1 September 2023

China Goes Underground In Aksai Chin - What It Means For Indian Forces

Vishnu Som

New Delhi:

Sixty kilometres east of the Depsang Plains in Northern Ladakh, Chinese forces have begun carving tunnels and shafts into a hillside along a narrow river valley to construct multiple reinforced shelters and bunkers for soldiers and weaponry.

The site identified in this report lies in Aksai Chin, East of the Line of Actual Control, in territory held by China and historically claimed by India.

International geo-intelligence experts, who have analysed the images sourced by NDTV from Maxar for over a week, have identified the presence of at least 11 portals or shafts bored into the rockface on both banks of the river valley.

The images show massive construction activity over the last few months and are a likely attempt to protect heavy weaponry and soldiers from Indian airstrikes and extended-range artillery.

India’s Universities Lack the Freedom to Excel


The abrupt resignation of an economics professor from a prestigious private university has highlighted concerns about academic freedom in India. The country will never be a “vishwaguru” (teacher to the world), as Prime Minister Narendra Modi often boasts, unless the government stops silencing dissenting voices.

GENEVA – Since enacting the National Education Policy 2020, India has sought to position itself as a twenty-first-century knowledge hub featuring globally competitive institutions of higher education. But the abrupt resignation of a young economist from one of the country’s most prestigious universities, and the subsequent campus revolt over his exit, casts doubt on India’s ability to realize this ambition

In July, Sabyasachi Das, an assistant professor at Ashoka University, released a working paper alleging irregularities in India’s 2019 general election. The study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, suggested that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won a disproportionate share of closely contested constituencies because of electoral manipulation – namely, the selective culling of Muslims from voter rolls.

To be sure, Das notes that the purported irregularities did not affect the outcome of the vote; the BJP won by a landslide. But given that Modi’s party promotes a strident form of Hindu nationalism and views India’s Muslim minority as electorally irrelevant, the specter of electoral tampering is troubling.

Can Economic Ties Continue to Power China-US Relations?

Shannon Tiezzi

From August 27-30, U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo was in Beijing and Shanghai for talks with her Chinese counterparts. Raimondo met with Chinese Premier Li Qiang, Vice Premier He Lifeng, and Minister of Culture and Tourism Hu Heping, in addition to her direct counterpart, Minister of Commerce Wang Wentao.

Her visit was part of a broader trend of re-engagement at the official level between the Chinese and U.S. governments. Starting with U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s visit to China in mid-June, four Cabinet-level officials from the United States (Blinken, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, climate envoy John Kerry, and now Raimondo) have traveled to China.

Prior to any of those trips, however, China’s commerce minister had visited the United States in late May to attend an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in Detroit. Wang met with U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai there before traveling to Washington. D.C. for talks with Raimondo.

The two commerce ministers reunited in Beijing on August 28. The difference in the readouts – and, by implication, the discussions – was striking.

After the Raimondo-Wang talks on May 25, the U.S. Commerce Department issued a brief, one-paragraph note stating that the two officials “had candid and substantive discussions on issues relating to the U.S.-China commercial relationship, including the overall environment in both countries for trade and investment and areas for potential cooperation.” There were no specifics on either “areas of potential cooperation” or the “concerns” that Raimondo was said to have raised about “actions taken” against U.S. businesses operating in China.

The readout following the August 28 meeting in Beijing was much longer, including concrete outcomes. According to the U.S. Commerce Department, the two sides agreed to set up four new frameworks for interaction. First, there’s a “new commercial issues working group,” which will meet twice a year at the vice minister level beginning “in early 2024.” The group was described as “a consultation mechanism involving U.S. and PRC government officials and private sector representatives to seek solutions on trade and investment issues.”

Why the South China Sea Could Be the Flashpoint That Starts World War III


The South China Sea, famous for its commerce, abundant fishing grounds, and massive oil and natural gas reservoirs, is now known as something else entirely: a chessboard for the struggle between the United States and China.

China’s military expansion into the sea is taking place at the expense of regional neighbors whose competing territorial claims are being ignored. Into this volatile mix comes the U.S., which is supporting longstanding allies and international rules of law.

