PacNet #65 – To change Taiwan’s conscription system, change the culture

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February, Taiwanese polls indicated that, should the People’s Republic of China attack Taiwan, 74% of Taiwanese citizens were willing to defend the island. However, the question is not if they will fight, but how prepared they are.

In Taiwan, all men are conscripted into the military, but the period of service has been shortened in recent decades, from the original two years to one year (as of 2008) and now—since 2018—to just four months.

Yet, with the Ukraine invasion and the Chinese military drills following Nancy Pelosi’s August visit to Taiwan, the reality of war is inching closer. Taiwanese Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng said in late March that Taiwan is considering extending the compulsory military service.

If Taiwan is truly committed to defending itself against the People’s Liberation Army, discussions should not only consider duration, but must also reform the activities associated with conscription.

A shared pessimism, a fractured relationship

To learn more, I spoke to young Taiwanese men on their experiences in the military and the glaring problems in Taiwan’s defense. The interviewees included men who served the four months of military service, but also those who completed the 12-day replacement service—an alternative option for men who have physical or mental health issues, dependent families, and low-income households. Replacement soldier service is fairly common: in 2021, 17% of men from Kaohsiung City enlisted in the replacement service instead of the standing military reserve service.

Within this cohort, there is a shared sense of pessimism. “If we had to be on the frontlines, we definitely did not have enough preparation. People just didn’t take it seriously,” one said—a sentiment that all the men seemed to share about their compatriots.

Where did this “unseriousness” toward conscription arise and how does Taiwanese society reinforce it? There are some fixable but neglected problems reflected by my interviewees: broken practice equipment, 50-year-old guns, and prolonged periods of sitting around, doing nothing. Society as a whole also does not prioritize military readiness. One of the men reflected: “The way people talk about the military just doesn’t feel that serious. People liken it to summer camp, or something to do between summers in college. If you took it seriously, it’s almost funny.”

For young Taiwanese men in the military, there is a jarring cognitive dissonance between their political and military stance. The men in the military “are vocally against Beijing, Xi Jinping, and the People’s Liberation Army.” In 2020, the Pew Research Center observed that Taiwanese between ages 18-29 are less likely to support closer economic or political ties with China when compared to their older counterparts. However, anti-PRC sentiment does not motivate these men, and wider society, to make sacrifices to defend their republic, nor does it translate into increased alertness toward PRC threats or investment into defenses.

“[China’s invasion] is never a topic of discussion [in the military],” one interviewee said. Another lamented, “Of course, everyone knows that the threat from China has always existed, but they think that it’s only in the news. They don’t know that it’s coming.”

For one thing, the bias toward optimism clouds understanding of war. Taiwan clings to the hope that the PRC will not invade, or that even if it does, the United States would break its strategic ambiguity and come to Taiwan’s rescue. Based on a survey from Taiwanese Public Opinion Foundation, 51% of respondents disagreed with the statement “do you think China will invade Taiwan at any time?” while 39% of respondents agreed.

Secondly, we see the stigma against occupational soldiers in the popular idiom “a good man does not become a soldier, and a good piece of metal does not hit a nail.” This stigma is a byproduct of the third reason: the fractured relationship between the military and the Taiwanese public.

This dates all the way back to 1949, when the Kuomintang (KMT) fled to Taiwan from the Chinese mainland and began its military occupation as the de facto government of Taiwan. The subsequent 228 Incident and the martial law period, dubbed the White Terror, traumatized Taiwanese people as the KMT military imprisoned, tortured, and executed local elites, intelligentsia, and civilians.

Modern-day Taiwan looks very different from the repressive, authoritarian regime that ruled the archipelago until a few decades ago. Taiwan’s road to democracy and investment in transitional justice has reformed many once-authoritarian institutions, making Taiwan a leading democracy in Asia. However, political repression at the hands of the military still taints Taiwanese society’s view of the military generations later.

A military/civilian solution 

The invasion of Ukraine shocked Taiwan, and the world. Analysts, policymakers, and netizens often ask, “Is Taiwan next?” A more productive question would be: What can we do to make Taiwan prohibitively costly to invade?

Healing the fractured relationship between the military and the civilians is a harder task than any one policy can tackle. Taiwanese people should recognize and respect the military. More importantly, the military should earn its respect within Taiwanese society. There are two tangible ways the military and civilians can work together to achieve a defensive Taiwanese military for the Taiwanese people.

Not only should citizen soldiers have a longer and more intense conscription service, Taiwanese culture should shift to recognize the threat of invasion. Critics should not interpret efforts to change the duration and quality of Taiwan’s military as an attempt to transform the liberal democratic country into a military regime. Instead, it is a way to signal to Beijing that the risks of invading Taiwan will outweigh the gains. Taiwanese men should walk away from their service feeling more confident in their country’s defense system after going through the rigorous boot camp.

