This teleforum will provide a wide-ranging discussion on the recent developments in the China-Taiwan relationship. It will explore the role that the United States may have in light of Taiwan Relations Act obligations and regional stability to provide both assurance and support to our ally, Taiwan, while - at the same time - examining concerns over the range of Chinese reactions.
Dr. June Teufel Dreyer, Professor of Political Science, University of Miami, Coral Gables
Prof. Julian Ku, Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, Faculty Director of International Programs, and Maurice A. Deane Distinguished Professor of Constitutional Law, Maurice A. Deane School of Law at Hofstra University
Moderator: Saul Newsome, Attorney, Newsome International Law, LLC
Teleforum calls are open to all dues paying members of the Federalist Society. To become a member, sign up on our website. As a member, you should receive email announcements of upcoming Teleforum calls which contain the conference call phone number. If you are not receiving those email announcements, please contact us at 202-822-8138.
Dean Reuter: Welcome to Teleforum, a podcast of The Federalist Society's Practice Groups. I’m Dean Reuter, Vice President, General Counsel, and Director of Practice Groups at The Federalist Society. For exclusive access to live recordings of practice group teleforum calls, become a Federalist Society member today at www.fedsoc.org.
Greg Walsh: Welcome to The Federalist Society's teleforum conference call. This afternoon's topic is titled “China-Taiwan Relations and International Law in a Post-COVID World.” My name is Greg Walsh, and I am Assistant Director of Practice Groups at The Federalist Society. As always, please note that all expressions of opinion are those of the experts on today's call.
Today, we are fortunate to have with us Professor June Teufel Dreyer, Professor of Political Science at the University of Miami, Coral Gables; Professor Julian Ku, the Maurice A. Deane Distinguished Professor of Constitutional Law at Hofstra University; and our moderator, Mr. Saul Newsome, Attorney at Newsome International Law. After our speakers give their opening remarks, we will then go to audience Q&A. Thank you all for sharing with us today. Mr. Newsome, the floor is yours.
Saul Newsome: Great. Good afternoon. Thank you, everyone, for calling in for today’s teleforum, and thank you for our distinguished panelists for coming to discuss what is a pressing topic, both in U.S. domestic policy and U.S. foreign global policy. We will be discussing China and Taiwan relations, and how the interaction between two governments will be affecting both foreign policy and domestic policy. As you know, China is in the news every day dealing with the outbreak of COVID-19 as well as its interactions and military operations close to and around Taiwan.
And we have two experts to discuss these topics who have studied these fields for decades. I begin with Dr. Dreyer, who is a professor of political science at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida. She teaches courses on China, U.S. defense policy, and international relations. Professor Dreyer has lectured and taught National Security Agency analysts. She has consulted with National Geographic and Centra Technology. She is a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute and a member of the International Institute for Strategic Studies. She is also former Commissioner of the United States-China Economic and Security Review Commission.
We also have Professor Julian Ku, the Senior Associate Dean of Academic Affairs, Faculty Director of International Programs, and Deane Distinguished Professor of Constitutional Law at the Deane School of Law at Hofstra University. Professor Ku’s primary research interest is the relationship between international law to constitutional law, particularly that of the United States. But he has also conducted academic research on a wide range of topics, including international dispute resolution, international criminal law, and China’s relationship with international law. He teaches courses on U.S. constitutional law, U.S. foreign affairs, transnational law, and international trade law. Since 2012, he has served as Faculty Director of International Programs overseeing Hofstra University’s study abroad.
Dr. Dreyer, as we think about China and Taiwan, we’ve seen a lot of the news in the past quarter related to military operations and the Bashi Channel and Miyako Strait. We’ve also seen contrasting approaches to the coronavirus and finger pointing. And so I thought maybe you might begin by contextualizing what is the relationship right now between China and Taiwan, and what has been going on? Are tensions raising?
Dr. June Dreyer: Tensions rise and fall regularly. And I am amazed at some of the things I see in the media. There is a highly reputable paper called Nikkei Asian Review, published in Tokyo. And about two weeks ago, they had a lengthy article by someone in Singapore, and he was saying that the relations between the two have been civility in the midst of the coronavirus crisis.
And I thought, really? Where are you getting that from? Because a couple of days later, the Chinese sailed an aircraft carrier battle group, helmed by the Liaoning, and were two destroyers and two frigates and a supply ship east of the Taiwan coast. And this was particularly worrisome in Taiwan because it so happens that all four of the United States aircraft carriers that are normally on station in the Indo-Pacific region were quarantined in different ports, so there’d be nobody there to help.
Now at the same time, however, we do have airplanes. And there was a U.S. EP-3 reconnaissance plane that flew over the Bashi Channel south of Taiwan. And so that was -- at least we’re looking out for them if they feel threatened. And this was, in fact, the seventh time that they flew near Taiwan in recent weeks. So we are attempting to keep things cool in this very tense time.
Oh, another thing, and it was a week earlier. The USS Barry, which is a destroyer, sailed through the Taiwan Strait, allegedly tailed by a Chinese missile frigate. But again, it did nothing. So this doesn’t look like civility to me. And I would call the relationship wary and extremely cautious. And naturally, that was before the Chinese made a move, actually two moves this past weekend, one of which being they named a series of islands — and I will leave this for Professor Ku since this is his area of expertise — in what they said was a further assertion of their sovereignty over the South China Sea.
And something I’d like to hear Professor Ku’s opinion of is how this squares with the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s ruling a few years ago that there’s no basis in international law for China’s nine-dash line. So that’s another consideration. So I would say that in terms of China-Taiwan relations, there are, without any shots being fired and without many nasty words going back and forth, they are fairly tense at the moment.
