Despite poking the red dragon with a series of political moves that demonstrated U.S. support for Taiwan, including bragging how he took a congratulatory call from Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, even Trump knew the limitation of the military superpower. Every POTUS would blow his trumpet about defending Taiwan, but behind the scenes, they are not interested.
If the U.S. is serious about defending Taiwan’s democracy, what it needs to do is as simple as recognizing the island as an independent nation in the United Nations, which will lead to Taipei officially announces its independence. But Xiong Guangkai, formerly deputy chief of staff for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), once told a U.S. official – “You will not sacrifice Los Angeles to protect Taiwan”.
The statement from Mr Xiong happened in 1995 during the Clinton administration, when former State Department official Chas Freeman was told that Beijing was prepared to sacrifice millions of people in a nuclear exchange with the U.S. to prevent Taiwan’s independence. And as much as Trump loved to act tough, he knew the consequences. The most he was willing to go was a trade war.
Therefore, it was not a surprise when Trump, banned from Twitter, took to Truth Social platform on Friday (July 29) and blasted Nancy Pelosi. Slamming the House Speaker for her Taiwan stunt, the ex-POTUS said – “The China mess is the last thing she should be involved in – she will only make it worse. Crazy Nancy just inserts herself and causes great friction and hatred.
As it turned out, not only President Joe Biden believed it was a bad idea for Pelosi to visit Taiwan, Donald Trump as well as many ordinary Americans were critical of the controversial trip. Comments on U.S. news media either criticized Pelosi’s political stunt as incredibly dumb and dangerous or encouraged the Chinese military to shoot down her plane to help Americans get rid of her.
Since the 82-year-old Democrat lawmaker began her tour of Asia on Friday that included visits to Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Malaysia, close to 80,000 users were glued to flight tracking service FlightRadar24. The focus was on “SPAR19”, believed to be the U.S. Air Force Boeing C-40 Clipper aircraft carrying Nancy Pelosi. The trip was comically tagged as the “WW3 voyage”.
The guessing game is whether Pelosi will visit Taiwan or chicken out. The House Speaker previously planned to visit Taiwan in April, but had to cancel it after testing positive for Covid-19. Her itinerary listed a trip to the island as “tentative”. She would take off from Andrews Air Force Base and land in Honolulu, Hawaii, the usual first stop in the Pacific for such trips.
Because she is supposed to attend an event in Singapore on August 1 (Monday), it remains uncertain when and if Pelosi will actually visit Taipei. Pelosi herself has refused to confirm her travel plans – suggesting that Washington was deeply concerned that a Taiwan stopover could provoke a forceful Chinese response and turn the episode into “a crisis that escalates to military conflict.”
Hu Xijin, former Global Times editor-in-chief, said China’s armed forces could impose a no-fly zone on Taiwan, sending fighter jets over the island. He also suggested that Chinese warplanes should “escort” Nancy Pelosi’s aircraft, and if they came under fire, China should attack Taiwan’s military aircraft and bases. Of course, things could go wrong and Pelosi’s plane could be shot down “accidentally”.
Escorting aircraft carrying Pelosi to prevent it from landing in Taiwan would be provocative not only to the U.S., but also would see Taiwanese airspace violated, indirectly legitimize Beijing’s claim over the island if Taiwan dares not attack it. The House Speaker’s half-baked visit will provide China the windows to provoke and test the readiness of Taiwan and the U.S. of an all-out war.
Ministry of Defence Spokesperson Tan Kefei said – “If the U.S. insists on taking its own course, the Chinese military will never sit idly by, and it will definitely take strong actions to thwart any external force’s interference and separatist’s schemes for ‘Taiwan independence’, and resolutely defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity”.
While a provocative opinion from Hu Xijin had been ignored in the past as empty rhetoric, a phone call on Thursday (a day before Pelosi’s Asia tour) between President Joe Biden and President Xi Jinping has sent shivers down the spine of the White House. Xi has threatened Biden during the more than 2-hour phone call – “Those who play with fire will perish by it. It is hoped that the U.S. will be clear-eyed about this”.
Biden’s response was that the United States policy has not changed. The U.S. president has also expressed hope of maintaining personal communications with the Chinese leader to avoid miscalculations that might lead to confrontation. Another sign that the U.S. has no appetite for a war was a special “assessment of the security situation” provided by Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin to Pelosi on Wednesday.
Exactly why should Austin speak to Pelosi about the security situation if the U.S. military had no disturbing intelligence about the trip? More importantly, if the U.S. has nothing to fear about the Chinese potential military retaliation, Biden should fully support his colleague from the same Democrats political party and Pelosi should not be overly secretive about her schedule to visit Taiwan.