Even more importantly, Taiwanese civilians should feel like their military will protect them. Besides improving conscription services, the Taiwanese military should also consider establishing short-term, low-commitment courses for civilians. A growing number of private companies have already taken the initiative in teaching civilians the basics of surviving war and weapon use. The military can use this opportunity to build a stronger bond with the public and also lead and supervise disseminated information for a territorial defense force, much like Ukraine’s “weekend warriors” prior to the 2022 invasion.

Taiwan’s future is not set. However, China’s military capacities are growing, making Taiwan’s need for deterrence ever-pressing and imperative. Taiwan must develop and fortify its defense units, starting from civilians and conscription soldiers. This means more than buying new weapons, building asymmetric capabilities, or lengthening the period of conscription. Taiwan needs a whole-of-society approach to preparedness, and must internalize Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s speech a day before Russia’s invasion: “When you attack us, you will see our faces, not our backs.”

Claire Tiunn (Chang) (claire@pacforum.org) is a research intern at Pacific Forum and a politics and Russian and Eastern European studies double major at Pomona College.

PacNet commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed and encouraged.

 

PacNet #64 – The Biden-Xi summit: Not revolutionary, but still necessary

US President Joe Biden’s Nov. 14 meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Bali, Indonesia was never supposed to be a historic breakthrough between the world’s two greatest powers. Too many core issues, from Taiwan and the South China Sea to trade and technology, currently separate the two powers for the exchange to produce major achievements.

US and Chinese officials know this, of course. Neither side works for a dramatic improvement in ties, but rather they search for an opportunity to inject some stability into a relationship in desperate need of it. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said as much when he previewed the sit-down, emphasizing that Biden and Xi will have the chance to be frank and firm about where they disagree, clear up misunderstandings that may exist, and explore how US-China relations can be managed responsibility.

This is what Biden and Xi did during their over three-hour confab. The official US and Chinese readouts of the exchange were notably similar on one key point: the need, if not urgency, to ensure the strategic competition between the two powerhouses does not veer toward a conflict neither country wants. That the session adjourned with a number of working groups established, as well as the resumption of climate talks and US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s second face-to-face meeting with his Chinese counterpart, Gen. Wei Fenghe, about a week later, provided a cautiously hopeful signal that positive momentum remained a possibility.

US-China relations in the era of Biden

If Xi and the rest of the Politburo Standing Committee thought President Biden would be more amenable to China’s rise than his predecessor, they were quickly disabused of that notion. To Donald Trump, China fleeced the United States economically and attempted to exceed it militarily. Yet to Biden, China is a multidimensional problem and the metaphorical tip of an authoritarian spear working to replace the US-dominated order with one run from Beijing. The Biden administration’s policy documents are careful to mention collaboration with China when interests converge, but as the US National Security Strategy states, “Beijing has ambitions to create an enhanced sphere of influence in the Indo-Pacific and to become the world’s leading power.” The phrase “world’s leading power” is instructive; in Washington’s view, China is not merely content with superiority in its neighborhood but covets the status of global hegemon.

The administration’s assessment of the China challenge, combined with China’s expansive claims in the East and South China Seas, its treatment of minorities in Xinjiang, and active military modernization drive (among other issues) all contribute to US-China ties devolving to their lowest point since the two established formal diplomatic relations in 1979. Interactions between officials early in the Biden administration did not help. While Biden and Xi did not waste any time communicating—their first call occurred on Feb. 10, 2001, about three weeks after Biden’s inauguration—their subordinates spent meetings reciting well-worn talking points. Talks in Alaska in March 2021 degenerated into heated lectures, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken lauding the rules-based order and State Councilor Yang Jiechi chiding the United States for meddling in China’s internal affairs. US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was repeatedly prevented from getting through to Gen. Xu Qiliang, vice chair of the Central Military Commission. The United States and China spent 2021 sanctioning one another’s officials and issuing travel restrictions on one another’s diplomats.

The bilateral relationship’s downward trajectory reached new lows in August, when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan—the first visit to the self-ruled island by a speaker in a quarter-century—prompted the Chinese government to adopt stern military and diplomatic measures that raised tension in the region. Militarily, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) greeted Pelosi’s travel with cruise missile tests, numerous incursions across the median-line by fighter aircraft, and what can only be described as a dress rehearsal for a hypothetical Taiwan blockade. Diplomatically, China severed contacts with the United States on multiple fronts, suspending talks on climate, defense, crime, counternarcotics, and risk reduction.

Don’t bet on a big improvement 

At its core, the Biden-Xi summit belatedly attempted to bring US-China relations back to where they were prior to August. Relations weren’t stellar before Pelosi landed in Taipei, but the two powers were at least engaging across multiple issue sets. Dialogue between Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan and the Xi-Biden meeting was lackluster. Opportunities for US Ambassador Nicholas Burns to get an audience with key Chinese policymakers is limited, and Qin Gang, China’s ambassador in Washington, reportedly faces his own restrictions on access to US officials. A single phone call in July has been the extent of the contact between Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley and PLA Chief of the Joint Staff Gen. Li Zuocheng. It took Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin over a year before he spoke with Gen. Wei Fenghe, China’s minister of national defense—and only after Austin gave up on reaching Gen Xu Qiliang, the PLA’s highest-ranking officer.

