20 July 2019

Belt and Road Initiative 2.0: ‘Qualitatively’ Different?

By N. Janardhan

Following five years of periodic controversies and criticism – some factual, others contrived – President Xi Jinping used the Belt and Road (BRI) Forum in April to set the agenda for the next five years of his hallmark project. At the forum’s second edition, meant to promote a “stronger partnership network,” the Chinese leader pledged to “clean up,” stressed “zero tolerance” to corruption, and emphasized readiness to adopt “internationally acceptable” standards in the bidding process of BRI projects in the future. This language indicates Beijing’s openness to constructive criticism and willingness to objectively tweak some inherent weaknesses in the strategy and implementation mechanisms for the BRI during the 2013-2018 period. It also sets the stage for the start of “BRI 2.0,” where the stress is likely to be on the qualitative, rather than just quantitative, attributes. The following are some analytical pointers on how BRI 2.0 is likely to be different from version 1.0, especially keeping in mind what Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi referred to as a “high-quality” shift from “big freehand” to “fine brushwork” in planning BRI’s future projects.

India loses Afghan proxy war

The Four-Party Meeting on the Afghan Peace Process, held in Beijing last Thursday and Friday, comprising China, the US, Russia and Pakistan, is a dramatic development auguring a peace settlement in Afghanistan.

In a regional setting, it also signifies that Pakistan has inflicted a heavy defeat on India in the decade-old proxy war in Afghanistan.

The special envoys of the four countries who met in Beijing have issued a joint statement (external link) underscoring their consensus on peacemaking in Afghanistan and signalling their intention to speed up the peace process to a final settlement.

The salients of the joint statement are: First and foremost, the trilateral US-Russia-China format on Afghanistan has been expanded to include Pakistan, given the shared belief of the three big powers that 'Pakistan can play an important role in facilitating peace in Afghanistan'.

India, Russia Seek to Skirt U.S. Sanctions Threat to Arms Deals

By Nc Bipindra and Evgenia Pismennaya

India and Russia have agreed on a new payment method through their national currencies for multi-billion-dollar defense deals, in a bid to avoid risks created by the U.S. threat of sanctions and banking restrictions.

The arrangement would enable India to pay the first installment soon for two warships that Russia is building for its navy, two people familiar with the matter said in New Delhi, without elaborating. Defense contracts will be settled in rubles and rupees under a payment agreement reached by the central banks of Russia and India, said a person in Moscow with knowledge of the preparations.

While the new mechanism potentially opens the way for releasing billions of dollars in contract payments to Russia, it may still be dependent on India winning agreement from U.S. President Donald Trump not to impose sanctions in retaliation.

The Pakistan Plan: How a Poisonous Relationship Could Become Prosperous

by Arif Rafiq

Next week, Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan will visit Washington where the charismatic, outspoken ex-cricketer will meet with another outsized personality: President Donald Trump.

The visit of Khan has been in the works since early this year, but it is nonetheless a surprise given Trump’s history of hostility toward Pakistan, including a 2018 New Year’s Day tweet in which he said that Pakistan has “given us nothing but lies and deceit” despite having received “over $33 billion” in aid.

Trump’s sentiment toward Pakistan has also been reflected in his administration’s so-called South Asia strategy, which identified Pakistan as a destabilizing force in Afghanistan and India and depicted it as an obstacle to U.S. interests in the region.

Imran Khan Mustn’t Let Trump Make Pakistan a Scapegoat


As U.S. President Donald Trump and Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan prepare to meet at the White House next week, U.S.-Pakistan ties hang in the balance. The U.S. agenda will clearly focus on countering terrorism. Equally important will be Pakistan’s key role in pushing the Afghan Taliban to reduce battlefield violence and engage in direct talks with the Kabul government, both of which are tough asks at this point. Beyond that, the politics of the visit will likely be boilerplate: Pakistan should do more to stabilize Afghanistan while also doing more to comply with global money laundering requirements and International Monetary Fund (IMF) benchmarks. If Trump is in a good mood, he may even invite Khan to dinner at the White House.

Behind the feel-good headlines associated with the visit, there are some structural realities Pakistan’s leaders must pay attention to. In American eyes, stabilizing Afghanistan is Pakistan’s only real trump card. Islamabad would prefer to have a broader relationship with Washington beyond being seen as a window into a changing Afghanistan. Yet, in international politics, hopes matter as little as intentions.

