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.”

Daily links: Musk, Mission Impossible, US military

An amusing takedown of Elon Musk. For some reason, Musk is a deeply polarizing figure, viewed as either a visionary genius or a total charlatan. His increasingly bizarre and out-of-control behavior of late certainly raises doubts about his qualities as a business leader. The outlook for Tesla does not look good either.

New Yorker review of Mission: Impossible — Fallout. Very entertaining movie, although the crazily violent fight scenes and endless car/bike chases through Paris get numbing after a while.

All your base are belong to us: More than 300,000 American military personnel are deployed or forward stationed in 177 countries.

More US embassy weirdness: Bomb detonated near the embassy in Beijing.

Some salient questions about the US-EU announcement on trade relations.

North Korea returns remains of (allegedly) US soldiers in goodwill gesture.

What happens when a total stranger decides to destroy your life by posting false information about you on a sleazy grudge-settling website?

Bannon’s dark valley

Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon offers a perspective on the great geopolitical issue of our time:

But what he really wanted to discuss what how the obsession with Russia was a giant red herring from the bigger looming threat of China’s economic dominance. He pointed to Australia as ‘an object lesson to Great Britain and the United States’ for what happens to a country when it lets itself be dominated by China’s economic might.

He said: ‘The people in Australia thought they were playing by the rules, and what they found out ten years later is that the Chinese had gone in and bought minority stakes in companies and bought natural resource companies – next thing you know, with the investments they made in real estate and real assets et cetera, they took control of companies. Next thing you know they’ve got political power – they’re being politicians. And now Australia is in a situation of creeping control by an independent Republic like China – it’s dangerous. That’s happening in the United States and it’s happening in Britain.’ […]

But Russia, he argued, is distraction from the great evisceration of America, Britain and Europe’s power, which is down to the ‘axis of the 21st century’– China, Persia, Turkey, or ‘the Asian landmass’ and China’s one belt one road.

Is it too late for the west, though? Has China’s economic power now grown so great, and our economies so weak, that the Chinese takeover is inevitable?

‘Up until Donald Trump came on the scene, we were told by everybody in the city of London and on Wall Street that the inexorable rise of China is the second law of thermodynamics. It is the physics of the universe.’

But Trump, he insisted, through the threat of tariffs, and the aggressive limiting of Chinese investments in western countries, can reverse the advance of China’s economic advance: ‘If we were to go full on, and pull the trigger on that, you bring ‘em to their knees.’

What are the chances of America actually doing that, even with Trump? ‘Low,’ he says, ‘but the stakes are too great not to try.

‘We are going through a dark valley. People say I’m apocalyptic – I just look at facts, and I’ve been saying this for years and now it’s all coming to fruition. That’s why with Russia, the kleptocracy are not good guys, but eventually, we have to end the Cold War and we have to bring Russia into some sort of alliance or rapprochement with the west.’

If the west allows Russia to partner ‘with this [China-led] axis, the 21st century will be quite different.’

Even if you’re not inclined to agree with Bannon, it’s a fascinating interview and I recommend listening to the whole thing.

UPDATE: As I commented here, starting at 24:00 Bannon goes into some detail about the various weapons Trump has put on the table to wage economic war on China. Summary:

  1. Take China off the banking system or limit their access to capital markets – too much of a blunt instrument
  2. Scale of the tariffs – half a trillion dollars
  3. Section 301 investigations – no more forced technology transfers through joint ventures
  4. Executive actions on ZTE – “There’s 50 ZTEs. You could liquidate all of them in 30 days.”
  5. Proposal to ban investment in sensitive US technologies by companies with 25% Chinese ownership – limiting Chinese access to technology

Bannon:

If we were to go full on and pull the trigger on that, and converge those all in a point, you bring ’em to their knees right now.

Thanks to 罗臻 for highlighting this on his blog. His reflections on the unfolding situation are very interesting.

Edward Luttwak’s book The Rise of China vs. the Logic of Strategy is proving rather prescient.

The rare earths Achilles’ heel

Rare earths production in Russia

Nice rare earths you’ve got there. Be a shame if something… happened to the supply chain:

Despite an abundance of minerals reserves, America has become increasingly dependent on imports to meet demand. The U.S. Geological Survey reports that America is now 100 percent import-reliant for 21 minerals, and at least 50 percent import-reliant for another 29. Most troubling is that the U.S. is now 100 percent import-dependent for all of the 17 minerals that constitute the rare-earth minerals group. And China, which controls more than 95 percent of global rare-earth minerals production, has a monopoly.

Whether it’s cellphones, electric motors, batteries, aircraft, wind turbines or MRI machines, rare earths play an essential role. But it’s not just commercial manufacturing assembly lines that are vulnerable to an embargo; it’s also military hardware.

Whether it’s the advanced electronics and control systems in F-22 and F-35 aircraft, night vision devices, guidance, targeting systems, or dozens of other critical defense technologies, they’re all built with rare earth components. While the U.S. has a small strategic reserve of some of these minerals — to provide a short-term supply for our military supply chain — we have allowed ourselves to become unnervingly comfortable in China’s vise.

