Strategic Vision, Issue 30

Page 24


Taiwan Security

Turkey’s Coup

Burhan Cikili

India and BRICS

Jabin T. Jacob

Philippines Shakes up Relations

Tran Thi Duyen

US-India-Japan Partnership

Amrita Jash

Cross-Strait Ties

Hidden Dangers lurk

Guang-Chang Bian & Jonathan Spangler

Volume 5, Issue 30 w December, 2016 w ISSN 2227-3646



Submissions: Essays submitted for publication are not to exceed 2,000 words in length, and should conform to the following basic format for each 1200-1600 word essay: 1. Synopsis, 100-200 words; 2. Background description, 100-200 words; 3. Analysis, 800-1,000 words; 4. Policy Recommendations, 200-300 words. Book reviews should not exceed 1,200 words in length. Notes should be formatted as endnotes and should be kept to a minimum. Authors are encouraged to submit essays and reviews as attachments to emails; Microsoft Word documents are preferred. For questions of style and usage, writers should consult the Chicago Manual of Style. Authors of unsolicited manuscripts are encouraged to consult with the executive editor at before formal submission via email. The views expressed in the articles are the personal views of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of their affiliate institutions or of Strategic Vision Manuscripts are subject to copyediting, both mechanical and substantive, as required and according to editorial guidelines. No major alterations may be made by an author once the type has been set. Arrangements for reprints should be made with the editor. Cover photograph of a Turkish soldier standing watch at the main gate of the Turkish Provincial Reconstruction Team compound is courtesy of Aramis Ramirez.

Volume 5, Issue 30 w December, 2016 Contents BRICS talks reveal dissension in the ranks ...................................4 Duterte shakes up Manila’s foreign relations................................ 9 China’s rise drives deeper India/US/Japan ties ............................ 14 Erdogan looks East after coup attempt ........................................ 19 Hidden dangers in cross-strait ties ..............................................24 Jabin T. Jacob Tran Thi Duyen
Amrita Jash Burhan Cikili Guang-Chang Bian & Jonathan Spangler


Fu-Kuo Liu

Executive Editor

Aaron Jensen

Associate Editor

Dean Karalekas

Editorial Board

Tiehlin Yen

Raviprasad Narayanan

Richard Hu

Guang-chang Bian

Dahua Mo

Lipin Tien

STRATEGIC VISION For Taiwan Security

(ISSN 2227-3646) Volume 5, Number 30, December, 2016, published under the auspices of the Center for Security Studies and National Defense University.

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Articles in this periodical do not necessarily represent the views of either the MCSS, NDU, or the editors

From The Editor

The editors and staff of Strategic Vision would like to wish our readers well this winter season. The Asia-Pacific continues to undergo important developments. We hope that students and scholars in the academic community have the chance to keep up with these events. In support of that effort, we offer our latest edition of Strategic Vision.

We open this issue with Dr. Jabin T. Jacob who explores India’s challenging relationship with fellow BRICS members. Dr. Jacob is a fellow at the Institute of Chinese Studies in Delhi, India.

Next, Tran Thi Duyen, a PhD candidate at National Chengchi University in Taipei, looks at the details and challenges posed by the improving relationship between the Philippines and China. Amrita Jash explores the growing security relationship between India, the United States, and Japan. Ms. Jash is a doctoral candidate in Chinese Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, India.

Next, Burhan Cikili, a PhD student at the Graduate Institute of Development Studies at National Chengchi University, discusses the implications of Turkey’s recent coup attempt.

Finally, Jonathan Spangler and Dr. Guang-chang Bian analyze a new wave of anti-Taiwan rhetoric emanating from Beijing. Jonathan Spangler is currently the director of the South China Sea Think Tank, while Dr. Bian is a professor of strategic studies at the ROC National Defense University.

We hope you enjoy this issue, and look forward to bringing you the finest analysis and reporting on the issues of importance to security in the Taiwan Strait and the Asia-Pacific region.

Tough Talks

BRICS Declaration reveals Russia, China dominated agenda at Goa

Among the many meetings and forums held in the run-up to or during the 8th BRICS Summit in October in Goa, India, were those involving national security advisers, youth leaders, young diplomats, women parliamentarians, central bank governors, and sister cities, and the ministers of finance, health, education, environment, tourism, disaster management, agriculture, telecommunications, and science and technology, as well as issues of urbanization, migration, non-tariff measures, infrastructure financing, and communicable diseases. As a result, the final declaration made at the end of the confab was a massive document that seemed to cover almost every issue possible.

While this expansive range of issues and themes reflects the group’s great ambition to effect decisive change in global politics and economic development, given the state of the economies of Russia, Brazil, and South Africa, and the slow pace of implementation in India, the group will likely be unable to follow through on many of these issues. While state capacity is different in each case, even such concepts as transparency and accountability are viewed differently in each of these countries, calling into question the potential for success of joint ventures, including projects in non-BRICS nations.

Politics is also prominent in the group, and China’s dominant weight, with support from Russia, has seen joint statements taking on a decidedly anti-Western

slant. Furthermore, the dynamics between India and China played a role, at least from the Indian perspective, on the final BRICS statement on terrorism. The statement was seen as weak in India, particularly in the wake of widespread outrage over a terrorist attack perpetrated on an army camp in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir the previous month—an attack that was planned in Pakistan.

Meeting resistance

At a meeting between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the BRICS Summit, two issues dominated; China’s resistance to India’s membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group, and China’s refusal to criticize Pakistan for state-sponsored terrorism. New Delhi did not get far on either subject.

While the BRICS Declaration itself did address the subject of terrorism, it employed the formulation “against some BRICS countries, including that in India” when referring to attacks, effectively downplaying the qualitatively different and more serious nature of the terrorist attacks against India. In fact, only the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the former al-Qaeda affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra, are mentioned by name, both of which are primarily threats to Russia and to a lesser extent China, but not really to India. In contrast, the Taliban in

4 b Strategic Vision vol. 5, no. 30 (December, 2016)
Jabin T. Jacob is a fellow at the Institute of Chinese Studies in Delhi. He can be reached for comment at

Afghanistan was not named in the declaration, nor were the Pakistani-based groups that have been actively targeting India.

The closest India got to naming Pakistan as a terrorist threat was in a line which read, “We recall the responsibility of all States to prevent terrorist actions from their territories.” This was also how Secretary of Economic Relations and Indian Sherpa for the BRICS Amar Sinha answered a specific question at a press briefing on whether Modi had insisted on including cross-border terrorism in the declaration. He added that India’s objective was to push certain ideas and concepts.

