The Platform

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and the third-highest-ranking official in the U.S. government, defied warnings and proceeded to visit Taiwan despite strenuous objections from China. The U.S. cannot be seen as kowtowing to the demands and threats from Beijing, risking future precedence and being perceived as weak in the eyes of not only Beijing but the rest of the world. And just as Pelosi’s trip risked angering China, the United States must continue to guarantee free navigation in the South China Sea.

Pelosi’s trip was used as the needed pretext for Beijing to initiate greater bellicose actions directed at Taiwan. This is being seen in Chinese military maneuvers meant to intimidate Taipei. It’s also a clear message from Xi Jinping that he has the means and will to carry out a full-fledged invasion of the island. By using Pelosi’s trip as a reason to ratchet up its pressure campaign, there is likely little chance that relations will return to any semblance of normalcy. However, with that said, Beijing is likely fully aware that its pressure campaign carries a number of risks.

Washington is relying on Beijing’s strategic missteps and miscalculations stemming from this latest episode. Washington’s essential argument is that it has no intention of changing the status quo and will stick to the agreed policy. This point was reinforced by Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen herself together with Pelosi during their joint press conference in Taipei, as well as repeated assurance from Biden administration officials. For Beijing to act dangerously in response to this trip will then be seen as an act of unnecessary escalation and confrontation.

Despite the military drills and bellicose warnings, Beijing’s behaviour risks creating an unnecessary conflict when before Pelosi’s trip, the danger of a conflict was manageable, driven by adherence to conventional norms. Increasing testing of these limits in a Beijing-initiated potential conflict would compel Washington to act in tit-for-tat measures with the potential of Washington disavowing the one-China policy. That possibility remains low, albeit one that remains the fear of Beijing should it continue to push the norms further which will provide Washington the right card to alter the stance.

Unless a clear, decisive, and quick victory for Beijing is in the cards, Xi Jinping would be hesitant to bear the political and military costs of military action. For now, Beijing will play the strategic patience and balancing game and continue to test the responses and resolve of Taipei.

Collins Chong Yew Keat has been serving in University of Malaya for more than 9 years. His areas of focus include strategic and security studies, America’s foreign policy and power projection, regional conflicts and power parity analysis and has published various publications on numerous platforms including books and chapter articles. He is also a regular contributor in providing op-eds and analytical articles for both the local and international media on various contemporary global issues and regional affairs since 2007.