CSCAP Women, Peace and Security Expert Papers (February 2023)

Introduction

The October 31, 2000 unanimous adoption of UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 on Women, Peace and Security (WPS) was a ground-breaking step for women’s leadership and participation. The UNSCR 1325 marked the first time the Security Council addressed the disproportionate and unique impact of armed conflict on women and recognized the under-valued and under-utilized contributions women make to conflict prevention, peacekeeping, conflict resolution, and peacebuilding. Over the years, significant efforts and progress have been made in this regard.

To date, 11 states in the Asia Pacific have adopted National Action Plans for the implementation of UNSCR 1325, including two of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member states, namely, the Philippines and Indonesia. There have been several major efforts building towards a Regional Plan of Action on WPS for ASEAN. Three of note are the Joint Statement on Promoting WPS in ASEAN (2017), the soon-to-be-adopted Regional Plan of Action on Women, Peace and Security (2022) and the Regional Plan of Action on the Elimination of Violence against Women (RPA on EVAW) (2015). The Joint Statement is the closest ASEAN has come to a consensus document on UNSCR 1325. The Joint Statement on Promoting the Women, Peace and Security Agenda at the ASEAN Regional Forum in 2019 reaffirmed that commitment and included stronger and more specific language on advancing the agenda in the region. Meanwhile, the RPA on EVAW is a comprehensive framework adopted throughout ASEAN for protecting women against physical, sexual, psychological and economic violence, which it recognizes is the result of historical and structural imbalances in power relations between genders. Inclusivity is also a pillar in the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC) Blueprint 2025, and is a key element of the people-oriented, people-centered concept based on international law enshrined in the ASEAN Political-Security Community (APSC) Blueprint 2025. Under the APSC Blueprint, the ASEAN Institute for Peace and Reconciliation (ASEAN-IPR) is tasked with helping indoctrinate voices of moderation in the culture of ASEAN. ASEAN-IPR undertakes research, capacity-building, developing a pool of expertise, networking, and information dissemination in service of peace, conflict management, and conflict resolution. It also houses the ASEAN Women for Peace Registry (AWPR, est. Dec. 2018), a network of experts who contribute to the implementation of 2017 Joint Statement. In November 2020, the East Asia Summit signaled its own commitment to supporting the WPS agenda through its Leaders Statement on Women, Peace and Security.

While these are laudable achievements, still more needs to be done to make peace more durable and inclusive and, ultimately, transform international peace and security. The ongoing global pandemic has illustrated how the same event has drastically different effects on women and men. Eight ASEAN member states still lack UNSCR 1325 National Action Plans, while this group of countries works to adopt a regional action plan in 2022. Even with ASEAN, there are major divisions on the WPS agenda. For example, the APSC Blueprint 2025 makes limited mention of women’s rights; these items are siloed under the ASCC. Research has shown that when women’s priorities are at the heart of peace processes and decision-making, from planning to monitoring, prevention will be strengthened, and conflicts will be less likely to relapse so peace can last longer. Advancing women’s participation, leadership, and opportunities in all areas of society, not just in politics, strengthens national economies and societies.

To this end, the Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific (CSCAP) that provides an informal mechanism for scholars, officials, and others in their private capacities to discuss political and security issues and challenges facing the region, saw the need to conduct a study to further the adoption of WPS agenda in the region. Thus, USCSCAP, represented by Pacific Forum, CSCAP Indonesia, represented by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Indonesia, and CSCAP New Zealand, co-chaired a CSCAP Study Group focused on the advancement of the WPS agenda in the Asia Pacific, with a particular focus on Southeast Asia. By demonstrating the value and utility of a gender perspective, this study group propagates application of a gendered lens throughout CSCAP studies, providing timely and relevant insights on longstanding policy and security issues. Study group findings—derived from an inclusive Track-2 process consulting stakeholders from academia, civil society, government, and defense communities—are channeled into the Track-1 process as practical policy recommendations to advance the WPS agenda in the region. There is a great deal of interest in the WPS agenda in ASEAN through the ASEAN Socio Cultural Community (ASCC) and various related activities have already begun. The CSCAP study group, by linking Track-2 and Track-1 levels, as well as the ASCC and the APSC, would help channel ASEAN’s energy so it can emerge as a leader of WPS norms in the Asia-Pacific region; especially as they apply to the protection of women in armed conflict and in enhancing their role in the prevention, resolution, and post-conflict reconstruction of such conflicts.

This compilation of Expert Papers presented at the CSCAP Study Group on WPS is published with the aim to advance policy planning, implementation and evaluation that support meaningful participation of women in all parts of security and peace processes. There are four expert papers included in this compilation covering the topic of cybersecurity, disaster management, countering terrorism, and women in security forces. Realizing the myriad of issues on WPS, this compilation represents the laying of but one small paving stone as we seek to build the road to a more equal and inclusive security sector.

In making this compilation of Women, Peace and Security Expert Papers, the editors would like to thank David Capie, Bethan Greener, and Crystal Prior who assisted with the gathering of the experts; Nandita Putri Kusumawati who assisted with the layout and finalization of the report; as well as the experts on WPS, namely Steve Recca, Farlina Said, Keshab Giri, and Ruby Kholifah who contributed their writings to this compilation.

Photo: UN Women/Ploy Phutpheng

PacNet #8 – Dealing with Increased Chinese Aggressiveness – PART TWO

The following are some of the key findings and recommendations from the August 2022 US-Taiwan Deterrence and Defense Dialogue. PacNet 7 provided a summary of the dialogue. The full report, with expanded key findings and recommendations can be found here.

Responding to PRC Pressure

Finding: PRC pressure on Taiwan—economically, politically, and especially militarily—has increased considerably over the past year. The early August 2022 PLA military exercise around Taiwan appears aimed at further creating a “new normal” that will reduce warning times should Beijing invade.

Recommendation: The United States should reject the “new normal” characterization, brand Chinese actions as unilateral, destabilizing changes to the status quo, and press Beijing to honor cross-Strait arrangements that have preserved stability and helped prevent accidents in the past.

Recommendation: The U.S. Navy should continue to transit the Taiwan Strait regularly.

Finding: PLA activities appear aimed, in part, at developing the capability to blockade Taiwan. The PRC has demonstrated increased willingness to take risks while stirring up Chinese nationalism.

Recommendation: The United States should make clear that attempts to blockade Taiwan are not “gray zone” actions but acts of war that are likely to force a U.S. response.

Recommendation: The United States should assist Taiwan in making its ports and airfields more survivable; both should develop plans to combat a Chinese embargo or respond to missile and air assaults or mining operations against Taiwan ports and airfields.

Finding: PRC gray zone pressure against Taiwan will steadily increase. A failure to respond to these provocations will send the wrong signal to Beijing.

Recommendation: The U.S. and Taiwan militaries should individually develop and then coordinate plans to respond to continued PRC provocations.

Helping Taiwan Defend Itself/Clarifying U.S. Defense Policy

Finding: Taiwan’s military is not capable of defending itself against an all-out PLA assault without outside assistance. A lack of clarity regarding the extent of outside support complicates Taiwan defense planning and acquisitions. So does the lack of a common view of the battlefield and a lack of awareness in one another’s plans.

Recommendation: The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) should hold private “roles and missions” discussions with Taiwan defense planners to help Taiwan better understand the types of capabilities the United States could bring to bear in the event of a PLA attack.

Recommendation: DoD planners should assist Taiwan in developing a common operational picture of the battlefield and encourage Taiwan to produce its own National Security Strategy.

Finding: The Russian invasion of Ukraine was a wake up call. As a result, Taiwan is placing increased emphasis on asymmetrical warfare and the development of homeland/territorial defense capabilities.

Recommendation: The United States should assist Taiwan in the development of its homeland/territorial defense capabilities and where they fit in the national defense structure, and should assist Taiwan’s interaction with other nations.

Recommendation: The United States and Taiwan should review Ukraine lessons, focusing on how Ukraine has thus far successfully held its own against the Russian military, identifying what has and has not worked and what could be improved.

Finding: U.S. arms sales to Taiwan have increased but Washington should do more to help prepare Taiwan to defend itself. Procurement lag times remain a serious problem. Time to prepare remains but the window is closing. Many participants worried that experts are underestimating  PLA capabilities or that PLA risk-taking tendencies could led to an inadvertent or accidental incident that could escalate.

Recommendation: The United States should “fast track” arms sales to Taiwan and examine prepositioning and coproduction alternatives to respond should Beijing attack. Taiwan should focus on “large numbers of small things” to enhance its asymmetric capabilities.

Finding: Taiwanese participants sought clarity as to the details of the U.S. concept of “integrated deterrence” and its application to Taiwan.

Recommendation: The DoD and/or State Department should better explain the concept of integrated deterrence and its implications for Taiwan.

