Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, continues on her tour of Asia. She went through Singapore, went to Taiwan, from there to Japan, and as this column is being written, she is in South Korea, where she visited the Demilitarized Zone on the border and was not received by South Korean President Yoon Suk- yeol. Mainly, his visit to the island of Taiwan caused major protests from the Beijing government and a wave of sensationalism in some political commentators, as if the apocalypse was approaching.
In October of 2021, almost a year ago, we published here in our space a column called “Is China ready to invade Taiwan?”. If the reader has not read it at the time, he is invited to read it. What motivated the column on that occasion was a statement by the Taiwanese Defense Minister, Chiu Kuo-cheng, stating that, in 2025, China will be able to invade and dominate the island. In that column we also revisited some of the historical reasons for the dispute between China and Taiwan.
In addition to historical issues, it is important to highlight a political and legal issue. In practice, there are two Chinas. The People’s Republic of China, mainland China, the third largest country in the world, with a local communist party regime and whose capital is Beijing. And the Republic of China, an island country, also called Taiwan or Taipei, after its capital. Legally, however, there is only one Chinese republic, and both Chinese republics adopt a policy called One China.
For communist China, Taiwan is a rebellious province. For Taiwan, the communist government is illegitimate. And whoever has relations with one country, necessarily, does not recognize the other. So when a foreign official visits the island, Beijing protests, saying it violates the One China policy, giving some form of recognition to Taiwan’s rebel government. In the case of Pelosi’s visit, the protests were the sharpest in history.
Pelosi is the third person in the line of succession from the USA, and such a visit has not occurred since the 1990s 1990. Pelosi is also known for her historic opposition to the Beijing government. Mainly, as Speaker of the House of Representatives, she can put on the agenda and vote on topics such as greater arms sales to Taiwan and greater political cooperation with the island’s government. Even so, the risk of generalized hostility starting over a visit like this is, as seen, negligible.
Yes, if a hypothetical World War III starts in the next few decades, it will certainly start in the next few decades. South China Sea. The region is a focus of tension for world powers that can make a local conflict become global, in addition to being an essential route for world trade and where border disputes abound. And no, a large-scale military exercise is not healthy, putting opposing forces into possible close contact, opening windows for some disaster.
When China fires more than a dozen ballistic missiles towards Taiwan and starts a series of military maneuvers with live ammunition that practically block the island, she is showing her muscles, showing her grievance and, one cannot forget, giving satisfaction to the internal public, months before the 20 th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party. Hence to be the prelude to an invasion goes a pelago. For example, a Chinese journalist even raised the possibility of Pelosi’s plane being intercepted.
Many people around the world reproduced this practically uncritically, as if it were even plausible, and not a bravado of a journalist from a newspaper linked to the Chinese government made precisely for disinformation and confusion. Can China One Day Invade Taiwan? Yes, but when it’s ready, especially your aircraft carrier building program. The main possibilities of a conflict there are covered precisely in that column from almost a year ago.
Francisco Ferdinando Syndrome
In the field of international politics and of conflicts between countries, sensationalist or underhanded analyses, however, always gain ground, perhaps for two reasons. The first is a certain fetish with the apocalypse, with the idea of an imminent nuclear World War III that will destroy the world. This fetish is even quite profitable. It yields headlines that take over social networks, generate clicks, also yield “tips” on how to manage your money on the eve of the hecatomb.
The second reason is a kind of “Francis Ferdinand syndrome”, a fixation with the idea that a single event will trigger a world conflict. This event, this new attack on Sarajevo, is sought at all costs. When Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet, when the Russian ambassador to Turkey was assassinated, when a North Korean ballistic missile flew over Japan, when Indians and Chinese clashed at the border, when Ukraine invaded, etc.
All these moments would supposedly be an assassination of the 21st century Archduke. When, curiously, this is the result of a historical simplification. The assassination of Franz Ferdinand was indeed the trigger for a crisis that lasted a month, between the assassination and the first declaration of war. One of several crises that are part of the complex web of factors that, accumulated over decades, contributed to the outbreak of the Great War, far from being just the assassination of the Archduke.
Two excellent recent works address how this view of “Francis Ferdinand syndrome” is only symbolic. One is The Sleepwalkers, by Christopher Clark, in which he analyzes how Europe went to war in the month that separates the attack from the conflict. The second is The Three Emperors, by Miranda Carter, which deals with the personal relationships between three monarchs, George V of the United Kingdom, Nicholas II of Russia and William II from Germany, three cousins, and how this may have contributed to the conflict.
We cannot forget the great difference between that world and today’s, the risk of a nuclear conflict. The same risk that made the Cold War superpowers defuse very serious crises. There is no lack of historical examples that justify a parsimonious analysis of the events and the serious current crises between the powers, and impose the removal of the “analyses” that, like Pedro, scream that the wolf is coming all the time. In this case, the “wolf” is the nuclear conflict.