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Additional considerations on the North Korean strategy

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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According to the best-informed US analysts, the response to North Korea’s  further military escalation should consist in Japan’s and South Korea’s nuclear rearmament. It would be the response, but also the explicit justification, for North Korea’s rearmament. According to the US military decision-makers, however, the preventive  conventional confrontation could be divided into four alternatives:

1) the launch of Tomahawk missiles from the land and sea borders, but certainly North Korea would respond immediately, by also using the approximately sixty tunnels in the territory of the South Republic and its underground military airports in the North.

2) Bombings on North Korea by Stealth aircraft which – as North Korea knows all too well –  can carry nuclear warheads. Also in this case, however, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea could react by hitting the US bombers directly or by launching limited missile attacks against US installations in South Korea.

3) The US aircraft launch of some Massive Ordnance Penetrators (MOPs), the new “bunker buster” bombs penetrating and destroying  tunnels,  hardened targets or targets buried deep underground – an action coupled with that of the “electromagnetic railguns” that could be fired by some US ships. A Hollywood action movie scenario having two limits: the low reliability of the two new weapons and the fact that North Korea has not only hidden, but also visible bases.

 Moreover, the visible bases can react to the US operations from the South or from the sea in a very short time, shorter than the duration of the US  attack itself.

 It is also worth noting the scarce trust the US military decision-makers have in the South Korean armed forces, never mentioned in these programs.

 In North Korea, the US Presidency wants to hit mainly the structures producing and collecting nuclear weapons; the facilities to build and keep missiles; launch bases, especially the mobile ones; the nuclear submarine ports and the artillery stations near the Demilitarized Zone.

  Hence let us do some accounting.

  North Korea has ten major military bases; fourteen missile launch bases in addition to at least ten additional mobile bases already in operation; two bases for nuclear tests and sixty-four nuclear weapons already available.

 Too many targets to enable the United States, and possibly South Korea, to carry out a limited action on the Demilitarized Line not triggering off a response at the highest level.

 If the US forces’ operations are targeted they are irrelevant, while if they cause significant damage they are a real act of war.

 As often repeated by Kim Jong Un, North Korea sees the US strategy in “peripheral” countries, now defined by the end of Saddam Hussein and Muammar al-Gaddafi.

 Considering those examples, the North Korean leader does not trust the United States should they win a war against him.

 Hence any attack on North Korea, albeit limited, would immediately trigger off  the greatest possible reaction.

 Furthermore, pending a US attack – also only counterforce and not counter-resource – North Korea could also attack, with conventional carriers, the South Korean areas the United States needs as bases.

 Currently the US military installations in South Korea are twenty-seven,  all in areas that can be hit by North Korean missiles with an acceptable degree of precision and accuracy.

 According to the Western intelligence sources, with approximately sixty nuclear warheads available; a potential missile average range of 10,400 kilometres; 5,000 tons of nerve gas already stocked; 1,300 aircraft; 300 helicopters; 430 warships; 70 submarines; 4,300 tanks; 2,500 armoured vehicles and 5,500 multiple launchers, North Korea is by no means an easy opponent.

 Obviously such a military build-up can safely sustain a second nuclear strike and launch a second nuclear salvo against the enemy even after a first nuclear attack from the United States and South Korea, as well as maintain sufficient conventional forces to be used after the exchange of nuclear strikes.

  It is also worth adding that South Korea’s central Command has claimed it suffered a cyberattack in December 2016, which means that North Korea has all South Korea’s Command plans available and, we assume, even much of the US military planning involving South Korean forces.

 As maintained in a recent Workers’ Party document, the North Korean nuclear forces are not a way to get money from “imperialists”.

 As claimed by the North Korean single Party’s leadership, they are a way to reaffirm their independence until “imperialists” disarm their nuclear warheads “all over the world.”

 Reading between the lines, this is the ideological rationale of the construction of missiles capable of reaching the US territory, so as to simultaneously threaten both the US allies in Southeast Asia and Japan and the United States itself.