To the strongest hawks in Washington and Beijing, this spotty dialogue isn’t all that worrying and may even have been something to cheer. However, it is one thing for the United States and China to possess starkly different foreign policy strategies, objectives, and perceptions of how the world should operate (one would expect such differences). It is another thing entirely for those differences to fester unmanaged. In situations where competitors or adversaries have strong, conflicting paradigms, clear, durable, and consistent communication—particularly at the senior levels—is an absolute prerequisite to mitigating conflict. Biden and Xi rightly concluded that the lack of communication channels made responsible competition—a goal both leaders profess—virtually impossible.

The question naturally arises: will more communication necessarily result in more rapprochement? The answer varies by issue. For instance, it’s difficult to envision a scenario whereby the United States and China arrive at a general understanding about Taiwan; Xi is as committed to reunifying the island with the mainland as Biden is to ensuring Taiwan can make a PLA invasion contingency prohibitively costly. Biden’s suggestion that the United States would come to Taiwan’s defense if the PLA launched a military operation, followed with subsequent clarifications by his advisers that US policy toward Taiwan hasn’t changed, just adds to the confusion in Chinese policy circles about whether Washington is still abiding by the “one China” policy. The “one China” policy, which states in part that Washington recognizes the PRC as the sole government of China and acknowledges (but does not recognize) the PRC’s claims to Taiwan and opposes any unilateral moves toward Taiwanese independence, has governed U.S.-Taiwan relations for more than four decades. PLA military exercises around Taiwan and periodic US freedom of navigation operations in the Taiwan Strait likely give more ammunition to hardliners in both capitals pining for a full decoupling.

A ceasefire in the technology and trade wars is also unlikely in the short-term. Tariffs remain in effect, with neither side willing to make the first move toward lifting them. Like the Trump administration before it, the Biden administration uses Commerce Department rules to stop advanced semiconductors and chip-making machinery from reaching China, which Beijing detests as a deliberate US attempt to kneecap Chinese technological development. The United States rejects those complaints wholesale, arguing that US technology should in no way bolster the CCP’s internal surveillance and military modernization.

Even if those big agenda items remain unresolved, two superpowers who hold more than 40% of the world’s GDP and account for more than half of the world’s military spending don’t have anything to gain by completely isolating each other. If Biden’s meeting with Xi puts a stop to a deeper deterioration in relations, it will have been worth the effort.

Daniel R. DePetris (dan.depetris@defp.org) is a fellow at Defense Priorities and a foreign affairs columnist at the Chicago Tribune and Newsweek.

PacNet commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed and encouraged.

Photo: Chinese President Xi Jinping shakes hands with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (L) inside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing December 4, 2013 by REUTERS/Lintao Zhang/Pool//File Photo

Issues & Insights Vol. 22, WP7 – Rising from the Ashes: The Future of Arms Control

Abstract

This paper employs a comparative approach to provide an initial comprehensive analysis of the political interactions, contemporary nuclear policies, and military strategies and capabilities of China, Russia, and the United States in the context of the unstable international security landscape. At a time when the global arms control regime is teetering on the brink of disintegration, the authors aim to offer practical and feasible policy recommendations for remodeling the arms control regime from the Chinese and Russian perspectives. The authors stress the need to revive “traditional” arms control and advocate the search for ways to control emerging military technologies. This paper endeavors to present a two-pronged vision proposed by representatives of two major global players.

Click here to download the full paper.


About the Authors

Victor Mizin is a leading research fellow at the Institute of International Studies of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO University) and a senior research fellow at the Center of International Security Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of World Economy and International Relations. He is a member of of the trilateral Deep Cuts Commission. He was a diplomat at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Russia/Soviet Union). He served at the Russian mission to the United Nations as a political affairs counselor and was an inspector of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission. He was a senior research fellow at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey in the United States. He received a PhD from the Institute for US and Canadian Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences in 1991. He participated as an adviser in arms-control negotiations, including START I and START II, INF, SCC on the ABM Treaty, Conference on Disarmament, and the UN Disarmament Commission.

Yue Yuan is a PhD candidate of China Foreign Affairs University and Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO University). She is an ACONA fellow (2021–2022) of Harvard University’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies. She is pursuing research on space security policy, China-US-Russia relations, and nuclear arms control and disarmament. She worked with the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research’s space security team and the Center on Terrorism, Extremism, and Counterterrorism at the Middlebury Institute. She holds a dual master’s degree in international affairs from MGIMO University in Russia and nonproliferation and terrorism studies from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey in the United States.

Why Defending Taiwan is Crucial for the Future of the U.S.-Japan Alliance?

