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Ford and Brown on East Asian Security


Below are the texts upon which Dr. Ford and Hudson Institute Research Fellow Eric Brown based their remarks on September 27, 2012, to an event on “Asia's Next Thirty Years’ Peace” with the Congressional Taiwan Caucus, at the Cannon House Office Building of the U.S. House of Representatives.

FORD: “Challenges of Regional Peace and Stability in East Asia”

Good morning, everyone.  Let me start by expressing my thanks to the Congressional Taiwan Caucus for inviting us here.   In preparing my remarks for today, I thought that it might be useful to say something about the territorial waters disputes that have been so much in the news recently between the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and its neighbors with respect to the South China Sea (SCS) and the East China Sea (ECS), because thinking about these problems provides an interesting window into broader questions of regional peace, security, and stability.

If we are to have any chance of managing these problems – and by “we” I mean not only the United States, of course, but also the regional players most directly involved – it is important to understand the factors which have contributed to these current crises.  After all, these disputes aren’t really “new.”  Why have tensions become so acute in the last few years, and especially in the last three?  Several things, I think, have contributed.

First, there is an aspect of these debates that is simply about resources.  This is probably clearest in the SCS, through estimates of its undersea oil and gas reserves have varied hugely.  Natural gas reserves in the SCS are also quite important – and indeed, according to the Energy Information Agency, quite huge.  Another issue in both of these areas of disputed water is fish, especially in an era when global fisheries stocks are declining and the growing populations of the region depend greatly upon fish both for food and as an export commodity.

The actual or potential presence of such resources leads to a second factor, which – to borrow from European imperial history – is a kind of scramble for Africa” phenomenon: once someone starts trying to turn their longstanding notional claims to the area into concrete reality, others naturally tend to feel compelled to assert themselves as well.

A third factor that is clearly important in the developing disputes in the region is simply the PRC’s growing economic weight, international clout, and military power.  Simply put, with such newfound muscularity, it is easier for China to contemplate self-assertion today than ever before.

Fourth, it is commonly said that one factor in the current problems is China’s leadership succession, for indeed the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) does face a once-in-a-decade leadership transition at the end of this year when Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao are expected to turn over the reins of power to Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang at the 18th CCP Party Congress in November.  The imminence of such transitions seems often to lead to paralysis in many parts of the Chinese Party-State apparatus – as suggested by this morning’s New York Times with respect to economic reform, for instance – but posturing against purported foreign threats and supposed affronts to China’s dignity and “sovereignty” is not one of those areas.  To the contrary, perhaps, this may be a perfect time for nationalist poses against weaker neighbors.

These four factors represent the conventional wisdom about the causes of the recent inflammation of tensions in the SCS and ECS, and I think there is much truth in analyses that emphasize such factors.  I’d like, however, to suggest an additional factor – one that also has to do with internal PRC political dynamics, but which isn’t likely to go away after the 18th Party Congress in November 2012.  For the last two decades, the CCP regime has invested political capital in cultivating anti-foreign nationalism as a basis for the Party’s legitimacy narrative, and this nationalism has indeed become a potent force.  As another part of its effort to develop a post-Marxist ideology to sustain one-party rule, the Chinese Party-State has also been developing a discourse of quasi-Confucian domestic politics and international relations doctrine.

Together, these two themes of the modern CCP legitimacy narrative – call it Confucio-nationalism, if you will – have an impact upon Chinese policy.  They have helped make China more moralistically confrontational in its foreign relations – and more inclined to press its neighbors into patterns of deference to Beijing – than at any other point since the era of “reform and opening” took off under Deng Xiaoping more than three decades ago.  This just isn’t a pre-Party-Congress pose, in other words, but in fact an important part of the “new normal” in 21st-Century China.  Though adopted, in the first instance, for domestic political reasons tied to the Party’s desire to cling to power, these themes essentially demand confrontational foreign postures and efforts to nudge East Asia, at the very least, into more Sinocentric forms of interstate order.  Significantly, moreover, Beijing today feels freer to act upon such thinking than at any time since the death of Mao Zedong.

