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

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

Nasif Ahmed: Hong Kong Independence

“Hong Kong Independence”, by Nasif Ahmed.

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Defeating China: Five Strategies

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 7, July 2019

By Anders Corr

Fighter jets of the U.S. Navy Blue Angels demonstration squadron fly over the Lincoln Memorial during the Fourth of July Celebration ‘Salute to America’ event in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, July 4, 2019. Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Since 1989, when China massacred thousands of its own people in Tiananmen Square to stop a pro-democracy protest, the country has arguably grown into the world’s most powerful and centralized state. China’s GDP by purchasing power parity (PPP) is approximately $25.4 trillion, while the U.S. GDP PPP is only about $20.5 trillion.[1] One man, Chinese President Xi Jinping, has almost total control of China’s economy and a leadership position for life. U.S. President Donald Trump, however, has only partial control of the smaller (by purchasing power parity) U.S. economy, and must be reelected this year to continue his tenure for a maximum of an additional four years.

China’s accelerating economy has fueled its military spending, which increased approximately three-fold since 2008 to $177.5 billion in 2019,[2] not including substantial programs hidden from public sight. Military and political analysts estimate that in the South China Sea and environs, China’s military capabilities already match or exceed those of the United States in many respects, as does China’s diplomatic influence. This puts pressure on the U.S. military to withdraw from the region, claimed as territory by Beijing. Over the next 30 years, China’s global military capabilities could exceed those of the United States, which would make it difficult for the U.S. to pose a credible threat against China’s already ongoing territorial expansion.[3]

China’s actions are now indistinguishable from those that would serve a goal of China’s global rule in perpetuity. Hopes for engagement as a strategy to turn China into a democracy have now been dashed. Instead of us changing them, they are changing us through influence of our own political and economic leadership. There is a danger that as China ascends to the world’s most powerful nation, other nations will follow its lead through bandwagoning. The dual and increasing danger of bandwagoning and China’s influence means that a shift in strategy is needed.

Engagement should give way to a more aggressive strategy against China in order to defend freedom, democracy and human rights globally, and to incent allies and potential allies to declare themselves on the right side of the dispute before they enter the gravitational field of China’s economic influence.[4]

As argued below, this should include labeling China as not just a competitor, which would imply that all play by the same rules, but as an adversary or even an enemy. Strategies must be calibrated accordingly to defeat the country, and more specifically, its guiding organization, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

There are at least five interrelated and overlapping strategies required to defeat the CCP: 1) Defend, 2) Ally, 3) Contain, 4) Divide, and 5) Democratize. Many of these strategies are overlapping, and have been proposed previously by a range of authors, cited here. They are all underway to some extent in various countries, however they are not being implemented at the scale and intensity needed to win. That should change now, or we risk continued relative weakening against the enemy.

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Canada’s Conflict With China Can Be Solved With Joint Tariffs By Democratic Allies

(Front L-R) Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro, French President Emmanuel Macron, Indonesia President Joko Widodo, Chinese President Xi Jinping, US President Donald Trump, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Salman, Japan Prime Minister Shinxo Abe, Argentine President Mauricio Macri, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, South Korean President Moon Jae-in, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte, (Second row L-R) Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, Egypt President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison, British Prime Minister Theresa May, India Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, European Union President of the European Council Donald Tusk, Senegal President Macky Sall, Chile President Sebastian Pinera and Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and third row’s invited guests attend the family photo during the G20 Osaka Summit in Osaka on June 28, 2019. Photo by Ludovic MARIN / AFP / Getty

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 6, June 2019 

By Anders Corr

Canada is in an awkward dispute with China. On the one hand, it wants two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, released from detention, under conditions some would call torture. The lights are left on 24 hours a day, they cannot see loved ones, they undergo daily interrogations without legal counsel present, and they only get short visits from their consular officials once a month. On the other hand, Canada wants to comply with its extradition treaty with the U.S., which wants Meng Wanzhou for alleged lies to financial institutions in order to evade Iran sanctions. Perhaps more urgently, Canada wants to continue its lucrative trade with China. A solution is for other allied democracies, including in the U.S. and Europe, to use their substantial power to impose tariffs on China to help out their fellow democracy, Canada. Our neighbor to the north could do the same, in its own defense. Canadian tariffs against China, linked to demands for the release of Kovrig and Spavor, would likely get them freed overnight.

