Nancy Pelosi's Visit to Taipei Opens a New Episode in the US-China Crisis

The article which follows is a translation from our Italian comrades of Battaglia Comunista. It is a reminder that the war in Ukraine is not the only theatre of imperialist conflict, as we outlined in back in Revolutionary Perspectives 19 (January 2022) [online at]. Indeed Russia remains, like Europe, a bit part player to the main imperialist rivalry between China and the USA. Pelosi’s provocative visit to Taiwan has since been followed by three more high level US delegations to Taipei, whilst Japanese and European envoys have also arrived to “offer solidarity with Taiwan’s democracy” (CNN, 24 August 2022). The same sources also tells us that Indiana’s Governor Eric Holcomb met President Tsai Ing-wen “a few days after the US and Taiwan agreed to open talks on a new trade and investment pact”. It only underlines the seriousness of the warning contained in the article below.

No senior representative of any US governmental institution had made an official visit to Taiwan for 25 years, but the number of more or less diplomatic excursions to the island by US congressmen and military officials have multiplied in recent times. Predictably, the Chinese government’s response was to stage an unprecedented show of force, multiplying the number of flyovers of the island, parading their tanks through their cities and along beaches facing Taiwan, and launching batteries of missiles that never, as on this occasion, get close to the target.

The challenge between the two superpowers is increasingly taking on the contours of an exhausting chess game in which each of the contenders tries to move their pieces to acquire a positional advantage, taking care not to provoke an open conflict, but being ready, just in case circumstances require it.

However, we need to look at the longer game, since we think it is the only way to fully understand the dynamics of social phenomena. It is significant how the confrontation has moved over time from local scenarios in which the same actors hid behind proxy wars fought for the control of raw materials or trade routes, to one in which the rivalry between the two protagonists has become closer and more direct not only in Taiwan. but also in Russia, now an ally of China.

If we look at things in this perspective, it is difficult to argue, as all bourgeois publicists insist on doing, that the fault of the situation lies with this or that president, with this or that policy, however much the latter may be secondary factors accelerating those very dynamics. Behind it all capitalism faces increasing difficulty with expanded reproduction, the valorisation of invested capital, and falling profit rates. The system has postponed this crisis in recent decades only through such strategies as globalisation and financialisation but the same crisis still stares at them in the mirror. Only now it is broader and deeper, and this gets imperialist powers twitching in theatres of war that are widening and intensifying.

The immediate factors in the current episode of political and economic struggle for domination in the Indo-Pacific area, are, on the one hand, a Biden grappling with a debt crisis not seen since the Second World War, plus the lesser factor of the mid-term elections and a particularly sharp fall in his support in opinion polls, caused among other things by a surge in inflation; and, on the other, a Xi Jinping also eager to reassert his control over power, a little less solid than it appeared a few years ago, when China was sailing in the wind of enviable growth rates when company, local government and household debt was not so high and the construction sector – along with exports – was driving the growth that it is now in danger of crippling. Not to mention that "thanks" to technological development, China too is beginning to have problems of valorising its capital and experiencing lower rates of profit than in the recent past.

Also in the background are the upcoming political elections in Taiwan in 2024, and the attempts of both powers to turn them in their favour, which if the United States succeeds would more or less keep all the current problems on the table, if China succeeds it would allow it to get what it aims for, namely the reconquest of Taiwan and the elimination of a stumbling block to its expansionism, without having to bet all its chips on a hand in which it is not yet sure that it holds four of a kind. Elections may not be the only method for China to make Taipei, the world's leading producer of microchips and semi-conductors, understand that it is advisable to rejoin the motherland without making too much fuss, and we know that Beijing has formidable arguments when it comes to commercial retaliation. In this sense, it has already begun to block some imports from Taiwan and could tighten the strategy in the future. Japan, for example, well remembers the informal blockade that followed for a few months the export of rare earths – of which China has a near monopoly – in retaliation for the sinking of a fishing boat near the disputed Senkaku Islands. Or it could raise the tension indefinitely around the island by moving its navy, thus provoking a US reaction, in order to indirectly paralyse the trade routes that lead to Taiwan.

In the meantime, both sides continue to strengthen their diplomatic, economic and military positions in the Indo-Pacific area. China has formed an alliance with the Solomon Islands and is trying to do the same with Tonga, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Kiribati, Fiji, Cook Islands, all more or less directly involved in the new silk routes, while the USA screws down its alliance with QUAD and AUKUS, and relaunches its economic initiative with the IPEF (Indo-Pacific Economic Framework), which rather than being a free trade pact is really a political move aimed at reassuring hesitant countries that it does not intend to withdraw from the area. Many countries have not yet taken sides, and are trying to delay the choice as long as possible, especially in Southeast Asia. They may lean towards one of the two contenders on some issues, but are forced to make a virtue of necessity over others: the case of India is emblematic, anti-Chinese but at the same time strongly linked to Russia.

In the scenario briefly outlined here the protagonists are only the governments and the ruling classes of the nation states and this obviously does not bode well. The prospects for humanity would be quite different if the exploited class decided to take back control of its destiny currently in the hands of a small elite of capitalism's agents.

Battaglia Comunista
21 August 2022
Saturday, August 27, 2022