Let me explain a little more about what I think has happened.  After Tiananmen, Deng is said to have articulated a pithy phrase about the importance of “biding one’s time and hiding one’s capabilities,” which encapsulated important conclusions about China’s interest in strategic caution.  This did not amount to any relinquishment of the dream of national “rejuvenation” and “return” that so many Chinese have shared since the Qing Dynasty was first humbled by Western power in the 19th Century, but it was a clear policy of tactical postponement of the kind of self-assertion implied by the country’s destined “return.”  China, it was said, needed breathing space in which to build up its strength, and to this end should carefully keep a low profile and adopt a relatively non-provocative posture.

This approach of Dengist “time-biding,” which some scholars have referred to as “Taoist Nationalism,” became the foundation of China’s foreign relations for many years.  As China’s strength and confidence have grown in the international arena, however – and as the CCP has invested more and more political capital in Sino-nationalist legitimacy strategies that encourage both revanchiste posturing against an outside world felt to have “humiliated” China and quasi-Confucian notions of the desirability of a Sinocentric global order – such “time-biding” has come increasingly under pressure.

A dynamic that I think has been particularly important recently, however – and which is probably a major factor behind China’s recent moves to escalate tensions in the SCS and the ECS – is Beijing’s perception that America is enfeebled, weary of foreign commitments, and in a precipitous decline.

Why is that?  “Taoist Nationalism” based its strategic logic on two main assumptions.  First, it was felt that in order to gain the strength necessary to effect its “return” to glory, China needed to learn modernity from the West, particularly from the iconic modern state and the most powerful of the Western polities: the United States.  This required congenial engagement in which China could engage in export-driven growth, acquire technology and modern know-how from the West, and have the breathing space necessary for its development.  Second, it was recognized that the outside world – and the Americans in particular – were still powerful enough to be able to impose huge costs on the PRC if sufficiently threatened or provoked.   Accordingly, great care should be taken not to provoke them, at least until China was strong enough to handle the consequences.  The strategic caution of “Taoist Nationalism” thus rested upon the presumed great benefits of friendly engagement and high costs of confrontation.

To my eye, however, this balance was destabilized by the U.S. financial crisis and our present indebtedness and ineffective political leadership.  In Chinese eyes, I think we no longer appear an attractive teacher or model of modernity, which reduces the “benefits of friendly engagement” side of the equation.  Our continuing politico-economic woes have also encouraged Beijing to think we are on a steep downhill slope in what Chinese strategists call “comprehensive national power,” thus also reducing the “costs of confrontation” element.

As a result, it is presumably harder than ever in Beijing to argue for a continuation of “Taoist Nationalism,” and more confrontational sentiments are gradually coming to predominate.  Even as the CCP regime has staked its political legitimacy on anti-foreign nationalism and increasingly Sinocentric pretensions of global “return,” in other words, the confrontational postures encouraged by such thinking have seemed more feasible than ever.

To my eye, there is little chance in the near term of conclusively resolving the disputes in question.  One could argue all day about the relative legal merits of the various competing claims – and lots of people do – but whatever their merits, I think it is unlikely that we’ll see the issues “resolved” any time soon.  It is thus the challenge of diplomacy and statesmanship to defer the issue peacefully and manage the situation so as to keep things from getting out of hand.  Near-term crisis management will be important in this work, as will trying to persuade all participants to avoid provocative actions, and doing everything possible to reaffirm freedom-of-navigation rights in the region.  In order to reduce the sting of resource competition in the SCS, and indeed to give parties some incentive to cooperate with each other, some observers have also suggested that a moratorium on oil and gas drilling should be imposed until all agree upon a formula for resource-sharing.

Much discussion in the SCS, at least, has referred to the importance of establishing a good “code of conduct” for regional interactions.  I don’t disagree, but so far, this hasn’t amounted to much – and what preliminary agreement has already materialized clearly hasn’t restrained anybody.  I think the problem lies deeper than simply a lack of clarity about how one should approach interactions; the real problem seems to have more to do with whether parties want to interact peaceably.

