Pelosi’s Taiwan Talk Sparks Chinese Fire Drill

The Embassy of the People’s Republic of China does not have much use for American consultants, a notable exception being I.M. Pei, who, although from Shanghai, became an American, but nevertheless consulted on the design and construction of China’s new embassy at International Place, in the Forest Hills neighborhood. I say new only to distinguish it from the original location, a hulking old fortress on Connecticut Avenue a few blocks north of DuPont circle, next to the Rock Creek Park bridge, which the Chinese moved into in 1973 after establishing diplomatic relations with the US. There are a few exceptions, however, and I am one of them.
Not that I do a lot of business with the Chinese; certainly not compared to my other diplomatic clients. No, for quite some time, my sole monthly consultation with a PRC diplomat has been with one Dr. Zǒugǒu Gòngchǎn, Second Secretary for Economic Affairs. As the appointment calendar on Gretchen’s computer desktop says, the subject of each and every consultation is international trade policy analysis. And sometimes we actually talk about that – Lord knows, there’s plenty of subject matter available when it comes to Chinese international trade, not the least of which concerns using it to get an even tighter grip on America’s short hairs. During those discussions, the true colors of Dr. Zǒugǒu’s opinions regarding American products, American workers and American businesses become quite evident, and I dare say, if the average patron of Walmart were to ascertain them, even they might consider going back to shopping on Main Street. To encapsulate his views, I would say that the purpose of foreigners, in his estimation, is the same as that which has prevailed among the ruling class in China for the last one thousand years: Wàiguó rén are inferior barbarians who are useful only as sources of wealth.
Most of the time, however, despite the declared purpose of the meetings, which Dr. Zǒugǒu’s assistant dutifully recites in carefully pronounced English to Gretchen each time a consultation is booked, and which she dutifully records in my business records, we don’t discuss international trade. Because the primary reason for the PRC retaining me as a consultant is not to obtain my insights on such matters; the leadership in Beijing having made their minds up about all of that stuff, actually. To tell the truth, (which I have been known to do, although here in Washington we have such high respect for the truth, we only use it on special occasions), I suspect the consultations when he addresses international trade issues are essentially window dressing, material to be used for keeping our stories consistent in case either of us have to answer any questions concerning what we talk about during his appointments. In fact, most of the time, we discuss other issues, and this reveals the true purpose of his visits, which, as far as I can discern, is for me to serve as a back channel of communications to the US government and other diplomatic missions here in Washington.
Hey, it’s a living – and not a bad one, either. Furthermore, in light of my considerable contacts in Washington, I am, if I do say so myself, an astute choice; the PRC does, after all, have a reputation for being extremely shrewd, one for which I would readily vouch. Today’s consultation was one of that sort, and quite an example, I must say.
Dr. Zǒugǒu’s demeanor, customarily quite restrained, was distinctly out of character this morning. He stormed into my office at 6:00 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time, a time upon which he had quite stridently insisted for this particular consultation (and is, in fact, actually the unholy hour of 5:00 a.m.), and instead of relaxing, as he typically does, on the couch in front of the picture window overlooking the White House, he pulled the chair immediately in front of my desk as close as possible to me, sat down on it and leaned forward onto my desk.
“What the [expletive],” he demanded, his face inches from mine, “does Nancy Pelosi think she is doing?”
“Unfortunately,” I dryly replied, “mind reading – either hers or yours, is beyond even my capabilities.”
Dr. Zǒugǒu’s face went as red as the People’s Glorious Five Star Flag. “And what the [expletive] is that supposed to mean?”
“It means,” I explained, “that I can’t tell what she thinks she is doing, nor can I tell, for certain, what you are thinking about when you ask me that.”
“We are not paying you to be obtuse!” he fumed. “You know damn well what I am talking about! Nancy Pelosi is going to visit Taiwan! Such conduct is totally unacceptable!”
“That’s an interesting combination of mouthwash and cologne you selected today,” I hinted.
At that, he backed off, and sitting bolt upright, pointed out the picture window at the White House. “You let your friends over there know, Joe Biden has to tell Nancy Pelosi to stay away from Taiwan!”
“Nancy Pelosi is a woman, a Californian, a Democrat and Speaker of the House,” I observed. “Nobody can tell any of them what to do.”
