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Diplomacy
China and Taiwan's flag

Is Taiwan a De Facto Sovereign Nation or a Province of the PRC?

by Jeremy E. Powell

It is a running gag among the pro-Taiwan camp that if you were to ask ordinary folks about Taiwan five years earlier, most could not locate Taiwan on a map. At the time, matters relating to China were mainly debates about Donald Trump’s protectionist stance, as relations between Taiwan and China didn’t receive the attention many would warrant in the face of a potential war. However, ever since the outbreak of the coronavirus—now probably having originated from the Wuhan Institute of Virology—and the narrative of a grand alliance between Beijing and Moscow during the war in Ukraine, comparisons have been drawn between the fate of Taiwan and Ukraine. Even though CNN became confused between Taiwan and Thailand a year ago, any mention of Taiwan now will ring the alarm about how the United States can be deprived of semiconductors should it not respond to an imminent threat posed by China. As we move toward 2027, people have been arguing that the US should cease intervening elsewhere to concentrate its ability on defending Taiwan—in other words, Taiwan is the only case worthy of intervention. Unlike Ukraine, the case of Taiwan is more black-and-white as Taiwan stands as a victim of Chinese coercion. Whether on a purely strategic or moral argument, there is a lot of sympathy for Taiwan, regardless of political orientation. Nevertheless, war is still war, and in such a scenario, a confrontation between two superpowers is to be avoided at all costs. Even with nuclear weapons factored out, a clean victory for the US and Taiwan is unlikely due to logistical problems, encirclement, and the high cost of lives. In an interview on Tom Wood’s podcast, Joseph Solis-Mullen argued that the only possible way out is to abide according to the principles of the One China Policy—to lead Taiwan into reunification with China under the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Again, we should oppose a war with China, as it would only deliver catastrophe for the US, China, Taiwan, and likely the other countries surrounding Taiwan regardless of the outcome—though Solis-Mullen did acknowledge that should Taiwan fall under the control of the PRC, human rights in Taiwan will take a sharp turn for the worse. Even though the recent elections haven’t decisively favored the pro–Taiwan independence and anti-PRC Democratic Progressive Party, virtually no Taiwanese identifies himself as Chinese. Even the Kuomintang—the only large party that supports a One China Policy—argues that while Taiwan belongs to China, China is the Republic of China (ROC), not the PRC, and the Kuomintang has recently distanced itself from former president Ma Ying-jeou over comments that reunification is acceptable for Taiwan. After all, by the principle of self-determination and voluntary association (as close as it may get), Taiwan is effectively a country in all but on paper. As far as adherence to the principle of armed neutrality goes, Taiwan shouldn’t receive US arms shipments or a security guarantee (which it has under the Taiwan Relations Act). However, the constraint is that China forces countries that want to establish diplomatic ties with China to adhere to its version of the One China Principle, which stipulates that the legitimate government of China is the PRC. Taiwan, however, can’t move away from the One China Principle but can argue that the ROC is the legitimate government of China. However, the reality is different off-paper where Taiwan is a country. China can coerce countries into either choosing the PRC or the ROC, but it can’t afford to fully coerce everyone. While there’s a strategic side to US-Taiwan relations—given Taiwan’s position in the first island chain—the commercial side is undeniable, thanks to the dominance of the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company in the semiconductor industry. In other words, there’s a reason why the so-called Taipei Economic and Cultural Offices (or Taipei Representative Offices) are there as de facto Taiwanese embassies. While there is a strong element of strategy at play, the US need not abolish all ties with Taipei, just arms sales and defense guarantees as neither China nor the US is willing to risk trade relations to a level too deep. While this may trigger alarm bells for people who support Taiwan, chances are that Japan, Australia, and even some Southeast Asian countries would prefer Taiwan to remain as it is. For many of these countries, a takeover of Taiwan means a step further for China to infringe upon their territories and disrupt trade routes. While it didn’t announce whether it would directly intervene, Japan has labeled Taiwan as a matter of national security and has been bolstering its own defense over the fears that the US might not help Japan. With a military persistently known for corruption and now a diplomatic emphasis on softening tensions, Beijing sees war as undesirable as well. As stated before, the world is not as remarkably united and can be separated into three blocs as it was during the Cold War. “Allies” of the US would prefer to delegate their responsibility to defend themselves to the US, even if they can do the job themselves and keep a check on one another. As for how we should see Taiwan, it’s a country that in some cases might be more libertarian than the US (except for conscription). Whether people want to debate the similarities or differences between “acknowledging” and “affirming” the One China Principle, it doesn’t erase the fact that Taiwan for all intents and purposes is a sovereign country.

Diplomacy
President of South Korea Yoon suk yeol with Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida

President Yoon is lauded in West for embracing Japan − in South Korea it fits a conservative agenda that is proving less popular

by Myunghee Lee

When South Korea President Yoon Suk Yeol broke out into an impromptu performance of the song “American Pie” at a gala White House dinner in 2023, it was more than just a musical interlude. It was symbolic of how on the big Indo-Pacific issues of the day, Washington and Seoul are singing from the same songbook. But so, too, is Japan. And for South Korea’s karaoke-loving leader, that means humming a different tune to predecessors on the international stage – and risking hitting a sour note back at home. Yoon, who took office in May 2022, has embraced closer ties with Japan, South Korea’s former colonizer, as part of an alignment with U.S.-led security cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region. It entails a more demanding stance toward North Korea’s denuclearization and a watchful eye on China and its increasing assertiveness in the South China Sea. The approach culminated in a historic Camp David summit in 2023 aimed at solidifying relations between South Korea and Japan. Such rapprochement with Japan has won Yoon plaudits in the U.S. But it has done nothing to improve his popularity back home. In South Korea there is growing disapproval of Yoon’s leadership. Critics point to an illiberal streak in his rhetoric and policies, which has included attacks on his critics and the media. It has, they contend, contributed to a worrying trend of democratic erosion in Korea. Yoon’s poll ratings are sinking at a time when his conservative party seeks control of parliament in elections slated for April 10, 2024. As scholars who study democratization and authoritarian politics and modern Korea, we are watching as these concerns grow in the run-up to the parliamentary elections. That vote will prove a test of the popular support for Yoon, his domestic agenda and his vision for South Korea’s more outward-looking international role. Japan is ‘now our partner’ Yoon struck a raw nerve in an Aug. 15, 2023, speech celebrating National Liberation Day in Korea, in which he affirmed the country’s partnership with neighboring Japan. He said the country’s former colonial occupier is “now our partner, sharing universal values and pursuing common interests,” and emphasized that “as security and economic partners, Korea and Japan will cooperate with a forward-looking approach, contributing to global peace and prosperity.” His remarks were met with public outrage, especially given their timing: National Liberation Day commemorates Korea’s liberation from Japanese colonial rule, which lasted from 1910 to 1945. The Japanese occupation was brutal, simultaneously exploiting Korean women – as evident in the use of so-called “comfort women,” or military sexual slaves – and treating Koreans generally as second-class citizens, all the while pushing obligatory assimilation into Japanese civilization on the occupied population. Attempts by the Japanese colonial regime at erasing a separate Korean identity and culture – this included banning the teaching of the Korean language and coercing Koreans to adopt Japanese names, along with the violent suppression of independence movements – left deep scars on the collective Korean psyche. For many Koreans, watching their country join Japan in a trilateral partnership with the U.S. is too much to accept. Emergence of pro-Japan voices Yoon and his conservative administration’s foreign policy goals are based not on nationalism but on what has been described as “a value-based alliance” with Washington. This stance is at odds with the nationalist focus often seen in the right-wing politics of other countries. Indeed, in South Korea it is the political left that increasingly identifies with a form of nationalism. Meanwhile, the “New Right” in South Korea has correspondingly embraced an anti-nationalist stance, specifically attacking anti-Japanese sentiment. Since the early 2000s, Korean conservatives have increasingly distanced themselves from nationalism, particularly of the anti-Japanese variety. If, as theorists such as Ernest Gellner have argued, modern nationalism is based on the presumed unity of state and nation, political developments in Korea since 1980 have destabilized this relationship. After the bloodshed of the Gwangju Massacre in 1980, during which the state killed hundreds of its own citizens, leftist nationalists argued that the South Korean state was neither the representative or defender of the Korean nation. Rather, they saw the South Korean state’s inheritance of institutions and personnel from the Japanese colonial government, alongside the hegemonic presence of the United States in Korea – characterized as “neocolonial” by some – as diluting the state’s nationalist credentials. In contrast, conservatives defended the South Korean authoritarian state’s legitimacy and its legacies. They argued that authoritarian rule was responsible for the rapid economic growth that allowed South Koreans to live in prosperity. As part of their defense of Korea’s legacy and attack on a political left increasingly identified with nationalism, conservatives embraced an anti-nationalist stance, specifically attacking anti-Japanese rhetoric. This has involved downplaying the negative effects of Japan’s colonial rule in Korea between 1910 and 1945 and even rejecting the validity of Korean comfort women testimonies. One additional motivation for conservatives has been to justify the achievements of right-wing heroes such as former dictator Park Chung Hee. Park, who has been credited with jump-starting Korea’s economic growth, has been castigated by nationalists as a pro-Japanese collaborator due to his having been trained in the Manchurian and Japanese military academies during the 1940s. Starting around the turn of the century, there has been a gradual increase in the frequency and intensity of pro-Japan voices. Far-right organizations, such as the Republic of Korea Mom’s Brigade, have since the 2010s organized rallies in defense of Japanese colonialism. More recently, far-right groups have systematically disrupted so-called Wednesday Demonstrations – a protest that has been continually held for over 30 years in front of the Japanese embassy in Korea to demand that Japan address the comfort women issue. In a 2019 bestselling book, conservatives even attacked anti-Japanese nationalism as a form of “tribalism” on the left. It is in this context of the growing prominence of pro-Japan voices that Yoon, in a 2023 interview with The Washington Post, expressed that he “could not accept the notion that Japan must kneel because of what happened 100 years ago. Attacks on critics and fake news Yoon embodies this reorientation of Korean conservative ideology and foreign policy that rejects nationalism in favor of closer relations with Japan, especially in the context of alignment with the U.S. against the threat of North Korea and China. The approach has seen Yoon embraced by American policymakers. Yet his popularity at home has fallen from an approval rating of above 50% in mid-2022 to 29% at the beginning of February 2024, although it has since picked up a little. At first glance, his foreign policy seems to support liberal and democratic values. However, in domestic matters there has been growing concern that his rhetoric and policies reflect an illiberal character. Examples include labeling his opponents as “communists” and attacks on the media and “fake news.” This is perhaps unsurprising; the nature of Korean conservatism is deeply rooted in authoritarianism. The Biden administration is keen to present Yoon differently – as an ally, along with Japan, in the protection of Asia’s democracies. But this says more about a U.S. foreign policy that centers China as a threat than it does Yoon’s actual commitment to democratic freedoms. To a South Korea audience, however, Yoon’s position on Japan only adds to general concern over his illiberal tendencies ahead of April’s vote – the first general parliamentary elections during Yoon’s tenure. Editor’s note: The article was updated on March 7, 2024 to clarify Park Chung Hee’s World War II record.