Finding: U.S. officials have been increasingly clear in expressing U.S. commitment to help Taiwan defend itself while still maintaining strategic ambiguity. A more nuanced view calls for strategic ambiguity at the policy level but strategic clarity at the operational level. Some allies are concerned about Chinese reaction to any announced U.S. policy change.

Recommendation: The United States should focus on how to bring strategic clarity at the operational level, as academics debate the benefits and risks of embracing strategic clarity.

Recommendation: The United States should consult closely with allies and partners before making policy pronouncements, to better understand their concerns and give advance warning.

Enhancing Deterrence

Finding: Beijing will most likely have factored a U.S. response into any decision to attack Taiwan.

Recommendation: The deterrence discussion should focus on how Washington and Taipei can increase the costs associated with a Chinese invasion, since the capability to respond is at least as important as the perceived willingness to do so. Beijing must be aware of what we are doing.

Recommendation: The U.S. Government and think tanks should better assess Chinese strengths and weaknesses vis-à-vis Taiwan with an eye toward countering the strengths and exploiting the weaknesses.

Recommendation: The United States should assess the impact of its Taiwan-related actions and policy decisions on Taiwan security interests, since Beijing tends to respond to U.S. actions they perceive as “hostile” to Taiwan’s detriment.

Finding: The U.S. desire to strengthen extended deterrence while decreasing the role of nuclear weapons appears contradictory to many Taiwan participants. The role/impact of Russian nuclear threats on the U.S./NATO decision to avoid direct engagement with Russia in Ukraine is also troubling.

Recommendation: The United States should further clarify the role of nuclear weapons within the broader concept of extended deterrence.

Recommendation: The United States should explain precisely how nuclear weapons fit in the new integrated deterrence concept and dispel the idea that efforts to integrate deterrence may reduce the importance of extended deterrence, especially extended nuclear deterrence.

Finding: The greatest concern associated with the PRC’s nuclear build-up is nuclear blackmail aimed at discouraging Washington from getting involved in a Taiwan Strait confrontation. Taiwanese are concerned about crisis escalation, but worry more about the PRC deterring the United States.

Recommendation: The United States should conduct joint assessments with Taiwan about the implications of the PRC’s nuclear-build-up.

Recommendation: The United States and Taiwan (as well as U.S. regional allies) should identify ways to respond to Beijing’s unprecedented build-up by looking at conventional options as well as through nuclear-sharing arrangements in the Indo-Pacific. Such arrangements could help strengthen strategic deterrence and help reduce proliferation incentives.

Increasing Public/Allied Awareness

Finding: The Russian invasion of Ukraine has increased Taiwan public awareness of the similar threat posed by the PRC but has also negatively affected Taiwan public perceptions of U.S. willingness to come to Taiwan’s aid. In contrast, the war in Ukraine has increased U.S. willingness to help defend Taiwan.

Recommendation: U.S. officials should put greater emphasis on articulating the differences between Ukraine and Taiwan and publicize U.S. polling that reinforces growing awareness of the PRC threat and the need to respond. Greater public awareness of the consequences should the PRC invade and occupy Taiwan could further strengthen resolve.

Recommendation: Washington and Taipei should better assess and understand the impact of Chinese disinformation and develop information plans to counter these attacks.

Finding: Ukrainian lessons learned have thus far focused on the war’s impact on Taiwan threat perceptions and defense preparations, less on lessons that the United States has learned, and even less on lessons Beijing has learned and how it is responding.

Recommendation: U.S. experts should assess emerging lessons learned for Taiwan and U.S. defense strategy and preparedness and the prospects of two simultaneous major conflicts.

Recommendation: U.S. experts should assess the lessons Beijing is learning from the Western response to the Russian invasion and any corrective actions the PRC is taking in response.

Finding: U.S. allies and partners have an important role to play in deterring a PRC invasion of Taiwan.

Recommendation: The United States and its partners should continue stressing the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait in official joint and multilateral statements.

Recommendation: The DoD should develop joint contingency plans with affected allies on how best to counter PRC military action against Taiwan, specifically including a blockade, to be better prepared to respond. Public information campaigns should articulate the implications and/or consequences of a successful Chinese invasion.

Finding: Taiwan is already under attack politically, economically, psychologically, and through more aggressive gray zone operations. This multidimensional threat requires a multidimensional response. Chinese behavior is a global problem that demands a global response.

Recommendation: The United States should be more proactive and less reactive in responding to PRC aggressive behavior toward Taiwan, including through political and diplomatic efforts.

Recommendation: The United States should implement an aggressive information campaign to counter PRC disinformation and exploit Chinese nationalism, with focus on what the Chinese people stand to lose if war breaks out across the Straits. Attacking the CCP’s legitimacy is a good place to start.

Recommendation: The U.S. Government should coordinate closely with allies in responding to both the cross-Strait and global political, economic, and military challenge posed by PRC. The PRC remains the “pacing threat” and should remain the focus of U.S. national security policy.

Recommendation: Given Taiwan’s “comprehensive vulnerabilities,” the U.S. Government should sponsor research aimed at recognizing non-military security-related vulnerabilities to reduce Taiwan’s susceptibility to economic coercion in peacetime and especially during times of conflict.

Recommendation: The U.S. and Taiwan governments and militaries must prepare for the worst-case all-out invasion scenario. Both should improve strategic communication and more clearly articulate the military, political, and economic costs associated with any PRC kinetic action.

Recommendation: The United States needs to better prepare for cross-Strait military contingencies, with the aim of increasing the “risk” factor in any PRC “risk-reward” calculus.

Recommendation: The United States should continue its firm support for greater Taiwan involvement in international organizations and initiatives and explore the prospects for Taiwan involvement in bilateral and multilateral military exercises. More pushback is also needed against Chinese efforts to limit Taiwan’s international space.

Recommendation: Americans need to be assured that Taiwan retains the will and ability to defend itself and Taiwanese need reaffirmation of America’s “rock solid” support. Both must develop effective measure to fortify integrated deterrence.

Ralph Cossa (ralph@pacforum.org) is President Emeritus and WSD-Handa Chair in Peace Studies

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

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

PacNet #7 – Dealing with Increased Chinese Aggressiveness – PART ONE

The following are some of the key findings and recommendations from the August 2022 US-Taiwan Deterrence and Defense Dialogue. PacNet 7 provides a summary of the dialogue. The full report, with expanded key findings and recommendations can be found here.

Taiwan is under attack by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) politically, economically, psychologically, and militarily—the latter through more aggressive Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) gray zone military operations short of actual direct conflict. This multidimensional threat requires a multidimensional response in ways that complement and enhance military deterrence. PRC behavior represents a global—and not just a Taiwan or US—problem which demands a global response.

PRC pressure on Taiwan has increased considerably over the past year, even before Beijing used the visit by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as an excuse to ramp up pressure. The August 2022 PLA military exercise around Taiwan appears aimed at creating a “new normal” that could reduce warning times should Beijing invade. However, such PRC actions are not “normal.” They are unilateral, destabilizing, and, in some instances, illegal changes to the status quo.

Such Chinese pressure tactics, combined with the “wake up call” provided by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, have sensitized the citizens and governments of Taiwan, the United States, and beyond to the growing possibility—if not probability—of a PRC invasion and have increased public perceptions about the need and willingness to defend Taiwan democracy.

Both the United States and Taiwan have taken measures in the last year to deter or, at the very least, better prepare to respond to Chinese kinetic action against Taiwan. But both should do more—individually, together, and in cooperation with other like-minded states—to increase the risks or costs associated with any contemplated PLA military action against Taiwan.

The above were among the main conclusions when a group of American and Taiwanese scholars, experts, and former and current government officials (the latter in their private capacities as observers) convened in Honolulu for the second Track 2 US-Taiwan Deterrence and Defense Dialogue. The Pacific Forum hosted the dialogue, with sponsorship by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) and in partnership with Taiwan’s Institute for National Defense and Security Research (INDSR). This PacNet provides a summary of dialogue discussion. A full report, including expanded dialogue results can be found here. Part two of this PacNet will provide an abbreviated version of the key findings and recommendations.

The dialogue addressed a range of key strategic issues pertinent to the bilateral security relationship. The objective was to produce actionable and operationally relevant recommendations aimed at improving and enhancing the security relationship. The August 2022 dialogue built upon the recommendations from the 2021 inaugural dialogue with a greater sense of urgency as a result of both Beijing’s increasingly aggressive actions toward Taiwan and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which demonstrated that naked aggression is no longer unthinkable.

The dialogue addressed the following topics: current/looming cross-Strait challenges and increasing risks of conflict; Taiwanese defense goals and priorities and the extent of planning for worst case contingencies; US defense policy goals, priorities, and motivations related to cross-Strait conflict; domestic attitudes in Taiwan and the United States and how they relate to cross-Strait defense preparations; current deterrence-related policy and capabilities and how best to enhance them to decrease the likelihood of Beijing taking military action against Taiwan; and options to counter coercion that would complement and enhance military deterrence. The focus was on defense and deterrence measures both partners could take, together and separately, to raise the costs and risks and thus lower the odds of Chinese military action.

