Neither the United States nor China have any vested interests in their superpower rivalry that is escalating into open military clashes, despite mounting tensions ahead of Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s expected visit to Taiwan.
And yet, the showdown is over the issue that is more likely than any other to trigger a future US-China war. And Pelosi’s trip, if it goes ahead, is almost certain to create more instability in the relationship, which would make future conflict more likely.
The angry Chinese warnings that the California Democrat should not go and Washington’s pledges not to be intimidated, meanwhile, show how the political forces ignited in each nation can make it nearly impossible to manage the world’s most sensitive geopolitical duel.
A senior Taiwanese government official and a US official told CNN on Monday that Pelosi was due to make the first visit by a House Speaker to Taiwan in 25 years as part of her Asian tour.
The longtime critic of the Chinese communist government and its alleged human rights abuses would arrive in Taipei despite extraordinary warnings from Beijing of reprisals and consequences.
Before Pelosi’s expected arrival, rhetoric was flying between Washington and Beijing.
US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on NBC’s “Today” show that China “should think very carefully” about the escalating situation and warned that the US will do whatever is necessary to protect its interests.
But Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi renewed President Xi Jinping’s warning in a phone call to President Joe Biden last week that Washington should not “play with fire” in Taiwan and reiterated the “One China” policy. from Beijing.
Pelosi’s stance and the new conditions created by Xi’s nationalist government, as well as Beijing’s new assertiveness and military and strategic power, make this the riskiest move on Taiwan in decades.
Given the signs that Pelosi is determined to visit, the question now is how Beijing will respond.
Most of his options—after a barrage of threats and propaganda that raised expectations for his response—are pretty alarming.
Most analysts think that some sort of show of military force is likely, at a time when China is already sending its jets into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone in unprecedented numbers.
While China’s moves may not directly threaten US naval forces in the area, they could increase the potential for miscalculations — and also raise the prospect of how Taiwan would respond to serious provocation.
Why would Pelosi go?
So why would Pelosi go and her trip needlessly antagonize China’s leadership?
Supporters of the visit, which include many Republicans aligned behind Pelosi, say it is critical for the speaker to show support for Taiwan and emphasize that Washington is serious about its legal commitment to providing the island with the means of self-defense.
Pelosi is also a symbol of democracy — a way of life that Taipei is desperate to preserve under China’s authoritarian shadow.
But the controversy is not limited to Taiwan. It is a broader context of the China-building challenge to the United States’ determination to preserve democracy, Western values, and military and economic primacy in the Pacific and around the world.
Once news of Pelosi’s expected visit leaked out, it became politically implausible — internally and for strategic reasons — for her to bow to Beijing’s warnings that she shouldn’t go.
It would be unpalatable for Pelosi, following a political career partly defined by opposition to China, to back out of her plan. And he would send a message that the United States, in one of its first standoffs with a newly confident superpower rival in the Pacific, would back off.
Biden also had political considerations. Although he publicly admitted that the US military was concerned about the visit, he could not openly side with China in Pelosi’s case.
And a president can hardly order one of the top representatives of another branch of government what he should or should not do, even if officials work to inform the president of all the possible consequences of his decision.
Politics is also boosting China’s stocks
Politics also rages within the Chinese politburo, though many in the West often view China’s communist leadership as monolithic. Xi has built his power base on aggressive nationalism and the idea that Taiwan’s destiny is “reunification” with the mainland.
He is determined to preside over a national rejuvenation that will purge China’s past humiliation by colonialism and the long isolation of the 20th century when it failed to exert what he considers its legitimate influence on the world.
So Pelosi’s long-awaited visit is more than a punch in China; it’s a personal disrespect for Xi’s core project by one of America’s most important politicians — and it’s one that demands a political response.
The crisis also comes at a crucial time in Beijing. In a few months, Xi is on the verge of claiming an unusual third term and cannot afford to be seen as weak.
And his government’s questionable handling of the Covid-19 pandemic — mass lockdowns are still commonplace in Chinese cities — and a slowing economy means Xi may be tempted to adopt a nationalist stance to mask domestic responsibilities.
a long dispute
While the current stalemate is alarming, Taiwan has long irritated US-China relations. The dispute is further confused by complicated diplomatic arrangements and American strategic doctrines designed to avoid the possibility of war with China.
The island is seen by Beijing as a legitimate part of its territory. The United States recognizes the People’s Republic of China on the mainland as China’s only legitimate government and does not regard Taiwan as a country.
But it does not accept the Chinese Communist Party’s claim to sovereignty over the democratic island. While it offers Taiwan the means of self-defense when it buys U.S.-made weapons, Washington has adopted a policy of willful vagueness about whether it would defend Taiwan, in part to prevent a declaration of independence from Taipei and to give leaders in Beijing ulterior motives about a forced takeover. from the island.
Robert Daly, a former US diplomat in Beijing, said on Monday that China’s eventual response — perhaps, for example, an incursion into Taiwanese airspace, would likely not cause a war but would bring rivals closer to a danger zone.
“This will establish a new baseline that will take us a little bit closer to confrontation,” Daly, director of the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States at the Wilson Center, told Pamela Brown of CNN .
“I don’t think we will be confrontational this time, but I don’t think we will be better in our relations with Beijing a week from now than we are today.”
Why Biden Worries About Travel
Biden has reorganized US foreign policy around the principle of countering China’s growing power in Asia and elsewhere.
Thirty years ago, Washington hoped that by encouraging China, then reclusive in the global economy, it could promote political liberalization and introduce it into the Western-oriented global economic and political system.
But Beijing sought to use its growing military and political power and influence to build an alternative political and economic value system to that represented by the US and its allies.
But Biden also wants to manage this new competitive relationship so that it doesn’t result in war between the rising power in the Pacific (China) and the existing one (the United States) and its allies.
The US leader emphasized in a phone call with XI last week that there has been no change in the fundamental nature of US-China relations or the White House’s stance when it comes to Taiwan.
However, viewed from Beijing, Biden’s repeated recent statements that the US would defend Taiwan, which were rejected by aides, may have left the impression that he is not sincere.
China is also watching a growing move among congressional hawks for Washington to replace the policy of “strategic ambiguity” about US intentions if China invades Taiwan with a clear statement that the US would defend the island.
Some analysts say such a shift could not only risk dragging the United States into a Pacific war against China for which the Americans are unprepared, but could also make Beijing even more aggressive.
Or that the promise of a US shield could encourage a push for independence in Taiwan that could also force China’s hand and bring a broader military conflict over the island closer.
Prior to Pelosi’s anticipated visit, official statements by government officials firmly reaffirmed that there has been no change in US policy and affirmed her right to travel, but hinted at the possibility of a difficult few weeks when China responds anyway.
“There is no reason for Chinese rhetoric. There is no reason for any actions to be taken. It’s not uncommon for congressional leaders to travel to Taiwan,” White House National Security Council strategic communications coordinator John Kirby said during an appearance on the news channel. CNN on Monday.
“We should not be, as a country, intimidated by this rhetoric or these potential actions.”
But in a new statement on Monday, Zhang Jun, Chinese ambassador to the United Nations, warned again that China’s military would not “stand idly by” while Pelosi visited and that her trip would have a “political impact”.
The assumption in Washington is that Xi has no more interest in a direct military confrontation than Biden. But he is stronger than previous Chinese leaders. And there is a strong nationalist bias within the Chinese military, along with a growing confidence in its ability.
So making assumptions about how China would respond to Pelosi’s visit based on its behavior in past crises could mean the US is in for an unpleasant surprise.
Check the region map:
Source: CNN Brasil