By Gordon Chang for Daily Caller News Foundation
The People’s Liberation Army flew 34 aircraft near Taiwan on Tuesday and Wednesday. Twenty of them crossed the “median line,” the de facto border running down the Taiwan Strait between China and Taiwan.
The Chinese military also sent nine vessels near Taiwan, the island republic that Beijing claims as its own.
Global Times, a semi-official tabloid, left Washington in no doubt about the meaning of what it called “intense warplane and warship activities.” “This could be seen as a warning to McCarthy that he should not follow his predecessor Nancy Pelosi’s suit in provocatively interfering in China’s internal affairs,” the paper declared.
Yes, Beijing is unhappy that House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, fulfilling a promise he made while running for the post, is planning to visit Taipei.
The Chinese foreign ministry was relatively restrained in its remarks about a possible McCarthy trip to the island republic. “We hope U.S. lawmakers will abide by the one-China principle and the Three China-U.S. Joint Communiques and refrain from doing things detrimental to China-U.S. relations and peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait,” said Spokesperson Mao Ning on Jan. 30.
Global Times, often used by the Chinese regime to issue threats it does not want to make officially, suggested “setting up exclusion zones that prevent McCarthy from landing.”
China’s regime routinely makes threats over Americans planning to visit Taiwan.
“The position of the Chinese government and people on the Taiwan question is consistent, and resolutely safeguarding China’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity is the firm will of the more than 1.4 billion Chinese people,” Chinese ruler Xi Jinping told President Joe Biden during their phone call on July 28 of last year, according to the Chinese foreign ministry, just days before Pelosi’s widely anticipated trip. “The public opinion cannot be defied. Those who play with fire will perish by it.”
There was concern that Beijing would try to block Pelosi’s plane, but she landed in Taipei without incident the following month. The U.S. let the threat to assassinate her — and Biden — slide then, so the Chinese felt free to make a similar threat against McCarthy now.
It’s unlikely that Beijing by words alone will be able to intimidate McCarthy into not going to Taiwan, but it is almost certain Chinese officials will work on Biden. He was, after all, the weak link in the controversy in the run up to Pelosi’s visit.
Infamously, he tried to prevent Pelosi from going. His administration from all accounts leaked plans of her trip, thereby putting the visit in play.
After the leak, Biden went public with opposition to the speaker’s visit. “Well, I think that the military thinks it’s not a good idea right now,” he told reporters on July 20, before the trip. “But I don’t know what the status of it is.”
This comment apparently convinced Chinese officials to turn up the heat because they could see Biden was wavering. The president’s words, unfortunately, emboldened the worst elements in the Chinese political system. It is no surprise then that Xi, during the July 28 phone call, thought he could threaten Biden’s and Pelosi’s lives.
So what should we look out for this time, now that the Chinese are manufacturing another crisis over a speaker’s trip?
History is repeating itself. There is reporting that the Biden administration leaked the news of McCarthy’s trip to, in the words of Eurasia Group, “get ahead of the issue.” Perhaps, but it is more probable that the administration leaked to prevent the trip.
“Beijing will be watching very closely for daylight between the White House and Speaker McCarthy for them to exploit, as was the case with Speaker Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan last year,” Steve Yates, chair of the China Policy Initiative at the America First Policy Institute, told me. “The White House was seen as urging Pelosi to postpone, minimize, or cancel her visit. Beijing uses division and confusion like this as part of its political warfare against Taiwan, undermining confidence that friends will stand with them against the world’s largest bully.”
Maybe Biden administration machinations no longer matter. Nancy Pelosi, as Yates correctly says, should have gone to Taiwan earlier in her tenure as speaker, but she has now made it difficult for her successors not to go, especially considering the change in American views of China.
“I think every member of Congress should visit Taiwan,” said Sen. Todd Young of Indiana to Politico, when asked about the McCarthy trip.
The senator is right. Every member of Congress should go. And so should every president of the United States.
Biden, by making himself and America look weak on Taiwan last year, can remedy that mistake by taking a trip of his own to Taipei now. If nothing else, a presidential visit will show Beijing that not only are speakers unafraid of China but that the president of the United States is not afraid either.
Gordon G. Chang is the author of The Coming Collapse of China. Follow him on Twitter @GordonGChang.
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