“I told them that we will defend Taiwan. Spot. What caught my attention is that we never discussed it », recalls the former president of the US Congress of his meeting with the Chinese government in that year in which he also visited Taipei
The antecedent to a crisis like the one unleashed now between China and the United States by Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan can be found in 1997. Newt Gingrinch, then speaker of the American Chamber, traveled to Taipei that spring on a visit that also included Beijing and Tokyo in order to strengthen the White House’s ties with Asia. In part, it was an operation prior to the tour that a year later Bill Clinton was to carry out in the region, although without touching the island.
Long negotiations were necessary to organize the itinerary. The Asian giant also protested what it considered US interference in a sovereignty conflict between China and Taiwan. Only this time the rhetoric and displays of power were much more moderate. Neither Beijing nor Washington activated their fleets in the area, nor did the two world powers show the current bitterness. But it is true that China does not forget. In the heat of Pelosi’s arrival on the island, the permanent ambassador to the UN, Zhang Jun, has asserted that “a previous mistake does not make the next mistake legitimate.”
Gingrich himself, a staunch Republican who now maintains a low profile, has spoken out about the growing controversy. He has assured various media that, based on his experience, the Xi Jinping government is “bluffing” and his statements are a “bluff”. Even so, the politician and essayist acknowledges that he is concerned about events such as the naval maneuvers that China will begin this Thursday against Taiwan, its air patrols over the island and the proclamations of some fanatical commentator who demands a military response. “That would literally be an act of war, and we would have no choice but to retaliate massively,” Gingrich warned on Fox News.
A very tactful tour
The differences between one and another tour are notorious. Despite its political connotations, in 1997 Washington organized a mission with a high economic weight, from which it returned with contracts for the aeronautical and motor industry. That role was handled primarily by Vice President Al Gore. Perhaps the most defining proof is the image in which Gore is seen toasting with champagne with Li Peng, prime minister of the People’s Republic of China between 1987 and 1998. The active environmentalist has subsequently visited Taipei already out of politics.
The contextualization of his trip had other connotations than that of the conservative leader of Congress. Bill Clinton’s ‘second’ was on an Asian tour parallel to Newt Gingrinch’s, but he did not stop in Taiwan. And he had other problems of his own to deal with: This was the first time a senior White House representative had visited China (the tour included Japan and South Korea) since George Bush in 1989, though he did so at the worst possible time. . The vice president had to deal with suspicions that Beijing had made financial contributions to the Democratic Party and various congressmen to influence US policy.
Although that’s another story.
Gingrinch had his own diplomatic mission and, unlike Pelosi’s, tactfully designed so as not to raise any qualms. The US and China agreed that the conservative politician would stay three days in the capital and that, instead of traveling directly to Taipei for a more punctual stay, he would make a previous stopover in Japan to highlight the fact that it was a regional tour, not a journey between two conflicting territories. Gingrich was also much further away from his current position (months ago he called the Chinese Executive a “terrorist”), or from the one that his successor may have. For him, who praised China’s economic possibilities, the main thing was to treat the Asian giant with “constant pressure, constant friendship and constant dialogue.”
In view of what is happening today, the effusiveness of those three days in Beijing is striking, where the leader of the US Congress even met with a group of university students and praised seeing them in jeans because the way they dress reveals the ability of freedom”. Chinese President Jiang Zemin assured that relations between the two countries were experiencing a stage of “sunshine after the rain”. Gingrich, for his part, congratulated himself on the management of the transfer of Hong Kong’s sovereignty to the Chinese government and said that it treated the former British colony like an orchid, an unfortunate metaphor given the authoritarianism that Hong Kongers now experience.
Another fact that stands out is that the US envoy was very critical of the authorities of the Asian giant on the independence of Taiwan without raising alarms. “I told them that we will defend Taiwan. Spot. What caught my attention is that we never discussed it,” Gingrich has told the US media these days.
Possibly, among the differences between the two visits is that China has escalated its pressure to assume the island’s sovereignty to perhaps turn it into a kind of state crusade, and that in 1997 Clinton was much more cautious than his party colleague Joe Biden. . The current US president has not spared sharp criticism of Beijing since the beginning of his term and on this occasion there are already voices that consider that he has too tense Washington’s traditional “strategic ambiguity” regarding the Asian territorial conflict. Russia and North Korea have already accused him of seeking to destabilize the region, which could lead to a new world crisis, in his effort to remove China as his main economic and commercial rival.
Gingrinch, the stern Republican politician popular in decades past for his off-color statements, ethical issues and extramarital controversy, retired two years after that trip temporarily from the public eye. He went on to run his own company, American Solutions, advise other conservative leaders and write books. Gingrinch, co-author of the famous ‘Contract with America’ of 1994, was an architect of the roller coaster experienced by the Republicans during the Clinton Administration and was responsible for both the rise and the weakening of conservatives in the last decade of the last century. In 2012 he lost the race for the nomination as a candidate for the presidential elections.