There was a great convergence of views among American and Taiwanese participants as to the urgency of the challenge and the need for effective countermeasures now to deter further PRC aggression and assist Taiwan in resisting current coercion tactics, even as both prepare for a possible direct conflict with the PRC.

Major points of agreement

The potential for conflict across the Taiwan Strait is growing more serious by the day. Even if Beijing does not intend to attack in the near term, its pressure tactics aimed at demoralizing Taiwan could spiral out of control and escalate in the event of an accident, given Beijing’s increased recklessness. Differences exist about current Chinese capabilities to successfully invade. But, even if the PLA is unprepared to invade today, other events could prompt an earlier than anticipated invasion.

While the United States (but not Taiwan alone) enjoys qualitative and some quantitative advantages over the PRC, Beijing is determined to close these gaps and is steadily improving and modernizing its forces and capabilities. The window of deterrence is closing for Washington and Taipei as the window of opportunity is opening for Beijing.

Taipei recognizes and accepts that responsibility for defending itself rests with Taiwan, and the government has taken significant steps in the past year to better prepare itself. Taiwan is placing increased emphasis on asymmetrical warfare and the development of homeland and territorial defense capabilities to improve Taiwan’s ability to resist an invasion. Nonetheless, Taiwan is not capable of defending itself against an all-out PLA assault without outside assistance; a lack of clarity regarding the nature and extent of outside support complicates Taiwan defense planning and acquisitions.

While voices calling for US strategic clarity have grown louder, any PRC decision to invade will likely have already factored in a US response. Taiwan’s willingness and capability to resist and America’s capability and readiness to defend will be the primary deterrents.

The PRC’s ongoing nuclear build-up is a great cause of concern, driven less by the threat of nuclear war (given US nuclear superiority) than by the possibility of nuclear blackmail aimed at discouraging Washington from getting involved in a Taiwan confrontation. Taiwanese are concerned about crisis escalation (especially to the nuclear level) but worry more about the PRC deterring the United States.

The United States, working closely with allies and other like-minded states, should thus be more proactive and less reactive in responding to increased PRC aggressive behavior. US officials should better assess Chinese strengths and weaknesses vis-à-vis Taiwan with an eye toward countering strengths and exploiting weaknesses, while also examining ways to broaden the challenge along multiple fronts in cooperation with various allies and partners.

While continued strong support for Ukraine is important to demonstrate Western resolve and prevent more Russian territorial gains, the PRC remains the “pacing challenge” and thus should remain the focus of US national security policy and defense procurement strategy.

At the end of the day, Taiwan should assure the United States that it has the will and ability to defend itself and the United States should assure Taiwan of its “rock solid” support. Both countries should develop effective measures to increase the risks to future PRC actions against Taiwan to fortify our integrated deterrence.

Ralph Cossa (ralph@pacforum.org) is President Emeritus and WSD-Handa Chair in Peace Studies.

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

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

Issues & Insights Vol. 22, CR2 – US-Taiwan Deterrence and Defense Dialogue: Responding to Increased Chinese Aggressiveness

Executive Summary

Taiwan is already under attack by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) politically, economically, psychologically, and militarily—the latter through more aggressive Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) gray zone military operations short of actual direct conflict. This multidimensional threat requires a multidimensional response in ways that complement and enhance military deterrence. PRC behavior represents a global problem that demands a global response.

PRC pressure on Taiwan has increased considerably over the past year, even before Beijing used the visit by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as an excuse to further ramp up pressure. The August 2022 PLA military exercise around Taiwan appears aimed at further creating a “new normal” that could reduce warning times should Beijing invade. However, such PRC actions are not “normal.” They are unilateral, destabilizing, and, in some instances, illegal changes to the status quo. Such Chinese pressure tactics, combined with the “wake up call” provided by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, have sensitized the citizens and governments of Taiwan, the United States, and the international community to the growing possibility—if not probability—of a PRC invasion and have increased public perceptions about the need and willingness to defend Taiwan democracy.

The PRC’s nuclear build-up is also a great cause of concern. This concern is driven not by the threat of nuclear war (given US nuclear superiority) but by the possibility of nuclear blackmail aimed at discouraging Washington from getting involved in a Taiwan confrontation. Taiwanese are concerned about crisis escalation (especially to the nuclear level) but worry more about the PRC deterring the United States.

The United States, working closely with allies and other like-minded states, should be more proactive and less reactive in responding to increased PRC aggressive behavior. With the US Department of Defense (DoD) in the lead, the US Government needs to better assess Chinese strengths and weaknesses vis-à-vis Taiwan with an eye toward countering strengths and exploiting weaknesses, while also examining ways to broaden the challenge along multiple fronts in cooperation with various allies and partners. Think tanks can and should supplement this analysis.

While continued strong support for Ukraine is important to demonstrate Western resolve and prevent more Russian territorial gains, the PRC remains the “pacing threat” and thus should remain the focus of US national security policy and defense procurement strategy.

Key Findings & Recommendations

Responding to PRC Pressure

Finding: PRC pressure on Taiwan—economically, politically, and especially militarily—has increased considerably over the past year. The early August 2022 PLA military exercise around Taiwan appears aimed at further creating a “new normal” that will reduce warning times should Beijing decide to invade.

  • Recommendation: The United States (along with its allies and the broader international community) should reject the “new normal” characterization and brand PRC actions for what they are: unilateral, unacceptable, destabilizing, and, in some instances, illegal changes to the status quo. Beijing should be called upon to honor previous cross-Strait arrangements, including center line delineations, that have preserved stability and helped prevent naval and air accidents in the past.
  • Recommendation: The United States Navy and the navies of like-minded states like Japan, Australia, etc., along with commercial carriers, should continue to transit the Taiwan Strait to invalidate Chinese claims that this broadly recognized international body of water is Chinese internal waters or its territorial sea.

Finding: PLA activities appear aimed, in part, at developing the capability to quarantine or blockade Taiwan. Xi Jinping and the PLA have demonstrated increased willingness to take risks while both stirring up and responding to increased Chinese nationalism.

  • Recommendation: The United States should make clear that attempts to blockade, quarantine, or otherwise boycott or embargo Taiwan are not “gray zone” actions but acts of war that are likely to force a US response. US Navy ship visits to Taiwan would be a logical first reaction to any announced blockade or embargo of Taiwan ports.
  • Recommendation: The United States should assist Taiwan in making its ports and airfields more survivable.
  • Recommendation: DoD and the Taiwan Ministry of Defense (MoD), if they haven’t already done so, should develop plans, both individually and collectively, for how they would combat a Chinese embargo or blockade and how to respond to missile and air assaults or mining operations against Taiwan ports and airfields. Conducting visible training and exercises could help strengthen deterrence.

Finding: Beijing’s military (as well as economic and political) pressure against Taiwan will steadily increase. A failure by Taiwan and the United States to demonstrate their preparedness and willingness to respond will send the wrong signal to Beijing.

  • Recommendation: DoD and Taiwan’s MoD, if they haven’t already done so, should develop plans, both individually and collectively, for how to better respond to PLA gray zone activities.

Helping Taiwan Defend Itself

Finding: Participants from both sides agreed that Taiwan cannot overcome an all-out PLA assault without outside assistance. A lack of clarity regarding the nature and extent of outside support complicates Taiwan defense planning and acquisitions. So does the lack of a common view of the battlefield within the Taiwan military and a lack of awareness in Washington and Taipei of one another’s plans for the defense of Taiwan.

  • Recommendation: DoD should hold private “roles and missions” discussions with Taiwan defense planners to help Taiwan better understand the types of capabilities the United States could bring to bear in the event of a Chinese attack. Such action, while not providing a guarantee of US assistance, would still assist Taiwan defense planners in developing their own roles and missions and defense acquisition plans.
  • Recommendation: DoD and Taiwan’s MoD should develop a common defense plan or, at a minimum, share one another’s plans for the defense of Taiwan. To the extent politically possible, they should train and exercise together in order to more effectively implement these plans.
  • Recommendation: US defense planners should assist Taiwan in developing a common operational picture of the battlefield, given admitted Taiwan shortcomings in developing and employing joint operations. As noted last year, the United States should also encourage Taiwan to produce its own National Security Strategy to better inform its public and to put its own defense strategy in broader perspective.

Finding: The Russian invasion of Ukraine has had a sobering “wake-up” effect on Taiwan and its international supporters. As a result, Taiwan is placing increased emphasis on asymmetrical warfare and the development of homeland/territorial defense capabilities (as recommended in last year’s dialogue report).

