In the aftermath of Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, the People’s Republic of China has carried out a series of dangerous, large-scale military drills which has been said by military experts to mimic the tactics of a future invasion.
These military exercises are different from the usual provocations of Beijing in the Taiwan strait.
Ballistic missiles have been fired over Taiwanese territory and the three-day military drills declared by the PRC, have been described by the Taiwanese political establishment as amounting to a ‘sea and air’ blockade.
In addition, Beijing has cut cooperation with the US in key areas such as in climate Change agreements, drug trafficking and the repatriation of illegal immigrants.
Despite the PRC’s strong protestations and subsequent reaction, many observers in the west, especially hawkish US politicians who fully supported the Pelosi trip might start seeing Beijing’s actions which stops short of being an actual invasion as a sign of weakness and a further impetus to discard the ambiguous ‘one-china’ policy.
This sort of aggressive posturing is a fatal mistake and given that the US still officially maintains its ‘one-china’ policy despite the gaffes of Joe Biden, it is crucial that when it comes to the looming crisis in East Asia, China is seen by the rest of the world to make all the escalatory moves not the United States.
Essentially, it is important that the US position as laid out in the recently declassified ‘six assurances’ which informs the unofficial bilateral relations of the United States with Taiwan is maintained, at least for now.
The ‘Six assurances’ which was given to Taiwan by President Ronald Reagan in 1982 has key policies that are still very relevant today.
From “acknowledging” the PRC as the sole legal government of China to maintaining cultural ties with Taipei via the American institute in Taiwan, the US position walks the tightrope of acting as a neutral arbiter in the question of the “two-Chinas’ effectively.
While the positions mentioned above are very key to maintaining the status quo in the Taiwan strait, of prime importance in the six assurances is the commitment of the United States to continue supplying weapons to bolster Taiwan’s defense and also “maintain the ability to come to Taiwan’s aid in case of a future invasion while not committing to doing also”.
The strategic ambiguity of the latter policy is especially important as it serves as a huge deterrent to the PRC by allowing the US more flexibility in its reaction to any future aggression from Beijing.
At this time, these positions are sufficient to maintain peace.
Actually, the problem with the Pelosi affair is not the visit itself but the timing.
The United States and her European allies have shown solidarity with Taiwan in the past, so the Pelosi visit is not unprecedented.
For example, Lithuania agreed to allow Taiwan open a de-facto embassy in its capital in November 2021 and Newt Gingrich, the former republican speaker of the house had visited Taiwan in 1997.
As expected, the PRC vented its frustration with these public shows of solidarity. In the case of Lithuania, the EU complained that Beijing was blocking Lithuanian imports and was pressuring EU companies to remove Lithuanian components from their exports.
While Beijing’s minor spat with Lithuania had lesser risks of escalating into a full-blown military conflict, a similar situation with the US which has the world’s second largest nuclear arsenal could well mean world war three. In essence, while grand-standing, ideological state visits are necessary sometimes in showing the long-term diplomatic position of a country, perilous times such as this demands pragmatism.
With the world seeing unprecedented changes as a result of climate change, US-China collaboration and leadership is still needed at this crucial time to fulfill the pledges in the Net-zero commitments made at COP26 in Glasgow as well as to curb the problems of global inflation.
The reality is that the People’s Republic of China cannot afford to invade Taiwan at this time because of its domestic problems.
While the PRC’s President; Xi JinPing is currently on the brink of securing a lifetime hold on power, his disastrous ZERO-COVID policy has stifled growth and led to a slow-recovering economy.
There is also the problem with Beijing’s property market which is currently in crisis as well as difficulties with the belt and road initiative which has witnessed sovereign defaults by some of Beijing’s debtors. Despite all these difficulties, is it wise for the United States to needlessly call China’s bluff?
With the US leading the steady flow of weapons that have crucially aided the Ukrainians in their fight for freedom and gas prices ballooning in the west as a result of Putin’s tinkering with oil supply, It is clear that the United States has more than enough on its plate.
The rest of the world cannot also afford a protracted conflict in East Asia which could mean choosing between two diametric power blocs as well as another refugee crisis, on the back of the Food crisis that almost occurred as a result of the war in Ukraine, recently abated by adroit UN and Turkish diplomacy.
One of the most fitting recommendations of the ‘one – china’ policy primer written by Richard bush, a former director of the American institute of Taiwan, was that: ” If it is in the US interests to improve bilateral relations with Taiwan, DO NOT implement those changes in ways that create a ‘public challenge’ to Beijing.
The key term in this recommendation is the ‘public challenge’. Hence, It is important that the PRC is not taunted with unnecessary visits that publicly challenge the status quo in the Taiwan strait, especially at this time given that Xi Jinping, who has set the reunification of Taiwan with mainland China at the heart of his ‘great rejuvenation of China’ project by 2049 is under domestic pressure by Chinese nationalists to stand up to the US. To put simply, the US should not recklessly give Xi a pretext to invade.
The truth is Taiwan has courted US friendship viciously and the United States, despite its unofficial relationship with Taiwan can decide to support a fellow democracy both overtly and covertly as it currently does in Ukraine.
However, the US needs to deftly form the narrative of its support around helping a democracy in Peril which has cried out for assistance than carelessly allowing its participation to be seen by the rest of the world as a pre-emptive move in its intense competition with China.
In his lecture at George Washington University, the US secretary of State, Antony Blinken maintains that the United States remains committed to its one-china policy on the issue of Taiwan.
He also stressed that the US will strive to “manage the relationship responsibly…..and remain committed to intense diplomacy alongside intense competition” with the PRC.
To prove that these are not empty words, responsible diplomacy would mean the Biden administration, which reportedly opposed the Pelosi visit should focus more on its covert support for Taiwan while maintaining a balanced relationship with Beijing until either side decides to disrupt the status quo.
Olanrewaju Ajidagba writes from Rewley House, University of Oxford, United Kingdom.