Issues & Insights Vol. 22, SR 3 – South Korea’s Place in the Indo-Pacific: A Research Showcase for Pacific Forum’s Korea Foundation Fellows

About this Volume

Papers by the Pacific Forum’s current and previous Korea Foundation Fellows examine pressing issues facing the Korean Peninsula in the 21st century. These include the Great Power Competition between the US and China, North Korea and nuclear security, critical new technologies, and energy security. These papers by emerging leaders in the Korean Studies field offer fresh perspectives on Korean security issues – both well-known and emerging – useful for watchers of the peninsula both inside and out of Northeast Asia.

Authors of this volume participated in the Pacific Forum’s Korea Foundation Fellowship program between 2019-2022, with the generous support of the Korea Foundation 

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 opinions of its staff, donors and sponsors.

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Table of Contents

  1. Introduction: Fostering Conversations on Emerging and Enduring Security Challenges | Rob York
  2. Choose to Win: Two Scenarios on Future Weapons and their Implications for Korea, the US, and Asian Security | Soengwon Lee
  3. South Korea’s Role Amid US-China Strategic Competition | Su Hyun Lee
  4. Between Rhetoric and Practice: Yoon Suk Yeol’s Choice for South Korea and the Indo-Pacific | Eun A Jo and Jae Chang
  5. South Korean Semiconductors: The Crux of Yoon Suk Yeol’s Long-Term Strategy toward Technological Leadership | Kangkyu Lee
  6. Exploring the Opportunities for Comprehensive Response to Disinformation in the Indo-Pacific: Cases of the Republic of Korea and the United States | Jong-Hwa Ahn
  7. The Politics of Multilateral Energy Cooperation in Northeast Asia: The Implications for South Korea, Japan, and China | Juyoung Kim

About the Authors

Rob York is Program Director for Regional Affairs at Pacific Forum. He is responsible for editing Pacific Forum publications, including the weekly PacNet series, the triannual Comparative Connections journal, and the in-depth Issue & Insights series. Prior to joining Pacific Forum, Rob worked as a production editor at The South China Morning Post in Hong Kong. A PhD candidate in Korean history at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, Rob has established himself as a commentator on inter-Korean and Hong Kong affairs, as a regular contributor to NK News and The Daily NK and having been published at The South China Morning PostWar on the Rocks, the Foundation for Economic Education, Korean Studies, and The Journal of American-East Asian Relations, as well as conducting numerous interviews in various media outlets. His research agenda at Pacific Forum includes trade and its relationship with security, media analysis, countering disinformation, and human rights.

Soengwon Lee is a lecturer at the Graduate School of International Studies at Korea University. Previously, he was a non-resident Korea Foundation fellow at Pacific Forum (2020), deputy director for international cooperation at the Ministry of Unification, and interpretation officer at the Republic of Korea Marine Corps. He earned his BA at Stanford University, MA at University of North Korean Studies, and is currently finalizing his PhD dissertation titled “Future Weapons: An Evolutionary History” at the Graduate School of Future Strategy, Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST).

Su Hyun Lee is the 2021-22 resident Korea Foundation fellow at Pacific Forum. She holds a BA in East Asian International Studies and MA in International Cooperation both from Yonsei University. 

Eun A Jo is a PhD candidate in the Government Department at Cornell University and an incoming 2022-2023 predoctoral fellow at the Institute for Security and Conflict Studies at George Washington University. She is interested in political narratives, memory, and the domestic politics of international relations, with a focus on East Asia. Her dissertation, “Narrating Enemies in World Politics,” explores how post-conflict states narrate their former enemies and what implications these narratives hold for policies of peace and reconciliation. To this end, she compares the narrative trajectories of postcolonial, postwar, and post-authoritarian Taiwan and South Korea, using an interdisciplinary theoretical framework and a mixed-method research design. A paper from this research, titled “Pasts that Bind,” is forthcoming in International Organization.

Jae Chang is a recent graduate of Cornell University, where he studied Government and China & Asia-Pacific Studies. His primary research interests are Northeast Asian multilateralism and the role of identity politics in international relations. Additionally, he is interested in the impact of South Korean pop culture, especially in Korea’s partnership with Netflix.

Kangkyu Lee is a research fellow with the Humane AI Initiative at the East-West Center. He is also a consultant in Korean and Japanese affairs for Blackpeak. He is an incoming PhD student in International Affairs, Science, and Technology at the Georgia Institute of Technology Sam Nunn School of International Affairs and was formerly (2020-21) a resident Korea Foundation fellow at Pacific Forum where he researched the implications of AI and other frontier technologies on international relations and global security.

Jong-Hwa Ahn is an expert in international security and strategic planning. Recently, he worked for the United Nations on policy planning and is currently a Salzburg Global Seminar Fellow for media and journalism. At Pacific Forum, he was a Korea Foundation Fellow for foreign policy and regional strategy and, as an army officer in the Republic of Korea, he served in the Korean Demilitarized Zone and with the United Nations Mission in South Sudan. He also worked on public diplomacy for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the Korea Institute of Sport Science and received his Master’s in International Peace and Security from Korea University.

Juyoung Kim is a non-resident Korea Foundation fellow at Pacific Forum, where her research focused on the politics of multilateral energy cooperation in Northeast Asia. She has nearly five years of policy research experience in several think tanks in South Korea including the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security, Future Resources Institute and East Asia Institute and her research interest in natural resource governance, the geopolitics of energy and multilateral energy cooperation has evolved gradually from her work experiences. Juyoung recently defended her PhD thesis on the politics of governing Mozambique’s LNG industry at King’s College London, and she received her MSc in International Relations Theory from the London School of Economics and Political Science.

PacNet #33 – China cannot hinder international navigation through Taiwan Strait

During China Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin’s Regular Press Conference on June 13, he responded to a Bloomberg question concerning the legal status of the Taiwan Strait. Asked about Chinese military officials’ contention that the Taiwan Strait does not constitute “international waters,” he said that Taiwan is “an inalienable part of China’s territory. …According to UNCLOS and Chinese laws, the waters of the Taiwan Strait, extending from both shores toward the middle of the Strait, are divided into several zones including internal waters, territorial sea, contiguous zone, and the Exclusive Economic Zone. China has sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the Taiwan Strait.”