  • Recommendation: The United States should assist Taiwan in the development of its homeland and territorial defense capabilities and, where they fit in the national defense structure, should assist Taiwan’s interaction with other nations that have extensive experience in this area. It should encourage Taipei to increase the length of compulsory military service and assist in making such training more realistic and relevant.
  • Recommendation: While recognizing that the war is still on-going and final lessons and outcomes have yet to be learned, the United States and Taiwan should more comprehensively review, both together and individually, the immediate lessons. They should focus on the manner in which Ukraine has thus far successfully held its own against the Russian military. Identifying what has not worked or what could be improved would be useful as well; this could be the subject of supporting academic research.

Finding: US arms sales to Taiwan have increased but Washington should do more to help prepare Taiwan to defend itself. Procurement lag times remain a serious problem. Time to prepare remains but the window is closing. Many of the assembled US and Taiwan military experts worried that some PRC experts are underestimating PLA capabilities. These experts fear that PLA risk-taking tendencies could lead to an inadvertent or accidental incident that could escalate, or that other events could prompt an earlier invasion.

  • Recommendation: The United States should “fast track” arms sales to Taiwan and examine coproduction and prepositioning alternatives either on Taiwan or nearby to be prepared to respond should Beijing attack plans be accelerated or other events lead to a military confrontation. Participants repeated last year’s recommendations that the United States consider giving selected weapons systems to Taiwan without charge and that Taiwan focus on “large numbers of small things.”

Clarifying US Defense Policy

Finding: Taiwan participants from both government and academia sought clarity as to the details of the otherwise well-received US concept of “integrated deterrence” and its application to Taiwan; few have been provided so far. The absence of unclassified versions of the US National Defense Strategy, the Nuclear Posture Review, and Missile Posture Review at the time of the 2022 Dialogue added to the uncertainty regarding US defense policies and priorities expressed by Taiwan participants.[i]

  • Recommendation: As recommended last year, the US Department of Defense and/or State Department should consider sending a team to Taiwan, or at a minimum work closely with the AIT team in Taipei, to explain the concept of integrated deterrence and its implications for Taiwan.

Finding: Senior US officials have become increasingly clear in expressing America’s commitment to help Taiwan defend itself while still maintaining strategic ambiguity as to whether and how the US would come to the defense of Taiwan if the PRC attacks it. While voices calling for strategic clarity have grown louder, a more nuanced view seems to have emerged, calling for strategic ambiguity at the policy level but strategic clarity at the operational level. Some experts, domestically and especially among US allies, remain concerned about Chinese reaction to an announced US policy change in this regard.

  • Recommendation: The United States should focus on how (and how much and how fast) to bring strategic clarity at the operational level, even as the academic community continues the debate regarding the benefits, costs, and risks associated with embracing strategic clarity as a matter of policy.
  • Recommendation: The United States should consult closely with allies and partners like Taiwan, Japan, and Australia, among others, before making any policy pronouncements.  The United States should also understand their concerns and to give them advance warning to prepare in the event of official policy changes. Finally, he United States should also keep its allies apprised of the White House’s evolving operational approach to this issue.

Enhancing Deterrence

Finding: Beijing will most likely have factored a US response into any decision to attack Taiwan.

  • Recommendation: The deterrence discussion in Washington and Taipei should focus not on “if the United States will assist” but on how both, individually and collectively, can increase the costs associated with a PLA invasion. The capability to respond is at least as important as the perceived willingness to do so. Strategic clarity without capability has limited deterrent value.
  • Recommendation: US Taiwan-related defense preparations should be more visible; as one Taiwan expert opined, “for real deterrence value, Beijing must be aware of what we are doing.”
  • Recommendation: The United States should carefully assess, preferably through consultations with Taiwan officials, the impact of Taiwan-related actions and policy decisions on Taiwan security interests. They should understand that Taiwan scholars, like their US counterparts, have mixed views regarding the advisability of greater strategic clarity since (as the aftermath of Rep. Pelosi’s visit demonstrated) the PRC’s response to what they perceive as “hostile” US actions is often to Taiwan’s detriment.

Finding: The US desire to strengthen extended deterrence while decreasing the role of nuclear weapons appears contradictory to many Taiwanese participants. The role/impact of Russian nuclear threats on the US/NATO decision to avoid direct engagement with Russia in Ukraine is also troubling to them.

  • Recommendation: The United States should more carefully explain the role of nuclear weapons within the broader, more inclusive concept of extended deterrence. The development of the nuclear employment strategy may provide such an opportunity.
  • Recommendation: The United States should explain precisely how nuclear weapons fit in the new integrated deterrence concept. It should dispel the idea increasingly in vogue in Taiwan and some allied capitals that efforts to integrate deterrence may reduce the importance of extended deterrence, especially extended nuclear deterrence.

Finding: The greatest concern associated with Chinese nuclear build-up is not the threat of nuclear war (given US preponderance of nuclear weapons) but rather nuclear blackmail by the PRC aimed at discouraging Washington from getting involved in a Taiwan confrontation. Taiwanese are concerned about crisis escalation (especially to the nuclear level) but worry more about the PRC deterring the United States.

  • Recommendation: The United States should conduct joint intelligence assessments with Taiwan government officials (and US allies) about the implications of the PRC’s nuclear build-up. Such assessments should focus on the implications now as well as in the future, based on possible and most likely developments.
  • Recommendation: The United States and Taiwan (as well as US regional allies) should identify ways to respond to the PRC’s unprecedented build-up by looking at options at the conventional level as well as possibly through nuclear-sharing arrangements in the Indo-Pacific. Both should encourage, if not financially support, security-oriented think tanks to conduct research on the desirability and feasibility of such arrangements in the Indo-Pacific (and what can be learned from existing nuclear-sharing arrangements in the NATO context). Such arrangements could help strengthen strategic deterrence. An important potential benefit from a US perspective would be that they could help reduce proliferation incentives, which are rising to unprecedented levels in several allied capitals.

Finding: Ukrainian lessons learned have thus far focused on the war’s impact on Taiwan threat perceptions and defense preparations, less on lessons that the United States has learned, and even less on lessons Beijing has learned and how it is responding.

  • Recommendation: While recognizing that the Ukraine war is far from over and its outcome still unclear, US Government officials, researchers, and independent scholars should carefully assess emerging lessons learned not just for Taiwan but for US defense strategy and preparedness.
  • Recommendation: DoD should more deeply examine the prospects of, and the necessity of being prepared for, two simultaneous major conflicts, given both Russian and Chinese territorial ambitions. Since the PRC remains the “pacing challenge,” US defense acquisitions and border procurement strategy should focus on responding to Chinese contingencies.
  • Recommendation: US government officials, researchers, and independent scholars should also carefully assess the lessons that the PRC appears to be learning from the Western response to the Russian invasion and any corrective actions Beijing is taking or preparing to take in response to those lessons.
  • Recommendations: With the DoD in the lead, the US Government and think tanks should assess PLA strengths and weaknesses with an eye toward countering the strengths and exploiting the weaknesses in any Taiwan-related scenario. To be most effective, this data should be shared with Taiwan defense planners.

Increasing Public/Allied Awareness

Finding: Ukrainian lessons learned have thus far focused on the war’s impact on Taiwan threat perceptions and defense preparations, less on lessons that the United States has learned, and even less on lessons Beijing has learned and how it is responding.

  • Recommendation: Officials in Washington and Taipei should put greater emphasis on articulating the differences between Ukraine and Taiwan in the eyes of their respective publics. Both should publicize public opinion polling in the United States that reinforces both growing awareness of the Chinese threat and the need to respond to this challenge specifically but not exclusively in defense of Taiwan. Greater public awareness of the domestic, regional, and global implications and consequences should the PLA invade and occupy Taiwan could further strengthen the resolve among the United States and its regional and global allies and partners to deter such Chinese actions.
  • Recommendation: Washington and Taipei should better assess and understand the impact of Chinese disinformation campaigns on public opinion and both individually and jointly develop information plans to counter these ongoing disinformation attacks.

Finding: US allies and partners have an important role to play in deterring a PRC invasion of Taiwan. Japanese and Australian officials in particular have become more outspoken in warning of the threats posed to regional stability (and more specifically to Japan’s national security interests) due to increased Chinese assertiveness and both the prospects and implications of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan.

  • Recommendation: The United States and its allies and partners should continue stressing the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait in official joint and multilateral statements such as the various “two plus two” and broader joint statements.
  • Recommendation: The United States needs to develop and/or sponsor public information campaigns that better articulate the implications and/or consequences of a successful Chinese invasion (including broad distribution and US Embassy-sponsored public information sessions for key allies and partners explaining the results of studies such as the soon-to-be-completed Pacific Forum assessment of the consequences should Taiwan fall).
  • Recommendation: DoD should develop joint contingency plans with affected allies such as Japan and Australia on how to best counter Chinese military action, specifically including a blockade or boycott of Taiwan, to be better prepared to respond if the political decision in their respective capitals is made to provide such assistance.

Finding: Taiwan is already under attack politically, economically, psychologically, and through more aggressive gray zone operations. This multidimensional threat requires a multidimensional response in ways that complement and enhance military deterrence. Chinese behavior represents a global problem, which demands a global response by the United States, Taiwan, and like-minded states.

  • Recommendation: The United States should be more proactive and less reactive in responding to Chinese aggressive behavior toward Taiwan, including through increased political and diplomatic efforts with allies and partners to clearly articulate the PRC threat and the implications for regional security should Taiwan be attacked by the PRC.
  • Recommendation: The United States should implement an aggressive information campaign not only to counter Chinese disinformation efforts but also to exploit the double-edged sword of increased Chinese nationalism. US/Taiwan information campaigns should also focus on what the Chinese people stand to lose if war breaks out across the Straits, since Chinese “internet nationalism,” in part, reflects Chinese peoples’ frustration with their own government, which should be exploited. An information campaign aimed at attacking the CCP’s legitimacy is a good place to start.
  • Recommendation: The US Government should coordinate closely with allies and other like-minded states in responding to the global challenge posed by Chinese economic as well as military and political coercion both vis-à-vis Taiwan and more generally. While continued strong support for Ukraine is important to demonstrate Western resolve and prevent more Russian territorial gains, the PRC remains the “pacing threat” and Taiwan is the greatest flashpoint. The PRC in general and the defense of Taiwan in particular should remain the focus of US national security policy and DoD’s acquisition planning.
  • Recommendation: Recognizing that Taiwan has “comprehensive vulnerabilities,” the US Government should sponsor research aimed at assisting Taiwan in identifying non-military security-related vulnerabilities, such as its reliance on outside energy sources, to reduce Taiwan’s susceptibility to economic coercion in peacetime and especially during times of conflict.

Other Recommendations

Finding: Washington and Taipei have already acted upon or incorporated many of the recommendations outlined in the 2021 Dialogue Report; a few others have been overtaken by events. Other recommendations are consistent with the findings and recommendations outlined in this report and are worth repeating:

  • Recommendation: The US and Taiwan governments and militaries must prepare for the worst-case all-out invasion scenario, even while identifying measures to combat Chinese gray zone activities. Both need to improve strategic communication. The United States should more clearly articulate not just the military but also the political and economic costs associated with any Chinese kinetic action against Taiwan.
  • Recommendation: The United States needs to better prepare for military contingencies, with the aim of increasing the “risk” factor in any Chinese “risk-reward” calculus.
  • Recommendation: The United States should continue its firm support for greater Taiwan involvement in international organizations and initiatives, including the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership and other trade and economic entities, and carefully explore the prospects for Taiwan involvement in bilateral and multilateral military training and exercises. More pushback is needed against Chinese efforts to limit Taiwan’s international space.
  • Recommendation: Taiwan needs to reassure the United States that it retains the will and ability to defend itself and the United States should continually reaffirm that its support of the Taiwanese is “rock solid.” Both must develop effective measures to fortify integrated deterrence.

[i] As noted in this report, the US Government did release unclassified versions of these key national security documents in October 2022. The unclassified National Defense Strategy still contains little or no explanation of Taiwan’s integrated deterrence role.

Click here to download the full report.

PacNet #67 – After Ukraine, the need for a collectively framed new order

When Russia’s President Vladimir Putin launched his “special military operation” to invade and occupy neighboring Ukraine on Feb. 24, the world shuddered. In a painstakingly premeditated manner, Putin stepped over perhaps the most foundational norm of the prevailing international order. For approximately two decades, many sensed the gradual but relentless erosion of confidence in the principles, conventions, and processes designed to foster stability and peace. The world shuddered because, on Feb. 24, it seemed that the end game had abruptly come into view.

The rules-based order has emerged as a key axis of the intensifying animosity between the West and the China-Russia partnership. Twenty years ago, Beijing and Moscow voiced guarded expressions of support, an acknowledgement that the trade regime, in particular, was central to their aspirations for economic development. Yet they also flagged a possible interest in unspecified amendments to the wider regime at some point in the future. Only in recent times—essentially since 2020—have China and Russia indicated more precisely where and how the rules-based order clashes with their interests and preferences.

The key points of contention emerging thus far concern economic competition, governance, and international security. While disputes in and around the international trade agenda probably attracted the most attention, grasping them is at least straightforward. Regarding governance and international security, the nature and intent of the Chinese and Russian positions is more challenging. China has indicated that, while its system of governance is distinctive in a number of ways, it is unacceptable to question its legitimacy or equivalent status to those in the West. China contends that a perfectly valid re-conceptualization of democracy—and related concepts such as universal human rights—means its approach to governance is legitimate and effective. Regarding international security, the China-Russia joint statement of Feb. 4 spoke of an aspiration to shape “a polycentric world order based on the universally recognized principles of international law, multilateralism and equal, joint, indivisible, comprehensive and sustainable security.” The last of these principles—especially the notion of indivisibility—was the core contention by President Putin in support of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Is there space for a constructive conversation on these matters? Finding that space is a challenge we must approach with creativity and humility. The prevailing rules-based order has delivered massively across a broad front for over 70 years, not least in preventing war between the major powers. Presumably, therefore, the rewards for genuine engagement on a workable adaptation of the current order could be immeasurable. No state should claim a monopoly on wisdom. No state should presume to be on the right side of history. Democracies may be prone to slipping toward chaos as priorities and process are lost in a scramble to indulge too many disparate aspirations. However, no authoritarian leadership has ever dared offer a candid account of how to achieve and sustain the order and discipline they covet.

A first step must be to lower the barriers to easier communication. All parties must project a willingness to learn and understand. It would also be helpful to widen the band of participants in these international conversations so we get more spontaneity—as well as confidence that we are hearing the real story.

We already have a modest record of edging closer together on a range of the more sensitive issues on the international economic, political, and social agenda. Furthermore, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has noted that the prevailing order must modernize to address the challenges the framers of the order could not even imagine. Even if we cannot readily identify a path to reconciliation, for both sides to acquire a deeper appreciation for the other’s perspective could prove an important shock-absorber.

The final, and definitive, reality: we must change our ways. All empires have stemmed from a powerful, unfettered leadership that achieved compelling dominance and used that status to frame their “orders”—Persian, Greek, Roman, Mongol, down to the United Kingdom and United States. All these leaders encountered the same dilemma: how to make the order suit the values and interests of the dominant power, while remaining sufficiently attractive to be self-policing, keeping the costs of sustaining order within manageable bounds. Nuclear weapons have overtaken this traditional method of shaping an order. They are powerful beyond purpose—they have destroyed the relationship between outcomes on the battlefield and any combination of numbers, technology, strategy, tactics, planning, judgment, effort, bravery, skill, and honor. Compelling dominance has become much harder to achieve and capitalizing on that dominance in a world with nuclear weapon states harder still. The next iteration of the rules-based order, if there is to be one, must be the first framed in some collective fashion.

The foregoing observations suggest small indications that, alongside the need for an innovative approach to refurbishing the prevailing order, there may well be something of a political appetite to consider novel approaches, even if the likely outcome is somewhat spartan. These straws continued to swirl positively during the cluster of high-level gatherings in Southeast Asia in November 2022, notably ASEAN’s East Asia Summit (EAS) and the Indonesia-chaired G20. The G20, having found a way through the Ukraine question and energized by a long and earnest bilateral between Xi and Biden, produced a lavish 52-paragraph leaders statement, perhaps the first consensus statement from a broad group of leaders since the invasion of Ukraine.

ASEAN must ensure that its familiar and trusted security processes—especially the EAS and the ASEAN Regional Forum—remain alert to opportunities for these processes to assist with creating or sustaining the many protracted conversations between states that surely lie ahead.

Ron Huisken (ron.huisken@anu.edu.au) adjunct Associate Professor, Strategic & Defence Studies Centre, ANU and Editor of the CSCAP Regional Security Outlook.

The following has been adapted from the introduction to the Regional Security Outlook 2023, prepared by the Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific.

PacNet #66 – Finally at the table, not on the menu: Canada launches its Indo-Pacific strategy

On Nov. 27 Canada released a long-delayed Indo-Pacific Strategy. The strategy has five interconnected strategic objectives:

  1. Promote peace, resilience, and security
  2. Expand trade, investment, and supply chain resilience
  3. Invest in and connect people
  4. Build a sustainable and green future
  5. Canada as an active and engaged partner to the Indo-Pacific

These priorities reflect the intersection of domestic politics and a convergence with other like-minded countries on strategic imperatives for the Indo-Pacific. This includes understandings of the challenges that China presents for the post-World War 2 rules-based order. It will potentially influence the evolution of the region away from a rules-based order to one that redefines well-established norms such as democracy, human rights, and rule of law, core values Canada and like-minded countries share.

