The Telegraph, 30 November, 2017
The story that came from a diplomatic backchannel between the US and North Korea during the early months of the Trump administration was telling. A group of American experts travelled to Stockholm to meet a group of North Korean officials in order to get a sense of what Pyongyang wanted, what its bottom line was.
Facing North Korean diplomats across the table, they asked, “what do you want?”, “What will persuade you to put down nuclear weapons?”. According to someone in the room, the North Korean diplomats were extremely self-composed, cocky even. Their position to the American team was stark:
“Accept us a nuclear state. Then we either talk about a peace treaty…or we’ll go to war.”
According to a former US official in the room, it was a breath-taking indication how far apart the two sides had drifted from their near agreement during the 2007 Six Party Talks.
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BBC, 30 November, 2017
RUSI Newsbrief, with Jack Wright, 23 November, 2017
At the launch of the Access India Programme in late September, the assistant vice president of Invest India, Vivek Abraham, announced that India hopes to increase UK exports by ensuring that the ‘red carpet is rolled out’ to British small- and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) looking to invest in India. Launched by the High Commission of India in London, together with the India Business Council, the initiative is a hopeful sign that New Delhi is willing to expand its current relations with the UK as the latter continues to negotiate Brexit and reformulate its place in the world.
While it is true that Brexit has seen the UK mired in deep uncertainty at the domestic level, leaving the EU offers a historically unique opportunity for Britain’s foreign policymakers to sit down and think of a new global role for the country at a time of great international flux – a role apart from the Europe-centred approach adopted since the end of the Second World War. It is also a timely opportunity for New Delhi – which has discovered that its traditional non-aligned policy has left it with few allies.
The main cause of the flux in the global order is, without a doubt, the rise of China, which has both the ambition and the means to re-order the liberal, rules-based international order to its liking. As an outward-reaching authoritarian power that is increasingly intolerant of liberal values, China’s ambitions do not bode well for the liberal part of the order. The fact that Beijing seems to view both domestic and international law as subject to Communist Party control does not bode well for the rules-based part of the global order. It has ignored or selectively interpreted aspects of international law – such as Beijing’s sovereignty-expanding interpretation of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) – or simply sought to change facts on the ground unilaterally, using salami-slicing tactics. Its island-building across a major global trade route is one example, its attempts to shift the Sino-Indian border using troops on the ground is another.
It will therefore increasingly fall to powers such as the US, Japan, India, the UK and the EU to attempt to constrain – and re-direct – China’s efforts to construct an authoritarian global order. India – another rising power within the current liberal order – is an ideal partner in this endeavour. While India does not – strictly speaking – consider itself liberal, Indian society is informed by classical liberal principles and is relatively tolerant, with a secular constitution promising justice, equality and liberty to its nine major religious groups. India also has a strong democratic tradition, a nominally independent judiciary and a (albeit partial) free press, among the most liberal in South Asia. Given that two major economic and security partners of the UK – Japan and the US – are fostering closer ties with India, there is also the possibility of strategic complementarity between London, Washington, Tokyo and Delhi on Chinese efforts to control global trade routes.
Going ‘East of Aden’, a UK shorn of its EU identity will want to redefine itself in ways that complement its strengths. In addition to becoming a bulwark for the liberal, rules based order, the UK also has more pressing business with India in the form of cooperation on cyber and counter terrorism. However, there are many gaps in the relationship that will require work before such lofty strategic dialogues can have meaning. Delhi has not always been open to cultivating such a close relationship with London. During the Cold War, India followed Nehru’s non-alignment posture and also formed a burgeoning security partnership with Moscow, aided by the strong residue of post-imperial resentment. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, however, India began its own economic reforms of the ‘Licence Raj’ – the excessive regulations on setting up and running businesses – in a bid to escape the economic chaos that had characterised the 1980s; but Delhi remained uncertain of what type of foreign policy it should pursue. The result was non-alignment by default, causing a regrettable absence of a major Asian power in regional politics.
