Will US-China Tensions Boil Over?

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BRAHMA CHELLANEYProject Syndicate

China’s strategy has been to advance its foreign-policy objectives largely through bluff, bluster, and bullying. Without sparking direct armed conflict, China’s leaders have sought to intimidate and coerce neighboring countries into yielding to their demands.

In contrast to Russia’s frontal assaults on Ukraine, China’s expansionism in Asia – from the South China Sea to the Himalayas – has been pursued incrementally. For example, China’s ongoing military standoff with India along the two countries’ disputed Himalayan border was triggered by its stealthy land grabs in Indian Ladakh in April 2020.

The last thing China wants is to get into an armed conflict with the United States, a superior military power, because this would expose chinks in its armor.

By going to Taipei recently, US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi called China’s bluff. But her visit also served as a pretext for Chinese President Xi Jinping’s regime to step up coercive pressure on Taiwan by carrying out provocative military drills in a dress rehearsal for a blockade. Long before Pelosi considered visiting Taipei, China had been ramping up its campaign of intimidation, with its warplanes regularly crossing the median line in the Taiwan Strait.

Xi’s increasing troubles at home, including economic growth slowing almost to a halt, amplify the risk that he will resort to nationalist brinkmanship as a distraction. The odds are increasing that he will move against Taiwan in the two-year period between securing a norm-breaking third term as Communist Party chairman this November and the 2024 US presidential election.

But, rather than order a full-scale invasion, Xi is more likely to throttle Taiwan slowly. That will leave US President Joe Biden with difficult choices, with inaction likely to prove fatal for the island. A Taiwan fiasco on Biden’s watch, after his Afghanistan debacle and failure to deter Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, would gravely undermine America’s global power.

Brahma Chellaney

Brahma Chellaney, Professor of Strategic Studies at the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research and Fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin, is the author of nine books, including Asian Juggernaut; Water: Asia’s New Battleground; and Water, Peace, and War: Confronting the Global Water Crisis.

© Project Syndicate, 2022.

Will Taiwan be the next Ukraine on Biden’s watch?

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Brahma Chellaney, The Hill

President Biden has still to grasp that Taiwan is far more important than Ukraine to the future of American power in the world. Yet the likelihood is growing that, on Biden’s watch, Chinese President Xi Jinping would move on Taiwan, just as Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine.

In a forewarning of that, China has recently started claiming that it owns the critical international waterway, the Taiwan Strait. Just as it did earlier in the South China Sea — the strategic corridor between the Pacific and Indian Oceans, through which one-third of global maritime trade passes — Xi’s regime is seeking to advance its expansionism by laying an expansive claim to the Taiwan Strait, which, by connecting the South and East China Seas, serves as an important passage for commercial shipping as well as foreign naval vessels. 

The new claim signals that Xi is preparing to move on Taiwan at an opportune time — an action that would involve exercising maritime domain control.

By forcibly absorbing Taiwan, China would drive the final nail in the coffin of America’s global preeminence. A takeover of Taiwan would also give China a prized strategic and economic asset.

The defense of Taiwan has assumed greater significance for international security because three successive U.S. administrations have failed to credibly push back against China’s expansionism in the South China Sea, relying instead on rhetoric or symbolic actions.

Biden, rather than working to deter and thwart a possible Chinese attack on Taiwan, is seeking to shield his tentative rapprochement with China, which has been forged through a series of virtual meetings with Xi and by offering Beijing important concessions. This explains why Biden publicly pushed back against a Taiwan visit by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

It is important to remember that, much before Russia invaded Ukraine, Biden had begun to ease pressure on China. He effectively let Xi’s regime off the hook for both covering up COVID-19’s origins and failing to meet its commitments under the 2020 “phase one” trade deal with Washington. Biden also dropped fraud charges against the daughter of the founder of the military-linked Chinese tech giant Huawei. U.S. sanctions over China’s Muslim gulag remain essentially symbolic.

And now Biden is planning to roll back tariffs on Chinese goods, which will further fuel China’s spiraling trade surplus with America. After swelling by more than 25% last year to $396.6 billion, the trade surplus with the U.S. now makes up almost three-quarters of China’s total global surplus. 

The mammoth surplus is helping to keep the Chinese economy afloat at a time when growth has slowed almost to a halt, triggering rising unemployment and mortgage and debt crises. The situation has been made worse by Xi’s lockdown-centered, zero-tolerance approach to COVID-19, which is breeding anger and resistance amid a property implosion.

Xi’s growing domestic troubles at a critical time when he is seeking a norm-breaking third term as Communist Party chairman heighten the risk of the Chinese leader resorting to nationalist brinkmanship as a distraction. After all, initiating a foreign intervention or crisis to divert attention from domestic challenges is a tried-and-true technique of leaders of major powers.

In his latest virtual meeting with Biden on July 28, Xi sharply warned against U.S. interference in the Taiwan issue, saying that those who “play with fire will perish by it.” Biden, by contrast, struck a defensive tone, reaffirming the U.S. commitment to a one-China policy and reassuring Xi that American “policy has not changed and that the United States strongly opposes anyone who will change the status quo or undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.”

Having swallowed Hong Kong, the Chinese Communist Party seems itching to move on Taiwan, a technological powerhouse that plays a central role in the international semiconductor business. Annexing Taiwan will make China a more formidable rival to America and advance its goal of achieving global preeminence by the 100th anniversary of communist rule in 2049. 

Against this background, Biden’s conciliatory approach toward China threatens to embolden Xi’s designs against Taiwan.

Taiwan’s imperative is to expand its global footprint in order to help safeguard its autonomous status. Instead of aiding that effort, Biden inexplicably excluded that island democracy from his recently unveiled Indo-Pacific Economic Framework — an economic platform that seeks to promote cooperation among its member-states.

Biden’s pursuit of a rapprochement with China also explains his administration’s proposal to roll back tariffs on Chinese products, an action that would break his promise not to unilaterally lift tariffs unless Beijing’s behavior improved.

Not once, not twice, but at least three times Biden has said in recent months that he is willing to get militarily involved to defend Taiwan, only to have his senior officials walk back his comments on every occasion. The last time when he sowed international confusion afresh, Biden himself walked back his Taiwan comments, telling reporters a day later, “My policy has not changed at all.”

In seeking to placate China, Biden is sending out contradictory signals, leaving Taiwan vexed and confused.

Instead of privately advising Pelosi against visiting Taiwan, Biden gratuitously told a reporter that “the military” thinks a Pelosi visit to Taiwan is “not a good idea right now.” Pelosi then told the media, “I think what the president is saying is that maybe the military was afraid our plane would get shot down or something like that by the Chinese.”

The president’s unusual remark conveyed American weakness by implying that the U.S. military was not capable of securing the flight path of the Pelosi-carrying military aircraft to Taiwan or effectively responding to any Chinese provocation. The comment also encouraged Xi’s regime to escalate its bullying threats to stymie a Taiwan visit by the person second in line to the U.S. presidency.

More fundamentally, if Biden fears a Pelosi visit to Taipei would set back his nascent rapprochement with China and ignite new tensions, it raises serious doubts whether he will have the political will to help defeat a Chinese attack on Taiwan.

Xi is also likely encouraged by Biden’s failure to force Russian forces to retreat from Ukraine, despite Washington spearheading unprecedented Western actions against Russia, including weaponizing finance, slapping wide-ranging sanctions and arming Ukraine with a plethora of sophisticated weapons.

With Biden’s poll numbers already in the tank, the president is likely to emerge further weakened from the approaching midterm election. By contrast, a strengthened Xi securing a precedent-defying third term is likely to be bolder and more assertive in pursuing his geopolitical ambitions.

Instead of ordering a full-scale invasion, Xi may begin to slowly throttle Taiwan so as to force it to merge with China. A strangulation strategy would likely include blockading the Taiwan Strait (which will close off Taiwan’s main port, Kaohsiung) and seeking to cut off Taiwan’s undersea cables, internet connections and energy imports.

Make no mistake: Xi perceives an advantageous window of opportunity to accomplish what he has called a “historic mission” to incorporate Taiwan. And, in the style recommended by ancient Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu, Xi’s aggression will likely begin with stealth, deception, surprise and innovative methods.

For Xi, taking Taiwan is essential to achieving larger strategic goals, including making China a world power second to none by displacing America from regional and global order.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and the author of nine books, including the award-winning “Water: Asia’s New Battleground” (Georgetown University Press). Follow him on Twitter @Chellaney.

Ukraine war hastens Sri Lanka’s economic meltdown

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Internal factors alone cannot explain Sri Lanka’s economic collapse. In a forewarning of wider international instability, Sri Lanka slid from a serious balance-of-payments crisis to bankruptcy due to the spiraling global fuel and food prices triggered by the Western sanctions against Russia.

Brahma Chellaney, Nikkei Asia

Auto rickshaw drivers line up to buy gas near a fuel station in Colombo on April 13: A forewarning that more vulnerable countries could go bust. © AP

Sri Lanka’s economic collapse exemplifies how poorer countries are paying the price of Western sanctions on Russia following its invasion of Ukraine.

Instead of focusing on how the sanctions are fueling a global energy and food crisis, much of the international attention is on the new Cold War between the West and Moscow. Unable to pay for basic imports and crippled by domestic shortages of fuel, food and medicine, Sri Lanka is facing its worst financial crisis since independence in 1948.

After hundreds of thousands of protesters marched on Colombo over the weekend, and the risk of violent unrest intensified, Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and interim Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe separately announced they were stepping down. Gotabaya, however, fled the country on a military jet without handing in his resignation.

Rooted in fiscal imbalances, external debt and government mismanagement, Sri Lanka’s economic crisis predates the Western imposition of unparalleled sanctions on Russia over its attack on Ukraine.

But, thanks to spiraling international fuel and food prices in recent months, Sri Lanka has slid from a serious balance-of-payments crisis to bankruptcy, with Wickremesinghe declaring that the national economy had “completely collapsed.”

By taking out a crucial chunk of the global energy supply, the sanctions against Russia have triggered a surge in inflation in Western nations, which now confront cost-of-living crises. But in poorer countries, the sanctions are compounding national debt woes and threatening livelihoods and social stability.

Russia, the world’s largest exporter of oil and gas before the war, has been critical to stability in international energy markets, while its fertilizer exports remain vital for global food production, in which energy accounts for up to 30% of the cost.

Financial sanctions have made it so difficult to make payments to Russia that supplies of even sanctions-exempt commodities such as fertilizers and wheat — of which Russia is also the world’s biggest exporter — have been disrupted. Russia, for its part, has blocked shipments of Ukraine’s leading exports: sunflower oil, corn and wheat.

It is these unintended consequences that have hastened Sri Lanka’s economic meltdown. The rapid depletion of foreign exchange reserves has left its citizens without basic necessities. Rolling electricity outages and queues for fuel that run for miles have forced authorities to temporarily shut schools and offices.

Sri Lanka’s debt crisis first caught international attention in 2017 when, unable to repay Chinese loans, the nation handed a strategic port complex at Hambantota to China on a 99-year lease. Despite slipping into a debt trap, Sri Lanka went ahead with other grandiose Chinese projects, including a massive development project across the bay from Colombo on reclaimed land.

Other factors also contributed to making Sri Lanka’s debt unsustainable. A terrorist bombing spree on Easter Sunday in 2019 that killed nearly 300 people and led to a near cessation of foreign tourist arrivals, followed by the COVID pandemic, devastated the resource-poor nation’s revenue stream.

The Rajapaksa family, which has long dominated Sri Lanka’s political landscape and was instrumental in opening the door to China, racked up debt on a grand scale by committing to an array of ambitious infrastructure projects, several of which continue to bleed money. Worse still, drastic tax cuts in 2019 wiped out about a third of the government’s revenues.

More recently, after violent protests toppled Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government in May, his brother, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, appointed an old political rival, former Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, to head an interim government and help rescue the nation from the economic death spiral.

Wickremesinghe, whose private home was set on fire by arsonists on Saturday, earlier described the national situation as unprecedented. “We’ve had difficult times [before]… But not like this. I have not seen… people without fuel, without food.”

Sri Lanka has confronted multiple economic crises in the past — since 1965 the country has secured 16 International Monetary Fund loans — but its current talks with the IMF for a bailout package are difficult because, in Wickremesinghe’s words, “we are participating in the negotiations as a bankrupt country.” An IMF approval appears months away.

China, now the world’s biggest official creditor, has balked at paring Sri Lanka’s debt, saying it would set a precedent for other borrowing countries to demand similar relief. With China’s typical loan contract compelling a borrowing country to keep confidential even the loan’s existence, Sri Lanka is reeling under a hidden debt problem, with its actual debt to Beijing perhaps making up as much as 20% of its total external debt.

To stay afloat in recent months, Sri Lanka has largely relied on help from India, which has provided over $4 billion in credit lines and other aid. But Wickremesinghe says Sri Lanka urgently needs more assistance, especially from India, Japan, the U.S. and China.

Sri Lanka’s economic meltdown, which has forced it to seek Russian oil, wheat and fertilizers on credit, may be an extreme example of the global fallout from the U.S.-led sanctions on Moscow.

But violent demonstrations from Latin America to Africa over the dizzying spiral in fuel and food prices are a forewarning that more vulnerable countries could go bust. “I think by the end of the year, you could see the impact in other countries” as well, Wickremesinghe said.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and author of nine books, including “Asian Juggernaut: The Rise of China, India and Japan.”

The Fall of the House of Rajapaksa

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Through a combination of authoritarianism, nepotism, cronyism, and hubris, the Rajapaksa family weighed down Sri Lanka’s economy with more debt than it could possibly bear. The country’s next leaders will have to address shortages of basic necessities, rebuild a wrecked economy, and reestablish the rule of law.

BRAHMA CHELLANEY, Project Syndicate

For much of nearly two decades, the four Rajapaksa brothers and their sons have run Sri Lanka like a family business – and a disorderly one, at that. With their grand construction projects and spendthrift ways, they saddled Sri Lanka with unsustainable debts, driving the country into its worst economic crisis since independence. Now, the dynasty has fallen.

Mahinda Rajapaksa was instrumental in establishing the Rajapaksa dynasty. After becoming president in 2005, he ruled with an iron fist for a decade, attacking civil liberties, expanding presidential powers (including abolishing term limits), and making bad deal after bad deal with China. Throughout this process, he kept his family close, with his younger brother Gotabaya holding the defense portfolio.

But in 2015, Mahinda narrowly lost the presidential election, and the Rajapaksas were briefly driven from power. During that time, parliament restored the presidential term limit, ruling out another Mahinda presidency. Yet the family quickly devised a plan to restore their dynasty: Gotabaya would renounce his US citizenship and run for president.

Gotabaya was well-positioned to win. After all, he had been defense secretary in 2009 when Mahinda ordered the final military offensive against the Tamil Tiger rebels, bringing a brutal 26-year civil war to a decisive end. With that, the Rajapaksa brothers emerged as heroes among Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese majority.

To be sure, the final offensive killed as many as 40,000 civilians and sparked international accusations of war crimes. The United Nations described it as a “grave assault on the entire regime of international law.” According to Sarath Fonseka, the wartime military commander, Gotabaya ordered the summary execution of surrendering rebel leaders. In California, where he was previously domiciled, Gotabaya faces civil charges over alleged war crimes.

But the Rajapaksa brothers simply presented themselves as hardheaded custodians of Sinhalese interests. And, thanks largely to his ethno-nationalist credentials, Gotabaya won the 2019 election – at which point he immediately appointed Mahinda as his prime minister. Mahinda then appointed his two sons, his other two brothers, and a nephew as ministers or to other government positions.

The same year, 277 people were killed, and hundreds more wounded, in bombings carried out by Islamist extremists on Easter Sunday. The attack highlighted tensions that had been simmering since 2009: though the military offensive marginalized the Hindu-majority Tamils, the war’s end sowed the seeds of religious conflict between the Buddhist-majority Sinhalese and Sri Lanka’s Muslims, who constitute one-tenth of the country’s population. The Easter Sunday terrorist bombings provided new ammunition for the Rajapaksas to whip up Sinhalese nationalism.

Beyond deepening ethnic and religious fault lines, Gotabaya followed his brother in establishing an imperial presidency, exemplified by the passage in 2020 of a constitutional amendment expanding the president’s power to dissolve the legislature. And he helped to push Sri Lanka further into the economic death spiral that his brother had helped create, not least through his dealings with China.

During Mahinda’s rule, as China shielded the Rajapaksas from war-crime charges at the UN, it won major infrastructure contracts in Sri Lanka and became the country’s leading lender. Debt to China piled up, incurred largely over the construction of monuments to the Rajapaksa dynasty in the family’s home district of Hambantota.

Examples include “the world’s emptiest” airport, a cricket stadium with more seats than the district capital’s population, and a $1.4 billion seaport that remained largely idle until it was signed away to China in 2017 on a 99-year lease. The most extravagant China-backed project is the $13-billion “Port City,” which is being built on land reclaimed from the sea close to the center of the capital, Colombo.

China’s modus operandi is to cut deals with strongmen and exploit their countries’ vulnerabilities to gain a strategic foothold. China’s larger aims in Sri Lanka were suggested in 2014, when two Chinese submarines made separate unannounced visits to Colombo, docking at a newly built container terminal owned largely by Chinese state companies.

So, China gained leverage over a country located near some of the world’s most important shipping lanes, and Sri Lanka became increasingly mired in debt, including “hidden debt” to China from loans whose public disclosure was prohibited by their terms. But hubris prevented the Rajapaksas from recognizing the looming crisis. On the contrary, they enacted a sweeping tax cut in 2019 that wiped out a third of the country’s tax revenues.

Then the pandemic hit, crushing the tourism and garment industries – Sri Lanka’s two main foreign-exchange earners. More recently, the war in Ukraine, by triggering soaring international energy and food prices, helped to drain Sri Lanka’s foreign reserves, creating fuel, food, medicine, and electricity shortages. It was the final straw for many Sri Lankans, who took to the streets in droves.

On May 9, Mahinda reluctantly resigned from his post as prime minister, in an effort to appease protesters. But protests continued to rage, culminating in the storming of the seaside presidential palace by demonstrators. Gotabaya fled minutes earlier before conveying his decision to resign.

Within Sri Lanka, photos of protesters lounging on the president’s bed and cooking in his backyard have become a symbol of people’s power. But they should also serve as a warning to political dynasties elsewhere in the world, from Asia to Latin America. When a family dominates a government or party, accountability tends to suffer, often leading to catastrophe. This can cause even the most entrenched dynasty to fall – and swiftly.

There is also a lesson for other heavily indebted countries. Unless they take action to make their debts sustainable, they could quickly be overwhelmed by crisis.

As for Sri Lanka, its next leaders will have to address shortages of basic necessities, rebuild a wrecked economy, reestablish the rule of law, and hold responsible those who caused the current disaster. But in a country where politics is a blood sport, one should not underestimate the challenge of overcoming the Rajapaksas’ corrosive legacy.

Brahma Chellaney

Brahma Chellaney, Professor of Strategic Studies at the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research and Fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin, is the author of nine books, including Asian Juggernaut; Water: Asia’s New Battleground; and Water, Peace, and War: Confronting the Global Water Crisis.

© Project Syndicate, 2022.

Have Western sanctions against Russia boomeranged?

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BY BRAHMA CHELLANEY, The Hill

With the Russian invasion of Ukraine now in its fifth month, Western leaders are beginning to recognize, if not openly acknowledge, that their unprecedented sanctions against Moscow are hurting their own countries’ economies without significantly crimping the Kremlin’s war machine. As the recent back-to-back Group of Seven and NATO summits underscored, Western leaders are straining to find new ways to deter Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In fact, the fallout from the U.S.-led sanctions on Russia has ended the era of cheap oil and gas and contributed to surging inflation, supply-chain disruptions and a looming recession in the West. In poorer countries, by sending fuel and food prices higher, the sanctions are threatening livelihoods and political stability.

Sanctions historically have produced unintended and undesirable consequences, yet they have become the policy tool of choice for the United States.

U.S.-led sanctions on relatively small and economically vulnerable nations like Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Syria and Venezuela have essentially failed to change their behavior. But that reality did little to temper Western leaders’ strategic expectations when they launched a comprehensive, sanctions-centered hybrid war against Russia, a commodities powerhouse with the world’s largest nuclear-weapons arsenal

The greater the size and capability of the target country, the lesser is usually the deterrent effect of sanctions. As the West is now discovering, sanctions against a large, powerful state not only entail significant costs for the countries imposing them, but they also reward nations that refuse to enforce them. Indeed, the sanctions have delivered Russia a windfall from high-price energy exports that no Western-sponsored price cap can significantly roll back.

Today, the increasingly apparent limits of the sanctions approach against Russia are highlighting the limits of Western power. With economic power moving east, the West needs a broad range of international partners more than ever to make a difference. But much of the non-Western world has not joined the West’s sanctions campaign, with all the major democracies in the Global South, Israel and the Gulf Arab states declining to take sides in the NATO-Russia conflict.

The principal lesson from the Russian aggression is that President Biden’s threats to inflict severe economic punishment failed to deter Putin from launching an all-out invasion. And that the Western imposition of sanctions has had little effect on Russia’s war effort.

Yet, ignoring that lesson, the clamor for more and more punitive actions has led to a steadily increasing number of sanctions against Russia and a greater flow of lethal aid to Ukraine, as if there is no threshold that would satiate the Western urge for reprisals or military involvement in the conflict.

Russia already occupies one-fifth of Ukraine, the largest country located entirely within Europe, as Avril D. Haines, the director of national intelligence, acknowledged last week. What Haines didn’t disclose is that Russia now controls Ukraine’s mineral-rich industrial heartland, more than 90% of its energy resources (including all offshore oil), and much of its port and shipping infrastructure. Russia has also created a strategically important land bridge to Crimea and turned the Sea of Azov into its inland waters.

Biden boasted too soon in March that sanctions were “crushing the Russian economy” and that “the ruble is reduced to rubble.” The sanctions campaign against Russia has scarcely been effective, with Putin’s war machine showing no sign of easing up.

One key reason is that Russia’s finances remain strong. Despite Western governments freezing about $400 billion in Russian central bank assets and at least $240 billion in private wealth, Moscow has roughly $300 billion in foreign currency and gold reserves. The ruble has now hit a seven-year high against the dollar.

The Western discourse is finally beginning to face up to the unpalatable realities. Claims that “Russia is losing” and that “Putin is running out of options to avoid defeat” have given way to open concern that, despite the unparalleled sanctions on Moscow and the frenzied arming of Ukraine, Russia will end up gaining permanent control over sizable Ukrainian territories, thereby unambiguously demonstrating that aggression works.

This, in turn, is likely to encourage China to move on Taiwan, potentially embroiling the U.S. and its ally Japan in a conflict whose geopolitical fallout and economic and human toll could be greater than that from the Ukraine war. Just as Putin was clear about his plans for invading Ukraine, so has Chinese President Xi Jinping been clear about forcibly absorbing Taiwan — a development that would drive the final nail in the coffin of America’s global preeminence.

That the Western sanctions campaign against Russia has largely been ineffective will only embolden Xi’s expansionist agenda. Xi just took a victory lap in Hong Kong after rapidly turning one of Asia’s freest cities into a repressive police state. Like his expansionism in the South China Sea and the Himalayas, Xi brought Hong Kong to heel without incurring any international costs.

When sanctions have proved ineffectual in changing Russia’s behavior, any similar sanctions would fare even worse against China, whose economy is about 10 times larger than Russia’s. Indeed, the damage to Western economies from Russia-type sanctions against China would likely dwarf the current economic pain that the West is bearing from its sanctions on Moscow.

The West’s economic pain from sanctions that are doing little to hurt Russia’s war effort or push Putin to the negotiating table represents a classic example of cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face. Western leaders clearly overestimated their capacity to undermine the Russian economy and Putin’s hold on power, while underestimating the resilience of a country that historically has endured extraordinary economic and human toll (including in World War II) to pursue strategic objectives.

Some of the West’s economic pain is self-inflicted. At a time when global supplies are already tight, Europe’s decision to switch from cheap Russian energy to alternative supplies has led to stratospheric international prices and a scramble to find new sources of supply, besides stoking a costly competition with the thriving economies of Asia, the world’s largest energy consumer.

The European Union (EU) has agreed on a time frame to wean itself off Russian oil and gas. But Moscow is intent on not letting the EU dictate the timetable for phasing out Russian supplies. With European gas prices already six times higher than a year ago, a possible Russian cutoff of gas supplies to punish the EU for sanctions will compound the already-grim European economic situation.

In the U.S., the soaring prices of gasoline, diesel and natural gas, which have fueled runaway inflation, are due to rising energy exports, with American energy producers seeking to profit from the skyrocketing global prices by selling their products to the highest bidders in international markets. The profits bonanza for the U.S. exporters of crude oil, gas and refined petroleum products is proving costly for American consumers.

Meanwhile, spiraling international food prices are contributing to an alarming hunger problem in poor countries. The Russian invasion has blocked shipment of Ukraine’s leading exports — sunflower oil, corn and wheat. But worse in global impact is the sanctions-linked disruption in supplies of fertilizers and wheat from the world’s No. 1 exporter of both, Russia.

In the face of the global food and energy crises, the West risks losing the international battle of narratives.

This may explain why the Biden administration, despite a wholly punitive approach toward Russia, is now offering to write “comfort letters” for international companies reassuring them that they won’t face penalties for importing Russian fertilizers and grains. But, given the sweeping sanctions against Moscow, such an offer may provide little comfort for Western importers, many of whom have reduced their exposure to Russian commodities because of the sanctions-related difficulty of making payments into Russia.

Having played all his major economic cards, Biden’s sanctions drive has run into a dead-end, even as U.S. and European economic woes worsen.

This is redolent of how America’s 1930 Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act, by substantially raising import duties and prompting other countries to retaliate, deepened the Great Depression and contributed to the rise of political extremism, which then enabled Adolf Hitler to gain power. The risk now is that, instead of the wished-for economic collapse and regime change in Russia, the Western sanctions campaign could transform global geopolitics by provoking a Russian nationalist backlash and cementing the Sino-Russian axis.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and the author of nine books, including the award-winning “Water: Asia’s New Battleground” (Georgetown University Press). Follow him on Twitter @Chellaney.

The Global Dam Frenzy

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There is no question that the world must cut its reliance on fossil fuels. But building more hydroelectric dams – especially in highly biodiverse river basins, such as the Amazon, the Brahmaputra, the Congo, and the Mekong – is not the way to do it.

BRAHMA CHELLANEY, Project Syndicate

The era of cheap oil and gas is over. Russia’s war in Ukraine – or, more specifically, Europe’s ambitious effort to wean itself off Russian fossil fuels at a time when international supplies are already tight – is driving up global energy prices and raising the specter of a global energy crisis. Alternative sources of energy are looking more appealing by the day, as they should. But the embrace of hydropower, in particular, carries its own risks.

Hydropower is currently the most widely used renewable, accounting for almost half of all low-carbon electricity generation worldwide. Its appeal is rooted in several factors. For decades, it was the most cost-competitive renewable, and many hydropower plants can increase or decrease their electricity generation much faster than nuclear, coal, and natural-gas plants. And whereas wind and solar output can fluctuate significantly, hydropower can be dependably produced using reservoirs, making it a good complement to these more variable sources.

But there is a hitch. The most common type of hydropower plant entails the damming of rivers and streams. And hydroelectric dams have a large and lasting ecological footprint.

For starters, while hydroelectric generation itself emits no greenhouse gases, dams and reservoirs emit significant amounts of methane, carbon dioxide, and nitrous oxide. Under some circumstances – such as in tropical zones – they can generate more greenhouse gases than fossil-fuel power plants. One study found that methane – a greenhouse gas that is at least 34 times more potent than CO2 – can make up some 80% of emissions from artificial reservoirs, though a wide variety of geographical, climatic, seasonal, and vegetational factors affect reservoir emissions.

Moreover, while hydroelectric dams are often touted for delivering clean drinking water, controlling floods, and supporting irrigation, they also change river temperatures and water quality and impede the flow of nutrient-rich sediment. Such sediment is essential to help re-fertilize degraded soils in downstream plains, prevent the erosion of the river channel, and preserve biodiversity.

When dams trap the sediment flowing in from the mountains, deltas shrink and sink. This allows salt water to intrude inland, thereby disturbing the delicate balance between fresh water and salt water that is essential for the survival of critical species in coastal estuaries and lagoons. It also exposes deltas to the full force of storms and hurricanes. In Asia, heavily populated deltas – home to megacities like Tianjin, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Bangkok, and Dhaka – are already retreating fast.

Dams also carry high social costs. In 2007, then-Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao revealed that China had relocated 22.9 million people to make way for water projects – a figure larger than the populations of more than 100 countries. The Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest hydropower station, which became fully operational in 2012, displaced more than 1.4 million people.

To top it all off, there is good reason to doubt hydropower’s reliability. If mitigation measures prove unable to slow global warming adequately – an increasingly likely scenario – the frequency and intensity of droughts will continue to rise. As water levels in rivers and reservoirs drop – exacerbated by evaporation from open reservoirs – so will the water pressure needed to spin turbines, resulting in less electricity. And this is to say nothing of giant dams’ ability to compound downstream droughts, as has been seen in the Mekong River Basin.

Given that dams are expensive, years-long undertakings, the wisdom of investing in building more of them is questionable, to say the least. But the world’s love affair with dams continues. Almost two-thirds of the Earth’s long rivers have already been modified by humans, with most of the world’s almost 60,000 large dams having been built over the last seven decades. And, global dam construction continues at a breakneck pace. In 2014, at least 3,700 significant dams were under construction or planned. Since then, the dam boom has become more apparent, with the developing world now a global hotspot of such construction.

While dam-building activity can be seen from the Balkans to South America, China leads the way as both the world’s most-dammed country and its largest exporter of dams. From 2001 to 2020, China lent over $44 billion for the Chinese construction of hydropower projects totaling over 27 gigawatts in 38 countries.

China is not hesitating to build dams even in seismically active areas, despite the risk of triggering a devastating earthquake. And China really should know better: its own scientists linked the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake, which killed more than 87,000 people in the Tibetan Plateau’s eastern rim, to the new Zipingpu Dam, located near the quake’s epicenter.

There is no question that the world must cut its reliance on fossil fuels. But building more hydroelectric dams – especially in the Earth’s most biodiverse river basins, such as the Amazon, the Brahmaputra, the Congo, and the Mekong – is not the way to do it. On the contrary, the global dam frenzy amounts to a kind of a Faustian bargain, in which we trade our planet’s long-term health for a fleeting sense of energy security.

Brahma Chellaney

Brahma Chellaney, Professor of Strategic Studies at the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research and Fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin, is the author of nine books, including Asian Juggernaut; Water: Asia’s New Battleground; and Water, Peace, and War: Confronting the Global Water Crisis.

© Project Syndicate, 2022.

India’s front-line battle against autocracy more important than ever

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Chinese troops dismantling their bunkers at Pangong Tso region in Ladakh in February 2021: China has turned other captured areas into permanent all-weather military encampments. © AP

The risk of renewed skirmishes with China is growing

Brahma Chellaney, Nikkei Asia

Two years after nighttime hand-to-hand combat with Indian troops resulted in China’s first combat deaths since its 1979 Vietnam invasion, the Chinese and Indian militaries remain locked in multiple standoffs over some of the most inhospitable terrains on Earth.

The war in Ukraine may be obscuring China’s border conflict with India, including the largest Himalayan buildup of rival forces in history. But as U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin reminded the annual Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore last weekend, “we see Beijing continue to harden its position along the border that it shares with India.”

With tens of thousands of Chinese and Indian troops facing off against each other, the risks of renewed skirmishing, if not outright war, are significant.

The clashes of June 15, 2020, were the bloodiest of a series of skirmishes or scuffles that began more than six weeks earlier after China, taking advantage of India’s preoccupation with enforcing the world’s strictest coronavirus lockdown, stealthily infiltrated key border areas in the high-altitude Indian region of Ladakh and established heavily fortified bases there.

The surprise encroachments were not nearly as clever a plan as Chinese President Xi Jinping probably thought when he gave his go-ahead. Far from handing China an easy win, they have plunged Sino-Indian relations to a nadir, kept the border crisis simmering and made the fact of a major Indian military buildup inevitable.

The June 15, 2020, clashes not just marked a watershed in India-China relations; they also stood out for their savagery. With a 1996 bilateral agreement prohibiting the two countries’ soldiers from using guns at the border in peacetime, encroaching Chinese soldiers employed metal fence posts and clubs wrapped in barbed wire in a post-sunset ambush attack on an Indian army patrol.

Some Indian soldiers were beaten to death, others were thrown from the soaring cliffs into the fast-flowing Galwan River before Indian reinforcements arrived and fought pitched hand-to-hand battles with the intruders under a moonlit sky.

After the hours-long fighting, India quickly honored its 20 fallen soldiers as martyrs and then established a war memorial to commemorate their sacrifices. But China has still not disclosed its death toll, which U.S. intelligence reportedly placed at 35 and Russia’s government-owned Tass news agency estimated at 45. More than eight months after the clashes, Beijing announced posthumous awards for four Chinese soldiers without revealing the full death toll.

This should not be a surprise, as the Chinese Communist Party rarely reveals the full truth: it disclosed the Chinese death toll from the 1962 war with India more than three decades later in 1994 after significantly lowering the figure.

