Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan: will the United States reinforce the Pivot to Asia policy?

Nanci Pelosi, the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives (Credits: US Department of Labor, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Geopolitical Report ISSN 2785-2598 Volume 22 Issue 1
Author: Riccardo Rossi

Nanci Pelosi’s visit to Taipei and the U.S. military manoeuvres in the region confirmed Washington’s interests in the Asia-Pacific and the United States’ attempt to achieve political-strategic goals in an area which has experienced the rise of Chinese military and political presence.

On August 2nd, 2022, twenty-five years after the last visit by a representative of U.S. institutions to Taiwan, Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House of Representatives of the United States, visited Taipei, confirming Washington’s willingness to strengthen its politico-military commitment to the Asia-Pacific region in the implementation of the Pivot to Asia foreign policy line.[1]

Pelosi’s visit follows the decision by the United States Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM) to station the aircraft carrier battle group USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) and the Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) from the USS Tripoli (LHA-7) in the vicinity of Taiwan.[2]

Geopolitical Scenario

The U.S. Speaker of the House of Representatives visit to Taiwan/Taipei underlined Washington’s double geopolitical goals in the region:

1) U.S. Administration under Joe Biden’s presidency aims at strengthening the Asia-Pacific foreign policy line, called Pivot to Asia, to counter the political-military expansion of the People’s Republic of China towards specific sectors of the First Island Chain, such as the Japanese archipelago, the island of Taiwan, the Philippines and the Spratly and Paracelsus archipelagos.[3] This geopolitical strategy, drawn up by the Obama Administration (2009-2017) and confirmed by both Trump (2017-2021) and Joe Biden presidency (2021 in office), combines the strengthening of diplomatic dialogue with the economically developed countries of the Asia-Pacific region (Japan, South Korea and Australia) and the tactical-strategic enhancement of the U.S. Navy, Airforce and Army bases located on the island of Guam,[4] in the Rising Sun, the Republic of Korea and the Philippines.

The United States, in the case of Japan, has located the majority of its military outposts in the archipelagoes of Honshū, Kyūshū and Okinawa.[5] The former, located in the city of Yokosuka, is the headquarters of the 7th Fleet U.S Navy, consisting of Carrier Strike Group 5, headed by the aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan. The second is the command base for the U.S. Air Force forces stationed on Japanese soil. The last of these three military areas within the island territory of Honshū is the headquarters of the U.S Army. The island of Kyūshū near Sasebo hosts the second U.S. Navy base, where the Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) is stationed. Last but not least, in the Okinawa archipelago, the U.S. has bases at Camp Courtney, Kadena and Futenma, the closest to Taiwan and the Senkaku archipelago, both claimed by the People’s Republic of China.[6]

2) Washington recognises within the East China Sea (ECS) the need to oppose the growing and dangerous politico-military assertiveness of the People’s Republic of China towards the island of Taiwan and the geo-maritime space comprising the Senkaku archipelago, the Okinawa territory and the straits of Formosa, Luzon and Miyako.[7] Washington considers the convergence of Chinese interests towards Formosa, Luzon and Miyako to be dictated by their geostrategic importance since they are obligatory passages for the Sea Lines of Communications (SLOCs) that cross the China Sea, interconnecting the main ports of the People’s Republic of China (Dalian, Ningbo, Qingdao, Qinhuangdao, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Tianjin) to the most important maritime trade routes in the Asia-Pacific region such as the North Sea Route (NSR) or the Malacca Route.

President Xi Jinping, referring to the NSR and the Malacca Road, recognised their economic and financial centrality in realising the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road project in supporting the country’s growth.[8] This decision brought these two routes to account for 10% of the national gross domestic product, with the prospect of increasing the GDP by another five points by 2035.[9] Therefore, the Xi Jinping Administration has increased its military presence near the Taiwan Strait, setting itself the medium to the long-term goal of imposing its sea control near the Formosa Strait and the Senkaku archipelago.[10] Thanks to this operation, Beijing believes it can deny the U.S. Seventh Fleet access to the maritime space adjacent to the island of Taipei, a requirement to organise an amphibious invasion of Taipei.[11]

If the People’s Republic of China succeeded in occupying Taiwan, it would break the U.S. encirclement of the First Island Chian and be in a position to control maritime lines of communication across the China Sea and have free access to the Pacific Ocean.[12]

In this context, the United States considers fundamental Taipei, Japan and South Korea’s territorial integrity as a deterrent against China and an assurance of Asia-Pacific’s stability. Therefore, Washington, thanks to the Japanese support, has increased its military assets on the island of Guam,[13] in the Philippines and in the Republic of Korea to maintain localised sea control in the Formosa Strait, the Senkaku Archipelago and the Miyako Channel, the subject of multiple military operations conducted by the PLA.[14]

Risk Assessment

During Obama Administration and since the adoption of the Pivot to Asia policy, Washington re-evaluated the island of Taiwan/Taipei as an indispensable geo-maritime area inside the First Island Chain to counter Beijing’s political-military strategy in the East China Sea. Thus, the United States decided to impose tight sea control around Taiwan to restrict the Chinese presence in the area and, simultaneously, protect the sea lines of communications (SLOCs) that cross the SSE, which play a crucial role in global maritime trade.

