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The South China Sea: What’s Really at Issue

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The South China Sea is basically China’s export waterway to Africa and to Europe (among other markets), but in order for China’s enemy (aspiring conqueror), America, to harm and weaken China maximally, and to use the United Nations assisting in that aggression, America and its allies have cast this vital trade-waterway as being instead basically just an area to be exploited for oil and gas, and minerals, and fishing. The American Government’s aggression — its effort to strangulate China’s international commerce — thus becomes ignored by the U.N., which is consequently handling the entire issue under its law which pertains to a nation’s (China’s) rights to exploit the natural resources of and under a given waterway. 

The international legal issue, which is being applied, is therefore the 1982 U.N. Convention on Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). This treaty (law) has been ratified, or at least signed, by all countries except the United States, whose hold-out for 12 years had blocked the Convention even from coming into effect. Then, finally (when Guyana, on 16 November 1993, did, after so much delay, become the requisite 60th country to ratify the Convention, so as to bring it into actual effect), the U.S., on 29 July 1994, went through the mere formality of signing the Agreement, because Part XI of the Convention (“to authorize seabed exploration and mining and collect and distribute the seabed mining royalty”) had, by this time, become modified, to the satisfaction of Exxon and other U.S. oil-and-gas corporations, so that U.S. President Bill Clinton had UNCLOS signed by the U.S. — but not sufficiently satisfied to have it ratified by the U.S., which nation therefore still remains the lone holdout amongst the 179 U.N. member nations that had been invited to join it. (Some countries are entirely landlocked.) So, ironically, the lone holdout-nation, U.S., is now militarily threatening China (one of the Convention’s actual member-nations), for its allegedly violating that Convention, in regard to what is, in fact, China’s essential exportation (and importation) waterway, even more important to China than its being a potential Chinese natural-resource asset.

Furthermore, China has long wanted to reduce much of its need to ship through the South China Sea, by means of building what for China would be equivalent to what the Panama Canal is for the U.S., but this new canal would be located in Thailand, which America conquered in its 1948 coup — the CIA’s first. If built, this Thai Canal would significantly reduce China’s costs of importing oil from Iran and Arabia, as well as its costs of exporting goods to India, and to Europe and Africa. Therefore, the U.S. regime is willing to pay whatever the cost might be in order to bribe Thai leaders to continue saying no to that canal-proposal. (But, will China ultimately outbid America? There is a tug-of-war in Thailand about whether to participate in China’s proposal.)

The U.S. thus blocks China, both via the UNCLOS, and via China’s main potential method of avoiding its need to rely so heavily upon its usage of the South China Sea — the Thai Canal.

This is consequently a good example of how the imperialistic U.S. Government, which is uniquely hostile toward the United Nations, nonetheless exploits the U.N., and yet still receives deferential treatment from it — so that the U.S. can actually use the U.N. as a tool to advance its own imperialistic objectives of conquering yet more territory, additional vassal-nations or ‘allies’. 

The U.N. is, furthermore, exceptionally proud of its achievement in having finally passed UNCLOS into international law. As it says, “‘Possibly the most significant legal instrument of this century’ is how the United Nations Secretary-General described the treaty after its signing.”

None of this can be understood outside the context of international law itself, which is tragically corrupt, as a result of the following history, the backstory here:

Though the U.N. was invented and even named by America’s President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR), he died just before it started, and his successor Harry S. Truman shaped it by modifying FDR’s plan, so that the U.N. would gradually fail, and, instead, the U.S. Government would itself emerge effectively as being the global government over all other governments — America’s Government would become a global dictatorship over nations, instead of the U.N. coming into existence as the global democratic republic of nations (FDR’s U.N.) that FDR had aimed for it to be, controlling international relations after World War II, in such a manner as to prevent a WW III. 

We thus live in Truman’s post-WW-II world, definitely not in FDR’s.

After World War II (in which the U.S. and UK were allied with the U.S.S.R. against the fascist powers that had invaded countries which had not even been threatening them), America soon launched a string of coups and invasions — overthrowing and replacing governments that hadn’t even posed any threat, at all, to America’s national security — and the world thereby became increasingly accustomed to the fact that America’s military and CIA are, in fact, the world’s new invading military force, replacing Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and the Emperor’s Japan, in that capacity, as international dictators. (That’s something which FDR had been planning to prevent any nation from being.) The first four U.S. coups were against Thailand in 1948, Syria in 1949, Iran in 1953, and Guatemala in 1954; and each American coup replaced a moderate leader with a brutal fascist regime, crushing democracy there. (The U.S. takeover in Syria lasted only a few years.) America also engaged in numerous outright military invasions, many of them using hired proxy forces (U.S.-funded mercenaries), instead of using U.S. soldiers, as being the U.S. regime’s “boots on the ground,” to do the actual killing and dying. America thereby became the invading country throughout the world, which is what the fascist powers had been in World War II. 

The post-WW-II America thus emerged as standing above international law, ever since the 1945 end of WW II. In effect, America’s Government has internationally become the world’s government — by force of arms. Other countries are subject to international law, but the U.S. is not. The U.S. has emerged as the international empire, taking over, and dominating, in more and more countries, until it now openly demands compliance from all countries, and even threatens Iraq’s Government, that if Iraq tries to expel the U.S. occupying forces, the U.S. will permanently destroy Iraq

America’s imperialist fascism has become so bold, for so long, so that news-media don’t even report it. If one lays a WW II ideological template over the world’s nations today, then today’s U.S. and its allies are much more fitting the mold and form of the Axis powers, than of the Allied powers; but, this time, instead of there being Germany and its allies as the imperialistic fascists, we today have America and its allies, as constituting the imperialistic fascist nations. America assumed this role gradually, first as that role was ‘justified’ supposedly as being an ideological contest between democracy versus communism (which, on the U.S. side, was merely an excuse, not an authentic explanation); but, then, increasingly, without any such ideological excuse, as being, simply, America’s alleged ‘superiority’ (such as the recent U.S. President, Barack Obama, repeatedly asserted, that “The United States is and remains the one indispensable nation,” which means that every other nation is “dispensable”; only America is not). It is now as flagrant with America as it had been with Hitler’s Germany (“Deutschland über alles,” etc.). The gloves have finally been taken off, by today’s U.S. imperialist fascist regime. The U.S. even has the world’s highest percentage of its own population being in prisons, a higher imprisonment-rate than that of any other country. This is very appropriate for the world’s most totalitarian country. So, the dictatorship isn’t only international — it is even intranational, inside the U.S. And it very much is in control over the nation’s news media. It’s a two-Party dictatorship.

When U.S. President FDR died as WW II was ending, his dream for the future was that America and its allies in WW II would create a democratic super-nation controlled by all nations, a United Nations that would have the military force throughout the world to enforce international laws, which would be made democratically by the U.N., through its Security Council and General Assembly. But, nowadays, instead, the U.S. and its allies are free to invade anywhere they wish, and — unlike what happened to the fascist leaders during WW II — the U.S.-and-allied leaders get away with it, and they aren’t even charged by the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court. They stand above international law: precisely the sort of situation that FDR had aimed to prohibit.

For example, one of America’s allies — and thus immune to international  law — is Israel; and, on September 3rd, the international news site South Front headlined “Israeli Forces Rain Down Missiles on Syria”, and reported that:

The Israeli Air Force conducted a second round of missiles strikes on Syria in less than a week.

Late on September 2, Israeli warplanes launched missiles at the T4 airport in the province of Homs. According to Syria’s state media, the strikes were conducted from the direction of the US-controlled zone of al-Tanf on the Syrian-Iraqi border. Syrian pro-government sources claimed that a large part of the missiles was intercepted. …

The most recent previous Israeli strike on Syria took place on August 31 targeting the countryside of Damascus city and the province of Daraa.

Syria does not invade Israel, but Israel routinely invades Syria, and long has done so — and yet Israel’s leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, is not being strung up and executed by an international criminal court, like the leaders of Germany and Japan were supposed to have been, after WW II. That Judgment at Nuremberg, and similar trials against some of Japan’s leaders, were actually only victors’ ‘justice’ against some of Germany’s and Japan’s leaders, but (at the time) the victorious Allies claimed it to be the start of international justice, and to be the enforcement of international law — even though the trials were held only against Germany’s and Japan’s leaders, but not also against Italy’s. (Italy had signed with the Allies the Armistice of Cassabile surrendering on 8 September 1943, and this was part of that deal — Italy’s Government wasn’t quite as horrific as the other two, which held out till the bitter end.) These trials were prosecuting against “aggressive war”: the charge was that the imperialistic fascists had invaded countries that hadn’t invaded them — exactly what the U.S. and its allies constantly and now routinely do, after WW II (overthrowing and replacing governments that had not even so much as threatened the U.S. and its allies). 

The U.S. and its allies are today’s imperialistic fascists, and the U.N. can do nothing against them. The U.N. can do nothing against the leaders of America and its allies for doing what had been done by the leaders of Germany and Japan during WW II. 

Hitler’s and Hirohito’s spirits thus now rule in the self-styled (but now only formally) ‘democratic’ countries, whose rulers reign with far nicer rhetoric — far more hypocrisy — than their 1930s fascist predecessors had done. And the U.N. is dead, because it became created by Harry S. Truman, instead of by FDR.

Consequently, let’s consider, in more depth here, the example of China:

China is a communist country, but its communism is drastically changed from the time when Mao Tse Tung founded it, and its Marxism is unrecognizable, no longer a “dictatorship by the proletariat,” but instead one-Party rule by a Party that anyone, of any economic class, is invited to join, and which is widely considered by the Chinese people to be a “democracy.” (A far larger percentage of Chinese consider their Government to be a “democracy” than the percentage of Americans who consider America’s Government to be a “democracy.” Chinese don’t consider the number of political parties to be any indication of whether the nation is a democracy as opposed to a dictatorship. They are correct in that. In fact: America’s own Founders had aimed to be creating a nation which would have no parties at all.)

FDR made a clear distinction between a national democracy and an international democracy. He believed that international relations should be an international democracy of independent nations that deal with each other on a cooperative instead of coercive basis, and that international laws should govern this, coming from and being enforced by the United Nations. By contrast, national democracy was to be a choice that only the people within a given nation should determine, and the U.N. should have no relevance to, or control over, that. “Human rights” are individuals’ rights, and are an internal matter within each nation, whereas the rights of nations are very different, and are the purview exclusively of the U.N., as FDR was planning it. This was how he planned for there to be a post-WW-II world which would have no World War III.

By contrast, today’s U.S. regime claims, for example, the authority to dictate what countries should control which international waterways. This is clearly infringing on the U.N.’s area of authority; and, so, Truman’s U.N. has no control over the matter, though it does have vague laws which pertain to it. Today’s U.N.’s laws ignore one cardinal position — a cardinal geostrategic principle, the Westphalian principle — that FDR and the Soviet Union’s dictator, Joseph Stalin, agreed upon and which Winston Churchill opposed: the view that each of the major world powers should be allowed to intervene in the internal affairs of a foreign nation only if that foreign nation is on its borders or at least nearby (which was undefined). This was the Westphalian system, but enhanced so as to be explicitly anti-imperialistic, because both FDR and Stalin believed that both World Wars had resulted from imperialism. Both leaders rejected imperialism but accepted that there exists a distinction between major and minor powers, such that the nearby surrounds of a major power need to be entirely nations that are allied with that major power, or, at least not hostile toward it — not allied with any major power that is hostile toward itself. In other words: both men rejected Churchill’s demand that empires be allowed, which could extend beyond a major world power’s own “neighborhood.” Churchill wanted to continue the British Empire. Truman accepted Churchill’s view, and rejected the view of both FDR and Stalin. Consequently, Truman and Churchill agreed together to move forward toward an all-encompassing U.S.-UK Empire. (Though, nominally, the Westphalian principle had already become a part of the U.N.’s subsequent Charter — because of FDR — as being Chapter 1, Article 2, Paragraph 7, it was ignored from the outset, and the U.N. organization itself became set up so as to hide the entire Charter from the public. The numerous deficiencies in the Charter — such as its failure to include any clause describing a process by which the Charter could be amended — thus have likewise been hidden from the public, and not debated, nor discussed; and, thereby, the U.S. and UK have been able to have their way: the system for future global dictatorship was thus born.)

Consequently, geostrategic issues were prohibited by the U.S. regime from being subjects of international law. Though international law allowed vague references to “aggressive war,” simply because FDR’s U.S. had already established the system to pursue and hang German and Japanese leaders for their having done that, the concept of “aggression” became smudged in international law, instead of defined; and, so, aggression is practically absent as a topic of international law as it currently exists. This is how the South China Sea issue came to be treated only as being an issue of natural-resource rights. The U.N.’s Charter is essentially irrelevant to what is the most important. (Even its Westphalian clause — which is only the original, weaker, empire-accepting, form of Westphalianism — is irrelevant, since it’s ignored.)

China’s ability to ship its products westward via the South China Sea is crucial to China’s economy. Consequently, the imperialist fascist regime and its allies are trying to reduce that ability. Because this is Truman’s, instead of FDR’s, post-WW-II world, the existing relevant international laws lack sufficient clarity, and the U.S. and its allies can, under existing law, gradually choke-off China’s exports.

Katherine Morton’s 20 July 2016 article, “China’s ambition in the South China Sea”, in the journal International Affairs, argues that China’s ambition in the South China Sea is primarily driven by China’s thousands-of-years-old commercial policy, of being a maritime nation, a nation whose economy is based upon international trade. This is not imperialistic, but it instead concerns international rights that every nation ought to have. (Until 1912, China was ruled by imperialistic Emperors, but afterwards it was no longer imperialistic and has instead been defending itself against imperialistic powers.) Morton argues that China’s objective is not any grand design to achieve maritime hegemony — such as the U.S. regime has, and such as England, Holland, Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, Germany, and Japan, previously had done. It’s not imperial rule over countries that aren’t in their own neighborhood. It’s not conquest; it is instead self-defense. America and its allies do the coups, invasions, and international economic sanctions (economic blockades, even), but China does not. That, basically, is Morton’s argument (though she doesn’t put it in those clear terms). She says that China’s “attention is primarily focused upon demonstrating political resolve to defend China’s maritime periphery. Yet conclusive evidence that the Chinese leadership is intent upon dominating the South China Sea for the broader purpose of building a Sino‐centric maritime order in east Asia is difficult to find.” (The obtuseness — if not self-contradictoriness — of her writing might be due to her desire not to offend the U.S. regime’s own imperialistic sensibilities. Such a style is common amongst international-affairs scholars in the U.S.-and-allied world.)

However, the U.S. regime claims that China, instead of America, is the imperialistic power. The U.S. regime, as usual, claims to have the international right to enforce its will in international affairs anywhere on the planet. Sometimes, today’s U.N.-based international laws are in favor of outcomes that the U.S. regime wants. Thus, we have the matter of the South China Sea, where the U.N. body, UNCLOS, ruled on 12 July 2016 that the only relevant question is which nation is the nearest to a given part of a waterway (so as to have the right to explore and exploit there). The international laws by today’s U.N. ignore geostrategic issues, such as both FDR and Stalin wanted to include in them, but Churchill and Truman wanted international laws to ignore such matters so that UK and now U.S. could jointly pursue world-conquest. Since the UNCLOS ruling in 2016 opposed China’s claims, by ignoring its major-power concerns about its self-defense, the U.S., under the hyper-aggressive ruler, Donald Trump, recently came out publicly committed to enforcing that 2016 ruling by the U.N. body. On September 1st, Reuters headlined “Special Report: Pentagon’s latest salvo against China’s growing might — Cold War bombers”, and reported that:

On July 21, two U.S Air Force B-1B bombers took off from Guam and headed west over the Pacific Ocean to the hotly contested South China Sea. The sleek jets made a low-level pass over the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and its escorting fleet, which was exercising nearby in the Philippines Sea, according to images released by the U.S. military. The operation was part of the Trump administration’s intensifying challenge to China’s ruling Communist Party and its sweeping territorial claims over one of the world’s most important strategic waterways. While senior Trump officials launch diplomatic and rhetorical broadsides at Beijing, the U.S. Defense Department is turning to the firepower of its heavily armed, long-range bombers as it seeks to counter Beijing’s bid to control the seas off the Chinese coast. …

The U.S. Army also intends to spread forces through the first island chain and other outposts in the Western Pacific. It is planning a series of major exercises this year and next where troops would deploy to islands in the region, according to senior commanders and top Pentagon officials.

The U.S. regime is using, as its excuse, its backing the territorial claims of what it claims to be its ‘allies’ against China — such as Vietnam. Meanwhile, the regime is applying diplomacy and other means, in order to encourage those ‘allies’ to insist upon, and not to compromise or weaken, those claims. Vietnam quickly responded to America’s active backing, by “Vietnam Threatens China with Litigation over the South China Sea”.

What’s at issue there is underwater oil-and-gas exploration-and-development rights of the various nations’ corporations. If China truly does not place its corporations’ commercial interests above the Chinese nation’s self-defense interests, then it will sacrifice the former for the latter, and it will cede those other nations’ rights to exploit that oil and gas, and will settle with its neighbors, for an agreement by all of America’s ‘allies’ to support and endorse China’s rights to traverse unimpeded through those waterways.

If the U.S. regime then would continue its heavy military fortifications surrounding China, then China would (in accord with its agreements that it will have reached with Vietnam and those other neighboring nations) be receiving, from those nations’ endorsements of China’s rights in that regard (for China’s self-defense), and from those nations’ public requests for U.S. forces to depart from their region, support for China’s shipping rights, which would be at least as valuable to China as whatever the natural resources there are worth.

In regards to the 12 July 2016 ruling by UNCLOS, it concerned specifically the case between China and the Philippines, and it presented the Philippines’ challenging China’s claims, which claims were/are based on arguments such as (regarding “Scarborough Shoal”) that “Since the Yuan Dynasty, the Chinese people have never stopped developing and exploiting Huangyan Island and its surrounding waters and the Chinese government has exercised effective management and jurisdiction over their activities all these years.” The ruling replied to that assertion by saying, “The Tribunal’s conclusions with respect to” that area are “independent of the question of sovereignty.” But, whatever the ruling was based upon, what’s relevant here is that the U.S. Government has no right to be sending its warships and other weapons into the South China Sea in order to ‘enforce’ UNCLOS’s ruling. And whatever China’s claims are or were in this matter, they cover(ed) a very large area, which encompasses almost all of the South China Sea — it encompasses the area that’s within the “nine-dash line”, which is shown here in green. Although UNCLOS (actually the U.N.-authorized body that administers it, the International Seabed Authority) is legitimately involved in this matter; the U.S. Government is the opposite: it is instead an international-law violator and has no right to be involved, at all, and is illegally throwing its weight around where it doesn’t belong and should be expelled — and would be expelled if this were FDR’s U.N., instead of Truman’s U.N.

Another way that Truman’s U.N. helps the U.S. regime geostrategically against China is the issue of Hong Kong — an internal Chinese matter, which wouldn’t even be a U.N. concern if the U.N. had been created instead by the U.N.’s inventor, FDR. (Even the original, weaker, form of the Westphalian principle — the version that’s in the U.N.’s Charter — would prohibit outside involvement in this matter.) As Reuters headlined on September 3rd, “U.N. experts decry Hong Kong security law in open letter to China”. Any U.N. that gets involved in any nation’s internal affairs, and in such things as ‘human rights’, should be simply dissolved, because it is advancing imperialism, instead of preventing it.

Basically, today’s U.N. is just a talking-forum, a PR vehicle for its member-nations; but, actually, at the deepest level, it’s a propaganda-agency for imperialism. That’s what it was designed for. 

If China can win the support of its neighbors in the region to kick America out, then the sacrifice of such assets as oil and gas there would be a relatively inconsequential price for China to pay. Unfortunately, today’s U.N. must be eliminated and replaced by one that builds upon FDR’s intentions, because today’s U.N. — Truman’s U.N. — is exactly the opposite.

America’s having its weaponry and forces on and near China’s borders is even worse than when in 1962 the Soviet Union placed its forces in Cuba — and nearly precipitated WW III. America has no right to be there. And today’s U.N. has no justification to continue its existence — a replacement of it is direly needed.

Details of the existing U.N.’s deficiency in the present situation will here be summarily stated: UNCLOS asserts: “Every State has the right to establish the breadth of its territorial sea up to a limit not exceeding 12 nautical miles.” That’s the outermost limit of any coastal nation’s “sovereignty.” Furthermore: “Non-compliance by warships with the laws and regulations of the coastal State. If any warship does not comply with the laws and regulations of the coastal State concerning passage through the territorial sea and disregards any request for compliance therewith which is made to it, the coastal State may require it to leave the territorial sea immediately.” But Truman’s U.N. possesses no military force of its own and therefore that “coastal State” is provided no protection by today’s U.N. Furthermore: UNCLOS even allows an enemy nation’s naval vessels into that 12-mile limit, but “submarines and other underwater vehicles are required to navigate on the surface and to show their flag.” There is no limit upon how near the shore an enemy’s warships are allowed to come. Yet the U.S. violates UNCLOS routinely. What military force exists against its doing so? What legal tribunal exists that covers this? Furthermore: The agreement by FDR and Stalin, that any major world power needs to have some sort of right to veto or block any nearby nation from coordinating with any other major power that is hostile toward that given major world power, is entirely absent from the existing U.N. — existing international law. Consequently, for example: The U.S., under JFK in 1962, was acting in violation of the subsequent 1982 UNCLOS, when he ordered the Soviet military to depart from Cuba — that was beyond the 12-mile limit. Existing international law has to be replaced. It ignores essential geostrategic concerns to prohibit imperialism and to minimize any likelihood of a WW III. It needs to be replaced.

And that’s not the only reason why the current system of international laws needs to be replaced. The existing international dictatorship, which is the U.S. regime, is even more conservative than is Truman’s U.N. For example: As of October 2019, there are 37 “Treaties Pending in the Senate” (the U.S. Senate). These U.N.-backed treaties all are of a progressive nature, asserting the rights of workers and obligations of employers, etc.; and, in fact, the first three of these treaties deal specifically with workers’ rights. The earliest of them, activated in 1949, is the “International Labor Organization Convention No. 87 Concerning Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize, adopted by the International Labor Conference at its 31st Session held at San Francisco, June 17 – July 10, 1948 (Treaty Doc.: Ex. S, 81st Cong., 1st Sess.); submitted to Senate August 27, 1949.” President Truman could not get Republicans to back it, because they opposed workers’ rights. They still do, and the Treaty still isn’t joined by the U.S. regime. Indeed, as Roncevert Ganan Almond noted, in his 24 May 2017 article in support of “U.S. Ratification of the Law of the Sea Convention”, “Even treaties that flow from American leadership, in areas like protecting rights for persons with disabilities, are rejected.” They’re always being rejected by Senate Republicans. (Truman, of course, was a Democrat; and, on most issues, the leadership of that Party is less conservative than is the leadership of the Republican Party.) Thus, though Truman’s U.N. is conservative, it isn’t as conservative as is the U.S. regime itself, which is even more conservative than Truman himself was. Physically, Hitler and Hirohito lost WW II; but, spiritually, they turned out to have won it. The reason is that FDR tragically died too early.

Author’s note: first  posted at Strategic Culture

Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010

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The Demise of a French Sub Deal: Is China a Threat?

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The conflict between emerging and existing powers is almost as old as time.  Labeled the Thucydides Trap, it first recounted the 5th century BC Peloponesian war and its inevitability as Sparta, the dominant power, feared the rise of Athens.  Is something similar about to transpire between the US and China?

The latest war of words is about nuclear submarines.  When armed with ballistic missiles, they become a hidden mortal danger.  So the US also deploys nuclear attack submarines which shadow rival nuclear ballistic submarines … just in case.

Australia was in the process of acquiring 12 French conventional attack submarines (a deal worth $37 billion) when the US and UK stepped in with the AUKUS deal.  Intended to counter China, it offers Australia  advanced nuclear propulsion systems and an opportunity to construct nuclear subs of their own with the technology transfer.  Australia will then become the seventh country in the world to build and operate nuclear submarines.

The fear of the ‘yellow peril’ is ingrained in the Australian consciousness from the days when they were afraid of being swamped by Chinese immigrants.  It led to restrictive immigration policies for non-whites. 

Much of the concern with China is due to the forceful nature of Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s policies.  In Xinjiang the Uyghur population is a minority in its home province due to the influx of Han Chinese.  Moreover, Uyghurs feel discriminated against, in jobs and the progress they can make.  Some have rebelled causing many to be put in re-education camps where there are tales of torture although denied by Chinese authorities.  Biden has declared it a genocide and introduced sanctions on leading Chinese officials there. 

China’s proactive foreign policy, renewed interest in Afghanistan, its warships patrolling all the way across the Indian Ocean to Africa are further evidence.

The new Afghan leaders, at least many of them, spent their exile in Pakistan giving the latter influence with the new government.  And Pakistan is effectively a Chinese client state.  The mineral wealth of Afghanistan, if it is to be developed, is thus likely to include Chinese help.

The UN General Assembly holds its first debate of the new session on the third Tuesday of each year; the session then runs through to the September following.  As leaders converge, one of the questions being asked of those involved in AUKUS is how they are going to pacify an angry France.  It has recalled its ambassadors from Australia and the US — in the latter case a move without precedent in almost 250 years of diplomacy.

If the French feel the Australians have been duplicitous, the Australians for their part claim they are obligated to do the best for the people who elected them.  The new deal brings jobs, technology and a greater role for Australia in dealing with an increasingly powerful China

It would be a great shame if the West in trying to shore up its interests in the Indo-Pacific region loses a crucial ally — France — at the very least in wholehearted support.  Is Mr. Xi smiling and quoting some ancient Chinese proverb, perhaps Lao Tzu, to his colleagues?   

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Japanese firms’ slow and steady exit is sounding alarm bells in Beijing

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Last year in March, former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had indicated Japan would initiate measures to reduce the country heavily relying on China for factory production. Since July 2020, Japan has rolled out subsidies totaling over 400 billion Yen to move its enterprises out of China to Southeast Asia and beyond. It is yet to be seen if the scale of incentives has actually triggered a major change in where Japanese companies relocate production.  On the other hand, experts in China continue to wonder why would Japanese companies which are on average making 17% profit diversify into the ASEAN nations, where in 2019, their rate of return on direct investment was a mere 5%?

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In less than ten days, Japan is going to have a third prime minister within a short span of twelve months. On September 1 last year, when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe resigned on health grounds, Yoshihide Suga was chosen as Abe’s successor. At the time, China’s leadership did not show any worrying signs as the new Japanese leader was expected to continue with the foreign policy of the previous government. But one year later, Suga’s unexpected departure is leaving Japan’s diplomatic relations with China considerably strained over Taiwan. Yet the leadership in Beijing is not going to lose sleep over the next prime minister’s public stance on the Japan-Taiwan “alliance.” What China will be closely watching is how many more billions of Yen and for how long a new leader in Tokyo will carry on with rolling out subsidies to lure away Japanese businesses out of China?

Interestingly, on assuming office Prime Minister Suga had promised continuity in domestic policies and that he will respect Abe’s foreign policy. However, Suga’s promised commitment to further improve relations with China was viewed differently in the People’s Republic. Writing in an article on the day Yoshihide Suga took office in Tokyo, Zhou Yongsheng, professor of Japanese studies at Beijing’s China Foreign Affairs University, observed: “[Under Suga] Japan will continue to align with the US as far as international relations and security affairs are concerned, and continue to back the US policy of containing China It is under these preconditions that Japan will seek cooperation with China.”

In sharp contrast, reviewing Suga’s foreign policy performance after two months, NIKKEI Asia’s foreign affairs analyst Hiroyuki Akita wrote in November 2020: “Suga has not said much publicly about his views on diplomacy but he has urged his aids to continue Abe’s diplomacy as it is at least for one year.” Akita gave a thumbs up to this approach and recalled a Japanese saying to describe it: “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” However, not everyone agreed with Akita praising Suga’s brief record in diplomacy as flawless. Having spent seven years in the Abe cabinet as Chief Cabinet Secretary, Suga’s image was that of “a fixer, not a leader.” Suga did everything in diplomacy in his early phase as the prime minister what Abe had been espousing for the past seven years.

But as Toshiya Takahashi, professor of IR at Shoin University in Japan had predicted within a few weeks of Suga becoming the top leader, “Abe’s shoes were too big for Suga to fill.” Why so? Mainly because unlike Abe, not only Suga was not ideological, he was also far less diplomacy driven. “Suga is not an ideologically driven revisionist — he is a conservative politician, but his attitude has no relation to ideology. He does not seem to hold any specific cherished foreign policy objectives that he is willing to push with all his political capital in the way that Abe did in 2015 with the passage of the security-related bills,” Takahashi had commented.   

To observers and experts in both Japan and China, Prime Minister Suga’s (he will relinquish office on September 30) non-enthusiastic approach to foreign policy might have much to do with the current state of strained relationship between Japan and China. Asahi Shimbun opinion poll last year claimed foreign policy and national security as among the two most popular elements of Abe’s legacy. No wonder, critics in Japan have been pointing out that Suga’s cabinet did not have the luxury and support Abe enjoyed in foreign affairs of having in the government someone like Shotaro Yachi – the former secretary general of the National Security Secretariat. In China too, reacting to Suga’s first policy speech after taking office, scholars such as Lü  Yaodong, Institute of Japanese Studies, CASS in Beijing had observed, “Suga seems not to be as enthusiastic about China-Japan ties as Abe. Compared with Abe’s administration, Suga may walk back China-Japan ties.” (Emphasis added)

Remember, as already mentioned, the LDP had succeeded in pursuing policy of (economic) cooperation and avoiding confrontationist diplomacy with China under Abe. But Suga government’s failure to effectively fight coronavirus pandemic and its perception that China was increasingly becoming aggressive in SCS, are being cited as reasons why Japan was compelled to take strong steps against China. It is too well-known by now how Tokyo angered Beijing by referring to the importance of Taiwan to regional security in the recently released 2021 Defense White Paper. In fact, a Chinese scholar had warned as early as within a month of Suga taking over as prime minister from Shinzo Abe, saying that “Japan will take a more offensive stance against China over maritime boundary disputes under the incitement of the US” (emphasis added).

Hence, it is of extreme import to mention here China’s top diplomat Wang Yi’s recent trip to four ASEAN nations. Apparently, the second visit by the Chinese foreign minister in quick succession in the neighborhood had aroused the global media attention as it was soon after the recent visit to the region by the US vice president Kamala Harris. However, according to a Chinese commentator, Wang Yi’s recent visit to ASEAN countries must be viewed in the context of the region turning into a “battle ground” for rising economic one-upmanship among big powers. “Just a day after Wang Yi’s departure, Vietnam reached an agreement on defense equipment and technology cooperation with Japan,” the commentary noted.   

Furthermore, whilst under the previous Abe government, Japan consistently increased its investments in the ASEAN nations, except in the year 2016, all through from 2014 until last year, Japan’s investment in the region far exceeded that of China’s. Contrary to his vows, since coming into office in September last year, especially following his meeting with President Biden in the White House in April this year, Prime Minister Suga’s quiet agenda has been to confront China in both political and economic arena. In Japan, the Suga agenda was interpreted by analysts as “rebuilding Japan-US industrial chain, decoupling economic ties with China.”    

A policy report released by Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) in March 2021, revealed three important facts: first, in the year 2019, total Japanese investment in ASEAN nations stood at USD 265.5 billion – 14% of the country’s overall overseas investment, i.e., USD 1,858.3 billion.; second, in 2000, Japanese investments in ASEAN totaled USD 25 billion as against its USD 8.7 billion investment in China – a gap of USD 16.3 billion. Whereas in 2019, Japan invested USD 135.2 billion more in ASEAN as compared with China. As pointed out by one Chinese analyst, this gap is hugely significant, especially as the overall size of the ASEAN economy is a little over one-fifth of China’s GDP; third, followingthegovernment’s new strategy last year to encourage Japanese businesses to move out of China to new locations in ASEAN nations, the new guidelines also entailed reducing investments into China. A large part of the investments was diversified into ASEAN markets.

Finally, what is beginning to worry the Chinese authorities is the trend and direction of slow exodus of Japanese businesses out of China going back to Japan and towards Vietnam and Indonesia on one hand, and widening gap in Japanese investments between ASEAN and the PRC, on the other hand. At the same time, it was beyond anyone’s imagination in China that Japan would be acting foolish and risking “economic security” by diversifying businesses and investments into less profitable “barren” markets. But then who could anticipate what political and economic policy-rejigging coronavirus pandemic would bring about?

Overall, China’s more immediate and bigger concerns are firstly the sudden departure of Prime Minister Suga – in spite of Suga having made it clear he had no will to change or reverse “decoupling” policy he had been pursuing, and secondly, whoever emerges as the new leader of the four contenders by the month-end, analysts in Japan believe Tokyo is unlikely to change its “anti-China” political and economic policies.  

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East Asia

How China Exacerbates Global Fragility and What Can be Done to Bolster Democratic Resilience to Confront It

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Authors: Caitlin Dearing Scott and Isabella Mekker

From its declared policy of noninterference and personnel contributions to United Nations (UN) Peacekeeping Missions to its purported role in mediating conflicts, China has long sought to portray itself as a responsible global leader, pushing narratives about building a “community of common destiny” and promoting its model of governance and economic and political development as a path to stability. This narrative belies the reality. Chinese Communist Party (CCP)-style “stability,” whether to protect Belt and Road Investments (BRI) or regimes with favorable policies towards China, in practice facilitates authoritarianism and human rights violations, contributes to environmental degradation and corruption, and undermines democratic governance, all of which can fuel instability, intentionally or otherwise.

In pursuit of its true goal – “a world safe for the party” – China has leveraged its diplomatic and economic power to weaken  the international human rights system, bolstering support for illiberal regimes, contributing to democratic decline and exacerbating global fragility in the process. Nowhere is this more apparent than in conflict-affected contexts.

Conflict Resolution, CCP Style

Although China brands itself as a ‘promoter of stability, peace, and unity’, its very definition of stability is built on its authoritarian model of governance. This, plus its concerns about non-interference in its own domestic issues, informs its conflict resolution approach, which emphasizes host state consent and political settlement, two-ideas that can be laudable in theory, depending on the context. In practice, however, China’s conflict mediation efforts in some instances have provided support to incumbent regimes who are perpetuating violence and conflict, promoting a  ‘stability’ that disregards the voices of vulnerable populations and the need for inclusive governance. In the case of the Syrian civil war, China’s “political solution” meant maintaining China-friendly Bashar al-Assad’s grip on power, while blocking resolutions condemning the regime’s brutality against its citizens. 

“Stability” promoted by China can also come at the expense of human rights. China (and Russia) have previously pushed for cuts to human rights positions within peacekeeping missions, endangering the capacity of these missions to protect civilians in conflict.  In Myanmar, where the military is committing unprecedented human rights violations against its own citizens, China initially blocked a UN Security Council statement condemning the military coup and other international efforts to restore stability at a time when a strong international response was much needed. This was in line with China’s previous engagement in the country, working closely with the military regime to “mediate” conflict near the Chinese border in a way that preserved China’s interests and influence, but did little to actually address conflict. After a growing humanitarian crisis began to threaten its investments on the Myanmar side of the border, however, China changed rhetorical course, showing where human rights violations stand in its hierarchy of stability.

Advancing China’s Interests, Undermining Governance

China’s policies in fragile states mirror its unstated preference for expanding its economic and political interests, even if securing them sidelines the stated imperative of addressing fragility. In some instances, China has lobbied for UN policies in conflict-affected contexts that appear to support its own agenda rather than – or sometimes at the expense of – peace. According to the U.S. China Economic and Security Review Commission’s 2020 report to Congress, “China has shown an apparent willingness to leverage its influence in the UN peacekeeping operations system to advance its economic interests in African countries, raising the possibility that Beijing is subverting UN norms and procedures in the process.” Per the report, the most notable example of this was in 2014 when China lobbied to expand the UN Mission in South Sudan to protect oil installations of which the China National Petroleum Corporation held a 40 percent stake.

Moreover, China’s pursuit of its interests sets up countries on unstable trajectories. China’s economic investment policies and initiatives exacerbates governance deficits and increases fragility by encouraging corruption, facilitating authoritarianism and human rights violations, and contributing to environmental degradation, all key drivers of conflict. Two cases from Nigeria and Pakistan highlight the point.

In Nigeria, China’s investment projects have exacerbated corruption and fueled distrust in local government – key drivers of conflict and intercommunal violence in the country. China has exploited poor regulatory environments and worked within illegal and corrupt frameworks, often tied to armed groups and criminal networks. In one illustrative example, China state-owned timber trading companies  offered bribes to local officials to illegally harvest endangered rosewood. Members of local communities have cited feelings of exploitation by officials accepting bribes from Chinese businessmen, further stressing fragile ties between local government and citizens. Such business practices also demonstrate a blatant disregard for the environmental consequences of illegally harvesting endangered flora and fauna. Moreover, the inherently opaque nature of these projects that are tied to CCP interests makes it difficult to demand accountability.

Similarly in Pakistan, a 62-billion-dollar project known as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) aimed at linking Xinjiang to the Arabian sea, has exacerbated tension in conflict-affected provinces. The project plans to build infrastructure and extract resources from several less developed regions, while overwhelmingly benefitting industrial and political hubs such as Punjab. Many provinces, including Balochistan and Sindh, have accused political elites of altering the route of the corridor in their own interests, thus further marginalizing their communities. Separatist groups have launched several attacks throughout the country, not only fueling conflict between Pakistani ethnic groups but also leading to attacks against Chinese expatriates. Recently, prominent voices from within China have called for a military intervention in Pakistan. CPEC has increased military presence throughout small villages, sparked an uptick in violent conflict along the route, and further eroded trust in local government institutions.

These cases may of course signal more opportunism and indifference by China to the impact of its engagement on stability in any given country, as opposed to an explicit attempt to undermine democratic governance (as it has done elsewhere in support of pro-China interests). Regardless of the intent, however, the impact is the same. China’s focus on political leverage and profits first and foremost undermines stability – and China likewise can benefit from instability in states with corrupt politicians interested in trading local resources for short-term political gains.

What Can be Done: Bolstering Democratic Resilience to Address Fragility and Foreign Influence

Foreign authoritarian influence has a compounding impact in conflict-affected contexts, further undermining governance structures, institutions, and processes that can mitigate or exacerbate fragility.  Good governance, on the contrary, can not only help countries prevent and manage conflict, but can also help countries address the myriad challenges associated with foreign authoritarian influence. Strong democratic institutions help societies respond positively and productively to threats both domestic and foreign.

Targeted investment in democracy in conflict-affected contexts vulnerable to foreign authoritarian influence offers an important opportunity for utilizing the Global Fragility Strategy in support of US foreign policy initiatives and advancing the Biden Administration’s policy priorities to tackle climate change, prevent authoritarian resurgence, confront corruption, and prevail in strategic competition with China.  An investment in support of democracy and good governance to address any one of these issues will reap dividends across each of these issues – engaging in conflict prevention and stabilization programming will both advance global democracy and advance US goals vis-à-vis China and other authoritarian rivals. Such investments, which must be long-term to account for the compounding impact of foreign authoritarian influence in already fragile environments, should include:

  • Supporting governments, civil society, and citizens to better understand, expose and counter foreign authoritarian influence, particularly in conflict-affected contexts where data and research efforts can be challenging. An understanding of China’s playbook is critical to countering CCP influence operations;
  • Helping independent media to investigate and expose foreign authoritarian influence and how it fuels conflict, whether through training, financial support, or other protections of the civic and information space, to raise public awareness of the impact of such engagement on conflict dynamics and promote transparency and accountability in dealings with foreign actors;  
  • Developing evidenced-based tools to prevent and mitigate foreign authoritarian influence in fragile contexts;
  • Strengthening electoral institutions, political parties, legislative bodies, and judiciaries to uproot elite capture and mitigate malign influence;
  • Leveraging diplomacy to build political will and incentives for government officials to resist foreign malign influences. Such diplomatic efforts can include increased outreach and contact with countries previously neglected by the US – but prioritized by China – and public diplomacy to both expose the CCP’s misleading narrative and advance narratives about what democracy can deliver;  and
  • Coordinating with similarly-minded donors such as the European Union, Japan, and Australia, to implement a unified approach to match the scale of Chinese investment and maximize the impact of any intervention.

Only democracy can help countries navigate the nexus of domestic and foreign threats to their stability. In the era of COVID-19, authoritarian resurgence, and climate crisis, supporting countries to develop these “resilience” fundamentals is a sound – and necessary – investment.

*Isabella Mekker is a Program Associate with IRI’s Center for Global Impact, working on countering foreign authoritarian influence and conflict prevention and stabilization programming.

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