1.35 Million Square Miles

The South China Sea is tricky to define by location. The sea is off the coast of Vietnam but also off the coast of China, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, and Taiwan. That’s the defining geographic feature of the sea, that its border is shared by many countries—and also the problem.

The Case for Negotiating with Russia

Keith Gessen

If you want to hear a different perspective on the war in Ukraine, talk to Samuel Charap. A fine-featured Russia analyst with, at forty-three, a head of gray hair, Charap works at the rand Corporation, a think tank that has been doing research for the U.S. military, among other clients, since the nineteen-forties. In the self-abnegating architectural spirit of many Washington institutions, it rents several floors of an office tower attached to a mall in Arlington, Virginia, not far from the Pentagon. The mall has a Macy’s and a Bath and Body Works, which are not places that Charap likes to go.

Charap, who grew up in Manhattan, became interested in Russian literature in high school, and then became interested in Russian foreign policy in college, at Amherst. He got a Ph.D. in political science at Oxford and spent time researching his dissertation in both Moscow and Kyiv. In 2009, he started working at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank in D.C. Russia had just fought a short, nasty war with Georgia, but the incoming Obama Administration was hoping to “reset” relations and find common ground. Charap supported this effort and wrote papers trying to think through a progressive foreign policy for the U.S. in the post-Soviet region. But tensions with Russia continued to increase. In the wake of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and incursion into eastern Ukraine, in 2014, Charap wrote a book, with the Harvard political scientist Timothy Colton, called “Everyone Loses,” about the background to the war. In it, Charap and Colton argue that the U.S., Europe, and Russia had combined to produce a “negative sum” outcome in Ukraine. Russia was the aggressor, to be sure, but by asking that Ukraine choose either Russia or the West, the U.S. and Europe had helped stoke the flames of conflict. In the end, everyone lost.

Prigozhin RIP, Or Do the Best You Can

George Friedman

Wagner Group boss Yevgeny Prigozhin is dead. He died of a fatal dose of self-confidence. He made three mistakes. First, he thought himself a competent commander. Second, he attempted a coup against a former KGB man who was trained in paranoia. His final mistake was to fail at all that he tried. Arguments over who killed him and how he died are inevitable. Enough time had passed since Prigozhin’s failed coup that it seemed reasonable to conclude that Russian President Vladimir Putin had decided to let him live, and strange theories emerged to support this. My favorite was that Prigozhin and Putin had collaborated in staging the coup. The theory never advanced to the point where it explained why Putin would organize a coup against himself, but the obvious answer – that the apparent coup was just a coup – was so boring.

An early theory about Prigozhin’s death was that a surface-to-air missile downed his plane. The uncertain origins of this missile could allow Putin to neutralize suspicions that he had organized the killing and, more important, signal that he was still worried about Prigozhin. It is more likely that a bomb was placed on the plane while it was on the tarmac preparing to leave Moscow.

But the missile theory opens the possibility of shifting the blame onto the Americans or Ukrainians. The problem with that theory is that Prigozhin was worth more to them alive than dead. Prigozhin frightened Putin by staging a coup that came within 120 miles (190 kilometers) of Moscow. Prigozhin was Putin’s caterer and friend. He was likely at many dinners and other social events where things took place that Putin would rather be forgotten and that Putin’s enemies would cherish. His continued existence might cause Russians and others to believe that Putin had lost his resolve at a time when the Russian president couldn’t afford to let doubts linger. A living Prigozhin was Putin’s nightmare and an American and Ukrainian dream.

New Friends Changed My Mind About Ukraine

Dave Seminara

Pekka Veteläinen and Anna Saarela are tough Finns who heat their home with firewood and make a living off Russian bears. They built five bear-viewing cabins in the taiga, roughly half a mile from the border and Russia’s Paanajärvi National Park—land that was part of Finland before World War II. Business is slow this year because of the Ukraine war, they told me, as we watched half a dozen massive brown bears scavenge in the lake. Pekka used to believe Finland should remain neutral. “But our opinion about NATO changed overnight with the invasion,” he said.