Now, a lot of other things are going on as well. It seems pretty clear that the United States is signaling to Taiwan that it has Taiwan’s back. But when China is determined to take advantage of a situation, as it must be right now, well, the world seems mesmerized by the coronavirus crisis. They have moved aggressively. And I mentioned the naming of the islands as a further assertion of sovereignty over a place that many countries don’t believe China has sovereignty over. Another one is arresting all these Hong Kong dissidents months after the demonstrations have calmed down. So that doesn’t look good either. And it seems to me that they mean to use -- the Chinese authorities mean to use the coronavirus pandemic to further their agenda. And that doesn’t look good for us.
Now in other aspects, I think Taiwan is looking very good indeed. It has gained a lot of international praise for its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which you would expect would be much worse in Taiwan, given the number of people who go back and forth between there and the mainland, including Wuhan. And Tsai, in fact, has gained lot of prestige among her own people, not just internationally. So that’s a sign to the good if you favor Taiwan’s continued independence.
And at the same time, there have been more nations willing to stand up to Taiwan. Well, that has recently happened in the Czech Republic where the ambassador to China has really stepped out of line and the Czech president wrote to the Chinese foreign ministry demanding that he be recalled. Now, he has not been recalled, but the interesting thing is that the Czech foreign ministry would ask for something like that. So that is, again, a good point.
Sweden is on the outs with China because of a Swedish citizen who happens to be ethnically Chinese being literally kidnapped off a train and has recently received a lengthy prison sentence. And the Chinese ambassador to Stockholm has also been very assertive in ways that the Swedish government does not like, in fact threatening severe consequences. So this -- I think China is doing a lot to hurt it’s own image in this period by acts that are really quite hostile and are alienating countries that were not exactly on its side but certainly willing to be very friendly before this started.
And I think Taiwan has also gained a lot internationally through other acts such as passing this same-sex marriage law, the first country in Asia to do so. It’s also become a very inclusive society. The government spokesman is a member of the Austronesian minority. And let’s see, I believe the last time I looked, something like 47 out of 113 of Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan members are women, and that is about 42 percent. And so Taiwan gains in many ways, in civil liberties, in its ability to control the virus, and just in its democratic and free -- the freedoms it’s willing to give to its members.
And I also see that I have used up my 11 minutes, so I will leave time for Professor Ku. And I would really love to hear your opinion on this latest action in Hong Kong. Thank you.
Saul Newsome: Great. That’s wonderful context. Thank you. It’s interesting, General McMaster, former National Security Advisor to the U.S., wrote in this month’s Atlantic journal that one reason Taiwan is seen as such a threat to the People’s Republic is because it is a small-scale yet powerful example of successful political and economic system that is free and open rather than the autocratic and closed system of China.
Professor Ku, could you perhaps give us some context as to what the U.S.’s stance towards China and Taiwan are, and maybe update us as to the recent TAIPEI Act and how it stands, and how it maybe changes U.S. policy in relations to the Taiwan Relations Act and the Taiwan Travel Act?
Prof. Julian Ku: Okay, great. And thank you so much for having me. And I’m really honored to be in the same teleforum with Professor Dreyer, who is a real expert on all these matters. Let me just focus on what I know best, which is some of the legal aspects of how the law, international and domestic, impacts the U.S.-Taiwan and the U.S.-China relationship. It’s fascinating to me because it’s really complicated from a legal perspective. And so I’ll need to start with -- and I’ll go through some of the issues that you suggested.
So just to make sure that we’re all -- from a legal perspective, what’s interesting and what’s always been confusing for a lot of people who don’t study the U.S.-Taiwan relationship is that Taiwan is a complicated -- it’s not recognized as a separate government by the United States. The United States has sort of unofficial relations, nonofficial legal relationship with the government in Taiwan.
And this is the result of the decision of 1979 to resume normal diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China, which today we call the Chinese government, on the mainland. And at the same time, a condition of having relations with China was essentially to derecognize Taiwan. And as China and Taiwan -- Taiwan was for some time part of China and certainly claimed by the government in China as part of China. And so therefore, the government in China has always made an effort to make sure that none of the countries that are having relations with it will also have official relations with Taiwan as a separate entity. They want everyone to treat Taiwan as a part of China, even if they don’t officially control it.
So here’s where the law becomes a big part of it because the law -- even if they don’t actually run Taiwan, they want everyone — this is the Chinese government and the mainland — they want everyone including the United States to treat Taiwan unofficially, to not treat it as a separate country. And so this is the condition of having relations with China, and that was a decision the United States made back in 1979.
And to sort of cushion the blow though, and not to just leave Taiwan out in the cold, Congress came in with something called the Taiwan Relations Act, which essentially creates a legal framework under U.S. law requiring and pushing the U.S. government to make sure that it provides essentially the ability to support Taiwan’s ability to defend itself and to adopt as a policy of the United States that it would oppose any coercion by China that would force Taiwan to reunify with it or to unify with it by force or through some sort of coercion. And so at the same time, it made clear that it does not treat Taiwan as a separate country. It just left Taiwan in this kind of gray zone where it’s not really a separate country, but it has all these relations and economic and cultural relations with the United States as if it was a separate country.
And so that system has been working relatively well the last 40 years in the sense that Taiwan has been able to go its own way, and it’s really reformed to become the kind of liberal democracy that I think everyone in the United States, anyway, would admire and value and wish had happened in China. And it has maintained its independence as a practical matter, although not legally, from China.
And what the dynamic has always been is the U.S. executive always wants to work with China and cooperate on various things, but Taiwan’s always a problem. Congress has always, within the U.S. system, been more supportive of Taiwan and has continued to pass various laws to try to bolster the U.S.-Taiwan relationship. And this dynamic within U.S. law of Congress looking out for Taiwan, and the State Department and the Executive Branch, depending on the administration, of being a little bit cold, or hot and cold on Taiwan because a lot of it’s like the better relations are with China, the colder they’re going to go with Taiwan to some degree, and vice versa. The worse relations with China, the better the relationship with Taiwan often is.
