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

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

Responding to PRC Pressure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enhancing Deterrence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Increasing Public/Allied Awareness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Major points of agreement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PacNet #6 – Comparative Connections Summary: January 2023

Comparative Connections Summary:
September-December 2022

 

REGIONAL OVERVIEW

Indo-Pacific As the “Epicenter”

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

The Biden administration released its long-awaited National Security Strategy (NSS) this trimester, along with unclassified versions of its National Defense Strategy and Missile Defense and Nuclear Posture Reviews. There were no big surprises. The NSS identified the Indo-Pacific as “the epicenter of 21st century geopolitics” and reaffirmed China as the “pacing challenge,” even while branding Russia as “an immediate threat to the free and open international system” as a result of its invasion of Ukraine. Underscoring the priority attached to the region, President Biden attended the East Asia Summit in Phnom Penh and the G-20 Summit in Bali, with Vice President Kamala Harris representing the United States at the annual Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders’ Meeting in Bangkok.

 

US-JAPAN RELATIONS

Ramping up Diplomacy and Defense Cooperation

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

In the wake of the death of former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo, the fall brought unexpectedly turbulent politics for Prime Minister Kishida Fumio. In the United States, however, President Joe Biden welcomed the relatively positive outcome of the midterm elections, with Democrats retaining control over the Senate and losing less than the expected number of seats in the House. Diplomacy continued to be centered on various impacts of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but both Biden and Kishida focused their attention on a series of Asian diplomatic gatherings to improve ties. Chinese President Xi Jinping’s attendance at the ASEAN Summit in Phnom Penh, G20 Meeting in Bali, and APEC gathering in Bangkok proffered the opportunity finally for in-person bilateral meetings for both leaders. Finally, Japan’s long awaited strategic documents were unveiled in December. A new National Security Strategy (NSS) took a far more sober look at China’s growing influence and included ongoing concerns over North Korea as well as a growing awareness of Japan’s increasingly difficult relationship with Russia.

 

US-CHINA RELATIONS

The Bali Summit: US and PRC Leaders Attempt to Arrest the Slide 

BY BONNIE S. GLASER, GERMAN MARSHALL FUND OF THE US

Joe Biden and Xi Jinping met in person for the first time as national leaders at the G20 summit in Bali and agreed to manage competition in their relationship responsibly and restore regular dialogue between senior officials and cooperation between their countries. Bilateral meetings between senior officials in charge of climate, finance, trade, and defense followed. After the US announced another weapons sale to Taiwan, however, Beijing halted the resumption of military-to-military exchanges again. The US issued new export controls aimed at freezing China’s advanced chip production and supercomputing capabilities. President Biden maintained that he would send US forces to defend Taiwan if attacked and repeated that whether the island is independent is up to Taiwan to decide. The Biden administration issued its National Security Strategy, National Defense Strategy, Nuclear Posture Review, and Missile Defense Review. The US imposed sanctions on Chinese officials for serious human rights abuses in Tibet and arbitrary detention of Falun Gong practitioners. China retaliated by sanctioning two former Trump administration officials.

 

US-KOREA RELATIONS

Everything Everywhere All at Once, Extremely Close and Incredibly Loud

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

Continuing a trend from the May-August reporting period, the final reporting period of 2022 in US-Korea relations was marked by an accelerated ratcheting up of tension. In short, numerous problems reared up on the Korean Peninsula from September-December, and good solutions have been few. And not only does this describe relations between the US and North Korea, but in their own, friendly way also the situation between Washington and Seoul, whose frequent invocations of rock-solid alliance cooperation belie unease about crucial areas of partnership. Two critical issues have been increasingly affecting the US-South Korea alliance in 2022, with the September-December period no exception. First, South Korea desires ever more alliance-partner defense and security reassurance from the US in the face of a growing North Korean nuclear threat and Chinese revisionism. Yet the US has downward-trending limits on credible reassurance as North Korea masters nuclear weapons technology that threatens US extended nuclear deterrence for South Korea. The US also faces less geopolitical pressure to effusively reassure its Indo-Pacific allies—including South Korea—as China grows to menace the regional order and the US consequently faces lower risk of ally hedging or realignment.

 

US-INDIA RELATIONS

Friends with Benefits

BY AKHIL RAMESH, PACIFIC FORUM

2022 was a challenging year, not just for US-India relations, but for every India analyst trying to explain the Indian government’s position on the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Explaining to a non-IR audience India’s history of nonalignment during the Cold-War era and its current policy of multi-alignment was not a gratifying endeavor. While the last four months of 2022 did not have the friction and stress-tests as the first four of 2022 or the slow and steady expansion of relations that followed between May and September, they certainly had multiple surprising events that could make them the halcyon months of 2022. In mid-November, the US and Indian armies engaged in a military exercise at Auli, not far from the Line of Actual Control (LAC) separating Indian-held and Chinese-held territory. While the US and Indian armies have engaged in exercises prior to 2022, this proximity to the Indo-China border is a first. A month later, in another first, US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen traveled to India to meet Indian Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman to expand the US-India “Indo-Pacific partnership.” Yellen characterized India as a “friendly shore” for supply chain diversification and as the indispensable partner for the US.

 

US-SOUTHEAST ASIA RELATIONS

External Order, Inner Turmoil

BY CATHARIN DALPINO, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY

In November three ASEAN states—Cambodia, Indonesia, and Thailand—drew favorable marks for their chairmanship of high-profile regional and global meetings: the East Asia Summit and ASEAN Leaders Meeting; the G20 Summit; and the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting, respectively. Helming these meetings was particularly challenging for Southeast Asian leaders—who are naturally inclined to avoid strong alignments with external powers—in the current global environment of heightened tensions between the United States and China in the Taiwan Strait and the war in Ukraine. However, the year was a difficult period for ASEAN internally, with uneven economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and the intractable conflict in Myanmar. The last quarter of 2022 saw two political shifts in the region: in general elections in Malaysia, Anwar Ibrahim achieved a longstanding ambition to become prime minister but will have to manage a difficult coalition to retain power. At the year’s end, Laos changed prime ministers, but it is not clear if the transition will solve the country’s debt problems, which were revealed to be more dire than estimated.

 

CHINA-SOUTHEAST ASIA RELATIONS

Xi Moderates to US and Others Amid Continued Competition 

BY ROBERT SUTTER, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY & CHIN-HAO HUANG, YALE-NUS COLLEGESoutheast Asia was the center of international attention in November as regional and global leaders gathered at the G20 conference in Indonesia, which took place between the annual ASEAN-hosted summit meetings in Cambodia and the yearly APEC leaders meeting in Thailand. Acute China-US rivalry loomed large in media and other forecasts, warning of a clash of US-Chinese leaders with negative implications feared in Southeast Asia and elsewhere. The positive outcome of the Biden-Xi summit at the G20 conference and related actions eased tensions, which was welcomed, particularly in Southeast Asia, but the implications for the US and allies’ competition with China remain to be seen. Tensions over disputes in the South China Sea continued unabated. President Xi Jinping made his first trip to a major international gathering at the G20 conference followed by the APEC meeting after more than two years of self-imposed isolation in line with his government’s strict COVID-19 restrictions.

