Taiwan's Transition is a Strategic Opportunity for the United States

Posted on Monday, May 23, 2016 by Project2049Institute

(Source: Reuters)
By: Ian Easton
Taiwan will inaugurate a new president this week who China hates but America should love.
On May 20 Taiwan’s newly elected president, Tsai Ing-wen, will come into office amidst a storm of  controversy and scandal. She will then begin a long hard slog through a cross-Strait political minefield, alienated from the world and increasingly unpopular at home.
That is, if China’s communist government has its way.
In recent weeks the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has raised tensions across the Taiwan Strait ahead of Taipei’s change of government, using a vast array of messaging channels to blame the incoming Tsai for the troubles.
Nothing could be farther from the truth―Tsai has a moderate and low-key approach to politics. But that’s beside the point. In the foreign policy world perceptions matter far more than reality. China’s playbook will be to brand Tsai as a problem and drive a wedge between her and the international community.
The actual problem is that the PRC wants to subvert Taiwan’s government and annex the island. China euphemistically calls this “reunification,” and has not given up the use of force to achieve it. The Communist Party is deeply insecure and views Taiwan as a threat to its legitimacy. Taiwan is a prosperous, vibrant democracy whose continued success undermines Beijing’s revanchist desire to secure absolute control over its maritime periphery.
The outgoing president, Ma Ying-jeou, embraced the “One China” principle and paved the way for a flood of cross-Strait exchanges in his eight years in office. He is an expert on maritime and legal issues, but nonetheless sometimes acted in ways that complimented the PRC narrative in the East China Sea and South China Sea.
Ma’s policies were not intended to serve Beijing’s interests. He is an anti-communist and a strong advocate for the Republic of China (ROC), the official title of Taiwan’s government. Ma even went so far as to suggest Taiwan has the right to claim all of mainland China’s territory because the PRC is an illegitimate government.
Ma’s well-intentioned “One China” ideology enabled cross-Strait dialogues which produced over 20 trade agreements. These deals enjoyed the support of the majority of Taiwanese people, especially early on.
Yet his approach eventually fell out of step with the surging tide of Taiwanese identity in his country. Approximately 84 percent of people in Taiwan now self-identify as Taiwanese (instead of  Chinese) and view cross-Strait ties as relations between two separate countries. Increased Taiwanese familiarity with China since 2008 has only bred contempt.
Nor did China return Ma’s gestures of goodwill. The buildup of ballistic missiles and other offensive weapons aimed at Taiwan continued apace throughout his administration. Taiwan’s ability to participate in the international community has been further restricted. And unfettered trade with China, instead of strengthening Taiwan’s economy, only made it more vulnerable.
The newly-minted President Tsai will take a different tack. She has no interest in putting her political capital into an account that yields no interest and allows for no withdrawals. Recent history demonstrates that investing in China instead of other more profitable relationships would be a costly mistake.
While cross-Strait relations will continue to be important, Tsai is likely to focus her foremost energies on economic and military reforms at home, while strengthening partnerships with the United States, Japan, Australia, India, and other democracies abroad.
From the U.S. perspective, her presidency could not have come at a better time.
The United States and China are now firmly entrenched in a competition for dominance over the Pacific Rim, and Taiwan is a center of gravity. The island is located in the world’s busiest maritime and air routes, and it serves as a defensive barrier for keeping Chinese naval power in check.
The United States does not covet Taiwan as a base for its military, but it does require that the island remain in the hands of a friendly government. If Taiwan were lost, other Asian allies could be held at risk by the threat of Chinese blockades. As such, any PRC attempt to gain control of Taiwan would most likely be regarded as an attack on the vital interests of the United States, and repelled by any means necessary, including military force.
Taiwan is critical to the United States not only for its location, but also for its shared values and its position as a key trading partner. Taiwan is currently the United States’ ninth largest trading partner, ahead of Saudi Arabia, India, and Brazil. Experience has shown senior U.S.  policymakers that nations that share democratic values are the best partners and worth defending. Common values generate common interests, which are the basis for making a common cause in addressing global challenges.
Unfortunately some American ‘China Hands’ have been advocating peace in the Taiwan Strait at any price and seeing crisis where they should be seeing opportunity. They have been urging Tsai to come up with a new “One China” formula to appease China. That would be a mistake. Better to have the old  flashpoint return than to see Taiwan fall into China’s orbit.
Going forward, Taiwan deserves the full-throated support of the U.S. government and all the material help the United States can give a fellow democracy in peril. If Washington stays complacent in the weeks and months ahead it will telegraph complicit agreement with China’s false assertions that Tsai is a troublemaker. Bowing to Chinese coercion would forsake the democratically represented will of Taiwan’s citizenry.
Tsai is a cool and calculating centrist. The greatest risk she presents is not that she will be a ‘pro-independence’ firebrand, but rather that she will be too cautious and slow to embrace strategies and initiatives needed for helping compete with China.
Now more than ever, the United States needs strong friends in the Pacific who know how to play hardball. If Washington can convince Tsai that America has the backbone to stand up to China, Taiwan will be right at our side with an immense ability to contribute more to the common good.
The coming political transition in Taipei is a strategic opportunity, not a crisis. It should be treated as such by all but Beijing.
This article first appeared in the Diplomat. Ian Easton is a research fellow at the Project 2049 Institute. 

