United States House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi's tour to Asia has deliberately and in a calculated manner heightened tensions in the region. It was designed to be provocative and has succeeded.
The world moves closer to war as the US seeks to maintain its position of economic dominance. China stands in its path. It is threatened and gives every indication that it is prepared to meet threat with threat.
An increased US naval presence accompanied Pelosi’s visit. Two aircraft carriers, two amphibious assault ships, 36 warships and three submarines are all in the very near vicinity of Taiwan. The distance separating Taiwan from China is just 161 kilometres. It is hardly surprising that China has responded to the increased threat perception with counter threats and military drills.
The line that Pelosi’s visit was not sanctioned by President Joe Biden and that she is acting independently has been repeated at an official level and by many in the bourgeois media. This is nonsense and certainly being regarded in Beijing as such. Pelosi is not simply a politician. As the third-highest ranking US politician, she stands just two heart attacks away from the presidency. She reflects the perspective of the US government and of US capitalism as it seeks to contain and weaken Chinese capitalism’s rise.
The US is determined that China will not become the global economic hegemon and is carefully using Taiwan as a means of targeting China.
When the global economy was reliant on China as a workshop for the world, recognition of Taiwan as an independent nation-state became an incumbrance. China’s right to sovereignty was all but universally acknowledged in the 1970s. The US kept its options open with its ambiguous attitude toward Taiwan. China’s growth as an economic superpower has changed things.
The importance the US places on Taiwan has been made clear since Biden became president. In March, 2021 he issued an “Interim National Security Strategic Guidance” stating: “We will support Taiwan, a leading democracy and a critical economic and security partner, in line with longstanding American commitments." He has, at least twice since then, pledged US armed intervention in the event of a confrontation between China and Taiwan.
Washington has been steadily arming Taiwan and earlier this year Boeing was given the contract to produce Harpoon Coastal Defence Systems for Taiwan. This significantly increases the danger of military escalation. The signing of that contract coincided with a visit to Taiwan by a US delegation led by former chair of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen. The purpose of that visit was to discuss military cooperation between Taiwan and the US. China, not surprisingly denounced this as a violation of the “one China policy” that the US supposedly supports.
All of this is aimed at threatening China and drawing Beijing into a wider arms race. It seeks to isolate China as a rising economic power. It seeks to portray China as aggressive, expansionist and a threat to peace in the region and beyond. It hopes to further demonise China in the eyes of the world. It is a strategy that could so very easily lead to devastation on a global scale.
The US and China are engaged in a high-stakes gamble. The prize is economic hegemony. China’s economic power all but equals that of the US. It sees a future where it dominates economic outcomes. This is the brutal world of capitalist competition between nations. The US will never allow such a situation to develop. No hegemon, no empire, has ever quietly slipped away into retirement and this is why the world is facing such a threat.
Compounding the worry is that both nations are driven by nationalist sentiment and symbolism. China has declared that it will bring Taiwan back into the fold. President Xi Jinping’s political legitimacy has been built around a growing economic power and a ferocious nationalism. Having made the declaration about Taiwan, there can be no retreat. Legitimacy rests on his nationalist declarations being carried out.
The US knows this and is prepared to goad, bait and provoke China. The gamble is that Xi will blink first.
Pelosi’s visit to the region and the naval support accompanying her is signalling to China and to any potential wavering “allies” that the US means what it says.
While war is on the immediate agenda and appears more likely with each passing week, it is not the most favoured option for US imperialism. The costs are enormous. Coercion is a better tool and peaceful paths to domination are obviously preferred. However, the prize of domination, increased market share, and access to resources, has driven capital to war time and time again.
The crisis in capitalism led the world to war twice in the 20th century. That very crisis has not been resolved and so, the people of the world might again be sacrificed to keep the economic system afloat.