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In October 2022, the Chinese Communist Party elected Xi Jinping for a third term as general secretary, setting Xi on a path to be the longest-serving leader since Mao Zedong’s rule ended in 1976.

The extension of Xi’s rule carries significant implications not only for China, but for the broader Indo-Pacific region and global geopolitical order. No country is more aware of this than Taiwan, which has carefully walked the line between its own autonomy and Beijing’s desire for reunification since the 1940s.

After a summer of rising tensions, many experts believe that Beijing’s timeline for an attempt at reunification is much shorter than conventional thinking has assumed. On the World Class podcast, Michael McFaul, director of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, discusses the prognosis for Taiwan with Oriana Skylar Mastro, an expert on the Chinese military and security, and Larry Diamond, a scholar of China’s sharp power and the role of Taiwan in the Indo-Pacific region.

Listen to the full episode and read highlights from their conversation below.

Click the link for a full transcript of “What We Need To Talk About When We Talk About Taiwan.“

The Likelihood of Invasion


In stark terms, Oriana Skylar Mastro, a center fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, believes there’s a 100% chance China will use some sort of force against Taiwan in the next five years. For the last twenty years, China has been making concerted efforts to modernize its military and increase its capabilities not only to assert force against Taiwan, but to deter intervention from the United States.

In the majority of scenarios, the United States wins in a conflict with China over Taiwan. But the United States also carries a distinct geographic disadvantage. The distance across the Taiwan Strait between the island and mainland China is approximately 100 miles, which is roughly the distance between Richmond, Virginia and Washington D.C. If China moves quickly, PRC forces could take Taiwan before U.S. forces have time to move into position.

When considering possible outcomes in Taiwan, it is equally important to consider the motivations driving Beijing’s ambitions. The leadership on the mainland has been planning and thinking about how to retake Taiwan since 1949. With the modernized capabilities coming online, the balance of power has shifted in China’s military favor, and the cost-benefit calculus favors Beijing’s ambitions. The long-term planning stage is now reaching its end, and the prospects of direct action are increasing.

The clock is ticking. The problem is we don’t know how fast it’s ticking. But we need to move faster than we're moving.
Larry Diamond
Mosbacher Senior Fellow in Global Democracy at FSI

The View from Taipei


Political leaders in Taiwan recognize the growing danger they face across the Strait. In Larry Diamond’s assessment, the end of Hong Kong's autonomy and the suppression of the “one country, two systems” model, the rising military incursions into Taiwan's air defense identification zone and coastal waters, and the whole rising pace of Chinese military intimidation has sobered Taiwan and visibly impacted Taiwanese public opinion.

Concerningly though, while the political elite recognize the real and present danger of the situation, polling of the general Taiwan public suggests that the vast majority of citizens still feel like an attack or an invasion by China is unlikely. Similar majorities suggest that they would be willing to fight in Taiwan’s defense, but volunteering for military service remains at a minimum.

To maximize safety, Taiwan needs to find ways to strengthen itself in its ability to defend, resist, and deter China, while still avoiding any appearance of moving toward permanent independence or any other action that could be deemed by Beijing as a provocation, says Diamond.

There are things that can completely change Beijing's calculus, but it takes a lot of work, and I just don't see us doing the work yet.
Oriana Skylar Mastro
FSI Center Fellow

What the United States Can Do


When it comes to the defense of Taiwan, the strategic crutch hobbling the United States is geography. Most of the U.S. Pacific forces are not in Asia. The majority are in Hawaii and California, as well as a few bases and airfields in Japan. To be able to effectively deter China, the U.S. needs far greater forward deployed military capability in order to be able to either stop or stall the movement of Chinese troops into Taiwan, says Mastro.

Taiwan needs greater onshore military deterrence capabilities as well. One such strategy is the “porcupine approach,” which increases the number of smaller mobile lethal weapons. By Larry Diamond’s assessment, increased citizen participation in military training is also crucial, with an emphasis on weapons training and urban defense tactics. The U.S. could support these aims by overhauling the current system for weapons procurement to speed up the production and delivery of weapons systems not just for Taiwan, but to the benefit of U.S. defense and other contingencies as well. Working with leadership to create strategic stockpiles of food, and energy should also be a priority, says Diamond.

The U.S. also needs to put much more effort into its diplomatic efforts on behalf of Taiwan. Many U.S. allies and partners are reluctant to ostracize China because of economic ties and concerns over sparking their own conflict with China in the future. A key ally in all of this is Japan. If Japan fights with the United States on behalf of Taiwan, it is a guaranteed win and enough to effectively deter China. But much more needs to be done much more quickly in order to secure those guarantees and present them in a convincing way to Beijing.

“The clock is ticking,” Larry Diamond says. “And the problem is we don’t know how fast it’s ticking. “Taiwan is moving in the right direction. But we need to move faster than we're moving.”

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A Taiwanese F-5 fighter jet is seen after taking off from Chihhang Air Base on August 06, 2022 in Taitung, Taiwan.
Commentary

China’s Huge Exercises Around Taiwan Were a Rehearsal, Not a Signal, Says Oriana Skylar Mastro

Nancy Pelosi’s visit was more pretext than provocation.
China’s Huge Exercises Around Taiwan Were a Rehearsal, Not a Signal, Says Oriana Skylar Mastro
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Larry Diamond and Oriana Skylar Mastro join Michael McFaul on the World Class podcast to discuss China’s ambitions against Taiwan, and how the U.S. and its allies can deter Beijing.

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Portraits of Sinderpal Singh and Arzan Tarapore with text about a webinar on the implications of the US-China competition for South Asia.

How is India posturing to manage strategic competition in the Indian Ocean? Thus far US-China security competition has been most acute in the western Pacific, but Chinese capability growth and strategic policies suggest that it also seeks a leading role in the northern Indian Ocean, in the not-too-distant future. India has traditionally considered itself the natural dominant power in the Indian Ocean region, but it has never faced the scale and types of competition that China will present. Does India have the wherewithal to maintain its leadership in the region? How will India work with the United States, bilaterally and through groupings such as the Quad, as they seek to maintain the status quo in the face of Chinese challenges? Is the Indian Ocean bound for militarized competition, or can India, the US, and China find a pathway to strategic coexistence?

