Posts Tagged ‘Indian Ocean’

China Is America’s Biggest Rival, And Russia Isn’t Even Close

December 29, 2018

While the media fawns over Russia’s failing authoritarianism, they ignore China’s much more successful brand of authoritarian nationalism.

By Kenny Xu

President Trump’s decision to move the remaining American troops out of Syria came under heavy criticism from the mainstream media the day it was announced. Trump’s Syria blunder marks “a win for Putin,” reports The Washington Post. The New York Times labels Russia “a winner” in the Syria decision.

Everything Trump does seems to be giving leverage to a more powerful and hungry Russia, says the media, so much so that Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank is now claiming that Trump singlehandedly “lost [America] the Cold War.”

Image result for Xi Jinping, waving

It is no surprise that the media exaggerates the scale of Russia’s threatening nature whenever given the chance. Many American journalists, relishing the way Trump’s foreign policy dovetails into the media’s narrative of his collusion with Russia over the 2016 election, have an interest in doing so. But all this talk of Russia over the past two years has diminished attention towards the far bigger, more poised, and more capable geopolitical threat America faces today: China.

China easily economically dominates Russia. The gross domestic products of the United States, China, and Russia are mapped in the Google public data graph below. The United States still has the world’s highest GDP, but China’s economic growth in the past ten years has doubled that of the United States and put it on track to compete directly for the world’s economic supremacy. Russia, meanwhile, has a GDP lower than that of Italy.

China’s military adventurism, too, outpaces Russian expansionism. In contrast, China’s moves into the South China Sea have made its control over an extremely large portion of East Asian waters practically “a done deal.” Who cares about ocean waters, one might ask? How about maritime traders and aircraft carriers, for a start? It is true that Russia annexed Crimea in a show of force. But while Russia gained access to one strategic port, China’s recent exploits have cemented legions of ports and bases across East Asia for years to come.

China’s militarism goes far beyond simple skirmishes and into displays of technological superiority.  Concerned about Russian interference with U.S. elections? China has shown they are capable of electoral interference and more. Consider China’s mischief in the recent elections in Taiwan, which ousted a strong China critic in favor of one more malleable to the Chinese government. New data shows China targeted millions of Taiwanese accounts for bombardment with pro-China propaganda, overwhelming voters to the point of electoral dysfunction.

China has more than mischief in mind. It is seeking technological supremacy on the world stage. China’s top-rate 5G telecom network, now faster than the West’s, shows that China has the infrastructure to directly compete with the United States in cyberspace. Its recent announcement that it had successfully created the world’s first gene-edited baby, if true, displays China’s bioengineering capacity as well. China’s science and technology radius is currently far more extensive than Russia’s could even hope to be.

Image result for china, belt and road, map

But the biggest claim towards China’s cementation of its status as America’s chief geopolitical rival is the strength of its national cohesion. Russian authoritarianism is failing, with President Vladimir Putin’s propaganda machine unable to stifle massive protests against his government and his bureaucracy mired in corruption.

However, China’s authoritarianism is relatively smoothly run and represents a significant ideological challenge to the West’s democratic governance. China’s one-party state is highly centralized, and President Xi Jinping’s current brand of nationalism is systematically manufacturing a China in lockstep with the Communist Party’s orders (including a vast purge of dissenters and critics). The West underestimates the repressive strength of China’s authoritarian state at its own peril.

Some might make the case that nuclear capacity is one place Russia beats China. It is true: Russia owns 6,800 warheads to China’s 270, mostly leftovers from the Cold War. But how far can an arsenal of nukes take you? Can it solve a stagnant economy, a laughable long-term infrastructure, and a corrupt government? Cold War symbols of power no longer dictate today’s geopolitical climate. At least, they cannot make up for the twin factors of economic competitiveness and technological domination, criteria in which Russia is hopelessly outmatched.

On the other hand, China checks both these boxes, and our ignorance of their ambition and growth is quickly becoming self-destructive. When China was nigh one-twentieth the size of our economy (merely 15 years ago!), we allowed them to illicitly capture our critical trade secrets and defense technologies and run an unchecked trade surplus with us. We ignored them when they weren’t a threat, and now that they are, we can’t afford to ignore them again.

So perhaps the American media should re-evaluate its coverage priorities. It’s time for us to tone down our gaggling over Putin’s newest military exercise, and tune up our attention to Xi’s curled smile and the 1.6 billion motivated Chinese workers behind him. While Russia is hanging onto the vestiges of a bygone era, China is forging a new era—one it intends to lead.

Kenny Xu is a senior Mathematics Major at Davidson College. He has also written for The Daily Signal and The American Conservative. You can follow his writing on race and culture on Twitter at @kennymxu and on Facebook at @thekennethxu.

Philippines: National Security Strategy in the Indo-Pacific Region and the U.S.-China Strategic Rivalry

December 27, 2018

On May 16, 2018, President Rodrigo Duterte signed the Philippines’ first National Security Strategy (NSS) since the country became an independent republic in 1946. The NSS is an upshot of the Duterte administration’s 2017-2022 National Security Policy.

The 70-page document integrates the government’s security objective and course of actions into a systematic roadmap for the achievement of the national security visions. It provides a blueprint for the coordination, cohesion, and synchronization of the government’s various and sometime competing functions to improve efficiency and to maximize the utilization of the nation’s limited resources.

By Renato Cruz De Castro ( – December 27, 2018


Image result for Philippine military, photos

For the first time in the country’s political history, a single government document articulates its national security interests, its intention to develop the country’s comprehensive national capabilities, and the need to harness the people to support their government’s security policies in the light of the changing and dangerous Indo-Pacific region.

The NSS paints a realist picture of the country’s external environment. It takes into account that the country is still confronted by several internal armed conflicts that remain as the government’s primary security challenges. However, it also brings to the public’s attention the country’s external environment, which has been rapidly changing and becoming more dangerous.

It notes that while the Philippines has not been confronted by any direct threat of foreign aggression since the end of the Second World, the current regional security environment has become uncertain.