Issues & Insights Vol. 22, SR9, pp. 47-56

Abstract

A potential Taiwan crisis is a salient issue for both the United States and Japan. Despite its importance, there has not been enough discussion about the impact of a Taiwan Strait crisis on the U.S.-Japan alliance and how it would affect Japan. Japan’s role in the U.S.-Japan alliance is described in the 2015 U.S.-Japan Defense Guidelines. The challenges to Japan include recognizing a situation that can legally permit the deployment of the Japan Self Defense Forces (JSDF) in a timely manner and for all stakeholders, including the private sector, to take action accordingly. While the JSDF is assumed to be able to operate following these guidelines, other stakeholders such as the Japan Coast Guard (JCG), airport and port operators, the defense industry, and energy providers may have limited response capabilities. This paper argues that the U.S. Department of Defense and Japan’s Ministry of Defense (MoD) should develop detailed bilateral planning in advance, including what to do if a Taiwan contingency arises. Moreover, the Japanese government should take the lead in supporting private operators in the event of a Taiwan Strait crisis.

About this Volume

Authors of this volume participated in the inaugural U.S.-Japan Next-Generation Leaders Initiative, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, through the U.S. Embassy Tokyo. With backgrounds from academia, government, military and industry, the cohort brings rich insights on the past, present, and future of the U.S.-Japan bilateral security relations.

The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their respective organizations and affiliations. Pacific Forum’s publications do not necessarily reflect the positions of its staff, donors and sponsors.

Click here to download the full volume.


Rena Sasaki is a graduate student at the School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University, pursuing a Master’s degree in Foreign Service. Rena was a senior associate at Strategy& (formerly Booz & Company), global management consulting firm and has engaged in defense and security projects with the Japanese Ministry of Defense and the defense industry for more than five years. She has deep knowledge of defense equipment acquisition, domestic supply chains for defense manufactures, and game-changing technology. She is interested in regional security issues in the Indo-Pacific and has engaged in several research projects on China’s military and economic security. She was selected as a delegate for the U.S-.China Dialogue which is a student-to-student dialogue between Georgetown University and Peking University. She graduated from Waseda University with a Bachelor’s in Engineering and Master’s in Engineering, and majored in Statistics. Rena is an intermediate-level Mandarin speaker.


Photo: iStock

Enhancing Taiwan’s Resistance: Military and Diplomatic Roles of the U.S.-Japan Security Alliance

Issues & Insights Vol. 22, SR9, pp. 40-46

Abstract

This contribution provides recommendations on the scope for coordination on the part of the U.S.-Japan alliance to raise the costs for Beijing of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. As the threat posed by China’s attempt to unilaterally change the status quo becomes more serious, the Taiwan issue has once again become a focal point of international attention. China’s rise is a common challenge for Japan and the United States, and stability in the Taiwan Strait is their common interest. After considering various Taiwan contingency scenarios, preventing a worst-case scenario will require a greater willingness and ability of the Taiwanese people to resist and prompt U.S. intervention. To strengthen prospects for these two, this paper discusses how the United States and Japan should militarily and diplomatically work together.

About this Volume

Authors of this volume participated in the inaugural U.S.-Japan Next-Generation Leaders Initiative, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, through the U.S. Embassy Tokyo. With backgrounds from academia, government, military and industry, the cohort brings rich insights on the past, present, and future of the U.S.-Japan bilateral security relations.

The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their respective organizations and affiliations. Pacific Forum’s publications do not necessarily reflect the positions of its staff, donors and sponsors.

Click here to download the full volume.


Ayae Yoshimoto is currently working at the Consulate-General of Japan in San Francisco. Previously, she was a junior visiting fellow at the Japan Institute of International Affairs (JIIA). She received her B.A. in Communication from Doshisha University in Japan and then her M.A. in International Relations from the National Chengchi University in Taiwan. Her research interests include Japan’s foreign and security policy, Sino-Japan relations, cross-strait relations, and U.S.-Japan Alliance. While in graduate school in Taiwan, she did a research internship on Taiwan-Japan relations at Taiwan NextGen Foundation. In addition to her mother tongue, Japanese, she is fluent in English and Chinese.


Photo: iStock

Extended ‘Gray Zone’ Deterrence in the South China Sea

Issues & Insights Vol. 22, SR9, pp. 31-39

Abstract

Strong military commitments by stronger allies to defend weaker partners is just one necessary component of extended deterrence to limited (gray zone) aggression. Another essential part is the weaker partners’ presence in disputed domains. In the context of the South China Sea, given the vast capability gap between China and Southeast Asian claimants, bolstering the latter’s control of and presence in disputed domains through material assistance focused on offshore patrolling assets and ISR capabilities (such as drones and space-based monitoring systems) is critical to preserving the status quo. This study employed a quantitative data analysis of territorial conquests and a formal analysis of gray zone conflict to support the claim.

About this Volume

Authors of this volume participated in the inaugural U.S.-Japan Next-Generation Leaders Initiative, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, through the U.S. Embassy Tokyo. With backgrounds from academia, government, military and industry, the cohort brings rich insights on the past, present, and future of the U.S.-Japan bilateral security relations.

The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their respective organizations and affiliations. Pacific Forum’s publications do not necessarily reflect the positions of its staff, donors and sponsors.

Click here to download the full volume.


Shusuke Ioku is a Ph.D. student at the Department of Political Science, the University of Rochester where he studies formal Political Theory and International Relations. His current research projects address inefficiency of coercive diplomacy and subnational political consequences of Chinese economic statecraft. He has a particular interest in gray-zone maritime disputes in the East and South China Seas since he did an internship at the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative under the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Before coming to the United States, he received an M.A. in Political Science from Waseda University and B.A. in Philosophy from the University of Tokyo.


PhotoA Planet Skysat captured this image of Fiery Cross Reef in the South China Sea on May 3, 2020. Constructed between 2014 and 2017, Fiery Cross reef is one of China’s seven militarized artificial islands in the Spratlys that have become symbols of China’s gray zone coercion and salami slicing. Source: Photo by Skysat/Creative Commons

PacNet #61 – The new National Security Strategy in the context of an unstated “cold war”

The Biden administration released America’s new National Security Strategy (NSS) on Oct. 12. For those who read such documents regularly, there were few surprises. Values were mentioned in the context of the United States’ position in the world and vis-a-vis perceived adversaries, such as Russia, Iran, and the People’s Republic of China, while the administration’s lines of effort were laid out in a typical ends, ways, and means format. There were also sections on each region of the world, where the strategies laid out a bit more context.

If one compares the Biden NSS with three other NSS—1994 under President Bill Clinton, 2002 under President George W. Bush, 2017 under President Donald Trump—released early in the president’s term, one can see the evolution of US national strategy over time. By doing a word count of key terms in all four documents—such as “alliance,” “Asia,” “China,” “Russia,” “Europe,” “democracy,” “freedom,” “free trade,” and “terrorism”—it is possible to discern an administration’s priorities by how many mentions a key term gets in each document. Seen across time, it’s interesting to note the variation in use of these terms and indicative of differences and commonalities between different administrations.

For all the differences between the two parties in the US system and the yawning gulf of the culture wars, the four NSS analyzed are fairly similar. Not because they are mundane documents written by bureaucrats—they are usually led by the White House of each administration who work hard to put the president’s stamp on US security posture. Rather, they are similar because the two parties—despite their domestic differences—share a common worldview and a similar conception of the US role within that world.

The four strategies all stress the importance of values and the democratic system to its foreign policy. US policymakers continue to stress the role of US values in achieving its paramount position and making the world a better place, though different strategies vary in how the administration expresses those values. Democratic administrations seem to mention “democracy” more than “freedom,” while the reverse is true for Republican administrations. There are also differences in whether the US is determined to export or defend those values.

The major tension point for the Biden administration is knowing there is going to be a drawn-out ideological struggle with the PRC and Russia, while wanting to avoid the term “cold war” due to its long-term implications. Despite a clear rejection of the concept, the NSS nevertheless heavily from US values language from the 1950s by dividing values into two forms—freedoms of liberalism (voting, political freedoms, free media) and freedoms from coercion and oppression. This approach was prominent in President Truman’s 1947 speech to Congress and makes sense because it widens the US appeal to global partners. While the first form would be attractive to fellow democratic liberal states in Europe, the second is more attractive to small and medium-sized non-democratic states whose sovereignty may be threatened by Moscow or Beijing. If one is to fight a long ideological competition with a powerful authoritarian power, then one must frame that power by its coercive practices while having a broad base of support.

The 2022 NSS asserts that its goal is, at the systemic level, to create an order that is free, open, and prosperous—language echoing that found in the Indo-Pacific Strategy, and language developed with allies such as Japan over the past decade to frame Chinese actions in the South China Sea, its Belt and Road Initiative, and Russian efforts to destabilize and dominate Europe.

While previous strategies connect values with the overall international system, the Biden version follows that laid out in the Trump NSS by noting that China is also projecting its (authoritarian) values as it seeks to re-order the system.

Consequently, it lays out an architecture for out-competing the PRC across all domains, and this is the administration’s priority. Despite this, “Russia” still gains 71 mentions compared to “China” and “the PRC,” which had 54 between them. The most likely explanation is Russia’s renewed aggression against Ukraine, which dominates the section on Europe.

Speaking of Europe, one might expect to see the word “Europe” mentioned more than “Asia” or “Indo-Pacific” in earlier strategies but fade out as the PRC’s rise became a more pressing issue for US strategists, and this is borne out by analysis. Dropping from a high of 48 in the 1994 strategy, “Europe” is only mentioned 35 times in the 2022 NSS, while “Asia” and the “Indo-Pacific” are mentioned 43 times.

It notes that the lines between domestic and foreign policy are blurring in the age of social media, insecure supply chains, and data-related technologies. These, like 5G, artificial intelligence, quantum, and other emerging and critical technologies have grown in importance as Xi Jinping has accelerated the Digital China strategy. “Technology” was mentioned six times in 1994, nine times in 2002, 25 times in 2017, and 41 times in the 2022 NSS. This is a truly impressive marker of the importance of tech to the new era of competition.