Afghanistan Isn't Worth Dying For

by Daniel L. Davis 

Army Sgt. Maj. James Sartor was killed in action in Afghanistan’s Faryab Province on Saturday. He was “only” the twelfth soldier to die there this year. That makes his death no less inexcusable, no less an unacceptable sacrifice for Washington’s failed foreign policy.

What do we tell Sartor’s family? That he heroically “gave the last full measure” for the defense of our nation? In some conflicts in American history, that might have been true. But in Afghanistan, it is a trite and insulting bromide.

This man, like the eleven that preceded him this year, sacrificed his life in an operation that provided no benefit to our country. America is not safer because of this supreme, excruciatingly painful sacrifice. The truth is that hardly any Americans pay any attention to our war in Afghanistan and fewer still genuinely care that another trooper has tragically been killed.

How WeChat Conquered Tibet

By Tenzin Dalha

The digital revolution has emerged as a key factor in the rapid dissemination of news and broadcasting views. Within the last decade, social media has replaced print media, signaling a paradigm shift in how we consume and convey information. Due to advances in science and technology, sharing news and information has become less time-consuming, more convenient, and more decentralized.

But many people don’t realize that convenience has cost them their privacy. As you flow through your daily routine on a smartphone, you inadvertently share more data than you realize. This trade off between convenience and privacy illuminates the case of WeChat with respect to Tibetans and the larger Tibetan issue. In my research, I have found that Tibetan netizens generally give up privacy for the sake of convenience when using WeChat, operated by the Chinese company Tencent.

Singapore’s economic downturn continues as US-China trade war wreaks havoc on Asia export hubs

Finbarr Bermingham

Singapore’s exports plunged to a six-year low in June, the latest in a series of brutal indicators showing China’s slowdown and the trade war with the United States are wreaking havoc on the economies of Asia’s trade hubs. The city state’s economy is considered a bellwether for the region as it is a transshipment hub, meaning that the goods that pass through its ports are generally bound for other final destinations. So if trade in Singapore is weak, it usually points to slowing demand elsewhere – often China, which reported its lowest 

Singapore’s total non-oil exports fell 17.3 per cent in June, following a 16.3 per cent decline in May, driven by a 31.9 per cent slump in electronics exports last month. Imports fell by 4.8 per cent, while total trade fell by 7.2 per cent from a year earlier. Singapore is more dependent on trade than any other nation apart from Luxembourg, according to the World Bank, an indicator of the severity of the decline.

Chinese Nuclear Weapons Strategy—Technical-Military Developments and Perceptions of Credibility

By Toshi Yoshihara & Jack Bianchi


A diverse range of external stimuli, including technological trends and geopolitical shifts, is leading the strategic community of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to reconsider existing nuclear policy, strategy, and operations. According to Chinese open sources, U.S. global conventional precision strike systems, U.S. missile defenses, and India’s nuclear weapons modernization, among other threats, could shake the PRC’s faith in longstanding nuclear doctrine and posture. The 2013 Science of Military Strategyconfirms that “the nuclear security circumstances facing China in overall terms are trending toward complexity.” [1] In response to such challenges, some Chinese analysts have proposed loosening the no-first-use policy and undertaking quantitative and qualitative improvements to China’s nuclear forces.

A departure from enduring nuclear policy and strategy may also reflect China’s growing power and sense of purpose as it seeks to reshape its surroundings and accelerate the erosion of the U.S. position in the Western Pacific. Indeed, Chinese analysts are exploring Cold War history in Europe, from which they may be drawing lessons about the vulnerabilities of U.S. extended deterrence in Asia. While it remains unclear how and to what extent Chinese nuclear strategy will advance Beijing’s expanding ambitions, the internal debates suggest that China may be increasingly inclined to adopt a more coercive nuclear strategy. [2]

U.S. Conventional Prompt Global Strike

No, we aren’t on the brink of a new Cold War with Russia and China

Michael E. O’Hanlon and Sean Zeigler

It might a popular phrase to drum up clicks and interest, but the United States is definitely not on the brink of the next Cold War with Russia and China, write Michael O'Hanlon and Sean Zeigler. This piece originally appeared in USA Today.

Increasingly in U.S. national security circles, it has become common to hear talk of a new Cold War with great-power rivals. But this way of thinking is imprecise at best, dangerous at worst. A distinguished group of American experts has just warned against such thinking in regard to China, lest it create a self-fulfilling prophecy. However unbecoming Vladimir Putin’s rule may be in Moscow, we need a similar corrective for how we think about Russia.

