Los Angeles Times
Nancy Pelosi’s possible Taiwan visit could be a problem — for Taiwan
If China-U.S. tensions over the speaker’s potential visit worsen, the island could suffer
Apotential visit to Taiwan by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi holds the potential to ignite a regional — or perhaps even global — conflict. America’s support for Taiwan — a territory considered by China as a “breakaway province”— has always been the most contentious issue in U.S.-China relations. This support has grown in recent years and Chinese President Xi Jinping warned President Biden on Thursday that the U.S. is now playing with fire. Even just the suggestion of a visit from Pelosi has become a problem. The two principal parties involved appear to have each painted themselves into a corner — neither the U.S. nor China has much room to maneuver.
On Friday, Pelosi (D-San Francisco), who has a long history of overt hostility toward China, had yet to decide whether Taiwan was on the itinerary of an Asia trip that begins this weekend. She claims a visit would demonstrate American support for the island. An earlier trip to Asia that might have included a visit to Taiwan was postponed after Pelosi tested positive for the coronavirus. If she skips Taiwan now, some analysts fear that Beijing will view Washing ton as a paper tiger — outwardly powerful but ineffectual in reality — and become more belligerent and confrontational toward the U.S. and its allies in the western Pacific as a result.
Moreover, Democrats would run the very real risk of being branded by opposition politicians as “soft on communist China” in the run-up to November’s critical midterm elections. This might help explain why an increasing number of Republicans are calling for Pelosi not to cave in to White House requests to revise her plans.
Having already voiced disapproval over a possible Pelosi visit to Taiwan, China’s president is facing his own set of domestic and international political considerations. China’s leaders and the Chinese public will likely view anything other than continued opposition to the trip as a national humiliation — another instance in the nation’s long history of caving in to foreign bullying. There is also widespread fear that any retreat from China’s recent declarations would embolden anti-China politicians in Taiwan as well as overseas. All of this comes as China’s Communist Party gears up for an important political event — the 20th National Congress that will be held in the fall. The outcome of the meeting will likely determine the nation’s trajectory for years to come and whether Xi (as widely anticipated) will be selected for another five-year term as party leader. Caving in to this instance of American “interference” in Taiwan might cast a shadow over the event.
It is difficult to understand how a Pelosi visit would help Taiwan. If the controversy spirals out of control, the biggest loser will be Taiwan. Some might hope that such a crisis would generate sympathy and support for the island while demonstrating American strength and resolve, but Taiwan will find itself on the front lines in any conflict.
The country’s economy relies on China, its largest trading partner. Perhaps most worrisome, Beijing has never renounced the use of force to retake Taiwan, which lies just off the coast of the Chinese mainland, and Taiwan’s military is woefully unprepared for any possible war with China should things escalate now or in the future. There are serious doubts as to whether the U.S. — Taiwan’s only potential security partner — can successfully protect the island should that occur, according to a recent Brookings Institution study.
But Taiwan might also hold the key to a peaceful resolution to this complicated quarrel. Using quiet diplomacy, Washington should ask Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan’s leader, for some assistance. Namely, it would be helpful if Taipei announces that, while Pelosi’s expressed interest in visiting Taiwan is flattering, it would not be convenient for her to visit the island at this time, allowing Pelosi to postpone a visit yet again without appearing to back down due to pressure from the White House or China.
Tsai might also stress that Taipei hopes to serve as a regional peacemaker and not a troublemaker or flashpoint for conflict — which even the possibility of a visit from Pelosi has ignited. All parties involved would likely appreciate such a statement because it could help stabilize and de-escalate the situation. An approach like this might lead to a “win-win-win” outcome for all three governments — and that certainly makes it worth the effort.