Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi in a file photo. Photo: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images / AFP

United States House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi has stated she plans to visit Taiwan at an undisclosed date in August, causing China to issue a stern warning that it could not rule out the possibility of a military response. Some people believe that this could possibly mean using fighter jets to intercept Pelosi’s plane.

On July 23, Josh Rogin, a columnist at the Washington Post, wrote that the US military could deploy an aircraft carrier to protect Pelosi’s plane. So will a war break out in the Taiwan Strait?

Different forecasts have been made about how a Taiwan Strait war could be triggered. The most common assumption is that Taiwan authorities will cross the red line in some way by substantively and irreversibly separating Taiwan from China, triggering the PLA’s military reunification actions.

Pelosi has been anti-China for a long time. As the midterm elections in the US Congress are approaching while the prospects of her Democratic Party is poor, Pelosi is effectively canvassing for the Democratic Party by visiting Taiwan.

If the Democratic Party loses its majority in the House of Representatives, Pelosi will no longer keep her Speaker position and may also be held accountable by the party and take a hit to her reputation.

It is hard to say whether US President Joe Biden is discouraging or secretly supporting Pelosi’s Taiwan plan.

On the one hand, if the Republicans win a majority in the Congress in the midterm elections, Biden will become a lame duck President. On the other hand, if Biden provokes a US-China war during his term, he will be condemned by history. He faces a dilemma.

From Beijing’s perspective, both the White House and Congress represent the US. If either of them supports Taiwanese independence, China will not tolerate it. If Taiwan, or any foreign country, crosses the red line, it means the start of China’s military reunification.

No one knows whether China will deploy fighter jets to intercept Pelosi’s plane. This is an option, but not the only one.

Technically, the interception is completely possible as PLA fighter jets have sufficient flight and weapon ranges. They can hold military exercises near Taiwan or stage continuous combat air patrols. If Pelosi wants to do it her own way, she can try. Repatriation, forced landing and even a direct shooting down are all options for Beijing.

J-10 fighter jets attached to an aviation brigade of the air force under the PLA Northern Theater Command taxi onto the runway in formation before takeoff. Photo: eng.chinamil.com.cn

Of course, shooting down the US House Speaker’s plane would be an act of war. But if the Speaker blatantly intrudes into China’s sovereignty, it is no different from an undeclared war. It is justifiable for China to fight a war with military measures.

Pelosi is the third-in-line successor after the president and vice president of the US. The US military has the responsibility to ensure Pelosi’s safety but it does not mean that it agrees with the trip. When Biden said the US military had concerns, he accurately reflected the military’s position.

Technically, there are ways for US fighter jets to escort Pelosi’s plane :

  1. Take off from Kadena;
  2. Take off from Guam;
  3. Take off from an aircraft carrier

No matter how strong the US-Japan relationship is, it is not in Japan’s interest to get involved or help provoke a war in the Taiwan Strait. Kadena is an American base, but Japan cannot escape responsibility.

It is different from the US-Japan Security Treaty, in which the US promised to offer help if Japan is attacked. In this case, it would be the US that takes the initiative to drag China into a war.

Washington Post reporter Rogin mentioned that some of America’s Asian allies expressed concern about Pelosi’s possible visit to Taiwan.

He was likely referring to Japan. Tokyo has remained ambiguous about whether the US-Japan Security Treaty would be activated when the US provokes a war that does not involve Japan.

This is a kind of strategic ambiguity and Japan will not take the initiative to change this strategy. Japan is not willing to be dragged into a war with China as it knows clearly that such a war will not be limited to the Taiwan Strait.

Guam is too far away. American fighter jets have to be refueled by tanker planes to extend their flight time in the Taiwan Strait. With such obvious actions, China would know when Pelosi’s plane will arrive.

Departing from an aircraft carrier would be ideal for the US. It does not involve any US allies and fighter jets can maintain combat readiness for a long time, with the benefit of a short response time.

However, it is not easy to mobilize an aircraft carrier, and the US may not have enough time to do it. Moreover, the role of an aircraft carrier is limited. If the PLA suddenly dispatches a large number of fighter jets, the US aircraft carrier will be trapped.

Deploying an aircraft carrier is like trying to hit a dog with a meat bun, which will definitely be eaten up. The US won’t be able to retreat or rescue its aircraft carrier.

There is another problem: it is justifiable only if the US fighter jets are flying over the high seas but not in Taiwan’s airspace.

