The Taiwanese Curve Ball: Why Taiwan's New Government Will Put the Brakes on China's Foreign Policy

Posted on Tuesday, June 14, 2016 by Project2049Institute

Image source: Wikimedia

By Ian Easton

Last year the outside world must have looked pretty good to the Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party, Xi Jinping, from his vantage point at Zhongnanhai, the seat of supreme power in the People's Republic of China (PRC). The United States and her allies were bogged down in a seemingly never ending fight against terrorists at home and abroad, and unable to focus their time and attention on emerging threats in Asia. The Trans Pacific Partnership, a trade pact between countries that would otherwise be heavily reliant upon China's market (and therefore Beijing's goodwill), was stalled out. Island atolls in the South China Sea were rapidly being built up into military bases, cementing Chinese control over these strategic waterways. China's cyber army was marching across the internet, giving Beijing an immense edge over competitors in every sphere that mattered, from politics to petroleum and from military technology to trade secrets.

And, most important of all for China, Taiwan appeared on track to return to the mainland. Taiwan's Nationalist Party (Kuomintang, or KMT) had control of the Presidential Office in Taipei, and the Legislative Yuan, Taiwan's parliament. President Ma Ying-jeou warmly embraced the "one China" principle, which he defined as The Republic of China, the official title of Taiwan.

President Ma was ideologically opposed to communist China, and even went so far as to suggest that, in theory, Taiwan should have sovereignty over all of China's territory because the PRC was an illegitimate government. Yet in practice he regularly chose policies that accommodated (some would say appeased) China, especially when issues of maritime sovereignty in the East China Sea and the South China Sea were at play. Economic entanglements across the Taiwan Strait had grown at a remarkable clip, creating a sense that Taiwan's absorption into China was inevitable. By anchoring Taiwan's future prosperity in the mainland, President Ma sent a signal that unification was okay, and probably just over the horizon.      

The trends were deeply unsettling to American strategists. Once Taiwan returned to the fold, China would have control over the world's busiest air and sea traffic lines, and an "unsinkable aircraft carrier" smack in the middle of the first island chain, allowing it to exert unparalleled influence over the East Asian maritime seascape.

China made the most of the golden opportunity the KMT presented. The Taiwan Strait had long been the most dangerous flashpoint in Asia, and perhaps the globe. Serious crises had developed a number of times in the mid 1990s and tensions continued to simmer hot into the 2000s, right up until 2008, when Ma Ying-jeou was elected.

After 2008, with Taiwan suddenly on the "right" track, China had the freedom to pursue an expansionist agenda, both along its immediate maritime periphery and also into the Indian Ocean. Beijing confronted Tokyo over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, drove its sea claims home against Vietnam and the Philippines, and built up a string of logistical outposts across the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea.

Every indicator seemed to point to China becoming a global superpower, rising in preponderance faster than any great power in history. There would be occasional bumps along the road, of course, no country can maintain double digit economic growth forever. Yet as long as the international environment remained favorable, Xi Jinping could continue charging forward, advancing his view of China's national interests against those of everyone else.

Then all of Beijing's best laid plans for Taiwan and the broader Asia-Pacific region came unglued. In January 2016, Taiwan's KMT government was kicked out of office in a landslide national vote of no confidence. In one fell swoop, the KMT lost both the presidency and its majority in the legislature. The party was shattered.

Shattered too was any hope that Taiwan's government would eventually agree to some form of annexation.  The opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), loathed by China for its willingness to highlight Taiwan's sovereignty and separate national identity, is now firmly in power.

On May 20, after a long transition period, Taiwan's new president, Tsai Ing-wen, was sworn in to office. She is Taiwan's first female president, and one of the first ever to be elected to high office without the benefit of a male relative previously in the same office. Tsai will be a severe challenge to China. She is a political centrist who has a strong mandate from the citizens of Taiwan to lead them. This makes it far more difficult for Beijing to exploit social and party divisions in Taiwan to gain leverage and advance its aims. China has long sought to weaken and subvert Taiwan's government. That is going to be much a more difficult task going forward.

The run up to President Tsai's inauguration was telling. China pulled out all the stops, attempting to pressure the new DPP government to accept the "one China principle" through the use of nearly every means at its disposal short of force. The torrent of Chinese tourist groups visiting Taiwan slowed to a trickle. Trade deals across numerous sectors were frozen. Taiwan's invitation to attend the World Health Assembly was contested (ultimately American diplomats stepped in to ensure the invite was issued). Amphibious war games were held near Taiwan. And threats were made across a range of messaging channels that the worst was yet to come.

The result was negligible. President Tsai's inauguration speech, as expected, made no mention of "one China", and the people of Taiwan who had elected her felt vindicated. They were not intimidated by China and neither was their new president. Beijing was at a loss. Authoritarian governments thrive on coercion, and are often left feeling powerless when their targets remain unafraid.

President Tsai exudes quiet competence. She is a pragmatic policy wonk, not an ideologically-driven politician. This makes her an appealing partner for Washington and Tokyo. Both need Taiwan to support their efforts to keep China's expansionism in check. Neither are eager, however, for Taipei to give Beijing any excuses to heighten tensions. With a tough but moderate President Tsai in office, the right balance has been struck.

When the old cross-Strait flashpoint returns, as it soon will, there should be little doubt internationally as to who is at fault. Taiwan's President Tsai is clearly not prone to troublemaking. Chairman Xi, on the other hand, has a track record of stirring the pot.

Trust between nations is difficult to build and easy to break. Over the past year, American public opinion has hardened considerably against the PRC government. This is the natural result of China's irresponsible and extra-legal behavior in the global commons―the international waters, airspace, cyberspace, and outer space where no country has sovereignty, but all have interests. Distrust comes also from China's abysmal track record in the areas of trade, environmental protection, and human rights.

Countries who have suffered Chinese coercion themselves know what it is like and are more likely to sympathize with Taiwan. Their numbers have spiked in recent years. Individually, none is likely to have the power to balance against China for the long run. Collectively, however, they form an overwhelming block capable of sustained action.

Going forward, it will be hugely challenging for Beijing to coordinate its myriad foreign policy challenges while dealing with Taiwan's evolving dynamics. Taiwanese identity has reached an all time high on the island. It now stands at about 85 percent, which means that even some elderly citizens who were born in mainland China probably no longer see themselves as Chinese.  According to polling data, only a small and dwindling minority believes Taiwan is part of greater China, or should be in the future. Everyone else in Taiwan sees cross-strait relations as ties between two different countries.

China's communist government takes a radically different view. Since the early 1990s Taiwan has been the "main strategic direction" of China's political and military establishments. No longer fearing a Soviet invasion, Chinese generals have been able to work on plans to invade and conquer Taiwan.

Indeed, the bulk of China's massive armament program over the past two decades has been about fighting Taiwan―and her security partners, the United States and Japan. These efforts take on new meaning for the Chinese military with every passing election. The more Taiwan consolidates its democracy, the deeper it cuts into authoritarian linkages to the mainland.

Now that President Tsai and the DPP are in power, China must gather its cardinal energies away from ongoing political, economic, and military activities around the world and focus them on Taiwan.

Developmental strategies and initiatives like the "21st Century Silk Road", the newly established Asian Infrastructure Development Bank, and Chinese foreign direct investments abroad will increasingly be evaluated by Beijing in light of whether or not they provide leverage against Taiwan―so too with Chinese engagements at the United Nations, and other international organizations.

CCP Chairman Xi Jinping
Image credit: Wikimedia

As a general rule, governments prefer to focus on only a few problems at a time. The more centralized the government, the fewer crisis it can handle at once. Xi Jinping has a vanishingly small number of trusted lieutenants empowered to act. Unlike his recent predecessors he takes all decision making into his own hands. Now that China needs to recalibrate its expansionist maritime strategy and reorder the priorities of its bureaucratic machinery, Xi's headaches are set to grow.    

The rules of China's foreign policy game are going to change to take into account what is happening in Taiwan, but they can hardly turn on a dime. The next few years will likely witness a far less concerted and effective approach to the world. Chinese diplomats, obsessed by eroding Taiwan's international space, will have fewer resources for other lines of effort. The stars of China's foreign policy elite previously could spent most their time carving out a larger PRC role in the world. They will now be hampered by troubling developments closer to home. Taiwan's new government will keep them reacting to events. They no longer have the initiative.   

This presents democracies around the world with an opportunity. Many countries, including the United States, have the chance to recover lost ground on a whole host of issues.

Washington should formulate a strategy for taking advantage of China's vulnerabilities related to Taiwan. The U.S. and PRC are locked in a long term strategic competition, making it a mistake for American policymakers to miss any chance at undercutting Xi Jinping's revanchist goals.

The ideal approach would involve a whole of government effort for strengthening Taiwan's security and economy, while at the same time beefing up alliances and economic partnerships across the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

A stable and prosperous future in Asia requires successful counter strokes against Chinese expansionism. Taiwan's change in government augers well for the security of Japan and other regional democracies. It also offers an opportunity for advancing American interests and making good on the promises of the pivot to Asia. In that regard, the time is right and there is much hard work to do. 




This article originally appeared in the print edition of Newsweek Japan (June 7, 2016, p. 27-29). It is posted on AsiaEye with permission. Ian Easton is a Research Fellow at the Project 2049 Institute.  

