The ebb and flow of the corporate news cycle almost always distorts and distracts rather than informs or enlightens. So it was this week with the coverage of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan, which produced the intended effect of eliciting lazy puff pieces lauding her “three-decade career of challenging the Chinese government on human rights and other issues,” as the New York Times’ Carl Hulse dutifully put it.
But make no mistake: Pelosi did not go to Taiwan to stand up to China. She went for her own purposes, to shore up a narrative about her legacy as a tough American political leader who has always stood up to autocracies like communist China in defense of democracy. Remember that time she unfurled the banner in Tiananmen Square and the police yelled at her? Of course you do. Hulse and his colleagues have made sure of it.
In reality, the Taiwan trip was pure political propaganda, lapped up and regurgitated by a sycophantic press unwilling to admit the obvious fact that Pelosi, like every other establishment figure in Washington, has never been serious about standing up to China.
Indeed, Pelosi’s long political career, much like President Joe Biden’s and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s, maps almost perfectly onto China’s steady economic and military rise, especially over the past two decades. Apart from occasionally staging a little political theater, Pelosi and her fellow Democrat leaders have done nothing to slow or even impede that rise — quite the opposite, in fact.
Consider just some recent examples. During the thick of the Covid-19 pandemic, in the fall of 2020, Pelosi blocked a bipartisan House bill that would have curtailed the influence of Chinese-government-funded Confucius Institutes at universities across the country. Around the same time, her House Democrats denounced a bill that would have called out Beijing for spreading the conspiracy theory that Covid originated in a U.S. military lab, absurdly calling the bill racist and xenophobic.
Earlier that year, Pelosi’s House Democrats dropped out of what was supposed to be a bipartisan “China Task Force” overseeing congressional strategy on China. When Democrats bailed on the task force without an explanation the day before it was set to launch, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy moved on without them.
Just this week, Pelosi and Schumer got near-unanimous Democrat support to pass the CHIPS bill, a massive tax-and-spending spree meant to bolster U.S. semiconductor manufacturing and scientific research. The idea behind the bill is to increase our competitiveness with China, so the legislation bars any U.S. entity that does business with the Chinese Communist Party from receiving funds.
But it also provides broad carve-outs that allow companies to continue funding CCP semiconductor manufacturing, and it authorizes the National Science Foundation to act as a gatekeeper between Chinese intelligence and the U.S. semiconductor industry, allowing the NSF to award grants to colleges and universities that partner with the aforementioned CCP-controlled Confucius Institutes. As the Daily Caller reported last week, China might be the biggest winner in the CHIPS bill.
Setting all that aside, though, if Pelosi and the Democrat establishment in Washington had at any point over the last 30 years really cared about countering China, if Pelosi really ever believed in an “ironclad” U.S. defense of Taiwan’s democracy, as she said this week, then they would not have spent decades selling out their own country to the CCP. They would have opposed China’s admittance to the World Trade Organization. They would have done more than wring their hands at the brazen theft of U.S. technology and intellectual property by the Chinese government. They would not have stood by and done nothing while China established an archipelago of militarized, artificial islands in the South China Sea over the past decade.
Above all, if checking China and defending Taiwan were really something Pelosi and the Democrats cared about, they would have taken concrete action, at some point over the long years, to reconstitute the United States Taiwan Defense Command. That command, at one point some 19,000 strong, was stationed in Taiwan from 1954 to 1979 and was gradually drawn down beginning in the early 1970s as part of our détente and the opening to China orchestrated by President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
Today, we not only have no military presence on Taiwan, we have almost no way to stop China from invading the island if Chinese President Xi Jinping decides to act. Our Navy is in a dire state of disrepair and unreadiness — in sharp contrast to China’s, which since 2014 has been the world’s largest by ship count and might be winning the arms race. As Wallace Gregson argues in a recent essay in The National Interest, time is running out to prepare for war with China: “Our warning time in the western Pacific has expired.”
Even now, on the heels of Pelosi’s departure from Taipei, China’s navy has maneuvered into position for massive live-fire drills that will encircle the island.
So let’s dispense with the polite fiction that Pelosi, or Biden, or Schumer — or, for that matter, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has been around just as long as they have — has any interest in confronting Beijing or defending Taipei.
President Biden can bluster about defending Taiwan from a Chinese invasion, as he did in May, and Pelosi can pose for photos with Taiwanese lawmakers while talking tough about the world facing “a choice between democracy and autocracy,” but by now we all know the truth: They won’t do anything to stop China’s rise — or its aggression.