Now that Speaker Pelosi is out of Taiwan, and while the Chinese go through their bombastic military exercises to vent their rage over Pelosi’s visit, a reflection is called for: the two heads of government in the Chinese-American war of nerves are just three months away from big elections in their countries: the midterm election in the United States and the meeting of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, which will decide the re-election of General Secretary Xi Jinping.
The brouhaha over Pelosi’s lightning visit to Taipei has introduced an enormous element of internal politics apart from the obvious danger of confrontation between the two superpowers. In such frame of reference, President Biden and General Secretary Xi cannot appear weak. Both of them are grappling with economic problems: the Chinese are in the midst of a financial crisis with mortgage losses of $350 billion and deepening turmoil for the collapse of the property market. The United States is virtually in a recession and the future of President Biden is up in the air along with the outcome of the midterm election that could dispossess the Democratic party from control of Congress.
The main question, however, is focused on Xi, and the impact of his military strategy that is putting heavy pressure on Taiwan. And yet, one thing is clear: Xi is expected to avoid conflict with the U.S. presence in and around the island. The threats and provocations by the Chinese leader will continue for quite some time and will accompany a new set of sanctions on the Taiwanese economy and its international outlook. Another thing is clear, and Speaker Pelosi has brought this issue forcefully to the international limelight: Taiwan is a model democracy that cannot be abandoned. In short: the U.S. will defend the status quo as a pledge to Taiwan but also for the strategic imperative of maintaining the international order across the Taiwan Strait “and beyond,” as Secretary of State Blinken has affirmed.
As seen from a world perspective, China’s threatening behavior has caused the loss of a significant amount of its international standing. Several Asian countries have already called on China to maintain the peace. They cannot but support the United States in opposing China’s actions to destabilize the Taiwan Straits. Xi may sustain his aggressive strategy for quite some time but in political terms he has lost the clash of wills with the 82-year old American leader. Soon enough, we will see how the Chinese leadership views the dramatic confrontation that Xi has pushed over the island. The meeting of the Chinese politburo will be no less interesting than the congressional elections in America.