Interview

South China Sea & Taiwan
South China Sea & Taiwan
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May 2, 2020

SOUTH CHINA SEA

1. SOUTH CHINA SEA: China's Claims

2. SOUTH CHINA SEA: China's Energy Intimidation

TAIWAN

1. TAIWAN: China Ramps Up Intimidation

2. TAIWAN: Is Now the Time for China to Invade?

3. TAIWAN: Could China Conquer Taiwan?

4. TAIWAN: Will the U.S. Defend Taiwan?

SOUTH CHINA SEA

1. SOUTH CHINA SEA: China's Claims

For more on China's claims, read the 501- page ruling, 'IN THE MATTER OF THE SOUTH CHINA SEA ARBITRATION.'

'It would not be accurate to say China claims the entire South China Sea as its sovereign territory because the Chinese are unclear about what exactly their claim is and what it is based on.'

Malcolm Riddell: ‘How do the Chinese justify their claims in the South China Sea?’

Bonnie Glaser: ‘The Chinese have never really made clear - I would say they are deliberately ambiguous - about what their claims are.’

  • ‘So it would not be accurate to say China claims the entire South China Sea as its sovereign territory because the Chinese are unclear about what exactly their claim is and what it is based on.'
  • 'And that applies to the Nine-Dash-Line (above) that China uses to assert sovereignty.’

‘The Chinese have said the South China Sea is historically theirs, based on their discovery of the islands, their naming of the islands, they're using of the islands.’

  • ‘The Chinese have asserted that because they were there first, that they have rights to fish or rights to energy, regardless where those take place in the South China sea.’

‘But the Philippines brought a suit against China disputing its claims.’

  • ‘And a July 2016 ruling by an arbitral tribunal, formed under the Convention on the Law of the Sea, found in favor of the Philippines; China rejected the ruling.’

‘Among other things, the tribunal found.’

  • ‘that China's “Nine-Dash Line” is invalid.’
  • ‘that historic rights - in this particular instance in the Spratlys - is not the basis for a legal claim.’
  • ‘that China’s assertion of a 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone around these land features because they were islands is invalid.’

'So, the most China can claim now is in accordance with this ruling, even though it rejected it.’

  • ‘The Chinese are trying to come up with a claim of 12 nautical miles of exclusive territorial sea around the islands - not a blatant violation.’
  • ‘The United States challenges even these claims by sailing inside and through them.’

2. SOUTH CHINA SEA: China's Energy Intimidation

from the ASIA MARITIME TRANSPARENCY INITIATIVE, CSIS

‘When any of these countries has tried to survey for oil or drill for oil, China has very quickly responded and intimidated them from doing so.’

Malcolm Riddell: ‘What is China’s position on oil & gas exploration and drilling in the South China Sea?’

Bonnie Glaser: ‘China considers the South China sea to be a core interest.’

  • ‘We have seen over the last few years that China is pursuing its objective of gaining control over activities in the South China sea.’

‘In most instances, the Chinese are relying on paramilitary forces and maritime militia really to advance their administrative control and to prevent other countries - other claimants in the region – from developing new oil and gas sources.’

  • ‘The countries that are really the targets are the Philippines, Malaysia, and Vietnam.’

‘When any of these countries has tried to survey for oil or drill for oil, China has very quickly responded and intimidated them from doing so.’

  • ‘This is really to signal that China is no longer going to tolerate anything other than joint development.’
  • ‘If a country wants to survey for oil or drill, it's going to have to do so jointly with a state-run Chinese company.’

Malcolm: ‘How does China intimidate these countries?’

Bonnie: ‘Well, for example, in the last just a couple of months we’ve yet another episode of China's intimidation taking place off the coast of Malaysia.’

  • ‘Here’s what is happening.’

‘In December, a Malaysian state-run energy company contracted a vessel to explore two areas in the South China Sea, off the Malaysian coast, where has an extended continental shelf claim.‘

  • ‘This is in an area that is claimed not only by Malaysia but also by China and Vietnam. Both China of those countries sent ships.’

‘The Chinese sent a survey ship, the Hai Yang Di Zhi 8.’

  • ‘This ship is well-known.’
  • ‘Last year, it was operating last year off the coast of Vietnam, surveying inside of Vietnam's exclusive economic zone, because China was angry about drilling operations that were going on off the coast of Vanguard Bank.’

‘The United States has sent two Navy ships over the past week to these waters near Malaysia.’

  • ‘There is a report that these ships are operating within 50 nautical miles of the Malaysian ship that's there.’

‘The United States doesn't take a position on sovereignty in the South China sea in any of these sovereignty disputes – other than supporting the arbitral tribunal’s ruling in favor of the Philippines again China.’

  • ‘But this is a rare moment where the United States has signaled that it is concerned about Chinese bullying.’
  • ‘We saw once in 2014, the United States had sent a reconnaissance plane, a PA to overfly Second Thomas Shoal when the Chinese were intimidating the Philippines.’
  • ‘Thatwas a very far over a land feature, not a Navy ship close by.’

TAIWAN

1. TAIWAN: China Ramps Up Intimidation

‘Ever since President Tsai Ing-wen was reelected in Taiwan in January, we have seen Beijing ramp up pressure on Taiwan both diplomatically and militarily.’

Malcolm Riddell: ‘What are you seeing in Taiwan cross-strait relations these days?’

Bonnie Glaser: ‘Ever since President Tsai Ing-wen was reelected in Taiwan in January, we have seen Beijing ramp up pressure on Taiwan both diplomatically and militarily.’