In answering repeated questions about whether or not India was satisfied with the way terrorism was addressed in the declaration, both Sinha and Indian Ministry of External Affairs official spokesperson Vikas Swarup declared themselves satisfied.

“We got them, so we are quite happy,” Sinha said. Both tried to remind journalists not to “reduce the entire Goa Declaration only to terrorism.”

India’s official interlocutors attempted to convey

the impression that the Goa BRICS Declaration was the strongest yet on the subject of terrorism, and yet Sinha gave the game away by admitting, in response to another question, that there was no mention of Pakistan-based groups such as Jaish-eMohammad, and that no consensus was achieved

“EachoftheotherBRICSnationsare, infact,increasingtheirborrowingsof RMB loans, giving China a stronger influence over their economies.”

in this regard. The United Nations recognizes Jaishe-Mohammad as a terrorist group similar to organizations such as ISIL and al-Nusra. The failure to include Jaish-e-Mohammad in the declaration is surely an implicit reference to China’s obstruction of the effort.

While the term “international law” appears several times in the declaration, it usually does so in close proximity to “United Nations,” which is a sure sign

Tough Talks b 5
photo: Kelly Haux Yudh Abhyas 2016, a bilateral military exercise, opens in India, bringing US and Indian Soldiers together for combined training.

of it being applicable only when the interests of the UN Security Council, including Russia and China, allow it to operate. While the sanctity of international law has been highlighted with respect to outer space, there is not a single mention of maritime issues, which is a topic on which China has been criticized by India, as well as other Asian neighbors.

The emphasis appeared to be on countering misuse of the Internet, including social media, by terror entities, and combating the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) for criminal and terrorist purposes. While this is in the common interests of all parties, it is obviously much more pertinent to China as it relates to China’s already heavy domestic policing of the Internet.

The fact that the need for open use of ICT is immediately accompanied by the need to also be secure shows the emphasis of the governments involved, and also underlines the incipient threat to democratic expression everywhere. Furthermore, while there have

been calls for an open, secure Internet, and it is spoken of as a global resource, such offensive applications as hacking and industrial cyber-espionage—activities in which both Russian and Chinese parties have been found to be at the forefront—went completely unmentioned as issues affecting the openness and security of the Internet.

Manipulative maneuvers

References to the outcome of the G20 meeting in Hangzhou earlier in the year, which included accepting the Renminbi (RMB) into the Special Drawing Rights currency basket, and the need for reform of international financial institutions, contributed to the very China-centric tone of the BRICS Declaration. For China, the references to the RMB helps raise the international profile of its currency as a potential rival to the US dollar. Each of the other BRICS nations are, in fact, increasing their borrowings of

An AV-8B Harrier, assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 163 lands on the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island. photo: Devin M. Langer

RMB loans, giving China a stronger influence over their economies.

What is more, in the section which discusses a “commitment to resolutely reject the continued attempts to misrepresent the results of World War II,” the declaration lends itself clearly to an anti-American and anti-Japanese stance, all of which also stands contrary to Indian interests. At a press conference following the issuance of the declaration, the Indian foreign ministry spokesperson struggled to answer a Japanese journalist’s query on the issue.

“Nineteen forty-five to us represents the old world order, which we want changed,” the spokesperson argued, pointing out that it was part of an effort that India, together with Japan, Brazil, and Germany, formed the G4 grouping to ask for reforms of the UN Security Council. However, the declaration made no clear commitment to such reform, clearly undercutting the Indian claims.

It would seem then that despite serving as host,

India’s major achievement was in the pomp and ceremony of the summit, and not in its substance. New Delhi seems to have been outmaneuvered by the Chinese, with help from the Russians, and either indifference or support from the Brazilians and South Africans. These trends will only likely consolidate given that China is slated to host the next BRICS summit in 2017.

The 8th BRICS Summit at Goa then was an opportunity to witness in sharp focus the contradictions within this motley group. China is in a league of its own in the BRICS, both in economic terms as well as increasingly in the political sphere. India is the only other member that has a strong economy, while the

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Tough Talks
Two Republic of Korea Air Force C-130 Hercules depart Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson during Red Flag - Alaska 2016. photo: Christopher Morales
“ThesignalbeingthatwhileIndiawas opentoeconomiccooperationwith China,thelatteralsohadtoacknowledgeIndia’sgeopoliticalinterests.”

other three economies of Brazil, Russia, and South Africa are all in various stages of distress. This reality limits the nature of what the BRICS can practically achieve and possibly portends that the group will eventually experience internal conflict, or even fall apart under the weight of its own contradictions.

Fighting back

One sign that this process might be getting underway is India’s decision to host the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) summit in Goa even as the BRICS summit was winding down. A brief overlap allowed various leaders from the two groups to meet, including significantly, Xi Jinping and Nepalese Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda.’ The Chinese president, it must be noted, had canceled plans to visit Nepal on this leg of his tour to convey

Beijing’s displeasure with Kathmandu’s relatively proIndia turn in recent months.

For its part, India seemed to be sending a signal to the Chinese with the hosting of BIMSTEC, given that one of the important features of this group is the absence of China as a member. The signal being that while India was open to economic cooperation with China, the latter also had to acknowledge India’s geopolitical interests. New Delhi would simultaneously promote organizations where it had a leading role distinct from those created by the Chinese or where they dominated. In this, India seems only to be taking a leaf out of the Chinese playbook: part of Beijing’s global diplomatic strategy in recent years has been to agitate for an expanded role for itself in existing international organizations on the one hand, while simultaneously creating new institutions where it has decisive say and influence and which rival established ones. n

Sailors aboard the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68) watch as an EA-18G Growler prepares to land on the flight deck. photo: Holly Herlline

Switching Sides

Philippines shakes up foreign relations under President Duterte

Tran Thi Duyen

After six years of frosty ties between the Philippines and China under former President Benigno Aquino, the relationship between the two countries has been warming under the controversial leadership of President Rodrigo Duterte. With just over six months in office, Duterte has outlined an independent diplomatic path for the Philippines, marked by a reduction of the Philippines’ dependence on its longtime ally the United States in both the economic and military fields. Backing up his rhetoric, Duterte directed the Ministry of Defense to cancel joint US-Philippine military exercises, issued a demand that Washington withdraw US military advisers from the southern island of Mindanao, and ordered the ministry to re-evaluate defense cooperation with the United States. He said that it was time for the Philippines to look for other avenues to avoid excessive dependence on Washington.

Duterte wasted no time in seeking new partners: In August, former Philippine President Fidel Ramos was dispatched to China on an ice-breaking trip as a special envoy for the Philippine president. Duterte himself soon followed up with a four-day state visit to Beijing in late October.

