Pelosi’s Taiwan visit risks undermining US efforts with Asian allies: Analysts

WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) – The Biden administration has spent months building an economic and diplomatic strategy in Asia to counter China, shoring up its alliances and assuring friendly countries that the United States is in the region for the long haul.

The president has sent top military officials to seal new partnerships, and paid attention to a tiny nation in the Pacific, the Solomon Islands.

He has launched a plan to arm Australia with nuclear-powered submarines and initiated a regional economic pact. He visited South Korea and Japan in May, and for the first time, invited the two countries to a Nato meeting, to reinforce that Asia was not forgotten as war raged in Ukraine.

The visit to Taiwan by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi now threatens to undermine the push by the White House, leaving allies to wonder what damage had been done to the president’s united front in Asia.

The fear is that the trip, which will also include stops this week in South Korea and Japan, is an unnecessary provocation that distracts from the allies’ efforts to counter China’s military might and economic clout.

While US allies have largely remained mum on the visit so far, there is a sense among America’s friends that they were left out in the cold to watch as China threatened the US and Taiwan, the self-governed island that China claims as its own.

The handling of Mrs Pelosi’s visit was worrisome because, intentionally or not, it showed China’s power and diminished the role of the allies, said Dr Lee Seong-hyon, a South Korean fellow at the Fairbank Centre for Chinese Studies at Harvard University.

“The very fact that China’s potential response becomes a heated debate in Washington reveals China’s rise in status,” Dr Lee said. “Washington’s hesitance has been already widely read in the region. This is a very poor signalling diplomacy coming from Washington to its allies and partners in the region.”

Despite its short-term economic issues, Beijing has invested deeply, financially and diplomatically, in long-term plans to dominate the region.

China keeps telling its Asian neighbours that it is their natural partner by geographic location and cultural commonality. It is trying to persuade them that the US is a distant and declining power, with a broken political system, bound to lose its influence in Asia.

The Chinese navy has steadily increased its patrols and military exercises in the South China Sea, sending more sophisticated ships. Its military aircraft have harassed warplanes of American allies in recent months.

In May, Australia complained that a Chinese fighter jet dangerously intercepted one of its surveillance aircraft.

Given China’s economic and military might, allies want consultation with Washington, something they did not appear to get on Mrs Pelosi’s foray to Taiwan.

The foreign minister of Australia, Ms Penny Wong, suggested this on Wednesday (Aug 3) when she called on all sides, not only China, to back off.

“All parties should consider how they best contribute to de-escalating the current tensions, and we all want peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait,” she said.