With the world’s most powerful propaganda machine, the CCP seeks to manufacture reality. While releasing a propaganda video of the clashes, it jailed at least six Chinese bloggers for criticizing its death toll cover-up, with one blogger who had 2.5 million followers on Weibo sentenced to eight months in prison. More recently, it picked the military commander who led the ambush attack as a torchbearer of the Beijing Winter Olympics, provocatively feting him as a hero.

The border crisis has also cast an unflattering light on India, which has instituted no inquiry into why its army was taken unawares by the multiple Chinese intrusions, some of them deep into Indian territory.

India is the world’s third-largest defense spender after the U.S. and China, with the army continuing to appropriate the lion’s share of the defense budget. Yet over the years, the Indian army has repeatedly been caught napping by the cross-border actions of China and Pakistan.

Indeed, it has become somewhat of a tradition in India that, whenever an adversary springs a military surprise, the army generals take cover behind the political leaders, and the ruling politicians hide behind the generals, allowing accountability to go unenforced.

Chinese forces braved harsh weather to intrude into forbidding landscapes, just before thawing ice reopened access routes. But the Indian army ignored warning signs from China’s heightened military activities near the frontier, including an unusually large, wintertime troop exercise that became the launchpad for the aggression.

Yet not a single Indian army commander was relieved of his command for the fiasco. Worse still, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has maintained a conspicuous silence on the military crisis for the past two years.

Instead, Modi has put faith in negotiations, with Beijing using endless talks to string India along while frenetically building new warfare infrastructure that General Charles A. Flynn, head of the U.S. Army Pacific, recently called “eye-opening” and “alarming.”

While withdrawing from some positions it seized, China has turned other captured areas into permanent all-weather military encampments, with large combat-ready forces and newly built roads and heliports that allow front-line positions to be quickly reinforced with fresh troop inductions.

Xi’s aim against India, as in the East and South China Seas, is for China to ultimately win without fighting by employing coercion under the shadow of its deployed military might. To Modi’s credit, India appears determined to frustrate that goal, vowing to sustain the military standoffs, despite the risk of a full-scale war, until China rolls back its encroachments.

India, the world’s largest democracy, is on the front-lines of the battle between democracy and autocracy. If China is able to coerce India into submission, it will open the path for the world’s biggest autocracy to gain supremacy in Asia and reshape the international order in its favor. No wonder Secretary Austin said in Singapore that India’s “growing military capability and technological prowess can be a stabilizing force in the region.”

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and author of nine books, including “Asian Juggernaut: The Rise of China, India and Japan.”

Why is Biden appeasing China?

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BRAHMA CHELLANEY, The Hill

President Biden is yet to make his long-anticipated China strategy speech to define his approach to a country that has emerged as the greatest rival that the United States has ever faced. Instead, Secretary of State Antony Blinken laid out the administration’s approach in a speech that acknowledged that China poses “the most serious long-term challenge to the international order.”

In Blinken’s words, “China is the only country with both the intent to reshape the international order and, increasingly, the economic, diplomatic, military and technological power to do it.” 

The president, however, has been fixated since taking office on the weaker of America’s two main foes, Russia, while letting China escape scot-free for covering up the COVID-19 virus’s origins and for detaining more than a million Muslims in internment camps. Indeed, the Biden administration labels only Russia as an adversary, while calling China merely a competitor.

A careful examination of Blinken’s speech, the White House’s “Indo-Pacific Strategy” released in February and Biden’s own actions since last year confirms that a conciliatory approach toward China is taking root, despite occasional tough-sounding rhetoric.

Under President Trump’s administration, a fundamental shift in China policy occurred with the aim of reining in a country that, with U.S. help, became America’s main rival. The paradigm shift formally ended America’s “China fantasy,” which lasted over 45 years — a period in which successive presidents, from Richard Nixon to Barack Obama, aided China’s rise in the naive hope that, as China became increasingly prosperous, it would naturally pursue economic and even political liberalization.

Backed by a broadly bipartisan consensus in favor of ending China’s free ride, this policy change promised to reshape global geopolitics and trade.

Biden, however, has unobtrusively undertaken a course correction, with Blinken’s speech offering more evidence of the administration’s efforts to “coexist and cooperate” with the world’s largest autocracy.

Blinken’s soothing message for Beijing was that the U.S. does not seek to block China’s “role as a major power,” or hinder its economic growth or “transform” its totalitarian system. “We are not looking for conflict or a new Cold War. To the contrary, we’re determined to avoid both,” he declared.

In contrast to the Trump administration’s launch of an ideological offensive against China as a predatory communist state without political legitimacy or the rule of law, Team Biden has repeatedly forsworn any intention to transform that country’s political system in any way.

Biden himself assured Chinese President Xi Jinping in a virtual summit meeting last November that the U.S. will not seek to change China’s political system or direct its alliances against it. And when he telephoned Xi last September, Biden, according to a U.S. background briefer, sought to explain American actions toward China “in a way that [is] not misinterpreted as … somehow trying to sort of undermine Beijing in particular ways.”

Similar reassurances are embedded in the Biden Indo-Pacific strategy document, which declares that, “Our objective is not to change the PRC [People’s Republic of China] but to shape the strategic environment in which it operates…” Contrast that with the administration’s publicly declared goal to “see Russia weakened,” including triggering its economic collapse and degrading its military capabilities.  

With Biden willing to give China a pass on its expansionist policies, the risk is growing that Xi will make Taiwan his next target after his regime’s success in swallowing Hong Kong, redrawing the geopolitical map of the South China Sea and changing the territorial status quo in the Himalayas.

Not once, not twice, but three times in recent months Biden has said that the U.S. will militarily defend Taiwan, only to have his senior officials on each occasion walk back his comments. While creating international confusion afresh on that issue during his Tokyo visit, Biden played down the possibility of China invading Taiwan, saying, “My expectation is that it will not happen.”

But by appeasing China, Biden may invite such aggression. Indeed, Biden’s deepening of U.S. involvement in the Ukraine conflict offers Xi an opening to move on Taiwan at an opportune time when a distracted America is taken by complete surprise. Through rising bullying, Xi is already normalizing China’s hostile pressure on Taiwan.

Nothing better illustrates Biden’s efforts to appease China than Taiwan’s exclusion from his newly unveiled Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity. The White House has offered no credible explanation for omitting this economic powerhouse, which is a hub of global semiconductor production.

Taiwan’s exclusion shows how Biden, by bending over backwards not to antagonize Beijing, is sending mixed messages about U.S. commitment to that island democracy. Prioritizing Ukraine’s defense over Taiwan’s, Washington has informed Taipei that the 2022 scheduled delivery of an important U.S. artillery system would be delayed until 2026 at the earliest. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, meanwhile, referred to Taiwan by the demeaning name of “Chinese Taipei” while listing it as one of the founding members of the newly established Cross-Border Privacy Rules Forum.

Make no mistake: Xi is unlikely to be deterred by the harsh U.S.-led sanctions against Russia. The Chinese economy is 10 times larger than the Russian economy, and enforcing sanctions against China would cause serious economic disruptions in the West and upend global supply chains.

In this light, the mixed messages from Washington could lead Xi to believe that Biden lacks the strategic vision and political will to defend Taiwan against a Chinese attack.

More fundamentally, Biden is quietly dismantling, brick by brick, the Trump administration’s China policy without drawing attention to it. U.S. pressure on Xi’s regime is gradually being eased. Examples include letting it off the hook over its great COVID-19 stonewall and dropping fraud charges against the daughter of the founder of China’s military-linked Huawei Technologies.

Despite the FBI director publicly warning that Chinese spying in the U.S. has reached unparalleled levels, Biden has effectively disbanded the “China Initiative,” which was intended to empower the Justice Department to combat Beijing’s vast espionage campaign.

Biden may now target the Trump-era trade tariffs on $370 billion worth of Chinese goods, telling reporters in Tokyo that he was considering rolling them back. As a first step in that direction, his administration has initiated a legally required review of the tariffs, which were slapped on as part of a strategy to use economic levers to weaken China — a kind of death from a thousand cuts.

Rolling the tariffs back would break Biden’s promise not to unilaterally lift them unless China improved its behavior on issues of U.S. concern — from its unfair trade practices to its theft of intellectual property. Team Biden has already condoned Beijing’s failure to meet commitments in the so-called Phase One trade deal with Washington. It also has reinstated exemptions from Trump-era tariffs on 352 products imported from China.

America’s trade deficit with China, meanwhile, continues to swell, jumping over 25 percent in 2021 to $396.6 billion. It now makes up nearly 60 percent of China’s total global trade surplus, which has become the main engine of its economy, besides financing its warfare machine.

Continuing to underwrite China’s economic and geopolitical power not only means that the U.S. has yet to learn from how it aided the rise of a hostile giant; it also is likely to accelerate America’s relative decline.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and the author of nine books, including the award-winning “Water: Asia’s New Battleground” (Georgetown University Press). Follow him on Twitter @Chellaney.

India should invite Myanmar’s foreign minister to ASEAN meet

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Giving Naypyitaw the cold shoulder is not in New Delhi’s interests

Brahma Chellaney, Nikkei Asia

Min Aung Hlaing is greeted by an Indonesian official upon arrival at the airport on the outskirts of Jakarta in April 2021: The presence of the Senior General at the leaders’ meeting in Jakarta emphasized the ASEAN family.   © Indonesian Presidential Palace/AP

India not only shares long land and maritime borders with Myanmar, but it also sees the country as a strategic corridor to Southeast Asia. Given the porous state of the frontier and the cross-border movement of people and guerrillas — some trained and armed by China — close counterinsurgency cooperation with Myanmar is vital for India’s security.

Yet, as the host of the June 16-17 Association of Southeast Asian Nations-India foreign ministers’ meeting, New Delhi is giving Myanmar the cold shoulder.

Falling in line with double standards practiced by the U.S., India will host the foreign minister of Thailand, where the army chief who staged a coup in 2014 remains in power in civilian garb, but not Myanmar’s foreign minister after the military there seized power 16 months ago.

The military has long dominated politics in Myanmar and Thailand. But Washington, while seeking to isolate and squeeze Myanmar, has deepened cooperation with the Thai government, despite its crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, including use of lese-majeste laws to imprison anyone deemed to have insulted the king.

The 10-nation ASEAN has traditionally favored a policy of engagement and noninterference, which explained the presence of Myanmar military chief Min Aung Hlaing at its April 2021 leaders’ meeting in Jakarta that emphasized “the ASEAN family.” But later, wilting under stepped-up U.S. pressure, ASEAN excluded him from its annual summit last October.

Here is the irony: In the name of promoting democratic rights, U.S. President Joe Biden’s Myanmar policy has sought to win the cooperation of ASEAN, most of whose member states are under authoritarian rule.

They include Brunei, an absolutist monarchy; communist-ruled Vietnam and Laos; Singapore, governed by only one party since independence; and Cambodia, where the ruling party holds all the parliamentary seats.

Indeed, Biden invited only three ASEAN states — Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia — to his democracy summit last December, while at his recent special summit with ASEAN leaders, Myanmar was represented by an empty chair.

The bigger paradox centers on India, whose security over the years has come under pressure from specious U.S. distinctions between “good” and “bad” terrorists and “good” and “bad” autocrats.

For example, despite Pakistan’s politically dominant military maintaining a close nexus with terrorist groups, Washington still retains that state as a “major non-NATO ally,” a special status conferred on 17 other countries but not India.

Yet, by not inviting Myanmar’s foreign minister to a meeting during the officially proclaimed India-ASEAN Year of Friendship, New Delhi is giving credence to Washington’s geopolitically driven distinction between Myanmar and the other ASEAN states.

In justifying Myanmar’s foreign minister’s exclusion, India’s foreign ministry has sought to hide behind the U.S.-shaped ASEAN stance of inviting a nonpolitical Myanmar representative. In response to India inviting just its top foreign ministry bureaucrat, Myanmar will likely boycott the New Delhi meeting, as it has done with other ASEAN meetings since last October.

More fundamentally, Biden’s sanctions against Myanmar affect that country’s neighbors in the same way the U.S., already confronting a southern border crisis, would be affected if it sought to punish and isolate Mexico. Still, without consulting Myanmar’s neighbors that face an influx of refugees, Biden has stepped up his sanctions drive against Myanmar, even as he eases sanctions pressure on Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.

Biden’s use of economic and political levers to help unseat Myanmar’s military regime has only worsened the situation in that strategically located country, emboldening some opponents to take up arms and hardening the military regime’s crackdown while exacerbating cross-border impacts.

And just as the deepening U.S. involvement in the Ukraine conflict to help inflict a strategic defeat on Russia is beginning to fracture European unity, Biden’s uncompromisingly punitive approach toward Myanmar has hopelessly divided ASEAN, unraveling its long tradition of a consensus-based decision making.

Meanwhile, in less than six months, a feckless India has gone from sending its foreign secretary to Myanmar to meet the military ruler to excluding that country’s foreign minister from its upcoming meeting with ASEAN.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s yielding to U.S. pressure has already undercut India’s once-growing relationship with a key neighbor, Iran. The U.S. used its Iran sanctions to deprive India of cheaper oil and turn it into the world’s largest importer of American energy — a development that allowed India’s rival, China, to become Iran’s almost exclusive buyer of oil at a hefty discount, as well as becoming top security partner and investor.

Now Modi could be making a similar mistake with Myanmar, which China views as its gateway to the Indian Ocean. Myanmar has historically been a peaceful neighbor for India, never posing a threat to its security. But the Modi government’s snub could jeopardize Indian projects in Myanmar and counterinsurgency cooperation.

Biden’s Myanmar policy has had the perverse effect of weakening America’s hand while strengthening China’s. And by nudging India into giving Myanmar the cold shoulder, Biden is pushing that resource-rich nation into China’s arms.

Modi, for his part, is forgetting that a country that allows its policies toward its own neighbors to be influenced by a distant power will inevitably be seen as weak.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and author of nine books, including “Asian Juggernaut: The Rise of China, India and Japan.”

The Clash of Asia’s Titans

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Chinese President Xi Jinping has picked a border fight that he cannot win, and transformed a previously conciliatory India into a long-term foe. This amounts to an even bigger miscalculation than Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s failure to see it coming.

BRAHMA CHELLANEYProject Syndicate

With global attention focused on Russia’s war in Ukraine, China’s territorial expansionism in Asia – especially its expanding border conflict with India – has largely fallen off the international community’s radar. Yet, in the vast glaciated heights of the Himalayas, the world’s demographic titans have been on a war footing for over two years, and the chances of violent clashes rise almost by the day.

The confrontation began in May 2020. When thawing ice reopened access routes after a brutal winter, India was shocked to discover that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) had stealthily occupied hundreds of square miles of the borderlands in its Ladakh region. This triggered a series of military clashes, which resulted in China’s first combat deaths in over four decades, and triggered the fastest-ever rival troop buildup in the Himalayan region.

India’s counterattacks eventually drove the PLA back from some areas, and the two sides agreed to transform two battlegrounds into buffer zones. But, over the last 15 months, little progress has been made to defuse tensions in other areas. With tens of thousands of Chinese and Indian troops standing virtually at attention along the long-disputed border, a military stalemate has emerged.

But stalemate is not stagnation. China has continued to alter the Himalayan landscape rapidly and profoundly in its favor, including by establishing 624 militarized border villages – mirroring its strategy of creating artificial militarized islands in the South China Sea – and constructing new warfare infrastructure near the frontier.

As part of this effort, China recently completed a bridge over Pangong Lake – the site of past military clashes – that promises to strengthen its position in a disputed area of India’s Ladakh region. It has also built roads and security installations on territory that belongs to Bhutan, in order to gain access to a particularly vulnerable section of India’s border overlooking a narrow corridor known as the “Chicken Neck,” which connects its far northeast to the heartland.

All of this, China hopes, will enable it to dictate terms to India: accept the new status quo, with China keeping the territory it has grabbed, or risk a full-scale war in which China has maximized its advantage. China’s expansionism relies on deception, stealth, and surprise, and on apparent indifference to the risks of military escalation. The aim of its brinkmanship is to confound the other side’s deterrence strategy and leave it with no real options.

China learned from its strategic folly of invading Vietnam in 1979 and has become adept at waging asymmetric or hybrid warfare, usually below the threshold of overt armed conflict. This enables it to advance its strategic objectives, including land grabs, incrementally. Coercive bargaining and overt intimidation also help to overcome resistance.

This salami-slicing strategy has already enabled Chinese President Xi Jinping to redraw the geopolitical map in the South China Sea. And the terrestrial application of this approach being deployed against India, Bhutan, and Nepal is proving just as difficult to counter. As India is learning firsthand, countries have virtually no options other than the use of force.

One thing is certain: simply hoping that China will stop encroaching on Indian territory will do India little good. After all, India got into this situation precisely because its political and military leadership failed to take heed of China’s military activities near the frontier. On the contrary, while China was laying the groundwork for its territorial grabs, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was bending over backwards to befriend Xi. In the five years before the first clashes flared in May 2020, Modi met with his Chinese counterpart 18 times. Even a 2017 standoff on a remote Himalayan plateau did not dissuade Modi from pursuing his appeasement policy.

Seeking to protect his image as a strong leader, Modi has not acknowledged the loss of Indian territories. India’s media enables this evasion by amplifying government-coined euphemisms: China’s aggression is a “unilateral change of status quo,” and the PLA-seized areas are “friction points.” Meanwhile, Modi has allowed China’s trade surplus with India to rise so rapidly – it now exceeds India’s total defense budget (the world’s third largest) – that his government is, in a sense, underwriting China’s aggression.

But none of this should be mistaken for unwillingness to fight. India is committed to restoring the status quo ante and is at its “highest level” of military readiness. This is no empty declaration. If Xi seeks to break the current stalemate by waging war, both sides will suffer heavy losses, with no victor emerging.

In other words, Xi has picked a border fight that he cannot win, and transformed a conciliatory India into a long-term foe. This amounts to an even bigger miscalculation than Modi’s policy incoherence. The price China will pay for Xi’s mistake will far outweigh the perceived benefits of some stealthy land grabs.

In a sense, China’s territorial expansionism represents a shrewder, broader, and slower version of Russia’s conventional war on Ukraine – and could provoke a similar international backlash against Xi’s neo-imperial agenda. Already, China’s aggression has prompted Indo-Pacific powers to strengthen their military capabilities and cooperation, including with the United States. All of this will undercut Xi’s effort to fashion a Sino-centric Asia and, ultimately, achieve China’s goal of global preeminence.

Xi might recognize that he has made a strategic blunder in the Himalayas. But, at a time when he is preparing to secure a precedent-defying third term as leader of the Communist Party of China, he has little room to change course, and the costs will continue to mount.

Brahma Chellaney

Brahma Chellaney, Professor of Strategic Studies at the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research and Fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin, is the author of nine books, including Asian Juggernaut; Water: Asia’s New Battleground; and Water, Peace, and War: Confronting the Global Water Crisis.

© Project Syndicate, 2022.

The Quad’s moment of truth has arrived

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Biden’s empty Taiwan rhetoric reveals Quad’s core weakness

Brahma Chellaney, Nikkei Asia

Anthony Albanese, Joe Biden, Fumio Kishida and Narendra Modi at the Prime Minister’s Office of Japan in Tokyo on May 24: The Quad’s moment of truth has arrived.   © Reuters

Nearly five years after it was resurrected from a decadelong dormancy, and then integrated as a strategic coalition of the Indo-Pacific’s leading democracies, the Quad is struggling to make a difference in a region whose rising economic and geopolitical heft promises to reshape the international order.

Amid the deepening global fallout from the Ukraine war and the NATO-Russia proxy coflict, this week’s Quad summit in Tokyo showed that the group comprising the U.S., India, Japan and Australia has its work cut out if it is to make a meaningful impact, which will be measured in terms of deliverables, rather than the number of times its leaders get together and make promises.

While the Quad is trying to get its act together, the geostrategic dynamics are changing rapidly in the Indo-Pacific, where the world’s fastest economic growth is incongruously juxtaposed with fast-rising naval capabilities and the most dangerous strategic hot spots.

Intended to serve as a bulwark against Chinese expansionism, from the South and East China Seas to the Himalayas, the Quad has done little to rein in China’s unilateral moves to alter the regional status quo, with Beijing’s wide-ranging security accord with the Solomon Islands just the latest example.

In Tokyo, U.S. President Joe Biden stole the summit’s thunder with various pre-summit announcements or assertions, including unveiling his administration’s Indo-Pacific Economic Framework — an economic platform that seeks to promote cooperation among its 13 member-states on global issues such as supply chains, clean energy and digital rules, but without reducing trade barriers or tariffs.

Biden’s indication that the U.S. would use force to defend Taiwan grabbed global headlines, yet, paradoxically, Biden has gradually been easing pressure on China. Examples include letting China off the hook over the COVID-19 origins, dropping U.S. fraud charges against the daughter of the founder of China’s Huawei Technologies, and allowing Beijing to escape scot-free over its failure to meet commitments in the so-called Phase One trade deal with Washington.

Further, Biden revealed in Tokyo that he was considering rolling back trade tariffs on Chinese products, an action that would break his promise not to unilaterally lift tariffs unless Beijing’s behavior improved.

Not once, not twice, but three times Biden has said in recent months that the U.S. will militarily defend Taiwan, only to have his senior officials walk back his comments on every occasion. A day after sowing international confusion afresh, Biden himself walked back his Taiwan comments, telling reporters, “My policy has not changed at all.”

Lost was the exclusion of Taiwan from Biden’s Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, with the White House offering no explanation for omitting the global semiconductor hub.

The defense of Taiwan has assumed greater significance for Indo-Pacific security, given that three successive U.S. administrations have failed to credibly push back against China’s expansionism in the South China Sea, relying instead on rhetoric or symbolic actions. Beijing’s swallowing of Hong Kong also has essentially been cost-free.

All of this has renewed questions about the Quad’s strategic direction and mission. While it remains integral to the U.S. strategy of a free and open Indo-Pacific, Biden’s September 2021 launch of the AUKUS alliance with Australia and Britain signaled the Anglosphere is back and confirmed a shift in the Quad’s focus under him to everlasting universal challenges, from climate change and cybersecurity to global health and resilient supply chains.

Biden, after taking office in January last year, initiated the practice of Quad leaders holding summit meetings, with the Tokyo meeting representing the fourth such summit in just 14 months. But under Biden’s leadership, the group has also taken on an expansive agenda.

Given its small size, the Quad is in no position to deal with larger international challenges. Yet the first Quad summit in March 2021, held virtually, launched working groups on climate change, vaccines and critical and emerging technologies.

When the Quad leaders met in person at the White House last September, three more working groups were established on cybersecurity, infrastructure and space. With the Quad unable to meet its own target of delivering one billion Indian-manufactured doses of COVID-19 vaccines to the developing world by the end of this year, this raises the danger that the group will underdeliver on other core promises.

This week’s summit in Tokyo was a reminder that a very broad and ambitious agenda not only dilutes the Quad’s Indo-Pacific focus but also makes it more difficult to produce results.

The leaders’ joint statement was heavy with pious declarations about cooperating on issues extending from peace and security to climate, space, global health security and cybersecurity, but light on concrete plans, including on combating what it acknowledged were “coercive, provocative or unilateral actions that seek to change the status quo” in the region.

The Quad’s moment of truth has arrived. The group today faces a clear choice: start translating its rhetoric into action by leveraging its members’ strengths, or risk becoming a mere talking shop. Given that the Quad is now more integrated than ever, it ought to focus on deliverables to help underscore its strategic value.

Unless the Quad gets cracking, an illiberal hegemonic order in Asia could emerge, creating significant risks for international security and global markets.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and author of nine books, including “Asian Juggernaut: The Rise of China, India and Japan.”

European scramble for energy comes at Asia’s expense

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EU moves to wean itself off Russian oil and gas is creating a self-defeating trap

Brahma Chellaney, Nikkei Asia

A man rests while waiting in a line to buy diesel in Colombo on April 7: Europe’s frenzied efforts to secure alternative sources spells trouble for importing states with lower-paying power such as cash-strapped Sri Lanka.   © Reuters

The era of cheap oil and gas is over. In an increasingly risky and turbulent world, geopolitics more than supply chain issues has driven up fossil fuel prices and spurred growing energy insecurity.

The war in Ukraine has also made global inflation worse, increased debt and slowed economic growth. Financial markets have become more volatile as they start to price in the dual risk of stagnant economic growth and persistently high inflation.

Yet here’s the paradox: as many as 37 advanced economies, from Japan to Australia and Canada, have joined the unprecedented U.S.-led sanctions campaign to isolate and squeeze Russia. Unwittingly, these countries have created a self-defeating trap: their punitive campaign is raising international energy and commodity prices, as well as Russia’s revenues, despite a significant decrease in its energy exports.

And by fueling inflation at home and cutting into their citizens’ standard of living, those imposing sanctions are imposing costs on themselves, with the International Monetary Fund expecting global growth to slow to 3.6% this year from 6.1% last year.

Against this background, Europe’s ambitious mission to wean itself off Russian fossil fuels has been hailed as a “geostrategic game-changer.” In reality, Europe’s scramble to find alternative energy sources is stoking the further rise of international prices and compounding the debt woes of poorer countries.

More fundamentally, Europe’s energy shift, given the scale of its planned supply switch, is set to trigger costly competition with the thriving economies of Asia, the world’s largest energy consumer.

The 27-country European Union, which consumes 11% of the total global energy supply, currently relies on Russia for 40% of its gas and 25% of its oil.

With OPEC Secretary-General Mohammad Barkindo already stating that there is not sufficient global oil capacity to compensate for the loss of Russian supply, it is no wonder that oil prices immediately jumped 4% earlier this month when the EU proposed a phased ban on imports of Russian oil.

Brent crude futures are currently trading more than 50% higher than last year’s annual average of $70.40. Diesel, meanwhile, is already in short supply, with its price soaring as European distributors move away from Russian supplies, while American and other producers of Liquefied Natural Gas are already struggling to meet the increased demand from Europe.

The U.S., the world’s second-largest natural-gas exporter after Russia, is on track to become the world’s largest LNG exporter this year, overtaking Qatar and Australia. Yet, thanks to Europe’s scramble, U.S. natural-gas prices at home have more than doubled this year, pushing up inflation to a four-decade high of 8.3%.

Still, no region will be more affected by Europe’s shift to non-Russian sources of energy supply than Asia.

By severing its energy ties with Russia and decoupling two interlocked parts of the global energy system, Europe will become the main competitor for the energy that otherwise supplies Asia.

The EU has also opened a path for China to build an energy safety net through greater land-based imports from Russia that cannot be blockaded, even if it were to invade Taiwan.

Rewiring European economies that have long depended on cheap Russian energy will be a costly and lengthy process, requiring the building of new or expanded LNG infrastructure and the recalibrating of oil refineries that are configured for processing only Russian crude.

Meanwhile, the specter of Russia cutting supplies through counter-sanctions has led Europe to frenetically stock up on imported LNG, crude and diesel, often by outbidding Asian buyers.

Since last month, European energy imports from Africa, the Middle East and North America have hit a record high and commanded premium prices. Ironically, the EU is also stocking up on Russian gas, oil and coal, paying Moscow 44 billion euros in just the first two months of the war for such imports, compared with about 140 billion euros for the whole of 2021.

The changing dynamics compound the challenges for Japan, whose companies have invested in the Russian Sakhalin-1, Sakhalin-2 and Arctic LNG 2 projects, each of which has been deemed essential for Japanese energy security. Japan, which relies on Russia for just 4% of its total crude imports and 9% of its gas, is loath to find alternative sources at this stage, despite slapping its own sanctions on Moscow.

A Japanese-made carrier is anchored near an LNG plant on Sakhalin island: The changing dynamics compound the challenges for Japan.   © Reuters

Replacing just its Sakhalin-2 LNG with spot-market LNG could raise Japan’s total yearly import bill by as much as 50% on current trends. India, one of the world’s largest energy consumers and heavily reliant on foreign supplies, has already seen its energy-import bill rise by billions of dollars per week.

Energy markets today can ill-afford a large economy like Japan joining Europe’s scramble. Europe’s frenzied efforts to secure alternative sources already spell trouble for importing states with lower-paying power, such as cash-strapped Sri Lanka, which has declared an unprecedented nationwide curfew to deal with violent street protests.

The risk is growing that the EU, in seeking to hurt Russia, may end up hurting itself while severely penalizing developing economies. Higher energy prices will benefit all the world’s major energy exporters, from the U.S. to Russia. According to the Oslo-based Rystad Energy, despite Russian crude production projected to decline sharply in 2022, Moscow’s total income from oil alone is likely to soar to $180 billion, up 45%.

At a time of such geopolitically driven market disruptions, a Europe competing with Asia for securing greater energy supplies will not only continue to drive up prices but also could derail the economic recovery from the pandemic.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and author of nine books, including “Asian Juggernaut: The Rise of China, India and Japan.”

The Quad at a Crossroads

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The Indo-Pacific’s four leading democracies can hold as many leaders’ summits as they want, but without a clear strategic vision – and an agenda to match – they will have little impact. The group’s purpose is to act as a bulwark against Chinese expansionism and ensure a stable balance of power in the Indo-Pacific.

BRAHMA CHELLANEY, Project Syndicate

When the Quad was first conceived as a strategic coalition of the Indo-Pacific’s four leading democracies, many doubted that it would amount to much. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi mocked it as a “headline-grabbing idea” that would dissipate “like the sea foam in the Pacific or Indian Ocean.” But continued Chinese expansionism, combined with former Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzō’s determination to build broad resistance to it, has produced an increasingly consolidated group, with real potential to bolster regional security. The question is whether it will deliver.

One thing is certain: all four Quad members – Australia, India, Japan, and the United States – are essential to realize the vision of a “free and open Indo-Pacific” introduced by Japan in 2016 and affirmed by the US in 2017. While the Quad took some time to get off the ground – it was resurrected during US President Donald Trump’s administration but leaders’ summits began only after Joe Biden took office – it has gained considerable momentum. Its members have held three summits since last year (two of them virtual) and are set to meet in person in Tokyo on May 24.

But the Quad still has a long way to go, not least because its members’ own actions are undercutting its strategic rationale – the need to prevent China from upending security in the Indo-Pacific. A key problem is that all four countries have allowed themselves to be seduced by the Chinese narrative that economic relations can be separated from geopolitics.

China’s trade surplus, which reached a record $676.4 billion last year, is now the main engine of its economy. Without it, Chinese growth would likely stall, especially as President Xi Jinping strengthens state control over private companies. This would also hinder China’s ability to invest in its military and finance its aggressive maneuvers in the Indo-Pacific and beyond.

And yet the US and India are major contributors to China’s trade surplus. The US leads the way: its trade deficit with China swelled by more than 25% in 2021, to $396.6 billion, and now comprises over 58% of China’s total surplus. India’s trade deficit with China – which hit $77 billion in the 12 months through this March – exceeds its defense budget, even as the two countries are locked in a dangerous military confrontation on their long Himalayan frontier.

China’s stealth encroachments on some Indian border areas in 2020 triggered deadly clashes, setting in motion a buildup of forces and border infrastructure that continues to this day. This should have been a wake-up call for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who had been so committed to appeasing China that he was blindsided by its aggression. But India’s large and growing trade deficit with China suggests that he is still asleep.

Australia and Japan have similarly built up significant dependency on Chinese trade. China accounts for nearly one-third of Australia’s international trade and is Japan’s largest export market. Moreover, both countries are members of the China-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. For them, enabling China to shape trade rules in the Indo-Pacific is apparently a small price to pay for the economic benefits of increased regional commerce.

Rather than continuing to underwrite China’s economic and geopolitical power, the Quad should be making economic cooperation – including increased trade among its members – a central feature of its agenda. Unfortunately, though Biden has pledged to unveil an Indo-Pacific Economic Framework covering everything from infrastructure to the digital economy, his administration’s unwillingness to commit more resources to the region or offer regional partners better access to US markets severely limits the initiative’s potential. Moreover, Biden has pushed an expansive Quad agenda covering topics that have nothing to do with the group’s core objectives – everything from climate change to COVID-19 vaccine delivery to supply-chain resilience.

America’s deepening proxy conflict with Russia further muddies the strategic picture. Biden is the third successive US president to commit to shifting America’s primary strategic focus to Asia and the wider Indo-Pacific. But the Ukraine war – which he believes “could continue for a long time” – may well cause him, like his predecessors, not to complete that pivot.

The war might also spur Biden to take a more conciliatory approach to China. Even before Russia invaded Ukraine, Biden had begun to ease pressure on China. He effectively let China off the hook for both obscuring COVID-19’s origins and failing to meet its commitments under the 2020 “phase one” trade deal with the US. He also dropped fraud charges against the daughter of the founder of the military-linked Chinese tech giant Huawei. US sanctions over China’s Muslim gulag remain essentially symbolic.

Now, as Biden attempts to ensure that Xi does not offer Russian President Vladimir Putin an economic lifeline, thereby neutralizing the impact of Western sanctions, he is likely to adopt an even more conciliatory approach. Already, the US Trade Representative has reinstated exemptions from Trump-era tariffs on 352 products imported from China. And now the White House is considering a broader reduction of tariffs on non-strategic goods from China.

The Quad can hold as many leaders’ summits as it wants, but without a clear strategic vision – and an agenda to match – it will have little impact. The group’s purpose is to act as a bulwark against Chinese expansionism and ensure a stable balance of power in the Indo-Pacific. At its May 24 summit, all other issues should take a backseat to this objective.