Just four months prior, it would have been difficult to imagine that such a cordial meeting could have taken place between the leader of China and that of Washington’s oldest ally in the region. The visit at-

tracted the attention of regional and global media outlets, because President Duterte chose China—a country that has an ongoing and bitter dispute with the Philippines over sovereignty in the South China Sea—for his first visit outside of Southeast Asia, rather than choosing longtime ally the United States.

Philippine policymakers appear to have guessed rightly that China would embrace the goodwill gesture, largely because better relations with Manila will help Beijing frustrate Washington’s influence in the region. Indeed, China welcomed Duterte with the highest level of protocol at the Great Hall of the People, along with a 21-gun salute. At the bilateral talks, the two leaders affirmed that the visit would represent a new starting point in bilateral relations between the two countries.

Seeking benefit

Manila has achieved three important results from the visit: First, the Philippines will gain economic benefits from the 13 bilateral cooperation deals signed by China and the Philippines—deals worth a reported US$24 billion, including US$9 billion in low-interest loans, with about one third of the loan offers coming from private banks, and US$15 billion in investments. China also lifted a ban on imports of processed fruit products from the Philippines. In

Tran Thi Duyen is a PhD candidate in the International Doctoral Program in Asia-Pacific Studies at National Chengchi University. She is also a researcher with the Institute for Northeast Asian Studies, Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences. She can be reached for comment at

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Strategic Vision vol. 5, no. 30 (December, 2016)


addition, Beijing is now encouraging Chinese tourists to visit the Philippines and has committed itself to helping that country develop its marine aquaculture and fisheries processing sectors.

Second, China is strongly supporting efforts by the new Philippine government in the war on drugs. Notably, a Chinese company agreed to aid in the construction of a drug rehabilitation center with an area of 17 hectares for drug addicts in Davao city, of which Duterte served as mayor prior to being elected president.

Third, political relations between China and the Philippines have also undergone significant changes. The two sides have agreed to resolve disagreements in a reasonable manner and improve bilateral relations despite the July award by The Hague-based Permanent Arbitration Court, after the Court’s arbitral tribunal ruled on the South China Sea issue in favor of Manila. Chinese President Xi Jinping stressed that Duterte’s visit to China was a chance to put the China-Philippines relationship on track, based on common interests and the wishes of the people of the two countries. President Duterte also stressed that

there had been dark points in the relations between the two countries, and that he wanted to remove these dark points, and forge a more cohesive relationship between the Philippines and China.

Solidifying relations

Although both leaders agreed to improve the relationship between the two countries, questions remain as to whether the relationship can achieve a truly positive trajectory. More time is needed to see how this relationship will develop over the remain-

der of Duterte’s six-year term. There are two key issues which must be recognized. First, progress so far largely consists of diplomatic commitments following the high-level visit. If this commitment does not transform into concrete action within a year, or if the Philippines feels disappointed with China’s commit-

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, shakes hands with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte as the two leaders meet for the first time. photo:
“Russiaisanothercountrywithwhich presidentDuterteisseekingacloser relationship.”

ments, the relationship can easily veer off course. In fact, making commitments is easy, but implementation of those commitments will not be so easy. Second, it is now just over six months into Duterte’s six-year term and he has signaled some rather drastic foreign policy changes without providing much in the way of specifics about how these changes will be implemented. Moreover, the Philippines-China political relationship at present is still at a stage where political trust is very low, and trust cannot be earned overnight. These two countries will need to invest great effort and commitment to building trust over a sustained period.

Warming relations

The relationship between the Philippines and China was a rocky one in the four years under Duterte’s predecessor. Manila had halted bilateral negotiations on the South China Sea issue after China seized the Scarborough Shoal in 2012. Already strained relations then heated up as Manila took its fight to The Hague

in 2013. Aquino’s administration also increased cooperation with its ally the United States, as well as Japan, to deal with the increasing level of unpredictability in the region. In response, China canceled an invitation for Aquino to attend the China-ASEAN Expo in Nanning City in 2013. This marked a period when Beijing and Manila had turned against each other. Therefore, it must be said that Duterte’s visit to China, and what he achieved during this visit, can be seen as an important breakthrough in the process of rebuilding the relationship, and expectations are high that the two sides will further promote substantial cooperation and improve trust between the two countries.

Russia is another country with which president Duterte is seeking a closer relationship. Duterte has expressed an interest in strengthening economic and military ties with Moscow. In the military realm, the president has revealed his intentions to purchase weapons from Russia for the first time, instead of relying exclusively on the United States. In return, Russia will grant the Philippines favorable credits with pref-

Switching Sides b 11
US Navy Admiral Harry Harris, right, speaks with Sri Lankan Naval officers during a visit for the 2016 Galle Dialogue on Maritime Security. photo: US DOD

erential repayment until 2025. This suggests that Moscow will be a decisive factor, and that Duterte is sending a message to Washington: he is willing to cooperate with countries that are not part of the American alliance, or part of Washington’s pivot to Asia. On the one hand, Duterte does not want the Philippines to be a pawn on the geostrategic chessboard of the world’s great powers. On the other hand, he wants to take advantage of the availability of international capital to expedite his vision of economic development in the Philippines. The Philippines’ future plan continues to include traditional regional partners, as demonstrated by Duterte’s visit to Japan in late October.

Shifting winds

The Philippines’ foreign policy reorientation is prompting questions of whether the winds have changed direction, and how this change will impact the United States and member nations of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). So far, the impact of Duterte’s foreign policy adjustments on the regional situation remains unclear. It remains to be seen just how much of an adjustment there is, and this will take time. It may be said, however, that the biggest impact has been on the relationship between Manila and Washington, which have been formal allies for 65 years, and have a close relationship going back much further into the intertwined histories of the two countries. These ties have been called into question.

In the past, the Philippines has been referred to as America’s “little brown brother” in the Asia-Pacific; heavily dependent on the United States, especially in the security realm The United States is also the Philippines’ leading foreign direct investor and thirdlargest trade partner. Now, however, with the statement on independent relations with the United States,

this close, historical relationship is at risk of being seriously damaged, even though president Duterte has claimed that his separation from Washington does not mean ending the Philippines’ ties with the

United States. Nevertheless, from what has occurred in the past few months, one can see that the US pivot to Asia is facing great challenges, as the Philippines was designated as one of the key pillars of the policy, and it is slated to play a central role in the new USled Southeast Asia Maritime Security Initiative. With the Philippines distancing itself from Washington, this has caused embarrassment for the United States, which has responded by reducing its influence in the Philippines. It was announced that Washington would scrap a major aid package to the nation, osten-

“Manila’s foreign policy adjustments are exacerbating uncertainty in relations between ASEAN, the United States, and China.”
photo: US DOD Marines conduct training while underway aboard the aircraft carrier USS Truman.

sibly over human rights concerns about Duterte’s use of extrajudicial killings of suspected drug traffickers.

