by Leng Ping
Tuesday, 9
August 2022
Reaction
10:16

Taiwan is the distraction Xi Jinping needs

Nancy Pelosi has done the Chinese leader a huge favour
by Leng Ping
Credit: Getty

Xi Jinping’s immediate political agenda is clear: securing his infinite term in the 20th Party Congress, likely held in October or November. To achieve this, he needs to paint a picture of prosperous China that was built, in part, by his own leadership. Unfortunately for Xi, things are not looking so rosy: cyclical lockdowns have damaged China’s growth prospects, with a 2.6% contraction in output between April and June this year. In addition, the job market is in a grim place (11 million fresh graduates need jobs) while China’s huge economy has been threatened by a housing crisis ‘the likes of which has never been seen’.

So if Xi is struggling to project a sunny upbeat image in anticipation of the 20th Party Congress, what else can he do? Well, he could say that China is facing a moment of peril that only he can salvage. In this regard, Nancy Pelosi has just done him a huge favour.


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Just when the likelihood of Xi continuing his term appeared less than absolute, Pelosi decided to visit Taiwan. Despite all the fanfare that greeted the House Speaker, China has since engaged in multiple rounds of military exercises — the latest of which will be focusing on anti-submarine and sea assault operations.

Back home, this visit has given Xi the chance to change his messaging away from domestic troubles to Taiwan. Unsurprisingly, the Chinese press has duly obliged, providing blanket coverage of the visit and the military drills. Meanwhile on social media, a Chinese idiom has started to emerge: ‘No Zuo No Die’, which combines the Chinese verb ‘Zuo’ with the English verb to describe someone who acts hysterically for attention. Its somewhat sinister meaning is that that those who play with fire deserve to perish by it. 

This rhetoric will be familiar to anyone who has been following developments in Taiwan. Prior to Pelosi’s visit, Xi warned President Biden to “not play with fire” over Taiwan, but the Speaker nonetheless proceeded to visit. So what was Pelosi and the US hoping to achieve from this visit? The only way this could have worked in America’s favour is, perversely, if an actual war had started, but nobody in their right mind would support such a move.

Pelosi’s visit was short-sighted because she has unknowingly strengthened Xi’s mandate. The Chinese economy is in trouble and there are many ways in which it could implode prior to the 20th Congress. If another Omicron outbreak erupts, or officials fail to solve systemic problems in the property sector, all bets are off. But Taiwan serves as a useful distraction for Xi and if he starts feeling domestic pressure, he may feel threatened enough to do something radical abroad.

Leng Ping is a professional from mainland China living in the UK and writing under a pseudonym.

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David McKee
David McKee
3 months ago

Leng Ping may be right, and the Pelosi visit has strengthened his hand in domestic Chinese politics.
In the other hand, if Pelosi had stayed away, it would almost certainly have been portrayed as an assertion of China’s place in the world. “Look, even the mighty Americans are frightened of China!” That would have worked even better in domestic Chinese politics, and would have strengthened China’s position with Taiwan and the other states in the western Pacific.
China wants to assert an undisputed hegemony in the region, for the entirely practical reason of protecting the sea lanes with its trading partners – particularly with the countries which have the raw materials that China lacks. Taiwan stands in its way. So for practical as well as ideological reasons, China wants to bring Taiwan to heel. Taiwan’s only chance of resisting Chinese pressure is if it feels it has the support of powerful friends. That is why Pelosi’s visit was so important.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
3 months ago
Reply to  David McKee

And the bonus is Xi staying in power to continue the rapid decline of China under his management.

Brian Villanueva
Brian Villanueva
3 months ago
Reply to  David McKee

Pelosi could have simply said immediately that she had no firm plans to visit Taiwan and that she generally doesn’t comment on her travel itinerary for her own security. That would likely have mollified China enough to make them shut up, and even if they didn’t, she isn’t changing any plans in response to China.

The way she did handle it was the worst of both worlds. She allowed herself to be boxed in by her own leaks and China’s resulting rhetoric.

Last edited 3 months ago by Brian Villanueva
Dominic A
Dominic A
3 months ago

It was Bush and the Iraq war that really played into the hands of the autocrats. Democratic and/or mature countries, leaders have a core principle – do not invade for acquisition. This is not being stated clearly and frequently enough. Whilst, the second Iraq war was not really such a war – it resembled one enough to encourage Putin and Xi Jinping – the Americans do it, why can’t we?

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
3 months ago

What a daft article – anyone that thinks war games on this scale weren’t planned at least a year ago needs their head examined. The world knew they were planned, and that the Chinese would go ahead anyway.

However, the writer gets it even more wrong (as Sheldon wouldn’t say): “The only way this could have worked in America’s favour is, perversely, if an actual war had started. Pelosi’s visit was short-sighted because she has unknowingly strengthened Xi’s mandate.”

The writer doesn’t understand that helping Xi stay in power forever (a la the disaster that Putin is for Russia) is exactly the right strategy – he’s taking China from near global supremacy to being an economic basket case. Of course the USA want to strengthen his mandate to continue China’s rapid decline. The CCP is letting itself be led blindly into a long term cul de sac.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
3 months ago

“So what was Pelosi and the US hoping to achieve from this visit?”
Showing that they don’t take orders from Xi.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
3 months ago

Maybe the deal was agreed between the US and PRC? Stuff happens in great secret. I happen to know for instance that DeValera (Irl) and Churchill agreed Ireland should not join the allies in 1939 – neither the fledgling state nor UK could have prevented a German invasion of Irl which would have allowed Hitler to attack the UK from East and West!
It was also agreed that Churchill would heavily criticize DeValera for remaining neutral while Irl would feign some support for Germany. The ruse worked.. sometimes a deal is done at the highest level on a quid pro quo basis. So look out for Xi wading in to support Biden in the near future!
But they’re sworn enemies I hear you say: yeah, like Irl and the UK were in 1939. Don’t believe the propaganda!

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
3 months ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

Don’t try and portray Irelands cowardice during the war as something noble. How many Allied sailors lost their lives because Ireland “bravely” allowed the German U Boats to patrol their waters? And if Ireland and the Allies were in cahoots why was DeValera the only one to sign a book of condolence for the German wartime leader?

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
3 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

It’s a really weird culture (from which I also emanate) – they hated the English so much that the Irish public queued for hours in Dublin to sign the book of condolence for Hitler, even as the cinema newsreels were showing the horrors of the extermination camps.