Foreign Relations & International Law

Water Wars: U.S. Counters Beijing's Reaction to Pelosi Visit With $1.1 Billion Arms Sale to Taiwan

Teresa Chen, Alana Nance, Han-ah Sumner
Wednesday, September 28, 2022, 9:10 AM

U.S.-China tensions continue to simmer over Taiwan; Solomon Islands delays general election in what some call a power grab linked to China’s influence; North Korea reaffirms commitment to nuclear weapons; and more.

Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville (CG-62) transits the South China Sea during routine operations. Source: US Navy Photo.

Published by The Lawfare Institute
in Cooperation With

U.S.-China Tensions Continue to Escalate Over Taiwan

Chinese Drones Buzz Taiwan Following Speaker Pelosi’s Visit; Taiwan Responds

Following House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) visit to Taiwan on Aug. 2, Beijing reacted by holding military exercises around the island. As our previous Lawfare column detailed, China announced live-fire military drills from Aug. 4 to 7, which included the launching of ballistic missiles. Since the conclusion of these large-scale military exercises, Chinese drones have started to buzz the island. In the past few weeks, nearly 30 unarmed drones have buzzed islands belonging to Taiwan near China’s southern coast, an act that Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen has labeled a “gray zone” tactic used to intimidate Taiwan.

On Aug. 30, President Tsai stated that she had ordered Taiwan’s Defense Ministry to take “necessary and forceful countermeasures as appropriate” against “drone harassments” and other Chinese gray zone warfare tactics. Shortly after the announcement, Taiwanese troops fired warning shots and flares on Chinese drones for the first time when a drone entered the airspace over Erdan Island and ignored warnings by Taiwanese troops. On Aug. 31, Taiwan again fired warning shots at Chinese drones buzzing islands in the Kinmen chain, which are just off the coast of the Chinese cities of Xiamen and Quanzhou.

On Sept. 1, Taiwan’s military shot down an unidentified civilian drone that entered its airspace over Lion Islet, an islet off the Chinese coast, for the first time. After troops warned it away to no effect, the Taiwanese Army’s Kinmen Defense Command announced that it shot it down, with the remains landing in the sea.

China has dismissed Taiwan’s drone complaints. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian stated: “Chinese drones flying over China’s territory—what’s there to be surprised at?” Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry responded to these comments with a statement saying: “There is an ancient Chinese teaching that ‘uninvited people are called thieves.’ Whether it is breaking through the door or peeping from the air, the people of Taiwan do not welcome such thieves.”

The drone buzzing is the latest of other intimidation tactics that China has taken toward Taiwan. On Aug. 10, for example, China issued an updated white paper called “The Taiwan Question and China’s Reunification in the New Era.” This new white paper noticeably excludes a key sentence in two previous white papers on Taiwan, published in 1993 and 2000, which states that China “will not send troops or administrative personnel to be based in Taiwan” after reunification, suggesting a withdrawal or a promise to protect the island’s autonomy. In response, Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council condemned the white paper, stating that it “reiterated Beijing’s wishful thinking that runs completely counter to international law and the cross-strait status quo.”

Furthermore, on Aug. 16, China also sanctioned seven Taiwanese officials for supporting Taiwan’s independence, including Hsiao Bi-khim, the de-facto Taiwanese ambassador to Washington, Wellington Koo, secretary-general of Taiwan’s National Security Council, and politicians from Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party. Those sanctioned will not be able to visit China, Hong Kong, and Macao, and related companies and investors will not be allowed to profit in China.

Taiwan to Increase Military Spending, United States Approves Arms Sales to Taiwan

On Aug. 25, Taiwan proposed a $19 billion defense budget, a double-digit increase on 2022 that includes funds for new fighter jets and other equipment, following increased Chinese military aggression in reaction to Pelosi’s visit to the island. The overall proposed defense budget reflects a 13.9 percent year-on-year increase to a record T$586.3 billion (or $19.41 billion), marking the island’s sixth consecutive year of growth in defense spending since 2017. Furthermore, the double-digit rise in 2022 marks a sharp increase compared with defense spending growth in recent history, as yearly growth has been below 4 percent since 2017. Although the Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics did not provide a specific breakdown of where money would go, it was announced that the budget includes an additional T$108.3 billion for fighter jets and other equipment, as well as “special funds” for the Defense Ministry.

