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

Posted on Wednesday, January 18, 2017 by Project2049Institute

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

By: Charles Emmett

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mongolia will never allow just a Chinese rail line. 

So, then Mongolia will just end the agreement?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The United States and Future Policy Options in the Taiwan Strait

Posted on Tuesday, January 17, 2017 by Project2049Institute

By: Mark Stokes


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Future Options

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

China's Military Provocations Against Taiwan Are Not Mere Responses to Trump

Posted on Tuesday, January 10, 2017 by Emily David

By: Shirley Kan

(A file picture of a PLA Su-30 fighter and an H-6K bomber taking part in a drill in the Western Pacific in September. Photo: Xinhua)

On December 12, 2016, Taiwan's Minister of National Defense Feng Shih-kuan, a retired air force general, told the Legislative Yuan that China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force aircraft flew around Taiwan's airspace.

U.S. President Barack Obama and international media outlets have insinuated that U.S. president-elect Donald Trump's sudden and surprising pronouncements on policy regarding Taiwan are to blame for raising tension with China.  More advanced thinking and management of communications would be helpful if Trump continues to implement changes in how the U.S. conducts policies.

Nonetheless, it is not helpful to say that China's provocations are "responses" to Trump.  Since before the U.S. election, there has been concern that China would provoke tension and test the U.S. during the transition.  That concern is heightened in the handover from laid-back Obama to the less experienced Trump.  China has also provoked tensions in the East and South China seas.

China's provocations of Japan, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, the U.S., and others should not be seen as new, surprising, or as responses, but rather as part of its militarization of aggressive claims in the Indo-Asia-Pacific.  China also has conducted political warfare using the media.

What is somewhat stunning is the series of quick developments involving the U.S. elections and Trump's approach to dealing with Taiwan.  On December 2, Trump took a telephone call from President Tsai Ing-wen, who, like other world leaders, sought to congratulate the president-elect on his victory at the polls.  Meanwhile, she remains cautious about supporting the status quo.

On December 11, Trump told Fox News Sunday: "I fully understand the 'one China' policy, but I don't know why we have to be bound by a 'one China' policy unless we make a deal with China having to do with other things, including trade."  The mainstream, bipartisan U.S. view sees Taiwan not as leverage, but as an economic and security partner and a beacon of democracy in the world.

However, even before the Trump-Tsai phone call, on November 25, PLA Air Force military aircraft flew around Taiwan just outside its air defense identification zone (ADIZ) for the first time.

Significantly, Deputy Minister of National Defense Lee Hsi-ming, who is also an admiral, publicly discussed China's provocation.  Lee also told the Legislative Yuan that Japan and Taiwan scrambled fighters to respond to the PLA aircraft.  Lee did a real service for Taiwan's strategic communication by saying that Taiwan is well aware of China's threats, by reminding the public about those ongoing threats, and by boosting confidence in Taiwan's will to fight.

Then, for the second time, on December 10, the PLA Air Force flew four aircraft around Taiwan close to its ADIZ, but remained in international airspace.  The flights appeared to be part of a long-distance training program that included more military aircraft flying over the Miyako Strait between Japan and Taiwan, and over the Bashi Channel between Taiwan and the Philippines.

In addition, before the eventful December, the author heard a warning in the summer, from a professor visiting from Beijing who has ties to China's officials, that China contemplated options to pressure Taiwan.  Such options include military pressure around Taiwan up to its 12-nautical mile territorial sea or airspace.  In this view, the PLA would copy the U.S. military's reconnaissance operations against China and use them against Taiwan.  The PLA appears to be operationalizing this action in the air and can be expected to follow with provocations at sea.

In addition, when China suddenly announced its so-called "ADIZ for the East China Sea" on November 23, 2013, that provocation showed little regard for the status quo, existing ADIZs of others, or even security in the air.  China's announced "ADIZ" overlapped with those of Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan.

Against this backdrop, it was not helpful for President Obama, in probably his last news conference at the White House on December 16, to parrot China's propaganda on being compelled to "respond" with threats to Taiwan.  Obama seemed to be warning his successor when he said: "For China the issue of Taiwan is as important as anything on their docket.  The idea of 'one China' is at the heart of their conception as a nation and so if you are going to upend this understanding, you have to have thought through what the consequences are."  President Obama added that the question of Taiwan "goes to the core of how [leaders in China] see themselves and their reaction on this issue could end up being very significant."

