Has Pelosi’s Taiwan Trip Changed America’s Strategic Ambiguity? A Chat with Rupert Hammond-Chambers.

Simone:
Okay. Thank you, Mr. Chambers for joining Zooming In today.

Rupert Hammond-Chambers:
It’s my pleasure, Simone, it’s always a pleasure to speak with you. Thank you for inviting me.

Simone:
Right. Um, thank you. So let’s talk about speaker Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan. So overall, what do you think of Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan? Do you think it will help stabilize the situation over the Taiwan straight and discourage Xi Jinping from using force on Taiwan?

Rupert Hammond-Chambers:
Well, I think speaker Pelosi had every right to travel to Taiwan. Uh, her trip was consistent with American policy for high level visitors to visit the island. And the United States should continue to communicate with the Taiwan leadership at the highest levels of the American government. We have many mutual interests and her trip to Taipei, to meet president Tsai and some of the leadership was entirely consistent. As to whether or not Taiwan is safer or more dangerous as a consequence of the trip. Um, we’ll have to wait and see. I think the point I would make is that the PRC has been raising tensions in the Taiwan strait now for years. It is hard to determine what is a function of the PRC using American policy as an excuse to heightened tensions and what is just the PLA and the PRC heightening tensions on their own trajectory. So I’m not particularly persuaded, frankly, that the PLA reaction on the direction from the CCP is anything more than just an excuse to continue to ramp up tensions around Pelosi’s trip when in actuality they’re doing it anyway.

Simone:
Right, right. So it doesn’t matter what the US provokes, so-called provoke, China or not. They’re gonna do it anyway. If not the Pelosi excuse, they’ll find something else.

Rupert Hammond-Chambers:
100%. And I must admit, I know it’s not your words, Simone. I recognize that, but I reject the word “provoke”. No one’s provoking the Chinese, right. Um, countries around the world, particularly the United States have every right to have a relationship with Taiwan. And our relationship with Taiwan has been remarkably consistent over the decades, the only entity, uh, country destabilizing Asia at the moment, and particularly the Taiwan straight is China.

Simone:
Right. Right. And we do know that China has launched multiple military drills during and after Pelosi’s visit. So do you think, uh, they’re just bluffs or people should really concern, people should be concerned about those operations?

Rupert Hammond-Chambers:
Yeah. Look, um, the Chinese have been spending extraordinary amounts of money over the last three decades or two and a half decades on force modernization. And they’ve built up a significant military capability, training that capability to make it operate at a high level is important for the Chinese. And we can expect them to continue to do that in the South China sea, in the seas around Japan and of course, around Taiwan. So that’s certainly consistent. So anyway, I think we can, excuse me, Simone. I think we can expect the Chinese to continue to do that. Is it outta the ordinary? Uh, I don’t think so. I think that the PLA are going to look to continue to do those sort of exercises.

The only thing that’s somewhat different this time, there are several things. One is the scale of it. Obviously we’re talking about major exercises in a number of different areas around the island. Um, and also what they’re doing. They’re pursuing a blockade scenario or as someone referring to it as a quarantine. I don’t myself like that word quarantine, it’s a blockade. My own view is, is that while we should certainly consider and prepare for the possibility that the Chinese would invade Taiwan, uh, as the difference between possibility and probability, I think is important to hear. The Chinese have a range of options that they view they can pursue in respect to absorbing Taiwan of which a D-Day style landing is probably the least likely and sort of operation that we’re seeing right now, a blockade scenario is more likely. And I think, you know, as a consequence, we can see them practicing that

Simone:
Hmm. Just practicing, or they will just do that and do not leave?

Rupert Hammond-Chambers:
Oh, just practicing. Yes. It’s very, very hard to imagine that the Chinese… Well, a couple of things, one that the Chinese politically would want to maintain it. Mr. Xi wants to make his point, but he also wants to focus on his own domestic political interests this autumn. And maintaining a crisis in the Taiwan strait is not necessarily conducive to him securing an indefinite third term of power. So I think that that’s important. I think also the longer that they train like that, the more information that the US, Japan, the Australians and others can garner about their capabilities. I mean, an important point I think to note is that their ability to sustain operations is an important consideration for us, as we learn what they’re doing, they may not be able to do it for more than two or three days or four days. That might be the limit that they can, they can handle. So they would want to make their point and then stop when they’ve made their point at a high level, as opposed to trailing off, if they are unable to maintain the tempo of operations.