The NSS also stresses the importance of allies, fairly common to most American strategic documents. However, the Biden administration’s strategy mentions “alliances” 17 times, only matched by the Bush administration’s, which was waging a global “war on terror” in 2002.

For those who track US trade policy, it will come as no surprise to see that “free trade” has also almost disappeared from the document, garnering only two mentions, a divergence between the United States and its allies. This reflects the United States’ continuing domestic debate over free trade agreements, sparked during the 2016 presidential election, which remains divisive among US policy elites.

Overall, the 2022 NSS is in line with those that came before it, but one can see the evolution towards a United States that must compete long-term with the PRC and Russia in the ideological, technological, military, and economic domains, and one that a United States that needs its allies to succeed. One can also see a glimpse of the values language used by former President Truman—which became the Truman Doctrine and laid the foundations for the generational competition with the Soviet Union. For those in the region who might view the United States as more obsessive about values—freedom and democracy—the document goes out of its way to create a non-liberal definition of freedom—one of freedom from coercion, a sort of support for sovereignty that underpinned US support for Turkey (a non-democracy in 1947). Surely, this is a definition that any regional state should support. If the United States can work with its partners and allies to make clear this is behind the term “free and open” with elements of open maritime access, the United States will begin to soften the resistance from regional friends and partners who do not share our democratic and liberal values. On the other hand, the lack of an economic framework is a key concern, given China’s pivotal role in the global economy and trade system—a very different challenge to that posed by a Cold War-era USSR.

A pragmatic strategy that lays the foundations for a decades-long competition but one that still needs to resolve key issues.

John Hemmings (john@pacforum.org) is Senior Director of the Indo-Pacific Foreign and Security Policy Program at the Pacific Forum.

PacNet commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed and encouraged.

Issues & Insights Vol. 22, SR8 – Next steps for the US-China strategic nuclear relationship

About

Conducted with the generous support of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, this study seeks to provide an in-depth analysis of strategic nuclear issues of significance to the bilateral relationship to pinpoint the challenges to, and opportunities for, improving the current state of affairs between Washington and Beijing. The study, in other words, aims to propose an assessment of key issues and, insofar as possible, solutions or mitigation measures to address US-China strategic nuclear problems, including those that are seemingly intractable. It is motivated by the idea that even (or perhaps especially) when stark pessimism dominates, it is essential to be clear about what is in “the realm of the possible” to improve the situation, and to act on it.

Download the full volume here.


Table of Contents

Introduction
David Santoro

Chapter 1 | Intensifying US-China nuclear competition: The evolution of US and Chinese nuclear strategies
David C. Logan

Chapter 2 | Baby steps: Laying the groundwork for US-Chinese arms control and risk reduction
Gerald C. Brown

Chapter 3 | Five scenarios for the P5 process: Opportunities for Beijing and Washington
Heather Williams

Chapter 4 | A bridge too far: US-China cooperation on the Korean Peninsula
Duyeon Kim

Chapter 5 | US-China areas of cooperation: Nonproliferation and nuclear security
Miles A. Pomper and Sanjana Gogna

PacNet #59 – How the new National Security Strategy transforms US China policy

The United States has transformed its policy toward China.

This shift is not plain from the language of the National Security Strategy, released this week, even though that document identifies China as a country with “the intention and, increasingly, the capacity to reshape the international order in favor of one that tilts the global playing field to its benefit.”

Rather, the change becomes visible with the study of speeches by top administration officials, recent presidential executive orders and other actions by the US government.

Previously, the US, along with allies and partners, focused on preventing China from acquiring technology that would improve its military capabilities. The ambition is now much grander: The goal is to constrain the development of China’s high-tech economy, to thwart its rise as a challenger to US (and Western) technological supremacy.

It is a risky strategy and may instead accelerate developments it seeks to thwart.

During the Cold War and the period after, the US approach was one-dimensional—it sought to deny adversaries access to technologies that could better their military capabilities. The policy defined threats narrowly and focused on acquisition through trade.

That perspective reflected the limitations of America’s rival, the Soviet Union, which was unable to muster a challenge beyond that posed by its armed forces.

Today’s primary concern, China, poses a more formidable threat. It is not only a potential military adversary but it can compete with the United States (and the West) economically, in soft power, diplomacy and development aid, and in the contest to develop the most advanced technologies.

It is that latter capacity that is most alarming since leadership in the high-tech arena will determine which country leads the 21st-century economy.

Also worrying is the use of those technologies to construct surveillance systems capable of empowering autocrats or undermining human rights. The technologies strengthen regimes that reject democratic ideals and promote opposing ideologies.

China’s economic success allows it to evade traditional means of controlling tech transfer. China has lots of money, which it can use to invest in or buy companies, or as venture capital to set them up.

