In spite of East Asia’s rising tensions, not a few pundits have said they are optimistic about China’s future relationship with her neighbours, and with the United States. Yet there are competing reasons to worry, not just about the so-called “China threat” but also the way conflicts are being handled by the region’s political leaders.
International relations experts see the three ways of making peace as deepening economic interdependence, promoting democracy and building international institutions. Unfortunately, political leaders of the major states in East Asia have so far not succeeded in making peace through any of these three approaches. Instead, they are playing the same dangerous balance of power game that European politicians did a century ago.
Although economic interdependence in the region has been deepening, especially since the Asian financial crisis almost 20 years ago, this hasn’t translated into political momentum for peace and cooperation. Business leaders in countries like China, Japan and the U.S. have not been able to mobilise their domestic political influence enough to prevent foreign relations from worsening at the expense of their own commercial interests. By contrast, both the military sector and the military-industry complex in these states have been able to exert their political influence in unconstructive foreign policy-making. The double digit increase in China’s defence budget and the prospering sales of the U.S. arms industry are examples of the wider problem.
International relations scholars have agreed since the days of Immanuel Kant that democratic states rarely fight with each other, leading many American political leaders like President Woodrow Wilson to believe that promoting democracy would increase the chances of peace around the world. In the U.S., opinion leaders have expected that China would be gradually assimilated into the democratic West as the result of engagement policies, assuring peaceful relations between China and the West. Of late, though, they have become less sanguine after watching Chinese political leaders become much more confident of their own authoritarian development model since the 2008 financial crisis. The Chinese leaders seem to believe that the days of the ‘Washington Consensus’ are gone, and those of ‘Beijing Consensus’ are now coming.
The Chinese political leadership seems, for instance, to have decided that the U.S. is no longer willing or able to exercise international leadership as the result of the 2008 economic crisis and America’s huge budget deficit
This ideological incompatibility between China and the U.S. is making the peaceful shift of relative power more difficult, if not impossible. More than a century ago, in the mid-1890s, the United States, the rising power, and Britain, the established power, were able to maintain peaceful and co-operative relations because they shared a common culture and values. In contrast, Chinese leaders tend to think that the United States has been deliberately trying to undermine the domestic political stability of China by raising issues like human rights and political freedom. President Xi Jinping’s domestic policy direction these days seems to suggest a widening divergence rather than convergence of the Chinese and western political systems.
The crucial characteristic of the foreign relations in East Asia is the absence of international institutions for security cooperation. Europe has institutions like the Organization for Security Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the NATO alliance which have principles, norms, rules and decision-making procedures that affect the international behaviours of their member states. East Asia has the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), but it is too weak to influence the behaviour of each state effectively. The lack of such institutions has made international relations in the region unstable and beset with rivalries, with political cohesion among democratic countries much weaker since the end of the Cold War.
Political leaders in East Asia, and in the U.S. too, used to stress their interest in promoting multi-lateral institutions. But this amounted to little more than political rhetoric as those leaders didn’t actually invest much political capital in institutions concerned with security co-operation. The almost defunct Six Party Talks mechanism on the de-nuclearisation of North Korea may be the only exception to this, but in general major Asian states appear to think themselves too big and too important to be constrained by the international rules or norms.
All the liberal roads towards international peace thus seem to be closed for the time being, leaving East Asian political leaders to depend on power politics as the modus vivendi for international relations. Yet the dangers of realpolitik were clearly demonstrated exactly a century ago by the disastrous events leading to World War I. Until then, a few masterminds of power politics – Austria’s Prince of Metternich after the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 or German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck after German unification in 1871 – were able to craft international alliances, but today there are no comparable political geniuses. Those at the top in Asia’s major states seem captivated by their own narrowly defined national interests.
The Chinese political leadership seems, for instance, to have decided that the U.S. is no longer willing or able to exercise international leadership as the result of the 2008 economic crisis and America’s huge budget deficit. That judgment may be behind Beijing’s recent assertiveness in foreign policy and Chinese leaders may have also been testing the U.S. will to defend Japan in the Sino-Japanese dispute over the Senkaku (or in Chinese Diaoyu) Islands.
If so, they seem to be underestimating the fact that the United States, though weakened economically, is still by far the predominant superpower militarily. The U.S. has also had a century-long history of military and political commitment in East Asia since the late 19th century. Just as Britain when still the world’s naval superpower would never give in to the German challenge of naval supremacy in the early 20th century, the United States will not easily acquiesce to any challenge by China in the western Pacific. Still less so with most East Asian states so frightened by the China’s assertive behaviour that they are pleading the United States to maintain its commitment in East Asia.
Right now, in spite of the deepening economic interdependence of China and the United States, and in spite, too, of the 60 or so inter-governmental channels that exist for annual talks between Washington and Beijing, a perilous tug-of-war is taking place between the two over the East China Sea, the South China Sea, and the western Pacific. And what is making matters more complicated is the difficulty that top Chinese leaders have in coordinating the conflicting interests of their country’s diverse government departments and interest groups, especially when related to military and security matters. China is no longer a monolithic state in which the top leadership firmly and consistently controls external security policy. This trend in China’s decision-making procedures towards a greater diversity of power risks causing misunderstandings and over-reactions on security matters.
Another source of danger is the psyche of today’s Japanese leaders. Two decades of economic stagnation in Japan at a time of China’s rapid rise has resulted in the rise of nationalism and of over-reaction. A major problem is that Japanese leaders who had become accustomed to the Yoshida doctrine of leaving security policy to the United States, no longer seem to have their own constructive vision for international peace, despite being the world’s third biggest economic power. Instead, their world view seems to be stuck in the 1930s, witness Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to the Yasukuni shrine honouring Japan’s war dead, including war criminals, and his regressive remarks on the country’s wartime history.
At the same time, the United States has seemed mainly interested in boosting Japan’s military role. From a U.S. military perspective, that may make sense strategically and financially, but it seems to lack serious consideration of the political dimension. U.S. leaders have tended to underestimate the worries of Japan’s neighbours over the retrogressive behaviour of some of the current Japanese leadership and the risk is that Washington may soon find Japan becoming more the source than the solution of international problems. Put bluntly, the United States may unconsciously be providing Japan with a diplomatic carte blanche, and may someday find itself hostage to Japan.
These and the many other factors in play mean it is high time for leaders in the Asia-Pacific to wake up from today’s dreamy and complacent politics. Some major compromises and a serious effort are needed to begin the process of institution-building for Asian security co-operation. If not, the Asian century may increasingly be fraught with peril.
First published by the Europe’s World, article re-posted per author’s permission
China manoeuvres to protect its interests while keeping its hands clean
The question is not if, but when the long-standing American defence umbrella in the Gulf, the world’s most militarised and volatile region, will be replaced by a multilateral security arrangement that would have to include China as well as Russia.
The United States’ perceived diminishing commitment to the Gulf and the broader Middle East and mounting doubts about the deterrence value of its defence umbrella leave the Gulf stuck between a rock and a hard place. The American umbrella is shrinking, but neither China nor Russia, despite their obvious interests, are capable or willing simply to shoulder the responsibility, political risk and cost of replacing it.
On balance, China’s interests seem self-evident. It needs to secure its mushrooming political and economic interests in the Gulf, which includes ensuring the flow of oil and gas and protecting its infrastructure investment and the expanding Chinese diaspora in the region. Nonetheless, China has so far refrained from putting its might where its money is, free-riding instead (in the words of US officials) on America’s regional military presence.
Indeed, for the longest time China has been able to outsource the protection of its interests to the United States at virtually no cost. For the US, guaranteeing security in the Gulf has been anchored in an American policy which accepted that maintaining security far beyond the borders of the United States was in America’s national interest, including the protection of Chinese assets. All China needed to do, therefore, was to make minimal gestures such as contributing to the multi-national effort in the Gulf and adjacent waters to counter Somali pirates.
In the meantime, China could pursue a long-term strategy to bolster its capabilities. This included infrastructure projects related to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) with dual-purpose potential (such as the strategic ports of Gwadar in Pakistan and Duqm in Oman as well as commercial investment in Dubai’s Jebel Ali), the creation of China’s first overseas military facility in Djibouti, and significant expenditure on upgrading the Chinese armed forces.
All that potentially changed with the rise of US President Donald J. Trump, who advocated an America First policy that attributed little value to past US commitments or to maintaining existing alliances. Hence Trump embarked on a trade war with China – viewed as a strategic competitor – and appeared to fuel rather than resolve regional stability by uncritically aligning American policy with that of Saudi Arabia and Israel and targeted Iran as the source of all evil.
This change has yet to translate into specific Chinese policy statements or actions. Nonetheless, the anticipated shift from a unipolar to a multilateral security architecture in the Gulf has cast a new light on the first-ever joint naval exercise involving Chinese, Russian and Iranian naval forces, as well as China’s seemingly lukewarm support for a Russian proposal for a multilateral security approach in the Gulf.
China was careful to signal that neither the joint exercise nor its closer military ties with a host of other Middle Eastern nations meant it was aspiring to a greater role in regional security any time soon. If anything, both the exercise and China’s notional support for Russia’s proposed restructuring of regional security suggest that China envisions a continued US lead in Gulf security, despite the mounting rivalry between the world’s two largest economies.
The Russian proposal in many ways fits China’s bill. Its calls for a multilateral structure involving Russia, China, the United States, Europe and India that would evolve out of a regional security conference along the lines of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). While backing Russia’s proposal in general terms, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang stopped short of specifically endorsing it. Geng welcomed ‘all proposals and diplomatic efforts conducive to de-escalating the situation in the Gulf region’.
China’s reluctance to endorse the Russian proposal more wholeheartedly is rooted in differing approaches towards multilateralism in general and alliances in particular. China shies away from alliances, with their emphasis on geo-economics rather than geopolitics, while Russia still operates in terms of alliances. Despite favouring a continued American lead, China sees a broadening of security arrangements that would embed rather than replace the US defence umbrella in the Gulf as a way to reduce regional tensions.
China also believes that a multilateral arrangement would allow it to continue to steer clear of being sucked into conflicts and disputes in the Middle East, particularly the Saudi-Iranian rivalry. A multilateral arrangement in which the US remained the key military player would further fit the pattern of China’s gradual projection of its growing military power beyond its borders.
With the exception of the facility in Djibouti, China’s projection becomes less hardcore the further one gets from the borders of the People’s Republic. More fundamentally, China’s approach is grounded in the belief that economics rather than geopolitics is the key to solving disputes, which so far has allowed it to remain detached from the Middle East’s multiple conflicts. It remains to be seen how sustainable this approach is in the long term.
Such an approach is unlikely to shield China forever from the Middle East’s penchant for ensuring it is at the heart of the major external parties’ concerns. And as Jiang Xudong, a Middle East scholar at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, puts it: ‘Economic investment will not solve all other problems when there are religious and ethnic conflicts at play’.
Author’s note: first published in Asian Dialogue
Indian DRDO: A Risk In Disguise
At International Aerospace and Defence Exhibition ADEX-2013 in South Korea, India displayed its tactical nuclear missile Pragati, which has been developed by the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO). The DRDO authorities on their way back to India, did not load the missile on ship. Instead they left it unguarded and vulnerable at the Incheon port, South Korea, for an entire month. Afterwards, the missile was transported to India in a commercial cargo ship without the safeguards it needed as sensitive military hardware. This is no joke, this is real, an Indian battlefield tactical missile that has the capability to carry a low yield nuclear warhead at a short range was laying unguarded and dangerously exposed.
DRDO authorities did not display a dummy missile intentionally, instead an actual prototype was exhibited to be used for a live firing. Besides, DRDO did not take the responsibility of the logistical handling of the missile, instead it was outsourced to a local shipping company. Now the question is whether it was a major security lapse and breach of international laws, or DRDO intentionally did this to proliferate weapons technology. What happened during that period? Who so ever got access to the missile on that port was kept confidential! The possibility of official involvement in this incident cannot be ignored.
It is not a hidden secret anymore that DRDO and other Indian nuclear organizations have history of illicit nuclear trade and proliferation of missiles technology to other countries, like Libya, North Korea, and Iraq and so on. There is a long list of Indian individuals and entities available in nuclear archives, which are involved in arms race and proliferation.
It is embarrassing that India is a country, which is so poor in security and safety of its strategic weapons along with nuclear program is trying so hard to get into Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). Now the mainstreamed nuclear states must realize the Indian ambition behind not signing the NPT and still wanting to be recognized is simply that India will not act responsibly. Instead being a part of the solution, India wants to become a problem for not only the South Asian region but globe as well, by exerting hegemonic designs and military expansion.
India has already taken several actions with regional implications to bully its neighbors and threaten regional peace and stability. For instance, the major incidents of 2017 China-India border standoff and 2019 Balakot aerial combat with Pakistan. There is no point of having such huge military expansion, when one cannot handle it or use it for proliferation or mislead and malign other states to hide its own inabilities. Therefore, Indian DRDO is a risk in disguise, because it cannot assure the secure and safe handling of its own equipment as well as in frustration it is maligning commercial trade between Pakistan and China. This February 2020, DRDO and customs authorities at Deendayal Port, Kandla detained Hong Kong-registered commercial cargo ship Da Cui Yun, bound for Port Qasim in Karachi, Pakistan. They claimed that they obtained intelligence that the ship was carrying a suspicious equipment, which could be used for nuclear missiles.
Indian authorities compelled the ship staff to hand over the equipment stated as an ‘industrial dryer’ and took it in their custody. Eventually, to save the embarrassment India hid the truth from media. Interestingly, that equipment had nothing to do with military or weapons manufacturing. Instead it was a ‘heat treatment furnace’ used mainly in the manufacturing of rubber goods, such as, liquid rubber storage tanks and rubber pipes. Both Pakistani and Chinese Foreign Affairs have denied the Indian claims that the equipment was ‘Autoclave’, which India has alleged was ballistic missile stuff.
India is concerned that Pakistan has emerged as a more responsible nuclear country and India’s NSG membership bid is in lumber because of Chinese realistic stance of ratifying NPT condition. Frustrated, Indian authorities have fabricated this incident just to malign Pakistan and China. Indian authorities have made a miscalculated decision. They should realize that such maligning tactics won’t help India to divert international community’s attention from its illicit nuclear trade and proliferation record. The whole event appears to accuse Pakistan for the illegal trade and nuclear proliferation, while avoiding India’s own record on the proliferation of nuclear arms.
This deception shows that the hope of Indian NSG membership has been constantly refused by China and now the Indian frustration has turned to counter-blown false-flag operations in order to undermine growing China-Pakistan co-operation. The international community must stop its material support and technical assistance to India, which has exploited Indian behavior and now India is misleading international community by false flag operations. It will eventually dismantle the peace and stability.
Development of New-age Weapons Systems Becomes Key to Sustaining US Military Superiority
The technological superiority of the United States armed forces is being challenged by new and evolving threats constantly being developed by potential adversaries. To counteract these challenges, the country’s Department of Defense (DoD) is expected to spend an estimated $481 billion between 2018 and 2024 to identify and develop new technologies for advanced weapon systems, giving rise to numerous revenue opportunities in this space.
“According to the most recent Defense budget (FY2021), combined spending on research, development, testing, and evaluation (RDT&E) for over 1,100 programs by defense-wide organizations is estimated to reach $106.56 billion,” said John Hernandez, Senior Industry Analyst at Frost & Sullivan. “This wide variety of projects provides opportunities for a large number of commercial markets to collaborate with the DoD.”
Frost & Sullivan’s latest research, US Defense Science and Technology Research Market, Forecast to 2024, delivers an overview of the science and technology (S&T) research market catering to the United States armed forces and provides detailed insights into the related growth opportunities available for market participants.
The RDT&E sector is rife with market opportunities in an array of innovative technological concepts, such as artificial intelligence (AI), autonomous vehicles, robotics, cybersecurity, counter-drone technology, and hypersonics. Pursuing further developments in these areas will prove to be rewarding for companies that can successfully integrate these new capabilities into existing weapons systems.
“Most concepts being explored by the armed forces will have an impact in commercial market spaces as well,” noted Hernandez. “Companies working with the DoD on RDT&E development programs will have an advantage toward the development of parallel commercial solutions.”
Companies operating in this sector should explore the following opportunities to cultivate growth:
Commercial-off-the-shelf technologies and software are constantly being introduced into the defense S&T research market. RDT&E process stakeholders must be prepared to partner with the patent holders of those technologies and software.
Suppliers of legacy defense systems must continue to invest in their own research and development to keep those systems current and indispensable. This involves constant interaction and communication with defense clients to align development strategies.
Trending innovations such as directed energy weapons, robotics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning are in their growth stages with a substantial amount of development ongoing. Integration companies must envision how these new capabilities can be integrated into the battle management space and have solutions ready for implementation.
US Defense Science and Technology Research Market, Forecast to 2024 is a part of Frost & Sullivan’s Aerospace and Defense Growth Partnership Service program, which helps organizations identify a continuous flow of growth opportunities to succeed in an unpredictable future.
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