Simone:
Hmm. That’s interesting. You know, the Washington Post and New York Times both published articles about speaker Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan. So I mean, this is op-ed, and what their opinion is, this trip is not wise because it put the US in an unprepared state. And I don’t know, they didn’t probably use the word “provoke”, but this would definitely give China the opportunity, the excuse to, you know, do these operations, do these preparations and stuff. So they think this is a not right time for Pelosi to do this. Do you think this opinion is popular among the American political circle?

Rupert Hammond-Chambers:
Well, in some quarters it is, certainly for those who advanced it during Mr. Bush and Mr. Obama’s presidency, when a more accommodationist policy towards China was in operation and where American national interest, as it related to Taiwan was often driven by Chinese concerns over America’s relationship with Taiwan. I would simply respond that Taiwan, excuse me, China, Beijing, opposes any, and all American engagement with Taiwan. They don’t, whatever confers sovereignty they oppose. So they’re using this as an excuse, but in the end, they oppose our relationship with Taiwan across the board, what the New York Times and Washington Post editorial pages were arguing was that we should abdicate our own interest because it upsets the Chinese, we’ve tried and tested that approach for 20 plus years. And it got us into a very difficult situation with the Chinese, where they advanced their interests at American cost. And we thought we had a new policy path that was bipartisan, that started in 2017 with Mr. Trump and ran through the first year of the Biden administration. It is possible though that the Biden administrations senior leadership is considering an adjustment to that where we return to a more accommodationist policy towards China. That would be very disappointing. And it’s certainly what the Chinese, pardon me, the Washington Post and the New York Times were arguing.

Simone:
I wanna ask you this. Do you think Pelosi’s trip has turned America’s strategic ambiguity into strategic clarity over Taiwan?

Rupert Hammond-Chambers:
I do not. No. I think Mrs. Pelosi’s trip is entirely consistent with a high level travel that we’ve been undertaking for you know, three decades plus, and I don’t see it as a shift in the notion of strategic ambiguity over strategic clarity. No, I don’t see that.

Simone:
And you don’t think, I mean, do you think Pelosi can represent the position of the Biden administration?

Rupert Hammond-Chambers:
I don’t. I think she, obviously she speaks for the house of representatives as a speaker. She’s certainly a senior member of the democratic party, which is the ruling party at the moment in the United States. So of course she has authority, but I don’t believe that when she’s in Taiwan and nor that the Chinese believe that she speaks for the Biden administration, maybe some in China are more conspiratorially driven, might think that, but the separation of powers in the United States are clearly defined. And Mrs. Pelosi doesn’t have to ask Mr. Biden permission, nor does she necessarily have to advocate directly for Biden administration policies or approaches. The Congress has typically been more forward leaning on Taiwan policy than the executive branch, irrespective of whether Democrats or Republicans are in charge.

Simone:
Hmm. And the Biden administration. Would you still say they are,, they haven’t changed. They’re still going for the strategic ambiguity.

Rupert Hammond-Chambers:
Yes. I think that’s certainly the public position. Although the president has on three separate occasions made very clear and concise comments about coming to Taiwan’s aid if the Chinese attack, I certainly believe, the organization that I represent certainly believes that we are now in an era where US policy is better served with more strategic clarity than strategic ambiguity over American interest and our willingness to come to Taiwan’s defense. We believe that that would be a more active deterrent for Chinese action. I think ultimately the PLA while that, while they, the Taiwan military may cause some complications for them, the militaries that they really fear are the United States, Japan, and possibly the Australians acting in concert to repel an invasion. That’s the real threat to the PLA.

Simone:
Mm-hmm. Yeah. I was gonna ask you a question on that, but before that, uh, I just wanna nail down on this. So you think both the Biden administration and Congress, I mean, represented by Pelosi are still on the strategic ambiguity side. So if that’s the case, then what has Mrs. Pelosi accomplish for this trip?

Rupert Hammond-Chambers:
Well, what she’s accomplished is, one, it’s important to engage with Taiwan at a high level. She represents the US Congress, one of the three pillars of American power and her ability to dialogue and to hear directly from the leader of Taiwan on the security threat, represented by the Chinese, the economic opportunities represented by a stronger and broader commercial relationship between the US and Taiwan are all hugely important to the US Congress and for the leader of the house of representatives to hear directly from the Taiwan leadership about what is going on, what their interests are, how we could potentially incorporate is important. She has enormous control over legislation and legislation that can have a direct impact on American interests. So 100% she has every right to go. And in fact, the fact that she chose to go will, I hope, become a precedent for speakers of the house.

