Posts Tagged ‘Indian Ocean’

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

Why China Is Brutally Suppressing Muslims

September 18, 2018

The assault on the Uighurs serves Beijing’s imperial ambitions, which require stable land borders.

Outside a mosque in China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, 2017.
Outside a mosque in China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, 2017. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGE

The repression of the Turkic Uighur Muslim community in western China—including the reported internment of up to a million people in secret camps—is a key part of Beijing’s new imperial policy. Only by understanding the dynamics of Chinese empire can one grasp this brutal campaign.

Xinjiang, a province home to millions of Uighurs, translates to “New Dominion.” The area has been historically and geographically known as East Turkestan. Though the Chinese state has existed for more than 3,500 years, Xinjiang first became part of China’s Qing Dynasty only in the mid-18th century. Since then it has often been in a condition the British explorer Fitzroy Maclean labeled as “sustained turbulence.”



When I first traveled through Xinjiang and interviewed Uighurs in 1994, their hatred of what they considered ethnic Han Chinese occupiers was complete. “This is Turkestan, not China. Chinese don’t learn our language, and many of us don’t learn theirs. Even on a personal level, relations are bad,” one young Uighur man told me.

Relations have worsened since. A deep, unspoken reason why China has never liberalized is its authoritarian leadership fears ethnic rebellion. Uprisings of this sort happened in the outer reaches of the Soviet Union after it liberalized in the 1980s. So China has kept its political system closed, while simultaneously pushing into Central Asia through diplomacy and economic interventions. It is building vast infrastructure projects in the region to ally with the Turkic Muslims of the former Soviet Union and deny China’s own Muslims a friendly rear base for future rebellion. China’s push beyond its borders ultimately has to do with demons within.

Because China historically has never been secure on land, particularly in this western region, it has not had the luxury of going to sea. Except for the Indian Ocean exploits of Adm. Zheng He during the early Ming Dynasty, China has had a demonstrably weak naval tradition. Yet China, mostly secure on land today, aims to posses the world’s largest navy. The intensifying suppression of the Uighur Muslims is the final act in this process. The Belt and Road Initiative—forging transportation corridors by land and sea across Eurasia—requires the complete subjugation of the Uighur population.

The heart of this 21st-century Silk Route is Central Asia. By building roads, railways and energy pipelines across the former Soviet Turkic republics, China will connect with Iran. A Chinese-Iranian economic and infrastructure alliance has the potential to dominate Eurasia, sidelining Russia. But this requires a compliant Uighur population, since all these road and energy pathways between coastal China and the Middle East must pass through Xinjiang.

The Chinese plan is to dilute traditional Uighur culture by forcing people into regimented apartment blocks and modernizing folkloric markets. They also seek to connect towns with new highways and high-speed rail, as I saw on a return visit to Xinjiang in 2015. And they are placing many thousands of Uighurs in internment camps while raising living standards for others—classic carrot-and-stick tactics. All this is designed to end Uighur Muslim culture as it exists today, to complete the Han Chinese domination of its most contentious borderland.

The media have focused on China drowning countries like Pakistan and Sri Lanka in debt, so that it is awarded control of the ports and highways it builds there. Undercovered is the ethnic dimension of Chinese grand strategy across Eurasia. It deserves more attention: The desert home of the Uighur is the potential weak link in China’s Silk Route nexus.

Don’t underestimate national pride and resentment in this process. Hong Kong and Macao have been taken back from the European colonialists, formally ending an era of humiliating foreign intrusion in China’s core. Outer Mongolia’s sovereignty has been undermined significantly by Chinese economic interests. Tibet has been subjugated. Xinjiang now looms as the last holdout before Greater China is truly realized on land, allowing China to concentrate fully on dominating the East and South China seas. In turn this will open up the Indian Ocean, where China has been building and helping develop new ports between Myanmar and Djibouti. Who says that the age of empire has passed?

Because the U.S. is located half a world away, it is at a distinct disadvantage in thwarting this new imperial rise. Washington still has a geopolitical interest in making sure no individual state holds sway over the Eastern Hemisphere as the U.S. once influenced the Western Hemisphere. A Chinese Silk Route that runs through Iran and beyond, with a naval presence over the navigable southern rimland of Eurasia, would do that.

A policy of zero-sum bilateralism—the current American approach—forfeits the strongest asset the U.S. has in this struggle: a system of alliances undergirded by the American ideals of free markets, civil society and human rights. In this competition, holding China to account for its human-rights violations against the Uighurs is a component in a realist approach that also seeks to limit the Chinese navy in the South China Sea. Just as China’s suppression of the Uighurs is part of its grand strategy, America’s commitment to human rights in China should be part of its own approach.

Mr. Kaplan is author of “The Return of Marco Polo’s World: War, Strategy, and American Interests in the Twenty-First Century” (Random House, 2018). He is a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security and a senior adviser at Eurasia Group.

