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Defense & Security
Shenzhen, Guangdong, China - Apr 27 2023: A China Coast Guard boat is cruising on the sea.

Philippines: Calming Tensions in the South China Sea

by International Crisis Group

“This article was originally published here by the International Crisis Group”Tensions between China and the Philippines are increasing the risk of armed conflict in the South China Sea. In this excerpt from the Watch List 2024 – Spring Update, Crisis Group looks at how the EU can support regional diplomacy to mitigate maritime disputes. Rising maritime tensions between China and the Philippines have highlighted the risk of armed conflict in the South China Sea and the dangers it would pose to global trade. Several countries are implicated in the set of complex sovereignty disputes in the sea, which stem from rival claims to various features and the maritime entitlements they generate, but recent incidents involving Beijing and Manila have triggered the greatest concern. The Philippines controls nine outposts in the Spratlys, a contested group of land and maritime features at the heart of the South China Sea. A submerged reef known as Second Thomas Shoal has become a dangerous flashpoint, with Chinese boats continually trying to block Manila’s efforts to resupply the BRP Sierra Madre, a rusting ship housing a handful of soldiers that a former Philippine government purposely grounded in 1999 in a bid to assert sovereignty over the atoll. China, which also claims the shoal, first started interfering with these missions in 2014, but relations between the two countries in the maritime domain have never been as volatile as during the last seven months. Chinese boats have regularly rammed the Philippine supply vessels or doused them with water cannons, occasionally wounding the sailors on board. Manila has a Mutual Defence Treaty with Washington, making this burgeoning maritime dispute part of the geopolitical competition between the U.S and China. In effect, the South China Sea has become a zone where conflict risks are rife – and where Washington and Beijing could be drawn into direct confrontation. Considering these developments, the EU and its member states should: • Seek greater diplomatic engagement with both Beijing and Manila to keep tensions in check. They should also expand their diplomatic presence across South East Asia and, where relevant, establish reliable channels through which they could communicate with high-level authorities in China and other claimant states should disputes at sea escalate; • Work to promote respect for international law, particularly the law of the sea, as a source of neutral rules for dispute resolution and conflict prevention, for example by organising public events, roundtables and dialogues in Manila and elsewhere. While this measure may not bridge the divides between Manila and Beijing, it could at least help establish a level of mutual support and understanding among the other South China Sea claimant states; and • Strengthen coast guard cooperation with the Philippines, focusing on building capacity in areas such as environmental protection, safety and search-and-rescue procedures. Troubled Waters The sovereignty disputes that underpin the tensions between China and the Philippines in the South China Sea go back decades. But it was Beijing’s manoeuvres to take control of Mischief Reef (in the east of the Spratlys) from Manila in 1995 that altered the perceived balance of power between the two states and in the region, setting off the territorial dispute that has now taken a turn for the worse. China’s assertiveness in the sea has grown in the past few years, along with its military capabilities. The brewing territorial dispute made headlines in 2012 when Beijing in effect took control of Scarborough Shoal, an atoll 220km west of the Philippine mainland but within Manila’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), after a maritime altercation. The incident prompted then-President Benigno Aquino to file a case challenging China’s territorial claims under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). On 12 July 2016, the presiding arbitral tribunal ruled in favour of Manila, dismissing China’s claim to all the waters within its “nine-dash line”, which constitute almost the entire South China Sea. But it was a Pyrrhic victory. Beijing not only rejected the adjudication and the subsequent ruling, but it had also already undercut efforts to settle the dispute through legal channels by building and fortifying seven artificial islands in the Spratlys while the case was winding its way through the system. This move fundamentally changed the status quo, enabling Beijing to post permanent garrisons in the area for the first time. By many accounts, China has thus ensured itself control of the sea in any situation below the threshold of armed conflict. A short lull in the maritime dispute appeared to follow. After coming to power in 2016, Aquino’s successor, Rodrigo Duterte, pursued a pragmatic policy toward Beijing. Duterte downplayed the tribunal’s decision and cast sovereignty issues aside, hoping to benefit from Beijing’s economic largesse in exchange. Yet his ambitious gambit did not pay off. Tensions at sea continued in the form of regular standoffs between the country’s coast guard and Chinese vessels. Filipino fisherfolk struggled to reach their traditional fishing grounds, and Manila could not exploit the precious oil and gas reserves within its EEZ to which it is entitled under international law. In March 2021, Chinese ships massed around Whitsun Reef, an unoccupied feature in the sea, ringing alarm bells in Manila, where senior officials voiced public criticism of China’s behaviour for the first time in years. By the end of the Duterte administration, the Philippines had revived its ties with the U.S. and become more assertive still, filing several diplomatic protests with the Chinese government. Elected in 2022, President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., Duterte’s successor, was initially disposed toward friendly relations with Beijing, but the relationship soured only a few months into his presidency. Although China remains the Philippines’ top trading partner, Marcos, Jr.’s meetings with President Xi Jinping did not achieve the desired results: Beijing neither agreed to make major new investments nor curtailed its “grey zone” tactics in the South China Sea, understood as coercive actions that remain below the threshold of armed conflict. These rebuffs have helped push Marcos, Jr. toward strengthening ties with Washington, and the Biden administration has, on several occasions, publicly committed that the countries’ Mutual Defence Treaty would be deemed triggered in the event of an armed attack on Philippine warships, aircraft or public vessels. In perhaps the most significant recent development, after a series of high-level visits by U.S. officials to Manila, the two countries agreed to scale up implementation of their Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, which gives U.S. troops rotational expanded access to Philippine military bases, and which China perceives as a provocation, especially given these bases’ proximity not just to the South China Sea but also to Taiwan. Manila has also received defence and diplomatic support from a host of other countries, particularly Japan and Australia. Despite the dispute it has with Vietnam over parts of the South China Sea, it has engaged, more quietly, with Hanoi, and acquired maritime defence equipment from India, thus expanding its circle of partners. Joint naval exercises with various countries have included large-scale ones with the U.S. in April, which involved the deployment of missiles that can reach targets almost 1,600km away – something that was sure to draw Beijing’s attention – and took place just after Manila wound up its first-ever trilateral presidential summit with Washington and Tokyo. In the meantime, the Marcos, Jr. administration has pursued what it calls a “transparency initiative”, publicising information about maritime incidents by inviting journalists to join its coast guard ships or posting video recordings of events almost as they are happening. Dramatic footage of Chinese vessels blocking, ramming or attacking its resupply missions to Second Thomas Shoal with water cannons has generated widespread condemnation in the Philippines and abroad. Many consider these tactics to be bullying. For its part, and despite the 2016 ruling, Beijing asserts that Manila is intruding into its waters and maintains that it is demonstrating maximum restraint. China has also recently referred to a so-called gentleman’s agreement under former President Duterte that it says foresaw preserving a status quo in the South China Sea, with Manila ostensibly agreeing to supply only humanitarian goods and no construction materials to the BRP Sierra Madre; Manila denies that there was any such arrangement. Given the Philippines’ determination to continue resupplying its troops on the BRP Sierra Madre, Second Thomas Shoal will likely remain a flashpoint. Due to the constraints imposed at sea by the Chinese maritime militia and coast guard, Manila is starting to look into other means of provisioning its outpost, some of which are likely to irk Beijing even more, such as airdrops or closer U.S. naval escorts. In September 2023, a U.S. plane was in the shoal’s vicinity during a resupply mission, while a U.S. warship passed through waters nearby in December. But the shoal is not the only possible source of tension. Chinese vessels, both official and non-official, sail through many areas where Philippine fisherfolk traditionally work, while other features, such as Scarborough Shoal, are also points of friction. A large-scale encounter or accident at sea could be especially dangerous. Should a Filipino or Chinese national die during such a confrontation, it could stir nationalist sentiments in Manila and Beijing and heighten threat perceptions on both sides. In case of loss of life on the Philippine side, Manila would expect its U.S. ally to assist under the Mutual Defence Treaty, especially given the recent exchanges with Washington on that topic, although the U.S. has not said precisely how it would come to the Philippines’ aid. How such a dangerous situation would evolve depends in large part on Manila’s political decision to invoke the treaty and the choices Washington makes about how to fulfill its commitments. In principle, Beijing and Manila remain open to negotiations. But the bilateral consultative mechanism, a confidence-building measure designed in 2017 to manage maritime issues between the two countries, among other things, has generated no results of note. Meanwhile, efforts to create a Code of Conduct, which aims to reduce tensions at sea by setting up norms and rules between claimants and has been under discussion between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) for over two decades, have stagnated. Why the Sea Matters The South China Sea is a vital waterway through which around one third of global shipping passes. Peace and stability in the sea are a prerequisite for safe trade and are demonstrably in the interest of the EU and its member states. At over 40 per cent, the share of the EU’s trade with the rest of the world transiting the sea is even higher than the global average. Instability in the area would deal a major blow to the European economy; even a slight disturbance of shipping routes could result in higher transport costs, shipping delays and acute product shortages. Should there be an escalation that pits China against the U.S. in a direct conflict, the consequences could be catastrophic and global. European positions toward South China Sea disputes have traditionally highlighted the importance of all parties respecting international law and the need for peaceful resolution, while being careful not to take sides. But over the last few years, China’s assertiveness and expanding military capabilities have driven a greater sense of urgency and something of a shift in European thinking. First, the EU and several of its member states have developed “Indo-Pacific” strategies, designed to guide and promote cooperation with countries throughout the region. Secondly, Brussels has increased its diplomatic support for the Philippine position following maritime altercations, offering supportive statements in December 2023 and March 2024. Brussels and several European capitals now back Manila in regularly underlining the importance of UNCLOS and maritime law in the South China Sea context. Meanwhile, Europe’s presence in the region is growing, if slowly and in part symbolically. In 2021, the EU appointed a special envoy for the Indo-Pacific for the first time, while European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen visited Manila in July 2023, the first trip to the Philippines by someone holding that office and an opportunity to express, at the highest level, the EU’s readiness to strengthen cooperation with the government in maritime security, among other areas. A German frigate entered the South China Sea in 2021, and French and Italian ships made port calls in Manila in 2023. In March 2024, the EU and the Philippines agreed to resume negotiations over a free trade agreement, while a month later France announced talks regarding a Visiting Forces Agreement with the Philippines. While EU interest in the region is rising, European stances on the South China Sea are complex, with member states harbouring different views on maritime disputes in the region and, more broadly, on big-power competition. Some, such as France – which is the only EU member state to have overseas territories in the region (and which has significant EEZ interests there) – see themselves as having stakes higher than others and are keen to participate in the region’s discussions on security. Others, such as Greece and Hungary, are less concerned with maritime flare-ups so far away and tend to ascribe greater importance to maintaining good relations with Beijing. What the EU and Its Member States Can Do As the EU and its most powerful member states are drawn deeper into the South China Sea, they should raise their diplomatic game in the region – both to ensure awareness of mounting tensions and to look for ways to manage corresponding risks. As a practical matter, Brussels could leverage its status as an ASEAN Strategic Partner to seek more participation in that bloc’s security mechanisms and regional forums; the EU and member states could seek higher levels of engagement with regional powers such as Japan, Australia, and South Korea on matters concerning the South China Sea; and Europe could post more diplomats to the region, including permanent defence attachés who speak the language of naval diplomacy. Of particular importance will be maintaining strong lines of communication with Beijing, where Europe is seen as still having some distance from the U.S.-China strategic rivalry, which works to its diplomatic advantage. While to some extent this communication will be traditional bilateral statecraft, it may also mean looking for new opportunities and new channels for dialogue. For example, some member states could also seek to follow the precedent set by France and China in establishing a coordination and deconfliction mechanism between their militaries. Brussels should also continue raising the South China Sea in its engagement with Beijing as it did during the EU-China summit in 2023. Maintaining these channels will become both more difficult and more important if and when the EU and member states expand their operational presence in the region – for example, if they decide to establish a calibrated maritime presence in the South China Sea, as proposed by the EU envoy to the Indo-Pacific. Such a move is still deemed unlikely for now. As for public diplomacy, Brussels and EU member states should consider practical ways to promote principles of the law of the sea in the region, making the case that broader regional support for and adherence to these principles would provide neutral ground for peacefully avoiding and resolving disputes. While it is hard to see this approach appealing to Beijing, which has rebuffed the UNCLOS tribunal’s decision, there could still be benefits in forging closer cooperation among other claimant states. Convenings in Manila and other regional capitals could cover topics related to the continuing disputes but also to cross-cutting themes of regional interest such as fisheries. With negotiations over a regional Code of Conduct stuck, like-minded countries in the region could use these occasions to at least develop common positions on discrete issues that might be addressed by the Code or that could foster regional confidence-building in the South China Sea. Finally, in the realm of capacity building, European governments should continue to strengthen coast guard cooperation with South China Sea claimant states, helping them develop tools and protocols that might be used where appropriate to avoid confrontation and conflict. Since Aquino’s administration, Manila has tried to boost its coast guard capabilities. Given that many of the other claimant states’ vessels in the South China Sea are coast guard ships, and find themselves embroiled in maritime confrontations, a common approach on rules of engagement could help avoid misunderstandings at sea. Building on the EU’s integrated coast guard system, the EU could host or sponsor joint workshops to develop operating principles for the region’s law enforcement vessels and exchange best practices with Philippine authorities. Brussels could also fund agencies such as the UN Office on Drugs and Crime to strengthen coast guard expertise on issues such as environmental protection, safety and search-and-rescue procedures. European member states could also participate in joint activities with the Philippine and other ASEAN coast guards to strengthen fisheries control and maritime border protection and deter piracy or smuggling.

Defense & Security
Hanoi Vietnam - Jan 30 2023: People go about daily life under Vietnamese flags in a narrow residential alleyway called Kham Thien Market in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Convergence in Vietnam, EU Interests a Harbinger of Indo-Pacific Order?

by Richard Ghiasy , Julie Yu-Wen Chen , Jagannath Panda

In March and April, Vietnamese Foreign Minister Bui Thanh Son’s nearly back-to-back visits to the U.S. and China highlighted Vietnam’s increasing penchant for delicate diplomacy with major powers amid the U.S.-China strategic competition in the Indo-Pacific and Vietnam’s territorial tussles with China especially in the South China Sea (SCS), which Vietnam calls the East Sea. Much of the (perceived) disorder in the Indo-Pacific hails from the SCS, and one of Vietnam’s principal challenges is fostering order on its maritime borders. Therefore, Vietnam—historically distrustful of major powers—has been diversifying its relations by seeking security and defense ties with Indo-Pacific partners like the European Union (EU), India, and Japan, as well as with Russia, a country that poses an “existential threat” to the transatlantic allies. At the same time, Southeast Asia is battling disunity within the region for resolving disputes in the SCS, for instance. The regional multilateralism embodied by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) seems to lack teeth even as China ‘controls’ some of its members using its financial and economic heft. So clearly, efforts beyond Vietnam’s “bamboo diplomacy” that deepen international solidarity are required. In a similar vein, Europe’s reluctant rapprochement with China in recent times amid the EU calling China a strategic challenge but continuing to look for economic engagement is reminiscent of Vietnam and much of Asia’s predicament vis-à-vis China. Moreover, like in Southeast Asia, not every member-country of the EU is embracing the Indo-Pacific construct, led by the U.S. Or even if a member does, like France or Germany, it does not spell the end of a productive relationship with China. Nonetheless, it is clear that the EU has started to take a greater interest in the growing geopolitical situation in the Indo-Pacific, even as the disunity over the extent of the Indo-Pacific priorities, including China, is as apparent. In such a scenario, is it possible for the EU and Vietnam, and by extension ASEAN, to have greater convergence, if not congruence, in their policies? Revisiting Vietnam’s Lack of an Indo-Pacific Tilt The Indo-Pacific, the maritime space and littoral between the western Indian and Pacific Oceans, has become the world’s most geopolitically critical region. In this region, much of the focus and debate among the EU’s more proactive members, such as France, the Netherlands, and Germany, is in response to Chinese unilateralism, trade dependency, and unchecked Sino-U.S. contestation. Several of these EU members have come to understand each other’s positions on the Indo-Pacific. Gradually, there is a realization that it is not just about what the EU and its members seek to accomplish in the region but just as much the perspectives and priorities of key Indo-Pacific resident actors—and their views on European strategies and contributions. Vietnam is one such country that is worthy of greater European strategic attention. Vietnam is known for its “bamboo diplomacy”—a reference to the bamboo plant’s strong roots, sturdy stems, and flexible branches—balancing ties with the two big powers, the U.S. and China. In the words of Foreign Minister Bui Thanh Son, Vietnam’s foreign policy caters to “independence, self-reliance, peace, friendship and cooperation, and multilateralization and diversification of external relations and proactive international integration.” However, Hanoi has never officially and fully embraced the term “Indo-Pacific” nor the U.S.-led Indo-Pacific construct although it does recognize that some aspects of the Free and Open Indo-Pacific tenet advocated by the U.S. and its allies are compatible with its national interests. For instance, the order in the Asia-Pacific, a term that Hanoi prefers to use, should be rule-based. This speaks to one of Vietnam’s most important foreign policy priorities: finding peace and stability in the SCS disputes with China and other claimants. However, the order that Vietnam seeks is in more than just the security domain. The goal of development has been the highest priority since Doi Moi (renovation) in 1986. Economic growth is considered the backbone of national security and regime legitimacy. Hanoi’s development of foreign relations can be said to be grounded in its national development experience, with the stress on economic priority leading to national stability and international standing. Vietnam chooses to engage in the Indo-Pacific construct on its terms. Vietnam and EU Convergence On both economic and security fronts, Vietnam and the EU can find converged interests that align closer to each other. Even as Hanoi has not officially adopted the term “Indo-Pacific,” the EU’s Indo-Pacific strategy, if implemented well, could address both Vietnam’s economic and security needs. Despite its security and military power limitations in the Indo-Pacific, the EU can still play a crucial role in effectively addressing these needs, which are vital for the EU’s strategic interests as well. The two already have a Framework Participation Agreement. Vietnam is also part of the EU’s Enhancing Security In and With Asia (ESIWA) project, which covers crisis management and cyber security. This also aligns with the EU’s Indo-Pacific Strategy, where Vietnam is considered a “solid” partner. Notably, both the EU and Vietnam face (potential) economic coercion from China. As China is now Vietnam’s largest trading partner, sudden trade restrictions hindering Vietnamese exports to China would dramatically hurt the Vietnamese economy. In this vein, Hanoi welcomed the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA), hoping it would give opportunities to diversify its trading partners and thus mitigate the risks of economic coercion from China. On the other hand, the EU and its member-states are also trying to increase economic resilience by diversifying trading partners as they wrestle with economic overdependence on China. So, strategically, Brussels presents an excellent opportunity for Hanoi and vice versa. However, challenges remain. For example, all the EU member-states are still to ratify the Investment Protection Agreement signed along with the EVFTA. Even though this is usually a time-consuming procedure, the imperative to reap benefits as soon as possible has taken a setback amid a challenging geopolitical landscape. Nonetheless, the two sides are concerned about more than just traditional economic development; they are concerned about sustainable development and green transition. For instance, under the EU’s Global Gateway framework, the EU and Vietnam have signed the Just Energy Transition Partnership (JETP), which looks to provide a multi-projects credit facility worth €500 million. This is supposed to be the EU’s primary focus in Vietnam now. Yet, Hanoi’s cautious approach for fear of falling into any potential debt trap could stymie smooth cooperation. Projects involving vast sums of money, such as the JETP, are also practically challenging to push at the moment as officials are afraid to be the targets of the Communist Party of Vietnam’s anti-corruption campaigns. Vietnam would also be keen for ASEAN and the EU as blocs to reinvigorate multilateralism and shore up security cooperation, particularly in the SCS disputes. ASEAN states, in general, are looking to the EU as a non-threatening balancing power to reduce the impact of the China-U.S. strategic competition. Among the potential areas of cooperation between the EU and Vietnam within the ASEAN are regional climate action measures, food security, digitalization, and tech innovation. The two sides must also use their partnership to realize an ASEAN-EU FTA. EU as a Security Balancer? The EU and Vietnam also share their commitment to upholding the rules-based order—an essential component of security cooperation because of the region’s strategic importance. However, improving communication and understanding of maritime incidents more effectively is challenging. The SCS territorial conflict is simmering, particularly between China and the Philippines. In 2016, an arbitration tribunal constituted under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) overwhelmingly ruled in favor of the Philippines, which China rejected. However, the ruling bolstered Vietnam’s claims, which were not openly welcomed by other ASEAN states besides the Philippines. In the absence of an agreement for a code of conduct (CoC) between China and ASEAN, which has been dragging on for years, China’s violations of international law in the SCS, including the latest against Vietnam in the Gulf of Tonkin, have increased. Against this scenario, Vietnam and the Philippines have signed maritime security deals. At the same time, Vietnam would be reluctant to do anything more drastic, such as support the Philippines in its attempt to draft a “separate” CoC for fear of Chinese retaliation. While Vietnam is less discussed in major global media than the Philippines on the issue, Hanoi is actively using diplomatic means to internationalize the problem, bringing in more players to address complex territorial disputes to safeguard its sovereignty and promote regional peace. In this context, winning the support of the EU and its member-states would be strategically important for Vietnam. The Vietnamese side can facilitate this by providing foreign entities, including the EU, with more transparent and timely information when incidents occur. Naturally, using a media strategy like the Philippines might sensationalize the issue, which might be different from what Hanoi prefers as it walks a tightrope to balance its complex relations with China. However, Hanoi can at least offer foreign diplomats transparent and detailed information in a timely fashion to help them verify and assess the situation on the ground. This will speed up the EU’s and other potential like-minded states’ response to sea incidents and foster ways forward for more multilaterally agreeable forms of modus vivendi in the South China Sea. Ultimately, such a modus should serve China too. EU No Longer a Bystander The EU’s recent stance on the SCS issue has been its respect for a rule-based order and freedom of navigation, strong opposition to unilateral actions, and supporting the ASEAN-led “effective, substantive and legally binding” CoC while mentioning China but not singling it out. This is a change from the EU’s pre-Indo-Pacific embrace when it was a more divided, neutral house. The EU’s heavy dependence on maritime trade through the SCS mandates that the EU can no longer stand as a bystander. However, ASEAN claimant states, particularly Vietnam, would perhaps expect a sharper or clearer position, which the EU has indeed been moving toward. For example, in March 2024, the EU released a statement expressing concerns about the incidents involving “repeated dangerous maneuvers” by the Chinese Coast Guard and Maritime Militia in the SCS. This tilts to the U.S. line, even as the U.S. has been more vocal in directly criticizing China on the SCS, by calling China’s claims “completely unlawful” even before the current events. One could argue that despite the U.S. and its allies having been vocal, this has yet to lead to a concrete resolution of the conflict. However, if the EU cannot send clear signals on the issue, the division among like-minded countries will be seen as weak and exploitable in China’s eyes. Importantly, this is true not just for the SCS disputes but also for China’s coercive activities in general. Therefore, given the convergent non-confrontational, inclusivity-, and economic interests-oriented attitudes of both Vietnam and the EU toward the Asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific region, both sides are primed to embrace the other’s strategic outlook and up their game in the face of a challenging China and efforts to foster order.

Defense & Security
Flags of china and the united states on a map of the southern china sea.

War games risk stirring up troubled waters as Philippines − emboldened by US − squares up to Beijing at sea

by Fred H. Lawson

한국어로 읽기Leer en españolIn Deutsch lesen Gap اقرأ بالعربيةLire en françaisЧитать на русском U.S. Marines joined Filipino counterparts on May 5, 2024, for a mock battle at a telling location: a small, remote territory just 100 miles off the southern tip of the contested island of Taiwan. The combat drill is part of the weekslong Exercise Balikatan that has brought together naval, air and ground forces of the Philippines and the United States, with Australia and France also joining some maneuvers. With a planned “maritime strike” on May 8 in which a decommissioned ship will be sunk and exercises at repelling an advancing foreign army, the aim is to display a united front against China, which Washington and Manila perceive as a threat to the region. Balikatan is Tagalog for “shoulder to shoulder.” Joint Philippines-U.S. naval drills have become an annual event. But as an expert in international relations, I believe this year’s drills mark an inflection point in the regional politics of the South China Sea. For the first time, warships taking part in the exercise ventured outside the 12-mile boundary that demarcates the territorial waters of the Philippines. This extends military operations into the gray area where the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone rubs up against the territory claimed by China and designated by its “nine-dash line.”    Also for the first time, the U.S. deployed an advanced mobile launcher for medium-range ballistic and cruise missiles of a type that had been banned under the now-defunct Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. In addition, the Philippine navy is showing off its newest acquisition, a South Korean-built missile frigate. The South China Sea has long been the source of maritime disputes between China, which claims the vast majority of its waters, and nations including Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia. In addition, heightened tensions over the status of Taiwan – a territory that the Biden administration has pledged to defend militarily in the event of a Chinese invasion – have made the South China Sea even more strategically important. Containment at sea The latest joint maneuvers come amid two developments that could go some way to influence the future trajectory of tensions in the South China Sea. First, the Philippines has grown increasingly assertive in countering China’s claims in the region; and second, the U.S. is increasingly intent on building up regional alliances as part of a strategy to contain China. The Philippines-U.S. alignment is more robust than ever. After a brief interval during the 2016-22 presidency of Rodrigo Duterte, U.S. warships and military aircraft once again operate out of bases in the Philippines. Joint naval patrols resumed in early 2023. At the same time, Manila granted U.S. troops unprecedented access to facilities on the northern Batanes islands, which have become the focus of current joint operations. Meanwhile, Washington has become more vocal in condemning challenges to the Philippines from China. U.S. officials had carefully avoided promising to protect the far-flung islands, atolls and reefs claimed by Manila for seven decades following the signing of the Mutual Defense Treaty with the Philippines in 1951. Only in March 2019 did then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo assert that the treaty covers all of the geographical area over which the Philippines asserts sovereignty. In February 2023, Presidents Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Joe Biden doubled the number of bases in the Philippines open to the U.S. military. That May, the two leaders affirmed that the Mutual Defense Treaty applies to armed attacks that take place “anywhere in the South China Sea.” Causing waves, rocking the boat Firmer ties to the U.S. have been accompanied by more combative behavior on the part of the Philippines. In May 2023, the Philippines coast guard introduced demarcation buoys around Whitsun Reef – the site of an intense confrontation with China’s maritime militia a year earlier. Reports circulated three months later that Philippine marines planned to construct permanent outposts in the vicinity of the hotly contested Scarborough Shoal. And a Philippine coast guard ship, with the commander of the country’s armed forces aboard, approached Scarborough Shoal in November, before being forced to retreat by Chinese maritime militia vessels. Then in January 2024, the Philippines broke with its adherence to a prohibition on erecting structures on disputed territory, which was part of the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, by installing electronic surveillance equipment on Thitu Island, which sits beyond Scarborough Shoal in the heart of a cluster of disputed formations. This was followed by announced plans to put water desalination plants on Thitu, Nanshan Island and Second Thomas Shoal, making it possible to maintain permanent garrisons on these isolated outposts. Manila has continued to assert its maritime rights by announcing that armed forces would escort exploration and mining activities in the exclusive economic zone. Further acts that could be seen as provocative in Beijing followed, including the stationing of a Philippine navy corvette at nearby Palawan Island and a joint flyover by Philippine warplanes and a U.S. Air Force B-52 heavy bomber. A raft of Chinese responses It is clear that the deepening of Philippines-U.S. ties has given Manila the confidence to undertake a variety of combative acts toward China. The question is, to what ends? A more assertive Philippines may end up contributing to the U.S. strategy to deter Beijing from extending its presence in the South China Sea and launching what many in Washington fear: an invasion of Taiwan. But it is possible that heightened truculence on the part of the Philippines will goad Beijing into being more aggressive, diminishing the prospects for regional stability. As the Philippines-U.S. alignment has strengthened, Beijing has boosted the number of warships it deploys in the South China Sea and escalated maritime operations around Thitu Island, Second Thomas Shoal and Iroquois Reef – all of which the Philippines considers its sovereign territory. In early March 2024, two Chinese research ships moved into Benham Rise, a resource-rich shelf situated on the eastern coast of the Philippines, outside the South China Sea. Weeks later, a Philippines coast guard cutter surveying a sandbar near Thitu was harassed not only by Chinese coast guard and maritime militia ships but also by a missile frigate of the People’s Liberation Army Navy, which for the first time launched a helicopter to shadow the cutter. Washington has taken no public steps to dampen tensions between Manila and Beijing. Rather, Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed full-throated support for “our ironclad defense commitments” during a mid-March 2024 stopover in Manila. Reassured of U.S. backing, Marcos has amped up the rhetoric, proclaiming that Manila would respond to any troublemaking on Beijing’s part by implementing a “countermeasure package that is proportionate, deliberate and reasonable.” “Filipinos,” he added, “do not yield.” Such an approach, according to Marcos, was now feasible due to the U.S. and its regional allies offering “to help us on what the Philippines requires to protect and secure our sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction.” The danger is that as the Philippines grows more assured by U.S. support, it may grow reckless in dealing with China. Rather than deterring China from further expansion, the deepening Philippines-U.S. alignment and associated Filipino assertiveness may only ramp up Beijing’s apprehensiveness over its continued access to the South China Sea – through which virtually all of its energy imports and most of its exports flow. And there is little reason to expect that Washington will be able to prevent an emboldened Manila from continuing down the path of confronting China in the South China Sea. To Beijing, the prospect of an emboldened Philippines forging active strategic partnerships with Australia, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and – most troublesome of all – Taiwan makes the situation all the more perilous.