He went on to say that calling the strait international waters is “a false claim” by “certain countries” searching for a pretext for “threatening China’s sovereignty and security.”

However, while the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) does not use the phrase “international waters” most waters, even territorial seas and exclusive economic zones (EEZs), can be used for international navigation.

Instead, the relevant UNCLOS terms concerning movement through the Taiwan Strait are that it is a “transit passage” through a strait used for “international navigation.”

The Taiwan Strait’s importance as a shipping channels is well-documented: it links major economies such as China, Japan, South Korea, Southeast Asia, India, among others. Maritime traffic on the Strait has also increased drastically in recent years. The Strait’s width is approximately 220 nautical miles at its widest, meaning that for both China and Taiwan, it falls within the 200 nautical miles afforded to all countries for their EEZs. Because the Strait is “used for international navigation between one part of the high seas or an exclusive economic zone and another part of the high seas or an exclusive economic zone,” as defined by Article 37 of UNCLOS, “all ships and aircraft enjoy the right of transit passage, which shall not be impeded.”

Transit passage

Transit Passage is very well-founded in UNCLOS. According to Article 38, it “means the exercise of…the freedom of navigation and overflight solely for the purpose of continuous and expeditious transit of the strait.”

One may observe that this right of transit passage merely repeats all states’ freedom of navigation and overflight within any state’s EEZ (as spelled out in Article 58) as well as in the high seas (according to Article 87).

Thus, the right of all States to navigate and fly over to transit, in this case, the Taiwan Strait, is very well defined in international law, and shall not be impeded by China or any other state.

Long-standing international conventions

In addition, UNCLOS recognizes “the legal regime in straits in which passage is regulated in whole or in part by long-standing international conventions in force specifically relating to such straits” (Article 35).

In the Taiwan Strait, there is a center line called the Davis median line with its origins in the 1954 US-Taiwan Mutual Defense Treaty. Even though China does not officially recognize the existence of the de facto center line, there has been a tacit understanding on both sides of the strait to respect the unofficial boundary. The line was established in 1954, and through August 2020, there was only four reported Chinese military incursions across the line.

Since September 2020, however, China has sent many airplanes into the Taiwan Air Defense Identification Zone, presumably crossing the Davis median line many times.

China may be trying to ignore the Davis median line. But its historical value in keeping the peace in the Taiwan Strait for more than half a century should be considered by an UNCLOS tribunal, in case of an eventual dispute in front of an UNCLOS panel, as “long-standing international conventions in force” that should be enforced.

In any event, China cannot do much to legally hinder or impede all States’ right of transit passage through the Taiwan Strait. China should respect the tradition of the median line, and deal with Taiwan Strait issues differently.

Innocent passage

In addition to the right of transit passage with freedom of navigation and overflight through the Strait in the EEZ and high seas, Article 45 says ships of all states also enjoy the right of innocent passage (in other words, is not engaged in prohibited activities) through China’s (and Taiwan’s) territorial sea within the Taiwan Strait.

In other words, China cannot claim the Taiwan Strait as its own waters, be they territorial seas or EEZ, just to hinder international navigation.

Tran Đinh Hoanh () is an international litigator and writer in Washington DC.

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

PacNet #32 – Scholarships in the Pacific Islands are an urgent US national security issue

The April 2022 China-Solomon Islands security agreement has brought the Pacific Islands back into strategic focus for the United States. But far less attention has been dedicated to an area in the Pacific with huge national security implications, and where the United States lags far behind China: scholarships.

As of 2018, China’s government had awarded 1,371 scholarships to students from China’s Pacific partners (Cook Islands, Fiji, Micronesia, Niue, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tonga, and Vanuatu). China allocates a total of 20-30 scholarships for each of these countries annually (conservatively, around 160 scholarships each year, pre-COVID). This is China’s largest scholarship program in the Pacific, but there’s also the China-Pacific Island Forum (PIF) scholarship, which has provided around 20 full scholarships annually since 2017 (and 10 annually before then), plus scholarships provided by Chinese companies like Huawei and China Harbor Engineering Company.

In the United States, a number of programs bring Pacific Islanders to the United States for vocational training: Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies (APCSS) programs offers training to security and civilian officials, the Pacific Islands Training Initiative focuses on financial management and program performance practices, and there is also the Pacific Islands Leadership Program. However, the only fully funded government scholarship program specifically for Pacific Islanders to study in the United States is the US South Pacific Scholarship. The USSP has been running since 1995, funding 93 Pacific Island scholars total to study in the United States. This past year, there were only three USSP awardees, compared to approximately 160 yearly scholarships awarded to Pacific Islanders by China pre-COVID.

The more Pacific Islanders study at Chinese institutions, the more sympathetic they will be to China when voting in an election or making policy decisions, and at least some of those scholars will ascend to positions of leadership in their country.

How could it be otherwise, given that China will have supported their educational and professional development, and they will have spent several years living there and making personal connections? (Granted, not all Chinese scholarships facilitate this, as some separate Pacific Islander students from Chinese students.) This is how China has built an alumni network in the Pacific Islands orders of magnitude larger than the United States, and if trends continue at their current rate, this “sympathy gap” will only grow wider.

Pacific Islanders do not want to study in China more than in the United States. For the 2021 USSP scholarship, over 300 applicants—more than the yearly total of scholarships that China offers—competed for just three slots. Pacific Islanders want educational, training, and development opportunities in the United States, but there aren’t enough pathways. So, many turn to China instead.

More US scholarships for Pacific Islanders would help the United States exert soft power in the region by, in the words of Joseph Nye, “getting other countries to want what [the United States] wants.” It would also be a way for the United States to invest in the future of the Pacific Islands. If Pacific Islanders can rely on the United States for critical short-term development needs, accepting deals from China will likely be less appealing, especially given the stringent conditions Beijing often attaches to such deals. The need for development assistance, particularly when it comes to climate change, puts many Pacific Island nations in a position where they may have to accept a deal that compromises their sovereignty.

