I find China’s official statement on Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan and the comments of the Chinese Ambassador to the US reasonable and well-founded. There can be no excuse or reference to the separation of executive and representative branches (President versus Speaker of the House) within the US system of governance: Mr. Biden and Ms. Pelosi are jointly leading the governing political party in the United States of America and, hence, one cannot believe that these two leaders were not agreed on the visit.
Of course, you may have this rather obvious but totally irrelevant question: Ms. Pelosi should be able to visit Taiwan just like any other political leader, from the US or not – right? No. Wrong. Why now? What purpose did it serve? What issue or problem did it solve? None. This is not like you and me going wherever we would like to go. It was an official trip. You need an invitation, and it had better serve a purpose. What was the purpose here? What need was there to antagonize China – especially in light of the dreadful war with Russia that is currently harming the whole world, and in which China could possibly mediate?
Also, think practical here: if you must go somewhere – in person – but you need to take three warships and an aircraft carrier along to protect you (plus travel in a military plane with more military planes as escort), then it is pretty obvious that you are not very welcome and that you should send someone else (someone who does not need all that armor – a trusted representative, for example) to deliver whatever message you felt you had to deliver there. Right? I do not go to places where I would need a gun to feel safe. So why did Pelosi take so many guns with her? She now says she did not want to change the status quo? What a blatant lie! Her visit tried to do just that – change the status quo – just like Newt Gingrich’s visit back in 1997 tried to do!
The facts are the facts, and they are crystal clear to me: this visit was an American provocation on China. It was a very raw and very blatant intrusion into China’s national security sphere – if not physically (it was physical in terms of America’s ‘One China’ policy, right?) then – at the very least – it was a psychological and diplomatic intrusion. There are no other words that can possibly start to describe such foolish international brinkmanship. Ms. Pelosi literally behaved like a mad cowboy: shoot first, think later.
The only reasonable explanation for this visit – which, despite its obvious sensitivity and the potential for rapidly escalating conflict, was kept unannounced till it happened – are the polls in the runup to the US elections in November (all 435 seats in the House of Representatives and 35 of the 100 seats in the Senate are up for grabs). The US Democratic Party is not doing well in these polls (see an overview of them here) and, therefore, thinks it is wise to amplify Trump’s anti-China rhetoric or – an event that got less attention – fire missiles into the heart of Kabul to kill a US-listed terrorist (which is sure to be replaced and will only breed more terrorism). Mr. Biden can now also claim that he is not shy of personally authorizing the extrajudicial killing of a criminal, just like Mr. Donald Trump. One of the basic principles for justice – enshrined in both national as well as international law is this: the end (bringing a criminal to justice) does not justify the means (firing missiles into a country that you are not at war with, in this particular case).
Mimicking Trump’s anti-China talk and foreign policy is a poor idea, if only because the original in politics is always more convincing. It is an easy game, of course: China’s reaction is as predictable as Russia’s (predictability is at least one advantage of the leadership of these large powers). Fortunately, China and Taiwan (and Japan and Korea and other Asian countries as well) need each other more than they need the US. That is the only reason why I am confident the Taiwan crisis will not trigger yet another war.
The damage that has been done is of a totally different order: it has hurt US credibility as a predictable and constructive partner in a world that – since the restructuring of international politics when the Berlin Wall came down, followed by the Tiananmen protests and the subsequent restructuring of the Chinese political and economic system in the 1990s – has become truly multipolar. Most countries – more importantly, most of their citizens – accepted this: multiple political and economic systems coexisting peacefully alongside and accepting each other’s diversity. There is no place for ideology or senseless defence of meaningless ideals in this brave new modern world. [I always disagreed with the take of Fukuyama and other intellectuals on this: liberalism is, clearly, far from being the only viable or even most preferred system for organizing society. In addition, if liberalism is what the US stands for, I do not want it: it justifies gun ownership and other illiberal things threatening the freedom and safety of individual citizens there.]
Ms. Pelosi had a very distinguished career and has done a lot of good. I have always admired her – but now I find it sad she has become the person who delivered the final blow to US credibility as the wannabe Global Policeman in this new world. Such policeman is needed, but it cannot be the US. Not after this display of international brinkmanship and erratic behavior. I have worked on US contracts and with the best of US diplomats and military in Afghanistan, but now I must say: “Yankee, it is time to go home. Please take your nuclear weapons on Belgian soil with you.” [If you find the latter remark offensive, it may help to know that I briefly made myself a member of the Green Party in Belgium when I was young (so that was in the 1980s). Not because I am anti-nuclear (on the contrary: I am a firm believer in peaceful nuclear energy) but because their anti-nuclear position was rooted in the peace movement. It find it strange how the Left and green activists, de facto, moved away from their belief in a just international peace based on coexistence and global disarmament over the past decades – but that is a different story which is of no relevance here.]
