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

Justice Perverted

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

By Kyle Pizzey

As a veteran and someone who has spent a great deal of time in Afghanistan both in and out of uniform, the recent decision by the Canadian government to award Omar Khadr a substantial cash settlement is frustrating and is a perversion of the Canadian justice system.

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

China Expert: I’m Drunk

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

By Anders Corr

The following conversation between myself and a drunk China expert, who published a well-reviewed book on China recently, covers a wide-ranging set of topics, including the hard-to-decipher policy intentions of the U.S. and China. The conversation, which occurred by email starting Friday night, April 21, is sometimes humorous, and may be politically incorrect to some. But it succinctly and candidly addresses critical themes of U.S.-China relations, and touches on the politics of China analysis in the U.S. and Europe.

Continue reading

Investigating the Trump Scandal: Implications for Democracy and Political Risk

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 5, No. 5, May 2017

By Gergana Dimova, Ph.D. [1]

The single most common question posed since the media allegations of Trump’s campaign alleged connections with Russia broke out is whether American democracy is failing and how political risk is affected. I use a database of more than 1,890 critical articles leveled at the governments in the established democracy of Germany, and the managed democracy of Russia, to place the Trump’s investigations in a comparative perspective. The analysis explains how the appointment of a special prosecutor affects the democratic nature of accountability arrangements and offers predictive statistics of political risk in the aftermath of this media scandal. It considers factors related to regime type, institutional and electoral constraints, reputational effects, policy proposals, sanctions and verbal explanations in the media.

Continue reading

Critical Comments On ‘US Policy Toward China: Recommendations For A New Administration’

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 5, No. 2, February 2017

By James E. Fanell

Below are the critical comments I provided to Dr. Orville Schell, the co-chair of the recent Asia Society and University of California, San Diego report US POLICY TOWARD CHINA: RECOMMENDATIONS FOR A NEW ADMINISTRATION. While there are sections of the work that I agree with, I still fundamentally disagree with the overall foundation of the document’s recommendations which I believe are designed to sustain the past 40 year of a policy that promotes unconstrained “engagement” with the PRC.  As such, I’ve gone through the entire document and extracted several statements and paragraphs that I disagree with and a few that I agree with.  While I will provide comments for each specific reference issue, I can summarize my dissent of the report in the following major themes:

1.  Unconstrained Engagement.  Engagement with China is asserted to be the primary goal of US relations with China without providing evidence for that assertion.  Or worse, suggesting things are actually going well, contrary to all objective evidence.

2.  “The Relationship” is the #1 Priorty.  “The relationship” is prioritized as being equal to or more important than U.S national security.  There is no clear articulation that U.S. National security should be the #1 national security priority for the US and that our relationship with China should be judged through that lens, not through the lens of sustaining “the relationship” at all costs.

3.  Do Not Provoke.  America should not “provoke” China, but again, there is no evidence to support why this position will benefit U.S. national security interests.

4.  Dissent Not Welcome.  While I appreciate inclusion of Ambassador Lord’s dissenting opinion on North Korea, clearly the study did not value, or include, dissenting opinions, especially in the Asia-Pacific Regional Security and Maritime Dispute sections.

Continue reading

The Three Oppositions: Chinese Dissident Groups Holding Mass Demonstrations Since 2012

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 5, No. 2, February 2017

By Tom Stern

As President Donald Trump takes command 28 Years after the Tiananmen Square Massacre in Beijing, there are three prominent groups which are considered by the Communist Party of China (CPC) to be dissident and subversive to its ideals, posing a danger to political stability. Each of these could potentially become the backbone necessary for the expansion of freedoms in China.

  1. the Tuidang Movement, [1]
  2. the New Citizens’ Movement [2], and
  3. the practitioners of Falun Gong [3].