Fundamentally, most current proposals for managing these problems fail to address one of the key factors that I believe is contributing to these problems: the destabilizing effect of China’s growth combined with its increasing willingness to take confrontationally self-assertive positions vis-à-vis its neighbors.  The problem with Chinese behavior goes beyond simply taking positions playing to nationalist sentiments prior to the 18th Party Congress.  The deeper difficulty is due to the Party-State’s adoption of legitimacy narratives that encourage – and to some extent require – foreign affairs positions that are increasingly confrontational.

If what I’ve suggested about the internal debate between low-profile strategic caution and more self-assertively confrontation is true, however, it is possible that we can still influence China’s decision-making for the better even if they do continue to perceive us as being in decline.  As noted, strategic caution is losing ground in Beijing because China feels it now has less to gain from congenial engagement and less to lose from confrontation.

But it remains within the power of the United States and its regional friends to re-ignite that internal Chinese debate over Dengist “time-biding” by working together to highlight – and to increase – the potential costs and risks that confrontational approaches present for China and its great project of global “return.”  “Time-biding” aims to build up China’s strength until it is more ready to handle the consequences of confrontation, but by working to maximize those potential consequences in the near term we can give China additional reason to remain cautious and non-provocative for some while longer.

No matter how hard we try and no matter how much outreach we do, we probably lack the power to make Chinese leaders like us and trust us, not least because the CCP’s modern legitimacy narrative essentially requires us to be depicted and treated as an international foil and threat-figure.  If we work together with our friends and use our available resources prudently, however, we can probably persuade Beijing that there is still reason to remain strategically cautious.

This suggests that our agenda should be focused upon alliance reinforcement, the cultivation of deeper and more cooperative political, economic, and military relationships around China’s periphery, the development of approaches to regional affairs which facilitate coordination and collective action by regional states vis-à-vis the PRC, and robust and sustainable military planning and operational postures that underscore the importance to China that regional disputes are approached only through peaceful negotiation and that conflict not break out at any level.

These things, I should stress, would definitely not seem “friendly” to Beijing, as indeed the current so-called “pivot” to Asia has not.  Ironically, however, it may be through such “unfriendliness” that we have the greatest odds of eliciting cooperative Chinese behavior.  This may be a counter-intuitive conclusion, but I think it follows.

(To be sure, it will also be our challenge to ensure that the support and reassurance given to friends in the region concerned about China’s rise – and its taste for regional bullying – does not encourage provocative actions by these friends.  It would do little good to reinforce caution in Beijing only to see a tense regional standoff burst into flame because one of China’s neighbors discovers a taste for incautiousness.  Everyone will need to show caution and perspicacity.)

Through such a forward-leaning competitive strategy, however, I hope that we can help blunt China’s taste for regional confrontation and nudge it toward more cooperative patterns of behavior, at least for a while longer.  The challenge will then be to sustain the things which accomplished this, foremost among them a forward-leaning and deeply engaged diplomatic, politico-military, and economic strategy that seeks to support and sustain the open political order there for another generation.

Such work will require ongoing and deeper involvement with and cultivation of regional friends – especially regional democracies and those willing to move more toward democracy, for it is cooperation among them that Beijing particularly fears – and indeed all who share an interest in preventing the region from falling under the sway of any regional hegemon.  It will require not just a showy “pivot” of diplomatic attention, but also corresponding shifts of emphasis in the provision of resources and commitment over time.  And it will require clarity of mind in developing a competitive strategy – not just individually but collectively – that supports peace, stability, and preservation of the open political and economic order that has brought such extraordinary benefits to everyone in the Pacific Rim (including the PRC) for many years.  This won’t always be easy work, but it is essential.

Thank you.  I look forward to our discussions.

-- Christopher Ford

BROWN:  “The Next Thirty Years’ Peace in Asia”

I want to thank the Taiwan Congressional Caucus for hosting this discussion on “Asia’s Next Thirty Years Peace” and what it will require.

This is exactly the right subject to be discussing – especially now with the situations in the East China and South China Seas approaching a boil.  Territorial disputes are nothing new to the West Pacific.  But given the military build-up in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and Beijing’s newfound reliance on coercive diplomacy to press its claims against its neighbors, Asia is programmed to become a much more competitive place in years ahead.

