Inscribing the Tiananmen Massacre on UNESCO's Memory of the World

Posted on Tuesday, March 14, 2017 by McCaslin

(Source: “Tank Man” photo taken by Jeff Widener of the Associated Press)

By: Sebra Yen

The Project 2049 Institute sat down with Dr. Han Lianchao for an interview on his Tiananmen-UNESCO Project entitled, “Inscribing the Tiananmen Massacre on UNESCO’s Memory of the World.” The Memory of the World Program, a United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) initiative, aims to preserve and protect the world’s documentary heritage. The Tiananmen Memory refers to the Tiananmen Square protests that occurred on June 4, 1989 when student-led demonstrations were brutally suppressed by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) government. While the estimated number of deaths remains uncertain, in an attempt to retain the Party's legitimacy, the CCP continues to censor the memory of this event from the Chinese people.

Dr. Han offers unique insight on his quest for democracy in the People's Republic of China. Dr. Han Lianchao is currently the Vice President of Initiatives for China, a grassroots organization dedicated to advancing a peaceful transition to democracy in China. Dr. Han was also a student organizer in the late 1970s prior to the Tiananmen protests.

Why is having the memory of Tiananmen included in the Memory of the World Program (MoW) important for the international community?

Almost 30 years ago, the Tiananmen Square Massacre resulted in many deaths. Scholars who work on this issue, both inside and outside of China, neither have a firm account of what truly happened, nor the actual number of innocent people killed―some say hundreds, some say thousands. The Chinese government deliberately tried to destroy information and conceal the truth from its people. As a result, the younger generations in China are clueless as to what happened.  Moreover, the pro-democracy movement has completely dissolved due to the CCP’s actions. Therefore, the Tiananmen Square Archive Project is meant to fight against the Chinese society’s collective amnesia and state censorship in order to achieve truth and reconciliation. This professional archive is important because it is aimed towards becoming the foundation of a future Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). In the future, this archival collection could assist with legal proceedings.  We believe that if this issue is not addressed, China cannot move forward because millions of people participated in the 1989 protests that spanned the country, including many within the Communist regime. A democratic transition in China would not be possible without first resolving the Tiananmen Square issue.

There are two parts to this archive project. First, we focus on the iconic image of the “Tank Man,” which Time Magazine recently included in its list of 100 photos that have changed or influenced the world. The idea is based on our campaign of “Finding Tank Men” initiated by Dr. Jianli Yang in 2015. Accordingly, we have focused on this historically significant image in a recent submission to UNESCO that includes “Tank Man” images taken by five international journalists and video footage shot by CNN and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Along with the Newseum and two renowned photojournalists Charlie Cole and Stuard Franklin, we have nominated the “Tank Man” images and video footages for the MoW. We hope this will serve as the beginning of a larger Tiananmen Archive collection that will be submitted as “documentary heritage” to UNESCO― the second part of our project.   

What is the process for the Tiananmen memory project to be accepted into the MoW  Program? Who is involved in the project?

The MoW Program started in 1992 and was established to create more awareness about war and social upheaval.  The MoW register accepts project submissions every two years. May 30th was the deadline for 2016. The founder of the Tiananmen-UNESCO Project came up with the idea of finding “Tank Man” since no one knows whether “Tank Man” is dead or not. Moreover, the founder wanted to find more information about the massacre from the inside [of China]. The tanks withheld from killing “Tank Man,” which displayed a sense of tolerance. Therefore, interpretation of these actions can be used as part of the national reconciliation process because the other side [Chinese people acting on CCP/PLA orders] showed humanity and restraint in this case. This kind of spirit is needed on both sides to create momentum for national reconciliation.  

Although the “Tank Man” project has been submitted, a challenge occurred during the process. The UNESCO MoW program staff claimed the language in the nomination was not neutral and needed to be changed before they could accept and post it online. In terms of garnering support for this project, mobilizing people to support it occurred around March to April of last year. The project’s point of contact is Ursula Gauthier, a French journalist and human rights activist who was kicked out of China for reporting on the Uighur situation. She currently resides in France, where she works on the project’s administrative affairs. In addition, there are about 5-6 people working on the first half of the project (“Finding Tank Man”). The second half of the project (overall documentary heritage) involves the work of several dozens of NGO workers, activists, and museum experts based in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Europe, the United States, and mainland China. The working group has an international committee whose main goals are to (1) crowd source information, (2) digitize documents and records, and (3) set up an online archive. Ultimately, we seek to professionalize the information in order for it to be useful in future court settings, such as the truth finding committee or commission.    

The Nanjing Massacre and the Republic of Korea's May 18th Democratic Uprising have already been submitted and inscribed in the Memory of the World register. What significance do these memories bring to the region and the international community? How does Tiananmen compare to these memories? 

The Tiananmen project is different from the Chinese government-backed Nanjing Massacre project. The Chinese government sought to politicize the issue through its efforts to inscribe the Nanjing incident. Additionally, in 2016, the comfort women issue was also nominated as a documentary heritage. The Japanese government strongly opposed this controversial issue because they believe there is a lack of viable evidence to support this claim. However, a matter to note is the timing of the Chinese submission of the [Nanjing Massacre] project as it occurred during the 70th anniversary of the Sino-Japanese War amidst a campaign launched by the CCP. This may have been a move to incite Chinese nationalism and perpetuate anti-Japanese sentiment, both of which are harmful in seeking truth. In contrast, the Tiananmen project seeks to find out who ordered the crackdown, how many people were killed, and how reconciliation can be achieved. The Tiananmen project is only viewed as controversial in nature due to the Chinese government's on-going censorship and revision of the event.

In terms of comparing the Republic of Korea’s May 18th Democratic Uprising (Gwangju [Kwangju] Uprising) with Tiananmen, a major difference is that Korean students turned to violence by taking up arms on the street and fighting against the military. The Chinese did not do that. Only a few people fought back for self-defense and the majority, mostly students, handed over weapons to the military and police, rather than taking matters into their own hands. With Tiananmen, it was mostly the military who committed the violence. The people did not advocate violence against violence. While I am not saying that bearing arms to counter the violence in Gwangju is wrong, I am simply noting the more peaceful struggle in Tiananmen.

Given the Chinese Communist Party’s efforts to stifle national memory of June 4th, 1989 what sort of challenges do you foresee in order to include Tiananmen as part of the register? Broadly, what impact has the CCP’s patriotic education policy and revision of the history of the Tiananmen event made on the Chinese people, society, and culture?

One of the challenges is getting a vote from the Advisory Council. The Council is comprised of individuals who serve as experts in their personal capacities and do not represent states. These experts have a say in whether or not a project can be passed for documentary heritage for mankind. However, China has a lot of power in UNESCO, as it has plenty of its own UNESCO-certified GONGOs (government-organized non-governmental organization) that can influence policy and decisions. Moreover, they also have a lot of resources. Therefore, we need to work with democracies to try to get their support by asking them to vote on their conscience and the facts at hand, rather than political interests. Therefore, we work towards trying to prevent supporters from being bought by the Chinese government. Unfortunately, my organization will not be certified in UNESCO due to the PRC’s power and influence in the UN, as Chinese GONGOs have unfair lobby influence.

In regards to Chinese society and culture as a whole, collective amnesia already exists in China, particularly for the Tiananmen Massacre. The ‘Patriotic Education’ policy encourages society and people to forget this incident. The Chinese Communist Party  twists historical facts to maintain their one-party rule and its dictatorship. The CCP in particular tries to fight against ‘historical nihilism’ (歷史虛無主義) in China, which, in the eyes of the CCP, is any action that seeks to re-interpret history to negate the guiding position of Marxism and the historical inevitability of socialism in China, and thus deny the Communist regime’s legitimacy. It is part of General Secretary Xi Jinping’s campaign to strengthen his control over public media and opinion. The government has long blocked online media to prevent its citizens from discovering historical and contemporary truths. One example would be the CCP advocating for the idea that the Communists were the main force that fought the Japanese in China during World War II. In recent years, people have questioned the legitimacy of Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, and other historical figures allegedly leading the fight. When they discover the facts given by the Chinese government do not add up, the Communist Party labels them as historical materialists.  Therefore, the notion of the historical inevitability of Communist rule over China perpetuates the false history propagated by the Communist Party.

Patriotic education has also led to two potential results that can be seen in Chinese society and culture.  One is the growing number of Chinese converting to Christianity, leading to a rapid growth that could potentially see China become the country with the largest number of Christians. This may be a result of Chinese people becoming disillusioned with the CCP and, thus, seeking Jesus or salvation in their lives. A second result, which goes in a different direction than the first, is the widespread over-indulgence in Chinese material life. Many people these days focus only on making money and do not care about anything else. The moral structure has completely collapsed. Both results demonstrate the psychological impact of policies pursued by the CCP and the lack of intrinsic hope in Chinese society.

Finally, the impact of the Tiananmen Massacre has led to the Communist regime learning how to control and maintain social stability. They have become more sophisticated in coercion of Chinese society, as well as dealing with mass protests. Following the Massacre, the CCP immediately began to import riot control and civilian technology from the United States. China has essentially become a police state. This has made a huge impact on Chinese society and has led to many people, including those in the political system, to disregard faith or ideas in favor of materialistic indulgence.

It is common to hear from authorities in Beijing that the decision to “forget” Tiananmen is beneficial for national unity and stability. Many in China have no interest to revisit the Tiananmen issue, do you believe this to be true? How do you hope the inclusion of Tiananmen as a Memory of the World will bridge generational or even political divides in China? 

There is a moral gap between the older and younger generations. Due to the CCP’s deliberate focus on guiding its citizens to have a materialistic lifestyle, fewer youngsters are interested in finding out about history and politics. Moreover, they know involvement in politics is risky. Making money, on the other hand, is not. Despite this, the Internet has played a role in assisting those who are idealistic and concerned about China’s future. Some are able to climb over the “Great Firewall of China”. Additionally, many of the younger generations struggle to find a job or buy a house. The serious pollution problem, food and water crises, systematic corruption, and so on, have all led people to question the legitimacy of the CCP and its ability to govern. Although the government is able to control information, technology has empowered individuals to find a way around these restrictions. For example, the Chinese government has heavily regulated information about the Panama Papers online, yet this piece of news has been shared across WeChat and other social media platforms.

Overall, I see two contrasting elements: (1) government control and (2) more people, including those in politics, are aware that this way of life and running the country is increasingly unsustainable. Therefore, it is time to resolve the Tiananmen Square Massacre. The current goal of the Chinese leadership is to maintain permanent rule of the CCP, so the inclusion of Tiananmen as a memory of the world would be a destabilizing factor given it jeopardizes their goal. However, initiating this project forces the Chinese leadership to face this issue; they will need to come to a decision on Tiananmen one way or another. We need accountability. This project is a way to force societal transition and have political reform.

