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China-Russian Strategic Partnership: From Continental to Marine

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In the China-Russia strategic cooperative partnership, the concept of maritime strategic partnership has not yet been formed. This is not a defect for China-Russia cooperation in the past, but it seems to be a deficiency for the current and future China-Russia relations.

Theoretically, the strategic partnership between China and Russia can cover all fields; in reality, though, this does not mean that the cooperation between China and Russia in all fields has reached the height of strategic partnership. It is in this sense that putting forward the concept of maritime strategic partnership is still of substantial significance to China-Russia relations.

The international and regional cooperation between China and Russia has traditionally been in the Eurasian continent. China and Russia are both vast countries, stretching across the Eurasian continent. They are neighbors and geographically connected. They naturally form a huge Eurasian plate, and their mutual interests are mainly concentrated in the Eurasian continent. Therefore, it is natural that the international and regional strategic cooperation between China and Russia starts from and is based on the Eurasian continent. The major bilateral cooperation projects, such as the SCO, the connection between OBOR and the EEU, the Greater Eurasia Partnership, are all linked by the Eurasian continent and unfold in it.

Although China and Russia have traditionally been seen as continental states, they are bordered by oceans, have long coastlines, consider themselves maritime states, and both are committed to becoming great oceanic powers. From the 1990s, the Chinese government formulated a series of policy documents on maritime development, including China’s Oceans in the 21st Century. Transforming China into a maritime power is also an established strategic goal of China. At the international level, China put forward the initiative of building the Maritime Silk Road in 2013 as well as the proposal of building a maritime community of shared future in 2019. As early as 2001, Russia formulated “The Maritime Theory of the Russian Federation to 2020”, which included the development of the world’s marine resources, the protection of Russia’s maritime interests and the consolidation of its position among the world’s greatest maritime powers.

China and Russia have conducted cooperation related with oceans, including the Arctic cooperation, building of the Maritime Silk Road, joint military exercises in the Pacific, Indian, the Atlantic and Mediterranean oceans, the joint aircraft cruising in the Sea of Japan, etc. At the same time, there has been public opinion in the academic circles to promote the strategic maritime cooperation between China and Russia. However, there is no concept of the strategic maritime partnership between the two states.

Under the framework of China-Russia strategic cooperative partnership, China and Russia should form the concept of maritime strategic partnership, which is needed both for practical cooperation and long-term development of bilateral relations. Marine strategic partnership is not the same meaning as marine strategic cooperation. Strategic cooperation points to specific cooperative behavior, while strategic partnership refers to the status of mutual recognition as strategic partners. The concept of maritime strategic partnership will form an overall cooperation framework, integrating continental and oceanic cooperation together and opening up more space for the strategic cooperation between the two countries.

China and Russia have the conditions and possibility to form a strategic maritime partnership. China and Russia have overlapping interests in the maritime area, maybe there could be contradictions in some issues, but no serious conflicting interests. Politically, the two states maintain high-level relations, which serves as the necessary political foundation. Both China and Russia regard maritime development as an important strategic direction. Geographically, China faces the Pacific Ocean and is adjacent to the Indian Ocean, while Russia mainly lies along the Arctic Ocean and has a close view of the Atlantic Ocean. The sea lines of China and Russia are connected to form a complete oceanic continuum. Maritime cooperation is a natural extension of continental cooperation for China and Russia. The two countries have a complementary structure in many aspects of the maritime field. They can make use of each other’s conditions to expand their respective maritime development space and produce greater benefits. Obviously, there will be more and more maritime intersection between the two countries, and more and more areas for cooperation. This will create potential for sustainable development of maritime strategic partnership.

The 21st century belongs to the ocean century. The oceans are becoming the political, economic and security gravity of the world, especially the Pacific and Indian Ocean regions, as well as the Arctic Ocean region. The Pacific and Indian Ocean regions are home to four of the six largest economies in the world today: the United States, China, Japan, and India. The Arctic region is becoming a new hotspot of international politics, security and energy exploitation. The ocean regions determine the future distribution of international power and the future development of the world to a considerable extent. In international maritime affairs, neither China nor Russia will be absent, but the two countries can enhance their respective positions to have greater influence through cooperation, which is a more effective way to realize their national interests than working alone.