Taiwan’s Defense Ministry released a statement after the proposed budget was announced, explaining that it planned to use its expanded budget on equipment improvements, enhancing the combat readiness of reserve forces, and developing asymmetric warfare capabilities. It also recognized the need for increased spending given China’s recent actions, stating:

[I]n the face of the Chinese communists’ continuous expansion of targeted military activities in recent years … the military adheres to the principle of preparing for war without seeking war and defending national security with strength.

On its part, the U.S. State Department announced on Sept. 2 that it had approved a potential $1.1 billion arms sale to Taiwan, also notifying Congress. The sale includes $655 million for a logistics support package for Taiwan’s surveillance radar program, which provides air defense warnings, $355 million for Harpoon air-to-sea missiles, and $85 million for Sidewinder air-to-air missiles. The State Department said that the equipment was necessary for Taiwan to “maintain a sufficient self-defense capability” as tensions with China increase. China responded quickly to the potential arms sale with strong criticism. Liu Pengyu, spokesperson of the Chinese Embassy in the United States, tweeted that the United States is interfering “in China’s internal affairs and [undermining] China’s sovereignty and security interests by selling arms to the Taiwan region” and that “China will resolutely take legitimate and necessary counter-measures in light of the development of the situation.”

Taiwan’s Defense Ministry thanked the United States for the arms sale and explained that the sale would help Taiwan defend against China’s military pressure: “[I]t will help our country strengthen its overall defense capabilities and jointly maintain the security and peace of the Taiwan Strait and the Indo-Pacific region.”

Furthermore, on Sept. 14, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed the Taiwan Policy Act (TPA), which would provide $6.5 billion to fund weapons and other military support for Taiwan. The bill passed by a margin of 17-to-5 in the committee, highlighting strong bipartisan support for Taiwan. Though the bill still requires approval by the full Congress, it marks the first time the United States would directly finance the provision of weapons to Taiwan. In addition to the funding for weapons and other support, the TPA also creates a $2 billion loan program to help Taiwan buy weapons and allows for Taiwan eligibility for a weapons stockpiling program. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), who is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, applauded the passage of the TPA. He asserted that the vote “not only signals our unwavering support for the Taiwanese people, but our recognition of the pivotal role that the United States Congress must play in confronting these challenges.”

During a regular press conference, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning sharply criticized the TPA, stating that “the bill seriously breaches the U.S.’s commitment to China on the Taiwan question, and violates the one-China principle and the three China-U.S. joint communiques.” She also said that “China will take all necessary measures in light of the bill’s process and final outcome to firmly safeguard [China’s] sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Plans for U.S.-Taiwan Trade Negotiations Announced

On Aug. 17, in another sign of increased U.S. support for Taiwan, the United States and Taiwan announced the agreement to start formal trade talks to produce “economically meaningful outcomes,” set to begin in fall of this year. The trade talks will be held under the U.S.-Taiwan Initiative on 21st-Century Trade. Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Sarah Bianchi said that the negotiations “will deepen our trade and investment relationship, advance mutual trade priorities based on shared values, and promote innovation and inclusive economic growth for our workers and businesses.” The mandate includes a robust and varied agenda for negotiations on trade facilitation, good regulatory practices, strong anti-corruption standards, enhancement of trade between small and medium enterprises, strengthening of agriculture trade, removal of discriminatory barriers to trade, digital trade, robust labor and environmental standards, and ways to address distortive practices of state-owned enterprises and nonmarket policies and practices. 