The Trump administration’s 2018 National Defense Strategy, like the second-term Obama administration’s “Third Offset” concept, usefully reemphasizes deterrence of great-power conflict. There can be no doubt that Russia and China have both behaved in a much more assertive and threatening manner in recent years. But the United States has a tendency to overdo such policies. In the case of Russia, while NATO’s modernization efforts, and its modest military reinforcements in places like the Baltic states and Poland are welcome, we must avoid a pervading mentality that anticipates a struggle with the Kremlin at every turn. 


China's rare-earth strategy versus US risks backfiring


TOKYO/SHANGHAI -- China is looking to strengthen its dominance over the rare-earth minerals needed for myriad tech products, in part through regulations designed to promote high-end industries. In doing so, however, Beijing risks driving investment into the rare-earth industry of its trade war foe, the U.S.

China produces nearly 80% of global rare earths, used in a variety of products including smartphones and the motors of hybrid and electric vehicles. Amid concerns that Beijing is considering some form of export restrictions, prices of rare earths have jumped over the last few months.

The price of neodymium, mostly used in magnets, has surged 30% to $68.5 per kilogram since April, while dysprosium, also used in magnets, has risen 30% to $290 per kilogram in the same period.

Yemen rivals meet on board vessel for talks on Hodeidah pullback

Yemen's warring parties have agreed to new measures to enforce a ceasefire and facilitate a troop pullback from the flashpoint port of Hodeidah, the United Nations said on Monday.

Representatives of the Iran-aligned Houthi movement and the Saudi-backed Yemeni government met on a UN ship in the Red Sea for talks on Sunday and Monday, the organisation said in a statement.

The UN is trying to broker a withdrawal from Hodeidah - the main entry point for food and humanitarian aid - so UN-supervised management can take over.

Yemen's four-year war has killed tens of thousands of people and left millions on the brink of famine.

A Real Plan to End the War in Yemen

By Michael Knights, Kenneth M. Pollack, And Barbara F. Walter 

A degree of normalcy has returned to Yemen’s biggest seaport, Hodeidah, thanks to a cease-fire among the country’s warring factions that has held since December 2018. But beyond the port’s outskirts, a vicious fight between Houthi insurgents and a Saudi-led military coalition rages on. The death toll keeps climbing; malnutrition and hunger are rampant. Yemen’s humanitarian crisis, the United Nations warned in February, is the worst in the world today.

In Washington, a growing chorus of analysts and politicians has called on the United States to step up, withdraw U.S. support for the Saudi war effort, and turn the UN-brokered cease-fire into a lasting peace. Doing so, they argue, is the only morally and strategically defensible course of action. But of all the options before the United States, this one is the least likely to stop the killing, the dying, and the complications for U.S. interests.

The Syrian Civil War Might Be Ending, but the Crisis Will Live On

The civil war that has decimated Syria for eight years now, provoking a regional humanitarian crisis and drawing in actors ranging from the United States to Russia, appears to be drawing inexorably to a conclusion. What happens next? Find out more when you subscribe to World Politics Review (WPR).

President Bashar al-Assad, with the backing of Iran and Russia, seems to have emerged militarily victorious from the Syrian civil war, which began after his government violently repressed civilian protests in 2011. The armed insurgency that followed soon morphed into a regional and global proxy war that, at the height of the fighting, saw radical Islamist groups seize control over vast swathes of the country, only to lose it in the face of sustained counteroffensives by pro-government forces as well as a U.S.-led coalition of Western militaries.

Assad now faces the challenge of rebuilding the country, including areas where he allegedly deployed chemical weapons against his own citizens. The question of who will foot the bill is still an open one. U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has been eager to distance itself from the situation in Syria, and Assad’s allies in Moscow are unlikely to take on the costs of reconstruction, which the United Nations has estimated at $250 billion.

A poster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad with Arabic that reads “Welcome to victorious Syria,” is displayed on the border between Lebanon and Syria, July 20, 2018 (AP photo by Hassan Ammar).

Europe Is Back


For the past two decades, the United States has essentially ignored the European Union. Through Republican and Democratic administrations alike, Washington treated the union as an afterthought at best and, as under the current administration, sometimes even a foe. This is a profound strategic mistake. With the selection of Germany’s defense minister, Ursula von der Leyen, to be the next head of the European Commission, the United States should seize the opportunity to build a new lasting partnership with the EU.

The recent European parliamentary elections have shown that Europe’s political center of gravity is shifting from national capitals to Brussels and the European Union. They saw turnout rise for the first time ever, surpassing 50 percent. The boost was driven by a highly charged debate about the EU’s future, pitting far-right nationalists looking to devolve power from the EU against unionists looking to strengthen it. In the end, a robust showing from pro-EU parties, particularly the Greens, staved off a feared far-right surge. As the Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum observed following the elections, “the continent is becoming a single political space.”