 

CHINA-TAIWAN RELATIONS

Tensions Intensify as Taiwan-US IT Cooperation Blossoms 

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

In the wake of then US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan in August, China’s extensive military exercises continued to impose a more threatening “new normal” in the Taiwan Strait. Taiwan continued to be the focus of heated public exchanges between the US and China. US President Biden said, for a fourth time, that the US would defend Taiwan and added an inflammatory codicil that independence was for Taiwan to decide. At the 20th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, General Secretary Xi Jinping promised China would strive for peaceful reunification with Taiwan but would not renounce use of force. On Dec. 23, Biden signed the Taiwan Enhanced Resilience Act and a State Department appropriation providing $2 billion in loans for Taiwan to purchase US equipment. Two days later, China sent 71 military aircraft and seven ships to intimidate Taiwan, its largest-ever one-day exercise near the island. Two days later, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen announced that Taiwan would extend its military conscription to 12 months. TSMC formally broke ground for the first of two factories in the US, a $40 billion investment.

 

NORTH KOREA-SOUTH KOREA RELATIONS

Drones in a Darkening Sky, Tactical Nuke Talk: Pyongyang’s Provocations Escalate

BY AIDAN FOSTER-CARTER, LEEDS UNIVERSITY, UK

The main feature of inter-Korean relations in the last four months of 2022 was varied and ever-increasing provocations by Pyongyang. Besides multiple missiles, there were artillery volleys and an incursion by five drones. Kim Jong Un also ramped up his nuclear threats, in theory and practice. A revised law widened the scope of nuclear use, while a new stress on tactical weapons was matched by parading 30 new multiple launch rocket systems (MLRs) which could deliver these anywhere on the peninsula. The government of South Korea President Yoon Suk Yeol for his part reinstated officially calling North Korea an enemy, and revived concern with DPRK human rights. As the year turned, his government was mulling retaliation for the drone incursions; that could include scrapping a 2018 inter-Korean military accord, a dead letter now due to Pyongyang’s breaches. With tensions rising, the new year ahead may be an anxious one on the peninsula.

 

CHINA-KOREA RELATIONS

Kim Jong Un Tests Xi-Yoon Diplomacy

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

Regional and global summits presented high-level platforms for China-South Korea engagement in November. The summitry showed that the relationship had returned with solidity with the resumption of international meetings and in-person exchanges. Although the Xi Jinping and Yoon Suk Yeol leaderships advanced diplomatic exchange, concerns emerged over enduring political and security constraints and growing linkages with the economic relationship. Kim Jong Un’s escalation of military threats, through an unprecedented number of missile tests this year, challenged Xi-Yoon bilateral and multilateral diplomacy. China-North Korea bilateral interactions, while brisk, primarily relied on Xi and Kim’s exchange of congratulatory letters around significant founding anniversaries, China’s 20th Party Congress, and expressions of condolences after the death of former Chinese leader Jiang Zemin. The UN Security Council’s failure to take unified action on DPRK threats prompted South Korea to voice frustration with China and expand cooperation with US and Japanese partners. Such responses only reinforced concerns raised in recent leadership exchanges, and Korean domestic division over Yoon’s diplomatic strategies.

 

JAPAN-CHINA RELATIONS

A Period of Cold Peace?

BY JUNE TEUFEL DREYER, UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI

In the sole high-level meeting in the report period, on the sidelines of the APEC meeting in Bangkok in November, General Secretary/President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Kishida Fumio essentially talked past each other. At an earlier ASEAN+3 meeting in Phnom Penh, Premier Li Keqiang and Kishida not only talked past each other but pointedly walked past each other. There was no resolution of major issues: the Chinese position is and remains that Taiwan is a core interest of the PRC in which Japan must not interfere. Japan counters that a Chinese invasion would be an emergency for Japan. On the islands known to the Chinese as the Diaoyu and to the Japanese as the Senkaku, Tokyo considers them an integral part of Japan on the basis of history and international law while China says the islands are part of China. On jurisdiction in the East China Sea, Japan says that demarcation should be based on the median line and that China’s efforts at unilateral development of oil and gas resources on its side of the median are illegal. Beijing does not recognize the validity of the median line.

 

JAPAN-KOREA RELATIONS

Japan and South Korea as Like-Minded Partners in the Indo-Pacific

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

The last four months of 2022 saw a flurry of bilateral diplomatic activities between Japan and South Korea in both nations’ capitals and around the world. They focused on 1) North Korea, 2) the issue of wartime forced labor, and 3) the future of Seoul-Tokyo cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region. Despite mutual mistrust and the low approval ratings of Prime Minister Kishida Fumio and President Yoon Suk Yeol, both leaders had the political will to see a breakthrough in bilateral relations. Another signal came in the form of new strategy documents in which Seoul and Tokyo explained their foreign and security policy directions and goals. On Dec. 16, the Kishida government published three national security-related documents—the National Security Strategy (NSS), the National Defense Strategy (NDS), and the Defense Buildup program. On Dec. 28, the Yoon government unveiled South Korea’s Strategy for a Free, Peaceful, Prosperous Indo-Pacific Region, its first ever Indo-Pacific strategy. Although each document serves a somewhat different purpose, it is now possible to gauge how similarly or differently Japan and South Korea assess challenges in the international security environment, and how they plan to respond to them.

 

CHINA-RUSSIA RELATIONS

Ending the War? Or the World?

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.

 

INDIA-EAST ASIA RELATIONS

India’s Ongoing ‘Strategic Correction to the East’ During 2022

BY SATU LIMAYEEAST-WEST CENTER IN WASHINGTON

India’s East Asia relations in 2022 followed the arc articulated by External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar’s address at Chulalongkorn University in Thailand in August 2022. He began by recalling three decades ago India made a “strategic correction to the East” which was “[o]riginally…contemplated as an economic measure, with trade and investment at its core” and mostly focused on ASEAN. He went on to say the geography, concepts, and assessments of India’s Indo-Pacific vision have expanded “to cover Japan, Korea and China, and in due course, Australia as also other areas of Pacific Islands…[and] facets of cooperation also increased…now cover[ing] connectivity in various forms, people-to-people ties and more recently, defense and security.” And while dutifully referencing India’s Indo-Pacific policies including Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR) and the Indo-Pacific Oceans’ Initiative (IPOI), he gave the most attention to the revitalized Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (“Quad”)
PacNet commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors.

PacNet #3 – The 118th Congress and China policy—Continuity over change in defending America

The dramatic display of factional politics and personal ambitions seen among Republicans in the selection of House of Representatives Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-California) marred the start of the 118th Congress. They reflected realities of divisive domestic politics impacting US policy in recent years. Despite this background, the resolve and momentum of bipartisan congressional majorities has grown over the past five years to be an enduring and driving force in defending America against dangers posed by China.

Continuity

Since 2018, Congress has become more important than ever in making US China policy, with a focus on defending America from wide-ranging and often very serious security, economic and governance challenges posed by the Chinese government. In this five-year period, Congress did not follow common practice since Richard Nixon’s trip to China in 1972 of resisting administration initiatives in relations with China. Also in this five-year period, a past pattern of Congress competing with the administration for control of foreign policy was overshadowed by close symbiosis between bipartisan congressional majorities and a Republican and a Democratic president resisting China’s challenges.

