There are no easy choices for the U.S. in this situation.
If Pelosi had canceled the visit, she would have been overruling the wishes of Taiwan’s leaders. A visit, said my colleague Amy Qin, who is based in Taiwan, “boosts Taiwan’s legitimacy on the international stage.”
As Edward Wong, a Times correspondent who covers diplomacy from Washington, said, “Supporters of the trip argue that it’s the U.S. sending a message to Beijing that Taiwan is important enough to us that we are going to engage at senior levels.” He described the trip as a version of “diplomatic deterrence,” trying to remind China of the potential consequences if it did invade Taiwan.
A cancellation, by contrast, would have risked sending the message that China can dictate American relations with Taiwan. It would have the potential to repeat the mistakes that the U.S. made with Putin over the past 20 years, when it repeatedly tried to appease him.
Putin invaded Georgia, annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula, murdered Russian dissidents and intervened in the U.S. presidential election in 2016. Each time, the U.S. avoided major confrontation, partly out of a worry that it could spark a larger war. Putin, viewing the U.S. and Western Europe as weak, responded last year with a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
If China believes the U.S. won’t ultimately come to Taiwan’s defense, the chances of an invasion may increase.
But the risks of a confrontational approach are also real. Pelosi’s visit, for example, may lead Chinese airplanes to near Taiwan in new ways. “If they enter into Taiwan’s territorial airspace, an incident could happen, whether Xi wants one or not,” Bonnie Glaser, the director of the Asia Program at the German Marshall Fund of the U.S., told The Times.