Moreover, Manila’s foreign policy adjustments are exacerbating uncertainty in relations between ASEAN, the United States, and China. At the same time, they are increasing the complexity of efforts by 10 Southeast Asian nations to arrive at a united stance on regional issues, including the South China Sea disputes. As China comes increasingly close to ASEAN member states, these relations will no doubt have an impact on China’s approach to the South China Sea issues, making it hard for ASEAN to reach a consensus. This is especially true as the group celebrates its 50th anniversary next year, with the Philippines serving as ASEAN chair. This means that in 2017, ASEAN is going to be much closer in Beijing’s orbit than that of Washington, and Washington will have to consider what to do in the long term. This will be detrimental to ASEAN, because the group wants to maintain a balance between the two powers, and not

to get too close to one side or the other.

In sum, it is still too early to predict what will happen in trilateral ties between the Philippines, the United States, and China, because prospects still depend on many factors, the most important of which is trust. To sever a close traditional relationship can be simple, if one is heedless of the consequences. But turning a frosty relationship into a warm one requires a long process of trust-building by both sides. There is no guarantee that negotiations between China and the Philippines will produce results which will eventually satisfy both sides. Moreover, it remains to be seen how US foreign policy develops under the administration of President-elect Donald Trump over the next 4 years. At any rate, with Duterte’s foreign policy adjustments, the next six years will not just see the relationships discussed above reshaped, but perhaps even the geo-political situation in the AsiaPacific region in general, and ASEAN in particular, will also be certain to feel the impact. n

Switching Sides b 13
A brilliant moon rises over the deck of the USS Theodore Roosevelt in Coronado, California. photo: Abe McNatt

Trilateral Ties

China’s rise drives deeper cooperation between India, US and Japan

In the 21st century, global power politics has shifted from the West to the East—a move accompanied by a strategic shift from the Atlantic to the Indo-Pacific Region. The rise of China, India’s growing economic and strategic clout, and the growing importance of the Indian Ocean have led to the emergence of the geopolitical concept of the IndoPacific. This significant strategic shift in international politics has enlarged the contours of the old AsiaPacific security architecture into a broad framework of the Indo-Pacific—a new way to conceptualize maritime Asia.

Geographically, the region covers the eastern coast of Africa through to the Indian Ocean and Western Pacific Ocean. This new security architecture has prompted new frameworks with competitive and convergent security interests of such actors as Australia, China, India, Japan, and the United States, which plays a pivotal role in the region. The Indo-Pacific carries implications for the way countries approach security competition or cooperation in maritime Asia.

The growing economic, geopolitical, and security connections between the Western Pacific and the

14 b
Amrita Jash is a doctoral candidate at the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi and editor-in-chief of IndraStra Global, New York. Her email is Defense Secretary Ash Carter meets with Indian Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar at the Ministry of Defense in New Delhi.
Strategic Vision vol. 5, no. 30 (December, 2016)
photo: Brigitte Brantley

Indian Ocean regions are creating a single strategic system under the Indo-Pacific security architecture. Most importantly, the Indo-Pacific reflects the emerging strategic importance of the Indian Ocean in 21st century geopolitics, which is evident from the confluence of four strategies: Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Maritime Silk Road initiative, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Act East Policy, US President Barack Obama’s Pivot to Asia, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Confluence of the Two Seas. All of these broad policies are aimed at playing a proactive role in the Indo-Pacific region. Thus, the Indo-Pacific region has become the nerve center of 21st century geopolitics, where regional and external powers are actively competing and collaborating with one another to counter and expand their influence. Who rules the Indo-Pacific? Who are the actors in the Indo-Pacific theater? What are their Strategic Interests? These are the central questions that need to be examined.

There remains a strategic misconception that the

Indo-Pacific idea excludes China from the regional order. On the contrary, it is the expansion of China’s interests, diplomacy, and strategic reach into the Indian Ocean that more than anything else defines the Indo-Pacific. The key driver behind the PacificIndian Ocean interconnection is the extension of Chinese interests—both economic and strategic— and the urge to increase its presence south and west across the seas.

Shifting focus

Along with the aforementioned power shift, China too has shifted its focus to the Indo-Pacific. There are a number of key factors behind China’s shift of interest. For one, more than 80 percent of Chinese oil imports get transported across the Indian Ocean; over one million Chinese citizens live or work in Africa, where it is also a principal foreign investor; and China is increasingly strengthening its naval presence in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean.

Trilateral Ties b 15
An E-2D Hawkeye and a C-2A Greyhound fly over USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000) as the ship travels to its new home port of San Diego, California. photo: Eric Hildebrandt

In 2015, China built its first offshore military base in Djibouti, reflecting China’s deepening interest in the region. Further exemplifying China’s desire to play a more influential role in the Indian Ocean is the One Belt, One Road initiative; an ambitious plan that aims to extend China-centric infrastructure and strategic partnerships into the Indian Ocean. In view of this, the 21st Maritime Silk Road has been called the “Indo-Pacific with Chinese characteristics.” In pursuit of its interests, the most alarming trends are assessed in China’s growing assertiveness in the South China Sea, which has predominantly fueled apprehensions over China’s behavior in maintaining good order at sea.

Given China’s increasingly belligerent military posture in the Asia-Pacific region, one of the primary challenges faced by the Indo-Pacific is the security of the Sea lines of Communication (SLOCS). This has become the primary cause of concern for other major actors such as India, Japan, and the United States, all of whom seek common interest in the region against the China challenge. These strategic in-

terests include, first and foremost, the safeguarding of global seaborne trade. Estimated at around 21,480 billion ton-miles in 1999, that number rose to almost 41,800 billion ton-miles in 2014, 40 percent of which transits through the Strait of Malacca. Second, around

15.5 million barrels of global oil trade passes through the Strait of Hormuz, and 11 million barrels of oil pass through the Malacca and Singapore straits. These factors interlink SLOC security and energy security, which are critical concerns for regional and global economic growth and development.

The importance of this trade makes China’s recent naval activity a cause for concern. For India, Japan, and the United States, the concerns about China are

US Air Force technicians work on an F-16 with their Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) counterparts at Misawa Air Base, Japan. photo: Sadie Colbert
“Malabar symbolizes the strengtheningtrilateralstrategicpartnership betweenIndia,JapanandtheUnited States.”

related to the importance of international law and a desire to ensure the peaceful settlement of disputes, freedom of navigation and overflight, and unimpeded lawful commerce, including in the strategically important South China Sea.