I also believe the Taiwan Caucus is exactly the right forum to be having a discussion such as this.  The U.S.-Taiwan relationship has been a pillar of the security order which has sustained the previous three decades of general peace and unprecedented prosperity in Asia.  Nowadays, however, there’s a new order taking shape, and Taiwan’s place in this new order is increasingly in doubt.

Already, Taiwan has become, at best, something of an afterthought in the everyday U.S. policy discussions on Asia’s future.  Given Taiwan’s small size, especially when compared to the massive PRC, this may be understandable.

But this also gives short shrift to the island of Taiwan’s strategic location, as well as its unique potential as a Chinese-speaking democracy to influence the course of Asian affairs, including future political developments on the mainland.  Not appreciating this fully will have deleterious consequences for U.S. policy in the region.

Even more worrisome, however, has been the creeping acceptability of the idea that the U.S.’s long-established security relationship with Taiwan is placing us on a collision course with an ever-more powerful PRC.

Not long ago, we might’ve chalked this talk up as the opinions of those who don’t actually have to think about what it means to exercise power responsibly. But now the reality is different. The argument that the U.S. should draw down our support for Taiwan is now being made by influential people and in some of our nation’s most prestigious journals and institutions.

These are unsettling realities, not least because they raise a big question mark over the fate of Asia’s democracies like Taiwan and, indeed, over the very liberal order and peace which has nourished Asia’s Rise in recent decades.

I’ll say something about this, but first, I’d like to say something about the primary challenge to the general peace in Asia today; that is, the PRC.

Internationally, the PRC has been enormously successful at shaping the terms with which the world at large has made sense of and responded to its rise.  My colleague Charles Horner uses the late Fred Iklé’s brilliantly succinct phrase “semantic infiltration” to describe this, and it is a technique which congressional staffers should understand well: Control the discourse and the terms of the debate, and you can have real influence over political outcomes.

Charles has cited the PRC’s policy of “re-unifying” with Taiwan as a prime example of semantic infiltration.  Taiwan, as we know, hasn’t for a single moment been part of the PRC regime; as such, “re-unification” is a distinct impossibility. Forty years ago, no one spoke of Taiwan re-joining China because no one thought in these terms.  But now, the concept of “reunification” frames everyday discussions in Beijing, in Taipei, and also here in Washington, and it thus dominates the triangular relationship that now governs cross-straits affairs.

We might readily concede that the concept of “reunification” has proven a politically useful and expedient way for East Asian diplomacy to “manage” the complicated cross-straits peace.   But let’s remember, such talk of “reunification” also conditions popular expectations about the future on all sides.  Inevitably, diplomatic custom always outlives its utility, normally when the security order that sustains such diplomacy is overtaken by new strategic developments – such as, for example, the dramatic military build-up of the PRC.

When such changes in the strategic game occur, it is not the high opinion of diplomats which matters most, but the popular expectations about the future, about how it should be, which drives political behavior.

In my view, the potentially most dangerous aspect of the PRC’s semantic infiltration is its ability to seamlessly conflate the Beijing regime with China itself.  People the world over, regardless of what they think about the “China Question,” routinely speak of the “PRC” and China Proper as if the two are in fact One.  Yet there are differences between them which matter.

The PRC refers to a particular set of ruling institutions and political arrangements. It is not the first regime to claim to rule over China, nor will it be the last.

Of course, it is not always easy to separate between the two.  The PRC’s rise as a strategically consequential force in Asia has only been possible by the opening-up and economic take-off of China itself.  However, while the two are not entirely separable, China’s re-emergence and the rise of the PRC are different, and they have very different implications for Asia’s security and peace.

There’s a good historical argument to be made that general peace in Asia is a direct function of whether peace exists on the mainland; when China is in chaos, Asia slips into chaos, etc.  Surely, the relative stability and economic development on the Asian mainland since the late 1970s has been an important condition of the last three decades of peace.

With the PRC regime, by contrast, the U.S. and our Asian allies, as well as the PRC’s other neighbors, finds themselves increasingly in a strategic competition over how Asia as a whole should best be organized.

