As House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s plane approached the airport in Taipei on Tuesday, Chinese warships and fighter planes squeezed the meridian line—the air-and-sea border dividing the People’s Republic of China from Taiwan—while American aircraft carriers steamed nearby to ward off or meet any threats. It’s impossible to deny that this trip was, at the very least, poorly timed.
Several U.S. officials—in the White House, the State Department, the Pentagon, and the intelligence community—had tried, perhaps too delicately, to discourage Pelosi from stopping off in Taiwan during her congressional delegation’s brief tour of allied capitals in East Asia. President Joe Biden said publicly that top U.S. military officers opposed the visit, though he stopped short of saying he agreed with them, sensitive to the legislature’s prerogatives as a coequal branch of government and perhaps fearful of being denounced as “soft on China.”
In recent days, as her trip approached, officials in Beijing warned that the trip violated several international agreements, that U.S. politicians were “playing with fire,” and that the Chinese army would “not sit idly by.” One might dismiss this rhetoric as overwrought theatrics (in fact, the public warnings made it less likely that Pelosi would cancel). Still, the Taiwan Straits have long been a geopolitical tinderbox, and it’s hard to see what good might come from jumping into the fray while waving a canister of kindling and matches.
Pelosi’s intentions are, on one level, admirable. Perhaps because of the large number of Chinese refugees in her home district of Northern California, she has long been a harsh critic of Beijing’s human rights violations and its threats against Taiwan. Still, as the second-ranking official in the line of succession for the presidency, Pelosi has an obligation to think through the broad implications of her actions on foreign policy—and she failed to do that with this trip. [Continue reading…]