After China’s Naval Modernization, It Seeks to Rewrite International Law and Exclude the U.S. from the South China Sea

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 6, No. 2, February 2018

By James E. Fanell (Capt., USN, Ret.)

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) Ministry of Defense representative reportedly stated at this week’s Munich Security Conference that the PRC now interprets the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) as stating that naval forces are forbidden to operate in a coastal state’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) without said state’s prior permission.

This raises the question of why Beijing has now come to this “enlightened” position? Where was the PRC since 1949 as US Navy warships peacefully sailed the waters of the South China Sea over the past 70 years? Or where was the PRC from 1972 to 1982 as China participated in the American-led effort to craft and ratify UNCLOS? More importantly, why did Beijing not complain of US Navy operations in the South China Sea in 1996 when the PRC ratified UNCLOS?

Why is the PRC now making this an issue? I think the answer is very easy to understand. After nearly 20 years of the most robust naval modernization since WW II, the PRC now believes they have a big enough and capable enough Navy and Maritime Law Enforcement force to back up their sovereignty claims to the entirety of the South China Sea.

People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) frigate formation sail during a live-fire drill on August 7, 2017. The live-fire drill took place in the Yellow Sea (aka Huangai Sea) and Bohai Sea. Credit: Pu Haiyang/VCG via Getty Images.

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China’s Compromise of Duterte, the Selling of Philippine Sovereignty, and Risk to Western Market Share in Southeast Asia

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 6, No. 2, February 2018

By Anders Corr, Ph.D.

In his visit to China in October 2016, President Duterte of the Philippines broke with the United States and all but pledged allegiance to China. In February 2018, he joked that China could make the Philippines into a Chinese province, “like Fujian.” This joke was made at an event for the Chinese Filipino Business Club Incorporated (CFBCI), members of which stand to benefit from closer China-Philippine ties. Ambassador from China to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua (趙鑒華) reportedly smiled at Duterte’s jokes. Duterte again brought up an unfounded fear of war with China, which serves to justify his negotiations with the country. Duterte’s actions are destabilizing the Philippines and regional stability, and could threaten the regional market share of western companies.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (L) and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands in Beijing on May 15, 2017, on the second day of the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation. Source: Kyodo News via Getty Images.

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China Grew Up, and Now? Utilitarianism, Democracy and A Moderating Role for the Holy See

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 6, No. 2, February 2018

By Francesco Sisci

In the past few months, stretching out no longer than a couple of years, an important controversy has mounted in America and the West, in which some argue that we foreigners were fools to believe we could change China. China in the past 40 years, since the U.S. started cooperating with her, taking her under wing, just fooled us and did what it always wanted – remained communist (thus anti-capitalistic) and with a value system different than ours (and thus against our value system). The Holy See, who has proven capable of striking deals in China and also holds a high moral ground in the West, may be able to find a middle way.

Red Guards of the China Foreign Affairs University make a vow with “from Chairman Mao” in hands in front of Tiananmen Rostrum in October, 1966 in Bejing, China. Red Guards were a mass paramilitary social movement of young people in the People’s Republic of China (PRC), who were mobilized by Mao Zedong in 1966 and 1967, during the Cultural Revolution. Source: VCG via Getty Images.

Chinese soldiers march with riot shields outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, after the introduction of the Communist Party of China’s Politburo Standing Committee, the nation’s top decision-making body, on October 25, 2017. China unveiled its new ruling council with President Xi Jinping firmly at the helm after stamping his authority on the country by engraving his name on the Communist Party’s constitution. Source: GREG BAKER/AFP/Getty Images.

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China’s Sociopathy, and its Cowardly Watchers

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 6, No. 2, February 2018

WHAT’S WRONG WITH CHINA
By Paul Midler
227 pp. Wiley. $25.00

Paul Midler’s What’s Wrong With China doesn’t disappoint. Anecdotes, theories, and historical curiosities fall from its pages in answer to its titular question. Midler’s stories of caution are current, enjoyable, accessible, historically grounded, and witty. But the deeper importance of the book is that Midler, as a sharp and knowledgeable outsider to academic China studies, can criticize, revive, and develop theories in a way that staid academics would never dare. In a field careful about even mentioning sensitive topics like Taiwan, Tibet, and Xinjiang, Midler’s latest book is a bulldozer with bumper-stickers to offend almost anyone. Which is why it’s a great read. The field is being shaken up by President Trump’s tweets, President Xi’s disconnect with how his increasingly totalitarian government is perceived abroad, and now by Midler.

Guangdong, China, in 2011. Source: Paul Midler.

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China’s $60 Trillion Estimate Of Oil and Gas In The South China Sea: Strategic Implications

U.S. hydrocarbon estimates imply a maximum of $8 trillion worth of oil and gas in the region, explaining part of the strategic divergence of the two superpowers.

