Europe and the Asia Chessboard
Andrew Schwartz: Welcome to the Asia Chessboard, the podcast that examines geopolitical dynamics in Asia and takes an inside look at the making of grand strategy. I'm Andrew Schwartz at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Hannah Fodale: This week, Mike is joined by Eva Pejsova and Luis Simon of the Center for Security, Diplomacy, and Strategy in Brussels to discuss how the Indo-Pacific factors into European foreign policy and strategic thinking. Eva and Luis analyze the recently released EU strategy for cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, how the EU is handling the China challenge, and areas for potential cooperation between the EU, U.S., and other partners in the region like Japan, Australia, and India.
Mike Green: Welcome back to the Asia Chessboard. Today we're going to go a bit transatlantic, and I'm joined by two of the leading thinkers in Europe on Asian geopolitics. Eva Pejsova is the senior fellow for Japan at the Center for Security, Diplomacy, and Strategy, CSDS, in Brussels, and is affiliated with the French Foundation For Strategic Research, among other positions.
Mike Green: Luis Simon is director of the Center for Security, Diplomacy, and Strategy at the Brussels School of Governance, and director of the Brussels office of Elcano Royal Institute. Both are leading the debates across the Atlantic and within Europe about how we manage China. In important ways, which we'll talk about, it's not all about China. It's about the Indo-Pacific. It's about other allies and partners.
Mike Green: For U.S. strategy, the transatlantic angle has been frequently overlooked. We tend to think of our regional partnerships and alliances in regional terms and forget the incredible connectivity Europe has with Asia, which we'll go into a bit just for American listeners who may not be following that. But first, always interested in how you got here. I'm trying to imagine the Simon family somewhere while two-year old Luis is in the crib thinking, "I hope he grows up to be an expert on Asia." Assuming that didn't happen, Luis, we'll start with you and then go to Eva. How did you get into this line of work? Maybe that is how it happened.
Luis Simon: Hi, Mike. Thanks for having us. Well, actually, I would say that unlike Eva who's been an Asia expert for a while. I've been rebalancing towards Asia more recently in the sense that my main areas of expertise are European security, U.S. foreign policy, and transatlantic relations. My PhD focused on British, French, and German approaches to the never-ending debate on transatlantic relations and European autonomy. It was really around 2010 when the center of gravity in the debate on U.S. grand strategy shifted towards Asia that I started thinking more systematically about the implications of Asia's rise and the U.S. rebalance for Europe and the transatlantic relationship.
Luis Simon: It then became clear to me that Asia was not Las Vegas and that what happens there won't stay there, and it will affect Europe and the transatlantic relationship in all kinds of ways. So I then started traveling to Asia regularly, especially Korea and Japan, and embarked on two fascinating journeys that have taken a good share of my time, setting up a first Korea chair in Brussels at the Free University of Brussels, and then a Japan program at our new Center for Security, Diplomacy, and Strategy, which was launched last year. And we're thrilled to have Eva leading our team and our program, which has been, I think, a great success so far.
Mike Green: That Las Vegas line is the best one-liner we've had on this podcast in at least a year or so. We don't have an award for best one liner. But if we did, that would be it. Eva, how about you?
Eva Pejsova: Yeah. Well, thanks, Mike, for having us as well. It's a pleasure to discuss. Well, for me, it's been really a lifelong passion as Luis said, and is probably is your case as well. I'm blaming Samurai stories probably in early childhood, frankly. But on a more serious note, I think in the more recent or more professional interests starts at the beginning of 2000s with the piracy crisis in Southeast Asia. I guess it was sounding very adventurous and romantic. And that really made me more interested in maritime security and its impact. As a student of international relations at that time, I thought that was really the angle that I wanted to continue.
Eva Pejsova: And then eventually combined my interests, my lasting interest and passion for Japan, with maritime security, and of culminating in my PhD in Singapore years ago, which was on Japan's and China's engagement in maritime security and mechanisms for maritime cooperation in the region. If you look at it, being a European, eventually maritime security is the physical link that brings us closer to Asia. Of course, there's the Eurasian dimension that we may be discussing. But in the context of today's debates on the Indo-Pacific, maritime security is really the umbilical cord that has been bringing us closer to East Asia.
