Why Taiwan Matters
This transcript is from a CSIS event hosted on June 8, 2023. Watch the full video here.
Victor Cha: So good morning, everyone. My name is Victor Cha. I’m senior vice president for Asia and Korea chair at CSIS, vice dean and professor at Georgetown. And we’re very happy this morning to welcome Senator Dan Sullivan, who will be speaking on Taiwan and the Indo-Pacific overall.
As many of you know, Dan Sullivan is a very good friend of CSIS. He is Alaska’s eighth U.S. senator. He currently serves on four Senate committees – Commerce, Science, and Transportation, Armed Services, Environment and Public Works, and Veteran Affairs. He’s also head of the IRI, the International Republican Institute.
Prior to his election to the U.S. Senate, Senator Sullivan served as Alaska’s attorney general and commissioner of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources. He also has a distinguished record of military service in the U.S. Marine Corps. He served in the administration of President George W. Bush as U.S. assistant secretary of state for economic, energy, and business under Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and also served on the directorate of the National Security Council, which was where I first had the chance to meet him. He earned his B.A. in economics from that university up in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I forget the name of it. But most importantly, he got his master’s of science in foreign service from Georgetown University, a school that I know quite well.
So with great pleasure I am happy to welcome my friend and colleague Dan Sullivan to the stage. (Applause.)
Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK): All right. Good morning, everybody. It’s always good to be back at CSIS and I want to begin by thanking Victor, all the staff here. You guys do great work – I mean, truly, truly great work that is used by so many people throughout this town, including so many senators, but I think throughout the world.
So thank you. Keep it up, Victor and team. We really, really appreciate it.
I am – so we have a handout for all of you. This is a speech and remarks that I have been giving pretty much all over the place and this is think tanks, ed boards, senators, speeches on the floor, and I want to give you a little bit of background on why I’m doing this and then go through it quickly, because most of you who are experts understand this topic and the stakes that are presented by this presentation.
And then where I’m really looking forward to is having a little bit of Q&A with all of you, with Victor. This is where I come to CSIS on a pretty regular basis and learn a lot from all of you.
So with that, what I wanted to do if you have this handout I’ll just give you kind of a little bit of a background on kind of what has gone into this, what inspired my desire to work on this and then, again, get feedback from everybody here because this is a really, really important topic.
As Victor mentioned, I’m a – I’m still serving in the Marines. I’m a colonel at the Marine Forces Pacific Command and I’m the Reserve chief of staff at that command. That’s part of the INDOPACOM command. It’s one of the subordinate service commands out at INDOPACOM. And this idea, in some ways, kind of came from, of course, my job here in the Senate but also my job as a Marine out at INDOPACOM.
And, you know, as we’re doing the work – and I was just out there two weeks ago for about a week of Reserve duty – a couple issues kind of occurred to me, both what I refer to in my day job as a senator but also in my military capacity, and one is – this is a huge challenge, right, and as you can imagine I’m talking about the Taiwan issue – Taiwan Strait issue. And as you can imagine, our forces – and I think it’s really important for everybody here – out in INDOPACOM, are focused very intently on this issue.
But the one thing that occurred to me, you’re out there with the men and women in the U.S. military and our allies saying, hey, they’re working on this all the time, but does the rest of the country know or care or understand? You got a whole bunch of military folks who do, but do the rest of – the average American public, do they? So that’s an important issue.
And a related issue comes to this issue of will and, you know, in military terms and strategic terms a country’s will is very important with regard to strategy, with regard to – we don’t want it there – military conflict, and say what you want about the Chinese Communist Party – and I don’t have a lot of nice things to say about them. You’ll hear that. But on this topic they have a lot of will, right, and I think that it’s important for Americans to understand the stakes and a lot of times – a lot of times we don’t. We’re not a country that’s great at understanding our own history, let alone other countries’ histories.
And so what I thought would be useful to kind of do a deep dive and talk about this issue, and what I’ve done in this speech – and, again, we’ll go through it rather quickly – but it’s really three parts to this.
One is a little bit of our own history as it relates to Taiwan, the Taiwan Strait issue, because it’s an important history and there’s certain things in this history that are quite remarkable like the Taiwan Relations Act. And we’ve had will, actually quite a lot of will, for decades and that’s important for Americans to know and our allies and potential adversaries.
The second part is looking at what the world would look like in the aftermath of a successful PLA/CCP invasion of Taiwan. OK. It’s not a topic that people want to contemplate but it’s an important topic, and I go into that. That’s kind of the meat of this speech.