Tuidang Movement

The 退黨運動 (Tuìdǎng yùndòng), or Tuidang movement for short, is one that seeks the abolition of the CPC. Literally meaning “to withdraw from the Communist Party,” its members are bound by their desire to end the corruption tied to the Party. Caylan Ford, in his dissertation “Tradition and Dissent in China: The Tuidang Movement and its Challenge to the Communist Party” notes a key difference between the movement and those before it in that, rather than drawing from western principles and ideals of democracy and free expression, it seeks to act as a mirror to the nation’s idealized past. In its reflexive approach, the movement employs exigent and distinct Chinese language and ways of thought, such as Confucianism. Ironically, Ford also notes that the movement views the Communist ideology as a largely foreign and detrimental one, “which is portrayed as antithetical to true Chinese values, human nature, and universal laws.” Rather than using a geopolitically-charged force behind its espoused arguments, the Tuidang movement draws from both history and morality in its efforts to compel the Chinese public to recognize their unified, and wholly unnecessary, suffering under the Communist Party.

Continue reading

Boom in the Iran Crude Tanker Business

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 4, No. 10, October 2016

By Reza Yeganehshakib, Ph.D.

Oil-tankers docking in Rotterdam, Holland.

Oil-tankers docking in Rotterdam, Holland.

The oil industry has experienced numerous fluctuations in crude prices during its history. Falling prices in 2014 developed into a historic downturn by 2016, reaching lows that were last seen in the 1990s. As a result, several oil giants were forced to decommission almost two thirds of their rigs, while also dramatically decreasing their investment in the upstream oil industry.[1] Counter-intuitively, the crude shipping industry did not go through the same catastrophic loss as its upstream counterpart. Iran, one of the world’s biggest oil exporters and crude shipping operators, experienced this firsthand.[2] While the country’s oil revenue sharply declined, its crude shipping industry grew. This situation was not without problems, however, as explained herein.

Continue reading

Reconsidering Political Risk In Developed Economies

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 4, No. 8, August 2016

By Julian M. Campisi

Introduction: A Macro Analysis of Political Risk

Nigel Farage, leader of Britain's UK Independence Party laughs as he points to a UKIP poster, before delivering a speech on the forthcoming EU referendum, in London, Friday, April 29, 2016. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

Nigel Farage, leader of Britain’s UK Independence Party laughs as he points to a UKIP poster, before delivering a speech on the forthcoming EU referendum, in London, Friday, April 29, 2016. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

The concept of political risk has landed at the forefront of media and scholarly outlets in the fields of international politics and economics after a turbulent first half to 2016. Exposure to a number of recent global ‘shocks’, including the latest waves of terrorist attacks, Brexit, and a failed coup d’état in Turkey, has led to a renewed sense of political and economic instability across the globe. However, until recently, the majority of scholars and practitioners working in the sub-field of political risk have mainly engaged with the political and economic factors that affect investments in developing economies—albeit for good reason. In many such countries, the stability and profitability of foreign investments or business ventures is more difficult to guarantee and to predict due to concerns related to political volatility, social upheaval, expropriations, and regulatory uncertainties. Yet developing nations are at the forefront of political risk analysis precisely because of the potentially lucrative business opportunities that accompany fairly rapid economic growth and development in frontier markets. Indeed, recent global foreign direct investment (FDI) flows to developing countries, spurred by growth in Asia, significantly outweighed those to developed ones as table 1 shows below.

Continue reading

Prudence in International Strategy: From ‘Lawyerly’ to ‘Post-Lawyerly’

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 4, No. 7, July 2016

By Jeremiah S. Pam

Remarks at a symposium on ISIS: Navigating Conflict with Non-State Actors / The University of Texas School of Law, 15 April 2016

‘Prudentia’ sculpture on roof of 16th century town hall, Gross-Umstadt, Germany. Photo by: Frank Rumpenhorst/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

‘Prudentia’ sculpture on roof of 16th century town hall, Gross-Umstadt, Germany. Photo by: Frank Rumpenhorst/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

I. Introduction

In considering this conference’s subject of how the international community should respond to the challenge of ISIS, I suspect we can all agree that it is imperative that we be informed by our recent experiences with interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Of course, the difficult question is how those experiences should inform us. Given my own time in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is perhaps not surprising that I have a few observations from those cases that strike me as potentially relevant, to which I will turn very briefly in a moment.

Continue reading