Congratulations on the launch of the China Economic and Strategy Initiative. Can you talk about the newly formed organization, its goals, and its purpose moving forward?
It's a standalone initiative under the Project 2049 Institute with its own staff and products. The purpose is over the course of a year and a half to convene a high-level group of commissioners to think about competition with China and how we can optimize our posture vis-a-vis China, particularly in the economic space. This is an area that's lagging. We have several tools in the trade and economic area that are either being under-utilized or still need to be created, like the outbound investment review mechanisms. We want to take a very thoughtful approach toward determining how to be better posture and how to use and create these tools. There isn’t a consensus on end-states, even within our government. What are we trying to do in our economic relationship with China? Are we trying to have a larger GDP and outpace them in terms of the overall size of the economy? Are we still trying to promote successful American business interests in China? Are we trying to thwart their economic growth? Are we trying to thwart innovation in key sectors? The initiative will start at the foundational level of what fundamental premises our strategy should be based on.
Last month, when U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi arrived in Taiwan, the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit in decades, it sparked an immediate response by the PLA, including live-fire drills near Taiwan's coast. How would you characterize the Taiwanese response to the series of PLA actions?
The military had a response: to intercept where appropriate and to monitor where appropriate. There was also an intelligence effort to collect as much as possible on PLA capabilities and performance. Taiwanese civilians, though, went on with their lives. From talking with some political figures in Taiwan, their goal was to ensure their military was on high alert, but that nobody panicked. That's what they achieved. In the future, Taiwan wants stronger buy-in from the civilian population and leaders want to think about civil defenses differently. But for the most part, they wanted to keep people calm, not panicked.
Do we know much about the Taiwanese people's will to fight should China invade? Are there lessons to be learned from the Russian invasion of Ukraine?
The Taiwanese have worked hard for their democracy and are very proud of their achievements. I have every reason to believe they would want to preserve what they've worked so hard for, which certainly would mean putting up resistance. There are several lessons from Ukraine, like the importance of leadership, the continuity of government, and the continuity of communications. In the earliest hours or days, if Zelensky had chosen to leave the country as Ghani did in Afghanistan, this whole thing could have looked very different. But he said, ‘I don't need a ride, I need ammunition and weapons.’ He was very effective in rallying his people and giving the people confidence that he would continue to lead and be in charge of the overall effort to defend their country. President Tsai in the event of war would also need to be able to talk to the Taiwanese people and to international partners as Zelensky has. When you get to the question about the will to fight, those things are directly related. If people see their president on television inspiring them with words of strength, courage, and defense, that will embolden the people to fight for what they have worked for.
One of the recommendations former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper made after returning from Taiwan was to lengthen and toughen Taiwan's conscription service. What do you make of that recommendation? And what other steps can the Taiwanese government take to strengthen its defenses?
The period of conscription is probably too short. These are difficult domestic questions because for a long time, the promises coming out of the Taiwanese government was they would move to an all-voluntary force and shorten conscription because service in the military is difficult, and it takes people off course from their civilian careers. But given the threat environment, it would probably make sense to lengthen that service. There's a number of other things the government can do, such as better train the reserves. Right now, the requirements for reservists are minimal, like maybe firing a weapon a couple of times a year. A stronger reserve component would really help. Spending on the right things, in terms of military systems and platforms that are appropriate for all phases of the conflicts to include the coercion and gray-zone areas, but also the counter invasion capabilities. In addition, training, logistics, and maintenance are crucial. I think back to what we've learned from Ukraine. It's not just the weapon systems and the ammunition that's been provided. It's the fact that Ukraine has been involved in training with the U.S. and NATO partners since 2014 since the Crimea invasion and the incursions into eastern Ukraine. You can find Department of Defense officials on the record saying it's really this training that has proven to be the difference between Ukraine and Russia. Ukraine has a strong non-commissioned officer corps now, which didn't exist a decade ago. At the smaller unit level, they have competent, courageous leadership, which even the Russians don't have. The Ukrainians really left the Russian model and went to a western model when it comes to non-commissioned officers (NCOs) and the role that NCOs play in combat. For Taiwan, investing as much as they can in training and having good competent forces are very important.