Panelist

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Headshot photograph of Dr. Sinderpal Singh
Dr. Sinderpal Singh is Senior Fellow and Assistant Director, Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, and concurrently Coordinator of the South Asia Programme at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. In the fall of 2022, he has been appointed as the McCain Fulbright Scholar in Residence at the United States Naval Academy. His research interests include the international relations of South Asia with a special focus on Indian foreign policy, the geopolitics of the Indian Ocean Region, and India-Southeast Asia relations. He is currently writing a book on India’s role in the Indian Ocean since 1992 and is the author of India in South Asia: Domestic Identity Politics and Foreign Policy from Nehru to the BJP (Routledge 2013). He received his Ph.D. from the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, his MA from the Australian National University, and his BA from the National University of Singapore.

Moderator

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Square headshot photograph of Arzan Tarapore
Dr. Arzan Tarapore is the South Asia research scholar at the Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center at Stanford University, where he leads the newly-restarted South Asia Initiative. His research focuses on military strategy, Indian defense policy, and contemporary Indo-Pacific security issues. Prior to his scholarly career, he served as an analyst in the Australian Defence Department. Arzan holds a Ph.D. in war studies from King’s College London.

This webinar is co-sponsored by the Center for South Asia

Arzan Tarapore
Arzan Tarapore

Virtual via Zoom Webinar

Sinderpal Singh Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies, and South Asia Programme Senior Fellow, Assistant Director S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University

Shorenstein APARC
Stanford University
Encina Hall, E301
Stanford,  CA  94305-6055

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Visiting Scholar at APARC, 2022-23
Faith_Posey.jpg

Lieutenant Colonel Faith Posey joins the Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center (Shorenstein APARC) as Visiting Scholar for the 2022-2023 academic year. Lt. Col. Posey currently serves in the United States Air Force. While at APARC, she will be conducting research regarding security and international relations issues in the Asia-Pacific.

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This interview with Oriana Skylar Mastro was originally published by the Center for Advanced China Research.


A little over a year ago, you pointed out in an article in Foreign Affairs that there is “no quick and easy fix” for the United States to ensure Taiwan’s security. How would you assess the United States’ Taiwan policy in the time since you wrote those words? How much progress has Washington made in improving Taiwan’s security picture and our military posture in the region?

Unfortunately, I don’t think we have made much progress in those particular areas. One of the reasons I wrote that article is that I was trying to make the argument that an assessment of US capabilities right now is largely driving Chinese thinking. They are assessing US capabilities and also their own capabilities to achieve certain military goals much more than they are assessing questions of resolve, as I wrote in that article. Chinese strategists are assuming US military intervention. Unfortunately, the Biden administration seems to still be focused on this communication of resolve aspect, and they spend a lot of their time and effort doing things like signing joint declarations about how Taiwan is important or having Biden make statements that lean much more towards strategic clarity, saying they’re going to defend Taiwan. I don’t think this enhances deterrence because this is not the primary factor that Beijing is currently considering when they’re deciding whether or not to attack Taiwan. It’s really about those capabilities.

Under the Biden administration, there’s more consideration of what Taiwan needs to defend itself, but none of that has actually come to fruition to any significant degree. There’s also more consideration about the need for more funding for things like the Pacific Deterrence Initiative, but not much has actually come to fruition on that either. So I think we’re not in any better position than we were when I wrote that article.

It sounds like you feel that the communicative aspect of deterrence doesn’t matter and that it’s only capabilities that matter, but you have also argued in the New York Times that the United States would be “outgunned” in a Taiwan conflict, which you based on tabletop exercises that you’ve been a part of and other assessments. If the United States is really at a military disadvantage in a Taiwan contingency, are US capabilities really the thing that’s deterring China anymore, or is it simply the geographical challenges in conquering the island, which you also talked about? Is the US military factor not really doing the deterrence job anymore?

I see those as the same thing. I say the United States is “outgunned,” and this is more of a balance of forces type of scenario, but the most important thing to keep in mind is, I’m talking about situations under which China initiates the conflict. So if we’re in that scenario, they’re going to find a time and place that is most favorable to them and least favorable to the United States. There are many ways the war could happen that the United States wins. So it’s not the case that China wins every time, but I guess part of my argument is, China is going to try to not fight those wars that they know that they would lose and instead guide the conflict towards areas of success, and one big aspect of that is moving quickly. So the problem with the amphibious assault is, let’s just say it’s completely uncontested, you’re just talking about a couple of hours of moving ships across a narrow strait, that’s not quite so difficult. The issue is if there’s any contestation. And sure, Taiwan is a component of this, but Taiwan doesn’t really have the military means, even with the geography and difficulty of landing stuff. Taiwan has the means to impose some costs on China for the invasion but not to stop the invasion. The real question is whether or not the United States can bring the massive firepower needed in a timely manner while they're trying to conduct that invasion, and a lot of that has to do with the amount of early warning the United States gets, whether or not we can get better at more quickly deploying our assets, things of that sort. So I think the Chinese calculations about how difficult the invasion is going to be are also predicated on how quickly and with what the United States can respond once it becomes apparent that the invasion is underway.

You also talked in the New York Times article about the difficulty of responding given that we have a limited number of air bases that are within refueling range, and of course our forces are dispersed all over the globe. How dire, for lack of a better word, do you think the situation is for the US military? Is this something that we could fix with more aircraft carriers in the region, or is this something that we can only do over a longer time frame? You have mentioned trying to get more basing rights in regional partners; is this something that we really stand a decent chance of addressing in the near term, or is that something that it would just take longer to do?

It’s very dire, and it’s not even just the number of bases. As a crazy hypothetical example, let’s say that the president says tomorrow, Asia is so important that now I’m dedicating all military forces to Asia. There’s no place we could put them! These airfields, for example, can only generate so many sorties, they can only house so many aircraft. It’s not like all of a sudden you can put all these forces forward deployed in Asia.

