Pelosi’s Taiwan visit risks undermining US efforts with Asian allies

The Biden administration has spent months crafting an economic and diplomatic strategy in Asia to counter China, forge alliances and assure friendly countries that the United States will be in the region for the long term. long.

The President sent top military officials to forge new partnerships, and pay attention to a small country in the Pacific Ocean, Solomon Islands. He came up with a plan to equip Australia with nuclear-powered submarines and initiated a regional economic pact. He visited Korea and Japan in May, and invited the two countries to come for the first time NATO meetingto reinforce that Asia is not forgotten as war rages in Ukraine.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan now risks undermining the White House’s push, leaving allies wondering what damage has been done to the president’s united front in Asia.

The worry is that the trip, which will also include stops this week in South Korea and Japan, is an unnecessary provocation that distracts from allies’ efforts to counter military power. and China’s economic influence.

While US allies have largely remained mother during the visit so far, there is a feeling among friends of the US that they have been left in the cold as they have witnessed China’s threats. The United States and Taiwan, self-governing islands that China claims as its own.

Seong-Hyon Lee, a Korean at the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies at Harvard University, said the handling of Ms. Pelosi’s visit is worrisome because intentionally or not, it shows strength. of China and diminishing the role of allies.

“The fact that China’s potential reaction has become a heated debate in Washington shows the rise of China’s status,” Mr. Lee said. “Washington’s hesitation was well known in the region. This is a very poorly signaled diplomacy coming from Washington to allies and partners in the region.”

Despite short-term economic problems, Beijing has invested extensively, both financially and diplomatically, in long-term plans for regional dominance.

China repeatedly tells its Asian neighbors that they are their natural partners by geographical location and cultural similarity. They are trying to convince them that the United States is a distant and declining power, with a broken political system, bound to lose influence in Asia.

The Chinese navy has steadily increased patrols and military exercises in the South China Sea, sending more sophisticated ships. The country’s military aircraft have harassed US ally fighter jets in recent months. In May, Australia complained that a Chinese fighter jet dangerously intercepted one of its surveillance planes.

Given China’s economic and military might, allies want to consult with Washington, which they can’t seem to stop Pelosi from visiting Taiwan.

Australia’s Foreign Minister, Penny Wong, hinted at this on Wednesday when she called on all parties, not just China, to withdraw.

“All parties should consider how they best contribute to the current de-escalation of tensions, and we all wish for peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait,” Ms. Wong said.

Mr. Biden’s assurances on Asia in recent months have comforted countries facing China’s fury.

A favorite expression of that is a trade boycott of what China considers bad behavior. Just hours after Ms. Pelosi arrived in Taiwan, China imposed economic measures on the island in retaliation.

For the past two years, China has banned Australian exports of wine, lobster and coal, after the government called for an international investigation into the origins of Covid-19, which first emerged in China. . The Chinese government maintains economic sanctions against South Korea for allowing the US to deploy the THAAD missile defense system in 2017.

When South Korea’s new leader, Yoon Suk-yeol, recently said he might consider a second part of the system, China threatened more sanctions.

China’s growing authoritarianism and economic bans have hurt its place in South Korea, where a record high 80% of the population now have a negative view of the country, according to a recent study conducted by the Pew Research Center.

A retired general, Shin Won-sik, now a member of the National Assembly, said: “China is at the top of the list of countries that dislike South Korea the most. “About a decade ago, the Koreans held the same view of China as they did to the United States.”

He said that, in the face of threats from China, South Korea and Japan, two countries with historically icy relations, agreed for the first time to join the United States to begin military exercises. trilateral.

Japan, one of Washington’s biggest supporters of China’s strategy, has increased coordination with the United States on the Taiwan issue. Japan’s Ministry of Defense has also moved troops, anti-aircraft artillery and surface-to-ship missile batteries to the country’s southern islands, some of which are close to Taiwan.

Public opinion in Japan has been fiercely anti-China, and support for Taiwan is growing, providing an opportunity for Washington to take advantage of closer ties between Japan and Taiwan. But Japan also wants to avoid any unnecessary new friction between the United States and China.

Ryo Sahashi, an associate professor at the University of Tokyo, said the trip was “absolutely not a strategic benefit for us. “We strongly support Taiwan’s democracy, and we also really appreciate the US efforts to defend Taiwan, including arms sales to Taiwan.”

“But this is completely different,” he added. “What we really want to see is a quieter environment that actually allows us, Japan and the United States, to strengthen our security partnership with Taipei.”

Across the region, the United States has made strategic efforts to bring its allies into a more cohesive alliance, with military and diplomatic backgrounds.

A year ago, Australia agreed to a landmark defense treaty, known as AUKUS, with the US and UK, to acquire nuclear engine technology for the proposed submarines.

During last month’s visit to Australia, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark A. Milley, confirmed Washington’s policy of adding new weapons to Australia. “China’s military activity is statistically more drastic and stronger than in previous years,” Milley said during his visit.

Along with the United States, Australia is spending money and diplomatic capital to help counter China’s growing influence in the Pacific islands, a strategically important area in the event of war with China.

It’s a complicated location to navigate. The economies of many of America’s allies in the region, including Japan, South Korea and Australia, depend heavily on China. About a third of Australia’s exports go to China.

Despite poor diplomatic relations, sales of Australian iron ore, a key raw material for the Chinese industry, increased last year. Now, exporters of alcohol and coal are trying to bring their products back to the Chinese market.

There has been a series of high-level discussions to try to repair relationships. Australia’s new defense minister, Richard Marles, met his Chinese counterpart, Wei Fenghe, in Singapore last month.

Ms. Wong met Wang Yi, her Chinese counterpart, in Bali, ending a two-year diplomatic freeze. She ran out of words when she said that China and Australia are not enemies.

As countries now grappling with the consequences of Ms. Pelosi’s visit, rising tensions between the two superpowers have finally raised questions about the authority of the US president.

“There’s not much to say about Biden’s influence that he can’t win over speakers from his own party,” said Alan Dupont, a former Australian government defense intelligence analyst. visit is a good idea.

A former speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, visited Taiwan 25 years ago. But Gingrich is a Republican and President Bill Clinton is a Democrat, a political situation that makes the trip more defensible. Mr. Gingrich visited China and met its leader at the time, Jiang Zemin, before going to Taiwan, via Japan, a schedule unimaginable today.

The Chinese military was also much weaker then and was just beginning to modernize its force, which now includes a much more powerful missile array and a significantly expanded navy.

Even in Australia, a democratic country with complicated politics, where everyone knows that Ms. Pelosi is a powerful figure, it’s hard to believe Mr Biden didn’t convince her to cancel, Mr. Dupont said.

“An unnecessary crisis,” he said. “An own goal, the United States has put itself in this position.”

Ben Dooley contributed reporting.

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