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Dr. James Holmes: The Naval Diplomat - 19FortyFive

Would China Really Start a War over a Nancy Pelosi Visit to Taiwan?

U.S. Navy Aircraft Carrier
120118-N-QH883-003 INDIAN OCEAN, (Jan 18, 2012) The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) transits the Indian Ocean. Abraham Lincoln is in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of responsibility as part of a deployment to the western Pacific and Indian Oceans to support coalition efforts. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Eric S. Powell/ Released)

Nancy Pelosi did not need to go to Taiwan. But having publicly broached the possibility of alighting in Taipei during her tour of Asian capitals, she must go. Otherwise, the U.S. House speaker will appear to have quailed before the bombast issuing from Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officialdom since the news broke that she might visit President Tsai Ing-wen.

Pelosi would lose face were she to relent now. And America would lose face not just with China, but with allies and friends, by association. Its standing in the Indo-Pacific would suffer.

Which is doubtless what Beijing wants to bring about through its huffing, puffing diplomacy. Never forget that the CCP regards peacetime diplomacy as war carried on through other means. The party wages “three warfares” on a neverending, 24/7/365 cycle, striving to shape the political and strategic environment in its favor through psychological, media, and legal means. It hopes bluster will deter the speaker from carrying through with her plans. One party-affiliated reporter, Hu Xijin, has even tried to define the visit an “invasion” of China, and espoused the use of violent force should U.S. fighters escort her plane to Taiwanese airspace.

And indeed, in recent months, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has displayed an increasing penchant for deploying violence to help Beijing get its way.

In late May, for instance, a Chinese J-16 fighter jet intercepted an Australian P-8 reconnaissance aircraft over the South China Sea. During the intercept, the PLA pilot crossed close in front of the Australia plane and released chaff into its engines. A plane that deploys chaff discharges clouds of reflective material—typically including aluminum or aluminum-coated fibers—to fool hostile radar. Using it at close range is a big deal; ask any aviator. Before flight operations on board aircraft carriers, for instance, the crew turns out on the flight deck to conduct a “FOD walkdown,” meaning sailors pick up small bits of debris that might cause “foreign object damage” if sucked into a delicate turbine whose innards are whirling around at extreme speed.

Foreign object damage could bring down an aircraft if severe enough. It’s understandable why Canberra remained circumspect following the incident—after all, the aircraft and crew survived—but Australian leaders would have been within their rights had they branded the incident an armed attack. Hotdogging around a foreign plane is bad enough. Deliberately inflicting damage that could bring it down constitutes aggression of a higher order. China’s “gray-zone” operations involve deploying all means short of violent force to make geopolitical gains bit by bit. This murky approach puts the onus on China’s opponents to pull the trigger first, and bear the blame for the outbreak of war. Or to desist from opposing China’s will, and surrendering their interests.

Increasingly, though, PLA commanders seem comfortable flirting with initiating the use of armed force. If so, they could set in motion an escalatory dynamic that carries grave repercussions. China may be emerging from the gray zone.

How should the speaker and her entourage proceed should they follow through with the Taiwan visit? In a backhanded way, I agree with Hu Xijin. Pelosi’s aircraft should go without fighter escort, much as cargo aircraft made their way to strife-torn, starving Berlin without escorts during the Berlin Airlift of 1948-1949. The Truman administration made a conscious decision not to supply fighters, rightly judging that Soviet leader Josef Stalin would blanch at an act of naked aggression such as shooting down unarmed aircraft on a humanitarian mission. Washington dared Moscow to prove it wrong.

The parallel is inexact, like all historical parallels. But in all likelihood CCP general secretary Xi Jinping will exercise the same sensible restraint today that the Soviet strongman exercised in 1948. After all, ties between the U.S. Congress and the Republic of China are nothing new. If it goes ahead, Pelosi’s Taiwan visit will not mark some radical departure from past practice. All you have to do is venture out to the Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy here in Newport. Among other things the Pell Center houses a reproduction of the late Rhode Island senator Claiborne Pell’s office. Even a passing glance at the foreign awards and decorations festooning the office bears witness to Pell’s relationship with Taiwan. He would have found it hard to stand had he worn them all at the same time! And Pell was far from alone in Congress as a friend to the island. Support from lawmakers is bipartisan, widespread, and evidently sincere.