Brahma Chellaney

Brahma Chellaney, Professor of Strategic Studies at the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research and Fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin, is the author of nine books, including Asian Juggernaut; Water: Asia’s New Battleground; and Water, Peace, and War: Confronting the Global Water Crisis.

© Project Syndicate, 2022.

Why sanctions against Russia may not work

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BY BRAHMA CHELLANEY, OPINION CONTRIBUTOR, THE HILL

The unprecedented U.S.-led Western sanctions against Russia have been likened to economic weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) that would ultimately destroy the Russian economy. In reality, the sanctions are like a double-edged sword — they inflict pain on Russia but also impose costs on their imposers.

The West, in fact, is caught in a trap: The sanctions and the deepening conflict, by helping to raise global commodity and energy prices, translate into higher revenues for Moscow in spite of a significant decrease in its exports. And the higher international prices, by fueling inflation, mean political trouble at home for those behind the sanctions.

Look at another paradox: Despite Russia being cut off from the world’s financial arteries, the Russian ruble has dramatically recovered through state intervention. But, as if to signal that Japan is paying a price for following the U.S. lead on Russia, the Japanese yen (the world’s third-most-traded currency) has sunk to a 20-year low against the U.S. dollar, ranking this year as the worst performing of the 41 currencies tracked — worse than the ruble.

Meanwhile, the runaway inflation and supply-chain disruptions are threatening Western corporate profits, while the interest-rate hikes to rein in inflation make a bad situation worse for consumers. With economic trouble looming large, April became the worst month for Wall Street since the pandemic-triggered March 2020 plunge. The S&P 500 fell 8.8 percent in April.

In the first two months of the war in Ukraine, those imposing the sanctions ironically helped Russia to nearly double its revenues to about €62 billion from selling fossil fuels to them, according to a report of a Finland-registered think tank, the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air. The top 18 importers, with the sole exception of China, were the sanctions imposers, with the European Union (EU) alone accounting for 71 percent of the purchases of Russian fuels in this period.

While Turkey, South Korea and Japan also remain reliant on Russian energy supplies, the EU’s imports of gas, oil and coal from Russia totaled around €44 billion in this two-month period, compared with about €140 billion for the whole of 2021.

Russia, even as its economy takes a hit from the Western sanctions, is doing its bit to keep international energy and commodity prices high, including by cutting off gas supplies to Poland and Bulgaria. Moscow could raise prices further through broader counter-sanctions and yet manage to cushion its export earnings.

The fact is that Russia is the world’s richest country when it comes to natural resources, including serving among the world’s largest exporters of natural gas, uranium, nickel, oil, coal, aluminum, copper, wheat, fertilizers and precious metals such as palladium, which is more precious than gold and used largely in catalytic converters.

Through no fault of theirs, the real losers from the Russia-NATO conflict, sadly, are the poorer countries, which are bearing the brunt of the economic fallout. From Peru to Sri Lanka, rising fuel, food and fertilizer prices have triggered violent street protests, which in some states have spiraled into continuing political turmoil. The debt woes of many poor nations have deepened.

In employing the full range of its economic weaponry, the West sought to unleash “shock and awe” on Russia, as if to underscore that sanctions are a form of war. But like armed conflict, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine illustrates, sanctions are unpredictable in shaping outcomes and often lead to unintended or undesirable consequences.

Squeezing a major power, especially one that has the world’s largest nuclear-weapons arsenal, with a raft of harsh sanctions is fraught with danger, especially as increasingly sophisticated and heavier Western weapons pour into Ukraine, with the United States also supplying battlefield intelligence, including targeting data.

Almost every day brings a fresh reminder that this conflict is not just about the control of Ukraine or its future status. Rather, this is a full-fledged new Cold War between Washington and Moscow, with Europe as the theater of the growing confrontation. President Biden’s strategy of Containment 2.0 against Moscow is designed to ensnare Russia in a military quagmire in Ukraine, trigger the collapse of the Russian economy and bring about the overthrow of President Vladimir Putin.

As the war has progressed, Biden has become bolder, including deepening America’s involvement in it. Biden’s implicit call for regime change in Moscow and his administration’s publicly declared goal of a “weakened” Russia, however, run counter to what the president said about two weeks into the war: “Direct confrontation between NATO and Russia is World War III, something we must strive to prevent.”

Unfortunately, there has been little American debate on whether sanctions can weaken Russia or whether the generous military assistance to Ukraine can really bog down the Russian military in a protracted conflict. What if, instead of a weakened Russia, a nationalistic backlash spawns a more militarily assertive, neo-imperial Russia?

After its initial missteps that resulted in heavy Russian casualties, Russia is now militarily focused on consolidating its control in the resource-rich east and south of Ukraine. Russia has carved out a land corridor to Crimea and gained control of regions that hold 90 percent of Ukraine’s energy resources, including all its offshore oil and much of its critical port infrastructure. The Ukrainian ports on the Sea of Azov and four-fifths of Ukraine’s Black Sea coastline are now with Russia, which earlier established control over the Kerch Strait that connects those two seas. 

Can the flood of weapons the West is sending to Ukraine undo these new military realities? If Russia stays focused on narrow military objectives centered on establishing a buffer zone in the occupied parts of Ukraine’s south and east, it could avert a quagmire, while remaining free to continue systematically targeting military infrastructure across that expansive country.

Let’s be clear: Sanctions historically have worked better against small, vulnerable states than large or powerful ones. But they have rarely produced timely change. The current Western sanctions could take years to seriously hurt the Russian economy.

The irony is that, despite employing all possible coercive economic instruments against Russia and making it difficult to negotiate an end to the war, the Biden White House doesn’t believe that sanctions alone will work, which explains why it has increasingly turned to weapons supply, including asking Congress for a staggering $33 billion in additional military and economic funds to fuel the conflict and stymie Russian war objectives.

But the sanctions, by signaling the advent of a new era of U.S.-led unilateralism, are likely to weaken and ultimately even undermine the Western-controlled global financial architecture that they are meant to defend. The sweeping sanctions, by spurring broader concerns about the weaponization of finance and its implications for any country that dared to cross a U.S. red line, have created a new incentive for non-Western states to explore establishing parallel arrangements. China will not only lead this process but also is set to emerge as the real winner of the NATO-Russia conflict.

Biden’s belief that “this war could continue for a long time” is backed by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley, who testified that he expects it to last years. But as the conflict drags on and the boomerang effects of the sanctions deepen the cost-of-living crisis, the divides in the Western camp will widen and “Ukraine fatigue” will set in.

The West will be left with little choice but to negotiate with Putin to end the conflict, as predicted by Javier Solana, a former NATO chief who also served as Spain’s foreign minister. Such negotiations will be vital to halt Ukraine’s destruction and avert Europe from paying the main price.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and the author of nine books, including the award-winning “Water: Asia’s New Battleground” (Georgetown University Press). Follow him on Twitter @Chellaney.

Washington’s clumsy attempts to bully India must stop

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Undermining its relationship with New Delhi will cost the U.S. dearly

Brahma Chellaney, Nikkei Asia

Joe Biden meets virtually with Narendra Modi in Washington on April 11: It is a challenging time for U.S.-India relations.   © AP

U.S. President Joe Biden’s concerted effort to cajole nations into joining the American-led coalition against Russia recalls the famous words of the legendary anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela, who said the grievous mistake some Westerners make is to insist that “their enemies should be our enemies.”

In the conflict between the West and Moscow over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, much of the non-Western world has declined to take sides. So why has Biden especially bristled at India’s independent stance when the world’s major non-Western democracies — from Brazil and Mexico to South Africa and Indonesia — have all chartered a course of neutrality?

Because India is the world’s largest democracy, its neutrality undermines Biden’s narrative that the conflict symbolizes a “battle between democracy and autocracy, between liberty and repression, between a rules-based order and one governed by brute force.” Never mind that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s regime is no less autocratic than Russian President Vladimir Putin’s.

The fact is that whichever side the U.S. has armed over the decades was invariably portrayed by it as “fighting for freedom” — from the anti-Soviet Islamist guerrillas in Afghanistan from whom al-Qaida and the Taliban evolved, to Syria’s anti-Bashar Assad jihadists who gave rise to ISIS. Biden’s “new battle for freedom,” as he calls it, has led to increasingly sophisticated Western weapons pouring into Ukraine, with the U.S. also supplying battlefield intelligence, including targeting data.

Here’s the paradox: While seeking to co-opt New Delhi in his new Cold War with Moscow, Biden has still not uttered a single word on China’s two-year-long border aggression against India, which has triggered the largest Himalayan buildup of rival forces in history. In keeping with Biden’s outreach to Beijing, his State Department, equating the victim with the aggressor, has urged India and China to find “a peaceful resolution of the border disputes.”

India holds more annual military exercises with America, its largest trading partner and an increasingly important strategic partner, than any other country. U.S. arms sales to India went from near zero in 2008 to over $20 billion in 2020. India’s almost $150-billion goods and services trade with the U.S. dwarfs New Delhi’s $12.8 billion trade with Russia, its largest defense partner.

Indian and U.S. soldiers take part in a joint combat exercise in Ranikhet, India, in September 2016: India holds more annual military exercises with America than any other country.   © Reuters

Team Biden’s growing warnings to countries intent on sitting out the new Cold War to pick a side or face economic consequences could undermine the blossoming partnership with India, which stayed neutral even when the U.S. and its allies invaded Iraq or waged regime-change war in Libya. Biden’s top economic adviser, Brian Deese, touched a raw nerve in India when he threatened that “the costs and consequences” for it would be “significant and long-term.”

However, the more positive tone emanating from Washington following the latest U.S.-India discussions suggests that the White House may have secured an Indian assurance on “sanctions compliance,” as an American background briefer phrased it.

On April 11, Biden held an hourlong virtual discussion with Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a prelude to the “two-plus-two” discussions that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken jointly had with the visiting Indian defense and foreign ministers.

Encouraged by how America’s Iran sanctions have helped undercut India’s relationship with Tehran, Biden sees his Russia sanctions as opening a major opportunity to undermine the traditionally strong New Delhi-Moscow ties.

The U.S. used its Iran sanctions to deprive India of cheaper oil and turn it into the world’s largest importer of American energy. The main beneficiary of those sanctions has been India’s rival, China, which, without facing American reprisals, has been buying Iranian oil at a hefty discount, besides becoming Iran’s security partner and top investor.

Now Washington seems intent on employing its Russia sanctions to downgrade Indian defense ties with Moscow, with Austin calling on India to cut defense transactions with Russia and turn to America for all its military requirements. Indeed, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman told Congress that the U.S. sees “a great opportunity” for defense sales to India to “surge.”

Energy purchases and payments are exempt from America’s Russia sanctions. Yet, as if heeding Biden’s call to India not to accelerate or increase imports of heavily discounted Russian oil, the state-run Indian Oil Corporation, the country’s leading refiner, recently dropped Russia’s flagship Urals crude from its newest tender. And Indian Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar, by saying that “we won’t be in the top 10” buyers of Russian oil, has signaled that India will not significantly go beyond its traditionally modest imports of Russian energy.

Still, Biden is not easing pressure on India. While appeasing communist China, his administration is paradoxically trying to employ human-rights issues as leverage against India. After the two-plus-two discussions, Blinken took a swipe at India, alleging “a rise in human rights abuses.” But barely nine months earlier, Blinken had sung a different tune, saying “both of our democracies are works in progress.”

These are challenging times for U.S.-India relations. Undermining what should be America’s most important strategic partnership in Asia makes little strategic sense, especially if the U.S. wishes to genuinely pivot to the Indo-Pacific.

India’s neighborhood is already troubled, with a crisis-torn Sri Lanka suspending foreign debt payments and mounting Chinese repression triggering fresh self-immolations in Tibet. Yet, Biden surrendered Afghanistan to the Taliban terrorists, thereby strengthening Pakistan at India’s expense. And he is pushing military-ruled Myanmar into China’s arms with his sanctions policy.

Biden’s overriding focus on punishing Russia threatens to exacerbate India’s regional-security challenges, especially by aiding the further rise of an expansionist China. The U.S.-led sanctions will effectively put Russia, the world’s richest country in natural resources, in the pocket of a resource-hungry China.

The main brunt of the rise of a more powerful and aggressive China will be borne by its neighbors, especially India. Unlike Japan and Australia, which are under the U.S. security and nuclear umbrella, India must deal with China on its own, as the current Himalayan military crisis shows.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and author of nine books, including “Asian Juggernaut: The Rise of China, India and Japan.”

Can punishing Russia become an end in itself?

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Biden, going beyond the traditional tools of deterrence and diplomacy, is relying entirely on his unprecedented sanctions to shape the behavior of a rival nuclear power, which has a long record of enduring economic hardship.

BY BRAHMA CHELLANEY, THE HILL

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President Biden’s gaffes during his recent European tour – from suggesting to American troops in Poland that they would be in war-torn Ukraine and saying NATO would respond “in kind” if Russia used chemical weapons to seemingly calling for regime change in Moscow – led to considerable clean-up efforts by his team. Biden, by his own admission, has a record of being a “gaffe machine.”

But the president’s misstatements on issues of war and peace in this perilous time carry significant risks, which explains why his top officials were quick to walk back his apparent regime-change call, lest it further erode U.S.-Russia relations. U.S.-Russia ties are already at an all-time low.

More fundamentally, Biden’s propensity for making misstatements that land his administration in difficult situations is detracting attention from the larger question of whether the president has a strategy to end the war in Ukraine.

Biden’s statements, in fact, are making it increasingly difficult to negotiate an end to the war. Washington’s overriding focus on punishing Russia for its brazen invasion suggests that top U.S. officials are not thinking of how to terminate the war, even as Moscow and Kyiv hold talks.

Punishing Russia for invading Ukraine, while essential, has ceased to be a means to an end and has apparently become an end in itself.

This may explain why Biden has discarded some key tenets of diplomacy, including avoiding insulting another country’s head of state or conveying an unintended policy message to preserve space for direct negotiations.

Biden has increasingly personalized the conflict by hurling a steady stream of insults at Russian President Vladimir Putin, while vowing to make him “a pariah on the international stage.” In the days before declaring, “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power,” Biden called Putin “a butcher,” “a murderous dictator,” “a pure thug” and “a war criminal” — a term whose past use against a foreign leader (for example, Saddam Hussein in Iraq or Syrian President Bashar al-Assad) was usually accompanied by a U.S.-led campaign to topple him from power.   

The use of aggressive language began long before the Ukraine war. Just weeks after entering the White House, Biden said Putin is “a killer,” vowing that the Russian leader will “pay a price” for allegedly meddling in the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

By contrast, Biden has treated Chinese President Xi Jinping with respect. Despite Xi’s coverup of the origins of the COVID-19 virus, his Asian expansionism and his Muslim gulag (which represents the largest mass incarceration of people on religious grounds since Adolf Hitler), the president has not hurled any personal insult at him. Nor has he imposed any sanctions on the Chinese leader or those in his inner circle.

The unintended consequence of Biden’s vilification of Putin is to seriously crimp space for the U.S. and Russia to reach a modus vivendi to rein in their conflict. Putin now has a greater reason to double down and continue his invasion until the Russian forces carve out a strategic buffer against NATO that effectively partitions Ukraine into two, with the Dnieper River possibly serving as the approximate dividing line.

Biden, going beyond the traditional tools of deterrence and diplomacy, is relying entirely on his unprecedented sanctions to shape the behavior of a rival nuclear power, which has a long record of enduring economic hardship. In the post-World War II period, the U.S. has generally relied on sanctions to help bring weak states to heel. Regime change likewise has been imposed only on weak, vulnerable nations.

Squeezing a major power with a raft of harsh sanctions is fraught with danger. The unforeseen consequences could trigger an escalating spiral leading to devastating armed conflict. It was U.S. sanctions against Imperial Japan that ultimately provoked the attack on Pearl Harbor, leading to the Pacific war and eventually the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Today’s Biden-initiated Western sanctions on Russia are the largest, coordinated punitive measures ever rolled out against any country in history. But just as Biden’s threat to impose such sanctions failed to deter Russia from invading Ukraine, their actual imposition, far from chastening Moscow, is likely to resurrect the Iron Curtain and spur the emergence of a remilitarized, neo-imperial Russia.

The U.S.-led sanctions that followed Russia’s 2014 Crimea annexation, while fueling Russian nationalism, compelled Moscow to pivot to China, turning two natural competitors into close strategic partners. Those sanctions also led Russia to build a parallel payments system that has now helped take the sting out of the recent exit of Visa and Mastercard, thereby setting an example for other nations to invest in building their own payments infrastructure.

Today, the rise in international oil and gas prices, by directly contributing to inflation and political trouble at home, is underscoring that sanctions also impose costs on their imposers. Those costs would escalate and possibly even engender recession if the cycle of sanctions, counter-sanctions and fresh sanctions substantially diminished Russian energy exports.

In a further reminder that sanctions are blunt instruments and often produce unintended and undesirable consequences, the West’s comprehensive hybrid war against Russia is helping boost Putin’s popularity at home. According to a poll by the Levada Center, an independent, Moscow-based pollster that has been designated a “foreign agent” in Russia, Putin’s approval ratings shot up from 69 percent in January to 83 percent in late March.

Biden’s primary strategic focus ought to be on preserving America’s global preeminence. For years, the U.S. waged self-debilitating wars in the Islamic world, allowing China to emerge as its primary challenger globally. Now, as it pours military resources into Europe, America’s renewed focus on European security threatens to distract it from its long-term strategic objectives.

After losing Afghanistan to sandal-wearing terroristsBiden should not allow the impulse for revenge against Moscow to drive his foreign policy. Ukraine is Europe’s problem, and he should exert pressure on Europeans to take greater ownership of their security so that the U.S. can single-mindedly focus on arresting its relative decline.

If a war-torn Ukraine were to become another Syria or Libya, the grave implications for Europe’s security would extend far beyond the refugee flow turning into a torrent. In such a scenario, some of the lethal arms the West is pouring into Ukraine could eventually flow back westward to haunt European nations’ internal security.Behind the negotiations, Russia’s elites are pulling strings of their ownAs social media turns 25, we’re still perplexed about regulating bad actors

The current crisis represents the most dangerous period since the end of the Cold War. Stable Washington-Moscow relations can help to avert a wider conflict and reach a NATO-Russia agreement on Ukraine modeled on the 1955 treaty under which Austria established itself as a buffer state between the East and West and declared its neutrality.

More broadly, the U.S. should seek to drive a wedge in the China-Russia axis, instead of becoming a bridge that unites them. The deepening China-Russia entente is perhaps the biggest U.S. foreign-policy failure of the post-Cold War era.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and the author of nine books, including the award-winning “Water: Asia’s New Battleground” (Georgetown University Press).

China continues its territorial advances in Asia

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Chinese troops at their mountaintop bunkers in Ladakh’s Pangong region in February 2021: what stands out is the speed and scale with which China is redrawing facts on the ground without firing a shot.   © AP

Strategy relies on a steady progression of actions to outmaneuver rival states

Brahma Chellaney, Nikkei Asia

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is helping to obscure China’s expansionism in Asia, where it continues to redraw its land and maritime borders and exert growing pressure on Taiwan. Unlike Russia’s frontal military assault, China’s preferred mode of expansionism is salami-slicing, or altering the status quo in its favor, little by little.

In the latest example, the Chinese government’s news website Tibet.cn reported earlier this month that the People’s Liberation Army had quietly completed the 624 villages that China had set out to build in disputed or captured Himalayan border areas.

China’s militarized villages in the Himalayan borderlands, that India, Bhutan and Nepal consider to be within their own national boundaries, are the equivalent of its artificial islands that it is turning into forward military bases in the South China Sea.

What is remarkable about its village-building spree in the Himalayas is that China has reportedly managed to complete it despite the specter of armed conflict raised by its ongoing military confrontation with India. The Indian and Chinese militaries have remained locked in multiple Himalayan standoffs for the past 23 months after China stealthily encroached on some key border areas in the northernmost Indian territory of Ladakh, leading to the first deadly Chinese-Indian military clashes since 1975.

Recent talks to defuse the military crisis, including between military commanders and later between the foreign ministers, made little headway. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s New Delhi trip on Mar. 25 was the highest-level visit between the two countries since the standoffs in the frigid Himalayan heights began.

Effective control is the most vital element of a strong territorial claim in international law. This explains why establishing new facts on the ground, whether in the form of high-altitude artificial villages with planted settlers or human-made islands, is integral to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s territorial aggrandizement.

Xi’s expansionism has not spared even tiny Bhutan, with a population of barely 800,000. In disregard of a 1998 bilateral treaty that obligated its parties “not to resort to unilateral action to alter the status quo of the border,” several of China’s militarized villages have come up in Bhutan’s northern and western borderlands.

More broadly, China’s territorial revisionism follows a cabbage strategy: gradually wrapping a claimed or contested area in multiple layers of security, like the concentric leaves of a cabbage, thereby denying access to any rival.

Just like the concentric layers of occupation around the South China Sea islands by Chinese fishing boats, coastguard ships and naval ships, expansionism in the Himalayas has involved bringing in people from afar to settle in desolate, previously uninhabited areas, with civilian militias, paramilitary police and regular PLA forces forming multilayered security.

China’s strategy of territorial creep relies on a steady progression of actions to outmaneuver a rival state, in keeping with the ancient Chinese game of Go, in which the goal is to incrementally gain more territory through unrelenting attacks on the opponent’s weak points. Before initiating a jurisdictional claim through a rising tempo of incursions, Beijing has a history of constructing a dispute.

In the East China Sea, China succeeded in getting the world to recognize the existence of a dispute over the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands by steadily increasing the frequency and duration of its intrusions into their territorial waters and airspace and by popularizing the islands’ Chinese name Diaoyu.

Chinese marine surveillance ship cruising in the East China Sea near Senkaku Islands in February 2021. (Photo by Hitoshi Nakama)   © Kyodo

Even as Beijing started dispatching armed ships and larger vessels, Japan has recoiled from purely defensive steps like building a lighthouse on the Senkakus. Indeed, no Japanese defense minister has conducted an aerial survey of the uninhabited Senkakus in order not to provoke China.

By keeping opponents off-balance, Xi’s strategy bears all the hallmarks of brinkmanship, including reliance on stealth, surprise and an indifference to the risks of military escalation. Camouflaging offense as defense, it casts the burden of starting a war on the other side.

In international law, a territorial claim must be based on continuous and peaceful exercise of sovereignty over the territory concerned. But even after an international arbitral tribunal’s 2016 ruling invalidated its territorial claims in the South China Sea, Beijing imposed “might makes right” in that region.

In more recent years, however, China has increasingly employed new domestic law both as a cover for unlawful actions and to underpin its territorial claims in international law. Through domestic legislation, Xi has sought to legitimize Chinese actions ranging from the human-made militarized islands and new administrative districts in the South China Sea to the Himalayan border villages.

China’s shadowy expansionism in the Himalayas extends far beyond the 624 border villages whose construction a 2017 Chinese government document unveiled. To project power and enable more rapid movement of troops, weaponry and equipment, Beijing has pursued frenzied construction of new military infrastructure, including in disputed borderlands. New Chinese roads through Bhutanese territory have opened an axis against India’s most vulnerable point — the Siliguri Corridor, which connects the country’s far northeast to the Indian heartland.

What stands out is the speed and scale with which China is redrawing facts on the ground without firing a shot. China’s territorial creep is contributing to increasing insecurity in Asia, the world’s most dynamic region economically.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and author of nine books, including “Asian Juggernaut: The Rise of China, India and Japan.”

Putin’s War and the Mirage of the Rules-Based Order

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For all the talk of a rules-based order, the world’s rule-makers have reverted unhesitatingly to unilateralism during the Ukraine war. While this will leave Russia and the US worse off, it will enable China to advance its interests and bolster its global influence.

By Brahma Chellaney, Project Syndicate

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the West’s unprecedented response, represent a watershed in international relations, marking the formal end of the post-Cold War era and setting the stage for seismic geopolitical and geo-economic shifts. But one defining feature of international relations will remain: to paraphrase Thucydides, the strong will continue to do what they can, and the weak will continue to suffer what they must.

It is true that leaders and observers around the world often speak of strengthening or defending the “rules-based international order.” But that order was always more aspirational than real. Countries that possess military or economic might reserve the right not only to make and enforce the rules, but also to break them.

It is when the rule-makers disagree that the greatest risks arise. The Ukraine war – the first conflict of the post-Cold War period that pits great powers against each other – is a case in point. On one side, Russia has been carrying out a brutal conventional military assault on Ukraine, in an apparent effort to bring the country – which Russian President Vladimir Putin believes is rightly part of his country – back into the Kremlin fold. On the other side, NATO, led by the United States, has been waging a comprehensive hybrid war against Russia.

The West’s war has included the supply of huge quantities of weapons to Ukrainian forces: US President Joe Biden alone has authorized the transfer of $1.35 billion worth of lethal weapons since the war began, with much more to come. The West has also implemented ever-escalating economic and financial sanctions, virtually expelling Russia from the Western-led financial order and sequestering the assets of many wealthy Russians. And it has sought to shape international opinion, with many countries now blocking access to Russian state media.

For all the talk of a rules-based order, the world’s rule-makers have reverted unhesitatingly to unilateralism. The risks are legion. The flood of weapons the West is sending to Ukraine – a country with a long history of weak governance and widespread corruption – could eventually flow westward, fueling organized crime, narcotics trafficking, and terrorist violence across Europe. And the Iron Curtain’s revival may hasten the emergence of a militarily robust, neo-imperial Russia. Putin, who has called the Soviet Union’s collapse a “tragedy” and the end of “historical Russia,” has indicated that Kazakhstan, like Ukraine, is not a country.

And it is not just Russia that will become isolated. The Ukraine war could trigger the unraveling of decades of broader global economic engagement, long viewed as a key deterrent to great-power conflict.

Of course, the notion that countries would rather trade than invade has never been unassailable. Economic interdependence has not stopped China, for example, from engaging in relentless expansionism, from the South and East China Seas to the Himalayas.

Even today, however, economic interdependence has forced rule-makers to exercise some restraint. Despite the raft of financial and economic sanctions it has imposed on Russia, Europe continues to support the Russian economy’s mainstay: oil and gas exports. This undermines the West’s own mission, especially as the confrontation drives up energy prices. But Europe’s longstanding dependence on Russian energy supplies has left it with no good alternatives – at least for now.

Such a tradeoff may not arise in the future. The European Union has already vowed to eliminate its dependence on Russian energy by 2030. At the same time, countries that want to uphold trade ties with Russia are seeking solutions outside Western-controlled channels. For example, India is buying Russian oil with rupees. Similar moves elsewhere – for example, Saudi Arabia is considering renminbi-based oil sales to China – threaten to erode the US dollar’s global supremacy.

This is probably the beginning of a broader bifurcation of the global economy. At a time when economic power has shifted eastward but the West still controls the world’s financial architecture – including the main international payments system, the primary currencies for trade and financial flows, and the leading credit-ratings agencies – the establishment of parallel arrangements seems imminent.

China, which dwarfs Russia in terms of both economic power and military spending, will likely lead this process. In fact, China is set to emerge as the real winner of the NATO-Russia conflict. An overstretched America’s renewed preoccupation with European security will create strategic space for China to press its strategic objectives – its leaders have been as clear about absorbing Taiwan as Putin was about claiming Ukraine – and bolster its global influence, at the expense of the US.

Chinese global dominance would amount to the final nail in the coffin of the rules-based order. Since its establishment in 1949, the People’s Republic has displayed blatant contempt for international law, more than doubling its land mass by annexing Xinjiang and Tibet and currently detaining over a million Muslims. Yet China has paid no tangible price. The Kremlin, for its part, probably did not think twice about rejecting the International Court of Justice order to suspend its military operations in Ukraine.

International law may be powerful against the powerless, but it is powerless against the powerful. The League of Nations, created after World War I, failed because it could not deter important powers from flouting international law. Its beleaguered successor, the United Nations, may be facing a similar reckoning. How can the UN Security Council fulfill its mandate of upholding international peace and stability if its five veto-wielding permanent members are arrayed into two opposing camps?

The world is headed for an era of greater upheaval. However it plays out, the pretense of a shared commitment to international law will be the first casualty.

Brahma Chellaney

Brahma Chellaney, Professor of Strategic Studies at the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research and Fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin, is the author of nine books, including Asian Juggernaut; Water: Asia’s New Battleground; and Water, Peace, and War: Confronting the Global Water Crisis.

© Project Syndicate, 2022.

The new US-Russia cold war will accelerate China’s rise

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BY BRAHMA CHELLANEY, THE HILL

President Biden has made clear that the United States has embarked on a strategy of Containment 2.0 against Russia with what he calls “the broadest sanctions in history.” But Biden is unlikely to have factored in the possibility of a boomerang effect. The unintended consequences could bifurcate the global economy, polarize international politics and strengthen China at America’s expense.

Over the years, the relative ease of imposing economic sanctions has turned them into a grossly overused tool of American diplomacy. The efficacy of U.S. sanctions has been eroding with the relative decline of American power, and a growing body of evidence suggests that such measures have often proved counterproductive to America’s own economic and geopolitical interests. 

The U.S. has virtually ejected Russia from the Western-led financial order at a time when economic power is moving east. Expelling the world’s 11th-largest economy from an order that the U.S. seeks to uphold could intensify the search for a viable alternative system that isn’t dominated by the West. 

What is more certain is that the new U.S.-led hybrid war against Russia, centered on unparalleled sanctions, will help deepen the undeclared Beijing-Moscow axis against Washington and make China the big winner financially and geopolitically, thereby aiding its expansion of economic and military power.

The West’s heavy economic penalties on Moscow, including unplugging key Russian banks from the international SWIFT payments system, are set to turn China into Russia’s banker, enabling it to reap vast profits. In structural terms too, Russia’s sanctions pain will be China’s gain: To help insulate itself from similar Western sanctions if it were to invade Taiwan, Beijing is seeking to boost the payments and reserve role of the yuan and the international use of its competitor to the SWIFT network — the Cross-Border Interbank Payment System, or CIPS. The West’s Russia sanctions are likely to provide a fillip to both efforts. 

Furthermore, the sanctions have opened the path for China to build an energy safety net through greater land-based imports so that it can withstand a potential U.S.-led energy embargo or blockade in the event of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. The re-imposition of sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline is welcome news for Beijing, which is seeking to further boost energy imports from Russia after concluding new oil and gas deals worth a whopping $117.5 billion during Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Beijing visit last month.

Here’s the paradox: China has faced no Western financial or other meaningful sanctions despite swallowing Hong Kong, redrawing the geopolitical map of the South China Sea, expanding its land frontiers in the Himalayas and establishing a Muslim gulag with more than one million detainees in what two successive U.S. administrations have called “genocide” and “crimes against humanity.” By contrast, as Biden’s two rounds of sanctions last year underscored, Russia has remained an easy target for escalating American sanctions over the past decade because the U.S. has little stake in the Russian economy.

In this light, the West’s targeting of just Russia is certain to make China the main beneficiary of the sanctions, thus aiding Chinese President Xi Jinping’s “China dream” of supplanting the U.S. as the world’s preeminent power.

The new Biden-led sanctions against Russia will likely be undercut by Xi’s regime — unless the West goes after China too. But that possibility seems remote.

As part of a diplomatic strategy to extract important concessions from the West, Beijing will play the same cat-and-mouse game with Washington over the Russia sanctions that it has long played vis-à-vis the North Korea sanctions. It will pretend to cooperate with the U.S. while quietly undermining the Western sanctions, including by helping Russia to find China-centered financial workarounds.

The outrage over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine should not obscure one key fact: China, with about a 10 times larger population and economy than Russia, poses the biggest challenge to America. Whereas Russia’s strategic priorities and ambitions are concentrated in its neighborhood, China is working to supplant the U.S. as the dominant global power.

As FBI Director Christopher Wray said last month, “There is just no country that presents a broader threat to our ideas, our innovation and our economic security than China.” And the “scale of their hacking program…is greater than every other country combined.” China has expanded its spying in the U.S. to such an extent, according to Wray, that the FBI is launching one new counterintelligence investigation on average every 12 hours.

For China, whose global image is at a historic low, the new Washington-Moscow cold war (with Russia reemerging as the “evil empire” in Western perceptions) couldn’t come at a better time. Xi has shown an increasing appetite for taking major risks, believing China has a narrow window of strategic opportunity to modify the international order in its favor before it confronts a demographic crisisstalled economic growth and an unfavorable global environment. 

Putin, through his war of aggression, is unwittingly helping Beijing, including distracting the U.S. from its China challenge. The war, which has the makings of a drawn-out and dangerous confrontation between Russia and NATO, will help Xi’s pursuit of his “China dream.”

Biden is likely to live up to his pledge to make Russia pay “dearly, economically and strategically.” Taming a largely hostile Ukraine could mire Russia in a quagmire, especially as Western lethal weapons continue to flow to Ukrainian resistance forces. Biden’s request to Congress for a staggering $10 billion in additional Ukrainian assistance shows that his Containment 2.0 strategy includes an Afghanistan 2.0 plan to replicate in Ukraine the CIA-led covert war of the 1980s that ultimately drove Soviet forces out from Afghanistan.

America’s increasing entanglement in European security, however, will open greater space for Chinese expansionism in the Indo-Pacific, a region that will shape the new world order. In fact, U.S. policy, instead of driving a wedge between Russia and China, is serving as a bridge that unites them against an overstretched America.

