Forget Presidential Politics: Sri Lanka’s Green Movement Is Its Best Hope Against China

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 10, October 2019

By Bertie Harrison-Broninski

Pumps dredge sand to reclaim land at the site of a Chinese-funded 1.4 billion USD reclamation project in Colombo on December 5, 2017.
Half of the reclamation project to build Colombo Financial City, previously known as Colombo Port City, has been completed, with Sri Lanka hoping to turn it into an international financial centre with special laws protecting foreign investment. / AFP / LAKRUWAN WANNIARACHCHI / Getty Images

Sri Lanka, like many countries in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), is not powerful enough to resist China on political or economic grounds – but hope lies in its burgeoning environmental movements.

This Saturday (November 16th), Sri Lankans go to the polls to elect a new president. The frontrunners are Sajith Premadasa, current Minister for Housing, Development, and Cultural affairs, and Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, the ruthless military leader who played a large part in defeating the ‘Tamil Tigers’ during Sri Lanka’s civil war. Both have family ties to ex-presidents: Premadasa’s father, Ranasinghe, was president 1989-1993, and Rajapaksa’s brother, Mahinda, was from 2005-2015.

International media has largely focused on the geopolitical implications of the Rajapaksas regaining power. Mahinda Rajapaksa is seen as a key player in initiating China’s current economic ‘debt trap’ over Sri Lanka, which has now led to 99-year leases on territory around Hambantota Port and Colombo, where China is constructing an entire ‘Port City’. A President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa would rightly be seen as a return to China-friendly Sri Lankan foreign policy after President Maithripala Sirisena’s more US-aligned years in office. Continue reading

War In The Taiwan Strait Is Not Unthinkable: Some Will Lose More Than Others

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 11, November 2019

By Grant Newsham

Screen capture of Chinese state media video of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops training for an assault on Taiwan’s presidential office. Pictured is a mock building at the Zhurihe military base in China, that mimics the actual building in Taipei. The video aired July 5, 2015. CCTV via Apple Daily.

Whether anyone actually ‘wins’ a war is a philosophical debate.  The Germans and Japanese in 1945 might have thought wars do indeed have winners.  But perhaps it’s better said that in most conflicts some parties ‘lose more than others.’

Such would be the case if Beijing attempted to militarily subjugate Taiwan.  And Xi Jinping just might do so.  He declared in a January 2019 speech that “we (China) do not promise to renounce the use of force and reserve the option to use all necessary measures (to take Taiwan.)”[1]

The Battle for Taiwan would have truly global consequences, akin to the invasion of Poland by the Soviets and Germans in 1939.

However, much of the debate over a Taiwan Strait conflict focuses on preparation for and conduct of the PRC’s attack: whether Beijing will or won’t attack, what an attack might look like and Taiwan’s ability to defend itself, whether the US will or should get involved and whether it ought to sell Taiwan ‘this or that’ weapon.  Such discussion is useful, but the actual consequences and longer-term ripple effects of a fight over Taiwan deserve much more attention.[2]

This paper examines key aspects of what happens once the shooting starts, and the follow-on global economic and political effects.  The envisioned scenario is a full-scale PLA assault against Taiwan, but it’s worth noting that even a ‘limited’ assault–such as against one of Taiwan’s offshore islands–may not stay limited for very long: given Beijing’s oft-stated determination to take all of Taiwan, an off-shore island assault would only constitute a tactical objective in the march on Taipei, and would also have serious and wide-ranging political and economic consequences.

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China and the War of Shipyards and Factories

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 10, October 2019

By William R. Hawkins

Chinese aircraft carrier group, including J-15 fighters and helicopters, trains in the South China Sea in late December, 2016. Visual China Group via Getty Images.