While the past two decades have been dominated by the rise of China, the rise of India as an active global power might be no less important: of the original four BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, and China), only India and China have realised the growth predicted by economist Jim O’Neill – who coined the term ‘BRIC’ – in the early 2000s. As a consequence of its ongoing rise, India has gradually recognised the need to play a regional and diplomatic role on the international stage. Delhi has either strengthened or built strong relationships with a number of middling powers across Asia, including Vietnam, South Korea and Japan, as part of its ‘Look East’ policy. The visit to India in early September by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was hailed by many Indian broadsheets as the start of a potential alliance with the world’s third largest economy. It came almost exactly three years after the two states agreed to double by 2019 both the amount of Japanese direct investment in India and the number of companies working there. When it comes to China, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was elected in May 2014, has sought a nuanced approach, balancing a firm line on India’s northern borders with an openness to Chinese foreign direct investment (FDI); Chinese FDI increased in 2014 and 2015, with the May 2015 signing of cooperation deals worth £14 billion the most obvious success.
By comparison, London has failed to capitalise on India’s rise from middle to regional power: although former Prime Minister David Cameron secured rising levels of investment before his resignation in June 2016, the UK remains only India’s 12th biggest trading partner — and there are signs that this ranking may drop even further. The inability by Theresa May to secure a comprehensive economic bilateral agreement during her visit to India in November 2016 was regarded by many British commentators as a relative failure, caused mostly by an inability to exchange continued visas for Indians to the UK for UK access to India’s growing services sector. Now many young Indians are choosing to turn towards Germany, Australia and the US – rather than the UK – for educational and employment opportunities.
Despite this, there is much to gain in attempting to foster closer ties. A Commonwealth report entitled ‘Brexit: Opportunities for India’ asserted that a free trade agreement between the UK and India could see the value of British exports to India increase from £4.2 billion (in 2015) to £6.3 billion, an increase of 33%. Much of this bump would simply come off existing trade, since a UK–India free trade agreement could dispose of the high tariffs that currently exist (British exports into India average around 14.8%, while Indian exports into the UK average 8.4%). The UK has significant human resources that might help to develop this new relationship with India. There are approximately 1.5 million Britons of Indian origin, and so the UK has a strong diaspora that can act as human bridges in a policy environment where trust is pivotal. Key policy leaders – including Alok Sharma and (despite her recent fall from grace) Priti Patel – reveal the depth of this growing network, which could prove instrumental in efforts to mutually enrich the ties between India and the UK.
Moreover, according to a British Council report, young Indians continue to identify with British culture, ranking the UK as the second-most attractive global economy after the US. With an immediate application rate of 4,000 in 2014 alone for the Generation UK–India programme for shortterm study and work placements, it is clear that the UK should tap into the diaspora to strengthen its longstanding historical connections with India in the era of ‘Global Britain’.
In a recent report on global capabilities, James Rogers, Director of the Global Britain Programme at the Henry Jackson Society, created a power index using seven key indices, including economic clout, diplomatic leverage and military strength. With its strong assets, unique geographical advantages, far-flung network of bases and strong defence-industrial complex, he argued that British hard power could be formidable. The UK has clearly looked to bolster its ‘strategic ambition’ in the Asia-Pacific through its naval capacity: in an address at the Defence Security Equipment International (DSEI) arms fair in September 2017, First Sea Lord Sir Philip Jones insisted that the implementation of the National Shipbuilding Strategy (published by the Ministry of Defence) would be a vital precursor to any substantial future regional presence. Although the UK currently has established defensive relationships (Five Eyes, ANZUS, FPDA) with a string of US allies (including Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei), India should be considered as a future security partner of the first order.
The global landscape is reconfiguring itself as a number of states gain increasing power and as the US, Japan and Europe decline in relative terms. One outcome of this shift has been the cross-fertilisation of US partnerships and alliances across the Asia-Pacific region in what was once a traditionally bilateral system. Japan– India defence ties have been growing on the back of close US support and engagement; the relationship between the two states is now a quasi-alliance in the fields of defence industry and defence cooperation. While China and Russia have viewed such alliance networking with suspicion, their actions in the South China Sea and Ukraine have to some extent fostered these new relationships. Concerned with what they see as piecemeal attacks on the current rules-based order, Washington, Tokyo, Canberra, and New Delhi have begun to engage in closer strategic cooperation, not to contain Beijing or Moscow, but to deter them. Indeed, the four met on the sidelines of a recent APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) meeting in a rebirth of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue. This reshaping of the strategic landscape is something that the UK might lend itself to as it disengages from the strategic passivity of the European project.
At the 2017 DSEI in London, Sir Philip stated, ‘Having invested so much practical and political capital in [the development of British carrier strike capacity], our American friends will be watching closely to see if the UK is serious about remaining their partner of choice’. As the Trump administration looks to firm up US comprehensive national power through tax reforms and new economic bilaterals, there is a sort of logical symmetry in London joining other nations engaged in this high-level security cooperation. Indeed, London already has historically deep ties with Washington, has fairly strong ties with Tokyo – including a 2+2 strategic dialogue – and has similar concerns about the future of the global order. A strategic bilateral with New Delhi would foster both this strategic socialisation and an overall deterrence strategy, as well as build on areas of cooperation already in existence, such as cyber security and international counter terrorism. Debates on the rights and wrongs of Brexit are beside the point now. Now is the time for London’s foreign policy community to be debating about the future of Britain’s global posture at a time of great flux. Of course, there will be many short-term challenges, particularly regarding London and Brussels; however, there will also be many more long-term opportunities.
The flux in the global order, China’s attempts to shape that order, India’s rise as a new power in that order and the relative decline of liberal democracies mean that there is a desperate need for a new British strategy on how London will confront these major events. Confronting the collective rise of Asia, it would be foolish for the UK to view its ejection from the European project as a net loss. It is now able – if indeed it chooses – to become a truly global power with relationships and partnerships across the world. Since the UK is better poised to enhance relations with powers that share common values than with aggressive competitors, it would be odd if India – with all its potential as a democratic power – were not at the top of the list of future partners in the Asia-Pacific.
In April 2018, the UK has a unique opportunity to begin strengthening its relationship with India in the form of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, which will take place in London and Windsor. Not only should Modi be invited, but he should be welcomed with the ‘reddest carpet’ possible. While there is scepticism in India on the UK’s attempt to re-engage using the Commonwealth, Delhi is also confronting its own challenges – not least from Islamist terrorism and an increasingly assertive China – and should not neglect an opportunity to reshape its own international isolation. As China’s economic diplomacy slowly brings states around India into Beijing’s orbit, Delhi could do with shaking off its nostalgia for a nonalignment that never really existed and adjust to the fact that the global order is changing. Now is the time for a ‘Golden Era’ of bilateral relations; now is the time for London and Delhi to develop a new ‘special relationship’.
The Financial Times, Kiran Stacy, Jamie Smyth, 14 November, 2017
“John Hemmings, director of the Asia Studies Centre at the Henry Jackson Society, a foreign policy think-tank, says: ‘We must ask ourselves: by avoiding collective security arrangements in 2008, did we persuade China to behave as a model citizen in the region?'”
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The Interpreter, 9 November, 2017
Recent news that Australia’s Foreign Minister has indicated interest in taking part in a resurrected US-Australia-Japan-India quadrilateral dialogue on the sidelines of the upcoming ASEAN Summit is to be welcomed. It is an indication how much the strategic situation in the Asia Pacific has shifted. Positive as this latest development might be, it should nonetheless be regarded with caution.
The ‘Quadrilateral’ was never an alliance. It was a loose geostrategic alignment of states concerned with China’s potential challenge to their interests, but simultaneously, unwilling to provoke China by assuming the obligatory mechanisms of an alliance. Even then it buckled under pressure. Accused of being a NATO-in-the-making, it was far too full of self-doubt to be effective.