Of course, other US allies in the region, such as New Zealand and Australia, offer plenty of scholarships for Pacific Islanders to help offset the lack of opportunities in the United States. But China has begun to step up its scholarship and vocational training plans in the Pacific. A recent deal includes adding over 2,500 scholarships in the next five years. Not only that, barring COVID restrictions, China hopes to start a new training program for young Pacific Island diplomats this year as part of a capacity-building plan, including seminars on Chinese governance. This should sound alarm bells in the US government. Equally worrying, China has offered scholarships to Pacific Islands military officers too, giving, for instance, a Fijian Naval officer a four-year scholarship to a Chinese University in 2018.

The United States should increase the number of—and funding for—Pacific Islands scholarship and training programs. Whether that means scaling up existing programs or creating new pathways, doing so is in the United States’ national security interests. It is also a win-win for both the United States and the Pacific Islands. The United States can challenge China’s expansion into the Pacific Islands, and the Pacific Islands can receive more of the education and training necessary to build up their local communities. Although the sweeping trade and security deal China proposed with 10 Pacific Island nations faltered in May, providing more scholarship and training programs for the Pacific will remove any temptation for such deals in the future.

Kimery Lynch (kimeryslynch@gmail.com) is a Projects Coordinator at the East-West Center in Washington DC.

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

PacNet #31 – Should the United States acknowledge mutual vulnerability with China?

The United States and China have never engaged in formal in-depth discussions about nuclear weapons. They have only discussed these issues at the track-2 and track-1.5 levels, i.e., unofficially. Still, during these discussions, Chinese strategists always urged the United States to acknowledge that it is in a mutually vulnerable relationship with China.

The argument Chinese analysts make is that China has a much smaller nuclear arsenal than the United States’ and its modernization program is not intended to attain parity, so a US “vulnerability acknowledgement” would alleviate concerns that Washington aims for “absolute security,” i.e., the ability to negate Beijing’s second-strike capability. They add that such an acknowledgement would create the conditions for stability and thus facilitate an official nuclear dialogue.

Several US analysts have explained that US-China mutual vulnerability is a “fact of life,” despite the asymmetry of nuclear forces. The United States, however, has been reluctant to confirm it, fearing, in part, that doing so might lead Beijing to becoming more aggressive at the conventional and sub-conventional levels, notably in its neighborhood and against US allies.

Should the United States acknowledge mutual vulnerability with China?

The study “US China Mutual Vulnerability—Perspectives on the Debate” recently published in Pacific Forum’s Issues & Insights series addresses that question. Its goal is not to give a yes-or-no answer but to provide a comprehensive examination of the issue to understand the pros and cons of the various policy options.

Relying on contributions by analysts, including former practitioners, from the United States, US allies, and China, the study explores lessons from the Cold War, i.e., if and how the US-Soviet (and then US-Russia) experience is instructive for US-China relations today. It also unpacks the benefits, costs, and risks of the United States acknowledging mutual vulnerability with China. Moreover, it looks at the requirements for the United States to make such an acknowledgement, what Washington should try to get in exchange, and, assuming a decision has been made to do so, what that acknowledgement should say and how it should be made. The study offers the perspectives of analysts from three key US regional allies—Japan, South Korea, and Australia—as well as China.

Four findings stand out from the study:

First, at the most general level, the study confirms that mutual vulnerability is a fundamental question in strategic nuclear relations, especially between major powers. It was the foundation upon which the United States and the Soviet Union organized and managed their strategic relations during the Cold War, and it is a key foundation for US-Russia strategic relations today. So, it is not surprising that mutual vulnerability features prominently in the US-China context today. This issue is here to stay.

Second, and paradoxically, the mutual vulnerability question is often misunderstood. Contrary to the conventional wisdom, a historical review reveals that acknowledging mutual vulnerability is far from straightforward and it is no guarantee of greater stability between its parties, even though it can sometimes help set the stage for, and then facilitate, arms control agreements.

Third, the mutual vulnerability question is not settled in the US-China context, and it is unlikely to be settled soon. US analysts disagree about the value and utility of a US vulnerability acknowledgement. Analysts from allied countries see potential upsides if it strengthened US-China strategic stability, but they worry that the costs and risks might be prohibitive. Aside from “strategic” disagreements and concerns, the deterioration of US-China and US-Russia relations makes it unlikely that the United States will find the political will and capital to opt for such an acknowledgement. Opting for superiority or dominance over China, meanwhile, is unlikely as well because the costs would be astronomical (and the prospects for success bleak).

Fourth, and despite this conclusion, exploring the benefits, costs, and risks of opting for or rejecting mutual vulnerability with China is useful because it forces US analysts to reflect on the type of strategic nuclear relationship that Washington should pursue (and can have) with Beijing. Because it is so fundamental, even if analysts draw very different–and sometimes polar opposite–conclusions, asking the mutual vulnerability question compels the United States to identify, and distinguish between, the realm of the desirable and that of the possible to deal with nuclear China.

What insights can be teased out from these findings?

The first is that states reluctantly acknowledge, let alone accept, that they are mutually vulnerable. Even when they do, they often try to escape that situation either because they worry about new technological developments that will checkmate them, or because they fear that the other party (or parties) might cheat on their commitments not to seek superiority or dominance over them. There is no reason to think that it would be different in the US-China context, especially given that the relationship extends far beyond the sole “strategic nuclear” dimension.

The second insight is that while it is unlikely to be settled any time soon, the mutual vulnerability question will haunt US-China strategic relations and probably gain increasing salience because China’s military power is rising fast. Washington, then, should be clear-eyed about its options: it can embrace mutual vulnerability; reject it and do everything it can to try and escape it; or maintain its current approach, i.e., decide not to decide. Each of these options presents important benefits, costs, and risks; none provides a silver bullet.

