Prof. ST Hsieh
Director, US-China Energy Industry Forum
August 20, 2022
There is no question that US foreign policy needs a major update. “What is the endgame of American strategy” certainly is a troubling question. How to find a good or reasonable “endgame?” Americans should look at ourselves introspectively! We need to calm down: think hard before talking loudly. Before we criticize anyone else, we should ask “what I have done?” Unless we can keep our house in good order, the US would not have a consistent foreign policy! The key is fixing the U.S. political system, which is broken, dysfunctional, polarized and at grave risk.
Unfortunately, US politicians have no idea how to re-unite this great nation so they hype foreign power threats with the hope that they can stay in power and lead the US. More so, US politicians maintain that US is still the greatest power in the world but struggle to understand the challenges or priorities of the day.
Faced with a declining inner strength at home, politicians can only resort to military strength or hard power to deal with self-created global crisis. The US military budget is sky high and way above the rest world combined. Our military-industry complex has no intention to slow down in the face of a cooling global economy.
“Strategic ambiguity” works if politicians keep a low profile and let quiet diplomacy work in the background. Unfortunately, US politicians from top to bottom simply cannot keep his/her mouth shut. President Biden openly talked about “defending Taiwan” then his staff had to walk back. Biden administration created “Strategic confusion” and lost credibility around the world. Of course, Taiwan issue is important, but it is not urgent, as Dr. Kissinger pointed out “Taiwan should not be the center piece of US-China relation.”
US Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi’s short visit to Taipei was an embarrassment of the US, simply put it was a domestic “power play” spilled over to the global stage. Biden administration, along with many outspoken critics of China, lamely supported Pelosi’s that “she can travel to wherever she wishes as a US Congresswoman.” Really? There are many places around the world where she is not welcome or dare to visit.
The other rhetoric or pounding on her chest is “We will not let China tell her where she wishes to visit or not.” Really? Pelosi should visit Beijing and tell Xi face to face that she stands by Taiwan no matter what! Or she should visit Moscow and tell Putin face to face that she stands by Ukraine!
During and after her visit, she openly announced that “China’s intention is to isolate Taiwan from international community, we will not let that happen!” Unfortunately, she could not spell out how “we” will not let that happen. Of course, Beijing would not take her pronouncement seriously and keep pressure on Taiwan. She is supposed to be No. 3 in the US political establishment! What is her endgame? Does Biden know or care?
The troubling question haunting US foreign policy
Robert A. Manning, Opinion Contributor Fri, August 19, 2022 at 5:00 AM
A troubling question haunts U.S. foreign policy: What is the endgame of American strategy? One thing that it appears not to be is an effort to find a balance of interests and power, which through history has tended to be a cornerstone of a stable order.
To listen to the White House, one could be forgiven for concluding that the goal is a coalition of like-minded democracies living happily ever after, while major powers with contrary views – like China and Russia – either accept U.S. primacy or succumb to regime change. Never mind that, according Freedom House, democracies have been in decline for nearly two decades, or that the U.S. political system is broken, dysfunctional, polarized and at grave risk.
It is difficult to imagine a stable and prosperous world order in which the largest trading power and exporter of capital and two mature nuclear weapons states are isolated and outside some framework and guardrails in which their interests were factored in. Look no further than the Ukraine war and current tensions over Taiwan, both volatile situations that could easily escalate into direct U.S. conflicts with Russia and China, respectively.
This predicament of a world near spinning out of control was astutely summed up by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. in a recent interview, he told the Wall St. Journal, “We are at the edge of war with Russia and China on issues which we partly created, without any concept of how this is going to end or what it’s supposed to lead to.”
The current state of geopolitics seems reminiscent of the prelude to World War I. It was also a time of unprecedented globalization, yet one of misperceptions and miscalculations among the major powers of the time. These erupted into conflagration in response to the trigger event, the assassination of Austrian Archduke Ferdinand. Could Ukraine or Taiwan be contemporary equivalents?
I’m not a fan of catastrophism, but some of the hysteria with regard to Taiwan is worrying. The D.C. commentariat have been fear mongering for almost two years that China is about to invade Taiwan.
Taiwan is an existential issue of legitimacy for the Chinese Communist Party, and it is committed to reunifying with Taiwan. But that is not imminent. The outrageous Beijing military provocations are mostly designed to deter Taipei from declaring formal independence and, as seen in response to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) visit to Taiwan, find an excuse to simulate a People’s Liberation Army (PLA) joint forces blockade of Taiwan and air and naval exercises.
The U.S. policy of “strategic ambiguity,” based on the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), has been harshly criticized as outdated. Under the TRA, the U.S. is obliged to help Taiwan defend itself, but there is no treaty-like commitment to militarily intervene in case of a Chinese attack.
The TRA has underpinned stability in the Taiwan Strait for nearly 50 years. What critics get wrong is that U.S. policy is aimed at preventing any unilateral change in the status quo by either side. PLA planning must assume an attack would mean U.S. intervention regardless of stated U.S. policy. So abandoning ambiguity would not have much effect on Beijing. But it could tempt some in Taiwan who favor independence to formally declare it, which would trigger a Chinese attack.
An invasion of Taiwan would require an amphibious lift capability not seen since the U.S. and allied landing at Normandy during World War II. The Chinese do not have any such capability. In fact, Beijing has many non-kinetic means of coercing Taiwan, and may employ such methods to win, as Confucian philosopher Sun Tzu advised, without fighting. A military assault could occur, but it’s unlikely before the last years of this decade.