And then third is, all right, if we don’t want a conflict and we’re not going to launch one – the United States isn’t. Taiwan isn’t going to launch one. It will be launched by Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party.
What then should we do in terms of undertaking policies that relate to deterrence, deterrence, deterrence? So that’s the three parts of my remarks, and if you want to just follow along I’ll try and get through this quickly.
But if you look at page two I have a slide there of Xi Jinping and his new members of the – elected after the National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in November and, you know, let’s face it, that picture in many ways is kind of ridiculous, right. I mean, these elderly gentlemen in their fatigues – I mean, I think they look ridiculous as a U.S. Marine. No offense, or maybe I am making an offensive remark.
But there’s a seriousness here. They put that picture out almost immediately after this last congress and it is a photo taken to show China and the rest of the world these guys are preparing for war.
We need to take this very, very seriously despite how ridiculous they might be looking in their fatigues. And I know our eyes are on Ukraine, something that we should stay focused on, but defeating authoritarian aggression in Europe is essential to deterring it in Asia. But we can’t lose sight of the threat to Taiwan and what is at stake.
So if you turn to the next page on page four, what I like to do is analogize this with another moment in U.S. history with our allies because a lot of people kind of look and say, geez, this is a hopeless case, right. You got China with interior lines that are a hundred miles away – how in the heck can we deter this.
Well, if you look at history, in American history, which, again, Americans aren’t always so great at doing, we have been here before. In the last century we were here before. In a proud, proud moment of American history we recognized that a small enclave of freedom, essentially, in the middle of a very aggressive totalitarian regime was critical not just to the people of that community – now I’m talking Berlin – but to the world. Americans understood that.
In 1948 we were tired. We were exhausted. The world was exhausted and, yet, the Soviet Union now was on the march, and if you look at that very famous photo of the Berlin airlift in 1948 that is a proud moment of American history.
At the high point of that blockade of Berlin the United States was landing an aircraft to supply the people of West Berlin – an aircraft, one a minute – one a minute to save that country.
We understood that that city, West Berlin, and its citizens stood on the frontline of the struggle between an American-led free world and a powerful expansionist authoritarian regime and we undertook policies that threatened a broader war just to try to save that outpost of freedom and we were successful. We were successful.
So the same is true, in my view, of Taiwan today. In many ways Taiwan is the 21st century’s West Berlin and I think that’s important to recognize.
So if you look at the next slide, page six, it’s important to recognize our own history. The Chinese love to talk about will but the United States has had will. It’s very interesting. When you actually look at the history our involvement in Taiwan was really accelerated after one major event in the world that a lot of people don’t tie the two together but they’re very tied together, which was the Korean War and the invasion of South Korea by the authoritarian North Korean dictators with the Russian and Chinese Communist Party backing.
That solidified the United States’ view that, hey, wait a minute, we’re going to actually look at Taiwan in a different way. A lot of people don’t understand that connection but it’s very much the case. And if you look at different administrations, starting with the Eisenhower administration, Taiwan plays a central role in our view and outlook as it relates to our relationship with authoritarian regimes, particularly the Chinese Communist Party.
And in addition to that history with the Eisenhower administration, you look at President Eisenhower’s memoirs the issue of Taiwan covers pages and pages – dozens of pages, right. So this has been a strong part of American history for decades and it’s also historically and from a legislative perspective some real remarkable legislation, and what I’m talking about and all of you know what I’m talking about but that’s the Taiwan Relations Act.
When you think about what happened there – and I mention if you look at page number six some key elements of that act, which to this day continues to define our relationship with Taiwan and the Chinese Communist Party – but what happened was quite remarkable. You had an administration, the Carter administration, who was continuing the efforts to normalize relations with Beijing and when they did it many in the Congress, particularly the U.S. Senate, thought that, hey, President Carter, you’ve gone too far, right. We have an ally here who we’ve been with and they’ve been with us for decades and we think you’re kind of just throwing them under the bus.
And in the U.S. constitutional system the president doesn’t have all the power. As a matter of fact, there’s a lot of power that resides with the United States Senate in our Constitution. And you had 84 – 85 U.S. senators who said, you’re not going to go that far, President Carter. We’re going to establish what we think should be the policy in the Taiwan Relations Act that has stood the test of time to this day. It’s quite remarkable and, again, that goes to our history.