Satellite images show that China is making rapid progress in building its new Type 02 aircraft carrier at the Jiangnan Shipyard in Shanghai. The Type 02 is a larger design than Beijing’s first two carriers which were based on Soviet-era light carriers of about 67,000 tons and which lacked catapults for launching first-rate fighters. They used “ski jumps” to put planes into the air, limiting them to the small, short-range J-15 “Flying Shark” fighter-bombers. The Russian-built/China modified Type 01 can only carry 24 of these warbirds, though the China-built 01A, which is about to deploy, may be able to carry a few more. The Type 02 is a much larger design more in line with American carriers. At an estimated 80,000+ tons, it will be able to carry 40+ fighters as well as supporting aircraft such as early warning and control planes. In comparison, the typical U.S. Navy carrier has 60+ fighters along with other support aircraft. They are also nuclear-powered which the Chinese carriers are not. This does not mean, however, that American naval-air superiority is assured. Continue reading

An Oligarch, A Think Tank And The Rise Of American Kleptocracy?

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 10, October 2019

By Bertie Harrison-Broninski

Industrialist Len Blavatnik, left, and former U.S. President Bill Clinton speak at the Film Society of Lincoln Center 40th Anniversary Chaplin Award Gala at Lincoln Center in New York, U.S., on Monday, April 22, 2013. Clinton presented Barbra Streisand with the award honoring her work in film. Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Ukrainian-born billionaire Lenonard Blavatnik has ignited controversy once again with his lavish donations to British and American institutions. This time, it is by giving $12 million to the Council of Foreign Relations (CFR), an influential thinktank with close ties to senior business, government, intelligence and foreign-policy communities in the US.

The move has prompted a series of open letters signed by “U.S., European and Russian foreign policy experts and anti-corruption activists”, who fear that such donations are “a means by which Blavatnik exports Russian kleptocratic practices to the West”. Many of them are CFR members themselves, and their letters are rounded off with footnotes demonstrating Blavatnik’s links to Putin’s inner circle and questioning the sources of his wealth. Their second letter states that the impact of the donation “extends far beyond the potential value of the money…beyond even CFR. That impact will touch upon the health of American democracy.”

None of this will come as any surprise to those who have followed Blavatnik’s spending over the past 15 years. While his philanthropy has seen him knighted by the Queen in the UK and hailed by some as one of the world’s most generous benefactors, his donations within political and educational spheres have repeatedly led to scrutiny and protest.

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How Much Does Your Internet Service Provider Spend On Lobbying?

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 10, October 2019

By Paul Bischoff

Comcast Headquarters in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 2011. Wikimedia/Smallbones.

When people think of lobbying, they often picture backroom deals made by big pharma executives. In reality, though, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are one of the largest lobbying groups in the US. With this in mind, we analyzed publicly-available data to see just how much money your ISP spends on influencing legislators and regulators every year.

Why do ISPs lobby?

ISPs might provide a valuable service but they are, first and foremost, businesses. As such, they tend to lobby against anything which could impact profits. This might mean opposing bills that stop the sale of customer data, for instance, or scrapping rules that make it easier for competitors to get up and running.

Of course, this cuts both ways; if there’s the potential to make more money via lobbying, ISPs will almost always try. If your ISP has been trying to push through a massive merger or looking to scrap industry regulation so it can charge you for an inferior service, you can bet huge amounts of money has changed hands to expedite the process. Continue reading

Greenpeace Working to Close Rare Earth Processing Facility in Malaysia: the World’s Only Major REE Processing Facility in Competition with China

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 10, October 2019

By Michael K. Cohen

Partial screenshot from the Greenpeace website, taken on 10/3/2019, detailing Greenpeace’s leading role in the ‘Stop Lynas’ campaign. Source: Greenpeace.

Rare earth – the colorful metals derived from 17 extraordinarily hard-to-mine chemical elements – are a little-known part of all of our lives. They are crucial elements of mobile phones, flat screen televisions and more than 200 other consumer electronic devices that we use every day.

But these exotic elements are needed for more than just phones and televisions. Their lightweight properties, and unique magnetic attributes, are indispensable to military assets that use sonar, radar or guidance systems, lasers, electronic displays, and myriad other mechanisms.