The NSS warns the Filipino nation that Pax America is unraveling in light of the geo-strategic competition among great powers and the transformation of the international order from a unipolar to a multipolar one.

The 2018 NSS presents three important issues concerning the country’s external security environment:

1. The perils of traditional geo-strategic threats—competing interests of great powers and other countries converge, and which requires the Philippines to chart its role in an increasingly multi-polar system.

2. The need for the Philippines to be fully equipped not only to deter potential aggressors but also to protect the archipelago from international terrorists, pandemics, transnational crimes and natural disasters.

3. The need for the Philippines to develop a credible defense capability and to strengthen its comprehensive strategic alliances or cooperation with its friends and security partners in the international community.

Traditional geo-strategic threat: the U.S.-China strategic rivalry

The new 2017 U.S. National Security Strategy  labeled China and Russia as revisionist powers and rivals of the U.S. that are seeking to erode U.S. security and prosperity. Washington has been alarmed by China’s broadening and deepening economic, diplomatic, and strategic efforts aimed to ease the U.S. out of the Indo-Pacific region.

Consequently, the Trump administration is pushing back against China, fully aware that the U.S. still possesses substantial military and economic capabilities that are far greater than its competitor.

The Trump administration’s strategy is to maneuver China into an unfavorable strategic/diplomatic position, frustrate its efforts, and preclude its options while expanding America’s strategic/diplomatic space and forcing its competitor to confront the possibility of military conflict under adverse conditions.

The current U.S. policy of engaging China in a strategic competition will set back the hands of time to the U.S.-Sino conflict in the early years of the Cold War, when American and Chinese values, interests, and polices were simply adversarial without any convergence.

However, this 21st Sino-U.S. competition is different because both countries’ material/technological capabilities and global reach are considerably greater than they were in the 1950s.

Responding to the changing Indo-Pacific region

Duterte has supported the AFP modernization program that began during President Benigno Aquino III’s term as the latter’s administration`s challenge to China’s maritime expansion in the South China Sea.

Aquino increased the 2017 defense budget by 15 percent and the supplemental allocation for the AFP modernization program from P20 billion (US$400 million) to P25 billion (US$500 million), approved the acquisition of two guided-missile frigates from South Korea, and received five former Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force TC-90 reconnaissance aircraft for the Philippine Navy (PN). He also approved the Second Horizon of the revised AFP modernization program that will cost the Philippine government P300 billion (US$6 billion) from 2018 to 2022.

Duterte’s decision to bankroll the second phase of the 15th year AFP modernization program entails an ambitious transition period wherein the AFP will shift its arms acquisition away from internal security to territorial defense. This required the build-up of the capabilities of the PN and Philippine Air Force (PAF).

Interestingly, Duterte is bankrolling the expensive build-up of the AFP’s territorial defense capabilities notwithstanding the Philippines’ rapprochement with China.

The Duterte administration has also decided to maintain formal security relationship with the U.S. despite its earlier pronouncements of an independent foreign policy. However, it has refocused the alliance away from a strategy of balancing an emergent China to Humanitarian Assistance and Risk Reduction and Counter-Terrorism. It has also fostered security partnerships with Japan, Australia and South Korea. These three American allies are currently helping the Philippine military develop specific capabilities.

These efforts to develop the country’s credible defense capabilities and strengthen the country’s security partnerships with its traditional partners, however, are not without challenges. Both the PN and PAF are in a very tight financial spot because of years of underfunding; both services will have to compete with Philippine Army (PA) for their rightful share of the defense budget; and sooner than later the AFP and the DND will encounter the “butter versus guns dilemma.”

The defense budget will have to compete with other government priorities, including the government’s populist programs such as free tertiary education, the “Build, Build, Build” program, and the shift to a federal system of government.

Finally, the Duterte administration’s efforts to appease China in exchange for Chinese loans to fund the country’s massive infrastructure building program makes the Philippines complicit to its long-term strategy of maritime expansion aimed at pushing the U.S. out of the region. This will also upset the current balance of power leading to the intensification of U.S.-China strategic competition in the Indo-Pacific region.

Dr. Renato Cruz de Castro is a trustee and convenor of the National Security and East Asian Affairs Program of the Stratbase ADR Institute, a partner of


Where India quietly watches China at sea

December 10, 2018

India maintains one of its newest and best-equipped military bases on the remote and restricted Andaman Islands, from where it surveils and looks to counter China in nearby waters

An aerial view of India's Andaman islands. Photo: Facebook

An aerial view of India’s Andaman islands. Photo: Facebook

India’s Andaman Islands are where stone-age warfare meets 21st century weapons technology. On November 16, John Allen Chau, an American Christian missionary, was killed in a hail of arrows fired by aboriginal Sentinelese tribesmen as he tried to land on North Sentinel island to spread his faith.

The island, one of the remotest and most isolated islands in the Andaman archipelago, is a no-go territory even for Indian administrators, but was suddenly – if not fleetingly – in the global media spotlight due to the US proselytizer’s demise.

Image result for Andaman Islands, map

But there is a bigger hidden story in the Andamans, one with a modern geo-strategic twist.

On that same chain of remote islands, situated between Southeast Asia and the Indian Subcontinent, India quietly maintains one of its newest and best-equipped military bases.

From there, it monitors among other things the movements of Chinese submarines patrolling the entrance to the Malacca Strait shipping chokepoint while also eavesdropping on their radio traffic, according to sources familiar with the situation.

The Andamans, along with the nearby Nicobar Islands, form an Indian union territory run from New Delhi. It is home to what is appropriately called the Andaman and Nicobar Command, the Indian military’s first and only tri-service command.

India-Andaman Islands-Map

The Andaman and Nicobar Islands in regional relief. Map: Facebook

Headquartered at Port Blair, the main town on the islands, the command was established in 2001 to safeguard India’s strategic interests in the waters east of the Subcontinent and coordinates the activities of the navy, army and air force as well as the coast guards in the eastern Indian Ocean.

The main bases are on the larger Andamans, while there is a naval air station on the Nicobars not far from the northern tip of the Indonesian island of Sumatra.

Now, as China expands its naval presence in the Indian Ocean, the Andamans have become a new maritime frontline in the increasingly pitched geopolitical rivalry between the two Asian giants.

On December 30, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to visit the Andamans, officially to mark the 75th anniversary of the hoisting of the Indian tricolor flag and the declaration of Azad Hind, or Free India, in Port Blair.

Free India was a provisional government established in 1943 in then occupied Singapore and supported by Empire Japan, Nazi Germany and Italy’s Social Republic – all Axis allies – during World War II.

The Andamans and Nicobars were occupied by the Japanese during the war, the only Indian territory to come under Tokyo’s control. Japan’s ally at that time was Subhas Chandra Bose, the leader of the Indian National Army, which fought alongside the Japanese Army in Southeast Asia and on the fringes of South Asia.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (L) and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi listens to a speaker at the India-Japan annual summit on September 14, 2017. Photo: AFP/Prakash Singh

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (L) and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the India-Japan annual summit on September 14, 2017. Photo: AFP/Prakash Singh

Modi will hoist the historical flag at exactly the same place in Port Blair where Bose performed the same ceremony on December 30, 1943.

Today, Japanese and Indian nationalists are allies once again, as Modi has found a strategic soul mate in Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Japanese naval vessels may soon be seen in Port Blair as well, as the two countries’ navies build a relationship to counter China’s moves in the Indian Ocean.

Talks are already underway between India and Japan to upgrade the laggard infrastructure on the strategically situated islands, in a project that represents a counter to China’s infrastructure building initiative, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Yet the idea of positioning a new Indian military command on the Andamans predates the BRI. It was first hatched in 1995 during a closed-door meeting in Washington between India’s then prime minister P V Narasimha Rao and then US president Bill Clinton, as it was already clear then that China was keen to establish a presence in the Indian Ocean.

The plan was finalized when Clinton visited India in 2000, and since then US naval ships have docked at Port Blair, ostensibly to assist in training rescue teams. But it is hardly a secret among military observers that the larger reason is to strengthen an informal alliance of powers that are concerned about China’s rising maritime ambitions.

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Indian naval vessels in the Andaman islands. Photo: Wikimedia

Speaking at a roundtable conference organized by the New Delhi-based think tank the National Maritime Foundation, US Navy chief Admiral Gary Roughead said that American leaders at the highest level had declared Washington and New Delhi would be strategic partners throughout the 21st century: “I’m here to say that the United States Navy in particular is a committed friend to India for the long term.”

In April 2016, India agreed to open its naval bases to the US in exchange for access to weapons technology to help narrow its gap with China. That month officials also said that Chinese submarines had been sighted in the area on an average of four times every three months. Since then, India has received US assistance in tracking China’s submarines.

But with Donald Trump in the White House, America’s commitment to Asia – and by extension India – may not be as firm as previously. That’s caused New Delhi to look increasingly to Tokyo for assistance in reasserting its position in its traditional sphere of influence.

During an October visit to Tokyo, Modi and Abe concluded a range of agreements to strengthen military cooperation, including an “Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement,” or ACSA, which will grant the two sides’ armed forces reciprocal access to each other’s military bases and facilities.

It is obvious to most why China has moved into the Indian Ocean region and no one questions the legitimacy of its interests: most of China’s foreign trade as well as its crucial oil imports pass through the waters. But it is a new geopolitical development that other powers in the region are watching with increased concern.

India-Andaman Islands-Naval Exercise-2010

Indian Navy Commandos in a water para-jump during an exercise off Port Blair. Photo: Facebook/Indian Navy

China’s military base in Djibouti, its first overseas military facility, has sparked speculation that the Chinese navy is aiming for strategic access to other ports in Beijing-friendly nations in the region such as Kyaukpyu in Myanmar, Gwadar in Pakistan and Hambantota in Sri Lanka.

Today, India’s Andaman and Nicobar Command consists of a joint naval and air force base, two logistics support bases, two naval stations and an air base. Those are rapidly becoming some of India’s most important military outposts, security analysts say.

More transport planes were brought in after the 2004 tsunami disaster, with the Indian Air Force eventually stationing a Sukhoi SU-30 squadron on the Andamans, converting the facility into a fighter aircraft base. Indian military and policy makers now frequently refer to the islands as a “stationary aircraft carrier.”

The Indian Navy also maintains a major Naval Special Forces, known as MARCOS, detachment there, in large part to guard against China’s maneuvers in the Indian Ocean region.

Modi’s upcoming visit there is thus not only a symbolic gesture to honor an old freedom fighter and his budding friendship with Japan, but will also mark more officially the beginning of a new strategic era where Japan and India are once again close partners.

The isolated Sentinelese tribe may be utterly unaware of what is going on so near to their secluded home island. But to the rest of the world, it is obvious that a new Cold War is emerging on the Indian Ocean’s horizon and the Andaman islands are emerging as important outposts in that contest.

Congressional commission cites ‘crisis of national security,’ concludes task of rebuilding US military far from complete

November 15, 2018

After two years of full funding for the Pentagon, President Trump has essentially declared victory, and is ready to reverse the trend of ever-rising defense budgets. Last month Trump gave the Pentagon a surprise order to slash upcoming defense spending from $733 billion to $700 billion. From the president’s point of view, the last two defense budget hikes have largely solved the military’s woes, which included aircraft unfit to fly, units unprepared to deploy and stressed troops. “We’re rebuilding our military. We just had approved $716 billion. The year before that, we had $700 billion. So, we’re almost completely rebuilding our military with the latest and the greatest,” Trump said while in France over the weekend.

Image result for F-35, photos

NOT SO FAST: The first shot in the looming battle over next year’s defense budget was fired yesterday by Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. Jim Inhofe, who suggested that he will oppose Trump’s order to cut planned spending by tens of billions of dollars. The Oklahoma Republican insisted that top line for the Pentagon, overseas wars, and the nuclear arsenal should be at least $733 billion in 2019. That “should be considered a floor, not a ceiling, for funding our troops,” said Inhofe, who will return in January as Senate Armed Services chairman after Republicans held the chamber. Once inflation is factored, that would keep Pentagon funding at current levels with no new growth.

