Forget Presidential Politics: Sri Lanka’s Green Movement Is Its Best Hope Against China

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 10, October 2019

By Bertie Harrison-Broninski

Pumps dredge sand to reclaim land at the site of a Chinese-funded 1.4 billion USD reclamation project in Colombo on December 5, 2017.
Half of the reclamation project to build Colombo Financial City, previously known as Colombo Port City, has been completed, with Sri Lanka hoping to turn it into an international financial centre with special laws protecting foreign investment. / AFP / LAKRUWAN WANNIARACHCHI / Getty Images

Sri Lanka, like many countries in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), is not powerful enough to resist China on political or economic grounds – but hope lies in its burgeoning environmental movements.

This Saturday (November 16th), Sri Lankans go to the polls to elect a new president. The frontrunners are Sajith Premadasa, current Minister for Housing, Development, and Cultural affairs, and Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, the ruthless military leader who played a large part in defeating the ‘Tamil Tigers’ during Sri Lanka’s civil war. Both have family ties to ex-presidents: Premadasa’s father, Ranasinghe, was president 1989-1993, and Rajapaksa’s brother, Mahinda, was from 2005-2015.

International media has largely focused on the geopolitical implications of the Rajapaksas regaining power. Mahinda Rajapaksa is seen as a key player in initiating China’s current economic ‘debt trap’ over Sri Lanka, which has now led to 99-year leases on territory around Hambantota Port and Colombo, where China is constructing an entire ‘Port City’. A President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa would rightly be seen as a return to China-friendly Sri Lankan foreign policy after President Maithripala Sirisena’s more US-aligned years in office. Continue reading

War In The Taiwan Strait Is Not Unthinkable: Some Will Lose More Than Others

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 11, November 2019

By Grant Newsham

Screen capture of Chinese state media video of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops training for an assault on Taiwan’s presidential office. Pictured is a mock building at the Zhurihe military base in China, that mimics the actual building in Taipei. The video aired July 5, 2015. CCTV via Apple Daily.

Whether anyone actually ‘wins’ a war is a philosophical debate.  The Germans and Japanese in 1945 might have thought wars do indeed have winners.  But perhaps it’s better said that in most conflicts some parties ‘lose more than others.’

Such would be the case if Beijing attempted to militarily subjugate Taiwan.  And Xi Jinping just might do so.  He declared in a January 2019 speech that “we (China) do not promise to renounce the use of force and reserve the option to use all necessary measures (to take Taiwan.)”[1]

The Battle for Taiwan would have truly global consequences, akin to the invasion of Poland by the Soviets and Germans in 1939.

However, much of the debate over a Taiwan Strait conflict focuses on preparation for and conduct of the PRC’s attack: whether Beijing will or won’t attack, what an attack might look like and Taiwan’s ability to defend itself, whether the US will or should get involved and whether it ought to sell Taiwan ‘this or that’ weapon.  Such discussion is useful, but the actual consequences and longer-term ripple effects of a fight over Taiwan deserve much more attention.[2]

This paper examines key aspects of what happens once the shooting starts, and the follow-on global economic and political effects.  The envisioned scenario is a full-scale PLA assault against Taiwan, but it’s worth noting that even a ‘limited’ assault–such as against one of Taiwan’s offshore islands–may not stay limited for very long: given Beijing’s oft-stated determination to take all of Taiwan, an off-shore island assault would only constitute a tactical objective in the march on Taipei, and would also have serious and wide-ranging political and economic consequences.

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China and the War of Shipyards and Factories

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 10, October 2019

By William R. Hawkins

Chinese aircraft carrier group, including J-15 fighters and helicopters, trains in the South China Sea in late December, 2016. Visual China Group via Getty Images.

Satellite images show that China is making rapid progress in building its new Type 02 aircraft carrier at the Jiangnan Shipyard in Shanghai. The Type 02 is a larger design than Beijing’s first two carriers which were based on Soviet-era light carriers of about 67,000 tons and which lacked catapults for launching first-rate fighters. They used “ski jumps” to put planes into the air, limiting them to the small, short-range J-15 “Flying Shark” fighter-bombers. The Russian-built/China modified Type 01 can only carry 24 of these warbirds, though the China-built 01A, which is about to deploy, may be able to carry a few more. The Type 02 is a much larger design more in line with American carriers. At an estimated 80,000+ tons, it will be able to carry 40+ fighters as well as supporting aircraft such as early warning and control planes. In comparison, the typical U.S. Navy carrier has 60+ fighters along with other support aircraft. They are also nuclear-powered which the Chinese carriers are not. This does not mean, however, that American naval-air superiority is assured. Continue reading

Greenpeace Working to Close Rare Earth Processing Facility in Malaysia: the World’s Only Major REE Processing Facility in Competition with China

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 10, October 2019

By Michael K. Cohen

Partial screenshot from the Greenpeace website, taken on 10/3/2019, detailing Greenpeace’s leading role in the ‘Stop Lynas’ campaign. Source: Greenpeace.

