Nancy Pelosi is considering a visit to Taiwan which Col. Lawrence Wilkerson calls a needless provocation that undermines the policy of “strategic ambiguity”. It makes U.S. China policy even more dangerous.
Col. Lawrence Wilkerson
The U.S. policy, with regard to China, and particularly with regard to Taiwan vis-à-vis China, as I see it today, is particularly dangerous. I’m encouraged to a certain extent, a very tiny little extent, really, but nonetheless encouraged by the fact that I picked up my phone this morning, clicked on, and saw in the New York Times overview that [Joe] Biden has essentially said that Nancy Pelosi shouldn’t go to Taiwan. That is a small thing, but at least it’s indicative of maybe the President’s understanding that we are in a very perilous situation vis-à-vis Beijing right now in Taiwan and that we shouldn’t exacerbate it.
She would take a whole delegation with her, and as I remember, she would be the highest, in that sense, she’d be the highest Americans to go to Taipei in a long, long time. That’s not good because that’s just sticking your finger in Xi Jinping’s eye and twisting it. We’ve been sticking our fingers in his eyes for some time now.
People like Richard Haass, my former boss, saying that our policy now should be strategic clarity, not strategic ambiguity. I’m sorry, Richard, that’s stupid. Very stupid. It’s worked for a long time. It can continue to work for at least another decade or two, and that’s a decade or two without war and without China using force to reclaim Taiwan. Strategic clarity, as Richard Haass would have it is, we will fight you to the death if you take over Taiwan. Strategic ambiguity is we recognize that there’s only one China. We recognize that you are that China, Xi, but we also ask you to refrain from the use of military force against Taiwan. That’s strategic ambiguity, and it’s worked. Even worse than that, I think it would be making it NATO status and sticking your middle finger up at Beijing at the same time. I think the policy should continue as a very successful strategic ambiguity.
Now, I’m with Richard on the point that this can’t go on forever. I think I’m back with Henry Kissinger, Richard Nixon and Ambassador Freeman and others who would say— I’m putting words in their mouths, of course, but I think they would say, well, eventually China and Taiwan will reunite. It’ll be peaceful, and it will be forced— not forced— but it’ll be compelled, let’s put it that way, on them by the fact that they are so close economically and financially. They’re like lips and teeth, to borrow another Chinese phrase.
They are so close together right now, economically, that I tend to think that is the main ingredient of them not fighting. In other words, China not using military force. It would be inimical to the economic relationship, which is quite strong and quite powerful. If we make Xi Jinping see it otherwise, see taking Taiwan back as a matter of honor, so to speak, and saying to hell with the economic relationship, then that obviates the whole process and obviates the whole strategic ambiguity. That’s the reason I don’t like this strategic clarity business because sometimes you look at history and you think, well, why did that happen? Why did those people start that war? It’s more over leaders’ prestige, leaders’ feelings, leaders’ emotions and leaders’ concept of what’s happening to them and to their country than it is concrete reasons for using military force. So you don’t want to put someone in that position.
This Pelosi visit would just be a slap in the face, two slaps in the face. I hope Pelosi is smart enough, I don’t know that she is, to save some face, maybe a little bit, but to postpone the trip as she did once before, because of COVID. But that’s a dangerous thing to do. Once you get there, you have a choice to make if you’re Washington. I don’t think China would do it by brute force. I think they would simply do it by innuendo and threat. They would call up the current leadership, and they would say, look, we’re going to finish you. If you don’t do what we want you to do in these stages, say, over ten years or whatever, and you don’t make it public that we are taking these steps over the next ten years, we’re going to end you. We don’t give a hang about the United States. Whether they come in or they don’t come in, we’ll sink in a couple of carriers, and they’ll be very reluctant to do anything further. Wow, that’s crazy, too, because you sink a couple of carriers and then we’re in for a penny and for a pound.
So this is just a terrible, terrible way to do business. The strategic ambiguity was working. Why mess with it? Let’s keep hoping that eventually, economic ties and the strength of those ties move Taiwan and China, the mainland, together to the extent that it is, in effect, a rapprochement and rejoining, if you will, of the final state. Although Tibet still sits out there, Xinjiang province is still giving them all kinds of problems too. Taiwan is the festering one and the one that would drag us in very rapidly, and that’s the one that needs to be handled with finesse. Unfortunately, we don’t do finesse very well anymore.
What’s driving Nancy Pelosi to visit Taiwan? The midterms. Anything to get some publicity, to get some notoriety, even to get more bonafides in the security business, which the Democrats still trail the Republicans in; that’s the reason. I hope that it’s not serious enough to where she won’t revamp and revise her schedule.
I don’t see the Taiwanese being that stupid either. They have been fairly receptive. This current government has been fairly receptive to this strategic clarity business. I think, at the end of the day, they understand, too, that you don’t want to go too far with this because even if we were to quote, “win”, unquote, with regard to Taiwan, Taiwan would be destroyed.
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“Lawrence B. Wilkerson is a retired United States Army Colonel and former chief of staff to United States Secretary of State Colin Powell.”