But the law provides some stability, including the laws requiring the United States to continue to sell weapons to Taiwan to allow it to defend itself, although the timing of that is up to each administration. And the U.S. has done that, although it’s continued to refute a lot of Chinese protests as it continues to do that.
And so that’s really the dynamic that’s been going on in the last 40 years. And it’s been tough because Taiwan has, as it’s become more democratic and it’s become -- another generation has come and gone where they no longer have any connection to China, the idea of being separate from and independent in their own country has really gained force, I think, within Taiwan. And as a democracy, it’s hard to tell the people you can’t actually vote for the things that you want. And there’s a lot of support in Taiwan just for declaring independence and saying they’re separate from China. And as relations between Taiwan and China have gotten worse, there’s even more sentiment, I think, in there.
And then again, as the relationship with China has gotten worse between the U.S. and China, Congress has swooped in to provide more support for Taiwan. So I think you mentioned there’s the TAIPEI Act, which was enacted just this past fall, but prior to that, another series of laws, one called the Taiwan Travel Act, which pushed the U.S. government to send -- to have more direct government-to-government official relations with Taiwan. And so all of these things can be seen as efforts by Congress to try to supervise the President and the Executive Branch and try to force it to make sure that it protects Taiwan or improves relations with Taiwan.
And this what’s the interesting legal point from my perspective because we have here, as you know from all the lawyers out there, the Executive Branch has the primary dominant responsibility of foreign affairs, and so it’s very hard for the Congress to actually force the Executive Branch to do anything without violating the Constitution. So all these laws typically will declare a policy, but they don’t have strict enforcement mechanisms, although they’re very important for shaping the overall Executive Branch policy.
And so the TAIPEI Act of 2019 is another example of that where it really states that the U.S. policy is going to be to support Taiwan, to support Taiwan’s membership, for instance, in international organizations as much as possible. But it can’t really require the U.S. government to do that because that’s and Executive Branch prerogative. But it can really tell them that this is what Congress wants them to do.
I’ll just mention even the TAIPEI Act of 2019 was careful. It says it’s the policy of the United States to advocate as appropriate Taiwan’s membership in all international organizations in which statehood is not a requirement, and for Taiwan to be granted observer status in other appropriate international organizations. It is still official U.S. policy that Taiwan will not be treated as a separate government, as a separate state, even though there is increasing sentiment, I think, in Congress to actually go ahead and recognize it.
And that’s where this legal dilemma pops up. Taiwan is not recognized. There’s no direct official diplomatic relations with very many countries in the world at all. It’s really been cut off as China has become more powerful. As a legal matter, Taiwan’s status has become shrunk to almost nothing on the international legal front.
And even the United States is not in a position, or it’s not the policy of the United States to say, “We want Taiwan to be treated as a state and as a member.” At best, it would argue, for instance, in the World Health Organization, Taiwan should be granted observer status. And again, this is a longstanding U.S. policy because the deal with China back in 1979 is if you want relations with China, you can’t recognize Taiwan as a separate independent state.
Now, as relations with China have gotten worse and worse and worse, the more support for Taiwan has increased. And I think we see there’s more support for providing more overt military support for Taiwan. There’s a lot of friendly voices in the Trump administration. And I think that there’s a lot of concern that Taiwan is vulnerable now as the U.S. is distracted with the virus. So I think this is a very critical time.
I agree completely with Professor Dreyer that there’s no reason to think relations between Taiwan and China are getting better. If anything, they’re getting worse. The relations between Taiwan and the United States are getting better, in part because of these political dynamics in Congress I discussed. And so I think that creates a better and important thing for us to focus on is to make sure we clarify what the U.S. policy toward Taiwan should be and how much we should support Taiwan.
Now, I just want to mention one last thing before I break with respect to the South China Sea. The interesting thing about that is that this is a great example of where China has become much more aggressive in making claims. And it’s really expanded its administrative claims that these are symbolic, but important symbols. This is now part of this district. We will administer all these islands as part of this district. And Vietnam has protested aggressively against it because it is inconsistent with the international treaty that China has signed and, with the arbitration, should be an agreement that China is bound by.
And this further makes China seem very like a rogue regime, or closer to one, in the eyes of other countries, not just the United States. Taiwan, interestingly, has historically had the same claims as China does in the South China Sea because Taiwan represented the historic Republic of China government. What’s interesting to me about Taiwan is it slowly backed away from those claims, even though it does have claims to a lot of the same areas that China does. And so there’s -- this will be another area to see whether Taiwan continues to back down from its claims in the South China Sea as China takes more heat for what it’s been doing in the South China Sea.
So I think it’s very complicated, but I think it’s worth keeping in mind that the U.S.-Taiwan relationship is really at an important turning point now, especially as relations with China get really bad and we think about what the right way to proceed now in this really dangerous situation, but important situation, the three-way relationship between the U.S., Taiwan, and China. That’s all I want to say right now about the U.S., Taiwan, and China relationship.
Saul Newsome: Perfect. Thank you so much for the additional context --
Dr. June Dreyer: -- If I could just --
Saul Newsome: -- Sorry, go ahead.
Dr. June Dreyer: If I could just add, I think in a way, it ought to be considered a quadrangle rather than a triangle because Japan has a terribly, terribly important stake here. If Taiwan were to be absorbed into the People’s Republic of China, this would put the territorial waters of China just smack up against Japan. The southernmost Japanese island, apart from Okinotorishima, is right within -- on a clear day, I am told, you can see Japan from that island. And the Japanese really, really, really don’t want Chinese ships going through there, given the relatively prickly relationship historically between those two countries. And the Japanese have been among the most vocal, saying to us quietly, “You’ve got to support Taiwan. You’ve got to support Taiwan.”
