Of Costa Rapti
What is the real America after all? The country whose leader just last week spoke for two and a half hours with his Chinese counterpart, clearly anxious to keep channels open? Or the country whose third-ranking statesman touched Beijing’s most sensitive “red line” just 24 hours later by visiting Taiwan?
The country that framed this objectively inflammatory visit (on a fighter jet) with the movement of two aircraft carriers to the China Sea and other forces in adjacent countries? Or the country that took the initiative to postpone the planned test launch of the US Air Force’s Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile to reduce, by demonstrating “responsible nuclear power behavior” the risks “of miscalculations and misinterpretations”, as the spokesman said yesterday of the Pentagon, John Kirby;
The country that since the Shanghai Communiqué in 1972 has accepted that “Taiwan is part of China and the peaceful resolution of the Taiwan question rests with the Chinese themselves”? Or the country that is playing the game of “strategic ambiguity” to its limit regarding its degree of involvement in a military conflict involving Taiwan?
After all, the “strategic ambiguity” in the Taiwanese issue concerns the possibility of an attempt by Beijing to overthrow the existing status quo by force. However, its possible overthrow with moves to upgrade the diplomatic legalization of the island, which has seceded since 1949, and to encourage nationalist politicians who wish for an official declaration of its independence, is a very different matter.
Confusion or division of roles?
The visit of the 82-year-old Democratic speaker of the federal House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi (strongly supported by the majority of Republicans, except Donald Trump), to Taiwan lasted less than 24 hours and is already a thing of the past. But its effects on Sino-American relations, and therefore on the stability of the entire planet, will be long-lasting. In fact, they haven’t even begun to fully manifest.
The fact that President Biden did not encourage Pelosi’s visit (and even confided to reporters that the Pentagon shared his reservations) doesn’t make things any easier. Because either through a real inability to prevent the disputed visit, thus losing control of the levers of power in Washington, or, in a more cynical scenario, through its participation in a role-sharing game, Beijing is led to the same conclusion: the US does not they are “agreement capable” and it makes no sense to invest in win-win negotiation scenarios with them. This is the same conclusion to which Moscow was led years ago for its own reasons, with which China’s alliance will inevitably become even closer.
The blow is personal for Xi
The resounding warnings of the Chinese leadership before Pelosi’s visit were not heeded – and this can only be recorded as a blow to her prestige. This does not concern Chinese leader Xi Jinping personally, who at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party in the fall will assume an unprecedented third consecutive five-year term at the top.
Although Nancy Pelosi in her announcement from the territory of Taiwan took care to point out, in a “politically correct” way, that she subscribes to the “One China” principle and the previous Sino-American joint declarations on the subject, she took care to aggravate the insult to Beijing, ideologically coloring her visit as a “gesture of solidarity towards a flourishing democracy”, which lives under the threat of “authoritarianism”.
The answer will be given in the long term
However, those who predicted (or even sought) a heated response from Beijing when Pelosi was carrying out her bold venture are missing the big picture. China, known to be fond of long-term plans, has no interest in getting involved in a military adventure, especially at a time of the opponent’s choice, as long as it has not completed its “peaceful emergence”, as it seeks.
This does not mean that it will sit idle. The sequestration by the Chinese armed forces of large sea areas, even less than 12 miles from the coast, for live-fire exercises and the launch of long-range ballistic missiles sent a strong message and a quasi-“naval blockade rehearsal”.
We are a long way from the previous crisis of the same kind 25 years ago, when in 1997 the then speaker of the US House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich, visited Taiwan and the Chinese response was weak.
Since then, China has developed into a military powerhouse equipped with 1,300 ballistic missiles capable of hitting US positions as far away as Guam and possibly destroying aircraft carriers (the recent sinking of the Russian flagship Moscow by Ukraine is instructive). Moreover, China’s much greater integration into the international economy makes any thought of its isolation unrealistic. The plan that did not bear fruit in the theoretically easier case of Russia, cannot be discussed (especially in wintering Europe) at the expense of the country that “pulls the cart” of the global economy and supply chains.
Snubbing in Seoul
Also included in Beijing’s repertoire of responses to Taiwan were sanctions, such as a ban on the export of natural sand, which will hurt both construction and Taiwan’s booming microelectronics industry.
And the reactions of the countries of the region do not testify to any reflexive counter-conspiracy against the “Chinese threat”. It is characteristic that in South Korea, where her Asian tour continued, Pelosi did not receive an official welcome, nor did she meet with the country’s president, who did not interrupt his vacation and limited himself to a telephone conversation. The South Korean foreign minister is soon to meet with his Chinese counterpart.