SpyCast 12.19.23
Ep 616 | 12.19.23

“Making Sense of China, Taiwan, & America” – Pacific Intelligence with Bonny Lin


Andrew Hammond: Welcome to SpyCast, the official podcast of the International Spy Museum. I'm your host, Dr. Andrew Hammond, the museum's historian and curator. Every week we explore some aspect of the past, present, or future of intelligence and espionage, a vast ecosystem that looms beneath the surface of everyday life. Please consider supporting the show for free by leaving us a five-star review so other listeners can find us. And please subscribe if you haven't done so already. Coming up next on SpyCast.

Bonny Lin: Taiwan is the most important Chinese interest, and that is an interest that China will not tolerate any country violating.

Andrew Hammond: China has played an important role in the story of our species, from prehistoric times through the birth of recorded history, up until our present age. In Washington, DC and around the world, China is a huge topic of conversation and for good reason. The strategic trajectory of China since the 1970s has had and will continue to have knock-on effects around the world, not just here in the United States, from the Caribbean to Sub-Saharan Africa and from Taiwan to its almost 3 1/2 1000-kilometer border with the world's other largest country in terms of population, India. How should we make sense of China? Does it matter how we understand China? What is modern China? And what role does intelligence play in all of this? To help us get our heads around these questions, this week's guest is China/Taiwan expert, Dr. Bonny Lin, who administers a healthy dose of facts and data into this week's episode. Bonny is a senior fellow for Asian security and director of the Chain of Power Project at the CSIS think tank. She was a senior advisor on China and Taiwan in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and has testified before Congress on several occasions. She has a PhD in Political Science from Yale University. In this episode, Bonny and I discuss China's economic power and status, the current landscape of Chinese intelligence, China's relationship with Taiwan, and the ChinaPower Project that Bonny directs. The original podcast on intelligence since 2006, we are SpyCast. Now, sit back, relax, and enjoy the show. Okay. Well, I'm so pleased to speak to you, Bonny. Thanks ever so much for taking the time to help me understand China-US relations, especially through the lens of intelligence.

Bonny Lin: Well, thank you very much for inviting me to this podcast. It's my pleasure.

Andrew Hammond: Thank you. And can you just tell our listeners a little bit more, just the start about the ChinaPower Project because I know that this is an active research area for you. So just tell us a little bit more about what your research and a little bit more about the ChinaPower Project.

Bonny Lin: Of course. Thank you. So I'm the director of the ChinaPower Project at CSIS. It's one of three programs at CSIS that focuses on research analysis of China. And I would say what's different from my program versus the other two is we're very much focused on using data to unpack the complexities of China's evolving power. So we use a number of visualizations; expert analysis; where possible, quantifiable data. And we look at all categories of Chinese power: its military power, economic power, technological, social, international image. My team also is more focused on China's foreign policy, as well as the People's Liberation Army and perhaps not as focused, per se, as much on, you know, Chinese domestic politics or as deeply as focused on China's economics than some of my other colleagues at CSIS. Within ChinaPower, we also focus quite a bit on US-China relations, broadly, China's national security and foreign policy, as well as cross-strait dynamics. I also have my own podcast, the ChinaPower podcast. And so I'm very delighted to join yours too. And hopefully I can invite you on my podcast at some point. I

Andrew Hammond: I would love to come on. So can you just tell our listeners how you came to be interested on this topic.

Bonny Lin: Sure. So the program was already established at CSIS before I joined. I joined CSIS a little over two years ago, in June 2022. And I was very attracted to looking at analyzing different elements of Chinese power using actual data. As you know, in DC, China is a huge topic of study. It's of significant interest to policymakers across the aisle, both Republicans and Democrats. There's a proliferation of analysis on China. But I think it's quite a bit of that analysis is based off of opinions. Others are based off of different assessments. But I think it's more and more important as becomes -- as US China competition intensifies to base our analysis of data on what are actual known facts in data and be clear the areas that we just don't have that much intelligence or information on. And knowing what we don't know, I think that will help us have a better understanding of both China but also the uncertainties that we need to take into account when thinking about either US policy towards China or how we should deal with how China acts, vis- -vis our allies and partners.