US paves way for sales of arms to India with security pact

September 6, 2018

Pompeo says Washington backs ‘India’s rise’ as US seeks counterweight to China

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From left, US secretary of defence Jim Mattis, US secretary of state Mike Pompeo, Indian foreign minister Sushma Swaraj and Indian defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman at the agreement signing © AFP

By Katrina Manson in New Delhi

The US and India signed a breakthrough security agreement on Thursday, cementing relations between the pair and unlocking sales of high-tech American weaponry worth billions of dollars to the world’s top arms importer.

Washington sees India as the linchpin of its new Indo-Pacific strategy to counter the rise of China, but has spent months pushing for closer co-operation. It wants Delhi to participate in more joint military exercises, boost its role in regional maritime security and increase arms purchases.

“We fully support India’s rise,” said Mike Pompeo, US secretary of state, during a visit to New Delhi. Later on Thursday the two countries signed Comcasa, a security agreement tailored to India that Jim Mattis, US defence secretary, said meant the pair could now share “sensitive technology”.

Nirmala Sitharaman, India’s defence minister, said military co-operation had become the key driver of US-Indian relations, which she said was being taken “to a new level”. India also agreed to hold joint military exercises across land, sea and air with the US next year.

The breakthrough came after talks between Mr Mattis and Mr Pompeo and their Indian counterparts Ms Sitharaman and Sushma Swaraj in New Delhi. The signing followed months of concern in India that it might be forced to concede its sovereignty. US officials were uncertain that the two would complete the deal.

Jeff Smith, south Asia expert at the Heritage Foundation, said that the deal was a “significant” step, adding that the US and India had previously been forced to communicate on open radio channels and remove some encrypted systems from platforms the US had already sold to India.

He added that US officials had spent months attempting to convince Delhi that such agreements facilitated sensible and often mundane co-operation — such as being able to refuel each other’s ships at sea — rather than Washington spying on India.

Lieutenant General Charlie Hooper, director of the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency that is responsible for foreign military sales, said the US was discussing selling “many, many systems” to India.

Gen Hooper did not specify the systems under discussion, but another US official said that India was seeking advanced drones, helicopters and fighter jets from the US. Delhi has already bought C-17 transport aircraft, Apache and Chinook helicopters, maritime patrol aircraft and M777 howitzers from the US.

Now Delhi is also looking at buying the F-16 and F-18 fighter aircraft from Lockheed Martin to replace its existing Russian models, said the US official.

“The Indian Navy is also considering procuring 24 MH-60R multi-role anti-submarine warfare helicopters from Lockheed Martin,” the official added.

Weapons sales from the US to India have risen from negligible amounts 10 years ago to $15bn last year, and are projected to rise to $18bn next year. But several bumps in the road ahead remain.

US officials want to ensure that India, which buys the largest part of its weapons from Russia, does not purchase Moscow’s S-400 air missile defence system.

Both sides also discussed how far India would cut its imports of Iranian oil, as well as India possibly playing a greater role in a nascent “quad” grouping that comprises the US, India, Japan and Australia.

In New Delhi Talks, Mattis And Pompeo Seek To Bring U.S. And India Closer

September 6, 2018

India and the United States are the world’s biggest democracies. They’re both capitalist countries, nuclear powers and former British colonies. They should be natural allies.

But over the past year, the Trump administration twice postponed high-level talks with India, citing scheduling conflicts. That left some in New Delhi feeling like the U.S. was taking India for granted.

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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is greeted by Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on his arrival at the airport in New Delhi on Wednesday.  Manish Swarup/AP

Now, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis in New Delhi for talks, they’ll seek to bring the two countries closer than they’ve been since the Cold War. Their agenda for Thursday’s talks is believed to include key issues such as anti-terrorism, maritime security and countering China’s growing influence in the Indian Ocean.

But they may also have to reassure their Indian counterparts that the U.S. commander-in-chief is on board.

The Trump factor

Running for president, Donald Trump was one of the first candidates to film a campaign message in Hindi. He promised Indian-Americans he would be “best friends” with India.

“We love the Hindus!” Trump exclaimed at an October 2016 rally in New Jersey.

But last winter, footage of Trump clasping his hands and imitating Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi went viral in India. Around the same time, a Washington Post report said Trump “has been known to affect an Indian accent” when talking about Modi in private meetings. Last month, another report, by Politico, said Trump mispronounced the names of India’s neighbors Nepal and Bhutan as “nipple” and “button,” and offered to set Modi up on a blind date. (The Indian prime minister is estranged from his wife.)

Modi, a right-wing nationalist who visited the White House in June 2017, nevertheless has a “fairly good relationship” with Trump, says retired Indian navy commodore C. Uday Bhaskar, who directs the Society for Policy Studies in India’s capital.

But, Bhaskar acknowledges, “You don’t know what will be tomorrow’s tweet that’s going to emerge from the White House.”

