Meaningless Medals: Infantry in Afghanistan

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 8, No. 1, January 2019 

By Heath B. Hansen

Circa January 2006, during a mission on the way back to Gardez, Afghanistan. An IED was planted in the road on the K-G Pass (Khost-Gardez). The author, SPC Heath B. Hansen, is in the turret of the humvee, behind an M-240B machine gun. In the background, 1st Platoon, C company, 2/504 PIR, 82nd Airborne inspects the site of the IED explosion from moments prior.

March 2006. My tour was over. I had survived. No more fire-fights. No more IED’s. No more raids. No more rocket-attacks. I was going home. Many servicemen spend time in-country without ever leaving “the wire” (the safety of the walls, fortifications  and/or razor-wire of their base). As an infantryman, I basically lived outside the wire. Being shot at, getting hit by roadside bombs, capturing Taliban fighters, etc., was just part of the job. There was no special recognition, accolades or atta-boys conferred upon me. Infantrymen just do what is expected of them.

We had flown out of Bagram Air Base and landed a little over an hour later at Manas Air Base located in Northern Kyrgyzstan. Our plane touched down and we were escorted to large, white, “clamshell” tents, designed for units in transit. My squad found cots immediately next to each other and dropped our gear. It was official, we were no longer in Afghanistan. We had completed the first leg of our journey back to Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

I woke up to a dark tent the following morning. Small, ambient lights pierced the darkness from laptop computers on soldier’s cots randomly distributed throughout the clamshell. “Hansen, grab your weapon, we’re gonna get chow,” my team leader loudly whispered. “Roger that,” I replied. Even though we were no longer in a combat zone, we had to have our sensitive items (weapons, night-vision goggles, optics, etc.) with us at all times. I grabbed my gear and headed to the chow hall with my fire-team. I was hungry.

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Huawei and China: Not Just Business as Usual

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 8, No. 1, January 2019 

By Douglas Black

A man looks at his phone near a giant image of the Chinese national flag on the side of a building in Beijing, during the 19th Communist Party Congress on October 23, 2017. GREG BAKER/AFP/Getty Images

To the average consumer around the world, Huawei is likely thought of as a Chinese company that makes nice phones — a “Chinese Apple” of sorts. The average American consumer might associate the firm as one that makes nice phones but, for some vague, political reasons, is not trustworthy. As of early December, the average Canadian consumer might recognize Huawei as the company at the focus of some political gamesmanship between the US, Canada, and China. All of these lay-interpretations are indeed valid, but there is a great deal more going on than revealed by a cursory glance. This article is intended as a brief explainer of Huawei’s history and current market position, the importance of the company to the ruling Communist Party and their strategic goals, and the far-reaching implications of the outcome of the arrest of Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou.

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Senate Undermines America as an Alliance Partner: The Resolution to Ban US Military Assistance in Yemen

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

By William R. Hawkins

Tribal gunmen loyal to the Huthi movement brandish their weapons on March 26, 2015 during a gathering in Sanaa to show support to the Shiite Huthi militia and against the Saudi-led intervention in the country. Warplanes from a Saudi-led Arab coalition bombed Huthi rebels in support of Yemen’s embattled president, as regional rival Iran warned the intervention was a “dangerous” move. Credit: MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images

Those who pushed the U.S. Senate to adopt Senate Joint Resolution 54 (S.J.Res.54), “A joint resolution to direct the removal of United States Armed Forces from hostilities in the Republic of Yemen that have not been authorized by Congress” in mid-December sought to avoid any mention of the strategic importance of Yemen, the nature of the civil war that has been raging there, or the support Iran has been giving the Shia Houthi rebels who started the conflict. Instead, the resolution aimed only at the U.S.-Saudi alliance and the Saudi-led coalition that is fighting to defend the internationally recognized Yemen government. No American combat units are involved in the Yemen conflict. The U.S. has been providing intelligence and logistical support to give a critical edge to the coalition forces that are doing the actual fighting.

The supposed purpose of the resolution was to “punish” Riyadh over the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi activist working to topple the regime. He is commonly called a “journalist” but was actually only a writer of opinion pieces published by The Washington Post and other liberal outlets. His views were not compatible with American interests in the Middle East as I outlined in the October 20 issue of this journal.

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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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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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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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China’s Targeting of Overseas Chinese for Intelligence, Influence and Drug Trafficking

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

By Anders Corr, Ph.D.

Davao City Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte (L), son of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, and the president’s son-in-law, Manases Carpio (R), take an oath as they attend a senate hearing in Manila on September 7, 2017.
Paolo Duterte and the president’s son-in-law, Manases Carpio, appeared before the inquiry to deny as “baseless” and “hearsay” allegations linking them to large-scale illegal drugs smuggling. NOEL CELIS/AFP/Getty Images

On June 12, Philippine protesters staged coordinated protests against China in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Vancouver. Protest organizer Ago Pedalizo said, “Duterte’s government pursues the ‘sell, sell, sell’ approach to sovereignty as a trade-off to all kickbacks he’ll get from the ‘build, build, build’ economic push of China.” His protest group, Filipino American Human Rights Advocates (FAHRA), charged that “Duterte is beholden to the $15-billion loan with monstrous interest rate and China’s investments in Boracay and Marawi, at the expense of Philippine sovereignty. This is not to mention that China remains to be the premier supplier of illegal drugs to the country through traders that include the son, Paolo Duterte, with his P6 billion shabu [methamphetamine] shipment to Davao.” 

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