Taiwan And The Outcome Nobody Really Wants.

The good news: nobody wants a war over Taiwan. Yet the Taiwan question sits at the head of a list of international situations that threaten the world order in the first quarter of the 21st century. These situations include the Iran nuclear question, Russian intentions in Ukraine, the ongoing war in Syria, and the widespread insurgency in the part of the world that is the vast African Sahel region.

There was not much hope of a radically different approach to US-China relations when the stormy transition from the Trump to the Biden administration was complete. And except for tone there has not been much change. Certainly the tone has changed, the insults, racial prejudice, and right-wing rhetoric are gone, but what the US sees as its fundamental interests in the East China Sea and South China Sea and in the Indo-Pacific has not changed.

President Biden’s approach is to get all of the US allies on the same page and working toward common goals, especially towards China. The recent summit meeting between Japanese Prime Minister Suga and President Biden underline this policy. Social media posts from Biden and Secretary of State Blinken remind followers that the US is “back.” 

If you examine US policy now and in the recent past, not much has changed regarding Taiwan. The US sells arms to Taiwan and intends to continue to do so. The US states that it has an “interest” in a free Taiwan, but has no mutual defense treaties, and has not committed to coming to Taiwan’s defense should an invasion from the mainland take place.

For the foreseeable future the US will do what it has done in looking after its interests in the Pacific for half a century: keep its military presence strong and ready and its alliances intact.

As for China, it will continue to move forward following Xi Jinping’s China Dream. Socialism with Chinese characteristics will continue to be the economic system, China’s military power will continue to expand and become even more sophisticated, and the Belt and Road initiative will continue to expand China’s economic and soft power around the world.

This brings us back to the initial assertion: nobody wants a war over Taiwan. But could one “happen”? One answer might be to look back at the US-Soviet cold war that lasted for several decades without a major incident. Yet for China, border wars have occurred with other large states and have not led to wider wars.

In 1962, China and India had a short border war which saw India be soundly defeated by China which after a short time withdrew its troops. China and Russia had a “shooting” war in 1969 along the Ussuri River that lasted some seven months and resulted in the loss of life on both sides before it was resolved. Ten years later, in 1979, the PRC invaded neighboring Viet Nam for a short but bloody conflict before retreating. Here we see three instances where China was not averse to using military force along its borders to achieve its long-range aims. 

China has had short, violent conflicts where it thought it could “win” by taking decisive, aggressive action. The question remains: Is such reliance on short violent conflict “baked in” to Chinese military thinking and strategy? And could China “assume” that it was getting into a short, violent conflict (say the invasion of Taiwan) when in fact the United States was prepared for a long, protracted multi-front confrontation?

In conclusion, there seem to be only two courses of action available right now:

1) The status quo. A new “cold war” where China and the US face off for decades but do not engage in a shooting war.

2) An incident that convinces China that its national interests are being violated (say by Taiwan Independence) that it is forced to take military action and invade.

For the present and the immediate future there seem to be no real solutions to the Taiwan question. Nobody wants a war, but is war inevitable?

Let us know what you think about this important issue.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo: ROC (Taipei) Government via flickr

Russian Weapons Flood Africa.

Russian arms are flooding into Africa. Reports say between 39% (Global Risk Insights) to 49% (The National Interest) of all weapons exported to Africa are Russian. Weapons include, but are not limited to:

  • Helicopters
  • Tanks
  • Armored vehicles
  • Anti-tank missiles
  • Anti-ship missiles
  • Air defense systems
  • Fighter aircraft
  • Small arms

America, France and now China have been providing weapons to Africa for a long time, but Russia’s offerings have the advantages of being low cost, reliable, and come with liberal financing. That is a hard to beat package, even for China.

A list of countries buying Russian include:

  • Burkina Faso
  • Mali
  • Sudan
  • Suriname
  • Democratic Republic of Congo
  • Angola
  • Egypt
  • Algeria

Moscow Times has reported that Russian arms sales to Africa are somewhere in the $50-$55 billion. This commerce in arms shows a renewed Russian interest in Africa, which went dormant after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Reports suggest that Russian interest in the region is threefold:

  • The importing of raw materials to Russia including diamonds, bauxite and platinum
  • The supplying of sophisticated, reliable and affordable weapons without any human rights baggage
  • The seconding of Russian “contractors” such as the Wagner group to prop up certain regimes and add influence political outcomes where possible throughout Africa.