Defense & Security
Solomon Islands

Russia and China co-ordinate on disinformation in Solomon Islands elections

by Albert Zhang , Adam Ziogas

한국어로 읽기 Leer en español In Deutsch lesen Gap اقرأ بالعربية Lire en français Читать на русском Moscow and Beijing likely worked together to sow disinformation globally that was propagated locally by political parties in the lead-up to Solomon Islands’ national and provincial elections on 17 April 2024. Both countries’ propaganda systems accused the United States, without evidence, of using its foreign aid and networks across the country to interfere in voting and of preparing to foment riots and orchestrate regime change in response to an unsatisfactory election result. This campaign adds to a growing body of evidence showing that China’s and Russia’s ‘no limits’ partnership extends to coordinating their disinformation campaigns in the Indo-Pacific. The narratives haven’t gained widespread attention or media coverage in Solomon Islands. Australia, the United States and other Pacific partners should nonetheless be concerned, as Russia and China can be expected to learn from this campaign and will likely use the lessons to further improve their influence operations in the region. Individually, China and Russia are adept and expert at pushing disinformation to disrupt other nations but, by coordinating their efforts, they have a force-multiplier effect. The campaign consisted of an alleged ‘leaked’ letter, articles published on authoritarian state-controlled media outlets and a fringe journal publication, which were then shared and amplified on social media platforms. A fortnight before election day, an unknown author by the name of Richard Anderson published an explosive article in CovertAction Magazine alleging that the US was seeking regime change in Solomon Islands. The US-based magazine was co-founded in 1978 by the late Philip Agee, a former CIA officer who after his retirement became a vocal critic of the agency and of US policy and had reported links with Soviet and Cuban intelligence. The magazine was set up ‘on the initiative of the KGB’, the Soviet Union’s main intelligence agency, according to a book by KGB defector Vasili Mitrokhin and British intelligence historian Christopher Andrew. Anderson had no previous history of writing for CovertAction Magazine. A week after that article was published, Russian state-controlled media agency Sputnik further fuelled the allegations, writing that the US was ‘plotting [an] electoral coup’. This article cited an anonymous source who had ‘intimate familiarity’ with the activities of USAID, the main United States foreign aid and international development agency. This mirrored how Anderson is described in his CovertAction Magazine bio, though Sputnik’s article did not explicitly mention him or his article. Sputnik’s claims were amplified four days later by the Chinese state-controlled tabloid newspaper the Global Times, which did directly reference Anderson’s article and has the potential to legitimise these narratives to an audience the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is actively targeting. During the same period, a poorly fabricated letter from an unconfirmed (and potentially non-existent) IFES project consultant was circulated among Solomon Islanders by an unknown source claiming that the US was seeking a ‘democratic transition by violent means in necessary circumstances.’ The text in this letter mirrored language used by Sputnik’s alleged anonymous source. Figure 1: Paragraph from Sputnik article (top) and a screenshot of the alleged IFES letter (bottom).     To be clear, there is no evidence that the US, or any other country, is supporting violent riots or interfering in Solomon Islands. Ann Marie Yastishock, US Ambassador to Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu, has strongly refuted these allegations. This is not the first time the CCP-controlled media has spread disinformation in Solomon Islands or accused the US of seeking to instigate riots in the country. Following the 2021 Honiara riots, the CCP falsely accused Australia, the US and Taiwan of organising the riots, fomenting unrest and discrediting the relationship between Solomon Islands and China. In contrast, Russian media outlets also covered the 2021 Honiara riots but didn’t promote any explicit accusations of US or foreign interference. This time, China and Russia have been in lockstep. In the lead-up to the April elections, Russian state media was more direct and damning in its reporting with the release of Sputnik’s original article and in the subsequent coordination and dissemination of false narratives alongside Chinese state media. While Sputnik published only one follow-up article to the initial investigation, China’s Global Times was more prolific and varied, with six articles alleging US meddling in Solomon Islands. Of these six articles, four explicitly referenced Sputnik’s claims and two referenced US influence operations in more general terms. The indications of Russia-China propaganda coordination in this campaign were further supported by China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) post on 19 April 2024 titled ‘The Hypocrisy and Facts of the United States Foreign Aid’. The post on their website claims the US is giving aid to Solomon Islands, among other countries, only because it sees it as a political threat. This was the first article ever published by the MFA to smear USAID. Moscow, however, has consistently campaigned against USAID since it ejected the US agency from Russia in 2012 for ‘meddling in politics’. Russian media has pushed a consistent narrative that the organisation is a US imperialist tool of regime change, accusing it of fomenting civil unrest and coup attempts as far afield as Belarus, Cuba, Georgia and Mexico. However, this latest attack against USAID appears to be the first where Russia’s narratives are working to the benefit of CCP interests. It’s been clear since at least 2018 that Russian and Chinese state media are converging on media narratives that serve their governments’ strategic and political interests. According to leaked documents from Russian state broadcaster VGTRK, Russian and Chinese propaganda entities also signed an agreement to ‘further cooperate in the field of information exchange, promoting objective, comprehensive and accurate coverage of the most important world events’. While previous ASPI research has demonstrated Russian and Chinese state-coordinated narratives on the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the repeated re-airing of Sputnik’s conspiratorial claims of interference in Solomon Islands’ elections in Global Times articles indicates this propaganda cooperation is now a global initiative. There was also some evidence of amplification by inauthentic accounts on social media of these narratives, but they were limited and it is unclear whether they were state linked. For example, one X account with the handle @jv79628 shared the original Sputnik investigation. The account posts links almost exclusively from Sputnik, Global Times, Australian website Pearls and Irritations and videos with artificial intelligence-generated voices from the pro-CCP YouTube channel Chinese Revival, which may be linked to the Shadow Play network previously uncovered by ASPI. Other accounts sharing the original Sputnik report, such as @de22580171, pose as pro-Russian US citizens. They share articles mostly from Sputnik or Russia Today. At the time of publication of this report, Russia’s and China’s state media articles, and the accusations contained in them, have had minimal reach into online Pacific communities. In the public Solomon Islands Facebook groups ASPI viewed, online discourse remains more focussed on the emergence of new coalitions and the election of a new Prime Minister than on discussion of foreign influence or interference. According to Meta’s social monitoring tool, CrowdTangle, none of the articles from the Global Times have been shared in open and public Solomon Islands Facebook groups. However, Sputnik’s first article may have been more successful in reinforcing anti-Western sentiments in outgoing Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare’s O.U.R. Party, who are strong contenders to be part of the coalition that forms the next government. That article was posted on the O.U.R. Party Solomon Islands Facebook page, which is run by the party, on 10 April. It was reshared to several public Facebook groups in Solomon Islands, including news aggregation sites and local island forum pages. This is significant because it is the first time a news article has been posted on the O.U.R. Party Solomon Islands Facebook page, which typically shares positive images of the party’s activities and political campaigns. As of 1 May 2024, the post (below) has had over 180 interactions, which is higher than the average number of interactions a typical post has on this page. Figure 2: Screenshot of Sputnik article posted in O.U.R Party Solomon Islands Facebook page.     Sogavare, a founding member of the O.U.R. Party, has made similar remarks about ‘foreign forces’ previously. According to an article published in the Solomon Star, when US Ambassador Yastishock visited Solomon Islands in late March to present her letter of credentials to Governor-General John Oti, Sogavare claimed foreign forces were ‘intervening in the national general election’ and ‘may fund some political parties and plan to stage another riot during the election to disrupt the electoral process and undermine social stability’. Despite the low online interaction so far, the barrage of US regime change allegations lays the foundation for future narratives that may resurface if Solomon Islands experiences future unrest. Beijing and Moscow can be expected to learn from these disinformation efforts, leaving the US, Australia and their Pacific partners no room for complacency about the threat the regimes pose, nor the need for effective strategic communication. The Russian and Chinese governments are seeking to destabilise the Pacific’s information environment by using disinformation campaigns and influence operations to undermine traditional partnerships. In this digital age, leaders of governments and civil society across the region need to consistently confront and counter baseless lies pushed by authoritarian state media, such as accusations that the governments of Australia and the US are instigating riots. If they fail to do so, partnerships with, and trust in, democratic countries are at risk of deteriorating, which can reduce the development benefits provided to Pacific Island Countries by Western partners. Australia, the US, and other close Pacific partners, such as Japan, New Zealand and the European Union, must take a stronger stance against false and misleading information that is starting to circulate in the region as a result of authoritarian state-backed disinformation campaigns. These nations must also better support and encourage local media and governments to take further steps to identify and combat false information online. This includes providing more training packages and opportunities for dialogue on media-government communication procedures to tackle disinformation and misinformation. Countering the effects of disinformation requires ongoing efforts to call out false statements, educate the public, and build country-wide resilience in the information environment. Greater transparency and public awareness campaigns from the region’s partners can also help to ‘prebunk’—or anticipate and delegitimise—disinformation and alleviate concerns about malign activity.

Defense & Security
China, USA and Iran Flags

Iran’s Strategies in Response To Changes in US-China Relations

by Sara Bazoobandi

한국어로 읽기 Leer en español In Deutsch lesen Gap اقرأ بالعربية Lire en français Читать на русском Bazoobandi, S. Iran’s Strategies in Response to Changes in US-China Relations. Middle East Policy. 2024;31:120–132. https://doi.org/10.1111/mepo.12727 Abstract The dynamics of the relationship between the United States and China have been shifting. This has prompted changes in strategic calculus and policy adoption by the friends and foes of each side. Iran, given its decades-long links with China, has made several. First, it has deepened its ties with the Asian power beyond collaboration in business and trade. Second, it has revised its policies in the Gulf region to be a part of what it sees as China's network of influence, hoping to better position itself in a multilateral global order. Third, it has been seeking opportunities to project power through showing off its military capabilities in Ukraine. This article examines these strategic responses and concludes that Iran has been pursuing an agenda in line with the world vision of its senior leaders. The end goal for Tehran is to gain more power and relevance in the global strategic calculus. This analysis is part of a special issue examining the responses of Gulf countries to rising Sino-American competition, edited by Andrea Ghiselli, Anoushiravan Ehteshami, and Enrico Fardella. Over the past decade, the relationship between China and United States has been going through fundamental changes.1 “Engagement, cooperation, and convergence,” previous pillars of the ties between the world's largest economic powerhouses, have been replaced by the trade war between Beijing and Washington.2 These changes have influenced strategic choices made by states around the world, including Iran. The country has increased its commercial ties with China, which has been instrumental in Tehran's efforts to circumvent US sanctions and maintain the regime's financial bloodline. As a result, China has remained Iran's largest trade partner for more than a decade.3 The Islamic Republic perceives the changes in US-China relations as a sign of US decline and foresees the end of unipolarity in the global system. This has emboldened Tehran's attempt to pursue three main strategies: deepen its ties with China, revise its policies in the Gulf region, and project power through showing off its military capabilities in Ukraine. This article analyzes Tehran's strategic calculus in pursuing these strategies. It aims to provide a holistic understanding of Iran's vision for a multipolar world system that the country's senior leaders sense as increasingly viable. The article starts with a brief review of the expansion and strengthening of Iran-China ties, which has undoubtedly been crucial in Iran's economic survival. This section underscores that in addition to economic hardship, the changing dynamics between Beijing and Washington, combined with Iran's ideological framework of the “new world order” and the regional struggle over the balance of power, have influenced Iran's relations with China. In 2022, Iran's supreme leader, its most senior political figure, stated: “The world is on the threshold of a new world order” in which “the United States is becoming weaker day by day.”4 The analysis indicates that Iran sees this as the starting point for the emergence of a multipolar order, in which the global clout of non-Western powers such as China and Russia is on the rise. By expanding and strengthening its ties with China, Iran is aiming to align itself with the leading global powers that are both deemed to be trustworthy by the senior political leaders and expected to emerge as stronger than the United States. The second section focuses on the impact of US-China relations on Iran's strategy toward the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. China has been visibly increasing its involvement in the Gulf region. Trade and investment levels have been rising, and both sides have indicated their intentions to boost their strategic partnership. The United States has for several decades played the role of the security guarantor of the Arab nations in the Gulf. Given Iran's perception of America's weakening, navigating these regional dynamics, particularly the strengthening of GCC-China ties, has influenced Tehran's strategy in the region. The article argues that Iran is seeking to improve ties with the GCC, in line with its strategy of expanding relations with China as a non-Western power in an emerging global multipolar system. For example, the consolidation of the ties between China and the GCC has motivated Iran to shift its hostile approach toward some member states, particularly Saudi Arabia. This section provides an overview of the Gulf-China partnership in light of changing relations between Washington and Beijing. It aims to provide a better understanding of how Iran's strategies have been shaped by its perception of the shifting dynamics among the Western and non-Western powers in this region. Next, the article investigates the impact of US-China relations on the ties between Tehran and Moscow, given the perception of Iran's senior leaders of American decline and their determination to gain more significance in the global order. Russia and China's mutual desire to redefine the normative principles of the international order has strengthened their cooperation in various areas, including military, energy, and finance.5 Their interest in pushing against the US-led, liberal global system has motivated them to form networks of partnership with like-minded states across the world.6 They have used international platforms and frameworks to promote their visions and constrain the West.7 Unlike the Western powers, both China and Russia seem to have been able to navigate Iran's complex and ideology-oriented political system.8 As a result, Tehran has been inspired to pursue strategies that share Moscow and Beijing's vision for the world order, and to seek to establish itself as a more powerful global player.9 The final section examines the influence of the visions and ideologies of Iran's political leaders on the country's strategic direction. It argues that Iran's quest for power projection is its main response to the changing US-China relationship. This shift has prompted Iran's leaders to seek ways to pursue the “resistance strategy” beyond its traditional realm of influence in its immediate neighboring region. As part of this, Russia's war in Ukraine has offered Iran the opportunity to project power through military collaboration. This article concludes that Iran's strategic response to the changing relationship between Beijing and Washington is based on anticipation of the decline of US hegemony and aimed at claiming a powerful position in the new world order. Iran's aspiration to increase its relevance and strength in the global and regional strategic calculus is reflected in official government documents that highlight the regime's vision. “The Islamic Iranian Progress Model” and the declaration of “The Second Phase of the Revolution” by Iran's supreme leader provide an outline of the regime's vision, which includes economic and political independence from the West and resistance against global imperialism.10 Against this backdrop, the analysis concludes that this ideological framework, built around the notion of American decline and the emergence of a new global order, has been Iran's main strategic response to the changes between the superpowers and the most effective driving force for Tehran's policies toward China, the GCC, and Russia. The study uses qualitative analysis to trace the processes of policy formation, considering states’ visions and ideologies, as well as regional and global events. It employs a variety of sources, including academic literature, news articles, and government websites. CHINA-IRAN RELATIONS: AN OVERVIEW The need to build and strengthen links with the world's strongest non-Western economic powerhouse, particularly in times of harsh US-led economic sanctions, has driven Iran's relations with China. Other factors have influenced the development of non-economic aspects of Tehran-Beijing ties, including the changing dynamics between Beijing and Washington, domestic ideological frameworks, global and regional balance-of-power struggles, and domestic dissent. Iran's relations with China began before the Islamic Revolution of 1979. Despite the country's “no East, no West” slogan that marked its policies in the early years after the revolution, the regime has consistently maintained its ties with China.11 The presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was a significant period for the bilateral relationship, and it was considered the starting point of Iran's “Asianization” era. During that period, Tehran accelerated its nuclear program and reactivated the anti-West narrative.12 Since then, China has wavered between promoting a diplomatic solution to Iran's nuclear file, supporting a decision by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 2006 to refer the file to the United Nations Security Council, and helping Iran in its efforts to circumvent sanctions. The two countries began a nuclear-cooperation agreement in the early 1990s, which quickly ended under US pressure. In 2006, China agreed with IAEA's decision to refer Iran's file to the Security Council. This was a turning point in the decades-long nuclear dispute. Between 2006 and 2010, China agreed to Security Council resolutions that led to increasing economic pressure on Iran through international sanctions. Despite that, during the Ahmadinejad presidency, bilateral trade between Iran and China increased from $10 billion to $43 billion. This was a clear signal of their cooperation to bypass the sanctions, which at times had negative consequences for China and for globally recognized Chinese businesses, such as Huawei. Such strengthening of Iran's relations with the East (non-Western great powers) was largely influenced by the personal views and foreign-relations goals of the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.13 In recent years, he has openly driven the strategy of strengthening ties with China, publicly declaring Beijing a trustworthy partner and explicitly stating that the Islamic Republic will never forget its support in bypassing the sanctions.14 Following Khamenei's guidance for closer ties with China, President Ebrahim Raisi has in recent years described “the friendship” between the two countries as based on mutual respect and trust.15 Such political language indicates a long-lasting and perhaps all-encompassing commitment to maintain and expand ties with China. In response, the Iranian regime has received Beijing's support beyond the bypassing of sanctions. For example, despite the concern raised by other regional players, particularly GCC members, China supported terminating the arms embargo on Iran in 2020.16 This, in theory, allows Iran to purchase weapons and upgrade its military armaments.17 A year later, in March 2021, the two countries announced a comprehensive strategic partnership aimed at strengthening bilateral relations in energy and the economy, as well as cybersecurity and the military.18 Not much detail is available on the agreement, which Khamenei described as a wise decision, and its implementation.19 China has been Iran's most important trade partner for more than a decade.20 Before the US withdrawal from the nuclear agreement in 2018, Tehran had hoped to benefit more from freer trade and investment by both the Asian power and Europe. In 2015, Iranian officials announced plans to rebuild relations with Europe and expand ties with China.21 However, the calculus changed with President Donald Trump's decision to impose a maximum pressure campaign on Iran. Despite European and Asian leaders’ initial disagreement with the US decision, European firms quickly responded by ceasing business with Iran.22 The Chinese banking system also limited the scope of its operations with the country.23 This has posed a major challenge to all aspects of bilateral trade and investment. Undoubtedly, the Chinese business and economic collaboration promised by the framework of the comprehensive strategic partnership was affected by American pressure. Considering its location, Iran has the potential to be a valuable element of Chinese economic initiatives like the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).24 Hacked documents obtained from the Centre for Strategic Studies, a research entity within the Office of the President of Iran, revealed that Raisi has officially ordered the Foreign Ministry to facilitate economic collaborations with China.25 This reflects the government's desire to turn Iran into a key player in the “Chinese value chain.”26 This expansion of economic ties with China has been challenged by the Western sanctions.27 Consequently, Iran has not been successful in attracting Chinese investment, either in the BRI or other projects. The pressure eased under the Biden administration, which restored some sanctions waivers.28 Iran's oil exports to China, through subterranean methods, have continued to flow relatively steadily. This has benefited both sides, maintaining Iran's vital revenue stream and helping facilitate the import of Chinese goods and services in return for discounted energy.29 Collaboration between Iran and China has expanded into areas such as technological exchange. Beijing's cooperation model is more favorable toward Tehran in comparison to those of the Western governments, as it does not impose values on partners.30 While Western companies have been reluctant to engage with Iran due to sanctions, China has offered technological assistance. This has been, in part, facilitated by China's strategy to develop its technological and scientific industries, civil-military integration, and dual-use technologies through the export of products and standards.31 Iran has also been pursuing strategies to expand its scientific and technological capabilities, driven by the views of its senior political leaders. In his 2006 Persian New Year speech, Khamenei stated, “Knowledge is authority, it is equal to power; whoever finds it can rule; a nation that finds it can rule; a nation that cannot [build its scientific and technological capacities] must prepare itself to be ruled by others.”32 This clearly indicates Iran's motivation and intention. Khamenei has frequently encouraged the country's policy makers to promote strategies that support the “jihad of knowledge.”33 This phrase has gained significance in Iran's strategic planning in recent years, driving the country's efforts to advance its defense and military capacities. Technological assistance in fields such as artificial intelligence (AI) and cybersecurity has been a major area of collaboration between China and Iran.34 For example, the Chinese firm Tiandy, one of the world's leading video-surveillance companies, has been reportedly working with the Iranian government.35 Rising domestic dissent over the past few years may have played a role in advancing this technological collaboration. There is very little public information about the nature of such cooperation. However, technologies accessed through collaboration with Chinese companies have helped Iran spy on its citizens, crack down on protests, and monitor dissidents.36 Trade and business partnerships have dominated the bilateral relationship.37 China has cooperated with Iran to get around sanctions while taking advantage of discounted energy prices.38 At the same time, the two countries have been expanding into other areas, such as technology. The regime in Tehran, heavily influenced by the supreme leader, sees China as the main challenge to US hegemony and is determined to consolidate its ties with Beijing while trying to maximize its power in the global system. The next section explores the changing relationships between Iran and the GCC, analyzing the impact of US-China relations on Tehran's strategies toward its neighbors. US-CHINA RELATIONS AND IRAN'S STRATEGIES IN THE GULF Senior Iranian politicians have frequently stated that they foresee a new international order to replace the US-led unipolar system.39 As the previous section demonstrated, such anticipation has motivated Tehran to maintain close ties with Beijing. This section investigates how Iran's vision of a new world order has prompted the strategy of normalization with the GCC. It examines the regime's understanding of the future Chinese and American roles in the region and how this impacts Tehran's strategy toward its southern neighbors. In the years before the 2023 Iran-Saudi agreement that re-established diplomatic ties between the two countries, the dynamics between Iran and the GCC were predominantly based on “intra-regional threat perceptions and intense mutual securitisation.”40 The deal brokered by China seems to have shifted this formulation. One factor that played a significant role in changing Iran's policies was the advancement of the China-GCC relationship. In 2021, Beijing officials described this as a part of building a “synergy” between the “new development paradigm in China” and “major development strategies” in the region.41 Such statements may well have been perceived by Tehran as indicating Beijing's increasing strategic influence and its pushing back against US involvement in the security structure of the region. This has motivated Iran to be a part of what it sees as a newly emerging realm of influence for China. Further, the normalization of diplomatic ties with Saudi Arabia is anticipated to pave the way for a much needed, yet challenging, “tripartite peace deal between Iran, Saudi Arabia and Houthis”42 that can address one of the most pressing security concerns across the GCC. Iran has long desired a new security structure forged by eradicating US influence and presence. In 2019, the Iranian government proposed the “Hormuz Peace Endeavor” (HOPE), a security-cooperation initiative that would include all of the Gulf's littoral states.43 Motivated by Iran's long-held aspiration to undermine US hegemony, it was presented during the GCC's internal crisis with Qatar, which coincided with the initial stage of the US-China trade war.44 During the long-running hostilities between the GCC and Yemen's Houthi rebels, Washington was not able to offer any meaningful solutions. The Saudi government, disappointed by this inability to protect its security, therefore welcomed the Chinese-backed rapprochement with Iran. As for Tehran, this shift toward Riyadh demonstrates how the perception of US decline and Chinese rise influenced its strategic calculus in relation to the GCC