Russia is in a position to “mount a major military action” says US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan
Russia has the troops in place to invade Ukraine “at any time” and American citizens should leave within the next 48 hours, the US has warned.
An invasion could start with aerial bombing that would make departures difficult and endanger civilians, the White House said on Friday.
A host of other countries have also urged their nationals to leave Ukraine.
Russia has repeatedly denied any plans to invade Ukraine despite massing more than 100,000 troops near the border.
US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Russian forces were now “in a position to be able to mount a major military action” and urged American citizens in Ukraine to “leave as soon as possible” in remarks seen as a clear escalation in the urgency of warnings from US officials.
“We obviously cannot predict the future, we don’t know exactly what is going to happen, but the risk is now high enough and the threat is now immediate enough that [leaving] is prudent,” he said.
Mr Sullivan added that the administration did not know if Russian President Vladimir Putin had made a final decision to invade, but said that the Kremlin was looking for a pretext to justify military action, which he said could start with intense aerial bombardment.
I’m staying in Ukraine, for now: Watch US citizen and English teacher Juan Tec explain why
John Herbst, US ambassador to Ukraine between 2003 and 2006, said that despite the US government’s warnings, he believes a full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine remains unlikely.
Among other countries calling on citizens to leave are the UK, the Netherlands, Latvia, Japan and South Korea.
The British foreign office said all UK nationals “should leave now while commercial means are still available”.
In its warning, Latvia cited “a serious threat to security posed by Russia”.
Earlier on Friday, UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace warned his counterpart in Moscow that a Russian invasion of Ukraine would have “tragic consequences” for both countries. But Sergei Shogiu said growing military tensions in Europe were “not our fault”.
The current tensions come eight years after Russia annexed Ukraine’s southern Crimea peninsula. Since then, Ukraine’s military has been locked in a war with Russian-backed rebels in eastern areas near Russia’s borders.
Russian naval drills took place in Crimea on Friday, while 10 days of military exercises continued in Belarus, to the north of Ukraine.
There are fears that if Russia tries to invade Ukraine, the exercises put the Russian military close to the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, making an attack on the city easier. Russia says its troops will return to their permanent bases after the drills end.
Moscow says it cannot accept that Ukraine – a former Soviet republic with deep social and cultural ties with Russia – could one day join the Western defence alliance Nato and has demanded that this be ruled out.
Russia has been backing a bloody armed rebellion in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region since 2014. Some 14,000 people – including many civilians – have died in fighting since then.
There is some suggestion that a renewed focus on the so-called Minsk agreements – which sought to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine – could be used as a basis to defuse the current crisis.
Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany backed the accords in 2014-2015.
US officials believe Russian President Vladimir Putin has decided to invade Ukraine and an attack could take place as soon as next week, as National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told Americans still in the Eastern European nation to get out within “24 to 48 hours.”
PBS foreign affairs correspondent Nick Schifrin tweeted that US officials believe Putin has communicated an invasion order to the Russian military and that Washington expects a “horrific, bloody” campaign.
According to the report, a Russian attack would be preceded by two days of aerial bombardment and electronic warfare, followed by a ground assault with the potential goal of overthrowing the Kiev government led by President Volodymyr Zelensky.
At the White House, Sullivan told reporters that the PBS report “does not accurately capture what the US government’s view is today,” but did not issue a full-fledged denial.
“Our view is that we do not believe he [Putin] has made any kind of final decision, or we don’t know that he has made any final decision, and we have not communicated that to anybody,” he said.
Moments earlier, Sullivan laid out a scenario consistent with the PBS report before urging Americans still in Ukraine to leave “as soon as possible, and in any event in the next 24 to 48 hours” and warning that “there is no prospect of a US military evacuation in the event of a Russian invasion.”
“If a Russian attack on Ukraine proceeds, it is likely to begin with aerial bombing and missile attacks that could obviously kill civilians without regard to their nationality,” he said. “Subsequent ground invasion would involve the onslaught of a massive force … No one would be able to count on air or rail or road departures once military action got underway.”
“The risk is now high enough, and the threat is immediate enough, that prudence demands that it is the time to leave now, while commercial options and commercial rail and air service exist, and while the roads are open,” Sullivan went on.
“The president will not be putting the lives of our men and women in uniform at risk by sending them into a war zone to rescue people who could have left now but chose not to,” he warned. “So we’re asking people to make the responsible choice.”
The PBS report emerged following a late-morning call between Biden and other key transatlantic leaders, including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, French President Emmanuel Macron of France, Germany Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
Following that meeting, CNN anchor Christiane Amanpour tweeted: “Official from a NATO ally tells me Pres Biden told them today the US does believe Vladimir Putin has decided to attack Ukraine. Next week.”
Shortly before Sullivan took to the White House podium, the British government announced that it was advising UK citizens against traveling to Ukraine and insisting those in the country “leave now by commercial means.”
Meanwhile, the Kyiv Post newspaper reported Friday that the US was evacuating all its staff from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine.
The paper reported that a mission member told the outlet he had received orders to leave the country by Tuesday.
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A Russian invasion of Ukraine could be imminent, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan warned on Sunday.
“We are in the window,” Sullivan said in an interview on “Fox News Sunday.” “Any day now, Russia could take military action against Ukraine or it could be a couple of weeks from now, or Russia could choose to take the diplomatic path instead.”
It comes after two U.S. officials said Russia has in place about 70% of the combat power it believes it would need for a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
An armored personnel carrier is seen during tactical exercises, which are conducted by the Ukrainian National Guard, Armed Forces, special operations units and simulate a crisis situation in an urban settlement, in the abandoned city of Pripyat near the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, Ukraine February 4, 2022.
Gleb Garanich | Reuters
A Russian invasion of Ukraine could be imminent, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan warned on Sunday.
“We are in the window,” Sullivan said in an interview on “Fox News Sunday.” “Any day now, Russia could take military action against Ukraine or it could be a couple of weeks from now, or Russia could choose to take the diplomatic path instead.”
Sullivan appeared on several morning news programs to discuss the ongoing situation in Eastern Europe.
His appearances come after two U.S. officials said Russia has in place about 70% of the combat power it believes it would need for a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The number of battalion tactical groups in the border region has risen to 83 from 60 as of Friday and 14 more are in transit, according to Reuters.
“We believe that the Russians have put in place the capabilities to mount a significant military operation into Ukraine and we have been working hard to prepare a response,” Sullivan said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
The form of attack could take different forms, Sullivan told NBC. Possible attacks could include annexing Ukraine’s Donbass region, cyberattacks or a full-scale invasion.
“Part of the reason we’ve been working so intensively over the last few months is not just to prepare for one contingency but to prepare for all contingencies and to work with our allies and partners on what a response would look like in each of those instances,” Sullivan said.
The U.S. and its allies have been clear the nations would act aggressively if Russia launches an attack. The U.S., for example, has threatened severe sanctions if Russian President Vladimir Putin invades.
The timeline for diplomatic negotiations could be dwindling.
“We believe that there is a very distinct possibility that Vladimir Putin will order an attack on Ukraine,” Sullivan said on ABC’s “This Week.”
If a full-scale Russian invasion occurs, thousands of civilians and troops could die, according to Reuters.
Ukraine could suffer 5,000 to 25,000 troop casualties, the outlet reported, citing a U.S. official. Russia’s troop casualties could be between 3,000 and 10,000, and civilian casualties could range from 25,000 to 50,000, according to U.S. estimates. It would also prompt millions of Ukrainians to be displaced.
Sullivan on Sunday did not comment on the projections but warned of the impact on Ukraine.
“If they choose to go down the path of escalation instead, it will come at enormous human cost to Ukrainians. But it will also, we believe, over time, come at real strategic cost to Vladimir Putin,” Sullivan told ABC.
