Takeover of Taiwan by the PRC would upend the security of the Indo-Pacific, writes Prof. Madhav Nalapat
It remains to be seen whether Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, will continue in that office once the two-year term of the present batch of legislators ends. The decision may not necessarily be hers to take, in that she would have to make way for a new Speaker of the House, were the Republican party to wrest the majority from the Democrats.
The inflationary and recessionary trends caused by the Biden-Johnson sanctions on Russia as a consequence of its war on Ukraine have made the current US President unpopular. Instead of rewarding lower income voters, who backed him in large numbers during the Presidential poll, Biden is showering money on Ukraine. In the process, he is delighting weapons manufacturers not just in the United States but worldwide.
Not to mention the oil industry, which is reaping the benefit of a huge spurt in oil and gas prices as a consequence of US-led sanctions on Russia that have been added on to those imposed on major oil producers such as Venezuela and Iran. Thanks to such policies by the US and some of its allies, the cost of oil is far above what it needs to be to ensure global economic health. Countries in Asia are starting to be worried about the quality of leadership exhibited within NATO.
Such worthies are coming up with Alice in Wonderland plans such as enforcing a price cap on Russian, but not on US or UK, oil. The manner in which the Atlantic Alliance has reacted to the war in Ukraine appears to have dealt a death blow to any hopes of recovering its primacy within the international system. At the same time, NATO has proved unable to prevent the dismemberment and destruction of Ukraine. In the fantasy world that the present occupants of the White House and Number 10 Downing Street live in, their performance during the Ukraine war is taken as a deterrent to China’s attempting a takeover by force of Taiwan.
Given the economic pain to NATO member states that its own sanctions on Russia are causing, the thinking within the Central Military Commission (CMC) in Beijing is veering around to the view that (after being mauled by their own sanctions on Russia) there is likely to be zero appetite within NATO to impose similar sanctions on China. After all, the other superpower is a country that is many times more closely linked in commerce with the Atlantic Alliance than Russia. In Ukraine, there has since 2014 been an indoctrination designed to create Russophobic mindsets in those elements of the public that do not speak Russian as the mother tongue.
Yet even within convinced Russophobes, hopes for the entry on Ukraine’s side of NATO during the war with Russia have faded. Instead, fatigue has set in as a consequence of the damage that the country has suffered by continuing its senseless war rather than working out a peace settlement with Moscow.
Neither President Biden nor Boris Johnson appears to be concerned about the fact that the longer the war continues, the harsher will be the peace terms insisted on by President Putin as a condition to stop the fighting. Should Liz Truss be the next PM, the Cowboys and Injuns approach of Boris Johnson to the Ukraine conflict is likely to continue, to the detriment of the UK. Public opinion within NATO is not what it was during the intoxicating days in the initial weeks of the conflict, when it was accepted wisdom that (a) Russia would soon be forced to withdraw, and (b) Putin would be ousted from the Kremlin.
Instead, the Russian leader is moving towards fulfillment of his stated aim of ensuring that Ukraine never again becomes a threat to Russia, something that even the embedded media in NATO countries is no longer able to cover up. Given the rapid decline within the broader public within NATO of the earlier appetite for continuing the war with Russia over Ukraine, the Central Military Commission (CMC) in Beijing is developing the conviction that citizens in Taiwan would not follow the Ukrainian example and themselves take up arms to throw out invaders from the PRC.
As for intervention by the US, according to President Biden, his generals in Washington are terrified even by the prospect of Speaker Pelosi visiting Taiwan. Given the rising unpopularity of Xi as a consequence of the mismanagement of the economy, diplomacy and handling the pandemic, pressure on him to follow the example of Putin and attack Taiwan is mounting. Of course, the Russia-obsessed fantasists in the White House believe the contrary is true, just as they believed that Russia would be easy prey for a Ukraine boosted by NATO firepower. A Commander-in-Chief, who walked away even from confronting a ragtag force such as the Taliban, does not inspire confidence as an ally.
It is in the context of declining confidence in the value of a security partnership with the US led by Joe Biden that a probable visit to Taiwan by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ought to be seen. Mike Pompeo showed the courage to brave the wrath of not just the CCP leadership but the well-resourced PRC lobby in the US to visit Taiwan. Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper is following in his wake, as will perhaps Mike Pence later. Pompeo met with that country’s leaders as a former Secretary of State. There is a world of difference between Speaker Pelosi going to Taiwan as distinct from a later visit by ex-Speaker Pelosi.
The US Speaker is showing spine, which is more than can be said for the leader of her party and the nation, President Biden. Neither he nor the current Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida are known for the firmness on matters relating to China of Shinzo Abe. The death of the latter has removed from the highest councils of Japan a voice that would have been steadfast in calling for steps to repel any military invasion by China across the Taiwan Straits. The reason being given by the assassin seems to be a cover story, given that there are dozens of politicians in Japan who are far closer than Abe ever was to the religious group identified by the killer as being the trigger for his act.
Abe’s killer is a traitor to Japan and not just a murderer, and a comprehensive investigation into the ecosystem he drew sustenance and inspiration from is essential rather than a cover-up of the truth as took place in the “enquiry” by President Biden’s commission to investigate the origins of Covid-19.
Takeover of Taiwan by the PRC would upend the security of the Indo-Pacific, and severely compromise that of not just Japan and South Korea but of all democracies in the Indo-Pacific immediately. The world would move closer to a situation where the PRC is dominant. Should General Secretary Xi believe that the consequences for his country would be temporary and bearable, he would be inclined to allow the PLA to fulfill its longstanding goal of attempting a takeover by force of a tech superpower.
Taiwan is to East Asia what Israel is to West Asia. By braving the ire of the White House (and, if Biden is to be believed, the Pentagon) and going ahead with her visit to Taiwan, Speaker Pelosi would show the world that she understands the importance of the country at the centre-point of the global tech industry with a resoluteness yet to be demonstrated by President Joe Biden.