Through this decision, the United States has pushed the Xi Jinping presidency to speed up its militarisation process, strengthening the operational capabilities of the Northern Theater Command, which controls a large military force mainly spread across the Shandong and Liaodong Peninsulas. In the case of Shandong near Qingdao, the Northern Theater Navy is stationed, including an aircraft carrier, surface ships and SSB, and SSBN. Concerning Liaodong, it is worth mentioning the deployment of the Fighter/Ground Attack Brigade, a Missile Unit and a navy base housing a flotilla of conventional submarines and warships.[15]

Considering recent political and military operations and decisions that Beijing and Washington have adopted in Asia-Pacific, it is possible to state that the ongoing U.S.-China militarisation might worsen the situation linked to the control of the island of Taiwan/Taipei resulting in a deep international crisis. A severe confrontation between Washington and Beijing on Taiwan might have critical repercussions on the economic and financial system of the Asia-Pacific region, considering the close interconnection between the Chinese and the Japanese markets, for example. Indeed, according to data from the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2021, the Rising Sun exported 206.2 billion dollars worth of goods to China and imported 165.9 billion dollars worth of products from the PRC.[16]

By contrast, since the White House did not wholly support Nancy Pelosi and stated that the U.S. Speaker of the House of Representatives autonomously decided to visit Taiwan, what has been called a new crisis in the international arena might be ascribed more as a sensational mediatic circle with a few geopolitical consequences.

Sources

[1] Riccardo Rossi (2021) Geostrategy and military competition in the Pacific, Geopolitical Report ISSN 2785-2598 Vol 10 (1), SpecialEurasia. Retrieved from: https://www.specialeurasia.com/it/2021/08/06/geostrategy-pacific-competition/

[2] La Grone. S, Carrier USS Ronald Reagan, F-35B Big Deck Operating Near Taiwan as Pelosi Arrives in Singapore; China Renews Threats. Retrieved from: https://news.usni.org/2022/08/01/carrier-uss-ronald-reagan-two-f-35b-big-decks-operating-near-taiwan-as-pelosi-arrives-in-singapore-china-renews-threats; Riccardo Rossi (2022) Japan in the U.S. Pivot to Asia Policy, Geopolitical Report ISSN 2785-2598 Vol 17 (1), SpecialEurasia. Retrieved from: https://www.specialeurasia.com/it/2022/03/01/japan-united-states-asia/.

[3] Yoshihara. T, China’s Vision of Its Seascape: the First Island Chain and Chinese Seapower, Wiley Periodicals, Asian Politics & Policy 2012, Pages 293-314

[4] Riccardo Rossi (2021) The geostrategic importance of the Island of Guam in the U.S. policy of containment of Chinese expansionism in the Asia-Pacific, Geopolitical Report 2785-2598 Vol 14 (1), SpecialEurasia. Retrieved form: https://www.specialeurasia.com/it/2021/12/01/geopolitics-guam-united-states/.

[5] Riccardo Rossi (2022) Japan in the U.S. Pivot to Asia Policy, Geopolitical Report ISSN 2785-2598 Vol 17 (1), SpecialEurasia. Retrieved from: https://www.specialeurasia.com/it/2022/03/01/japan-united-states-asia/.

[6] Ivi

[7] Riccardo Rossi (2021) The centrality of the Senkaku Archipelago for geostrategic balances in the East China Sea, Geopolitical Report 2785-2598 Vol 14 (6), SpecialEurasia, Retrieved from: https://www.specialeurasia.com/it/2021/12/21/senkaku-archipelag-geostratgy/.

[8] Ghiasy. R, Su. F and Saalman L. (2018) The 21st century maritime silk road security implications and ways forward for the European Union, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, p.VII.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ministry of Defence (MOD), Joint Doctrine Publication 0-10UK Maritime Power (5th Edition), Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre (DCDC), 2017 p.42

[11]Department of Defence Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2020 Annual Report to Congress, Office of the secretary defence, 2020

[12] Yoshihara. T, China’s Vision of Its Seascape: the First Island Chain and Chinese Seapower, Wiley Periodicals, Asian Politics & Policy 2012, Pages 293-314

[13] Riccardo Rossi (2021) The geostrategic importance of the Island of Guam in the U.S. policy of containment of Chinese expansionism in the Asia-Pacific, Geopolitical Report 2785-2598 Vol 14 (1), SpecialEurasia. Retrieved from: https://www.specialeurasia.com/it/2021/12/01/geopolitics-guam-united-states/.

[14]Riccardo Rossi (2021) Beijing deployed J-20 fighter jets in the South China Sea, SpecialEurasia. Retrieved from: https://www.specialeurasia.com/it/2022/04/21/military-south-china-sea/.

[15] Department of Defence (2020) Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2020 Annual Report to Congress, Office of the secretary of defence.

[16] Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, Japan-China Relations, Retrieved form: https://www.mofa.go.jp/region/asia-paci/china/data.html