Airmen from the 4th Fighter Wing at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C. and the 48th Fighter Wing, Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, arrive at Amari Air Base, Estonia, January 24, 2022. U.S. Air Force Photo/Staff Sgt. Megan Beatty/Handout via REUTERS
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BRUSSELS, Jan 27 (Reuters) – NATO allies are putting forces on standby and sending reinforcements to eastern Europe in response to Russia’s buildup of more than 100,000 troops on Ukraine’s borders.
Here are some of the dilemmas about NATO’s next steps.
However, Kyiv is a close partner and was promised eventual membership of the alliance at a NATO summit in 2008.
For the moment, the 30-member North Atlantic Treaty Organisation is working with Ukraine to modernise its armed forces. Canada operates a training programme in Ukraine, while Denmark is also stepping up efforts to bring Ukraine’s military up to NATO standards. The alliance has also said it will help Ukraine defend against cyber attacks and is providing secure communications equipment for military command.
WHAT ABOUT ARMING UKRAINE?
The United States, Britain and the Baltic states are sending weapons to Ukraine, including anti-tank missiles, small arms and boats. Turkey has sold drones to Ukraine that the Ukrainian military has used in eastern Ukraine against Russian-backed separatists.
However, Germany is against sending arms to Ukraine. Berlin has instead promised a complete field hospital and the necessary training for Ukrainian troops to operate it, worth about $6 million.
SO WHY IS NATO PUTTING FORCES ON STANDBY?
The alliance is concerned about a potential spillover from any conflict between Russia and Ukraine, particularly in the Black Sea region, where Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, and in the Baltic Sea.
The U.S. Department of Defense has put about 8,500 American troops on heightened alert. Denmark is sending a frigate to the Baltic Sea and four F-16 warplanes to Lithuania. Spain has sent a minesweeper and a frigate to join NATO naval forces in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea.
Madrid is also considering sending fighter jets to Bulgaria, while the Netherlands has also offered two F-35 warplanes to Bulgaria from April.
France may send troops to Romania under NATO command.
WHY ARE ALLIES NOT MOVING MORE QUICKLY?
Russia says it has no intention of invading Ukraine. read more
NATO, which is both a political and military organisation, has offered more talks with Moscow in the format of the NATO-Russia Council in Brussels to find a solution.
Moreover, as an alliance of 30 countries with different priorities, decisions are taken collectively and it can take time to drum up the necessary troops for joint missions.
NATO allies are discussing whether to increase the number of troops rotating through eastern Europe. They will focus on the issue when allied defence ministers meet for a scheduled meeting in Brussels in mid-February.
NATO has four multinational battalion-size battlegroups, or some 4,000 soldiers, led by Canada, Germany, Britain and the United States in Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Poland.
The troops serve as a “trip wire” for NATO’s 40,000-strong response force to come in quickly and bring more U.S. troops and weapons from across the Atlantic.
The biggest decisions may not come until June, when NATO leaders are due to meet for a summit in Madrid. They are expected to agree a new master plan, called a Strategic Concept, in part to cement NATO’s focus on deterring Russia.
WHAT IS NATO LIKELY TO DO IN THE BLACK SEA?
Bulgaria’s government has said it is ready to stand up a 1,000-strong force in the country, under Bulgarian command and in close cooperation with NATO, possibly with some soldiers from other allied countries.
It could be formed by April or May.
The Western alliance has a multinational land force of up to 4,000 troops in Romania. The United States also has soldiers stationed at separate bases in Romania and in Bulgaria.
Romania could see a bigger NATO presence, after France offered more troops. Romania is in talks with the United States over increasing troop numbers on its soil.
Although operational since 2017, the multinational force in Romania remains only a land command, without immediate air, maritime or special forces.
About the authors: Michael Beckleyis a Jeane Kirkpatrick Visiting Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, where his research focuses on U.S.-China competition, and is an associate professor at Tufts University. Hal Brands is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, where he studies US foreign policy and defense strategy, and is the Henry A. Kissinger Distinguished Professor of Global Affairs at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
President xi jinping declared in July that those who get in the way of China’s ascent will have their “heads bashed bloody against a Great Wall of steel.” The People’s Liberation Army Navy is churning out ships at a rate not seen since World War II, as Beijing issues threats against Taiwan and other neighbors. Top Pentagon officials have warned that China could start a military conflict in the Taiwan Strait or other geopolitical hot spots sometime this decade.
Analysts and officials in Washington are fretting over worsening tensions between the United States and China and the risks to the world of two superpowers once again clashing rather than cooperating. President Joe Biden has said that America “is not seeking a new cold war.” But that is the wrong way to look at U.S.-China relations. A cold war with Beijing is already under way. The right question, instead, is whether America can deter China from initiating a hot one.
Beijing is a remarkably ambitious revanchist power, one determined to make China whole again by “reuniting” Taiwan with the mainland, turning the East and South China Seas into Chinese lakes, and grabbing regional primacy as a stepping-stone to global power. It is also increasingly encircled, and faces growing resistance on many fronts—just the sort of scenario that has led it to lash out in the past.
The historical record since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 is clear: When confronted by a mounting threat to its geopolitical interests, Beijing does not wait to be attacked; it shoots first to gain the advantage of surprise.
In conflicts including the Korean War and clashes with Vietnam in 1979, China has often viewed the use of force as an educational exercise. It is willing to pick even a very costly fight with a single enemy to teach it, and others observing from the sidelines, a lesson.
Today, Beijing might be tempted to engage in this sort of aggression in multiple areas. And once the shooting starts, the pressures for escalation are likely to be severe.
Numerous scholars have analyzed when and why Beijing uses force. Most reach a similar conclusion: China attacks not when it feels confident about the future but when it worries its enemies are closing in. As Thomas Christensen, the director of the China and the World Program at Columbia University, writes, the Chinese Communist Party wages war when it perceives an opening window of vulnerability regarding its territory and immediate periphery, or a closing window of opportunity to consolidate control over disputed areas. This pattern holds regardless of the strength of China’s opponent. In fact, Beijing often has attacked far superior foes—including the U.S.—to cut them down to size and beat them back from Chinese-claimed or otherwise sensitive territory.
Examples of this are plentiful. In 1950, for instance, the fledgling PRC was less than a year old and destitute, after decades of civil war and Japanese brutality. Yet it nonetheless mauled advancing U.S. forces in Korea out of concern that the Americans would conquer North Korea and eventually use it as a base to attack China. In the expanded Korean War that resulted, China suffered almost 1 million casualties, risked nuclear retaliation, and was slammed with punishing economic sanctions that stayed in place for a generation. But to this day, Beijing celebrates the intervention as a glorious victory that warded off an existential threat to its homeland.
In 1962, the PLA attacked Indian forces, ostensibly because they had built outposts in Chinese-claimed territory in the Himalayas. The deeper cause was that the CCP feared that it was being surrounded by the Indians, Americans, Soviets, and Chinese Nationalists, all of whom had increased their military presence near China in prior years. Later that decade, fearing that China was next on Moscow’s hit list as part of efforts to defeat “counterrevolution,” the Chinese military ambushed Soviet forces along the Ussuri River and set off a seven-month undeclared conflict that once again risked nuclear war.
In the late ’70s, Beijing picked a fight with Vietnam. The purpose, remarked Deng Xiaoping, then the leader of the CCP, was to “teach Vietnam a lesson” after it started hosting Soviet forces on its territory and invaded Cambodia, one of China’s only allies. Deng feared that China was being surrounded and that its position would just get worse with time. And from the ’50s to the ’90s, China nearly started wars on three separate occasions by firing artillery or missiles at or near Taiwanese territory, in 1954–55, 1958, and 1995–96. In each case, the goal was—among other things—to deter Taiwan from forging a closer relationship with the U.S. or declaring its independence from China.
