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.

Issues & Insights Vol. 22, SR7 – Abe Shinzo: In Memoriam

Introduction

Rob York

A Sharp-Elbowed Politician, an Irreplaceable International Statesman  

A famous, albeit fictional, statesman once said “A good act does not wash out the bad, nor a bad act the good.”

As Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, Abe Shinzo left a legacy. Fair-minded individuals would be able to find grounds for criticism in that record: Abe climbed to leadership of the Liberal Democratic Party by stoking doubts about his country’s record in World War II, provoking outrage from neighboring countries. He relished sparring with his rivals in Japan’s other political parties and in the press; his country’s press freedom ranking consequently declined under his leadership. His efforts at addressing his country’s stagnant economy and moribund birthrate saw, interpreted charitably, only modest successes.

But Abe Shinzo should be remembered for much more than that. Much as Winston Churchill should be remembered, both for his foresight regarding the rise of the Nazi threat and his record as ruthless defender of Britain’s colonial interests, proponents of the “free and open Indo-Pacific” vision that Abe championed should remember his record as a partisan, but also as an international institution builder in an age where both “freedom” and “openness” are under attack in the Indo-Pacific. In doing so, he revived Japan as an international player and helped set the stage for multilateral cooperation to preserve existing rules and norms, such as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (the “Quad”) and the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Such efforts make him one of the most influential statesmen of this era.

Since Abe’s shocking assassination on July 8, the Pacific Forum has sought to ensure that the fullness of this legacy is remembered, and as such used our PacNet series to explain his impact from a variety of perspectives. In doing so, we reached out to many old friends whose names are familiar to the Pacific Forum’s long-time readers. In PacNet #37, Brad Glosserman, Pacific Forum’s senior advisor and my co-editor at Comparative Connections, identifies the specific attributes of Abe’s—specifically his strongly held opinions and behind-the-scenes advocacy—that made it possible for him to be this institutional builder and to restore Japan’s role on the foreign policy stage. In PacNet #36 Stephen Nagy of the International Christian University in Tokyo provides a comprehensive overview of Abe the diplomat, including his successful managing of relations with the PRC, which were actually at a low point before his lengthy stint as PM. In PacNet #39 Kei Koga of Nanyang Technological University demonstrates how under Abe, Japan countered the PRC’s growing influence in Southeast Asian countries through sustained engagement, winning their trust despite their unwillingness to match his hawkishness toward Beijing. Furthermore, in PacNet #43 Jagannath Panda of ISDP, Sweden explains how Abe’s dealings with India paved the way for the latter’s increased engagement with the outside world, including through the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue. In PacNet #40, I note that Abe’s tireless engagement with American presidents across changes in parties has made good relations with Tokyo that rarest of things in US politics: an area of bipartisan agreement that looks unlikely to change, regardless of the outcome of the 2024 election.

The Pacific Forum also reached beyond its regular contributors’ list to acquire new perspectives. Shihoko Goto of the Wilson Center details Abe’s prescient vision for the defense of Taiwan, something the US would gradually awaken to. Jada Frasier—an MA student in Asian Studies at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service that we believe policy professionals will be hearing from more and more in the future—explains how despite causing tensions in the Japan-South Korea relationship, Abe also deserves credit for increasing the two East Asian democracies’ opportunities for security cooperation through his emphasis on minilateral groupings.

Now that Japan has laid the former prime minister to rest last week, those who remember the darker side of his leadership will find grounds to do so, and some of those criticisms will be warranted. Abe, however, left a legacy far beyond those unpleasantries, especially if, as was the case with Churchill, his country and the international community rise to the challenge they presently face.

Table of Contents

PacNet 35, 07/11/2022. Abe Shinzo and the Japan-South Korea relationship: Near- and long-term legacies by Jada Fraser

PacNet 36, 07/14/2022. Post-Abe Indo-Pacific regional dynamics: A legacy beyond the man by Stephen Nagy

PacNet 37, 07/15/2022. Abe’s death creates a void in Japan by Brad Glosserman

PacNet 39, 07/22/2022. Abe Shinzo’s legacy in Southeast Asia by Kei Koga

PacNet 40, 07/25/2022. Abe Shinzo: How to handle an unpredictable America by Rob York

PacNet 43, 08/05/2022. Post-Abe India-Japan ties: Does Kishida have what it takes? by Jagannath Panda

PacNet 45, 08/10/2022.  The prescience of Abe’s vision for Taiwan by Shihoko Goto

 

Photo: State Funeral of Shinzo Abe by the Prime Minister’s Office of Japan

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.

