Say what you will about US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, but she sure is good at getting people's attention.
She's under immense scrutiny for her family's incredibly profitable stock trades as the US Congress considers a ban on the practice, presiding over what may be her last term as speaker with historic unpopularity ratings－and to top it all, has seemingly decided on a whim to pay a visit to the island of Taiwan this week.
The trip, which made her the highest-ranked sitting US official to travel there in decades, has generated considerable controversy and escalated already fraying ties with China. As the US does not recognize "Taiwan independence" and Pelosi is second in the line of presidential succession, the move has been viewed by many on both sides as a dangerous step toward open conflict between the world's two biggest economies.
This of course begs the question why a US legislator is fanning the flames with China as her own country is looking down the barrel of recession, flailing against waves of inflation and struggling to keep its people employed, housed, educated and in good health
First, some background. The one-China policy, which is to say the mutual recognition of one political body that is "China", is the bedrock of US-China ties. It is the only reason the two countries have a diplomatic bond, and an unshakable bottom line which if violated would constitute grounds for the complete dissolution of the relationship. Whatever talking points the US likes to trot out to equivocate on the subject, the necessity of holding to the policy remains unchanged.
And make no mistake, the official US position is one which de facto and de jure supports the People's Republic as the sole representative of China. "Strategic ambiguity", "acknowledgement" of the PRC stance rather than acceptance, non-commitment to the island's military defense－none of these matter. The PRC has China's seat in the United Nations and the US accepted the outcome of the resolution putting it there. The end. Full stop. Don't let anyone hem and haw about it.
Despite this, there has been plenty of reason to doubt the US' sincerity on sticking to this fairly simple principle. Over the years, arms shipments have continuously been made to the island, a clear abrogation of the third US-China communique which stated the US would gradually draw down its provision of weapons from 1982 levels. Sales have instead ballooned, with billions of dollars of war materials provided in every administration since, no matter which party held the White House.
The US has regularly hosted military drills in the South China Sea and "freedom of navigation" exercises through the Taiwan Straits; each time it does so, China responds in kind and the corporate press dutifully reports on it as if China were doing so entirely without cause. If they mention the context at all, it will be buried deep in the story well past the point when most people stop reading. This, among many other troubling phenomena, is demonstrative of the US' cavalier attitude toward the principle underpinning relations with its biggest trade partner.
But one can hardly describe the domestic reaction to Pelosi's trip as unanimous support. The White House doesn't seem happy to have to deal with this amid the Russia-Ukraine conflict and mounting economic crises. US President Joe Biden himself said the Pentagon has called it a bad idea. Even some hawkish scholars and commentators have expressed mild skepticism, which in their circles might as well be outright condemnation.
No less an authority on reckless provocation than former US president Donald Trump has come out against it; though in his case it might just be because Pelosi is doing it rather than a lackey like Mike Pompeo. Whatever his reasons－or hers, for that matter－it does give the impression this trip is happening without express or implied approval from the executive branch, much less the public at large.
Which would be in keeping with history. Pelosi has been a notoriously strident China hawk for so long it seems like she's been grandstanding since before our progenitors crawled out of the primordial ooze. She has never missed an opportunity to showboat, provoke or otherwise sabotage relations in geopolitical climates both warm and icy cold. Recall that she was one of the first US lawmakers to openly support the protests in Hong Kong, and a staunch opponent of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing as well as this year's Winter Games in the same city.
We can see by the recent call between Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping that the former's administration has been attempting to mend ties to some degree. With her background, and her tenure as speaker on the wane, is it possible Pelosi timed this visit to force the White House into a more aggressive posture?
This is a far more intriguing－and disturbing－motive than the almost juvenile explanation of an ego-stroking farewell tour, as it would provide yet more evidence of the intrinsic momentum of the US' campaign of encirclement against China. Even with so many sectors speaking out against the move, it has happened anyway. It's a worrying trend, and likely will only get worse in the years to come. Without any space for rational dialogue, the chances of a crisis which pushes the world across the Rubicon grow. Now that Pelosi has gone through with her plan and set foot on the island, what then? She will have singlehandedly created a hair-trigger moment where any momentary lapse in communication could mean an escalation that spirals beyond anyone's control.
I genuinely believe neither the US nor China wants a war. China has not been in armed conflict with another nation in nearly 50 years, and there's no reason that should change anytime soon. As the world's economic axis turns eastward and China becomes the major trading partner of most of the globe, the need to rush the inevitable process of reunification through forcible means is not growing; if anything, it shrinks exponentially by the day. As for the US, it is presently not in its best interest to pile a world-ending conflagration on top of the myriad issues it already faces. This of course begs the question why a US legislator is fanning the flames with China as her own country is looking down the barrel of recession, flailing against waves of inflation and struggling to keep its people employed, housed, educated and in good health.
Perhaps the answer is that legislator, and the class she represents, don't have an interest in solving those problems. Maybe they can read the writing on the wall as well as us, and have concluded the only way to prevent China from breaking up the hegemony of US capital is through a devastating war, one where victory is far from guaranteed.
If that's what they've decided, they are in for a rude awakening. The peace-loving people of the world, representing the vast working majority, won't stand idly by and let themselves be marched into the meat grinder to sustain the profits of a tiny few. They will fight back against these absurd incitements and demand a system that actually represents their interests, a real democracy.
When that happens, Pelosi and her ilk are more than welcome to fight whatever wars they want－so long as they understand they'll be the ones on the front lines.
And sorry to break the news to you, Nancy, but there's no such thing as insider trading on a battlefield.
The author is a US writer with China Daily.