 As already seen, the layout of bases and the amount of warheads do not permit a US “surgical” action which, however, would be interpreted as the beginning of a real war.

 In 2016, North Korea carried out over 20 missile launches. Strategically this means that North Korea wants to mainly implement the intercontinental and the submarine-launched ballistic missile sectors, in particular.

 This is a way to increase the likelihood threshold for nuclear or conventional attacks and to create “double deterrence”, namely deterrence towards the US stations in the Pacific and on the US territory.

 Furthermore Kim Jong Un is steadily in power and he is rapidly getting stronger.

 Since his rise to power in 2011, the North Korean leader has “eliminated” at least seventy officials or military officers, in addition to a much larger number of them who have been “purged” according to the best traditions of Communist Parties in power.

 Kim Jong Un’s policy line has been designed to combine military and economic development – the policy line the Workers’ Party has hoped since 2003, by supporting North Korea’s entry into the “knowledge-based economy” and the expansion of “light industry”.

 This is the Korean translation of the Chinese model of economic reform after the Four Modernizations. It is the North Korean variation of Xi Jinping’s “great reform”, although the two countries are currently not in the best phase of their relations.

 From a strategic viewpoint, China views for North Korea the implementation of three points, summarized in a principle that Xi Jinping plans to support with the utmost clarity and speed: “no war, no instability and no nuclear weapons” – a principle that after the 2013 tests has been reworded in the policy line of ” denuclearization, peace, stability and fast resumption of the Six Party Talks”.

 I think that the Chinese policy is fully rational.

 China does not want a strong nuclear power on its borders, even if it were a friendly country.

 Certainly, North Korea is an excellent buffer State avoiding the contact between the forces of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army and the US forces in South Korea – a primary strategic target.

 Nevertheless if the North Korean nuclear strategy gets global and capable of making both the US territory and some Pacific countries – with which China has and wants to maintain good relations – the target of a nuclear attack, the calculation of the Chinese strategic equation on North Korea gets complex and not necessarily positive.

 Moreover, the Chinese ruling class is still divided on North Korea’s  denuclearization. The Chinese decision-makers fear a collapse of the regime following the denuclearization and hence a crisis that would immediately affect China’s territory.

 Hence it is exactly this ambiguity among the Chinese leaders which enables North Korea to keep on strengthening and upgrading its nuclear arsenal undisturbed.

Currently, however, the perceptions of the two main players, namely the United States and North Korea, are still to be changed in the light of a better understanding of both countries’ global strategy.

 The United States and South Korea do not want to invade the North Korean territory.

 The United States does not want new territories. It possibly wants  “friendly” States not annoying it militarily, hosting their bases – and the United States already have nearly 800 bases around the world –  not signing adverse commercial agreements and accepting the dollar in international transactions. Nothing else.

 Or, more precisely, only the United States has no interest in following this military option.

  And it is the country organizing South Korean forces.

 Hence the United States has no interest in direct invasion. Indeed, the more North Korea extends its range of ICBMs, the more the United States feels threatened, in a region where it wants to maintain its hegemony. Therefore the United States can be really pushed to organize a preventive attack.

Probably said attack would end up as already described. In that case, however, two new factors should be assessed: North Korea’s comparative  weakness faced with a long-range attack, which would certainly cause some serious damage, and the North Korean forces’ immediate reaction, which would not make the US attack easy.

 Moreover, we must consider the reaction of the Russian Federation and China, which would surely strengthen their defences on the border with North Korea, in their maritime area, and would condemn the United States, as usual. Finally they would be strategically obliged to give again credit to North Korea’s nuclear and missile activities.

 The United States must not always think that the leader of a country not accepting its hegemony is always “crazy.”

 It did so with Hitler, who had some psychological disorders but was not crazy – otherwise we should think that the huge German masses who followed him were mad. The same holds true for Mussolini, who had syphilis but was not crazy, as well as for all the Third World leaders who did not accept the division of the world after the Second World War.

 Like it or not, Kim Jong Un’s strategy makes both China and Russia enter the game. They are both interested in the denuclearization of the entire Korean peninsula – hence the United States must consider both countries’  possible moves, which do not depend on assessments regarding North Korea’s alleged “crazy” leader, but on objective analyses of the strategic interests on the field.

 The first possible move could be to support Kim Jong Un and the second one  – not ruling out the former one – would be a credible denial area on the sea, directed mainly against the US and South Korean operations.

 Furthermore, considering Trump’s leadership problems at national level, he could seriously be tempted to carry out a military action that would set internal tensions aside and would also be the implementation, in foreign policy, of the principle “America First”.

 If China and Russia do not make North Korea understand that the old brinkmanship theory is now over, something irreparable will probably happen.

 Furthermore the United States currently understands nothing of what happens beyond its borders. Years of “exporting democracy” and Arab Springs have not enabled the US leaders to be updated on the political, cultural and social evolutions of the countries with which they come into contact.

 Therefore, although currently there are three secret communication channels between the United States and North Korea, it cannot be said that the United States can truly understand the North Korean strategic logic.

 Currently Russia and China could do without North Korea. They can leverage with the United States alone and do no longer need the North Korean “dragon’s snout”.

 This is a disadvantage for Kim Jong Un. Both powers, however, do not yet understand Trump’s foreign policy and, in doubt, they could choose the most adverse variable vis-à-vis the United States

 I am sure that Kim Jong Un knows this and also knows how to analyse this data.

 China’s and Russia’s interest, however, is always to contain the United States in South Korea, as well as avoid military contact and, above all, prevent a denial area coming from South Korea.

 Beyond this limit, both countries are no longer interested in North Korea’s nuclear power and capacity.

 Hence the North Korean leader can rethink his nuclear and conventional strategy, by relating it – at least for a small part – to the Asian Heartland strategy.

 Therefore the 2005 Six Party Talks should be resumed immediately.

 With these fundamental policy lines and aims: a peace treaty between the two Koreas; North Korea’s denuclearization, but also partial denuclearization of South Korea, with a reduction of US forces stationed on the South Korean territory; economic and technological support to North Korea; establishment of normal diplomatic relations between North Korea, the United States and Japan; energy cooperation.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs "La Centrale Finanziaria Generale Spa", he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group and member of the Ayan-Holding Board. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d'Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: "A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title of "Honorable" of the Académie des Sciences de l'Institut de France

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East Asia

Chinese Game: U.S. Losing Asia and Africa

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As the US sanction pressure on Russia intensifies, the US economic and political competition with their most important economic partner, China, is noticeably getting more fierce. Simultaneously, Washington has been exchanging direct and indirect economic strikes with Turkey and the EU. (In the case of the European Union, an exchange of blows occurs in connection with Washington’s threat to punish European companies that are set to ignore the US ban on cooperation with Iran.)

Two Lines of Confrontation

The aggravation of the US-Chinese rivalry proceeds along two lines: first, the rates in the “tariff war” between the two countries are rising; second, the struggle between Washington and Beijing for lucrative markets in Asia and Africa is intensifying. Both these processes are interrelated, but in the current circumstances the main focus of the second line  is the fight for markets.

In the first place, I would like to talk briefly about the “tariff war” between the US and China as an important element in relations between the two countries, without which it is impossible to understand all the subtleties of competition between these two countries in Asia and Africa. As is known, the “tariff war” worsened after the US president first introduced a 25-percent duty on the import of 818 products from China, the total value of which was estimated at 34 billion dollars a year. Then came the even more threatening statement of the US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer: “On July 18, the President instructed me to compile the list of Chinese goods worth 200 billion dollars for imposing additional duties of 10 percent … The President ordered me to consider an increase in the proposed level from 10 to 25 percent “. After China responded with a 25-percent duty on 34 billion dollars’ worth of American goods, Trump did not rule out the possibility of raising duties on all Chinese imports in the US. The total value of Chinese commodities in the US is currently estimated at about $ 500 billion.

