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East Asia

The Asian Square Dance – Part VIII

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The economy

Economists generally agree that the cumulative economies of China and India will be larger than that of the G7 by 2030. At present, China’s GCP stands at $9.2 trillion, or nearly 5 times that India.

The two countries have taken very different economic paths. China has chosen to become an exporter of labor-intensive products while India still relies on agriculture and services, particularly in IT.

Russia’s GDP at $2 trillion in 2013, and expected to shrink by 3 to 5% in 2015, less than a quarter of China’s. Russia is a raw material powerhouse and a manufacturing dwarf. As such it should be a natural supplier of oil and gas to China – it is a closer supplier than the Middle East. However, the pipeline that will be built across Siberia will deliver its goods to Nakhodka, a port facing Japan. Russia seems to fear that it will become dependent on China for its gas exports and that China will consider Russia as a vassal state and sideline it on the international scene as the disparities between the two countries grow. China has also to date not given a definite reply to the role Russian gas will play in its energy policy. Price is also an issue since China tends to compare the price of gas with that of domestic coal.

While economists forecast that China’s GDP will overtake that of the US, it still has some way to go as US GDP stands at $15 trillion.

By building its extremely large dollar reserves, $4 trillion, the Chinese Central Bank has allowed the US to borrow at very low interest rtes and has created a situation in which banks have searched for higher yields through lending massively to the housing market. The risk on the currency and on the value of US Treasury paper is extremely large. It is estimated that China holds over 6% of the US debt.

China could, if it so wished, put pressure on the US economic system by buying less US debt, or even selling it, thus precipitating a fall in the dollar and an increase in interest rates. Reprisals from the US could come in the form of new barriers to trade for products made in China.

Should there be a major economic recession in the US, with a consequent loss of jobs, the country may well turn to protectionism. The idea that the globalization process has been essentially beneficial to China will be a driver to reduce imports from that country.

China is also worried that US government borrowing to cover its enormous deficit will lead to high inflation and that therefore the bonds held by the Central bank will lose value.

The US has been putting considerable pressure for China to revalue its currency, the RMB, and thus reduce its competitive advantage based on cheap labor. Some economists, however, believe that a revaluation of the currency may well lead to precisely the opposite effect as funds may then float out of the RMB and into other currencies, thus leading to a de facto devaluation.

The fall of the dollar has revaluated the RMB and thus made Chinese exports more expensive, hurting mostly privately-owned SMEs and halting the modernization process of the economy. The US could allow its currency to depreciate further, to the point where its goods would be significantly more competitive than they are today.

China could take advantage of a weaker dollar to acquire assets denominated in dollars, whether in the US or in other countries. It has thus become a major lender and investor in South America – particularly in Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela where it has committed to invest $250 billion over the next 10 years. This might well be the reason for the US to have softened its stance towards Cuba.

China could also use its reserves to acquire major European corporations in the hope that they will out-compete US companies thus creating an economic war between the US and the EU. It could also use its vast financial reserves to hoard oil and uranium forcing prices of these products to reach new highs.

China feels that the US administration under President Obama has not delivered on its pledge of including China, and other emerging countries, into major economic decisions. Thus, the Obama administration has put pressure on its allies in the Asia-Pacific area to stay away from the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank, one of China’s pet projects.

As of Japan’s GDP at $5 trillion stands also at four times that of South Korea.

Trade and investment

Asia is in a unique tradition with several world powers sitting on a nuclear arsenal and harboring resentments and old, deep rooted hatreds and territorial disputes. Military budgets are on the rise and economic growth has slowed considerably. Competition exists between the countries we have been considering in this series of articles – it exists in the industrial world, in cyberspace and in outer space.

Asia’s history is one of constant conflicts and long-seated hatred and there are too many potential conflicts that threaten to erupt into wars. There is also a seeming disdain of leaders towards their own people, the most flagrant case being North Korea.

There is also a major gender imbalance in favor of men and this situation has led to fears of a rise in militarism. There is contradictory evidence that unmarried men tend to be more violence-prone than married man.

Almost all the countries covered have strong economic interconnections.

India runs a major trade deficit with China which in 2013 was of over $ 30 billion, with India complaining that Chinese goods take advantage of a whole series of measures put in place by the Chinese government while Indian companies have problems entering the market.

Similarly, Indian companies have had problems entering the Japanese market, but due to quality issues.

With the opening of the Indian economy to foreign investments, Japanese corporations, catching up to a late start, are expected to invest $35 billion over the next 5 years in public-private partnerships. Japan is also expected to become a partner in a major public-private infrastructure partnership project, so large many knowledgeable observers of Indian politics doubt it can be realized, estimated at $100 billion, to create a high technology corridor – the Delhi Metro Industrial Corridor – linking Mumbai to New Delhi. Terrorist attacks have so far frightened would-be investors, however.

China has also been an important investor in India. A sustained economic cooperation between the two countries would make them less dependent on exports to the European Union and to the US.

China has regularly complained about the long delays for India to approve investments by Chinese firms and of a total ban in investments in infrastructure. Chinese workers also have difficulties in obtaining working visas.

Bilateral trade between India and Russia is much lower at $12 billion but after President Putin’s visit, ambitious targets have been set for 2030, essentially in infrastructure projects. Thus, Russia will supply four nuclear power plants.

India’s largest market is the US with bilateral trade between the two countries being of the order of $100 billion with plans to reach $500 billion. The US has thus displaced China as India’s largest trading partner in spite of India’s complaint that US subsidies to cotton farmers undermine Indian exports and that steel exports are unjustly submitted to high tariffs. In turn, the US complains at the difficulties companies face in attempting to enter the Indian market and at the limitations imposed on them when investing.

