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China is tightening its high-tech tyranny. Theresa May should not be rushing to please it

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The Telegraph, 3 February, 2018

We have little to gain from ignoring China’s renewed march towards authoritarianism

From all the photos of the Prime Minister’s three-day trip to China this week, the one which carried furthest was simple: drinking tea with its president, Xi Jinping, in the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing.

The image of Xi dressed urbanely in a Western suit, was a far cry from his appearance in military dress earlier this month at a large military mobilization meeting in which he addressed 7,000 soldiers and exhorted them to be “ready for war” and “fearless of death”.

In some ways, the dichotomy between the two images of China’s leader – one of the most powerful since Chairman Mao Zedong – is symbolic of the two Chinas with which we are confronted. On the one hand, China, the major source of investment and imports; on the other hand – if we’re frank – China, the neo-authoritarian power that is now moving rapidly toward totalitarian one-man rule.

The conundrum for “Auntie May” – as she was dubbed by Chinese state media – is how to reconcile these two Chinas. And it is not her problem alone. May’s trip looks no different from that of President Macron’searlier this month, or that of President Trump in November.

Her speech, for example followed the pattern that we are beginning to see in other world leaders when they visit China. First they pay lip-service to the China they wished existed, and then they get to the bottom line: trade. And the lip-service becomes increasingly contortionist. At one point, May mentioned a China that “continues to reform and open up”. One can almost hear the sucking-in-of-teeth in the Foreign Office as those words were written.

In the last year China’s only reforms have been in favour of increased control for the Party throughout society, with more than 30 Communist Party committees being formed across the largest Chinese companies. China’s media and legal sectors having been entirely subsumed once-more under party control; the country is preparing for the 2020 roll-out of a “social credit scoring system” that will create one of history’s most advanced totalitarian societies.

That this “sharp power” is now drifting into our universities and our societies – witness Australia’s travails last year – should make us pause. Exactly which part of China is reforming and opening up?

May’s speech also mentioned how the UK were working hard together to “tackle global and regional security challenges” like North Korea, climate change, and aviation security. Cough, cough, North Korea? Forgive me, but hasn’t the international community been pressuringChina to uphold the United Nations sanctions that it has been systematically undermining either in the UN or at its borders? To say that we are working with China on North Korea is like saying that we are working with the flu virus to eliminate runny noses.

Granted, it is not always clear that Beijing could have prevented North Korea from developing these weapons systems, but it could have made them struggle to do so. Instead, we saw a building boom in Pyongyang in 2016 as Chinese goods flooded across the border. And speaking of regional challenges, where was maritime security?

The two most disturbing events of the decade have been Russia’s invasion of the Crimea and Eastern Ukraine and China’s takeover of the South China Sea. The former, while important, is peripheral to Britain’s direct interests – part of the rules-based order and overall European security. But the South China Sea is a direct interest: 11.8 per cent of the UK’s total trade is said to transit the South China Sea, and China’s take over sets an incredibly dangerous precedent for other authoritarian powers.

Of course, the US has the power to do something, but let’s not remember that only 5.72 per cent of US trade transits the waterway. To some extent, one can forgive the Prime Minister for a lack of action: what can the UK do on its own? But the lack of messaging sends a strong signal about the UK’s vital national interests. A regime that is rewarded with warm words despite its invasion of a major strategic sea lane upon which Britain depends is unlikely to change its behaviour.

Two days before the Prime Minister arrived in China, she pledged to raise human rights in Hong Kong in her talks with Xi. However, a Chinese op-ed revealed this as a ruse, when it commended her “pragmatic collaboration”, and her turning a deaf ear to “radical public opinion”. Perhaps she quietly whispered something to an aide as she was ushered into Xi’s presence, we’ll never know.

As a recent Henry Jackson Society report reveals, the past two decades years have seen a systematic attack on Hong Kong’s Basic Law by China and the arbitrary sentencing democracy activists. In June 2017, Chinese diplomats called a major treaty with Britain a “scrap of paper…no longer in force”. According to one diplomatic source, they quietly walked back on that in subsequent meetings at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

I can only presume the Prime Minister did not mention this apparent diplomatic victory because, well, reasons. Because Beijing might have then reversed its first reversal. Beijing may have given May £5 billion in trade deals instead of £6 billion.