Mike Green: I also think I first got interested in Japan reading Shogun in maybe seventh grade. My dad was deployed to Vietnam, so I knew a little bit of Okinawa. But I always found the Czech Republic was the most active on Asia of the former Soviet space member states. At least in the early 2000s when I was in the Bush administration. The Czech government is very interested in human rights in Asia, very interested in democracy, and punched, I thought above its weight. So, I imagine even at a junior level, it must have been interesting. You were working on Japan and Asia at that time, or...
Eva Pejsova: Actually, even historically, I mean, there's very good connections with Japan, mostly cultural. I mean, there's always been a connection with Japan, but there has been historically obviously very strong connection with Vietnam. Let's not forget the role of Czechoslovakia at the time in Southeast Asia and in the communist bloc.
Mike Green: Good weapons.
Eva Pejsova: Yes.
Mike Green: They had very good weapons in those days. Yeah.
Eva Pejsova: There's so many actually funny stories behind this, but that's the reason why actually Czech Republic has the largest immigration of Vietnamese community in Europe because we used to exchange the weapons for work power. And so, now we have a second, third generation of Czech Vietnamese community that actually comes from that period. But let's not forget that there was also the Czechoslovakia involvement on the Korean Peninsula as well. So yeah, for a small country, there is quite a history.
Mike Green: Let me set the stage a little bit for listeners to the podcast who are largely focused on the Asia Pacific, Indo-Pacific, and have not maybe focused on Europe as much. First question for you both, we'll start with you, Eva, how big is the Indo-Pacific China in the overall European foreign policy debate right now? I mean, in the U.S., it ranks... Joe Biden's interim strategic guidance had eight points, one was strategic competition with China. But in reality, it's in the top two or three easily, maybe the most important issue. How would you rank Asia policy, Indo-Pacific China debates in the European foreign policy zeitgeist and debate right now, Eva? And then I'll ask Luis as well.
Eva Pejsova: I will rank it high enough. Perhaps we are in our little bubble and we've been dealing with the Indo-Pacific all the time. So we may be a little bit biased because that's all we see. But as you know, the EU has released and come to its conclusion, called the Strategy on the Indo-Pacific, just last week. So the momentum really has piled up and is currently there. It's an accumulation of many things. It's an accumulation of several wake-up calls when it comes to its policy with China. I would say that that's really the main driver to this overall shift towards Asia and Indo-Pacific that you alluded to at the very beginning. I mean, I may go into several of those waves if you want.
Eva Pejsova: But what I see really was first the realization somehow around 2015, '16, the realization of the political and security impact of some of the Chinese economic policies in Europe. So, it started with some of the member states eventually opposing some of the common positions, be it on the PCA ruling in 2016 or in the Human Rights Council. And we could see a direct connection between what seemed to be an innocent investment policy to something that has grown much, much, much bigger.
Eva Pejsova: It was also the overall disappointment I would say of China under-delivering on its promises. So, within the '16 and '17 plus one framework, for instance. And finally, of course, the whole scandals around Huawei and 5G networks that were more accentuated now with the Covid pandemic. So the whole China policy really drives this shift, and it became really omnipresent. I mean, it's not just the debate in Brussels, but within the member states both feeding each other. So, I don't know, I would say number two after the transatlantic or NATO dimension, number two, three, for sure.
Mike Green: For geopolitics, but maybe somewhere below climate change, would you say?
Eva Pejsova: No, I would hope it's above climate change. It's different agendas.
Mike Green: It's apples and oranges
Eva Pejsova: It's completely different.
Mike Green: They should be able to do both.
Eva Pejsova: Yeah.
Mike Green: Luis, what do you think? Is this now the top issue for the transatlantic relationship, for example?
Luis Simon: Yeah, I mean, I don't know if the top issue. I pretty much agree with what Eva was saying. You're right that the Indo-Pacific is at the center of U.S. foreign policy debates. In Europe, it's certainly gaining traction. It's certainly gaining traction in Brussels, but I have the feeling that the European foreign policy debate and security policy debate is still stuck on this question of how to strike the right balance between Eastern Europe and North Africa as well as the Middle East. And I think that goes both for the EU and NATO. So, I would say that the Indo-Pacific is certainly becoming more important, but I'm not sure it's still at the top of the transatlantic agenda.
Luis Simon: I couldn't agree more with Eva. What is actually gaining more centrality in the transatlantic conversation is China, but not necessarily China in an Indo-Pacific context, but more China, as in, as it relates to the future of the multilateral order, global economic governance, even climate change itself. You know that Europeans, they have this multilateralism frame. So more China in a global context, and that's getting the Indo-Pacific conversation through the back door. And it means it is gaining more and more centrality as well, even if indirectly.
Mike Green: I have made the point, you all probably have as well in your circles that rising powers historically are revisionist first in their neighborhood. That's what the U.S. did in the Western Hemisphere. It's what Japan did. It's what Germany did under Bismarck. It's regardless of regime type, rising powers try to consolidate power in their own neighborhood first. And then the revision does or does not spread to global institutions. And then there's a big debate now of course, about how revisionist China is globally, which we should get to, but regionally there's no doubt. I think there's a 80 or 90% consensus among experts in the U.S. at least that Xi Jinping's vision for Asia is revisionist. It's to markedly reduce American power and leadership, weaken and split apart U.S. alliances, coerce smaller neighbors.
Mike Green: So, when, and I know you both know this because you both spent so much time on India and Japan and Korea, not just China, you see the multipolarity in Asia in a way that I historically have not seen for many European thinkers about the region who follow the money, which is almost all China. Are you guys having some success in what I think you're saying, which is that this is a regional problem in Asia, it's not a China problem. Are you finding there's more attention to Japan, to India and Australia, to the overall dynamics of the region? Or is it still largely about China, even when you're looking at the regional dimension?
Luis Simon: First of all, I agree with you. You can't separate the global from the regional. They're very much intertwined, which is why, and this relates to your question, Europe, Europeans cannot address the China question without addressing the Indo-Pacific question, and without getting into the nitty gritty of Indo-Pacific geopolitics and security. I think there's a growing realization of that fact in Europe. And that partly explains the growing interest in the Indo-Pacific. The French have put out a strategy, the Germans have put out a strategy, the Dutch, now the EU, and NATO is also having more and more discussions on the Indo-Pacific. And that is precisely because there's this realization that you cannot tackle China as a global abstract challenge that is not grounded in the logical of geography and geopolitics. And so, you need to connect both.
Mike Green: And as an Europe Japan hand focused on the broader Indo-Pacific, are you finding there's resonance in Paris, in London, in Brussels to the idea that Europe needs to do more with Japan, more with India, more with Australia and Korea and Southeast Asia? Is that a thing now? Is that a growing trend?
Eva Pejsova: If I may jump in, that's actually precisely the point of the German strategy, of the Dutch strategy, and even to a certain extent to the French strategy, which are all those that have driven the current EU strategy. It's one of the specificity. It's not China focused, actually. It's quite explicitly actually mentioning the need to work with like-minded partners. So, even though you won't find concrete names, it means Japan, it means Korea, it means ASEAN, it means India, and it means, of course, the U.S.
Mike Green: So, when historians look back on this period in transatlantic relations, and Europe's thinking about China and geopolitics, the last month or so is really one of those, potentially one of those deflection points. You had the conclusion of the European trade agreement with China, which frankly displeased the Biden administration. I think they felt that it was on the merits, maybe not a terrible deal, but to welcome the new Biden administration by signing a major trade deal with China was not a good look for transatlantic relations.
Mike Green: And then very shortly afterwards, you had the EU sanctions over Xinjiang and then the incredibly heavy handed Chinese sanctions against MERICS and other scholars and parliamentarians. Where's the debate right now? Are people wounded and scared? Are they angry? Are they resolute? Where is this going in the next phase of the debate, Eva? I mean, you guys were not sanctioned, right?
Eva Pejsova: No.
Mike Green: But you did, your institute, I think was one of the many institutes in Europe that spoke out in support of MERICS. And so, where does the debate going right now? Do people regret that sanctioning over Xinjiang? Has it doubled-down resolve about the importance of democratic values and the nature of China? Where do things stand, do you think?
Eva Pejsova: So, we’re not sanctioned yet, I would say. We're definitely on the list. No, I would say what you're saying is it's more like doubled-down the resolve. It doesn't really... I would say it didn't make a huge difference. It didn't change people's minds, I would say. Those who were persuaded that they're on the right paths, they will continue doing it and criticizing and standing up against human rights, and all that they stand for. And those who will focus on trade will continue focusing on trade.
Eva Pejsova: It's quite interesting, actually, the CAI, or the Comprehensive Agreement on Trade on Investment with China, you would still, again have probably an unchanged opinion among those because most of the business community would applaud it as a win. I mean, that's how it's portrayed it. It was about guaranteeing market access, and better conditions to European companies. And that's what it obtained. And then of course the security community and commentators were skeptical, and as surprised perhaps about the timing and all the things that we tend to reproach to the agreement when it was released as the new U.S. administration. So, I don't think that that really changed that much. You would have the businesses that will continue engaging and be supporting this, and then the rest.
Mike Green: What about parliaments and the public, the ones who maybe didn't have a strong position, Luis? Do you think it shaped that debate in those places?
Luis Simon: Yeah, I think it is having an impact, particularly at the level of the European parliament, which has to ratify the agreement. And right now it's not looking good. It's not looking good and here I think I would perhaps point to a difference between the way in which the Trump administration approached the China conversation and the way in which the Biden administration did because Trump did not play the values card. And as it turns out, that's actually quite effective in terms of rallying a support in some quarters in Europe.
Luis Simon: So, a lot of people who were perhaps rather indifferent to the whole debate framed in terms of geopolitical competition and so on are actually playing ball when it is about values, and when it is about human rights and democracy. So right now it's at this moment that is not looking good for the treaty in parliament, but things of course may change. We just went through an escalation, if you will. So, we'll see how the situation evolves in the coming months, because there's still a very strong business constituency pushing for the agreement. So, we need to see.
Mike Green: Luis, are you still teaching in university with all your positions and responsibilities? I'm curious how you find the younger generation's views. In our surveys at CSIS of the American public and Pew surveys and Chicago Council there's a marked negative turn in views of China across multiple sectors, farmers, labor intellectuals. But the one demographic that's less alarmed about China in the U.S. in relative terms are people aged 20 to 30. They less worry that China is an existential threat, relatively speaking. I've always thought when I've lectured in Europe, I've always been surprised because in Europe I get questions from students that are much more skeptical about the U.S. and much more optimistic about China. I think some polling shows this as well. What are you finding that the view is among your students and among younger people across Europe about China right now, and especially in the wake of what just happened?
Luis Simon: That's a great question. Let me first say that whatever I may say on this matter is not substantiated in polling or data. You guys are doing great work there. My impression in general, and that also applies to students, is that the perception of China in Europe has taken a negative turn over the last year, year and a half. I think you're right in what you say in general, but I think there's been a change over the last year and a half or so. Particularly since Covid actually, that has led to an increasingly negative perception of China. And then if you put that together with the whole Hong Kong situation and the Uighurs, and now Taiwan, and values are taking center stage in the China conversation in a way that they were not before. I think that is having an impact on Europe.
Mike Green: Yeah, you can see so clearly in the Indo-Pacific strategies of the foreign office of the Hague of France is a foreign office, in the Australian white paper, the Japanese blue book and national security strategy. You can just see how much democratic values are coming to the fore. I've written a lot of these national security documents for the U.S. government. In the '90s, we didn't say that much actually about democracy and values, but it's such a prevalent part, democracy, of national security strategies now. It's clearly reacting to what we're all seeing, which raises the question, how much solidarity is there really in the "West," which is not a great term because some of the most important democracies are not in the West now, but maybe we should transition a bit to the transatlantic agenda on Asia.
Mike Green: What about democracy and human rights? Do you think Europe and the U.S. are pretty well aligned on the human rights question? Our governments have sanctioned China over Xingjiang. We've taken strong stands for the most part on Hong Kong. Do you think we're well aligned, Eva, on I should ask the Czech first? Do you think we're well aligned on human rights and democracy right now or are there other gaps?
Eva Pejsova: Well, on main lines, yes. It depends how ready we are to stand up for it and what sort of actions we're capable of putting on the table. But yes, in principle, I think that there's alignment.
Mike Green: Luis, you do a lot of work on technology. We were emailing about this. In the Congress right now and in the Senate there's a bill called the Endless Frontiers Act, which is likely to pass fairly soon, and create possibly a hundred billion dollars of industrial policy. Republicans don't want to call it that, but that's what it is, for AI, for high tech. And I can tell you from talking to members of Congress, they can picture, as I mentioned in my email where Japan, Korea, Taiwan fit in. They're still trying to figure out how does the U.S. and Europe, how do we create a T12, and half of the 12 are European. So, you're engaged in this debate a lot right now, Luis. What do you see as the areas for greater collaboration, the pitfalls, obstacles on the technology front: 5G, AI, the whole bit?
Luis Simon: Yeah, thanks. That's a key question I think going forward for the transatlantic relationship. I'm not a technology expert myself, but I'm trying to think about the geopolitical implications of this discussion and the whole technological decoupling. Well, that was more like Trump language, but the substance is still there, right? And the bottom line here is that, I mean, China is very important for the EU economically. Not only for the EU, also for Japan, obviously, and for the U.S. itself.
Luis Simon: And then there's this whole discussion. We talked about this on security of supply at supply chains and so on, which is partly about diversification and diversifying from countries like China. But it's also in an EU context is also about autonomy and strategic autonomy and self-reliance. And so, now the discussion on strategic autonomy goes beyond security and defense and includes critical technologies and goods and the whole discussion on European industrial and technological champions. That's very much, I would say, perhaps a French approach, but there are other perspectives in the European union.
Luis Simon: You talked about the Dutch. The Dutch and the Spanish put out a joint non-paper recently on what they call “open strategic autonomy.” So they talk about the need for EU operational sovereignty, which they defined as the capacity to promote an agenda of its own, but they weren't against protectionism and underscore this idea of keeping the EU's economy open and preserving a strong links on trade and technology in particular to the outside world, especially to key partners like the United States, but also conceivably Japan and other like-minded partners. So I think that this Dutch-Spanish paper actually provides a great foundation for greater transatlantic coordination on technology specifically. There's as you know, Mike, this proposal for an EU-U.S. trade and technology council. I think we're likely to see convergence on this front, even if there are still some issues related to privacy, to taxation, but hopefully I think we'll get some progress at the upcoming EU-U.S. meeting in June on the technology front.
Mike Green: Do you think Japan will be an important part of this? When you look at artificial intelligence and semiconductor fabrication, it's really the Dutch who were most important. The Japan, Korea, Taiwan, U.S., when you look at biotech, there are a lot more European economies that are really important. It's kind of issue by issue, but on the big, big things where we disagree like antitrust and data privacy, Japan is halfway in between where the Europeans and the Americans are. Do you think this is something we can do tri-laterally, the old G7 process? How can we make this move? My sense is if it's just transatlantic, we may get stuck on our own baggage. What do you think?
Luis Simon: I agree with you. I think the EU is also pursuing it in parallel. It's an agenda with Japan, which is broadening and is deepening and very fast, I would say. Eva knows a lot more about this than I do. The way I see it, the transatlantic link is the foundation, but I think it's pretty clear that you need to go beyond that, right? Particularly, if there's a China angle to the conversation, which there is. You cannot have that conversation without Japan being at the center of the conversation. And that has many, many different angles, right?
Luis Simon: I mean, you mentioned the G7. There's also the Quad and the question of how the EU is going to engage with the Quad, if at all, now that the Quad is gaining more and more traction and has a very strong technology component. So, my sense is that first we need to see to what extent the EU and the U.S. can meet somewhere on the technology front, and then on that basis, I think we'll see what else can be accomplished in terms of working with other partners, which will happen in parallel, of course, but perhaps more in clusters.
Mike Green: Eva, you're in the middle of the EU-Japan dialouge. Do you see that agenda taking some real cues from the Brussels-Tokyo relationship?
Eva Pejsova: Absolutely. Well, as Luis said, it's definitely one of the top priorities and actually one of the successes so far. There's a working group. It's part of the strategic partnership agreement working towards some of the concrete ideas and data free flow with trust, for instance, is one of the success stories and digital connectivity. Tech is definitely one of the issues that are ahead on the agenda.
Mike Green: Can I ask, that's the obvious idea for reciprocity and digital trade. Does that resonate in Europe? Has he gotten people's attention?