Following the announcement, a delegation of American politicians including Indiana Gov. Eric J. Holcomb (R); Bradley B. Chambers, Indiana’s secretary of commerce; and others arrived in Taiwan on Aug. 21,  to begin trade negotiations with Taipei. The trip, which also included a visit to South Korea, included a number of meetings with business and academic leaders in Taiwan and South Korea. The meetings reportedly focused on “strengthening Indiana’s economic and academic partnerships” with both places. During a meeting with Taiwanese President Tsai, President Tsai emphasized Taiwan’s willingness and ability to strengthen cooperation with the United States, especially with building sustainable semiconductor supply chains. Tsai stated that the visit displays “staunch U.S. support for Taiwan,” enabling the partners “to further deepen Taiwan-U.S. cooperation across a range of fields.”

Beijing did not immediately respond to the delegation’s visit, but Taiwan’s Defense Ministry announced that it had detected 12 aircraft and five vessels from the Chinese military near its territory.

U.S. and Allied Delegations visit Taiwan; European Parliament Weighs in on China’s Military Aggression

In addition to the delegation led by Holcomb, a number of delegations from the United States and its allies have visited Taiwan since Pelosi’s visit. On Aug. 15, a U.S. congressional delegation led by Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations East Asia, Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Subcommittee, visited Taiwan on an unannounced two-day visit. The delegation included Reps. John Garamendi (D-Calif.), Don Beyer (D-Va.), Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.), and Aumua Amata Coleman Radewagen (R-American Samoa). A spokesperson for Markey stated that the purpose of the trip was to “reaffirm the United States’ support for Taiwan” and to “encourage stability and peace across the Taiwan Strait.” In addition to meeting with President Tsai, the five-member delegation also met with Foreign Minister Joseph Wu, and members of the Foreign Affairs and National Defense Committee from the Legislative Yuan to discuss a wide range of issues from Taiwan’s participation in the international community, and ways to support peace and stability on the island. The delegation also met with Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company representatives to discuss partnerships to improve semiconductor supply chains and investment in the United States. Taiwan also received visits from delegations led by Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, after stops in Pacific Island countries, on Aug. 25, a delegation led by Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) on Sept. 1, and a delegation led by Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.) on Sept. 14. 

In addition to U.S. delegation visits, a delegation of five French lawmakers led by Sen. Cyril Pellavat visited Taiwan on Sept. 7. The French delegation was the first high-level European delegation to visit Taiwan since China conducted military exercises following Pelosi’s visit. Canada also announced that a delegation of Canadian lawmakers planned to visit Taiwan in October of this year to explore trade opportunities. News of the delegation visits has drawn similar criticism from China. After Canada’s announcement, for example, the Chinese embassy in Canada issued a warning that it would take “resolute and forceful measures against any country that attempts to interfere with or infringe upon China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

In addition to sending a delegation to visit Taiwan, the European Parliament has also shown its support for Taiwan by backing a resolution condemning China’s military aggression against Taiwan. The resolution, adopted on Sept. 16 by 424 members of the parliament, with 14 against and 46 abstentions, states that the European Union and Taiwan are “like-minded partners” with shared values of “freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law” and that the European Parliament is “convinced that the PRC’s provocative actions against Taiwan and in the South China Sea must have consequences for EU-China relations and that the possibility of contingency planning must be considered.”

The spokesperson of the Chinese mission to the EU sharply criticized the resolution, stating

In total disregard of facts, the relevant resolution of the European Parliament is confounding black with white and confusing right with wrong. … We urge the European Parliament to rein in and reverse course, abide by international law and basic norms governing international relations, stop meddling in China’s internal affairs, stop sending wrong signals to the ‘Taiwan independence’ separatist forces, and take concrete actions to meet the EU’s political commitments on the Taiwan question.

Taiwan, however, thanked the European Parliament for the resolution, with the Taiwanese government’s representative office to the EU tweeting that the action highlights the European Parliament’s “staunch support for peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and enhanced Taiwan-EU partnership.”

