• Nancy Pelosi Sends You Mixed Messages From WWIII

    August 20, 2022 // 1 Comment »

    As most of America forgets Nancy Pelosi’s stirring up of tensions in East Asia last week, it is important to double-back to review what messages where actually sent by each entity involved in the spat.

    Japan, who welcomed Pelosi as a conqueror following her visit to Taipei, found about half of the Chinese missiles fired over and around Taiwan as “punishment” actually landed in Japanese-claimed waters around small islands in the Pacific Ocean east of Taiwan. Japan, which sent a message of undiluted support for Pelosi’s Taiwan Adventure, found itself the recipient of a message of its own. Left undiscussed were that those islands themselves are a point of ownership contention among Taiwan, Japan, and the Philippines. But the main message is clear enough: Japan no longer has a foreign policy of its own, and is de facto an American military protectorate alongside Guam and Saipan, a model for the Philippines of the future past.

    Taiwan reassured itself it is a beloved American vassal state with a visit from mom, much like a child of divorced parents who blames himself for the breakup. Minor politician and likely lame duck Nancy Pelosi went for the low hanging fruit by seeking to anger China greatly at little cost. With a constituency about one-third Chinese American back home, Pelosi has made a career out of appearing on the scene to criticize China, after Tiananmen, at various Olympiads, over Hong Kong, and hey, why do we need a specific reason 2022 edition. Knowing the way the Chinese often over-value symbolic acts, she committed one at the expense of Joe Biden and the United States, forcing Biden to get off his couch and dispatch an aircraft carrier to demonstrate he still held the majority of testosterones in the relationship. Taiwan, of course, ate up all the attention and President Tsai the chance to play at center stage for a day or two. Imagine daddy competing with mommy to give the best unnecessary present in that post-divorce race for affection — a personal visit versus your own carrier strike group for a few days. Who loves you more?

    South Korea alone sent a message of strength among the nations involved in Nancy Pelosi’s magical mystery tour. Little covered in the U.S. media, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol skipped an in-person meeting with Pelosi in lieu of a phone call due to his being on “summer vacation” in his nation’s capital, Seoul, minutes from Pelosi’s hotel. Never mind Pelosi was the first sitting speaker to visit South Korea since Dennis Hastert stopped by Seoul in 2002. All she got was a meet with her counterpart, Kim Jin Pyo, the speaker of the National Assembly, and an agreement to support both governments’ efforts to achieve denuclearization and blah blah blah blah on the peninsula. Pelosi got the message and did not mention Taiwan once in her remarks.

    Korea’s actions also drive home a big unspoken story, that all of East Asia and beyond has to figure out a dual foreign policy, one toward the U.S.-China-Taiwan scruffle, and one toward China proper, the most populous nation on earth, with a massive military, and a contender for most economically powerful country of the next decade. South Korea alone seems to understand this, snubbing Pelosi as a way of reminding the United States long after its showboating politicians go home and forget, it still has to make its way alone in a scary neighborhood. Seoul, well aware North Korea’s only substantive diplomatic relationship is with Beijing, held to the clearest and most on-point messaging of last week. It was thus no surprise that only days after Pelosi returned home top South Korean and Chinese diplomats, Foreign Ministers Park Jin and Wang Yi, pledged to develop closer relations and maintain stable industrial supply chains at a time of deepening rivalry between Beijing and Washington.

    Though nowhere near as forceful in their presentation as South Korea, both Singapore and Malaysia asked Pelosi not to go to Taiwan, saying that it would force them to choose between the U.S. and China.

    Despite some skillful diplomacy, China still sent a mixed message of weakness in its over-reaction and strength in its ability to throw together a coordinated response that managed to suggest it could blockade Taiwan, attack U.S. assets at sea with missiles from the Mainland, and tweak Japan, all at the same time. Extra points for its domestic propaganda campaign that, with exciting video, looked like a joint Tom Cruise-Tom Clancy production. The situation is a far cry from the 1995-1996 crisis in the Taiwan Strait, when a visit by Lee Teng Hui, who would become Taiwan’s first democratically-elected president, to his alma mater Cornell University, sparked real tensions between the US and China.