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 6, No. 1, January 2018

By Anders Corr, Ph.D.

China’s estimates of proved, probable and undiscovered oil and gas reserves in the South China Sea imply as much as 10 times the value of hydrocarbons compared with U.S. estimates, a differential that has likely contributed to destabilizing U.S. and Chinese interactions in the region. While China estimates a total of approximately 293 to 344 billion barrels of oil (BBL) and 30 to 72 trillion cubic meters (TCM) of natural gas, the U.S. only estimates 16 to 33 BBL and 7 to 14 TCM. Considering that the inflation-adjusted value of oil vacillated between approximately $50 and $100 per barrel (in 2017 prices) since the mid-1970s, U.S. estimates imply a hydrocarbon value in the South China Sea between $3 and $8 trillion, while Chinese estimates imply a value between $25 and $60 trillion. In addition to other factors, China’s greater dependence on oil imports and higher estimates of hydrocarbons in the South China Sea have driven it to invest more military resources in the region. An overly economistic approach by the Obama administration probably led the U.S. to allow China’s expansion in the South China Sea too easily.

Photo taken on June 13, 2015 shows the Xingwang deep-sea semi-submersible drilling platform at Liwan3-2 gasfield in the South China Sea. China’s largest offshore oil and gas producer CNOOC Ltd. announced on July 3, 2015 that its Xingwang deep-sea semi-submersible drilling platform started drilling at 1,300 meters underwater in Liwan 3-2 gas field in the South China Sea. Credit: Xinhua/Zhao Liang via Getty Images.

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China Swaggers, But Time Not On Its Side

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 6, No. 1, January 2018

By Arthur Waldron

I have some thoughts about the “year of doom” 2018 that appeared on the web yesterday. They are as follows:

(1) China has undertaken her dangerous policies for internal reasons. That is how China is. She has no pressing or other need for Scarborough Shoal in the Philippines EEZ, for example.

(2) We know (1) is true because Xi Jin Ping goes on an on about loyalty, reshuffles the army, creates the most boring flag raising ceremony in history, and was reported to get in a fight with a general about whether the army should be made national instead of party. Who after all is going to take a bullet for Xi? We need to get to the root of this domestic phenomenon, but how is an almost impossible question.

(3) China’s tactics have sought to win without fighting by overawing small countries (and not-so-small countries, like India and Indonesia) using their awesome military as no more than a threat and their awesome economy likewise. The problems are (a) even the Philippines is not overawed and China is very much on the wrong side of international law and (b) this is important: China overestimates her own achievements. Maoism was a cesspool. She has gotten out rinsed off, and started some large but financially dodgy corporations. Skyscrapers have sprouted and tilted.

Group of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers in China. Credit: Getty Images.

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China’s Strategic Pivot Towards the South Pacific Island Nation of Tonga

A Hybrid Intelligence Preparation of the Operational Environment (IPOE) Analytical Assessment

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 5, No. 12, December 2017

By Mark Anthony Taylor

The aim of this research is to critically examine the refocusing of Chinese aid, economic involvement and diplomatic attentions towards the small South Pacific island nation of Tonga.  The research seeks a deeper understanding of China’s behaviour towards Tonga and promotes a reevaluation of how the US and its allies should respond to China’s strategic calculus. China’s actions in Tonga, although appearing benign, represent a cloaked threat to Tonga’s independence, democracy and U.S. regional aspirations.  Furthermore, owing to the comparative strength of the Chinese economic and diplomatic approach, a competitive soft-power response from the US may prove inadequate. In consequence, it may be more advantageous for the US to pursue a heightened hard-power response to ameliorate any potential threat. Through undertaking an analysis of China’s fundamental motivations for the soft-power Tongan pivot and an exploration of the modus operandi employed by China to affect its strategic goals, the project will endeavour to provide a clear answer to the following research question: “Is this Chinese pivot towards Tonga merely an example of cheque-book economic diplomacy, or does it entail a cloaked malignant threat to the security and autonomy of the US and its allies?” Utilising a hybrid adaption of the Intelligence Preparation of the Operational Environment (IPOE) analytic method[1], this project will apply a structured framework in order to probe and reconceptualise the Chinese pivot towards Tonga in an effort to unravel the underlying motivations of China. In line with this approach, the project will firstly scrutinize the situational variables resident in each nation that comprises the terrain of the issue. The significant and unique political, military, economic, social, infrastructure and informational system factors (PMESII) that contribute to the rapid intensification of China/Tongan relations will be explored. From this point, the focus will be turned towards an analysis of the usefulness of the two polar theoretical explanations (liberal and realist) for the current Chinese Course of Action (COA) in Tonga. Lastly, a detailed investigation of the two key Centres of Gravity (COG’s) that underpin and impact upon the China/Tonga relationship will ensue, exploring the cultivation of pro-China sentiment in Tonga and the degree of the US pivot to the South Pacific. The project will draw from a diverse variety of academic publications, expert opinion pieces and news media sources. The analysis reveals that the Chinese strategic pivot into the nation of Tonga superficially appeared to be motivated by benign economic opportunism. However, engagement with Tonga was found to hold a minimal benefit to China in terms of resource supply or economic gain. The major strategic benefits that were found to accrue to China were through the potential securing of Tonga for the establishment of a forward operating military base in the South Pacific. Consequently, China’s pivot may be motivated by concealed Chinese hegemonic designs (the realist perspective) rather than by benign economic opportunism (the liberal perspective). This motivation was found to pose a significant security threat to the US-lead regional order.  Two significant COG’s are bolstering the effectiveness of China’s Tongan pivot. Firstly, China has successfully executed a “hearts and minds” program to facilitate the broad interweaving of pro-China sentiment into the psyche of Tongan society. Secondly, the absence of US attention towards soft-power regional engagement with Tonga has aided China’s pivot. In terms of an effective US response to China’s strategy in Tonga, a revised US soft-power push was assessed as constituting an ineffective strategy due to the resilient China-Tonga relationship that now exists and because of China’s deep aid pockets. Consequently, the evidence points towards the need for a revitalised US hard-power military presence in the region as the most viable option for dampening China’s future militaristic ambitions towards Tonga.