Simultaneously, the United States has loudly announced its intention to compete with China in influencing countries that participate in the Chinese transport project “One Belt, One Road”, which is designed to revive the Great Silk Road, which ran throughout the whole of Eurasia in the Middle Ages. As he set off for  the Regional Cooperation Forum in Singapore in July this year, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced his intention to counteract China’s so-called “silk” influence. According to Pompeo’s plans, the appropriate measures should cost the US budget a trifling $ 113 million against China’s hundreds of billions which is exactly the amount Beijing is planning to allocate for the implementation of “One Belt, One Road” project.

Influence at Low Cost

If the United States intends to squeeze China out of Asia at such miniscule costs, they obviously underestimate the rival. At least two factors work for Beijing: first of all, China is one of the region’s oldest “aborigines”; besides, Washington, waging a “tariff” war against Beijing, can thus deprive itself of a part of the Chinese oil market, making China even more attractive for oil traders from Iran and Russia – the key players in the project “One Belt, One Road”.

The American Oil Price news site has described the impact of the US-China “tariff war” on the Asian oil players as follows: “China has threatened to impose a 25- percent import tariff on crude oil and oil products from the United States. If this threat comes into effect, crude oil from the US can become non-competitive in terms of value. Such a tariff from China will not only reduce the income of oil exporters from the US, forcing them to look for new markets … it can become a source of additional revenues for the OPEC countries. And the OPEC countries are the suppliers that the US has pushed into the background in recent years”, says Oil Price researcher Irina Slav. oilprice.com

Considering that for the American oil industry China is the largest export market after Canada, it becomes clear that this matter is fraught with so huge losses, billions in fact, that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo with his 113 million dollars sounds ridiculous.

Psychological Error

Judging by Pompeo’s statements, Americans are committing a psychological mistake in Asia. This is the mistake that led to China pushing the US to the sidelines in many countries of Africa. The matter is that the US is trying to replace genuine assistance by self-praise, flaunting any of its measures as valuable and corruption-free, alleging that whatever it does is a good example to follow. “The world knows that with American companies you get what you see. Honest contracts, honest conditions, there is no need for behind-the-scenes machinations. Decency in business is the pillar of our economic vision in the Indo-Pacific Region”, the Secretary of State told CNN.

Meanwhile, South-East Asian nations know only too well about the US policy in this region. Alas, it is simply impossible to describe this policy as ever humanistic, open and devoid of corruption – it would mean contradicting the historical truth. The brutal war in Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s, the support of the dictatorial and corrupt regime of Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines (1965-1986), the “secret wars” of the CIA in Laos and Cambodia during military operations in Vietnam – the memory of all these is still fresh in the region. All the countries affected (Vietnam, the Philippines, Laos, Cambodia) are members of ASEAN. In such circumstances, the self-praising speeches by American officials at ASEAN forums trigger a skeptical attitude, to say the least. And although many ASEAN countries may feel wary of China and are unlikely to have cloudless relations with Beijing in the near future, the US’ psychologically wrong tactics have already antagonized many of these states pushing them toward Russia and China. This is proved by the recent attempts by Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte to diversify the traditionally pro-American policy of his country, enlisting the support of Russia and even China, a long-term rival. Duterte’s historic visit to China in 2016 showed who had actually won the fight for the “heart and mind” of the Philippine leader – a struggle in which the United States initially had very strong positions. aljazeera.com

The anti-Duterte media campaign, which was launched in the US and the EU soon afterwards, has no direct consequences so far. American accusations against Duterte in connection with an excessively fierce fight against the drug mafia sounded hypocritical amid the “war on drugs” which was imposed by the United States on Mexico and Colombia in the 2000s and in which at least 45,000 people were killed.

Lost In Asia – Will Lose In Africa

As far as Africa is concerned, in recent years China has outplayed not only the Americans, but the seemingly familiar with the local specifics former colonial masters of this region – the French and the British.