Solomon Islands’ Emerging Pattern of Authoritarianism

As previous Lawfare columns have detailed, a finalized security agreement between China and the Solomon Islands caused concerns last May, particularly among the United States and Australia, regarding China’s ability to project military power and influence in the region. Although the precise terms of the agreement have remained rather opaque, Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare has indicated that the pact would allow his government to call on peacekeeping forces from China to quell civil unrest, such as the violent protests calling for Sogavare’s resignation that erupted in the capital last year. Some analysts believe that future instability would give Sogavare a pretext to summon Chinese police in order to maintain order. In recent months, Sogavare has demonstrated a pattern of drawing closer to China and increasing authoritarianism.

Solomon Islands Parliament Votes to Delay Next General Election

On Sept. 8, the Solomon Islands Parliament voted 37-to-10 to delay its next general election from 2023 to 2024, leading many observers to question the Sogavare government’s commitment to upholding democratic values. Sogavare and his political allies have attempted to justify the move by claiming that the country cannot logistically support both a general election and hosting responsibilities for the 2023 Pacific Games (a two-week-long, multisport event for Oceania countries) in the same year. But those in opposition to the delay have accused Sogavare of using the Pacific Games as an excuse to hold on to power. Peter Kenilorea, a key member of the opposition party, believes that the election delay is “directly linked to China’s influence,” but other analysts attribute it to Sogavare’s political opportunism. The prime minister may be aware of his declining popularity and hopes to “win over the public with a sports spectacular” as well as the infrastructure developments and “resource extraction” that would go along with hosting the games. (Among other benefits, the Solomon Islands will gain a seven-venue stadium complex constructed by China, as well as 161 Huawei mobile phone towers across the island nation funded with a controversial $96 million Chinese loan.)

Prior to the parliament’s vote to delay the election, Australia offered to ease some of the government’s logistical burden by providing financial support for the election. In response, Sogavare accused Australia of “an assault on [the Solomon Islands’] parliamentary democracy and … a direct interference by a foreign government into our domestic affairs.” Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong rejected the claim that Australia had attempted to interfere in the Solomon Islands’ election and emphasized that the funds would still be available whether the election takes place in 2023 or 2024. Wong has been criticized domestically for the timing of her offer, which came in the midst of contentious parliamentary debates over the election delay issue.

The vote to delay the election prompted U.S. Department of State Deputy Secretary Wendy Sherman to meet with Solomon Islands Foreign Minister Jeremiah Manele at the Pacific Islands Conference of Leaders in Honolulu, Hawaii, last week to discuss the importance of upholding democratic values.

Many Solomon Islanders are skeptical of their government’s motivation for delaying the general election. Opposition leader Matthew Wale is concerned that dissatisfaction with the delay could provoke unrest. If unrest leads to another round of violent protests against Sogavare’s government—under the nascent China-Solomon Islands security agreement—it would likely appear to give Sogavare a pretext to call Chinese police forces to intervene on his behalf, which could have a destabilizing effect on the region.

Solomon Islands Government Seizes Tighter Control of State Broadcaster

Over the summer, the Solomon Islands parliament moved to seize tighter control over the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Service (SIBC), a formerly state-owned enterprise that the government voted to delist in June. The government accused it of “lack of ethics and professionalism” and cited its duty to “protect our people from lies and misinformation.” Opposition leader Wale reportedly believes that the delisting was part of a scheme orchestrated by Sogavare to censor content unfavorable to his regime. Johnson Honimae, the SIBC chief executive, told the Associated Press that the broadcaster had taken “critical calls” from the prime minister’s office in the months before the delisting specifically regarding the quantity of stories from the opposition perspective.

Sogavare’s government has also shown sensitivity toward foreign media that it perceives as damaging. In August, Australian High Commissioner Lachlan Strahan was summoned before the Solomon Islands Foreign Affairs Ministry, which warned him that an “ABC’s Four Corners” episode that explored the influence of Chinese state-owned enterprises in the Solomon Islands had “angered” senior government officials and could damage ties between Australia and the Solomon Islands. ABC was told that the Solomon Islands may seek to impose new restrictions on foreign journalists, which would make it more difficult for journalists who have published stories that portrayed the government unfavorably in the past to reenter the country.

Solomon Islands Imposes Temporary Ban on Port Visits by Foreign Naval Vessels

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Oliver Henry (WPC-1140) diverted from its scheduled stop in the Solomon Islands for refueling and resupply last month after it failed to receive timely diplomatic clearance from the Solomon Islands government. The cutter rerouted to Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. A Royal Navy vessel, the HMS Spey, was similarly turned away from its planned port call. Shortly after the Oliver Henry and the Spey were denied entry, Sogavare announced a temporary moratorium on visits to the Solomon Islands by foreign navy vessels until a “new mechanism” for reviewing such requests is put in place. “We have requested our partners to give us time to review, and put in place our new processes, before sending further requests for military vessels to enter the country,” Sogavare announced. He cited the Solomon Islands’ “unfortunate experiences” with foreign naval vessels entering the country’s waters without diplomatic clearance and the need to build a national capacity to police the exclusive economic zone. He indicated that the temporary ban on port visits by foreign naval vessels would be lifted once the new process is in place.

Notably, Australia and New Zealand are exempt from the moratorium under the Solomon Islands International Assistance Force Treaty, under which they work with Solomon Islands police. Additionally, the U.S. hospital ship USNS Mercy was allowed to remain in the Solomon Islands in order to participate in Pacific Partnership 2022, a humanitarian assistance and disaster relief preparedness mission that concluded last week.

The Solomon Islands’ behavior toward the U.S. and allies has grown increasingly unpredictable since the signing of the China-Solomon Islands security agreement last May. According to Michael Green, a former U.S. national security official who now heads the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, the United States “do[es]n’t know whether Prime Minister Sogavare is paralyzed with indecision given the tough geopolitics—or in the pocket of Beijing—or both. Either way, the U.S. and Australia have to keep at engagement and prove we are trusted partners.”

North Korea Reaffirms Commitment to Nuclear Weapons

North Korea is not known for its legislative process. But earlier in September, foreign correspondents dusted off their primers on the 687-member Supreme People’s Assembly when the unicameral body passed a nuclear weapons law. The new statute, which coincided with a speech by leader Kim Jong Un reaffirming a commitment to nuclear weapons, included provisions authorizing preemptive nuclear strikes and requiring North Korea’s military to use nuclear forces if the country’s leadership comes under attack. 

The legislation came on the heels of Pyongang’s resumption of cruise-missile testing in August. North Korea had not previously tested nuclear-capable weapons systems in nearly two months. Kim Yo Jong, the influential sister of North Korea’s leader, also mocked South Korean president Yoon Suk Yeol’s denuclearization initiatives. But with the recent legislation, North Korea’s government now claims that it is irreversibly a nuclear power. An International Atomic Energy Agency report released the following week indicated that North Korea is expanding uranium enrichment facilities at Yongbyon. 

Freedom of Navigation Operations

On Aug. 28, the USS Antietam (CG-54) and USS Chancellorsville (CG-62) transited the Taiwan Strait through waters where high seas freedoms of navigation and overflight apply in accordance with international law—the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS. According to the Chinese Foreign Ministry, the People’s Liberation Army tracked the two ships throughout their transit. Foreign Ministry Spokesman Zhao Lijian criticized the transit as a “provocation aimed at ‘freedom of trespassing’” constituting “deliberate sabotage of regional peace and stability.”

On Sept. 20, the USS Higgins (DDG-76) also conducted a Taiwan Strait transit in cooperation with Royal Canadian Navy Halifax-class frigate HMCS Vancouver (FFH-331). According to Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, the strait transit did not intrude on any state’s territorial waters and demonstrated “the commitment of the United States and our allies and partners to a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

Quick Updates

High-Powered Wargames in Southeast Asia

For the first time, Australia, Japan, and Singapore participated in the U.S. and Indonesian-led Super Garuda Shield drill from Aug. 1 to 14. And for the first time in six years, between Aug. 8 and 14, the “Pacific Dragon” ballistic missile defense exercise off of Hawaii between U.S., Japanese, and South Korean forces took place and even expanded to include Australia and Canada’s navies. Pacific Dragon was first held in 2016, but exercises in 2018 and 2020 were never officially disclosed. While South Korea had been wary about involvement in Pacific Dragon, it joined this year after North Korea’s intensified nuclear threats and missile launches. 