The Case of US Ship Visits to Taiwan

Posted on Monday, May 9, 2016 by Project2049Institute

The Case for US Ship Visits to Taiwan
The USS John C. Stennis
Source: U.S. Navy Photo

By: Randall Schriver

After the People’s Republic of China denied permission for the USS John Stennis to make a call to Hong Kong, Representative Randy Forbes said the following: “As Beijing’s direct control of Hong Kong intensifies, the U.S. Navy should strongly consider shifting its carrier port calls to more stable and welcoming locations…including Taiwan.”
The statement was too easily brushed off by some foreign policy elites in Washington who know we have not conducted U.S. Navy ship visits to Taiwan since the break in diplomatic relations in 1979. While we should resist the temptation to make major policy changes simply out a fit of pique, Representative Forbes is a serious man and his suggestion is worthy of our consideration.
There are at least five reasons why the U.S. Navy conducts ship visit to foreign ports. One reason is for morale and welfare of the sailors and marines afloat. Breaking up long deployments at sea with visits to quality ports of call helps our men and women recharge and thus more effectively perform their duties on ship. Such calls also help the Navy with recruitment and retention (it’s not an empty cliché that men and women join the naval services to “see the world”).
A second reason for port calls is for replenishment and minor maintenance and repair for our ships. The tyranny of time and distance created by the world’s great oceans necessitates that our ships receive such support outside the United States.
On these issues, Hong Kong gets excellent marks. Our men and women love visiting Hong Kong, and shore-based services are well-positioned to assist our ships. But Taiwan would excel in these areas as well.  Kaohsiung is an outstanding destination for sailors and marines (just ask our many service members who enjoyed liberty there during the Vietnam War), and it boasts world class capabilities for servicing maritime vessels.
Third, port calls contribute to specific political and diplomatic goals of our government. A U.S. aircraft carrier pulling into a port is a powerful symbol – and our sailors and marines ashore can be excellent ambassadors of our good will.
Fourth, ship visits to foreign ports may also serve specific military and security goals. Port familiarization in peacetime will greatly assist our fighting forces during a contingency involving a friend or ally. We may seek to enhance deterrence in support of a particular friend or ally.  And we may use the port of call for strengthening Navy-Navy ties through tailored activities and discussions.
And finally, foreign ports can also provide safe harbor when ships are in distress (e.g. severe mechanical, weather or other issues that may impact safety of the crew). While such cases may be rare, it is nonetheless a tradition as old as time for coastal communities to serve as places of temporary refuge for mariners in need.
How does Hong Kong stack-up in these latter three areas?  Here is where it gets increasingly questionable. First, let’s look at the question of political goals.  The United States has held the view since Hong Kong’s reversion in 1997 that our ship visits are a way to support Hong Kong’s “genuine autonomy” as promised in the 1984 Joint Declaration, Hong Kong’s Basic Law, and our own Hong Kong Policy Act. Yet with Beijing’s increasing heavy hand on matters related to Hong Kong, our continued port calls have become a symbol of our acceptance of Beijing’s efforts to rein in Hong Kong, not symbols of support for its autonomy. When Beijing made the unfortunate announcement that Hong Kong’s Chief Executive would not be freely elected in 2017 as promised, we did nothing to alter our ship visit program. Hong Kong is an important financial center with heavy American investment. But when citizens are kidnapped off the streets of Hong Kong by central governing authorities in Beijing while our ships sit idly by in port, our government appears impotent and we lose the reassurance our presence is supposed to provide.
Hong Kong contributes very little to our military and security goals. Clearly in any known contingency in the South China Sea or Taiwan Strait, the port would be unavailable to our ships.  Moreover, Hong Kong has failed to serve as an important vehicle for military-to-military engagement between the U.S. military and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).  In fact, the PLA has been relatively low-key in Hong Kong – at least so far – and the rare multilateral search and rescue exercises which have featured both U.S. and Chinese forces could certainly be conducted elsewhere.
Most regrettably, Hong Kong even falls short when it comes to the basic duty of providing reliable safe harbor for ships in distress. In 2007, the Chinese central government denied a request from two U.S. minesweepers to escape an approaching storm and receive fuel. This was an egregious violation of an unwritten though time-honored rule of international maritime states to assist ships in distress. Had the roles been reversed, it is unimaginable that we would have turned away a Chinese vessel in need.
Taiwan, in contrast to Hong Kong, would meet the aforementioned criteria. U.S. ship visits to Taiwan would help support the goals of the Taiwan Relations Act, and would send reassurance to the people of Taiwan at a time when Beijing is increasing pressure on our democratic friend.  We could enhance our operational readiness in meaningful ways related to a known contingency for which our own law obligates us to prepare. Unlike PRC-controlled Hong Kong, Taiwan would always be there if we were in distress – as they were when two U.S. F/A-18s were forced to make an emergency landing at Tainan Air Base in Taiwan in April 2015. The outstanding reception those pilots received stands in stark contrast to how the aircrew of the EP-3 was treated in Hainan Island after an emergency landing in April 2001.
This begs the question – why not make U.S. Navy port calls in Taiwan?  One must conclude our government is overly cautious and afraid of the unknown. The bureaucratic reflex is always to default against setting new precedence if there is any perceived risk. While it is true that U.S. ship visits were suspended with the break in relations in 1979, it also true that they have never been explicitly prohibited by official guidance or any standing policy. In fact, senior members of the Carter Administration who supported cutting diplomatic ties with Taiwan in 1978 also supported the continuation of U.S. Navy port calls after the change of diplomatic relations. It’s an accident of history rather than policy that such a precedent became locked-in. We failed to make a port call immediately after January 1, 1979, and bureaucratic inertia took over from there. Fast forward more than three decades and our community of government China-hands relegate the notion of U.S. Navy ship visits to Taiwan as “something we just don’t do.”
The political and security environment has changed a great deal since 1979. Taiwan is a full-fledged democracy and willing security partner to the United States. China’s assertiveness threatens peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea. And China’s ballistic and cruise missile deployments which hold our forward deployed forces at risk demands that we identify more diverse range of options for access in the Pacific Theater before an actual contingency. Would the PRC object to a U.S. ship visit to Taiwan?  Of course they would. But the cost-benefit ledger seems to be titling more in favor of accepting the risk.
In the mid-1990s, I served as one of the Department of Defense (DoD) representatives on the U.S. negotiating team for the discussions with China related to the pending reversion of Hong Kong sovereignty to the PRC. DoD’s position on continuing ship visits to Hong Kong was that it was desirable, but not critical. We had other options. I believe that remains true today. While we should continue to request port calls to Hong Kong for the foreseeable future, Chinese leaders themselves have created the conditions that compel us to look elsewhere for more reliable, welcoming ports of call. Taiwan should be included in our annual ship visit program as an outstanding port of call that will serve U.S. strategic interests in the Asia-Pacific.
This article first appeared in the Diplomat. Randall Schriver is the President and CEO of the Project 2049 Institute. He formerly served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs. 

