Incurring Strategic Risk in the East Asian Littoral: On What Basis?

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 12, December 2018 

By Captain Robert C. Rubel USN (Ret)

The South China Sea (C) is seen on a globe for sale at a bookstore in Beijing on June 15, 2016. China claims nearly all of the South China Sea — a vast tract of water through which a huge chunk of global shipping passes. The Philippines, Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam have competing claims to parts of the sea, which is believed to harbour significant oil and gas deposits. (Photo credit: GREG BAKER/AFP/Getty Images)

Recently, two US Navy ships conducted a transit of the Taiwan Straits in an exercise of freedom of navigation.  Right now, US naval forces can conduct freedom of navigation exercises throughout most of the East Asian littoral, including the South China Sea (SCS) without serious fear that they will provoke open hostilities with the Peoples Republic of China (PRC), but as the PRC builds up its forces and gains more confidence, such an escalation may become a distinct possibility.  China started building up its “islands” in 2014, and at the time the US did nothing to stop it.  The Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled in the Philippines’ favor in 2015 over the status of Scarborough Shoal and other SCS features, but China ignored the ruling and the US did nothing to enforce the ruling.  Now Beijing has its “great wall of SAMs” there and it will likely take war to change things.  If China decides in the future to threaten or use force to enforce its claims to the entirety of the SCS as sovereign territory, there will be considerable finger-pointing in Washington concerning “who lost the South China Sea.” US inaction concerning the buildup could be attributed to misdiagnosis of Chinese intent or even a desire to accommodate what was seen as strategically harmless initiatives; however one potential explanation that has implications for future decision making is that the Obama Administration did not feel it had the backing of the international community and more specifically the support of regional countries to take action that would risk war.

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Japan Forgetting: A Syndrome Afflicting U.S. Foreign Policy

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 10, October 2018 

By Arthur Waldron, Ph.D.

JAKARTA, INDONESIA SEPTEMBER 18: The silhouette of two Indonesian Navy personnel guards the JS Suzutsuki 117 docked at Tanjung Priok port, Jakarta, Indonesia on September 18 2018. The arrival of three Japanese Navy warships, including JS Jaga 184, JS Suzutsuki 117 and JS Inazuma 105 along with 800 soldiers, aims to strengthen diplomatic ties on the 60 years anniversary of the two countries relations. (Photo by Eko Siswono Toyudho/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Hearing an analyst say recently that we must come to terms with China, led me to spit out my coffee and ask myself, more importantly, “What about Japan?”

Forgetting about Japan, or what might be called “Japan forgetting”, is a besetting failure of American foreign policy. It has been since the early years of the last century, most notably after 1922 when the Anglo-Japanese alliance, a source of stability comparable to the 1887 Reinsurance Treaty of Bismarck and Wilhelm I. In 1890 when Wilhelm II refused to renew the treaty, leading in part to World War I.

The end of the Anglo-Japanese alliance came with the Washington Conference of 1921-22. If you are serious about understanding China, read the “Conference on the Limitation of Armaments”, which was published by the U.S. Government, half in English and half in schoolboy French, so it is not as formidable as it appears. It is the indispensable starting point.

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Remove Duterte And Modernize The Armed Forces Philippines

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 10, October 2018 

By an Anonymous Filipino

Troops pledge their allegiance to the Philippine government and constitution during a prayer rally in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City suburban Manila on May 3, 2010. Photo: Jay Directo/AFP/Getty Images.

This is a critical time for the Philippines, in terms of economics, politics, and national defense. Immediately at the start of President Rodrigo Duterte’s term the congress was already submissive to him. There were just a few dissenting Senators. But Duterte is taking them down one by one, especially the opposition stalwarts. Senator Leila de Lima was accused of a sham case, conspiracy to commit illegal drug trading (1), and is now in prison. Senator Antonio Trillanes is having his amnesty revoked [2]. Duterte is under criminal investigation, breaking the Constitution, running the Philippines into the ground, and gradually giving our sovereignty away to China. The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is slowly losing its allies and competitive edge against China, the Philippines’ biggest threat. Duterte should immediately be removed, and the AFP should seek the help from its traditional allies to quickly modernize.

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Forty Dollars and a Trip to Paradise

The First Green on Blue Attack of Operation Enduring Freedom, Afghanistan

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 8, August 2018 

by Heath B. Hansen

PFC Michael Sall in the only guard tower that existed on FOB Zurmat at the time of the green-on-blue attack. Pictured is an M-240B machine gun. PFC Sall was in the tower on November 9, 2005 during the attack but did not use this weapon, oriented away from the base, to shoot the attacker. He instead made a split second decision to use his smaller M-4 rifle to shoot from the other side of the tower, down and into the base at the ANA soldier. Paktia Province, Afghanistan, 2005. Photographer: Heath Hansen.

We entered the base between the HESCO barriers covered in concertina razor-wire, unprepared for a betrayal from one of our supposed allies. On November 9, 2005, as the convoy snaked its way into the safety of the base walls, I could see Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers watching us from the perimeter. They didn’t wave; they didn’t smile; they just stared. Since the United States invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, there had never been an instance of an Afghan soldier attacking Americans, known as a “green-on-blue attack.” But somehow I instinctively had little trust for them. We parked the Humvees and unloaded our equipment. I took off my helmet and body-armor, and set my weapon beside me.

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China’s Military Visits Endanger Philippine Sovereignty and Democratic Alliances

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 7, July 2018 

By Anders Corr, Ph.D.

JIANGANAN SHIPYARD, SHANGHAI, CHINA-JANUARY 4, 2012: This December 25, 2012, image shows a probable PLAN Type 052D (DDGHM) destroyer tied up alongside the Yuan Wang 5 (YW-5) space tracking ship, which is docked in the shipyard’s construction basin. The YW-5 is similar to the YW-3 in size and function, including military applications. DigitalGlobe via Getty Images

On the night of July 16, four days after the second anniversary of the July 12 Permanent Court of Arbitration win by the Philippines against China in the Hague, a Chinese missile tracking ship with 远望 Yuan Wang 3 (YW-3) emblazoned on the side, eased up to Sasa Wharf in Davao, Philippines. Davao is the home turf of President Rodrigo Duterte, now in Malacañang Palace, and the ship was likely visiting at his personal invitation. The Chinese characters for Yuan Wang (远望) mean “gazing into the distance”, and are sometimes translated as “long view”.

Last month, two People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) Ilyushin-76 (IL-76) military cargo planes visited Davao. They were called a “personal favor” by President Duterte to China, and surprised the Philippine military. The visits were not covered by treaty.

Only the U.S. and Australia have visiting forces agreements that allow, and legally constrain, U.S. and Australian military presence. China has no such public constraints, and for that reason as well as others detailed below, poses a risk to Philippine sovereignty. Last year, Davao also hosted a People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) guided missile destroyer, guided missile frigate, and replenishment ship.

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Tackling the South China Sea Together: British and French Navies Chart a Course

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 6, June 2018 

By Peter M. Solomon

At a September 2015, joint press conference at the White House, China’s President Xi Jinping stood beside U.S. President Barack Obama and said, “China does not intend to pursue militarization” with respect to “construction activities that China are undertaking” on the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.[1] Since then, China has established several offensive capabilities in the region, including surface-to-air and anti-ship missile systems on three features in the Spratly Islands and the ability to deploy strategic bombers from the Paracel Islands.[2]  In comparison to the United States, which has been a consistent critic of China’s reclamation and militarization and has embarked on numerous freedom of maritime navigation exercises in the region, the European Union (EU) has historically been reserved in its comments regarding China’s activities in the South China Sea. Instead, the EU has limited itself to general comments about the importance of maintaining freedom of the seas and resolving disputes peacefully. While these statements are not without importance, the lack of a more critical, unified EU approach to China’s destabilizing activities has left missing a crucial voice. The tides could soon turn.

Embed from Getty Images

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Hearts and Minds in Afghanistan

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 6, No. 5, May 2018

By Heath B. Hansen

I opened my eyes. It was still dark, but I could see the night was ending and another day in some village in Afghanistan was beginning. The smell of dip-spit and cigarette smoke betrayed the fact that the platoon was awake and breaking down the patrol base. “Get the f*** up, Hansen,” was the greeting from my team leader. “Get your s*** on the humvee, we’re leaving in a few mikes.” “Roger, Sergeant,” I replied. It was May 31 2005, and time to win over more hearts and minds in the War on Terror.

A cropped photo of Jason Pegg’s bloodied arm following his and the author’s hearts and minds campaign in an Afghan village on May 31, 2005. Source: Facebook.

We listened to the convoy brief. The platoon would be heading to another village, in the middle of nowhere, to help villagers that probably had no idea why Americans were in their country and couldn’t care less about ‘democracy.’ The typical information was passed down about the scope and purpose of the mission followed by the monotone, repetitive, “Keep your heads on a swivel” and, “Make sure we have full, three-sixty security at all times. Remember your battle drills.”

The platoon set out. One by one, the humvees departed the patrol base and entered the dirt road into the village; the mission had officially begun. As we embarked, I noticed not a single villager was outside their mud-hut. Not a single person was in the fields. Not a single child was running alongside our vehicles, screaming, “You give me chocolate,” or “Amereekan, give me one dollar!” Of the dozens and dozens of villagers we had treated the day before during our MEDCAP [Medical Civic Action Program] operation, not a single one was outside to bid us farewell.

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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 $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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