4 January 2023

From G-20 to the Pacific Islands, India offers new hope

Cleo Paskal

Alexandria, Va.: For those watching China, 2023 is a year of danger.
From the point of view of Beijing, it might be a good year to make a major move. The PLA, and especially the Navy, is growing, arming and flexing. Meanwhile the United States is perceived as weakened and distracted, Australian Prime Minister Albanese seems to want to mend relations with China (as does Germany), Europe is caught up in Ukraine, Taiwan has yet to get its one year of military service up and running (and its military remains under-armed and under-trained), and the Japanese seem serious about defending against China but have a way to go before becoming fully effective. It’s a dangerous situation.

But, at the same time, for those watching India, 2023 is a year of hope. Countries around the world feel squeezed between perceived PRC aggression and Western confusion. As they try to resurrect after Covid lockdowns devastated their economies and the war in Ukraine contributed to energy and food price inflation, many leaders are looking at their beleaguered fellow citizens and wondering “what now?”


Some leaders, as with Prime Minister Sogavare in Solomon Islands, have already thrown in their lot with Beijing, leading them down the path to an authoritarianism that is resulting in their being willing to go to war with their own people (with PRC backing). And so, the Chinese Communist Party model metastasizes.

Taiwan counts on military conscription reform to deter China invasion

Kathrin Hille

A low-key US military delegation arrived in Taiwan last month to assess its army, navy and air force and explore what the country’s armed services could gain from closer co-operation with Washington.

The visit’s aims were the same as Taipei’s high-profile announcement last week that it was lengthening conscription: to strengthen Taiwan’s defences enough to deter China from attempting an invasion.

The People’s Republic of China, which claims Taiwan as part of its territory, has threatened to use force to bring the island under its control since the ruling Chinese Communist party’s Nationalist civil war adversaries fled there in 1949. But only over the past few years has that threat become a real concern for Taiwan and the US, the guarantor of its security.

“Not only has the People’s Liberation Army a lot more advanced weapons, [but] we also see them single-mindedly focused on acquiring all the skills they need to take Taiwan,” said a US official in Asia. “In that situation, if you are Taiwan, you have to face up to it and get ready fast.”

China’s more than two-decade push to build armed forces capable of realising its national ambitions has left Taiwan’s military dangerously outgunned. Last year, Beijing spent $270bn on its military, more than 21 times more than Taipei, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, a non-profit conflict research organisation.

Cause for optimism in the South China Sea


Attention shifted away from the South China Sea (SCS) in 2022 as the world confronted the Ukraine war and the Taiwan Strait crisis in February and August. Fears that a Ukraine-inspired conflict would erupt in the Taiwan Strait have not eventuated.

Domestic economic and political concerns, such as inflationary pressures on the economy and the 20th Party Congress have seized much of Beijing’s attention.

Still, China’s maritime coercion against its Southeast Asian and extra-regional rivals have continued in the SCS throughout 2022, with widely-reported incidents involving Indonesia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Australia.

Various claimants, including China and the Philippines, have continued to engage in construction activities on their existing Spratly Islands outposts. Vietnam has been observed to have undertaken significant dredging and landfill work since early this year.

Yet there could be cause for optimism. Late 2022 caps off a flurry of regional summitry. The first in-person summit between the Chinese and US presidents on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Bali should have created some respite for regional countries holding their breath over a China-US conflict.

China Is Preparing for War, Retired General Warns


China is preparing its military for war over Taiwan, warned retired U.S. Army lieutenant general and former national security adviser, H.R. McMaster.

Relations between China and Taiwan have long been strained over the island's push for independence, but have grown even more tense amid increasingly aggressive Chinese leadership. Although Taiwan considers itself independent of China—and is recognized as a semi-autonomous state—China has claimed it as its own and views control of the island as essential to its policy of reunification.

Amid growing tensions, McMaster said he believes China could be gearing up for military action to take control of the island nation during an appearance on CBS News' Face the Nation on Sunday—adding that Chinese President Xi Jinping, who secured a historic third term last year, has made it clear he plans to retake Taiwan.

"Xi Jinping has made it quite clear, in his statements, that he is going to make, from his perspective, China whole again by subsuming Taiwan," McMaster said. "And preparations are underway."

