His trip has already caused an uproar in strained US-China relations, with the communist giant sending jets to the edge of Taiwanese airspace and launching military drills that have sent an unsubtle message that Taiwan is surrounded. .
However, if these eruptions stop before a full-scale crisis in the Taiwan Strait, a vital strategic waterway, and avoid the possibility of miscalculations between Chinese and Taiwanese forces, or even Chinese and American assets in the region, the storm over Pelosi’s mission could be temporary. The image of the Speaker of the United States House supporting a democracy under the giant shadow of China could become one of the defining moments of American foreign policy in Asia-Pacific.
The geopolitical relationship between Washington and Beijing is the largest nation-to-nation clash in the world. It unfolds like a generational showdown between two civilizations eager to imprint their values, their economic systems and their strategic hegemony on the rest of the world.
While the Biden administration has followed the Trump White House in treating China as an adversary rather than a competitor, the primary goal of US policy is still to avert what could be a disastrous future war between the two nations. .
So if Pelosi’s visit – a personal rebuke to Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has made taking over Taiwan an existential quest – permanently worsens already poor US-China relations and advances what some see as an inevitable superpower showdown, this could turn out to be a huge miscalculation. The same will be true if his trip prompts Beijing to take action that undermines the peace and prosperity that Taiwanese enjoy in their vibrant home island, a factor often overlooked by Chinese hawks taking tough stances to bolster their political standing in the states. -United.
What Pelosi achieved
From the speaker’s point of view, the trip has been going well so far. She captured the world’s attention for days before arriving on a US military plane. A female political icon, she challenged the all-male upper echelons of China’s communist leadership and refused to be bullied – and sat down with another trailblazing leader, President Tsai. She took a moving stand for democracy – a core American value.
And Pelosi ended a political career that saw her unfurl a pro-democracy banner in Beijing in 1991 with an anti-Chinese Communist Party tour de force in Taiwan as fears grew China could possibly try to take the helm. island by force. More broadly, it has demonstrated to China that the United States will not back down from Beijing’s doomsday rhetoric and will operate wherever it wants in the Asia-Pacific region, no matter what the rising regional superpower thinks.
If this turns out to be Pelosi’s last big foreign mission as president, with Democrats in danger of losing the House in November, it won’t be quickly forgotten.
While the trip raised concerns among the foreign policy establishment, his trip received strong support on Capitol Hill, where support for the island runs deep, as does hostility toward China. Unusually, Republicans warmly praised the speaker, although some may have been motivated by a desire to portray her as tougher than President Joe Biden, who admitted last month that the US military had not been delighted with the prospect of her trip to Taiwan.
“We support Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan,” 26 GOP senators said in a statement. “This trip is consistent with the United States’ one-China policy to which we are committed. We are also now, more than ever, committed to all elements of the Taiwan Relations Act.”
The Taiwan Relations Act is a law designed to deter a Chinese invasion of the island and commits the United States to selling defensive weapons to the Taipei government. Recently, there have been hawkish calls in Congress for stronger law enforcement and for Washington to end the policy of “strategic ambiguity” under which it does not specify what it would do if the continent invaded. .
The unintended consequences Pelosi may have unleashed
Pelosi’s accomplishments in Taiwan are largely personal, symbolic and short-term.
It does not appear that she said or did anything during her visit that violated the one-China policy, despite Beijing’s claims to the contrary. But at one point in her press conference, she praised the Taiwanese people for “the courage to change their own country to become more democratic.” The United States does not recognize Taiwan as a country. Whether it was a slip or a deliberate choice of words, Pelosi’s comment will be analyzed by officials in Beijing.
His trip could bolster Chinese leaders’ beliefs that Congress is determined to toughen Taiwan policy – an impression that could bring the diplomatic tightrope over the island’s status closer to breaking point. While that may not be Pelosi’s intention, misconceptions can lead to military escalations in such a volatile foreign policy relationship.
A permanent increase in Chinese military and economic pressure on Taiwan, or a more hostile posture toward US naval and airborne forces, could bring the danger of conflict between the rivals closer. If Pelosi’s visit hastened Xi’s urgency and determination to seek to take control of Taiwan through military force, it will also have been counterproductive.
White House officials, who initially expressed concern about Pelosi’s visit, edited their message to emphasize that she has every right to visit Taiwan, which Beijing considers its sovereign territory, and that her trip has not violated any Sino-American agreement that states that the People’s Republic is the sole legitimate government of China. But they also appeared to be preparing the American people for a prolonged period of escalation into confrontation by China.
Although there is no sense that China thinks war with the United States is in its interests, John Kirby, the National Security Council’s coordinator for strategic communications, presented a roadmap of measures less significant than Beijing might take, evoking how America and its allies declassified intelligence before Russia invaded Ukraine.
“China appears to be positioning itself to potentially take further action in the next few days and perhaps longer term,” Kirby told reporters on Tuesday.
He warned that provocations could include missile launches in the Taiwan Strait or around Taiwan and large-scale violations of Taiwan’s air defense identification zone by warplanes. He said China could also make public claims similar to those it made recently that the Taiwan Strait is not an international waterway.
Critical to global supply chains already under strain following the Covid-19 pandemic, the strait is traversed by much of the world’s container shipping traffic. Any attempt by China to compromise sea lanes to increase pressure on Taiwan could have devastating economic consequences — and profound political impact in the United States and elsewhere. Even talk of disrupting the strait could send global markets plunging, heightening the pain of Americans already struggling with the high cost of living in an inflation crisis that threatens to doom Democrats in the medium term.
“Some of these actions would continue on the trend lines we’ve seen for the past several years, but some may have a different scope and scale,” Kirby said.
With that in mind, it’s fair to ask whether Pelosi’s visit has achieved anything worth a much longer-term possible deterioration in the security environment around Taiwan, which could bring the United States and China closer together. of the conflict.
“I agree she had a right to go. The question is whether that makes sense,” said Phil Mudd, a former FBI and CIA official who is now a counter-analyst. terrorism on CNN. “She can go, but why? What’s the benefit?
Former US Ambassador to China Max Baucus, meanwhile, told CNN International’s Richard Quest that amid a dangerous deterioration in US-China relations, Pelosi’s trip was reckless.
“My opinion, frankly, is that she shouldn’t have left. The goal of American foreign policy is to reduce tensions with China, not to increase tensions,” the former Democratic senator said. Montana. “Her visit is clearly increasing tensions. There is no foreign policy reason for her to go. The Taiwanese know that we support them.”
In China, as well as in the United States, domestic politics could create a dangerous moment for Taiwan — a trend the California Democrat’s visit may have only accelerated.