The basic connotation of the China-Russia strategic maritime partnership concept is that the two countries act as strategic partners to carry out overall, comprehensive and long-term cooperation with each other in maritime areas. Its main regions are the Pacific, Indian, and Arctic oceans, but it can also extend into the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. As part of the strategic partnership between China and Russia, the maritime strategic partnership is consistent with its nature. It is not confrontational and does not target any third country. Its basic goal aims to facilitate development of the two countries.

The major functions of marine strategic partner of China and Russia are to extend their ocean space for development, enhance their development ability, boost their international status and expand influence in marine affairs, better safeguard their interests and marine safety as well as jointly maintain security and stability of oceans, promote the effective governance of the international marine affairs. It will also build a sound foundation for the maritime relations between the two countries, respect for each other’s maritime interests and security, providing a constructive channel and mechanism for the two countries to solve possible problems and contradictions in marine affairs.

The content of marine strategic partnership includes resources development, environmental protection, joint research and investigation, scientific and technological innovation, energy cooperation, infrastructural construction, new channel construction, combat against piracy and terrorism, ensuring the safety of international maritime traffic, marine military strategic and security cooperation, maintaining an international maritime regime that is compatible with a just and fair international order, and so on. However, the marine strategic partnership of China and Russia is open for cooperation in any area, along with the development of the bilateral cooperation, its range of cooperation will grow larger and wider. In order to promote the maritime strategic partnership, China and Russia could set up special agenda and mechanisms.

At present, the main cooperation tracks of China-Russia maritime strategic partners are cooperation in the Arctic and the building of the Silk Road on the ice, the maintenance and construction of international maritime regime, maritime strategic security and military cooperation, and promoting cooperation in the Indian Ocean region.

The Arctic is the region where maritime economic cooperation between China and Russia is most concentrated and where there is the greatest potential and possibility for economic cooperation between them. It is also the region where China and Russia are engaging in building the Silk Road on ice. It almost covers the whole range of the current marine economic cooperation between China and Russia, including climate change, energy development, environmental protection, science and technology innovation, the infrastructure investment and construction, etc… With the global warming, time available for navigation in the Arctic will be extended, this will increase the China-Russia cooperation in business use of the Northern channel. It may even change the basic structure of international shipping routes, from which both China and Russia are expected to benefit.

Russia is an Arctic country, while China is a near-Arctic country. Russia has some concerns about China’s deep involvement in the Arctic. However, China does not pose a threat to Russia’s interests on the two issues it most fears: military security and territorial disputes. So, China’s deeper entry into the Arctic does not actually conflict with Russia’s fundamental interests.

The maritime regime is an important part of the international order, and its status is becoming more and more important. Just as the current international order is chaotic, the current international maritime regime is in disarray. Maintaining and building the international maritime regime is indispensable to building of the international order in the future. In this regard, China and Russia share similar basic political principles which are derived from their consistent or close political positions on the building of the international order. The fundamental point is that both countries respect state sovereignty and territorial integrity as well as settle maritime disputes by peaceful means, on the basis of the UN Charter and international law.

Strategic security and military cooperation occupy a special important position in the China-Russia maritime strategic partnership, which has clearly been demonstrated in the past through military cooperation between the two countries. Both China and Russia are facing serious security threats from sea, some of which are from the same source. Judging from the current trend, the threat will be long-term and increasingly acute. Maritime military cooperation between China and Russia can enhance their respective military defense capabilities and more effectively safeguard their security. A strategic maritime partnership between China and Russia does not guarantee that the two countries will be “comrades-in-arms” in the event of a military conflict, but at least it will help the two countries remain “friends” and provide political understanding and, perhaps, support.

The Indian Ocean region is an important direction of China-Russia maritime strategic partnership not only because of the importance of the Indian Ocean region itself, but also because of the situation after the implementation of the Indo-Pacific strategy by the U.S. The Indo-Pacific strategy unites four important countries in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, namely the United States, Japan, India, and Australia. Based on the Quad mechanism, the four countries try to build a comprehensive cooperation framework across the two oceans, including politics, security, economy, science and technology, environment, public health, infrastructure construction, connectivity, etc. The emergence of such a framework can have a deconstructive impact on the existing multilateral mechanisms in the Asia-Pacific. It also enables the United States, Japan, India and Australia to have a dominant mechanism in the affairs of the Pacific and Indian Ocean regions.

There is no doubt that the main target of the U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy is China, and the United States does not conceal this. Geographically, the Indo-Pacific strategy also presents a semi-encirclement to China from the Pacific Ocean to the Indian Ocean. Under such circumstances, it is an important question whether China and Russia can cooperate and jointly deal with the situation. Due to the exclusive nature of the Indo-Pacific strategy, both China and Russia officially oppose it. However, since the Indo-Pacific strategy is aimed at China first and foremost, the feelings and reactions of China and Russia could be different.

Russia has an instinctive sense of alienation towards the Indo-Pacific strategy and is generally suspicious and opposed to it. This is because Russia has realized that the Indo-Pacific strategy is also a strategic challenge for Russia, it has a negative strategic impact on Russia’s position in the Pacific, the Indian Ocean and Eurasia, as it could marginalize Russia in affairs in these regions.

Nevertheless, Russian public opinion has not reacted strongly to the Indo-Pacific strategy, which is understandable, because Russia is not its focus. The Indo-Pacific strategy is mainly a dispute between China and the United States. Although Russia is not a bystander, it is not at the forefront of the conflict. From this perspective, some Russian academics regard the Belt and Road Initiative as the counterpart of the Indo-Pacific strategy, while others take the community of shared human destiny as its counterpart. Its meaning is self-evident, that is, the contradiction between China and the United States is the main line of the Indo-Pacific strategy, and Russia takes a back place. Objectively speaking, this kind of thinking of Russian academia is natural.

However, this does not prevent China and Russia from dealing with the Indo-Pacific strategy in a coordinated way. From the grand strategy perspective, the cooperation between China and Russia in the Indian Ocean is helpful to ease the overall strategic pressure on Russia, so it is also in line with Russia’s grand strategy interests. Moreover, even if Russia completely avoids the edge of the Indo-Pacific strategy, it will not reduce the pressure of the United States on Russia, but will only make the strategic position of the United States more active, and the position of Russia more passive. Therefore, it is a reasonable strategic choice for China and Russia to jointly cope with the Indo-Pacific strategy of the United States.

The response of China and Russia is not a tit-for-tat confrontation with the Indo-Pacific strategy but an enhanced cooperation in the Indian Ocean region. In other words, the basic way for China and Russia to jointly respond is not to confront the Indo-Pacific strategy but to increase their own development in the Indian Ocean region in a coordinated way. While there are justified reasons for China and Russia to oppose the U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy, since it itself puts both China and Russia on the opposite side, but there is no need for China and Russia not to accept the Indo-Pacific concept. It should be noted that with the development of globalization, the increasing convenience of transportation and communication, and the expanding scope of regional cooperation, it is natural for the Indian and Pacific regions to be closer and closer economically, politically and in terms of security. It is likely that the Indo-Pacific concept will be used more and more often in the future. China and Russia should not resist the Indo-Pacific concept just because it is used by the U.S. They should not let it become the “patent” of the U.S. and give up the development under the Indo-Pacific concept. China and Russia can also have their own Indo-Pacific vision and should also cooperate under this concept, and there are even more reasons for them to do so in terms of geography and economy as well as politics and security.

The cooperation between China and Russia in the Indian Ocean region has its certain favorable conditions. Both China and Russia have cooperative relations with local countries and maintain presence in the region in different degrees and varied forms. India and Pakistan are members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. China and Russia have jointly formed several trilateral dialogue mechanisms with local countries, such as “China-Russia-India” and “China-Russia-Iran”. Both China and Russia have high-level cooperation platform with ASEAN, close relations with Pakistan, and both have transport corridor projects to the Indian Ocean. Although Russia’s presence in the Indian Ocean region is not as extensive and comprehensive as that of China’s, it holds close military relations with the local countries, including India, Pakistan, Iran, also some southeast Asian countries and African countries. It should also be noted that China and Russia each have the most important framework to connect with the Indian Ocean region, that is, China’s OBOR and Russia’s Greater Eurasian Partnership. With all these formats, China and Russia can develop extensive cooperation in the Indian Ocean region and form closer ties with the countries in the region, which is the best way for the two countries to jointly response to the Indo-Pacific strategy.

From our partner RIAC

Professor, Institute of International Studies, Fudan University, Shanghai, Expert of the China Forum

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Indian Conventional and Strategic Arms Buildup: Implications for Pakistan

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South Asia’s regional dynamic is both flamboyant and intricate. Various empires have formed, prospered, and perished over the millennia, as innumerable conflicts and struggles for control of resources spread over the globe. However, 2021 was a year of fierce weapons competition between South Asia’s nuclear neighbors, India and Pakistan, who carried out 26 missile tests. India launched 16 ballistic and cruise missiles while Pakistan tested 10 missiles with nearly identical capabilities.

