For our first Webinar of the 2023/24 season, we had the pleasure of hosting a great team of experts on Taiwanese affairs: Dr. Dafydd Fell, a distinguished Professor at SOAS University and the Director of the SOAS Centre of Taiwan Studies, and our very own ITSS researchers Sandra Watson Parcels and Ho Ting Hung (Bosco).
Our guests navigated the complexities of Cross-Strait relations, the upcoming Taiwanese elections, and the future of the semiconductor industry.
Prof. Inderjeet Parmar talks about the United States domestic and foreign policy in 2023. Parmar is a professor of international politics at the City, University of London, and co-editor of the book series "Routledge Studies in US Foreign Policy".
In this session, he discusses the future of the Republican Party and former President Trump heading towards the 2024 elections, before shifting the focus overseas. The main issues addressed are American interests in the Indo-Pacific, including discussions on India, QUAD, and Taiwan, the Ukraine war and its impact on the international order, and the special relationship between the US and the UK.
Interviewers: Giovanni Luca Catucci and Anurag Mishra - US Team
The geostrategic rivalry between China and the US is affecting the semiconductor and integrated circuit industry.
In recent months, Washington has implemented a clear strategy to contain Chinese geo-economic expansionism, to prevent Beijing from gaining access to semiconductor manufacturing technologies. The technology war between Washington and Beijing has now reached the WTO. A few days ago, Beijing filed a request with the World Trade Organisation, asking it to analyse the restrictive policies imposed by the United States on the export of hi-tech products. This has not stopped companies operating in the sector from moving to protect themselves. First of all, Amazon started to design a new microchip aimed at PCs, with the aim of integrating semiconductor production in-house. In this technology war, other companies are also moving. Nvidia and TSMC have started to design new products for the industry.
For the Chinese government, this economic aid package is part of its strategy to decouple its economic sector from that of the US, reducing its dependence on Washington in technology sectors. While China is one of the largest exporters of rare earths, it has a strong dependence on the US for hi-tech products, which are essential for its military modernisation project. In this context, Beijing aims to break free from its technological dependence on the US within the next three years, with the target of meeting 70% of its domestic needs.
However, this status in the semiconductor industry would risk putting it under great pressure as many companies, anticipating commercial retaliation from the US, might self-impose to stop doing business with China or cut off contact with Chinese companies. Beijing meanwhile has started its plans to support its companies and help them in the China-US competition. Despite the dialogues and communication channels between Beijing and Washington, the two superpowers maintain a certain distance and mutual distrust between them. The Semiconductor War of this millennium has entered its most delicate phase.
Tensions between China and the United States seem frozen at the moment, a consequence of domestic commitments of both Beijing and Washington. On the one hand, Xi Jinping will have to pass a Communist Party Congress to secure a third term as General Secretary of the Party, reappointment to the post of Chairman of the Central Military Commission, and reappointment as President of the People's Republic. Xi has several dossiers. The first is the issue of the anti-covid policy that has blocked production chains in recent months due to continuous lockdowns; the second is the delicate relationship with Moscow, which has seen in its Russian partner a greater weakening and consolidation of Beijing's political position in several areas of influence. For Xi, the October Congress is the turning point for the consolidation of his leadership within the Party. The main international dossier facing Beijing during the Congress session will be relations with Washington and the sensitive Taiwan issue. In the previous months several articles have been published by Chinese academics linked to the Party. CSIS, Center for Strategic of International Studies, translated an article by Liu Jieyi, director of the Taiwan Affairs Office of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council from a seminar on the Taiwan issue held between August 17 and 18. The seminar was attended by several academics close to Communist Party and government positions. Liu Jieyi in the piece titled "Reunification Has Entered an Irreversible Historical Process [统一进入不可逆转历史进程]" described that the reunification process has now entered an irreversible historical process and that not even Taipei's so-called "anti-Chinese forces" and "independence vagueities" will oppose the unification of the Island with the People's Republic.
The Diplomatic clash between China and the United States on the Taiwan issue was raised after the visit of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi but two other elements changed the approach of Sino-US relations. The first was the presentation of a new document(Taiwan Policy Act 2022) by the U.S. Senate Foreign Affairs Committee that if approved could allocate some $6.5 billion in aid. If it is approved by both the House and Senate it could further deteriorate Washington-Beijing relations. Another bone of contention is the approval by the U.S. side to sell a $1.1 billion arms package. At the moment, relations between the People's Republic and the U.S. have returned to a certain "new" normalcy, a consequence of the domestic commitments of both Beijing (Party Congress" and Washington ( Mid-Term elections for the renewal of the U.S. Congress) .