The third insight is that the rationale for choosing or rejecting mutual vulnerability is as important as the manner it is made and conveyed. Paying attention to the ways and means, then, is critical. Either way, expectations should be low in the short term: the road after choosing or rejecting mutual vulnerability will be the start of a long process, not the end. The United States should expect questions about why and how to maintain its chosen course of action to remain active.

The fourth insight is that balancing US policy between China and its allies will be challenging regardless of whether the United States chooses or rejects mutual vulnerability. In all circumstances, however, the United States should consult with its allies before deciding its course of action to ensure there is (sufficient) agreement. Doing so will help reduce anxieties and increase the odds that allied capitals will assist when and if they are needed to implement the decision.

The fifth and final insight is that the United States should not lose sight of the bigger picture. Because US-China strategic relations are evolving in an era of nuclear multipolarity, a decision to choose or reject mutual vulnerability will have knock-on effects. At the most general level, acknowledging mutual vulnerability would signal that there is a pathway to nuclear diplomacy, whereas rejecting it (even de facto) would suggest that the focus is more squarely on nuclear deterrence. Other states, notably Russia or North Korea, will notice and possibly adapt their policy and posture.

In a recent speech at the George Washington University, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called China “the most serious long-term challenge to the international order,” adding that it is “one of the most complex and consequential relationships of any that we have in the world today.” Dealing with the mutual vulnerability question, over nuclear weapons and beyond, is at the very center of this problem.

David Santoro (david@pacforum.org) is President and CEO of the Pacific Forum. He is the editor of US-China Nuclear Relations – The Impact of Strategic Triangles (Lynne Rienner, May 2021). Follow him on Twitter @DavidSantoro1.

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

PacNet #30 – Australia’s election: Quad continuity and climate alignment, with nuclear disagreements

Sworn-in as Australia’s new prime minister, within hours Anthony Albanese was flying to Japan for the summit of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (“Quad”).

An accident of timing—the May 24 summit following Australia’s May 21 election—offered the leader of the Australian Labor Party plenty of flying-start symbolism.

Departing Canberra for Tokyo, Albanese said the “message to the world” was that Australia had a new government that would lift policy on climate change, while emphasizing foreign policy continuity and the value of “friendships and long-time alliances.”

The Quad

Labor’s attitude to the Quad today (version 2.0) differs markedly from its rejection of the first version of the Quad.

Back in 2008, the Rudd Labor government walked away from Quad 1.0 because ties with Japan or India could endanger its relationship with China, as Kevin Rudd argued: “Australia would run the risk of being left high and dry as a result of future foreign policy departures in Tokyo or Delhi.”

Labor has gone from negative to positive about the Quad, reflecting the shift from positive to negative in Australia’s view of China. When Quad 2.0 was created in 2017, Labor matched the Liberal-National Coalition government’s enthusiasm for the reborn grouping.

Albanese, a minister in the government that sank Quad 1.0, told the Tokyo summit that his government’s priorities aligned with the Quad agenda: “I acknowledge all that the Quad has achieved. Standing together for a free, open, and resilient Indo-Pacific region. And working together to tackle the biggest challenges of our time, including climate change and the security of our region. My government is committed to working with your countries and we are committed to the Quad.”

AUKUS

Labor’s policy states that it will aim at “maximi[zing] the potential of the important, bipartisan AUKUS agreement.” The language is a nod to the greatest defence achievement of the outgoing prime minister, Scott Morrison—the deal with the US and UK to build an Australian nuclear-powered submarine.

A Canberra jest is that while China was stunned by AUKUS, the most amazed people were in the US Navy. The US Navy line had always been that Australia should not bother asking for a nuclear sub, because the answer would be an emphatic refusal. As China sparked the rebirth of the Quad, so Beijing helped Washington change its mind about sharing submarine technology.

The Biden administration insisted it would go ahead with AUKUS only if Labor gave it solid backing. But Morrison waited four-and-a-half months before informing Labor. During the campaign, Albanese condemned Morrison for seeking political advantage by telling Labor about AUKUS the day before it was announced.

“It is extraordinary that the prime minister broke that faith and trust with our most important ally by not briefing Australian Labor on these issues,” Albanese said.

Morrison replied that he’d maintained full secrecy and did not want to give Labor the chance to leak details of the negotiations.

Now, Labor’s job is to make AUKUS work.

Changed China

Changes in China, and in Australian views toward China, have done their part to ensure bipartisan continuity on the Quad and AUKUS. A shared Labor-Liberal line throughout the campaign, with a three-word expression, was to blame Beijing for the problems in the bilateral relationship: “China has changed.”

The diplomatic icy age is five years old. China has been doing the trade squeeze on Australia for two years. China’s ministers will not take phone calls from Australian ministers, nor respond to ministerial letters.

As he headed for Tokyo, Albanese commented: “The relationship with China will remain a difficult one. … It is China that has changed, not Australia. And Australia should always stand up for our values. And we will in a government that I lead.”

Beijing could use the new government in Canberra as the opportunity for a reset, linking it to the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations in December. First, though, China must reverse the billions of dollars of thinly disguised political trade bans imposed on Australian exports, or as Labor’s Foreign Minister Penny Wong puts it: “Desist from its coercive economic positions.”

The first step from Beijing was a message of congratulations to Albanese from Premier Li Keqiang saying, “The Chinese side is ready to work with the Australian side to review the past, look into the future and uphold the principle of mutual respect and mutual benefit, so as to promote the sound and steady growth of their comprehensive strategic partnership.”

Australia chooses the United States

A Canberra refrain of earlier decades was that Australia didn’t have to choose between China and the US.

No longer. Australia has chosen because of what China has become.

In the election foreign policy debate at the National Press Club, Wong said the no-choice duality was the way John Howard’s government (1996-2007) could balance the principal strategic relationship with the US and the principal economic relationship with China. That no-choice balance was gone, Wong stated: “Clearly, the way in which economic power is being utilized for strategic purposes means that duality, as a model of engagement, is no longer the case. I would make this point, though—we have actually already chosen. We have an alliance that’s over 70 years old, between us and the US, an alliance with deep bipartisan support. So we have already chosen.”

