Pelosi’s visit: Who Won? An after Review
Gunjan Singh

United States’ House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan can be regarded as one of the most surprising events in the international politics. The last visit by a United States speaker to Taiwan was 25 years ago. The major reason given by her for the visit was that Beijing cannot be allowed to “threaten Taiwan – and democracy itself”. So, in a gist one can conclude that the United States is trying to assert that democracies come to the defence of other democracies and also that it is committed to strengthening its ties with Taiwan. She met with the Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and human rights and democracy activists.

As expected, the visit has been one of the most discussed and debated events in the diplomatic circles, media and academia. The general perception was that this visit was undertaken against the wishes of the United President Joe Biden. However, what was very intriguing was the question if this was even possible. And Washington was successful in managing a perception of surprise and denial till the time the visit occurred.

The Chinese reaction to the visit was very much on the predicted and expected lines. There was a lot of show of strength and aggressive posturing. Beijing argued that the visit was in violation of the ‘One China Principle’, it also announced that there will be extensive military drills across the Taiwan Straits and a number of imports and exports have been suspended. There has been a rise in the cyber-attacks on Taiwanese establishments. The One China Policy is the core of Beijing’s diplomatic relations with the world. But nothing major (military conflict) has happened till now and the question which looms large is why?

Beijing has constantly adopted the stance domestically as well as internationally that it will not shy away from undertaking military action for reunification with Taiwan. Pelosi’s visit can be regarded as an act of independence by Taiwan where Taipei is asserting an independent foreign policy while gaining the support of the most prominent power in the international order. But China has continued its military drills, the largest ever across the strait and as per reports four Chinese aircrafts had violated the median line between China and Taiwan, a line which is accepted as an unofficial barrier between them. There were also reports that four Chinese ballistic missiles fired by Beijing had landed in Japanese waters leading to concerns over the peace and stability in the region. However, the actions have been aggressive posturing which has made the situation in the region quite tense. Even now China has not engaged directly in a military conflict, however, the situation is still tense across the straits.

If one has to look for answers as to why the United States undertook this visit, it would not be wrong to say that it did manage to achieve something substantial, that is to establish the United States as an important player in the cross-strait relations and also the Indo-Pacific. Also, Washington has established itself as the defender of democracies. It has also put to rest several doubts on whether the United States will be committed to safeguard Taiwan in an event of any military expansion from China. This has been followed by a number of other diplomatic visits focussing on strengthening the economic ties between Taipei and Washington.

It has also strengthened the diplomatic manoeuvring of Tsai and has elevated the overall position of Taiwan. The visit has brought Taiwan to the forefront of international debates and has provided a renewed focus on the existential threat which Taipei faces from Beijing. It also underscores the point that Taiwan has changed and is a vibrant democracy and economy today and it should be perceived as more than just a renegade province of China. An article in Taipei Times argued, “Her visit has broken the CCP’s spell that Taiwan is part of China”.

Another aspect to look at this visit can be where a superpower is trying to further reassert its position vis-à-vis a rising nation. Does it highlight that the United States by undertaking the visit is trying to end all criticisms and questions towards its declining role or influence in the international system. The withdrawal from Afghanistan, the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine, the talks of an economy in recession, all can be important drivers which can push a superpower to further assert itself by challenging a rising power. The visit by a speaker of the House can also be the right amount of push back by the US to ‘check’ the Chinese intentions.

Given the fact that there has been no direct military action undertaken by Beijing even though it perceives the visit as interference in its domestic affairs and a challenge to its sovereignty, makes it interesting. Can one argue that this highlights that the ‘realist’ approach of using hard power to underscore a nation’s position in the global order has become a secondary choice of the countries. Given that China, Taiwan and the United States will have a lot to lose because of their intertwined economies, discussion and negotiations are the way forward. The economic cost of a military expedition can be very draining for the Chinese economy as it is still recovering from the challenges of the pandemic.

The visit however can adversely affect the position of Xi Jinping just before the upcoming Party Congress. Xi is expected to continue as the President of the People’s Republic of China for another term. However, the muted reaction by the Chinese government can raise serious doubts on Xi’s commitment to re-unification and can raise nationalist feelings against his continuing as President. Xi has had a very hard-line approach towards Taiwan since 2013, however, this event can question whether he is ready to change the status quo across the Taiwan Straits and challenge the supremacy of the United States and achieve the ultimate Chinese Dream of ‘reunification’.

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>


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