To be clear, every decision for war is complex, and factors including domestic politics and the personality quirks of individual leaders have also figured in China’s choices to fight. Yet the overarching pattern of behavior is consistent: Beijing turns violent when confronted with the prospect of permanently losing control of territory. It tends to attack one enemy to scare off others. And it rarely gives advance warning or waits to absorb the initial blow.https://7bde9848e52ee813493e8d8134e663c8.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
For the past few decades, this pattern of first strikes and surprise attacks has seemingly been on hold. Beijing’s military hasn’t fought a major war since 1979. It hasn’t shot at large numbers of foreigners since 1988, when Chinese frigates gunned down 64 Vietnamese sailors in a clash over the Spratly Islands. China’s leaders often claim that their country is a uniquely peaceful great power, and at first glance, the evidence backs them up.
But the China of the past few decades was a historical aberration, able to amass influence and wrest concessions from rivals merely by flaunting its booming economy. With 1.3 billion people, sky-high growth rates, and an authoritarian government that courted big business, China was simply too good to pass up as a consumer market and a low-wage production platform. So country after country curried favor with Beijing.
Britain handed back Hong Kong in 1997. Portugal gave up Macau in 1999. America fast-tracked China into major international institutions, such as the World Trade Organization. Half a dozen countries settled territorial disputes with China from 1991 to 2019, and more than 20 others cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan to secure relations with Beijing. China was advancing its interests without firing a shot and, as Deng remarked, “hiding its capabilities and biding its time.”
Those days are over. China’s economy, the engine of the CCP’s international clout, is starting to sputter. From 2007 to 2019, growth rates fell by more than half, productivity declined by more than 10 percent, and overall debt surged eightfold. The coronavirus pandemic has dragged down growth even further and plunged Beijing’s finances deeper into the red. On top of all this, China’s populationis aging at a devastating pace: From 2020 to 2035 alone, it will lose 70 million working-age adults and gain 130 million senior citizens.
Countries have recently become less enthralled by China’s market and more worried about its coercive capabilities and aggressive actions. Fearful that Xi might attempt forced reunification, Taiwan is tightening its ties to the U.S. and revamping its defenses. For roughly a decade, Japan has been engaged in its largest military buildup since the Cold War; the ruling Liberal Democratic Party is now talking about doubling defense spending. India is massing forces near China’s borders and vital sea lanes. Vietnam and Indonesia are expanding their air, naval, and coast-guard forces. Australia is opening up its northern coast to U.S. forces and acquiring long-range missiles and nuclear-powered attack submarines. France, Germany, and the United Kingdom are sending warships into the Indo-Pacific region. Dozens of countries are looking to cut China out of their supply chains; anti-China coalitions, such as the Quad and AUKUS, are proliferating.https://7bde9848e52ee813493e8d8134e663c8.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
Globally, opinion polls show that fear and mistrust of China has reached a post–Cold War high. All of which raises a troubling question: If Beijing sees that its possibilities for easy expansion are narrowing, might it begin resorting to more violent methods?
China is already moving in that direction. It has been using its maritime militia (essentially a covert navy), coast guard, and other “gray zone” assets to coerce weaker rivals in the Western Pacific. Xi’s government provoked a bloody scrap with India along the disputed Sino-Indian frontier in 2020, reportedly out of fear that New Delhi was aligning more closely with Washington.
Beijing certainly has the means to go much further. The CCP has spent $3 trillion over the past three decades building a military that is designed to defeat Chinese neighbors while blunting American power. It also has the motive: In addition to slowing growth and creeping encirclement, China faces closing windows of opportunity in its most important territorial disputes.
China’s geopolitical aims are not a secret. Xi, like his predecessors, desires to make China the preponderant power in Asia and, eventually, the world. He wants to consolidate China’s control over important lands and waterways the country lost during the “century of humiliation” (1839–1949), when China was ripped apart by imperialist powers. These areas include Hong Kong, Taiwan, chunks of Indian-claimed territory, and some 80 percent of the East and South China Seas.https://7bde9848e52ee813493e8d8134e663c8.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
The Western Pacific flash points are particularly vital. Taiwan is the site of a rival, democratic Chinese government in the heart of Asia with strong connections to Washington. Most of China’s trade passes through the East and South China Seas. And China’s primary antagonists in the area—Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines—are part of a strategic chain of U.S. allies and partners whose territory blocks Beijing’s access to the Pacific’s deep waters.
The CCP has staked its legitimacy on reabsorbing these areas and has cultivated an intense, revanchist form of nationalism among the Chinese people. Schoolchildren study the century of humiliation. National holidays commemorate foreign theft of Chinese lands. For many citizens, making China whole again is as much an emotional as a strategic imperative. Compromise is out of the question. “We cannot lose even one inch of the territory left behind by our ancestors,” Xi told James Mattis, then the U.S. secretary of defense, in 2018.
Taiwan is the place where China’s time pressures are most severe. Peaceful reunification has become extremely unlikely: In August 2021, a record 68 percent of the Taiwanese public identified solely as Taiwanese and not as Chinese, and more than 95 percent wanted to maintain the island’s de facto sovereignty or declare independence. China retains viable military options because its missiles could incapacitate Taiwan’s air force and U.S. bases on Okinawa in a surprise attack, paving the way for a successful invasion. But Taiwan and the U.S. now recognize the threat.
President Biden recently stated that America would fight to defend Taiwan from an unprovoked Chinese attack. Washington is planning to harden, disperse, and expand its forces in the Asia-Pacific by the early 2030s. Taiwan is pursuing, on a similar timeline, a defense strategy that would use cheap, plentiful capabilities such as anti-ship missiles and mobile air defenses to make the island an incredibly hard nut to crack. This means that China will have its best chance from now to the end of the decade. Indeed, the military balance will temporarily shift further in Beijing’s favor in the late 2020s, when many aging U.S. ships, submarines, and planes will have to be retired.
This is when America will be in danger, as the former Pentagon official David Ochmanek has remarked, of getting “its ass handed to it” in a high-intensity conflict. If China does attack, Washington could face a choice between escalation or seeing Taiwan conquered.
More such dilemmas are emerging in the East China Sea. China has spent years building an armada, and the balance of naval tonnage currently favors Beijing. It regularly sends well-armed coast-guard vessels into the waters surrounding the disputed Senkaku Islands to weaken Japan’s control there. But Tokyo has plans to regain the strategic advantage by turning amphibious ships into aircraft carriers for stealth fighters armed with long-range anti-ship missiles. It is also using geography to its advantage by stringing missile launchers and submarines along the Ryukyu Islands, which stretch the length of the East China Sea.https://7bde9848e52ee813493e8d8134e663c8.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
Meanwhile, the U.S.-Japan alliance, once a barrier to Japanese remilitarization, is becoming a force multiplier. Tokyo has reinterpreted its constitution to fight more actively alongside the U.S. Japanese forces regularly operate with American naval vessels and aircraft; American F-35 fighters fly off of Japanese ships; U.S. and Japanese officials now confer routinely on how they would respond to Chinese aggression—and publicly advertise that cooperation.
For years, Chinese strategists have speculated about a short, sharp war that would humiliate Japan, rupture its alliance with Washington, and serve as an object lesson for other countries in the region. Beijing could, for instance, land or parachute special forces on the Senkakus, proclaim a large maritime exclusion zone in the area, and back up that declaration by deploying ships, submarines, warplanes, and drones—all supported by hundreds of conventionally armed ballistic missiles aimed at Japanese forces and even targets in Japan. Tokyo then would either have to accept China’s fait accompli or launch a difficult and bloody military operation to recapture the islands. America, too, would have to choose between retreat and honoring the pledges it made—in 2014 and in 2021—to help Japan defend the Senkakus. Retreat might destroy the credibility of the U.S.-Japan alliance. Resistance, war games held by prominent think tanks suggest, could easily lead to rapid escalation resulting in a major regional war.https://7bde9848e52ee813493e8d8134e663c8.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
What about the South China Sea? Here, China has grown accustomed to shoving around weak neighbors. Yet opposition is growing. Vietnam is stocking up on mobile missiles, submarines, fighter jets, and naval vessels that can make operations within 200 miles of its coast very difficult for Chinese forces. Indonesia is ramping up defense spending—a 20 percent hike in 2020 and another 16 percent in 2021—to buy dozens of fighters, surface ships, and submarines armed with lethal anti-ship missiles. Even the Philippines, which courted Beijing for most of President Rodrigo Duterte’s term, has been increasing air and naval patrols, conducting military exercises with the U.S., and planning to purchase cruise missiles from India. At the same time, a formidable coalition of external powers—the U.S., Japan, India, Australia, Britain, France, and Germany—are conducting freedom-of-navigation exercises to contest China’s claims.
