The Burn Bag Newsletter: March 23rd

Tough Talk on Taiwan, EU-China Trade Relations, and a Closer Look at the Quad (1102×248)

Welcome to The Burn Bag Newsletter. In practically every issue, our contributors write about China, often positioning its government as adversarial to that of the United States. Recognizing that ignorance, hatred, and violence targeting the AAPI community is on the rise, as well as the fact that such prejudice has long been pervasive in American society, it is our collective responsibility to loudly condemn those that would claim the actions of a foreign power as reason for racism and hate.

The Burn Bag stands with the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community in solidarity and support in light of last week’s mass shooting in Atlanta, Georgia and the recent rise in discrimination, bullyingharassment, and hate crimes. Racism, xenophobia, and intolerance of any race, national origin, or ethnicity is unacceptable and dangerous. Persons who are racially or ethnically Chinese, or perceived to be Chinese, should not be conflated with the values, rhetoric, and actions of the People’s Republic of China and Chinese Communist Party. For more information, check out the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association’s listing of hate crime resources, the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus’ guidance on combating xenophobia, and the testimonies of members of Congress from both sides of the aisle before the House Judiciary Committee on Mar. 18. 

This week, make sure to check out this week’s episode of The Burn Bag Podcast with former CIA Chief of Disguise Jonna Mendez.

Listen here, or wherever you get your podcasts.

On this week’s episode of The Burn Bag Podcast, A’ndre and Ryan talk to former CIA Chief of Disguise Jonna Mendez about her time as an intelligence officer, including inspiring aspects of Mission Impossible and Argo, and the history behind the real-life American Q Branch, The Office of Technical Service.

Jonna will be releasing a new book, “In True Face,” in the near future, and you can check out more of her work and her writing here.

Subscribe at SpotifyApple PodcastsStitcherOvercastor Google!


The Regional Readout


Increased Focus on Taiwan as Biden Foreign Policy Takes Shape

Will Solmssen

Today, the nominee to lead U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, Admiral John Aquilino, said that he believes China to be imminently capable of and intent on invading Taiwan, and as such will be requesting $27 billion in funding through 2027 for additional missile defense systems, expanded wargames, and general readiness in the region. Though Adm. Aquilino was reluctant to outline a specific timeframe, some analysts believe the Chinese military is between two and five years away from being able to “occupy and seize Taiwan,” making Adm. Aquilino’s request all the more prescient.

The Biden administration has continued much of the Trump administration’s “tough on China” posturing, including by defending the Trump administration’s tariffs, calling the Chinese government’s treatment of Uyghurs a genocide, and imposing sanctions on Chinese officials in relation to the governments anti-democratic ‘crackdown’ on Hong Kong. Still, some are skeptical that the United States would intervene militarily in the event of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, citing a growing parity between U.S. and Chinese military capabilities. Others, like Council on Foreign Relations President Dr. Richard Haass, are quick to reaffirm their belief in the United States’ willingness to defend the island. If Adm. Aquilino gets his way, there will certainly be the funds with which to do so.

To learn more, check out:

A Taiwan Crisis May Mark the End of the American Empire, Niall Ferguson, Bloomberg

US officials who are ready to fight China over Taiwan don't understand how much is at stake, Lt. Col. (Ret.) Daniel L. Davis, Insider


EU-China Sanctions Crossfire Threatens Trade Deal

April Song

On Monday Mar. 22, the EU approved relatively restrained sanctions against four Chinese officials involved in running internment camps for Uyghurs in Xinjiang Province. Moments later, China hit back with measures on targets including the head of the European Parliament’s China delegation, the European Parliament’s subcommittee on Human Rights, top European scholars covering Xinjiang’s camps, and the Mercator Institute for China Studies in Germany.

As a result, a meeting of the Parliament’s monitoring group on the EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CIA) scheduled for Wednesday Mar. 23 was cancelled. The deal, finalized in Dec. 2020, was a result of seven years of negotiations and once hailed as a means to secure better access for European companies to Chinese markets. It was notable for opposition from the U.S. and because the EU decided not to wait for China to ratify an International Labour Organization (ILO) convention banning forced labor to begin the ratification process.

To learn more, check out:

EU-China deal grinds into reverse after tit-for-tat sanctions, Philip Blenkinsop, Reuters

China throws EU trade deal to the wolf warriors, Stuart Lau, Politico

The world is a big place and we can’t cover it all. What did we miss? Let us know what you’re interested in reading more about at or in the comments below.