Eva Pejsova: Absolutely, absolutely. I think, well, on the European it was the GDPR, the data protection regulations, and on the Japanese side, it would have been that. So I think altogether there's this ambition to see it serve as a reference on regulation when it comes to cyber and digital connectivity, and there's definitely a potential to achieve that along with other issues. So tech is definitely one of them, but connectivity is definitely ahead on the agenda among other things as well.
Mike Green: We should talk about security, which is in some ways a natural topic for NATO, but an awkward topic for the EU in the transatlantic relationship. But you both mentioned the Quad. The Quad is a thing, it's real. I mean, there will be, I'm certain, an in-person summit this year of the Quad, the QE2 and Charles De Gaulle carrier battle groups are going to be going to the Western Pacific. Where do you see other European member states, NATO plugging into the Quad, into the U.S.-Japan Alliance? Do you think it's going to be kind of an ala carte, a frigate here, a destroyer there, or do you think there's some real debate right now in Europe about a more prominent role in the security architecture in Asia? Eva, you're the maritime strategist, we should start with you.
Eva Pejsova: Well, Quad is one thing, but frankly, I mean, there's a lot of space dedicated to security and defense in the new strategy. There's a lot that the Europeans, whether at the member state level, or even sometimes on the EU level, do in terms of security in Asia and the Indo-Pacific, but it's all sorts. There's transnational security issues. So, we already mentioned cybersecurity. It's maritime security, short of a naval deployment under the EU flag, if you really want to push that way. It's terrorism, counter-terrorism, it's non-proliferation. It's really all sorts of these issues that we are actively dealing with and building capacity of local actors, et cetera.
Eva Pejsova: But that aside, you're of course aware of the French naval presence in the Indo-Pacific, the Germans, the Dutch are considering sending frigates to even some of the most hot, the hottest security hotspots. Let's not name them. And we are all aware of the political messaging of the symbolic value of this presence. So, even a small frigate, you could have this argument. Yes, but without the UK, you don't really have the capabilities, but frankly, a small frigate can make a difference if we consider the symbolic value of it. And if we already see the Chinese push back against this, and you do hear quite a lot about it.
Eva Pejsova: With the Quad, that's another issue. I mean, we have been already discussing even the two of us what's the value of joining the Quad as opposed to working with the Quad. We know that the French and other member states have been approached to join and have been open and reluctant to do that. I think that that's something that may be here to stay, but it is part, it is composed of these like-minded countries that we work with anyway. The French are conducting exercises with the Indians, with the Americans, with the Japanese separately all together. Then we can get into the whole business of how to call it or how institutionalized it should be. But we are working with the Quad on issues of common interests.
Mike Green: You said earlier “as a constructivist,” Eva. Are you a constructivist?
Eva Pejsova: Well, I do believe from experience that there are some forces that are difficult to be explained by purely rational theories.
Mike Green: Yeah. It's impossible. Even a hardcore realist like myself. It's impossible to be a regional expert and not have a little bit of constructivist in you, so fair enough. Luis, what do you think about the security picture? Is there more to come from Europe?
Luis Simon: I mean, I agree with what Eva just said. There are many angles to this question. You were talking about the Quad, which is a whole debate. You were talking about the differences between member states. Perhaps as just the general observation as far as the EU is concerned when it comes to security in the region, my sense is that particularly when it comes to maritime activities, the main entry point for Europeans in the Indo-Pacific, perhaps with some exceptions will be transnational threats, right? And low end stuff like piracy, disaster relief, environmental security at sea, and so on, as opposed to high-end interstate conflict or even deterrence.
Luis Simon: Having said that it's not like these two worlds are totally disconnected from each other, right? Because by helping certain regional partners, for instance, in Southeast Asia, build up their capabilities in maritime domain awareness, or ISR, or command and control, Europeans can actually help them develop a latent capacity to balance against China if need be in the future as well. So, it's true that most European countries may be reluctant to engage in the region operationally from a military standpoint or at least directly. But if you put together Europe's emphasis on working with like-minded partners, particularly Japan, I would say, its commitment to capacity building in Southeast Asia, its arms transfers to many countries in the region and the arms embargo in China. I think all that points in the same direction, which is that Europe is working, of course, in its own way, but it's working to preserve regional balance of power.
