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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Wall Street Elites Against Democracy? A Case Study in Pro-China Media Bias

Press Reaction to the November 2018 speech by Dr. Peter Navarro, Director of the White House Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy, was biased in a negative direction.

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

By Anders Corr, Ph.D.

U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks before signing ‘Section 232 Proclamations’ on steel and aluminum imports with (2nd L-R) Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and White House National Trade Council Director Peter Navarro in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on March 8, 2018 in Washington, DC. Trump signed proclamations that imposed a 25-percent tarriff on imported steel and a 10-percent tarriff on imported alumninum. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Dr. Peter Navarro, Director of the White House Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy, gave a speech on November 9 at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C. The title of the speech was “Economic Security as National Security”, which Dr. Navarro, a Harvard-educated economist, argues is the maxim of the Trump Administration. After the speech, Dr. Navarro was attacked in the media, but not about his main points. The negative, and one might argue biased, coverage came from the Wall Street Journal, CNBC, the Atlantic, and Director of the National Economic Council, Larry Kudlow, among others. The negative response centered on Dr. Navarro’s controversial claim that Wall Street elites have undue influence on U.S. policy having to do with China.  Tempers were likely frayed at the time due to planning, negotiations and internal maneuvering in advance of a high stakes late November meeting then being planned between Presidents Trump and Xi Jinping at the G-20 meeting in Argentina. Worries were high that lack of progress on at least the outline of an agreement at the meeting could lead to deepening tariffs between the countries, and fears in the financial sector of falling stock markets or even a recession. But the bias and infighting of the attacks were unbecoming of these media outlets, and of Mr. Kudlow, the Director of the National Economic Council.

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How China Interferes in U.S. Elections

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

By Anders Corr, Ph.D.

US President Donald Trump flanked by Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao and Stephen A. Schwarzman, Chairman, CEO and Co-Founder of Blackstone. Mr. Trump speaks during a strategic and policy discussion with CEOs in the State Department Library in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building (EEOB) on April 11, 2017 in Washington, DC. Mr. Schwarzman and the Chao family are influential with Mr. Trump, and have extensive business interests in China. Credit: Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images.

China is powerfully influencing U.S. elections, as President Donald Trump alleged, but one will not necessarily find a Chinese intelligence agent stuffing ballot boxes in the local City Hall, or tampering with a voting booth. Facebook and Twitter claim they found no coordinated messages from the Chinese government. Bloomberg news and three digital security firms all claimed they found no evidence of digital or web-based misinformation campaigns. They apparently don’t count China’s ongoing anti-Trump propaganda, available through state-run media like China Daily and radio stations in the U.S. Nor do they count a new China-linked propaganda film advertised on Facebook, called “Better Angels“.

Plus, China’s immense wealth gives it more sophisticated and effective means to influence the general public, districts that voted for Republicans, the candidates themselves, the businesses that fund candidate elections, the universities and think tanks that hire politicians after they leave office, and the news media that voters will rely upon to choose their representatives on November 6, 2018. That is a far more powerful set of tools than anything the Russians used in 2016.

Vice President Mike Pence had it right when he said, “There can be no doubt: China is meddling in America’s democracy.” He said that Beijing was involved in “an unprecedented effort to influence American public opinion, the 2018 elections, and the environment leading into the 2020 presidential elections.”

Perhaps the most powerful influence that China wields over the U.S. public is the leverage that its $8.59 billion in box office sales provides to its “Propaganda Department” in Hollywood. American movie producers and directors actively self-censor in order not to alienate Chinese censors who could cut millions of dollars of ticket sales by denying access to the Chinese market. This leads Russians or terrorists to be the main villains in most Hollywood films, rather than China. Perhaps in part for this reason, 53% of Americans view China favorably according to a February 2018 poll, despite China’s human rights abuse at home, and ongoing economic and military transgression against the U.S. and our allies. That latent pro-China sentiment will make elections more difficult for Mr. Trump and the Republicans on November 6. This is China’s growing soft power, and is only infrequently commented upon in the media.

China’s sharper power to interfere with elections was demonstrated by the country’s recent attempt to use targeted tariffs to cause economic pain in districts that voted for Trump in 2016. In two rounds of tariffs, including over the summer, China hurt states and congressional districts that voted for Trump and other influential Republicans with $110 billion of targeted tariffs, focusing on commodities like soybeans, sorghum and pork that are overwhelmingly produced in rural pro-Trump districts. China also hit whisky, produced in Kentucky, and cranberries, produced in Wisconsin. Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell represents Kentucky, and House Speaker Paul Ryan represents Wisconsin. “Mapping the counties that voted for Mr. Trump in 2016 and those affected by China’s tariffs shows the extent to which Trump voters’ jobs rely on the products being targeted,” according to the New York Times. “Beijing hopes it can convince those voters — and their elected representatives — that the president’s trade war could hurt them.” China’s counter-tariffs threaten more than double the jobs in districts Trump won in 2016, compared with those that Clinton won.