Issues & Insights Vol. 22, SR6 – AUKUS A Look Back at The First Analyses

Introduction
David Santoro and Rob York

Announced just over a year ago on Sept. 15, 2021, the Australia-United Kingdom-United States (AUKUS) security partnership promised work on two interrelated lines of effort between the three allies. One entailed providing Australia with a conventionally armed, nuclear-powered submarine capability. The other involved cooperation on developing and providing joint advanced military capabilities to promote security and stability in the region, including in cyber, artificial intelligence and autonomy, quantum technologies, undersea capabilities, hypersonic and counter-hypersonic systems, electronic warfare, and information sharing.

AUKUS sent shockwaves across the Indo-Pacific and beyond. Some praised the new partnership, explaining that it would tighten the US hub-and-spokes alliance system and stand as a powerful deterrent to China’s new assertiveness in the region. Others¾with the People’s Republic of China in the lead¾were much less enthusiastic, even outright critical, insisting that it would create unnecessary tensions, possibly leading to arms races or crises, and undermine nonproliferation norms and rules. France was also deeply upset because AUKUS immediately led to Australia’s cancellation of a French-Australian submarine deal, without notice.

In the days, weeks, and months that followed the AUKUS announcement, the Pacific Forum published, via its PacNet Commentary series, several preliminary analyses on the trilateral partnership, each reflecting a specific national perspective from throughout the Indo-Pacific and beyond. One year later, and as implementation of the AUKUS partnership remains ongoing, we have compiled these analyses into a Pacific Forum Issues & Insights volume.

It is our hope that these publications will provide a basis for further study and additional recommendations.

Table of Contents

PacNet 41, 09/20/2021. After the shock: France, America, and the Indo-Pacific by Bruno Tertais

PacNet 44, 09/29/2021. How AUKUS advances Australia’s commitment to collective defense by Ashley Townshend

PacNet 46, 10/05/2021. After AUKUS, “present at the creation” in the 21st century by Brad Glosserman

PacNet 48, 10/19/2021. New Zealand and AUKUS: Affected without being included by Robert Ayson

PacNet 50, 10/26/2021. Fold, call, or raise? China’s potential reactions to AUKUS by Yun Sun

PacNet 51, 11/03/2021. What AUKUS means for European security by Marie Jourdain

PacNet 54, 11/22/2021. What AUKUS means for Malaysia’s technological future by Elina Noor

PacNet 57, 12/10/2021. Building on AUKUS to forge a PAX Pacifica by Henry Sokolski

PacNet 58, 12/14/2021. Why the UK was the big winner of AUKUS by David Camroux

PacNet 59, 12/21/2021. “JAUKUS” and the emerging clash of alliances in the Pacific by Artyom Lukin

PacNet 60, 12/28/2021. AUKUS’ short- and long-term implications for Taiwan by Fu Mei

PacNet 05, 01/21/2022. AUKUS’ opportunities and risks for Indi by Manpreet Sethi

PacNet 11, 02/24/2022. Nuclear submarines for our Pacific Allies: When to say yes by Henry Sokolski

PacNet #54 – Comparative Connections Summary: September 2022

Comparative Connections Summary:
May-August 2022

REGIONAL OVERVIEW

Washington “Pivots” to Asia

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

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

 

US-JAPAN RELATIONS

Abe’s Legacy and the Alliance Agenda

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

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

 

US-CHINA RELATIONS

US-China Relations Sink Further Amid Another Taiwan Strait Crisis

BY BONNIE GLASER, GERMAN MARSHALL FUND OF THE US

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

 

US-KOREA RELATIONS

Split Images

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

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

 

US-INDIA RELATIONS

Relations at 75: Hawaii to the Himalayas

BY AKHIL RAMESH, PACIFIC FORUM

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

 

US-SOUTHEAST ASIA RELATIONS

Washington Revs Up Diplomacy with Southeast Asia

BY CATHARIN DALPINO, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY

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

 

CHINA-SOUTHEAST ASIA RELATIONS

Countering US Initiatives, Taiwan Crisis Complications

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

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

 

CHINA-TAIWAN RELATIONS

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

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

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

 

NORTH KOREA-SOUTH KOREA RELATIONS

An Inauspicious Start

BY AIDAN FOSTER-CARTER, LEEDS UNIVERSITY, UK

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

 

CHINA-KOREA RELATIONS

A Muted 30-Year Anniversary

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

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

 

JAPAN-CHINA RELATIONS

Few Positive Signs and Much Negativity

BY JUNE TEUFEL DREYER, UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI

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

 

JAPAN-KOREA RELATIONS

The Passing of Abe and Japan-Korea Relations

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

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

 

CHINA-RUSSIA RELATIONS

Embracing a Longer and/or Wider Conflict?

