Former US, Japanese, and Taiwan Officials Call for Enhanced US-Japan-Taiwan Ties
On May 29, former officials from the United States, Japan, and Taiwan gathered in Tokyo and issued a joint declaration calling for an enhancement of US-Japan-Taiwan ties. The international symposium, entitled International Symposium on the Direction of Japan-US-Taiwan Security Cooperation, was organized by the Research Institute for Japan-US-Taiwan Relations (JUST)—a non-governmental think tank in Japan. Participants and attendees at the symposium included former senior ranking military officers and officials from the three countries.
The carefully-worded joint statement issued by Toshio Watanabe, the president of JUST, on behalf of the symposium participants, was directed at the governments in Tokyo, Washington, and Taipei and called for the enactment of six specific measures to help enhance the security of Taiwan and address regional security concerns. These measures were: 1) approve the participation of Taiwan in US-Japan co-hosted humanitarian regional maritime security exercises; 2) commence official security dialogue between Japan and Taiwan; 3) initiate official security dialogue between Japan, the United States, and Taiwan; 4) for Japan to enact a “Basic Act on Exchange between Japan and Taiwan”; 5) for Japan to enact legislation of agreements and memorandum of understandings (MOUs) with Japan and the United States in Taiwan; and 6) establish policies, mechanisms, and resources to commonly counter malign influence operations initiated by the PRC designed to undermine the Japan-US security alliance and the democracy and freedom of Taiwan.
The symposium coincided with President Donald Trump’s second official state visit to Japan as the first foreign dignitary received by the Japanese government during the Reiwa era (令和)—which officially began on May 1, 2019—and on the heels of the just-concluded 2019 Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, in which senior defense officials from the United States and China traded barbs over the future course of the regional and world order.
According to the joint statement, the objectives of the symposium “included improving the regional security environment for Taiwan and ascertaining the direction of Japan-US-Taiwan security cooperation against the background of China’s growing and explicit ambition to annex Taiwan, which is raising tensions in Taiwan and neighboring area.” The leadership of JUST—an organization whose mission is to enhance ties between Japan, the United States, and Taiwan—is composed of senior retired Japanese officials and scholars. For instance, Hideaki Kaneda, a former Vice Admiral of Japan’s Defense Forces and the director of the conservative foreign policy research institute, the Okazaki Institute, serves as a member of its board of executive directors. Sumihiko Kawamura, a retired commander of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force’s anti-submarine air force, also serves as the organization’s executive supervisor. Former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asia-Pacific Lieutenant General (USMC, ret.) Wallace Gregson and James E. Auer, who previously served as special assistant for Japan in the Office of the Secretary of Defense are both international advisers to the group.
At the open portion of the symposium, which was held in the afternoon of May 29, Lt. Gen. Gregson, who served as the commander of US Marine Corps Forces Pacific among other senior commanding posts, issued a clear warning stating that the “most severe gray zone threat” in the region is the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) subversion of the legitimate government on Taiwan. Lt. Gen. Gregson added that the undermining of democracy in Asia in inextricably linked to US security and called on democracies to respond to these threats.
The joint statement, which represented the views of the American, Japanese, and Taiwanese participants, called for the enactment of a “Basic Act on Exchange between Japan and Taiwan.” This Act was described as the Japanese version of the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA)—a domestic law of the United States that legally governs relations between the United States and Taiwan in the absence of formal diplomatic ties. This is not the first time that the idea of a Japanese TRA had been floated in public. The notion of a Japanese TRA had been introduced as early as 2013. More recently, Keisuke Suzuki, a member of the Liberation Democratic Party (LDP) who serves in Japan’s House of Representatives, suggested that Japan’s ruling party may be exploring a Japanese version of the TRA. According to supporters of the new law, the absence of a legal basis for conducting relations with Taiwan in Japan has hindered Tokyo’s ability to work effectively with Taiwan to respond to the growing threat of China. In their view, the Act is necessary in order to provide a legal justification to maintain and even improve relations with Taiwan in the absence of formal diplomatic ties.
In addition to the proposed Act, the joint statement also called for an official security dialogue between Taiwan and Japan. This initiative dovetails the steady deepening of US-Taiwan ties in recent years. Indeed, the secretary-general of Taiwan’s National Security Council (NSC, 國家安全會議), David Lee (李大維), recently visited the United States including Washington, DC from May 13-21. Lee met with US National Security Adviser John Bolton and other senior US officials. This is the first official and publicly acknowledged visit made by a NSC secretary-general to Washington, DC since the switch in diplomatic relations in 1979; and a first since the passage of the Taiwan Travel Act in February 2018.
Amid growing concerns over China’s military threat, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) called for a direct security dialogue between Taiwan and Japan. In an interview with The Sankei Shimbun in late February, President Tsai stated that “Taiwan and Japan are confronted with the same threats in the East Asian region.” “It is vital that talks be raised to the level of security cooperation … Prime Minister [Shinzo] Abe has been extremely friendly with Taiwan, and, after his inauguration, has made dramatic decisions [for Japan-Taiwan relations]. For the next step, it is necessary to strengthen our security discussions,” she added.
The joint statement’s call for enhancing US-Japan-Taiwan ties may be seen in the context of steady improvements in US-Taiwan relations over the last several years as China has intensified its coercive campaign against Taiwan. Indeed, the Trump administration and the US Congress have taken measurable steps to improve ties with Taiwan, to include passing the Taiwan Travel Act, Asia Reassurance Initiative Act, and several National Defense Authorization Acts on the legal basis of the Taiwan Relations Act. Additionally, Congress is considering the Taiwan Assurance Act, which was introduced by Senator Tom Cotton (R-AK), and the TAIPEI Act, which was introduced by Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO).