But China has many other ways to influence voter opinions in the U.S., and thereby interfere with how voters vote. China also does an end-run around voters by influencing the political choices provided at the voting booth, in that most politicians of both parties are influenced to be soft on China by an environment conditioned by Chinese money and giveaways, including to U.S. students, the media, professors, congressmen, businessmen, and even U.S. military officers.

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Khashoggi was Not a Friend of America

It would be ironic if his death led the U.S. to take actions harmful to itself

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

By William R. Hawkins


Iran’s Navy Commander Admiral Habibollah Sayari points at a map during a press conference in Tehran on December 22, 2010, as saying that Iran will launch 10 days of naval drills from December 24, covering east of the Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf of Oman to the Gulf of Aden. Credit: Hamed Jafarnejad/AFP/Getty Images.

Returning from his trip to Saudi Arabia and Turkey, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told President Donald Trump on Thursday that the Saudi Arabian government needs s “a few more days” to investigate the fate of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi writer and activist who disappeared on October 4 while visiting a Saudi consulate in Turkey. It has been alleged that Khashoggi was murdered by Saudi agents because of his criticism of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the young reform-minded de facto leader of the country.  Pompeo told the press, “We made clear to them that we take this matter very seriously.” As a sign of this, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin withdrew from an investment conference in Riyadh and President Donald Trump threatened “severe consequences” if Khashoggi’s murder was state sponsored. Yet, Pompeo also reminded his audience, “We have a have a long strategic relationship with Saudi Arabia. We need to be mindful of that.” And well we should, as it provides the larger strategic context in which the fate of Khashoggi must be placed.

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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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Sanction Hong Kong, For Its Own Sake

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

Silhouette of man standing on top of mountain with reflection of urban cityscape. Source: Getty Images.

By Ho-fung Hung, Ph.D.

The decision of the Hong Kong government to expel Financial Times Asia editor Victor Mallet from Hong Kong has already provoked widespread concern about freedom of speech and autonomy of Hong Kong in the international community. Mr. Mallet broke no law, and the Hong Kong government’s decision is obviously based on his role as moderator of an August 14 talk by pro-independence activist Andy Chan at the Foreign Correspondents Club. This unprecedented expulsion of a foreign journalist takes Hong Kong a big step closer to the status quo in mainland China.

The UK Foreign Office, US Consulate in Hong Kong, European Union, and American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, all issued statements criticizing the decision of the Hong Kong government. In particular, AmCham president Tara Joseph pertinently links the case to the concern about Hong Kong’s continuous viability as a financial center, saying that, “The rejection of a renewal of work visa for FT correspondent Victor Mallet sends a worrying signal. Without a free press, capital markets cannot properly function, and business and trade cannot be reliably conducted.”

Beijing has long said that Hong Kong is no longer important to China economically, because China’s GDP has been roaring ahead over the last two decades since Hong Kong’s sovereignty handover. But in fact, Hong Kong’s special status as an autonomous economy separate from mainland China is still serving China very well.

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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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How to Block China at the WTO: Use GATT Articles XX-XXI

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 9, September 2018 

By William R. Hawkins

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Liaoning aircraft carrier, bottom, sails past a container ship in Hong Kong, China, on Friday, July 7, 2017. Photographer: Justin Chin/Bloomberg via Getty Images.

The Ministry of Commerce of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has announced it will file a complaint with the World Trade Organization (WTO) against the U.S. imposition of 25% tariffs on $16 billion worth of Chinese goods in August. This was the second tranche of tariffs imposed by President Donald Trump as the result of the U.S. Trade Representative’s (USTR) “findings of its exhaustive Section 301 investigation that found China’s acts, policies and practices related to technology transfer, intellectual property and innovation are unreasonable and discriminatory and burden U.S. commerce.” This second tranche brought the total of Chinese imports subject to higher duties to $50 billion, as announced in June. Beijing’s response was given by the state-owned People’s Daily: “By launching the complaint under the WTO dispute settlement mechanism, China is to safeguard free trade and multilateral mechanisms as well as its legitimate rights and interests.”

The USTR report on China’s use of government regulations to force joint ventures (which give majority control to Chinese “partners” of American firms); mandate technology transfers, facilitate “the systematic investment in, and acquisition of, U.S. companies and assets to generate large-scale technology transfer…[and] support cyber intrusions into U.S. commercial computer networks” is not a description of free trade.

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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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