Defense & Security
Online crime scene with a finger print left on backlit keyboard with North Korea flag on it

Cyber actors: North Korea

by Lukas Joselewitsch

How cyber operations support the state system. ' North Korean units are primarily concentrating on political and economic espionage and the procurement of foreign currency. Disruptive attacks are currently rather unlikely. ' The funds generated are primarily used for the political and economic stabilization of the state and the expansion of nuclear and conventional military capabilities. ' To date, around three to six billion US dollars (excluding unreported cases) have been gained through the use of cyber resources. ' The activities can be countered by detecting and publicizing North Korean procedures as well as reconnaissance of potential target institutions. ' North Korean units act opportunistically and flexibly. It is to be expected that the attacks will continue despite countermeasures. At present, there is no significant threat to Germany. In recent years, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) has increasingly instrumentalized cyber and information space to implement its state policy agenda, exploiting the entire spectrum of possible operational targets: Sabotage and disruption, signaling, political espionage, economic espionage, foreign currency procurement and propaganda. According to Kim Jong-un, cyberattacks function alongside nuclear weapons as an "all-purpose sword" to achieve the regime's goals. Goals and Impact DPRK units have repeatedly launched disruptive attacks to sabotage and disrupt enemy systems in order to force political concessions from South Korea and the US or as an instrument of political signaling: so far unsuccessful. Notable examples in this context were various operations against IT systems in South Korea, such as Operation Dark Seoul1 and Ten Days of Rain, which led to widespread disruption in the country. No comparable activities were observed after 2014; it can be assumed that offensive cyber activities had little impact as a means of coercive diplomacy. It can therefore be assumed that any operations outside of a military scenario will not be carried out by the DPRK for the time being. So far, political espionage has primarily been directed against South Korean civilian and public institutions as well as international organizations and foreign individuals. The aim of the operations is to obtain strategically and security policy-relevant information. In recent years, for example, there has been an attack against eleven UN Security Council members in order to obtain information on sanctions resolutions.2 International think tanks and journalists have also been compromised in order to obtain information on foreign assessments of the DPRK's situation.3 The aforementioned activities continue and are flexibly adapted to the regime's political interests. It cannot be assumed that North Korea will refrain from political espionage. With regard to economically motivated espionage activities, the DPRK carries out operations to generate information on economically relevant sectors. In the past, the main target was international defense companies with the aim of gaining technical information for the development of modern weapons systems, including nuclear weapons.4 However, during the Covid-19 pandemic from 2020 to 2022, the state also attacked vaccine manufacturers abroad to enable the DPRK's self-sufficient vaccine production. Economic espionage is similar to political espionage in its calculations and is geared towards the strategic goals of the state leadership. It is to be expected that the DPRK will carry out more attacks against satellite technology companies in the future in order to underpin recent efforts to produce space-based weapons and reconnaissance systems. Financially motivated attacks to obtain foreign currency have been observed since around 2011. Initially, the actors' approach was primarily aimed at low-threshold targets such as gaming platforms. From 2015, however, there was an increase in the quality and quantity of activities. The DPRK attracted international attention with complex attack campaigns against financial institutions: Compromising the international SWIFT payment system and attacking the ATM payout mechanism, as well as the WannaCry global ransomware campaign.5 The attacks against the financial sector generated approximately two billion US dollars, and the ransomware activities led to the encryption of 230,000 systems in 150 countries. In response to the operations, the DPRK's approach was exposed by internationally cooperating cyber security institutions and appropriate protection mechanisms were provided. As a result, the lucrativeness of the attacks was significantly reduced and the DPRK had to realign its strategy. Since then, attackers have increasingly focused on non-governmental cryptocurrency platforms, which are still proving to be a profitable and preferred target. These platforms often have low security standards and attract less public attention than a bank if they are compromised. As part of the operations, the DPRK hackers gain access to digital bank accounts and transfer the cryptocurrency to a North Korean wallet. The currency is then laundered through various mechanisms and converted into fiat currency. Since 2015, the DPRK has been able to generate an estimated three to six billion US dollars in this way. However, it can be assumed that the number of unreported cases is much higher. In 2020, 1.7 billion US dollars are said to have been gained through malicious attacks. Apart from the use of the WannaCry malware,6 no financially motivated attacks against German targets are known. Motives The DPRK does not have an official cyber doctrine that provides insight into the strategic calculations of the state leadership. However, the regime's motives can be deduced from the political situation of the state, the specifics of cyberspace and the official state goals. Pyongyang sees itself as immanently threatened by the US military presence and alliance with South Korea. This is a key driver for the execution of disruptive attacks. In the event of a military conflict, cyber means can be used as an instrument of asymmetric warfare. In peacetime, cyberspace is used by the regime to carry out attacks against other states without risking escalation with conventional weapons systems. This strategy of "a thousand pinpricks" serves to demonstrate power, generate urgently needed financial resources and legitimize the state leadership in both domestic and foreign policy terms. Due to economic insufficiency, international sanctions and a high demand for imported goods, the North Korean state is dependent on foreign currency to maintain its internal economy, finance luxury goods for the elite and further expand its nuclear and conventional armaments capabilities. The regime has been using clandestine and illegal methods to obtain foreign currency since 1970. In this context, cyberattacks now appear to be the most lucrative instrument for counteracting the economic deficit. On the one hand, this can be attributed to the decline in conventional methods. For example, counterfeit money production, smuggling and modern slavery of North Korean citizens abroad have been intensively combated by the international community.7 In addition, a correlation can be seen between the increased investment in the nuclear weapons program and the rising quantity and quality of cyber operations. Procurement tactics in cyberspace are difficult to prevent due to the opacity and immateriality of the domain. Actors can operate undetected and largely unpunished as well as plausibly deny accusations. Furthermore, the cost-benefit ratio is in the attackers' favor. Active countermeasures (such as hackbacks) against the DPRK are largely ineffective, as North Korea offers hardly any attack surface due to its low level of digitalization. It is suspected that the USA has occasionally disrupted North Korea's attack infrastructure, but without any discernible success. To gain a theoretical insight into the state's motivation, the Songun Doctrine (military first), which has determined the regime's political actions since 2009, is essential. The doctrine prioritizes the nation's readiness to defend itself in the face of perceived threats. State resources are primarily invested in the DPRK's defense apparatus, with the nuclear weapons program at its core. The basic idea behind the Songun Doctrine is the interaction between a strong military and economic prosperity. According to the doctrine, a strong arms industry should generate sufficient financial resources through exports of military equipment and at the same time guarantee the territorial integrity of the state. The country's elites, which also include the cyber units, are officially primarily active in the defense sector. It is therefore in line with the doctrine that the majority of investments and industrial espionage operations serve to promote the military. Organization The organization of the North Korean cyber groups cannot be clearly determined due to various contradictory statements. However, it is known that the cyber units are subordinate to the Korean People's Army, whose commander-in-chief is the "Supreme Leader" Kim Jong-un. The majority of the known actors are said to be based in Bureau 121 of the General Bureau of Reconnaissance (RGB) military intelligence service. The units assigned here include the Lazarus Group, Bluenorrof and Kimsuky.8 It is also possible that parts of the cyber apparatus are subordinate to the Ministry of State Security. Of central importance alongside the RGB is Bureau 39, which is said to be responsible for the conventional generation of financial resources. Due to the common objectives of the organizations, it can be assumed that there is operational cooperation. Recently, a change in the organization and responsibilities of the actors has been observed. While in the past the groupings operated independently of each other, a merging of the units has been evident since 2022. There has been an exchange of responsibilities and instruments between the players, which suggests a changed (division of labor), more efficient and resource-saving cooperation. The training and further education of the units takes place both at universities in the DPRK and in China.9 A key feature of the North Korean cyber organization is the strategic deployment of units disguised as IT specialists abroad. The actors operate from their respective locations, which makes attribution more difficult and reduces state costs. Outlook The North Korean regime will continue to pursue operations in cyberspace in order to achieve state objectives and will probably do so even more in the future. Financially motivated operations and espionage in particular are now an essential instrument of state policy. The fundamental motives are also anchored in the DPRK's doctrinal system. The country's missile and nuclear program requires high levels of investment and technical information. At the same time, the state is increasingly under pressure due to its economic problems. It is therefore difficult to predict how the regime's volatile and impulsive policies will develop in the future. If attacks on digital accounts, crypto marketplaces or digital financial flows continue to prove lucrative, it cannot be assumed that Pyongyang will abandon the procurement of foreign currency through targeted cyber operations. Cooperation between DPRK units and political allies such as Russia, China or Iran has not been observed at times. Inter-state cooperation in cyberspace requires a high degree of coordination and operational integration, which is rather unlikely given the regime's current political interests. The DPRK's activities in cyberspace have not yet posed any particular threat to the Federal Republic of Germany. However, even the slightest erosion of the current tense diplomatic relations between the DPRK, South Korea and the USA could have devastating consequences for the global security situation. In 2019, the United Nations already initiated corresponding steps such as intensified sanctions, public naming and shaming and increased transnational cooperation in order to curb the impact of the attacks and their political effects.10 It is likely that fluctuating cryptocurrency prices or increased platform security measures could counteract the attacks. The security authorities have so far concentrated on the detection and publication of North Korean TTPs (Tactics, Techniques and Procedures). This approach and the wide dissemination of attacker-related information has sometimes proven to be the most effective means of mitigating attacks. However, due to the great importance for state doctrine and finances, it can be assumed that the DPRK will adapt its methods and look for new ways. It is therefore currently important to monitor the approach, strengthen the resilience of the attack targets and prevent the procurement methods in the digital and kinetic space as best as possible with international partners. At present, DPRK actors are only of limited relevance to Germany. Few significant attacks against regional targets have been observed to date. There is currently no indication of a future operational prioritization for Germany. More about this: 1 https://cyber-peace.org/cyberpeace-cyberwar/relevante-cybervorfalle/operation-troy-darkseoul/. 2 Vgl. https://media.defense.gov/2023/Jun/01/2003234055/-1/-1/0/JOINT_CSA_DPRK_SOCIAL_ENGINEERING.PDF. 3 Vgl. https://www.zdnet.com/article/north-korea-has-tried-to-hack-11-officials-of-the-un-security-council/. 4 Ein Beispiel hierfür ist der Angriff gegen einen russischen Produzenten von ballistischen Raketen. 5 In 2017 erfolgte eine massive Ransomwarekampagne unter dem Namen WannaCry, bei der Systeme verschlüsselt und lediglich gegen eine Lösegeldsumme von 300 US-Dollar wieder entschlüsselt wurden. 6 Die sich selbst replizierende Ransomware infizierte 2017 Teile der deutschen IT und richtete merklichen Schaden an. Es ist davon auszugehen, dass die DVRK die Kontrolle über die rapide Distribution verloren hatte und die Angriffe gegen Deutschland Spill-Over-Effekte waren. 7 VN Dokumente: S/2019/691; S/2022/668; S/RES/2397. 8 Lazarus und Bluenoroff sollen für komplexe finanziell motivierte Operationen und Kimsuky für politische und wirtschaftliche Spionage zuständig sein. Zudem wurde Lazarus für unterschiedliche disruptive Angriffe verantwortlich gemacht. 9 Universitäten in China sind u. a. das „Harbin Institute of Technology“. 10 VN Dokumente: S/2019/691 S/2022/668; S/RES/2397. ISBN 978-3-98574-215-8 © 2024 The Author(s). This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. The terms on which this article has been published allow the posting of the Accepted Manuscript in a repository by the author(s) or with their consent.

Diplomacy
Map of South China Sea

South China Sea: interpretations of international law, a tool for political influence?

by Frédéric Lasserre , Olga V. Alexeeva

Renewed major tensions have surfaced once again in the South China Sea between China and the Philippines. While the immediate concern revolves around the control of reefs and islets, the underlying issue extends to the control of maritime territories, driving the parties involved. These sovereignty disputes are not novel occurrences. Conflicts in the South China Sea (SCS) have intensified since the 1960s, leading to a competition for the occupation of islands and islets in the Paracels and Spratlys. The objective was to establish control over these islands, using them as military outposts and symbols of sovereignty. With the introduction of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the rivalry transitioned towards the assertion of states' rights over maritime zones. The narrative of the parties involved has evolved regarding the legitimacy and legal characterization of the claimed maritime territories. Malaysia (1983), Vietnam (1994), and the Philippines (2009) have contended that the Spratly Islands do not merit an exclusive economic zone (EEZ), indirectly challenging China's claims. In response, Beijing has adjusted its official discourse. Is this shift in legal rhetoric a strategic reinterpretation of maritime law aimed at refuting adversaries' arguments and utilizing legal discourse as a political tool in a broader struggle for influence? An evolution in the legal discourse of Southeast Asian states In the South China Sea (SCS), a noticeable shift in the redefinition of maritime boundaries has emerged since 2009. Previously, definitions often lacked clarity and legal grounding. In recent years, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam, and the Philippines have sought to refine their claims, aligning them with the norms established by the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). This strategic move sharply contrasts with the trajectory of the People's Republic of China (PRC), whose evolving stance has been criticized for increasingly diverging from international maritime law. Between 1994 and 2016, China's assertion over the Maritime Claims (MCS) primarily relied on the controversial nine-dash line [九段线], criticized for its ambiguity regarding the extent and legal basis of the claimed maritime territory. However, since 2016, following the ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration, China's discourse has shifted towards the "Four Sha" theory [四沙], positing that large (sometimes fictional) archipelagos serve as the legal foundation for its maritime claims. This shift among the Southeast Asian players could be seen as a strategic move vis-à-vis China: by refining their claims to align more closely with the principles of the Law of the Sea, these nations might aim to underscore the inherently unlawful and objectionable nature of China's assertions. This tactic underscores an increasing disparity between Southeast Asian states, endeavoring to adjust their claims in accordance with international legal norms, and China, whose assertions are grounded in disputed interpretations of maritime law. The clash of legal discourses in the South China Sea The People's Republic of China (PRC) asserts its claim to the South China Sea (SCS) through what is commonly known as the nine-dash line (Fig. 1), a demarcation that has encompassed the majority of this maritime region since 1949. However, significant ambiguity persists regarding the precise meaning and scope of this demarcation, as China has yet to provide a clear explanation despite repeated requests from neighboring states. This lack of transparency has led to frustration among neighboring nations, prompting the Philippines to file a formal complaint with the Law of the Sea Tribunal in April 2013. The Chinese government's reluctance to clarify the exact nature and coordinates of the line has fueled suspicions regarding its true intentions. Even Indonesia, which does not have territorial claims in the South China Sea, expressed concerns about the legal uncertainty surrounding China's delineation of this maritime boundary in 2010. Before 2009, Southeast Asian countries involved in disputes over island formations or maritime zones in the South China Sea (SCS) had not clearly delineated their claims, either by providing legal justifications for their extensions or by publishing precise coordinates of the boundaries of the claimed maritime areas. However, on May 6, 2009, Malaysia and Vietnam submitted a joint proposal for the extension of their continental shelves in the southern part of the SCS, followed by Vietnam's independent submission for the central part of the SCS on May 7. By doing so, they publicly disclosed the positions of the outer limits of their respective Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs). Neither state included the island formations they claim in the SCS in the definition of their EEZs or extended continental shelves. Instead, the boundaries of the 200-mile zones are determined based on each state's coastline. For instance, both Malaysia and Vietnam have excluded the Spratly Islands from the definition of their maritime zones, indicating that they consider these island formations as rocks under Article 121(3) of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which cannot generate either EEZs or continental shelves.  Are the states of Southeast Asia pursuing a political objective by modifying their legal discourse? There has been a notable evolution in the discourse of Southeast Asian states involved in the South China Sea conflict – Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, and even Indonesia, which is not directly embroiled in the dispute over sovereignty in the Spratly Islands – regarding the status of these islands and their capacity to generate maritime zones. Changes in interpretation, qualifications, or legal doctrines, as well as efforts to define international norms, can potentially be seen as a mobilization of law to achieve political objectives. When questioned about the evolution of legal analyses among the protagonists in Southeast Asia, a majority of the interviewed specialists (20 out of 25) noted a clear shift in the discourse of these four countries. There is a consensus that they seek alignment with the principles of the Law of the Sea. These states are exploiting ambiguities in Article 121 for political purposes: it involves waging "legal guerrilla warfare" and "legal diplomacy" to underscore China's divergent stance and, implicitly, its disregard for the spirit of UNCLOS. Chinese Response: Reassessing Island Groups in the South China Sea? On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague issued its ruling following the Philippines' claim filed in 2013. The Court's decision rebuffed Chinese assertions regarding historical rights and determined that none of the island formations in the Spratlys qualify as islands under Article 121, precluding them from generating an EEZ or continental shelf. China vehemently rejected this ruling, refusing to acknowledge the arbitration. However, Chinese rhetoric has shifted since 2016, indicating a willingness to adjust its arguments in light of the Court's findings. Before 2016, China asserted its sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea without specifying the status of the Paracels or Spratlys island groups. However, since 2016, China has been advancing a new line of argumentation, grouping the island formations in the South China Sea into cohesive units. Chinese sovereignty is claimed to be derived from control over four blocks of islands forming coherent entities. It appears that Chinese legal experts are attempting to introduce a novel concept, as China cannot assert itself as an archipelagic State under UNCLOS. Such status would allow continental States to draw baselines around their archipelagos, which are considered territorial units. This concept faces significant challenge from numerous Western legal experts. Hence, in the Chinese narrative, there's a departure from discussing individual island groups or the ambiguous nine-dash line, towards emphasizing four archipelagos as the fundamental units of Chinese legal discourse. This shift, while sidestepping the PCA's 2016 ruling and distancing itself from the weakened concept of "island" due to the arbitration's denial of China's EEZ rights in the Spratlys, introduces the notion of archipelagos, purportedly enabling the creation of maritime zones in official discourse. However, this stance is dubious under the Law of the Sea, as it doesn't permit continental States to exploit the establishment of archipelagos outlined by lengthy baselines. Moreover, it doesn't authorize the generation of maritime zones from archipelagic entities if the islands constituting these archipelagos cannot themselves establish an EEZ or continental shelf.    Conclusion In the South China Sea, there has been a notable shift in legal positions by both China and the Southeast Asian states. Vietnam, the Philippines, and Malaysia are now advancing the argument that the islets fail to meet the criteria outlined in Article 121(3), thus negating the establishment of an EEZ or continental shelf. This reclassification not only impacts their own claims but, more significantly, challenges China's assertion of expansive maritime territories under international law. This strategic maneuvering appears to signify a politicized manipulation of maritime legal frameworks. Conversely, China has also undergone doctrinal evolution, transitioning from conventional maritime claims rooted in the Paracels and Spratlys islands, to the historically contentious nine-dash line, and most recently, the emergence of the "Four Shas" concept, positing four coherent archipelagos as the basis for EEZs. This progression aims to establish a novel legal foundation to defend its ambitious territorial claims. In essence, these legal transformations underscore the instrumentalization of law as a means to advance and safeguard national interests, with China advocating for a distinct interpretation of international legal norms.

Defense & Security
Group of Chinese army soldiers in uniform lining up in Tiananmen

China’s Military Buildup: the Biggest Since 1945?

by Greg Austin

The Australian government asserts that China’s military buildup is the largest of any country in post-war history. Their threat perception is overblown. The Australian government claims that China has made the biggest military buildup of any country since 1945. The statement is contained in the 2023 Strategic Review: “China’s military build-up is now the largest and most ambitious of any country since the end of the Second World War.” The claim has been repeated in several media interviews by the Defence Minister Richard Marles in Australia and overseas. Such claims are hard to pin down since analysing them throws up different possible methods for assessing a buildup, let alone its ambition. Nevertheless, on the basis of a normal interpretation of “biggest military buildup” since 1945, the dubious honour falls to the USSR in the 23-year period from 1962 (the Cuban missile crisis) to 1985 when it was engaged in global confrontation with the United States and military confrontation with China on their mutual border. If we compare the surge we saw in the USSR in that 23-year period with the surge in China’s buildup in a similar time span, between 2000-2023, the conclusion is stark. China’s build up is not only smaller in terms of comparative growth rates in key categories of military capability (nuclear warheads, intercontinental missiles, submarines, and principal surface combatants), but the end point in numbers arrived by China at the end of its 23-year buildup are far smaller than those achieved by the USSR in 1985. For example, the USSR had 40,000 nuclear warheads in 1985 and China in 2023 has only 500. The USSR in 1985 had ten times the number of intercontinental and sea-launched nuclear ballistic missiles as China does today. China is currently engaged in a modernisation and likely expansion of its forces in coming years, but the comparison over 23 years between China (2002-2025) and the Soviet period (1962-1985) would not change significantly. For the time being, however, the claim by the Australian government would not appear to be borne out by the facts. There is another contender to join the ranks ahead of China in the record for the biggest military buildup since 1945, and that is the United States in the 23 years from 1949 to 1972. This period began just after the start of the Cold War in 1948, the signing of the North Atlantic Treaty in 1949, and the victory of Communist Forces in the Chinese Civil War in the same year. In that period, the US fought two major local wars: in Korea and in Vietnam. The end point of this period is marked by détente between the US and both the USSR and China, and the US-Soviet strategic arms limitation agreements. Table 1 below offers a comparison of numbers for selected categories of military platforms and for nuclear warheads at the end point of the three different buildups over the selected 23-year periods. The data shows that China cannot claim to have the biggest military buildup since 1945, and that it sits well behind the USSR and the US in that effort. Table 1: Platform numbers at the end-point of the buildup US 1972, USSR 1985, CHINA 2023. Source*     US 1972 USSR 1985 PRC 2023 ICBM 1,000 1,396 350 SLBM  656 983 72 N-Warheads  26,516 ~40,000 ~500 Strategic Submarines (SSB or SSBN)  41 70 6 Attack Submarines (SSK and SSN)  94 206 53 Aircraft Carriers  17 3 2 Principal Surface Combatants  242 280 97 Bomber ACFT  455 847 500 Tactical Combat ACFT  7,560 6,300 2,394 Tanks  9,434 52,600 4,200 Artillery  6,318 39,000 7,600   The government’s intent in using the phrase “biggest military buildup” in connection with China is to imply it is the biggest military or strategic threat that Australia and its allies have faced since 1945. This implication is reinforced by the equally questionable claim by the prime minister and many officials over several years that Australia faces its most challenging strategic environment since 1945. This proposition is as easily contradicted by the facts as the claim about biggest military buildup, as analysed in my critique in the journal of the International Institute of Strategic Studies, under the title, “Australia’s Drums of War” published in 2021. China poses clear threats to Australian strategic and military interests, but the pace and scale of its military buildup have only been modest compared with the two historical examples cited. The categories selected for Table 1 relate primarily to China’s capability to project power well beyond its coastal areas and beyond Taiwan. That set of categories used is one often seen in comparisons of national military capabilities in the broad. In contrast, there are categories of platforms where the buildup has been more rapid and consequential, such as in dual-use (conventional or nuclear) intermediate range ballistic missiles (IRBM) and smaller ships (corvettes) and patrol craft. Yet these capabilities relate almost entirely to coastal areas or near sea areas, especially for localised contingencies involving Taiwan and/or Japan. The rapid expansion of these lighter and smaller maritime forces and the large number of IRBMs for localised contingencies is what Australia and its allies need to address. In particular, the expansion of the number of smaller patrol craft would be a particularly powerful enabler for unconventional scenarios of strategic pressure by China on Taiwan. It is doubtful that the exaggeration of China’s general military buildup is helpful in achieving that focus. China has good options for irregular operations and subversion against Taiwan that it will almost certainly take before risking a major military confrontation with the US and its allies. *Data is not fully consistent in different sources. For China, the data in Table 1 is based on the US Dept of Defence, “Military and Security Developments in the People’s Republic of China,” October, 2023. Data for the USSR is based on Department of Defense, “Soviet Military Power 1986,” 1986. Data for the US is based on several official US documents. These include ‘The Joint Chiefs of Staff and National Military Policy 1969-72,” 2013; Naval History and Heritage Command, “US Ship Force Levels 1886-Present,” undated; US Dept of State, “Transparency in the US Nuclear Weapons Stockpile,” undated; and Congressional Research Service, “US/Soviet Military Balance Statistical Trends’ 1970-1980,” October 1981. The author has also consulted IISS, “The Military Balance 1973,” 1973. Note that the census date for these various sources is not always clear but the author has assumed them to refer to platform holdings during the year indicated in Table 1 even if the publication date is the year following.

