EVENT TRANSCRIPT: What do China’s actions in Hong Kong spell for Taiwan?
DATE: 29 September 2020, 10:00am-11:00am
SPEAKERS: Alexander Görlach, Dr l-Chung Lai, Xiani Perez-Cheng
MODERATOR: Samuel Armstrong
Samuel Armstrong 00:07
Well, good morning, good evening, good afternoon, depending on where in the world you are, I know we’re bridging a series of time zones here. As I mentioned, we’re delighted to be discussing what China’s actions in Hong Kong spell for Taiwan. I can’t remember a period in the world in which basic assumptions of international law, the rules-based order, have been more and more challenged by authoritarian states, globally, but the China and by which, I mean his leadership, the Chinese Communist Party specifically. Now joining us to discuss this today at the Henry Jackson society are a stellar panel. First up, we will have up Dr Lai. Dr Lai is a visiting researcher at Cornell, he’s the executive director to the mission the United States and the Democratic Progressive Party. He’s also president of the prospect foundation ‘Occur,’ a Taiwanese think tank and political foundation. We’re also joined by Dr Alexander Gorlach. Alexander is a linguist. He’s a theologian. He’s an author, I think he’s the very definition of modern-day polymath. What he can’t do, looking back at his back catalogue, I don’t know. And I will introduce his two latest books at the end, both of which I think, feed into this very topic. And then we also have joining us Xiani Perez-Cheng, who is at the Institute for statecraft and she’s formally at the University of Salamanca. And there she attracted what I think is the highest honour of all for anybody working in in this field, which is the direct and focused ire of the local Chinese Embassy, who objected to her work in recognizing basic facts I think many of us here would share about Taiwan- the right to live as a peaceful and an orderly nation status as an independent Island State. But perhaps I could kick us off with Dr Lai. Dr Lai, maybe you could start by addressing this topic of what you think China’s actions in Hong Kong what they mean for Taiwan?
Dr I-Chung Lai 02:46
Yeah, thank you. Thanks for inviting me to join this webinar. The people here in Taiwan, we watch the development in Hong Kong very closely. And for 20 years, the Chinese Communist Party’s actions in Hong Kong has had a tremendous implication for Taiwan. I think the first one everyone noticed in Taiwan is that, with the outright objection of the international commitment, China had a seal which was the United Kingdom in 1984. Which means that right now, it seems that China, but everything goes, then a lot of the past assumption about the Chinese policy on Taiwan, like there’s a certain limit that the China will not cross unless they’re pushed off. And then the issue about the peaceful invocation would not be there. I think right now that it seems that the Chinese, no one really knows what the so called ‘Chinese button nine’ is, and how does that mean that they will be the so called ‘cross the Chinese’, the threshold. We said, in a recent development across the Taiwan straits, that according to our Minister of National Defence, that the Chinese fighter jets cross the midline and demonstrate for a record number this year alone closing 250 times. And they have more and more sophisticated military assets deployed, whether they directly cross or even near the total water of Taiwan. Those are the record high, and we haven’t seen that before from 2016 to 2019. So, the issue is that Chinese action on Hong Kong ended up with a great deal of uncertainty about the across strait stabilities. The issue about stabilities means that many of the past modus operandi do not no one really knows what Chinese is thinking about. And the only thing that China would like to push forward on is probably only a total surrender of Taiwan- that is, at least the thought among many in Taiwan. And on to the newer development, that is the Chinese Ministry of National Ministry of Foreign Affairs announcement that they will not recognize the mainland Taiwan straits. And then later, I think about October 8, another episode is about Chinese diplomats in foreign countries pushing and beating our foreign service officers in their respective countries. And later, the Chinese MOFA even announced that they would not recognize the Taiwan diplomat and so that this physical assault is not actually a diplomatic incident, so to speak. So, with the newer developments associated with the passage of the national security law in Hong Kong, and the one on Taiwan is more aggressive and even resulted in physical violence. On actions on Taiwan, then that adds up to huge uncertainty here about our predictions and our working assumptions about stability.
Samuel Armstrong 06:46
Thank you very much. Dr. Lai. Xiani, perhaps I can come to you if I may. Do you think it’s a coincidence that we see an increase in China’s rhetoric on Hong Kong, its actions in in Fiji, and elsewhere, and the sort of scale of harassment around the world? I think it’s a coincidence that that comes so soon after its actions in in Hong Kong.
