October 10, 2022No Comments

U.S.-China: The New Normal?

Author: Francesco Cirillo.

Tensions between China and the United States seem frozen at the moment, a consequence of domestic commitments of both Beijing and Washington. On the one hand, Xi Jinping will have to pass a Communist Party Congress to secure a third term as General Secretary of the Party, reappointment to the post of Chairman of the Central Military Commission, and reappointment as President of the People's Republic. Xi has several dossiers. The first is the issue of the anti-covid policy that has blocked production chains in recent months due to continuous lockdowns; the second is the delicate relationship with Moscow, which has seen in its Russian partner a greater weakening and consolidation of Beijing's political position in several areas of influence. For Xi, the October Congress is the turning point for the consolidation of his leadership within the Party. The main international dossier facing Beijing during the Congress session will be relations with Washington and the sensitive Taiwan issue. In the previous months several articles have been published by Chinese academics linked to the Party. CSIS, Center for Strategic of International Studies, translated an article by Liu Jieyi, director of the Taiwan Affairs Office of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council from a seminar on the Taiwan issue held between August 17 and 18. The seminar was attended by several academics close to Communist Party and government positions. Liu Jieyi in the piece titled "Reunification Has Entered an Irreversible Historical Process [统一进入不可逆转历史进程]" described that the reunification process has now entered an irreversible historical process and that not even Taipei's so-called "anti-Chinese forces" and "independence vagueities" will oppose the unification of the Island with the People's Republic.

Image Source: https://pixabay.com/photos/peking-forbidden-travel-china-1908167/

The Diplomatic clash between China and the United States on the Taiwan issue was raised after the visit of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi but two other elements changed the approach of Sino-US relations. The first was the presentation of a new document(Taiwan Policy Act 2022) by the U.S. Senate Foreign Affairs Committee that if approved could allocate some $6.5 billion in aid. If it is approved by both the House and Senate it could further deteriorate Washington-Beijing relations. Another bone of contention is the approval by the U.S. side to sell a $1.1 billion arms package. At the moment, relations between the People's Republic and the U.S. have returned to a certain "new" normalcy, a consequence of the domestic commitments of both Beijing (Party Congress" and Washington ( Mid-Term elections for the renewal of the U.S. Congress) .

On the international context, the war in Ukraine could, in the coming months and early 2023, lead China and the U.S. to engage in consultation given that at the SCO summit in Samarkand a certain Beijing discontent with the war being waged by the Kremlin was noted, a position that after the Party Congress could solidify further reducing Beijing's indirect support for Russia's junior partner.

September 26, 2022No Comments

Another suspicious move by China: Indivisible Security

Author: Ho Ting (Bosco) Hung.

China has consistently declared its willingness to play an important role in international security, in an attempt to gain greater exposure on the international stage. Nonetheless, its active expansion and coercive policies have threatened the West, thus being perceived as a security challenge to many countries. Still, China shows no hesitance in demonstrating its willingness to involve in international security. At the Boao Forum in April 2022, Xi Jinping put forward the Global Security Initiative to ‘meet the pressing need of the international community to maintain world peace and prevent conflicts and wars’. While most of the GSI’s principles are reiterating China’s foreign policy, a concept worth noting is the idea of indivisible security. The concept’s genuine meaning remains unclear, but considering the sensitive times, it promotes the notion that China could make use of the term to build up a Chinese-oriented order in international security.

Image Source: https://pixabay.com/photos/explosion-the-war-the-military-2096161/

What is Indivisible Security?

The concept of indivisible security is not new, but it is highly contested. The term was first used in the 1975 Helsinki Final Act to emphasise the benefit of cooperation. It means that the security of states in the same region is inextricably linked with each other, so no country should pursue its security at the expense of others. Therefore, the term conveys a positive meaning.

Despite the consensus reached by the signatories on the concept, other countries have put forward their own set of indivisible security principles. Remarkably, Russia considers NATO’s pursuit of indivisible security a security threat. The Kremlin has been discontent with NATO’s eastward expansion and reiterated that NATO should not make its security arrangements at the expense of Russia’s security. This is also used as a justification for its attack on Ukraine.

From China’s perspective, it is debatable what indivisible security truly means in its context. China has acknowledged that no country should pursue its security at the expense of other's security. At the same time, China also emphasizes that strengthening or expanding military blocs could not guarantee regional security, while all countries’ security concerns should be considered seriously.

Sensitive Time, Sensitive Concept

The decision to put forth this concept at a sensitive time when Russia is fighting with Ukraine could be, at best, a call for wholehearted cooperation on security issues, but at worst, a cunning move. 

China has always blamed NATO and the United States for provoking the Russia-Ukraine War. Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian claimed ‘The Russia-Ukraine conflict, to a large extent, is the result of Western arrogance and successive mistakes over the last 30-plus years and NATO’s eastward expansion is the root cause of the ongoing conflict.’ He also criticized NATO for engaging in bloc confrontation and making trouble, which largely matches the indivisible security principle ‘strengthening or expanding military blocs could not guarantee regional security’. 

Meanwhile, Beijing has been actively attempting to strengthen its security ties with other countries, especially non-Western countries, to expand its sphere of influence. China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has frequently stressed the importance of mutual respectcooperation, and equality in security issues. In other words, China has expressed its concerns about other countries’ security needs and shown its reluctance to become a hegemon on the international stage.It has therefore been attempting to build its image as a responsible and collaborative leader in security affairs.

Together with China’s past criticisms of the West and its eagerness to expand its security ties with other countries, China’s intention of putting forward the concept at the peak of the Russia-Ukraine military conflict is suspicious. China could make use of the notion of indivisible security to accuse the West of ignoring non-Western countries’ security needs, like Russia’s. It could also depict the West’s unilateral efforts of building or strengthening security alliances as a threat, which could by no means guarantee regional security. This way, China could justify that the West is a troublemaker by leveraging the concept of indivisible security. 

On the other hand, China could make use of the term to contrast its attitude on security issues with the West. It could continually reiterate its respect for other countries’ security concerns and passion for collaborating with the international community hand in hand to pursue peace. This allows China to try and shape itself as a saviour of the world’s security while attempting to depict the West as a devil who only brings turbulence and disruption to peace more legitimately. Therefore, Beijing’s concept of indivisible security is an attempt to establish itself as a leader in international security and aims to defeat the West in the competition for supreme discursive power in the international arena.

We Must Stay Cautious

Admittedly, the development of the concept of indivisible security in a Chinese context is still at an initial stage. Chinahas not shown its intention to use this concept to intervene in the Russia-Ukraine War. However, it is beyond dispute that Beijing has been hostile to the West’s dominance in the security field and become more ambitious in recent years. With the escalating Sino-Western tensions, it remains possible that China could weaponize the notion to challenge the West and its approaches to security affairs. The international community must stay alert to China’s promotion and new interpretation of the concept, to fully understand the intention of the adoption of the notion and be prepared for another battle for the leadership position in international security.

May 19, 2022No Comments

The Consequences of Ukrainian War on U.S.-China Relations

Author: Francesco Cirillo.

The war in Ukraine is shaking the European security system and also influencing Washington's strategies in the Indo-Pacific. With the focus on Europe, the US has slowed down its diplomatic and political activity in Asia while keeping a close eye on Beijing's moves. The latest moves such as Beijing's ratified security agreement with the Solomon Islands has alarmed Canberra, a close US ally, as well as the Americans. For Washington, the move is seen as an attempt by Beijing to strengthen its diplomatic and politico-military position in the South Pacific. Another hot dossier concerns the thorny issue of Taiwan. With the Russian invasion Washington is analysing how it can support Taipei in terms of military aid without bothering the People's Republic of China.

In recent months, with the outbreak of war in Ukraine, there have been growing concerns that in the near future Beijing might attempt an armed attack to occupy and annex Taiwan, which Beijing calls one of its 'rebel provinces'. At the moment, however, there seem to be no signs of a possible Chinese attack. The war has been a total game changer, causing concern within Xi Jinping's leadership. According to the Wall Street Journal, Chinese big tech companies are scaling back their business in the Russian Federation market, as they are intimidated by possible sanctions that the US and the West might apply against them. But recently a War Game was broadcast on NBC news, simulating an invasion of Taiwan by the People's Republic of China and a subsequent military confrontation with the US in the Pacific.

Image Source: https://pixabay.com/photos/mao-zedong-mao-tse-tung-chairman-mao-15983/ 

In fact, within the US federal agencies, preparations are being made for a possible war confrontation with Chinese forces. Despite the tension within some Chinese academic circles, it is theorised that a kind of competitive coexistence could be found with Washington, which would aim to exclude a warlike confrontation. In January 2022, Professor Wang Jisi , lecturer at the School of International Studies and President of the Institute of International and Strategic Studies at Peking University, wrote and published an essay entitled 'A Hot Peace: Is a Paradigm in U.S.-China Relations Emerging?'. In this short essay, the academic theorises that despite the mistrust between Washington and Beijing on various dossiers ranging from the Hong Kong issue to the mistrustful view of international relations via Taiwan, it is necessary to maintain and consolidate a channel of communication between the two leaderships in order to cooperate when the interests of both the People's Republic and the United States converge. According to Wang Jisi, this would lead the current status of Sino-US relations not towards a new 'Cold War' but towards a so-called 'Hot Peace', in which Beijing and Washington, despite competition in various fields, mutual mistrust and different visions concerning the status quo of the international chessboard will necessarily have to cooperate in certain dossiers of global importance.  

The war in Ukraine puts Beijing in front of a dangerous strategy: on the one hand it publicly pushes both Moscow and Kiev to find a point of convergence to open a diplomatic mediation table; on the other hand it wants to avoid being included in possible economic sanctions. Moreover, it adds that there could be a remote hypothesis that is at the moment difficult to realise: with a severely weakened post-war Russia, China, in exchange for financial aid, would ask the Kremlin for possible access to military technology in the experimental phase in order to study it and acquire know-how.

At the moment, however, China is focused on other dossiers and preparing for the Party Congress, but with an eye on the economic consequences that the conflict could bring globally. 

May 9, 2022No Comments

The Need for a Territorial Defence Force in Taiwan

Author: Sandra Watson Parcels.

The Chinese Communist Party is one of the most ruthless regimes in history. There should be no illusion that China, under President Xi, is not only capable, but willing to enact this violence on the people of Taiwan. Mara Karlin, United States Assistant Secretary of Defence for Strategy, Plans and Capabilities stated, "I think the situation we're seeing in Ukraine right now is a very worthwhile case study for them about why Taiwan needs to do all it can to build asymmetric capabilities, to get its population ready, so that it can be as prickly as possible should China choose to violate its sovereignty." Ukraine, under the might of the much larger Russian military, was expected to fall in days, but the Territorial Defence Force has been credited in helping to slow the Russian advance. 

A recent article by Michael Hunzeker and Admiral (Ret.) Lee Hsi-ming, former Chief of the General Staff of the Republic of China’s (Taiwan) Armed Forces, and a recent ITSS Verona Interview with the Admiral discusses the need for Taiwan to develop a standing, all-volunteer, Territorial Defence Force against the threat of a Chinese invasion. The Taiwanese military currently has approximately 170,000 active-duty troops, including 90,000 Army, 40,000 Navy,10,000 marines and 40,000 Air Force but just rough-and-ready militias and civil defense groups to counter a ruthless occupation. Territorial Defense Forces are not capable of defeating a large-scale invasion but can prevent a swift victory by ensuring an occupation would be violent and lengthy.

Hunzeker and Admiral Lee’s concept is to build a Territorial Defence Force around special forces units, trained in asymmetrical warfare. A well trained and equipped Territorial Defence Force would make it very difficult and costly for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), should they get passed Taiwan’s coastline defences. In a recent interview, Hunzeker elaborated that Taiwan should have a Territorial Defence Force for two reasons. One, as a message of deterrence that the Taiwanese people are ready, willing, and able to defend Taiwan. Two, a Territorial Defence Force would make it very challenging to conquer the civilian population. This would buy time for Taiwan to defend itself and for allies to intervene and help Taiwan. Retired U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Mark Montgomery, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies stated that the United States (U.S.) needs to learn the right lessons from the war in Ukraine, including spending less time ‘worrying about provoking authoritarian bullies’ and more time working todefend threatened democracies before invasions start. The U.S. has also been slow in addressing concerns and requests by U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, that recently warned again that military balance of power in the region continues to become “more unfavorable” for America and its allies. Therefore, although it is likely the U.S. and allies will come to Taiwan’s defence, Taiwan must also show a willingness to fight, just as Ukraine’s Territorial Defence Force inspires the world and garners international support.

Image Source: https://aspeniaonline.it/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/taiwan.jpg

The Territorial Defence Force would not need to be extremely large to be effective. Units of thousands, even hundreds of asymmetric trained volunteers would make a big impact, as witnessed now in Ukraine. 

The Taiwanese government must play the leading role in building and supplying the Territorial Defence Force. Not only must volunteers be trained, but they will also need to be armed and supplied. Ukraine has land borders that make it easier to resupply fuel, ammunition, weapons, water, food, and medical supplies. As an island, Taiwan has the advantage of island defence but will be at a disadvantage when it comes to resupply. Taiwan’s strategic challenges include knowing China will attempt to cut Taiwan off from the outside world. Therefore, it is vital that the Taiwanese government create a Territorial Defence Force and provide stockpiles throughout the country. 

Scenes of ordinary Ukrainians defending their homeland has awakened Taiwan’s own spirit of resistance. The Taiwanese people are inspired, Russia has shown that the threat of invasion is real and Ukraine’s Territorial Defence Force has shown that resistance works. Now is the time for the government of Taiwan to build a strong, fully supplied Territorial Defence Force that will deter and, if need be, defend Taiwan from occupation. The 4thPresident of the United States, James Madison once said, “A well-regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained in arms, is the best most natural defense of a free country.”

May 2, 2022No Comments

Sri Lankan Turmoil

Image source: https://cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/220331175311-03-sri-lanka-protests-0331-super-169.jpg

By Austin Parcels & Alberto Trame

Intro

Since 2019, Sri Lanka has been experiencing its worst economic crisis. Unprecedented levels of inflation, the near depletion of foreign exchange reserves, the rising prices of basic commodities, daily blackouts lasting ten to thirteen hours, and shortages of medical supplies plague the already poor nation. Sri Lanka’s population of almost 22 million people now waits in nearly endless lines for basic amenities. Schools have been suspended because of the lack of equipment and businesses shut down because of the lack of petrol needed for commuters and the transportation of goods.

Declared the "worst economic crisis for Sri Lanka in 73 years" by the Sri Lankan Government, the country now finds itself embroiled in protests and steadily increasing violence. Protesters place blame on president Gotabaya Rajapaksa's government, whom they accuse of mismanaging the economy. The Rajapaksa are Sri Lanka's most influential family, a political dynasty, prominent in several senior roles in the Sri Lankan State. Protesters demand that Rajapaksa and his family step down, hoping to pave the way for new democratic leaders.

Understanding Sri Lanka's turmoil and the regional fallout are vital to understanding the current state of South Asian security and diplomacy. There are several reasons for Sri Lanka's current unrest, ranging from president Rajapaksa's tax cuts, Sri Lanka's significant foreign debt, the ongoing agricultural crisis, and the tourism fallout over the 2019 Easter bombings and COVID-19. Finally, Sri Lanka's second-largest market for tea exports, Russia, has been ostracized by the international community in the wake of their invasion of Ukraine. Sri Lanka depends heavily on tea exports, with 17% of its economy relying on it completely.

Sri Lanka and China

The first security concern comes in the form of Chinese regional ambition. While Sri Lanka is not massively indebted to China (only about 10% of the Sri Lankan debt stock is owed to China), the Rajapaksa government has stated it will appeal to China to ease its debt burden. Given China's history of debt-trap diplomacy, and its continued influence on political and economic spheres of affairs throughout the continent, cosying up to China could spell danger for Sri Lanka and the region.

Sri Lanka has already given up a port to the Chinese ambition. Under pressure from China regarding debts, Sri Lanka coughed up the Hambantota Port and 15,000 acres of land surrounding it. China now controls a piece of territory just off the shores of its main regional rival, India. China's ambition in Sri Lanka does not stop there. China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has invested $1.4 billion in the Colombo Port City project, the largest ever foreign investment in Sri Lanka's history.

China has utilized the BRI as a form of neo-colonialism, using it to debt-trap poorer countries while exploiting those same countries for their raw resources and control over the infrastructure. With the presence of China in Sri Lanka already, and the current economic crisis, the Chinese are poised to take advantage of the situation by further exploiting the poorer island nation.

Sri Lankan Islamist Extremism

Easter Sunday, three years ago, three churches and three luxury hotels in Colombo were targeted in a series of coordinated Islamist terrorist attacks carried out by the National Tawahujja Jama'ath (NTJ). The attack killed 269 people, injuring at least 500 others. NTJ is believed to have connections to the Islamic State (ISIL). Terrorism in Sri Lanka has existed for some time. Organisations such as the Tamil Tigers and various Marxist-Leninist parties have carried out attacks in the past. Islamist terrorism began to rise in the 2010s, with a steep rise in attacks against the country's small Roman Catholic minority. These attacks eventually culminated in the 2019 Sri Lanka Easter bombings.

Sri Lanka's Islamic population, called Moors, is not large, accounting for roughly 9.7% of the population, and they have historically faced significant persecution by the Buddhist majority. Following the defeat of the Tamil Tigers in 2009, there has been a steep rise in anti-Islamic sentiment in Sri Lanka. Bhavani Fonseka, a human rights lawyer, spoke to the BBC about the issues, saying "in the post-war period, Muslims have become the new enemy." Muslim Sri Lankans, who already face discrimination from the government and who have a sudden rise in extremism within their community, are now staring down the barrel of the ongoing economic crisis.

Studies have shown that there is a connection between poverty, economic minority discrimination, and domestic terrorism. The ongoing economic crisis will exacerbate the divide between the Muslim and Christian minorities and the Buddhist majority. With the crisis worsening, Sri Lanka can expect a dramatic rise in Islamic terrorist attacks from well-trained, ISIL-affiliated organisations like the NTJ.

This rise in terrorism is not just a domestic issue either. Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines have seen their shared maritime border exploited by Islamist terrorists seeking to supplement conflict zones in Southeast Asia with foreign fighters. The Philippines' large Islamist problem has crossed the maritime borders and is beginning to affect its neighbours. Sri Lanka shares a maritime border with Maldives and India, two countries that could face the fallout of rising Islamic terrorism within Sri Lanka. As the economic crisis continues, and Sri Lanka finds itself unable to support its military and police structures, terrorists and criminals will leak through the porous borders.

Conclusions

In an increasingly globalized and interconnected world, the economic downward spiral of a small country can still have a great effect on the world at large. For South Asia, Sri Lanka's crisis can be a catalyst for significant shifts in the area's power structure, a rise in terrorism, and the opportunity for powerful countries to gain a further foothold in the region. This article has highlighted some of the ways Sri Lanka's ongoing crisis could do significant damage to South Asia, but there are undoubtedly other issues, such as international criminal organisations, which were not addressed. If you'd like to learn more about security concerns in South Asia and elsewhere, click here to view more of ITSS Verona's articles.

This article also mentioned the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which is an economic infrastructure development strategy adopted by the Chinese Government in 2013. It has been considered a centrepiece of Xi Jinping's foreign policy, but many opponents of the strategy consider it a way for China to practice debt-trap diplomacy and neo-colonialism. If you'd like to learn more about the BRI and China's foreign policy, check out this ITSS member series article.

April 22, 2022No Comments

Chinese Presence in Africa: Between Investment and Possible New Militarisation

By Michele Tallarini - Africa Team

Source: https://chinaafricaproject.com/2020/09/22/china-to-increase-support-for-peacekeeping-operations-according-to-new-white-paper/ 

China and the African continent

China’s influence in Africa is becoming increasingly deep. 2021 saw a bilateral trade between Beijing and the African continent of 254 billion dollars, with a 35% growth compared to the previous year. Given these findings, China is Africa’s largest trading partner for the twelfth consecutive year.