As a student who was a part of China’s pro-democracy movement, can you talk more about what inspired you to pursue this project?

Here is the short version. I was born into a Communist family and my parents were CCP government officials. I was brainwashed by Marxism and Maoist ideas. But the Cultural Revolution changed me; my family was purged, humiliated and suffered a great deal. During that time, a lot of people died, and my parents attempted to commit suicide. My brother, sister and I were also persecuted. After this incident, I began to question the political system in China. Eventually, as China opened up, I read more books and realized the root of all evil in China is the Communist one-party system. I also started to read about advocacy. In college, I helped organize the first student protests for free elections in the late 1970s. During the 1989 pro-democracy protests, social media did not exist back then and many people did not have Internet access or phones due to high costs, so we relied on fax machines to mobilize and communicate to support the students in Tiananmen Square. Following the Tiananmen Massacre, the views of the Chinese people towards the CCP changed; the CCP was the enemy that needed to be replaced with a democratic system. Once you arrive at that conclusion, there is no return.  

A lot of people and their family, including current leaders of the CCP, all suffered from the Cultural Revolution. One of the members of the Standing Committee and his family were killed during the Cultural Revolution. His sister was a high school student who committed suicide because of humiliation. Even Xi Jinping was persecuted by the Communists during this time. In this type of unsustainable political model, no one is safe. Additionally, a dictator who enjoys absolute power will make lots of mistakes and harm many people. For a long time, the violence I experienced made me completely disconnected from the world. I did not want to talk about the humiliation and the scars in my heart. I never pursued psychology treatment and was very resentful about many things. I think it is very common to not openly discuss these traumatic events. You want to hide it. But we all need to find truth to have peace. More importantly, a nation also needs to know the truth before it can move forward. This is why I am pursuing the Tiananmen Square Archive Project: to achieve reconciliation in society, not create conflict.

What are the next steps for the Tiananmen memory project? If accepted by the MoW Program, what do you hope will be the enduring significance of the project?

First off, we need to monitor the UNESCO’s MoW process to make sure our Tank Man nomination receives fair consideration and a vote. Secondly, we must allocate resources to start collecting and archiving files, documents, images, videos, eyewitness accounts, and physical items related to the Tiananmen Massacre. This requires enormous work and commitment to get done. If the Tank Man is successfully inscribed in the MoW, the inscription alone will have lasting significance because it affirms the historic value that a peaceful protester’s individual act can make a difference when facing the powerful, which I believe captures the true spirit of the Tiananmen protests. The inscription will not only allow us to remember the Tiananmen Massacre but will also inspire the Chinese people to advocate for their freedoms and basic rights.

Similarly, we hope that the Tiananmen Archive Project will mobilize civil society in China, start momentum to vindicate the protesters, and ultimately create a new opportunity for democratic transition and national reconciliation. If UNESCO accepts this project as a documentary heritage, it again affirms the heroic act of the peaceful protesters, and permanently recognizes their contribution to human progress. 

Sebra Yen was an Intern at the Project 2049 Institute. He is currently a Master's candidate at The Elliott School of International Affairs at The George Washington University, where he focuses on Taiwan and Asian politics and security. The author would also like to thank Emily David for her contributions. 

Taiwan's Anti-Invasion Strategy: Elevating Defense Capabilities from Crisis to Wartime

Posted on Tuesday, March 7, 2017 by McCaslin

By Ian Easton[1]

Various sources from within the People's Republic of China have allegedly suggested that time is running out for Taiwan's democracy. In their narrative, China's iron-fisted leader, Xi Jinping, is "losing patience" and could order the invasion of Taiwan in the early 2020s. The world's most dangerous flashpoint might witness an overwhelming amphibious blitz, perhaps before July 2021 to mark the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).    

That's the narrative. The reality is that China will probably not attack Taiwan in such a radical and high-risk fashion. Xi and his top lieutenants are far more likely to draw-out and escalate the war of nerves across the Taiwan Strait. They will continue using disinformation and other techniques to drain Washington's confidence that Taiwan can be defended, while ramping up subversive activities to undermine the island nation's confidence and willpower. 

Xi will bide his time and hope the Taiwanese government cracks under mounting pressure, allowing him to conquer his target cheaply. At the same time, his military generals will continue planning and preparing to deliver on their "sacred" mission. Coercion could easily fail, making invasion a tempting option―especially in a future scenario where the balance of power looks more favorable to Beijing than it does today.         

Assessing the Threat

The ever-tense political and security environment across the Taiwan Strait necessitates an accurate depiction of PLA capabilities, strengths, and shortfalls. 

The PLA's strengths are more apparent than its weaknesses. China's military muscle is frequently highlighted and hyped up by the media, both in Beijing and abroad. Undoubtedly, China's ballistic missiles, cyber warfare capabilities, and counter-space weapons make it a force to be reckoned with. Perhaps even more dangerous are its espionage and covert actions abroad to shape foreign policymaking.   

