Coalition of the Willing

Aug 25, 2022

It turns out that Speaker Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan in early August was the tip of a much larger iceberg. Not only was it immediately followed by a bipartisan congressional delegation led by US Senator Ed Markey (a Democrat) and then a subsequent visit by Indiana Governor, Eric Holcomb (a Republican), but US officials have now signaled a willingness to hold trade talks with Taiwan.  Moreover, other foreign officials have been quick to pile on.  Senior Japanese lawmakers (Messrs. Furuya and Kihara) went to Taiwan earlier this week, and Australia has signed a joint statement with the US and Japan protesting China’s aggressive response to the Pelosi visit.  And Liz Truss, front-runner to replace Boris Johnson as UK prime minister, is an avowed anti-China hawk predisposed toward steadfast support of Taiwan democracy.

It would be hard to conclude that these are just random actions by independent legislators and politicians. More likely, this represents a concentrated campaign by a US-led western coalition to put unrelenting pressure on China’s hot button — risks to Taiwan reunification. It also fuels Chinese fears over the existential threat of a US-led containment strategy — diametrically opposed to Xi Jinping’s great power aspirational goal of 2049. And it is consistent with Henry Kissinger’s recent criticism of America’s unfortunate penchant for sparking endless confrontations with China.

What are we to make of this new “coalition of the willing” aiming to tighten the noose on China? In an era of conflict escalation with the United States — a trade war quickly followed by a tech war that has now morphed into the early stages of a new cold war — going after China on its most sensitive issue (Taiwan) is not without consequences. Xi Jinping’s muscular approach to foreign policy, along with his perceptions of domestic sovereignty as personified in the reunification of a “renegade province,” leave him with little choice other than to respond.

Were China’s unprecedented military drills following Pelosi’s departure from Taiwan a face-saving gesture or a full-blown practice for bigger things to come? Is it a stretch to compare US-led western containment of China to Putin’s absurd justification for invading Ukraine out of fear of NATO enlargement?  The framework developed in Accidental Conflict warns us to take these questions very seriously.

You can follow me on Twitter @SRoach_econ

Sign up for Stephen’s Dispatches: