For a period US has enjoyed its hegemony in the world in terms of politics, economic and military respectively. There was no other competitor but in 1980’s China started economic modifications by privatization of their industries, by which its Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) was increased. Till 2010, Chin was able to relocate other powers alike Europe and US. After China rise there was a relative decline of US hegemony and it is threat to US strategy “Pivot to Asia” in Asia Pacific. Now US has another competitor which is threat to its interests, resources as power is distributed now, no more on one pole. US claims that China has been pursuing its strategy, “String of Pearls”, to encircle US. Both states are orientated towards Asia Pacific as this region is full of resources and it is in their interests. Almost half of the world trade pass through Indian Ocean.
China has its Sea Line of Communication (SLOC) in IOR, which is coming from South China Sea by passing through Malacca strait and Indian Ocean get into Strait of Hormuz in Middle East. This SLOC is very crucial for China, as this is the only way through which China’s trade can pass through. Chinese economy is dependent on exports and if this SLOC block by US then in turn it will put catastrophic effect on China. Other challenges to this route in South China Sea (SCS) are; though whole ocean claim by China by 9 dash line but there are other states who claim over SCS and those states include; Philippine, Malaysia, Japan and Vietnam respectively.
Second biggest challenge for China is ‘first Island chain’, constituted by closed arc that runs through Japan to South Korea, Philippines to Malaysia and Indonesia, ultimately leading to strategically important Andaman & Nicobar Islands administered by India. This first island chain, as per Beijing, is used by USA & its allies to encircle and contain China. SCS is full of resources; hydrocarbons, oil, gas and fisheries etc. There are also Islands; first one is Spratly Islands like China there are other south east Asian states who are claimers including Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and to some extent Myanmar as well. Second Island is Paracel islands which are present in north of SCS. These islands are also disputed and the states who claim are; Taiwan, Vietnam and China.
Mostly only these two articles are discussed but there are other islands as well in SCS which are disputed. Other islands are Macclesfield Bank, it is situated in above sea level and its claimers are Taiwan, Philippines and China respectively. Fourth Island is Scarborough Shoal, on which there are same claimers as Macclesfield Bank. To tackle US, as she is supporting Southeast Asian states against China, China is building artificial islands at Spratly and paracel Islands, where Chinese have facilities like high frequency radar and satellites to counter US and its Southeast Asian allies.
American policy of Containment
America don’t want to see China as a hegemon or superpower that’s why US devised Policy of containment to make China fragile, fragmented so that it don’t get into competition with US and US enjoyed its hegemony in every sphere; military, politics and economy respectively. To contain China, US is doing efforts in term of military and diplomatic aspects. Wherever there is presence of China, US is also there for containing China. In 2012, Obama administration had announced the policy of “Pivot to Asia” in Asia Pacific.In SCS, US want to opt same containment policy for China which she had opted for containment of Soviet during Cold war era.US is making alliance which are proximate to China like South Korea and Japan but these both states have close economic ties with PRC. But during Cold war era US allies didn’t have ties with Soviet.Current confrontation between China and US is completely different from confrontation during Cold war era between Soviet and US. Still it’s not clear yet that to what extent US will be successful.
SCS is not just about to take over rocks, shoals or islands but to set a geopolitical context.US is making anti-coalition against China.US and its allies include South Korea, Japan, Australia and India.In Singapore, US don’t have permanent military base like Japan, where she has proper facilities but just Singapore will facilitate US military in any sort of crisis. States are also doing partnership with each other to tackle PRC. For example Australia and Singapore did a deal in term of training of soldiers, more enhanced intelligence sharing and in terms of that Singapore will expand almost ‘U$S 1.7 billion “and not only this but alongside US, Singapore is a country who is helping her in terms of development of military set-up.
There are three Circles of deterrence through which US is controlling China; First circle comprises of states which are near to China include; Japan, Taiwan and South Korea, where US has its military presence and facilities beside this she is also struggling for Naval base in “Subic bay” in Philippines. By encircling US has controlled China’s access to open sea. Second circle comprises of Hawaii and Guam respectively. Alaska and California constitutes third circle of US .It is a clear message to China that US has perceived threat and she is tackling China from starting. The US is playing its card very tactfully as she has trapped first those states which rely on US for their security purposes. Like South Korea, who is threaten from North Korea and to lower down it US is providing extended deterrence. Second state is Japan who is also relying on US for military assistance and third one is Taiwan who is completely against China, an unrecognized entity. She have de-facto status just because of United States of America. These states will always be ready for US to tackle China and in case of any conflict they will be there.
US has also done proper management of blocking Malacca strait which is very crucial passage for China. That’s why US’s Warships that will be located at Singapore and facilities will be provided to Philippines and Australia through US military. By doing so strait will be simply jammed. While coming to northern route which is Russia and it has been many years that US is trying to convince her that get into the campaign of anti-China with her and in turn US will provide concession in term of missile defence, economic and other financial issues. Up till now there is no progress on this matter. 
China’s ambitions and Challenges:
Chinese power struggle in SCS is only one aspect of its hegemonic patterns. . There are many political and lawful complications related to maritime which is a huge risk. To understand PRC ambitions, there are basically three aspects; first, one is its own perspective on present maritime conflict and to maintain its territorial integrity. Second aspect is its geo-political opposition with its major rival US and third aspect is devising such a policy or strategy to gain maritime power. China has also announced “maritime Silk route” in 2015 which is connecting Southeast Asian states to Mediterranean and PRC has invested US$40 billion. It was basically in the Chinese interest that through this route she will secure its strategic naval passages .PRC has also expanded this “maritime Silk route” project beyond its region to provide connectivity among Asia, Africa and European continent..But to what extent PRC will able to secure its national interests. It’s not clear yet.
To achieve these ambitions China is enhancing its maritime presence in SCS. In expanding its presence there are two dimensions which are under consideration first one is PRC’s enthusiasm and second dimension is its great regional patterns. In particular focus is given to its relations with US and other regional states like Vietnam and the Philippines are the obstacles in the way to get more legal maritime command.
To overcome such issues China is using amalgamation of approaches to adjust its expansion of naval control while taking its state interests under consideration.PRC is also collaborating with its regional neighbors and US to have constancy this is a sort of diplomacy and secondly PRC has also military capabilities to get control of maritime and to tackle its regional states which are against her and this will categorize in coercion. PRC is using this mixed approach to govern SCS and to protect its maritime integrity but hegemony of PRC in SCS is still difficult as she is still lagging behind US in term of defence and military.
China has devised three circle of policy to dominate SCS but it is long term goal. First circle of strategy include to advance its navy which will start from Japan, Taiwan and further extended till Philippines in 2010. Second circle of strategy is will be accomplished by 2025 and this comprises of “Sakhalin Islands” and will be extended till “south-west pacific”, and the third circle will be started from the “Aleutian Islands”, which is located in the north to “Antarctica” which is in the south and this will be accomplished by 2050.
Like other proximate states to SCS, China is also defending herself and to tackle crisis, PRC is playing its role but this is still not enough as it requires more modernized strategies according to particular circumstances.It can be said that though present capabilities are enough for its defence but not enough to become maritime power.US military capabilities are biggest challenge toPRC. Side by side PRC’s economy depends on its exports and the main SLOC which is coming from SCS then pass through strait of Malacca and around this strait US has its military presence and able to create blockade. It is another challenge for PRC. Its naval capabilities are still not enough to tackle such issues.US has large naval assets as compare to PRC
American Military deployment:
US has superiority in term of conventional naval build up in comparison to China. Though PRC is devising new strategies and modernizing its arsenals but still she is lagging behind. There are total six countries who are claiming on SCS and US is not categorized among them but she is here to achieve its own interests. The foremost interest of US is to contain China, anywhere in the World. To keep check on PRC, US states has carrier strike groups (CSG) in the Pacific region and US also said that their forces will sail and fly, wherever International Law permits. CSG has number of aircrafts which includes; “Super Hornet A F/A-18E” and a “nuclear-capable B-1B Lancer” in Guam .Secondly, the US’s “planned, nuclear-capable bombers” has significant contribution in its nuclear triad. Like plenty of “B-1Bs” which are in Guam guides a communication to the county.
In US Navy there are F-18 pilots that likely have supplementary carrier quays than the whole PRC’s navy collective. Airborne early warning and control planes like the “E-2 Hawkeye” planes are being controlled by “airborne early warning”, it used radars to keep check on enemy movement to secure its own navy. Along with aircraft carrier there is also “destroyer”. The US navy is very specialized as compare to other countries navies and pursuing a very serious task in SCS US has recently made combat ships, named “ the USS Coronado”. Though, It’s not similar an aircraft carrier, but it have grave air strength in the practice of a “MH-60S Seahawk” with identical fifty “capability door guns”. Beside military capabilities US has also partners around SCS which are making US‘s mission in SCS more successful. US Navy joined up with “Japanese self-defense forces” to exercise mission at artificial islands. US has also signed deal with Philippines to get five armed bases in Manila, Where US will able to deploy non- strategic forces and this will be in response to Chinese artificial islands in SCS
Recent American deployment of Ballistic Missile Systems (BMD) in South Korea & Japan to deal with North Korean missile system by USA. These defense systems can intercept incoming Chinese missiles also, thus undermining Beijing nuclear strike capabilities. It is also a huge threat to PRC.
Chinese military build up
China is dependent highly dependent on SCS as it is matter of life and death for her. To fulfill its interests China is also building its navy also called as “blue water navy”. China is increasing its military budget almost every year as this is the dire need of particular time and she has threat from most ambitious military forces of US. According to security watchdog, “IHS janes”, said that “PRC’s defence will continue to increase by 7% per annum”. Chinese army has number of up-to-date” destroyers, frigates and submarines” Whereas its one aircraft carrier, named, “Liaoning” is also operational this year along with three warships, it is a sort of message by PRC to US that she has also assets to tackle you. Another aircraft carrier will be indigenously made by PRC on the same pattern of Liaoning.
In SCS, PRC also deployed many other equipment to save its interests. Like she has plenty of “land based missiles” which can hit naval ships and sink them into sea. One of the name of land based missile is, “DF-21D” also known as ‘carrier destroyer”. Other missile name is, “DF-26C”, it has sufficient range to hit U.S. airbases on the island of Guam, which is situated in central pacific.China has also two nuclear powered submarines, named “Jin class “and these submarines are able to carry 2 ballistic missiles.
Chinese strategy of anti-access/area-denial (A2AD) is also threatening US and its allies. It is basically to restrict enemy so that they couldn’t able to hit strategic locations. China is also building artificial islands in spratly and Paracel islands, where she will have military facilities and equipment and these islands spanning acres of land. According to US military analyst, PRC build- up of artificial islands is categorized in contemporary warfare, where will be able to use intelligence sharing tools, surveillance system surprise and cyber outbreak and 3 airstrips as well to achieve geo-political goals. In these islands, PRC also stationed fighter jet, anti-ship missiles (ASHM) to meet any sort of crisis within no time. Though step not wouldn’t give any sort of additional privileges to PRC but it will further enhance its military aptitudes and make its grip stronger in SCS.
Chinese military competencies somehow improved in relative to US.As she is increasing its defence budget and also modernizing its arsenals and equipment side by side also trying to develop indigenous technology. In coming future China will have 2 to 4 aircraft carriers, on one aircraft carrier she is working and it would be indigenous. While coming to A2AD strategy of PRC, it is basically to contain US and its allies in Pacific region. It is intended to “deter and dissuade adversary”. PRC has taken many years to accomplish this strategy. It requires modern surveillance system which is intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and in this mechanism PRC is lagging behind. Other advancements include “cyber, air, missile and naval competences” and in near future if PRC effectively device this strategy than PRC will easily develop its space capabilities and after implementation it will be able to hit adversary’s “jets, aircraft carriers, submarines, missiles and information centers” as well. China has crudely 875,000 nautical sq. miles in its near seas area to display and regulate —expanding to another 1.5 million if the strategically important Philippine Sea becomes involved. Moreover, the seas tracks near PRC’s coast are some of world’s maximum traded by noncombatant ships making stalking and documentation more problematic. If strategy get operational than it will bring a shift in SCS and other areas of Asia pacific.
Other critical situation in SCS is, US deployment of “Terminal High Altitude Area Defense” (THAAD) in South Korea which is in response to North Korean missile competences as South Korea is US allies and through extended deterrence she has deployed this system. But in real this is not just due to North Korea but it is also to contain China in that region as THAAD can intercept Chinese missiles as well due to which there are huge repercussions on PRC. In future PRC might be came up with more progressive missile system. THAAD is not just a simple issue it can further destabilize the military balance in SCS which is already disturbed.
Japan is working on its self defence forces called as “JSDF”, to meet any aggression from china in SCS though PRC is far ahead in term of ships, personals etc. This force is basically to secure Japanese islands and adjacent seawaters. But to secure itself Japan would require huge defence budget, commitment and cooperation with US.China is facing dilemma of Malacca strait as its whole trade is dependent on it but in near future when CPEC get operational than PRC would have its back up and she will do trade through that route in case of any Malacca strait blockade from the side of US in South China Sea.
South China Sea is hub of resources and there is huge power struggle between US and China. US don’t want that another superpower came to challenge her. That’s why US is using mixed process of cooperation and coercion as well to tackle PRC.US is making alliance to encircle China and this is under its “policy of containment”. China is also replacing and modernizing its military equipment and facilities. From both states SCS become playhouse of battle. China considers that US is inspiring the coastal countries to take stand over its regional claims, and severely feel bitter about US’s perseverance that it has the correct to direct its spy ships to the control of PRC’s regional waters, which is 22km off its coast. US power hinge on the autonomy of navigation, both for its fleet and for marketable circulation through the marine. The SCS has become the trial of US’s deliberate “rebalancing” near Asia and of its inclination to guard its groups and allies from PRC’s victimization. The tit for tat mechanism in SCS can instigate the conflict in near future
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What position would Russia take in case of an armed conflict between China and US?
China and Russia have seen increasing interactions and closer bonds as they face amid US pressure. The trilateral relations of China, Russia and the US are of great significance in the international order. Ahead of the upcoming Putin-Biden summit, Global Times reporters Xie Wenting and Bai Yunyi (GT) interviewed Russian Ambassador to China Andrey Denisov (Denisov) on a range of issues including bilateral and trilateral relations, COVID-19, and many others.
GT: Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Joe Biden will meet in Geneva on June 16. What are your expectations for the meeting? How do you evaluate the possibility of improvement in Russia-US relations during Biden’s presidency?
Denisov: We are realists. We do not expect impossible outcomes. We welcome any measures that reduce tensions and competition, but we are very cautious about what we can expect from the Russian-American relations, especially in the context of the very tense relations between the two countries. The Geneva summit, the first meeting between the two leaders since Biden took office, is less likely to resolve important issues between the two countries. A better outcome, though, is that it sets the conditions for resolving problems in the future.
GT: Some analysts suggest the Biden administration may take measures to ease tensions with Russia in order to concentrate on dealing with China. Will this strategy alienate Russia from China and draw it closer to the US?
Denisov: This view is too short-sighted. It can’t happen. I think we’re smarter than what the Americans think.
GT: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited China after the China-US meeting in Anchorage, while China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi visited Moscow after a Russia-US foreign ministers’ meeting. Was the timing of these two visits deliberately arranged? What signal did this send?
Denisov: As for the timing, it was purely coincidental that the two visits followed the high-level talks between China and the US in Anchorage and between Russia and the US in Iceland. It takes time and technical preparation to arrange a visit at the level of foreign minister and above.
When Russia was preparing for Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s visit to China, it was not aware that senior diplomats from China and the US would meet in Anchorage. The same goes for Director Yang Jiechi’s visit to Russia.
But it is a good thing that these two diplomatic interactions came on the heels of Russia and China’s conversations with the US. It will give senior diplomats from both countries an opportunity to have an in-depth discussion on what has happened in previous meetings between China and the US and between Russia and the US.
GT: Do Russia and China coordinate and communicate with each other on their stance toward the US?
Denisov: A principle in international political exchanges is that the question of an absent third party should not be discussed in the exchanges. However, this principle is almost never observed. A case in point is US President Biden’s trip to the UK for the G7 summit. Although Chinese representatives will not be present at the meeting and will not be able to express their positions, the US has announced that it will discuss its policy toward China with its European Allies.
In this context, the US topic certainly occupies a place on the agenda of the meeting between senior Chinese and Russian diplomats. Although the last two visits were short and had limited agendas, the two sides discussed in great detail a range of topics, including some of the most pressing and acute issues in the current international situation. As a matter of fact, there is no content or topic that should be avoided in the political dialogue between Russia and China.
GT: Competition and confrontation between China and the US are escalating. If one day an armed conflict between China and the US happens, what position would Russia take?
Denisov: There will be no answer to this question because I am convinced that there will be no armed conflict between China and the US, just as there will be no armed conflict between Russia and the US, because such a conflict would exterminate all mankind, and then there would be no point in taking sides. However, if you are asking about the judgment of the international situation and major issues, then Russia’s position is clearly much closer to China’s.
In recent years, the US has imposed sanctions both on Russia and China. Although the areas and content of the US’ dissatisfaction towards Russia and China are different, the goal of the US is the same: to crush the competitor. We clearly cannot accept such an attitude from the US. We hope that the Russia-China-US “tripod” will keep balance.
GT: As far as you know, is President Putin scheduled to visit China this year?
Denisov: There is a possibility. Our high-level exchange plan includes President Putin’s visit to China, and both sides have the willingness. China hopes that President Putin will be the first foreign leader to visit China after the pandemic, while Russia also hopes that President Putin’s first state visit after the outbreak will be arranged in China. However, whether this arrangement can be implemented will depend on how the pandemic develops. While the two leaders have not exchanged visits in the past two years, they have spoken on the phone a number of times and the exchanges between Russia and China at the highest levels remain close.
GT: President Putin recently said that the US was wrong to think that it was “powerful enough” to get away with threatening other countries; a mistake, he said, that led to the downfall of the former Soviet Union. How do you comprehend President Putin’s words?
Denisov: Anyone who follows current US policy will not disagree with President Putin’s views. My interpretation of this statement is that President Putin is not “foreseeing” that the US will suffer the same fate as the Soviet Union, nor is he saying that he would like to see that happen. He is simply warning that the risk is real, but many American political elites have not yet fully realized it.
We cannot imagine a world without the US today. The US plays a big role in terms of economy, culture, science and technology, and we cannot deny this fact. But on the other hand, the US needs to recognize that it is not the only country in the world, and it needs to take into account and respect the realities and goals of other countries. President Putin is reminding the US not to make the mistakes of the Soviet Union.
GT: Many reports in recent years have said the US and some other countries are trying to incite a “color revolution” in China and Russia to create a “zone of geopolitical instability” around the two countries. Under the current situation, what kind of cooperation can China and Russia carry out?
Denisov: That is why I said that Russia and China are highly consistent in their judgment of the international situation. Both Russia and China follow the principle of non-interference in another country’s internal affairs, but in the past few years, we have witnessed “color revolutions” in many countries, which have led to domestic chaos. These “color revolutions” certainly have some domestic or local reasons, but they are always accompanied by the presence of external forces.
In order to prevent a third country from interfering in the internal affairs of Russia and China, we should jointly work out some “rules of the game,” especially in the field of information security so as to prevent some countries with more advanced information technology from imposing their own political agenda on other countries through IT technology.
Recently, a new phenomenon has emerged in the world: hybrid warfare (Hybrid warfare refers to a new type of warfare in the 21st century, which involves a mixture of conventional and non-conventional means. It is considered to be more varied and covert than conventional warfare.) In this field, the international community does not yet have the corresponding rules to restrict or regulate it.
On the one hand, it is the common concern of Russia and China to prevent their country from being invaded by bad information from the outside world. On the other hand, although Russia and China have sufficient capabilities and strong information networks to resist a “color revolution,” some countries and regions around us are relatively vulnerable in this regard, and external interference at the information level could easily lead to large-scale domestic turbulence [in these countries and regions]. The recent events in Belarus and what happened in Hong Kong two years ago are two examples. Therefore, to formulate common rules against “color revolutions” is also for the stability of more countries and regions.
GT: The West has been hyping up Russia and China’s so-called “vaccine diplomacy,” claiming that the two countries are pursuing geopolitical interests through vaccine exports and aid. What do you think of it?
Denisov: China has so far provided at least 350 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines overseas. Russia’s vaccines exports are not as large as China’s, but it has cooperated with 66 countries. San Marino has beaten the outbreak with Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine. At the same time, Russia has also taken the lead in proposing providing relevant technology and process support to help countries produce vaccines. So far, we have discussed relevant cooperation with 25 medical manufacturers from 14 countries.
We believe that the issue of mutual recognition of vaccines can best be addressed through multilateral platforms such as the WHO, as both Russian and Chinese vaccines may face difficulties in getting recognition. This is not because of the quality or protection rates of the Russian and Chinese vaccines, but because some competitors are very reluctant to allow Russian and Chinese vaccines into other countries. They will create artificial obstacles, including using political tools and unfair methods to achieve their goals.
The suggestion of “vaccine diplomacy” is one of the obstacles they create. Some countries with “vaccine nationalism” give priority to vaccinating their own population, which is fine in itself, but at the same time they are trying to discredit other countries’ vaccine aid and prevent Chinese and Russian vaccines from entering the market of third countries. This is not right. It is a typical “vaccine politicization.”
Besides, the West’s fabrication about the virus being a result of “a Chinese laboratory leak” is a classic case of politicizing the pandemic. These are very unfair political statements, which are not the right way to address this devastating human crisis.
GT: Some analysts said that there are considerable differences in terms of China and Russia’s strategic interests: Russia has little interest in maintaining the existing international order, while China, as the biggest beneficiary of the existing international order, only seeks to adjust the order. What do you think of this view?
Denisov: This is a rather black and white statement. It is also a radical view of the international situation, as if there are only two options before us: preserving the existing international order or destroying it. But that’s not the case.
Russia and China are both world powers and have their own interests at the global and regional levels. These interests cannot be identical in all cases. But on the whole, the international interests of Russia and China are the same, so our positions on most international issues are the same. The most obvious example is how we vote in the United Nations Security Council: Russia and China often cast the same vote at the Security Council.
The international order is not static. It not only evolves, but has recently accelerated its evolution. The international order needs reform to make it more responsive to today’s realities, but we cannot change it in a one-size-fits-all way.
I do not agree with the view that Russia and China have very different views on the reform of the international order. In fact, our positions on some of the most important issues are the same, and we just have different views on some specific details.
GT: This year marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China. How do you evaluate the CPC’s performance and achievements?
Denisov: Since I was assigned to work in Beijing in the 1970s, I have witnessed firsthand China’s development over the past half century. I have seen with my own eyes the tremendous progress China has made under the leadership of the Communist Party of China, and I have seen that China’s success is the result of many important factors, such as the dedication and diligence of the Chinese people and the right decisions made by the leadership.
For the CPC, this year is very important. In the future, China will welcome another 100th anniversary: the 100th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. Perhaps I will be too old to see what China will look like when that day comes. But I can imagine it, because in the course of China’s development over the past 50 years, I have seen the support of the Chinese people for the CPC as the ruling party, and the crucial role it has played in China’s achievements. I know there is a song in China that many people sing: “Without the CPC, there would be no New China.” I also want to take this opportunity to congratulate all Chinese people.
GT: We learned that some Russian people have negative views of the Soviet Communist Party and the Soviet Union. Will they equate the CPC with the Soviet Communist Party? Will this affect the current China-Russia relations?
Denisov: Russia is a big country and its people hold diverse views. I think the number of Russians who feel this way is very small.
Indeed, the Soviet era had many flaws, but people of my generation who actually experienced this era could still think of many good and positive things when they look back. Our poll shows that the negative attitude toward the Soviet Union is largely held by young Russians who were born after the collapse of the Soviet Union and did not see it firsthand. They had a different attitude towards the Communist Party, but it was more about the Soviet Union’s own policies at that time, not the Communist Party in general.
I also want to share a personal view on the Soviet Union and the Communist Party: If a figure like Deng Xiaoping had appeared in the Soviet Communist Party at that time, perhaps the course of our country’s development would have changed forever.
Recently, there have been a lot of discussions about state and different social systems. We have also found that the responses of different countries to the COVID-19 pandemic reflect the strengths and weaknesses of different social development models. Today, the Chinese economy has emerged from the crisis caused by last year’s epidemic, demonstrating the great vitality of China’s development model. This reminds me of a Chinese saying: Practice is the sole criterion for testing truth.
from our partner RIAC
“African Lion 2021”: More than military Show between the US and Morocco
On June 7th, 2021, Morocco, the US, and NATO began joint African Lion maritime drills in the Atlantic Ocean south of Morocco. This is a unique military cooperation between the three powers, which are all regarded by the United States as either competitors or antagonists. The military exercise is translated variously, yet, given that the Southern aquatic of Laayoune is an extremely sensitive waterway as it bonds to the Strait of Tarfaya, through which about a fifth of Africa’s trade corridors, the drill serves to sustain stability and security of the Moroccan Southern region along with a message that Spain is not isolated in foreign affairs. Last year, the Spanish meaninglessly pulled itself out of the “USAFRICOM” deal. Since then, waters around Spain have become the question of regional tension as the Kingdom of Morocco has cautioned the Spanish government against involving in Morocco’s Demarcation Maritimes borders.
However, as the strongest ally of Morocco, the US has sent two warships from its Atlantic Fleet – a frigate, a tanker, and a rescue tug boat – to take part in the drills, which were the first time being held in such a format. Now as America’s most important strategic partner, Morocco was also determined to join the training, as it sent a guided-missile warship to the naval drill. True, joint military exercise is a routine exchange with any other state since it is in line with related international laws and practices. But the naval drill of Morocco, the US, and NATO are sure to go beyond the normal military cooperation. Although Morocco claims that joint drill has no connection with regional situation, it affirms the will and capability of the three powers to jointly safeguard the peace and maritime security of the region and beyond.
As the two biggest alliance drills, The US and Morocco’s participation in the joint naval drills certainly signifies the emergence of a so-called “counter-coalition” to encounter the one that Algeria envisages creating. Some pessimistic reactions in Northern Africa have already tried to interpret this collaborative naval drill and their potential military cooperation as a threat to the peace and the balance of power in the region. The U.S. and its allies regularly hold joint military exercises all across the African continent at any given time of the year, which thus makes such occasions commonplace. Yet, France has mostly failed to promote peace and stability according to the resolution first approved by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). Most other states, except Spain, have shown their interests or even worries that their participation in the U.S.-led Military drills in north Africa will only heighten tensions in this geo-strategic region.
In addition, the US and Morocco’s military ties with France and Israel are not secret anymore, with America opening up a Training drone institute in Morocco, Morocco making an arms deal with Washington following The Agency of International Trade (ITA) reported that sales of military equipment to Morocco more than doubled in 2020, and both US and Morocco having participated in important arms exhibition in the UAE. Due to this fact, it is bizarre to describe triple drills as being aimed against any third party when they’re really just a drill of what could be described as a part of normal diplomacy, or put it simply, seeking diplomatic means through military ends.
Strategically, Washington and Rabat are keen to prove their pragmatic strategy to the North African region en bloc. For instance, the US and Morocco are not taking sides in the African Sahel conflict. This pragmatic approach could even be moving to a higher level whenever Morocco and the US can urge all parties to resolve their disputes through political means instead of military ones. However, for Washington and Rabat, the probable risks are both geopolitical and economic because of the presumed division of labor between the two ally powers under which the US takes responsibility for security in the region while Morocco focuses on socio-economic development.
It is highlighted that the US and Morocco both intend to show their sophisticated strategic partnership to a larger scope. First of all, the triple maritime drills which are labeled “African Lion Marine Security ” are aimed at implementing regional order and stability. To this end, the entire exercises are being practiced: reducing terrorism perils, carrying out rescue operations, and defense against attacks from pirates. The purpose is to learn as much as possible, mainly when it comes to preserving the security of international trade in the strategic regions and share experience in maritime rescue operations. Consequently, the US, Morocco, and NATO have a responsibility to ensure the strategic regions together. Secondly, the joint naval drills secure regional stability and order persistent with the United Nations’ 1982 Convention. As per this convention and as signatories, the US and Morocco refused the unilateralist concept that France is the region’s dominant maritime power. Freedom of Navigation also mentions vessels flying the flag of these sovereign states shall not suffer meddling from the French navy at will. Therefore, under the 1982 Convention and Freedom of Navigation, NATO non-ally can hold naval drills with the US and Morocco for exercising cross-military coordination, willingness, and information gathering. As Moroccan News outlet argues that the drills likewise adhere to International Maritime Law by helping Morocco, the US, and NATO to enhance collective security. It’s completely fine with the three powers regarding the joint drills as core to their security, mainly if it uses maritime forces to prevent terrorism risks.
To sum up, Morocco and the US can have their formalities for the drills as well. France quests to repel Washington’s maximum pressure attitude. The maritime exercise helps to argue that the U.S. has failed to isolate France strategically and militarily among Maghreb region. The Kingdom of Morocco says regional security has to be provided by regional states. The joint drills are in line with the concept of North Africa’s collective security efforts. Additionally, Morocco depends on regional stability for its geostrategic approach. In truth, France has failed to apply a binary containment policy toward Morocco and US in the North Africa. It couldn’t hinder the presence and influence of their maritime forces towards the region. Then again, the joint naval exercises bring a counterbalance against the U.S. with a message that in the year of “African Lion” 2021 and beyond, the three powers would be able to involve in similar joint military drills if need to be.
Hot air messaging: Iran floats reports of imminent Shanghai Cooperation Organization membership
Eager to enhance its negotiating leverage with the United States and Europe, Iran is projecting imminent membership of the China-led Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in much the same way it pushed the signing of a much-touted 25-year cooperation agreement with the People’s Republic that has yet to have any real legs.
Converting Iran’s SCO observer status into full membership is likely to be a long shot but would also constitute an important geopolitical victory for the Islamic republic in terms of its positioning vis a vis Russia, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia.
It could further kickstart putting flesh on the skeleton of the Chinese-Iranian cooperation agreement. Iran and China signed the agreement in March after a year of Iranian assertions that the accord was finally happening after first being plugged in 2016, so far largely remains a piece of paper with no practical consequence.
Founded in 2001, the SCO counts China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, India, and Pakistan as its members. Besides Iran, observers include Turkey, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, and Armenia.
Against the backdrop of improved relations with Iran, Tajikistan, the only non-Turkic state in Central Asia that four years ago opposed Iranian membership, has this time around taken up the Iranian cause as host of an upcoming SCO summit in the Tajik capital of Dushanbe in September.
“That Iran becomes a major member is among plans of the Shanghai Organization and if other countries are ready to accept Iran, Tajikistan will also be ready,” said Zohidi Nizomiddin, Tajikistan’s ambassador in Iran.
The SCO decides on membership by consensus rather than a majority vote.
Iran and Tajikistan agreed in April to establish a joint military defence and military committee that would further security cooperation between the two countries.
Tajik backing of the Iranian bid is driven in part by the fact that the landlocked country needs access to ports. Iranian ports, including sIndian-backed Chabahar at the top of the Arabian Sea, offer the cheapest and shortest transportation options.
That, in turn, enhances Iran’s potential attractiveness to the Belt and Road, China’s infrastructure, transportation, and energy-driven initiative to connect the Eurasian landmass to Beijing.
The SCO has long been able to sideline the Iranian bid for membership on the grounds that it does not qualify as long as it was sanctioned by the United Nations. The UN sanctions were lifted after the signing of a 2015 international agreement that curbed Iran’s nuclear program.
Former US President Donald J. Trump withdrew from the accord in 2018 and Iran has since gradually moved away from compliance with its obligations under the agreement. The United States and the other signatories, including Iran, have been negotiating a US and Iranian return to the agreement since US President Joe Biden came to office in January.
Revival of the accord would involve lifting of US sanctions imposed since 2018 by the Trump administration. China, while frequently skirting US sanctions, has been careful not to run afoul of the United States with regards to Iran.
Sanctions likely were a convenient way of deferring the Iranian membership application. China and the SCO have multiple reasons to refrain from entertaining an Iranian bid.
Having learnt a lesson from allowing India and Pakistan to become members without some resolution of their differences, China and the SCO are unlikely to want an admission of Iran without at the same time inviting Saudi Arabia. Beijing and the group, moreover, would not want to give Iran a de facto veto over membership of its archrival.
The same may be true concerning Iran and Turkey. Turkey has exploited last year’s Azerbaijani victory in its Caucasus war against Armenia to expand relations with the four Turkic Central Asian republics, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan.
China has so far refrained from comment on reports that appear to be Iranian in origin about Iran being on the verge of SCO membership.
It is a pattern that fits the evolution of the 25-year Iranian Chinese cooperation agreement with one difference. Iran and China were able to sign an agreement without having to act on it. That formula will not work with the SCO. Iran is either a member or it isn’t.
China furthermore appears in contrast to the Iranian push for the cooperation agreement less interested in exploiting Iran’s SCO public diplomacy to send discreet messages to Washington and Riyadh.
Nonetheless, the experience of the cooperation agreement suggests that there is mileage for Iran in hot air messaging even if potential membership is not generating beyond Iranian media the kind of headlines that the 25-year accord did.
As a result, Iran wins irrespective of whether or not it becomes an SCO member in a matter of months.
For one, like with the cooperation agreement, it projects a greater tightening of relations with China than may be the case. It does so at a time that the United States and other Western nations are taking China to task for its aggressive policies and human rights abuses.
Reporting on potential membership of the SCO further counters the Western narrative that Iran is internationally isolated.
Analysts note that the cooperation agreement was signed just before the United States announced that it was about to enter into talks with Iran on a return to the nuclear agreement. Iran appears to be banking on a similar sequence of events before the SCO summit in September.
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