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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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).

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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, Johns Hopkins University

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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Duterte’s Immigration Agreement with China: Subversion by Numbers

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 6, June 2018 

By Demetrius Cox

A PLA Air Force (PLAAF) military transport plane (IL-76) in Davao City on 8 June 2018. Source: Philippine Plane Spotters Group (PPSG).

“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”
― Sun Tzu, The Art of War

On June 9, 2018 the Philippine Star published an article titled “More than 3 million Chinese allowed entry into Philippines since 2016 — Immigration data”.

In what may become one of the most remarkable subversions in recent history, the article describes how the immigration floodgates have been thrown open by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.  With a current national population of 103 million, Duterte has allowed a 3% direct population increase (3+ million) of Chinese immigrants to the Republic of the Philippines in less than three years, which is enough to keep most demographers up at night.  And there is no end in sight.

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Trade Strategy is a Proper Part of National Security

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 6, June 2018 

By William R. Hawkins

Chinese-chartered merchant ship Cosco Shipping Panama crosses the new Cocoli Locks during the inauguration of the Panama Canal expansion in Panama City on June 26, 2016. A giant Chinese-chartered freighter nudged its way into the expanded Panama Canal on Sunday to mark the completion of nearly a decade of work forecast to boost global trade. Photo: JOHAN ORDONEZ/AFP/Getty Images.

On June 4, the Koch brothers (Charles and David) announced the launch of a “multi-year, multimillion-dollar” campaign against the tariffs and trade restrictions imposed by the Trump administration; especially those levied on China. The billionaire brothers are regularly called “conservatives” because they make large campaign donations to Republican candidates. But they are not conservatives; they are libertarians, a very different breed of cat. And their donations to the GOP are meant to sway the party in their ideological direction, not merely support it. The liberal media tries to tarnish conservatism by placing libertarians on “the Right” even though this is not their intellectual origin. This is done to further the left-wing narrative that “conservatives” are self-interested, greedy individuals who are enemies of organized society and the common good. This is true for libertarians, who doubt the very legitimacy of the nation-state or the “higher” norms of society. Too often they define right and wrong on the basis of whether it turns a profit.

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Hearts and Minds in Afghanistan

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 6, No. 5, May 2018

By Heath B. Hansen

I opened my eyes. It was still dark, but I could see the night was ending and another day in some village in Afghanistan was beginning. The smell of dip-spit and cigarette smoke betrayed the fact that the platoon was awake and breaking down the patrol base. “Get the f*** up, Hansen,” was the greeting from my team leader. “Get your s*** on the humvee, we’re leaving in a few mikes.” “Roger, Sergeant,” I replied. It was May 31 2005, and time to win over more hearts and minds in the War on Terror.

A cropped photo of Jason Pegg’s bloodied arm following his and the author’s hearts and minds campaign in an Afghan village on May 31, 2005. Source: Facebook.

We listened to the convoy brief. The platoon would be heading to another village, in the middle of nowhere, to help villagers that probably had no idea why Americans were in their country and couldn’t care less about ‘democracy.’ The typical information was passed down about the scope and purpose of the mission followed by the monotone, repetitive, “Keep your heads on a swivel” and, “Make sure we have full, three-sixty security at all times. Remember your battle drills.”

The platoon set out. One by one, the humvees departed the patrol base and entered the dirt road into the village; the mission had officially begun. As we embarked, I noticed not a single villager was outside their mud-hut. Not a single person was in the fields. Not a single child was running alongside our vehicles, screaming, “You give me chocolate,” or “Amereekan, give me one dollar!” Of the dozens and dozens of villagers we had treated the day before during our MEDCAP [Medical Civic Action Program] operation, not a single one was outside to bid us farewell.

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