Russia’s gain, in addition to commercial benefits, is to put Russia back on the African continent as an influencer as it once was in the heyday of revolution and the end of colonialism.

Is that strategy working? It is hard to say what will happen in the long run, but for now, Russian cash registers are ringing, and business is very good.

What do you think about this? Please let us know your thoughts on this topic or on the broader topic of the global arms trade. We are always glad to hear from you.

Photo: Dimitry Terekhov via flickr

US Election Interference 2020 – It was Russia.

A declassified report by the US National Intelligence Council released on 10 March 2021 clearly points the finger at Russia for election meddling in 2020. The report concludes that Russia with the knowledge and probably direction by President Vladimir Putin sought to again influence the US 2020 election and undermine faith in the US election process.

The report also states that there was no evidence at all to support any claims that China was trying to interfere in the US 2020 election despite repeated assertions by Donald Trump himself, Attorney General William Barr and National Security advisor O’Brien.

Russian efforts in the 2020 US presidential election included efforts to:

  • Denigrate Biden’s candidacy
  • Denigrate the Democratic Party
  • Support Trump
  • Undermine the electoral process
  • Heighten sociopolitical division in the US

According to the report, Russia deployed its intelligence services, state media and troll farms to influence and damage the US election, and to influence its outcome. The Russian narrative was embraced by the Trump campaign during and after the election, and by Donald Trump himself with his repeated and baseless claims of election fraud by the Democrats.

Also mentioned in the report are attempts at election influence in 2020 by Iran, Cuba, and Hizballah (In favor of Biden). There is a link to the report below. It is a short 5-10 minute read and provides a summary of the key points in the report. Please let us know your thoughts on this matter.

US DNI Declassifed reprot on 2020 election meddling

Photo: Stuart Rankin via flickr.

 

India Jails 22-Year-Old Climate Activist.

On February 13, the Modi Administration arrested 22-year-old climate activist Disha Ravi and charged her with sedition. Disha Ravi’s crime was to promote a toolkit for activists created by Sweden’s Greta Thunberg. Ravi’s purpose in spreading the material was to aid Indian farmers in their continuing struggle with the Modi Administration concerning controversial laws passed in September 2020.

The Modi government has refused to repeal the laws to liberalize the farming industry and protests have been ongoing. Disha Ravi is a prominent Indian climate activist and founder of the Indian branch of the Fridays For Future climate movement. Her support of striking farmers and overseas support by celebrities and world figures is seen by conservatives in India as effort to de-stabilize India and to defame India.

Disha Ravi’s initial confinement has been extended, and the charge she faces, sedition, carries heavy penalties in India. Many people see her arrest as just another incident in the crackdown on dissent and the suppression of basic rights within the world’s largest democracy.

What brings shame on India is not democratic dissent but the suppression of such dissent. India may well remember Britain’s attempt to silence one famous activist and the impossibility of doing so and take a lesson therefrom.

Please let us know your thoughs on this story.

 

 

Photo: via facebook

In The African Sahel Of 2021 There is Sand and Heat – But No Easy Solutions.

Since 2014 France has had a military presence in Africa’s Sahel named operation Barkhane. Africa’s Sahel region lies between the sands of the Sahara and the jungle of the savannah and is made up of several countries includes Mauritania, Mali, Niger Burkina Faso, and Chad.

The purpose of operation Barkhane is counter-insurgency, or the suppression of a whole range of Islamic fundamentalists of different stripes. Forces arrayed against the insurgents include:

  • French military forces
  • United Nations Forces (MINUSMA)
  • Forces of the G5 Sahel
  • Task Force Takuba (European Special Forces)

Anti-government and Islamist forces include a wide spectrum of organizations including:

  • Al Qaeda In Islamic Maghreb’s (AQUIM)
  • Jama’at Nursat al Islam (JNIM)
  • Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP)
  • Islamic State in Greater Sahara (ISGS)

Fighting has taken its toll on French forces and particularly on the UN’s MINUSA which suffered a reported 200 casualties already. Some high profile Islamist figures have been targeted and eliminated, but the insurgents are by no means finished.