I won’t mention all the elements of the Taiwan Relations Act, which I mentioned 85 U.S. senators, including a young senator named Joe Biden, voted for that legislation. But it is all about saying we are not going to let the Taiwan issue be resolved by any other way than peaceful means and we are going to prevent the economic and military coercion in the Taiwan Straits. That is U.S. bipartisan policy that exists to this day as articulated in the Taiwan Relations Act.
So you turn to the next page, the next slide. This is always important, I think, kind of when you’re talking to audiences if you can draw a personal connection. Because of this history, literally tens of thousands of Americans have had a history with regard to Taiwan as part of our responsibilities and duties, including myself.
My first deployment as a U.S. Marine was on that big ship you see right there. That’s the USS Belleau Wood, part of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, an amphibious ready group.
We were sent to the Taiwan Strait in 1995 and ’96 at what now is referred to as the third Taiwan Strait crisis when the PLA mobilized forces to the Taiwan Strait, started shooting missiles very aggressively over the island because they were on the verge of their first presidential election.
And President Clinton, to his credit, sent two carrier strike groups and a Marine amphibious ready group and I was part of that as a young infantry officer and lieutenant. In the Taiwan Strait, that ship – you read the history and say at the height of that crisis the president sent a U.S. aircraft carrier through the Taiwan Strait. It wasn’t an aircraft carrier; it was that ship. Looks like a carrier, but that’s called an amphibious assault ship that carries Harriers and Marines; 1,100 Marines on that ship. That’s a serious commitment of U.S. credibility and U.S. power.
And I later led a delegation with Senator Duckworth and Coons on that airplane. That’s a picture from our delegation when we delivered almost a million vaccines to Taiwan about two years ago now.
When COVID started to break out there the Chinese Communist Party was trying to strangle the citizens of Taiwan from getting any Western vaccines, doing a huge information propaganda operation, and we said we’re not going to allow that to happen to our ally. We’re going to show up here announcing our support, which is what we did in a bipartisan way.
But I’ll mention one final thing that really had an impact on me my first trip ever to Taiwan where I wasn’t on a ship, on land. When I landed the State Department AIT official got on the bus. It was me, a congressional delegation led by Senator McCain, and he said this – I’ve written it down here because it had a real impact to me and I’ll quote it to you: “Welcome to Taiwan, a vibrant democracy of 24 million people with one of the most innovative economies in the world, a hub of trade and cutting-edge technology, and the only reason this incredible place exists on the map as such is because of the sacrifice and commitment of America – our military, our government, and our people – to Taiwan’s survival. Every single American citizen should be proud of that.”
That’s what he said. I’ll never forget that. On the bus I was just thinking, wow, that makes me proud as an American. Kept this really vibrant democracy free, and all Americans should be proud of that. It was a powerful greeting.
So let me get to the meat of this speech and what I did – and, again, I’m going to go through this quickly. I’ve promised that several times and I’m not keeping it to you guys, but so I’ll really try here.
But what I did was I asked this question of our different intel agencies, several of them, which is, hey, I don’t think we understand enough what the stakes are. So what I’d like you guys to do is do some analysis on what would happen in terms of U.S. interests and those of our allies – now, we’re looking just American interests, right – if there was a successful military invasion of Taiwan by the CCP.
Don’t go into how it happens, right? There’s a lot of different ways that could happen. Just assume you’re starting on day one. There’s been a military invasion and now the Chinese Communist Party dominates and has conquered Taiwan. And I’m not even talking about the carnage that would happen because it’ll be horrendous. But what would happen to U.S. interests?
And believe it or not, when I dug into this, this is – I mentioned this is kind of a – it’s not studied that well, this very question. I couldn’t find a lot on it at all, and I think it’s little studied because it’s a very depressing topic to contemplate what I just said – a successful, brutal, bloody, violent CCP/Xi Jinping-led crushing of Taiwan.
But that’s a huge possibility. We all know it. So what does that world look like and what are the ramifications for American interests and how would we want to prevent it? How should we try to prevent it? So those are the key things that I had asked different organizations to take a look at and let me just give you a quick summary of that.
First, this would be a devastating blow to the U.S. and global economy. The high-end chip fabrication that takes place on Taiwan is, we all know, enormous. The island democracy is home to 92 percent of the world’s most advanced semiconductor production. I mean, think about that in terms of the global economy and what it means.
