The Irish Times view on tensions around Taiwan: dangerous tactics

China has grabbed the opportunity for a military show of force, but the fall-out carries risks for the region

Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan was certainly provocative. And China’s response, with jets testing the airspace, missiles overflying the capital, and live-fire exercises on the edges of the island’s territorial waters, was entirely predictable. But China was not provoked, it enthusiastically seized what it saw as a welcome opportunity for a significant show of military force.

Even if the House speaker had decided to skip Taipei on her tour of Asia, China would have continued to intensify its bullying rhetoric on Taiwan, a central theme in the President Xi Jinping’s nationalist agenda, possibly triggering another Taiwan Strait crisis in the near future. Meanwhile China has suspended climate talks with the US and regular communications with its military.

It is an agenda that appears driven by Xi’s personal domestic self-aggrandisement and his aspiration for a third term. Pelosi has given him a magnificent sabre-rattling opportunity, albeit one that threatened to tip the region accidentally into a dangerous direct confrontation.

Any attempt to achieve reunification by force, would, Xi knows well, be extremely costly in terms of economic sanctions against Beijing, while militarily it would be no slam dunk. But the ratcheting up of military posturing – which continued until Sunday– will play well domestically as Xi seeks to distract from economic woes.


Beijing also wants to fire a shot across the bow of Taiwan’s new governing party, the pro-independence PPP, which does not share the opposition KMT’s willingness to grudgingly acknowledge China’s “one China” policy.

In May President Biden signalled that the US would intervene militarily if China attacked Taiwan (the White House walked back his statement), but there have also been signs of US strengthening military and trade links with Taipei.

China is probably not planning to launch an immediate attack on Taiwan. But it may yet decide to engage the US in a game of chicken in the Taiwan Strait. And that could still end badly.