After the first Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in 2000, the Chinese side found the right approach to its African partners – without instruction, without interference in internal affairs, with investment proposals supported by the banking sector of the Middle Kingdom. The first ministerial meeting of FOCAC attracted representatives of 44 countries from 53 states of the African continent. Fairly soon, China made these forums pan-African by removing Taiwan. Until the middle of the 2000s Taiwan had its diplomatic missions in several African countries (including Chad and Senegal), which excluded the possibility of communication between these countries and the PRC.

Orientation – Bandung

The African-Chinese “union of values” began with the Bandung Conference of 1955, during which 29 countries of Asia and Africa proclaimed the principles of non-interference, respect for each other’s sovereignty and comprehensive economic cooperation. The figures of the Indian Jewaharlal Nehru, the Egyptian Gamal-Abdel Nasser and the Chinese Zhou Enlai, which live in the memory of many in connection with their participation in the Bandung Conference, have ‘sanctified’ a new approach to China’s cooperation with Africa. All three became heroes in their countries, and the Chinese leadership, headed by the then Secretary-General Hu Jintao, was not mistaken in the choice of a model: in the coming years China will most likely gain an economic foothold in Angola, South Africa and the Congo-Brazzaville state. According to the long-term president of this country Denis Sassou Nguesso, “Africans for the first time do not expect foul play from people with a different skin color who build their roads and power lines.” (Source: the book by French journalists Serge Michel, Michel Beuret “Cinafrica, Pechino qalla conquista del continente nero” – “Beijing in the process of conquering the black continent.” Milano, 2009, p. 23)

At present, Africa’s trade with China amounts to 220 billion dollars, with the US – 37 billion. Foreign direct investment from China to African countries is estimated at $ 50 billion, although many experts claim that the real figure is higher: too much infrastructure, new plants and modern services have appeared in Africa for such “modest” Chinese money. (Source: book by French journalists Serge Michel, Michel Beuret “Cinafrica, Pechino qalla conquista del continente nero” – “Beijing in the process of conquering the black continent.” Milano, 2009, p. 22).

It should be noted that Africa did its best to repay all their benefactors with loyalty: together with China, leaders of the African Union reacted negatively to the armed, violent overthrow of the leader of the African Union – Libyan Muammar Gaddafi. China knows that it can count on the majority of African votes in the UN. But the main thing is gratitude, which in the case of Africa-China relations is absolutely sincere.

First published in our partner International Affairs

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East Asia

The Uyghur militant threat: China cracks down and mulls policy changes

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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China, responding to United Nations criticism, academic and media reports, and an embarrassing court case in Kazakhstan, has come closer to admitting that it has brutally cracked down on the strategic north-western province of Xinjiang in what it asserts is a bid to prevent the kind of mayhem that has wracked countries like Syria and Libya.

The Chinese Communist Party’s Global Times charged in its Chinese and English editions that the criticism and reports were aimed at stirring trouble and destroying hard-earned stability in Xinjiang, China’s gateway to Central Asia and home to its Turkic Uyghur and ethnic minority Central Asian Muslim communities.

The crackdown, involving introduction of the world’s most intrusive surveillance state and the indefinite internment of large numbers of Muslims in re-education camps, is designed to quell potential Uyghur nationalist and religious sentiment and prevent blowback from militants moving to Central Asia’s borders with China after the Islamic State and other jihadist groups lost most of their territorial base in Iraq and Syria.

Concern that national and religious sentiment and/or militancy could challenge China’s grip on Xinjiang, home to 15  percent of its proven oil reserves, 22  per cent of its gas reserves, and 115 of the 147 raw materials found in the People’s Republic as well as part of its nuclear arsenal, has prompted Beijing to consider a more interventionist policy in the Middle East and Central and South Asia in contradiction to its principle of non-interference in the affairs of others.