So is the Chinese Communist Party really spoiling for a fight over a Pelosi Taiwan visit? I hope not, but we may soon find out. Over to you, Xi.

A 1945 Contributing Editor writing in his own capacity, Dr. James Holmes holds the J. C. Wylie Chair of Maritime Strategy at the Naval War College and served on the faculty of the University of Georgia School of Public and International Affairs. A former U.S. Navy surface warfare officer, he was the last gunnery officer in history to fire a battleship’s big guns in anger, during the first Gulf War in 1991. He earned the Naval War College Foundation Award in 1994, signifying the top graduate in his class. His books include Red Star over the Pacific, an Atlantic Monthly Best Book of 2010 and a fixture on the Navy Professional Reading List. General James Mattis deems him “troublesome.” The views voiced here are his alone. Holmes also blogs at the Naval Diplomat

Written By

James Holmes holds the J. C. Wylie Chair of Maritime Strategy at the Naval War College and served on the faculty of the University of Georgia School of Public and International Affairs. A former U.S. Navy surface-warfare officer, he was the last gunnery officer in history to fire a battleship’s big guns in anger, during the first Gulf War in 1991. He earned the Naval War College Foundation Award in 1994, signifying the top graduate in his class. His books include Red Star over the Pacific, an Atlantic Monthly Best Book of 2010 and a fixture on the Navy Professional Reading List. General James Mattis deems him “troublesome.”



  1. TotallyNotBiased

    August 1, 2022 at 1:58 pm

    the answer is no, China is just trying to bluff all the way trough.

  2. marcjf

    August 1, 2022 at 2:59 pm

    Well I heard a pod cast today, and it seems like the CCP has set out its red lines. No idea whether this is accurate or not. I wonder whether the USA needs 2 proxy wars just now? I’m guesssing someone must think so.

    In any event, should Pelosi visit Taiwan, the Chinese can take their revenge cold, at a time of their choosing.

  3. cobo

    August 1, 2022 at 3:19 pm

    Your analysis is solid, however, I see all of this as political theater playing in multiple games. This article makes clear the connection between the CCP, the UN Agenda, the WEF and what we’ve been seeing in the US and Europe:

  4. jeff

    August 1, 2022 at 4:26 pm

    Pelosi must now go to Tawain. If the Chinese are bluffing nothing will happen, if they are not then war will result. War will result no matter what happens though. The Chinese want the chip factories and control over the world. We stop them now or later, ours is to lose face and appear weak and lose allies.

  5. Elso de Lacerda Silva

    August 1, 2022 at 4:32 pm

    As palavras de James Holmes parecem como se os Estados Unidos estivessem diante de um espelho fazendo uma confissão. Ou seja, o texto é como se a Terra de Tio Sã reconhecesse toda sua péssima estratégia de politica externa. O senhor James Holmes em um surto delirante acusa a China de utilizar a diplomacia como uma arma de expansão Imperial. É impressionante como os vossos articulistas têm uma baixa capacidade intelectual. Ou eles que estão escrevendo para um público alienado, como se as pessoas vivessem em uma realidade paralela. É acusação contra a China o tempo todo. Só quem pode acredita em uma conversa tola como está é uma pessoa que talvez viva em outro Planeta.

  6. Timothy King

    August 1, 2022 at 5:15 pm

    This analysis, as good as it is, does not address the fact that today is the 95th anniversary of the founding of the PLA. In 1927, the Kuomintang (KMT) betrayed the CCP, with whom they had been in an alliance against the northern warlords, and they killed a huge number of CCP members, during Chaing Kai-Shek’s Northern Expedition. This resulted in the need for the CCP to create its own army, which was the PLA, because the CCP could no longer trust the KMT. The KMT, of course, is still part of the Taiwan government.

