9 May 2018

Sino-Nepali Relations: Scaling New Heights

By: Sudha Ramachandran

In his very first interview after taking office in February 2018, new Nepali Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli said his government would seek to revive a US$2.5 billion Sino-Nepali hydropower project on the Budhi Gandaki River (South China Morning Post, February 19). The project’s fate has become tied with the country’s rapid turnover of governing coalitions, as well as a bellwether for the struggle for supremacy between pro-PRC and pro-Indian factions in Nepali politics. In May 2017, a government led by the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) (CPN-MC)—now a junior partner in the governing coalition led by Oli’s Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist Leninist) (CPN-UML)—awarded the contract for the 1,200 MW hydropower project to the China Gezhouba Group, to be built as part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

India’s struggle for the soul of the Indo-Pacific

In 2017, the “Indo-Pacific” emerged as a defining geopolitical construct tying the future of states from East Africa to East Asia together with big powers, such as the US, China, India, and Japan.While Beijing has grabbed headlines in its quest to dominate the eastern part of this integrated system in the South China Sea, in the western Indian Ocean it has managed to escape the constraints of geography, building influence and infrastructure that could lead to political, ethical, and ideological control over the Asian littorals. In the western Indian Ocean, a battle for the soul of the Indo-Pacific is set to play out between China and the liberal order hitherto led by the US, and increasingly represented by India. While New Delhi and Beijing have initiated a tentative rapprochement, their interests do not align.

Preparing for India’s next telecom revolution

India has had delayed roll-outs of 3G and 4G mobile technologies in the past. But the Narendra Modi government’s promise of Digital India requires coordinating India’s launch of 5G with its global arrival. There is a significant hurdle, however: The telecom industry’s stressed finances are likely to play spoilsport. Unlike 3G and 4G, which largely offered improvements in data transfer speeds on smartphones, 5G will allow a universe of connected devices to interact with each other. The key feature is dramatically reduced latency of less than 1 millisecond (ms) from the present 50ms, along with up to 10 gigabytes per second speed and higher bandwidth. This will enable applications that could not have been possible with longer response times. For example, remote surgery or telepresence would not work if it took time to relay the remote user’s response over the network. A more vivid example would be that of driverless cars, which should be able to “talk” to each other seamlessly across blind turns to prevent accidents.

Modi-Xi throw Afghanistan a railway life line, but is it ready?

From a distance, it is possible to imagine the muffled explosions that sometimes echo across the brown hills of Mes Aynak are the sounds of Afghanistan’s future -- engineers blasting their way into the world’s second-largest copper ore reserves, holding an estimated 5.5 million metric tonnes.  The mine, and other similar ones, are due to bring Afghanistan $1 billion a year in revenues, and create over 35,000 jobs. Like most dreams, this one is starting to give way to reality but of a different kind: the explosions are rockets, police guards stationed at the mine say, fired by villagers disgruntled by land acquisition, would-be extortionists, and Taliban units that have overrun the province of Logar, where Mes Aynak lies. 

Pakistan’s Secret War Machine

Javid Ahmad

A new nonviolent mass movement has swept through Pakistan in recent months, demanding an end to Pakistan military’s oppression and extrajudicial killings of minority ethnic Pashtuns. This grassroots movement has rattled Pakistan’s deep state, primarily the notorious spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). For decades, Pakistan’s spy service has operated as a formidable U.S. adversary, albeit dressed as a friend, especially in Afghanistan. It has endlessly frustrated the Afghan war efforts since 2001 by playing Santa Claus to all manner of anti-Afghan militant groups, mainly the Taliban and the Haqqani Network. This support has morphed the Afghan conflict into a bloody contest of competing interests and influence, where ISI’s toxic influence is supreme. ISI’s role in managing several anti-India proxy networks is also unmistakable.

Conventional Deterrence in the Asia-Pacific Region

By Ankit Panda

The Diplomat‘s Ankit Panda (@nktpnd) and Franz-Stefan Gady (@hoanssolo) discuss conventional deterrence and conventional military forces in the Asia-Pacific. Click the arrow to the right to listen. If you’re an iOS or Mac user, you can also subscribe to The Diplomat’s Asia Geopolitics podcast on iTunes here. If you use Android, you can subscribe on TuneIn or on Google Play Music. If you like the podcast and have suggestions for content, please leave a review and rating on iTunes and TuneIn.

