The Role of Traditional Chinese Culture in CCP Policy

Posted on Thursday, August 11, 2016 by Project2049Institute

(source: - The Party by Richard McGregor)

An Interview with Richard McGregor
By Jacob Larsen

In recent years, Secretary General of the Communist Party, Xi Jinping placed new emphasis on traditional Chinese culture, specifically on the teachings of Confucius. On September 24th, 2014, during remarks made on the 2,565 anniversary of Confucius' birth, Xi Jinping called Chinese Communist Party (CCP) neither "historical nihilists, nor cultural nihilists" as he made the case for utilizing Confucius teaching in society, self-education, and governance. Xi's high profile speech emphasized Confucius' central role as the "soul of the nation" stating that neither a country nor a nation will be able to stand on its own if it loses its soul. This shift towards traditional culture in general and Confucius specifically, a figure the CCP previously reviled, may signal broader changes within the Chinese government.

Against the backdrop of tensions in the South China Sea over historical claims and struggles for legitimacy on the Chinese mainland, Richard McGregor, author of The Party and a visiting Research Fellow at the Sigur Center for Asian Studies at The George Washington University, discusses the role of traditional Chinese culture in the Chinese Communist Party.

How does the Chinese Communist Party utilize certain aspects of traditional Chinese Culture for its own means?

I think the use of traditional Chinese culture by the Party is, relatively speaking, pretty recent. In the early decades of the party's rule-post 1949, under chairman Mao, they openly and aggressively trashed traditional Chinese culture. There's a number of obvious manifestations of that, most obvious is the denigration of Confucius, who was attacked by Mao very explicitly. In addition, there's the physical degradation of traditional or ancient China during the Cultural Revolution when people would seek out old artifacts and smash them in an attempt to create a blank slate for Chinese Communist values to build on. The ancient city walls surrounding Beijing and other cities like Xi'an were pulled down and destroyed. I think the restoration you see these days of traditional Chinese culture has three aspects to it: First, is it's post ideological. In other words, if communism as an ideology doesn't work out, then you have to find something else to do the job. The second aspect of it is a search to find some values. Traditional Chinese culture and philosophy is obviously not a single line, but it has certain values of respect and hierarchy and the like that can be used by the Party. Third, it's a real thing. They're not making up traditional Chinese culture, and history exists, and the Party is probably smart enough to try and enlist that for itself.

What does Xi Jinping's recent emphasis on Confucian values indicate about the future of the CCP? Is it a bid for legitimacy?

The important thing to remember about the CCP is that everything should be brought under its wing. They would have no alternative centers of power, so all of history is sort of rewritten to fit their template. And I think that traditional culture is like that as well. Certainly Xi Jinping himself used to like traditional Chinese poetry when he was young. He suffered in the Cultural Revolution and saw traditional Chinese culture attacked, so I think for him it's quite possible it might be a genuine, heartfelt, long overdue restoration. In terms of values, there's a big debate about whether Confucius provides a ground for activism, to challenge rulers, or whether he is in fact a passive philosophy where you submit to hierarchy. In my opinion, there is no doubt that Xi Jinping would see the latter, or the Communist Party would see the latter. The value is that it offers some a type of foundation and ballast to the Communist Party which it has to rebuild without Communist ideology.

In relation to the idea of the CCP using whatever it has to bolster its own legitimacy, is it a misconception that Chinese culture is more susceptible to autocratic rule than other nations?

That's a difficult and massive question, and I'm not sure whether I have a complete answer.  Look at Russia for example, some people say that its history lends itself to autocratic rule. China certainly has a lot of cruelty in its history and not a lot of idealism in there. If you look at some of the films that came out once China started to open up, there's the famous film called Raise the Red Lantern where traditional Chinese culture just dishes out the punishment. I don't know whether I could say that China is more susceptible [to autocratic rule] than other nations, but it certainly is susceptible to autocratic rule, and has been exploited as such for a long time. But remember there are strands of Chinese culture: Confucianism and legalism, is much more susceptible within Chinese cultural parameters to autocratic rule. You want to be careful about considering Chinese culture as a monolith. But, aspects of it, undoubtedly, have been used for autocratic rule over centuries.