The strategic interests and security concerns stemming from China’s increasing presence in the region have influenced other major powers to reorient their regional strategies. Actors such as India, Japan, and the United States are making proactive efforts to engage in partnerships to produce a strategic counterweight to a growing China. This has led to the evolution of a trilateral partnership between the three countries. There is a convergence of interests in the regional security architecture which justifies the motivation behind an India-Japan-US trilateral partnership. Faced with the common China challenge, the central goal is to work together to maintain maritime security through greater collaboration based on shared support for peace, democracy, prosperity, and a rules-based international order.

The idea of the long anticipated trilateral dialogue was first conceived in 2011, and finally attained formal stature in September of 2015, when US Secretary of State John Kerry hosted the inauguration of the US-India-Japan Trilateral Ministerial Dialogue with Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj and Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, on the sidelines of 70th UN General Assembly in New York. This strategic partnership is seen as a strong countervailing force against China’s influence in the region. A concrete example of the evolving partnership is the 2015 Malabar Joint Naval Exercise, which includes the forces of India, Japan, and the United States. Malabar began in 1992 as an India-US bilateral naval exercise. Japan became a permanent participant in 2015. Malabar symbolizes the strengthening trilateral strategic partnership between India, Japan, and the United States amid China’s expansive territorial claims and increasingly assertive stance in the South and East China seas.

However, defense and security cooperation at the

US Navy Admiral Harry Harris, left, meets with Japanese Minister of Defense Tomomi Inada.
Trilateral Ties
photo: Jay Chu


bilateral level has also significantly added to the changing security architecture in the Indo-Pacific. Washington and Tokyo have long cooperated closely on defense, however it is important to note the changing dynamics of the India-Japan strategic equation. In the recent past, both countries have undertaken important steps forward in strengthening their strategic nexus in areas such as defense technology, nuclear energy, and freedom of navigation.

The recent India-Japan civil nuclear deal signed in November 2016 is also a significant development in this cooperation. This initiative further favors India’s own bid at the Nuclear Suppliers Group, where China has been acting as a strong obstructionist force. India and Japan are also forging greater cooperation in the fields of technology transfer and defense production exchanges under the Make in India initiative. In addition, Japan’s expressed interest to cooperate in the Chabahar project in which India and Afghanistan have a shared interest, would be another boost to the

growing partnership.

The Indo-Pacific region has evolved from just being an idea to a significant regional construct in the global security architecture. China is the central driving force in the emerging Indo-Pacific security architecture—both as a player as well as an influence in the region. To counter the China challenge, India, Japan, and the United States have revamped their influence and strategic presence in the region, wherein the India-Japan-US trilateral partnership is a strong strategic alliance in the making with significant implications. Most importantly, this strategic partnership is mainly directed as a countervailing force against China’s increasingly assertive posture. However, no single country can unilaterally shape the Indo-Pacific security architecture: growing security challenges can only be met by a strong strategic partnership. Given the convergence of interests against China’s rise, it is likely that security cooperation between India, the United States, and Japan will only grow closer. n

Two F-15s and two US Marine Corps F/A-18C Hornets return to Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska during Red Flag 2016. photo: Karen Tomasik

Shifting Winds

Turkey’s Erdogan looks East for allies after extensive post-putsch purge

The history of modern Turkey is filled with military interventions into civil politics. The military has intervened directly in Turkish politics three times, and in 1997 was succesful in carrying out what has come to be known as the “postmodern coup.” The Turkish military defines itself as the guardian of the Turkish secular democratic state which was established by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and embraces his doctrine of Kemalism as its main ideology. All of these previous coups or attempted coups had one discourse in common; they were responding to a danger to the regime. Turkey’s Constitution gives the military the authority to step in when needed, meaning that from some interpretations, this latest

coup attempt did not happen all of a sudden.

On the evening of July 15, 2016, Turkish television stations started broadcasting the news that tanks had been observed in Istanbul and had blocked one direction of two of the main bridges into the city. In Ankara, it was reported that gunshots had been heard and that jets and helicopters were flying over the city. Later, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim announced on television that a coup attempt to overthrow the government was underway. Later that evening, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan appeared on television to assure the population that he was safe, and to call on the people to protest the putschists in the streets and “do what is necessary,” adding that the

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Burhan Cikili is a PhD student in the Graduate Institute of Development Studies at National Chengchi University in Taipei, Taiwan. He can be reached for comment at
Strategic Vision vol. 5, no. 30 (December, 2016)
Turkish citizens in Istanbul protest the short-lived coup against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. photo: Maurice Flessier

judiciary would swiftly respond to the attack.

By the morning of July 16, the government announced that the coup had been repelled and that the danger was over. The threat apparently continued, however, and people were warned not to leave the streets, but to continue “protecting democracy,” day and night. Every single mosque repeatedly encouraged people to go out to protect the nation and its democracy. As a result of the coup attempt, more than 280 civilians lost their lives.

Purge campaign

After the failed coup, Erdogan instituted a state of emergency that lasted for three months, and he embarked upon a widespread purge against the movement’s sympathizers, who are reported to be followers of US-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, who promotes a tolerant Islam which emphasises altruism, modesty, hard work and education. Gulen himsef has denied any involvement and has challenged the Turkish government to initiate an international investigation to substantiate its claims. The Turkish Government refused. Later, Erdogan extended the purge to non-Gulenists, such as Kurds, Alevis, journalists, writers, and other voices that have been criti-

cal of the president.

At the time of writing, 104,912 officials have been sacked and 50,979 people detained, while 27,329 people have been arrested. Among them are 5,348 academics that have been dismissed from their positions or arrested. A total of 3,531 judges and prosecutors have likewise been dismissed. More than 120 journalists have been arrested, which makes Turkey the largest persecutor of journalists on Earth.

The purges have also targeted institutions. According to the Minister of Internal Affairs more than 1,250 nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), associations, and foundations were shut down, amounting to a huge blow to Turkish civil society. Additionally, more than 2,100 schools, dormitories, and universities were shut down and 180 media outlets (primarily newspapers and television channels) have been closed permanently.

From the very beginning, the pro-government media made it appear that the purges were restricted to Gulen sympathizers. However, three members of the high Constitutional court, which is the top judiciary in Turkey, were among the first to be purged. Many journalists and politicians from the pro-Kurdish opposition party, People’s Democracy (HDP), and from the Alevi community were also purged. It

A US Air Force B-1B Lancer takes off from Andersen AFB to conduct integration training with Royal Australian Air Force joint terminal air controllers. photo: Arielle Vasquez

was reported recently that the Turkish government is preparing to take over 28 democratically elected Kurdish municipalities by force. Therefore, many Western experts suspect that the coup attempt actually provided Erdogan with the perfect opportunity to silence opposition groups and take control of every institution in the country.

