PacNet #54 – Comparative Connections Summary: September 2022

Comparative Connections Summary:
May-August 2022

REGIONAL OVERVIEW

Washington “Pivots” to Asia

BY RALPH COSSA, PACIFIC FORUM & BRAD GLOSSERMAN, TAMA UNIVERSITY CRS/PACIFIC   FORUM

The Biden administration has rediscovered Asia. And, for better or worse, so has the US Congress. While the administration’s national security documents (or at least their unclassified sneak previews) have identified the Indo-Pacific as a priority theater vital to US national security and China as “our most consequential strategic competitor and the pacing challenge,” Europe continues to steal headlines and the lion’s share of the administration’s (and international media’s) attention, thanks to Vladimir Putin and his unwarranted (and so far unsuccessful) invasion of Ukraine. While many eyes remain on Putin’s war (and NATO’s US-led solid support for Kyiv), this reporting period saw President Biden finally make his first trip to Asia to visit longstanding US allies and attend the second in-person Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (“Quad”) Summit. Prior to his trip, Biden hosted his first US-ASEAN Summit in Washington. Meanwhile Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken were both in Southeast Asia, respectively for the Shangri-La Dialogue and for various ASEAN-driven ministerials. These administration trips were largely overshadowed, however, by US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s controversial trip to Taiwan, the first by a House Speaker in 25 years, which was sure to—and clearly did—draw Beijing’s ire.

 

US-JAPAN RELATIONS

Abe’s Legacy and the Alliance Agenda

BY SHEILA A. SMITH, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS & CHARLES MCCLEAN, YALE MACMILLAN CENTER

It was a busy summer for the United States and Japan. President Joe Biden visited Asia, stopping first in Seoul to meet new South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, and then spending two days in Tokyo for a bilateral summit with Prime Minister Kishida Fumio and a follow-on meeting with the two other leaders of the Quad, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Australia’s newly elected prime minister, Anthony Albanese. Biden announced his Indo-Pacific Economic Framework in Tokyo with Kishida by his side. Economic security legislation in both Japan and the United States revealed the unfolding strategic calculations for the alliance. National efforts to enhance economic productivity and resilience included efforts to ensure reliable supply chains for Japanese and US manufacturers as well as the desire for greater cooperation among the advanced industrial economies to dominate the next generation of technological innovation. State investment in attracting semiconductor suppliers to Japan and the United States demonstrate the urgency with which both governments seek to diminish reliance on critical technology imports.

 

US-CHINA RELATIONS

US-China Relations Sink Further Amid Another Taiwan Strait Crisis

BY BONNIE GLASER, GERMAN MARSHALL FUND OF THE US

Nancy Pelosi’s August visit to Taiwan—the first visit by a speaker of the US House of Representatives in 25 years—was met by a strong response from China that included provocative military exercises, punitive economic measures against Taiwan, and the suspension and cancellation of a series of dialogues with the United States. Just prior to Pelosi’s visit, Presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping held their fifth virtual conversation since Biden’s inauguration. Secretary of State Antony Blinken delivered a comprehensive speech on the administration’s China strategy in late May. Biden officials debated whether to lift some of the tariffs imposed on China under the Trump administration, but as of the end of August, there was no decision to do so. Human rights remained on the US agenda, with statements issued on the anniversary of the June 4, 1989 Tiananmen massacre and on the 25th anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong to the PRC, and a ban imposed on imports into the US of products made by forced labor in Xinjiang. US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin held his first face-to-face meeting with Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore.

 

US-KOREA RELATIONS

Split Images

BY MASON RICHEY, HANKUK UNIVERSITY & ROB YORK, PACIFIC FORUM

Lopsided: such was the state of US relations with the two Koreas during May-August 2022. The Washington-Seoul axis mostly flourished on the military/security, diplomatic, economic, and cultural fronts, while Washington and Pyongyang deepened doldrums whose depths had been plumbed in prior reporting periods. For the former, the most significant items included the May inauguration of conservative South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and quick follow-on summit with US President Joe Biden, increasing trilateral US-South Korea-Japan cooperation, a raft of announcements on US-South Korea economic and technology cooperation, the resumption of field maneuvers in US-South Korea joint military exercises, and South Korea’s continuing growth as a serious middle power player in foreign policy, including stepped-up engagement with NATO. In US-North Korea relations, a COVID-19 outbreak failed to lead the Kim Jung Un regime to open up to outside humanitarian assistance, as Pyongyang remained content to keep borders mostly closed and allow the virus to course through the population with only basic prophylactic measures. On the positive side, Pyongyang’s hyperactive missile testing in spring slowed during summer, and a feared (yet still expected) seventh nuclear test failed to materialize.

 

US-INDIA RELATIONS

Relations at 75: Hawaii to the Himalayas

BY AKHIL RAMESH, PACIFIC FORUM

Like the saying, “after the storm comes the calm,” US-India relations witnessed four months of productive talks, cooperation, and collaboration. This contrasted with the previous trimester, mired as it was by Cold-War era differences brought about by the Russia-Ukraine conflict. There were thriving Indo-Pacific synergies and the decline of Cold War-era differences. The US and India continued and expanded cooperation on a wide array of regional and global issues, such as climate change, supply chains, and the Sri Lankan crisis. They solidified their defense partnership from Hawaii to the Himalayas through navy and military exercises. The US turned down pressure on India over Russian oil purchases and recalibrated the dialogue to address other pressing challenges. They did not avoid tough conversations, however. India reinforced its view of the US and other Western nations’ role in keeping the Indo-Pacific a safer and more open region.

 

US-SOUTHEAST ASIA RELATIONS

Washington Revs Up Diplomacy with Southeast Asia

BY CATHARIN DALPINO, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY

The Biden administration’s diplomatic campaign in Southeast Asia kicked into high gear in the late spring and continued through the summer. On May 12-13 President Biden co-hosted, with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen as the 2022 ASEAN chair, the first-ever US-ASEAN Special Summit to be held in Washington, DC. US relations in the region were also boosted when the Biden administration launched the long-awaited Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) on May 23; seven Southeast Asian countries indicated interest in joining, although few are likely to accede to all four pillars of the framework in the near-term. Two Cabinet officials made visits to two US treaty allies: Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to Thailand in June and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken to the Philippines in August. Notwithstanding continuing differences over human rights, the visits served to reaffirm the bilateral alliances. However, global and regional tensions remained high, over the persistent crisis in Ukraine; brinksmanship in the Taiwan Straits; and the internal conflict in Myanmar which has only deteriorated further. These pressures only divided ASEAN further as the region looks ahead to a trifecta of international meetings—APEC, East Asia Summit, and the G20—in the fall.

 

CHINA-SOUTHEAST ASIA RELATIONS

Countering US Initiatives, Taiwan Crisis Complications

BY ROBERT SUTTER, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY & CHIN-HAO HUANG, YALE-NUS COLLEGE

Chinese enhanced activism in Southeast Asia in this reporting period focused on countering Biden administration efforts to enhance influence in the Indo-Pacific. The Chinese government intensified its depiction of the United States as disrupting regional order and portraying itself as the regional stabilizer. Beijing’s effort faced complications and uncertain prospects as Chinese military forces in August launched large-scale provocative shows of force amid strident media warnings targeting the United States over Taiwan.