The desire by others to crack China’s huge domestic market gives the Beijing government leverage to demand tech transfer as a term of engagement. And the skills of its scientists embed them in the international collaborations that set the frontiers of technology.

US administrations have been tightening the screws for some time. One marker was the adoption, as part of the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, of the Export Control Reform Act and the Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act. They expanded and strengthened regulations of strategic trade and foreign investment in the US.

The “entities list” that the Commerce Department uses to restrict destinations of goods and technologies has grown steadily longer as more Chinese companies are added. Companies that make technologies that can be used for surveillance or repression are being added, too.

Recent decisions have made clear that the US is going further to block China’s ability to compete.

In early October, the Biden administration announced new rules to limit Chinese access to advanced computer chips and chip-making equipment. Enforcing the foreign direct product rule (FDPR) means that any company that sells advanced chips to Chinese firms or organizations working on artificial intelligence and supercomputing will require a US government license if the company uses US technology to make the chips.

Almost all significant semiconductor companies do. A Boston Consulting Group analysis concluded that there are at least 23 types of chipmaking equipment for which US companies control more than 65% of global supply, making this restriction a powerful chokepoint in the semiconductor supply chain.

That status prompted Gregory Allen of CSIS, the Washington-based think tank, to conclude that the rule signals “a new US policy of actively strangling large segments of the Chinese technology industry—strangling with an intent to kill.”

A second landmark is an executive order issued by President Biden last month that provides direction to the interagency Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States to “ensure that it remains responsive to evolving national security risk.”

This executive order, the first issued since CFIUS was established in 1975, identifies five risk factors that the committee must weigh as it evaluates a transaction: 1) supply chain resilience, 2) US technological leadership, 3) aggregate investment trends, 4) cybersecurity and 5) US persons’ sensitive data.

The second factor is the key. CFIUS must now consider a transaction’s effect on US technological leadership in sectors vital to national security—a category that currently includes microelectronics, artificial intelligence, biotechnology, quantum computing, advanced clean energy, climate adaptation technologies and parts of the agricultural industrial base with implications for food security.

“Leadership” is a broad signifier, and the sectors themselves aren’t part of “national security” as traditionally defined. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan hammered this point home in a speech last month. First, he noted that “Preserving our edge in science and technology is not a ‘domestic issue’ or ‘national security issue.’ It’s both.”

This merging of economic security and national security has become routine and is a pillar of the national security strategy issued this week.

More intriguing is the claim that “we have to revisit the longstanding premise of maintaining ‘relative’ advantages over competitors in certain key technologies. We previously maintained a ‘sliding scale’ approach that said we need to stay only a couple of generations ahead.”

But, Sullivan went on to say, “That is not the strategic environment we are in today. Given the foundational nature of certain technologies, such as advanced logic and memory chips, we must maintain as large of a lead as possible.”

The US is now alert to deals “that could undermine America’s national security by blunting our technological edge.” This is the context that informs the statement in the National Security Strategy that the United States will “prioritize maintaining an enduring competitive edge over the PRC.” It signals the move away from “traditional national security concerns” that focused on military capabilities toward strategic competition more generally.

To be clear, that does not represent a complete decoupling with China. That is neither possible nor desirable. It is, however, a call to decouple at the high end, on the frontiers of new technologies where potential impacts of advances and breakthroughs are greatest.

It is risky, nevertheless. It assumes that the United States can identify technologies that are key to leadership. It assumes that the United States won’t be disadvantaged by losing access to Chinese skills and successes. (The impact of cutting off Chinese researchers could be greater than feared: if governments in Europe or Asia do not align with the United States, then their projects will be off limits to American scientists.) It also denies, to the United States, insights into what the Chinese are doing.

This policy will confirm to Chinese that their longstanding complaint that the United States seeks to block their rise is correct. Chinese officials criticized the new rules as “sci-tech hegemony” that aims “to hobble and suppress the development of emerging markets and developing countries.”  It will animate the drive to promote indigenous development and production in China. It will harden divisions between China and the United States.

The policy has no chance of success if the United States goes alone. It must have allies and partners in this effort. This has been a pillar of Biden administration policy and the National Security Strategy hammers home this simple truth.

It is not clear how far allies share this outlook, however. The European Union Strategic Outlook toward China, issued in 2019, called that country a “strategic rival,” but there are disputes among members—and even within countries—when distinguishing between “competition” and “rivalry.”

So far, however, the US and chief allies in Asia and Europe appear to be working together. It isn’t clear if that solidarity will be maintained as the new US policy becomes sharper and better defined.

Brad Glosserman (brad@pacforum.org) is deputy director of and visiting professor at the Center for Rule-Making Strategies at Tama University as well as senior adviser (nonresident) at Pacific Forum. He is the author of Peak Japan: The End of Great Ambitions (Georgetown University Press, 2019). This article is drawn from a forthcoming book on the new national security economy. 

An earlier version of this article was published in Asia Times.

For more from this author, see his recent chapter of Comparative Connections.

PacNet commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed and encouraged.

