Pelosi’s Taiwan Visit and US Strategic Ambiguity

Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the United States House of Representatives, finally visited the island of Taiwan after weeks of feverish rumours and sabre-rattling. The People’s Republic of China considers the island as its breakaway part that needs reunification. The recent visit has sparked a storm in the regional politics of the Indo-Pacific, bringing the two major powers in front of each other and bringing the world’s economy closer to a halt. Both countries have recently been involved in a trade war. Nancy’s visit has turned everything into a more serious conflict that could become a potential regional war in the Taiwan Strait. Initially, the top United States lawmaker left Taiwan off of her official itinerary for her trip to Asia, which began with stops in Singapore and Malaysia in the first week of August.

The Nancy Pelosi visit can be assessed from two angles: symbolism and deliverables. Yet, before analysing the visit, it is important to consider the encounters between the leadership of China and the United States during the last days of July. China’s foreign ministry warned on July 25 that Pelosi’s prospective trip might have “severe consequences” for which the United States would be fully responsible. China’s supreme leader Xi Jinping reiterated the warning and advised Washington against “playing with fire”, on July 28, during a highly anticipated phone call with President Joe Biden. Zhang Jun, China’s Ambassador to the United Nations, reiterated that Pelosi’s anticipated visit will be met with “stern and robust actions to preserve our national sovereignty and territorial integrity” and called it “dangerous” and “provocative.” Therefore, in advance of the visit, both the United States and Chinese military services were in a ready position.

The third in line after the United States President and Vice President, Pelosi’s tour was a complete package of the symbolism of foreign policy victory before her nearing retirement. She has reaffirmed the United States’ commitment and support for Taiwan’s pursuit of complete independence and the advancement of democracy. In a meeting with Taiwanese President Tsai-Ing Wen, Nancy tried to appreciate the steps being undertaken by her leadership for self-governance. She spent 18 hours in Taipei, which included her visit to the parliament, a museum incorporating human rights memories of wars with China, and meetings with other high officials. Though Pelosi has reiterated her support for Taiwan, it seems the visit has put Taiwan in front of China to bear the brunt of this escalation. China has denounced Nancy Pelosi’s travel to Taiwan as “very dangerous,” warning that it poses a threat to regional stability, which has caused a series of steps from the Chinese side to showcase her power.

From the angle of deliverables, it can be said that the United States remained strategically ambiguous about Nancy’s visit.

On the other hand, from the angle of deliverables, it can be said that the United States remained strategically ambiguous about Nancy’s visit. The United States military and President had already expressed displeasure with her visit. In comparison, if we see China’s handling of the situation, China seems to have the upper hand in all this from the beginning, and the equation may remain so in the coming days. China spoke from a position of strength every single day. This time, China’s posture was entirely different from what had been done 25 years ago when a United States speaker visited Taiwan. China declared Pelosi’s move provocative in nature from the start. So, Beijing responded to the visit the moment Nancy landed in Taipei with a series of actions that show the strength of China.

The response from China has covered three layers, including cyber-attacks, economic attacks, and targeted military operations. The cyber attacks targeted websites of official institutions like the parliament. Moreover, China has banned imports from Taiwan, which include bakery items, majorly. In addition, the targeted military operations have the most aggressive posture as China has encircled Taiwan from six sides by starting six different military operations:

  • Live ammunition drills
  • Precision missile strike
  • Joint blockade
  • Sea target assault
  • Strike on a ground target
  • Airspace control

Before implementing these measures, China promptly denounced Pelosi’s visit, warning that it significantly jeopardised the stability and tranquilly of the Taiwan Strait. Therefore, a little miscalculation can lead to a complete war right now. Japan has condemned Chinese precision missile attacks in the Taiwan Strait, claiming that they have crossed Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) boundary in the sea. The visit has already had an impact on seaborne trade through the Taiwan Strait, which accounts for 33% of global seaborne trade. A number of vessels carrying trade goods and numerous flights using air routes have already shuffled their routes. Besides, China’s global trade contribution is 12.4%, and Taiwan’s global export contribution is 1.7%, which includes semiconductors as the number one export item. However, China is also an exporter of tech items like mobile phones, laptops, computers, and heavy machines. If the entire region is engulfed in the ongoing crisis caused by myopic United States policy, the world may face an economic recession.

The United States delegation’s visit, led by Nancy Pelosi, reflects Washington’s policy’s shortcomings and its lack of strategic depth. The visit has brought Southeast Asia to the brink of conflict that could trigger an armed race. The potential armed race could create a ripple effect that can go down to Thailand, the Philippines, and Indonesia. Southeast Asia gained its mark through economic rejuvenation and regional cooperation. As the world is trying to return to normalcy after the pandemic and food recession created by the Russian-Ukraine war, the United States-China standoff over Taiwan could further aggravate the economic recession.

Tauseef Javed

Tauseef Javed works at the Centre for Strategic and Contemporary Research (CSCR) as a Research Associate. He is currently enrolled as a doctoral student at Fujian Normal University in Fuzhou, China. His research focuses on international relations, history, and area studies from an interdisciplinary perspective.

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