BY YU BIN, WITTENBERG UNIVERSITY

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

 

AUSTRALIA-US/EAST ASIA RELATIONS

Australia’s New Government: Climate, China and AUKUS

BY GRAEME DOBELL, AUSTRALIAN STRATEGIC POLICY INSTITUTE

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

 

PacNet commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors

PacNet #53 – How the United States can build a chip alliance in Northeast Asia without decoupling

A pandemic-induced semiconductor supply chain snarl caused global production jams in a wide array of products used for consumer, industry, and military applications. This, combined with the geopolitical risk created by the industry’s concentration in Northeast Asia, its reliance on China, and predatory Chinese industrial policies, has caused America, its allies, and its partners to brace against future shocks. With the CHIPS and Science Act signed into law, Washington is now moving toward a semiconductor alliance with Tokyo, Taipei, and Seoul. A successful collaboration will address risks to key points of the semiconductor supply chain by adding rigor to the system, ensuring continued access to supply, and maintaining an environment of innovation. It’s a step in the right direction, but much remains to be done. The effort will fall short if the alliance cannot address members’ concerns and respond to the risks posed by the People’s Republic of China without tripping down the slippery slope of technological decoupling. Although the PRC poses a threat that warrants a response, the highly distributed nature of the global supply chain means that decoupling would be inordinately expensive, alienate America’s partners, and inhibit the innovative capacity of America’s firms. Furthermore, the fate of the industry will likely be determined by the innovation race, so the alliance should spend equal time cooperating on that front. The upcoming first meeting of the prospective chip alliance should address these concerns while formulating a framework for enduring cooperation and mutual gain.

The semiconductor industry is highly specialized and concentrated. There are over 50 points in the supply chain where a single country provides over 65% of supply. Last year, pandemic-induced disruptions caused a global supply snag, drawing attention to the world’s fourth-most traded product. The industry is heavily concentrated in Northeast Asia, where geopolitical risks are considerable. Since Taiwan makes over 90% of the world’s most advanced chips, a PRC takeover would cause a “deep and immediate recession” in the United States, according to Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo. A contingency on the Korean Peninsula would have similar consequences.

The PRC could acquire a monopoly over a supply chain choke point and utilize this as leverage to extract concessions. The PRC already routinely weaponizes its economy with informal sanctions and engages in destabilizing industrial policies like irregular subsidies and forced technology transfers. Chinese firms collude with one another to weaken foreign takeover targets before buying them in a distressed state. Beijing engages in IP theft against South Korean and Taiwanese firms. And the Chinese government’s sprawling chip investment vehicles also creates the risk that a supply chain could “inadvertently support China’s military-civil fusion.”

The alliance should cooperate with the PRC wherever possible and confront it wherever necessary, mirroring US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s statement that, in all matters related to China, America will “cooperate wherever we can… [and] contest where we must.” The US should press Beijing to report irregular subsidies as required by WTO regulations and cease market-distorting practices and forced technology transfers. Subsidy ceilings should factor into the conversation, including with the PRC, to prevent a never-ending race to the bottom. Alliance cooperation on export controls with the European Union will be an important aspect of this approach. Multilateral export controls on semiconductor equipment is conducted through the Wassenaar Arrangement, a group of 42 countries that collaborate on restrictions of dual use technologies. But industry experts think the institution is inadequate, and have pushed for alternatives. However, while targeted restrictions are effective, “broad unilateral restrictions,” could hurt US firms, raise consumers’ costs, and cause pain to partner countries producing in China.

The best method to strengthen and secure the supply chain is a coordinated approach with allies and partners that avoids completely excluding the PRC, so long as it refrains from destabilizing behaviors such as invading Taiwan. Some have called for technological decoupling and total on-shoring of chip production to cut dependency on the PRC. This is impractical. It would cost over $1 trillion to transition to a system wherein each country is self-sufficient, prompting a rise in costs of 35%-65%. It would cost the United States $4 billion to build just one fab making the relatively low-tech chips needed for automobiles, which would only become profitable after five years. Furthermore, decoupling would alienate America’s allies (who count China as a top customer), decrease US firms’ market share, and insulate US firms from foreign innovation. Decoupling would lead to two separate ecosystems with different standards. Firms from countries like Taiwan and Korea would face a difficult choice: either get cut off from their manufacturing base or get cut off from the US IP that’s core to their products.