The Global Times asserted that the security situation in Xinjiang had been “turned around and terror threats spreading from there to other provinces of China are also being eliminated. Peaceful and stable life has been witnessed again in all of Xinjiang… Xinjiang has been salvaged from the verge of massive turmoil. It has avoided the fate of becoming ‘China’s Syria’ or ‘China’s Libya,’” the paper said.

Five Chinese mining engineers were wounded last week in a suicide attack in the troubled Pakistan province of Balochistan, a key node in the US$ 50 billion plus China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) intended to link the strategic port of Gwadar with Xinjiang and fuel economic development in the Chinese region. The attack was claimed by the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) rather than Uyghurs.

The Global Times admitted that the Chinese effort to ensure security had “come at a price that is being shouldered by people of all ethnicities in Xinjiang.”

China has not acknowledged the existence of re-education camps but the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination said last week that it had credible reports that one million Uyghurs, were being held in what resembled a “massive internment camp that is shrouded in secrecy.”

The UN assertion of the existence of the camps is corroborated by academic research and media reports based on interviews with former camp inmates and relatives of prisoners, testimony to a US Congressional committee, and recent testimony in a Kazakh court by a former employee in one of the camps.

Writing in The Wall Street Journal, US Republican Senator Marco Rubio, the chair of the congressional committee, called for the sanctioning of Xinjiang Communist Party Secretary and Politburo member Chen Quanguo and “all government officials and business entities assisting the mass detentions and surveillance”. He also demanded that Chinese security agencies be added “to a restricted end-user list to ensure that American companies don’t aid Chinese human-rights abuses.”

Stymying the international criticism and demands for action before they gain further momentum is imperative if China wants to ensure that the Muslim world continues to remain silent about what amounts to a Chinese effort, partly through indoctrination in its re-education camps, to encourage the emergence of what it would call an Islam with Chinese characteristics. China is pushing other faiths to adopt a similar approach.

Concern that Uighur militants exiting Syria and Iraq will again target Xinjiang is likely one reason why Chinese officials suggested that despite their adherence to the principle of non-interference in the affairs of others China might join the Syrian army in taking on militants in the northern Syrian province of Idlib.

Syrian forces have bombarded Idlib, a dumping ground for militants evacuated from other parts of the country captured by the Syrian military and the country’s last major rebel stronghold, in advance of an expected offensive.

Speaking to Syrian pro-government daily Al-Watan, China’s ambassador to Syria, Qi Qianjin, said that China was ‘following the situation in Syria, in particular after the victory in southern (Syria), and its military is willing to participate in some way alongside the Syrian army that is fighting the terrorists in Idlib and in any other part of Syria.”

Chinese participation in a campaign in Idlib would be China’s first major engagement in foreign battle in decades.

China has similarly sought to mediate a reduction of tension between Pakistan and Afghanistan in an effort to get them to cooperate in the fight against militants and ensure that Uyghur jihadists are denied the ability to operate on China’s borders. It has also sought to facilitate peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban.

Chinese officials told a recent gathering in Beijing of the Afghan-Pakistan-China Trilateral Counter-Terrorism dialogue that militant cross-border mobility represented a major threat that needed to be countered by an integrated regional approach.

Potentially, there’s a significant economic upside to facilitating regional cooperation in South Asia and military intervention in Syria. Post-conflict, both countries offer enormous reconstruction opportunities.

Said Middle East scholar Randa Slim discussing possible Chinese involvement in the clearing of Idlib: “You have to think about this in terms of the larger negotiations over Chinese assistance to reconstruction. Syria doesn’t have the money, Russia doesn’t have the money. China has a stake in the fighting.” It also has the money.

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East Asia

Sino-American Strategic Rivalry

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From a strategy point of view, Clausewitz and Sun Tzu are similar in least in one respect: Sun Tzu’s idea of moving swiftly to overcome resistance is similar to the one endorsed by Clausewitz and practiced by Napoleon.

The modern day example can be traced to the 2003 “shock and awe” campaign by the U.S. in Iraq and the Iraqi reliance on a strategy similar to Russian defense against Napoleon’s attack in his Russian Campaign of 1812. Napoleon’s invasion of Russia was the beginning of the end of his ambition. He won many battles but lost the war.