Domestically, the Trudeau government has championed diversity, reconciliation, and environmentalism.  It has succeeded in assembling a Cabinet that represents Canadian diversity. Diversity has also been core to strengthening the quality of Canada’s bureaucracy and protecting the rights and representation at all levels of Canadian society.

Reconciliation with First Nations peoples following the revealing in 2021 of mass graves of First Nation children has taken a prominent place in national discourse. Transforming Canada’s environmental formula to help lead the fight against climate change has become central to domestic political priorities.

These priorities manifest in three pillars of Canada’s Indo-Pacific Strategy (CIPS): 1) Expanding trade, investment, and supply chain resilience; 2) Invest in and connecting people; and 3) Building a sustainable and green future pillar of CIPS.

Linking Canada’s domestic agenda to address injustices to First Nation peoples, CIPS aims to support the economic empowerment of Indigenous Peoples through the implementation of the Indigenous Peoples Economic and Trade Cooperation Arrangement (IPETCA) in cooperation with existing partners—Australia, New Zealand, and Taiwan—and Indigenous Peoples from those participating economies. Canada is creating new formulas for mini-lateral cooperation with like-minded partners to address domestic and Indo-Pacific indigenous peoples’ developmental challenges and injustices. This includes the Pacific Islands, who faced a legacy of colonial neglect of their indigenous people but also existential environmental challenges.

CIPS envisions reconciliation with First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples through enhanced indigenous exchanges with regional partners and will support education and skills development for indigenous youth, continue the implementation of the IPETCA, and support the implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. These CIPS initiatives highlight Canada’s commitment to international institutions and the rules they have agreed upon; a rules-based order.

Recognizing the critical importance of diversity in governance, business, and society, the CIPS has outlined its commitment to enhanced support to women entrepreneurs to maximize opportunities in the Indo-Pacific by expanding international partnerships through the Women Entrepreneurship Strategy. It has also committed to increasing feminist international assistance programming based on partner needs and helping to protect the most vulnerable populations and support work to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Furthermore, CIPS support efforts toward democracy, inclusivity, accountable governance, and sustained economic growth, helping key countries in the region and working with development partners to reduce inequality and contribute to their economic prosperity.

These formulations will receive traction as they are less value-oriented. This is in contrast to initiatives to strengthen dedicated Canadian funding and advocacy to support human rights across the Indo-Pacific, including for women and girls, religious minorities, 2SLGBTQI+ persons and persons with disabilities. Many states in the region do not share Canadian views on these issues and they may complicate our engagement in the region.

Connecting Canada’s domestic commitment to combating climate change, CIPS will expand the capacity for FinDev Canada to support high-quality, sustainable infrastructure in the Indo-Pacific and provide alternative options to developing economies exploring infrastructure development. This complements the Japan’s Partnership for High-quality Infrastructure Initiative, the Blue Dot Network and the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (“Quad”) to provide developing nations with choices for their infrastructure and connectivity.

These come with enhancing commercial representation of Canadian clean technology in priority Indo-Pacific markets and help Canada’s clean technology small and medium-sized enterprises with financial support to break into markets in the region. This builds on the already allocated $1.26 billion out of the Canada Climate Finance Commitment toward the Indo-Pacific to assist partner countries with economic recovery and infrastructure needs and to catalyze inclusive and sustainable development through Canadian capital, technology, and policy expertise.

CIPS will prioritize the Indo-Pacific as part of the Powering Past Coal Alliance, which is working to help partners advance their transition from unabated coal power generation to clean energy. The collaboration with partners in the region, Canada hopes to support a transition to cleaner energy rapidly industrializing economies that will have a significant impact on our shared environment.

The convergence with other like-minded countries on strategic imperatives for the Indo-Pacific and concerns about China’s development trajectory reflect the internal debate within Canada of what kind of challenge China presents and the importance of seeing China as part of the Indo-Pacific rather than the reverse.

After a schizophrenic approach to China, CIPS recognizes China’s rapid and dramatic modernization of the People’s Liberation Army, including its offensive technological capabilities and geographic reach, its more assertive behavior and influence in the region.

To address these concerns, CIPS will promote security and stability across the region and at home by increasing military engagement and intelligence capacity as a means of mitigating coercive behavior and threats to regional security including the South and East China Sea and Taiwan Strait. Participation in the NEON Operations to enforce sanctions on North Korea, participation in Quad Sea Dragon 21 exercises, Keen Sword joint exercises, and the rotation of Canadian naval vessels in the region to contribute to naval diplomacy, maritime domain awareness activities, and transits through the Taiwan strait are all past and present activities to support a rulers-based order.

Concerns about the rise of coercive and irresponsible use of technology are reflected in CIPS. These include the spread of disinformation, ransomware, and other cyber security threats that directly affect Canadians, work to destabilize our democracy and our economy. CIPS stresses taking a leadership role in combatting these threats, investing in expertise and technology to better protect all Canadians.

Recognizing ASEAN Centrality as essential to a sustained Indo-Pacific presence, CIPS will stresses working with ASEAN and its member states to ensure full respect for international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, in the South China Sea. Cooperation will stress boosting awareness of the region and enhance resilience and preparedness, as well as to protect against coercive tactics and the theft of sensitive data, technology.

Despite the significant resources that will be deployed to ensure that CIPS is impactful and sustainable, Canada will face credibility issues. First, the Trudeau government’s walk out of the initial TPP signing in Danang, Vietnam in 2017 created the impression that Trudeau’s government was not a reliable partner and did not understand the priorities of the region, trade, not progressive issues.

Second, naïve attempts to sign a FTA with China also including progressive issues and an ill-conceived visit to India with known Indian separatists has left the impression that amateurism, not pragmatism, lies at the heart of Canadian engagement with the region.

Third, the selection of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada (APFC) as the key organization to drive Indo-Pacific engagements seems contradictory. In May 2020, the Foundation released a high profile report entitled “Canada and the Indo-Pacific: ‘Diverse’ and ‘Inclusive,’ Not ‘Free’ and ‘Open’” followed by several high profile op-eds which rejected the idea of a free and open, rules-based Indo-Pacific order. Recently, APFC was recently a co-sponsor of the Nov. 1-2 East Asia Security Conference which invited a known denier of the cultural genocide of the Uyghurs in China and re-iterated the idea of like-minded countries and a rules-based order should not be the platforms for how Canada engages the region.

For Japan, the European Union, Australia, the United States, and ASEAN, this raises serious questions as to what will be the nature of CIPS engagement with an organization that has a track record of rejecting supporting a rules-based order in the region that has been the basis for post-WWII peace and stability and Canadian prosperity and values.

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 #62 – Myanmar’s emerging national identity could change everything

The Myanmar military is, paradoxically, achieving one of its longest-standing objectives: a tangible national identity. The success of this goal, however, will require the failure of the regime’s more pressing objective: remain in power.

To maintain control, the Myanmar military has demonstrated a willingness to inflict brutality. Many observers assess the regime’s increasing use of air strikes and explicit targeting of civilians as desperation due to depleted and demoralized ground forces. However, these actions also follow the military’s long-standing “four cuts” doctrine: cut off access to food, money, potential recruits, and information within areas opposing central government rule.

Critically, the four cuts doctrine is now directly applied against the majority ethnic Bamar population areas previously relied upon for recruitment and material support which, more than desperation, may signal the Myanmar military’s quasi-religious belief in its own centrality. Even if the regime is desperate, Commander-In-Chief Min Aung Hlaing and his coalition are likely willing to sacrifice everything to maintain privilege and power.

The resulting civil war has mobilized citizens across class, ethnic, religious, and geographic divides toward the common goal of ending the regime. The current opposition to the military is the strongest unifying force in Myanmar’s recent history.

A broader opposition

The Civil Disobedience Movement, which started as a general strike against the coup, drew workers across the country and from diverse sectors of the economy. Even when met with lethal force, peaceful opposition has far outlived comparable past attempts. Simultaneously, violent opposition has expanded beyond the long-established claims of Myanmar’s powerful ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) and into traditional military strongholds.

Majority ethnic Bamar areas, notably Magway and Sagaing, are now sites of intense combat against loosely organized, often poorly equipped People’s Defense Forces (PDF), as well as the regime’s indiscriminate raids, killings, and the burnings of civilian homes.

Yet the Myanmar military’s operational and strategic challenges have only intensified. Last month saw the effective end of a tenuous ceasefire with the Arakan Army, the powerful EAO seeking autonomous rule in Rakhine State. The Myanmar military also, after months of clashes, struggles to make operational gains against the Karen National Union—which has resisted central government rule since 1948—in Karen State.

The growing cooperation of some EAOs with the National Unity Government (NUG)— primarily members of the prior civilian government—and NUG-backed PDFs signals potential for much greater operational capacity on the part of the opposition.

Most tellingly, the Myanmar military appears to be losing people faster than it can replace them. The military’s response, no matter how brutal, is likely insufficient to reestablish previous military dominance.

