Wednesday, November 5, 2014

China's Korea Problem


In my piece published today by the University of Nottingham's China Policy Institute, I discuss the challenges that China faces in attempting to balance an increasingly complex set of relationships which involve North and South Korea. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Taiwan's Impending Independence Surge

(Photo: Wikicommons)

The fact that the occupation of the Taiwan legislature by student activists earlier this spring was woefully under-reported, is disappointing for a number of reasons. Primarily, the world missed an opportunity to see the changes in social and political identities sweeping across the island nation. These generational changes that are taking place in Taiwan, along with external factors such as China’s treatment of Hong Kong and its increasing bellicosity in its littoral areas, are going to reshape local politics in a way that suggests in the not-too-distant future, there is going to be a powerful new impetus for independence in Taiwan.

(The full article written by Michael Turton  and myself for Ketagalan Media can be accessed here.  

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Missing the Point on Taiwan's Pursuit of Submarines

(Photo: Wikipedia)

Yesterday Lauren Dickey of the Council on Foreign Relations wrote a a piece that advocated against  Taiwan acquiring submarines, as well as the United States assisting in supplying them. While Dickey touches on a number of interesting aspects involving the longstanding-saga behind Taiwan's quest to obtain a modern sub fleet, there were a number of widely accepted notions that have often been passed along as facts regarding this issue.

Dickey says  that "the interest of the Ma Ying-jeou government in developing indigenous submarine capabilities has resurfaced", when in fact Taiwan's interest has remained constant for decades.  A number of House and Senate staff members have told this author that officials from Taiwan have consistently approached them (albeit discreetly) with various proposals outlining scenarios in which the United States could assist Taiwan in its quest to acquire modern submarines--either with American industrial/logistical support or through America's diplomatic maneuvering with a third country that would be willing to partake in such an endeavor. These meetings between Taiwanese officials and Congressional Members and their staff are not a new development.  While Dickey does correctly state that the Bush Administration's Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program was evaluated to have a high cost (over ten billion) leading to political posturing between then President Chen's Administration and the opposition Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), it doesn't necessarily mean that Taiwan's government could not compromise in reaching adequate funding for such a program.  In fact, submarine acquisition is one of the few national security areas that both sides of the political spectrum in Taiwan agree is a necessity.

Dickey goes on to state " can only begin to wonder why the Taiwanese defense establishment isn't looking elsewhere to fulfill its wish list."--Only to answer her own question in the following paragraph, stating that the only option for Taiwan in recent years has been to acquire weapons from the only country that is willing to disregard China's threats (up to a certain point) which has been  the United States.

As I stated earlier, Taiwan is actively looking for a third country to assist in the providing either plans for a submarine design or, less likely, the actual sale of subs to Taiwan directly. Due to constant Chinese pressure,  Taiwan realizes that  cannot simply send a delegation to Germany, Sweden, or Japan requesting a bilateral sale of modern submarines, or it would have undoubtedly done so years ago.

 Taipei is seeking to keep its options open,which  requires innovative thinking, and its desire in acquiring a modern fleet is by no means a recent "ask" by the Taiwanese government. Due to the fact that the U.S. has not produced diesel submarines in well over a half century means that a 3rd country will  have to be involved if any deal is reached. It has been a long-standing request approved by the Bush administration over 10 years ago.  Yet with so many instances involving U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, the submarine question is one remaining in limbo.

From a strategic standpoint, Dickey argues that "any submarines acquired by Taiwan may actually do more harm than good, due to their vulnerabilities to existing Chinese weapons.", citing Professor William Murray's well circulated "Porcupine Theory" in which he states Taiwan would be best served in developing its defense capabilities at the expense of maintaining high ticket items, such as fighter jets and submarines.

While I believe that many of Murray's ideas that Dickey advocates  make a great deal of sense strategically for Taiwan from a defensive point of view, the notion that Taiwan should abandon a lethal asymmetrical platform like modern submarines--a platform that is widely believed to be an PLAN Achilles Heel when it comes countering such platforms---and instead investing the overwhelming bulk of its military assets in preparation for being perpetually pummeled by a Chinese military that would have a seemingly infinite supply of offensive weapons at its disposal--sounds more akin to an Alamo strategy rather than a sound defensive strategy.