As a response to the perceived inability of the Indian Armed Forces (IAF) to adequately respond to the Pakistani insurgencies, and after the failure of the Indian forces to quickly react and mobilize their forces in 2001, the Indian Army and the defense policymakers realized the lack of modernized and consistent army doctrine. This resulted in the announcement by the Indian Army in 2004 of a new limited war doctrine known as the Cold Start Doctrine (CSD).

Importance of Air Base

The importance of air superiority can be witnessed by looking at the six days of the Arab-Israeli War, in which the Israeli forces pre-empted an attack from the bases of Jordan, Syria, Egypt, and Iraq, and struck the air force before the fight even began. The outcome of the war was determined during its first hours. By destroying the opposing air fleet, Israeli forces gained air superiority, and thus the Arab forces were helpless in their efforts, which eventually resulted in a humiliating defeat for the Arabs.

Indian Air-Bases: A Strategic Threat

In the contemporary era, military forces are going for weapon systems that require absolutely no time at all when it comes to striking a target. In that regard, the air force comes first for the obvious reason that its threshold is low as compared to a ballistic missile strike. Indian force deployment and employment are very close to Pakistan’s borders, from Siachen to the Rann of Kutch. In India’s most recent attack on Balakot, which took place in 2019, the air force was utilized. This clearly shows the Indian resolve to use the air force in any future blatant aggression like the one in February 2019.

The Indian air force deployment is tailor-made for Pakistan. If one analyzes the airbases/airstrips positioning and range from the Pakistani-Indo international border, the Line of Control (LOC), and the working boundary, it is quite obvious that the positioning shows the aggressive posture of the Indian Air Force. When deployed at those bases, the aircraft are the finest in the Indian military, both in terms of their quality and serviceability. When it comes to the up-gradation of the base’s facilities, this is the top priority list that is visible to everyone. In May 2021, the bases in Pakistan got priority.

The bases are positioned in such a strategy to cover every city in Pakistan, as it has no strategic depth. Pakistan’s major cities, like Karachi, Lahore, Multan, Faisalabad, Hyderabad, Bahawalpur, Rahim Yar Khan, Sialkot, and even the capital, Islamabad, are within the Indian Air Force’s reach. The same goes for the areas in Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan.

Future Threat Scenario

Now the question arises what will happen in the future in light of past historical data? The answer to this is both simple and complex. It is simple in the context that the IAF will target Pakistan with its pre-defined strategy of naked aggression against peaceful neighbors, while the Indian Army is following a pro-active offense posture; the complex part is where, when, and how.

The IAF will utilize the war scenario created by the Indian government and Indian media after a staged terrorist attack on a civilian or military target, for which they will put full blame on the Pakistani state and security apparatus. They will try to raise the temperature to the point where the Indian civil establishment shows the world community that now enough is enough and our people are demanding a counter-strike. At that time, the Indian establishment will use its media to put blame on Pakistan and create a war-like scenario while raising tensions.

In light of that, the IAF, under the orders of the Indian government, along with the Indian army, will start attacking the Pakistani bases in the early moments of the war because if the IAF does not target PAF bases, then there will be grave consequences for the Indian army, and the Pakistani army also has additional fire support bases. The above-mentioned rationale will be the main cause of the IAF attacking the PAF infrastructure, thus undermining the national security of Pakistan. The Indian army, with the IAF, will aspire to rapid, shallow penetration of Pakistani territory, without crossing the nuclear threshold of Pakistan. The Indian military will go for a quick and short battle that will surprise Pakistan because that is the only possible strategy in their minds when talking about limited war scenarios or showing off war.


The IAF is a major threat to the national security of Pakistan in the wake of its alignment with the Indian military’s CSD. The operational exercises conducted in the past and the recent strikes at Balakot exhibit the growing role of the IAF in the Indian military offensive strategy against Pakistan. Vast parts of Pakistan are within the combat radius of the IAF’s operational fighters because of Pakistan’s lack of strategic depth.

The IAF will try to use this as an advantage to support the pro-active and offensive strategy of the Indian Armed Forces to harm Pakistan, as that would be their prime objective because of their hegemonic designs. In order to protect itself from India’s flagrant military aggression, Pakistan should take some protective measures.


In the wake of the growing IAF threat, the PAF and Pakistani government should take the following measures on an urgent basis:

  • Build some new airstrips along the border with India, to balance the threat by not allowing an IAF advantage in any sector. Moreover, the building of airstrips requires less money; thus this step will not put a strain on Pakistan’s economy;
  • Buy more advanced surveillance radars to detect early IAF movement.
  • Purchase advanced surface-to-air missiles to create a defensive barrier;
  • Go for indigenizing the modern, state-of-the-art 5th generation fighter aircraft, as buying from foreign suppliers is very expensive.
  • Ask the international community to put pressure on both sides to sign confidence-building measures that will lead to peace and stability.
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The audacious AUKUS submarine deal and Asia’s changing security landscape

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image source: twitter @POTUS

In this exhaustive analysis, I try to spell out the impact and potential consequences of the recently-brokered submarine deal between the U.S., the U.K., and Australia on Asia’s changing security landscape.


All advanced navies of the world possess lethal submarines, powered by either diesel-electric or nuclear propulsion. These underwater warships are the most potent asset at the disposal of a naval force for maritime power projection, sea denial and sea control. Lying silently under water, they are capable of sinking surface ships, including large aircraft carriers, with torpedoes or ballistic missiles. Ever since WW-II, submarines have made its name as one of the most crucial components of maritime strategy and naval warfare. Australia and the U.K. are two key maritime nations of the world, which happen to be security allies of the United States, a country that owns and operates the largest fleet of nuclear-powered submarines in the world. Being nuclear-powered not necessarily mean being armed with nuclear warheads.

The 2021-formed AUKUS (Australia, U.S., U.K.) “enhanced trilateral security partnership” has taken cooperation between the three Anglophone countries to the next level. U.S. President Joe Biden hosted the prime ministers of the United Kingdom and Australia – PM Rishi Sunak and PM Anthony Albanese – in the Californian port city of San Diego on 13 March 2023, where they jointly announced a detailed four-phased plan to equip Australia (a non-nuclear-weapon state) with “conventionally armed, nuclear-powered” submarines (codenamed SSN) at least by the next decade along with strengthening cooperation in other areas such as critical and emerging technologies.

The plan would cost Canberra’s exchequer up to a whopping A$ 368 bn. (US$ 245 bn.) in total by 2055, according to reports. The detailed plan, spanning a time frame of three decades, was announced after an eighteen-month-long consultation period following the creation of AUKUS in mid-September 2021. Australian PM Anthony Albanese called the deal “the single biggest leap” in Australia’s defence capabilities in the nation’s history. If the plan goes ahead smoothly as planned, Australia will become the seventh country in the world to add nuclear-powered submarines to its navy. As the deal turns out to be a race against time, the biggest challenge is to ensure deterrence capabilities for Australia at the present, as the full benefits of the deal would take years to materialise.

AUKUS leaders believe that the deal would “strengthen deterrence and bolster stability in the Indo-Pacific and beyond for decades to come”, apparently keeping in mind the exponential growth of China’s naval power in the recent past. China has built 12 nuclear-powered submarines in the last two decades, including ballistic missile submarines (codenamed SSBNs) and is continuing its ambitious ship-building spree in all fronts. As per the AUKUS plan, the first phase of the deal is set to begin as early as this year, with U.S. and British SSNs increasing their port visits in Australia along with joint embedded training of naval personnel, which will be followed by a rotational deployment of U.S. and British SSNs in the island continent.

In the remaining two phases of the deal, Washington will deliver a flotilla of three to five advanced Virginia-class nuclear-powered submarines to Australia by the early 2030s, upon Congressional approval, and eventually a new “SSN-AUKUS class” of nuclear-powered submarines (SSN) will be developed in the decade that follows, for future commissioning in both British and Australian navies. With the use of nuclear energy involved, the Indo-Pacific region is abuzz with fears and concerns of an escalating arms race, even though AUKUS promises “the highest nuclear non-proliferation standard”.

Current owners of nuclear-powered submarines

As of now, only the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (U.S., Russia, China, U.K., France) and India have active nuclear-powered attack-capable submarines in their naval fleet (see the image below). More than half of the 130 active nuclear-powered submarines in the world are operated by the U.S. Navy (67), followed by Russia (31), China (12), U.K. (10), France (9) and India (1). The rise of China’s offensive military capabilities and its naval power in particular, since the 1990s, is the single largest factor that has convinced Canberra to join hands with Washington and London to bolster its own capabilities, through AUKUS, by making use of “next-generation” British hull design and “cutting-edge” American technology.

Countries with active nuclear powered submarines (via Statista)

The AUKUS deal smartly gets away with a loophole in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) of 1968, which allows for the transfer of fissionable material and nuclear technology from a nuclear-weapon state (NWS) to a non-NWS if it is used for non-explosive military use like naval propulsion. Such a transfer is also exempted from inspections and monitoring by the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), an organisation that stands for the peaceful use of nuclear energy and the promotion of nuclear safety. The IAEA Director General said that he had received “separate communications” on the matter from the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Australia, as well as from the U.K. and the U.S.

Mixed reactions

Of all the countries that have reacted to the highly ambitious AUKUS project, the responses of China and Russia stands out, as they are in direct strategic competition with the de facto leader of AUKUS – the United States. While the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson remarked that the U.S. and its AUKUS allies are “walking further and further down the path of error and danger for their own geopolitical self-interest”, Russian foreign minister commented, “the Anglo-Saxon world, with the creation of structures like AUKUS and with the advancement of NATO military infrastructures into Asia, is making a serious bet on many years of confrontation in Asia”.

While Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong cities Canberra’s bid for “strategic equilibrium” in the region as the underlying factor that led to the AUKUS pact, opinions on the submarine deal, which comes at a humongous cost, are not uniform across Australia’s political spectrum. Former Prime Minister Paul Keating thinks Canberra is compromising on a proper national defence strategy to help maintain U.S. “strategic hegemony” in Asia and has also stated that the submarine deal would be ineffective in the event of a war. Indonesia, Malaysia and New Zealand have also shared their concerns about the risk of nuclear proliferation in the region.

As per the Bangkok Treaty of 1995, Southeast Asia is a nuclear-weapon-free zone (NWFZ). Moreover, almost all of the ASEAN member-states have deep economic linkages with China, even though they rely on the U.S. for “security and stability” in Asia. Even though some of them have disputes with Beijing in the South China Sea, like the Philippines and Vietnam, they prefer to avoid unnecessary “provocations” and try to balance their ties with the U.S. and China, amid intensifying regional rivalry between the two big powers. Australian defence and foreign ministries are expected to embark on a diplomatic charm offensive to assuage all concerns of Southeast Asian countries lying in China’s periphery.

Eyeing for balance of power

AUKUS was announced just one year after a Pentagon report claimed that China has built the world’s largest naval fleet in sheer numerical terms, even though the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) relies mostly on smaller classes of ships, while the U.S. naval strength is further multiplied by its allied navies. One of the most-overlooked events of March 2023 was the annual session of China’s ceremonial national legislature, the National People’s Congress (NPC), which handed over China’s Presidency to the hyper-nationalistic and revanchist leader Xi Jinping for an unprecedented third time in a row.

The newly-appointed Chinese foreign minister Qin Gang, formerly China’s Ambassador to the United States, held a press conference on the sidelines of the NPC, during which he made a significant remark that throws light on the deteriorating state of U.S.-China relations. He accused the U.S. of harbouring a “Cold War mentality” and said, “… the United States claims that it seeks to out-compete China but does not seek conflict. Yet in reality, it’s so-called competition means to contain and suppress China in all respects and get the two countries locked in a zero-sum game … If the United States does not hit the brake but continues to speed down the wrong path, no amount of guardrails can prevent derailing, and there will surely be conflict and confrontation … Containment and suppression will not make America great, and it will not stop the rejuvenation of China …”

Washington’s shooting of a suspected Chinese “spy balloon” that flew over American airspace earlier this year is the latest example of this downward spiral in U.S.-China ties. The Indo-Pacific, as a geostrategic concept and a broader maritime region, came into being as China began to flex its military muscles throughout its immediate and extended neighbourhood, where U.S. and its allies have a robust military presence.

Being part of the U.S.-led alliance system, including the “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing network and the recent AUKUS pact, Canberra has become a lynchpin of Washington’s evolving Indo-Pacific strategy to counter growing Chinese assertiveness and stated offensive intentions vis-à-vis Taiwan, the South and East China Seas, and also the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with India. Australia is also due to the host the third in-person Quad leaders’ summit later this year.

