War In The Taiwan Strait Is Not Unthinkable: Some Will Lose More Than Others

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 11, November 2019

By Grant Newsham

Screen capture of Chinese state media video of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops training for an assault on Taiwan’s presidential office. Pictured is a mock building at the Zhurihe military base in China, that mimics the actual building in Taipei. The video aired July 5, 2015. CCTV via Apple Daily.

Whether anyone actually ‘wins’ a war is a philosophical debate.  The Germans and Japanese in 1945 might have thought wars do indeed have winners.  But perhaps it’s better said that in most conflicts some parties ‘lose more than others.’

Such would be the case if Beijing attempted to militarily subjugate Taiwan.  And Xi Jinping just might do so.  He declared in a January 2019 speech that “we (China) do not promise to renounce the use of force and reserve the option to use all necessary measures (to take Taiwan.)”[1]

The Battle for Taiwan would have truly global consequences, akin to the invasion of Poland by the Soviets and Germans in 1939.

However, much of the debate over a Taiwan Strait conflict focuses on preparation for and conduct of the PRC’s attack: whether Beijing will or won’t attack, what an attack might look like and Taiwan’s ability to defend itself, whether the US will or should get involved and whether it ought to sell Taiwan ‘this or that’ weapon.  Such discussion is useful, but the actual consequences and longer-term ripple effects of a fight over Taiwan deserve much more attention.[2]

This paper examines key aspects of what happens once the shooting starts, and the follow-on global economic and political effects.  The envisioned scenario is a full-scale PLA assault against Taiwan, but it’s worth noting that even a ‘limited’ assault–such as against one of Taiwan’s offshore islands–may not stay limited for very long: given Beijing’s oft-stated determination to take all of Taiwan, an off-shore island assault would only constitute a tactical objective in the march on Taipei, and would also have serious and wide-ranging political and economic consequences.

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Nasif Ahmed: Hong Kong Independence

“Hong Kong Independence”, by Nasif Ahmed.

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Defeating China: Five Strategies

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 7, July 2019

By Anders Corr

Fighter jets of the U.S. Navy Blue Angels demonstration squadron fly over the Lincoln Memorial during the Fourth of July Celebration ‘Salute to America’ event in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, July 4, 2019. Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Since 1989, when China massacred thousands of its own people in Tiananmen Square to stop a pro-democracy protest, the country has arguably grown into the world’s most powerful and centralized state. China’s GDP by purchasing power parity (PPP) is approximately $25.4 trillion, while the U.S. GDP PPP is only about $20.5 trillion.[1] One man, Chinese President Xi Jinping, has almost total control of China’s economy and a leadership position for life. U.S. President Donald Trump, however, has only partial control of the smaller (by purchasing power parity) U.S. economy, and must be reelected this year to continue his tenure for a maximum of an additional four years.

China’s accelerating economy has fueled its military spending, which increased approximately three-fold since 2008 to $177.5 billion in 2019,[2] not including substantial programs hidden from public sight. Military and political analysts estimate that in the South China Sea and environs, China’s military capabilities already match or exceed those of the United States in many respects, as does China’s diplomatic influence. This puts pressure on the U.S. military to withdraw from the region, claimed as territory by Beijing. Over the next 30 years, China’s global military capabilities could exceed those of the United States, which would make it difficult for the U.S. to pose a credible threat against China’s already ongoing territorial expansion.[3]

China’s actions are now indistinguishable from those that would serve a goal of China’s global rule in perpetuity. Hopes for engagement as a strategy to turn China into a democracy have now been dashed. Instead of us changing them, they are changing us through influence of our own political and economic leadership. There is a danger that as China ascends to the world’s most powerful nation, other nations will follow its lead through bandwagoning. The dual and increasing danger of bandwagoning and China’s influence means that a shift in strategy is needed.

Engagement should give way to a more aggressive strategy against China in order to defend freedom, democracy and human rights globally, and to incent allies and potential allies to declare themselves on the right side of the dispute before they enter the gravitational field of China’s economic influence.[4]

As argued below, this should include labeling China as not just a competitor, which would imply that all play by the same rules, but as an adversary or even an enemy. Strategies must be calibrated accordingly to defeat the country, and more specifically, its guiding organization, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

There are at least five interrelated and overlapping strategies required to defeat the CCP: 1) Defend, 2) Ally, 3) Contain, 4) Divide, and 5) Democratize. Many of these strategies are overlapping, and have been proposed previously by a range of authors, cited here. They are all underway to some extent in various countries, however they are not being implemented at the scale and intensity needed to win. That should change now, or we risk continued relative weakening against the enemy.

