The United States has warned China that the sanctions it coordinated against Russia over Ukraine should serve as a warning of what to expect if Beijing moves against Taiwan.
Following Beijing’s reaction to US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan in August, Washington has stepped up discussions on sanctions options and the European Union is under diplomatic pressure from Taipei to do the same, sources told Reuters.
However, garnering support for such steps will be much more difficult than in the case of Russia, given China’s enormous role in the global economy. Here are some of the opportunities and obstacles that experts, diplomats and former officials highlight.
CAUTION REGARDING THE “NUCLEAR OPTION”
The draft measures by the US Congress outline the full range of punitive sanctions that could be imposed on China over Taiwan, including against President Xi Jinping and other leaders, actions to exclude Chinese banks from global markets, bans on listing Chinese companies in US, to import Chinese goods and restrict Chinese energy projects.
The so-called “nuclear option” of banning all US dollar business between US and Chinese banks, which would effectively put Chinese institutions outside the international financial system, is, however, considered highly unlikely, at least for now, given the damage it could do. inflicted on the US economy and the world economy more generally.
DEFENSE, TECHNOLOGY AND SPACE INDUSTRY
Instead, policymakers are likely to prefer initially less dramatic measures, such as asset freezes targeting Chinese officials, companies and institutions; more limited action against some banks; and rules prohibiting deals favoring China’s military-industrial complex, including its semiconductor and aerospace sectors.
Craig Singleton, a former US government official and sanctions expert at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said there may be a willingness to consider measures against financial institutions linked to the ruling Chinese Communist Party, including the People’s Bank of China and various state-owned banks that support trade and industry, “but the bar will be quite high.”
“I suspect that many American policymakers will be reluctant to take very strong measures, at least before an actual invasion,” he said, explaining that such steps could “significantly damage the American economy.”
ASIAN ALLIES LIKELY WON’T BE WILLING
Support from Asia is crucial for effective sanctions, and it will be difficult to convince countries there, given their huge economic ties to China.
Most Asian countries, with the exceptions of Australia, Japan, Singapore and South Korea, have gone no further than verbally condemning Russia over Ukraine, and “Russia is nowhere near as connected to the global economy as China,” said one Asian diplomat.
“I’m not sure how realistic this threat of Russian-style sanctions is going to be,” he said.
“The most likely country that would support the US position is Japan. Japanese companies, even if they are trying to diversify, have so much production in China that I don’t know what they can give up quickly.”
A total of 7,486 Japanese firms had domestic subsidiaries in China in the year ended March 2021, just under a third of all overseas subsidiaries of Japanese firms, according to the latest survey by Japan’s trade ministry.
“Many countries are not ready to impose sanctions on China,” said an official from the US’s Asian ally. “We are in the beginning phase of developing solidarity between like-minded people, which at the moment seems a bit symbolic and superficial.”
In the past, Beijing has taken a tough stance against Asian countries following the US lead, for example when South Korea faced Chinese economic retaliation after deploying a US missile defense system on its territory.
China has also taken steps to reduce its reliance on imported technology and is working to develop the use of a digital currency that would allow it to circumvent banking sanctions.
“China is aggressive in trying to spread its digital currency to as many … partners as possible,” said Nazak Nikahtar, a former senior official at the US Commerce Department.
“So there will be a good subset of the global trading community that will be able to circumvent any direct sanctions against China.”
China’s leaders had made it clear they would learn from the experience with sanctions against Russia, as well as then-President Donald Trump’s campaign against telecoms giant Huawei, which took nearly two years of sanctions and chip export bans , to deal significant damage.
Huawei stocked up on U.S. chips before the bans went into effect to protect the company from reprisals,” Singleton said. “China will almost certainly do the same to Taiwan — there are some indications that it already is — to reduce risks to itself as US-China relations continue to deteriorate.”
Experts such as Singleton believe that “comprehensive sanctions” against China are unlikely, especially given that no such sanctions have yet been imposed on Russia.
A former senior US official said the decision would ultimately have to be made by President Joe Biden, who said on a visit to Japan this year that China was already “flirting with danger” with the military pressure it is putting on Taiwan.
“At the end of the day, let’s be clear, this is a policy decision by the president, and if he decides we need to signal deterrence in this way, he can say ‘act,’ and the Treasury Department can do it very quickly.” said the source in question.
Author: Plamen Yotinski, BTA