Diplomacy
China and the USA wrestle over Taiwan

When Giants Wrestle: The End of Another Round of Tensions Between the United States and China?

by Ofir Dayan , Shahar Eilam

How are the fluctuating tensions between Washington and Beijing over Taiwan expected to affect Israel? On January 13, William Lai, the leader of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), was elected president of Taiwan. A few days earlier, for the first time in four years, the United States-China Defense Policy Coordination Talks took place in Washington, marking the end of a prolonged round of tension between the two powers, which had peaked in August 2022 when the speaker of the US House of Representatives visited Taiwan. Taiwan is a major point of friction in the already tense relations between the two powers. Managing the disagreements between them has broad implications, including for Israel. The ongoing strategic rivalry between the two superpowers—the United States and China—is the most important geostrategic factor of our time. The two countries are vying for technological dominance and control over resources, that will shape our future, and infrastructure that is critical for civilian, economic, and military purposes. The United States and China are also competing for global influence by forming partnerships and trying to influence world order, including its values, institutions, and mechanisms that regulate it. Can they shape the rules of the competition between them without spiraling into a military conflict that would have devastating global consequences? Taiwan may be the most volatile flashpoint in the complicated relationship between the two powers. For China, the “reunification” with Taiwan is one of its “core interests”—a top objective and a flagship issue in its foreign policy. Although the United States has repeatedly declared that it is committed to the “one China” policy, it is also an ally of Taiwan. The United States has warned China to refrain from making unilateral, aggressive moves vis-à-vis Taiwan, while supplying Taiwan with military resources to deter China and prevent a forceful takeover. Since assuming power in 2013, President Xi Jinping of China has repeatedly emphasized Taiwan’s unification with China as a key objective. During a meeting with President Joe Biden in November 2023, President Xi said that China “prefers” a peaceful unification, but he did not dismiss the use of force. On the eve of Taiwan’s 2024 elections, President Xi further stated that unification is “inevitable.” The tensions between the powers over Taiwan had escalated following the previous elections on the island in 2020. During this period, senior American officials visited Taiwan, and the United States and Taiwan signed weapons deals in August and September of that year, followed by a marked increase in Chinese military aircraft penetrating the island’s air defense identification zone and crossing the “midline” between the island and mainland China. China’s perception of encirclement was further heightened by the United States’ strengthening of its alliances and initiatives in the Indo-Pacific region (such as QUAD, AUKUS, and IPEF) and by the increased diplomatic pressure exerted on China, through boycotting the 2022 Winter Olympics and protesting its human rights record. But even during this period, despite rising tensions, the two nations maintained ongoing communications, including the Alaska talks in March 2021—although they were notably tense—and the meeting between the presidents in November of that year. The tension peaked in April 2022, when then Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi announced her intention to visit Taiwan. China strongly protested, and the White House even recommended Pelosi to reconsider her visit due to concerns about potential military escalation. Pelosi refused and proceeded with her visit in August, delivering a speech at the Taiwanese legislature and advocating for increased American–Taiwanese cooperation. In an article published in the United States before her visit, Pelosi wrote that “at a time when the world faces a choice between autocracy and democracy . . . it is essential that America and our allies make clear that we never give in to autocrats.”   In response to Pelosi’s visit, China held a large-scale military exercise that disrupted air and maritime traffic in the region and released a white paper emphasizing “The Taiwan Question and China’s Reunification in the New Era.” Furthermore, as a countermeasure to Pelosi’s visit, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that it was suspending all dialogue and cooperation with the United States, including dialogues between the military commands, the ministries of defense (DPCT), and the maritime military coordination (MMCA), and cooperation in the fields of illegal immigration, criminal legal assistance, transnational crimes, counternarcotics, and climate change. In November 2022, presidents Biden and Xi met in Bali, Indonesia, in an attempt to put the relations between the two powers back on track. After the meeting, the White House issued a statement announcing that the United States will continue to compete actively with China, but the two countries must manage their competition responsibly, without letting it escalate, while maintaining open channels of communication and continuing to cooperate on global issues such as climate change, counternarcotics, debt relief, health, and food security. Regarding Taiwan, the United States reiterated its commitment to the one China policy but strongly opposed China’s aggressive actions, which violate peace and stability in the Strait and in the entire region. The Chinese also released a statement, noting that President Xi highlighted that Taiwan is a core Chinese interest and constitutes a red line that is nonnegotiable in the relations between the two countries. It was anticipated that the year 2023 would begin on a more positive tone, with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s scheduled visit to China in February. The visit was canceled when a Chinese balloon was discovered floating over US territory for a week until the US Air Force intercepted it. Although the White House at first tried to downplay the incident, with President Biden initially referring to it as a “minor breach” and said that the Chinese government was unaware of the issue. China claimed that a weather monitoring and research balloon had strayed off course. Public pressure, however, led the administration to cancel Blinken’s visit. Subsequently, the US Department of Commerce imposed restrictions on six Chinese companies linked to balloon and aviation technologies that are used by the Chinese military, requiring that they receive special approval to access American technology. In April and May, China retaliated at a relatively low bar by imposing sanctions on a US member of Congress who visited Taiwan and sentenced an American citizen living in Hong Kong to life imprisonment, for alleged espionage for the United States. These actions reflect the efforts of both China and the United States to take focused, restrained measures, to avoid escalating tensions. The absence of a strong reaction from China to the establishment of a select committee within the US House of Representatives, focused on examining the US–China strategic competition, suggests that China sought to prevent further escalation of the conflict.   Efforts to end the crisis and restore talks were renewed in May 2023 when the head of the CIA met with his Chinese “counterparts.” In June, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Chinese Minister of Defense Wei Fenghe met on the sidelines of the Shangri-La conference in Singapore. Secretary of State Blinken’s anticipated visit to China took place later that month. In July, US Special Envoy for Climate John Kerry and Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen traveled to China, followed by a visit of US Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo in August. These high-level meetings concluded on a note of cautious optimism, with both sides acknowledging “progress” but not a “solution,” as the purpose of the meetings was to stabilize relations rather than to resolve the issues in dispute. In September 2023, Secretary of the Treasury Yellen and Chinese Finance Minister He Lifeng launched two new working groups on economic and financial issues. Moreover, Pentagon officials and their Chinese counterparts met and discussed the US Department of Defense’s cyber strategy, followed by a meeting of the American and Chinese presidents in San Francisco in November. The American efforts to renew the military dialogue between the two countries was initially met with refusal by China until December, when General Brown, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke with his Chinese counterpart General Liu Zhenli. In early January 2024, a few days before the elections in Taiwan, the annual Defense Policy Coordination Talks between the two countries were held at the Pentagon for the first time in four years. These developments reflect China’s acute sensitivity toward the Taiwan issue and its willingness to take significant measures against perceived violations of its One China Policy, especially by the United States. Despite numerous disputes, the growing rivalry between them, the defiant measures, and the reciprocal sanctions, these events highlight that the two powers recognize the importance of keeping channels of communication open. This dialogue is crucial for pursuing shared interests, resolving disputes, and minimizing the risk of military escalation that could have far-reaching consequences for both nations as well as the global community. The ongoing tension between the United States and China over Taiwan also has implications for Israel. First, the increasing friction between the powers has accelerated the formation of two opposing camps and has limited Israel’s ability to maneuver between them. As demonstrated (again) since the outbreak of the war between Israel and Hamas, the United States is Israel’s greatest friend and its most important strategic ally. While China is an important economic partner of Israel, its policy is not that of a friend, and its oppositional stance toward Israel has the potential to cause significant damage. The United States expects its allies to stand by its side and to align more closely with its policies vis-à-vis China, especially concerning advanced technologies and critical infrastructure. Failing to meet US expectations could strain US–Israel relations. Second, a military escalation between the United States and China would also have global economic consequences, seriously disrupting supply chains of raw materials and essential goods crucial to Israel. Finally, the US administration recently linked the military aid granted to Israel to that of both Taiwan and Ukraine, framing them as three democracies under threat. While this linkage underscores the US commitment to its allies, it also creates constraints and interdependencies. The attention and resources that the United States currently allocates to Israel and to the broader challenges in the Middle East could be compromised if the United States faces serious military crises elsewhere in the world, and this could have far-reaching impacts on Israel.

Defense & Security
Bomb with the Flag of North Korea

Nuclear tensions on the Korean Peninsula set to worsen in 2024

by Alistair Burnett

2024 looks set to be an even more perilous year than 2023 on the Korean Peninsula as nuclear threat and counter threat have escalated even further since the beginning of January. On New Year’s Day, South Korea’s defence ministry repeated previous threats to destroy the North Korean “regime” if it uses nuclear weapons. This was a response to North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un’s speech the day before in which he told his military to prepare for possible war. Since then, Kim has said he has given up on the idea of peaceful reunification with South Korea designating it a hostile state and again warned of possible war. In the past week alone, Kim has called for a change in the constitution to designate Seoul as Pyongyang’s “primary foe” and a confidence building military agreement with the South agreed in 2018 has started to fall apart as the South Korean armed forces resumed frontline aerial surveillance in the wake of North Korean artillery exercises near a South Korean island on the maritime border between the two states. The expected change in the constitution of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea’s official name) follows an amendment last year that enshrined nuclear weapons in it. This week has also seen the North testing what it says is a solid-fuelled hypersonic missile and an underwater nuclear drone in response to what some observers say is the largest ever joint naval exercise between South Korea, the United States and Japan. Analysts believe Pyongyang is developing both so-called strategic and tactical nuclear weapons in order to deter the US which is committed to use nuclear weapons in South Korea’s defence. North Korea has been testing more and more advanced ballistic missiles and warheads, some with the range to reach the US and has also said it is developing ship-launched cruise missiles, while the Americans have been mounting repeated shows of force including military exercises using nuclear-capable aircraft and the visit of a nuclear-armed submarine to South Korea. Last year, the US and South Korea agreed to increase their cooperation on the planning for the use of nuclear weapons following earlier statements by South Korean President, Yoon Suk Yeol, that suggested Seoul might develop its own nuclear weapons. Yoon has since cooled talk of acquiring nuclear weapons, but the debate continues in policy circles. Another escalatory move has been increasing military cooperation between the US, South Korea, and Japan, which also endorses the use of American nuclear weapons in its defence. In the light of this, some analysts see the Korean Peninsula as the most dangerous nuclear flashpoint in a world that currently has no shortage of conflict involving nuclear-armed states in Ukraine and Gaza. Alicia Sanders-Zakre, ICAN’s Policy and Research Coordinator, called for restraint on all sides: “Inflammatory nuclear rhetoric and threats, accompanied by military exercises and weapons tests, ramp up tensions and bring us closer to the brink of catastrophe. All nuclear-armed states, including North Korea and the US, as well as those allied on nuclear policies, such as Japan and South Korea, need to take urgent steps to de-escalate tensions and to break free from the dangerous doctrine of nuclear deterrence. Joining the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is a crucial step to delegitimise nuclear deterrence and eliminate nuclear weapons.” North Korea uses the same justification for its actions as the US, and the other declared nuclear-armed states. Just like Washington, Pyongyang says it is committed to disarmament, but argues the security threats it faces mean it needs nuclear weapons to deter its enemies. The doctrine of deterrence is based on the threat to use nuclear weapons with all the catastrophic consequences that would entail for the whole world. As the states parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) declared at their recent meeting in New York: “the renewed advocacy, insistence on and attempts to justify nuclear deterrence as a legitimate security doctrine gives false credence to the value of nuclear weapons for national security and dangerously increases the risk of horizontal and vertical nuclear proliferation.” The TPNW is growing in strength and has just welcomed its 70th state party while a further 27 countries are signatories. These states recognise that the total elimination of nuclear weapons is a global imperative and they are showing responsible leadership by championing the treaty as the best way to end the existential threat posed by nuclear weapons.

Diplomacy
Taiwan, EU and China Flag

The post-election Taiwanese economy: decisions ahead and takeaways for the European Union

by Alicia García-Herrero

The EU should try to attract more business from Taiwan, though Taiwan’s January 2024 election hasn’t made the job easier Taiwan’s economy has transformed since 2016 under the leadership of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). In particular, the Taiwanese economy has diversified away from mainland China, while reliance on semiconductors is now even more acute than eight years ago. In elections in January, the DPP won the presidency for a third term but lost overall control of Taiwan’s parliament, the Legislative Yuan. In contrast to the previous two terms, the DPP therefore needs to agree policy, including economic policy, with other parties. this could signal a softer approach in relation to the continuation of diversification away from the mainland. Ongoing diversification Mainland China remains Taiwan’s biggest export and investment destination, despite the share of Taiwan’s exports that go to China reducing from 40 percent on average between 2016 and 2019 to 35 percent in 2023 (Figure 1). This has happened even though Taiwan signed a free trade agreement with mainland China in 2010 – the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) – which at the time led to an increase in Taiwanese exports to the mainland. The COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 also triggered a sharp increase as the rest of the world entered a deep recession, but the trend has not lasted. Since 2021, the share of Taiwanese exports going to the mainland has dropped significantly, influenced by US export controls on high-end semiconductors, with a clear knock-on effect on Taiwanese exporters.   Taiwanese FDI into mainland China has also shrunk rapidly, from 65 percent of total Taiwanese FDI on average from 2008-2016 to 34 percent on average from 2017-2023 (Figure 2). The difference between these periods is that in the former, Taiwan was governed by the Kuomintang (KMT, Chinese Nationalist Party), which favours closer relations with the mainland, while in the latter period the DPP was in charge. There are both geopolitical and economic reasons for mainland China’s falling share of Taiwanese FDI. First, the ECFA trade and investment agreement, reached under the first term of KMT President Ma Ying-jeou, was not extended when a new round of negotiations started in 2012, to include technological cooperation, finance and people-to-people exchanges. A broader economic agreement between Taiwan and the mainland, mostly focusing on services – the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement (CSSTA) – fell victim to lack of consensus among Taiwan’s main political parties, increased tensions in the Taiwan Straits and student protests in Taiwan (the so-called Sunflower movement) in 2014.1 Second, with the DPP victory in 2016, the new Southbound Policy 2 was launched, offering incentives for Taiwanese companies investing in 18 Asian countries, including ASEAN 3, India and other South Asian and Australasian nations. In addition, rising labour costs in mainland China, the ongoing trade war between the US and China, an increased regulatory burden in the mainland and political tensions between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait also pushed Taiwanese businesses to look elsewhere to invest. -    The new political reality and geographical diversification While the election-winning DPP wants to see further diversification away from the mainland, the more pro-China party, the KMT, wants reinforced economic relations with China.4 Because of the now-hung parliament, the DPP will need to take some of the KMT’s wishes into account it wants pass new rules, including those related to geographical diversification. Beyond the two parties’ preferences, two other important issues also need to be factored in. First, geographical diversification requires open markets but Taiwan is increasingly unable to open any market through trade or investment deals. Taiwan has spent the last eight years negotiating bilateral deals with its closest allies, Japan and the US, but the DPP administration has not even been able to complete these. Incoming President Lai has said that Taiwan should continue to push to be part of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), to which it applied in September 2021, but the reality is that Taiwan’s application has little hope of success. China officially applied to be a member of the CPTTP only a couple of days before Taiwan. Since then, the United Kingdom has become a member of CPTTP, but the negotiation processes with Taiwan and mainland China have not started. Australian’s prime minister, Anthony Albanese, has expressed severe doubts about Taiwan’s ability to become member of CPTTP because of lack of international recognition of it as a nation-state.5 Second, while the DPP is likely to continue to offer more fiscal incentives to promote diversification in Southeast Asia and India (under the Southbound Policy), the fastest-growing destination for both exports and foreign direct investment from Taiwan is the United States, followed by Japan. This can be explained by the ongoing artificial intelligence revolution, which needs semiconductors, and the decisions of some key Taiwanese chip companies (especially TSCM) to open factories overseas for chip production, with the US and Japan as the most important destinations. In other words, the DPP’s push for geographical diversification might not be the main reason why diversification has happened; rather, it has been driven by market forces and business opportunities. This also means that the KMT push to maintain – if not deepen – economic ties with mainland China might not succeed unless China’s currently underwhelming economic performance turns around. Implications for the European Union So far, the EU has benefitted little from Taiwan’s trade and investment diversification, at least when compared to the US and the rest of Asia. The EU’s export share into Taiwan has remained practically stagnant (while the US has doubled its share), notwithstanding a large increase in exports from the Netherlands for a single item – ASML’s lithography machines for chip production. The EU lacks a trade or investment deal with Taiwan, but so do some of Taiwan’s other trading partners, including the US. Considering that the EU is the largest foreign direct investor in Taiwan, the question arises of whether the EU should do more to foster more bilateral economic relations. The gains could be substantial, especially from inbound FDI as Taiwanese investment focuses on high-end manufacturing. There has been some movement. A €5 billion investment in France by a Taiwanese company (ProLogium) was announced in May 2023 to build a battery factory 6 . TSMC announced in August 2023 a €4.5 billion investment in a semiconductor factory in Germany 7 . But for the EU to catch up with Japan and the US as a recipient of outbound FDI from Taiwan, the result of Taiwan’s elections could be an obstacle. This is because the DPP will have less control of the economic agenda because it does not control the Legislative Yuan. The close-to-impossible negotiation of a trade and investment deal between the EU and Taiwan – as shown by Taiwan’s difficulties in relation to Japan, the US and the CPTTP – does not point to any improvement in the institutional framework for economic relations to improve. The question, then, is what can the EU offer to attract high-end foreign direct investment from Taiwan? Subsidies to attract semiconductor factories cannot be the only answer, given the very large amounts needed and the pressure such subsidies put on EU member states’ already stretched finances (Legarda and Vasselier, 2023). Working with business associations and chambers should be a key driving force to improve business relations between Taiwan and the EU, especially considering that the EU is the largest foreign foreign direct investor in Taiwan, while Taiwanese companies have been absent from the EU single market until recently. Overall, the US and the rest of Asia have been the main winners from Taiwan’s rapid diversification of its economy away from mainland China. The EU, which is lagging, should work to enhance its economic exchanges with Taiwan. Hopefully the January 2024 election results will facilitate this. Most importantly, the EU should aim to attract more high-tech FDI from Taiwan. Unfortunately, a better institutional framework through a trade/investment deal seems highly unlikely, for geopolitical reasons. This puts all the burden on chambers of commerce and other forums to improve business relations. References 1- The Sunflower Movement was a student-led protest that occuped Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan to put pressure on the KMT government against signing a second cooperation deal with mainland China. See Ho (2018). 2- See the New Southbound Policy portal at https://nspp.mofa.gov.tw/nsppe/. 3- Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. 4- Alicia García-Herrero, ‘Taiwan’s future economic direction hinges on the election outcome’, First glance, 12 January 2024, Bruegel https://www.bruegel.org/first-glance/taiwans-future-economic-direction-… 5- Claudia Long and Stephen Dziedzic, ‘Albanese says Australia is unlikely to support Taiwan 6- France24, ‘Taiwanese battery maker Prologium to invest €5 billion in French factory’, 12 May 2023, https://www.france24.com/en/europe/20230512-taiwanese-battery-maker-pro…. 7- DW, ‘Taiwan’s TSMC to build semiconductor factory in Germany’, 8 August 2023, https://www.dw.com/en/taiwans-tsmc-to-build-semiconductor-factory-in-ge…. Ho, M.-S. (2018) ‘The Activist Legacy of Taiwan’s Sunflower Movement’, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2 August, available at https://carnegieendowment.org/2018/08/02/activist-legacy-of-taiwan-s-sunflower-movement-pub-76966 Legarda, H. and A. Vasselier (2023) ‘Navigating Taiwan relations in 2024: Practical considerations for European policy makers’, China Horizons, 21 December, available at https://chinahorizons.eu/our-research/policy-briefs/278-navigating-taiwan-relations-in-2024-practical-considerations-for-european-policy-makers