Do you think that the Chinese Communist Party's turn towards traditional Chinese culture in efforts to strengthen their own legitimacy is an indicator of a crisis within the country? within the party? or a loss of foundation?

Whenever you read about China, it's always in one crisis or another. It's like what people used to write about Japan.  Japan was always at some turning point, but it turned out that Japan was stuck at the same crossroads for 30 years or so. It certainly could be a crisis. It's very hard to predict with China, we don't really know what's going to happen there, but if it is a crisis I think you can expect that the Chinese Communist Party is very alert to it. They have a massive apparatus for building up their legitimacy through the rewriting of history, a massive apparatus to restore Chinese culture, as well as the permitting and then promoting of Confucius. If you go to Confucius' hometown in Qufu, a lot of money is being spent. I think the Party does have a major issue in maintaining legitimacy, but what I think is underestimated is that they're on to it in a big way in terms of staying ahead of the problem. They may be one inch ahead of the curve or a lot further ahead of the curve, but I think the big thing they have going for them is that for Chinese people a lot of old Chinese culture is very attractive to them, and if the Communist Party can kind of cloak itself, wrap the flag of Chinese culture around them, then that's a pretty potent weapon.

To what degree do you see traditional Chinese culture being used by the CCP to justify its foreign policy with respect to security in the East Asian region?

I don't think it has much to do directly with foreign policy, this is mainly domestic policy. If you're building, as they are, this sort of entire edifice, an entire history of the 'China Dream' then I think if at the same time you've got these territorial claims - as outlandish as they might look to you and me - I think protecting them becomes part of that. For example, take the South China Sea. The Nine Dash Line is debated internationally with a lot of people pointing out how ridiculous the claim is. If you go to China, most people, even so called "liberal friends" would say, 'What are you talking about, of course it's ours. Just go away.' There's no doubt among most Chinese. Because of propaganda they believe it's theirs. So if you want to knit it all together I think there is a connection, but I think the main focus of rebuilding and repossessing Chinese culture for the Communist Party is domestic in nature.

Jacob Larson will be attending The College of William and Mary and participated in a mentorship at The Project 2049 Institute. 

Taiwan’s Future Submarine Program: A Deep Dive

Posted on Monday, August 8, 2016 by Project2049Institute

(Source: The Project 2049 Institute)

By Julia Bowie and Baldwin Mei

The People's Republic of China (PRC) has embarked upon a military modernization program that is prompting increasing naval buildups in the Asia-Pacific region. Submarines are of particular interest. Like other defense establishments in the region, the Republic of China's (ROC, referred to as Taiwan) Navy has a long standing, legitimate requirement for a fleet of diesel electric submarines that could provide a credible and survivable deterrent against the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA). Thus strengthening Taiwan's strategic position in any potential cross-Strait political negotiations and in the region at large. Though U.S. support for Taiwan's submarine program has long been a contentious subject, recent developments in Taiwan's indigenous program could herald in a new wave of cooperation.

Expert Conference on Taiwan’s Submarine Program

On December 1st, 2015, the Project 2049 Institute hosted a conference titled "
A Deep Dive: Taiwan's Future Submarine Program." One presentation highlighted the complex nature of Taiwan’s submarine program and the reasons why an agreement between the U.S. and Taiwan has failed to move forward. In addition, a panel of experts discussed Taiwan's submarine program in relation to the PLA's force modernization and Taiwan's defense strategy, and identified key policy goals for U.S.-Taiwan relations.

The panelists agreed that a Taiwan submarine program would play a key role in the defense of the island, thereby reducing the effectiveness of the PLA's coercion tactics. This would have an important strategic effect on regional security.

Given Taiwan’s important role in regional
security dynamics and strategic positioning in the first island Chain, any use of force against Taiwan would alarm other countries and thus destabilize the Asia-Pacific. A Taiwan submarine program would support regional peace and stability by providing Taiwan with a credible deterrent, and help to achieve a more stable cross-Strait balance.

