The fallout over Taiwan

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s recent visit to Taiwan predictably sparked outrage in China, which responded by flexing its muscles through some not-at-all subtle military exercises. The two important questions here are why did Pelosi go to the island in the first place, and why does Beijing care enough to deploy its fleet?

The Pelosi aspect is far more interesting but much less important. We don’t know exactly why she visited Taiwan. Some claim she went because of her long-standing opposition to Chinese human rights violations, rooted in an increasingly Chinese electoral base in her district. Others claim that she felt there was nothing to lose if the Republicans take back the House in November. Some accounts say she went in defiance of the Biden administration, while others say she was an agent of the administration. One argument goes that the administration thought that a provocative visit by someone not technically in the administration, and therefore deniable, would move the Chinese in U.S.-Chinese negotiations, by showing that the U.S. was prepared to be assertive.

Whatever the case, her visit triggered a very loud but fairly insignificant response from China. A great many ships and planes fired a great deal of ordnance, none of which struck Taiwan or a hostile vessel. The response demonstrated that China does, in fact, have a navy, but it did not show how the balance of power might change if Beijing, for example, shot down an incoming missile while forcing a U.S. submarine to surface.

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army mobilized warships, aircraft and tanks on August 2 and vowed “targeted military actions” in response to United States House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan.

Taiwan is a democratic island nation of 23.6 million people on the northern end of the South China Sea. The overwhelming majority of Taiwanese would like the country to be internationally recognized and fully independent, charting a path into the future based on the will of the people.

But Chinese Communist Party (ccp) leaders view Taiwan as part of China. Since the time of Mao Zedong, they’ve seen it as the national equivalent to a rebellious teenager defying its parent country. Chinese leaders are determined to deliver whatever correction and discipline necessary to end the rebelliousness and bring Taiwan under their control. Xi Jinping, the head of the ccp, has said on several occasions that he is willing to use military force, if necessary, to subdue Taiwan. “We make no promise to renounce the use of force and reserve the option of taking all necessary means,” Xi said in 2019.