China’s global development empire

China development AidData

China’s global development footprint, mapped according to commitment size (Source: AidData)

The College of William & Mary has put together a handy map of China’s global Marshall Plan:

This online web map by AidData, a research lab at William & Mary in the United States, pinpoints the location of thousands of Chinese-funded development projects across the globe using data from AidData’s Geocoded Global Chinese Official Finance Dataset released September 11, 2018.

With more than 3,485 Chinese Government-financed projects in 138 countries and territories, this dataset is the most comprehensive source of public information ever assembled on the locations and attributes of Chinese development projects worldwide.

Those 3,485 projects implemented between 2000-2014 are worth a total of $273.6 billion in official financing. By way of comparison, the actual Marshall Plan in Europe totaled $12 billion (or $100 billion in 2016 dollars).

On a possibly related note:

In 2011, for example, delegates to the annual session of China’s parliament debated a proposal to seek employment for as many as 100 million Chinese on the African continent. One champion of this idea, Zhao Zhihai, a delegate and researcher at Zhangjiakou Academy of Agricultural Sciences at Hebei province, said: “In the current economic climate, with so many of our people unemployed, China can benefit from finding jobs for them and Africa can benefit from our expertise in developing any type of land and crop.”

–Howard French, China’s Second Continent: How a Million Migrants Are Building a New Empire in Africa

Time to go home

Mohammed bin Salman

Mohammed bin Salman

The US is taken to task for shrugging while a new pack of authoritarian leaders in the Middle East consolidates power:

What’s happening in the Middle East today can be traced back to the 2011 Arab Spring, which sparked a desire for democratic change among ordinary people and, among governments, a countervailing desire for stability based on the status quo ante.

To go back in time, as it were, the counterrevolutionary bloc—Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt, and their allies in Yemen, Libya, and elsewhere—believes the future must be more authoritarian than ever. Based on extensive conversations with senior Arab officials, I’ve found that the dominant outlook could be summed up as follows: A heavy-handed domestic and regional approach may well carry risks, but the alternative is worse. […]

No space for reconciliation or compromise exists between authoritarian governments and their democratic or Islamist opponents. If the strongmen win—and they have a real chance—then the West will have to abandon its dream of a more politically open Middle East (the vision sparked by the Arab Spring). If they fail—and there is a compelling argument that they could—their countries could experience a period of turmoil on the scale of the Syrian civil war. In this volatile environment, the United States is ominously absent.

I remember when the US was condemned for its foreign interventions. Now it is criticized for its dangerous aloofness. The reality is that the US is terrible at managing an empire and has no ability to impose its own political norms on the Middle East. Any interest that Americans once had in such a grandiose project evaporated a long time ago. The US is completely unable to effect the outcomes that it wants, and can’t even distinguish the “good” guys from the “bad” guys in most of these conflicts. When is a democratic/Islamist revolution preferable to a stable, authoritarian regime? I don’t know, and chances are neither do you. It’s ridiculous for any Americans to think they can, or should, decide the political future of a radically different country 6,000 miles away.

On a related note, the US is still chasing the Taliban around Afghanistan after 17 years:

When Gen. Scott Miller took over the war in Afghanistan on Sept. 2, Afghan soldiers were being killed and wounded at near record numbers.

He instituted a more aggressive policy of helping the Afghan military track and defeat the Taliban — what he calls “regaining the tactical initiative” — but in an exclusive interview with NBC News on Tuesday, his first since taking command of U.S. and coalition forces here, he also says he recognizes that the solution in Afghanistan will be political, not military.

“This is not going to be won militarily,” Miller said. “This is going to a political solution.”

In other words, the war is unwinnable. Afghanistan cannot be pacified, as the British and the Russians and many others throughout history have learned to their chagrin. So go home.

Invasion of Venezuela in the works?

Things may be heating up in South America:

A top Colombian official told Brazilian newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo that its government will support Brazilian’s far-right President-elect Jair Bolsonaro if he wants to overthrow the socialist government of Venezuela.

According to Folha, a top diplomatic official said that “if [President-elect] Bolsonaro wants to help overthrow Maduro with a military intervention, he will have the support of Colombia.”

According to the anonymous source, Colombian President Ivan Duque and his political patron, the hard-right former President Alvaro Uribe, would agree with a military intervention.

“If it is [United States President Donald] Trump or Bolsonaro are the first to set foot in Venezuela, Colombia will follow suit without hesitation,” the diplomat told Folha. […]

Ivan Duque Colombia

Colombian president Ivan Duque

Colombia’s conservative President Ivan Duque, who is supported by the far-right in his own divided country, considers Maduro a “dictator” and has refused to rule out military intervention.

“Duque is confident that if such an operation is underway, with the involvement of Brazil, Colombia and perhaps the US, they will participate. The region can no longer bear a worsening of the Venezuelan diaspora,” said the source.

Regarding that diaspora, the Miami Herald reported in June:

Almost 1 million people from Venezuela are thought to have poured into neighboring Colombia in the last two years, amid a grinding economic, social and political crisis that has rattled the region.

On Wednesday, Colombian authorities said a nationwide census found that 442,462 Venezuelans are living in the country without proper documentation and 376,572 Venezuelans are in the country legally — for a total of 819,034. […]

The Venezuelan exodus is being felt throughout the hemisphere. According to the International Organization on Migration, there were at least 1.6 million Venezuelans living abroad in 2017 — up from 698,000 in 2015.

Venezuela exodus Columbia

Venezuelans looking for a better life in Colombia (Source)

On a possibly related note, the “Axis of Evil” has a successor in the Western Hemisphere:

Now the Trump administration has coined the term “Troika of Tyranny” to describe the group of oppressive Latin American dictators it is pledging to confront. The administration is right to call out the crimes of the leaders of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua. But it remains to be seen whether the White House can deliver a comprehensive strategy to go along with the rhetoric.

National security adviser John Bolton gave a speech Thursday afternoon at the Freedom Tower in Miami to a crowd filled with people who fled Cuba and Venezuela to escape the cruelty and oppression of the Castro and Maduro regimes. Linking those situations with the escalating repression of the Daniel Ortega government in Nicaragua, Bolton promised a new, comprehensive U.S. approach that will ramp up U.S. involvement in pushing back against what the administration sees as a leftist, anti-democratic resurgence in the region.

Caution is needed here. The American public does not want another foreign war, and a major intervention in South America is guaranteed to be a multi-faceted disaster.

Daniel Ortega Nicolás Maduro

Nicolás Maduro and Daniel Ortega

Former Army general predicts war with China in 15 years

Chinese troops Vostok 2018

Chinese troops during Vostok 2018 war games in Eastern Siberia

A dire prediction, but is it correct?

The former commander of the U.S. Army in Europe warned Wednesday that it’s very likely the United States will be at war with China in 15 years.

Retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges said that European allies will have to do more to ensure their own defenses in face of a resurgent Russia because America will need to focus more attention on defending its interests in the Pacific.

“The United States needs a very strong European pillar. I think in 15 years — it’s not inevitable — but it is a very strong likelihood that we will be at war with China,” Hodges told a packed room at the Warsaw Security Forum, a two-day gathering of leaders and military and political experts from central Europe.

“The United States does not have the capacity to do everything it has to do in Europe and in the Pacific to deal with the Chinese threat,” Hodges said.

I think it unlikely. What would they fight over? No doubt the Sino-American relationship is heating up, but China has no interest in war, and it’s hard to imagine the US going to war to defend the South China Sea or Taiwan. China will eventually replace the US as the dominant power in East Asia, and there’s not much the US can or will do about it.

In any case, the 2030s is almost certain to a very interesting decade all around. Buckle up.

Playing chicken in the South China Sea

How close did a Chinese warship approach a US Navy destroyer in the South China Sea before the latter swerved out of the way? This close:

USS Decatur China

USS Decatur (left) and PRC Warship 170 (Source)

From maritime industry website gCaptain:

The U.S. Navy confirmed the incident on Tuesday, accusing China’s navy of conducting an “unsafe and unprofessional maneuver” that nearly led to a collision as the U.S. destroyer was underway “in the vicinity” of Gaven Reef in the Spratly Islands on Sunday, September 30.

According to a Navy spokesman, during the incident, the Chinese warship “approached within 45 yards of Decatur’s bow, after which Decatur maneuvered to prevent a collision.”

As was reported over the weekend, the USS Decatur on Sunday conducted the U.S. Navy’s latest freedom of navigation operation in the South China Sea, coming within 12 nautical miles of the Gaven and Johnson Reefs claimed by China.

China issued a statement Tuesday accusing the U.S. of violating its “indisputable sovereignty” over the South China Sea islands.

Dangerous times.

US hardware supply chain compromised by Chinese spies

Supermicro

Holy moly, this is huge. A unit of the People’s Liberation Army secretly inserted tiny, malicious microchips into motherboards that were manufactured in Chinese factories for the US-based company Supermicro. These motherboards were used in expensive servers supplied to Amazon, Apple, the Department of Defense, the CIA, and the US Navy, among others. From a Bloomberg Businessweek investigation:

During the ensuing top-secret probe, which remains open more than three years later, investigators determined that the chips allowed the attackers to create a stealth doorway into any network that included the altered machines. Multiple people familiar with the matter say investigators found that the chips had been inserted at factories run by manufacturing subcontractors in China.

This attack was something graver than the software-based incidents the world has grown accustomed to seeing. Hardware hacks are more difficult to pull off and potentially more devastating, promising the kind of long-term, stealth access that spy agencies are willing to invest millions of dollars and many years to get.

This is really bad.* Say goodbye to US reliance on Chinese components. It will take time to reorient the global supply chain, but the effort is already underway. This scandal, which has been known (of course) to the Obama and Trump administrations, will only strengthen the case for manufacturing sensitive technologies in the US.

[…] Over the decades, the security of the supply chain became an article of faith despite repeated warnings by Western officials. A belief formed that China was unlikely to jeopardize its position as workshop to the world by letting its spies meddle in its factories. That left the decision about where to build commercial systems resting largely on where capacity was greatest and cheapest. “You end up with a classic Satan’s bargain,” one former U.S. official says. “You can have less supply than you want and guarantee it’s secure, or you can have the supply you need, but there will be risk. Every organization has accepted the second proposition.”

In the meantime, Mike Pence accuses China of a host of sins including interfering in the US democratic process:

Vice President Mike Pence escalated Washington’s pressure campaign against Beijing on Thursday by accusing China of “malign” efforts to undermine President Donald Trump ahead of next month’s congressional elections and reckless military actions in the South China Sea.

In what was billed as a major policy address, Pence sought to build on Trump’s speech at the United Nations last week in which he alleged that China was trying to interfere in the pivotal Nov. 6 midterm elections. Neither Trump nor Pence provided hard evidence of Chinese meddling.

That’s not quite right, as Pence mentions, for example, the widely noted Chinese advertising supplement in Iowa. From the transcript:

And China is also directly appealing to the American voters. Last week, the Chinese government paid to have a multipage supplement inserted into the Des Moines Register –- the paper of record of the home state of our Ambassador to China, and a pivotal state in 2018 and 2020. The supplement, designed to look like the news articles, cast our trade policies as reckless and harmful to Iowans.

I pointed out this bit of propaganda on September 23, referencing a tweet by Bloomberg’s Jennifer Jacobs. Trump then tweeted about on September 26. Read my blog to see the future!

Pence also calls on Google to “immediately end development of the ‘Dragonfly’ app that will strengthen Communist Party censorship and compromise the privacy of Chinese customers.” More about Dragonfly here.

===

*Only fair to link to Supermicro’s response to the Bloomberg piece:

SAN JOSE, Calif., October 4, 2018 — Super Micro Computer, Inc. (SMCI), a global leader in enterprise computing, storage, networking solutions and green computing technology, strongly refutes reports that servers it sold to customers contained malicious microchips in the motherboards of those systems.

In an article today, it is alleged that Supermicro motherboards sold to certain customers contained malicious chips on its motherboards in 2015. Supermicro has never found any malicious chips, nor been informed by any customer that such chips have been found.

Each company mentioned in the article (Supermicro, Apple, Amazon and Elemental) has issued strong statements denying the claims […]

Chinasplaining

Confucius Institute logo

From a 2017 article on the increasingly sophisticated global PR efforts of certain authoritarian states:

Consider this: As part of its “Great Leap Outward” in recent years, China has quietly built up a multibillion dollar international media empire transmitting content in a multitude of languages that is making inroads in dozens of countries around the globe. As an indication of its growing sophistication, Xinhua, the state news agency, and CGTN, the Chinese state television global network (until 2016 known as CCTV), cultivate content-sharing agreements in a growing number of countries, especially in young democracies. In countries such as Argentina, Kenya and Peru, the Chinese authorities embed their own entertainment, documentary and news programming into domestic media platforms, enabling CCP-friendly soft propaganda to reach audiences in these settings. […]

The Chinese government has placed enormous resources into relationship and network building, undertaking extensive people-to-people programs in Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa and Central and Eastern Europe. Through such efforts, many hundreds of students, media professionals and policymakers each year are brought to China, often full-freight paid by the Chinese hosts. Emblematic of these wide-ranging efforts are initiatives such as the June 2016 “Forum on China-Africa Media Cooperation” and the December 2013 “High-Level Symposium of Think Tanks of China and Central and Eastern European Countries,” which convened hundreds of media and think tank professionals in China. Chinese state-backed Confucius Institutes operate a vast network of cultural influence embedded in universities and schools—more than 1,000 institutes and classrooms operating worldwide.

Further reading here. Also see my comment yesterday on how the US should deal with foreign state-funded media.

An effective response by the US would include (but not be limited to) banning Confucius Institutes on American soil and restricting Chinese investment in the entertainment and media industries, exactly as China restricts foreign investment in those sectors.

Russia debate

Peter Hitchens makes a compelling argument that British diplomacy towards Russia is leading to a new Cold War. The opening statement by his debate opponent Rupert Wieloch is also worth listening to. Unfortunately it seems that the rest of the debate is not available on YouTube.

Here’s the first clip:

I’ve transcribed some of the highlights:

People say that Asia begins at the Ural Mountains. Well, technically it does, but really it begins at Moscow. It is a frontier city. This is a country which has been invaded by Tartars, by Mongols, by Poles, by Swedes, by Poles again, by the Germans, by the Germans, by the Germans again, by us, by the French, repeatedly, over and over again. It has no natural defenses… The Ural Mountains… are not particularly impressive. There is no real barrier. They live in constant, realistic fear of invasion. Their second city, now Saint Petersburg, was within living memory besieged by an invading army to such an extent that a large number of its population died of starvation. And you can go there and visit the enormous graves, and these are the people who are the grandfathers and great uncles and great aunts and grandmothers of people now living.

Understand this, and you begin to understand perhaps why Russians have a rather different attitude towards the world than we do, being surrounded conveniently by large stretches of deep salt water; or than the Americans do, who have the Pacific on one side, and the Atlantic on the other, and Mexico at the bottom, and Canada at the top. How nice, in comparison to having China on one side, and Germany on the other, and the Middle East at the bottom, which is what the Russians have to put up with. So please bear this in mind when discussing attitudes towards Russia. […]

This country [Britain] has no borders with Russia. We barely trade with them. We have no actual interests which clash with theirs. They don’t pay us much attention. We have no particular reason to be at war with them. And yet, here we are, at the moment, in a country where the government and its military leaders and its secretary of state and of defense and many of its journalists constantly, to my mind almost obsessively, go on and on and on about the Russian danger. […]

Since the collapse of the Soviet regime, which I witnessed, the Moscow government, under whatever name you care to give it, has relinquished control, without any significant bloodshed, of 800,000 square miles of territory — 700,000 square miles of territory in Europe, and another who knows how many in Central Asia — and it has lost control of something like 180 million people in the same period.

During the years since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the European Union and its military wing, NATO, has gained control over 400,000 square miles and over 120 million people. How is it, under those circumstances, that Russia can conceivably be classified as an aggressive power? Which one is the expanding power, which one is the diminishing one? The forces of NATO are 10 times the size of those of Russia. Russia’s gross domestic product is approximately the size of that of Italy. This is not a major country. […]

Chinese retrenchment

Must-read article by a British policy wonk who flew to Beijing to sound out Chinese officials and intellectuals about… what else? Trump. Apparently the Chinese are smarter than their Western counterparts, because they have no trouble grasping what the president is up to, they understand the strategy behind his seemingly chaotic policy moves, and they are, quote, “awed.” If the article is to be believed, China is already considering a fundamental reset of its foreign policy and economic strategy in response to a sudden intensification of pressure from the US.

The Chinese view is that Trump is tearing up the existing world order as a prelude to renegotiating America’s relationships with other countries on more favorable terms for the US. Unchained by multilateral institutions, the US will be able to wield its still-superior clout to extract (more) concessions from China on a bilateral basis. This is scary to China. Also, Trump wants to bring Russia into alignment with the West in order to counter Beijing, essentially reversing Nixon’s policy of chumming it up with China to isolate the Soviet Union. (Instead of Nixon-goes-to-China, we have Trump-goes-to-Russia.)

The whole article is very telling, but here are a few key paragraphs:

My interlocutors say that Mr Trump is the US first president for more than 40 years to bash China on three fronts simultaneously: trade, military and ideology. They describe him as a master tactician, focusing on one issue at a time, and extracting as many concessions as he can. They speak of the skilful way Mr Trump has treated President Xi Jinping. […]

In the short term, China is talking tough in response to Mr Trump’s trade assault. At the same time they are trying to develop a multiplayer front against him by reaching out to the EU, Japan and South Korea. But many Chinese experts are quietly calling for a rethink of the longer-term strategy. They want to prepare the ground for a new grand bargain with the US based on Chinese retrenchment. Many feel that Mr Xi has over-reached and worry that it was a mistake simultaneously to antagonise the US economically and militarily in the South China Sea.

Instead, they advocate economic concessions and a pullback from the aggressive tactics that have characterised China’s recent foreign policy. They call for a Chinese variant of “splendid isolationism”, relying on growing the domestic market rather than disrupting other countries’ economies by exporting industrial surpluses.

Now, it’s interesting to consider this potential about-face in light of Edward Luttwak’s predictions in his 2012 book The Rise of China vs. the Logic of Strategy. Luttwak argued that the combination of China’s rapidly growing wealth, power and assertiveness would inevitably provoke increasing resistance from the rest of the world across the economic, military and diplomatic domains. The economic (or as he calls it, “geo-economic”) response to China could include trade barriers, investment restrictions, and technology bans. In Luttwak’s words:

[B]ecause of its inherent magnitude, quite independently of China’s conduct on the regional and international scene, the very rapid growth in its economic capacity and military investment must evoke adversarial reactions, in accordance with the logic of strategy.

Other things being equal, when a state of China’s magnitude pursues rapid military growth, unless the resulting shift in the power-balance passes the culminating point of resistance inducing the acceptance of some form of subjection, it causes a general realignment of forces against it, as former allies retreat into a watchful neutrality, former neutrals become adversaries, and adversaries old and new coalesce in formal or informal alliances against the excessively risen power.

A Chinese pullback in the face of growing international resistance led by the US would certainly put an intriguing twist on the dynamic outlined by Luttwak. On the one hand, it would reduce the perception of threat that is driving the anti-China coalition, thus slowing or even reversing the adversarial reactions to China’s rise. In the short term, this would ease international tensions and would be welcomed by almost everyone. Paradoxically though, this outcome could enable China to grow its economy and build up its technological prowess with less interference from its global peers — thus putting China in an even stronger position over the long term.

Daily links: Geopolitics and Tom Cruise

US teams up with Japan and Australia to invest in Asian infrastructure projects. China’s Belt and Road Initiative has competition.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announces $113 million in new technology, energy and infrastructure projects in emerging Asia as part of Trump’s “Indo-Pacific” strategy.

Generals from the rival Koreas meet at the border to ease military tensions.

But there’s still a long and difficult road ahead with North Korea. “Washington and Pyongyang, however, are not the only players. Racing against a clock of its own, Seoul will aim to drive Trump and Kim toward an early trilateral summit to declare an end to the Korean War as a first step toward peace, fueled by President Moon Jae-in’s determination to go down in history as the peacemaker.”

Professor Stephen Cohen points out that in early 1986, President Ronald Reagan met alone with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev for about two and a half hours, during which they discussed abolishing nuclear weapons, paving the way for the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty which was signed a year later.

Behind-the-scenes on Tom Cruise’s HALO jump from a C-17 military aircraft at 25,000 feet for the latest Mission: Impossible movie. HALO means high altitude, low open (i.e. the parachute is deployed at below 2,000 feet).

Reminds me of this incredible scene from Moonraker.

Tom Cruise is “our last remaining movie star.”