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 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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