I don’t want to say that it’s long-term because these things can happen quite quickly when there’s political will on both sides, but it really is a diplomatic problem, it really is about getting the United States more access and more flexible access to the bases we already have, because there are rules, regulations, and restrictions to what we can have certain places, what types of operations we can do. The South Koreans, for example, we have to consult ahead of time, we have all these sorts of things that slow us down, and so we do need more places from which we can operate, and we need more flexibility with our allies and partners in how we operate when the time comes. That is going to be negotiated and that is going to be paved by diplomats.

So when Secretary Blinken says he wants to lead with diplomacy, I’m all for that, but you have to actually put in that work, and I don’t see that work being put in with key countries in the region.

Given that the Biden administration has already been in office for a year and a half, do you feel that’s something that is likely to be turned around, or do you think we’re going to be stuck in neutral for the foreseeable future?

I think the Biden administration is a bit risk averse. There’s a number of very logical reasons for this. They inherited a mess domestically, just like President Obama before, having to dig our way out of economic troubles and with COVID and all these other issues. I’m not an expert on American domestic politics, but my sense is that you always need support for certain policies, and so where are you going to be pushing things forward? Is it going to be on gun reform, or is it going to be on bases in Palau? And you know that because of the hostility of our politics these days, if things aren’t easy and perfect and everything isn’t going the way it’s supposed to go, the opposing party is going to jump down your neck about it. And so I understand the reluctance, the desire to engage with countries that we already have close relationships with and that we already do things with, the easier route of less resistance, versus potentially seriously reconsidering what our force posture should look like in a Taiwan conflict, because then you’re talking about changing your relationship with countries that are not unproblematic, like Vietnam. So I get why they are reluctant. Even with diplomatic initiatives, if they put together an initiative to try to regulate military uses in outer space or in cyber for the first time, what if it failed, what if no one came along with us? Politically, that wouldn’t look good, so I understand why they’re reluctant to try and fail. But I think just in government more generally, we can’t always predict all aspects of things, and we think doing nothing is better than something. But in this competition, we can try smaller-scale stuff, see how it works out, see what happens, and then hopefully experimentation in military strategy becomes more politically viable.

What happens after a Taiwan conflict? A lot of the discussion about a war over Taiwan is predicated on the idea that it’s a vital US interest, but is there a scenario in which Taiwan gets “reunified” but the United States’ network of alliances in Asia remains intact? Or is it an all-or-nothing deal, like a lot of people assume?

It completely depends on how it happens. Let’s say China moves very quickly and the United States is not able to come to Taiwan’s aid in time. That doesn’t really call into question US capability. For example, we have US forces in Japan, we have the forces necessary to defend Japan that are already there, so that’s a different scenario than the United States, with all of its might, waging major naval battles and major air battles and losing. Then, all of a sudden, I think the alliance system is more likely to fall apart because then it becomes clear to countries in Asia that the United States military no longer has the capability to stand up to the Chinese military, so then we see a lot more bandwagoning. So it kind of depends on what the United States’ role is in the actual conflict, and then a lot of it depends on the political decisions the United States makes after the conflict. One of the things I point out, for example, about the economic ramifications of a conflict or whether or not the United States has access to semiconductors and things like that, is that a lot of that depends on the US. We’re going to sanction, we’re going to prevent ourselves from engaging with the new Taiwan as punishment to China for taking Taiwan, that’s my most likely prediction of how the United States, at least politically and economically, is going to respond. We won’t recognize it, and then we’re going to try to lead some very serious decoupling economic sanctions against Beijing, so one of the ramifications of that war could be very serious economically if all of a sudden now we have two blocs and China and the United States don’t trade at all. Alternatively, it could be very minimal, if Europe and the US are like, “well, we didn’t want that to happen, but now it did, so let’s move on,” and we continue a similar economic relationship with Taiwan and China even in spite of that use of force. So whatever the situation is, it’s worse than if we defend Taiwan and win, that much I know for sure, but then in terms of how bad it would be for the United States and our allies and partners, I think that depends on so many of those factors it’s hard to say with 100% certainty what the situation will be.

Could the fear of losing all that credibility in a direct conflict with China over Taiwan create an incentive not to fight or to accept one of the phased invasions you talked about in the Foreign Affairs piece?

Yeah. I mean, that’s actually one of my biggest fears, that China moves quickly and the United States looks at the situation and says, “well, you could send this, but we know it’s not going to be enough.” So actually I think the worst-case scenario is that the United States sends some sort of token force. This is also why I’m very much against the statements Biden is making about strategic clarity, because I think it means that people in the administration are so focused on the rhetorical aspect of credibility that they might think it’s a good idea to send a token force so you can say that you tried, but it didn't work, and in my mind, that’s the worst of both worlds, because again, it might give people the impression that the United States doesn’t have the capability to defend them anymore, and then also China gets to defeat the United States. So in my mind, if the situation is such that we know we cannot win, I’m sorry to say, but I think it’s better that we don’t do anything versus sending some sort of token force to say, oh, well, you know, at least we tried.

But doesn’t the existence of that issue, the possibility that it would be more in our interest not to fight, reinforce the notion that we should have strategic clarity if we want to deter an attack?

Well, no, because again, China is not moving with the expectation that we will not fight. When they make that decision, they have to take a look at what’s going to happen if the United States counters [them], can they still win, so whether or not we do or we don’t in the end, they’re basing it on that worst-case scenario thinking. Of course, if tomorrow the United States said, we won’t defend Taiwan under any circumstances, that would impact Beijing’s calculus. I guess my point is it’s not about not saying anything at all, it’s just that in the 1990s, it used to be the case that if the United States would intervene, China could never win, and so making those clear statements would have really significantly impacted their decision-making, but that’s no longer the case.

You spoke in both those articles about the possibility of China striking US bases at the outset of a conflict. Would that create a risk of NATO allies and other US partners being drawn into the conflict, and if so, would that even be a factor for China?

