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Hudson Institute

The People’s Republic of China is ratcheting up tensions in the Taiwan Strait following William Lai’s election as president of Taiwan. In this critical moment, Representative Young Kim (R-CA) joins Hudson for a discussion with Japan Chair Ken Weinstein to analyze the array of threats China poses to the United States and its allies in the Indo-Pacific. 

The discussion will highlight the dynamics of strategic competition between the US and China, assess Congress’s efforts to hold the PRC accountable, and explore new means to demonstrate America’s unwavering commitment to defend Taiwan.

Event Transcript

This transcription is automatically generated and edited lightly for accuracy. Please excuse any errors.

Ken Weinstein:

Good morning. I’m Ken Weinstein, Japan Chair here at Hudson Institute. Delighted to welcome our audience here at the Walter P. Stern Center at Hudson Institute. Also delighted to welcome our audience online. We’re honored to welcome Congresswoman Young Kim of California, who chairs the Indo-Pacific Subcommittee of the Committee on Foreign Relations of the US House of Representatives. She is, as we all know, a rising star in Congress and in the Republican party more broadly. She has an incredible personal story. She grew up in Seoul, left Seoul when she was about 13, did not speak a word of English. Her parents migrated to Guam, eventually graduated from high school in-

Young Kim:


Ken Weinstein:

. . . Hawaii. Went on to the University of Southern California and eventually came to work for Ed Royce, who eventually himself went on to become Chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, a legendary figure and a great friend of Hudson Institute. Chairman Royce focused primarily on the Middle East and Europe.

Congresswoman Kim, who is one of the first three Korean-American women elected to the US Congress simultaneously elected in twenty-twenty has focused more particularly on the Indo-Pacific chairing the committee as I mentioned, and being a part of numerous congressional delegations to Southeast Asia, to Northeast Asia Taiwan, and shortly back to Korea for election observance and back to Taiwan, I guess for the presidential inauguration. So we’re honored to hear from her on the subject of America’s responsibilities for Taiwan’s security. It’s really an honor and a pleasure to welcome Congresswoman Kim to the podium here at Hudson Institute.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, Congressman.

Young Kim:

Thank you Ken. I will speak very briefly here and then join Ken for our dialogue on America’s commitment to Taiwan and why Taiwan matters. Before I do that, I thought I’ll just give you a quick interest as to why I pay so much attention to Asia. As a long-time congressional staff, as Ken mentioned, I had the privilege of working with a former chairman Ed Royce who have given me the unprecedented opportunity to work on issues that define US-Asia relations.

And now that I’ve come to Washington as a member of Congress, it was only a matter of time that I let my interest in serving on the House Foreign Affairs Committee be known to the Committee Chair. At the time when I first came, it was Chairman Meeks and I was not shy at all, and I went straight to him and our ranking member, Michael McCall, of my desire to serve. And lo and behold, I did not know that I will be given the opportunity to chair the Indo-Pacific subcommittee. So in that regard, I have traveled to the region. I believe by now I traveled to about nine countries in the short time that I’ve been in that role. And it was important for me as a chairwoman of the Indo-Pacific to join the Chairman, Chairman McCall on our first trip as the majority party to Asia that included South Korea, Japan and Taiwan.

And meeting with our partners and allies in those countries was very significant, which in all of our engagements, it culminated into why Taiwan matters. And we can talk about that with Ken during our conversation. But my priorities of the Indo-Pacific subcommittee, which is in line with the full committee on Foreign Affairs, is to strengthen our relationship and build stronger relationship with our friends and allies in the Indo-Pacific and protecting our democracy in Asia.

And meeting with Prime Minister in Kishida in Japan and President Yoon in South Korea, and then coming to Taiwan to meet with President Tsai and her government officials there was very, very important because we know we needed to send a very strong message to our allies and partners in Indo-Pacific, that China is not going to stop at Taiwan with its long-term ambition to be the dominant economic and military superpower by 2027.

We needed to do what we can in terms of rallying our friends and allies in the Indo-Pacific, and that was the main purpose of our travels. And eventually we had very candid discussions in Japan and South Korea in the beginning, and something that we had not had just a few years ago, candid discussion about Taiwan contingency. What will Japan, what would Korea do if there is a conflict breaking out in the Taiwan Strait? And we had received very strong assurance that they will be there. But in terms of our engagement with Japan, Prime Minister Kishida was basically looking at our delegation and said, “It all depends on United States leadership.” And that basically tells you that we need to continue to show our leadership and project strength to our allies so they can trust us. Because at this moment in all of my travels, the one thing that I found was that our friends are slowly losing trust in the United States leadership and its ability to lead on the world stage and our adversaries are not respecting us.

