Council of Geostrategy, Britain’s World, 19 August, 2021

The dramatic images of the Fall of Kabul have driven rounds of recrimination and finger-pointing in the West. However, as the G7 countries prepare to meet virtually next week for an emergency discussion on Afghanistan, it would do well for them to consider the position of another of the region’s great powers – the People’s Republic of China (PRC). While the PRC’s state-owned media have already leapt on the event as ‘humiliating’ for the United Kingdom (UK) and United States (US), and attempted to draw lessons for Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party from the ‘abandonment’, it is also beginning to frame the event as something which will require a ‘deal’ with the US, a potential bargaining chip to reshape its current adversarial relationship with Washington without having to address US concerns or complaints. 

The G7 need not take this Chinese ‘discursive statecraft’ at face-value. It is indeed natural for the PRC to dress up its efforts to stabilise neighbouring Afghanistan as a favour to the West, but American, British, and other allied leaders should understand the PRC’s equities in the country clearly. While the Chinese leadership itself has not yet decided whether to manage this crisis with or against the West, its own interests in the war-torn country are well-documented. G7 leaders should instead use the following baseline assumptions as they think through any attempts at a Chinese-Western settlement.

The PRC has a strong interest in a stable border region: Preventing further unrest in the quasi-colonial territory of Xinjiang is a core interest for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) as its gross violations of human rights there reveal. Given the fact that Afghanistan and Xinjiang share a border and the fact that the Taliban has maintained links with various international Islamic groups in the past, this is a serious concern. Over the past few years, Chinese intelligence networks inside Afghanistan and Chinese-Taliban diplomacy in Tianjin have spearheaded the effort to detach the Taliban from the East Turkistan Islamic Movement – a group with which it naturally aligns. In his meeting with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, Wang Yi, the PRC Foreign Minister, called for the Taliban to ‘completely sever all ties’ with the group. 

The PRC has a strong interest in Afghanistan as a source of minerals: Afghanistan is the world’s largest unexploited reserves of copper, coal, cobalt, mercury, gold, and lithium, valued at US$1 trillion. Its rare-earth metals may be worth even more. In addition to owning the mining rights to the world’s second largest copper mine in Afghanistan – said to be worth US$1.2 billion in annual output – the PRC is already the Taliban’s largest customer for minerals, a trade that now represents the group’s largest revenue source (US$464 million), outstripping narcotics (US$416 million). This also represents a large chunk of total Taliban revenues, which are said to be around US$1.6 billion, a point made more salient by the freezing of Afghan government reserves held in US banks. Chinese state media has already made a point of stating that it can meet the anticipated fiscal shortfall (a predicted 20% fall from the previous pledge of US$15.2 billion between 2016 and 2020) in Afghanistan’s coffers through official direct investment as part of the so-called Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). 

The PRC has a long-term interest in incorporating Afghanistan into the BRI: Despite a recent focus on domestic infrastructure, the Belt and Road Initiative remains Xi Jinping’s signature foreign policy project. As long as he remains General Secretary of the CCP, that will continue to be the case. The BRI is a quasi-imperial project that seeks to offshore access to industrial capacity and labour, while also tying regional states closer to the PRC’s economy. Dual Circulation theory, the CCP’s current economic strategy, sees the PRC intending to create trade asymmetries between it and other trading powers, so that its domestic economy drives growth, while others remain dependent on Chinese trade and investment. No doubt, the use of infrastructure financingand a debated-but-still-relevant concept, ‘debt-trap diplomacy’, would also give Beijing direct influence over the Taliban’s leadership. 

The PRC has a strong interest in sidelining India in any settlement: Beijing may seek to sideline India from having a major role in Afghanistan, and there are two strong reasons why the G7 countries should again invite India’s leader Narendra Modi to any virtual meeting and any subsequent diplomacy with China. First, India has been developing strong links to Afghanistan over the past 20 years and sees it as a priority issue. Second, while Afghanistan is bound to become somewhat reliant on China for future economic and trade development, India and the Gulf states could and should provide enough economic diversity to soften China’s heft. 

Thus, when the G7 leaders meet next week, they should frame any cooperation with the PRC in terms of the mutual interest all parties have in a stable Afghanistan that does not harbour or export Jihadists. After they have established that, they will have to discuss how to balance cooperation with the PRC in Afghanistan within the greater strategic context of geopolitical competition. No doubt, the CCP leadership will be doing the same. The G7 will have to balance and prioritise their interests within the relationships with the PRC, with the Taliban, and with any resurrected non-Pashtu Northern Alliance group – should one arise. It is a fluid time calling for diplomacy and strategic decisiveness. 


NBR Special Report 90

With Prof Wade Turvold (USN Ret), NBR Special Report, 25 May, 2021

The U.S. and Japan produced the New Defense Guidelines in 2015 that created the alliance coordination mechanism (ACM) to enable the allies to better manage crises. The ACM has proved useful but is showing some limitations in handling the challenges of complex gray-zone activity posed by China. This is in part due to the differing definitions of “gray zone” in Japan and the U.S., which could lead to confusion over appropriate response mechanisms. This uncertainty may have the unintended effect of giving China the power to set the tempo of activities in and around the Senkaku Islands to incrementally wrest control from the Japan Coast Guard. There are also growing concerns that the ACM is insufficient for dealing with kinetic operations above the threshold of gray-zone operations. Therefore, the U.S. and Japan should consider reforming the ACM, reorganizing U.S. Forces Japan, and developing a command and control (C2) structure for crises just below and above the gray-zone threshold.

POLICY IMPLICATIONS
  • Japan and the U.S. must find a common definition of gray zone that will enable them to agree on the threshold where gray-zone activity ends and conflict begins.
  • Japan and the U.S. must strengthen the ACM by constant usage and rehearsal in order to allow it to function properly during a fait accompli gray-zone operation by China.
  • The disjointedness of U.S. C2 in the vicinity of Japan could be a significant challenge in a fast-paced crisis above the gray-zone threshold. The allies should consider creating a unified command structure for the alliance, given that the current “coalition-style” approach to C2 could prove insufficient for dealing with a peer competitor with a unified command in a crisis scenario.

