The Platform

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

Tensions are high between the United States and China after Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan on August 2, part of a diplomatic tour of Asia in her official capacity as Speaker of the House of Representatives. During her short trip, Pelosi met with President Tsai Ing-wen and members of parliament, assuring them of continued U.S. support for the self-ruled island, despite threats from China claiming its authority over it.

Taiwan, officially known as the Republic of China (ROC), is an island separated from China by the Taiwan Strait. It has been governed independently of mainland China, officially the People’s Republic of China (PRC), since 1949. Cross-strait tensions have escalated since the election of President Tsai Ing-wen in 2016. Beijing asserts that there is only “one China,” and that Taiwan is a part of it.

This visit by Pelosi, according to Beijing, constitutes a serious violation of the one-China principle and a grave infringement on China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Russia, a major ally of China, has accused the United States of aggravating the situation. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Russia staunchly supports China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

In 1979, the United States established formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan. Under former President Donald Trump, the United States strengthened its ties with Taiwan over Chinese objections, including by selling more than $18 billion worth of arms to the military. The Biden administration has taken a similar approach, continuing arms sales.

On August 3, 27 Chinese military aircraft entered the Taiwanese air defense zone, and then Chinese naval maneuvers encircled Taiwan and encroached on its territorial waters. These maneuvers and military threats have been denounced by Taiwan. Tsai Ing-wen has said Taiwan will not back down from Chinese bellicose threats.

The Pentagon said in a 2021 report that China’s military is likely preparing for a contingency to unify Taiwan by force. This is why the U.S. is concerned about Beijing’s increased military pressure in recent years against Taiwan. President Joe Biden said on May 23 that the U.S. would intervene militarily if China attempted to take Taiwan by force. Therefore, China hasn’t ruled out using force to achieve Taiwan’s reunification and the United States hasn’t ruled out defending Taiwan if China attacks.

Has Russia’s thus-far failed war in Ukraine taught Beijing anything about a potential invasion of Taiwan? Based on the various stumbles Russia has faced in Ukraine, Beijing would be wise to wargame an invasion more than Russia had. Even so, China would not hesitate to invade if Taiwan declared its independence.

But an invasion risks crashing global markets, a possible risk of a nuclear exchange with the United States, and for Beijing, a possible loss or severe losses which is why Beijing should be more strategic in how it approaches Taiwan.

Khalid Cherkaoui Semmouni is a Professor of Political Science and Director of the Rabat Center for Political and Strategic Studies.