But there is always more to the story. Renowned Naval War College professor, Andrew Erickson, makes it clear in his recently published book, Chinese Naval Shipbuilding that while Beijing's fleets are growing at a remarkable clip, the PLA Navy is not ready to support the invasion of Taiwan. The Chinese navy still lacks the lift capacity and the air defense capability it needs. Nonetheless, the situation will almost certainly look very different tomorrow than it does today.   

Dennis Blasko, author of The Chinese Army Today, observes that the CCP's ground forces, like the navy, are not yet ready for the ultimate fight. For invasion to be a realistic option, China would have to have far more helicopters, paratroopers, special operators, amphibious mechanized divisions, and marines. Moreover, the PLA would need to build a solid non-commissioned officer corps and provide better training to unit leaders up and down the entire chain of command. Much of this work has already begun and will start to bear fruit over the next decade.  
Taiwan's Anti-Invasion Strategy

So how do Taiwanese military experts plan to defend their country against attack, and how can the United States help?   

Taiwan is at the tail end of a transit from a conscription force to an all-volunteer military. Building an elite force of professional warriors is a good thing. It gives Taiwan a comparative advantage. China has no national army and relies mostly on short-term draftees.

According to a recent RAND Corporation report, Taiwan could augment its all-volunteer military with elite reserve force units, further enhancing its ability to counter Chinese threats in the electromagnetic, air, and sea domains. Taiwan's armed forces could also benefit from new training opportunities. Bilateral training exercises and joint humanitarian missions with the U.S. military would give Taiwan a much-needed shot in the arm.

Modern wars are increasingly decided not by brute force, but by brainpower. This can only be harnessed with advanced training. One of Taiwan's primary defense goals is to prepare the island for the shock of a lightning war waged by the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA). Doing so requires highly-motivated personnel who are organized, trained, and equipped to meet an enemy invasion campaign with overwhelming resistance.      

The asymmetry of size and economy across the Taiwan Strait requires defense planners on the island to harness every aspect of power, bringing a wide range of latent capabilities to bear when needed. Taiwan's all-out defense strategy calls for mobilizing the entire country, gearing-up every able-bodied man and woman in support of anti-invasion operations.

As Lauren Dickey of Kings College London points out, Taiwan's Ministry of National Defense (MND) is constantly honing its ability to repulse Chinese invasion. Every year, MND conducts intensive national and local-level military exercises, testing and sharpening plans to defend the island in the event of enemy landings.

It is estimated that Taiwan will have approximately four weeks advanced warning of a Chinese invasion. Given China's skill in the dark arts of strategic deception, this cannot be taken for granted. Yet the vast scale of the PLA's envisioned amphibious operations necessarily means its offensive intentions would be foreshadowed.

Warning signs would include troop movements, reserve mobilization, industrial stockpiling, military drills, media signaling, diplomatic messaging, and sabotage against Taiwan. The most obvious and worrisome sign would be the gathering of massive fleets of civilian and naval vessels at known amphibious staging areas in southeast China.      

As all this was playing out, Taiwan's president, her cabinet advisors, and parliamentary leaders would debate their response options. They would weigh intelligence pouring in from radars, satellites, listening posts, and agents in China. Their most obvious option would be to increase readiness levels and mobilize the island to gun-down an enemy attack. 

It would not take long to mine the maritime lines of approach across the Taiwan Strait, nor to fortify invasion beaches, ports, and airstrips. It would take only slightly longer to man all inland key points like bridges and power stations, and to evacuate non-essential personnel from potential battle zones. But accomplishing this would require a colossal workforce in the form of mobilized army reservists and contractors. For this reason, Taiwan maintains the ability to mobilize up to two and a half million men and nearly one million civil defense workers in just a few days time.

Tests of the emergency mobilization system are carried out on a yearly basis at sites across Taiwan, Penghu, and the outer islands (Kimen and Matsu). Their results are impressive. They indicate that citizen-soldiers will muster at marshalling posts in extraordinary numbers and at rapid speeds.

Taiwan’s all-out defense mobilization plan entails more than just bringing latent military capabilities into action. The Cabinet Office (Executive Yuan) and its subordinate ministries such as the Ministry of Transportation, Ministry of the Interior, and Ministry of Economic Affairs (among others) all play a role in the integration of civil defense units for homeland defense.

The Way Forward 

Taiwan's government and military (like the rest of Taiwanese society) are far tougher than they get credit for. But they can only do so much by themselves. The Pentagon has a critical role to play in assisting Taiwan maximize its war fighting capabilities. With America's help, Taiwan can make sure its defense investments factor into Beijing's calculations and, hopefully, prevent a future invasion from occurring in the first place.

The RAND report suggests the establishment of a joint working group, led on the U.S. side by an assistant secretary of defense. Indeed, Taiwanese forces would benefit from new types of professional military education and technical training in the United States. American mentors could support Taiwan’s continued transit to a potent all-volunteer force and help create a more strategically focused reserve force.         

Taiwanese troops also need regular and dependable arms sales, something that unfortunately was denied them by the Bush and Obama administrations. For Taiwan, the positive operational and tactical effects of American weapons systems are indisputable. The Trump administration should offer Taiwan the same capabilities it is offering Japan and South Korea, including new stealth fighter jets, missile defense batteries, and destroyers.

In addition, American companies should be unchained by Washington, allowing them to compete for access to Taiwan's Indigenous Defense Submarine program. Even more important than firepower would be the huge morale boosting effects such material support would have on recruitment and retention on the island―and the powerful signal of purpose and resolve it would send to China.           