More fundamentally, U.S. policy has learned little from its strategic blunder in aiding China’s rise under successive American presidents from Richard Nixon to Barack Obama, which has resulted in that country today posing a military, economic and technological challenge on a scale America has not seen before. Almost every time the U.S. has slapped any country with sanctions in the post-Cold War period, it has helped advance Chinese commercial and strategic interests.

The Russia sanctions, although they hold no promise of changing Putin’s behavior, constitute one of the biggest gifts American policymakers have delivered to Beijing. By effectively putting Russia, the world’s richest country in natural resources, in Beijing’s pocket, the sanctions will yield major dividends for a resource-hungry China, including allowing it to dictate the terms of the bilateral relationship and secure greater access to Russian military technology. 

After Biden’s Afghan debacle and failure to deter Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, could Taiwan become his next foreign policy disaster? Xi will likely bide his time and wait for an opportune moment before moving on Taiwan, taking a distracted U.S. by utter surprise and bringing down the curtain on the West’s long ascendancy.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and the author of nine books, including the award-winning “Water: Asia’s New Battleground” (Georgetown University Press).

The US and India in a new world

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Brahma Chellaney, The Spectator

The world’s center of gravity is shifting to the Indo-Pacific. The new global order will be shaped by developments in a sprawling region where interstate rivalries and tensions are sharpening geopolitical risks. Building a stable balance of power in the Indo-Pacific has become more important than ever, but China’s territorial and maritime revisionism, and its heavy-handed use of economic and military power, are causing instability and undercutting international norms.

Against this background, the expanding strategic partnership between the world’s most powerful and most populous democracies — the United States and India — has become pivotal to equilibrium in the Indo-Pacific. With India’s closer integration, the four-nation Quad — Australia, India, Japan and the US — is blossoming as a strategic coalition of the leading Indo-Pacific democracies.

The Quad is central to the US’s “free and open Indo-Pacific” strategy. As American preeminence erodes, the US must augment its power with that of allies and partners. China’s foreign minister Wang Yi famously mocked the Quad in 2018 as a “headline-grabbing idea” that will dissipate “like the sea foam in the Pacific or Indian Ocean.” Instead, and thanks to China’s expansionist policies, the Quad continues to gain strength — despite the new, US-initiated AUKUS alliance with Australia and Britain. The US cannot build an Asian power equilibrium without India, Japan and Australia — and they cannot build it without the US.

Today, the US is also close to achieving a long-sought goal: a “soft alliance” with India that needs no treaty. The US has already emerged as the largest arms seller to India, leaving its traditional supplier, Russia, far behind. US defense transactions with India went from near zero in 2008 to over $20 billion in 2020. Furthermore, India has signed the four “foundational” agreements that the US maintains with all its close defense partners. These accords range from providing reciprocal access to each other’s military facilities and securing military communications to sharing geospatial data from airborne and satellite sensors.

India, a founder and leader of the Nonaligned Movement that sought to chart a neutral course in the US-Soviet rivalry during the Cold War, now makes little mention of nonalignment. Instead, it is multi-aligned and building close partnerships with democratic powers from Asia to Europe. India now holds more annual military exercises with America than any other country.

The main driver of the growing US-India strategic collaboration is China’s neo-imperial expansionism. President Xi Jinping believes that China has a narrow window of strategic opportunity to modify the international order in its favor before it confronts a demographic crisis, stalled economic growth and an unfavorable global environment. Accordingly, Xi has shown an increasing appetite for taking major risks.

American and Indian strategic priorities regarding China are, however, not the same. The US has never considered fighting a land war against China. The primary American objective is non-military: to counter China’s geopolitical, economic and ideological challenges. By contrast, China poses a pressing military challenge for India. The spotlight on the Chinese threats against Taiwan has helped obscure China’s more serious military confrontation with India along the long Himalayan frontier — a confrontation that is still raging.

The US and India, however, are united by other shared strategic interests. These include the rule of law, respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty, freedom of navigation, peaceful dispute resolution and a rules-based Indo-Pacific free of coercion. The biggest challenge to all these principles comes from China.

In May 2020, a shocked India discovered that China had stealthily encroached on several key border areas in the northernmost Indian territory of Ladakh. The discovery led to the first deadly Chinese-Indian military clashes in the Himalayas since 1975, including China’s first combat deaths in over four decades. The Indian and Chinese militaries remain locked in multiple standoffs, and the steadily increasing introduction of new weapons and troops by both sides has amplified the risk of renewed border skirmishing, if not outright war. Xi has picked a border fight with India that China cannot win. A war between these two nuclear- armed demographic giants is likely to end in a bloody stalemate with heavy losses on both sides. This is not the only instance in which Xi’s aggressive policies have proved to be counterproductive.

For India, China’s territorial aggression proves the importance of building close strategic collaboration with the US and likeminded powers. India today seems more determined than ever to frustrate China’s ambition to achieve Asian hegemony. By locking horns with China in tense military standoffs despite the risk of a full-scale war, India has openly challenged Chinese capability and power in a way no other power has done in this century. Since 2020, when India let Australia join the annual Exercise Malabar war games with the American, Japanese and Indian navies, the Quad has possessed a platform for an annual military exercise involving all its members.

Xi must now also contend with the strengthening US-India relationship. In a pivot to Asia that much of the US media either ignored or derided, the Trump administration gave India pride of place in its Indo-Pacific strategy. It also instituted fundamental shifts in US policies on China and Pakistan, two close allies whose strengthening strategic axis in southern Asia imposes high security costs on India, including raising the specter of a two-front war. Trump reversed the forty-five-year US policy of aiding China’s rise; with bipartisan support, he designated China as a strategic rival and threat. His administration also cut off security aid to Pakistan for not severing its ties with terrorist groups.

Relations between the Indo-Pacific’s two largest democratic powers thrived during the Trump presidency. Trump built a personal rapport with India’s prime minister Narendra Modi, with whom he shares a love for big audiences and theatrics. Trump joined Modi’s September 2019 public rally in Houston, which was attended by 59,000 Indian Americans and a number of US congressmen and senators. Then, during his February 2020 standalone visit to India, Trump spoke at the largest rally any American president has ever addressed — at home or abroad.

More than 100,000 people packed the world’s largest cricket stadium, in Modi’s home state of Gujarat. “America loves India, America respects India, and America will always be faithful and loyal friends to the Indian people,” Trump declared. After returning home, Trump called India an “incredible country,” saying, “Our relationship with India is extraordinary right now.”

The US and India are both bitterly polarized democracies. In each, rival political forces are self-segregated into their own ideological silos. Trump and Modi have faced similar accusations from critics. Both are accused of being blinkered demagogues, of pursuing divisive policies and choosing populism over constitutionalism. Each consciously avoided saying anything that could give a handle to the other’s domestic critics.

President Biden, by contrast, entered the White House after criticizing Modi’s government on issues like Kashmir and a new Indian law on citizenship for non-Muslim refugees who had fled religious persecution in neighboring Islamic countries. Biden’s election victory created uncertainty over the future direction of US-India ties. Indeed, as a senator, Biden had spearheaded a congressional sanctions move in 1992 that helped block Russia’s sale of cryogenic-engine technology for India’s civilian space program, setting it back many years.

Yet President Biden has sustained the momentum in the growth of the bilateral relationship. As with tacit acceptances of Trump’s other unorthodox foreign-policy initiatives, Biden has no choice but to recognize India’s centrality in an Asian balance of power. Despite his party’s hostility to Modi and Hindu nationalism, Biden’s interactions with Modi have been characterized by ease and warmth. In September, Biden welcomed Modi to the White House as “my friend” and said, “I’ve long believed that the US-India relationship can help us solve an awful lot of global challenges.”

Booming US exports to India — one of the world’s fastest-growing markets —reinforce bipartisan support in Washington for a closer partnership with New Delhi. The US has rapidly become an important source of crude oil and petroleum products for India, which is the world’s third-largest oil consumer after the US and China. But the US and India are not entirely on the same page.

America’s self-inflicted defeat and humiliation in Afghanistan at the hands of a Pakistan-backed terrorist militia have compounded India’s security challenges at a time when it should be fully focused on countering China’s Himalayan expansionism. Worse still, Team Biden, unlike the Trump administration, has placed outreach to Beijing as a high priority, and has been wary of publicly supporting India against Chinese aggression. The Democrats’ Russia fixation, meanwhile, is only strengthening under Biden.

Nevertheless, India will continue to quietly gain greater salience in US policy — especially as Russia and China deepen their entente. Instead of driving a wedge between these two natural competitors, US policy has helped turn them into close strategic partners. If the US is not to accelerate its relative decline through strategic overreach, it needs India more than ever. It would be doubly ironic, given Vice President Kamala Harris’s Indian heritage, if Biden did not seize the opportunity to formalize the US’s de facto and deepening security alliance with India.

This article was originally published in The Spectator’s March 2022 World edition. 

Leverage water treaty to tame Pakistan’s terrorism

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Brahma Chellaney, The Times of India

One paradox in Asia stands out: China, by occupying water-rich Tibetan Plateau, dominates Asia’s water map, yet it refuses to enter into a water-sharing treaty with any neighbour. But water-stressed India has a water-sharing treaty with each of the two countries located downstream to it — Pakistan and Bangladesh. And each of these treaties has set a new principle in international water law.

The 1996 Ganges treaty set a new standard by guaranteeing Bangladesh specific cross-border flows in the critical dry season. And the 1960 Indus treaty with Pakistan still remains the world’s most generous water-sharing arrangement, in terms of both the sharing ratio and the total volume of cross-border flows.

Under this treaty of indefinite duration, India foolishly reserved 80.52% of the aggregate water flows in the six-river Indus system for Pakistan, with that arch-nemesis securing 90 times greater volume of water than Mexico’s share under a 1944 pact with the US.

In fact, the treaty effectively partitioned the rivers in the Indus Basin, with India’s full sovereignty rights limited to the three smaller rivers in the lower section and Pakistan bagging the bigger rivers of the upper basin. It remains the world’s only water pact embodying the ‘doctrine of restricted sovereignty’ in which the upper riparian state defers to the interests of a downstream state.

To make matters worse, only four of the six Indus-system rivers originate in India; the other two start in Tibet, with China free to reengineer cross-flow flows.

Against this background, the Indus treaty remains a millstone around India’s neck. India should be seeking to mitigate the burdens of a treaty that carries no benefits for it but which emboldens Pakistan’s sponsorship of cross-border terrorism. Pakistan repays India’s unparalleled water generosity with its self-avowed “War of a Thousand Cuts”.

How can India allow its water largesse to be repaid with blood? A feckless India continues to shore up the treaty, including by sending a 10-member delegation to Pakistan for a Permanent Indus Commission meeting from March 1. For the first time in the commission’s history, female officers (all from India) will participate.

The commission’s meetings can be suspended, as they have been in the past, but India clings to the treaty’s letter and spirit, even as Pakistan flouts international norms without incurring any costs. In fact, by failing to build sufficient storage, India allows unutilized waters from its meagre share to flow to Pakistan as a continuing bonus.

Other world powers have dumped binding accords at will. One of Russia’s grievances contributing to the present crisis with the US, with Ukraine as the theatre of Russian invasion, has been Washington’s unilateral termination of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (which was of unlimited duration) and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. China has demonstrated its contempt for bilateral pacts through its current border aggression against India and by its 2017 withholding of data from India on upstream river flows.

A scofflaw Pakistan wants rights without responsibilities. It demands eternal Indian water munificence while its military sustains export of terrorism to India. Leveraging the Indus treaty to help reform Pakistan’s behaviour offers India a bloodless path.

Pakistan’s use of state-reared terrorist groups could be invoked by India under international law as constituting reasonable grounds for withdrawal from the treaty. The International Court of Justice has upheld the principle that a treaty may be dissolved by reason of a fundamental change of circumstances.

But without withdrawing from the treaty, India can seek to balance the scales by invoking its treaty rights to enforce Pakistan’s responsibilities. For starters, it should condition further consultations and information exchanges, including on project-related design data, to Pakistan’s verified severing of ties with terrorist groups. Keeping its Indus commissioner’s post vacant for some years would effectively suspend riparian consultations with Pakistan. Given India’s proverbial red tape, such a vacancy will be easy to explain.

India’s approach should be to speak softly but carry a big stick. It should shun meaningless hyperbole and let its actions speak for themselves. India, however, must make clear that it has no intention of turning off or even restricting water flows to Pakistan. Indeed, India doesn’t have the hydro-infrastructure to limit river flows. The issue is about ending Pakistan’s roguish actions.

Building basin leverage can serve as a potent instrument in India’s arsenal against Pakistan.

The worst option for India is to continue hewing to its present approach by mechanically bearing all the burdens of the treaty without any tangible benefits accruing to it. Instead of advertising that its bark is worse than its bite, an imaginative India should work to remake the terms of the Indus engagement.

The writer is a geostrategist.

The new global Cold War clouds India’s tightrope walk

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India, having confronted Chinese border aggression over the past 22 months, has taken a restrained stance on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, underscoring its focus on countering Beijing’s military actions without affecting its close relationships with the United States and Russia. The new U.S.-Russia Cold War, however, promises to compound India’s strategic challenges.

India is the only member of “the Quad” to refrain from openly condemning Russia for invading a sovereign country. In fact, like its archnemesis China, India abstained from the Feb. 25 vote at the United Nations Security Council on a U.S.-sponsored resolution deploring the Russian invasion as a violation of the U.N. Charter. India, however, has implicitly criticized Russia’s abandonment of the path of diplomacy and called for an end to all violence.

Unlike Japan and Australia, which are under the U.S. security (and nuclear) umbrella, India has to deal with China on its own, as the current Himalayan border conflict has highlighted. And while China poses a pressing military challenge for India along a more than 4,000-kilometer-long land frontier, the U.S. has never considered a land war against China and its primary objective is nonmilitary — to counter China’s geopolitical, economic and ideological challenges to its global preeminence.

India’s solo struggle to rein in an expansionist China in the icy Himalayan region has helped influence its measured response to the Russian aggression against Ukraine. After all, which head of a Western government has condemned China’s aggression against India or even urged Beijing to pull back its forces from the Himalayan frontier?

U.S. President Joe Biden has not uttered a word on the subject. His State Department on Feb. 3 urged India and China to find “a peaceful resolution of the border disputes,” and then added in general terms, “We have previously voiced our concerns of Beijing’s pattern of ongoing attempts to intimidate its neighbors.”

The Biden administration, unlike former President Donald Trump’s administration, has placed outreach to Beijing as a high priority, and has been wary of publicly supporting India against Chinese aggression. Indeed, Biden’s recently unveiled Indo-Pacific Strategy refers to China’s military actions against India since 2020 not as “aggression,” but in neutral language — as “the conflict along the Line of Actual Control with India.”

In May 2020, a shocked India discovered that China had stealthily encroached on several key border areas in the northernmost Indian territory of Ladakh. The discovery led to the first deadly Chinese-Indian military clashes in the Himalayas since 1975, including China’s first combat deaths in over four decades.

By locking horns with China in tense military standoffs despite the risk of a full-scale war, India has openly challenged Chinese capability and power in a way no other power has done in this century. China has massed up to 200,000 soldiers along the frontier, but India has more than matched the Chinese force deployments — with the steadily increasing induction of new weapons and troops by both sides amplifying the risk of renewed border skirmishing, if not outright war.

The U.S.-India strategic partnership, meanwhile, continues to strengthen. The U.S. has already surpassed Russia as the largest arms seller to India. American defense transactions with India, according to the State Department, went from “near zero in 2008 to over $20 billion in 2020.”

Still, in an effort to make India its sole arms client, the U.S. has sought to leverage a domestic law — the 2017 ​Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act — to downgrade Indian defense ties with Moscow. Russia, however, remains a critical source of arms and military technology for India.

In the current Himalayan military crisis, Russia, despite its deepening entente with China, has transferred weapons to help strengthen India’s defenses. It is advancing the delivery of its S-400 air and anti-missile defense system that India urgently needs as a protection against China’s forward deployment of an array of lethal missiles.

The latest Western financial sanctions on Moscow, however, threaten to affect Russia-India defense trade by complicating the issue of payments. The escalating sanctions could also impede India’s plans for greater investment both in the Russian oil and gas sector and in Russia’s Far East.

The U.S., with the aid of its energy sanctions on Iran, has emerged as an important source of crude oil and petroleum products for India, the world’s third-largest oil consumer after America and China. And its new sanctions on Russia are expected to facilitate greater American arms exports to India.

More fundamentally, the advent of the new Cold War promises to make India’s neutrality more challenging. Biden has made clear that he has embarked on a strategy of Containment 2.0 against Russia.

The new U.S. sanctions, which Biden has called “the broadest sanctions in history,” seek to disrupt the Russian economy. Simultaneously, Biden is planning to ensnare Russia in a military quagmire in Ukraine through massive arms supplies to the Ukrainian armed forces and other resistance forces. He has asked Congress for a staggering $6.4 billion for this mission.

However, U.S. power now faces a double whammy: China’s military, economic and technological challenge on a scale the U.S. has not seen before and a re-militarized Russia challenging the NATO creep to its borders.

But with its strategic focus shifting to shoring up European security, the U.S. is pouring military resources into that theater — and the main casualty of such a shift is likely to be Asian security.

By compounding America’s strategic overstretch and distracting it from the China challenge, the new Cold War will open greater space for Chinese President Xi Jinping’s aggressive revisionism. It will also likely advance China’s economic power and energy security by making Beijing the main beneficiary of the new Western sanctions on Russia.

India may have no dog in the fight, yet — like Japan — it will not be able to escape the larger strategic ramifications of the conflict over Ukraine. This could prove a watershed moment in international relations and complicate India’s ability to walk a diplomatic tightrope.

Brahma Chellaney, a longtime contributor to The Japan Times, is a geostrategist and the author of nine books, including “Water: Asia’s New Battleground” (Georgetown University Press).

Ukraine war puts U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy in jeopardy

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Focus on Russia will curtail efforts to limit Chinese expansionism

Brahma Chellaney, Nikkei Asia

Joe Biden meets virtually with Xi Jinping from the White House in November 2021: Biden has sought to stabilize the geopolitical competition with China so as to focus on containing Russia.   © AP

The Indo-Pacific region — home to the world’s most populous nations, largest economies and largest militaries — has emerged as the world’s economic and geopolitical hub. This vast region will shape the new world order, including America’s geopolitical standing, in the coming years.

Greater volatility in the Indo-Pacific, however, seems inevitable as a result of the deepening international crisis triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the Western retaliation in the form of an unprecedented hybrid war against Moscow.

Sanctions are a form of warfare whose unforeseen consequences have, historically, set in motion an escalating spiral leading to devastating armed conflict. It was a raft of U.S. sanctions intended to squeeze Imperial Japan that ultimately provoked the attack on Pearl Harbor, leading to the Pacific war and eventually the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Russia, now the world’s most-sanctioned country, remains a nuclear and cyber superpower, as well as the world’s richest country when it comes to natural resources, and its own likely reprisals to the West’s hybrid war will increase the risks of a wider conflict.

The new Cold War will constrain an overstretched Washington from genuinely pivoting to the Indo-Pacific or robustly countering the challenge to its global preeminence from China, which dwarfs Russia in economic power and military spending.

Since taking office, U.S. President Joe Biden has sought to stabilize the geopolitical competition with China so as to focus on containing Russia, in keeping with what he told CBS “60 Minutes” just before being elected: Russia is “the biggest threat to America” and China “the biggest competitor.”

As part of that approach — a reversal of the Trump administration policy of treating the Chinese Communist Party as an existential threat to U.S. interests — Biden last year poured a record $650 million in military aid into Ukraine. Last autumn’s U.S.-NATO military exercises near Russia’s Black Sea coast incensed Moscow, foreshadowing Russian aggression today.

To help stabilize relations with Beijing, Biden has taken a number of steps, including a decision not to reinstate certain tariffs. Biden allowed Beijing to escape scot-free over its failure to meet commitments in the so-called Phase One trade deal with the Trump administration. China’s increased purchases of U.S. goods and services fell far below its commitment of $200 billion over 2017 levels during the deal’s two-year period that ended on Dec. 31, 2021.

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s unrelenting expansionism from the South and East China Seas to Hong Kong and the Himalayas has essentially been cost-free. Even Xi’s mass incarceration of over a million Muslims in Xinjiang, which the Biden administration acknowledges is “genocide” and “crimes against humanity,” has gone unpunished, with the U.S. imposing only symbolic sanctions.

Biden, after more than a year in office and barely two weeks before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, unveiled the “Indo-Pacific Strategy of the United States.” This followed criticism at home that he lacked clarity on a region central to long-term U.S. interests.

Biden’s Indo-Pacific strategy, while acknowledging that “our allies and partners in the region bear much of the cost” of China’s “harmful behavior,” goes out of its way to mollify Xi’s regime, stating that America’s “objective is not to change the PRC (People’s Republic of China) but to shape the strategic environment in which it operates.” It also says the U.S. will “manage competition with the PRC responsibly” and “work with the PRC in areas like climate change and nonproliferation.”

As if seeking to allay China’s concerns, Biden has also progressively diluted the Quad’s agenda, broadening it, as his Indo-Pacific strategy attests, to everlasting universal challenges like climate change, sustainability, “global health” and “advancing common technology principles.” The Quad, however, was designed as a bulwark against China’s expansionism.

Biden has yet to comment on China’s nearly two-year border aggression against India. Nor has the U.S. asked Beijing to pull back the nearly 200,000 Chinese troops it has massed along the Indian frontier. Yet Biden, seeking to co-opt India in his new Cold War with Russia, hosted a special Quad summit by video link on Mar. 3 to discuss the Russian aggression.

But the summit, as the unusually short White House statement indicated, achieved little. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi put his foot down over extending the Quad’s sphere to Ukraine, saying the group must “remain focused on its core objective… in the Indo-Pacific region.”

India — the only Quad member not under the U.S. security and nuclear umbrella — has taken an independent stance on Ukraine, calling for an end to hostilities and a return to the path of diplomacy but abstaining from the United Nations votes to condemn Russia.

As Biden steps up his hybrid war against Russia, his conciliatory approach will become more pronounced toward China, which has the capacity to bail out the Russian economy. But Xi is likely to work toward neutralizing similar Western sanctions against China in the event of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. Xi is expected to fast-track progress on parallel international financial arrangements that are free from Western domination and weaponization.

Biden’s imperative to win Chinese cooperation on his sanctions against Russia gives Beijing important leverage. Like a double-edged sword, it will wield that leverage to extract U.S. and Russian concessions. With Biden’s characterization of Russia as Enemy No. 1 becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy, a major casualty is likely to be America’s Indo-Pacific strategy.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and author of nine books, including “Asian Juggernaut: The Rise of China, India and Japan.”

Ukraine crisis: Perils of a ‘with us or against us’ approach

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Brahma Chellaney, The New Indian Express

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is just the latest example of “might makes right”. Despite claims to the contrary, the world has never had a rules-based order. Just consider the history of this century, especially the number of military invasions of sovereign states that have occurred since the year 2001.

International law is powerful against the powerless, but powerless against the powerful. Both the Russian invasion and the West’s no-holds-barred retaliatory economic war against Russia, including practically expelling it from the Western-led financial order, mock a rules-based order. While Russia’s aggression is violating Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty, the West’s economic warfare is violating Russia’s economic sovereignty.

Yet this conflict holds global implications, with the potential to remake our world, including spawning the polarization of both the world economy and international politics.

As a new Cold War dawns, the US appears returning to a “with us or against us” approach. This promises to bring countries that take an objective and balanced view under intense pressure. It is also likely to complicate, if not strain, American ties with countries that insist on remaining neutral or taking a more nuanced approach than Washington’s black-and-white portrayal of the situation.

In echoes of a familiar Manichaean logic, US President Joe Biden’s administration is seeking to prod India to be on America’s side against Russia by implicitly asking, “Are you with us or against us?”

Team Biden has bristled at India abstaining from the United Nations votes to condemn Moscow, including at the Security Council on February 25 when Russia vetoed a US-sponsored resolution deploring the Russian invasion as a violation of the UN Charter. India, however, has implicitly criticized Russia’s abandonment of the path of diplomacy and repeatedly called for an end to all violence.

According to the US-based news website Axios, the State Department has recalled a strongly-worded cable to American embassies instructing them to inform India and the United Arab Emirates that their neutral stance on Ukraine put them “in Russia’s camp”. US diplomacy has a record of using media “leaks” to convey messages or warnings. In 1998, to spoil India’s ties with China, the White House leaked Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s letter to President Bill Clinton about the Indian nuclear tests.

The Axios story ended by saying that India “has faced allegations — rarely discussed by the US in public — of democratic backsliding and repression of religious minorities.” The implication is that, unless New Delhi falls in line, the Biden administration could start discussing such allegations in public.

US pressure has already compelled the UAE to reverse course. After abstaining in the Security Council, it voted in support of the March 2 non-binding resolution in the General Assembly condemning Russia. However, 35 countries abstained on the General Assembly resolution, including all of India’s major neighbours, while a further 11 didn’t vote at all.

Here’s the paradox: No head of a Western government has condemned China’s nearly 23-month-long border aggression against India or even urged Beijing to pull back the nearly 200,000 troops it has massed along the Himalayan frontier in violation of binding bilateral accords. Yet the Western bloc demands that India be firmly on its side over the Russian aggression against Ukraine, which is a member of neither NATO nor the European Union.

When Donald Trump was the US president, his top officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien, regularly blasted China’s aggression against India, calling it “incredibly aggressive action”, “unacceptable behaviour” and part of a “clear and intensifying pattern of bullying”.

But the Biden administration, having placed outreach to Beijing as a high priority, has been wary of publicly supporting India against the Chinese aggression. Biden hasn’t uttered a word on that aggression. Indeed, Biden’s recently unveiled “Indo-Pacific Strategy” refers to China’s military actions against India since 2020 not as “aggression” but in neutral language — as “the conflict along the Line of Actual Control with India”.

Even in the India-Pakistan context, Team Biden isn’t firmly on India’s side. It has hedged its bets by retaining Pakistan as a “major non-NATO ally”, despite America’s humiliating defeat in Afghanistan at the hands of Pakistan-backed Taliban terrorists. Biden’s failure to impose any penalties on Pakistan also explains why that country is still missing from America’s list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Yet now Team Biden demands that India side with the US against Russia over Ukraine, which historically has been viewed by Moscow as its strategic buffer. Its unstated message to India is: “Do as I say, not as I do”.

India’s measured response to the Russian aggression enjoys bipartisan support at home. For India, the US has increasingly become an important strategic partner. But Moscow, which rescued India half a dozen times by vetoing UN Security Council resolutions over the decades, remains an equally important friend.

Had India voted with the Western bloc to condemn Russia, it would have burned its bridges with a country that remains a critical source of weapons and military technology in projects ranging from the Brahmos missile to nuclear submarines. To help shore up India’s defences against China, Russia has advanced the delivery of its S-400 air and anti-missile system.

The US values its strategic autonomy. So should India. Undermining ties with Moscow would make India dependent on America, whose unpredictability is legendary.

The US is already bagging billions of dollars worth of Indian arms contracts every year. Yet it is working to make India its sole arms client, including by seeking to leverage its domestic law — the 2017 ​Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) — to downgrade Indian defence ties with Moscow. Given the advent of the new Cold War, it is likely to step up that effort.

India now holds more annual military exercises with America than any other country. The US has already overtaken Russia as the largest arms seller to India. New Delhi wishes to further deepen its ties with Washington. But such cooperation cannot be exclusionary.

A “with us or against us” approach that seeks to compel India to make a choice between the US and Russia will only bring the blossoming Indo-American relationship under strain. 

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and the author of nine books, including the award-winning “Water: Asia’s New Battleground” (Georgetown University Press).

America Is Focusing on the Wrong Enemy

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US President Joe Biden is treating a “rogue” Russia as a peer competitor, when he should be focused on the challenge from America’s actual peer, China. Not only is China more powerful than Russia; it also genuinely seeks to supplant the US as the preeminent global power.

BRAHMA CHELLANEY, Project Syndicate

Much of the democratic world would like the United States to remain the preeminent global power. But with the US apparently committed to strategic overreach, that outcome risks becoming unlikely.

The problem with America’s global leadership begins at home. Hyper-partisan politics and profound polarization are eroding American democracy and impeding the pursuit of long-term objectives. In foreign policy, the partisan divide can be seen in perceptions of potential challengers to the US: according to a March 2021 poll, Republicans are most concerned about China, while Democrats worry about Russia above all.

This may explain why US President Joe Biden is treating a “rogue” Russia as a peer competitor, when he should be focused on the challenge from America’s actual peer, China. In comparison to Russia, China’s population is about ten times bigger, its economy is almost ten times larger, and its military expenditure is around four times greater. Not only is China more powerful; it genuinely seeks to supplant the US as the preeminent global power. By contrast, with its military buildup on Ukraine’s borders, Russia is seeking to mitigate a perceived security threat in its neighborhood.

Hastening the decline of US global leadership is hardly the preserve of Democrats. A bipartisan parade of US leaders has failed to recognize that the post-Cold War unipolar world order, characterized by unchallenged US economic and military predominance, is long gone. The US squandered its “unipolar moment,” especially by waging an expensive and amorphous “Global War on Terrorism,” including several military interventions, and through its treatment of Russia.

After its Cold War victory, the US essentially took an extended victory lap, pursuing strategic maneuvers that flaunted its dominance. Notably, it sought to expand NATO to Russia’s backyard, but made little effort to bring Russia into the Western fold, as it had done with Germany and Japan after World War II. The souring of relations with the Kremlin contributed to Russia’s eventual remilitarization.

So, while the US remains the world’s foremost military power, it has been stretched thin by the decisions and commitments it has made, in Europe and elsewhere, since 1991. This goes a long way toward explaining why the US has ruled out deploying its own troops to defend Ukraine today. What the US is offering Ukraine – weapons and ammunition – cannot protect the country from Russia, which has an overwhelming military advantage.

But US leaders made another fatal mistake since the Cold War: by aiding China’s rise, they helped to create the greatest rival their country has ever faced. Unfortunately, they have yet to learn from this. Instead, the US continues to dedicate insufficient attention and resources to an excessively wide array of global issues, from Russian revanchism and Chinese aggression to lesser threats in the Middle East and Africa and on the Korean Peninsula. And it continues inadvertently to bolster China’s global influence, not least through its overuse of sanctions.

For example, by barring friends and allies from importing Iranian oil, two successive US administrations enabled China not only to secure oil at a hefty discount, but also to become a top investor in – and security partner of – the Islamic Republic. US sanctions have similarly pushed resource-rich Myanmar into China’s arms. As Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, whose country has faced a US arms embargo over its ties to China, asked last year, “If I don’t rely on China, who will I rely on?”

Russia has been asking itself the same question. Though Russia and China kept each other at arm’s length for decades, US-led sanctions introduced after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea drove President Vladimir Putin to pursue a closer strategic partnership with China. The bilateral relationship is likely to deepen, regardless of what happens in Ukraine. But the raft of harsh new sanctions the US has promised to implement in the event of a Russian invasion will accelerate this shift significantly, with China as the big winner.

The heavy financial penalties the US has planned – including the “nuclear option” of disconnecting Russian banks from the international SWIFT payments system – would turn China into Russia’s banker, enabling it to reap vast profits and expand the international use of its currency, the renminbi. If Biden fulfilled his pledge to block the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which is set to deliver Russian supplies directly to Germany via the Baltic Sea, China would gain greater access to Russian energy.

In fact, by securing a commitment from Putin this month to a nearly tenfold increase in Russian natural gas exports, China is building a safety net that could – in the event of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan – withstand Western energy sanctions and even a blockade. China could also benefit militarily by demanding greater access to Russian military technology in exchange for its support.

For the US, a strengthened Russia-China axis is the worst possible outcome of the Ukraine crisis. The best outcome would be a compromise with Russia to ensure that it does not invade and possibly annex Ukraine. By enabling the US to avoid further entanglement in Europe, this would permit a more realistic balancing of key objectives – especially checking Chinese aggression in the Indo-Pacific – with available resources and capabilities.

The future of the US-led international order will be decided in Asia, and China is currently doing everything in its power to ensure that order’s demise. Already, China is powerful enough that it can host the Winter Olympics even as it carries out a genocide against Muslims in the Xinjiang region, with limited pushback. If the Biden administration does not recognize the true scale of the threat China poses, and adopt an appropriately targeted strategy soon, whatever window of opportunity for preserving US preeminence remains may well close.

Brahma Chellaney

Brahma Chellaney, Professor of Strategic Studies at the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research and Fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin, is the author of nine books, including Asian Juggernaut; Water: Asia’s New Battleground; and Water, Peace, and War: Confronting the Global Water Crisis.

© Project Syndicate, 2022.

Beijing Winter Olympics were a troubling reminder of 1936 Games

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The success of the Beijing Winter Olympics is another feather in Xi’s cap. Like Hitler’s 1936 Olympics, Xi’s Games succeeded after an international boycott campaign collapsed. Will an emboldened Xi now embark on fresh repression and expansionism?

Brahma Chellaney, Nikkei Asia

Xi Jinping on the screen during the opening ceremony at the Beijing National Stadium on Feb. 4: murky politics can lurk beneath the surface.   © Getty Images

While the Olympic movement seeks to promote “a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play,” murky politics can lurk beneath the surface.

Powerful autocracies serving as hosts have a history of using the Olympics to project themselves as friendly, peace-loving nations so as to advance their geopolitical objectives and cloak their human rights abuses. Yet their actions often speak for themselves.

