese leader Xi Jinping is committed to “reunification”, by force if necessary. The US has close unofficial ties with Taiwan, and sells it military equipment, but does not have diplomatic relations with the island and “acknowledges” Beijing’s position that there is only one China.

Pelosi’s visit is the first by a house speaker since Newt Gingrich visited in 1997. Back then, the US’s GDP was $US8.6 trillion and China’s was $US962 billion. Today, the US’s GDP is $US23 trillion and China’s is $US18 trillion.

The neighbourhood

Papua New Guinea: On Tuesday, James Marape, Papua New Guinea’s incumbent prime minister, declared that his Pangu party had formed a wide-ranging coalition following the recent national election and could form a new government.

“Government is formed already,” he reportedly said, though writs were not due to be returned until Friday.

Marape claimed he had formed a coalition with about 15 other parties and independents, though his rival, Peter O’Neill, was also still trying to cobble together a majority.

The election has been hampered by violence that has left at least 50 people dead amid allegations of vote-rigging, missing ballots and corruption. Issues with the electoral roll meant an estimated one million people, from a population of 9.6 million, were not registered to vote.

Currently, all of Papua New Guinea’s 111 members of parliament are men, making it one of four countries – along with Tonga, Vanuatu and Yemen – that currently have no women in parliament.

Kessy Sawang, a former treasury official, was ahead this week as counting continued in a seat in the province of Madang. She campaigned for water projects that will help bring an end to water carrying – a responsibility assigned to many of the country’s women that she has likened to slavery – and has also called for measures to improve government transparency.

Since the country gained independence from Australia in 1975, only seven women have served as MPs.

Democracy in retreat

Democratic Republic of Congo: For the past 23 years, a United Nations peacekeeping force has operated in the Democratic Republic of Congo to try to protect civilians from conflict and lawlessness. The force, which is one of the largest UN peacekeeping missions, has almost 18,000 personnel, including military contingents from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Indonesia.

But there has been growing anger at the failure of the peacekeepers to combat an estimated 120 militant groups that operate in the country’s east.

Last week, the youth wing of the country’s ruling party organised demonstrations to denounce the UN mission, but the protests quickly turned violent. The UN said “mobs” had thrown stones and petrol bombs at peacekeepers and had broken into bases. Reporters said peacekeepers had fired tear gas and bullets at the crowds.

The violence included an incident last weekend in which peacekeepers opened fire on civilians at a border post in the town of Kasindi, near Uganda, killing at least two people. The UN said the shooting appeared to be unprovoked, describing it as “unspeakable and irresponsible”. The peacekeepers who opened fire were arrested, but their nationalities have not been made public.

So far, the violence has led to the deaths of 19 people, including three peacekeepers.

Spotlight: US kills al-Zawahiri

In 2001, the US invaded Afghanistan and began a 20-year war to try to remove the presence of al-Qaeda and, as then president George W. Bush said, to end the “use of Afghanistan as a terrorist base”.

Last August, US President Joe Biden withdrew the remaining American troops from Afghanistan, ending the country’s longest war. Within months, Ayman al-Zawahiri, who fled Afghanistan in 2001 and became head of al-Qaeda after the death of Osama Bin Laden, moved from Pakistan to a wealthy neighbourhood in central Kabul that is home to senior Taliban officials.

But the US insisted it had not ended its hunt for Zawahiri, who had been on the FBI’s list of “most wanted terrorists” for decades.

Earlier this year, American intelligence officials located a multistorey home occupied by the 71-year-old’s wife, daughter and grandchildren. In April, officials briefed the White House after confirming that Zawahiri was living in the house. Further observation found that he regularly stood, alone, for long periods on a balcony.

Last Sunday morning, Zawahiri stepped onto the balcony and was killed by a drone strike overseen by the CIA.

Biden, who approved the operation, said on Monday that Zawahiri was a “vicious killer” who had masterminded terrorist attacks around the world. “Now justice has been delivered, and this terrorist leader is no more,” he said.

Zawahiri, an eye surgeon from Cairo, took over leadership of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad militant group and developed a close relationship with Bin Laden. He was considered the architect of the September 11 attacks and had survived multiple assassination attempts. The Taliban criticised the drone attack, saying it violated international law. The US accused the Taliban of breaching a peace deal in 2020 in which it had agreed not to allow al-Qaeda to conduct operations from Afghanistan.

Since the Taliban returned to power last year, it has restricted women’s rights to travel and has broken its promise to allow girls to attend secondary school. The nation’s economy has collapsed, and the US government estimates that 19 million Afghans face potentially life-threatening hunger. Despite the war aims outlined by Bush, the UN recently reported that the Taliban has been providing “operating space for about 20 terrorist groups”. 

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on August 6, 2022 as "Beijing warns of backlash as Pelosi visits Taiwan".

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Jonathan Pearlman is The Saturday Paper’s world editor and the editor of Australian Foreign Affairs.

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