Taiwan's military has developed a solid defense plan and is cultivating a force of professional warriors. But the grave invasion threat facing the island is growing over time. Keeping pace with China's offensive power will be extremely difficult unless big changes are made to the way America does business in Asia.

Going forward, the Trump White House would do well to develop a new strategy for advancing U.S.-Taiwan relations. Making sure Taiwan has the strong self-defense capabilities it needs will help keep the globe's greatest powder keg from ever igniting. Ignoring the China problem would only make it worse.   

[1] Ian Easton is a research fellow at the Project 2049 Institute and author of the forthcoming book, The Chinese Invasion Threat: Taiwan's Defense and American Strategy in Asia.

Shifting Russian-PRC Relations and its Implications for Mongolian Foreign Policy

Posted on Wednesday, January 18, 2017 by Project2049Institute

(Source: United States Marine Corps – opening ceremonies Khaan Quest 2015)

By: Charles Emmett

Mongolia has long been a place of interest for foreigners.  From the early 13th century until the fall of the Yuan Dynasty, the Mongols ruled over the largest land empire the world has ever known.  Almost three hundred years later during the Qing Dynasty, Mongolia fell under Manchu rule and remained so until a People's Revolution gained nominal independence with the assistance of the Soviet Red Army in 1921. After the 1945 Yalta Conference, the Sino-Soviet Treaty guaranteed Outer Mongolia's formal independence, marking a permanent division of Greater Mongolia.

For the next 70 years, Mongolia was a satellite state, politically under the control of the Soviet Union until the fall of the USSR. As Mongolia quickly turned to democracy and capitalism, it adopted a "third neighbor" foreign policy to expand its relationship with countries beyond its borders.  As a result, the U.S. played a larger role in supporting a budding democracy in Mongolia.  The U.S. provided assistance through USAID, the Peace Corps, and direct contact between members of Congress and their Mongolian colleagues. U.S. NGOs worked with Mongolian counterparts to address issues ranging from the rule of law and corruption to women's empowerment.  Militarily, the U.S. has worked with the Mongolian Armed Forces (MAF) to help them train for United Nations peacekeeping missions through the annual Khaan Quest exercises.  As a result, Mongolia now contributes the second largest number of troops from Northeast and Central Asia to peacekeeping missions around the globe.  The military cooperation also allowed Mongolia to provide assistance to the U.S. missions in Afghanistan and Iraq, and led to Mongolia's membership in the Partnership for Peace under NATO. Though the U.S. and Mongolia enjoy a deepening relationship, Mongolia's geographic location is limiting. Surrounded by Russia to its north and the People's Republic of China (PRC) to its south, Mongolia occupies a complicated geopolitical position.  Russia fears the U.S. influence in Mongolia, while the People's Republic of China believes the U.S. is trying to encircle it.  Historical mistrust between Russia and the PRC induces both countries to compete for influence in Ulaanbaatar.  So far, Mongolia has been able to successfully play one power against the other to prevent one side from gaining too much influence. But with the evolving relationship between Russia and the PRC, Mongolia has had to change its strategy. 

With shifting relations in Northeast Asia, The Project 2049 Institute and Dr. Alicia Campi discussed Mongolia's strategy and its future relations with the United States. Dr. Campi is a former diplomat involved in the preliminary negotiations to establish U.S.-Mongolia relations, now a visiting scholar at The Edwin O. Reischauer Center for East Asian Studies and author of  "The Impact of China and Russia on United States-Mongolia Political Relations in the Twentieth Century."

What is Mongolia's current relationship with the People's Republic of China?

In 2016, the new government (Mongolian People's Party[1]) will likely continue with the same foreign policy.  Since 2014, Mongolia has been looking at a new strategy of a trilateral Russia-Mongolia-China policy.  There have been three trilateral meetings between the countries held on the side of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit; the most recent leading to an agreement on the new economic corridor which will run through Mongolia.  This new strategy stemmed from the fact that the Mongolian government increasingly believes bilateral relations do not work.  Additionally, the government has concluded it is no longer efficient to play one country (Russia) off the other (China), given that the Russia-China relationship has become more comprehensive.  But, Mongolia is aware this new relationship between the two powers will likely be short.  Russia is looking east because of the sanctions resulting from Ukraine, while China is looking west with its One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative.  China wants Russian oil and gas, and it knows Russia is desperate for customers, so China is squeezing Russia on the issue.  Mongolia's new trilateral strategy, though, has caused its friends in the West to start asking questions, and prompted Mongolia to initiate another trilateral relationship in 2015 with the U.S. and Japan to balance its relationship with Russia and China.            

President-elect Donald Trump has said he will improve relations with Russia. How will this affect Russia's current relations with the PRC, and what could it mean for Mongolia?

For Russia, a better relationship with the West will bring back customers, meaning Russia will no longer need to rely on China.  Under the agreement for the new economic corridor, for every Chinese gauge line that is built going south, there must also be a Russian gauge line built going north.  Right now, the Chinese are funding the entire project due to Russia's tenuous economic situation.  However, China cannot afford to do this.  In the past Russia and China circumvented Mongolia, but given the terrain and increased distance it is much more expensive. Hence the agreement was made to go through Mongolia, making it shorter and cheaper. China also has to focus on the Manchurian provinces, which are not covered under OBOR. In that region, China has prevented Japan from contributing to the development of the area which has placed the financial burden on China. If the U.S. and Russia start to build a better relationship, this will make room for Japan to come in and help fund the Russian rail lines.

If relations between the U.S. and Russia do not improve, what will happen to the rail agreement?  If Russia does not have the money to fund rail lines going north, and it results in only Chinese gauged rail lines, won't the PRC's influence over Mongolia increase?

Mongolia will never allow just a Chinese rail line. 

So, then Mongolia will just end the agreement?

Yes, they will; Mongolia has done it in the past and will do it again.  Ulaanbaatar is good at finding other ways to influence China.  For example, ten years ago, Mongolia and North Korea made an agreement to allow North Koreans to work in textile factories, construction, and to build rail lines, all providing important hard currency for North Korea.  Mongolia could decide to end this agreement.  Doing so would put pressure on China due to its concern about the potential collapse of North Korea, which would cause refugees to flood across its borders.

Given its location, is it possible for the U.S. to boost its relations with Mongolia as it increases its focus on Asia? 

The U.S. has a very weak economic relationship with Mongolia.  Historically, the United States has protected its interests, but there are few economic interests for the U.S. in Mongolia.  Although there are a lot of natural resources located in Mongolia, they do not really benefit the United States.  Instead, the U.S. and Mongolia have built a dynamic military relationship.  Through the U.S.-Mongolia-Japan trilateral arrangement, the U.S. is benefiting militarily while Japan benefits economically. 

The Mongolian government has stated it would like to increase its role in the region, specifically in dealing with North Korea.  What role could Mongolia play in helping the international community resolve the North Korean nuclear issue?

Mongolia has a historical relationship with North Korea.  During the Korean War, Mongolia took in child orphans from the North.  Mongolia was also the second country in the world to recognize North Korea.  While this does not seem like much, it is very important to the North Koreans.  In addition, Mongolia is not a Confucian society; it is a nomadic society, so it has an alternative way of thinking.  This difference has allowed Mongolia to establish the relationship with North Korea that is maintained today.  During the Six Party Talks, North Korea felt like its "friends" were not backing it anymore; Russia was no longer buying its loyalty, and China saw this and decided it could be less generous with its money.  People think China has more influence over North Korea then it really does.  North Korea first fell under Chinese rule during the Han Dynasty, so China knows it would be better to retake North Korea then to let it collapse, and the North Koreans know this as well.  Furthermore, in China today, Koreans are one of the 56 officially recognized minority groups.  How do you think this affects North Korean thinking?  Given all these factors, North Korea felt like it was on its own.  There was no one there to listen to them or vote on their behalf.  Mongolia realized this, and after the death of the Six Party Talks, Mongolia started the Ulaanbaatar Dialogue.  The dialogue has been successful thus far with the North Koreans attending both the first and third meetings.      

Charles Emmett was an Intern at the Project 2049 Institute. He completed his M.A. at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver, where he focused on China and U.S. National Security.  

[1] In June, 2016, the Mongolian People's Party (MPP), which has governed for most years since the revolution, won an 85 percent majority with 65 seats in the 76-member parliament, taking back power from the Democratic Party. <>

This article draws from an interview with Dr. Alicia Campi regarding the future of Mongolian foreign policy.

The United States and Future Policy Options in the Taiwan Strait

Posted on Tuesday, January 17, 2017 by Project2049Institute

By: Mark Stokes


NOTE: This post draws largely from a Project 2049 study, authored by Mark Stokes and Sabrina Tsai, published in February 2016.

With the inauguration of President Tsai Ing-wen in May 2016, the Republic of China (ROC, or Taiwan) completed its third peaceful transition of presidential power and the first transfer of power within its legislature in history. Since May, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and its ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) have sought to further isolate Taiwan internationally. Sao Tome and Príncipe's abrupt switch in diplomatic relations last month from the ROC to the PRC is the most recent example. The PRC has also leveraged its financial influence to shut Taiwan out of international organizations, such as the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL).

Authorities in Beijing have long sought the political subordination of Taiwan under its formula for unification -- “One Country, Two Systems.” Under this principle, there is One China, Taiwan is part of China, and the PRC is the sole representative of China in the international community. From Beijing's perspective, the ROC ceased to exist in 1949. Therefore, the PRC functions as the successor state and sole legal government of China, including Taiwan.

Viewing political legitimacy as a zero-sum game and applying its One China principle internationally, authorities in Beijing seek further political isolation of Taiwan and co-management of U.S.-Taiwan relations as means to coerce the island’s democratically elected leadership into a political settlement on terms favorable to Beijing. Overtly or covertly, the PRC has sought to influence an amendment to, if not an outright repeal of, the U.S. Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), the legal basis for bilateral relations since the break in diplomatic relations with the ROC in 1979.

Beijing has established Taiwan’s embrace of a “One China” principle as a precondition for resumption of formal dialogue. Political preconditions in the Taiwan Strait have a long history. Former presidents Lee Teng-hui and Chen Shui-bian implicitly linked the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) missile buildup in southeast China with Taiwan's willingness to enter into political negotiations, including a peace accord. During his first term in office, former President Ma Ying-jeou went further and explicitly established PLA withdrawal of missiles opposite Taiwan as a precondition for initiating political negotiations.  And rightly so, negotiation under duress almost ensures a bad outcome.