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What the UK’s Tilt to the Indo-Pacific Means for India

Observer Research Foundation, Atlantic Files, 28 March, 2021

The release of the UK’s Integrated Review (IR) last week and the Defence Command Paper this week have sparked a smallbut vigorous debate as to the direction of Britain’s global posture with many speculating on the meaning of its “tilt” to the Indo-Pacific. After all, its founding assumption was “[The UK] must also do more to adapt to major changes in the world around us, including the growing importance of the Indo-Pacific region”. This growing enthusiasm for engaging in the region certainly offers a great opportunity for Delhi to partner with London. Despite these exciting prospects, some critics have noted the word “tilt” contrasts unfavorably with the Obama administration’s “rebalance” to Asia from 2011. A tilt is not a rebalance after all, indicating less than full commitment by the UK to the region. But then it was never quite realistic to expect an island-nation in the Euro-Atlantic to throw its full diplomatic, economic, and military resources into a part of the world many thousands miles away. Having said that, experts with a close knowledge of the IR say that it is best understood when considering the last iteration of a security review, the 2015 National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review, and point to the significant shift in London’s China strategy.

The 2015 review noted the importance of the Asia Pacific, but it was buried in a section called“Allies, Partners, and Global Engagement” and only came after sections on Europe, the Commonwealth, the Five Eyes, the Middle East and North Africa, as well as sub-Saharan Africa. It noted the region’s “significant economic opportunities” as well as its “considerable influence on the future integrity and credibility of the rules-based international order”—a binary at the very heart of Britain’s approach to the region. If one thinks back to 2015, London was attempting to strengthen Chinese inflows of investment, while also trying to shore up the rules-based international system (RBIS). The contradiction within that policy has been a mainstay of many countries’ approach towards China. But the difference between the 2015 review and last week’s IR is striking when one considers how China is treated in the two documents. In the 2015 review, just one year after Beijing carried out a sausage-slicing take-over of the South China Sea trade route, the Cameron government was, nevertheless, laying out the red carpet for China’s leader Xi Jinping, giving him the honours accorded a full state visit—a state banquet at Buckingham Palace, and the declaration of a UK-China “Golden Era”. Compare that with the description of China as a “systemic challenge” in the IR.

Areas where the two overlap is in the economic-security binary, and the 2015 review asserts that the region’s importance “to our economy and security; it is a focal point for the negotiation for international rules and norms, and will become more important to UK prosperity.” Given the UK’s historic identity—the creator of a global trade-based, maritime empire—it should come as no surprise that as London leaves the stifling embrace of a Berlin-led European Union, it should look to the traditional  geographic and geo-economic drivers and national interests. The difference being, of course, that the UK comes as a fullymature liberal democracy with a history and political culture at odds with its imperial past. Thus, while the geopolitical variables are the same—maritime-based trade in an increasingly contested order—the UK’s response will the different, charged with democratic liberalism rather than commercial imperialism.

However, where the IR begins to seriously differ from its predecessor is in the handling of that economic driver. Previously, under the leadership of Cameron’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, London seemed to treat China and Asia as one and the same. In defending Britain’s decision to join the Beijing-led Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), he stated it would be“good for a world where we draw countries together in cooperation, good for Asia because it is going to help bring investment to this continent.” Indeed, the fantasy of tapping at will into Beijing’s large currency reserves acted as a sort of charm inside Whitehall, deployed by the Treasury to beguile political masters against those in the Admiralty and Foreign and Commonwealth Office who held misgivings. It is difficult not to see last week’s Integrated Review as a victory for those constituents against the “Golden Era“ adherents, buoyed by China’s own actions, such as in 2017 when it reneged on the Joint Declaration on Hong Kong—a treaty document registered with the United Nations—and in 2018 when it began an imperial project of cleansing Xinjiang of its Uyghur Muslim population.

The Integrated Review also deepens the UK’s commitment to regional states like Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Singapore.Oddly, it does not mention the Quad security grouping at all within the IR’s 114 pages, but its non-appearance could be down to diplomatic sensitivities. The UK has indicated interest in the Quad but will not wish to be seen to be muscling in. Either way, it is a surprising omission. In speaking to the UK–India relationship, the paper tracks the broader trend inside the West of treating India as a rising power in its own right, courting its participation and leadership in the Commonwealth and looking to it for increasing UK–Asia trade flows. Given the post-COVID trade-flow vulnerabilities and Beijing’s increasing use of economic coercive statecraft, this desire to diversify away from China is a significant opportunity for India, ASEAN, and others. Notably, this trade diversification strategy has already seen the UK negotiate trade deals with Japan, Australia, and has opened negotiations with the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership(CPTPP) trade group. Naturally, this will include defence trade, something that will be nicely paired with the HMS Queen Elizabeth Carrier Strike Group’s tour through the Indo-Pacific region. When it comes to helping regional states build naval capacity—particularly those based around advanced maritime operations—the Royal Navy and UK Defence Inc. intend to be an agile and willing partner.

The Integrated Review is not a perfect document, but it offers a broad strategic direction for the UK and a signal of intent to India and other Indo-Pacific powers. James Rogers, founding director of the Council of Geostrategyasserts that the emphasis on the Indo-Pacific is “a heavy one” and that “India has been identified as a pivotal country, with the likelihood of growing ties between London and New Delhi in the years ahead”. As we consider an uncertain future in the waning months of the pandemic, it will be, indeed, interesting to see whether or not that prophecy is realised.


China and Russia: Closing the Maritime System?