Wong used Madeleine Albright’s phrase, saying the US remained the “indispensible partner” in the reshaping of the region, while Australia must do much more with partners in Southeast Asia and the South Pacific.

The “we’ve chosen” message from Wong is an echo and an answer to a set of question that nagged at Washington in the first decade of this century: How far would Australia lean towards China?

The Biden administration’s Indo-Pacific coordinator, Kurt Campbell, says Australia’s response to China’s coercion had resolved US doubts about Canberra: “Frankly, if you’d asked me 10 years ago what country was most likely to start thinking about ‘we have to have a different kind of relationship with China and maybe think differently about the United States,’ it might have been Australia. I think that is completely gone now.”

Banning nuclear weapons

Labor has promised to sign and ratify the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. For Albanese, this is both policy commitment and personal belief. At Labor’s national conference in 2018, Albanese moved the motion to make the treaty party policy.

He recounted how one of his mentors on Labor’s left wing, Tom Uren, had been a prisoner of war on an island close to Nagasaki, and “saw there the second atomic bomb with his own eyes. He came back, having fought for Australia, a fighter for peace and disarmament.”

Albanese said the nuclear ban should be core business for Labor, and is following Labor tradition, campaigning against nuclear weapons while holding tight to the extended deterrence offered by the US alliance, as outlined by the Keating Labor government’s 1994 Defence White Paper:

“The Government does not accept nuclear deterrence as a permanent condition. It is an interim measure until a total ban on nuclear weapons, accompanied by substantial verification provisions, can be achieved. In this interim period, although it is hard to envisage the circumstances in which Australia could be threatened by nuclear weapons, we cannot rule out that possibility. We will continue to rely on the extended deterrence of the US nuclear capability to deter any nuclear threat or attack on Australia. Consequently, we will continue to support the maintenance by the United States of a nuclear capability adequate to ensure that it can deter nuclear threats against allies like Australia.”

In his talks with US President Joe Biden, Albanese can promise that a Labor government will be much closer to the US position on climate change than the previous Liberal-National coalition government.

Instead, the new difference between the two allies will be over nuclear weapon­s.­

Bridging this difference looks an impossible quest. Managing it will involve Australia talking more openly about the extended deterrence bargain. Such a debate will build on what has been a long discussion of Australia’s calculations and commitments in hosting the key US signals intelligence base at Pine Gap.

In adopting the UN treaty, the Albanese government will draw on the alliance approaches used in earlier eras to deal with the United States’ neither-conform-nor-deny nuclear policy; the creation of the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone treaty; and the lessons Canberra took when New Zealand crashed out of ANZUS alliance 36 years ago because of its anti-nuclear policy.

The 70-year history of the alliance gives plenty of guidance on using broad agreement to balance individual policy differences.

Graeme Dobell (graemedobell@aspi.org.au) is Journalist Fellow at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. He has been reporting on Australian and international politics, foreign affairs and defense, and the Asia-Pacific since 1975.

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

Issues & Insights Vol. 22, SR2 – US-China Mutual Vulnerability: Perspectives on the Debate

About

The study US-China Mutual Vulnerability: Perspectives on the Debate analyzes the mutual vulnerability question in US-China strategic nuclear relations. It asks whether the United States should acknowledge mutual vulnerability with China and, if so, how and under what conditions it should do so. The goal is not to give a yes-or-no answer but to provide a comprehensive examination of the issue to better understand the benefits, costs, and risks associated with various options. The study includes chapters by US, Japanese, South Korean, Australian, and Chinese scholars.

Download the full volume here.


Table of Contents

Introduction: The Mutual Vulnerability Question in US-China Strategic Nuclear Relations
David Santoro

Chapter 1 | Ambiguous Acknowledgement: Mutual Vulnerability during the Cold War and Options for US-China Relations
Heather Williams

Chapter 2 | Rethinking Mutual Vulnerability in an Era of US-China Strategic Competition
Brad Roberts

Chapter 3 | Questioning the Assumptions of Declaring Mutual Vulnerability with China
Matthew R. Costlow

Chapter 4 | If the United States Acknowledges Mutual Vulnerability with China, How Does it Do It–and Get Something?
Lewis A. Dunn

Chapter 5: US-China Mutual Vulnerability: A Japanese Perspective
Masashi Murano

Chapter 6: US-China Mutual Vulnerability: A South Korean Perspective
Seong-ho Sheen

Chapter 7: Actors, Orders, and Outcomes: Distilling an Australian Perspective on a US-China Acknowledgement of Mutual Vulnerability
Rod Lyon

Chapter 8: Why the United States Should Discuss Mutual Nuclear Vulnerability with China
Tong Zhao

Conclusions: The Future of Mutual Vulnerability in US-China Strategic Nuclear Relations
David Santoro

PacNet #24 – Why it’s so hard to quit Chinese steel

Steel is all around us, from sophisticated defense weapons to railways and buildings, and the COVID-19 pandemic has underscored its critical use in medical equipment. It is the commodity great powers, notably China, may attempt to control and use to coerce other states on international platforms. China’s excessive production of steel is the prime factor in global overcapacity, hurting domestic steel producers in other countries. It also creates unwanted dependencies on Chinese steel, not to mention national security concerns.

Many countries realize this, but fixing the problem is harder than noting it.

China’s hold over steel, particularly stainless steel, has increased radically in recent decades. In 2020, steel production in China exceeded 1 billion tons, at a time when global steel output was 1.864 billion tons (fig 1) total.

But that is not the complete picture. Chinese companies also produce steel in Southeast Asian countries like Indonesia. Production has shifted to ASEAN countries with the onset of the US-China trade war to reduce dependency on China, but if Southeast Asia’s production of steel, an essential component in manufacturing, were controlled by Beijing, then regional value chains remain vulnerable.

