Category Archives: Asia-Pacific

Analysis relating to USPACOM.

Taiwan’s Defense: National Interests over Semantics

The Diplomat has recently brought us a debate on international law – centering on the legality of military intervention on behalf of Taiwan during a conflict with the PRC. Zachary Kech kicked off by proposing that Japan’s recent reinterpretation of Article 9 of their Constitution to permit collective self-defense could allow for Japan defending Taiwan in the event of an attacked from China. This was followed by Julian Ku arguing that intervention by any nation on behalf of Taiwan against the mainland would be illegal since Taiwan is neither definitively recognized as an independent nation nor a United Nations member. Michal Thim quickly refuted those claims in an article, which is followed again by Julian Ku coming back with some clarifications on personal opinions and reiterates the original argument. Finally, Michael Turton and Brian Benedictus co-authored a somewhat convoluted argument that actually Taiwan’s unsettled status as an independent nation makes military intervention acceptable.

With no disrespect meant toward the authors, the merits of discussing this point are mostly academic. Though the debate may be stimulating to those with an interest in the topic and some might learn more about the subject of international law as a result of it, it has little to no bearing on practicality.

One of the key questions present in all of the articles is if Taiwan is an independent nation or an extension of mainland China and how international law views each situation. Clearly arguments can be made in support of both positions or else we would not have so many articles written about it in the past couple of weeks, but does it really matter? Whatever semantics used to describe relationships with Taiwan or China, the U.S. has active relationships with both of them.

Money keeps this machine running
Money keeps this machine running

According to the Office of the United States Trade Representative, China is currently the U.S.’s second largest goods trading partner with $562 billion in total goods trade during 2013 and Taiwan is currently the 12th largest with $64 billion in 2013. Would any of this change if the United Nations passed a resolution stating Taiwan was not an independent nation and officially a part of the larger mainland China? Of course not. Money, and more importantly national interests, will conquer over semantics any day.

Whether the U.S. or Japan would defend Taiwan if China decided to repatriate the island through military force should have nothing to do with semantics and everything to do with strategic interests. The strategic basis for protecting Taiwan or not is neither the subject of this article nor the debate at the Diplomat which inspired it. This article makes no comment as to should or would other nations protect Taiwan, but instead discusses could they.

There is so much talk about international law in the debate. International law, as opposed to simply international norms and conventions, has been in vogue since the fighting of two world wars and the founding of the United Nations. Why? Because law has an absolute and moral feel about it. If you are breaking the law then you are doing something wrong and others have a moral obligation to stop you. If you are following the law then you are doing something right and others have a moral obligation to support you. This grossly oversimplifies the complexities of international relations. Decisions are made to promote strategic national interests and all nations are not necessarily playing by the same moral and ethical code. In the domestic concept of law, you have a like peoples under a recognized government authority with enforcement power. This does not seamlessly translate to the international stage of co-equal governments with differing interests and no central authority with absolute enforcement power.

Welcome back
The Party welcomes you back

If China decided tomorrow to repatriate Taiwan with military force and the U.S. and Japan intervened, would they be protecting a sovereign nation from an invading force or helping to liberate a people from a government they do not want? This semantic difference might matter when deciding what article of the United Nations charter you are going to try to use for propaganda to gain support for your cause or generate opposition for your enemies or what the victor who writes the history will use to justify their actions in the history books. But in all practicality, nations should base their use of force on national strategy and not semantics.

LT Jason H. Chuma is a U.S. Navy submarine officer currently serving as Navigator and Operations Officer onboard USS SPRINGFIELD (SSN 761). He is a graduate of the Citadel, holds a master’s degree from Old Dominion University, and has completed the Intermediate Command and Staff Course from the U.S. Naval War College. He can be followed on Twitter @Jason_Chuma.

The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy.

Sea Control 42: Asian-Pacific Fighters in Iraq and Syria

seacontrol2This week, Sea Control Asia Pacific turns its focus to foreign fighters returning from Iraq and Syria. Natalie Sambhi, of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, interviews Andrew Zammit, a researcher at Monash University’s Global Terrorism Research Centre (GTReC), and Levi West, a lecturer in terrorism and National Security and course coordinator for Masters of Terrorism & Security Studies at Charles Sturt University. Both guests discuss the ways in which foreign fighters returning from the Middle East impact on Australian and regional security and on the global jihadist movement. Both Andrew and Levi also discuss the role of social media.

 DOWNLOAD: Sea Control 42 – Asian-Pacific Fighters in Iraq and Syria

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Sea Control 41: The View From China

seacontrol2Dean Cheng joins us to discuss China. Like a flourless brownie, this podcast is dense and delicious. We hit China’s goals and perspectives: From the Chinese “status quo”, to the South China Sea, to India, to the use of crises as policy tools. If you want to see behind the headlines, this is your podcast.