The State Department had recently done an assessment of this damage. They estimate it would be kind of probably north of about $2.5 trillion. This is nothing – and this doesn’t include the huge cost to global shipping, which Taiwan plays a huge role in, and these very sophisticated computer chips not only going into the global economy but going into American defense production – F-35s, radars, missile defense.
So you have an entire huge, massive global impact to the global economy that would be negative, particularly providing the CCP with control of these most advanced computer chips, which run the whole world’s economy.
Second, as I mentioned now on page 12, there would be a huge geostrategic loss in a vital area of the world. As experts and followers on foreign policy you understand that slide on the First Island Chain, the Second Island Chain, that’s been a very important strategic lines within the American security apparatus since the end of World War II and, as you know, in the Second Island Chain you have residents in Guam, Mariana Islands. These are all U.S. citizens. These are all U.S. citizens that would be put to risk.
If you turn to the next slide on page 14, that is just an indication of the overmatch of what exists across the Taiwan Strait. If you look at where the PLA and the Chinese Communist Party has built up their military capability just in that theater and what Taiwan has right now, look at that. I mean, that is stunning.
And here’s something else that, again, nobody really knows for sure. But if you look at history, when dictators are on the march – aggressive dictators are on the march – think about the PLA successfully invading Taiwan with that amount of military.
Do you think they’re just going to sit there? You don’t think they’re going to look and say, hmm, who’s our next target to coerce? Who’s our next target to use that massive military force, which they’re growing every single day? Much more than we are, by the way.
It’s a question, Victor, I hope you ask me about because I don’t think we’re doing nearly enough. So a lot of the assessment that I was briefed on thinks that once there’s an invasion and it’s successful with that amount of military the PLA will very likely use it for the next neighbor, for the next democracy in the region, to coerce, blackmail, or bring them under the control either militarily or just from a coercion perspective. So that is another area of our interests that we need to be very cognizant of.
A third, as I mentioned on page 14, is I think our commitment to our allies and credibility to our allies in the region – I was just in Japan and Korea over the weekend – would be strongly questioned.
We have treaty alliances with many countries in the region – bilateral alliances – and I think those would be questioned significantly, which would hurt and undermine all of our national security interests in the region.
Finally, if you look on page 16 and slide 15, a successful military invasion of Taiwan by the PLA and CCP would be a huge boost to Xi Jinping’s authoritarian model around the world, and I think instinctively we know what a problem that is but we need to face this very soberly and that would be a giant boost for their model as they look to pursue that not just in Asia and the Indo-Pacific but all around the world.
So that slide – that’s an unclassified slide there – that’s actually from the J2 of INDOPACOM, if you look at page 16, and I think that’s a really good summation of all the different interests that I’m talking about – what the CCP would gain, what the U.S. would lose in terms of strategic interests. Very significant. Sobering, but very significant.
So what do we do about it? Well, let me just end with this. If you look at page 18, I like to talk about the issue of deterrence as composing three levels of deterrence in the Taiwan Strait and that’s what we want. The United States does not want war in the Taiwan Strait. The island democracy of Taiwan doesn’t want a war in the Taiwan Strait.
If there’s a war in the Taiwan Strait it will be launched by those guys in their silly fatigues on the first page of this presentation. That is a fact. So what are – so what we need to focus on is deterrence. We understand deterrence, but I like to talk about deterrence in the Taiwan Strait in terms of three levels of deterrence.
The first is the level of helping Taiwan defend itself. That is actually in the Taiwan Relations Act. That shouldn’t be new to anybody.
But we need to do much more in terms of that, in terms of training, in terms of asymmetrical weapon systems that they need, and the ability to use – you know, some people call it the porcupine strategy – to make Taiwan look like what’s happening over in Ukraine.
I mean, the will of the brave people of Ukraine, I think, is a deterrent to almost any dictator around the world, hopefully, to Xi Jinping as well. Wow. When people’s homes and family and freedom are really, really put to the test people will fight. Look what the Ukrainians are doing.
So that’s the first level. We don’t know where we are now. We can do a lot more. The whole issue of will for the Taiwanese is important.
The second level of deterrence has historically been the most decisive, which is – now we’ve had at least three major Taiwan crises over the last several decades and it’s the deterrence factor of the United States and, hopefully, our allies coming to the assistance of Taiwan if there’s a war launched by the CCP.
Will we do that? You know, that’s always in question. But that’s been a decisive level of deterrence historically.
