We looked at China’s reaction yesterday when Nancy Pelosi confirmed she would be visiting Taiwan as part of an Asian swing. And while the more radical threats to shoot down her plane didn’t pan out, China is in the midst of a Republican-like geopolitical temper tantrum. Indeed, we may be seeing the largest Streisand Effect in global history.
Did you know that a Senate delegation visited Taiwan last year? No? That’s probably because China didn’t lose its mind over it. But the more heated its rhetoric became, the more people tuned in. At one point, 85,000 were watching a formerly sleepy live-stream from Taipei’s international airport.
Pelosi says the visit reaffirms American commitment to a free and democratic Taiwan—which in itself is deeply offensive to China.
Freedoms? Democracy? China broke promises to allow Hong Kong to continue governing itself, and no doubt would love to extend its autocratic rule over the prosperous island nation. And while everyone carries on with the fiction that the ultimate goal is reunification, the so-called “one-China policy,” Taiwan is a de facto independent nation—and the gulf between it and communist mainland China widens by the year.
Perhaps that’s why China is feeling salty right now, no doubt fueled by Xi Jinping’s unprecedented bid for a third term as the country’s leader. As we’ve seen time and time again in world history, nothing rallies a nation around its leader than external conflict. Xi’s re-confirmation is clearly not fully assured, and he has no plan to give any nationalist faction ammunition.
China hasn’t fought a war since 1979, and it lost that one against Vietnam. China simply doesn’t have a proven record of successful military activities. Any attack on Taiwan across the treacherous Taiwan Strait would be more complex than D-Day, but in a world of drones and swarms of anti-ship missiles. Eastern Taiwan features rugged cliffs that no landing force will scale. The west has shallow waters that endanger any ships attempting to come ashore. There are only a few favorable landing sites, and they are well-defended.
China’s military is likely as corrupt as Russia’s, with even less experience in deploying to combat situations. Despotic regimes lack the oversight checks and balances that might discover the kinds of problems that would arise in wartime—like Russia’s realization that, of all those tanks supposedly in their reserves, only about 10% were actually functional. China can’t be looking at Ukraine and feeling confident right now. All the generals would, of course, swear up and down that they’re ready for a fight, but can the civilian leadership believe them?
This is all suddenly relevant because Pelosi’s visit has blown their gasket.
It doesn’t speak to a country’s self-confidence when a visit by a foreign elected official is considered “extremely vicious.” As for consequences, we’re getting some serious brinkmanship, with China announcing a series of live-fire military exercises around the island (and releasing propaganda-military videos). Their exclusion zone, warning away civilian air- and seacraft, infringes on Taiwan’s borders:
Now, the announced zones are not the same as China actually entering Taiwanese airspace. The announcement is absolutely a provocation, but there’s a difference between a bark and an actual bite. It seems incomprehensible that China would escalate militarily, given the economic damage that would precipitate, but rationality doesn’t seem to be driving major-power actions as of late.
Meanwhile, Taiwan is celebrating Pelosi’s visit.
Republicans, fresh off screwing over veterans and suddenly realizing that people don’t like that, are reacting to Pelosi’s visit with the worst freakin’ hot takes you might imagine.
I'm always torn on who is the densest Senator, Marsha Blackburn or Alabama’s Tommy Tuberville. Blackburn might have just taken the lead. Here’s another ignorant take:
Fox News and Rush Limbaugh rotted their brains, and the QAnon MAGA maggots are finishing off what’s left.
People are asking why Pelosi made the trip now. Supporting a democracy is always a great reason, but keeping China out of the Ukraine conflict is critical to ending the war sooner. As of now, China hasn’t just refused any material support to a begging Russia, but many of its companies have exited the Russian market to avoid international blowback. As innocuous as this visit should’ve been (did anyone care that Pelosi visited Singapore?), the fact is that China has decided they’re dying on this hill. Hopefully, it doesn’t lead to Russian support in Ukraine.
But there’s also a domestic angle. Blackburn’s tweet above shows how Republicans have been trying to use China to attack Democrats for years. It has suddenly become much harder for Republicans to make the case that Democrats are “soft on China,” given Pelosi’s high-profile challenge. She literally flew into Taiwan in the face of Chinese fighter jets.
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