Partisanship remained secondary as far as China policy was concerned. Congressional action against China was driven by calculations of congressional members. They persevered despite little support and poor understanding of the need for such dramatic change from public opinion and media until 2020; they offset resistance from strong domestic interests. The members were notably more resolved than President Trump and Democratic Party candidate Joseph Biden in countering China’s challenges.

Recent momentum

Entering office, President Biden soon put aside past ambivalence about Chinese dangers and brought his views in line with congressional majorities. He supported a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, warning of China’s ambitions to dominate the fourth industrial revolution and advising “we can’t let them win.” The warning meshed well with Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer’s concurrent extraordinary legislation to advance American technology to counter China. He said the alternative was a world where “the Chinese Communist Party determines the rules of the road.”

The infrastructure bill and another bill curbing US imports of products coming from “forced labor” in concentration camps in Xinjiang had bipartisan congressional support. Many provisions targeting China in the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and the Consolidated Appropriation Act for FY 2022 added momentum.

2022 was even more consequential. Just before the congressional recess in August, Schumer’s initiative, the $280 billion Chips and Science Act, became law supporting US competition with China in high technology industries and military forces dependent on high technology. Seventeen Republican senators and 24 Republican representatives voted for the bill. Concurrently, Senate Democrats compromised differences allowing passage of a $369 billion climate change and tax package, called the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022. Though not supported by Republicans for reasons unrelated to China, the bill’s many provisions targeting China reflected bipartisan congressional preferences.

In October, the Biden government imposed sweeping export restrictions designed to hobble China’s ability to manufacture or acquire high technology computer chips, helping to meet congressional concern about China’s advances in high technology threatening the United States. Other measures explicitly defending America against Chinese threats that garnered general congressional approval were initiating and strengthening the Quad alignment of Australia, India and Japan with the United States; the  AUKUS agreement involving Great Britain and Australia;  the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) involving 13 regional governments; the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment (PGII) led by the G7 countries; and the Blue Pacific Partners including regional powers, the United States and Great Britain focused on the Pacific Islands.

American policy toward Taiwan prompted strong debate for several weeks leading up to the visit of House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan on Aug. 2 and over four days of provocative Chinese military shows of force surrounding the island. The Biden government remained in step with Congress as it reacted with firm resolve, avoiding weakness in the face of Chinese pressure. Administration and congressional efforts to defend Taiwan went forward, creating circumstances, which along with other developments, appeared to prompt China to adopt a more positive posture toward the United States at and after the summit meeting of the two presidents on Nov. 14. The new Chinese posture included resumption of high-level China-US communications halted because of the Pelosi visit.

Administration-congressional differences over requirements and wording of the Taiwan Policy Act introduced at this time were met by moderating the requirements and language and including the provisions in the broad ranging National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) passed at the end of the year. China reacted to the bill with one day of unprecedented warplane activity around Taiwan—registering strong opposition without reversing Beijing’s new flexibility toward the Biden government.

Outlook for 2023

Momentum of congressional-executive symbiosis seeking to defend America from Chinese challenges is stronger than ever and growing, arguing for continuity in the coming year and more. Possible challenges that may complicate but are unlikely to upset recent momentum include partisan attacks by the new Republican majority in the House of Representatives, weakened but still important influence of America First advocates in the Republican Party seeking to withdraw from costly international involvement, and as yet not evident growth in Chinese moderation leading to differences among US strategists on the strengths and weaknesses of China’s challenges and  appropriate US responses.

Heading the list of current congressional priorities are oversight and implementation of recent initiatives. The large expenditures targeting China in the Chips and Science bill and the Inflation Reduction Act as well as the administration’s export curbs on high technology chips to China warrant careful oversight to ensure money is well spent, resulting innovations are not stolen by China and promised export curbs are not weakened by exceptions. In addition, the Biden administration and congressional leaders seek to monitor and likely curb large scale US investment in China. US portfolio investment was $368 billion up to the end of 2016 but was $781 billion over the next four years.

The NDAA passed in December made clear congressional concerns, likely warranting oversight hearings and other investigations, about buttressing US military capacities in the Indo-Pacific Deterrence Initiative and a variety of other programs. Taiwan got special attention given growing and threatening Chinese military power.

Other likely congressional actions involve investigating and curbing Chinese espionage, penetration of US government high technology laboratories and advanced university facilities, unauthorized activities of Chinese government security agents in the United States, and covert and overt Chinese influence operations involving universities, media, think tanks and related public policy organizations.

The new leadership of the House of Representatives and its proposed China Select Committee promises opposition to Chinese purchase of US agricultural land and Beijing’s involvement in the fentanyl epidemic plaguing America, as well as attention to ongoing issues of concern regarding supply chain risks and deceptive trade practices.

The Republican leaders have avowed a strong interest in continued bipartisanship in dealing with China related issues. It remains to be seen if Democrats will be allowed and will be willing to join the China Select Committee. Off-setting bipartisanship are likely moves seen as partisan. For example, Republicans are expected to investigate the implications of the involvement of President Biden’s son in past business deals with China. To conclude, another avowed Select Committee priority is to investigate and highlight Chinese malfeasance in handing the initial outbreak of COVID-19 in Wuhan, with the chairman of the Committee believing that COVID emerged from a laboratory in Wuhan that had engaged in dangerous research which was funded by the US government.

In sum, congressional-administration efforts to defend America from often very serious challenges and danger posed by Chinese government behavior have momentum and will advance in 2023, reinforced by some initiatives by the Republican-led House of Representatives and distracted by others.

Robert Sutter (sutterr@gwu.edu) Professor of Practice of International Affairs, George Washington University, served as lead China analyst and later Director of the Foreign Affairs Division during 24 years with the Congressional Research Service.

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

Photo: The People’s Republic of China flag and the U.S. flag fly on a lamp post along near the U.S. Capitol in Washington during then-Chinese President Hu Jintao’s state visit, January 18, 2011 (2 July 2021, REUTERS) by Hyungwon Kang

PacNet #2 – The Indian Coast Guard, the Quad, a free and open Indo-Pacific

While the four states of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (or “Quad”) maintain separate organizations responsible for military and non-military missions at sea, no two delineate those organizations’ responsibilities the same way. This fact notwithstanding, Quad countries stand to gain much by exploring new areas of cooperation between their maritime law enforcement agencies.

The Quad brings together four like-minded democratic countries—India, Japan, Australia and the US—who share similar visions for a free, open, prosperous, and inclusive Indo-Pacific region. Geographically, the four countries effectively bound the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Politically, all four countries already have established respective comprehensive security and economic partnerships and 2+2-level dialogues to discuss cooperation on military and economic issues. Militarily, the four states participate in several major exercises and a series of smaller activities, while Japan and Australia maintain alliances with the United States. These deepening relationships provide an ideal foundation for extending their security cooperation to their maritime law enforcement agencies.

