Pelosi’s Taiwan Trip: An Opportunity Lost

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Rather than talking about the possible outcome and fallout of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, let’s roll up our sleeves and look at the opportunity lost to send a strong signal to Beijing.

Pelosi’s stopover in Taiwan on her congressional jaunt to Asia generated no small amount of controversy and confusion. Of course, there is absolutely no reason why members of Congress should not visit Taiwan.

U.S. officials have every right to go to Taiwan. Further, it is looking pretty clear that the California Democrat's visit in Taipei isn’t going to start World War III.

Still, the fact is, it was just a visit. The impact will be ephemeral. The story likely will fade here in days.

Indeed, the Chinese seem to have enjoyed the opportunity to bully and rail at the U.S. After all, what the Chinese really pay attention to is what we “do,” not what we “say.” It’s worth asking why, if we were going to bother Beijing anyway, President Joe Biden and his administration didn’t do something more impactful.

Think about it. China is America’s No. 1 challenge in the world. The communist regime in China is the greatest danger to the United States. The boys in Beijing really want a world without America. The threats posed by Russia and Iran are significant where they exacerbate the danger posed by China. The United States should have a decisive strategy that protects America from the threat of China.   

So one would think that every step America takes in dealing with China would be clearly thought out, meticulously planned, and intended to set the stage for further action—the way that one chess move prepares the way for others that lead eventually to checkmate.  That is not what happened here.

The back-and-forth between the House speaker and the White House looked like a scene out of a Keystone Kops movie short. The administration floundered to find the right talking points. Biden sounded like a little child being schooled by a teacher when he talked to the most powerful person in Beijing, the head of the Communist Party.

In the recent exchange between General Secretary Xi Jinping and Biden on a conference call, Xi laid down the law, saying that if the U.S. plays with fire (referring to Taiwan), it will get burned. In contrast, the White House readout indicates that Biden responded with perfunctory citations of America’s one-China policy.

Such a statement is clearly both insufficient and ineffective. The president’s weakness on this call is of a piece with a general weakening of his administration’s approach to China over the past 12 months.

Of all the places for a haphazard engagement with Beijing, a dispute over Taiwan is the worst. Taiwan is important to U.S. interests not because it is a democracy or makes computer chips, but because Taiwan holds a crucial strategic location in the “first island chain.”

If Communist China controls Taiwan, the U.S. would be denied access to one of the most important lanes of air and sea travel, commerce, and communication in the Indo-Pacific. China’s nuclear-armed submarines would have a sanctuary, making them immune to the U.S. Navy.  This would be a catastrophic blow to the U.S. as Asian and a world power. 

The freedom and security of Taiwan is deadly serious business. It deserves far more than a messy news cycle that left U.S. policy-making “Amateur Hour” look like the Super Bowl.

The Biden administration was clearly off its game here. Not surprisingly, it has been stumbling over foreign policy since the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan. Don’t be surprised if missed opportunities and missteps like this don’t become more the norm than the exception.

Sadly, if we learned anything from Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, it is that we need a far better, more focused, and proactive foreign policy.

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