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War transforms once more: The rise of a new type of warfare in the pacific

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Klaouzevits, had warned us almost two centuries ago, war is a chameleon, it changes its form constantly, hiding his phase and transforming from one type to another.

The latest transformation in the naval warfare took place in the World War II and introduced itself with an infamous act. The Japanese attack, in Pearl Harbor. The Japanese navy tried to win the war by sinking the entire US Pacific fleet, using not the big guns of its battleships, but the airplanes of its carriers. So, it was in the Pacific, where sea warfare as we understand it in the last 70 years, developed and formulated. Big carriers, loaded with airplanes, were seeking the enemy in the vast Pacific Ocean and they were launching them, to destroy him. In that war, enemy sailormen never saw each other. The carriers were launching their planes hundreds of miles away from the enemy forces. The battles were fought in the skies near and above the carriers. The actual fighting was taking place between enemy pilots who were trying to shoot down each other and between bomber pilots and the air defense capabilities of the carries and the other ships. In stark contrast the sea battles in the Atlantic were more of a traditional type and the last great battles between warships had taken place there, like the hunt and sinking of battleship Bismark.

The importance and the invincibility of the combined maritime and air power proved its value many times over during the cold war. USA carrier groups with the ability to project power everywhere in the world, the monstrous firepower and flexibility of their airplanes, secured the sea lines of communications, protected American interests all over the world and contributed to a great degree to the final victory over the USSR. Those magnificent and marvelous ships seems that they are about to meet an able opponent. The new weapon system that are promising to change once again the phase of sea warfare actually is a combination of an already existing technology and of one that is developing fast. The first technology, is the missile technology already mature and easy to master. The second technology is about flying at extremely high speed (hypersonic speed- that is in excess of mach 5 and up to mach 20). Flying a controllable vehicle in that speed sets a series of technical problems that are not solved yet. Probably the major problem is to create a jet engine that could work in that conditions.

To be accurate, supersonic antiship missiles are in service for many decades now with the once Soviet Navy and now its successor Russian Navy. Their development and adoption is due to qualitative and numerical inferiority of the Soviet naval forces in the cold war. USSR had to find a credible, cheap and easy way to negate the American threat, of course not globally but in the littoral areas of the Soviet empire. The soviet engineers came up with the use of supersonic missiles launched from a variety of platforms (planes, ships, land launchers). The first Russian cruise missile AS-1 was actually a modified MIG-15 in an antiship role. The development, production and use of supersonic missiles remains a vital and central Russian strategy today with the latest 3M82 / Kh-41 Moskit / SS-N-22 Sunburn and P-800 / 3M55 / Kh-61 Yakhont / Brahmos / SS-N-26 Stallion missiles.

Additionally, Russia became a major supplier of supersonic missiles both to China and India and the main partner of both countries in developing their own systems, providing the necessary technology and knowhow.China adopted and copied Russian supersonic missiles for much the same reason that made them indispensable to the Soviet war machine. PLA for decades lacked the appropriate naval power to defend and control its nearby seas. The latest member in the countries that built and operate supersonic missile is India which produces in cooperation with Russia the Brahmos missile. The Brahmos use a combination of a conventional missile for the first stage of its flight and a ramjet engine for the final approach to target. It has a cruising speed of Mach 2.8 (3,400 km/h) and a 290 km range and it can it can fly from an altitude of 15 km to mere meters above the waves.In contrast, and in full compliance with the paradoxal logic of strategy, as Luttwak another strategist claims, US and NATO choose to develop an efficient and capable air defense and not to engage in a competition in developing supersonic missiles of its own. Recognizing the grave danger to the fleet and especially to the most valued ships of all, the carriers, hurried up to beef up the air defenses especially in the antimissile field.The most prominent example is the combination of the F-14 Tomcat, a billion dollar airframe and the Phoenix missile, solely designed and built to engage and kill air breathing threats long before they reach the American flattops. The above combination is not the only defensive measure but one of many. Other systems including CIWS Phalanx, antimissile missiles, electronic counter measures etc., were developed in a more or less expected effort to protect Americas most valuable asset. Therefore West even at this time hasn’t got any supersonic missile equivalent to the Russian ones.

