THE AMERICAN FLEET IN THE SOUTH CHINA SEAS: A COMMENT
"The US Navy this week finally made good on its promise to challenge Beijing’s territorial claims in the South China Sea. By sending an American warship within 12 miles of an artificial island that China has constructed, Washington underscored that it does not recognise Chinese claims to territorial waters lying thousands of miles from its mainland. Beijing’s reaction to the voyage of the USS Lassen was shrill — accusing the US of acting illegally and urging it to refrain from further “dangerous” and “provocative” actions.
Any hint of military conflict between the two largest economies in the world, both of them nuclear-armed, needs to be taken seriously. Both sides have a responsibility to proceed with appropriate caution. But it is the US that seems to have international law and precedent on its side, in challenging the idea that the construction of artificial islands can create new territorial waters. By contrast, as it pushes its claims in the South China Sea through an island-building programme, rather than through the international legal system, Beijing is in danger of making a strategic mistake that could disrupt the peaceful trading environment that has been so crucial to its own rise".
Leader, "China’s island building lacks strategic logic". The Financial Times
. 28 October 2015, in www.ft.com
"On Tuesday, following months of anticipation, the United States sent an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer into waters surrounding a man-made feature built up and occupied by China in the Spratly Islands. At about 6.40am local time, the USS Lassen sailed within 12 nautical miles of Subi Reef, in the most overt challenge to Beijing’s militarisation of maritime features in the South China Sea.
The USS Lassen’s 27 October foray caps months of careful and deliberate planning by Washington, in response to Chinese reclamation activities in the Spratlys. In taking this step, the US is seeking to pursue several objectives.
Firstly, the USS Lassen patrol is specific. It targets what amounts to China’s assertion of a territorial sea around reclaimed features in the Spratlys. By sending the USS Lassen so close to Subi Reef, a low-tide elevation (LTE), the US is stressing that it views the 12nm zone as high seas. Therefore, it is saying, Chinese construction on Subi Reef – and other LTEs such as the Gaven and Mischief reefs – does not entitle them to territorial seas.
Secondly, the strategy behind the patrols is even-handed. Speaking to Reuters, a US defence official said that additional Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPS) would follow in coming weeks. These would be conducted around features that Vietnam and the Philippines have built up in the Spratlys.
Lastly, the action has bolstered America’s role as the guarantor of security in the region, at a time when Asian countries, in particular the ten members of ASEAN, have found it difficult to make headway in the long-standing territorial disputes between China and claimant states Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam and the Philippines.
Mindful of its strategic relationship with China, the US has taken a gradual and deliberate approach on the South China Sea issue. Just days before the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue in late May, Washington sent a P8-A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft near reclaimed Chinese reefs in the Spratlys. At the Shangri-La Dialogue, US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said the US would ‘fly, sail and operate’ wherever international law allowed. He also called on all claimant states – including China – to stop reclamation works".
William Choong, "US tests the waters around disputed South China Sea reef". The international institute for strategic studies.
28 October 2015, in www.iiss.org
The sending of the USS Lassen into the disputed waters of the South China Seas is something to be lauded and indeed acclaimed. The move clearly demonstrates that the American Administration fully recognizes the importance of laying claim to non-recognition of Peking's maritime claims in the South China Seas and elsewhere. One may only regret that this is the first such foray into the disputed waters for several years now. The fact of the matter is that sans
a steady and clear American presence in both the Eastern Pacific and the South China Seas, the Peoples Republic will endeavor to run rampant over the interests of its neighbors such as Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines. It is only maintaining an ongoing military presence in the area that the Americans claims to be the guarantor of regional stability can be taken seriously. Without the very same, it would not be very long before almost every power in the region will commence moving closer to Peking both diplomatically and otherwise. One can only hope that this week's 'show the flag' exercise will be repeated as often as possible in the coming years.
THE POLISH ELECTION RESULTS: TWO CHEERS?
"Poland’s conservative opposition seized back power in a landslide election victory on Sunday night, riding a rightwing resurgence that decimated the country’s liberal left, and heralding a thornier relationship with Brussels and increased state control of the economy.
Voters dumped the ruling liberal, centre-right Civic Platform party (PO) out of office despite its handling of the economy which was the fastest growing in the EU during its eight-year term.
The election marks a return to power for the veteran nationalist Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s Law and Justice party (PiS) that could pose problems for the country’s European partners.
PiS, which blends strongly Catholic social conservatism with populist economics, won 37.6 per cent of the vote, enough to give it a slim majority, the first in the 26-year history of democratic Poland. The staunchly pro-EU PO party took 24.1 per cent of the vote.
Results showed a coalition of leftwing parties would fail to gain enough votes to enter parliament. This would mean the first parliament in democratic Poland with no parties from the left, an outcome that underscores the huge surge for more eurosceptic and conservative rightwing parties that have fiercely opposed Poland’s decision to accept refugees and oppose EU consensus on energy and environment policies."
Henry Foy, "Kaczynski regains power as conservatives win Polish vote". The Financial Times
. 26 October 2015, in www.ft.com
Kaczynski recently claimed that refugees were bringing “cholera to the Greek islands, dysentery to Vienna, various types of parasites”, in comments that critics said recalled Nazi propaganda. The fact that his words were far from universally condemned was a reminder of how socially conservative many Polish voters remain. The election is “about whether liberal democracy will survive in Poland”, a leading political scientist, Radoslaw Markowski, has warned. “If PiS end up governing alone... Poland will become another Hungary.”
Leader, "The Observer view on Europe’s lurch to the right". The Guardian
. 24 October 2015, in www.theguardian.com
It is not altogether surprising that the bien-pensant
Financial Times and the equally if not more so, bien-pensant
Guardian have expressed qualms about the electoral victory, nay triumph of Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s Law and Justice party (PiS). I remember quite well some of the less than impressive antics of Kaczynski’s last time in office. The years of 'the square root or death' and such other diplomatic gambits. With the PIS government achieving the unbelievable feat of having bad relations with both the government in Berlin and the regime in Moskva 1. With that being said, the fact of the matter is that in a Europe which is almost quite literally over-run with migrants, who au fond
, represent an updated version of the barbarian invasions of the 4th and 5th centuries anno domini
, having a Conservative, Catholic-Christian government who is not beholden to the mindless multi-cultural idiocy of Brussels and now Berlin is something to savor and relish. Which is not to gainsay the fact that any Viktor Orban-like, Pro-Russian antics are one hopes to be avoided. If nothing else, being Polish should prevent the new government in Warsaw from following Budapest's steps in that direction. The fact is that if Mme. Merkel's gravely mistaken line on migrants from the Third World is to be over-thrown, then having a government in Poland who will co-ordinate policies with those in Budapest and Bratislava is an absolute necessity. One may only fear that the change of governments in Warsaw has come too late. So with everything being said, I rate the elections results in Poland as necessitating two, not three but two rounds of 'Hurrah'!
1. Diplomat of the Future
, "Why 'Idiocy' has become a Polskii mot and other tales from the Kaczynski twins". June 21, 2007, in www.diplomatofthefuture.blogspot.com
APPEASEMENT REVIDIVUS OR XI JINPING IN LONDON
"Mr Xi’s visit this week should indicate whether these considerable downpayments toward improved ties with China are likely to yield concrete returns. So far, the payback has amounted to little more than a pocketful of promises. Beijing says it plans to issue debt in renminbi, the Chinese currency, in London, earmarking the city as the pre-eminent financial centre for renminbi business in a non-Chinese timezone. It also plans to open more links between the London Stock Exchange and counterparts in China, preparing the way for a potential interchange of portfolio investment flows. In addition, well over 100 business deals are expected to be signed.
The UK is taking a gamble in seeking a “golden decade” of ties with China. Sharp differences between the two countries’ political systems, diplomatic alliances and attitudes toward human rights suggest that no matter how well choreographed the current mood of bonhomie may be, future ruptures are virtually assured. Nevertheless, the size of the potential commercial opportunity is such that the UK is justified in rolling out the reddest of red carpets for the Chinese Communist leader this week."
Leader, "UK is right to roll out the red carpet to Xi Jinping". The Financial Times
. 19 October 2015, in www.ft.com
Any British Prime Minister who meets the Dalai Lama knows it will upset the Chinese government — but for decades, no British Prime Minister has much cared. John Major met him in 10 Downing Street, as did Tony Blair. These were small but important nods to Britain’s longstanding status as a friend of Tibet. Of course the Chinese Communist Party disliked seeing the exiled Buddhist leader welcomed in London — but that was their problem.
How things have changed. Now China is far richer and Britain is anxious, sometimes embarrassingly so, to have a slice of that new wealth. From the start of his premiership, David Cameron has been explicit about this. ‘I want to refresh British foreign policy to make it much more focused on the commercial,’ he said. ‘I want to be much more focused on winning orders for British business overseas.’ Diplomats received new orders: promote the interest of businesses, help the recovery. Britain had a new message for the rest of the world: we want your money.