America’s Road to Reputational Ruin


It felt a bit jarring, almost unstuck in time (in a Slaughterhouse-Five kind of way), to hear newscasters talk this week of U.S. President Donald Trump’s racist tweets and then, in the next breath, about the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, which falls on Saturday.

Were they even talking about the same country?

The grainy images of Neil Armstrong’s famous “small step” onto the moon, observed raptly in real time around the world, marked one of the high points in America’s soft power—meaning the global influence of its ideas and values, and its ability to persuade other nations to stand behind it. Though the Vietnam War was raging and domestic headlines spoke of civil violence and assassination, the United States earned its keep that week as the champion of the free world, dramatically besting its Cold War adversary in the technological rivalry of the space race—which it was seen as losing only a few years before. Moreover, the Americans added a touch of humility to the great deed, emphasizing its universality. “We came in peace for all mankind,” said the plaque left in the Sea of Tranquility, and even President Richard Nixon got a little gooey, saying later that summer that with the moon landing, “the people of this world were brought closer together.”

Japan’s Trade War Is as Futile as Trump’s


Japan and South Korea’s long-standing diplomatic dispute about the legacy of imperial Japan’s colonization of South Korea is not new. But Tokyo’s recent decision to turn trade issues with South Korea into a weapon in the history wars is a radical escalation. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s trade measures against South Korea are reminiscent of U.S. President Donald Trump’s trade war: unclear and self-contradictory while potentially harming both the international and domestic economy in the process.

Japan’s opening salvo in the trade war, ironically, came just two days after the conclusion of a successful G-20 summit in Osaka in which Abe declared: “A free and open economy is the foundation of global peace and prosperity.” Tokyo announced changes in its rules on export approvals for three critical chemicals used in high-end display and semiconductor manufacturing: fluorinated polyimide, photoresists, and hydrogen fluoride. South Korean high-tech manufacturers rely significantly on Japanese companies to supply these chemicals. With the new measures, Japan’s exporters need to apply for a license for each sale, which may take up to 90 days. Tokyo also indicated that it may remove South Korea from the “white list” that gives exemptions from export licensing.

Trade Tensions: Why Shinzo Abe Has a Critical Role to Play

by Mieczysław Boduszynski Gene Park

Relations between Seoul and Tokyo have reached a new low, adding new cracks to the postwar international order at just the wrong time. The immediate background of the latest spat was the South Korean Supreme Court’s 2018 decision to uphold a lower court’s ruling ordering a Japanese firm to compensate four Korean citizens who served as forced laborers during Japan’s colonial occupation. The Japanese government argues that a 1965 Normalization Treaty signed between the two countries precludes such litigation. As tensions surrounding the lawsuit escalated, the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe imposed new regulations that will slow the approval time for the import of three chemicals vital to South Korea’s semiconductor firms, a move that could inflict serious harm on one of Korea’s biggest industries. The South Korean government then filed a complaint at the World Trade Organization. The Abe administration has hinted at additional trade restrictions, while the administration of South Korean president Moon Jae-in mulls its options. 

Can Greece’s New Democracy Abandon Its Aggressive Rhetoric and Govern?

Yiannis Baboulias 

When the nominally center-right New Democracy party emerged victorious in snap elections last week, it potentially marked the end of a long and tumultuous chapter in Greece’s history. The now former Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras had announced the vote following deep losses by his radical, left-wing party, Syriza, in the European Parliament elections in May. 

With 39.5 percent of the vote, New Democracy and its leader, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, have a strong mandate to push forward with a program he describes as reforming the state, by reducing taxation and turbo-charging investment in the country. Mitsotakis appears very optimistic. When challenged on where the money for the costly tax cuts would be found, he responded that his policies would secure strong economic growth of up to 4 percent per year, to cover for the shortfall.

Who Would Really Benefit From a Freeze on EU Enlargement in the Balkans?

Aleks Eror 

French President Emmanuel Macron left a recent EU leaders’ summit in Brussels frustrated after his fellow heads of state failed to come to an agreement on who should be appointed to the top posts in the European Commission. Following the unsuccessful all-night negotiations, Macron took a swipe at his colleagues by voicing his opposition to further enlargement of the European Union. “I am more than skeptical toward those who say that the future of Europe lies in further enlargement, when we can’t find agreement between 28 nations,” Macron told reporters. “I will refuse all forms of enlargement before deep reform to the way we function institutionally.”