Xiani Perez-Cheng 07:19
Um, the way I said I don’t think it’s a coincidence. I think it’s we are seeing more of an encroachment of China, a regional encroachment of China, in Asia. And it just started in Hong Kong and well, Taiwan is like the jewel of the crown from China’s perspective. And because they also have in the Chinese constitution that Taiwan must be reunited must be retaken. So, for them the reuniting of the Taiwan and the mainland is a sacred accomplishment for all the Chinese people. So, it’s more like for China’s regimes a more like religious dogma. So, I don’t think it’s a coincidence. I don’t think it’s a coincidence because Taiwan is in the long-time goal for China. And I think right now China has a strategy that is aligning itself considering the current world situation that we’ve been suffering with pandemics. And most of the democracies around the world. We’ve been suffering and we are not capable of managing. And right now, I think that China is taking advantage of these narrative.
Samuel Armstrong 09:50
Very interesting. Indeed. Alexander, perhaps I can turn to you now and pick up on that. We’ve seen a time of more global uncertainty than ever before. China, rather than calming that down, it appears at least to an external observer to be to be fuelling that. I wonder is as well as touching on what you think it means for Taiwan, what do you think these recent actions, this recent escalation means for the world at large? Where is this all going for us?
Alexander Gorlach 10:30
I feel like at first for Taiwan, it’s on the centre stage of global politics. Now, there has been a very forward op-ed the other day, saying that if there were ever a territory in the world, a piece of land that the United States and the People’s Republic of China would go to war over that would be Taiwan. There is no clarity about the extent of this guarantee as the alliance between Taiwan and America was forged at a time when the People’s Republic was indeed much weaker than Taiwan in military and economic senses and turns so but however, now is on the centre stage. And that also means for Taiwan’s foreign policy and diplomacy, they need to act accordingly. I feel during the pandemic, Taiwan did a lot to live up to this new standard of being at the centre stage of politics. However, I’d say there needs to be a growing aspiration and a growing recognition on both ends; the free world and Taiwan, that we indeed need to form an alliance, a league of democracies in which we are bound and held together by friendship. This friendship rests on the common notion of human rights. And what we see in Xinjiang, in Inner Mongolia, in Hong Kong, and towards Taiwan, clearly indicates that China’s politics and ideology is diverting largely from the international consensus of civilized nations. What happens to Muslims in Xinjiang is an outward disgrace and calls the international community to counter China’s actions. It’s not to be taken lightly. As a German, I know exactly that- rounding up a minority based on their religion or their ethnicity might very quickly lead to genocide. And there are several definitions of genocide and the cultural genocide we have been seeing in Tibet already is now being repeated in Xinjiang. And there is no reason to believe that it’s not been repeated in Inner Mongolia. Sometimes it sounds too easy to blame this on one person, but Xi Jinping is the personification of this term in politics in China, and he’s not alone in that. We have this in Russia and in, in Turkey in other parts of the world, Brazil to a certain extent to, where the strong men policies lead to new ethno-nationalism. That’s what happening in China now. Taiwan seems to be exempt to a certain extent because the people coming from the mainland in 1947 and 1949 were also Han Chinese. The narrative here is not an ethnic one. It’s more like the crown jewel kind of thing: we want Taiwan back, and we want to sub to Taiwan. This might not be in the form of reasons of ethnicity. But another one, as I mentioned, that we are in a league of democracies bound by friendship based on human rights. It’s clearly the most troubling for Xi Jinping that while he is traveling the world and saying, you know, democracy, that’s something for you guys in the West because of Plato and Christianity and all these kinds of things, but we in the east, we can’t do it simply. We agree, we aim for socialism with Chinese characteristics. But then there is 23 million Taiwanese offshore of the mainland of China exercising a vital liberal democracy, having Free Press, and enjoying public discourses, elections. This of course, must trouble Mr. Xi because they live what the whole of China could be one day. A while ago I met the foreign minister of Taiwan. I said to him, so in your constitution, it’s still like the aim of the reunification with the mainland. So how is this going to happen? And he said to me it will happen when China is a democracy. That was powerful, because that it was bold, but bold in a very good way. Mr. Xi wants the People’s Republic to be more like a grand North Korea, but that’s not going to happen. The Chinese are traveling everywhere in the world, they have communities everywhere in the world. Education is highly regarded, so people study abroad. There is always an influx of Western ideas. There’s always an influx of alternatives. So, you cannot lock up and round up 1.4 billion people. I mean, this is the bed Mr. Xi is on now, Xi’s saying by surveillance measures we ensure that this realm is not going to fall apart like other Chinese empires have before. But I want to say is of course, there is a big chance that the Chinese people might overthrow this sort of dictatorship by one party just because they did that in the past too. The example of Taiwan is so shining in that sense that of course, it’s troublesome for Beijing to let the Taiwanese just do what they want. They could always say like, oh, look, this is like the tiny island, we don’t care. However, they do care, because it’s a major ideological threat to Xi’s narrative that he tries to deploy all over the world.
Samuel Armstrong 16:03
Well, thank you so much for that, Alexander. That truly was brilliant. I wonder if I can come back to you Dr Lai, if I if I might, and pick up on this point of a league of democracies bound by common friendship and common values, and particularly human rights. I thought it was very striking that this is global campaign now about save Hong Kong youths, all of whom fled Hong Kong. They’re all democracy activists, as far as everyone’s aware they were peaceful activists, I knew one of them. I knew him to be an exceptional young man of great character, immense peace. But they were fleeing from Hong Kong to Taiwan. And I wonder if there is, if there is something striking in that- is Taiwan the sort of last refuge of hope? Is it the last remaining candle a flicker of hope for democracy in China? Does Taiwan take on renewed importance for the world because of that? Does the world have to up its support for Taiwan to keep that flame alive?
Dr I-Chung Lai 17:24
I think that these are very interesting and very vital questions and link with what Alex said earlier. When we talk about the Chinese, there is a feeling- especially with Xi Jinping- that he wanted to push forward a new form of international order based on the Chinese perception regarding how the world should be like. So, Xi Jinping pushed forward at the 2018 United Nations the idea of common human communities, the sort of thing he prioritized the development of over human rights and freedom. And for Xi Jinping to be able to really push himself forward as the champion of the so called new international concept with new international order, he needs to re-reunite all the Chinese together in one happy family community as a base to push forward that concept. And Hong Kong and Taiwan are sort of the outliers. Hong Kong has been westernized for over like 140 years, and Taiwan has been in a functional democracy for several decades. For both, unification with Hong Kong, or having more control over Hong Kong, and the unification of Taiwan, take on a higher emergency- those two societies are countries that have been flying away. They are standing in direct contrast to challenge Xi Jinping’s notion about the common human destiny or human community that he wants to push forward with a priority and price. Therefore, Chinese could contribute to this whole world. I believe there is a lot of political analysis regarding why China wants to push forward with the new national security law and why China is upping the ante in terms of the military harassment against Taiwan right now. But I think that underneath, the issue is about how Taiwan and Hong Kong challenge or show the differences that the Chinese community have and could have a different expectation. That’s a direct challenge to Xi Jinping domestically and he needs to eliminate both, so he first goes after Hong Kong. And then he has a higher intensity to try to coerce Taiwan and bring Taiwan into such an orbit. So, if we wrap the episode together, right now, the issue about Taiwan takes the very interesting term: as the competition, this so called new Cold War, between the China and public democracy takes on more of an ideological struggle, the higher priority Taiwan is to Chinese. They want it to absorb Taiwan to prevent the kind of alternative existence for the so called greater Chinese communities that Xi Jinping feels are a threat to his own legitimacy.
Samuel Armstrong 21:05
Yes, I wonder if I can, if I can turn to Xiani in a second and ask about these greater Chinese communities that Xi Jinping sees it. I’m struck by China’s actions over the weekend. For those that don’t know, a group of Chinese diplomats assaulted a group of Taiwanese diplomats- of course, China doesn’t recognize them. Nevertheless, diplomats in Fiji and having been caught out and have been widely condemned. The response to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in in Beijing was to boast, to thrive, to enjoy it. We’ve seen over a long-time, a phenomenon in in the west, of Hong Kong students facing or feeling scrutiny by their Chinese classmates, that they are perhaps being monitored or watched. Are we likely to see an increase in harassment of Taiwanese students, of those in the west on university campuses that, that speak out about Taiwan in a way that is not necessarily as friendly to Beijing as it would like?