On the international context, the war in Ukraine could, in the coming months and early 2023, lead China and the U.S. to engage in consultation given that at the SCO summit in Samarkand a certain Beijing discontent with the war being waged by the Kremlin was noted, a position that after the Party Congress could solidify further reducing Beijing's indirect support for Russia's junior partner.
The war in Ukraine is shaking the European security system and also influencing Washington's strategies in the Indo-Pacific. With the focus on Europe, the US has slowed down its diplomatic and political activity in Asia while keeping a close eye on Beijing's moves. The latest moves such as Beijing's ratified security agreement with the Solomon Islands has alarmed Canberra, a close US ally, as well as the Americans. For Washington, the move is seen as an attempt by Beijing to strengthen its diplomatic and politico-military position in the South Pacific. Another hot dossier concerns the thorny issue of Taiwan. With the Russian invasion Washington is analysing how it can support Taipei in terms of military aid without bothering the People's Republic of China.
In fact, within the US federal agencies, preparations are being made for a possible war confrontation with Chinese forces. Despite the tension within some Chinese academic circles, it is theorised that a kind of competitive coexistence could be found with Washington, which would aim to exclude a warlike confrontation. In January 2022, Professor Wang Jisi , lecturer at the School of International Studies and President of the Institute of International and Strategic Studies at Peking University, wrote and published an essay entitled 'A Hot Peace: Is a Paradigm in U.S.-China Relations Emerging?'. In this short essay, the academic theorises that despite the mistrust between Washington and Beijing on various dossiers ranging from the Hong Kong issue to the mistrustful view of international relations via Taiwan, it is necessary to maintain and consolidate a channel of communication between the two leaderships in order to cooperate when the interests of both the People's Republic and the United States converge. According to Wang Jisi, this would lead the current status of Sino-US relations not towards a new 'Cold War' but towards a so-called 'Hot Peace', in which Beijing and Washington, despite competition in various fields, mutual mistrust and different visions concerning the status quo of the international chessboard will necessarily have to cooperate in certain dossiers of global importance.
The war in Ukraine puts Beijing in front of a dangerous strategy: on the one hand it publicly pushes both Moscow and Kiev to find a point of convergence to open a diplomatic mediation table; on the other hand it wants to avoid being included in possible economic sanctions. Moreover, it adds that there could be a remote hypothesis that is at the moment difficult to realise: with a severely weakened post-war Russia, China, in exchange for financial aid, would ask the Kremlin for possible access to military technology in the experimental phase in order to study it and acquire know-how.
At the moment, however, China is focused on other dossiers and preparing for the Party Congress, but with an eye on the economic consequences that the conflict could bring globally.
The Chinese Communist Party is one of the most ruthless regimes in history. There should be no illusion that China, under President Xi, is not only capable, but willing to enact this violence on the people of Taiwan. Mara Karlin, United States Assistant Secretary of Defence for Strategy, Plans and Capabilities stated, "I think the situation we're seeing in Ukraine right now is a very worthwhile case study for them about why Taiwan needs to do all it can to build asymmetric capabilities, to get its population ready, so that it can be as prickly as possible should China choose to violate its sovereignty." Ukraine, under the might of the much larger Russian military, was expected to fall in days, but the Territorial Defence Force has been credited in helping to slow the Russian advance.
A recent article by Michael Hunzeker and Admiral (Ret.) Lee Hsi-ming, former Chief of the General Staff of the Republic of China’s (Taiwan) Armed Forces, and a recent ITSS Verona Interview with the Admiral discusses the need for Taiwan to develop a standing, all-volunteer, Territorial Defence Force against the threat of a Chinese invasion. The Taiwanese military currently has approximately 170,000 active-duty troops, including 90,000 Army, 40,000 Navy,10,000 marines and 40,000 Air Force but just rough-and-ready militias and civil defense groups to counter a ruthless occupation. Territorial Defense Forces are not capable of defeating a large-scale invasion but can prevent a swift victory by ensuring an occupation would be violent and lengthy.
