Archive for the ‘China and Russia’ category

Expect America’s Tensions with China and Russia to Rise in 2018

December 30, 2017

Expect America’s Tensions with China and Russia to Rise in 2018, Gatestone Institute, John Bolton, December 30, 2017

Yesterday’s 2017 review and forecast for 2018 focused on the most urgent challenges the Trump administration faces: the volatile Middle East, international terrorism and the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. Today, we examine the strategic threats posed by China and Russia and one of President Trump’s continuing priorities: preserving and enhancing American sovereignty.

Russia and China will be among the Trump administration’s key strategic challenges in the coming year. Photo: Wikipedia.

China has likely been Trump’s biggest personal disappointment in 2017, one where he thought that major improvements might be possible, especially in international trade. Despite significant investments of time and attention to President Xi Jinping, now empowered in ways unprecedented since Mao Tse Tung, very little has changed in Beijing’s foreign policy, bilaterally or globally. There is no evidence of improved trade relations, or any effort by China to curb its abuses, such as pirating intellectual property, government discrimination against foreign traders and investors, or biased judicial fora.

Even worse, Beijing’s belligerent steps to annex the South China Sea and threaten Japan and Taiwan in the East China Sea continued unabated, or even accelerated in 2017. In all probability, therefore, 2018 will see tensions ratchet up in these critical regions, as America (and hopefully others) defend against thinly veiled Chinese military aggression. Japan in particular has reached its limits as China has increased its capabilities across the full military spectrum, including at sea, in space and cyberwarfare.

Taiwan is not far behind. Even South Korea’s Moon Jae In may be growing disenchanted with Beijing as it seeks to constrain Seoul’s strategic defense options. And make no mistake, what China is doing in its littoral periphery is closely watched in India, where the rise of Chinese economic and military power is increasingly worrying. The Trump administration should closely monitor all these flash points along China’s frontiers, any one of which could provoke a major military confrontation, if not next year, soon thereafter.

North Korea’s nuclear weapons program is where China has most disappointed the White House. Xi Jinping has played the United States just like his predecessors, promising increased pressure on Pyongyang but not delivering nearly enough. The most encouraging news came as 2017 ended, in the revelation that Chinese and American military officers have discussed possible scenarios involving regime collapse or military conflict in North Korea. While unclear how far these talks have progressed, the mere fact that China is engaging in them shows a new level of awareness of how explosive the situation is. So, 2018 will be critical not only regarding North Korea’s nuclear weapons threat but also whether Sino-American relations improve or take a distinct turn for the worse.

On Russia, the president has not given up on Vladimir Putin, at least not yet, but that may well come in 2018. Putin is an old-school, hard-edged, national interest-centered Russian leader, defending the “rodina” (the motherland), not a discredited ideology. Confronted with U.S. strength, Putin knows when to pull back, and he is, when it suits him, even capable of making and keeping deals. But there is no point in romanticizing the Moscow-Washington dynamic. It must be based not on personal relationships but on realpolitik.

No better proof exists than Russia’s reaction to Trump’s recent decision to supply lethal weapons to Ukraine, which is now a war zone entirely because of Russian aggression. To hear Moscow react to Trump’s weapons decision, however, one would think he was responsible for increased hostilities. President Obama should have acted at the first evidence of Russia’s military incursion into Ukraine, and even Trump’s aid is a small step compared to President Bush’s 2008 proposal to move Kiev quickly toward NATO membership. Nonetheless, every independent state that emerged from the Soviet Union, NATO member or not, is obsessed with how America handles Ukraine. They should be, because the Kremlin’s calculus about their futures will almost certainly turn on whether Trump draws a line on Moscow’s adventurism in Ukraine.

Just as troubling as Russia’s menace in Eastern and Central Europe is its reemergence as a great power player in the Middle East. Just weeks ago, the Russian Duma ratified an agreement greatly expanding Russia’s naval station at Tartus, Syria. In 2015, Obama stood dumbfounded as Russia built a significant air base in nearby Latakia, thus cementing the intrusion of Russia’s military presence in the Middle East to an extent not seen since Anwar Sadat expelled Soviet military advisers and brought Egypt into the Western orbit in the 1970s.

This expansion constitutes a significant power projection for the Kremlin. Indeed, it seems clear that Russia’s support (even more than Iran’s) for Syria’s Assad regime has kept the dictatorship in power. Russia’s assertiveness in 2017 also empowered Tehran, even as the ISIS caliphate was destroyed, to create an arc of Shia military power from Iran, through Iraq and Syria, linking up with Hezbollah in Lebanon. This Russian-Iranian axis should rank alongside Iran’s nuclear-weapons program on America’s list of threats emanating from the Middle East.

Finally, the pure folly of both the U.N. Security Council and the General Assembly crossing the United States on the Jerusalem embassy decision was a mistake of potentially devastating consequences for the United Nations. Combined with the International Criminal Court’s November decision to move toward investigating alleged U.S. war crimes in Afghanistan, there is now ample space for the White House to expand on the president’s focus on protecting American sovereignty.

Trump’s first insight into the rage for “global governance” among the high minded came on trade issues, and his concern for the World Trade Organization’s adjudication mechanism. These are substantial and legitimate, but the broader issues of “who governs” and the challenges to constitutional, representative government from international bodies and treaties that expressly seek to advance global governing institutions are real and growing. America has long been an obstacle to these efforts, due to our quaint attachment to our Constitution and the exceptionalist notion that we don’t need international treaties to “improve” it.

