Water Wars: Taiwan Elects Pro-Independence President Amid Continuing Regional Tensions

Two years of Indo-Pacific Strategy; Taiwan elects a new president; AUKUS faces industrial capacity challenges; Pacific Islands warn Congress about funding delays; and more.

The Carl Vinson and Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Groups participate in a Multi-Large Deck Event (MDLE) in the Philippine Sea in January 2024. Source: US Navy Photo

United States Continues Momentum in Indo-Pacific Leadership

United States Commemorates Two-Year Anniversary of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Strategy

In February, the United States celebrated the second anniversary of the Biden administration’s Indo-Pacific Strategy. First established in February 2022, the strategy aims to lay out Biden’s vision of U.S. engagement in the Indo-Pacific region, especially collaboration with allies, partners, and institutions. In a statement by National Security Council (NSC) spokesperson Adrienne Watson, the NSC recognized the “historic progress” made “in advancing an Indo-Pacific that is free and open, connected, prosperous, secure, and resilient.” In a separate statement, the State Department listed a number of accomplishments under the Indo-Pacific Strategy. Some of these accomplishments include:

  • “advancing human rights and democratic institutions around the world” by launching dialogues on disability and gender rights with like-minded partners, and pushing for accountability on human rights abuses in China, North Korea, and Burma;

  • “building connections within and beyond the region” in partnerships such as ASEAN, U.S.-Japan-South Korea, and the Quad;

  • “driving regional prosperity” through APEC initiatives and Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEC) negotiations;

  • “bolstering regional stability” through strengthening security alliances and expanding military presence and operations; and

  • “advancing resilience to 21st century transnational threats” by supporting investments towards climate adaptation and resilience in the region.


The Department of Defense also published a statement highlighting its achievements in pursuing the Indo-Pacific Strategy in the past two years. This includes “delivering greater maritime transparency through the Indo-Pacific Partnership for Maritime Domain Awareness” with Quad partners, “deepening the major defense partnership with India[,]” and making progress in the U.S.-Philippines security alliance.

IPEF Announces Supply Chain Agreement

The Commerce Department announced that the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) for Prosperity Agreement Relating to Supply China Resilience (Supply Chain Agreement) entered into force on Feb. 24. The IPEF Supply Chain Agreement, negotiated among the 14 IPEC partners—the United States, Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam—aims to “establish a framework for deeper cooperation to prevent, mitigate, and prepare for supply chain disruptions,” such as those in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic.

With the Supply Chain Agreement’s entry into force, IPEF partners are now working toward establishing the three supply chain governing bodies identified in the agreement: the Supply Chain Council, the Crisis Response Network, and the Labor Rights Advisory Board. In response to the progress on the supply chain pillar of IPEF, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo stated: “I am thrilled to see the continued commitment and enthusiasm of the IPEF partners to make concrete progress.”



White House Faces Hill Pressure on U.S.-China Relations

Lawmakers in both the House and the Senate are urging the Biden administration to take further action in the Indo-Pacific, especially regarding China and Taiwan.

 On Jan.12, the House of Representatives passed the Taiwan Non-Discrimination Act , which was introduced by U.S. Reps. Young Kim (R-Calif.) and Al Green (D-Texas). The bill “requires actions to support Taiwan’s participation in the International Monetary Fund (IMF).” Specifically, the bill would require the U.S. governor of the IMF to advocate for (a) Taiwan’s admission to and membership in the IMF, (b) Taiwan’s participation in the IMF’s “regular surveillance activities” relating to the island’s economic and financial policies, (c) employment of Taiwanese nationals at the IMF, and (d) Taiwan’s ability to receive technical assistance and training from the IMF. Rep. Kim, in her introduction of the bill, stated that the act would “solidify Taiwan’s rightful place on the global stage” and that the United States “will always be a voice in support of [its] freedom-loving allies and democracy around the globe.” Chinese officials, however, criticized the Taiwan Non-Discrimination Act. During a press conference, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Mao Ning said that “[t]he United States passed the so-called act to grossly interfere in China’s internal affairs and attempt to manipulate the Taiwan question for political purposes.”

