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Tracking Military, Geopolitical & Strategic trends to determine China's impact Regionally Globally and Domestically
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Beyond the Pivot

Beyond the Pivot | China Commentary |

Picture above; Rebalancing act: Barack Obama and Xi Jinping in Beijing, November 2009. (Jim Young / Courtesy Reuters)


The Obama administration’s “pivot” to Asia made sense, because China was starting to doubt U.S. staying power.


Debate about the future of U.S.-Chinese relations is currently being driven by a more assertive Chinese foreign and security policy over the last decade, the region's reaction to this, and Washington's response -- the "pivot," or "rebalance," to Asia. The Obama administration's renewed focus on the strategic significance of Asia has been entirely appropriate. Without such a move, there was a danger that China, with its hard-line, realist view of international relations, would conclude that an economically exhausted United States was losing its staying power in the Pacific. But now that it is clear that the United States will remain in Asia for the long haul, the time has come for both Washington and Beijing to take stock, look ahead, and reach some long-term conclusions as to what sort of world they want to see beyond the barricades.


Asia's central tasks in the decades ahead are avoiding a major confrontation between the United States and China and preserving the strategic stability that has underpinned regional prosperity. These tasks are difficult but doable. They will require both parties to understand each other thoroughly, to act calmly despite multiple provocations, and to manage the domestic and regional forces that threaten to pull them apart. This, in turn, will require a deeper and more institutionalized relationship -- one anchored in a strategic framework that accepts the reality of competition, the importance of cooperation, and the fact that these are not mutually exclusive propositions. Such a new approach, furthermore, should be given practical effect through a structured agenda driven by regular direct meetings between the two countries' leaders.

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Zbigniew Brzezinski and America’s Pivot

Zbigniew Brzezinski and America’s Pivot | China Commentary |

All too often I find myself on the opposite side of an issue with Mr. Brzezinski, but his recent contribution to The Diplomat is deserving of consideration. His feeling: the U.S. should stay out of direct military involvement of conflicts among Asian powers.


While not altogether unique (I hear echoes of Douglas MacArthur), the warning is timely. With our strategic pivot to Asia, the U.S. looks altogether too ready to leap into a fray over the South China Sea, to give one example. In that there are some twenty unresolved border conflicts involving China alone, we may be writing a check the U.S. armed forces could never cash.


What worries me about Mr. Brzezinski’s advice are telltale signs that Jimmy Carter’s former National Security Advisor has some reasonably large blind-spots in Asia. In describing the strains between India and China, for example, he is oddly silent on the matters of Tibet, the Himalayan republics, and Sino-Indian territorial disputes. Instead, he isolates Pakistan and India’s naval power as the core points of contention.


He suggests getting too close to India would open the door for Russia in Central Asia as America would be “distracted.” All of this, of course, assumes capability that it is unclear lies within the grasp of Putin’s Kremlin and that China and India would sit idly while it happened.


More disturbingly, Brzezinski seems blind to the calculation of the Asian nations who on the one hand are concerned about China’s growing power, but on the other hand want to profit from deep engagement in its rise. Walking this fine line would be served elegantly by drawing the U.S. into the “bad cop” role in Asia, allowing Singapore, Indonesia, South Korea, Japan, and the Philippines to play off the US and China against one another to their benefit.

DOSID's insight:
Japan’s role in U.S.’ Asia pivotBY GLEN S. FUKUSHIMA


 DEC 25, 2012SHARE 

WASHINGTON – Proponents of the Obama administration’s “pivot,” or rebalance of attention and resources, toward Asia should be heartened by the results of Japan’s parliamentary election. The Liberal Democratic Party’s (LDP) landslide victory in the Lower House on Dec. 16 augurs well for a reinvigorated relationship between the United States and Japan.

The reasons are threefold. First, the LDP is experienced in U.S.-Japan alliance management, much more so than the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), which had ousted the LDP from power in September 2009 after half a century. Although the DPJ was well-intentioned, its tenure the past three years was plagued with intraparty bickering, friction with the professional bureaucracy and a generally ineffectual and non-strategic foreign policy.

Second, the LDP will rely more on the expertise, experience and continuity offered by the professional bureaucrats, who were cast aside by the DPJ, especially in the Cabinets headed by Prime Ministers Yukio Hatoyama (2009-2010) and Naoto Kan (2010-11). Perhaps reflecting their shortcomings as chief executive and in managing Japan’s relationship with the United States, Hatoyama chose not to run in the Dec. 16 elections and Kan lost his seat in the Diet to a relatively unknown LDP candidate. Of the three DPJ prime ministers since 2009, only Yoshihiko Noda, who served from 2011 to 2012 and whom many consider similar in style to previous LDP prime ministers, won re-election.

Third, the new prime minister, Shinzo Abe, values the Japan-U.S. alliance and has said publicly that his top foreign policy priority is to restore the trust and confidence that has characterized Japan’s relationship with the U.S. since the end of World War II.

Although he is often portrayed as a nationalist, Abe, who studied in the United States and speaks English, is a staunch advocate of the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty. That treaty was renewed and ratified by the Diet in 1960, in the face of mass protests, under the leadership of his grandfather, then-Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi.

But there are caveats. The LDP victory was more a rebuke of the DPJ than a resounding endorsement of the LDP. Although voters see the LDP as more experienced and disciplined than the DPJ, they perceive that it has done little to reform itself since its defeat in 2009. For instance, all five contenders for the party presidency in October (Abe, Yoshimasa Hayashi, Shigeru Ishiba, Nobuteru Ishihara and Nobutaka Machimura) are the sons of LDP politicians, despite widespread criticism of the LDP’s perpetuation of inbred political dynasties.