The Indian Coast Guard is the fourth arm of the Indian military controlled by India’s Ministry of Defense. The Indian Coast Guard Act was enacted on Aug. 18, 1978 to institutionalize India’s maritime security force and safeguard India’s maritime holdings as delineated in the 1976 Maritime Zones of India Act. It has grown from seven surface platforms in 1978 into a lean-yet-formidable force with 158 ships and 70 aircraft in its inventory in 2022, and is seeking to expand further. The ICG’s role has widened as well, expanding from its initial remit of countering seaborne smuggling activities to now addressing a wide range of maritime issues and challenges.

Delhi’s primary objective in creating a coast guard was to undertake peacetime tasks of ensuring the security of its maritime holdings. The enshrined duties of the ICG include enforcement of maritime zones and safety of artificial islands, and security of offshore terminals, installations and other structures. The ICG is responsible for protecting and assisting distressed mariners, environmental preservation, and control of marine pollution. It can also be called upon to support the Indian Navy during wartime. The ICG also participates in both domestic and international training opportunities.

Operating an average of 40 vessels on patrol at any given time, the ICG covers an area of approximately 55 million square kilometers (21 million square miles). The organization’s assets are widely distributed along the Indian coast, allowing pan-India littoral presence (including the Andaman and Nicobar Islands) and quick dispatch in case of distress, which it regularly has occasion to prove as it conducts humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations in the Indian Ocean region.

At the regional and international institutional level, ICG has enhanced its ties with counterparts of other partner nations. Intending to institutionalize this cooperation, the ICG has signed MoUs with various countries to address threats in the maritime domain in a collaborative manner.

As India’s premier maritime law enforcement agency, the ICG provides an appropriate forum and foundation upon which to strengthen the diplomatic relations between the Quad nations. With broad expertise in protection of sea lines of communication (SLOCs), pollution response, search and rescue, boarding operations, protecting aquatic species, and so on coast guards have any number of potential areas for interaction and cooperation.

The ICG and Japan Coast Guard (JCG) have signed a memorandum of understanding and already conduct bilateral exercises. Established in 1948, the Japan Coast Guard has a huge fleet of more than 350 technologically advanced vessels. Cooperation between the two can further be developed by increasing the frequency of joint training exercises in areas of mutual concern such as illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing. As the Indian Ocean hosts increasing numbers of foreign oceanographic research vessels, as do waters around Japan, both coast guards would benefit from sharing resources, best practices, and observations to address any unusual behavior exhibited by these vessels within and outside their respective EEZs.

Though Australia lacks an organization formally named a “coast guard,” India and Australia’s Maritime Border Command can cooperate on issues in their shared region. As MBC operates specialized equipment and oil spill remediation measures, this partnership would be a valuable skills exchange in addition to providing increased environmental security. The IOR is an area of heavy maritime traffic and that traffic results in higher frequency of marine pollution due to oil spills, accidents, and other environmental damage. The two countries might also explore formalizing agreements on conservation of marine resources, preventing illegal activities in protected areas, and countering illegal exploration of natural resources. Similar to Australia, India has several marine protected areas where knowledge sharing and best practices could be exchanged between the two organizations. Increasing the frequency of cross-training would create a knowledge-sharing platform and increase mutual understanding.

USCG is one of the eight uniformed services of the United States and sits within the US Department of Homeland Security. It has largest fleet of ships and aircraft amongst the four Quad nations, and its mandate extends beyond US domestic waters into international waters. It has state-of-the-art technology equipment that makes it one of the most advanced coast guard in the world, providing a valuable opportunity for the ICG to learn and adopt best practices. While a USCG cutter made the service’s maiden visit to India in the summer of 2022, the two coast guards do not have an MoU formalizing their relationship or detailing a plan for cooperation.

Dr Pooja Bhatt (poojabhatt.jnu@gmail.com) is a maritime researcher and currently working as a consultant at the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India. The views mentioned here are the author’s own and do not reflect the position of MEA or any other government organization.

This PacNet was developed as a part of a workshop on potential cooperation among Quad coast guards to implement the FOIP vision organized by YCAPS. The papers were edited by John Bradford (RSIS) and Blake Herzinger (AEI).

PacNet #1 – Taking the US-India relationship to the next level

The relationship with India is “the most important for the United States in the 21st century,” said Kurt Campbell, the Biden administration’s National Security Council Coordinator for the Indo-Pacific, last month. President Biden made similar comments earlier in 2022, and the recently published US strategic reviews also talk about the importance of India. The US National Security Strategy, for instance, states that, “As India is the world’s largest democracy and a Major Defense Partner, the United States and India will work together, bilaterally and multilaterally, to support our shared vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

Numerous reasons explain this enthusiasm for US-India rapprochement. Even though differences between the two countries are many (notably development level), similarities also abound. Both are big countries with a large and diverse population, both are democracies and both have vibrant civil societies and incredibly innovative communities, especially in technology.

Recently, Washington and New Delhi have capitalized on these similarities. They have strengthened their ties across the board to address regional and global problems from COVID-19 vaccines to climate change through bilateral and plurilateral mechanisms.

It’s about China

The primary catalyst for cooperation, however, has been their converging approach towards China, which both the United States and India have come to regard as a major competitor and, increasingly, a foe. To the United States, China is “the pacing challenge” which now determines most US foreign policy decisions, even after Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. Similarly, to India, even as Pakistan remains a major concern, China has become its main rival, especially due to recurring incidents over the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

The US-India relationship has thus flourished through the prism of competition with China, though this remains largely implicit. Washington and New Delhi have strengthened their political and economic relationship with Beijing in mind and boosted security cooperation, including through active participation in the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (“Quad”) with Australia and Japan. Washington and New Delhi have also enhanced military ties through army exercises such as the Yudh Abhyas, which recently took place in Auli, about 100 kilometers from the LAC, and naval exercises like Malabar, now also including Australia and Japan, and the 26-country RIMPAC exercise.

That said, for the US-India relationship to reach its full potential Washington and New Delhi must address fundamental issues and two important challenges.

The obstacles ahead

A trust deficit persists on each side about the other’s commitment to countering China. The United States is concerned by India’s longstanding policy of “strategic autonomy.” Washington fears this policy means New Delhi may not always be all-in in competition against Beijing.

India is troubled by the US interest in competing with China while leaving the door open to dialogue. New Delhi worries Washington and Beijing will find a bilateral modus vivendi leaving India (and others) hung out to dry. New Delhi’s concerns are especially strong because, at times, Washington sends mixed signals about its commitment to a flourishing relationship with India. Washington, for instance, has said little about the LAC incidents and not yet appointing an ambassador to India.

Two challenges compound this trust deficit. First is India’s relationship with Russia, its partner since early in the Cold War. Today, their partnership lives on through defense, crude, and fertilizer trade cooperation, to the great displeasure of the United States. In 2023, for instance, India will receive the first tranche of the Russian-made S-400 missile systems, a decision Washington has criticized but tolerated, waiving sanctions mandated by the 2017 US law on Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act. India’s refusal, despite US efforts, to join sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine further complicates the relationship, especially as Indian imports of Russian oil have since increased.

The second challenge is the US relationship with Pakistan, India’s longtime adversary. India has never been comfortable with the US-Pakistan partnership, and recently lambasted the US decision to help modernize Islamabad’s fleet of F-16 fighter jets. Indian External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said the US explanation that this will help counterterrorism operations “is not fooling anybody” and suggested Pakistan will deploy the upgraded fighters against India.

Managing problems

Thankfully, the United States and India are not powerless in the face of these problems.

Both countries should begin by reassuring the other that their willingness to counter China is strong and here to stay—because it is. New Delhi should make clear that pursuing strategic autonomy does not mean equivocating about strategic competition with China but, rather, that India will compete (and thus cooperate with the United States) in a manner that maintains its independence.

Washington should be equally clear that openness to dialogue with China is not mutually exclusive with commitment to competition, and that US-China dialogue, should it happen, would help manage that competition, as in the US-Soviet context during the Cold War, and not come at the expense of India or any other US partner.

The United States and India should also accept that, for now, the Russia and Pakistan challenges strain their relationship, but should rethink their approach to these challenges.

Washington should offer New Delhi alternative suppliers to Russia, especially as Indian officials look for diversification, notably in defense; the good news is US officials have said Washington and others would do just that. In the meantime, Washington should view New Delhi’s S-400 acquisition as a way of enhancing Indian defenses against China.

New Delhi should trust that Washington cooperates with Islamabad solely to improve counterterrorism. Furthermore, the F-16 deal should illuminate that to shape US choices (and avoid having to face some it dislikes), India should develop a much tighter relationship with the United States.

Seizing opportunities

The two countries should also leverage the opportunities the new year presents.

With India now chairing the G20 and finding its place on the world stage, Washington should double-down on support for New Delhi’s bids for a permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council and membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

Together, Washington and New Delhi should also reimagine India’s place in the Indo-Pacific, away from its sole, limited role in South Asia. This can be achieved through the recently launched US Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity and supply chain diversification projects, which have begun positioning India as an economic bulwark against China. With the United States and India out of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership and Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, increasing economic cooperation bilaterally and through plurilateral platforms will be critical.

Moreover, as the United States forges ahead with concepts such as friend-shoring, India’s macro-economic strength should make it a perfect candidate for diversification. Since 2020, several trade promotion agencies have lobbied US companies to shift production out of China. While challenges remain, India and others (notably Vietnam) are good alternatives to China. India is especially attractive for its sheer market size of a billion-plus. (Of note, India’s population is set to overtake China’s this year, and it is young—most Indians are under 35.)

That process has already begun. For instance, in 2021 Apple shifted some of its production to India through its contract manufacturer Foxconn. Apple now manufactures iPhones and other products in Chennai and plans to move 25% of its entire production to India as part of “China Plus One,” a business strategy to avoid investing only in China. Following its lead are companies like First Solar (solar PV manufacturer) and Amazon, which have increased their investments in India.

More generally, as the United States implements the reshoring of manufacturing across the country through legislation such as the Inflation Reduction Act and CHIPS and Science Act, Indian engineers and scientists can play an instrumental role. That should provide an impetus for Congress to rethink immigration policy, which affects large swathes of the Indian diaspora in the United States. Since 2020, for instance, Indian workers have had to wait several months for a visa appointment at US consulates.

This is important: former US Ambassador to India Richard Verma characterized the Indian diaspora as a potent force in taking the US-India relationship to the next level. Yet successive administrations have failed to capitalize on that potential, costing America talent. Fixing the immigration system should thus be a priority for the United States.

In 2022, the United States and India celebrated 75 years of diplomatic relations. Looking ahead, the United States and India can further strengthen their relationship, notably as competition with China is intensifying. But it will require the two countries to manage outstanding problems carefully and seize the opportunities before them. As 2023 begins, they should do so relentlessly.

David Santoro (david@pacforum.org) is President and CEO of the Pacific Forum. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSantoro1.

Akhil Ramesh (akhil@pacforum.org) is Senior Resident Fellow at Pacific Forum.

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

PacNet #68 – South Korea’s role in a Taiwan contingency: Indirect but essential

As South Korea’s military has grown stronger, the United States now expects it to play a larger role in maintaining regional stability. Gen. Paul LaCamera, the commander of the US Forces Korea (USFK), stated that “given the international reach of the South Korean military, opportunities are emerging for alliance cooperation beyond the Korean Peninsula.” The former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper was more explicit. In the event of a contingency in the Taiwan Strait, he said, “certainly there would be a support role (by South Korea) as well. I would imagine coming off the Korea Peninsula to support any type of Taiwan scenario.”

There are important precedents. South Korea provided military support for the United States war efforts in Vietnam and Iraq, and its air force and navy could likewise be deployed to the Taiwan Strait to fight with the United States. But South Korea’s military involvement would surely trigger China’s retaliation. China has shown the pattern of “killing the chicken to scare the monkey” when confronted with multiple players, as seen in the South China Sea. South Korea is the chicken in this case. Chinese media publicly refers to the country as “the weakest link” of the US alliance system in East Asia. China’s missiles can easily reach South Korea’s bases, and the People’s Liberation Army Navy will block or attack South Korean naval vessels in the Yellow Sea even before they sail to the Taiwan Strait.

North Korea is also likely to exploit the situation because the United States would be distracted if conflict were to occur in the Taiwan Strait. Such an event would create an opportunity for North Korea to speed up its advancement in missile and nuclear capabilities. North Korea’s concurrent military provocations may also help China divide the US military assets between the Taiwan Strait and the Korean Peninsula. Pyongyang already began to comment on the Taiwan issue. For example, Kim Jong Un sent “a letter of solidarity” to Beijing after the US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan last August. This is North Korea’s strategic signaling of potential support for China in the event of conflict in the Taiwan Strait.

For these reasons, the South Korean government has been cautious in clarifying its potential role in a Taiwan contingency. During the summit with President Joe Biden in May 2022, President Yoon Suk Yeol agreed to insert “the importance of preserving peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait” in the joint statement. But President Yoon did not meet with Speaker Pelosi when she visited South Korea after her trip to Taiwan. Likewise, while South Korea’s minister of defense and the US secretary of defense reaffirmed the importance of peace in the Taiwan Strait in December 2021, South Korea’s vice defense minister revealed that there has been no discussion between the two governments about South Korea’s role in a Taiwan contingency.

Surprisingly, the South Korean people are ready to support South Korea’s positive contribution to the defense of Taiwan. According to a survey conducted by JoongAng Ilbo and the East Asia Institute in August, only 18% of respondents opposed any involvement of South Korea in a Taiwan contingency, while 22.5% said they would support its participation in the joint military operation with the US forces. In the same survey, 42% responded that South Korea’s military role should be limited to providing rear-area support for US forces. Overall, 64.5% of South Korean respondents agreed that South Korea should provide direct or indirect support for US military operations in a Taiwan contingency.

