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THE SPEAKER of the U.S. House of Representatives, Democrat Nancy Pelosi, landed in Taiwan on Tuesday, August 2, despite threats from the Communist Party of China.
Pelosi is the highest-ranking official to visit the island in 25 years. The last time was in 1997, when Speaker of the House of Representatives, Republican Newt Gingrich, also visited Taiwan, provoking hostile reactions from China —which claims the island as its own.
After the triumph of the communist revolution in China in 1949, the republic was limited to the island of Taiwan. And since then, either the island’s government as well as the Communist government has claimed to represent China. For the Chinese Communist Party, therefore, control of Taiwan is a decades-old debt. A visit by an American official recognizing the legitimacy of the Tsai Ing-wen government in Taiwan is a direct challenge to the interests of Communist China.
Some analysts in Washington DC have labeled Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan as an unnecessary provocation, which could generate undesirable consequences. What is certain is that Xi Jinping, who is on the verge of being crowned for the third time as leader of the Communist Party of China, has issued unprecedented threats. A visit to Taiwan by a high-ranking U.S. official is a red line that China cannot allow to be crossed.
As for the White House, an unfortunate back-and-forth weakens the U.S. position on this trip. Joe Biden, who had repeatedly said that the U.S. would defend Taiwan in the event of aggression and that the island is independent, said this week that Pelosi’s trip was ill-timed. And the Pentagon maintained that it does not believe in Taiwan’s independence.
Fortunately, despite China’s threats and the White House’s ambiguity, Nancy Pelosi continued with the trip and, in the next few hours, will meet with Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen.
Had she canceled the trip in the face of Xi Jinping’s bluster, Pelosi would have made an unacceptable show of cowardice and weakness, undermining the United States’ authority in the eyes of the world. That is why Pelosi’s decision to visit Taiwan has received bipartisan support.
In a world where the United States is losing influence and its enemies— China, Russia, and Iran— are getting stronger, it would have been a lethal mistake to opt for retreat when Xi Jinping is outraged and threatening. Ultimately, the Chinese leader’s bullying must come up against America’s steadfast will to maintain its influence.
If the aim were to avoid the escalation of tensions, the retreat would not have helped. Nothing strengthens China more than the certainty that it has a free hand to do and undo. Giving in to Xi Jinping’s threats would guarantee further aggression. Throughout history, what happens with every tyrant confronted by appeasement has been clear.
For decades, it has been certain that a conflict over Taiwan is inevitable. And it is possible, but the only way to delay it is to keep U.S. authority in the world intact. Xi Jinping will only invade the island, destabilizing the entire Indo-Pacific region and cutting a necessary cordon sanitaire, if he knows there will be no consequences to his aggressions — which is what Putin also thought in regards to Ukraine, as he was encouraged by the fragility of foreign policy carried by the current Democrat administration.
Seth Cropsey, president of the Yorktown Institute, considers Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan as an opportunity for the United States to strengthen security relations in the region. As such, Cropsey proposes that the United States should “re-establish Taiwan Defense Command.”
“De-activated in the 1970s, a re-activated TDC would connect Taiwanese, American, Japanese, and allied military planners, allowing for the joint coordination a major war with China would demand. It would also send a strong signal to China that the U.S. is serious about the defense of the island-republic,” Cropsey says.
And the latter is key. Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan must be accompanied by an explicit determination to defend the island in the event of aggression. If the trip is merely symbolic, it risks provoking China to hand Taiwan to it on a silver platter. This is precisely what the Editorial Board of the Wall Street Journal insists: “The best response to China’s growing threats would be at long last to take the defense of Taiwan seriously.”
For decades the commitment between the parties has been to a peaceful reunification of China, which has been buried in recent years with Xi Jinping’s evident willingness to aggressively take on Taiwan, with Hong Kong as a precedent.
While it is impossible to predict what Xi Jinping will do — who probably wants to show determination and strength on the eve of his ratification as leader of the Communist Party— the United States must prepare for the worst. And the worst could range from a simple harassment of Pelosi’s plane to the initiation of an invasion.
And, as the Wall Street Journal Editorial Board says, “if China abandons its pledge of peaceful reunification—which it has made in diplomatic communiques over the decades—that would be cause for the Biden Administration to change official U.S. policy to make clear that the U.S. will defend Taiwan.”
“This would require a far more urgent and forceful policy of bolstering and arming Taiwan to defend itself with a goal of deterring a Chinese takeover,” the paper reads.
This raises the question of whether it is worthwhile for the United States to engage in a conflict with China (a world power) over an ally like Taiwan. Raising the dilemma of whether or not to support the island would be seen as circumventing Taiwan’s strategic importance to the Americans and sending a lethal message to key allies in the region, such as South Korea or Japan.
Taiwan is a vital partner of the United States, not only because of its strategic location to contain Xi Jinping’s communist expansionism but because of the value of its semiconductor industry. The Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company is the largest in the world. Given what happened due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the world cannot afford to leave another industry in the hands of the Chinese.
China is a growing monster that will not stop until the United States is wholly sidelined from the global stage. And a world in which enemies of freedom —like China, Russia, and Iran— dominate, is a more dangerous world, which does not suit the White House. There is no doubt that Nancy Pelosi did the right thing by continuing her visit to the island, even considering the possible consequences. No reaction will be as serious as sending a message to China that they draw the red lines and that their will, imposed by threats, is respected. That is no way to deal with the Chinese Communist Party.