America has thus far attracted investments for fab plants from Samsung (a $17 billion fab in Texas) and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (a $12 billion facility in Arizona). The CHIPS Act will provide $52 billion in incentives to support chip manufacturing, research, and workforce development. Companies that receive this support are barred from building new advanced plants in China and from making certain advanced modifications to existing plants, leading some firms to “re-evaluate further Chinese investments.” These policies are just the beginning.

To coordinate on investments, supply chain resilience, and production plans, Washington proposed Chip 4, a group involving the United States, Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea. Taiwan and Japan have committed to joining, with Taiwan calling for greater semiconductor cooperation among democracies. South Korea has taken a more cautious approach, agreeing to attend the first meeting. Korea’s memory chip producers rely on materials from China and chips account for nearly 40% of Korea’s exports to China. A news report claimed that the US Commerce Department has exempted some Korean fabs in China from restrictions banning equipment capable at producing chips below 14 nanometers. The alliance will be more durable if it demonstrates flexibility. Forums of cooperation should not simply be based on a contest of leverage against the PRC.

How has Korea found itself at the center of the dynamic? The PRC interprets the other Chip 4 members as outside its sphere of influence, but losing traction with Korea would signal that the PRC’s regional influence is waning. The Yoon administration and Beijing are off to a rocky start, with tensions simmering over Beijing’s assertion that Seoul is beholden to a supposed agreement by the former administration not to install more US missile defense systems. Beijing’s 2017 economic retaliation cost Korea over $7 billion and pushed the Korean public to turn sharply against the PRC: 80% currently view the PRC negatively, a record high, according to Pew. And three quarters of the public want the government to “actively respond to China’s economic retaliation,” according to a 2021 survey by the Korea Institute for National Unification.

Following a recent meeting between South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, the PRC’s foreign ministry asserted that “the two sides need to stay committed to openness…and keep the industrial supply chain stable and unfettered.” In the meeting, Park explained that Korea’s attendance at the Chip 4 meeting is meant to safeguard “national interests,” not to exclude “any specific country.” Korea will make a decision about joining after the meeting, and has taken to referring to Chips 4 as a “consultative body,” rather than an alliance. While certain export restrictions are needed on national security grounds, it will be important to refrain from over-punishment of partners that deviate from export controls. The success of cooperation hinges not on the comprehensiveness of export restrictions but on the ability of the partners to shore up the supply chain while sustaining a high tempo pace of innovation.

The United States should collaborate with Korea, Taiwan, and Japan on a mutually beneficial, values-based vision for semiconductor collaboration that protects national security interests without spoiling supply chain efficiencies. The alliance should create a compensation mechanism to address retaliatory measures its members experience for participating in the alliance, such as assisting affected industries or reciprocal sanctions. To balance resilience and innovation, the alliance should engage with industry stakeholders, including (but not limited to): private sector firms, academia, and industry associations. Joint ventures, joint investments, and joint workforce development programs would benefit all, as would contingency planning and supplier diversification. A priority should be the resolution of a dispute between Japan and South Korea that has impacted the trade of semiconductor-related materials between the two countries. Amid growing tensions, Japan restricted exports of semiconductor materials to South Korea. The move disrupted supply chains between both countries.

The pandemic-induced chip supply chain snarls are not the industry’s last supply chain challenge. Geopolitical risk and Chinese industrial policy pose considerable risks and warrant coordination. But alliance partners’ concerns should be considered and decoupling is not viable. The better option is a partnership that addresses security threats without impairing the global supply chain.

Major Jessica Taylor (jg0787@princeton.edu) is a logistics readiness officer in the United States Air Force Reserve (USAFR) and a Ph.D. student in Security Studies at Princeton University’s School of Public and International Affairs, where she focuses on Alliance cooperation on systemic geopolitical risk to supply chains.

Jonathan Corrado (jonathan.corrado@koreasociety.org) is Director of Policy for The Korea Society, where he produces programming and conducts research on a range of security, diplomacy, and socioeconomic issues impacting the US-Korea Alliance and Northeast Asia.

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily represent the views of their respective institutions.  