 

CHINA-TAIWAN RELATIONS

Pelosi’s “Ironclad Commitment” or “Political Stunt” Leads to Crisis and Promises Instability in the Taiwan Strait

BY DAVID KEEGAN, JOHNS HOPKINS SCHOOL OF ADVANCED INTERNATIONAL STUDIES & KYLE CHURCHMAN, JOHNS HOPKINS SCHOOL OF ADVANCED INTERNATIONAL STUDIES

Between May 1 and Sept. 1, tensions between Taiwan and China exploded in ways few anticipated but were in retrospect the culmination of well-established dynamics. The US once again was right in the middle. On Aug. 2, US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi arrived in Taiwan, which Taiwan’s government celebrated as the most important visit in at least 25 years by a US politician. She promised Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen that US support for Taiwan’s security would remain “ironclad.” On Aug. 4, the day after Pelosi departed Taiwan, China signaled its displeasure by conducting the most extensive military exercises ever conducted near Taiwan, closer to the island than any before, and launching ballistic missiles over Taiwan’s capital to land in waters east of the island. Throughout these exercises, the Chinese, Taiwan, and US militaries avoided any interactions that might have provoked confrontation. On Aug. 10, the Chinese military announced that the exercises had concluded, achieving their objectives, but that the military would continue its activities around Taiwan.

 

NORTH KOREA-SOUTH KOREA RELATIONS

An Inauspicious Start

BY AIDAN FOSTER-CARTER, LEEDS UNIVERSITY, UK

On May 10 Yoon Suk Yeol took office as ROK president, and rapidly lost popularity. While talking tough on North Korea, he also offered aid to fight COVID-19—but was ignored. His “audacious plan,” wholly unoriginal, to reward Pyongyang materially if it denuclearizes, had very little detail. For months the DPRK did not even mention Yoon. In late July Kim Jong Un sharply warned him against any pre-emptive strike. In August, his sister Kim Yo Jong put the boot in: ludicrously blaming materials sent by ROK activists for bringing COVID-19 into the DPRK, savaging Yoon’s proposal as insulting and unoriginal, and saying the North will never talk to him. At home, meanwhile, the new government chose to reopen two contentious inter-Korean episodes from the recent past, seemingly to punish its predecessor’s policies. It was hard to see how good could come of that, or to hold out hope for any thaw on the peninsula.

 

CHINA-KOREA RELATIONS

A Muted 30-Year Anniversary

BY SCOTT SNYDER, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS & SEE-WON BYUN, SAN FRANCISCO STATE UNIVERSITY

Beijing and Seoul marked 30 years of diplomatic ties on Aug. 24 as South Korea transitioned to a new administration under President Yoon Suk Yeol, who took office in May. Although early high-level exchanges reaffirmed partnership, the two leaderships confront growing pressures from US-China competition, economic uncertainty, and public hostility. Domestic priorities in China in light of the 20th Party Congress and South Korea’s shift to conservative rule amplify these concerns. The impact of US-China rivalry on the China-South Korea relationship extends from security to economic coordination, including approaches to THAAD and global supply chains, and export competition, especially in semiconductors, challenges new Xi Jinping-Yoon economic agreements. Moreover, public hostility is strongest among South Korea’s younger generation, raising pessimistic prospects for future China-South Korea ties. Despite mixed signals, false starts, and the continued absence of leader-level meetings marking the recovery of economic ties between China and North Korea, geopolitical developments have pushed the two countries closer together. Such engagement features mutual reinforcement of each other’s positions on issues of vital interest and solidarity in response to US policies.

 

JAPAN-CHINA RELATIONS

Few Positive Signs and Much Negativity

BY JUNE TEUFEL DREYER, UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI

The tone of China-Japan relations became more alarmist on both sides with long-anticipated plans to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic relations still clouded with uncertainty. Several related events were canceled or postponed sine die. Internationally, Prime Minister Kishida was exceptionally active, attending meetings of the Quad, the G7, NATO, and Shangri-La Dialogue, where he delivered the keynote address. A common theme was attention to a Free and Open Pacific (FOIP) and the need for stability in the region, both of which Beijing sees as intended to constrain China. At NATO, Kishida met with US and South Korean representatives for their first trilateral meeting in nearly five years and suggested the possibility of joint military exercises. Meanwhile, China continued pressure on Taiwan and the contested Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands. Although Foreign Minister Wang Yi and State Councillor Yang Jieqi were active internationally, Xi Jinping himself has not ventured outside the Chinese mainland since January 2020 save for a brief, tightly controlled visit to Hong Kong, which is unquestionably part of China.

 

JAPAN-KOREA RELATIONS

The Passing of Abe and Japan-Korea Relations

BY JI-YOUNG LEE, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY & ANDY LIM, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES

How might the passing of former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo impact Tokyo’s approach to Seoul? This unexpected turn of events loomed large in the minds of many who have been cautiously optimistic that Japan and South Korea would take steps toward a breakthrough in their stalled relations. In our last issue, we discussed how this summer could provide good timing for Seoul and Tokyo to create momentum in this direction after Yoon Suk Yeol’s inauguration as president in South Korea and the Upper House election in Japan. However, the results from this summer were mixed. Seoul and Tokyo have not yet announced whether Yoon and Kishida will hold a summit any time soon. Both leaders ended the summer juggling domestic politics amid declining approval ratings. However, there were some meaningful exchanges between the two governments, signaling that both sides were interested in improving relations.

 

CHINA-RUSSIA RELATIONS

Embracing a Longer and/or Wider Conflict?

BY YU BIN, WITTENBERG UNIVERSITY

Unlike in 1914, the “guns of the August” in 2022 played out at the two ends of the Eurasian continent. In Europe, the war was grinding largely to a stagnant line of active skirmishes in eastern and southern Ukraine. In the east, rising tension in US-China relations regarding Taiwan led to an unprecedented use of force around Taiwan. Alongside Moscow’s quick and strong support of China, Beijing carefully calibrated its strategic partnership with Russia with signals of symbolism and substance. Xi and Putin directly conversed only once (June 15). Bilateral trade and mil-mil ties, however, bounced back quickly thanks to, at least partially, the “Ukraine factor” and their respective delinking from the West. At the end of August, Mikhail Gorbachev’s death meant both much and yet so little for a world moving rapidly toward a “war with both Russia and China,” in the words of Henry Kissinger.

 

AUSTRALIA-US/EAST ASIA RELATIONS

Australia’s New Government: Climate, China and AUKUS

BY GRAEME DOBELL, AUSTRALIAN STRATEGIC POLICY INSTITUTE

Australia has changed government and the political war over climate change draws to a close after raging for 15 years. The new Labor government led by Anthony Albanese promises continuity on foreign and defense policy, delivered with a different tone. In the government’s first 100 days, it chipped some ice from the frosty relationship with China. Ending a Beijing ban on meetings with Australian ministers that was in its third year, Chinese ministers had face-to-face talks with Australia’s foreign minister and defense minister. Albanese’s observation that dealing with China will continue to be difficult was demonstrated by a diplomatic duel in the South Pacific, as Canberra pushed back at Beijing’s ambition for a greater security role in islands. Two major defense announcements are due in the first months of 2023: the plan for an Australian nuclear submarine, based on the AUKUS agreement with the US and UK, plus a re-set of Australia’s military and strategic posture because of the toughest security environment in decades. Labor says the alliance with the US should go “beyond interoperability to interchangeability” so the two militaries can “operate seamlessly together at speed.”