The vast majority of rare earths that countries need to protect themselves are produced by one country: The People’s Republic of China. And it does not appear that the situation will change in the near future. China has in recent years worked to monopolize the production of these elements as a strategic resource.

China has made rare earths available to countries around the world that need them, but that could abruptly change. Chinese state-controlled media has warned that sales of rare earths to the United States could be restricted as part of a new front in the ongoing trade war. Continue reading

Arctic Enterprise: The China Dream Goes North

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 9, September 2019

By Jonathan Hall

Arctic Ocean, ship on Barents Sea. Getty.

Until recent years, harsh weather and unmanageable navigation routes have precluded all but the most determined crews from venturing through the Arctic. As climate change continues to take effect, however, warming temperatures are opening up the region to new opportunities. In 2017, for example, merchant ships were able to pass through a shipping lane, known as the Northern Sea Route (NSR), for the first time without icebreaker escort.

The NSR has since been discussed as a logistical windfall that will revolutionize the world of international shipping. The often-cited reasoning is the potential 5,000 mi (8,000 km), or 10-15 days saved in transit, as compared to more traditionally used routes such as the Strait of Malacca, or the Suez Canal. While the NSR is only open three months per year, climatologists predict it will be traversable for 9 months out of the year by 2030, and completely ice free within the next two decades. As these changes are coming into effect, no state seems to understand the geopolitical advantage a strong presence in the Arctic will bring more so than the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Continue reading

What The Philippines Must Do To Defend Itself From China

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 9, September 2019

By Sannie Evan Malala

A Philippine flag flutters as the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) is seen anchored off Manila bay on June 26, 2018. – A US aircraft carrier visited the Philippines on June 26, the third such call in four months, as its admiral hailed America’s “enduring presence” in a region where China’s military build-up had raised tensions. Ted Aljibe / AFP / Getty Images.

The Philippines is strategically located in Southeast Asia, at the fault-line between Communist China and the democratic nations of the Americas and Europe. In the north is East Asia, full of wealthy market democracies in increasing conflict with China. To the southwest are countries seeking to defend their exclusive economic zones from China, including Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei. As China’s power grows, the fault-line is widening and trying to straddle the middle will only result in our falling into the chasm. The Philippines must choose a side – subservience to China or joining a coalition of the willing in defense of each country’s independence and democracy from the Chinese hegemon. The Philippines has yet to take advantage of its full potential and has become economically poor and militarily weak, primarily due to corruption, internal armed struggle, and its growing relationship with China. For the Philippines to avoid being a satellite of China, this is what we must do. Continue reading

The China Dream Collides with Reality

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 9, September 2019

By Douglas Black, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

Hong Kong, September 2019. Photo: Douglas Black.

Carrie Lam has been allowed to withdraw Hong Kong’s maligned extradition bill after three months of continuing protests, but the situation continues to escalate. Protesting children are being taken from their families. There are allegations that protesters may have been killed by police and subsequently covered up. Both Beijing and the millions who live in the semi-autonomous territory are in need of real solutions, yet any solution to the current gridlock must include a serious look at the remaining demands represented by the protesters: remove Carrie Lam from her position, meaningfully investigate police misconduct, release activists and others in police custody, and safeguard Hong Kong’s nascent democracy.

Rather than the de-escalation Beijing intended by allowing the bill’s withdrawal, the situation is now made more precarious through two factors: (1) extreme pressure on Xi Jinping from both within the Party and beyond to quell the unrest before the PRC’s national day on October 1 and (2) a fundamental schism between the way the Party and many in the Chinese state see reality through their “China Dream” and the reality of the lives of millions of Hongkongers.

In essence, Beijing has backed themselves into a corner, but their worldview denies them visibility of the right solutions. Continue reading

Nasif Ahmed: Hong Kong Independence

“Hong Kong Independence”, by Nasif Ahmed.

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