Indeed, President Obama himself has changed policy, weakening the U.S. posture.  It would have been helpful if he notified the U.S. Congress by last November or early December of several pending arms sales to Taiwan in compliance with the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA).

It would be helpful if Obama explained to China the counter-narrative that even the U.S. "one China" policy consists of an evolution in how Washington conducts its policy, which is not bound by what Beijing dictates to other countries, and that U.S. policy is premised on the basis that Taiwan's status is unsettled.  Actually, U.S. policy is focused on the process, not outcome, with a resolution on the question of Taiwan that is peaceful and has the assent of Taiwan's people.  It would be helpful if Obama pointed to the crux of the problem as Beijing's belligerence and lack of flexibility with Taipei. 

It would be helpful for the President to offer candid observations as then-U.S. Army Chief of Staff General George Casey did during a visit to Beijing in 2009.  Meeting with PLA generals who complained only about U.S. "obstacles" to military-to-military ties -- including arms sales to Taiwan -- Casey countered that it was difficult to engage with the PLA when its constant starting point was to blame the U.S. for problems.

During this critical transition period, leaders in Manila, Seoul, Singapore, Taipei, Tokyo, Washington, and other capitals should remember the words of Admiral Harry Harris, Commander of the Pacific Command (PACOM).  In a speech in Australia, a U.S. ally, on December 14, Admiral Harris stressed his formula for deterrence: Capability x Resolve x Signaling = Deterrence.  "All three elements, capability, resolve, and signaling, must be present for deterrence to exist.  And because we're doing multiplication, not addition, if any of these elements are missing, you've got zero deterrence," Harris said.

Taiwan's role also is critical to ensure capability, resolve, and signaling for effective deterrence.  It is encouraging that its Ministry of National Defense is stepping up strategic communication, especially with Deputy Minister Lee's warnings.  In countering China's coercion or conflict, Taiwan's civilian and military leadership needs to strengthen strategic communication, conveying domestically and internationally that Taiwan's military and people have the will and capability to defend their homeland.

Taiwan might be reminded of former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill's speech that "we shall fight on the beaches."  On June 4, 1940, Churchill declared with full confidence that "we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender."

Shirley Kan is a retired Specialist in Asian Security Affairs who worked for the U.S. Congress at the non-partisan Congressional Research Service (CRS) and is a member of the Advisory Board of the Global Taiwan Institute (GTI) in Washington, DC. 

This article draws from Shirley Kan's remarks at the Project 2049 Institute's recent conference "Going Ballistic: Taiwan Strait Crisis at 20." To learn more, watch the full video of our event. 

Originally published in the Taipei Times with edits and updates approved by the author. 

Securing the Future With More U.S.-Taiwan Exchange Programs

Posted on Wednesday, December 7, 2016 by Project2049Institute

(Source: Flickr/Photo Phiend –American and Taiwanese flags at the Chinatown gate in Washington, DC)

By: Sebra Yen

Since the severing of official diplomatic ties between the United States and the Republic of China (Taiwan) in 1979, U.S. policy towards Taiwan has stayed relatively consistent throughout the past six administrations by adhering to the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) and President Reagan's “Six Assurances.”  Although the TRA continues commercial, cultural, and public exchanges under a de facto relationship, significant gaps remain. Much more can be done to strengthen the partnership between the U.S. and Taiwan.

The world has increasingly become more interconnected. However, Taiwan continues to be pushed out of the international community. Recently, Taiwan was excluded from the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol), and a U.N.-affiliated meeting in New York on rare diseases. The United States should consider deepening its exchanges with Taiwan. Public diplomacy efforts are inextricably linked with American national security. As such, the U.S. should place greater emphasis on its people-to-people exchanges with Taiwan. 

At a time when the People's Republic of China (PRC) exhibits increasingly assertive behavior in the South China Sea and East China Sea, the U.S. and its Asia-Pacific allies should highlight the positive role Taiwan plays in the regional architecture. U.S. strategy toward the region has taken a multifaceted approach that seeks to strengthen cooperation with like-minded nations to address shared challenges. In addition to commercial engagement, expanding people-to-people ties are essential for fostering goodwill and unity with our partners and allies.