As the 24th Winter Olympics in Beijing were opening, China warned foreign athletes not to “violate the Olympic spirit” by speaking out on political issues. Yet it has defended its own gross violation of the Olympic spirit by feting as an Olympic torchbearer and national hero a Chinese military officer who led an ambush attack in the Himalayas that killed 20 unarmed Indian soldiers in June 2020.

The lionizing of such a military commander is a telling commentary on the tactics and values of the Chinese Communist Party and its military wing, the People’s Liberation Army. The action also showed that China mixes politics and sports better than any other country.

Since China’s boycott of the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, the CCP has treated sports as politics by other means. It has engaged in bullying tactics against, among others, America’s National Basketball Association (NBA) and England’s Premier League. And it has used threats of withdrawing lucrative sports contracts, broadcast deals and sponsorship opportunities to buy silence regarding its human rights record.

The Beijing Winter Olympics, dubbed the “Genocide Games” by several international human rights organizations, are probably the most divisive games since the Berlin Summer Olympics. The 1936 Games helped strengthen the hands of Germany’s Adolf Hitler, emboldening his expansionism. The 2022 Games follow Chinese President Xi Jinping’s own expansionism, extending from the South China Sea and Hong Kong, to the Himalayas.

In fact, Xi has taken a page out of the 1936 Olympics playbook: Just as Hitler sought to camouflage his segregation and persecution of Jews by permitting one Jewish athlete — fencing champion Helene Mayer — to join the German team, Xi has tried to whitewash his atrocities in Xinjiang by presenting a Uighur skier as the face of the 2022 Games.

Mayer’s inclusion in the German team not only helped end international calls for a boycott of the Games but also allowed Hitler to project the image of a peace-loving statesman. Xi, for his part, opened the 2022 Games with peace doves and an obscure female Uighur skier, Dinigeer Yilamujiang, as the star of the opening ceremony. Chinese state media quickly claimed Yilamujiang had “showed the world a beautiful and progressive Xinjiang.”

There are some other troubling parallels between the two games. Before the 1936 Games, the Sachsenhausen concentration camp had been established and Hitler’s army had marched into the demilitarized Rhineland. The 2022 Games have followed Xi’s expansionism across Asia and what two successive U.S. administrations have labeled “genocide” and “crimes against humanity” in Xinjiang, where more than a million detainees languish in a Muslim gulag.

Since 2015, when Beijing defeated Almaty, Kazakhstan, to win the bid to host the 2022 Games, China has, among other things, established forward military bases on a chain of artificial islands in the South China Sea, set up the Xinjiang gulag, militarized the Himalayan borderlands and encroached on Indian, Bhutanese and Nepalese territories, weaponized debt and gobbled up Hong Kong.

And at home, Xi has established a globally unparalleled techno-authoritarian state whose soaring budget for internal security has overtaken the country’s massive military budget. A repressive internal machinery, aided by an Orwellian surveillance system, is fostering a state strategy to culturally smother ethnic minorities in their traditional homelands, including through demographic change and harsh policing.

With “Xi Jinping Thought” enshrined in the national constitution and turned into the central doctrine guiding the CCP, China’s destiny is now in the hands of one party, one leader and one ideology.

More broadly, just as a long debate has raged over how Western powers had played into Hitler’s hands by participating in the 1936 Games, the failed boycott of the 2022 Games is likely to be a subject of intense discussion in future years.

To be sure, a number of Western countries, including Australia, Belgium, Britain, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Kosovo, Lithuania and the U.S., refused to send officials to Beijing for the opening and closing Olympic ceremonies in protest against China’s human rights abuses.

India, too, at the last minute decided not to grace the ceremonies with its official presence. But such diplomatic boycotts have essentially been symbolic as athletes from those countries are participating fully in the Games, including in the opening and closing ceremonies.

Xi’s Olympic Games are being held under the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic, now in its third year. China’s refusal to cooperate with international efforts to determine the origin of the virus first detected in the city of Wuhan — despite the pandemic’s devastating global impact — underlines the international costs of Xi’s rule.

The U.S., as the world’s leading sports nation and preeminent power, could have undercut the credibility of the Winter Games by deciding not to send its athletes and by leading a wider international boycott. But, as in 1936, it decided to allow its athletes to participate.

Meanwhile, by highlighting that Wall Street remains China’s powerful ally, some of America’s biggest corporations — from Coca-Cola and Visa to Intel and Proctor & Gamble — are underwriting the global spectacle. Very vocal when it comes to political rights at home, such sponsors have kept silent on Xinjiang, the repression in Tibet and Beijing’s clampdown on Hong Kong.

Three years after the 1936 Games, World War II began. Will the 2022 Games also come back to haunt the world? Buoyed by the success of the Games, Xi could embark on fresh repression and expansionism.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and author of nine books, including “Asian Juggernaut: The Rise of China, India and Japan.”

The US is letting China off the hook over its COVID-19 coverup

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The US is letting China off the hook over its COVID-19 coverup
A medical worker takes a swab from a previously recovered COVID-19 coronavirus patient in Wuhan, China on March 14, 2020. © Getty

By Brahma Chellaney, The Hill

America’s death toll from the COVID-19 pandemic, now in its third year, is closing in on one million, with Americans continuing to succumb to the disease at internationally high rates. Both in total case counts and number of deaths since 2020, the United States has led the world. New data show that Americans’ life expectancy in the first year of the pandemic fell 1.8 years — the sharpest decline since at least World War II.

Given the extent of its pain and suffering, the U.S. should have a major stake in unraveling how the COVID-19 virus originated. Knowing the origins of this virus has become imperative to forestall the fourth coronavirus pandemic of the 21 Century after SARS, MERS and COVID-19.

In this light, isn’t it odd that the U.S. government is no longer seeking to get to the bottom of how the virus first emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan? In fact, by relieving pressure on China to come clean on the virus’s origins, President Biden’s administration is effectively letting that communist behemoth off the hook despite the costliest government coverup perhaps of all time. 

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s regime censored all news about the initial spread of COVID-19, including hiding evidence of human-to-human transmission, resulting in a local outbreak morphing into a global health calamity. Even today, by covering up the truth on how the virus emerged, Xi’s regime disrespects the memory of the more than 5.7 million people who have died thus far. The only probe China has allowed was a 2021 “joint study” with the World Health Organization (WHO) that it controlled and steered.

Because of Beijing’s stonewalling of investigations, the world still does not know whether COVID-19 evolved naturally from wildlife or was triggered by the accidental escape of a genetically engineered coronavirus from a lab in Wuhan, the center of Chinese research on super-viruses. Xi’s regime has frustrated all efforts, including by the WHO, to conduct an independent forensic inquiry into the Wuhan labs, labeling such an audit “origin-tracing terrorism.” 

The only concession Xi has made is that last September, after the pandemic had already devastated much of the world, he ordered enhanced oversight of Chinese labs handling lethal viruses. 

Against this background, China has been comforted by Biden’s easing of pressure on it. Soon after Kabul fell to the Taliban last August, marking America’s humiliating defeat at the hands of terrorists, a weakened Biden appeared to bow to the Chinese demand that the U.S. stop investigating the virus’s origins by not extending the 90-day term of the intelligence inquiry that he had instituted, despite the probe failing to reach a definitive conclusion. 

Since then, Biden has avoided any reference to the pandemic’s origins. And after having prematurely proclaimed on the Fourth of July that “we’re closer than ever to declaring our independence from a deadly virus,” Biden is now preparing Americans for the “new normal” of living with COVID-19, not conquering it.

Biden’s first misstep occurred just after his inauguration as the 46th president when he announced America’s immediate rejoining of the WHO. He could have leveraged his predecessor’s withdrawal from the WHO to make that international organization take steps to separate itself from the malign influence of China before formalizing America’s reentry.

The WHO led by Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was complicit in China’s coverup. Indeed, it made important concessions to Beijing that may have compromised the search for the virus’s origins. So, America’s unconditional return to the WHO did little more than advertise U.S. weakness and harden Xi’s intransigence.

Then, on Jan. 26, 2021, Biden signed a presidential memorandum that ordered federal agencies to stop referring to the virus by the “geographic location of its origin,” saying that such references contribute to “racism.” So, as a matter of official U.S. policy, the virus could no more be linked to China.

Consequently, official U.S. reports, including the last annual unclassified intelligence report on threats to America, stopped mentioning the virus’s Wuhan origin. Yet, oddly, it has been okay to refer to the virus’s variants by their geographic origins or even slap on a racially tinged travel ban, as Biden did with eight southern Africa countries for five weeks after the omicron variant emerged. 

More recently, the Biden administration’s inexplicable decision not to field a candidate against Tedros left his bid unopposed for a second five-year term as the WHO chief. Indeed, France, Germany and 15 other European Union countries, with possible U.S. acquiescence, took the lead in nominating Tedros for a second term, even as his home country of Ethiopia denounced him. 

Here’s the paradox: Further undermining the WHO’s credibility, Tedros attended the Beijing Winter Olympics, despite a U.S.-led diplomatic boycott, and heaped renewed praise on China’s COVID-19 handling. In fact, Tedros carried the Olympic torch in a relay that also prominently featured another torchbearer, a Chinese military officer who led the ambush killing of 20 Indian troops in June 2020 and who, in gross violation of the Olympic spirit, is now being feted by China as a national hero. Yet, thanks to Western support, Tedros’s reelection in May has become a mere formality.

To Biden’s credit, last May he helped end the long suppression of an open debate on a possible lab leak by calling that hypothesis one of “two likely scenarios” on how the pandemic originated. Until then, the hypothesis was treated as a pure conspiracy theory by major U.S. news organizationssocial-media giants and some influential scientists who hid their conflicts of interest. Facebook and Instagram even suspended accounts that repeatedly referred to the virus’s possible escape from a lab.

The concerted effort to obscure the truth also extended to U.S. scientific and bureaucratic institutions, largely because U.S. government agencies – from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to USAID – funded dangerous research on coronaviruses at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) from 2014 to 2020. The long suppression of a debate only aided China’s designs, including giving it sufficient time to conceivably eliminate any incriminating evidence of its negligence or complicity in the worst disaster of our time.  

One key question remains unanswered: Why were official U.S. agencies funding research on viruses at the WIV, which, according to the U.S. government’s own admission, was linked to the Chinese military? A January 2021 State Department fact sheet raised concern over “whether any of our research funding was diverted to secret Chinese military projects at the WIV.” But why did the funding proceed despite that risk?

It appears likely that Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and his then-boss, Francis Collins, former director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), began funding risky experiments at the WIV so as to circumvent the restrictions in the U.S. on “gain of function” research — or altering the genetic make-up of pathogens to enhance their virulence or infectiousness. The NIH money was routed through the New York-based EcoHealth Alliance, whose largest source of funds is the Pentagon. The Pentagon has yet to unequivocally deny that any of the almost $39 million it gave to EcoHealth Alliance ended up in Wuhan. 

The NIH, for its part, has sought to obfuscate its role by scrubbing its website of the “gain of function” definition.

The Beijing Winter Olympics, meanwhile, symbolize an ascendant China that is too powerful to be punished for its COVID-19 coverup, its genocide in Xinjiang and its expansionism across Asia.

Relieving U.S. pressure on China is clearly a mistake. The Biden White House would do well to rebuild pressure on Beijing by lifting the veil on the precise role the U.S. played in supporting WIV research on increasing the transmissivity of bat coronaviruses to human cells. For starters, the U.S. should disclose the full extent of its WIV funding. America’s own transparency is essential for credible pressure on an opaque China.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and the author of nine books, including the award-winning “Water: Asia’s New Battleground” (Georgetown University Press).

International costs of Biden’s Afghan debacle mount

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China and Russia up the ante, violent Islamists become more emboldened, and allies are restive

U.S. Marines stand guard during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport in August 2021: the costs of the Afghan blunder are becoming increasingly apparent. (Handout photo from U.S. Marine Corps)   © Reuters

Brahma Chellaney, Nikkei Asia

History will remember U.S. President Joe Biden for consigning Afghanistan to the dark age of terrorist rule.

Yet Biden still says he has “no apologies” for his Afghan debacle. America’s self-inflicted defeat and humiliation at the hands of a brutal, Pakistan-backed Islamist militia spawned the greatest victory for terrorists in the modern history of global jihadism.

“I make no apologies for what I did,” Biden defiantly stated at his recent news conference, his first in months. By simply washing his hands of the humanitarian and security nightmare that he created in Afghanistan, Biden has compounded the greatest U.S. foreign-policy disaster in decades.

At a time when global affairs are already in a precarious state, the costs of the Afghan blunder are becoming increasingly apparent, including weakening Biden’s hand against America’s principal adversaries, China and Russia.

While highlighting the decline in American power, the Afghan fiasco has created greater space for China’s muscular revisionism in Asia and enhanced Russia’s geopolitical ambitions in the former Soviet republics extending from Ukraine to Georgia and Kazakhstan.

Worse still, the Taliban’s triumph over the “Great Satan” is serving as a real shot in the arm for Islamic terrorist groups across the world, inspiring jihadi attacks.

One example was the Jan. 15 hostage-taking at a Texas synagogue by a British Pakistani man who sought to free a convicted female Pakistani terrorist, Aafia Siddiqui, serving an 86-year sentence at a nearby prison.

Emboldened militants in Syria in recent days attacked a major prison housing thousands of former ISIS fighters, triggering a six-day wider fight with American ground troops that included U.S. airstrikes. Hundreds reportedly died. It was the biggest confrontation involving the U.S. military in three years since ISIS lost the last remaining portion of its so-called caliphate.

Meanwhile, in the deadliest attack in several years on an Iraqi military base, jihadis recently killed 10 soldiers and an officer. Such attacks raise concerns over the possible rebirth of global terrorism, including the re-emergence of ISIS.

America’s retreat from Afghanistan, meanwhile, is proving a strategic boon for Russia and China, which have ratcheted up their military threats against Ukraine and Taiwan, respectively.

Whereas Russia has massed some 100,000 troops near the Ukrainian border as if poised to invade Ukraine, a record number of Chinese warplanes have intruded into Taiwan’s self-declared air defense identification zone since October.

The U.S. may still be the world’s preeminent military power, but it is in no position to meaningfully take on China and Russia simultaneously. So the U.S.-NATO tensions with Moscow over the Russian military buildup around Ukraine risk whetting Chinese President Xi Jinping’s appetite for risk-taking, especially against Taiwan, his possible next target after notching up successes in the South China Sea and Hong Kong.

Biden’s Afghan disaster, meanwhile, has exacerbated security challenges for America’s regional friends, especially India, which now confronts a strengthening China-Pakistan-Taliban nexus. The rejuvenated epicenter for terrorism in the Afghanistan-Pakistan belt threatens to detract from India’s current efforts to counter China’s border aggression, which began with stealth incursions into the northern Indian territory of Ladakh in April 2020.

While Biden has elevated the Russian military threat against Ukraine to an international crisis, he, in jarring contrast, has not uttered a word on China’s larger-scale Himalayan military buildup that threatens to ignite a war with one of America’s most vital strategic partners, India.

Xi’s summit this week with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Beijing — the Chinese leader’s first face-to-face meeting with a head of state in nearly two years — underlines the deepening strategic axis between China and Russia, which are now “more aligned than at any point since the mid-1950s,” according to a U.S. intelligence assessment.

Warships attend a joint naval exercise of the Iranian, Chinese and Russian navies in the northern Indian Ocean on Jan. 19.   © West Asia News Agency/Reuters

This may be little more than a marriage of convenience so as to jointly collaborate against their common foe in Washington. But since the U.S. defeat in Afghanistan, Beijing and Moscow have surprised America with major joint military exercises, including naval war games off Russia’s Far East coast in October and recent naval drills with Iran in the Gulf of Oman. The Sino-Russian collaboration reportedly extends to hypersonic-weapons technology.

Afghanistan may no longer be grabbing headlines in the West, yet it is ordinary Afghans who are paying for Biden’s blunder, as highlighted by the Taliban’s arbitrary detentions and killings, sexual enslavement of girls through forced “marriages” to their fighters, and stripping women and girls of their rights to education and equality.

The Taliban’s narco-terrorist state, serving as a haven for al-Qaida and other violent jihadi groups, is a threat to regional and international security.

The U.S., for its part, has suffered lasting damage to its international credibility and standing from Biden’s strategic folly in Afghanistan, including throwing America’s allies — the Afghan government and military — under the bus.

The damage is not only emboldening Russia, China and violent Islamists; it also has a bearing on America’s alliances, given that Biden rejected allied demands for a conditions-based withdrawal from Afghanistan.

This adds greater urgency to a question pending since earlier U.S. blunders in Iraq, Syria and Libya: How to reform alliances so that there is less U.S. diktat and more prior consultations with its allies?

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and author of nine books, including “Asian Juggernaut: The Rise of China, India and Japan.”

The Great COVID Coverup

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As the world attempts to figure out how to live with COVID-19, it must also commit to identifying the missteps – accidental and otherwise – that caused the pandemic. That means, first and foremost, turning a critical eye toward China.

BRAHMA CHELLANEYProject Syndicate

As the pandemic enters its third year, questions about COVID-19’s origins appear increasingly distant. But if we are to forestall another coronavirus pandemic in the twenty-first century, understanding the causes of the current one is imperative.

Already, COVID-19 has caused more than 5.4 million deaths. But that is just the beginning: the toll of the pandemic includes increased rates of obesityunemploymentpovertydepressionalcoholismhomicidedomestic violencedivorce, and suicide. And, as the Omicron variant fuels record infection rates and disrupts economies in many parts of the world, pandemic fatigue is morphing into pandemic burnout.

Our chances of eliminating COVID-19 now appear increasingly remote. But, as we attempt to figure out how to live with the virus, we must also identify the missteps – accidental and otherwise – that led us here. And that means, first and foremost, turning a critical eye toward China.

It is well known that Chinese President Xi Jinping’s regime censored early reports that a new, deadly coronavirus had emerged in Wuhan and hid evidence of human-to-human transmission, thereby enabling a local outbreak to become a global calamity. What remains to be determined is whether COVID-19 emerged naturally in wildlife or was leaked from a lab – namely, the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV).

Here, too, China has embraced obfuscation rather than transparency. Xi’s regime has blocked an independent forensic inquiry into COVID-19’s origins, arguing that any such investigation amounts to “origin-tracing terrorism.” After Australia called for a probe into China’s handling of the outbreak, Xi’s government punished it with a raft of informal sanctions.

China had help covering up its bad behavior. Early in the pandemic, World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus parroted the Chinese government’s talking points and praised its handling of the outbreak. Instead of verifying China’s claims, the WHO broadcast them to the world.

Yet far from condemning this failure of global health leadership, France and Germany took the lead in nominating Tedros for a second term at the WHO’s helm, and the United States decided not to field a candidate to challenge him. Having run unopposed, Tedros will now lead this critical institution for another five years.

The West also helped China to divert attention from the lab-leak hypothesis. Not only are several labs in the West engaged in research to engineer super-viruses; Western governments have ties to the WIV – a French-designed institute where US-funded research has been carried out. Both the National Institutes of Health and USAID have issued grants to EcoHealth Alliance, a group studying bat coronaviruses in collaboration with WIV researchers.

The US government has not disclosed the full extent of its funding to WIV projects, let alone explained why its agencies would fund research at an institution linked to the Chinese military. A January 2021 State Department fact sheet proclaimed that the US has “a right and obligation to determine whether any of our research funding was diverted to secret Chinese military projects at the WIV.” But why was that risk deemed acceptable in the first place?

The conflicts of interest surrounding the lab-leak hypothesis distorted early discussions about the origins of COVID-19. A letter published in the Lancet in February 2020, signed by a group of virologists, is a case in point. The letter “strongly condemned” those “suggesting that COVID-19 did not have a natural origin.” The message was clear: to lend any credence to the possibility of a lab leak would be unscientific.

The letter turned out to be organized and drafted by the president of EcoHealth Alliance. But by the time the conflicts of interest came to light, it was too late. Major US news organizations and social-media giants were treating the lab-leak hypothesis as a baseless conspiracy theory, with Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter censoring references to a lab accident.

It should always have been clear that the lab-leak hypothesis had merit: the 2004 outbreak of SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) in Beijing resulted from such a leak. Instead, frank discussion of the possibility was suppressed until May 2021, when US President Joe Biden announced that a lab accident was one of “two likely scenarios” on which US intelligence agencies would focus, as they carried out a 90-day inquiry into the pandemic’s origins.

By then, however, Chinese authorities had had plenty of time to cover whatever tracks there may have been. Add to that its unwillingness to cooperate in a probe, and it should not be surprising that the inquiry’s results were inconclusive.

But the exercise was apparently enough to convince Biden to take the pressure off China. Despite pledging to “do everything [possible] to trace the roots of this outbreak that has caused so much pain and death around the world,” he did not extend the intelligence inquiry, and he has since avoided any reference to the pandemic’s origins.

Xi announced last September that Chinese labs handling deadly pathogens would face closer scrutiny, but he continues to denounce any insinuation that the coronavirus could have been leaked. Meanwhile, China is profiting from the pandemic; exports are surging. The country has capitalized on the crisis to advance its geopolitical interests, including by stepping up its territorial aggression, from East Asia to the Himalayas.

But a reckoning may yet come. Nearly three-quarters of Americans now believe that it is “likely” that COVID-19 was leaked from the WIV. Moreover, as China’s neo-imperialist ambitions have become clear, unfavorable views of China have reached record highs in many advanced economies. If world leaders wanted a mandate to pursue further inquiries into the pandemic’s origins, it is safe to say they have it.

This is not the first made-in-China pandemic – the country also produced SARS in 2003, the Asian flu in 1957, the Hong Kong flu in 1968, and the Russian flu in 1977. If the world keeps letting China off the hook, it will not be the last.

Brahma Chellaney

Brahma Chellaney, Professor of Strategic Studies at the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research and Fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin, is the author of nine books, including Asian Juggernaut; Water: Asia’s New Battleground; and Water, Peace, and War: Confronting the Global Water Crisis.

© Project Syndicate, 2022.

India must give Taiwan a helping hand

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Do you know that Taiwan plays an indirect role in the defense of India because its autonomous existence ties up a sizable portion of China’s armed forces? If China succeeds in recolonizing Taiwan, India’s security will come under greater pressure.

Brahma Chellaney, The Times of India

After swallowing Hong Kong, redrawing the South China Sea’s geopolitical map and encroaching on Indian and Bhutanese borderlands, an expansionist China is itching to move on Taiwan. This island democracy is a technological powerhouse central to the international semiconductor business. Taiwan also plays an indirect role in the defence of India because its autonomous existence ties up a sizable portion of China’s armed forces.

Beijing’s claim that Taiwan has “always been” part of China is dubious, at best, and based on revisionist history. For most of its history, Taiwan was inhabited by Malayo-Polynesian tribes and had no ties with China until the island’s Dutch colonial rulers in the 17th century invited Chinese workers to emigrate. Geographically, Taiwan is closer to the Philippines than China.

The world cannot afford to let Taiwan go the way of the once-autonomous Tibet, which was gobbled up by Mao Zedong’s regime in the early 1950s. Tibet’s annexation remains one of the most far-reaching geopolitical developments in post-World War II history, which resulted in China imposing itself as India’s neighbour and waging unending aggression.

Today, Taiwan has all the attributes of a robust independent state, and most Taiwanese want it to stay that way. But China’s new Mao, Xi Jinping, calls the island’s incorporation a “historic mission”. Xi is working to implement the expansionist agenda that Mao left unfinished, which explains why he has not spared even tiny Bhutan.

In the way a porcupine’s quills protect it from larger predators by making it difficult to digest, Taiwan needs to create porcupine-like defences with weapons like anti-ship and anti-aircraft missiles. By turning a Chinese invasion into a bloody and protracted guerrilla campaign, a porcupine Taiwan would inflict high costs on China, including major military casualties.

But no less important than bolstering its defences is Taiwan’s imperative to carve out greater international space for itself. If Taiwan gains greater presence on the global stage, it will be able to shore up its status as a de facto nation, making it more difficult for China to seize the island in the way it occupied Tibet and Xinjiang soon after coming under communist rule in 1949. The then-independent Tibet, for example, should have applied for United Nations membership shortly after that international body came into existence in 1945, but it never did.

China, as a step towards annexing Taiwan, is working to wipe out its international identity by bribing countries to break off diplomatic ties with Taipei and by vetoing Taiwan’s presence even in international forums. Its poaching has left only 13 nations and the Vatican still recognizing Taiwan.

But recently, China has been forced to eat humble pie by a puny nation. Lithuania, with just 18,500 active military personnel, has set an example for bigger countries on how to stand up to the global Goliath’s bullying. Undeterred by China’s sanctions campaign against it, Lithuania has allowed Taiwan to open a de facto embassy. With some other European states — from the Czech Republic and Poland to Slovakia — already seeking to deepen ties with Taiwan, Lithuania indeed promises to serve as a bellwetherof sorts.

India, locked in several military standoffs with China, needs to think and act creatively, including helping Taiwan by learning from its historical mistake on Tibet. When China invaded Tibet in 1950, India opposed Tibet’s desperate plea for a UN discussion before acquiescing in the Chinese annexation of the buffer, including withdrawing its military escorts from Tibet and handing over Tibet’s postal, telegraph and telephone services that it was running.

If Taiwan is not to go Tibet’s way, India must do its part to help Taiwan reinforce its defences and self-governing status. India must follow the lead of Japan and the US in strengthening ties with Taipei. And it should emulate the example set by minnow Lithuania and allow Taiwan to rename its “Taipei Economic and Cultural Centre” in New Delhi as the “Taiwanese Representative Office”, while rebranding its own mission in Taipei as the “India Representative Office”.

Make no mistake: Taiwan is on the frontline of international defence against Xi’s totalitarianism and expansionism, which have spawned a Muslim gulag in Xinjiang, brutal repression in Tibet and Himalayan aggression. Major democracies must act before it becomes too late to save Taiwan, a democratic success story. If China succeeds in recolonizing Taiwan, India’s security will come under greater pressure.

The writer is professor of strategic studies, Centre for Policy Research.

The Quad needs an economic pillar to stand on

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The Quad, a partnership of democracies that had once appeared more concept than reality, has been fortified. But it faces important challenges, including an expansive agenda that could dilute its focus and the absence of an economic pillar to lend support.

Joe Biden hosts a Quad leaders summit at the White House in September 2021: American, Australian, Indian and Japanese interests are not entirely congruent.   © Reuters

Brahma Chellaney, Nikkei Asia

Resurrected in November 2017, the Australia-India-Japan-United States Quad has come a long way toward cementing a strategic coalition of the leading democracies of the Indo-Pacific region.

But the question of where the Quad is headed has gained greater salience in the wake of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) taking effect with Japan and Australia included in it.

RCEP, billed as the world’s largest trade bloc, and the separate Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) seek to promote economic integration around China and Japan, even as Beijing pursues its neo-imperial Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) that has already ensnared some vulnerable states in sovereignty-eroding debt traps. The U.S. and India were to be members of CPTPP and RCEP, respectively, but then both decided not to join.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi famously mocked the Quad in 2018 as a “headline-grabbing idea” that will dissipate “like the sea foam in the Pacific or Indian Ocean.” However, the Quad, anchored in the free and open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) vision, continues to gain in strength, largely in response to China’s muscular revisionism.Leaders of participating nations at the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership meeting in Singapore, pictured in November 2018: the question of where the Quad is headed has gained greater salience in the wake of RCEP taking effect on Jan. 1.   © Reuters

The change of administrations in the U.S. and Japan in 2021 and in Australia in 2018, far from slowing momentum, has helped build continuity, making the Quad’s future more durable.

The past year will be remembered for the first-ever Quad leaders summits — a virtual summit in March, and then an in-person summit at the White House in September. The summits yielded the first-ever Quad joint statements, which articulated a clear-eyed vision. Until then, the pattern was for each state to issue its own statement at the end of a meeting of officials from the Quad countries.

To be sure, when U.S. President Joe Biden was elected, there was uncertainty over the Quad’s future, including whether Biden would carry forward his predecessor’s FOIP strategy. Only after being sworn in did Biden embrace the FOIP concept and speak about the Quad.

There is a reason why the Quad remains central to America’s Indo-Pacific strategy, despite the new, Biden-initiated AUKUS alliance with Australia and Britain. The U.S., given its relative decline, needs its allies more than ever so that, in seeking to address international challenges, American power is augmented with that of its allies and strategic partners. Asian power equilibrium cannot be built without Japan, India and Australia.

In contrast to the AUKUS alliance’s security mission, the Quad now has an agenda extending to geoeconomic issues. While then-U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration helped give the Quad strategic meaning, the Biden administration has sought to reorient the group toward dealing with geoeconomic challenges.

The Quad initiatives since 2021 reflect this new focus. The initiative to build resilient supply chains, for example, extends from the technology and public-health sectors to semiconductors and clean energy. It draws strength from the hard lessons many economies have learned about China-dependent supply chains.

The Quad is also seeking to deliver transparent, high-standard infrastructure by coordinating technical assistance and capacity-building efforts with regional states. The objective is to set up public-private partnership projects that are properly planned and financially and environmentally sustainable, in contrast to China’s BRI projects, many of which have also faced allegations of corruption and malpractice.

The Quad Vaccine Partnership, the most-visible initiative, is aimed at fostering equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines by expanding vaccine manufacturing capacity in the quartet and by donating vaccines to other countries. Vaccine donations collectively by the quartet already rank the largest in the world.

Such initiatives show that the Quad, although catalyzed into action by China’s aggressive actions and irascible behavior, has become more directed toward larger geoeconomic issues.

A partnership of democracies that had once appeared more concept than reality has been fortified, with its leaders pledging to promote a rules-based Indo-Pacific that is “undaunted by coercion.”

However, the Quad’s new attention on global issues, from climate change — Biden’s pet concern — to cybersecurity and the pandemic, risks diluting the group’s Indo-Pacific focus. Its expansive geoeconomic agenda could also weigh it down.

Furthermore, American, Australian, Indian and Japanese interests are not entirely congruent. For example, India, facing the China-Pakistan strategic axis, maintains a land-based defense posture, whereas Australia, Japan and the U.S. are all focused on the maritime domain. And while America’s main objective regarding China is nonmilitary — to counter its geopolitical, ideological and economic challenge to U.S. preeminence — Japan and India confront a direct Chinese threat.

According to Chinese state media commentary, Japan and Australia’s participation in RCEP has taken “the wind out of the Quad’s anti-Chinese sails.” Australia and Japan have consistently refused to bend to Chinese pressure. But they have been lured by the billions of additional dollars that they will likely earn from RCEP’s boosting of regional trade, even as China gains a greater say in shaping trade rules in the Indo-Pacific.

Arrangements like RCEP, CPTPP and BRI, in fact, underscore the imperative for an economic pillar for the FOIP vision in order to give the Quad more comprehensive meaning. The Biden administration says it will unveil an economic framework that will go beyond these arrangements.

The Quad’s security role needs to be complemented with a concretized Indo-Pacific economic dimension so that security and economic interests are fused. Otherwise, if its members pick economic interests over security interests, the Quad’s relevance will erode.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and author of nine books, including “Asian Juggernaut: The Rise of China, India and Japan.”

A David nation puts the global Goliath in its place

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BY BRAHMA CHELLANEY, The Hill

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is intrinsically totalitarian, belligerent, arbitrary, expansionist and contemptuous of international law. And under Xi Jinping, the CCP has become more despotic, coercive and punitive. With its “tribute nation” approach to weak, vulnerable states, it seeks to influence their sovereign decisions.

But now a midget nation, with just 18,500 active military personnel, has set an example for bigger countries on how not to succumb to the efforts of the world’s largest, strongest and longest-surviving autocracy to impose its will through coercive pressure.

Lithuania, with a population smaller than the smallest second-tier Chinese city, has stood up to China by defying its threats and letting Taiwan open a representative office in Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital. This action was preceded by Lithuania’s withdrawal from the 17+1, which groups 17 countries of East and Central Europe with China to help promote Xi’s neo-imperial Belt and Road Initiative. And after its defense ministry found that Chinese mobile phones had built-in censorship capabilities, Lithuania advised consumers to ditch such devices. 

With Lithuania now set to open its own representative office in Taipei, Taiwan’s capital, China has ratcheted up its punitive campaign against the Baltic nation of 2.8 million people that prides itself on its role in promoting human rights and democracy. The angry vitriol spewed by the Chinese state media has extended to mocking Lithuania’s puny size. 

Yet, it is particularly galling for the CCP leadership that even translating threats into action and persisting with high-octane denunciations have not brought that minnow to heel.

China’s diplomatic sanctions have included withdrawing its ambassador from Vilnius and expelling the Lithuanian ambassador and then creating a situation that led Lithuania to shut its embassy in Beijing. China has also slapped informal trade sanctions on Lithuania, including imposing a customs block on its exports. And in a bid to disrupt production in Lithuania, China has been denying export permits for items needed by that country’s producers. 

More importantly, the CCP’s weaponization of trade extends to banning multinational companies from using Lithuanian-produced parts and supplies or risk being shut out of the Chinese market. German companies with manufacturing facilities in Lithuania have the most to lose from this ban, with automotive supplier Continental under pressure to close operations there.

Lithuania, a member of the European Union and NATO, may have received little more than verbal support from Washington and Brussels thus far, yet it has refused to buckle under Chinese pressure. 

Lithuania’s oversize place in Chinese diplomacy extends beyond its role as a transit corridor for freight trains from China to Europe. The CCP, as part of its strategy to annex Taiwan, is working to wipe out that island democracy’s international identity by bribing countries to break off diplomatic ties with Taipei. 

China has already poached several of Taiwan’s diplomatic allies – including Burkina Faso, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Kiribati, Panama, the Solomon Islands and, most recently, Nicaragua – leaving only 13 nations and the Vatican still recognizing Taiwan as a sovereign nation. To squeeze Taiwan, Beijing has been vetoing its participation even in international forums where Taipei was earlier present, such as the World Health Organization’s decision-making World Health Assembly.

In this light, the CCP is enraged that Lithuania is moving in the other direction by allowing Taiwan to open a de facto embassy. And it worries that Lithuania could serve as a bellwether of sorts for Taiwan securing greater international cooperation. 

The CCP is right to be concerned on that score. Some East and Central European nations, from the Czech Republic and Poland to Slovakia, are already seeking to deepen economic and cultural relations with Taiwan. No wonder Lithuania has been labeled by the CCP media as the “anti-China vanguard” in Europe.

If Taiwan gains greater presence on the international stage, it will be able to shore up its status as a de facto nation, making it more difficult for China to seize the self-governing island in the way it occupied Tibet and Xinjiang soon after coming under communist rule in 1949. The then-independent Tibet, for example, should have applied for United Nations membership shortly after that international body came into existence in 1945, but it never did.

Taiwan, a technological powerhouse with the world’s 22nd-largest economy by gross domestic product, has all the attributes of a robust independent state, and most Taiwanese want it to stay that way. In addition to bolstering its defenses with weapons like anti-ship and anti-aircraft missiles to deter a Chinese invasion, Taiwan needs to expand its global footprint to help safeguard its autonomous status. 

Recognizing Taiwan’s imperative to win broader international support, major democracies – from the United States to Japan – are strengthening ties with Taipei, even as China steps up its campaign to isolate Taiwan. President Biden invited two Taiwanese officials to join the virtual “summit for democracy” that he recently hosted.

Against this background, Lithuania, setting a rare European example of fealty to democratic principles over other interests, has challenged China’s effort to turn Taiwan into an international pariah by permitting a representative office bearing the name “Taiwan” rather than “Chinese Taipei” (used by many nations and the International Olympic Committee) or “Taipei Economic and Cultural Office” (as in Canada and the U.S., for example). About 14 other nations host a “Taipei Representative Office.” But the “Taiwanese Representative Office” in Lithuania is the first such named office, which, according to the Chinese foreign ministry, supplants the one-China principle with “one China, one Taiwan in the world.”

The CCP’s campaign to bully Lithuania into submission was destined to fail because Beijing lacks real leverage over that nation: Lithuania’s exports to China accounted for just 1 percent of total exports, and the Lithuanian imports of Chinese products can be sourced from elsewhere. The CCP campaign was more about sending a warning to the rest of Europe not to follow Lithuania’s lead.

However, by showcasing its hectoring behavior and heavy-handed tactics, the CCP could impel some other nations to follow the Lithuanian example, thereby helping Taiwan to carve out more international space for itself. In other words, winning the geopolitical battle in Lithuania could be a turning point for Taiwan.

More broadly, by opening too many fronts simultaneously through its aggressive actions, the CCP has already dented China’s image, alienated the country’s partners and provoked an international backlash, thus leaving Beijing with only one lever of power — brute force. Simply put, the unbridled ambition, muscular revisionism, international bullying and hubris of the Xi-led CCP is turning it into China’s own worst enemy.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and the author of nine books, including the award-winning “Water: Asia’s New Battleground” (Georgetown University Press).

Regional consequences of Biden’s Afghan debacle

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(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

BRAHMA CHELLANEY, InsideOver

Afghanistan represents more of an American political capitulation to a terrorist organization (the Taliban) than a U.S. military defeat. By overruling his military generals, who forewarned that a precipitous American withdrawal would facilitate Taliban’s conquest, U.S. President Joe Biden has sent Afghanistan back in time, to the “dark age” of terrorist rule.

The greatest costs of Biden’s blunder are being counted in Afghans tortured and killed, girls sexually enslaved through forced “marriages” to Taliban fighters, and women and girls losing their rights to education and equality. The damage to America’s international credibility and standing pales in comparison to the costs ordinary Afghans are paying for the biggest U.S. foreign-policy disaster in decades.

The Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan is the greatest jihadist victory in modern times. It is an unprecedented boost for jihadists everywhere, from Europe to Africa and Asia. It will inspire other terrorist groups, thus promising the rebirth of global terror.

The regional impact is already apparent. For example, there has been a spurt of terrorism in the Indian-administered part of disputed and divided Kashmir and increasing seizures of Afghan-origin heroin in India, which is located between the world’s two main opium-producing centers — the Pakistan-Afghanistan-Iran “Golden Crescent” and the Myanmar-Thailand-Laos “Golden Triangle.”

Pakistan has effectively gained proxy control of Afghanistan by masterminding the Taliban’s conquest of that country. The Taliban, along with their special forces, the Haqqani Network, are a wing of the Pakistani “deep state.” The Haqqani Network chief, Sirajuddin Haqqani, who now serves as Afghanistan’s interior minister, is a deputy leader of the Taliban. Even before the Taliban formed their government, the head of Pakistan’s rogue Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency reached Kabul, as if to advertise that the real boss had stepped in.

Pakistan’s celebrations, however, are unlikely to last long. An unstable, economically bankrupt and terrorist-ruled Afghanistan will likely exacerbate violent jihadism in Pakistan, whose ethnic and sectarian fault lines have already made its future uncertain.

Pakistan’s military, meanwhile, has expanded its role from strategic matters to economic management, with its commercial empire valued at more than $100 billion. Its domineering role ensures a weak civilian government. As former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has said, the military has progressed from being a “state within a state” to becoming a “state above the state.”

It is Pakistan’s military that has long reared terrorist groups because it employs terrorism as an instrument of state policy against neighboring countries. Ironically, the U.S. has long served as Pakistan’s top aid donor. General Hamid Gul, a former chief of Pakistan’s military spy agency, once boasted that, when history is written, it will be recorded that, “The ISI, with the help of America, defeated America.” That boast came true when Kabul fell to the Taliban on August 15.

Given Afghanistan’s strategic location at the crossroads of Central, South and Southwest Asia, it is no surprise that the greatest geopolitical fallout from Afghanistan’s security and humanitarian catastrophe is being felt in the region extending from Russia and China to the Middle East. The void opened by America’s humiliating retreat has given greater strategic space for an assertive China in particular to expand its strategic footprint.

China, with its long-standing ties to the Taliban, including supplying weapons via Pakistan, has taken the lead in portraying the U.S. as a declining power whose ditching of the Afghan government demonstrates that it is an unreliable partner for any country. After Kabul’s fall, China’s victory lap included a state-media warning to Taiwan that the U.S. would abandon it too in the face of a Chinese invasion.

The Taliban’s victory in Afghanistan helps China in other ways, too. Given that Pakistan is a Chinese client, the U.S. defeat paves the way for China to make strategic inroads into Afghanistan, with its substantial mineral wealth and location between Iran and the Pakistan-India belt. China has sought to achieve this by offering the Taliban the two things it desperately needs: international recognition and economic aid. Beijing has been demanding that Washington unfreeze Afghanistan’s financial assets.

One definite loser from America’s Afghanistan debacle is India, whose security risks coming under siege from the Pakistan-China-Taliban coalition. India, one of the largest aid donors to Afghanistan, had a big presence in that country, but its diplomats and civilians were among the first to flee.

Since last year, India has been locked in military standoffs with China along their long Himalayan border following furtive China incursions across the frontier. But if India now faces a greater terrorist threat from across its western borders, it will have less capacity to counter an expansionist China.

When the Taliban was previously in power, from 1996 to 2001, it allowed Pakistan to use Afghan territory to train terrorists for missions in India. Its return to power thus opens a new front for terrorism against India, which may be forced to shift its focus from the intensifying military standoffs with China in the Himalayas. Simply put, Afghanistan’s fall is likely to strengthen the anti-India axis between the Taliban’s sponsor, Pakistan, and Pakistan’s main patron, China.

Meanwhile, thanks to the Taliban’s defeat of the world’s leading power, radical Islam is again on the march, a development that carries security implications even for Western countries. The Taliban, for its part, is turning Afghanistan into a narco-terrorist state. According to a recent UN Security Council report, the production and trafficking of poppy-based and synthetic drugs remain “the Taliban’s largest single source of income,” contributing “significantly to the narcotics challenges facing the wider international community.” The criminal profits from this trade lubricate the Taliban’s terror machine.

The Taliban’s “Islamic emirate” is likely to serve as a magnet for violent Islamists from around the world. The Taliban regime’s cabinet includes a who’s who of international terrorism, including some of the world’s most-notorious narcotics kingpins. The U.S.-led global war on terror, which was already faltering before Biden took office, may not recover.

Brahma Chellaney, author of nine books, is Professor of Strategic Studies at the independent Center for Policy Research in New Delhi and a Richard von Weizsäcker Fellow of the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin.

China’s Trojan Gift: Creditor Imperialism

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We are witnessing the end of China’s happy days when a positive image and almost unlimited capital helped its push for global influence and assets.

The scale and ambition of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is staggering. Credible estimates suggest it has now lent $1.5 trillion of state money to 150 countries, more than the International Monetary Fund or the World Bank, let alone any other nation state. Is that sustainable and, given the recent slump in Chinese lending, is the decline an issue that will simply melt away?

What China’s President Xi Jinping hails as the “project of the century” is better described as debt-trap diplomacy. By extending huge loans with strings attached to financially vulnerable states, the BRI has boosted China’s political leverage over debtor states, ensnaring some in sovereignty-eroding debt traps. China has also secured favorable access to their natural assets, such as mineral resources and ports.

BRI loans continue until a borrower nation faces a debt crisis, which then arms China with considerable leverage to wrest political and economic concessions. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) won its first overseas naval base at Djibouti, for example, as a result of debt entrapment. The more desperate a borrower’s situation, the higher the interest rates China will seek to impose.

Paradoxically however, the China-originating coronavirus pandemic has taken its toll on the BRI by contributing to a sharp drop in lending. Since peaking in the second half of 2019, BRI financing has continued to decline. The pandemic’s socioeconomic disruptions and adverse impacts on GDP have crimped many developing nations’ capacity to undertake new infrastructure projects.

Other factors are also at play, including the international spotlight on China’s predatory lending practices. Xi’s regime, while refusing to come clean on the origins of the covid virus, has utilized the pandemic to step up muscular revisionism and other scofflaw actions, from the East and South China Seas to the Himalayas.

All of which has dented China’s global image, with China’s reputation reaching new lows. This has given confidence to a number of BRI recipient countries, including some that have slipped into debt servitude to China, to oppose unfavorable terms for fresh loans or seek renegotiation of existing loan contracts.

China has invariably refused to renegotiate the terms of existing contracts. But with a number of states scrapping or scaling back BRI projects, it is being compelled to re-strategize and recalibrate lending. The increasingly precarious financial situations of a growing number of BRI partner states have also dampened Chinese state lenders’ appetite for risk-taking.

These factors collectively explain the downward trend in BRI finance and investments, which in the first half of 2021 declined 32% to $19.3 billion compared to the previous six months. In the pre-pandemic boom time, BRI financing had reached a record $63.3 billion in the second half of 2019.

To be sure, the BRI (whose official name at launch was One Belt, One Road) continues to make inroads in the developing world, as illustrated by the newly completed high-speed railway connecting Laos to China. Ironically, Laos was compelled just about a year ago to hand over control of its debt-laden national power grid to a majority Chinese-owned company

And yet the BRI’s glory days are unlikely ever to return, even if the pandemic comes under control. The dangers of China’s creditor imperialism can no longer be ignored by borrowing countries — unless their debt entrapment is beyond redemption. Cash-strapped TajikistanPakistan, and Sri Lanka, for example, have taken fresh Chinese loans to pay off old loans, despite earlier ceding strategic assets to creditor China.

Make no mistake: The BRI faces a growing image problem. The corruption and malpractice in many of its projects are compounded by a pervasive lack of transparency, including on financing and construction. Many completed projects are not financially viable. There is also increasing international awareness that slipping into debt bondage to China will likely mean losing valuable natural assets and perhaps even sovereignty.

Even where governments remain China-friendly, many citizens are beginning to view the BRI as potentially representing the advent of a new colonial era — the 21st equivalent of the East India Company that paved the way for British imperialism in the East, initially through trade.

Meanwhile, the Australia-India-Japan-U.S. “Quad” grouping, as a counter to the BRI, is working to deliver transparent, high-standard infrastructure by coordinating technical assistance and capacity-building efforts with regional states. The objective is to set up public-private partnership projects in the vast Indo-Pacific region, including through the Blue Dot Network, that are properly planned, and financially and environmentally sustainable. The European Union seeks something similar through its Global Gateway.

The Quad effort notwithstanding, the BRI will continue to win new projects. Indeed, U.S. policies to punish or isolate countries — from Zimbabwe and Iran to Myanmar and Cambodia — ensure that China will continue to bag lucrative contracts because there are no alternatives.

However, the damage to the BRI brand may be beyond repair, even if the initiative were renamed a second time. In the coming years, the BRI is likely to encounter stronger headwinds.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and the author of nine books, including the award-winning “Water: Asia’s New Battleground” (Georgetown University Press).

© CEPA, Center for European Policy Analysis, Washington, DC.


The Quad’s Geo-Economic and Geostrategic Implications

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Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi famously mocked the Quad as a “headline-grabbing idea” that will dissipate “like the sea foam in the Pacific or Indian Ocean.” But far from dissipating, the Quad is strengthening, largely in response to China’s muscular revisionism.

Brahma CHELLANEY
published by RIETI (Research Institute of Economy, Trade and Industry)

At a time when there is a life-and-death conflict between two systems of governance — repressive and democratic — a loose strategic coalition of the Indo-Pacific region’s four leading democracies, the Quad, is rapidly solidifying. Comprised of Australia, India, Japan and the United States, the Quad has received a lot of international attention, largely because of the promise it holds toward underpinning the power equilibrium in the Indo-Pacific. In fact, the increasing use of the term “Indo-Pacific” — which refers to all countries bordering the Indian and Pacific oceans — rather than the traditional term “Asia-Pacific,” underscores the maritime dimension of today’s challenges. Asia’s oceans have increasingly become an arena of competition for resources and influence (Note 1). It now seems likely that future regional crises will be triggered and settled at sea.

As is apparent from the websites of the White House and the foreign ministries of its four member-states, the Quad’s official name is the Quad, not “Quadrilateral Security Dialogue,” as some publications keep calling it on first reference. The Quad’s origins date back to the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami that devastated large parts of Asia, killing hundreds of thousands across Indonesia, Thailand, India, Sri Lanka and South Africa. The four countries joined hands to coordinate disaster relief and humanitarian assistance. The idea of formalizing a Quad emerged from that humanitarian initiative.

After lying dormant for nine years, the Quad was resurrected in November 2017 and began regular working-level meetings. It started gaining momentum after its consultations were elevated to the foreign-minister level in October 2020. Under U.S. President Joe Biden’s initiative, the Quad leaders convened for the first in-person summit at the White House in September 2021. In fact, just weeks after assuming office, Biden organized a virtual Quad summit that yielded the Quad leaders’ first joint statement, which articulated a clear-eyed vision (Note 2).

China has long viewed the Quad with suspicion, with its misgivings reinforced by the more recent formation of the Australia-UK-U.S. (AUKUS) alliance, which President Biden called “a historic step.” The plain fact is that China’s aggressive actions have driven India closer to America, compelled Japan to strengthen its security alliance with the U.S., and forced Australia to abandon hedging and openly align itself with Washington.

China sees the Quad as a threat to its expansionist ambitions (Note 3). But, publicly, China has been dismissive of the Quad. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi famously mocked the Quad as a “headline-grabbing idea” that will dissipate “like the sea foam in the Pacific or Indian Ocean.” Far from dissipating like “sea foam,” the Quad is strengthening, with its four democracies forging closer bonds in response to China’s increasingly muscular actions, which extend from the East and South China Seas to the Himalayas. In fact, opposing China’s coercive expansionism is the Quad’s unifying theme.

The next logical step would be for these democracies to play a more concerted, coordinated role in advancing broader Indo-Pacific security. The idea, however, is not to create an Asian version of NATO, but rather to develop a close partnership founded on shared values and interests, including the rule of law, freedom of navigation, respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty, peaceful dispute resolution, free markets and free trade.

China represents a growing challenge to these principles. At a time when the world is still battling a deadly pandemic that originated in China, that country’s muscular revisionism has lent new momentum to the Quad’s evolution toward a concrete, institutionalized grouping. In fact, with India’s closer integration, the Quad is beginning to blossom. And the Quad seems poised to deepen its strategic collaboration.

The Australia-India-Japan-U.S. quartet has affirmed a shared commitment to underpin an Indo-Pacific region based on clear and transparent rules, with respect for international law. The Quad’s agenda is centered on building a stable balance of power and a “free and open Indo-Pacific,” a concept authored in 2016 by then-Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. That concept was later embraced by U.S. policy, becoming the linchpin of America’s Indo-Pacific strategy under two successive administrations. The Quad’s focus, however, extends beyond China and the security realm.

In fact, the media focus on the Quad’s geostrategic aspects has obscured the important role that the group is playing to bring about geo-economic change. The grouping’s geo-economic priorities are apparent from several of its initiatives, including the following (Note 4):

  • Build resilient supply chains. The Quad’s supply-chain initiative extends from the technology and public-health sectors to clean energy. With Beijing seeking to leverage its domination of international supply chains, many economies, since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, have learned hard lessons about China-dependent supply chains. There is a growing recognition of the imperative to diversify supply chains and make them more resilient to interference or manipulation by any state. Toward that end, the Quad, among other things, has sought to secure supply chains for vaccine production and clean energy, as well as identify vulnerabilities and strengthen supply-chain security for semiconductors and their vital components.
  • Rally expertise, capacity and finance to expand regional infrastructure. The Quad is working to finance and build infrastructure projects in the Indo-Pacific that are properly planned and financially sustainable as a counter to China’s debt-trap diplomacy, which is driving its “Belt and Road Initiative” even as it increasingly ensnares vulnerable nations in sovereignty-eroding debt traps (Note 5). Since 2015, the Quad partners have provided over $48 billion to more than 30 regional states in official finance for infrastructure related to public health, rural development, water supply and sanitation, renewable power generation, telecommunications and road transportation. Meanwhile, the Quad Infrastructure Coordination Group has been established to help deliver transparent, high-standards infrastructure by coordinating technical assistance and capacity-building efforts, including with regional states.
  • Help vaccinate the world against COVID-19. The Quad Vaccine Partnership, launched in March 2021, is aimed at fostering equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines in the Indo-Pacific and the wider world by expanding vaccine manufacturing capacity in the quartet and donating vaccines to developing nations. This initiative is piloted by the Quad Vaccine Experts Group, which coordinates the Quad’s collective response to the pandemic. As part of their plan to donate more than 1.2 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses, in addition to the doses they have already financed through COVAX, the Quad countries seek to leverage the vaccine-manufacturing heft of India, which supplies more than 60% of the world’s vaccines against various diseases. Japan, for example, will invest some $100 million in India’s healthcare sector to help boost the output of COVID-19 vaccines and treatment drugs.
  • Foster an open, accessible and secure technology ecosystem. This goal extends from 5G diversification and deployment to bolstering critical-infrastructure resilience against cyber threats. The Quad partners have now extended their cooperation even to outer space, including building a partnership for exchanging satellite data to promote sustainable use of oceans and marine resources and thereby protect the Earth. Critical and Emerging Technologies Working Group has been established.
  • Keep climate goals within reach through clean-energy innovation and deployment as well as adaptation, resilience and preparedness. A Quad shipping task force, for example, will seek to establish low-emission or zero-emission shipping corridors between the Quad member-countries, including by inviting Yokohama, Los Angeles, Sydney and Mumbai to form a green-shipping network. The Quad is also aiming at a clean-hydrogen partnership to strengthen and reduce costs across all elements of the clean-hydrogen value chain and to boost trade in clean hydrogen across the Indo-Pacific. Another objective of the Quad is improving critical climate information-sharing and disaster-resilient infrastructure.

These initiatives show that the Quad, although catalyzed into action by China’s aggressive actions and irascible behavior, has a broader agenda heavily focused on geo-economic issues. After the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump took the lead in reviving the dormant Quad and giving it strategic meaning, the Biden administration, in partnership with Japan, India and Australia, has sought to orient the Quad toward addressing the geo-economic challenges. Following the G-7 summit in Britain in June 2021, President Biden revealed at a news conference that, after he won the presidential election, a Chinese leader (whom he didn’t name) sought to dissuade him from embracing the Quad (Note 6).

Today, its four members perceive the Quad as providing important new architecture in the Indo-Pacific for advancing cooperation economically and strategically. The Quad, through its geo-economic initiatives, including generous vaccine donations, is also seeking to project soft power.

The fact is that the Quad is fostering greater cooperation between and among its member-states, as well as with outside nations. By seeking to leverage both public and private resources to achieve maximum impact, the Quad offers an alternative model to China’s state-directed lending for infrastructure projects, which has saddled a number of countries with onerous debts and increased their dependence on Beijing. Australia has unveiled a $1.4 billion infrastructure fund for the South Pacific, while Japan and India have agreed to develop a series of joint projects along what they have called the “Asia-Africa Growth Corridor,” which links the two continents via sea routes.

More fundamentally, the Quad member-states have come a long way toward cementing a partnership of democracies that had once appeared more concept than reality. The new AUKUS alliance is likely to complement the Quad. For the U.S., the Quad is becoming the central dynamic of its Indo-Pacific policy, with National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan calling the Quad “a foundation upon which to build substantial American policy in the Indo-Pacific (Note 7).”

While recognizing the Quad’s utility, it is also important to understand its limitations. Unlike the U.S. and Australia, which are geographically distant from China, Japan and India face a direct China threat, which the Quad cannot mitigate. While India in response has embarked on a major defense buildup, Japan — already shaken out of its complacency by an expansionist China vying for regional hegemony — is likely in the coming years to rearm and become militarily more independent of the U.S., without jettisoning its security treaty with Washington (Note 8).

Still, it is imperative that the Quad gain greater economic and strategic heft so as to ensure power equilibrium in the Indo-Pacific. By cooperating in economic, technological and security realms and coordinating their responses, the Quad member-states can help put discreet checks on the unbridled exercise of Chinese power. If China’s growing threats against Taiwan lead to military action, then a grand international coalition, with the Quad at its core, could emerge.

Footnotes:

  1. ^ The White House, United States Strategic Framework for the Indo-Pacific (Washington, DC: The White House, declassified on January 5, 2021); and U.S. Department of State, The Elements of the China Challenge (Washington, DC: Policy Planning Staff, Office of the Secretary of State, November 2020).
  2. ^ The White House, “Quad Leaders’ Joint Statement: ‘The Spirit of the Quad,’” March 12, 2021, available at https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/03/12/quad-leaders-joint-statement-the-spirit-of-the-quad/.
  3. ^ Kevin Rudd, “Why the Quad Alarms China,” Foreign Affairs, August 6, 2021.
  4. ^ The White House, “Fact Sheet: Quad Leaders’ Summit,” September 24, 2021; and the White House, “Joint Statement from Quad Leaders,” September 24, 2021.
  5. ^ Anna Gelpern, Sebastian Horn, et al, How China Lends: A Rare Look into China’s Debt Contracts with Foreign Governments (Williamsburg, VA: AidData at William & Mary, the Center for Global Development, the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, and the Peterson Institute for International Economics, March 2021).
  6. ^ The White House, “Remarks by President Biden in Press Conference,” June 13, 2021, at Cornwall, United Kingdom, available at https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2021/06/13/remarks-by-president-biden-in-press-conference-2/.
  7. ^ Kyodo, AFP-Jiji Press, “U.S. national security adviser says ‘Quad’ key in Indo-Pacific,” The Japan Times, January 30, 2021.
  8. ^ Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, Full text of the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security Between Japan and the United States of America, signed on January 19, 1960, available at https://www.mofa.go.jp/region/n-america/us/q&a/ref/1.html.

China’s Global Hybrid War

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China under Xi Jinping has found a clever way to expand its land and maritime frontiers, all without firing a shot. China is showing that, just as the pen can be mightier than the sword, so too can its hybrid warfare, officially known as “Three Warfares.”

BRAHMA CHELLANEYProject Syndicate

As the world’s largest, strongest, and longest-surviving dictatorship, contemporary China lacks the rule of law. Yet it is increasingly using its rubber-stamp parliament to enact domestic legislation asserting territorial claims and rights in international law. In fact, China has become quite adept at waging “lawfare” – the misuse and abuse of law for political and strategic ends.

Under “commander-in-chief” Xi Jinping’s bullying leadership, lawfare has developed into a critical component of China’s broader approach to asymmetrical or hybrid warfare. The blurring of the line between war and peace is enshrined in the regime’s official strategy as the “Three Warfares” (san zhong zhanfa) doctrine. Just as the pen can be mightier than the sword, so, too, can lawfare, psychological warfare, and public-opinion warfare.

Through these methods, Xi is advancing expansionism without firing a shot. Already, China’s bulletless aggression is proving to be a game changer in Asia. Waging the Three Warfares in conjunction with military operations has yielded China significant territorial gains.

Within this larger strategy, lawfare is aimed at rewriting rules to animate historical fantasies and legitimize unlawful actions retroactively. For example, China recently enacted a Land Borders Law to support its territorial revisionism in the Himalayas. And to advance its expansionism in the South and East China Seas, it enacted the Coast Guard Law and the Maritime Traffic Safety Law earlier this year.

The new laws, authorizing the use of force in disputed areas, were established amid rising tensions with neighboring countries. The Land Borders Law comes amid a military stalemate in the Himalayas, where more than 100,000 Chinese and Indian troops have been locked in standoffs for nearly 20 months following repeated Chinese incursions into Indian territory.

The Coast Guard Law, by treating disputed waters as China’s, not only violates the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea; it also could trigger armed conflict with Japan or the United States. The Land Borders Law likewise threatens to spark war with India by signaling China’s intent to determine borders unilaterally. It even extends to the Tibet-originating transboundary rivers, where China proclaims a right to divert as much of the shared waters as it wishes.

These recent laws follow the success of the Three Warfares strategy in redrawing the map of the South China Sea – despite an international arbitral tribunal’s ruling rejecting Chinese territorial claims there – and then swallowing Hong Kong, which had long flourished under democratic institutions as a major global financial center.

In the South China Sea, through which around one-third of global maritime trade passes, Xi’s regime has stepped up lawfare to consolidate Chinese control, turning its contrived historical claims into reality. Last year, while other claimant countries were battling the COVID-19 pandemic, Xi’s government created two new administrative districts to strengthen its claims over the Spratly and Paracel Islands and other land features. And in further defiance of international law, China gave Mandarin-language names to 80 islands, reefs, seamounts, shoals, and ridges, 55 of which are fully submerged.

The Hong Kong National Security Law, enacted in mid-2020, is a similarly aggressive act of lawfare. Xi has used the law to crush Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement and rescind the guarantees enshrined in China’s UN-registered treaty with the United Kingdom. The treaty committed China to preserving Hong Kong citizens’ basic rights, freedoms, and political self-determination for at least 50 years after regaining sovereignty over the territory.

The strategy’s success in unraveling Hong Kong’s autonomy raises the question of whether China will now enact similar legislation aimed at Taiwan or even invoke its 2005 Anti-Secession Law, which underscored its resolve to bring the island democracy under mainland rule. With China escalating its psychological and information warfare, there is a real danger that it could move against Taiwan after the Beijing Winter Olympics in February.

Xi’s expansionism has not spared even tiny Bhutan, with a population of just 784,000. Riding roughshod over a 1998 bilateral treaty that obligated China “not to resort to unilateral action to alter the status quo of the border,” the regime has built militarized villages in Bhutan’s northern and western borderlands.

As these examples show, domestic legislation is increasingly providing China with a pretext to flout binding international law, including bilateral and multilateral treaties to which it is a party. With more than one million detainees, Xi’s Muslim gulag in Xinjiang has made a mockery of the 1948 Genocide Convention, to which China acceded in 1983 (with the rider that it does not consider itself bound by Article IX, the clause allowing any party in a dispute to lodge a complaint with the International Court of Justice). And because effective control is the shibboleth of a strong territorial claim in international law, Xi is using new legislation to undergird China’s administration of disputed areas, including with newly implanted residents.

Establishing such facts on the ground is integral to Xi’s territorial aggrandizement. That is why China has taken pains to create artificial islands and administrative districts in the South China Sea, and to pursue a militarized village-building spree in Himalayan borderlands that India, Bhutan, and Nepal consider to be within their own national boundaries.

Despite these encroachments, very little international attention has been given to Xi’s lawfare or broader hybrid warfare. The focus on China’s military buildup obscures the fact that the country is quietly expanding its maritime and land boundaries without firing a shot. Given Xi’s overarching goal – to achieve global primacy for China under his leadership – the world’s democracies need to devise a concerted strategy to counter his Three Warfares.

Brahma Chellaney

Brahma Chellaney, Professor of Strategic Studies at the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research and Fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin, is the author of nine books, including Asian Juggernaut; Water: Asia’s New Battleground; and Water, Peace, and War: Confronting the Global Water Crisis.

© Project Syndicate, 2021.

Xi’s nuclear frenzy aimed at shielding China’s expansionism

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Weapons buildup casts doubt on whether U.S. can defend Taiwan

Brahma Chellaney, Nikkei Asia

Military vehicles carrying DF-41 intercontinental ballistic missiles drive past Tiananmen Square in October 2019: Beijing is relishing the international attention its nuclear-weapons buildup is getting.   © Reuters

Far from seeking to hide its frenzied nuclear-weapons buildup, China is flaunting it, as if to underline that its rapidly growing arsenal is driven more by political than military considerations. The unprecedented speed and scale of the buildup appears to be linked to President Xi Jinping’s international expansionism as China seeks global primacy by 2049, the centenary of communist rule.

China’s neighbors need to pay close attention to this buildup, even though it seems primarily aimed at dissuading Washington from challenging China’s actions at home and abroad.

Just as Xi’s muscular revisionism has largely centered on Asia, from the East and South China Seas to the Himalayas, the security-related impacts, as opposed to the geopolitical implications, of the fast-growing Chinese nuclear armory are likely to be felt principally by Asian states.

Neighboring countries, from Japan and the Philippines to India and Bhutan, are already bearing the brunt of Xi’s recidivist policies. But with a larger nuclear arsenal, Xi will be further emboldened to step up his conventional-military tactics and hybrid warfare from behind China’s highly protective nuclear shield.

In such a scenario, China’s annexation of Taiwan could become difficult to stop, even though such a development would fundamentally alter Asian and international geopolitics.

Questions are already being raised in America about the strategic wisdom of defending Taiwan against a potential Chinese invasion, with some analysts contending that any U.S. plan to come to Taiwan’s rescue is far too risky and that Taipei ought to do more for its self-defense. In simulated combat exercises for the Pentagon, a RAND Corporation study found that China’s firepower in the form of long-range missiles could already hold U.S. warships and aircraft at bay in a Taiwan war scenario.

A China armed to its teeth with nuclear weapons would cast further doubt on whether the U.S. could defend Taiwan, given the greater risks involved.

Xi’s regime has accelerated the production of nuclear warheads so rapidly that the Pentagon, in just one year, has revised up its estimate of the number of such weapons that China will deploy by 2030 from 400 to more than 1,000.

China has already fielded its first operational hypersonic-weapon system and “intends to increase the peacetime readiness of its nuclear forces by moving to a launch-on-warning posture with an expanded silo-based force,” according to the Pentagon’s recent report to Congress.

Far from seeking to conceal its hyperactive nuclearization, China has constructed two new nuclear missile fields in its remote northwest in ways easily visible to overhead satellites. It is expanding its intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) silos from about 20 to as many as 250. One of these new missile fields is not far from the notorious Hami internment camp in Xinjiang that holds Uighur and other Muslims for “re-education.”Satellite imagery of suspected missile silos being constructed near Jilantai, pictured in November 2019.   © Maxar Technologies/Getty Images

Chinese state media may have dismissed the new ICBM silos as windmills, but Beijing is relishing the international attention its nuclear-weapons buildup is getting because such publicity implicitly underscores its message that it is emerging as a superpower whose plans cannot be stymied.

Xi himself took the lead in public messaging when the state media reported his directive to the military in March to “accelerate the construction of advanced strategic deterrent” systems, as if China’s moderately sized nuclear armory in comparison to America’s was constraining its ambitious international agenda.

It is well understood that nuclear weapons are for deterrence, not for warfighting. More nuclear warheads do not necessarily imply stronger deterrence, which is why India appears content with its small but diversified arsenal. Xi’s objectives, however, are essentially geopolitical, which explains his resolve to narrow the gap with the massive, “overkill” arsenals of the U.S. and Russia.

The objectives extend from having an arsenal befitting an emerging superpower to building leverage in future arms-control negotiations with Washington and Moscow. The principal objective, however, is to stop the U.S., as the leader of the largest alliance of countries the world has ever known, from challenging China’s “core interests.”