Chinese diplomatic opposition to the forum was keenly felt in June 2007 after Beijing issued demarches to all four countries, but Canberra’s asymmetric economic dependence meant that Australia felt it more than most. Within months of winning the election in 2007, Kevin Rudd’s Foreign Minister Stephen Smith unilaterally withdrew Australia from the quadrilateral during a February 2008 meeting with China’s Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi. While Australia was not the only country suffering internal divisions about the issue – there were doubters among the senior-most levels of the US Department of State and the Indian Ministry of External Affairs – it was the first to break ranks.
At the root of Australia’s indecision has been something common to all the great and middle powers in the region: how to apportion China a regional leadership role while attempting to shape its choices away from illiberal or hegemonic designs.
Sadly, in the years since, China has shown ever-increasing signs of assertiveness in its approach to the region. It has used military coercion and an unprecedented militarisation of maritime sea lanes in the South China Sea; its strategy is both at odds with regional practice and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Despite regional attempts to resolve disputed maritime claims peacefully, Beijing has cynically played for time over the establishment of a Code of Conduct while using economic leverage to prevent ASEAN unanimity.
China’s geostrategic ambitions have become global with the massive, multi-billion dollar, decades-long Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). It promises a new age of Chinese leverage over the Asian heartland, as well as a real attempt at internationalising the RMB without giving over political control.
No doubt, this dialogue on the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit will feel the full weight of China’s diplomatic pressure. Even in announcing its openness to a meeting, Bishop’s language was ambiguous: ‘…it’s natural that we should continue to have such discussions, but there is nothing formal. There is no decision on that.’ Chinese diplomats are likely to issue demarches and make phone calls to all four capitals.
While no one wishes to have a China backed into a corner, fearful of a NATO in Asia, is that really what is taking place? From one perspective, a rising power with quasi-hegemonic designs is trying to prevent a loose coalition of states from organising themselves in a constraining and deterring bloc. And while it is absolutely in China’s interests to do that, is it in ours to acquiesce?
If the quadrilateral format is embraced, the four may find that despite initial protests, Beijing will ultimately accept that each have their own interests and the power to define those interests. This week we have seen Beijing accept – after a year of diplomatic pressure – Seoul’s decision to deploy THAAD missile-defence systems on its soil. South Korea stuck to its ground while simultaneously seeking to ameliorate China’s concerns, eventually winning China over.
The quadrilateral members should adopt that lesson as their own. We must ask ourselves: by avoiding collective security arrangements in 2008, did we persuade China to behave as a model citizen in the region? We must choose actions that meet our own strategic concerns and not China’s. For this reason, the quadrilateral makes sense.
The Telegraph, 8 November 2017
Donald Trump’s trade policy is making America’s allies vulnerable to Chinese pressure, but this doesn’t signal the end of American dominance
As Donald Trump continues his long tour around Asia, the question is whether the President will be able to articulate a strategy toward the region at a critical time in its history. Having rejected Barack Obama’s signature policies – the Pivot to Asia and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which were meant to balance China’s rise with continued American leadership – it is not clear what he will put in their place.
It is not even clear if the region will wait for him to make up his mind, with a number of states asking very serious questions about the US’s staying power in the region. Given the fact that some predict that Asia will make up 40 per cent of the global economy by 2050, the question of who leads the region will have global implications.
In terms of regional integration, Trump’s brand of “America First” economics is looking distinctly at odds with Asia’s move towards ever-closer liberalization. While Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made sure the president felt welcome in Tokyo on Monday, he did not budge on the possibility of a bilateral trade deal.
He and other leaders have decided to press on with the TPP without the US. Abe and the other 16 national leaders are expected to announce the continuation of TPP at the next APEC summit. The Master of the Deal may leave the region without getting one, it seems.
And US strategy is not only floundering in the economic sphere. Just days before Trump embarked for the region, America’s ally South Korea buckled under Chinese diplomatic and economic pressure with regards to the THAAD missile system.
Some estimates put the total damage to Korean business at $10 billion, and Seoul eventually agreed not to host any additional THAAD systems, to not participate in a US missile defence system, and finally, to avoid participating in a US-Japan-South Korea alliance. Meanwhile Trump’s insistence on renegotiating the Bush-era KORUS free trade agreement adds economic tensions to this blow to military interoperability.
