House Speaker Nancy Pelosi plans to visit Taiwan next month and Beijing is not happy, threatening “determined and forceful measures” if the trip happens.

“[China] will have to take determined and forceful measures to firmly safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity” if the trip proceeds, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said, according to the Financial Times.  

Former U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper is among those cautioning Pelosi, D-Calif., against any decision to cancel or postpone the trip while warning what message it would send to China.

“At this point, given the bluster and proclamations coming out from Beijing, I think if she doesn’t take the trip it’ll look like she stood down in the face of Chinese rhetoric and protestations,” Esper says.

Esper joins this episode of “The Daily Signal Podcast” to discuss Pelosi’s planned trip to Taiwan, wokeness in the military, and the Army’s recruiting crisis.

We also cover these stories:

  • Democrats seek term limits for Supreme Court justices.
  • A poll finds that Americans aren’t on board with protests at Supreme Court justices’ homes.
  • A Florida state agency sues a Miami bar for staging drag queen shows for children.

Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript:

Samantha Renck: Joining the podcast today is Dr. Mark Esper. He was secretary of defense under President Donald Trump and is the author of the book “A Sacred Oath.” Dr. Esper, thank you so much for joining us today.

Mark Esper: Thanks, Samantha. It’s great to be with you and your audience.

Renck: Well, let’s kick it off here. Now, you were just in Taiwan visiting, and before we discuss your visit, I want to talk about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s plans to visit Taiwan next month. She was supposed to go back in April, but she actually got COVID-19.

Now, Beijing has warned against the trip, threatening “determined and forceful measures to firmly safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” according to the Financial Times. What message would Speaker Pelosi and the U.S. be sending if the trip was canceled or even postponed to later this year?

Esper: Well, I’d say, first of all, that if the speaker wants to travel to Taiwan, she should do so. It would not be unprecedented. She would not be the first speaker of the House to go. In fact, lawmakers travel all the time to Taiwan. But more importantly, I would say we should not allow other governments, particularly the Chinese Communist Party, to dictate the travel plans of our officials. I think that’s just a core principle that should not be violated.

So if she wants to go, she should go. And at this point, given the bluster and proclamations coming out from Beijing, I think if she doesn’t take the trip it’ll look like she stood down in the face of Chinese rhetoric and protestations.

Renck: Yes. And not only is Beijing urging against the visit, there has been some pushback from President [Joe] Biden and the Pentagon, who have said that the trip was not a good idea right now. On the contrary, you have Republican and Democratic leaders expressing support for Speaker Pelosi. What are your thoughts on this divided front that we’re seeing from the United States? And does it send a message of timidity and weakness to China?

Esper: Well, from Beijing’s perspective, it’ll never be a good time for Speaker Pelosi to travel to Taiwan, so I think anybody throwing that argument is just fooling themselves. It’s just, that’s not how Beijing behaves.

Again, I go back to core principles in these situations. I think if the speaker wants to go, she should go. If not, then Beijing is going to think it has some measure of control with regard to any time somebody from the United States wants to travel to Taiwan, and we should not play into that game.

Frankly, in this situation today, when we have this growing standoff between the autocracies of Russia and China and the democracies led by the United States, Europe, and others, in the strategic competition for control of the 21st century, we have to show resolve and principled behavior. And we should not be backing down simply because Beijing doesn’t like the fact that she wants to travel.

Renck: Now, I just want to shift a little bit to a domestic issue that has been raised. As China’s military becomes increasingly more aggressive, the recruiting crisis and wokeness in the military, The Associated Press reported recently that the United States Army is falling short of its 2022 target and strength, about 10,000 soldiers short, and has reached only 50% of its recruiting goals before the end of the fiscal year, which ends on Sept. 30.

Now, also on wokeness in the military, Thomas Spoehr, who is the director of the Center for National Defense here at The Heritage Foundation, wrote about what we’re seeing with wokeness in the military, abandoning the gender-neutral combat fitness test, allowing unrestricted service for transgender individuals, and allowing HIV-positive individuals to serve in combat zones. Previously, they were barred from deployments and combat zones.

As the former secretary of defense, what are your thoughts on both the recruiting crisis and wokeness in the military?

Esper: Well, it’s a very good question. Of course, I faced this issue as well as Army secretary from 2017 to 2019 and I write about this in my memoir, “A Sacred Oath”, that you talked about up front.

So in the book I talk about recruiting being, I think, a really national crisis in some ways for the United States military. The Army is affected most, but all the services are having challenges.