McMaster said the best way to prevent a widescale military war over Taiwan is "deterrence," adding that the United States, which already spends more than $1.6 trillion on defense, should invest even more in national security because it would be "much more costly" to respond to a war with China, which boasts one of the strongest militaries across the globe and continues to seek to grow its influence in the Pacific region.

Taiwan willing to offer help to China to deal with Covid-19 surge

Wayne Chang and Kathleen Magramo

Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen said the self-ruled democratic island is willing to provide assistance to help China deal with its Covid surge after Beijing eased its hardline approach last month.

China abandoned its restrictive zero-Covid stance after nearly three years, ending snap lockdowns, contact tracing, mandatory testing and scrapping quarantine that severely limited people from traveling in and out of the country.

But the abrupt exit from zero-Covid could lead to nearly 1 million deaths, according to a new study, with the country facing an unprecedented wave of infections spreading out from its biggest cities into its rural areas.

“Based on humanitarian needs, we are willing to provide necessary assistance (to China) as needed, so that more people can put the pandemic behind and have a healthy and peaceful new year,” Tsai said in her new year’s remarks on Sunday.

However, she did not spell out what forms of assistance Taipei would provide.

Why China’s Economy Faces a Perilous Road to Recovery

Keith Bradsher

Three weeks after Xi Jinping, China’s top leader, tried to reinvigorate China’s stalled economy by abruptly abandoning his stringent pandemic restrictions, he struck an upbeat note in his annual New Year’s Eve address. “China’s economy has strong resilience, great potential and vitality,” he said.

But that optimism is hard to find in downtown Guangzhou, the commercial hub of southern China. Nearly three years of “zero Covid” measures have crushed businesses. Streets are lined with shuttered stores and workshops. Walls are plastered not with “help wanted” signs, but with notices from entrepreneurs putting their businesses up for sale. Roads and alleys once packed with migrant workers are now mostly empty.

China’s reversal of its Covid restrictions in early December was meant to help places like Guangzhou. But the chaotic approach has contributed to a tsunami of infections that has swept across the nation, overwhelming hospitals and funeral parlors. In many industries, truck drivers and other workers have quickly fallen ill, temporarily stretching staff and slowing operations.

Now, faced with an unpredictable — and uncontrolled — epidemic and financial uncertainty, people and companies are spending cautiously, suggesting that the road to recovery will be uneven and painful.

Chinese military short of troops trained in hi-tech operations, PLA Daily reveals in rare show of candour

Kristin Huang

The vice-captain of a warship has yet to complete a key training test, China’s military has revealed, in an indirect but rare acknowledgement of its shortage of highly skilled troops.

The admission, in a recent media report, highlights a core problem as China speeds up the modernisation of the People’s Liberation Army – a lack of hi-tech expertise limiting state-of-the-art equipment from use to its full extent, especially in the navy.

Chinese People’s Liberation Army releases propaganda navy training video ahead of 73rd anniversary

The vice-captain of the Zhangye – a Type 056 corvette – had not completed an important training assessment, military mouthpiece PLA Daily said in a report last week.

While the report did not specify when the assessment had been due, it said the delay was caused by either ship maintenance or scheduling conflicts.

The vice-captain, named in the report as Wang Yubing, is but one of several naval soldiers whose training has been held up.

Chinese aircraft carrier nears US territory of Guam

The Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning made a rare approach to the U.S. island territory of Guam in what a Chinese newspaper interpreted as a warning to the U.S. over Taiwan.

The Liaoning and its escorting vessels have been conducting drills in the West Pacific since mid-December, when Japan announced its new security strategy that named China as an unprecedented “strategic challenge.”

The Japanese Ministry of Defense’s Joint Staff Office said in a statement on Wednesday that during ten days from Dec. 17 to Dec. 27, Chinese carrier-based aircraft conducted a total of about 260 take-offs and landings, prompting Japan to scramble military aircraft and vessels.

The Chinese fleet, consisting of the Liaoning, one Type 055 large missile destroyer and a number of other vessels, was sailing near the remote Okinawa Prefecture islands of Okidaito and Kitadaito, but also near Okinotorishima, the southernmost part of Japan.

The statement said on Dec. 25 the Liaoning was spotted 670 kilometers (416 miles) southeast of Okinotorishima, about 618 km (384 miles) northwest of Guam, before returning to the waters between Taiwan and Japan.