countries. Iran's decision to normalize with the GCC came at a time when policy makers anticipated an increase in China's regional power and saw it as helping fulfill their strategic vision. Collaborations between the GCC and China have convinced Tehran that Beijing is determined to increase its engagement with the region. Iran assumes this will be to the detriment of the United States. Against that backdrop, the Islamic Republic is also motivated to be a member of the newly emerging realm of influence. Over many decades, the GCC countries have had warm relations with the United States, leading to a strong American military presence in the region that has excluded Iran from a position of influence in the Gulf. Iran sees an expansion of China-GCC cooperation as an opportunity to enter China's realm of influence that will, according to its senior leaders, end the US-led global system. Whether Iran's assessment of China's intentions for expanding ties with the GCC is accurate can be debated. Nevertheless, Tehran perceives China's ties with the region to be aimed at creating a new area of influence, one hospitable to its own vision. Moreover, Iran has for a long time perceived high strategic value in its economic ties with China and is hoping to improve such relations with both China and the GCC.45 The Iran-Saudi deal is estimated to boost bilateral trade to $2 billion, and Iran's drive to improve relations with the GCC could similarly be motivated by the prospect of economic gain.46 To highlight the impact of China-US relations on Iran's strategies in the Gulf, it is important to review the development of Beijing's relations with the GCC countries. The most significant aspect has been business and trade cooperation. China has been a net oil importer since 1993.47 The country's reliance on foreign energy has played a crucial role in its policies toward the Gulf's oil-exporting countries. Bilateral trade between China and the GCC increased from $182 billion in 2014 to about $229 billion in 2021, making China the region's largest trading partner.48 This volume has been substantially larger than that of China-Iran trade (about $16 billion in 2022).49 While energy demand has been a key element of bilateral trades with the GCC, business relations have been expanding into other areas, such as infrastructure investment and the exchange of technology, goods, and services. Iran has undoubtedly been envious of this cooperation between China and its southern neighbors. This has induced Tehran's efforts toward normalization in the hope of benefiting from collaboration with both Beijing and the GCC. This is manifested in the comprehensive strategic partnership and other forms of collaboration examined in the previous section. Chinese political leaders have adopted an effective narrative in describing their strategy for engagement with the GCC, emphasizing “equality between countries regardless of their size” and support for their “independent sovereignty.”50 This is aimed at persuading local leaders to see expanding ties with Beijing as “an opportunity to enrich the strategic substance” of the relationships.51 Such a narrative has undoubtedly been well received by Tehran, as it advances multilateralism. Saudi Arabia, until recently considered Iran's most obvious regional rival, has been one of China's most important partners and largest recipient of its investment in the region.52 Tehran sees normalization with a former foe—one becoming an even closer partner of China's—as both strengthening anti-US collaboration in the region and winning for itself a place in a network of partnerships based on equality and independence, as expressed in the Chinese narrative. Being part of such a network will help Tehran position itself better in a multilateral global order. Ultimately, Iran is pursuing its agenda in line with the world vision of its senior leaders, the goal of which is to gain more power and relevance in the global strategic calculus. For decades, the United States was considered a close ally of some of the regional powers. By brokering a deal between Tehran and Riyadh, China has undertaken a role that the United States and Europe have failed to play in recent years. Iran-Saudi normalization came at a time when European policy makers, who have been seeking to facilitate a regional dialogue, failed to achieve any tangible results between Tehran and Riyadh. Indeed, Iran has become skeptical of the EU's potential in resolving regional issues, particularly in the aftermath of Trump's withdrawal from the nuclear deal.53 The Iran-Saudi rapprochement highlighted China's mediation capacity and boosted the country's status among regional leaders. By welcoming Beijing's intervention, Iran sought to demonstrate that the United States and its Western allies can no longer shape regional dynamics. Iran has envisioned a multipolar world order and aspires to play a role in achieving this in the Gulf region. Beijing seems to have successfully managed to convince the regime in Tehran, along with the leaders of the Arab Gulf countries, of its capacity and willingness to support their aspirations. While the Western world has failed to maintain the regional leaders’ trust, China has gained it. These developments have been motivated by the changing relations between Beijing and Washington, which Tehran sees as signaling China's deep strategic influence in the region. Further, it serves Iran's belief in the decline of US power, particularly in the Gulf. THE US-CHINA RIVALRY AND IRAN'S POWER PROJECTION This section analyzes the effects of the changing dynamics between the United States and China on Iran's power-projection strategies. Tehran's perception of the decline of American global power, particularly in the Gulf, has driven Iran to restore ties with its main regional competitor, Saudi Arabia. Regardless of the future of normalization between Tehran and Riyadh, China's mediation indicates Tehran's anticipation of the strategic role the Asian power will play in the Gulf. It has also influenced Iran's power-projection strategies, particularly beyond its traditional realm of influence. Senior Iranian leaders have long seen realism as the main pillar of their relationship with China and Russia.54 More recently, however, Iran has pursued a policy of “looking East,” largely aimed at strengthening relations with those two powers. In 2019, Iran, Russia, and China conducted a naval exercise in the Indian Ocean symbolizing their commitment to breaking down American global unilateralism.55 Undoubtedly, the aims, motives, and extent of the relations among these countries varies. However, the common denominator is their anti-hegemonic sentiments, which have gained significance with the shift in dynamics of US-China relations. The Russian war in Ukraine has provided Iran a chance to project power, demonstrate its military capability, and remain relevant in the international calculus given the changing world order.56 This section argues that anti-hegemonic principles shared among Russian, Chinese, and Iranian political leaders play a significant role in strengthening their relationships, and the Ukraine war is a great opportunity for Iran to pursue its world vision and power-projection aspirations. Russia's overarching global strategy has been focused increasingly on challenging a unipolar system dominated by the United States.57 This has resonated with political ideologies in Tehran and China.58 Iran's supreme leader, who exerts a strong influence over the country's strategic policy making, has frequently emphasized maintaining and expanding “strategic depth” as one of the country's fundamental strategies.59 Moreover, he has expressed his anticipation of a “new world order” and accentuated the significance of “Geography of Resistance.”60 This ideology reflects Tehran's desire for influence in global and regional systems and has played a crucial role in driving the country's power-projection aspirations. Khamenei's use of theological concepts like jihad and resistance indicates his strong anti-hegemonic and anti-West views.61 He sees the West's policies as continuing the historical clash over identity and destiny between the Muslim and non-Muslim worlds. According to this view, Iran is located at the heart of the geography of resistance and is the main powerhouse of the Muslim world.62 Therefore, joining non-Western security and economic initiatives will help Tehran gain a more powerful global position to advance its strategic agenda. The Ukraine war presented Iran with new arenas in which to project power.63 The synergy between the Russian vision, manifested by its invasion, and that of Iran is perceived in Tehran as promising for the new global order. Iran's delivery of hundreds of Shahed-136 drones to Russia has been a clear signal of its determination to collaborate with powers that share its perception.64 In an order in which US power is challenged by China, Iran aspires to advance its ambitions, demonstrate its military capabilities, and gain relevance outside of its traditional realm of influence. The perceptions of Iran's political leaders and their visions for Iran's position in the world system are a driving force behind their strategic decisions.65 Their anticipation of the decline of the West, particularly the United States, is the crucial foundation. Historically, Iran's strategy of building a “Resistance Axis” has been used to project power through “a mix of strategic alliance, security community, and ideational network”66 in the Middle East and North Africa region. The war in Ukraine presented a new arena for this. CONCLUSION The relationship between the United States and China has been going through fundamental changes, prompting strategic responses by Iran on various fronts. Tehran believes American global power is declining while China's is rising. This interpretation has dominated Iran's policies and its envisioned regional and global roles. The senior political leaders in Tehran have been advocating for what they refer to as “the new world order.” This is a multipolar system in which the West, specifically the United States, no longer dominates. Iranian officials perceive the war in Ukraine and the October 7 attacks on Israel as powerful blows to the Americans. Khamenei has referred to the Hamas attacks as the starting point for the formation of a new map in the Middle East based on “de-Americanization.”67 Iran has welcomed these crises and supports the aggressors, with rhetoric based on the notion of resistance to the Western oppression of the Muslim world.68 Iran's understanding of the changing China-US relationship has prompted three strategies. First, the country has been seeking to deepen its ties with the Asian power. The relationship between Iran and China has been formed mainly around trade and business collaborations that have been strengthened by Tehran's efforts to circumvent sanctions. Iran sees China as the main challenge to US hegemony and a key player in fulfilling its envisioned world order. It is therefore determined to consolidate ties with Beijing, along with implementing strategies that can establish a more powerful position for Iran in the global system. Second, Iran has revised its policies in the hope that it can help contribute and be a part of what Tehran perceives as China's new realm of influence in the Gulf region. Iran's envisioned multipolar world system drives its aspirations of making itself more relevant and influential in the regional strategic calculus. Tehran interprets China's engagement in the Gulf as not negating its desired role in the emerging multipolar world. Third, Iran has been seeking to project power by aiding Russia in Ukraine, thus showing off its military capabilities, and forging an anti-Israeli front. These conflicts have presented Iran with new arenas to project influence, within and beyond its traditional regional realm. Tehran understands the synergy between the Russian vision and its own as the most promising for materializing a new global order. This analysis of how the changing US-China relationship is perceived in Tehran is crucial to understanding its strategic calculus and policy choices. In Iran's view, a new global order is emerging because of these shifting dynamics. As US power declines, Iran is seeking every opportunity to emerge as a powerful global player. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS Open access funding enabled and organized by Projekt DEAL. REFERENCES 1 An earlier version of this article was first presented at “The Persian Gulf and the US-China Rivalry,” a roundtable held in Rome on July 6, 2023. That event and this special issue have been sponsored by the ChinaMed Project of the TOChina Hub and the HH Sheikh Nasser al-Mohammad al-Sabah Programme at Durham University. 2 Evan S. Medeiros, “The Changing Fundamentals of US-China Relations,” Washington Quarterly 42, no. 3 (2019): 93–119, https://doi.org/10.1080/0163660X.2019.1666355; Pablo Fajgelbaum et al., “The US-China Trade War and Global Reallocations,” National Bureau of Economic Research, 2021, https://www.nber.org/papers/w29562 3 China Daily, “China Remains Iran’s Largest Trading Partner for 10 Consecutive Years,” 2023, https://global.chinadaily.com.cn/a/202302/16/WS63ee40d8a31057c47ebaf3ee.html 4 Al-Monitor, “Khamenei Urges Iranians to Prepare for ‘New World Order,’” 2022, https://www.al-monitor.com/originals/2022/04/khamenei-urges-iranians-prepare-new-world-order 5 Brett Forrest, Ann M. Simmons, and Chao Deng, “China and Russia Military Cooperation Raises Prospect of New Challenge to American Power,” The Wall Street Journal, 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/china-russia-americamilitary-exercises-weapons-war-xi-putin-biden-11641146041; Reuters, “China’s Xi Looks to Strengthen Energy Ties with Russia,” 2022, https://www.reuters.com/business/energy/chinas-xi-looks-strengthen-energy-ties-with-russia-2022-11-29; Mrugank Bhusari and Maia Nikoladze, “Russia and China: Partners in Dedollarization,” Atlantic Council, 2022, https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/econographics/russia-and-china-partners-in-dedollarization. 6 Gregorio Betizza and David Lewis, “Authoritarian Powers and Norm Contestation in the Liberal International Order: Theorizing the Power Politics of Ideas and Identity,” Journal of Global Security Studies 5, no. 4 (2020): 559–71. 7 Anthea Roberts, Is International Law International? (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017). 8 Anoushiravan Ehteshami and Gawdat Bahgat, “Iran’s Asianisation Strategy,” ISPI, 2019, https://www.ispionline.it/sites/default/files/pubblicazioni/ispi_iran_looking_web.pdf#page=11. 9 Masoud Akbari, “اینگونه است که آنها «گذشته» هستند و ما «آینده‌»ایم [This is why they are ‘the past’ and we are ‘the future’],” Keyhan.ir, 2023, https://kayhan.ir/fa/news/273444. 10 Olgou.ir, “Islamic Iranian Progress Model [الگوي اسلامي ايراني پيشرفت],” 2018, https://olgou.ir/images/olgou/sanad-virastari-14.pdf; Tasnim News, “Statement of the Second Phase of the Revolution [بیانیه «گام دوم انقلاب» امام خامنه‌ای خطاب به ملت ایران منتشر شد],” Tasnim News, 2017, https://www.tasnimnews.com/fa/news/1397/11/24/1946416; Sara Bazoobandi, “Re-Revolutionising Iran: Condemning Prosperity and Jihadi Management,” GIGA Focus, November 3, 2022, https://www.giga-hamburg.de/de/publikationen/giga-focus/re-revolutionising-iran-condemning-prosperity-and-jihadi-management. 11 Bazoobandi, “Re-Revolutionising Iran.” 12 Ehteshami and Bahgat, “Iran’s Asianisation Strategy.” 13 Hongda Fan, “China–Iran Relations from the Perspective of Tehran’s Look East Approach,” Asian Affairs 53, no. 1 (2022): 51–67, https://doi.org/10.1080/03068374.2022.2029053. 14 Deutsche Welle, “Mission of Khamenei's confidant to implement the ‘wise’ agreement with China [ماموریت معتمد خامنه‌ای برای اجرای توافق ‘حکمت‌آمیز’ با چین],” 2023, https://www.dw.com/fa-ir/a-64703051; BBC Persian, “Khamenei's advisor defended the cooperation agreement with China [مشاور آیت‌الله خامنه‌ای از سند همکاری با چین حمایت کرد],” 2020, https://www.bbc.com/persian/iran-53289164. 15 China Daily, “Xi Holds Talks with Iranian President, Eyeing New Progress in Ties,” February 14, 2023, http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/a/202302/14/WS63eb6619a31057c47ebaec27.html. 16 Mohsen Shariatinia and Hamed A. 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Smith, “Russia and Multipolarity since the End of the Cold War,” East European Politics 29, no. 1 (2013): 36–51, https://doi.org/10.1080/21599165.2013.764481; Eugene Rumer, “The Primakov (Not Gerasimov) Doctrine in Action,” Carnagie Endowment for International Peace, 2019, https://carnegieendowment.org/2019/06/05/primakov-notgerasimov-doctrine-in-action-pub-79254; Jolanta Darczewska and Pitor Zochowski, “Active Measures: Russia’s Key Export,” Centre for Eastern Studies, 2017, https://www.osw.waw.pl/sites/default/files/pw_64_ang_activemeasures_net_0.pdf. 58 Tasnim News, “امام خامنه‌ای: امروز جهان در آستانه یک نظم جدید است/ آمریکا در همه چیز از بیست سال قبل ضعیف‌تر شده است [Imam Khamenei: today, the world is beginning a new world order/ America is weaker in every respect than 20 years ago],” Tasnim News, 2022, https://www.tasnimnews.com/fa/news/1401/02/06/2701671; Pang Ruizhi, “China Wants a Multipolar World Order. Can the World Agree?” Think China, 2020, https://www.thinkchina.sg/china-wants-multipolar-world-order-can-world-agree. 59 Sara Bazoobandi, Jens Heibach, and Thomas Richter, “Iran's Foreign Policy Making: Consensus Building or Power Struggle?” British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, March 16, 2023, 1–24, https://doi.org/10.1080/13530194.2023.2189572; Hamshahri Online, “عمق استراتژیک ایران [Iran's strategic depth],” 2019, https://www.hamshahrionline.ir/news/141615. 60 Al-Monitor, “Khamenei Urges Iranians to Prepare”; Khamenei.ir, “بیانات در دیدار مجمع عالی فرماندهان سپاه,” October 2, 2019, https://farsi.khamenei.ir/speech-content?id=43632. 61 Bazoobandi, “Populism, Jihad, and Economic Resistance”; Bazoobandi, “Re-Revolutionising Iran.” 62 Karim Sadjadpour, “Reading Khamenei: The World View of Iran’s Most Powerful Leader,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2008, https://carnegieendowment.org/files/sadjadpour_iran_final2.pdf. 63 Robbie Gramer and Amy Mackinnon, “Iran and Russia Are Closer Than Ever Before,” Foreign Policy, 2023, https://foreignpolicy.com/2023/01/05/iran-russia-drones-ukraine-war-military-cooperation. 64 David Brennan, “Shahed-136: The Iranian Drones Aiding Russia’s Assault on Ukraine,” Newsweek, 2022, https://www.newsweek.com/shahed-136-kamikaze-iran-drones-russia-ukraine-1770373. 65 Yahia H. 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Defense & Security
President Xi Jinping shaking hands with Vladimir Putin