With regards to U.S. support, the experts agreed that the U.S. has a role to play in Taiwan’s submarine program and that the U.S. should work to support the design and building of submarines in Taiwan. There are many ways the U.S. can become involved in a “low key” fashion-- through technical assistance, engineering, and technology transfer. As a first step, the U.S. government should license the domestic defense industry to contribute to the submarine program through program management, technical assistance, and direct commercial sales of submarine systems and components.

The Necessity of Submarines for Taiwan’s Defense and Maintaining Regional Stability

Taiwan's Ministry of National Defense (MND) has identified submarines as a priority for territorial defense, and has sought to acquire a fleet of 8-12 diesel electric submarines since 1969. Under the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) of 1979, the U.S. is committed to provide Taiwan with necessary defense articles and services. Based upon the initial findings of two U.S.
assessment teams sent to Taiwan to evaluate its naval modernization requirements, the Bush administration agreed to assist Taiwan in its acquisition of submarines in 2001. However, complications have hampered the program until today, prompting Taiwan to invest and build its indigenous submarine program.

The ROC Navy currently possesses four submarines, however two out of four of those vessels are outdated and cannot meet the requirements of modern warfare. Though recent
life extension programs (LEP) were awarded in April 2016, the LEP's do not address operational requirements nor does it account for future combat environmental factors. Given the fact that most other regional maritime powers have expanded their submarine fleets, a new Taiwan submarine program is necessary to ensure Taiwan’s undersea warfare capabilities.

In addition to aiding Taiwan’s defense capabilities, the submarine program would also have an impact on Taiwan’s long-term peacetime competition with the PRC. Competitive strategies seek to induce a country’s competitor to devote more resources to capabilities that the country views as unthreatening. A new Taiwan submarine program may stoke longstanding
PRC fears of an island chain blockade, inducing China to devote greater resources to anti-submarine warfare (ASW). This may be beneficial, as strong ASW capability is difficult and expensive to develop, and is an area of long-running PLA organizational and technological weakness.

Complications for U.S.-Taiwan Submarine Program Cooperation

Over the years, complications on both sides have delayed progress for the U.S. and Taiwan to cooperate on the submarine program

Political considerations and U.S.-China relations: Even though the submarine programs of many other countries are considered defensive, in the past, the U.S. avoided selling submarines to Taiwan or cooperating with Taiwan on its submarine program because it considered Taiwan’s submarines offensive. Since then, pursuing a stable and constructive relationship with the PRC, which vehemently opposes arms sales and defense cooperation between the U.S. and Taiwan, has affected U.S. commitment to Taiwan. Increased prioritization of the U.S.-China relationship limits the flexibility with which the U.S. can cooperate with Taiwan.

Domestic debates on Taiwan: Initially there was debate on Taiwan about whether to pursue a submarine sale through foreign military sales (FMS) channels or defense commercial sales (DCS). An FMS requires the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD)to work through the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) to contract with U.S. defense industrial companies and the Taiwanese defense ministry, whereas, a DCS, requires the two defense departments to work together directly. This debate long stalled progress on the program. Furthermore, there were significant Taiwanese domestic interest groups that wanted Taiwan’s domestic defense industry to undertake construction of the submarines. Eventually, with consensus between KMT and DPP,
Taiwan declared an indigenous submarine program in 2014.

Perceived cost effectiveness (in U.S.): The disparity in defense investments across the Strait has led to the consideration of the opportunity cost of the submarine program within the United States. Since Taiwan’s military expenditure is low, a number of U.S. analysts have suggested that the funds for Taiwan’s submarine program could be best allocated to improving other defense capabilities. Within Taiwan, however, there is no debate about whether or not a submarine program is necessary, but rather how the submarine program should be pursued.

U.S. operational considerations: The U.S. is concerned about the
water space management issues that could arise by having more Taiwanese submarines in the region. However, the U.S. has resolved those concerns with other countries and could do so with Taiwan as well.

