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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Nuclear Deterrence and Four Types of Force: Definitive, Coercive, Catalytic, and Expressive

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 5, No. 6, June 2017

By Captain Robert C. Rubel USN (Ret)

North Korea’s drive to attain a nuclear warfare capability is currently on the front burner in the Pentagon, and is a driver of tensions in East Asia. This has precipitated plenty of dialogue in the national security community, including on the issue of extended deterrence, the policy of the US that threatens nuclear response if an ally is attacked with nuclear weapons. One input from a former colleague at the Naval War College was the final catalyst that got me tapping on the keys. First, he quoted one of his scholars as saying that the real question concerning nuclear weapons “… is whether strategic nuclear forces have any genuine relevance today in the context of deterrence and warfighting, or whether they’re troublesome legacy weapons of a bygone era.” In a subsequent email he said that he was “interested in deterrence stopping all wars, not just nuclear.” It may be that the general umbrella of nuclear deterrence did suppress some wars that might have otherwise taken place during the decades after 1945, but it is almost impossible to know. However, my colleague’s faith in the utility of the manifold uses of deterrence is not that distant from those who advocate tailored deterrence, which is a scaled or graduated deterrence structure that includes the option of preemptive strikes.[1] Tailored deterrence to some extent reflects the logic behind the DoD concept of flexible deterrent options (FDO), which are defined as “…a wide range of interrelated responses that begin with deterrent oriented actions carefully tailored to produce a desired effect.”[2] In my view, such policies would incur considerable risk, as they ascribe, in an a priori manner, effects on an opponent’s political decision making and strategic planning processes in lieu of any specific intelligence (frequently) and certainly without any historical track record, especially in the nuclear arena. In this short article I will discuss a different way to analyze deterrence and gain insight into the thought processes of my colleague.

File photo taken in October 2015 in Pyongyang is of a North Korean intermediate-range ballistic missile on display during a military parade. Photo by Kyodo News via Getty Images

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Death of Celebrated Conductor Yan Liangkun Marks End of Era in China

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 5, No. 6, June 2017

By Arthur Waldron, Ph.D.

Yan Liangkun, last of the legendary conductors of The Yellow River Cantata (1939) the powerful classic composed by Xian Xinghai in wartime, is dead. With him dies a precious and authentic Chinese revolutionary tradition, that of those who once truly believed. Our house echoed with the music all morning. It filled with tears the eyes of me, a simple white boy from the Boston suburbs, still unable to distinguish the five grains, and prompting all sorts of reflections.

We are drawing very near to the end of an era, when people are still alive who remember the radiant vision of the New China that would arise, somehow from the good land and rivers themselves, of war ravaged China (Rana Mitter tells us 20 million dead). In their imaginations that vision still lives, under the layers of tragedy, personal suffering and disappointment, as what guided them and consumed their spirits when they were young and has never died.  Somehow we must capture this, for these were sincere people, whose love of country was simple and absolutely authentic (though few ever carried a gun: that was for the lower orders).

Shanghai, China. Xian Xinghai at about 23 years old in the 1920s. He composed the Yellow River Cantata, a classical work that uses a series of powerful Chinese melodies to evoke the beauty of China and the heroism of the war of resistance against Japan (1937-1945). Source: People’s Republic of China

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Scare of War with China in the Philippines:  Its Source and Implications to the Allied Nations

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 5, No. 5, May 2017

By Sannie Evan Malala

Sannie Evan Malala is a small farmer in the Philippines.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte revealed on Friday, May 19, that Chinese President Xi Jinping had threatened war if the Philippines forced its claims in the South China Sea.  Duterte and Xi had a restricted meeting last May 15 during the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing.  There Duterte expressed his plan to drill oil in the South China Sea, as he claimed.  And he said the response was “we’re friends, we don’t want to quarrel with you, we want to maintain the presence of warm relationship, but if you force the issue, we’ll go to war.”  (I think I’m familiar with this pulling of words.) This is clear lawlessness.

Rice fields on Palawan

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Two Decades of Asian Cooperation and Alliance Building, Followed by Retreat

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 5, No. 4, April 2017

By David Wolfe

The recent controversy regarding the location of the Carl Vinson Strike Group is analogous to current US Policy in Asia, rather than just another confusing announcement by the Trump Administration. The dysfunctional appearance is emblematic of a newly adopted regional retreat in many ways by the Trump Administration, and ceding territory throughout the region to Chinese aggression and hegemonic dominance.  The time period between the announcements of the US-India Nuclear Agreement back in 2006, right up to the recent withdrawal of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), saw the United States’ Asian Policy focus towards consensus building, greater regional economic integration and an expansion of security partnerships.  However, given the recent withdrawal from TPP, the Trump Administration is reversing course from those alliances established to counter the hegemonic ambitions by the Chinese to one in stark contradiction of that policy overnight.  The United States’ proposed interests, strategic alliances and most importantly, a check to Chinese expansion throughout the region of South, Southeast and Northeast Asia, is now in jeopardy, and no one is more appreciative of this shift than China.  Unfortunately, given the short-term memory in today’s oversaturated news culture, most are either unaware or have forgotten the long-term strategic goals the US has sought to pursue, and how that is now setting up a dangerous scenario for regional allies.

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Critical Comments On ‘US Policy Toward China: Recommendations For A New Administration’

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 5, No. 2, February 2017

By James E. Fanell

Below are the critical comments I provided to Dr. Orville Schell, the co-chair of the recent Asia Society and University of California, San Diego report US POLICY TOWARD CHINA: RECOMMENDATIONS FOR A NEW ADMINISTRATION. While there are sections of the work that I agree with, I still fundamentally disagree with the overall foundation of the document’s recommendations which I believe are designed to sustain the past 40 year of a policy that promotes unconstrained “engagement” with the PRC.  As such, I’ve gone through the entire document and extracted several statements and paragraphs that I disagree with and a few that I agree with.  While I will provide comments for each specific reference issue, I can summarize my dissent of the report in the following major themes:

1.  Unconstrained Engagement.  Engagement with China is asserted to be the primary goal of US relations with China without providing evidence for that assertion.  Or worse, suggesting things are actually going well, contrary to all objective evidence.

2.  “The Relationship” is the #1 Priorty.  “The relationship” is prioritized as being equal to or more important than U.S national security.  There is no clear articulation that U.S. National security should be the #1 national security priority for the US and that our relationship with China should be judged through that lens, not through the lens of sustaining “the relationship” at all costs.

3.  Do Not Provoke.  America should not “provoke” China, but again, there is no evidence to support why this position will benefit U.S. national security interests.

4.  Dissent Not Welcome.  While I appreciate inclusion of Ambassador Lord’s dissenting opinion on North Korea, clearly the study did not value, or include, dissenting opinions, especially in the Asia-Pacific Regional Security and Maritime Dispute sections.

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