President Macron of France has an unpopular war on his hands with only about 50% support or less at home. In addition, the French are portrayed as neo-colonialists by their many in the region. It seems Macron is trying to energize the G5 Sahel countries to take responsibility for their own security with mixed results.

Recent history has shown clearly what happens when the Islamic State takes power and the misery and suffering it inflicts up its unwilling “citizens.” So were France and the other coalition partners to withdraw, lawlessness would unfold followed by the establishment of the most repressive of regimes if what we have seen when IS held power in the recent past.

Another factor is that Metropolitan France is not that far away, and political chaos and widespread repression by IS would trigger not only mass migration but also the possibility of attacks both on France and other EU states as well by emboldened militants from the Sahel.

History shows us very few examples of where insurgent forces were eliminated or rendered harmless. The question then is what can be done? Would a giant United Nations presence be the answer, allowing France to withdraw? Could the G5 Sahel become efficient enough themselves to handle the situation?

It could be said that France is riding on the back of a tiger with only two choices, to continue to ride, or to get off and face the consequences. There are no easy solutions in the Sahel in 2021, only difficult and complex problems and questions.

Let us know your thoughts on this.

Photo: Minestere des Armees via facebook.

China To Go Carbon Neutral By 2060.

China has surprised the world and laid down a challenge: it will go carbon neutral by 2060. The surprise announcement was made by China’s President Xi Jinping at a virtual UN meeting on September 20, 2020. Xi said that China will reach its emissions peak by 2030 and go carbon neutral by 2060. Following China’s lead, both Japan and Korea vowed to become carbon neutral by mid-century as well.

Asia, with China at the forefront, has taken the lead and the West, particularly the US lags behind. The United States will have to catch up with the rest of the world on climate change countermeasures. The Biden administration quickly re-joining the Paris Climate Accord and fielding full representation at the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow in September 2021 will be a good start.

While China may lead, it has its work cut out for it. In many ways to achieve President Xi’s goals, China will have to radically reshape itself. Areas impacted by changes in energy supply and management will include:

  • Transportation
  • Industry
  • Building
  • Agriculture

The energy sector itself will have to change and end its reliance on coal, oil, and gas. Skeptics wonder if China can divorce itself from its reliance on coal, which is now the estimated source of 65% of its power production. New coal plants are in the works and the country will be faced with phasing them out and finding new work for an entire industry in its greener future.

On the positive side, China is the world’s largest producer of solar wafers. It has a mature and advanced solar industry and solar farms as well as wind farms are springing up at breakneck speed. China’s solar industry has reached a stage of effective development where government subsidies are no longer seen as necessary and are drying up. Challenges facing solar are the storage of excess energy and the transmission of energy generated by solar in China’s less-populated east to its dynamic industrial east.

To arrive at President Xi’s goals China must re-invent itself and in the process become not just Mr. Xi’s “moderately prosperous society” but also the leader in renewables and sustainability. Quite a challenge. What do you think about this? Please let us know.

Photo: Asian Development Bank via flickr

Person of Interest: General Llyod Austin, Biden’s Pick for Secretary of Defense.

On December 9, President-elect Joe Biden nominated retired General LLoyd Austin to be his Secretary of Defense. General Austin retired from the United States Army in 2016 after a distinguished military career that saw him, after his graduation from the United States Military Academy, fill assignments at some of the Army’s most elite units including the 82nd Airborne Division, the 10th Mountain Division and a stint as instructor at his alma mater, West Point.

General Austin saw combat duty in both Afghanistan and Iraq. In 2010 he was put in charge of all US forces in Iraq where he oversaw the draw-down of US forces. In 2011 he was appointed Army Vice Chief of Staff and in 2013 he took command of US Central Command, or CENTCOM. General Austin retired in 2016 and moved to the private sector where he was on the board of Raytheon Technologies, a major American military contractor. 

According to US law, to be appointed as Secretary of Defense a retired officer must have been out of uniform for a minimum of 7 years. General Austin has only been retired for 4 years, so it will be necessary for him to get a congressional waiver before he can take up the post. There is precedent for this, as recently as the current Trump administration where retired General James Mattis had the 7-year requirement waived.