And the Chinese government is aware of this, and every so often, they hint that they think that Japan really wants to reclaim Taiwan. Taiwan was a colony of Japan for 50 years until the end of World War II, and so they’re extremely sensitive to any contact between Japan and Taiwan, which they’ve been getting quite a bit of lately. Prime Minister Abe thanked President Tsai of Taiwan for sending him a tweet of support in the coronavirus, and the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs actually complained that Abe shouldn’t have done that. As Professor Ku said, they’re essentially trying to erase Taiwan.
Saul Newsome: Very interesting. And that brings to light an additional context which is how other nations -- you spoke about how some other nations are dealing with or are viewing Taiwan either positively or negatively vis-à-vis China. Are there any other nations that are supporting Taiwan’s defense efforts? I know that in 2016, President-Elect Trump had actually taken a call from the President of Taiwan, the first time that that had happened since 1979. I wondered what other nations’ posture has been vis-à-vis Taiwan and perhaps even from a defense readiness perspective?
Dr. June Dreyer: Who would you like to answer that one?
Saul Newsome: I’m sorry. I directed that to you, Dr. Dreyer, but if that’s better directed to Professor Ku…
Prof. Julian Ku: I’ll let her go first if that’s okay.
Dr. June Dreyer: Okay. It seems to me that the nation with the most obvious stake in helping Taiwan and also the most expertise in helping Taiwan would be Japan. And I know from my own experience, I was in Taiwan in 1979 and just happened to be invited to a social gathering. And there I met -- I was just walking around the room introducing myself and saying hello to people. And there were not one but several retired Japanese admirals there. And somebody from Taiwan told me that one of them had arranged for him to tour one of the Ticonderoga-class American ships. So I know that there was interaction there.
And we know that Taiwan would like to have a submarine. The Japanese -- an updated submarine. Pardon me. They do have submarines. But they had been unable to get one because what they want is a conventionally powered submarine, not a nuclear powered submarine. And the United States does not make conventionally powered submarines, but the Japanese do. And they make a very good one. And Japan is not about to cause a huge ruckus with China over selling a submarine, but there could certainly be an opportunity for Kawasaki Heavy Industries, which makes most of the component parts, to exchange, quote, unquote, “technicians” with Taiwan and get some expertise across that way.
The other countries that have been willing to defy China over Taiwan include the Czech Republic. And recently, the Mayor of Prague actually broke sister city relations with Beijing because a number of the Czech Parliament wanted to visit Taiwan, and the Chinese government said, “No, you can’t do that. We won’t allow it.” And he said, “You’re not telling us what to do.” And I have mentioned that the Czech Prime Minister has asked the Chinese Foreign Ministry to withdraw its ambassador because he’s been so rude. But I don’t see any actual defense relationship there.
I think the only one besides the United States that could really help Taiwan with weapons is the Japanese, and they are going to do it very, very quietly. It is not that they don’t see the need for it. But to the extent that the Japanese economy has done well in the last, I would say, six or seven years, it’s been because of trade with China, and they don’t want to jeopardize that.
Prof. Julian Ku: Right. I would just add that I agree with, of course, everything that Dr. Dreyer says. The key player here is Japan. I just recently finished a paper on the legal aspects of Japan relations with Taiwan on the defense side because one of the interesting problems is that if there was ever a conflict with Taiwan, a lot of the U.S. forces that would be involved in defending Taiwan would be based in Japan, potentially. And so there’s a lot of -- there’s some uncertainty as to what degree Japan could help support the United States forces, even if the Japanese forces were not directly involved.
And under the Japanese Constitution, the most likely interpretation is that Japan could not do anything outside its territorial waters. They cannot be involved in any foreign conflicts. And that might also include supporting another country in defending -- in a foreign conflict. And so it’s a very dicey situation.
Taiwan is vulnerable because it really only has one effective military protector that will provide its weapons, and that is the United States. And even the United States is under a lot of pressure not to do so. The other countries have done so in the past, but they always -- as China’s economic power has gotten larger and larger, the payoffs for the French company or the Japanese company or Japanese government to defy China, the cost of defying China is just so much higher than it was that it’s just harder and harder for Taiwan to get anything other than from the United States. So I think this is a big vulnerability for Taiwan.
Dr. June Dreyer: It’s absolutely a big vulnerability, but I would just add that as part of the mutual security treaty, Japan has pledged, pledged, to the United States that it will help defend the surrounding territorial waters, the shuhen jitai, and it’s going to be awfully hard for the Japanese to get around that one. And the Constitution is exactly as you say. But the Constitution has been, under Abe, progressively interpreted and reinterpreted, so an argument could be made, and I’m sure in time of conflict would be made, that Japan does have an obligation to help the United States, Article Nine of the Constitution notwithstanding.
Now, whether it would work is another issue. But I’m just saying the argument would be made. And there is enough legislation on that to keep you folks with law degrees very busy for quite a period of time.
Prof. Julian Ku: Right. It’s a really -- definitely, it’s a legal conundrum because I just had to do this paper, and I think you’re right. There are ways out of it, but everything that creates an obstacle to action in a time of crisis is important. And so I think there’s a very legitimate legal argument in the United States, even, but also in Japan that it would be legally impermissible for Japan to support the United States in such a conflict. And that even if that could be overcome, it’s the type of thing that would make it harder for Japan to act, and it’s the type of thing that therefore makes Taiwan more vulnerable. But I totally agree with that. Some of it could be overcome with enough lawyering.
Saul Newsome: Professor Ku, speaking to the legal aspects of things, shifting away from what may be the constitutional constraints, it seems though, politically, that the issue of Taiwan, while it may be a political tool, a partisan tool from time to time, by and large, both parties are pretty much agreed on their stance in support of the Taiwanese support legislation, correct? Correct me if I’m wrong, but as I recall, there was broad support.