What’s also clear is that the PRC, far from being one with China, is itself in a long-term competition with China. Consider, as but one example, recently leaked information which suggests the PRC employs about three percent of the total Chinese population to spy on other Chinese.  If this is true, the PRC now possesses the largest domestic spy service ever assembled in history.  Per capita, it is larger than the informant network run by the East German Stasi in its heyday.

All of this exists to enable what the PRC Leninist State desires above all else: that is, to maintain its monopoly on power.

Despite this, the PRC’s official discourse insists that it and China are the same. The Communist Party, as such, complains everyday that America’s unstated policy is to “Contain China’s Rise.”  We hear this, and variations on this, repeated all the time – that the U.S. meddles in internal Chinese affairs, that the U.S. is an imperialist that’s unwelcome in China’s neighborhood, that the U.S. is trying to keep China down, that the U.S. is irreconcilably anti-China.

Of course, the historical record shows the opposite is true.  Far from seeking to inhibit China’s rise, American policy and also our unofficial engagement in Asia for much of the last 80 years, if not longer, has actively encouraged it.

We not only came to China’s defense in the struggle against Imperial Japan, but in 1945, when the U.S. undertook to rebuild the world after part of it consumed itself in war, we pressed hard to provide the Republic of China, which was then still very much in chaos, with a seat on the U.N. Security Council and thus, with a leadership role in the new world order which was supposed to be.

It wasn’t the U.S. which turned on China.  It was, in 1949, the newly ascendant and revolutionary PRC, led by Mao Zedong, which undertook to drive China against the U.S. as well as the rest of Asia.

We opposed this first in Korea, and then again in Southeast Asia, and the U.S. Grand Strategy for Asia ever since has sought to counter revolutionary and totalitarian politics while actively fostering and maintaining the conditions for peace, and specifically, a liberal peace which is good for commerce among nations, good for the development of viable states, and ultimately, good for the development of democracies like our own.

What’s remarkable is just how successful and truly beneficial this strategy has been – for the whole of Asia Pacific, including for China.  Indeed, the U.S. has been directly responsible for shaping the most benign security environment in East Asia that the Chinese mainland has seen since the mid-nineteenth century, when the Manchu Empire faced the arrival of European colonizers and an increasingly hostile Japan.

In the 1970s, it was this benign security environment which helped persuade the PRC’s rulers who had become aware of the failure of their revolution that they not only should, but in fact could, scrap the Maoist system.  And once the PRC began to accommodate to and permit China’s integration with Asia’s then emerging liberal order, the so-called Rise of China was started.

This gets us to what is at once so perplexing and troubling about the PRC’s efforts of late to upset the peace.  The Beijing regime seems apparently intent on disentangling itself from the very liberal order and peace which made China’s ascent up from the depravity and backwardness that the PRC once systematically imposed on it possible in the first place.

If this liberal order is replaced, is the general peace in Asia even possible? Right now, there are a number of proposals on offer about how best to accommodate the PRC’s growing power so as to reduce the U.S. competition with it and thereby, at least in theory, lengthen the peace in the region. The most sophisticated of these proposals call for the creation of a “Concert of Asia” led by a new “G2 Entente” between Washington and Beijing.  These may be serious proposals, which deserve to be taken seriously.

What’s striking, however, is how such proposals almost seem to unthinkingly accept the terms proffered by PRC, including on the question of Taiwan.  For example, any new agreement with the PRC in Asia would necessarily require that the U.S. accommodate what Beijing claims as its “core interests,” and that would mean capitulation on Taiwan and elsewhere in the South China Sea.

The power of such proposals is formidable, and they’ve led to growing calls for the U.S. to withdraw from Taiwan. Indeed, so strong is the desire not only for peace, but for these particular peace plans to work that, already, alarm has been raised that we Americans won’t find it within ourselves to accommodate to the PRC’s legitimate and merely “regional” aspirations.  Thus, because of American intractability, the argument holds that war in Asia becomes more likely.

In effect, this logic stands the security order that has sustained Asia’s peace on its head: It is now the U.S.’s relationship with Taiwan, not the territorial ambitions of a rising PRC, which presents the greatest threat to Asian peace.

But let’s consider, for a moment, what might happen if the U.S. does abandon Taiwan to the PRC.  This requires that we leave aside the question of whether the One Party dictatorship on the mainland even has the capacity to politically or administratively swallow a democratic society like Taiwan’s.