COMMISSION’S ‘CRISIS’ REPORT: Lawmakers now have new ammunition in the fight for a bigger budget. Inhofe was responding to a newly released report, “Providing for the Common Defense,” ordered up by Congress, which paints a grim picture of the Pentagon in crisis. “The U.S. military could suffer unacceptably high casualties and loss of major capital assets in its next conflict. It might struggle to win, or perhaps lose, a war against China or Russia,” the National Defense Strategy Commission writes in one of its key findings.

The commission, co-chaired by Ambassador Eric Edelman and retired Adm. Gary Roughead, was created by Congress in 2017, and mainly tasked with reviewing Trump’s National Defense Strategy. “We are concerned that the NDS too often rests on questionable assumptions and weak analysis, and it leaves unanswered critical questions regarding how the United States will meet the challenges of a more dangerous world,” the report said. It’s the latest in a series of recent reviews covering U.S. defense strategy over the past eight years, all of them bleak.

“In the 2010 report, we concluded that budget cuts and an increasingly complex international environment were leading to a potential train wreck. In 2014, the aftermath of the Budget Control Act, we said that the BCA was a strategic misstep that was disabling the U.S. because it was facing greater challenges around the world. In this report, I think, what we had to wrestle with was the consequences of all those warnings having been ignored,” Edelman said during a podcast this week with Michael Morell, former acting CIA director and a member of the commission.

Rep. Mac Thornberry, who was a leading force behind the past two years of defense budget hikes as House Armed Services chairman, said the commission’s report makes clear that Congress should not let BCA spending caps dictate U.S. strategy. “It also echoes some of my own concerns; that we are falling behind on key capabilities, that Congress is not reliably providing appropriate resources, and that we face difficult choices if we are going to provide the country with the defense it deserves,” the Texas Republican said in a statement.

IS MONEY REALLY THE ANSWER? Both Edelman and Roughead are set to testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee later this month about their findings, which are likely to set the tone of the debate for now. But not everybody is taking them at face value. “Obviously if we’re vastly outspending Russia and China and we’re losing our competitive edge, our problem is not spending,” said Dan Grazier, a fellow at the Project on Government Oversight.

The findings may be used to justify a third year of defense hikes, but the Pentagon should instead complete its ongoing and first-ever full financial audit to see how its money is being spent, argues Grazier. “This report is in the grand tradition of Washington buck-passing. Whenever elected political officials do not want to have to take responsibility for what they anticipate being unpopular political positions, you assign a blue-ribbon task force to do a study and then the blue-ribbon task force comes back with the unpopular policy discussions,” he said.

BULLET POINTS: The Commission report is replete with nightmare scenarios and dire warnings that America’s military advantage has been eroded by years of budget cuts at home and “authoritarian competitors” abroad — especially China and Russia — who are pursuing determined military buildups aimed at neutralizing U.S. strengths. Here are some key conclusions:

  • Due to political dysfunction and decisions made by both major political parties — and particularly due to the effects of the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011 along with years of failing to enact timely appropriations — America has significantly weakened its own defense.
  • The convergence of these trends has created a crisis of national security for the United States — what some leading voices in the U.S. national security community have termed an emergency.
  • These trends are undermining deterrence of U.S. adversaries and the confidence of American allies, thus increasing the likelihood of military conflict.
  • The U.S. military could suffer unacceptably high casualties and loss of major capital assets in its next conflict. It might struggle to win, or perhaps lose, a war against China or Russia.
  • If the United States had to fight Russia in a Baltic contingency or China in a war over Taiwan, Americans could face a decisive military defeat. These two nations possess precision-strike capabilities, integrated air defenses, cruise and ballistic missiles, advanced cyber warfare and anti-satellite capabilities, significant air, and naval forces, and nuclear weapons — a suite of advanced capabilities heretofore possessed only by the United States.
  • The United States is particularly at risk of being overwhelmed should its military be forced to fight on two or more fronts simultaneously.


China ‘on track to meet American military challenge’ in Indo-Pacific

November 15, 2018

China will be able to contest US operations throughout the entire Indo-Pacific region by 2035 – if not before, according to a commission that advises the US Congress on the national security implications of the US-China trade and economic relationship.

— PLA is already able to contest US ground, air, maritime and information operations in some strategic areas, report says

— The report also warns that as Beijing’s confidence in its army grows, there is a danger that it ‘will use force as a regional hegemon’

South China Morning Post
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 November, 2018, 12:33am
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 November, 2018, 11:49am
 China will be able to contest US operations throughout the entire Indo-Pacific region by 2035, according to a US report. Photo: Xinhua

In a report to be delivered to the US Congress on Wednesday, the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission said China could already contest US operations in the ground, air, maritime and information domains within the “second island chain”.

The second island chain is a strategic defence line for the United States formed by the Ogasawara Islands, Japan’s Volcano Islands, the Mariana Islands and Palau.

That military capacity presented fundamental challenges to the US armed forces’ long-standing assumption of supremacy in these areas in the post-cold war era, the report said.

The conclusions were based on classified and unclassified hearings with witnesses from government, academia and the private sector, as well as research trips to Taiwan and Japan. Commission members were not granted visas to visit China to conduct research.

The report said that under the administration of Chinese President Xi Jinping, China had significantly accelerated its military modernisation.

“As military modernisation progresses and Beijing’s confidence in the People’s Liberation Army increases, the danger will grow that [US] deterrence will fail and China will use force as a regional hegemon,” it said.

The PLA’s Strategic Support Force, a unit established in late 2015, poses a fundamental challenge to the US ability to operate effectively in space, cyberspace and the electromagnetic spectrum, according to the report.

And after years of development, China’s missiles also presented “serious strategic and operational challenges for the US and its allies and partners throughout the Indo-Pacific”, the report said.