Indigenous Developments

In 2016, progress has been made in Taiwan’s submarine program, with a
$12.35 million LEP approved for Taiwan’s two Hai Lung (Zwaardvis) class submarines. Designed to keep the units operationally effective for an additional 15 years, the LEP will likely include hull, mechanical and electrical upgrades, updates to the electronic support measures and combat systems, and replacement of legacy technologies with more modern alternatives for sustainability. The contract was awarded to two unnamed European companies, with the Ship and Ocean Industries Research and Development Center also serving a major role in the project. Due to Taiwan’s lack of prior submarine building expertise, it is expected that European or American technical assistance will be brought in to aid the program. This can be seen as a prelude to Taiwan’s indigenous development efforts, providing Taiwan’s R&D personnel to get firsthand experience with key submarine systems before developing their own.

In addition to the LEP, Taiwan has also begun the
design process for its own indigenous submarine. Vice Admiral Mei Chia-Shu stated that the design process is expected to be finished by 2019 and the first submarine constructed by 2024, with a total program budget of $3 billion NT ($93.5 million). According to a report received by Kyodo News, the presumptive construction company CSBC Corp Taiwan will need significant foreign assistance during the construction process in key areas such as the turbine, motor, combat, and hull systems. This claim is reinforced by similar comments made by Admiral Pu Tze-Chun and CSBC’s recent establishment of a submarine development center to support the submarine program. However, significant outside political and economic pressure (primarily from the PRC) is stalling the search for potential foreign aid.


Taiwan has a legitimate, long-standing requirement for a modern fleet of diesel electric submarines. With the first stages of the indigenous submarine program underway, experts agree that the time is ripe for the U.S. to provide assistance to this groundbreaking program. Additionally, the TRA requires the U.S. to provide Taiwan with military articles and services based on military judgments alone rather than political considerations. Therefore,
the U.S. should not allow Beijing to co-manage how it relates to Taiwan in terms of their defense needs. As such, the U.S. should offer fair considerations to export licenses and technical assistance with regards to Taiwan’s indigenous submarine program and grant the necessary export licenses based on well defined criteria rather than other, intangible factors.

Julia Bowie is a Master's candidate at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. Baldwin Mei is a rising senior at Cornell University majoring in physics and minoring in operations research and history. Julia and Baldwin are former interns at the Project 2049 Institute.

Taiwan's "Cyber Army" Plan

Posted on Tuesday, July 5, 2016 by Project2049Institute

(source: Military News Agency Taiwan - Tech soldiers from the Information and Electronic Warfare Command of Taiwan's Ministry of National Defense)

Taiwan’s new Minister of National Defense Feng Shih-kuan (馮世寬) recently confirmed the intention of the new government to create a “Cyber Army” (網軍) as the fourth branch of Taiwan’s armed forces. The announcement followed the plan outlined in the Defense Policy Blue Papers published earlier by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which specifically called for the “[Integration of] existing military units and capacities of IT, communications, and electronics to establish an independent fourth service branch alongside the current Armed Forces consisting of the Army, Navy, and Air Force.”[1] Looking ahead, it will be fruitful to observe what the new Cyber Army can add on top of Taiwan’s existing cybersecurity and cyberwarfare structure.

It is easy to see where the impetus for establishing a Cyber Army came from; for many years Taiwan has been on the frontlines of the battle against the ever-intensifying cyber attacks from China. This has reached such an extent that observers and even Taiwanese officials acknowledged Taiwan as a “testing ground” for China’s cyber army and state-sponsored hackers. The case of the 2015 hacking of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) further illustrates the ambitions and capabilities on the part of the Chinese hackers and the dear consequences of failing to stop such an attack.

Similar organizations dedicated to cybersecurity and combined defensive and offensive cyberwarfare capabilities have been established in other countries, such as the United States Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM) and South Korea’s National Cyber Command (NCC). Moreover, President Obama ordered the creation of the Commission on Enhancing National Cybersecurity earlier this year. Though the Commission serves only as an advisory role, it is yet another move by the administration to address the ever-more prominent issue of cybersecurity. Taiwan’s plan for a Cyber Army however, will make it the first country to assign equal importance to cybersecurity as to the other branches of the armed forces.