From Beijing’s perspective, circumstances are looking ripe for a teachable moment. The best target might be the Philippines. In 2016, Manila challenged China’s claims to the South China Sea before the Permanent Court of Arbitration and won. Beijing might relish the opportunity to reassert its claims—and warn other Southeast Asian countries about the cost of angering China—by ejecting Filipino forces from their isolated, indefensible South China Sea outposts. Here again, Washington would have few good options: It could stand down, effectively allowing China to impose its will on the South China Sea and the countries around it, or it could risk a much bigger war to defend its ally.https://7bde9848e52ee813493e8d8134e663c8.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
Get ready for the “terrible 2020s”: a period in which China has strong incentives to grab “lost” land and break up coalitions seeking to check its advance. Beijing possesses grandiose territorial aims as well as a strategic culture that emphasizes hitting first and hitting hard when it perceives gathering dangers. It has a host of wasting assets in the form of military advantages that may not endure beyond this decade. Such dynamics have driven China to war in the past and could do so again today.
If conflict does break out, U.S. officials should not be sanguine about how it would end. Tamping or reversing Chinese aggression in the Western Pacific could require a massive use of force. An authoritarian CCP, always mindful of its precarious domestic legitimacy, would not want to concede defeat even if it failed to achieve its initial objectives. And historically, modern wars between great powers have more typically gone long than stayed short. All of this implies that a U.S.-China war could be incredibly dangerous, offering few plausible off-ramps and severe pressures for escalation.
The U.S. and its friends can take steps to deter the PRC, such as drastically speeding the acquisition of weaponry and prepositioning military assets in the Taiwan Strait and East and South China Seas, among other efforts, to showcase its hard power and ensure that China can’t easily knock out U.S. combat power in a surprise attack. At the same time, calmly firming up multilateral plans, involving Japan, Australia, and potentially India and Britain, for responding to Chinese aggression could make Beijing realize how costly such aggression might be. If Beijing understands that it cannot easily or cheaply win a conflict, it may be more cautious about starting one.https://7bde9848e52ee813493e8d8134e663c8.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
Most of these steps are not technologically difficult: They exploit capabilities that are available today. Yet they require an intellectual shift—a realization that the United States and its allies need to rapidly shut China’s windows of military opportunity, which means preparing for a war that could well start in 2025 rather than in 2035. And that, in turn, requires a degree of political will and urgency that has so far been lacking.
China’s historical warning signs are already flashing red. Indeed, taking the long view of why and under which circumstances China fights is the key to understanding just how short time has become for America and the other countries in Beijing’s path.Michael Beckleyis a Jeane Kirkpatrick Visiting Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, where his research focuses on U.S.-China competition, and is an associate professor at Tufts University.Hal Brands is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, where he studies US foreign policy and defense strategy, and is the Henry A. Kissinger Distinguished Professor of Global Affairs at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley recently called China’s testing of a hypersonic missile designed to evade U.S. nuclear defenses “very close” to a “Sputnik moment” for the United States. The comments underscore an ongoing pattern on the part of the U.S. government and corporate media structure that reinforces and instigates dangerous preexisting geopolitical tensions with China, a rhetorical theme unnecessarily produced by a Sinophobic bipartisan U.S. political elite.
In this interview, international relations scholar Richard Falk provides the historical context of Sputnik and summarizes U.S. interests in promoting a culture of fear with China. Falk also outlines how prospects for a new Cold War could ultimately subside due to increased focuses about the climate emergency and COVID, thus rendering geopolitics less relevant, which is both fortunate and unfortunate for its own sets of reasons.
Daniel Falcone:On Bloomberg Television, Gen. Mark Milley referred to China’s hypersonic weapons test as close to a “Sputnik moment” that has our attention. Can you comment on the meaning of this language and provide historical context?
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Richard Falk: I interpret General Milley’s remark as primarily intended to raise security concerns relating to the deepening geopolitical rivalry with China, or perhaps as a reflection of these. To call the hypersonic weapons test by China “close to a Sputnik moment” was suggesting that it was posing a systemic threat to American technological supremacy directly relevant to national security and the relative military capabilities of the two countries. The reference to a Sputnik moment was a way of recalling an instance when the geopolitical rival of the day, which in 1957 was of course the Soviet Union, suddenly caught the U.S. by surprise, becoming the first sovereign state with the capacity to send a satellite into space with an ability to orbit the Earth, and possibly in the future by this means dominate the political life of the entire planet.
This capacity was not in of itself a threat but was taken to mean that the Soviet Union was more technologically sophisticated than was understood by the public, and apparently even by the U.S. intelligence. It was politically used as a spur to increased investment in space technology, and it led some years late to a triumphant moment for the United States when Neil Armstrong landed on the moon in 1969, enabling the U.S. to reclaim the lead in the space dimension of the Cold War rivalry and to indirectly recover confidence in its military prowess. In retrospect, the actual relevance of the Sputnik moment was in the domain of symbolic geopolitics without real relevance to the course or outcome of the Cold War.
Supposedly the aim of the Chinese test is to develop a supersonic missile capable of encircling the Earth with a spatial orbit and a flexible reentry capability, which is perceived as having the ability to evade radar and existing defense systems currently in use to intercept incoming missiles. In that sense, Milley’s pronouncement in the course of the Bloomberg interview can best be understood as an intensification of the slide toward geopolitical confrontation with China, a set of circumstances that already possesses many features of a second Cold War, although occurring under radically different historical circumstances than the rivalry with the Soviet Union.
It will likely become the beginning of agitation and a campaign to increase the bloated defense budget still further, which is as always likely to find a receptive and gullible bipartisan audience in the U.S. Congress. No recent statement by a chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has enjoyed such success as Milley in setting off national security alarm bells, uncritically highlighted by mainstream media.
What I found surprising, yet in keeping with the mobilization of anti-China public opinion, was the failure of both Milley and the commentary to suggest a different twist to this news. It could have been presented a dangerous and expensive technological threshold that calls for mutual restraint and possibly agreements limiting further developments. President Joe Biden or Secretary of State Antony Blinken could have used the occasion to declare that the world at this stage could not afford such costly and risky distractions, as an all-out arms race in space.
It seems that this Sputnik moment by an imaginative military leader could have turned to an opportunity for peace rather than a threat of future war. It might have provided a dramatic moment to embark upon a path of reconciliation with China that would benefit not only the two countries but humanity in general. Of course, such a turn would be viciously attacked by the militarists in both parties as weakness instead of strength. Remember the derision heaped on President Barack Obama for daring “to lead from behind” in the 2011 North Atlantic Treaty Organization intervention in Libya. Given the mess resulting from that military operation, there is reason to view Obama’s reluctance as a show of strategic wisdom as well as prudence.
I do consider Milley’s statement, made without qualifications and accompanying comments, as providing the basis for two possible lines of response: a geopolitical reflex of alarm and heightened tensions in keeping with the confrontational character of recent American foreign policy, or a measured reaction that urged mutual restraint and a search for a cooperative framework with respect to the militarization of space in the interests of world peace, but also with respect to the avoidance of an expensive and highly uncertain extensions of arms competition.
The fact this “road not taken” was not even mentioned by Milley as an alternative is deeply disappointing, although in keeping with the prevailing mood in Washington. As well, the feverish media reportage of his provocative sounding of Sputnik alarm bells suggests that public policy debate is taking place in an atmosphere of ideological closure if the issue involves China. This should be deeply worrying.
President Biden recently participated in a CNN “town hall” and again instigated China. China does not seem to be intimidated by the United States. Can you elaborate on how that reality impacts heads of state overall?