Mike Green: I think you're right on something, both of you, when you talk about what the Pentagon sometimes calls “phase zero.” All the security stuff that's not high end war fighting when we're not actually in a war. Everything from humanitarian disaster relief to participating in exercises and all the things you described. And it's valuable because it shows Europe has some skin in the game. That Europe is part of the fabric of security practice in Asia. But to go right to the high end conflict for a minute to end with, you've probably seen that the outgoing commander of INDOPACOM, Admiral Davidson, has said he thinks there's a danger of a Taiwan crisis, of a Chinese use of force in the next five years. That's a little beyond where most security experts are in Washington, but I don't know anyone who thinks it's less dangerous today than it was a year ago. And there are various theories why. Part of it is an argument that Beijing sees a closing window, but I can tell you that in the think tanks and Congress and the administration, people are worried about it.
Mike Green: And when in Washington, we think through how do we dissuade China from using force? There's obviously a deterrence and that rests almost entirely on the U.S.. And to some extent, Japan, maybe Australia. I don't think the Belgian Army is going to be fighting in the Taiwan Strait. So it's not about the kinetic side, but when the Central Military Commission makes a decision to grab Itu Aba or use force or not, there will almost certainly be a discussion about geopolitics, about whether the world will align against China. I hate to say this, but my guess is right now in Zhongnanhai or in the CMC, the argument would be made Europe can be neutralized. Yeah, Japan, the U.S., Australia, but Europe can be neutralized.
Mike Green: I'm not sure they're right, but I worry that that's how they see Europe right now. Are there ways... Are they wrong? Will there be cost imposition in the use of inventive force by Europe? Are there ways that can be made more demonstrable to Beijing to show... I mean, what I like about the QE2 and Charles De Gaulle going is the Chinese don't really like it. And London and Paris say, "Too bad." That's the kind of, not gratuitous, not big fights for gratuitous reasons, but to demonstrate Europe won't be intimidated. But my own sense is there isn't enough of that yet. And that Beijing may calculate Europe could be neutralized. Luis, why don't you start us off because people can't see this, but I see you nodding vigorously. So, why don't you go first and then we'll let Eva wrap this up?
Luis Simon: Yeah, thanks Mike. I think this is a great topic not least because it's not often discussed. We tend to stick to the low end stuff, which is where Europeans are by and large comfortable. Of course, it's very complicated because I don't think there is any sort of agreement in terms of how far Europeans should go in the security sphere in terms of engaging in the region. Some countries are able and perhaps even willing to go rather far, certainly the Brits. I know they're not a member of the EU, but they are a leading European country. So certainly the Brits. And to some extent the French although that's complicated by autonomy related considerations and signaling and so on. But I would perhaps actually flip the question because it's not 100% clear to me to what extent an Asian country like Japan, for instance, or even the United States, would want a strong European security engagement in the region when it comes to deterrence, right?
Luis Simon: It may well be that it's an interest of the U.S. or Japan for Europeans to actually concentrate their military efforts in Europe so that the U.S. has more bandwidth to properly resource it's rebalance to Asia and its deterrence posture in Asia. I don't know. Maybe you can tell us, but I feel Europeans have been getting contradictory signals from Washington on this one. I remember that in his farewell speech in London, the Secretary of Defense in 2012, Leon Panetta, actually encouraged Europeans to rebalance alongside the United States to Asia militarily. But after Russia's annexation of Crimea, the message coming from Washington was you Europeans should focus on holding the line in Eastern Europe and let us and our Asian allies do the heavy lifting when it comes to deterrence in Asia.
Luis Simon: Now, having said that, I think that if there is a conflict, I find it very difficult to imagine that Europeans, in particular the French and the British, but perhaps also others would stay neutral because Europeans are allies of the United States and the Washington Treaty is not a one-way street. It's not a mechanism for the United States to defend Europe. It's one for all and all for one mechanism. It's a two-way street. And in fact, as you know, Mike, the only time in history that Article 5 was invoked was after September the 11th, right?
Mike Green: Right, right.
Luis Simon: So, if there is a conflict building up in Asia, I think the United States is going to have expectations about its European allies. And if those expectations are not met, and I realize that perhaps from a military standpoint, Europeans are probably not going to tip the balance but they can provide, particular to the British on the French that have blue water navies and global reach in terms of their military and intelligence capabilities, I think they can assist in a number of ways and diplomatically, certainly I would expect them to take sides.