The Chinese are not “tolerant”: they are preparing a global counteroffensive

by Yuri Tavrovsky

Moscow-Beijing: combat coordination is growing. Powerful cold currents from the West determine the political atmosphere of the planet. Efforts are being made to counter them with warm currents from the East. Only the synergy of actions between Russia and China prevents the the consolidated camp of hegemony from entering the "final and decisive battle" against each of these recalcitrant powers individually. We are well aware of the situation on the western front of the global Cold War. However, on the eastern front, where there is no Ukrainian-scale conflict yet, tensions are approaching critical levels. Defense-related Chinese trade publications have published some very disturbing material in recent weeks. ... To destroy the latest American nuclear aircraft carrier Gerald Ford and the battle group accompanying it from a cruiser and 5 missile frigates, 24 hypersonic missiles without nuclear warheads were enough. In a computer simulation, rocket launches were carried out from 6 different areas, including even the Gobi Desert in Northwest China. Considered unsinkable, the carrier group was completely destroyed by a series of launches of distracting and damaging missiles. The Chinese took into account the capabilities of both the standard set of anti-aircraft weapons and the latest American SM-3 anti-missiles. According to the scenario described in the Chinese-language Journal of Test and Measurement, the American armada entered the waters of the South China Sea and continued to move in a menacing course, despite warnings. Similar scenarios play out regularly near Chinese shores. Another Chinese publication spoke about the mortal danger of such actions. The South China Morning Post, published in Hong Kong in English, reported that the war between China and the United States could begin in the South China Sea. On January 5, 2021, three US Navy anti-submarine aircraft searched for Chinese submarines near the Dongsha Qundao (Pratas) archipelago. Reconnaissance aircraft, as always, dropped electronic buoys and tracked the routes of Chinese submarines that were participating in major exercises. However, one plane flew too close to China, and Chinese fighters flew in from there. The Chinese regarded the situation as a huge threat to national security. There was a possibility of an armed conflict, and the Americans, taking into account the unfolding actions of the PRC Air Force and Navy, began to prepare for the worst and even destroyed expensive buoys with top-secret equipment. The description of the conflict in the Chinese specialized magazine Shipboard Electronic Countermeasures does not give details of the confrontation. However, everything was very, very serious. No wonder the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the United States, General Mark Milley, made a phone call to the Chinese Minister of Defense a couple of days later, assuring him that the Pentagon had no intention of provoking a real war. He even promised to inform his counterparts in Beijing in advance about the intentions of policymakers in the event of a critical situation. These two sensational publications did not appear by accident. One can only guess how many dangerous situations arise on the line of contact between the military of China and America in the Asia-Pacific basin. But, as the Chinese proverb says, “Heaven proposes, Xi Jinping disposes.” The Supreme Commander, acting at the strategic level of planning and decision-making, is responding to Washington's growing aggressiveness by demonstrating readiness for retaliatory actions on the battlefield and intensifying combat coordination with Russia. Planned for April, Xi Jinping's visit to Moscow was postponed to the end of March, and negotiations with Vladimir Putin lasted a total of 8 hours. Even not so much the published documents as the subsequent events showed qualitative changes in the partnership between Moscow and Beijing. The time has come for all-round combat coordination. It began with hours of face-to-face talks between the two supreme commanders. Soon, Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu came to Moscow. After the visit of an experienced and energetic military commander, Chen Wenqing, curator of internal and external intelligence services, arrived in Moscow. Reports of his meetings with the secretary of our Security Council, Nikolai Patrushev, showed the resolute attitude of the chief intelligence officer of the Celestial Empire towards the West. For its part, the Kremlin decided to reinforce the dynamics of combat coordination with a "volley of the main guns." A delegation of high-ranking officials and business leaders headed by Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin headed to Beijing, unprecedented in size and level. The visit was prepared in a hurry and took place under the vigilant eye of the Western intelligence services. Therefore, the number and quality of signed agreements disappointed the optimists. But the bilateral meetings of officials, bankers and experts of the two countries that took place on the sidelines advanced the ongoing negotiations on strategic areas of cooperation and prepared serious deals. During the visit, influential publications noted the mutual interest of both countries in the accelerated growth of trade. Thus, the Global Times, which is close to the CCP Central Committee, noted the synergy of the two trends. Russia needs to increase the export of raw materials, especially energy. Against the backdrop of a rapid economic recovery, China needs to expand imports of the same oil and gas, agricultural products and other types of raw materials. The development of China's relations with the West repeats the history of the deterioration of Russia's relations with the West. The sanctions already imposed on China will be tightened. Access to sources of raw materials and markets will become a priority for Beijing for the foreseeable future. We should not turn a blind eye to the reaction of some Chinese experts and blogosphere activists to the arrival in Beijing of Mikhail Mishustin at the head of a thousandth army of the Russian elite. The emphasis is not even so much on the vital need for Moscow to receive income from trade with China as on the desirability of not offending the West, leaving the door open for relations with America. However, after 40 years of Chinese-American marriage of convenience, it would be naive to expect a quick change of shoes. There does not seem to be any improvement in relations between America and China, despite Biden's hints and the visit of Chinese Commerce Minister Wang Wentao to the United States. Overcoming the pathological hatred of politicians for China, business people in Washington continue to do business even in the most adverse conditions. In 2022, bilateral trade reached an all-time high of $691 billion. At the same time, the Americans were able to sell their goods to the Chinese for less than 154 billion. The reduction or abolition of duties, which President Trump began to introduce back in 2018 and President Biden is increasing, could help improve the quality and further increase trade. They cost each American family $1,000 a year. However, the prospects for curtailing the trade war are very illusory. The White House and both houses of the US Congress are on the warpath. Any attempt to improve US-China relations ends in scandal—Pelosi's scandalous trip, the big white ball... The same fate awaits current hopes. The visit of Pelosi's heir, Speaker of the House of Representatives Kevin McCarthy to Taiwan is being prepared. At the G7 summit in Tokyo, there was a military coordination between NATO and Japan. China, along with Russia, is designated in the final documents as the main enemy. The bloc's regional headquarters is to be opened in Tokyo. It is impossible to get rid of historical parallels. Similarly, in 1936, Japan concluded the Anti-Comintern Pact with Nazi Germany, directed against the Soviet Union. A few months later, the emboldened Japanese began an all-out war against the Celestial Empire, capturing Beijing, Shanghai, Wuhan and Nanjing in 1937. Only the diplomatic, military and financial assistance of the Soviet Union prevented the capitulation of the Republic of China along the lines of France. Stubbornly resisting China, in turn, prevented Tokyo from attacking the USSR at the already appointed time - August 29, 1941. Then there were two fronts - Soviet and Chinese. Now the situation is repeating itself. The Chinese were not patient. They were defending then. Now, relying on a reliable Russian rear, they launched a counteroffensive. Thanks to Beijing's 12-point peace plan for Ukraine and Xi Jinping's phone call with Zelensky, China is destroying the Yellow Threat stereotype at minimal cost in the European theater and strengthening its image as a peacemaker. There is competition with America. The first study trip to Kyiv, Paris, Berlin, Brussels and Moscow of Special Representative Xi Jinping, Ambassador Li Hui, has just ended. It was preceded by trips of "heavyweights" - Chinese Vice President Han Zheng, foreign policy curator on the party line Wang Yi, Foreign Minister Qin Gang. Another area of China's global counteroffensive is to prevent the West from filling the strategic vacuum in Central Asia. That was the task of the summit of the five countries of this region and China in Xi'an, the ancient capital of several Chinese dynasties. This also meets the strategic interests of Moscow. The combat coordination of the two mighty powers of the Eurasian continent is gaining momentum and taking on new forms. How can one not recall that in March, Xi Jinping, when saying goodbye to Vladimir Putin on the steps of the Grand Kremlin Palace, said: “Now there are changes that have not happened in 100 years, and we are driving these changes.” Putin's answer was short but meaningful: "I agree."

Defense & Security
Flag of Philippines and USA

A look at the expanded ambit of the Washington-Manila MDT

by Pratnashree Basu

The further strengthening of ties between the US and the Philippines is indicative of the breadth and scope of maritime security arrangements in the region.Only four months into the year and 2023 has already been very busy in terms of United States (US) engagement in the Indo-Pacific, particularly in East Asia and the South China Sea. During Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr’s recent visit to the US, alongside reaffirming the continuation of the broader ambit of bilateral partnership, the two countries established ‘ground rules’ on US-Philippine defence cooperation on 3 May. The US and the Philippines have a long-standing treaty partnership that dates back to the post-World War II era. The treaty partnership began with the signing of the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) in 1951, which established a framework for military cooperation and mutual defence between the two countries, making Manila the oldest ally of Washington in the region. Beijing, quite expectedly, has expressed its disapproval of this new development characterising it as Washington’s attempt at drawing Southeast Asian nations into a small clique to contain China. Beijing’s usual reaction whenever the US conducts outreach in the region comprises various versions of the narrative that Washington is forcing countries to sacrifice their sovereign identities by becoming pawns in the latter’s efforts to destabilise the region and turn countries against China. Mao Ning, a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry stressed that the South China Sea is not a hunting ground for countries outside of it. Meanwhile, the state-run foreign-language news channel, CGTN, warned against President Marcos’s ‘dangerous courtship.’The reinforced scope of the US-Philippines defence partnershipInterestingly, in addition to reiterating US commitments as Manila’s treaty partner and referencing the strong need for maintaining peace and stability in the South China Sea, the joint statement noted that the two sides “affirm the importance of maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait” as an indispensable element of global peace and security. Defence ties between the US and the Philippines have indeed expanded to include, first the South China Sea and now, the Taiwan Strait. What this indicates is a steady consolidation of security frameworks in the region that would form bulwarks against Beijing’s repeated and expanding overtures into the South China Sea and pressures on Taiwan. Given that the Taiwan Strait lies at a distance of only 800 miles from Manila, it is not surprising that the security of the Strait has been included under the expanded purview of Washington and Manila’s treaty partnership. Under the basic framework of the MDT, the US and the Philippines agreed to come to each other’s aid in the event of an attack by an external aggressor. The MDT has been an important part of the US-Philippines relationship, providing a basis for close military cooperation and joint training exercises. The US has provided military aid and assistance to the Philippines, helping to modernise its armed forces and improve its capabilities in areas such as maritime security and counterterrorism. Despite episodic friction over issues such as human rights and the rule of law, the US-Philippines treaty partnership remains an important part of both countries’ foreign policy agendas. As the geopolitical landscape in Asia continues to evolve, the US-Philippines treaty partnership will likely remain an important pillar of stability and cooperation in the region. Now, the partnership includes a broadening of “information sharing on the principal threats and challenges” to the peace and security of the US and the Philippines. The upgraded ‘ironclad’ alliance commitments also make room for the inclusion of new sites which could contribute to the enhancement of Manila’s maritime security and modernisation efforts under the U.S.-Philippines Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement. It also creates a greater space for US involvement in the improvement of local and shared capacities in the delivery of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.What this means for the Indo-PacificPresident Marcos’s visit comes close on the heels of South Korean President Yoon’s visit to Washington which resulted in the latter agreeing to send an Ohio-class nuclear ballistic missile submarine to Seoul to strengthen deterrence against Pyongyang’s recent nuclear flexing. Earlier in April, Manila allowed Washington access to four additional military bases for joint training, pre-positioning of equipment and building of facilities such as runways, fuel storage, and military housing. Access to these new locations is significant as two of them—Isabela and Cagayan—are positioned facing Taiwan while the Palawan base is in proximity to the Spratly Islands—a source of a long-standing dispute between China and the Philippines. The two countries have agreed to resume joint maritime patrols in the South China Sea and Manila is also assessing a trilateral security pact involving Japan. In mid-April, before President Marcos’s visit, the two countries participated in their largest-ever joint military drills, Exercise Balikatan, in the South China Sea. China is decidedly furious at the pace and scope of these new developments. Undoubtedly, steps like these are strategic and oriented towards boosting the defence postures of ‘like-minded’ countries in the region. But despite Beijing’s strong censure, these measures are indicative of the breadth and scope of maritime security arrangements in the region being on the course to be further strengthened.