But the third level, which doesn’t get talked about nearly as much which I’ll end with here, is the level of economic, financial, energy sanctions that I believe we should tee up now to make it clear to the Chinese Communist Party if you invade militarily to crush this island democracy the triggering factor of your military invasion will result in massive, comprehensive economic, financial, and energy sanctions against your country, against the Chinese Communist Party, and against your interests.
Now, there’s a lot of people who do analysis of what’s going on in the Taiwan Strait who view that factor maybe as the most important, maybe as the most powerful, particularly if we have something like that in conjunction with our allies.
If you can imagine the United States, Europe, Japan, Korea, Canada having that as a policy – 65, 70 percent of the world’s global GDP – that is a major deterrent and I think that’s one of the most important things.
That’s why I’ve introduced the Stand With Taiwan Act in the Senate. On the House side Congressman Gallagher is the sponsor of this. We’ve been working on this legislation for quite some time. I’ve been pitching foreign governments, our allies, around the world on similar needs from their perspective to, again, have a trigger that says, here it is. If you militarily invade this is what you should be expecting.
We still have enormous economic, financial, and in particular energy, power, and influence. These are all huge strategic advantages that I think we should signal with legislation to make sure that we avoid a conflict in the Taiwan Strait.
So with that, I appreciate, again, the attention to this important issue and thank you for joining us this morning. And I’m trying to get this out to as many Americans as possible to understand the stakes, understand the history, and understand what we should be doing to keep the peace. That’s what we want, and if it’s up to others on this issue of peace in the Taiwan Strait we need to be ready if others choose a different path.
So with that, Victor, thanks again and I look forward to your questions. Thank you, everybody. (Applause.)
Dr. Cha: Great. Thanks.
Well, thanks so much, Senator Sullivan. That was terrific, and I think your last point is an important point to make. I mean, this is all about maintaining peace. It’s about deterrence and peace –
Senator Sullivan: Right. No doubt.
Dr. Cha: – and we’re now at a point where the security environment is very different from what it was a couple of years ago and there’s a lot of concerns.
So I want to go to – I mean, I want to go to this because this really is – this really is something. And as –
Senator Sullivan: By the way, that’s just one theater of the –
Dr. Cha: Right. This is just – right, this is just one theater.
Senator Sullivan: The Eastern theater, I think they call it.
Dr. Cha: And so I guess there are two questions here. One is in terms of the military balance what should we be doing, what should our – how do you think about what we should be doing and what our allies should be doing to try to – obviously, not to match this but to create enough credibility so that the deterrence signals work on the military side.
And then your other point about, perhaps, the biggest deterrent are things like the Stand Act, which show, you know, the universe of sanctions that China could come under. But, as you know well, China also uses economic coercion against others.
So how do we build up resilience among our allies to feel like they can withstand Chinese sanctions, trade dependencies on China, these sorts of things? So –
Senator Sullivan: OK. It’s great questions again. Victor was asking me about this chart – the overmatch chart. I think, again, it goes to the issues that were – that I raised. One is our ability to help Taiwanese train and have the will and have the capability to make it very difficult just from the perspective of the Chinese trying to invade and take them over, and that’s an issue that I think we’re behind on.
I think from the Taiwan military perspective I think there has to be much more of a focus on asymmetrical weapon systems, not, you know, high-end platforms like F-35s and Abrams tanks but mine capabilities, anti-ship capabilities, and the ability to train on those. You know, when people ask about will you see this incredible will in Ukraine. It’s quite remarkable. It’s very heroic.
But one element of will is a military force will have an increased will if they’re well trained and well equipped. Those are very related. So that’s one. I think we have to wake up to the reality that the present moment is not being met by the Biden administration’s defense budget.
Every year President Biden comes to the Armed Services Committee on which I sit and proposes a Defense Department cut – inflation adjusted cuts. He doesn’t do that to the EPA or Department of Commerce or all the other – I mean, we’re blowing it out in terms of the increases the Biden administration has proposed to almost every federal agency in the United States government with the exception of two, Homeland Security and the Department of Defense.
Three years in a row now the president puts forward a budget for inflation adjusted cuts. This year the Biden administration budget shrinks the Navy, shrinks the Army, and shrinks the Marine Corps. Go read the budget. That’s what it does.
That is not the right signal to be sending to Xi Jinping or Putin. What we’ve done two years in a row on the Armed Services Committee in a bipartisan way is dramatically increase the top line because we know that this budget is inadequate.
