China Daily

Pelosi’s Taiwan visit ends in humiliatio­n

- Martin Sieff The author is a senior fellow at the American University in Moscow. The views don’t necessaril­y represent those of China Daily.

Now that the dust is settling down on the great US drama, it can be seen that House of Representa­tives Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan on Aug 2 was not just unwise, reckless and extremely damaging to prospects to defuse Sino-US tensions over the island, it also marked a historic moment in the erosion of US standing in the Western Pacific and the most stunning rejection and humiliatio­n Washington has experience­d in the region since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975.

Pelosi appears to have visited the Chinese island with the tacit support of the Joe Biden administra­tion. If senior planners at the US State Department or the National Security Council had disapprove­d of her initiative in any way, there has not been the slightest leak or public disapprova­l about it in Washington, a city where such ritualized behavior is always more carefully calibrated and orchestrat­ed than at the court of any ancient despot.

In fact, a number of her congressio­nal colleagues joined her on her trip, indicating consensual approval on Capitol Hill for her initiative.

What actually happened?

The third-highest ranking elected official and political leader in the United States, second in the line of succession to President Joe Biden and the long-serving formal leader of the venerable House of Representa­tives, the lower and main chamber of the US Congress, flew to the island of Taiwan with her visit unannounce­d until she was actually there. She arrived in a secret, undignifie­d rush, stayed there briefly and then fled, in the words of Jesus in the Gospels, like a thief in the night.

Before her trip to the island, Pelosi visited Malaysia and Singapore. Her visits there too were fleeting, undignifie­d and rushed. The government­s of both countries stayed ominously silent. Neither issued any joint statement with Pelosi or made any effort to issue one.

Then, when she landed in the Republic of Korea, one of the two premier US allies in Northeast Asia — the other being Japan — ROK President Yoon Suk-yeol refused to even meet with her. Using the laughably lame excuse of having a “cold”, he consented only to talk warily with Pelosi by telephone. Once again, no joint communique was issued.

The reason for this unpreceden­ted succession of rejections and public humiliatio­n is clear. Pelosi was the first speaker of the House to visit Taiwan in a quarter of a century. At least when former House speaker Newt Gingrich visited the island in 1997, he did so not at the behest of the US administra­tion but in what proved to be an unsuccessf­ul attempt to publicly embarrass it.

Gingrich was a prominent Republican and a leading political critic and rival of then US president Bill Clinton. Relations between the US and China were then good. And while Gingrich’s visit, like Pelosi’s, was selfish, irresponsi­ble and reckless, it was undertaken in defiance of US national policy, not to advance it.

It is clear already that far from boosting the standing of the US and the Biden administra­tion among East Asian and the Western Pacific countries, Pelosi’s hapless odyssey has catastroph­ically damaged it, and its repercussi­ons are going to reverberat­e for months if not years across the vast region.

Pelosi meant her visit to reassure the Taiwan leaders that the Biden administra­tion “had their back”, as Americans like to say, and was serious about “defending” and supporting them even if they pushed ahead with underminin­g the one-China principle that every US administra­tion since 1979 has agreed to and maintained as essential for continuing peace and security across half the world.

Instead, the incumbent House speaker presented an unforgetta­ble image of panic, disorder, confusion and hapless incompeten­ce throughout her peregrinat­ions across East Asia. China did not have to make any threats to or bluffs to Pelosi. Her own behavior destroyed her credibilit­y far more effectivel­y than any official comment from Beijing could have done.

Beijing officials seriously and clearly warned of the dangers of her potential actions before she flew to Taipei. Pelosi then responded by staying briefly on the island and hurriedly rushing out — a stunt that far from encouragin­g the people of Taiwan to defy or insult the Chinese mainland could only leave them with the gravest doubts about the seriousnes­s and competence of US policymaki­ng about their future.

At home, Pelosi can always count on a set of deferentia­l mainstream media to cover up and excuse her faux pas and miscues in public. She still does not seem to realize that she has just blundered onto a vast, brightly lit and unsparing world stage where her every misstep has been exhaustive­ly recorded and projected in the sight of billions of people.

Pelosi’s trip to the island lasted less than a day. The damage she has inflicted on the standing of her own country will reverberat­e for years to come.

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