China’s coastguard had also removed all civilian functions and helped Beijing advance its maritime interests, it said.

Beijing has ramped up development and upgrades weapons across all military services, from unmanned underwater vehicles and amphibious aircraft to laser guns and supersonic fighter jets.

In addition, China has built several artificial islands in the disputed South China Sea, installing missiles and constructing airstrips in a challenge to the US presence in the region.

China’s DF and HN series missiles have a range of up to 15,000km, putting the entire United States within their reach.

In late September, a Chinese destroyer nearly collided with a US warship in the disputed waters after making what the Americans described as an “unsafe and unprofessional” manoeuvre in an attempt to warn it to leave the area.

And in late October, Xi ordered the military region responsible for monitoring the South China Sea and Taiwan to assess the situation it faced and boost its capabilities so it could handle any emergency.

India and China nervous spectators in Sri Lanka crisis

November 1, 2018

Rival Asian giants India and China are anxiously watching the constitutional conflict between contending prime ministers in Sri Lanka to see whose interests get the upper hand in their own strategic battle.

It is the second time in barely a month that the Indian Ocean has become a battleground between the powers, after the Maldives’ hotly disputed presidential election saw the eviction of a pro-Chinese leader.

Both may be minnows compared to the two giant neighbours that loom over it to the north.

But they sit on the key sea trade and oil routes from Asia to the Middle East and Europe making them vital strategic interests for the rival powers.

New Delhi and Beijing insist that they are watching from outside the political ring as Sri Lanka’s ousted prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe slugs it out with Mahinda Rajapakse, the island’s former authoritarian leader named to take over by the president.

© AFP | India and China are closely watching the political crisis in Sri Lanka

But the stakes are high.

“With parliament suspended and all the political trickery between the two sides, the growing tensions are a worry for India and China,” said an Asian diplomat in Colombo.

China was quick to deny an accusation by a lawmaker from Wickremesinghe’s party this week that it was paying for Rajapakse’s attempts to win over rival deputies.

“Groundless and irresponsible,” said a frosty Chinese embassy statement in response to the allegations.

The constitutional crisis pits two very different characters against each other.

Wickremesinghe is a soft-spoken reformist technocrat and free market proponent seen as wary of China’s often one-sided economic deals and less suspicious of India.

Rajapakse is a seasoned political bruiser, deeply charismatic but tainted by an authoritarian decade in power that culminated in a ruthless military campaign against Tamil Tiger rebels which ended a decades long civil war but killed some 40,000 civilians and saw widespread atrocities.

He was also much closer to Beijing — billions of dollars of Chinese investment flowed into Sri Lankan infrastructure during his administration ranging from roads and ports to land reclamation in Colombo.

– Tightrope act –

Maithripala Sirisena, the final key character in Sri Lanka’s current political crisis trinity, vowed to change all that when he beat Rajapakse in a 2015 presidential election and put Wickremesinghe in charge of the government.

That should have encouraged India, which is desperate to stop China expanding its economic and military footprint in the Indian Ocean and other backyard states such as Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal.

But Wickremesinghe found the battle against Sri Lanka’s huge foreign debt too much.

Last year his government gave a 99-year lease on the Hambantota deep-sea port to China because it was unable to repay Beijing’s loans for the $1.4-billion project.

It was forced to deny US claims that China could set up a military base at the port.

India — a modest investor in power and railway projects in the north of the country — is meanwhile in talks to run Hambantota airport, another white-elephant project built with Chinese loans under Rajapakse.

The airport and port deals have not been good for China’s image.

Both projects have been held up by critics as an example of how China’s global largesse often comes with onerous repayment strings attached.

Delhi has turned on the charm with its own deals while in 2015 Narendra Modi became the first Indian premier to do a standalone visit to the island in 28 years, with a second visit two years later.

Many analysts see Sri Lanka riding a tightrope between India and China no matter who wins the power struggle in Colombo.

“They have been pulled into a perverse relationship with the Asian giants that none of the political parties can rectify easily,” Samir Saran, president of the Observer Research Foundation think-tank in New Delhi, told AFP.

“Rajapakse definitely favoured Chinese investment and there was a move away from it after he left, but it still wasn’t a complete break from China. It was more a move towards neutrality,” added Madhu Bhalla, a former East Asian department head at the Delhi University.

“In its struggle with China for influence in Sri Lanka, the Indian government will not be pleased if Mahinda Rajapakse establishes himself in power,” said Alan Keenan, a Sri Lanka specialist for the International Crisis Group.

“But already before the latest crisis, India and Rajapakse had been mending fences, as Rajapakse and his new party appeared increasingly likely to return to power (through elections) by late 2019 or early 2020.”

Guo Xuetang, director of the South Asian and Indian Ocean Research Center at Shanghai University, said “small countries” like Sri Lanka and the Maldives do not want to be anyone’s client state anyway.

“They do not want to be controlled by China, nor by India,” he added. Whether Sri Lanka chooses India or China in the future will be a “balance of interests,” said the specialist.


Saudi investment in China-Pakistan economic corridor likely to upset Iran

October 2, 2018

The new Pakistani government has said Riyadh may invest in the multibillion dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project. But the move raised eyebrows in Iran, which is skeptical of Saudi intentions.

Pakistani PM Imran Khan and Saudi King Salman in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (picture-alliance/AP Photo/Saudi Press Agency)

A Saudi team arrived in Pakistan on Sunday to sign four contracts for oil and mineral sector investment and trade cooperation that, according to local media, “would ultimately extend the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) from Gwadar to Africa through Oman and Riyadh.”

In 2015, President Xi Jinping announced the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a $60 billion initiative, which is part of his intercontinental BRI. CPEC aims to expand China’s influence in Pakistan and across Central and South Asia, as well as counter US and Indian influence in the region. It also includes plans to create road, rail and oil pipeline links to improve connectivity between China and the Middle East.

As Pakistan is grappling with an acute economic crisis, experts say CPEC has the potential to stimulate much-needed economic activity in the country.

