15 May 2014

China sending giant oil rig to Vietnam’s EEZ: Four strategic mistakes

By Ha Anh Tuan
MAY 14, 2014

China on May 1 moved its giant indigenous oil rig, Hai Yang Shi You (HYSY) 981, southward in the South China Sea (SCS). The new location, only 120 miles from Vietnam’s shore, is well within Vietnam’s continental shelf and its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). To support and protect this oil drilling structure, China dispatched over 80 vessels, a number that continues to rise. Foreign ships are warned to stay away from the rig for security and safety.

A ‘longer view’ no longer

May 15, 2014
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PTI STRATEGIC RESTRAINT: Despite raising hopes, Manmohan Singh failed to deliver on the many promises of a better relationship with Pakistan under Nawaz Sharif and Pervez Musharraf.

The Hindu STRATEGIC RESTRAINT: Despite raising hopes, Atal Bihari Vajpayee failed to deliver on the many promises of a better relationship with Pakistan under Nawaz Sharif and Pervez Musharraf. Photo: Sandeep Saxena

Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi will have a more direct, robust approach to Pakistan than that adopted by Manmohan Singh and Atal Bihari Vajpayee

It was 16 years ago, almost to the day, when India and Pakistan engaged in tit-for-tat nuclear tests. As a new government readies to take power in New Delhi and relations with Islamabad enter another uncertain phase, it would be appropriate to recall the reverberations of that summer of 1998.Commonality of approach

I was in Islamabad as The Hindu’scorrespondent in the 17 days between the Indian nuclear tests of May 11, 1998, and Pakistan’s retaliatory tests of May 28, 1998. The tension was palpable. The hostility on the streets and in the many press conferences in the interim period was clear and direct. It was only after the Pakistani nuclear test that the tension abated somewhat and one could breathe a sigh of personal relief.

The memory of those tests and their strategic impact may be dimming, but the changes they brought about in India’s global standing were decisive and profound. Leading the change was New Delhi’s enduring strategic waltz with Washington.

There were many missteps along the way, but there’s little doubt that the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) had signalled to the world that India was ready to make public the decades-old privately held nuclear option.

In one stroke, the NDA government also altered regional equations, indicating that it had the muscle and intention to counter an already rising China and engage with others toward this end as well.

Pakistan, it may be remembered, was the only country that took very seriously the NDA’s announcement in March 1998 that it would “exercise the option to induct nuclear weapons.” Even the United States had been lulled into a false sense of complacency.

More than a decade and a half later, another non-Congress Prime Minister, most likely the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Narendra Modi, seems set to take power. The chance of a Congress-led coalition is remote, so even if the NDA does not get the numbers, it appears that the region and the world will have to deal with a non-Congress (even if there’s a third front nominee) Prime Minister.

Within touching distance

May 15, 2014 

APNOT A CRIME: Fishing being one of the most instinct-driven livelihood avocations, we should devise a system where trespassing by fishermen becomes impossible by definition. 

India and Sri Lanka are a distinct people, but a connected peoplehood; a distinct citizenry, but a connected civilization

India and Sri Lanka are within touching distance of each other— positively and negatively — in their tending of their democratic ecologies. A valid electoral mandate creates and celebrates a political majority. But, if that political majority has been gleaned not from political logic but from apolitical emotions, the democratic text gets grossly distorted by an undemocratic subtext. An electoral verdict political in name but ethnic in nature, democratic in name but majoritarian in character, constitutional in name but manipulative in its operation, is a travesty. When a democratically valid electoral majority is teased out of a democratically invalid ethnic majoritarianism, we get democratic deception, democratic tyranny.

The India of Gandhi, Nehru, Ambedkar, Periyar, Jayaprakash Narayan and the Sri Lanka of D.S. Senanayake, the Ponnambalams, Ramanathan and Arunachalam, G.G. Ponnambalam, of S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, who, in courage and faith, signed the ill-fated Pact with S.J.V. Chelvanayagam only to be forced by hard-liners, Philip Gunawardene, Colvin R de Silva, N.M. Perera and the Lanka Sama Samaja Party, to retract, would not have countenanced such tyranny.

We are living on a different planet now.Five years after the war

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam’s macabre methodology choreographed its own destruction. The time comes now, five years after the war, to ask if in this, its fifth post-war year, Sri Lanka is at peace with itself. And to introspect on what has followed the end of ballistics. Peace with justice? Peace with trust?

The end of the war, unacceptably bloodied as it was, opened an opportunity for a new beginning, a great leap forward toward a millennial reconciliation. Is that taking place? In a situation that calls for reparation, it is the one who needs reparation that must report satisfaction, not the reparation-giver.

The insensitive thwarting of moderate Tamil Lankan leaders’ legitimate aspirations, decade after decade, by narrow ethno-linguistic nationalism, grew into the nightmare that ended five years ago. That vicious cycle must not be repeated.