The Overall Defense Concept advocated by former Admiral Lee Hsiming has attracted a lot of attention. What is the goal of ODC and is it sufficient to defend Taiwan?
The ODC is one of the first efforts I've seen in the many years I've dealt with Taiwan to do serious planning based on strategic goals and tasks that are fit for purpose. It's a strategy that helps inform planning, which then helps inform acquisition. This didn't really exist before. Traditionally, Taiwan's services have played a big role in acquisition, and they've looked at the pieces of the fight that are traditional. In many ways, this was very comfortable for them. [The ODC] really takes a joint approach and looks at acquisition as being informed by the strategy and the planning. There's a lot of attention being paid to counter-invasion capabilities. Unlike some U.S. analysts who have said they need to be the porcupine, Admiral Lee still says they need a navy and fighters. It's a matter of proportion and how they think about their overall defense. He also talks a lot about the role of the civilian population and how the country needs to think about the role that civil society can play and civilians would need to play in defense.
Taiwan starts with a good position as a defender, with 80 nautical miles of water, mountainous inhospitable terrain, unfavorable sea conditions for much of the year, and very few favorable ports for embarkation. These are enough to give China pause. But the question is, does Xi Jinping understand the military balance in the same way? Does he understand the high cost that such an operation might bring? Or is he so isolated, like President Putin, that he may not receive the more sophisticated levels of analysis? Overall deterrence is determined not only by what Taiwan does, but how much international support Taiwan enjoys, first and foremost, from the United States, but increasingly, Japan and others. And with all of that combined, there is a chance to put in Xi Jinping's mind that today's not the day, tomorrow is not the day, and next week is not the right week either. That's really the goal here, to push this idea out through deterrence.
The Taiwan Relations Act stipulates that the US can provide Taiwan with defense articles and defense services that “may be necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability.” How would you characterize the current U.S. arms sales and broader policy toward Taiwan?
The previous administration attempted to normalize the foreign military sales process. By that, I mean treat Taiwan like any other normal FMS customer. Taiwan has historically been treated as a unique case, though. We used to have annual arm sales talks. Then we had a highly politicized process, where arm sales notifications were bundled and held for, in some cases, years until the political conditions seemed about right for congressional notification. The last administration attempted to normalize it. In other words, when Taiwan puts in a request, it gets an answer. This administration is trying to be more directive and says ‘Taiwan should not submit letters of requests on just any system. The U.S. needs to think about its prioritization for Taiwan, which involves so-called asymmetric capabilities, defined as capabilities that are survivable and cost-effective in the worst-case scenario of an invasion.’ This has caused a little bit of difficulty. There are some platforms that Taiwan believes are legitimate requirements. They've worked it through their own requirements system. They've worked it through their legislature. Taiwan, a democracy, is then being told by the U.S. they're not asking for the right things. That has caused a little bit of consternation on the Taiwan side. The U.S. needs to continue to review this and see if the approach is appropriate and fit for its purpose. There is a sense of urgency here, given the increasing threat from China and the rhetoric we just went through with the overreaction to the Pelosi visit.
The U.S. is giving billions of dollars in weapons and support to the Ukrainians. Does the U.S. defense industrial base have the capabilities and the capacity to continue supporting Taiwan while simultaneously supporting Ukraine?
We have to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. We have to be able to support Ukraine and also support Taiwan. And right now, we aren't geared up to do that to our fullest capabilities. There are many reasons for that, in terms of how we acquire systems in the United States and how the FMS system works. The U.S. defense industrial base generally doesn't stockpile and anticipate budgets. The most important customer for most of them is obviously the U.S. military and a handful of large FMS customers, of which Taiwan is one. But this conflict has created backlogs and difficulties for Taiwan to get systems [the U.S. government] has already agreed to and [the Taiwan government] already purchased. So clearly, we need to do a little better. Congress is working on some ways to try to do that. But we have to have a partner in the industry that’s also willing to not only surge, but really to start thinking about ways to give resources to the Pacific in sufficient ways, given the growing threat from China.
玄史生, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons