Taiwan & Tensions with China: Five Recommendations for US Policy

Taiwan has built a vibrant democracy on values Americans share and is an important US economic partner. China is the largest power in the region and sees Taiwan’s fate as central to its own national interest. US leaders need to manage these realities in a way that enhances regional and global stability, rather than framing disagreements over Taiwan as part of a dangerous narrative of inevitable conflict with China. Rhetoric about “winning” wars that neither Americans nor the people in that region want to fight is misguided and reckless. The US can best serve Taiwan’s security, and our own, by stabilizing relations with China in a manner that reduces the dangerous tensions that have built up between Washington and Beijing. The Center for International Policy has developed the following recommendations for US action toward that goal.

Recommendation #1: Ratchet “competition” rhetoric down rather than up

The people and government of Taiwan—as well as nearly all countries in the region—are saying loud and clear that they want a reduction in US–China tensions. Most countries also do not want to be forced to align with one side against the other. 

The United States should amplify statements and actions that bolster the status quo. It should reiterate its longstanding position of strategic ambiguity to both China and Taiwan, and avoid inflammatory symbolic gestures that do little to increase Taiwan’s security but signal to China that Taiwan is moving toward formal independence. While opinion in Taiwan is highly fragmented on what status to ultimately aim for, there is an overwhelming consensus on what to do today: four of every five people in Taiwan want to maintain the ambiguous status quo.

When Chinese official actions warrant criticism, the United States must also take care to clearly distinguish between the Chinese Communist Party-controlled government and the Chinese people. Calling out the human rights violations, repressive policies and authoritarianism of the Chinese government is crucial, but so is countering the increasing vilification of China in American politics, which not only puts the Chinese diaspora and Asian-Americans at risk of increased discrimination and violence; it repeats the dangerous “clash of civilizations” narrative reminiscent of the disastrous “war on terror” era.

Recommendation #2: Support—don’t jeopardize—Taiwan’s self-defense

Meeting the United States’ long-held objective of preserving stability in East Asia and the Pacific requires avoiding and dissuading others from taking actions that increase risks of war, encourage militarist policies, or empower reactionary politicians. America’s key tasks in this regard are to foreclose on the prospect of a future crisis and make miscalculation less, rather than more, likely.

That means robustly supporting Taiwan’s self defense according to a principle of non-offensive or non-provocative defense, balancing the need to defend against and render prohibitively costly Chinese attempts at conquest with the twin imperatives of both preventing war in the first place and reducing the prospects of nuclear escalation should a war occur. Accordingly, US arms sales should focus on capabilities that support the political status quo and preserve strategic stability. That includes systems to help Taiwan blunt Chinese power projection while avoiding new weapons systems that could range deep into the Chinese mainland and eschewing an arms buildup on a scale that would be reasonably misperceived as mobilizing for war. It also means undertaking efforts to ensure Taiwanese cybersecurity and combat disinformation that could stoke belligerent sentiment and trigger confrontation.

Recommendation #3: Foster stability by ensuring the legitimacy of international law survive its tests in Ukraine and Gaza

While differences in the precise circumstances and histories of each conflict are apparent, Chinese aggression toward Taiwan would be subject to the same international humanitarian law (IHL) obligations as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the war in Gaza. The extent to which the United States affirms and acts to uphold the laws of war, human rights and democratic principles with regard to those conflicts has a tremendous impact on the international legal landscape in which China operates vis-a-vis Taiwan.

Failure to champion adherence to international law in these conflicts – either by backing away from material support for Ukraine as it fights illegal conquest or by continuing to largely ignore Israeli IHL violations both in Gaza and in connection with its deepening occupation and annexation of the West Bank – undermines the universality of their application and makes it easier for actors like China to ignore them without fear of consequences from other states. The US unwillingness to take meaningful steps to protect Palestinian lives and rights in the Gaza war has led to accusations of hypocrisy. Continuing that mistaken approach, alongside the movement by rightwing forces in the US to limit or cease support for Ukraine, will only further degrade the international order the US constructed after WWII, eroding an important barrier to China and other actors that may consider more aggressive actions of their own.

Recommendation #4: Invest in the US domestic critical technology workforce, while cooperating with China on shared challenges like climate change.

The Biden administration has already taken steps to increase domestic production capacity for technologies critical to the security and economy of the United States, especially advanced technologies and those essential to address dire challenges like climate change. US technical innovation led the way in the 20th century and should continue to do so as we face new global challenges. Increasing government support for programs to ensure an ample and sustainable workforce for these industries – including through transitional income support, student loan forgiveness and substantially increased across–the-board investments in public education and societal welfare – should therefore also be pursued as a US security priority. 