The U.S. and India are already at odds over H1-B visas for skilled Indian workers in the U.S. and tariffs on Indian steel. The U.S. motorcycle company Harley Davidson, which has criticized Trump’s decision to levy tariffs on imported steel, has one of its only overseas factories in India, just outside the capital New Delhi.

China rising

But Thursday’s talks among Pompeo, Mattis and their Indian counterparts — Sushma Swaraj and Nirmala Sitharaman — are expected to focus instead on defense and security rather than trade.

Any mistrust there could threaten U.S.-Indian cooperation in countering China – which, in the past decade, has taken control of strategic outposts across the Indian Ocean.

“China now has almost a permanent presence from Djibouti, in the Horn of Africa, to Sri Lanka’s Hambantota, where [it has leased] a port for 99 years, to parts of Myanmar and Bangladesh, where they are now going to provide submarines,” Bhaskar explains. “What it does is shrink the Indian profile — and we’re not even talking about Pakistan, Iran and the Persian Gulf.”

India feels surrounded, and doesn’t have as much money as China to finance regional projects. That’s one area where India would like the U.S. to step in.

In exchange, Washington may have some demands for India: Stop buying Iranian oil and Russian weapons.

Russian weapons

India is the world’s largest arms importer, and Russia is its biggest source. This goes back to the Cold War, when India was officially nonaligned but signed a 1971 treaty with the Soviet Union and bought defense equipment from the communist nation. Russia inherited that relationship with India.

But last year, the U.S. Congress passed a law allowing sanctions on countries that buy “significant” amounts of defense equipment from Russia. The U.S. may grant India a waiver from those sanctions, allowing it extra time to wean itself off Russian arms, Bhaskar says.

“What President Trump and his administration are now trying to do is to accord a certain amount of space to India,” he says.

Over the past 10 years, India has been buying more weapons from the U.S. Since 2008, arms imports from the U.S. rose by 557 percent, making it India’s second largest supplier, behind Russia.

Iranian oil

As for Iranian oil, the U.S. wants all countries to stop buying it by Nov. 5.

But with virtually no oil and natural gas of its own, India’s need is enormous. India has the fastest-growing major economy in the world, hungry for more energy. India is Iran’s No. 2 oil buyer, after China.

Visiting New Delhi in June, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley — born Nimrata Randhawa, to Indian immigrant parents — warned India to “rethink” its relationship with Iran.

But if Pompeo and Mattis make such a demand of their Indian counterparts this week, they’re likely to get rebuffed, says Rajeswari Rajagopalan, a security analyst at the Observer Research Foundation, a think tank in New Delhi.

“I think India will say, ‘That’s not going to happen – not completely,'” she says. “India will not want to be seen as taking a decision under American pressure.”

Rajagopalan predicts India will gradually reduce its reliance on Iranian oil, byt it’s not going to be “immediate and drastic,” she says. It’s doing so already, she says, and there are other options, including oil from Iraq, Saudi Arabia, the U.S.

An Indian-financed Iranian port

India would be even more likely to comply with U.S. demands that it stop buying Iranian oil, Rajagopalan says, if the U.S. were willing to work out a deal on Chabahar, an Indian-financed port in southern Iran. It’s the one place where India is trying to do exactly what China has already done — finance strategic outposts across the region.

But after 15 years in development, Chabahar port is opening for business just as U.S. sanctions against such investments take effect. It’s unfortunate timing for India.

Through Chabahar, India could boost its trade with Afghanistan, without having to rely on land routes through Pakistan, India’s longtime nemesis. It would also open up links with Central Asian republics.

“But the question is, at what cost is it coming?” Rajagopalan asks, referring to the possibility of punitive U.S. sanctions. “A second issue about Chabahar is, OK, what if India doesn’t do it? Who’s going to do it? Will China fill the vacuum there?”

Last year, Sri Lanka handed over its Hambantota port to China on a 99-year lease, after being unable to pay off debts to Chinese firms. Years ago, India had an opportunity to invest there but didn’t act quickly enough, Rajagopalan notes.

Access to “Hambantota port was originally [offered] to India,” she says. “But we took our own sweet time to take a decision on that, and in the meantime, China came in and they got the deal.”

If the U.S. were to waive sanctions against India for its use of Chabahar port in Iran, it may help one U.S. goal — countering China. But it may hurt another — isolating Iran.

It’s an example of the tough decisions that the U.S. may have to make in any negotiations with India.

Trump’s Rougher Edge Complicates Trip by Pompeo and Mattis to India

September 3, 2018

There have always been irritants in relations between India and the United States. But few have been as perplexing to New Delhi, or left as bitter a taste, as President Trump’s tendency to mock Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s accent in English.

A video of Mr. Trump imitating Mr. Modi has gone viral in New Delhi. So have reports that Mr. Trump often mimics his Indian counterpart in internal discussions.