Fraser Nelson, "Features George Osborne’s epic kowtow to China". The Spectator
What can one say about all the festivities going on in London over the Chinese President's state visit? 'Disgusting' and 'nauseating' immediately come to mind as the most apt descriptions. The new form of 'kowtowing' that British Prime Minister David Cameron and his Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne are engaging in is for anglophiles like myself difficult to both stomach and to even read. Which is not to gainsay the nominal rationale for this behavior. Merely that: a
) it is extremely dubious morally speaking. Given the fact that the regime in Peking still regards one of the 20th century chief monsters in human form (Mao Tse-tung), as worthy of emulation and respect ('75% right and 25% wrong') should be by itself enough to prevent any closeness to the regime in Peking. Not to speak of the character of the current regime; b
) that so far notwithstanding all of the efforts by Cameron, et. al., to cozy-up to Peking, the economic benefits so far are pretty much a damp squib. As the Financial Times
noted in an report which almost completely gainsays the Leader in the paper on the very same day (see above):
"the apparent lack of concrete benefits that have so far come from London’s new approach in dealing with China’s authoritarian leaders. China is the biggest trade partner for 67 countries but the UK is not one of them.
In 2014, mainland China was Britain’s sixth-largest export market, according to the Office of National Statistics, just ahead of Belgium and Luxembourg but well behind allies such as the US, France and Germany, who have been upset by London’s policy towards China 1.."
And while au fond
, London's sudden amorousness of things Chinese is a result of fears of so-called American decline (which are of course not merely confined to London), the fact of the matter is that the Americans should really take a long and hard look to see if the United Kingdom is still 'alliance-worthy' or not. Given the steady decline in British military might of the past
twenty-plus years, there is an argument that London's Chinese infatuation puts paid to any notion (insofar as it still exists) of a
'Special Relationship'. And that accordingly, perhaps London should be excluded from the various intelligence and military agreements that Washington has with the United Kingdom. This is of course a very very harsh step to take. But sans
steps of this sort, it is difficult to imagine what will cause 10 & 11 Downing Street to reconsider the course that they are mistakenly taking. And if such a step or steps is to be effective, the sooner it is taken the better. As noted by one British-based, Chinese émigré academic:
“By telling his Chinese host that the UK will do practically anything to persuade the Chinese to accept the UK as their best friend, the Chinese government would have to be constituted by idiots to not ask for more and more — and the Chinese government is run by very able, hard-nosed and astute political players 2.”
1. George Parker & Jamil Anderlini" Britain’s red-carpet welcome for Xi baffles traditional allies". The Financial Times
. 19 October 2015, in www.ft.com.
RUSSIA IN SYRIA: THE FOREIGN POLICY OF INTERVENTION
"U.S. President Barack Obama warned Russia on Friday that its bombing campaign against Syrian rebels will suck Moscow into a "quagmire," after a third straight day of air raids in support of President Bashar al-Assad.
At a White House news conference, Obama frequently assailed Russian President Vladimir Putin, who he accused of acting out of a position of weakness to defend a crumbling, authoritarian ally.
Friday prayers were canceled in insurgent-held areas of Syria's Homs province hit by Russian warplanes this week, with residents concerned that mosques could be targeted, according to one person from the area.
Putin's decision to launch strikes on Syria marks a dramatic escalation of foreign involvement in a more than four-year-old civil war in which every major country in the region has a stake.
It also gives fuel to domestic critics of Obama who say his unwillingness to act on Syria has allowed Moscow to stage its biggest show of force in the Middle East in decades.
But the U.S. president warned that Russia and Iran, Assad's main backer in the Muslim world, have isolated the majority of Syrians and angered their Sunni Muslim neighbors.
"An attempt by Russia and Iran to prop up Assad and try to pacify the population is just going to get them stuck in a quagmire and it won't work," Obama said".
Alistair Bell and Tom Perry, "Obama warns Russia's Putin of 'quagmire' in Syria". Reuters
. 2 October 2015, in www.reuters.com.
"Russia's decision to begin airstrikes in Syria should not come as a surprise. Moscow's preparations for this scenario were first known two months ago in mid-August, when various media sources began reporting about Russian military delegations who were arriving in Syria to assess the capacities of local airfields to host Russian fighter jets. Subsequent information about the reconstruction of Latakia airport and two other airfields in the area controlled by the Assad regime only strengthened conviction that Moscow was preparing for a military operation. Finally, in the second half of September, when the number of Russian fighter jets and military helicopters in Syria exceeded the number of actual Syrian pilots available to use them, the last doubts about Moscow's intentions disappeared. And now it has finally happened.
