The dangers of Nancy Pelosi’s Taiwan trip

The decision by House Speaker Pelosi (D-Calif.) to visit Taiwan was, as Thomas Friedman wrote earlier this week, “utterly reckless, dangerous and irresponsible.”

Pelosi’s trip neither improved Taiwan’s security nor strengthened global democracy — in fact, it does the opposite. The trip raises fears of conflict in the region by needlessly provoking China, and it directly undermines the West’s goals in Ukraine by bringing Beijing and Moscow closer together.

Moreover, the Speaker’s decision was politically unwise, uncharacteristically so. By making the trip, Pelosi publicly thumbed her nose at the Biden administration — which repeatedly indicated its desire for her not to visit Taiwan — at a time when President Biden is already struggling to present himself as a strong, capable commander in chief.

Simply put, Speaker Pelosi should have known better.

Given the United States’ and China’s fragile and, at times, antagonistic relationship, it was clear before Pelosi made the trip that China would use her visit as a pretext to take provocative military action in the region in retaliation.

In response to Pelosi’s visit, China launched live-fire military drills, firing intense barrages of ballistic missiles and artillery off Taiwan’s coast. This forced commercial flights and ships to change course and amounted to what the Taiwanese military has called “an air and sea blockade of Taiwan.”

On Friday, China also announced that it would cease cooperation with the United States on numerous policy areas, including military relations, defense maritime safety and climate change.

Moreover, by antagonizing China for senseless self-promotion, Pelosi undoubtedly will bring Beijing and Moscow closer, directly undermining the West’s efforts to isolate Russia and aid Ukraine amid the ongoing war.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has facilitated an axis of authoritarianism which includes Russia and China as well as Iran. These authoritarian countries have made known their intentions to bring down the Western-led liberal world order that has prevailed since the end of World War II. The timing of Pelosi’s decision to visit Taiwan only strengthens this unholy alliance.

As tensions between the United States and China intensify, Moscow is already seizing on the opportunity to deepen its relationship with Beijing. At some point, Putin could seek even more Chinese support for the war in Ukraine, possibly including military support, something China has so far avoided providing.

Leading up to Speaker Pelosi’s visit, the Kremlin reprimanded the United States and reiterated its support for China in a statement: “We want to emphasize once again that we are absolutely in solidarity with China … Washington is bringing destabilization to the world.”

Thus far, the Biden administration has been able to limit China’s support for Russia by threatening that China would lose access to its most important trading partners — the United States and Western Europe — should Beijing provide military aid to Moscow. That being said, Russia has been able to keep its economy alive by sending oil and gas to China, as well as to India and other European countries that have not yet cut off Russian supplies. Pelosi’s trip further undercuts the United States’ goal of squeezing Russia’s energy sector, by bolstering China’s and Russia’s economic ties.

And, given that our European allies are bearing the brunt of Russia’s weaponization of energy exports, it is inconceivable that these countries would readily join the U.S. in a conflict with China — or increase their efforts to counter Russia, which is needed at this stalemate phase of the war — that was triggered by Pelosi’s self-serving visit to Taiwan.

From a political perspective, Pelosi’s decision to make the trip was surprisingly reckless for someone who is otherwise savvy about domestic politics. By undercutting the administration’s wishes, she is doing harm to President Biden at a time when Democrats should be focused on boosting the public’s confidence in the president’s ability to lead on the international stage.

Indeed, just 35 percent of Americans — including just 24 percent of independents — approve of President Biden’s handling of foreign policy, per recent YouGov polling. Now, instead of celebrating President Biden’s commendable decision to kill Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, the administration has been dealing with a communications crisis and trying to explain why Pelosi was emboldened to act against President Biden’s wishes. According to reporting by Bloomberg, the White House is fuming at Pelosi for inflaming tensions with China and embarrassing the president.

Pelosi’s trip is a gift to Republicans and a blow to Democrats’ efforts to stem their losses in the midterm elections. Republicans have seized on it to underscore the Democratic leadership’s dysfunction and to bash the administration’s policies vis-à-vis China.

It is true that Pelosi is not the first Speaker of the House to visit Taiwan — Newt Gingrich did so in 1997. Yet China did not pose such an intense economic and military threat to the United States in the late ’90s, and then-Speaker Gingrich was not acting against the wishes of a president from his own party.

This is not to say that the U.S. should abandon Taiwan. Defending Taiwan against Chinese aggression is vital to safeguarding and preserving democracy globally.

However, Pelosi’s visit did nothing to help achieve this end. It was a reckless decision, both politically and practically.

Douglas E. Schoen is a political consultant who served as an adviser to former President Clinton and to the 2020 presidential campaign of Michael Bloomberg. He is the author of “The End of Democracy? Russia and China on the Rise and America in Retreat.” 

Tags Biden China China-Taiwan tension China–United States relations Chinese aggression Joe Biden Nancy Pelosi Pelosi Taiwan visit Russia Russia-China relations Russian invasion of Ukraine Taiwan defense Taiwan Strait Vladimir Putin Xi Jinping

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