US President Donald Trump and his Democratic rival, former US vice president Joe Biden, are holding their final debate tonight. In their foreign policy debate, China is sure to be a major issue of contention for the two candidates.
Here are several questions the moderator should pose to the candidates:
For both: In the first televised US presidential debates in 1960, then-Democratic candidate John F. Kennedy and his Republican counterpart, Richard Nixon, were asked whether the US should intervene if communist China attacked Taiwan’s outlying islands of Kinmen and Matsu.
Kennedy said no, unless the main island of Taiwan was also attacked. Nixon said the US should defend all of Taiwan, including its main island and the smaller ones.
Sixty years later, China is again threatening to attack Taiwan, possibly starting with Kinmen and Matsu. What should Washington’s position be?
For Biden: In 1995, China fired missiles across the Taiwan Strait and asked what the US would do if it attacked Taiwan. Then-US president Bill Clinton’s administration answered: “We don’t know and you don’t know; it would depend on the circumstances.” That policy of strategic ambiguity has been followed by every subsequent Democratic and Republican administration.
Should it still be the US approach? Or, since China believes it can successfully pull off a military move against Taiwan, is it time to be clear on US intentions and deter China from the kind of miscalculation that triggered the Korean War?
For Trump: You told Fox News recently that China knows what the US would do if it attacks Taiwan, presumably because you or someone in your administration told Chinese officials. But does Taiwan know the US’ intentions? Certainly, the American people do not yet know.
Are you prepared to inform them tonight what the US policy is on defending Taiwan?
For both: A Chinese military official has said that Beijing could teach the US a lesson if it helps defend Taiwan by sinking an aircraft carrier or two, and killing 5,000 to 10,000 sailors.
Do you take such a threat seriously — and does it intimidate Washington from helping to defend Taiwan?
For both: In Xinjiang Province, China is committing what international observers describe as genocide against Muslim Uighurs. The US Congress passed legislation, which the president signed, to punish Beijing by imposing sanctions on Chinese officials responsible for the persecution.
What more should the US and the international community do to get China to stop, or to make it pay an unacceptable price?
For both: In Tibet, China is committing what international experts describe as cultural genocide. The US Congress passed legislation, which the president signed, to punish Beijing by imposing sanctions on Chinese officials responsible for the persecution.
Is the US doing all that it can to mobilize the international community against China for its oppression of the Tibetan people and destruction of Tibetan culture?
For both: In Hong Kong, China is unilaterally scrapping the commitment it made to political autonomy for Hong Kongers under “one country, two systems.” The US Congress passed legislation, which the president signed, to punish Beijing by cutting off its Hong Kong access to the US and international financial system, but the law has not been fully implemented because some US commercial interests will be damaged.
Should Washington carry out the full intent of the law and cut Hong Kong off from the international banking system?
For both: Should the US organize an international effort to reverse China’s militarization of the South China Sea?
For both: China has protected North Korea from international sanctions for its odious human rights violations, including Soviet-style gulags where millions of North Koreans have been incarcerated and persecuted. China has also supported and enabled Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs while telling the world that it opposes them, and undermined US and international sanctions against Kim Jong-un’s regime.
Should the US impose punishing secondary sanctions against China and Chinese officials?
For both: In addition to its oppression of Uighurs in Xinjiang and Buddhists in Tibet, the communist Chinese government is persecuting Christians, and other religious and spiritual groups. It has subjected the Falun Gong and political prisoners to murderous atrocities, such as the harvesting of human organs for commercial sale.
Should the US call upon the UN to investigate and publicize China’s human rights violations?
For Trump: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has called upon the international community to help the Chinese people pressure the Chinese Communist Party to change its behavior. That would require an information campaign similar to what was done during the Cold War to get the truth to populations trapped behind the Iron Curtain.
However, the agencies charged with carrying out that kind of program — Voice of America and Radio Free Asia — have been decimated by your new appointee. Do you plan to revive and reinvigorate those information programs to encourage peaceful reform in China?
For Biden: Do you support a Cold War approach to peaceful regime change in China?
For both: How should China be punished for its deception that enabled COVID-19 to spread worldwide into a pandemic?
Joseph Bosco served as China country director in the office of the US secretary of defense. He is a fellow at the Institute for Taiwan-American Studies and a member of the Global Taiwan Institute’s advisory committee.
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