I do however, agree with Dickey in that Taiwan should continue to invest in its ASW capabilities in order to monitor PLAN submarine activity.  Yet there is a dilemma if Taiwan were to follow Dickey's (and by extension Murray's) ideas at face value: If Murray is in fact correct in his belief that the majority of Taiwan naval surface fleet would be destroyed at the outset of a China-Taiwan conflict, and that Taiwan's air force would be rendered impotent due to the PLA 2nd Artillery Corps missile salvos that would destroy most, if not all of Taiwan's air strips, there are two questions that need to be answered.  First, how would Taiwan utilize their newly acquired antisubmarine aircraft, and second, even if said aircraft were able to be deployed under combat conditions, of what use would this data be if Taiwan has no platforms in which to counter the Chinese underwater threat?  Surveillance cameras would not hold much value in the deterring potential criminals if they knew that a society had no means of force to counter such actions.

Finally, for Dickey to state that Washington doesn't have the "time nor money" requisite to help Taiwan develop its submarine program, while it has ample time and resources  to strengthen relationships with other long-standing allies (Japan, South Korea, Australia, Singapore, and the Philippines), and cultivating new ones (Vietnam, Malaysia, and Indonesia) is a massive oversimplification of the current situation regarding Taiwan's long standing request of a modern submarine fleet, and the topic deserves a much deeper examination than given by Dickey.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Tempering Expectations...Why a Vietnam-U.S. Strategic Alliance might Not be all its cracked up to be

(Courtesy of Wiki commons) 
In an article featured today in The Diplomat, I questioned the reality of a meaningful security partnership between the United States and Vietnam developing, and what might stand in the way of said partnership taking place. While Patrick Cronin and General Dempsey both make insightful and compelling arguments for doing so, this author is skeptical weather the countries could align their interests enough to make such a partnership viable.

The full article can be accessed here.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Why China and Taiwan are really different (My latest for Ketagalan Media)

(photo credit:

The topic of ethnicity and nationality can be a sensitive topic.  Today I discussed how the Chinese Communist Party perceives them  in both their current social policies within China, as well as how it applies said issues towards Taiwan.  (Special thanks to Ketagalan Media's co-founder Chieh-Ting Yeh for adding some great edits and insight into the article as well).

Full article access can be found here, at Ketagalan Media's excellent site. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Golf and Lightning-The Odd Realm of Sports in North Korea

(Photo from Wiki Stock)

(A brief sample of my article from today's Diplomat): 

Among the adjectives that can be used to describe The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), “dull” is not one that can be easily applied. Many stories that come from the DPRK’s state media are cloaked in mythical overtones (take for instance 
this official DPRK account of the events surrounding the death of former leader Kim Jong-il), while others seek legitimacy in the form of “official studies” done by its government. In 2011, for example, the DPRK released the results of a study that revealed its citizens were residing in the second happiest nation on earth, with China taking the top spot (one guess as to which country placed dead last, in 203rd slot).

(The complete article can be accessed here at The Diplomat. 

Bonus Link!------ Did you know that North Korea recently claimed to have developed a new sports drink? From mushrooms? Somehow I doubt Gatorade is worried about its market share. Read more about it here.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

From the Vault.....

(Photo from Politico)

(I came across this piece that I forgot to publish a few months back, so here you are...) 

 Professor J.M. Norton of China's Foreign Affairs University (CFAU), penned an article for The Diplomat in which he gave his theories as to the sources of US-China strategic mistrust   Within the piece Norton lays out not only what he perceives to be Beijing's perspective on the distrust within the relationship (as well appearing to espouse his own views on the issue as well).  While Norton makes the argument that the dynamics of  American relationships with both Taiwan and Japan are the primary causes of distrust, he does so while misinterpreting American positions on a number of issues, as well as  ignoring actions taken by Beijing that  play a large role in forging distrust between the two nations. 

     Norton states that while "The 1972, 1979 and 1982 joint communiques serve as the cornerstone of U.S.-China relations", they also "paradoxically undermine bilateral ties in two vital areas:  Taiwan and Japan."   Norton, like the PRC, appear to grant documents such as joint communiques and declarations a much higher status than is warranted. As far back as 1982 Assistant Secretary of State John H. Holdridge in his testimony
 before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said that:

"We should keep in mind that what we have here is not a treaty or agreement but a statement of future U.S. policy.  We fully intend to implement this policy, in accordance with our understanding of it." 

