Nancy Pelosi's visit to Taiwan carried undeniable risks.
Beijing could have harassed U.S. Navy ships and aircraft in the area, with a distinct potential for collision or confrontation. It could have seized the (largely demilitarized) Taiwanese island of Kinmen — better known to aficionados of the Cold War as Quemoy — which lies just a few miles off the Fujian coast. It could lend Moscow a hand in the war in Ukraine.
A month ago, all of this might have added up to a plausible, if not exactly convincing, argument for the speaker of the House to skip Taiwan during her Asian tour, at least while the United States contends with other crises. But after her visit was effectively announced, it would have been catastrophic to back down.
"To win 100 victories in 100 battles is not the acme of skill," Sun Tzu wrote. "To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill." If Beijing had gotten its way over something as seemingly minor as Pelosi's visit, it would not have been merely a symbolic victory in a diplomatic sideshow. It would have changed the rules of the game. Rather than avert a diplomatic crisis, it would have hastened a strategic disaster: the further isolation of a democratic U.S. ally and key economic partner as a prelude to surrender, war or both.
What happens next? Let's first recap where we were.
Members of Congress have been visiting Taiwan for decades. In May, Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., led a congressional delegation and met with President Tsai Ing-wen. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., led a bipartisan delegation in April. None of these sparked any kind of crisis.
In 1997, then-Speaker Newt Gingrich visited Taipei, stopping first in Beijing, where he warned his hosts that the United States would defend Taiwan militarily if it was attacked.
These visits all took place under diplomatic understandings that have governed U.S.-China-Taiwan relations since the 1970s: the one-China policy and the Taiwan Relations Act. But as China has felt its power rise — and sensed American power and resolve wane — it has written a new playbook: Make outrageous claims, turn alleged provocations into useful pretexts, take incremental, aggressive steps and use force only as a psychologically crushing last blow.
This is how it imposed dictatorial control over Hong Kong. It is how it is gradually gaining military dominion in the South China Sea. It is how it is seeking to undermine Japan's sovereignty over some of its outlying islands.
And it is the approach it now appears to be using with Taiwan. What should the U.S. do? Don't back down.
1. Congressional delegations ought to arrive in Taiwan every week for the next year. Make them so routine that Beijing forgets to protest.
2. President Joe Biden should formally state what he has said repeatedly off the cuff: that the United States will intervene militarily if China seeks to invade Taiwan.
3. The United States can also provide Taiwan with the kind of easily dispersed, easily hidden, asymmetric weapons that have done such damage to the Russians: Javelin anti-tank missiles, Switchblade "kamikaze" drones, Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, naval-strike anti-ship missiles.
4. Biden should propose sharp increases in military spending, particularly for the Navy, which now ranks behind China's in terms of ship numbers. It would have bipartisan support.
With luck, China will accept that the ultimate costs of confrontation vastly outweigh the benefits. It is a lesson Russian President Vladimir Putin may have learned — albeit only after he invaded Ukraine and at a tragic price for the world. The key to saving Taiwan is to get that point across to Beijing now, before they blunder into similar tragedy. Cheers to Pelosi for standing firm.
The New York Times