So the short answer is no, which is really disturbing. I’m here speaking to you in my civilian capacity, and my views do not represent those of the United States Air Force, the Department of Defense, or the US Government. But I was just on military orders out in NATO – and I’m a China expert, so I’m with all of our NATO partners and allies, but I’m not an expert on NATO, and of course, we start talking about Article V, and I’m very curious about this exact question that you have about mutual defense if the United States or a US European presence is attacked. [Article V] very specifically makes reference to US European forward bases, so I asked explicitly if US forces are attacked in Japan, or attacked in Korea, does Article V cover that? It seems like the specification of European bases means no. They wouldn’t give me a direct answer on that. And so then I emailed some European specialists and NATO specialists at Stanford because I thought maybe they know, and they said, no, it’s very vague, you should keep on harassing them about it. So the bottom line is that Europe wants no part of this. It seems to me that the way that the NATO treaty is written, they’re not obligated to do anything, militarily I mean, and I think they’re probably not, and I’ve never heard or seen any situation in which people are considering European military involvement. So I would say no to Europe.

Now, the situation with Asian allies is a bit different. It completely depends. I mean, I have heard people in Japan, for example, Japanese government officials have told me that attacks on US bases wouldn’t necessarily constitute an attack on Japan enough to trigger the clause that allows them self-defense. But we’ve had that understanding for quite some time, I mean, we even fought a whole war in Vietnam and the Japanese wouldn’t let us use Japanese bases for combat reasons during the Vietnam war. If China attacks the United States, you could also say that that creates a lot of disincentives for countries to allow the United States to engage in military operations from their territory if China has already demonstrated the willingness to use military force against those bases. So China will also go to countries and say, “listen, we won’t do anything to you as long as you don’t allow the Americans to operate,” and then that sort of puts the burden on them to make that decision.

When you were talking about that NATO summit, was it government officials you were talking to who weren’t giving you a straight answer about that?

I was there in uniform, so it was all military members.

Once you have Chinese forces on Taiwan, it’s my view that there’s nothing we can do to get them to leave.
Oriana Skylar Mastro

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Maybe a more important question related to that – would a preemptive attack on US bases in Asia have a significant impact on the United States’ willingness to fight and try to win a longer, escalated war, a la Pearl Harbor?

So that’s the thing – just like Pearl Harbor, it’s the same calculus. The United States has significant advantages in a protracted war against China. So China’s making the same calculation that the Japanese made, right? That they can win before those advantages come into play, before the United States can reconstitute its forces, before the United States can flow more forces in the region, even if the United States has the will to do that – because even strategic clarity just says you’re willing to fight, but it doesn't tell you anything about the costs we’re willing to absorb to fight. So they’re making a very similar bet, that they’ll get to Taiwan before that happens. Because once you have Chinese forces on Taiwan, it’s my view that there’s nothing we can do to get them to leave.

So you don’t think we have the military capability to get them off the island or to take any part of the island?

No, I mean, this is – it would have to be a brute force strategy, given the difference in resolve at that point. Then I think we’re kind of toast. That’s why I feel like we have to stop them from the landing.

[On an earlier point,] China would be deterred if they felt like a coalition of all European and Asian allies were going to fight against them.

That’s really what I was asking – would the deterrent effect of that outweigh the advantages of them hitting US bases in Japan?

Oh, yeah, absolutely, so you don’t even need everyone, you just need Japan. If Japan was going to fight militarily with the United States, we win. We win that war every time.

Wow, I didn’t know that – like in the tabletops?

I would just say based on my experience of thinking about planning and forces, that with the United States’ ability for allowing to operate our forces from Japan – we have one airbase, and I forget the numbers, but Japan has thirty, forty airbases – all of a sudden, where we can operate from, our sortie rates, or ability to achieve air superiority is significantly advanced. Japan also has, second to China, the most advanced Navy in the region and one of the most advanced in the world, so if they’re projecting power with their navy into the Taiwan Strait, they can hold them off on their own for a period of time. That definitely gives us enough time to flow what we need.

So it sounds like Japan’s involvement is really the key question, almost.

Yeah, but it’s kind of one of these, like, magic unicorns. Also, if we could all of a sudden not require fuel to conduct military operations…

Is it that unlikely, though? Because Japanese officials have been talking more about how important Taiwan is to Japan’s defense since last year.

No, I mean, even when they make those strong statements and then have meetings with Japanese government officials, I asked them about those strong statements, and often I’m like, are you actually going to do something? They say, well, no, we’re still not going to do anything, but we just want to voice our unhappiness or voice our solidarity with the United States. But it’s not like operationally things are really changing in Japan, in my understanding. I’m not an expert in Japanese domestic politics, but it’s my understanding that this is a bit of a gray area of how it would go.

What are your thoughts about China signing a security cooperation agreement with the Solomon Islands? Are Western concerns about the military consequences of that agreement overblown? Does China’s subsequent attempt to secure a multilateral security agreement with ten more Pacific Island countries suggest that it wants military bases throughout the Pacific?

I think it’s too soon to tell. You know, in my own research about Chinese military strategy, I do argue that there are many aspects of the US approach which they have not emulated to date, not because of lack of capability, but because they feel like those approaches are ineffective. And one of those is a global military presence coupled with forward military intervention as a main tool of promoting your interests. A lot of aspects of how they’ve protected overseas interests to date over the past 25 years have been fundamentally different than how the United States does it. And so I was very interested when that agreement was signed about what the actual details of those [other] agreements were. Is China preparing to engage in high-intensity combat operations from these bases, or are they more logistics hubs, or [are they] for surveillance and reconnaissance against the United States? That would still not be great, but it would be a different operating concept of how a base structure would fit into overall military strategy than what it is for the United States. And so I actually think that we shouldn’t be discouraging China from having overseas bases, because we’re at such an advantage. China is at an advantage only a couple hundred miles from its coast – 2, 3, 400 if we’re generous – but if they go any farther, we destroy-- we would knock them out of the park. So if all of a sudden China wants to start contesting us militarily in other parts of the world, I recognize that that’s uncomfortable from the perspective of a lot of other countries who are there, but my perspective as a military planner is that this is the way that we maintain our military position. China is just so far behind in its ability to project power to the degree that the United States does that this would give us a significant advantage and a significant ability to impose costs on them in the short term. So I’m not particularly concerned about it. If China does start building these bases, it means that it’s significantly shifted its thinking on military strategy, and I think towards a direction in which they’re trying to directly compete with the United States, and my research shows that whenever they try to directly compete with us, we win every time. So I’m not as concerned about that as I am about how they can be pretty entrepreneurial about exploiting US weaknesses or gaps and competing with us less directly.