And that’s because we’re not showing up in key engagements where it matters. And we’ll go through that too, but I just wanted to briefly lay out the scenario where I know we’re going to delve into it a little more. But all that to say that such an honor for me to be standing here with you and to have a conversation about our relationship and our leadership in Asia, especially when you look at my background, as Ken mentioned, I was born and raised in the aftermath of Korean War. So during my younger days, I was constantly feeling the threat of North Korea. And coming to United States not knowing a word of English, and I had to learn everything from scratch and helping my parents who came six months after me because obviously where education system is different here in the United States. So they allowed me to come a little bit early so I can start school.

And then when they came six months later, as a young girl of 12 years old, my parents relying on me to take them and translate whatever the legal document they had to pay, going to DMV, getting their license, going to grocery store and helping to translate how much they needed to pay for things like that. And then fast forward almost 50 years later, yeah, I am old enough, I’m a grandma, too. Yeah. So 50 years later, doing what I do, I truly believe I’m here at such time as this to make sure that my voice, my background can be helpful in terms of keeping that strong relationship, ensuring that projected strength to our friends and allies in the Indo-Pacific. So with that, I’m going to join you, Ken, and see if we can have a great conversation.

Ken Weinstein:

Thank you, Congresswoman, thank you for your leadership and I’m sure when you began school in Guam, the last thing on your mind, the last thing in your parents’ mind, the last thing on your classmates mind, would be that you would one day be in the U.S Congress chairing the subcommittee on the Indo-Pacific. That obviously has such critical role, not just for Guam security as well as you know, it’s an incredibly important asset for us in the event of a Taiwan contingency. Let me begin by asking you, you talked about your discussions with the leaders with President Yoon in South Korea, Prime Minister Kishida in Tokyo, two extraordinary leaders and their focus on the role of US leadership.

When you go, I know you’ve traveled throughout Southeast Asia, when you talk to the countries that we consider sort of tilting between the United States and China, people who may be with us behind closed doors, but not be with us publicly, what are you hearing from them in terms of how they view a Taiwan contingency, how they view our role, and what should the United States be doing to better engage these kinds of countries? Since you talked about you were in Indonesia right before the ASEAN Summit, in which as you mentioned, we were chatting beforehand that President Biden’s absence was the first subject that came up in your closed-door meetings?

Young Kim:

Right. So it was probably a week or two before Indonesia was going to host ASEAN Summit in Jakarta, and so we met with Foreign Minister. Since I was the delegation leader. I sat right in front of her, and the first thing she said was, why is President Biden not coming to Jakarta at a very critical summit that we’re hosting? And I try to provide the diplomatic response since I am leading a bipartisan delegation, that it probably had to do with some scheduling conflict, but he is sending Vice President Kamala Harris. And without a bit, Foreign Minister told me, were literally basically telling me like, “Well, she is no president.” And she didn’t hide her frustration and disappointment that the President will bypass Indonesia for ASEAN meeting and then go to Vietnam. Obviously that’s when he went and we also went to Vietnam, but that’s when he visited Vietnam and then also elevated Vietnam status to the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. While Vietnam appreciated President Biden being there, Jakarta certainly did not.

Ken Weinstein:

And do you think in terms of the ability to engage these countries that are not necessarily publicly with us, do you have hope that . . . What do we need to do to start to better engage the ASEAN countries, particularly in the event of a Taiwan contingency?

Young Kim:

First thing we need to do is show up in our key engagements that we talked about. For example, ASEAN is one thing. I know President had his own reason for it, but they are very closely located to China. And our friends and allies in Indo-Pacific are very much dependent on China for the economic relationship. They know that they’re feeling the economic coercion. They are constantly threatened by China’s presence, militarily, physically coursing them in the South China Sea, Southeast Asia. And then we go and tell them that, “Look, United States is the partner of choice in the economic relationship, in the trading relationship.” But we’re not showing up. That’s number one that we need to do. And in all of our engagements, we always ask about Taiwan contingency. If something happens in the Taiwan Strait and how would they respond? And they always tell us, it all depends on US’s leadership.

For example, when we went to Japan, Prime Minister Kishida, we commented or complimented Prime Minister Kishida for increasing their defense budget, 2% of their GDP. And so we said, “If something happens in Taiwan, will Japan be there and stand with us in defending Taiwan?” And Prime Minister Kishida also looked straight in our eyes and said, “It all depends on US’s leadership.” So we need to show up. On our part, what I’m doing as Chairwoman of the Indo-Pacific is that I was appalled when I found out that there was $21 billion worth of arms that Taiwan purchased and paid for, and we have not delivered them. So I immediately introduced the Arms Exports Delivery Act, and I think we have started delivering some, but we still have about 19 billion dollars worth of weapons that Taiwan paid for. We need to do that delivery of arms immediately. And also I’ve very supportive of Taiwan’s inclusion in the international organizations. Recognize them as such a strong partner they are, especially during the covid.