However, the alternative to a central government victory against the opposition is not necessarily one where a popular, or less brutal, regime comes to power. The Myanmar military is in the process of becoming one among many armed factions grappling for territory and resources.

Nevertheless, the continued survival of opposition across Myanmar’s ethnic and geographic boundaries represents the clearest opportunity yet for the emergence of a shared national identity. This identity, should it survive, may prove a critical unifying force giving the nation and its people a more stable and prosperous future.

For most of Myanmar’s turbulent post-colonial history, its ethnic minorities have suffered the brunt of successive military regime attempts at consolidating power. This has often been easy to dismiss for those in the Bamar-dominated heartland now suffering what those in Myanmar’s ethnic states have for decades experienced. These minorities remain suspicious of how the NUG-led opposition might act in power. Growing cooperation suggests this suspicion is gradually relieving, but much mistrust remains.

The damage caused by the double disasters of COVID-19 and the 2021 coup left millions in poverty, and rampant economic mismanagement in the wake of the coup has destroyed the financial system, making access to critical commodities, including medicines, scarce. Yet, perhaps because they have little left to lose, the opposition continues.

Regional realism

It’s easy to assume the current opposition won’t succeed, especially considering the stances of regional powers such as China, India, and Thailand, which continue to either enable or outright support the military regime. That should come as no surprise: those who continue to support the regime look first to their own interests, backing the side perceived as most likely to win.

But it’s more complicated than it seems.

As the largest country in mainland Southeast Asia, with 45% of its population under 25 and expansive natural resources including hydroelectric potential and fossil fuel reserves, Myanmar could become a major regional power, potentially threatening Thailand’s central economic position in mainland Southeast Asia. Thailand continues to endure ongoing political turmoil that appears to share much in common with Min Aung Hlaing’s regime in terms of maintaining power at the expense of political and economic transformation. Keeping Myanmar undeveloped and a source of cheap labor and commodities is therefore a tolerable status quo.

A more unified Myanmar may also prove less amenable to the economic and security interests of India and China when these do not align with the popular will.

The expansive sanctions and efforts at humanitarian aid delivery by the United States and others notwithstanding, international efforts stop short of official recognizing the NUG. Doing so would surely pose significant diplomatic risk, ending whatever engagement is possible with the current regime and upsetting key partners—especially Thailand.

The national identity taking shape in opposition to the regime demands consideration through both realist and idealistic lenses. From a humanitarian perspective, the growing toll of nearly 30,000 homes burned, thousands of civilians killed, and hundreds of thousands displaced is unconscionable. The crisis drains the credibility of ASEAN, while transnational threats of narcotics and arms trafficking are sure to intensify and undermine regional security.

A “wait and see” approach will keep Myanmar’s future opaque. The damage from this civil war will not be reversed anytime soon, yet the opportunity for outside powers to support a national identity, which could lead to stability and prosperity, is unprecedented. Doing so will require backing the opposition against the current regime in recognition of a better future. Growing unity suggests that this is not only possible, but increasingly expected.

Wayland Blue (wjblue@uscd.edu) is a graduate student in the School of Global Policy and Strategy at UC San Diego focusing on development and security issues in Southeast Asia. He previously worked as the director of research and evaluation for Shade Tree Foundation, a Thailand-based NGO delivering aid and education to Myanmar migrant and refugee families.

An earlier version of this article appeared in Southeast Asia Globe.

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

Photo: Protest against military coup (9 Feb 2021, Hpa-An, Kayin State, Myanmar) by Ninjastrikers

PacNet #60 – The Myth of Taiwan as a Pacific Nation

“The US has begun to reimagine itself as a Pacific nation. Taiwan would be wise to explore the merits of following suit. This could unlock benefits that entail from a shared identity.”

– Michael Walsh and John Hemmings, Taipei Times, Oct. 7, 2022

The Taiwan government must find a way to deter and derail the existential threat posed by the People’s Republic of China. To achieve these outcomes, Taipei will need to maintain a strong and enduring partnership with the United States. At present, this strategic bond is reinforced by a number of shared identities. As pointed out by Walsh and Hemmings, the myth of being a Pacific nation is not one of them. Per their suggestion, Taipei should explore the merits of reimagining itself as a Pacific nation too.

The United States has long toyed with the idea of being a Pacific nation. President Barack Obama inflected a major shift toward that identity when he declared, “the United States has been, and always will be, a Pacific nation.” Framing his assertion as a “fundamental truth,” President Obama set into motion the reimagination of America as a Pacific nation through a combination of rhetoric and narrative. On the backs of Asian immigration and fallen soldiers, the Obama Administration constructed a persuasive story about how a “complex and intricate mix of history, ideas, and interests” had transformed into a Pacific nation long ago. In this way, a mental image was formed that eventually rooted in the collective consciousness of American thought leaders. Now, many American policymakers accept the claim that America is a Pacific nation as a statement of fact. It has started to become a Thorsonian myth.

Throughout the world, few places have struggled with the concept of collective identity like Taiwan. For decades, the question of what demonym to use for the people of Taiwan has been at the forefront of national debates and the cause of international concern. After a multi-decade struggle for the preservation of autonomy from the People’s Republic of China, attitudes have somewhat shifted on the idea of being Taiwanese. Many still cling onto the identity of being Chinese. There remains no consensus on what should be the Taiwanese identity. A strong affinity has been forged around several other identities, however. These include the ideas of being a democratic state and East Asian state. While being a democratic state is an identify shared with the United States, being an East Asian state is not. If there was another regional identity jointly held by both partners, then this gap would lose much of its significance. It is therefore somewhat surprising that Taipei has not explored further whether becoming a Pacific nation could bridge that divide.

If the Taiwan government took a closer look at the merits, then Taiwan policymakers would find that it is not difficult to craft a persuasive story about Taiwan being a Pacific nation.

Their first glance should be geography. As Walter Lippman once said “the world that we have to deal with politically…is out of reach, out of sight, out of mind. It has to be explored, reported, and imagined.” That is why “cognitive frameworks” drawn from “geographic considerations” have such a profound role to play in domestic and foreign affairs. Fortunately, Taiwan is gifted with the “blessing of geography.” Composed of a set of islands in the Western Pacific that are situated at approximately the same latitude as the Hawaiian Islands, Taiwan lies proximate to what is commonly referred to as the Pacific Islands Region. Taipei is a full ~1,000 miles closer to Koror than Los Angeles is to Honolulu. If American policymakers can draw a mental map around Pacific nations that is inclusive of the United States, then surely Taiwan can do the same.

Their second glance should history, culture, and language. The connections between Taiwan and the Pacific nations extend far beyond geographic happenstance. The historical ties between the Taiwanese aborigines and other Pacific Islanders are well documented. Although the history of the Austronesian and Lapita cultures remains the subject of debate, there is evidence that the Neolithic period expansion of Austronesian-speaking peoples can be traced back to an Austronesian homeland in Taiwan. Either way, the Austronesian family of languages continues to provide a linguistic bridge between the indigenous communities of Taiwan and their Pacific Islander cousins.

Taipei has been taking steps to protect that connection. In 2017, the Indigenous Languages Development Act was promulgated to “achieve historical justice, further preserve and promote the indigenous languages, and guarantee that the languages are used and passed down.” But language is only part of the story. The revival of Taiwanese indigenous culture has become a touchstone topic among the majority Han Taiwanese population. This has created additional space to emphasize Taiwan’s Austronesian roots on the national stage. Although often overlooked, Taiwan’s experiences with colonization and conflict provide another common ground with the Pacific nations. At various times, the territory of Taiwan has been possessed by the Netherlands, Spain, and Japan. This mirrors the colonial experiences of many Pacific Island countries. Moreover, Taipei was heavily bombed by foreign militaries during WWII, although that story is not widely acknowledged in contemporary discourses. These experiences provide a shared platform on which to construct the story of Taiwan as a Pacific nation.

The third glance should be common security and political interests. Taiwan and the Pacific nations share traditional security concerns. In close partnership with the United States, Taiwan seeks to deter invasion by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), which has not renounced the use of force in its pursuit to reunify Taiwan with the Chinese mainland. While Pacific Island countries may not fear imminent invasion by the PLA, they wish to avoid getting caught in the middle of US-China competition.

The outbreak of open hostilities between these superpowers would endanger not only the core interests of Taiwan, but those of Pacific Island Countries as well. Consider the Compacts of Free Association (COFA) states. Under the terms of those agreements, the United States has full authority and responsibility for security and defense. Such conflict would involve the distributed network of military bases currently under construction across the COFA states. It could also draw in other military bases located in other Pacific Island Countries. Then, there is the issue of the citizens of Pacific Island Countries who are part of the United States Armed Forces. In any US-China conflict, these Pacific Islander servicemen and servicewomen would be expected to join the fight. Pacific Island Countries therefore share a compelling interest in deterring major power combat.