Mike Green: Yeah. I think there are two calculations that will shape the Chinese decision making. One, how much military pain will the U.S. cause China? Sunken ships, missiles on targets, how much kinetic pain? And then second, how long will China be isolated economically from the world community? And I worry that in the wake of what happened in Hong Kong, Beijing is concluding they can get away with a lot. That's what worries me. And so, I would almost trade the French and British Carabello groups for a robust... I don't know if this would ever happen, but for a robust statement from Brussels that use of force or unilateral change to the status quo will lead to consequences in Europe's relationship with China, which has never been clearly stated, if you see what I mean. It's the economic and geopolitical price and cost imposition that probably matters more. The important part of the military side is it shows a willpower, a willingness to take risk, which connects to the second one. What do you think, Eva?
Eva Pejsova: Well, it's an excellent question and a notoriously difficult one. Of course, a reason why we're not having that many discussions is just that it's one way to test the alliances is to never test them.
Mike Green: Don't ask hard questions.
Eva Pejsova: Exactly. So, no, I fully agree with Luis and the question is what a strong statement can do? But I've been more thinking actually what is the plethora of things that we can do before it happens? Because here we're talking, and frankly there are war scenarios and discussions that try to simulate this situation. We come to the conclusions that yes, we can at most issue a good statement. But there are certainly things that we can do while waiting for it to happen. You started by talking about the Czech Republic shooting above its weight, and it reminded me of this incident about six months ago last September of the visit of the Czechs and its speaker to Taiwan and his address to the Legislative Yuan at the time saying, "I am Taiwanese." And if you remember, there was really, that made the headlines, I think, of quite a few journals and made definitely our Taiwanese colleagues quite happy.
Eva Pejsova: I'm sure that that's perhaps one way to go about this is also to signal to Taiwan, to Taiwanese people, and to China, that the support is there. Try to perhaps integrate, to some extent, Taiwan into the international system and try to communicate and build those bridges because those bridges, if worse comes to worse and we get to this scenario that you're mentioning, will be needed anyway. And it is not just this kind of chorus parliamentary diplomacy that is going on at the non-state level that will catch up all that needs to be caught. And so, I think we don't... Instead of speculating what we'd do in the worst case scenarios, we should start engaging now, perhaps.
Mike Green: I predict that this Taiwan issue is going to be more and more of the transatlantic dialogue. We're not going to be able to avoid it. It's a problem that's getting harder. Yes, Luis, go ahead. Why don't you?
Luis Simon: Mike, if I may just very quickly pitch in on this one because I think I really like how you put it that you would trade the aircraft carriers for a statement.
Mike Green: Although it'd be clear, I'd prefer to have both.
Luis Simon: Yeah, no, I understand. I understand. But perhaps what I would say is that, and I hear, I agree with you in terms of your skepticism, you may not get that statement in peacetime, but I would be surprised if you didn't get that statement in wartime. So, I realize that from a deterrence viewpoint, that's probably not very good news, but I would be surprised if there were to be a kinetic conflict in Asia involving China and the United States, I would be surprised if Europeans did not clearly position themselves.
Mike Green: So the important thing now is for the U.S. and Europe to make sure that China is not surprised by such a statement. That China would expect such a statement. And I think that's a role for 1.5 track dialogue, quiet government dialogue. I can't tell you how exciting it is to be able to have these conversations with European friends, strategic, balanced. And the underlying theme although none of us has said it explicitly, but the underlying theme I think for all of us is this is not about containing or undermining China's success. It's about preserving a rules-based order that Europeans and Americans and Japanese and Canadians and Australians have built, and that we want to welcome more countries into. And maybe the hardest part of all of this will be convincing Beijing of that fact, but it is what I think animates us all. Terrific stuff. We'll be watching all your terrific work and looking forward to more discussions. Thanks very, very much for joining the Asia Chessboard today.
Eva Pejsova: Thank you.
Luis Simon: Thank you.
Andrew Schwartz: Thanks for listening. For more on strategy and the Asia Programs' work, visit the CSIS website at csis.org, and click on the Asia Program page.