Xiani Perez-Cheng 22:27
Well, it started from this Fiji incident. I think this is very illustrative of how China is operating in this so-called wolf diplomacy. The way I understand that the incident went is that the Taiwanese representatives in Fiji tried to organize a celebration for the double 10 in a hotel. Of course, in that hotel, they have the ROC flag and even an ROC theme cake. And the thing that strikes me is during the press conference of the support person for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in China, that they underlined that at that hotel there was an illegal flag. And that illegal flag was sported in the cake. The interviewers were offended by the cake! It’s kind of a bit- this pettiness from China- it’s a bit hilarious. I mean, here. The focus point is they were offended by a cake. And we can see, okay, we laugh at the incident, but we can see that the seriousness behind it. I think that China’s aggressive diplomacy is going around the globe, and it also is predicated on the weakness of each country. I think that China’s propaganda adapts to each country very well. For example, in Spain’s situations, because Spanish also has territorial issues like Catalonia, like Dorota, and even back then in the time with say, Northern Africa. I think, from my perspective, I think China looks at these situations and adopts a propaganda for each country’s situations. And it’s up to us in democratic countries to stand up to China- again, I’m pointing out Spain’s situation particularly to Catalonia- and I think that when China tries to point out that the Taiwan problem is a territorial issue concerning just domestic problems like the Catalonia issue. I think we must fight this kind of narrative because it’s completely different as Spain is a democratic country. China is not. Spain does have a constitutional arrangement for each region. China does not. China actually- as Dr. Lai pointed out- it seems that for China, the only way forward is to claim what they perceive, or China perceives as an affront, a territorial affront- like China cannot walk go forward, cannot modernize, if they don’t reclaim Taiwan, if they don’t control Hong Kong, or they don’t exercise their power in the South China Sea? So, it seems like we have to question this. Why does China really need them for go forward, to claim the whole China Sea, to control Hong Kong, and to invade Taiwan? Why do they need this to go forward or to develop themselves? From my point of view, this kind of narrative from China is a sign of weakness.
Samuel Armstrong 28:16
It’s a good point well-made. Can I just say at this point in the audience that today’s event is hosted in association with the Taiwanese representative office in London. We’re delighted for their support and to work with them. In respect for the government of the Republic of Taiwan government’s rules, we’re using teams today rather than zoom. And what that means is we won’t be able to host questions in our normal way, because of limitations with this system. So instead of submitting them through the q&a section as you wouldn’t zoom, can I ask that if anybody would like to ask a question that they email me, and I will read them out to our panellists. If you do have a question, please just send me an email. I haven’t got a monopoly on good conversation topics. Obviously, this doesn’t apply if you’re watching back later on, but for those either watching on the live streams on teams please do send me a question and I’d be delighted to read it out. But I wonder if I can turn now to Alexander. In the Cold War, and I’m not suggesting that we are back there or in a new version or anything else necessarily, but then there was a theory of what was known as ‘domino theory’- the idea that communism was spreading across the world and if one country, initially Korea, later on Vietnam, parts of Latin America, parts of Africa were to fall to communism then the others would necessarily follow. There was an idea of perception in western foreign policy thought that what you needed was a sort of fire break or a circuit break. For those who are familiar with lockdown talks today, we’re talking a lot about those again. And that is what you needed. Does this theory still hold? Is it still a helpful idea? Does it apply with China in the same way? And if and if it does, what should the response of this brotherhood of free and open democracies, this league of this league of democracies, this friendship and respect to the human rights, which are their response to that be?