China and Japan are each other’s largest trade partners, China having replaced the US in that role. Japanese tourists are the main visitors to China. Japan is the major foreign investor in China, taking advantage of low labor costs. However, the tense situation between the two countries, and the increased cost of manpower, has led Japanese companies to sharply reduce their investments.

China is also South Korea’s main trading partner with two-way trade of $230 billion and the signing of a bilateral trade agreement that took effect in February of this year. Koreans are also large investors in China.

China and Russia, in spite of the fact that they are both export-oriented economies, are complementary in that the first is a big consumer of raw materials, primarily energy, while Russia is a major exporter of oil and gas. This has led China to increasingly see Russia as a petro-state with little technological capabilities and unable to pose any type of threat.

Hence, while in the years following the Second World War Russia saw itself dwarfed by the Western economies, the country is, today, overtaken economically by both the West and the East, the latter being represented by China, Japan and South Korea.

In the Chinese-Russian partnership, China appears to be the senior partner and it is safe to say that Russia needs China more than China needs Russia.

Russia sees China as a hedge of its European energy markets. This hedge, however, can only be fully operational in the future as building the right infrastructure that would allow Russia to move its energy exports eastwards is a long-term venture, particularly since Russia’s most productive wells are in the European part of the country while the bulk of China’s population is in the eastern part of their own country.

Two-way trade in 2014 was over $100 billion and while China is Russia’s second largest trading partner, trade with the EU is 4 times that amount. The value of trade is very dependent on the price of oil and gas. It is nevertheless expected to reach $200 billion by 2020.

On completion of the Eastern Siberian Pacific Ocean Oil Pipeline (ESPO), Russia could supply 20% of China’s imports and 33% of Japan’s on condition these two countries choose this dependency.

The two countries have launched the world’s largest joint gas project – the Sila Sibiri pipeline – which will deliver gas to the Russian Far East and to China. There are other joint projects, including in the Arctic, which have received President Putin’s blessing.

Since 2014 commercial contracts between the two countries intensified as Russia was looking for credit and investors in the face of the sanctions imposed by the EU and the US as well as the serious dip in the price of oil. The oil and gas contracts signed between the two countries are, respectively, of $270 and $400 billion over a thirty-year period with Gazprom deliveries due to start in 2019.

Chinese investments in Russia are of the order of $10 billion and new investments have been earmarked for a large variety of projects. The largest investment is a partnership with Rosneft, valued at several billion dollars meant essentially for the Sakhalin-3 block. Rosneft has also secured a $35 billion loan from China in exchange for oil supplies. This envelope is to be used to purchase several smaller oil producers.

China will also invest in a high-speed train between Kazan and Moscow – a $25 billion investment, and other major infrastructure projects are being discussed.

Russia has, in turn, agreed to supply China with the know-how to produce uranium-enrichment facilities and to supply enriched uranium.

Economic ties between China and the US are also important and the interdependence between them appears to be growing rather than slowing in spite of constant mutual accusations of retreating from free trade. The US ran in 2013 a deficit of $318 billion for merchandise trade, one third of the total trade deficit. China is the US’ biggest supplier.

Imports by the US of cheap Chinese products – essentially manufactured goods, machinery, chemicals and transport products – has been of great assistance in controlling inflation and the US has thus transferred to China increasingly large amounts of dollars. Since China is a major supplier of goods to other Asian countries, in particular in South-East Asia, that assemble products for export to the US, the US’ importance to the Chinese economy is even greater than what the above figures show. The US has started a large number of cases against China at the WTO claiming the country is practicing illegally high import tariffs on US goods while simultaneously subsidizing exports. By limiting or banning exports of raw materials, such as bauxite, and allowing prices to climb, China has been accused of developing one more strategy of subsidizing its industry.

Chinese investments in the US are of the order of $50 billion but are dwarfed by the over $400 billion invested by US corporations in China, even though the investment flow has slowed. Statistics in this respect are not meaningful, as often these investments are not reported in US statistics as the flow of funds is channeled through favorable tax havens.

A large number of American firms have established manufacturing facilities in China, and this allowed the US economy to grow with minimal inflation. There is a generally shared belief that China has entered a period of uncertainty, that local competition is adopting a more aggressive stance that in some areas there is over-capacity, that intellectual property is not respected and that the country is increasingly adopting a protectionist stance. Nevertheless, an increasing number of US corporations are dependent on the Chinese economy for their profits and sometimes on products, such as tobacco, whose sales are dwindling in traditional markets.

Also, the US is attempting to sell, in China, alternative energy sources such as solar or wind power technology. This is a major market considering that the Chinese government has announced its intention of investing $200 billion in renewable energies by 2020. US companies, however, are loath to export their latest technology in a country known for closing an eye to the trespassing of intellectual property.

Chinese investments in the US could be even bigger if they were not met by obstacles – the most glaring example being that of Huawei, the telecommunications company, which was blocked from entering the US market.

The Chinese have also become very large buyers of real estate in the US, amassing a portfolio of $22 billion.

The relationship between Japan and Russia is more complex since the two countries have never signed a final peace agreement and Japan still lays claim on the Kurile Islands. Russia is ill at ease with Japan’s future involvement in a missile defense system and has proposed to join the initiative which is led by the US.

Bilateral trade is of the order of $33 billion with oil and LNG taken an important part of this volume, in particular from the Sakhalin deposits. After the Fukushima incident Japan has felt the need to diversity its sources of energy and Russia is a natural supplier. In Russia’s eyes, supplying Japan would counterbalance the increasing dependence on China. Several cooperation agreements to develop new gas and oil fields have also been signed between the two countries.

Total Japanese investments are small, with car makers have plants in Russia, but the most likely investments will target Russia’s Far East, particularly for infrastructures. Several joint ventures have been started in agriculture, energy and infrastructure.