Prospective enlargement has moved back onto the agenda as EU leaders contemplate whether to open accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania after the European Commission gave its approval last year. But Macron has been a consistent critic of admitting new members. At a EU-Balkans summit in Bulgaria in May 2018, he said that enlargement has “weakened Europe every time” it has been undertaken

Facebook’s Face-ID Database Could Be the Biggest in the World. Yes, It Should Worry Us.


Every day, Facebook users upload hundreds of millions of photos to the social network. If they haven’t opted out, the software scans those photos in search of faces it recognizes. As users either agree or disagree with the recommendations of who should be tagged, Facebook’s algorithms get better. The company’s research suggests that Facebook holds “the largest facial dataset to date”—powered by DeepFace, Facebook’s deep-learning facial recognition system.

Unlike Amazon’s Rekognition, which is facial recognition software that scans existing databases provided by clients like law enforcement agencies, Facebook’s system doesn’t need an external trove of face photos to work. Facebook has all that data because we upload it—pictures from different stages of our lives, from various angles, with different clothes and haircuts, in and out of makeup, with new tattoos—every day. Facebook knows it’s us because even if we haven’t tagged ourselves, one of our friends might have.

Pentagon Announces New Digital Modernization Strategy


The Defense Department this week published a multi-pronged digital modernization strategy targeting four areas that can benefit most from a new approach to the digital age: a Pentagon-wide data storage cloud; artificial intelligence; command, control, and communications; and cybersecurity.

Across dozens of objectives, the strategy encompasses current and future efforts like those underway at the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center and in iterative software coding centers to fuel innovative technologies, as well as to make the Pentagon’s information technology enterprise more efficient and capable, boost network security, and cultivate a digital-savvy workforce.

DOD pledges more effective oversight of its nearly $50 billion IT portfolio in a shift that recognizes the importance of data management and secure networks in 21st-century combat. According to a July 15 policy paper, the strategy aims to smooth the department’s move to a globally accessible “cloud” that holds military data, as well as other IT services that DOD would buy as a whole rather than asking each service to opt into them.

Executive Order 13873 Could Expand The Reach Of War Exclusions In Cyber Policies

Daniel B. Garrie Esq.

On May 15, 2019, President Donald Trump issued Executive Order 13873, “Securing the Information and Communications Technology and Services Supply Chain,” which prohibits high-risk information technology transactions with entities under the jurisdiction of a “foreign adversary,” as determined by the Secretary of Commerce. While the executive order will affect buyers and sellers in a variety of industries, it’s influence may even extend to cyber insurance litigation. 

One area that may be affected is the interpretation of the standard war exclusion included in most cyber insurance policies as it applies to cyber hostilities. Specifically, the executive order may be interpreted as conflating private entities in foreign adversary jurisdictions with the foreign adversaries themselves, which could significantly broaden the range of entities that trigger the war exclusion under the terms of many cyber insurance policies. This could lead to a wave of coverage denials under the war exclusion and potentially a reconsideration of this standard policy language in the context of cyber.

How DoD is trying to adapt to the information overload age

By: Mark Pomerleau  

The Department of Defense is reexamining its overarching strategy for operating in what it calls the information environment, according to Mark Esper, the man nominated to lead the Pentagon.

The information environment is essentially the aura surrounding all humans that includes how information is collected, interpreted and disseminated, affecting how decisions are made.

Much has changed in this space since the last strategy was published in 2016, namely an increase in global disinformation campaigns leveraging, in part, social media platforms

In a pre-hearing questionnaire from senators before his July 16 confirmation hearing, Esper said the new strategy is “focused on the central idea that DoD must evolve from a primary focus on executing its preferred method of warfare to one that incorporates information as a foundational element of plans and operations.”

The Geopolitics of 5G


The global race to install next-generation 5G mobile networks is already underway and will be one of the most geopolitically significant technology projects ever undertaken. 5G's high data speeds and other revolutionary features will make economy-changing technology applications such as driverless cars, smart cities, and advanced factory automation feasible on a commercial scale for the first time.

This report by Eurasia Group's Geo-technology practice provides a comprehensive analysis of the political forces that will influence the creation of 5G standards and deployment in key markets. It addresses how the political struggle over 5G and the technologies and services that will be built on top of the new networks will shape the competition for 21st-century dominance between the world's leading technology superpowers, the US and China. It also assesses the difficult choices that third countries will face to determine their own 5G strategies amid an ongoing confrontation between Washington and Beijing over technology and trade.