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.

Continue reading

Protectionism Won’t Work: Four Alternatives to Canceling Trade Agreements

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 5, No. 12, December 2017

By Bhakti Mirchandani

It’s time to create jobs for displaced manufacturing workers and bolster American competitiveness in four ways: (i) invest in growing fields and tradable economies that draw upon a region’s endemic old industrial skills; (ii) fight the opioid epidemic to avoid further declines in labor force participation; (iii) align universities and local manufacturers to ensure that workers are sufficiently skilled to participate in the local tradable economy; and (iv) encourage–and protect–R&D and entrepreneurship in manufacturing.

Embed from Getty Images

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

KORUS: Part of the Heart and Seoul of the US-South Korea Relationship

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 5, No. 11, November 2017

By Bhakti Mirchandani

South Korea has been an important US ally since 1953.  The alliance is multifaceted, ranging from US military presence in South Korea and coordination on the North Korea nuclear issue to cyber, and from energy to climate change.[1]  South Korea is also the US’s sixth-largest trading partner.[2] Despite the lasting strength of the alliance, the relationship between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and President Trump is fraying under the strain of the North Korean nuclear threat and of renegotiating the bilateral US-Korea free trade agreement (“KORUS “).  President Trump accused President Moon’s government of “appeasement” of North Korea,[3] but ultimately agreed not to attack North Korea without South Korea’s permission.[4]  Trump also threatened to terminate KORUS, which he described as a “horrible deal.”[5]  Beyond the relationship between the two leaders, the position of US Ambassador to South Korea has been vacant since President Trump took office, and South Korean protestors assembled with anti-war signs at an anti-Trump rally outside the US Embassy in Seoul during President Trump’s visit this past Tuesday.[6]

Tae Song Dong, South Korea. The flags of South Korea and the United Nations wave in the breeze. Source: Getty

Continue reading

Good Hombres (and Mujeres): Let’s Modernize NAFTA

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 5, No. 9, September 2017

By Bhakti Mirchandani

Mexico is the U.S.’s third largest trading partner[1] and second largest export destination.[2]    Trade representatives from the U.S., Canada, and Mexico said that they made progress in the second round of NAFTA renegotiations (September 1-5 in Mexico City),[3] with a third round scheduled for September 23-27 in Ottawa, Canada.[4]  President Trump’s August 22nd statement at a rally in Phoenix that the US would “probably end up terminating NAFTA at some point”[5] looms over this progress.  Instead, the administration should acknowledge that withdrawing from NAFTA is untenable.

Credit: Bhakti Mirchandani.

Continue reading

Civil Society and Its Resistance Under Authoritarian Regimes: The Arab Youth Climate Movement

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 5, No. 7, August 2017

By Lena G Deutsch

Download the report as a pdf by using the link in this heading, or, continue reading the full report below. Lena G Deutsch – Civil Liberties and Resistance Under Authoritarian Regimes

Authoritarian regimes function with consistency through the use of coercion, military force, government subsidies, spending, and the legacy of functioning under a rentier economy. Rentier states receive a large amount of their national revenues from renting natural resources to external clients (e.g. the Suez Canal, oil pipelines, uranium mining, etc). These external clients may be foreign governments or individuals. While these mechanisms of control are similar to each other, it must be emphasized that respective authoritarian regimes are not the same despite their similar frameworks. This holds true post Arab Spring, where regime responses to civilian rebellion in Libya, Yemen, and Bahrain, informed different models of regime responses to the uprisings.[1] I will follow the Arab Youth Climate Movement (AYCM) in Egypt, Qatar, and Jordan, to understand the ways environmental movements via Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) function under authoritarian regimes. This will be conducted by outlining the laws that restrict civil society from their civil liberties in each respective country, followed by the analysis of these restrictions in relation to the actions executed by the movement in each respective chapter.