My family spent a month this summer travelling in Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Everywhere we went, from the Arctic Circle to the Curonian Spit, pro-Ukraine and anti-Russian sentiment was rampant. In Cēsis, Latvia, our host, Zigmunds Rutkovskis, proudly told us that his daughter was learning every important language, “but not Russian.” At the local tennis club, head pro-Valdis Libietis told us the club had taken in a Ukrainian soldier who lost his leg in the war and was now living above the clubhouse. “It’s our duty to help,” he said.

From Helsinki to Vilnius, Ukrainian flags are ubiquitous. In Riga, Latvia’s capital, they’re on every bus and tram car. Since the war, tensions between the country’s ethnic Russian minority and its Latvian majority have bubbled over. Lawmakers passed a law this year whereby the vehicles of drunk drivers are now shipped to Ukraine for use by the military and hospitals. Latvia’s Parliament last year amended the country’s immigration law to require Russian citizens living in the country to pass a Latvian language test.

In Jaunpils, Latvia, where you can stay in a 700-year-old castle at bargain prices, a young woman operating a medieval games business told us that a pro-Russian singer was booted out of the country’s annual song competition. Since the war, she said, she and many other Latvians have refused to speak Russian. “When we hear it, we just shrug and pretend like we can’t understand them,” she said.

Pentagon bets on quick production of autonomous systems to counter China


The Pentagon is about to make a huge bet that it can field thousands of autonomous systems within two years — an attempt to use technological innovation to counter China’s much larger stockpile of traditional weapons.

The ambitious effort, named Replicator, will be spearheaded by Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks, who previewed the push in an interview. Hicks will formally announce the initiative Monday in a speech at the National Defense Industrial Association’s Emerging Technologies for Defense Conference.

China, China, China: Hicks said the time is right to push to rapidly scale up innovative technology. The move comes as the U.S. looks to get creative to deter China in the Indo-Pacific and Pentagon leadership has taken stock of how Ukraine has fended off Russia’s invasion.

“Industry is ready. The culture is ready to shift,” Hicks said. “We have to drive that from the top, and we need to give it a hard target.”

“The great paradox of military innovation is you’re going to have to make big bets and you’ve got to execute on those bets,” she added.

The plan: With Replicator, the Pentagon aims to have thousands of autonomous systems across various domains produced and delivered in 18 to 24 months.

Russia Is Poised To Upend The ‘Diplomatic Chessboard’ In Ukraine

John Bolton

In recent months, Russia has seen considerable political turmoil, but there has been little change on the battlefield in Ukraine. Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin’s mutiny and subsequent assassination have dominated the news while Moscow and Kyiv remain, with modest exceptions, militarily gridlocked. As autumn approaches, however, President Vladimir Putin is reasserting his power in Russia, and he could be poised to upend the diplomatic chessboard in Ukraine. Washington and the West seem unprepared to react effectively.

Putin Tightens His Grip

After Prigozhin’s mutiny, many experts confidently explained that Putin was deeply wounded and his fall was inevitable, if not imminent. Today, these same observers say Prigozhin’s demise unleashes unseen networks of his supporters, seeking revenge.

The Kremlin’s inner workings remain obscure, so no predictions are assured. Nonetheless, Putin is now significantly more secure than he was before the mutiny, even if he has not fully regained his pre-February 2022 dominance.

Consider the hand he holds. Prigozhin is dead, as Putin first proclaimed and Russian authorities later confirmed. Also reportedly killed near Tver last week were Dmitry Utkin, Prigozhin’s top Wagner Group deputy (effectively its military commander) and other top advisors. Putin wants to preserve Wagner’s assets and personnel around the world, and one reason he took two months to eliminate Prigozhin was to ensure his own loyalists controlled the organization. That process may remain incomplete, but Putin has not been asleep.

BRICS expansion a big step in a long game


The BRICS grouping of major emerging economies – Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa – have agreed to invite six new member nations to their increasingly powerful club. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa made the marquee announcement this week at the conclusion of the annual BRICS leaders’ summit, held in Johannesburg.

While Western pundits have broadly dismissed the BRICS as still in its infancy, the inclusion of Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, and Iran – as well as major energy producers Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – represents a significant shift that can’t be easily dismissed.

From the outset, BRICS was an organization defined by a seemingly unrealistic optimism. The term “BRIC” was developed by economist Jim O’Neil in 2001 to highlight the strong growth rates in Brazil, Russia, India and China in the wake of the September 11 attacks on the United States.

Throughout the 2000s, emerging market economies became a subject of investment fascination and, so many argue now, irrational exuberance.

Turkey was the poster child of this excitement. The rise of Turkey’s economy in the late aughts, for example, was compounded by the country’s benevolent soft power approach to having “no problems with neighbors.”

The coming European recession may be worse than 2008


The European statistics agency Eurostat has released its bank lending survey and the data does not look good. The survey tracks the credit conditions and amount of loan demand seen in the European banking system: as it is based on a survey of lenders, it is typically seen as a “forward-looking” indicator. That is, it picks up on trends before they emerge in the official data.

The release makes for grim reading. Credit supply across the board is tight, with banks reluctant to lend in the face of rising interest rates. Credit demand is poor, too, with Europeans reluctant to take out bank loans. But it is in the commercial sector that the picture looks particularly concerning: demand for loans among businesses is now at historic lows.

“Euro area firms’ net demand for loans decreased strongly in the second quarter of 2023,” the authors write, “dropping to an all-time low since the start of the survey in 2003.” This means that commercial loan demand is now lower than it was in the depths of the credit crunch of 2008-09, particularly worrying since high energy prices are currently putting pressure on European firms. This data is wholly consistent with the idea that Europe might be undergoing a profound deindustrialisation.

Latin America could become this century’s commodity superpower


The ground approaching the salt flats in Chile’s Atacama desert is pockmarked with white crystals. Underneath sit vast deposits of lithium salts, the ore for the soft, light metal used to make high-capacity batteries. Pumps run by sqm, a Chilean company that is the world’s leading producer of the stuff, hum as they pull up mineral-rich brine. In evaporation ponds, the liquid forms a patchwork of emerald and blue on the blindingly bright crust.

The operation is the start of a supply chain that ends in the lithium batteries that power electric vehicles (evs). The global ev fleet will grow at least ten-fold by 2030, to 250m, according to the International Energy Agency, a forecaster. Since 2018 sqm’s annual lithium output has tripled to 180,000 tonnes, a quarter of the global total, and it will probably rise to 210,000 tonnes by 2025.

Latin America is no stranger to supplying the world with raw materials, but it could be on the verge of a boom. Three forces are pushing the region to become this century’s commodity superpower. The green transition is increasing demand for metals and minerals that Latin America has in large supply, as well as the renewable energy to process them. The region already supplies more than a third of the world’s copper, used in wiring and wind turbines, and half of its silver, a component of solar panels. Its fertile land produces enough grain, animals, coffee and sugar to help feed a growing global population. And lastly, geopolitical tensions between the United States and China are causing countries to look fondly upon investing in a relatively neutral region.

Revenge, or Reciprocity? The U.S.’s Review of Europe’s SIGINT Safeguards

Kenneth Propp

Ever since Edward Snowden revealed a decade ago that U.S. government signals intelligence was collecting information on Europeans transmitted via U.S. electronic communications providers, transatlantic transfers of data from the continent have been on insecure footing. In the space of five years, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) twice invalidated European Commission decisions finding U.S. surveillance law protections to be “adequate” to the requirements of European Union fundamental rights law. Each negative court judgment has demonstrated painfully that economically vital data flows to the United States depend on unilateral EU determinations.

On July 10, the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, issued a third adequacy decision for the United States, this one taking account of changes in U.S. surveillance law made by Executive Order 14086, a key component of the newly christened EU-U.S. Data Privacy Framework. The commission action temporarily returns stability to transatlantic data transfers, until the CJEU rules on the sufficiency of the latest set of U.S. safeguards.