“There’s a general understanding here that Modi is not sure he can do business with Trump,” said Suhasini Haidar, foreign affairs editor of The Hindu. “India is just now coming to terms with the idea that Trump will not treat India with the same kind of benevolence that previous presidents have.”

This is the diplomatic headache that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will confront when he arrives in the Indian capital on Wednesday with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. Tiptoeing around the president’s indiscretions is one in a suddenly long list of challenges to a relationship that, according to senior State Department officials, Mr. Pompeo would very much like to preserve — and even improve.

By  Gardiner Harris
The New York Times

President Trump with the Indian leader, Narendra Modi, at the White House in June 2017. Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times

Among the other challenges are growing trade tensions, American insistence that India suddenly end its huge purchases of Iranian oil, and Washington’s threats to impose sanctions should India continue to purchase Russian military equipment, as India has done for most of its history.

Improving ties with the United States was Mr. Modi’s signature foreign policy endeavor when he came to power in 2014. But with New Delhi suddenly uncertain about Washington, Mr. Modi has in recent weeks sought to mend ties with Moscow, and with Beijing as a hedge.

For decades, the United States hoped that India would become an economic and military counterweight to a resurgent China. Rex W. Tillerson, the Trump administration’s first secretary of state, described his outreach to India as among the most vital initiatives of his tenure, giving a gushing speech in October about the myriad reasons the two countries were natural partners.

Under Mr. Mattis, the Pentagon has been equally committed to the partnership. It has even renamed its Hawaii-based American combatant command that oversees the Pacific region as the Indo-Pacific Command as a lure for India to increase its partnership with the United States and other allied forces.

India’s rise was seen as such an obvious win for the United States that previous presidents mostly overlooked New Delhi’s reflexive trade protectionism. And if the Indians wanted to get some military equipment from Russia, that was seen as acceptable to Washington — as long as it meant India was becoming more powerful.

But under Mr. Trump, nobody gets a pass on trade. A congressional effort to punish Russia has meant that India’s plans to purchase a sophisticated air defense system from Moscow — the same one that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey is considering buying — could seriously wound ties.

In some ways, Mr. Modi and Mr. Trump are made for each other. Both are right-of-center nationalists who are seen by some minorities in each country as intolerant demagogues.

Mr. Modi is unsure he can do business with Mr. Trump, a foreign policy analyst said. Credit Edgar Su/Reuters

But a November summit meeting between them went poorly after Mr. Trump berated Mr. Modi over trade issues, particularly India’s tariffs on Harley-Davidson motorcycles. Mr. Trump’s decisions in recent months to impose sanctions on Iran and Turkey had spillover effects on India, pushing down the value of the rupee.

“The Americans are suddenly telling us that we can’t buy missiles and oil, and nobody knows what to do about it,” said Mohan Guruswamy, a distinguished fellow at the Observer Research Foundation in India.

Key positions at the State Department that deal with India remain vacant, adding to the uncertainty. And this week’s meetings were shelved twice before, with many Indians believing that the most recent cancellation was done at Mr. Trump’s insistence.

“The White House approach to every country now is that we want you to cave on these random issues we have chosen, which are prioritized by nothing more than presidential whim,” said Michael Green, a top Asia adviser to President George W. Bush. “And you have to visibly lose on them. There are no win-wins.”

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China aims to build houses, roads in Sri Lanka north to extend sway

August 24, 2018

China wants to build houses and roads in Sri Lanka’s north, much of which is in a state of disrepair nearly a decade after the end of civil war, Chinese and Sri Lankan officials said, in a bid to expand it influence beyond the island’s south.

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A general view of Colombo Port City construction site, which is backed by Chinese investment, in Colombo, Sri Lanka August 23, 2018. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte

China’s latest push in the Indian Ocean island nation comes despite criticism that a big Chinese port project and related infrastructure in the south are dragging the country of 21 million people deep into debt.

Luo Chong, chief of the political section at China’s embassy in Colombo, said China wanted to help with reconstruction in Sri Lanka’s north and east, the center of a 26-year war between the government and ethnic minority Tamil separatists that ended in 2009.

“Since the situation is different now, we are willing to have more projects in remote areas in the north and east with the support of the Sri Lankan government and from the Tamil communities,” he told Reuters.

In April, state-run China Railway Beijing Engineering Group Co Ltd won a more than $300 million project to build 40,000 houses in the northern district of Jaffna. China’s Exim bank was to provide the financing.

But the project has been halted after residents demanded brick houses instead of the concrete structures planned by the Chinese firm, saying they preferred their traditional dwellings.

That has given an opportunity for China’s old rival India to step in. M.A. Sumanthiran, a legislator from the regional Tamil National Alliance, said authorities had opened negotiations with India for the housing project.

India has already built 44,000 houses in the north in the first phase of reconstruction through a grant to Sri Lanka and has planned to rebuild Palaly airport and Kankesanthurai harbor, both of which were heavily damaged in the war which ended with the defeat of the guerrillas.