The executive order President Trump signed Friday ordering a government-wide review of America’s defense industry aims to help fulfill Trump’s promise to “rebuild” the military, a top U.S. trade official says.

Just a few decades ago, the U.S. was the world’s largest rare earths producer. The erosion of our production and its shift to China is a complex story, but the common thread across our growing minerals-import dependence is a regulatory approach to mining that has seen investment flee despite world-class resources. For example, the U.S. possesses 13 percent of global rare-earth minerals reserves, with significant deposits in California, Alaska, Idaho, Montana and Missouri. Yet increased import reliance has become a national security issue.

This needs to be fixed ASAP. It’s really not that hard. Some ideas from a previous article:

The first step to a whole-of-market approach to spur innovation in minerals production is removing regulatory hurdles that dissuade would-be investors. Most notably, the United States must accelerate its mine permitting process. The current seven to 10 year timeline is simply untenable. Australia and Canada adhere to similarly stringent environmental guidelines, yet maintain permitting processes that average just two years. […]

The Pentagon must also focus on existing Department of Defense programs designed to support the U.S. defense industrial base. Each branch of service has a ManTech program intended to improve the productivity and responsiveness of the industrial base and to enable manufacturing technologies. In the president’s fiscal 2019 budget request, the Army, Navy, and Air Force are only requesting approximately $60 million each for ManTech. Furthermore, the Pentagon only requested $38 million for Defense Production Act (DPA) purchases—a defense-wide program focused on expanding and restoring domestic production capacity. This is down from the $63 million requested for DPA in FY2018. With a $700 billion defense budget, dedicating just 0.025 percent of the budget to the next generation of manufacturing technologies is nowhere near enough to catch up to China and shore up domestic capabilities.

Pathetic, is it not? This goes back to what I was saying about the need for an industrial policy. Securing the minerals supply chain should be one element (heh) of a technology-focused economic strategy designed to restore American self-sufficiency and maintain America’s military edge.

China aims to overtake “slower vehicle” US

China has big plans for enhancing its military power around the globe, is bracing for increased frictions with Japan and other neighbors, and sees the US as a power in decline, according to a leaked document:

China’s military reforms are aimed at expanding its military might from the traditional focus on land territories to maritime influence to protect the nation’s strategic interests in a new era, according to an internal reader of China’s Central Military Commission obtained by Kyodo News.

If the reforms progress, the reader points to intensifying friction with neighboring countries, including Japan, in the East and South China Seas and elsewhere. It also suggests the willingness of China to overtake the United States in military strength. […]

“The lessons of history teach us that strong military might is important for a country to grow from being big to being strong,” it said. “A strong military is the way to avoid the ‘Thucydides Trap’ and escape the obsession that war is unavoidable between an emerging power and a ruling hegemony.”

A Thucydides Trap is a phrase used to refer to when a rising power causes fear in an established power that escalates toward war.

Military reforms are therefore a significant “turning point” for any given emerging country to “overtake a slower vehicle on a curve,” it said, suggesting that the United States is in its decline.

Watch the subs

The broad outlines of the next world war are beginning to take shape:

The world’s three largest naval powers are all developing the next generation of their nuclear submarine fleets, accelerating the underwater arms race between the United States, China and Russia.

For now, at least, analysts say America remains by far the most dominant submarine force, even as its chief rivals work feverishly to overcome the U.S. advantages. Each country appears to have different strategic goals, with the U.S. bent on gaining greater cost and operating efficiencies while the Chinese and Russian are keenly focused on technological advances and achieving greater stealth.

I’m no military expert, but focusing on cost and operating efficiencies, rather than overwhelming technological dominance, seems like a sure path to losing the next war.

SSBNs, or “boomers,” hide in the ocean and can launch nuclear ballistic missiles at an enemy anywhere in the world even if the rest of a nation’s nuclear triad of air- and ground-based missiles is destroyed. They are the guarantors of mutually assured destruction in the event of nuclear war.

Some analysts say that these boomers will be increasingly crucial to the national security strategy of all three nations in the coming decade.

“There is no higher priority for the U.S. Navy than SSBN recapitalization,” said J.D. Williams, a retired Marine Corps colonel and senior defense researcher at RAND Corporation, who said SSBNs play a major role in the Navy’s big-picture decision making.

Now, why might that be? I thought the specter of global nuclear war was mostly a thing of the past.

Looks like we could be in for a fun century.

A shift in rhetoric

North Korea propaganda poster

Source: libertyherald.co.kr

Another sign that the move toward a US-North Korea rapprochement may be more than just “a triumph of showbiz over substance,” as some would have it:

Nix the nuclear warheads, cue the doves.

The North Korean government is erasing much of its anti-U.S. propaganda following dictator Kim Jong-un’s forays onto the world stage.

Gone are the posters depicting the U.S. as a “rotten, diseased, pirate nation” and promising “merciless revenge” on American forces for an imagined attack on the totalitarian country.

In their place are cheery messages touting praising the prospects for Korean reunification and the declaration Kim signed in April with South Korean President Moon Jae-in promising “lasting peace,” according to reports.

Too early to tell where this may lead, of course, but it’s certainly a welcome development.