24 September 2020

U.S.-India Insight: Time to Expand America's Footprint in India

Amid a period of heightened tensions between India and China, the United States is looking at ways to show support for India. For understandable reasons, defense cooperation comes to mind as the most obvious way to highlight the emerging U.S.-India partnership. But widening regional cooperation is crucial to building more political support for the partnership. The United States should move more quickly in establishing a new consulate in India, an idea first announced in 2016. On the heels of the United States and China closing consulates in each other’s country, the symbolism alone would be particularly significant.

People-to-people connections between the United States and India remain a fundamental element of the U.S.-India relationship. India has become the United States’ ninth-highest goods trade partner, an important services trade partner, and the second-largest source of foreign students, and Indian companies are rapidly expanding investments in the United States across a range of sectors. Indians comprised a whopping 74 percent of all H-1B visa applications in 2019.

But as outlined in the following chart, the U.S. consular presence in India is spectacularly sparse, especially when considering population. India is a sizeable source of foreign visitors to the United States. Although India is not yet a significant destination for U.S. tourists or college students, these numbers will likely continue to increase in the future.

China’s Stake in the Afghan Peace Process

By Sohrab Azad

Negotiations between the Afghan government delegation, comprising government officials and civil society leaders, and the Taliban started last week in Doha, Qatar. Representatives from the international community visited and promoted a productive peace process — showcasing the complexity of the Afghan conflict. The signing of the U.S.-Taliban agreement this past February paved the way for this direct dialogue, prompting Afghanistan’s neighbors to become more involved to prepare for an eventual U.S. withdrawal.

Even in a time of intense geopolitical competition between the United States and China, stability in Afghanistan is one of the few shared interests remaining. It is a task that requires international support. The peace talks were delayed for over six months due to argument over prisoner releases; meanwhile, the Taliban increased the severity of their attacks on Afghan security forces and civilians.

Nevertheless, the Trump administration is staying course with its initial plans to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by mid-2021. The move toward troop withdrawal will likely not change even if President Donald Trump loses his re-election bid this November. His opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, also believes that American forces need to be dramatically reduced to under 2,000 and that the expensive war in Afghanistan needs to end.

An inevitable consequence of this U.S. retreat is that other great powers will fill the military and economic vacuum left in Afghanistan. China’s interest in Central Asia is far reaching and it will look to use Afghanistan as a corridor for its “March West.” The only uncertainty is how this will affect a future Afghan government and its development as a regional economic force.

Analysis: A ‘Tired’ Taliban talking point


For the past decade and a half, American politicians, military leaders, and reporters have claimed that the Taliban is “tired,” “desperate,” “war weary” – despite the fact the Taliban has sparked “near-record violence” in Afghanistan, according to the United Nations.

That did not stop President Donald Trump from adding to the tired narrative when he repeated the “tired” canard on Sept. 18.

“We’re dealing very well with the Taliban,” Trump said, according to Reuters. “They’re very tough, they’re very smart, they’re very sharp, but you know it’s been 19 years and even they are tired of fighting, in all fairness.”

The “even” in the last sentence is telling as it is an admission that the U.S. has exhausted itself in Afghanistan. Trump has been so desperate to leave Afghanistan that he signed a withdrawal deal with the Taliban that legitimized the group and delegitimized the Afghan government – and absolved the Taliban for its role in sheltering Al Qaeda both before and after 9/11.

Trump’s statement that the Taliban is “tired” is nothing new. He said the same thing in early Feb. 2019, and again in late Feb. 2020.

However, Trump is merely following the time-honored tradition of declaring the Taliban to be exhausted of the fight.

Reports of a “tired” Taliban can be traced back to 2004, when the Christian Science Monitor quoted Al-Hajj Mullah Abdul Samad Khaksar, the group’s former interior minister. “Most of the local ordinary Taliban are tired of fighting, they are eager to come back to the country and live here in peace,” Khaksar told CSM. Within a year, the Taliban reinvigorated its insurgency and began to take over large areas of southern and eastern Afghanistan.

Pakistan Opposition, Backed by Ex-Premier, to Protest Khan

By Munir Ahmed

Pakistan’s ailing former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif broke a nearly yearlong silence from exile in London to vow to oust Imran Khan from office, accusing him of only reaching power through a vote rigged by the country’s powerful military.

The 70-year-old former premier offered an emotional, direct attack late Sunday on Khan and the military, with which he has a long, uneasy relationship. Khan’s government on Monday dismissed his remarks, with Information Minister Shibli Faraz saying the Pakistani opposition is only united because they fear ongoing corruption cases targeting them.

Sharif thrice served as Pakistan’s prime minister, first removed by a president in 1993, then by military ruler Pervez Musharraf in 1999. A court in 2017 ousted him from power over corruption allegations. Khan, a former cricketer, came to power in 2018.

“Our struggle is not just against Imran Khan,” Sharif told an opposition rally in Islamabad via videoconference. “Our struggle is against those who installed Imran Khan and who manipulated the vote to bring an incompetent man like him to power and thus destroyed the country.”

Sharif spoke from London, where he has been since last November when he was released on bail to seek medical treatment abroad. At the time, a court permitted Sharif to leave the country for four weeks, but he did not return. A court last week issued arrest warrants for Sharif, previously sentenced to seven years in prison on corruption and money laundering charges stemming from disclosures in the Panama Papers.

The Intra-Afghan Dialogue Is Good News for Pakistan-US Relations

By Syed Ali Zia Jaffery

Earlier this month, the much-awaited, all-important intra-Afghan dialogue began in Doha, Qatar. This is the first time that the Taliban and representatives from the Afghan government are directly engaged in negotiating the future of their country. In the United States-Taliban agreement, signed in February 2020, the intra-Afghan dialogue was dubbed critical to completing the Afghan reconciliation process and bringing lasting peace and prosperity in the war-torn country. The overall peace process in Afghanistan rested on two pillars: the U.S-Taliban agreement and the intra-Afghan dialogue. With all three parties — Washington, Taliban, and Kabul — engaging with each other, the prospect of a peaceful settlement of the Afghan imbroglio has increased.

Developments in the Afghan peace process have always had a direct bearing on the trajectory of Washington’s ties with Islamabad. Relations between the two countries have improved, owing to Pakistan’s positive role in helping the United States and the Afghan Taliban strike a deal. The commencement of the intra-Afghan dialogue, coupled with United States’ acknowledgement of Pakistan’s go-between efforts, is good news for Pakistan-United States relations.

There are two concomitant factors that explain why the all-Afghan parleys in Doha are propitious for Washington-Islamabad ties.

The first factor is the robust, continuous engagement between Pakistan and the United States, ever since the signing of the Doha deal. Direct contacts between interlocutors from both sides, months ahead of the intra-Afghan dialogue, focused on discussing ways to navigate speed bumps in the peace process arising out of an impasse over prisoners’ release and continued violence. Rather than blame Pakistan for the Taliban’s recalcitrance on both issues, the United States increased deliberations with Islamabad. Moreover, after failing to cajole Afghan politicians to establish a unified government — a step deemed essential in advancing the peace process — the United States pulled the plug on the Afghan government by threatening to slash $2 billion in Afghan aid. That Washington did not label Pakistan as the party erecting roadblocks in the peace process is a healthy sign for this on-again-off-again relationship.

Beyond the Intra-Afghan Talks, Uzbekistan Sees a Bright Future

By Umida Hashimova

The start of peace negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government on September 12 sparked unprecedented enthusiasm among Uzbek officials. An eventual peace settlement means a new era of economic development opportunities for Uzbekistan. Only two days after the negotiations began, the Taliban’s top political leader made a statement assuring that they would not allow any threats to Uzbekistan to emerge in Afghanistan. He also guaranteed support to Uzbekistan’s economic projects in Afghanistan. 

The head of the Taliban movement’s political office in Qatar, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, spoke to an Uzbek media representative on the sidelines of the negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government. In the interview, he promised the safety of personnel from Uzbekistan working on infrastructure projects in Afghanistan. The statement was perhaps an indirect response to an attack against an Uzbek worker on the Hayraton-Mazar-i-Sharif railroad project in August. Although no organization claimed responsibility for the attack, a Taliban-affiliated group could have been the instigator, and Baradar’s message was aimed to assure Tashkent that his group would not target Uzbek citizens. 

The second part of Baradar’s statement was a guarantee against threatening the security of Uzbekistan and any other Central Asian states. That statement has unprecedented geopolitical implications for the region, given latent fears that the Taliban’s movement and ensuing violence could spill over into Central Asia. Such fears, unrealized as they may be, have shaped the region’s perspective on Afghanistan. The Central Asian states largely isolated themselves from Afghanistan for decades, concentrating on building up their militaries to withstand possible invasion from Afghanistan. In a way, Baradar’s statement is aimed to neutralize those fears and put the countries of the region into a cooperative mode by relaxing their security fears.