While traditional security interests often get top billing, Taiwan and Pacific nations also share a myriad of non-traditional security concerns. This includes the existential threat posed by climate change. Pacific Islands Countries have made clear that “climate change remains the single greatest threat to the livelihoods, security and wellbeing of the peoples of the Pacific.” They are not alone. Taiwan is facing significant problems posed by climate change impacts. In 2021, Taiwan experienced its most severe drought period in 56 years. This was due to the unusual lack of typhoons passing over the main island. These typhoons play a critical role in recharging reservoirs and the economic outcomes of their absence were significant. The drought negatively impacted Taiwan’s production of semiconductor chips among other painful impacts including lost agricultural yields and water rationing for households and businesses.

Of course, not all natural disasters arise from climate change and not all non-traditional security concerns involve natural disasters. On a perennial basis, Taiwan faces the risk posed by earthquakes, volcanic activity, and tsunamis. It also has to contend with threats posed by infectious diseases, drug trafficking, organized crime, transnational migration, supply chain insecurity, or cyber threats. Many Pacific Island Countries face similar concerns as evidenced by the natural disasters that recently struck Tonga and the cyberattack that recently disrupted internet services in the Marshall Islands.

Beyond security concerns, Taiwan and many Pacific nations also share a desire to preserve the rules-based international order and a preference for democratic political systems. At the Indo-Pacific Leaders Dialogue, President Tsai Ing-wen declared that Taiwan shares a commitment “to upholding the rules-based international order,” “employing transparency and accountability as the basis for cooperation,” and promoting the “values of democracy and freedom” with Australia. Similarly, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs recently affirmed that “United States, Taiwan, and Palau share a strong commitment to democracy, to a free and open Indo-Pacific, and to advancing the peace and prosperity of the region.” In the Blue Pacific Strategy, the member states of the Pacific Islands Forum not only warned that the “established rules-based order for peace and security as set out in the Boe Declaration faces increasing pressure, and the Pacific region is not immune.” They also proclaimed that “the Blue Pacific Continent remains committed to principles of democracy.” While the declarations of countries and actions of their leaders sometimes pull in different directions, there is significant common ground to be found between Taiwan and Pacific nations on these political matters.

When Washington took a closer look at the merits of reimagining the United States as a Pacific nation, American policymakers found that it was possible to craft a story through a “complex and intricate mix of history, ideas, and interests.” While there are significant differences in the history, ideas, and interests of Taiwan and the United States, Taiwan policymakers could use a similar narrative framework to craft their own story about Taiwan as a Pacific nation. Such an approach begs several follow-on questions. The most immediate are: who needs to be persuaded? How difficult would it be to conduct outreach? What are the potential benefits, costs, and risks? Taipei should start exploring these questions to better understand the merits of reimagining Taiwan as a Pacific nation. And it should make that a priority.

Michael Walsh (mw1305@georgetown.edu) is a Senior Adjunct Fellow at Pacific Forum.

Wen-Chi Yang (wyang@nccu.edu.tw) is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Diplomacy at National Chengchi University.

Adam Morrow (adam@pacforum.org) is the Director of the Young Leaders Program at Pacific Forum.

The views expressed are their own.

Note: The authors would like to acknowledge the inspiration for this article: Satu Limaye, “The US as a Pacific Nation.” Education About Asia. Volume 17, No. 3 (Winter 2012): 4-7.

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

Photo: President Tsai visits Tuvalu (2017/11/01) by The Office of the President, Republic of China (Taiwan).

PacNet #58 – The strategic importance of the Pacific Islands to Taiwan

In the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, there have been heightened concerns that a Taiwan contingency involving the People’s Republic of China (PRC) could play out in the not-too-distant future. This year’s Department of Defense Annual Report on China to the US Congress asserts that PRC leadership views unification as pivotal to its policy of “Rejuvenation of the Chinese Nation,” and its piecemeal pressure tactics against Taipei has led US President Joe Biden to openly state that the United States would defend Taiwan in the event of an invasion.

The PRC’s ambitions seem to pose a direct threat to Taiwan’s autonomy, and subsequently to regional peace in the wider Indo-Pacific region.

There are those who think that the US government’s ability to deter or defend against an invasion of Taiwan is at risk due to the changing balance of power between the two superpowers. As Hudson Institute senior fellow Bryan Clark wrote in a recent report, Defending Guam, the US armed forces “can no longer plan to defeat the PLA [People’s Liberation Army] in a fire-powered duel over Taiwan.”

Instead, the US government needs to find creative ways to undermine “PLA confidence” and exploit “decision-making advantages to gain an edge,” he said.

Among other things, this requires establishing a widely distributed, multilayered network of civilian and military infrastructure across Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia.

The United States is working hard to deter the existential threat posed to Taiwan by the PRC while making the necessary preparations to successfully defend Taiwan if those efforts fail. Should the United States not be able to deter such an attack, then the US armed forces and the US intelligence community must be able to effectively and efficiently prevent missile strikes and cyberattacks from taking out critical infrastructure targets essential to the defense of Taiwan over an extended period.

To thwart these sorts of attacks, the United States may need to rely on civilian and military infrastructure located in and around the Freely Associated States of Palau, the Marshall Islands, and Micronesia.

A key part of that military infrastructure currently is the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site (RTS) in the Marshall Islands. Its radar, optical, and telemetry sensors are not just useful for conducting missile tests and space exploration missions, they are also expected to play a critical role in supporting missile launches, space reconnaissance, and surveillance operations during a defense of Taiwan.

Without the RTS, the US armed forces and US intelligence community probably would find it far more difficult to protect allied and partner forward-deployed forces and space-based assets from hypersonic and ballistic missile attacks, among other advanced threats during the defense of Taiwan. That is why it is essential to protect the submarine cable and artificial satellite systems that connect the RTS to allied and partner military and intelligence facilities around the world, including the US Army Cyber Command, US Army Space and Missile Defense Command, and Joint Region Marianas.

For decades, the United States has maintained special relationships of free association with the Freely Associated States by way of the Compact of Free Association (COFA). These international agreements not only recognize the Freely Associated States as sovereign states with the authority to conduct their own foreign affairs, they also simultaneously grant the authority for their defense and security to the United States.

Under these terms, the United States has the freedom to make use of civilian and military infrastructure required to protect its national security interests across a wide range of scenarios, including the defense of Taiwan.

The COFA must be renewed soon, and the Freely Associated States governments have indicated they are not satisfied with the proposed terms that have been put forward by their US counterparts.

This spilled into the public domain when the Marshall Islands government called off a scheduled COFA negotiating meeting. Then all the Freely Associated States ambassadors released a letter expressing concern about their ability to reach a successful outcome based on what has been proposed by the Biden administration.

As one might imagine, these moves raised several eyebrows during the US Pacific Island Country Summit. Whatever is going on behind the scenes, it seems that the negotiations might be going off track.

Meanwhile, the US pivot toward Pacific regionalism has introduced a new dynamic into the negotiations. These developments should concern Taipei, as the collapse of negotiations would weaken the deterrent effect of the Taiwan-US security partnership.

As all these diplomatic maneuvers play out, the government of Taiwan does not appear to be doing enough to convey to domestic and foreign audiences the importance of the successful negotiation of these international agreements. That needs to change.

First, Taiwan needs to work collaboratively with the United States and other partners to address the development needs and climate-change concerns of the Freely Associated States. Second, Taiwanese diplomats and policymakers need to work closely with their US counterparts on the shared assumption of the critical role that the territories of the Freely Associated States would play in the defense of Taiwan. Third, Taiwanese diplomats and policymakers need to ensure that their Freely Associated State counterparts understand the potential negative consequences that the termination of the COFA could have on regional stability, and by extension their own national interests.

At the same time, the Taipei government needs to start thinking far more systematically about its own national security. The United States already has the National Security Strategy and Pacific Partnership Strategy. Taipei needs to make similar strategic planning investments.

The United States has begun to renew its identity itself as a Pacific nation. Taiwan would be wise to explore the merits of following suit. This could unlock benefits that entail from a shared identity.

Either way, Taipei needs to think long and hard about why the Freely Associated States matter to Taiwan. For too long, the central government’s focus has been on diplomatic recognition. That still matters, but increasingly less so.

We have entered an era of renewed major power competition with a struggle for world order on the side. In this world, there needs to be a shift in focus toward defense and security.

Michael Walsh (mw1305@georgetown.edu) is Senior Adjunct Fellow at Pacific Forum. He served as chair of the Asia-Pacific Security Affairs Subcommittee on the Biden Defense Working Group during the 2020 presidential campaign.

John Hemmings (john@pacforum.org) is senior director of the Indo-Pacific Program at the Pacific Forum.

An earlier version of this article appeared in the Taipei Times. The views expressed are their own.

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

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

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

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

1996, and now

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

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

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

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

Taiwan matters for the Indo-Pacific

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

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

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

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

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

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

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