 

PacNet commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors

PacNet #51 – Five years after the Rohingya exodus, no significant development

On Aug. 25, 2017, Myanmar’s military launched a full-fledged “clearance operation” against the Rohingya community in Rakhine state, burning villages to ashes and forcing the Rohingya people to flee to neighboring Bangladesh.  Over 745,000 Rohingya fled there and started living in the camps in precarious conditions. Since then, five years have passed without any justice. The genocidal intent and crimes against humanity have been acknowledged worldwide, yet the perpetrators are still at large, even after staging a coup last year that destabilized Myanmar. The Rohingya issue has been marked by geopolitics, deteriorating camp conditions, and decreasing international attention for the last five years. The only ray of hope is the legal process developing gradually in the International Court of Justice (ICJ), International Criminal Court (ICC), and the Argentine court under universal jurisdiction.

However, as the repatriation process lingers, the Rohingya are becoming more frustrated. The recent media coverage of the Go Home campaign—led by Rohingya stranded in Bangladesh who hope to return to Rakhine state—and United Nations’ Rights Chief Michelle Bachelet’s visit suggests the same.

Precarious camp condition and deteriorating law and order

Since the exodus, the Rohingya have been living in the hilly terrain of Cox’s Bazaar, a border district of Bangladesh. They live in makeshift houses and are confined within the camp. It is also one of the densest camps in the world. Around 1.1 million refugees live within only 27 square kilometers with a density of 40,000-70,000 per square kilometer. Women and children largely make up the demography of the community. Even though Bangladesh has created temporary camps in Bhasanchar that provides better living standards, the capacity there is only 100,000.

As these refugees are living within the camp indefinitely without a proper repatriation plan, they are becoming increasingly frustrated. The precarious camp conditions and uncertainty about their future make them more vulnerable and exposed to gang politics and transnational crimes, such as violent extremism, drugs, and arms peddling. Around 14 gangs are now active within the camp, and the recent murders and violent attacks revealed the presence of terrorist outfits. The deteriorating law and order also claimed the life of the top Rohingya leader, when Mohibullah, a top pro-repatriation leader, was killed in his office within the camp last year.

Geopolitics, decreasing international attention, and “Go Home” campaign

As years passed and several conflicts, like Ukraine, emerged worldwide the international community’s attention has also been diverted. The international community has failed to take any significant steps for repatriation and justice. The geopolitical calculations of great powers crippled the United Nations Security Council. It also allowed the Junta perpetrators to carry on with their draconian measures. The same perpetrators also staged a coup last year. But they hardly faced any strong counter-measure from the great powers. Since then, the repatriation process has also halted indefinitely.

As the great powers failed to fulfill their humanitarian responsibility and international attention decreased, the Rohingya also lost their faith in them. Through the recent “Go Home” campaign, the Rohingya displayed their frustration and called out for international attention. The “Go Home” campaign also revealed the political consciousness of this persecuted community as they reiterated Rakhine as their homeland. During the recent visit of the UN Rights Chief Bachelet, the Rohingya told her that their current stay in Bangladesh is temporary, and they wanted to go back to Rakhine, their ancestral home. This suggests that the international community’s responsibility doesn’t end with providing them with temporal shelter in Bangladesh. Instead, their safe and dignified repatriation to Rakhine should be the goal.

Developments in the legal processes—a slight ray of hope

The most significant developments have come through the legal process. Currently, two cases have been filed, in the ICC against the Myanmar military, and in the ICJ against Myanmar. Another case has been filed in the Court of Argentina under universal jurisdiction. The ICC prosecutors are gathering evidence on allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The prosecutors also visited Bangladesh this year.

Perhaps the most significant development in the last five years was the ICJ’s ruling on  jurisdiction. In 2019, Gambia filed a case against Myanmar over genocidal intent and criminal atrocity. Myanmar authorities rejected the case arguing that the court has no jurisdiction as Myanmar is not a party to the Rome Statute that established the ICJ. Additional objections advanced by Myanmar included that Gambia has no ties with the Rohingya and serves as a proxy for the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. The judge dismissed Myanmar’s arguments stating that Gambia, as a party to 1948’s Genocide Convention, could act to prevent it and the ICJ has jurisdiction over the case.

In 2021, a Rohingya organization under universal jurisdiction filled another case in an Argentine court. The court accepted the case and agreed to investigate.

The United States finally acknowledged the genocide, even though it already had the very same conclusion in 2018 through the Fullerton Commission. Hence, a ray of hope for justice is still present for the Rohingya.

In Myanmar, the Rohingya also received acknowledgment for the first time in history as the National Unity Government and Arakan Army both acknowledged Rohingya rights.

However, these legal processes and enforcements are also dependent upon the efforts and proactive role of great powers. History suggests that the Bosnians only found justice because great powers and key stakeholders got involved.

Five years after the crisis began, emphasis should now be on repatriation and justice. The international community must increase its role and responsibility to ensure safe and dignified repatriation. Great powers should also hold Junta leaders accountable to the courts. Junta leaders should not be given a free pass, as this will only inspire future perpetrators.

MD Mufassir Rashid (mufassir.emil199@gmail.com) is an Independent Researcher. He has completed his BSS in International Relations and MSS in International Political Economy from the University of Dhaka.

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

PacNet #50 – China’s new (old) Taiwan white paper: What’s the point?

In the wake of the People’s Liberation Army exercises in August, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) released a new white paper on its goal of “reunification” with Taiwan. Much of the change in this paper, compared to the most recent white papers (in 1993 and 2000) papers is tonal—Cherry Hitkari of the Lowy Institute notes it is “far more assertive, elaborate and emotionally charged.” There is also an added sense of urgency, as the resolution of the Taiwan question is now seen as a necessary condition for the “Great Rejuvenation of the Chinese Nation,” the catch-all term for Xi’s ambition for great-power status. Rhetorical flourishes aside, the 2022 white paper is by no means revolutionary. Mentions of “peaceful reunification,” “one country, two systems,” and “people-to-people exchanges,” continue to litter its pages.

The differences, however, are indicators of Chinese intentions towards Taiwan, and the prospects for preventing further escalation.

The CCP reiterates its stance on pursuing “peaceful reunification,” under the “one country, two systems” (OCTS) policy, parroted by successive Chinese leaders since Deng Xiaoping. According to the paper, the CCP will pursue “people-to-people” economic and cultural exchanges, leading to “consultation and discussion as equals,” as the process by which unification would be achieved. It continues to discuss OCTS as the “only” and “inevitable” solution for Taiwan.

These calls will likely remain unanswered in Taiwan, which views OCTS as “wishful thinking.” Unification, or moves towards unification, have all-time low levels of support among polls of Taiwanese people. The most recent poll, conducted before House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit, found that 6.4% of respondents support either “unification as soon as possible,” or to “maintain status quo, move toward unification.” The experience of Hong Kong under OCTS further diminished the already-bleak outlook for the policy. The steady dismantling of Hong Kong’s autonomy, starting with the State Council’s 2014 white paper on the region, and now the “overly broad interpretation of and arbitrary application” (per a UN report) of the Beijing-imposed national security law in 2020 showed Taiwanese exactly what to expect under OCTS.

The white paper, despite its talk of “peaceful reunification,” also provides ominous signs for the (im)balance of carrots and sticks the CCP has used and will continue to use against Taiwan. The paper notably removes more conciliatory language present in the 1993 and 2000 white papers, including prior promises of a high degree of autonomy, and to not deploy military and administrative personnel to the island. The noted absence of the latter assurance is especially worrying, as the CCP has declared its intention to prosecute members of Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party for “secession,” made a crime under the Anti-Secession Law in 2005. The absence of the military deployment promise also comes alongside worrying calls by Chinese ambassador to France Lu Shaye that Taiwanese people need to be “re-educated” in a unification situation. Thus, the Chinese are doing little to rehabilitate the OCTS plan in Taiwan.