Japan and South Korea are each other’s fourth largest trading partners. Russia has proposed building a railway that would link North and South Korea to the European markets via Russian territory – i.e. connecting to the Trans-Siberian Railway. Such an undertaking would allow South Korea to increase trade with Europe and reduce its dependency on the American and Asian markets.

Bilateral trade between South Korea and the US amounted to $115 billion in 2014 and represented a US deficit of $25 billion. In June 2007, the two countries signed a trade agreement that phases out all tariffs, on consumer and industrial products over a period of three years. Total investments from South Korea to the US is estimated to be $25 billion while US investments in South Korea are of $35 billion.

Bilateral trade between the US and Russia was, in 2014, of $34 billion with a US deficit of $13 billion. Russians are big investors in New York – particularly Manhattan – real estate particularly since the sanctions and the decrease in the price of oil led to a collapse of the ruble. US investments in Russia stand at around $15 billion and are rather diminishing, again in view of the sanctions.

Economic growth has not eradicated poverty in East Asia and estimates of the extremely poor are of the order of 250 million persons. Although continuing economic growth should lead to a reduction in poverty, this should still touch 15 to 17% of the population. The imbalance stems in part by the fact that there is an imbalance between skilled and unskilled labor as well as regional imbalances due to the rapid industrialization of certain areas.

Demography

East Asia is today’s the world’s fastest aging. Projections show 20% of the population over 60 by 2050, or two-thirds of the world’s seniors. Already by 2040, the number of people over 60 will be higher than the people under 15.

Just as China is the world’s most populated country, India is the world’s largest democracy. They are the only two countries with a population larger than 1 billion. It is forecast that sometime between 2015 and 2025, India’s population will have overtaken China’s as the former’s population is growing at twice the rate of China’s population. Furthermore, India’s population has a low average age while China’s is aging. Therefore while India may be considered to have an infinite supply of cheap labor, this will not be the case of China in the mid-term future. Thus, while India’s dependency ratio will improve, China’s will worsen.

China’s population is aging rapidly, partly because of a vastly improved health system. This expanding health care system will require substantial additional funding. So will the pension system even though traditionally, children support their elderly parents.

Both China and India suffer from a growing ratio of males to females. The devotion of the children to their parents, when these age, will be difficult to maintain if single men, due to absence of the brides, migrate in search of employment of opportunities.

As the economies of both countries expand at a similar rate, they will need trained engineers and scientists. China graduates 600 000 engineers per year and India 350 000. However, China has a qualitative advantage due to a better educational system.

Japan’s economy is to a large extent driven by demographic change. Birthrates have collapsed with a total fertility rate dangerously approaching 1. With a life expectancy of 88 years, it has today the world’s oldest population, with the largest number of centenarians, but may well cede this place to China by 2050. By 2025 its population over 80 years of age will be equal to that under 15. Thus, two persons of working age will have to support one retiree. On the other hand, they will be a reduction in supporting children.

Older persons invest very conservatively, and therefore the economy might lack the dynamic financial markets required to fuel growth and entrepreneurship.

To a large extent, the same analysis applies to South Korea. North Korea is faring slightly better with a total fertility rate of nearly 2.

Russia has a population of 142 million for a country representing 19% of immerged land. There has been a small rebound in birth rates, but it may not be sustainable. The percentage of the population over 60 is low compared to China, Japan and South Korea, and is of only 20%. The imbalance between women and men – 1 160 women for 1 000 men – and the fact that women in rural areas are unable to find husbands who are not addicted to alcohol, contribute to a low level of marriages, and consequently low fertility. With life expectancy expected to rise in the coming years, while fertility is expected to remain at its present level, the old-age dependency ratio is expected to double by 2050. This would mean that spending on allowances and pensions would rise from the present figure of 9% to 12% by 2030 and 16% by 2050.

The situation in the US, while not as bad, is worrying. Its population of 316 million is growing at the rate of 0.7% and is expected to reach 400 million by 2050. 22% of the population will be over 65. The life expectancy is slightly higher than 78 years but the total fertility rate at 1.9% is below replacement. The reduction in birth rate applies also to immigrants, usually an important component in US demographics.

India’s demographics are quite different. Its population is only slightly below that of China, at nearly 1.3 billion, and it has the world’s largest number of young people since two thirds of its population is under 35, and the average age of the population is 27. But in India too the population is aging and is expected to reach 37 by 2050. At that time 300 million people with be over 60. The total fertility rate is 2.5. It should therefore still enjoy a demographic dividend compared to the ageing societies we have reviewed.

The Diasporas

There is a large Tibetan diaspora in India where the Dalai Lama has established his headquarters and this has been an irritant to the Chinese government while achieving little for the Tibetans. The Dalai Lama relinquished his political responsibilities in March 2014 and has been replaced by a Harvard scholar who has never visited Tibet

The presence of a Chinese diaspora in Russia is a more complex issue as there is an important labor movement, of legal and illegal immigrants, along the border and is becoming an important issue in the relations between the two countries. Migrant labor is essentially employed in agriculture and construction. The total number of Chinese in Russia is estimated to be 400 000 including nearly 20 000 Chinese students in Russian universities. The vast majority of the migrants come to make money and have no plans to settle permanently.

The Chinese diaspora in the United States is much larger with 1.6 million immigrants and just as many US citizens of Chinese origin, heavily concentrated in the states of California and New York. Several incidents have questioned the loyalty of some of the immigrants to the host country.

There is a small but concentrated Korean diaspora in China numbering approximately 600000.

There has been a considerable flow of highly qualified and entrepreneurial migrants from India to the US and the Indian diaspora amounts to 2.5 million people and this number is expected to double in the next ten years. Indians are thus the most important group of Asian immigrants in the US. The 75 000 Indian students in the US are the largest foreign group registered in colleges and universities. Indian immigrants have been, on the whole, an extremely educated and successful group with total assets estimated to total $76 billion.