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Oriana Skylar Mastro

Oriana Skylar Mastro is a Center Fellow at FSI and is based at APARC, where her research focuses on Chinese military and security policy, Asia-Pacific security issues, war termination, nuclear dynamics and coercive diplomacy.
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Center Fellow Oriana Skylar Mastro talks to the Center For Advanced China Research about the risk of Chinese attacks on U.S. military bases in Asia at the outset of a Taiwan conflict, the likelihood of Japanese or NATO involvement in a war over Taiwan, the downsides of focusing on communicating resolve to defend Taiwan, whether the United States is “outgunned” by China, and more.

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Banner card for the 2022 Oksenberg Conference

This year’s Oksenberg Conference, "Prospects for the New Sino-Russian Partnership,” explores the “why” and “so what” of this newly bolstered alliance that has been declared as a partnership “with no limits.” What does it mean for the U.S. and other non-autocratic states? Given Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the unprecedented economic sanctions that the US and its allies have slapped on Russia in the wake of that attack, the more immediately important question is: What does this alliance mean for China? How strong is this new bond with Russia? China now finds itself in an extremely difficult position as it tries to protect its own economic relationships with the US and its allies in Europe and Asia. What can or will China do about Russia? How was this alliance sold to the domestic audience of each country?

A roundtable of experts on China and Russia, including those with extensive government experience, joins us to examine this critically important relationship and address the many questions that it raises. Each panelist will present 10-12 minutes of opening remarks before turning to a moderated discussion. During the last 20 minutes, the moderator will pose curated questions to the roundtable from the audience.

The Oksenberg Conference is held annually and honors the legacy of the late Stanford professor Michel Oksenberg (1938-2001), who was a Senior Fellow at Shorenstein APARC and the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. Professor Oksenberg also served as a key member of the National Security Council when the U.S. normalized relations with China, and consistently urged that the U.S. engage with Asia in a more considered manner. In tribute, the Oksenberg Lecture recognizes distinguished individuals who have helped to advance understanding between the U.S. and the nations of the Asia-Pacific.

Panelists in alphabetical order:

Una Aleksandra Bērziņa-Čerenkova is a political scientist, China scholar, Head of Political Science Doctoral Programme and China Studies Centre at Rīga Stradiņš University, Head of the Asia program at the Latvian Institute of International Affairs, a member of the China in Europe Research Network (CHERN) and European Think Tank Network on China (ETNC). She has held a Senior visiting research scholar position at Fudan University School of Philosophy, Shanghai, China, and a Fulbright visiting scholar position at the Center for East Asian Studies, Stanford University. Bērziņa-Čerenkova publishes on PRC political discourse, contemporary Chinese ideology, EU-China relations, Russia-China, and BRI and her most recent monograph is Perfect Imbalance: China and Russia.

Thomas Fingar is the former first Deputy Director of National Intelligence for Analysis and Chairman of the National Intelligence Council, currently at Stanford as a Shorenstein APARC Fellow in the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. From 2005-2008, he served as the first Deputy Director of National Intelligence for Analysis and, concurrently, as Chairman of the National Intelligence Council. Fingar previously served as Assistant Secretary of the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research (2000-2001 and 2004-2005), Principal Deputy Assistant (2001-2003), Deputy Assistant Secretary for Analysis (1994-2000), Director of the Office of Analysis for East Asia and the Pacific (1989-1994), and Chief of the China Division (1986-1989). Fingar's most recent books are Uneasy Partnerships: China and Japan, the Koreas, and Russia in the Era of Reform (Stanford, 2017), Fateful Decisions: Choices that will Shape China’s Future, co-edited with Jean Oi (Stanford, 2020), and From Mandate to Blueprint: Lessons from Intelligence Reform (Stanford, 2021)

Alex Gabuev is a Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. His research is focused on Russia's policy toward East and Southeast Asia, political and ideological trends in China, and China's relations with its neighbors—especially those in Central Asia. Prior to joining Carnegie, Gabuev was a member of the editorial board of Kommersant publishing house and served as deputy editor in chief of Kommersant-Vlast, one of Russia's most influential newsweeklies. He has previously worked as a nonresident visiting research fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) and taught courses on Chinese energy policy and political culture at Moscow State University. Gabuev is a Munich Young Leader of Munich International Security Conference and a member of Council on Foreign and Defense Policy (Russia).

Michael McFaul is Director at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, the Ken Olivier and Angela Nomellini Professor of International Studies in the Department of Political Science, and the Peter and Helen Bing Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution. McFaul is also an International Affairs Analyst for NBC News and a columnist for The Washington Post. He served for five years in the Obama administration, first as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Russian and Eurasian Affairs at the National Security Council at the White House (2009-2012), and then as U.S. Ambassador to the Russian Federation (2012-2014). He has authored several books, most recently the New York Times bestseller From Cold War to Hot Peace: An American Ambassador in Putin’s Russia. Earlier books include Advancing Democracy Abroad: Why We Should, How We Can; Transitions To Democracy: A Comparative Perspective (eds. with Kathryn Stoner); Power and Purpose: American Policy toward Russia after the Cold War (with James Goldgeier); and Russia’s Unfinished Revolution: Political Change from Gorbachev to Putin.