South Korea is thus most likely to provide indirect support for the US forces in a Taiwan contingency. The USFK commander has hinted that the contingency planning for the forces’ involvement in the Taiwan Strait is under development. Due to China’s potential retaliation and North Korea’s opportunistic provocations on the Korean Peninsula, South Korea’s direct involvement in combat operations would most likely create two fronts of crises. Therefore, in the event of a crisis in the Taiwan Strait, South Korea’s primary focus should be to deter North Korea’s aggression while providing rear-area support for US operations—for example, through base access, provision of ammunitions, noncombatant evacuation, and noncombat operations like maintenance of weapon systems and augmentation of US reconnaissance capabilities.

Critics may argue that the diversification of the USFK’s role to the region beyond the Korean Peninsula is concerning given North Korea’s military threats and improvement in missile and nuclear capabilities. But they should acknowledge the new reality that the United States and South Korea must be prepared for multiple contingencies in different locations. The need to discuss the division of labor between allies should not be confused as a “decoupling” of the alliance. Regardless of the probability of China’s invasion of Taiwan, the issue is a matter of alliance management between the United States and South Korea.

Sungmin Cho (sungmin80@gmail.com) is a Professor at the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies (APCSS).

The views in this commentary are his own and do not represent those of the APCSS or the US Department of Defense.

 An earlier version of this article appeared in The National Bureau of Asian Research.

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

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

Executive Summary

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

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

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

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

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

Key Findings & Recommendations

Responding to PRC Pressure

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

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

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

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

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

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

Helping Taiwan Defend Itself

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clarifying US Defense Policy

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

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

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

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

Enhancing Deterrence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Increasing Public/Allied Awareness

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other Recommendations

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

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

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

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Issues & Insights Vol. 22, CR1 – Getting past constraints: Deepening U.S. security relations with Vietnam and Indonesia

Executive Summary

INTRODUCTION

Pacific Forum reconvened two Track 2 dialogues with Vietnam and Indonesia in August 2022 to help identify ways the United States and its two Southeast Asian partners can work together to enhance bilateral cooperation on security issues of shared concern. Functional cooperation between Washington and its two Southeast Asian partners has considerably advanced in the past ten years, but differing strategic considerations still handicap some aspects of these relationships. The two security dialogues emphasized these findings, among other takeaways.

FINDINGS SUMMARY

In its February 2022 Indo-Pacific Strategy document, the United States stressed that “collective efforts over the next decade will determine whether the PRC succeeds in transforming the rules and norms that have benefitted the Indo-Pacific and the world.” The 2021 U.S.-Vietnam and U.S.-Indonesia security dialogues had made clear that such framing would not generate broad Southeast Asian cooperation. This year’s dialogues echoed similar themes while underscoring functional cooperation as vital to the two countries’ security relations with the United States. Their strategic autonomy and agency are central to their response to threats from Beijing, and they are reluctant to align outright with the United States on China-related strategic considerations. Nevertheless, Indonesia and Vietnam are interested in working with the United States when it strengthens their strategic autonomy and ability to stand up to threats, including those from China. Two interconnected factors determine Indonesian and Vietnamese strategic thinking regarding China’s assertive behavior and willingness to cooperate with the United States on security issues. First, geography makes China an everyday presence for Hanoi and Jakarta and their economies. Second, the self-help regional security environment compels Jakarta and Hanoi to be extra cautious in dealing with Chinese assertiveness. They are not U.S. treaty-allies. Vietnamese and Indonesian interlocutors do not expect the United States to defend Vietnam and Indonesia should Beijing use force.

KEY FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS FROM THE TWO SECURITY DIALOGUES

Finding: China has specifically designed its operations in the South China Sea to avoid thresholds for escalation and response by using civilian or non-military actors to operationalize claims using tactics that fall short of kinetic armed conflict. China would perceive any response to a gray zone coercion either as “escalatory”—possibly provoking a stronger Chinese response that could result in a complete reversal of status quo of certain features—or “muted”—which could encourage Beijing to attempt more coercive maneuvers.

  • Recommendation: The United States and its partners must challenge the narrative surrounding the existence of civilian and non-military actors in the South China Sea. First, Washington should support regional partners’ efforts to identify, document, and publicize militia operations, including publishing photos and videos in open source, disseminating evidence in Track 1 forums and venues like the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Defense Ministers Meeting Plus and the International Maritime Organization (IMO). Second, Washington must link the behavior of China’s maritime militia and Coast Guard to its interactions with the PLAN. The United States should communicate publicly and privately that it expects the PLAN, the Coast Guard, and the maritime militia to abide by the internationally recognized standards of seamanship and communications, including the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES).
  • Recommendation: Washington should take three actions to address the gradual, non-kinetic nature of China’s gray zone tactics. First, it should help improve situational awareness through capacity-building efforts that enhance partners’ maritime domain awareness, such as through provisions of maritime Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities, including remote sensing tools, unmanned platforms, and coastal radar. Second, it should help address the asymmetry in capabilities by tailoring defense assistance to partners with more surface assets to maintain sustained presence and expanding maritime law enforcement capabilities through initiatives like Coast Guard ship-riding programs. Finally, the United States and its partners should thoroughly discuss potential non-kinetic tactical responses to harassment.
  • Recommendation: The United States should establish a task force within the Seventh Fleet, modeled on Task Force 59 in the Fifth Fleet, to develop and deploy unmanned and automated maritime domain awareness platforms in coordination with Vietnam and other regional partners. This could vastly improve the ability to monitor and identify Chinese gray zone actors in a persistent and affordable manner.

Finding: U.S. efforts at direct deterrence (e.g., U.S. Navy operations to defend its own freedom of navigation) in the South China Sea have been much more successful than extended deterrence (e.g., assisting Vietnam and other coastal states in the region to protect their own maritime rights and interests against Chinese coercion).

  • Recommendation: The United States should reinforce the principle of freedom of navigation in the South China Sea by clearly articulating through official documents and in meetings with China that the use of force to deny U.S. civilian or military vessels from rightful access to the South China Sea is a red line for the United States.
  • Recommendation: The United States should articulate through official documents and in meetings with regional states that changing the status quo of disputed features by using force or gray zone coercion (e.g., ejecting existing Vietnamese presence on a disputed land feature) is another U.S. red line. The United States should engage its regional partners to establish acceptable parameters for a combined response and then respond appropriately in coordination with partner countries.

Finding: In a gray zone maritime crisis involving China, Vietnam will simultaneously de-escalate by engaging Beijing and defend its interests by deploying non-military assets to assert presence or control. Coordinating with Washington to address a China-related gray zone crisis would not be a top priority for Hanoi. Meanwhile, Indonesia will resolutely respond to a gray zone crisis by safeguarding its interests and preventing a fait accompli while maintaining its strategic autonomy. Jakarta will use its diplomatic, military, and paramilitary assets to maintain the status quo. The Indonesians would prefer the United States carefully balance its engagement and avoid direct involvement in any Indonesia-China tension. Both Hanoi and Jakarta expect that their strategic space to de-escalate or arrive at an acceptable solution would be severely constrained once the United States is directly involved, and the crisis would be reframed in the context of “great power competition.”

  • Recommendation: Addressing a gray zone crisis requires coordination between Washington and the partner country directly involved. In this regard, the United States should immediately consult with partner countries about the best course of action before making any move.

