The Beijing dragon blinks, but this is not over yet

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By John J. Metzler

Despite their huffing, puffing, and threatening, regarding the short but symbolic visit of U.S. Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi to what China deems a “renegade province,” Taiwan, the Beijing Dragon blinked.

Nancy Pelosi’s landmark if controversial visit to Taiwan went forward, and then it was magically over in less than a day.

She exclaimed, “Now more than ever, America’s solidarity with Taiwan is crucial, and that is the message we are bringing here today.”

The Speaker, long a critic of communist China’s wanton human rights violations stressed that “Solidarity is crucial” in the thriving partnership between the USA and free Taiwan. Pelosi’s delegation was feted by Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen and Foreign Minister Joseph Wu among others while in Taiwan’s capital Taipei.

The front page headline in the CCP mouthpiece Global Times reads: ‘Pelosi visits Asia in the smell of gunpowder.’

Beijing’s Marxist mandarins were red faced with ire; their classic political posturing and crude intimidation failed to deter an high profile and long overdue American political visit to the democratic island just 80 miles off the China coast.

The respected Taipei Times stated editorially, “Pelosi’s presence in Taiwan, despite Beijing’s protestations, was a show of defiance.”

On the surface, the Speakers’s trip, part of a larger swing throughout Asia, went flawlessly not least of all for a massive behind the scenes U.S. military presence whose deterrent choreography insured its safety, through the coordination and precision of the U.S. Navy and Air Force. Having the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and a battle group off the island’s east coast underscored the security.

Communist China’s tub-thumping bluster looked just like what it was, political tantrums fizzling out on a global stage. Still Washington would be foolish to gloat and think that China is so easily deterred by a show of U.S. force. Hardly.

Beijing will pick the time and place to respond, and perhaps retaliate for this slight not a hundred miles off the Chinese Mainland.

What could have gone wrong? Plenty. It’s not over yet.

This is China’s backyard, and the Beijing leadership does not take well to taking lessons from foreign powers. Though it was highly unlikely that it would have resorted to “shooting down Pelosi’s plane” as some hardline Beijing sources suggested, there are many ways to incrementally squeeze and harass Taiwan’s vulnerable merchant shipping, air corridors and cyber networks.

Related: Xi Jinping battles for credibility ahead of 20th Communist Party congress, August 5, 2022

Over the past year Beijing has sent waves of military jets perilously close to Taiwan’s sovereign airspace; the provocations are clear and the intent is blunt. There’s the risk of unintended consequences.

China has again ramped up its military intimidations near the small New Hampshire sized island.

Speaker Pelosi, the Dowager Empress of the DNC and one of America’s least popular politicians, made the highest-level visit to Taipei since Republican Speaker Newt Gingrich in 1997.  In 2020 U.S. Secretary of Health Alex Azar visited Taipei to congratulate the island’s government on its response to the COVID pandemic. But Pelosi’s trip was shadowed by the Biden Administration’s awkward political messaging as much as by Beijing’s fire and  brimstone rage.

Let’s recall that until President Jimmy Carter broke diplomatic and military relations with The Republic of China on Taiwan in 1979, in favor of recognizing the Beijing regime, Taiwan was a regular stopover for American political figures.

U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower made a landmark visit to Taiwan in June 1960 and was greeted by 500,000 well-wishers.

Following the post-Carter China craze, America’s political class became infatuated with the seemingly lucrative business bottom line with its newfound Asian friends in the People’s Republic of China.  Only later did we realize that Beijing’s bloated trade deficits with the USA not only cost millions of American jobs but built up a technologically stronger and more lethal Chinese military.

Until President Jimmy Carter broke diplomatic and military relations with The Republic of China on Taiwan in 1979, in favor of recognizing the Beijing regime, Taiwan was a regular stopover for American political figures.

This is the China both the USA as well as Taiwan and Japan now confront. The retaliation Beijing warns of is not theoretical nor hypothetical. The Beijing communists have never renounced the use of force over what they consider a “separatist” and “renegade province.”

Inside the political sanctum of Beijing’s Zhongnanhai headquarters of the Chinese Communist Party, sensitive preparations are afoot for the Autumn 20th Party Congress which expects to see the reappointment of Chairman Xi Jinping for an unprecedented third term as China’s Leader.

Are there any political/military payback plans for the post-Pelosi visit?  Back in August 1958 the Chinese communists unleashed an unrelenting artillery barrage on the vulnerable Nationalist Chinese held islands, Quemoy and Matsu.  The free Chinese with U.S. support held firm. The communists were forced to back down. Will Beijing provoke a rematch?

John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014). [See pre-2011 Archives]