South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) has had and continues to have its critics, but its work rested on credibility and that came from two things: it was chaired by a man of the veracity of Bishop Desmond Tutu and, even more importantly, it was powered by the vision of Nelson Mandela, nowhere as well expressed than in his statement “I am against White racism”… “I am against White racism?” …What is the big deal in that? The whole world was against apartheid. But the ‘point’ came in the next sentence. “And I am against Black racism”… Now that was a Big Deal, a Very Big Deal indeed. That showed the difference between democracy and majoritarianism, between Justice and Victor’s Justice, between Trust and Fear.


14 May 2014

The two Indian journalists posted to Pakistan have been virtually expelled by the Pakistan government without assigning any reasons.

Press Trust of India's (PTI) Snehesh Alex Philip and Hindu's Meena Menon received letters late last night from the Pakistan government informing them that their visas are not being extended although both have been in Islamabad only for about nine months.

Following the move by Islamabad, the Indian government today said it intends to take up the matter with Pakistan.

The Indian Ministry of External Affairs said it has not been informed about the development either by the Pakistan government in Islamabad or by its High Commission in Delhi.

The Ministry spokesperson also said no reason has been given by Pakistan for asking the two journalists to leave the country by May 20.

Official sources in Delhi said this is perhaps for the first time that there will be no media presence from India and Pakistan in each other's country following the move by Islamabad.

Transition in Afghanistan: A U.S. Leadership Vacuum that Urgently Needs Hard Decisions and Real and Honest Leadership

MAY 12, 2014 

Ever since Vietnam, the U.S. has faced three major threats every time it has attempted a major counterinsurgency campaign and exercise in armed nation building: 

The actual hostile forces both in terms of native insurgent elements and outside support from other states and non-state actors. 

The corruption, internal tensions, weak governance, and uncertain economics in the host country state that make it as much of a threat in practical terms as the armed opposition. 

The failures within the U.S. government to deal honestly and effectively with both the military and civil dimensions of the war, the effort to transform states in the middle of conflict rather than set realistic goal, a resulting level of costs and casualties that makes sustain the U.S. effort difficult or impossible, and a failure to sustain the lesser level of effort necessary to achieve a lasting impact. 

The Need for Real Leadership by the Administration

It is now May 2014 and some 17 months after the time that the U.S., NASTO/ISAF, and aid donors should have had realistic plans for Transition, and the U.S. and its allies should have clearly laid out the strategic case and the cost and conditions for continued aid. The Obama Administration seems committed to an almost endless cycle of reviews and requests for new options, but has failed to put forth any credible plans, costs, and conditions, or make a meaningful strategic and political case for its position and the role the U.S. should play in Afghanistan after 2014.

These issues are laid out in depth in an updated analysis by the Burke Chair at CSIS entitled The Challenges to Transition in Afghanistan: 2014-2015,(http://csis.org/files/publication/140508_Transition_in_Afghanistan_min%20size.pdf.) 

This analysis has just been updated to fully reflect new reporting by the U.S. Department of Defense, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan, the World Bank, NATO/ISAF, the UN and other organizations. It makes it clear that the Administration has exaggerated progress in security, governance, and the economy – even if one ignores outside issues like the role of Pakistan.

The Administration has already waited far too long to determine whether the U.S. will stay in Afghanistan on realistic terms and to create clear plans for the kind of funding and advisory presence that is needed. It needs to act now to persuade the American people and Congress it has a credible strategic rational and plan for staying.

It needs to act now to make sure the Afghan people and new Afghan government know and accept the conditions for continuing U.S. support, and determine how much real world support they can get from their allies and outside donors. The Administration needs to honestly assess the current challenges in Afghanistan, and not under-resource Transition. If it does not, the war may not end with a bang, but it may well end with a whimper.

The Security Dimension

The Odd Couple: China and North Korea

Is Beijing's calculus towards the hermit kingdom changing? 

May 12, 2014 

Are Beijing and Pyongyang finally on the outs? Recent reports that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has not exported any crude oil to North Korea for the last three months certainly raise the possibility.

But hopes of a rift have been dashed before. To assess the situation accurately, one must first understand Chinese security calculations about the Korean peninsula. These calculations are a product of Chinese national interests and concerns of the Chinese Communist Party, all colored with historical and political considerations.

Chinese Concepts of Security

For the PRC, national security is rooted in several “core interests.” These wereformally enunciated in 2009 by Senior Councilor for Foreign Affairs Dai Bingguo: The PRC’s number one core interest is to maintain its fundamental system and state security; next is state sovereignty and territorial integrity; and third is the continued stable development of the economy and society.

This characterization highlights that the PRC’s foremost priority is the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) ability to retain power. The two pillars of nation and Party are viewed as inseparable. Indeed, a major element of national security is the ability of the Party to “stand up to hostile or meddling powers that might challenge the CCP’s credentials as guardians of China’s international interests.”From the Chinese perspective, national security requires continued CCP rule.

Recent Security Developments

The PRC’s security assessment of Northeast Asia, and especially the Korean peninsula, must reconcile several realities:

· South Korea (ROK) is a major trading partner, even as it is also a major ally of the United States

· North Korea is an economic cripple, even as it is aligned with the PRC.

· North Korea is not necessarily amenable to Chinese advice, much less Chinese instruction.

· The United States maintains a major security presence in the region, leveraging access to bases in Japan and the ROK.

The Budget This Time: Taking the Measure of China’s Defense Spending

April 11,2014 

Early last month, China announced its projected 2014 defense budget of 808 billion yuan (roughly USD 132 billion), a 12.2 percent increase over the previous year. This continues the double-digit spending increases in nominal terms since 1989 (2010 was the exception, most likely because of priorities adjusted in the wake of the global financial crisis). China’s rapid rise in national power across the board and the pace and scale of its increasing investment in the PLA, together with its limited willingness to release a breakdown of how this money is spent, ensure that the annual announcement of its official defense budget for the forthcoming fiscal year attracts considerable attention. Annual multibillion-dollar increases suggest strong interest in furthering core strategic objectives, such as upholding island and maritime sovereignty claims in the East and South China Seas.2

By any measure, China already has the world’s second largest defense budget. While US aggregate military spending remains much higher, unlike the globally distributed US military the PLA is focused primarily on its immediate region, while seeking gradually to project military power globally. When thinking about a possible conflict on China’s periphery a comparison of aggregate defense budgets is not especially useful—the potential flashpoints are much closer to China. Fundamentally different US and Chinese military force postures and priorities likewise limit the usefulness of direct comparisons of force structures for assessing relative capabilities for peacetime influence or scenarios in a military conflict: in the Yellow, East, and South China seas and the airspace above them. The PLA has acquired growing numbers of increasingly capable weapons with this proximate theater in mind, as it strives to strengthen its ability to wield them effectively to uphold its unresolved island and maritime claims if the leadership judges it necessary to do so. Yet critical uncertainties remain concerning Beijing’s capabilities and intentions. While China’s limited budget transparency leaves much unknown, this article analyzes what is known about its military spending and suggests some implications.
Funding the PLA

While China’s official defense budget does not reflect all defense-related spending, given the absence of any consensus about how “defense spending” should be defined, the same is true (if often to a lesser degree) for all nations, including the United States. Nor should the official PLA budget be expected to include at least one of the major categories that are included in the calculations of two organizations that produce some of the best analysis available on China’s defense spending. The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) and the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) include the budget of the 660,000-strong People’s Armed Police (PAP) in their estimates of China’s military spending.3 This inclusion is puzzling, as the PAP is tasked primarily with domestic, stability-oriented security and its budget is therefore included elsewhere in official statistical yearbooks on government spending. It is also significant for assessments of China’s defense budget transparency, as the PAP budget is one of the largest expenditures for which China is frequently criticized for “inappropriately” excluding from the official defense budget.4 In short, while transparency (or lack thereof) remains a major issue, there is little consensus even outside China over what should, or should not, be included in measurements of China’s defense budget. While typically devoid of specifics, official Chinese statements accurately reveal the basic drivers of the PLA’s rapidly expanding resources:

to compensate for past austerity, including revenues “lost” since 1998, when the civilian leadership ordered the PLA to abandon most of its network of commercial businesses; 
to modernize China’s military, which as recently as the 1990s consisted primarily of obsolete weapons and platforms acquired from the Soviet Union early in the Cold War and indigenized; 
to develop and deploy new platforms and weapons systems, particularly capabilities designed to deter third party involvement in Chinese disputes by threatening enemy access to contested areas near China and to operate effectively from there, all networked with information technologies; 
to develop the capabilities to conduct long-distance operations in accordance with “New Historical Missions” introduced in 2004 by Hu Jintao, which include unprecedented emphasis on safeguarding Chinese overseas interests and international security; 
to attract and retain qualified personnel, many of whom now have access to more lucrative private sector career opportunities; 
to keep pace with inflation; and 
to improve management and accounting, and to place more spending “on the books.” 

China’s Cruise Missiles: Flying Fast Under the Public’s Radar

Should Asia and America be worried? 