The problem with May’s trip to China – and the problem with how all of us are dealing with China – is that we simply don’t know what kind of state it is becoming. Will it continue to march triumphantly down the road toward techno-totalitarianism? If so, should we still be pursuing large deals with its state-owned enterprises, which are now leading the investment charge into Britain’s energy and digital infrastructure?

In July, President Xi gave a speech to a large segment of Chinese troops on Mongolia’s border. The fact that he used the same space once used by the Kangxi Emperor (1654 – 1722), one of China’s longest-reigning emperors and one credited with conquering Taiwan, should make us at least pause on our rush for investment and trade deals. Let’s just see how this one plays itself out a little first.

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UK-Japan Cooperation in Preserving the Liberal Order

Asia Pacific Bulletin, 11 January, 2018

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While much has been written on the apparent diminishment of the liberal global order, and on the rise of Chinese and Russian revisionism in Ukraine and the South China Sea, comparatively little has been written about how liberal democracies around the world have responded to these mini-attacks on the international system. One of the most prominent and interesting trends has been in the security realm, where new “virtual” and “quasi-alliances”, trilaterals, and quadrilaterals have sprung up between states with previously-weak security ties. While few of these relationship can be defined as actual alliances – they lack mutual defense commitments after all – they have many “alliance-like” features, including cooperation in sensitive intelligence and defense sectors. Australian scholar, William Tow, calls them a “unique theoretical challenge” for international relations theorists since they do not accord with our traditional understanding of what constitutes an alliance.

The foreign and defense ministerial (2+2) meeting between Japan and the United Kingdom is one such grouping, and shares a number of common features with its counterparts in the Indo-Pacific region. The first of these is the evolving nature of security cooperation, with London and Tokyo developing ever-closer levels of strategic dialogue and interoperability. A second feature is that both countries are in formal alliances with the United States, and theses dyads lead to trilateralism with Washington across a range of sectors. However, one key difference between the UK-Japan, UK-Japan-US, US-Japan-Australia trilateral, and US-Japan-India-Australia Quadrilateral, are that the latter two are both centered in and around the Indo-Pacific region. It is therefore, worth examining the strategic rationales for the UK-Japan bilateral as well as the UK-Japan-US trilateral, while also discussing challenges to future cooperation.

So, what exactly are the strategic rationales and challenges for closer UK-Japan and UK-Japan-US security cooperation? As has already been mentioned, the driver for much of this is the insecurity created by Russian and Chinese challenges to the traditional rules-based order. Beijing’s military takeover of the South China Sea – a major global trade route connecting Europe and Asia accounting for 12% of total British trade and 19% of total Japanese trade – has promoted strategic discussions between Britain and Japan. The Joint Statement of the 3rd UK-Japan 2+2 explicitly raises concerns over the South China Sea as well as a commitment to a “rules-based order in the maritime domain based on the principles of international law, as set out in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and to the peaceful settlement of maritime disputes through diplomatic and legal means.” Such messaging is an important component of showing the resolve of states, and could potentially check or at least slow future Chinese expansion.

Another strategic rationale for both nations is to relieve some of the pressure on their defense industries. Given defense budgets must deal with ever-increasing defense inflation and rising research and development costs, cooperative ventures are touted as cost-saving. They can also exploit pooled technologies. A UK-Japan study on a new Joint New Air-to-Air Missile (JNAAM) Phase 2, promises to put a Japanese engine in British Meteor missiles, creating what some experts predict will be the best missile in allied inventories. There is also ongoing research in chemical and biological protection technology, and there could also be further cooperation in amphibious capability, giving UK forces – slated for cuts – an urgently needed lifeline. Then there is cyber security cooperation that becomes more urgent as each year passes, as advances in technologies like artificial intelligence create new emerging threats to national infrastructure and national economies.