You know, I’ve heard from some administration officials, well, they put forward a low level budget because they want to appease the far left of the Biden administration’s progressive allies who don’t like the military or military spending, and they’ll know that the Armed Services Committee in a bipartisan way, which we have, will dramatically increase it.
Well, with this new budget deal that just happened that’s not going to happen. So my own view is we need to get much more serious about our own defense budget. We have efficiencies, as Speaker McCarthy has emphasized, which I agree with him that we need at the Department of Defense. But at the end of the day, we need to help with overmatch in the Taiwan Strait.
One way we can do that, though, which is really important is working with our allies. If the Japanese, the Australians, through initiatives like AUKUS, which is a Biden administration initiative that I actually very much strongly support, if we have our allies, even our European allies – you may have seen the United States and a Canadian naval vessel recently doing a Taiwan Strait transit – the ability to bring our allies and their assets into this very important region will help pretty significantly on that overmatch that you currently see in the Taiwan Strait.
So those are certain areas that I think, Victor, we can do more on but we have a lot more work to do. And then when it comes to coercion this, again, is an area where we need to be working very closely with our allies and sticking together.
The United States is big enough that, hey, if there’s economic coercion from China, OK, bring it. We have the ability to retaliate in many ways. Matter of fact, again, I think on certain issues the Biden administration has done a good job. The technology transfer issues, for example, under Secretary Raimondo have been very effective, very powerful.
But the G-7 – and I was just in Japan. Spent the full day with Ambassador Emanuel, who’s doing a really good job in Japan. You may have seen the G-7 this year that was based in Japan with the Japanese as the president of the G-7.
Much of that was focused on economic coercion and how we need to stick together with our democratic allies in particular, not just G-7 countries but the Quad and others, to make sure that if the Chinese are trying to pick on, say, Lithuania because they’re courageous and outspoken that we don’t allow them to do that.
I have had discussions with senior EU officials saying, hey, Lithuania is an EU member. Don’t let the Chinese Communist Party bully them. Stand up for them. They understand freedom. They were under the boot – the jackboot of the Soviet Union for decades.
So that’s what we need to do. We have strength in numbers. The Chinese Communist Party is very good at trying to pick off individual countries. They go after the Germans and, you know, tease them with more access to the market for all their beautiful BMWs and Mercedes-Benz. We need our German colleagues to stand strong and say, no, we’re not going to fall for that.
So that’s the key and I think the G-7 this past couple weeks ago was a good important start.
Dr. Cha: Really, really helpful, and I know time is short. I’d love to hear more about your trip to Korea and Japan – the takeaways.
But before doing that, you mentioned how the war in Ukraine really showcased the political will of the Ukrainian people and so I guess the question there for you is there – it’s twofold – what do you think the impact of the war has been to the Taiwanese people –
Senator Sullivan: Yeah.
Dr. Cha: – and what do you think the effect of Putin’s difficulties in the war, how has that affected Xi Jinping’s intentions?
Senator Sullivan: Well, I think – and again, CSIS, we learn so much from all of you, but in my discussions with leaders in the region, including Taiwanese leaders, is I think the war has shown what the defense of freedom can look like.
I worry sometimes that the people of Taiwan are taking the wrong message from it and they shouldn’t – they should not take this message. Just because the United States has not militarily intervened in Taiwan – and, again, I think President Biden on this issue has balanced it correctly, meaning we are strongly supporting the Ukrainians in defense of their home country without committing U.S. troops and I think that’s the proper approach.
But Taiwan and, certainly, the CCP should not read that that if there was a Taiwan Strait contingency that our policy would be the same, and I think some as I’ve heard on Taiwan that they’ve read it that way and they shouldn’t. Whether or not we come to the aid militarily with U.S. forces in the event of a military invasion by the CCP is not going to be determined by what we did in Ukraine.
So that’s one area. In my view, what’s happened in Hong Kong has rattled the people of Taiwan as much as what’s happened in Ukraine and I think that that’s a really important – a really important example of what could happen – what the Taiwanese are looking at could be their future.
There was an article just today in the Wall Street Journal about the people of Hong Kong how their freedom has been crushed. A woman who put out a Facebook post two years ago has now been arrested by the Chinese Communist Party and the Hong Kong dictatorial authorities.
So I think there’s a lot of lessons learned but, to me, the most important one that I hope the dictators of the world are taking is that when you come in and think that you can walk over a neighbor of yours, not because that neighbor threatens you from a national security perspective – Ukraine did not threaten Russia from a national security perspective.
Taiwan does not threaten China from a national security perspective. The reason they’re – they feel threatened is because of what these countries represent. They represent neighbors who have chosen the path, however difficult it might be, of a democratic future and that scares the heck out of Putin and Xi Jinping.
What I always like to say is one of the greatest weaknesses those two dictators have is they fear their own people. They fear their own people, and we need to exploit that in the years and decades to come.
Dr. Cha: Thanks. You know, I understand, as you framed in your opening remarks, that this is about getting the American people to understand the importance of this issue. This is just a factoid for you but, you know, we do polling here at CSIS of the region and as you can imagine the region, you know, there’s a split between those who think about the United States role in the region versus those who look at China’s rise. I mean, you’ll get different answers from Japan versus Malaysia, for example.
But on the question of Taiwan it was uniform. Every country polled the same way, which was if the United States were to lose Taiwan by military force the view of – confidence in the United States as a global power and in the region would just be gone.
Senator Sullivan: Right.
Dr. Cha: And so this is very important not just for the people of Taiwan but also for U.S. power and preeminence in the world.
Let me ask you, if I could, about your trip to Japan and Korea. I know that it was a quick trip and –
Senator Sullivan: It was quick.
Dr. Cha: – you look well even with – even with – even with the jetlag. (Laughter.) I mean, that’s pretty amazing.
Senator Sullivan: Well, I go home most weekends to Alaska and it’s –
Dr. Cha: So you’re used to this.
Senator Sullivan: – it’s pretty – yeah, it’s pretty – I like to remind people Anchorage is closer to Tokyo than it is to Washington, D.C. (Laughter.) So – that’s my hometown. So we’re – I kind of go to Asia every weekend, right? (Laughter.)
Dr. Cha: You’re logging a lot – you’re logging a lot of miles. (Laughs.) But love to hear your takeaways –
Senator Sullivan: Sure.
Dr. Cha: – from what’s going on in Seoul and Tokyo –
Senator Sullivan: Yeah, no –
Dr. Cha: – on this issue, but broadly.
Senator Sullivan: Well, look, I mean, it was a very positive trip and the trends are – and I’ve had the opportunity to meet with, you know, the leadership in terms of the national security adviser, foreign minister, all the top officials.
When I was in Korea at the end of last year I was honored to meet with President Yoon, who I think is doing a remarkable job and his speech to the joint session of Congress just a couple weeks ago was just incredible. Hopefully, you all saw that. Gave it in English, which is not an easy thing to do. Did fantastic.
A couple takeaways that I think, you know, that my sense, the alliance between the United States bilateral and Korea and Japan is very strong. As you know, this year we’re celebrating the 70th anniversary of the U.S.-Korean alliance and the polling that you see of the populations in those two countries is really strong, almost hitting historic levels, of their support for the U.S. alliance between the United States and Korea and the United States and Japan.
In Korea, the numbers are, I think the embassy told me, in the high 70s or low 80s and at the same time the view of the Chinese Communist Party has plummeted – plummeted – to low 20s, high teens. As a politician, when you’re talking 80 to 20 it’s pretty remarkable, and especially among the young people. So that’s a really good trend in both countries. So that dynamic is going well.
Two other takeaways that I think are really important. The leadership in Korea, particularly under President Yoon, in my view, has undertaken something that is very courageous and at the same time very difficult and that is their desire to want to really improve on the trilateral relationship – Korea, Japan, the United States.
That is absolutely critical when you look at the issues in the region and the importance and the strength that our three countries can bring to the challenges whether it’s Taiwan Strait, whether it’s Chinese economic coercion. But having the United States, Korea, and Japan working more closely together and all these issues is fundamental.
One of our great strategic advantages, as you all know, is America is an ally rich nation. China, Russia, North Korea, they’re ally poor. Not many people wanting to go join the Chinese Communist Party team. But the more aggressive they are in the region the more people want to come back to their trusts.
We’re not a perfect country by any means but there’s a trust level built over decades between the United States and so many countries in that region, and if we can cement in a stronger way the relationship between Korea and Japan which, of course, has very difficult and, you know, still difficult history between those two countries, that is only going to strengthen the region and we’ve seen that – I saw that both with Korea’s leadership, certainly, led by President Yoon but also Japan’s leadership. The countries – their leaders have met recently in Tokyo, in Seoul.
