'Mostly verbal threats': Taiwan residents shrug off China's warnings on Pelosi visit

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By Fabian Hamacher and Sarah Wu

TAIPEI (Reuters) - Many in Taiwan have shrugged off China's warnings about a possible trip to the democratic island by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, saying they were accustomed to Beijing's sabre-rattling and saw no cause for alarm.

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

While news of a possible visit has been widely reported by Taiwan 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, the capital, 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, who works in education.

Visits by U.S. 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, 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," 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 Pelosi would be welcomed, said Alexander Huang, the 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 the 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 U.S. visits, 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.

(Reporting by Fabian Hamacher and Sarah Wu; Writing by Yimou Lee; Editing by Anne Marie Roantree and Clarence Fernandez)