The white paper advocates “peaceful reunification” under a discredited system rejected by the Taiwanese, a majority of whom are now willing to fight to prevent its imposition on the island. The Chinese are apparently aware of this and defend their actions in Hong Kong: according to the 2022 white paper, the CCP “made some appropriate improvements,” which “laid a solid foundation for the law-based governance of Hong Kong.” Thus, the Chinese are aware of the discredited status of OCTS and make no effort to rehabilitate it.

In this light, the question is: what, then, is the purpose of the white paper?

The answer is probably domestic. On the one hand, the paper may be geared towards party cadres ahead of the 20th National Party Congress, slated to occur later this year. Observers have remarked that Xi’s administration relies less on economic growth—as had been the case for the prior three paramount leaders Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin, and Hu Jintao—and more so on nationalist sentiment and delivering on the plan for national rejuvenation to legitimize his rule into an unprecedented third term. On the latter, Xi faces increasing headwinds internationally with (further) growing great-power rivalry with the United States, souring opinions of the Belt and Road Initiative among some partners, and failure to conclude a trade deal with the European Union. The more in-depth discussion of post-unification Taiwan and setting a (rather ambiguous) deadline of not “leaving the Taiwan question to the next generation” could demonstrate the CCP’s intentions to escalate pressure on Taiwan heading into Xi’s third term.

The other answer is that the white paper serves as a nationalist “anti-inflammatory”. The CCP has stoked nationalism as another plank in their domestic legitimacy, and often refers to this sentiment—allowed to flourish on sites like Weibo—to justify their more aggressive moves abroad. Yet, despite creating and stoking these sentiments, it has grown to something beyond Beijing’s control. In the run-up to Speaker Pelosi’s visit, nationalists called for strong action against both the United States and Taiwan, with Hu Xijin, the former editor-in-chief of Global Times calling for the PLA to “forcibly dispel,” and if ineffective, shoot down Pelosi’s plane. Following Pelosi’s visit, censors hurried to delete posts calling Beijing’s response too weak, as some appeared to demand “reunification by force,” or an invasion of Taiwan.

The attempt to dispel nationalist fervor constitutes self-recognition that the PRC is not yet ready to unify Taiwan by force, reinforcing the Pentagon’s assessment that an invasion is unlikely for another two years. To some extent, this involves military capabilities—while China does not have the necessary lift capacity to sustain an invasion the recent exercises have shown that an air and sea blockade of the island is possible. Rather, the CCP Leadership recognizes that the military, economic, and diplomatic costs of such an offensive are too high, especially given the current self-inflicted damage to the domestic economy from the zero-COVID policy, a collapsing housing market as developers like Evergrande default on its debts and foreign debt crisis as partners are forced to default on Chinese loans.

As Beijing continues its naval modernization and escalation around Taiwan, the United States must prepare, striking a balance between support for Taiwan that increases the potential costs of a CCP offensive military action, and overzealous support that Zhongnanhai can contrive as pretext for further escalation. Some aspects of the Taiwan Policy Act currently in the Senate may stray to the latter side of this balance. Following President Biden’s statements of intent to defend Taiwan, Washington should clarify that it considers a military blockade an act of war, as one participant stated at our US-Taiwan Deterrence and Defense Dialogue earlier this month. Though Manilla may be hesitant for fear of retribution by the CCP, stationing a small, mobile naval force in the Philippines would decrease the response time for cross-strait disturbances, forcing further Chinese recalculations. If stationing such a force proves infeasible, the US should increase its military engagement with the Philippines beyond the occasional freedom of navigation operation in the South China Sea. Last, the United States must finally answer the call of Rep. Elaine Luria, a frequent critic of the deterioration of the United States Navy, who noted in 2021 the Navy wanted to retire fifteen ships while procuring only four. This trend must reverse—Chinese calculations already expect US intervention in a Taiwan contingency, thus empowering our navy helps to prevent the contingency from happening.

Jake Steiner (jake@pacforum.org) is a resident WSD-Handa Fellow at Pacific Forum. His research focuses on the intersection between the foreign and domestic policies of the People’s Republic of China, sharp power, and I.R. constructivism. He holds a MA Honours in Economics and International Relations from the University of St Andrews (GBR).

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

Issues & Insights Vol. 22, SR4 – Small Modular Reactors: The Next Phase for Nuclear Power in the Indo-Pacific?

About

In an effort to understand the rising interest worldwide in so-called “small modular reactors” (SMRs) and their companion “floating nuclear power plants” (FNPPs), the Pacific Forum commissioned three papers on this topic. Written by Victor Nian, the first paper unpacks SMR/FNPP technologies and discusses their applicability in the Indo-Pacific. The second paper, authored by Jor-Shan Choi, examines the safety, security, and safeguards (i.e., the “3S”) considerations associated with SMRs/FNPPs. Finally, penned by Miles Pomper, Ferenc Dalnoki Veress, Dan Zhukov, and Sanjana Gogna, the third paper addresses the potential geopolitical implications of SMR/FNPP deployments in the Indo-Pacific. By looking at these three areas – the technology, the 3S considerations, and geopolitics – the papers seek to provide a comprehensive, albeit preliminary, analysis of the SMR/FNPP question in the Indo-Pacific.

Download the full volume here.


Table of Contents

Executive Summary
David Santoro & Carl Baker

Chapter 1: Small Modular Reactor Technologies and Floating Nuclear Power Plants in the Indo-Pacific
Victor Nian

Chapter 2: A 3S Analysis of Small Modular Reactors and Floating Nuclear Power Plants
Jor-Shan Choi

Chapter 3: Geopolitics and the Deployment of Small Modular Reactors in South and Southeast Asia
Miles Pomper, Ferenc Dalnoki Veress, Dan Zhukov & Sanjana Gogna

PacNet #46 – Correcting the Narrative on China’s “New Era-gance”: Taipei, Washington, and many are angry at Beijing’s bullying

Furious China fires missiles near Taiwan in drills after Pelosi visit,” blared a typical headline just after the congressional delegation’s visit on Aug. 2-3. Such parroting of Beijing propaganda wrongly blames a long-standing practice of US official visits to the Island instead of provocations by the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Even worse is that this inaccurate, tiresome narrative exacerbates the PRC’s political warfare that attempts to excuse its bullying and potential unjustified, unprovoked use of force against Taiwan and other peaceful neighbors.

Let’s be clear: a visit is not a trigger for conflict. It is Taiwan, the United States, and other freedom-loving countries that are angry at the PRC’s “new era” of arrogance plus encroachment. People should have learned the lesson from the 1995-96 crisis, what I described as the PRC’s test-firing of missiles near Taiwan by blaming Congress and using a visit as pretext to provoke tension and to advance planned military buildups.

American resolve, strength, and leadership

On July 20, President Joe Biden prompted attention—as well as China’s attempts at intimidation—regarding this congressional delegation (CODEL) when he answered a reporter’s question on whether the speaker’s trip to Taiwan would be a good idea. He responded that “the military thinks it’s not a good idea right now.” It was surprising for a former senator to say that and attribute it to the neutral military. The Heritage Foundation’s Walter Lohman, a former congressional staffer, noted: “what is a surprise is that the president of the United States would try to dissuade her from doing it.”

Amid China’s inflammatory rhetoric threatening Pelosi and other Americans, on Aug. 1, Biden firmly warned: “The United States continues to demonstrate our resolve and our capacity to defend the American people against those who seek to do us harm. …if you are a threat to our people, the United States will find you and take you out.” Biden is capable of tough strategic messaging, but he directed that strong statement at terrorists in announcing the killing of Ayman al-Zawahiri of Al Qaeda.