‘On the diplomatic side, Taiwan has done a pretty good job of combating COVID-19 and has done so with technology and without shutting down schools or businesses – and is using this to promote itself.’

  • ‘That has led Beijing to be quite concerned about international support for Taiwan to rejoin the World Health Assembly, where it used to be an observer, and about international support expanding more broadly.’
  • ‘Within China, I expect the government is blocking information about Taiwan success - it doesn’t want people in China to see that a Chinese-organized society and democratic polity like Taiwan has been successful.’

‘On the military side, we are seeing a lot more Chinese military exercises against Taiwan.'

  • ‘New things, like the first ever 36-hour endurance nighttime exercise held by the PLA air force.’
  • ‘And large numbers of Chinese aircraft are crossing the centerline in the Taiwan Strait.
  • ‘All in all, a much higher volume and tempo of activities than we had seen prior to the election.'

2. TAIWAN: Is Now the Time for China to Invade?

‘I do not believe that China is going to seize U.S. distraction from the pandemic to invade Taiwan.’

Malcolm Riddell: ‘With the United States and the world distracted by the pandemic, do you see a potential for China to take advantage of to ramp up intimidation on Taiwan or even invade?’

Bonnie Glaser: ‘The U.S. military is mindful of the fact that the PLA might see that its preparedness is not quite what it usually is, given the large number of infections that we've seen in the U.S. military.’

  • ‘And there has been some signaling going on to the PLA to not take advantage of this situation and not miscalculate.’

‘One example:There have been two U.S. Navy transits through the Taiwan Strait already this month [April] - usually they're held once a month.’

  • ‘The Trump administration has made these public – in contrast, the Obama administration did not.’
  • ‘We also saw the B-52 bomber flights after some of the rather provocative Chinese military exercises that were taking place earlier this month.’

‘I do not believe that China is going to seize this opportunity to invade Taiwan.’

  • ‘The risks to China remain quite high, and there is no guarantee that the PLA will succeed.'
  • ‘Also Xi Jinping is consumed with domestic challenges.’

‘That said, I do think that China sees an opportunity to intimidate Taiwan more now - which is what they are doing.’

  • ‘We also see examples of this in Hong Kong and in the South China Sea.’
  • ‘So China’s bullying and intimidation are not limited to Taiwan.’

3. TAIWAN: Could China Conquer Taiwan?

'It's very hard to take over an island - that's of course what Taiwan is.’

Malcolm Riddell: ‘It was conventional wisdom for a great deal of my life, but China didn't possess the capabilities even if it had the will to retake Taiwan. What do you think now?’

Bonnie Glaser: ‘If you just look at the military balance between China and Taiwan, there is no doubt that China has military superiority.’

  • ‘But it's very hard to take over an island - that's of course what most of Taiwan is.’
  • ‘The largest island China could seize is Jinmen or Matsu. It might go after Taiping Island, which is the one land feature that Taiwan occupies in the South China Sea.’
  • ‘But taking over the island of Taiwan itself would be difficult for China.’

‘They are making progress but are still lagging behind in some capabilities.’

  • ‘In amphibious landing capabilities they're definitely catching up - for a while it wasn't a PLA priority, but now it is.’  
  • ‘China would be able to prevent Taiwan from dominating the airspace - it can probably take out Taiwan's fighter fleet. But if Taiwan continues to build its capabilities, for example, in numbers of surface-to-air missiles, it could prevent China from gaining that military superiority in the airspace.’
  • ‘China as good anti-submarine warfare capabilities, which would be against the United States, but also Taiwan.’

‘But even if the Chinese were able to land on the beach and somehow establish control, what would it take to control the entire island? Would there be an insurgency?’

  • ‘Maybe we need to draw some lessons from the protests in Hong Kong.’

‘The young people in Hong Kong are willing to stand up for their freedom. They've been willing to fight in the streets.’

  • ‘Some people think that the young people in Taiwan would not. I'm not so sure.’

‘The young people in Taiwan have grown up in a free society (which of course has only existed since really around 1990).’

  • ‘I think that maybe people – young and old - would fight in order to preserve it.’

4. TAIWAN: Will the U.S. Defend Taiwan?

‘That is my fervent hope.’

Malcolm Riddell: ‘If China did invade Taiwan, what would the U.S. do?’

Bonnie Glaser: ‘There are several factors that that might precipitate a U.S. intervention.’

  • ‘But we'd have to consider how this conflict started.’

‘If it were unprovoked and the Chinese just out of the blue decided we're impatient, we want to take over Taiwan, now is the time.’

  • ‘Yes, I think that the United States would come to Taiwan.’  
  • ‘It becomes a little bit more complicated if Taiwan has taken an action that provoked Beijing - perhaps an action that the United States even discouraged Taiwan from taking.’

‘The other factor is the American public's attitudes towards China - we don't know if Americans would really support the us coming to the defense of Taiwan.’

  • ‘In the past, public opinion polls have not shown that a vast majority of Americans would support it.’
  • ‘But today, we can look at the most recent poll this week showing that 66% of Americans now have a negative view of China.’
  • ‘Now, maybe that is to some extent specific to the COVID-19 So we'll have to see if that holds.’  

‘The strongest advocate of coming to Taiwan's defense is going to be the U.S. Congress.’

  • ‘And they matter.’

‘So I'm of the view that - given the trajectory of American attitudes towards China, and if Taiwan continues to elect leaders, like its current president, who are unprovocative and are just trying to preserve the status quo and Taiwan's autonomy - it is very likely that the U.S. government, Congress, and  American people would support intervention on Taiwan's behalf if China attacked.’

Malcolm Riddell: ‘That is my fervent hope.’

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