Two senior ministers in the Sri Lankan cabinet told Reuters that China had offered to build houses, roads, and water storage facilities at a cost lower than offered by its competitors.

“They are willing to take up even rural infrastructure projects like road networks and water projects and expressed their willingness to complete them faster,” said one of the ministers who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of engagement with China.

India has longstanding ties with Sri Lanka, located just off the tip of southern India, bound by cultural and ethnic links with Sri Lanka’s Tamils, many of whom live in the island’s north and east.

But in recent years China has swept in, building ports, power plants and highways in the island that sits near busy international shipping lanes and is seen as part of China’s String of Pearls strategy of building a network of friendly ports across Asia.

Reporting by Shihar Aneez; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani, Robert Birsel


Japan to deploy warships to South China Sea

August 22, 2018

MANILA, Philippines — The Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) will dispatch three ships to the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean, according to reports.

Helicopter carrier Kaga and two escort naval vessels of Japan will leave for the South China Sea on August 26 and will be sailing until October 30, United Press International reported.

The Japanese fleet will first sail through the South China Sea, will pass through the Strait of Malacca and then will proceed to the Indian Ocean.

The three ships will make port calls in India, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines, according to a report from Japan Times.

Japan’s Defense Ministry is also working on joint drills with the navies of these countries.

The deployment of the 814-foot-long Kaga is seen as a Tokyo’s response to Beijing’s military presence in the South China Sea.

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“The maritime area from the South China Sea to the Indian Ocean is important [for Japan],” MSDF chief Adm. Yutaka Murakawa said in a press briefing Tuesday.

In 2017, Japan also deployed a similar fleet, including carrier Izumo, to the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean.

Along with the United States, Japan has also been firm on its stand against China’s militarization activities in the disputed waters.

In a joint statement issued last April, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Ane and US President Donald Trump agreed that China and other claimant states should manage the maritime disputes in accordance with international law.

“President Trump and Prime Minister Abe underscored a joint commitment to safeguard unimpeded lawful commerce and respect for international law, including freedoms of navigation and overflight and other lawful uses of the sea,” the White House said in a statement. — Patricia Lourdes Viray



How US policy is turning Pakistan into a Chinese colony — Imran Khan expected to deliver for China

August 9, 2018

Adnan Aamir says the US’ decision to block an IMF loan to Pakistan will only push the country more deeply into China’s sphere of influence

South China Morning Post

The China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a multibillion-dollar flagship project of the Belt and Road Initiative, is extremely important for both countries involved. Pakistan considers it an economic saviour and China sees it as the role model for future belt and road projects.

Ever since the inception of the economic corridor in April 2015, there were concerns that the US government would oppose the project under some pretext. The moment came on July 30 when US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo vowed to block an International Monetary Fund bailout package for Pakistan if it is used to repay Chinese loans borrowed under CPEC.

Pakistan held its general elections on July 25, which were not free from claims of irregularities. However, election results confirmed that cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan will form the government. It was revealed that finance ministry officials have already presented an option for the new government to borrow US$12 billion from the IMF to ease pressure on dwindling foreign reserves and repay overseas loans.

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Pakistan’s economy is struggling and its remaining reserves of just US$9 billion can only cover the country’s imports for the next two months. Therefore, an IMF bailout is inevitable if Pakistan’s economy is to survive.

Unexpectedly, just five days after Pakistan’s elections, Pompeo opposed an IMF bailout package to Pakistan. He argued that American taxpayer dollars are part of IMF funding and therefore the US government would not allow a bailout package for Pakistan that could be used to repay Chinese creditors or the government of China. This is the first time the US government has openly made a move that is tantamount to attacking Pakistan-China economic cooperation.

It is a move that will further damage the US’ relations with Pakistan. The “war on terror” after September 11 made Pakistan a close ally of the US. From 2002 to 2016, Pakistan received US$33 billion in military and economic aid from the US. However, over time, US-Pakistan relations lost their warmth because of the US administration’s increasing demands that Pakistan stop the Taliban from using its territory to mount attacks in Afghanistan. In August 2017, relations reached a new low after the announcement of US President Donald Trump’s new Afghanistan strategy, which criticised Pakistan for harbouring Taliban terrorists.

Against this backdrop, Pompeo’s recent statement is a major blow to US-Pakistan relations. This does not bode well for peace and stability in Afghanistan because now Pakistan will not be motivated to cooperate with the US government anymore on the Afghan front.

Given that the US is a major power broker in the IMF, its opposition will effectively thwart a bailout package for Pakistan. The country will have to explore other options to secure the funds needed to stimulate its economy. Unfortunately, there are not many countries or funding organisations that can offer Pakistan a generous financial bailout. Thus, Pakistan would be left with no choice but to ask for help from its all-weather friend – China.