Congress Takes on China's Propaganda Machine

Posted on Thursday, April 28, 2016 by Project2049Institute

(source: Wikimedia Commons/David Pursehouse)

By: Claire Chu

The Countering Information Warfare Act of 2016 (S.2692) was introduced in the Senate on March 16, and has since been read twice and referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations. Sponsored by Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) and Senator Christopher Murphy (D-CT), the new bipartisan legislation is intended to counter foreign propaganda and disinformation operations.

The bill recognizes that foreign governments, including the Russian Federation and the People's Republic of China, have engaged heavily in sophisticated, comprehensive and long-term efforts to manipulate and control information, to achieve national objectives at the expense of U.S. allies, interests, and values. While the U.S. has a long history of legislation countering Russian propaganda, which traces back to the "war of ideas" that underpinned the Soviet clash with the West, this is the first time Congress has introduced policy measures to directly address the threat of China's aggressive comprehensive information operations doctrine.

The People's Liberation Army (PLA) combines psychological warfare, media warfare and the manipulation of legal arguments (lawfare) with more technical aspects of information operations to not only disrupt enemy information control capabilities (while maintaining its own), but also to influence both domestic and international audiences' decision-making processes in ways that build support for China's military operations. This scope of information operations is used to undermine technologically superior adversaries, such as the United States, by transcending the normal spectrum of conflict. In the Chinese strategic tradition, this achieves ideals of nonviolence and subduing the enemy without fighting at all.

Given U.S. reliance on a high-performance, networked information infrastructure and dependence on precision-strike and conventional warfare capabilities, there has been increasing concern in Washington about the national-security impact of China's unconventional use of manipulative political and ideological activities that target the United States. Overseas Chinese state-media broadcasting and paid newspaper inserts regularly contribute to perception management of the Chinese Communist Party's one-party rule and military operations. Recent maritime incidents and military exercises serve to divide U.S. alliances and undermine any justification for U.S. presence in the Asia-Pacific.

In a set of remarks delivered at the Atlantic Council, Senator Portman explained: "China spends billions annually on its foreign propaganda efforts...Chinese land reclamation in the South China Sea is another recent example of how effective disinformation operations can be used to seize the initiative and catch the United States and its allies off-guard and unprepared."