Remember, Taiwan has shown time and time again how reliable a strategic health partner it is. Yet, Taiwan doesn’t have even the observer status at WHO. That was another bill that I immediately introduced to recognize it. In all my travels to the region when I was a long-time congressional staffer, and then now coming in as a member of Congress, I traveled to the region and some things have not changed. Like in Vietnam, the human rights issues. In the Southeast Asian countries, there are reliant on China, but we are not providing them with what they need, what they want. For example, I’m very supportive of bipartisan bilat free trade agreements with those countries as well. But it reminds me of the United States pulling out of TPP, and I’m very supportive of United States getting into CPTPP before China does.

Ken Weinstein:


Young Kim:

If China is there, United States is not there, and obviously you know what’s going to happen with Taiwan, China will make sure that Taiwan does not get a seat at the table. And IPAC is the response that Biden administration gave in response to our request for more engagement in Asia with the trade. And IPAC is looked upon by different nations with what they want to get out of it so they have a different understanding.

Ken Weinstein:

Let me ask you, that leads to two questions. One is with regard to Taiwan, which is, it’s critical we get these weapons, and I mean, in my mind it is practically political malpractice that these weapons haven’t been delivered at this critical moment. It’s even worse than political malpractice, policy malpractice, but you hear a chorus of people saying that Taiwan really needs to do more for its own security. On your visit to Taiwan, is Taiwan doing enough? What more does it need to do? And I should note, we just had a Hudson Institute delegation led by President John Walters that was in Taiwan a few weeks ago that met with President Tsai, that met with President-elect Lai to discuss these issues.

Young Kim:

I believe Taiwan is already doing what it needs to do because look, they’re watching continued Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and how United States respond to Ukraine and providing them with the additional support or equipping them with the arms they need to continue to fight. All of this, they’re watching very, very closely. We don’t want Taiwan to be the next Ukraine, which is why United States is doing what we can, even though we currently have challenges, but without a doubt we need to continue to support Ukraine, whether directly, indirectly with the support of our allies like Japan and South Korea, are stepping up in that regard. Humanitarian assistance to Ukraine, all of this is being carefully watched and Xi Jinping is eyeing Taiwan, so Taiwan knows it. President Tsai and the incoming President Lai and its new leadership in Taiwan, they know it.

So I think it was very telling when President Tsai met with us last year. She wasn’t asking us to provide boots on the ground. She was basically just asking us to deliver what they paid for and they will work it out. But again, we need to provide and show our strong support to our allies, partners, that are fighting and in conflict right now. Middle East is one thing, Ukraine is another, because again, Xi Jinping is watching this. And look who else is watching, Kim Jong Un in North Korea. So I’m also concerned about some conflict breaking out in Taiwan’s trade, but at the same time in North Korea’s, Kim Jong Un eyeing South Korea because he’s ramping up his with missiles test more so than ever in any previous, under different previous administrations.

Ken Weinstein:

So the US needs to do more on trade. We need to do more in terms of security engagement. And you are clearly, along with Chairman McCall, you make the very clear link between Ukraine and the Indo-Pacific and the Middle East, all of which is very welcome here. Let me ask you about an area I think you would agree the Biden administration is doing better, which is in the Philippines. The remarkable change in the U.S.-Philippines relationship and how important that is for Taiwan.

Young Kim:

When we were in the Philippines, our delegation also flew over South China Sea and what we saw was congested water in the water. And then we also saw Chinese Coast Guard harassing Philippine military vessels and the fishermen. This was just a few weeks prior to that trip that our delegation was there. Remember, Chinese Coast Guard fired the water cannon at the Philippine vessels at the same time. So we went over there and then we actually met with the Philippine Coast Guard to show our continued strength because unlike other Southeast ASEAN nations, we have a mutual defense treaty with the Philippines. So when Philippines is attacked on the water, that treaty kicks in, and that’s why that’s one of the reasons why we went there to show our continued support. It was interesting, that particular trip, we were flying over with our PA-AID, I believe Poseidon. I’m very impressed with our US navy and the team of eight that helped us fly over.