As Speaker of the House of Representatives, Pelosi is qualified to use US military aircraft, including the US government’s special planes and even military transport planes.

It is possible that China will not take drastic action against unarmed US military aircraft arriving in Taiwan. But it is a completely different issue for US fighter jets to carry out combat operations in Taiwan’s airspace.

As Taiwan is part of China, it is theoretically possible for PLA fighter jets to open fire directly on foreign fighter jets in the name of intercepting armed incursions. Besides, it is not possible that Pelosi’s plane will enter Taiwan’s airspace without a military escort.

Perhaps American fighter jets will hand over to Taiwan fighter jets on the 12 nautical mile line or somewhere. But still, anything can happen when the US military, Taiwan military and PLA fighter jets are intertwined at close range. It could result in a misfire.

Other indirect options for China include the occupations of Dongyin Island, Dongsha Islands and Taiping Island and so on. Each of these islands has important strategic value, and would play a major role in the future battle of military unification.

Although the impact is indirect, China can benefit by taking the opportunity to occupy these islands. If the West takes any actions, China will implement a no-fly zone on Taiwan Island.

Political blame game

Politically, the US move to intensify the situation in the Taiwan Strait is not supported by its allies. Apart from Japan, Europe will also not support it.

European countries may sympathize with Taiwan if the PLA takes the initiative to attack the island. But they may not support the US if it is the one that stirs the pot.

When the US debates whether its China strategy should be vague or clear, Europe has always remained silent. In fact, it is an implicit statement.

Taiwanese authorities are also feeling anxious. On the one hand, they are eager to get more support from the US. But on the other hand, they are also afraid that US support will lead to a confrontation with China. They know that Taiwan cannot handle such a situation.

In any case, Taiwan will be the biggest loser as the confrontation will bring a devastating blow to the island. It may suffer from a smashing destruction or a no-fly zone blockage.

National reunification is the long-cherished wish of the Chinese people. Peaceful reunification is the first choice but military reunification remains an option.

The threshold for military reunification is very high. But Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan may force the PLA to resolutely cross the threshold. It is what Taiwan is worrying about.

Military helicopters carrying large Taiwanese flags do flyby rehearsals in October 2021 amid escalating tensions between Taipei and Beijing. Photo: AFP / Ceng Shou Yi / NurPhoto

Taiwan authorities keep linking the situation in the Taiwan Strait with Ukraine, but Taiwan really does not want to become another Ukraine.

Taiwan is in a dilemma as it cannot dissuade or encourage Pelosi from visiting. In the US, the anti-China sentiment is high. But the US is not ready for a war.

The US has lost its deterrence a long time ago. The chance for the US losing a war against China is increasing. In fact, it is meaningless for the US to try to show off its military power in front of China, which is now a real superpower.

The US itself is in a bad economic situation with stagflation. It is very likely that the US economy will start contracting before interest rates are raised to a high level. By that time, there will be no room for interest rate cuts to stimulate the economy. For the US, a war with China would be the last straw to break the camel’s back.

The US is entering stagflation, which is the most dangerous and difficult economic situation. It is why Biden is eager to talk to China.

The world economy will face a rare financial decoupling if the US raises interest rates and China cuts its. Whether funds should flow to the US for hedging or to China for growth, this is an important decision for global investors. It is also a big test for the US about whether it can remain as a superpower.

The US, which now lacks the confidence to control the world, does not want to face such a test. The US dollar also wants to avoid this test.

Militarily, the US army has long lost its advantage in the Taiwan Strait, and it is also losing its advantage in the Western Pacific.

The US military is facing serious problems of aging equipment and has lagged behind China in terms of key weapons such as hypersonic and theater missiles. It has been struggling to support Ukraine in the traditional battles and will not be able to fight against China.

The US military is still strong and it is possible that the US can mobilize forces from all over the world to the Asia-Pacific.

However, given that the war in Ukraine has been protracted and the threat from Russia has become clear, such mobilization will shake the US alliance system and fundamentally endanger the strategic interests of the US.

Biden wants to pressure China but cannot bear the consequences of a confrontation. He does not want to be pulled by Pelosi’s Taiwan trip into a confrontation against China in an untimely manner.

Pelosi only wants to boost her popularity. If Biden can exert his influence to make Pelosi abandon her Taiwan trip, it would benefit Sino-US relations.