Over the last decade, Beijing has replaced “classical” colonial powers thanks to a new paradigm which privileges trading, infrastructural investments and non-interference in the home affairs of the countries with whom it cooperates. This success can be attributed not only to the fact that China has not been a colonial power, but also to a precise strategy pursued by its government, which is based on specific principles. One of the most important of these is financial support: from 2007 to 2020 Chinese development banks provided more funding than all other foreign financial institutions put together. The second point is the aforementioned neutrality in Africa’s countries home affairs, with no political interference, in contrast to the classical Western multilateral approach. This does not mean that Beijing does not show its soft power, but it prefers a strictly economic type of support, with no assistance, for instance, in the development of new democratic institutions or interventions in African political crises. Another important point is the “raw material for infrastructures” policy, which allows China to pay for African goods (mainly natural resources) by building new strategic onsite facilities (bridges, roads, railways etc.). 

Given this strategic approach, African governments see China as a reliable partner and the main interlocutor for their economic development. The recent opposition of several African countries on the condemnation of Russian invasion of Ukraine at the UN General Assembly (17 abstained, following China and India, 8 were absent and 1 vote against), underlines the strong political connection which links the Beijing government and Africa, pushing African leaders to pursue Chinese interests in the international arena. This connection is bilateral but not equal: China, as a global superpower, extends its political influence by leveraging African countries’ debts. In particular, failure on their part to return money granted to them by China for the construction of strategic infrastructure may lead to repossession of that infrastructure by Beijing. Main examples are the Djiboutian port of Doraleh or the Mombasa port, used as collateral for the building of the Mombasa-Nairobi railway.

Chinese military presence in Africa: is this the beginning of a new framework?

As well as stronger financial and political intervention, in the last few years Beijing has intensified its military presence and cooperation. This engagement runs through the UN peacekeeping missions, which see a high presence of Chinese soldiers. This engagement aims to give China the chance to improve the expertise of its soldiers in operational contexts and to establish its presence in the continent. 

At the moment, Beijing has a military base in Djibouti operated by the Chinese People's Army Navy (PLAN). The African country is an important hub for the control of worldwide trade: located in the Horn of Africa at the intersection of important shipping routes such as Bab-el-Mandeb and the Aden Gulf, which is the entry point for the Suez Canal, where 30% of global maritime trade takes place. Because of its strategic importance, the country hosts several military bases, notably the US, France, Italy, Spain and Saudi Arabia. The Chinese base hosts 2000 soldiers. 

Endorsed by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013, the Djibouti base was inaugurated in 2017 and tasked with peacekeeping operations (PKO) and convoy duty. Regardless of the official purpose of the base, its size and the onsite facilities set out its possible role as a starting point for future military expansion in the African continent, with the creation of new bases in other countries. U.S. Gen. Stepen Townsend referred to it, in an interview with The Associated Press: “They have arms and munitions for sure. They have armoured combat vehicles. We think they will soon be basing helicopters there to potentially include attack helicopters.” Moreover, the above-mentioned multipurpose port of Doraleh, built by China and located near the base has been strategically important for it. Again, Chinese military expansion would appear to go hand in hand with the spread of its commerce and investments, following the routes of the “Maritime Silk Road” and taking advantage of facilities built and controlled for cooperation purposes. 

It is plausible that Beijing will reproduce the “Djibouti base model” in other African countries, following the same steps and dynamics. In this regard, the recent agreement between Chinese and Tanzanian governments for the extension of the Bagamoyo port (75 km north of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania) could be the first stage of further military expansion. The seaport could give Beijing the chance to reinforce its presence in the region and act as a centre for ship repair. Moreover, a new base in the Indian Ocean could help resolve Chinese dependence on the Malacca Strait.

Between money and weapons: the end of Chinese soft power?

As we’ve seen, recent Chinese expansion in Africa seems to lead to an increasingly strong military presence in the continent. This new framework set up by Beijing, which combines investments, the building of new infrastructure, huge lending and limited political interference in African countries’ home affairs could be the forerunner for further military expansion. In the near future it is possible that China will decide to increase its presence in areas interested by The Belt and Road Initiative, in order to protect its own business through a greater control of the territory. 

At the same time, the setting up of new military bases in key locations, especially on Indian Ocean coasts, will allow China to improve the strategic capabilities of its naval forces. It is hard to say if it is the beginning of a stronger approach: as seen, one of the main principles which drives Chinese interventions in Africa is the non-interference in the home affairs of local governments. Moreover, from the African countries point of view, Chinese interest, and new investments onsite, could represent a chance to develop their own economies, modernise their infrastructures and build new strategic facilities. Maybe this framework will not be overturned, but it is clear that Beijing aspires to a deeper and more active presence, underlining the importance of Africa in its global strategy.

April 13, 2022No Comments

Admiral (Retired) Lee Hsi-Min on Taiwan’s Military Defence

Admiral Lee Hsi-min (retired) is a Senior Fellow at the Project 2049 Institute. He previously served as the Chief of the General Staff of the Republic of China (Taiwan) Armed Forces from 2017 to his retirement in July 2019 after 42 years of service in the ROC Navy. Before his retirement, he was awarded the Order of the Cloud and Banner with Special Grand Cordon by President Tsai Ing-wen in recognition of his service in enhancing the overall capabilities of Taiwan’s military. He has authored articles in The Diplomat and War on the Rocks on issues related to Taiwan.