“Why the [expletive] [expletive] not?” he barked.
“Because,” I explicated, “America has a frontier, pioneer culture, where women developed a reputation for independence. The first place they got the vote was in Wyoming, you know. Consequently, in America, you can’t tell a woman to do anything, and Joe Biden knows that. He also knows that if you tell a Californian not to do something – it doesn’t matter what, it could be ‘don’t smoke marijuana and fornicate in the park,’ or ‘don’t destroy the desert environment by driving around in sand rails;’ political affiliation has nothing to do with it – they will immediately do that thing you told them not to do, so Joe Biden can’t tell her not to go to Taiwan, because that will virtually guarantee that she will. And Joe Biden isn’t going try reverse psychology and tell Nancy Pelosi that she must go to Taiwan, either, because if he did that, Xi Jinping will immediately conclude that Joe Biden wants to go to war over Taiwan, and you know it. And you can’t tell a Democrat to do anything, because they all have different ideas of what it means to be a Democrat, none of them agree completely with everything any other Democrat believes, and they don’t know what to think to begin with. Consequently, the only thing they all do agree on is that they don’t take orders from anybody, and boy howdy, let me tell you, does old Joe Biden know that! And finally, we have something called the Separation of Powers in our Constitution, and it says that the President can’t tell Congress or the Supreme Court what to do, and Nancy Pelosi is the leader of the lower house of Congress. So forget about Joe Biden telling Nancy Pelosi to remember him in her prayers, much less ordering her not to visit Taiwan.”
“This! This!” Dr. Zǒugǒu shouted at me, pointing his finger accusingly, “This is what will get America into big trouble!”
“What, specifically?” I asked. “Is it having a frontier culture with the potential to recognize female agency, having states like California that are open-air nut houses, having a three-ring circus like the Democrats that thinks its a political party or having a constitution that limits the powers of the executive?”
“All of it!” he thundered, pounding his fist on my desk. “Taiwan… (thump)… is part… (thump) of China! … (thump, thump, thump)! Nancy Pelosi is a top member of your government – as you say, Speaker of the House, third in line in your Constitution to be President! How… (thump)… is the Chinese government… (thump)… supposed to interpret… (thump)… such an action? (thump, thump, thump).”
“They should interpret it,” I advised, “as evidence that the US Congress is like a herd of cats.”
“What the [expletive]!” Dr. Zǒugǒu spat, now turning purple. “Am I supposed to tell Ambassador Cui Tiankai something that sounds like a [expletive] fortune cookie? What does it mean, anyway? It’s impossible to herd cats!”
“Exactly,” I confirmed, “and the Peoples Republic of China cannot expect our President to do the impossible.”
Listen, Collins,” he growled, “if I tell the ambassador that, I’ll be on the next flight out of here, on my way to a five-year reassignment as the director of a Uyghur re-education camp in Xinjiang!”
“Well, you see,” I needled, “that’s the problem with the PRC – your leaders can’t tolerate hearing things the don’t like.”
“As if! As if!” he shouted, wagging his finger at me. “What about your Donald Trump, huh? If anybody told him something he didn’t want to hear, they were gone, just like that!”
“’Gone,’” I chided, “as in out of a job, not sent to a labor camp – whether as an inmate or an administrator. And look where behaving like that got him – he’s a hairsbreadth from being indicted for a laundry list of state and federal crimes. Which makes me wonder, what will become of President Xi if he can’t cope with all the serious internal problems that China is dealing with these days?”
“China has no serious internal problems!” he vehemently insisted.
“Oh really?” I challenged. “Not covid?”
“No!” he yelped.
“Not a collapsing GDP?”
“Not the demographic decline of ethnic Han Chinese?”
“Not trillions of yuan worth of vacant high rise buildings nobody can afford to live in?”
“No local unrest or widespread corruption?”
“No labor protests?”
“Nothing like that!”
“No fumbling execution of industrial modernization strategies?”
“No domestic blowback from absurdly expensive artificial island fiascos in the South China Sea?”
“Absolutely not!”
“So everything’s just peachy in the PRC?” I inquired.
“It’s fine!” he yelled. “Everything in China is just fine!”