From Aug. 14 to 25, the Thai and Chinese air forces engaged in the “Falcon Strike” air exercise in northeastern Thailand after a two-year break. This year’s Falcon Strike is the most advanced yet, as China sent a JH-7AI fighter-bomber, one KJ-500 early warning and control aircraft, and six J-10 C/S fighters. According to China’s Defense Ministry, this year’s exercises will include “key training courses such as air support, strikes on ground targets, and small- and large-scale troop deployment.” While both Thailand and China assert that the Falcon Strike is nonpartisan and defensive in nature, critics have noted the event could signal Thailand is sending China indirect support in response to the Taiwan crisis. 

U.S. and Allies Maintain Focus on China-Taiwan Tensions

The USS Ronald Reagan’s carrier group called to port in Yokosuka after a three-month patrol in the Western Pacific, according to the U.S. Navy’s news service. The Reagan group had conducted drills off the coast of Guam in June before traveling to the South China Sea during Chinese air and naval exercises near Taiwan. Meanwhile, the U.S. Naval Institute also reported that Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall delivered a briefing emphasizing the branch’s operational priorities. Kendall said that China’s aggression toward Taiwan over the past month violated norms and increased the “level of risk” in the region. 

Also, Germany is sending 13 fighter jets to Australia, as part of its increased focus on the Indo-Pacific given rising tensions from China. German air force chief Ingo Gerhartz said the deployment was not meant to send any “threatening message toward China” but, rather, was aimed at sending a signal to Germany’s partners. This is consistent with Germany’s 2020 Indo-Pacific strategy, which focused on alliances with the region’s democracies. 

 India Competes for Naval Influence 

On Aug. 16, a Chinese military survey ship docked at Sri Lanka's Chinese-built port of Hambantota in the face of opposition from India, which competes for influence over economically devastated Sri Lanka. India had opposed the docking of the high-tech ship, fearing China could use the port near the main Asia-Europe shipping route as a military base. India and U.S. officials have “strongly pressured” the Sri Lanka government to revoke access to the port, as it is “a potential strategic foothold for the Chinese navy to project power into the Indian Ocean and Middle East.”   

On Sept. 2, India commissioned its first home-built aircraft carrier. The 262-meter-long ship, which can accommodate up to 30 fighter jets, will help the country counter China’s much larger and growing fleet and “expand its own indigenous shipbuilding capabilities.” The INS Vikrant, a Sanskrit word for “powerful” or “courageous,” is India’s second operational aircraft carrier. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi called the carrier “an example of the government’s thrust to make India’s defense sector self-reliant.” According to its navy, India’s fleet now includes two aircraft carriers, 10 destroyers, 12 frigates, and 20 corvette ships. However, India has been outdone by China, which has a third aircraft carrier on the way. China’s carriers are larger than India’s, displacing more than 70,000 tons compared to the Vikrant’s 43,000 tons. 

Japan Looking to Improve Defense Posture 

Starting on Aug. 31, China sent 2,000 army, navy, and air forces, 300 vehicles, and 21 fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft to participate in the Vostok 2022 military drills at the Sergievsky training ground in Russia. Two days later, also as part of Vostok 2022, Russian and Chinese warships began exercises, including a live-fire anti-aircraft drill, in the Sea of Japan. On Sept. 8, four Chinese coast guard ships ventured into Japanese territorial waters near the Senkaku Islands. On Sept. 15, a Chinese survey vessel sailed near islands in Kagoshima Prefecture, marking the seventh intrusion into Japanese territorial waters since July.  

This comes as Japan’s Ministry of Defense looks to improve their defense posture amid Chinese aggression. On Aug. 31, the ministry asked for 5.59 trillion yen for fiscal year 2023, the largest budget request to date for the country. The ministry also proposed to build two ballistic defense ships that are expected to have a displacement of around 20,000 tons.  