At that time, we were radioed in by Chinese Coast Guard, really intimidating us and telling us, “You are flying over our sovereignty territory, so why don’t you get out of here?” And our pilot was calmly telling them, “Hey, we’re conducting our freedom of navigation and we have every right to be here and protect, and we’re just providing oversight and support for Philippine vessels that are traveling to the second Thomas Shore.” This is something that we’re going to continue to do, but we need to be present in the region. We need to be present with our economic engagement with our ASEAN countries. So in all fronts, I think the key thing is showing up at key engagements because I’ve heard this over and over again.

And even our State Department officials will go out of their way to be on a good side with our CCP officials. I mean, last year my committee was holding a subcommittee hearing and we were supposed to have a top level State Department Official come and testify in front of my committee and we got nixed. The reason for that is because he needed to accompany Secretary Blinken on his trip to China. That wasn’t going to happen until the end of that week, and my hearing was on Wednesday, and they told us the day before the supposed hearing. So they care about engaging with Chinese officials bypassing Congress, and that’s not okay with me.

And then late last year, remember in November, the United States hosted the AIPAC Summit in San Francisco. Our Governor Newsom from California went to China, met with Xi Jinping and others, and then he came back and two weeks later we were hosting AIPAC Summit. Well, first of all, it’s really funny that Governor Newsom would try to take credit for making a Xi Jinping and Biden meeting happen on the sidelines of AIPAC Summit. I thought that was funny. And two, he came back and immediately started cleaning out the streets of San Francisco in anticipation of rolling out red carpet for Xi Jinping and others coming to San Francisco.

Now, we are riddled with all kinds of domestic issues, namely the homeless issue. The streets of San Francisco, if you’ve seen the images in the media, you’ll see, unacceptable. But he was able to work with the San Francisco local officials to clean the streets out. If they can do that in less than a week, why can’t they do that every single day, because we’re dealing with this on a daily basis in San Francisco?

And then on the sidelines with Biden and Xi Jinping meeting, I was hoping that President Biden would raise the issue of the influx of Chinese migrants coming over our border and we’re concerned about Chinese syndicates using or working closely with cartels, bringing precursor chemicals that goes into making fentanyl. But addressing that issue, President Biden and Xi Jinping decided to work or creating a fentanyl working group. Come on. Are they serious? Right? China is responsible for the fentanyl crisis we have, and now he’s asking advice and consultation with China? That was November, and I still have yet to see any deliverables or what are the results of that working group.

Ken Weinstein:

Reminds me of the Obama administration, which was so proud of having a working group with China on cyber issues. And then they proudly proclaimed that somehow this led to a reduction in Chinese cyber attacks on the US, which I kind of find hard to believe. We have time to open up for one question from the audience. Yeah, please keep it brief. We can make it two if we keep it very brief, but let’s keep them brief. Yeah, and please identify yourself.

Chris Orr:

Good morning, Congresswoman, [foreign language].

Young Kim:

[foreign language].

Chris Orr:

I’m Chris Orr, former Senior Defense Editor for 1945, now publisher of the D’Orr-senal Democracy Patreon page. And for one, a Trojan Alumnus, another, fight on Trojans. Anyways, as you are undoubtedly aware, a lot of China appeasers and apologists advocate that we should indeed militarily abandon Taiwan and that merely imposing economic sanctions on China will be sufficient if they do decide launch an invasion. What would your response to these pundits be? Thank you, [foreign language].

Ken Weinstein:

Let’s do that and then we’ll go to the back question because your congresswoman schedule is very tight, so do you want to answer that question first?

Young Kim:

Let’s hear the second question. Maybe I can kind of summarize.

Ken Weinstein:

Great, thank you.

Jon Yee:

Hey, Congresswoman, my name is Jong Yee from Voice of America. Thanks for doing this. So I have a question on Taiwan contingency. You’ve talked about response that you received from Prime Minister Kishida. What about response that you have been receiving from your counterparts in South Korea? And what roles do you expect South Korea to play in the event of Taiwan contingency? And also, there are 28,500 US troops stationed in South Korea. In the event of Taiwan contingency, do you think the US should be able to deploy those US troops from South Korea to defend Taiwan? Thank you.

Young Kim:

Thank you for those two questions. Not caring for Taiwan and moving any support will be a great mistake, obviously. We need to stay in Taiwan and continue to be engaged and work on contingency efforts because Taiwan matters. It is the true democracy. It is the beacon of democracy as you hear it a lot. And our commitment to Indo-Pacific and protecting Taiwan’s interest, it’s not just in the US interest. We know Xi Jinping is not going to stop at Taiwan. All the other countries in Indo-Pacific are at risk. That’s another reason. And Taiwan matters because Taiwan controls over 90% of the semiconductor manufacturing. And if there is a conflict in the Taiwan Strait, obviously our economy is going to be threatened. It’s going to be a national security concern, and our US standing in the global stage is also at risk. So we need to see all of those.

