0248 GMT August 18, 2022
Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi paid a visit to Taiwan, giving rise to a litany of comments and analyses. To analyze the American action and Chinese reaction, one needs to take note of the new balance of power that has emerged following the war in Ukraine.
In the first months of the war, the world situation remained uncertain since no one knew for sure what Russia's goals were and how far it was willing to advance. Also, Russia's military might was far from obvious as many thought that Ukraine would be defeated in just a few weeks. Immense military aid the West extended to Ukraine, however, turned the tide and transformed expectations.
In the meantime, many predicted or even expected China not to adopt a policy of neutrality, rather siding with Russia or at least providing it with weaponry. The Chinese, however, maintained their neutrality, or at least refused to offer Moscow their tangible, effective help.
On the other hand, American think tanks tried to draw parallels between Ukraine and Taiwan, accusing China of intimating the idea of attacking Taiwan. They planned to interpret and advertise China’s failure to actually make a move on Taiwan as an evidence of the West and the US having the upper hand.
Countering the American psychological war, the Chinese, for their part, showed serious reactions and issued stern warnings, whereby they tried to foil claims of Beijing's inability or weakness vis-à-vis Washington.
The Americans somehow wanted to test if China would break with protocols governing Washington-Beijing relations. And Pelosi's trip for them was exactly a pretext as such to test China. Both sides proceeded to issue warnings and carry out some military measures or preparations. The US stationed three warships near Taiwan. On the other hand, in addition to issuing serious political and diplomatic warnings, the Chinese organized several military wargames around Taiwan and scrambled their warplanes to fly although they stopped short of crossing the median line between China and Taiwan.
The Chinese, of course, have not yet managed to stage a concrete military action against the Americans. But they have, in fact, taken a further step compared to 25 years ago when then-speaker of the US House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich, visited Taiwan. In that time, the Chinese limited their reactions to issuing statements of protest and holding rallies inside mainland China, while this time they went beyond that in reacting to Pelosi’s visit, staging military reactions in the form of live-fire exercises.
In fact, Pelosi's trip revealed that the issue of Taiwan and protecting China's territorial integrity is still on Beijing's agenda. Moreover, the Chinese seem to lack the capacity or the will to militarily implement their wishes and advance their policies, and won’t engage in a military crisis without a good reason.
Taken at face value, the Americans took credit for the events of the last couple of days at the expense of the Chinese. But from a strategic point of view, the Chinese served Americans with a stern warning that China would take a bolder military action if the US engages in a similar activity in the future: Given the fact that they have made a bolder move compared to 25 years ago, they showed that they are ready to take further steps.
Owing to both the global balance of power and their own long-term plans and objectives, the Chinese currently tend to treat various issues more conservatively, which means they wouldn’t compromise their long-term objectives for one tactical, emotionally-charged action.
The Chinese expect their economy to catch up to that of America by 2025. That is, they have set economy to be their primary area of rivalry with the US. Therefore, they know that getting involved in a military crisis would not be helpful to advancing their long-term economic policies. That’s why Beijing tries various ways to manage different crises in order to keep them from undermining its lofty objectives.