Finding: Beijing is unlikely to use outright aggression against Southeast Asian states. Instead, China will continue to push the envelope in the South China Sea and elsewhere through gray zone/non-kinetic means. Absent any effective response, Beijing will achieve more fait accomplis, which are extremely difficult to roll back without the use of force.

  • Recommendation: The United States should continue to devote more resources (e.g., by sponsoring more tabletop exercises, research, and dialogues) to better understand China’s use of gray zone coercion and draft plans accordingly. The United States should also discuss potential responses to counter gray zone coercion with partners and allies.

KEY FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS FROM THE U.S.-VIETNAM SECURITY DIALOGUES

Finding: Vietnam’s policy documents regard defense cooperation, including joint exercises, with other countries as important “to improve capabilities to protect the country and address common security challenges.” However, Vietnam makes a distinction between military exercises that are aimed at developing war-fighting skills (tp trn) and military training exercises to learn or improve basic skills (din tp). Vietnam will not participate in the former with the United States, which could potentially explain Hanoi’s lack of interest in joining the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise.

  • Recommendation: When the United States invites Vietnam to join a bilateral or multilateral exercise, Washington should clarify that the purpose is to improve basic skills (din tp). In bigger exercises like the RIMPAC, U.S. invitation extended to Hanoi should stress the din tp value of the activities.

Finding: The United States sees Hanoi as a stabilizing force in the region. Vietnam has shown determination to continue the trajectory of its military modernization, which could present opportunities for the United States, not just in providing hardware, but also in deepening institutional ties, interoperability, and long-term trust. In 2021, Vietnam committed to “building a streamlined and strong Army by 2025, and a revolutionary, regular, highly-skilled and modern People’s Army by 2030,” vowing to prioritize Air Defense/Air Force Service, Navy, Signal Force, Electronic Warfare Force, Technical Reconnaissance Force, Cyber Warfare Force, and Cipher (cryptology) Force.

  • Recommendation: Washington could offer to help Hanoi realize some of the aspects of its 2030 military modernization plan, for example, by building on the successful U.S.-Vietnam deal for the transfer of three T-6 trainers by 2023, along with spare parts and a maintenance package. The U.S. should continue to probe Vietnamese willingness to purchase more T-6s with a package including simulators, maintenance, and participation in an expanded aviation leadership program. This could provide the basis for Vietnam to acquire more advanced fighter jets in the future. Helping modernize Vietnam’s military capabilities could promote mutual trust, which in turn could result in deeper bilateral cooperation. It could also help Hanoi secure its maritime zones amidst Chinese coercion and contribute to regional security free from Chinese dominance.

Finding: Vietnam is unlikely to reinvigorate its civilian nuclear power program in the near future.  Despite the high expectations surrounding the advent of Small Modular Reactors (SMRs), interest in Vietnam is still not enough to push policymakers to reconsider a 2016 decision to halt Vietnam’s pursuit of nuclear energy. The view remains that Vietnam and Southeast Asia broadly have considerable alternatives to nuclear power. Nevertheless, Vietnamese experts stressed that SMRs and floating nuclear power plants are important topics for research, but any development is beyond the 10-year horizon.

  • Recommendation: The U.S. Government should provide educational opportunities for Vietnamese nuclear engineers and nuclear policy/security experts. This would ensure that U.S.-educated engineers and experts are readily available should Hanoi decide to restart its civil nuclear program. This would counter potential Chinese or Russian influence in determining the trajectory of Vietnam’s nuclear energy policy.

Finding: The U.S. and Vietnamese responses to the Itu Aba exercise conducted at the U.S. Vietnam Track 2 dialogue revealed the undercurrents in U.S. and Southeast Asian strategic thinking. First, Washington would not go to war against China to defend partner countries over small offshore territories in the South China Sea. Second, Southeast Asians’ primary consideration when dealing with Chinese provocation is the idea that when hostilities escalate, they are on their own. U.S. partners do not expect the U.S. military to fight for them should there be a conflict.

  • Recommendation: capacity-building initiatives should focus on helping partner countries obtain capabilities that allow them to maintain an active, sustained and visible presence in their own maritime zones. This means providing partner countries with surface assets like law enforcement patrol vessels that are capable of navigating their vast exclusive economic zones for longer periods and with the capacity to respond to Chinese coercion.

KEY FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS FROM THE U.S.-INDONESIA SECURITY DIALOGUES

Finding: Disagreement related to Archipelagic Sea-Lane (ASL) passage could become a long-term operational issue between Indonesia and the United States. The United States wants Indonesia to allow all navigational rights and freedoms within its archipelago as described in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Indonesia, however, remains reluctant to introduce more archipelagic sea-lanes, fearing the presence of more foreign warships in its archipelagic waters.

  • Recommendation: The United States should have regular, standalone maritime security dialogues with Indonesia at the Track 1 and Track 2 levels to understand the factors that inhibit Indonesia from fully complying with the ASL provisions of the UNCLOS and help reassure Jakarta that U.S. military operations fully respect Indonesian sovereignty and territorial integrity. On the former, Indonesia’s lack of maritime domain awareness may be discouraging it from establishing additional ASLs, in which case the United States could be helpful. On the latter, regular interactions between Indonesian and U.S. maritime institutions and experts would increase trust over time, which could lead to more maritime cooperation that accommodates both U.S. preferences and Indonesian interests.

Finding: Indonesia’s growing Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) capabilities, while not targeted at any specific country, could complicate assumptions about force flows, supply chains, and ally reinforcements. In this context, Indonesia could potentially close off its waters from all military forces, including the United States and its treaty allies, in the event of a crisis, for example, over Taiwan.

  • Recommendation: U.S. military planning should take into account access to Southeast Asian territorial seas, and archipelagic waters (including their airspaces) to assess the impact of potential restrictions or differing interpretations of international maritime law.
  • Recommendation: More U.S. Government-sponsored dialogues and tabletop exercises should include Indonesia and other important partner countries in Southeast Asia to help promote common understanding and appreciation of key issues that arise during crises.

Finding: Two U.S.-led frameworks, the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT) and the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), could assist Indonesia with its Counterterrorism and Counterproliferation capacity-building. Neither the GICNT nor the PSI creates new obligations for participating states. Instead, cooperation is voluntary, with individual members’ respective national authorities coordinating to help ensure that bad actors, including extremists, do not obtain Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)-related materials. Indonesia’s persistent refusal to join U.S.-led security institutions is a political decision, rather than an objection to their operating principles.

  • Recommendation: Washington should clearly articulate in Track 1 dialogues involving policymakers that both GICNT and PSI would allow Indonesia to remain carefully protective of its own national sovereignty and independence. The United States should also underscore the multilateral nature of these arrangements.

About this report

Pacific Forum, in collaboration with local partners, the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam (DAV), and the Foreign Policy Community of Indonesia (FPCI), organized the Track 2 U.S.-Vietnam and U.S.-Indonesia Security Dialogues in August 2022. With support from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), ten U.S. strategic thinkers, including scholars, policy experts, and retired military and government officials, traveled to Hanoi on August 3-5, 2022, and to Bali on August 9-11, 2022, to meet and engage with 19 counterparts from Vietnam and 14 from Indonesia. Both Track 2 dialogues included one day of panel discussion on thematic issues and one day devoted to a scenario-based exercise.The recommendations contained in this report, unless otherwise specifically noted, were generated by the discussions as interpreted by the Principal Investigators. This is not a consensus document. 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 sponsors, or the dialogue participants’ respective organizations and affiliations. For questions, please email .