Simone:
Mm, okay. So next question, in your opinion, if the CCP launched an attack on Taiwan right now, is there a chance of victory for them, even if the US and its allies intervened?

Rupert Hammond-Chambers:
There’s always, there is a possibility, probability, you know, it’s not zero that they would get defeated. Sure. There’s a possibility that if… it’s a lot of ifs, isn’t it. If they attacked, would they win? I understand what you’re trying to present. And I don’t want to be cavalier about the threat from China, but there are so many considerations that drive the possibility that China might attack Taiwan in that way, and then have some ability to be successful. And then what does success look like for the PLA? Um, there are a whole range of issues. It would undoubtedly be the most complicated invasion and attack in the history of warfare. So difficult is it to transit the hundred mile Taiwan straight and then land a force significant enough to defeat Taiwan and any forces that came to bear from Taiwan’s friends and allies, Japan, Australia, the United States, maybe the Europeans, the British and others. So that certainly gives China pause and is almost certainly one of the reasons why, well, it is one of the reasons why we argue that there isn’t any imminent threat of invasion of Taiwan given the complications that China faces in attacking.

Simone:
Right, right. You know, from the Russian-Ukrainian war, we learned that intelligence, good weapons, logistics, air dominance, and people’s determination are crucial. So is the US selling the right weapons and enough weapons to Taiwan? And what is the coordination between the two militaries look like?

Rupert Hammond-Chambers:
Yeah, it’s a great question. Simone, one that you obviously know well is swirling around the US policy corridors in Defense Department state up in Congress. And in fact, we talked about it today at a session I co-hosted with the Heritage Foundation on arm sales. There is some debate about what the United States should be providing to Taiwan in the short term. There’s a lot of use of the word asymmetric. Uh, it’s actually very unhelpful. Weapons aren’t asymmetric, strategies are asymmetric. But the Biden administration has a list of weapons they would like Taiwan to prioritize purchasing in the short to medium term, maybe even the longer term. And that list of weapons, while not public, has been made available to the executive branch into some on Capitol Hill. And they’re gonna work through how to procure those weapons in the fastest time.

Some of it may come through regular procurement process like foreign military sale, FMS. And some of it may come through the legislation that’s on Capitol Hill at the moment, which would provide foreign military financing and support, in other words, US taxpayer money to procure weapons and then transfer them to Taiwan, which would be the fastest way to go about this. So the administrative work is working set up for a range of different ways to expedite delivery of weapons over a period of time to attempt to deter and complicate PLA planners and hopefully put off indefinitely any thought the PLA and the Chinese may have on attacking Taiwan.

Simone:
Okay. What about the coordination between the two militaries? Are there any at all?

Rupert Hammond-Chambers:
There is some, but… thank you, that’s a very good question. On that latter issue, that’s an area where there needs to be a great deal more. Two huge areas that need to be addressed are, one, training. There’s very little training that’s taking place between the US and Taiwan right now, that needs to change. Obviously the Taiwan Air Force has F16’s in the United States that operate and train. That is a good thing, but the army and the Navy have modest contact and engagement with their counterparts in the United States. There needs to be significant training taking place, and there needs to be significant efforts for the two militaries to interoperate together, to learn, to fight as one force. So I think that’s hugely important. The other piece that needs to take place of course, is interaction and engagement between senior US military offices and senior Taiwan military offices. That just doesn’t happen.

And it needs to, you know. The Indo-Pacific commander out in Honolulu, Hawaii should be interacting with the minister of national defense in Taiwan and the senior MND leadership all the time, and it’s not happening. And that’s a political consideration that needs to shift. With your permission, I just want to explain why I think the US has every right to do it. If you go back to the seventies and eighties, the switch in recognition, and the three communiques that were signed with China, the underpinning of those agreements was that the Chinese would pursue a peaceful engagement and effort to reconcile their differences between Taiwan. That was always the understanding. China is certifiably violating that at the moment with its force modernization and its military and political coercion. That should elicit a response from the United States. We are starting to see that. So claims by the PRC that we are disrupting the status quo are nonsense, all we’re doing is responding to their walking away from the commitments they made in the seventies and eighties.

Simone:
You just said there’s needs to be a lot more coordination between the US and Taiwan militaries. Are you saying they’re not quite ready for a CCP attack scenario?

