Taiwan: Bad Timing by Nancy Pelosi

This column was first published in L’Opinion on 31st august 2022.

The visit of the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives has been a mistake for three reasons and, instead of doing a disservice to the Chinese authorities, has simply played into their hands.

The worst that can happen to Foreign Affairs is that its actions should be dictated by the less elevated needs of domestic policy. This old adage has unfortunately just been illustrated in Nancy Pelosi’s counter-productive visit to Taiwan, and for three reasons. Perhaps this is why President Biden has chosen to refrain from making any comment on the visit.

The first reason is that it has given President Xi Jinping the unexpected chance to improve his image in his campaign leading up to the October Congress, when he aims to obtain a third term of office. A decade in power has left President Xi’s credibility severely damaged, because the country’s economy has come to a sudden standstill, so he is playing his cards right when he tells people that he is the only Chinese leader capable of bringing Taiwan back under mainland control. Just as, in the 20th century, and contrary to custom at the time, Roosevelt obtained a third term of office when America was at war, Xi is using the 21st century American threat to Taiwan as justification for saying that the Congress must set aside the traditional two mandate limit.

The second reason why the visit was so badly timed is that the West has never been so dependent on shipping coming from Asia, which will still be subject to congestion for months to come. These days, 50% of ordinary containers and 90% of large containers in the world transit through the Taiwan Strait, which gives Beijing powerful leverage in negotiations, because the alternative routes are unfortunately subject to frequent typhoons.

“The lack of any strong reaction to Chinese military exercises on the part of the West — a reminder of Western weakness with regard to the defense of Hong Kong three years ago — can only strengthen Beijing’s resolve to impose its view.”

The third reason is that the Chinese army has the chance — handed to it on a plate –to make a full-scale test of the logistics of encircling the island using six buffer zones, for China is determined to learn from the failure of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. A naval blockade in the future could be more effective, given that the Taiwanese economy still has more than a 90% dependency on fossil fuels and has potentially only two weeks of LNG reserves and 90 days of oil reserves. The lack of any strong reaction to Chinese military exercises on the part of the West — a reminder of Western weakness with regard to the defense of Hong Kong three years ago — can only strengthen Beijing’s resolve to impose its view of things, which is that the waters around Taiwan are first and foremost domestic waters and the Chinese navy has completely free access to them.

After the Afghans and the Iraqis, it now looks as if it’s the Taiwanese’s turn to find out that the USA’s foreign policy will continue to prioritize the value of its interests over the interest of its values. The commendable defense of the status quo between Taiwan and the Mainland will therefore have to come from the Taiwanese people, just as Mark Liu, Chairman of TSMC, highlighted. Having managed over the last few years fairly and squarely to overtake his American competitor Intel, he stated that his group, being integrated into global value chains, could not longer operate in the case of a frontal invasion by Beijing.

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David Baverez

Business angel / demon. Based in Hong Kong since 2011. Columnist, author of “Paris-PekinExpress”, “Beijing Express” and “Génération Tonique”.