There’s going to be trilateral national security adviser level meetings here in the next week or so where Jake Sullivan is going out to the region, and President Biden has invited both leaders to come to Washington here I hope in a few months. That is all really positive.
One final area that I pitched and I think it’s an enormous strategic advantage for us that we don’t talk about enough is trilateral engagement not just on mil-to-mil issues, not just on trade issues, but on energy issues. On energy issues.
The United States is an energy superpower – all of the above energy, renewables, oil, gas – and a lot of our allies in the region need that and need our assistance, particularly the Japanese who are very focused – and Koreans but more the Japanese on getting off Russian oil and gas.
Alaska has a huge LNG project that we’ve been working on for many years that could supply our allies in the region in addition to Alaskans clean burning natural gas for decades. That is a strategic advantage for us and our allies that Xi Jinping fears, that Putin fears, and we need to do much more on bringing that level of energy cooperation across the board through a trilateral, through the Quad, and, to me, that is a message I was pitching in the region on my last trip – not just Alaska but other elements of American energy, and it was, I would say, very much a welcome message.
So I’m hopeful that on these next rounds of trilateral discussions the administration, the Japanese, the Koreans, will strongly move forward on the strategic advantage that we have with regard to energy and bring the Taiwanese and the Philippines and ASEAN countries into that mix as well.
Dr. Cha: That’s actually very interesting because, as you say, for both Korea and Japan, wholly energy dependent –
Senator Sullivan: Totally energy –
Dr. Cha: – on external sources, and they’re usually not from places you want them to be dependent.
Senator Sullivan: Exactly. They’re over reliant on the Middle East by far, you know, and, you know, from an Alaska perspective – now I’m being a little parochial – but historically Alaska was the first place to export LNG anywhere in the world. We started exporting LNG to Japan in the late 1960s. Fifty years of uninterrupted American exports to Japan. The most trusted supplier of energy. Never missed a cargo shipment.
As I mentioned to the Japanese, you know, 10 percent of their LNG is still from Russia and they’re looking possibly at doubling down on what’s called Arctic LNG 2. They’re investors in that. That’s a Russian project.
My view to the Japanese senior leaders was, hey, don’t fund the Russian war machine for 20 more years buying LNG. Buy it from your most reliable partner. You know, the other problem with getting it from Russia Putin wakes up one morning and he’s mad at you, boom, he’ll cut off that energy like that.
Alaska was a supplier of LNG to Japan for a half century and we never missed one cargo shipment. Most reliable supplier of LNG of any place in the world. Come back to us. Come back to your roots. We got 50 years of uninterrupted supply. It’s like a pipeline, a seven-day cargo shipment from Alaska to Tokyo.
No strategic choke points. It’s, literally, like a pipeline. If you need energy, reliable, which your country needs – so does Korea – get it from your allies, not from the Russians, certainly, and not from very unstable regions like the Middle East and Qatar.
So I think it’s a message that makes strategic sense. It’s a win-win for our countries and it was a message I was strongly proposing and, to be honest, with the strong support of our ambassador in Korea, Ambassador Goldberg, and our ambassador in Tokyo, Ambassador Emanuel, both of whom are doing a really good job.
Dr. Cha: A very important point in terms of building resiliencies in our alliance relationships. It’s not just about – it’s not just about the military. I mean, it’s about –
Senator Sullivan: Not just about military. Not just about trade. Energy is a great – and renewables and, you know, critical minerals. The United States has so much of this. And what we’ve done over the last decades is we outsourced it, certainly to China on critical minerals, and we enabled our allies to outsource all of their energy needs to Russia.
Huge mistake. Huge mistake. We can fix it. We have the resources in this country to help our allies for decades to get off the reliance and we’re not going to be the ones who cut off energy supplies or critical minerals. Look at what the Chinese did to the Japanese on rare earths when they got mad.
Come back to your ally, the United States, for these really important needs.
Dr. Cha: Especially, you know, in the last decade we’re in this new era of, like, countries weaponizing trade and energy. It’s really – it’s really something.
Senator Sullivan: Yeah. We don’t do that.
Dr. Cha: Yeah. We don’t do that.
Really, thank you so much for taking the time to be with us this morning –
Senator Sullivan: Sure. Always great to be here.
Dr. Cha: – especially after just getting off the airplane from the region.
Ladies and gentlemen, please thank Senator Sullivan. (Applause.)
Senator Sullivan: Thanks again, everybody. (Cheers, applause.)
Dr. Cha: Thank you.