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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

American resolve, strength, and leadership

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

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

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

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

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

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

Manufactured crisis

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

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

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

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

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

China has raised tensions before the crisis

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beijing’s belligerence backfires

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transit passage

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

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

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

Long-standing international conventions

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

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

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

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

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

Innocent passage

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

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

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

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

PacNet #14 – What the war in Ukraine means for Taiwan

The war in Ukraine has implications for Taiwan, which similarly fears attempted forced annexation by an authoritarian neighbor. There are different interpretations of those implications. Here are mine.

The war in Ukraine does not mean that a war over Taiwan is imminent. There has been much speculation that Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine makes a Chinese invasion of Taiwan more likely because Beijing could take advantage of US attention being diverted to Europe.

This line of thinking has two major flaws. First, the recent deployment of 14,000 additional US troops and six F-35 aircraft to Europe in response to the Russia invasion does not significantly impair the ability of the US military to fight in the western Pacific. The officers of the US Indo-Pacific Command responsible for preparing and executing war plans and recommending courses of action to the White House are focused on developments in the Indo-Pacific, not Europe. The Biden administration’s attention to the war in Ukraine did not prevent it from thinking to send a delegation of former US defense officials on a reassurance visit to Taiwan.

Second, the idea of coordinated invasions of Ukraine and Taiwan assumes Beijing has already made the decision to use military force to compel cross-Strait unification and is waiting for an opportunity to strike. This outlook does not account for Beijing’s political calculus. China-Taiwan relations operate according to their own logic and timetable, independent of what is happening in Europe or even Hong Kong. Attempting a military conquest of Taiwan has always been a last resort that China would consider only when compelled to by Taipei moving unambiguously to a permanent political separation from China.

Xi Jinping’s first order of business is to stay in power. His immediate need is the secure a third term as Communist Party General Secretary during the 20th Party Congress in October. Absent a dramatic move by Taiwan toward independence, which President Tsai Ing-wen does not intend to make, Xi does not need to settle the Taiwan issue to get a third term. On the other hand, a war against Taiwan, the United States, and probably Japan would force Chinese elites to think that Xi had led China into disaster. Beijing’s recent hostile signaling to Taiwan, in the form of military exercises and warplane fly-bys, are probably less a rehearsal for attack than an attempt by Beijing to halt the trend of closer US relations with the Taipei government.

What the Ukraine war does for Taiwan is to improve Taiwan’s own strategic situation marginally.

The Russian invasion forced Beijing to prioritize among Chinese interests. Beijing wants worldwide recognition as a responsible, law-abiding, and constructive international citizen and it hopes to weaken strategic coordination between the United States and Western Europe. But it also wants to preserve its valuable working relationship with Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

In China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ March 1 press briefing (the most recent at the time of this writing), spokesman Wang Wenbin dodged a question of why Beijing refused to call the Russian campaign an “invasion” and backed away from his previous already-vague statement that “one country should not flagrantly undermine others’ sovereignty.” Instead, he drew moral equivalency between Russia and Ukraine by calling on “all parties to exercise necessary restraint” and implicitly blamed NATO for causing the war by “strengthening or even expanding military blocs.” Wang’s colleague Hua Chunying has repeatedly called the United States “the culprit of current tensions surrounding Ukraine.”

In choosing to support diplomatically what is almost universally seen as a villainous act of aggression, China’s international standing is reduced. The ceremonial veneer of moral uprightness that Chinese officials work so hard to maintain is tarnished. Consequently, Beijing’s agenda, including its position that it has the right to annex the de facto state of Taiwan, commands less international respect and engenders more suspicion. In general, a weaker rather than a stronger international position is a disincentive for Chinese leaders to make a decision they know will bring much global opprobrium, at least in the short term.

One of the factors that would support a Chinese decision to go to war against Taiwan would be the expectation that economic reliance on China would deter other important countries from levying serious sanctions against Beijing. Putin likely had a similar expectation with regard to Russia. But contrary to expectations, European governments proved willing and able to support quickly and unitedly a surprisingly tough stance against aggression, despite the potential harm to their economic interests.

Particularly significant was the disconnection of major Russian banks from the international SWIFT transaction network, a step Europe considered but was ultimately reluctant to implement following Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea. The developed countries now have a template for future similar scenarios, including a cross-Strait war. Chinese elites might have believed that economics always trumps values. No longer.