Rare earth – the colorful metals derived from 17 extraordinarily hard-to-mine chemical elements – are a little-known part of all of our lives. They are crucial elements of mobile phones, flat screen televisions and more than 200 other consumer electronic devices that we use every day.

But these exotic elements are needed for more than just phones and televisions. Their lightweight properties, and unique magnetic attributes, are indispensable to military assets that use sonar, radar or guidance systems, lasers, electronic displays, and myriad other mechanisms.

The vast majority of rare earths that countries need to protect themselves are produced by one country: The People’s Republic of China. And it does not appear that the situation will change in the near future. China has in recent years worked to monopolize the production of these elements as a strategic resource.

China has made rare earths available to countries around the world that need them, but that could abruptly change. Chinese state-controlled media has warned that sales of rare earths to the United States could be restricted as part of a new front in the ongoing trade war. Continue reading

Arctic Enterprise: The China Dream Goes North

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 9, September 2019

By Jonathan Hall

Arctic Ocean, ship on Barents Sea. Getty.

Until recent years, harsh weather and unmanageable navigation routes have precluded all but the most determined crews from venturing through the Arctic. As climate change continues to take effect, however, warming temperatures are opening up the region to new opportunities. In 2017, for example, merchant ships were able to pass through a shipping lane, known as the Northern Sea Route (NSR), for the first time without icebreaker escort.

The NSR has since been discussed as a logistical windfall that will revolutionize the world of international shipping. The often-cited reasoning is the potential 5,000 mi (8,000 km), or 10-15 days saved in transit, as compared to more traditionally used routes such as the Strait of Malacca, or the Suez Canal. While the NSR is only open three months per year, climatologists predict it will be traversable for 9 months out of the year by 2030, and completely ice free within the next two decades. As these changes are coming into effect, no state seems to understand the geopolitical advantage a strong presence in the Arctic will bring more so than the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Continue reading

What The Philippines Must Do To Defend Itself From China

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 9, September 2019

By Sannie Evan Malala

A Philippine flag flutters as the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) is seen anchored off Manila bay on June 26, 2018. – A US aircraft carrier visited the Philippines on June 26, the third such call in four months, as its admiral hailed America’s “enduring presence” in a region where China’s military build-up had raised tensions. Ted Aljibe / AFP / Getty Images.

The Philippines is strategically located in Southeast Asia, at the fault-line between Communist China and the democratic nations of the Americas and Europe. In the north is East Asia, full of wealthy market democracies in increasing conflict with China. To the southwest are countries seeking to defend their exclusive economic zones from China, including Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei. As China’s power grows, the fault-line is widening and trying to straddle the middle will only result in our falling into the chasm. The Philippines must choose a side – subservience to China or joining a coalition of the willing in defense of each country’s independence and democracy from the Chinese hegemon. The Philippines has yet to take advantage of its full potential and has become economically poor and militarily weak, primarily due to corruption, internal armed struggle, and its growing relationship with China. For the Philippines to avoid being a satellite of China, this is what we must do. Continue reading

Nasif Ahmed: Hong Kong Independence

“Hong Kong Independence”, by Nasif Ahmed.

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Genocide as Nation Building: China’s Historically Evolving Policy in East Turkistan

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 8, August 2019

By Rukiye Turdush, Uyhgur Research Institute

This photo taken on June 4, 2019 shows a man walking past a screen showing images of China’s President Xi Jinping in Kashgar, East Turkistan (called “Xinjiang” by China). China has enforced a massive security crackdown in Xinjiang, where between one and three million ethnic Uighurs and other mostly Muslim minorities are estimated to be held in a network of internment camps that Beijing describes as “vocational education centres”. They are aimed at erasing non-Han and non-CCP identity under the guise of steering people away from religious extremism. GREG BAKER/AFP/Getty Images

At Nankai University in 2003, Chinese professor Ai Yue Jing said, “Our great culture can assimilate any other nation or culture, we can change and absorb good one torture and kill bad one”. These words ushered in the new era of China’s “nation building” project in East Turkistan. [1]

