China was called out for a litany of bad behaviors in the Indo-Pacific while its democratic neighbor Taiwan was touted as a strong partner to the United States in a report released by the U.S. State Department on Nov. 3.
The progress report analyzed measures that the U.S. government has taken to safeguard the Indo-Pacific region, how it has worked with like-minded partners, and identified potential threats to the U.S. strategy.
“Since the start of the Trump Administration, the Department of State and USAID have provided over $4.5 billion in foreign assistance to the region,” the report stated.
There are also about 375,000 U.S. military and civilian personnel assigned to the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command.
The State Department identified China as a key threat, noting that it is beginning to export its repression of dissent, civil society, and religion.
“Such practices, which Beijing exports to other countries through its political and economic influence, undermine the conditions that have promoted stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific for decades.”
The State Department also urged Beijing to uphold its commitments to Hong Kong under the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, which guarantees the territory’s autonomy and freedoms under the “one country, two systems” model after it reverted to Chinese from British rule in 1997.
“We believe that freedom of expression and peaceful assembly must be vigorously protected in Hong Kong and across the Indo-Pacific region,” the report stated.
Hongkongers are headed toward their sixth month of protests against Beijing’s encroachment into their city’s daily affairs. Initial protests about a now-withdrawn extradition bill have since broadened to include demands for greater democracy.
Meanwhile, Southeast Asian countries are facing new challenges that threaten their autonomy and economic independence, according to the report. The challenges include: “debt dependency, a spree of dam-building that concentrates control over downstream flows, plans to blast and dredge riverbeds, extraterritorial river patrols, and a push by some to mold new rules to govern the river in ways that undermine existing institutions.”
The report didn’t identify the cause for such challenges, but U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in a speech at the Lower Mekong initiative in Bangkok in August, named Beijing as a threat to Mekong River resources.
Pompeo said “Beijing-directed rules” to govern the Mekong River could weaken the Mekong River Commission, an intergovernmental organization whereby Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam manage the river’s resources.
Within Chinese territory, China is operating at least 10 dams on the upper reaches of the Mekong River and plans to build many more. Villagers in Thailand and Laos have complained of flooding when Chinese dams release water.
The report added that the U.S government has increased its cybersecurity cooperation with allies such as Australia and Japan, such as sharing strategies for defending their networks against malicious cyber-activities, including those from China.
“We are also strengthening and deepening our relationship with Taiwan,” the report stated, noting that the U.S. administration has approved more than $10 billion in arms sales to the island this year.
On Nov. 4, the United States and Taiwan, for the first time ever, co-hosted an international cyber-exercise event in Taipei, with a focus on combating cyberthreats from North Korea and other actors.
“[The exercises] mark a new frontier in the ever-deepening cyber cooperation between the United States and Taiwan,” said Raymond Greene, acting director of the U.S. de-facto embassy, the American Institute in Taiwan, during the event’s opening session.
Chen Chi-mai, Taiwan’s vice premier, told the government-run Central News Agency (CNA) in September that the event was similar to a U.S. exercise that tests preparedness against cyberattacks, the Cyber Storm, held every two years since 2006 by the U.S Department of Homeland Security.
Also speaking at the cyber-exercise opening session was Jyan Hong-wei, Taiwan’s director-general of cybersecurity, who said local government agencies and public institutes face a total of 20 million to 40 million cyberattacks per month, according to CNA.
Jyan said that since cyberattacks can be rerouted, he couldn’t ascertain where all the attacks originated from, but he suspected that more than half of them came from China.
Beijing considers Taiwan a renegade province despite the fact the island is a de-facto independent country with its own elected officials and military. The Chinese regime regularly conducts military exercises, infiltration campaigns, and cyberattacks to intimidate Taiwan.
The report added that Taiwan’s foreign policy of New Southbound Policy aligns with the U.S. vision in the Indo-Pacific. Under the policy, Taiwan is to foster stronger economic and trade ties with nations in Association of Southeast Asian Nations, South Asia (India, Pakistan, Afghanistan), New Zealand, and Australia.
Finally, the report stated that the United States was committed to protecting Taiwan’s international space, and has “repeatedly expressed” concerns about Beijing’s bullying tactics including military maneuvers and poaching of the island’s diplomatic allies.
In September, Taiwan’s longtime allies the Solomon Islands and Kiribati announced that they switched diplomatic ties to Beijing.
Also on Nov. 4, James Huang, chairman of the Taiwan External Trade Development Council, met with Keith Krach, the State Department’s under secretary of state for economic growth, energy, and the environment, on the sidelines of the Indo-Pacific Business Forum in Bangkok, according to CNA.
The two exchanged views on better economic cooperation, and agreed to set up a new trade and investment networking center in Taipei to encourage greater trade and investment between the two sides.