New ideologies

After the academic community was censored, the most critical and extensive purges happened in the ranks of the military. The Turkish armed forces have long been seen as the guarantor of Turkey’s stability, inside and outside of the country, but the aftermath of the failed coup saw it break apart in a manner that will be very difficult to recover from. No fewer than 149 of the nation’s 358 generals and admirals were detained or dishonorably discharged. In total, about 1,400 military envoys have been fired so far, more than 10,000 of whom have been detained. Those arrested include the army commander, who was fighting the Kurdish insurrection in southeastern Turkey, and the former air force chief of staff.

Dismissals of military staff have raised some questions from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), since the purges appeared to have targeted only pro-NATO staff within the Turkish military. Three days after the failed coup, 149 military envoys in NATO offices throughout Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Britain were recalled to Turkey and summarily dismissed. General Joseph Votel, head of the US Central Command, expressed concern, saying that a number of the US military’s closest allies in the Turkish military have been jailed.

“We’ve certainly had relationships with a lot of Turkish leaders, and military leaders in particular,” Said Votel, adding, “I’m concerned about what the impact is on those relationships as we continue.” For pro-Erdogan people, this was viewed as another indication that the United States was behind the coup. In contrast, some experts believe that the coup was actually against pro-NATO generals in the military.

Those who follow Turkey’s foreign policy will remember that Erdogan has long desired to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which is highly attractive for authoritarian leaders who want to avoid international pressure on their human rights

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Former US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel meets with Turkish army Gen. Necdet Özel, the chief of the Turkish General Staff in Ankara, Turkey. photo: Glenn Fawcett

track records. Recently elected Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has likewise expressed a desire to join. It was not until Turkey shot down a Russian jet fighter in November 2015 that relations with Russia, and therefore Erdogan’s dreams of joining the SCO, were dashed. On July 2, only two weeks prior to the coup attempt, Turkey apologized to Russia and expressed its desire to improve ties, which led to meetings between Turkish and Russian leaders.

After the 2011 Arab Spring, Erdogan publicly expressed his goal to transform Turkey into a presidential system (from its current semi-presidential system) and install himself as the first president of of new Turkey. His Justice and Development Party (AKP) even prepared a draft amendment on adoption of a presidential system of government, which would give extensive rights to the executive that are equal to the power wielded by the sultans of the past.

Democratic demise

The military was the only remaining institution which resisted Erdogan’s undemocratic policies; that is, at least until the coup attempt. After the pro-NATO generals were purged, Erdogan had a chance to promote a cadre of new, pro-Eurasianist generals who favor a security pact which would include Russia, China, and Iran. As a sign of Erdogan’s restructuring of the military, the Turkish military entered north Syria to fight against Islamic State (ISIS) and Democratic Union Party of Syria (PYD) forces, as well as the Kurdish People’s Protection Units YPG forces, and is now moving on Mosul in northern Iraq. The previous military leadership never supported operations in Syria.

Turkish Special Forces, operating with Free Syrian Army groups in Syria, are hoping to clear the area from ISIS and Kurdish groups and replace them with groups that will cooperate with Turkey, thereby avoiding the creation of a Kurdish corridor in

North Syria. In the name of fighting against ISIS, the Turkish military has already cleared Jarablus and Azez, and is now taking al-Bab from Kurdish forces. In order to stop another wave of refugees (expected from Aleppo), Turkey hopes to declare a no-fly zone in North Syria—a proposal that has been rejected by the United States but recently supported by Russia. Russia, China, and Iran openly support Turkey’s decision to move away from NATO, which will definitely weaken the organization. Talk of Turkey’s leaving NATO date back to 2013 when Ankara considered purchasing Chinese air defense equipment in a deal valued at a reported US$3.44 billion. NATO openly criticized Turkey’s decision, as it would have put NATO in danger and risked creating a major intelligence leak in NATO’s air defense system. Under intense pressure, Turkey canceled the contract with China. However, since Erdogan’s apologies to Russia, Russian arms manufacturers have been invited to compete for Turkish business, in addition to the US and European bidders.

President Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian actions have generated criticism from the European Union as well. As candidate country for EU entry and a source of immigration and transit migration, Turkey is an extremely important factor in EU security and stability. Meanwhile, Erdogan has shown that he is not above playing the Syrian refugee card in order to pressure the European Union for full membership. The gulf appears to be widening, however: as the European parliament recently voted to halt accession talks with Turkey, and Erdogan—already unwilling to accept the EU Copenhagen criteria—is, at least tactically, moving closer to the SCO nations as an alternative to Europe. The SCO, like NATO, is primarily a security organization that prioritizes defense.

Practically speaking, Turkey’s critical economic dependence on the European Union (60 percent of its exports go to the EU) leaves Ankara with few alternatives in terms of economic partnerships. The


Turkish Lira hit a record low against the US dollar in November, and many economic experts believe that it is a sign of a looming economic crisis, which might prove to be the worst ever. The SCO’s heavyweights are Russia and China, both of which support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which suggests there may be a sharp maneuver on Syrian policy in Turkey’s future.

Turkey’s position supporting the Uighurs is another potential obstacle to rapprochement with the East—It was only few years ago that Erdogan accused China of perpetrating a genocide against Uighur Turks in East Turkestan (called Xinjiang province in China). However, while there are many contradictions in SCO nations’ support of Ankara, the grouping recently appointed Turkey as chair of the SCO Energy Club in 2017, making it the first non-SCO country to hold such an honor.

Lingering questions

The post-coup mass reorganization of institutions has allowed the government to politicize the military in Turkey. As a result, it has given the government more

room to maneuver with the military in Syria and Iraq. The Turkish government currently finds Russian support to be more advantageous than the US-led NATO position on Syria. While Turkey is favoring the SCO, which is mostly led by authoritarian regimes and has no intention of supporting democratic values, EU relations are critical for Turkey’s democracy.

