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Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan makes matters worse for U.S. and China relations

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan ramps up U.S.-China tensions and risks pushing the countries further apart, based on one economist.

On Wednesday, the highest U.S. lawmaker met Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen in a highly controversial visit that has angered Beijing.

“We’re on a trajectory of escalating conflict and this may actually make matters worse. It plays well to local politics in the US and in Taiwan, however it doesn’t play well to geostrategic forces which are pushing these two nations apart,” Stephen Roach, a Yale University senior fellow and former Federal Reserve economist, told CNBC’s “Street Signs Asia” on Wednesday.

“The leadership in each the U.S. and China to handle this conflict is compromised by this mainly pouring salt in an open wound for China,” added Roach, who was also previously chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia.

A professional-Beijing protester stamps on a picture depicting the US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at a protest outside the US Consulate in Hong Kong on August 3, 2022 after Pelosi arrived in Taiwan late on August 2, 2022 as a part of a tour of Asia that has inflamed tensions between the US and China.

Peter Parks | AFP | Getty Images

Roach said, nevertheless, that doesn’t mean China ought to be “let off the hook” for among the concerns that Pelosi has raised.

“But to boost them within the context of a deteriorating relationship is asking for more serious repercussions in a far more difficult and intractable path to resolution. And we usually are not on a path to resolution. This visit if anything, it pushes that time of coming back together apart relatively than bringing it closer together.”

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Pelosi is the highest-ranking U.S. official to go to Taiwan in 25 years, drawing the ire of China which called the move a breach of the “one China” policy. Under that framework, the U.S. recognizes Beijing as the only real legal government of China, though Washington also maintains unofficial relations with Taiwan.

China on ‘defensive’

China had warned it will respond if Pelosi visited Taiwan, a self-ruled island that Beijing considers a runaway province.

At a Wednesday press conference after meeting Tsai, Pelosi said Taiwan was an emblem for democracy and was a contrast to the political system on mainland China and Hong Kong where the “one country two systems” promise “didn’t occur.”

Pelosi got “a whole lot of bipartisan praise” when details of her trip became public, Doug Heye, a former communications director on the Republican National Committee, told CNBC’s “Capital Connection” on Wednesday.

Speaker of the U.S. House Of Representatives Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), left, poses for photographs with Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen, right, on the president’s office on August 03, 2022 in Taipei, Taiwan.

Handout | Getty Images

“I actually am incredibly happy with what Nancy Pelosi did on this trip. The simple thing to do would’ve been to fold and he or she sure didn’t do it,” he said, adding the House speaker is “consistent with being who she really is.”

Still, Pelosi’s trip creates a recent headache for the Biden administration, which has tried to persuade Beijing the visit says nothing about U.S. policy toward China or Taiwan.

Roach said the trip puts China on the defensive, pushing Beijing to display its resolve to pursue eventual reunification of Taiwan with the mainland.

“It is a setback to that objective in China,” he added.” I believe China will make some compensating adjustment to offset the setback. I do not think China will do anything rash. I do not search for a overt military motion, although … there’s a substantial exercise or power happening within the Taiwan Strait.”

Ahead of Pelosi’s arrival in Taiwan, the Chinese military held live-fire exercises, deployed fighter jets to the Taiwan Strait and announced more military drills. Roach said while these maneuvers may not precipitate anything more immediate or serious, the chance of accidents should not be taken calmly.

China won’t be ‘reckless’

Despite China’s saber rattling, Beijing won’t do anything “reckless,” said Ja Ian Chong, an associate professor of political science on the National University of Singapore.

“I do not think that Beijing wants a crisis to spiral uncontrolled as well … They need to send a robust message, but I do not think they may need to do anything that is particularly reckless,” he told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia” on Wednesday.

“I believe it is important to maintain that in mind. Lots of this messaging intends to create alarm, intends to create fear and to suggest that any effort to do what China doesn’t like with Taiwan brings substantial costs and substantial risks,” he added.

He underlined “coercion itself” comes with enormous costs and risks to Beijing, adding it’s important to  balance that type of “threatening behavior with a consideration of what Beijing actually wants and what Beijing’s capable of carry off.”

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