Posts Tagged ‘Indian Ocean’

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.

Image result for maldives, photos, by air

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.

Image result for Xi Jinping, photos

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

Image result for maldives map

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

Image may contain: 1 person

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.