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PETER YOUNG: What on earth was Pelosi’s end game?


The damaging fallout from the high-level visit to Taiwan by Nancy Pelosi has been extreme, and it is continuing. Relations between the US and China have been tense for some years but have now deteriorated sharply. The Chinese condemned in advance such a visit by the Speaker of the US House of Representatives and third highest-ranking politician in Washington as a challenge to its claim of sovereignty over Taiwan, calling it an “egregious provocation” and “extremely dangerous”.

In such circumstances, I hope it might be interesting to follow up my column on the subject last week by analysing the most recent developments while drawing attention again to the US’ relationship with China in relation to Taiwan. This is founded on deliberate ambiguity in order to maintain the status quo. The US acknowledges Beijing’s “One China” policy without endorsing it and supplies Taiwan with military aid and equipment while remaining unclear about how it would come to the aid of the island if it were attacked by China. With none of the parties making any aggressive moves, this has kept what has been described as a tenuous peace – until last week’s Pelosi visit.

It is perhaps worth reiterating that Beijing regards Taiwan as a rogue breakaway province which should be part of China and has no right to conduct foreign relations. President Xi Jinping has said “reunification with Taiwan must be fulfilled” and, reportedly, has not ruled out the use of military force to achieve this. Following leaks about a possible visit, China had warned of unspecified serious consequences if it took place.

Reportedly, it has been further enraged as a result of the US government disregarding its strong opposition and ignoring its representations urging cancellation.

For its part, Taiwan maintains it has never been part of the modern Chinese state established under Mao Tse-tung’s Communist Party in 1949 following China’s civil war and regards itself as distinct from the mainland.

In defending the Pelosi visit, Taiwan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs has said this would raise his country’s profile and allow the international community to understand better that it was a prosperous, independent, self-ruling democracy and major trading nation with a thriving industrial sector, especially electronics. Taiwan has one of the largest economies in Asia and it is clear that, as a proud country, it craves legitimacy and recognition.

As everybody now knows, the visit did go ahead. Ms Pelosi insisted on going through with it and, as a result, has precipitated a major crisis for the US that has left President Biden with a serious political and diplomatic headache.

In its strong reaction to the visit China has put on an unprecedented, biggest-ever show of military force. It has held live-fire drills in the air and sea around Taiwan, including in its territorial waters and Air Defence Zones as well as in part of Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone to the south east of the island.

It has also fired missiles over Taiwan’s landmass and thus the heads of its population of 23 million. China’s military activity has also caused a lockdown of the country’s main ports. This is clearly meant to intimidate Taiwan and could even destabilise the region by threatening its peace and security. In response, the US has called China’s action fundamentally irresponsible, with the Secretary of State saying there was “no justification for this extreme, disproportionate and escalatory response”.

In the view of many observers, what could be even more serious in the longer term is that China is halting co-operation with the US in a number of key areas like climate change – and it does not augur well for two of the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases to stop working together on the issue -- military co-operation, the return of illegal immigrants and joint efforts to combat international crime including the suspension of counter-narcotics collaboration.

China has also “sanctioned” Nancy Pelosi and her family. Some argue that all this is a high price to pay for a visit whose benefit for the US is hard to discern. Ms Pelosi claims it was important to demonstrate solidarity with Taiwan in the face of rising threats from China and to confirm the US’ ironclad and unwavering support for its democracy. But this has surely never been in doubt and, according to reports, was reiterated as recently as April at the time of a visit to Taipei of a lower level US Congressional delegation.

China’s fury over the Pelosi visit and the problems and serious tension that have been created inevitably increase the chance of the US being drawn into conflict with another major power while it is preoccupied with the war in Ukraine. Many wonder how this has been allowed to happen when, reportedly, Biden had warned Nancy Pelosi privately of the risks at a politically sensitive time for China given, in particular, its important Party congress in November.