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Democratizing China Should Be The U.S. Priority

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 7, July 2019

By Anders Corr

Protestors hold placards and illuminated smartphones beside a large banner calling for democracy during a protest in Hong Kong, China, on June 26, 2019. Some protesters held signs calling on U.S. President Donald Trump to save Hong Kong. Paul Yeung/Bloomberg via Getty Images

U.S. goals in relation to China, our biggest national security threat, tend to array along three main axes: military, diplomatic, and economic. But in deference to the failed strategy of engagement, we don’t use the significant normative and ideological power of democratization as a multiplier on these battlefields, nor does the prospect of democratizing China factor sufficiently in our cost-benefit analyses.

Militarily, we prioritize defense from China, but other than ongoing military support to Taiwan and the Tibet campaign of 1957-72,[1] we have not used our substantial military resources to promote democracy in China, for example in the rebellious zones of Xinjiang or Hong Kong. Economically, we prioritize U.S. market share in China, IP protection, and beating China’s GDP, technology and industrial strength. But we don’t condition our China trade on our lowest priorities, human rights and democracy.

In the short term our military and economic priorities are correct, but given the Chinese Communist Party’s growing strength globally, we must increase the prioritization of democracy as a long-term end goal in China, and we need to reevaluate opportunities to use our still substantial but relatively diminishing military and economic power to bring democracy to China. Continue reading

China’s Technological and Strategic Innovations in the South China Sea

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 3, March 2019 

By Anders Corr, Ph.D.

Introduction

A PLA Navy fleet including the aircraft carrier Liaoning, vessels and fighter jets take part in a drill in April 2018 in the South China Sea. Photo: VCG/Getty Images

This article is a slight revision of a talk given on March 13, 2019, in New York City.

Thanks very much for the invitation to speak today, and to all the members of the audience. I want to thank my good friend US Navy Captain James Fanell, who was Director of Intelligence for the US Pacific Fleet. He is not here, but he has been a mentor on the issues I’m covering, and assisted with comments to this presentation.

The full presentation is a combination of material from a book I edited that was published last year by the U.S. Naval Institute Press with the title – Great Powers, Grand Strategies: the New Game in the SCS, and my next book, on the strategy of brinkmanship.  This presentation, however, will focus on how China is innovating in the South China Sea on technological and strategic levels.

In a short year since the book was published, the South China Sea conflict has heated up. On March 4 and March 7, 2019, USPACOM, which is the Asian equivalent of CENTCOM and for which I used to work, sent nuclear-capable B-52 bombers over the SCS, including one flight revealed today. USPACOM also recently revealed that China’s military activity in the SCS rose over the past year. China occupied a sand bar near the Philippines island of Pagasa, in the Philippine exclusive economic zone, or EEZ, and Chinese boats purposefully rammed and sunk a Vietnamese fishing boat in the Paracel Islands of the north west SCS, islands that both China and Vietnam claim.

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A Peculiar Chess Game in North Korea《奇怪的棋局》

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 6, No. 5, May 2018

By Wei Jingsheng (魏京生)

Wei Jingsheng (魏京生) was the most famous Chinese dissident in 1979, when Deng Xiaoping put him on a nationally televised trial for writing the essay, “The Fifth Modernization: Democracy.” He received 15 years in prison. After meeting with President Clinton’s Assistant Secretary for Human Rights in 1993, he was put back in jail for another 14 years. He served 4 years of his second jail term before being exiled to the United States in 1997. A number of points are new in his latest article, published in English for the first time here. In particular, the discussion of China’s President Xi obstructing the Trump/Kim summit has very serious implications for the future of U.S.-China relations, and the credibility of President Xi as an interlocutor in Korean peace negotiations. Wei Jingsheng’s piece was originally published on Radio Free Asia’s blog and dated May 17, 2018. The article, including its Beijing slang, has been translated into English below.

Chinese human rights activist Wei Jingsheng (left) and American politician US President Bill Clinton talk together in the White House, Washington DC, December 8, 1997. (Photo by Robert McNeely/White House/Consolidated News Pictures/Getty Images)

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China’s $60 Trillion Estimate Of Oil and Gas In The South China Sea: Strategic Implications

U.S. hydrocarbon estimates imply a maximum of $8 trillion worth of oil and gas in the region, explaining part of the strategic divergence of the two superpowers.

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 6, No. 1, January 2018

By Anders Corr, Ph.D.

China’s estimates of proved, probable and undiscovered oil and gas reserves in the South China Sea imply as much as 10 times the value of hydrocarbons compared with U.S. estimates, a differential that has likely contributed to destabilizing U.S. and Chinese interactions in the region. While China estimates a total of approximately 293 to 344 billion barrels of oil (BBL) and 30 to 72 trillion cubic meters (TCM) of natural gas, the U.S. only estimates 16 to 33 BBL and 7 to 14 TCM. Considering that the inflation-adjusted value of oil vacillated between approximately $50 and $100 per barrel (in 2017 prices) since the mid-1970s, U.S. estimates imply a hydrocarbon value in the South China Sea between $3 and $8 trillion, while Chinese estimates imply a value between $25 and $60 trillion. In addition to other factors, China’s greater dependence on oil imports and higher estimates of hydrocarbons in the South China Sea have driven it to invest more military resources in the region. An overly economistic approach by the Obama administration probably led the U.S. to allow China’s expansion in the South China Sea too easily.

