Did the speaker of the US House of Representatives really have to spend a day in Taiwan just to poke China in the eye? Did Taiwan really have to give Nancy Pelosi such a full-on reception, including a meeting with the president and welcome projected onto Taipei’s skyscrapers? Did Beijing really have to respond with a barrage of invective and live-fire military manoeuvres perilously close to Taiwan’s coast within hours after she left?
Doubtless everyone had a reason for doing what they did. The Democrats perhaps calculated that they needed to make a tough diplomatic statement to have a chance of fending off Republican advances before the November midterms. Pelosi has had a long career she seems reluctant to end and wanted to parry criticism of her leadership. Taiwan wanted to show that it really is a fully paid-up country, despite international, including US, ambivalence towards its status, and China, for all its size, nonetheless harbours a sense of vulnerability and could not let what it saw as a provocation pass.
So maybe this whole episode was not quite as risky as it appeared. Maybe everyone involved knew exactly what they were doing and how far they could go without triggering a Third World War in the Pacific theatre. And given that President Biden made clear he didn’t really approve of Pelosi going – so she couldn’t be seen as any sort of national envoy – the rest of the world should relax.
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