Wednesday, August 03, 2022

Pelosi's visit to Taiwan - brave and necessary, or rash and poorly-timed?

It's hard to know what to think about Nancy Pelosi's visit to Taiwan: a courageous show of solidarity with a fellow liberal democracy, or a rash and ill-timed act of personal brinkmanship? Or perhaps both?

"Both" is probably the right answer, but that doesn't help us much. If a war with China does arise out of the visit - and my gut tells me that it probably won't, although the possibility is definitely there - then this will be the modern equivalent of the shooting of the Archduke Ferdinand, a single identifiable act with huge and disproportionate consequences.

Yes, China's burgeoning imperial ambitions and tub-thumping under President Xi Jinping need to be slapped down. Taiwan is clearly its own country, and few people outside of China would argue otherwise. But the ambiguity of American, Canadian and pretty much every other major country's policy toward Taiwan for decades has at least kept the peace, and allowed Taiwan to function as a more-or-less independent state in most spheres of activity.

Calling China's bluff right now, particularly with the ongoung Russia-Ukraine conflict going on in the background, may not have been the smartest move. Many policy people and lawmakers did try to dissuade Ms. Pelosi from her symbolic and "provocative" visit (provocative to China's leadership, even if not to most other reasonable people), although the official White House line has been that her visit is her own personal business and nothing to do with them (a disingenuous stance, to say the least).

I think it is one of those matters that history will look back on favourably if everything turns out well, but as an egregious misstep if it turns out badly. And right now, there is no way to tell which way it will go, depending as it does on which side of the bed Xi Jinping got out on the day in question. Either way, what has been called the least-worst option for maintaining a tenuous peace has been put at serious risk by Ms. Pelosi's principles.

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