PacNet #57 – What Indo-Pacific countries should do about Taiwan

In retaliating against US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s August trip to Taiwan, the People’s Republic of China deployed military maneuvers to encircle the island and, for the first time in nearly 26 years, conduct missile launches into Taiwan’s coastal waters. Beijing’s recent military exercises, even after their scheduled end, continue to focus on “anti-submarine and sea assault operations,” most likely making them a dress rehearsal for a full-scale invasion.

This time, and unlike in past crises (namely 1996), it does not appear as though there is an off-ramp, a peaceful path to reconciliation between Beijing and the United States. Preparation, and not just for Washington and Taipei, is thus of the essence.

1996, and now

China’s recent military exercises remind of the Taiwan Strait Crisis of 1996, when Lee Teng-hui, then president of the Republic of China, visited Cornell University in the state of New York.  Though US officials insisted that Lee’s visit was a private and unofficial trip for a class reunion at his alma mater, it nonetheless caused dissatisfaction in CCP headquarters, leading to military exercises intended to intimidate Taiwan. Nevertheless, both the United States and PRC considered resolving the crisis to be in their long-term interests. Furthermore, the balance of power largely favored the United States; China did not have the capability to impose its will.

To resolve the crisis, the Clinton administration reaffirmed Washington’s “one China policy,” while Chinese President Jiang Zemin underlined gradual peaceful reunification, while not renouncing the possibility of using force to achieve this goal. Both sides also agreed to engage in bilateral interactions through regular high-level dialogues. Jiang and Clinton subsequently paid state visits to Washington and China in 1997 and 1998, respectively.

This time, the crisis has received international attention due to intensifying threats from Beijing, which now seeks to displace the United States as the leader of both the regional and international orders. The balance of power across the Taiwan Strait increasingly tilts toward China, whose growth in military power is the “largest and fastest” in history—completely outclassing its smaller neighbor in aircraft carriers, ballistic missile submarines, fighter aircraft, etc. Furthermore, Xi Jinping pledges to “smash” any attempts at official independence from Taiwan.

Unlike after the 1996 crisis, there is no sign of rapprochement between Washington and Beijing—US and Chinese representatives did not hold dialogues at August’s ASEAN ministerial meeting. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned Beijing’s military exercises surrounding Taiwan and said the PRC “should not use the visit as a pretext for war, escalation, for provocative actions.” On Aug. 6, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi justified Beijing’s actions by saying they aimed at sending a warning to the “Taiwan independence” forces and denounced the US for “using Taiwan to contain China.” One day before Wang’s speech, the PRC halted bilateral cooperation with the United States on military dialogues, maritime safety, anti-drug efforts, transnational crime, illegal immigration, and climate change.

Taiwan matters for the Indo-Pacific

In the 1990s, although China’s population was about 60 times that of Taiwan’s, Beijing’s defense budget was only double Taipei’s. Today, the PRC spends more than 20 times that of Taiwan on defense spending. The PRC, a growing totalitarian power driven by irredentism and civilizational superiority, may intensify its efforts to subdue Taiwan with multiple strikes on political, military, and economic fronts. Such a cataclysmic conflict in the region will be detrimental to both the regional and international order.

The clock is ticking, not only for the United States but the Indo-Pacific as a whole. Regional countries should not dismiss this scenario, as a Chinese takeover of the island would have a chilling effect throughout Southeast Asia, specifically for countries with maritime disputes with the PRC. At some point in future disputes, it has been speculated that the PRC may “seek a relatively controlled conflict” to settle maritime disputes in its favor rather than invade Southeast Asian countries, as a manufactured crisis could awe regional smaller states into acceding to China’s interests. If the PRC is willing to launch an invasion to retake Taiwan, there can be little doubting of their intentions to settle maritime disputes forcefully.

In the meantime, the ongoing trade war, diplomatic spats, and tit-for-tat actions—such as imposing visa restrictions on officials and suspending flights due to altercations over air services—will continue to drive the Sino-US relationship, with spillover effects for Indo-Pacific countries. These nations do not want the PRC to have unfettered access to the Pacific as a result of Taiwan’s fall. Middle powers such as Japan and Australia have taken action at the regional level to prevent this development. Some Southeast Asian countries, namely Vietnam and Singapore, have also sought closer cooperation with the United States, yet stop short of directly condemning China’s behavior.

If more regional countries, particularly middle powers, fail to strengthen deterrence, including by seeking tighter ties with the United States (including on the military level), condemning Beijing’s provocations, and sending joint congressional delegations to the Island, the consequences for Taiwan and the region could be dire.

Huynh Tam Sang (sangtamhuynh@gmail.com), an international relations lecturer at Ho Chi Minh City University of Social Sciences and Humanities (Vietnam National University), is a research fellow at the Taiwan NextGen Foundation and nonresident WSD-Handa Fellow at the Pacific Forum.

(Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article stated that Lee Teng-hui’s 1996 visit was to Washington, rather than Cornell University in New York.)

PacNet commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed and encouraged.