Tariff rows over steel

As succinctly analyzed by Elisabeth Braw for Foreign Policy, China has manipulated the global steel market for years. The Chinese government had long subsidized its steel producers, leading to overproduction. China has likely kept prices of exported steel artificially low, a violation of World Trade Organization (WTO) rules known as “dumping.” The European Union in 2015 imposed anti-dumping duties on China, only to later realize that exports of steel from Chinese companies, produced in Indonesia, were still flooding the market. Once the EU anti-dumping duties were imposed on both China and Indonesia in 2019, Beijing retaliated by increasing tariffs on EU steel imports from 18.1% to over 103%.

Indonesia has the world’s largest nickel reserves but has banned nickel exports as a  strategy to boost domestic manufacturing. However, the ban seems to have come (conveniently) after the Chinese company Tsingshan began producing stainless steel in Indonesia. Given Indonesia’s ban on nickel exports, EU steel producers were left in the lurch, whereas the Tsingshan plant in Indonesia continued to produce stainless steel. Tsingshan’s cheap stainless steel exports have rattled markets everywhere. Indonesia was the source of 60% of China’s stainless steel imports in 2018—it had been zero as recently as 2015. The massive export increase is also reflected in a year-on-year difference of 420,000 tons in 2017 to 1.1 million tons in 2018, after which China decided to impose 20% anti-dumping duties on Indonesia.

What are the implications for steel producers like India, Japan, and the United States?

The Trump administration imposed tariffs on all steel imports in 2018, citing a threat to US national security. A 2018 US Department of Commerce report classifies steel as a vital element of national security given its use in “critical infrastructure and national defense,” recommending “immediate action by adjusting the level of imports.” The Biden administration has taken a similar stance, even as Washington and Brussels work toward a settlement.

It became clear, however, that global overcapacity in steel threatens both the American and European steel industries. Japan has also been in talks with the US government since November 2021 to lift curbs on its steel exports under the Japan-US Commercial and Industrial Partnership, and under a newly concluded deal the United States agreed to remove a 25% levy on 1.25 million tons of Japanese steel imports, effective April 1. In its budget for 2022, India removed the countervailing duty, imposed in 2017 on imports of steel from abroad, to bring down steel prices. Given the emphasis on infrastructure in its 2022 budget, and New Delhi’s plans to boost domestic manufacturing under its Make-in-India initiative, steel may be required in abundance.

Modeled on the 2009 Mineral and Coal Mining Law, Indonesia’s ban on mineral exports seeks to channel investment into smelters and processing plants. China has been at the forefront with approximately $30 billion of investment in Indonesia’s nickel value chains. According to the Southeast Asian Iron and Steel Institute, about 59.4 million tons, or 74% of the steel output of ASEAN countries in the next 10 years will come from Chinese projects in these countries. Indonesia will be a leader among them, with an output of 19.5 million tons.

China has several Belt-and-Road-Initiative (BRI) projects in the region, and it is easier to source the essential components of steel for these mega-infrastructure projects from Chinese companies producing locally. However, skepticism over Chinese debt may stall BRI projects in the region. As local consumption slows, ASEAN steel exports will predictably flood international markets even more. For instance, post-China’s anti-dumping duties, Indonesian stainless steel exports to the rest of the world accelerated anxiety among major producers, like POSCO in South Korea, Jindal in India, and local mills in the European Union. In absence of regulatory frameworks, global overcapacity may force steel producers to shut down in many countries and regions like the United States, Japan, and the European Union, in addition to creating dependencies on Beijing.

Possible measures

Despite international pressure, China has had limited success in curbing steel production even after curtailing subsidies. If China, or Chinese companies producing steel in Southeast Asia, continue to dump steel into the international market in this manner, domestic steel industries in many countries will be gravely affected. Given the importance of steel for national security, several countries that view themselves as regional powers in the Indo-Pacific—like India or Japan—and ASEAN nations, which see Chinese maritime expansionism as a threat, may find their autonomy compromised. Even if national security is invoked in such cases to curb imports (like the United States did in 2018), local steel producers will have already suffered substantial damage.

Major steel producing countries may instead coalesce to push the WTO to implement reforms that sufficiently cover the gaps and address ambiguity in dumping regulations, without excluding China from the dialogue in reaching inclusive terms. Large economies like the “Quad” countries (United States, Japan, Australia, and India) might also want to invest in Southeast Asia’s steel sector to ensure diversification and prevent China’s domination of this essential commodity. Since the region is critical for global value chains, preserving its autonomy by diversifying is necessary.

Akash Sahu (akash00015@gmail.com) is a researcher in Indo-Pacific geopolitics and Southeast Asian studies. He works as Research Analyst at New Delhi-based Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (MP-IDSA). He looks at traditional and non-traditional security in the Indo-Pacific, balance of power, and inter-state defence relationships in the region.

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

PacNet #19 – Myanmar: Words like “genocide” have consequences

On March 21, the US Department of State declared that the actions by the Myanmar government against the Rohingya Muslim ethnic minority in 2017 were genocide. The Myanmar military’s role had been defended in the International Court of Justice in The Hague in 2019 by the then-state counsellor and government leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, now jailed after the February 2021 military coup. If, then, it was genocide the whole power structure in Myanmar must bear responsibility, even if the despicable actions were solely committed by the military.

“Genocide” is an exceedingly strong word, and perhaps no other in the modern era has such a negative connotation. It is inaccurately used simply to evoke the mass horrors of intentional death through wars. But it must be used sparingly, or its emotional influence and accuracy will be diminished. Its meaning importantly includes the systemic intent to eliminate or destroy a people based on their culture, religion, ethnicity, or other bond. Many despicable acts of destruction, murder, rape, arson, pillaging, war crimes, or crimes against humanity horrify us, and there is no doubt that these were committed against the defenseless Rohingya inside Myanmar on the border, forcing many to flee to Bangladesh.

