Speaker of the U.S. House Of Representatives Nancy Pelosi with Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen. Photo: Wang Yu Ching, Keystone Press Agency/cropped from original/licensed under CC2.0, linked at bottom of article Speaker of the U.S. House Of Representatives Nancy Pelosi with Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen. Photo: Wang Yu Ching, Keystone Press Agency/cropped from original/licensed under CC2.0, linked at bottom of article

Imperialist competition is threatening us with catastrophe, says Dragan Plavšić

The irresponsible and provocative decision by Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the US House of Representatives, to visit Taiwan this week has raised global tensions to a highly dangerous pitch. China has long claimed sovereignty over Taiwan, and its furious response has been to launch three days of massive live-fire military exercises around the island.

The cycle of escalation we’re now in could scarcely have come at a worse time. War rages in Ukraine, with Russia and the US locked in a proxy conflict, while in a speech on Monday, UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, warned of geopolitical tensions not seen ‘since the height of the Cold War’, putting us ‘one miscalculation away from nuclear annihilation’.

Though President Biden appeared to distance himself from the visit, saying it was ‘not a good idea right now’, his national-security spokesman claimed Pelosi had the ‘right to visit Taiwan’. The signs are that Washington was privately content to let Pelosi lead the ratcheting up of tensions, while reserving for itself diplomatic wriggle room just in case. No-one’s fooled, though, least of all the Chinese; more importantly, the dangers are acute and incalculable.

So why visit? In his speech, Guterres lamented the fact that: ‘Competition was trumping co-operation and collaboration.’ He meant inter-imperialist competition, the most devastating kind there is.

China’s rise to economic superpower status in recent years makes it the greatest competitive threat to US global hegemony. By and large, it has so far chosen to let its economy do its talking for it, but its military has been growing as it unfurls its geopolitical wings. It’s been proactive in Afghanistan since Washington withdrew in defeat. And it’s forging an alliance with a Russia making grimly attritional gains in Ukraine.

In this context, Pelosi’s visit seeks to warn China not to underestimate the resolve of the US to oppose it at every turn, including in the very seas that lap its shores. But China today isn’t the China that carefully muted its response to the 1997 Taiwan visit of the then Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich. Its growing self-confidence is palpable.

The result is a perilous geopolitical stand-off between an ageing imperialist power and a rising one, which makes more crises inevitable.

Where does this leave Taiwan? It hasn’t been part of China since 1895 when Japan annexed it, eventually coming under the control of the anti-communist Kuomintang defeated by Mao. Self-governing but not formally independent, its steadfast backer ever since has been the US.

The Kuomintang ruled by martial law until 1987, when democracy led to the rise of the now ruling Democratic Progressive Party. It broke with the Kuomintang policy of reuniting Taiwan with China, favouring a more independent road, though it currently rejects the idea of independence, as do most Taiwanese.

Taiwan’s position is exceedingly difficult. It has the right to self-determination, the right to decide its own affairs free of Chinese military or other pressures. But as things stand, any provocative exercise of this right can have only one outcome: the escalation of explosive tensions risking serious US-China conflict and the nuclear catastrophe of which Guterres has been warning.

Taiwan does have other options though: instead of welcoming Pelosi, it could have chosen de-escalation and told her not to come.

Here at home, we need to oppose every decision our government takes to escalate the Taiwan crisis. Via mass movements like Stop the War and CND, there is much we can do to stop the UK fuelling the fires of inter-imperialist competition now and in the future.

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Dragan Plavšić

Dragan Plavšić is a member of Counterfire in London and of Marks21 in Serbia. He jointly edited The Balkan Socialist Tradition and the Balkan Federation 1871-1915 (2003).

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