Pelosi’s Visit To Taiwan, Econospeak
by Barkley Rosser
I wish to present a view of Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan that is different from what I have seen from others. Most commentary I have seen is either very for or very against her visiting there. On the favorable side has been wide praise from across the political spectrum, with many Republicans joining in who almost never praise her for anything. Many people support providing a positive message of support for Taiwan. There is also the matter of personal courage on her part. There was an actual threat from the Chinese government that her plane might be shot down. Obviously it was not, but with this threat, it obviously did take some courage on her part to go ahead and do it. For all that she is to be applauded.
On the negative are several views. There are those who strongly support the Chinese government’s claim on Taiwan, which is widely recognized diplomatically and officially, even though since 1895 the only time the mainland government has ruled Taiwan was 1945-49, and the regime still ruling it is the extension of that government that fled to Taiwan when it lost control of the mainland to the Communist Party under Mao. Unsurprisingly strong supporters of the PRC taking control of Taiwan would not and do not support her visit. There are also various people in the US on the farther right and left who either want the US to withdraw from any or much activity in the rest of the world, either out of viewing such activity as violating an America First position or because they view US activities outside the US as being inherently or likely imperialistic, including supporting Taiwan. The pro-PRC people are likely also to take this latter position or some version of it.
So, my position is a bit more complicated. I note that i have been to Taiwan several times and have friends there. Of the three Chinas, PRC, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, the latter seems to me the best governed and best in broader social terms. Hong Kong has a higher per capita income and also a higher life expectancy, as well as for those who admire such things, still greater identified economic freedom, although that is being cut back as PRC direct control increases in Hong Kong. But on some other measures Taiwan looks better than Hong Kong, more democratic, more income and wealth equality, and also greater social freedoms, such as allowing gay marriage. Indeed it is better than PRC as well on all those, as well as having higher per capita income and higher life expectancy than PRC. There is much to admire about Taiwan, with much of this likely to be lost if the PRC takes control of it.
The PRC has long offered a “one country, two systems” model that is what supposedly is in place in Hong Kong. That had some credibility for quite some time. But the recent crackdown on dissent in Hong Kong and the imposition of more direct control on education and public expression in Hong Kong by the PRC government has seriously damaged the credibility of that model. Support for the more pro-independence party in Taiwan has increased since that crackdown, unsurprisingly.
What are my complications then? Well, I am unhappy about the major increase in tension that has occurred, which I think serves no good purpose at all. I think Pelosi should have realized this would happen, and I understand that the Biden administration tried to talk her out of going, even as they publicly supported her right to go, which was a reasonable position. I know that she has long promised to go and has had a hawkish position towards the PRC. But it also seems to me that this has been motivated by a constituency within her Congressional district, many Chinese Americans who strongly support Taiwan. I think this is a case where she should have thought about the broader national interest rather than fulfilling a longstanding promise to some voters in her district. This is especially the case as we already have a major conflict going on in Ukraine, with the Chinese supporting Russia to some degree.
Now I get it that the Chinese should not be making such a fuss about it. Quite recently a bipartisan group of US senators quietly visited Taiwan, and there were no problems, no threats from China, no reactions. If Pelosi could have snuck in and out without any publicity, that would have been fine. But somehow the fact that she was thinking about visiting, indeed apparently had planned to visit in April, but got delayed due to Covid or something, got publicized. Then China began demanding that she not go. It looked like maybe she would not after the Biden administration apparently appealed to her not to. But with China making these threats, well then it became a matter of principle, that she would not cave to these threats, something I understand. So, she and five other Dem House members (GOP members were invited to join her group, but all declined), did visit for 18 hours. It seems they were largely very well received, with a few negative protestors. But now we have the PRC making some very serious military responses that have fallen short of invading or taking an island, but that amount to a temporary blockade. I hope that they end this soon and pull back.
Something that concerns me more broadly here is that we see warlike moves being politically popular. Pelosi is now being highly praised. The other example much on my mind is what is going on in Russia, which is especially why I think she should have just quietly shelved this trip before it turned into this big public confrontation. It is in Russia. Putin’s invasion is horrible and massively damaging the Russian economy, with many other negative effects, politically and socially. But all reports have Putin’s popularity up. All of this worries me greatly. I wish this had turned out differently, even as once the threats were made, I understand Pelosi felt she had to follow through.