As rumors swirl that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other members of Congress may be jetting off to Taiwan in the coming days, China is threatening a forceful retaliation. But US lawmakers have their own message for China and President Xi Jinping: Don’t mess with us.
Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, warned that if China has learned any lessons from Russia’s war in Ukraine, Beijing ought to stand down.
“China is playing with fire there if they learn the wrong lesson from Ukraine, if they think that they can violently violate Taiwan’s territorial integrity that they wouldn’t suffer reputational and economic damage,” Swalwell told The Daily Beast.
China should know better than to go after Taiwan or conduct any “forceful” military responses to Pelosi’s visit, according to Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA), a member of the House Armed Services Committee.
“If China attacks Taiwan today… they’re going to be in a world of hurt,” Moulton told The Daily Beast.
Russia invaded Ukraine in February, but leaders from around the globe have reactedproviding weapons aid to Ukraine to thwart Russia and throttling Russia’s economy through sanctions. Meanwhile Russian forces have faltered and failed to achieve key objectives in Ukraine.
The lawmakers’ warnings come as Pelosi’s possible trip nears: She’s supposed to depart Friday. And Chinese President Xi told President Joe Biden on a two-hour long call Friday not to “play with fire” when it comes to Taiwan, according to Reuters
But the lesson China should learn from Ukraine is that allies, just as they have rushed to help Ukraine, will help Taiwan, according to Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-VA), a member of the US-China Working Group and the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
“Determined resistance to naked aggression can be effective and can draw lots of ancillary support,” Connolly said.
On what lessons China should learn from Russia’s invasion in Ukraine, Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-NJ)—the former Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor in the Obama administration—is crystal clear.
“Don’t invade Taiwan,” Malinowski, now a member of the House Committees on Foreign Affairs and Homeland Security, told The Daily Beast.
Some lawmakers fear, however, that China could have learned the wrong lesson from Ukraine, surmising that with increased US defense aid to Taiwan year over year, the longer China waits to invade, the harder it may be to overtake Taiwan.
Asked if he’s confident the United States and Taiwan are currently prepared to deter China from invading, Moulton told The Daily Beast that the outlook is not good.
“No. I think we have a lot of work to do,” he said.
Moulton added that he hopes lawmakers and the Biden administration can leverage what they have learned from Ukraine and work to boost Taiwan’s preparations for a potential invasion. And he said he and the House Armed Services Committee were working on “pushing the administration to respond properly, so that we’re better prepared to… deter and prevent an invasion of Taiwan than we were to deter and prevent an invasion of Ukraine.”
“What we want to do,” he continued, “is get to a place where they don’t even consider it.”
Already this year, the United States has approved two air-defense capabilities packages for Taiwan—one total $100 million and another totaling $95 million. Both packages were focused on giving Taiwan equipment, training, and other services tied to the island’s Patriot Air Defense System.
Biden has warned that the United States would respond “militarily” if China were to invade Taiwan. The statement appeared to add some clarity to America’s position on Taiwan—although the United States acknowledges China’s stance that Taiwan is a part of China, it doesn’t recognize China’s claim to Taiwan, and has long maintained a strategically ambiguous stance on whether it would intervene with force if China were to attack.
But there’s a real concern that China might just be better prepared than Russia for an invasion, according to Rep. Anthony Brown (D-MD), a member of the House Armed Services Committee.
“Russia’s shortcomings in Ukraine are in large part due to its cumbersome organizational structure, top heavy decision making, its poor logistics trains, and I’m not sure that we would see the same shortcomings in an offensive by China,” Brown told The Daily Beast. “I don’t think that we would see that same sort of incompetence.”
China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and its preparatory work to take on Taiwan have set off alarm bells throughout the Capital region for years. The PLA has recently undertaken major organizational reforms and modernization programs, and according to the Department of Defense’s annual report on China’s military prowess, the PLA has particularly been working to develop capabilities to deter intervention in a Taiwan invasion and to “defeat third-party intervention .”
According to US intelligence community assessments, Beijing is expected to continue to press Taiwan to move towards unification, and is in a reactionary phase when it comes to US engagement on Taiwan.
While many members of Congress believe China shouldn’t dictate Pelosi’s trip plans, concerns about China’s military capabilities—and willingness to go after Taiwan—are currently looming over Congress as Pelosi’s trip hangs in the balance.
Of course, much remains to be seen: Pelosi’s office has been assembling this week to debate the Taiwan trip amid the national security implications and has the trip marked as “tentative” for now, according to NBC News.
China’s threats might just be all bluster—deployed as a way to get its way and have US officials step aside on Taiwan questions—according to Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), a member of the House Armed Services Committee.
“These… descriptions of anxiety that China is showing, is just sort of a lot of bullshit,” Gallego said, noting his support for Pelosi’s visit. “We shouldn’t play their game.”
In the end, China shouldn’t be the one calling the shots on this, according to Malinowski.
“I worry about the precedent if a trip did not happen because China made threats,” he said.