Opinion: Anachronisms – Kissinger and Strategic Ambiguity
'Beijing needs to know we’re not afraid,' writes Wu'er Kaixi, former Tiananmen student leader and now secretary general of the Taiwan Parliamentary Human Rights Commission.
Henry Kissinger with Chairman Mao Zedong, Premier Zhou Enlai in the background, in the early 1970s.
Global media no longer lights up when 99-year-old Henry Kissinger speaks out, but media in Taiwan and, to a lesser extent, in China does.
When he was interviewed by PBS last week, promoting his latest book Leadership: Six Studies in World Strategy, his every utterance on China and Taiwan was scrutinized in Taiwan.
On the question of whether Chinese Party Secretary Xi Jinping might be emboldened to invade Taiwan due to Russia’s military adventures in Ukraine, Kissinger said:
Well, he [Xi] must know that an all-out attack on Taiwan or any kind of attack designed to take it over is going to be resisted by America in its current mood.
So, I think an all-out attack on Taiwan is the last thing that the Chinese plan right now.
It is the appropriate answer to a frequently asked question. Xi is a shrewd, calculating leader (it got him to the top in China: chairman of everything and forever), even if he sometimes seems to live in an ideological bubble floating on breezes that belong to another historical time zone.
But when asked whether it was time for the US to abandon the policy of strategic ambiguity it has followed on cross-strait issues since Kissinger first engineered the normalization of relations between the US and China under then president Richard Nixon, Kissinger said:
If we abandon [strategic ambiguity] that and declare Taiwan an independent country, then China will almost be forced to undertake military action, because it has been so long and for — so fiercely a part of their domestic problem. So, the ambiguity is to prevent conflict.
Let’s unwrap that because I see it as patently wrong.
It is true that 50 years ago a Kissinger-led Sino-American entente served to counter Soviet ambitions in the Pacific-Asia region and theoretically defuse tensions over the status of Taiwan.
But five decades later China is unabashedly aligned with a Russia at war with Ukraine – China claims to be “neutral” – and tensions with Taiwan are at their worst since Chiang Kai-shek and his Nationalist forces retreated there in 1949.
If, as Kissinger says, Xi Jinping knows that an invasion of Taiwan will be met militarily by the US in kind, why does abandoning the ambiguity make invasion more of a certainty? It’s like ringing your property with signs that say “We’ve got guns, and – you never know – we might even use them.” As if that’s a more effective deterrence to break-ins than committing to actually shooting invaders.
Kissinger invested decades of his life into China matters. There are those in Washington who think that makes him a China expert.
As I see it, he is not; he is merely a person of interest – and I should add, a senior citizen who is afraid that the spotlight will come to lingeringly illuminate a life teetering on the line that divides the right from the wrong side of history.
Kissinger today is still the Beijing regime’s favorite guest – and that alone should give us grounds to reflect critically on everything he has said about China over the past 50 years – and on everything he continues to say.
To put it bluntly, all Kissinger has to tell us about China is what he wants us to hear. There are others who can offer far better advice.
Abe Shinzō, who was tragically shot and killed last week, directly challenged the US policy of strategic ambiguity – a first for a politician of his stature.
Writing for Project Syndicate earlier this year, Abe said that strategic ambiguity was now “untenable”:
The policy of ambiguity worked extremely well as long as the US was strong enough to maintain it, and as long as China was far inferior to the US in military power. But those days are over. The US policy of ambiguity toward Taiwan is now fostering instability in the Indo-Pacific region, by encouraging China to underestimate US resolve, while making the government in Taipei unnecessarily anxious.
Given the change in circumstances since the policy of strategic ambiguity was adopted, the US should issue a statement that is not open to misinterpretation or multiple interpretations. The time has come for the US to make clear that it will defend Taiwan against any attempted Chinese invasion.
This is my position too.
Except I would add that ambiguity increases the risk of conflict in the Taiwan strait, and an invasion of Taiwan itself. It is wrong for the US – for any country, for that matter – to imagine that clear red lines are a provocation.
I think the converse is true. Ambiguity is more likely to embolden China than deter it.
A clear commitment to defend Taiwan will, in short, make the world a safer place. China will fume and scream perfidy, but it will not risk everything and go to war.
There are those in Washington who worry that sending Beijing a clearer message on Taiwan will provoke China. They think the heavens will fall. This is the work of Kissinger and others like him – Don’t provoke China, he and his acolytes whisper.
It’s music to China’s ears. It prides itself on the “fact” that the world cowers in fear at its ever-growing power.
We need to disabuse China of this delusion by shrugging off the influence of Kissinger and his ilk.
Beijing needs to know we’re not afraid. We can send that message by abandoning ambiguity.
As for Kissinger, he himself is an anachronism and his thinking on how to deal with an ascendant China amount to little more than appeasement advocacy in the interests of shoring up a world order that made him respectable and very wealthy.