The Pentagon has been aware of China's expanding information warfare capabilities for over a decade, yet currently no single U.S. government organization takes on the role of developing a whole-of-government strategy to combat the threat of information warfare. Interagency groups have had a checkered performance record; the Active Measures Working Group that was established to counter Soviet disinformation is one of few examples of past success. In general, the United States today is afflicted with a systemic lack of interagency coordination and support mechanisms with respect to countering unconventional threats. Our federal institutions are like the blind men in the old tale, and the defense strategy process is the elephant.

By contrast, China has created a formal mechanism to coordinate General Political Department (GPD) liaison work with not only civilian bureaucracies but also the PLA Air Force, Navy, Second Artillery, and military regional commands. Within the PLA's national power arsenal of party and state organizations, there is an interlocking set of non-governmental platforms that attempt to direct influence through civilian and business means.

In response, the Countering Information Warfare Act proposes the establishment of the Center for Information Analysis and Response for planning, integrating, and synchronizing comprehensive national strategy to expose and counter foreign information operations directed against the United States. The Center will be under the primary leadership of the Secretary of State, in active coordination with other departments including the Department of Defense and the Broadcasting Board of Governors. A complementary Steering Committee will also be created for advisory purposes, with committee members representing various relevant agencies including the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

To support U.S. analysis of China's information warfare tactics, techniques, and procedures, Congress will be authorized to appropriate $20,000,000 to the Secretary of State for fiscal years 2017 and 2018. These funds will back the Center and provide grants to civil society groups, academic institutions, research and development centers, and other organizations for investigation and research compatible with U.S. security interests and objectives.

Despite the pivot to Asia policy (or perhaps because of it), Washington has not yet conceived a comprehensive strategic framework to address the PLA's fusion of ancient and modern operational thinking and planning. As such, the study of Chinese military strategy remains a fundamentally inaccurate science. After three decades of "constructive engagement," the United States can only be effective in the Asia-Pacific if it invests in legislation like the Countering Information Warfare Act to develop the intellectual foundation and support necessary to understand and confront the Chinese Communist Party's unconventional military strategy and doctrine.

This article was first published in the National Interest on April 27. Claire Chu is an intern at the Project 2049 Institute. She is a graduating senior at American University specializing in U.S. defense posture and regional security dynamics in the Asia-Pacific. Follow her on Twitter @ClaireJChu and #InfluenceOps for analysis on Chinese political warfare.

China as a Responsible Stakeholder? A Decade Later

Posted on Tuesday, April 26, 2016 by Project2049Institute

Watch video of the full conference here.

By Julia Bowie

In a 2005 speech, then-Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick used the term "responsible stakeholder" to address how China should wield its growing power and influence. Zoellick stated that after a 30-year policy of integrating China into the international system, "we now need to encourage China to become a responsible stakeholder in the international system. As a responsible stakeholder, China would be more than just a member--it would work with us to sustain the international system that has enabled its success." In his remarks, Zoellick classified the U.S.-China relationship as one that must be built on both shared interests and values.

In light of China's increased assertiveness and challenges to U.S. interests in the Asia-Pacific over the past ten years, it is necessary to assess the success of the responsible stakeholder model by examining whether China has met U.S. expectations and contributed positively to the international system. The Project 2049 Institute conference, "China as a Responsible Stakeholder? A Decade Later," brought together experts on Chinese politics and foreign policy to identify and assess areas where China challenges the existing security and economic order, and to offer recommendations regarding potential U.S. responses.

Context of the "Responsible Stakeholder" Speech

Discussing the historical context of the responsible stakeholder speech, one presenter noted that the early 2000s were an important inflection point in China's history. From the 1960s to the 1970s, China opposed many of the international institutions that made up the liberal order in the post-war period, but it nonetheless slowly began to open and change. In 1979, the U.S. officially recognized the PRC government and normalized relations. From the 1980s to the 1990s, integrating China into the international system became a central objective of U.S. engagement with China. By the 2000s, however, China had joined many of the institutions it once opposed, essentially becoming a member of the U.S.-led world order. Zoellick's speech in 2005 thus marked a necessary transition in the focus of U.S. policy away from integration and toward shaping China's behavior within the international system in a way that aligned more closely with U.S. interests and values.

Strategic Competition between the U.S. and China

Embedded in the responsible stakeholder concept is the expectation that China would become a status quo power. Speakers agreed that despite its increased integration into the international order, China has consistently demonstrated dissatisfaction with the status quo. One panelist discussed China's attitude toward the Asian regional security order, where Chinese assertiveness targets the United States, as an area where this has been particularly visible. While the U.S. has maintained its alliances and military presence in the region, China has expressed hope the U.S. will disengage, allowing China to become the preeminent power in the Asia Pacific. When Chinese assertiveness began to spike in 2009, China's strategy appeared to be to induce Washington to choose to opt out of engagements in the region by making U.S. operations riskier. The U.S. has since demonstrated its resolve to continue operating, and China has switched its focus to regional actors. However, China's objective appears the same: to signal that, as China rises, the U.S. will either accommodate its preferences or risk conflict.