Alexander Gorlach 30:51
Thank you, Sam. I, so even though it sounds like a little out of touch to talk about the conflict nowadays in cold war terminology, the world is twofold again. Like the Francis Fukuyama idea that we all might be going into a pride future of liberal democracy, it’s not entirely wrong, but it’s also not entirely true as we see. In fact, we see that the enemies of this liberal order each have their own reasons to try to review then it will eventually lead to declare themselves. Look into Singapore; it’s an ally of Taiwan and they do military exercises together. There is a strong Chinese ethnic community, a big one, in Singapore, but then, as has been mentioned, about like the Chinese family all over the world. And once Chinese always Chinese- by the way, something which Erdogan in Turkey and Putin in Russia does, not acknowledging citizenship as the key indicator for who someone is, it’s more race and religion. So, Xi does the same, like all the other autocrats. Of course, this was received with horror in Singapore; what would that mean if all ethnic Chinese in Singapore would rise and rather be Chinese than Singaporean? So, meaning like that a country like Singapore has to take a stance- it’s not a democracy, but it’s also not as bad as China. So, in the end, it will be like, okay, who are we going to be? Do we want to be like on the villain side of the of history with China, or will we modernize? And Singapore now sees also like- I mean, I wouldn’t say a search- but there is like a civil society, there are LGBTQ rights groups, there are like groups that try to improve the conditions of guest workers in Singapore. If you have the strong sense that the Singaporean government, albeit not being a democratic one, realizes that if you want to be like part of the free world, of the decent world, and want to be like engaging in business with this world, you need to be changing. That doesn’t mean we will be seeing a fully-fledged democracy with multiple parties or whatever in Singapore anytime soon. But Singapore is that small that it has the capacity to improve step by step gradually and become a more inherent member of the free world. And that’s something that even though I’m not going into this dichotomy of, of the Cold War, you will be seeing that the countries in the Middle will have to take a stance.
Samuel Armstrong 33:32
Very well put. Dr Lai, I wonder if, if I if I might put up a counterfactual point or sort of a curveball question, if I manage, that, since President Obama announced his pivot to Asia, and since the Five Eyes has been looking at this issue afresh, there is this there is an idea that principally now, China’s military aggression is naval in orientation in theatre. It involves sections in the South China Sea, there’s obviously some aviation, but it’s principally around areas of sea. Now, that to me, as someone who’s used to looking at the European Theatre, reminds me very closely the enhanced forward presence, where NATO sends its troops out to the Baltic states and to Eastern Europe. In part because it is seen as a disincentive for Russia to ever engage in aggression out there because in so doing, they’re putting themselves into direct conflict with the West, risking rate escalation. Now, I put it to you, I don’t necessarily hold this view myself, but I think it’s important we discuss it- I put it to you that what China’s actions in Hong Kong show is that it is not a rational actor in the same way as either the Soviet Union was, or necessarily that the modern Russian Federation is. That it is quite happy to not wholesale, but insofar as it can upset the applecart, and therefore it carries an additional level of risk for the west to engage so strongly in the South China Sea and elsewhere because of China’s ability and President Xi’s seeming willingness to act emotionally rather than rationally.
Dr I-Chung Lai 35:45
Yeah, I think on the way that China has behaved the especially their aggressive probing, and the initiative of several provocative actions brings the question whether the traditional sense of the deterrence really works against this Chinese behaviour. Especially, we added another dimension about the personality of is Xi Jinping, probably he is representative of the political leaders in his generation, who are cultural revolutionaries. 10 years before that, and 10 years after him, we do not see the Chinese leader possessing that kind of character. But the cultural warriors, whether that is under Xi Jinping or earlier, they all represent, or they all appear to possess similar characteristics in making decisions. But nonetheless, I still argue that the military presence can help to dissuade and at least help force the Chinese leadership to really ponder the cost and compare the cost of their actions. If we do not have that kind of break, then according to the occurrence of behaviour patterns, China will just keep pushing and pushing until some day you just cannot stand. Either you had to fight it all back, and that at that time all hell break loose, or you just must surrender, and then China will just take another territory from it. Despite this so-called naval aggression, that China seems to upset the whole applecart, and there’s a lot of emotions running through the leadership equation and making the decisions, but the outside forces to form a break, to force the leadership to consider the costs, the cost benefit analysis, as well as the calculation for them to have the moment to really ponder about the consequences of their actions- that is still very important. It’s not just about China, it has also helped to reassure the countries in the region that they have the opportunity to work together to counter this challenge. Without these actions, the countries here probably will have been left on their own; but with the outside presence, those countries in the area will be able to have the opportunity to really form an interoperable partnership to meet this challenge collectively.
Samuel Armstrong 39:10
That’s a good point on the benefits of the forward deployment of naval assets to the region. I know the UK has been working very closely with Australia, it sees a good opportunity for more inter-operability, for sharing platforms, indeed, saving money in the long term by being able to sell fleets that you’re developing for domestic use to your allies. Xiani, I wonder if you have any thoughts on this on this point just before I turn to turn to questions. Can we rely on the CCP to be rational actors, to do cost benefit analyses, or not?