Pelosi has led three crucial roles that fell on Congress. First, the CODEL showed US strength, resolve, and leadership. House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Chairman Gregory Meeks, who joined the trip, summed up why the members were compelled to visit Taiwan, precisely given the PRC’s threats: “we can’t be bullied by anyone.” The delegation’s visit was a relief.

Second, it was Pelosi who eloquently explained policy and interests, not only to the American people but also international audiences. In her commentary in The Washington Post as she arrived on Aug. 2, she wrote: “The Taiwan Relations Act set out America’s commitment to a democratic Taiwan, providing the framework for an economic and diplomatic relationship that would quickly flourish into a key partnership.” She accurately placed the responsibility on Beijing for intensifying tensions with Taipei. She also stated that “America stands with Taiwan, our democratic partner, as it defends itself and its freedom.” She pointed out that “the world faces a choice between autocracy and democracy” as Russia wages war in Ukraine.

In contrast, even though Biden as a senator voted for the Taiwan Relations Act in 1979, he has not adequately articulated policy. A day after stating that the United States has a “commitment” to get involved militarily, on May 24, Biden simply said “no” when a reporter asked him to explain why he denied that “strategic ambiguity” is dead.

Third, Pelosi also brought bipartisan unity. For example, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell commended “the Speaker’s display of support for Taiwan’s democracy.” Senators Bob Mendenez (D-New Jersey) and James Risch (R-Idaho), chairman and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, stated: “Speaker Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan provides no justification for this sort of measure,” referring to PLA military exercises that essentially represent a blockade.

Manufactured crisis

Pelosi’s delegation was the latest in a decades-long series of visits by members of Congress, administration officials, and military officers as senior as flag/general officers. Even post-1979 visits by cabinet-rank officials started in 1992. It is standard practice for such delegations to fly on military aircraft, including to Taiwan. This CODEL of six members visited Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea, and Japan, with its stop in Taiwan coming on Aug. 2-3.

The PRC then conducted military exercises on Aug. 4-10, egregiously including dangerous live-fire launches of 11 DF-15 short-range ballistic missiles toward Taiwan that flew into the sea to the northeast, east, and southwest of the island. Her visit is a pretext for the PRC’s provocations in a “manufactured crisis” as condemned by the National Security Council on Aug. 4. The NSC also rebuked the People’s Liberation Army’s actions as an irresponsible, provocative, destabilizing, and aggressive over-reaction.

Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense (MND) described the PLA’s actions as a simulated attack on Taiwan.

China is learning lessons from Russia’s blockade against Ukraine. Just as Russia’s brutal invasion has targeted civilians and military personnel, the PRC fired missiles that threatened civilian centers, aircraft, and shipping.

Biden responded to China’s instigated instability by keeping US naval ships and F-35B fighters to the east of Taiwan for a longer period of time to monitor the situation. The assets included the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and two large amphibious ships, the USS Tripoli and USS America. Previously, US aircraft carriers sailed near Taiwan during the 1995-1996 crisis and Taiwan’s presidential election in 2008. Biden also postponed the test of a Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).

China has raised tensions before the crisis

In contrast to US de-escalation, China has raised tension with military exercises in the Taiwan Strait and other maritime areas for decades. For example, the PLA held live-fire exercises in multiple seas in 2020. The PLA held air and naval exercises in August 2021. In May 2022, the PLA held a live-fire exercise in the Bohai Sea, and PRC and Russian air exercise took place during Biden’s visit to Asia and a QUAD meeting.

After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, officials have voiced tough stances on Taiwan, including to National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan on March 14, President Biden on March 18, and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on April 20.

At the Shangri-la Dialogue in June, Austin criticized the PLA for unprofessional and aggressive intercepts. He said that “in February, a PLA Navy ship directed a laser at an Australian P-8 maritime patrol aircraft, seriously endangering everyone on board.” Another incident occurred between a US C-130 aircraft and a PLA SU-30 fighter.

Just in June and July, the PLA also has protested against a US P-8 flight, freedom of navigation operations (FONOPS), Taiwan Strait Transits, and arms sales to Taiwan.  PLA fighters crossed the median line in the Taiwan Strait and the PLA held an exercise around the time of Senator Scott’s CODEL on July 8. On July 28, the PLA already announced live-fire exercises in the Taiwan Strait.

On Aug. 5, China further escalated by announcing cancellations and suspensions of dialogues in eight areas, including military-to-military Defense Policy Coordination Talks (DPCT) and meetings under the Military Maritime Consultative Agreement (MMCA). The PLA did not suspend talks with Secretary Austin or Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley. However, their PLA counterparts have refused to communicate during this crisis.

I have expected China to increase tension ahead of Taiwan’s local elections on Nov. 26.

Beijing’s belligerence backfires

The world sees China’s unreasonable, unjustified, and aggressive behavior. Taiwan has received support and sympathy from countries throughout the world. China’s instigation of this latest crisis raises questions about how the United States, Taiwan, and other peaceful and like-minded countries should respond to China’s belligerent and egregious threats to peace and stability. Overall, countries will need to be more proactive and creative, especially in diplomatic initiatives. A coordinated campaign is needed within the US government as well as with allies and partners that increases use of informational, economic, military, and diplomatic tools to deter coercion and conflict as well as to shore up Taiwan’s resilience and legitimacy.

Shirley Kan (skan@globaltaiwan.org) is an independent specialist in Asian security affairs who worked for the US Congress at the Congressional Research Service (CRS) and Advisor at the Global Taiwan Institute (GTI).

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

PacNet #38 – China’s “containment” policy against America

Chinese officials and government media constantly decry what they call the US “containment” policy against China. They allege that Washington’s intention is to prevent China from becoming relatively stronger or more globally influential, lest Beijing impede the pursuit of the US agenda in international affairs.

Calling a policy “containment” when it tolerates China having an annual bilateral trade surplus of $350 billion is questionable, to say the least. More importantly, such Chinese propaganda obscures the fact that the PRC also tries to limit America’s influence. When it comes to containment, China gives as good as it says it gets.

The PRC tries to contain the United States in several ways.

First, Beijing has sought to maintain an anti-US coalition, even if there are few takers. The main basis for Sino-Russian cooperation is a common interest in blocking and, where feasible, rolling back US strategic influence. As an example, China’s diplomatic position on the war in Ukraine prioritizes containment of America. Beijing blames the war on Washington, accepting the reputational cost of refusing to condemn Russia and blowing off China’s previous profession of support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity. The Chinese see North Korea, as well, as a partner in countering the United States. North Korea often repeats PRC and Russian anti-US propaganda. Kim Jong Un reportedly told Xi Jinping earlier this year that the DPRK and China “are strengthening strategic cooperation and unity to destroy the undisguised hostile policy and military threat of the United States.”

Second, Beijing pressures third party governments, particularly US friends and allies, to not support Washington’s agenda. Xi and other Chinese officials have repeatedly implored Europe to “to pursue an independent policy towards China,” meaning independent of the United States. In March, PRC Foreign Minister Wang Yi metaphorically warned Japan against military cooperation with the United States, saying Tokyo “should not pull someone’s chestnuts out of the fire.” In May, Wang told his Japanese counterpart that “people [are] on alert” because of “the view that Japan and the United States were joining hands to confront China.”

When Canada detained Huawei executive Meng Wangzhou at Washington’s request, the Chinese government punished Ottawa by detaining two Canadians in China as political hostages. Even after Canada freed Meng, the PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs re-emphasized the broader message: “Canada should draw lessons and act according to its own interests”—i.e., not America’s interests.