In the absence of diplomatic relations, Taiwan has received diminished time and attention in Washington. Over the past ten years, the White House has not viewed it as a priority to support Taiwan and advance the unofficial bilateral relationship. This has affected the way everyday Americans and Taiwanese have come to view each other. According to survey results reported by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs in 2014, only 28 percent of Americans would support sending U.S. troops to Taiwan in the event that the PRC invaded the island.[1] In sharp contrast, a 2016 poll in Taiwan indicated that over 70 percent of Taiwanese people believe that America would come to Taiwan’s rescue in the event of a Chinese invasion. It can be interpreted that—in addition to having a case of ‘war fatigue’ from 13 years of on-going conflict in the Middle East—this perception gap may be the natural result of many Americans having limited understanding of the TRA and the political complexity of cross-Strait relations.

Following the recent Trump-Tsai phone call, the misinformed American media further demonstrated a lack of concern and understanding regarding the nuances surrounding U.S.-Taiwan and U.S.-China relations. More exchanges, not only on the governmental level but also on the educational level, will allow for more Americans to understand Taiwan and its people better. Currently, the United States is struggling to establish a proactive international education policy and failing to meet its goal of 1 million Americans studying abroad by 2017. New and creative exchanges with Taiwan will boost U.S. foreign policy and security goals, and ultimately garner more public support on both sides of the relationship for stronger U.S.-Taiwan cooperation.

Current Public Exchange Programs

Despite the fact that the U.S. and Taiwan both have visa waiver programs that contribute to tourism on both sides—which may see a record high of over 1 million visitors this year—these types of exchanges are mainly short and business-driven. Long-term exchanges that seek to deepen people-to-people relations must be pursued as well. On the U.S. side, government-sponsored public exchange initiatives that have a Taiwan component include a variety of programs funded by the U.S. Department of State (International Visitor Leadership Program, Fulbright, Critical Language Scholarship, National Security Language Initiative for Youth, Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship, etc.) and Boren awards for international study. The U.S. Department of Education also has 118 universities that offer the Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowships (FLAS) to study abroad. Language exchange programs funded by nongovernmental organizations include the Blakemore and Freeman Foundations.

On the Taiwan side, the Ministry of Education (MOE) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) provide generous scholarship opportunities for foreign nationals seeking language learning, degree programs, or research (Huayu Enrichment Scholarship, Taiwan Scholarship, and Taiwan Fellowship, respectively.) The Taiwan government also sponsors the Ambassador Summer Scholarship Program for the Taiwan-U.S. Alliance, known as TUSA, which is a non-profit organization that focuses on building international friendships on the student-to-student level. In 2014, MOFA launched an international youth leadership program called Mosaic Taiwan, which is committed to better informing future American leaders through a three-week program filled with workshops and seminars in Taiwan. Finally, a unique initiative is the Taiwan Tech Trek program, which recruits young people of Taiwanese ancestry for an eight-week summer internship or research program, allowing Taiwanese-Americans to learn about Taiwan and its well-known tech industries. These programs ultimately seek to promote and improve U.S.-Taiwan relations and counter China efforts to stop Taiwan from participating in the community of nations.

Challenges With Current Programs

The U.S.-Taiwan pursuit to seek partnerships through educational and cultural exchange programs is laudable. There are, however, significant challenges with U.S. programs, particularly with the International Leadership Visitor Program (IVLP), that inhibit more meaningful exchange. IVLP is a three-week tailored individual or group program sponsored by the State Department that brings mid-career professionals and emerging foreign leaders to the United States. Former presidents Ma Ying-jeou and Chen Shui-bian are both alumni of this program. These leaders are nominated by U.S. embassies overseas, and in this case the de facto embassy known as the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), for meetings and opportunities to engage with Americans on global thematic issues. It is through collaboration with National Programming Agencies (NPA) that these projects are implemented. Due to fact that visits by Taiwanese officials in the U.S. are seen as highly political by Beijing (former President Lee Teng-hui’s visit to Cornell in 1995 sparked the Third Taiwan Strait Missile Crisis), it is protocol that Taiwan government representatives are barred from entering the Harry S. Truman Building of State Department, the White House, and the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. Another caveat with the IVLP is the small amount of funding available for Taiwan, in comparison to China. According to State Department statistics, the FY2016 budget only allowed for 16 visitors from Taiwan, while China had 112. The small amount of attention given to Taiwan negatively impacts U.S.-Taiwan relations. More can be done to support exchanges on the government and professional levels.  

In the educational realm, there are many U.S. exchange initiatives in place that give exposure to Taiwan. However, the amount of students that go to Taiwan pale in comparison to the number of those who go to the PRC. From statistics provided for the 2013-14 year, the Institute for International Education (which is an NPA) reported that 13,763 American students studied in the PRC, while only a diminutive 801 went to Taiwan. Many American students are naturally drawn to China’s rich cultural heritage, strategic importance, and economic power (something which relates to future career prospects). However, U.S. policies and officially-expressed attitudes toward Taiwan and the PRC influence the choices made by young Americans as well. Many do not see value in learning traditional Chinese characters and view Taiwan as only a subsidiary to the PRC.