Xiani Perez-Cheng 39:56
I pointed out that during the time of with Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin there was not this aggressive kind of diplomacy, there was not this kind of aggressive behaviour from the CCP. I’m questioning is this Xi Jinping’s doing. Or is it a combination that China has, for the past decade, been improving as an international actor, and most of the world is dependent on China, regardless of trade, specifically on trade, economy, and when China launched this new Belt and Road initiative. China has been fast tracking their power, the carnal power, to engage with the world. I’m wondering how objective is this. From? Do we really depend on China? Or is this China’s same narrative that we’ve been seduce for we’ve been seduced by this China rant narrative. I think in certain countries they’ve been forced to swallow this same narrative. So, I think we must- democracies, not only Western democracy, because it seems that China’s had won against the West, but we must not forget that in Asia there are also democracies. We have India, we have South Korea, we have Taiwan. Of course, we have a Japan, we have New Zealand, we have Australia. How much do we have to rely on this China narrative, or it is possible for us to, like we are saying, disentangle? Not only from this narrative, but also try to decouple from China. And we must consider this new alternative if it’s possible or feasible for us.
Alexander Gorlach 43:27
Can I quickly jump in there has been the German Bertelsmann foundation just came out with a paper and they work on Economics and Trade regarding China. They said, our trade with non-democracies is, and the narrative would be 30,40, 50% with China, especially from Germany as an explanation, but it’s 15%. So, 15% of our trade goes to China. It’s not like we are all dependent on China, we have this 15% and that’s what we’re talking. Just throwing in that number quickly.
Samuel Armstrong 44:02
Yes, and that leads us brilliantly on to our first question, which I was going to touch on anyway, which is from London. And he says, “given China’s economic stranglehold as the world’s monopolistic supplier of manufactured goods and prominent trade partner, do you see any prospects the democratic world will stand up to China’s territorial ambitions and misadventures?” And it strikes me that it relates very closely to some of our work that we’ve done on strategic import dependency, in which the remarkable thing is that there is almost- there is great trade dependency on China- but there is almost an inverse relationship. I’ve tried to plot it on a line between the number of times a country’s minister has criticized China directly in Parliament and their trade dependency. Australia is the most trade dependent of the Five Eyes on China, yet it is the most vocal, followed by the New Zealand, which is an outlier. And then the US. Within Europe, France and Germany, both of whom have struck very closely to China, are by far the least dependent nations in terms of manufacturing supplies on China yet find themselves cowed. The UK, which has been comparatively more vocal, is depending on how you measure it, either that the most of the second most dependent nation on China within the European scenario, why is that?
Alexander Gorlach 45:37
I mean, there is a, there’s a misconception here. And I mean this in a mostly positive way, I can say: if you do trade, both sides have something from it, both sides gain something from it. So, China also gained something from trading with us. Also, being in the World Trade Organization also means they have access here and we should- we don’t- have access they on equal terms. So, when I lived in Taiwan, in Hong Kong, there was this article, I think, in The Guardian, which talks about pianos in China. Education is so highly valued, people learn the violin and pianos but then they can’t build pianos yet by themselves, so import them from Japan and Germany. I’m not saying that China shouldn’t have or doesn’t have in some future the capability of building pianos by themselves, but for now, they need our pianos. And we need stuff from China. The point now here, what’s changed in trade agreements is that we consider workers conditions. When I was in Colombia and Chile, we talked about one belt one road, and then I said, well, we couldn’t do anything with the Chinese because they were wanting to build our harbour. But then we said, okay, we have our workers here said, no, no, we bring our own, of course, they bring their own and they are treated like shit and have no like workers’ rights. Of course, then you can build a harbour very cheaply. But that’s not how we do it under our standards. In the trade agreements nowadays, and more and more so in the European Union in particular, will bring in like these factors, which have been considered soft factors in the in the past, but include environmentalism, workers’ rights. These are all like important issues that are an equally important and entrenched in a in a trade agreement. So, in the past, we might have thought, if the conduct between countries is on a rational basis, we can downplay some political issues. We now see that’s not feasible anymore in Germany- now with Russia, NordStream two is another pipeline, a gas pipeline coming into Germany, but now with Putin being even more villainous and poisoning Mr. Lavanya, who is now in Germany recovering, the German government has been taking a new standard from Merkel, who’s not known to be very vocal when it comes to National Human Rights. I mean to articulate new ideas, innovative ideas for foreign diplomacy, but we felt here in Germany Russia had been crossing a threshold, which we cannot just pretend it never happened. So now this pipeline is under renewed scrutiny and might not even happen. So, I feel there is a basic misconception here that is then also, like, highlighted by this 15%, that we all together must trade with China.