One form of Chinese pressure is attempting shame US partners as exploited pawns. PRC officials and government media have recently called AustraliaCanada, and Lithuania US “running dogs.” In October 2021, the French representative at a UN meeting read a statement signed by 43 countries condemning China’s persecution of Chinese Uyghurs. The PRC ambassador to the United Nations responded, “To France and other followers of the US: what you are doing is submitting your independence and autonomy, and serving as the henchmen of the US…[Y]ou are giving up your own dignity, and will win no respect from others.”

Another PRC method is threats. The Chinese government warned the United Kingdom and Sweden that if they heeded US pressure to exclude Chinese IT infrastructure builder Huawei, these countries would stop getting Chinese investment. Similarly, the Chinese Communist Party-owned Global Times said that “Australia will have to pay an economic price if the South Pacific nation, blinded by lust to act as a US attack dog, opts to destroy ties with its most important trade partner.”

The threats are not limited to the economic sphere. China has warned Australia, for example, that if it hosts US troops, “Australia itself will be caught in the crossfire.”

Conversely, Beijing praises governments that appear to decline security cooperation with Washington as admirably “independent.”

Third, China promotes alternative international institutions that will be vehicles for Chinese rather than US influence. The Comprehensive Agreement on Investment between China and the European Union, for example, would have pulled Western Europe closer to China and farther from the United States had implementation of the agreement not halted in 2021. China was more successful with the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). To counter the US-supported Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), Beijing put its weight behind RCEP, which suited Chinese preferences with its weak provisions for the protection of labor, the environment, and intellectual property. America’s withdrawal from the TPP along with the accession of 15 countries, including China, to RCEP in 2020 handed regional economic rule-making leadership to Beijing.

China is also changing the character of pre-existing institutions such as the United Nations to re-orient them away from reinforcing the US-sponsored liberal international order. The PRC is successfully prodding UN human rights agencies toward holding abusive individual governments less accountable to the international community. At the same time, the Chinese government has used the UN Human Rights Council to criticize US actions in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Having provided investment and economic assistance to many UN member developing countries, Beijing can call in favors from business partners to thwart US objectives in the United Nations. In 2019, for example, China offered economic gifts to buy the votes necessary to defeat the US-backed candidate for the position of head of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization.

In May, China vetoed a US-sponsored proposal in the UN Security Council for additional sanctions against North Korea. China’s fundamental North Korea policy goal is to protect the Kim regime from collapsing in order to keep the US bloc from expanding (via a united, Seoul-led Korean Peninsula) up to the Chinese border.

Finally, Beijing works to discredit US regional and global leadership. Since 2020, when many Americans criticized Beijing’s initial non-transparency about the coronavirus outbreak in China, Chinese officials have tirelessly pushed the narrative that the United States is unworthy to wield international influence. “For the US politicians,” goes a representative criticism from the PRC foreign ministry, “democracy is their tool to seek personal and partisan gains at home, and a weapon to serve US hegemony abroad.” The delegitimization of US global leadership includes much Chinese government effort to highlight social and political problems inside the United States, a task made easy for Chinese speechwriters by the open and critical US press.

The much-hyped “Global Security Initiative” attributed to Xi is largely a statement of opposition to the US alliance system (expressed in phrases such as “Cold War mentality,” “bloc confrontation,” and “pursuit of one’s own security at the cost of others’ security”). The criticism of alliances does not apply to China itself, of course, because China’s relationship with Russia is a “partnership” rather than an alliance, albeit one with “no limits.”

This is not the first time China has accused the United States of doing what China itself is doing. Questions about the role of the Wuhan Institute of Virology in the outbreak of Coronavirus in China led to Chinese government accusations that the virus started in a US Army laboratory in Maryland. Washington’s publicity of the persecution of Muslims in Xinjiang led to a vigorous PRC campaign of criticizing injustices in the United States.

What China and the United States do to each other is standard for rival great powers in a period of tense peace. The Xi cult of personality, however, restricts China from describing its own external behavior in terms other than hyper-exceptionalism, benevolence, victimization, and righteous indignation. As a sad consequence, the Chinese don’t give themselves enough credit their own containment policy.

Denny Roy (RoyD@EastWestCenter.org) is a senior fellow at the East-West Center, Honolulu. He specializes in strategic and international security issues in the Asia-Pacific region.

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

PacNet #36 – Post-Abe Indo-Pacific regional dynamics: A legacy beyond the man

Former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo, through his formulation of a Free and Open Indo-Pacific (dubbed FOIP), articulated the need for a transparent, rules-based Indo-Pacific. Priorities included development assistance, infrastructure and connectivity, institution-building, maritime security cooperation, and a commitment to rules as the final arbiter for international affairs rather than a Machiavellian, might-is-right approach to foreign policy.

On his visit in 2007 to the Parliament of India he articulated the so-called “Confluence of two seas” connecting the Pacific and Indian Oceans as a zone of economic intercourse, institution- and norm-building, and a concrete security agenda to ensure that critical sea lines of communication remain arbitrated by international law.

His passing will have regional consequences for different stakeholders and those who wish to shape his legacy. It will also have domestic consequences for how foreign policy is formulated. For countries with whom Abe had tense relations, those consequences may not be as expected.

Abe’s influence at home

In Japan, Abe was the factional head of the Seiwakai, the largest faction within the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) umbrella party. As faction head and former prime minister, Abe could shape discussions on domestic politics and security policy within the LDP and government. Wielding this influence, he committed to revising Article 9 of the Constitution and articulated the importance of Taiwan in Japan security. This has not yet succeeded, but talk of revision persists, especially given his party’s dominant election performance following Abe’s death.

Abe also committed to a multi-layered and multinational cooperation not only to ameliorate Japan’s security’s dilemmas, but also to invest in the security of the broader Indo-Pacific, which has shaped incumbent Prime Minister Kishida Fumio’s policies in the region.

Taking a granular look at Kishida’s Shangri-La dialogue speech, the strong influence of Abe’s FOIP vision in “Kishida’s Vision for Peace” is obvious.

Abe’s commitment to enlarging the quality and quantity of security partnerships and cooperation, and how this influenced the current government, are also evidenced in Japan’s joining of the NATO summit in Madrid and the strengthening of its security through Reciprocal Access Agreements with Australia and the United Kingdom, as well as the realization of the Quad summit in Tokyo in May 2022.

Does Abe’s unexpected death give Kishida more political maneuvering room for his own foreign policy—one more autonomous from Seiwakai—or will he have to adopt more of the late prime minister’s positions?

It is too early to tell.

China and Taiwan

With Sino-Japanese relations deteriorating, Abe Shinzo’s death was celebrated by some in China, including by netizens and club-goers. In the Japan-China context, however, Abe’s death should be seen with concern. While bilateral relations were fraught with complexities and security concerns, Abe understood that Japan and China have a mutually beneficial economic relationship and that a zero-sum approach was neither feasible nor desirable.

It was Abe who resurrected Sino-Japanese relations from their 2012 low after the nationalization of the Senkaku Islands by the Democratic Party of Japan’s Noda administration, using backdoor diplomacy and cooperation with astute Japanese diplomats and their Chinese counterparts.

These efforts led to Abe and Xi meeting in the fall of 2019 in Beijing and inking more than 50 third-country infrastructure and connectivity projects and numerous business deals. Both leaders also pushed for completion of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership and the Japan-China maritime and aerial communication mechanism aimed at averting unintended clashes between the Japanese and Chinese militaries went into operation in June 2018.

