"The US-China-Taiwan Relations and the Indo-Pacific Security Situation after Biden's Inauguration"
"The US-China-Taiwan Relations and
the Indo-Pacific Security Situation after Biden's Inauguration"
Venue: Chang Yung-Fa Foundation International Convention Center
Date: January 21, 2021.
Session 1: U.S.-China-Taiwan Triangular Relations
Moderator: Chairman/President Tien Hong-Mao (田弘茂)
Dr. Lin Cheng-I (林正義), Academia Sinica Researcher;
Professor Fan Shih-Ping (范世平), National Taiwan Normal University;
Associate Research Fellow Su Tzu-Yun (蘇紫雲), Institute for National Defense and Security Research;
Advisor Lai I-Chung (賴怡忠), Taiwan ThinkTank;
Professor Chang Kuo-Chen(張國城), Taipei Medical University.
Discussant: DPP Legislator Luo Zhi-zheng (羅致政)
Session 2: New International Situation and Indo-Pacific Security Developments
Moderator: Director Kuo Yu-Jen (郭育仁), Institute for National Policy Research.
Director Ma Chen-Kun (馬振坤), Graduate Institute of China Military Affairs Studies, National Defense University;
Professor Ching Yuan-Chou (荊元宙) , National Defense University;
Secretary-General Wang Chih-Sheng (王智盛), Asia-Pacific Elite Interchange Association;
CEO Chen Kuan-Ting (陳冠廷), Taiwan NextGen Foundation; and
Secretary-General Wang Hung-Jen(王宏仁), Taiwan Society of Japan Studies.
Discussant: DPP Legislator Wang Ting-Yu (王定宇)
Session 1:US-China-Taiwan Triangle Relations
● Chairman Tien Hung-Mao:
Priorities for President Biden on domestic affairs are combating COVID-19 and stabilizing the economy, while diplomatically, he would need to re-unify Western countries in dealing with concern international issues.
Some people in Taiwan are skeptical on Biden’s support of Taiwan due to his past association with China. As Vice President in the Obama administration, he met with Xi Jin-Ping at least 6 times, during which both exchanged views on a variety of issues. On the other hand, President Obama was relatively negligent on China’s failure to fulfill its promise of non-militarization in South China Sea. Hence, allies such as Japan and Australia are all cautiously observing how Biden will follow up in respect to pursuit of strategic dialogue and joint security actions development.
● “Prediction of Biden’s China Policy” -- Researcher Lin Cheng-I, Academia Sinica:
US-China relations definitely will improve under the Biden administration. However, there will be cooperation among competition, instead of a 180-degree change. They will work together on issues such as climate change but continue to compete in economic, trade, and security areas. The Indo-Pacific issues will remain highly focused. The United States will continue its policy orientation on China, but rather adjust its strategies.
When it comes to improving the U.S.-China relations, both parties must put in efforts. Specifically speaking, the situation in the Taiwan Strait poses opportunities and challenges. Even though Biden wants to keep ambiguous on Taiwan issue, if China keeps pushing, the U.S. will not be able to sustain this strategy and the situation will turn against China.
As to Biden’s political appointees, the vast majority of them have gained federal government experience, with most being from the Obama administration. If the US government is to return to its leadership position on international issues, the Biden administration must focus on highly visible and effective policies, with less emphasis on abstract theories such as that of the "liberal international order", and attempt to demonstrate its ability to solve immediate problems and prevent crises.
● “How does China view Biden's new government?” –Professor Fan Shih-Ping, National Taiwan Normal University
The South China Sea will be the focus of the Sino-US struggle, as Biden will continue Obama's “pivot to Asia” policy and oppose China's nine-dash line. Secretary of State Blinken testified at the Senate hearing to continue the Trump administration's tough approach to China. Although Chinese officials harbor high hopes for Biden, the Sino-US confrontation will remain unchanged, as it has reached the point of no return.
● “Outlook of Indo-Pacific Strategy under Biden Administration” -Advisor Lai I-Chung, Taiwan ThinkTank:
Whether Taiwan is framed under the Indo-Pacific strategy or that of US-China relations depends on Biden administration’s choice of guiding its relations with Taiwan through US-China relations or under the Pan-Asian Strategy/Indo-Pacific Strategy.
With the pandemic compelling Biden to prioritize internal affairs as of now, it is unlikely that Biden will return to Obama’s appeasement of China, nor will the Biden administration go all-out in confronting China. To assuage any concerns from Indo-Pacific countries, Trump had declassified the guiding principles of his Indo-Pacific strategy in advance to prevent the Biden administration from possible deviation.