On Jan. 17, Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), the chair of the House Select Committee on China, sent a letter to Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro, raising concerns about a plan to redistribute fuel from Hawaii to underground storage facilities across the Indo-Pacific. Gallagher expressed concerns about the Defense Department’s approach to the situation, emphasizing that a feasible long-term plan was a “strategic imperative” for the United States. He wrote: “It is unclear how exactly the Navy will replace and distribute the aggregate bulk fuel capacity of Red Hill” in Hawaii. In a reply to Gallagher, the Navy stated that it will “respond, as appropriate,” but has yet to offer any additional details.

On Jan. 29, a bipartisan group of senators and representatives sent a letter to President Biden asking the administration to create an “an interagency maritime policy coordinator” who will “synchronize national maritime policy and influence industrial base resource decisions across military, civil, and commercial dimensions.” The letter cited concerns about the United States’s aging maritime infrastructure and China’s expanding military activity in the Indo-Pacific region. The letter also asked the Biden administration to designate commercial, civil, and military shipbuilding and shipping industries as part of the country’s “critical infrastructure sectors” and to develop a “national strategy focused on ‘de-risking’ the U.S. maritime domain” from the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Nearly two dozen lawmakers signed the letter, including Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas), Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), and Reps. John Garamendi (D-Calif.) and Michael Waltz (R-Fla.).


Taiwan Elects Lai Ching-te as President, China Challenges Continue

On Jan 13, Taiwan elected Lai Ching-te, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidate, as Taiwan’s next president. Lai won 40 percent of the vote. Hou Yu-ih, the candidate for the rival Kuomintang (KMT) party, received 33.5 percent of the vote. Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) candidate Ko Wen-je received the remaining 26.5 percent of the vote. Lai is a former doctor who has had a storied political career in Taiwan: He served as a legislator in Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan for over a decade, became the first mayor of Tainan Special Municipality, and held multiple executive cabinet positions in Taiwan’s national government, including as vice president to current President Tsai Ing-wen. 

Lai, who describes himself as a “pragmatic worker for Taiwan independence,” will likely face a tough challenge regarding China when he takes office in May. Throughout his campaign, Lai has echoed Tsai’s strategy of maintaining the status quo with China. Lai has promised to continue diplomatic conversations with China and maintain peace, while also pledging to defend the island’s independence. China, however, has made clear that it distrusts Lai. In August 2023, for example, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs criticized Lai’s diplomatic visit to the United States, stating: “Lai Ching-te clings stubbornly to the separatist position for ‘Taiwan independence.’ He is a troublemaker through and through.” In December 2023, a representative from China’s Taiwan Affairs Office said Lai was a “destroyer of cross-strait peace.”

Following Lai’s victory, China criticized the countries that congratulated the island’s president-elect. After U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken congratulated Lai, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs described Blinken’s message as “sending a seriously incorrect signal” to “Taiwan independence separatist forces.” Other recipients of China’s criticisms on the matter include the United KingdomJapan, and the Philippines

China’s condemnation is not the only issue the president-elect will likely have to face, as Lai and the DPP are positioned to confront serious domestic challenges as well. In the parliamentary elections of February 2024, the DPP lost its majority in the Taiwanese legislature and Han Kuo-yu, a politician from the Kuomintang party, was elected as its new speaker. The KMT is the DPP’s main opposition party and has a reputation that is more “China-friendly.” Han has also taken action to build diplomatic relations with China: While he was the mayor of Kaohsiung, he visited Hong Kong in 2019 and met with Chinese officials. The February elections confirm that Taiwan’s government will be divided for the next four years, with the pro-independence DPP controlling the executive branch of Taiwan’s government, and the pro-China KMT controlling the speakership and having the most seats in the Legislative Yuan.

Experts on Taiwanese politics predict that while legislation related to more controversial issues, such as national defense, foreign policy, or cross-strait relations, will be hard to pass, other policy proposals in areas such as education and health care may garner more bipartisan support. For example, Chen Fang-yu of Soochow University in Taiwan, told Voice of America that “policies related to social welfare and long-term care are less likely to face objection from opposition parties, so these are areas that the new administration could prioritize.”

Nauru Reestablishes Diplomatic Ties With China, Snubbing Taiwan

On Jan. 15, two days after Taiwan’s presidential elections, the Pacific island nation of Nauru announced that it was severing diplomatic relations with Taiwan and recognizing China. In a public statement, the government of the Republic of Nauru stated:

This means that the Republic of Nauru will no longer recognize … Taiwan as a separate country but rather as an inalienable part of China’s territory, and will sever “diplomatic relations” with Taiwan as of this day and no longer develop any official relations or official exchanges with Taiwan.

The Nauru government added that this action was “in the best interest of the Republic and people of Nauru.”

Nauru’s announcement came as a surprise to Taiwanese officials. As recently as November 2023, the two islands were holding discussions about the possibility of new airline routes and conversing on the sidelines of a summit in the Cook Islands. Nauru’s foreign minister, Lionel Aingimea, said that the nation switched its diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China because China was better able to help with Nauru’s “development strategy.” China has promised more than $100 million to Nauru and has also agreed to aid infrastructure projects such as a sports stadium, schools, and hospitals, as well as relocating coastal buildings to higher ground.

On Jan. 24, Aingimea met Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Beijing to sign a joint communique on the resumption of diplomatic relations between China and Nauru. Upon signing the joint communique, Wang told the press that China “looks forward to working with Nauru to deepen political trust, advance mutually beneficial cooperation, … and take bilateral ties to new heights.” Wang also emphasized that the resumption of diplomatic ties between China and Nauru “shows the world that upholding the one-China principle is an unstoppable historical trend.” 

China has brushed off suggestions that it has pressured Pacific Island countries into establishing diplomatic ties as “pure nonsense.” Nauru, however, is the third Pacific Island nation to flip its recognition from Taiwan to China, following the Solomon Islands and Kiribati’s diplomatic switch in 2019. Currently, only 11 countries, in addition to the Vatican, officially recognize Taiwan, including three Pacific Island nations.

There is speculation, however, that Tuvalu—one of the three Pacific Island nations that continues to recognize Taiwan—may soon join Nauru in flipping its recognition. Following Tuvalu’s elections in January, the incumbent prime minister, Kausea Natano, lost his seat in Parliament. Natano is a known key supporter of Taiwan, so his departure from government may threaten Tuvalu’s continued diplomatic relations with Taipei, pending the determination of the former prime minister’s successor. Seve Paeniu, Natano’s minister of finance and one of the top contenders to replace him, has pledged to “review the nation’s ties with Taiwan.” Enele Sopoaga, another leading candidate for prime minister, has asserted that there will be no change in diplomatic recognition.

Observers will have to wait and see who will replace Natano, as election results in Tuvalu have been delayed by weeks because of dangerous weather preventing boats from bringing lawmakers to the capital to vote for prime minister.

Military Activity in the Taiwan Strait

Military activity continues to be dynamic in cross-strait relations between Taiwan and China, especially as China continues its campaign of military, diplomatic, and economic pressure on the island to assert its sovereignty claims.

  • On Jan. 6, Taiwan’s defense ministry reported that it had detected multiple Chinese balloons in the island’s territorial airspace. In a separate statement, the defense ministry called the balloons a “serious threat” to international aviation safety, and asserted that the balloons were a psychological warfare tactic used “to affect the morale of [the Taiwanese] people.” On Jan. 21, Taiwan’s defense ministry reported that it had detected six more Chinese balloons flying over the Taiwan Strait, one of which had crossed into the island’s territorial airspace.

  • On Jan. 25, Taiwan began its extended one-year conscription in response to government concerns regarding China’s rising threat to the island. A total of 670 recruits became the first group to start serving in the military under the new scheme. According to Taiwan, soldiers must complete “more intense training, including shooting exercises, combat instruction used by U.S. forces, and [operation of] more powerful weapons including Stinger anti-aircraft missiles and anti-tank missiles.” President Tsai Ing-wen announced in December 2022 that Taiwan would extend the period of conscription for all eligible men from four months to one year.

  • On Jan. 31, Taiwan conducted a two-day military drill at sea, on land, and in the air to practice defending against a hypothetical surprise attack launched by the Chinese military. Maj. Gen. Sun Li-fang, Taiwan’s chief defense ministry spokesperson, told reporters that China’s recent military aggression threatens to spark conflict in the cross-strait region, emphasizing the need for Taiwan to prepare its defense operations. Sun stated: “Any unilateral irrational action could very easily escalate tensions and sabotage stability in the Taiwan Strait region … so the Chinese Communists should immediately cease these sorts of undermining actions.” Taiwan also asserted that the military drills served to boost public confidence in Taiwan’s self-defense abilities, especially as the lunar new year holiday approached.

  • Also on Jan. 31, Taiwan protested China’s unilateral decision to change flight paths closer to the median line of the Taiwan Strait, alleging that China’s decision was intentional and aimed to change the status quo. The median line has been historically understood as the official barrier separating Taiwan and China. In 2015, China and Taiwan reached an agreement for flight paths operating close to the median line, which determined that only southbound flights were allowed to operate 6 nautical miles west of the route and required flights to veer to the west in emergency situations. China’s recent flight path decisions ignore the 2015 agreement and allow more flights to operate in close proximity to the sensitive median line. Taiwan’s civil aviation administration and Mainland Affairs Council strongly protested the action. The Mainland Affairs Council stated: “if the mainland side clings obstinately to its course, it must bear any serious consequences affecting cross-strait relations.” China however, dismissed Taiwan’s complaints and described the changes as “routine” to alleviate pressure on air space, and asserted that the “so-called median line does not exist.”


AUKUS Pursues Advanced Capabilities as Industrial Capacity Challenges Loom

AUKUS Tests Unmanned and Autonomous Platforms

According to a Defense Department press release, AUKUS scientists recently conducted testing of autonomous robotic vehicles in a training area in South Australia. During what has been dubbed the Trusted Operation of Robotic Vehicles in a Contested Environment (TORVICE) Trial, scientists from the U.K., Australia, and the U.S. subjected robotic ground vehicles to electronic warfare attacks in order to test their responses and help “improve the system to overcome such attacks.”

The AUKUS partnership is structured upon two “pillars”: submarines and advanced capabilities. TORVICE’s focus on autonomous platforms is part of AUKUS’s advanced capabilities pillar, under which the three nations seek collaboratively to develop “responsible” military applications of emerging technologies, including automation and artificial intelligence.

AUKUS Virginia-Class Submarine Plan Updates


The Royal Australian Navy will reportedly send 37 sailors to Guam to embed aboard submarine tender USS Emory S. Land (AS-39) for up to five months to learn how the U.S. Navy conducts nuclear submarine maintenance. In March 2023, AUKUS leaders announced plans for the U.S. to provide Australia with several Virginia-class nuclear powered fast-attack submarines. In the early stages of implementing this plan, Australian sailors have also been trained at the U.S. Navy’s Nuclear Power School and embedded within U.S. submarine crews.

AUKUS’s submarine procurement plan depends on growing and maintaining industrial capacity within AUKUS nations. On Jan. 17, a bipartisan group of members of the House Armed Services Committee sent a letter to the White House ahead of the fiscal year (FY) 2025 budget proposal, warning that any disruption to the procurement plan for Virginia-class submarines would be detrimental to the AUKUS partnership. The letter urged the Biden administration to maintain a two-per-year rate of procurement, as “persistent demand signal” to the nation’s industrial base had driven suppliers to make capital investments and expand industrial capacity. “Simply put, now is not the time to insert instability in the supply chain with uncertainty in procurement rates …. Any deviation from the planned cadence … will reverberate both at home and abroad, with allies and competitors alike,” the letter read. The U.S. Navy reportedly believes that 2.33 Virginia-class submarines must be built per year to sell submarines to Australia but has purchased only two per year and the industrial base is currently building only 1.3 per year. What’s more, the Navy’s FY2025 budget proposal will reportedly ask that Congress fund only one Virginia-class boat, a sign that the industrial base cannot meet the two-per-year demand. Navy Secretary Del Toro acknowledged that the coronavirus pandemic impacted supply chains but called on contractors to “move beyond that now” and “deliver platforms and capabilities on time and on budget without excuses.”

Pacific Island Nations Warn of Their Vulnerability to China If Congress Falls Through on Funding

Pacific Island nations have become the focal point of a battle for influence between China and the U.S. since summer 2022, when the signing of a China-Solomon Islands security pact reinvigorated U.S. diplomatic efforts in the region. The two major powers have sought influence and partnership with Pacific Island nations by way of financial aid, humanitarian assistance, and security cooperation.

In February, as Congress struggled to agree on a budget and delayed funding approval for new Compacts of Free Association (COFA) with Pacific Island nations, regional leaders warned that “China is actively seeking to shift their allegiances” and the funding delay exposes them to “undesirable opportunities for economic exploitation by competitive political actors in the Pacific.” The COFAs contain 20-year economic assistance packages for the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, and Palau—all Pacific Island nations that currently “play a role in supporting the U.S. security presence in the Pacific Islands region at a time of increasing strategic competition between [the U.S. and China].” The warning from Pacific Islands leaders seems to imply that if Congress does not come through with funding, the U.S. might lose its “exclusive military access to strategic swaths of the Pacific.”

The Philippines Pursues Diplomacy, Military Modernization

The Philippines and Vietnam Draw Closer Amid South China Sea Tensions

On Jan. 30, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. conducted a state visit to Vietnam and met with Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh in Hanoi. The two leaders signed a new bilateral memorandum of understanding on incident management in the South China Sea, which Marcos hopes the two countries will “seriously implement…as quickly as [they] can.” The agreement “aims to establish a comprehensive partnership between the two Coast Guards on capacity building, training, and personnel and ship exchanges to improve their ability to run operations together.” While the two nations assert overlapping claims to territories in the South China Sea, both Vietnam and the Philippines have also recently clashed with China over Beijing’s maritime claims. Last month, Vietnam drew criticism from Beijing when its foreign ministry reasserted Vietnam’s maritime claims to the Spratly Islands (China: Nansha Qundao; Philippines: Kalayaan Islands; Vietnam: Quần đảo Trường Sa) and Paracel Islands (China: Xisha Qundao; Vietnam: Quần đảo Hoàng Sa). 

China asserts sovereignty over most of the South China Sea region and is likely to “frown upon” this new agreement between rival claimants. Over recent months, the Philippines has been party to an escalating series of at-sea incidents with China at the center of various territorial disputes in the South China Sea. At his Vietnam state visit, Marcos commented that China continues its “illegal activities” in the South China Sea and that the Philippines’s position is consistent with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). “We are firm in defending our sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction against any provocations,” Marcos said. “But at the same time, we are also seeking to address these issues with China through peaceful dialogue and consultations as two equal sovereign states.”

The Philippines Accuses China of Dangerous Maneuver Near Disputed Shoal

In February, the Philippine Coast Guard accused Chinese vessels of engaging in dangerous blocking maneuvers against one of its patrol boats in vicinity of the disputed Scarborough Shoal (China: Huangyan Dao; Philippines: Bajo de Masinloc/Panatag Shoal; Taiwan: Huangyan Dao). The shoal, valuable for its rich fisheries and strategic location, is claimed by both China and the Philippines, but has been effectively under China’s control since 2012. Gan Yu, spokesperson for the Chinese Coast Guard, maintained that the Philippine vessel had “illegally intruded” into China’s waters many times, and when the Philippine vessel failed to heed warnings, the Chinese Coast Guard “adopted route control and forced evacuation measures against the Philippine ship in accordance with the law.” China’s state-run newspaper the Global Times alleged that the Philippines had intentionally timed its “provocations” during China’s Spring Festival, a move that would “further erode mutual trust, disrupt the political atmosphere, and even affect the perception of Chinese people toward the Philippines.” This latest incident comes less than a month after the foreign ministries of China and the Philippines expressed agreement to manage maritime conflicts through “friendly talks.”

EDCA Air Base Gets an Upgrade

The Philippine Air Force’s Basa Air Base will be expanded to accommodate parking for 20 U.S. aircraft under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between the United States and the Philippines. The construction project will be funded by the United States under the Defense Department’s Pacific Deterrence Initiative (PDI). In late 2023, the runway at Basa Air Base was renovated and extended to accommodate larger aircraft, also using PDI funds. According to the Pentagon’s PDI budget for FY2024, PDI investment in Philippine military infrastructure is part of a series of investments designed to “strengthen regional deterrence” against China, as the “preeminent pacing challenge.” 

Philippine Navy to Purchase First Submarine

President Marcos approved the Philippine Navy’s purchase of its first submarine as part of a plan to modernize the country’s armed forces. Philippine Navy spokesperson Roy Trinidad said that the modernization efforts include plans to acquire multiple submarines, which might be supplied by France, Spain, South Korea, or Italy. Likely alluding to escalating territorial disputes with China, Trinidad commented that the Philippines “would have a navy that will take care of our territorial rights and sovereignty.” According to Trinidad, this phase of modernization reflects a strategic shift away from “internal” defense and toward “external defense.” According to maritime conflict analyst Ramon Royandoyan, the submarine purchase reflects a “strong paradigm shift” for the Philippines from “focusing on internal security to territorial defense” and evidences Manila’s growing assertiveness.

U.S. Navy FONOPS and Exercises

First Taiwan Strait Transit of 2024

Destroyer USS John Finn (DDG-113) transited the Taiwan Strait on Jan. 24. According to a statement issued by U.S. 7th Fleet public affairs, the warship passed through “a corridor in the Strait that is beyond the territorial sea of any coastal state” where high-seas freedoms of navigation and overflight apply in accordance with international law. UNCLOS Articles 3 and 5 provide that the territorial sea of a coastal state may not exceed 12 nautical miles from its baselines (normally regarded as the low water line along its coast). The Taiwan Strait is approximately 70 nautical miles wide at its narrowest point, leaving a corridor between the territorial seas of mainland China and the island of Taiwan in which ships and aircraft enjoy freedoms of navigation and overflight pursuant to UNCLOS Articles 58 and 87. The U.S. Navy conducts Taiwan Strait transits to demonstrate “commitment to upholding freedom of navigation for all nations as a principle.” China, in turn, regards the transits as provocative acts that undermine regional peace and stability. Chinese Defense Ministry spokesperson Wu Qian called on the U.S. to “stop abusing international law” by conducting extensive activities in the areas surrounding China.

U.S. Warships Train With Allies and Partners

At the end of January, two U.S. aircraft carriers (the USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) and the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71)) and a number of other U.S. warships conducted a Multi-Large Deck Event joint exercise with the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) in waters east of Taiwan. JMSDF Rear Adm. Shimizu Hitoshi remarked that the exercise was intended to improve “tactical skill and interoperability with the U.S. Navy” in support of regional peace and stability. 

In early February, the USS John Finn (DDG-113) and USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS-10) joined with warships from Australia and Japan for a joint exercise in the South China Sea. Cmdr. Earvin Taylor, commanding officer of the USS John Finn, commented that the exercise “fortified relationships” between the U.S. and its Japanese and Australian allies and promoted “transparency, rule of law, [and] freedom of navigation” in the Indo-Pacific.

On Feb. 9, the USS Gabrielle Giffords participated in the third iteration of the Maritime Cooperation Activity with the Philippines in the South China Sea. During the activity, the USS Gabrielle Giffords, the Philippine Navy’s BRP Gregorio Del Pilar (PS-15), and aircraft from both countries conducted “advanced planning and maritime communications operations to enhance interoperability.” According to a public affairs statement issued by Destroyer Squadron 7, the U.S. Navy regularly conducts such activities to “strengthen ties among allied and partner nations” in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific.

China Continues Naval Modernization Project

Since the start of 2024, China has reported significant progress in its naval modernization project. In early January, Chinese state media announced that the CNS Fujian, China’s newest aircraft carrier, was near completion and will head on its maiden voyage soon. China’s Global Times reported that the Fujian was “steadily making progress in mooring tests as planned,” and that sea trials would soon follow. Song Zhongping, a Chinese military expert and TV commentator, predicted that there would be “multiple sea trials planned for 2024, so that the Fujian can enter service and reach operational capabilities as soon as possible.

The CNS Fujian is the largest warship that China has commissioned, and its successful operation would unlock a key milestone in the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s objectives. Whereas China’s two other carriers—the Lianoning and the Shandong—are based on “outdated Soviet technology,” the CNS Fujian is equipped with electromagnetic catapults and arresting devices, which are capabilities that the United States has only on its newest carrier, the USS Gerald Ford. 

Other developments of the Chinese military include:

  • On Jan. 18, the Chinese Navy reported that the first Type 054B-frigate had started builder trials, sharing images on Chinese social media. Based on analysis of the imagery, the new frigate features HQ-16-type medium-range surface-to-air and Yu-8 ASW missiles. The Type 054B design also features slant carriers supporting two quadruple box launchers for anti-ship missiles amidships. The new frigate also features combined diesel and diesel-propulsion.

  • On Feb. 6, scientists in Beijing announced that they had made a technological breakthrough in the electronic warfare field. Specifically, Chinese scientists claimed to have “achieved seamless, wide bandwidth, real-time monitoring and analysis of the electromagnetic spectrum, leaving any enemy completely out in the open during a conflict.” Using this technology, the Chinese military will be able to detect and monitor enemy signals at high speeds, decode the physical parameters of those signals almost instantly, and effectively suppress them—while ensuring the smooth flow of their own communications. This technological breakthrough may give China an advantage in their competition with the United States over the electromagnetic spectrum.

  • On Feb. 26 and 27, the National People’s Congress (NPC) will meet to review the agenda and work reports for the upcoming annual meeting. This agenda includes “a National People’s Congress Standing Committee eligibility review committee report on the qualifications of certain delegates, and related proposals on appointments and dismissals.” This follows the NPC’s December meeting, where the body announced that it had removed nine generals—including senior members of the PLA’s Rocket Force—from the legislature’s membership.



At the United States Institute of Peace, Gordon Peake and Camilla Pohle write that Nauru’s recent switch in diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to Beijing is an accomplishment for China. According to Peake and Pohle’s analysis, Nauru has historically leveraged its diplomatic recognition in exchange for money. Other Pacific Island nations have demonstrated similar patterns, however, including Kiribati (which switched recognition because Taiwan would not buy them a commercial aircraft) and the Solomon Islands (which switched recognition for $8.5 million in aid). The authors argue that economic vulnerabilities of Pacific Islands create opportunities for Beijing that could undermine regional stability. Taiwan’s remaining allies among the Pacific Islands, the Marshall Islands and Palau, share close ties with the U.S. through COFA. However, as the Solomon Islands, Kiribati, and Nauru demonstrate, budgetary stress can rapidly change allegiances. Absent funding from the United States, the authors claim, the Freely Associated States may have to reconsider their policies. 

At the Heritage Foundation, Andrew Harding writes in support of congressional funding for COFAs with Pacific Island nations, which offer the U.S. 20 years of “strategic denial rights and defense exclusivity” in exchange for “modest financial assistance” of $7.1 billion. Congress allowed two of three COFAs to expire in 2023 and has been unable to agree on funding for their renewal, keeping them alive with short-term funding packages. The author argues that funding the agreements would save the U.S. tens of billions in the long run, given the additional military spending that would otherwise be required to compensate for the loss of military access. He claims that China is ready to step in, should the compacts expire, and in failing to fund the COFAs, Congress would hand China a “major strategic victory.” 

For the Lowy Institute, Richard Javad Heydarian writes that the Philippines has a “historic opportunity” to “stand its ground, enhance its strategic position, and preserve its sovereign rights in the South China Sea” in the face of China’s aggressive behavior. He argues that the Philippines should adopt a three-pronged approach: First, it should continue exposing China’s “bullying tactics” and fortifying its positions in areas under Philippine control by deploying more vessels to the South China Sea and expanding domestic military-industrial capacity in order to “win China’s grudging respect.” Second, the Philippines should deter China’s efforts to infiltrate its critical infrastructure. And third, it must expand its maritime cooperation with like-minded nations through regular joint patrols in the South China Sea. Once the Philippines is in a position of strength, it should move toward diplomacy in order to seek compromises with China.

​​At the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, Pham Ngoc Minh Trang writes that from an international law perspective, the “territorial dispute” between China and the Philippines over Second Thomas Shoal does not actually exist. “The mere claim of a party, without any legal basis, is not sufficient to prove the existence of a dispute,” the author writes, and “the law of the sea dictates that China has no right to claim sovereignty over Second Thomas Shoal.” According to Trang, the 2016 Arbitral Tribunal decided the matter; Second Thomas Shoal is located within the Philippines’s exclusive economic zone, the Philippines enjoys sovereignty over the shoal, and there is no territorial dispute. She argues that China should abide by the tribunal’s ruling and respect Philippine sovereignty. 

At War on the Rocks, Daniel Fiott writes that the AUKUS agreement, a “daring and novel approach to military cooperation” focused largely on emerging and disruptive technologies, faces considerable implementation challenges, including political barriers to the transfer of innovative technology between allies. The author warns that “revisionist states” including China, Russia, and North Korea have been collaborating on military technology in recent years. Acknowledging that the United States is unlikely to ease export restrictions in the near future, the author argues that the U.S. and allies should “focus on dragging technologies through to application” because “the familiar pattern of creating new innovation funds and/or agencies” will be insufficient to produce “high-tech and disruptive” systems. The author also argues that Euro-Atlantic and Indo-Pacific nations should enhance cooperation on securing supply chains (specifically for critical minerals) and exchanging scientists and researchers in order to improve joint defense innovation. 

And also at War on the Rocks, Jared McKinney and Peter Harris argue that while in the past, China lacked the military capability to take Taiwan by force, “the military balance of power has shifted decisively,” enabling an amphibious invasion in the not-too-distant future. The United States’s policy of strategic ambiguity may no longer be a sufficient deterrent, as China is increasingly fearful that the U.S. will reverse its One China policy and may seek to resolve the situation by force before it deteriorates further. Additionally, the stagnation of China’s economic growth may prompt the Chinese government to conduct a “diversionary war” to distract from domestic pressures. What’s more, McKinney and Harris argue that U.S. export controls on technology and semiconductors designed to keep U.S. technological advancements a step ahead of China may have the unintended consequence of provoking Beijing to act against Taiwan “before the U.S. military can reap the rewards of the emerging military-technological revolution.” The authors argue for deterrence measures that can be implemented in the short term: Taiwan should change its intercept doctrine to avoid wearing out its pilots and airframes by intercepting every Chinese incursion into its air defense identification zone, prioritize air defense in the form of ground-based launchers to counter China’s air control in event of invasion, and continue developing its low-earth orbit satellite network for communications. They also advocate in favor of regional powers (namely Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, and Australia) announcing a willingness to impose economic and political sanctions and increase defense spending in the event of an invasion.

Teresa Chen, Alana Nance, Published courtesy of Lawfare

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