Eventually the cold war ended, leaving US as the only superpower in the world. Alas, new threats emerged like terrorism and new rivals appeared in the horizon like China. In response to the new security environment, new ideas about new weapons and the different use of old ones came up. The common theme and the main idea behind the new concepts, was one physical element, essential in warfare, namely speed. Speed regarded by American agencies as the new stealth, providing the necessary superiority to friendly forces. Superfast missiles compress the time defenders have to react to an attack and to successfully engage it and if used in large numbers can saturate the air Defence systems and defeat at low cost even an expensive and powerful carrier battle group.Among the first ideas, was the retrofitting of old nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles and arming them with conventional war heads. That way, they could be used against an array of targets without provoking a nuclear response. The idea quickly abandoned because of the obvious disadvantages. Once a ballistic missile is launched the enemy has no way of knowing what kind of warhead is carrying, thus a nuclear war may start due to an ambiguous act. Moreover a ballistic missile launched to strike a terrorist cave in Afghanistan, or Africa would follow the same ballistic path that could be used to target Chinese or Russian cities, provoking a nuclear response. US Congress taken into account these ambiguities and uncertainties stopped the development of the project, despite the many attempts by military planners to obtain approval of their plans and adequate funding.The plan was part of a program—in slow development since the 1990s, and now quickly coalescing in military circles—called Prompt Global Strike.On the other side of Pacific Ocean though, such qualms never appeared. China’s PLA probably copying the American concept developed the very same weapon that US Congress banned. China converted an intermediate nuclear ballistic missile into an antiship missile named Dong Feng 21D. This ballistic missile is launched toward space and arcing back to earth at speeds of about Mach 10 with a reported range of about 1,500 km. China, developed this missile as a “carrier killer”, an easy, effective and cheap way to challenge Americas naval supremacy in the Pacific Ocean, denying access to East China Sea to American vessels and ultimately leaving Chinese forces unopposed to secure the capitulation of the other Asian states and eventually regional hegemony.

So far, we have talked about already existing technologies, albeit in a new role. All the weapons are either modified ballistic missiles with conventional warheads or supersonic cruise missiles with speeds up to 3 or 4 Mach’s, nothing exotic and nothing new.The really interesting, revolutionary, new and game changing technology is hypersonic flight that enables vehicles to fly at speeds in excess of Mach 5 and up to Mach 20. These hypersonic vehicles are not missiles. Missiles carry their own fuel and oxidizer, a feature that permits them to operate in thin air upper atmosphere and outer space, but limits their flight profile and uses. In contrast, hypersonic vehicles are airbreathing vehicles that are using atmosphere’s oxygen just like turbofan and turbojet engines. Such vehicles,could travel at missile speed but will have the maneuverability and agility of an aircraft, making easier to avoid defenses, to change course en route to target and all that in a more economical way.

Where is the catch? Those wonderful capabilities demand the development of a new kind of engine that can operate reliably in those high speeds. Existing turbojet and turbofans engines can operate at speeds of about Mach2. Ramjets (jet engines without spinning blades like turbofan or turbojets but with specially designed inlets capable of slowing and compressing the airstream), can operate in higher speeds of about 3 to 4 Mach’s. Hypersonic vehicles operating at speeds above Mach5 require the development of scramjets (supersonic combustion ramjets) engines, capable of igniting and maintain combustion in a stream of supersonic air. Technology hasn’t provide a credible answer yet to this challenge. To make matter worse ramjets and scramjets cannot start flying on their own; they must be accelerated by a carrier aircraft or a first stage missile.The first successful flight test of a scramjet vehicle took place in the 1990’s by a group of Russian, French and American scientists, though it’s not quite clear if supersonic combustion was achieved in those tests. More recently, Russia and India are reportedly working together to produce a scramjet version of Brahmos missile. As for China beyond the DF-21D project that we have already mentioned, there are reports that is testing its own hypersonic vehicle. The Qian Xuesen National Engineering Science Experiment Base is one the centers that research and development about hypersonic technology take place. Recently, according to American and Chinese media, China tested an hypersonic vehicle that reached Mach 10 speed, above its territory. American media designated it as WU-14.Despite all that China, India and even Russia are still far away of their target to build a credible, reliable, operational ready, hypersonic vehicle.

