Why Chaos Is Here To Stay

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 5, May 2019

By Laurent Chamontin

A confusing traffic light system with multiple signal heads. Getty

The 2010s are characterized by an exceptional amount of political volatility (e.g., Brexit, and Donald Trump’s election). This volatility resulted from an unprecedented level of complexity, whether at the level of individuals, nations, or the world, generating outbursts of populism, loss of long-term orientation, dysfunctional newspeak, and decay of international institutions. To overcome this challenge, democracies must rethink their education policies and promote a redesign of multilateral institutions to better coexist with the nation state.

If the purpose of politics is to provide mankind with the consideration of perspectives for the purpose of organization, then indeed we are experiencing a world-scale political crisis. Any nostalgia for supposedly more stable eras put aside, political volatility has increased to a level unprecedented since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Continue reading

Clash of Ancient Philosophy and Modern Politics in China

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 5, May 2019

By Victor Mair, University of Pennsylvania

This photo taken on August 20, 2017 shows a drone flying in front of the statue of Lord Laozi during the Laojun Mountain Drone Convention in Luoyang in China’s central Henan province. STR/AFP/Getty Images

A new round of censorship in China is sufficiently significant that it should be called to the attention of readers, because it has not been brought to the surface outside of China, and even inside China the censors have done their best to hush it up.

In a nutshell, there’s a well-known scholar of ancient Chinese thought, especially Lao Zi (the fictive author of the Tao Te Ching / Daode jing), who has recently and suddenly run afoul of the authorities.

The imbroglio of Yin Zhenhuan 尹振环 and Lao Zi 老子 are occasionally mentioned online. News of Professor Yin Zhenhuan’s troubles surfaced on WeChat about two weeks ago.  It’s rather hard to figure out how research on an ancient thinker could arouse such a sensational reaction, even though from the contents of Yin’s book one may perceive slight, indirect indications of current politics.

Perhaps the best way to expose the complex nature of the current contretemps is by relaying the personal communications of three People’s Republic of China (PRC) scholars on the subject, which I reproduce below.

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Biden’s Embrace of Globalism Includes Waltzing with China

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 5, May 2019

By William R. Hawkins

Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) shake hands with U.S Vice President Joe Biden (L) inside the Great Hall of the People on December 4, 2013 in Beijing, China. Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

Joe Biden drew considerable attention when he said at a campaign rally in Iowa “China is going to eat our lunch? Come on, man. They’re not bad folks, folks. But guess what? They’re not competition for us.” Many wanted to just dismiss this as another one of the former Vice President’s many gaffes. But there is reason to accept this statement as a true expression of his beliefs.

Biden’s soft approach to China is at the core of the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy & Global Engagement, which opened its Washington DC offices in February 2018. The stated aim of the Penn Biden Center (the Penn refers to the University of Pennsylvania which provides the group’s institutional home) is to “Address Threats to the Liberal International Order.” These threats are set out as follows: “The postwar order that America built together with our allies is under attack. The siege comes from multiple directions—from authoritarians who strangle liberty in the name of security to terrorists who radicalize across borders and nationalist leaders who fuel fear and division at home.  Powerful illiberal states are capitalizing on this moment by filling the vacuum of leadership with values that do not match our own. They perceive the success of our system as a threat to theirs—fashioning a zero-sum world.” This is a fine statement, but leaves out who these authoritarian and illiberal adversaries are. China clearly fits the description, but is not mentioned. Russia, however, is: “In particular, under President Putin, Russia seeks to return to an era when the use of force prevails and the world is carved into spheres of influence.” The ethereal menace of “climate change” is also mentioned along with terrorism, cyber attacks and epidemics. So if a list is presented, why isn’t the Beijing regime on it?

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Djibouti, New Battlefield of China’s Global Ambitions

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 5, May 2019

By Jean-Pierre Cabestan, Hong Kong Baptist University

Ships carrying Chinese military personnel depart from a port on July 11, 2017 in Zhanjiang, Guangdong Province of China. VCG/VCG via Getty Images.

On August 1, 2017, China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) opened in Djibouti, a former French colony of Eastern Africa, its first outpost overseas. Presented as a logistic support facility rather than a full-fledged military and naval base (1,000 to 2,000 personnel), the PLA presence in this strategic spot is a game changer not only in this part of the world but also globally.

Located next to the Bab el Manded, the strait that controls any southern access to the red sea, Djibouti is of strategic importance not only for China. Since its independence in 1977, it has kept a meaningful albeit diminishing French military presence (1,450 personnel). Since 2002, it also includes a large American military base (4,000). More recently, for anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden, other militaries, for example the Italians and the Japanese, have set foot in this tiny territory not bigger than Belgium.

