Following announcements by the Obama administration last week that sales of weapons systems to Taiwan approved by the previous administration would proceed, Beijing reacted with its usual contempt, claiming that Washington’s decision would undermine US-China ties and represented meddling in China’s internal affairs.
One thing that Beijing did differently this time, however, was up the ante by hinting that the sale could result in trade sanctions against the US firms involved. This unprecedented threat — ostensibly targeting Lockheed Martin Corp, which was awarded a contract to sell Taipei an unspecified number of Patriot missiles — was yet another sign that China now perceives itself as a “Great Power” and that it can now threaten countermeasures that hitherto had mostly been the remit of leading states like the US, or groups like the EU.
For years, the US, the EU and a handful of Western countries have relied on targeted trade sanctions against “rogue regimes,” such as North Korea and Iran, as well as China, to punish their leadership, encourage a change in behavior, exact an economic price and prevent those states from acquiring certain technologies with military applications. Since the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989, China has been the target of a US and European arms embargo, which has had limited success given Russia’s willingness to fill the vacuum by selling Beijing advanced military technology or providing know-how so that Beijing could develop a domestic arms industry.
After years of being on the receiving end of sanctions, China now believes it has enough clout to enter the game. On paper, the threat could make Lockheed Martin, which, among other items, sells commercial aircraft engines, sit up and pause, given that outside the US, China is the biggest market for commercial aircraft. If Beijing were to act on its threat and impose trade sanctions on the US firm, the result could be billions of dollars in losses.
Closer scrutiny of trade sanctions, however, quickly reveals the limitations in China’s threat, especially when the targeted entity happens to be a US company. The effectiveness of trade sanctions, especially when they are meant as economically punitive measures, is highly dependent on a state’s dependence on exports for its economic growth. World Bank data for 2008 shows that 35 percent of China’s GDP depends on exports (32 percent for Iran), while it is about 11 percent for the US.
Therefore, China’s trade sanctions as a means to bring about a change in government behavior are far less likely to succeed than vice-versa. Furthermore, as China does not have technologies that the US does not possess, it cannot rely on sanctions to deny the US technology that it seeks.
Furthermore, if Beijing were to resort to such countervailing measures to punish Lockheed, or the US, for selling weapons to Taiwan, the US could — and likely would — hit back with sanctions of its own, which could quickly escalate into a trade war that export-dependent China is ill-equipped to wage. As a last resort, Washington could also go to the WTO and accuse China of breaking international trade laws.
As is usually the case, China barks like a dog when it comes to weapons sales to Taiwan. Growling and foaming at the mouth notwithstanding, China remains more a poodle than a bulldog in terms of its ability to play the “Great Power” game.
This said, the fact that China now sees trade sanctions as part of its arsenal should be alarming to Taipei, which is much more vulnerable than the US to such measures and will only become more so as it increases its economic dependence on China by signing memorandums of understanding and an economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA).
Taking advantage of my Taipei Times editors’ forbearance, I thought I would go with a change of pace by offering a few observations on an interesting nature topic, the many varieties of snakes in Taiwan. I will be drawing on my experiences living in Taiwan five times, from my teenage years in Kaohsiung back in the early sixties, to my last assignment as American Institute in Taiwan Director in 2006-9. Taiwan, with its semitropical climate, is a perfect setting for serpents. Indeed, one might say serpents are an integral part of the island’s ecosystem. Taiwan is warm, humid, with lots of
China constantly seeks out ways to complain about perceived slights and provocations as pretexts for its own aggressive behavior. It is both victimization paranoia and a form of information warfare that keeps the West on the defensive. True to form, China objected even to the innocuous reference to Taiwan at April 16’s summit meeting between US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga. Neither leader’s prepared remarks even mentioned Taiwan, out of deference to the Japanese side. Biden’s opening statement was modest: “Prime Minister Suga and I affirmed our ironclad support for US-Japanese alliance and for our shared security.
Determined to keep a permanent grip on power, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) has abandoned former paramount leader Deng Xiaoping’s (鄧小平) dogma of “hiding our capacities and biding our time” along with the “peaceful development” line that prevailed under former Chinese presidents Jiang Zemin (江澤民) and Hu Jintao (胡錦濤). Instead, he is treading a “wolf warrior” path of diplomacy that resorts to coercion, debt entrapment and hostage-taking. Externally, Xi’s China has claimed that it would never seek hegemony, yet it challenges the free, rules-based international order wherever it can. While insisting that it will not export its ideology, it has
As the US’ mass COVID-19 vaccination campaign continues at a record pace, one question under debate is what the administration of US President Joe Biden should do with its extra doses — and especially where to send them. One country that should be at the top of a donation list is Taiwan, in recognition of the help that it provided to the US at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic last year. After weeks of pressure, the Biden administration announced that it is now “looking at options to share American-made AstraZeneca vaccine doses.” By summer, it is clear that anyone in the