Andrew Hammond: Given what you've just said, I think it'd be quite interesting to just compare and contrast the United States and China, maybe looking at the ways in which you measure Chinese power or the ways in which you use data to try to understand China. So when you have, like, a boxing match or something and you have the people compare the height, the weight, the reach, the background, they look at all of these data points to try to understand the match. So it's not a perfect analogy, but if you just help us understand both of these entities that are the power of numbers and -- and some of the ways in which you look at it so we could we can look at military, political, economic, cultural, intelligence. Start however you want, but just help us understand America compared to China and vice versa.

Bonny Lin: Maybe since you mentioned military first, we can start there. When we look at China, one of the major headlines that's in DC is the PLA is rapidly modernizing -- sorry. The PLA is People's Liberation Army, which reports the Chinese Communist Party so the political party in China. And it has a goal of becoming a world-class military in the next decade or two. And when we look at how much China is spending on its defense, currently, it's around 300 billion, which is less than the United States with our defense budget of over 800 billion. But, even though it's quite a bit less than what the United States is spending, China is still ranked number 2 in terms of overall defense spending. China is also the world's second largest arms producer after the United States. Oftentimes, when people look at military power, they often look at hard assets too. And there seems to also be a focus on aircraft carriers. And, of course, we see China having a handful of aircraft carriers. There's also been quite a bit of news about how China's rapidly expanding its nuclear weapons and nuclear arsenals. And I would say, as of right now, the size of China's nuclear arsenal is only -- it's only a fraction of a thousands of nuclear warheads that the United States has in our arsenal, as well as what Russia has in its nuclear arsenal. But, if we look out 10 or 15 years, we will see China's numbers, the number of nuclear warheads in China's arsenal increased to over 1000 by the 2030s, which would still be quite a bit less than the total inventory that we have in our nuclear arsenal. So I would say, overall, China's military capability is increasing. But it's still quite a bit lagging behind the United States. And that's only looking at the hard power. If we look at the soft capabilities so, for example, how China trains its forces, how educated the Chinese People's Liberation Army is, how proficient they are, how much real-world battle experience they have, they are far lagging behind the United States. As you know, China has not been in an actual conflict abroad since the China Vietnam War, which has been decades, whereas the United States, we're constantly putting our shoulders to the frontline. And they have significant military experience, whether that's in the Middle East or elsewhere. And just for our listeners, could you just tell them when the China Vietnam War was and just in a couple of sentences what it was over? Yeah. Sure. So the China Vietnam War was in 1979. And it was a very -- relatively brief conflict on the -- between the border of China, Vietnam. And I guess what I would say is China had gone into Vietnam thinking that it would be a relatively easy fight, and it would be a relatively peaceful and short war. Well, it turned out to be a lot more difficult than China expected. And, in many ways, it wasn't a war that demonstrated to the Chinese that their military is all that capable. If anything, the China Vietnam War showcased that China needed to actually -- the China's military was facing problems. And, if it were to face a much more formidable potential adversary like the United States, I think the lesson learned of that war is that the PLA needs significant reforms and significant modernization still.

Andrew Hammond: You see China ever becoming -- moving towards some kind of democratic system where people can make an input at the ballot box or if the -- change the political system, or is that just never going to happen?

Bonny Lin: We do see Chinese scholars writing about is that they don't necessarily believe that a democracy, a democratic political system is compatible with such a large country with over 1 billion population. They point out, for example, India, as an example of a large democracy with a -- with a very large population. And they point out how that democracy has failed to deliver on many basic goods, including infrastructure, including moving people out of poverty. So I think there is some reluctance among Chinese scholars, intellectuals to believe that a very large country with such a large population in different locales can be unified and govern well under a democracy versus if you have a nondemocratic government. You might be able to impose more unity than on democracies. But I guess to your point, it's hard to say it will never happen. Rather, I don't see leading Chinese scholars and those who are close to -- close to those in power right now in China advocating that China should move in the route of being more democratic or embracing more freedoms.

Andrew Hammond: But I don't want to spend too much time on this because it could easily be another podcast, and I feel like there's a lot of information out there about it already. But, just very briefly, what does the data tell us about the economic strengths and weaknesses of China and the United States?

Bonny Lin: Sure. So currently, China is the top trading partner to over 120 countries with almost most, if not all, of China's neighbors highly dependent on trade with China. Depending on how you calculate GDP, or gross domestic product, China is ranked number 1 compared to the United States as number 2 if you look at it through purchasing power parity or as number 2 in terms of nominal GDP with the United States in terms of number 1. So, if you look at the overall -- overall size of China's economy, I think most would say it's very much on par, if not exceeding that of the United States. I think where -- where we're seeing more uncertainty is the current state of China's economy. Some are saying that the -- China's growth, economic growth rate is likely to be lower than as growth target for this year, which is among the lowest growth targets that they've set. China's growth target right now, which is about 5% for 2023, is still higher than what our current US GDP growth is. But people also look at some of the other statistics that we're seeing in China right now, which is about 20% of China's youth are unemployed. And that is raising major concerns in terms of what that means for China's social stability and what that means in terms of what China needs to do to make sure that that doesn't become a huge domestic problem for the CCP. Here's an interlude to help you digest this episode. Over 2000 years of Imperial rule in China came to an end in 1911 when the Qing Dynasty was overthrown after a long period of crisis and decline. China was never a republic. This 1911 revolution would set in motion a chain of events that would lead to the nature of the regime in China today. After the revolution, China was beset by warlords, invasion, Japanese occupation, and civil wars that would last for many years until the communists ousted their nationalist rivals in 1949. Remember, this is in 1949. The Cold War is gathering pace. The Soviets have tested the first atom bomb, eradicating US monopoly; and now the Communists have taken over China. The US broke off diplomatic relations, and things would remain this way for decades until ping pong came along. Yes, you heard me right: ping pong. In 1971 at the World Table Tennis Championship in Japan, US player Glen Cohen missed his team bus and ended up on the Chinese bus where a Chinese player named Liang Geliang approached the American and gave him a gift of a piece of silk cloth with the Wang Shan Mountains depicted on it. Journalists caught the two exiting the bus on camera, and this led to an official invitation to the US team to come to China to play exhibition matches. The following year, the Chinese Table Tennis Team came to the US and went to a variety of locations around the country, including Washington. At the same time, diplomatic relations between the two countries were improving. And President Nixon would become the first President to visit the People's Republic of China. Time Magazine called the visit of the US team to China the ping heard around the world. That ping echoes to this day. Okay. So I feel like we're getting a good idea. So we've got the militaries. We've got the political systems. Then we have the economic underpinnings. So I think it would be interesting now just to look at the R&D in each respective country. So I'm thinking especially as it relates to the military and intelligence. So, in some ways, it seems to me a part of the Cold War was really a huge research and development competition. There were various things that both countries were good at. There were various things that -- that meant that America was -- was better at this in the long run. So could you just compare and contrast how R&D takes place in both of these countries. And that also, of course, brings in economic espionage, intellectual property theft, and those types of things. So just compare how the R&D systems are for both of those countries. I think it's important part of the comparison of the R&D system also talk briefly about China's education system, as well as its labor force. So maybe I'll start quickly on the education system. So China has a very competitive and rigorous education system, though, if you look at just general rates of education, for example, high school education in China, you might not necessarily see that because there is still a urban versus rural divide within China. And the generally less-educated rural population, which still forms a good portion of China's overall population, in many ways still weighs down overall assessments of how educated the Chinese population is. But if you look, if you focus on the urban side, we know that China has some of the -- some really high-quality and competitive education system. So they have entrance exams for both high school and college that are incredibly competitive. And, more recently, what's been very interesting is that China -- the Chinese government began cracking down on the proliferation of after-school tutoring system -- tutoring classes because of how much revenue they generate, as well as how much that actually distorts the academic equality that the typical schools provide. And we're also seeing in the last year or so more discussion of how China actually ease its entrance exams for college because of how many students has had to repeatedly take the college exams more than once, meaning you can only take it one time per year, what some proponents saying, well, if China needs to simplify its college exams, why don't we make English less of a requirement? Because, right now, English is actually a requirement for China's college. Now, I will note, as you probably know, Mandarin is -- Mandarin Chinese is not a requirement to -- for US colleges. So it's -- so it's interesting that, in China, that they're thinking about how to simplify and make their education system less difficult for Chinese students. And I think that relates also to what we were talking about earlier, the overall youth unemployment because, if you go through this rigorous education system and you graduate from college and you're still suffering 20% unemployment rate, I think that raises some serious questions of why you should be putting in that much work if you're not -- if they're going to face a lot of issues finding a job afterwards. In terms of the overall labor market and China's demographic populations, I mentioned earlier right now that China is one of the most populous countries with over 1 billion people. But we do know that China's population is shrinking and aging at a much faster rate than most developing countries. And, with that aging, what we'll see is a shrinking workforce, significant increased healthcare, and a strain on China's social welfare system. So, as we think about China's R&D and its overall economic power, we need to take into account that, moving forward, we'll likely see a China that, unless it can deal with this aging population, will -- will struggle to provide the basic workforce to sustain the cutting-edge technologies that it wants to be able to develop. And, unlike the United States or other countries that might have issues with a shrinking or aging population, China doesn't really have that great of a policy for immigration. So, currently, only about 0.1% of the Chinese population are immigrants. That's compared to 15.3% of the United States. So the comparison is quite stark. And we can all -- often think about the United States being able to attract some of the best and brightest talents globally, right, whether they come during -- in college or later, but we're able to attract the best and bright talent in our universities. China has some great universities, too, but they're not necessarily attracting, for example, the best top students from India, the top students from Brazil, the top students from the UK. They do have some foreign exchange students but not near the same scale. And those students don't tend to stay in China, emigrate to China.

Andrew Hammond: Wow. So I think it would be interesting now just to get on to the Intelligence component of all of this. I feel like, in other podcasts, we've looked at China's intelligence agencies. And most of our audience know America's intelligence agencies. So let's just go on to discuss specific competencies and then specific points of tension in the relationship. Can you just help us understand where China's at with all of these various components that make up intelligence.

Bonny Lin: Yeah. When you look at China's intelligence agency, that there's multiple organizations involved at -- the largest and -- is a civilian agency, which is the Ministry of State Security, which is responsible for gathering intelligence, particularly via human sources, or HUMINT, as well as for some calendar intelligence activities. Another civilian agency that's quite important is the Ministry of Public Security, which is a law enforcement agency. It's mainly tasked with counterintelligence operations. And I think what's interesting here, I don't know if it was flagged in some of the prior discussion, is the MPS, the Ministry of Public Security isn't engaging in just operations within China for counterintelligence. They've actually in the recent years been more active internationally, too, for example, to capture what they view as problematic Chinese citizens that have escaped or fled overseas. The most famous examples of this are Operation Fox Hunt and then Operation Sky Net. And then, beyond these civilian agencies, we also have the Chinese People's Liberation Army which, like the United States, has intelligence organizations embedded within the services but also across. And then we also have within China Xinhua News or news agencies that provide reports to the central government to provide another form of intelligence. We have the United Front Work Department. We have the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office. These organizations all work together to provide the Chinese government with various forms of information through -- whether that's through new channels, through military channels, through contacts with Chinese scholars living abroad. But what's super interesting, in the last couple of years, we've seen really a securitization of how China views intelligence and national security in general. And just this July we saw China pass a revised counterespionage law. So, with a whole host of laws that China's passed since 2014, 2015, including a national security law, the national cybersecurity law, national intelligence law, and personal information protection law, it basically has made collection of intelligence and protecting Chinese national security the responsibility of every Chinese citizen. So, for example, when you think about a US citizen traveling to, say, I don't know. Just toss out a country. Egypt, right? You don't necessarily view that -- that tourist as potentially able to provide intelligence information to the United States. But what China has done with all these new laws is they could call in a Chinese tourist that goes to Egypt ask that Chinese tourist information that could help the Chinese government. And based off of China's laws, that tourist -- the Chinese is required to provide information, as long as it contributes to China's national security. And what that means is, when we look at China, we're really talking about whole of a society ways of collecting intelligence, which makes counterintelligence and countering Chinese influence efforts very, very difficult because then the question is, are you countering every potential PRC citizen because they could be subject to coercion or requirement from their government to provide information to their government? Or do you have to think about a way of how you navigate this? I think that is a challenge that we're facing in DC is how do you deal with a situation in which you know there is a possibility that Chinese citizens could be coerced by their government at home to do the bidding of the Chinese government. And it is legal in China. In fact, it's codified in law.

Andrew Hammond: Okay. Wow. So any -- any Chinese tourist that could potentially have been coopted by the intelligence agencies of China?

Bonny Lin: The national security law makes it a responsibility for every Chinese citizen to safeguard Chinese national security, which means that actually provides a legal means for if -- if needed for Chinese citizens, both abroad and domestically -- within China to be called on by the Chinese government to do X, Y, and Z.

Andrew Hammond: Wow. I understood with me at the moment as Memphis, one of our tech guys, has been at the Spy Museum for a long time. And he's going on vacation soon, so I'm pretty sure he's hoping, when he comes back, the FBI counterintelligence people aren't going to be there to debrief him or even on the way out or they're not going to accost them with these inflatable banana and flip flops. Okay. Can I go back to a couple of things there. So you mentioned the Ministry of State Security and the Ministry for Public Security. So just to give our listeners something to hang their hat on, the Ministry of State Security, would that be closest to the CIA; and the Ministry for Public Security would be closest to the FBI counterintelligence? Or would that be completely wrong?

Bonny Lin: I think those are good analogies. I would say that MSS is probably more like CIA, and MPS is probably more like FBI. The slight difference is I guess CIA doesn't operate within the United States, right. But MSS does operate within China, too.

Andrew Hammond: Okay. And just one other point that you mentioned there. So Fox Hunt and Sky Net, could you just tell our listeners what both of them are, please.

Bonny Lin: Yeah, sure. So Operation Fox Hunt was a initiative launched by the Chinese government in 2014 to locate and extradite Chinese fugitives that's fled -- that have fled overseas. So these could be Chinese business officials that are implicated for corruption or also former Chinese government officials that China has -- Beijing has issues with. And, similarly, Operation Sky Net is to also coordinate rendition efforts across multiple Chinese government agencies. Both are global operations and involves MPS agents operating overseas. I believe some of those cases have involved MPS agents operating in New York City, not far from where I am so.

Andrew Hammond: Could you just talk a little bit more about some of the emerging tech, disruptive technology and how that ties into intelligence? Because, here in Washington, we hear about China being an artificial intelligence superpower, potentially, even ahead of the United States. And -- and then we hear about China hacking into Japanese servers and so forth. China's said to have the most hackers employed by a state anywhere in the world. All of these cutting edge, emerging technologies, cyber skills, could you just help us understand them in relation to China, as well, please.

Bonny Lin: Yeah. Sure. I think, when we talk about emerging technology, I think it's important to go back to what are China's overall goals to understand how dedicated China is in terms of acquiring this emerging technology. So I think we need to go back to 2015 when China released Made in China 2025, which was a comprehensive or upgrading China's industry to occupy the highest part of the global production chain. And the goal was to raise the domestic content of core components and materials by 40% in 2020 to 70% in 2025, and there were ten priority sectors. I'm not going to go through all the priority sectors, but it's safe to say that almost everything that you mentioned on cutting edge falls into one of those priority sectors. So we know this is a huge initiative that's been existing since at least 2015, if not earlier, but made very clearly in this one document in 2015 that China wanted to very much invest in these critical sectors. In terms of how much progress China is making, now, I'm not an artificial intelligence myself, but I've interviewed folks who are and -- and I've asked folks to look at where China is making progress in artificial intelligence versus quantum technologies. And we're seeing that China has -- that has really tried to make progress in artificial intelligence, not only for economic purposes but also for military purposes. And we see that China is going up the AI value chain. And, when we look at what China is doing now, what the United States is trying to do is slow down some of China's progress in this area. And we're mainly trying to do it through restrictions on equipment to China. But I think there are concerns as to which whether -- how long we can slow China down and what -- how long of a leave can the United States and our allies maintain over China. I don't have the specific estimates right now, but China is making -- is devoting significant money to artificial intelligence for both economic and military use, and we know that this is one of the priority areas. In terms of quantum, there are three different cell fields: quantum sensing, quantum communications, and quantum computing. China is also investing significantly in quantum, particularly on the quantum computing side, as well as on the quantum communication side. China, for example, wants to have quantum encryption to make sure that communications can be much more secure. And we've seen China test that not only on the economic side but also be interested in doing that on the -- for military applications. In terms of quantum sensing, China is investing in much more sensitive military communications systems. But, overall, because quantum is more of an uncertain field, we don't exactly know where, for example, the field might be in 10 or 20 years. But that's still a field that China has identified as very much a priority. In terms of cyber, China has, of course, invested significantly in cyber. And as part of its intelligence efforts, cyberhacking, as well as theft of intellectual property rights is very, very much a key component of how to allow China to advance economically and technologically and make that huge leap that China wants to be at the forefront of this, whether that's Made in 2025 or when you look at China's overall national rejuvenation goals. And estimates are -- and this is not just purely -- I don't think it's purely cyber. But, according to the US Counterintelligence and Security Center in 2021, Chinese espionage accounted for 200 to 600 billion a year in terms of intellectual property theft. So that's a lot. That's 200 to 600 billion a year. That's a lot of intellectual property, of which a good, good portion is done through cyber means that is used to -- to support China's economic development.

Andrew Hammond: And that's more money than China's spending on R&D.

Bonny Lin: Yeah. At the higher end of that estimate of 600 billion is more than the 456 billion I mentioned in terms of official figures of Chinese government state-led investment in R&D.

Andrew Hammond: Here's a short interlude on Tiananmen Square. In the center of Beijing lies a huge square, and I mean huge, 53 acres. I was in Beijing once on a language program. And I stood there personally, so I can testify to this. Tiananmen Square is connected to a series of important historical events in Chinese history. The Declaration of the People's Republic of China, i.e. the communist version that still gave the Chinese state to this day, was proclaimed there by Mao Zedong on October 1, 1949. It was also the site of prodemocracy protests that began in mid-April 1989 and culminated in a violent crackdown by the communist Chinese government in early June 1989. Students were asking for more freedoms, workers for lower inflation, others for less corruption. Hunger strikes began. Protests spread to cities around the country. And in the square the number swelled to what is said to have been close to a million people. Over several weeks, the protests grew, and they captured international attention. A standoff ensued. On June 3-4, 1989, the Chinese government declared martial law; and rifles and tanks were used to disperse the crowds and regain control of the square. Hundreds or possibly thousands were killed and many more injured or arrested as the communist governments across Europe were losing their grip on the repressed populacies, the Chinese Communist Party tightened its grip on its own. To this day, the Tiananmen Square protests are one of the most sensitive and way less censored topics in China. And I think that we've got a good understanding, I think, now of political, military, economic, and the intelligence services and then some of the emerging technology and so forth. But I think it would be good now to just look at a couple of areas of tension. And we don't have time to go into all of them, but I think it'd be good to just look at a couple to see how that relationship plays out, now that we understand China a little bit more. So I think the most obvious one is probably Taiwan. And so help us understand that through the lens of intelligence.

Bonny Lin: In terms of Taiwan from an overall Chinese government perspective, China has long viewed Taiwan as a province of China, as a part of China and not as an independent separate entity, the current leader of Taiwan, the current, sorry, governing party of Taiwan is a Democratic Progressive Party, a party, the DPP, a party in which China has traditionally associated with leaders that tend to move -- from their perspective, tend to promote Taiwan independence, which is something that China resolutely opposes. So, for Taiwan, the issue then for China is how to -- how from their perspective to prevent Taiwan independence and to make sure that Taiwan doesn't achieve independence through what they view as salami slicing or incremental moves towards independence. Recently, under Xi Jinping, we've also seen Chinese leaders including, Xi, express views that they are no longer okay for Taiwan's indefinite separation with China, which is basically the de facto status quo of Taiwan more or less having its own governing party, government that is a democracy that is completely separate from mainland China. From an intelligence perspective and from -- in terms of Chinese operations against Taiwan, Taiwan is actually very much an interesting testing ground for all sorts of Chinese efforts, whether that's Chinese grey zone efforts, political influence efforts, efforts to influence people on the ground, Chinese intelligence penetration. We've had a number of cases of high profile cases of which Taiwan military leaders defected to mainland China or were exposed to be spying for China. So it's very much a core of Chinese operations beyond the mainland.

Andrew Hammond: Wow. And help us understand the mentality of the Taiwanese or what's going on there. So is there any kind of polling data about the percentage of Taiwanese that want reunification? Or is it like a 50/50 thing, a lot about Scottish independence at the moment? Or is everybody wants to stay independent, but nobody wants to say it formally because they don't want to be invaded or the other end of the spectrum. It's a tiny group of people that want to stay independent, and they happen to be the most powerful people; but other people want reunification. So just help us understand the internal dynamics there about independence and reunification.

Bonny Lin: Of course. Now, so because Taiwan is a democracy, there's actually a lot of different polling data that you see from Taiwan. And depending on which polling data you see, the results may actually vary 20% either way. But I would say some of the most reliable polling data I've seen, they look at multiple categories. So the one category they ask people is, should -- should China -- should Taiwan seek independence as soon as possible? And some of the latest statistics on that as of mid last year was only 5% of the Taiwan people believe that Taiwan should seek independence as soon as possible. The majority of the people want to maintain the status quo. But there's different options for maintaining the status quo, which is maintain status quo, decide on a later date; maintain status quo, eventually moved towards independence; maintain status quo now, eventually move towards unification; or maintain status quo. When you look at people who want at least right now to maintain the status quo, you're looking around about 85% of the Taiwan population. But what they want to do beyond the immediate future is -- might be a little bit different. And I think the reason why people like to choose maintaining the status quo is that the folks in Taiwan, the average citizen in Taiwan, they do recognize that, in the past two or three decades, China's power, particularly military power, has grown substantially over Taiwan. If you recall the last Taiwan Strait crisis, the last crisis, cross-strait crisis between China and Taiwan was '95, '96. During that period, depending on how you look at the figures, China's military power wasn't actually that much significantly more than Taiwan's military power. But now, 20-plus years, almost 30 years since then, if you look at any chart comparing China's military power, whether that's the air side, naval side, or army side -- sides, you won't find any statistics that shows that Taiwan has an advantage. So the vast increase in China's military power vis- -vis Taiwan has made a lot of folks realize that choosing to promote independence or want independence actually has significant risks, which is why you see -- you're seeing the bulk of the Taiwan people select maintain status quo for a variety of reasons.

Andrew Hammond: And how many countries these days recognize Taiwan? Because I know that China has been poaching partners from Taiwan. So help our listeners understand that a little bit more about recognizing Taiwan, how many countries recognize it, and what are the consequences of this decreasing recognition.

Bonny Lin: Sure. So right now Taiwan has about a dozen or so diplomatic partners. The majority of them are actually in Latin America and the Caribbean. So they have about seven partners there. They have one partner in Africa and then four partners in East Asia and the Pacific. And then, in Europe, they have the whole EC. And the implications for having diplomatic relations with Taiwan is you cannot have diplomatic relations with China. Because China views Taiwan as part of China, particularly after Russia's invasion of Ukraine, China has made it very, very clear that Taiwan is a core-est of China's core interest. And what that means is Taiwan is the most important Chinese interest for China. And that is an interest that China will not tolerate any country from violating. So what that means is, if countries take positions to support Taiwan, including having diplomatic relations with Taiwan, China is willing to take measures to impose costs on those countries. So this year, when President Tsai Ing-wen -- Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen came to the United States as a transit this April. After she left, the organizations that hosted Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen were sanctioned by the Chinese government because they hosted a Taiwan president of which China doesn't recognize. So we're increasingly seeing China taking measures to impose punishment on countries, individuals, and entities for support of Taiwan.

Andrew Hammond: Just as we get towards the end of the interview, I was hoping to touch upon your experience in government. So the first one is the Department of Energy, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Would you tell our listeners what that is, where it is, and what you've done there.

Bonny Lin: Sure. So I spent a summer at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. It's a -- it's one of the United States' nuclear laboratories; and it's located in Livermore, California. I won't -- I won't say it's in the desert, but it's quite far from the major cities. At Livermore, I was focused looking at Iran and how Iran was not abiding by or trying to circumvent IAEA safeguards placed on its nuclear program. So not related to China at all but related to larger -- largely looking at nuclear proliferation issues. And then, after Livermore, I started working at the RAND Corporation where RAND conducted research for the US Air Force and US Army, mainly for US Air Force in the Pacific and US Army in the Pacific. And, for both of them, most of my work focused on looking at US government strategy. I'm sorry. Most of my work focused on looking at China's strategy and China's military developments and what that means for the United States. During my time at RAND, I took three years off to work in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, where I spent a year on the Taiwan desk where I was responsible for US Taiwan defense relations and then two years on the China desk where my portfolio was US China military-to-military cooperation, as well as, broadly, what DoD policy towards China should be.

Andrew Hammond: What did those jobs at the Office of the Secretary of Defense entail so the director for Taiwan, and then the Senior Advisor for China. So what do you do is researching Taiwan? Is it coordinating policy? Is it drafting policy? Is it going to the region? Is it speaking to -- I know there's no such thing as a typical week, but just give -- give our listeners an idea of what that job entailed.