He is a fossil who occasionally speaks from an era that got China completely wrong and his actions have now brought us to the lip of war.
By Wu’er Kaixi, former Tiananmen student leader, President, Taiwan Association for Democracy in China, General Secretary, Taiwan Parliamentary Human Rights Commission, edited for clarity by Chris Taylor.
Blinken Blasts China FM Wang after Meeting
Photo: US Department of State
The US Secretary of State didn’t mince his words after a five-hour meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi at a Group of 20 foreign ministers meeting in Bali, Indonesia, reports Bloomberg.
Blinken said he told Wang that China wasn’t neutral on the Ukraine war because there’s no such thing as being neutral when there is a clear aggressor.
‘Now what you hear from Beijing is that it claims to be neutral,’ Blinken said. ‘I would start with the proposition that it’s pretty hard to be neutral when it comes to this aggression. There’s a clear aggressor. There’s a clear victim.’
China’s support for Russia was evident at the UN and in Chinese state media’s amplification of Russian propaganda, Blinken said. He cited Xi’s decision to announce a “no limits” partnership with Putin “while Russia was massing its forces.”
MI5 and FBI Joint Warning on China
The BBC reported that the heads of MI5 and the FBI – in their first ever joint announcement – both warned that China was their biggest long-term threat.
FBI director Christopher Wray said China was the "biggest long-term threat to our economic and national security" and had interfered in politics, including recent elections.
MI5 head Ken McCallum said his service had more than doubled its work against Chinese activity in the last three years and would be doubling it again.
MI5 is now running seven times as many investigations related to activities of the Chinese Communist Party compared to 2018, he added.
The FBI's Wray warned that if China was to forcibly take Taiwan it would "represent one of the most horrific business disruptions the world has ever seen".
The Wall Street Journal reports (paywall) that China was unimpressed:
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Thursday that the U.S.-U.K. statements have no factual basis and expose an “entrenched Cold War zero-sum mentality and ideological prejudice.” He called the U.S. the most warlike nation in history and “the biggest threat to world peace and development,” while saying the U.K. spy services are trying to “project their own disgraceful acts onto China through these false, sensational reports” to stoke antagonism and confrontation.
Image: Wiki Commons.
It’s become a modern-day truism that semiconductor chips – now a US$550 billion industry – are the oil of the 21st century, and, as SupChina recently pointed out, they’re in short supply …
… brought on by COVID-related factory shutdowns in early 2020 and exacerbated by chip stockpiling and unpredictable demand.
The result: chips equals geopolitics equals national goals of chip self-reliance.
So keen is the Chinese government to accelerate the development of its semiconductor capabilities that it has launched a campaign to galvanize public interest in the sector, in an effort to attract tech talent to the country. This campaign even includes a new Chinese TV drama called The Silicon Waves (纵横芯海 zònghéng xīnhǎi), which will be produced by a subsidiary of the state-owned Shanghai Media Group. It tells the story of two Chinese entrepreneurs based overseas who return to China, enticed by Beijing’s preferential policies to develop the sector. After contributing to the independent development of Chinese chips, the pair retire and dedicate their time to supporting young people in China to advance the domestic chips industry.
The stakes are high, as Bloomberg notes:
Nineteen of the world’s 20 fastest-growing chip industry firms over the past four quarters, on average, hail from the world’s No. 2 economy, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That compared with just 8 at the same point last year. Those China-based suppliers of design software, processors and gear vital to chipmaking are expanding revenue at several times the likes of global leaders Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. or ASML Holding NV.
Some argue it is a race that the US has already lost.
‘America is on the verge of losing the chip competition,’ international relations scholar Graham Allison and former Google chief Eric Schmidt warned in a Wall Street Journal column. ‘If Beijing develops durable advantages across the semiconductor supply chain, it would generate breakthroughs in foundational technologies that the US cannot match.’
Vaccine Turn-around Foreshadows New Lockdowns
Zero covid in action, Shanghai Exhibition Center. Photo: Wiki Commons
On Wednesday last week, Beijing announced the implementation of a vaccine mandate. On Thursday evening it withdrew the mandate, allegedly due to public opposition. Bloomberg reports:
The policy, announced Wednesday and intended to come into effect on July 11, would have limited entry to public venues such as cinemas, museums, and theaters to only vaccinated people, and required workers in certain professions to get booster shots.
But pushback from the public was swift, with some residents taking to Chinese social media to call the requirement an illegal limitation on their freedom and question how effective the vaccines are against the highly contagious and immune-evasive omicron variant.
“The reversal shows the power of public opinions,” Hu Xijin, former editor-in-chief at the Communist Party-backed Global Times and an influential commentator, said on his official Weibo account. “The Chinese society is dominated by government. They timely backed up in the face of a public pushback. That means they accept the public’s view of the vaccine mandate as illegal.”