May 12, 2014 

The People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) numerous, increasingly advanced cruise missiles have attracted far less attention than its ballistic missiles—yet their impact on regional security, deterrence, and potential military operations may be similar in magnitude. Meanwhile, the U.S. Navy has limited itself severely in both the type and quantity of its own anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs). It is therefore simply amazing that such a formidable set of weapons has generated so little open source analysis; indeed that may be precisely part of its appeal for China. This article attempts to rectify this surprising foreign neglect by surveying PRC cruise missile programs and their implications for broader People’s Liberation Army (PLA) capabilities, especially in a Taiwan scenario—although they can also have significant impact elsewhere on China’s increasingly contested maritime periphery.

China’s military modernization is focused on building modern ground, naval, air, and missile forces capable of fighting and winning local wars under “informatized conditions.” The principal planning scenario is a military campaign against Taiwan, which would require the PLA to deter or defeat an intervention by the United States. The PLA has sought to acquire asymmetric “assassin’s mace” technologies and systems to overcome a technologically and numerically superior adversary and couple them to the command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR) systems necessary for swift and precise execution of short-duration, high-intensity wards. A key element of the PLA’s investment in anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) capabilities is the development and deployment of large numbers of highly accurate anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs) and land-attack cruise missiles (LACMs) on a wide range of ground, air, and naval platforms. Chinese sources assert that LACMs enable the PLA to reach targets as far as away as Guam, Darwin, and Diego Garcia. China’s growing arsenal of cruise missiles and the delivery platforms and C4ISR systems necessary to employ them pose a pressing defense challenge, and to a lesser degree a nonproliferation challenge, for the United States and its regional partners. This is part of a larger challenge: as the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR)emphasizes, “Growing numbers of accurate conventional ballistic and cruise missile threats represent an additional, cost-imposing challenge to U.S. and partner naval forces and land installations.”

China Has Strategic Confidence (So Expect Tensions to Continue)

May 13, 2014

China has gained a new sort of strategic confidence that allows it to behave independently in Asia. 

President Obama just completed a four-country trip to Asia two weeks ago. Before his trip, expectations were high that he could get some major achievements and China would be the loser. For example, U.S. analyst Ely Ratner expected Obama to do three things in Japan: 1) declare that Article V of the U.S.-Japan defense treaty covers the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands; 2) single out China for engaging in provocative and destabilizing actions; and 3) voice strong support for Japanese constitutional reinterpretation on the issue of collective self-defense, though as it turned out later, Obama only did the first thing.

However, when we look closer at what Obama got out of his Asia tour, overall the U.S. didn’t gain much from this trip, to the disappointment of hardliners in the U.S. and Japan. For example, even though Obama officially declared that the U.S.-Japan security treaty will cover the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands, during his joint press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe Obama also quickly pointed out that it is not a new policy and that both Japan and China should restrain themselves. In Obama’s words: “I emphasized with Prime Minister Abe the importance of resolving this issue peacefully — not escalating the situation, keeping the rhetoric low, not taking provocative actions, and trying to determine how both Japan and China can work cooperatively together. And I want to make that larger point. We have strong relations with China. They are a critical country not just to the region, but to the world.” What is really interesting here is that Obama also wants Japan to keep the rhetoric low and not to take provocative actions. Perhaps because of such balanced remarks and other issues, some Japanese commentators are disappointed.

In response, China told Japan not “to wave a chicken feather as a token of authority“ (拿着鸡毛当令箭) because China is fully capable of defending its territory in the Diaoyu Islands. Moreover, China would conduct military excises near the Diaoyu area. Indeed, China and Russia will hold a joint naval drill in the East China Sea in May, thus sending a strong signal to Japan that China is fully capable of defending its territory, including the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands. So in a sense, the U.S. decision to enhance its relationships with its Asian allies has pushed China and Russia closer, which is not a good thing for long-term U.S. strategic interests in East Asia.

Strategic Reassurance: An Important Agenda

A new book details a strategy for dealing with China that deserves much more attention than it is getting. 

By Amitai Etzioni
May 11, 2014

There is an obvious and a far from obvious reason the approach to the U.S. and China relationship, spelled out in a new book by James Steinberg and Michael O’Hanlon, deserves much more attention than it has received so far. The obvious reason is that the authors of Strategic Reassurance and Resolve: U.S.-China Relations in the Twenty First Century are two of the best minds deliberating on this vital subject. James Steinberg, who served as the deputy secretary of State to Hillary Clinton, is known in academic and think tanks circles for his tough mind—but constructive approach—when it comes to China. Michael O’Hanlon is a major voice in all matters concerning national security in Washington, though he is far from a dove.

Much less obvious is the merit of the strategy they lay out, which relies much more on tit-for-tat measures of self-restraint and de-escalation (of the kind previously discussed here) rather than negotiated agreements. By “tit for tat” I mean measures that each side takes unilaterally but for which each side expects the other side to reciprocate with similar measures. The merit of a tit-for-tat approach is that it does not entail the kind of lawyerly haggling over texts, layers of approval by various departments and authorities in both nations, and above all, U.S. Senate approval (or a similar one by a Chinese legislature) that is often not obtainable.

A strong example of the ways such a tit-for-tat approach can be effective is found in U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s Strategy of Peace. It was launched with a speech at American University on June 10, 1963 at the height of Cold War tensions. The president announced the first unilateral initiative: the United States wasstopping all atmospheric nuclear tests and would not resume them unless another country did. The Soviet response was to publish Kennedy’s speech in full in the Soviet government newspapers, Izvestia and Pravda, with a combined circulation of 10 million readers—a degree of attention rarely accorded a Western leader in those days. Radio jammers in Moscow were turned off to allow Russians to listen to Voice of America’s recording of the speech. This was reported in the United States and had some tension-reduction effects of its own. Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev followed by matching the Kennedy initiative.

On June 11, the Soviet Union removed its objection to a U.S.-favored initiative to send UN observers to war-torn Yemen. The U.S. reciprocated by removing its objection to the restoration of full status to the Hungarian delegation to the United Nations.

The implementations of a direct America-Russia communications link, proposed by the United States in 1962, was suddenly agreed to by the Soviet Union on June 20, 1963.

True, many of these were minor steps whose value was largely symbolic, but they reduced tensions between the major powers of the day and opened the way to bilateral negotiations.

No, Crimea Is Not a “Model” for Aggression in Asia

There is little evidence that China (or anyone else) views Russian aggression as a model for action in Asia. 

May 08, 2014

Since Russia’s invasion of Crimea, there has been a lot of panicked talk: annexation is redefining international relations, violating established international law, and throwing the post-WWII/post-Cold War order in Europe into chaos. Putin has been analogized to Hitler by no less than Hillary Clinton, and both Zbigniew Brzezinski and Madeleine Albright were quick to bring up the specter of the 1938 Munich conference. There has been a steady drum-beat from U.S. conservatives that Obama is weak, appeasing, and lacks resolve.

Some of this is true. Certainly ethnic irredentism smacks of Hitler’s ploy at Munich, but the implication of the “Munich analogy” is that this is but a first step, unseen by weak, appeasing Western statesmen, toward future invasions. This is almost certainly not true for Putin. The U.S. and NATO are vastly more powerful than Russia, and without the rest of the old Soviet empire, there is no possible way Putin could launch a second Cold War against an expanded NATO. Putin’s thuggery is more a local challenge to the European order and the European Union, a desperation move from panic and paranoia. We should not lose perspective.

So out of hand did this hawkish exaggeration of Crimea become, that a backlash set-in. Micha Zenko noted the obvious hypocrisy of U.S. officials suddenly praising international rules and sovereign non-interference. Fred Kaplan pointed out that NATO does in fact retain the ability to defend itself. And Fareed Zakaria usefullyreminded everyone that the “Long Peace” and gradual decline in war violence are in fact real secular trends not debunked by one event.

This essay is a part of this response literature, but focused on Asia, where there has been a flurry of similarly exaggerated suggestion that Crimea could be a model of local aggression (here, here, and here – or here for the most egregious on U.S. President Barack Obama’s “capitulation” in Asia). Unsurprisingly, much of this focuses on China, moving to take either the Senkaku/Diayou Islands or a strip of northern North Korea (the latter has been kicked around in the South Korean press). But much of this is hyperbole, some of it rather irresponsible. And a lot of it feels like U.S. neoconservatives and defense hawks using Crimea as a political cudgel against a president they dislike and defense budget cuts they detest. Crimeas are apparently like Pleiku streetcars – wait long enough and you can always circle back to preferred arguments.

But it is far too early and the Crimean situation probably too unique for these conjectures. By way of illustration, consider this “what Crimea means for Asia” piece by my friend Brad Glosserman of the influential Center for Strategic and International Studies. Brad argues:

1. Putin took Crimea, ergo realism is the “coin of realm in foreign policy” and liberal theories on the decline of war are wrong. This is too simple. Crimea is one event; it has resulted in few casualties; it seems likely, in spite of the rigged poll, that a majority of Crimeans would in fact prefer to be part of Russia; it is not at all clear that Russia’s army could sustain a serious occupation of even eastern Ukraine; a full-scale invasion would galvanize NATO overnight, and so on. By contrast, liberal theories of international politics continue to explain a lot – most obviously the very large democratic security community that reaches from eastern Europe all the way west and south to parts of east Asia and Australia. One event does not buck this well-documented trend.

China's Oil Rig Gambit

China's dispatch of an oil rig to waters claimed by Vietnam threatens armed conflict, and makes Washington a party whether it likes it or not. 

MAY 9, 2014 

As China and Vietnam enter the second week of their tense naval standoff in the South China Sea, three questions loom large: What is China trying to achieve, could this turn into a shooting war between the two historical enemies, and what does this all mean for the U.S. pivot to Asia?

The short answers: China watchers are puzzled by Beijing's aggressive behavior, which seems both a departure from its previous approach to regional relations and potentially counterproductive; no guns have yet been drawn, but this could quickly turn violent; and U.S. desire to maintain influence in the region could hinge on how it handles a dispute between two communist countries -- and on whether neighboring nations believe Washington is willing to go to the mat to stand up to a rising China.

China's dispatch of a huge, billion-dollar offshore oil rig to waters claimed by both Beijing and Hanoi sparked the biggest conflict in years between the two countries. Over the weekend, Vietnamese officials said, Chinese ships sent to escort the oil rig rammed and fired water cannons at Vietnamese coast guard vessels sent to investigate. Tensions remain at a fever pitch, with Chinese officials claiming Friday, May 9, that Vietnamese ships and frogmen are interfering with the oil rig's operations, though no further naval clashes have been confirmed.

The clash, the most serious since a similar showdown between China and Vietnam in 2007, has zoomed to the top of the agenda for the summit this weekend of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which in turn has infuriated Beijing. China doesn't want any international groupings to discuss the maritime disputes, which it prefers to settle on a bilateral basis.

The Philippines, which has its own fresh dispute with China this week after Philippine Coast Guard officials arrested someone they said was an illegal Chinese fisherman, will seek to put maritime disputes at the heart of the ASEAN confab and seek progress on a code of conduct that could give countries a peaceful way to resolve territorial disputes. In response, Chinese state-controlled media attacked the Philippines for trying to "instigate tension" in the region by promising to bring up maritime disputes at the annual ASEAN summit.

The real bad guy, in Chinese eyes, isn't the Philippines or Vietnam, however. Instead, Beijing says that the United States, by pursuing its pivot to Asia, has emboldened countries in the region to take an unnecessarily tougher and more provocative stance toward China than they had in recent years.

"It must be pointed out that the recent series of irresponsible and wrong comments from the United States, which neglect the facts about the relevant waters, have encouraged certain countries' dangerous and provocative behavior," a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said at a regular briefing Friday, Reuters reported.

China was responding to tough talk from the U.S. State Department in the wake of news that the two countries had actually clashed over the oil rig's deployment. On Wednesday, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki stated that China's aggressive approach to advancing its claims over a broad stretch of the South China Sea "undermines peace and stability in the region."

Mapping the Four C's of Chinese Wealth

MAY 12, 2014 

SHANGHAI — Conversations about China have long stopped askingif decades of breakneck growth have widened the gap between rich and poor. English-language media is now more likely to focus on whether the country's inequality is merely as deplorable as the United States', or if it has already joined Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa to become one of the globe's most socially stratified places. The map below gives a vivid picture of that (click any image to enlarge):

China's inequality is regional, as it is in many large countries. Terms like "wealthy coastal provinces" and "impoverished interior" are now well-worn sayings in any China hand's phrase book. Most English-language discussions of China's regional inequality stop there, or at most focus on differences between the country's 31 provincial-level regions. The risk of overlooking finer-grained trends looms large, given that many Chinese provinces are larger than entire countries in both size and population.

This forms a stark contrast with the United States, where the accessibility of census data and mapping tools has filled the Internet with detailedcartographical exposés on the nation's haves and have-nots. In China the problem is not lack of interest, but a paucity of publicly available digital data; maps as fine-grained as these U.S. county-level ones are a challenge to compile when some of China's data must be downloaded off online gray markets or entered by hand from pricey official statistics books, and the few Chinese maps that are produced rarely cause ripples beyond the Chinese-language Internet. 

The map above attempts to provide a more detailed look at Chinese income inequality by using the 2012 China Statistical Yearbook for Regional Economy, the most recent book of regional data available from the nation's second-largest public library. The Yearbook provides data for China's 300-plus prefectures: subprovincial administrative units covered by a mix of towns and farmland whose largest cities are designated as prefectural seats. The Yearbook also contains separate per capita income data for each prefecture's urban and rural dwellers, but the map combines them into a weighted average based on urbanization rates. (While the rural and urban income metrics differ slightly, they are the most comparable metrics the government produces, and Chinese analysts frequently compare the two when calculating the urban/rural income gap.)

In Africa, Li Keqiang Refutes Charge of Chinese ‘Neo-Colonialism’

The tone of Li’s trip to Africa was carefully designed to hit back at accusations China is exploiting the continent. 

May 13, 2014

On April 11, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang finished his four country tour of Africa, making stops in Ethiopia (including the African Union headquarters), Nigeria, Angola, and Kenya. China’s activities in Africa are increasingly gaining media attention around the world, particularly as speculation heats up about a competition for the continent between China and the U.S. (or even China and Japan). Li’s trip promoted the traditional theme of China-African friendship, with an extra touch of defensiveness resulting from increased global scrutiny.