Evan Medeiros is a Professor and Penner Family Chair in Asia Studies in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and former top advisor on the Asia-Pacific in the Obama Administration, responsible for coordinating U.S. policy toward the Asia-Pacific across the areas of diplomacy, defense policy, economic policy, and intelligence. Prior to joining the White House, Medeiros worked for seven years as a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation and served at the Treasury Department as a Policy Advisor-China to Secretary Hank Paulson Jr., working on the U.S.-China Strategic Economic Dialogue. Medeiros is a member of the Board of Directors of the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations, a member of the International Advisory Board of Cambridge University's Centre for Geopolitics, and a Life Member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Jean Oi (Moderator) is the William Haas Professor of Chinese Politics in the Department of Political Science and a Senior Fellow of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (FSI) at Stanford University. She also directs the China Program at the Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center at FSI and is the founding Lee Shau Kee Director of the Stanford Center at Peking University. Oi has published extensively on political economy and the process of reform in China. Her books include State and Peasant in Contemporary China: The Political Economy of Village Government and Rural China Takes Off: Institutional Foundations of Economic Reform. Recent edited volumes include Zouping Revisited: Adaptive Governance in a Chinese County, co-edited with Steven Goldstein, and Fateful Decisions: Choices That Will Shape China's Future, co-edited with Thomas Fingar. 

Jean C. Oi

Via Zoom.

Una Aleksandra Bērziņa-Čerenkova

Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies
Stanford University
Encina Hall, C-327
Stanford, CA 94305-6055

(650) 723-9149 (650) 723-6530
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Thomas Fingar is a Shorenstein APARC Fellow in the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University. He was the inaugural Oksenberg-Rohlen Distinguished Fellow from 2010 through 2015 and the Payne Distinguished Lecturer at Stanford in 2009.

From 2005 through 2008, he served as the first deputy director of national intelligence for analysis and, concurrently, as chairman of the National Intelligence Council. Fingar served previously as assistant secretary of the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (2000-01 and 2004-05), principal deputy assistant secretary (2001-03), deputy assistant secretary for analysis (1994-2000), director of the Office of Analysis for East Asia and the Pacific (1989-94), and chief of the China Division (1986-89). Between 1975 and 1986 he held a number of positions at Stanford University, including senior research associate in the Center for International Security and Arms Control.

Fingar is a graduate of Cornell University (A.B. in Government and History, 1968), and Stanford University (M.A., 1969 and Ph.D., 1977 both in political science). His most recent books are From Mandate to Blueprint: Lessons from Intelligence Reform (Stanford University Press, 2021), Reducing Uncertainty: Intelligence Analysis and National Security (Stanford University Press, 2011), The New Great Game: China and South and Central Asia in the Era of Reform, editor (Stanford University Press, 2016), Uneasy Partnerships: China and Japan, the Koreas, and Russia in the Era of Reform (Stanford, 2017), and Fateful Decisions: Choices that will Shape China’s Future, co-edited with Jean Oi (Stanford, 2020). His most recent article is, "The Role of Intelligence in Countering Illicit Nuclear-Related Procurement,” in Matthew Bunn, Martin B. Malin, William C. Potter, and Leonard S Spector, eds., Preventing Black Market Trade in Nuclear Technology (Cambridge, 2018)."

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As reports of leveled mosques, detention camps, and destroyed cultural and religious sites in China's Xinjiang province emerged in the mid-to-late 2010s, the world took notice of the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) flagrant oppression of Uighur Muslims and other minorities. Under the Xi Jinping administration, the Xinjiang region in northwestern China has experienced what is perhaps the greatest period of cultural assimilation since the Cultural Revolution. This massive state repression represents a primary research focus for Dr. James Millward, Professor of Inter-societal History at the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, who joined both APARC's China Program and the Stanford History Department as a visiting scholar for winter quarter 2022.

Millward's specialties include the Qing empire, the silk road, and historical and contemporary Xinjiang. In addition to his numerous academic publications on these topics, he follows and comments on current issues regarding Xinjiang, the Uyghurs and other Xinjiang indigenous peoples, PRC ethnicity policy, and Chinese politics more generally. We caught up with Millward to discuss his work and experience at Stanford this past winter quarter. Listen to the conversation: 


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Aggressive Assimilating Thrust

Millward emphasizes the importance of documenting the scope and scale of the crisis in Xinjiang. "What's happened in the last four or five years in Xinjiang is of great global importance and interest to people," he says, and although it is still early to write the history of this period of repression, "it's important at least to try and get an organized draft of it down and to try to begin to interpret rather than just narrate the litany of things going on: the camps, the digital surveillance, forced labor, birth depressions, and try and put it all into some kind of framework where we can understand it." 

China’s crackdown on Uyghur Muslims and other minorities in Xinjiang is part of aggressive intolerance of cultural and political diversity that is emerging as a central feature of Xi Jinping’s tenure, explains Millward. The shift in the CCP's assimilationist policies constitutes a complete "reversal of what had been an earlier approach to diversity in China," which allowed for 56 different nationalities to have regional autonomy. His aim is to "point out a really aggressive assimilating thrust under the Xi Jinping regime [...] and then also to look more clearly at settler colonialism in Xinjiang."

To learn more about the historical context of current events in Xinjiang and how to understand them against contemporary Chinese politics, tune in to Millward's public lecture of February 2, 2022, “The Crisis in Xinjiang: What’s Happening Now and What Does It Mean?

In this talk, Millward explains how PRC assimilationist policies, if most extreme in Xinjiang, are related to the broader Zhonghua-izing campaign against religion and non-Mandarin language and perhaps even to intensified control over Hong Kong and efforts to intimidate Taiwan.

U.S.-China Cooperation Amid Strained Ties

The Xinjiang crisis has affected how the United States views China, bringing an unexpected unity to the usually-polarized American foreign policy arena. "The Xinjiang issue has contributed to the broad-spectrum feeling in the American political sphere that engagement with China has failed," notes Millward. The parallels between China's repression of minorities and some of the worst events in the 20th century in Europe "have brought together the political sides in America and rallied them around a much stronger anti-China stance," he says.