But many CPEC projects have not really taken off because of political instability in Pakistan. China is reportedly weighing the new government’s steps regarding the project. Although Beijing and Islamabad agreed to include a third country, China can still convince Pakistan to not allow certain countries to participate in CPEC.

Read more: China’s economic corridor creating new conflicts in Pakistan

The Gwadar port in Pakistan's Baluchistan province (picture-alliance/Photoshot/L. Tian)Despite Chinese-Pakistani development projects in Gwadar city, Baloch activists say locals still have no access to clean water

Saudi-Iranian rivalry

Some analysts say Pakistan’s offer to Saudi Arabia to participate in CPEC and Riyadh’s investment in western Baluchistan province bordering Iran and Afghanistan, could irk Tehran.

Riyadh is Washington’s closest ally in the region, and its involvement in a China-led economic project raises a number of questions about new geopolitical alignments.

Iran, for instance, would certainly not want a Saudi presence next to its border.

“Gwadar [a port city in Baluchistan] has a proximity to Iran’s Chabahar port and the Reko Diq project close to Zahedan, which is the capital of Iran’s Sistan-Baluchestan province. Sunni militants [who subscribe to the Saudi-Wahhabi ideology] are active in the area. Why would Tehran not be disturbed by Saudi Arabia’s investment in Gwadar?” Mir Hasil Khan Bizenjo, the minister for ports and shipping in ex-PM Nawaz Sharif’s government, told DW.

Read more: Gwadar – Pakistan’s impoverished colony or an economic hub?

Bizenjo fears that allowing Saudi Arabia to play an active role close to the border with Iran would fuel sectarian conflict.

“The incumbent government is bringing Saudi Arabia closer to Gwadar. In other words, the hardline Sunni-Wahhabi state would be closer than ever to the Iranian border. This is likely to infuriate Tehran,” Bizenjo, who is also a veteran Baloch politician, added.

Bizenjo said the new government headed by Prime Minister Imran Khan suddenly decided to hand over some CPEC projects to Saudi Arabia, without consulting anyone.

“Previously, China was supposed to build an oil city in Gwadar. Now we have been told that Saudi Arabia will set it up. I think it will also infuriate China. The opposition will take this issue up in parliament,” said Bizenjo.

Read more:

Can India challenge China with new Iranian Chabahar Port?

Pakistan on collision course with Iran?

Karte Map China Pakistan Economic Corridor

No free hand to Beijing?

Pakistani media reported last month that China was unhappy with CPEC criticism coming from a Pakistani government official.

Abdul Razak Dawood, Pakistan’s minister for commerce, industry and investment in Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government, suggested that all CPEC projects could be suspended until a review is completed.

Days after Dawood’s statement caused diplomatic tension, Pakistan’s army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa visited Beijing to allay Chinese concerns.

Khurrum Sher Zaman, an official belonging to Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI, Movement for Justice) party says the government is not opposed to CPEC.

“We have not taken a U-turn on CPEC. The finance ministry made some changes to the budget so that we can study and review some of the CPEC projects. But that does not mean that the government wants to scrap it. CPEC is crucial for Pakistan and its future,” Zaman told DW.

But analysts say that Khan’s new government, which was inaugurated in August, has hinted that it would not give China a free hand over CPEC.

“The commerce minister represents his country’s business community. He actually echoed the sentiments of Pakistani industrialists who are wary of China’s growing control on Pakistan’s economy,” Ayub Malik, an Islamabad-based analyst, told DW.

Need for cash

Some analysts believe that by criticizing CPEC, the new government is also trying to send a signal to Washington that it does not intend to break ties with the US just to appease China.

Khan’s government urgently needs an International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout to pay its debts, and the US, which has the biggest share in the IMF, has made it clear that it would not allow the West’s money to be used to repay China.

The South Asian nation’s economy has been in poor shape over the past several years. While its current account deficit jumped 43 percent to $18 billion ($15.4 billion) in the fiscal year that ended June 30, its fiscal deficit rose to 6.8 percent of GDP.

The country’s foreign exchange reserves, meanwhile, are dwindling, plummeting to just over $9 billion now from $16.4 billion in May 2017. The central bank has been forced to devalue the currency three times since December. Rising global crude prices present another challenge, as Pakistan imports about 80 percent of its oil needs.

Read more: Pakistan’s bailout becomes a pawn in US-China tensions

Khan’s government, thus, appears to appease Riyadh and Washington to help Islamabad tackle the financial crisis.

Ayesha Siddiqa, a renowned security analyst and researcher, believes Pakistan has no option but to create strategic space for the Saudi kingdom.

“The US blocked $900 million (€781 million) in military aid for Pakistan. The new government needs some relief in this regard. In 2013, Riyadh bailed Pakistan out, hence Islamabad is willing to give concessions to Saudi Arabia by offering it a partnership in CPEC,” Siddiqa told DW.

Read more: US aid cut: Why Pakistan shouldn’t rely on China

But pro-government analysts claim the Saudi investment will neither infuriate China nor will it anger Tehran.

“The nature of our ties with China is strategic. Beijing provides us with a number of defense related materials. Saudi investment, on the other hand, will create more jobs for Pakistanis, because unlike China, the kingdom does not bring its own engineers and workers for economic projects,” Aijaz Awan, a retired military official and defense analyst, told DW.

“The Saudis will also benefit from this partnership because many countries are interested in refining their oil,” he added.

Resting ties with Washington

Pakistan has a close strategic partnership with China, which considers Islamabad an important ally in dealing with its regional rival India. At the same time, Pakistan’s ties with Saudi Arabia are also very strong.

Saudi Arabia also has a strong religious influence on Pakistan. There are thousands of Riyadh-funded seminaries operating across Pakistan. Many religious parties subscribe to a hardline Saudi-Wahhabi ideology. Many militant groups in the South Asian country consider Shiite Iran as their rival.

