Is a China Crisis Now Inevitable?

U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping held their fifth call today since Biden’s inauguration. According to the White House readout of the conversation, on the thorny issue of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s reported trip to Taiwan, Biden told Xi simply “that the United States policy has not changed.” Xi, in contrast, was direct and blunt: “Those who play with fire will perish by it. It is hoped that the US will be clear-eyed about this,” with Beijing’s readout adding China should be “prepared for the worst scenario, especially military preparation,” as the best way to deter the U.S.

What happens in August will have much of the world’s attention: will Rep. Nancy Pelosi defer to the Pentagon’s admonition that this is “not a good idea” and cancel the trip—or ignore Xi’s threats and visit Taiwan, potentially sparking a military clash in the Taiwan Strait? The stakes couldn’t be higher.

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As the United States and China careen towards a potential showdown over Pelosi’s proposed visit, much of establishment Washington wants to resolve the issue with its knee-jerk favorite tool: flexing military muscles. Over-reliance on coercion as the lead tool in international relations has served U.S. interests poorly over the past two decades.

Especially at a time of economic turmoil in much of the Western world – along with the persistent threat of the war between Ukraine and Russia spilling over the borders into NATO territory – the United States cannot afford to see its already-tense relationship with China devolve into a potential military clash. Yet hawks in both Washington and Beijing seem intent on pushing the envelope of such risk. Speaker Pelosi’s potential visit to Taipei is the latest flashpoint, but far from the only one by U.S. and allied leaders in recent months.


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