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PacNet #64 – The Biden-Xi summit: Not revolutionary, but still necessary

US President Joe Biden’s Nov. 14 meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Bali, Indonesia was never supposed to be a historic breakthrough between the world’s two greatest powers. Too many core issues, from Taiwan and the South China Sea to trade and technology, currently separate the two powers for the exchange to produce major achievements.

US and Chinese officials know this, of course. Neither side works for a dramatic improvement in ties, but rather they search for an opportunity to inject some stability into a relationship in desperate need of it. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said as much when he previewed the sit-down, emphasizing that Biden and Xi will have the chance to be frank and firm about where they disagree, clear up misunderstandings that may exist, and explore how US-China relations can be managed responsibility.

This is what Biden and Xi did during their over three-hour confab. The official US and Chinese readouts of the exchange were notably similar on one key point: the need, if not urgency, to ensure the strategic competition between the two powerhouses does not veer toward a conflict neither country wants. That the session adjourned with a number of working groups established, as well as the resumption of climate talks and US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s second face-to-face meeting with his Chinese counterpart, Gen. Wei Fenghe, about a week later, provided a cautiously hopeful signal that positive momentum remained a possibility.

US-China relations in the era of Biden

If Xi and the rest of the Politburo Standing Committee thought President Biden would be more amenable to China’s rise than his predecessor, they were quickly disabused of that notion. To Donald Trump, China fleeced the United States economically and attempted to exceed it militarily. Yet to Biden, China is a multidimensional problem and the metaphorical tip of an authoritarian spear working to replace the US-dominated order with one run from Beijing. The Biden administration’s policy documents are careful to mention collaboration with China when interests converge, but as the US National Security Strategy states, “Beijing has ambitions to create an enhanced sphere of influence in the Indo-Pacific and to become the world’s leading power.” The phrase “world’s leading power” is instructive; in Washington’s view, China is not merely content with superiority in its neighborhood but covets the status of global hegemon.

The administration’s assessment of the China challenge, combined with China’s expansive claims in the East and South China Seas, its treatment of minorities in Xinjiang, and active military modernization drive (among other issues) all contribute to US-China ties devolving to their lowest point since the two established formal diplomatic relations in 1979. Interactions between officials early in the Biden administration did not help. While Biden and Xi did not waste any time communicating—their first call occurred on Feb. 10, 2001, about three weeks after Biden’s inauguration—their subordinates spent meetings reciting well-worn talking points. Talks in Alaska in March 2021 degenerated into heated lectures, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken lauding the rules-based order and State Councilor Yang Jiechi chiding the United States for meddling in China’s internal affairs. US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was repeatedly prevented from getting through to Gen. Xu Qiliang, vice chair of the Central Military Commission. The United States and China spent 2021 sanctioning one another’s officials and issuing travel restrictions on one another’s diplomats.

The bilateral relationship’s downward trajectory reached new lows in August, when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan—the first visit to the self-ruled island by a speaker in a quarter-century—prompted the Chinese government to adopt stern military and diplomatic measures that raised tension in the region. Militarily, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) greeted Pelosi’s travel with cruise missile tests, numerous incursions across the median-line by fighter aircraft, and what can only be described as a dress rehearsal for a hypothetical Taiwan blockade. Diplomatically, China severed contacts with the United States on multiple fronts, suspending talks on climate, defense, crime, counternarcotics, and risk reduction.

Don’t bet on a big improvement 

At its core, the Biden-Xi summit belatedly attempted to bring US-China relations back to where they were prior to August. Relations weren’t stellar before Pelosi landed in Taipei, but the two powers were at least engaging across multiple issue sets. Dialogue between Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan and the Xi-Biden meeting was lackluster. Opportunities for US Ambassador Nicholas Burns to get an audience with key Chinese policymakers is limited, and Qin Gang, China’s ambassador in Washington, reportedly faces his own restrictions on access to US officials. A single phone call in July has been the extent of the contact between Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley and PLA Chief of the Joint Staff Gen. Li Zuocheng. It took Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin over a year before he spoke with Gen. Wei Fenghe, China’s minister of national defense—and only after Austin gave up on reaching Gen Xu Qiliang, the PLA’s highest-ranking officer.

To the strongest hawks in Washington and Beijing, this spotty dialogue isn’t all that worrying and may even have been something to cheer. However, it is one thing for the United States and China to possess starkly different foreign policy strategies, objectives, and perceptions of how the world should operate (one would expect such differences). It is another thing entirely for those differences to fester unmanaged. In situations where competitors or adversaries have strong, conflicting paradigms, clear, durable, and consistent communication—particularly at the senior levels—is an absolute prerequisite to mitigating conflict. Biden and Xi rightly concluded that the lack of communication channels made responsible competition—a goal both leaders profess—virtually impossible.

The question naturally arises: will more communication necessarily result in more rapprochement? The answer varies by issue. For instance, it’s difficult to envision a scenario whereby the United States and China arrive at a general understanding about Taiwan; Xi is as committed to reunifying the island with the mainland as Biden is to ensuring Taiwan can make a PLA invasion contingency prohibitively costly. Biden’s suggestion that the United States would come to Taiwan’s defense if the PLA launched a military operation, followed with subsequent clarifications by his advisers that US policy toward Taiwan hasn’t changed, just adds to the confusion in Chinese policy circles about whether Washington is still abiding by the “one China” policy. The “one China” policy, which states in part that Washington recognizes the PRC as the sole government of China and acknowledges (but does not recognize) the PRC’s claims to Taiwan and opposes any unilateral moves toward Taiwanese independence, has governed U.S.-Taiwan relations for more than four decades. PLA military exercises around Taiwan and periodic US freedom of navigation operations in the Taiwan Strait likely give more ammunition to hardliners in both capitals pining for a full decoupling.

A ceasefire in the technology and trade wars is also unlikely in the short-term. Tariffs remain in effect, with neither side willing to make the first move toward lifting them. Like the Trump administration before it, the Biden administration uses Commerce Department rules to stop advanced semiconductors and chip-making machinery from reaching China, which Beijing detests as a deliberate US attempt to kneecap Chinese technological development. The United States rejects those complaints wholesale, arguing that US technology should in no way bolster the CCP’s internal surveillance and military modernization.

Even if those big agenda items remain unresolved, two superpowers who hold more than 40% of the world’s GDP and account for more than half of the world’s military spending don’t have anything to gain by completely isolating each other. If Biden’s meeting with Xi puts a stop to a deeper deterioration in relations, it will have been worth the effort.

Daniel R. DePetris (dan.depetris@defp.org) is a fellow at Defense Priorities and a foreign affairs columnist at the Chicago Tribune and Newsweek.

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

Photo: Chinese President Xi Jinping shakes hands with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (L) inside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing December 4, 2013 by REUTERS/Lintao Zhang/Pool//File Photo