International institutions are another area in which China does not accept the status quo. According to one speaker, even if China accepted the international order exactly as it is today, it would still want to reweight institutions and governance mechanisms to give itself a greater voice and greater influence over outcomes. China is joined in this objective by other rising powers, who are attempting to change the dynamics of international institutions in Asia. This speaker posited that as Asia becomes more interconnected, the U.S. may be unable to prevent Asian regionalism and the formation of Asian institutions that do not include the U.S.

Another panelist argued that Chinese historical memory and the narrative of victimhood further shape China's relationship to the existing international order. A central claim to CCP legitimacy is the idea that, after 150 years of humiliation by foreign powers, the CCP's role is to return China to its former stature. The CCP cherry-picks moments from the Qing and Ming dynasties when China's power had reached an apex, and presents them as the natural state from which China was toppled, promising a return to these moments. This narrative drives China's foreign policy and creates a divide between U.S. and Chinese strategic goals. While the U.S. seeks to preserve the prevailing post-WWII regional order in East Asia, China seeks to return to the order in place before WWII.

Differing Interpretations of the Responsible Stakeholder Concept

One panelist noted differing interpretations of the responsible stakeholder concept between the two countries. China's leadership has appropriated the responsible stakeholder framework to suit their foreign policy goals. In Chinese, the term "responsible stakeholder" is translated to "responsible great power" (负责任大国). The Chinese employ the concept to expand their international power, often using it to refer to how China's rise has contributed to the international order, such as contributing to UN peacekeeping efforts. They often use the concept of responsibility to suggest that they are more responsible than the United States, saying that the U.S. inspires militarism in Japan and creates instability on the Korean peninsula. This rhetoric reveals that by trying to shape the idea of what a rules-based order means, China is thinking about how it can increase its influence regionally and globally.

China's Domestic Politics

Zoellick's responsible stakeholder speech presented expectations for the future course of Chinese domestic politics, arguing that economic liberalization would inevitably lead to political liberalization, and using this argument as a rationale for engagement with China. In this framework, as China's economic and political systems became more like that of the United States, the interests and values of the two countries would align, facilitating better cooperation. In his 'responsible stakeholder' speech, Zoellick hinted that China was on the road to democracy, saying, "President Hu and Premier Wen are talking about the importance of China strengthening the rule of law and developing democratic institutions."

Contrary to expectations, movement toward political liberalization has failed to appear in China. According to a presenter on China's communist-capitalism, this is possibly due to the unique development of China's version of capitalism. Unlike Russia, where capitalism was embraced after political change, Chinese capitalism was developed by current communist elite in order to further entrench their power. U.S. policymakers should therefore not expect the inevitability of democratization in China or that China's political system will develop along the same path as other countries.  

The CCP's extreme efforts to avoid political change or any loss of power are exemplified by China's vast censorship and propaganda program. One speaker presented their research data which showed that, contrary to popular belief, Chinese censorship does not focus primarily on silencing criticism of the state; rather it censors news about collective action, especially protests. This reveals what the CCP thinks is its greatest threat: its own people. The objective of China's massive censorship and propaganda system is therefore to limit the development civil society and other forces that could challenge CCP rule.  

Another presenter had the view that China's authoritarian political system is inseparable from China's relationship to the international order. They posited that the liberal rules-based order is characterized by rules-based competition, dispute resolution processes, and adherence to international law. In a rules-based order, governments utilize the tools of the state to uphold the rules of the game, which requires separation of political and economic objectives, legal and administrative agents, and compromise and transparency in decision-making. According to this presenter, China's political system operates differently. The Communist Party leadership views everything under its purview, including multi-national firms, as tools for the extension of the CCP power. The principal CCP objective is to maintain its grip on power. As such, it is likely to prove impossible to induce the CCP to do anything that could weaken its control. Considering China's current political system, this presenter was of the view that we cannot shape its ultimate objectives or strategy. All we can do is shape the means by which the CCP will go about pursuing its interests.

Shaping China's Interests and Objectives

In the face of increasing challenges to U.S. interests by China, policymakers often emphasize areas of cooperation and mutual interest, hoping to alter the nature of strategic competition between the two countries. The responsible stakeholder framework assumes that the U.S. is able to shape China's interests and induce China to comply with a rules-based order. The reality, however, would seem to be that there are many limitations to how effectively the U.S. can shape China's interests and strategic objectives.