I believe that we need, a whole-scale, whole-of-government effort, whole-of-country effort, to really help recruit America’s youth and do so the best we can, or else there’s going to be this growing divide between the less than 1% of the American people who serve and the other 99% of which they defend.

So it’s a growing problem that’s going to affect the all-volunteer force if we don’t remedy it sooner rather than later.

And the other issues, too—look, my focus as secretary of defense and secretary of the Army is warfighting. That should be what we do. I try to go about stripping out of our mandatory training and whatnot all things unnecessary that did not stay focused on warfighting.

I was the one that reviewed, tested, and approved the Army Combat Fitness Test, that was a fundamental change in the fitness of our military, and believed in gender neutrality. I have faith that the young women joining America’s Army today can meet the standard. So all those things are important.

Look, the key is to, again, inspire America’s youth to serve, make sure they’re focused on warfighting, and appeal to their sense of duty and patriotism to serve their country. To me, those are the important things, particularly again, as we enter this challenging period of time, where we’re going to see ourselves increasingly facing off against China and Russia and others.

Renck: As I mentioned at the top of the interview, you recently were in Taiwan meeting with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, senior officials, and business representatives. When you were there, did anyone talk about the U.S. response to Ukraine? Can you also share with us, what was the No. 1 concern you heard coming out of Taiwan?

Esper: The issue of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine came up several times. They are clearly taking lessons learned from Russia’s invasion and more importantly, Ukraine’s inspirational response. Of course, we discussed that China is probably taking lessons as well.

For me, the message that I conveyed to them was exactly along those same lines, that Ukraine’s defense, its warfighting capabilities, its grit and determination have been inspiring. I think if [Russian President] Vladimir Putin had known all those things beforehand, before he invaded on Feb. 24, he may not have done so. He may have said, “Look, it’s not worth it. I can’t suffer the strategic failures of a more unified West, a more unified NATO, NATO adding two more allies, etc., etc.”

So I told them, “Look, in that situation, what you need to do is increase your defense budget significantly. You need to adopt an asymmetric warfare approach and you need to acquire the appropriate weapons systems to do that. You need to extend your conscription from four months to one year and toughen it. No. 4, you need to revitalize your reserve mobilization. And No. 5, you need to start stockpiling energy, foodstuffs, weapons, and ammunition. And you need to have a resilient infrastructure, such as telecommunications. If you do all those things, then when [Chinese President] Xi Jinping wakes up every morning across the Taiwan Strait in Beijing, hopefully he’ll say, ‘Today’s not the day. The costs are too high. The Taiwanese are too tough and that they will be supported importantly by the West as well.'”

So all those things are factoring in, and that was a big part of my message as I spent four days in Taipei.

Renck: As the war in Ukraine continues, so does the support from the United States and NATO allies who have been sending military equipment to the country. The equipment is being flown to Eastern Europe and then transported by land into Ukraine. Just logistically speaking, with Taiwan being an island and obviously, land transportation not being an option, how would the United States realistically provide any military equipment or support if China were to invade?

Esper: Well, look, that’s a great question. The flip side of that coin, too, as I said to them, you need to prepare for this fight because there’s no escaping from the island, crossing the border into Poland to Romania or Moldova, right? So you got to stay and fight this fight. And for us, logistic support will be difficult. Us being, of course, not just the United States, but hopefully our Asian allies and our European allies.

So that’s why, the fifth pillar, if you will, of my recommendation said, “You need to start stockpiling the important things now, whether it’s weapons and equipment or it’s energy supplies and food, because you’re going to have to hold out for a period of time until we can either break the blockade or we can kind of find an open port to which we could deliver these types of supplies.”

Renck: Dr. Esper, just one final question for you. President Biden is reportedly speaking with Chinese President Xi Jinping this week. Do you have any advice for the commander in chief ahead of the call? Is there a specific message that you hope President Biden sends?

Esper: We should always lead with our values. We should defend core principles, such as the right of American lawmakers and officials to travel wherever they want. He should also reassert our support for Taiwan, consistent with the Taiwan Relations Act.

And look, I think he should call the Chinese out for their bad behavior, for their constant intrusions—both aerial and maritime—into Taiwan’s air defense zones, their threatening language, their bad behavior toward Japan with regard to Senkaku. Go on and on.

He needs to show resolve and commitment to defending international rules, laws and norms, and this robust democracy in Taiwan from the aggressive Chinese Communist Party. Showing that type of resolve will send the right message back to Beijing.

Renck: Well, Dr. Esper, thank you so much for joining me today. Again, we have Mark Esper, secretary of defense under President Donald Trump. Thank you so much.

Esper: Thank you, Samantha.

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