Day Three: CIOR Seminar Dives Deep

Day three of the CIOR Seminar continued the trend of taking a deeper dive into specific areas of interest in China, with Cyber Strategy, Taiwan and the South China Sea studied further by John Lee, Dr Sarah Kirchberger and Dr Bill Hayton.

By: Lt Sarah George, UK Army and 2nd Lt Catalin Florea, Romanian Air Force, both with background from CIOR’s Young Reserve Officer program.

While the public agenda is dominated by cyber espionage, China’s real ambition in the Information and communications technology (ICT) environment is “to achieve a situation of mutual vulnerability”, believes Mr. John Lee, from the Mercator Institute for China Studies.

As the world sees Chinese digital presence increasing, especially through Huawei and Tik-Tok, the underlying reality remains that the country relies on Western companies, its strategic adversaries, for upstream technologies. It is believed to be ten-fifteen years behind the most advanced Western nations in the manufacturing of semiconductors, and currently imports almost all of the microchips it requires.

It is also dependent on the American university system for the training of its cyber experts and entrepreneurs.

                                                                 “There is no doubt about China’s intention

                                                                           to become a “cyber superpower”

However, there is no doubt about China’s intention to become a “cyber superpower” – a goal stated by president Xi Jinping himself. To this end, China has benefited from acting as a manufacturing hub for Western technology companies. It has also developed strong domestic control of the internet, turning it into a contained network where search queries are resolved locally and at least two million human censors are engaged in content monitoring and filtering.

As it pursues absolute transparency of online actions at home, the Communist Party of China (CPC) also supports stronger Chinese presence in engineering commissions setting new standards and internationally, in the developing markets which will provide the next waves of internet users, believes Mr. Lee.

– Increasingly aggressive posture towards Taiwan

The Taiwanese “are basically incapable of becoming citizens of the PRC”, stated Dr. Sarah Kirchberger, Institute for Security Policy at Kiel University (ISPK), towards the end of a compelling presentation about the China-Taiwan relationship, in the context of an increasingly aggressive Chinese posture.

Dr. Kirchberger pointed out that Taiwan is perceived as a current threat by China on several levels – politically, geostrategically and, more specifically, as a de facto ally of the US. Indeed, holding Taiwan is regarded as the key to China’s development into a seapower, as it provides access to deep waters and a way out of the US friendly islands off the East and South East coast of China.

Therefore, “retaking Taiwan is the PLA’s [People’s Liberation Army, China’s armed forces] primary mission”, believes Dr. Kirchberger. To this end, she commented on the Chinese interest towards the Russian hybrid war in Crimea, frequent military actions and exercises around Taiwan, as well as regular cyber and information attacks on media and public institutions.

As a harbinger of an even more aggressive approach, president Xi Jinping stated that “the Taiwan question” should be solved by 2049, the centenary of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

– Appeasement has rarely worked

For the US, “this is a massive challenge in every sense”, said Dr. Kirchberger, confronting NATO’s focus on Europe and Russia to the interest of the US in preserving the current status of Taiwan. The speaker advocated for a policy of deterrence towards China, rather than appeasement, as “looking at the track record of rising powers wanting to change the status quo, appeasement has rarely worked”.

Dr. Bill Hayton’s subsequent lecture on the South China Sea and Chinese interest in the area was the perfect follow-on from Dr. Kirchberger’s talk on Taiwan.

The strategic Importance of deep sea

The key for both of the talks was the strategic importance of deep sea to create access and then an impregnable bastion for Chinese ballistic missile submarines to manoeuvre within. Looking at an aerial photograph of China, one is immediately struck by the fact that the whole coast has extended continental shelf, which isn’t deep enough for the submarines to operate in. Thus China’s strategy for retaking Taiwan has been complemented with a strategy to reclaim the South China Sea.

Man-made islands

Dr. Hayton explained how the historical claim that China has presented to the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) is actually based on a series of historical cock-ups by geographers with dotted lines being coloured in to create island claims where there were no islands and mistranslations.

Despite The Philippines having won the PCA award [Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration], China has refused to accept it, despite the fact it is legally binding. Dr. Hayton nevertheless concluded that there are yet grounds for optimism, as the PRC still feels the need to justify its actions in rules based language.

Screenshot from Dr. Bill Hayton’s lecture on the South China Sea

Photo gallery by Lt Col Bill Grieve (R), US Army/ CIOR Public Affairs:

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