But Biden could not publicly dissuade her, nor could the US accept that its Taiwan policy was being swayed by China. He used public opinion to achieve his goal.

Influential columnists like Rogin have no shortage of inside sources and they come to him when needed. If the US public opinion opposes her trip, Pelosi will have to reconsider it.

If US public opinion supports it, Biden can shirk responsibility and justify the US’ confrontation with China.

Interestingly, US public opinion has so far remained low-key except for a few Republicans. In the US, no politician dares to openly challenge the anti-China strategy, which is now politically correct, so people stay silent.

Only former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he wanted to ride on Pelosi’s plane to visit Taiwan. Perhaps no sponsor wants to buy him an air ticket.

For confidentiality reasons, Pelosi has been tight-lipped about whether and when she will visit Taiwan. This is very strange. Why can’t she make it public? Perhaps she does not want the PLA to prepare for the interception of her plane. Or simply, she herself is hesitant.

Pelosi is a politician older than Biden. She puts her own political legacy as a top priority, over the interests of the Democratic Party and the US.

Anti-China sentiment

Today, the US is divided ideologically but there is a high degree of consensus on the anti-China issue. Pelosi is trying to benefit from such anti-China sentiment.

US politicians’ promotion of anti-China sentiment is a bad thing for the US, but actually not so bad for China. If the US has to rely on attacking an opponent to reach consensus, it has lost its direction and initiative in the beginning.

US President Joe Biden attends a press conference at the Akasaka Palace in Tokyo, May 23, 2022. Photo: AFP

Also, if the US does not put enough effort into basic developments that are unrelated to its opponent, it will be stuck in deeper economic stagnation and fall apart.

For the US, rebuilding social harmony, economy and cultural self-confidence are its most important tasks. These problems cannot be solved by opposing China. But now the US is blaming China for everything. It is actually self-misleading.

It seems that the US is putting a lot of pressure on China but it is actually delaying the cure of its illness and weakening its foundation. Blaming others is a typical “loser” mindset. Some US people are aware of this.

A country has to follow its own direction and rhythm to develop itself. Its rival’s moves are a less important thing.

In the global competition, a large country should take the initiative to lead the world’s economy and culture. But a country will only show its weakness by spending time blaming others and covering up its incompetence.

The US sees the anti-China sentiment as a great mountain but China sees it as a small pile of stinky garbage. Pelosi may think she is building a tower on top of a mountain but China sees that she is only throwing a piece of debris on some garbage.

For China, economic outreach to the Global South is key to breaking through American efforts to contain China’s drive for economic predominance. 

China has to solve the problem of generating its own independent growth momentum, after breaking through the critical point of the “Matthew Effect,” the economic maxim that rich countries get richer and poor countries get poorer.

America’s comprehensive and unlimited anti-China campaign can slow down China’s development, at the cost of a greater deceleration of the United States. But China is not only putting in place a dual cycle, that is, promoting domestic consumption as well as exports.

China also divides the external export cycle into two sub-cycles: Europe and the United States on one hand, and the Belt and Road/Asia, Africa and Latin America on the other.

In fact, the US government and politicians know clearly that anti-China should only be a slogan.

An armed confrontation with China is something that the US can say but cannot do. This is why Biden wanted to talk to Chinese President Xi Jinping. (Editor’s note: Biden and Xi held a two-hour phone call on Thursday to discuss trade, Taiwan and Ukraine war matters.)

Pelosi may have expected China’s strong opposition to her Taiwan trip. She wants to be praised for having resisted huge pressure from China.

US public opinion will not oppose politically correct issues, such as being anti-China and supporting Taiwan. Even if there is any noise, Pelosi still has enough political resources to silence them.

If the Republican Party supports her trip, then it is a “bipartisan consensus.” If not, she can attack the Republicans. It seems to be a sure bet for her.

As Speaker of the House of Representatives, Pelosi has authority in domestic affairs and legislation while diplomacy and security are the responsibility of the president. Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan has a symbolic meaning and may trigger an unprecedented national security crisis.

I hope Pelosi, who always talks about ideology but actually cares more about businesses, will understand that her Taiwan visit will create a huge crisis that will affect many things.

Chen Feng is editor of Guancha.cn, which originally published this article in Chinese as an exclusive manuscript. It is republished in English translation here with kind permission.

The content of the article is purely the author’s personal opinion, and does not represent either news platform’s opinion. It may not be reprinted without authorization.