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

PacNet #49 – Continued evolutions in the regional architecture of the Indo-Pacific

Policymakers, analysts, and scholars have dedicated prodigious efforts toward fathoming the extreme complexity of the regional architecture—institutions, regimes, alliances, and other forms of multi/mini/bilateral cooperation—in the Indo-Pacific. With constant evolutions in this architecture, wrought by the appearance of new institutions and the gradual passing of others into obscurity, the task continues. One session of the Nonproliferation and Disarmament Study Group meeting of the Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia-Pacific (CSCAP) convened by Pacific Forum in Ho Chi Minh City in July debated the current state of the region and arrived at some of the following conclusions.

For starters, the nature of the regional architecture is becoming more, not less, complex and expansive, especially as the regional focus broadens and elides toward “Indo-Pacific” institutions. Many epithets have been coined to capture this condition, such as a “complex patchwork” (Victor Cha), or a “tangled web” (William Tow), as part of a “multiplex” order (Kishore Mahbubani). Though observers were often wont to point to the institutional underdevelopment of regional organization in comparison to the Euro-Atlantic security complex, it is not a lack of institutions—they continue to proliferate—but lack of effectiveness that often characterizes the region.

Coming up with some workable schemata to capture the structuring and dynamics of the region’s architecture is no mean feat, and efforts to systematize our understanding are a continuing preoccupation among the strategic community. One way is to categorize the architecture as a whole into three (overlapping and interconnected) “layers.”

The first layer constitutes the most inclusive and pan-regional multilateral institutions, many driven by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Security and economic dialogue forums such as the ASEAN Regional Forum, East Asia Summit, ASEAN Plus Three (China, Japan, and the Republic of Korea), the Regional and Comprehensive Economic Partnership, and the ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting+ constitute the organisation’s claim to “centrality.” These are accompanied by more US-orientated organizations such as the venerable Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, and the substitute for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, championed by Japan and Australia.

Over the past couple of decades, however, China has taken a major role in establishing regional institutions configured to its own taste, such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), the Belt and Road Initiative, and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). These are just some of the most prominent among a truly bewildering array of multilateral institutions, and there are many more at a sub-regional level, such as the Pacific Islands Forum.

Most of these multilateral dialogues are relatively inclusive, though some states are notably excluded (e.g., the United States from the SCO), or in some cases have declined membership (e.g., the United States and Japan with the AIIB). Also, since these multilaterals are so inclusive, they suffer from a lack of consensus, inhibiting their efforts to resolve important security and economic questions. They are far from approaching any notion of “collective security,” with the arguable partial exception of ASEAN itself as a self-proclaimed “security community.” Moreover, some of these institutions have become arenas for great power rivalry, as leading states seek to win the allegiance of smaller members and ensure their interests prevail against those of their competitors.

Consequentially, the second layer of regional architecture, pivoting on the US “hub and spokes” system of bilateral alliances, remains highly relevant, not just to Washington and its allies, but to the other states in the region as well. Because these alliances are typically anchored in a binding mutual security treaty (through there are caveats to this), they are the closest we have to any form of “collective defense” mechanism. Even non-allies view the presence of US military power and regional engagement as an essential counterweight to their concerns about China. Significantly, the original hub-and-spokes model has begun to transform itself through a reshuffling of the relative importance and commitment of allies, and the addition of non-alliance forms of security cooperation with regional states known as “strategic partnerships.”

But most recently, a third layer has begun to (re-)emerge, either at the interstices of these two original layers or apart from them. New small-group “minilaterals” such as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue and the trilateral security pact between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, dubbed AUKUS, feature most prominently in strategic debates. Yet they join older configurations such as the US-Japan-Australia Trilateral Strategic Dialogue and the UK-Australia-New Zealand-Singapore-Malaysia Five Power Defence Arrangement and emerging ones such as the Australia-India-Indonesia trilateral, and a putative US-India-France-Australia quadrilateral, with the scope of the latter two focused primarily on Indian Ocean affairs. This telegraphs a shift towards a more Indo-Pacific, rather than Asia-Pacific architecture in future.

Though minilateral forms of cooperation existed in the past—think of the Six Party Talks on North Korea’s nuclear program and Korean Peninsula Economic Development Organization—the greater proliferation of such minilaterals today is conspicuous. There are many explanations for this.