The course of the war so far is not encouraging to Chinese military planners. Ukraine has demonstrated how a seemingly overmatched military can prove stubbornly formidable when fighting on its home ground and motivated by the objective of saving loved ones and statehood from an invader. This does not invalidate the China’s large quantitative military advantages, but it illustrates that superior numbers do not automatically guarantee success. The Russians’ problems with logistics and the difficulties they face trying to fight in cities are especially applicable to a would-be invader of Taiwan.

Finally, the war in Ukraine is likely to accelerate changes Taipei must make to improve the island’s chances of fighting off an attempted Chinese invasion. The war should focus minds on at least these three key issues.

First, Taipei must use its limited defense funds to acquire the weapons systems most useful for the all-important job of stopping attacking Chinese ships and aircraft. Second, Taiwanese conscript soldiers require a much more serious training program than they currently get. Third, Taipei should organize reserve soldiers into a territorial defense force, such as is now acquitting itself well in Ukraine. The prospect of contending with an independent guerrilla army that could fight on even after the apparent defeat of the regular Taiwanese armed forces adds to the disincentives against Beijing choosing war.

The ongoing war should serve as a warning to Beijing that its irredentist claims over Taiwan would not shield China from international condemnation as a war-criminal regime, or from economic retribution if it attacked Taiwan. Nor could it expect the people of Taiwan to accept forced annexation supinely. Ukraine’s heroism reverberates around the world, including in the Taiwan Strait.

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

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

PacNet #13 – What the Indo-Pacific sees in Ukraine

The capitals of the Indo-Pacific are closely watching the invasion of Ukraine. From Tokyo to Taipei, Hanoi to Canberra, and Bangkok to Beijing, Russia’s invasion presents a lucid lesson as to the tactics China could use in any forced re-unification of Taiwan, such as gray zone operations, lawfare, fake news, military might, and posturing.

But the Indo-Pacific faces numerous other areas where a Russian-style takeover with Chinese characteristics could happen. In the East China Sea, the Senkaku Islands face nearly daily incursions and challenges to Japanese sovereignty through lawfare tactics such as adoption of a Chinese Coast Guard Law in January 2021.

According to Lyle Goldstein, the Taiwan Strait remains ripe for invasion and in the South China Sea the Philippines has experienced Chinese swarming gray zone operations such as the April 2021 Whitsun Reef incident, as well as Chinaexplicitly rejecting the Permanent Court of Arbitration 2016 decisions against China’s claims. Today, China holds a set of artificial islands it has militarized, supposedly as an outpost for the delivery of emergency aid and humanitarian aid to Southeast Asian friends.

What the Indo-Pacific sees

Three concerns have emerged from Russia’s invasion. The first has to do with US security guarantees at the bilateral level. After the hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan, concerns have resurfaced as to whether the United States will come to the aid of Japan over the Senkaku Islands or Taiwan in the event Beijing seeks to unify it with the mainland.

Similarly, in the South China Sea critical sea lanes of communication, the major arteries of trade and import/export of energy are potentially at risk if China decides to engage in a forced acquisition of these territories.

Stakeholders in the region worry that a Russian-style contingency in the East China Sea, South China Sea, or Taiwan Strait would fundamentally collapse the regional security architecture, placing invaluable sea lines of communication and the First and Second Island Chain in the hands of authoritarian China, a regime with an established track record of economic coercion and weaponization of supply chains.

The second area of concern for Indo-Pacific stakeholders is the response of the United States and the international community. Stakeholders closely observe the tools that will be applied to penalize, discipline, and push back against Russia’s expansionism.

They should appreciate that the European Union has taken a collective stance including the EU’s first batch of Russia sanctions targeting 351 lawmakers, high-ranking officials, and banks. Germany has taken forceful actions by putting Nord Stream 2 on hold, and the United States has coalesced and strengthened NATO unity in the face of Russia’s belligerence. This includes comprehensive and collective sanctions such as “sweeping financial sanctions and stringent export controls that will have profound impact on Russia’s economy, financial system, and access to cutting-edge technology.”

The question for many Indo-Pacific states is: Will this be sustained? Will it be escalated, and will deterrence capabilities be deployed to prevent further expansion of Russian influence into Eastern Europe? And, perhaps most importantly, will this pay dividends?