Both the U.S. and Taiwan would be far better off if we laid off the symbolism and quietly worked with Taipei to build the strongest porcupine defense and strengthened economic ties with steps like a U.S.-Taiwan trade accord.
U.S. policy toward the Ukraine war has been more cautious, uniting allies, providing key military hardware and training, but ruling out direct U.S. intervention. Unlike Taiwan, the U.S. has no defense obligation to Kyiv. As D.C. chants of “total victory” have given way to the harsh reality of a drawn out, less decisive outcome, concerns about escalation are rising as increasingly sophisticated weapons are supplied to Kyiv. And Kissinger’s question of how it ends echoes: with a negotiated outcome, a stalemate or Putin using tactical nukes?
Can Russia simply be cancelled? Economic sanctions will, over time, make it impossible for Putin to sustain a competitive, modern nation, regardless of how Ukraine ends.
Are Ukraine and Taiwan crowding out broader U.S. relations with two nuclear weapons states? In the case of China, a broad range of overlapping interests and previous areas of cooperation (such as climate change, counter-narcotics, an uncertain $657 billion bilateral trade relationship and strategic dialogue to reduce risk) remain in limbo.
In sum, there are more questions than answers about U.S. strategy. For example, can Asia be the top priority if the U.S. is deepening commitments and resources in Europe and the Middle East? The tyranny of the inbox always plagues U.S. administrations. But we are at an inflection point in history, with all the balls of global order in the air. A little clarity would go a long way.
Robert A. Manning is a distinguished fellow at the Stimson Center. He served as senior counselor to the undersecretary of state for global affairs from 2001 to 2004, a member of the U.S. secretary of state’s policy planning staff from 2004 to 2008 and on the National Intelligence Council Strategic Futures Group from 2008 to 2012. Previously, he was director of Asian studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. Follow him on Twitter @Rmanning4.
Malaysia’s Mahathir says US seeking to provoke war in Taiwan
Fri, August 19, 2022 at 12:21 AM
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on Friday accused the U.S. of trying to provoke a war in Taiwan, and in a wide-ranging interview also said he expects Malaysia’s graft-tainted ruling party to hold general elections in the coming months.
Mahathir, a two-time prime minister long known as a critic of the West and its geopolitics, warned that the U.S. was antagonizing China through recent visits to Taiwan by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others. China considers the self-ruled island democracy part of its territory and regards such visits as meddling in its affairs.
“China has allowed Taiwan to remain by itself. No problem. They didn’t invade. If they wanted to invade, they could have invaded. They didn’t. But America is provoking (them) so that there can be a war, so that the Chinese will make the mistake of trying to occupy Taiwan,” the 97-year-old Mahathir said.
“Then there is an excuse … for the U.S. to help Taiwan, even fight against China and sell a lot of arms to Taiwan,” he added.
Following Pelosi’s visit, China launched large-scale military drills surrounding the island and fired ballistic missiles into the sea. Beijing also warned Washington not to encourage Taiwan to try to make its de facto independence permanent, a step China says would lead to war.
There was no immediate U.S. response to Mahathir’s comments.
In Malaysia, Mahathir said the ruling United Malays National Organization is likely preparing for snap polls that it will most likely “win big.” He believes that a number of Malay voters have returned to UMNO because they were offered money and other incentives.
“I think they will want to have the general elections this year. If possible, maybe as soon as two or three months from now, because they feel that at this moment the public still looks up at them, and the opposition is broken up, disorganized,” he told the AP.
Elections are not due until September 2023, but some UMNO members, including ex-Prime Minister Najib Razak and party president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who are both fighting graft charges, have been rallying for an earlier vote.
Mahathir was an UMNO prime minister for 22 years until his retirement in 2003. He was inspired to return to politics by the massive looting of the 1MDB state fund during Najib’s term in office, and rode a wave of public anger to lead the opposition to a historic victory in 2018 polls that ousted Najib’s government.
Mahathir became the world’s oldest head of government at 93, but his reformist alliance collapsed in less than two years due to defections. UMNO returned to power and now leads a new coalition government.
Mahathir has formed a new party, Pejuang, and a Malay alliance to contest 120 Malay-dominated parliamentary seats. He said his mission remained the same: to “clean-up” the country and form a graft-free government.
“I don’t know about being prime minister candidate, but if I am strong enough, if I am healthy enough, if they want me to contest, I will contest,” Mahathir said.
“I will fight, even if it is a losing battle,” he said. “I will fight because I believe in principle. It’s not what happens to me. I believe in principle. I believe that this is a great country which can become a developed country, but under the crooks you will never become.”
Najib has maintained his innocence. With his final appeal against a 12-year prison sentence in the first of several trials ongoing in the country’s top court, he would not be allowed to run in the event of an early election.
Mahathir said he believes Najib hopes to make a political comeback with an UMNO win.
“In the elections, if UMNO wins, he expects an UMNO government to ask for a pardon for him — and when he gets a pardon, (and is) cleared completely, he can then become prime minister,” Mahathir said. “He will do it. Believe me, he will do it.”
On the international front, Mahathir described President Joe Biden as an “ineffective” leader.
“In a way, he’s very anti-Islam, he’s not being fair. He allows Israel to commit all kinds of crime, genocide, and he does nothing. He supports them,” said Mahathir, who has been accused of anti-Semitism for attacking Jews, whom he blames for a humanitarian crisis in Palestinian territories.
He also railed against the European Union over the Russian war on Ukraine.
“What NATO is doing, the EU is doing is to provoke some more and asking the Ukrainians to fight,” Mahathir said. “They promised to accept Ukraine (into NATO) but they didn’t.”