As a Beijing-based Chinese analyst has put it, “Beijing’s nuclear buildup is ultimately an attempt to force Washington to drop the perceived strategic assault and accept a mutual vulnerability relationship.” According to him, Beijing sees “growing U.S. pressure on China over human rights, the rule of law, Hong Kong and Taiwan as evidence that Washington is willing to take greater risks to stop China’s rise by delegitimizing the government, destabilizing the country and blocking national unification.”

Whether Xi’s nuclear frenzy can tame U.S. reaction or win greater respect for China is questionable. If anything, it is likely to accelerate the fundamental shift in America’s China policy set in motion by Xi’s scofflaw actions.

Regionally, however, the nuclear-weapons buildup is set to lengthen China’s shadow over Asia while heightening military tensions with its main Asian rivals — Japan and India.

The buildup’s security implications are starker for non-nuclear Japan than for nuclear-armed India, which has stood up to China’s aggression in the Himalayas by locking horns in tense military standoffs over the past nearly 20 months, despite the risk of a full-scale war.

Japan, already shaken out of its complacency by an expansionist China vying for regional hegemony, is likely in the coming years to rearm and become militarily more independent of the U.S., without jettisoning its security treaty with Washington.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and author of nine books, including “Asian Juggernaut: The Rise of China, India and Japan.”

China will regret weaponizing sports

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China has long mixed sports and politics. From its boycott of the 1956 Olympics to its more recent bullying tactics against the N.B.A., England’s Premier League and others, Beijing has treated sports as politics by other means. Now its Winter Olympics face a diplomatic boycott.

BY BRAHMA CHELLANEY, The Hill

The approaching Beijing Winter Olympics – the most divisive games since the 1936 Berlin Olympics – face several challenges: Boycott calls in the West; a Muslim gulag with more than one million detainees in Xinjiang; the new omicron variant of COVID-19; and a silenced #MeToo accuser, Peng Shuai, who is China’s top tennis player. No wonder Beijing is lobbying U.S. businesses, warning that they cannot expect to make money in China if they stay silent. 

The calls for a coordinated boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics (labeled by critics the “Genocide Games”) raise the question of whether such action can help influence China’s behavior under a president whose record in power is increasingly drawing comparisons to the past century’s most brutal rulers.

Robert O’Brien, national security adviser to then-President Trump, last year equated Xi Jinping to Soviet dictator Josef Stalin. Some others have compared Xi to Adolf Hitler, even coining the nickname “Xitler.” Xi, for his part, has cultivated a Mao Zedong-style personality cult and embarked on completing the expansionist agenda that the communist China’s founder left unfinished.

Indeed, Xi has sought to model himself on Mao, the 20th century’s top butcher. Like Mao Zedong Thought, Xi Jinping Thought has been enshrined in China’s constitution and made the central doctrine guiding the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Xi, like Mao, is reverently referred to as renmin lingxiu, or “people’s leader.” 

China’s new Mao, while ideologically committed to classical Marxism-Leninism, is apparently seeking to build fascism with Chinese characteristics. 

Under Xi, China has emerged as a wrathful, expansionist power that pursues “wolf warrior” tactics and debt-trap diplomacy and flouts international law at will. Two successive U.S. administrations have described as genocide Xi’s Xinjiang gulag, the largest mass incarceration of people on religious grounds since the Nazi period.

The international costs of Xi’s despotism are apparent from the devastating consequences of the China-originating pandemic. Two years on, the world still does not know whether COVID-19 began as a natural spillover from wildlife or was triggered by the accidental leak of a lab-enhanced virus in Wuhan. What is apparent, though, is that Xi’s regime lied about the initial spread of the disease, hid evidence of human-to-human transmission and silenced doctors who sought to warn about the emergence of a novel coronavirus. 

More ominously, a massive cover-up in China to obscure the genesis of the virus suggests the world may never know the truth. Beijing has refused to cooperate with international investigations, characterizing them as “origin-tracing terrorism,” and instead peddled conspiracy theories. 

Thanks to Xi’s scofflaw actions, China’s global image has been badly dented, forcing the country to increasingly rely on its coercive power. According to a global survey, unfavorable views of China are at or near historic highs in most advanced economies.

But instead of undertaking a course correction, Xi is doubling down on his renegade actions, as underscored by China’s stepped-up bullying of Taiwan. After Beijing’s success in swallowing Hong Kong, redrawing the geopolitical map of the South China Sea and changing the territorial status quo in the Himalayan borderlands with India, Nepal and Bhutan, risk is growing that Xi’s expansionism could make Taiwan its next target.

Beijing will have the honor of becoming the world’s first city to host both a summer and winter Olympics. But since the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, the human rights situation in China has worsened, with Xi establishing a techno-authoritarian state whose soaring budget for internal security has overtaken the country’s massive military budget. An increasingly repressive internal machinery, aided by an Orwellian surveillance system, has fostered a state strategy to culturally smother ethnic minorities in their traditional homelands, including through demographic change and harsh policing.

It was in 2015 that Beijing defeated Almaty (Kazakhstan) to win the bid to host the 2022 Winter Olympics. Just in the period since 2015, China, among other things, has established forward military bases on human-made islands in the South China Sea, set up the Xinjiang gulag, militarized the Himalayan borderlands, weaponized debt and gobbled up Hong Kong.

The world must not turn a blind eye to such actions, which thus far have not invited any meaningful Western sanctions. Xi has only been emboldened by the fact that his draconian, expansionist actions have essentially been cost-free. 

Just as other powers’ appeasement emboldened Hitler’s expansionism, leading to World War II, the international failure to impose tangible costs for Chinese aggression is likely to beget more aggression. Indeed, the present business-as-usual approach to China is tantamount to appeasement. 

If the Beijing Winter Olympics were held without any censure of the Xi regime, it would be an insult to every Uyghur, every Tibetan, every jailed Hong Kong democracy activist and every imprisoned Chinese political dissident. A boycott-free Games that wrap up smoothly would only encourage Xi to embark on fresh repression and expansionism.

Make no mistake: If Xi’s China stays on its present path, open conflict with the West and with its neighbors, from Japan to India, would become inevitable.

For the CCP, sports and politics have long been inseparable. From its boycott of the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne (Australia) to its more recent bullying tactics against the N.B.A., England’s Premier League and others, the party has treated sports as politics by other means. It has used threats of withdrawing lucrative sports contracts, broadcast deals and sponsorship opportunities to buy silence on its human rights record.

When China can wield sports as a political weapon, is there any reason why democratic powers should avoid giving it a taste of its own medicine to help put the CCP on notice? A coordinated boycott of the Games would convey to the Chinese people that the CCP’s rogue actions risk isolating China.

Harmonized action on the Games, even if largely symbolic, could serve as a first step toward galvanizing a larger international movement against Xi’s regime, if not triggering a “boycott China” movement along the lines of the sustained global boycott that helped end the apartheid system in South Africa.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and the author of nine books, including the award-winning “Water: Asia’s New Battleground” (Georgetown University Press).

© The Hill, 2021.

China’s bullying of tiny Bhutan risks South Asian stability

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David and Goliath struggle exposes Beijing’s expansionist intent

The Merak village, Eastern Bhutan, pictured from the footpath heading towards Sakteng in May 2015: Xi Jinping’s expansionism has not spared China’s smallest neighbor.   © Corbis/Getty Images

Brahma Chellaney, Nikkei Asia

China has failed to settle the frontier with its tiny neighbor Bhutan, despite holding talks with Bhutan since 1984. Now, after nearly four decades, it is trumpeting a newly signed memorandum of understanding with the kingdom to “expedite” the border negotiations.

The MOU cannot obscure the fact that China has in recent years incrementally encroached on Bhutan’s territory, one of the world’s smallest and least-populated nations, with just 778,000 people. Such aggression violates a 1998 bilateral treaty committing China and Bhutan “not to resort to unilateral action to alter the status quo of the border.”

Druk Yul, or the land of the thunder dragon, as Bhutan is known, lies sandwiched between the elephant of India and since 1950 when Beijing swallowed Tibet, whose religion and culture has greatly influenced Bhutan, the giant Chinese dragon on the other side.

Despite popularizing the concept of gross national happiness as a measure of development, Bhutan’s own happiness is coming under pressure from Chinese aggression under President Xi Jinping, who is implementing the expansionist agenda that Mao Zedong left unfinished.

While China under Mao more than doubled its size, making it the world’s fourth-largest country by area, Xi’s expansionism has not spared China’s smallest neighbor.

Several newly built Chinese villages, unnoticed by the world, have cropped up inside internationally recognized Bhutanese territory, demonstrating how Xi has taken his South China Sea strategy to the Himalayas. With the villages have come planted settlers, roads and military infrastructure.

China’s program to build militarized villages in Himalayan borderlands it claims, or has seized, from Bhutan, Nepal and India gained momentum after Xi in 2017 called on Tibetan herdsmen to settle in frontier areas and “become guardians of Chinese territory.”

Establishing such facts on the ground has become integral to Xi’s strategy of territorial aggrandizement because international law recognizes civilian settlements as evidence of a country’s effective control over an area. This explains why artificial villages have been created in inhospitable Himalayan terrain, just like the human-made islands in the South China Sea.

Satellite images reveal new Chinese villages on land in Bhutan’s west and north. After the Colorado-based Maxar Technologies disclosed one such village named Pangda, Chinese state media claimed it was on Chinese territory.

Meanwhile, China has built military roads through Bhutanese territory to open a new axis against India’s most vulnerable point — the Siliguri Corridor, which connects its far northeast to the heartland. Known as the Chicken Neck, the corridor, at the intersection of Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh, is barely 22 kilometers wide at its narrowest point.

Not content with such stealth encroachments, Xi’s regime has upped the ante by opening a new territorial front against Bhutan. Out of the blue, China last year laid claim to Bhutan’s rhododendron-laden Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary, which spreads across 741 sq. kilometers and is known for its unique flora and fauna, including endangered species such as the red panda, Himalayan serow, gorals, capped langurs, Himalayan black bear and barking deer.

The new claim to Bhutan’s easternmost territory is unusual because China has no common border there, it being a region that can only be accessed through the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. This is the first time since the end of World War II that one country has laid claim to another state’s territory that can only be accessed via a third nation.

In doing so, Beijing has sought to simultaneously advance its designs against Bhutan and India. Its maps already show the entire area of Arunachal Pradesh — more than two times larger than Bhutan — as being part of China. To be sure, this is not the first time that Xi’s regime has targeted Bhutanese territory to bolster China’s military advantage over India.

In 2017, China occupied most of Bhutan’s Doklam Plateau overlooking India’s Chicken Neck, following a 73-day military standoff with India, the de facto guarantor of Bhutanese security. In fact, China is currently locked in another standoff with Indian forces that was triggered more than 19 months ago by Chinese encroachments on India’s northernmost territory of Ladakh, located almost 1,500 kilometers to Bhutan’s west.

Beijing has long pressed Bhutan to open diplomatic relations with it and accused India of blocking the kingdom from establishing such ties. In the absence of diplomatic relations, China has used the protracted border talks as a channel of communication with Bhutan on issues extending beyond their shared boundary.

Indeed, China’s new claim to the wildlife sanctuary appears aimed at intensifying its discussions with Bhutan to woo the kingdom away from India’s embrace. This may also explain the new MOU, whose text has not been released thus far. Chinese state media reports suggest that the MOU is more about getting Bhutan to establish diplomatic ties with China than about settling the border.

Xi, however, is giving Bhutan ample reason to resist subordination to China. The MOU was signed at a virtual event by the Bhutanese foreign minister and an assistant Chinese minister, as if Bhutan were a client state.

More fundamentally, by employing its South China Sea tactics to unilaterally change facts on the ground, China is presenting a territorial and military fait accompli to a helpless Bhutan.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and author of nine books, including “Asian Juggernaut: The Rise of China, India and Japan.”

The Narco-Terrorist Taliban

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By allowing the Taliban to enrich and sustain itself with drug profits during the 20-year war in Afghanistan, the US contributed to its own humiliating defeat at the hands of a narco-terrorist organization. But it is not too late for the US to start targeting the Taliban as a drug cartel through its federal courts.

BRAHMA CHELLANEYProject Syndicate

The strategic folly of US President Joe Biden’s Afghan policy has been laid bare in recent weeks. First, the country came back under the control of the Pakistan-reared Taliban. The announcement of the interim government’s composition then dashed any remaining (naive) hope that this Taliban regime would be different from the one the United States and its allies ousted in 2001. Beyond the cabinet including a who’s who of international terrorism, narcotics kingpins occupy senior positions.

Afghanistan accounts for 85% of the global acreage under opium cultivation, making the Taliban the world’s largest drug cartel. It controls and taxes opioid production, oversees exports, and shields smuggling networks. This is essential to its survival. According to a recent report by the United Nations Security Council monitoring team, the production and trafficking of poppy-based and synthetic drugs remain “the Taliban’s largest single source of income.” So reliant is the Taliban on narcotics trafficking that its leaders have at times fought among themselves over revenue-sharing.

The Taliban is hoping to expand its drug income as much as possible. Since its takeover, prices of opium in Afghanistan have more than tripled. In India – which is situated between the world’s two main opium-producing centers, the Pakistan-Afghanistan-Iran “Golden Crescent” and the Myanmar-Thailand-Laos “Golden Triangle” – seizures of Afghan-origin heroin have increased. As the UN Office on Drugs and Crime warns, the economic crisis Afghanistan currently faces will only increase the appeal of illicit crop cultivation for local farmers.

The problem extends beyond opioids. In recent years, Afghanistan has drastically expanded its production of methamphetamine. The appeal lies in the fact that meth offers producers a higher profit margin than heroin, owing to lower overhead costs and inexpensive ingredients, especially now that its chemical precursor, pseudoephedrine – a common ingredient in cold medications – is being produced locally.

Last year, the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction warned that Afghanistan’s meth industry could soon be as large as its heroin industry. While the Taliban was not yet in control of Kabul at the time, it controlled the majority of Afghanistan’s small, clandestine meth labs.

The Taliban uses several smuggling routes to move opiates. It moves output to Western Europe via the Caucasus and the Balkans, and from there all the way to North America. With the help of the Tajikistan-based terrorist group Jamaat Ansarullah, it also uses a northern route to Russia. The southeastern route, which snakes through Pakistan, is enabled by Pakistani security officials, who cooperate with the Taliban and smuggling syndicates, known locally as “tanzeems,” in exchange for bribes.

In 2008, a Taliban drug trafficker was recorded boasting that most of his product ended up abroad. “Good,” he gloated. “May God turn all the infidels into dead corpses. Whether it is by opium or by shooting, this is our common goal.” With the Taliban channeling profits from drug sales directly into its terror machine, the connection between Islamist violence and drug trafficking could not be starker.

This is not exclusive to the Taliban; Islamist groups like Boko Haram, al-Shabaab, and al-Qaeda are also linked to drug trafficking. But not all terrorist groups are on board with this approach. As a 2020 UN Security Council report points out, the Islamic State-Khorasan – ISIS’s Afghan arm – opposes the drug trade.

This is one reason why the outfit is an enemy of the Taliban, despite the two groups’ longstanding personal relationships, common history of struggle, and shared belief in violent Islamism. In fact, when ISIS-K had control of the Afghan border province of Nangarhar, it blocked the Taliban’s trafficking routes into Pakistan. The link was restored only when the US and Afghan government forces smashed the ISIS-K stronghold there.

This highlights the failure of the US – and the West more broadly – to recognize the complex but clear links between drug trafficking and Islamist terrorism. Had the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan been followed by a US campaign to arrest and prosecute Taliban leaders for their narcotics-trafficking activities in American courts, the group’s appeal among fundamentalist Muslims might have been severely diminished.

Such a plan was proposed in 2012. In a 240-page memo, the US Drug Enforcement Administration and several Justice Department officials recommended prosecuting 26 senior Taliban leaders and allied drug lords for criminal conspiracy. A similar approach worked in Colombia, and helped to force the narcotics-funded Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to make peace with the Colombian government in 2016, after 52 years of guerrilla war.

But successive US presidents refused to use this strategy against the Taliban, which was a strategic mistake with costs that are only beginning to be revealed. By allowing the Taliban to enrich and sustain itself with drug profits during the 20-year war in Afghanistan, the US contributed to its own humiliating defeat at the hands of a narco-terrorist organization.Sign up for our weekly newsletter, PS on Sunday

It is not too late for the US to start targeting the Taliban as a drug cartel through its federal courts. After all, Afghan-origin opioids have resulted in high rates of drug addiction and deaths around the world, from the US and Europe to Africa and Asia. And, given Afghanistan’s economic woes, the Taliban has a strong incentive to ramp up production and trafficking.

By highlighting the nexus between Islamist terrorism and the global narcotics trade, US indictments of the Taliban’s drug kingpins would help to build multilateral cooperation to crush the group’s primary source of income, such as by blocking shipments and seizing illicit profits, often parked in banks and real-estate investments abroad.

If the US does not lead an international effort to tackle Afghanistan’s opioid and meth production, the Taliban’s power – and ability to commit atrocities – will only grow, and its narco-state will serve as a haven for al-Qaeda and other violent jihadist groups. As matters stand, the world can expect a major surge in international terrorism and drug overdoses in the months and years ahead.

Brahma Chellaney

Brahma Chellaney, Professor of Strategic Studies at the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research and Fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin, is the author of nine books, including Asian Juggernaut; Water: Asia’s New Battleground; and Water, Peace, and War: Confronting the Global Water Crisis.

© Project Syndicate, 2021.

Biden’s Taiwan test is coming

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© Getty Images

BY BRAHMA CHELLANEY, The Hill

Chinese President Xi Jinping, in power since 2012, has become increasingly emboldened in pursuing his expansionist agenda, in part because three successive American presidents have allowed him to act with impunity. Having swallowed Hong Kong, is China itching to move on Taiwan, the island democracy whose incorporation Xi recently called a “historic mission”? By rehearsing amphibious and air attacks, China has displayed a readiness to seize Taiwan by force.

Make no mistake: Taiwan is on the frontline of international defense against tyranny. This small island with almost as many people as much-larger Australia is a technological powerhouse that plays a central role in the international semiconductor business. Its absorption will not only make China a more formidable economic competitor to the United States, but also threaten global peace and critically accelerate the global chip shortage.

Encouraging Xi’s unrelenting expansionism is the fact that his heavy-handed actions at home and abroad thus far have essentially been cost-free. Take the South China Sea, whose geopolitical map Xi has forcibly redrawn, despite an international arbitral tribunal’s ruling invalidating China’s territorial claims there.

Then-President Obama seemed content to look the other way as Xi built artificial islands and militarized the South China Sea. This helped turn China’s contrived historical claims to that critical corridor into reality without firing a single shot. 

Under President Trump, despite a paradigm shift in America’s China policy, the administration prioritized a trade deal with Beijing and thus imposed largely symbolic sanctions when evidence of Xi’s Muslim gulag in Xinjiang emerged. Consequently, the largest mass incarceration of people on religious grounds since the Nazi era (which Washington acknowledges is genocide) has gone largely unpunished, even though the 1948 Genocide Convention requires its parties, which include the U.S., to “prevent and punish” acts of genocide.

When Hong Kong’s prodemocracy movement was crushed and the city was brought into political lockstep with the Chinese Communist Party in breach of China’s United Nations-registered treaty with Britain, Xi and his inner circle remained untouched by the sanctions the Trump administration imposed. And all the 24 Chinese targeted by President Biden’s administration in March for their Hong Kong role had already been hit with sanctions by the Trump administration.  

Now there is real danger that, encouraged by Biden’s recent shift toward a more conciliatory approach toward China, Xi will move against Taiwan.

In fact, the exit of a vanquished America from Afghanistan, by underscoring the irreversible decline of U.S. power, may make Xi believe that China has an opening to seize Taiwan. Chinese state media have warned Taiwan that it will be abandoned by America in the face of a Chinese invasion, just as the Afghanistan disaster unfolded after the U.S. threw its allies – the Afghan government and military – under the bus.

Biden has accentuated America’s credibility problems. Asked at an Oct. 21 CNN town hall whether “the U.S. would come to Taiwan’s defense if China attacked,” Biden said emphatically, “Yes, we have a commitment to do that.” Then the White House quickly walked back his words, saying “there is no change in our policy” on Taiwan, which is centered on “strategic ambiguity” about U.S. intentions. 

Once a policy of ambiguity is described in virtually unequivocal terms by the president, and then the White House dials it back, it sends the wrong message to Beijing. Xi may read this as a lack of U.S. resolve to defend Taiwan and plan to invade Taiwan at an opportune time when America is distracted.

With its increasing bullying, Xi’s dictatorship is seeking to normalize hostile pressure on Taiwan. If not outright invasion, Beijing could seek to slowly throttle Taiwan in order to force it to accept “reunification,” including by cutting off its undersea cables, internet connections and liquified natural-gas imports. 

But if Xi perceives that China has a window of opportunity to act during the Biden presidency without inviting a major blowback, he will likely employ military force. In fact, the probability of a surprise Chinese invasion will be greater if Biden is seen as lacking the strategic vision and political will to defend Taiwan against an attack. 

In this light, the imperative for Washington is not merely to embrace strategic clarity by abandoning the outdated strategic ambiguity policy, which was formulated when China was still backward and in no position to annex Taiwan. Rather, the U.S. must shift from a “one China” policy to an overt “one China, one Taiwan” posture that recognizes the island’s independent status. And Xi should be left in no doubt that the U.S. would make China pay a heavy price if it attempted to invade or choke Taiwan.

A U.S. that fails to prevent Taiwan’s subjugation would be widely seen as unable or unwilling to defend any other ally, including Japan, which hosts more American soldiers today than any other foreign country. Taiwan (Imperial Japan’s first colony) is geographically an extension of the Japanese archipelago.

If the U.S. were to put up with a Chinese conquest of Taiwan, it would make the same fatal mistake as the participants of the 1938 Munich Conference who, yielding to Adolf Hitler, transferred the predominantly German-speaking Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia to Germany. That concession paved the way for World War II.

Taiwan’s fall would significantly advance China’s hegemonic ambitions in Asia, including by triggering the unraveling of U.S.-led alliances there. And China would emerge as a pressing military threat to the U.S. itself.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and the author of nine books, including the award-winning “Water: Asia’s New Battleground” (Georgetown University Press).

App bans not enough. India must start imposing calibrated costs on China

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Brahma Chellaney, The Times of India

In 1962, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) set out to “teach India a lesson” by waging a surprise war. Now, by stealthily encroaching on border areas in Ladakh and then deepening and broadening the border crisis, it seems intent on making a permanent enemy of China’s largest neighbour.

From building a new axis against India’s so-called chicken-neck to advancing its “salami slicing” through militarized border villages, the CCP has steadily upped the ante. Its latest provocation is a “Land Borders Law”, primarily aimed at furthering its Himalayan expansionism.

Instead of mutually settled borders, the new law enables unilaterally imposed borders. Furthermore, the law’s assertion of absolute sovereignty over cross-border waters means that China has a declared right to divert as much of the shared waters of the Tibet-originating rivers as it wishes, regardless of downstream impacts.

Yet Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government still employs euphemisms to describe China’s 19-month-long aggression: “unilateral change of status quo” for land-grabs; “friction points” for seized areas; and “full restoration of peace and tranquillity” for rollback of the intrusions.

To Modi’s credit, though, India has refused to buckle. India has more than matched China’s military deployments and said bilateral ties cannot return to normal until China disengages and deescalates at the border.

China’s frenzied construction of new military infrastructure along the border, however, signals its intent to hold on to its gains of aggression and turn the once-lightly-patrolled frontier into a perennially hot border. The lengthy negotiations since mid-2020 have only worked to China’s advantage, enabling it to buy time and consolidate its land-grabs and build new military facilities and fibre optic networks along the frontier.

Had India done to China what China has done to it (seize territories through furtive aggression), the CCP dictatorship would have come down on it like a ton of bricks. Yet India has remained loath to impose biting trade and diplomatic sanctions, including as a means to address the largely one-sided trade and contain China’s influence operations.

India’s actions last year — from banning Chinese mobile apps to restricting Chinese companies’ access to Indian government contracts — may have helped assuage public anger at home over the aggression but did little to influence China’s behaviour. China’s exports to India are booming amid its aggression, allowing it to have its cake and eat it too. It is a “win-win” for China; it is literally winning twice.

By refraining from imposing substantive costs, India has allowed the military confrontation to remain a low-risk strategy for China. The multiple standoffs help China to keep India off-balance and stretched. Rather than India, it is China that is imposing costs, including forcing the diversion of greater Indian resources for frontier defence.

Meanwhile, India’s dual blunder in vacating the strategic Kailash Heights and accepting Chinese-designed “buffer zones” in three Ladakh areas has further emboldened China’s intransigence. Beijing has peremptorily dismissed India’s call for a return to the pre-April 2020 positions as “unreasonable and unrealistic”.

It is past time India sheds its risk aversion to build leverage over China. A calibrated imposition of progressively escalating costs has become imperative.

China’s trade with India may be modest as a percentage of its global trade, but its large trade surplus with India contributes significantly to its overall trade surplus. China’s bilateral trade surplus this year is set to nearly equal India’s total defence spending. The CCP has long waged economic war against India through product dumping to kill Indian manufacturing.

India must start employing tariff and non-tariff trade restrictions to curb non-essential imports from China. Indeed, China’s aggressive mercantilism has made trade diversification and import substitution more exigent. While China restricts market access to Indian firms, Chinese tech companies, for example, remain active in India’s lucrative cloud-computing space.

China’s challenge to its territorial integrity must prompt India to finally honour then-Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj’s 2014 promise to link its one-China policy to Beijing’s adoption of a one-India policy. Geopolitically, Taiwan should be to India what Pakistan is to China. If China swallows Taiwan, it will advance its hegemonic ambitions and become a more pressing military threat to India. Indian policy ought to subtly shift from a one-China stance to a “one China, one Taiwan, one Tibet” posture in practical but undeclared terms.

It is also time for New Delhi to downsize China’s large diplomatic presence in India, starting by shutting its Kolkata consulate, given the CCP’s designs on the Siliguri Corridor and the inflow of Chinese arms to insurgents. Modi’s predecessor played into China’s hands by letting it re-establish its Kolkata consulate without India reciprocally being allowed to reopen its Lhasa consulate, which Beijing shut in 1962.

The CCP is seeking to wear India out in order to impose a territorial and military fait accompli. A punitive Indian diplomatic and economic campaign can help internationally spotlight CCP’s strategic miscalculation in taking on India.

The writer is a geostrategist.

The steadily increasing risk of war between China and India

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Chinese troops pictured in Ladakh along the India-China border on Feb.15: China’s Land Borders Law effectively negates the possibility of peacefully resolving its territorial disputes with India.   © Indian Army/AP

Beijing’s use of domestic law underpins its international expansionism

Brahma Chellaney, Nikkei Asia

The spotlight on the growing Chinese military threat against Taiwan has helped obscure China’s more serious military confrontation with India along an extended, mountainous frontier.

Although the intensifying multiple military standoffs between nuclear-armed titans China and India have grabbed few headlines, the risk of renewed border skirmishing, if not outright war, is increasing. Indeed, the Pentagon’s newly released annual report on China says the Chinese military is bracing for a two-front war scenario — “any escalation of border tensions with India, as well as preparing to support a Taiwan contingency.”

A reminder of the looming risks is China’s latest provocation — the enactment of a Land Borders Law — which appears primarily aimed at advancing its territorial revisionism in the Himalayas.

The law effectively negates the possibility of peacefully resolving its territorial disputes with India. Instead of mutually settled borders, the law enables unilaterally imposed borders.

The ongoing military standoffs began more than 18 months ago when a shocked India discovered that China had stealthily encroached on several key border areas in the northernmost Indian territory of Ladakh. The discovery led to the first deadly Chinese-Indian military clashes since 1975, including China’s first combat deaths in decades.

Unlike China’s expansionism elsewhere, including swallowing Hong Kong and redrawing maritime frontiers in the South China Sea without firing a shot, its Himalayan aggression has run into armed resistance. India has not only more than matched Chinese military deployments, but in recent days, it test-fired a nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile as a warning shot to China and conducted daring border paratrooper exercises simulating territory capture behind enemy lines.

The deepening military stalemate at the Himalayan border led Beijing to enact its new Land Borders Law, which gives its imprimatur to assertive actions along land frontiers. Those actions emulate China’s aggressive moves in the East and South China Seas, including an intensifying campaign against the Japan-controlled Senkaku Islands, claimed by Beijing as the Diaoyu, through aerial and maritime incursions.

The Land Borders Law, which India’s foreign ministry slammed as a “unilateral move,” extends to transboundary river waters. According to Chinese state media, the law upholds China’s “legitimate rights and interests” over the Tibet-originating transboundary rivers like the Brahmaputra and Mekong.

The law’s assertion of full sovereignty over cross-border waters means that China has a declared right to divert as much of the shared waters as it wishes, regardless of downstream impacts. Nikkei Asia has reported in an online article, “China law tightens land borders amid regional tensions,” that Beijing is toying with the idea of limiting the volume of cross-border water flows to India during conflicts, by citing the “protection and reasonable use” stipulation of its Land Borders Law.

In fact, underscoring its readiness to weaponize even the sharing of water data on upstream river flows, China in 2017 inexplicably refused to supply hydrological data to India in violation of the terms of two bilateral agreements. The one-year data denial resulted in preventable deaths as the monsoon-swollen Brahmaputra overran its banks, leaving a major trail of destruction, especially in India’s Assam state.

The Land Borders Law is just the latest example of how an increasingly aggressive China is using domestic law to underpin its expansionism. Beijing, for example, used a new national security law to crush Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement and bring the city into political lockstep with the Chinese Communist Party in breach of China’s United Nations-registered treaty with Britain.

The Land Borders Law came just months after China’s new Coast Guard Law took effect. Several countries, including Japan, the United States, the Philippines and Vietnam, have raised concerns about the Coast Guard Law, which clearly violates the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

But just as the Coast Guard Law is aimed at accelerating China’s maritime militarization, the Land Borders Law will speed up its militarization of the Himalayas. And just as the Coast Guard Law authorizes the use of lethal force in disputed waters claimed by China, the land law permits the use of force in defending and furthering Chinese claims to contested lands.

Simply put, Beijing enacts domestic law to violate international law. China’s success in unraveling Hong Kong’s autonomy through a national security law could inspire it to enact a Taiwan-specific legislation or activate its 2005 Anti-Secession Law against that island democracy.

By employing domestic law as a cover for unlawful actions, China illustrates that international law is powerless against the powerful, especially scofflaw states. But China’s expansionism often breaches international law with the aim, ironically, of asserting its own claims and rights under international law.

Examples include China’s human-made militarized islands in the South China Sea and its current militarized village-building spree in disputed Himalayan borderlands in order to extend or consolidate its control over strategically important areas that India, Bhutan and Nepal maintain fall within their national boundaries.

Effective control is the sine qua non of a strong territorial claim in international law. Armed patrols do not prove effective control, but civilian settlements do. So, the Chinese Communist Party is callously uprooting Tibetan nomads and forcing them to settle in its artificial new Himalayan border villages, where ethnic Han Chinese party members serve as resident overseers.

Whether China can legitimize unlawful actions retroactively in this manner is a moot point. But lawfare, or the misuse and abuse of law for political and military ends, is a key component of China’s asymmetrical or hybrid warfare.

This blends conventional and irregular tactics with incremental territorial encroachment — salami-slicing — psychological manipulation, disinformation and coercive diplomacy to help advance its expansionism.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and author of nine books, including “Asian Juggernaut: The Rise of China, India and Japan.”

Why the U.S. let Pakistan nuclear scientist AQ Khan off the hook

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Decision could still come back to haunt Washington

Brahma Chellaney, Nikkei Asia

The incredible story of A.Q. Khan, the Netherlands-trained Pakistani metallurgist who — with impunity — ran an illicit global nuclear-smuggling network for a quarter-century would make for a captivating thriller.

A key plotline would surely be the mystery of why Khan, who died on October 10 from complications caused by COVID-19, was never indicted by the U.S. for stealing nuclear secrets from the West. Khan played a pivotal role in helping Pakistan develop nuclear weapons and then selling crucial know-how to three U.S.-labeled “rogue states” — Iran, North Korea and Libya.

Former Netherlands Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers revealed in 2005 that Dutch authorities wanted to arrest Khan in 1975 and again in 1986 but that on each occasion the Central Intelligence Agency advised against taking such action. According to Lubbers, the CIA conveyed the message: “Give us all the information, but don’t arrest him.”

After Khan was tried in absentia and sentenced to four years in prison in 1983 for stealing uranium enrichment secrets from the Netherlands, files held by an Amsterdam court were mysteriously lost, with the main judge suspecting the CIA’s hand in their disappearance.

When an appeals court overturned Khan’s conviction on a technicality, the Netherlands — a key U.S. ally during the Cold War — declined to seek a retrial, effectively letting Khan off the hook. As the Financial Times put it, the Dutch “abandoned prosecution of the most consequential crime committed on their territory since the second world war.”

Geopolitics partly explains why the CIA wanted to protect Khan.

While the U.S. and India are close partners today, at the time Dutch authorities were seeking to arrest Khan, the U.S. was not averse to the idea of Pakistan developing a nuclear-weapons capability to balance India, which had conducted its first nuclear test in 1974. For years, the U.S. simply turned a blind eye to Pakistan’s covert nuclear-weapons development.

American concerns, however, were stirred when Khan began selling nuclear items to other renegade states. U.S. pressure compelled Pakistan to open investigations into Khan’s activities in 2003 after Iran and Libya admitted to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that Pakistan-linked black marketeers supplied them with the components they needed to advance their nuclear research.

In 2004, Khan appeared on national television asking for forgiveness, saying he had acted entirely on his own in passing on nuclear secrets to other countries. “I take full responsibility for my actions,” Khan said, “and seek your pardon.”

After this orchestrated confession, Pakistani dictator General Pervez Musharraf, citing Khan’s status as a national hero, pardoned him. Musharraf also barred U.S. or IAEA investigators from questioning Khan. Oddly, Washington went along with this charade, which extended to Khan’s ostensible house detention.

Investigative journalists Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark, in their acclaimed 2007 book “Deception: Pakistan, the United States, and the Secret Trade in Nuclear Weapons,” concluded that Khan was the fall guy. “The covert trade in doomsday technology was not the work of one man, but the foreign policy of a nation and supervised by Pakistan’s ruling military clique,” Levy and Scott-Clark wrote, adding that Pakistan’s generals have long maintained a nexus with terrorist groups.

The military’s collusion with Khan was underscored by the use of an army plane in 2000 to transport centrifuges to Pyongyang. In return, Pakistan received North Korean ballistic missile technology, helping it to build its first intermediate-range, nuclear-capable missile, Ghauri.

While most technology transfers appeared to be state-sanctioned, Khan likely sold some nuclear items for personal profit.

Still, despite exaggerated Western media reports then, no evidence has surfaced to indicate that the Pakistani transfers significantly contributed to advancing the Iranian, North Korean and Libyan nuclear programs. North Korea, the only recipient to cross the nuclear threshold, has long relied on plutonium, which the Khan network did not traffic.

Pakistan’s own nuclear weaponization benefited decisively from clandestine transfers from China, another archrival of India. Such transfers began in 1982, when, as Khan admitted, China supplied the blueprint for one of the nuclear bombs it had tested, as well as enough weapons-grade uranium for two atomic weapons.

Yet the U.S., just as it has not penalized China for its continuing nuclear and missile transfers to Pakistan, chose not to indict the rogue Pakistani scientist that spearheaded an international smuggling enterprise. Washington, however, has indicted a number of other individuals — including as recently as last year — for conspiring to smuggle nuclear goods to Pakistan.

America’s shielding of Khan, a nuclear jihadist committed to payback for real and imagined injustices against Muslims, was doubly ironic, because it set the stage for Pakistan’s emergence as an epicenter for terrorism, with its own nuclear weapons acting as enough of a deterrent to retaliation by another state.

Indeed, through its humiliating Afghanistan defeat at the hands of the Taliban, America has tasted the bitter fruits of the Pakistani generals’ cross-border use of jihadist proxies from behind their protective nuclear shield.

The U.S. maintains contingency plans to seize Pakistan’s nuclear weapons if they risk falling into terrorist hands. But if a 9/11 style terrorist attack with a crude nuclear device were to occur anywhere in the world, the trail of devastation would likely lead back to Pakistan.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and author of nine books, including “Asian Juggernaut: The Rise of China, India and Japan.”

Saving Tibet

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Chinese President Xi Jinping seems eager for Taiwan to go the way of once-autonomous Tibet, which was gobbled up by Mao Zedong’s regime in the early 1950s. This would constitute the biggest threat to world peace in a generation, and the United States cannot afford to allow it.

BRAHMA CHELLANEY, Project Syndicate

China’s coercive expansionism may be taking its most dangerous turn yet. Recently, record-breaking numbers of Chinese military planes have entered Taiwan’s “air defense identification zone,” where the island’s authorities assert the right to demand that aircraft identify themselves. China’s muscle-flexing sends a clear message: it is serious about incorporating the island – and “reunifying” China – potentially by force.

Though the international community has been reluctant to challenge the Chinese claim that Taiwan has “always been” part of China, the claim is dubious, at best, and based on revisionist history. For most of its history, Taiwan was inhabited by non-Chinese peoples – Malayo-Polynesian tribes – and had no relationship with China. Geographically, Taiwan is closer to the Philippines than to the Chinese mainland.

It was not until the seventeenth century that significant numbers of Chinese began to migrate to Taiwan, encouraged by the island’s Dutch colonial rulers, who needed workers. Over the next 100 years, the ethnic Chinese population grew to outnumber Taiwanese natives, who were increasingly dispossessed, often violently. During this period, Taiwan came under the Qing Dynasty’s control. But it was not until 1887 that Taiwan was declared a province of China.

Barely eight years later, China ceded Taiwan to Japan in perpetuity, following its defeat in the Sino-Japanese War. Taiwan remained under Japanese colonial rule until 1945 – Japan officially renounced its sovereignty over it in the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty – and has been self-governing ever since. In other words, for the last 126 years, Taiwan has been outside China’s lawful control.

Today, Taiwan has all the attributes of a robust independent state, and most Taiwanese want it to stay that way. But Chinese President Xi Jinping appears eager to annex the island, as Mao Zedong’s regime did to Tibet in the early 1950s, in the name of “reunification.” A Chinese invasion of Taiwan would constitute the biggest threat to world peace in a generation.

Beyond compromising freedom of navigation in a crucial region, a Chinese takeover of Taiwan would upend the balance of power in the Indo-Pacific, not least by enabling China to break out of the “first island chain” that runs from the Japanese archipelago, through Taiwan, the Philippines, and on to Borneo, enclosing China’s coastal seas. It would also irreparably damage America’s reputation as a reliable ally. If the United States cannot (or will not) prevent Taiwan’s subjugation, why should anyone else count on US protection?

The risks are particularly acute for Japan, whose southernmost islands are adjacent to Taiwan. As then-Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso observed in July, “Okinawa could be next.” Unable to rely on the Americans, Japan would likely remilitarize and even acquire nuclear weapons. Other US allies – such as South Korea, the Philippines, and Thailand – would likely be brought into China’s sphere of influence.

Yet the US does not seem particularly committed to preventing a Chinese takeover of Taiwan and the subsequent collapse of the half-century-old Asian security order. This is exactly what Xi is counting on. Successive US administrations have let him get away with countless expansionist maneuvers – from militarizing the South China Sea to demolishing Hong Kong’s autonomy – as well as cultural genocide in Xinjiang. Why should Taiwan be any different?

US President Joe Biden’s recent shift to a more conciliatory approach toward China has probably bolstered Xi’s confidence further. Xi currently may be focused on China’s 17-month-long military confrontation with India in the Himalayas, where Chinese territorial encroachments have triggered a massive buildup of forces along the inhospitable frontier. But, if some resolution can be found that reduces tensions in the Himalayas, it would free up Chinese capabilities to deal with the fallout of any Taiwan-related operation.

At that point, the only thing that would deter China from attempting to recolonize Taiwan would be the knowledge that it would incur high concrete – not just reputational – costs. Biden must therefore make it crystal clear to Xi that the US would mobilize its own military resources to defend Taiwan.

But will he? The US Strategic Framework for the Indo-Pacific – a policy document declassified by President Donald Trump’s administration before leaving office – recommends that America help Taiwan develop “asymmetric” capabilities against China. Such a strategy has recently been backed by some former American government and military officials. As retired Admiral James Stavridis puts it, just as a porcupine’s quills protect it from larger predators by making it difficult to digest, weapons like anti-ship and anti-aircraft missiles would turn any invasion of Taiwan into a bloody, protracted, and costly guerrilla campaign.

It is true that bolstering Taiwan’s defenses is crucial to avert Chinese amphibious and airborne operations. But even if the US and Taiwanese governments reached an agreement on an asymmetric strategy, it would take several years to build a “porcupine Taiwan” capable of choking the Chinese dragon. This process would include training a large civilian corps to mount sustained guerrilla attacks on invaders.

Until then, in keeping with the central paradox of deterrence, the only way to discourage aggression by a revisionist power is for the status quo power to threaten to go to war. That is how the US kept West Berlin – which had a political status even more precarious than Taiwan’s – free throughout the Cold War.

The worst stance the US could take would be to oppose a Chinese takeover of Taiwan without credibly signaling a genuine willingness to defend the island militarily. Such an approach could encourage Xi, who has grown accustomed to acting with impunity, to order a surprise invasion. With that, the Indo-Pacific order would be overturned, dealing a mortal blow to America’s global preeminence.

Brahma Chellaney

Brahma Chellaney, Professor of Strategic Studies at the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research and Fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin, is the author of nine books, including Asian Juggernaut; Water: Asia’s New Battleground; and Water, Peace, and War: Confronting the Global Water Crisis.

© Project Syndicate, 2021.

Biden shifts to a more conciliatory approach toward China

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BY BRAHMA CHELLANEY, The Hill

In a defiant speech on Aug. 31, President Biden claimed that his precipitous exit from Afghanistan, which facilitated the terrorist takeover of that country, would allow the United States to focus on its “serious competition with China.” But there are now growing signs that Biden’s Afghan blunder has weakened his hand against China and opened greater strategic space for America’s main rival.

Illustrating his weakened position, the president has just capitulated to China’s hostage-taking tactics. In a deal Biden finalized with Chinese President Xi Jinping, the U.S. dropped its extradition case against Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, allowing her to return home from Canada, in exchange for China’s release of Canadian hostages Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, who spent 1,019 days in Chinese prisons on trumped-up charges. 

The hostages-for-Meng swap is the latest example of Biden’s efforts to ease tensions with China by propitiating Xi. By rewarding Xi’s use of rogue tactics, the deal sends a chilling message to foreigners working in China.

Earlier, Biden bowed to another Chinese demand — that the U.S. stop tracing the origins of the COVID-19 virus, even though the world has a right to know if China caused the worst disaster of our time, which has already killed more than 4.7 million people. Twelve days after Kabul’s fall, Biden announced on Aug. 27 that the intelligence inquiry he initiated had ended, even though it failed to uncover the genesis of the pandemic.

Xi’s regime, involved in one of the greatest cover-ups ever seen, doesn’t want the truth to come out. After all, if China’s negligence or complicity spawned the world’s worst public-health catastrophe in more than a century, it would constitute a crime against humanity.

Biden should have ordered the U.S. intelligence community to keep searching for the true origins of the virus until it reached a definitive conclusion. By not extending the inquiry’s 90-day deadline, Biden met an important Chinese demand.

Since the Afghan debacle, Biden has gone to extraordinary lengths to alleviate tensions with China. Last week began with the president’s China-conciliatory address at the United Nations and ended with Meng’s return home to a hero’s welcome.  

During a recent 90-minute phone conversation with Xi, Biden sought to explain U.S. actions toward China “in a way that [is] not misinterpreted as…somehow trying to sort of undermine Beijing in particular ways,” according to the readout from a senior U.S. official. In fact, during the call, Xi spurned Biden’s face-to-face summit offer, demanding that the U.S. first soften its China policy and tamp down rhetoric.

As if heeding Xi’s demand, Biden in his UN address never uttered the word “China,” even as he called out Iran and North Korea. The address stood in stark contrast with then-President Trump’s 2020 UN speech, which demanded the world “hold China accountable” for unleashing the “China virus.” Biden’s speech defensively stated, “We’re not seeking – say it again, we are not seeking – a new Cold War or a world divided into rigid blocs.”

Such fecklessness appears out of step with reality, given that an ambitious and expansionist China is actively working to supplant the U.S. as the world’s preeminent power while waging a cold war against it. Since Biden assumed the presidency, the U.S. has initiated most moves for high-level talks with China, including the latest phone call.

The White House’s dropping of fraud charges against Meng, the daughter of the man who founded the military-linked Huawei, is a real shot in the arm for Xi, whose increasing appetite for taking major risks poses an international challenge. In a striking paradox, Meng departed for home from Canada on the day Biden hosted the first face-to-face leaders’ meeting of the Quad, a U.S.-India-Japan-Australia grouping catalyzed by China’s muscular foreign policy and rogue behavior.

Deals with hostage-takers usually boomerang. For example, to secure the release of Bowe Bergdahl, a captured U.S. Army sergeant who had deserted his unit in Afghanistan, President Obama in 2014 freed five Taliban leaders from Guantánamo Bay. The release of the five – “the hardest of the hardcore,” as the late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said then – proved costly.

An emboldened Taliban sharply escalated its attacks in Afghanistan, bringing Afghan and U.S.-NATO forces under increasing pressure. This eventually led to Trump’s one-sided withdrawal deal with the Taliban in February 2020 and then to Biden’s recent handover of Afghanistan to that Pakistan-backed terrorist militia. Today, the five former Guantánamo inmates are senior officials of the new Afghan regime, made up of a who’s who of international terrorism.

The Biden-arranged swap is likely to prove detrimental to the free world. The deal may have unwittingly vindicated Chinese propaganda that the 2018 Canadian arrest of Meng on a U.S. warrant was politically driven and that the U.S. and Canadian judicial systems do not operate independent of political interests.

Indeed, the White House has shamed the rule of law by terminating a legal case through a political deal with a hostage-holding regime, thereby setting a terrible precedent in international relations.

The deal will inspire other hostage-takers, including the Taliban. To press for sanctions relief and other demands, the Taliban is already obstructing the evacuation of the remaining stranded foreigners from Afghanistan, including Afghans with Western passports.

More ominously, America’s yielding to China’s thuggish diplomacy of hostage-taking will encourage greater Chinese defiance of international rules and norms. Xi’s regime doesn’t care about the costs to the country’s image, which explains why, despite unfavorable views of China rising to near historic highs, it is busy corrupting, coercing or co-opting other states.

In pursuing a more conciliatory approach toward China, Biden has given respectability to the rogue-state tactic of taking hostages, making it virtually certain that the two freed Canadians will not be the last foreigners seized by Beijing as bargaining chips.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and the author of nine books, including the award-winning “Water: Asia’s New Battleground” (Georgetown University Press).

A Striking Paradox: The U.S. Engages Taliban But Isolates Myanmar

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Taliban fighters stand guard outside Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul on Aug. 16: the White House has praised the Taliban for being businesslike and professional on evacuations.   © Reuters

Naypyitaw’s generals treated as bigger threat than the terrorists controlling Kabul

Brahma Chellaney, Nikkei Asia

No sooner had the Taliban completed their lightning-quick conquest of Afghanistan than U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that Washington was ready to work on “counterterrorism” with the same marauding Islamist force that has so much American blood on its hands.

No less shocking was the statement from the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, that it is “possible” the U.S. will coordinate with the Taliban to conduct counterterrorism strikes on other Islamist terrorists.

British Chief of Defense Staff Gen. Nick Carter called the Taliban — responsible for the killing of more than 2,000 American soldiers and hundreds of allied troops — “country boys” that “live by a code of honor and a standard.” Carter’s claim that the Taliban have “changed” and “want an Afghanistan that is inclusive for all” has already been contradicted.

The Taliban’s all-male regime of hard-core extremists is a who’s who of international terrorism, with 17 of the 33 cabinet ministers on the United Nations’ terrorism-related sanctions list, and four former Guantanamo Bay inmates and several others who remain U.S.-designated global terrorists. The regime is headed by Mohammad Hassan Akhund, a U.N.-listed terrorist and architect of the 2001 destruction of the monumental Buddhas of Bamiyan.

The Anglo-American outreach to the Taliban stands in eerie contrast with U.S. and British efforts to isolate and squeeze another of India’s neighbors — military-ruled Myanmar. It is as if Myanmar’s military government is a bigger threat to international security than a Kabul regime run by some of the world’s deadliest terrorists.

Military rule is nothing new to Myanmar, one of the world’s most ethnically diverse countries whose failure to construct an inclusive national identity has allowed old ethnic insurgencies to fester. Directly or indirectly, the military has always called the shots in Myanmar, a factor stifling the resource-rich nation’s potential.Soldiers set up barricades in Yangon on Feb. 15: military rule is nothing new to Myanmar,   © NurPhoto/Getty Images

Yet, after the latest military takeover on Feb. 1, the U.S. and Britain took the lead in slapping a series of sanctions on Myanmar, with America even suspending bilateral trade ties. Washington says its 2013 Trade and Investment Framework Agreement with Myanmar will remain suspended until the return of a democratically elected government, of which there is currently little hope.

The U.S.-led efforts to use economic and political levers to unseat the military regime have only emboldened insurgent groups to step up their violent campaigns. A shadow government formed by opponents of military rule recently called for taking up arms against the regime. More than 220,000 people have already been displaced by internal conflict since the military takeover.

Yet, the U.S. and Britain appear reconciled to a terrorist regime ruling Afghanistan. In an echo of Gen. Carter’s call to be “very careful about using the term ‘enemy'” for the Taliban, U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan has declined to call the militia an enemy of the U.S., saying, “It’s hard to put a label on it.”

In fact, Britain responded to the Taliban’s conquest by immediately announcing a doubling of its aid to Afghanistan. And U.S. President Joe Biden — not content with his Afghan surrender gifting troves of American-made weapons to the Taliban, making them the first terrorist group to acquire advanced air and land-based capabilities — is sending $64 million in aid to Afghanistan. As The Wall Street Journal put it, the Taliban “have overnight turned into a courted U.S. partner.”

The White House has praised the Taliban for being “businesslike and professional” on evacuations. They have certainly been businesslike and professional in detaining and executing perceived opponents, in ongoing ethnic cleansing and in their Pakistan-aided brutal assaults on the Panjshir Valley, the last resistance stronghold, where tens of thousands of residents have been uprooted amid widespread killings.

Meanwhile, Taliban death squads, going door to door, have been hunting down and killing those who assisted the previous government, including, in one documented case, first pulling out all the victim’s fingernails. The Taliban have been businesslike and professional too in their imposition of seventh-century Islamic practices from the Arab world that are alien to Afghan culture.

The Taliban have “changed” in one respect: In place of the blue burqa that women were made to wear during their 1996-2001 rule, they have now prescribed a full-body covering of a different color, black.

The U.S. outreach to the Taliban, including drawing specious distinctions between “good” and “bad” terrorists, is designed to soften the blow from Biden’s handover of a mineral-rich country to a militia that is a wing of the Pakistani deep state. But such an effort cannot camouflage the damage to America’s international credibility and standing.

More fundamentally, the Anglo-American courting of the Taliban highlights the selective, geopolitics-driven approach to combating terrorism, which is why the U.S.-launched global war on terrorism has yielded little even two decades after its launch. The scourge of transnational terrorism has only spread deeper and wider.

The Taliban’s rollback of civil, human and women’s rights, brutal executions, replacement of education and music with religious dogma, and enslavement of prepubescent girls through forced “marriage” to their fighters ought to spur a concerted global response.

The last thing the world can afford is condoning the Taliban’s medieval practices, misogyny and barbarity. Yet the West remains a mute spectator to the Taliban’s ongoing atrocities.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and author of nine books, including “Asian Juggernaut: The Rise of China, India and Japan.”

Biden rewards Xi’s hostage diplomacy

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BRAHMA CHELLANEY, The Globe and Mail

There is an old Chinese idiom: “Kill the chicken to scare the monkey.” And in the political crossfire between Washington and Beijing over the 2018 Canadian arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou on a U.S. warrant, it is clear that for China, Canada has been the chicken to the U.S.’s monkey.

The relief in Canada over the return of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig from almost three years of arbitrary detention in China should not obscure the larger implications of the U.S.-arranged deal. It represents a triumph of China’s scofflaw tactics, and a real shot in the arm for President Xi Jinping, whose expansionist policies already pose a growing international challenge.

In recent weeks, U.S. President Joe Biden has gone to extraordinary lengths to ease tensions with China, as if to underscore that the humiliating U.S. defeat in Afghanistan has weakened his hand against his country’s principal rival. During a recent 90-minute phone conversation, Mr. Xi spurned Mr. Biden’s offer of a face-to-face summit, demanding that the U.S. first soften its China policy and tamp down its rhetoric.

As if heeding Mr. Xi’s demand, Mr. Biden did not utter the word “China” in his address at the United Nations last week, even as he called out Iran and North Korea. “We’re not seeking – I’ll say it again, we are not seeking – a new Cold War or a world divided into rigid blocs,” he said defensively. Contrast that with then-president Donald Trump’s 2020 UN speech, in which he declared that the world must “hold China accountable” for the COVID-19 pandemic. And indeed, during his phone call with Mr. Xi, Mr. Biden sought to explain U.S. actions toward China “in a way that [is] not misinterpreted as … somehow trying to sort of undermine Beijing in particular ways,” according to the readout from a senior U.S. official.

Such fecklessness appears out of step with reality, given that China has been actively working to displace the U.S. as the world’s pre-eminent power. Yet, since Mr. Biden assumed office, it is the U.S. that has initiated most of the moves for high-level talks with China, including the latest phone call.

The Biden administration’s dropping of fraud charges against Ms. Meng came just after Canada completed its federal election. But, in a striking paradox, Ms. Meng departed for home from Canada on the day Mr. Biden hosted the first face-to-face leaders’ meeting of the Quad, a U.S.-India-Japan-Australia coalition catalyzed by China’s aggressive foreign policy and rogue behaviour.

By terminating a legal case through a political deal, Washington may have unwittingly vindicated Chinese propaganda – that Ms. Meng’s arrest was politically driven and that the U.S. and Canadian judicial systems were not free from political influence. The deal will encourage China to further defy international rules and norms and coerce other states, as it seeks to establish a 21st-century version of the imperial tributary system.

The White House, unfortunately, has ignored the lesson that deals with hostage takers usually boomerang. For example, to secure the release of Bowe Bergdahl, a captured U.S. Army sergeant who had deserted his unit in Afghanistan, U.S. President Barack Obama freed five Taliban leaders – “the hardest of the hardcore,” as the late senator John McCain called them at the time – from Guantánamo Bay in 2014. An emboldened Taliban then sharply escalated its attacks in Afghanistan, bringing Afghan and U.S.-NATO forces under increasing pressure. This led eventually to Mr. Trump’s one-sided withdrawal deal in February, 2020, whose precipitous implementation by Mr. Biden facilitated the Taliban’s sweep into power in August. Today, the five former Guantanamo inmates are senior officials of the Taliban regime, which is stacked with cabinet ministers who are on UN and U.S. terrorism-related sanctions lists.

Mr. Biden’s deal is also likely to prove broadly detrimental to Western interests. By striking a deal with a hostage-holding government, the White House has advertised weakness. The fact that China has gotten its way will inspire other hostage-takers, including the Taliban. In fact, to press for sanctions relief and other demands, the Taliban are already obstructing the evacuation of the remaining Western citizens from Afghanistan, including Afghans who hold U.S. passports or green cards.

Thanks to the U.S.’s deal, Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor will surely not be the last foreigners seized by Beijing as bargaining chips. By rewarding China’s hostage diplomacy, the White House has given respectability to a rogue-state tactic that Mr. Xi is sure to now employ again.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and the author of nine books, including the award-winning Water: Asia’s New Battleground.

A Crippling Blow to the Global War on Terror

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The Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, the greatest jihadist victory in modern times, will give rise to a terrorist super-state that serves as a magnet for violent Islamists from around the world. The US-led global war on terror, which was already faltering before President Joe Biden took office, may not recover.

BRAHMA CHELLANEYProject Syndicate

The American-led global war on terror, launched 20 years ago after the September 11, 2001, attacks against the United States, was already faltering before President Joe Biden took office. Now it may not recover from the blow delivered by Biden’s historic blunder in facilitating the Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan. The flag of the world’s deadliest terrorists – responsible for killing over 2,000 US soldiers since 2001 – will fly above Kabul on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

By empowering the Taliban, Biden has empowered all violent Islamist groups, thus making the rebirth of global terror highly likely. And by betraying one ally – the Afghan government – he has made other American allies feel that the US could abandon them, too, when the chips are down.

The greatest jihadist victory in modern times will soon give rise to a terrorist super-state – a haven for transnational fanatics and a magnet for violent Islamists from around the world seeking training to carry out attacks back home. The Taliban’s “Islamic emirate” will lay the foundation for an international caliphate of the type sought by the late al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and the hijackers who carried out the 9/11 attacks.

Whereas the short-lived “caliphate” of the Islamic State (ISIS) filled a political vacuum in northern Syria before expanding into Iraq, the Taliban’s emirate has resulted from the defeat of the world’s mightiest power. The Taliban’s triumph will thus give the international jihadist movement an unprecedented boost, including for enlisting new recruits, with consequences that will play out for many years. The war on terror, which extends from the Middle East and southern Europe to Africa and Asia, will become increasingly difficult as its fronts multiply.

This comes at a time when America’s accelerating imperial decline is already weakening its capacity to impose its will on other countries, thereby encouraging China’s global expansion. Biden, continuing his predecessor Donald Trump’s policy of military retrenchment, recently committed to ending the US combat mission in Iraq this year.

The US has expended huge resources in its war on terror, waging counterterrorism operations in scores of countries. According to a recent report from Brown University’s Costs of War project, America’s post-9/11 wars, including efforts to secure its homeland, have cost about $8 trillion and caused an estimated 900,000 deaths, including of civilians and humanitarian aid workers. But they have yielded no enduring results.

The main reason is that America has long forgotten the lessons of 9/11, including the need to shun the path of expediency. As a result, the politicization of the war on terror has prevented a concerted ideological onslaught on violent jihadism.

Biden, for his part, is drawing specious distinctions between “good” and “bad” terrorists, in a bid to obscure both the significance of the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan and his administration’s outreach to it. For example, he claims that “ISIS-K terrorists” are “sworn enemies of the Taliban” without acknowledging that the Taliban – like al-Qaeda and ISIS-K – are sworn enemies of the free world. Likewise, Biden was quick to absolve the Taliban of responsibility for the recent terrorist bombing at Kabul airport by pinning the blame on ISIS-K, while Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the US is ready to work on “counterterrorism” with the new regime in Kabul.

But the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and ISIS-K share a common ideology and commitment to violent jihad, with their members commingling and even moving from one group to another. As the Pentagon has acknowledged, the victorious Taliban have released thousands of ISIS-K prisoners. And according to a recent United Nations Security Council report, “the Taliban and Al-Qaida remain closely aligned.”

Meanwhile, the State Department has sought to spin a myth by claiming that the Taliban and their special forces, the Haqqani Network, “are separate entities.” In fact, the Taliban and the Haqqani Network are a wing of Pakistan’s “deep state.” The network’s chief, Sirajuddin Haqqani, is a deputy leader of the Taliban. And the arrival in Kabul of the head of Pakistan’s rogue Inter-Services Intelligence agency even before the Taliban formed their government highlighted that the real victor in Afghanistan is Pakistan, which has virtually gained proxy control of its neighbor.

Yet, underscoring the geopolitics behind the war on terror, the Biden administration is unlikely to punish Pakistan, a “major non-NATO ally,” for engineering America’s humiliating rout in Afghanistan. Instead, it is relying on Pakistan and another long-time sponsor of jihadists, Qatar, to establish a relationship with the theocratic dictatorship in Kabul.

The US has come full circle by ceding control of Afghanistan to the same organization that gave bin Laden the base from which to plot the 9/11 attacks. Those attacks resulted from America’s troubling ties with Islamist groups since the 1980s, when President Ronald Reagan used Islam as an ideological tool to encourage armed resistance to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders, including the Haqqani Network’s foundercut their teeth in that CIA-run covert war. Another veteran of that war now heads the Taliban regime – Muhammad Hassan Akhund, a UN-listed terrorist and architect of the 2001 demolition of the monumental Buddhas of Bamiyan.

But within a decade of 9/11, the US returned to training jihadists and funneling lethal arms to them in regime-change wars, such as in Syria and Libya, with the CIA’s $1 billion secret war to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad resulting in the rise of ISIS. And it bankrolled a renegade Pakistan as it sheltered the Taliban’s command-and-control network.

Forgetting the lessons of 9/11 has effectively derailed the global war on terror. Putting it back on track, though a daunting challenge, is essential if the scourge of violent jihadism is not to become the defining crisis of this century.

Brahma Chellaney

Brahma Chellaney, Professor of Strategic Studies at the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research and Fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin, is the author of nine books, including Asian Juggernaut; Water: Asia’s New Battleground; and Water, Peace, and War: Confronting the Global Water Crisis.

© Project Syndicate, 2021.

Biden has made the world’s deadliest terrorists great again

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The U.S.-led war on terror, in the global imagination, has become associated with U.S. surveillance excesses, torture, renditions, and regime-change military interventions. America’s Afghan defeat, drenched in the blood of betrayal, is the final nail in the coffin.

Brahma Chellaney, The Washington Times

On the day the United States marked two decades since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Taliban triumphantly hoisted their flag over the Afghan presidential palace and launched their new regime in a brief ceremony. The unprecedented 9/11 attacks prompted the U.S. not only to invade landlocked, strategically located Afghanistan but also to launch a global war on terror. But now, the U.S. has come full circle by handing Afghanistan to the same terrorists responsible for 9/11.

President Joe Biden’s historic blunder in facilitating the terrorist takeover of Afghanistan has highlighted how the U.S.-led war on terror has gone astray. Over the past 20 years, the scourge of international terrorism has spread deeper and wider in the world.

Biden has earned his place in history by making the world’s deadliest terrorists — the Pakistan-reared Taliban, who killed more than 2,000 American soldiers since 2001 — great again. Historians will be flummoxed that the U.S. expended considerable blood and treasure in a protracted war to ultimately help its enemy ride triumphantly back to power.

The humiliating rout of the world’s mightiest power represents the greatest victory of violent Islamists in the modern history of jihadism, with the Taliban calling it “the most joyful day of our existence.” The triumph over the “Great Satan” is certain to inspire other Islamist and terrorist groups worldwide.

Undeterred by his Afghan disaster, Biden plans to withdraw from Iraq this year, in keeping with what he declared in his August 31 address to the nation: “This decision about Afghanistan is not just about Afghanistan. It’s about ending an era of major military operations to remake other countries.” This readjustment of strategic objectives is already rattling allies — from Taiwan to Ukraine — who fear being abandoned the way the U.S. threw the Afghan government under the bus.

Afghanistan indeed may not be the last blunder of the Biden presidency. Robert Gates, who served as defense secretary under presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, wrote in 2014 that Biden “has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.” Gates has proved right.

In fact, al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, in a May 2010 letter found in his Pakistan compound after he was killed by U.S. forces, advised al-Qaeda not to target then-Vice President Biden, in the hope that he would one day become president. “Biden is totally unprepared for that post, which will lead the U.S. into a crisis,” bin Laden wrote. He too has proved correct.

Biden has ignored the lessons of 9/11. This is apparent from the administration’s outreach to the Taliban. Biden has attempted to paint the Taliban as “good” terrorists and ISIS-K, al-Qaeda and the Haqqani Network as “bad” terrorists. He even claimed that “ISIS-K terrorists” are “sworn enemies of the Taliban,” ignoring the Pentagon’s acknowledgment that it was the victorious Taliban that freed thousands of ISIS-K prisoners.

Like the administration’s attempt to portray the new Taliban as more enlightened than the old Taliban, Biden’s specious distinctions between “good” and “bad” terrorists have been part of his public-relations campaign to soften the blow from his handover of mineral-rich Afghanistan to an Islamist militia that is a wing of the Pakistani “deep state.” Indeed, extending its good-terrorists-versus-bad-terrorists hypothesis, Team Biden has sought to court the Taliban as America’s new partner to help contain the “bad” militants, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken saying publicly that the U.S. is ready to work on “counterterrorism” with the Taliban.

A key 9/11 lesson was that the viper reared against one state is a viper against others. Drawing distinctions between those who threaten U.S. security and those who threaten others is a sure recipe for counterterrorism failure, as terrorist cells and networks must be targeted wherever they exist on a sustained basis in order to achieve enduring results against the forces of global jihad.

Team Biden is intentionally ignoring the fact that the Taliban are closely entwined with other terror groups. A recent United Nations Security Council report said, “the Taliban and al-Qaida remain closely aligned” and cooperate through the Haqqani Network. The triumphant Taliban have not only refused to utter a critical word about al-Qaeda but also now claim there is “no proof” that bin Laden was responsible for 9/11. 

The Taliban and the Haqqani Network are not “two separate entities,” as the State Department claimed, but closely integrated, as the lineup of the new Cabinet ministers in Kabul shows. And, although Biden sought to insulate the Taliban from the Aug. 26 Kabul Airport bombing by quickly pinning the blame on ISIS-K, the fact is that ISIS-K has little relationship with the ISIS founded by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Rather, as part of Pakistani intelligence’s deception operations to build plausible deniability in terror attacks, ISIS-K draws its cadres largely from the Taliban’s special forces — the Haqqani Network.

The world today is reaping the bitter fruits of a geopolitics-driven war on terror, which, in the global imagination, has become associated with U.S. surveillance excesses, torture, renditions and regime-change military interventions. Afghanistan is set to become a haven for international terrorists under a regime stacked with U.N.-listed or U.S.-designated terrorists, including the prime minister, who was instrumental in the 2001 destruction of two giant, sixth-century Buddhas in Bamiyan.

America’s Afghan defeat, drenched in the blood of betrayal, resulted from ignoring the lessons of 9/11, including the importance of not coddling states that bankroll or sponsor transnational terrorism. And the U.S.-led war on terror, instead of containing terrorism, has generated greater international insecurity. It is not too late for the U.S. to absorb the lessons from national policies that gave rise to Frankenstein’s monsters.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and the author of nine books, including the award-winning “Water: Asia’s New Battleground” (Georgetown University Press).