And America is suffering from the same fate as the struggle for a new Iraqi political identity is not going to go the American way. The same can be said about Afghanistan.

This is precisely why discussions on war must be assessed from a geopolitical point of view as Clausewitz has noted that “war is an extension of politics”. And the reverse is also true, one may add.

A quick tour of modern history reveals the true winners and losers of wars, by comparing a country’s power before and after a war. The United Kingdom and Germany were both losers of the two World Wars. And the difference of losses between them is a matter of degree.

But the U.K. suffered greater and irreversible losses than Germany.  The British ceded its number one geopolitical leadership position in the world to the United States. But Germany has been able to regain its position as Europe’s great economic and political power, while the prospects of the U.K. taking back the world leadership position from the U.S. are next to none.

America has been a geopolitical winner overall since the two World Wars. But its power has been in relative decline. It has failed to advance its power after the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and most recently Syria. It has failed so far to advance the momentum created by the Arab Spring as it has since become the Arab Winter, or to make much headway in Latin America, in Ukraine, and in Africa.

America’s key failures in the past decade are failures in being able to offer tangible economic benefits to target countries while expanding its military involvements. The country can win military battles because of its overwhelming fire power but has not been successful in its after-war “nation building” efforts.

Despite China’s numerous shortcomings, many developing countries quietly wish they could become a mini-China economically. They want to live better with more consumption but they probably want to do it by being able to build up their country’s infrastructure and an industrial base.

America’s recent announcement that it will invest $113 million in technology, energy and infrastructure initiatives in the Indo-Pacific as part of a new strategy to deepen ties with the region has received jaw-dropping reception – sarcastically speaking.

As an example, a survey of North American light rail projects shows that costs of most LRT systems range from $15 million to over $100 million per mile. So how far $113 million or even $1.13 billion can go even if one is to factor in some discounts if projects are implemented in lower cost Indo-Pacific countries? Remember, $113 million is for countries as in plural!

This pales in comparison to China’s Belt and Road initiative (BRI) that ranges between $1 trillion and $8 trillion. BRI is not without its problems and critics. Concerns have been raised about increases in some participating countries’ level of national debt as a result of massive infrastructure building. But because of the scale of the initiative, even if it could only succeed at the lowest end of the range, would offer some real and substantial benefits to countries that can benefit from it.

While freedom and democracy are ideals that have universal support in the abstract – the key words here are “in the abstract” – successful nation-building efforts are realized in the nitty-gritty of people’s everyday economic well-being. This is particularly true among developing countries.

Cheap Chinese smart phones have enabled Africans to get market information to transact with one another more beneficially, to acquire news and information, to lower transaction costs through mobile payments. Inexpensive Chinese motor bikes have become life-saving vehicles for rural populations carrying goods to markets as well as the sick to clinics or hospitals many miles away that they previously could not do.

While the U.S. is no doubt keen on promoting democracy, it is the Chinese that provide affordable smart phones to the masses that allow the spread of information.

While some of the best and the brightest, the elites, the upper middle class in developing countries may desire to have an opportunity to earn an Ivey League degree, to emigrate to the U.S. for better opportunities, to acquire an American passport as an insurance policy, it’s the Chinese that are doing the grunt work of building and training local personnel to conduct trains, to train electrical power linemen to install and repair of overhead or underground power lines as well as to maintain and repair of other electrical and hydro-electrical subsystems and components.

Regardless of how one’s view of China’s strategic intents in its international involvements, the strategies between the U.S. and China cannot be more different. China builds and America destroys.

But many countries especially in the Indo-Pacific region are taking advantage of the rivalry between these two powers to extract the best deals for themselves and you can’t blame them. Economically they want to cooperate with China but militarily they want to get a free ride from the U.S. and the U.S. does not mind that as long as it falls within America’s China Containment strategy.

And time will tell which strategy will work better – economic cooperation or military encirclement?

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