Defense & Security
Sukhbaatar, the parliament building of the government of Mongolia in Ulan Bator

Renewed Geopolitical Rivalries: Challenges and Options for Mongolia

by Mendee Jargalsaikhan

IntroductionDuring a break in the COVID-19 pandemic, the foreign ministers of China, Russia, Japan and the United States boosted Mongolia into international headlines. Returning from the Shanghai Cooperation Organization meeting in Moscow, for instance, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi stopped in Ulaanbaatar (15–16 September) with a message: Do not take sides with China’s competitors if Mongolia wants to rely on the Chinese economic powerhouse. Within the week, Mongolian Foreign Minister Enkhtaivan Nyamtseren was invited by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to meet on short notice. Even though the ministers jointly announced the finalization of a treaty on the permanent comprehensive strategic partnership, the Kremlin showed its will to lead trilateral economic projects (such as a gas pipeline) with China and impose the Eurasian Economic Union agenda on Mongolia. Then on 29 September, the United States Secretary of State Michael Pompeo announced the inclusion of Mongolia in his trip to visit allies in East Asia—Japan and the Republic of Korea.2 Although the trip was ultimately cancelled due to an outbreak of COVID-19 cases among White House officials, Pompeo talked by telephone with President Battulga Khaltmaa and highlighted their shared commitment to democracy and regional security. A few days later, Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, considered a key insider of then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s geopolitics, flew to Ulaanbaatar. In addition to updating the strategic partnership plan until 2022, the Japanese Foreign Minister’s interests centred on Mongolia’s inclusion in the Free and Open Indo-Pacific strategy. Mongolia has declared strategic partnerships with each of these great powers and is thus entering a complicated geopolitical setting. It is not entirely new. A similar scene occurred in the summer of 1991. Chinese President Yang Shangkun, Japanese Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu and the United States Secretary of State James Baker each visited Mongolia within a month’s time. China wanted agreement to non-interference in its internal affairs, whereas Japan and the United States imposed non-reversal conditionality on Mongolia’s democratic transition to receive much-needed economic assistance. The primary difference then was the absence of Russia. This policy paper discusses the renewed geopolitical rivalries of the great powers, explains Mongolia’s challenges to manoeuvring in this tough geopolitical terrain and then proposes pursuit of a pragmatic, neutral foreign policy option similar to Finland’s strategic concessions to its neighbouring great power, the Soviet Union.Renewed geopolitical rivalriesThe great power competition also is nothing new. Even after the Cold War, China, Japan, Russia and the United States were watching each other suspiciously while avoiding unnecessary tension. In the 1990s, policymakers and academics in Japan, Russia, and the United States debated over the China threat and the consequences of China’s economic rise. Russian leaders, such as Foreign Minister and later Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov and President Vladimir Putin, sought ways to balance with the United States and to integrate into the European economic and security framework. It was not a surprise when Putin hinted at Russia’s inclusion in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) because the country was already supporting American military operations in Afghanistan. Similarly, in 2000, the United States Congress mandated its Defense Department to report annually on China’s security strategy and military development. China and Japan had similar outlooks. China was wary of the United States, whereas Japan remained vigilant of both China and Russia. In the mid-2000s, all these countries reassessed their long-term geopolitical and economic objectives as the geopolitical setting began to shift. With similar geopolitical concerns about American strategies, China and Russia advanced their partnership by conducting an annual joint military exercise (Peace Mission, beginning in 2005) and even demanded the withdrawal of American forces from Central Asia. When the United States proposed another round of NATO’s expansion into Ukraine and Georgia and new missile defence systems in the Czech Republic and Poland, Russia quickly reacted. This resulted in a brief military conflict with Georgia in 2008. Following the breakdown with Europe, Russia began pursuing policies to reassert its influence in former Soviet republics through the Eurasian Economic Union as well as the Collective Security Treaty Organization. China and Russia jointly strengthened the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and created a new bloc with Brazil, Russia, India and South Africa (BRICS) for collaborating on major geopolitical issues. From 2012, the great power rivalries intensified. Chinese President Xi Jinping renounced the “hide and bide” principle of Deng Xiaoping by pledging that China would take an active role in global politics. A year later, China unveiled a new grand strategy, known as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), to invest in infrastructure that increases global connectivity. Chinese leaders explained that the BRI is a “win–win” developmental initiative. The ambitions and ambiguity of the BRI, however, immediately raised geopolitical concern from all the great powers, as if China was about to reshape the global and regional order for its geopolitical advantage. For example, building on its earlier strategy (Pivot to East Asia), the United States launched a series of measures to contain China. It endorsed Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s quadrilateral security dialogue (for the alliance of Japan, India, Australia and the United States) and strengthened ties with India, Myanmar, Singapore and Vietnam, all of whom are cautious of China’s economic and military powers. Meanwhile, in 2014, Russia annexed Crimea and intervened in Eastern Ukraine, based on its geopolitical concerns for Ukraine’s potential membership in NATO. Then, in 2015, Russia deployed its military to Syria to check the United States’ interventions while declaring its strategic partnership with China. In response, the United States cited China and Russia as the biggest threats in its National Defense Strategy (2018), which is the country’s long-term strategic defense document.6 The American Defense Department released its Indo–Pacific Strategy Report, and the State Department defined its Free and Open Indo–Pacific vision. Both documents prioritized containing China’s growing economic and military power in the Indo–Pacific region. In addition to sanctions against China and Russia, the United States pressured its allies to ban Chinese telecommunication companies from participating in the development of the 5G network. In contrast, Russia welcomed the Chinese telecommunication giant—Huawei—to develop its 5G network and pledged to develop Chinese missile defence capabilities. This new round of great power rivalries is changing the geopolitical setting for a small State like Mongolia.Challenges for MongoliaThe primary challenge for Mongolia is to maintain its sovereignty. For centuries, geography has dictated the country’s fate as a classic buffer State between two expansionist and rival great powers—China and Russia. While serving the Kremlin’s geopolitical interests from 1921 to 1986, Mongolia gained United Nations membership and its independence from China. During this period, Mongolia remained under close control of the Kremlin and became a militarized buffer State whenever Russian geopolitical interests were threatened. The Kremlin deployed its military three times: in 1921, 1936 and 1960. Following the Sino– Soviet rapprochement and the collapse of the Soviet Union, Mongolia normalized its relations with China and developed new ties with the United States and its allies. In the 1990s, Mongolia did not experience any geopolitical pressure from the great powers and firmly declared a series of neutrality policies. At the time, Mongolia’s two neighbours were preoccupied with maintaining their domestic matters and also coping with security concerns elsewhere. The United States and Japan focused on Mongolia’s political and economic transition while explicitly avoiding developing security ties. In that period, Mongolia adopted a series of neutrality policies: the constitutional prohibition on foreign military transition and basing, a non-aligned foreign policy stance, declaration of a nuclear weapon-free zone and bilateral treaties with all the great powers, with a “against no third party” principle. In this favourable geopolitical context, Mongolia increased Its engagement with international and regional organizations and sought ways to attract the interests of so-called “third neighbours”. The most important endeavour was its military deployment in support of American operations in Iraq, when China and Russia were strongly opposing the United States war in Iraq. Then, Mongolia deployed its military to Kosovo and Afghanistan. This military contribution resulted in close political and defence ties with the United States and NATO members as of 2003. The other endeavour was the conclusion of an investment agreement with Anglo–Australian mining giant Rio Tinto and Canadian Ivanhoe Mines to develop the Oyu Tolgoi copper and gold deposit. These endeavours triggered reactions from China and Russia. China’s security experts cautioned Mongolia’s inclusion in the American “strategic encirclement” of China, whereas Russia was wary of losing its geopolitical privileges in Mongolia to NATO members. China and Russia jointly pressured Mongolia to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. As a result, Mongolia became an observer in 2005. Since then, Russia has taken assertive action to secure its geopolitical and geo-economic interests in critical areas such as railway construction, the energy sector and uranium mining. To be clear, neither China nor Russia attempted in this period to influence Mongolia’s domestic politics, especially its elections. Now all these great powers want to include Mongolia in their competing geopolitical visions. China declared a comprehensive strategic partnership in 2014 and included Mongolia as one of six economic corridors of the BRI. Beijing leaders hope that Mongolia will join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to fulfil its regionalization strategy of Central Asia. They also want Mongolia to commit to non-intervention in its internal affairs, especially in matters related to Tibet, Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Inner Mongolia, in return for economic assistance and market access. In 2019, Russia quickly upgraded its strategic partnership with conclusion of a permanent treaty, which imposed Mongolia’s adherence to the Russian geopolitical agenda. Specifically, the treaty prioritizes bilateral consultations, renews defence technical cooperation and requires Mongolia’s adherence to the 1,520 mm (Russian standard railway gauge) for the railway extension. As hinted by some Russian officials, the Kremlin even dreams of Mongolia’s inclusion in the Eurasian Economic Union and the Collective Security Treaty Organization, considering how Mongolia is traditionally wary of Chinese expansion. The United States and Japan have included Mongolia in their Free and Open Indo–Pacific strategy because Mongolia shares similar values (democracy, human rights) and security concerns regarding China and Russia. Interestingly, the American Pentagon’s Indo–Pacific Strategy (June 2019) identified Mongolia as a “reliable, capable and natural partner of the United States,” while designating Mongolia’s two neighbours as the biggest security threats: China as a revisionist power and Russia a revitalized Malign Actor. The American State Department’s Free and Open Indo–Pacific visionary document highlights Mongolia as one of the beneficiaries and supporters of its strategy. Japan also included Mongolia in its Partnership for Quality Infrastructure (PQI), a developmental assistance alternative to China’s BRI, and designated a new international airport and railway flyover (Sun Bridge) in Ulaanbaatar as PQI projects. Like many small States, Mongolia’s challenge is determining how to manoeuvre in this round of great power competitions without compromising its sovereignty and undermining its institutions of democratic governance.Options for MongoliaIdeally, the best option for Mongolia is to maintain friendly ties with all the great powers and to benefit economically as it sits at the merging point of different geopolitical strategies. In fact, this has been the case to a certain degree. Mongolia’s nuclear weapon-free zone status has been endorsed by all permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. The country’s peacekeeping efforts, whether military deployments or hosting training events, have been supported by all the involved great powers. Both China and Japan have aided in road development, such as with the Chinese-built Moon Bridge (BRI funding) and the Japanese Sun Bridge (PQI project) in the capital city. At the moment, China and the United States are assisting to improve the capital city’s water supply and infrastructure. Hopefully, China and Russia will construct a natural gas pipeline through Mongolia, which would increase trilateral economic cooperation. Current trends, however, force a consideration of the likelihood of consequences in the worst- and best-case scenarios. The most likely worst-case scenario has China alone or together with Russia entering into conflict with the United States. This circumstance would force Mongolia to limit its relations with the United States and even to stand with its neighbours against the United States and its allies. The other worst-case scenario, which is less likely at the moment, is the emergence of Sino–Russian geopolitical tension. This would create the direst situation, in which Mongolia could easily fall into the control of either neighbour or become a battleground. The best-case scenarios are also possible and would create a favourable overarching setting for Mongolia to manoeuvre and maintain its sovereignty. The best-case scenarios have all the great powers seeking strategic stability because they are intertwined with domestic challenges or geopolitically distracted elsewhere. In all these scenarios, the primary objective for Mongolian leaders would remain the same—to maintain sovereignty and independence. However, Mongolia’s options to maintain its sovereignty are limited. First, it is a regionless country. Therefore, it cannot rely on any regional security alliance, such as NATO or the Collective Security Treaty Organization. The only close alliance is the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, but Mongolia is wary of jeopardizing its sovereignty if it joins. Second, it is impossible for leaders in Ulaanbaatar to gain security guarantees from one or several of the great powers, with the possible exception of Russia. Leaders in Washington and Tokyo are not likely to make any such deal as with the Philippines or Taiwan. Mongolia is too cautious of losing its sovereignty to Russia and provoking China by renewing the mutual defence clause with Russia. Lastly, Mongolia is too economically poor to build its defence capabilities in a way that is similar to Singapore, Switzerland and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Therefore, the most suitable option would be to make strategic concessions to the great powers following the example of the Finnish experience during the Cold War. This option requires that Mongolia avoid joining in the security alliance of any great power, just as Finland avoided joining NATO and the Warsaw Pact. In this sense, Mongolia should not attempt to upgrade its current level of confidence-building security defence relations with members of NATO, the Collective Security Treaty Organization and, potentially, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (if it turns into a regional security organization). In regard to the Free and Open Indo– Pacific, Mongolia should limit its security cooperation to specific areas: peacekeeping, humanitarian assistance, disaster relief and defence diplomacy. This type of neutrality policy would also require Mongolia to abstain from taking any stance on controversial matters related to its neighbours and their geopolitical competitors. Such avoidance would help Mongolia to promote itself as a neutral place for all great powers to negotiate, such as the Finnish model of the Helsinki process. At the same time, Mongolia should strengthen its democratic governance: the parliamentary system, civil society and the rule of law. Democratic governance would distinguish Mongolia’s identity within the authoritarian great powers and ensure self-rule free from those great powers. One of the downsides of this type of neutral, pragmatic strategy, however, is its limit on participation in foreign policy decision-making processes. This requires that only professional diplomats handle foreign policy matters while encouraging informed public discourse. In return for this neutral policy, Mongolia would expect the great powers to respect its sovereignty and restrain any actions to influence its policies.ConclusionWhen the foreign ministers of the great powers gave some attention to Mongolia in the fall of 2020, Mongolia reacted with proactive diplomacy amid the pandemic. On 29 February, Mongolian President Battulga became the first foreign dignitary to visit China during the pandemic and extended a gift of 30,000 sheep as a goodwill gesture. On 21 June, the Mongolian airline, MIAT, conducted a long-awaited flight to North America and delivered more than US$1 million worth of assistance and 60,000 personal protective equipment to the United States. On June 24th, despite Russia having the second highest number of coronavirus cases, the Mongolian military marched in the Victory Day Parade, marking the 75th anniversary of the Soviet victory in the Second World War, in which Mongolia stood as a close ally. As with the proactive diplomacy, the renewed geopolitical tensions among the great powers will require unity, patience and deft diplomacy from Mongolian leaders to steer through the rough sea.