Hegemonic Designs in the Middle East Clash

Western media are preoccupied by limited airstrikes from the United States, Britain and France in the Damascus area, in response to a chemical attack, as well as Russia’s “hybrid warfare” strategy against the West. Amidst many distractions, Vladimir Putin’s own fixation with his country’s emergence as a major player in the Middle East and its implications for regional stability do not receive ample attention. Russia is striving to increase its strategic visibility and sphere of influence in the Middle East, and US President Donald Trump, by pursuing his transactional foreign policy, is unwittingly presiding over the demise of traditional US strategic dominance in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world.

Space: The next frontier for US-China rivalry

Simon Roughneen

SINGAPORE -- With the U.S. government pledging to resume manned missions to the Moon, and eventually send a mission to Mars, Cold War-style competition over space exploration is re-emerging -- between China and the U.S. this time. China hopes to make its first manned lunar landing within 15 years, around six decades after the last American walked on the moon in 1972.  But China is not as far behind as those dates suggest. It hopes to make the first-ever landing on the dark side of the Moon by the end of 2018. This feat eluded the U.S. and Soviet Union during the heyday of their Space Race from the late 1950s to the mid-1970s.

Lasers and Missiles Heighten U.S.-China Military Tensions

By Steven Lee Myers

BEIJING — Tensions between the United States and China flared on two military fronts as Washington accused the Chinese of harassing American pilots flying over the African nation of Djibouti and warned of consequences to the deployment of missiles on artificial islands China has built in disputed waters in the South China Sea.The Pentagon’s spokeswoman, Dana W. White, said Thursday that personnel at China’s military base in Djibouti have in recent weeks been aiming powerful lasers at American aircraft that also operate in or near the country, which is where the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden meet. She did not detail the number of incidents but said the lasers — which can be used to target aircraft — caused minor eye injuries to two American pilots.

Chinese Lasers Injure U.S. C-130 Pilots, Washington Responds Through Diplomatic Channels

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THE PENTAGON: The United States is accusing the China of using high-powered military lasers to target U.S. military aircraft flying in and out of Djibouti, the tiny Horn of Africa nation that houses military bases from both countries. One recent incident injured two U.S. airmen piloting a C-130 landing at the U.S. base there, said Maj. Sheryll Klinkel, a Pentagon spokesperson. The injuries were minor, she said, but she described the laser as “military grade,” without going into further detail. Washington has issued a démarche, or a formal complaint, over the laser attacks, which have numbered somewhere between two and ten over the past several weeks. The Federal Aviation Administration issued a Notice to Airmen on May 2 advising pilots about “unauthorized laser activity” and “multiple lazing events involving high power laser” near the Chinese military installation in Djibouti. It was the second warning from the FAA in as many weeks.


Since China began its extensive land reclamation program in the South China Sea in 2013, Beijing has focused on improving its presence and infrastructure at seven locations in the Spratly Island chain: Cuarteron Reef, Fiery Cross, Gaven, Hughes, Johnson, Mischief and Subi reefs. Of the seven locations, the Fiery Cross, Mischief and Subi reefs received particular attention in the form of large-scale airfields built there. Over time, China has also added harbors, barracks, radar and other sensors. This is in addition to communications equipment, storage bunkers and general infrastructure installed across all seven islands. Stratfor partners at AllSource Analysis have provided imagery that confirms mobile electronic warfare (EW) equipment was recently deployed to Mischief Reef.

Why a Chinese Invasion of Taiwan Won't Be Easy

Gary Sands
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A recent poll revealed nearly two-thirds of Taiwanese believe their military is not capable of preventing an invasion by China's armed forces. Only 27 percent of those polled were confident Taiwan forces could deter an invasion. The poll was conducted by the Taiwanese Public Opinion Foundation just days before a live-fire military exercise was held by China in the Taiwan Strait on April 18. Despite a lack of confidence in their military, nearly 70 percent of Taiwanese would either join the army or put up resistance should China launch an attack, according to another survey conducted by the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy. A lesser number (55 percent) would fight if war was instigated by a declaration of independence from Taipei.