Even Taiwan appears to be caught in a Catch-22 situation, keeping quiet about Pelosi’s trip when it should celebrate it. After all, Pelosi is the second in line to the presidency and it will be the first House Speaker’s visit to Taiwan since 1997. On July 19, the Taiwanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it has not received any information about the planned visit. It has not released any update since then.
On the same day Pelosi began her WW3 voyage, China announced it will start “live fire” military exercise in waters near Fujian Province’s Pingtan County – located just 126 kilometres from Hsinchu, the nearest city to the island of Taiwan. All civilian vessels have been barred from entering the area during the exercise from 8am to 9pm Saturday.
In addition, the Chinese authorities plan to hold at least 5 military drills from July 29 to August 2 in the Taiwan Strait as Beijing believed the “tentative” date to visit Taiwan could be a trick by Pelosi to suddenly fly to the self-governed island from Japan. While Pelosi’s plane is being monitored, it’s possible that she might sneak into Taiwan using a civilian plane.
It doesn’t matter whether the U.S. President and the House Speaker operate independently. As far as Beijing is concerned, Biden and Pelosi are from the same party and government. Both the White House and Congress represent the U.S. Besides, it’s hard to say whether both were playing good cop bad cop. No matter the excuse, China will not tolerate the visit to Taiwan.
The military drills show that interception of Pelosi’s aircraft by Chinese jets, even if she is being escorted by U.S. fighter jets, isn’t the only option on the table. Besides having more than sufficient fighter jets to overwhelm and intimidate the U.S. delegation into making a U-turn, ballistic missiles could be fired over Taiwan airspace to create a scenario as if a war is about to start.
Sure, shooting down the U.S. House Speaker’s plane would be an act of war. However, in a chaotic situation, it could be easily blamed on a missile that went rogue – an accident. The U.S. has been given enough warnings not to intrude into China’s sovereignty. The main point it – will the U.S. go to war with China over an “accidental shoot down” of Pelosi’s plane.
Alternatively, China could also leverage on Pelosi’s visit as an excuse to invade islands like Kinmen Island, Dongyin Island, Dongsha Island (Pratas) and Taiping Islands (Itu Aba). If either Taiwan or the U.S. retaliates, China could impose a no-fly zone on Taiwan – a challenge to the Western powers to declare war on China during a difficult time when Europe is still struggling about Ukraine War.
Taiwanese business will be severely disrupted if a no-fly zone is declared by China. In July 1995 when the Chinese army announced a week-long series of military exercise (included firing of four M-9 missiles into the East China Sea north of Taiwan) following Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui’s visit to the U.S., the tensions saw Taiwan’s stock market plunged by 33%.
Even though the Chinese military was weak, the 1995 conflict triggered so much panic that people in the island lined up at banks to change their money into dollars. Taiwan’s foreign exchange reserves dropped at a rate of US$500 million a day. The Clinton administration finally flexed its muscles by sending two aircraft carriers – Nimitz and USS Independence – the largest armada deployed since the end of the Vietnam War.
This time, Biden deployed only USS Ronald Reagan to the South China Sea ahead of a possible visit to Taiwan by Nancy Pelosi – indicating that Biden realized he could not play the same Clinton card to intimidate China’s military prowess. Perhaps the U.S. military intelligence had received reports of Chinese military equipment movement, including PHL-16 rocket artillery and armour vehicles transported on trains.
Seizing one or more of Taiwanese islands like how Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 is the easiest victory – a page from Vladimir Putin’s playbook in picking low-hanging fruits. This would be the first step to seize Taiwan as well as to test how far the U.S. is willing to go. But even if the U.S. blinks and Pelosi chickens out with belief that it would risk a military conflict, it would be a huge win for Beijing.
That’s why Trump calls her Crazy Nancy. Pelosi’s idiocy and stubbornness present an opportunity for China to make the first move towards Taiwan, the same way Zelensky’s stupidity in wanting to join NATO had allowed Russia to invade the country. The last thing the world needs now is another war after Russia-Ukraine conflict created energy and economic crisis.
About 20 years ago, Chinese warships were a joke, far behind the Western and Russian – both quantity and quality. Not only their ships were smaller in size, but they were only equipped with short range missiles. However, in terms of number of warships, China had already hit a fleet of 335 ships in 2019, more than the U.S. Navy’s entire fleet of 293 ships.
Today, China not only has more warships than the U.S., but “aircraft carrier killer” called the Dong-Feng 26, also known as the “Guam Express” or “Guam Killer”. Worse, the Chinese military has nuclear missiles that could hit the U.S. in 30 minutes. China has about 3,000 aircraft, including 1,800 fighters, about 800 of which are fourth-generation jets – the world’s third largest aviation force.