304 North Cardinal St.
Dorchester Center, MA 02124
304 North Cardinal St.
Dorchester Center, MA 02124
Nancy Pelosi’s highly publicized visit to Taiwan matters less than years of vacillating American foreign policy at the same time Beijing was asserting itself on the international stage.
“Absolutely reckless” – that’s how one foreign policy commentator describes Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan. And as China announced on Monday that its exercises near Taiwan would continue, Thomas Friedman’s criticism, widely seen as reflecting the views of White House officials, resonated strongly with national security insiders worried about the and more aggressive military policy now adopted by Beijing.
But the real picture is more nuanced. Pelosi’s visit had remarkable positive effects both at home and abroad, and its impact on Chinese politics is less dramatic than critics charge, writes Walter Russell Mead for wsj.com
In his opinion, “In the country, nothing is more important than strengthening the American consensus regarding the need to counter China’s aggressive posture in the Pacific. By going to Taiwan, the Speaker of the House practically nailed the flag to the mast: the defense of Taiwan is a cause that the center-left Democrats cannot ignore. It was important to send such a signal, and Pelosi should be commended for it, he said.
And, “Regionally, China’s belligerent response to Pelosi’s visit horrified public opinion in both Japan and South Korea. China seems perfectly positioned to win the sympathy of its neighbors by promising shared prosperity. But instead, it threatens them, North Korea claims, by sending ballistic missiles into Japanese waters and jeopardizing the safety of vital East Asian trade routes. China is scaring its neighbors so much that it is cementing their alliances between them and the US, and Pelosi has left behind a stronger network of alliances.”
In his view, the charge that her visit made China more hostile to the US or Taiwan does not stand up to close scrutiny. Great powers rarely operate out of spite for changes to their national strategy, and Pelosi’s visit was no more challenging than her predecessor Newt Gingrich’s in 1997. And it was less provocative than President Biden’s repeated statements that the US had abandoned its old policy of strategic ambiguity and would defend Taiwan against an attack from the mainland.
Socio-politically, for many years China’s policy has moved toward a more assertive posture toward Taiwan, at the same time that American diplomacy has become more erratic and unpredictable—and the US and its allies have allowed their overwhelming military superiority from the region to gradually dissipate. If Pelosi had not visited, China would have found other pretexts to act. Xi Jinping will likely have relished the opportunity to flaunt his power to domestic audiences by responding to Pelosi’s visit with an impressive military display, but the build-up of military power that enabled such maneuvers took place over the course of decades. .
What is absolutely reckless about America’s long-term China policy is not some singular incident like Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan. It is passivity and strategic incompetence that have blinded a generation of American political leaders to the growing risk of a major power war in the Western Pacific
Currently, Pelosi is outspoken in her support for Taiwan and her opposition to Communist Party autocracy. But for that support to be effective, she should have been drumming up the last 15 years for better military training, even if it meant even more military spending. He should have been spitting fire and apparently seeing President Obama’s passivity while China was setting up new military bases in the South China Sea.
In the context of the narrative, it is good that in these months, probably the last of her term, she is making the defense of Taiwan a priority. But that will not erase the stain on the legacy of generations of American leaders who slept at the helm while the ship of state sank into dangerous waters. Nor will it remove the danger recently identified in this paper by Hal Brands and Michael Beckley: China is seeking to exploit a window of vulnerability for America and its allies that will remain open throughout this decade.
From an economic-commercial point of view, it looks like difficult years are ahead for both the US and Taiwan. 42% of Taiwan’s exports go to mainland China and Hong Kong – only 15% to the US. Even if an actual invasion or blockade doesn’t materialize anytime soon, investors—Taiwanese and foreign alike—will think twice before investing heavily in what could soon become a war zone.
This, combined with China’s pressure and boycotts, may substantially reduce the economic and technological dynamism that has made Taiwan what it is today.
Globally, the regional and global effects of this climate of insecurity will be significant. Japan and South Korea will rightly fear for the security of important trade routes. Fears about food, energy, and the security of supply chains will disrupt trade and investment patterns, contributing to inflationary pressures and further undermining the health of the world economic order that underpins America’s unique global position.
In conclusion, Nancy Pelosi is a master of American politics. If she wants the next few months of her presidency to be truly memorable, if not historic, then she will use her political skills and the power of office to build support among liberal Democrats for that kind of military buildup and alliance diplomacy that are needed to improve Taiwan’s security and make war less likely.