As Trump mulls the Iran deal’s fate, a three-ring circus ensues

Suzanne Maloney

At this point, only two things are clear: President Donald Trump is reveling in his role of ringmaster, entertaining appeals from U.S. allies and holding the world in suspense while he ostensibly deliberates over a choice with massive national security and economic implications. As he has routinely remindedvisiting dignitaries and the listening press corps, this momentous decision will be his and his alone. And the chaotic state of play suggests that the upcoming deadline for sustaining U.S. compliance with the agreement may serve as a beginning, rather than an end—the opening of a new phase of uncertainty and possibly even diplomacy. Trump will issue his verdict on the Iran deal next week, but the decision will likely usher in an even more intense ambiguity surrounding the status of the nuclear agreement, the state of the trans-Atlantic relationship, the legality of doing business with Iran, and the prospects for military conflict involving Tehran and its proxies across the Middle East.

How Wall Street Enabled the Fracking 'Revolution' That's Losing Billions By Justin Mikulka • Friday, May 4, 2018 - 10:34

The U.S. shale oil industry hailed as a “revolution” has burned through a quarter trillion dollars more than it has brought in over the last decade. It has been a money-losing endeavor of epic proportions. In September 2016, the financial ratings service Moody’s released a report on U.S. oil companies, many of which were hurting from the massive drop in oil prices. Moody's found that “the financial toll from the oil bust can only be described as catastrophic,” particularly for small companies that took on huge debt to finance fracking shale formations when oil prices were high.And even though shale companies still aren't turning a profit, Wall Street continues to lend the industry more money while touting these companies as good investments. Why would investors do that?

Improving upon Trump’s high-risk, low-yield China trade policy

Ryan Hass

Why does it matter if the United States and China clash over trade issues, and what is a better path forward? Ryan Hass explores these and other issues, in a piece originally published by China-U.S. FocusThe foundations of the United States-China relationship are as brittle as they have been in decades. A confluence of factors from both sides of the Pacific have pushed the relationship to its present precarious point. China’s mercantilist economic policies bear a significant brunt of the blame, along with China’s growing military assertiveness, internal suppression of dissent, non-responsiveness to legitimate U.S. concerns on trade, efforts to influence American political discourse, and injection of ideological tension into bilateral relations. Rather than pursuing a serious strategy to tackle specific problems, though, the Trump administration has embraced an undisciplined instinct for confrontation. Such an approach will not generate greater Chinese responsiveness to U.S. concerns, but it could do harm to American businesses and workers.

Will Arctic Oil Ever Make It To Market?

No analysis of the potential impact of the Arctic on geopolitics would be complete without discussing the region’s natural resources. With the indisputable evidence that Arctic glaciers are melting at a record pace, it’s clear new opportunities to tap these resources are opening up. A 2008 U.S. Geological Survey report on the state of untapped natural resources in the Arctic is enough to make every oil company CEO salivate in anticipation of huge new revenue streams. That report suggests that the region holds about 10% of the world’s existing conventional resources – 240 billion proven barrels of oil and oil equivalent natural gas. What’s more, it estimates the Arctic could hold 90 billion barrels of undiscovered oil, 17 trillion cubic feet of undiscovered gas and 44 billion barrels of natural gas liquids.

Washington Should Help Europe Achieve ‘Strategic Autonomy’, Not Fight It

By Ronja Kempin and Barbara Kunz
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According to Ronja Kempin and Barbara Kunz, US policymakers have mixed feelings about the EU’s 2016 Global Strategy, to say the least. The strategy outlines the ambition of strategic autonomy for the EU, and some US officials fear this could be detrimental to the transatlantic alliance. However, our authors explain that Washington should not worry: strategic autonomy has nothing to do with Europe turning away from the US. Indeed, they contend that the US should support this goal as doing so could help the 

Global Debt: The Next Great Financial Crisis?

Scott B. MacDonald
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The American president, Thomas Jefferson, is accredited with the following comment: “It is incumbent on every generation to pay its own debts as it goes. A principle which if acted on would save one-half the wars of the world.” For anyone counting, the current generation of Americans, Chinese, Japanese and Europeans has accumulated considerable debts. To be certain, the subject of debt is not popular in the corridors of Washington, Tokyo, Rome and Beijing. Indeed, the upward trajectory of debt is not a problem in the short term as interest rates remain low. The risk comes when global monetary policy becomes tighter (which is slowly happening) and growth slows (which is likely in the next two years). A confluence of rising rates, slower economic growth, and heavy debt burdens will make the next recession a brutal affair—quite possibly worse than in 2008.

