Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Can China Be Deterred?

From the East China Sea to the South China Sea, including Hong Kong and Taiwan, the risk of conflict has increased in recent years. Can a cohesive alliance strategy hold off China’s mounting aggression on territorial disputes? Can deterrence prevent war? 

The Crossley Center for Public Opinion Research, with the University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies, and the Consulate-General of Japan in Denver, assembled a panel of experts on March 31 that discussed the threats and options for the U.S.-Japan alliance. The panel focused on the issues that have made Asia the U.S.’s primary foreign policy arena, Japan its critical ally, and China the competitor. The first trip abroad of the American Secretaries of State and Defense were to their counterparts in Japan. Japanese Foreign Minister Motegi said on March 16th that the “free and open international order is greatly challenged by attempts to change the status quo by force and progress of authoritarian system.” Secretary Blinken agreed: “China uses coercion and aggression to systemically erode autonomy in Hong Kong, undercut democracy in Taiwan, abuse human rights in Xinjiang and Tibet, and assert maritime claims in the South China Sea that violate international law.”

The panel was moderated by Floyd Ciruli, director of the Crossley Center. The panelists shared these key points:

Mr. Tsuneo “Nabe” Watanabe – Senior fellow of the Sasakawa Peace Foundation 

  • Japan is a frontline country against an aggressive China — similar to Germany’s role in the Cold War between Russia and the U.S.
  • Japan is now taking a stronger stance in promoting stability and peace in the Indo-Pacific. It’s good to know that U.S. leaders support a U.S.-Japan alliance.
  • Cooperation among the U.S., Japan, the Republic of Korea and other Indo-Pacific countries is critical for shared security and peace; South Korea and others remain cautious.
  • China is determined to challenge territorial disputes in the area and its Coast Guard has become a military-like force.
  • Many in Japan remain reluctant to arm itself, despite aggression by China to seize sovereign territories — we’re wary of entrapment and wary of abandonment.
  • If the U.S. started military engagement to defend Taiwan, Japan is a target of Chinese military action and some people are very worried about that. The majority in Japan clearly think Japan needs to work with the U.S. It is very clear that Japan would take sides with the U.S. over China – or even Russia – because of the strength of the U.S.
  • The misinformation in the world is really important. Some Japanese people – not the majority – still believe that Trump won and Biden cheated his way to victory. If a country really wanted to divide Japan and the U.S., it could use misinformation warfare. That could be possible in the case of Taiwan. We should be very careful about perceptions.

Ms. Dina Smeltz – Senior fellow on public opinion and foreign policy, Chicago Council on Global Affairs 

  • American opinion toward Japan over the past 40-some years remains positive and has risen in the last decade (to 65% favorable).
  • Japan’s attitude toward the U.S. was at a low point during the Trump Administration (from 68% favorable during the Obama years down to 24%; now at 41%)
  • Japanese people still consider the U.S. its most important ally (66% opposed to 9% for China)
  • Americans, although tired of endless war, would support use of force if North Korea attacked Japan (from 48% in 2015 to 64% in 2018). 
  • The U.S. is generally reluctant to engage in military force against China because of its perceived might — only 44 percent would support Japan in a conflict with China over disputed islands, and 40 percent would support Taiwan if invaded by China.
  • US views of China are the lowest (32% favorable) since 1978; it sees China as a rival, not a partner — and this is becoming a bipartisan sentiment.
  • Americans are now paying attention to issues associated with the Indo-Pacific.

Professor Lewis K. Griffith – Professor and director of the International Security and Homeland Security Programs at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies 

  • In 2005-2006, during the Bush administration, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld intended to declare that China was America’s greatest threat; Secretary of State Rice vehemently argued the need to downplay the rivalry. 
  • After Trump singled out China as a foremost threat and Biden, from the opposing party, has maintained that stance, the posture is now policy.
  • With the bounds of the US/China relationship established, we must formulate a clear strategy
  • Japan has also signaled that China is perceived as a rival and Australia is leaning that direction; the political costs have gone down in openly confronting China.
  • Given where we are now, and with China not willing to retreat, we need to answer these questions: Can a deterrent strategy from a coalition of countries not include containment? Should defense of Taiwan be the West Berlin of the policy? How do we affectively signal to China the commitment of the U.S. and its partners?

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