    The Pelosi affair was also a chance for China to practice large scale drills which under normal circumstances would likely be seen as too provacative, a nice bonus. It may even result in a new normal, more aggressive military actions in the gray zones as hardliners in Beijing are able to point to what they got away with as signs they might have gotten away with even more militarily. As one laughing nationalist in Beijing put it when he was interviewed last week, “Thanks Comrade Pelosi”!

    The U.S. message came off as uncoordinated and too confused to be called weak. Joe Biden made some remarks from his Covid sick bed, and Antony Blinken did the same rumbling around Asia himself. For all his gaffes in the past (three times making the same mistake is nearly a new policy in some minds) claiming the U.S. had some sort of obligation to defend Taiwan, Biden and his spokespeople stuck right to the script, John Kirby of the National Security Council even making headlines for his non-news reassurance to Beijing the U.S. does not support Taiwan independence. Biden for his part sent the message to China loud and clear that U.S. domestic politics mattered to him (and Nancy) a lot more than whatever China thought. Shock and awe this was not.

    The American media’s message was it cannot understand world events past a second grade level, and has the attention span of a two-year-old. All the complexities of East Asia get compressed into a Super Bowl scenario, Big Blue versus Big Red, Eagle versus Dragon, in a caged death match in the Taiwan Strait. China’s carefully moderated military sparring is exaggerated into headlines worrying about a new world war, and her thrusts around Taiwan morph into “attacks surrounding the island nation” and a drill which can become a blockade at any moment. Left out of the discussion is how many military lives were put at risk due to accidents and mistakes by Pelosi’s stunting.

    Also left out is what a lousy blockade surrounding the island makes for; Taiwan has no ports on its cliff face east coast and sees the majority of its commerce come from China itself. Beijing might best mine Hong Kong harbor if it wanted to hurt Taiwan economically. Meanwhile, the massive cottage industry in American think tanks and academia which regularly rises to predict imminent war over Taiwan settled back down, waiting no doubt for the rough and ready speech about reunification coming this November with the 20th Party Conference in Beijing. Will they go to war!?!?! Does Xi have a timetable in mind????

    As for that short attention span, Pelosi hadn’t unpacked and done a wash at home when the media pivoted away, leaving the last of Chinese military tantrum last week to finish in a kind of void. Until next time…


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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Biden, Military

    Much Ado About Nancy Pelosi and China

    August 12, 2022 // 5 Comments »

    China policy seems to be made by, and written about by, adults who were often beaten up on the school playground. They retain the language of bullying, and weaknesses, and standing up, and the fantasy that something would sweep in and save them from losing another days’ lunch money (maybe an aircraft carrier group?) That these people are now in control of the media, if not the House, does nothing good for anyone, especially anyone located on either side of the Taiwan Strait. American seems dumb enough to play at this game; is Beijing also?

    By now we all know Nancy Pelosi, likely with only a couple of months left as Speaker of the House, decided to spend her summer vacation stirring up the entire Pacific theater for what appears to be largely her own ego. Just days after RIMPAC 2022 concluded (China sure knew the U.S. just wrapped up the largest live fire exercise of the year in the Pacific, involved a dozen nations and hundreds of ships and planes all aimed at the “Blue” team defeating the “Red” team across thousands of miles of Pacific Ocean. While the NYT editorial team was putting ice on their fat lips over in the Ron Burgundy Lounge, Beijing sure saw RIMPAC and Pelosi as part of the same) bully Pelosi shoved Joe Biden into a mud puddle and said she was going to Taipei. For those worried about “showing weakness,” mark this: Biden was too weak to tell a member of his own party to stay out of trouble when he was sick with Covid, sick with inflation, and digging an ever deeper hole in Ukraine, another war with no endgame but wait for the other side to win.

    There was no great need for anyone to visit Taiwan this week. There was no crisis brewing, no event requiring anyone to stand with Taipei, support its democracy, or start wearing colored masks, not that the arrival of a lame duck Speaker would accomplish that or anything else in an quick show and tell. Nope, this mess was created by a Nancy Pelosi who wanted to show off, made worse by Joe Biden being too weak to stop her, and then exacerbated all to heck by China infusing much meaning into something that could have been shrugged off as having very little to say for itself.

