3 misunderstandings US must avoid on China’s countermeasures against Pelosi’s Taiwan visit
Published: Jul 29, 2022 01:25 AM
China US Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

China US Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

On July 19, 2022, the Financial Times, using "six sources familiar with the situation" as an anonymous source, released the news that the US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi was planning to visit Taiwan region sometime in August, arousing great concern from all sides. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China gave a clear response to this issue at four press conferences on July 19, July 21, July 25, and July 27, expressing that China firmly opposes and is seriously concerned about it. China takes it in a very serious way and is ready to take all means to launch a counter action if necessary. If the US insists on going its own way, China will take firm and powerful measures to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity, and the US should be responsible for all serious consequences. Chinese Ministry of National Defense spokesman Tan Kefei said in response to an inquiry on July 26 that China requires the United States to take concrete actions to fulfill its commitment not to support "Taiwan independence" and not to arrange for Pelosi to visit Taiwan region. If the US insists on going its own way, the Chinese military will never sit idly by, and will take powerful and strong measures to thwart any external interference and separatist plans for "Taiwan independence", and resolutely defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity. The meaning of these statements is crystal clear. If the United States insists on pushing forward the visit, then China will use all kinds of means, including the use of military force when necessary, to resolutely fight back.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of National Defense clearly expressed China's solemn position on Pelosi's planned visit to Taiwan region from both the dimensions of foreign affairs and national defense in an unprecedented way. From the perspective of the Chinese government, the Chinese side's remarks on countering Pelosi's possible visit to Taiwan region have reached the level of "wu wei yan zhi bu yu," which means the highest level of warning. In practical preparations, for the Chinese side, all options, including the military ones, are already on the table.

The public abhors the false signals that US politicians and the political institutions marked by the US Congress continue to release on the Taiwan question, as well as the various actions that have been and may be taken to step on the bottom line of China's territorial and sovereign integrity. The general aspiration of the people is to firmly support the Chinese government in taking practical and effective measures and give resolute countermeasures, so that those who repeatedly provoked the Taiwan question and harmed the core interests of the Chinese nation suffered substantial punishment.

From the perspective of interpretation by all parties, it is crucial to accurately understand and interpret China's remarks against Pelosi's possible visit to Taiwan region. Judging from the existing reactions of the United States and the West, there are three significant misunderstandings that need to be avoided:

Firstly, avoid misjudging the nature and consequences of stepping on China's bottom line, or interpreting China's restraint and caution as weakness, and believing that the so-called salami-slicing tactic of pressing step by step can be adopted, and China's goodwill can be arbitrarily used to gain interests for some politicians and individual political parties and minority interest groups. The Taiwan question involves China's territorial and sovereign integrity, which is the bottom line of China's national interests. Unlike the US and Western countries, which are accustomed to using major strategic issues as a bargaining chip for politicians, political parties and interest groups to seek their own interests, China has always adhered to the attitude of being responsible to the country, the nation, and the world in handling the Taiwan question and China-US relations. Therefore, China's wording is cautious, its position is restraint, but its actions must be resolute. What China is trying to show is a high sense of responsibility for the country, the nation, regional security and global strategic stability, rather than being what some Western media, research institutions and individual politicians understand as "show" or "for face". Unfortunately, the United States and Western countries have not responded to this restraint and responsibility. On the contrary, China's restraint has been reciprocated by the United States and the West with salami-slicing tactic. Pelosi is the third-ranked political figure in the US political sequence. She is not a normal member of the US Congress in the ordinary sense. The US Congress is not a roadside stall, not an NGO, but an integral part of the US government. The Speaker of the House of Representatives visiting Taiwan regions, no matter what means of transportation, no matter what name it uses, no matter what content it contains, at the moment in 2022, it will inevitably be interpreted by the Taiwan independence forces on Taiwan Island as the major political support of the US government for it. An extremely wrong signal will stimulate the Taiwan independence forces to take more provocative actions. The Chinese government will not sit idly by and let this happen. The reason why it continues to use restrained and cautious diplomatic language is to maintain the most basic decency and etiquette between China and the United States, and it does not want to imitate the ugly face of the United States wielding big stick policy of military strikes all day long. To avoid this misunderstanding, in slang terms, it means Washington should not treat Beijing's politeness as a blessing (bu yao ba ke qi dang fu qi).

Secondly, avoid misunderstanding China's strategic capability to defend its core interests, and continuing to indulge in the inherently abnormal interaction model left over from the era of extremely asymmetrical power balance between China and the United States, and believing that the United States continues to hold an overwhelming power advantage and can do whatever it wants on the Taiwan question. 

From the end of World War II in the mid-1940s to the present, a distinctive feature of the US foreign strategy is that it is not sensitive to the logic of reason, but is very sensitive to the logic of power. Unless it encounters an effective interruption, the United States tends to extend its influence and sphere of influence to every corner of the world's power basin. The Taiwan question is the result of the US acting as the world policeman and wantonly interfering in China's internal affairs with its strength. 