Interestingly enough – or maybe not- the country that has the most advanced and more numerous such programs is USA. To begin with there is the X-51A Waverider, that was tested last summer, over the Pacific Ocean and is produced by a consortium composed of USAF, Boeing, DARPA, NASA, Pratt and Whitney, Rocketdyne and the USAF Research Laboratory’s Propulsion Directorate. The test ended after a malfunction resulted in the destruction of the vehicle. Of course the X-51A, it’s not the only program developed under the prompt global strike iniative, the Pentagon supports and funds DARPA’s Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2 and Army’s Advanced Hypersonic Weapon. And we’re not finished yet; another promising project is based on one of the Cold War legends, the famous SR-71 “Blackbird” spy plane. SR-71 had a revolutionary combo machine “J-58” consisted of a turbojet mounted inside a ramjet. That combination enables the SR-71 to start flying on its own and to go supersonic in high altitude. This project named SR-72 potentially would fly at Mach 5 and besides reconnaissance missions it would be capable of carrying and deliver air to ground munitions. Those munitions will have their own hypersonic features and Lockheed’s Skunk Work laboratories which are responsible for those hypersonic programs are calling them “High Speed Strike Weapon”, essentially an hypersonic missile that would be suitable for use by future bombers and fighter aircrafts. Lockheed believes that in the future “speed will be the new stealth”, meaning that if you’ re flying extremely fast the enemy will not have the time to detect you and shoot you down.

Furthermore DARPA recently announced the launch of yet another one hypersonic experimental program. It is called Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1) and according to DARPA its purpose is to develop a reusable unmanned vehicle with costs, operation and reliability similar to a traditional aircraft yet capable to ascend to suborbital altitudes to deploy satellites into Low Earth Orbit. Despite the many advantages that hypersonic systems would have in future battle space we should not get too excited. The needed technology is still in its infancy and we’re probably many years away from their operational deployment. Furthermore the paradoxal logic of strategy is working even before those systems became operational, producing the antidotes that will provide the necessary means, mainly for a carrier battle group to counter a swarm attack by supersonic missiles.

Those technologies in contrast to supersonic missiles are for the most part already developed and ready to be tested in operational deployments. Among them the most promising is the laser guns that would be used to counter asymmetrical threats such as drones, speed boats,missiles and so on. The laser guns with their ability to fire fast, accurate and continuously without the fear of running out of ammunition are already installed in US navy ships. Other systems include electromagnetic rail guns and revolving missile launchers. Those weapons are also being developed but the US armed forces, an astounding fact that exemplifies their resolve not only to hold but to expand their superiority over their potential competitors.To conclude, Pacific Ocean once more is becoming the workshop of a new type of warfare. Warriors of both sides will never see each other in those wars but will depend on systems fast, lethal and accurate to destroy the enemy in mere minutes or even seconds. Additionally despite the strengthening of potential competitors, USA still is the most powerful, sophisticated and intelligent actor in the area. Furthermore, although anti access and area denial capabilities are an important element of maritime strategy, still the real and paramount ability of a navy, the only one that will ensure victory is to confront the enemy navy in the sea and defeat it.

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East Asia

How China is helping Iran skirt US sanctions

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Shortly after the Trump administration reimposed sweeping sanctions on Iran, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said eight countries, most notable China, would be exempted from the draconian sanctions on buying Iranian crude oil.

Shortly after the Trump administration reimposed sweeping sanctions on the Islamic Republic of Iran, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made an important announcement. It was a calculated move to avoid a major embarrassment. The hawks in the power corridors of Washington had anticipated the backlash of sanctions on US foreign policy with many global powers rebuffing Trump’s foolhardy move.

Pompeo said eight countries would be exempted from the draconian sanctions on buying Iranian crude oil due to special circumstances. The countries included China, India, Italy, Greece, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Turkey.

Many of these countries had quite clearly indicated that they would not be cutting oil imports from Iran under the US pressure, most importantly China, Turkey, and India – three of Iran’s largest oil customers.