Hunzeker and Admiral Lee’s concept is to build a Territorial Defence Force around special forces units, trained in asymmetrical warfare. A well trained and equipped Territorial Defence Force would make it very difficult and costly for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), should they get passed Taiwan’s coastline defences. In a recent interview, Hunzeker elaborated that Taiwan should have a Territorial Defence Force for two reasons. One, as a message of deterrence that the Taiwanese people are ready, willing, and able to defend Taiwan. Two, a Territorial Defence Force would make it very challenging to conquer the civilian population. This would buy time for Taiwan to defend itself and for allies to intervene and help Taiwan. Retired U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Mark Montgomery, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies stated that the United States (U.S.) needs to learn the right lessons from the war in Ukraine, including spending less time ‘worrying about provoking authoritarian bullies’ and more time working todefend threatened democracies before invasions start. The U.S. has also been slow in addressing concerns and requests by U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, that recently warned again that military balance of power in the region continues to become “more unfavorable” for America and its allies. Therefore, although it is likely the U.S. and allies will come to Taiwan’s defence, Taiwan must also show a willingness to fight, just as Ukraine’s Territorial Defence Force inspires the world and garners international support.
The Territorial Defence Force would not need to be extremely large to be effective. Units of thousands, even hundreds of asymmetric trained volunteers would make a big impact, as witnessed now in Ukraine.
The Taiwanese government must play the leading role in building and supplying the Territorial Defence Force. Not only must volunteers be trained, but they will also need to be armed and supplied. Ukraine has land borders that make it easier to resupply fuel, ammunition, weapons, water, food, and medical supplies. As an island, Taiwan has the advantage of island defence but will be at a disadvantage when it comes to resupply. Taiwan’s strategic challenges include knowing China will attempt to cut Taiwan off from the outside world. Therefore, it is vital that the Taiwanese government create a Territorial Defence Force and provide stockpiles throughout the country.
Scenes of ordinary Ukrainians defending their homeland has awakened Taiwan’s own spirit of resistance. The Taiwanese people are inspired, Russia has shown that the threat of invasion is real and Ukraine’s Territorial Defence Force has shown that resistance works. Now is the time for the government of Taiwan to build a strong, fully supplied Territorial Defence Force that will deter and, if need be, defend Taiwan from occupation. The 4thPresident of the United States, James Madison once said, “A well-regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained in arms, is the best most natural defense of a free country.”
Admiral Lee Hsi-min (retired) is a Senior Fellow at the Project 2049 Institute. He previously served as the Chief of the General Staff of the Republic of China (Taiwan) Armed Forces from 2017 to his retirement in July 2019 after 42 years of service in the ROC Navy. Before his retirement, he was awarded the Order of the Cloud and Banner with Special Grand Cordon by President Tsai Ing-wen in recognition of his service in enhancing the overall capabilities of Taiwan’s military. He has authored articles in The Diplomat and War on the Rocks on issues related to Taiwan.
He answers a series of questions regarding Taiwan’s preparedness against potential Chinese invasion, lessons for Taiwan’s Territorial Defence Force from the Ukrainian experience and the edge it may or may not have as an island state against China when compared to the Russia-Ukraine Conflict.
Interviewing Team: Sandra Watson Parcels and Carlotta Rinaudo
Giulia Pompili discusses South Asian security perspectives. Giulia Pompili is a journalist and author. She currently sits on the South Asia desk at Il Foglio and writes the South Asian newsletter, Katane. She is also the author of Sotto lo stesso cielo, a book on the relationships between Beijing, Seoul, Taipei, and Tokyo.
In this session, Giulia Pompili discusses Australia & New Zealand's place in the US-China tensions over Taiwan, Japan's perspective on the BRI, Secretary Blinkin's visit to Indonesia, and the US diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics.
The Taiwan issue is heavily involved in Sino-US relations, especially with the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979 and the three joint communiques. The TRA obliges Washington to guarantee Taipei a continuous flow of armaments for defensive purposes, with the aim of guaranteeing the Taipei government military capabilities for its own defense. But Taiwan I'm coming! also that Washington, to respect the One China Policy, would not accept any declaration of Independence by Taipei, preferring to maintain the Status Quo.
In recent days, US President Joe Biden himself stated that Washington will intervene militarily in support of Taiwan in the event of an attack by the armed forces in Beijing; later, during an interview on CNN, Taiwan's President Tsa-Ing Wen confirmed the Wall Street Journal's early October rumors about the presence of US military units on the island, with advisory and training duties.
For Washington, the concern will also be linked to the nuclear deterrence capabilities that Beijing could acquire by 2030. According to the Pentagon Report Military and Security Developments Involving the People's Republic of China, the People's Republic of China could increase the Chinese’s nuclear arsenal, up to the one thousand nuclear ballistic carriers ceiling for 2030.
For the American political-military leadership, this scenario could compromise US deterrence in the Indo-Pacific area in the coming years.