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The Quad is Biden’s Aspirant Alliance of Democracies

A’ndre Gonawela and Rashmi Muraleedhar

President Biden’s virtual meeting last Friday with the leaders of ‘The Quad’ — a loose association consisting of the United States, India, Australia, and Japan — portends to be a significant opportunity for the Biden administration’s ‘pivot’ to Asia. Friday’s meeting, the first time the leaders of the four countries have met together under the banner of The Quad, signifies a new era for a multilateral approach to U.S. geopolitical strategy in the Indo-Pacific. China, while not explicitly mentioned in the leaders’ joint statement, loomed large over the meeting as Biden and his contemporaries pledged advocacy for a “free, open rules-based order” and a commitment to a “free and open Indo-Pacific.”

The Biden administration’s Interim National Security Guidance states that “we must join with likeminded allies and partners to revitalize democracy the world over” in order to “prevail in strategic competition with China or any other nation.” The Quad illustrates this policy in action. The Quad’s member-states are all democracies, and have all seen their relationships with China falter in the last year. Last June, Chinese aggression at the disputed border with India in the Ladakh region saw casualties sustained by both sides for the first time in decades. In January, Beijing banned coal imports from Australia, the latest development in simmering tensions that even included a Chinese release of ‘14 grievances’ against Australia — a list that Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison has rebuffed. And Japan has long been wary of Chinese assertiveness in the East China Sea, over the disputed Senkaku and Diaoyu Islands.

Biden’s multilateral approach to dealing with China is a departure from his predecessor Donald Trump, whose foreign policy expounded ‘America First’ ideals to the chagrin of traditional allies — despite still pushing a hard line against China. However, even though Biden’s general multilateralist tendencies may be well received with traditional allies in Europe, it is considerably less likely that our transatlantic partners desire a clear alignment with the United States against China — especially given Chinese economic inroads on the continent. China is not the Soviet Union, and Europe does not want a return to global bipolarity.

Enter the Quad. This meeting of the four countries has origins in an ad-hoc coordinated tsunami relief effort in 2005. Since then this grouping held occasional meetings, but did not demonstrate clear purpose or joint will. Perhaps this is set to change, as China’s increasingly assertive foreign policy measures in the Indo-Pacific poses security challenges to India, Australia, and Japan. Yet, even though Friday’s meeting was a step in the right direction, achieving consensus among Biden’s three partners will be difficult, especially when we consider India’s historical ambivalence to formalized security cooperation. India’s foreign policy decisions have long been guided by the struggle between alignment and autonomy, but security concerns regarding China may lead India to reconsider. India’s former foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale recently asserted that increasing misperceptions and a lack of trust has contributed to a decline in Sino-Indian relations — which portentously came to a head in Ladakh this past June.

The notion of the Quad being an ‘Asian NATO’ is omnipresent, especially given recent military cooperation and the participation of all four members in the Malabar military training exercises this past November. However, in a recent piece, Evan Feigenbaum and James Schwemlein assert that the Quad cannot fall into ‘The China Trap’ and be geared towards shared security concerns about China. Rather, they argue that the Quad needs to form a ‘regional architecture’ to address the larger non-China problems facing their smaller Indo-Pacific partners, who are not so keen on the Quad’s security interests.

Bilateral relationships amongst the four have grown and will extend to cooperation across a range of domains that extend outside of security. Collaboration in supply chains and technology, as former Defense Secretary James Mattis and some others noted, is vital for U.S. interests in countering China’s economic hegemony, while providing clear-cut alternatives to Chinese products and services. The agreement at Friday’s meeting to provide at least 1 billion COVID-19 vaccines to Asia by 2022 underscores the Biden administration’s reliance on multilateralism coupled with the importance of soft power. Additionally, the leaders are expected to come together to build a rare-earth metals procurement chain that undercuts China’s dominance in the market. The multi-pronged strategy will more effectively demonstrate the leadership that the Quad promises to extend to the Indo-Pacific region at large and the rewards of working with democratic countries.

The Quad’s value does not only belie the security goals of the Biden administration. Soft power is vital to the Quad’s success, and can garner the U.S. and its partners more influence — which would work to thwart China’s political and economic interests. New partnerships between the Quad and individual countries or larger groups would be fruitful, and could contribute to political stability in the region. Joint statements and actions addressing potential crises in Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and other countries would be valuable, and would also show that the U.S. is actually willing to be engaged in many of these issues that often go unnoticed in public discourse.

Friday’s meeting underscores a new era for the Quad. The Quad can surely be at the core of the Biden administration’s ‘Pivot to Asia’ strategy, and the President’s own commitment to multilateralism. While some may view the Quad as an aspirant ‘alliance of democracies’, the signals sent by this group of four at Friday’s meeting may very well be a premonition of overarching U.S. security policy in the Indo-Pacific in the years ahead, while providing a framework to bolster international influence, firmly declaring an American return to the world stage.