Crisis Simulation: Navigating Sino-Australian Rivalry in the South China Sea

A collection of policy briefs by the Defence and Diplomacy Policy Centre

The following report compiles the work delivered by a group of seven undergraduate and postgraduate students from King’s College London (KCL) during a crisis simulation event curated by the King’s Think Tank’s (KTT) Defence & Diplomacy Policy Centre, in collaboration with the KCL Geopolitical Risk Society on 9th March 2022.

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Lithuania-Taiwan and the EU’s hesitation in supporting its Member States

Marius Buga

On July 20th, 2021, the Representative of the Taipei Mission in Latvia, Eric Huang, together with Lithuanian MP and Chairman of the Lithuanian Parliamentary Group for Relations with Taiwan, Matas Maldeikis, announced that a new representative office will open in Lithuania. Crucially, the office in Vilnius would be named ‘Taiwanese Representative Office’, a sharp departure from the traditionally used ‘Taipei Mission’. This deepening of ties between Lithuania and Taiwan was met with widespread support in Washington, but Brussels’ reaction has been more timid. Foreign analysts were reasonably concerned that the People’s Republic of China would retaliate, yet Lithuanian officials were cautiously optimistic. According to an analysis by the Bank of Lithuania, as Lithuania has not developed significant economic ties with China, cutting off trade with China would not be particularly harmful and only reduce GDP by 0.3% over three years. Hence, the government of Lithuania has continued to deepen its ties with Taiwan, despite warnings from Beijing.

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Sino-US Financial Decoupling: a series of bad decisions?

Shresth Goel

Over the last decade, the involvement of Chinese enterprises in American primary markets has aggregated to a combined market capitalisation of $2.1tn. In light of this, the ongoing financial decoupling measures being taken by both countries calls into question the fate of capital movement across the two biggest economies in the world. 

These concerns have become more pressing following the decision of the Chinese group Didi Chuxing (second-biggest IPO – $4.4bn – by a Chinese company in New York since Alibaba in 2014) to delist from the New York Stock Exchange and go public in Hong Kong. Although the decision may seem coerced due to intense pressure from Chinese cyber security watchdogs, it opens up the possibility of more companies following suit to avoid legal troubles with the Chinese government. On the other hand, Chinese state-run telecom groups (namely China Telecom, China Mobile, and China Unicorn) were booted from the New York Stock Exchange in early 2021 due to an executive order from the Trump administration that prohibited American investments in businesses with alleged ties to the Chinese military. 

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China in Africa: A Force for Good?

Joshua Mathew

Introduction

The rather low-profile Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, concluded recently, saw a reaffirmation of China’s commitment to the region. Africa provides a smorgasbord of economic benefits to China: it is a source of raw materials and agricultural produce, and is an external market for Chinese construction firms. With the demographics of Africa consisting of mostly young consumers, there are lucrative opportunities for Chinese private capital to conduct business in the region. In addition, in terms of political value, Africa is a key partner – as a crucial voting bloc in the United Nations, there is a strategic dimension to the relationship.

One aspect that deserves further attention is the development of telecommunications platforms in Africa. The main focus will be on the Chinese involvement in this area as well as its potential security implications. Some mitigating strategies to deal with the risks will also be provided. 

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Strengthening Climate Policy in China’s Private Sector

At the UN conference in September 2020, President Xi Jinping announced that China will “have CO2 emissions peak before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060”. Details of how this target will be achieved will probably not be released until the 14th Five-Year Plan (FYP) is announced. Nonetheless, if China fully implements a strategy to reach this goal, it will have massive implications for reaching the global 1.5 degrees Celsius target. This is because China accounts for the highest percentage of CO2 emissions worldwide, with Chinese power plants burning 25% of the world’s coal reserves and with renewable energy output only accounting for 9% of the country’s total energy [1]. Paradoxically, despite its massive energy consumption, it is also the largest producer of solar and wind energy and the leading investor in clean energy technologies worldwide [2]. Not only does China have 47% of all electric cars in the global market [3], it also refines four-fifths of the world’s supply of cobalt, an essential component in lithium ion batteries, the most common storage of clean electricity [4]. In addition to investment and manufacturing of sustainable energy technology and following several regional pilot emissions trading schemes (ETS), the Chinese government implemented a National Emissions Trading Scheme (NETS) in 2017 and enforced it in 2020, initially covering 2,267 power plants [5]. 

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ASEAN and the South China Sea: Southeast Asian Regionalism in Peril?

On 21st March 2021, Sino-Philippines tensions escalated as 200 Chinese militia boats were spotted along a disputed reef in the South China Sea (SCS). For decades, similar escalations between Southeast Asian claimants, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines, and China have been prevalent.

The SCS is a vital trade passage, accounting for $3.37 trillion of trade including oil and natural gas. As protecting these essential trade passages becomes more critical as China’s aggressiveness heightens, Freedom of Navigation (FON) missions,alongside technical and military assistance to various Southeast Asian countries, are increasingly undertaken by the US and its allies to counter China to uphold the “rules-based order” and safeguard critical sea lines of communication (SLOCs). Beyond the SCS being an integral economic passage, it forms an avenue for the US to balance China in Asia, heightening the SCS’ strategic importance to extra-regional actors like the US. 

As China grows more ambitious, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), a 10-member bloc to promote stability, progress and cooperation in Southeast Asia, is failing to demonstrate tangible resolve in warding off China’s presence in their backyard. 

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China’s oppression of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang

Introduction

Xinjiang provides a fascinating example of the fusion of diverse and complex heritage by the cultural and spiritual influence of Islam and Buddhism. The trade and complementary influences enriched human development and left a profound impression on the political, economic, and social life throughout the region. Referred to as the ‘pivot of Asia’ by noted American scholar Owen Lattimore, Xinjiang is China’s declared core strategic area, where it brooks no international interference in its internal affairs.

The status of Xinjiang (a provincial-level autonomous zone of China) can be classified as highly geostrategic. It shares borders with the Central Asian Republics of Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan in the west and north, Mongolia in the northeast, India’s Jammu and Kashmir in the southwest, Tibet in the southeast, and Afghanistan in the south. Covering a vast amount of land amounting to nearly one-sixth of China’s total territory, Xinjiang is its largest province with a majority of Muslims.

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Iran’s Deal with China and its Implications for the United States

Washington is urging its Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) allies to put an end to the standstill with Qatar. The Saudi-led blockade has now lasted for over three years, and on July 26th 2020, US Special Representative Brian Hook stated that the crisis is a threat to security in the region. While Oman and Kuwait have initiated dialogue, it has not led to a promising resolution. The US has continued its attempts to mediate the conflict to no avail, and Hook believes this failure has hindered Washington’s efforts in pressuring Iran. In recent years, the US has supported a geopolitical coalition between Israel and several GCC members against Iran and the proxy-forces it assists in Syria and Yemen. When Saudi Arabia and several other states accused Qatar of excessively close relations with Iran in 2017, they severed ties with the country. The Trump administration appears to be more concerned about Qatar’s reunification with its former allies than before, and the change in perspective comes as China concludes a $400 billion economic and security deal with Iran. It is plausible that the US aims to restore Qatar’s relationship with its neighbours to revitalize the geopolitical pressure against Iran before its deal with China comes to fruition.

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The Uighur Crackdown: Why Beijing’s hard-line approach is counterproductive

Historical Background 

The Xinjiang region of China has always had a distinct cultural, ethnic, and religious identity. The region feels much closer to its Central Asian neighbours than it does to the rest of China. Since its incorporation around the mid-18th century, Xinjiang has been a challenging region for the central government to administrate. Most regions in China are predominantly Han Chinese. By contrast, more than half of Xinjiang’s population of 24 million consists of Turkic Muslims. Additionally, Xinjiang covers a geographical area larger than California and Texas combined, shares borders with eight countries, and sits around 2000km away from Beijing. Xinjiang’s distinct culture, vast size and remote location have rendered it particularly vulnerable to external influences; prior rebellions continue to loom large in the minds of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials today.