He answers a series of questions regarding Taiwan’s preparedness against potential Chinese invasion, lessons for Taiwan’s Territorial Defence Force from the Ukrainian experience and the edge it may or may not have as an island state against China when compared to the Russia-Ukraine Conflict.

Interviewing Team: Sandra Watson Parcels and Carlotta Rinaudo

April 5, 2022No Comments

Putin’s War and the Shaping of a New Global Energy Map

By: Riccardo Bosticco, Lorenzo Caruti, Sofia Dal Santo, Miguel Jiménez, Michele Mignogna.

Introduction

The Russian invasion of Ukraine started on February 24, is already showing significant effects on a global scale. As most States and international organizations have officially condemned the war - from West to East between America, Europe, and Africa - openly criticizing Putin's behavior and deciding to sanction Moscow heavily, the biggest problem concerns the aspect inherent to energy supplies. "Europe depends on Russia for about 40% of its natural gas, with most of it transported by pipeline", explains Reuters. Luckily for them, most European countries have cut reliance on Russian gas in recent years. Yet dependency is still weighty, and the most recent sanctions on Moscow caused a further growth of gas prices. European states and companies have acknowledged the danger of relying too heavily on Russian energy, and also those countries that had a commercial, yet controversial, understanding of energy relations with Russia, like Germany, decided to act firmly.

The United States proposes solutions to Europe, while oil and gas producers in the MENA act controversially, and China remains cautiously in the background, carefully observing the evolution of the situation without intervening directly or taking a clear position. Where will the current energy decisions drive us?

The European Union 

The EU is a substantial energy importer, largely reliant on Russia's supply. Accordingly, due to sanctions imposed to punish Russia, the EU has set about to make a significant course correction. The European Commission has proposed an outline of a plan to make Europe independent from Russian gas before 2030: REPowerEU. The main goal of this ambitious plan is to diversify to the greatest extent possible the gas suppliers of the EU by increasing LNG Imports and constructing alternative pipelines. To do so, a strong political will by the Member States to follow the correct route and avoid uncoordinated actions is needed.

Currently, there are not sufficient LNG terminals in the Eastern EU, although growing investments have been undertaken in recent years by the Union; it is, therefore, crucial that such countries have access to regional gas hubs. In addition, even the construction of alternative pipelines prompts some issues. Unsurprisingly, European customers are unwilling to commit financially to long-term gas purchase contracts, which would be necessary to sustain pipeline development, due to EU green obligations. Furthermore, authoritarian governments like Azerbaijan's, Turkey's, and the Gulf monarchies' influence on the gas trade would remain, leaving the door open for political exploits of energy flows. Besides, the existing alternative sources of natural gas to the EU appear to be already at the highest production level. Therefore, the most likely option seems to import from the Caspian Sea. 

Overall, an emphasis is placed by the Commission on boosting energy efficiency and increasing the use of renewables. This is essential since it contributes to terminating the EU's overdependence on a single supplier, even though it does not provide a suitable solution in the short term. Last but not least, the Commission has even undertaken initiatives to mitigate high energy prices

The United States 

Since the energy sector is the primary source of Russia's revenues, this was a primary target for Western sanctions. Yet, while the EU depends heavily on Russian energy, the US is a net energy exporter. Biden recognized this fact. When asked about Italy's carefulness at sanctioning energy, he answered that "this is an alliance of nations that each have their priorities and their […] concerns". Yet, on March 8, the US sanctioned all of Russia's energy exports in the US. The United States is now trying to convince the European allies to do the same by offering additional LNG supplies. On March 25, while in Brussels, Joe Biden announced that the US would send another 15 billion cubic meters of liquefied natural gas to Europe. The United States' primary objective is to disentangle European energy dependency on Russia. The challenges at stake are significant, and the following lines highlight them.

While the strategy to realize such an objective is to rely on scale capacity, what matters in a crisis like this is spare capacity, a factor that might complicate things for the US. Further, the opacity around the technical aspects surrounding the March 25 deal seems indeed mirror the difficulties of disentangling the EU from Russian gas. Moreover, LNG infrastructural capacities in Europe need funds. Turning to oil, the US has demanded an increase in oil output to avoid prices spiking. However, national frackers and OPEC+ countries show little interest in ramping up output. The dilemma is over the first-mover's disadvantage. There has been a phone call between Biden and King Salman of Saudi Arabia concerning additional output; yet, Riyadh answered that it does not want to politicize oil, preferring to observe the other producers' moves and the outcome of the Iranian sanctions lift issue. So, what is next for the US energy strategy?

