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.

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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.

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Meaningless Medals: Infantry in Afghanistan

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

By Heath B. Hansen

Circa January 2006, during a mission on the way back to Gardez, Afghanistan. An IED was planted in the road on the K-G Pass (Khost-Gardez). The author, SPC Heath B. Hansen, is in the turret of the humvee, behind an M-240B machine gun. In the background, 1st Platoon, C company, 2/504 PIR, 82nd Airborne inspects the site of the IED explosion from moments prior.

March 2006. My tour was over. I had survived. No more fire-fights. No more IED’s. No more raids. No more rocket-attacks. I was going home. Many servicemen spend time in-country without ever leaving “the wire” (the safety of the walls, fortifications  and/or razor-wire of their base). As an infantryman, I basically lived outside the wire. Being shot at, getting hit by roadside bombs, capturing Taliban fighters, etc., was just part of the job. There was no special recognition, accolades or atta-boys conferred upon me. Infantrymen just do what is expected of them.

We had flown out of Bagram Air Base and landed a little over an hour later at Manas Air Base located in Northern Kyrgyzstan. Our plane touched down and we were escorted to large, white, “clamshell” tents, designed for units in transit. My squad found cots immediately next to each other and dropped our gear. It was official, we were no longer in Afghanistan. We had completed the first leg of our journey back to Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

I woke up to a dark tent the following morning. Small, ambient lights pierced the darkness from laptop computers on soldier’s cots randomly distributed throughout the clamshell. “Hansen, grab your weapon, we’re gonna get chow,” my team leader loudly whispered. “Roger that,” I replied. Even though we were no longer in a combat zone, we had to have our sensitive items (weapons, night-vision goggles, optics, etc.) with us at all times. I grabbed my gear and headed to the chow hall with my fire-team. I was hungry.

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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.

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Senate Undermines America as an Alliance Partner: The Resolution to Ban US Military Assistance in Yemen

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 12, December 2018 

By William R. Hawkins

Tribal gunmen loyal to the Huthi movement brandish their weapons on March 26, 2015 during a gathering in Sanaa to show support to the Shiite Huthi militia and against the Saudi-led intervention in the country. Warplanes from a Saudi-led Arab coalition bombed Huthi rebels in support of Yemen’s embattled president, as regional rival Iran warned the intervention was a “dangerous” move. Credit: MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images

Those who pushed the U.S. Senate to adopt Senate Joint Resolution 54 (S.J.Res.54), “A joint resolution to direct the removal of United States Armed Forces from hostilities in the Republic of Yemen that have not been authorized by Congress” in mid-December sought to avoid any mention of the strategic importance of Yemen, the nature of the civil war that has been raging there, or the support Iran has been giving the Shia Houthi rebels who started the conflict. Instead, the resolution aimed only at the U.S.-Saudi alliance and the Saudi-led coalition that is fighting to defend the internationally recognized Yemen government. No American combat units are involved in the Yemen conflict. The U.S. has been providing intelligence and logistical support to give a critical edge to the coalition forces that are doing the actual fighting.

The supposed purpose of the resolution was to “punish” Riyadh over the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi activist working to topple the regime. He is commonly called a “journalist” but was actually only a writer of opinion pieces published by The Washington Post and other liberal outlets. His views were not compatible with American interests in the Middle East as I outlined in the October 20 issue of this journal.

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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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How China Interferes in U.S. Elections

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 10, October 2018 

By Anders Corr, Ph.D.

US President Donald Trump flanked by Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao and Stephen A. Schwarzman, Chairman, CEO and Co-Founder of Blackstone. Mr. Trump speaks during a strategic and policy discussion with CEOs in the State Department Library in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building (EEOB) on April 11, 2017 in Washington, DC. Mr. Schwarzman and the Chao family are influential with Mr. Trump, and have extensive business interests in China. Credit: Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images.

China is powerfully influencing U.S. elections, as President Donald Trump alleged, but one will not necessarily find a Chinese intelligence agent stuffing ballot boxes in the local City Hall, or tampering with a voting booth. Facebook and Twitter claim they found no coordinated messages from the Chinese government. Bloomberg news and three digital security firms all claimed they found no evidence of digital or web-based misinformation campaigns. They apparently don’t count China’s ongoing anti-Trump propaganda, available through state-run media like China Daily and radio stations in the U.S. Nor do they count a new China-linked propaganda film advertised on Facebook, called “Better Angels“.

Plus, China’s immense wealth gives it more sophisticated and effective means to influence the general public, districts that voted for Republicans, the candidates themselves, the businesses that fund candidate elections, the universities and think tanks that hire politicians after they leave office, and the news media that voters will rely upon to choose their representatives on November 6, 2018. That is a far more powerful set of tools than anything the Russians used in 2016.

Vice President Mike Pence had it right when he said, “There can be no doubt: China is meddling in America’s democracy.” He said that Beijing was involved in “an unprecedented effort to influence American public opinion, the 2018 elections, and the environment leading into the 2020 presidential elections.”

Perhaps the most powerful influence that China wields over the U.S. public is the leverage that its $8.59 billion in box office sales provides to its “Propaganda Department” in Hollywood. American movie producers and directors actively self-censor in order not to alienate Chinese censors who could cut millions of dollars of ticket sales by denying access to the Chinese market. This leads Russians or terrorists to be the main villains in most Hollywood films, rather than China. Perhaps in part for this reason, 53% of Americans view China favorably according to a February 2018 poll, despite China’s human rights abuse at home, and ongoing economic and military transgression against the U.S. and our allies. That latent pro-China sentiment will make elections more difficult for Mr. Trump and the Republicans on November 6. This is China’s growing soft power, and is only infrequently commented upon in the media.

China’s sharper power to interfere with elections was demonstrated by the country’s recent attempt to use targeted tariffs to cause economic pain in districts that voted for Trump in 2016. In two rounds of tariffs, including over the summer, China hurt states and congressional districts that voted for Trump and other influential Republicans with $110 billion of targeted tariffs, focusing on commodities like soybeans, sorghum and pork that are overwhelmingly produced in rural pro-Trump districts. China also hit whisky, produced in Kentucky, and cranberries, produced in Wisconsin. Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell represents Kentucky, and House Speaker Paul Ryan represents Wisconsin. “Mapping the counties that voted for Mr. Trump in 2016 and those affected by China’s tariffs shows the extent to which Trump voters’ jobs rely on the products being targeted,” according to the New York Times. “Beijing hopes it can convince those voters — and their elected representatives — that the president’s trade war could hurt them.” China’s counter-tariffs threaten more than double the jobs in districts Trump won in 2016, compared with those that Clinton won.

But China has many other ways to influence voter opinions in the U.S., and thereby interfere with how voters vote. China also does an end-run around voters by influencing the political choices provided at the voting booth, in that most politicians of both parties are influenced to be soft on China by an environment conditioned by Chinese money and giveaways, including to U.S. students, the media, professors, congressmen, businessmen, and even U.S. military officers.

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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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