As the “threat perception” of China in the West continues to rise day by day, the extent to which an AUKUS-centered deterrence is possible in Asia remains to be seen in the years to come.

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Anti-Satellite Weapons: Risks and Regulations



Today, outer space is characterised as an increasingly congested, contested, and competitive domain. This is because of an unprecedented increase in satellites and actors operating them. 13 countries now possess the capability to launch satellites compared to only two in the late 50s. In 1959, there were only two man-made objects in outer space but as of 30th April, 2022, Union of Concerned Scientists’ database included 5,465 active satellites. The number stood at 3,372 on 31 December 2020 – indicating an increase of 62%.

The growing dependence over space-based assets for day-to-day activities, like communication, navigation, and weather forecasts etc. indicates that the numbers are likely to grow exponentially. The environment that these satellites face is not benign by any standard. The biggest threat emerges in the form of space debris which are any human-made objects in orbit around the Earth that no longer serve any useful purpose. 60 years of human activities in outer space have generated over 29,000 human-made objects of larger than 10cm, while even a 1cm object can collide with a satellite to cause damage comparable to a hand grenade. While some of the debris generation is inevitable, Destructive Anti Satellite Weapons (DA-ASATs) testing has been a leading source of debris creation – something that can be prevented.

DA-ASATs, part of the counterspace capabilities which help a state in establishing space superiority while denying the same to its adversary, are essentially missiles which either directly hit a satellite in outer space or destroy it through proximity detonations. Use of this capability generates debris in outer space and threatens sustainable utilisation of outer space for peaceful endeavours. Other non-kinetic counterspace capabilities include physical non-kinetic capabilities like lasers and High Power Microwaves (HPMs) that damage on board circuitry of satellites, electronic counterspace capabilities which affect the satellites’ communications channels and cyber capabilities which target the data.

In November 2022, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) passed a non-binding resolution banning testing of DA-ASATs. The resolution was supported by an overwhelming majority of 154 states. The resolution was tabled by the United States (US) that had already announced a unilateral moratorium on such testing in April of that year. While the earliest demonstrations of such a capability date back to early Cold War, only four states have demonstrated this capability so far – the US, Russia, China, and India. While Russia and China voted against the resolution, India abstained from voting but expressed its preference for a legally binding treaty over self-declared moratoriums. Russia and China, on the other hand, objected to the resolution’s shortcomings over development of such a capability and lack of disarmament when it comes to states that already possess this capability. The two have also pointed out how the issue of non-kinetic ASATs was left out.

While the effort to mitigate debris-generation through banning the testing of DA-ASATs is praiseworthy, leaving out the continued possession, production, and development of DA-ASATs and more advanced non-kinetic capabilities is worrisome. In a way, the emerging trend of unilateral moratoriums and UNGA resolution is akin to establishing DA-ASAT ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ as was the case of nuclear non-proliferation regime. A taboo on testing of these technologies is likely to emerge, making it difficult for other states to enter this club. Such an outcome would be desirable if the intent was to avoid an arms race in outer space and move towards disarmament of existing capabilities. However, that does not seem to be the case.

France, for instance, joined the US in announcing a moratorium on testing of DA-ASATs – in a way surrendering its option to demonstrate this capability. However, in 2019, French Defence Minister had publicised a French plan to develop anti-satellite laser weapons stating that, ‘If our [French] satellites are threatened, we intend to blind those of our adversaries.’ Lasers and other non-kinetic means present a different set of challenges for space security. Possession of such capabilities is difficult to verify, it is difficult to establish attribution once such weapons have been employed, and their non-destructive nature lowers the threshold of use. In case of electronic and counterspace capabilities, the barriers to entry are lower and the risks of proliferation are higher. If other states with significant stakes in outer space emulate the French approach, it is only going to increase the likelihood of warfighting in outer space.

The emerging taboo on non-testing of DA-ASATs is not shared by three of the four states which have demonstrated this capability so far. Notwithstanding the American divergences with Russia and China, there is merit in the position that the latter have taken. The next step, therefore, needs to be disarmament of existing DA-ASAT capabilities and a ban on their development. Alongside, the issue of non-kinetic counterspace capabilities also needs to be addressed. Without a comprehensive approach towards space security and addressing the concerns of all stakeholders, there is no way to ensure that contestation in outer space will not escalate to undesirable levels.

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