First, there may be some dissatisfaction with the performance of layer-one multilateral institutions, especially given the dissent between members over contested issues. Select states have turned to “like-minded” countries who share a closer alignment of values and interests to effect practical cooperative activities rather than pure dialogue. Second, many of the minilaterals are in some ways extensions of the layer-two US hub-and-spoke alliance system, bringing together allies and new strategic partners to advance common objectives. Third, some minilaterals, where Washington is absent, for example the Australia-India-Japan trilateral, create scope for cooperation between secondary powers where the United States does not share their interests or cannot allocate the necessary capacity, or, as a “hedge” against possible future US disinvolvement in Indo-Pacific affairs.

In sum, there is a burgeoning regional architecture increasingly extending out from what was once known as the “Asia-Pacific” to the Indian Ocean (the “Indo-Pacific”), with three layers, each holding institutions or configurations that can be functionally differentiated between “hard” or “soft” security foci, or economic imperatives, or come combination of both. Some institutions are inclusive and comprehensive, while others are more exclusive and reflect deeper alignment between their member states.

Distilling the relationship between these layers is a difficult task, but what can be said with a modicum of confidence is that they serve in tandem to contribute to the prevailing regional order by offering checks and balances on the behavior of individual states in some cases, whilst in others, permitting closer cooperation to provide collectively for national security. What they do not amount to is the elusive goal of an Indo-Pacific “community.” This will have to wait, and in the meantime building up the region’s architecture in an increasingly contested environment remains a work in progress.

Thomas Wilkins (thomas.wilkins@sydney.edu.au) is an Adjunct Senior Fellow (non-resident), Pacific Forum, Senior Fellow, Australian Strategic Policy Institute, and Senior Lecturer, University of Sydney.

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

Photo: Prime Minister Fumio Kishida of Japan with US President Joe Biden by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications Government of Japan.

PacNet #45 – The prescience of Abe’s vision for Taiwan

Pursuit of a rules-based order for the Indo-Pacific had been one of Abe Shinzo’s foreign policy hallmarks. In hindsight, it now appears prescient in addressing the shift in the region’s power dynamics.

During the two years since he stepped down as prime minister, Abe had focused increasingly on Taiwan as a geopolitical flashpoint warranting greater Japan-US coordination. The attention Abe paid to Taiwan undoubtedly looks farsighted now, and has established his legacy as a premier that identified many of the systemic challenges facing not just Japan, but the region at large.

When Abe outlined his vision for the Indo-Pacific during his first term (2006-07) in office, few would have expected that his 2007 speech before the Indian parliament about the confluence of the Pacific and Indian Oceans would become the foundation for multilateral cooperation in Asia. Over the past 15 years, however, the concept of a “free and open Indo-Pacific” has not only been adopted by Abe’s successors, but also been embraced by the United States and other nations. Not only was the concept of FOIP adopted by the Trump administration, but the concept has become the foundation for new mechanisms for regional cooperation including the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (“Quad”) and AUKUS.

Taiwan had been an integral part of the Abe government’s Indo-Pacific strategy, as the prime minister noted the strategic importance of the island publicly on numerous occasions. Under Abe in 2019 Japan signed onto the US-Taiwan Global Cooperation and Training Framework, which had been established in 2015 to promote Taiwan’s strengths in international cooperation and governance. It was, however, after leaving office in 2020 that Abe stepped up his support for Taiwan, connecting the need to defend Taiwan’s democracy and economy as part of a broader strategy to counterbalance increased threats from China.

China’s increasing militarization and willingness to leverage economic dominance to take punitive actions against governments it opposed had been in effect well before Abe’s resignation. Yet Beijing’s weaponization of its economic presence and aggression on perceived core interests, including Taiwan, only intensified from the outbreak of the global pandemic.

In an exclusive interview with the Wilson Center in March 2022, Abe cautioned that the possibility of China invading Taiwan could not be dismissed.

“China has taken a position that Taiwan is a part of China…at the same time, we are in a situation where Taiwan is not recognized as a nation by most of the countries in the international community. Of course, it is not even a member state of the United Nations,” Abe said, adding that while Beijing has not yet made clear whether it would act to assert its claim over Taiwan, “the fact that they have not done so does not mean that they have decided that they won’t.”

Certainly, Abe’s wariness about Beijing’s moves to intimidate Taiwan was shared by his successors Suga Yoshihide and Kishida Fumio. It was Suga who in April 2021 signed onto the joint statement with the United States which declared the “importance of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait,” the first time since 1969 that Taiwan was mentioned in a bilateral statement. Since then, the G7, NATO, and other groups have followed in highlighting the vulnerability of Taiwan and the need for the international community to come to its defense as part of a broader strategy to push back against Chinese aggressions.

