The repercussions of Pelosi's Taiwan visit - opinion

The US and major industrialized economies cannot withstand bottlenecks in the semiconductor and microchip industries on which all technology hangs.

 A PHOTO released last week shows the China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) conducting a long-range live-fire drill into the Taiwan Strait from an undisclosed location. (photo credit: Eastern Theatre Command/Handout via REUTERS)
A PHOTO released last week shows the China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) conducting a long-range live-fire drill into the Taiwan Strait from an undisclosed location.
(photo credit: Eastern Theatre Command/Handout via REUTERS)

Anyone who has followed China’s reaction to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s recent visit to Taiwan knows that Beijing is in a strategic fluster over how to respond. Beijing already sees the visit as setting a dangerous precedent. Reflecting this, Chinese President Xi Jinping warned the United States government that those who play with fire risk a bad ending.

The indications are that China intends to respond forcefully, publicly and harshly to US behavior, even if it is at the legislative and not the executive level. After the visit, however, these reactions tended to focus on punishing Taiwan, not just the US.

In any case, China’s response would not follow a particular script. It might even include a range of formal and informal responses, such as anonymous cyberattacks on Taiwan’s strategic facilities and a ban on imports of products from Taiwan.

This has already been announced, with a list of 100 products, as well as causing significant damage to Taiwan’s logistics and engineering industries, such as suspending shipments of Chinese sand to Taiwan. This action is described by experts as dangerous and very consequential. Taiwan’s microchip industry is totally dependent on Chinese sand.

Early indications of the consequences 

 A Taiwan Air Force Mirage 2000-5 aircraft lands at Hsinchu Air Base in Hsinchu, Taiwan August 7, 2022. (credit: ANN WANG/REUTERS) A Taiwan Air Force Mirage 2000-5 aircraft lands at Hsinchu Air Base in Hsinchu, Taiwan August 7, 2022. (credit: ANN WANG/REUTERS)

Financial markets gave an indication of the consequences of this visit, which has been perceived with striking relative calm, despite the military exercises ordered by Beijing. The situation appears to be under control. China can resort to the Biden administration’s favorite weapon in dealing with its strategic competitors and adversaries: painful economic sanctions.

This is the reason why the crisis is likely headed to an economic outcome. From a purely strategic point of view, China currently does not want to be involved in a military conflict that could halt its development process and negatively affect its ascension plans.

It is well aware that hostility toward it is a common denominator between Republicans and Democrats.l Biden would have little difficulty marshalling US domestic support for a limited or full-scale military conflict against China, if necessary.

Beijing, therefore, prefers that an escalation against the US in response to Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan be announced and vigorous, while being calculated and highly circumspect. This is to be expected in conflicts by great powers that make sense of the balance of power, and the limits of their capabilities and those of others.

Carefully calibrated military moves

THEY CAREFULLY calibrate their moves, especially when it comes to potential military confrontation. Possible signs of escalation of the Taiwan crisis and Beijing’s line of thinking can be seen in China’s next moves. Taiwan’s position in the semiconductor industry is similar to Ukraine’s position in growing and exporting grain to the world market.

The country produces about 50% of what is traded on the global system in an industry that is already in serious deficit due to the Ukraine crisis. Any pressure from China in this direction or any action to affect the Taiwanese industry could trigger a new global crisis.

The US and major industrialized economies cannot withstand bottlenecks in the semiconductor and microchip industries on which all technology hangs. This situation risks brushing up against the edge of a new deterioration in the global economy.

Containing the fallout from the Pelosi visit, which Beijing called a political farce and a manic visit that has put the PLA on high alert and was described by the Russian side as a deliberate attempt by Washington to anger Beijing, will certainly depend on how China evaluates the effectiveness of its military, political, diplomatic and economic actions in demonstrating its might and determination to return the island of Taiwan at a time of its choosing.

Put another way, China’s assessment of the results of these actions is pivotal to resolving the crisis triggered by Pelosi’s visit, assuming there are no errors or miscalculations in Sino-American or Sino-Taiwanese sea and air points of contact.

The expectations of Chinese military escalation in response to the visit are low, as the White House has rushed to officially distance itself from it and declare its commitment to a One China policy, thereby denying any potential Chinese military action the political justification that could be marketed internationally.

On the other hand, the visit could be an opportune time for China to reaffirm its tough stance on the island and respond to President Joe Biden’s repeated statements that the US would intervene in support of Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion. As well, Jinping is preparing for his third term this year. He wants to make the case that he is ready to face growing US pressure, particularly with regard to such an issue as sensitive to Chinese leaders as Taiwan.

The writer is a UAE political analyst and former Federal National Council candidate.