How Joe Biden bungled the Pelosi trip

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President Joe Biden walks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi concluded her whirlwind 19-hour visit to Taiwan Wednesday, leaving behind fevered messaging on both sides of the Taiwan Strait about the significance of her visit.

But she’ll return to a muddled mess in Washington, bracketed by warnings from journalists and China experts about the long-term damage that her visit may have inflicted and rare GOP lawmaker applause for thumbing her nose at Beijing.

What may linger longest is how the Biden administration’s fumbling of the public narrative for Pelosi’s trip bolstered the Chinese government’s depiction of her journey as an inflammatory escalation in U.S. engagement with Taiwan.

Taiwan expressed near-rapture — electronic welcome billboards with heart emojis lit up the Taipei 101 skyscraper and Pelosi was bestowed with a government honor called the Order of the Propitious Clouds with Special Grand Cordon.

Beijing’s response ranged from rabid to unhinged, complete with calls for President Joe Biden to “restrain” the third-highest elected official in the United States from committing “perverse acts” against China’s territorial integrity.

Such clarity was glaringly absent in Washington, D.C., in the run-up to her trip. Instead, U.S. officials rendered a drum beat of gaffes, contradictions and denials that Beijing adroitly exploited in a propaganda offensive aimed to compel Pelosi into changing her travel plans.

“By openly arguing among ourselves about Pelosi’s travel, we made the trip a public spectacle, forcing Beijing to react,” said David R. Stilwell, former assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs. “Had we done the trip quietly, as we usually do, it would have generated none of the brinkmanship we’re seeing now.”

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