Chinese Journal Review: Taiwan's Security in Light of Hong Kong and India

Hello, again.

In today’s Chinese Journal Review, we look at a few articles published in the last month in two leading foreign policy academic journals: Asia-Pacific Security and Maritime Affairs and the Journal of International Security Studies.  

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I’ve provided a longer summary below of an essay by Yang Zejun, a professor at Nanjing University, who comments on the Trump Administration’s Taiwan policy. There is not a lot of new thinking in this piece. It reflects typical CCP talking points about Chinese sovereignty and places blame on the United States for increasing Cross-Strait tensions. I have included it, though, because Yang questions whether the US would come to Taiwan’s defense if tensions escalate further. China’s growing assertiveness elsewhere in the world, including recently in Hong Kong and India, makes this question more relevant.

Second, in this piece in the Journal of International Security Studies, Jin Jiyong of Shanghai International Studies University writes that Trump’s “America First” policy makes it more difficult for countries to collaborate on global health security issues. Jin is highly critical of Trump’s decision to defund the World Health Organization. 

I expected Jin to say that China now has an open door to step in and shape the organization, but he did not. Many US-based China analysts write that the US leaving the WHO is a gift to Beijing, which seeks to increase its influence in international organizations.

Finally, Cao Dejun, a researcher at Peking University, writes in the Journal of International Security Studies about southeast Asia’s anxieties about a rising China. Cao explains that countries in southeast Asia are principally concerned about China’s rise because China increasingly uses the term “core interest” to define political red lines in its diplomatic speech about the region, such as the South China Sea issue.

China has also increased its use of economic sanctions to penalize countries. Historically, China mainly used sanctions against countries that took positions related to Tibet, Xinjiang, and Taiwan. Today, China uses sanctions to achieve other political objectives, too. For example, it sanctioned Norway in 2010 for the Nobel Committee’s awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo and it sanctioned Japan and the Philippines in 2012 regarding island disputes.

Cao writes that many in the southeast Asia region see China’s Belt and Road Initiative, the BRICS Development Bank, Silk Road Fund, Shanghai Cooperation Organization Development Bank, and the Asian Infrastructure Development Bank as expressions of a country with “hegemonic” ambitions. He concludes that China needs to do more work to build trust in the region.

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Title: The Trump Administration’s “Taiwan Card” (特朗普政府的极限“台湾牌”:表现、意图与影响)
Journal: Asia-Pacific Security and Maritime Affairs (亚太安全与海洋研究)
Author: Yang Zejun (杨泽军)
Link: https://bit.ly/3ckxWAv
Publication Date: May 2020

Yang Zejun of Nanjing University writes that the Trump Administration has destabilized Cross-Strait relations through Trump’s repeated provocations to promote Taiwan independence. 

Yang writes that Trump’s provocations date back to his first call with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen shortly after Trump was elected in 2016, as well as other examples, such as: passage of the FY2020 National Defense Authorization Act, which includes provisions to increase US commitments to provide for Taiwan’s defense; passage of the TAIPEI Act, which stipulates that the US should advocate for Taiwan’s inclusion in international organizations; increased arms sales to Taiwan, including 66 F-16V fighter jets, and; numerous other more informal actions, such as a proposed visit to Taiwan by then-National Security Advisor John Bolton.

Trump is politically weak as a result of scandals related to Russia, feuds with members of his own party, his impeachment, and a poorly managed federal response to the new coronavirus, argues Yang. He adds that, on the issue of the Covid-19, Trump will prioritize “containing China” to cooperating with China to fight the pandemic. He will continue to play the “Taiwan card,” including by taking increasingly more aggressive positions on the Taiwan issue to try to extract concessions from China during trade negotiations. 

But Trump is overplaying his hand on Taiwan, Yang writes. He adds that Taiwan authorities are also “overestimating” the United States’ commitment to the island. Like the US, Taiwan authorities have imposed limits on companies like ZTE and Huawei. Yang writes that because mainland China is a much bigger trading partner for Taiwan than is the US, Taiwan authorities have much more to lose by destabilizing the status quo.

Nonetheless, the situation in the Taiwan Strait may be soon reaching a point where it is “out of control” which may lead to an “extreme confrontation” and an “irreversible situation in Cross-Strait peace” between the two sides [Taiwan and mainland China], according to Yang. This will put the US in the position of choosing whether to intervene or not. No matter its decision, the US would see a weakening of its global hegemonic standing. 

If the US did decide to intervene, it would face a potential conflict with China, which the American public would unlikely support, Yang says. It could also trigger additional regional turmoil, resulting in future conflicts involving Japan, India, and Russia.

If it does not intervene, US credibility around the world will be undermined, and this may accelerate a new Cold War between the United States and China. 

Yang argues that the potential costs to the United States of intervening in a Cross-Strait conflict may be too high, and he questions whether the US would intervene as a result. He writes that the “US cannot afford the risk of direct conflict.” Today’s China has “high tech weapons” that can sink advanced US naval ships, including aircraft carriers. If this happens, there would be a strong “emotional” response in the United States which will create a domestic political environment reminiscent of the Vietnam War era. 

Yang concludes with an ominous tone: If Trump thinks he can use the “Taiwan card” to contain China and maximize US interests, this is “wishful thinking.” He writes that he hopes that the Trump Administration will revert to the status quo on Cross-Strait relations, but China should “maintain a high degree of vigilance and plan ahead” for the possibility that Cross-Strait relations further deteriorate. 

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Note: The Development Research Center of the State Council publishes the Asia-Pacific Security and Maritime Affairs journal. Yang Zejun is a professor at Nanjing University affiliated with the Taiwan Institute of Nanjing University and the Collaborative Innovation Center of South China Sea Studies.