“So tell me,” I prodded, “how come Xi Jinping has his knickers in a twist about little old Nancy Pelosi dropping by Taiwan to sample the Buddha Jumps Over the Wall? It’s better in Taiwan, after all.”
“That’s not true!” Dr. Zǒugǒu strenuously objected. “Buddha Jumps Over the Wall was invented in Fujian Province, on the mainland, not on that [expletive] island!”
“Maybe so,” I allowed, “but that was three hundred years ago. Taiwan perfected the recipe.”
“They stole it!” he wailed. “And we want it back! Just like we want everything in Taiwan back, because Taiwan is part of China!”
“Okay,” I conceded, “maybe so, maybe not. I don’t think most people in Taiwan would agree with you on that.”
“Oh yeah?” he objected. “Why shouldn’t they want to be part of China?”
“In general,” I opined, “I don’t think the majority of Taiwanese would mind joining China, if it weren’t for you know… the Communism thing.”
“What’s wrong with Communism?” he indignantly responded.
“In principle, nothing,” I admitted. “Communism is a good idea. It’s a very good idea, but it’s always a failure. And the reason Communism is always a failure is that people aren’t good enough for it. And they never will be, either. And that’s the real problem confronting President Xi at the moment. He’s trying to run a Communist society using capitalist tools, attempting to avoid having the whole thing turn into a kleptocratic oligarchy like Russia did when Communism failed there. And he will fail at that, unless he can keep the juggernaut that is the PRC moving forward until some kind of stable solution can be reached in the future. And who knows? It might be there, somewhere in the future – but Xi will never reach it by invading Taiwan, no matter what excuse he uses.”
“Who said anything about invading Taiwan?” he challenged.
“Well,” I noted, “nobody, of course. That is to say, no sovereign nation. Not the PRC, and certainly not the United States or any of its allies in the Pacific. But why would China even want to bother invading Taiwan, anyway? It’s tiny, and most of it is uninhabitable jungle. Practically the entire population is squeezed into the western coastal plain. But let’s be frank here: it’s not the territory you want, is it? ‘Fess up, Second Secretary, what the PRC wants – or thinks it wants – is the fabs, all those fabulous semiconductor fabs. You figure if you take over those, you’ll have control of the worldwide chip market. But you won’t.”
Dr. Zǒugǒu’s eyebrows shot up. He leaned forward once more, but this time, his voice was almost a whisper. “What do you mean, we won’t?”
“When the French surrendered to the Germans in June of 1940,” I told him, “the French fleet was anchored at the port of Mers-el-Kébir in Algeria. The British Navy sailed there to take control of the French ships in order to avoid them falling into German hands. When the French refused to turn over the ships, the British destroyed them. Later in the war, when it became apparent that the Germans were about to seize the remainder of the French fleet at Toulon, the French scuttled it before the Germans arrived. There was no choice for the allies – their adversaries simply could not be allowed, at any cost, to control those strategic assets. Now, do I have to paint you a detailed picture of the plans for what will happen to those Taiwanese fabs if the PRC’s troops ever get within spitting distance of Shalun Beach?”
Dr. Zǒugǒu sat back, looked up at the ceiling and sighed. “No, that will not be necessary.”
“Invade Taiwan and you’ll be stuck with twenty-three million angry natives with about twenty thousand square kilometers of thick, nasty back country perfectly suited to sustain an insurgency,” I warned. “Plus an entire world sick and tired of this kind of stuff, ready to arm them to the teeth. And no fabs, I guarantee it, not one. Maybe everybody will have to get along with their iPhone 13 or whatever for a couple of years longer than they anticipated while an extremely enraged world community cuts China off entirely from the semiconductor market and rebuilds capacity in places like Seattle, Rio de Janeiro or Duesseldorf, but rest assured, if the Taiwanese don’t destroy those fabs when you invade, the United States of America will do it for them.”
“Okay,” he relented, “if I tell the ambassador that, I better do it over the telephone while I’m down at Foggy Bottom defecting to the State Department, because in China, that kind of talk gets you shot. Help out here, will you?”
“Sure,” I said. “As I mentioned earlier, without the fabs, Taiwan is just a tiny, overcrowded little island with a capitalist tradition and a population that is certain to oppose you. I mean really, isn’t Hong Kong a big enough pain in neck? Do you really want to acquire another one? If President Xi needs a war to keep things going, how about Northern Manchuria?”