Prof. Julian Ku: That’s right. What’s remarkable about the Taiwan Travel Act, which was enacted in 2018, and the TAIPEI Act, which was enacted just this past fall, is that they are passed by unanimous consent, meaning that they didn’t actually bother taking a vote. They just said as long as no one objected, and no one did, it was enacted. And so, as you know, that doesn’t happen very often in this Congress.
And so there’s broad bipartisan support, although it’s important to keep in mind these acts have very limited impacts. Symbolically, they’re very important. They have some legally binding obligations, but they don’t force dramatic changes in the relationship so far, and so that’s also why it’s also easier to support them. I think if we got down to some situation where we have to sell arms to China or face Chinese sanctions or something, or even an armed conflict, then I think we’ll start seeing some splits.
I think there’s much more -- politically in the United States, there’s much more support for Taiwan in the political right than the political left, although there’s a little bit more on the progressive left. I noticed there’s some positive articles about Taiwan in The Nation, which has historically not been friendly to Taiwan. So there’s a bit of -- it’s interesting the broad bipartisan, even cross-ideological support for Taiwan. So we’ll see how far that goes. I don't know if it goes as far as actually supporting Taiwan in the time of an armed conflict with China.
Saul Newsome: Right. Yeah, that was going to be my next question is do you foresee any shift in U.S. policy as far as a “one China” policy as of just yet?
Prof. Julian Ku: Let me just quickly say, then I’ll leave some time for Professor Dreyer to talk about that too, but I’ve been following the law. There is some support, not much, but certainly more than is unimaginable 10 years ago for -- and to me, it’s all about -- it’s one, Taiwan looks better and better because Taiwan’s been doing good things. A lot of it is China looks worse and worse because China’s doing really bad things. Their human rights treatment is even worse than it was before. They’re even more repressive, they’re more expansionist, and they’re more hostile and more dangerous. And so all that -- and Taiwan is actually progressing in the opposite direction. They’re less hostile, they’re more progressive, they protect human rights more domestically, they have more democracy.
And all that just creates a dynamic that why exactly do we have to keep bending over to keep China happy over Taiwan? I think that does make it more possible to imagine it, although it’s still -- and then the final thing for me, and this is maybe beyond my expertise, but to accept the economic relationship with China no longer is the dominant thing, and I don't know that that’s going to happen. But if that -- it’s not the most important trade relationship the United States has, and it becomes more possible to imagine a more broad shift in favor of Taiwan.
But still, it would be very dangerous because China has repeatedly pledged to take some sort of serious action up to and including military action if there was some sort of declaration of independence by Taiwan or some sort of shift in the current dynamic where Taiwan is unofficially on its own but officially part of China.
Saul Newsome: Thank you. Dr. Dreyer, any additional comments?
Dr. June Dreyer: Yeah. I think the chances of Taiwan declaring independence are close to zero. And this is one of those nonstarters, I think. I know every so often, some reporter calls me up and says, “What do you think is going to happen if Taiwan is going to declare independence?” And it’s kind of a nonissue. Both major political parties say that they regard that Taiwan is already an independent sovereign state, so why bother? And at the same time, the last poll, and this was taken actually before the coronavirus thing heated up, that 83.2 percent of people of Taiwan consider themselves Taiwanese rather than Taiwanese and Chinese or Chinese alone. So I think most people’s attitude is let’s just not rock the boat.
And as Professor Ku said, I think you just epitomized it extremely well when you said not only does Taiwan look better and better, but China is looking worse and worse. And it suffered a huge hit when revelations of what it kept saying were vocational camps turned out to have guard posts and barbed wire on top. And stories were coming out in central Asia. People had been tortured. And then they really messed up the coronavirus thing. And they made themselves look worse afterword by pressuring countries to praise China when they did not want to praise China. So I do think they’re making themselves look worse and worse.
Now, how long is this going to last? And I’m a big believer in yin and yang. In other words, when things look really good is when you have to start worrying that something may change and they’re going to look bad again. At the moment, I have enormous faith in Tsai Ing-wen. I think that she is just an extremely cautious person. I’ve known her for a long, long time. She thinks very carefully before she says something about what the repercussions are going to be. And she is not going to do anything that angers China. But at the same time, she’s not going to give an inch. She is in office because of a deep green, in other words, pro-independence group. And so she will stick to the middle position and not make any dangerous moves.
So in that sense, I think Taiwan is secure unless Xi Jinping gets some major problem internally, which could happen. He has got a lot of problems. There’s as lot of resistance to his having abolished the term limits for president so that he can essentially stay president for as long as he wants to. And he is also facing the largest graduating class in Chinese history. And these people are going to have a lot of trouble finding jobs because the coronavirus has essentially derailed the Chinese economy, which is not to say it couldn’t get back on track again. But in the meantime, there are going to be an awful lot of young people, college graduates, who have problems finding jobs and are not going to think friendly thoughts toward Xi Jinping in that period. And there’s just a widespread feeling in China that the government has very badly mishandled the coronavirus crisis. So he’s got a lot of problems on his mind.
And people are -- typically, outsiders are divided on would this make Xi Jinping more likely to take military action? Wars are believed to be good for popularity of governments. Or would it make him less likely to take military actions? Do you all have any feelings about that?
Saul Newsome: Thank you so much for your comments before. I’d like to give our listeners an opportunity to ask you all questions. I don’t want to eat up all their time with my questions, and so if we can provide an opportunity for those questions, and then we’ll have a comment period at the end, hopefully.