If it weren’t for the COVID-19 pandemic, Abe may have welcomed a state visit by Xi in early 2020 to sign a fifth political document.

Today, Sino-Japanese relations are in a holding state. Japan is concerned about Beijing’s position on Taiwan and whether it will seek reunification by force.

Abe’s explicit comments that a Taiwan contingency would be a direct threat to Japanese security and would require a united response sought to convey clarity to Beijing and Taipei that the status quo across the Taiwan Strait is Japan’s preferred option.

From Japan’s perspective, cross-strait instability is of concern because it would disrupt sea lines of communication and critical technologies produced by the Taiwanese Semiconductor Manufacturing Company. In this case, Abe’s commitment to multilateralism manifested in his calls for Washington to drop its ambiguity on a Taiwan contingency.

Still, the loss of Abe’s pragmatism, nuance, and political acumen in managing Sino-Japan relations will make bilateral relations more complicated as Abe was not only able to negotiate Tokyo-Beijing relations but also an effective communicator to Washington about China and the Indo-Pacific.

Regional relations

Abe’s passing will have ripple effects in the region at large, with Japan’s neighbors and partners looking to build on the progress he started.

South Korea’s President Yoon Suk Yeol looks determined to reset the bilateral ROK-Japan relationship and trilateral Japan-US-ROK relations to deal with the challenges of North Korea and China. Paradoxically, Abe’s death has opened the window for Yoon to engage further with Japan while at the same time removing the divisive (especially in South Korea) Abe in the South Korean context to improve relations.

In Southeast Asia and India, Abe championed bilateral relations and the key role of both in the Indo-Pacific. With his absence, Southeast Asian countries will look for continuity in the Kishida administration—and beyond—including in their diplomatic engagement within the region, commitment to connectivity and infrastructure development, and in developing strong bilateral relations with individual ASEAN states. India will look for continuity in bilateral cooperation on economic development, infrastructure, and connectivity, but also in deepening mini-lateral cooperation through enhanced cooperation within the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue and other emerging mini-lateral organizations such as Indo-Pacific Economic Framework.

Finally, the United States views the passing of Abe with concern as he was able to marshal the political forces in Japan to take a more proactive position in securing its own security but also providing security within the US-Japan alliance and for partners. The 2016 Legislation for Peace and Security and the 2013 Specially Designated Secrets Protection Law, were both meant to strengthen cooperation with the United States and like-minded countries, to enable Japan to be a more proactive partner in being a providing security within the region.

Abe’s leadership was central in these legislative achievements.

Fortunately for the United States and Tokyo’s other partners, Abe’s FOIP vision, its commitment to a robust and ever strengthening Japan-US alliance, and to multilayered and multinational security, economic, and diplomatic cooperation to deal with the greatest regional geopolitical challenge—coexistence with China—has been internationalized and institutionalized. This should ensure that regional Indo-Pacific dynamics remain institutionally driven based on shared interests among like-minded countries.

Indo-Pacific stakeholders can contribute to the region’s institutional development by crafting rules-based frameworks that embody the principles laid out in Abe’s FOIP vision including development assistance, infrastructure and connectivity, institution-building, and maritime security cooperation. Finding a role for China as Abe did will be critical to achieving these goals.

Concrete initiatives that would further these objectives include expanding the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership and Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, more investment in the Partners in the Blue Pacific and similar initiatives in Southeast and South Asia and enhancing public good provision by minilaterals such as the Quad or a Quad-plus formulation to mitigate non-traditional security challenges such as climate change, piracy, illegal fishing and transnational diseases.

Dr. Stephen Nagy (nagy@icu.ac.jp) is a senior associate professor at the International Christian University in Tokyo, a senior fellow with the MacDonald Laurier Institute (MLI), a fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute (CGAI) and a visiting fellow with the Japan Institute for International Affairs (JIIA). Twitter handle: @nagystephen1.

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

PacNet #23 – May is a major opportunity for US relations with Asia—especially economically

Despite Washington’s understandable focus on the Ukraine war, the United States and key leaders of Asia meet this month and the stakes are high. With timing that now looks skillful, the White House unveiled its Indo-Pacific Strategy 13 days in advance of Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine. But the welcome strategy was missing its key economic component. A subsequent announcement of the IPEF (Indo-Pacific Economic Framework) was an improvement, but contained little detail.

The problem is that key segments of each US political party now abhor trade agreements, whether beneficial or not. This is a serious impediment for the US policy of rebuilding alliances and strengthening partnerships, especially in Southeast Asia. ASEAN members all know well China’s power and influence and each has a significant trade relationship with China. But each worries that China’s economic and military strength may become too great. Most Southeast Asian countries, then, welcome US investment and its political weight balances outlooks and that poses no threat to anyone’s sovereignty. But ASEAN and most countries must not be asked to choose. Doubts about American attitudes remain, as do questions over whether the United States will be present if times become hard. Now Russia’s invasion of Ukraine—through soaring energy and food costs alone—means that geo-politics weighs much more heavily than it did last year.

Washington will seek to prove this month—despite the day-to-day pressures of supporting Ukraine after the Russian attack—that it can concurrently work on all the important issues. In mid-May, President Biden and his foreign policy team will meet in Washington for a special summit with ASEAN leaders from 8 of the 10 ASEAN members. The two absentees are the Philippines—in the middle of its election—and Myanmar’s power grasping army; Myanmar has missed ASEAN’s own meetings and is facing what amounts to a civil war. The ASEAN leaders in Washington—including Vietnam, Indonesia, and Singapore—will meet with President Biden in person as COVID-19 fears and travel restrictions diminish. Perhaps the United States will become a “Comprehensive Strategic Partner” of ASEAN, as was the case of China last year.

Following the ASEAN summit, President Biden will fly to Japan for a Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (“Quad”) meeting, a fine chance to meet with new leaders of Japan—Prime Minister Kishida Fumio—and South Korea’s newly inaugurated President Yoon Suk-yeol. But even more attention will focus Biden’s meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India. For various reasons, India has chosen not to join with the United States and European Union in providing arms to Ukraine and sanctioning Russia.

The world is truly multi-polar now, and many countries—often privately horrified—have not joined the West in opposing Russia’s attack. This is seen in not joining US-EU sanctions and in abstaining from UN resolutions. Some are leery of irritating China, always quick to punish middle countries that displease its “wolf warrior” officials. India has long seen itself as Russia’s friend and also wants to be seen as no one’s follower. Some of this is hard to swallow for Americans. But the period of what some saw in the 1990s as the “unilateral moment” is gone. On the possible Chinese domination of all of Asia, India and America have largely common views. But US-India cooperation is never smooth and always involves what some see as contradictions. The United States has to show patience, understanding and humility around India, as well as a helpful approach with other relationships. Nostalgia among too many Americans for a kind of early Cold War world influence is futile. Dreams of isolation from the world are worse.

In Southeast Asia no country has a more difficult task than Vietnam in balancing its foreign policies and diplomacy. A leader of ASEAN, Vietnam has been at the forefront of both security and economic issues, especially the South China Sea and China’s “Nine Dashed Line” assertions. Its relatively open economy has been growing slowly but steadily. Although Japanese and Korean investments have blossomed, “next-door” geography to China requires Vietnam to have major economic involvement with its giant neighbor. For Vietnam, China’s maritime claims as well as its developing outsize influence with Laos, Cambodia, and even Thailand are cause for concern. Every Vietnamese also knows of the centuries of disputes with China. There is a great opportunity for US-Vietnam relations to further improve.

