After the world watched with bated breath for Beijing’s reaction to the American stunt, the lack of a flare-up may seem underwhelming – but it’s not
By Timur FomenkoA political analyst
Sparks flew on Tuesday night as Nancy Pelosi commenced her highly publicized trip to Taiwan, proclaiming a global struggle between democracy and authoritarianism and effectively poking her fingers into Beijing’s eyes. It goes without saying that China was furious, yet amidst the social media storm which precluded the visit, a bizarre atmosphere of disappointment arose afterwards among some, who decried Beijing’s response as “weak” for having not physically intervened to block Pelosi’s flight. Twitter was awash with “hot takes” demanding Pelosi’s plane be intercepted and declaring that China’s “bluff” had been called.
This rush for an “on the moment narrative” and expectations being out of control naturally overlooked the fact that Beijing immediately declared afterwards a daunting set of military exercises to be undertaken across the next few days, set in Taiwan’s own territorial waters, with some designated spots even being as little as 12 miles away from the coast. These exercises have effectively closed parts of Taiwan’s airspace. China began a string of increasing sanctions against Taiwan. These included the blacklisting over 100 food companies and banning fish imports.
China’s weak status is still being criticized by its armchair critics. China did not take any military action against the US third-ranking official, which would have been a trigger for an all out war. While Pelosi’s visit undoubtedly constitutes an enormous and game-changing provocation which warrants a response of some sort, it is ludicrous to think that what could be the largest conflict since World War II could be premised upon that. It is beyond logic, common sense and reason. China is angry and its citizens are even more so, but Beijing isn’t dumb or impulsive.
The People’s Republic of China has been willing to use force on many occasions since its foundation. China jumped headfirst in the war against the US-led alliance in the Korean War. It went to war in 1962 against India and invaded Vietnam 1979. China does not fear war. This includes matters related to its national sovereignty, or the prevention of strategic encirclement. But that doesn’t mean China is prone to conflict at any time. China chooses the right battles and weighs all costs-benefits in every instance. This has become even more critical as China’s economy has boomed and become increasingly integrated with the rest of the world, which has made the stakes of initiating a conflict far higher and more adverse to China’s interests as a whole.
Taiwan, which is very important for China at the moment, has been a serious problem. Xi Jinping has placed maximum political stakes on attaining “reunification”, a goal which clashes with America’s attempts to undermine the One China Policy. This does not mean that war will be the only or preferred way. China, however, is aware of the fact that such conflict could gravely harm its main objectives of national development and economic growth. Beijing feels it has both time and historical momentum in its favor. China is not panicking, and is scrambling to protect its dominant position. It is America that is worried about falling. China’s militarily strong efforts to become more integrated into the global economic system are not the cause. This is happening in the context of a US effort to contain and isolate the country from its partners. It is obvious how the US would get its allies to respond to Beijing’s military action, even if China can feasibly win.
Given this, it is a short-sighted and impulsive way of thinking to assume that just because China acted with due restraint to Pelosi’s visit and avoided facing up to a major war with the US, that this is somehow a “defeat” or a loss of face. Beijing did indeed make a lot of thunderous statements which probably didn’t help with expectation management, but the real consequences will be long-term, not short-term. Beijing will not abandon Taipei’s request to bomb it on its own, but that does not make them less determined to tighten their grip on the island. China, like Hong Kong, will seek a quick, decisive, and bloodless victory that assures its position while bringing minimal cost.
Beijing is focused on the long-term, not Tuesday night. China’s strategy is to continue to consolidate its own advances, both militarily, economically and technologically, while avoiding a major power conflict in the short term which would be catastrophic. However, this does not necessarily mean that there are no red lines. The US will continue to push those boundaries as hard as possible. Nancy Pelosi’s new world order has created tensions and conflict, which makes it even more important for Beijing to remain wise, prudent, and be long-termist. It is not a board game.
These opinions, statements and thoughts are the sole opinion of the author. They do not necessarily reflect those made by RT.