The question is whether a hostile and divided congress reflecting the mood of a hostile and divided nation will give General Austin a “pass.” For Biden and the Democrats Austin checks off a lot of boxes in terms of experience. He would be the first black Secretary of Defense. General Austin has also teamed up with Joe Biden in the past, and they reportedly have a good working relationship.

Will General Austin face some grilling during his Senate confirmation? He probably will. Will he appear as a competent and knowledgeable interviewee? Surely he will. And finally will General Austin achieve another “first” in his long and distinguished career of government service? He probably will. 

What do you think? Let us know your opinion on this and any other topic that we cover here at RG-21.  

Photo: Wikipedia

 

 

China–Taiwan Question: Another Year Goes By Without A Solution.

                         by David Parmer / Tokyo

Well 2020 is rapidly winding down; just about a month or so to go, and the Year of the Rat will be gone. The truth be told, not many people will miss this year, or remember it fondly due to its association with the COVID-19 pandemic.

When it comes to relations between Beijing and Taipei, there hasn’t been a lot of movement during the past 11 months. Probably the biggest happenings this year has been the visit of high-level US officials following the passage of the Taiwan Relations Act by the US congress, and continuing US arms sales to Taiwan.

The biggest “win” for President Tsai Ing-wen has been warming relations with the United States under the Trump administration. And while the US has never said that it will come to the aid of Taiwan if attacked by the PRC, it says that the matter is of grave interest.

Beijing has its red line, and that means anything to do with Taiwan independence is seen as crossing that line. President Tsai and her party have ventured close to the line but have not come close to crossing it. Beijing for its part has never denied that military action to rejoin Taiwan is one of its options.

So a stalemate persists. With the Democratic Progressive Party in power it looks like there will be no closer relations with Beijing. Should the Kuomintang again gain power, then a warming of relations could be expected to take place. 

What is troubling is that Beijing and Taipei see no creative way to solve their differences. Beijing’s only attempt at a nuanced solution was to suggest a One Country-Two Systems solution such as that under which Hong Kong is now governed. This has been soundly rejected by Taipei in light of what it considers Beijing’s lack of good faith as witnessed by the events in Hong Kong.

So stalemate. It appears that neither Hong Kong nor Taipei sees any advantage to a closer relationship with Beijing. Beijing has nothing to offer them that they don’t already have. In the distant past the high culture of China was indeed attractive to people in the neighborhood who copied Chinese culture and aspired to that which China could offer.

So what would create a “willing” closer affiliation with the mainland? At present, nothing. What then is the solution? Maybe in the current way of thinking there simply isn’t one. Beijing seems to have only one strategy: Join us or else. There could, perhaps, be a more nuanced way to approach the problem. Taiwan is part of China, but what does “China” mean?

Is there no possibility for a “federation” of China, or a “commonwealth” of China?A “commonwealth” or “federation” of China could relieve Beijing of three of its headaches and its negative perception by the rest of the world. A commonwealth of China could solve not only the Taiwan question, but also the question of Tibet and of the Uighurs in Xinjiang. A indefinite continuation of the One-Country Two Systems in Hong Kong could keep tensions low there as well.

There is an old saying to the effect that if the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Right now, Beijing seems to have a hammer mentality with regard to Taiwan. Having only one solution is a sure way to a lack of progress and stalemate, which is what is taking place now. Classical Chinese culture shows us a mastery of nuance and subtlety in thought and expression. Perhaps it is time to draw on this ancient wisdom to create some workable answers to the Taiwan question.

Please let us know your thoughts on this.

Photo: Heikki Holstila via flickr

 

 

US Election 2020 : Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop.

                  by David Parmer / Tokyo

Seven days after November 2, Election Day 2020, the United States presidential election has been called: Vice President Joe Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris have won, Donald Trump has lost.

The drama of the counting of the votes took 5 days. The dynamic was not very difficult to understand: Trump voters voted in person and were counted early. Biden voters mostly mailed in their ballots.

These were two different approaches to the election and to dealing with the COVID pandemic.

Initially, Donald Trump had a significant lead the first night due to the in-person votes, but as time passed, the mail-in ballots were counted and Biden took the lead and kept it until his eventual victory. (270+ electoral votes).

For some time before the election Donald Trump was already claiming voter fraud without any proof. When the election came he increased his rhetoric, again without any proof. The Trump campaign filed lawsuits in several states claiming irregularities in the voting process. The lawsuits are ongoing.