All this underscores the importance of Vietnam’s Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh, accompanied by a high level delegation, attending the US-ASEAN summit in Washington. Vietnam’s leadership role in ASEAN has grown and US-Vietnam relations have been improving since normalization in 1995. Relations are strong in many areas. Despite memories of the war, Vietnam is a prime choice for American companies concerned with interruptions in their supply chains. Vietnam has an educated workforce, youthful demographics, and an improving ability to move finished goods. High-technology producers are noticing. Tourism is a strong post-pandemic prospect for Vietnam, at several price points. It has great beaches and quality hotels. As Vietnamese cuisine becomes better known around the world, it can draw “foodie” travelers.

May offers a fine opportunity for Washington and its Asian allies and friends—none more so than Hanoi—to improve their mutual standings. This month is a chance to fill in details to Washington’s IPEF—such as digital economies. Perhaps Vietnam’s army may even wonder whether its Russian weapons supplies are still the best choice. With the world’s second-most proven reserves for rare earth metals—key to automobiles and other batteries—Vietnam also has other resources to impress the world.

Active diplomacy with Asia is on the calendar this month and the White House does not need to dominate headlines. But it can move forward in many ways—not everything, but real movement. First would be the Quad with a steady hand involving India. Could the Quad—formally or not—welcome South Korea as at least a party to discussions? As for ASEAN, the Biden administration will have reaffirmed its unshaken involvement—especially to Vietnam and Indonesia. Summer and fall will also require follow up with each ally and partner. Keeping our interests in sight—all the time—is what will bring meaningful diplomatic progress.

James A. Kelly (kellypacf@aol.com)) is chairman of the Pacific Forum Board of Directors, and the former US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs.

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.

PacNet #21 – India’s strategic autonomy: A lesson for Japan

Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio’s official visit to India in mid-March in the midst of the Ukraine crisis highlighted the two countries’ differing stances on international affairs. While the statement issued during his visit shows that these two countries have deepened defense and security cooperation since the early 2000s, they could not agree on a strong message against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. This disagreement is unlikely to impact their relationship in the immediate future but could be a good lesson for Tokyo on Delhi’s strategic autonomy—and what that might mean for a future crisis for Japan.

Kishida’s visit to India

Kishida’s official visit on March 19-20 kicked off the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Japan and India. It also restarted annual mutual visits, halted in 2019 due to unrest in India, and not resumed due to the pandemic. Though several summit meetings between the two, both virtual and in-person, took place during the pandemic, resumption of mutual visits symbolically reconfirms ties.

After their summit meeting, Kishida and Modi issued a joint statement covering a variety of security issues, including the South China Sea, North Korea, Afghanistan, terrorism, Myanmar, and cybersecurity. They welcomed the first 2+2 meeting of their foreign and defense ministers since November 2019 and operationalization of the Agreement Concerning Reciprocal Provision of Supplies and Services between the two forces. They directed ministers to identify concrete areas for future cooperation in defense equipment and technology, beyond ongoing collaboration in unmanned ground vehicles (UGV) and robotics.

They also expressed serious concern about the ongoing conflict and humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, reiterating their call for an immediate cessation of violence.

The statement, however, avoided naming Russia.

India’s strategic autonomy

That New Delhi would continue its traditional stance toward international affairs was obvious as soon as Russia started its “special military operation” in Ukraine on Feb. 24. While Japan, the United States, Australia, and European nations condemned Moscow’s action and imposed economic sanctions, India refrained from criticizing its old friend Russia directly. US President Joe Biden and his senior staff have had several consultations with Indian counterparts and urged them to take a clear position since the incident occurred, but these consultations have not gone according to Washington’s plans. India was one of the minority of countries abstaining from the United Nations resolution condemning Russia for invading Ukraine. US President Joe Biden told a business forum on March 22 that India is being “somewhat shaky” compared to Japan and Australia.

India prefers realpolitik over morals, as Dev Goswami, a senior assistant editor at India Today, writes. He justifies this position as two-thirds of India’s military equipment has Russian origins, which India cannot afford to risk when it faces a potential “two-front” (China and Pakistan) war. Russian oil could attract India as well. Indian Oil Corp., India’s top refiner, recently ordered 3 million barrels of Russian oil, while Hindustan Petroleum Corp has booked 2 million barrels.

That said, India also abstained from the UN resolution submitted by Russia on the humanitarian situation in Ukraine. In addition, India has “unequivocally condemned” killings in Bucha in Ukraine by Russian soldiers at the UN on April 6. This also shows how India maintains its strategic autonomy or “proactive neutrality.” Since its independence from British colonialism, India has vowed to chart an independent course in its foreign relations. It led the Non-Aligned Movement during the Cold War to avoid involvement in the conflict between the Western and the Eastern blocs. Even though India signed the Indo-Soviet Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation in 1971 after the Indo-Pakistan War, many Indians have long hesitated to call their relationship an alliance.

Leading power

Why, then, does India participate in the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (“Quad”) with Japan, the United States, and Australia? Rivalry with China could be one of the factors, but a driver could also be India’s interest to become a “leading power” in the world. Indian leaders have been interested in reaching this status since independence, but that interest has grown considerably with its economic rise in the 2000s. India must engage with countries like the United States, Russia, China, Australia, and Japan to become a leading power. In the last 20 years, India’s steps have oscillated between maintaining strategic autonomy and pursuing world power status. It finally became a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) led by Russia and China in 2017, in addition to agreeing to an in-person summit meeting among the Quad leaders last September.

At the same time, New Delhi is also strengthening its leadership as a “big brother” among smaller neighbors as Modi launched “Neighbourhood First”—focused on the good relations and co-development of South Asian countries—or “Act East”—strengthening India’s relations with Southeast Asia—policies during his first term. This clearly appeared when India started “Vaccine Maitri (friendship)” and supplied vaccines to nearly 100 countries.

Japan and like-minded partners, then, should leverage this crisis to enable India to play an important role between Russia and the United States. Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar told Indian parliamentarians in late March that India’s position is based on six principles—1) to “stand for peace,” and the immediate cessation of violence and hostilities, 2) dialogue and diplomacy, 3) the global order anchored on international law, 4) humanitarian access, 5) to provide humanitarian assistance, and 6) for India to stay in touch with the leadership of both Russia and Ukraine. He further said that Modi has spoken with Russian President Vladimir Putin three times and to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy twice, and suggested a direct conversation between two parties.

Conclusions

New Delhi’s response to the Ukraine crisis might disappoint Tokyo but will not impact Japan-India relations immediately. Although Kishida reacted sharply against Russia, Tokyo usually shows an ambivalent attitude toward international affairs, not so dissimilar to India. Due to wartime experiences and their prioritizing of economic relations, Japan is not like those Western nations that have a proclivity to compel other countries to behave like them. Ukraine is too far away for both countries to damage the relationship that has developed over the last 20 years.

Still, a good lesson for Japanese is how their counterparts in India react to an international crisis. India does not align with a majority of the world when their policy might harm its national interest. It means that India also might not support Japan even when it faces a crisis. Tokyo should not expect too much from India, yet many in Japan still want to believe that expansion of security cooperation between two countries, as well as face-to-face summits among Quad members, are evidence that the ties could lead to a significant upgrade, perhaps to a quasi-alliance in the near future.

Japan should remember that India does not promise anything.

Tomoko Kiyota (tomokokiyota@gmail.com) is an Associate Professor at the Office for Global Relations, Nagasaki University and an Adjunct Fellow at Pacific Forum. While she specializes in Japan-India relations, Dr. Kiyota also has work experience at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan and the Embassy in India and Thailand as a diplomat and a researcher. 

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