When the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, visited Taiwan on Aug 2, she claimed it was "an unequivocal statement that America stands with Taiwan". Although US President Joe Biden had indicated that the US military considered the visit to be "not a good idea", he nonetheless facilitated her trip, and Pelosi, who craves attention, insisted on going, to the delight of her host, Tsai Ing-wen, the island’s leader. Pelosi sought, however, to pay lip service to diplomatic niceties, trotting out the mantra that the US supports "the status quo", and pretending that her trip "in no way contradicts" the one-China principle.
Nobody, however, who is familiar with Pelosi’s record will have been fooled by her weasel words, and Tsai milked the event for all it was worth. Clearly emboldened by Pelosi’s presence, she announced that "we will firmly uphold our nation’s sovereignty and continue to hold the line of defense for democracy", and she undoubtedly saw the visit as a fillip for everybody who favors Taiwan "independence". Although Pelosi knew she had stirred up a hornet’s nest, she wound up the trip by accusing Beijing, the aggrieved party, of "saber-rattling".
The ramifications, of course, have been far graver for everybody concerned than mere saber-rattling. China has now sanctioned Pelosi, suspended various co-operation measures with the US, and initiated military exercises around Taiwan. Tsai, of course, is not best pleased, but she bears full responsibility, as she red-carpeted Pelosi, knowing there would be consequences. She would, moreover, have been familiar with Pelosi’s long record of interference in China’s internal affairs, including her endorsements of separatist activity.
On Sep 19, 2019, for example, Pelosi met with Joshua Wong Chi-fung at the US Capitol, despite knowing his political agenda. He was then the secretary-general of Demosisto, a political grouping, since disbanded, that advocated "democratic self-determination for Hong Kong", a euphemism for outright autonomy. As he was closely involved in the social disturbances then engulfing Hong Kong, he and his supporters would have been greatly buoyed by Pelosi’s show of support, but this was by no means all.
On May 27, 2020, Pelosi spoke in the House of Representatives in support of the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act, and disclosed that she had appointed an exiled Uygur, Nury Turkel, whom she called "a human rights champion", to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom. This was revelatory, as Turkel, who is lionized in anti-China circles, has served as adviser to the past and present presidents of the World Uyghur Congress (WUC), established in 2004. The WUC calls itself "the sole legitimate organization of the Uyghur people", and, as Pelosi must have known, it says it wants the Uygur people "to determine their political future", meaning its policy is akin to that once advocated by Joshua Wong for Hong Kong.
On June 22, 2022, moreover, Pelosi participated in the 8th World Parliamentarians’ Convention on Tibet, in Washington, DC, organized by the "Tibetan parliament-in-exile". Once again, Pelosi flaunted her separatist proclivities, imagining this could undermine China. Having announced that Congressman Jim McGovern, its chairman, would be discussing the Tibet autonomous region at the next day’s meeting of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC), Pelosi called for the "self-determination" of the Tibetan people.
Sure enough, at the CECC’s meeting on June 23, McGovern, who has spent much of his career maligning China, threw down the gauntlet to Beijing. In words calculated to cause maximum offense, he said Tibet’s "true representatives" were "the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government-in-exile", which was unsurprising. McGovern’s previous stances have included his call for the Beijing Olympic Games to be moved elsewhere, his efforts to frustrate the import of Chinese goods, and his allegations of "genocide" against the Uygur people, and this indicates why Pelosi is so keen to make common cause with the CECC.
At the same time as Pelosi, whether directly or indirectly, was providing encouragement to splittist movements in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the Tibet and Xinjiang Uygur autonomous regions, her congressional colleagues have been mounting their own parallel campaigns aimed at weakening China. The most notorious of them all is probably Congressman Scott Perry, who chairs the House Freedom Caucus, said to be the most extreme bloc of the House Republican Conference.
By any yardstick, Pelosi’s visit was an abject failure, as was obvious to even US allies in the Western Pacific region. Apart from diminishing Tsai yet further, it aggravated tensions, poisoned relations, and triggered countermeasures, clearly a disastrous litany. Although Pelosi enjoyed the grandstanding as much as she relished Tsai’s obsequiousness, she departed empty-handed (apart from the medal Tsai gave her), leaving mayhem in her wake
On May 22, 2020, Perry introduced into Congress the "Hong Kong Freedom Act", which authorized "the President of the United States to recognize Hong Kong as a separate, independent country". Thereafter, on May 27, he introduced an identical bill in relation to Tibet, urging the recognition of the "Tibet Autonomous Region as a separate, independent country". Although neither bill has progressed, they demonstrate the lengths to which the anti-China forces are prepared to go to frustrate the rise of modern China.
Indeed, before Pelosi left for Asia, Perry and his congressional colleague, Tom Tiffany, wrote a joint letter to her with an extraordinary request. They urged her, before departing, to convene a special meeting of the House of Representatives so that a vote could be held on a resolution to end what they called the "outdated and nonsensical One China Policy and normalize the US-Taiwan ties". In other words, they wanted the US to establish diplomatic relations with Taipei, regardless of the effect this would have on US-China relations and regional stability.
Unfortunately, Perry and Tiffany cannot be dismissed as a couple of cranks, and their views have now permeated America’s body politic. On March 4, 2022, for example, while he was visiting Taiwan, the former secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, who is rumored to be eyeing a White House run in 2024, announced, via Facebook, that Taiwan should be offered "America’s diplomatic recognition as a free and sovereign country". His view was then endorsed, on March 27, 2022, by William Stanton, who served under then-president Barack Obama as director of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), and who declared that "the US should certainly stand with Taiwan, express our view that it is a sovereign country, and help defend it if it comes to that".
In a fascinating aside, Stanton also revealed that, while he was the AIT director, from 2009 to 2012, Taiwan officials routinely referred to him as "ambassador", which shows how they regard his office. Although the AIT is not called an embassy, he disclosed that it "functions like an embassy in every way but titles and section names". It certainly appears, therefore, that the AIT, far from simply representing US interests on the island, is being increasingly seen as a bridgehead by those wishing to upset the one-China principle.
When, moreover, ex-president Donald Trump’s former defense secretary Mark Esper visited Taipei, on July 18, 2022, he also chose to up the ante. After meeting Tsai Ing-wen, he said the US should "move away" from its long-standing policy of strategic ambiguity over Taiwan, adding that "it is my personal view that the (US) one-China policy has outlived its usefulness; that it is time to move away from strategic ambiguity".
Although Esper’s remarks were not endorsed by the White House, they indicate just how seriously Beijing must now view any visits by American (or European) politicians to Taiwan, given that many of them are openly sympathetic to independence forces. Such visits, therefore, are no longer simply irritants, and they must now be taken far more seriously than they were, for example, 25 years ago, when Pelosi’s predecessor, Newt Gingrich, visited Taipei. The sad reality is that the US can no longer be trusted to uphold the one-China principle, and visits by its senior officials must now be seen as inimical to the country’s territorial integrity, with commensurate responses being inevitable.
By any yardstick, Pelosi’s visit was an abject failure, as was obvious to even US allies in the Western Pacific region. Apart from diminishing Tsai yet further, it aggravated tensions, poisoned relations, and triggered countermeasures, clearly a disastrous litany. Although Pelosi enjoyed the grandstanding as much as she relished Tsai’s obsequiousness, she departed empty-handed (apart from the medal Tsai gave her), leaving mayhem in her wake. The world, moreover, now has Pelosi’s measure, and everybody can see she is not, as she imagined, a principled statesman, but a selfish ideologue, bent on mischief-making.
The author is a senior counsel and law professor, and was previously the director of public prosecutions of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.
HONG KONG NEWS