From Millward's perspective, however, it is not only possible but also necessary for the United States to act on Xinjiang and press China on its human rights record while cooperating with China on other issues. "This is the art of diplomacy, you have to compartmentalize and deal with different issues, particularly with two countries as large as the United States and China." In Millward's view, areas pertinent to U.S.-China collaboration are varied and transcend global challenges such as climate change or pandemics. Those are simplistic dichotomies," he says. "We have 300,000 Chinese students in our universities and we welcome them and learn a lot from them [...] We benefit from Chinese expertise in all sorts of ways."

Millward spent a productive winter quarter at APARC. Returning to Stanford as a visiting scholar provided him a unique opportunity to reconnect with his past on The Farm and survey all that has changed in the years since he completed his doctorate under the tutelage of the late Professor Harold Kahn. "The trailer park where I lived as a first-year graduate student is no more, and I couldn't even find the footprint of where it was."

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James Millward

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From top left, clockwise: Lauren Hansen Restrepo, James Millward, Darren Byler and Gardner Bovingdon speaking at a panel at APARC.
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The Human Rights Crisis in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region

The Human Rights Crisis in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region
Putin and Xi
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An Uncomfortable Friendship: Understanding China’s Position on the Russia-Ukraine War and Its Implications for Great Power Competition

On WBUR’s "On Point" and Fox 2 KTVU, Center Fellow Oriana Skylar Mastro shares insights about China's alignment with Russia and the worldwide implications of its calculus on Ukraine.
An Uncomfortable Friendship: Understanding China’s Position on the Russia-Ukraine War and Its Implications for Great Power Competition
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Bargaining Behind Closed Doors: Why China’s Local Government Debt Is Not a Local Problem

New research in 'The China Journal' by APARC’s Jean Oi and colleagues suggests that the roots of China’s massive local government debt problem lie in secretive financing institutions offered as quid pro quo to localities to sustain their incentive for local state-led growth after 1994
Bargaining Behind Closed Doors: Why China’s Local Government Debt Is Not a Local Problem
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APARC Visiting Scholar James Millward discusses PRC ethnicity policy, China's crackdown on Uyghur Muslims and other minorities in Xinjiang province, and the implications of the Xinjiang crisis for U.S. China strategy and China's international relations.

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Time:  7:30am-8:45am  California, USA 15 February 2022 
3:30pm-4:45pm London, UK 15 February 2022
11:30pm-12:45am  Singapore, 15-16 February 2022

How does India’s civil-military relationship affect its security? Historically, civil-military relations have been characterized by an “absent dialogue,” with the military enjoying almost complete operational autonomy in planning and fighting wars. But that arrangement has produced some mixed results for Indian national security, and is coming under increasing strain in an environment of intensifying peacetime strategic competition. New Delhi recognizes the need for reform, and has made some halting progress. This webinar will examine the evolution of civil-military relations in India, the challenges with the current configuration, and the agenda for reform that will face the next Chief of Defence Staff.

Speakers: 

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Anit Mukherjee is an Associate Professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, in Singapore. He is the award-winning author of The Absent Dialogue: Politicians, Bureaucrats and the Military in India, the definitive analysis of Indian civil-military relations. He is also Non-Resident Visiting Scholar at the Center for the Advanced Study of India (CASI), University of Pennsylvania, and at Centre for Social and Economic Progress (CSEP), New Delhi. Prior to his academic career, he was a Major in the Indian Army and is an alumnus of India’s National Defence Academy (NDA), Khadakwasla. Anit holds a Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University.

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saawani
Saawani Raje-Byrne is a lecturer (assistant professor) in International History at the Department of War Studies, King’s College London. She is currently working on a book, based on her PhD dissertation, that presents novel theoretical analysis and detailed historical case studies of Indian civil-military relations. She previously taught at Defence Studies Department at King’s, and the Joint Services Command and Staff College at Shrivenham, and was a researcher at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi. She holds a PhD from King’s College London, and a BA from the University of Cambridge.

Moderated by :
Arzan Tarapore, South Asia research scholar at the Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center, Stanford University

This event is co-sponsored by Center for South Asia

Via Zoom  Register at:
https://bit.ly/3HpyMMO

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Taiwan. Hypersonic missiles. The South China Sea. In the last few months, China’s activities have grabbed headlines and fueled speculation about its intentions. But how much of this action is posturing, and how much should U.S. policymakers and strategists take seriously?

To help explain what’s going on with our biggest competitor, FSI Center Fellow Oriana Skylar Mastro, a specialist on China’s military and an active member of the United States Air Force Reserves, joins Michael McFaul on World Class to debunk some of the myths that persist about China’s capabilities and reframe how the U.S. needs to think about strategic competition with Beijing. Listen to their full episode and read highlights from the conversation below.

Click here for a transcript of “We Need To Rethink Our Assumptions about China’s Strategic Goals”

Where China Was in the 1990s


Twenty years ago, the Chinese-Taiwan invasion plan was to take a couple of fishing vessels and paddle their way across the strait. In the 1990s, China had very limited, and often no ability to fly over water, or at night, or in weather, and their ships had no defenses.

For many, many years we knew that China was willing to fight if Taiwan declared independence. Fighting a war in any country that is big and resolved is problematic. But it was never the case that the United States was going to lose that war; it was always a matter of, “How many days?” How many days is it going to take us to win?

Where China Is Now


In the intervening years, China's military has changed both quantitatively and qualitatively. Now they have the largest navy in the world, and those ships are some of the most advanced surface ships that can be comparable to those of the United States. Same with their fighters; they have fifth generation airplanes and the largest airforce in the region. They’ve put all these capabilities online, and at the same time, they [have also] started developing capabilities to reach out and touch the United States with.

They developed the capability to hit moving ships at sea, which is something the United States doesn’t have the capability to do. They have a huge cruise and ballistic missile program that basically can take out a U.S. base like Kadena  in the region in a matter of hours, should they ever be willing to make a direct hit on the U.S.