The U.S. relationship with China is based on a combination of cooperation and competition. While the U.S. should not aggressively compete with China in every domain at the cost of possible opportunities for cooperation, policymakers would be wrong to think that the cooperative aspects of the relationship obviate the competitive aspects. Speakers agreed that the U.S. government must reassess its strategy in the Asia-Pacific in order to adequately address a rising China that is discontent with the prevailing order. The challenges posed by China necessitate a clear written strategy for implementing the Asia Rebalance, which could help integrate U.S. visions and goals for the region, as well as deepen its understanding of its capabilities. 

How Chinese Analysts Understand Taiwan’s Geostrategic Significance

Posted on Tuesday, March 15, 2016 by Project2049Institute

 East Asia satellite image (Image Source: Shutterstock)

By David Gitter
The Taiwan problem is not only a problem between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait; its overall development trend will also be decided by the East Asian-Western Pacific region’s great power relations, and by the region’s geopolitical situation.
Many seasoned observers of cross-strait relations might be surprised to know that the above quote comes from the study materials of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) Central Party School – but they should not be. In an age where Beijing controls the narrative surrounding Taiwan as solely the domain of China’s internal affairs, it is important to remember that Chinese strategists have soberly assessed the geostrategic significance of Taiwan for hundreds of years, fully cognizant that it sits but 80-some miles off China’s coast and straddles both the East and South China Seas.

The late U.S. scholar Alan M. Wachman reminded the West of this in his influential 2007 book, Why Taiwan?. In that work, Wachman explains that Chinese dynasties viewed Taiwan as a protective barrier against foreign invaders, and as a threat to China’s security once controlled by outside powers. History shows that the danger posed to China from Taiwan was not merely symbolic: Ming loyalists used the island as a springboard for inciting rebellion in Qing China during the seventeenth century, the Japanese military launched operations against China from Taiwan during World War II, and Republic of China (ROC) raids were unleashed from Taiwan against Communist China during the Cold War.

Today, as Chinese projects power into the South China Sea and beyond, People’s Republic of China (PRC) analysts continue to view Taiwan’s U.S.-enabled de facto independence as a threat to the PRC’s national security and an impediment to China’s national greatness. On the contrary, a Taiwan that is united with the Mainland is described as a springboard to project power past the first island chain. Such views are apparent to those who peek just beneath the surface of the PRC’s rhetoric expounding the rationales of national humiliation, national unity, and territorial integrity for subjugating the island.

A common theme found in readily available Chinese writings is that Taiwan is the “key” to the PRC’s regional ambitions. Firstly, Taiwan continues to be described in CCP and scholarly sources as either a shield guarding China’s rich coastal underbelly or a danger to China’s regional security. Prominent Shandong University scholar Ma Fengshu (马风书) wrote in 2014 that Taiwan is the core of China’s most strategically-important area: its eastern geopolitical block. Ma assesses that this block is crucial for China’s economic development and also possesses the highest latent potential for conflict, given the area’s current U.S. domination and the perceived infringements on China’s territorial rights there. In order to deal with the threat of conflict, Ma states that China must overcome U.S. regional manipulation by fully exploiting East Asian states’ economic reliance on China, including Taiwan’s.

Similar ideas are professed by Zhang Wenmu (张文木), a scholar at Beihang University’s Center for Strategic Studies. In January 2016, Zhang asserted that China must adhere to Mao Zedong’s strategy to confront multiple complicated contradictions: first identify and address the main contradiction, and the rest will easily fall into place. Regarding China’s present territorial friction versus the United States, Japan, and ASEAN states, Zhang asserts that the main “contradiction” lies within the Taiwan issue:

Presently the East China Sea and South China Sea give rise to a good deal of hard-to-solve problems; their roots rest under the control of the Taiwan Problem. If China accomplishes the Taiwan Strait’s unification, the area between Taiwan Island and Hainan Island can form an expansive protection maritime region for China’s southeast economic golden zone, and in this way, the South China Sea issue’s resolution will become, relatively speaking, a lot easier.

Zhang Wenmu asserts that by controlling Taiwan, China can establish a maritime protection zone in the South China Sea. Chinese military facilities on Taiwan would presumably compliment China’s expanding South China Sea military facilities.

Furthermore, Zhang explains that once Taiwan is unified with the Mainland, China will be able to project its military power east through the Miyako Strait – the largest pass through Japan’s Ryukyu Islands chain – and south through the Bashi Channel between Taiwan and the Philippines. The result, according to Zhang, would be the creation of a united naval defense zone sweeping from the Yellow Sea to the East China and South China Seas, linking China’s South China Sea islands with Taiwan Island and the Liaodong Peninsula. He states China’s power projection would also extend deep into the western Pacific, enabling People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) nuclear submarines to realize their full counterstrike potential and allowing for the advancement of PLAN aircraft carrier construction.