We are witnessing once again a superpower interaction that threatens to dominate international politics — this time in a global setting still trying to recover from the COVID pandemic and faced with dire warnings in the form of a consensus from climate experts that if more is not done with a sense of urgency to address climate change, catastrophic harm will result. In this new configuration of global social, political and ecological forces, if rationality prevails, geopolitics will be moved to the sidelines so as to focus on challenges that cannot be ignored any longer. It is unfortunate that that political will in the U.S. remains mainly geared toward addressing real and imagined traditional security threats stemming from conflict and nothing else when it comes to foreign policy.
Some advocates for peace are worried that a failed or stalled infrastructure legislative package will force liberal Democrats into more hawkish positions in order to show “resolve.” Can you comment on the validity of this concern?
A persisting shadow hovering over American politics is the sobering realization that there seems to be no down side for hawkishness by a politician when it comes to embracing the warped logic of geopolitical rivalry or military spending. Whether this will have an impact upon the bargaining component of the search for sufficient support in Congress to fund a domestic infrastructure program is not knowable at this time, but it would come as no surprise. Many liberal Democrats do not depart from the bipartisan mainstream if the issues at stake are defense, Israel and now China, especially when a favored domestic program seems in jeopardy.
NPR has reported on how “Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on countries to support Taiwan’s participation in the United Nations. The self-governed island has not been a member of the body since October 1971, when the U.N. gave Beijing a seat at the table and removed Taiwan.” What are the regional implications of the Taiwan factor regarding Biden’s and Milley’s remarks? How is this pertinent and what is happening here?
It was a most unfortunate departure from the Shanghai Communique of 1972 establishing relations between the U.S. and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to speak in favor of giving Taiwan a more active role in the UN system. First, it seemed contrary to the spirit of what was agreed upon with respect to Taiwan in 1972, centering on an acceptance by Washington of a “One China” policy. As Henry Kissinger has argued, the language used deliberately avoided endorsing the PRC view of “One China,” leaving open the interpretation followed by Washington that Beijing could only extend its territorial sovereignty to Taiwan by way of a diplomatic agreement with Taiwan (formerly, the Republic of China, which had lost the right to represent China at the UN).
Despite efforts by Taiwan to gain diplomatic recognition as a separate political entity, it has only managed to secure a favorable response from 15 countries, and not one “important” country among them, with even the United States refraining. At one point, Taiwan did attempt to become a member of the UN, but the effort was firmly rejected by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, relying on UN General Assembly Resolution 2756, which set the terms of Chinese representation in 1971, relegating Taiwan (what had been represented by China at the UN until that time as the Republic of China) as “the province of Taiwan” within the larger reality of China. A strenuous U.S. effort in 1971 to retain the Republic of China as a participant in UN activities was rejected, leaving the PRC as the sole representative of China.
What makes the Blinken comment doubly inflammatory is that it occurred in the midst of increasing overall U.S.-China tensions with a growing focus on the security of Taiwan. With China apparently testing the nerves of Taiwan and the resolve of the United States by a naval buildup and air intrusions, for Blinken to choose this moment to support an increased independent status for Taiwan is either misguided or clearly meant to be provocative. Such irresponsible talk was further amplified by Biden’s implications that the U.S. would defend Taiwan if attacked rather than calling for a tension reducing diplomatic conference. Then comes General Milley’s “Sputnik moment” remark, as if the Chinese security challenge has crossed a threshold of strategic threat to the United States that it dares not ignore. Further signals of hostility were sent to China by activating the QUAD informal alliance (U.S., Japan, India and Australia) some months ago, and more recently establishing the AUKUS alliance, which included Australian development of nuclear-powered submarines.
There are two lines of structural threat that seem to be creating an atmosphere of pre-crisis confrontation: firstly, the so-called Thucydides Trap by which a hitherto dominant power faces an ascending challenger and opts for war while it still commands superior military capabilities rather than waiting until its rival catches up or gains the upper hand; the Milley comment and reaction must be viewed in this light. And secondly, the insistent belligerent assertion that what is at stake with Taiwan is the larger ideological struggle going on in the region and world between those governments that are democracies and those that are authoritarian. The Taiwanese president, Tsai Ing-wen, in a recent article in Foreign Affairs stridently articulated this theme, and so imparted larger meaning to what was at stake by keeping Taiwan safe and independent.
From a longer temporal perspective, the right-wing of the political class in Washington has never gotten over the trauma of “losing China” as if it were the U.S.’s to lose! It is the persistence of this geopolitical hubris that edges Taiwan tensions ever closer to an armed encounter, with true losers on both sides. A further reason to favor diplomatic de-escalation while there is still time is the apparent realization that the U.S. cannot match China in the South China Sea by relying on conventional weapons and can only avoid defeat by having recourse to nuclear weaponry. This is not alarmism. It has been openly declared by leading voices in the Pentagon.
This geopolitical context should not lead the world or the region to overlook the well-being of the 23.5 million people of Taiwan. Given what is at stake, the best approach would be to restore the “constructive ambiguity” that was deliberately written into the Shanghai Communique, and work for an atmosphere where Taiwan and the PRC can negotiate their futures on the basis of common interests. Although the recent experience in Hong Kong suggests that this, too, is a treacherous path, but less so than flirting with a geopolitical flare-up that could easily get grotesquely out of hand.
Having leveled two Japanese cities with atomic bombs and established itself as the world’s top superpower following the collapse of the international order in the aftermath of World War II, the U.S. quickly became intoxicated by its newfound military superiority.
The U.S. soon went on to introduce a doctrine that positioned itself as the world’s police, drop more bombs in the Korean and Vietnamese wars than there had been dropped in the whole course of World War II, and orchestrate military coups against democratically elected governments throughout Latin America. It ended up in turn supporting brutal dictatorships and establishing more foreign military bases than any other nation or empire in history all over the globe.
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All this occurred within the first 30 or so years after the end of World War II. By the time the 21st century came around, the U.S. was the only military and economic superpower in the world. Yet, that did not put an end to U.S. imperial ambitions. A “global war on terrorism” was initiated in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, with the U.S. ending up by 2013 being seen by people around the world as “the greatest threat to world peace.”
What are the roots of U.S. imperialism? What has been the impact of imperial expansion and wars on democracy at home? Is the U.S. empire in retreat? In this interview, scholar and activist Khury Petersen-Smith, who is Michael Ratner Middle East Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, discusses how U.S. imperialism has undermined democracy, both home and abroad, with the wars abroad even being tied to police brutality at home.
C.J. Polychroniou: The U.S. has a long history of war-on-terror campaigns going all the way back to the spread of anarchism in late 19th century. During the Cold War era, communists were routinely labelled as “terrorists,” and the first systematic war on terror unfolded during the Reagan administration. Following the September 11 attacks, the Bush administration renewed the war on terror by implementing a series of far-reaching policy initiatives, many of which, incidentally, went unnoticed by the public but also continued during the Obama and Trump administrations, respectively, which subverted democracy and the rule of law. Can you elaborate about the impact of war-on-terror policies in the dismantling of U.S. democracy?
Khury Petersen-Smith: It’s true: The tactics and beliefs that the U.S. has deployed in the war on terror have deep roots that stretch well before our current time. I would argue that the U.S. has never been a democracy, and that a key reason is its basically permanent state of war, which began with its founding. New England settlers, for example, waged a war of counterinsurgency against Indigenous peoples here who resisted colonization in King Philip’s War. The settlers besieged Indigenous nations, considering communities of adults and children to be “enemies” and punishing them with incredible violence. This was in the 1670s.I would argue that the U.S. has never been a democracy, and that a key reason is its basically permanent state of war, which began with its founding.