But was the intent of the Myanmar military to wipe out the Rohingya? I think not. It was a brutal, unforgivable assault on a people to drive them across the border to Bangladesh, whatever atrocities individual commanders may have ordered. It is not happenstance that the Myanmar authorities refuse to use the term “Rohingya” and declare that they are not citizens, calling them Bengalis and brutally assaulting them to achieve the authorities’ aim of driving them out of the country. This was a horrendous act of ethnic cleansing and completely unjustified. The anti-Rohingya and, more generally, anti-Muslim riots and prejudice have been fanned throughout the Buddhist population by a virulent right-wing branch of the Buddhist clergy.

The Rohingya and the Muslims of Rakhine State (a province in Myanmar) are not newcomers, although the Burmese blame the British for unrestricted immigration into Burma when it was governed as a province of India until 1937. Muslims lived in the region for centuries, and Arakan (renamed Rakhine by the Burmese) was an independent kingdom until conquered by the Burmese in 1785. A separate, current rebellion by Buddhists in the region, the Arakan Army, operates an administration and aims to restore a significant degree of autonomy to the province, or even independence, while promising rights to the Rohingya, who have been denied basic liberties for many decades.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken announced at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC that the Myanmar government was committing genocide. But the Holocaust was different from the horrors imposed on the Rohingya—not only in the magnitude of the disaster but also when it comes to intent, for the Holocaust expressly sought as state policy to eliminate the Jews, not only to expel them. This is not apparent in the Myanmar case. The US action may appeal to some members of Congress and place the United States in a morally defensible position. But if the desired effect was also to delegitimize the Myanmar military, it does so at the expense of the previous civilian government, for however much they may rightly complain about the military’s domination, dictatorship, and excesses, and however much they now deplore what has happened, they gave their imprimatur to the tragedy through their leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. Whatever her personal views may have been, this was a dual political ploy—appealing to the mass prejudice of the Buddhist majority in the country against the Rohingya and Muslims in general, and to placate the military and their strong antipathy to her. She specifically said that she was not a democratic icon, as the international media continuously proclaimed, but a Burmese politician. She effectively illustrated her position.

We may modify the use of the term “genocide” when used to describe, not justify, the elimination of a cultural aspect of a society—cultural genocide. So, Uyghur Muslim culture is under attack in Xinjiang province in China, as China wants compliant farm and factory labor, but only under Chinese cultural domination. That is, the elimination of a culture (and the political opposition it implies) but not its people, who could be useful to the state apparatus.

We should not confuse injustice, murder, and crimes against humanity for genocide, for in doing so we degrade the past and make policy formation to counter atrocities all the more difficult. Myanmar authorities must bear responsibility for their atrocious acts in appropriate international fora and law, and internally as well, but not for genocide.

David I. Steinberg (stonemirror280@gmail.com) is Distinguished Professor of Asian Studies Emeritus, Georgetown University.

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Issues & Insights Vol. 22, WP5 — Shifting Supply Chains from China into India as an Effective Grand Strategy in the Indo-Pacific Region

Executive Summary

Between 2016 and 2020, nations of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) became patently aware of the risks posed by an authoritarian state such as China controlling much of global value chains. This realization among leaders of the Quad nations can be attributed to a general rise in populism around the globe—which ignited a debate on globalization—to the COVID-19 pandemic, China’s acts of economic coercion against Australia and aggression against India in the Galwan Valley. To prevent China from weaponizing interdependence, nations of the grouping have launched several supply chain diversification and economic security initiatives such as the Supply Chain Resilience Initiative (SCRI) and Economic Prosperity Network (EPN). While these initiatives are a step in the right direction, a larger reformatory initiative is needed to prevent diversification projects from becoming a flash in the pan. Shifting supply chains out of China and into India has the potential to be that much needed reformative initiative. This exploratory study of the challenges and opportunities associated with shifting supply chains into India tests this hypothesis by examining the domestic political economy in India and the complexities of the US-India relationship.

This study observes major impediments to a supply chain diversification project. One, trade protectionism is a common feature among Indian administrations. India’s diverse political landscape has warranted coalition governments, which has prevented administrations from taking reformative action on liberalizing the economy. Two, the US-India relationship historically had ups and downs. The two democracies even came to the brink of war in 1971, and 20 years later, the US unleashed economic sanctions on India for their nuclear tests. A concerted recalibration of the US-India relationship is required to solidify any form of economic partnership, short of an alliance.

To summarize, the Indian government should continue liberalizing its economy through the land, labor, and corporate governance reforms. The US should adopt a more conciliatory approach to India’s domestic issues to avoid fissures in the relationship. Subsequently, the US, Australia, and Japan will be able to capitalize on the opportunities the Indian economy and the Indo-Pacific economy at large present for supply chain diversification. These opportunities can be capitalized through creating a trade bloc exclusive for the Quad and establishing a wealth fund to fund investments in the wider region.

About the Author

Akhil Ramesh (IND) holds an M.S. in Global Affairs from New York University in New York, a Certificate in Business and Geopolitics from HEC Paris, France and a BBA from Amity University, India. He is currently a resident Lloyd & Lilian Vasey Fellow at the Pacific Forum.

PacNet #15 – Ukraine: A turning point in Japanese foreign policy?

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has prompted an unprecedented global response. Despite their geographic distance, many Asian countries have joined the United States and Europe in imposing a wide range of sanctions. Japan surprised many with its condemnation of the invasion, in contrast to its hesitancy to take action against Russia after the 2014 invasion of Crimea or following the Myanmar coup.

But while these moves reflect shifts in Japan’s approach to the international order and its relations with both Russia and Europe, the specifics of the Ukraine crisis suggest that this trend may not necessarily apply to Japan’s foreign policy in the future.

Japan’s response to Russia

Prior to the invasion, Japan monitored the situation in Ukraine closely and took small steps to signal its alignment with the West. For example, Japan announced on Feb. 9 that it would divert some its liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports to Europe, where supply was tight. As Russia amassed troops near the Ukraine border, Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Feb. 15 that he would extend at least $100 million in emergency loans, and Japan signed on to a G7 Foreign Ministers’ statement expressing concern on Feb. 19.