This is critical for Tokyo, Taipei, Canberra, and Southeast Asian countries. They view enhanced deterrence capabilities as essential for pushing back against aggressive Chinese behavior in their region. This includes deterrence systems to “prevent low-intensity crisis scenarios like the landing of Chinese fishing crews or maritime law-enforcement officials on the Senkaku Islands,” according to Iwama Yoko and Murano Masashi.

In Japan’s case, Iwama and Murano also stresses the importance of enhancing the “MSDF’s capabilities to swiftly negate any Chinese efforts at escalation, thereby underpinning its national capability to handle situations arising in the gray zone.”

The logic of Indo-Pacific stakeholders is that anything less than substantial investment in deterrence and costly punitive measures against the Putin regime would result in Beijing drawing false conclusions about the resolve of the United States and its allies, and thus an end to the US Indo-Pacific Strategy.

The hope for capitals in the Indo-Pacific is that a robust defence of Ukraine will not distract the United States from sustained engagement at all levels in the region. In addition, they hope that confronting Russia will mean that the United States and its allies can draw lessons from Russia’s invasion, including the need to maximize deterrence capabilities within the Indo-Pacific. Ideally this will be integrated with economic sanctions as well as a blocking of potential aggressors’ ability to use the financial system and sea lanes of communications freely—key elements to maintain China’s economic prosperity.

Third, and relatedly, capitals in this region will watch for a shift of resources away from the Indo-Pacific and towards Ukraine. The Biden administration has been adamant that it will not intervene militarily in the conflict (notwithstanding the at least 7,000 troops that have been sent to “ reassure skittish NATO allies in Eastern Europe”). Capitals within this region will look at the investments NATO and the United States place in Poland, Hungary, and other countries vulnerable to Russian incursions or tactics including the weaponization of refugees.

They will be also look for a concrete example of resources directed at the Indo-Pacific. This includes a United States Indo-Pacific Economic Framework that not only competes with Chinese initiatives but offers new initiatives and frameworks for integrating the region. That includes inculcating a rules-based order, transparency, and good governance in the region to deal with emerging regional challenges.

What to expect

While Indo-Pacific capitals are concerned about the US position in the region, some like Japan will not wait for the United States to respond while others will vacillate in silence. They will likely begin their own bilateral and multilateral initiatives to strengthen deterrence capabilities. This will include more proactive cooperation in the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (“Quad”) at many of the contested areas within the Indo-Pacific.

This proactive diplomacy will not only translate into Quad partners providing for their own maritime security but also into bringing in other partners into a Quad-plus formation to ensure that the Quad remains a nimble institution that can deal with ad-hoc regional problems.

AUKUS-based deterrence capabilities will likely accelerate within the region. Many Indo-Pacific stakeholders will welcome this. We are also likely to see contingency strategies to deal with challenges across the Taiwan Strait as well as South China Sea and the East China Sea. Tokyo has been at the forefront of this shift, articulating Japan’s security concerns over Taiwan, and with former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo stressing that a Taiwan security dilemma is a Japan security dilemma.

Indo-Pacific stakeholders, including China, will look at the failures and successes of Russia, but also the United States and its allies. China will look for cracks in the US-NATO armor, seeking leverage to pursue its geopolitical objectives across the Taiwan Strait and East and South China Seas. They will look for weaknesses in the Biden administration and commitment to sanctions, including removing Russia from the SWIFT system, which will have economic implications for the United States and the partners. One consequence, for instance, could be the acceleration of China’s attempts to adopt a digital currency to deploy throughout the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) network of countries and potentially insulate China from future sanctions.

Indo-Pacific stakeholders will also look to the strategies that the European Union and the United States develop to deal with the energy shortages and increases in energy prices as Russia will likely weaponize energy resources to pressure EU countries to step back from sanctions.

Working together, Canada and the United States may provide some energy relief in the short to mid-term, until the European Union further diversifies away from Russia as its primary energy supplier.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is the canary in the coal mine for many Indo-Pacific stakeholders. A forceful, collective, and effective response to Russia’s belligerence would do much to accrue the confidence of the United States allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific.

Dr. Stephen Nagy is a senior associate professor at the International Christian University in Tokyo, a fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute (CGAI); a senior fellow at the MacDonald Laurier Institute (MLI); a senior fellow at the East Asia Security Centre (EASC); 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. Click here to request a PacNet subscription.