But Riyadh was reportedly irked by Former PM Nawaz Sharif’s government when Islamabad refused to send troops to support the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen. The former government felt Pakistan’s involvement in the conflict would create problems with Iran, which is reportedly backing Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Although Khan’s government pledged to stay neutral in the Saudi-Iranian tug-of-war in the region, Khan chose to visit the conservative kingdom for his first official first trip as prime minister.

“Through CPEC participation, the Saudis will get access to the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean. So, the Saudi investment serves multiple purposes,” analyst Siddiqa said.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi was set to hold talks Tuesday with US President Donald Trump’s security adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Qureshi and Pompeo hope to reset bilateral ties as soon as possible.

Read more: Mike Pompeo visits Islamabad: Can the US and Pakistan reset bilateral ties?

Aman Memon, a lecturer at the Islamabad-based Preston University, says Pakistan is willing to move back into the orbit of American influence. “The Saudi investment in CPEC is likely to upset Beijing because Riyadh and Washington are the two sides of the same coin. In my opinion, it is not only Saudi Arabia but also the US that is entering CPEC,” Memon told DW.

China’s Xi tells new Maldives president he wants to deepen cooperation — India wants a say

October 1, 2018

China wants to deepen mutually beneficial cooperation with the Maldives, President Xi Jinping said in a congratulatory message to the newly elected Maldivian president, the leader of an opposition that has vowed to review Chinese projects.

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Hot Air Balloon Festival ~ Maldives

China and India are going head-to-head for influence in the Indian Ocean nation, a string of palm-fringed islands and atolls 523 km (325 miles) southwest of India’s southern tip.

The Maldives opposition said before the election it would review China’s investments in its Belt and Road infrastructure initiative, partly out of concern over terms, as experts have warned that the archipelago risked falling into a debt trap.

Xi told Ibrahim Mohamed Solih that China and the Maldives share a long-standing friendship, China’s official Xinhua news agency said late on Sunday.

Image result for Mohamed Solih, photos

“China is willing to work with Maldives to continue to cement their friendship and deepen mutually beneficial cooperation in various fields to better benefit the people of both countries,” Xinhua said.

Xi told Solih that he valued the development of relations and was willing to “join hands with Solih to lift the comprehensive friendly cooperative partnership between China and Maldives to a new level”, the report added.

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Xi Jinping

Defeated president Abdulla Yameen had drawn the Maldives closer to China since 2013 in a Beijing-backed infrastructure boom.

China’s Foreign Ministry last week urged “continuity and stability” in the Maldives after the election.


Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Paul Tait

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South China Sea: Do China and the U.S. Know Each Other’s Intentions

September 26, 2018

Mark J. Valencia says Washington and Beijing both act as though they know what the other wants in the South China Sea, but may be falling victim to worst-case thinking that risks further conflict

South China Morning Post

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 26 September, 2018, 2:03am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 September, 2018, 6:19am


The visit by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last month to MalaysiaSingapore and Indonesia signals a new era of competition between the United States and China in Southeast Asia and the South China Sea.

China critics in the US frequently warn of what they assume are China’s dangerous intentions regarding the South China Sea – and what it may do to achieve its goals. They say it wants to dominate the sea militarily as part of its ambitious and aggressive expansionism and that, therefore, it will continue to militarise the features it occupies and undertake major naval exercises there.

They say China may interfere with freedom of commercial navigation and essentially control all activities there, including fishing, and oil and gas exploration and development. To accomplish this, it will continue to intimidate rival claimants, coerce them via economic aid and “debt traps” and defy – and change – the existing applicable intentional rules.

Reinforcing these warnings, the US has officially declared China a “strategic competitor” and a “revisionist nation”. It has thus made clear it considers China a potential enemy, and it is presumed that “the gnomes in the basement” of the National Security Council, the Pentagon and the State Department are constructing and planning for worst-case scenarios – including war.

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China has built seven military bases near the Philippines

More specifically, the US has repeatedly criticised China’s claims, actions and policies in the South China Sea and has even publicly embarrassed it by barring it from the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) naval exercises until it has “ceased all land reclamation activities in the South China Sea” and “removed all weapons from its land reclamation sites”.

But we do not read as much about what China’s strategic thinkers believe the US intentions are in the South China Sea and what they think the US might do to achieve its goals there. Indeed, because of this information deficiency – or what the US calls “lack of transparency” – US strategic analysts are left to speculate on China’s intentions.

However, in doing so, they may be underestimating China’s ability to project and plan for what it views as worst-case scenarios regarding the US “threat”. Therefore, it may be useful to begin a discussion of China’s perspective regarding the South China Sea with a hypothetical tapestry of China’s thinking.

Some strategic thinkers in China have concluded that China and the US are almost certain to clash militarily because of “civilisational” and ideological differences – as well as the sheer desire of both to dominate. Indeed, some think the US wants to continue to dominate the South China Sea militarily as part of its overall strategy to contain and constrain China. They expect various specific US moves to try to reach this goal.

From their perspective, the US is trying to prevent its rightful domination of its “near seas” like the South China Sea and in doing so is supporting former Western colonies that have been “stealing” its fish and petroleum for decades in collaboration with outside Western entities.

Much to their chagrin, they point out that after agreeing in the 2002 China-Asean Declaration on Conduct of the Parties in the South China Sea to resolve the disputes “through friendly consultations and negotiations by sovereign states directly concerned”, some of the other claimants have welcomed the US and even their former arch-enemy Japan to “intervene” in the issues.

In the military sphere, they expect the US to increase its operations there, as well as exercises with, and port visits to, allies and friends in the region, and to attempt to obtain access to more places for refurbishing and refreshing its military. They also expect the US to increase the frequency and scope of its freedom of navigation operations challenging China’s claims, and to try to persuade its allies to participate – or at least to undertake their own.

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Japanese warship KAGA

Validating these fears, US freedom of navigation operations targeting China’s claims in the South China Sea have already increased under President Donald Trump’s administration. And, Japan’s largest Maritime Self-Defence Force naval vessel – the helicopter carrier Kaga – and its escorts recently held exercises with the US Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier strike group in the South China Sea. Moreover, earlier this month, a UK warship challenged China’s claim of baselines around the Paracel Islands.