Pakistani demonstrators take part in an anti-US protest in Lahore on January 10 after Washington’s freeze on billions in military assistance to Pakistan. Photo: AFP

Pakistan is already relying on Chinese loans to stabilise its currency, the Pakistani rupee. China has already agreed to lend Pakistan US$2 billion, of which US$1 billion has already been paid and is helping to to temporarily stabilise the value of the rupee.

After the probable refusal of IMF bailout package, Pakistan will be seeking additional loans of US$12 billion from China

Pakistan has been on a borrowing spree for past 12 months due to its economic woes. Pakistan has borrowed US$10 billion in last 12 months, of which US$4.4 billion came from China, apart from the latest US$2 billion loan. After the probable refusal of the IMF bailout package, Pakistan will be seeking additional loans of US$12 billion from China. This will further widen Pakistan’s vulnerability to the so-called Chinese debt trap.

Last month, the Chinese embassy in Pakistan downplayed the debt trap, claiming that only 10 per cent of Pakistan’s foreign loans have been borrowed from China. If that is the case, Pompeo’s concerns that Pakistan will use the IMF bailout to repay Chinese loans are overblown. However, experts disagree with this assertion, noting that Chinese institutions lend on the condition that they will be paid out first as preferred creditors. This implies that Pakistan would have to use the IMF bailout to first repay Chinese loans.

A US$12 billion bailout package from China would substantially increase Pakistan’s debt to China since Chinese loans are already financing CPEC projects. Pakistan’s former finance minister Hafiz Pasha said Pakistan would have to pay as much as US$8.3 billion annually from 2019 onward to service CPEC loans.

If it is unable to repay Chinese loans, it could end up leasing its assets, such as Gwadar Port, to China

The latest bailouts from China will further increase the debt servicing requirements, which will be extremely hard for Pakistan’s struggling economy to meet.

Hence, Pakistan will further be pushed towards economic dependence on China. If it is unable to repay Chinese loans, it could end up leasing its assets, such as Gwadar Port, to China. This model has already worked with Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port.

The US decision to block the IMF bailout has effectively put Pakistan on the path to becoming a Chinese economic colony. This will certainly not help the US in increasing its influence in South Asia and Indochina, but will rather immensely increase the influence of China in South Asia.

Adnan Aamir is a journalist and researcher. Follow him on twitter @iAdnanAamir. Email:

Chinese investment in Bangladesh rings India alarm bells

August 7, 2018

Beijing deepens ties across south Asia with billions in infrastructure loans

Image may contain: ocean, sky, bridge, outdoor and water
The 6km bridge across the Padma (Ganges) river will link the north and south of Bangladesh by road and rail © Dreamstime

By Kiran Stacey in Dhaka 

When it opens this year, a 6km bridge over the Padma river will link the north and south of Bangladesh by road and rail, completing one of the most challenging engineering projects the country has ever built.

The $3.7bn bridge across the Padma, as the Ganges is known in Bangladesh, will also be a physical reminder of China’s growing presence in the country.

Beijing has provided more than $3bn for the project as part of a wider plan to spend $30bn on Bangladeshi infrastructure schemes.

China stepped in after the World Bank cancelled a $1.2bn credit line for the scheme, saying it had found “credible evidence” of corruption involving government officials and certain executives from SNC-Lavalin, the Canadian constructor contracted to build the project.

The scale of Chinese investment in Bangladesh is further evidence of Beijing’s deepening relationships across south Asia, where it has funded similar projects in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal and the Maldives. It is also ringing alarm bells in India, which surrounds Bangladesh on three sides and considers itself Dhaka’s natural and principal ally.

New Delhi has watched with growing unease in recent years as China has committed billions of dollars’ worth of funding to countries across the subcontinent, helping to fulfil President Xi Jinping’s plans to build a new Silk Road of global trade routes.

“The Padma bridge is a really big and a really important project,” said Amit Bhandari, a fellow at the Mumbai-based Gateway House think-tank. “India should be concerned, given the role China is also playing in other countries which surround it.”

In Pakistan, Beijing is planning to spend $60bn on roads, railways and power plants as part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which will give China access to the sea via Gwadar port on Pakistan’s south coast.

In the Maldives, it has signed a trade agreement and has been handed a contract to build a new airport that was originally granted to the Indian company GMR Infrastructure.

In Sri Lanka, it has taken control of the southern port of Hambantota after Colombo was unable to repay the money it borrowed from Chinese state-backed lenders to build it.

The plans for Bangladesh, however, have caused even greater disquiet in New Delhi because of the strong historic links between the two countries. India helped create Bangladesh when it joined its eastern neighbour’s fight for independence from Pakistan in 1971.

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According to Gateway House, China has committed to $31bn worth of projects in Bangladesh, making it the second-biggest recipient of money in south Asia behind Pakistan. They include roads, railways, coal power plants and water treatment facilities.

