Updated: Nov 6, 2022
Over a month ago, Nancy Pelosi paid a visit to the island-republic of Taiwan (officially known as the Republic of China). Nancy Pelosi is the current Speaker of the House of Representatives and, is second in line to the US presidency after the Vice President of the United States.
Her rank is exactly what makes the visit historic. It has been the first time in 25 years, after the visit of Newt Gingrich in 1997, that a US politician serving as the Speaker of the House of Representatives has visited Taiwan. The two-day visit was the expected highlight of Nancy Pelosi’s tour of Asia that included visits to Malaysia, South Korea, Singapore and Japan. Despite the strong reactions that came before the visit by the People’s Republic of China (PRC), the USA held that Nancy Pelosi does indeed have a right to visit Taiwan (even after President Biden discouraged her from doing so).
The Response of China :
The Chinese response to the visit was to issue a slurry of bans on Taiwanese seafood and fruit exports, and to initiate military exercises close to the island, even to the extent of invading Taiwanese airspace. The military exercises and ensuing demarcation of six no-entry zones around the island for civilian ships and planes made a statement that the Chinese response to the visit isn’t one of genuine concern but of shameless bullying and insecurity. The banning of seafood and fruit exports doesn't even cause a dent in the economy of Taiwan, as agriculture accounts for 1% of the Taiwanese economy. The Taiwanese stock market did marginally decrease considering the aftermath of the visit, and bounced back. The Taiwanese foreign exchange reserves are the world’s sixth largest and more than enough to cover the economic fallback from the visit.
To say that China was receptive to the visit would be quite an understatement. The PRC government views the visit as a gross violation of the ‘One China Policy.’ To quote the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian, who is rather (in)famous for his contribution to such reactionary rhetoric, China “will have to take determined and forceful measures to firmly safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity” should the visit proceed. To escalate the situation, the PRC government even issued a statement that said “those who play with fire would perish by it”. The jingoistic rhetoric reached its peak as a Global Times editorial also advocated that Nancy Pelosi’s plane be shot down.
Nevertheless, the American delegation led by Nancy Pelosi did go to Taiwan, and the visit reaffirmed “America's unshakeable commitment to our allies and friends in the region."
For Chinese diplomats, ever since the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) grassroots existence at Yan’an, the task of taking care of the image of the Party isn’t a mere responsibility, it is a destined duty. Here is where the ‘saving face’ aspect of Chinese diplomacy comes into action.
The definition of ‘face’ according to Rui Zhang, in a universal sense, is as “the public image which a person claims for himself/herself and is also recognized by others” and it also can apply to institutions like the Communist Party of China (CPC) and the state.
Rui Zhang uses a great pattern in his research to help readers understand the face:
When an individual perceives an opportunity to meet another person, his personal judgement analyzes whether the person is of superior status or of inferior status. If the person is of superior status, Chinese culture encourages the person to show superiority and, by that, automatically gain/save face. If the person is of inferior or similar status, acting like an acquaintance helps to save face. This is exactly what the PRC government attempted to do with respect to the visit by Nancy Pelosi, assert dominance in the face of a democracy that recently ‘lost its face’ in Afghanistan.
All of the above reactions by the PRC serve to remind the world of its commitment to warmongering rhetoric, the Wolf Warrior Diplomacy and its obsession with saving ‘face’.
The Chinese response to the visit by Nancy Pelosi too drew sharp criticism from its own citizens, including nationalists too. Mostly because the PRC did not follow through on their threats. Hu Xijin (the erstwhile editor of the Global Times) wrote the fiery editorial to shoot down Pelosi’s plane. Lu Shaye called for the re-education of the Taiwanese population in the event that Taiwan re-unifies with China, drawing parallels from the re-education camps for Uyghur Muslims at Xinjiang
With respect to Chinese diplomacy, such responses were not out of the box and the responses by the PRC government too were rather expected, as seen in Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s statement.
The above retaliatory responses have been considered rather embarrassing due to their effects (or lack thereof). The economy of Taiwan wasn’t harmed, nor its territorial integrity. All the PRC could do was wave fists as Nancy Pelosi’s delegation met with President Tsai Ing-Wen. The visit is also a great diplomatic victory for the USA as it highlights its diplomatic power as it’s engaged in peacekeeping efforts over the war in Ukraine, the fallout after withdrawing its soldiers from Afghanistan, and on the other hand, the PRC directed its economic sanctions to weaken the power base of President Tsai Ing-Wen.
This specific case of Chinese ‘Wolf Warrior’ diplomacy is rather unique itself because it forms one of the few instances where such jingoistic rhetoric has failed to appease the constituents at home because of the obvious limitations to its execution. China has rather continuously, ever since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, instigated various territorial and geopolitical disputes with its immediate neighbours. The Hong Kong-China protests continued till mid 2020, because of the Standing Committee of the CPC’s drafting of the Hong Kong national security law. 2020 also saw an intense confrontation with India in Eastern Ladakh that spilled over into 2021 and still continues to this day. In 2021, the Spratly islands dispute between China and the Philippines was reinvigorated. Therefore, Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan wasn’t just a mere transgression by the US, according to China, but an attempt to ruin the aggressive ‘face’ that the PRC has spent almost half a decade building. This could have immediate and serious consequences, as the CPC will hold its 20th National Congress on October 16th. The National Congress is often the face of the top-level leadership changes in China, as it elects the Central Committee, Politburo and Politburo Standing Committee. It is expected that Xi Jinping may seek an unprecedented third term, and any threat to his foreign or military policy may also be a threat to his ambitions. Although the Party Congress may be considered a rubber stamp, the shadow workings within the CPC may well prove to be a threat to Xi Jinping.
With respect to this specific event, we see the PRC rather greatly humiliated and her people angry. The tactic of nationalistic and jingoistic rhetoric has simply not worked for them, their rather aggressive approach of the wolf warrior diplomacy has caused them to be viewed as insecure. The reaction from China was extremely predictable and while such arguments are supported by the CPC, the rising tide of nationalistic and jingoistic elements in the aftermath of the visit is also a result of the 'wolf warrior diplomacy's' rhetoric. The drawback is evident, such elements shall serve for China to lose face instead of gaining face in the long run.
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