A related concern for Chinese strategists pertains to Japan’s historical desire to control Taiwan as a protective barrier and transport node. Zhu Zhongbo (朱中博), a scholar at the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affair’s think tank, wrote in 2015 that Japan desires to utilize Taiwan’s unique geopolitical position in order to secure access to the area’s transport and energy routes and assist its resurgent maritime strategy. Zhu accuses Japan of harboring secret plans to forestall and prevent Taiwan’s peaceful reunification with the Mainland. He points to the U.S.-Japan alliance’s expanding geographical area of military concern and the 2013 Japan-Taiwan Fisheries Agreement as evidence of malign intent. Zhang Wenmu puts forth similar warnings, stating that Japan aims to preserve access to the Taiwan Strait in order to advance its own South China Sea strategy. He even goes as far as to call the Taiwan region a core interest of Japan.

Even a preliminary open-source dive into Chinese language material shows that knowledgeable and government-affiliated PRC experts continue to view the Taiwan issue as not merely an internal matter, diplomatically sealed off from the world by Beijing’s One China policy. Indeed, it is viewed as a matter of grave geostrategic significance in the context of Beijing’s larger regional interests. No doubt similar views exist within China’s foreign policy decision-making apparatus. In the words of the CCP itself:
By understanding the Taiwan problem’s long-term nature and complexity from a geopolitical and geostrategic viewpoint, our knowledge can become even more profound, and even more in line with objective reality.

David Gitter is an independent research consultant on Chinese politics and foreign affairs. Sign up for his weekly intelligence report Party Watch, to follow the latest activities of the CCP. This article was originally published in The Diplomat on March 11, 2016. 

Ripe for Reinvigoration: The Japan-South Korea Security Relationship

Posted on Friday, February 26, 2016 by Project2049Institute

(Image Source: Yonhap/Reuters)

By Samuel J. Mun

North Korea’s recent provocations and saber-rattling highlight the importance of Japan-Republic of Korea (ROK) security cooperation once again. Over the past two months, North Korea detonated a nuclear bomb, tested ballistic missile technology, and threatened South Korea and the United States with a preemptive military strike. These developments, combined with a Japan-ROK political resolution and China’s reluctance to censure North Korea, have created an opening for Japan and South Korea to strengthen their ties and stabilize the Northeast Asian security landscape.

Six months ago, there was speculation that South Korea was gravitating into China’s “orbit” and away from Japan. Many worried when President Park Geun-hye attended a military parade in Beijing as part of her effort to encourage China to exert leverage against North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. Meanwhile, relations between Japan and South Korea continued to suffer as politicized disputes over “comfort women” impeded any significant progress in improving their strained ties.

Today, Seoul interacts with Beijing and Tokyo in a different context. Last December, Japan and South Korea reached a historic agreement to resolve the “comfort women” issue, thus creating space for the two countries to improve security ties. Not long after, Seoul’s relations with Beijing chilled when China chose not to exercise its leverage over North Korea in wake of North Korea’s detonation of a nuclear bomb. As an indicator of China’s reluctance to lend a hand, Xi Jinping apparently refused to take a phone call from Park for a month after the test. Weeks later, North Korea performed a rocket launch in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions, after which China protested South Korea’s decision to enter discussions with the United States to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Air Defense platform to counter North Korean missiles.

South Korea is recalibrating its approach toward North Korea and now knows that China will not help the situation. It is turning to Japan as a reliable partner in this precarious security climate. Solidarity between Japan and South Korea was on display on February 10 when the respective military chiefs from the U.S., Japan, and South Korea agreed to “firmly respond to the [North Korean] acts utilizing trilateral information sharing” and “coordinate further on mutual security issues to enhance peace and stability in the region.” Less than a week later, President Park delivered a stern, nationally televised speech where she warned of North Korean collapse if North Korea continues its nuclear ambitions. As South Korea prepares for an end-game scenario in North Korea, Japan and South Korea are ideal partners for addressing the security and humanitarian challenges in such a contingency.

The maritime sphere is an excellent area for Japan and South Korea to forge these ties. Cooperation among the U.S. Navy (USN), Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) and the Republic of Korea Navy (ROKN) in areas such as ballistic missile defense, mine-countermeasures, and anti-submarine warfare can help deter, and if necessary, defeat North Korea in wartime. JMSDF-ROKN coordination would also complement U.S. military operations in contingencies related to the Korean peninsula, buttress humanitarian aid and disaster relief (HADR) operations in the event of North Korean collapse, and send a clear message to the region that they remain steadfast in standing up to North Korean aggression.

JMSDF-ROKN cooperation could lend opportunities for Japan and South Korea to coordinate with the U.S. Navy trilaterally in areas such as HADR, anti-piracy, and the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. The free flow of trade in the South China Sea (SCS) is equally vital to Japan and South Korea, and a coordinated approach with the United States in the SCS would add resistance against China’s destabilizing activity in the region.

