Calculated endangerment

MAJOR-GENERAL JAY M. BARGERON USMC US exercise director during the Balikatan 2022 speaks at a briefing in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City

The Marcos II administration has assured visiting US Secretary of State Antony Blinken that it will continue to honor the country’s Mutual Defense Treaty with the United States. It has also affirmed adherence to the “One-China” policy that the Marcos I regime adopted in 1975, and asked both countries for restraint during the current tensions between them over the Taiwan issue.

The tensions generated by the US policy of “containing” China and preventing its rise to superpower status and the latter’s relentless drive for global hegemony have been simmering for decades. But US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s grossly irresponsible visit to Taiwan last week escalated and made them much more alarming.

The Pelosi visit could have triggered a war between China and the US if China’s fighter jets had prevented her plane from landing or shot it down either deliberately or by accident. It would have been catastrophic for Taiwan, the Philippines, and other countries and would very likely have involved the use of the nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons both countries possess, and threatened all of humanity.

That has not happened — so far. But the visit has intensified the decades-long threat to the Taiwanese of being the first casualty of a US-China confrontation while ushering in an even more dangerous stage in the rivalry between the only superpower on Earth and the rising one.

Like his ally Pelosi, President Joseph Biden has displayed his bias for Taiwan since he assumed office in 2021, and provoked China’s anger over the possibility that he favors its transformation into a separate, independent country. But he nevertheless told the US media that it was “not the right time” for Pelosi and the Congressional delegation she was taking with her to visit the island. The US National Security Agency (NSA) and military sources reportedly briefed her on the possibly catastrophic consequences of her visit and advised her against it. But Pelosi ignored them and during her Asian tour flew to Taipei from Malaysia.

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) launched live-fire military exercises and other measures in response, but did not go as far as to make good on its threat to “burn” those who “play with fire.” While in Manila, Blinken described China’s launch of a missile in the Taiwan Straits as “irresponsible.” But that word more aptly applies to Pelosi’s Taiwan visit, which provoked China into demonstrating how vulnerable that island is to its armed forces.

Both the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and its long-time foe, the Kuomintang (KMT — Nationalist Party) now based in Taiwan, agree on reunification, the One-China principle, and Taiwan’s being part of China. The former, however, wants reunification under CCP auspices, while the latter regards Taiwan’s as the legitimate government of China and the CCP as in rebellion against it.

The PRC has been in place since 1949, when the CCP’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) defeated the forces of the Kuomintang after more than two decades of civil war and drove them to Taiwan, where the KMT established the “Republic of China” (ROC) under the Chiang Kai-shek dictatorship. (Taiwan became a democracy only in the 1990s.)

Since then, however, 181 countries including the US and the Philippines have recognized the PRC as the legitimate government of only one China. As per the terms of then Chinese Prime Minister Zhou Enlai and then Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos, Sr.’s joint communique of 1975, the Philippines ended diplomatic relations with Taiwan and created the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (MECO) to limit contacts only to economic and cultural matters.

The United States had recognized the PRC earlier. Then US President Richard Nixon visited China in February 1972, and met with Premier Zhou Enlai and CCP Chairman Mao Zedong. The Zhou/Nixon Shanghai Communique issued during the visit affirmed that there is only one China and Taiwan is part of it, and committed the PRC to peaceful means of reunification.

The Nixon visit to China is generally regarded as the most significant US initiative in foreign affairs in the 20th century because it normalized US-China relations after decades of antagonism and opened China to the world. Every US President except James Carter and Joseph Biden have since visited China.

Despite the near-universal acknowledgement that there is only one China and Taiwan is a part of it, and the above signs of mutual respect, the United States has never been quite at ease with China. Its discomfort with socialist China morphed into outright antagonism when it transitioned to State capitalism after the death of Mao Zedong and became the US’ foremost rival for world domination.

Former President Barack Obama’s “pivot to Asia” was just another name for containing Chinese power and influence and preserving the USA’s “full-spectrum dominance” on land, sea, air, and space. His successor Donald Trump seemed clueless about international affairs and left it to his officials to continue the policy of containment, while current US President Joseph Biden and his administration have been focused on aiding Taiwan should the PRC use military force to reunify it with the mainland.

The Philippines has been having its own problems with its Chinese “friend,” especially over its aggressive incursions into the West Philippine Sea (WPS). But that does not justify this country’s inviting US intervention in resolving the issue, given its likely consequences.

Some Taiwanese groups criticized their government for agreeing to the Pelosi visit. But it seems that it had no choice but to do so in the context of the Biden version of the Obama era’s “pivot to Asia.” What the Philippine government has to keep in mind is that rather than for the benefit of Taiwan, Pelosi’s visit was mostly made out of self-interest. That awareness should guide its response to any US offer of assistance in addressing the country’s problems with China in the WPS.

Pelosi spent her time in Taiwan meeting its officials, and trotting out the usual rhetoric about democracy and the US commitment to it. Rather than benefiting Taiwan, she multiplied the dangers to it, and was not so much driven by any concern for the Taiwanese people who have to face the fall-out from her visit as by her political interests and those of the Democratic Party.

Pelosi and company will lose their seats in the US House of Representatives unless they are re-elected in November’s mid-term elections. Those elections are likely to restore control of the US Congress to the Republican Party unless Biden’s Democrats do something to prevent it.

The Taiwan visit partly fills the bill. In addition to portraying Pelosi and company not only as uncompromising opponents of Chinese belligerency who deserve re-election, the visit and its aftermath are also a distraction from the inflation and US economic recession that are driving Biden’s approval rating and that of Democratic Party candidates to unprecedented lows.

The Pelosi adventure only proves once more that whether under the governance of the Republican Party or the Democrats’ “liberal” rule, the United States will defend and advance not only its economic and strategic interests but also the interests of its own power elite regardless of its consequences to the rest of the world.

Biden’s supposed “advise” to Pelosi against visiting Taiwan was too half-hearted to be taken seriously. He is equally to blame for his failure to prevent it. Far from being merely reckless, the dangers to which he and Pelosi exposed Taiwan and the entire planet were therefore cynically calculated.

Luis V. Teodoro is on Facebook and Twitter (@luisteodoro).