Instead, imagine that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) sets up a naval base on Taiwan, which then becomes Beijing’s unsinkable aircraft carrier, and which thereby fundamentally reshapes the strategic architecture of the West Pacific as we know it.

The U.S., in such a scenario, has become very much an offshore balancer. Optimistic assessments will hold that the U.S. will still be able to maintain some semblance of a liberal order in Asia and will be able, from afar, to re-assure democratic allies like Japan and South Korea.  But will we really?

In this future, the more appropriate question is not whether the U.S. can accommodate the PRC in the South China Sea and then balance against it elsewhere, but whether the PRC can be reliable peacemaker in the new regional order, and whether it could bring itself to accept other countries as equals in that new order.  What would it want, and how would it behave?

We know from the PRC itself that it won’t, because it can’t, countenance Taiwan as an equal. How, then, would it treat democratic Japan?  Or South Korea?  And what about all the other established commercial democracies and the emerging ones which have benefited, and still benefit, from the liberal order?

In such a future, America’s increasing isolation from Asia wouldn’t be so splendid after all.  In all likelihood, the risk of friction with the PRC, and of outright conflict, wouldn’t shrink, but would instead increase.  Indeed, any honest answer to whether such a G2 Concert of Asia could generate the conditions for peace needs first to consider the nature of the PRC itself.

As was suggested earlier, the PRC exists to maintain its monopoly on power. It says this in its Leninist charter, and it makes this abundantly clear by the actions which it takes everyday to sustain its rule over China.  The tenuous nature of the PRC’s rule at home has implications for its international conduct.

To illustrate what I mean, consider another thought experiment. What would happen if it was the Republic of China (RoC) government on Taiwan, not the PRC, which governed China?   At a bare minimum, we could say that all citizens of this New China, could vote directly for their president and an administration in regular and free, multi-party elections.  They could send representatives to the national legislature.  They could elect their own mayors.  If any of these elected representatives hoarded power, or grew corrupt, they’d be voted out of office.

What’s more, China’s minorities, such as the Uighurs and Tibetans, would live like the aborigines on Taiwan do today: free to practice their religion, to sustain their cultures, so long as this doesn’t conflict with law and their obligations as democratic citizens.

This really isn’t such a fantastical experiment. The Nobel Prize winner and National Endowment for Democracy-grantee Liu Xiaobo among thousands of others have proposed exactly this in the so-called Charter ’08, and for this, the PRC has locked Liu and others up for inciting subversion of state power.

If the PRC is willing to treat its own subjects like this, what kind of power can we realistically expect it will be elsewhere in Asia, especially as its Will to Rule chafes up against the liberal order? The nature of the regime has consequences for the kind of strategic actor it will be, and for the kind of order it will seek to create.  The PRC now, as in the future, must set the terms and conditions of China’s integration with the liberal order in Asia, because China fully integrated with the liberal order will mean the unraveling of the PRC itself.

Ultimately, securing this Asian Peace will require planning for a militarily-strong PRC with territorial ambitions as well for one whose rule is falling apart.  Beijing, as I said, is itself in a long-term competition with China, and given the current configuration of power between them, it doesn’t seem all that likely that the PRC can win.  Today, there’s a good amount of well-informed speculation that Beijing’s bluster in the West Pacific is meant to mask intra-Party fights that have broken out in the lead-up to the power transition that’s scheduled to happen soon.  Given the enormous upheaval in China itself, we can say with some confidence that a new change in the governing arrangement is on the horizon.

Indeed, when one considers the major political shifts which have taken place in modern Chinese history—from May 1919 to the founding of PRC in 1949; from the ascent of Mao in 1949 to Deng Xiaoping’s rise in 1979; and from China’s opening to the liberal order in 1979 to the rise, in 2009, of a PRC which is seeking to replace the Asian Peace as we know it—these things do tend to run in cycles of thirty years.  So perhaps we’re due for something new.

This is, of course, not to say that we’re on the cusp of a democratic transformation in China. As we’ve been reminded by the uprisings in the Middle East, popular upheaval and the advance of popular sovereignty does not a democracy, or even a cohesive country, make.