Rupert Hammond-Chambers:
Who’s ever ready for an attack? Okay. It’s a good question, but in the end, at any military, if it was asked, are they ready? They’d say, well, we’re ready as we can be right now, but sure we’d love more time to get more ready. So I understand the point that you’re making, but in the end, if China were to attack, we’d be as ready as we were that moment that took place. If they waited another year, we’d have one more year to advance the technology in our weapons or have more coordination with Taiwan. So I understand the question, but you’re only is ready each day as you can be.

Simone:
Regarding the so-called unification, is the time on China’s side or Taiwan side? Because we just talked about it, on one hand we see the Chinese communist regime is getting less and less popular and more and more isolated in the world, and international community is gathering to support Taiwan. But on the other hand, the Chinese military power is set to be catching up to that of the US. So is the time on Taiwan’s side or is the time on China’s side in terms of attack?

Rupert Hammond-Chambers:
Yeah, it’s a great question. I think the Chinese certainly believe that time is on their side, which underscores the view that they’re gonna continue to pursue the strategies they have in place, political, military intimidation without actually attacking Taiwan, because they believe over time, that’ll result in absorbing, coercing the people of Taiwan to accept, you know, in essence political capitulation and absorption into communist China. So they believe that that’s the case. Policy in Taipei and Washington, DC has coalesced around a view of deterrents,the military capabilities of Taiwan and the United States and its allies in the region would suitably deter China from attacking. And I think that is indefinitely into the future.

Simone:
So you think in terms of the military power growth, time is on the US side because we are getting more and more stronger, surpassing, outpacing China’s growth. Is that what you’re saying?

Rupert Hammond-Chambers:
I think I’m saying beauty is in the eye of the beholder. That the Chinese believe that they’ve got time on their side, and we believe that we have the ability to create more time. So I think it’s really a push and shove match between the US and China, Taiwan and China, over how much time, or who thinks their policies and their approach is the right one. The Chinese obviously would like to press Taiwan and shorten the timeline. And our efforts are designed to try and push the timeline out, both from a military coercion standpoint, and importantly also, as well as an economic coercion standpoint.

Simone:
Mm-hmm okay. Interesting. So I want you to try to stand in Xi Jinping’s shoes right now. If he’s determined to take Taiwan, which I think he definitely is, which route do you think he would choose right now? I mean, subversion by infiltration or military attack, or both?

Rupert Hammond-Chambers:
It’s those two things. It’s also economic coercion. I mean, it strikes me as interesting that a huge part of what they’re doing right now, while they might have suffered a tactical defeat because Pelosi went and they didn’t want her to, I think overall, they would look at this as a net positive for themselves because two huge things have happened. One, they’ve reentered the US debate of American national interest, which will surely give the Biden administration pause as they look at other Taiwan related initiatives sending high level visitors and so on. So that’s super important. The second thing, which I think isn’t discussed nearly enough, or almost at all, is that what China is trying to do with all of this is also create a perception that Taiwan is a dangerous place.

And that would place coercive pressure on the people of Taiwan and on its economy. And that potentially it would deter global companies from engaging Taiwan and then by extension weakening the country economically. Okay, well, an economically weaker country can’t buy as many weapons. It can’t train, it’s more vulnerable. And then of course, the Chinese can step in and say, “we’re right here. You know, we’re ready to make you part of China. And all you have to do is hand your political system over, and we will make you as wealthy as you want.”

Simone:
Right. Right. Then what about that? How confident is the American business community in Taiwan? In recent years, many heavyweight American businesses have increased their investment in Taiwan. What other thoughts right now, especially after Pelosi’s visit?

Rupert Hammond-Chambers:
There’s a lot of concern in the C-suite Simone, the leadership levels of American businesses, about the tension in the Taiwan strait, are they making any dramatic changes to their long term plans? Not at the moment, they’re watching with concerned interest, of course, to see what happens, but overall the course is very much set.

It’s very difficult to make the sort of dramatic changes that some might think could be made in the short term. These are long term decisions with long term commitments to capital deployment. But I do think in the next several years, if tensions remain relatively high in the Taiwan strait or, you know, close to crisis level, that companies will be making contingency arrangements to invest in other parts of the world where they, if there is this crisis in the street, they at least have the ability to shift manufacturing to another spot.

Simone:
So thank you Rupert, thank you so much for joining Zooming In today again.

Rupert Hammond-Chambers:
It’s absolutely my honor. Do, please get in touch anytime. Take care.

Simone:
Yeah. Thanks. Bye.

Rupert Hammond-Chambers:
Cheers. Bye.

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