Defense & Security
Map of the Korean Peninsula

Precarious Year Ahead for the Korean Peninsula

by Bruce Klingner

SUMMARY The Korean Peninsula seems always to be on the knife edge of calamity. North Korea’s growing nuclear arsenal, its more threatening language, and the potential for more provocative and aggressive actions are a volatile combination. Overreacting to Pyongyang’s inflammatory threatening language is dangerous, but so is dismissing potential signals of a resumption of deadly tactical attacks. Indications are that this year will be even busier for Korea watchers who long ago learned to keep both a pot of coffee and a bottle of scotch nearby to deal with the inevitable crises. KEY TAKEAWAYS 1. North Korea’s growing nuclear arsenal, its more threatening language, and the potential for more provocative and aggressive actions are a volatile combination. 2. Overreacting to Pyongyang’s inflammatory threatening language is dangerous, but so is dismissing potential signals of a resumption of deadly tactical attacks. 3. Reducing the potential for invasion while increasing transparency with respect to military forces can reduce the potential for miscalculation and a military clash. It appears that 2024 is going to be a year for greater North Korean provocations, heightened tensions, and increased potential for tactical military clashes along the inter-Korean border. Pyongyang’s rhetoric and military posture have become more threatening, and the regime recently abandoned a military tension-reduction agreement with Seoul. That said, Pyongyang is unlikely to start a major war with South Korea and the United States deliberately. In other words, put your helmets on, but there’s no need to get under the desk just yet. More Bombastic and Threatening Rhetoric During major speeches in December 2023 and January, North Korean “Supreme Leader” Kim Jong-un described the Korean Peninsula as being “on the brink of a nuclear war” and called on his military to accelerate preparations for “a great event to suppress the whole territory of South Korea by mobilizing all physical means and forces including nuclear forces.”1 Kim warned that North Korea “does not want war, but we also have no intention of avoiding it” and that a “physical clash can be caused and escalated even by a slight accidental factor in the area along the Military Demarcation Line.”2 Kim Yo-jong, Kim Jong-un’s powerful sister, declared similarly that “the safety catch of [the] trigger of the Korean People's Army (KPA) had already been slipped” and that Pyongyang “will launch an immediate military strike if the enemy makes even a slight provocation.”3 Kim Jong-un also abandoned decades of North Korean policy seeking reconciliation and reunification with South Korea, instead describing inter-Korean relations as now being between “two hostile and belligerent states.”4 This declaration is particularly noteworthy because Kim is implicitly criticizing the unification policy of both his grandfather Kim Il-sung and his father Kim Jong-il. Such blasphemous remarks coming from anyone else would have immediate and dire consequences. To emphasize the new policy, Kim disbanded all government agencies devoted to relations with South Korea and demolished the massive monument to Korean unification that had been commissioned by his father Kim Jong-il, describing it as an “eyesore.”5 North Korea backed up its diatribes with artillery fire along the naval boundary off the west coast of the Korean Peninsula. Pyongyang fired a total of 350 shells during three consecutive days in early January, and South Korea responded by firing 400 artillery rounds. While all shells remained on each country’s side of the disputed Northern Limit Line that delineates the de facto maritime border between the two Koreas, they did land in the former buffer zone created by the 2018 inter-Korean Comprehensive Military Agreement. That bilateral risk-reduction accord had proscribed artillery fire and military drills near the border area. Pyongyang’s nullification of the agreement in November 2023 will return armed North and South Korean troops back to closer contact. Seoul announced that it would resume army, navy, and Marine Corps live-fire artillery drills and regiment-level field maneuvers within five kilometers of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).6 North Korea’s belligerent declarations, along with escalating provocations, may be intended to influence both the April 10 South Korean National Assembly election and the November U.S. presidential election. However, such actions would more likely affirm pre-existing progressive and conservative views rather than they would to induce any voters to change sides. Inexorably Growing Military Threat North Korea has been on a multi-year binge of testing and deploying improved nuclear-capable systems that can target South Korea, Japan, and the continental United States. Most recently, Pyongyang successfully launched a solid-fueled ICBM, a solid-fueled intermediate-range missile with a hypersonic maneuverable warhead, its first military reconnaissance satellite, submarine-launched cruise missiles, and an underwater nuclear-capable drone. Knowing that he is backed in the U.N. Security Council by China and Russia could embolden Kim Jong-un to pursue even more provocative behavior. In the past, Beijing and Moscow were willing to impose U.N. resolutions and sanctions after North Korean ICBM and nuclear tests, but both countries now block new international actions in response to Pyongyang’s repeated violations of previous U.N. resolutions. North Korea could conduct its long-awaited seventh nuclear test—either of a new generation of tactical battlefield nuclear weapons or of Kim’s promised “super large” weapon. In its last nuclear test in 2017, Pyongyang exploded a hydrogen bomb at least 10 times as powerful as the 1945 atomic weapons used against Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The regime could also launch an ICBM over Japan and demonstrate multiple-warhead or re-entry vehicle capabilities. To date, all ICBM launches have been on a nearly vertical lofted trajectory to avoid flying over other countries. North Korean provocations are expected to increase in the run-up to the annual U.S.–South Korean large-scale military exercises in March. Trilateral Axis of Authoritarianism Pyongyang’s recently strengthened relationship with Moscow is another cause for concern. In return for shipping over a million artillery shells and rockets to Russia for Moscow to use in its attacks on Ukraine, North Korea is likely to receive some military technology. While some experts believe that this could include nuclear warhead, re-entry vehicle, or ICBM technology, Moscow is less likely to provide those “crown jewels” than it is to provide lower-level conventional weapon technology. However, any Russian assistance to improve North Korean weapons is worrisome to the U.S. and its allies. Both China and North Korea responded to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine by increasing their economic and military support to Moscow. There is growing apprehension of the risk of horizontal escalation in which Beijing or Pyongyang could take advantage of the global focus on crises in Ukraine and the Middle East to initiate their own coercive or military actions against Taiwan or South Korea. Clashes but Not War Some experts speculate that the situation on the Korean Peninsula is the most dangerous it has been since the 1950 North Korean invasion of the south and that Kim Jong-un has already made the strategic decision to go to war.7 However, despite its menacing posturing, Pyongyang would not have sent massive amounts of artillery shells and rockets as well as dozens of its new KN-23 missiles to Russia if it were contemplating starting a war with South Korea. Nor has any buildup of North Korea military forces along the inter-Korean border been detected. More probable is another tactical-level military clash along the DMZ or maritime Northern Limit Line. South Korean officials privately comment that they cannot rule out another deadly North Korean attack such as the 2010 sinking of the South Korean naval ship Cheonan and shelling of Yeonpyeong Island, which cumulatively killed 50 South Koreans. Danger of Stumbling Into Major Conflict Both Koreas have been more vocal in their vows to strike preemptively if they perceive—or misperceive—the other side as preparing for an attack. In 2022, North Korea revised its nuclear law and disturbingly lowered the threshold for its use of nuclear weapons. The regime is developing smaller tactical nuclear warheads for deployment to forward-based units, and their proximity to allied forces across the DMZ could lead to a “use it or lose it” strategy for its vulnerable nuclear arsenal during the early stages of a conflict. South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol has shown a greater willingness to respond firmly to North Korean threats than his predecessor did. He directed enhancement of South Korea’s preemptive attack capabilities and declared, “Should North Korea make a provocation, we will punish it many times over.”8 He told his military to “immediately respond and retaliate before reporting to [higher authorities and] sternly and swiftly smash the enemy’s intentions to stage provocations on the spot.”9 The danger of miscalculated military action is real, even at a tactical level. In 2015, Seoul announced that North Korea had fired 13 artillery shells into South Korea and it had responded with 39 shells into the North. However, a subsequent investigation by United Nations Command revealed that there had been no North Korean military attack. Instead, South Korean counter-battery radar had misinterpreted a nearby lightning storm as inbound artillery fire. Luckily, North Korea did not respond to the unprovoked South Korean action. What Washington Should Do Washington must walk a fine line between maintaining a strong military posture to deter and if necessary respond to North Korean military actions while also minimizing the risk of inadvertent escalation into a strategic war. With this in mind, the U.S. should: • Enhance trilateral security cooperation. The U.S., along with South Korea and Japan, should continue ongoing efforts to increase coordination among their three militaries. South Korean President Yoon acknowledged the importance of Tokyo’s role in a Korean contingency, including the seven U.N. Command bases in Japan. During their August 2023 Camp David summit, the three leaders pledged even more extensive trilateral military exercises, real-time exchange of information on North Korean missile launches, and increased cooperation on ballistic missile defense. The leaders’ commitment to consult and coordinate responses to common security threats was a major step forward in trilateral military cooperation but stopped far short of formal alliance. The three countries should continue and expand the scope of the trilateral combined military exercises that resumed in 2022 after a four-year hiatus. The wide-ranging exercises reversed the degradation in allied deterrence and defense capabilities as did the resumption of U.S. rotational deployment of strategic nuclear-capable assets to the Korean theater of operations. • Ensure that military exercises are strong but constrained in location. The U.S. and its allies should be aware that any large-scale unannounced combined military operations close to North Korea’s borders run the risk of being misinterpreted by Pyongyang as preparations for an allied attack. Therefore, while maintaining high levels of military training, the exercises should be announced beforehand and not conducted close to North Korean forces along the DMZ. Washington should also counsel Seoul against highly escalatory responses to North Korean actions. However, appearing too heavy-handed in trying to curtail a South Korean response to a tactical-level attack risks undermining ongoing U.S. efforts to reassure Seoul of America’s commitment to its defense. After both 2010 North Korean attacks, South Korean officials privately complained that the U.S. had “sat on its ally” and prevented a South Korean retaliation. More recently, North Korea’s growing ability to hit the American homeland with nuclear weapons caused South Koreans to doubt the viability of the U.S. as an ally and led to greater domestic advocacy for an indigenous nuclear weapon program. • Push for risk-reduction talks. There seems to be little potential for a diplomatic off-ramp on the road to crisis with North Korea. Since late 2019, the regime has rejected all U.S. and South Korean entreaties for dialogue on any topic, including provision of humanitarian aid. Nor does Pyongyang’s cancelling the inter-Korean Comprehensive Military Agreement bode well for negotiations. However, the proximity of several militaries to each other, rising suspicions, and mutual threats of preemptive attacks are a recipe for disaster. Washington and Seoul should call on Pyongyang to discuss potential risk-reduction and military confidence-building measures similar to those in the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty and the accompanying Vienna Document of Confidence and Security Building Measures. Reducing the potential for either side to conduct a sudden-start invasion while increasing transparency with respect to military forces can lower tensions by reducing the potential for miscalculation leading to a military clash. Conclusion The Korean Peninsula seems always to be on the knife edge of calamity, but North Korea’s growing nuclear arsenal, its more threatening language, and the potential for more provocative and aggressive actions are a volatile combination. Overreacting to Pyongyang’s inflammatory threatening language is dangerous, but so is dismissing potential signals of a resumption of deadly tactical attacks. Indications are that this year will be even busier for Korea watchers who long ago learned to keep both a pot of coffee and a bottle of scotch nearby to deal with the inevitable crises.   References: 1- Korea Central News Agency, “Report on 9th Enlarged Plenum of 8th WPK Central Committee,” KCNA Watch, December 31, 2023, (accessed February 5, 2024). https://kcnawatch.org/newstream/1704027054-512008976/report-on-9th-enlarged-plenum-of-8th-wpk-central-committee/ 2- Ibid. and Brad Lendon and Gawon Bae, “North Korea’s Kim Vows to Dismantle Father’s Unification Arch as He Declares South Korea ‘Principal Enemy,’” CNN, January 16, 2024, https://www.cnn.com/2024/01/16/asia/north-korea-kim-unification-arch-intl-hnk/index.html (accessed February 5, 2024). 3- Reuters, “North Korea Vows Military Strike If Any Provocation, Fires Artillery Rounds,” January 7, 2024, https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/north-koreas-kim-yo-jong-vows-immediate-response-provocation-kcna-2024-01-07/ (accessed February 5, 2024). 4- Korea Central News Agency, “Report on 9th Enlarged Plenum of 8th WPK Central Committee.” 5- Lendon and Bae, “North Korea’s Kim Vows to Dismantle Father’s Unification Arch as He Declares South Korea ‘Principal Enemy.’” 6- Chae Yun-hwan, “Military Set to Resume Drills Halted Under 2018 Inter-Korean Accord Buffer Zones,” Yonhap News Agency, January 9, 2024, https://en.yna.co.kr/view/AEN20240109007400315#:~:text=SEOUL%2C%20Jan.,artillery%20firing%2C%20officials%20said%20Tuesday (accessed February 5, 2024). 7- Robert L. Carlin and Siegfried S. Hecker, “Is Kim Jong Un Preparing for War?” Henry L. Stimson Center, 38 North, January 11, 2024, https://www.38north.org/2024/01/is-kim-jong-un-preparing-for-war / (accessed February 5, 2024). 8- Sarah Kim, “After North Declares ‘Hostile’ Relations, Yoon Vows to ‘Punish’ Regime in Case of a Provocation,” Korea Joongang Daily, updated January 18, 2024, https://koreajoongangdaily.joins.com/news/2024-01-16/national/northKorea/Yoon-vows-to-punish-North-Korea-many-times-over-in-case-of-a-provocation-/1959411?detailWord= (accessed February 5, 2024). 9- Hyung-Jin Kim, “North Korea’s Kim Vows to Bolster War Readiness to Repel US-Led Confrontations,” Associated Press, updated December 28, 2023, https://apnews.com/article/north-korea-kim-party-meeting-missiles-27803fcfbfa9cb2a89d6fb5e824e9c0c (accessed February 5, 2024).

Diplomacy
New Taiwan President Lai Ching-Te at a speech

Taiwan's national elections: a question of world order

by FAES Analysis Group

In an ideal world, Taiwan's national elections would have nothing to do with China or the United States, let alone the relationship between these two countries. However, the victory of Lai Ching-te, hitherto the vice-chairman of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government, a candidate who enjoys no sympathy from Beijing, has implications for China-Taiwan and China-US relations. In any case, the DPP's victory has not guaranteed it an absolute majority - in a chamber composed of 113 seats, the vote for the DPP fell from 61 to 51 (because of the poor economic situation) - and it will be forced to negotiate a coalition government. Taiwan's national elections are a matter of world order mainly because one of Xi Jinping's policy priorities is the "historical inevitability" of "unification" between China and Taiwan. If Xi fulfills his ambition, changing the borders and territorial integrity of a country through military force, it would be a flagrant violation of the international liberal order. Given U.S. President Joe Biden's promise - that Washington would defend Taiwan if invaded by China - "reunification" would provoke a war between the two powers, between revisionist and authoritarian China and the United States, the country that has created, sustained and led the international order after World War II. While Western politicians and analysts argue that China, as a revisionist power, increasingly poses a threat to the stability of the region and the international liberal order, for Taiwan it is an existential issue. The successful consolidation of Taiwan's democracy in recent decades has intensified the growth of a distinct Taiwanese identity. As the political systems of China and Taiwan continue to diverge, there is little support on the island for "unification." Taiwan is increasingly anchored to the West and its population is broadly in favor of strengthening relations with liberal democracies, especially Japan, the United States and Europe. From the beginning of the campaign, all three candidates - DPP's Lai, Hou Yu-ih of the Kuomintang (KMT), which increased its number of legislators from 38 to 52, and Ko Wen-je of the Taiwan People's Party (TPP), which has won 8 seats - expressed that the priority of their foreign and domestic policies would be to preserve Taiwan's de facto independence and peace with China. However, their strategies to achieve this are divergent. The strategy of Lai, the candidate who won the election, is to strengthen political, military and economic ties with the United States and its allies; while Hou and Ko intended to restart the dialogue with Beijing, which China interrupted after the inauguration of President Tsai Ing-wen in 2016 (William Lai's predecessor, who served two presidential terms at the helm of the country). The new government, possibly a coalition between the DPP and KMT, will be rocked by debates over increased Defense spending. KMT politicians disagree with the DPP on the details of military strategy and what weapons to procure from the United States. In 2022, Washington and Taipei launched an ambitious trade initiative as well as security cooperation. Thus, Washington increased the number of troops deployed in Taiwan to train its military and expanded the training of Taiwanese soldiers in the United States. The new president faces economic problems that have undermined the popularity of the ruling DPP. But undoubtedly his biggest problem is relations with China. Strengthening Taiwan's defenses and minimizing Beijing's provocations-which are likely to increase in the form of military maneuvers and economic pressures-will remain the DPP's policy priorities in Taiwan. However, it does not seem clear that the DPP has a clear strategy for dealing with Xi Jinping's possible decisions. Xi is unlikely to conclude that he can tolerate Taiwan's trajectory. Lai's victory has deeply irritated the Chinese Communist Party. The election results can be read in the key of a referendum on Taiwan-China relations. Beijing has lost it to the United States. Peaceful "unification" is becoming less and less viable. Rather, there are signs that the Chinese Communist Party perceives that the trend in Taipei-Beijing relations is not moving in Beijing's favor. As a result, Xi may take the decision to act to achieve unification. Xi has stated that the Taiwan issue cannot be passed on to future generations and that achieving unification is the essence of the country's rejuvenation. "Historical inevitability" may turn into practical decision - use of military force - given China's unsatisfactory economic situation. Xi may try to make unification an important part of his political legacy. The outcome of the Taiwan election will not influence Xi Jinping's decisions. The results confirm a status quo in Taiwanese politics - the continuity of the DPP government - but it means increased pre-war tensions between Taiwan and China, as well as between China and the United States.