Climate risk and response in Asia: Research preview

By Jonathan Woetzel

COVID-19 is highlighting the importance of risk and resilience, and as the world focuses on recovery, it is important to not lose sight of climate risk. The Earth’s climate is changing after more than 10,000 years of relative stability, and Asia is on the front line. Climate science tells us that, absent adaptation and mitigation, the climate hazards the region faces in the future, from heat waves to flooding, are likely to be more severe, more intense, or both. The impacts in Asia in some cases could be more severe than in many other parts of the world. As Asia seeks to grow its economy—and remain a key source of growth for the world—climate is thus a critical challenge that the region will need to manage.

Asia is also well positioned to address these challenges and capture the opportunities that come from managing climate risk effectively. Infrastructure and urban areas are still being built out in many parts of Asia, which gives the region the chance to ensure that what goes up is more resilient and better able to withstand heightened risk. Like all parts of the world, Asia can also contribute to reducing emissions; climate science tells us that further warming will continue until net zero emissions are reached. If policy makers and business leaders can harness the region’s innovative spirit, talent, and flexibility, Asia could lead a global response to climate risk by adapting and by mitigating the most severe potential consequences.

This paper, part of an ongoing series about the Future of Asia, is a preview of research to be published in 2020 that examines how climate risk could play out in Asia, both in physical hazards and in the socioeconomic impacts resulting from those hazards, and what measures can be taken to manage the risk. This regional view follows the publication in January 2020 of the McKinsey Global Institute’s global report, Climate risk and response: Physical hazards and socioeconomic impacts.

The Riddle of COVID-19 and Democracy in Southeast Asia

By Sebastian Strangio

As I noted in these pages last week, the coronavirus pandemic continues to scythe through parts of Southeast Asia, particularly the region’s two most populous nations, Indonesia and the Philippines.

On September 21, Philippine health authorities confirmed 3,475 more coronavirus infections, bringing its total caseload to 290,190, the highest in the region. It also announced 15 more deaths from the virus, bringing its national toll to 4,999.

While the rate of infections is starting to slow in the Philippines, the trends in Indonesia are moving in the opposite direction. The same day, Jakarta announced a new daily record of 4,176 new coronavirus infections (for a total of 248,852), while the number of deaths rose by 124 to 9,677, by far the highest number of fatalities in Southeast Asia. The escalating outbreak has since prompted calls to delay regional elections due in December, which were already postponed from September due to COVID-19.

The picture in other parts of Southeast Asia is very different. Measured in relation to population, the Philippines has registered 2,640 cases of COVID-19 per million of population, and 45 deaths; Indonesia has registered 908 cases and 35 deaths. By comparison, the comparable figures for Malaysia are 317 cases and 4 deaths per million; in Thailand, which recently clocked up 100 days without a locally transmitted case, they are 50 and 0.8, respectively.

2 Recent Alleged Episodes of Chinese Espionage Raise Worrying – and Difficult – Questions

By Abhijnan Rej

Two recent episodes, in New Delhi and Brussels, highlight how Chinese intelligence services are increasingly using the country’s state-controlled media and personnel affiliated with it for the purposes of espionage and influence operations. The Indian and Belgian examples come at a time of increasing global scrutiny of Chinese media agencies and their covert activities, as well as pushback against the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP’s) increasing use of a diverse set of actors – both Chinese as well as foreign nationals – to further its political causes.

On September 19, the Delhi Police’s Special Cell, a unit tasked with national-security related investigations, released a statement noting it had arrested an Indian journalist, along with one Chinese and one Nepali national, on espionage charges under India’s Official Secrets Act. The journalist, Rajeev Sharma, was arrested on September 14, according to Delhi Police, based on input from an Indian intelligence agency.

The 61-year-old Sharma was accused of passing defense and foreign-policy related information to two Chinese individuals based in the city of Kunming. The Delhi Police also noted that it had arrested the two foreign nationals for serving as a front for payments to Sharma totaling 3 million Indian rupees between January 2019 and September 2020. It alleged that Sharma had been involved with Chinese intelligence services since 2016. He is currently in judicial custody.