These analysts also project that the US will continue to interfere in the Asean-China negotiations to formulate a code of conduct for the South China Sea. They also expect the US to increase its efforts to pull China’s rivals like the Philippines and Vietnam deeper into its orbit with economic and military help, as well as veiled threats of “punishment” if they stray too far towards China.

In one worst-case scenario, they think the US will encourage these rivals to take unilateral action against China’ claims and actions in the South China Sea, with vague hints of backing them up if they are attacked. In another, they project that the US will implement a blockade of its economic lifeline – particularly its oil and gas imports – traversing the Malacca Strait and the South China Sea.

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China is interested in exploiting the oil reserves and other natural resources of the South China Sea

In the broader strategic arena, these analysts expect the US to stoke the Taiwan issue and encourage Japan to step up its military activities in the East China Sea as ways of distracting and pressuring China on the South China Sea. They also see the US Indo-Pacific Strategy and the Quad, a potential – but unlikely – partnership between AustraliaIndia, Japan and the US – as a means to contain it, both in general and in the South China Sea.

One may argue that some or all of this is paranoia on both sides – and it may well be. Nevertheless, this is a realistic hypothetical description of the strategic view from China. You may have a different set of assumptions and hypotheses, but the point is that a one-sided perspective is unhelpful and only stimulates a spiral of worst-case-scenario thinking and formulation of plans to counter them.

Yes, China has behaved badly in the South China Sea. So have other claimants – including the US. All need to tone down their rhetoric, incorporate balance in their strategic analyses and be realistic in diagnoses, prognoses and prescriptions. Above all, there is a need for China, the US and their strategic analysts to understand how the other sees the problem. They should look for areas of compromise rather than simply spin out worst-case scenarios based on questionable assumptions.

Mark J. Valencia is an adjunct senior scholar at the National Institute for South China Sea Studies, Haikou, China

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China says it has sovereignty over all the South China Sea north of its “nine dash line.” On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration  in The Hague said this claim by China was not valid. But China and the Philippine government then chose to ignore international law. Vietnam has been unable to develop its own undersea oil due to China’s aggressive behavior. The U.S. views China’s base building in the South China Sea as unlawful and similar to Russia’s incursions into Georgia, Crimea and Ukraine.


China Demands U.S. Withdraw Sanctions Imposed Over Military Purchases From Russia

September 23, 2018

WASHINGTON — Chinese officials have summoned the United States ambassador in Beijing to denounce the United States for imposing economic sanctions this past week on a Chinese military organization for buying equipment from Russia, according to Chinese state news reports on Saturday.

The Chinese military also recalled a Chinese naval commander, Shen Jinlong, who was in the United States attending a naval conference, and it postponed a September meeting on joint staff communications between the two nations.

The United States ambassador to Beijing, Terry Branstad, with President Xi Jinping of China last year. Beijing is said to have summoned the ambassador to protest economic sanctions imposed by the United States.  Credit Lintao Zhang/Reuters

The moves are aimed at pressuring the United States to withdraw the sanctions. The sanctions are “a flagrant breach of basic rules of international relations” and “a stark show of hegemonism,” said Wu Qian, a spokesman for the Ministry of Defense, according to the state news agency Xinhua.

The diplomatic dispute adds to rising tensions between the United States and China, the world’s two largest economies.

By Edward Wong
The New York Times

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Ministry of National Defense spokesperson Wu Qian [File photo]

Foreign Ministry officials raised objections to the United States ambassador, Terry Branstad, according to People’s Daily, the official Communist Party newspaper.

The State Department confirmed on Saturday that Mr. Branstad met with Chinese officials, but declined to comment further.

On Thursday, the State Department said that it was imposing sanctions on the Equipment Development Department of the Chinese Central Military Commission and its top official for “engaging in significant transactions” with a group in the Russian defense sector that is on a list of blacklisted entities.

The transactions involved the purchase of Russian Su-35 combat aircraft and equipment related to the S-400 surface-to-air missile system, the State Department said.

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Russian Su-35

The Chinese received the aircraft in December 2017 and an initial batch of the missile equipment in 2018, the department said. Both were the result of deals negotiated before August 2017 between the Chinese military organization and Rosoboronexport, a state organization that is the main arms exporter of Russia.

Such military cooperation between the countries was normal, and in line with international law, said Mr. Wu, the military spokesman, according to the Xinhua report.

The State Department said it was imposing the sanctions against Russian and Chinese officials for violating a law enacted by the American government last year to punish Iran, North Korea and Russia for what American officials called hostile behavior. In the case of Russia, the act is intended to punish its military actions in Ukraine and Syria and cyberinterference in the American presidential election of 2016, among other things.

Tensions between the United States and China have escalated over a trade war that President Trump and his economic advisers started over the summer. Mr. Trump announced tariffs last week on an additional $200 billion worth of goods from China, prompting China to retaliate by promising to impose similar tariffs on $60 billion worth of goods from the United States. China also canceled trade talks that had been scheduled for this week in Washington.

Relations between the countries have grown strained on other fronts. Trump administration officials have scolded China for not doing enough to pressure North Korea over its nuclear program; criticized what they call Chinese military expansionism in the Pacific and Indian Oceans; and are weighing sanctions against Chinese officials for the repression of ethnic Uighurs in the region of Xinjiang, where up to one million Uighurs are being detained in re-education camps.

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Uighur children

As well, American officials are anxious about Chinese influence in Latin America. This month, the State Department recalled its three chiefs of mission in Panama, the Dominican Republic and El Salvador as a rebuke to those nations, which recently chose to drop diplomatic recognition of Taiwan in favor of recognizing China. The United States has recognized China since 1979, but wants the handful of small countries that recognize Taiwan to continue doing so as a hedge against Chinese power.

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A12 of the New York edition with the headline: Beijing Denounces U.S. Sanctions Over Russian Deals