August 17, 2022

Event Coverage Highlight

Panel Explores US-China ‘Cold War’ and Impact on Taiwan

Left to right: Richard Bernstein, William J. Holstein, Russell Hsiao and Andrew Nathan. Photo: Chad Bouchard

by Chad Bouchard

Amid trade disputes, security scuffles and cyberattacks on intellectual property, China analysts and watchers are warning that the U.S. and China may be settling in for a long Cold War. That puts a country like Taiwan, with China still disputing its sovereignty and the U.S. offering some arm’s-length support, on a knife’s edge.

On Oct. 30, 2018, the OPC hosted a panel discussion about ongoing tension between the two superpowers and its bearing on Taiwan.

Past OPC President William J. Holstein, who was based in Hong Kong and Beijing from 1979 to 1982 for United Press International, moderated the discussion. During his introduction, he held up a recent issue of The Economist with a cover story titled “US vs. China, a Dangerous Rivalry.”

“Clearly there’s been a shift in the American and British media’s tone of coverage, ” Holstein said. With the two nations sparring over tariffs, naval maneuvers in the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait, and diplomatic rows over trade-secret espionage allegations, Holstein asked panelists if the “Cold War” label was warranted.

Andrew Nathan, a professor at Columbia University and one of America’s foremost experts on China and its foreign policy, said the U.S. intelligence community is particularly concerned about cyberattacks.

“The Pentagon is very worried about China’ ability to potentially attack Taiwan or to prevent the United States from effectively intervening because of the way they’ve modernized their military to hold the US military forces off the US’s depending on forward deployed airfields and ports and aircraft carriers that are now vulnerable to Chinese attack, and that may deter the US.”

“In the policy community, there are a lot of powerful forces that do feel that China is behaving in a way that poses a threat,” Nathan said. “They don’t really have a good strategy to make China stop doing what it’s doing. On the part of Trump, I think he may possibly just be interested in the trade deficit as such, which is a thing that you cannot fix, and which is not a strategy.” He added that right-wing operatives like like Steve Bannon simply want to use China as a threat to scare the electorate into voting for conservative candidates.

An official document published last year, the so-called National Security Strategy of the United States, identifies China as the primary strategic threat, even ahead of Russia, Nathan noted.

“If China believes that the US is abandoning or softening that position as a way of containing China, which is what they think is happening, the new Cold War that you’re alluding to, that’s China’s view of what the US is doing. That now we’re almost ready to overtake the US and they want to push us back into the box. And if Taiwan is viewed as part of that strategy, that’s not good for Taiwan.”

Russell Hsiao, executive director of the nonprofit think tank Global Taiwan Institute in Washington, said U.S.-China relations have been “due for a course correction for a very long time.”

He said that the U.S. and other nations have been making the mistaken assumption that integration of China into the “liberal international order,” by bringing it into the World Trade Organization and other international institutions, would somehow modify its behaviors. “Nearly 20 years down the road now, we can clearly see the verdict that that has not been the case,” Hsiao said.

“In fact, it’s manipulating the rules of these international institutions to suit its interests, that extend beyond just economic. It’s political as well,” he said. “China’s interference in democracies, either through propaganda or disinformation, but also infiltration in civil society and the manipulation of academic institutions, all highlighted various means in which China’s rise is impacting not only how the international institutions work, but also how democracies work.”

He said Taiwan could play a critical role as a Chinese-speaking democracy in shepherding China toward more liberal policies.

Richard Bernstein, formerly based in China for TIME magazine and a veteran of several foreign postings for The New York Times, said one of China’s chief interests in the world now is how to make the world safe for authoritarianism.

“One of the things that Xi Jinping has done is make advocacy of the very values that we Americans most cherish practically criminal offences,” he said, citing in internal document circulated among Chinese officials in 2013 called “Document Number Nine,” which warns against several threatening Western values, including media freedom and judicial independence.

“I worry about Taiwan’s long-term ability to determine its own future without being forced into reunification with the mainland,” Bernstein said. “And over the long term, will the United States continue to see it in its interest to guarantee Taiwan against a forceful takeover 15 to 25 years from now? I’d like to be confident of that, but I’m not.”


Click the window below to watch a playlist of video clips from the program.