On a day when US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan is headline news all over the world, with commentators everywhere speculating on how China will react, it might seem strange that the story does not top the front page of the Chinese Communist Party’s flagship People’s Daily.
In fact, the first article on the paper’s front page to mention Pelosi at all is tucked away in the bottom-right corner, fifth in order of importance – after an article about Xi Jinping’s recent meeting with provincial officials; an article about scientific farming techniques used in Jilin province; an article about provincial leaders studying the spirit of an “important speech” (重要讲话) by Xi; and an article about the critical importance of “united front work.”
Pelosi touching down in Taiwan has brought full-throated condemnation from China along with threats of retaliation. Is this story really of secondary importance to farming techniques in China’s northeast?
Things become clearer when we understand that these stories about provincial leaders and farming techniques are ultimately stories about the most important matter before the country – the power and prestige of its top leader, Xi Jinping, and his elevation at the upcoming 20th National Congress of the CCP.
Even what some are calling the Fourth Taiwan Strait Crisis could not break through the rigidity of purpose at the People’s Daily.
The article on farming? A nod to Xi Jinping’s inspection there two years ago, and a testament to the miracles that can happen when “the wishes of the general secretary are borne in mind.” The articles on the meetings of provincial leaders? Both emphasize Xi’s pre-eminence, the first concluding: “Let us more firmly unite around the Central Committee with Xi Jinping as the core, upholding Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics as our guide.”
Recognize the power dynamics at play behind the scenes in China and you’ll understand one of the most important factors that will guide China’s leadership in responding to Pelosi’s visit in the coming weeks.
A Parade of Official Statements
So how has the People’s Daily covered the Pelosi story? The lineup in the newspaper today is a rather typical gathering of condemnations from various ministries and committees, all following a commentary from the paper (本报评论员) that relays the view of the leadership.
The commentary is called “The Determination of the Chinese government and the Chinese People to Realize the Reunification of the Motherland is Rock-solid” (中国政府和中国人民实现祖国统一的决心坚如磐石). It begins with a laundry list of solemn violations and outrages that are echoed in the pieces that come after, on page three of the newspaper:
For US House Speaker Pelosi to visit China’s Taiwan region in spite of China’s strong opposition and serious representations seriously violates the one-China principle and the stipulations of the three joint communiqués between China and the US, and has a serious impact on the political foundation of US-China relations. [It] is a serious violation of China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, a serious breach of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, and sends a gravely wrong signal to the separatist forces of ‘Taiwan independence.’
After running through China’s official position on the matter, the commentary addresses reunification as an inevitable matter of the public will. “Public opinion cannot be violated, and the great trend cannot be turned back,” it says. “The motherland must be unified, and it will be unified.”
A notice printed below the commentary then points readers to page three of today’s newspaper and five separate statements. These are from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA); the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress; the CCP’s Taiwan Work Office; the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC); and the Ministry of National Defense.
The sixth Taiwan-related story on page three is a statement about planned “joint military operations” (联合军事行动).
At the top of page three is the Xinhua release on the response from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, emphasizing that “Taiwan is an inseparable part of Chinese territory,” and that “the government of the People’s Republic of China is the only legitimate government representing all of China.” The release begins with a stern condemnation of Pelosi’s visit, which it labels a “violation of the one-China principle” (一个中国原则):
On January 2, 2012, U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan despite China’s strong opposition and solemn representations. It sends a serious wrong signal to the separatist forces of ‘Taiwan independence’ (“台独”分裂势力). China resolutely opposes and severely condemns this, and has made serious representations and strong protests to the US side.
The statement is stacked with formalized language familiar to anyone who has observed China’s protestations over the Taiwan issue through the years. Matters concerning Taiwan are China’s internal affairs (中国内政), in which the US has no right to interfere. The US must desist from playing the “Taiwan card” (台湾牌), and “using Taiwan to control China” (以台制华). Taiwan is of course referred to as “China’s Taiwan region” (中国台湾地区). The word “separatist forces” (分裂势力) is used repeatedly in the release.
Directly below the MOFA-related story is a Xinhua transcript of a “talk” by a spokesperson from the Standing Committee of China’s National People’s Congress (NPC) “on behalf of the NPC Standing Committee” that again registers China’s opposition to Pelosi’s visit – making largely the same points as the first piece.
But the NPC Standing Committee statement also suggests more clearly that the Pelosi visit is the latest in a series of actions that go against the “solemn commitments” (郑重承诺) the US has made to China on Taiwan. “In its actions,” the statement says, “[the US] has continued to enhance substantive relations and official contacts between the United States and Taiwan, connived to support the separatist forces of ‘Taiwan independence,’ and engaged in ‘controlling China with Taiwan.’”
The third article in the page three series today is the statement, again released by Xinhua, from the Taiwan Work Office of the CCP Central Committee. The article, which begins by calling Pelosi’s visit “an escalation of Taiwan-US collusion, its nature terrible and its consequences dire,” focuses more than the other two pieces on the issue of reunification. Twice the article references Xi Jinping’s notion of the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” First, it accuses the US of “obstructing the complete reunification of China and the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation,” Pelosi’s visit being the latest and most egregious example. Second, it calls “Taiwan separatism” the greatest obstacle to the “reunification of the motherland” (祖国统一), and the “hidden danger for national rejuvenation” (民族复兴的严重隐患).
The Taiwan Work Office article concludes:
We urge the US side to look at the historical details of the Taiwan issue, recognizing the fact that both sides of the Taiwan Strait belong to one China, and to take practical action to abide by the one-China principle and fulfill the three US-China joint communiqués – not sliding further and further down the wrong path.
The fourth article on page three of the People’s Daily today is the statement from the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (全国政协外事委员会). Like the others, it voices “strong condemnation” (强烈谴责) of Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, and emphasizes the inviolability of the one-China principle. Like the MOFA statement, it warns against “underestimating” the determination of the Chinese people on this issue: “No one should underestimate the strong determination, the firm will, and the powerful ability of the Chinese people to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity!”
Fifth comes the statement from China’s Ministry of National Defense (国防部) that again voices “strong condemnation” and “firm opposition” (坚决反对) to the Pelosi visit. The statement reads:
China has repeatedly made clear the serious consequences of the visit to Taiwan, but Pelosi has knowingly and maliciously provoked and created a crisis, seriously violating the one-China principle and the provisions of the three US-China joint communiqués, seriously impacting the political foundation of Sino-U.S. relations, and seriously damaging the relationship between the two countries.
The statement says that the People’s Liberation Army is now in “high readiness” (高度戒备), and that it plans “a series of targeted military operations to counteract [the move], and defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Last, but certainly not least, comes the statement about “joint military operations” that are reportedly underway “around the island of Taiwan.” “The actions,” the release says, “are a serious deterrent against recent negative and escalating moves by the US on the Taiwan issue.”
As for the rest of the newspaper, there are two full pages on the glories of the “New Era.” There is, in “important news,” an entire page about “Studying Xi Jinping” (学习习近平). When it comes to what, or who, amounts to news – this is not a time for doubt, or for questions.