Philippines Strengthen Claim to Disputed Territories

On Aug.10, Philippines Sen. Francis Tolentino stated that he filed a bill seeking to institutionalize the term “West Philippine Sea” to “further reinforce the Philippines’ claim to the disputed territories.” The bill comes after a 2012 order by then-President Noynoy Aquino, who named the “maritime areas on the western side of the Philippine archipelago” the West Philippine Sea. Tolentino noted the bill is “in response to the archipelagic doctrine embodied under the UNCLOS, in which the Philippines is granted a territorial sea of up to 12 nautical miles, a contiguous zone of up to 24 nautical miles, and an exclusive economic zone of up to 200 nautical miles where the West Philippine Sea is located.

Meanwhile, on Sept. 5, Indonesia and the Philippines signed a memorandum of understanding regarding maritime security cooperation in their border areas. Amid the rising tensions in China, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken noted that the alliance between the two countries was “strong” and could “grow even stronger.” Discussions among members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China over the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea are still ongoing.  


The Special Competitive Studies Project at the U.S. Naval Institute, whose leadership includes former Alphabet CEO Eric Schmidt and former deputy defense secretaries Michele Flournoy and Robert Work, issued a report detailing the economic and security consequences that would arise if China were allowed to outcompete the U.S. in developing artificial intelligence (AI) applications. The report argues that the U.S. must develop a dominant position and global digital infrastructure in three battlegrounds: AI, chips, and 5G. In Work’s opinion, losing in these arenas would mean “U.S. security will be threatened as China is able to establish global surveillance,” leading “China’s sphere of influence [to] grow as its technological platforms proliferate throughout the world.”

Meanwhile, at War on the Rocks, Collin Fox, Trevor Phillips-Levine, and Kyle Cregge analyze China’s ability to project military power over Taiwan. The authors note Taiwan’s reliance on vulnerable maritime supply lines, and consider China’s ability to launch an amphibious assault, conduct a joint landing operation, and gain a lodgment. Ultimately, the authors conclude that the U.S. advisory effort should “provide both an improved deterrent and a much more lethal defense, should deterrence fail.” On a related note, for the Diplomat, Jagannath Panda explains the risk that a conflict along the Taiwan Strait could spill over into war between India and China in the Himalayas. Meanwhile, at Just Security, Peter Devine argues that the U.S.’s strategic ambiguity doctrine would not deter China from invading Taiwan, and that the United States needed to expressly commit to Taiwan’s defense. (Two weeks later, President Biden announced exactly that.) 

On Lawfare, Sourabh Gupta argues that the State Department has incorrectly interpreted the UNCLOS by prohibiting states from overriding coastal states’ legal entitlements based on historical claims. Gupta argues that traditional fishing rights could “override a coastal state’s entitlements with a history-based claim that is founded in general international law.” This analysis implicates the validity of China’s “nine-dash line” claim in the South China Sea. Gupta concludes, however, by noting that if China wishes its “historic rights” claims to gain acceptance in the international community, “it should first spell out clearly that it seeks no more than a nonexclusively exercisable traditional fishing right in the South China Sea.”

At the Diplomat, Chester Cabalza argues that the Philippines and Indonesia, two countries that “straddle the busiest sea lanes in the world,” share deep common interests that are not reflected in the closeness of their security ties. Cabalza writes that the two countries should cooperate more closely, and that pursuing a Status of Visiting Forces Agreement would help strengthen the nations’ strategic partnerships. Together, the two archipelagic powers could “promote regional maritime cooperation in the wider Indo-Pacific region” and “help establish maritime rules-based norms” in cross-border maritime operations.

Teresa Chen is a J.D. student at Harvard Law School. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Global Affairs from Yale University.
Alana Nance is a J.D. student at Harvard Law School. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Chinese from the U.S. Naval Academy and served as an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps.
Han-ah Sumner is a second-year J.D. student at Harvard Law School. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Ethics, Politics and Economics from Yale University.

Subscribe to Lawfare