While India has its own strategic interests in maintaining good relations with Tehran, for instance, the Chabahar port project in Sistan-Baluchistan, Turkey’s relations with Washington have hit a new low following sanctions and trade tariffs imposed by the US.

China, which has emerged as a viable counterweight to US hegemony in the world and a protagonist of new international economic policy, has unambiguously reaffirmed its commitment to keep alive the Iran nuclear deal and stand by the Islamic Republic of Iran.

On November 5, when the petroleum-related sanctions came into effect, Chinese foreign ministry said it will continue to “hold a fair, objective and responsible attitude” and “resolutely safeguard its legitimate rights”, while reiterating its opposition to the unilateral US sanctions.

“China feels sorry for the US’ decision and we noticed that the international world as a whole opposes the practice of such unilateral sanctions,” foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said at a press briefing.

She said Iran has been seriously fulfilling its obligations under the JCPOA and its efforts have been recognized by the International Atomic Energy Agency dozen times. She also affirmed that China will firmly safeguard its lawful rights while continuing to adhere to JCPOA and urged relevant parties to stand on the “right side of history”.

China has maintained that implementing the Iranian nuclear deal is akin to safeguarding the authority of UN Security Council, basic norms of international law, international non-proliferation treaty and peace and stability in the Middle East.

As one of the remaining signatories of the JCPOA, along with European Union countries who are exploring options to circumvent the US sanctions, Beijing wants to keep the deal alive. China, believe experts, is in a better position compared to other Asian countries as it is not subservient to US interests and is already embroiled in a bitter trade war with Washington.

For all parties of the JCPOA, Iranian crude oil is the main commodity of interest, particularly for Beijing. In 2017, one-third of Iran’s oil was supplied to China, which underlines the significance of oil trade between the two countries. China’s commitment to continue importing oil from Iran is very likely to deal a body blow to US ploy of reducing Iranian oil imports to zero and ‘starving’ the Iranian nation.

Hu Xijin, chief editor of the influential Chinese daily Global Times, told Tehran Times that there was no possibility of Washington reducing the Iranian oil exports to zero, “because Washington lacks righteousness to do so, therefore it can’t have the full support of the international community”.

To continue oil trade in different currencies other than dollar, Iran has been in talks with key allies, including China. On September 29, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said Tehran would circumvent sanctions by conducting trade in all currencies to avoid using the US dollar. “You can use your own currency. Sell stuff in your own currency, buy stuff in the other country’s currency, and at the end of a specific period, balance it out in a non-dollar currency. It’s quite possible and may even be profitable,”

China, which is the largest oil importer in the world with around nine million barrels imports every day, has been making concerted efforts to reshape the global oil market with increased usage of its currency in oil trading. If Chinese currency manages to replace the US dollar, it will be a masterstroke.

US has been rendered friendless and isolated in its quest to tear up the Iran deal and force countries to cut oil imports from Iran. European Union has already refused to back down on the Iran deal, exploring ways to develop payment channels to facilitate payments related to Iran’s exports. The goal, according to a statement issued by EU, “is to protect the freedom of other economic operators to pursue legitimate business with Iran”.

Beijing has expressed its full support to the EU’s proposal to set up a “special payments system” to facilitate trade with Iran and safeguard the Iranian nuclear deal, which experts believe will significantly reduce reliance on the US dollar in the global oil trade. That will be a game-changer.

First published in our partner MNA

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East Asia

The Implication of China’s Diplomacy in APEC and ASEAN

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It is truly unusual that the Chinese President Xi Jinping and its Premier Li Keqiang are visiting the same area during nearly the same time: Xi’s visit to APEC from15th to 21st November and Li’s visit to ASEAN on 15th November. Yet, if we look into China’s foreign policy towards this area over the past years since President Xi took power, it is not difficult to understand both Xi’s and Li’s official visits to the “larger Pacific” and the meaning beyond.

As we know, President Xi has reiterated that the Pacific is large enough for the countries involved to share the prosperity with each other. In order to achieve the inclusive rather than exclusive benefits for all, China’s diplomacy aims to reject any kind of unilateralism, trade protectionism and anti-globalization. Given this, Xi’s at APEC and Li’s at AEASN is defined as a signal of China’s diplomacy to further reform and bold openness.

