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

The Biden administration has spent months crafting an economic and diplomatic strategy in Asia to counter China, strengthen its alliances and assure friendly nations that the United States is in the region for the long term.

The president has sent senior military officials to seal new partnerships, and paid attention to a small nation in the Pacific, the Solomon Islands. You launched a plan arm australia with nuclear-powered submarines and initiated a regional economic pact. I visited South Korea and Japan in May and for the first time invited the two countries to a NATO meetingto emphasize that Asia was not forgotten as war raged in Ukraine.

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

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

While American allies have remained largely silent during the visit so far, American friends feel they have been left behind as China threatens the United States and Taiwan, the self-governing island that the China claims as its own.

Ms. Pelosi’s manipulation of Pelosi’s visit was worrisome because, whether intentionally or not, it showed China’s power and diminished the role of allies, said Seong-Hyon Lee, a South Korean researcher at the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies. ‘Harvard University.

“The very fact that China’s potential response is becoming a heated debate in Washington reveals China’s growing power,” Mr Lee said. “Washington’s hesitation has already been widely read in the region. This is very poor signal diplomacy coming from Washington to its allies and partners in the region.

Despite its short-term economic problems, Beijing has invested deeply, financially and diplomatically, in long-term plans to dominate the region.

China keeps telling its Asian neighbors that it is their natural partner because of its geographical location and its cultural commonalities. He tries to persuade them that the United States is a distant and declining power, with a broken political system, doomed to lose its influence in Asia.

The Chinese Navy has steadily increased its patrols and military exercises in the South China Sea, sending more sophisticated vessels. Its warplanes have harassed US allied 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, the allies want consultations with Washington, something they didn’t seem to have on Ms. Pelosi’s foray into Taiwan.

Australia’s Foreign Minister Penny Wong suggested as much on Wednesday when she called on all parties, not just China, to back down.

“All parties should think about how best to contribute to the de-escalation of current tensions, and we all want peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait,” Wang said.

Mr. Biden’s reassurances on Asia in recent months had given comfort to nations facing China’s wrath.

A favorite expression of that anger has been trade boycotts for what China considers bad behavior. Just hours after Ms. Pelosi’s arrival in Taiwan, China imposed economic measures on the island in retaliation.

For the past two years, China has banned Australian exports of wine, lobsters and coal, after its government called for an international investigation into the origins of Covid-19, which first surfaced in China. The Chinese government still maintains economic sanctions against South Korea for allowing the United States in 2017 to deploy a missile defense system known as THAAD.

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

China’s economic prohibitions and growing authoritarianism have hurt his position in South Korea, where a record 80% of the population now have a negative opinion of the country, according to a recent study by the Pew Research Center.

“China ranks first among South Korea’s most hated countries,” said a retired general, Shin Won-sik, who is now a member of the National Assembly. “About a decade ago, South Koreans had similar views toward China and the United States”

In response to the Chinese threat, he said, South Korea and Japan, which have always had frosty relations, agreed for the first time to join the United States in launching trilateral military exercises.

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

Public opinion in Japan has turned decisively against China and support for Taiwan has grown, providing Washington with an opportunity to capitalize on closer Japan-Taiwan relations. But Japan also wants to avoid any further unnecessary friction between the United States and China.

The trip was “totally not a strategic advantage for us,” said Ryo Sahashi, an associate professor at the University of Tokyo. “We strongly support Taiwanese democracy and also appreciate US efforts in Taiwan’s defense, including arms sales to Taiwan.”

“But it’s totally different,” he added. “What we really want to see is a calmer environment that really allows us, Japan and the United States, to strengthen our security partnership with Taipei.”

Throughout the region, the United States has made strategic efforts to integrate allies into a more cohesive coalition, with military and diplomatic underpinnings.

A year ago, Australia entered into a landmark defense pact, known as AUKUS, with the United States and Britain to acquire nuclear propulsion technology for planned submarines.

During a visit to Australia last month, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark A. Milley confirmed Washington’s policy of fortifying Australia with new weapons. “Chinese military activity is significantly and statistically more aggressive than in previous years,” Mr 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 a war with China.

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

Despite poor diplomatic relations, Australian sales of iron ore, the main raw material for Chinese industry, increased last year. Today, wine and charcoal exporters are trying to reintroduce their products to the Chinese market.

There has been a flurry of high-level talks in an attempt to mend relations. 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 went out of her way to say that China and Australia are not enemies.

As countries now brace for the fallout from Ms. Pelosi’s visit, heightened tensions between the two superpowers have ultimately raised questions about the authority of the US president.

“It doesn’t say much about Biden’s influence that he can’t prevail over the chairman of his own party,” said Alan Dupont, a former defense intelligence analyst for the Australian government, noting that the President had said the military didn’t think the visit was a good idea.

A former House speaker, Newt Gingrich, visited Taiwan 25 years ago. But Mr. Gingrich was a Republican and President Bill Clinton was a Democrat, a political situation that made the trip more defensible. Mr. Gingrich traveled to China and met its then leader, Jiang Zemin, before traveling to Taiwan, via Japan, a schedule unthinkable today.

The Chinese military was also much weaker at the time and was only beginning to modernize its forces, which now include a much more powerful missile range and a significantly expanded navy.

Even in Australia, a democratic country with rowdy politics, where people knew Ms. Pelosi was a powerful figure, it was unfathomable that Mr. Biden did not persuade her to cancel, Mr. Dupont said.

“An unnecessary crisis,” I said. “An own goal, the United States put themselves in that position.”

Ben Doley contributed report. Jin Yu Young contributed translation.