Three million Uyghurs and other ethnic Muslims in East Turkistan (“Xinjiang”) are incarcerated in Chinese concentration camps and face the prospect of being killed and deported to China’s secret inland prisons as a part of the country’s ongoing genocide.[2] According to the report Genocide in East Turkistan published by the Uyghur Research Institute this year, China’s ethnic policy in East Turkistan falls into at least four of the five acts defined as genocide by the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. [3] Eye-witness accounts, media reports, and testimonials of relatives of the victims have verified claims of the existence of torture and death in concentration camps,[4] as well as China’s policy of objectifying Uyghurs through experimentation in high–tech mass surveillance systems that make use of QR codes, biometrics, artificial intelligence, phone spyware, and big data.[5] China’s policies towards the Uyghurs have created horror and demoralization, destroying their belief in a world of right and wrong. Consequently, the deteriorated mental health of Uyghurs in East Turkistan has indirectly impacted on their relatives in the Uyghur diaspora. Many of them have already reported constant crying, appetite loss, sleep deprivation, loss of concentration, depression, and frequent nightmares.[6] Continue reading

Withdrawing from Afghanistan, Without Leaving a Vacuum

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 8, August 2019

By William R. Hawkins

Foreign Minister of Uzbekistan, Abdulaziz Kamilov (L3), Foreign Minister of India Sushma Swaraj (C), Foreign Minister of Tajikistan Sirojiddin Muhriddin (R2), Foreign Minister of Kyrgyzstan Chingiz Aidarbekov (L2), Foreign Minsiter of Turkmenistan Rashid Meredov (R), Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan Beibut Atamkulov (L) and Foreign Minister of Afghanistan Salahuddin Rabbani (R3) participate in the ‘Ministerial Meeting of the India-Central Asia-Afghanistan Dialogue’ held within the ‘India-Central Asia Dialogue’ Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Samarkand, Uzbekistan on January 13, 2019.
(Photo by Bahtiyar Abdukerimov/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Some years ago, I spent an afternoon in New Delhi meeting with a group of retired senior members of India’s military and intelligence communities. A central topic was Afghanistan. The Indians were adamant that the Taliban must not be allowed to take over the country. They saw the Taliban as agents of Pakistan. The absorption of Afghanistan by the Islamabad regime would pose a threat to India. Afghanistan would be a rich recruiting ground for the terrorist/insurgent forces Pakistan uses to destabilize Kashmir. And in case of another open war, Afghanistan would give Islamabad “strategic depth” which could be used in several possible ways.

The Islamabad-Kashmir area is at the narrowest part of Pakistan. It’s only 228 miles from Islamabad to Kabul. But the terrain is bad to the west and Pakistan has more important areas to defend to the south. Even so, pulling troops back to Peshawar, where they could be supplied/reinforced from Afghanistan, could serve as a counter-attack force if Islamabad was under siege. Pakistan has an arsenal of mobile short and medium-range ballistic missiles with conventional warheads and is adding cruise missiles. However, only some of these models could reach India if redeployed to Afghanistan to avoid preemption. More attractive would be Afghan airbases which could support Pakistani operations along the northern border but at a distance that would make it harder for Indian airstrikes to suppress. During the February clash, Pakistan intercepted Indian airstrikes in the Kashmir area and shot down two fighters, including an F-16. Deeper airstrikes could be problematical for New Delhi.

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Xi Killed Convergence: the American China Consensus is Gone

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 7, July 2019

By Paul S. Giarra

Chris Ware illustration of Xi Jinping. (MCT via Getty Images)

Two open letters to the President on China strategy have appeared recently. The first, “China is not an enemy”,[1] was published in the Washington Post on July 3rd. The second, “Stay the Course on China: An Open Letter to President Trump”, appeared in these pages on July 18th.[2] The former argued that considering China as an enemy would be a self-fulfilling prophecy. The second posited that we had already turned that corner with China, and that the president should continue with his hard line policies toward Beijing (Full disclosure: the author signed the latter open letter).

There’s more to these letters, but they do not represent an argument; rather, they are a transition from an old conventional wisdom to a new reality. As Nikki Haley wrote in Foreign Affairs last week [3], the theory of convergence with China expressed in the Washington Post letter and practiced in the United States for 30 years has been fully discredited. “Let’s face it: Xi has killed the notion of convergence.”

Why it has taken so long to get to this point will have to be left to the social historians, but the China policy transition now underway has been reverberating throughout the Washington policy community for some time. Continue reading