The United States and China are on a collision course in the Taiwan Strait.
China’s ambitions have risen along with its military power and it may soon be capable of seizing democratically ruled Taiwan — even in a fight with the United States. President Xi Jinping is hoping to get an unprecedented third term later this fall and cannot afford to appear weak. He has been increasing pressure on Taiwan and apparently believes the United States is abandoning its circumspection about Taiwan’s status and may soon formally back the island’s independence.
At the same time, longstanding U.S. “strategic ambiguity” has given way to strategic confusion. President Biden’s misstatements on Taiwan are undermining the carefully devised policy that has kept the peace for decades. He has repeatedly said that the United States has a commitment to defend Taiwan. Last November, Mr. Biden remarked that Taiwan is “independent.” U.S.-Taiwan official exchanges, military cooperation and U.S. warship transits of the Taiwan Strait that were once kept under wraps are being made public.
A single spark could ignite this combustible situation into a crisis that escalates to military conflict. Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan could provide it.
The House speaker is said to be planning a stop in Taiwan as part of a trip through Asia. Ms. Pelosi and her advisers may think this would have a stabilizing effect: Many in Washington believe that strong demonstrations of U.S. commitment to Taiwan will dissuade China from risking a military adventure.
But at this moment, a visit by Ms. Pelosi to Taiwan could instead provoke a forceful Chinese response.
China considers Taiwan part of its sovereign territory and reacts furiously when U.S. politicians travel there. A visit by Ms. Pelosi would take this to another level. She would be the highest-ranking U.S. visitor since another House speaker, Newt Gingrich, in 1997.
Ms. Pelosi is also loathed in China for pressing Beijing on human rights. Images of her alighting in Taiwan would be seen in China as a serious provocation.
Mr. Xi, who, like his predecessors, has repeatedly stressed that China will someday reunify Taiwan with the mainland, may take big risks to defend a perceived infringement on China’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. Beijing has warned that its military will not sit idly by if the trip goes ahead. [Continue reading…]