In Foreign Policy, Craig Singleton explains the negative unintended consequences of Nancy Pelosi’s “ill-timed gambit” in Taiwan. Pelosi’s visit, says Singleton, has created a “next normal in East Asia.” He writes:
History is replete with unintended consequences, few of which mattered much. Not so in the case of U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s recent layover in Taipei, Taiwan’s capital. The trip, which garnered rare bipartisan support in Washington, aimed to demonstrate U.S. confidence in Taiwan’s leadership. Instead, the visit and China’s reaction to it left the region reeling, with Beijing apparently more confident than ever that it could retake the self-governed island nation by force if necessary.
Simply put, Pelosi’s ill-timed gambit backfired—and badly. Worse yet, its destabilizing effect was entirely predictable and completely preventable, which explains why White House and U.S. Defense Department officials repeatedly requested that she postpone, not cancel, her travel to Taipei. Sure, Pelosi faced political pressure not to back down once her plans became public. But it was always clear that China would exact a high price for her meeting with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, which need not have taken place in Taiwan or coincided with the 95th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to achieve its stated objective.
For all her good intentions, picking up the pieces after Pelosi’s tactical misstep will not be easy. Understandably, the Biden administration has downplayed the trip’s significance and reaffirmed its commitment to the United States’ long-standing “One China” policy, which recognizes Beijing as “the sole legal government of China” while ignoring its claims to rule Taiwan. Although “nothing has changed” per se in Washington, the same cannot be said for the Taiwan Strait, where China’s dramatic, expertly orchestrated show of military force was no mere aberration.
Welcome, instead, to the next normal in East Asia.
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