Sharma, a veteran freelance journalist specializing in national security, foreign policy, and Indian political issues, has written for a variety of outlets, including the Quint, Rediff, Firstpost and dailyO, among others. He has also worked for prominent Indian newspapers like the Hindustan Times and Times of India in the past, a Press Trust of India report notes. (Disclosure: Sharma regularly contributed to The Diplomat until 2012.) Between 2010 and 2014, Sharma also wrote a weekly column for the CCP-affiliated tabloid Global Times, the Delhi Police noted in its statement.

After Trump’s TikTok Ban, China Readies Blacklist of Foreign Companies

Keith Bradsher

BEIJING — As the United States and China trade blows over technology, Beijing on Saturday moved to create a blacklist of foreign companies seen as threatening its national security or acting against Chinese business interests.

The plan for a blacklist, which was short on details and included no companies’ names, appeared to be retaliation for the Trump administration’s decision to ban the Chinese-owned apps TikTok and WeChat from American app stores starting at midnight on Sunday.

Tensions between Beijing and Washington have intensified in recent months, accelerating a downward spiral in economic and diplomatic relations. The confrontation now encompasses the two countries’ policies on trade and technology, as well as on Taiwan, Hong Kong, human rights and other issues.

Many recent actions by the United States have prompted countermoves by China. The People’s Liberation Army sent 19 fighter jets and bombers into the Taiwan Strait on Saturday and 18 the previous day to protest a visit to the island democracy, which China claims as its territory, by a senior State Department official.

Along with banning TikTok and WeChat, the Trump administration has prevented dozens of Chinese companies from buying U.S. products. The Commerce Department last year added the Chinese tech giant Huawei to its “entity list,” which curbed the company’s ability to use American-origin chips, software and other technology.

FBI sounds alarm on rampant personal-data theft by China-backed hackers

By Bill Gertz 

China is engaged in massive data mining in the United States and likely has stolen personal information on nearly half of the entire U.S. population, FBI Director Christopher Wray revealed this week.

Chinese intelligence and government-linked hackers have conducted data collection operations, such as the 2017 theft of financial information on 150 million people from the credit bureau Equifax.

Mr. Wray said in prepared congressional testimony that hackers compromised information on “nearly half of the American population and most American adults.”

“If you are an American adult, it is more likely than not that China has stolen your personal data,” Mr. Wray told the House Homeland Security Committee on Thursday, adding the theft is “on a scale so massive that it represents one of the largest transfers of wealth in human history.”

Other Chinese data hacks over the past five years involved gaining access to more than 60 million records from the health care provider Anthem and more than 22 million records from the federal government’s Office of Personnel Management, including very sensitive data gathered as part of security clearance probes.

China Holds a Lot of America's Debt—Could Beijing Weaponize It?

by Scott B. MacDonald

As the United States and Chinese economies decouple in the new Cold War, an important benchmark to watch is the selloff of China’s holdings of U.S. government debt. This raises a number of questions, ranging from how much of a selloff does China conduct to assessing the possible impact on the U.S. economy. After all, China is one of the major buyers of U.S. debt (though at a much slower rate), and the U.S. government has massive ongoing financing needs for its huge fiscal deficits and ballooning public sector debt. Considering that both the Democrats and Republicans lack any interest in fiscal prudence and that the coronavirus pandemic has added unexpected costs, the United States will remain dependent on access to investors, including those from overseas, over the long term. Although some of the new issuance in U.S. debt will be absorbed by the Federal Reserve, the impact of a major buyer walking away is likely to have consequences.

The hallmarks of U.S.-China Cold War-level competition are not difficult to discern: rising military tensions in key international hotspots, cyber-hacking of public and private sector operations, propaganda operations, and a decoupling from each other’s economy. The last is not easy, but is being pushed along, much of it from hawks within the Trump administration. To be fair, key Democratic leaders, including the party’s presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden, are also sounding tough on China. For anyone looking, the Democratic Party left out the words “one China” from its Asia-Pacific policy for the first time in twenty years—a pointed jab at China and a positive signal to Taiwan. Whoever wins the presidential election in November, U.S. policy is likely to be defined by decoupling, and that includes financial linkages. 

Over much of the past decade, China and Japan have consistently been the two largest buyers of U.S. government debt. Indeed, U.S. Treasury securities are high-rated (Aaa/AA+/AAA), liquid, and have a track record of repayment, even during periods of acute financial market stress. As such, they have long functioned as an investor safe harbor. Liquidity has been a key issue; while other major high-rated sovereigns also offer their debt, they are more limited in terms of supply and, in some cases, trade at negative interest rates (Germany, Japan, and Austria). Indeed, sovereign bonds with negative interest rates rose to around $15 trillion in 2019, before receding a little in early 2020.