The PLA hasn't reduced its force posture opposite Taiwan. With minimal U.S. political support for Taiwan's position (with possible exception of arms sales notifications), former President Ma dropped his precondition and put any hope of political negotiations on indefinite hold.

In a break from past practice, the Tsai administration has expressed willingness to begin cross-Strait political negotiations without preconditions. It's Beijing that now has a precondition, namely that the  Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) must embrace a "One China" principle, often referred to as the 1992 Consensus. Seen as a means to sustain ROC sovereignty, the Ma administration viewed this consensus as each side recognizing One China, but with each interpreting its meaning differently. The DPP generally has regarded "One China" as an issue to be negotiated, rather than unilaterally conceded or inherited.

In the absence of countervailing policies, political pressure against Taiwan is likely to intensify. The PRC has been steadfast in its “One China” principle and opposes any solution that creates “Two Chinas,” or “One China, One Taiwan.” Regardless of policies adopted by the Tsai administration, authorities in Beijing are expected to continue their campaign to subordinate Taiwan to the PRC under a “One Country, Two Systems” framework.

U.S. Schools of Thought in Cross-Strait Policy

While the PRC’s policy towards Taiwan is shaped by concerns over political legitimacy, national interests and principles guide the U.S.' relations with Taiwan. For decades, at least four schools of thought have influenced U.S. policy in the Taiwan Strait. One school holds that the U.S. should accommodate the CCP’s position on Taiwan to advance its interests in stable and constructive U.S.-China relations.  As part of a "grand bargain," advocates propose amending the security-related provisions of the TRA.  In sharp contrast, a second school of thought has promoted the abandonment of the U.S. One China policy altogether with an extension of formal diplomatic recognition of Taiwan. Since 1979, the third and arguably dominant school of thought calls for maintenance of the status quo in U.S. policy toward Taiwan. Relying on ambiguity in the U.S. One China policy, defenders of the status quo stop short of defining the nature of relations between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait. These supporters rightly argue that the current approach ― formal diplomatic relations with the PRC and unofficial relations with authorities in Taipei under the Taiwan Relations Act ― has contributed to peace and stability in the region. By provision of necessary defense articles and services to Taiwan, advocates of a status quo in U.S. policy highlight the role that arms sales play in enabling authorities in Taipei to engage counterparts in Beijing with confidence.

However, a fourth school of thought advances a “soft balancing” strategy that gradually extends equal legitimacy to both sides within a broadened U.S. One China policy framework. U.S. policy has yet to catch up with the changes that have taken place on Taiwan since 1996, especially since the first peaceful transfer of power in 2000. Acknowledging that negotiation on the basis of sovereign equality is a necessary prerequisite for cross-Strait political talks, soft balancing advocates argue that adjustments are needed to create an environment more conducive to the resolution of differences over sovereignty in the Taiwan Strait.

The soft balancing school of thought, sometimes imprecisely referred to as a U.S. One China Two Governments policy, can be traced back to the 1960s, if not earlier, and remained on the table until the Carter administration. At its most fundamental level, the U.S. One China policy, in place in various forms since as early as 1943, cautions against the U.S. taking sides in sovereignty disputes and avoiding a position on Taiwan’s sovereign status. This policy was reaffirmed in the 1972 Communiqué, in which the Nixon administration acknowledged, but did not recognize, Beijing’s position on Taiwan. Between 1972 and 1979, however, the U.S. maintained relatively normal relations with governments on both sides of the Taiwan Strait. Preserving relatively normal relations with both sides was viewed as consistent with a U.S. One China policy.  The Carter administration ― making one of the most significant  concessions in American foreign policy history ― reverted to a narrow, zero-sum game interpretation of One China in 1979. However, the U.S. One China policy has never been easy to define. As former Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly noted in a 2004 testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs:

The definition of One China is something that we could go on for much too long for this event. In my testimony, I made the point "our One China," and I didn't really define it, and I'm not sure I very easily could define it. I can tell you what it is not. It is not the One-China policy or the One-China principle that Beijing suggests, and it may not be the definition that some would have in Taiwan.

Public debates have generally been between the first two schools -- accommodation versus status quo. Even the last two -- normalization versus soft balancing can be contentious, since the latter maintains a "One China" policy. Critics on Taiwan have cited a U.S. One China, Two Governments policy as a “deal with the devil” that would legitimize the ROC and reverse long-standing policy that holds Taiwan’s international status as undetermined. Beijing officially opposes One China Two Governments. Viewed as contrary to Beijing’s One China principle, the CCP has long been opposed to any inkling of shared sovereignty, which it associates with this option.

Future Options

U.S. policy helped create the conditions within which Taiwan transformed from an authoritarian party-state to a representative democracy. However, U.S. cross-Strait policy has not adjusted to reflect this fundamental transformation. The zero-sum framework of formal diplomatic relations with one side and informal ties with Taiwan may have been appropriate in 1979, when both governments were authoritarian. However, with each passing election on Taiwan, and the further consolidation of popular sovereignty, the current U.S. cross-Strait policy may be increasingly difficult to sustain.

As Congressman Randy Forbes noted in The National Interest in 2015, “the status quo in the Taiwan Strait is the existence of two legitimate governments. One, the Republic of China (Taiwan), is a liberal democracy. The other, the People’s Republic of China, is an autocracy under the control of the Chinese Communist Party." He further asked "applying your [the PRC's] One Country, Two Systems narrative to U.S.-Taiwan relations, how can you claim the right to represent 23 million people on Taiwan who enjoy popular sovereignty?"

