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University of California Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation

Will Nancy Pelosi’s Visit to Taiwan Trigger a Crisis?

August 02, 2022
James Lee and Jackie Wong


In analysis for Political Violence At A Glance, an IGCC-supported blog dedicated to political violence and its alternatives, James Lee, an assistant research fellow at the Institute of European and American Studies at Academia Sinica in Taiwan and an affiliated researcher at IGCC, and Jackie Wong, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Southern California, analyze whether Nancy Pelosi’s upcoming visit to Taiwan will trigger a ChinaUSTaiwan crisis.

The controversy surrounding Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) potential visit to Taiwan centers on what it implies about United States’ relations with Taiwan. When the United States normalized relations with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1979, it said it would continue relations with Taiwan on an unofficial basis. The Normalization Communique said that “the people of the United States will maintain cultural, commercial, and other unofficial relations with the people of Taiwan.” Beijing has interpreted this statement as a commitment, and it has warned Washington that closer government-to-government interactions with Taipei would violate that commitment and have dire, though unspecified, consequences.

But there’s no formula for determining what “unofficial” means. The canonical statements of the United States’ One-China policy—the Shanghai Communiqué, the Normalization Communiqué, the Taiwan Relations Act, and the Six Assurances—are written at a high level of abstraction. There is no communiqué in which the United States said that the Speaker of the House would never visit Taiwan; those kinds of details are left to diplomatic protocols (such as the “contact guidelines”) that the United States has defined on its own. It is an act of interpretation—an art rather than a science—and the question now is whether a visit by Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan would be outside the bounds of a reasonable interpretation of “unofficial” relations.

Will a visit to Taiwan by Nancy Pelosi lead to something far more serious, such as China intercepting Pelosi’s plane or blockading the Taiwan Strait?

Read the full blog post at Political Violence At A Glance.