At the same time, US strategic investments in American democracy, equality, and prosperity must be undertaken in such a way that they do not simply redirect insecurity toward the rest of the world. The technologies needed to survive, mitigate, and overcome challenges like climate change and global health threats will not be built in one nation, and will require significant investment and cooperation from governments across the world.

Both China and the US face tremendous challenges from warming temperatures, particularly in the area of desertification and water security. Cynically exploiting these vulnerabilities in China, as some have argued the United States should, in the hope that they lead to crisis and instability is both immoral and dangerous. Catastrophic or even substantial dysfunction in one of the world’s largest countries, economic engines and a nuclear power would imperil US and global security in a multitude of areas. Instead, the United States should approach cooperation on addressing urgent climate change imperatives – such as working with China to leverage non debt-creating climate finance investments and provide critical technical assistance to developing countries – as an opportunity to build trust and identify areas of mutual benefit on other issues.

Recommendation #5: Advance global priorities that break away from an outdated and counterproductive “Great Power Competition” mindset

The explicit embrace of a “Great Power Competition” worldview by the Biden Administration and much of the US foreign policy establishment drives its fixation on reducing China’s presence and influence around the world. The dangerously unquestioned need to “counter” or even “beat” China in region after region across the globe is not only reactionary, but subordinates US interests at home and abroad to a zero-sum fight that drains US resources and goodwill. China’s leaders, in turn, seem happy to accept the prestige that comes with being the apparently destined competitor of the United States. They shape China’s foreign and military policy with this confrontation paradigm in mind, with Taiwan’s fate teetering at the leading edge.

The United States needs to recognize and secure its interests in the reality of a multi-polar world, rather than futilely attempting to forestall it via a costly and ultimately self-defeating effort to constantly disadvantage China. US military spending is already three times that of China (which is investing much of the difference in sectors like green technology). While China has a larger naval fleet in terms of vessel numbers, the US has far greater naval capability. What ultimately matters is not the actual balance of forces, but what a nation does with its share of the balance–and that has much to do with the overall tenor of relations and policy choices outside the military domain. The challenges that we face globally – among them climate change, political instability and pandemics — require equally global cooperation and cannot be solved militarily. 

To break out of the zero-sum competition that dominates strategic thinking on both sides, a new approach to defining success in global influence is required, focusing on 1) global public goods like universal public health infrastructure and green energy for all; 2) significantly increasing development investment in those countries and regions that have been starved of capital for decades; and 3) guaranteeing human, political and labor rights globally. Building international cooperation around such a transformation of the global economy would reestablish US–China relations  on a new foundation, revive the legitimacy of international norms by expanding the opportunity it offers to people of all countries, and address the truly existential threats humanity faces today.

CIP Analysis of New Congressional Ukraine and Israel Aid Proposals

We are hopeful that Congress will finally provide long overdue aid to help the people of Ukraine repel Russia’s illegal invasion. With Ukraine’s financial and critical military resources nearly exhausted, this US assistance is vital to preventing Vladimir Putin from achieving his goal of destroying Ukrainian independence and democracy.

In contrast to Ukraine’s demonstrated need for funds to counter conquest and occupation by an expansionist nuclear power, the effort to provide billions of dollars in new American taxpayer funding for weapons to Israel to use in its devastating campaign in Gaza is not militarily, financially or strategically justified.

While Israel has the right and responsibility to defend its people and take military action in response to Hamas’ horrific October 7, 2023 attack, Israel’s campaign in Gaza is failing to achieve its own stated objectives of rescuing the Israelis taken hostage or “eliminating” Hamas from the territory. Instead, Israel’s disproportionate bombardment and siege of the territory with US weapons has resulted in more than 30,000 deaths – two-thirds of which Israel itself estimates are civilians – nearly half of them children.

Despite calls by American lawmakers for meaningful conditions on US military assistance to prevent Israel’s continued use of US arms in a manner that President Biden himself has twice called “indiscriminate,” the stand-alone Israel aid bill being considered by the House of Representatives not only fails to include any such safeguards, but would reduce already insufficient opportunities for Congressional oversight of weapons sales to Israel under federal law. The White House’s issuance of National Security Memorandum 20 (NSM-20) requiring foreign military aid recipients like Israel to adhere to relevant international humanitarian and US law was a step in the right direction, but not a sufficient replacement for durable, statutorily binding safeguards – especially in light of the Biden administration’s resistance to enforcing either existing law or, thus far, NSM-20 with regard to Israel.