● “Biden Administration’s possible policy approaches” – Director Su Tzu-Yun, Institute for National Defense and Security Research
Although US policy toward Taiwan will remain relatively stable since it has received bipartisan support, the Biden Administration's China policy is to be forged. This can be dubbed as possessing "tenacity power" and adopting "flexible containment." Taiwan needs to implement asymmetric warfare capabilities and demonstrate its strategic thinking on national security to avoid the illusion of being a "free rider" and to gain the respect and assistance of its allies. The Biden administration’s approach to China will lie between the “hard tactics” of the Trump administration’s stringent policies and the “soft tactics” of the Obama administration, which can be described as “tenacity power.”
Albeit Biden did not specifically mention China in his inauguration speech, the "Five General Tigers'' of the Cabinet-the Secretary of Defense, Secretary of State, CIA Director, Secretary of Homeland Security, and Treasury Secretary all stated at their confirmation hearings that they would take a firm attitude towards the CCP. Taiwan-U.S. relations remain stable, and the consecutive Taiwan-friendly acts have gained bipartisan consensus and goodwill from the US Congress, which serves as a form of legalizing Taiwan-U.S. security relations.
Before leaving office, former National Security Advisor Robert O’Brian released the “US Strategic Framework for the Indo-Pacific” document 30 years earlier than its original timeframe. From the wording” defending first island chain nations, including Taiwan”, the US Taiwan policy can be described as a limited strategic clarity. As for the military and security issues, the US will react strongly to the rise of China.
● “Future Cross-Strait Interactions Under Biden Administration” -- Professor Chang Kuo-Chen, Taiwan ThinkTank
President Tsai’s 2020 National Day address has anchored the future government’s cross-strait policy, which is to naturally restore peaceful dialogues, while prioritizing economy and trade, and proceeding with goodwill.
For the time being, cross-strait relations may focus on trade, and leave politics aside, as exchanges and contacts will not resume until the pandemic subsides. In the future, China may continue carrying out warplane incursions near Taiwan in an effort to let the US feel the cross-strait tension, creating a sense of crisis. However, both sides of the Taiwan Strait can still seek collaboration on some administrative affairs, which coincides with Biden's Asia-Pacific policy.
Furthermore, the Democratic National Convention 2020 party platform did not mention the “One China Principle”, possibly using this as a bargaining chip to negotiate with China. If China does not make concessions in other areas, the United States will concretize a "Post-One China Policy''.
➢ Will Trump's initiative to establish an Indo-Pacific NATO with Australia and other countries continue?
➢ Will the United States help its allies in reducing their dependence on China?
➢ In view of the EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment and the UK's statement of joining the TPP, how do you think Taiwan should position itself between the US and China?
➢ How can Taiwan reinstate talks with China?
■ Lin Cheng-I: Both the EU-China investment agreement and the TPP are the result of China's long-term efforts, meaning they are not entirely directly related to Trump's policies. Taiwan's opportunities and challenges coexist. Biden deals with sensitive issues ambiguously but does the opposite for issues relating to values and ideals.
■ Su Tzu-Yun: The cross-strait issue lies with Beijing, rather than Taiwan. There is a China issue on the international stage, not a Taiwan issue. China implements the "state enterprises advance, private sectors retreat" policy, which has been engaging in unfair economic and trade practices. 78% of China's trade surplus comes from the United States, and the current supply chain restructuring is detrimental to China.
■ Chairman Tien: Possible dialogues between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait do not necessarily facilitated by the United States. It takes 7 years to complete the EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment, and German Chancellor Merkel's activeness in this process shows that this decision could not represent the entire EU’s attitude. In addition, the agreement is only a framework and the treatment of market access for European companies in China does not exceed those already given to American companies. Lastly, it remains unclear whether other EU member states will approve this agreement. Transition of power in democracies will inevitably bring about doubts on policy consistence. As long as Taiwan responds cautiously, there is no need to worry too much.
● Dr. Luo Zhi-zheng, Legislator of the Committee of National Defense and Diplomacy
Kurt Campbell's 2019 article on the Foreign Affairs concluded that although US policy of engaging with China has ended, we must not return to the Cold War era. The principle of US foreign policy is guided by "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" principle. If Trump’s policy is deemed adequate, no changes will be made, but the tactics and practices will be different.
Regarding cross-strait relations, Blinken and Campbell both emphasized Taiwan's strategic importance because of the emergence of China's geopolitical influence. General MacArthur once said that Taiwan is an unsinkable aircraft carrier if it does not fall into Communist hands. Taiwan will become increasingly important in the global supply chain, and it will continue to be an indispensable ally of the United States in politics, economy, and technology, and will not become a sacrifice in Sino-US negotiations.
Session 2: The New International Situation and Indo-Pacific Security Developments
● Director Ma Chen-Kun: National Defense University Institute of Military Affairs
After Biden won the election, the CCP was risk-averse and dealt with the Trump administration's provocative actions in a calm manner. At the same time, China sought its contacts in the US political circles to lobby the Biden team and influence key nominations. This manipulation is a success, as they avoided confrontations with the US and with Taiwan.
On Jan. 1, 2021, Xi Jing-Ping issued a mobilization order for military training of the People’s Liberation Army, requiring a focus on combat readiness and ensuring that they are "ready to act at any second." This mobilization order is a routine requirement for troops to be ready to fight on the battlefield, and does not mean the military is preparing to engage in military actions abroad.
The PLA might implement closer monitoring toward US military aircrafts and ships entering Taiwan Strait and South China Sea in the future. Since the PLA can rely on land-based firepower to support operations on these waters, the US military will face increasingly severe challenges when enters these seas and airspace and will be more cautious. Taiwan will face more intense PLA military incursions in its southwest airspace and further moves to push back the straight median line, with the latter being more important than the former.
● "Recent Security Situation in the East China Sea and Its Future Prospects"—
Professor Ching Yuan-Chou, National Defense University
Currently, the Diaoyutai Islands is in a territorial dispute, a tipping point where conflicts are most likely to break out between China and Japan. Therefore, Japan is extremely concerned about the United States' attitude toward whether safeguarding the Diaoyutai Islands is included in the scope of the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the two countries. The alliance between the United States and Japan will return to normal, and will be strengthened and stabilized in face of threats from China.
Although both China and Russia claim to have a "comprehensive strategic partnership of cooperation, it is actually difficult to elevate the relationship to the state of alliance since the two sides still have conflicting geographical and security interests. They are guided by the united front strategic thinking of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" to counter the US-led "Indo-Pacific Strategy." Their joint military exercise in 2019 was meant to put pressure on Japan. The further Sino-Russian joint military exercises will prompt Japan to seek US assistance to invest more in the maintenance of security in the East China Sea and Diaoyutai Islands.
● "Sino-US Relations and the Situation in the South China Sea after Biden's Inauguration" -- Secretary-General Wang Chih-Sheng, Asia-Pacific Elite Interchange Association
Britain, Germany, and France have successively announced that they will dispatch military forces to Asia-Pacific region in 2021, a move to target at China's military expansion in the South China Sea. Hence, the US' Indo-Pacific Strategy to the contain China is supported by EU allies.
In 2020, due to the US presidential election, confrontation between the United States and China in the Asia-Pacific was a pattern of "US offends, China defends". As China is facing with nationalism of the "100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party of China (CCP) in 2021 ", it would not be surprised if Beijing turns to "China offends, US defends."
Risk of conflict on the Taiwan Strait is greater than in the South China Sea. The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) believes that outbreak of conflict between the US and China over Taiwan has reached the highest level among the world's potential conflicts. If China really needs a nationalistic intrusion, the Taiwan Strait will be the target. On one hand, it executes sovereignty over Taiwan. On the other hand, it responses to the nationalism domestically. As South China Sea is highly related to the political and economic interests of many countries, China dare not initiate provocative measures in haste.
● "Northeast Asia Security" –Dr. Chen Kuan-Ting, CEO of the Taiwan NextGen Foundation
The Trump administration’s negligence to its allies has not only undermined its role as a leader but also aggravated Northeast Asian countries' previous historic hostility and distrust, leading more coercive attitude from big powers in the region, including China.
The Biden administration will renew its recognition of the importance of economic development and strengthen partnerships with Japan and South Korea. However, the decline in relations between Tokyo and Seoul, and the deteriorating relationship between the United States and South Korea will be the main challenges for Biden administration in Northeast Asia.
● "Europe’s Security Concerns in the Indo-Pacific Region: With the UK, Germany, and France as Examples" -- Secretary-General Wang Hung-Jen, Taiwan Society of Japan Studies
The UK's interest in the Indo-Pacific region is mainly due to its desire to find new spheres of influence post-Brexit. Germany believes in global governance of multilateralism. And France is the first European power to attach importance to the Indo-Pacific strategy. European countries’ attention to the Indo-Pacific can’t be underestimated, as their interest in the region is consistent with that of the United States.
● Chairman Tien's Conclusion:
We have come to the following consensus: First of all, the democratic system in the United States is fundamentally different from China's, and the anti-Chinese sentiment is the now the mainstream sentiment as indicated in the survey of public opinion. Secondly, the US Congress has passed many bills (then signed by the president into laws) on China, Tibet, Hong Kong, and Taiwan in recent years. That entirely counter to China’s national interest. Those laws must be enforced by the new administration. Thirdly, document released from National Security Council shows that Taiwan occupies a very important geopolitical position in the first island chains of the Western Pacific, which is extremely important to security interest of both the United States and Japan. Fourthly, Taiwan is a democracy, harboring values of freedom and human rights, which are akin with the United States and other democratic countries. Fifthly, Taiwan’s high-tech industry plays an indispensable role in the restructuring of the global supply chains. Last but not the least, Taiwan’s achievements in the prevention and control of COVID-19 pandemic is gaining international attention and favorable recognition. Facing 2021, we remain cautiously optimistic despite mounting challenges ahead.