Japan’s reassessment of its policy toward Taiwan since Abe left office has been striking. Having skirted issues related to Taiwan in light of Japan’s own defense strategy—which concentrates on self-defense mechanisms—Tokyo has emerged as a leading champion of greater support for the Taiwanese government amid Beijing’s growing pressure. The support is not merely altruistic, but reflects growing alarm about the spillover effect for Japan. It has led to a review of Japanese policy toward Taiwan in its June 2021 defense white paper, recognizing not only the strategic importance of Taiwan, but also the growing concerted efforts by China to destabilize Taipei.

No longer shying away from expressing support for Taiwan, Tokyo has ramped up efforts to support it more comprehensively, including economically and politically. As the prime minister who signed Japan on to the preceding TPP trade agreement, Abe’s commitment to ensure that Taipei be part of the CPTPP multilateral trade framework has been particularly noteworthy. In a virtual meeting with Tsai Ing-wen in March 2022, Abe told the Taiwanese president that it was in the interest of the international community for Taiwan to join the CPTPP as soon as possible. In addition, Tokyo was at the forefront of providing Taiwan with vaccines in summer 2021, and Japanese consumers quickly mobilized and expressed support for Taiwan by snapping up Taiwanese pineapples boycotted by China.

Abe played no small part in directing the convergence of political and public support for Taiwan, repeatedly arguing that Beijing not only threatened Taiwan and the international order, but directly threatened Japan’s own security and stability as well. In the weeks since his assassination, however, global attention on Taiwan has only increased with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s early August visit. As China stepped up military exercises in the Taiwan Strait in direct response to the House speaker’s tour of Taipei, the immediate concern is whether or not such military actions will continue in the longer term, and the possibility of such conduct leading to direct conflict.

In the longer term, though, Pelosi’s visit is expected to lead to a reassessment of US policy towards Taiwan. While both Washington and Tokyo remain in agreement about the need to continue supporting Taipei and stave off acts of aggression by China, those objectives can be reached more effectively through greater coordination of action by Japan and the United States. Defending Taiwan militarily, economically, and politically will be one of the biggest challenges for the US-Japan alliance, and no doubt would have been the focal point of Abe’s foreign policy agenda ex-officio.

Shihoko Goto (shihoko.goto@wilsoncenter.org) is Director for Geoeconomics and Indo-Pacific Enterprise and Deputy Director of the Asia Program at the Wilson Center based in Washington DC.

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

PacNet #44 – “Hybrid multilateralism” and the Yoon pursuit of middle power strategy

Unlike his predecessor, President Biden prefers multilateral mechanisms to promote partnership with allies. In particular, he pursues “constructive recoupling” or “relinking” with China, selectively excluding Beijing from access to high-tech and critical strategic materials, rather than all areas of trade.

This multilateralism has intensified in the Indo-Pacific, especially after the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP)—the world’s largest free trade agreement, centered around China—came into force. While visiting Asian allies in May, Biden announced the launch of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF), aimed to secure global supply chains and set economic rules and norms for the Indo-Pacific. IPEF serves as a platform for the United States, through cooperation with allies, to contain China’s economic “territorial expansion.” It excludes China from high-tech supply chains and is also a watershed for a potential new global economic order. Implementation of IPEF would assure economic security through a closed supply chain distributing production facilities only among countries sharing American, free-market, values.

Similarly, the strategic objective of the current US-led liberal international order differs from the original liberal order after World War II. The original order sought a multifaceted, extensive international system based on multilateral institutions and free trade among democratic blocs—spreading to non-Western societies post-Cold War. The current order promotes “friend-shoring”—only like-minded countries are grouped in a mini-lateral way.

The new Seoul government’s participation in IPEF suggests the US-Korea alliance will contribute not only to peace on the Korean Peninsula, but also global security and prosperity. Specifically, in transitioning to the so-called “comprehensive strategic alliance,” the two countries have added technology to their existing military/economic agenda. Accordingly, Seoul can stabilize the supply chain, maximize domestic companies’ net profits, and enhance strategic industries’ competitiveness through participation in a comprehensive regional economic cooperation system. In addition, IPEF can allow middle powers like Korea to promote emerging global norms on supply chains, the digital economy, and decarbonization.

Dealing with unlike-minded countries

President Yoon Suk Yeol should consider the following actions, in addition to advancing alliance solidarity.