Burmese NGO Pushes for Reparations for Political Prisoners

Posted on Tuesday, May 31, 2016 by Project2049Institute


Source: AAPP

By: Julia Bowie

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) has released the first comprehensive study of Burma’s political prisoners, revealing judicial abuse, systematic torture, and enormous barriers to reintegration. AAPP surveyed 2,000 ex-political prisoners (ex-PPs) for its report, which makes a case for reparations for ex-PPs. AAPP’s research project was made possible by the Project 2049 Institute and the Department of State’s Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.

Since the beginning of military rule in 1962, Burma has jailed an estimated 7,000-10,000 political prisoners. The number of political prisoners surged after student-led protests in 1988 ended in a government crackdown and a brutal suppression of opposition. Numbers peaked between 2009 and 2010 when an estimated 2,000 political prisoners were behind bars.

After Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian government took power in 2011, initial optimism over the release of hundreds of political prisoners came to a halt as reforms stalled. The government adopted new tactics to ensure that political dissidents remained imprisoned—either by delaying trials or imposing consecutive, seemingly lenient sentences to ensure longer prison times.

In 2016, the NLD-led government came to power with a promise to release all political prisoners, declaring there should be no political prisoners in a democratic Burma. Since then, the government has dropped its charges against 199 students and activists, and 83 convicted political prisoners have been released. While this is an encouraging step, there are still 121 political prisoners left in Burma, according to AAPP data, most of whom are either awaiting trial or for the government to drop its charges.

Since AAPP was founded in 1999, it has become the leading Burmese institution addressing the country’s political prisoner situation, achieving both local and international recognition for their work. The AAPP describes the importance of delivering justice to Burma's political prisoners in the following statement: “As long as political prisoners exist inside Burma, Burma will not be free. They represent the struggle for democracy, human rights, equality and freedom for the people of Burma. This makes the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners an integral part of Burma’s drive for national reconciliation.”

Project 2049 Senior Fellow Kelley Currie said she expects legal reform to take five to ten years. “There are laws still on the books, such as those against unlawful assembly, that criminalize political activity,” Currie said. “These will take time to reform.”

AAPP is currently working with parliaments at both the national and regional levels to amend laws pertaining to political activity and human rights.

“The main challenge is to transform the judiciary into a rights-protecting institution rather than a tool solely for security enforcement,” Currie said.

AAPP’s study provides previously-unknown information on exactly how Burma’s authorities abused the judicial system to silence political opposition, including which legislation was used to justify imprisonment and how trials were unfairly adjudicated. Most respondents revealed they were arrested under the Emergency Provisions Act (1950) or other “security” legislation such as the Unlawful Associations Act (1908), selectively used to restrict freedom of expression, assembly and association. Most trials took place in military or prison courts, where defendants were denied the right to counsel, and trials were shrouded in secrecy. Many respondents said their trials lasted between five and fifteen minutes, just long enough for the judge to come and read their sentence off a sheet of paper.

The study also reveals the systematic use of torture, either to elicit information or confessions, or to punish and humiliate political prisoners. 72 percent of respondents were subjected to physical torture and 75 percent reported psychological torture. Methods of psychological torture included blindfolding, hooding, sleep deprivation, threats, or being taunted with poisonous animals. Respondents described a wide array of physical torture techniques, such as waterboarding, electric shocks, and genital mutilation.

Once political prisoners are released, they face significant barriers to reintegration. Under both military rule and Thein Sein’s government, many were subject to continued monitoring and harassment, and those released under amnesty lived in constant fear of re-arrest. The government did nothing to assist their rehabilitation and in fact limited their travel, employment, and educational opportunities. Many ex-PPs live in exile outside Burma, either self-imposed due to fear of the authorities, or because they fled to Thailand after being blacklisted by the government.

The study also revealed that ex-PPs suffer lasting physical and mental health problems. Eleven percent of respondents suffer from chronic aches and pains, and three percent are fully or partially paralyzed. Ex-PPs exhibit symptoms of depression and anxiety common in those afflicted with PTSD.

After describing the full extent of the struggles of ex-PPs, the report calls for reparations, saying that addressing the significant human rights violations under previous governments is crucial for democratic transition and national reconciliation. It concludes with recommendations for restitution, rehabilitation, compensation, and guarantees of non-repetition, and advocates that civil society groups in Burma and the international community pressure Burma’s government to adopt AAPP's recommendations. AAPP contends that reparations are a critical step toward restoring the trust of the Burmese people in their government.

“Under the Ne Win administration, Burma provided financial compensation to people who were unjustly imprisoned, so reparations are not unprecedented,” Currie said. “And under the NLD-led government it is even more likely that some form of restorative justice for former political prisoners will happen. The most hopeful thing is that this administration is interested in helping this community and ensuring that they are recognized for their contributions to human rights and democracy in Burma.”

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. 

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