Chinese Domination Over The South China Sea: Already a Done Deal?

by Kris Osborn

An interesting interactive illustration from a prominent think tank appears to raise the question as to the extent to which China already controls the majority of the South China Sea. 

The map, presented by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), shows China’s fighter jet, bomber, radar and missile reach across the South China Sea, demonstrating that very little to none of the region is outside of China’s threat envelope. 

For example, the map indicates that the range of Chinese fighter jets completely encircles the South China Sea, stretching from mainland China down around the Philippines to the Southern parts of SouthEast Asia. China’s bombers, radar, anti-ship cruise missiles and air-defenses also have extensive reach spanning across wide swaths of dispersed terrain.

For instance, the map shows an area in the South China Sea called Fiery Cross Reef which has shelters equipped for mobile missile platforms and hangars sufficient to house 24 combat aircraft. This kind of placement offers China the ability to reach, cover and potentially attack virtually all areas of the South China Sea quickly.

The map also says that China’s HQ-9 Surface to Air Missile systems and YJ-12B anti-ship cruise missiles were deployed to the island in early 2018 

Could The U.S. Navy Blockade China Into Submission?

by Sean Mirski

Here's What You Need To Remember: It is worth recognizing that even the most effective blockade would not completely interdict Chinese trade, because even under ideal conditions, China would still be able to acquire the vital goods and resources courtesy of the inescapable laws of supply and demand. The more effectively the United States established a regional embargo, the higher the profit margins on selling imports to China. Even if all of China’s neighbors agreed to embargo, the United States would still have to resign itself to rampant smuggling at the substate level.

The mounting challenge presented by China’s military modernization has led the United States to review existing military strategies and to conceptualize new ones, as illustrated by the ongoing debate over AirSea Battle (ASB), a new concept of operations put forward by the Department of Defense. But in the universe of possible strategies, the idea of a naval blockade deserves greater scrutiny. By prosecuting a naval blockade, the United States would leverage China’s intense dependence on foreign trade—particularly oil—to debilitate the Chinese state. A carefully organized blockade could thus serve as a powerful instrument of American military power that contributes to overcoming the pressing challenge of China’s formidable anti-access and area denial (A2/AD) system. A blockade could also be easily paired with alternate military strategies, including those based on ASB.

In the context of a Sino-American war, the United States could try to take China’s greatest national strength—its export-oriented, booming economic-growth model—and transform it into a major military weakness. To do so, the United States would implement a naval blockade of China that attempted to choke off most of China’s maritime trade. Under the right conditions, the United States might be able to secure victory by debilitating China’s economy severely enough to bring it to the negotiating table.

China Wants The Navy To Think Its Anti-Ship Missiles Are A Dire Threat (But Are They Really?)

by Kris Osborn

Here's What You Need To Remember: The Navy is taking the threat very seriously and concerns about a “carrier-killer” attack continue to lead to the possibility of America building smaller, more mobile and agile carriers platforms. Perhaps of greatest significance, the anti-ship threat has at least in part driven the Navy effort to engineer carrier-launched drones such as the emerging MQ-25 Stingray.

The Chinese military appears to be threatening U.S. carriers now operating in the Pacific by firing off a DF-26 so-called “carrier-killer” missile reportedly capable of hitting moving targets at sea. 

A Chinese government-backed newspaper called the test-firing a “fast-reaction” capability of the Rocket Force troops,” adding that these kinds of exercises will continue for the next several months.

“The latest drills demonstrated that the DF-26 has gained a stronger capability in real combat scenarios, including cross-regional maneuvering,” according to the report in the Global Times.

Significantly, the report also added that the missile is not “dependent upon a pre-launch site.”

The report, and the test firing, raise several pertinent questions regarding the threat presented by the DF-26. 

How Can America Live With The Rise Of China?

by Bonnie Kristian

China is building its military, a recent Pentagon report to Congress argued, with the goal of becoming a "world-class" force over the next three decades.

Beijing “has not defined exactly what it means by its ambition to have a world-class military,” said Chad Sbragia, deputy assistant secretary of defense for China, in remarks timed for the report's publication. "Within the context of China's national strategy, however, China will likely aim to develop a military by mid-century that is equal to, and in many cases superior to, the United States' military or that of any other great power that the Chinese view as a threat."