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Election Results in Taiwan: An Act of Peace, not of War

In January, Tsai Ing-wen was elected president of Taiwan (officially known as the Republic of China). She is the first woman to hold the office, but more importantly, she will be the first president from the pro-independence Democratic Progress Party (DPP) that also has a majority in the legislature. For the first time since WWII, Taiwan will not be (partly) ruled by the pro-reunification Kuomintang (KMT), the party that is the remnant of the ruling elite of China before the communists took over in 1949.

Taiwan’s status is incomparable to the situation in Hong Kong or Macau, as for them the inclusion in China is just a matter of time. They have been granted autonomy until at least 2047 and 2049 respectively, fifty years after being released as a colony. Taiwan never made any agreement with (Mainland) China over its autonomy and its mere existence is challenged by China. Indeed, they are still officially in war.

The issue of Taiwan (Republic of China) may be one of the most important challenging China’s (People’s Republic of China) growing hegemony in East Asia in the decades to come. Their official names both involve “China”, and a half century of fighting over who is the true China led to the odd status quo where they agree on the fact that there can be only one China. This includes the territories governed by both China and Taiwan, but who will rule the other is interpreted by each country differently.

How did it get so far? A brief recap of the Republic of China’s history 1860 – 2000.

After the Opium wars in 1860 China’s Qing dynasty was forced to sign a number of highly unequal treaties with Western Powers (US, UK, France and Russia). A subsequent war with Japan saw Taiwan falling into Japanese hands. In China, discontent amongst the population led to a violent rebellion in 1900 (oppressed by the Western powers, plus Japan, Italy, Germany and Austria-Hungary; the Eight-Nation Alliance) and a revolution in 1912, marking the end of imperial China and Western influence.

The Republic of China (ROC) was born, and long-standing revolutionary in exile Sun Yat-sen became the new president. For political buffs, the ROC has separation of five powers, rather than Montesquieu’s three.

Sun had big dreams for China. He founded the KMT, the political party that ruled China until WWII and afterwards Taiwan for the most time until the elections last January. He is still seen as a founding father in both Taiwan and China.

Sun Yat-sen dreamt of democracy, but faced many setbacks, with local warlords declaring independence of their provinces. After years of political chaos, Sun decided that only by force could he keep the country together. This war was initiated by Chiang Kai-shek, who, after Sun’s death of cancer, took over the KMT leadership and became de facto president of China.

However, in order to defeat the warlords properly, the KMT needed the help of the newly founded Communist Party of China (CPC). By 1928 the country was finally united again, but not for long.

Revolutionary signals from Russia’s communist leaders directed towards the CPC prompted Chiang to suppress the communists, starting a new civil war. Meanwhile, Japan’s expansionism in WWII only added to the chaos. Suspending the civil war for four years, the KMT and the CPC collaborated to fight the Japanese. Finally defeating Japan with the help of the US, Taiwan was being given to the KMT after 60 years of Japanese rule. After WWII ended and the US pulled out, the civil war escalated again, and the KMT was slowly being defeated by the CPC.

After a few decisive battles in 1949, the CPC took over control in most of China, and Chiang Kai-shek fled to Taiwan with hundreds of thousands of troops and two million refugees from the old establishment, taking with him all of China’s gold reserves.

Taipei became the temporary capital (it still is, as the constitution of Taiwan still states Nanjing (in Mainland China) to be the official capital).

While the CPC became occupied with a war with South Korea, the US promised backing of the KMT in Taiwan, leading to today’s status quo. The KMT consequently ruled Taiwan with an iron fist, violently suppressing any resistance from its people and only lifting martial law in 1987 (the longest period any country has been ruled under martial law).

A transition to democracy started in the 1980s, with the first direct presidential elections in 1996. The DPP, founded (illegally) in 1986, was able to acquire presidency in 2000, though was faced with a KMT opposition majority in parliament. Now, for the first time, the DPP will have both the presidency and an absolute majority in parliament.

