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What are we to make of US Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan and the subsequent rumpus? Eighty-two year old Pelosi was the first senior representative of the US administration to visit Taiwan over the last twenty-five years and she made the trip in the face of fierce opposition from the Chinese government and even against the expressed wishes of President Biden. Clearly nobody tells her what to do!
The US government’s policy towards China has often been described as one of strategic ambiguity; it officially recognises the Chinese government under President Xi Jinping whilst supporting Taiwan militarily and economically. Others have characterised its policy as one of strategic confusion, and there was much rowing back by White House officials after their Presidents assertion on three separate occasions that if China attempted to invade Taiwan the USA would intervene.
Taiwan is important internationally because it manufacture’s something like eighty per cent of the world’s computer chips. The thought of China gaining control of such a near monopoly does not bear thinking about. It is also of more immediate importance to the US and its allies in the region – _ Japan, South Korea, the Philippines and Australia to name but a few – because it’s at the centre of the inner ring of island nations which is seen to curtail China’s expansionist ambitions.
The Chinese government’s reaction to Speaker Pelosi’s visit has been like that of a baby having a tantrum and throwing all of its toys out of its pram. Military exclusion zones have been declared just off Taiwan, ballistic missiles have been fired into the sea near Taiwan and Japan, naval vessels have patrolled and fighter jets have carried out practice attacks. And, although many commentators are near hysterical in their doomsday predictions, the Taiwanese themselves seem non-plussed.
The truth of the matter is that even for the mighty Peoples’ Liberation Army (PLA), the two million-strong military wing of the Chinese Communist Party, launching an assault across the eighty mile wide Taiwan Strait that separates the island from mainland China is fraught with difficulties and danger. The PLA has neither the doctrine, training, or experience of such an operation, which in the face of predictably fierce Taiwanese resistance would make D Day look like a paddle along the shoreline.
China has never governed Taiwan, which it regards as a wayward province which needs to be brought back into the fold, in modern times. The Taiwanese for their part have no wish to go down the route of Hong Kong and be subsumed by Communist China. This festering sore of a stand-off will persist for some time yet