Dr. Zǒugǒu threw me a quizzical look. “What the [expletive] is Northern Manchuria?”
“That part of China,” I clarified, “which Russia took away from it during the Amur Annexation of 1860.”
His jaw dropped. “You are suggesting, that the PRC invade Russia?”
“Why not?” I proposed. “You remember the Sino-Soviet conflict of 1969, don’t you? Not literally, of course – but from history class?”
“Yes,” he slowly affirmed, “although it’s not something generally discussed.”
“You are aware,” I asked, “that the PRC kicked the Soviet Union’s butt all over the place during that conflict, aren’t you? Especially at the Battle of the Wusuli River.”
“No, not really,” he replied.
“Odd,” I commented, “that a demonstration of such clear superiority over the Russians isn’t more widely acknowledged by the victors. Anyway, yes, I am suggesting that, instead of invading Taiwan, China invade Russia. You’ve seen how incompetent the post-Soviet military are with their bungling, ham-handed and half-witted attempts to invade and subjugate Ukraine, haven’t you?”
“Um… I don’t think I should comment on that,” Dr. Zǒugǒu tersely responded.
“Of course not,” I continued, “it was a rhetorical question. Look, the nice thing about Northern Manchuria is that it’s huge compared to Taiwan. And the Russians, lazy slobs that they have always been, aren’t doing squat with it. You go to the Amur River these days, and what do you see? On the Chinese side, there’s industry, housing, traffic, people everywhere. And on the Russian side? Nothing, nichego takogo, méiyǒu shé me. The answer is simple: just roll over the border and take it. And, what’s more, there’s an added bonus.”
“What’s that?” he inquired.
“After you’ve taken back Northern Manchuria, you can annex outer Mongolia.”
“Annex Mongolia?” Dr. Zǒugǒu sat bolt upright once more. “That’s crazy!”
“Crazy like a fox, maybe,” I persisted. “Wasn’t the Mongol Court the defacto capital of China starting with Kublai Khan becoming Emperor Shizu in 1206, all the way through the entire Yuan Dynasty in 1378? I think a very convincing argument could be made for that, and besides, if Tibet is part of China, then Mongolia surely is, too.”
“But… to invade Russia,” he fretted, “to take back Northern Manchuria… to…” his voice trailed off, uncertainly.
“The Russians are losing a war with Ukraine,” I reminded him. “They are losing a war against a country of forty million people who have only minimal weaponry and material backing from NATO. China has a population of one billion, four hundred million and at least five times the material resources that Russia has.”
“Russia has nuclear weapons,” he worried.
“Yeah,” I agreed, “but their missile crews are out there drinking the alcohol from the hydraulic systems of fifty-year old ICBMs, two-thirds of which couldn’t get out of their silos on a launch command. And you have nuclear weapons too, and who in Moscow is going to risk nuclear annihilation over land in the the Russian Far East? Like I said, there are practically no Russians out there in the first place and they aren’t doing anything with it anyway. Let them keep Vladivostok and Sakhalin Island and they’ll cave in to a treaty like a soggy kulebyaka.”
Dr. Zǒugǒu pondered deeply for a couple of minutes. “Hmm…” he mused, stroking his chin, “it… could be… a viable… alternative… I’ll give it that.”
“Seriously,” I encouraged, “the Russians are losing a war with a bunch of farmers. The current Russian military couldn’t successfully invade Kansas! How hard could it be for China to take back Northern Manchuria?”
“It makes sense,” he muttered, ruminating on the idea, “in a audacious kind of way…”
“And afterward,” I reminded him, “you can get Mongolia, too.”
“I’ll have to think about this,” Dr. Zǒugǒu spoke very softly.
“Do that,” I told him, “and if President Xi wants to use some kind of half-baked capitalist solution to pull a rabbit out of his Communist hat, remember that a successful war can be very good for business.”
“Good for business,” my client echoed. “Yes, excellent point.”
“With the emphasis on ‘successful,’” I accentuated.
“Right.” Dr. Zǒugǒu nodded as he rose to leave and approached the door. “We must not forget that. And [expletive] Nancy Pelosi.”
“My sentiments exactly,” I replied as he left.