As of November 8, 2020 there are 73 days until Mr. Biden is sworn in as President of the United States. Until then, Donald Trump will still be president. The question is what will Mr. Trump do during those 73 days and how will he conduct himself?

Donald Trump really has only two courses of action before his term of office ends.

The first course of action is what might be called “scorched earth.” He will fire up his base of voters, and in rally after rally claim the election results are bogus and that Biden is not the legitimate winner. He will incite his most radical followers to action, perhaps even violence. His army of lawyers will file lawsuit after lawsuit. He will not invite Joe Biden to the White House as a courtesy and he will not concede that he has lost the election. Perhaps he will even refuse to attend the inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. He will take every opportunity to be small, vindictive, petty, and mean.

The second course of action is for Donald Trump to act “presidential.” That is to concede the election, and attend the swearing in of the new president and vice-president. He could also cooperate in a smooth transition of power from Republicans to Democrats.

Would Donald Trump do this willingly? Probably not; it is just not in his DNA. However, there is a good chance that the elders of the Republican party will have a sit down with the president and explain the facts: that it is in his self interest to make a smooth transition, and if he pursues a “scorched earth” policy, he will do irreparable damage to the Republican party (which has enabled and sheltered him) for decades to come. More importantly for Trump he will damage his own reputation and legacy in the eyes of History.

Another compelling reason, also linked to his self-interest, is that if he fails to concede and fights on he will damage the Trump brand and the futures of his sons and daughter. Also, if he acts as much as statesman and president as he can in those 73 days, he will be able to be seen as an elder statesman and have great influence over those who practice his kind of politics both in the United States and around the world.

Of course, Trump could also do some kind of middle ground between the two extremes; acknowledge the transition but continue his bogus claims of election fraud right up until the end. This, however, would entail walking a fine line, and fine lines are not what Donald Trump does. 

With the mercurial Donald Trump it is hard to predict which course he will choose. There seems to be little doubt that in 70-some days he will vacate the White House. The question is how will he do it?

What do you think will happen? Please let us know.

Photo: Gage Skidmore via flickr

 

 

 

 

 

 

Boeing 747 “Queen of the Skies” Still Flying–But for How Long?

                       by David Parmer / Tokyo

In July 2020 British Airways announced that it was grounding all of its venerable Boeing 747 aircrafts. British Airways (then BOAC) has been flying the 747 since 1971. Times have changed and now airlines want the newer generation of long haul aircraft that are more fuel efficient, quieter, and more profitable.

 So the handwriting was on the wall for the “Queen Of The Skies” before the CORONA pandemic, but the pandemic, with its catastrophic drop in passenger numbers, has more or less sealed the plane’s fate. Other major airlines like Qantas, KLM and Virgin Atlantic have followed suit and grounded their 747s.

And yet many airlines continue to fly both the 747-400 and the more fuel efficient 747-8. It is true that there may not be as many flights now, (and that is an industry-wide trend) but flying on the world’s first “jumbo” is still very much a possibility. These airlines include:

  • Air China
  • Thai Airways
  • Korean Air
  • Rossiya Airlines
  • Lufthansa
  • Air India

The 747 dates back to 1969, but that doesn’t mean that it continues to feature old technology. The newer version, the 747-8 features:

  • Flexible wingtips for efficiency
  • Increased wing-tank fuel capacity
  • New materials
  • New GE engines
  • Cleaner, quieter operation

While there is a passenger version of the 747-8, the Intercontinental, the 747-8 is getting wide acceptance is as a tough, reliable, efficient cargo aircraft. Customers include Air China, Nippon Cargo Airlines, and UPS.

747-8 First Flight Everett WA

The worldwide recovery of the airline industry will probably not happen until most countries have the pandemic under control. Now Boeing is still struggling to get its 787s flying again, so for a while the 747-400 and newer 747-8 might be the go-to aircraft for airlines thinking of upgrading or modernizing their fleets.

For those of us who look at the 747 with great nostalgia and are sad to see her eventual phasing out, there are still many chances to see and indeed fly in this one-of-a-kind iconic aircraft.

Do you have experience flying the Boeing 747? Are you sad to see it go? Please let us know what you think .