The only foundation on which the United States adopts this strategy is the super military power and economic size that it once possessed. In March 2021, during the China-US Anchorage meeting, the US violated the agreed procedure and recklessly demonstrated that the dialogue with China "from a position of strength" was based on this misunderstanding. After the news of Pelosi's planned visit came out, columnist Josh Rogin on July 23 published an article in the Washington Post column to introduce potential options such as the US military considers "sending aircraft carriers or aircraft escorts" to send out indirect threats, which is also based on this misunderstanding. US professionals who truly understand the power balance between China and the US, especially within 2,500 nautical miles from the mainland coastline, such as General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have expressed to the top US leaders euphemistically but directly the diametrically opposite view that "(visiting at this time) is not a good idea."

The anti-access area denial capability system of Chinese mainland has basically taken shape, the anti-aircraft carrier capability of ballistic missiles continues to mature, and large-scale maritime combat platforms and their formation systems continue to grow. At this stage, relevant people in the United States, including Pelosi herself, need to form a more comprehensive and clear understanding. Now is not the mid-1990s, let alone the 1950s, and the United States does not have the actual ability to do whatever it wants on the Taiwan question. Times have changed, and the dream of hegemony to behave rampantly on other people's doorsteps without paying the price has come to a historic moment when it must wake up. The US and the West need to be reminded repeatedly not to underestimate China's strategic capability to defend bottom line.

Last, and of course not the least, avoid misunderstanding the firmness of the Chinese people in supporting the government to take decisive measures, in that some "political hooligans" in the United States and the West use "political extortion" and "aggressive bluffing" to conduct malicious conduct, hijacking and kidnapping the Taiwan question and China-US relations in a broader sense. Since the 2016 US presidential election, a notable feature that has emerged at the top of the US and Western governments is that a group of "political rogue" have begun to enter their systems and continue to play a significant and destructive role. 

The typical ones include Mike Pompeo, who served as the US Secretary of State, and Liz Truss, the British Foreign Secretary. The common characteristics are the "ignorance" in the professional field, the "struggle to win" verbally, and wild ambition in their professional careers. As soon as the news of Pelosi's visit came out, Pompeo took the lead in jumping out to steal the spotlight. John Bolton immediately followed up, and a group of Republican lawmakers also sought attention with all kinds of rough languages from the news, and the American and Western media can't wait to join with little journalistic professional ethics. 

The core belief for such "political extortion" actually stems from their arrogance and prejudice against China's real public opinion. In their eyes, Chinese public opinion is considered to be "manipulated" and "manufactured" by the government, and is "false but not real." They even firmly believe the fallacies such as "Chinese people born in the one-child generation cannot be willing to shed blood and sacrifice for the interests of the country". But in fact, the opposite is true. The core card of the Chinese government's firm game with the United States and Western countries on the Taiwan question is the Chinese people's high sensitivity to territorial and sovereign integrity, as well as their unconditional support for the Chinese government's policies on the issues of safeguarding the bottom line. As soon as the news of Pelosi's possible visit came out, the anger that erupted in the Chinese public opinion field is a true portrayal of the public sentiment. Any real move that dares to practice such a risky proposition, the Chinese people will support the government to take all necessary measures, including the use of military power to sever it completely.

For China, it should be noted that it is an unrealistic fantasy to pin hopes on the "consciousness" and "restraint" of the United States and the West. It is based on a responsible attitude toward China-US relations and the maintaining strategic stability of the Taiwan Straits, and the stance to effectively defend China's territorial and sovereign integrity, China has made statements through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of National Defense. For these statements, some people in China have made a more technical interpretation. What is clear is that the US Department of Defense has informed Pelosi of various scenarios in which China has made a serious response, and is more inclined to avoid rather than facilitate such provocative actions. Judging from previous cases, at the end of Trump administration's term, some officials intended to visit Taiwan. It is said that the relevant plane circled in the air for a long time after taking off on the expected date, and then landed at another airport in the United States. 

The US explained later that there was no visit plan, and the official reportedly ended up having a video call with Taiwan's Tsai Ing-wen at the UN building stealthily.

Regarding capabilities and options, it can be reasonably inferred that the PLA's toolbox contains various options covering the full spectrum of conflicts to ensure the integrity of territory and sovereignty. The US government, especially the US military, needs to seriously consider and respond to the question: is it worthwhile to take the risk of head-on confrontation with China for certain politician's pure political show, and such show doesn't benefit the US at all. For China, the Taiwan question is a core issue involving territorial and sovereign integrity; for Pelosi, visiting Taiwan region may be one of the effective ways to divert attention from her alleged insider stock trading and give her some political points at the end of her political career. Which one is more important, it is obvious. For the US government, whether extra political points for Pelosi is important enough for it to take the risk of military clash with China, it seems not be a difficult question. 

The author is director of Research Institution for Global Cyberspace Governance at Fudan University. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn