RG21’s Predictions for 2021

                        by David Parmer / Tokyo

Here are a few “predictions” from RG-21 for 2021. None of them are really new, but rather the ways that existing situations might develop in the New Year.

China-VS-US: We took a look at this topic before here at RG-21, and our conclusions have not changed much. The new Biden administration will not fundamentally change its relationship with the People’s Republic of China. Certainly the bellicose tone favored by President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will be toned down. Diplomacy will be back in fashion and this includes relations with the PRC. The constant attacks on the CPC (Communist Party of China) will cease from the US government, but not from right-wing elements within the US.

As former Secretary of Defense James Mattis saw it, China is a “strategic competitor” but not an enemy. This may very well be the approach that the Biden administration takes. Also, the Trump administration has left the Biden people with several cards to play vis-a-vis China. While some sanctions may be lifted as a “good will” gesture, the others will be bargaining chips which the US will happily remove in return for concessions from the PRC.

As for the South China Sea issue, neither China nor the US will budge much if at all. As for the Indo-Pacific, the US will continue to do what it has been doing to form a coalition around the area to maintain a “free and open Indo-Pacific.” From the Chinese side this may very well be seen as an effort to contain or encircle China.

The US will continue to evaluate Huawei’s role in building and re-building infrastructure worldwide. The case of Meng Wanzhou might be re-evaluated and dropped or settled out of court as a “good will” gesture to the PRC.

 President Biden will get US allies on board with whatever China policy the US decides to adopt. This may be easier than might be imagined since, for now, China and Europe are not on the best of terms.

Finally, with better US-China dialogue, consular facilities that were closed on a tit-for-tat basis may be quickly re-opened.

Iran-VS-US: Relations between the US and the Islamic Republic are at such a low point that almost anything done in a positive manner would be seen as significant. After China, Iran is next on the list threats to the US as seen by the Trump administration.

To this end President Trump pulled the US out of the JCPOA or “Iran Deal” despite Iran’s independently verified full compliance with the terms of the agreement. As we have written previously, the Europeans  (together with China and Russia) have kept the agreement on “life support” after the US withdrawal.  The US and Israel have kept Iran in their sights, and have taken provocative actions that only strengthen the radical elements within Iran, and then use the results of those provocations to show how dangerous Iran is.

Here again, the Trump administration has left the US with some cards to play. Sanctions could be lifted in exchange for that which the US and its allies want. For example, a whole host of sanctions could be lifted for some movement on Iran’s limiting its missile program, one that causes much more threat to its neighborhood than a nuclear capability.

It was the US and Israel that wanted Iran to re-negotiate the JCPOA to include this program that caused the US to withdraw from the JCPOA. The strategy was that crippling sanctions would drive Iran back to the table to negotiate over its missile program. This did not happen. The Iranians, just like the Cubans bore the brunt of US sanctions and did not fold.

The Biden administration could begin immediately to re-weave the JCPOA. First by re-joining, and then when Iran is found in compliance, to release much-needed funds to the government of Iran.

The original strategy of the JCPOA was to strengthen the moderate elements in the Iran power structure, and it is likely that this strategy will again be used.

Taiwan-VS-China-VS-US: The bottom line is this–the US Taiwan policy will not fundamentally change, but the tone will. Support for Taiwan (as is) is rock solid in the US congress. Weapons sales will continue. What will happen first is the rhetoric regarding China will be toned-down.

Also, the drawing of Taiwan closer to US will probably stop. Despite the Taiwan Relations Act, high-level visits by US officials will be seen for what they are: provocative acts which could potentially de-stabilize a precarious situation. Acts that could be seen as re-recognizing Taiwan as “China” will be toned-down or eliminated. But the US will not budge on Taiwan or on the “freedom of navigation” within the Taiwan Strait.

In a sense, this takes the US out of the equation in the question of China-vs-Taiwan. In another sense, both parties are back to “square one.” And what is “square one?” China claims Taiwan as its territory and has promised to return the island to the PRC even using force if necessary. Taiwan sees itself as a de-facto independent country, and clings to the Republic of China name not as an anachronism but as a reality. Again and again the people of the island have reported that they see themselves as Taiwanese and not Chinese.

President Tsai Ing-wen’s Democratic Progressive Party is called an “independence” party, but it knows that if it declares “independence” it will cross a redline that will probably lead to the PRC invading.

China may be thinking (and hoping) that if the DPP does not deliver to its constituents, then the pro-Beijing Kuomintang opposition party may take power and relations would again improve significantly.

The situation for now: stalemate. But from the PRC’s point of view, the clock is ticking. Tick-tock, tick-tock.

US-VS-Europe: Old friends meet again. Traditional allies close ranks. Relations between the US and Europe will take a monumental leap forward once Joe Biden raises his hand and takes the oath of office of the President of the United States. Trump’s distain for diplomacy and for long-standing relationships that do not benefit the US in his way of calculating will no longer be policy.

The Biden administration will again re-assert US world leadership and call on the Europeans to join. With its strong traditional allies the US will have a joint face regarding both China and Russia.

US-Turkey-NATO: President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey is going his own way and is far along on making Turkey a viable regional power. There have been comments that he is creating a new Ottoman Empire with himself at the center. Turkey is the only Muslim member of NATO, and the US has for years had a base at Incirlik on Turkish soil. And yet, Turkey despite its NATO membership went ahead and bought the powerful and capable Russian Triumph S-400 missile system. In retaliation, the US removed Turkey from a lucrative and advanced program in fabricating the cutting-edge F35 fighter.

Erdogan also has brought force to bear on the Kurdish fighters in Syria whom it counts as terrorists. These same Kurds are seen as staunch US allies, or at least they were before the Trump administration pulled US advisors out, thereby signaling Erdogan that is OK to do what he wishes with the Kurds.

It is likely that the US will mend fences with the Kurds as well as soon as Donald Trump is gone. But the US will now have to face new challenges in the region. Both Iran and Turkey will be mid-level players who will be calling the shots in their neighborhood. It will be up to the Biden administration to formulate a strategy to deal with these two emerging and powerful regional powers.

Korea-VS-The World: There are no signs that the Kim dynasty will go away any time soon. Kim Jong-un will continue to rule and will continue to hone his nuclear powered military. He will probably try to upgrade his submarine fleet (if anyone will sell him the boats) and will continue to strengthen his special forces as well.

Kim’s strategy for the South in the event of war would be asymmetrical warfare to start with including the use of special forces to disrupt communications and transport in the South and then use his massive conventional forces to invade following a withering rain of artillery fire on Seoul and a missile attack on the largest US base in the country, Camp Humphreys, which is just 97km (60 miles) from the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).

Donald Trump’s attempt to get concessions from Kim failed. His meetings resulted in nothing taking place except the optics of a meeting. The Biden administration will have to deal with the Korea stalemate as well. Kim will probably use his nuclear arsenal to try to intimidate the US and Japan, and extract some kind of concessions from the South.

Perhaps the only negative to be found in the departure of Donald Trump from the office of US president will be the fact that Kim could never be sure of Trump’s mental state, and he could never be sure that Trump would not “press the button” on the DPRK.

With a more measured and professional Biden in office, it is likely that Kim, without the fear of immediate nuclear reprisal from Trump, will again begin to stir things up on the Korean peninsula.

There are a few more areas of interest that could heat up in 2021. Next time we will take a look at a few including Russia, Syria, Central Africa, and the Nordic countries.

Photo: Marshall Space Flight Center via flickr

News Roundup December 2015

At RG21 we cover a number of topics throughout the year that we feel are of interest to our Asian and world readers. As these stories are ongoing, we can not always cover developments as they happen in a weekly blog. So from time to time we will give a short roundup of current topics with links to news and official sources.

Taiwan Elections 2016: We have been following the Taiwan elections in 2015 rather closely. At this time it seems that the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) will win big and Tsai Ing-wen will become president. The question is how badly will the KMT be defeated, and what will the post election direction be for Taiwan, especially in its relations to the People’s Republic. Tsai has indicated that there will be not much change in the status quo vis-a-vis the PRC, but the spring of 2016 will begin to give us some indication of how this plays out.


North Korea: 2015 has been a rather “quiet” year for the DPRK and its supreme leader Kim Jung-un. Kim declined to attend celebrations to mark the 70th anniversary of WWII and observers speculate that he did not feel free to travel abroad despite his continuing tightening of his hold on the levers of power. Kim’s all-girl pop group made it as far as Beijing, but then returned without performing. The year ended with one of his chief advisors perishing in a mysterious automobile crash in the closing days of the year.


South China Sea: This year saw a tense standoff between China and the U.S. over the South China Sea. The U.S. claims that it has the right to navigate the South China Sea freely while China maintains that its sovereignty is at stake. A U.S. Navy ship sailed through the area without incident, and China protested. This situation shows no signs of abating in 2016, and apparently China has no intention to stop its “island building” and the U.S. has no intention of adhering to China’s claims on its claimed territory in the area.


Hi-Tech: The big news in mid-December was the purchase of the South China Morning Post (SCMP) by Internet giant Alibaba. Jack Ma’s company (which has experienced some turbulence this year) paid in excess of $200 million for the Post. This move follows Amazon’s recent acquisition of the Washington Post. The question now is how will a China-based corporation influence news coverage by the SCMP. What changes, if any, will become apparent in 2016 under the new Hangzhou-based management?


Photo: Korea Net via flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/koreanet/23574365105/in/datetaken/



Ma-Xi Meeting, What’s Up?

                              by David Parmer

Republic of China President Ma Ying-jeou will meet PRC President Xi Jinping on November 7, 2015 in Singapore. The schedule includes a short meeting followed by dinner. “Historic” is certainly appropriate to describe this meeting, as heads of the two governments have not met since the Nationalists (KMT) fled to Taiwan in 1949.

But what is the purpose of the sudden meeting? Reuters reported that President Ma said that the meeting is about normalizing future relations and helping reduce hostilities in the short term, but it is not about the January 2016 Taiwan elections.


All things being equal, the KMT will chalk up a loss to the opposition Democratic Progressive Party in the 2016 elections. It looks like it will not be a question of a loss, but rather how big a loss. The KMT apparently realized this and dumped its candidate Hung Hsiu-chu so that it did not suffer a humiliating defeat. Party chair and New Taiwan Mayor Eric Chu has stepped up as the KMT’s presidential candidate.

One reason the KMT is so unpopular is that many see it getting too cozy with the PRC to the detriment of Taiwan’s political and economic interests. So why the meeting? How can the meeting possibly help the KMT in the short run?

Please log in an give us your thoughts on this issue.


Asian Waters—The Astounding Pearl River Delta

Shunde, Foshan, Guangdong PRC (Photo: topwalls)

                              by David Parmer

Southern China’s Pearl River is 2400 kilometers long, making it the country’s third longest waterway. A glance at the map shows not one river, but rather a river system that becomes the Pearl River. The Liuxi,  Xi (West) Bei (North) and Dong ( East) Rivers join at Guangzhou and flow into the Pearl River Delta (PRD) and the South China Sea.

Just 30 years ago the PRD would have been impressive, and yes historic as China’s gateway to the West. But now,…now the PRD is the Pearl River Delta Economic Zone, and what was once green farmland with blue skies is now an urban megacity. Since 1980 there has been an astounding and amazing transformation that is far from over. Guangdong province has a population estimated at 83,000,000 and an area of 177,600 square kilometers; the area of the Pearl River Delta is estimated to be 55,000 square kilometers.

The Pearl River Delta is composed of 9 cities +2. They are:

  • Shenzhen
  • Dongguan
  • Huizhou
  • Zhuhai
  • Zongshan
  • Jiangmen
  • Guangzhou
  • Foshan
  • Zaoqing
  • Macau +Hong Kong


Pearl River Delta (via wikimedia)

The area has been called the “world’s workshop” for good reason. Simply put, if you use some manufactured product today, whatever it  is, there is a good chance it has been produced in the PRD area. Clothing, electronics, watches, clocks garments, textiles and 60% of the world’s toys – all come from the PRD. And the industries mentioned above form industrial clusters where similar products are made with great efficiency. Couple all this with complete land, water and air transportation and excellent ports and you have today’s PRD.

China’s central government has big plans for this area. Big plans. By 2030 the area will be one big city of 40 million, any part of which can be reached by high speed train in one hour. ( Of note, the government is also planning a mega city in the North, combining Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei. This area will contain the dynamic Bohai Sea economic zone as well). Mass urbanization is clearly the future of China. The land-tilling peasant of past centuries will be but a memory. Within the megacities citizens will be free to move and not be restricted to the city, town or village where they are registered.

Pearl River Night

Pearl River at Guangzhou ( R.Morbach via flickr) 

The Pearl River moves from west to east, gathers and flows into the South China Sea and forms its own amazing delta, and is witness to the ongoing creation of the greatest urban area ever created in China, or on the Earth for that matter.