Guam is home to two key U.S. military bases hosting strategic bombers and submarines.

The US and China After Zero-COVID


MADRID – China is currently experiencing a particularly turbulent period in its history. Late last month, weeks after the Communist Party of China’s (CPC) 20th Congress reaffirmed President Xi Jinping’s leadership, unprecedented protests against Xi’s zero-COVID policy erupted in the country’s major cities.

Xi’s decision to abandon the zero-COVID policy marks a radical shift in China’s pandemic-containment strategy. The CPC responded by swiftly lifting China’s severe pandemic restrictions. While official statistics do not always offer an entirely reliable picture of what is happening in China, few question the fact that a period of serious complications lies ahead regarding the containment of the virus in China.

Chinese domestic politics will likely dominate news headlines over the next few months. But China’s deferred reckoning with the pandemic must not overshadow the urgent task of preventing a direct confrontation with the United States. November’s G20 meeting in Bali – where Hindu, Buddhist, Confucian, Taoist, and Christian cultures coexist peacefully – offered an ideal setting for the meeting between Xi and US President Joe Biden.

Fortunately, the summit concluded on a positive note. Both Biden and Xi expressed willingness to redirect the bilateral relationship and reopen diplomatic channels to discuss, among other things, the fight against climate change. Biden, for his part, sought to assure the world that the US is not seeking a new Cold War that would “contain” China by organizing alliances against it or stifle its economic development, and that it will maintain the “one China” policy.

A China Optimist’s Lament


NEW HAVEN – I have been a congenital China optimist for most of the past 25 years. I first came to that view in the depths of the Asian financial crisis in 1997-98. The so-called East Asian growth miracle was in tatters and China was widely portrayed as the final domino that would fall in what was then viewed as the first crisis of globalization. Having shuttled back and forth to the region during that period as Morgan Stanley’s chief economist, I had quickly come to appreciate the power of China’s market-based economic transition. So, in March 1998, I took a very different view on the pages of the Financial Times with my first published commentary on China, “The Land of the Rising Dragon.”

My argument, in a nutshell, was that China would supplant Japan as the new engine of post-crisis Asia. Japan was floundering in the aftermath of its post-bubble implosion, whereas a reform-oriented China had the wherewithal, determination, and strategy to withstand the currency contagion of a devastating external shock and sustain rapid economic growth. As China delivered, boosted by its accession to the World Trade Organization in late 2001, and Japan sunk into its second lost decade, the Chinese economy took off like a rocket.

It was the beginning of an extraordinary journey for me as Wall Street’s resident China optimist. In the spring of 1998, I spent a day in Seattle with then Chinese Finance Minister Xiang Huaicheng. He had read my piece in the FT and wanted to exchange views on the Chinese and US economies. He implored me to think of China less in terms of legacy state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and more through the lens of a rapidly emerging entrepreneurial subculture driven by township-village enterprises (TVEs).

‘A big Texan nails him in the mouth, knocks him down’: Delta Force operator breaks silence after 20 years to reveal how Saddam Hussein was captured - and reveals he said ‘President Bush sends his regards


A former member of the Army's secretive Delta Force - which pulled Saddam Hussein out of his underground hideout in 2003 - has finally provided a firsthand account of the dictator's capture.

Appearing on a podcast last month, retired Army Master Sergeant Kevin Holland spoke about Hussein's December 13, 2003 arrest - the first time an American has done so in nearly 20 years.

The only known soldier to serve in both the Navy's elite SEAL Team 6 and the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, Holland then offered never-before heard details to former Navy SEAL Jack Carr on his program Danger Close.

Speaking surprisingly candidly to his fellow serviceman when questioned about the high profile incident, Holland revealed how he and his brothers-in-arms came to find the eight-foot hole, and how they found a haggard Hussein armed with a gun inside.

Holland - a 20 year vet who left the SEALS in 1999 only to join the Army after the attacks on the World Trade Center - said that at a point, after restraining the prisoner, they told him, 'President Bush sends his regards.'

All Is Not Quiet on the Eastern Front

Niall Ferguson

War is hell on earth — and if you doubt it, visit Ukraine or watch Edward Berger’s All Quiet on the Western Front, Netflix’s gut-wrenching new adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque’s classic antiwar novel of 1929.