The decision to begin a military operation in Syria fits logically into the broader Russian strategy of settling the Syrian conflict on Moscow's conditions. Putin continues to insist that any peace settlement in Syria should be based around the existing Syrian state structures and institutions, and some sort of power-sharing between the Damascus regime and the 'healthy' elements of the opposition. Moscow absolutely rejects the removal of President Bashar al-Assad from power as a precondition for the beginning of the national dialogue. To the Russians, Assad is the only person capable of standing up to Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and keeping Syria from total collapse. This vision of the situation drastically differs from that of the West and many Middle Eastern countries, who consider Assad as the source of the Syrian problem rather than part of any solution.
Yet the Kremlin is now determined to try to change that via a two-track approach. On the one hand, since spring this year, Russian diplomats have intensified their dialogue with the West and the Middle Eastern countries (initially the Gulf states) to impose Moscow's views on the actual settlement of the conflict. On the other hand, their military support is helping to guarantee that the Syrian regime can hold out long enough for the Kremlin to achieve a desirable breakthrough on the diplomatic track. Under these circumstances, Moscow's military presence in Syria may become important leverage used by the Russians in their game in the Middle East".
Nikolay Kozhanov, "Russia's Military Intervention in Syria Makes It a Key Regional Player". The Royal Institute of International Affair
s. 2 October 2015, in www.chathamhouse.org
The reality of the whys and wherefores of Russian military intervention are closer I believe to the description given to it by Nikolay Kozhanov of Chatham House, rather than that of the American President and his administration. So to employ the example of 'Afghanistan' circa 1979 to my mind, misses the point entirely 1. Russian military activity appears to be consist solely of the employment of air power. At this point in time, as I have noted in my prior entry on this topic, Moskva does not appear to be interested nor has it readied itself for, employing large numbers of ground forces. Currently, there are less than one-thousand possible ground troops that Russia can employ in Syria. Unless and until that number changes, and Russian ground forces in large numbers (more than say ten-thousand at a minimum), are positioned in Syria, can the example of 'Afghanistan' be used. As previously mentioned in this journal, the rationale for Russian military intervention is both multi-faceted and simple: i
) assist the Assad Regime to survive by assisting it militarily. Primarily by the employment of air power. Admittedly of a rather brutal variety; ii
) ensure that Russia has a position at the 'top table' in any negotiations which might take place in the future; iii
) to assist 'ii' to occur in the near future, by making sure that the backers of the opposition to Assad Fils: the Americans, the Gulf Arabs, the Saudis, Turkey, and the French, understand that it is simply impossible to defeat Assad on the ground. And that any escalation of support for the opposition, will be met by Russian and Persian intervention on the other side. Which is not to gainsay the fact that the fighting in Syria at the moment, with or without Russian intervention is systematically destroying the country and its people.
The fact that the Russians, for reasons good or ill, has had a better 'read' on what is going on in Syria than the Americans and the other Western Powers since 2011, simply makes Russian reasoning all the more cogent, if not politically speaking acceptable, to Washington and Riyadh. The fact of the matter is, that even with the active co-operation between Washington and Moskva, 'fixing' the Syrian imbroglio will require tremendous efforts by all concerned. As the American military commentator, Anthony Cordesman, among others has pointed out:
The problem is that the “forest” is dying, burning, and occupied by four broad sets of fighters that have little reason to cooperate with any UN-led negotiating effort, outside agreement over Assad – with or without U.S. and Russian cooperation.
To shift from one cliché to another, Syria presents far more problems than Humpty Dumpty. “All the king's horses and all the king's men” couldn’t put Syria back together by negotiating a solution from the outside even if there was one King instead of a divided mix of the United States, Russia, Iran, Turkey, Iraq, the other states surrounding Syria, the Arabian Gulf states, Egypt, and France and the other interested European powers 2.
1. Geoff Dyer, "Putin risks Syria quagmire to remain step ahead of Obama". The Financial Times
. 2 October 2015, in www.ft.com
2. Anthony Cordesman, "The Long War in Syria: The Trees, the Forest, and All the King’s Men". The Center for Strategic and International Studies
. 1 October 2015, in www.csis.org.
See Also: Charles Glass, "In the Syrian Deadlands". The New York Review of Books
. 22 October 2015, pp. 8-12. On the fact that Russia has had a better idea as to the possibilities of what a post-Assad Syria would look like, see: John R. Bradley, "Why Putin backs Assad: the West's strategy on Syria is a complete shambles". The Spectator
. 26 September 2015, pp. 16-17.