First, maintain positive relations with China wherever and whenever Korean and Chinese interests align. The two can mutually benefit from stable trade relations, cooperation on environmental issues such as air and marine pollution, and diplomatic collaboration towards North Korea’s denuclearization. Even if Korea is forced to choose between the United States and China, these areas of cooperation can and should be pursued continuously with China. Korean participation in IPEF risks triggering Chinese retribution because Beijing views it as an effort to contain China. Many Korean experts doubt Beijing will engage in outright economic retaliation, however, as was the case after THAAD deployment in 2017, for several reasons. The main ones include President Xi Jinping’s bidding for a third term and the fact that China’s economy has stagnated in the wake of Beijing’s zero-COVID policy, and US-China competition is intensifying. Similarly, Korea’s high dependence on exports to China is a weakness, but Seoul also supplies Beijing with necessary intermediate goods, without which China would not be able to secure supply chain stability. Reminiscent of mutually assured destruction in the Cold War, Korea and China would both suffer from a trade war.

Still, Yoon should take countermeasures to reduce economic dependence. The president should also pursue “values diplomacy” by expanding networks of “friendly countries” and strengthening multilateral partnerships with democratic middle powers to secure strategic leverage against China. Korea, a country that developed and democratized within a quarter century, can advance a rules-based, multilateral approach identifying and addressing global and regional common problems such as climate, energy, public health, and humanitarian aid, where Washington and Beijing need to cooperate. Korea should also facilitate the establishment of a new, more diverse international trade order, incorporating countries with different levels of economic development and diverse political regimes.

Second, Korea should mediate international economic disputes. IPEF’s success depends on reconciling expectations of countries with very different economic development levels. The United States prioritizes export controls in the high-tech sector, while ASEAN and India focus on technological and infrastructure support from advanced countries. Australia and Japan want the United States to participate in the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, and would like to see IPEF formalized, including the obligations of participant nations. Korea, then, should encourage increased participation to advance IPEF’s legitimacy and representation.

Third, Korea should provide support to “unlike-minded” states in multilateral mechanisms such as RCEP, the ASEAN Regional Forum, G20, and the United Nations. Certainly, the bloc of Western democratic countries reconsolidated following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Nonetheless, the G20 appeared far more divided in its response to Russia’s invasion than it did to the financial crisis of 2008. Consequently, an international order based solely on values-based, like-minded states may appear threatening to non-democratic, and neutral, countries. As a middle power, Korea can lead in mitigating this problem and characterizing the IPEF as more inviting.

Hybrid multilateralism

Fourth, the South Korean government, in cooperation with like-minded countries, must carefully evaluate strategic options between values and national interests. Other countries do so all the time. President Biden, for instance, has sought cooperation from Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman—despite concerns over bin Salman’s authoritarianism and the Jamal Khashoggi killing—to counter the global oil shortage. Moreover, Washington considers lifting sanctions against oil-rich Venezuela to respond against Russia’s “weaponization” of energy resources. The United States and its Western allies now view energy from the Middle East and South America (as well as Africa) as an alternative to Russian imports, even though the resulting revenues empower certain authoritarian governments. To resolve the dilemma between resource security and value diplomacy, the US may justify “hybrid multilateralism” by selectively incorporating authoritarian resource-rich countries into existing or evolving multilateral platforms, including IPEF.

On a final note, middle powers have opportunities to facilitate in areas like climate change, pandemic response, vaccine research, and the maintenance of free trade, as the United States’ and China’s focus has shifted more to their own rivalry instead of the provision of global public goods. From the view of the two great powers, it would be advantageous to attract more countries to their own side as the competition intensifies. Therefore, the collective choices and actions of middle powers—armed with numerical superiority and a united voice—could lead to more contention, or cooperation, between multilateral or minilateral networks driven by these great powers. For now, most middle powers, including Korea, tend to lean toward the liberal international order (LIO) because they have achieved stability and development while pursuing democracy, free trade, and multilateralism within the LIO framework. They believe that it is still in their national interest to support and improve LIOs that reflect universal human values. Ultimately, the future of the LIO depends on whether the United States has the ability and resolve to provide global public goods and, at the same time, whether the international community, centered on middle powers, supports US leadership.

Shin-wha Lee (swlee922@gmail.com) is Professor in the Department of Political Science and International Relations at Korea University and President of the Korean Academic Council on the UN System (KACUNS). She is also South Korea’s Ambassador-at-Large on International Cooperation on North Korean Human Rights. 

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

Photo: The 20th President Inauguration Ceremony by Korea.net and Yang Dong Wook