This doesn't mean that China is more powerful than the United States; China still can’t project power outside the Indo-Pacific region, and even there it’s mostly through space, cyber, and nuclear weapons. But most of the contingencies we're talking about are really close to China, so it doesn’t really matter that they can’t project power. So, on the conventional side, I’m very concerned.

Why Taiwan Matters


The whole goal of the Communist Party, since its founding in 1949, has been to resolve this Taiwan issue.

Now they have the ships, the aircraft, and they’ve reorganized their whole military so that they can do joint operations, so that the navy and the air force can do an invasion of Taiwan. And a lot of those efforts came to a successful conclusion at the end of 2020. And that's why people like myself, not because of  the capabilities, but because when I was in Beijing and talked to the Chinese military and government officials, they said, “We could do this now, and maybe we should think about it.”

We know from behavioral economics that countries and people are much more willing to take risks to not lose something that they think is theirs, versus when they are trying to get something which they don't think is theirs. In the Chinese mindset, Taiwan, the South China Sea, East China Sea, etc. is already theirs, and the United States is trying to take it from them. That makes the situation even more problematic. 

What the United States Should Do


The Biden administration is doing a lot of political maneuvering to show that the United States is willing to defend Taiwan. And I think it’s just upsetting Beijing, because they think we’re changing the political status quo. It also does nothing to enhance our deterrence, because it doesn't signal anything about our capability to defend Taiwan.

The Chinese basically assume the United States will intervene. Their big question is, can they still win? We need to show China that they cannot win, and that’s about showing out capabilities in the region. It’s about aggressively negotiating new host arrangements, more access for the U.S. military, and new international institutions and treaties that constrain the ways China leverages power.

I'm a military person, but I'm totally on board with leading with diplomacy. But I don't see those types of efforts coming out of the Biden administration. They seem to want to double down and do the same things, just with more allies and partners.  I'm supportive of it, but I just don't think it's enough.

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The Taiwan Temptation

Why Beijing Might Resort to Force
The Taiwan Temptation
Oriana Skylar Mastro testifies to the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission on Taiwan deterrence.
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Oriana Skylar Mastro Testifies on Deterring PRC Aggression Toward Taiwan to Congressional Review Commission

China may now be able to prevail in cross-strait contingencies even if the United States intervenes in Taiwan’s defense, Chinese security expert Oriana Skylar Mastro tells the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission. Changes must be made to U.S. military capabilities, not U.S. policy, she argues.
Oriana Skylar Mastro Testifies on Deterring PRC Aggression Toward Taiwan to Congressional Review Commission
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Would the United States Come to Taiwan's Defense?

On CNN's GPS with Fareed Zakaria, APARC Center Fellow Oriana Skylar Mastro shares insights about China's aspirations to take Taiwan by force and the United States' role, should a forceful reunification come to pass.
Would the United States Come to Taiwan's Defense?
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On the World Class podcast, Oriana Skylar Mastro argues that in order to set effective policy toward China, the United States needs to better understand how and why China is projecting power.

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This is a virtual event. Please click here to register and generate a link to the talk. 
The link will be unique to you; please save it and do not share with others.

November 10, 5:00-6:15 p.m. California time / November 11, 9:00-10:15 a.m. China time
 

Based on his recent Oxford University Press book Protecting China's Interests Overseas: Securitization and Foreign Policy, Dr. Andrea Ghiselli will discuss the role of the actors that contributed to the emergence and evolution of China's approach to the protection of its interests overseas. He will show how the securitization of non-traditional security threats overseas played a key role in shaping the behavior and preferences of Chinese policymakers and military elites, especially with regard to the role of the armed forces in foreign policy. 

While Chinese policymakers were able to overcome important organizational challenges, the future of China's approach to the protection of its interests overseas remains uncertain as Chinese policymakers face important questions about the possible political and diplomatic costs associated with different courses of action.

For more information about Protecting China's Interests Overseas or to purchase a copy, please click here.
 


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Portrait of Andrea Ghiselli
Dr. Andrea Ghiselli is an Assistant Professor at the School of International Relations and Public Affairs of Fudan University. He is also the Head of Research of the TOChina Hub's ChinaMed Project. His research focuses on the relationship between China's economic interests overseas and its foreign and defense policy. Besides his first monograph Protecting China's Interests Overseas: Securitization and Foreign Policy published by Oxford University Press, Dr. Ghiselli's research has been published in a number of peer-reviewed journals like the China Quarterly, the Journal of Strategic StudiesArmed Forces & Society, and the Journal of Contemporary China.

 

Via Zoom Webinar. Register at: https://bit.ly/3AUnPi3

Andrea Ghiselli Assistant Professor, School of International Relations and Public Affairs, Fudan University
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Portrait of Oriana Skylar Mastro and the cover of an essay collection on the US-China competition.

Dr. Oriana Skylar Mastro begins her paper by emphasizing that U.S. national defense strategy has characterized the US-China relationship as one of great power competition (GPC). Both the US and China have existing relationships in the Indo-Pacific region and are undergoing efforts to foster new relationships there as well. China’s efforts, however, conflict with US military efforts to promote peace, strategy, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific, making them much harder to achieve.

Mastro argues that it will be difficult to deter China’s efforts — perhaps even more difficult than it was to deter the Soviet Union’s efforts during the Cold War. She cites the geography of the Asia-Pacific (compared to that of Central Europe), the US’s ongoing struggle to establish a credible deterrent, China’s range of options for nonlethal but effective uses of force, and the lack of US willingness to grant China a parallel sphere of influence to that in which the Soviet Union was allowed to control as evidence to support her claim.

Thus, Mastro recommends that the US must avoid relying on the same Cold War tools and competition strategies in its competition with China, despite their success in the past. Instead, the US needs to combat the threat posed by China through 1) convincing China that the costs of using force outweigh the benefits and 2) forging a counterbalancing coalition of allies and partners that are confident that the US will not only protect them from a military attack but other costly behaviors (e.g., economic coercion, diplomatic isolation) that China may leverage against them as well. 

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