Prof. Julian Ku: Can I add one thing before you open up to some of that? I think from the U.S. perspective, we need to be super focused on this problem of China lashing out somewhere in the South China Sea or against Senkakus or against Taiwan because where the U.S. is in a comparatively weakened state, and this might be a good time for China to take advantage of the U.S. And so I think I’m actually pretty worried about the China lashing out situation. And I don’t have super confidence that the United States is in a strong position to deter or respond if something happens right now.
Saul Newsome: Thank you very much. Okay, let’s go to audience questions.
Christopher Melling: Hi, this is Christopher Melling. My question is a couple years ago in the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, we talked about how the U.S. was losing the soft power war to China. Can you address specifically what China-Taiwan relations -- how China’s been leveraging soft power through international organizations and how the U.S. has been trying to counter that? Thank you.
Dr. June Dreyer: Yeah. I’m not sure I think China was winning a soft power war. And what -- leveraging power in international organizations, it seems to me, is more like sharp power than soft power. Soft power I see as winning friends and influencing people, hearts, and minds kind of thing. So I would definitely disagree with that definition of soft power.
And here I think China has met some obstacles. It was way on its way to getting majority people in the United Nations associated organizations. It had 4 of the 5 -- 4 of the, I believe, 15 subordinate organizations, and then it wanted its own candidate elected to head the Intellectual Property Organization. And you would be hard put to find a country whose track record on intellectual property theft is worse than that of the People’s Republic of China.
So there, the United States did step in and do some lobbying. And in fact, the Singaporean candidate got it, which was a good thing because China is very fond of throwing around charges of racism. And it would be very hard to pretend that the candidate from Singapore was not a Chinese. So there’s that.
And then someone that was regarded as very much beholden to China because Ethiopia -- he’s Ethiopian, and the Ethiopian government has received generous aid from the Chinese government, this is Tedros Ghebreyesus, has been widely regarded as fumbling on the coronavirus because he believed what he was told by the Chinese. And now this is a very complicated issue. Nobody really understood for a while what was going on because for one thing, the Chinese authorities were deceiving people. But the point is Beijing’s image in the United Nations took a hit on that.
So I would, I guess to allow Professor Ku a minute to perhaps rebut, I would say that first of all, I disagree with the definition that you got at the Marine Corps University of soft power. And second, I would say that whatever it is, China has suffered as a result of Xinjiang, of the coronavirus issue of kidnapping people off trains, of averring -- putting its own person who is head of INTERPOL in jail and convicting him of bribery. All of these make China look very bad on the international stage.
Prof. Julian Ku: Let me just add that I agree that the last couple years have been terrible for China, and it’s all China’s fault. It’s not like anyone else make them lock up all the Xinjiang Muslims or do these things. But I will say that they have been, generally speaking, very successful on two fronts until the last couple years. One is in the United Nations system, the organization, so within the United Nations bureaucracy, and in other international organizations like the World Intellectual Property Organization that Dr. Dreyer mentioned. And the reason why I think they’re successful -- or the World Health Organization, which we all know about now.
And the World Health Organization is a great example of the problem. The United States contributes ten times the amount of money to the WHO as China does, but China has so much more influence in the WHO administrative bureaucracy than the U.S. does. And it’s not so much -- part of it is the U.S. just doesn’t focus on that from a strategic perspective. We just don’t care that much about it. But the other is that they are -- China has a lot of support from countries in Africa, South America, Southeast Asia, that they can get -- and the World Health Assembly which is member states, just like the United Nations General Assembly, it’s majority vote. And so there are situations where no matter how big your checkbook is, you get outvoted.
And China has done a really good job of building influence with developing countries, especially Africa and South America. And that’s starting to fall apart now. But those countries have been willing to side with China on their positions on the South China Sea, on other issues to look the other way with respect to Xinjiang and their treatment of Muslims. The Arab States are another group that have always been very lockstep in supporting China in these sort of international organization requirements. So China’s been good at that, and much better than the United States, frankly.
Now, that’s beginning to hurt them even now because the virus thing is starting to break apart, but up until the last couple years, I think China was proceeding quite well and something the United States needed to figure out some counterstrategy to. We’re starting to see that now I don't think so much because of the U.S. has done anything. But China basically, to put it bluntly, screwed themselves in being really overly aggressive in their diplomacy, alienating influential leads.
The Europeans are starting to really push back against China, and we might see even their treatment of African students in China by basically locking them up and treating all of them as if they had the virus has really alienated people of some of the African governments. So they’re their own worst enemy on this front. But they have been very effective, in my view, in these international organizations up until the last couple years.
Saul Newsome: Okay, let’s go to our next question.
Pat Reeve: Hello, my name is Pat Reeve, and I have been involved through a world affairs council in San Diego with China and Chinese issues for quite a long time. I understand that you talked about internal unrest and problems, but I have yet to hear anyone talk about the African swine fever that has infected and pretty much decimated their pig population, leading to higher prices which leads to unrest and even shortages. They’ve even come out to say that, “Oh, you don’t need to eat as much pork. It’d be better for you if you didn’t,” to try and quell the anger.
So I hope -- also, there is also a virus going around in their shrimp population called decapod iridescent virus 1, and they’re afraid it will decimate the shrimp population as the African swine flu is decimating the pig population. And if those two things happen, China, which is already in trouble, could be in even more serious trouble. Do you have a comment, or have you heard or investigated in either of these two issues?
Dr. June Dreyer: Well, I’ve certainly heard about the swine flu problem. I am not sure I had heard before about the shrimp population, but it seems to me that one of China’s great advantages over the last couple of years is how it was able to outspend other countries, particularly as Professor Ku said, in places like Africa. And as shortages become greater in China, problems -- the population is going to say, “What about us? It’s nice that you’re giving money to Africa, but what about us?” And as you’ve seen, despite the Chinese government’s denial, there is plenty of prejudice in China, and that’s something they’re going to increasingly have to deal with.