No recent president has made the sovereignty point as strongly as Trump, and the United Nations and International Criminal Court actions in 2017 now afford him a chance to make decisive political and financial responses in 2018. If 2017 was a tumultuous year internationally, 2018 could make it seem calm by comparison.

John R. Bolton (@AmbJohnBolton) served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and as undersecretary for arms control and international security affairs at the U.S. Department of State under President George W. Bush. He is now a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

This article first appeared in The Hill and is reprinted here with the kind permission of the author.

Korean Peninsula Draws Range of Military Drills in Show of Force Against North Korea

September 18, 2017

Korean Peninsula Draws Range of Military Drills in Show of Force Against North Korea, Washington Free Beacon, Ben Blanchard and Hyonhee Shin, September 18, 2017

BEIJING/SEOUL (Reuters) – The U.S. military staged bombing drills with South Korea over the Korean peninsula and Russia and China began naval exercises ahead of a U.N. General Assembly meeting on Tuesday where North Korea’s nuclear threat is likely to loom large.

The flurry of military drills came after Pyongyang fired another mid-range ballistic missile over Japan on Friday and the reclusive North conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test on Sept. 3 in defiance of United Nations sanctions and other international pressure.

A pair of U.S. B-1B bombers and four F-35 jets flew from Guam and Japan and joined four South Korean F-15K fighters in the latest drill, South Korea’s defense ministry said.

The joint drills were being conducted “two to three times a month these days”, Defence Minister Song Young-moo told a parliamentary hearing on Monday.

In Beijing, the official Xinhua news agency said China and Russia began naval drills off the Russian far eastern port of Vladivostok, not far from the Russia-North Korea border.

Those drills were being conducted between Peter the Great Bay, near Vladivostok, and the southern part of the Sea of Okhotsk, to the north of Japan, it said.

The drills are the second part of China-Russian naval exercises this year, the first part of which was staged in the Baltic in July. Xinhua did not directly link the drills to current tension over North Korea.

China and Russia have repeatedly called for a peaceful solution and talks to resolve the issue.

On Sunday, however, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said the U.N. Security Council had run out of options on containing North Korea’s nuclear program and the United States might have to turn the matter over to the Pentagon.

In response, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said the most pressing task was for all parties to enforce the latest U.N. resolutions on North Korea fully, rather than “deliberately complicating the issue”.

Military threats from various parties have not promoted a resolution to the issue, he said.

“This is not beneficial to a final resolution to the peninsula nuclear issue,” Lu told a daily news briefing.

U.S. President Donald Trump has vowed that North Korea will never be able to threaten the United States with a nuclear-tipped ballistic missile.

Asked about Trump’s warning last month that the North Korean threat to the United States would be met with “fire and fury”, Haley said: “It was not an empty threat.”

Washington has also asked China to do more to rein in its neighbor and ally, while Beijing has urged the United States to refrain from making threats against the North.

FUEL PRICES SURGE

The U.N. Security Council unanimously passed a U.S.-drafted resolution a week ago mandating tougher new sanctions against Pyongyang that included banning textile imports and capping crude and petrol supply.

North Korea on Monday called the resolution “the most vicious, unethical and inhumane act of hostility to physically exterminate” its people, system and government.

“The increased moves of the U.S. and its vassal forces to impose sanctions and pressure… will only increase our pace toward the ultimate completion of the state nuclear force,” the North’s foreign ministry spokesman said in a statement carried by its official KCNA news agency.

Gasoline and diesel prices in the North have surged since the latest nuclear test in anticipation of a possible oil ban, according to market data analyzed by Reuters on Monday.

The international community must remain united and enforce sanctions against North Korea after its repeated launch of ballistic missiles, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in an editorial in the New York Times on Sunday.

Such tests were in violation of Security Council resolutions and showed that North Korea could now target the United States or Europe, he wrote.

Abe also said diplomacy and dialogue would not work with North Korea and concerted pressure by the entire international community was essential to tackle the threats posed by the north and its leader, Kim Jong Un.

However, the official China Daily argued on Monday that sanctions should be given time to bite and that the door must be left open to talks.

“With its Friday missile launch, Pyongyang wanted to give the impression that sanctions will not work,” it said in an editorial. “Some people have fallen for that and immediately echoed the suggestion, pointing to the failure of past sanctions to achieve their purpose.

“But that past sanctions did not work does not mean they will not. It is too early to claim failure because the latest sanctions have hardly begun to take effect. Giving the sanctions time to bite is the best way to make Pyongyang reconsider,” the newspaper said.

Pyongyang has launched dozens of missiles as it accelerates a weapons program designed to provide the ability to target the United States with a powerful, nuclear-tipped missile.

It says such programs are needed as a deterrent against invasion by the United States, which has 28,500 troops stationed in South Korea. On Saturday, it said it aimed to reach an “equilibrium” of military force with the United States.

The United States and South Korea are technically still at war with North Korea because the 1950-53 Korean conflict ended with a truce and not a peace treaty.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard in BEIJING, Hyonhee Shin and Soyoung Kim in SEOUL; Editing by Paul Tait and Simon Cameron-Moore)