    Thus, the fact that Pelosi will be visiting Taiwan at this particular time, is a huge escalation of risk, in and of itself, because if the PLA / CCP back down, today, they will lose face on a foundational issue for them – the PLA’s own existence. While I have seen this anniversary mentioned several times, in the news, no one has said anything about its implications to the Chinese. I think the West is completely blindsided on this possibility.

  7. intp1

    August 1, 2022 at 6:05 pm

    Pelosi will fold her cards.
    Xi basically gave Biden the hairdryer treatment for 2 hours in a call over the WE.
    The Global Times (a state organ like e.g. the BBC) has published that the PLA will stand in the way of Pelosi if she flies into Taipei with an escort.
    A senior PLA official has tweeted that if her escort do not turn back, they will “shoot it down”.
    If a dogfight kicked off, warships would get sunk.
    It would seem to the uninitiated that a US citizen should be able to make a friendly visit Taiwan and they should but Pelosi is not an ordinary US citizen and she has form making trouble with China.
    The US has completely mis-handled China (and Russia) in the last decades and cannot handle explaining to their populace that US hegemony is over.

    It is the end of US dominance, just as the Roman and the British empires went into decline, so goes the USA. Hopefully something more humane and reasonable will rise out of this collapse. The world, if not the American people deserve better.

  8. TheDon

    August 1, 2022 at 6:13 pm

    Well, Playing Xi poker.
    If china draws, World closes trade, bankrupt.
    Russias near bankrupt, so they cant buy goods. NK is cash vacuum.
    Hummm quite the delemma for XI.

  9. William Allen

    August 1, 2022 at 6:18 pm

    China is worried that the US will leave Nancy on Taiwan thereafter making it worthless.

  10. William Allen

    August 1, 2022 at 8:45 pm

    May i ask who censored my previous comment???

  11. Error404

    August 1, 2022 at 10:22 pm

    Pelosi visit won’t any war, but will cause china to ditch xi jinping.

    Once xi jinping is gone, china can then dust off the cobwebs and team up with Russia to control space.

    This is because space is where survival or death will be decided in the struggle between the globalist forces led by US and their foes.

    Russia and china are in a better position to win in space due to their technical expertise, with both countries having already experimented with FOBS and spaceplanes and spacegliders.

    What did chief of air staff Royal Air Force mike wigston once said. “The war of the future will be won or lost in space.” Amen.

  12. Jim

    August 1, 2022 at 10:24 pm

    The Chinese won’t go to war over the Pelosi visit.

    Will the Chinese take this diplomatic incident into account down the road?

    At this point, it’s the next steps we take with China.

    Those steps can make all the difference in the world.

  13. Owen j

    August 1, 2022 at 11:07 pm

    Was this carefully thought out or the bumbling actions of an 80-year old alcoholic with a personality disorder? Is the United States still capable of conducting a cohesive foreign policy?

  14. Scottfs

    August 2, 2022 at 12:24 am

    Xi had better watch how he plays his hand. The USA populace dislikes China as it stands. If they shoot down Pelosi’s plane, or any American plane, it will be an act of war.
    Congress would call for the removal of Most Favored Nation for China. Anericans will stop buying as much Chinese goods. Attacks against Asian-Americans will increase. America will step up its patrols in the South China Sea. If China does not back down, we will cease all trade with China. That will destroy their economy. Deservedly so.
    I qm disappointed Austraila did not expel all but a few diplomats and recall its ambassador from Beijing.
    This kind of behavior must not be tolerated.

  15. L'amateur d'aéroplanes

    August 2, 2022 at 3:58 am

    If the regime in Beijing feels so weak as to be so hysterical about a single visit, it demonstrates that it is fragile.

  16. David Chang

    August 2, 2022 at 9:12 am

    God bless people in the world.

    For the midterm election, Democratic Party in Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu, and United States provoke CCP. Pelosi as usual as her fashion show in Syria(2007).