Council on Geostrategy, Long Read, 10 March, 2021

The news that the upcoming Integrated Review will focus on emerging technologies and non-traditional domains is to be welcomed, particularly those relating to cyberspace, space, and artificial intelligence (AI). In addition to increasing the United Kingdom’s (UK) conventional deterrence capabilities, this also gives its forces the ability to push back and fight in the information domain, a space where Russia and China are increasing the tempo of their ‘grey zone’ operations and influence campaigns. However, as the democracies increase their capacities in these new sectors, the basic truths of the current global order should not be forgotten. At its heart, the rules-based order is more of an onion with overlapping architectures, with a core, based on the maritime domain. And it is within that system that China and Russia are seeking to rewrite the rules.

The maritime domain covers two-thirds of the earth’s surface. As a result, more than 90% of global trade takes place by sea, with 200 countries having ports capable of handling container shipping. In 2019, the total value of annual world shipping trade was estimated to be US$14 trillion, comparable to China’s economic output for that year. Despite a contraction in the shipping industry caused by the United States (US)-China trade war and the Covid-19 pandemic, the global market for cargo shipping remains robust and is expected to rebound in 2021. The importance of the maritime domain to the survival of nations has long been recognized, as sea access allows for states to become stronger through trade, while sea power allows for states to contest or deny trade to other states. 

The development of the current ‘free sea’ – or mare liberum – system was not an inevitable outcome of historic trends. While it is true that various empires have struggled to assert control over the sea as they have over land, it is not for a lack of trying. A number of countries have tried to lay claim to navigational, fishing, and trade rights in what are now known as international waters. During the fifteenth century, Castile (Spain) and Portugal attempted to enforce a ‘closed sea’ – or mare clausem – system across the globe with the 1454 Treaty of Tordesillas dividing the maritime domain into a Portuguese Hemisphere (covering the South Atlantic, Indian Ocean, right up to the southern shore of Japan) and a Spanish Hemisphere (covering the mid-Pacific to the coastlines of the New World). While the agreement was initially bilateral, they attempted to give the treaty universal authority by lobbying the Vatican to add its weight to the agreement. In 1455, Pope Nicholas V duly issued the Romanus Pontifex Bull which legitimised mare clausem. While it is questionable to what extent the two countries’ claims were widely accepted in Europe – France refused to accept them as binding, for example – Spain and Portugal believed these waters, their islands, and contiguous territories were the property of the crown. Hugo Grotius’ seminal textThe Free Sea in 1609 was as much about negating this order as it was proposing the foundations of a new one.

When considering Russian actions in the Northern Sea Route (NSR) and Chinese actions in the Southern Sea Route (SSR) between Asia and Europe, it is vital to consider whether these constitute an incremental attack on the underlying principles of mare liberum and an attempt to assert rules and norms more in keeping with mare clausem. What are the grounds for believing that they are doing so? 

Extended jurisdiction: At the heart of Russia and China’s actions in the Arctic and the South China Sea are their attempts to extend special rights over waterways that are quite expanded from those afforded by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). According to Section 3, Article 17 of UNCLOS, ‘ships of all states, whether coastal or land-locked, enjoy the right of innocent passage through the territorial sea.’ In asserting the right to ask ‘advanced permission’ of foreign naval vessels that seek to carry out ‘innocent passage’ through its territorial waters, China is infringing on the rights of other seafaring states. This is compounded by its drawing of straight baselines around islands, islets, and claiming territorial waters for submerged features that do not deserve them. Similarly, Russia has begun to assert a conditionality upon the rights of other nations to ‘innocent passage’ along the NSR (beyond those stated in UNCLOS) and it has announced a requirement for vessels to give 45 days’ notice and request permission from the Russian government for foreign vessels to transit. The Russian Izvestia newspaper stated at the time that ‘Russia is taking the Northern Sea Route under protection.’

Location, location, location: While many countries have had protectionist maritime policies within their own territorial waters, few impact global trade in the way that Russian and Chinese claims do. Both are carrying out their activities in seas that also straddle the most direct routes between the manufacturing heartlands of Asia and the advanced economies of Europe. For China, the SSR straddles access to Middle East oil and burgeoning African markets. Around 30% of global maritime crude oil trade – around 15 million barrels per day – transits the South China Sea. While the NSR is not yet functioning as a year-round trade route, it saw 27 million tonnes of cargo volume in 2020 and is set to continue rising. In 2016, the World Economic Forum’s Global Advisory Council on the Arctic predicted that 30% of Asia-Europe container trade would transit the NSR by 2030 since it is 35% faster than the southern sea route. The area is also thought to be home to abundant fishing prospects and untapped carbon reserves.

Military coercion: China and Russia have sought to codify their expansionist maritime claims in national laws and used the presence of localised military forces to enforce their claims. China’s ‘island fortresses’ in the South China Sea have been extensively covered by the international media through think tanks like the Centre for Strategic and International Studies’ Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI), which uses commercially available satellite imaging in analysis. According to AMTI, China has bolstered these islands with airfields, hangars for combat aircraft, radar and sensor arrays, and mobile surface-to-air and anti-ship missile systems. In the NSR, Russia has spent considerable resources building up its air and maritime early warning systems and reopened fifty previously closed Soviet-era military bases in the Arctic – including thirteen airbases, ten radar stations, and twenty border outposts. It established the Arctic Strategic Command in 2014, strengthened the Northern Fleet, and updated its naval strategy in 2017 to include a large Arctic component. It has also developed and tested new Arctic-based cruise missiles and nuclear-powered undersea drones. In sum, it would appear that both China and Russia have – with little fanfare or resistance – sought to assert political and military control over fulcrum points of maritime sea trade. 

In some ways, the rise of China is more of a concern because of its economic heft and ability to use this to coerce surrounding nations. While the ambition of Xi Jinping, General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, to turn his nation into a ‘maritime great power’ can be viewed as a natural and inevitable result of China’s rise as a global manufacturing hub and top exporting nation, there are worrying signs that Beijing will reshape the basic rules of the global order to suit its preferences. Doing so will help China realise its global ambition to ‘move closer to centre stage’. The growth of China’s port ownership around key trade routes and maritime chokepoints enhances its influence over the maritime order, while its growing naval clout also means it may have the power to enforce these new rules. In September 2020, the US released a report acknowledging that China’s fleet had surpassed that of the US in numbers (350 to 293). 

Taken together, these shifts in maritime order – legal, political, and military – portend a maritime domain with new rules and norms suited to the preferences of Beijing and Moscow. This is to the detriment of countries that rely on the SSR and NSR for future economic growth and prosperity. While Britain’s position as either a Euro-Atlantic power or an Indo-Pacific power might be debated, it is clear that it must be a maritime power, working with other like-minded seafaring democracies to maintain a free and open sea in both sea routes. It should either work with – or join – the Quad to ensure continued access through the SSR for all. It should also work with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) to shift more attention and resources north, and develop a common ‘Three Eyes’ – Canada, US, and UK – approach to respond to Russian activity in the Arctic and North Atlantic. 

Noting China’s ‘continentalist’ approach towards the maritime domain, Andrew Lambert, Laughton Professor of Seapower at King’s College, London, has written that if China replaced the US as the world’s leading power, ‘it would shatter the global economy and the sea power model that sustains it.’ Common action by the UK and other democracies should ensure this occurrence remains remote.


America’s New Great-Power Problem

With James Rogers, The National Interest, 23 January, 2021

We often seek lessons from history. Thucydides famously wrote that he wished for his History of the Peloponnesian War to be “useful for by those inquirers who desire an exact knowledge of the past as an aid to the interpretation of the future.” Winston Churchill wrote that he sought to make his history, The Second World War, a “contribution to history that will be of service to the future.”  

And yet, no sooner is a comparison made than a critic responds that the historical analogy is malformed, citing major differences between those periods and our own. After all, not all diplomacy with an aggressor leads to a “Munich” moment, not every step, a step “across the Rubicon,” nor every rising power destined for a “Thucydides Trap.”

The imposition of broad sweeping comparisons from the past should, of course, be avoided, but this does not mean that lessons cannot be extracted from history when dealing with certain types of scenarios. So while history does not necessarily repeat itself, it can certainly echo. Structural variables work to influence complex political behaviors in ways that are repeated. The fact that practitioners themselves are immersed in history, accentuates this. So how can today’s policymakerattempting to design policies that deal with China’s risedraw from the past, without making category mistakes or sweeping generalizations? 

When seeking historical instruction, a starting point might be to isolate common structural conditions or variables for comparison. These might include the form of political leadership, regime-type, the form of international polarity, methods of competition, and the impact of specific technologies on escalatory logics (e.g. how do nuclear weapons limit choices?). 

If we apply this typology to the three most recent historical episodes of “rising-power challenges,” then we believe that we can extract lessons in relation to the emerging competition with China. These periods include the European rivalry before World War I, the global competition before World War II, and the era of geopolitical struggle now known as the Cold War. From there, it is clear that there are many commonalities between those periods and the one we are moving into. What do these three eras of competition offer American, British and Indo-Pacific policymakers in terms of insight when dealing with the rise of China

  1. China has a leader around which power has become increasingly centralized to the extent that a cult-of-personality style of leadership has emerged. These behaviors might have been predicted in the first years of Xi Jinping’s regime by looking at his earliest speeches to the CCP cadre. As with other totalitarian leaders, such as Stalin and Hitler, Xi believes in the power of the party-state ideology to drive policy as well as consolidate domestic control. As we saw from those unhappy regimes, as power is centralized, intolerance towards pluralism grows, to the extent that minoritiesespecially those considered hostile by the regimecome under mounting surveillance and discrimination. Here there are echoes between the plight of the Uighurs and various ethnicities in Nazi Germany and the USSR. 
  2. Likewise, under Xi’s authoritarian leadership, more and more of China’s society has fallen under the power of an increasingly expansive party-state structure (similar to the totalitarian party-states of the 1930s), which utilizes an international ideology (socialism), combined with nationalism (with Chinese characteristics), to export the Chinese model abroad to reorder the international system. This approach is not unlike those of past regimes. Like the Kaiser, Xi believes China has the right to shine like the sun. Unlike Hitler, he shies away from open warfare as a means of policy. But, like the party bosses of the USSR, he believes in economic and political warfare to expand China’s power.In terms of regime type, we can see forces at work in China that were also found in Wilhelmian and Nazi Germany. This is because there are few mechanisms for legitimizing the leadership of the party, such as elections or referendums in one-party systems. Therefore, jingoistic nationalism begins to fill that spaceor is deliberately positioned to fill itand if allowed to become too virulent, can lead to domestic pressures for more aggressive, even expansionist, foreign policies.
  3. As an authoritarian state, contemporary China, much like the Nazi and Soviet regimes before it, has proven adroit at integrating the dimensions of state power to the extent that it appears more successful than the fatigued and exhausted liberal democracies. As we know from the struggles with those regimes, the United States, the UK and their allies in the Indo-Pacific region will need to develop greater internal cohesion and overcome many of the “critical” or “core” assumptions that have sapped them of their strength if they are to compete successfully against China. 
  4. In terms of polarity, the previous struggles were more focused. While Japan was a major regional power in the run-up to World War II, the key powers have been concentrated in the Euro-Atlantic region for the past three centuries. In the emerging period of competition, the major powers are spread out. China, India and Japan are in Asia, the United States is in the Americas, and Britain, Germany and Russia are in Europe. American, British and Indo-Pacific policymakers will need to look at an increasingly global theatre, one where the Euro-Atlantic region and the Indo-Pacific region are intrinsically linked. 
  5. Polarity matters, and whether this period is a transition to a bipolar U.S.-China era or a truly multipolar era will impact how states construct their national strategies. If China and the United States are the only superpowersor whether India and the Europeans are able to develop superpower metrics and the political will to use themthen that sill deeply impact alignment behavior, and correspondingly the leadership approach of the United States. 
  6. Methods of competition also have historical echoes. While China is, like the USSR, a communist regime, it has a much higher GDP relative to the leading democracy, the US, than the Soviet Union ever did. It is also, similarly to Wilhelmian Germany, deeply ingrained into global supply chains and the world economy. Therefore, rather than looking for examples of dealing with economic statecraft or coercion from the Cold War, policymakers might consider Wilhelmian Germany in 1914 which utilizeddumping, finance, and trade for strategic ends across Europe. Thus, we should look to the policy options of France, Italy, and the UK for dealing with economic conflict with China.
  7. The West relied heavily on regional alliances to deal with the Wilhelmian and Soviet threats. And now, similar to what occurred in the 1930s, there is an aversion to developing regional alliances or collective defense measures against today’s revisionist: China. This is despite the fact that NATO kept the peace in Europe for nearly seventy years. In addition, there is an allergic reaction to giving Taiwan an open defense guarantee; however, the 1930s showed that the same style of strategic ambiguity by France and Great Britain toward Austria and Czechoslovakia encouraged Nazi ambitions. Indeed, as we think about how Nazi Germany went from attempting to unify German-speaking peoples to absorbing non-Germans, we should think about whether or not a failure to react to more “legitimate” claims can give encouragement to entirely illegitimate ones. While modern-day China is not as aggressive as Nazi Germany, allied weakness and lack of cohesion at critical momentsas when Berlin took the Ruhr region, undermined the governments of Austria and Czechoslovakia before using diplomacy to expand its powermade miscalculation more, not less, likely. When thinking about Hong Kong and Taiwan, this is a relevant lesson. 
  8. In terms of technology, the possession of nuclear weapons remains a huge variable in today’s great-power competition. As we consider the current competition with China, it is clear that the major powers are, as during the Cold War, in possession of nuclear arms, most with fully-established global second-strike capabilities. This means that, unless technology becomes available that can circumvent the danger posed by ballistic or high-speed cruise missiles, escalation can only be “horizontal” and “diagonal,” rather than “vertical.” If we consider how the U.S./UK and USSR were similarly discouraged from escalating to open war with each other, we can see that the emerging era of competition will be pushed into below-the-threshold conflict with conflict taking place in the information sector, the digital sector, technology, space, and across other nonmilitary sectors. 
  9. Despite early Soviet advances during the “space race,”the United States, UK and their western allies were often in the ascendancy in terms of technology during the Cold War. The contemporary era of competition, however, is more likely to resemble the struggles with Wilhelmian and Nazi Germany during the early twentieth century, when the chief revisionist was technologically equal to, or even superior to, the established powers. This is because China has moved forward rapidly with the development of telecommunications systems and other industries of the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”. 

Here are the two takeaway points: First, historical examples are useful but there has been a growing trend in the public arena to criticize such analogies because they fail to precisely match our present day. This approach makes perfect an enemy of the good. We might not be in a “cold war” that equates exactly with the historic events of 1949 to 1989, but by looking for similar variables we can look back to that period for those relevant policies that worked while avoiding those that did not. Second, in this commentary, we have put forward ten lessons from history that we believe are instructional for the contemporary era. No doubt, many will disagree with them or have slight variations. That is wonderful, and such points should be put forward to debate whether we have drawn the right conclusions or not. We have primarily used them to show our variables might inform our analogies, providing perspectives to help policymakers.


With James Rogers, Journal for Indo-Pacific Affairs, December 2020

The assumptions made about British involvement in the Indo-Pacific and the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (the “Quad”) tend to rely on the constraints of geography rather than on interests in a rules-based system. This article argues that not only does Britain share interests with the Quad members in a free trading order—something that is threatened by Chinese and Russian policies —but it has also developed a set of capabilities and facilities across the region that give it reach. From the Persian Gulf and Oman, from Diego Garcia to Singapore, Brit- ain’s role in the Five Power Defence Arrangements and strategic relationships with regional powers mean that it is already an Indo-Pacific maritime power. Questions as to Britain’s inclusion in the still-evolving Quad are therefore entirely political in our opinion. Given the openness of Japan and the United States to external members, Britain could make for an interesting and useful addition to the Quad in the years ahead.

To continue reading, please click here. (From page 118).


Asia Pacific Bulletin, 21 October, 2020

Last month’s news that Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was stepping down came like a thunderbolt from the blue. Once again, a health condition that had compelled him to step down in 2007, resurfaced. Whatever else one might say about Abe ‘the politician’ or Abe ‘the nationalist’, one cannot refute the fact that Abe the ‘grand strategist’ has had the most impact on Japan’s security posture since the Second World War. Of course, the question will be how Yoshihide Suga – his successor – adjusts Japan’s grand strategy  in coming months before he calls an election. One thing is already obvious, Suga – and, indeed, the next generation of future prime ministers – will have to live with Abe’s legacy in one form or another.

This is all a long way from 2007, when Abe’s one-year premiership was already in the rear-view mirror.  Even as he recovered his health, there were whispers in the corridors of Kasumigaseki that he intended to make a comeback and become prime minister again. At the time, many Japan-watchers were skeptical about his chances. His first year had not been particularly successful or popular. Indeed, the loss of the Upper House to the opposition Democratic Party of Japan had paved the way for their electoral in in 2009. Despite this inauspicious beginning, not only did Abe challenge his doubters by successfully running for LDP leadership in September 2012 but he campaigned on a slogan of “take back Japan” in November and won the premiership back in 2012.

In terms of domestic policies, Abe’s ambitions were grand, though the results were mixed. However, one felt spirits lift when he announced “Japan is back!” in a series of speeches deigned to launch “Abenomics”. Using three arrows of monetary easing, fiscal stimulus, and structural reform, the new basket of policies intended to get Japan out of the two-decade slump that had followed the 1992 bursting of the asset price bubble that characterized Japanese growth in the 1980s. For a conservative politician, he was deeply pragmatic and was willing to challenge traditional Japanese social and business structures in order to empower Japan.

Despite a mixed record in domestic policy, it is in the arena of foreign and security policy that Abe has had the most impact and the area where Suga – and other Prime Ministers – will benefit the most. During this period, he oversaw a strengthening of the office of the Prime Minister, giving it a national security council (modelled closely on the UK NSC) and supportive secretariat to effect good security policy. Abe also encouraged intelligence community reforms, creating the equivalent of Britain’s Official Secrets Act, readying the ground for other necessary intelligence reforms across Japan’s bureaucracies. In 2013, Japan passed a state secrets act, which was a badly-needed effort to criminalize espionage. Given the continued need for democratic societies to share intelligence on Chinese and Russian interference operations, foreign policy, and maritime expansionism, this legislation was badly needed. It still remains for Japan to create a classification system and clearance system that allows it to work more closely with the United States and its Five Eyes partners. This was followed in 2015, by the passage of controversial legislation allowing for Japan’s armed forces to take part in conflicts overseas.

For example, he took a concept floating around after the 2005 Indian Ocean Tsunami of turning the four countries that aided the region into a quasi-security partnership. This “Quadrilateral” included the US, Japan, Australia and India and has developed into a functional strategic alignment.  As we enter an era of increased strategic competition, an era where a revitalized and expanded Chinese navy has begun to dominate and control vital shipping lanes in the South China Sea, this group serves as a check on Chinese ambitions. While it lacks formal institutionalization or even the simple ability of collective defense inherent in traditional alliances, its ad hoc nature remains a strength, allowing for New Zealand, Vietnam, and South Korea to join the original Quad members in a “plus” format. Though it’s unclear as to whether this ambiguity of the group will remain a strength – after all, defense guarantees are necessary for the deterrent of collective defense – it’s unclear as to whether member states are ready for formalization. Abe’s role in promoting the Quad was pivotal and its hybrid nature is a little reflective of Japan’s restrictions under the pacifist constitution.

Perhaps of even more significance is Abe’s role in promoting the “Indo-Pacific” over the historic “Asia-Pacific” framework. Recognizing India’s importance as a democratic balancer to future Chinese hegemony in the future of the region’s integration efforts, he promoted the concept of the Indo-Pacific in his 2007 “Confluence of the Two Seas” speech in the Indian parliament and began systematically wooing Indian leaders to the framing.  Including a democratic India in the future of Asia was not only good geopolitics, it was good geo-economics, as India’s population and democratic system balanced out China’s equally large population and authoritarian system. Not only did the idea go down well in New Delhi, it was eagerly taken up by other like-minded states in-region over subsequent years, with Australia, ASEAN, France, the UK and the US adopting either the framing or creating their own versions. In 2016, Tokyo put more flesh on the concept, unveiling the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific Vision”, which acted as a foil for Beijing’s increasingly China-centric vision of Asia’s future, while promoting openness and values to attract regional hedgers.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been an incredibly influential figure on the world stage and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga will have his work cut out for him. Not only must he uphold and continue the shift in Japan’s grand strategy, he must manage Japan’s famously difficult bureaucracy to do so. One of Abe’s greatest strengths was his team that brought together big thinkers – such as Nobukatsu Kanehara – with backroom operators – such as Shotaro Yachi, and Suga himself. Suga, the son of a farmer was well-known and well-feared by senior bureaucrats as someone who was dangerous to cross and who was deeply loyal to the Prime Minister. Mandarins who opposed the Prime Minister often found their promotions held up or relegated to less senior positions. According to rumor, when Abe heard that Suga was going to run for office in December last year, he said to Suga, “Yes, I can see you as prime minister, but who will be your ‘Suga’”? This puts much pressure upon Suga’s new chief cabinet secretary Katsunobu Kato to manage the bureaucracy as efficiently as he once did. Whether or not Suga can succeed in the public nature of his new position – and not be tempted back into facilitation  – will ultimately be a critical issue for him.

Looking back at the premiership of Shinzo Abe, it is clear that a complicated leader has left the stage. While his views on Japan’s militaristic past were less-than-ideal, his Indo-Pacific conceptualization and support for the Quad were instrumental in shaping a balancing coalition toward the PRC. It was also a highly liberal vision of regional order, replete with norms of openness, rules, and human rights – something no Japanese post-war leader had previously emphasized. While he has struggled with Japan’s historic issue – notably with South Korea – he has reached “across the aisle” multiple times. The breakdown in the relationship with South Korea must be seen in the context of his speeches in front of both houses of Australia’s Parliament and the US Congress on Japan’s wartime history. The speeches were full of regret and sorrow and were accordingly well-received. As Yoshihide Suga assumes the levers of Japanese power, he comes to a situation in which Tokyo’s grand strategy is well-stated and its influence at an all-high. He will have to manage the relationship with the United States, Japan’s close ally, a hegemonic China, and a cautious region in a world rocked by the pandemic and economic slowdown. One hopes he will do well.


South Korea’s Growing 5G Dilemma

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With Sungmin Cho, CSIS Commentary, 6 July, 2020

Recent developments in the information and communications technology (ICT) competition between the United States and China are likely to have caught the attention of South Korea’s Blue House. As a close U.S. ally with a stake in the 5G debate, it has been watching the UK 5G debate very closely. After all, if a close U.S. ally such as the United Kingdom could incorporate Huawei in its 5G network without damaging its alliance with Washington, it would provide Seoul with support for its own inclusion of the Chinese tech company into its networks. However, all of this has changed in the wake of the U.S. announcement on May 15 that it would restrict Huawei’s ability to design and manufacture semiconductors using U.S. technology, with both the United Kingdom and Canada suddenly shifting their apparent willingness to include the Chinese company in their 5G networks.

First, Bell Canada and Telus, two of Canada’s largest telecoms, announced they would be awarding contracts solely to Ericsson and Nokia, Huawei’s Scandinavian rivals, studiously avoiding any mention of the Huawei bid. In London, the shift has been even more prominent, with Boris Johnson calling for a “major rethink” on China. According to media accounts, discussions at the Cabinet Office level began last week looking at ways of replacing Huawei in the country’s 5G network by 2023. As the United Kingdom already has a mixed supplier system incorporating Ericsson and Nokia, they are now searching for a third supplier to replace Huawei and are apparently in discussion with Japan’s NEC and South Korea’s Samsung. The United Kingdom is also leading discussions on the formation of a “D10 Club,” a telecommunications supplier group consisting of the G7 members plus India, Australia, and South Korea, which it hoped to put forward at the U.S.-hosted G7 summit in September. South Korea has already accepted an invitation to the summit, though as of writing the summit’s details have yet to be finalized

Its inclusion in the D10 and in the United Kingdom’s consideration of Samsung as a replacement for Huawei raises South Korea’s profile in the wider 5G ICT supply chain debate, something that the Blue House has, until now, sought to avoid for two reasons. First, this ICT “decoupling” is driving a wedge between technology supply chains, which are deeply integrated for South Korean companies. The growing bifurcation between the PRC and the United States in this new “technology cold war” puts South Korea squarely between its main security provider and its main trading partner: an unsustainable position over the long run. Second, while Samsung is itself a competitor of Huawei—particularly in the space of 5G patents and equipment—there are many South Korean companiesthat still wish to collaborate with Huawei and other leading Chinese technology firms who will resist the growing pressure to decouple in ICT.

This “security-trade dilemma” facing Seoul is not unique. Many U.S. allies are similarly dependent on China for trade and investment—Australia is a major example, having suffered an economic downturn, partly due to Covid-19 and partly due to a deterioration in relations with China. For South Korea, proximity is a serious factor, as 27 percent of South Korea’s exports in 2018 went to China, while only 12 percent went to the United States. As a result, the costs of a Chinese retaliation on South Korea’s economy are larger and have shaped Seoul’s low-profile approach to the debate thus far. Indeed, Chinese authorities have already sent warning signals to South Korea through multiple channels. In June 2019, China’s

National Development and Reform Commission allegedly “called out” Samsung Electronics and SK Hynix with warnings not to block trade with Huawei. China’s tourism boycott of South Korea for hosting the U.S. deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system (THAAD) was said to have cost the country $5.1 billion in lost revenues. Therefore, it is not surprising that South Korea’s former Minister of Science and ICT You Young-min has asserted that the 5G issue is not even up for discussion: “Huawei security issues in 5G should not be discussed because China is sensitive to it. I’m afraid that there would be a dispute.”

The issue is hardly simple for South Korea, as it has mixed interests, particularly from companies such as Samsung which could increase market share in smartphones at Huawei’s expense. More importantly, Samsung can become a dominant 5G network supplier if Huawei’s global business in 5G equipment is effectively diminished. However, supply chain integration also means that Huawei is one of Samsung’s biggest customers for SK Hynix’s memory chips. Huawei alone accounts for 17 percent of South Korea’s electronics parts exports to China in 2019. Huawei not only buys parts from South Korea but also provides 5G-related equipment to South Korean companies such as LG U-plus. As a result, South Korean companies are torn. South Korean companies stand to gain long term from Huawei’s lost global market share in 5G-related off-shoots, such as wearable devices, smart infrastructure, and the Internet of Things (IoT), but this will be at the expense of short-term business and growth from Huawei and other PRC tech firms.

As South Korean policymakers are beginning to realize—as indeed many other nations are realizing in the wake of Covid-19—trade dependency on the PRC is increasingly becoming a national security vulnerability. As a result, a shift toward “diversification” is not unwelcome. Like their Japanese counterparts, South Korean firms have been gradually withdrawing from China as Chinese competitors absorb their intellectual property and establish cheaper rival products. This long-term trend became even more pronounced after the 2017 THAAD crisis showed how vulnerable Seoul was to Beijing’s economic coercion. Shortly thereafter, Samsung started to downsize its Chinese manufacturing presence, closing the Shenzhen production line in May 2018, followed by its Tianjin factory in December. As the trade war between the United States and China began to heat up, South Korean firms continued their exodus from China, going to replacements such as Vietnam, where South Korean FDI ($1.97 billion in the first half of 2018) actually exceeded FDI into China ($1.6 billion over the same period).

The prospect of increased South Korean visibility on this issue is not relished by President Moon Jae- in. After all, the overriding issue for the U.S.-ROK relationship has been base support, an issue with sensitive connotations domestically. However, there may be growing realization among South Korea’s leaders that the U.S. position on Huawei—and Chinese ICT supply chains in general—is a bipartisan one across Washington DC. This was the primary message during the Munich Security Conference in Germany held this past February, with senior Democrats such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff showing a rare example of bipartisanship by echoing the administration’s warnings about the Chinese company in their remarks. Slowly but surely, U.S. allies are beginning to realize that this issue is one where there is little daylight between the two parties in Washington.

While it is true that to date U.S. efforts to pressure their allies have only been reluctantly accepted, there are increasing signs that states wish to avoid the supply chain vulnerability that comes with dependence on China. The recent prospect of a British “D-10 Club” of countries at the next G7 provides a potential breakout for Seoul, Canberra, Tokyo, and other allies from the security-trade dilemma. Speculation that India’s is considering a ban of ZTE and Huawei components from its 5G networks also supports this trend. As a member among 10 major economies, South Korea will have less to fear from a vengeful China; as a collective that includes multiple U.S. allies, it will also be able to balance U.S. policy preferences with the interests of the wider group. Either way, any diplomatic grouping looking at both trade and security in relation to China would certainly bear watching.