While speaking at a World Economic Forum in Nigeria, Li promised to devote “more than half of its foreign aid to Africa,” with no conditions attached to the funding. Li pledged China’s friendship to Africa, and reiterated Chinese support for Africa playing a larger role in world politics as it continues to develop. Li also stressed that China “will never attach political conditions to its assistance to Africa and will never use its aid programs to interfere in the internal affairs of African countries,” a tacit criticism of Western countries who often refuse to provide funding to countries seen as human rights violators.

Li Keqiang also acknowledged in a speech that China-Africa relations have encountered some “growing pains,” a nod to tensions in some African countries over issues such as illegal Chinese mining operations and resentment against local Chinese traders. But Xinhua was quick to emphasize that these “growing pains” are “problems that inevitably occur during the development of relations” — meaning no one (especially not China) is to blame.

Like Xinhua, Li was at pains to combat perceptions of China acting as a “neo-colonial” power in Africa. His tour largely ignored the question of resource exploitation, and instead emphasized China-Africa cooperation in fields such as infrastructure, training and education, poverty reduction, environmental protection, and cultural exchange. When discussing Chinese projects within Africa, the focus was on how China was reducing unemployment. “China has always tried to transfer the industries best suitable for Africa, especially the labor-intensive ones, so as to create more jobs in the continent,” Xinhua said in a review of Li’s trip.

China’s emphasis on infrastructure was especially strong during Li’s visit. Li promised that China will help develop high-speed railways, highways, and regional airports in Africa, citing infrastructure construction as a top priority for Africa’s continued development. Li and Uhuru Kenyatta, the President of Kenya, witnessed the signing of deal that will have China and Kenya co-finance a railway linking Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, with the coastal city of Mombasa. Also present at the ceremony were the presidents of Uganda, Rwanda, and South Sudan, whose attendance Li called a sign of the “common desire to develop [a] railway network in East Africa.”

Status in the New Asia

MAY 12, 2014

HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam — The quest for status is a tremendous driver of society, at whatever level of development. It is a fundamental human desire. The new middle classes of Asia, and the new rich, are looking to assert their status. This plays out in interesting ways.

Of Vietnam’s 90 million people, about 20 million are on Facebook; around half that number live below the poverty line. A society so defined inhabits many universes at once. A teenager on a scooter among the whining legions of scooters, his bike burdened with a cage full of live chickens, passes a glitzy new “Thai Tapas Bar.” Global and local, high concept and the scramble for survival, intersect. Everyone lives somewhere. A growing number of people live everywhere. Vietnam, a war-ravaged peasant society within living memory, has bounded toward a churning urban modernity that has echoes across the world.

The global rich inhabit one country, the global middle class another, the global poor a third. There is much more in common among the global rich across national borders than between rich and poor within those borders. Perhaps it was ever so. But the world lived in ignorance, most exploitable of conditions. Awareness has changed things. It is a force multiplier and a motivator. It is near irreversible once acquired. It drives the ache for status, as evident now in Ho Chi Minh City as Hollywood.

The notion that globalization equals homogenization has become a commonplace. You travel 10,000 miles and find yourself gazing at a Domino’s Pizza or a Dunkin’ Donuts. Upscale neighborhoods are full of the same kinds of ads for personal fitness trainers. Malls are filled with the same “power brands.” Children show the same tendencies toward pudginess or even obesity as their diets are changed by global fast food. The Vietnamese rich want the same Prada bags as the rich throughout the world, the new middle class craves the same symbols of their rise, and the poor are just poor like the poor everywhere.

But these are bromides. Homogenization is in fact far from the whole story. Perhaps it would be truer these days to say that the same thing that people throughout the world want is something different.

If they have the means they want the glass hand-blown, the liquor slow-aged and the fabric hand-sewn. They want something with a distinctive story. They want to know how the pigs behind that succulent ham got their acorns. They want to know how the barrel behind the bourbon was made. They long to demonstrate their knowledge, now so easily acquired, and reveal their particular taste.

“Mass” is becoming a problematic word in the global marketplace. Bespoke and crafted and boutique are good words.

Better the couple of guys in Denver who start a microbrewery or the former hedge-fund honcho making a superior gin near Edinburgh than the slick marketers of power-branding. Integrity and authenticity are new watchwords. Globalization, it transpires, is also about growing fragmentation. It involves consumer rebellions against being herded by conglomerates toward the same brands in the same malls.

The Unintended Consequences of a Japanese/Israeli Defense Agreement

While the agreements are an easy and obvious course of action for Israel, Japan should tread carefully. 