Even a small war is hellish for those caught up in it, of course. But a world war is the worst thing we humans have ever done to one another. In a memorable essay published last month, Henry Kissinger reflected on “How to Avoid Another World War.” In 1914, “The nations of Europe, insufficiently familiar with how technology had enhanced their respective military forces, proceeded to inflict unprecedented devastation on one another.” Then, after two years of industrialized slaughter, “the principal combatants in the West (Britain, France and Germany) began to explore prospects for ending the carnage.” Even with US intermediation, the effort failed.

Kissinger posed an important question: “Does the world today find itself at a comparable turning point [like the opportunity for peace in 1916] in Ukraine as winter imposes a pause on large-scale military operations there?” This time last year, I predicted that Russia would invade Ukraine. The question one year later is whether there is a way to end this war, or whether it is destined to grow into something much larger.

How Russia deploys an army of shadow diplomats

This article was originally co-published by ProPublica, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom, and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists as part of a series, Shadow Diplomats.

BUDVA, Montenegro – Near a teeming town square along the Adriatic coast, where ancient city walls surround the ruins of bygone empires and shops and churches rise over the sea, Russia’s newly appointed representative to this tiny Balkan nation opened his consulate office.

Boro Djukic, the first honorary consul named by Russia in Montenegro, was supposed to use his prestigious post to champion cultural ties and the interests of local Russian business owners and tourists – a benevolent bridge between the two countries.

Instead, the middle-aged former bureaucrat took on an aggressive role in Montenegro’s politics, backing a movement that aimed to empower allies of the Kremlin and working to undermine the fragile government of a country considered a valuable US ally in a turbulent region.

2023 and the world: Grid’s global forecast — from Ukraine to China, conflict zones to climate change

Tom Nagorski

One year ago, even some sophisticated readers — and savvy editors — couldn’t have identified Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in a photo or found Luhansk and Donetsk on a map. It’s doubtful they’d have known what “HIMARS” or “ATACMS” were, or that the largest nuclear reactor in Europe was in Zaporizhzhia, in southeastern Ukraine. We might have needed refreshers on the Budapest Agreement or NATO’s Article 5.

And one year ago, Grid’s look at global hot spots for 2022 was focused more on Taiwan and North Korea than Russia and Ukraine.

And yet as 2022 ended, Zelenskyy was everyone’s “Person of the Year” and Russia’s war against Ukraine was without question the year’s most consequential global event. It looks certain to be the same in 2023 — for reasons that matter well beyond the battlefield.

2023 will also be a year (like most in recent memory) when what happens in China influences events far from its own borders. As Grid’s Lili Pike notes, China enters the new year in a state of rare tumult for President Xi Jinping and the Communist Party, given economic uncertainties and a messy unwinding of its “zero-covid” policy.

What happens in China and Ukraine will weigh heavily on the global economy, which starts 2023 with twin worries about inflation and recession, along with nightmarish “debt bomb” crises roiling many nations of the Global South.

How Russia’s War on Ukraine Is Worsening Global Starvation

Edward Wong and Ana Swanson

ISTANBUL — Hulking ships carrying Ukrainian wheat and other grains are backed up along the Bosporus here in Istanbul as they await inspections before moving on to ports around the world.

The number of ships sailing through this narrow strait, which connects Black Sea ports to wider waters, plummeted when Russia invaded Ukraine 10 months ago and imposed a naval blockade. Under diplomatic pressure, Moscow has begun allowing some vessels to pass, but it continues to restrict most shipments from Ukraine, which together with Russia once exported a quarter of the world’s wheat.

And at the few Ukrainian ports that are operational, Russia’s missile and drone attacks on Ukraine’s energy grid periodically cripple the grain terminals where wheat and corn are loaded onto ships.

An enduring global food crisis has become one of the farthest-reaching consequences of Russia’s war, contributing to widespread starvation, poverty and premature deaths.

The United States and allies are struggling to reduce the damage. American officials are organizing efforts to help Ukrainian farmers get food out of their country through rail and road networks that connect to Eastern Europe and on barges traveling up the Danube River.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy pledges victory in 2023 as Ukraine shoots down Russian missiles

John Paul Rathbone

Ukraine weathered another round of missile and drone attacks early on New Year’s Day as President Volodymyr Zelenskyy lauded the country’s determination to overcome Russian aggression, saying that “when we win, we will hug”.