With a per capita GDP greater than that of the UK, Canada and Japan – and more than twelve times that of Ukraine — Israel has not made the case to Congress or American taxpayers that it will be unable to carry out essential, legitimate defense activities without the level of financial assistance specified in the bill. Such extraordinary additional subsidization is especially inappropriate in light of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government continuing to spend Israel’s own funds in connection with accelerating efforts to seize and permanently control territory in the occupied West Bank, including the largest expropriation of Palestinian land in the 30 years since the Oslo Accords. Helping Israel finance missile and air defense systems if it was unable to pay for them itself would be entirely reasonable. But providing ever-increasing amounts to fund the deadly munitions and other weapons Israel is deploying in Gaza is not. While Israel openly rejects US requests to use such arms appropriately, desist from violations of Palestinian rights in the West Bank, and refrain from further escalations with Iran, increasing US financing rewards rather than disincentivizes such Israeli actions that run counter to American interests.

Additionally, as Gaza’s civilian population faces a crisis of starvation and disease, the Israel aid bill unconscionably reinforces the recently legislated prohibition on US contributions to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) – the main provider of lifesaving aid and services in the territory — even as it provides a welcome increase in global humanitarian aid. UNRWA has already fired the 12 low-level staff alleged to have participated in the October 7 attacks and has committed to helping hold them fully accountable if the ongoing investigation confirms the allegations. Lawmakers should work urgently to reverse the funding cutoff as nearly all US partner countries have, rather than continuing to collectively punish millions of Palestinians who rely on UNRWA services, including the hundreds of thousands on the brink of famine in Gaza.

Far from addressing the growing threat to American and regional security that the war and humanitarian crisis in Gaza represent, the stand-alone Israel aid bill would cruelly exacerbate it at the very moment further Israeli escalation with Iran risks drawing the United States even deeper into another costly and avoidable quagmire in the Middle East. At this dangerous moment, lawmakers could best keep Israelis, Palestinians and others in the region — including US personnel — safe by pushing for a Gaza ceasefire that allows for massive humanitarian relief and the release of all hostages, while emphasizing the need for de-escalation in tensions with Iran.

The Gaza War at Six Months: Five Recommendations for Ending the Fighting and Ensuring Human Security in Israel-Palestine

This week marks six months since the horrific Hamas-led October 7, 2023 attack and atrocities against civilians in southern Israel, followed by the devastating and often indiscriminate Israeli assault on Gaza. At least two-thirds of the more than 30,000 Palestinian dead are civilians, with more than one million people on the brink of a famine that is already starving children to death. In addition to the more than 1,150 Israelis killed in Hamas’ initial attack, some 130 Israeli hostages remain in captivity in Gaza. 

This memo updates our recommended steps for the Biden Administration to take to stop the fighting, end the nightmare faced by Palestinian civilians and Israeli hostages, and ensure the security, rights and well-being of Israelis and Palestinians in the longer term.

Continue reading “The Gaza War at Six Months: Five Recommendations for Ending the Fighting and Ensuring Human Security in Israel-Palestine”

Five Recommendations for Ending the War and Ensuring Human Security in Israel-Palestine

Organizations and leaders in the progressive foreign policy community have strongly condemned the heinous and illegal acts Hamas perpetrated against Israeli civilians, as well as Israeli government actions that have killed and gravely harmed Palestinian civilians in violation of international law. It is also essential for progressives in the United States to propose and champion forward-looking recommendations for how the Biden Administration can help end the current war in Israel-Palestine and best ensure the security, rights and well-being of Israelis and Palestinians in the longer term.

The progressive foreign policy community is diverse in both its composition and views. Different groups and leaders will no doubt have their own specific prescriptions that go beyond those articulated here, but we hope the following recommendations can serve as a commonly supported basis for essential US action.

Recommendation #1: Push for a humanitarian ceasefire

A ceasefire or truce that begins as a temporary measure, but which could be extended, is vitally necessary to prevent further loss of civilian life on a mass scale. The delivery of needed humanitarian aid, additional efforts to secure the release of hostages, the re-establishment of water supplies and electricity and initial assessments of Gaza’s reconstruction and resilience needs would all be made possible by a break in fighting. A ceasefire could also help calm tensions in the West Bank and elsewhere in the region, greatly reducing the risk of full-scale fighting moving to an additional theater or drawing in outside actors such as Iran.