Finally, there is the ability for closer UK-Japanese cooperation to pave the way to trilateralism with the US, creating a healthy synergy between three liberal democracies vested in the current global order. There is a sort of geostrategic logic to this, with all three sharing intelligence about their respective hemispheres. There are also other drivers. The United States and the UK are part of the Five Eyes intelligence group, and can help shape Japan’s ongoing quest to develop a strong intelligence community institutionalizing cooperation and socializing Japan’s intelligence agencies in Five Eye’s standards of intelligence-sharing, operations, and classification. The three also rely on the maritime global commons for trade. The signing of a trilateral naval agreement in November 2016 indicates increasing attempts to control such spaces, and a willingness for the three to resist such efforts.

Despite the apparent strength of these various drivers toward cooperation, sceptics of the budding UK-Japan bilateral point to the disparate set of security goals and the geographical challenges. London and Tokyo differ, for example, in how they regard Russia and China. Post-Brexit Britain, for example, still views China as an important trade partner, and Russia as its most pressing security issue. Tokyo, in nearly perfect contrast, views Russia as a diplomatic opportunity, and China as its most pressing security challenge. Other naysayers point to the scarcity of resources that each can commit to the other’s region. The visit of four British Eurofighters to take part in the Guardian North 16 exercise in Japan seemed underwhelming, while Japan – for its part – has tended to view the relationship as a means of bring Britain to Asia rather than helping to contribute more to Britain’s own regional security. For those policymakers at the forefront of such debates, justifying the time and resource expenditure seems to push bureaucracies toward short-term, “low-hanging fruit” objectives, but states must start somewhere, and these relationships allow for incremental evolution.

Perhaps the largest challenge to future UK-Japan-US trilateralism is a lack of sustained interest in Washington. Part of this is geostrategic – American policymakers are yet to grasp the benefits of such a partnership  – and part of it is bureaucratic. It may sound simplistic, but the co-location of regional desks in the Pentagon and State Department made Indo-Pacific trilaterals (under PACOM leadership) much less troublesome than a trilateral that stretches across two different regions and unified combatant commands. The original trilateral – the US-ROK-Japan variant – was relatively easy to do since DOD desk officers who worked on Japan and Korea shared an office. Similarly, Washington think tanks tend to frame research by sector or geographic region. So few of the influential think tanks that currently research trilateralism (like CSIS, Brookings, and AEI) have researchers with a background in both UK and Japanese security policy. It is a larger leap than Japan–India security policy.

Despite these challenges, it is clear that US-Japan-UK and UK-Japan security cooperation will continue to be a growth business. This is primarily because the international system is going through a deeply unstable period, and insecure states naturally seek out allies and partners to help alleviate their insecurity. As long as Russia and China continue to use salami-slicing tactics and the threat of military force to break down the liberal rules-based order, democratic allies of the United States like Britain and Japan will continue to develop these loose security ties. The real question is whether such relationships are sufficient. Will they actually deter would-be aggressors when all is said and done? It is a truism of modern history that alliances caused the First World War. In actual fact, we know that Great Britain remained uncommitted to its Triple Entente partners, France and Russia, in 1914 and to France, again, in 1939. In both cases, London was compelled to go to war despite its wishes. It all depends on the level of commitment and the level of messaging that status quo powers are willing to commit. The more committed the UK and Japan are, the stronger the message.


The Telegraph: Germany accuses China of setting up fake social media accounts to lure top officials

The Telegraph, Abby Young-Powell,  10 December, 2017

“In July, the Henry Jackson Society, a think tank, warned the personal data of thousands of British citizens could be trawled through by spies in Beijing as the UK sells off sensitive high-tech industry to Chinese investors.”

To read the full article, please click here.


In an Era of Brexit and Chinese Power, is it time for a New UK–India ‘special relationship’?

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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’.


Diplomatic initiative revived to counter China’s growing influence

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?'”

To read the full article, please click here.


A Reborn Quadrilateral to Deter China

The Interpreter, 9 November, 2017

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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.


As Trump visits Asia, is China replacing US power in the region?

The Telegraph, 8 November 2017

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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.

Jeremy S. Maxie

Energy & Political Risk Consultant

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