As a rising great country, China is surely eager to expand its investment and trade with the south Pacific area, and Papua New Guinea (PNG) is the first country visited by Chinese president. What is more, PNG joined the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) early 2018 and then became the first state of Pacific islands to sign the MoU on “The Belt and Road Initiative” construction. As the theme “Harnessing Inclusive Opportunities, Embracing the Digital Future,” the APEC summit will focus on Regional economic integration, digital economy, connectivity, sustainable and inclusive growth and so forth.

Also during Premier Li’s visit to the ASEAN, he highlighted the necessity of the collaboration and mutual benefit among the countries involved on the 21st China-ASEAN leaders meeting. This is also the 21st ASEAN Plus Three Summit (10+3) and the 13th East Asia Summit (EAS).

Quite understandable, since the 1960s, the center of world economy has shifted from North Atlantic to Asia-Pacific, its dynamic growth in the region create countless jobs and push the development of world economy. This is the reason that Asia-Pacific region has the most trade agreements and the most complicated economic architecture around world. APEC and ASEAN, as two institutions that possess most member states, are the very pillars of the tumbledown regional economic architecture. APEC was launched by Australia and later included 21 member states in the region, amongst are United States, China, Japan, the economic giant three of the world economy. ASEAN is an institution that consist of ten small and middle states. Though they are not strong enough to meet the challenges from the power politics alone, ASEAN is a core force that firmly facilitate the economic integration of the whole region of East Asia and the Pacific. No matter what the way they embrace, they are the de facto basic regionalism of Asia-Pacific. The withdrawing of United States from Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and hard-achieved Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) once brought the regional economic architecture a fig leave and strengthened the impact of APEC and ASEAN.

As a result, the two visits of Chinese top leaders to the same region at the same time definitely attract worldwide attention, because they not only represent China’s recent diplomatic focus but also mark the fact that Asia-Pacific region has become one of the vital fields where China’s diplomacy will be actively conducting in terms of the Belt and Road Initiative, and carry on the good-neighbor policy. Since China has argued for creating a peaceful development milieu, to enhance economic transformation and upgrading oversea markets and partners in Asia-Pacific region.

Consider these facets, China, as the second largest economy, aims to promote its well-articulated stance on multilateralism and inclusiveness and globalization. As both President Xi and Premier Li have strongly said that China is ready to work with Pacific island countries to endeavor together and sail for a better future for bilateral relations. For the sake of that goal, China always believes that as long as all the countries involved have firm confidence in each other’s development, cooperation and the future of East Asia, and work closely together and forge ahead, all sides would achieve more and reach a higher level in the next 15 years.

For sure, China belongs to the part of a larger Asia-Pacific family, and the Chinese government defines its goal as the shared prosperity of this region. Therefore, China will continue to work hard and constructively to promote the overall development of impoverished but promising Pacific island countries under the Belt and Road Initiative.

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East Asia

An uncertain step in moving China-Japan relations

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Authors: Meshach Ampwera  & Luo Xinghuan

On October 26, Chinese President Xi Jinping met Japanese PM Shinzo Abe and praised that both China and Japan have pledged to strengthen bilateral ties amid continuous efforts made by the two nations. Xi said, “Bilateral relations have returned to the right track and gained positive momentum, which is something the two sides should cherish.” As the two largest economies in Asia, China and Japan are also the vital players in Asian security and the global development.

In addition, since this is the first official visit to China by a Japanese PM in a seven-year “Cold Peace” period, it is widely assumed that Abe’s visit symbolizes the resumption of high-level visits and will be followed by an increasing rapprochement between China and Japan. True, the leaders of the two economic giants witnessed a wide range of agreements, including a 30 billion US dollar worth of currency swap pact, the establishment of a maritime and air liaison mechanism, and enhancing people-to-people exchanges.