It should be noted that Taiwan already has a fairly sophisticated cybersecurity and cyberwarfare structure in place. Currently the principle agency in Taiwan specifically tasked with conducting combined defensive and offensive cyberwarfare operations is the Information and Electronic Warfare Command that reports directly to the Ministry of National Defense (MND)’s General Staff Headquarters. Commanded by a Major General with about 2,400 staff under its jurisdiction, the Information and Electronic Warfare Command performs just about every function one can expect of a Cyber Army.

In addition, the National Security Bureau (NSB), Taiwan’s principle intelligence agency, also operates a 7th Department as the National Cybersecurity Department, with the primary responsibilities of monitoring and safeguarding Taiwan’s civilian cyberspace and to help defend against national security threats. 

It is expected that the new Cyber Army will directly appropriate the Information and Electronic Warfare Command together with other agencies under the MND that are related to the operations and managements of signals or electronic intelligence – such as the Office for Communications, Electronics and Information under the MND’s General Staff Headquarters. It has also been reported that the size of this new Cyber Army will reach 6,000 strong and become fully operational by 2019 at the latest.

The promotion of a “fourth branch” among the existing armed forces raises some implications.  Currently there are only eight full (three star) Generals in Taiwan’s military, which include the three Chiefs of the Command Headquarters of Army, Navy, and Air Force, Minister and two Deputy Ministers of Defense, Chief of the General Staff, and Deputy Chief of the General Staff. The creation of a Cyber Army branch would necessitate the promotion of another three star General to head its Command Headquarters, or to transfer an existing one to the position. It is likely that the Cyber Army General will be one that has a Signal Corps background or otherwise has extensive experience in commanding information related units or staff offices.

The new Cyber Army also makes it official that the military’s priority is no longer just safeguarding its internal network, but the whole civilian internet as well. Just as many other militaries around the world, Taiwan’s military relies on an intranet network (known as the “military network”) that is physically separated from the civilian internet (the World Wide Web) for obvious security reasons.  Many computers and networking devices used inside Taiwan’s military bases and installations likely have also been altered to accept only connections that conform to the military network protocol. As such, the new Cyber Army will likely be divided to handle two categorically distinctive areas―that of the Internet network (civilian) and that the of Intranet network (military).

Depending on the Tsai administration’s policy it might also be possible for Taiwan’s Cyber Army to provide some form of real-time intelligence sharing on cyber threats with the United States, although any joint cyber operation is unlikely to take place any time soon due to the sensitive political nature involved. Observers have long noted that no country has more experience than Taiwan in dealing with the cyber threats coming out of China, and closer cooperation between the two countries on this area would no doubt benefit the United States’ own cybersecurity efforts.

So far the plan to establish a new Cyber Army has been met with mixed receptions in Taiwan. While it has been hailed by many as an indication that the new government is taking the cyber threats Taiwan faces seriously, some have questioned the need to treat cybersecurity as a fourth branch in the service. Lan Ning-li (蘭寧利), a retired Vice Admiral of the Taiwanese Navy, was quoted in the news commenting  on the existing Information and Electronic Warfare Command as already functioning in full strength as a Cyber Army and thus he does not see an urgent need to make it more prominent than it is now.

This raises the question of whether Taiwan’s new Cyber army actually has a more ambitious, offensive strategic design in mind than what has been discussed on the surface. Many observers have been calling for Taiwan to adopt more asymmetric means to help deter Chinese threats, and cyber is no doubt one of the areas where Taiwan excels at and has a potential to offset Chinese superiority in conventional arms. After all, maybe the best deterrence against threats coming from the cyber is the ability to strike back, and the new, elevated Cyber Army would be a good starting point for Taiwan to increase that capacity.

Po-Chang (Paul) Huang is an Intern at the Project 2049 Institute.  He is currently a Master’s candidate at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, where he focuses on Security Studies and issues related to East Asia.

[1] Defense Policy Blue Paper No. 9: Taiwan’s Military Capacities in 2025. New Frontier Foundation Defense Policy Advisory Committee. May, 2015. <>

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. 

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