China Factor
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has worked hard to win the hearts and minds of the American people through its vigorous overseas propaganda efforts. Its Confucius Institutes are but one example. Confucius Institutes, which are operated under the PRC Ministry of Education, are an extension of the CCP. They have nearly 100 partnerships in the United States, with the stated goal of promoting Chinese language and culture. These institutes provide attractive financial packages to universities seeking Chinese language learning resources.[2] However, their programs engage in censorship and only allow for Party-approved rhetoric and policies to be heard. In 2014, the University of Chicago ended its partnership with the Confucius Institute due to concerns regarding censorship and limitations to academic freedom.

All American students deserve the right to freely discuss issues like the Tiananmen Square Massacre, U.S.-PRC relations, and the futures of Hong Kong, Tibet, and Taiwan. Yet, a Government Accountability Organization (GAO) report found that 12 overseas American universities in the PRC have challenges operating in a restrictive environment. Internet censorship and self-censorship are listed as two main problems. While Confucius Institutes offer generous funding to American educational institutions, the continuation of these engagements perpetuate the CCP’s authoritarian interests and leads to further marginalization of Taiwan’s influence in the world. While education initiatives between the U.S. and the PRC are important to the bilateral relationship, they tend to impact and diminish opportunities for greater American understanding of Taiwan. U.S. relations between the PRC and Taiwan should not be viewed in zero-sum terms, but the reality is that they are.

Recommendations: Innovative Exchanges To Strengthen U.S.-Taiwan People-to-People Relations

More innovative solutions are needed to re-emphasize the importance of people-to-people exchanges with Taiwan. The Taiwan Travel Act, proposed by Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), calls for more exchange between Taiwanese and American leaders at all levels. This could alleviate the protocol challenges for Taiwanese visitors. Additionally, some bottom-up approaches are needed to tackle the challenge of current institutional practices in place that continue to discourage American students from pursuing Taiwan exchanges, including the student-run Taiwan-America Student Conference (TASC). The program, currently making plans for its fourth annual conference, was founded on the premise that American students need to think critically about the strategic and cultural value of Taiwan, and Taiwanese students need to think globally and address where they fit within the international community. Every year, students come together at TASC for dialogue and discussions on ways to confront global issues facing their respective societies. These include issues such as environmental sustainability and modern issues in education, among others. This is an excellent model for more future citizen diplomacy exchanges, given the aforementioned constraints.

(Source: Taiwan-America Student Conference – Taiwanese and American students building mutual trust and understanding through an exchange program)

Another recommendation is the establishment of a foundation that seeks to strengthen U.S.-Taiwan educational and cultural exchanges, much like the U.S.-China Strong Foundation. The U.S.-China Strong Foundation is a nonprofit organization that seeks to strengthen U.S.-China relations by investing in the next generation of leaders. Its principal goals are to increase the number of American students in the PRC and to strengthen Chinese language learning opportunities in the United States. A U.S.-Taiwan Strong Foundation would be at the center of bilateral educational exchanges. It could house programs modeled off of TASC, establishing chapters in universities and high schools, and striving to increase the number of American students in Taiwan and vice versa.

Beijing's influence operations continue to drown out Taiwan’s voice in the United States. Taiwan's democratic society is full of Chinese culture and increasingly diverse. The island nation is a paradigm of pro-American progressive values. When it comes to learning Mandarin, the PRC is far from the only option.  Defense Secretary Ashton Carter stated that a more inclusive security architecture is needed. Emphasizing Taiwan’s role in Asia is smart policy. Advancing exchanges with Taiwan requires a willingness to employ all the available tools, especially the establishment of a new foundation dedicated to this mission. Doing so will add tremendous value to U.S. foreign policy and national security outcomes in the years ahead.

Sebra Yen is an Intern at the Project 2049 Institute. He is currently a Master's candidate at The Elliott School of International Affairs at The George Washington University, where he focuses on Taiwan and Asian politics and security.

[1] Americans Affirm Ties to Allies in Asia. The Chicago Council on Global Affairs. Pg. 2. October, 2014. <>

[2] Soft Power in a Hard Place: China, Taiwan, Cross-Strait Relations and U.S. Policy. Pg. 510. Fall, 2010. 

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