Photo: A Chinese Coast Guard ship seen near the Senkaku Islands in February. Source: Hitoshi Nakaima/Kyodo

PacNet #60 – AUKUS’ short- and long-term implications for Taiwan

More than a mere pact over submarines, the Australia-United Kingdom-United States trilateral (AUKUS) signifies the crossing of a strategic threshold by Washington and its partners, past robust competition and toward outright confrontation. This, naturally, has significant implications for Taiwan’s security.

By agreeing to afford Australia access to nuclear naval propulsion and other advanced strategic technologies—a first since the US-UK Mutual Defense Agreement of 1958—AUKUS fortifies the US-led order to deter military challenges in the region. AUKUS, of course, has the Chinese Community Party (CCP) regime in mind. This strengthening of the defense relationship with Canberra, even at the expense of political fallout with Paris, signals to Beijing that Washington (and its partners) are preparing in case of conflict.

Taiwan is where such conflict looks likely, given the irredentist claims by China, the significance of its geography to major regional powers (e.g., the United States, or Japan), and its critical role in the global supply chain.

Nuclear-powered submarines (or SSNs, as the US Navy calls them) will give Australia the range, transit speed, and endurance to provide meaningful presence in the Taiwan Strait. Moreover, SSNs are one of the few assets able to penetrate and conduct sustained operations within China’s anti-access area-denial, particularly in combination with submarine-launched cruise missiles. The other long-range strike capabilities provisioned under AUKUS (Tomahawk cruise missiles for the Hobart-class destroyers, air-to-surface missiles for Royal Australian Air Force fighter aircraft, precision strike missiles, and US-Australian collaborative development of hypersonic missiles) will also strengthen Australia’s capacity to support US military operations in first-island-chain contingencies.

What’s more, AUKUS signals strengthened British security commitments to the Indo-Pacific, already demonstrated by the HMS Queen Elizabeth carrier strike group’s 28-week deployment to the region.

These contribute to enhancing the so-called “integrated deterrence” championed by the Biden administration, particularly Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.

Implications for Taiwan

Though heartened by AUKUS, Taipei remains cautious about its significance for its security.

If AUKUS partners are committed to deterring China from conquering Taiwan, the three governments must reassess their policy regarding defense cooperation with the island. For example, London still imposes strict restrictions on defense exports to Taipei. Canberra, for its part, has long forbidden direct contact between Taiwanese officials with Australian defense establishment outside of the military education system. Not surprisingly, then, Taipei is prudent in its expectations of any realignment of Canberra’s security cooperation posture, especially given Australia’s economic interdependence with China.

The United States has begun making headway towards enhancing Taiwan’s defense while managing tensions with China. One example appears to be quietly encouraging a select number of allies to loosen restrictions on security cooperation with Taipei, including defense technology, intelligence, and other exchanges. Similar policy realignment should be among priority considerations for AUKUS countries.

AUKUS countries, meanwhile, are unlikely to deploy additional military capabilities to change the power balance in the Taiwan Strait by 2027, when US-based sources say the threat of Chinese invasion is most severe. Current Australian power projection assets are limited to six Collins-class conventionally powered submarines, with the deployment of nuclear submarines still over a decade away. Also unclear is Britain’s willingness and ability to rapidly base and sustain substantive capabilities in the Indo-Pacific that would contribute to deterring and, if necessary, winning a major military conflict with China. AUKUS’ significance to Taiwan, therefore, is primarily over the long term.

Near-term options

AUKUS countries should advance an ambitious security cooperation agenda focused on a Taiwan Strait conflict scenario. At a strategic level, they should participate in joint war planning. At the operational level, they should consider a joint working group to ensure interoperability—including, most importantly, with Taiwan forces and C4ISR (Command, Control, Communications, Computers Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) systems.

Between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, there should be discussions about assisting Taiwan with defense systems and/or related technology, which can help alleviate the severe arms embargo Beijing imposes on Taipei. AUKUS countries should also explore expanded participation through track-2 discussions on collective measures for countering gray-zone threats, improving regional interoperability, and enhancing intelligence sharing.