But all this does serve to underscore what securing the next thirty years peace in Asia may require.  It goes beyond shoring-up our alliances and re-assuring our protectorates via military re-balancing.  As crucial as this is to do, and to do right with adequate resourcing, we also require a non-kinetic, political strategy that’s designed to keep the liberal order intact and to keep Asia safe for the continued, peaceful development of commercial democracy.

One central U.S. task, then, is to work in concert with our Asian allies to do what we can to insure that the next political evolution that occurs on the mainland is a real step-up from the PRC regime which exists now. If the next governing arrangement in China is in a better place politically than that will do more than anything else to preserve the general peace in Asia.

This is where I think Taiwan’s role is potentially indispensable. Far from being a strategic liability for the U.S. in the emerging Asian order, Taiwan has a potentially unique, perhaps even game-changing role to play.  As a Chinese-speaking democracy, it has a special opportunity to become a viable model for China’s evolution, and to help enlighten the political institutions and future course of affairs on the mainland.

I say Taiwan may potentially play this role but, as of now, it is not clear it will choose to do so.  Indeed, for some Taiwanese, and also for some Americans, there’s concern – and concern which isn’t entirely unwarranted, in my opinion – that the democracy on Taiwan may not prove robust enough to remain a pillar of the liberal order in Asia.  But in previous eras, Taiwan has helped to show China that there’s a better way forward, and it may yet do this again – perhaps especially if the U.S. also proves our robust commitment to democracy by renewing and deepening our relationships with the RoC.

The role of the U.S. Congress here is vitally important. Numerous discussions around our city are susceptible to the semantic infiltration which makes us forgetful of how dependent the Asian peace actually is on the Asian liberal order.  Of all the institutions of American Government, Congress can and must remain vigilant against this.  In the 1970s, the U.S. rushed to normalize relations with Beijing for entirely legitimate geopolitical reasons, but in our haste, we also almost deserted Taiwan.  Thanks to a bipartisan effort in Congress, the U.S.-RoC relationship was salvaged with the passage of the Taiwan Relations Act, a cornerstone of the Asian order that sustained the last thirty years peace. It was this liberal order that created the conditions for Taiwan’s democratic transformation, a political transformation which now may help to enlighten the way forward to a new and durable peace in Asia.

-- Eric Brown

About Dr. Ford

Dr. Christopher Ford served from January 2018 until January 2021 as the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation. For the last 15 months of this period, he additionally performed the duties of the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security. Before this service at the State Department, he served as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for WMD and Counterproliferation on the U.S. National Security Council staff, and before that as Chief Legislative Counsel for the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Chief Investigative Counsel for the Senate Banking Committee, Republican Chief Counsel for the Senate Appropriations Committee, Senior Fellow at Hudson Institute, U.S. Special Representative for Nuclear Nonproliferation, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Minority Counsel and then General Counsel to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and Staff Director of the Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. A graduate of Harvard (summa cum laude), Oxford (as a Rhodes Scholar), and the Yale Law School, Dr. Ford was also ordained by Roshi Joan Halifax of the Upaya Zen Center as a lay chaplain in a lineage of Soto Zen Buddhism. He was a jujutsu student of the late Grandmaster Dong Jin Kim of the Jigo Tensin Ryu lineage, and is a member of Dai Nippon Butoku Kai with Sandan (3rd degree black belt) rank. Dr. Ford served from 1994 until 2011 as an intelligence officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve, and is a member of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, Chatham House, and the Council on Foreign Relations. In September 2017, he was promoted by Queen Elizabeth II of England to the rank of Commander in the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem. Dr. Ford is the author of the books "China Looks at the West: Identity, Global Ambitions, and the Future of Sino-American Relations" (2015), "The Mind of Empire: China's History and Modern Foreign Relations" (2010), and "The Admirals' Advantage: U.S. Navy Operational Intelligence in World War II and the Cold War" (2005). He also co-edited "Rethinking the Law of Armed Conflict in an Age of Terrorism" (2012). For a list of his publications, see The views he expresses on this website are entirely his own, and do not necessarily reflect those of anyone else, in or out of government.
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