EYESHENZHEN  /   Opinion

Pelosi playing the Taiwan card with fire

Writer: Lin Min  |  Editor: Zhang Chanwen  |  From: Shenzhen Daily  |  Updated: 2022-08-01

The 2016 documentary “The Coming War on China” by investigative journalist and filmmaker John Pilger shows that the United States has been encircling China with a “noose” of military bases since the Korean War.

When the United States decided that China was a threat to its imperial dominance, as the documentary points out, two-thirds of U.S. naval forces were transferred to Asia and the Pacific, after then U.S. President Barack Obama announced the “pivot to Asia” in 2011. About 400 American bases surround China with ships, missiles and troops, in an arc that extends from Australia north through the Pacific to Japan, the Korea Peninsula and across Eurasia to Afghanistan and India, according to the film.

At the end of the documentary, Pilger says: “The new president, Donald Trump, has a problem with China. The urgent question now is: Will Trump continue with the provocations revealed in this film and take us all to the edge of war?”

Now we all know that Trump did continue and even escalate provocations against China throughout his term as U.S. president. Tensions between the two countries have continued even after Joe Biden replaced Trump as U.S. president.

The worst provocation came this year when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced her plan to visit Taiwan, an integral part of China’s territory. Pelosi has been airing the possibility of visiting Taiwan during a tour to Asia in August, after her original plan to visit the island in April was scrapped by her COVID infection.

In a move that escalated the tensions between the two countries, the Pentagon has sent an aircraft carrier to the South China Sea ahead of Pelosi’s possible visit to Taiwan. The Associated Press also reported that the Pentagon would increase the movement of American forces and assets in the region should she go. This would include using fighter jets, ships and other assets to offer protection.

China has repeatedly said a Pelosi visit to Taiwan would cross a red line and vowed to take firm and strong measures to safeguard sovereignty and territorial integrity if the United States insists on going ahead with the visit. The Chinese Ministry of Defense also sent out a strong message, saying it will not sit back if Pelosi visits Taiwan, and will take strong measures to defeat foreign interference and “Taiwan independence” separatist acts.

President Xi Jinping made China’s stance unmistakable when he had a marathon phone call with Biden at the request of the latter Thursday evening. Although covering a wide range of topics, the two-hour-and-17-minute call centered on Taiwan, according to a Xinhua report and U.S. media reports. Xi made it clear that should Pelosi visit Taiwan, the U.S. side can expect severe consequences. “Those who play with fire will perish by it,” he told Biden.

Some U.S. officials apparently failed to fully grasp the magnitude of Xi’s warning. CNN reported that a senior U.S. administration official suggested that it was standard for the Chinese leader to warn about the risks of “playing with fire.” Such a lax interpretation is a big mistake.

A trip by Pelosi would be more of a violation of China’s sovereignty over Taiwan than previous visits to the island by U.S. officials and politicians because the House speaker is second only to the vice president in the U.S. presidential line of succession. Pelosi would be the first U.S. House speaker to visit the island since Newt Gingrich in 1997.

Despite the precedent set by Gingrich, U.S. politicians should be fully aware that China is a vastly different country from 25 years ago.

Biden had publicly said that the U.S. military thought it would be a bad time for Pelosi to go. During the phone call with Xi, Biden reiterated that the one-China policy of the United States has not changed and will not change, and that the United States does not support “Taiwan independence.”

However, what the U.S. says does not match what it is doing.

When Biden was visiting Japan in May, he said when answering a question from a reporter that the U.S. would intervene militarily to defend Taiwan if the island was attacked. This was the third time since he became president that he has said the U.S. would come to the defense of Taiwan militarily. Each time he made such remarks, White House officials minutes later had to walk back his words and scramble to clarify that the U.S. policy on Taiwan remained unchanged. All these show that, preoccupied with the desire to curb China’s ascent and trying to win over more voters in the midterm elections in November, U.S. politicians are frantically playing the Taiwan card.

However, the Taiwan question is the most sensitive of China’s core interests. Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan, if it takes place, will deal a severe blow to Sino-U.S. ties, elicit a very strong response from Beijing and destabilize the Asia-Pacific region.

Xi invoked “the firm will of the more than 1.4 billion Chinese people” when warning the U.S. side not to play with fire. For the Chinese people, Pelosi is a hypocritical politician who eulogized the 2019 violence in Hong Kong as “a beautiful sight to behold” but condemned the Jan. 6, 2021 U.S. Capitol riot as an insurrection.

For decades, Pelosi has built up her political career by displaying belligerence against China to woo voters, but she will burn her fingers this time if she plays the Taiwan card a bit too much.

(The author is a deputy editor-in-chief of Shenzhen Daily.)