The recommendations of the participants to the International Symposium on the Direction of Japan-US-Taiwan Security Cooperation to strengthen trilateral ties reflects broadening regional concerns about China’s growing military and political threat and the increasing strategic importance of Taiwan.
The main point: Former officials from the United States, Japan, and Taiwan gathered in Tokyo and issued a joint declaration calling for enhanced US-Japan-Taiwan ties.
PRC Recruiting Foreign Talents in Taiwan through Intermediaries at the Provincial Levels
The massive theft of intellectual property by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is one of the most pressing issues in the ongoing US-China trade war. While Chinese cyber-hacking is a commonly-known form of economic espionage in which China has unlawfully acquired massive wealth from the United States and its private corporations, a less-known method is active recruitment of foreign talents in universities, corporations, and diaspora communities overseas by the Chinese government. The “Thousand Talents Plan” (千人計劃), which has come under greater scrutiny by national security officials worldwide, especially in the United States, is a critical initiative that China is using to recruit foreign scientists, engineers, and other researchers with specialized skills to help support the government’s ambitious economic, industrial, and military modernization goals. As direct recruitment by Chinese government agencies would presumably raise more red flags, the means by which the PRC is recruiting foreign talents appear to be increasingly sophisticated. For instance, strategies to recruit talents in Taiwan include the use of intermediaries at the provincial levels.
According to a study on Chinese influence operations in the United States coordinated by Larry Diamond and Orville Schell of the Hoover Institute and Asia Society, respectively:
“Initiated in 2008, the TTP [Thousand Talents Plan] aims to recruit leading overseas scientists and experts who work in areas that are deemed high priority for achieving China’s modernization goals. The program originally aimed to recruit 1,000 ‘overseas talents’ (海外人才) over a period of five to ten years. Official Chinese TTP websites list more than three hundred US government researchers and more than six hundred US corporate personnel who have accepted TTP money. In many cases, these individuals do not disclose receiving the TTP money to their employer, which for US government employees is illegal and for corporate personnel likely represents a conflict of interest that violates their employee agreement.”
Underscoring its national security implications, the US Department of Justice has highlighted the “Thousand Talents Plan” as a potential counterintelligence risk. At a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Bill Priestap, the assistant director of the Counterintelligence Division at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, testified that:
“These talent recruitment and ‘brain gain’ programs (as some in China call them) also encourage theft of intellectual property from US institutions. For example, China’s talent recruitment plans, such as the Thousand Talents Program, offer competitive salaries, state-of-the-art research facilities, and honorific titles, luring both Chinese overseas talent and foreign experts alike to bring their knowledge and experience to China, even if that means stealing proprietary information or violating export controls to do so.”
As China has done in the past in terms of honing its sharp power and malign influence operations in Taiwan, as well as cyber-hacking that use Taiwan as a testbed for new malware, it is also sharpening its foreign talent recruitment tactics in the island. According to one media report citing Taiwan government data, there have been 33 Taiwan nationals who have been recruited under the Thousand Talents Plan. In one case, the program reportedly played a role in a professor’s defection. A remote-sensing specialist, who participated in sensitive research projects conducted by the National Chungshan Institute of Science and Technology, the Ministry of National Defense’s Communication Development Office, and the National Security Bureau, was apparently recruited through the program and defected to China in 2014. Perhaps in an effort to avoid the increased scrutiny, the Chinese government is now using intermediaries such as headhunting organizations (獵人頭公司) to recruit both potential assets and unsuspecting researchers in Taiwan.
According to a recent media report in the Liberty Times, a professor at the Institute of Journalism at National Taiwan University recently received an email from a headhunting agency offering a research grant of up to 2 million yuan (about USD $290,000). The project was aimed at recruiting well-known scholars under the age of 55, or business managers and people in the financial industry, and the resources were to reportedly come from the “2019 Zhejiang Overseas High-level Talent Project” (二○一九年浙江省海外高層次人才計畫). It is perhaps worth noting that “foreign governments’ concerns over espionage have prompted Beijing to censor the initiative and bar the use of the term ‘Thousand Talents Program.’”
In the email to the professor from the headhunting agency, I-Future Data Technology Inc., the mission of the program was defined as the “recruiting of Top Chinese Researchers all over the world, building up a bridge between overseas Chinese scholars and the domestic Chinese academic community.” The email from the headhunter added “Now with Zhejiang provinces’ greatest financial support, we have been broadening the range of services, especially to those overseas talents who as individual and/or team owns patents and/or core-value technologies are willing to carry forward the academic research or entrepreneurship. [emphasis added]”
Most interesting is the apparent focus of the recruitment pitch on “confidentiality” and how the applications would not be publicly disclosed so that it would not affect the applicant’s day job. This approach may be a reaction to the increased scrutiny of China’s foreign talents recruitment program and is likely intended to address concerns about the negative reputational effects that associations with these recruitment programs could have for the applicants. The emphasis on confidentiality may be designed to avoid suspicion.
How China conducts economic espionage is not limited to the Thousand Talents Plan. As the case with the Micron Technology, an American tech company, from last November clearly illustrated, China is also using Taiwan—in this particular case United Microelectronics Corporation—as both an intermediary as well as a source for intellectual property theft. Indeed, China is attempting to acquire American technology through Taiwan companies and persons. As more evidence of the various means of PRC economic espionage come to light, there will likely be increasing concerns and questions raised about the impact that the significant interests and vast exposures of Taiwan businesses and persons in the PRC present as possible risks for intellectual property (IP) theft or other illicit activities.
The main point: As China’s foreign talents recruitment program comes under greater scrutiny, the methods it employs appear to be increasingly sophisticated. In Taiwan, they include the use of intermediaries such as headhunting organizations and at the provincial levels.