Russia launched 45 Iranian-made drones mostly targeting the capital Kyiv overnight, all of which were shot down by Ukraine’s air defences, with no reported casualties. “It didn’t work out that the holiday was spoilt for Ukrainians!” the country’s air forces said.

The latest attack came hours after Saturday’s volley of cruise missiles that Russia launched as President Vladimir Putin was delivering a militaristic end-of-year message during which he pledged to put an end to the “criminal Nazi regime in Kyiv”.

Flanked by uniformed soldiers, Putin’s speech contrasted sharply with Zelenskyy’s more emotive message in which he said he wished for “one thing — victory” and that 2023 would be a year of return for Ukrainians displaced by Russia’s full-scale invasion launched more than 10 months ago.

“The return of our people: Soldiers — to their families. Prisoners — to their homes. Migrants — to their Ukraine . . . Return of our lands . . . Return to normal life,” Zelenskyy said in his overnight New Year’s address to the nation. “To happy moments without curfew . . . without air raid sirens.”

Resilience and Resistance in Ukraine

Otto C. Fiala

In 2014, immediately prior to the Russian invasion of Crimean, US Special Operations Command – Europe (SOCEUR) began an effort to examine the concept of resistance, based on the vulnerable exposure of the three Baltic NATO allies of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. This vulnerability centered on the lack of NATO conventional forces in that northeast corner of NATO to offer ground-based deterrence to a possible Russian incursion. The question became; what was available, besides the unlikely use of nuclear weapons, to deter and if necessary to defend those nations in case of Russian invasion? The short answer, soon to be further developed, was resistance. Then, within several months, Russia invaded and annexed Crimea. The resistance effort quickly moved from an academic thought exercise to resurrecting a form of irregular warfare, resulting in a written Resistance Operating Concept (ROC).[1] Though with northern European roots, it has geographically broader application as a form of irregular warfare.[2] This article will examine resilience and resistance in Ukraine primarily from a ROC based perspective and also identify new developments based on events in Ukraine and how they fit into the concept of resistance.

For over a decade, Putin has questioned the historical legitimacy of the Ukrainian state. He has many times publicly stated that Ukrainians and Russians are “one people.” He has stated that Ukraine illegally occupies ancestral Russian lands and that the border separating Russia and Ukraine was poorly drawn by the post revolution Bolsheviks. He has publicly lamented the fall of the USSR, not due to a fondness for its ideology Marxism-Leninism, but due to the dramatic loss of Russia's international status in the wake of the fall. Another major problem he identifies with that fall is that tens of millions of Russians were left living beyond the borders of the Russian Federation. The former Soviet Republic with the deepest ties to Russia and the largest ethnic Russian population is Ukraine.[3]

Uneven Snows: Why Winter Will Hurt Russia’s Military Far More Than Ukraine’s

Brian E. Frydenborg

There is much Conventional Wisdom out there that the coming winter will mean major combat operations will halt in Ukraine and a general pause in the war, that winter means windows and opportunities will close for Ukraine or that Ukraine is somehow at a disadvantage once winter sets in. Before Ukraine retook Kherson City, you could easily find commentary that Ukraine needed to rack up victories before the winter sets it, that, somehow, winter would force Ukraine or both sides to dig in and regroup and await a thaw for a return to bigger battles.

The ubiquity of such commentary is only matched by its level of inaccuracy (though in recent weeks, it seems more people are realizing this, but this should have been clear even earlier).

Firstly, historically, from the Napoleonic Wars through World War II in even colder climates in Eastern Europe than Ukraine (just to name a few centuries), winter has not meant an end to major fighting in this part of the world. From the Napoleonic river-crossing Battle of the Berezina at the end of November 1812, to the Battle of Suomussalmi in Finland in late 1939 to through 1940, to Stalingrad in Soviet Russia in late 1942 through early 1943, major battles have been fought in the modern era in this region in the middle of winter. In two of those, the Russians were fighting on their territory against an invader, whom they bested in the fighting, but in another, they were humiliated as invaders by the defending Finns. Today in Ukraine, as in the case with that Battle of Suomussalmi (and as I pointed out in an earlier piece), the Russians are again the invaders and again being humiliated.