There are in the US over 3 million Americans of Russian descent.

Water

There is a contentious issue between China and India regarding the latter’s water diversion plan which will shift 50 billion cubic meters of water from the Yarlung-Tsangpo, an affluent of the Brahmaputra originating on the Tibetan plateau, to the Yellow River so as to harness hydroelectric energy. This would severely restrict the flow of water to India.

Energy

As mentioned in the first part of this article, China and India, but also China and Japan, are competing to secure energy sources.

While the competition between China and India lies in securing energy sources in other countries, that with Japan is not only centred around Russian supplies, but also on the presumed hydrocarbon deposits around two rocky uninhabited islands in the East China Sea that the Japanese government purchased from a private owner and which China claims as its own.

China is uncomfortable with the long shipping route oil takes from the Middle East to its ports. The area is populated by pirates and other revolutionary or semi-revolutionary movements that could be allowed, if not encouraged, to target Chinese vessels. Ensuring the safety of the shipping routes is the official reason for China’s investments in naval power.

Central Asia

Russia fears the political influence that China may exert on the Central Asian republics, in particular through the SCO – the Shanghai Cooperation Organization – set up by China but pf which Russia is also a member. India is, incidentally, an observer, and Russia would like to invite the country to full membership status. Intriguingly, however, while Russia sees to remain the determining factor in influencing policy in Central Asia, China’s position is that these states are free to develop relations with countries not members of the SCO and that the organization is not, and should not, become an anti-Western club.

Russia opposes China’s wish of extending the SCO agreement to cover trade in the form of a free trade agreement, as Russian corporations would be unable to compete on price. It would also open the area to Chinese investments, including in energy projects. China is successful in the region due to the aid it brings, diplomatic pressure and large investments. Russia’s policy has been to prevent Central Asian countries to supply European markets by bypassing the Russian pipeline system and ensuring it has a monopsony. However, in view of the decreased quantities purchased by Russia affected by the reduced demand in Europe, these countries have looked for alternative markets, and China is the obvious one.

Russia would like to see a coordination of pricing policy on energy exports between the member countries that are energy exporters.

Another Chinese advantage is that it is perceived by Central Asian governments as a trading partner and a door to Europe and the Middle East, and not as a competitor as Russia is for gas supplies to Europe. Russia’s role as a supplier of finished goods disappeared with the downfall of communism.

China sees the pipelines for hydrocarbons from Central Asia as a hedge against possible disruptions of shipping lanes from the Middle East. However, just as it is beefing up its Navy to protect those lanes, and to rely less on US maritime power, it will have to beef up its security along the pipelines to protect them from possible attacks.

Russia sees China as a good partner in its policy of containing the US in Central Asia and elsewhere. In fact one can say that Russia sees China as a partner only when its relations with the West are less than perfect – which is the situation at present.

China has been able, so far, to restrain any influence the US could have on Central Asia thus enabling China to secure energy resources for itself and to prevent the infiltration of democratic ideas.

The US has key interests in the region: to support its military adventure in Afghanistan, to have access to energy – without relying on the Russian logistical infrastructure – and to wield political influence in the entire Central Asian area. The US also sees an opportunity to lessen Russia’s position as a gas supplier – should the Central Asian republics find alternative routes for their gas shipments, Gazprom will no longer be in a position to export as domestic demand is rising from an already important base.

Weapons

China’s strategy has been, and will continue to be in the foreseeable future, to encircle India both through its own forces and through those of its allies who neighbour India, Pakistan in in particular. China, nevertheless, contrary to the US, is not part of any defence organization and thus does not have the burden of having to defend the territories of other nations.

China’s military budget for 2015 has been increased by 10%, reaching $145 billion, a rather steep figure in regard to the slowing of the country’s economy. China has installed missile systems pointing to India’s major cities while China’s industrial heartland is very far removed from their common border.

China’s nuclear strategy is to use their missiles only for a second strike and not to use them for a first strike on any state. It may, however, rapidly change this policy if it so decided.

India is also worried with the building of a port, by China, on the coast of Myanmar, that would give China direct access to the Bay of Bengal. It is also worried by the increasing presence of Chinese submarines in the Indian Ocean. The submarines use Colombo as a refuelling port, leading India to fear that China was building alliances with countries surrounding India – the so-called ‘string of pearls.’ China has called this project the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, a project financed by China to the tune of $40 billion.

Indian military hardware purchases, the world’s largest with a budget of $250 billion over 10 years, are an important source of cash for the ailing Russian military manufacturers.

The two countries will be jointly developing a fighter plane of the fifth generation. India has also served Russia as a basis to enter the South East Asian markets for military hardware by servicing and training users of Russian equipment sold to those countries.

Russia has been very supportive of India in its conflict with Pakistan over Kashmir, among other things committing not to supply weapons to Pakistan, an embargo it lifted in 2014.

The US has also been a major provider of mostly defensive weapons to the Indian army and this may lead to a licensing agreement for India to manufacture American weapons.

India and Japan have reached an agreement regarding military cooperation. Japan is about to review its constitution to enable it to expand its military which is already considered as one of the world’s best and China would have problems measuring themselves to Japanese firing power in case of a conflict. It is also backed up by the US military that have bases in Japan.

The main discussions between the two countries centred on the supply of nuclear technology and fuel to India by the US. This is an important step considering the fear of nuclear proliferation pervasive in the world today and particularly considering the fact that India will be adding to an already existing nuclear capability while it has never signed the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT). This allows the US to put pressure on New Delhi to reduce its energy purchases from Tehran. Further, India’s rivalry with Pakistan might lead the latter to accelerate its own weapons programs should India proceed with its own purchases.

For India this is an important development as its supplies of uranium are drying out. The treaty also allows it to remain a nuclear player without signing the NPT, although the country has entered negotiations with the International Atomic Energy Agency to negotiate an agreement that would have clauses specific to its situation.

The US has insisted on certain clauses in the treaty such as India accepting not to undertake further nuclear testing, not reprocessing the spent fuel and accepting that the President of the United States certifies, annually, that the country is respecting these clauses.

For the US this is a major step in containing China and relations between China and India took a turn for the worse, with China supplying nuclear power plants to Pakistan, after this agreement was signed.

Another main motivation of the US has been to prevent India making up for its energy shortcomings by purchasing Iranian gas that would be routed through an Indian-Pakistani pipeline. Financial motives are not left too hard behind, considering the deal would generate close to $100 billion in sales for US corporations to which must be added large sales of defence equipment which presently India purchases from France and Russia.

India is also the country with which the US has conducted the largest number of military exercises in recent years.

Following President Obama’s visit to India in 2015, a Joint Strategic Vision for the region was agreed upon. Its objective is to support sustainable development and address poverty. However, the main objective is to ensure India’s Navy plays a dominant role in the Indian Ocean.

Japan is now allowing its military to have an activity outside the country’s territory.

China’s increased militarization worries Japan, particularly the installation of missile launching ramps, China’s declaration of an exclusive maritime and air space, and the highly vocal Chinese media constantly threatening of war with Japan.

China, in turn, fears a reunified Korea with nuclear weapons.

Russia continues to be China’s main weapons supplier as it wants the money from these exports which are of the order of $2 billion per year. Since 2006, the two countries have conducted joint manoeuvres, and intensified their military cooperation.

China, however, no longer represents an overwhelming share of Russia’s weapons exports – a mere 20% today from a high of 70% ten years ago, while the value of total exports has risen considerably, thus decreasing even more the importance of Chinese purchases. Further, with the new cold war, Russia itself is becoming its own major customer.

Russia is eager to maintain this monopoly on Chinese weapons purchases, and the EU and US embargo assist them in achieving this objective. However, inevitably, China will want to be involved in weapons development and testing rather than simply acquiring technology entirely developed in Russia. It has already indicated it does not want to buy finished weapons or assembly kits but want to build the planes in China.

On a longer term basis, it is obvious that China will develop its own military platforms and it is already successfully copying several weapons systems thus severely reducing its imports from Russia. This worries Russia as on a conventional army basis, China would have the upper hand in case of conflict, and Russia would have to rely on tactical nuclear weapons where it has the upper hand. While the INF treaty constrains Russia’s capability of deploying intermediate range nuclear missiles, Russia would probably opt out of the treaty should it feel threatened by China.

North Korea is actively developing its nuclear program and at least one estimate is that it may possess 100 nuclear heads by 2020.

On the other side of the demilitarized zone, there are US forces on the ground. The US keeps 40 000 troops in South Korea.

Border issues

China and India have fought several border wars and in November 2006 China declared one of the Indian provinces, Arunachal Pradesh, to be part of China, calling it South Tibet. India also claims China is occupying illegally an Indian province in the Himalaya.

In fact, China and India are in a constant military confrontation along their mountainous border.

China is also in a confrontation with several countries regarding their maritime borders, and particularly Japan.

The Diaoyu / Senkaku (Chinese and Japanese names, respectively) islands have been a bone of contention for 120 years but China has lately become assertive on their claims particularly as it is believed that the waters surrounding them are rich in hydrocarbons and fishing grounds.

China’s attitude is also fed by the fact that it is using Japan as a useful scapegoat that helps it maintain strong nationalist feelings of its population, an important cement in a country in which social pressures between different groups, such as rural and urban, are increasing and threatening the country’s stability. China also believes that Japan is on a long-term decline and will not be able to adequately respond to China’ bullying presence.

China’s claim that the entire South China Sea belongs to it has opened the door for the US to pose as the protector of the South East Asian countries.

The South China Sea is an important point of convergence between the interests of the two countries as well as the countries of Southeast Asia. The rise of Chinese naval power – which could become larger than that of the US in the next 5 years – could threaten the US’ dominance in the area.

The South China Sea sees the flow of half of the world’s trade and the conflictual situation could disturb the globalization process which explains why China is becoming interested in continental routes and goods are shipped by train through a new train link which is the worlds longest and reaches all the way to Madrid.

The interest in the area, however, does not stop there. China believes that it contains massive quantities of oil – approximately the same as those in the Arab Gulf.

China’s development and purchase of high-powered microwave weapons, 1500 missiles, submarines and amphibious ships seem targeted at resisting, or keeping at bay, the US Navy in case of a conflict with Taiwan. As a response, the US moved 20 vessels from the Atlantic to the Pacific fleet in 2007 and more such moves are forecasted. The South China Sea is considered by the US as a natural border China should not cross. It is a strategic passage point between the Indian Ocean and Japan and Korea.

China also has a border issue with Russia. The two countries share a 4300 km border and an important historical confrontational past.

Inside those two borders the major issues about the autonomy of certain regions and peoples – Taiwan, Tibet and Xinjiang for China and a considerably large number of areas in Russia and the adjoining countries in Central Asia that were once part of the Soviet Union. If China has a clear position on this issue – i.e. a total aversion to any such move including with the use of force and population movements – Russia has a more opportunistic stance. It has fought an internal war to prevent the Chechen aspirations to an independent state but intervened military outside its borders in Georgia and is the only country to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states.

Russia fears that its under-populated and vast expanse of territory rich in natural resources, Siberia and the Far East, yields in the face of China’s demography while Russia is in a state of demographic collapse. These two areas have large deposits of hydrocarbons, diamonds, gold and other metals as well as large tracts of forests that provide raw materials to the Chinese paper industry.

Some of the lands forming the region of the Russian Pacific were Chinese until the eighteenth century, and while China has not made any recent claims for their return, Russians fear they may do so.

Russia and China are intent in developing their relations but simultaneously competing for domination of Central Asia and attracting Japanese and South Korean capital to develop the Far East so as not to be exclusively bound to China.

Simultaneously, Russia will redevelop China’s and North Korea’s moribund industry in the adjoining North Eastern parts of the country so as to economically integrate these areas.

Russia also has a contentious issue with Japan that has prevented the signing of a peace agreement between the two countries since the end of the Second World War. It concerns what the Russians call the Southern Kuril Islands, and the Japanese the Northern Territories.

Russia carried out military drills on the islands and announced it would spend over $1 billion between 2016 and 2025 to develop these islands. Japan would like to invest in these islands, particularly in energy projects.

While for many years neither country appeared to think, in spite of speeches to the contrary, that dealing with the other was a priority, Primer Minister Abe’s visit to Moscow in August 2013 seems to have started a different process. One thing Japan needs to avoid at all costs is a coalition between China and Russia.

A dialogue process was started between the defence and foreign ministers of the two countries to discuss measures to combat piracy and terrorism.

Russia’s strengthening of its military presence in the Arctic should also be considered as part of its Asian play, the Arctic being a possible base for ventures in Europe, the American continent and Asia.

Japan also has a territorial issue with South Korea centred around the Takeshima or Tokdo islands, as called respectively by the Japanese and Koreans, that each country claims to be a part of their territory.

These are very small volcanic islands. They are, however, of interest economically as their waters are good fishing grounds and the surrounding waters are believed to contain gas, although none has so far been found. Further, if an international arbiter would rule in favour of Korea, Japan’s case for the Kurile Islands and the Senkaku Islands would be severely affected as the country’s claims in all three cases stems from the San Francisco Peace Treaty that remained vague on this issue.

East Asia

Considering the Continental Dimension of the Indo-Pacific: The Mongolian Precedent

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The Indo-Pacific is now the site of global great-power competition and contestation. And, as a reflection of its growing importance in international discourse, a number of extra-regional actors adopted the concept last year. Among those adoptees, Mongolia set a unique precedent for the regional security discourse to actively consider the continental dimension of the Indo-Pacific by highlighting geopolitical convergences with other regional actors, and the strategic threat posed by Beijing’s “Silk Road Economic Belt”.

Mongolia in the Indo-Pacific

Actors who have adopted the Indo-Pacific concept vaguely define it as beginning in the Arabian Sea and ending in the Western Pacific Ocean. Much of the discourse is also driven by the US-China strategic competition in Southeast Asia, and the US’ attempt to counter Chinese influence in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, along with its regional partners and allies, e.g the India-Australia-Japan-US ‘Quad’. As a result, actors in the Indo-Pacific have generally focused on the development of maritime military and economic measures.

In early October, during a Japan-Mongolia Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, both sides agreed to continue consolidating their efforts in pursuing a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific”, in line with the promises of the 2018 Japan-Mongolia Summit.

Mongolia’s participation as a continental, extra-regional actor with limited maritime significance, shifts the geopolitical locus of the theatre, ever so slightly, north of Southeast Asia (the current focus). Ulaanbaatar’s adoption of the geostrategic theatre appears to be driven by continued Chinese antagonism, and a result of its “third neighbour” policy.

China continues to threaten Mongolia’s territorial sovereignty by claiming Inner Mongolia,clamp down on its cultural identity, and impose costs on Mongolia’s export-oriented economy. The last issue is critical, since Mongolia’s largest export partner, approximately92.78 percent of overall exports, is China. Enclosed between two large countries, Russia and China, Mongolia has traditionally maintained a “third neighbour” policy approach: building political and economic relationships with actors other than the aforementioned.

Given the continued animosity with Beijing, Ulaanbaatar has increasingly emphasised these other relations over the years. e.g. with the UK, the US, Japan, etc. In 2019 President Khaltmaagiin Battulga visited New Delhi to develop deeper ties with another “third neighbour” state. Mongolia also shares the “like-minded” characteristics – a liberal democracy – to maintain and preserve a “free, fair, open and rules-based” order in the US-Japan Indo-Pacific strategy.

And so, actors looking to potentially partner with Mongolia or others with similar economic and connectivity deficits in Central and West Asia, will have to include, within their Indo-Pacific approaches, measures that involve non-littoral actors.

The BRI and Continental Asia

China’s rise as an expansionist Asian military and global economic power is at the core of the  Indo-Pacific security discourse. Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea (SCS), China’s growing naval power, and the colossal Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) form the major strategic threats to regional multilateralism and collective security.

The most long standing threat among them, the BRI, is divided into the transcontinental “silk route” and the maritime “silk road”. However, much of the Indo-Pacific discourse is dominated by the silk road, especially those projects directed towards the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). BRI projects in the IOR are crucial to Beijing’s expanding influence in South Asia and control on international energy and trade supply routes. Also hidden among the maritime/trans-continental connectivity and infrastructure projects, is China’s growing security presence in the region.

However, Mongolia’s entry directs attention to a dimension unique to the current maritime Indo-Pacific discourse –the silk route, that cuts across Central Asia, towards Europe and South Asia, with a similar number of projects in Southeast Asia.

Among the six ‘silk route’ projects, Mongolia’s concern is the China-Mongolia-Russia Economic Corridor (CMREC) that cuts through Eastern Mongolia, beginning in Ulanqab (or “Jining”) in Inner Mongolia, and ending at Ulan-Ude, in BurYatia, Russia. Similar projects include the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and the China-Central Asia-West Asia Economic Corridor (CCWAEC).

Connecting the continental to the maritime is the main goal of the BRI. In fact, the project was first announced during a Chinese state visit to Central Asia in 2013. President Xi Jinping proposed the “Silk Road Economic Belt” with a vision to connect the Pacific Ocean to the Baltic Sea. Beijing’s vision of comprehensive global economic and military power requires a built path to various regions of the world, i.e infrastructure to facilitate dual-use logistics. Given the recent spate of BRI loans going bad, this vision continues to remain unfulfilled.

The continental dimension, Asia, is what makes the Indo-Pacific a theatre of global concern. Trans-continental connectivity, between and within Europe and Asia, narrows the distance between actors, and the shared interest in maintaining regional multilateralism and collective security ensures their continued participation in the Indo-Pacific. As more actors like Mongolia adopt the Indo-Pacific concept, connecting the continental to the maritime and vice versa, sans BRI, will become a strategic concern.

Mongolia’s entry into the theatre offers a unique precedent for those involved in maintaining and preserving a “free, fair, open and rules-based” Indo-Pacific to evaluate and initiate relationships between non-littoral actors and the maritime dimension.

The On-Ground Reality

However, there are a number of obstacles to actively consider continental Asia in the Indo-Pacific discourse. The two most important are geography and geopolitics.

Mongolia for example, is completely enclosed by two actors – Russia and China – who are averse and hostile to the idea of the Indo-Pacific. And, any “counter-BRI” connectivity project envisioned by other regional actors will have to go through their territories. The case of Afghanistan is similar. Divergences in geopolitical interests and ties with actors in the Arabian Sea, particularly with regard to Iran and Pakistan, stays the idea of trans-regional connectivity between Kabul and the world.

The geopolitical obstacle here is the dependent economic relationships that non-littorals in Asia have with Beijing. Mongolia is just one among many Central and West Asian states that have local economies indelibly tied to the political whims of Beijing. During the coronavirus pandemic, a period that saw considerable anti-China sentiment in the international community, Beijing has managed to maintain a level of trust and shared security with many Indo-Pacific states. National vaccination plans are based on the delivery of Chinese vaccines.

There is another reason why the security discourse on the Indo-Pacific is focused on maritime measures – maintaining and preserving the integrity of international Sea Lines of Communication (SLOC) and the respect for territorial sovereignty. In that endeavour, multilateral platforms like the Quad allows members to share historic and strategic advantages in the IOR and Pacific Ocean to counter Chinese expansionism in the Indo-Pacific’s various sub-regions.  On land however, in Central and South Asia, for example the clash in the Galwan river valley last year, Chinese incursions provoke bilateral responses giving it leeway to act with relative impunity.

Conclusion

While there are a number of real obstacles to consider the continental dimension of the Indo-Pacific, Mongolia sets a geopolitical precedent for a comprehensive geographic definition, one that includes both the maritime and continental. From this year on, states participating in the Indo-Pacific now have a reason to approach and include non-littoral actors in the Indo-Pacific.

This precedent also highlights the need to include the continental ‘silk route’ in the Indo-Pacific security discourse. Devising such a definition will be a similar exercise as to the amalgamation of the terms “Indo-Pacific” and “Asia-Pacific” to form the “Indo-Asia-Pacific”; now used at times in geostrategic discourse.

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East Asia

Time to play the Taiwan card

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At a time when the dragon is breathing fire, India must explore alternative tactics, perhaps establishment of formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan can be a landmark step

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The standoff on the Ladakh border between the Indian Army and the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) continues amid failing talks and casus belli measures being unleashed by the Chinese regime. While the union government and the armed forces make it clear that they will do whatever it takes to protect India’s sovereignty and integrity, precious little has been done on the foreign policy front. While India and its democratic allies which comprise the Quad security grouping declare their intent to form the ‘Asian NATO’, the Quad continues to suffer from indecisiveness which was pretty much evident when the Quad did not even issue a joint statement to condemn China at the foreign ministers meeting held last year, only America publicly called out China.

In such a situation, it is imperative that India explore alternate diplomatic and militaristic routes to tame the dragon.

Recognizing Taiwan

Establishing formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan after recognizing should be vigorously pursuing by South Block. Indo-Taiwan ties date back to the early 1950s when Chiang Kai Shek, the ex Chinese president and former head of state fled to the island of Formosa following the victory of Mao Zedong in the long drawn out Chinese civil war called on Nehru to establish and further ties with Formosa, however Nehru believing that Chiang was nothing but a “peanut” decided to ignore his call, choosing instead to concentrate on building ties with People’s Republic of China (PRC).

Seven decades on, plethora of changes has taken place on the foreign affairs front, while both China and India have developed considerably both militarily and economically the dragon has surpassed elephant to become an economic powerhouse in its own might. It has now embraced aggressiveness to enforce its 5th century vision of the ‘Middle Kingdom’. In such a situation providing legitimacy to the existence of Taiwan is a necessary first step.

Paradigm shift in policy

Establishing formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan will bring about a paradigm shift vis-à-vis India’s foreign policy. It will enforce the idea that liberal democracy is the last word in the battle of ideologies as Francis Fukuyama had visualized in his landmark book ‘The End of History and the Last Man’ and that there is no alternative to human rights and liberties, not even the Chinese model of ‘authoritarian development’. It will be the boldest step that any global leader has taken, not even the mighty US which has no formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan has taken this step.

Recognizing Taiwan will entail a lot of benefits for the mandarins of India’s foreign policy regime- firstly, Taiwan is a robust democracy with a booming economy, it will prove to be an alternative to China albeit in a relatively less proportion, secondly, India can bolster the legitimacy as the leader of the democratic world at a time when the democratic institutions in the US-often regarded as the cradle of democracy has been undermined.

Thirdly, India can get the support of another powerful ally in its attempt to carve out a new supply chain alliance which India-Japan-Australia formalized recently. Fourthly, recognizing Taiwan will make it clear to China that India means some serious business and if the need arises then India will not back down from sending dedicated naval and air assets in the disputed South China Sea region to enforce freedom of navigation principle in the resource rich region. Lastly, the Quad security grouping will be institutionalized which in the near future can even be extended to include new members, it will be the first time that India will be a part of any dedicated military and economic alliance which will deter the aggression of the Chinese war machine in the strategic Indian Ocean and Indo-Pacific Region.

Caveats remain

However the recognition may invite severe ramifications for India. China will be infuriated and can choose to ratchet up tensions with India. India must be extremely careful while dealing with China as China is our second largest bilateral trade partner and a key export partner of India with regard to raw materials and goods. According to a FICCI report, India imports more than 40% of several important goods like the API (Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients), television, chemicals, chips, textiles and many more.

The dragon will as a possible retaliatory measure can activate its propaganda machinery to wage psychological warfare with India. It can also activate its terror financing networks which for years remained a chronic internal security for India in the northeast of the country. China will also collaborate with its ‘iron brother’ Pakistan to try and deter India by intensifying terrorism in the Kashmir valley and elsewhere. Further, China can use its potent disinformation empire to try and peddle fake news about the credibility of India’s indigenous vaccines at a time when the light at the end of the tunnel of a pandemic stricken world has appeared.

Exercising caution

Keeping all the dangers in mind, the Modi government must keep national interests in mind. Despite all the risks, it must work with all the like- minded countries to take own the mighty dragon responsible for unleashing a deadly virus which has wrecked havoc on humanity. For the sake of the free world, India must take the hard step which will reinforce India’s position in cementing its place as the leader of the free world.

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East Asia

Pro-Communism warping Hong Kong

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The latest turmoil in the Covid-ridden strata of mainland China is not servile to any pandemic, however, the issue has been one of the most queer and rare kinds, enough to be classified as one of the endemic issues in the global affairs. The tension at helm is the chaos following the announcement of a “New Security Law” by the Chinese regime which is being eyed as one of the monumental events of this decade; slicing off a sliver of attention from the deadly Corona virus that continues to exponentiate around the world in its second wave and sporadic variants.

The law that set out by the Chinese lawmakers back on 22nd May 2020, threatens the liberties of subversion and sedition enjoyed by the citizens of Hong Kong under a constitution. Simplistically named “Basic Law”, it aims to tame the country scaffolded by the “One country, Two systems” framework since the power handover by the former colony to China back in 1997. This act came around amidst strained economic relations between the two superpowers of the world; China and USA, each passing the baton in the blame game of who sustains the blood-crown of the catastrophe impending on the world courtesy of the lethal virus that engulfs every periphery in each continent on the globe. The matters seem complex at sight and a glimpse to the historical timeline of how riddled the relations were could hint at how strained they could reach.

The colony, known as ‘Hong Kong’ today, had been the battle ground, figuratively, to the major competitors of the 20th century: The Great Britain and China. The British dominated the colony for more than 150 years, tracing back to the late 19th century; leasing the territory for the span to morph it into the modernised metropolis marking it as the hub we know today. In 1997, an agreement was reached via an accord, ‘The Sino-British Joint Declaration‘ between the two sides. The treaty allowed Hong Kong a semi-autonomous status, that is, relaying self-sufficiency in all the national domains except in defence and foreign affairs. The allotted autonomy arches under the sovereignty of China until year 2047, henceforward melding into the mainland China as harkened by the Chinese hegemony over decades.

Despite of the granted protection of Hong Kong’s own legislation, borders and freedom of speech, the liberties have been trampled on by the Chinese government over the last couple of decades. A similar law abolishing the right to sedition was initiated in 2003 yet mass protests calling out up and about 50,000 citizens impeded the efforts that went futile and drastically ended up being shunned for good. The Communist party under the wings of Chinese president Xi Jinping have expounded further in tightening their talons on the city since 2012 as efforts were made to corrode the educational system of the country via meddling with the curriculum, biasing the foundation to hail Chinese communism. These acts were proactive reactions to the advances of the United States forging relations with the city. China even tried to manipulate the elections in 2014, tampering with the selection their Chief Executive leading to a 3-month long protest known as the ‘Umbrella movement’ and ultimate downfall of Hong Kong’s autonomous political system.

The security law falls in tandem to the events of 2019; the legislation allowing the convicts from Hong Kong to be extradited in China causing a rave of fear of a massive tactical crackdown of the Anti-communist activists of Hong Kong, sighting it just as ruse to underwhelm the right of sedition of the people of Hong Kong. The Law passed by the parliament notions to only one thing; The ultimate end to Hong Kong. The lawmakers in China, hailing from the National People’s Congress (NPC), sight this move as extricating a threat to the national security and stability of the country while many of the pro-activists in Hong Kong deem the law as betrayal, accusing China of walking back on its promise of high-degree autonomy and freedom of speech, marking it as the final straw, the last struggle before the country could override the laws in the city and indirectly, transition from the entity holding the right to veto the laws to now gripping the law altogether.

Despite of the speculated protests to spark like the history dictates, many of the sage minds predict either a relatively dormant demonstrations or none at all, having a tint of finality in the statement shote the protests are “high stake in risk and repression”. The recent arrest of the leading activists of Hong Kong standing up to voice their disdain to the separatist efforts of China further solidify the notion. Despite of a global condemnation to the new law, the efforts of China resume to subdue any opposition in Honk Kong no matter how sparse. Foreseeing no way out for Hong Kong this time; the Covid-19 paralysis the United States in its own crisis and the legislature inclining towards the Chinese pressure, a complete erasure of Hong Kong is sighted and could not be restrained- for better or for worse.

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