Now is an opportune moment to also consider revisiting the possible formulation of a Japan-ROK General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA). The two countries were on the verge of signing a GSOMIA in 2012, but the hasty rollout of this agreement to the ROK National Assembly and public led to its collapse. The signing of a U.S.-Japan-ROK trilateral information sharing agreement in 2014 was a step in the right direction, but a Japan-ROK GSOMIA would remove the United States as an intermediary and streamline the exchange of North Korea-related intelligence between Japan and South Korea.

As North Korea continues to refine its nuclear technology and missile capabilities, the time for Japan and South Korea to reinvigorate their security ties is overdue. The Japan-ROK relationship is a largely untapped resource that would bolster U.S., Japanese, and South Korean posture towards North Korea and the region at large. There should be no time wasted in harnessing the enormous potential of the Japan-ROK relationship.

This article was published in The Diplomat on February 27, 2016.  

Chinese Political Warfare After Taiwan's Elections: Tsai's Victory

Posted on Tuesday, February 9, 2016 by Project2049Institute

This is the first in a series of blog posts entitled “Chinese Political Warfare After Taiwan's Elections."

(Image Source: Alison Bartel at KMT rally in Taipei)

By Alison Bartel

DPP candidate Tsai Ing-wen won the ROC (Republic of China, hereafter referred to as Taiwan) presidential elections on January 16, 2016 by a decisive margin. The election of a DPP leader has played into the CCP's fears of a more pro-independence populous in Taiwan.  Chinese leaders have historically employed coercive tactics in order to set the stage for reunification. As one of China’s primary “core interests,” the elections are likely to generate outbursts of more aggressive political warfare tactics if China perceives Taiwan as veering away from its desired course. As the Project 2049 Institute outlined in a previous report:

Political warfare seeks to influence emotions, motives, objective reasoning, and behavior of foreign governments, organizations, groups, and individuals in a manner favorable to one’s own political-military objectives.

Through interviews with DPP leaders, scholars, journalists, and academics on potential election outcome implications for the PRC (People’s Republic of China, hereafter referred to as China), this post serves to assess the PRC's future strategy to exert influence over Taiwan. The interviews indicate that China’s overall strategy will not change in response to the DPP victory itself, but instead will change as a function of fundamental shifts in demographics and political and cultural identity on the island.

China’s use of influence operations towards Taiwan has previously targeted those in political power (both KMT and DPP) and business tycoons, primarily by using economic leverages to wield its power. Taiwan and China are more economically interconnected than ever before, and in the short term, cross-Strait economic relations are unlikely to change significantly. China is a behemoth economy that has gone out of its way to bestow benefits on Taiwan’s businessmen (
台商) and their new generation counterparts for both economic and political reasons. The Chinese market is in turn beneficial to Taiwan’s economy. But China’s recent stock market instability and the government’s response have made investors wary of its shortcomings. Furthermore, the race to the bottom (and growing potential of the TPP) could lead investors to diversify to Southeast Asian nations.

Though the two cultures are intertwined, the "One China" principle the PRC touts abroad further diverges from the reality of two separate societies and governments. As the old KMT order dies out, decades of independent governance and society have built a stronger Taiwanese national identity. President Tsai’s election is Taiwan’s third peaceful transition of power and it further solidifies Taiwan’s democratic political system. These trends imply that both of China’s traditional outlets of economic and cultural leverage are threatened in the long term. China's strategy will therefore gradually shift from targeting political and business heavyweights to Taiwanese youth, while incorporating more cultural leverage in the long term.

The success of Taiwan’s most recent elections was a milestone for democracy in the Asia-Pacific region. But China’s recent actions threaten to erode democracy and the rights that it embodies. The rise in bellicosity of China’s hard-line factions and divergence from mainstream rhetoric and policy should be monitored for potential rifts in China’s domestic politics. For example, coercive action behind Taiwanese K-pop star Chou Tzu-Yu’s apology and affirmation of the One China Principle on the eve of Taiwan’s presidential elections reveals China’s use of economic and cultural coercion that diverges from its seemingly warm language during the Ma-Xi meeting in November. In President Tsai’s victory speech, she notes that the PRC’s recent actions “will serve as a constant reminder to me about the importance of our country's strength and unity to those outside our borders.” While building a “consistent, predictable, and sustainable cross-strait relationship,” Tsai’s administration should also be aware of changes in China’s political warfare strategy towards Taiwan. This series on deciphering China’s cross-Strait messaging strategies will identify cultural and economic areas to monitor for indications of changes in China’s perception management tactics on Taiwan.

Mark Stokes and Russell Hsiao, “The People’s Liberation Army General Political Department: Political Warfare with Chinese Characteristics.” Project 2049 Institute Occasional Paper, October 14, 2013, at http://www.project2049.net/documents/PLA_General_Political_Department_Liaison_Stokes_Hsiao.pdf.

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