Did Nancy Pelosi put Taiwan in a Straitjacket?

Was Pelosi’s visit a boneheaded error or was she standing up for Democracy?

Breakfast With Bwana

By Anil Madan

Two weeks before Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taipei, President Biden said that US military officials believe her visit is “not a good idea.” A day before the President’s comments to reporters, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman stated that China would take “resolute and strong measures” should Pelosi visit Taiwan as planned.

Nancy Pelosi in Taiwan. Pic – Reuters

While the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman’s declarations are not the same as a statement by President Xi Jinping to President Biden in a one-to-one call, this is somewhat reminiscent of President Biden’s call to President Putin warning/threatening him that the US would impose severe and unprecedented sanctions on Russia if it invaded Ukraine. These kinds of threats don’t work as Biden learned with Putin and surely, the Chinese know they don’t work.

Indeed, Pelosi’s visit was rescheduled in April when she tested positive for Covid. Then, in early April, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi personally weighed in: “If the speaker of the US House of Representatives knowingly commits a sneaky visit to Taiwan, it will be a malicious provocation to China’s sovereignty, gross interference in its internal affairs and an extremely dangerous political signal to the outside world.” 

A week after President Biden disclosed the Pentagon’s view (presumably the reference to US military officials was a reference to Pentagon leadership), China’s military spokesperson, Colonel Tan Kefei, weighed in with this: “If the US side insists on going ahead, the Chinese military will never sit idle and will take strong measures to thwart any external interference and separatist attempts for Taiwan independence.”

Note that the Chinese military spokesperson equates Pelosi’s visit as an action of “the US side.” Now, the US State Department has revealed that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed the potential for Pelosi’s visit with China’s Defense Minister Wang Yi during the recent G20 meeting in Bali, He is reported to have said any such trip would be entirely Pelosi’s decision and independent of the US government.

Obviously, the Chinese do not see Pelosi’s visit as a frolic of the Speaker’s own. There may be some justification for the Chinese view. It is reported that Pelosi travelled on a US military aircraft which, of course, is routine for the Speaker of the House, and that it was escorted by military aircraft. Comments by US National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby also endorsed Pelosi’s visit and statements as consistent with US foreign policy.

The problem with this is that US foreign policy is conducted by the State Department at the direction of the President, not by the Speaker of the House. The Chinese, on the other hand, see Pelosi as having a more exalted status because she is third in line to succeed to the Presidency. Lost in this is that being third in line for the presidency does not give Pelosi any authority over US foreign policy any more than being second in line gives Vice President Kamala Harris any say in the matter.

Petulant and childish outrage

So, why are the Chinese so enraged with Pelosi’s visit? The most obvious reason is that, as I have written many times, the CCP and its spokespersons act with petulant and childish outrage whenever any aspect of Chinese policy is questioned or challenged. There is the usual clamour about not interfering in China’s internal affairs. Never mind that Taiwan has been de facto, an independent actor (if not formally recognized as an independent nation by the world’s nations due to Chinese pressure) for over seven decades. Then there is the point the Chinese underscore at every opportunity: Taiwan should not be allowed to conduct any foreign policy because it has no status as a nation independent of the PRC.

But there is more here. Pelosi engenders a visceral hatred in the CCP. Back in 1991, she visited Beijing and went to Tiananmen Square and unfurled a banner reading in Chinese and English: ‘To Those Who Died For Democracy In China’. There are reports that American Ambassador to China, J. Stapleton Roy, confronted Pelosi about this action and was agitated and angry. Pelosi was dismissive of Roy’s concerns. One can just imagine if the US ambassador was agitated and angry, how enraged the petulant Chinese baby must be every time it is reminded of this pacifier being pulled out of its mouth.

Pelosi’s comments in Taipei also suggest that she has usurped some semblance of authority on the subject of US foreign policy. Her statements have included these:

  • “Our congressional delegation’s visit to Taiwan honours America’s unwavering commitment to supporting Taiwan’s vibrant democracy.
  • She added that the visit by her congressional delegation, which includes an overnight stay, was completely in line with longstanding US policy on Taiwan.
  • Discussions with Taiwanese leadership will focus on shared interests including advancing a free and open Indo-Pacific, Pelosi said.
  • “America’s solidarity with the 23 million people of Taiwan is more important today than ever, as the world faces a choice between autocracy and democracy.”

Pelosi also wrote an op-ed piece in The Washington Post, which was released after she arrived in Taipei. She extolled Taiwan’s commitment to democratic government, and inveighed against China for having dramatically increased tensions with Taiwan in recent years. “In the face of the Chinese Communist Party’s accelerating aggression, our congressional delegation’s visit should be seen as an unequivocal statement that America stands with Taiwan,” she declared.

And, underscoring this in her first remarks on landing, she said: “Our congressional delegation’s visit to Taiwan honours America’s unwavering commitment to supporting Taiwan’s vibrant Democracy.” 

a “lose-lose-lose” scenario

So, where does all this leave us? China’s statements of outrage and indignation are one thing. But in the real world, China has imposed trade restrictions on Taiwan including suspension of fruit and some fish imports and export of natural sand to Taiwan. That sand is essential for the manufacture of semiconductor chips. One can expect such restrictions to be eased in due course since they hurt China itself as well as Taiwan. In fact, Mark Liu, Chairman of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) warned that economies on both sides of the Taiwan Strait will be plunged into turmoil should China invade Taiwan. “Nobody can control TSMC by force,” he added. TSMC factories will be rendered “non-operable” in the event of a Chinese attack because the sophisticated manufacturing facilities depend on real-time connections with the outside world, with Europe, US, and Japan.

Liu also raised an indirect stark warning, invoking the Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and calling it a “lose-lose-lose” scenario for the western world, Russia and Ukraine. China accounts for 10% of TSMC’s business and is dependent on that supply.

On the other hand, no one can predict with any confidence that the CCP leadership will act rationally and responsibly. Will they recognize that a tiny island with a population of some 25 million is insignificant when it comes to China’s status as a world power with a population of 1.4 to 1.5 billion? Taiwan presents no threat whatsoever to China.

China did not act rationally when it cracked down on Hong Kong, an even tinier bit of real estate with a population less than one-third of Taiwan’s. Nor did China act rationally when it tried to extinguish the Tibetan Buddhists, or when it acted against the Uyghurs.

Territorial ambition in the name of national pride is apt to manifest itself in unpredictable and vicious ways as we have seen in Ukraine.

Was Nancy Pelosi’s visit worth it? From the standpoint of western “values” and American righteousness, sure. But what if China uses this an excuse to attack Taiwan? From the standpoint of the Taiwanese people, what will we say? Will Taiwan become another Ukraine with a developing genocide and economic devastation? China is conducting live fire drills in the Taiwan Strait and encroaching on Taiwan’s territorial waters and its ADIZ which, of course, China does not recognize.

It is too early to tell how this will play out as I write this. So, for now, I just raise the question. Was Pelosi’s visit a boneheaded error or was she standing up for Democracy? Could she have said everything she said in Washington and achieved the same effect without leaving Taiwan to face the aftermath?

More importantly, way back when the US recognized the PRC as the sole government of China, we did not insist that the PRC recognize the independence of Taiwan. At that time, both the PRC and Taipei clung to the idea of One China, each claiming to be the ONE. Surely, no one expected the rise of China to its present state or the vehement hostility with which the CCP approaches the rest of the world. It is time to work hard to change this.

The statements by US officials, from Secretary of State Antony Blinken down, repeating a mealy mouth disclaimer that we are interested in resolving this issue and recommitting the US to the status quo serves no one’s interests other than the CCP’s.


Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 5 August 2022

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