     The State Department has also clearly stated that "...non-binding documents exist in many forms, including declarations of intent, joint communique and joint statements (including final acts of conferences), and informal arrangements."  This is important to note because Norton also states that "At the conclusion of the war, the U.S. along with other powers in the Cairo, Potsdam and Yalta agreements returned Taiwan to China".  I would counter this by making two points.  First, these declarations did not state a transfer of sovereignty of Taiwan--they merely called for Japan to cease its sovereignty over the island that it held since the Treaty of Shimonoseki in 1895--and did not specify what the status of Taiwan was to become.  Secondly, these declarations only signaled intent, and were not treaties of legally binding character.

     Norton later goes into the 1982 joint communique stating that "The Chinese leadership has been and continues to be confused by some sales and discussions of proposed sales of weapons with offensive capabilities, which reach as far back as 1992 when the U.S. sold F-16 A/B fighters to Taiwan.  While it is true that a number of weapon platforms sold by the US to Taiwan could be used for offensive purposes, it is often in the eyes of the beholder of what constitutes an "offensive" weapon, as well as taking common sense into account of what a military would realistically use a weapon for.  The leadership is well aware of why Taiwan purchases such hardware, and know that they need not fear the day where ROCAF F-16's are flying off the coast of Fujian Province attempting to establish air superiority in a prelude to a Taiwanese military offensive.  While Norton emphasizes Beijing's stance that Washington has not fully adhered to the principles of the joint communiques, he only in passing mentions Beijing's continued build up of its missile arsenal along its coast---nearly all of which are directed at Taiwan--and attempts to portray the PRC as an innocent peacemaker who wishes merely to have a dance with the United States, only to see itself alone on the dance floor without any rational reason why. 

     Norton then moves on to the next bone of contention---the U.S.-Japan relationship, where he looks to frame Beijing's perception of the United States enabling Japan's ambition of reawakening it's dreams of a Pacific Empire:

"Right now the Chinese leadership sees the U.S. as the main driver of Japan's resurgence and as lacking the political will to restrain an increasingly assertive Japan.  Further, the current Japanese leadership's growing assertiveness takes place in the context of growing nationalism with an imperial twist." 

     Norton states that these "American motives" violate the spirit of the previous communiques, while not specifying what exactly constitutes Japanese assertiveness.  Japan, for its part, has not made any new territorial claims in recent years that could be construed as "growing assertiveness", only it has made clear to other potential claimants that its long claimed territories of the Senkaku islands, as well as the Exclusive Economic Zone that falls within in it, are under the jurisdiction of Japan, an area in which the United States recently clearly clarified
.  Norton would do well to look towards Chinese actions in the East Asian region to find the source of many areas of contention in the region. One area that concerns China,  ironically, is Japan's renewed commitment towards modernizing its military capabilities, is due primarily  to Chinese actions and aggressive behavior--not from American prodding.

 Chinese military action in the Scarborough Shoal
The Second Thomas Shoal , increased rhetoric towards Vietnam regarding territorial disputes, and of course the ongoing Senkaku island disputes have alarmed not only Japan, but other nations in the region as well who are now looking  to modernizing their respective military capabilities  Finally, Norton says that the Chinese leadership believes that "American leadership has ambitious regional designs that include a major role for Japan.  And for obvious reasons this undercuts commitments made in the 1972 and 1978 communiques."   Once again China (and Norton?) make the mistake of placing American joint communiques with China on the same level as an American security treaty with Japan, which they are not.  Yet China is correct in assuming that the United States has ambitious regional designs in regards to Eastern Asia---as the United States has played the role of primary peacekeeper in the region since the end of the Second World War, and under such an arrangement has created an atmosphere of stability in the region in which many countries have seen their economies flourish.  The United States maintains core interests in the areas of trade and security in the region, and it would be illogical to not include a long time security partner in Japan from such interests--China fails to see that their policies are the root cause of many issues in the region--not American relationships with Taiwan and Japan, and J.M. Norton does Beijing no favors in glossing over what could be deemed fairly obvious.