This conclusion can hardly surprise anyone who has tracked China's path over the past few decades. With the population and, increasingly, the wealth of a great power, Beijing wants the military heft of a great power, too. This isn't a good thing, but at this point, it may be inevitable, as may Chinese dominance of its near abroad.

The proper question for U.S. foreign policy, then, is not, “How do we stop the rise of China?” (Answer: We can’t, at least not at anything close to an acceptable risk or cost.) The question is, “How do we live with the rise of China?” Or, more bluntly, “How do we navigate great power rivalry without falling into an avoidable conflict that in the worst-case scenario could end the world as we know it?”

These questions are far too big to fully answer here, but recent headlines offer a useful negative object lesson. Recently, the State Department declassified Reagan-era diplomatic cables concerning U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, which purchases American military equipment as part of its deterrence of mainland Chinese takeover. The publication does not mark a change in U.S. policy per se, but it does formally reveal Washington’s “Six Assurances" to Taiwan before considered a “loosely-kept secret” undoubtedly known to Beijing.

China Is Determined To Dominate The South China Sea

by James Holmes

Here's What You Need To Remember: China is a power on the rise. It is asserting rulemaking authority in Asian waters and skies. No arrangement a la the Black Sea compact is on offer in Southeast Asia. Nor is there much reason to think Beijing would accept one were it offered. Quite the reverse. China is serious about making itself the suzerain of maritime Asia and is striving to lock in its status.

What would happen should a U.S. Navy warship collide with a Chinese vessel while demonstrating on behalf of freedom of the sea?

This hasn’t been a trivial or hypothetical question since at least April 2001, when a Chinese fighter jet hotdogging near a U.S. Navy EP-3 surveillance plane slammed into the American aircraft, kindling a diplomatic crisis between the Chinese Communist Party leadership and the newly installed administration of President George W. Bush. This aerial encounter furnished advance warning of what might happen on the surface below.

Last weekend the question took on new urgency. On Sunday morning a People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) Type 052C destroyer cut across the bow of the destroyer USS Decatur as Decatur made a close pass by Gaven Reef in the South China Sea. Estimates vary, but it appears the PLAN ship passed somewhere within 45 feet and 45 yards of its American counterpart—compelling the Decatur bridge crew to maneuver to avoid collision. The imagery is striking. Whatever the actual range, terming this conduct “unsafe and unprofessional”—in the U.S. Pacific Command’s anodyne phrasing—understates how close the vessels came to disaster.

Yes, the New Naval Arms Race With China Matters

by Stratfor Worldview

Key point: The coming decade of development will significantly reduce, but not eliminate, the gap between China's navy — already the second most powerful maritime force on the planet — and the U.S. Navy by 2030.

All fitted out, China's second-ever aircraft carrier — and the first built entirely in China — is set to sail for sea trials. The construction of the aircraft carrier represents a significant milestone in China's steady rise as a major naval power. And barring any hiccups, Beijing will continue its ascent in the following decade to the degree that it challenges the United States for naval supremacy – at least in East Asia.

From a Coastal Defense Force to a World Power

The might of the Chinese navy today is far beyond what it was just 30 years ago. As recently as the 1990s, it was effectively a coastal defense force with little ability to challenge its U.S. counterpart. But quick as the Chinese navy's rise since then has been, its tremendous progress stems from evolution rather than revolution, as Beijing has carefully and incrementally introduced new designs and equipment into the navy before proceeding to intensified shipbuilding.

At the turn of the millennium, Beijing began producing new indigenous vessels, but many of the initial designs, such as the Type 051C destroyer, depended heavily on Russian and other foreign technology for their main armaments. At the same time, China continued to purchase Russian warships, such as Sovremenny-class destroyers and Kilo-class submarines, as a hedge against the potential failure of their new designs.

China is winning the trade war

By Tim Fernholz

The World Trade Organization ruled today that US tariffs on Chinese imports are illegal under global trade rules.

The new taxes in question were imposed on Americans by president Donald Trump, ostensibly put in place to combat Chinese efforts to steal intellectual property from US companies through coercive investment pacts, among other tactics. Now, the WTO says the US’s blanket tariffs aren’t a permissible solution under trade agreements the US signed on to starting in 1994.

The ruling itself won’t matter too much—the US can appeal it, and because the US is refusing to appoint new members to the WTO’s appellate board, the end result is legal limbo.