Yet, three factors have to be considered seriously in looking into Japanese foreign policy given the current changing geopolitical landscape regionally and globally. First, Japan has still regarded itself as a “defeated” state during the WWII. Since then, Japan’s postwar posture has frequently described as a new pacifism; yet in fact it is considerably more complex. As Henry Kissinger put it: “Japan had acquiesced in the U.S. predominance and followed the strategic landscape and the imperatives of Japan’s survival and long-term success.” This means that the governing elites in Tokyo used to hold the constitution drafted by U.S. occupying authorities with its stringent prohibition on military action, and adapted to their long-term strategic purposes. As a result, Japan was transformed from the pacific aspects of the postwar order (that prohibited military action) into a nation that has focused on other key elements of national strategy, particularly using economic leverage regionally and globally, though not uncontroversial.

Second, in a recently-released paper written by the former US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, he maintained that “Japan is a close ally of the U.S. and a rising military power, too, because of legal and constitutional changes of great significance championed by Prime Minister Abe.” In practice, the Japanese administration has engineered an expansion to enable its military to operate regionally and even globally in response to the rise of China, violent extremist activity in Asia, and the alleged North Korean belligerence.

Actually in 2013, Japanese Government White Paper revealed a desire to become a “normal country” with an active alliance policy. In a searching for a new role in the Asia-pacific region, Japan aims to act as an “anchor” of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) concluded in 2018 after the withdrawal of the United States. Now it involves 11 countries and representing 13.4% of global GDP ($ 13.5tri.). As the largest economy of the CPTPP, Japan has been active in moving it forward. Early this year when the British government stated it is exploring becoming a member of the CPTPP to stimulate exports after Brexit in 2019, Abe stated that the United Kingdom would be welcomed to join the partnership. It is said that even the U.S. reconsiders possibly rejoining the CPTPP if it were a “substantially new deal” for the United States.

Japan’s ardent involvement into the US-led strategy in Asia has also been endorsed to expand steadily as a normal power regionally and globally. For example, the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC) is the result of the joint declaration issued by the India and Japan in 2016. Although it is premised on four pillars of development and cooperation, it is self-evident that the AAGC reflects a growing special “strategic and global partnership between India and Japan” in which both sides have viewed China’s growing, pragmatic and successful presence in Africa as a menace. There is no question that AAGC is a well-crafted vision and agenda of both India and Japan, linking with their own development priorities. But with increasing pressure from Washington and Brussels, Japan and India are in effect driven by the option for the AAGC to rebalance China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

From the inception of the BRI, they have more than ever before been concerned with being isolated in Africa by Beijing’s initiative. But, as Ampwera Meshach, a researcher at Jilin University put it, “Africa is on the growth trend and offers potential markets and raw materials. For this reason, Africa largely needs pragmatic and scientific, technological and development- oriented initiatives and these are clearly reflected in China’s BRI.” In light of this, the AAGC does neither reflect a novel nor pragmatic approach on how it fits within the African agenda. Instead, AAGC’s foundational pillars seem more inclined to the Western cooperation approaches that have for decades not been translated into development.

Controversially, two days before Abe’s visit to Beijing, Japan had decided to scrap official development assistance (ODA) to China, which is a program where Japan provides aids to developing countries starting back in 1954. Even though some people argue that Japan’s ODA is reasonably cancelled because China’s GDP is even 2.5 times larger than that of Japan, yet, it is necessary for Chinese to be aware of the reality that Japan is a longstanding ally of the United States. As Japan has long been an economic power, its impressive military capabilities would not be confined to a strict policy of territorial defense—no projection of Japanese power or the U.S.-Japan alliance to the region as a whole.

It is during the Abe’s administration which has recognized an environment of growing Chinese assertiveness, violent extremist activity in Asia, and North Korean hostility, and therefore, Japan has eagerly participated in Asian security, including training and exercising with other nations, beyond a purely passive, home-island defense role. This makes it an increasingly important player serving the US strategy in Asia but challenging the rise of China globally.

It is true that Abe tweeted about the trip — while recognizing the challenges in moving bilateral relations forward, he said that he would still work to “push Sino-Japan relations to the next level”. Given the two countries’ economic links, it is only understandable that there is a need for the two sides to come closer. Moreover, Japanese businesses has been an extremely active force behind the government’s shift of attitude on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Yet, all in all, we should never ignore that Japan’s ambitious foreign policy has gone beyond the economic goal.

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