    Will CCP attack Taiwan Penghu Kinmen Matsu, and North Korea will attack South Korea?

    This question is as usual as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did abandon soldiers in Benghazi?

    But the current situation in Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen, Matsu and South Korea is like Saigon in 1975.
    Teenagers believe socialism and people are greedy, but don’t wanna war. Current U.S. military is like Saigon in 1975, too. Improper behaviors are more and more, and some people ask soldiers not to do it right.

    I hope Mr. McMaster will not agree with China experts.
    History in Saigon(1975), in Syria(2007), in Benghazi(2012), and more, has shown us the future.

    God bless America.

  17. Steven

    August 2, 2022 at 9:18 am

    I hope America and China DO go to war. I want to see China humiliated, just like Saddam and all the other punks.

  18. afhack62

    August 2, 2022 at 9:20 am

    Pelosi provided the ‘provocation,’ and the Chicoms jumped on it. It was a foregone conclusion they would. So why did the Speaker announce it in advance and not just go to Taiwan? Now, she’ll have a fighter escort.

    A war would devastate China’s economy in a matter of weeks. Its economy is rickety enough that it might do this on its own. But with the major importing nations shifting supply chains elsewhere, not to mention China’s impending demographic disaster and the coming war over resources, any two (maybe just one) of these factors guarantees its collapse.

  19. Tsarofkazan

    August 2, 2022 at 9:22 am

    These leaves out how provocative Pelosi’s reckless actions are. The US has long recognized that Taiwan is part of China and that the lawful government of China is in Beijing.

    Pelosi’s visit is just grandstanding for her own benefit and defies the delicate diplomacy that America and China use to paper over the Taiwan issue.

    She is thumbing her nose at China and daring them to do something- or risk the loss of face you think Pelosi would suffer. Its a stupid game to play especially when our relations with Russia are in the pits.

  20. Tim aaron

    August 2, 2022 at 11:05 am

    Hint: Go to Taiwan and actually speak to young Taiwanese males. They are not stupid and will not fight against a mainland ‘invasion’…nor will the Taiwanese generals ask them to. The Taiwanese command will be offered and accept integration into the Peoples Army.

    It’s amusing how all the so called ‘experts’ act as if in the ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ and don’t understand what 98% of Taiwanese population does. There will be ZERO military resistance to a Mainland invasion.

  21. Master Klawn

    August 2, 2022 at 12:54 pm

    Lost in all of this discussion is that China’s claim that Taiwan was part of “China” and is now a renegade province is not true. Taiwan was a Japanese colony prior to the end of World War 2, then liberated by Chaing Kai Shek’s “nationalist Chinese” soldiers, who fled there after the Communist takeover of mainland China. Prior to the Japanese, the island was semi-independent, with some European powers holding sway, but only occasionally occupied by previous Chinese dynasties. The island was never integrated into any past or present “China”, even in the illegal and aggressive way Tibet has been by the PRC.

    The Communist PRC didn’t even fight the Japanese during World War 2, they cowered in the interior while the nationalists, with the aid of the USA, bravely fought the Japanese. The dustbin of history is awaiting the evil PRC cowards.

  22. David Chang

    August 2, 2022 at 1:13 pm

    God bless people in the world.

    People in one-China believe socialism and liberation theology, if Marine Corps wanna fighting in one-China, weapons they need are not only Stinger, Javelin, but also Ten Commandments and Chaplain.

    Because of the movie, Top Gun, most people believe that 7th Fleet is invincible and the war is no charge, so they think that 7th Fleet will help them to defeat CCP in brown-water, and their cities will not been destroyed in war.

    Moreover, Hollywood help Democratic Party and Communist Party again, make people thinking that real war is in movies, not in our life.
    So most people don’t think of the shortage of soldiers, weapons, and money in US military.

    Soldiers must be ready to fight, but trust God first.

    God bless America.