Seriously? The Chinese government buckled under the pressure of “public opinion?”
It’s an unlikely scenario, but in the meantime, local officials are scrambling to suppress local outbreaks of what will likely prove to be BA.5 from Anhui to Shaanxi provinces, and in cities of millions most non-Chinese have never heard of in between.
Banking on Henan Province: A Thread
Byron Wan (@Byron_Wan) has been documenting bank depositors taking to the streets in the Henan provincial capital of Zhengzhou since May 18 in a thread that is taking on epic proportions. Well worth checking out.
Reports Sixth Tone, which notes that Henan is misusing zero-covid health apps to keep petitioning depositors who can’t access their savings at bay:
Yuzhou Xinminsheng Village Bank, Zhecheng Huanghuai Community Bank, Shangcai Huimin County Bank, and New Oriental County Bank of Kaifeng have stopped cash withdrawals since April after a shareholder fled in the aftermath of a “serious financial crime” the previous month, according to media reports.
Hundreds of people have arrived in Zhengzhou over the past months, demanding answers from regulators and hoping to access their savings. But their health codes turned red, even for those who weren’t in the city, preventing those who were already there from traveling or moving around the city.
The Greater Sinosphere
Mourning a Death
In memoriam messages play across Taipei 101. Photos courtesy of Taipei 101.
Some observers have noted that Abe Shinzō – shot and killed in Nara late last week – has likely been more publicly mourned in Taiwan than in Japan, his homeland.
Such statements make for good copy, but mourning may have come easier to Taiwan, where Abe was considered “a friend,” (台日友好) and “a supporter,” than in Japan, where shock roiled the nation in the immediate aftermath of the killing.
Some, such as Brian Hioe at New Bloom, are at pains to “de-romanticize” Abe, who is seen by some as the descendent of a Meiji-era lord and a right-wing nationalist who wanted to revise Japan’s pacifist constitution.
It’s true that that Abe was less than perfect, far from a social progressive, but his priorities were changes that Japan had to confront and geopolitical forces that needed to be reckoned with. Writes The New Yorker:
As Prime Minister, Abe sought to reëstablish Japan as a forceful presence in international affairs, and his policy to jumpstart the Japanese economy came to be known as Abenomics. He failed, however, in his push to revise Japan’s constitution to allow the country to take nondefensive military action abroad. Abe cultivated strong relationships with a number of world leaders, including Donald Trump and the former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, but relationships in the Asia-Pacific region, especially with South Korea, were strained by Abe’s unwillingness to fully acknowledge Japan’s heinous behavior during the Second World War.
In his efforts to reimagine Japan’s place on the map and redefine its troubled relationship with its defeated imperial ambitions, Abe made himself a divisive figure in Japan. In his obvious affection for Taiwan and his latter-day advocacy for an unambiguous statement in support of its defense, he was regarded as a towering figure with the cajones to say what he thought to both China and the US, making him a “friend.”
Taipei Tests First Cubesat Rocket
Taiwan has been putting some – probably deserved – spin on its first test fire of a hybrid rocket it is developing independently to launch mini-satellites into orbit, reports Gadget Tendency, a website.
The rocket was launched from a launch pad in southern Pingtung County. It was assumed that in 8-10 minutes of flight it would reach a maximum height of 12 km and then parachute down into the sea. In this regard, the goal was not achieved: the rocket remained in the air for only two minutes, having risen by 3 km. Despite this, developers from the Advanced Rocket Research Center (ARRC) called the current launch a ‘major technological breakthrough’ and a great success.
‘Hybrid’ rockets refer to their use of both liquid and solid state propellants. The fact that the fuel of such rockets is solid at room temperature makes them safer and easier to store, according to the ARRC.
Death Threats for Lawyers Representing Jimmy Lai
Photo: Iris Tong, Wiki Commons.
Reuters reports that London lawyers who planned to defend tycoon and democracy activist Jimmy Lai have received death threats.
According to The South China Morning Post, barristers from British law firm Doughty Street Chambers claimed to have “received a number of threatening messages through emails and ‘indirect messages’.”
The lawyers told the media that “intimidatory tactics” to threaten journalists, campaigners and lawyers in Hong Kong had been happening for some time and were now spreading to foreign countries. They also declined to reveal if they would travel to the city for the trial.
Others, including foreign journalists, reported having received similar emails.
In response to the reports, the police force issued a statement on Friday condemning the act of impersonating police officers in the emails.
Build It and They Will Come
For all those hodling, “to the Moon” Cardano and Doge cryptogeeks, the immediate future – vegetables are a poor storage of value – is watermelons, peaches and garlic, which are reportedly being accepted as down-payments by rural property developers reeling from a countrywide property crunch.
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