And then remember, CCP is seeking hedge money and control over all of the Indo-Pacific. Look, when we went over to South China Sea last summer or fall, you hear the word 9-Dash Line. Well now it’s 10-Dash Line because China drew Taiwan into it. So, when we ask our allies, why is China becoming more aggressive each day? And then their answer, especially the Philippines when we met with them, “China does it because they can.” There’s little or no pushback from the United States. And to think that our friends and allies in the Indo-Pacific can counter and push back China on their own, that is not realistic, as I mentioned, because they’re very dependent on China. So we need to be more engaged and do our part as a global leader in that.

And again, the South Korea responds. President Yoon, I believe is very pragmatic. He’s very realistic. But I see a lot of parallels, and this is what Japan and South Korea have both told us. In the case of Japan, obviously they have to respond to the threats of China in the Japan Sea, and then South Korea. While they will, I believe, be there with the United States if something happens in the Taiwan Strait, but remember, South Korea is faced with the immediate threat of North Korea. So protecting the security concerns in the Korean Peninsula, it’s probably the number one concern in their mind and President Yoon’s mind and then in South Korea for Koreans, too. But again, we are living in a nanosecond times right now. Anything happens overseas, it affects us in all fields like globally, economically, security-wise, militarily-wise.

So that is the reason why when we look at these conflicts around the world, I am really glad that Japan and South Korea have agreed to get beyond the historical challenges and move ahead looking forward. That’s why Prime Minister Kishida and President Yoon came to work together because we’re now facing the common threat of countering China, CCP specifically. And so I think working in a trilateral way, and I also want to give credit where it’s due, when President Biden invited both leaders to Camp David for a summit, that really is changing and shaping how the countries in the Indo-Pacific is looking at the security threat around the world together. I hope it answered that question.

What am I doing right now? Again, I want to wrap it up with, because we talked about why Taiwan matters, I also want you to know that 2024 is the 45th anniversary of Taiwan Relations Act. So our committee will be reviewing this very closely, and my subcommittee on Indo-Pacific will be doing a hearing on reviewing and reassessing Taiwan Relations Act. And because Congress always drives our policy towards Taiwan, especially in the Indo-Pacific, to that end, I’ll be joining Chairman McCall in our upcoming trip to Taiwan in May to meet with our new leadership there, new government officials.

But before that, I’ll be going to Korea actually leading a bipartisan delegation this weekend for a week, and to talk to our new . . . This is just before the national elections coming up, so it will be interesting to see firsthand on the ground what the South Koreans think about the upcoming National Assembly elections and how that will change, modify our continuing relationship with South Korea. But regardless of who, we also have a national Presidential election this year. So when it comes to supporting our friends and standing with our allies and friends who need our support, like in Ukraine, providing supplemental to Ukraine, supplemental to Israel, to Indo-Pacific, specifically Taiwan, regardless of who occupies the White House, our continued engagement and strengthening our relationship with our friends and partners in the Indo-Pacific must be our number one foreign policy priority in my view. And I think that’s very, very important.

So for Taiwan, we have done, again, we started delivering the arms, the weapons that they need, but we also need to make sure that Taiwan has a voice or seat at the table in the international organizations. We’ve done quite a bit, but I just can’t name all of that comes to mind right now.

But there’s one thing that I wanted to share with you. Remember how we have always talked about discussing the outer island seizure by China? And this is something that we always talk about with our allies when we talk about Taiwan contingency. Guess what? This is a way that China is inching closer, closer to taking over Taiwan that’s actually doing it as we are speaking. They’re patrolling around the Kinmen Island. You guys know that you are nodding hats right now. So all of this is coming to, so-called the 2027, the end game for Xi Jinping to try to be the dominant superpower surpassing the United States.

And to that end, I think we need to stand really strong and show our support because again, weakness brings aggression. You hear this a lot. It’s nothing new. And as long as I’m serving in this capacity, I do hope that I can bring that unique perspective of someone who has seen the devastation of what a war can bring to any country. And if we don’t stand with our friends and allies, what it could do in the long term, it’s going to cause United States even more devastation. So that’s why I think we need to stand strong.

Ken Weinstein:

Thank you, Congresswoman, for your leadership. Thank you for taking the time from your very busy schedule.

Young Kim:

Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Ken Weinstein:

We look forward to having you back here many more times in the future. Thank you so very much.

Young Kim:

Thank you.

Ken Weinstein:

This was great.

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