The World Health Organisation has come under China’s growing – and malign – influence

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The Telegraph, 15 April, 2020

President Trump has announced that the United States will stop funding the World Health Organization (WHO), a specialized UN agency, saying its “Sino-centric” behavior has been a catalyst for the global spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.

For the blissfully ignorant, this is merely the latest evidence of his “America First” approach toward foreign policy. However, for those who have been watching the UN system, Trump is absolutely correct. There is something rotten in the state of Denmark and we are going to have to confront it sooner or later.

For many of us, the Covid-19 crisis has been about how to deal with the impact of the disease and social isolation upon our immediate lives, but the crisis has also revealed the unsettling fact that one country, China, has quietly begun to amass influence over the wider UN system, and that in the case of immediate and pressing global emergencies, China’s priorities and protocols come first – over the lives of a great many citizens of this world.

Criticism of the WHO has particularly targeted its Director, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who is said to owe his appointment to China, for following Chinese preferences over internationally agreed guidelines – such as the International Health Regulations (IHR) – even going so far as to delay announcing it as a pandemic to avoid hurting China’s international standing. As Beijing’s was detaining its own doctors – early heroes against the disease – and suppressing geonomic research on the disease, Tedros was praising China for its “transparency” and “leadership”.

Perhaps more damningly, Taiwanese diplomats have claimed the WHO ignored early warnings in December about Covid-19 trasmission from its own experts – in order to please Beijing – indicating that we might have been saved this pandemic if the WHO had merely listened.

This corruption of the WHO’s function is symptomatic of a wider trend, which has seen Beijing take over one-third of the UN’s 15 specialized agencies, appointing its officials to important posts where they immediately beginning implementing “Sino-centric” policies, using a combination of arm-twisting and lobbying.

And while all countries seek to influence the global system through the UN, China’s influence has been particularly hostile toward the “liberal” character imbued into the system by countries like the US and UK in 1950s.

Consider the recent news that China that has been appointed to the Human Rights Council. This is the same nation that the BBC revealed had built concentration camps for millions of its Muslim Uyghurs in 2018, and it now holds the power to appoint human rights investigators to look at arbitrary detention, freedom of speech transgressions, and enforced disappearances – presumably because they are all areas where Beijing has excelled.

Consider too how Chinese officials – from Huawei – are said to be attempting to push through internet protocol “reforms” at the UN agency – the International Telecommunications Union – that could favour authoritarian approaches toward data. The Director General of ITU is another Chinese official.

Consider how it has sought to promote the Belt and Road Initiative – a Chinese form of “debt diplomacy” with geostrategic implications – in the UN’s Development Policy and Analysis Division. The Director of DPAD? Another Chinese official.

Then there has been China’s behavior under the rules of the World Trade Organization. The US helped China gain entry into that organization in December 2001, in return expected Beijing to gradually bring its state-run economy in line with free market principles. Instead, it has spent decades allowing Chinese companies to take their foreign competitors valuable intellectual property through joint ventures and prejudicial legal outcomes. Its Made in China:2025 policy sought to enshrine Chinese dominance in key strategic sectors in the global economy as a matter of state policy. There was little surprise that the US blocked its attempt to have one of its officials lead the UN’s World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).

As Western nations struggle through the Covid-19 crisis, China has unfortunately blocked efforts by Estonia and others to discuss the virus at the UN Security Council, though it would make sense for the council to discuss the origins of the virus – if only to prevent future outbreaks.

Once Covid-19 subsides, the West will have to decide on what to do about China’s growing – and unfortunately malign – influence on the UN system: cut-and-run or fight for the integrity of the system. The latter won’t be easy: unlike the Soviet Union during the Cold War, China has deep pockets with which to win support. Sea ports, 5G networks, and hydropower dams give it sway in the UN General Assembly

However, the UN remains an essential liberal architecture, and it could be saved, if we were willing to expend the resources and political energy. I hope we are willing.


Pacific Trident III:  The Strengths and Weaknesses of the U.S. Alliance System Under Gray Zone Operations

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Security Nexus, 30 March, 2020

“What have I come here to learn?” This was the question at the forefront of my mind as I entered a modern, glassy, corporate site on a cold, wet Norfolk day in early February. The large room was cavernous and approximated my vision of a secure control center, with busy people at consoles in a pit facing three massive screens at the front, and a raised deck to their rear, housing an operations control center. I thought of the 1983 film, War Games, and, in a sense, that was an appropriate parallel as I was attending a tabletop exercise, “Pacific Trident III,” created and run by Sasakawa Peace Foundation USA (Sasakawa USA), a think tank based in Washington D.C.

The exercise itself – the set-up – was actually quite interesting for a mid-career East Asia analyst like myself. It was not the usual North Korea crisis or Taiwan-China crisis, but rather a realistic combination of two different scenarios. The starting point was for the China team to 1) expand Chinese influence and authority in East Asia and 2) drive wedges between the United States and its allies. The China team began the game by persuading the North Koreans to “initiate” a minor but ambiguous provocation – a small special operations ground attack on a U.S. base in the South – while China simultaneously landed “humanitarian aid workers” on a Taiwanese-administered island in the South China Sea in the wake of a typhoon.

It was a clever and interesting set-up that confounded the United States and allied players in the initial stages of the game in two fundamental ways. First, it utilized two different crises at the same time, challenging the United States and allied players as to which was the “real” crisis, or which merited prioritization. Second, both crises involved actors using gray zones tactics (operations other than war) to achieve their objectives. In many ways, the fact that there were two gray zone operations at the same time showed the alliance system’s strengths and exposed some of its weaknesses.

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Jeremy S. Maxie

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