United States Senator “Kit” Bond (R-MO) was a real leader on Asia policy during his time in Congress. Like most senators, he had a ready one-liner for every occasion. The one I never tired of hearing is “Well, looks like everything has been said. The problem is not everyone has said it.”
It’s sort of like with US-China great power competition. There is not much new to say.
This is especially true because it’s largely a story of what’s already happened: BRI, Made in China 2025, aggression in the South China Sea, provocations on the Indian border, cyber-hacks, erosion of “one country, two systems” in Hong Kong, disinformation campaigns.
There is similarly well-trod ground on the US side: Restrictions on Huawei, CFIUS, export controls, FONOPS, the Justice Department’s China initiative, INDOPACOM’s “Regain the Initiative.”
This is not to say there is no pattern of great power competition. Clearly, there is. The real problem is that, to paraphrase a business cliche: past activity is no guarantee of future trends. Accordingly, it might be instructive to identify decisions that that will shape the relationship going forward.
1) China Standards 2035. Arguably, the development with the single greatest impact on US-China relations in the last few years was the roll-out of “Made in China 2025.” It was such an eye-opener that it turned some American free traders into advocates of industrial policy. They felt like suckers. The way they saw it, here they were committed to a vision of making China a “responsible stakeholder,” and all along Beijing was preparing to eat America’s lunch. What’s more, now Zhongnanhai looks set to double down. Beijing is expected to launch China Standards 2035 — an initiative to set the global standards for information technology, as well as many other areas, in ways that benefit Chinese industry.
2) Lack of real market reform in China. What ultimately pulled the relationship out of its last serious downturn following the Tiananmen Square Massacre was real market reform in China. Such a development seems very unlikely today, given the current disposition of the CCP and the personalities that lead it. But if by some miracle the Chinese embark on a concerted effort to privatize state-owned companies, remove the massive subsidies fueling its economy, and truly reform policies that coerce technology transfer, it would have a soothing effect on the relationship. By contrast, of course, the lack of reform will continue to handicap Beijing’s image.
3) Declaration of an ADIZ in the South China Sea. Ever since Beijing unilaterally declared an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over the East China Sea in 2013, speculation has swirled around when it would do the same in the South China Sea. It may now be ready to roll the dice — even without the buildout on Scarborough Shoal long presumed to be a necessary precursor.
This will create an interesting situation in that the US government will certainly refuse to comply, and may suggest American commercial carriers do the same. But even if Beijing’s goal is not compliance but strengthening its claims to the waters, the rivalry will intensify. China’s claims are in direct conflict with American interest in the freedom of navigation and overflight.
4) Change in America’s approach to Taiwan. China will continue to press Taiwan, at least as long as Madam Tsai (蔡英文) is President. War is unlikely. Beijing runs too much domestic political risk if things go awry. Better to wait. But ultimately, what tips the scales in favor of waiting are American security guarantees. In turn, these rely on American political will.
The last three years have seen encouraging signs of American commitment to Taiwan. The Trump administration’s arms sales and naval operations in the Taiwan Straits are good examples, as is the renewed, fulsome support of Taiwan in Congress. But what happens in 2021? Republicans and Democrats both love Taiwan. However, a change in approach by this or a future administration that is perceived as deferential to Chinese sensitivities may look like flagging US resolve. After all, even the current administration abides by Chinese red lines well short of where its rhetoric would indicate. Case in point — its continued reluctance to launch free trade talks with Taiwan — the most obvious candidate for an FTA in Asia.
5) How the US deals with its record levels of debt. Those steeped in the history of the US security commitment to the Western Pacific have a difficult time imagining the region without it. And amidst the coronavirus crisis, it seems American voters are newly sensitized to the broader China threat. But American election cycles and the unprecedented economic situation the US faces post-COVID could be hiding the black swan of American retreat from the region. We really won’t have a trustworthy sign of the continuing American military commitment to the Western Pacific until the next administration submits its first budget.
There is no question that a great power competition is brewing between the US and China. But international relations is not metaphysics. History is made by leaders. What they do on both sides over the next few years will determine where the relationship is headed.
Walter Lohman is director of the Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Center.
Taiwan’s status in the world community is experiencing something really different; it’s being treated like a normal country. And not just a “normal” country, more like a valuable, constructive, democratic and generous country. This is not simply an artifact of Taiwan’s successes in combatting the novel coronavirus. It is a new attitude, weighing Taiwan’s democracy against China’s lack of it. Before I continue, I should apologize to the readers of the Taipei Times. I have not visited Taipei since the opening of the American Institute in Taiwan’s new chancery building in Neihu last year, so I was unprepared for the photograph
At a June 12 news conference held by the Talent Circulation Alliance to announce the release of its white paper for this year, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) emphasized that, in this era of globalization, Taiwan should focus on improving foreign language and digital abilities when cultivating talent, so that it stands out from global competitors. I suggest the government should consider building a professional translation industry. If the public believes that there is a relationship between learning English and national competitiveness, then the nation must consider the social cost of language education. This should be assessed to maximise educational effectiveness: Is
On Sept. 27, 2002, the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste (East Timor) joined the UN to become its 191st member. Since then, two other nations have joined, Montenegro on June 28, 2006, and South Sudan on July 14, 2011. The combined total of the populations of these three nations is just more than half that of Taiwan’s 23.7 million people. East Timor has 1.3 million, Montenegro has slightly more than half a million and South Sudan has 10.9 million. They all are members of the UN, yet much more populous Taiwan is denied membership. Of the three, East Timor, as a Southeast Asian
In the face of the COVID-19 crisis, cities around the world are re-evaluating the importance of accessible green spaces for the benefit of public health and well-being. However, Taiwan’s success in containing the virus might impede opportunities to transform its cities into greener, healthier and more resilient places. Urban vegetable gardens have been highlighted by community planners worldwide during this wave of the green-space movement. Such gardens help enhance food security and also mental health, which in turn fosters social resilience in local communities during lockdowns. Since 2015, Taipei has run the “garden city” program, which allocates vacant land for use as