The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Pelosi’s Trip

August 5, 2022 Updated: August 7, 2022

Commentary

The first visit by a U.S. House speaker to Taiwan in 25 years is an important occasion and in its immediate aftermath, it is important to reflect on its significance. In sum, there is considerable good, bad, and ugly regarding the visit. It is useful to reflect on each.

The Good

There were six positive outcomes from the trip.

First, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) visited in the face of vociferous Chinese opposition. The United States should never permit another government, particularly one as odious as the Chinese regime, to govern where and when U.S. officials visit. Kudos to Pelosi for sustaining that principle.

Second, an independent Taiwan is in the strategic interests of the United States for strategic reasons: Washington cannot allow Taiwan’s key position, military capability, skilled population, chip engineering and manufacturing, or economy to fall under Beijing’s control. This would serve as a fillip to the Chinese regime.

Third, Taiwan’s loss to the Chinese regime would be a major blow to the ideological struggle between Beijing’s totalitarianism and Washington’s support for democracies in global politics. Pelosi’s statement that the United States possessed a determination to preserve democracy, here in Taiwan and around the world, remains ironclad. This is a positive step forward if the Biden administration chooses to sustain the independence of Taiwan. Taiwan’s loss would be the East wind prevailing over the West as Mao Zedong wanted, and as Chinese dictator Xi Jinping maintains. Rather, Taiwan is a lasting and major victory for the United States and its allies, the West wind prevailing over the East.

Fourth, Taiwan’s continued independence strikes at the legitimacy of the Chinese regime. Taiwan demonstrates with each day of its existence that democracy and freedom can flourish. Taiwan’s existence is undeniable empirical proof that the Chinese people can not only live under democracy but live far better than the Chinese misgoverned by the Chinese regime on the mainland.

Fifth, this was a significant blow to Chinese deterrence, due to loss of credibility. The Chinese regime made the threat but was seen to be ineffective at preventing it. The visit proceeded in spite of its protests. The visit weakened Chinese credibility and thus aided Taipei’s security.

Sixth, the Speaker’s visit showed that U.S. support for Taiwan is a nonpartisan issue that Democrats and Republicans may support and sustain. This has the added virtue of augmenting U.S. credibility regarding the protection of Taiwan.

The Bad

Inevitably, the bad comes with the good, and there are three negative elements of note.

First, Pelosi’s visit provides a window for the Biden administration to act. If the United States does not capitalize upon the visit to provide Taiwan with a conventional and nuclear extended deterrent, then the Biden administration will have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. To strengthen the U.S. extended deterrent relationship with Taiwan, the U.S. must end the policy of strategic ambiguity. This also requires increasing U.S. military presence in the Indo-Pacific, U.S. and allied presence in Taiwan itself, and conducting routine diplomatic and military visits to Taiwan as the U.S. did for most of the Cold War.

Second, China’s response is to be expected but must be addressed. China responded with missile strikes on exclusive economic zones surrounding Taiwan as a coercive response to the visit. These are directed by the Eastern Theater Command and include multiple ballistic missile launches into the exercise closures declared by Beijing. This has effectively closed Taiwan’s exclusive economic zone. The United States and its allies cannot permit China, de facto, to impose a blockade on Taiwan, and the U.S. Navy, Coast Guard, and Air Force must ensure that the attempt to blockade Taiwan is broken.

Third, due to the weak professionalism of the Chinese military, its actions might cause an incident that in turn compels escalatory pressure. Taiwan, the United States, and U.S. allies have to be prepared for such an event.

Epoch Times Photo
A missile is launched from an unspecified location in China on Aug. 4, 2022. The Chinese military fired missiles into waters near Taiwan as part of its planned exercises on Aug. 4. (CCTV via AP)

The Ugly

Finally, the ugly. The Biden administration did not handle this well. For deterrence purposes, the administration should have supported the trip without hesitation or equivocation. The hemming-and-hawing concerning whether the Biden administration supported the visit should not have occurred.

Indeed, the administration should support more visits. While the United States was fighting the Vietnam War, the Argentinian-born Cuban revolutionary leader Ernesto “Che” Guevara stated that he wanted “two, three, many Vietnams” for the United States. In that spirit, the Biden administration should support “two, three, many Pelosi visits to Taiwan.” It is essential to routinize visits by U.S. officials to Taiwan to signal support and erode Beijing’s position.

Finally, if the opportunity to capitalize upon this visit is not seized by the Biden administration, then U.S. allies must do so. While that is a less attractive option, visits by high-level Australian, British, Canadian, French, German, Indian, and Japanese officials, as well as the NATO Secretary General, will remain far superior to allowing this opportunity to wane. Additionally, if Republicans win control of the House of Representatives in the November elections, then the Republican Speaker—most likely present House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy—should make Taiwan his first overseas trip.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Bradley A. Thayer is coauthor of Understanding the China Threat and Director of China Policy at the Center for Security Policy.