The well-orchestrated US House of Representative Speaker Nancy Pelosi's trip to Taiwan was more than a visit to a US client state. Taiwan, under Chiang Kai-Shek of the Kuomingtan (KMT) used to imagine it would one day ‘liberate’ the mainland from Mao Ze Dung’s Communist Party of China.
The United States, with its own domestic tribulations, encouraged Taiwan to entertain such beliefs, made the United Nations go along, and plunged into a self-destructive war in Vietnam. African countries, as part of the Third World movement, helped destroy the myth that Taiwan was China.
Subsequently, Beijing replaced Taipei at the UN. The United States, to extricate itself from its Vietnam fiasco, accepted the new geopolitical reality, remained deeply sentimental over Taiwan. It is that sentimentality that American officials use to prove toughness, particularly against China to divert attention from domestic trouble.
It appears the US was in need of diverting attention from its involvement in the Ukraine crisis. This would be in line with the thinking of Chicago University’s John Mersheimer that China, rather than Russia, was the main threat to American interests, whether economic or geopolitical. He was vocal in blaming the US for unnecessarily provoking the Russians into taking self-defensive actions in Ukraine.
The purpose of the provocations was to stamp American global dominance by re-humiliating an already cold war humiliated Russia into a Carthaginian defeat; Ukraine was the bait in the same way that Afghanistan was the bait in the destruction of the Soviet Union. The Russians knowingly took the Ukraine bait but instead of succumbing, they turned tables on the West. Once again, the United States, and Europe, found themselves in a prolonged quagmire and needs a way out.
The way out was diverting attention from the mess in Ukraine and China looked good as a crisis relief. Ukraine continues to embarrass the West/NATO because the sanctions on Moscow have not achieved their stated objective. While the West suffers due to shortages in energy and related economic malfunctions, Russia seems to gain strength rather than collapsing. Russia squeezes the gas pipe and the Ukrainian wheat granaries, and the ruble gains in strength by making Europe pay in rubles instead of dollars or euros.
The adulation that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had received in the West for ‘standing up’ to Russia started withering and he appeared increasingly irrelevant to the West. Not a media star anymore, and the promised aid from the West being slow in coming, Zelensky started turning on his own government officials as internal divisions intensified.
Besides, despite putting up commendable resistance to the Russian onslaught, Ukraine has systematically lost one city after another. On balance, Russia has been doing better than expected and the West has been losing economically and in global politics.
On its part, China is an irritation to the American desire for global dominance. Penetrating the global economy, it had methodically reduced Western visibility in the Third World. In declining to join the West in condemning Russia in Ukraine, China became a target for displaying American symbolic toughness and venting frustration. Since China believes that Taiwan is Chinese province, provoking China over Taiwan would achieve two feel-good purposes. It would display American global toughness against rival power in Asia and minimise media attention to the mess in Ukraine.
Pelosi provided an opportunity for both purposes. Her Taiwan visit became the subject of ‘global’ discussion. Beijing displayed military prowess around Taiwan after which Washington complained that the Chinese military show was out of proportion to the provocation. The Pelosi Taiwan visit, besides making Americans look tough, helped divert attention from domestic economic woes and Ukraine.