So, the question is this: now that Biden and Pelosi look like old (possibly dementing?) but very dangerous random leaders fueling all flames they can possibly fuel, what non-American leader(s) – or what nations – can fill the gap? As for leaders, I honestly think that Xi Jinping has shown more leadership and wisdom over the past ten years than any other world leader. China fueled growth in the world over the past decades. China now plays a moderating role in the war with Russia. China engaged in climate talks – since a decade – and is serious about its green revolution. China invests more in infrastructure in poor African countries – still reeling from Europe’s colonial adventures – than any other country does. China engages seriously in international disarmament talks and nuclear safety. China shares technology. I can mention many more examples of constructive and predictable behavior. Chinese people abroad are generally proud and happy (I know quite a few here in Brussels). More than the typical American or European. Mr Biden and Ms Pelosi: can you please explain what it is that China is not doing right according to you? To my European friends: what exactly are you afraid of when you think of China? Frankly, I have no idea. You tell me. I lived in Asia and I also spent a few years in the US before coming back home here in Brussels. I might go back to Asia but I will never ever use my green card again.
As for countries, it cannot be China alone. For my Asian friends who are reading this: it is about time that China, Korea and Japan find the peace they never had – still mourning the injustices of the second world war – a war that was not theirs to choose. This Taiwan crisis makes it clear that the US has outplayed its role in the East. The Europeans remain powerless in the middle (but Europe has plenty of brains and true multiculturality to offer). Peace in Asia will be peace for the world – and the only nations that can bring it to Asia are Asian countries. You will say: what about North Korea and other political headaches? I personally think North Korea is as big a headache for China as it is for Korea (and other Asian countries). What can Xi Jinping do about it? Kill its leaders (like the Americans killing Al Qaeda leaders with missiles in the heart of Kabul – after their shameful withdrawal)? No. That is not an option. That is not how things should be done. Those are terror tactics and terrorism breeds terrorism. I know those are bold words but I am not mincing them. Asia’s leaders need to sit together and lead – not only to safeguard Asia’s future but the future of the world as a whole. And even if they can only safeguard Asia’s future, that will already be good: when everything is said and done, that is 60% of the world population already. 🙂
I am confident that Asian political leaders can sit together and jointly decide to accelerate the pace of growth in a better integrated Asia (and the world as a whole) by acknowledging the scars from past wars that were not theirs to fight and focus on economic, cultural and societal commonalities rather than political divisions. The graph below shows the lead of Chinese, Korean and Taiwanese firms in the 5G revolution that is driving Web 3.0 platforms – the current engine of growth in the world economy. [By the way, Qualcomm and Intel are listed as US companies but – just like Nokia and Ericsson – most of their factories are in China or Taiwan.]
The graph also shows why keeping Huawei (or other Chinese companies) out of European 5G and high tech markets is a bad idea. US tech is losing out. China has become so much more than just the ‘factory of the world’: China’s companies (and – yes – Taiwan’s hubs in nanometer tech manufacturing) are currently driving innovation in this brave new world. Starting a tech, trade or business war with China is probably the worst American idea ever, but then the US seems to be racking up patents on stupid ideas now: antagonizing China and dropping more and more multi-billion arms packages in Ukraine is not a great way to start dealing with the many crises that this world faces.
One last remark: I do not agree with Blinken’s remarks on China’s reaction to Pelosi’s visit being disproportionate. Anyone who lived or lives in Asia knows how important face is in Asia. Pelosi’s visit made China lose face. Diplomacy now is wasted. I do not justify the behavior from either side here, but I do understand how poor action can trigger even worse reaction. I hope the European Union will act wiser and work towards peace both with Russia and China. When everything is said and done, these two countries are neighbors and we have to live with them. The US, in contrast, is a long flight across the ocean.
