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Flags of Japan and DPRK

Japan and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK): current diplomatic gamble

by Jesús Aise Sotolongo

한국어로 읽기 Читать на русском Leer en español Gap In Deutsch lesen اقرأ بالعربية Lire en français Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, recently stated at the Budget Committee of the House of Representatives of the Diet that “…he strongly feels the need to boldly change the current situation of the ties between Japan and the DPRK,” and “…it is very important that he himself establishes (…) relations with the President of the State Affairs of the DPRK, Kim Jong Un, and continues to make efforts through different channels for this purpose”. Immediately, the KCNA agency released, in response to the statement made by the Japanese Prime Minister, a declaration from Kim Yo Jong, the Deputy Director of the Department of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK). The One in charge of the affairs related to the Republic of Korea and the United States – now it seems also with Japan – commented that she found it noteworthy that the Japanese media have assessed Prime Minister Kishida’s words as “a different position from before” regarding the issue of DPRK-Japan bilateral relations. She added that “there is no reason not to evaluate positively” the words of the Japanese Prime Minister if he shows the “true intention” to move forward the relations between the two countries “by courageously freeing themselves from the shackles of the past”. He added that if Japan abandons its “bad habits” such as unjustly violating the self-defense rights of the DPRK and stops turning the already resolved issue of abductions into an obstacle, there is no reason to prevent a rapprochement between the two countries and the day may come when Kishida visits Pyongyang. She noted that, if Japan opts for a new path to improve relations and approaches the North with “respectful and sincere” behavior, the two countries can create a “new future” together. According to Kim Yo Jong, she made her statements not from an official position, but in a “personal capacity”, something that can be questioned, as she appears as the closest collaborator of her brother Kim Jong Un, and the fact that she holds the high responsibility of being the deputy director of the Department of Propaganda and Agitation of the Central Committee of the WPK, formally requires her to uphold party discipline. The most immediate antecedent to Kim Yo Jong’s remarks was when, earlier this year, as western Japan was recovering from an earthquake that killed more than 200 people and damaged tens of thousands of homes in Niigata Prefecture, the Chairman of the State Affairs of the DPRK, Kim Jong Un, sent a message of “sympathy and condolences” to the Japanese Prime Minister, which was seen as unusual and a conciliatory note, given Pyongyang’s demonstrated animosity towards successive Japanese governments and the systematic messages of grievances sent by the DPRK’s official media. Now, a month later, through Kim Yo Jong, the DPRK sends a new signal that it may be willing to improve relations with Japan. However, many observers view with skepticism the supposed show of commitment towards reconciliation with Japan because, over the decades, events raise suspicious about whether their pronouncements were sincere or not. For well-known historical reasons, the DPRK-Japan relations have never been healthy. Especially, in the last two decades when they have been distinguished by their progressive worsening. Successive administrations, especially those of Shinzo Abe and Yoshihide Suga, have taken the nuclear threat as a pretext for their militaristic ambitions, something that has severely displeased the leadership in Pyongyang. Due to what the North Koreans call “infamous submission” to the US, expressions of disdain from high-ranking officials towards Tokyo are regular occurrences. The most controversial issue revolves around the matter of the abducted Japanese. Although in 2002, coinciding with the first visit to Pyongyang of then-Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, the DPRK and Japan signed a historic agreement committing an early normalization of bilateral relations and leading to the return of five of the abducted Japanese, Tokyo holds Pyongyang responsible for the abduction of 17 Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s, with 12 of them still believed to be in the DPRK. However, Pyongyang admits to having abducted only 13 individuals, claiming to have returned five and stating that the remaining eight had died. What is most unnerving in the eventual Japan-North Korea ties is that Pyongyang assumes the abductee issue as a “settle issue” and Tokyo keeps it as a priority on its political-diplomatic agenda. To date, Japan continues to present the abductees as a premise for talks at any level, while the DPRK considers it as already solved and furthermore, the issue of nuclear weapons and missiles has nothing to do with the improvements of bilateral ties, as Pyongyang considers it as its legitimate self-defense. Japan finds it extremely difficult to accept such conditions. The DPRK’s increasingly sophisticated missiles are constantly being projected into the Sea of Japan and have even flown over Japanese territory. Japan also perceives the possibility that, like South Korea, the DPRK will carry out preventive nuclear strike when it sees signs of real and imminent risk. And, as far as the abduction issue is concerned, all indicates that Japan is not ready to accept that it has been resolved. It is a combination of social forces, forming a critical mass that puts pressure on the Japanese government to act in favor of finding a plausible solution to the abduction issue. In this regard, the Japanese government’s chief spokesman, Yoshimasa Hayashi, stated at a press conference that Japan remains unchanged and “…intends to comprehensively resolve outstanding issues, such as nuclear energy, missiles and abductions”. It is well known that the Japanese Foreign Ministry has repeatedly appealed to its counterparts in friendly countries to the DPRK to make efforts to lead to talks with Pyongyang authorities. It is documented that these efforts have been unsuccessful due to their reluctant stance towards Tokyo. Why is the DPRK rushing to positively assimilate Prime Minister Kishida’s words now? In a previous article, we discussed how at the January 15th, 2024 session of the 14th Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), Chairman Kim Jong Un made a decision to sever all ties with the Republic of Korea (ROK), which he called as the “number one hostile country” and indicated to constitutionally endorse a better definition of the border and physically destroy all inter-Korean symbols. We saw that the main thing was to “erase” from the Constitution what he referred to as “inherited concepts” that classify South Koreans as compatriots and likewise, the term unification, removing phrases he assessed as “deceptive” such as “3,000 miles of golden water, rivers and mountains” and “80 million Koreans”, arguing that “…it is correct to specify in the corresponding article [of the Constitution] that the Republic of Korea is firmly considered as the number one hostile country and immutable main enemy”. The above-mentioned contrast with the position that presumably highlights the expectation of an eventual improvement in relations with Tokyo, which has the same status as a major ally of Washington in East Asia, as does Seoul, and which together form a harmonious triangular anti-DPRK alliance. It is notorious that a priority of the DPRK, reinforced in recent times, has always been to fracture the US-ROK-Japan axis. It is convenient to recapitulate that, under the Moon Jae-in and Donald Trump administrations, when Pyongyang – Seoul and Pyongyang – Washington relations exhibited relative understanding and détente, the DPRK furiously attacked the Abe administration, with the same purpose of breaking the alliance. Pyongyang may find it worthwhile to engage with Tokyo under the assumption of forcing open some cracks in the recently strengthened trilateral cooperation between the United States, Japan, and the Republic of Korea. This is because under conservative President Yoon Suk Yeol, South Korea has sought, with the support of the Biden Administration, closer relations, and more stable ties with Japan, including defense and intelligence information exchange, and to a significant extent, has achieved it. However, the Seoul-Tokyo-US convergence suffers from fragility, which is reflected in the appreciable differences over the shared history between South Korea and Japan, and the ongoing disputes with the former colonial ruler over comfort women and forced laborers. In addition, there is US political volatility; in both Seoul and Tokyo there are uncertainties about whether Washington would directly involve itself in a conflagration involving either of them with the DPRK, as well as whether Washington would accommodate South Korea’s nuclear aspirations and unreservedly support Japan’s abandonment of the status of its Armed Forces as self-defense forces. Still, it can be argued that, as risk management and empathy sustainer, Kishida will keep Seoul and Washington abreast of his dealings with Pyongyang. In March, he will visit Seoul and in April, Washington; these would be important indicators of alignment between the trio. Kishida will seek the blessing of the Yoon and Biden administrations, anticipating that Kim Jong Un will move toward a summit that Kishida has so often called for. Washington has moved forward in supporting Japan’s attempts to engage with the DPRK. The ROK and Japan are in close communication on any future Tokyo-Pyongyang dialogue. Meanwhile, South Korea says that any contact between Japan and the DPRK should be conducted in a manner that helps promote peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula. Conclusions We are in the presence of a new diplomatic gamble by the DPRK that illustrates the level of specialization it has reached in managing its complicated relations with the main US allies in East Asia, who, in turn, are perceived as systematically confrontational countries. A straightforward resolution of the outstanding issues for discussion (nuclear weapons, missiles, and abductions) between Kim Jong Un and Fumio Kishida is not to be expected. These are issues on which the DPRK and Japan have diametrically different positions and directly concern the comprehensive strategic security of both countries, including the recurring abduction issue, which is associated with the political gain of any Japanese government. A meeting at the Japan-North Korea summit would be one of the few pleasant surprises to be received in the context of the vicious circle of conflict associated with the DPRK. It would be attractive to see a determined understanding between Pyongyang and Tokyo. It may be foreseeable that a Kim Jong Un - Fumio Kishida meeting will take place, but the past and present history negates any prospect of success. For this to happen, both sides will have to make principled concessions that, if made, will have combined counterproductive political effects. Bibliographic references KCNA. Kim Yo Jong publica declaración con el tema de relaciones Corea-Japón. Disponible en: KBS WORLD Prensa japonesa: Kim Yo Jong busca desestabilizar alianza Seúl. Washington-Tokio. Disponible en: Leonardo Estandarte. Corea del Norte-Japón: Kim Yo-jong plantea la hipótesis de la visita de Kishida a Pyongyang. Disponible en: Kim Yo Jong dice que Corea del Norte está abierta a mejorar sus lazos con Japón. Disponible en: Japón califica de inaceptable que Corea del Norte afirme que la cuestión de los secuestros está resuelta- Disponible en: Jesse Johnson. North Korea-Japan summit push gains steam after remarks by Kim´s sister. Disponible en: Mitch Shin. Will Kim Jong Un Meet with Japan´s Prime Minister Kishida? Disponible en:

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.

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.

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.

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 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… 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,…. 7- DW, ‘Taiwan’s TSMC to build semiconductor factory in Germany’, 8 August 2023,…. Ho, M.-S. (2018) ‘The Activist Legacy of Taiwan’s Sunflower Movement’, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2 August, available at Legarda, H. and A. Vasselier (2023) ‘Navigating Taiwan relations in 2024: Practical considerations for European policy makers’, China Horizons, 21 December, available at

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.

Expanding the relationships between Russia and North Korea

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s opening remarks during talks with Foreign Minister of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea Choe Son-hui, Moscow, January 16, 2024

by Sergey Lavrov

Comrade Choe Son-hui, I am very glad to welcome you and all your delegation members to Moscow in the first days of 2024. I would like to once again congratulate you and our Korean friends on the holidays we have celebrated recently and wish you all the best and every success in the new year. The timing of this meeting provides us with a perfect opportunity to conduct a preliminary review of our efforts to carry out the agreements resulting from the summit between President of Russia Vladimir Putin and Chairman of State Affairs of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea Kim Jong-un at the Vostochny Space Launch Centre in September 2023. We are proactively working on these matters. I have warm memories of my visit to Pyongyang in October 2023 and the hospitality you extended to our delegation. The 10th meeting of the Russian-Korean Intergovernmental Commission for Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation in November 2023 was another important event. There were also other bilateral exchanges at the agency, ministry, and regional levels. We appreciate the fact that DPRK’s Minister of Physical Culture and Sport, Kim Il-guk, took part in the Russia – A Sports Nation international forum in Perm in October 2023, while DPRK’s Minister of Culture Sung Jong-gyu proactively contributed to the 9th St Petersburg International Cultural Forum in November 2023. The visit by a delegation from the Primorye Territory to Pyongyang, led by Governor Oleg Kozhemyako, in December 2023 was also very useful. These contacts mark the beginning of an intensive and demanding, but also fruitful and rewarding, work to expand our relations across the board. We are preparing several other important events, including on cultural and humanitarian matters. I can mention the upcoming performance by Mariinsky Theatre’s Primorye branch in Pyongyang, as well as the participation of Russian performing groups in the annual April Spring festival. Today, we will have a detailed discussion on topical bilateral matters, including ways to further enhance our practical cooperation. As for the international agenda, we are looking forward to continuing our trust-based dialogue on the situation on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia in general. Russia reaffirms its principled position on the need to find comprehensive and fair solutions to the existing problems. We have always advocated for talks without preconditions as a path to achieving lasting peace and stability across Northeast Asia. Russia has independently submitted proposals to this effect, as well as together with the PRC, to the UN Security Council. These proposals are currently on the negotiating table. We must recognise that the policy pursued by the United States and its regional satellites to create security threats for the DPRK does nothing to promote any positive advancements. We will continue to call for the rejection of any steps that lead to escalation and heightening tensions. We are working together within a broader geography on security matters in the Asia-Pacific region, where we must uphold universal mechanisms rooted in ASEAN proposals and which have been effectively operating for many decades. However, attempts by the United States and its allies to create closed, bloc-based formats and to expand NATO infrastructure to this region undermine these mechanisms and erode their effectiveness. We have been working closely and very successfully with Pyongyang within the United Nations and at other multilateral organisations. Russia has always supported the DPRK within the UN and appreciates the fact that you have treated Russia in the same manner, including on matters related to the ongoing special military operation in Ukraine. We have a packed agenda, and I am certain that today’s talks will enable us to advance towards delivering on the agreements between our leaders resulting from the September 2023 summit.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida during a speech in parliament.

Japanese PM Kishida’s struggle for political survival

by Professor Purnendra Jain , Takeshi Kobayashi

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) are facing one of the worst financial scandals in decades, resulting in growing public distrust of the party and threatening the stability of his government. The Kishida government, which took office in October 2021, was already facing headwinds as its cabinet’s popularity declined due to concerns about the economy, social security and the LDP’s links to the Unification Church. The assassination of former prime minister Shinzo Abe in 2022 during an election campaign further complicates matters. The assailant claimed that Abe supported the Unification Church, which he said caused his family’s bankruptcy and forced his mother into making donations. Many other LDP parliamentarians are known supporters of the Church. Kishida and the LDP are yet to be transparent about this issue. Despite falling popularity, the LDP’s approval ratings hovered in the 30s between October and November 2023. Analysts suggested that, despite his low popularity, Kishida would continue and that there were no imminent threats to his prime ministership. That scenario changed dramatically at the close of November 2023. One poll suggests that Kishida’s cabinet approval rate has plummeted to 17 per cent, marking the lowest prime ministerial approval rating since the LDP regained power in 2012. The drop in popularity occurred after it was revealed that LDP factions and the individual parliamentarians associated with them had failed to report all revenues from ticket sales at fundraising events. The slush fund, estimated to be millions of dollars, was used for political purposes, violating the Public Funds Control Law. The Public Prosecutors Office has launched investigations into the LDP’s largest and most influential faction, the Seiwakai, commonly referred to as the Abe faction. Reports suggest that four other major factions, including the one led by Kishida, might also be implicated. Kishida has replaced four key cabinet ministers from the Abe faction. The position of Chief Cabinet Secretary — which serves as the face of the government — has gone to Yoshimasa Hayashi. Kishida had removed Hayashi from his position as foreign minister and, facing difficulty in persuading other colleagues to assume the Chief Cabinet Secretary position, Kishida opted for Hayashi, a member of his own faction. The other three ministerial positions went to factions led by Taro Aso, Toshimitsu Motegi and Hiroshi Moriyama. The cabinet reshuffle does not address the core problem — money politics. Money politics remains endemic in Japan’s political system, despite past reforms. In the 1970s, former prime minister Kakuei Tanaka resigned due to a bribery scandal. Following Tanaka’s resignation, the LDP sought to regain public trust by turning to ‘Mr Clean’, former prime minister Takeo Miki. But it was not long before another large-scale financial scandal — the Recruit Scandal — emerged in the late 1980s. The scandal led to former prime minister Noboru Takeshita’s resignation, his secretary’s suicide and the resignation of many high-profile politicians. Takeshita’s successor, former prime minister Sosuke Uno, resigned within months following revelations of sexual misconduct. Amid the scandals, the LDP called in another Mr Clean, former prime minister Toshiki Kaifu. But the LDP’s troubles persisted. The 1993 Sagawa Kyubin financial scandal resulted in the arrest and subsequent imprisonment of LDP ‘strongman’ Shin Kanemaru on tax evasion charges. These scandals ultimately led to the LDP’s electoral defeat in 1993, marking what was supposed to be a new era in Japanese politics. But opposition parties have struggled to win government and sustain it. The LDP regained power within two years of its 1993 defeat. Similarly, the LDP returned to government within three years by defeating the Democratic Party of Japan in 2012. Even during the Abe administration, reports of financial scandals emerged. But Abe’s strong popularity allowed him to survive. The current fundraising scandal and its scale are still unfolding. More resignations are likely. Many details regarding the unlawful accumulation of political funds remain unknown. The Public Prosecutors Office may shed light on the scandal after its investigation. Regardless of the outcome of the investigation, Kishida’s position appears untenable. Though not directly implicated like Tanaka, Takeshita and Uno in the past, the public expects Kishida, as President of the LDP, to own up to the rot in the party and step down. Despite the reshuffle of his cabinet and his statement committing to spearhead reforms in the LDP, it will be a political miracle if he survives this scandal ahead of the LDP presidential election in September 2024. The LDP and its Prime Minister face a choice. They can follow the same path as their predecessors by temporarily presenting a ‘clean’ face and then reverting back to business as usual. Alternatively, the new generation of LDP politicians can challenge the established path and set a different course for the party, one that is policy-focused, transparent, less factional and not hereditary. But it remains uncertain whether the new generation of LDP politicians is inclined to take on this challenge. The opposition parties remain weak, fragmented and unable to replace the LDP. Yet they play a crucial role in keeping the LDP government accountable. Without the Japanese Communist Party’s scrutiny, the present fundraising scandal might never have come to light.

Taiwan National soldiers in parade

What’s at Stake in Upcoming Taiwan Election

by June Teufel Dreyer

BOTTOM LINE • Taiwan’s presidential election is scheduled for January 13, 2024. • A down-to-the-wire effort by two of the three opposition candidates to unite against front-runner William Lai Ching-te failed dramatically, while the third candidate made a grand last-minute exit. • Disarray among the opposition will not necessarily guarantee Lai’s election, with the latest polls showing him barely ahead of his two remaining challengers. • Both challengers, though averring their preference for a strong relationship with the United States, favor warmer relations with Beijing in a manner that may portend some degree of willingness to accept unification with China that would adversely impact US and Japanese security interests • Chinese efforts to influence the vote have included military intimidation, veiled threats of invasion, and disinformation. On Saturday, January 13, 2024, Taiwan will go to the polls to choose itsa next president and 113 seats in the country’s unicameral Legislative Yuan (LY). Current president Tsai Ing-wen is term-limited and at first four, now three, contenders are seeking to succeed her, making this the most contested election since 2000. What’s at Stake for the United States The United States is significantly involved in one war in the Middle East, another in Eastern Europe, and is hence at pains to avoid confrontation in Asia. It has sent two aircraft carrier groups and ammunition to support Israel as well as large quantities of weapons to the Ukrainian government, leaving concerns in both America and Taiwan about how much assistance it could give the country should Xi Jinping decide to attack. Given China’s avowed desire to annex the island by force if Taiwan’s citizens do not agree to unification amicably, and Beijing’s strong reaction to anything that it construes as moves to further legitimize Taiwan’s de facto independence, the Biden administration prefers a Taiwanese president who will avoid both actions that could prompt an attack and measures that would bring the island under Beijing’s control. More than democracy and human rights are at issue: Since Taiwan sits astride sea lanes that are vital for international commerce and security, ceding the country to China would enhance Beijing’s control of both. An estimated 40 percent of world trade passes through the South China Sea, which China has increasingly asserted its control over. Japan, a US treaty ally, has what is arguably an even greater stake in stability in the Taiwan Strait since a Taiwan under Chinese control would bring its territorial waters perilously close to Japan as well as potentially adversely impact the shipping that is so vital to its economy. China also contests control of areas of the East China Sea with Japan. Since Okinawa hosts the only US bases within 500 miles (the unrefueled combat radius of US fighters) from Taiwan, China might well strike those bases at the outset of a conflict. Japanese leaders have explicitly said that a Taiwan emergency is a Japanese emergency and therefore an emergency for the Japan-US alliance. The Dramatis Personae Lai Ching-te (English name William Lai) is Taiwan’s incumbent vice-president and the nominee of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). Born in 1959 and the son of a coal miner, he is a medical doctor with expertise in spinal cord injuries, though he has dedicated his later career to politics. Regarded as a lackluster campaigner, he can however point to his extensive record in office as a legislator, then premier, and most recently as vice-president. Hou Yu-ih, born in 1957 and the son of pork sellers, represents the Kuomintang (KMT) or Chinese Nationalist Party. After graduating from the Central Police Agency and obtaining a doctoral degree in crime prevention and corrections, he had a long career in law enforcement before becoming deputy mayor and later mayor of New Taipei City. Hou says that his background in police work is excellent preparation for service as president. Ko Wen-je, born in 1959, is a medical doctor known for his expertise in organ transplants before going into politics. Ko successfully ran for mayor of Taipei as an independent, though with the endorsement of the DPP. In 2019, Ko founded the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) as a challenge to the KMT and DPP. Terry Gou (Chinese name Guo Tai-ming) was born in 1950. A late entry into the race and formerly a KMT member who twice sought and was twice refused the party’s endorsement for nominee, he then announced he would run as an independent backed by the $7 billion fortune he made as founder of Hon Hai Precision Industries. Hon Hai, known abroad as Foxconn, is the world’s largest contract manufacturer of electronics. His parents, from Shanxi, fled to Taiwan in 1949, with his policeman father having fought for the KMT during the war. Gou believes that his extensive business experience makes him ideally suited for the presidency. Where They Stand All candidates face the dilemma of having to solicit the support of voters who overwhelmingly reject unification with China while not antagonizing China with its oft-repeated vow to achieve the “sacred task” of unification by whatever means. A poll released in late November showed almost no support for this: only 0.7 percent of respondents replied that they supported independence as soon as possible with 11.5 percent advocating maintaining the status quo while working toward unification. By contrast, 35.8 percent supported maintaining the status quo while working toward independence and 44.3 percent favored forever maintaining the status quo. On other issues, as do politicians worldwide, they must be wary of making promises they will find difficult to deliver on if elected. Lai, who has previously described himself as an advocate of Taiwanese independence, is careful to qualify the statement by adding that, since Taiwan is already an independent sovereign state known as the Republic of China, there is no need for a declaration of independence. He has rejected the so-called 1992 Consensus and pledged to continue Tsai Ing-wen’s non-confrontational policies. The 1992 Consensus refers to the outcome of a meeting in Singapore between the allegedly unofficial representatives of the Chinese Communist Party and the KMT, which then governed in the name of the Republic of China. Members of the opposition party objected. The Consensus, a term that did not exist until 2000, eight years later, holds that each side agreed that there is but one China and that Taiwan is part of China, but that each side has its own understanding of what China is: for the CCP, it is the People’s Republic of China; for the KMT, it is the Republic of China. KMT supporters continue to accept the latter definition, while the opposition DPP reject it, arguing that Taiwan is a sovereign state independent of the PRC. In 2010, newly elected president Tsai Ing-wen offered a concession in that she accepted the historical fact of the conference, but Beijing immediately rejected it as “an incomplete test paper.” The only one of the four candidates to support gay marriage, which has been legal in Taiwan since 2019, Lai wore a rainbow-colored scarf and spoke at a large parade in October to celebrate the law, declaring that equal marriage was not the end but the starting point for diversity. None of the other three presidential candidates attended, although the KMT’s youth wing did, with its members shouting that their party also supported equality as they passed by Lai. Hou Yu-ih accepts the 1992 Consensus, though adds that he objects to both a formal declaration of Taiwan’s independence and China’s offer to rule the country under Beijing’s interpretation of the one-country, two-systems formula. In a Foreign Affairs article that was obviously aimed at a US audience, Hou stressed the importance of urging both sides of the Taiwan Strait to jointly promote democracy, human rights, and mutual trust. He accepts, however, the need for deterrence against invasion and that Taiwan must deepen collaboration with the United States in areas such as intelligence sharing and regular joint training exercises. Hou has vowed to defend the Republic of China if it were attacked. It is significant that he did not use the word Taiwan, thereby implicitly endorsing his party’s position on the One China policy. On healthcare, Hou has promised to raise spending levels on national health insurance to 8 percent from its current 6.5 percent. Observers were puzzled at his choosing to emphasize this policy against two rivals who are medical doctors. Lai immediately countered that rather than announce a spending target, Hou should explain specifically what areas should be targeted for improvement and then suggested several that he, Lai, would pursue. Ko Wen-je emphasizes his pragmatism and rationality. On cross-strait relations, he advocates a middle-of-the-road approach that is neither anti-China nor overly pro-China. Ko has called for regular security talks among senior officials from Japan, Taiwan, and the United States regarding China’s intimidation of Taiwan. He argues that cutting off communication with China increases the risk of war and has expressed willingness to sign economic agreements with Beijing while also advocating that Taiwan follow the United States in de-risking. Agreements would be reviewed and referred to the Legislative Yuan for ratification—a backhanded reference to former president Ma Ying-jeou’s effort to push through a trade agreement with China that aroused a massive protest and closed down the Legislative Yuan for weeks. Ko has called on China to propose a new framework for engagement with Taiwan that explains what Beijing has to offer, telling inquisitive foreign reporters that “it’s their obligation [to do so] not mine” and adding that Beijing must also define exactly what it means by One China, whether it be political or economic. While economic cooperation with China is negotiable, he claims that politically there is “nothing we can do,” though he has said elsewhere that confrontation can be eased through dialogue and cultural, sports, and economic exchanges. Ko has also proposed turning the small offshore island of Jinmen, also known as Kinmen, into an experimental zone for peace between Taiwan and China. Critics immediately pointed out that, apart from being unconstitutional, Ko has not explained whether he would countenance suspending Jinmen’s elections, regulating its residents’ freedom of speech due to Beijing’s censorship and insistence on “internet sovereignty,” or imposing social controls on them to conform with Chinese practice. Terry Gou, whose Foxconn has over a million employees in its factories in China, has denounced the Taiwan independence movement while calling for de-escalating Sino-American tensions. He accepts the 1992 Consensus and advocates positioning Taiwan as equidistant from both the United States and China. As of now, it is “like prey on a tightrope”: If either America or China increases tensions even a little bit, Taiwan “will die a horrible death.” Critics believe that Foxconn’s heavy presence in China would make him vulnerable to pressures from Beijing; Gou responded that he has not managed the company’s operations since 2019 and in fact resigned from Foxconn’s board of directors in September 2023. Denying that he has ever been controlled by China, Gou vowed to reply “yes, do it!” if Beijing threatens Foxconn’s assets. As if to test his mettle, two months later, China announced an investigation into the tax and land use of Foxconn subsidiaries in several provinces, without supplying details. Foxconn management replied that it would “actively comply” with the investigators. Gou is an avowed opponent of gay marriage. Now no longer formally a candidate, he has vowed to keep advocating for these policy views. Taiwan does not possess indigenous fuels, so the energy issue is highly controversial. Opponents of nuclear energy argue that a Fukushima-type meltdown would devastate the much smaller and similarly earthquake-prone island. Proponents point out that without nuclear power, Taiwan would become still more vulnerable if it completely depended on imports to keep its heavily trade-dependent economy healthy. Due to a 2016 government decision to phase out nuclear power by 2025, usage has declined from over 20 percent to about 9 percent at present. Most citizens voted in 2021 to reject finishing a partially built plant whose completion has been suspended for three decades. Only Lai has vowed to make Taiwan a nuclear-free country by 2025, although he has not ruled out retaining some nuclear capability in case of emergencies like a Chinese invasion or blockade. All three other candidates claim that the nuclear-free homeland policy has failed, with Hou explicitly saying that he would revive nuclear power, including restarting two already decommissioned units, extending the operational period of a third, and evaluating whether to revive an abandoned fourth nuclear power plant. While warning of power shortages, no candidate has addressed the questions of safety or of finding a long-term solution for storing nuclear waste. Who’s Ahead? Taiwan, perhaps one of the most extensively polled countries in the world, has so many organizations collecting data that the Taiwan News regularly reports a poll of polls. Lai has been the consistent front-runner. Except for briefly exceeding 40 percent after a stopover trip to the United States en route to Paraguay, he until recently polled in the mid-thirties, with Ko and Hou in the mid-to-high twenties and Guo in the low teens. But Lai’s lead has been eroding. More concerning to the DPP, at the end of October Ko and KMT head Eric Chu reached an uneasy agreement—notably, Hou was not present— to share candidates in some constituencies in order to get a majority in the Legislative Yuan. If this succeeds and Lai is elected, the coalition could block Lai’s initiatives, leading to gridlock, as indeed happened during Chen Shui-bian’s presidency. It would also encourage Beijing to court them, as it has done during previous DPP administrations. Since the DPP has been in power for eight years, it has a track record that its opposition and non-committed voters can criticize. Rural citizens interviewed by a Canadian researcher believe that the party has forgotten about them while urbanites complain about inflation and lack of affordable housing and point out that wages have remained stagnant despite healthy growth rates. The youth vote, which had previously been a mainstay of DPP strength, has shown signs of shifting to the TPP. Many, including supporters of the party, believe that a social justice program is badly needed. They accuse the DPP of positioning itself as a progressive party but not behaving like one, urging it to enact policies that meaningfully tax the rich and invest the money in green technology, infrastructure, and innovation. The opposition has said that a DPP victory would mean war with China. Chinese Efforts to Influence the Election Beijing’s least favorite candidate is surely Lai. Rather than overtly interfere, a strategy that backfired badly in the 1996 election, it has tried a mixture of sticks and carrots. Sticks include Chinese fighter jets so regularly crossing the median line in the Taiwan Strait that a new normal now exists, ominous warnings from high military figures, and covert attempts such as disinformation. Carrots include hosting youth delegations to visit China, and a plan to make Fujian province a zone for integrated development with Taiwan, including encouraging Taiwanese firms to list on Chinese stock exchanges and supporting innovative ways of cross-strait capital cooperation. Entry and exit visas for “Taiwan compatriots” are being eased. While such initiatives are above board, some others are not. In late October, Taiwan’s Ministry of Justice Investigation Bureau seized $354.6 million in illegal remittances to candidates regarded as sympathetic to China. Among the conduits were businesspeople, contributions to temple charity events, dummy accounts through unregistered banks, and cryptocurrency. It is difficult to tell how successful these tactics are, with anecdotal evidence indicating that while some people are intimidated by China’s threats, others respond negatively. Taiwanese are well aware of the fate of Hong Kong, where the party-state ruthlessly quashed civil liberties in contravention of the promises it was treaty-bound to honor and often used as a cautionary tale to those few who view unification more favorably. Unexpected Last-Minute Developments At the meeting to discuss cooperation on fielding candidates for the Legislative Yuan, Ko and Hou also discussed having one of them agree to become vice-president while the other would be the presidential nominee. Assuming—a big if—that most of the supporters of one would agree to vote with supporters of the other, they would comfortably beat Lai. The possibility of an alliance at the top was always risky: In addition to each man having a healthy ego that would make subordinating himself to the other difficult, Ko was on record as saying that the things he hates most are “mosquitoes, cockroaches and the KMT.” He founded the TPP as a counterweight to both KMT and DPP, attracting many supporters, particularly among the young, who were disenchanted with the two. While some of the young voters might accept an alliance, others would likely feel betrayed. Whether Ko or Hou would get top billing, they pledged to abide by the opinion polls on who was the stronger. After much discussion, the two settled on accepting six of the nine major polls, but then disagreed on who was ahead based on differing interpretations of the margins of error. Former president Ma Ying-jeou then stepped in to mediate, summoning Ko and Hou to his office on November 24, the deadline for filing for the election. Only Hou appeared, waiting several hours fruitlessly. Ko later agreed to meet at a hotel and even then arrived late as a gaggle of media waited impatiently outside. The result was a dramatic failure with the candidates sniping at each other live on the country’s television networks: They will run separately. The event even upstaged Terry Gou’s also dramatic departure wherein the typically flamboyant Gou announced that although he “might be forgotten by the people,” he had chosen to sacrifice himself for the greater good, showing his “utmost dedication to his homeland.” With barely five weeks before the election, analysts have scrutinized the newly announced vice-presidential picks of the remaining three candidates. Lai has chosen Hsiao Bi-khim, the highly regarded woman who has served as Taiwan’s de facto ambassador to Washington for the past several years. But whether and by how much the choice will increase Lai’s popularity remains to be seen. Beijing has denounced Hsiao as a “diehard secessionist” and says the decision could “mean war for Taiwan,” which could scare some voters. Asked about this at a television interview soon after her selection, Hsiao responded carefully, saying that all Taiwanese reject war and that any candidate “must approach [relations with China] with utmost responsibility.” Hou’s choice for vice-president, the avowed pro-unificationist media executive Jaw Shaw-kong, also has negatives as well as positives. Presumably chosen to appeal to the KMT’s conservative base, Jaw is apt to alienate more moderate KMT members and voters who fear unification. His more assertive personality and markedly different view of unification raise the possibility of friction between him and Hou. Kou’s vice-presidential pick, Cynthia Wu, is likewise problematic. With very little political experience, she has been an executive of a family-founded major life insurance company that has been fined for speculation and questionable land deals. This undercuts the TPP’s claim to be the party that represents the interests of the young and underprivileged. Meanwhile, polls show Lai’s lead over Hou shrinking to about one point, with Ko less than four points behind Hou. At this point, the election is too close to call. Expect the Unexpected? Should it have to live with Lai, Beijing’s least bad scenario would be a divided Legislative Yuan, which would enable it to work with the opposition, as it also has done with previous DPP-led administrations. Assuming, as is likely, that Lai can be trusted to keep his promise to continue his predecessor’s nonconfrontational policies, he is certainly Washington’s preferred candidate. But, as evidenced by the events of the past few weeks, Taiwan’s politics are full of surprises: Neither the United States nor China can be sure that the election will go in its preferred direction. Dealing with democracies is inherently uncertain, for both autocracies and other democratic countries.

Taro Aso giving a speech in an auditorium

Is JAUKUS a Politically Viable Option in Japan?

by Aurelia George Mulgan

Former Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso is an outspoken advocate of Japan’s joining AUKUS – as reflected in his recent speech in Canberra to the AIIA. He also has a record of hawkish comments on Taiwan, but how much influence does he wield within the Japanese government and in his own party? Vice-President of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), Taro Aso, was typically outspoken in his speech to the Australian Institute of International Affairs Gala Dinner in Canberra in November, advocating that Japan be added to the AUKUS group. Not only did he claim that Japan’s participation in AUKUS would “contribute greatly” to Australia’s moves to strengthen its submarine capabilities, but he also advanced a strategic argument to justify his position asserting: “Australia is a clear choice” as a new ally for Japan in countering China. He reasoned that as China was out “to control the second line of islands (from Japan’s Izu Islands to Guam) with its maritime power,” this would serve to restrain US naval activities in the region, hence the need for more cooperation among Japan, Australia, and the United States. While explaining that the establishment of a group called “JAUKUS” was “his personal idea,” Aso also argued that it would be “symbolic” and would “send a message” to deter China. He added that Australia and Japan could build allied relations (domei kankei) based on three commonalities: they were both located on the same “vertical line” in the Pacific Ocean; they shared the same democratic philosophy, and they were both US allies. If the three countries were to join forces, “US deterrence in the Indo-Pacific would be doubled, tripled, or even quadrupled.” Japan’s joining AUKUS would also “allow the United States, Australia and Japan to speak with one voice to signal their opposition to a change of Taiwan’s status through force.” Aso has a record of making hawkish comments on Taiwan and a reputation for being one of Taiwan’s strongest supporters among Japanese politicians. In early August 2023 he conducted a three-day visit to the country – the highest ranking LDP official to visit the island since 1972 when Japan officially severed diplomatic ties. The objective of his visit was to underscore Japan’s support for Taiwan by holding talks with President Tsai-Ing Wen and other senior politicians as well as discussing regional security issues, semiconductor supplies critical to the Japanese economy, and other issues relating to economic security. At Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry Aso delivered a lecture on Japan’s defence policy and in a keynote speech at a security forum in Taipei, he argued that “Japan, the United States and other likeminded countries making it clear that they would be prepared to go to war to defend Taiwan…[was] the best way to deter a Chinese invasion.” He declared: “Friendly nations must be prepared to defend the island in the event of a Taiwan emergency….Beijing needs to be convinced that if push comes to shove, we will use our defensive capabilities to defend Taiwan….[adding] Clearly conveying that intention to the other side will serve as a deterrent….for Japan, Taiwan, the United States and other like-minded parties, displaying the resolve to fight will serve as a strong deterrent.” While his remarks appeared to be out of sync with the Japanese government’s “strategic ambiguity” on its response to a Taiwan contingency, Japan’s Mainichi newspaper claimed that Aso had consulted in advance with the Prime Minister’s Office (Kantei), Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the National Security Secretariat about what to say in his speech. Pointing out that Aso was Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s so-called “guardian,” and that the LDP political heavyweight had played a key diplomatic role in the Kishida administration, the newspaper interpreted Aso’s message as a “carefully worded” warning from the prime minister that although Tokyo was strongly committed to pursuing bilateral reconciliation with China, it had no intention of compromising when it came to national security, including on the issue of Taiwan. These remarks echoed Aso’s clear statement in July 2021 when speaking at an LDP fundraising event as deputy prime minister, finance minister, and member of the National Security Council. He argued that “If a major incident happened [in Taiwan], it would not be strange at all if it touches on a situation threatening [Japan’s] survival. If that is the case, Japan and the U.S. must defend Taiwan together.” In January 2023, he had also called for a drastic strengthening of Japan’s defence capabilities, pointing out that if China were to invade Taiwan, the result could be a military conflict on Japanese territory, including Okinawa, and emphasising to the Japanese public that “one must defend one’s own country.” In his words, “In the event of a Taiwan contingency, it is only natural that the flames of war would fall on Japanese territories close to Taiwan, such as Yonaguni Island in Okinawa Prefecture.” In June 2023 Aso had also met with the Taiwanese Vice-President Wen-tsan Cheng during the latter’s visit to Tokyo where they discussed East Asian security, including the Taiwan situation. In terms of policy standing Aso wields influence as a former prime minister, deputy prime minister, and finance minister, and in terms of political authority wielded within the LDP, he has served as chairman of the party’s Policy Affairs Research Council – its highest policymaking body – and is currently vice-president of the ruling LDP as well as being the leader of the third largest faction in the LDP – the Shikokai. He also ranks second to the LDP’s secretary-general among the top six LDP executives who meet most frequently with the prime minister. He was one of a group of top LDP executives that Prime Minister Kishida consulted in early December 2023 about when to begin collecting the higher taxes necessary to finance a bigger defence budget. Aso, however, opposed the option of submitting legislation to the Diet that would set a schedule for legislation to raise taxes to fund the planned increases in defence spending. Moreover, he will not stay on as LDP vice-president when his current term expires in September 2024. However, having now reportedly “given up” on Kishida and looking to elect current Secretary-General Toshimitsu Motegi as his successor, Aso is endeavouring to remain the “kingpin” in a post-Kishida administration. At the same time, Aso’s views on JAUKUS are far from reflecting a consensus in his own party. In a domestic political context, the option is currently non-viable. Support for Japan’s participation in AUKUS extends no further than a few key figures in the LDP such as Digital Affairs Minister and possible successor to Kishida, Taro Kono, who has expressed strong support for Japan’s participating in AUKUS. Kono was one of the candidates in the race to become prime minister in October 2021 (a month after the launch of AUKUS), and when asked whether Japan should also seek to build nuclear-power submarines with assistance from the US and UK, he stated: “As a capability, it is very important for Japan to have nuclear submarines.” For the time being, however, far from support for the AUKUS option, there would be active resistance from within the LDP led by Kishida against Japan’s participating in AUKUS Pillar One – acquiring nuclear-powered submarines. As long as Kishida is prime minister, he will continue to promote the cause of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation given his well-known “nuclear allergy,” reflected in his 2020 book entitled Toward a World Without Nuclear Weapons [Kakuheiki no nai Sekai e]. In early December he also vowed to “exercise leadership for the abolition of nuclear weapons” at a meeting of the International Group of Eminent Persons for a World without Nuclear Weapons held in Nagasaki. Moreover, Kishida believes strongly in maintaining a segregated framework of bilateral security relations with each of the AUKUS partners. In the short-to-medium term, the only politically viable option for Japan might potentially be to participate in the expanding field of so-called AUKUS Pillar Two hi-tech, military technology-related capabilities such as artificial intelligence, quantum technologies, hypersonic and counter-hypersonic capabilities, electronic warfare, defence innovation, and undersea capabilities. The Japanese government, for example, is currently promoting the development and use of autonomous underwater vehicles.