Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi cares deeply about the people of Taiwan, as she has throughout her long career. That’s my story and I’m going to try my darndest to stick to it as I write this column.
Her visit to the self-governing island earlier this month displayed her commitment to this beleaguered democracy. At a press event following her meeting with President Tsai Ing-wen, she said her goal was to make Taiwan’s security relationship with the United States “stronger and up to date.” She emphasized: “And we don’t want anything to happen to Taiwan by force.”
She also pledged to boost America’s economic relationship with Taiwan, in particular a “trade agreement that might be possible, and soon.”
So, what has she done to fulfill these promises since her return to Washington? Not much, far as I can tell.
That’s a problem because—apologies to Woody Allen—80 percent of success is not just showing up.
Nancy Pelosi is a lioness in winter. Her days as a political powerhouse probably end after the November elections. There are steps she can take to strengthen Taiwan and more effectively deter China’s rulers, but she needs to act quickly and boldly.
She might start with the Taiwan Policy Act of 2022, introduced by Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Menendez. Its purpose, as Menendez wrote, is to “develop and put in place a new and more resilient strategy for Taiwan while there is still time.”
The bipartisan bill would help the Taiwanese with defense training and planning, as well as provide $4.5 billion in security assistance—funds Taiwan would use to purchase U.S. weapons systems already approved for sale under both the Trump and Biden administrations.
The better trained and armed the Taiwanese are, the less likely that Xi Jinping will wage war on them. A more colorful—if by now clichéd—way to say this: Taiwan needs to become a porcupine—tough for a predator to swallow.
Speaker Pelosi should be pressing the House Foreign Affairs Committee to advance a companion version of the Taiwan Policy Act, as well as making plans for the full House to consider such legislation before the end of the fiscal year.
Moving on to the U.S.-Taiwan economic relationship: Where’s her legislation establishing a free trade agreement that would reduce Taiwan’s economic reliance on Beijing, currently its top trading partner?
She’d find many allies for that across the aisle. Getting President Biden on board will be more challenging, but she’s no slacker when it comes to arm-twisting.
And does she support renewal of trade promotion authority to give the White House a way to fast-track trade deals in Congress?
Other useful activities would include speaking out forcefully against Beijing’s influence operations on American campuses, taking on the Chinese Communist Party’s apologists in Hollywood and on Wall Street, warning state and local governments against getting too cozy with Beijing, and doing something about the United Nation’s refusal to penalize Beijing in any meaningful way for its genocide of Uighur Muslims and other minorities, not to mention its colonization of Tibet. Leave aside for the moment a serious inquiry into how a viral pandemic spread from the city in which the Wuhan Institute of Virology is located.
It also would be helpful if—at this time of rising isolationism on both the left and the right—she would explain clearly to the public how important Taiwan is to American prosperity and why, if the Free World is to endure, America cannot not be indifferent when totalitarians threaten to snuff out democratic societies.
She could remind Americans that the Taiwanese have never been ruled by Communists and don’t want to be. We know that for certain from public polling and because the Taiwanese vote in free and fair elections.
Xi’s argument for the Taiwanese accepting the mainland as their motherland might have been more compelling had he abided by his government’s treaty obligation to respect the civil and human rights that Hong Kong enjoyed under British rule. Instead, he reneged on the “One Country, Two Systems” promise—and when the people of Hong Kong protested, he responded brutally.
One more item, the most significant: President Biden has said three times that he would use force to defend Taiwan. At present, however, the U.S. military is not adequately resourced for that mission.
Pelosi must know that. It would be a Nixon-to-China moment (so to speak) were she to call for sharply increasing military spending, but that’s what is necessary for “deterrence by denial”—convincing Xi that a military invasion of Taiwan would likely fail.
She ought to acknowledge, too, that America’s defense-industrial base is in urgent need of shoring up. We don’t have the means to rapidly produce military hardware and munitions to replace what we’re sending to the Ukrainians who are now defending themselves from a neo-imperialist tyrant—in large measure because we did not make Ukraine a porcupine when we should have.
As much as a trillion dollars for this purpose could be available if Biden would change his mind about forcing taxpayers to pick up the tab for loans taken out by a select group of college graduates. Speaker Pelosi has said he doesn’t have the legal authority to spend the public’s money this way. Now would be a good time for her to press the point.
Biden will be displeased, but so what? He objected to her going to Taiwan this summer and she went anyway.
She did that as a matter of principle, not as virtue signaling, or to give herself a grand swan song. That’s my story and I’ve now stuck to it for an entire column.
Clifford D. May is founder and president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) and a columnist for the Washington Times.