There is no easy choice for the United States in this situation.
Had Pelosi canceled the visit, she would have overruled Taiwanese leaders’ wishes. A visit, said my colleague Amy Qin, who is based in Taiwan, “boosts Taiwan’s legitimacy in the international arena.”
As Edward Wong, a Times correspondent who covers diplomacy from Washington, put it: “Proponents of the trip say it is the United States sending a message to Beijing that Taiwan is important enough to us that we engage at higher levels. He described the trip as a version of “diplomatic deterrence”, trying to remind China of the potential consequences if it invaded Taiwan.
A cancellation, on the other hand, would have risked sending the message that China can dictate US relations with Taiwan. It would have the potential to repeat the mistakes the US has made with Putin over the past 20 years, when it repeatedly tried to appease him.
Putin invaded Georgia, annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, murdered Russian dissidents and interfered in the 2016 US presidential election. Each time, the US avoided a major confrontation, in part out of fear that it does not trigger a larger war. Putin, viewing the United States and Western Europe as weak, responded last year with a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
If China thinks the United States will ultimately not come to Taiwan’s defense, the chances of an invasion could increase.
But the risks of a confrontational approach are also real. Pelosi’s visit, for example, could lead Chinese planes near Taiwan in new ways. “If they enter Taiwan’s territorial airspace, an incident could occur whether Xi likes it or not,” Bonnie Glaser, Asia program director at the US’s German Marshall Fund, told The Times.