Chinese officials hope to intimidate the Biden administration over Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s long-planned stop in Taiwan during her August swing through Asia, with stops in Japan and South Korea included as well. Chinese official media quoted General Secretary Xi Jinping warning President Biden that, “Those who play with fire will perish by it.”
Pelosi’s trip was originally scheduled for May but postponed after she tested positive for COVID. The past few months have given Beijing time to ratchet up its pressure campaign, with spokesmen and official commentators keeping up a steady drumbeat of threats.
Deterring the speaker from visiting Taiwan in August would be a victory for Xi Jinping, for whom acquiring the island democracy of Taiwan is a major preoccupation, especially as Xi moves to reaffirm and consolidate his reign as head of the Communist Party and the Chinese state in the weeks ahead. To put it bluntly, it would be a feather in his red cap to have prevented Pelosi from landing in Taipei.
In turn, it would be a defeat for American statecraft. Allies in particular would have to wonder just how serious Washington is about meeting the challenge China presents. For countries sitting on the fence, like the Philippines, the message would be that the U.S. can be bullied. Moreover, it would put another nail in the coffin of the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, a statute that was designed to normalize relations with Taiwan to the degree possible without formal ties and specifically declared that such efforts of coercion would be treated as “of grave concern to the United States.”