Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on telegram
Share on whatsapp
Share on linkedin
Share on print
Share on email

Trump Defends Democracy in Hong Kong and Taiwan—While Xi Awaits Biden

◎ The Trump administration has taken the next step in responding to Communist China’s assault against the people of Hong Kong and their democratic aspirations.

The Trump administration has taken the next step in responding to Communist China’s assault against the people of Hong Kong and their democratic aspirations. Last week, it imposed sanctions on Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam and several other Hong Kong and Chinese officials. It has not yet exercised the full range of punitive options available under the Hong Kong Democracy and Human Rights Act that Congress passed and President Trump signed this year.

But Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s expanding focus on Hong Kong and other human rights outrages by Beijing, and his call for other countries to join the effort, continue to provide hope to the multiple victims of Chinese communism that the free world has not forgotten them.

The Trump administration is also shoring up Taiwan’s international status to deter any similar aggression by Beijing against that democratic society.

Health and Human Services Director Alex Azar is visiting Taipei this week to discuss with Taiwan officials its exemplary record of preparing for and coping with the coronavirus pandemic. The highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Taiwan since 1979, Azar symbolizes the Trump administration’s commitment to closer U.S.-Taiwan relations despite Beijing’s threats.  The visit faithfully implements Congress’s intent when it passed the Taiwan Travel Act (TTA) that became law last year.

The TTA and other bipartisan congressional actions approved by the president demonstrate in both symbolic and concrete ways America’s commitment to the democratic security of Taiwan. The administration’s approval of weapons sales long held back by the Obama administration will enhance Taiwan’s self-defense capabilities as required by the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act.

In addition, the Trump national security team has lifted some restrictions on Taiwan’s forward defense activities, as evidenced by its deployment of 200 Taiwanese marines to the Pratas Islands in the South China Sea. Commenting on expanded U.S. cooperation with Taiwan under the Trump administration, Wang Ting-yu, from the legislature’s foreign affairs and national defense committee, noted, “The U.S. used to condemn Taiwan if we posted the military on the Pratas and Taiping” but concurred with the deployment this time.

All these self-defense enhancement measures are certainly essential. By themselves, however, they can only incrementally strengthen Taiwan’s ability to defend against a full-fledged attack from the vastly larger naval, air and missile forces of the People’s Liberation Army.

The only way Beijing can be indefinitely deterred from military adventurism against Taiwan is by the certainty of American intervention. China needs to be convinced that war against Taiwan would mean war against the United States, which would destroy the economic development China has built over decades.

So far, China’s leaders and military planners are not certain they would have to face that suicidal outcome, which is why they continue preparations to attack Taiwan and to deter Washington’s intervention. If shooting does start, China’s planning is based on the expectation that Washington will blink first and rush to one of its strategic off-ramps to prevent the situation from escalating. Beijing’s default position in the past has been that the U.S., as the mature, responsible party, can be relied on to make concessions to deescalate a crisis.

The conviction of Chinese leaders that in the end the United States will not come to Taiwan’s defense was made clear again by a statement about the Azar visit in the Global Times, a Chinese Communist Party (CCP) propaganda outlet: “The mainland has many cards, including the military card. More importantly, it is much more determined to play the cards than Washington.”

That is Beijing’s thinking in a nutshell: convince U.S. leaders and the American public that China is more committed to taking Taiwan than Washington is to defending it. It’s the message about “core interests,” “red lines” and “Chinese sovereignty” that the CCP has been repeating for seven decades until it becomes accepted in the West and in China as holy writ — and theoretically, leaves no room for Beijing to back down from its extreme positions. Yet, in conversations with Americans, many Chinese indicate they do not share that view, instead seeing Taiwan as a democratic model to be emulated, not an enemy to be crushed.

Under prior administrations, China’s political and military leaders perceived a dwindling U.S. commitment to come to Taiwan’s defense. While continuing to push the envelope with provocative rhetoric and actions, they held back from an outright military attack. But they have never stopped building the capacity that they expect will tip the psychological balance against U.S. intervention and enable a relatively low-risk aggressive move.

The Trump administration seems to have given Xi Jinping and his colleagues some pause on the advisability of moving too close to kinetic action. America’s anti-China mood has intensified with China’s reckless spread of the coronavirus pandemic to the world. The president himself, after giving Xi a pass on his deceptive handling of the virus, has repeatedly stressed its China origin and reportedly said in April that he was “getting tired of China.”

Actually, Xi already had concluded he was done with Trump once he realized Trump was serious about forcing the structural changes in China’s economy needed to comply with the trade deal.  We may never know whether the pandemic’s devastation of Western economies was a fortuitous coincidence for China or something more sinister. But the intelligence community confirmed this week what has been clear for months — that Beijing would like to see the “unpredictable” Trump gone and would be pleased to deal instead with Joe Biden as president.

Deng Xiaoping famously told his generation of Chinese leaders that while China was building its economic and military power it was prudent to keep a low profile to conceal their true intentions: “Hide your capabilities, bide your time.”

Xi has passed the point of coyness about what China believes it can do to the U.S. Navy if it intervenes in a cross-Strait conflict. But, given the strong pushback from the Trump administration on Taiwan and a range of issues, he apparently has decided China should bide its time a little longer and wait for Biden.

First published in The Hill.