On Feb. 23, after Russia ordered troops into separatist regions of eastern Ukraine, Japan joined Western nations in imposing sanctions and threatening to go further if Moscow launched an all-out invasion. Japan’s initial sanctionsincluded prohibiting issuance of Russian bonds in Japan, freezing the assets of specific Russian individuals, and restricting travel to Japan.

After the Russian invasion began on Feb. 24, Japan ramped up its response in tandem with G7 countries and other partners. Kishida joined with other G7 leaders in condemning Russia’s actions as “a serious threat to the rules-based international order, with ramifications well beyond Europe.” Japan’s sanctions have since expanded to include restrictions on transactions with Russia’s central bank, freezing assets of Russian entities and individuals, excluding Russian banks from the SWIFT messaging system, imposing export controls on goods such as semiconductors, and suspending visa issuance, among other things. Japan has also imposed sanctions on Belarus and provided $100 million in humanitarian assistance to Ukraine, at least $100 million in loans, visa extensions, and basic supplies for its military. It also announced steps to accept refugees.

Japan coordinated its actions closely with the United States and others. It took many steps simultaneously with Washington and other first movers, although Tokyo has sometimes been a day or so behind, as in the blocking certain Russian banks’ access to SWIFT. Still, Japan’s stance on Russia has emerged as one of the toughest in the Indo-Pacific.

Motivations and limitations

Several factors combine to motivate Japan’s response, and also offer insights into the limitations to generalizing from this case to predict Japan’s responses to other crises.

First, the scale and nature of the conflict differ dramatically from the 2014 Russian invasion of Crimea or other cases in which Japan displayed much more hesitancy. There is little ambiguity to the current situation: the conflict is far more intense, and Russia’s role as aggressor is undeniable. Moreover, the Ukrainian people’s resistance in the face of the invasion has inspired the sympathy of governments and publics around the world, including a growing segment of the Japanese population. Poll data suggests that the proportion of Japanese people supporting alignment with US sanctions has grown from 43% in January to 61% in late February after the start of the conflict.

Second, Russia’s actions undermine the rules and norms governing the international order, as Kishida has declared. Japan has been a major beneficiary of the post-World War II international order, and over the past decade has taken an increasingly high-profile role in defending its principles and institutions, from its leadership on trade to its promotion of a Free and Open Indo-Pacific. If countries violate the fundamental principle of state sovereignty without consequences, it destabilizes international relations in a way that threatens Japan’s national interests, with potential parallels to China looming large. Elites as well as the Japanese public fear such spillover. For example, a Nikkei poll released Feb. 28 showed that 77% of Japanese respondents were concerned that the Ukraine invasion increases the odds of China using force against Taiwan.

Third, while it was once common to treat events in Europe and Asia as separate, the importance of developments in one region for the other are now clearly understood. Japan welcomes increased engagement by Europe in the Indo-Pacific as a way to build coalitions with like-minded partners to help address thorny regional problems. By displaying solidarity with Europe on Ukraine, Japan helps amplify the effect of other countries’ sanctions and signals to its European partners in hopes they will reciprocate in the event of a similar contingency in the Indo-Pacific—such as in the Taiwan Strait or the South China Sea.

Fourth, Japan’s economic interdependence with Russia is limited. In 2020, Russia was Japan’s 13th-largest import partner and accounted for about 1% of Japanese exports. Under former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo, the Japanese government attempted to build a closer relationship with Russia in hopes of negotiating a favorable resolution to the territorial dispute over the Northern Territories/Kuril Islands. Although Japanese companies were encouraged to do business with Russia as part of this process, Russia ranked only 31st as a destination for Japanese outbound investment in 2020. Japan’s most significant economic connections with Russia come in the field of energy: imports of LNG, coal, and crude oil, plus Japanese involvement in the Russian energy sector. Japan has discussed banning Russian energy imports with the United States and Europe, a step that Washington decided to take on March 8. However, many in Japan are concerned about energy prices and shortages, despite Kishida’s reassurances that the country has sufficient reserves of oil and LNG to avoid a significant impact on supplies in the short term.

Finally, the failure of Japan’s conciliatory policy toward Vladimir Putin to produce improvements in their territorial dispute during previous administrations paved the way for Kishida’s harder line. Japan’s recent actions vis-à-vis Russia likely dashed any hopes of regaining the Northern Territories—at least while Putin remains leader—but this was already recognized as a lost cause by the final days of Abe’s time in office. Over the last year reports of increased activity in Russian military planes and warships around the disputed territories have prompted additional concern. Kishida was foreign minister under Abe and helped promote this prior agenda. The current crisis, however, is Kishida’s opportunity to break with past precedent and distinguish himself from Abe, while demonstrating solidarity with the West.

Still, Japan is unlikely to endorse a values-based diplomacy and will instead likely continue its traditional pragmatic approach. When the nature of a conflict is more ambiguous or its economic stakes higher, Japan is likely to display more hesitancy—both conditions are likely with China, with which Japan is highly interdependent, and which tends to favor gray zone conflict over outright aggression.

Even with Ukraine, it remains to be seen how far the United States and Europe will go with sanctions, and to what extent Japan will follow. As pressure mounts to extend sanctions to the energy sector, Japan will face difficult decisions.

While the Ukraine crisis may not herald a sea change in Japan’s overall foreign policy, it does mark a turning point in its policy toward Russia. Japan’s actions thus far also reveal important changes in the way Tokyo sees its role and its willingness to confront new global challenges.

Kristi Govella (kgovella@gmfus.org) is senior fellow and deputy director of the Asia Program at The German Marshall Fund of the United States and an adjunct fellow at Pacific Forum. She is an expert on the intersection of economic and security policy in Asia, as well as Japanese politics and foreign policy. Her publications include Responding to a Resurgent Russia: Russian Foreign Policy and Responses from the United States and the European Union (2012). Follow her on Twitter @KristiGovella. 

PacNet commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed and encouraged. Click here to request a PacNet subscription.

Photo: Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at a press conference on February 25, 2022. Source: Cabinet Secretariat Cabinet/Public Relations Office/Prime Minister’s Office of Japan