China is not too subtle about its demands. It wants Meng sent back safe and sound to China. Until then, apparently, the two Canadians will be detained and Canada will undergo increasing difficulty with its agricultural exports to China. All of Canada’s China problems will go away if it just signs on the line and releases her from home detention, according to China and its Canadian intermediaries.

The Kovrig-Spavor predicament is awkward for Canada because it is arguably a result of decades of democracies’ prioritization of trade over human rights issues. That includes Canada. Now that Canadian citizens have been targeted, Canada is wondering whether it is getting the same cold shoulder from its allies that it gave to human rights activists in the past.

The newly-found Canadian human rights concern for Kovrig and Spavor rings hollow after it largely ignored, for purposes of trade, the thousands killed by China at Tiananmen Square in 1989, and the 1-3 million Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims detained in reeducation camps. By not taking a stronger stand on all of China’s human rights abuse, but instead focusing on just the two Canadians of the millions harmed by China, Canada undermines its own moral authority, and with it, any advocacy for the human rights of the two Canadians.

Canada’s rule of law argument is unconvincing to the CCP. China sees its own authoritarian rule as preferable to the “chaotic democracy” of Canada and its allies. It sees human rights, including those of the two detained Canadians, as something that should be sacrificed for the greater good of China’s Communist Party rule, which is the type of meritocracy the world needs, according to the most sophisticated of Chinese propaganda. Continue reading

Who Set the Real Trap: Thucydides or Cobden?

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 4, April 2019

By William R. Hawkins

Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks as Chinese and foreign naval officials listen during an event to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy in Qingdao, in eastern China’s Shandong province on April 23, 2019. China celebrated the 70th anniversary of its navy by showing off its growing fleet in a sea parade featuring a brand new guided-missile destroyer. Mark Schiefelbein / POOL / AFP / Getty

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has been presenting the world with a number of recent events and declarations which appeasers in the West will undoubtedly use to reinforce the claim by Graham Allison that resisting China’s rise is no longer possible because “China has already passed the United States” in economic strength and military potential.

The People’s Liberation Army Navy celebrated its 70th anniversary with several provocative exercises (including around Taiwan) and a multinational naval review which featured new designs for surface warships and nuclear submarines, as well as China’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning (named for a province on the North Korean border). The PLAN has declared that the carrier has graduated from training and testing to a combat ship ready for action. Two more carriers are under construction. The one similar to the Liaoning is expected to enter service by year’s end. The second is much larger and will bring China’s capabilities to new levels. At the naval review, a new class of guided missile destroyer was unveiled. It is larger with more missile-launching cells than the U.S. Navy’s Burke-class destroyers which are the mainstay of our surface fleet. Showing his commitment to China’s naval expansion, President Xi Jinping donned a military uniform and sailed with the armada during the April 23 celebration.

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President Trump Has Authority to Rebuild American Industry: Use the Defense Production Act of 1950

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 3, March 2019

By William R. Hawkins

The USS Eisenhower at a dock to complete it’s overhaul, Newport News, Virginia. Ira Block/National Geographic/Getty Images

President Donald Trump’s trade reform campaign is not meant only to redress the massive deficit with the People’s Republic of China ($419 billion in goods last year, a net figure of how much American money is supporting jobs and production in China rather than at home). His policies have been rooted in national security concerns with a focus on the dangerous transfer of capital and technology that has empowered Beijing’s military buildup and aggressive behavior along the Pacific Rim and beyond. There is concern that the momentum of his efforts is slowing. He delayed elevating tariffs on Chinese goods from 10% to 25% on March 1st to give negotiations more time to reach a deal. But the PRC regime will never curb its pursuit of the wealth and capabilities it needs to replace the U.S. as the world’s preeminent power. It is a long-term economic contest between rivals for the highest of stakes imaginable.

President Trump and close advisors such as Peter Navarro, Director of the National Trade Council in the White House know this, but need to operate from a strong base. Congress cannot, however, add much to the campaign at present. It is so crippled by factions and sophistries as to have taken itself out of the game. But Congress has left a legacy from earlier, less anarchic times: the Defense Production Act. This core legislation, based on preserving the “Arsenal of Democracy” which won World War II, gives the President broad authority to revive, expand and maintain our domestic industrial base. The DPA was first enacted in 1950, but it is still alive and well, being reauthorized twice by President George W. Bush, amended in 2009 on a bipartisan basis, supported by a 2012 Executive Order issued by President Obama and reauthorized again in 2014.

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