alliances, allies, CCP Virus, China, coronavirus, COVID 19, decoupling, East Asia-Pacific, foreign investment, Hong Kong, Huawei, national security, Our So-Called Foreign Policy, South Korea, Taiwan, tech, Trade, Trump, TSMC, Wuhan virus
As if its CCP Virus coverup and planned crackdown on what’s left of Hong Kong’s freedoms weren’t bad enough, China has been escalating its aggressive words and deeds throughout its East Asia/Pacific neighborhood, and one major sign has been new pressure exerted on Taiwan – which Beijing views as a breakaway province that needs to end its rebellion immediately and join the Communist People’s Republic.
This more worrisome Chinese posture understandably has sparked calls for the United States to retaliate by demonstrating stronger support for Taiwan in various ways. This impulse also seems reasonable to me. But if the Trump administration speeds up its march down this road, it handles a closer relationship with Taiwan a lot better than its predecessors for decades had handled security alliance relationships with Japan and South Korea. Specifically, it’s crucial that Taiwan share much more of the burden of resisting China’s ambitions than has long been the case.
The latest alarm bells about China’s Taiwan policies have been set off by China’s words – or, more accurately, a missing word. Although the PRC (People’s Republic of China) has never renounced using force to achieve its longstanding aim “reunifying” China (as it defines the issue), its rhetorical positions toward the island have long fluctuated between the conciliatory and the blustery. But for 40 years, when Beijing mentioned of reunification, the word “peaceful” has always preceded it.
Last Friday, though, China’s second most important leader dropped the “peaceful” – and did it at a major forum: the annual meeting of the country’s rubberstamp parliament.
So it seems clear that the China cloud over Taiwan has darkened. But U.S. steps to bolster Taiwan’s security will greatly underperform – and may actually increase the dangers posed to America by China itself – unless Washington starts demanding in return that Taiwan stop its longstanding practice of investing massively in manufacturing in China, including in high tech sectors.
Indeed, as of 2018, according to this report, the total value of Taiwanese investment in China hit $180 billion – ten times the value of Taiwan’s investment in the United States. The annual amounts have been going down, but mainly because of the Trump administration’s tariffs on China, which have made it much more difficult for any factories in China – Chinese or foreign-owned – to earn fat profits by exporting major shares of their output to the United States. Even so, such investment had reached massive proportions. Indeed, in 2017. China still attracted nearly 45 percent of all Taiwan’s outbound foreign direct investment. Moreover, so much of this investment has come in technology sectors that fears have emerged of the island hollowing out its own innovation sector – which has been so vital to Taiwan’s spectacular economic development. And of course, Taiwanese companies like contract semiconductor manufacturing giant TSMC have been major suppliers of microchips and other high tech products to Chinese tech companies like Huawei, the global leader in advanced telecommunications.
It’s important to recognize that Taiwan is hardly the only U.S. ally that’s promoted China’s economic – and therefore technological and military – development. It’s not even the biggest. (That dubious honor goes to Hong Kong, but most of this Chinese “Special Administrative Region’s” direct investment flows to China seem to be concentrated in lower-tech, labor-intensive sectors without significant national security implications.) Moreover, the United States remains complicit itself.
But even though his administration doesn’t use the word, decoupling from China does appear to be a major goal of President Trump’s. There’s certainly been a lot of it. I’m not big at all on the United States embarking on a full-fledged campaign to mobilize East Asia/Pacific countries to out-compete China for influence in the region. Indeed, I’ve argued that disentangling the United States from China economically is vital to ensure American security and prosperity on its own merits. But if President Trump does want to go the full-court anti-China press route, what’s the point if supposed American allies aren’t all-in on decoupling asd as well?