US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan was counterproductive to Southeast Asia’s interests, analysts said, as it not only “unnecessarily” sharpened the rivalry between Washington and Beijing but also raised fears that increased Chinese aggression in the Taiwan Strait could spill over to the South China Sea . Despite warnings by China that the United States would “pay the price” should Pelosi travel to Taipei, she pressed ahead with her plans on Tuesday night. Beijing considers the self-ruled island a renegade province to be reunited with the mainland, by force if necessary. China launched live-fire drills after the US congresswoman’s trip, and sent more than 100 warplanes flying near Taiwan in an unprecedented war game deemed a de facto blockade of the island. Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political-science professor at Thailand ’s Chulalongkorn University, described Pelosi’s Taipei stop as “ill-advised” and “an offensive move”. “Adding fuel to the China fire will be unhelpful to Southeast Asia, which has to rely on China economically and handle Beijing’s geopolitical belligerence,” he said. “Now Beijing is likely to be more assertive, not less.” Ngeow Chow Bing, director of the Institute of China Studies at the University of Malaya, called Pelosi’s trip “unnecessarily distracting” as it came at a time the region was grappling with economic recovery plans, a resurgence in Covid-19 cases, as well as food security and inflation amid the war in Ukraine . A potential conflict between the US and China over Taiwan would create instability in the region, said Sana Hashmi, a visiting fellow at the Taiwan-Asia Exchange Foundation in Taipei. “China’s intimidation over Taiwan will intensify,” she said, adding that Beijing would then be viewed as an “aggressor” by Southeast Asian states. Chong Ja Ian, an associate professor of political science at the National University of Singapore, said the impression that Beijing was seeking to create in Southeast Asia and beyond was “one where support for Taiwan is risky and costly, while US behaviour is provocative”. “Even if Beijing frightens Southeast Asian states in the short term, it could deepen distrust of its intentions in the longer term, and reinforce perceptions that it is a major power bully,” he said. Pointing out that China did not want unintended escalation that it could not manage, Chong said Beijing would have to calibrate its message to appear tough, “but not too strong and also not too weak”. “This sweet spot may be difficult to hit, and could end up showing [China] to be reckless or too soft,” he said. Over time, the effects of coercion and threats may diminish, and to achieve the same level of intimidation in future, Chong said Beijing might have to take even more aggressive action “or accept that its bluff may be called”. Huynh Tam Sang, an international relations lecturer, said Chinese military action might extend to include the South China Sea, thereby reducing the region’s security and stability. “This could lead to a build-up of military in Southeast Asian countries bordering the South China Sea and increase the volatility in the area,” said Huynh, an academic at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities, Vietnam National University-Ho Chi Minh City. He added that an escalation of tensions between China and Taiwan might force some Southeast Asian countries “to side with China” given Beijing’s economic leverage in the region. Rifki Dermawan, an international relations lecturer at Indonesia’s Andalas University in West Sumatra, said both the Taiwan and South China Sea issues were related to China’s sovereignty and US involvement. “Therefore, it is very likely for [President] Xi Jinping to take similar action towards the South China Sea,” he said. Opinion: If goading Beijing with Taiwan drama is the US’ goal, leave Asean out of it The spectre of a possible conflict triggered by “the fierce rhetoric and gathering of military troops and platforms in the flashpoint” might cause regional nations to think twice about holding joint military exercises or patrols, “especially high-profile ones, that may be seen as targeting a third country”, said analyst Lucio Blanco Pitlo III. Countries may even hesitate to provide access or passage for ships and aircraft in case of a “possible backlash”, said Pitlo, a research fellow at the Asia-Pacific Pathways to Progress think tank in Manila. The Philippines , a US treaty ally and the closest Southeast Asian country to the strait, is also likely to be put in a bind as it has thousands of nationals working in Taiwan, he noted. “[Manila] may also draw contingency plans should the situation demand immediate evacuation,” Pitlo added. ‘No question’ on one-China principle Ngeow from the University of Malaya said that Southeast Asian countries were all committed to the one-China principle. While the states had vibrant unofficial ties with Taipei, “there is no question where their official policies are”. “The visit could make Southeast Asian governments even more careful than before in engaging with Taiwan, and will strictly confine whatever relations at the unofficial level,” he added. Pitlo from the Asia-Pacific Pathways to Progress said Pelosi’s visit may “fuel a divide” within Asean given each of the bloc’s member states had varying degrees of relations with the US and China. “Worried that other countries may take a cue from the US’ lead and up the level of their ties with Taipei, Beijing may double down on calls to adhere to the one-China policy and come down hard on countries that may express solidarity with Taiwan at this time,” Pitlo said. On Tuesday, the Chinese embassy in Bangkok called on Thailand to support “China’s effort to protect its sovereignty and territorial integrity” as well as Beijing’s “great mission of reunification”. Asean urges restraint as China holds war games after Pelosi’s Taiwan trip Meanwhile, Chong from the National University of Singapore said while Pelosi’s trip showed that Washington was committed to the region, it also raised the possibility that more intense competition was something regional states had to live with. “However, few states in the region seem to have any clear plans on how to address the situation,” he added. Singapore on Wednesday said it hoped the US and China could exercise self-restraint and refrain from actions that would further escalate tensions across the Taiwan Strait. At a meeting of Asean foreign ministers in Phnom Penh, the bloc’s spokesman Kung Phoak, who is also Cambodia’s deputy foreign minister, said all sides should avoid actions that could contribute to the escalation of tensions. Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah urged all sides to tread “very carefully” while Thai foreign ministry spokesman Tanee Sangrat said the kingdom called for “utmost restraint” from all parties.