  23. I. Martin

    August 2, 2022 at 1:37 pm

    The Chinese need some schooling, as does President Biden–both are losers today. Nancy Pelosi and Congress are winners. You see China, we have a federalist system here in the United States. Congress doesn’t need to ask permission from the President–it is a separate and INDEPENDENT branch of government. Some would say that it is the most powerful branch of government. They hold the purse strings. They have the power to declare war. Etc… They have been divided, but between the Chinese and the Russians, they may yet become united. So mistake number one, is assuming that Joe Biden alone, speaks for, or even represents the U.S. He is the executive, but he can be replaced. China don’t make things worse by angering Congress.

    As for Joe Biden, if he doesn’t get his act together really soon, his party, already weighing whether to support a second term, will decide he doesn’t get a second term. Right now, Pelosi is looking like she could do a better job.

    Bottom line, China, don’t make Joe’s job any harder–he’s the best friend you’ve got!

  24. David Chang

    August 2, 2022 at 1:43 pm

    Master Klawn:

    God bless people in the world.

    Three hundred years ago, officer from Fujian Province in China is the judge of Taiwan island.

    Four hundred years ago, Netherland and Spain did not occupy the entire Taiwan island, only a quarter of Taiwan Island are their trading and supply bases.

    But socialism parties promote this history in order to let people believe socialism and liberation theology.

    God bless America.

  25. cobo

    August 2, 2022 at 5:40 pm


    El ascenso de China fue diseñado por las fuerzas que buscan crear un gobierno global, los globalistas. La ONU, el WEF y los gobiernos occidentales infestados están encaminados hacia su propia destrucción a partir de la infiltración interna. Puede aplaudir eso, pero puede que no salga como desea.

  26. Andrew P

    August 3, 2022 at 7:41 am

    China didn’t do much about Pelosi’s visit, but I expect them to retaliate by making sure Russia has the material and ammunition to crush Ukraine. They will go all-in on the Ukraine war.

  27. 1847

    August 4, 2022 at 6:31 pm

    In the second paragraph it says Pelosi had to go after announcing it to save face. I got a clue for her, she lost her face, her chin, her neck, her boobs and a whole lot more decades ago. The only thing that keeps her physically in one piece is plastic surgery. After all the heavy drinking and drugs she has taken over at least the last 30 years her brain is so full of holes the Swiss are looking at it to see if she stole it. Pelosi is NOT a diplomat and should not be leaving Washington DC except to return to her Liberal Socialist State of California. She tried to come to Florida dn we said “NO, absolutely NO!” In my opinion, for all its worth and if I am still allowed to have one, is that based off her constant harassment of a sitting POTUS with false changes of collusion with Russia, a false impeachment over data bought and paid for by her buddy Hillary Clinton and her gang of Democrats, her refusal to release her records of communications leading up to and during the January 6 event, her dereliction of duty by going to Southeast Asia against the POTUS wishes and most definitely the Citizens of the United States of America further flaming the relations between China and the USA, the misuse of Government funds to pay for that trip, and much more the house should vote no confidence and remove her from the SOTH position at minimum and possible impeach her for her actions. Further she should be investigated by the FBI and IRS on her husbands stock dealing with insider information she provides him. That in itself puts people in jail. The old (and I am 75 so I can say it) woman who is drunk most of the time, does not work for the People any longer. She works for herself and Party, just like a Socialist/Communist. She needs to go and go immediately.

  28. David Chang

    August 9, 2022 at 3:37 am

    God bless people in the world.

    Russia and one-China have two goals of socialism policy from cold war to the present.

    First goal is extortion: cut the foreign supply of raw material to enemy state, break the friendship between enemy allies, let enemy help their allies to increase the deficit of enemy.

    Second goal is instigate: incite political controversy within enemy country to make chaos or crime.

    God bless America.

  29. Night

    August 26, 2022 at 5:02 am

    News online say Liz Truss has stated no hesitation to Nuke if threatened by hostile nation attack even if its world ending scenario.Wonder if that’s a disguised threat to some one ?

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