Joseph Bosco served as China country director for the Secretary of Defense from 2005 to 2006 and as Asia-Pacific director of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief from 2009 to 2010. He is a nonresident fellow at the Institute for Corean-American Studies and the Institute for Taiwan-American Studies, and has held nonresident appointments in the Asia-Pacific program at the Atlantic Council and the Southeast Asia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Views expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of SinoInsider.

Search past entries by date
“The breadth of SinoInsider’s insights—from economics through the military to governance, all underpinned by unparalleled reporting on the people in charge—is stunning. In my over fifty years of in-depth reading on the PRC, unclassified and classified, SinoInsider is in a class all by itself.”
James Newman, Former U.S. Navy cryptologist
“Unique insights are available frequently from the reports of Sinoinsider.”
Michael Pillsbury, Senior Fellow for China Strategy, The Heritage Foundation
“Thank you for your information and analysis. Very useful.”
Prof. Ravni Thakur, University of Delhi, India
“SinoInsider’s research has helped me with investing in or getting out of Chinese companies.”
Charles Nelson, Managing Director, Murdock Capital Partners
“I value SinoInsider because of its always brilliant articles touching on, to name just a few, CCP history, current trends, and factional politics. Its concise and incisive analysis — absent the cliches that dominate China policy discussions in DC and U.S. corporate boardrooms — also represents a major contribution to the history of our era by clearly defining the threat the CCP poses to American peace and prosperity and global stability. I am grateful to SinoInsider — long may it thrive!”
Lee Smith, Author and journalist
“Your publication insights tremendously help us complete our regular analysis on in-depth issues of major importance. ”
Ms. Nicoleta Buracinschi, Embassy of Romania to the People’s Republic of China
"I’m a very happy, satisfied subscriber to your service and all the deep information it provides to increase our understanding. SinoInsider is profoundly helping to alter the public landscape when it comes to the PRC."
James Newman, Former U.S. Navy cryptologist
“Prof. Ming’s information about the Sino-U.S. trade war is invaluable for us in Taiwan’s technology industry. Our company basically acted on Prof. Ming’s predictions and enlarged our scale and enriched our product lines. That allowed us to deal capably with larger orders from China in 2019. ”
Mr. Chiu, Realtek R&D Center
“I am following China’s growing involvement in the Middle East, seeking to gain a better understanding of China itself and the impact of domestic constraints on its foreign policy. I have found SinoInsider quite helpful in expanding my knowledge and enriching my understanding of the issues at stake.”
Ehud Yaari, Lafer International Fellow, The Washington Institute
“SinoInsider’s research on the CCP examines every detail in great depth and is a very valuable reference. Foreign researchers will find SinoInsider’s research helpful in understanding what is really going on with the CCP and China. ”
Baterdene, Researcher, The National Institute for Security Studies (Mongolian)
“The forecasts of Prof. Chu-cheng Ming and the SinoInsider team are an invaluable resource in guiding our news reporting direction and anticipating the next moves of the Chinese and Hong Kong governments.”
Chan Miu-ling, Radio Television Hong Kong China Team Deputy Leader
“SinoInsider always publishes interesting and provocative work on Chinese elite politics. It is very worthwhile to follow the work of SinoInsider to get their take on factional struggles in particular.”
Lee Jones, Reader in International Politics, Queen Mary University of London
“[SinoInsider has] been very useful in my class on American foreign policy because it contradicts the widely accepted argument that the U.S. should work cooperatively with China. And the whole point of the course is to expose students to conflicting approaches to contemporary major problems.”
Roy Licklider, Adjunct Professor of Political Science, Columbia University
“As a China-based journalist, SinoInsider is to me a very reliable source of information to understand deeply how the CCP works and learn more about the factional struggle and challenges that Xi Jinping may face. ”
Sebastien Ricci, AFP correspondent for China & Mongolia
“SinoInsider offers an interesting perspective on the Sino-U.S. trade war and North Korea. Their predictions are often accurate, which is definitely very helpful.”
Sebastien Ricci, AFP correspondent for China & Mongolia
“I have found SinoInsider to provide much greater depth and breadth of coverage with regard to developments in China. The subtlety of the descriptions of China's policy/political processes is absent from traditional media channels.”
John Lipsky, Peter G. Peterson Distinguished Scholar, Kissinger Center for Global Affairs
“My teaching at Cambridge and policy analysis for the UK audience have been informed by insights from your analyzes. ”
Dr Kun-Chin Lin, University Lecturer in Politics,
Deputy Director of the Centre for Geopolitics, Cambridge University
" SinoInsider's in-depth and nuanced analysis of Party dynamics is an excellent template to train future Sinologists with a clear understanding that what happens in the Party matters."
Stephen Nagy, Senior Associate Professor, International Christian University
“ I find Sinoinsider particularly helpful in instructing students about the complexities of Chinese politics and what elite competition means for the future of the US-China relationship.”
Howard Sanborn, Professor, Virginia Military Institute
“SinoInsider has been one of my most useful (and enjoyable) resources”
James Newman, Former U.S. Navy cryptologist
“Professor Ming and his team’s analyses of current affairs are very far-sighted and directionally accurate. In the present media environment where it is harder to distinguish between real and fake information, SinoInsider’s professional perspectives are much needed to make sense of a perilous and unpredictable world. ”
Liu Cheng-chuan, Professor Emeritus, National Chiayi University