Why China Would Be Foolish To Make Another Tiananmen

Hong Kong has been a center of focus for much of the world these past few weeks, with good reason. Record-breaking protests, which initially began due to outcry over a potential change in extradition policy and now far exceeded that initial issue, have been rocking the city. Protestors have clashed with police who turned to tear gas and rubber bullets to repel them.

Amid this chaotic situation there have been whispers of fear that a tragedy from 30 years ago will be recreated.

However, it would be foolish for China to create another Tiananmen.

The main reason for this is quite simple. Information. In the age of the Internet any move China makes will be seen and heard around the world instantly, and without the need to smuggle pictures out in a box of tea. This is especially important given that China is currently embroiled in two major issues that are taking up a great deal of its focus and resources.

The United States and China are still battling each other in a trade war, which, despite hopes that things were improving, have now deteriorated further than ever before. This means that that US is watching China with an extremely skeptical eye. Any behavior that the Trump administration deems as provocative or negative, may cause them to pressure the Chinese government more heavily, not only economically, but politically, as well. President Trump has already made a connection between the potential of a trade deal and what is currently transpiring in Hong Kong, going so far as to say it would be “very hard” to do a trade deal if China resorts to violence in Hong Kong and making direct links to Tiananmen. Whatever one might say about using the Hong Kong protests as leverage for a trade deal, one thing is clear about the situation. The United States is watching.

The second issue, and where China is already receiving ire for its inhumane and counter-humanitarian measures is the Xinjiang/Uyghur issue.

The international community has been watching what has been unfolding in western China with concern as potentially one million Uyghurs have been forced into what the Chinese government is calling “vocational education and training centers” in order to “combat terrorism”. Most in the international community seem unconvinced.

The combination of these two issues put a great deal of pressure on the Chinese government, a fact that seems to irritate Chinese officials profoundly. This suggests that China is feeling the pressure of so many eyes watching them. If true, Hong Kong would certainly be no exception to those watchful eyes.

However, one does need to take pause. Though this article is of the opinion that it would be foolish for China to create another Tiananmen that does not mean that those who make up the Chinese government are of the same opinion or that they won’t. Here are some things that should be considered.

Though much of the international community has condemned China’s actions against the Uyghurs, there are some who commended them. 37 countries, including: Russia, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, the Philippines, and Zimbabwe have pledge their support for China openly. However, one could easily point out that the human rights records of these countries supporting China are quite dubious themselves and thus their word on this matter means little. That said, that these countries are backing China does present a problem towards limiting any action the Chinese might take with regards to Hong Kong.

It should also be stated that American support, limited as it may be now, is not assured. Given that the Trump administration is currently trying to create a trade deal with China; needs Chinese aid to better assure a North Korean denuclearization treaty; and have given security assurances to Taiwan, including recently selling them billions of dollars worth of F-16 fighter jets, much to China’s displeasure; they may decide any fight over Hong Kong is not worth the risk.

There should also be concern with Chinese leadership. With President Xi Jinping’s continued consolidation of power, he seems more intent on control and creating stability in China, something which the Hong Kong protests certainly go against.

To reiterate, though the idea of a Tiananmen Square situation occurring in Hong Kong should be met with great sadness, and would be unwise of the Chinese government to enact in an era in which it is trying to be an active participant in the international community, it is not impossible that the Chinese government will decide to use force against Hong Kong, in spite of any damage or pressure inflicted upon China or its image. That said, it is possible that they will recognize that the world is watching them very intently and decide not to act in an aggressive manner for the sake of not turning the international community against them further. As such, one may hope that cooler heads prevail with this situation and that a positive outcome comes about.


The Diplomat; Hong Kong’s Extradition Bill and Taiwan’s Sovereignty Dilemma; Ming-Sung Kuo; June 26, 2019 https://thediplomat.com/2019/06/hong-kongs-extradition-bill-and-taiwans-sovereignty-dilemma/

The Diplomat; 2 Months on, Hong Kong Remains Defiant; Adryel Talamantes; August 21, 2019 https://thediplomat.com/2019/08/2-months-on-hong-kong-remains-defiant/

BBC; The photos that defined a massacre; Fiona Macdonald; October 5, 2017; http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20171005-the-photos-that-defined-a-massacre

The Diplomat; What Happened to the US-China Trade Deal?; Paul Wiseman; August 10, 2019 https://thediplomat.com/2019/08/what-happened-to-the-us-china-trade-deal/

Reuters Video; August 19, 2019; https://www.reuters.com/video/2019/08/19/trump-links-china-talks-with-hong-kong-p?videoId=589317206

The Diplomat; China Stays Tough on Xinjiang Policy Despite Growing Global Outcry; Charlotte Gao; November 29, 2018 https://thediplomat.com/2018/11/china-stays-tough-on-xinjiang-policy-despite-growing-global-outcry/

Reuters; Exclusive: China will retaliate ‘in proportion’ to any U.S. sanction over Muslim Uighurs – ambassador; Michael Martina; November 27, 2018 https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-china-uighurs-exclusive/exclusive-china-will-retaliate-in-proportion-to-any-us-sanction-over-muslim-uighurs-ambassador-idUSKCN1NW2PA

France 24; 37 countries defend China over Xinjiang in UN letter; July 12, 2019 https://www.france24.com/en/20190712-37-countries-defend-china-over-xinjiang-un-letter

Bloomberg; China Threatens Retaliation Over U.S. Arms Sale to Taiwan; August 21, 2019; With assistance by Iain Marlow, Lucille Liu, Miao Han, and Debby Wu https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-08-21/china-threatens-retaliation-over-u-s-arms-sale-to-taiwan

The Diplomat; Xi Jinping Continues His Quest for Absolute Party Control; Shannon Tiezzi; July 10, 2019 https://thediplomat.com/2019/07/xi-jinping-continues-his-quest-for-absolute-party-control/

ARIA Part II: Title I

We will be continuing with our look at the Asian Reassurance Initiative Act (ARIA) and focus, this time, on Title I: United States Policy and Diplomatic Strategy in the Indo-Pacific Region.

Beginning at Section 101, part (1). Here, ARIA states that the policy of the United States will be secure the national security interests of itself and its allies and partners. Naturally this garners the question of what happens when the interests of one are not in the interests of the other. For example: South Korea has recently made a move to strength economic cooperation with Russia in what is called the New Northern Policy. This move could not only more greatly tie the two together, but strength the economic power of Russia which, despite any claim of how close President Trump is or is not to Russia, is still viewed in the terms of an adversary by much, if not most of the American government and populous. While there does not appear to be an American backlash in response to this move, that might change in the future.

Part (2) states that it will be policy to promote “American prosperity and economic interests by advancing economic growth and development of a rules-based Indo-Pacific economic community”. Beyond the question of what exactly “American prosperity” is, this piece raises the question of American investment in the region. Will the US government encourage investment in the Indo-Pacific? In Section 102, Parts (B) and (C), it is stated that the US intends to improve relations with allies by: improving information sharing, and increasing defense investment and trade, respectively, so this seems well within the possibility. However, other questions do arise. Does that include North Korea and would that be apart of a deal with the state in exchange for eliminating its nuclear arsenal? Will investment be turned away from China, especially in fields such as AI and cybernetics? If this is the intention of the US it may earn them some good will, but will also raise suspicion.

The bill restates the United States’ commitment to human rights, which, as stated before, will likely cause issues with numerous countries, including: China, North Korea, and the Philippines.

Returning to Section 102, the next major points of interest are points (D) and (E) which state: “(It is the diplomatic strategy of the United States—) to
ensure interoperability; and…to strengthen shared capabilities”. Now, this is another situation where, by itself, it is in no way surprising or outside the norms of strategic policy. Indeed, the statement might be heralded as a move in the right direction of international cooperation and regional stability. However the problem is that the unspoken reality is more complicated. In order to “ensure interoperability” and “strengthen shared capabilities” allies have to be on the same page, something which has already been stated, not to be the case. One key example of this is Trump’s cancellation of the US-South Korean War games, something done in the name of diplomacy with the North Koreans, but which has the Japanese government in a bit of unease.

Continuing on to Part (2), (B), the bill states that the American strategy will be to “strengthen relationships with partners who—… agree with fair and reciprocal trade”. One might view this as an effort to appease or some agreement with, President Trump given his heavy focus on matters of trade and the balance of trade deficits. This seems possible not only because of the common belief that ARIA is meant as a way of ensuring the Trump administration solidifies a strategy in the Indo-Pacific region (for more on that please refer back to Part I of this series, which you can find here), but also due to other findings which will be discussed momentarily. If so, it is important to reiterate the potential of future interbranch conflict in the US government.

Part (3) with it’s statement of American support for “functional problem-solving regional architecture”, comes off as a little hollow given Trump recently failed to attend numerous Indo-Pacific summits, though some may have been glad that Vice President Pence came in his stead.

With regards to part (4) sections (A) and (B) on freedom of navigation and peaceful resolution to maritime disputes, I will simply reiterate the earlier statement that this will likely lead to confrontation with China and a rise in tensions, even if the goal itself, is reasonable.

The bill goes on the reiterate a commitment to the complete denuclearization. If the US is to continue, effectively on this path, a few things should change. One: Japan needs to more fully included in the discussions. As previously stated, Japan is feeling slighted and lost on the front of North Korea. No doubt this anxiety has only increased with Trump’s rhetoric on trade. Japan, as a vital American ally and a nation sitting precariously close to North Korea, they must be brought in on some significant capacity. Though it is important to remember that the North Koreans have signaled this goes against their wishes and made, therefore, earn their ire, so precaution must be taken. In the event that the American delegation in charge of negotiations with North Korea fear that including Japan will derail the talks, it is highly recommended that Japan is made aware that the US takes their position seriously and an explanation is given. Failure to do so will only alienate Japan further.

Moving on to Part (8), ARIA states that it will be the policy of the US to “to pursue multilateral and bilateral trade agreements in a free, fair, and reciprocal manner and…committed to free markets”. This suggests a reversal in the Trump policy on trade, which could again indicate an attempt by Congress to flex its power and limit the executive. Whether they will use this bill in order to exercise that power against the current or future administrations, and in what manner, remains to be seen.

The bill also states that it will be policy to work with countries in the region to “pursue high-quality and transparent infrastructure projects”, which is surely a direct challenge to China’s highly ambitious, Belt and Road Initiatives. Indeed, Vice President Pence, in the previously mentioned summit, took a direct shot at the initiatives and their effects, which was in no way appreciated by Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Finally, Title I finishes by stating that it will be American policy “to sustain a strong military presence in the Indo-Pacific region and strengthen security relationships with allies and partners throughout the region”. This, again, will cause a confrontation with China, but more importantly, demands a correction of the current situation with allies and partners in the region and thawing the icy streak that has been in place for the last two years or so. Overall, Title I reiterates much of what it stated earlier and findings, and the greatest concerns appear to be centered around future conflict with China and current issues with American relations in the region, neither of which are surprising.


A Closer Look at South Korea’s Plan for Cooperation With Russia,
Valentin Voloshchak, The Diplomat, January 9, 2019


Why China’s AI push is worrying, The Economist, July 27th, 2017


Senator: Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war has killed 20,000, Ted Regencia, Al Jazeera, February 21, 2018


Pentagon suspends ‘war games’ with South Korea after Trump’s meeting with Kim, Dan Lamothe, The Washington Post, June 18, 2018


Mike Pence challenges China at Asia-Pacific economic summit,
Thomas Maresca, USA Today, November 17, 2018



Asia Reassurance Initiative Act (ARIA) Part I: What is ARIA & Findings

Today, we shall be looking at the Asia Reassurance Initiative Act (ARIA) that was signed into law on December 31st. Originally, I had planned to cover the entire document, as well as some articles surrounding it, but I soon discovered that the magnitude of the review was longer than I initially intended and so will be splitting my findings into multiple parts. I encourage you to view the document yourself.

Now, what is ARIA? ARIA is a bill that was initially put forward by Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO), who is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cyber Security with the intention of solidifying American policy in what is now referred to as the Indo-Pacific region. More specifically, as stated by the Diplomat, ARIA has a goal of ensuring the Trump administration develops “a long-term strategic vision and a comprehensive, multifaceted, and principled United States policy for the Indo-Pacific region…”.

I shall begin the review at Section 2, entitled Findings, Subsection 5. The bill states, “It is imperative that the United States continue to play a leading role in the Indo-Pacific region by—

(A) defending peace and security;

(B) advancing economic prosperity; and

(C) promoting respect for fundamental human rights.

Focusing on parts (A) and (B), I noticed one potential issue. Not with the concepts themselves, those appear to be very standard statements and expected in a document about the advancement of a national policy. The potential for conflict lies in what is not said.

As stated earlier the bill has a goal of ensuring the Trump administration develops a proper, long-term policy in the Indo-Pacific region. In the same article, it is stated, “ARIA is a good example of the U.S. Congress exercising oversight over the Executive through authorizing expenditure for specific activities, requiring annual reports on a number of security issues, and mandating specific strategies to achieve U.S. objectives”. This suggests the bill could be the future staging grounds of a conflict between Congress and the Executive Branch, namely the current Trump administration.

This is not to say that this issue is sure to appear. The bill did receive bipartisan support and the President did sign it less than two weeks after it was approved by the Senate in its amended state. However, to overlook the potential for conflict, especially given the current climate of hostility between the Trump administration and members of Congress, is foolhardy and will possibly lead to future frustration if not at least considered.

Part (C) provides a more likely conflict however as the focus on “promoting respect for fundamental human rights” puts the U.S. at direct odds with numerous states in the Indo-Pacific region, most notably, China.

To push China on this issue will result in some level of retribution, especially given the already tense climate between the U.S. and China. To be sure, the U.S. does have plenty of which they could raise issue with regarding human rights. China’s recent attacks on Muslims and Christians in the Communist Party’s attempts to bring them to heel, would certainly count. Such a move would also likely earn them some good will from other countries concerned with human rights, but whether or not those brownie points will mean much against the ire of an increasingly aggressive China, is most certainly up for debate.

Another part I’d like to take note of is Section 2, Subsection 6, part (B). Here
Dr. Graham Allison, states, “Chinese leaders…believe that as the tide that brought the United States to Asia recedes, America must leave with it”. This opens up numerous discussions. For one, China recognizes that the U.S. is losing it’s position as the leading world power and is pulling back into a position similar to modern Britain. It also brings up the question of what exactly is the responsibility of a given state on the world stage. Should a state interfere with the affairs of others over such concerns as human rights or should each state respect the sovereignty of others as Emer de Vattel would suggest? Do the rules change depending on the power of the individual state? Does being a hegemonic power demand that a particular state involve itself in the matters of other nations? Is involving oneself in the matters of others what creates a hegemonic state to begin with? My purpose here is not to answer these questions, but merely spark debate and open the floor for further discussion.

Moving on to Subsection 7, The United States National Security Strategy, released in December, 2017 and focusing on part (B), there are numerous points of potential conflict that arise. One such conflict arises with the statement, “share respect for sovereignty”. Now, this quote is in reference to existing and potential future alliances and partnerships, which the National Security Strategy states is a major focus. However, this claim could easily be taken by countries such as China or North Korea as a point of hypocritical contention, given the United State’s involvement, not only in their affairs, but the affairs of many other states around the world. The previously mentioned religious groups and South China Sea incidents come to mind, not to mention Taiwan and nuclear weapons.

This point is further exasperated by the statement, “We will reinforce our commitment to freedom of the seas”. It won’t matter to China if the Security Strategy adds, “and the peaceful resolution of territorial and maritime disputes in accordance with international law” afterwards, it will still be seen as a direct challenge and one that is unlikely to simmer down in the near future.

The final note will be on the statement “We will work with allies and partners to achieve complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula and preserve the non-proliferation regime in Northeast Asia”. Not only is this statement quite bold, but it fails to recognize a key issue. The U.S. has not been doing remarkably well with regards to keeping allies calm and in the loop on its actions. In regards to the situation with North Korea, Japan has been noticeable out of the loop with regards to knowledge and influence.

Time and again Japan has been taken by “surprise” such as with Trump’s cancellation of the U.S.-South Korean war games, or “been the odd man out” with regards to what the U.S. and North Korea are doing.

This has largely to do with Trump’s unorthodox nature, but it would be foolish to say this is the failure of one man, or even one country, especially given that North Korea has made it clear they do not want the Japanese to participate in the nuclear discussions.

If the U.S. is to uphold the standards it has presented itself, steps must be taken on multiple fronts. One: Japan must be brought into the loop on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. As a regional partner, and arguably the United State’s most important ally in the region, sidelining the state is a foolish and insulting move. It should be noted though that this will likely cause tensions, not only with North Korea for its previously stated position, but quite possibly with South Korea as well, given the continued tension between Japan and South Korea over the comfort women issue. If possible, the U.S. should try to calm the tension between its two allies as much as possible, but only if an effective means of doing so presents itself. Pushing the issue could easily backfire. Secondly, it would be wise for the Trump administration to end its current conflict with Japan over matters of trade, at least for now. If the two are to work together to their highest effectiveness there needs to be as little bad blood between them as possible. Doing likewise with China, again, if only for the moment, may also aid in the process of denuclearization, by making China a more willing partner in the process. Overall, the U.S. must make it perfectly clear that not only is it listening to its allies, but that their opinions matter and are respected, that way better ensuring their good will and better cooperation on all fronts.

So ends part I on ARIA. I hope this has been enlightening to you, and I look forward to any and all discussions that arise from this article. Below I shall also leave a list of names that appeared in this section of the bill in case you are interested in researching them. With that, thank you very much for reading.

Representative Randy Forbes

Ambassador Robert Gallucci

Ms. Tami Overby

Dr. Robert Orr

Ambassador Derek Mitchell

Ambassador Robert King

Mr. Murray Hiebert

Dr. Graham Allison, the Douglas Dillon Professor of Government at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University


S.2736 – Asia Reassurance Initiative Act of 2018 


Asia Reassurance Initiative Act: A Republican Vision for Engaging Southeast Asia, The Diplomat, Carl Thayer, July 19, 2017


ARIA: Congress Makes Its Mark on US Asia Policy, The Diplomat, Carl Thayer, January 8, 2019


The West begins to stir over China’s massive abuse of Muslims, The Economist, November 22, 2018


In China, they’re closing churches, jailing pastors – and even rewriting scripture, The Guardian, The Observer, Lily Kuo, January 13, 2019


China Sends Military to Intercept U.S. Navy in South China Sea As Tensions Rise, Newsweek, Tom O’Connor, January 7, 2019


Was Japan the biggest loser in Singapore?, The Japan Times, Yuki Tatsumi, June 28, 2018