Thursday, 11 August 2022

Beijing seizes the initiative on Taiwan. Like it or not

Page A5 today’s South China Morning Post 
I think there’s no doubt now that Pelosi's visit handed the initiative to Beijing. And that Beijing has done well in seizing it. And I say this as no fan of Xi Jinping and his government. They were clearly well prepared for the reaction to her visit, they implemented the reaction well, and are now poised to “reunify” the island, …in due course.  Today’s front page SCMP print edition: “Beijing sets out oath to unification” by Cyril Ip.

Consider these:

Beijing (love it or hate it) was clearly way better prepped for a reaction than was Pelosi (love her or hate her). Beijing: a well-coordinated practice blockade of Taiwan, extensive war games that broke previous boundaries, and then the prompt issue of an amended White Paper. Washington: Biden sparring with Pelosi, testy arguments, military vs politicians, executive vs legislature, and everyone at each other’s throats on Twitter. In short, chaos, vs well-prepped Beijing. Like it or not.

The new Beijing White Paper is called “The Taiwan Question and China’s Reunification in the New Era”, of which the above article is a critique. 

A revamp of an earlier 2000 paper, it’s actually tougher than the earlier version. Again, a result of the Pelosi visit. The “New Era” is post-Pelosi. It sets out a medium to long-term plans to take back Taiwan.  The plan is patient, step-by-step and, seems to me, achievable. I don’t say that as someone who wants it, or supports it. I’m for the status quo. The “strategic ambiguity” policy. And most certainly not for “independence”, which was what got us into trouble here in HK. But hopes and wishes are not a policy. China is the one with the clear plans, strategically unambiguous and with a clear path to taking over Taiwan. Whether I like it or not. Whether Taiwanese like it or not. Whether Washington likes it or not. 

The “new normal” is Chinese warships on Taiwan’s coast. Chinese warplanes overflying the island. Chinese blockades at the drop of a hat … or a pink Pelosi pantsuit (the dropping of which horrifies). A result of the Pelosi visit. Like it or it. 

In contrast to the measured “path to reunification of the White Paper, the PLA is calling for a “quick war”, with “lightening strikes”. I suspect this is a Beijing version of “good cop, bad cop”, keeping us on our toes. Very clever. Like it or not.

Pelosi did all that. All redounding to Beijing’s benefit. But is there anything at all positive from Pelosi’s visit (for the US and Taiwan side)?. Some say it will make it easier for Congress  to help Taiwan, eg with more defensive military equipment. Maybe. Except at the very time Pelosi was in Taipei, Congress voted down a Taiwan Bill that included defensive arms. So… maybe. But also maybe not. In any case it’s something that should have been done regardless, Pelosi visit or not. Helping to make Taiwan a porcupine. 

In sum: it’s pretty tough to argue that Pelosi's visit did anything but strengthen Beijing’s hand. Like it or not.