Now, this -- what I mentioned before, these people who are graduating college this year in China and not finding jobs, the government has said, “Well, consider going to graduate school,” or “join the military,” or “we’re going to hire additional civil servants.” Now, China has loads of civil servants to begin with, and hiring more civil servants and hiring more people in the military is going to make -- there’s no free lunch, say the economists. Somebody has to pay the bills for that, and the central government treasury is already in deficit. This is going to make it worse. And what happens when these people who are told to get master’s degrees get out and they find there are no jobs for them?
So I agree with you. Xi Jinping is somebody with a lot of problems to deal with and no clear answers.
Pat Reeve: So I was just going to say that ironically, Smithfield Foods here in the states that was bought by China just shut down three pork processing plants in South Dakota, Wisconsin, and Michigan. And I’m wondering because they’re owned by China if they had something to do with that. It’s because of coronavirus, but South Dakota -- or I think it was North Dakota, I believe, had so few coronavirus cases that it’s interesting they all broke out around in the Smithfield plant.
Dr. June Dreyer: It is, but I just got an email from someone who says that other pork processing plants have also been hit that are not Smithfield, so I don't know how to interpret that. But I just thought you should know because my --
Prof. Julian Ku: -- Can I just add one thing about the food thing which is I think really important because I think one thing that’s a little undersold with respect to why China is so aggressive in the South China Sea, not just politics and territory. There’s actually a real food need there. There’s a lot of fish. And so one of the things they have been doing is they have been aggressively, like in Indonesia, kicking out, treating foreign fishermen and treating them -- kicking them out of fishing areas so that Chinese fishermen get it. And there’s actually -- it’s not a nontrivial need for China right now to make sure they have as much protein as they can get. So it’s just one more thing to add to the list of potential conflict points.
Dr. June Dreyer: When our caller mentioned there’s lots of fish there, what first came to mind is yes, there are lots of fish there, but a lot less fish than there used to be. And that is a huge problem. The fisherman -- those areas have been overfished, and there are more humans all the time to eat the fish.
And also, you don’t go into the fisheries business unless you’re a pretty tough person. It does not attract pantywaist types. And they get pretty aggressive with each other. And something I think Xi Jinping must be aware of, Xi Jinping and his ministers, is that someday, there may be a really bad clash among fisherman that gets out of hand. And how do we deal with that?
Prof. Julian Ku: Just a couple weeks ago, a Chinese Coast Guard vessel allegedly sank a Vietnamese fisher. And this is the type of stuff that’s going to happen more and more because I think you’re right. And just from a legal point of view, China’s claim -- one of the reasons why they might claim all those waters is because if they in theory had legal claim to all the islands and waters, they would have the exclusive rights over the fish and other resources in the waters. And that is a nontrivial motivation for their actions in addition to having military bases there.
Dr. June Dreyer: And of course, the fish are extremely important, no doubt about it. But those same waters are allegedly rich in oil and gas deposits as well. And although we have a glut right at the moment, it may not last too long. And pretty soon, you’re going to be seeing those horrible $4 a gallon posts at the pumps.
Prof. Julian Ku: And it hurts China much more than it does us because they are so much more dependent on foreign sources of energy. So yeah, it helps explain why they’re so aggressive in that area, I think.
Saul Newsome: Okay, we’ll go to the next caller.
Caller 3: Hi. I know the topic of the discussion was pretty much that China has come out really in terms of this crisis a bit worse for the wear, but from my standpoint, I was worried in the beginning, for instance, when we were trying to say that this pandemic had originated from Wuhan, that it had originated from China, you had a lot of pushback from a lot of people who wanted to be politically correct, including the WHO.
But my main question is this. So I’m sure you all have been following the Huawei 5G issue where a lot of our European allies, particularly the United Kingdom, have opted to allow Huawei to build parts of their 5G telecommunications network, which long-term, in my mind, would be disastrous in terms of intelligence sharing. And so my two questions are in terms of national security policy going forward, across administrations, do any of you foresee first of all a need to really focus on building our supply chains, our manufacturing supply chains up, creating a more economical 5G network that we can then sell to our European allies?
And also, really since Kissinger and Nixon, do you see any chance of our foreign policy even more than today being reoriented to Taiwan in terms of possibly giving maybe Taiwan rotating membership in the UN Security Council, or at least sponsoring that, or any of those sort of policy ideas that many have been floating about in the wake of China’s basically broadcasting to the world that they cannot place the common good and the safety of the world national community above projecting this illusion of strength and stability?
Prof. Julian Ku: I’ll address the first question if Professor Dreyer wants to take the second.
Dr. June Dreyer: Sure, go ahead.
Prof. Julian Ku: So just on the 5G front, that was the big thing. And I’ll just say that there was a report recently that the U.K. government is planning to reverse its plans on 5G with respect to Huawei because of -- I think they’re citing because of China’s failure to be transparent and honest with respect to the coronavirus and its origins. So there’s some real pushback. The U.K. and Canada are both countries that were -- and Germany also were kind of, well, we can work with China on this. And if they all shift and reject 5G, that would be a pretty dramatic shift for those countries.
I’m not sure how aggressive the U.S. can be and where the U.S. is really in a position to do much on 5G right now. Everything I’ve heard is that it would be too difficult to create your own 5G, but ironically, the best competitors are the European allies. You can support them and get companies like Ericsson and Nokia get their systems out there. It is a big flashpoint.
I would just say the U.S. has not been super successful on this front. It’s just been unable to commit. And countries like Canada and, up until now, the U.K. that this is something that needs to be more -- we need to be more aggressive against Huawei than they’re willing to be. So I do think there’s signs that might change because of coronavirus. And that would be, again, not so much a reflection of U.S. triumph but failures of the Chinese government itself. Professor Dreyer, I’m happy to let you address the second question.