The coup attempt has left many questions unanswered. The number of remaining putschists—real and ostensible—is unknown. After the coup attempt, Erdogan said he could not reach the chief of military staff or the chief of intelligence, and thus how far involved they were is unknown. The first day after the coup, more than 3,500 people were detained; how and when were those names prepared? While Erdogan claimed that he learned of the coup from his brother-in-law around an hour before it began, Russia’s presidential spokesperson claimed that Moscow “informed Turkey about the coup attempt one day before it happened.” If this latter claim is true, then why was the information not acted upon sooner? Clearly, many important questions remain. As the dust begins to settle, it will be possible to gain a better picture of Turkey’s future trajectory. n

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A paratrooper descends onto Frida drop zone during airborne operations in Pordenone, Italy. photo: Paolo Bovo

Unforseen Dangers

Alarmist rhetoric from China unnecessarily raises tenions in the Taiwan Strait


Since early 2016, a series of articles on the “three unforeseens” (sange xiangbudao), or previously unanticipated issues affecting the future of cross-strait relations, has been published and widely disseminated online. These three unforeseens relate to Taipei’s resolve regarding Taiwan independence, Beijing’s determination regarding unification, and Washington’s underestimation of the explosiveness of cross-strait relations. Media outlets on both sides of the Taiwan Strait, entirely unable

to resist the articles’ sensationalist interpretation of today’s relations between China, Taiwan, and the United States, have republished and reported on them, expanding their reach and adding fuel to the flames. One such commentator, Li Yi, a researcher with the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at China’s Renmin University, was positively gloating over the new-found infamy he achieved by publishing follow-up articles with the aim of reinvigorating the catchphrase and bringing it into mainstream use.

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Jonathan Spangler is the Director of the South China Sea Think Tank and a doctoral fellow at Academia Sinica. He can be reached at
Strategic Vision vol. 5, no. 30 (December, 2016)
Spangler and Guang-chang Bian In the wake of ROC President Tsai Ing-wen’s victory, media reports have been sensationalistic regarding the future of trilateral Taiwan-US-China ties. photo: VOA Guang-chang Bian is a professor of Strategic Studies at the ROC National Defense University.

Although the catchiness of the “three unforeseens” slogan appeals to both advocates and critics of all stripes within academic, mainstream, and government circles, even a casual understanding of the issues raised is sufficient to shed light on its fundamental misunderstanding of diplomatic relations and democratic processes. Nevertheless, the alarmist message has clearly gained traction, especially within Beijing and among members of the international community who are already receptive to such political fear-mongering. If policymakers prove impressionable enough to incorporate even some aspects of its message into their strategic calculations, the hardline policies that might emerge would present significant threats to cross-strait and Asia-Pacific regional stability, and to the welfare of the people of Taiwan. This article makes the basic assumption that armed conflict involving China, Taiwan, and the United States or a sudden disruption of the balance in their trilateral relationship would not be in the best interests of those directly involved, particularly in the

short-term and in Taiwan. It aims to clarify both the extent to which the “three unforeseens” rhetoric reflects misperceptions about contemporary regional relations, and where the fantasy ends. It then concludes with a discussion of the realities of Taiwan’s role in cross-strait relations and the risks involved in perpetuating alarmist messages that have the potential to affect Beijing policymakers’ strategic calculus.

Unexpected resolve

In the coverage of the topic, the first unforeseen issue relates to the unexpected resolve of the administration of ROC President Tsai Ing-wen regarding Taiwan independence. It has been suggested that Beijing was caught entirely off-guard by Tsai’s alleged resolve and determination to achieve Taiwan independence. The evidence for this stems first from the Tsai administration’s non-recognition of the 1992 Consensus, and her failure to pay lip service to the notion that the two sides of the Taiwan Strait belong to “One China.”

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Sailors and Marines stationed aboard the USS Makin Island man the rails of the amphibious assault ship as they pass by downtown San Diego. photo: Jason Perry

Beijing’s response has been to attempt to, in Li’s words, “force the Tsai authorities into an untenable economic, political, and diplomatic situation, which would eventually compel Tsai Ing-wen and the DPP to give in” and accept the 1992 Consensus and One China principle as the basis for cross-strait dialogue. Since the decline in popularity of the Kuomintang (KMT), and the concomitant increase in the level of support for Tsai’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) became clear in the local elections of November 2014, Beijing has proceeded more forcefully with its rhetorical reprimanding of Taiwanese not aligned with its wishes. Moreover, following Tsai’s inauguration, Beijing has gone on the offensive to pre-emptively punish the DPP and put pressure on Taiwan by restricting cross-strait tourism, denying it access to international organizations, and casting aside the diplomatic truce regarding poaching the remaining official diplomatic partner countries who recognize the Republic of China (ROC) on Taiwan. Despite Beijing’s offensive, the Tsai administration

has not been swayed. Moreover, the articles assert that Chinese scholars and government officials did not anticipate that Tsai and other DPP officials don’t live for money, and that they would fight bravely for the ideal of Taiwanese independence, in the words one such particularly histrionic report, “advancing wave upon wave with a fearless, heroic spirit … not even afraid of death.”

Yet the arguments presented are fundamentally flawed in multiple ways. First, no one should have been taken by surprise regarding the Tsai administration’s perspective on the 1992 Consensus and One China principle. Since day one, the DPP has never recognized that any such consensus exists, because the event merely consisted of talks between quasiofficial KMT and Chinese Communist Party (CCP) representatives, and no agreement was ever signed delineating any such consensus. In fact, it could be argued that Tsai has been outright conciliatory on the issue by publicly reiterating that her government recognizes the historical fact that negotiations took

The historic meeting of then-ROC President Ma Ying-jeou and Chinese President Xi Jinping illustrates the strength of party-to-party KMT-CCP ties. photo: ROC gov

place and served for the time as a basis for crossstrait dialogue.

Second, Li’s argument that the Tsai administration’s cross-strait policy represents an “all-out acceleration towards Taiwanese cultural, ideological, educational, and social independence in the local battleground of the Taiwan Strait” is not evidence-based. Despite Beijing’s offensive moves, Tsai has remained firm in her commitments and taken a relatively open, constructive, and centrist approach by remaining supportive of talks between Beijing and Taipei, promising to maintain the cross-strait status quo and adhere to the ROC Constitution, and refrained entirely from advocating de jure Taiwan independence, both on the campaign trail and while in office.

As for the people of Taiwan, publicly available data from June 2016 show that only 4.4 percent of Taiwan citizens would prefer to push for independence as soon as possible—far from the level of popular support a government would need to make that its priority. The imminent Taiwan independence narrative

is an alarmist fantasy that serves only to perpetuate greater misunderstanding among Chinese observers of the realities on the ground in Taiwan.

To his credit, Li acknowledges that mainland authorities and scholars are wrong in their assumptions that “money can solve everything.” In saying this, he is referring to their belief that pressuring Taiwan with restricted tourism, diplomatic obstructionism, and other economic and political means will dissuade Taiwan from distancing itself further from China. On this point, he is absolutely right: The people and government in Taiwan are unlikely to cave in and simply sacrifice their long history of successful economic development and democratic governance because Beijing policymakers throw a tantrum and make life economically difficult for their compatriots working in China.

