Since President Xi took office in 2013, Beijing has significantly bolstered its involvement in the Pacific Islands region, which comprises three U.S. territories and three countries freely associated with the United States that are important for U.S. defense interests in the Indo-Pacific. Much of China’s engagement in the region has focused on expanding economic ties with the Pacific Islands, but it has also increased its footprint in the diplomatic and security realms. This report examines China’s interests in the region, its comprehensive engagement in the Pacific Islands, and the implications of its expanding presence and influence for the United States.
The report examines five categories of China’s advanced weapons systems (counter-space, unmanned systems, maneuverable reentry vehicles, directed energy and electromagnetic railguns) and artificial intelligence applications for national defense. The report also assesses the implications of China’s advanced weapons programs for the United States and its allies and provides recommendations.
In November and December 2017, China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force conducted at least nine long-distance training flights over maritime areas along China’s periphery, continuing a trend that began in 2015. Since 2015, long-distance over-water training has become more frequent, featured a greater variety of aircraft, and extended into areas in which the air force had not previously operated. The long-distance over-water training is part of a broader PLA Air Force effort to transition from a service focused on territorial air defense to one capable of conducting offensive and defensive operations beyond China’s coast. These flight activities potentially challenge U.S. interests by (1) improving the PLA Air Force’s capability to execute maritime missions against the United States and U.S. allies and partners in the region; (2) gathering intelligence against the U.S. military and U.S. allies and partners; and (3) reinforcing claims in maritime disputes and pressuring Taiwan.
As space becomes more “congested, contested, and competitive,” as termed in the 2011 U.S. National Security Space Strategy, efforts by spacefaring nations to establish norms of behavior in space have become increasingly important. This issue brief examines China’s views on the Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities proposed by the European Union, finding that Beijing instead continues to support a binding treaty that would ban the deployment of weapons in space, which it has jointly proposed with Russia. This treaty would significantly limit U.S. activities in space while doing little to reduce actual threats to space assets. China’s actions in regards to codes of conduct in other areas indicate it sometimes uses negotiations to prolong the status quo, and does not always adhere to its agreements. Should China continue to place a high value on developing military counterspace capabilities, its position should be expected to remain unchanged.
China maintains a network of prison labor facilities that use forced labor to produce goods intended for export—a violation of U.S.-China trade agreements and U.S. law. The United States continues to face difficulty in preventing these products from entering its borders, but the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act (TFTEA) of 2015 has strengthened its ability to do so by closing a major legal loophole. Chinese authorities remain uncooperative with their U.S. counterparts; they routinely deny that forced labor occurs, and they have not allowed U.S. officials to visit suspected sites in years. Due to insufficient oversight, the supply chains of many U.S. companies remain vulnerable to forced labor-derived products.
In July 2016, the United States and South Korea announced the alliance decision to deploy a U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) antimissile battery in South Korea to defend against the increasing North Korean missile threat. The move has angered Beijing, which perceives THAAD as mostly directed at China and a regional security concern, according to its official statements. In response, Beijing has used economic coercion, among other levers, to try to compel Seoul to abandon the THAAD deployment, but these efforts have proven unsuccessful. This report includes an overview of the THAAD system and its deployment, China’s stated concerns about THAAD, and China’s array of pressure directed against South Korea. It also examines the implications of China’s forceful response to the deployment for the United States and the geopolitical landscape in the Asia Pacific.
Despite areas of tension and distrust between Beijing and Moscow since normalizing relations in 1989, the two countries’ militaries and defense establishments have steadily worked to minimize and overcome these differences and are now experiencing arguably the highest period of cooperation. This staff report analyzes the three main components of military-to-military ties—military exercises, defense industrial cooperation, and high-level military contacts—which show increases in the level and quality of engagement, collectively reflecting closer defense relations. The report also describes the security implications of recent developments in Sino-Russian defense cooperation for the United States and the Asia Pacific.
In December 2016, Sao Tome and Principe—a country consisting of a group of islands and islets off the western coast of central Africa—broke diplomatic relations with Taiwan, and re-established diplomatic relations with China. The issue brief describes what happened, what it means for Taiwan, and how it fits into a series of measures that Beijing has taken to pressure Taiwan since the election of Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen.
•This is the second time since President Tsai’s election that Beijing has re-established diplomatic relations with one of Taipei’s former diplomatic partners—of which it now has only 21—marking a change in Beijing’s behavior. In 2008, Taipei and Beijing reached a tacit understanding to stop competing for recognition from each other’s diplomatic partners—a “diplomatic truce.” During the period that followed, Beijing also rejected overtures from several of Taiwan’s diplomatic partners to establish diplomatic relations with China.
•Taiwan’s diplomatic relationships are significant for symbolic and practical reasons. Although, Taiwan almost certainly gains more from its unofficial relations with countries that have extensive international influence, such as the United States, diplomatic relations are an important component of Taiwan’s toolbox for maintaining a presence on the international stage.
•Despite President Tsai’s pragmatic approach to cross-Strait relations and attempts to compromise, Beijing views her with suspicion due to her unwillingness to endorse the “one China” framework for cross-Strait relations. Other measures that Beijing has taken to pressure Taipei since President Tsai’s election include suspending official and semiofficial cross-Strait communication and meetings and excluding Taiwan from meetings of international organizations, among others.
China’s Beidou satellite navigation system—one of the country’s top space projects and only the fourth system of its kind currently in development or operation—is projected to achieve global coverage by 2020. This report examines the objectives behind Beijing’s decision to develop the system as an alternative to GPS, its efforts to build an industry around the system, and the effects this might have in security, economic, and diplomatic terms for the United States. The system’s primary purpose is to end China’s military reliance on GPS, although China’s associated industrial policies will likely affect U.S. firms operating in China’s market. Industry professionals assess there are no inherent risks to products such as smartphones receiving data from Beidou.
On July 12, 2016, the arbitral tribunal adjudicating the Philippines’ case against China in the South China Sea ruled overwhelmingly in favor of the Philippines, determining that major elements of China’s claim—including its nine-dash line, recent land reclamation activities, and other activities in Philippine waters—were unlawful. Predictably, China reacted negatively to the ruling, maintaining it was “null and void.” China may take assertive and inflammatory steps to defend its position. The extent to which China abides by the ruling in the long term, and to which the international community supports and seeks to enforce the ruling, will have consequences for the utility of international law as a tool to ensure the peaceful, stable, and lawful use of the seas going forward.
The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission was created by the United States Congress in October 2000 with the legislative mandate to monitor, investigate, and submit to Congress an annual report on the national security implications of the bilateral trade and economic relationship between the United States and the People’s Republic of China, and to provide recommendations, where appropriate, to Congress for legislative and administrative action.