In the short-term, however, even before such measures are enacted, AUKUS signals to Taiwan that key countries are now willing to push back more seriously against Beijing’s rising military assertiveness. It suggests to Taipei that outside help is increasing, making its leaders more resolute in the fight for its own defense and survival, which is critical to strengthen deterrence against Chinese military adventurism.

Fu S. Mei (tdrfsm@aol.com) is Director at the Taiwan Security Analysis Center in Manhasset, New York.

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

Issues & Insights Vol. 21, CR 3 — US-Taiwan Deterrence and Defense Dialogue: Dealing with Increased Chinese Aggressiveness

INTRODUCTION

Taiwan needs much stronger friendships and more support, particularly from the United States, to counter Chinese moves and enhance deterrence of, and its defense potential against, Beijing. This is urgent because Taiwan no longer holds the qualitative advantage it once had over China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

The United States supports a strong, resilient, and democratic Taiwan capable of maintaining its autonomy and ability to counter coercion and defend itself from any source, especially from China. Absent this, Washington’s widely shared vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific would be permanently undermined.

It is clear, therefore, that the United States and Taiwan should step up their joint work and strengthen their security relationship, and it is critical that they do so expeditiously. At the same time, from a US perspective, it is important not to embolden Taipei or exceedingly raise its expectations about the US role to deter and defend against Beijing. While Washington has an interest in strengthening the island’s deterrence and defense potential vis-à-vis Beijing, it also does not want to encourage Taipei to become belligerent toward Beijing. Engagement, therefore, involves striking a tough balance, and many topics to that effect remain difficult—and much too sensitive—to address and discuss at the official level, particularly when it comes to deterrence and defense questions.

To this end, the Pacific Forum, in partnership with the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) and in cooperation with the Institute for National Defense and Security Research (INDSR), organized the inaugural Track 2[1]  US-Taiwan Deterrence and Defense Dialogue. The dialogue aimed to: initiate a discussion between the United States and Taiwan on deterrence and defense, and produce actionable and operationally relevant recommendations for policy; and to build a community of senior and young, up-and-coming officials and strategists well-versed in these issues both in the United States and Taiwan.

On Aug. 31-Sept. 1, 2021, more than 80 scholars, experts, and former and current government officials (the latter in their private capacities) from the United States and Taiwan convened for the inaugural Track 2 US-Taiwan Deterrence and Defense Dialogue in a hybrid format[2] (in Honolulu, and with participants joining virtually) to examine growing Chinese assertiveness vis-a-vis Taiwan and its impact on Taiwan’s security and Taiwan-US relations. Topics for discussion included US and Taiwan comparative threat assessments focused on the near-, mid-, and long-term threat posed by China toward Taiwan; Taiwanese and US defense policy plans, goals, and priorities; an examination of the whole spectrum of US strategic and conventional deterrence and defense, from gray-zone challenges to high-end contingencies; domestic attitudes in Taiwan and the United States and their impact on national decision-making; and the prospects for future cooperation aimed at strengthening deterrence without undermining the prospects for cross-Strait stability. The dialogue’s agenda underwent extensive pre-dialogue “socialization” with key stakeholders from both the United States and Taiwan to ensure that topics for discussions and eventual actionable recommendations generated were relevant to the national security interests and priorities of both countries.

The discussions, held under the Chatham House rule, were candid and cordial with the common purpose of improving Taiwan-US defense cooperation and enhancing Taiwan’s ability to defend itself. Disagreements existed on a number of issues both within and between the two delegations but the discussion, while frank and direct, was respectful and insightful. The recommendations contained in this report, unless otherwise specifically noted, were generated by the discussions as interpreted by this author. Both the agenda and participant list are included in the appendix; all participants attended in their private capacity.

The statements made and views expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of the Pacific Forum, the project sponsor, or the dialogue participants’ respective organizations and affiliations. For questions, please email Ralph@pacforum.org.

[1] Track 2 dialogues are conferences and workshops that bring together subject-matter experts, academics, policy analysts and, on certain occasions, unofficial representatives from governments, to discuss thematic issues and generate insights and nonbinding recommendations. Participants in track 2 dialogues are invited in their private capacity.

[2] In keeping with State of Hawaii COVID protocols, two back-to-back conference rooms were set up and video linked, each containing no more than 10 participants at any one time; the remaining participants, both in Honolulu and elsewhere, participated via WebEx, in strict compliance with State of Hawaii safety regulations.

Click here to download the full report.