Washington and Beijing have planned strategies to increase semiconductor production with the advent of Artificial Intelligence. For this reason, Washington is somewhat concerned about China's chip production capabilities; the concern increased after the unveiling of the new Mate 60 Pro smartphone by Huawei. The chip component of this product is unique: in fact, semiconductor companies in Beijing and the People's Republic produce them entirely. US analysts think this demonstrates Beijing's technological capabilities and China's ability to become independent in technology production.
For Beijing, one of the ways China could obtain the resources to compete with the US in that area is through the technology race. In a recent report translated by the CSIS (Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the CCP, 2023), At the Seventh Collective Study Session of the CCP Central Committee Politburo, Xi Jinping Emphasized Comprehensively Strengthening Military Governance and Using High-Standard Governance to Promote High- Quality Military Development [习近平在中共中央政治局第七次集 体学习时强调 全面加强军事治理 以高水平治理推动我军高质量发展]. Interpretation: China (originally published 2023), a working group of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, outlines guidelines for the integration of HiTech tools into the Chinese armed forces.
The Semiconductor Industry Association has stated that China will purchase chips and semiconductors worth around $180 billion in 2022 and only a few companies, including Intel, Nvidia and Qualcomm, have a significant relationship with Beijing. These companies are the only ones authorised by the US authorities to sell chips for Huawei's smartphones. In an economic and technological competition that Washington hopes will limit China's growth and development in the HiTech sector, further trade conflicts could also hurt US companies themselves.
“Everybody says Hambantota was ‘invaded’ by the Chinese. Well, just look around… There are probably no more than twenty Chinese people in the whole town. We definitely were not invaded by anyone. If anything, we Sri Lankans are hostages – hostages of our political class”, says Dilshan while sipping his tea. He is an ordinary man that lives in Hambantota, a sleepy town at the Southern tip of Sri Lanka - a remote place where taxis are nowhere to be found, public buses remain rudimentary, and the local residents buzz around the streets on rusty TukTuks, making a living mostly out of fishing and agriculture. Those that visit Hambantota are soon warned by a yellow signal: beware of wild elephants - they might come out of the bush and cross your way. It seems ironic that this forgotten tropical town with only 11,000 residents has recently drawn intense scrutiny from international media, becoming the epicenter of a fierce debate in academic and political circles. At the heart of this debate is a metaphorical “white elephant” – not the one that might come out of the bush - but the giant port that sits on the town’s coastline: the Hambantota Port.
The Hambantota Port was part of Beijing’s signature Belt and Road Initiative, and its construction was mostly funded by Chinese loans. When in 2017, the debt-ridden Sri Lankan government decided to lease a 70% stake in the port to the China Merchants Group for 99 years, Hambantota became a symbol fiercely cited by devoted proponents of the so-called ‘debt trap theory’. This narrative depicts China as a predatory investor that invites the Global South nations to join the BRI’s family and then deliberately pushes them into debt through murky loans and contracts. At this point, when the naïve, cash-strapped government is buried in debts it can’t repay, Beijing carries out its calculated master plan and forces its victim to cease its national assets. “Look what happened in Hambantota!”, is a claim that still reverberates in many political discussions, often with a prophetic tone.
Walking in Hambantota today, however, reveals a more complex reality. The discontent of the local people and the semi-abandoned buildings give away a different truth: there is another side of the debt-trap theory - one that is often overlooked. The countries that join the Belt and Road Initiative are not always led by cash-strapped, naïve, unaware politicians that happen to find themselves buried in debt, with no other choice than ceasing national assets to Beijing. Often, these might actually be corrupt politicians, blinded by megalomaniac tendencies left unchecked, that utilize Chinese loans for their own political and material gains.
For almost two decades, Sri Lanka’s political landscape has been dominated by the Rajapaksa family, a political clan that essentially ruled Sri Lanka like an autocratic family business. When Mahinda Rajapaksa was elected President in 2005, part of his political manifesto promised to deliver economic revitalization by constructing megaprojects and new infrastructure. Unfortunately, Rajapaksa failed to become the architect of Sri Lanka’s economic miracle: instead, he created a ticking bomb. First, he built the foundations of this economic revitalization on unsustainable debt, recklessly borrowing from bilateral lenders, mainly China, India, and Japan, as well as from a wide range of private investors. On this shaky ground, the government erected a wide array of megaprojects without conducting proper feasibility studies – essentially, building pieces of infrastructure that would never be commercially viable. Meanwhile, the Rajapaksa family has been accused of corruption, nepotism, bribes, and money laundering, with its members secretly transferring billions to accounts abroad. The infamous port of Hambantota, therefore, might not be the story of a Chinese masterplan. It is more of a tale of Sri Lanka’s broken politics.