Embed from Getty Images

Continue reading

Invite Taiwan Navy To RIMPAC Exercise In Hawaii

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 5, No. 7, July 2017

By Anders Corr

In 1971, the U.S. started holding international naval exercises in Hawaii, and called them RIMPAC (Rim of the Pacific). We invited our closest allies to participate. Now, the U.S. Navy is inviting not only allies, but Russia and China as well. Since a brief thaw in the 1990s, Russia and China are increasingly acting as adversaries rather than responsible international partners to the U.S. Most recently, China seems to have helped rather than stopped North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. It is time to invite Taiwan, not China, to RIMPAC.

Aerial view of a navy fleet with five Chinese navy warships and two America navy warships which head to Hawaii for the 2016 Pacific Rim (RIMPAC) on June 25, 2016 in the western Pacific Ocean. A Chinese navy fleet, including five ships (the missile destroyer Xi’an, the missile frigate Hengshui, the supply ship Gaoyouhu, the hospital ship Peace Ark, the submarine rescue vessel Changdao), three helicopters, a marine squad and a diving squad with 1,200 officers and soldiers, set sail from Zhoushan to Hawaii to join the RIMPAC 2016 on June 15. It is the second time that Chinese navy has participated in RIMPAC, a multilateral naval exercises led by the USA and held every two years. (Photo by VCG)

Continue reading

Gulf Geopolitics Casts Shadow Over Somalia

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 5, No. 7, July 2017

By Haroon Mohamoud

Tribal infighting—of which the recent Gulf blockade on Qatar is merely a modern manifestation—is nothing new to the Arabian Peninsula. Feuding among the Al Sauds, Al Thanis, Al Khalifas, Al Sabahs and a handful of other royal families—who rule Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait and the emirates of the UAE—is almost as old as their respective genealogies (1).

In the early twentieth century, the discovery of the world’s largest oil reserves in the region brought a gradual end to scarcity, thereby removing the fuel for much of this turbulence among warring factions. And just as petrodollars financed the modernisation of the barren deserts particularly with ever higher glass towers, it has also created powerful regimes in the region that seek to enhance their geopolitical clout.

One particular arena where this export of influence is acute is in the Horn of Africa (2). Prized for its strategic position for centuries, it is fast becoming a stage where the Gulf blockade is being played out (3). The process could well be drawn out, its results long-lasting.

Continue reading

Death of Celebrated Conductor Yan Liangkun Marks End of Era in China

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 5, No. 6, June 2017

By Arthur Waldron, Ph.D.

Yan Liangkun, last of the legendary conductors of The Yellow River Cantata (1939) the powerful classic composed by Xian Xinghai in wartime, is dead. With him dies a precious and authentic Chinese revolutionary tradition, that of those who once truly believed. Our house echoed with the music all morning. It filled with tears the eyes of me, a simple white boy from the Boston suburbs, still unable to distinguish the five grains, and prompting all sorts of reflections.

We are drawing very near to the end of an era, when people are still alive who remember the radiant vision of the New China that would arise, somehow from the good land and rivers themselves, of war ravaged China (Rana Mitter tells us 20 million dead). In their imaginations that vision still lives, under the layers of tragedy, personal suffering and disappointment, as what guided them and consumed their spirits when they were young and has never died.  Somehow we must capture this, for these were sincere people, whose love of country was simple and absolutely authentic (though few ever carried a gun: that was for the lower orders).

Shanghai, China. Xian Xinghai at about 23 years old in the 1920s. He composed the Yellow River Cantata, a classical work that uses a series of powerful Chinese melodies to evoke the beauty of China and the heroism of the war of resistance against Japan (1937-1945). Source: People’s Republic of China

Continue reading

Climate Change: Denialism, or Realism?

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 5, No. 6, June 2017

By Dave Schroeder

Climate change.

This issue is a lot more complex than people suspect for many deemed to be denying the facts.

What many people disagree on in good faith with respect to climate change is not that it’s occurring, nor what the impacts are, or what they may be in the future. Rather, it is what the collective response of the United States should be, and what other concerns — economic, national security, energy policy, diplomatic, etc. — that response should rightly be weighed against.

Should it be a response that decimates our economy and cripples us as a nation, while serving no discernible purpose, because China, India, Russia, and Brazil do essentially nothing, with the excuse that they are developing nations?

 

Continue reading