Why US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s Taiwan visit is a bad idea

US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi
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Photo credit: Saul Loeb | AFP

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi appears headstrong on her controversial decision to visit Taiwan, despite unrelenting counsel not to do so by different US officials including the military.

Coming just days after a phone call between Chinese leader Xi Jinping and US President Joe Biden, the planned visit risks escalating diplomatic tensions between the US and China.

Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan sends a wrong signal on the US commitment to observe the decades-long policy on unofficial relations with the island. Its timing is even more unhelpful, prompting the US military to warn against the risk of military escalation with Beijing, should the Speaker proceed with the plan.

China has since made it clear that Beijing would not tolerate Pelosi’s touchdown in Taipei, as it would violate the One-China policy; in which the US acknowledges that both sides of the Taiwan Strait are under one Chinese government.

The increased rhetoric from both Beijing and Washington over the planned visit now casts a dark shadow over relations between the two countries with serious ramifications for global peace and stability. If not well managed, a provocative move on the side of the US over Taiwan could lead to armed conflict with China.

Sustainable solutions

Yet as the two leaders underscored in their recent virtual meeting, China and the US must actively be seized of global challenges that need urgent, effective and sustainable solutions. Officials from both sides must now embrace the pragmatic mien demonstrated by President Xi and President Biden for a more functional relationship between Beijing and Washington.

Today’s China is very different from the China of 1972 when the first communique to govern ties with the US was signed. China has grown to be a global power with a huge stake in the maintenance of world peace and stability; as well as propelling global development and prosperity. It is therefore in the interest of any well-meaning country to maintain reasonable and stable ties with China, for the benefit of the international community.

As the most consequential bilateral engagement, diplomatic restraints are an important ingredient that should be in full play in current ties between Beijing and Washington. China’s stance to take unspecified consequences if the US Speaker visits Taiwan could mean economic countermeasures against the island as well as the United States.

This will no doubt put a further strain on global economic recovery from the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic and the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. The markets are already slowing with investors growing weary over potential military confrontation in the Strait, a major global supply route. 

As the strongest sources of development financing, technology, and even aid for many emerging economies, a stable China-US relationship is something that many countries around the world would wish to see.

Economic interest

Further provocative moves such as the visit simply compromise rather than reinforce Taiwan’s security and economic interest. Already, Beijing has slapped food import bans on over 100 Taiwanese suppliers; with more potentially set to follow. 

That is why it is important that leaders like Speaker Nancy Pelosi be prevailed upon to engage in responsible international behaviours that safeguard the stability and integrity of foreign relations with US partners. Respecting the One-China policy is an important step toward de-freezing the tensions between China and the US.

While President Xi and President Biden have reiterated interest in weaving together a more functional bilateral cooperation, they must now move the same message both horizontally and vertically within their administrations.

There is no benefit in continued conflict for both sides. Respecting the ground rules agreed upon by both countries is an important place to start if a more responsible, productive and sustainable relations between Beijing and Washington was to be realised.

The writer is an international relations analyst based in Nairobi.