Nonetheless, the common view amongst international observers seems to be that the current crisis will not get out of hand and develop into war because neither nation has an appetite to escalate tensions further. An open conflict is in nobody’s interest, least of all that of Taiwan which would be devastated. There are fears that, if China successfully took over the island nation, there could be an increased threat to the whole region. But the general consensus is that, although China is of major concern to the US, it is Russia which is now posing the main threat to world peace.


First rate in England’s second city

With all the advance hype about how good the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham would be, the event had something to live up to. But by all accounts it has fulfilled such positive expectations. It is being said already that all concerned with the Games have been overwhelmed, though not surprised, by their success. Many people are already describing them as a wonderful extravaganza of 11 days of sporting action and one of the best Games ever – extremely well organised and in a warm and friendly atmosphere with fine weather and enthusiastic crowds.

In a wide variety of sports, Australia headed the medals table closely followed by England. My wife and I were able to watch, in particular, the finals of several events including the “blue riband” men’s 1500m which Australia won in a tight finish, and the 4 by 100m Women’s relay won by the Nigerian team in spectacular fashion, edging the England quartet into second place.

As the Games came to a close on Monday, an impressive closing ceremony is taking place as I write. According to reports, it is designed to celebrate the vibrant energy and cultural heritage of the city of Birmingham and to showcase the region’s musical talent. The ceremony is being held in front of a live audience of some 30,000 and an estimated one billion viewers on television globally. It will include a formal handover to the State of Victoria in Australia which will host the 2026 Games.

In the coming weeks, I imagine superlatives about the Games in Birmingham will be flowing freely as people reflect on the sporting excellence that has been on display for the past 11 days. Meanwhile, how pleasant it is to be able to write today about the splendid success of this latest event in the long history of the Commonwealth Games – and here at home surely everybody will wish to offer hearty congratulations to the Bahamian medal winners.

Nothing changes, just the numbers of dead

How depressingly familiar it has been to read over the last few days about renewed violence between Israel and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip after what was reported to have been a year of relative peace and calm. Each side has been pounding the other in an endless series of tit-for-tat bombardments resulting in death, injury and destruction.

After three days of constant Israeli air strikes, a ceasefire was agreed at the weekend but not before rockets were fired at Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, though it is reported these and hundreds of others - though not all - fired from Gaza towards southern border areas within Israel were successfully intercepted by Israeli defence shield systems.

What is more, those concerned on the ground often say that such truces turn out to be only temporary. However, Israel is currently in the middle of an election campaign and, while the government will wish to show it is tough on security issues, it will not want a protracted conflict – particularly if that included sustained attacks on areas deeper inside the country.

Israel claims to have mounted a pre-emptive and precise counter-terror operation involving air strikes against an immediate threat by the Palestinian terror group Islamic Jihad (PIJ). On August 5, it launched a military operation targeting members of this militant group which is said to be backed by Iran. It is one of the strongest of such groups in Gaza and has been responsible for many rocket attacks on Israel. At first, Hamas, which is also designated as a terror group and which governs Gaza, was said to have condemned the PIJ but subsequently is reported to have stated that the armed groups there are united.

The Gaza Strip is a small and densely populated Palestinian enclave on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean. It borders Egypt to the south and Israel on the east. Suffering from extreme poverty and with inadequate public services, this disputed territory is claimed by Israel and the Palestinian Authority, who both assert their right to control it. Gaza has endured decades of protest and violence. It has been under an Israeli-imposed land, sea and air blockade for the past 15 years, with the Israelis placing restrictions on trade and travel and controlling what has gone in and come out of the territory. They claimed this was necessary in order to try to prevent sustained rocket assaults on their southern settlements.

Most observers consider that conditions in Gaza will not improve until the long-standing wider Israeli-Palestinian dispute is resolved. This violent conflict goes back at least to the establishment of Israel in 1948, but, in the opinion of many, even much further than that. Its history is notoriously complicated.

Meanwhile, diplomats and politicians talk constantly about a two-state solution as the only possible way forward to resolve the overall conflict. This envisages an independent State of Palestine alongside the State of Israel, west of the Jordan River. But, from what I have read, it seems that such a solution remains as far away as ever.