Ahsan Mansur, the executive director of the Policy Research Institute of Bangladesh, calculates that once private sector investments are also factored in, the figure rises to $42bn.

New Delhi was particularly aggrieved when the Dhaka Stock Exchange chose to sell a 25 per cent stake to a consortium of the Shanghai and Shenzhen stock exchanges for $119m, rather than to India’s National Stock Exchange, which bid 56 per cent less.

Executives from the NSE travelled to Dhaka in a failed attempt to persuade regulators to block the Chinese deal, arguing that China was using it as a way to gain political power in the region.

Majedur Rahman, managing director at the DSE, said: “We went through a long negotiation and a long period of due diligence, and at the end of it the Chinese bidders won on competence and price.

“We found them to be a good partner, as our capital markets are still very small, and they were offering both new technology and a long-term partnership.”

Meanwhile, Chinese companies are also looking to set up in specially-created economic zones in Bangladesh.

One company, Zhejiang Jindun Pressure Vessel Co Ltd, has offered to invest $5bn in one zone to build up heavy industry near Chittagong, including establishing a 2.6 gigawatt power plant.

Paban Chowdhury, chairman of the Bangladesh Economic Zones Authority, said it was the largest single investment proposal in the history of Bangladesh.

However, there are still signs that India carries enough diplomatic clout to thwart some of Beijing’s plans in Bangladesh — at least if it also has the money to support is stance.

In February 2016, Dhaka cancelled a plan for China to build and operate a deep-sea port at Sonadia, after pressure from New Delhi, which was worried about Chinese interference in the Andaman and Nicobar islands, about 1,000km to the south.

Instead, Bangladesh is allowing investors from several countries, including China, Japan and India, all to invest in a separate port scheme at Payra, further west.

Experts in Bangladesh say the country is happy to accept Chinese money, but does not want China to interfere in anything that India sees as a threat to its national security.

Mr Mansur said: “This is a development opportunity as far as Bangladesh is concerned. We are not interested in security — we want the benefit of the economic relationship.”



Meet the New Pakistan, a Lot Like the Old Pakistan

August 1, 2018

Imran Khan claims a fresh vision, but he’s backed by established power brokers.

A man reads a newspaper reporting Pakistan’s election results in Karachi, on July 26.


“We will run Pakistan like it has never been run before,” said Imran Khan during his first televised address after his party’s decisive election win on July 25. He did so below a picture of a young Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the nation’s revered founder when it won independence from the British Raj in 1947.

Khan outlined a blueprint for a “New Pakistan” modeled on Jinnah’s vision. Malnourished kids would have enough food. Poor farmers would get more cash. The rich would pay taxes. Corruption would end. Terrorism would stop. Minorities would feel safe. And Pakistan would get along with everybody—even archrival India.

Imran Khan addresses the nation on July 26.

For Pakistan and the world, it’s an inspiring message with the potential to reshape global politics. The country has around 200 million people, more than Saudi Arabia and Iran combined, about a third of whom are impoverished. It’s a crucial supply route for U.S. forces fighting in Afghanistan and a strategic pathway for China to key shipping lanes in the Indian Ocean. It’s a hotbed of Islamic extremism. And it has nuclear weapons.

In one sense, the 65-year-old Khan looks like the kind of charismatic leader who can shake up Pakistan. The Oxford graduate rose to fame as a cricket superstar, becoming a household name across the British Commonwealth when he led Pakistan to its first and only Cricket World Cup victory in 1992. He built a reputation as a playboy who hung out at London’s posh nightclubs with the likes of Mick Jagger and Sting. His first wife, Jemima Goldsmith, a British socialite with a Jewish heritage, was friends with Princess Diana.

Khan leveraged his popularity to start a political career, winning his first election to parliament in 2002. This year his party won nearly twice as many seats as its closest rival. That followed a populist campaign in which he railed against a corrupt elite that enriched itself at the expense of the masses.

His clipped English, tall, athletic frame, and personal charm helped him win over a cross section of Pakistanis on election day, from slum dwellers to wealthy expatriates who flew back just to vote for Khan. He also galvanized young voters.

Yet there’s another side to Khan that has observers worried. Of late he’s become increasingly close to the military and more of a religious conservative—so much so that detractors have dubbed  him “Taliban Khan.” In the past he’s vowed to shoot down U.S. drones and cut off NATO supply routes.

His party’s regional government funded an Islamist seminary known as the “University of Jihad” that taught leaders of the Taliban in Afghanistan. He’s defended Pakistan’s strict blasphemy laws, which mandate the death penalty for any “imputation, insinuation, or innuendo” against the prophet Muhammad. This year the twice-divorced Khan married a veiled spiritual adviser. Critics have dismissed him as a figurehead installed by the army in a rigged election.