In the early 2000s, many experts frowned upon the decision to build a new port in Hambantota, only 200 km away from Colombo, which hosts the 25th busiest port in the world. For a small island nation like Sri Lanka, this did not seem like a calculated, rational decision. In fact, it was a political one. Mahinda Rajapaksa is from the Hambantota district, a place where he hoped to solidify his grip on power and build a political stronghold. He thus erected a wide array of megaprojects - some of them carrying his name – in an attempt to elevate himself as the strongman that was capable of delivering economic revitalization to his native area. Today, in Hambantota, the signs of Rajapaksa’s megalomania and heavy spending are everywhere – not only in the port itself. Take the cricket stadium, built with a capacity of 35,000 people for a remote town with only 11,000 residents: largely unsuccessful, it is often used as a wedding venue to recover some profit. Alternatively, the airport sits semi-abandoned with no departures or arrivals. Moreover, the huge convention centre that barely hosts any event – at the moment, it has mostly become a playground for Sri Lankan kids, who often play cricket next to the main entrance. These white elephants are the grim legacy of a political dynasty out of touch with reality, unable to comprehend the needs of the people they governed, whom they eventually dragged into bankruptcy in 2022. “They built a port, an airport, a conference centre, and a cricket stadium, but they forgot that we in Hambantota are mostly farmers. What we really need is agricultural reform – not another empty project,” says Anaya, who used to be a teacher.
For the much-debated port of Hambantota, China Exim Bank provided 85% of the funding at an unusually high-interest rate of 6.3%. The proponents of the debt-trap theory interpret this as yet another sign of Beijing’s plan to push Colombo into debt. Yet this might be simplistic thinking that once again fails to consider the broader context of the Sri Lankan reality. When construction of the Hambantota port began in 2007, Sri Lanka was still ravaged by one of the bloodiest phases of a decades-long civil war, struggling to generate public revenue. The government presented the port project to many investors, yet China emerged as the only country that was willing to take the risk of financing the megaproject. More than a predatory investor, China was a lender of last resort. Moreover, it demanded a high-interest rate because it essentially offered a high-risk loan to a conflict-torn country.
Once the Chinese loan was granted, the Sri Lankan government failed to plan its spending in a way that could offer quick returns. The Danish firm Ramboll recommended that, during the first phase of construction, the port should only manage the transport of non-containerized cargo, like oil tanks and cars. Once the Hambantota port generated the necessary revenue, Ramboll suggested, new parts could be constructed. Yet the Sri Lankan government took the hasty decision to request new funding and proceed with the second phase of the construction, immediately transforming Hambantota into a container port. “Experts suggested they constructed different parts of the port at different times, allowing each phase to be profitable and operational. Instead, the government preferred to build everything at the same time, although this implied more borrowing without solid revenues”, says Dilshan. Corruption and self-interest were also widespread. For instance, Ramboll forecasted that building a bunkering facility at Hambantota would cost roughly $33 million, yet the ports Minister submitted a document that demanded a $100 million loan. The extra cash was allegedly poured into the pockets of the Rajapaksa clan.
By 2014, the Hambantota port was a fiasco and a burden to the Sri Lankan government. The Sri Lankan Port Authority found itself diverting money from the profitable Colombo port because Hambantota’s revenues were too low for the port to sustain itself. In 2016 many Western creditors were also demanding their annual repayments, and Sri Lanka found itself in need of foreign exchange. The ticking bomb created by Mahinda Rajapaksa was about to explode. And this is when Sri Lanka decided to lease out Hambantota to China Merchants Port for a 99-year concession. It was not about a predatory investor attempting to seize its debtor’s national assets: it was more about Sri Lanka getting rid of an inefficient and underperforming port to restore its foreign reserves, which had dried up after years of heavy borrowings and irrational spending.
The debt trap theory fails to consider that recipients of Chinese funding are often autocratic and corrupted leaders seeking to advance their political agenda. Visiting Hambantota and its semi-abandoned buildings suggests that, for the population of a developing country like Sri Lanka, living under these regimes might in fact be the real trap.
*For privacy and security reasons, pseudonyms are being used to de-identify those that shared information and personal opinions with the author
Dr. Stephen J. Blank, Senior Fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, discusses power competition in the Caspian Sea region.
The European Union is searching for energy sources around the world to replace the role that Russia once played. They are looking towards Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia, including Azerbaijan. A trans-Caspian pipeline would need to be built to get energy from Central Asia to Europe. However, this would be met with opposition from Russia and Iran, who would try to destroy it, making a security guarantee necessary.
Interviewers: Fabrizio Napoli & Davide Gobbicchi - Russia & the Post-Soviet Team
The undisturbed incursion by the Chinese balloon into American territory and over military sites captured the attention of analysts worldwide, climaxing in a spectacular battle between an F-22 fighter jet and a balloon. After some hesitation by American leadership, the downing was authorised and live-aired but raised many legal and political issues.
The first question is why China, a technological giant, would need balloons to spy on US territory.Compared to drones and satellites, balloons are infinitely less expensive and preferable in an operation at a high risk of loss of the device. Furthermore, balloons float at an altitude significantly lower than satellites, thus potentially capturing audio that the latter cannot intercept, and providing higher-quality imaging. Balloons also allow constant surveillance whilst being much less detectable, as they can hover for long escaping radars, and can even deploy their drones. Lastly, whilst subject to wind patterns, they are more manoeuvrable and their flight altitude can be modified.
The test of International Law
Before addressing the political consequences of the balloon’s destruction, it is important to put the operation to the test of international law. According to the Chicago Convention (ICAO, 1944), articles 1-3, “every state has complete and exclusive sovereignty over the airspace above its territory.” Commercial airliners and balloons both qualify as civilian airships, and thus cannot fly over the territory of another country without permission.
But what constitutes sovereign airspace?
International law is very clear about the horizontal limits of sovereignty, which is established in the 1982 UNCLOS: it extends until the territorial waters of a state (12nm from the baseline). Conversely, there is no agreement over what constitutes the vertical boundary of sovereignty, a matter on which the Montego Bay Convention, the Chicago Convention, and the Outer Space Treaty are silent. States have thus used divergent standards to draw the line between national airspace and outer space. Technically, states could claim as sovereign territory up to 100 km of space above ground (62 mi, the Kármán line).
The consequences of this distinction cannot be overstated: states have sovereign authority and jurisdiction over their airspace, but no one has authority over outer space, which is an international commons.
China contends that the balloon was a civilian device conducting meteorological research in outer space, while the most credible accounts report the UAV flying at 60.000 feet above the ground. According to US practice, this would be considered within American airspaces, like all aircraft flying below 100.000 feet, and its transit would thus be conditional upon permission by state authorities. Article 3(bis) of the Chicago Convention proscribes the use of force against civilian aircraft. Nonetheless, in the case at hand, international and domestic rules were violated, giving the US the right to restore its domestic law & order via countermeasures and the use of internal force, as long as proportionate and necessary, a test facilitated by the absence of human personnel on the airship.
Moreover, if it were proven that the balloon was a spy device - increasingly likely while it is being dismantled and studied - its status would not be regulated by the Chicago Convention, which deals only with civilian aircraft. Indeed, a spy balloon is considered a state military aircraft. A violation of sovereign airspace by such an airship would thus amount to a use of force in violation of “the territorial integrity or political independence” of the United States, as per art.2(4) of the UN Charter. As similar past episodes showed, the US was entirely within its rights in neutralising the possible threat, again provided that the response was necessary and proportionate.
The Communist Party answered in dismay, alleging a force majeure justification in a note by the Foreign Ministry. Top diplomats have harshly criticized President Biden for his aggressive tone in the State of the Union address. Nevertheless, the official response was not excessively confrontational, and a final answer on the nature of the incursion is yet to arrive. Furthermore, evidence is emerging concerning a larger swarm of Chinese balloons over all five continents, and of a case where China, on the receiving side of a surveillance balloon, shot it down in 2019 alleging similar justifications.
