On August 2, Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan, marking the first time in 25 years that such a high ranking official has entered the country. This was one of the stops on Pelosi’s tour in Asia, in which the U.S. House Speaker embarked on to have “productive meetings that will continue to inform Congress’s work to advance our values and interests and strengthen our partnerships in the region,” according to a Newsroom press release.
Despite visiting several other Asian nations, it was this stop in particular that drummed up quite the controversy. Due to the tumultuous relationship and history between Taiwan, otherwise known as the Republic of China (ROC), and the People’s Republic of China (PRC), commonly referred to simply as China.
The citizens who make up Taiwan originate from mainland China. In 1949, the ROC government relocated to Taiwan while fighting a civil war with the Chinese Communist Party. Since then, the ROC has continued to govern the main island of Taiwan and a number of outlying islands, leaving Taiwan and China each under the rule of a different government.
Despite these two states operating independently of each other, both the ROC and the PRC still officially claim mainland China and the Taiwan area as part of their respective territories. In reality, the PRC rules only mainland China but claims Taiwan as part of its territory under its "One China Principle".
This power struggle has led to high tensions for years between the two. The PRC has not been shy to utilize threats and military presence in nearby zones to the ROC to showcase their displeasure in the ROC’s pursuit of democracy.
And that is, expectedly, what happened upon the announcement that Pelosi would make her visit. Chinese President Xi Jinping called President Joe Biden and asked him to prevent Pelosi’s visit, since he felt it was in violation of the “one China policy," which the U.S. has acknowledged according to the Washington Post.
Biden did not oblige, citing that Congress is an independent branch of government. However, he did express his reservations over the trip, as well as other White House officials Washington Post. While many had concerns, Pelosi’s trip also garnered support from other government officials, such as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who issued a statement in support.
It is reasonable to have doubts over the consequences of Pelosi’s trip due to the PRC’s history of military responses. However, Pelosi has every right to visit Taiwan. While the U.S.'s relationship with China is important, its positive relationship with Taiwan can not be overlooked.
In a tour of Asian countries aimed to re-affirm positive international relations, it is natural that Taiwan would be on the itinerary.
“Though the United States does not have diplomatic relations with Taiwan, we have a robust unofficial relationship," according to the U.S. Department of State. "The United States and Taiwan share similar values, deep commercial and economic links which … serve as the impetus for expanding U.S. engagement with Taiwan.”
If we continue to downplay our relationship with the ROC for the sake of our relationship with the PRC, we continue to send the message to China that as long a threat is made, we will comply. We will carry on this pattern of walking on eggshells, and the unstable nature of our relationship with China will continue.
It is appropriate to be in communication with both parties in order to pursue the U.S. overall mission to strengthen Asian-Pacific relations. There is no action that can guarantee an outcome that is universally satisfactory, which is why there are times where the U.S. will have to make controversial decisions. The conflict between all nations involved is far from over, but it will never be over without notable actions that inspire further dialogue and cooperation.