[…] So, what is next? China’s military exercises are scheduled to end tomorrow, Sunday 7 August. It may or may not be the end of Chinese retaliatory action. That is up for Xi Jinpeng to decide. Some more practice may be needed. Mr. Jinpeng faces reelection himself and – just like Mr. Biden and Ms. Pelosi – he should do what he thinks his people want him to do as their leader. If that is to make the US or Taiwan pay some prize for the humiliation, then that is what it is. In fact, it is rather ironic but, if the US wanted change in Beijing, then this visit backfired on this front as well: Ms. Pelosi’s visit has strongly bolstered Mr. Jinpeng’s chances of an easy reelection to a third term as President of China. Just go on TikTok and look at the discussion threads there on the topic, and you will see that (lots of great cartoons there, by the way). When everything is said and done, not all is perfect in China, and Mr. Jinpeng’s handling of the COVID crisis in China had led to resentment. Now he is the Paramount Leader again, and rightly so: unlike Ms. Pelosi, he acted statesmanlike.
So, yes, Ms. Pelosi’s visit has offered Mr. Jinpeng a chance to demonstrate true leadership in difficult times, and he is doing that very well: he could have easily taken the Kinmen Islands, for example. He did not. That is wise. It is another reason why her Taiwan visit may well be qualified as the dumbest diplomatic idea and the worst international blunder of the US in the 21st century so far. Although it is hard to compare, of course: the illegal and unilateral US invasion of Iraq and the dragging of all NATO countries into Afghanistan (even if that was borderline legal) must rank pretty high on the list of America’s 21st century failures as well.
Post scriptum: I do recognize a generation of American soldiers that is now gone paid a heavy prize for our European freedom, but my father and grandfather (both of whom are long dead now but would often talk about the sufferings of the world war) would always remind me of the prize which other countries paid when telling their stories about it. This is the ranking: the Soviet Union comes first (20 to 27 million dead), and then it is… […] China ! 15 to 20 million dead. Both China and the Soviet Union were wracked by famine and disease during the war, so some experts believe the countries’ civilian casualty numbers may actually be significantly underestimated. And yes, third is Germany itself, of course (6 to 7.4 million), followed by Poland (5.9 to 6 million), the Dutch East Indies – now Indonesia (3 to 4 million), Japan (2.5 to 3.1 million), India (2.2 to 3 million), Yugoslavia (1 to 1.7 million), French Indochina (Laos, Cambodia, (part of) Vietnam) (1 to 2.2 million) and, finally, France (600,000), the UK and the US (both lost well over 400,000 people in that war). It is an interesting historical perspective. In any case, the idea that we should trust the US to defend our freedom is totally gone now for me. I have seen them win wars – in Blitzkrieg style or, as the US military calls it, ‘shock and awe‘ tactics – but where did they ever win the peace that one would expect to follow? The world does not want the US to play the global cop. Come to think of it: did we ever? The title of this post refers to an immediate post-war sentiment: American soldiers were welcome but we did not ask them to stay on.
So, yes, yankee: please stay at home and let other countries and people get on with it. Also, if possible, please also refrain from firing missiles from ‘beyond the horizon’ into lands and territories that are not yours. What if China or Russia would start doing that? It is worse than some secret service poisoning someone, right? Start applying internationally lawful principles to try to get things done. Start respecting Sun Tzu’s very first principle of the Art of War: stay on the right side of the Moral Law, and that moral law has nothing to do with the American Dream or way of living. The method matters more than the goal now. Violence is not the way to go: any gunman knows that a gun draws a gun, so please stop using big guns to try to solve your problems – because you will draw other big guns. To put it differently: if your only tool is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail. So, if your only tool is a gun, then… Well… Then everyone looks like your enemy, right? So, dear Uncle Sam, just stop thinking like that, please ! European soldiers fought alongside Americans in wars like the Korean one (1950-1953) and, recently, in Afghanistan. I doubt any European would want to fight another war in Asia now.
As for advice on how to possibly mend relations, I can only quote another simple truth: if you find yourself in a hole, stop digging. Stop adding insult to injury. Perhaps Ms. Pelosi could plan a trip to Beijing next time? If she is serious about democracy and peace in Asia, she should fly back to Asia and talk to Mr. Jinpeng too. Would he receive her now? I am not sure but – knowing a few things about Asia and China from my time spent there – I think he would. 🙂 They could exchange some presents like sashes and other decorative items and do some speeches too. Ms. Pelosi could also meet Mr. Jinpeng’s wife Peng Liyuan. She is a powerful woman too, perhaps even more powerful than Ms. Pelosi (I am not sure where both are on the rankings of powerful women but they should be pretty close). 🙂