Photo taken on June 13, 2015 shows the Xingwang deep-sea semi-submersible drilling platform at Liwan3-2 gasfield in the South China Sea. China’s largest offshore oil and gas producer CNOOC Ltd. announced on July 3, 2015 that its Xingwang deep-sea semi-submersible drilling platform started drilling at 1,300 meters underwater in Liwan 3-2 gas field in the South China Sea. Credit: Xinhua/Zhao Liang via Getty Images.

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China Swaggers, But Time Not On Its Side

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 6, No. 1, January 2018

By Arthur Waldron

I have some thoughts about the “year of doom” 2018 that appeared on the web yesterday. They are as follows:

(1) China has undertaken her dangerous policies for internal reasons. That is how China is. She has no pressing or other need for Scarborough Shoal in the Philippines EEZ, for example.

(2) We know (1) is true because Xi Jin Ping goes on an on about loyalty, reshuffles the army, creates the most boring flag raising ceremony in history, and was reported to get in a fight with a general about whether the army should be made national instead of party. Who after all is going to take a bullet for Xi? We need to get to the root of this domestic phenomenon, but how is an almost impossible question.

(3) China’s tactics have sought to win without fighting by overawing small countries (and not-so-small countries, like India and Indonesia) using their awesome military as no more than a threat and their awesome economy likewise. The problems are (a) even the Philippines is not overawed and China is very much on the wrong side of international law and (b) this is important: China overestimates her own achievements. Maoism was a cesspool. She has gotten out rinsed off, and started some large but financially dodgy corporations. Skyscrapers have sprouted and tilted.

Group of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers in China. Credit: Getty Images.

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KORUS: Part of the Heart and Seoul of the US-South Korea Relationship

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 5, No. 11, November 2017

By Bhakti Mirchandani

South Korea has been an important US ally since 1953.  The alliance is multifaceted, ranging from US military presence in South Korea and coordination on the North Korea nuclear issue to cyber, and from energy to climate change.[1]  South Korea is also the US’s sixth-largest trading partner.[2] Despite the lasting strength of the alliance, the relationship between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and President Trump is fraying under the strain of the North Korean nuclear threat and of renegotiating the bilateral US-Korea free trade agreement (“KORUS “).  President Trump accused President Moon’s government of “appeasement” of North Korea,[3] but ultimately agreed not to attack North Korea without South Korea’s permission.[4]  Trump also threatened to terminate KORUS, which he described as a “horrible deal.”[5]  Beyond the relationship between the two leaders, the position of US Ambassador to South Korea has been vacant since President Trump took office, and South Korean protestors assembled with anti-war signs at an anti-Trump rally outside the US Embassy in Seoul during President Trump’s visit this past Tuesday.[6]

Tae Song Dong, South Korea. The flags of South Korea and the United Nations wave in the breeze. Source: Getty

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Nuclear Deterrence and Four Types of Force: Definitive, Coercive, Catalytic, and Expressive

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 5, No. 6, June 2017

By Captain Robert C. Rubel USN (Ret)

North Korea’s drive to attain a nuclear warfare capability is currently on the front burner in the Pentagon, and is a driver of tensions in East Asia. This has precipitated plenty of dialogue in the national security community, including on the issue of extended deterrence, the policy of the US that threatens nuclear response if an ally is attacked with nuclear weapons. One input from a former colleague at the Naval War College was the final catalyst that got me tapping on the keys. First, he quoted one of his scholars as saying that the real question concerning nuclear weapons “… is whether strategic nuclear forces have any genuine relevance today in the context of deterrence and warfighting, or whether they’re troublesome legacy weapons of a bygone era.” In a subsequent email he said that he was “interested in deterrence stopping all wars, not just nuclear.” It may be that the general umbrella of nuclear deterrence did suppress some wars that might have otherwise taken place during the decades after 1945, but it is almost impossible to know. However, my colleague’s faith in the utility of the manifold uses of deterrence is not that distant from those who advocate tailored deterrence, which is a scaled or graduated deterrence structure that includes the option of preemptive strikes.[1] Tailored deterrence to some extent reflects the logic behind the DoD concept of flexible deterrent options (FDO), which are defined as “…a wide range of interrelated responses that begin with deterrent oriented actions carefully tailored to produce a desired effect.”[2] In my view, such policies would incur considerable risk, as they ascribe, in an a priori manner, effects on an opponent’s political decision making and strategic planning processes in lieu of any specific intelligence (frequently) and certainly without any historical track record, especially in the nuclear arena. In this short article I will discuss a different way to analyze deterrence and gain insight into the thought processes of my colleague.

File photo taken in October 2015 in Pyongyang is of a North Korean intermediate-range ballistic missile on display during a military parade. Photo by Kyodo News via Getty Images

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