Leer en Español
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi landed this Tuesday in the democratically self-ruled island of Taiwan despite Beijing hurling a long list of threats against Taiwan and the United States aimed at preventing Pelosi’s trip to the island. Although China has announced the PLA will start military exercises near Taiwan, the response to the Pelosi Taiwan trip has been (so far) more subdued than the measures some analysts and Chinese state media parroted.
Chinese media pundits warned that the PLA could escort Pelosi’s plane out of Taiwanese airspace, preventing her from making her visit to the island. Chinese officials said numerous times that the PLA would not sit idly by while Pelosi attempted to travel to the island and Chinese head of state Xi Jinping warned Biden against that trip in a phone call earlier last week.
The response so far has been just 20 planes flying in Taiwan’s Defense Identification Zone (a usual occurrence in Taiwan nowadays), a vague threat of “targeted military operations”, some military exercises, and a protest against the U.S. Ambassador to China. In fact, the state-owned Global Times (the CCP’s mouthpiece) all but confirmed that China will not take a forceful response to the trip, saying that the countermeasures to the trip will be “long-term, resolute, and steadily advancing options.”
China failed in its strategy to prevent the Pelosi Taiwan trip
Beijing made a calculated challenge to the United States and Taiwan when they decided to characterize Pelosi’s travel as an international incident. The goal was clear, show muscle and force Biden to tell Pelosi to cancel the trip. This in turn would put China in a strong position in their relationship with the United States and would convince Taiwan that the U.S. was not a reliable partner. After all, if the U.S. was not able to land a diplomatic plane on the island, how would they defend Taiwan militarily?
While Pelosi’s trip is still ongoing, the reality is that China’s preferred outcome (Pelosi canceling her trip) did not come to pass. For all the bluster and saber-rattling of the Chinese army, the PLA did not prevent a top foreign official from landing on an island they consider to be in rebellion against their government. Now that Pelosi is on the island, any military action against Taiwan is far riskier for the CCP. If the PLA decided not to intercept Pelosi’s plane, then it is far less likely they will do something of magnitude while the Speaker is on the island.
China’s gamble failed, while they convinced Biden that Pelosi’s travel was counterproductive, the Speaker ignored the President and traveled anyway with no direct retaliation from the PLA. The fact that China decided to amped up their bellicose rhetoric over the Pelosi trip only to not fulfill their own threats might even debilitate the credibility of their threats in the future.
However, this does not mean that China will not somehow react against Taiwan or that its strategic position has changed significantly. As reported by the Global Times, China might use the Pelosi trip as an excuse to try to control the island’s airspace and waters to “ensure there is not a second Pelosi trip.” Moreover, the Chinese military still has grown significantly over the last years and American officials think they could mount an operation against the democratically ruled island over the next few years.
The Pelosi Taiwan trip also highlighted the internal difficulties for the United States to respond to a potential Chinese invasion of Taiwan as there is no domestic consensus on how (or if) the U.S. should defend the island. Biden did not approve of the trip by the Speaker and despite many Republican senators supporting Pelosi’s decision, some conservative activists have been highly skeptical of the Speaker’s trip. Additionally, the adherence to the One China policy and strategic ambiguity present contradictions to the way America should react to a cross-strait invasion.
While China might have blinked today on Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan, the threat to the island looms ominously in the background and American decision-makers must decide how or if the United States will stop it.
Daniel is a Political Science and Economics student from the University of South Florida. He worked as a congressional intern to Rep. Gus Bilirakis (FL-12) from January to May 2020. He also is the head of international analysis at Politiks // Daniel es un estudiante de Cs Políticas y Economía en la Universidad del Sur de la Florida. Trabajo como pasante legislativo para el Representate Gus Bilirakis (FL-12) desde enero hasta mayo del 2020. Daniel también es el jefe de análisis internacional de Politiks.