    Remember the advice your mom gave you on bullies? Ignore them and they’d go away? Imagine China listening to their mom on this one and announcing “We heard Nancy was going to Taipei. Neither Nancy nor Taipei are particularly important to the soon-to-be greatest economy in the world, so we’ll ignore them both.” If pressed for comment Beijing could add “But we hope Nancy chokes on her dinner” and leave it at that.

    But while Nancy the Bully imagined she was standing up to Beijing the Bully, pretty soon everyone had to stand with, show up, not back down. So you have the New York Times, no stranger to losing its lunch money while being pantsed on the playground, saying “Bullies often seek tests of strengths to probe for signs of weakness. And they always read efforts at conciliation as evidence of capitulation.” The Times even quotes Sun Tzu (note to China watchers: if a pundit who does not read Chinese quotes Sun Tzu, duck, some b.s. is coming your way.) “If Beijing,” the Times continued, “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.”

    So there you have it. We just barely avoided a strategic disaster, a game changer, a mere preclude to surrender or war… or both! Good golly, lucky for us Nancy landed the plane safely in Taipei.

    It is time for some seriousness. China is not going to war with Taiwan. After all the smoke clears and overflights are tallied, China did only one substantive thing to punish Taiwan: China halted Taiwanese snack imports (including biscuits and pastries ahead of moon cake season) just before Pelosi’s arrival. That seems, Sun Tzu’s admonishment to try small steps before large ones aside, not something akin to war or surrender, and something unlikely to lead to violence. It actually really does not matter. Like Nancy.

    Need we walk through the other 99 percent of what is going on between Taiwan and China? Between 1991 and March 2020 Taiwan’s investment in China totaled $188.5 billion, more than China’s investment in the United States. In 2019, the value of cross-strait trade was $149.2 billion. China applied in September to join the new Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. A week later, with no opposition voiced by Beijing, Taiwan applied to join as well. China is Taiwan’s largest trading partner. “One country, two systems” has not only kept the peace for decades, it has proven darn profitable for both sides. As Deng Xiao Ping said of this type of modus vivendi, “who cares what color a cat is as long as it catches mice.” China might one day seek to buy Taiwan, but until then what incentive would it have to drop bombs on one of its best customers? Heck, they even invited Taiwan to the Beijing Olympics Nancy Pelosi protested.

    An attack on Taiwan would likely see a frightened Japan and South Korea step over the nuclear threshold and China would thus face more powerful enemies. In addition, a serious attack on Taiwan would severely damage the economy there Xi would no doubt see as part of the prize. Lastly, an attack on Taiwan would see Chinese killing Chinese, people who speak the same language and share several thousand years of culture. Pre-Covid, travelers from China made 2.68 million visits a year to Taiwan, many of which were to visit relatives. Student exchanges between Taiwan and China began in 2011, with some 25,000 Mainland kids studying on Taiwan pre-Covid. Even a “successful” attack would be near-political suicide for Xi. An invasion of Taiwan would leave the China politically isolated, economically damaged, and reputationally crippled. A failed attack could lead to a Taiwanese declaration of independence China would be incapable of stopping.

    Caution is not appeasement. Every diplomatic move is not a full-spectrum weighing out of strength. Tiananmen was 33 years and a major change or two of governments ago (you still talking about that Kent State thing, bro?) Hong Kong was taken from China and colonized and exploited by the British before being returned to much the same status under Beijing. Same for Macao and the Portuguese. The U.S. fought China directly in Vietnam and Korea and that did not bleed over into Taiwan. China went nuclear and did not invade Taiwan.

    Strength and weakness do not rest on a single visit by someone as close to the end of her tenure as Nancy Pelosi. Bullies are gonna bully but China and Taiwan are not in that sort of relationship; they exist in a complex diplomatic dance overshadowed by massive amounts of cross-straits commerce, investment, and travel. In every sphere outside the political and martial they grow closer together, not further apart, and much of the differences are promoted by the U.S. and an industry of “China experts” who thrive like dung beetles off the potential for conflict.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Biden, Military