Defense & Security
Chinese Spy balloon

Did China’s balloon violate international law?

by Donald Rothwell

Was the balloon that suddenly appeared over the US last week undertaking surveillance? Or was it engaging in research, as China has claimed? While the answers to these questions may not be immediately known, one thing is clear: the incursion of the Chinese balloon tested the bounds of international law. This incident has also added another layer of complexity to the already strained relations between the US and China. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s planned visit to Beijing has been postponed. And China has reacted to the shooting down of the balloon with diplomatic fury. Both sides have long disagreed over the presence of US warships in the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait, which China claims as its own waters and the US considers international waters. Will the air be the next realm to be contested by the two superpowers? A long military historyHot air balloons have a somewhat benign public image. But they also have a long military history that extends back to the Napoleonic era in Europe during the late 18th century and early 19th century when they were used for surveillance and bombing missions. The early laws of war even included some specific measures designed to address the military use of balloons during armed conflict. The modern military significance of balloons now appears to be understated, especially in an era of uncrewed aerial vehicles or drones, which have proven effective during the current Ukraine war. However, while balloons may no longer be valued for their war-fighting ability, they retain a unique capacity to undertake surveillance because they fly at higher altitudes than aircraft, can remain stationary over sensitive sites, are harder to detect on radar, and can be camouflaged as civilian weather craft. Who has sovereignty over the air?The international law is clear with respect to the use of these balloons over other countries’ airspace. Every country has complete sovereignty and control over its waters extending 12 nautical miles (about 22 kilometres) from its land territory. Every country likewise has “complete and exclusive sovereignty over the airspace above its territory” under international conventions. This means each country controls all access to its airspace, which includes both commercial and government aircraft. But the upper limit of sovereign airspace is unsettled in international law. In practice, it generally extends to the maximum height at which commercial and military aircraft operate, which is around 45,000 feet (about 13.7km). The supersonic Concorde jet, however, operated at 60,000 feet (over 18km). The Chinese balloon was also reported to be operating at a distance of 60,000 feet. International law does not extend to the distance at which satellites operate, which is traditionally seen as falling within the realm of space law. There are international legal frameworks in place that allow for permission to be sought to enter a country’s airspace, such as the 1944 Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation. The International Civil  Aviation Organization has set an additional layer of rules on airspace access, including for hot air balloons, but it does not regulate military activities. The US also has its own “air defence identification zone”, a legacy of the Cold War. It requires all aircraft entering US airspace to identify themselves. Canada has its own complementary zone. During the height of Cold War tensions, the US would routinely scramble fighter jets in response to unauthorised Soviet incursions into US airspace, especially in the Arctic. Many other countries and regions have similar air defence identification zones, including China, Japan and Taiwan. Taiwan, for instance, routinely scrambles fighter jets in response to unauthorised incursions of its airspace by Chinese aircraft.Testing the waters – and airSo, given these clear international rules, the US was on very firm legal footing in its response to the Chinese balloon. Overflight could only have been undertaken with US permission, which was clearly not sought. China initially attempted to suggest the balloon malfunctioned and drifted into US airspace, claiming force majeure. If the balloon was autonomous, it would have been entirely dependent on wind patterns. However, a report in Scientific American said the balloon appeared to have a high level of manoeuvrability, especially when it appeared to linger over sensitive US defence facilities in Montana. Washington displayed a lot of patience in dealing with the incursion. President Joe Biden authorised military jets to shoot down the balloon, but it took some days before that could be done safely without endangering lives on the ground. The balloon incident has clearly tested the Biden administration and the US response to China’s growing military assertiveness. Similar events occur on a regular basis in the South China Sea, where the US Navy conducts freedom of navigation operations through Chinese claimed waters. The US presence is vigorously challenged by the Chinese Navy. China has also responded aggressively to the presence of US reconnaissance planes over the South China Sea, raising the risks of an accident that could spark a wider conflict. What is remarkable about the balloon incident is China has asserted its physical presence well within America’s sovereign borders. How both sides respond in the aftermath will determine whether China-US tensions worsen further and if we can expect potential future provocations between the two sides in the air, as well as at sea.

Defense & Security
President of United States Joe Biden

The Biden Administration’s National Security Strategy

by Douglas J. Feith

The Biden Administration’s national security strategy, as released to the public, has some praiseworthy elements, stressing, for example, the “need for American leadership.” But it does not take its own words seriously enough. Its discussion of “leadership” is confusing, and the administration is not providing for the kind of military strength that would make US leadership effective. A Preliminary Word on Precision A strategy should not use vague and ambiguous language (let alone mind-numbing repetition). Having said that no nation is better positioned than the United States to compete in shaping the world, as long as we work with others who share our vision, the strategy declares (the italics are mine), “This means that the foundational principles of self-determination, territorial integrity, and political independence must be respected, international institutions must be strengthened, countries must be free to determine their own foreign policy choices, information must be allowed to flow freely, universal human rights must be upheld, and the global economy must operate on a level playing field and provide opportunity for all.” The fuzziness—incoherence—of using the word “must” should be obvious. For example: “The United States must...increase international cooperation on shared challenges even in an age of greater inter-state competition.” But “some in Beijing” insist that a prerequisite for cooperation is a set of “concessions on unrelated issues” that the US government has said are unacceptable. So the strategy effectively declares that cooperation with China is a “must” even when China says we cannot have it. In other words, the word “must” doesn’t really mean “must.” In this case, it expresses no more than the administration’s impotent preference. This strategy is 48 pages long. It uses the word “must” 39 times. To drive home that President Biden is not his predecessor, the strategy constantly emphasizes allies and partners. It uses the word “allies” 38 times and “partner” or “partnership” an astounding 167 times. Meanwhile, it does not use “enemy” even once. Two of the three times it uses the word “adversary” it is referring to “potential” rather than actual adversaries. The third time, it says only that America’s network of allies and partners is “the envy of our adversaries.” Enemies and Hostile Ideology The strategy identifies, correctly in my view, America’s “most pressing challenges” as China and Russia. China is described as the only “competitor” with both the intent and power to “reshape the international order.” Russia is called “an immediate threat to the free and open international system,” while the Ukraine war is rightly characterized as “brutal and unprovoked.” The discussion of enemies, however, is euphemistic and misleading and does not give explicit guidance on confronting them. Alluding to China and Russia, it talks of “competing with major autocratic powers” as if everyone in the “competition” is playing a gentlemanly game with agreed rules. That creates a false picture of the problem. The strategy states that China “retains common interests” with the United States “because of various interdependencies on climate, economics and public health.” In discussing “shared challenges”—such as climate change or COVID-19—it implies that Chinese leaders see these challenges the same way the administration does, but the well-known recent history of Chinese secretiveness about COVID-19, for example, refutes that assumption. There are references to pragmatic problem-solving “based on shared interests” with countries like China and Iran. The strategy does not explain, however, what US officials should do if such cooperation is inconsistent with other US interests. Should they work with China at the expense of opposition to genocide against the Uighurs? Should they work with Iran at the expense of that country’s pro-democracy resistance movement? Iran and North Korea are called “autocratic powers,” but being autocratic is not the key to their hostility and danger. Rather, it is that they are ideologically hostile to the United States and the West. There are two passing references to “violent extremism,” though no discussion whatever about anti-Western ideologies. US officials are given no direction to take action to counter such ideologies. The strategy is entirely silent on jihadism and extremist Islam. Leadership and Followership—Ties to Allies and Partners While it properly calls attention to the value of America’s “unmatched network of alliances and partnerships,” the strategy does not deal adequately with questions of when the United States should lead rather than simply join its allies. It does not acknowledge that there may be cases when the United States is required to go it alone. President Biden is quoted as telling the United Nations, “[W]e will lead...But we will not go it alone. We will lead together with our Allies and partners.” But what if American and allied officials disagree? Sometimes the only way to lead is to show that one is willing to go it alone. Failing to distinguish between leadership and followership is a major flaw. While asserting that America aspires to the former, the strategy declares that “we will work in lockstep with our allies.” Such lockstep would ensure that the United States is constrained by the lower-common- denominator policy of our allies. If President Biden really believes what he is saying here, he is telling his team to refrain from initiatives that any or all of our allies might reject. Instead of soliciting ideas from administration officials that would serve the US interest even if they require campaigns to try (perhaps unsuccessfully) to persuade our allies to acquiesce, his strategy discourages initiative and efforts to persuade. That is the opposite of leadership. The strategy says that “our alliances and partnerships around the world are our most important strategic asset.” But that is not correct; our military power is. This is a dangerous mistake. Our alliances can be highly valuable, but to suggest that they are more important than our military capabilities is wrong and irresponsible. The document says, “Our strategy is rooted in our national interests.” This assertion is at odds with the insistence that America will not act abroad except in concert with our allies and partners. The strategy claims that “Most nations around the world define their interests in ways that are compatible with ours.” That, however, is either banal or untrue. Our European allies have important differences with us regarding China, Iran, Israel, trade and other issues. Before the Ukraine war, they had major differences with us regarding Russia. The strategy says, “As we modernize our military and work to strengthen our democracy at home, we will call on our allies to do the same.” What if they do not heed the call, however? For decades, US officials complained vainly that NATO allies underinvested in defense, confident that the United States would cover any shortfalls—what economists call a free-riding problem. Along similar lines, the strategy declares that America’s alliances “must be deepened and modernized.” But how should US officials deal with allies who act adversely to US interests, as Turkey has so often done under Erdogan—in buying Russian air-defense systems, for example—and as the Germans did, before the Ukraine war, in increasing their dependence on Russian natural gas? Interestingly, on strengthening the US military, the strategy does not say that US allies have to agree or cooperate. It says “America will not hesitate to use force when necessary to defend our national interests.” This part of the document reads as if it had different authors from the rest. Nuclear Deterrence The strategy makes an important point about nuclear deterrence as “a top priority” and highlights that America faces an unprecedented challenge in now having to deter two major nuclear powers. It makes a commitment to “modernizing the nuclear Triad, nuclear command, control, and communications, and our nuclear weapons infrastructure, as well as strengthening our extended deterrence commitments to our Allies.” But the administration has not allocated resources to fulfill its words on deterrence and Triad modernization. Promoting Democracy and Human Rights “Autocrats are working overtime to undermine democracy and export a model of governance marked by repression at home and coercion abroad,” the strategy accurately notes, adding that, around the world, America will work to strengthen democracy and promote human rights. It would be helpful if it also explained why other country’s respect for democracy tends to serve the US national interest. This is not obvious and many Americans, including members of Congress, show no understanding of how democracy promotion abroad can help the United States bolster security, freedom and prosperity at home. The strategy does not explain how its championing of democracy and human-rights promotion can be squared with its emphasis on respecting the culture and sovereignty of other countries and not interfering in their internal affairs. Nor does it explain how officials should make tradeoffs between support for the rights of foreigners and practical interests in dealing with non-democratic countries. Officials need guidance on such matters. The public also would benefit from explanations. The administration just announced that Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, who is also prime minister, has immunity from civil liability for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist who worked for the Washington Post. The strategy does not shed light on how the relevant considerations were weighed. It says the United States will make use of partnerships with non-democratic countries that support our interests, “while we continue to press all partners to respect and advance democracy and human rights.” That’s fine as far as it goes, but it does not acknowledge, for example, that we sometimes have to subordinate human rights concerns for national security purposes, as when President Franklin Roosevelt allied with Stalin against Hitler. A strategy document should be an aid in resolving complexities, not a simplistic list of all the noble things we desire or wish to be associated with. Refugees Regarding refugees, it is sensible that the strategy reaffirms the US interest in working with other countries “to achieve sustainable, long-term solutions to what is the most severe refugee crisis since World War Two—including through resettlement.” But there is no mention of why US officials should press Persian Gulf states to accept more refugees from the Middle East, given that those states share language, culture and religion with those refugees.Willing Ends Without Providing Means The strategy does a lot of willing the end but not specifying or providing the means. As noted, the administration is not funding defense as it should to accomplish its stated goals. On Iran, the strategy says, “[W]e have worked to enhance deterrence,” but US officials have been trying to revive the nuclear deal that would give Iran huge financial resources in return for limited and unreliable promises. The strategy says, “We will support the European aspirations of Georgia and Moldova...We will assist partners in strengthening democratic institutions, the rule of law, and economic development in the Western Balkans. We will back diplomatic efforts to resolve conflict in the South Caucasus. We will continue to engage with Turkey to reinforce its strategic, political, economic, and institutional ties to the West. We will work with allies and partners to manage the refugee crisis created by Russia’s war in Ukraine. And, we will work to forestall terrorist threats to Europe.” But these items are presented simply as a wish list, without explanation of the means we will use, the costs involved or the way we will handle obvious pitfalls along the way. Setting Priorities A strategy paper should establish priorities, but this one simply says we have to do this and that, when the actions are inconsistent with each other. It is line with the quip attributed to Yogi Berra: When you get to a fork in the road, take it. It says we should act in the US national interest, but we should also always act with allies and partners. We should oppose Chinese threats, but always cooperate with China on climate issues. We should pursue the nuclear deal with Iran even when Iran is threatening its neighbors and aiding Russia in Ukraine (and, as noted, crushing its domestic critics). We should insist on a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict while the Palestinian Authority remains unreasonable, corrupt, inflexible and hostile. A strategy should not set up choices that involve tradeoffs and then give no guidance on how to resolve the tradeoffs. If it promotes arms control and other types of cooperation (on COVID-19, for example) with Russia and China, it should forthrightly address problems of treaty violations and specify ways to obtain cooperation when it is denied. Such a document cannot specifically identify all possible trade-offs and resolve them, but it can set priorities and do a better job than this strategy does in informing officials on how to handle easily anticipated dilemmas. Strategic Guidance or Campaign Flyer The administration’s strategy combines valid points and unreality. It is unclear whether it is a serious effort to provide guidance, directed at officials, or a boastful campaign document, directed at the public. Mixing the genres is not useful.