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Under no illusions

Pelosi's trip to Taiwan was straight out of the US foreign policy playbook


When US Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan last week, she triggered an unprecedented crisis in the diplomatic relationship between China and the United States by deliberately and provocatively undermining the US commitment to the one-China policy and the three China-US joint communiques. The Joe Biden administration, despite publicly voicing that such a trip was a "bad idea", ultimately approved the trip in the end, setting off an escalation of tensions in which they have also sought to unilaterally blame on Beijing. If you read rhetoric and statements by US officials, as well as the allies it has co-opted, you might be inclined to believe that nothing the US has done throughout this saga could ever be possibly to blame for the crisis, and that it is purely China that represents a "threat" to peace, stability and the global order.

Anyone familiar with US foreign policy will find this kind of rhetoric uncomfortably familiar. That is because US strategy seeks to maximize its global military footprint as it sees fit, encircle potential adversarial states, and when those states respond by taking their own measures, brand them as threats to international peace and the system as a whole. In doing so, the US deliberately creates crises, denies any responsibility for doing so, but then uses the crises it has engineered to demand the participation and support of others, framing itself as the champion of peace, progress and morality.

Why does the US act like this? US foreign policy from the 20th century onwards has sought to justify the structurally imperialist and hegemonic traits of European empires, while nonetheless repackaging them under the new ideological guise of "American exceptionalism "which would justify expansionist policies under the moral requirement to evangelize US values and system to the rest of the world and being a champion of "self-determination" and "free people", drawing a contrast with former colonial powers such as Germany, France and the United Kingdom. The old European empires were dismantled following World War I and World War II, allowing the US to attain "global leadership" and take the liberty of framing its own imperial intentions as being in the interests of all.

In doing so, the US portrays its policy as the moral imperative of the whole world, rather than the pursuit of its national interests. In framing its national interests in such a universalist way, it legitimizes its foreign policy on the premise that perceived threats to the US are threats to the entire world and frames every foreign policy issue into a myopic binary struggle of "good vs evil". This enables the US to drive its foreign policy goals by deliberately igniting crises, provoking hostile responses from other countries and then framing them as threats to global peace, fabricating a cause and urgency for action. At the same time, it instils fear in its own population that US freedoms at home are "under threat". All of this allows the US to be a global aggressor while appearing not to be one, and to claim that it is acting in the interests of the people who it targets.

Pelosi's trip to Taiwan is the most explicit, but not exclusive, weaponization of this foreign policy playbook against China to date. It involves a sheer disregard of the diplomatic commitments the US has made to China and a deliberate crossing of its redline. When China responded as it forewarned, it would lambaste China's behavior as being "irresponsible" and "provocative". The fact that the US could have pursued actions which aggravated tensions is deemed as simply impossible in the US playbook, as US exceptionalism assumes above all that US ideology, and by extension its foreign policy and national interests, are beyond any possible question or accountability.

However, nobody should be fooled about the US' true intentions in respect to Taiwan. This is not about "freedom and democracy", but the belief that China must ultimately be subjugated and contained in the name of US hegemony. It is the latest demonstration of the US' strategy of dividing and "Balkanizing" larger states into smaller ones, who then through the ideology of "self-determination" seek US protection to preserve their political independence, thus reaffirming an "international order" rigged in the US' favor. This is certainly the pattern seen in East Europe following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and the fundamental driver of the conflict in Ukraine. China is under no illusions as to what the US is doing, and it is not prepared to let it succeed in purposefully undermining its national sovereignty.

The author is a British political and international relations analyst.The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

Contact the editor at editor@chinawatch.cn.