One pa’anga and two pa’anga banknote.
Tonga, Pacific. Credit: Getty Images.

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KORUS: Part of the Heart and Seoul of the US-South Korea Relationship

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 5, No. 11, November 2017

By Bhakti Mirchandani

South Korea has been an important US ally since 1953.  The alliance is multifaceted, ranging from US military presence in South Korea and coordination on the North Korea nuclear issue to cyber, and from energy to climate change.[1]  South Korea is also the US’s sixth-largest trading partner.[2] Despite the lasting strength of the alliance, the relationship between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and President Trump is fraying under the strain of the North Korean nuclear threat and of renegotiating the bilateral US-Korea free trade agreement (“KORUS “).  President Trump accused President Moon’s government of “appeasement” of North Korea,[3] but ultimately agreed not to attack North Korea without South Korea’s permission.[4]  Trump also threatened to terminate KORUS, which he described as a “horrible deal.”[5]  Beyond the relationship between the two leaders, the position of US Ambassador to South Korea has been vacant since President Trump took office, and South Korean protestors assembled with anti-war signs at an anti-Trump rally outside the US Embassy in Seoul during President Trump’s visit this past Tuesday.[6]

Tae Song Dong, South Korea. The flags of South Korea and the United Nations wave in the breeze. Source: Getty

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Invite Taiwan Navy To RIMPAC Exercise In Hawaii

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 5, No. 7, July 2017

By Anders Corr

In 1971, the U.S. started holding international naval exercises in Hawaii, and called them RIMPAC (Rim of the Pacific). We invited our closest allies to participate. Now, the U.S. Navy is inviting not only allies, but Russia and China as well. Since a brief thaw in the 1990s, Russia and China are increasingly acting as adversaries rather than responsible international partners to the U.S. Most recently, China seems to have helped rather than stopped North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. It is time to invite Taiwan, not China, to RIMPAC.

Aerial view of a navy fleet with five Chinese navy warships and two America navy warships which head to Hawaii for the 2016 Pacific Rim (RIMPAC) on June 25, 2016 in the western Pacific Ocean. A Chinese navy fleet, including five ships (the missile destroyer Xi’an, the missile frigate Hengshui, the supply ship Gaoyouhu, the hospital ship Peace Ark, the submarine rescue vessel Changdao), three helicopters, a marine squad and a diving squad with 1,200 officers and soldiers, set sail from Zhoushan to Hawaii to join the RIMPAC 2016 on June 15. It is the second time that Chinese navy has participated in RIMPAC, a multilateral naval exercises led by the USA and held every two years. (Photo by VCG)

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China Expert: I’m Drunk

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 5, No. 7, July 2017

By Anders Corr

The following conversation between myself and a drunk China expert, who published a well-reviewed book on China recently, covers a wide-ranging set of topics, including the hard-to-decipher policy intentions of the U.S. and China. The conversation, which occurred by email starting Friday night, April 21, is sometimes humorous, and may be politically incorrect to some. But it succinctly and candidly addresses critical themes of U.S.-China relations, and touches on the politics of China analysis in the U.S. and Europe.

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