Bonny Lin: Sure. That job entails all the above that you mentioned. I would probably say we had less time to research. And we did rely on our very capable intelligence agency counterparts and briefers to provide us with the latest updates, whether that's from DIA, CIA, or elsewhere about what China's doing. Most of our job was about implementing and supporting policy. At the working level, which is where I was, it was about what our most senior leaders wanted in terms of the relationship with China. And we were helping to implement that. And that process involved drafting memos, scheduling events, supporting high-level dialogues, traveling to both China and Taiwan to negotiate and set the -- set the stage for higher-level negotiations that could occur between our military or political leaders.

Andrew Hammond: So just to finish off, so here in Washington all the think tanks, the universities, the policy world, foreign policy, ground zero for the United States, there's lots of people trying to understand China. What's the best historical analogy? I've heard people say it's the Cold War 2.0. I've heard other people say that the world that we're now in is like the world before -- just before World War I. We have all these great powers and etc. So I'm just wondering what do you think is the most useful way to understand that relationship between the United States and China, as a historical analogy, or is there some other way that you would describe it, that would be helpful for our listeners.

Bonny Lin: I guess I would caution thinking about it as a Cold War 2.0. I don't have the best analogy for how to describe what it is right now. Describing what we -- the relationship between the United States and China now as a Cold War 2.0 too much simplifies China and reduces China to more or less how the Soviet Union acted. And, to date, there's still a lot of major differences in how the Soviet Union acted versus how China acts right now. I would say, despite what I mentioned in terms of China being more coercive and, in many cases, being more aggressive against our allies and partners, China is nowhere close to how aggressive the Soviet Union was during the Cold War. We also have a degree of economic interdependence that we don't have -- that we didn't have during the Cold War. We also have a degree of travel flow of both people and ideas between the United States and China that we don't have during the Cold War. And perhaps what's most dangerous is, if we do put China and the United States in these Cold War buckets, I worry that the only solutions that we will come up with to deal with this relationship would be what we did with the Soviet Union, which is just to compete, compete, and compete. And I'm not confident that China would necessarily fold the same way that Soviet Union did, which is collapse. So we need to think -- we need to not use the simplistic ways of thinking about China. And, when we think about competition with China, we also need to think about, well, what if we have a China that can compete as vigorously as us for a very long, sustained period and won't collapse? I think that's a very different situation to think about than using a simple Cold War analogy.

Andrew Hammond: Yeah. And the economies of modern day China and the Soviet Union are -- are vastly different, right.

Bonny Lin: And the countries that are dependent on China are significantly different. And what's super interesting, China's relationship to the BRICS countries, the leading developing countries and how that could be a force that isn't fully aligned necessarily with China but could be a force to push back against the more developed democracies and -- and countries in the G7.

Andrew Hammond: And final question: What's it like to testify before Congress? I know that you -- you've done that. What was that like?

Bonny Lin: I would say the preparation is a bit nerve-racking. And the -- I mean, all the congressional members are -- it's always an honor to be able to testify. I do think it's a bit hard to prepare because, oftentimes, you're preparing on the subject matter that you are asked to speak on. But what often pops up in terms of what Congress members may ask might be what's on their agenda that day of, right? It could be what's influencing the media, what's been in the media the hour before. So it's a bit nerve-racking, but it's always an honor to testify.

Andrew Hammond: Well, thanks ever so much for a really interesting discussion.

Bonny Lin: Well, thank you very much, Andrew.

Andrew Hammond: Thanks for listening to this episode of SpyCast. Please follow us on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. If you have feedback, you can reach us by email at SpyCast@spymuseum.org or on Twitter @intlspycast. If you go to our page at thecyberwire.com /podcast/spycast, you can find links to further resources, detailed show notes, and full transcripts. I'm your host, Andrew Hammond. My podcast content partner is Erin Dietrick. The rest of the team involved in the show is Mike Mincey, Memphis Vaughn III, Emily Coletta, Emily Rens, Afua Anokwa, Elliott Peltzman, Tré Hester, and Jen Eiben. The show is brought to you from the home of the world's preeminent collection of intelligence and espionage related artifacts, the International Spy Museum.