After having established the legality of the shooting, the next step requires analyzing its political context and consequences. This incident inserts itself into a string of tensions between the two superpowers, the zenith of which consisted in Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan last August.
Biden and Xi’s meeting in Bali helped thaw out the situation, with both leaders agreeing on the need for open and direct diplomatic channels to communicate. However, top American military officials have criticized the Chinese leadership for not fulfilling their promise in the case at hand, leaving calls by the Defense Secretary unanswered. Fears are that a lack of communication may make misunderstandings and flare-ups more likely; crisis hotlines during the Cold War with the Kremlin proved vital for averting open hostilities.
While the significance of the data collected is poor, the undisturbed penetration of a Chinese balloon within the US mainland caused a few headaches to American officials. It is a clear signal from the CCP that it has the capacity to trespass on American territory, and not only small atolls in the South China Sea. Moreover, through a grey-zone operation, Beijing has successfully used non-violent means for a clear political goal: destabilising its main adversary while averting an overt military response.
Hence, not only has the incursion shown the disruptive potential of Chinese technology, but it has exposed the vulnerability of American intelligence services, fuelling chaos in American public opinion and halls of power. Hawkish members of Congress, notably Republicans, have lashed out at President Biden for having failed to prevent or act quicker. The live coverage of the balloon’s destruction sought to remedy this fiasco but contributed to exacerbating tensions and Anti-Asian rhetoric, already high in the country, and to fan the flames of a spiralling escalation not only of words.
The balloon incident is just another episode of a saga of a looming US-China crisis. It highlighted the lack of true communication hotlines between the two nuclear powers and the threat this poses to international peace and security. Indeed, misunderstandings between nuclear powers and poor crisis management could lead to apocalyptic scenarios.
While the People’s Republic tested US tolerance, the latter responded by showing that it means business, by annihilating the balloon with a $400.000 missile fired by the most advanced fighter in the world. This adds to its muscle-flexing through a chip embargo and a deal with the Philippines for the use of four military bases.
Overall, both sides seem to ignore conciliatory avenues and through unscrupulous violations of sovereignty, grey-zone operations, discordance in crucial international fora, and muscle-flexing, they keep fanning the flames of strategic competition. Even worse, aggressive rhetoric bounces from Beijing to Washington with little consideration for its consequences.
Through belligerent discourse and the antagonization of the other, the US and China contribute to constructing the idea of the enemy and convincing stakeholders and citizens of the inevitability of conflict, potentially exposing the world to a self-fulfilling prophecy and global catastrophe. While the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists considers this only 90 seconds away, hope is that de-escalation efforts and the Bali agenda return to the central stage.
The geostrategic rivalry between China and the US is affecting the semiconductor and integrated circuit industry.
In recent months, Washington has implemented a clear strategy to contain Chinese geo-economic expansionism, to prevent Beijing from gaining access to semiconductor manufacturing technologies. The technology war between Washington and Beijing has now reached the WTO. A few days ago, Beijing filed a request with the World Trade Organisation, asking it to analyse the restrictive policies imposed by the United States on the export of hi-tech products. This has not stopped companies operating in the sector from moving to protect themselves. First of all, Amazon started to design a new microchip aimed at PCs, with the aim of integrating semiconductor production in-house. In this technology war, other companies are also moving. Nvidia and TSMC have started to design new products for the industry.
For the Chinese government, this economic aid package is part of its strategy to decouple its economic sector from that of the US, reducing its dependence on Washington in technology sectors. While China is one of the largest exporters of rare earths, it has a strong dependence on the US for hi-tech products, which are essential for its military modernisation project. In this context, Beijing aims to break free from its technological dependence on the US within the next three years, with the target of meeting 70% of its domestic needs.
However, this status in the semiconductor industry would risk putting it under great pressure as many companies, anticipating commercial retaliation from the US, might self-impose to stop doing business with China or cut off contact with Chinese companies. Beijing meanwhile has started its plans to support its companies and help them in the China-US competition. Despite the dialogues and communication channels between Beijing and Washington, the two superpowers maintain a certain distance and mutual distrust between them. The Semiconductor War of this millennium has entered its most delicate phase.
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.
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.
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.
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 respect, cooperation, 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.
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 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.
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.
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.”
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 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.
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.
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.