In a different U.S. counterinsurgency, in the Philippines in the early 20th century, American soldiers used “the water cure,” a torture tactic comparable to the “waterboarding” that the U.S. has used in the war on terror. This was one feature of a horrific war of scorched earth that the U.S. waged as Filipino revolutionaries fought for an independent country after Spanish colonization. The U.S. killed tens of thousands of Filipino fighters, and hundreds of thousands — up to a million — civilians. There was also a staggering amount of death due to secondary violence, such as starvation and cholera outbreaks, and due to the U.S. declaration that civilians were fair game to target (as seen in the infamous Balangiga Massacre). It was during that episode in 1901 on the island of Samar, when an American general ordered troops to kill everyone over the age of 10. The designation of whole populations as the “enemy” — and therefore targets for violence — has echoes that reverberate in Somalia, Yemen, Iraq and other places where the U.S. has fought the war on terror.
This is to say that there are different chapters in the history of U.S. empire, but there is a throughline of justifying military violence and the denial of human rights in defense of U.S. power and “the American way of life.” This history of wars informs those of the present.
In the 20th century, labeling various activities “terrorism” was one way of rationalizing the use of force. The U.S. did this especially with its allies in response to anti-colonial liberation movements. So the South African apartheid regime called anti-apartheid resistance “terrorism,” and the Israeli state did (and continues to do) the same to Palestinian resistance, however nonviolent. The U.S. has armed and defended these states, embracing and promoting the rhetoric of war against “terrorism.”
The flip side of “terrorism” — the blanket enemy against which all violence is justified — is “democracy” — the all-encompassing thing that the U.S. claims to defend in its foreign policy. But again, the 20th century saw the U.S. embrace, arm and wage war with and on behalf of anti-democratic, dictatorial forces on every continent. The decades of violence that the U.S. carried out and supported throughout Latin America in the latter part of the 20th century, in response to waves of popular resistance for social and economic justice, serve as a brutal chapter of examples.
All of these things helped constitute the foundation upon which the Bush administration launched the war on terror.
To answer your question more directly, military violence always requires dehumanization and the denial of rights — and this inevitably corrupts any notions of democracy. War, in fact, always involves an attack on democratic rights at large. When the U.S. launched the war on terror in 2001, the federal government simultaneously waged military campaigns abroad and passed legislation like the USA PATRIOT Act, issued legal guidelines and other practices that introduced new levels of surveillance, denial of due process, rationalization of torture and other attacks on civil liberties. These efforts especially targeted Muslims and people of South Asian, Central Asian, Southwest Asian and North African origin — all of whom were subject to being cast as “terrorists” or “suspected terrorists.”
It is worth noting that while Bush drew upon the deep roots of U.S. violence to launch the war on terror, there has been incredible continuity, escalation and expansion throughout it. Bush launched the drone war, for example, and President Barack Obama then wildly expanded and escalated it. President Donald Trump then escalated it further.
Have the war-on-terror policies also affected struggles for racial and migrant justice?
The war on terror has been devastating for racial and migrant justice. The Islamophobic domestic programs that the U.S. has carried out are racist. And once they were piloted against parts of the population, they could be expanded to others. This is how U.S. state violence works. Indeed, the mass policing, mass incarceration regime built up in the 1990s — which was supposedly directed at “fighting crime,” and the “war on drugs” — targeted Black people and Latinos in particular, building an infrastructure that was then deployed against Muslims and others in the war on terror. With policing vastly expanded in the name of the war on terror, its force came back to Black and Indigenous communities — as it always does in the United States.With policing vastly expanded in the name of the war on terror, its force came back to Black and Indigenous communities — as it always does in the United States.
It is important to acknowledge the new level of credibility and power that the police attained after 9/11 and in the war on terror. There was actually a powerful wave of anti-racist protest against the police in the 1990s — especially strong in cities like New York, Philadelphia, Chicago and Los Angeles. In New York, thousands mobilized to demand justice for Amadou Diallo, Abner Louima, Patrick Dorismond, and others brutalized and killed by the New York City Police Department. The police were on the defensive. They seized upon the post-9/11 moment and the beginning of the war on terror to rehabilitate their image and attain new powers.
With this in mind, I wonder if the current moment of “racial reckoning” unfolding in the U.S. over these two years — brilliant and important as it is — could have actually happened 20 years ago. I think that anti-racist movements were on track to do it, and the war on terror set us back two decades. Consider all of the Black lives lost in that time.
And yes, the war on terror has been catastrophic for migrant justice. One of the early measures was the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, which forced the registration of non-citizens from South and Central Asian, Middle Eastern, and North and East African countries. It was largely unopposed, setting the stage for more racist, targeted policies, like the Muslim ban. Before the war on terror, there was no Department of Homeland Security, no Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The U.S. government seized the opportunity of the war on terror to build on the long history of white supremacy in controlling migration and open a new chapter of border militarization, policing and surveillance of migrants, and deportation.
The United Nations condemned this past summer, for the 29th year in a row, the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba. Indeed, the U.S. is notorious around the world for violations of international law and has been widely perceived as the greatest threat to world peace. However, the influence of the U.S. in world affairs is sharply in decline and its so-called “soft’ power has all but evaporated. Are we living through the death of an empire?
I’m afraid that U.S. empire is far from death, or even dying.
From the perspective of humanity and the planet, the war on terror has been catastrophic in its levels of destruction and death. But from the perspective of the proponents of U.S. empire, those at its helm, it was a gamble. Bush administration officials were clear from the start that the invasion of Afghanistan was the opening of what they conceived of as a series of invasions and other military operations to demonstrate U.S. hegemony, and punish the minority of states located in the most strategic regions of the world that were not solidly in the American orbit. After invading Afghanistan, Bush declared the “Axis of Evil,” targeting Iraq, Iran and North Korea. The U.S. then invaded Iraq, implying that Iran and North Korea could be next. The idea was to project U.S. power and to disrupt and prevent the rise of potential rivals to it.
The U.S. lost the gamble. Not only did untold millions of people around the world suffer from the wars, but the U.S. also failed in its strategic objectives. The regional and world powers whose ascension the U.S. sought to curtail — especially Iran, Russia and China — emerged more powerful, while U.S. power was set back.
But the U.S. remains, far and away, the most powerful country in the world. And it will not surrender that status quietly. On the contrary, even as it continues and supports military operations as part of the war on terror, it is very openly preparing for confrontation with China. It is pursuing a belligerent path that is driving rivalry and militarization — a path toward conflict.
The story of the path the U.S. is pursuing regarding hostility toward China is another that reveals the subterranean, forward motion of empire that continues across presidential administrations. President George W. Bush’s 2002 National Security Strategy first signaled that, “We are attentive to the possible renewal of old patterns of great power competition,” and identified China as one potential competitor. In 2006, the Bush administration gestured further toward identifying China as posing a problem for U.S. empire, saying, “Our strategy seeks to encourage China to make the right strategic choices for its people, while we hedge against other possibilities.”
When President Obama took office, the U.S. foreign policy establishment had clearly united behind the notion that China was an enemy to be isolated and whose rise was to be curtailed. Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared “America’s Pacific Century” and argued for a winding down of American attention to Iraq and Afghanistan, and a new strategic focus on Asia and the Pacific. Obama launched the “Pivot to Asia,” which involved shifting military weapons and personnel to the region and building more facilities there, all aimed at addressing China’s ascension. President Trump, of course, brought anti-China hostility to a fever pitch, blaming China for the COVID-19 pandemic, openly using crude, racist language directed at China (but impacting Chinese American people and many other Asian Americans), and opening the door for Fox News personalities and officials like Sen. Tom Cotton to talk directly about the supposed “threat” that China poses and call for military action against it. That brings us to today, where there is near consensus between both parties that the U.S. should be gearing up in armed competition with China.
Unfortunately, empires do not simply die. This means that we — around the world, and especially those of us located in the United States — are called upon to resist, undermine and disrupt empire. We need to, across borders, envision a radically different world, and fight for it.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
From the 17th Century, significant numbers of migrants started arriving from China, often fleeing turmoil or hardship. Most were Hoklo Chinese from Fujian (Fukien) province or Hakka Chinese, largely from Guangdong. The descendants of these two migrations are now by far the largest demographic groups on the island.