Past decades

Essentially a two party system, Taiwanese politics has evolved around the DPP and KMT for the past twenty years or so. With Taiwanese identity (as opposed to Chinese) becoming stronger with the younger generations, the DPP did increasingly well in the elections. A major setback came in 2009, when the first DPP president Chen Shui-bian was jailed for corruption.

The KMT won the following elections and the next president, Ma Ying-jeou, became known for his pro-China policies. Ma was hinting at reunification with China as a long-term goal, and many found his policies brought the PRC’s influence eerily close. When he tried to push a trade deal with China without debate through the legislature, where the KMT held a comfortable majority, it sparked large-scale student protests.

Largely peacefully, students occupied the parliament for two weeks. Over a hundred thousand (some say 500,000) people joined for a demonstration. Until now, the trade deal has not been ratified. This sentiment paved the way for a new DPP presidency, won in January 2016, which for the first time comes with a majority in the legislature.

One China, but which?

In the 1992 Consensus, China and Taiwan agreed to disagree on this issue. While China calls itself the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Taiwan is officially still named the Republic of China (ROC). In this complicated map you can find all the land that Taiwan claims to be part of its territory, the ROC. It covers most of the PRC and Mongolia, and bits of other countries, including the nine dashed line. For those following the Senkaku/Diaoyu dispute, Taiwan also claims the islands, calling them Tiaoyutai.

The 1992 Consensus also made it impossible for other countries to recognise both countries at the same time (there is only one China after all). And because a 1971 UN resolution accepted the PRC as the legitimate representative of China in the Security Council, only a handful of countries (the Holy See being the only European one) recognise the ROC rather than the PRC (although many more have active informal relations).

Why is China, at war with the KMT, not happy with the DPP?

Both China and the KMT want reunification, albeit disagree over who rules who. The DPP, however, wants independence in the long run. It ultimately wants to give up claims on China and beyond and lose the name Republic of China in favour of Taiwan. In any other conflict, this would be seen as a first step towards peace, and would be cheered by the West. In the spirit of Orwell’s 1984 however, it apparently means war.

While the previous KMT government grew closer to China, albeit on its own terms, the DPP wants more distance. Instead of the trade association with China, it wants to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP; China is not a member). A sign that other members welcome this is the gesture by Japan’s president, Shinzo Abe, when he was the first to congratulate Tsai Ing-wen on her victory.

The fear is that if Taiwan doesn’t move closer to China by itself, China will come and get what it wants by force. Taiwanese people are increasingly identifying themselves as Taiwanese, rather than Chinese, showing the cultural divergence between the two countries. More economic distance would further widen this gap. If Taiwan stops calling itself Republic of China and abandons the One China policy, it creates the possibility of opening up official relations with other countries. This could give Taiwan a more formal international status, prompting China to take action before it is too late.

Stand up for democracy

It is clear that Taiwan works. Taiwan is de facto an independent country and so is China. A working democracy, Taiwan is a showcase that Asian values and democracy are not mutually exclusive. Helping the people of Taiwan is therefore in our own interest, and is it an example of ethical foreign policy.

While the status quo works for now, a more powerful China might at one point want to try out its strength on Taiwan. The current Western world’s (mainly Europe’s) reluctance to touch the issue will only pave the way for China to take Taiwan by force. The US is the only real obstacle for China to take Taiwan, because even though the US does not officially recognise Taiwan, the Taiwan Relations Act provides de facto diplomatic relations including arms supplies for Taiwan’s self-defence. However, in the future Taiwan might not be able to rely on the US military alone.

A recent response from the UK government to a petition to recognise Taiwan shows that the UK has all but official relations with Taiwan. Possible economic sanctions from China are all that stand in the way of other countries getting involved politically (as is the case with China’s other international/human rights violations).

China´s economic (and actual) weapons are only bound to get more powerful. The new election results therefore come just in time and just as China is getting into economic trouble. The victory of Tsai Ing-wen and the DPP should be considered an act of peace, not war. Making the right interpretation now is important and may shape the future. Will the world save a country that successfully made the transition to democracy, or let pressure by autocratic rulers destroy its values for the sake of economic security?

Joris Bucker is editor for the Business & Economics policy centre.