MENA Region 

While the war is taking place in Europe, it will have long-term effects in the Middle East, too. The leaders found themselves at a crossroads: they condemned Russia but did not agree to impose such severe punitive sanctions. Russia is an essential economic and strategic ally, necessary to maintain control over the Iranian nuclear threat. Moreover, it is the main supplier of wheat, on which many countries in the North African area depend. However, the United States is a fundamental player, too, especially for the political stability achieved in recent years by some countries. In the war context, the oil-producing countries in the Gulf have seen increased revenues. However, beyond the economy, the outcome of this conflict could have significant geopolitical implications for the region, including reshuffling alliances and redefining pipeline routes.
The geopolitical consequences of the war also affected the oil market. Leading OPEC Plus member countries, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, have stressed that cutting Russia out of the oil market would have severe consequences for both the European Union and the United States. Both Ryad and Abu Dhabi are moving closer and closer to Asia, also considering accepting the Yuan instead of the dollar as the oil currency, distancing themselves from Washington, which has been indifferent to the recent missile attacks they suffered. Another debate on energy matters is underway in the Mediterranean area. For example, Turkey is trying to maintain neutrality in the conflict in Europe: with the new energy alternatives that Europe could have at its disposal in order not to be dependent on Russian gas, Turkey could act as a bridge to bring gas to Europe via the Turkstream project, a possible option if Nordstream is not activated, and also for the East-med Pipeline, currently stalled due to the recent withdrawal of the US from the project.

China  

The eventual termination of European energy contracts would put Vladimir Putin under strain since these cash flows are helping the president sustain an already longer than expected invasion. That is where China comes into play. Even though the "red dragon's" stand on Russia's invasion has been somewhat ambiguous, the country has got many reasons for stepping up and taking over the gas imports that Europe will, in time, refrain from. Energy has fueled the extraordinary growth of the "workshop of the world". The country began to aggressively pursue energy sources beyond its borders after 1993, when it became a net energy importer. This deficit was accentuated by the surge of bilateral and multilateral deals after joining the WTO in 2001. The prospects which visualize the country undergoing a structural transformation and moving towards less energy-intensive sectors might alleviate these increased energy needs. However, guaranteeing energy security is a top priority for the one-party state until then. 

Surprisingly, oil meets a tiny fraction of China's domestic total energy demand, and much of it gets to China through the South Sea, a heavily disputed route among Asian countries. This supply uncertainty prevents China from reducing its coal consumption, representing 60% of energy consumption. Nevertheless, China's commitments to be carbon neutral by 2060 do inevitably accelerate the phasing out of coal. Besides having long-term plans for heavily investing in nuclear energy and hydrogen, natural gas supplied by Russia has become increasingly more relevant. The first steps towards this alliance materialized in 2019, with Siberia's pipeline pumping liquefied natural gas to northeastern China. This association was scaled up on February 4, when a 30-year contract was settled which secured the construction of a pipeline connecting with the northeast of the country. Yet, this alliance may even go beyond natural gas. Recent news of the departure of oil giants such as BP, Shell, and Exxon from their joint ventures with Russian companies have spurred speculations of China's state-owned companies stepping in.  

Conclusion 
As soon as the shock of the Ukrainian war arrived, the West discovered a hard truth: even in a globally interdependent world, it is not safe to be heavily dependent on a single country. As mentioned above, Europe is moving towards making plans to become energetically independent. Nevertheless, West leaders are conscious that the road to independence will be long and winding, indeed taking years to make it. However, the problem is not only a European matter: as previously said, even a solid Russian ally like China is facing the effect of the energetic crisis. On the other hand, Beijing will probably be seen as the only winner at the war's end, mainly for its ambiguous position. At the same time, the United States is dealing with a different situation: even though it does not depend on energy imported from Moscow, its role as a leader is put to the test. Washington needs to help its allies and, simultaneously, avoid the MENA Region ending up in the hands of China. Therefore, what is at stake is not only the energy question: the current world order could become very different at the end of the day.

February 14, 2022No Comments

Jeremy Garlick on China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)

Dr Jeremy Alan Garlick is an Associate Professor of International Studies and International Relations. Currently, he is the Director of the J. Masaryk Centre of International Studies at Prague University of Economics and Business. His research focusses on the Belt and Road Initiative, China's relations with Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), China-Middle East relations, and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). He is the author of books, “Reconfiguring the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor: Geo-Economic Pipe DreamsVersus Geopolitical Realities” published November 2021 and “The Impact of China’s Belt and Road Initiative: From Asia to Europe” published December 2019. He has also authored various book chapter, peer reviewed articles, book reviews and conference papers. He is also member of the editorial board of the Journal of Current Chinese Affairs since 2018.

In this interview he talks about his recent book "Reconfiguring the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor" and explains how CPEC may not be such a game-changing endeavour for the region as originally hoped. He explains how almost all projects are centred within Pakistan instead of being cross-border in nature. He also highlights the security risks among other factors within Pakistan that have repeatedly hindered development of the CPEC Projects.

Interviewing Team: Sandra Watson Parcels and Carlotta Rinaudo.

January 31, 2022No Comments

Iran’s Foreign Policy towards East: Causes and Consequences

By: Shahin Modarres, Filippo Cimento and Yasmina Dionisi.

Image Source: https://www.irna.ir/news/82866036/توصیه-مسافرتی-وزارت-خارجه-به-مسافران-خارج-از-كشور

 "No ties to the East, no ties to the West, just the Islamic Republic" (Image Reference)

This motto engraved at the entrance of the Iranian ministry of foreign affairs represents Islamic Republic's ideology regarding its foreign policy. An ideal of independence mixed with a heavily ideological theme. Where do we stand 43 years after this motto was first chanted? Is the Islamic Republic an independent state from what it defined as East and West or is it becoming more and more dependent on one side in order to survive? In this article we will briefly review what pushes the Islamic Republic towards the East and what is to be expected from such pattern.

Within international relations, sanctions typically act as a tool of foreign pressure aimed at targeting the policies of other States (Marinov 2005, 564): compromises from leaders are more likely if their existence in power is threatened by an external pressure (Marinov 2005, 564). Even so, in the history of global politics, States have been targeted by sanctions, by foreign countries, according to diverse strategic rationales. In regards to the Iranian case, economic sanctions have been directed at curbing the regime’s nuclear programme, restraining its regional policy, and condemning its human rights violations.

Sanctions have acted as the preferred policy tool of the States most concerned by the development of the State’s nuclear programme (Esfandiary and Fitzpatrick 2011, 143). Though the Islamic Republic of Iran has faced sanctions since the November 1979 takeover of the US embassy in Tehran, the first US sanctions in regard to Iran’s nuclear intentions date to 1995 with President Clinton’s issuing of the Executive Order 12957 of March 1995 and the Executive Order 12959 of May 1995. These involved US export controls banning the transfer to Iran of dual-use that could be applied for weapons purposes. The international community would universally consider the matter a decade later, with the first UN sanctions against Iran imposed in 2005 by the Security Council Resolution 1737, which mandated a ban on assistance to Iran’s enrichment programme (Esfandiary and Fitzpatrick 2011, 144). If effects of the sanctions are to be assessed, it could be said that the 1996 Iran and Libya Sanctions of 1996 (ILSA), for instance, whose principal purpose had been to deter foreign investments in Iran’s energy industries, penalized the Iranian companies investing annually in Iran’s oil and gas sector; the ILSA was extended and the Iranian oil production stalled, growth was hampered (Schott 2012, 190). 

Iran’s regional policy has additionally been a subject of concern within global politics and for neighboring countries. The Islamic Republic boasts a geostrategic position enabling it to project its influence on Central Asia, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean (Švejdová 2017, 46). Among the effects of economic sanctions relating to Iran’s regional aspirations the most significant amount to the impact of the state’s national economy. (Švejdová 2017, 47). That said, the stabbing of the economy has not haltered the regime’s resilience, which has exploited the foreign pressure by stabilizing its roots and empowering its policies, mainly through its religious ideology (Naghavi and Pignataro 2015, 3).

The last grounds on which Iran has been targeted by the U.S. and the international community are its human rights violations. Since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Iran has been accused of violations both traditionally tied to oppressive regimes and also related to the regime’s codification of provisions found in Shi’a jurisprudence (Mokhtari 2004, 469). But in Iranian internal politics, Iranian policy changes have far from been implemented as a result of the U.S. sanctions nevertheless, as, on the contrary, the Iranian regime has condemned the United States for self-inflicting a domestic economic distress (Schott 2012, 191).

On the Chinese side, we must investigate the reasons behind the choice of Iran as an ideal partner for Beijing. We will analyze some past choices in order to find the constant characteristics.
We can take into consideration the example of Sri Lanka, where according to Ganeshan Wignaraja, *1“The pattern of Chinese investment reveals a nuanced picture of benefits and costs. Chinese multilateral policies are required to maximize the benefits and minimize any risks of its investment.” Moreover, it is not to be underestimated the role of Beijing’s influence in the political equilibrium, Jayadeva Uyangoda in fact affirms that 2* “China was using corruption as a controlling device. Chinese assistance to Rajapaksa was a means of buying his support by helping him increase his grip on the country.”
Other peculiarities can be studied in the case of Pakistan, where the construction of the CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) is involving investments valued at 60 billion dollars, embedded in the wider Belt and Road Initiative. Beijing is applying a strategy that was defined by Zhao Shurong as 4* “cross-continental mercantilism, a policy that, through State Owned Enterprises (SOEs), allows China to endorse free trade aiming at the accumulation of capital, setting a new model of economic growth”. Investing in the strategic Gwadar Port could be a plastic representation of a policy that, according to Francois Godement, 3* “has a special significance for China, which considers regional connectivity as a fundamental element to rise at global level.”
We can therefore individuate a pattern, also in Africa, where 5* “trade has not been fair and has been detrimental to African businesses. For example, in South Africa factories had to close because of the cheap influx of Chinese goods”. Moreover 6*“Human Rights Watch alleges that Chinese organizations have been accused of inhuman treatment of workers in Zambia.“ From what emerges, China appears to search for a weak partner, who may accept exploitative measures in order to attract unfair but still useful investments.

Even though the details of the Iranian-Chinese 25-year agreement have not been published, yet considering China's pattern to a modern form of exploitation makes it quite clear. The illusion of economic growth generates a lasting debt with China that will harm the economy on a much larger scale in the long-run. It appears that the only reason behind such shady alliance is Islamic Republic's crucial need to trade which has been frozen by the U.S. sanctions.