Nordic Baby Boom, Japan on Taiwan, China in Taiwan

Welcome to your first session of CA. Our name is International Need to Know and we are a carboholic. If carbs were meth we’d be living on the streets with toast crumbs dangling from our lips, rice stains on our fingers and Cheerios stuck to our cheeks. Colleagues from a previous job can attest that we religiously ate four slices of toast each morning. For a while we had our addiction under control and no longer ate toast but instead wolfed down a heaping bowl of cheerios. Okay, so maybe we still had a problem but it wasn’t completely out of control. However, we have now fallen off the wagon and mostly blame a colonoscopy we are undergoing a mere few hours after this drops into your inbox. Our doctor instructed us in the days leading up to the procedure to stop eating raw vegetables and fruit, which in recent years is one of our main staples. Instead we were told to eat…white bread and rice. So out went the carrots and apples (yes, yes, we know they are carbs—Our name is International Need to Know and we are a carboholic) and in came, er, well, lots of toast. And it tastes fantastic. And we can’t get enough of it. As you toasted the new year, we toasted slice after slice of white bread. We are looking forward to putting the colonoscopy behind us and look forward to stories of Nordic baby booms, Japan’s senior Taiwan post and China’s spies in Taiwan. It’s this week’s International Need to Know, the meat and potatoes diet of international information and data.

We hoped to launch our U.S.-China Index for you all today, but will wait until next week to do so in this space. Stay tuned! If you want a sneak peek at the Beta version, email us and we’ll provide you a password protected link. 

Without further ado, here’s what you need to know.

A Nordic Baby Boom?

There are more mysteries arising from the pandemic than in an entire season of Only Murders in the Building. The latest one is why there’s been a bit of a baby boom in Nordic countries. As long-time readers are aware, we’re somewhat obsessed with aging demographics and their effect on the world. The pandemic has mostly accelerated existing trends of families having fewer babies, including in both China and the United States. But according to National Geographic, “the Nordic countries—Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Iceland—all have maintained their birthrates, and some are puzzled to find themselves in the midst of a pandemic baby boom.” Iceland has seen a 16.5% increase in babies, Finland a seven percent increase, Denmark three percent, Norway five percent and Sweden one percent. Again, this is taking place at a time when most other developed countries are seeing fewer babies born. The article asserts the mini-baby boom is due to generous family leave and support policies by the Nordic countries. But there’s plenty of countries with just as generous policies—France, for example—who are seeing no such baby booms. It is a mystery, one of many in this pandemic.

Japan Creates Senior Post on Taiwan

One of the messages we stress in our ongoing book talks on Challenging China is that the world has in many ways moved on from U.S. leadership. It doesn’t matter that Trump is out of the White House and Biden in, the U.S. is no longer seen as the leader of the world, whether on dealing with China, Covid, Climate Change or other issues starting with the letter “C” or any other letter for that matter. More evidence of this is Japan’s increasing foreign policy assertiveness, including recently creating a new senior post on Taiwan. Nikkei Asia reports that “The senior coordinator for Taiwan affairs will work under the ministry’s First China and Mongolia Division.” The paper quotes Masahisa Soto, director of the LDP Foreign Affairs Division, “We’re seeing a growing number of tasks related to Taiwan in national security, foreign policy and economic security. It’s a big step.” Japan is understandably worried about China’s threats to Taiwan for among other reasons that more than 40 percent of Japan’s maritime trade goes through the South China Sea. It is a very different world than five years ago when Biden was Vice President. Adjust your policies and priors accordingly.

China Corner:  The Spies Among Us

Speaking of Taiwan, amidst all of the concern that China will invade the country (yes, we call it a country damnit), we should remember that China continues to try to undermine Taiwan from the inside. We were reminded of this by Reuters reporting that China continues to successfully infiltrate Taiwan with spies. Unsurprisingly, for decades China has been recruiting spies and playing the usual espionage games of great and aspiring great powers but in this case with authoritarian aims and goals. Reuters writes, “China has mounted a broader campaign to undermine the democratic island’s military and civilian leadership, corrode its will to fight, extract details of high-tech weapons and gain insights into defense planning…” The cases include a member of President Tsai’s security detail. Fortunately, Taiwan has been detecting the spies among them, though perhaps not as efficiently as they detect Covid-19 cases. More than 20 Taiwan military officers have been convicted over the last decade of spying for China. As we wrote last year, we are semi-confident China won’t physically invade Taiwan until they build up their own semiconductor industry. However, we fully expect they will try to sink Taiwan from the inside out. Taiwan’s leadership needs to continue to successfully lead the country economically and socially to be safe militarily and otherwise. A good lesson for all countries to learn.