DOWNLOAD: Sea Control 41 – The View from China

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RIMPAC 2014 – The Ins and Outs

On June 26th, one of the world’s largest and most significant naval exercises began in and around Hawaii. Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) is a biannual event led by the United States Navy and usually involves maritime forces from more than n Pacific countries, including Canada. Although the exercises have been held consistently since 1971, this year’s edition promises to have an unprecedented impact on military and strategic affairs in the Asia-Pacific region.

Chinese People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) destroyer Haikou (171) at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii
Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) destroyer Haikou (171) at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii

Of particular note, 2014 marks the first time China participates in RIMPAC. Previous editions have involved regional neighbours, like Japan and South Korea, but curiously excluded the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). Early this year, as planning was underway for the upcoming edition of RIMPAC, the US extended an invitation to China for the first time. However, the fallout from the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore on May 31-June 1 left considerable doubt that China would accept the invitation. It therefore came as a surprise when China formally accepted the invitation one week after the heated debate in Singapore. In a move that could help reduce regional tensions, four PLAN vessels have participated in the exercise, serving alongside ships from other participating countries, like Japan, the Philippines, and Canada.

This is also the first RIMPAC exercise for the small Southeast Asian state of Brunei. The Royal Brunei Navy is a rather small force, especially in comparison to the impressive naval might of nearby Singapore, but it has contributed two off-shore patrol vessels. These smaller ships, the KDB Darussalam and KDB Darulaman, are also Brunei’s newest acquisitions and so RIMPAC is viewed as an opportunity to test out their capabilities in simulations of large-scale maritime combat operations.

With Brunei, participation in RIMPAC increases among Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) members to six out of ten, indicating a willingness by the bloc to become more actively involved in Pacific security. The four member states not participating in 2014 either lack the capacity to participate, such as landlocked Laos, or they were not invited to participate, such as the despotic regime in Burma.

While China and Brunei are in this year, Russia is out. In 2012, Russian maritime forces joined RIMPAC for the first time. Three vessels took part, led by the destroyer RFS Panteleyev, which had previously served alongside NATO forces as part of Operation Ocean Shield. But with tensions rising over Russia’s actions in Ukraine, no invitation was extended to join RIMPAC in 2014.

In May 2014, Russia and China held a large-scale joint naval exercise of their own in the East China Sea, but Russia has otherwise been left isolated in Pacific military affairs since the Crimean crisis. Aside from supplying Vietnam with new submarines and other vessels, Russia has scant opportunities to build security ties with the countries of Southeast Asia, stalling any effort by Vladimir Putin to pivot eastward. This suggests that any ‘soft power’ influence Russia may have had is now in severe decline, with many governments in the region reluctant to trust or engage with Putin.

HMCS Calgary (FFH 335)
HMCS Calgary (FFH 335)

RIMPAC 2014 is also a significant opportunity for Canada to demonstrate its capacity to become a major player in the Pacific. This has clearly not been lost on Canadian defence officials as there is a considerably increased contribution from Canada as compared to 2012, despite the fact that many Royal Canadian Navy vessels are either undergoing repairs or are being retrofitted. This time, Canada’s fleet is led by the HMCS Calgary, a Halifax-class frigate, joined by a Victoria-class submarine and two Kingston-class patrol vessels. As RIMPAC is a combined arms exercise, Canada has also sent an infantry company from the Third Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry to act as marines, while a Royal Canadian Air Force component will be deployed that includes eight CF-18 Hornets.

By involving all three elements of the Canadian Forces, it will be possible to demonstrate Canada’s ability to participate meaningfully in a multilateral intervention in the Pacific. As tensions between countries in the Asia-Pacific region are enflamed, discussion surrounding the potential for a Pacific equivalent to NATO occasionally surfaces. By showing leadership through RIMPAC and developing interoperability with countries ranging from Brunei to China, Canada secures a place at the table for itself in case those discussions ever turn serious.

Paul Pryce is a Research Analyst at the NATO Council of Canada and CIMSEC’s Director of Social Media. With degrees in political science from universities in both Canada and Estonia, he has previously worked as a Research Fellow at the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and an Associate Fellow at the Latvian Institute of International Affairs. His research interests are diverse and include maritime security, NATO affairs, and African regional integration.

 

Disclaimer:

Any views or opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and the news agencies and do not necessarily represent those of the NATO Council of Canada. This article is published for information purposes only.

This post appeared at the NATO Council of Canada in its original form and was cross-posted by permission.