Khan’s competing personas make him an embodiment of Pakistan’s identity crisis. On one side is a country with an increasingly urban middle class that buys designer handbags and good whiskey while engaging in social media debates about democracy and human rights. The other is a nation where the risk of terrorism is constant, the Islamic State has a foothold, and the all-powerful army uses radical groups to destabilize Afghanistan and India.

Khan’s first challenge will be averting a financial crisis: Dwindling foreign reserves and a ballooning current account deficit, fueled by imports of heavy machinery from China to build a $60 billion investment corridor, have forced the central bank to devalue the currency four times since December. Unless China or Saudi Arabia writes him a check, Khan will almost assuredly need help from the International Monetary Fund, which has bailed out Pakistan 12 times since the late 1980s. “The new government may go first to Saudi Arabia, then China, and ultimately to the fund,” says Nadeem Ul Haque, a former deputy chairman of Pakistan’s Planning Commission, who used to be a senior economist at the IMF. “There is no way out.”

Skeptics doubt Khan will reduce the military’s dominant influence, stamp out corruption, or overhaul the curriculum at thousands of Islamic schools, known as madrassas, some of which have helped fuel an insurgency that has claimed the lives of more than 60,000 Pakistanis since Sept. 11, 2001. “Khan as prime minister is unlikely to challenge the army’s authority on policies including national security, defense, and relations with India, Afghanistan, and the U.S.,” says Shailesh Kumar, Asia director with Eurasia Group.

Pakistan’s shift from its founder’s more secular vision to a sectarian, less tolerant society is decades in the making. In the late 1970s, whiskey-drinking Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto banned alcohol and nightclubs to appease the religious right. Then came a flood of cash from the CIA and Saudi Arabia to recruit and arm jihadis—as well as to radicalize the population—to fight the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. One of those fighters was Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of Sept. 11, who would be killed in 2011 at a safe house just miles from Pakistan’s top military academy.

Khan says he doesn’t share the Taliban’s interpretation of Sharia law, but he calls the U.S. military presence in the region the main cause of instability. In January he blasted Donald Trump as “ignorant and ungrateful” after the U.S. president saidPakistan delivered nothing but “lies and deceit” in the fight against terrorism. Khan called for Pakistan to cut ties with the U.S. and work with China, Russia, and Iran to bring peace to Afghanistan.

Khan has repeatedly called for peace talks with Taliban militants, who have launched numerous terrorist attacks in the country and claimed responsibility for a suicide attack in Peshawar about two weeks before the election. His view received some vindication when U.S. diplomats met with Taliban representatives in late July without Afghan government officials, the New York Times reported, a policy shift aimed at ending a 17-year war.

Both observers and party insiders say his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf political organization is essentially a one-man show—and a personality cult. Khan’s also inexperienced in governing: He’s ridiculed the parliamentary process and barely attended National Assembly sessions during his years as a lawmaker. On the campaign trail, he tended to avoid detailed policy discussions, often dodging questions about how he will pay for his “Islamic welfare state,” instead criticizing predecessors for racking up sky-high debts.

Nor will fighting graft be easy. Ahead of the election, Khan aligned with many feudal landlords who maintain power in rural areas through patronage. To form a majority in parliament without the two major dynastic parties—the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, controlled by the Sharif family, and the Pakistan Peoples Party, run by the Bhutto Zardari family—he needs to win over smaller parties and independents, most of whom are eager to reap the spoils of government.

Moreover, to have credibility as a corruption fighter, Khan must go after the Pakistani military’s top brass, which has conducted numerous coups since the country’s founding. The military retains tremendous sway over national security and foreign policy—even when an elected government is in power—and commands a hefty chunk of the national budget. Pakistan spends more on defense as a percentage of its economy than any other country in Asia.

The winner of the last election, Nawaz Sharif, stood up to the military and lost. The three-time prime minister’s five-year term was cut short in July 2017 because of a corruption case filed by Khan and is now in jail awaiting an appeal. In May, Sharif said the army-backed establishment wanted him out for pursuing a treason case against former military ruler Pervez Musharraf, who ousted him in a 1999 coup. Musharraf—Pakistan’s only former army chief to have faced charges—welcomed Khan’s victory.

Khan has dismissed all allegations that he’s close to the military, just as the army has denied that it meddled in the election, intimidated journalists, or had anything to do with Sharif’s trial. Last year Khan told Bloomberg that any notion that he’s an army stooge was a “bizarre conspiracy.”

In his victory speech, Khan made headlines by calling for peace talks with India, including discussion on the disputed state of Muslim-majority Kashmir. India responded with skepticism. In separate interviews over the past year, Khan told Bloomberg that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was an “anti-Muslim politician,” and better ties between the nations were unlikely while he was in power.

The world will soon see if the flamboyant leader’s “New Pakistan” vision is anything more than an empty slogan.

BOTTOM LINE – The new prime minister of Pakistan promises policy reforms, but he may still be beholden to the all-powerful military and to sectarian forces.