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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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5G Fight With China: Politicization Leads to Suboptimal US Outcome

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

By Anders Corr

A customer wearing a headset plays a virtual reality (VR) game at a 5G experience hall on April 8, 2019 in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province of China. Photo: Long Wei/VCG via Getty Images

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced a national 5G auction of large slices (up to 3.4 gigahertz) of the millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum, along with $20.4 billion in subsidies over 10 years for rural connections, on April 12. The plan ignores expert cyber-security advice, has major security, timing, strategic and financial problems, and will not facilitate new competitors in the telecommunications market. The announcement by President Trump and FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, likely under the influence of telecommunications lobbyists, was a surprise to most experts and took place with no real public input. The auction of the mmWave spectrum is set for December 10. At the press conference announcing the decision, Chairman Pai thanked Director of the National Economic Council Larry Kudlow and Ivanka Trump for their assistance, with Ms. Trump giving a speech in support of the plan.

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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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The Quad of India, Japan, Australia and the US: A Work in Progress

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

By Commodore Anil Jai Singh, IN (Retd)

An Indian Navy sailor stands guard on the deck of the INS Shivalik during the inauguration of joint naval exercises with the United States and Japan in Chennai on July 10, 2017.
ARUN SANKAR/AFP/GETTY

The recent statement by the Commander-in Chief of the US Indo-Pacific Command Admiral Phil Davidson at a press conference in Singapore that the ‘Quad’ or the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue between the USA, Australia, India and Japan may need to be shelved was met with a mixed reaction in the regional maritime security discourse. However, this was not a fatalistic view but rather a tacit acknowledgement of the divergent views amongst the Quad partners on certain fundamental issues. He made this statement based on his discussions with Admiral Sunil Lanba, the Chief of the Indian Navy at the recent Raisina Dialogue in New Delhi where Admiral Lanba said that there was not an immediate potential for the Quad.

The idea of a Quad was first articulated by the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during the East Asia Summit in 2007; in the same year he spoke of the confluence of the two oceans – the Indian and the Pacific- and introduced the term Indo-Pacific during an address to the Indian Parliament. The first attempt to shape the Quad was the decision to enhance Exercise Malabar — the annual bilateral Indo-US naval exercise into a quadrilateral construct. However, China understandably expressed strong reservations about this as an anti-China initiative. Australia succumbed but a trilateral exercise was nevertheless held between the US, Japan and India.  For the next decade, while the Quad was spoken of periodically at various fora, very little was actually happening on the ground to give it concrete shape.

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How to bring Russia into INF compliance — without triggering a war

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

By Anna J. Davidson

Russian S-400 air defence missile systems roll at Red Square during the Victory Day military parade in Moscow on May 9, 2016.
AFP / KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV / GETTY

ABSTRACT   For all intents and purposes, the prevailing wisdom in both East and West suggests that the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty is lost. On 4 March, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree officially terminating his country’s participation in the INF “until the United States of America rectifies its violations of the said Treaty or until it expires.” This action mirrors that by the United States in early February that accused Russia of violating the Treaty and instigated the six-month withdrawal process. Both of these steps follow five years of continuous effort by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to compel Russia’s compliance with the stipulations of the INF to no avail. As the August deadline approaches, the United States and Russia face three options: reach a mutual agreement on one another’s compliance to preserve the INF, draft a new arms control agreement, or allow the INF to expire and risk a renewed arms race as both countries continue developing their defense capabilities. Despite the wide acceptance of the latter, a potential incentive for Russia to return to INF compliance, and thus preserve the Treaty, exists in the Kremlin’s relationship with Ankara. As a NATO member state, Turkey finds itself in a unique position with the United States as an ally and Russia as a strategic partner. Turkey’s desire to purchase both the American Patriot and the Russian S-400 missile defense systems presents an opportunity to increase the value of Turkey’s partnership with Russia and decrease the significance of Russia’s need to develop missiles noncompliant with the INF. Turkey insists that it will proceed with the purchase of Russia’s S-400 systems regardless of Washington’s willingness (or lack thereof) to offer the American Patriot systems, as the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act currently obstructs the purchase of Russian S-400s by Turkey. Yet, Turkey and Russia are proceeding with the exchange while simultaneously deepening cooperation in the Syria crisis, particularly Idlib. If the United States and NATO leverage Turkey’s request for the Patriot systems and take advantage of Russia’s urge to sell its S-400s to Turkey, the opportunity for a renegotiation and recommitment to the INF Treaty remains within reach.  Continue reading

Paratrooper: Following in my Father’s Footsteps

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 2, February 2019

By Heath Hansen


CPL Richard Hansen – 12th Special Forces Group (Airborne) collects his parachute after jumping from a C-130 in May 1987. The author, Heath Hansen when four years old, holds his father’s reserve parachute.

I looked up into the big, blue sky. Far in the distance, I spotted a C-130 Hercules headed towards the open grass field I waited upon. For a few moments, I watched as the plane continued in my direction; suddenly, from the tail-end of the aircraft, paratroopers jumped out into the open air. The parachutes expanded sideways as they became caught in the wind and fully inflated, pulling the soldiers swiftly with them. Dozens of troops poured out of the fuselage and descended to the ground. I saw the first jumper hit the grass and quickly sprinted to him.

“Dad?” I asked.  “No kid, your dad is still coming down; we put a white band on his helmet so you could recognize him.” Looking up, he extended his arm and pointed to a spot about 200 feet in the air at a fast descending grunt with white sports tape lining the outside of his helmet. “There he is.”

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