In 1895, Japan won the First Sino-Japanese War, and the Qing government had to cede Taiwan to Japan. After World War Two, Japan surrendered and relinquished control of territory it had taken from China. The Republic of China – one of the victors in the war – began ruling Taiwan with the consent of its allies, the US and UK.
But in the next few years a civil war broke out in China, and the then-leader Chiang Kai-shek’s troops were beaten back by Mao Zedong’s Communist armies.
Chiang and the remnants of his Kuomintang (KMT) government fled to Taiwan in 1949. This group, referred to as Mainland Chinese and then making up 1.5m people, dominated Taiwan’s politics for many years – even though they only account for 14% of the population.
Having inherited an effective dictatorship, facing resistance from local people resentful of authoritarian rule and under pressure from a growing democracy movement, Chiang’s son, Chiang Ching-kuo, began allowing a process of democratisation.
President Lee Teng-hui, known as Taiwan’s “father of democracy”, led constitutional changes towards a more democratic political layout, which eventually led to the election of the island’s first non-KMT president, Chen Shui-bian, in 2000.
What about recent hostility?
Relations between China and Taiwan started improving in the 1980s. China put forward a formula, known as “one country, two systems”, under which Taiwan would be given significant autonomy if it accepted Chinese reunification.
Taiwan rejected the offer, but it did relax rules on visits to and investment in China. In 1991, it also proclaimed the war with the People’s Republic of China on the mainland to be over.
There were also limited talks between the two sides’ unofficial representatives, though Beijing’s insistence that Taiwan’s Republic of China (ROC) government is illegitimate meant government-to-government meetings couldn’t happen.
And in 2000, when Taiwan elected Chen Shui-bian as president, Beijing was alarmed. Mr Chen had openly backed “independence”.
A year after Mr Chen was re-elected in 2004, China passed a so-called anti-secession law, stating China’s right to use “non-peaceful means” against Taiwan if it tried to “secede” from China.
Mr Chen was succeeded by Ma Ying-jeou, who, after taking office in 2008, sought to improve relations with China through economic agreements.
After Donald Trump won the 2016 US election, Ms Tsai spoke to him on the phone – a break with US policy set in 1979, when formal relations were cut.
Despite the lack of formal ties, the US has pledged to supply Taiwan with defensive weapons and has stressed any attack by China would cause “grave concern”.
Throughout 2018, China stepped up pressure on international companies, forcing them to list Taiwan as a part of China on their websites and threatening to block them for doing business in China if they failed to comply.
Ms Tsai won a second term in 2020. By that time Hong Kong had seen months of unrest, with protesters demonstrating against the mainland’s increasing influence – a development many in Taiwan were watching closely.
At the same time, the US has been intensifying its outreach to Taiwan and reassuring Taipei of its continued support. Last September, Washington sent the highest-level state department official in decades to visit the island.
Beijing strongly criticised the meeting, warning the US “not to send any wrong signals to ‘Taiwan independence’ elements to avoid severe damage to China-US relations”. During the controversial visit, China conducted a live-fire military exercise in the waterway that separates the island from the mainland.
In the first few days of Mr Biden’s presidency, Taiwan reported a “large incursion” by Chinese warplanes over two days. Then on 12 April, the Taiwanese government said China flew the largest number of military jets into its air defence zone for a year.
In response, US Admiral John Aquilino, head of the Pentagon’s Indo-Pacific command, warned that a Chinese invasion of Taiwan “is much closer to us than most think”.
So who recognises Taiwan?
There is disagreement and confusion about what Taiwan is.
China regards Taiwan as a breakaway province which it has vowed to retake, by force if necessary. But Taiwan’s leaders say it is clearly much more than a province, arguing that it is a sovereign state.
It has its own constitution, democratically-elected leaders, and about 300,000 active troops in its armed forces.
Chiang Kai-shek’s Republic of China (ROC) government, which fled the mainland to Taiwan in 1949, at first claimed to represent the whole of China, which it intended to re-occupy. It held China’s seat on the United Nations Security Council and was recognised by many Western nations as the only Chinese government.
But in 1971, the UN switched diplomatic recognition to Beijing and the ROC government was forced out. Since then the number of countries that recognise the ROC government diplomatically has fallen drastically to about 15.
Given the huge divide between these two positions, most other countries seem happy to accept the current ambiguity, whereby Taiwan has virtually all of the characteristics of an independent state, even if its legal status remains unclear.
How much of an issue is independence in Taiwan?
While political progress has been slow, links between the two peoples and economies have grown sharply. Taiwanese companies have invested about $60bn (£40bn) in China, and up to one million Taiwanese people now live there, many running Taiwanese factories.
Some Taiwanese people worry their economy is now dependent on China. Others believe that closer business ties make Chinese military action less likely, because of the cost to China’s own economy.
A controversial trade agreement sparked the “Sunflower Movement” in 2014, where students and activists occupied Taiwan’s parliament protesting against what they called China’s growing influence over Taiwan.
Officially, the ruling DPP still favours eventual formal independence for Taiwan, while the KMT favours eventual re-unification.
(CNN)President Joe Biden on Wednesday unveiled a new effort to help Australia acquire nuclear-powered submarines, a major step toward countering China as he works to build international backing for his approach to Beijing.The announcement came as part of a new trilateral partnership among the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom that the three countries’ leaders jointly revealed Wednesday afternoon.”The United States, Australia and the United Kingdom have long been faithful and capable partners and we’re even closer today,” the President said. “Today, we’re taking another historic step to deepen and formalize cooperation among all three of our nations, because we all recognize the imperative of ensuring peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific over the long term.”
The partnership kicks off what is expected to be a flurry of diplomatic engagements for Biden this autumn, from next week’s United Nations meetings to a White House summit of Asian leaders to October’s Group of 20 talks in Italy.
Underpinning his efforts is a desire to rally the West and US partners in Asia in the battle between “autocracy versus democracy,” one of the defining objectives of his presidency. Biden has made countering China a central aspect of his foreign policy as tensions grow over the South China Sea and Taiwan, and has said he wants American allies on board.
The new partnership between the US, UK and Australia — three English-speaking maritime democracies — is not specifically about China, officials insisted ahead of the announcement. Instead, they said the three countries would hold a schedule of meetings over the coming months to coordinate on cyber issues, advanced technologies and defense in a bid to better meet modern-day security challenges. The new partnership is called AUKUS, pronounced “aw-kiss.”Enter your email to sign up for CNN’s “What Matters” Newsletter.close dialog
Sailors assigned to the Australian Collins-class submarine HMAS Sheean (SSG 77) prepare to receive hotel services and supplies during bilateral training event with USS Emory S. Land (AS 39) on September 13, 2019.”This allows Australia to play at a much higher level and to augment American capabilities,” a senior administration official said ahead of the announcement. “This is about maintaining peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific.”Biden, during Wednesday’s announcement, also maintained that the establishment of AUKUS is necessary because “we need to be able to address both the current strategic environment in the region and how it may evolve.””Because the future of each of our nations and indeed the world depends on a free and open Indo-Pacific, enduring and flourishing in the decades ahead. This is about investing in our greatest strength, our alliances, and updating them to better meet the threats of today and tomorrow,” the President added.On Thursday, China’s US embassy spokesman Liu Pengyu said countries should “shake off their Cold War mentality and ideological prejudice,” according to Reuters, following the announcement of the AUKUS deal.Liu added that nations “should not build exclusionary blocs targeting or harming the interests of third parties.”
