Will Nancy Pelosi Start World War III With China?
On Tuesday, China’s foreign ministry threatened to take “resolute and forceful measures to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity” should House Speaker Nancy Pelosi travel to Taiwan.
The warning came immediately after the Financial Times reported that the speaker had scheduled a trip there sometime next month. Pelosi’s office has declined to comment on the matter.
The speaker had planned to go to Taipei in April but postponed after testing positive for COVID-19. Beijing issued harsh words at the time and regularly condemns visits by American and other officials to the island republic, which it claims as its territory.
So is the Chinese war warning this time also bluster?
This moment has a different, and more ominous, feel to it. There are alarming economic, banking and political developments in China as well as a new disrespect in Beijing for President Joe Biden and the U.S. In short, Washington must be prepared for bad outcomes, whether or not Pelosi visits.
Most worryingly, Xi Jinping, the aggressive Chinese ruler, needs a dust-up with the United States right now.
His China is in distress at the moment. Homeowners in more than 80 cities have stopped paying banks in what is called the “mortgage boycott,” suppliers to property developers have halted loan repayments to banks and banks don’t have cash to meet depositor withdrawals. Large property developers, like Evergrande Group, are defaulting on loans. A province, Guizhou, has just asked for debt relief for its state-owned infrastructure projects, “China Reckons with Its First Overseas Debt Crisis,” the FT reported this week.
Beijing in recent weeks has employed thousands of troops, thugs and apparently tanks to control angry citizens, especially in the central part of the country.
There’s no mystery why the crisis is happening now. The economy, plagued by COVID-19 lockdowns and long-term problems, is probably contracting.
All this could not come at a worse time for Xi, who is seeking an unprecedented third term as the Communist Party’s general secretary. If tradition holds, party leadership will decide whether he gets that term at its 20th National Congress sometime this October or November.
There are shadowy reports that Xi, who once looked like a shoo-in, either will not get another term or, more probably, will get the term but with limitations on his power. In any event, he needs a diversion, something to change the political calculus in senior party circles.
Pelosi’s trip, if it occurs, would come at the perfect moment for him.
At the same time, China’s regime in recent weeks has shown disdain for the U.S. Beijing is now regularly issuing orders to Washington, most notably a set of four demands that Foreign Minister Wang Yi delivered to Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the G20 ministerial meeting in Bali this month.
On Monday, China’s Ministry of National Defense, in unusually direct language, demanded that the Biden administration immediately cancel its most recent arms sale to Taiwan.
None of this is to say Pelosi should not go to Taipei next month. On the contrary, she must, given Chinese arrogance. In the past, American presidents, in the face of Beijing’s threats over Taiwan and other matters, would back down. The appeasement emboldened the aggressors in the Chinese capital, encouraging them to make even more demands. If Pelosi does not go to Taiwan, therefore, Beijing will think it can dictate to America.
America, at the moment, now has only dangerous options. At some point, Washington will have to show Beijing that threats no longer work. Therefore, backing down — in other words, continuing with failed policy approaches — looks like the most dangerous option of all.
Biden, however, has signaled he is going to back down. “Well, I think that the military thinks it’s not a good idea right now,” he told reporters on Wednesday, referring to the reports of the speaker’s trip. “But I don’t know what the status of it is.”
The president’s comment was, among other things, inappropriate. It is Biden’s responsibility to make foreign policy, not the Pentagon’s. Moreover, disclosing the military’s advice, effectively undermining Pelosi and the American government, served only to bolster the worst elements in Beijing.
The American president on Wednesday also said he expected to speak to Xi Jinping in ten days. So far, Biden’s seeks to engage in conciliatory conversation with China while China makes public demands of the United States.
This mismatch betrays a weakness at the core of the administration’s approach to a dangerous Chinese regime.
Gordon G. Chang is the author of The Coming Collapse of China. Follow him on Twitter @GordonGChang.
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