May 13, 2014

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrived in Japan on Sunday for a five day visit. He met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday, in talks to boost defense and cyberspace cooperation. At a press conference, Netanyahu emphasized their common challenges, specifically the threat from rogue states with nuclear weapons.

The two leaders also signed a joint statement that “expressed their strong hope for the early resolution of various issues of concerns regarding North Korea, including its nuclear development.” Netanyahu also made a clear connection between North Korea’s path to nuclear armament and Iran’s, saying Iran was seeking to ease sanctions while maintaining military capability.

The two leaders also signed an agreement to bolster joint industrial research and development, and eventually weapons development. While Netanyahu praised Japan as technological innovator that Israel could learn from, their shared efforts in cyber warfare are likely to benefit Japan more than Israel. Israel played a significant part in the Stuxnet cyber attack on Iran, which later reportedly made its way to China. As China’s state-supported cyber warfare capabilities are already well known, Japan will be looking to find an edge by partnering with countries that have their own cyber expertise. However, publically pursuing that technology could have the unwanted effect of attracting further cyber attacks from China in the short term.

Abe also urged Netanyahu to resume Palestinian peace negotiations and advised against “unilateral measures including settlement activities.” Japan has always walked a fine line concerning Palestine and the ongoing sanctions negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. As Japan imports more than 80 percent of its oil from the Middle East, it can ill afford to upset others in the region. A misstep over the Palestinian issue could affect its relationship with Arabian Peninsula states, and on April 10 and 15 Japan paid Iran $1 billion in previously frozen oil payments, most likely in the hopes of resuming imports as quickly as possible.

The details of the meeting between Abe and Netanyahu and their joint statement underscore the level of nuance Japan must employ when broaching such a wide swath of issues. Even while publically Japan has appeared confrontational on security issues with China, Japan can’t afford to provoke it in a sphere like cyber security where China enjoys a clear advantage. Japan also walks a fine line with Iran, because even though it takes a harsh stance against countries developing nuclear weapons in order to strengthen international resolve against North Korea, its energy security is dependent upon the Middle East. As Abe’s economic policy continues apace and a significant resumption of nuclear energy production remains uncertain, Japan’s weakened yen cannot afford any disruptions in global energy markets.


May 8, 2014 

Last week, it seemed we were seeing rare good news out of Libya. Oil exports were set to resume from the Zuetina port after rebels holding it reached an agreement with the government. On another optimistic note, the interim parliament convenedto select a new prime minister. (The previous prime minister resigned after six days after rebels attacked his family, while the prime minister before him was actually kidnapped by rebels.)

But the prime minister vote didn’t go well. Gunmen stormed the parliament building, started shooting, and forced lawmakers to abandon their plans.

This is Libya today: Each step forward seems to be followed by another step or two back, usually driven by security problems. The central government can’t execute basic sovereign functions in its own capitol building. Underscoring this point, last year gunmen shut down the ministries of justice and foreign affairs for two weeks due to a political dispute, the equivalent of gunmen in the U.S. shuttering the departments of justice and state.

RAND’s Christopher S. Chivvis argues in his book (reviewed by WOTR’s Jack Mulcaire) that in March 2011, two major arguments existed within the administration for intervention in Libya. The first was humanitarian: the concern that Muammar Qaddafi would slaughter citizens. The second argument related to the Arab Spring uprisings, and the idea “that decisive support for the revolution would vividly demonstrate that the United States supported the uprisings across the region.”

Although Chivvis doesn’t mention it, one factor that seemingly helped drive the view that the uprisings were in the U.S. interest was the fight against al-Qaeda. Early in the Arab Spring, U.S. analysts overwhelmingly believedthat the revolutionary events were devastating for jihadists. (Jihadist strategists thought that, rather than harming the movement, the revolutions would yield significant advantages.)

Rapid as Qaddafi’s fall was, the intervention is widely regarded as a success, as no allied lives were lost, and the price tag stood at just $1.1 billion. But though the mission was superb in its execution, it was more problematic than is commonly acknowledged. The intervention produced significant ripples, and in fact, one rationale for intervention advanced at the time was that doing so would have second-order consequences: As several commentators noted, there was a real feeling at the time that thechanges sweeping the region might be reversed if Qaddafi’s advance on Benghazi weren’t stopped.

Though the desire to see the spread of democracy and the fall of dictators is noble, decisions of state should be judged by results rather than intent. NATO’s intervention came when there had already been wrenching changes in the region, and there were further revolutionary rumblings. The choice to intervene represented not just a decision to stop Qaddafi’s advance on Benghazi, but also to speed up the pace of change. This made it more difficult subsequently for the United States to secure its interests, and to influence events in the region in a way that could save further lives. The intervention in Libya left behind a country beset by instability, and has had a destabilizing effect on Libya’s neighbors. Taking these consequences into account, it is not clear that lives were saved on the whole by NATO’s intervention.