Samuel Armstrong 48:27
Thank you very much for that. Alexander. We’ve got an excellent question here from Jonathan Campbell James, who I think I’m correct in saying has a naval background. But forgive me if I’m wrong here. But he asks that if the CCP were to execute an operation and steal the Pratas islands, which for those who don’t know it’s a small archipelago of volcanic islands that are administered and governed by Taiwan, in the Taiwan straits. How could the free world come to Taiwan’s aid? How would Taiwan like to be assisted in these circumstances? What can we actually do here? Dr. Lai, I wonder if I could come to you.
Dr I-Chung Lai 49:14
Yes, I think the right now the Chinese CCP and military activities, we do notice that like 90% that concentrate on around the area of Pratas, whether we saw that as a pattern of the fighter jets penetrations, or basically sailing directly across the Pratas, separating Pratas from Taiwan. So yes, right now the Pratas situation is precarious. And I’m not saying it has great tensions but raised a lot of concern. But it also means that the since the island is located at a juncture of the Taiwan straits as well as the entrance point to the South China Sea. So, the Pratas, apparently to China, is a very strategic important position that they wanted to go out of the first island chain, right now it seems to me that they are relying on the past route through the Pratas straight, and the control over the Pratas as that is the first priority for them. So, they wanted to challenge, to really form a capability to have effective defense against the incoming foreign military presence such as the United States. But right now, I will say that the Pratas legal status is unquestionably Taiwan’s. Even in the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty, the Pratas is considered to be part of Taiwan. So, there’s no question about it. And then the invasion or the takeaway of the Pratas, that means a full out war on Taiwan. So, there’s no question about it, and we’re going to treat it as such. And that will basically trigger in our view, whether the US will come in or our allies or partners would like to assist us, because the Pratas to us, that’s not only legally is part of Taiwan. It also means that China will be able to have free rein in an out of the straits, which will compose another very threatening military establishment in the east side of Taiwan. That is not good to us. But this is how important the Pratas is. I will say that people should not talk lightly about the invasion or takeaway of the Pratas, because it could trigger the Cold war not only in China, but also been in China and probably some other part of the world.
Samuel Armstrong 52:33
So, Doctor Lai, if I might, this strikes me as the crucial question as to how confident foreign policy thinkers and defence thinkers in Taiwan are that the American government, which plays a crucial role in guaranteeing the security of Taiwan, would consider an action in the Pratas islands to trigger it. And should we, should people who are campaigning in the China space who are concerned about this issue, should we ask our politicians much more direct questions about the Pratas islands? Should we be demanding specific assurances from them in this space?
Dr I-Chung Lai 53:25
Well, I think generally we have good confidence in the United States, in terms of the invasion of Taiwan scenarios, and about the military assistance from them. Of course, in work in what form that is, I will just leave that to the experts, but we have a good confidence that the US will come to the aid of Taiwan, should the Taiwan strait contingency happen. So, the issue is not just about what the US come to Taiwan, for this tiny island apparatus. It is rather the way the United States come to Taiwan aid, seeing the issue about the contingency that was threatened. The US sustaining the military presence here and its capabilities. I think right now the strategic dialogue between Taiwan and United States in all levels, especially around the parameters in my view, probably is also going on. I’m not going to probably speculate how much of the US will actually come to Taiwan for some specific scenarios. But generally, I will say that the confidence about the United States on assisting Taiwan is good.
Samuel Armstrong 54:53
Thank you very much for that. We’ve run out of time, but if I might, I will ask a hypothetical, a speculative, a forward-looking question to all of my panellists and ask for an answer in a sort of sentence or less. Which is, in 30 years’ time is this, what seems to be a burgeoning conflict between China and the Western world develops, how will historians look back on China’s actions in Hong Kong this year? How important will they be? Are they going to form a kind of Berlin style significance? A Korean War style significance? Are we going to look back at this as a sort of triggering of the conflicts that that that went on for some time to come? Will this be the step change moment? Alexander, perhaps I can start with you.
Alexander Gorlach 56:01
I feel like in 30 years’ time, I’m almost confident we will see a democratic China. There is like the crucial phase now is until 2023, when Xi Jinping is officially made like Emperor for life. This Emperor, if that’s going to happen, the whole meritocratic system of the Communist Party in China will crumble, it’s going be like a banana republic. Now, if you were like working in the countryside and made it from the lowest tiers to the highest in the party, there was always a promise for you, as a young Chinese to, you know, to make it in the country. And now this notion rests on the success of surveillance technologies. So, we also are not very sure about whether that’s going to happen. Once this has shattered the Chinese dream from within the country, and as we talked about earlier, already, like an NBA player is tweeting something, and the whole of China is like getting nervous about it and ranting about it globally, that’s not sovereignty. That’s not coolness, that’s full of paranoia. So, I feel like there is a good chance that this ideological like realm that Xi Jinping has erected is going to crumble in each time. But we must, of course, survive the next the next few years and not in devolves into a war scenario.
Samuel Armstrong 57:26
There’s an optimistic note from Alexander, Xiani what’s your take?
Xiani Perez-Cheng 57:32
I’m afraid I cannot be as optimistic as Alex. If I had to predict how what is happening right now in Hong Kong is going to be talked about in 30 years, it’s going to depends on how the whole geopolitics is going to evolve through the next 30 years. Going by Tiananmen, we thought at that point, we thought that Tiananmen was going to be a game changer. And it wasn’t. We have allowed China and even forgave China for past aggressions because we all thought that we had this integration policy and that we were going to engage China in the International Monetary Fund, in the World Bank, in the WTO. And we’re going to go forward with engaging China in economics, and we’re going to try to get China into the full international community. And we hoped that by engaging, China will open China to liberalizing and aging towards democracy. This has not been the case. We are seeing that right now. So, I think that the changing point is right now. Are we still going to go forward with this engaging China policy? I’m not advocating for confronting the China but calling out to China and saying, okay, you’re now a power, a global power, and you have responsibilities. How are we going to engage China from now is what is going to define the next 30 or 50, or the next half century?
Samuel Armstrong 1:00:30
Yes, Xiani. Thank you for that. I’ve got to turn to Dr Lia now, in a sentence or less, if possible. What’s your take? How symbolic or how important will the transactions in Hong Kong this year be seen as?
Dr l-Chung Lai 1:00:46
I think, definitely, it will resemble a wonder historical and episodic moments. Whether that’s like Berlin or the North Korea invasion on South Korea, we had to wait to see, because that means that it is such as Berlin or the North house and North invasion, a South Korean War scenario, which means that there will be sustained separation or confrontation between those two camps and that Hong Kong will be under the authoritarian Chinese rule for a certain period of time- which subjectively I would not like to see. But on the other hand, one thing we did didn’t really mention about Hong Kong is how, in the last 50 years, Hong Kong has played a central role in terms of the regional integration in in this area. Right now, for Hong Kong, that’ll probably will be gone, and then associated with it, the regional integration will be much dimmer. And that will bring on the likelihood of the political as well as social and economic separation or two of those two blocks. This, to me, seems that the release scenarios probably 30 years from now, we’re going to see it, but I hope that we don’t have to wait for 30 years, and probably 10 years things will move towards what Alex said, and move toward a more positive and a brighter future for all of us.
Samuel Armstrong 1:02:28
Well, thank you very much. All that remains for me to say is thank you very much to our speakers, and to our partners to the Taiwanese representative office in hosting today’s event. Your speakers were Alexandre Gorlach, Dr I-Chung Lai and Xiani Perez-Chang. They’ve all been brilliant. Thank you very much. Dr Gorlach has got two excellent books out at the moment, both of which I commend to you. They’re both available on Amazon, I commend them face to you, they’re a good read. But my German, as my old teacher will tell you is less than sufficient to read a book of that length. But, based on the one that I have read, I commend them both to you. And thank you very much indeed. And we look forward to hosting you very soon indeed for another Henry Jackson Society event as we continue to face down the world in troublesome and unprecedented and complicated times indeed. So, thank you very much. Good morning from London and we hope to see you very soon indeed.