Fresh Taiwan Strait crisis seems different from past ones

One of the main reasons for China’s sabre-rattling is that Taiwan now stands as a left-alone area to remain not unified under the One China principle. After Tibet and Hong Kong, China now turns its attention to Taiwan, with explicit proposals in place, while Taiwan rejects such proposals.

Much of the geopolitical tension appears to be simmering in the Taiwan Strait following Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan with the US Congressional delegation on 2 August 2022. This delegation’s visit comes after China issued “several serious démarches to the US side” warning about a possible visit to Taiwan during the planned trip to Southeast Asia and East Asia. China immediately encircled Taiwan with warships to send a message to the rest of the world that such a visit “constitutes a gross interference in China’s internal affairs, seriously undermines China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity”, and tampered with the fundamental principle of the One China Policy, which serves as the cornerstone of the People’s Republic of China’s foreign policy. Days have passed since Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan, but tensions don’t seem to have eased, making the Pacific Ocean unpacific, so to speak. So, propounding a very narrative slant, the Taiwan Strait is becoming a Thucydides Trap where China asserts its right to emerge as a hegemon to displace the US. One might ponder why China is upset about a delegation from the US Congress led by Nancy Pelosi going to Taiwan as part of Southeast Asia and East Asia.


After communist forces led by Mao Zedong triumphed over the mainland in the internal civil war in 1949, the Republic of China migrated to Taiwan. It functioned as the sole voice of China, denying the legitimacy of the Communist Party-led People’s Republic of China, with adequate support from the United States. Owing to the strong currents during the Cold War from the Soviet Union, the Nixon Administration of the US shifted their policy to “acknowledge the Government of the People’s Republic of China as the sole legal government of China,” emphasising One China through the three Sino-US joint communiqués. On the question of Taiwan, it was evident through these three communiqués that the US acknowledged the One China Policy yet balanced through the Six Assurances and Taiwan Relations Act of 1979 for a peaceful determination of the future of Taiwan. Geopolitical critics cite such a stance as the US’s conventional means to twist the narrative because a considerable difference exists between acceptance and acknowledgement in bilateral relations.

Time and again, the USA, through the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, has supplied “Taiwan with arms of a defensive character and shall maintain the capacity of the United States to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardise the security, or social or economic system, of the people of Taiwan.” Despite successfully cutting the official diplomatic channel between the United States and Taiwan, China could not cease the economic connections due to the United States’ goal of rebalancing China vis-à-vis Taiwan through the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, by supplying the latter with arms to maintain a sufficient self-defence capacity against the former and also ensuring strong economic ties between the USA and Taiwan. It is worth noting that China regards such US designs as unilateral concoctions (referring to the Taiwan Relations Act of 1949 and the Six Assurances), which China has never recognized.

Although Taiwan is a source of strife in Sino-US ties, both countries maintain a close relationship. The US-China Relations Act of 2000 permitted China to join the World Trade Organization in 2001. Then, through Strategic Economic Dialogue, both nations established deeper economic relationships, which China fully utilised in their favour through currency manipulations that leveraged China to have a trade surplus, which gradually caused ripples in their bilateral relations. Now, a sizable policymaker in the White House sees China as a challenge to the established regional system in East Asia that favours the US, as well as a potential pretender to revise the status quo.

Why has China recently asserted its position on Taiwan? A Congressional delegation led by the then Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich, visited Taiwan in 1977 with many hardline provocations against the PRC. Yet, there was no such retaliation as observed today following Nancy Pelosi’s visit.

Nancy Pelosi, as a political figure in the United States, has a massive lobby to bottleneck against China. She is a vocal critic of China to draw attention to severe human rights abuses due to Communist authoritarians in Beijing. A general examination would reveal that, unlike Newt Gingrich, Nancy Pelosi has always been a critic of China. Thus, one reason for such strong opposition from China is her political activism, especially in viewing China as highly at odds. She was the first in the US Congress to name China as a currency manipulator in 2010. In the US Congressional Delegation of 1991, Nancy Pelosi unfurled a banner in Tiananmen Square, seeking wide attention to the fact that a similar massacre in that square in 1989 as a pro-democracy-oriented protest was dealt with death blows by the authoritarian China regime. Following such a public act in the square, back in the USA, she mobilised enough lobbyists against any closer relationship with China. Her vocal criticism against the PRC also echoes support for the authority of the Dalai Lama over Tibet, thus outright criticising the human rights abuses committed by China in Tibet. Her audacious visit to Taiwan would directly create currents of statements or any show to undermine China on the concept of human rights, which would dent the China’s international character as Taiwan approaches its 75th anniversary of adopting the constitution. To carefully thwart any such attempts, China equated a Westphalian notion of sovereignty and territorial integrity with the basic theme of Nancy Pelosi’s delegation visit to Southeast Asia and East Asia on “mutual security, economic partnership, and democratic governance”. Another reason for the sabre-rattling by China is that Taiwan now stands as a left-alone area to remain not unified under the One China Principle. Following Tibet and Hong Kong, China now turns its attention to Taiwan, with explicit proposals in place, while Taiwan rejects such proposals. The PRC is now creating a Melian Dialogue simulation around Taiwan using Nancy Pelosi’s led delegation visit to Taiwan to coerce Taiwan to accede to the One China policy.

Vivid that the US never supported Taiwan’s independence, even now, and the USA has not denied supporting Taiwan if China attacks. Even the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979 states that the US would support Taiwan militarily on China’s assertion through military means. The PRC’s developments have demonstrated its ability to use military capabilities to coerce its disputing neighbours to unify their lands in order to reclaim hegemonic dominance in East Asia and, later, the Indo-Pacific. The recent China statement to proceed with military confrontation indicates that Beijing explicitly calls for a confrontation to create a Thucydides Trap against the USA. Such confrontations are not new in the Taiwan Strait. Three earlier crises led to the status quo on either side of the Taiwan Strait. However, in all such crises, China took its seat back on the mainland and maintained the status quo. But this current crisis seems to be different from that of the past because now Taiwan only stands as the last remaining leg of (un)unified land under the One China principle. Nancy Pelosi is an ardent critic of China, and her delegation-led visit gave China reason to act. Yet, such stature would not bring any tangible changes anytime soon.

Ayadoure S. Stalin was the Research Fellow at Rise to Peace, a counter-terrorism-based think tank in the USA.