While we hope such a ceasefire will be extended indefinitely, a ceasefire is not a peace treaty. It is an ad hoc measure under which combatants do not waive their right to resume military operations if other efforts (see recommendation #2, below) to permanently end an armed conflict fail.

Recommendation #2: Undertake intensive diplomacy to end Hamas attacks, secure release of hostages and end the Israeli siege

With a ceasefire in place, the Aqaba group (the United States, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, and representatives of Palestine Liberation Organization) should convene with the addition of Qatar and Turkey – US security partners with channels to Iran and Hamas – with a goal to secure the release of all hostages and an end to the current war. A guiding objective of that process must be an outcome that does not restore the status quo ante, i.e., at a minimum, it must not allow Hamas to have a Gaza-based offensive attack capability, nor can it allow for continued blockade and functional imprisonment of Palestinian civilians in Gaza. Consideration should also be given to beginning the process of appropriately addressing accountability for the brutality against, and mass casualties among, civilians on each side.

Recommendation #3: Refocus regional diplomatic priority from bilateral normalization efforts to multilateral efforts toward a just resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the end of occupation

Once a negotiated end to the current Israel-Hamas war is in place, the United States must finally get serious about diplomacy to justly resolve the underlying Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That means moving away from prioritizing the Trump/Netanyahu vision of piecemeal bilateral normalization agreements between Israel and Arab- and Muslim-majority autocracies that have given cover to metastasizing permanent Israeli control of the occupied Palestinian Territories and the inherently discriminatory denial of fundamental Palestinian national, political and human rights in violation of international law. It means championing the inherent benefits of Israel’s full acceptance and integration in the Middle East, and moving away from an “arms for peace” model where recognition of Israel is bought with US weapons deals that increase militarization and instability in the region. It also means avoiding the previous and repeatedly failed model of meekly facilitating direct, bilateral negotiations between parties with a massive imbalance of military and diplomatic power.

Instead, the United States should lend its full diplomatic weight to helping construct a truly multilateral framework involving key regional players toward a just and comprehensive resolution of the conflict in accordance with international law. This would include universal normalization and recognition of the national rights of both Israelis and Palestinians – alongside ensuring the security and well-being of both peoples – as its northstar. Different models, such as the Arab Peace Initiative or recent confederation proposals – could be proposed by participants as terms of reference. Absent such an effort, the lack of a political horizon will only continue to feed despair, distrust, and extremism among both peoples.

Recommendation #4: Take meaningful anti-occupation, anti-annexation steps:

Permanent Israeli occupation and ongoing de facto annexation of Palestinian territory is incompatible with international law and shared human values. Failure to take concrete steps to counter permanent, undemocratic Israeli control in the territories would doom any diplomatic conflict resolution effort and continue to feed the current cycle of violence.

The United States must end its demonstrably inadequate practice of limiting itself to mild criticism of deepening occupation and instead take concrete steps to counter it. At a bare minimum, these include: reinstating legal guidance that settlements are inconsistent with international law; declining to use its veto in the United Nations Security Council to shield Israel from accurate and appropriate criticism for its settlement and annexation-related activities; and instituting a zero tolerance policy for the use of US-supplied or -financed arms in connection with violations of human rights or for other prohibited purposes by meaningfully enforcing existing US law on the misuse of aid and US-origin weapons.

Recommendation #5: Substantially expand support for the Palestinian people and Palestinian leaders who seek peace with Israel

The Biden Administration should strengthen the legitimacy of Palestinians seeking a peaceful path to conflict resolution by upgrading the United States’ own bilateral relations with PLO, including by finally following through on its promise to reopen a consulate in Jerusalem serving Palestinians, exercising existing executive authority to terminate the decades-old legislative designation of the PLO as a terrorist organization, and working with regional and other international partners toward a major economic support program benefitting the Palestinian people.

Additionally, the United States must stop blocking international organizations and discouraging other countries from recognizing Palestinian statehood. While a comprehensive final resolution to their conflict can only be agreed between Israelis and Palestinians themselves, Palestinians are well within their rights as a nation to seek recognition of their state from international organizations and governments around the world. Binding themselves to the obligations of statehood and acceding to treaties that require responsible conduct is a non-violent, international law-affirming effort that should be applauded, not discouraged or penalized. The United States should therefore cease its practice of delegitimizing these efforts, and instead welcome them as bolstering the prospects for a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.