China’s attempts to loosen Washington’s alliances is evident throughout the region. In addition to Seoul’s recent reversal, Beijing has applied economic leverage with great success to Australia and the Philippines. A growing clique in Canberra argue for an “independent” foreign policy that does not upset Beijing.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s noncommittal stance toward a revived US-Japan-India-Australia Quadrilateral last weekend was clearly meant to avoid antagonizing China. Similarly, the Philippines – a crucial state in the geostrategic struggle over the South China Sea – has openly shifted closer to China under the leadership of its president, Rodrigo Duterte.
In all this, China is giving a warm welcome in Beijing to the American President, but it may be the consoling arm of a state that sees itself in the ascendancy. In the wake of October’s 19th Party Congress, President Xi Jinping stands in marked contrast to his American guest.
At the pinnacle of the Chinese state, Xi has amassed more power around himself since Chairman Mao Zedong and is fostering a surge in Chinese nationalism and pride. He has helped push through a number of organizational reforms that have strengthened China’s increasingly modern military and commands an economy that still grows at a healthy 6.3 per cent.
Yet despite this gloomy prognosis, it is not at all clear that Beijing will succeed in becoming the region’s or the world’s greatest superpower.
For one thing, Xi’s brand of anti-Western authoritarianism and hard-nosed mercantilism may actually increase pressure on China’s structural weaknesses, as Chinese universities experience brain drain to their Western competitors.
Furthermore, China’s policy of pushing its inefficient state owned enterprises (SOEs) to invest into the landmark Belt and Road Initiative risks worsening China’s debt of $22 trillion, by lending billions to states who will be unable to repay them.
Hedge fund manager Kyle Bass estimates that in a debt crisis, Beijing’s loses could total five times those of the US subprime crisis of 2007-10. Then there is the demographic challenge, which threatens to make China old before it becomes rich. Its working population began declining in 2015 and according to Chi Ho, a senior economist, China’s share of population over 65 will increase from 9 per cent to 30 per cent by 2040.
Geostrategically, China can capitalize on the loosening of ties between regional states and the “untrustworthy” Trump administration in the near-term. However, Beijing will be undone by its own long-term grand ambitions.
Encroaching on the East China Sea, the South China Sea, and India’s northern border, Beijing has needlessly made firm geopolitical opponents where before there were none.
Tokyo, Delhi, and Hanoi all view Chinese encroachment on their territory with likeminded resolve and have begun to develop closer defence links with each other and with Washington. Australia notwithstanding, the most interesting news this year is that the US-Japan-India trilateral will be reinvigorated by closer defence cooperation.
By comparison, the US has much to offer – despite the president’s personal lack of popularity – in structural terms if not soft power. As Joseph Nye noted in a recent Financial Times piece, US shale-energy independence and currency advantages contrast favourably with China’s vulnerable shipping lines and its weak currency.
While China has attempted to internationalize its renminbi currency, 64 per cent of international foreign reserves are in the dollar, with only 1.1 per cent in renminbi. Furthermore, US liberalism contrasts very well with China’s authoritarian-style interference in the region, and this will only increase as Xi’s China becomes more authoritarian.
Australia was hit by revelations this year of Chinese interference in its education and political system. Polls taken in 2017 also show that 3.1 per cent of Hongkongers identify as Chinese.
Finally, in its rise, China has attempted to side-line the region’s second largest power, Japan. While this sounds trivial, Japan’s still-sizable population, regional diplomacy, strong defence capabilities, and place as the world’s third largest economic power show the depth of this mistake.
Trump’s warm welcome in Tokyo may well serve as a metaphor for how Japan will keep the US in the region over the next four years; even now, Japanese diplomats have fostered relations with the Philippines to balance against a total shift toward China.
Aides close to Abe admit to keeping a space on the TPP for the Americans to “dock in” in some future date. Whatever the case, the stakes could not be much higher in a region set to be the engine of the global economy. How Trump and the United States get through the trip – and the next four years – remain critical.