Is Pelosi putting Taiwan in danger?
Although Taiwan was not on Nancy Pelosi's official itinerary, a surprising Taiwan visit by the third highest-ranking official of the U.S. is now occurring.
China regards Taiwan, the self-ruled democratic island, as a breakaway territory. It has the desire of bringing Taiwan back and constantly threatens to do so by force if necessary.
China holds this stance on Taiwan, known as the "One China Principle," as a cornerstone of its policy. This "principle" not only governs China's Taiwan dealings, but also has been applied to China's foreign relations. For decades, China has forced countries to sever relations with Taiwan if they wanted to establish diplomatic ties with China. China succeeded in doing so through political pressure when it was still poor but a strong leader of the third world, and through economic leverage once its economy started to take off at a pace that has astonished the world.
But things are changing — China's political and economic leverage is losing its magic power. The first wave of resistance came from African countries, China's strongest political support, out of economic concerns. The continent has received China's lavish financial aid, needed for economic development. But the recipient countries soon discovered the reality of the generous package from China: popping up of white elephant projects that benefit only the Chinese suppliers, and the "debt trap" that China laid out for later seizure of strategic assets, along with widespread corruption and unfinished construction that are hallmarks of the Chinese model. Some African countries are re-examining their policies of overreliance on China's economic influence.
China's outward aggression (e.g., toward Taiwan and claims over the Southern China Sea) and internal repression (e.g., the treatment of Hong Kong and Xinjiang) has irked many, but the Czech Republic is the first to stand up to China and show support for Taiwan despite China's threats. Milos Vystrcil, the Czech Republic's Senate president, who led the high-profile Taiwan visit by a Czech lawmaker delegation in August 2020, summarized the drive behind his Taiwan initiatives in the face of China's coercion: "I always advocate for standing up for values instead of counting pennies."
Czechia's courage inspired other nations to extend support to Taiwan based on shared belief in freedom and democracy. Last October, the European Parliament called for stronger economic and diplomatic relations with Taiwan. In November, Lithuania welcomed the opening of Taiwan's de facto embassy in its capital, Vilnius. In June this year, the British government received Taiwan's trade minister John Deng to discuss bilateral trade and Taiwan's bid to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) trade body.
China, as expected, reacted strongly to each of those Taiwan-friendly acts, ranging from verbal condemnations to unilateral trade sanctions. But the intimidating effects of China's counteraction became weaker each time, and each round of China's political and economic retaliation was met with yet a new round of defiance. The latest came from Switzerland — the historically neutral country declared a few days ago that it would match the European Union's punitive measures against China in the event of its invasion of Taiwan.
Now the U.S. is taking the same China test that many other smaller countries passed not long ago. The U.S. has a firm stance on no negotiation with hostage-takers. No reasonable person would assume that the U.S. would accept China's "cancel the Taiwan visit" order.
Those who worry that Pelosi's Taiwan visit could put Taiwan in greater danger can be reassured that the opposite is true: China would perceive a canceled Taiwan visit as an indicator that its coercion tactics are in the working, and thus will apply them more broadly and more often. The faster the number of nations that openly stand with Taiwan grows, the safer Taiwan and the world will be.
When facing coercion and extortion from nations like China, the surest way of inviting more danger is submitting to their demands.
Image: Bruce Detorres.