By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
The confrontation between China and Taiwan was partly due to the recent visit of U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosis to Taiwan, which infuriated China.
The messy U.S.-China-Taiwan relationship is my least favorite topic to blog about. The Northwest Asian Weekly and Seattle Chinese Post have remained neutral in their past frictions in our 41 years of publishing.
Our stand is America’s position. All these years, we have followed America’s one-China policy. China-Taiwan relations is a taboo topic in the Chinese community. No matter which angle I take, I will offend someone. So why do I want to risk it even though it will be an unpopular column?
Only one motivation. This international conflict has presented many lessons which we can emulate to better ourselves in real life.
Beware of double standards
Pelosi hinted her visit to Taiwan caused China’s wrath because she’s a woman.
“They made a big fuss because I’m the speaker, I guess. I don’t know if that was a reason or an excuse.” She added, “Because they didn’t say anything when the men came.”
Remember the story of the couple that walked into a room and one was a medical doctor. Everyone looked at the man, and thought he was the doctor. It was the woman who was the doctor.
Another time, I was introduced to a protest organizer. I saw a kid and his father standing together. I assumed the father was the organizer, only to be embarrassed that the kid was the brainchild of the protest who invited his schoolmates to join.
Our double standards toward men and women, kids and adults, and all kinds of issues can be fatal when we act on them irrationally without examining our own biases.
Pelosi is not just another woman
For 45 years of Pelosi’s career, she has gone head to head with many powerful men.
Most of the time, she has emerged as a victor not because she’s a woman, but because she is an experienced warrior. Her fearlessness is unparalleled and inspiring. Just look at the way she stood up to former President Trump.
Fearlessness is her trait. The last thing she would do is to let people see her back down out of fear.
The right to get angry
If Pelosi only visited Taiwan and no other Asian countries, that would be an obvious slap in China’s face, and a direct challenge to China. But Pelosi’s trip included Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea, and Japan.
With China’s wrath towards Pelosi, the other Asian countries got little attention with the Speaker’s visit, even though those countries are also U.S. allies. Now only Taiwan has become the center of attention. Many of the stories in the media are positive towards the island’s resilience and strive towards democracy. There are much fewer positive stories about China in American media recently.
Some say Xi’s destructive response to Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan is a strategy to distract from the real issue at home, China’s weak economy after several lockdowns because of Covid. Whatever Xi’s real motive, China can’t pretend that Taiwan doesn’t exist just because it hates its existence.
Don’t back yourself into a corner
Humiliation can be created by oneself if one is not careful.
China is doing well financially and economically, and President Xi Jinping deserves a lot of credit. Chinese people can be proud and show their appreciation to Xi. As a Communist Party leader, he can run China according to his will.
China tested its own power and influence by daring Pelosi not to step foot on Taiwan.
But Pelosi did regardless. Yet, Xi doesn’t understand that he can’t tell Americans what to do. The more you demand Americans to comply with your wishes, the more they would do the opposite. It’s not that Americans are rebellious, they never like to be told what to do. Valuing personal liberty is an American attribute.
The American president’s power is much smaller compared to the Chinese president’s. Biden has no control over Pelosi, even though he is the president, and he did suggest Pelosi not to take the trip. But he cannot control Pelosi’s words and behavior. That would be a violation of an individual’s freedom of speech and actions.
It’s just like when President Joe Biden asked Americans to get the Covid vaccines, not everyone listened. Instead, those anti-vaxxers fought like hell to resist the vaccines, some even sued the government.
So when Xi gave an ultimatum to show his might that Pelosi shouldn’t visit Taiwan, he simply locked himself into a corner without much room to emerge as the winner. And it gave Pelosi no choice but to visit Taiwan. A Chinese proverb says, “It’s hard to ride a tiger.”
That implies that once you ride it, it’s hard to get off, and it’s impossible to stop halfway.
The face issue
This brings me to my next point. Chinese and Asian culture emphasizes too much on ‘face.’ It can be our downfall especially when we have to make critical decisions. It’s one of the worst aspects of Asian culture. If you don’t worry about losing face and what other people think, you can achieve big things.
Every time you fail or make mistakes, it’s no big deal. Don’t let the face element destroy you. If you need help, just say so to your friends and loved ones. Asking for help doesn’t mean you’re weak. Asking for understanding and advice is a sound measure for gaining wisdom and getting things done.
Losing face is embarrassing to Chinese elderly and families. I hope the younger generation will not be burdened by this. Never be afraid of criticism. If you rely only on praise and shun unfavorable comments, you will never be able to thrive. You would never be the superb leader you can be as people around you will never tell you the truth and guide you to innovate, excel, and make a difference in other people’s lives.
Turn your mistake into an advantage
To turn others away from realizing Xi’s miscalculation, the Chinese army conducted a series of exercises including firing missiles at the sea border between Taiwan and China, aimed at sending a warning to Taiwan.
Most Sino experts have already predicted China’s typical reaction. Are there avenues that China can explore besides sending military threats?
Is there a way China can turn their miscalculation into an advantage without just being an aggressor? Is there a way for Xi to turn this situation around positively and not feel threatened and slighted?
Not right now. As China is so consumed with retaliation and saving face, it just cannot think strategically in the long-term, and it might even escalate into a war. That would be a lose-lose not only for China and Taiwan, but the whole world.
Assunta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.