Speaker of the US House of Representatives Kevin McCarthy’s (R-CA) upcoming visit to Taiwan is a rite of passage to the House chamber gavel. All visits by representatives of the US government to foreign countries are important on some level. However, when those countries are at the center of Pacific Ocean regional tension, the value can be measured symbolically and as a powerful tool of US foreign policy. McCarthy’s planned mission to meet with the Taipei government does both.
True to his promise, “McCarthy then the minority leader, vowed in July to travel to Taiwan if Republicans gained control of the House in the November midterm elections,” the New York Post reported. Whereas some pundits believe the trip could come as soon as this Spring, no date has been set.
Speaker’s Travel Plans to Taiwan Essential
The speaker’s journey to Taiwan is seen as essential to the US as a symbolic projection of American values in stark contrast to mainland China’s oppressive communist autocracy. Some government policy wonks find little payback for achieving foreign policy aims in sending lower chamber representatives to show the flag since the Constitution gives ratifying international treaty responsibilities to the US Senate, not the House. America’s founding fathers had a different take on the issue. Federalist Paper #53 states the views of the framers of the US Constitution clearly:
“And although the House of Representatives is not immediately to participate in foreign negotiations and arrangements, yet from the necessary connection between the several branches of public affairs, those particular branches will frequently deserve attention in the ordinary course of legislation and will sometimes demand particular legislative sanction and co-operation.”
Additionally, the House speaker is the leader of a governing body with the closest association to its constituency, the people of the US. Therefore, there is more gravitas associated with House of Representatives delegations visiting Taiwan since it can be legitimately assumed to represent the day-to-day will of the people. A fact the People’s Republic of China (PRC) should not miss.
Furthermore, like former Speaker Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan last summer, McCarthy will be fortifying US foreign policy regarding Taiwan’s value and position as a self-governing island state not dominated by the PRC. Then-Speaker Pelosi’s stop in Taipei for high-level talks with the island’s government officials was the first such diplomatic stop by the House leadership in nearly a quarter-century when Speaker Newt Gingrich made a similar visit in 1997. A foreign policy action so soon after the former US House Speaker’s visit last August will also be a message to Beijing. The reaction from the PRC will be predictable. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will huff and puff, bloviate loudly, increase the frequency of its military exercises in the Taiwan Straits, and even fire missiles close to and over the Taiwanese island. However, as has been the case, the CCP will not likely invade Taiwan. They simply are not ready. An invasion now would not end well for them.
Wargaming Results Show a Costly Defense of Taiwan
The results of a Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) wargaming exercise released in January 2023 showed, after 24 gaming iterations, a People’s Liberation Army (PLA), Naval, and Air Force elements Normandy-like invasion “quickly flounders.” The CSIS analysis of the wargame outcome explains,
“Despite massive Chinese bombardment, Taiwanese ground forces stream to the beachhead, where the invaders struggle to build up supplies and move inland. Meanwhile US submarines, bombers, and fighter/attack aircraft, often reinforced by Japan Self-Defense Forces, rapidly cripple the Chinese amphibious fleet.”
However, defeating the PLA’s amphibious attack on Taiwan comes at an enormous cost to the US, Japan, and Taiwanese forces. “The cost in blood of US sailors and airmen would be enormous. ‘In three weeks,’ the report notes, the US would suffer ‘about half as many casualties as it did in 20 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan,'” The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board commented on the CSIS analysis. Moreover, the US Navy would take the brunt of the combat.
The Pentagon is also making plans for Speaker McCarthy’s visit to help ensure Beijing will not act out its displeasure at another high-level US delegation pledging support to the Taipei leaders. The five-sided building’s planners have not telegraphed what their thinking might be. However, moving US Navy carrier battle groups and other surface ships to the vicinity of the Taiwan Straits has been associated with US senior leader trips to Taiwan. McCarthy’s delegation meetings in Taipei would most likely prompt similar protective naval maneuvers.
As China becomes more assertive, the US is keen to show Beijing its aggression will not achieve the desired geopolitical extortion. Congressional delegation visits to friends and allies are an extension of US geopolitical objectives – both symbolically and in executing foreign policy.
The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.
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