Top US officials think it’s acceptable to push against China’s red lines. Although it won’t lead to war immediately, it could increase danger later.
By Timur FomenkoAn analyst in politics
Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi appears to be on the verge of a trip to Taiwan, an event which China has vowed to respond to with “You can take forceful steps.” The visit is a rehash of one she originally intended to undertake in April, but was prevented from doing so when she tested positive for Covid-19. It would mark the first US speaker in the house to visit the island for 25 years, if it is approved. Newt Gingrich (Republican) was the previous one. However, the key difference was that he went as opposition to Bill Clinton, a Democrat.
Pelosi is part of the majority party and this time she’s leading an Asian delegation during a period of unimaginable tensions. The trip also coincides with the anniversary of the founding of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA), which falls on August 1. Although both President Joe Biden as well as US military have raised objections to this venture, Pelosi appears to be unaffected by it. Republican hardliners are cheering Pelosi on and warning that the US would appear weak if they back down.
This creates an extremely unfortunate dilemma, especially considering a Thursday phone call between Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping, in which Xi warned Washington not to “play with fire” regarding Taiwan. In reality, this talk is not meaningful as the US has never, in serious matters, been willing to act with common sense, de-escalate tensions, and to act pragmatically. Although technically Pelosi does not represent the Administration and wouldn’t be traveling there for them, this shows how unrestrained the wider US foreign policy. Pelosi is not allowed to restrain or consider the boundaries of any other country, but only pushes for maximumist goals at all cost.
Although many believed Trump to be insane and chaotic, it is now clear that American foreign policy under Biden has experienced a further decline. While Trump pursued narrow self-interests in the name of ‘America first’, which offended friends and foes alike, the Biden administration has not only embraced this doctrine, but refined it into an ideological crusade which strives to force American hegemony on every single front in a way that is both zealous and uncompromising. We should not be dismissive of Trump’s remarks that, if he were president, the conflict in Ukraine would not be happening right now, and he probably would have cut a deal to prevent it.
As a result, the US has continued to deride and press against China’s red line on the Taiwan issue, while at the same time officially claiming at the presidential level its policy remains the same to reassure China. This is a strategy that has been described as ‘Salami Slicing’ by Beijing, which endeavours to gradually shift the status quo towards Taiwan independence, while claiming not to do so to avoid strategic upsets that can create conflict. This is provocative and subtle. Biden fails to recognize that Congress is more restrained than he is. The onslaught of propaganda concerning US support for Ukraine has made many overconfident in the belief that China has been made to ‘think twice’ over Taiwan, and as a result, ultra-hawks, especially in Congress, are now happy to push this button further in believing they can call Beijing’s bluff.
However, if the visit takes place, can it bring about war? For many reasons, this might seem like an exaggerated reaction. Nancy Pelosi’s visit to China would not be a sign that China is planning an invasion of Taiwan. This forces Beijing into a position where it can retaliate and re-legitimize its claims over the island. It also prevents any political humiliation. Their red line becomes less credible if their bluff gets called. According to the logic of counter-deterrence, something needs to be done to reestablish equilibrium. China promises countermeasures and it means what they say. This is however not yet clear.
A look at past Taiwan Strait crises reveals that China will likely conduct some type of large-scale military exercise. This is being addressed by the US, who has already moved its military resources into the region. However, there is also speculation Beijing may move further by declaring a ‘no-fly zone’ over the island or making a similar move which dramatically heightens the risk of confrontation. The flight that Mike Pompeo had sent to Taiwan as UN Ambassador Kelly Craft was cancelled after Beijing warned. This time around, China will undoubtedly react somehow, yet Pelosi and her supporters seem to think they can ridicule this, just like it was believed Russia’s red line over Ukraine could similarly be ignored.
This only shows that US foreign policies have degenerated into strategic madness. Fearing a loss of status over rival states, the country’s political class has become increasingly reckless and destructive in the moves it is willing to make to retain its hegemony. Even if this Pelosi visit does not result in open conflict, which it likely won’t, the damage it will do to strategic trust as a whole will likely be permanent, and could set the stage for conflict further down the line, something many voices in Washington seem to relish.
Statements, opinions and views expressed in this column do not reflect those of RT.