pei89_Taiwanese Foreign Ministry  HandoutAnadolu Agency via Getty Images_pelosi Taiwanese Foreign Ministry Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The Coming Taiwan Crisis

China's renewed saber-rattling over Taiwan, galvanized by US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi's visit to the island, is born of a need to maintain some control over the situation in the Taiwan Strait following steady electoral victories by Taiwan's pro-independence party. But while Chinese military action is unlikely at this juncture, an accidental clash is all too plausible.

CLAREMONT, CALIFORNIA – US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s arrival in Taiwan has incited a predictably strong response from China. Chinese warplanes have brushed up against the median line dividing the Taiwan Strait. The Chinese foreign ministry has warned of “serious consequences” as a result of Pelosi’s visit to the island. Chinese President Xi Jinping has told US President Joe Biden that “those who play with fire will perish by it.” And now, China has just announced a major military exercise with live-fire drills starting August 4 (just after Pelosi leaves Taiwan). The specter of military confrontation looms large.

But Pelosi is hardly responsible for today’s heightened tensions over the island. Even if she had decided to skip Taipei on her tour of Asia, China’s bellicosity toward Taiwan would have continued to intensify, possibly triggering another Taiwan Strait crisis in the near future.

Contrary to the prevailing narrative, this is not primarily because Xi is committed to reunifying Taiwan during his rule. Although reunification is indeed one of his long-term objectives (it would be a crowning achievement for both him and the Communist Party of China more broadly), any attempt to achieve it by force would be extremely costly. It might even carry existential risks for the CPC regime, the survival of which would be jeopardized by a failed military campaign.