But don’t mistake that for a US victory. After all, it typically wins WTO fights with China. This new ruling marks another step towards trade based on economic power rather than on rules, and the panel’s report underlines the US failure to build a coalition in opposition to China’s exploitation of global trade rules.

Consider that traditional US allies Australia and the European Union both weighed in on the dispute—in China’s favor. Both submitted formal comments saying that they think China’s exploitation of foreign intellectual property is a problem, but that the US arguments about multilateral trade rules were incorrect.

Has Time Run Out for Guaido in Venezuela?

There is no end in sight to the political and humanitarian crises that have overwhelmed Venezuela and spilled over into neighboring countries for the past several years. In fact, the protracted fight for control of the country has only meant additional suffering for its citizens, who are already living in the most dire conditions outside of a warzone in recent memory.

Even if the political stalemate is broken, there are no easy solutions for fixing the country’s economy, which was too dependent on oil and collapsed as global crude prices fell. But President Nicolas Maduro has shown more interest in consolidating his grip on power than making needed structural changes. The result has been growing shortages of food and basic supplies, widespread power outages and alarming rates of malnutrition. The crisis has also decimated the country’s health care system, leaving Venezuela at the mercy of the coronavirus pandemic, which is likely to further exacerbate all of its challenges.

Opposition leader Juan Guaido’s attempt to overthrow Maduro’s government in early 2019 with the backing of the United States appears to have backfired. Instead of seizing power, Guaido appears to have hardened political divisions within the country, resulting in an impasse. Meanwhile, Washington’s public attempts to help bring down Maduro’s socialist administration have pushed the Venezuelan leader to look to strengthen his partnerships with Russia and China.

A new global ranking of cyber-power throws up some surprises

China has the world’s largest army. Russia wields the most tanks. America owns the fanciest satellites. But who has the most cyber-power? A new National Cyber Power Index by the Belfer Centre at Harvard University ranks 30 countries on their level of ambition and capability. Offensive cyber-power—the ability to do harm in or through computer networks—is one measure. But so too are the strength of a country’s defences, the sophistication of its cyber-security industry and its ability to spread and counter propaganda (see chart).

That America stands at the top of the list is not surprising. Its cyber-security budget for fiscal year 2020 stood at over $17bn and the National Security Agency (nsa), its signals-intelligence (sigint) agency, probably gets well over $10bn. The awesome scale of America’s digital espionage was laid bare in leaks by Edward Snowden, a former nsa contractor, in 2013, which showed the agency hoovering up vast amounts of the world’s internet traffic and trying to weaken encryption standards.

The Unbalanced Spear

By Shannon Culbertson, Alice Hunt Friend 

The past few years have been hard on America’s special operations forces. Just as they were beginning to take stock of the exhausting impacts of 20 years of continuous counterterrorism operations and grapple with growing concerns about their health and ethical shortcomings, their role in national strategy was demoted. Counterterrorism and counterinsurgency, where special operations forces led the military’s post-9/11 efforts, are no longer the Defense Department’s top priority. The department now considers so-called great power competition to be preeminent. The shift has set special operations forces “adrift” and prompted soul searching in both military and civilian circles about their place in the new international security environment.

Perhaps because of these struggles, calls for improved civilian leadership and oversight have accelerated in recent months, including from former assistant secretaries of defense for special operations and low intensity conflict (SOLIC). Many of these longtime special operations policymakers and practitioners have proposed dramatic changes, such as making the Special Operations Command (SOCOM) its own military service with a service secretary and a chief who would become a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Others have sought to elevate the assistant secretary for SOLIC to an under secretary reporting directly to the secretary of defense, arguing that the civilian overseeing a four-star command should be a four-star equivalent. Congress has weighed in as well: The 2017 National Defense Authorization Act directed the Defense Department to move personnel and administrative power into SOLIC in a bid to improve civilian oversight.

To be sure, the bureaucratic structures for special operations are unique and pose challenges for governance. SOCOM is part service, with special budgetary and acquisition authorities, and part combatant command, conducting operations—while still dependent on the services for its personnel and some of its equipping. The assistant secretary for SOLIC has service secretary-like responsibilities without the heft of a secretariat’s rank or staff. In a department that cherishes hierarchy as a way of making sense of bureaucratic authority, the desire for the civilian at the top of the special operations oversight organization to match or outrank the commander of SOCOM is an understandable one.