‘This technology is extremely sensitive’
Top officials from Australia were in Washington on Wednesday meeting with their counterparts, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, ahead of the formal announcement. During remarks Wednesday evening, Biden announced that Austin would lead efforts for the US government in close collaboration with the State Department and Department of Energy.American officials said the details of the new partnership had been closely held as they were developed over the past weeks and months, but that other allies and government stakeholders would be briefed on the specifics in the coming days.British Prime Minister Boris Johnson defended the new trilateral partnership as not “adversarial towards any other power.” Addressing the UK parliament on Thursday, Johnson said the deal “merely reflects the close relationship that we have with the United States and with Australia.””Obviously, we also have a shared interest in promoting democracy, human rights, freedom of navigation and freedom of trade around the world.”The US and UK plan to dispatch technical and strategic teams to identify the best pathway for Australia to acquire nuclear submarines over the next 18 months. The new plan will mean the cancellation of a $90 billion deal Australia had already made with France for conventional submarines.French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian described the Australian government’s decision to renege on the contract for diesel-powered subs with French manufacturer Naval Group as a betrayal of trust.”Speaking politely, it’s a real stab in the back,” Le Drian said on radio station France Info Thursday. A veteran diplomat, Le Drian is rarely heard speaking so frankly, no doubt a sign of the upset that this move has caused.”We had established with Australia a relation of trust … that trust has been betrayed. And today I am angry, with much bitterness at this break,” Le Drian said.”This is not done between allies,” he said, flagging the two years of negotiations that had preceded the deal. Le Drian had played a leading role in these talks, which began in 2014, he said. Australia had wanted “a form of strategic autonomy” through the deal, which had included considerable transfer of technology, Le Drian added. The deal was due to last 50 years.As recently as a few days ago, Le Drian and the French minister of armed forces, Florence Parly, held a video conference with their Australian counterparts about the deal, Le Drian said. He said that apart from “some small adjustment problems,” there was no sense that the deal would be broken.The decision also sparked tensions between New Zealand and Australia, with NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern issuing a statement on Thursday saying Canberra’s nuclear-powered submarines would be banned from her country’s waters.”New Zealand’s position in relation to the prohibition of nuclear-powered vessels in our waters remains unchanged,” Ardern’s office said in a statement to CNN. However the statement added that New Zealand welcomed increased engagement by the UK and the US in the Asia Pacific region.American officials described the effort to assist the country with nuclear propulsion as an exceedingly rare step between allies, undertaken only once previously, that in some ways goes against established US practice.”This technology is extremely sensitive. This is, frankly, an exception to our policy in many respects,” the official said.It was necessary, they said, in order to send a message of reassurance to countries in Asia. It comes amid rising tensions between the US and China, who are maneuvering to limit each others’ global influence.US officials insisted the intent of the new partnership was not to challenge China specifically.”This partnership is not aimed or about any one country, it’s about advancing our strategic interests, upholding the international rules based order, and promoting peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific,” the official said.
Uniting allies against China
Still, the announcement is the latest step by the US to push back against China’s military and technological rise. Next week, Biden will host an in-person summit of the QUAD partnership of Japan, Australia and India — another grouping viewed as a way to assert American leadership in Asia. He has also sought to engage other Asian leaders, and Vice President Kamala Harris visited Singapore and Vietnam late last month.Last week, Biden held a 90-minute telephone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping, their first direct communication in seven months. Officials described the conversation as “familiar” and “candid,” but said Biden did not directly raise the new strategic partnership with Australia and the UK.Biden on Tuesday denied reports that Xi, in their phone call, turned down an invitation to meet in person. US officials say they still hope to set up an in-person meeting between the two leaders, but aren’t sure it will occur on the sidelines of the G20 at the end of October. That is primarily because Xi has not confirmed he will physically attend the summit, which is being held in Rome. Xi has not left China in roughly 600 days, since before the start of the coronavirus pandemic.It’s possible Xi participates in the summit virtually, and US officials aren’t ruling out a virtual meeting between Biden and Xi. Biden, however, has said in-person sit-downs with foreign leaders are preferable to virtual meetings or phone calls, telling aides privately he doesn’t believe as much can be accomplished when meeting remotely.
Proof of commitment
After a chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan that led to questions about Biden’s willingness to remain engaged abroad, officials said the new announcement should act as proof of the President’s continued willingness to stand with allies and uphold a rules-based order in Asia.”Over the last several years there have been questions: does the United States still have the stomach, do we have the wit and wisdom, that we want to continue to play that role?” a senior administration official said.”What President Biden is saying with this initiative is ‘Count us in.’ We are all in for a deeper, sustained commitment to the Indo-Pacific. And we recognize that one of our critical roles in indeed the maintenance of peace and stability there,” the official went on.Also hoping to play a larger role in Asia is the United Kingdom, which under PM Johnson has sought to pursue a “Global Britain” strategy of greater engagement abroad. That effort has been sputtering at times, particularly as Johnson works to contain the Covid-19 pandemic at home and buffer his country from the economic fallout of Brexit.Still, American officials have received indications from their British counterparts that the UK hopes to “substantially step up its game in the Indo-Pacific,” and believe the new partnership with Australia can help advance that goal.Ahead of the announcement, Johnson undertook a major reshuffle of his cabinet ministers, including reassigning his foreign secretary. The shake-up did not appear directly related to his later announcement with Biden and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.American officials said the cooperation between the three countries was limited only to nuclear propulsion, and said Australia has no intention of pursuing nuclear weapons.During his remarks on Wednesday, Biden emphasized that the AUKUS submarine project would be using conventionally armed submarines, not nuclear-armed ones.
“We’re not talking about nuclear-armed submarines. These are conventionally armed submarines that are powered by nuclear reactors,” Biden said. “This technology is proven, it’s safe, and the United States and UK have been operating nuclear powered submarines for decades.”This story has been updated.
China, on Wednesday, threatened to send warships into U.S. territorial waters.
The Global Times called on People’s Liberation Army Navy warships to travel to “U.S. military bases in the Asia-Pacific and the U.S. allies’ coastlines to conduct close-in reconnaissance operations and declare freedom of navigation.” The editorial added that “the U.S. will definitely see the PLA show up at its doorstep in the not-too-distant future.”Adbrunchescrunches.comBig Change In Winthrop Leaves Drivers Fuming
This isn’t simple ranting. The Global Times operates under Central Foreign Affairs Commission Director Yang Jiechi. Its words represent a credible threat.
Why is China so furious?
It laments the “naked provocation” of a U.S. Navy destroyer’s transit, on Wednesday, within 12 miles of a Chinese artificial island in the South China Sea. Yang’s mouthpiece warns that “only by making the U.S. have a taste of its own medicine can we touch the nerves of the U.S. and its allies, and reshape the Western world’s understanding of U.S. bullying in the South China Sea.”
This assessment bears little relation to reality. China’s claims of ownership over the South China Sea are both geographically absurd and politically imperialist. Instead, China is escalating its militarization of the sea for two distinctly unjustified reasons. First, to make these waters safe for unilateral Chinese communist resource extraction. Second, to extract political concessions from other nations in return for their access to the sea. China’s leverage is the $3.5 trillion-$4 trillion in annual trade flows that move through the South China Sea.
The Trump and Biden administrations have rightly resisted China’s actions with U.S. naval actions such as that on Wednesday. They recognize China’s threat to trade, sovereign government, and a key principle of the post-Second World War U.S.-led international order: free transit. But while America’s European allies have been unwilling to conduct the U.S.-style transits that so upset China, nations such as Australia, India, Japan, and Vietnam are moving closer to the U.S. position. China thus senses it may face a more robust multilateral challenge.
The language Beijing has employed, here, of conducting “freedom of navigation” activities off “U.S. military bases in the Asia-Pacific and the U.S. allies’ coastlines” is clearly intended as a threat to send PLA warships within 12 miles of Guam, Australia, and Japan. (While the Philippines is a U.S. treaty ally, its president has made himself into a human pet for Xi Jinping).
Regardless, U.S. Navy transits of international waters are one thing. PLA transits within 12 miles of sovereign U.S. or allied coasts would be a very different matter. Put another way, where the U.S. is walking through a public park, China claims a right to seize public parks and then engage in home invasions. The reality is clear: By its intent and international law, any Chinese incursion as threatened would constitute an act of provocation bordering on war.