China’s Technological and Strategic Innovations in the South China Sea

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

By Anders Corr, Ph.D.

Introduction

A PLA Navy fleet including the aircraft carrier Liaoning, vessels and fighter jets take part in a drill in April 2018 in the South China Sea. Photo: VCG/Getty Images

This article is a slight revision of a talk given on March 13, 2019, in New York City.

Thanks very much for the invitation to speak today, and to all the members of the audience. I want to thank my good friend US Navy Captain James Fanell, who was Director of Intelligence for the US Pacific Fleet. He is not here, but he has been a mentor on the issues I’m covering, and assisted with comments to this presentation.

The full presentation is a combination of material from a book I edited that was published last year by the U.S. Naval Institute Press with the title – Great Powers, Grand Strategies: the New Game in the SCS, and my next book, on the strategy of brinkmanship.  This presentation, however, will focus on how China is innovating in the South China Sea on technological and strategic levels.

In a short year since the book was published, the South China Sea conflict has heated up. On March 4 and March 7, 2019, USPACOM, which is the Asian equivalent of CENTCOM and for which I used to work, sent nuclear-capable B-52 bombers over the SCS, including one flight revealed today. USPACOM also recently revealed that China’s military activity in the SCS rose over the past year. China occupied a sand bar near the Philippines island of Pagasa, in the Philippine exclusive economic zone, or EEZ, and Chinese boats purposefully rammed and sunk a Vietnamese fishing boat in the Paracel Islands of the north west SCS, islands that both China and Vietnam claim.

Continue reading

Tariff Benefits Will Exceed Costs When National Goals Are Met

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

By William R. Hawkins

US President Donald Trump, with US Congressman Sean Duffy (L), holds a tariff table as he speaks in the Cabinet Room of the White House on January 24, 2019. Trump spoke about the unfair trade practices of China. Credit: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty

A discussion paper published last weekend by the Centre for Economic Policy Research in the UK claimed that the tariffs President Donald Trump has imposed on Chinese products are “causing the diversion of $165 billion a year in trade leading to significant costs for companies having to reorganize supply chains.” The paper was authored by Princeton and Federal Reserve economists, and calls this a “cost” on the U.S. economy. But the basis of their analysis is much too narrow. They do not understand that the “diversion” of trade is a sign that the President’s policy is working. We need to reduce the ties between American companies and an increasingly threatening China. And I have no sympathy if those who sought to profit by helping Beijing’s rise (even if “experts” told them it was a good thing for the world) now suffer transition costs. Trump’s actions were prompted by national security concerns.

Continue reading

A Chaotic Start: Foreign Affairs in the New U.S. Congress

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

By William R. Hawkins

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) meets with Nechirvan Barzani, outgoing Prime Minister of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), in the province’s capital Arbil during a Middle East tour, on January 9, 2019. The eight-day tour comes weeks after the US President announced that the United States would quickly pull its 2,000 soldiers out of Syria, declaring that IS — also known as ISIS — had been defeated. Credit: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty.

It is widely held that the direction of foreign policy has shifted almost wholly to the executive branch. The only issue being under which president did this happen? Ronald Regan? Franklin Roosevelt? Woodrow Wilson? Teddy Roosevelt? Or even George Washington as the inherent result of the creation of the presidency itself. The Constitution was created to correct the lack of national leadership in the prior Confederation period when there was only a Congress. But one only needs to look at the first actions of the 116th Congress to understand why a major factor in this evolution of power has been the confusion and institutional flaws that render Congress unsuited for the conduct of international affairs. Its role is limited to being a forum for supporting or opposing the policies set by the Commander-in-Chief.

Continue reading

Taiwan and the Lesson of Chiang Kai-shek: Hard Cuts Soft

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 1, January 2019

By Arthur Waldron, Ph.D.

Taiwan is never to be taken for granted. We really have to get one thing straight, which is that without Chiang Kai-shek (CKS), his mainlander army, and even aspects of his dictatorship, the free Taiwan that we love today simply would not exist. Its natural leaders, both from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and Kuomintang (KMT), would either be long dead or in prison, while its young people, now among the best educated in the world, would be memorizing idiocies from the imperial thoughts of Xi Jinping.

Taiwan president-elect Ma Ying-jeou speaks in front of a statue of late president Chiang Kai-shek in Tashi, Taoyuan county, northern Taiwan on April 5, 2008. Credit: SAM YEH/AFP/Getty Images

That citizens vilify CKS is a disgrace at a time when the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is behaving in a far more menacing way than ever before, and so well armed that the American “experts” who once dismissed the threat as paranoia and rationalization for dictatorship, are now hemming and hawing about how it may be impossible to save Taiwan. CKS saved Taiwan from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) at a time when no one else would or could have, and when rapid collapse was assumed by all the governments of the world.

Continue reading

THE BATTLE FOR WEST PAPUA

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

By Ben Bohane


Supporters carry West Papuan leader Benny Wenda through Port Vila, Vanuatu, during a visit on December 1, 2016. Pacific island countries across the region are growing in solidarity with the West Papuan independence movement, according to the author. Credit: Ben Bohane.

Reports of the Indonesian military using white phosphorous munitions on West Papuan civilians in December are only the latest horror in a decades-old jungle war forgotten by the world. But new geopolitical maneuvering may soon change the balance of power here, prompting regional concern about an intensifying battle for this rich remote province of Indonesia. It is time for the US and Australia to change policy, complementing Pacific island diplomacy, or risk a major strategic setback at the crossroads of Asia and the Pacific.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Boycott the Chinese Language: Standard Mandarin is the Medium of Chinese Communist Party Expansion

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 11, November 2018 

By Anders Corr, Ph.D.

These urban traffic signs in English and Mandarin are located in the Chinatown district of Seattle. Consciously preferring the use of traditional characters and Taiwanese Mandarin in the U.S. would be a statement against the Chinese Communist Party and its usage of Standard Mandarin and simplified characters. Interestingly, the characters in these street signs are the same in the traditional and simplified sets.

China is one of history’s most dangerous countries. In August, the United Nations reported that China is holding approximately one million minority Muslims in Xinjiang concentration camps. China supports anti-democratic regimes and terrorist groups worldwide. Its military is seeking to expand its territory in: Japanese and South Korean areas of the East China Sea; Philippine, Malaysian, Bruneian, Indonesian, and Vietnamese parts of the South China Sea; and Indian and Bhutanese territory in the Himalayan mountains. President Xi Jinping has since 2013 increased military spending, hyped China’s nationalism, repressed minorities and human rights activists, eliminated term limits on his increasingly personal form of rule, and extended the geographic reach and individual depth of state surveillance.

Average citizens in democracies who see this trend can feel powerless in response. But there are tools at the disposal of empowered citizens and social movements to encourage, complement and accentuate actions taken by our democratic governments. Both citizen and government action is essential to encourage democracy and democratic elements in China, history’s most powerful totalitarian state.

These tools include consumer boycotts and protests at Chinese embassies, for example. But there is an additional social movement tactic that could powerfully communicate the world’s criticism: a boycott of mainland China’s national language, Standard Mandarin, a combination of the Putonghua dialect spoken in Beijing with simplified characters. Putonghua is also called Modern Standard Chinese, which was promoted since the 1940s, and which the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and Chinese Communist Party (CCP) have zealously promoted since 1956 as a form of increasing state control beyond Beijing. I here call the combination of simplified characters and Putonghua, “PRC Mandarin” or “CCP Chinese”. Taiwan uses traditional characters and speaks a slight variant of Mandarin called Taiwanese Mandarin (Guoyu).

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading