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Opinion The damage from Pelosi’s unwise Taiwan visit must be contained

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi arrives in Taiwan and is greeted by Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu on Aug. 2. (Taiwan Ministry of Foreign Affairs/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

Successful foreign policy combines high principle with smart, timely execution. Tuesday’s visit to show solidarity with Taiwan by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) demonstrated the former — but not the latter. The foreseeable reaction from China, which considers Taiwan a wayward province, is underway — including the announcement of provocative naval live-fire exercises in the island’s territorial waters after Ms. Pelosi’s visit ends. President Biden must limit the short-term damage and counter a likely increase in long-term Chinese pressure on Taiwan.

Of course we share Ms. Pelosi’s strong support for democratic Taiwan, her condemnation of the Chinese communist dictatorship and her belief, as she put it in an op-ed for The Post, that “it is essential that America and our allies make clear that we never give in to autocrats.” What we do not comprehend is her insistence on demonstrating her support in this way, at this time, despite warnings — from a president of her own party — that the geopolitical situation is already unsettled enough. However much the 82-year-old Ms. Pelosi might want a capstone event for her time as speaker — before a likely GOP victory in November ends it — going to Taiwan now, as President Xi Jinping of China is orchestrating his third term, was unwise.

Admittedly, Mr. Biden himself mishandled the situation by blurting out the fact “the military” was against Ms. Pelosi’s visit. This blunder made it harder for Ms. Pelosi to change plans without losing face and, more important, harder for Mr. Xi not to ramp up his response once she decided to go. Far better for the president to have told Ms. Pelosi, privately, personally and unequivocally, not to do it.

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The top global priority for the United States now is Russia’s war in Ukraine and its accompanying fallout in global food and energy markets. The Biden administration can ill afford any distractions, much less a repeat of the 1995-1996 Taiwan Strait Crisis, which many Americans have forgotten, but which lasted eight months and two days. It began with Chinese missile firings off Taiwan in retaliation for a symbolic gesture — a visit by Taiwan’s president to Cornell University — and did not ease until after the Clinton administration mounted an enormous deterrent naval deployment.

China ultimately backed off. The Biden administration is now in the position of having to hope it can similarly maintain both peace and Taiwan’s territorial integrity against a China that is vastly stronger than it was a quarter-century ago and led not by the cautious Jiang Zemin but by the aggressive Mr. Xi. U.S. officials, and Ms. Pelosi, have communicated that her trip implies no change to the United States’ one-China policy. In a deterrent mode, the president has deployed a carrier group east of Taiwan.

The United States must never sacrifice its principles or cave to Chinese threats. All the more reason to prepare carefully where and when to confront China. No thanks to Ms. Pelosi, the Biden administration finds itself forced to react and improvise instead.

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Editorials represent the views of The Washington Post as an institution, as determined through debate among members of the Editorial Board, based in the Opinions section and separate from the newsroom.

Members of the Editorial Board and areas of focus: Deputy Editorial Page Editor Karen Tumulty; Deputy Editorial Page Editor Ruth Marcus; Associate Editorial Page Editor Jo-Ann Armao (education, D.C. affairs); Jonathan Capehart (national politics); Lee Hockstader (immigration; issues affecting Virginia and Maryland); David E. Hoffman (global public health); Charles Lane (foreign affairs, national security, international economics); Heather Long (economics); Molly Roberts (technology and society); and Stephen Stromberg (elections, the White House, Congress, legal affairs, energy, the environment, health care).

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