Dr. June Dreyer: Yeah, just to add to everything you said, which I agree with, I was astounded when the U.K. foreign secretary, who, when he said he was actually acting Prime Minister because Boris Johnson was in the hospital, said it can no longer be business as usual between the United Kingdom and China, and we’re going to have to rethink all of this. And so that was a pretty hard-hitting statement.
And then another issue which feeds into the Huawei issue is that of submarine cables because most international communications are carried along submarine cables. And the Finnish -- or Norwegian government had contracted with Huawei to build a portion of the undersea cable in this northern route which has the advantage of being shorter, but it would -- if Huawei controls it, you could have Chinese submarines entering the Arctic area undetected and would be able to aim missiles at any European capitol from there. So I think European countries are starting to understand, uh-oh, this is really very serious, and we need to rethink this.
And I don’t really think that the Chinese did themselves -- again, to support your point that China looks worse and worse, Professor Ku, that the Chinese didn’t do themselves any favors when Ms. Meng, the Huawei heiress and CFO, was arrested. And the Chinese government then arrested two Canadians who, according to the Canadian government, has done nothing wrong in keeping them in jail. They’re both first-named Michael.
And so again, instead of fighting -- saying, okay, we’re going to fight this in court, which they’ve been doing, they then arrest Canadian nationals who Canadian opinion agrees didn’t do anything to warrant being arrested. So it’s just sometimes they can’t stop themselves, and this is making them look worse and worse.
Prof. Julian Ku: Yeah, I’ll just mention they didn’t really arrest them for legal -- they detained them, but they still haven’t given them a trial of any kind. And they’ve been there detained for 500 days now, which is just amazing. It’s just unbelievable just in the -- the Canadians, well, some Canadians are going crazy over this.
Dr. June Dreyer: And then there was just a visit from Clive Hamilton who wrote this wonderful book on Chinese penetration of Australian politics. I’ve read it. It’s just a really good book. And he went to Canada a few days ago, and he was quoted as saying that Canada’s in worse shape in terms of Chinese penetration than Australia. And coming from him, that’s quite a statement.
Prof. Julian Ku: Having said all that, just on the caller’s second question, you could say I don’t foresee, even as bad as it gets, a dramatic shift such that Taiwan would be able to achieve some sort of formal recognition of independence of the type that I think it would ultimately desire if it felt free from the threat of China. I don't know if you disagree.
Dr. June Dreyer: Well, I would say that there’s no way that I can think of that anybody could get Taiwan into the one of the permanent members or one of the rotating members of the Security Council since China would have to agree.
Prof. Julian Ku: Just the U.N. itself.
Dr. June Dreyer: Yeah, well, your caller mentioned the Security Council, a rotating member of the Security Council. And there’s no way that it’s even going to be able to get into the U.N. itself, much less a rotating member of the Security Council because China would resist it. And China does have veto power.
Now, let us say by some absolute miracle Taiwan ends up as a member of the General Assembly. The way that the rotating members are chosen -- and this is informal. It’s never been codified that I know of. They way you get those members is there are informal caucuses, so the Asia caucus would have to agree to nominate Taiwan as a rotating member. And again, that’s not going to happen. So unfortunately, it’s one of those nice ideas that can’t be, as we used to say in government, operationalized.
Prof. Julian Ku: I think the more realistic question is whether it could even be in the U.N. at all. And even that I think would require a whole new government, a change of government in China, something like a revolution of some kind. At least that’s what I -- I don’t see that happening.
Dr. June Dreyer: Yeah, unfortunately for Taiwan, it’s just highly unlikely to happen.
Saul Newsome: Well, Dr. Dreyer, Professor Ku, thank you so much for your time today. This is wrapping up. What I would like to do is give you all each a brief opportunity just to provide some parting words, key takeaways as it relates to China, Taiwan, and the United States, and perhaps particularly what your listeners should be aware of and what they should be keen to pay attention to.
Dr. June Dreyer: Professor Ku, would you like to go first?
Prof. Julian Ku: Sure. I’ll just say that it’s the type of thing where we don’t really focus on it, but now the relations with China are front and center. So I would just want everyone out there to just keep in mind that Taiwan is going to be a big flashpoint, I think, sometime in the next few years, and figure out a way to make sure that the U.S. can deter some sort of a Chinese coercion against Taiwan is worth investing energy and time thinking about. Having said that, because I think it’s something that would be potentially disastrous if the United States through inaction or inattention allowed Taiwan to get swallowed up by China, that would be a geopolitical disaster for the United States. Thank you.
Dr. June Dreyer: I totally agree with that. Sometimes, I wonder what our government and what our media are doing because there has been -- not to say that the coronavirus is not important; it’s crucially important. But there are other things going on in the world now, and you would be hard put to find mention of them in the press. I know. I spend a large portion of every day reading newspapers. So we are going to have to focus on things besides the coronavirus. We’re going to have to learn to walk and chew gum at the same time, and I don’t see us doing that now.
Saul Newsome: Right. Thank you so much both for your time. Thank you for your insightful comments helping us contextualize what’s going on both within the United States as it relates to Taiwan and then globally because as you all mentioned, this is a critical issue that doesn’t always come to the forefront that we need to pay attention to because it has volatility. It has the potential to be volatile. So thank you again for your time. Thank you for all the callers for calling in and listening to this teleforum of The Federalist Society.
Greg Walsh: On behalf of The Federalist Society, I would like to thank our experts for the benefit of their valuable time and expertise today. We welcome listener feedback by email at [email protected] Thank you all for joining us. We are adjourned.
Dean Reuter: Thank you for listening to this episode of Teleforum, a podcast of The Federalist Society’s Practice Groups. For more information about The Federalist Society, the practice groups, and to become a Federalist Society member, please visit our website at www.fedsoc.org.