A more objective representation of the status quo in the Taiwan Strait may better serve long-term U.S. interests. More balanced relations with both sides of the Taiwan Strait need not fundamentally challenge the U.S. “One-China” policy. Nor would it be prudent to promote “One China, One Taiwan” or “Two Chinas.” Rather, within the context of a broadened U.S. One China policy, careful consideration should be given to a more balanced approach to dealing with both sides of the Taiwan Strait.

There are at least three reasons for reviewing U.S. policy. First, foreign policy should, to the maximum extent possible, align with objective reality. The objective reality is that Taiwan, under its current ROC constitution, exists as an independent, sovereign state. In 1979, the U.S. withdrew diplomatic recognition.  However, as highlighted in international law (Montevideo Convention), “the political existence of the state is independent of recognition by the other states.”  In other words, U.S. withholding of diplomatic recognition is a matter of political expediency. For purposes of domestic law, the TRA states:

The absence of diplomatic relations or recognition shall not affect the application of the laws of the United States with respect to Taiwan, and the laws of the United States shall apply with respect to Taiwan in the manner that the laws of the United States applied with respect to Taiwan prior to January 1, 1979.

Secondly, resolution of cross-Strait differences is constrained without broad acknowledgement if not recognition of Taiwan’s legitimacy within the international community. The U.S. should not serve as a mediator or pressure Taiwan to negotiate. However, U.S. policy plays an important role in creating conditions for the two sides to resolve political differences. If one assumes that negotiation on the basis of sovereign equality is a necessary prerequisite for cross-Strait political talks, one could argue that a policy that gradually extends equal legitimacy to both sides, within a broad U.S. One China policy framework, could be the only solution to create that kind of conducive environment.

Finally, soft balancing in the Taiwan Strait could better reflect foundational American interests in promoting democracy around the world. Viewing the U.S. One China policy in a zero-sum light, Washington extends legitimacy to an autocratic state while denying equal legitimacy to the ROC that has evolved into a vibrant democracy. Taiwan’s institutionalized democracy is of intrinsic, fundamental value to the United States, but also could be instrumental in influencing political reform on the other side of the Strait. Indeed, Taiwan may gradually influence the course of Beijing’s own democratization. Herein lies the rub. From Beijing’s perspective, Taiwan’s democratic government—an alternative to the PRC’s autocratic model—presents an existential challenge to the CCP’s legitimacy and its monopoly on domestic political power. This need not be the case.


The United States has an important role to play in promoting peace and security in the Asia-Pacific region. Taiwan’s value to the United States and the international community should not be assessed as a subordinate issue of balance-of-power theories or according to its relevance in U.S.-China relations. Taiwan is not an instrument in a great game. Nor is Taiwan an American asset that can be traded away to attain favor with Beijing. Taiwan is of intrinsic value to the United States simply because of its existence, historical significance, and potential contributions to the international community. Taiwan, under its current ROC constitutional framework, is a state, despite the political obstacles that have obstructed dual recognition of both Beijing and Taipei. All members of the international community matter and should be accorded status, especially among those with shared values. The PRC and U.S. relations with China are important to be sure. However, if the democratic peace theory that posits that democracies are less likely to go to war with each other has any merit, China’s political liberalization is a matter of utmost importance. Arguably, no other society is as capable as Taiwan in demonstrating democracy to the mainland with meaning and impact. Beyond this, Taiwan is valuable to the international community due to its economic role, support for international rules and norms, and contributions to humanitarian aid. Finally, Taiwan is valuable for Washington because of its history as a loyal friend to the United States.

In short, the PRC can be expected to increase reliance on coercive persuasion and accelerate its isolation of Taiwan internationally. Reflecting its own Cold War mentality, Beijing's intransigence in recognizing the political legitimacy of the Republic of China (Taiwan) remains one of the most significant obstacles to regional peace and stability. As its pressure increases, the U.S. should consider expanding interactions with Taiwan within the framework of our existing U.S. One China policy. Greater balance in U.S. cross-Strait policy could help create conditions, without playing a mediation role, for resumption of cross-Strait negotiations on terms acceptable to both sides. The onus is on Beijing, and others in the international community, to conceive of some alternative that would be acceptable to people on Taiwan and mindful of Taiwan's popular sovereignty. The U.S. should actively encourage Beijing to engage counterparts on Taiwan without preconditions and renounce the use of force as a means to resolve differences.

The new Trump administration offers an opportunity for a fresh look at U.S. cross-Strait policy. A carefully considered policy review could examine a number of near term measures. These include potential structural adjustments, such as possible re-subordination of the State Department Office of Taiwan Coordination as a direct reporting agency under the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, or perhaps organizationally aligned with Southeast Asia. To facilitate more senior level engagement, including regularized travel to Taiwan, consideration could be given to dual hatting of selected assistant and deputy assistant secretaries within State and Defense Departments as American Institute in Taiwan (AIT/W) associates or consultants. Consideration could be given to initiation of a formal consultative mechanism for people-to-people exchanges. The new administration also should clear the deck on outstanding Congressional notifications; approve commercial export licenses and/or technical assistance agreements in support of Taiwan’s indigenous submarine program, and consider development of a long-term work plan for bilateral defense and security relations.

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