Japan: Dealing with North Korea’s Growing Missile Threat

By Koda Yoji

On June 15, then Defense Minister Kono Taro suddenly announced his decision to back away from building two sets of land-based ballistic missile defense/intercepting (BMD) sites that would cover virtually the entire territory of Japan. Many arguments about how to defend Japan from North Korea’s expanding missile threats have been made since then. One of the options put forward by certain members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is to give the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) strike capability to defeat/destroy ballistic missiles and other weapons in the territory of the aggressor nation.

Legal Aspects

There is indisputably a consensus in Japan that the JSDF is prohibited from conducting strategic strike operations on enemy soil under the current war-renouncing Constitution. In this context, it has been the exclusive role of U.S. forces under the Japan-U.S. alliance to act on behalf of the JSDF and conduct strategic strike operations against an enemy nation to weaken its attack capability. This strategic complementary mission-sharing posture has been widely referred to as a “Spear and Shield” relationship.

The Japanese government has acted in strict compliance with the national consensus. However, as a hypothetical argument in Japan, the government’s interpretation of the Constitution in the context of an attack on enemy soil in an extreme situation is not as simple as merely adhering to the common consensus. In one key remark, Prime Minister Hatoyama Ichiro’s administration stated to the Diet in 1956, seven years after the JSDF’s foundation:

Beyond Data Privacy: Trump’s Proposed Ban of WeChat

By Layne Vandenberg

Last week, Donald Trump announced plans to ban downloads of the Chinese-owned mobile applications TikTok and WeChat in what appeared to be a tool for political leverage in an era of tense Sino-U.S. relations. On Sunday, the possibility of bans on either app was brought to a halt; TikTok made a deal with Oracle, and a U.S. federal judge blocked the ban of WeChat.

The Trump administration claimed its aim was to combat the possibility that the two Chinese-owned apps are collecting data from American users that could be given to the Chinese government. Trump’s threats particularly targeted WeChat (known in Chinese as 微信, or “micro-message”), a mobile app launched by the Shenzhen-based company Tencent. A deeper dive into WeChat and Tencent, however, reveal that the application and its mother company represent more than just instruments of control by Chinese political bodies through “Big Brother” surveillance. In their recent article, “The path to WeChat: How Tencent’s culture shaped the most popular Chinese app, 1998–2011,” Gianluigi Negro, Gabriele Balbi, and Paolo Bory showcase how WeChat’s success factors reflect nuanced digital media outside of Western contexts. Through this lens, Trump’s ban reflects the logic that national security is not only threatened by concerns about data privacy, but also the influences of non-Western digital media in the West.

With a market value of over $460 billion, WeChat is the third richest company in China in the internet services sector — behind giants JD and Alibaba — and the sixth largest worldwide. Known for its variety of uses, WeChat has established itself as the premier Chinese messaging app with 1.2 billion users, a user base rivalling Facebook, WhatsApp, and Messenger. In comparison to TikTok, which has become a widespread social media staple for Gen Z users around the world, WeChat’s 1.2 billion users are largely domestic and diasporic Chinese. 

As identified by Negro, Balbi, and Bory, WeChat rose to its dominant position thanks to four pillars in Tencent’s market strategy: mobility, media convergence, community building and gamification, and Sinicization. While issues related to “mobility” are the cited reasons for Trump’s ban, the other factors reveal possible alternative motives for banning the two apps. 

Why Putin hasn’t won the game in Belarus


MOSCOW — As protests continue to rock Belarus, the country's beleaguered strongman Alexander Lukashenko has turned East.

Fighting for his political survival, the Belarusian president is trying to frame his problems as part of a geopolitical conflict between Moscow and the West, appealing to Russian President Vladimir Putin — his “older brother” and “friend in times of need” — to support him in the face of unrelenting pressure to step down.

Footage of the two leaders’ meeting in Sochi earlier this week showed a perspiring Lukashenko either diligently taking notes when Putin was speaking or desperately trying to get his attention as the Russian president sat, legs open wide, adjusting his tie or tapping his foot in apparent boredom.

In part, the meeting seemed designed to show that Lukashenko was closing a door on the West and opening wider the door to Russia.

Throughout his 26-year rule, Lukashenko has sought to play Europe off against Russia, leveraging Belarus’ position as a buffer state between the two — the Sochi meeting seemed to indicate he has abandoned that tightrope act and is now willing to trade Belarus’ autonomy away if it means he himself can stay in power, even if only nominally.

Russia has promised military aid, stated that a reserve force is at the ready should an intervention be required and announced there will be monthly joint military exercises in western Belarus.