We Need a NATO for Infowar


It was Sweden that manufactured the nerve gas that nearly killed Russian double-agent Sergey Skripal in Salisbury in March. Or the Czechs. Or in fact the UK itself. Russian media deliver a dizzying range of exaggerations and falsehoods about our countries, while we usually opt for the high road of near-silence. But truth won’t prevail on its own. We need a robust defense not just of our borders but of our free and open societies: in other words, a Communications NATO for information warfare. Following last month’s chemical attack in Syria, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov denounced reports of it as fabrications. A Russian military spokesman insisted that the UK had been involved, an allegation that Britain’s UN ambassador Karen Pierce dismissed as a “grotesque, blatant lie” and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson called “demented.”

‘Deny, distract and blame’: how Russia fights its propaganda and disinformation war on Twitter and Russian news networks

Luke Harding

The Twitter account of the Russian embassy in London has been busy over the past two months, offering numerous explanations for the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury. All hint at a dark and sprawling British conspiracy.  Since the Skripals were found stricken on a park bench, Downing Street has stuck to one version of events. Theresa May says it is “highly likely” Moscow carried out the attack using a Soviet-made nerve agent. Only the Kremlin had the motive to kill its former officer, she argues. The embassy, and its boss, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, have offered alternative scenarios. Lavrov has said a Swiss laboratory used to test the poison identified another toxin called BZ. Russia did not have it. The US, UK and Nato did, he said.

It's time to ditch our obsession with trade deficits. Here's why

Arancha González Laya
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The notion that trade surpluses are a measure of a country’s economic prowess dates back centuries. In 16th-century Europe, “mercantilists” from England to Venice sought to accumulate gold by promoting exports and discouraging imports. Their intellectual heirs today think trade surpluses boost national welfare, employment and economic growth, while deficits do the opposite. The preoccupation with surpluses is based on dubious arithmetic: since one country’s exports are another’s imports, it is impossible for all countries to be net exporters. It also overlooks a more fundamental point about trade. The main benefit from trade is imports – foreigners sending the fruits of their labour for us to enjoy, allowing us to focus on what we do best. Working to produce exports is the price we pay to enjoy these benefits.

Industrial Revolutions Are Political Wrecking Balls

By Thomas B. Edsall
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We may never stop arguing about which historic currents swept President Trump into the White House. Klaus Schwab, chairman of the World Economic Forum, is unlikely to have had Trump in mind when he described the fourth industrial revolution in Davos in January 2016: We stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another. In its scale, scope, and complexity, the transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before. Compared with previous industrial revolutions, Schwab continued,

A Criminal Gang Used a Drone Swarm To Obstruct an FBI Hostage Raid

DENVER, Colorado — Last winter, on the outskirts of a large U.S.city, an FBI hostage rescue team set up an elevated observation post to assess an unfolding situation. Soon they heard the buzz of small drones — and then the tiny aircraft were all around them, swooping past in a series of “high-speed low passes at the agents in the observation post to flush them,” the head of the agency’s operational technology law unit told attendees of the AUVSIXponential conference here. Result: “We were then blind,” said Joe Mazel, meaning the group lost situational awareness of the target. “It definitely presented some challenges.”

Marines Reorganize Infantry For High-Tech War: Fewer Riflemen, More Drones


“Everything that Marine wears -- from their boots to their socks to their utilities to their helmet -- is all going to be changed," the Commandant said. "We’ve got money now to do that, and so we’ve got to make it happen now. We’ve got to make it happen now, because I’m not going to make the assumption that that money’s going to be there.” To conduct such “distributed operations,” Commandant Robert Neller said last night, the Marines are adding technical experts — in drones, intelligence, supply, and other specialties — to small units so they can operate more independently of higher headquarters. The tradeoff comes in old-fashioned firepower: Infantry squads will shrink from 13 Marines to 12, and infantry battalions will have fewer heavy-duty support weapons such as 81 mm mortars and TOW anti-tank missile launchers.

The Redacted Testimony That Fully Explains Why General MacArthur Was Fired

Harry Truman’s decision to fire Douglas MacArthur at the height of the Korean War in April 1951 shocked the American political system and astonished the world. Much of the world didn’t realize the president had the power to fire a five-star general; much of America didn’t realize Truman had the nerve. From the drama of Stalin’s blockade of West Berlin to the daring landing of MacArthur’s forces at Inchon to the shocking entrance of China into the war, The General and the President vividly evokes the making of a new American era.