AUG 8 — For many people all over the world, it is indeed a huge relief to see the uncertainties and sabre rattling between China and the US over the visit of US Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan has finally ended when she arrived safely there on late Tuesday (Aug 2).

But it is a grave mistake to think so as China still continues its military drills around the Taiwan Straits despite the presence of a US Navy fleet nearby.

And Russia, which in the past has stayed clear of the cross-strait issue, has come out with a statement describing the visit as “purely provocative” act and fully supports China in its dispute with Washington.

“We stand in absolute solidarity with China here. Its sensitivity to this issue is understandable. It is justified. And instead of respecting this, the US is choosing the path of confrontation. It doesn’t bode well,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, adding that Washington’s decision is “regrettable.”

The current siege mentality on both sides actually started on May 23, when Biden angered Beijing by making a blunder in declaring that despite abiding by the ‘One China Policy’, the US would involve its military in any potential conflict between China and Taiwan.

This was taken by China and many analysts as unravelling the decades-long policy of strategic ambiguity with regards to Taiwan independence.

Although the White House swiftly clarified the president’s words did not represent a change to the US’ long-standing recognition of China’s sovereignty over Taiwan, the damage was done.

Under the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, the US recognises, but does not endorse, China’s sovereignty over Taiwan. While the act codifies the US’ ‘One China Policy,’ it also authorises informal diplomatic relations with the government of Taiwan, and allows Washington to provide Taipei with enough military support “to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defence capabilities.”

The act does not guarantee or rule out US military intervention should China threaten to assimilate Taiwan by force. Instead it considers any attempt to change Taiwan’s status a threat “of grave concern to the US,” intended to dissuade China from going down that road, and to dissuade Taiwan from issuing a formal declaration of independence.

Earlier last month, authorities in Taipei accused the Chinese military of flying 18 aircraft, including two nuclear-capable bombers, into its air- defense zone.

By July, the issue of Pelosi’s visit took centre-stage culminating in a tense phone call on July 28 between Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, where Xi issued his famous warning for the US not to “play with fire”, and “those who play with fire will eventually get burned.”

On August 1, US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the US has warned China is poised to stoke geopolitical tensions around Taiwan, perhaps through military “provocations”, raising the risk of an unintended escalation in Beijing’s row with Washington over Pelosi’s possible visit to the self-governing island.

“China appears to be positioning itself to potentially take further steps in the coming days and perhaps over longer time horizons ... could include military provocations, such as firing missiles in the Taiwan Strait or around Taiwan, operations that break historical norms such as large-scale air entry into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone . . . air or naval activities that cross the median line and military exercises that could be highly publicised.”

Saying the speaker has the right to visit Taiwan, and a former speaker of the House has visited Taiwan without incident, alluding to a 1997 trip by Newt Gingrich, Kirby also stressed Washington doesn’t expect a direct attack, but admitted Chinese threats and provocations could trigger a conflict.

He made his comments after Reuters, CNN, and other media outlets reported that Pelosi would visit Taiwan after all, in defiance of China’s warnings of a possible military response.

US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi (left) attends a meeting with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen at the presidential office in Taipei August 3, 2022. — Handout by Taiwan Presidential Office via Reuters
US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi (left) attends a meeting with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen at the presidential office in Taipei August 3, 2022. — Handout by Taiwan Presidential Office via Reuters

Actually one can clearly see it is the US who started all these after perhaps being frustrated with the failure of its own efforts to bring China to its side in the Ukraine war as China still refuses to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and participate in the massive sanction against Russia due to the invasion.

It is unfortunate after Pelosi had issued a statement on her visit to four Asian countries that excluded Taiwan, Kirby would play a game in saying that it is up to Pelosi to visit Taiwan.

What happens after Pelosi has touched her feet on Taiwanese soil is precisely the scenario that Kirby has outlined which means the US knows in advance accurate details on what China is planning to do.

Instead of using this info to bring down the tension one notch lower by postponing Pelosi’s trip, or calming down the situation ala a “statesman” superpower, Kirby played his trump card by saying Pelosi has the right to visit Taiwan.

Since the world only cares that the Ukraine war needs to be stopped and no new whammy should be created, so the timing of Pelosi visit really stinks.

To use an analogy of Bill Clinton’s successful campaign slogan in the 1992 election, ‘it’s the timing, stupid!’

Instead of postponing her visit, the 82-year-old grandmother relishes the prospect of playing a Mission Impossible movie game of keeping everyone in suspense in her “escapade” from the Chinese “trap” to arrive at Taiwan unscathed.

Moreover with the Ukraine war on its plate, the US can barely handle it with optimum efficiency. So why pick a fight with another big country, more so another nuclear-armed country?

With the US and the EU providing heavy weapons to the Ukrainians, the war should have ended earlier in Ukraine’s favour. The fact that the war still dragged on shows the US cannot handle it with optimum efficiency and should consider bringing the two parties to the war on the negotiating table.

The world desperately needs the war to be stopped because it has caused not only the people in the combatants’ countries to suffer but also people in the whole world including the US and the EU.

Instead of eliminating one of the whammies that has caused untold suffering and misery of the global population, the US is pushing China into the warm embrace of Russia, which will just prolong the war, and create a potential new one.

Many analysts including US former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger has already warned the US not to push China into an alliance with Russia because it would not only prolong the war but also it marks a lethal combination for the US — two superpowers versus one.

Perhaps it is time for the US to accept that the world now is no longer a unipolar world with the US at the apex but a multipolar world where the US, Russia and China should treat each other as first among equals.

Glenn Diesen, professor at the University of South-Eastern Norway and an editor at the Russia in Global Affairs journal sums up the deficiencies the US has exhibited being the superpower in a unipolar world:

“In recent years, the US has unilaterally withdrawn from security agreement with its main adversaries, which has set in motion an uncontrolled escalation.

“It has put the Americans on a path to war with countries such as Russia and Iran, and Washington is now also taking steps towards an accidental war with China by incrementally abandoning the One China Policy. Beijing is now warning of an unprecedented military response if Pelosi follows through on her planned trip to Taiwan.”

Let’s hope saner heads will prevail in the Biden administration that will accept the realities of today’s multipolar world by working hard to prevent the Pelosi saga into becoming a deadly conflagration with a global impact just like how it has been for the Ukraine war.

Ditto with China, let’s hope saner heads prevail that will not turn this into a bloody conflict.

*Jamari Mohtar is the Editor of Let’s Talk!, an e-newsletter on current affairs.

**This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.