On August 2, Nancy Pelosi visited Taipei and met with President Tsai to show “support for the people of Taiwan,” which, according to Pelosi “is more important today than ever, as we continue to support the defense of democracy against autocracy in the region and in the world.”
This misadventure encapsulates so much of what’s wrong with the Biden-era China policy: inconsistent, distracted, and ultimately ineffective.
For starters, President Biden denounced the visit. This obviously undermined the trip by showing that Pelosi, and the delegation she led, spoke only for herself and perhaps the House, not the U.S. government. More importantly, it weakens Biden’s credibility on the China issue when he can’t even prevent a politician in his own party from sending a congressional delegation to Taiwan.
This might have been worth it had the visit been necessary to actually accomplish a discrete strategic objective. While the trip contained a press conference, banquet, museum visit and award ceremony for Pelosi herself, it was fresh out of strategic objectives. The other fruits of the trip were a round of Chinese military exercises and DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks directed at Taiwan, as well as heightened tensions in the U.S.-China relationship.
Biden has had plenty of China missteps all on his own, too. On September 18, he unambiguously declared that he would send troops to defend Taiwan from Chinese invasions for the third time in the past year — and the White House press team immediately walked it back for the third time.
None of this is to say that America needs to toe every red line that Beijing draws, whether it comes to Taiwan or any other issue. Quite the opposite: China is a dangerous rival. We have to bring our A-game, and so many inconsistencies and tough talk divorced from discrete accomplishments make that harder, not easier.
Jonah Goldberg argues that the relevant question in American policy toward China is no longer about hawkishness or dovishness, but whether our hawkishness will be ‘dumb’ or ‘smart’. Trump had his own severe shortcomings in making a comprehensive, smart policy to counter China, and it’s clear that Biden is also falling short.
Republicans and Democrats need to soberly examine just how bad things have gotten, formulate a comprehensive, smart, hawkish strategy to turn things around and communicate that policy to the American people and to each other. In the case of the Biden Administration, they also need to act on it.
What might that look like? For one thing, it would distinguish the desirable from the achievable. For example, the Quad—a strategic dialogue between the United States, Japan, Australia, and India— will not become an Asian NATO against China. The Biden administration, and everyone else, need to recognize that the government of India is profoundly uninterested in picking sides, happily partnering with the Quad one day and Russia and China the next.
A credible strategy would also chase impactful actions over shallow statements. Contrast Pelosi’s ill-considered visit to Taipei or Biden’s dithering about strategic ambiguity against Marines training Taiwanese soldiers, both in Taiwan and Guam. Which actually increases Taiwanese security? Which is worth expanding, right away? Which is worth dealing with Chinese repercussions over, and which is a distraction at best?
Democrats and Republicans also need to bring a lot more to the table on the economic front. A 2020 report from the House Republicans has a lot to recommend, but it’s been gathering dust since.
For all the appropriate talk about decoupling from China, there’s been little explanation as to where supply chains will go if American manufacturing and sourcing doesn’t meet a company’s need. Besides, Taiwan itself is extremely reliant upon, and vulnerable to, the Chinese economy. The fact that a free trade deal with Taiwan, to lessen that reliance, isn’t being at least considered is a bad sign for taking the China threat seriously; so is the fact that reviving accession to the CPTPP is now almost unthinkable, on the left or right.
Theodore Roosevelt famously warned to ‘speak softly and carry a big stick.’ But Biden and the Democrats haven’t been listening. They’re speaking loudly — and inconsistently — with a stick not nearly up to the task. Hopefully, that changes, but history shows not to wait for the Democrats to do the right thing. If they won’t raise their game, Republicans need to throw down the gauntlet by pushing back, hard and soon, with an ambitious and achievable anti-China agenda. Conservatives can and should seize this moment. America needs an answer and a direction. It’s time to give it one.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.