The executive order took the novel step of creating a Data Protection Review Court within the U.S. Department of Justice, charged with adjudicating complaints about U.S. signals intelligence collection emanating from foreign “qualifying states.” A foreign jurisdiction is eligible for recourse to the new court if (a) it provides safeguards for U.S. persons’ data collected by its own signals intelligence services; (b) it permits the transfer of personal information for commercial purposes from its territory to the United States; and (c) U.S. national interests support the designation.

Diplomacy Watch: Washington’s ‘wishful thinking’ on Ukraine

Connor Echols

On Wednesday, the Washington Post editorial board declared that the United States must steel itself for a “long struggle in Ukraine.”

“No end to the carnage is in sight, and calls for a negotiated solution are wishful thinking at this point,” the Post argued. “As [Russian President Vladimir] Putin invests in Russia’s war economy, he shows no signs of giving up his fantasy of Russian neo-imperial glory.”

After 18 months of grinding war, there is indeed reason to think that the war will continue far into the future, and there’s plenty of evidence to suggest American predictions that Ukraine could win in the near term were overly optimistic. But, in its endorsement of a long-term approach to the conflict, the Post leaves out all the “wishful thinking” on which a theory of decisive Ukrainian victory relies.

One such rosy assumption is that Ukraine can continue fighting more or less indefinitely so long as it continues to enjoy firm backing from the West. According to U.S. officials, that claim ignores evidence pointing to high casualty rates among Ukrainian troops, not to mention a recent New York Times report suggesting that 70,000 Ukrainian soldiers have died and an additional 100,000 have been injured since the war began.

While the Post does cite the Times’ reporting, it misses one of the piece’s most important revelations: Casualty data suggests that the war has escalated dramatically over the past year. While total casualties for the first nine months of the war were estimated at 200,000, an additional 300,000 soldiers have been killed or injured since. In other words, the rate of combined casualties went from 20,000 per month to more than 33,000 per month in the war’s current phase.

Ukraine Forces 'Penetrating' This Front Line Will Reveal 'Next Phase': ISW


Ukrainian forces breaking through defensive positions in the southeastern settlement of Robotyne will reveal the next phase of how fighting in Kyiv's counteroffensive will play out, a think tank assessed, shortly before a Ukrainian official announced that the village had been liberated.

The Institute for the Study of War, a U.S.-based think tank, said in its latest analysis of the conflict in Ukraine on Sunday that ambiguities about Russian defensive positions in Ukraine's south mean it is unclear how the "next phase" of fighting will transpire. Breaking through these defensive positions, however, will reveal how the counteroffensive could progress.

Kyiv is three months into its counteroffensive to recapture territory seized by Russia and Ukrainian officials have acknowledged that the push to liberate its territories has so far been difficult.

The ISW cited a Ukrainian soldier, "likely operating in the Robotyne area" as describing in detail complex Russian defensive positions. These include a system of interconnected trenches and dugouts scattered with anti-tank ditches and minefields. He suggested Ukrainian forces were working to demine these in order to advance further.

The defensive positions are the result of months of Russian preparation, the ISW said, noting that it's unclear at this stage if they have been extended further south by Russian forces.

Ukraine Unveils New 'Kamikaze' Combat Robots Heading to War


Ukraine is developing an "army of robots" to swell the ranks of its unmanned vehicles deployed along the front line against Russian forces.

Tests have been performed on 25 Ukrainian-made robots designed for the military, the country's digital transformation minister, Mykhailo Fedorov, wrote in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, on Monday.

The robots range "from remote turrets to kamikaze robots," he added, saying: "Technologies and innovations are the key to our victory."

Ukraine has invested heavily in unmanned technology, with its waterborne and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) frequently making the headlines as they target Russian assets in the Black Sea, as well as hitting Moscow itself.

Experts say the Ukraine war has sparked an unprecedented surge in unmanned technology development, with new forms of uncrewed vehicles constantly popping up and evolving as the war continues.

Fedorov said earlier this month that Ukraine was looking to "scale experience in the field of UAVs to other areas of military innovation" and launch an "army of robots."

"Our team is ready to cooperate with anyone who can help us in strengthening our front in terms of technology," Fedorov added.

The Real Contest With China: Washington Needs a Comprehensive Industrial Strategy to Outpace Beijing

Michael Brown and Robert Atkinson

As Beijing has become Washington’s overriding challenge of the twenty-first century, the Chinese leadership has made clear that it aims to displace the United States as the world’s technological and economic superpower. This form of competition has no historic precedent. China has a much larger and more technologically advanced economy than did the Soviet Union at its peak, and in contrast to its Soviet predecessor it is deeply integrated into the global economy. The rivalry between the two powers has significant diplomatic, military, and ideological aspects, but its most important dimensions are technological and economic.

China views dominance of advanced industries as a key to national security. It aims to increase its power by establishing global preeminence in a broad array of developing technologies. Many of these, such as biotechnology, artificial intelligence, and aerospace, are current U.S. strengths. As a result, it is likely that China will continue employing “innovation mercantilist” trade and economic policies—including outright intellectual property theft and forced technology transfer, along with massive subsidies of domestic industries—to achieve this goal. These tactics have already been successfully demonstrated in steel, shipbuilding, solar panels, high-speed rail, LCD displays, batteries, and advanced telecommunications.

Washington has yet to grapple with the full range of this threat. U.S. policies thus far have been focused on limiting intellectual property theft, countering unfair trade practices, constraining China’s semiconductor industry through export controls, and strengthening the U.S. military. The CHIPS and Science Act and the Inflation Reduction Act, passed by Congress last year, promise to support domestic semiconductor and clean technology production, but they fall short of offering a comprehensive approach to winning the technology race. Similarly, the Biden administration’s policy to “invest, align, and compete,” outlined by Secretary of State Antony Blinken in May 2022, does not support the funding, private-sector coordination, or competitive advantages at the scale that is required to retain the country’s supremacy in advanced technologies.

The War in Ukraine Is About Europe’s Future


The Europeans cannot afford to let the war in Ukraine drag on.

The longer it continues, the more casualties and destruction will increase. Entire villages, towns, and cities have already been reduced to smithereens. Millions of Ukrainians have been displaced or have left the country. Large swathes of the eastern regions have been turned into minefields.

As the EU’s institutions get back to work after the summer break, its leaders and European governments cannot afford to accept the war in Ukraine as the new normal. Nor can the West—and that includes NATO—consider it is time for negotiations between Kyiv and Moscow even though certain war fatigue may be setting in.

Negotiations can only begin if Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky is in a strong enough position to set the terms. Those terms are not just about restoring Ukraine’s territorial integrity. They are about ensuring that Russia does not attack or threaten Kyiv again. An end to the war is about ending Russia’s imperial ambitions in this part of Europe.

Without those goals in mind, the European continent will be unstable, divided, and weak. It will be unable to act strategically. And it will be unable to deal with the immense challenges exacerbated by Russia’s two invasions of Ukraine in 2014 and 2022.

'Dying by the dozens every day' - Ukraine losses climb

The unknown soldiers lie piled high in a small brick mortuary, not very far from the front line in Donetsk, where 26-year-old Margo says she speaks to the dead.

"It may sound weird… but I'm the one who wants to apologise for their deaths. I want to thank them somehow. It's as if they can hear, but they can't respond."

At her cluttered desk outside the mortuary's heavy door, she sits, pen in hand. It is her job to record the particulars of the fallen.

Ukraine gives no official toll of its war dead - the Ukrainian armed forces have reiterated that their war casualty numbers are a state secret - but Margo knows the losses are huge.

The figures remain classified. But US officials, quoted by the New York Times, recently put the number at 70,000 dead and as many as 120,000 injured. It is a staggering figure, from an armed forces estimated at only half a million strong. The UN has recorded 9,177 civilian deaths to date.
  • Two months in, Ukraine’s big offensive has only made small gains
  • 'They abuse you' - Ukrainian ex-POWs allege torture at Russian prison
  • How many Russians have died in Ukraine?
On Margo's inside right arm is a small tattoo of a mother and child, with the birthdate of her son recorded. Her manicured nails are painted in Ukrainian colours. She wears a black T-shirt with the words "I'M UKRAINIAN" on the front.

Sanctions, Peacemaking and Reform: Recommendations for U.S. Policymakers