If the People’s Republic of China (PRC) aims to ever win the hearts and minds of the people of Taiwan, its current approach, which has distanced the two sides more than it has brought them together, will

source: Election Study Center, National Chengchi University

Regular polls show that citizens in Taiwan widely prefer to maintain the status-quo relationship with China.

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need an overhaul. Given that the past few decades of cross-strait history reveal quite clearly that the people of Taiwan do not respond favorably to threats from China, the situation today should come as no surprise, especially to academics and policymakers familiar with long-term trends in cross-strait relations.

Beijing’s determination

The second “unforeseen” is that Taiwan underestimates Beijing’s determination regarding unification. Li argues that unification is the Chinese leadership’s “sacred undertaking” and that it will be achieved at any cost. He also asserts that “in essence and in reality, Tsai Ing-wen and the DPP do not understand China and do not understand Chinese civilization.” He invokes Chinese history to demonstrate that Chinese leadership are determined to “complete the reunification of the ancestral country because it is their greatest and most sacred undertaking.” He recalls that Qin Shi Huang (259–210 BC), the first emperor

of China, “unified [geographic areas and people] inside and outside of the Great Wall, north and south of the Yangtze River, and all the way down to the coasts of Fujian and Guangdong.” Emperor Wu of the Han dynasty (156–87 BC) carried on this great undertaking, “fighting for nearly forty years and eliminating the northern ethnic groups to take control of today’s Outer Mongolia, the Hexi Corridor, and Xinjiang” as well as today’s Hainan, asserting that no matter how far the enemies of China resided, they would be killed.

Li also claims that Tibet was incorporated into China seven hundred years ago during the Yuan Dynasty, and that “Taiwan has been Chinese since antiquity.” He reminds his readers that, after the Sui and Tang dynasties, Koxinga (1624–1662), the military leader who ended the Dutch occupation of Taiwan, and Liu Mingchuan (1836–1896), the governor of Taiwan Province under the Qing Dynasty, made great contributions to the island. Throughout these historical analogies, Li repeats that the unifi-

photo: Vmenkov A huge statue of Koxinga stands guard on a hill. Though he was dedicated to the defeat of the Ching dynasty, his legacy has been appropriated by many.

cations of China resulted in “mountains of corpses and rivers of blood” and that the Chinese leadership would always complete its “sacred undertaking,” regardless of the cost.

Yet if the articles demonstrate one thing, it is not that Tsai and the DPP do not understand China or Chinese civilization; it is that the author and likeminded Beijing policymakers do not understand Taiwan, its people, or its democratic system of governance. The suggestion that the people of Taiwan simply follow the whims of their ruling party reeks of a scholar thoroughly indoctrinated in an authoritarian culture. In addition to not understanding Taiwan, it seems that Li does not fully understand the Beijing leadership. It would be a devastating historical miscalculation to say the least if Chinese leaders today opted for the “mountains of corpses, rivers of blood” approach to unification over the patient approach advocated by Deng Xiaoping, who famously stated that if the Chinese nation “cannot be reunified in one hundred years, then it will be reunified in one thousand.”

Moreover, it does not take a military historian to find evidence that military occupations involving violence against the people of the occupied country are often unsustainable over the long term, and Taiwan would be no exception. Although Li is correct in suggesting that Beijing leaders are determined to eventually have Taiwan unify with the mainland, he overlooks or avoids mentioning the many factors that would deter them from completing that “sacred undertaking” by force, without Taiwanese acceptance, or in the near term.

Explosive potential

The third “unforeseen” is that Washington underestimates the explosive nature of the cross-strait situation. Li argues that US policymakers believe that, since Washington could “control [former ROC presidents] Lee Teng-hui and Chen Shui-bian,” it can do

the same with Tsai. He then equates Tsai and influential members of the DPP with Osama bin Laden and “Islamic countries” in general, arguing that they all share the same fearlessness of dying for their cause. If the Beijing leadership is credulous enough to believe

Li’s alarmist message and actually move forward with the aforementioned “mountains of corpses, rivers of blood” policy, he is probably right that the US underestimates the explosiveness of the situation. The government and people of the United States would not expect such extreme belligerence by Beijing or, for that matter, any major actor in the international community today. Such a worst-case scenario seems unlikely in today’s interconnected and interdependent world. Perhaps Li missed some of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s messages during his tenure, particularly the ones about “peaceful development” and a “new model of great power relations”—a far cry from the butchery implicit in those historical analogies.

The CCP’s higher ranks are made up of smart, experienced, and capable policymakers, and most relevant government officials in Washington are well aware of this. Although the PRC’s actions are sometimes viewed by US policymakers as objectionable, there is nevertheless a general understanding that they represent the pursuit of China’s national interests. For those in Washington familiar with Chinese history and the PRC’s approach to international affairs, China’s actions are relatively predictable. The argument that the United States underestimates the explosiveness of cross-strait relations only holds water if one assumes that Beijing is ready to achieve unification by incurring mountains of corpses and

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“Tsai has remained firm in her commitmentsandtakenarelativelyopen, constructive, and centrist approach byremainingsupportiveoftalksbetweenBeijingandTaipei.”


rivers of blood. On the contrary, observers from any country expecting that the PRC will surprise the world by unleashing the powerful capacity of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in a violent, unprecedented surprise military occupation are likely overestimating Beijing’s determination regarding unification and the hypothetical explosiveness of the cross-strait situation.

Alarmist messages

The arguments of Li and like-minded observers regarding the “unforeseen” nature of Taipei’s resolve on Taiwan independence, Beijing’s determination regarding unification, and Washington’s underestimation of the explosiveness of cross-strait relations are based on flawed assumptions and a fundamental misunderstanding of cross-strait and Asia-Pacific regional relations. However, when such alarmist messages spread like wildfire and come to dominate discussions of major issues in international relations, actual factual accuracy may be less important than their

power to influence policymakers and whether or not civilian populations believe them. History has shown time and again that even high-ranking and highly capable policymakers can be credulous enough at times to implement policies with dire consequences, and this is especially true in societies saturated with media-fueled misinformation. Experienced government officials, analysts, and others aware of the importance of regional stability and the nuances of relations between China, Taiwan, and the United States should do their part to ensure that objective assessments of the current context of international relations receive at least as much attention as those seeking to tilt the balance towards confrontation.

Government officials, as well as members of the public in China, Taiwan, and the United States, should hope that, in dealing with such globally significant issues as relations between the three countries, critical thinking and constructive engagement will triumph over the alarmist narratives and fearmongering of high-profile academics, officials, and media commentators. n

photo: Rico Shen Voters celebrate the 2008 election victory of KMT leader Ma Ying-jeou. The people of Taiwan are proud of their hard-won democracy.
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Articles from Strategic Vision, Issue 30