Avoiding Nuclear War in the Taiwan Strait
Weekly Newsletters

Avoiding Nuclear War in the Taiwan Strait


21 May 2021

Dear Network Members and Colleagues,

We would like to share with you the latest APLN activities including a new special report examining nuclear escalation in a Taiwan Strait crisis, an expert commentary on China and the NPT Review Conference; an upcoming partner event on No First-Use policies; and member activities.





Nuclear Escalation in a Taiwan Strait Crisis?
by Robert Ayson

A new APLN special report by Professor Robert Ayson of Victoria University of Wellington was published yesterday. Professor Ayson outlines different scenarios that could trigger a nuclear war in the Taiwan Strait between China and the United States and how it can be avoided.

He notes that many of the ingredients are in place for a Taiwan Strait crisis to precipitate a nuclear escalation. He reviews background factors such as strategic factors and operational problems that could give rise to such a catastrophe as well as the reasons why nuclear escalation might be regarded as unlikely.

 Recommendations include: 

  • China and the United States establish an understanding of shared no-go areas in a Taiwan Strait crisis, including assets that if attacked would be likely to generate disproportionate retaliation.

  • Taiwan, the United States, and China should signal their reluctance to put C4I systems at risk in an escalating crisis.

  • Crisis stability and the dangers of crisis instability need to be a recurring subject in a renewed process of US-China strategic dialogue and involve military, diplomatic and political leaders.



Read Special Report



China and the Postponed NPT Review Conference
by Marin Lucic and Michal Onderco

The latest APLN commentary by Marin Lucic, Research Intern at Governing Future Security Project and Professor Michal Onderco of Erasmus University Rotterdam assesses Chinese nuclear ambitions and strategy ahead of the NPT Review Conference.

They posit that Chinese interests at the 2020 NPT RevCon are shaped by three factors: the desire to portray itself as a champion of peaceful uses, the putative disdain for nuclear deterrence, and disinterest in advancing any regulation of emerging technology in the strategic sphere.



Read Commentary



The Pulse features timely analyses on policy developments in the region. In the latest Pulse, APLN members and experts from Australia, New Zealand, China, and Taiwan offer their assessment over tensions over the Taiwan Strait.

This week features analysis by Gareth Evans, APLN Chair and Distinguished Honorary Professor at the Australian National University; Robert Ayson, Professor of Strategic Studies at Victoria University of Wellington; Tong Zhao, Senior Fellow at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy and APLN Board Member; and Chungly Lee, Professor of International Relations at National Chengchi University.




“In diplomacy, words can be bullets, and far too many over-heated ones have been flying in recent times between Australia and China…Such talk inevitably generates an escalatory reaction – as we have seen in Chinese media and diplomatic commentary – and makes ever more difficult the kind of quiet, constructive, problem-solving diplomacy for which the present tensions cry out. It is time for both sides to heed the counsel of the great French 19th century statesman, Talleyrand: “Above all, gentlemen, avoid excessive zeal.” – Gareth Evans, APLN Chair




“The more that rising tensions between China and Taiwan reflect the wider US-China contest, the more we need to wonder if the next Taiwan Strait crisis could go nuclear. Escalatory pressures, encouraged by overlapping asymmetries in military power, could prove difficult to manage without greater trust and communication between Beijing and Washington than is evident today.” – Robert Ayson, Victoria University of Wellington




“There is no strong evidence of a Chinese plan to take over Taiwan militarily in the near-term. After all, Beijing understands it can achieve peaceful unification by eventually shifting the balance of military power in the region to China’s advantage, at which point the United States and its allies would no longer be able or willing to interfere and Taiwan would have to accept Beijing’s political arrangement. Until then, China appears determined to use its growing power to set rules of behaviour for Taiwan’s international sympathizers.” – Tong Zhao, APLN Board Member




“Rising strategic tensions are exacerbating anti-China sentiment among the people of Taiwan, increasing public awareness of military threats. Beijing blames Taiwan’s President, Tsai Ing-wen for these worsening tensions. But although strategic tensions are real and growing, to many people in Taiwan, the most immediate source of cross-strait anxiety is the pandemic and the issue of Taiwan’s desire to participate in the World Health Assembly (WHA)…If Beijing continues its procedural manipulation to block Taiwan’s meaningful involvement in international organizations, more and more Taiwanese will lose confidence in Beijing’s claims that it prioritizes their welfare.
” – Chyungly Lee, National Chengchi University



Read More



Webinar on No First-Use Of Nuclear Weapons

On Sunday 22 May from 3:00-5:00 PM NZST, the New Zealand Centre for Global Studies (NZCGS) will be hosting No First-Use of Nuclear Weapons: Asia-Pacific Perspectives. APLN Members and Board Members Dr. Marianne Hanson, Dr. Manpreet Sethi, and Dr. Tong Zhao will speak on their papers prepared for the NZCGS NFU project. Following their presentations, APLN Board member, Professor Ramesh Thakur will lead and moderate a discussion panel with the speakers.

Please find more details about the webinar and registration here.





Member Activities
False Premise about North Korean Nuclear Capabilities
On 17 May, APLN Vice Chair and Professor Chung-in Moon, wrote for the Hankyoreh on the need to accurately assess North Korea’s nuclear capabilities. He argues that it is important to consider analyses from both North and South Korea. He emphasizes that while there is a continued need to evaluate the North Korean threat, misrepresentation can harm the alliance and stability on the Korean Peninsula. Read more

















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