What Japanese voters want most from their prime minister is leadership to revive the economy. The postwar economic miracle slowed in the early 1990s and has stagnated since the middle of that decade. The desire for economic growth is clearly widespread. The three major issues defining the platforms of virtually all the political parties running Dec. 16 impinged on the economy: the future of nuclear power, the proposed increase in the consumption tax and whether Japan should join the negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Abe’s tenure as prime minister is likely to be judged more on whether he can revive Japan’s economy than on advancing the national security and patriotic agenda he holds dear.

For the Obama administration, the good news is that Abe is staunchly pro-American and wants to strengthen the U.S.-Japan security relationship. The bad news is that his revisionist views of history and controversial views of Asia could lead him to speak and act in ways that exacerbate tensions with neighboring countries, especially China and South Korea. On the other hand, Abe considers himself a pragmatic realist, and some Japanese political observers even see in him a parallel with U.S. President Richard Nixon, who, precisely because of his conservative credentials, could open the way to improving ties with China. It is not yet clear which side of Abe we are likely to see. Can the U.S. influence the outcome?

The Obama administration declared its intention to shift the U.S.’ focus to Asia, which is concurrently the center of the world’s economic growth and a potential source of long-term strategic challenges. Japan is the world’s third-largest economy, a technology leader, a stable democracy and “cornerstone ally” of the U.S.; the country is key to the success of the Obama policy.

It is imperative that the Obama administration devote the time, attention and resources necessary to forge an effective partnership with the new government of Japan to convert the “rebalance” from vision to reality and to ensure that the U.S. can benefit fully from our renewed engagement with Asia.

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John Kerry on China and the Pivot

John Kerry on China and the Pivot | China Commentary |

When it came to China, Secretary of State John Kerry’s confirmation hearing touched on a little bit of everything. Here is what he said he wants:


- To compete with China economically in Africa—this will be tough given the extraordinary government resources China pours into its trade and investment effort in the continent;


 - To use the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) as leverage with China to ensure commonly accepted rules of the road on trade—of course the TPP has to move forward for this to happen;


 - To cooperate with China more closely on North Korea—that’s been an item on the U.S. wish list for twenty years…but the chances are better than ever before


- And to work together with China on the full range of regional and global challenges, such as climate change. Excellent, but it would really help if Secretary Kerry could persuade his former colleagues in Congress to pass climate legislation here at home.


What has garnered all the attention, however, is what the Secretary said with regard to the pivot:


"I’m not convinced that increased military ramp-up is critical yet. I’m not convinced of that. That’s something I’d want to look at very carefully when and if you folks confirm me and I can get in there and sort of dig into this a little deeper. But we have a lot more bases out there than any other nation in the world, including China today. We have a lot more forces out there than any other nation in the world, including China today. And we’ve just augmented the president’s announcement in Australia with additional Marines. You know, the Chinese take a look at that and say, what’s the United States doing? They trying to circle us? What’s going on? And so, you know, every action has its reaction. It’s the old — you know, it’s not just the law of physics; it’s the law of politics and diplomacy. I think we have to be thoughtful about, you know, sort of how we go forward."


Secretary Kerry’s apparent unease with the pivot has unsurprisingly set the Chinese press all atwitter and given Chinese analysts some hope that President Obama has appointed a kinder, gentler Secretary of State. The major Chinese state-supported newspapers—the Global Times, People’s Daily, and Xinhua—highlighted his remarks on the pivot and then offered some thoughts on Kerry’s likely diplomatic approach:


China Institute of International Studies’ Ruan Zongze: “Compared with Clinton’s tough diplomatic approach, Kerry as a moderate democrat is expected to stress the role of bilateral or multilateral dialogues”;


Chinese Academy of Social Sciences’ Ni Feng: Kerry’s “diplomatic measures” will “greatly embody Obama’s concepts.”

DOSID's insight:

"In reviewing Secretary Kerry’s congressional voting record, Chinese observers also noted that he “generally voted in favor of bills conducive to promoting the development China-U.S. relations and generally voted against or expressed different opinions for bills not conducive to China-U.S. relations.” Overall, as People’s Daily observed, “Kerry stresses more on coordination rather than confrontation in foreign relations…”"

Important Links:

The Presidential Inbox: China’s Leadership Transition

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Carriers of the Indo-Pacific Maritime Great Game. - "The Great Indo -Pacific Game"...Please attribute this term to DOSID

Carriers of the Indo-Pacific Maritime Great Game. - "The Great Indo -Pacific Game"...Please attribute this term to DOSID | China Commentary |
In the coming Indo-Pacific Maritime Great Game, aircraft carriers will be an indispensable asset for all players. Yet in terms of their actual capabilities, China's carrier Liaoning has received too much attention, while India's deserves far more.


By Felix Seidler, Institute for Security Policy, University of Kiel, Germany / German blogger.


Nothing has been as over-hyped since August 2011 as China’s aircraft carrier program.  After the former Soviet carrier Varyag, fully refurbished by the Chinese and renamed Liaoning, took its first “test drive”, thousands of blog posts, press pieces, and scholarly articles argued about possible regional and global implications.  Is this single ship a regional or even global threat?  What about the balance in the East and South China Seas?


Stay calm, people.  After a few tests, China’s Navy – the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) – has shown it is in fact still years away from having an operational aircraft carrier, let alone integrated carrier strike group.

Moreover, if a navy wants to have a single operationally available aircraft carrier at any one time, it needs at least two, and better still three carriers in rotation: the one in operational status, one in the shipyard, and one in training and work-ups.  According to these numbers, it is unlikely that the PLAN will be able to sustain a “blue water” carrier presence before 2020 based on projected shipbuilding schedules.


Even the first flights of a J-15 Shark from Liaoning’s deck were more PR event than step towards a credible carrier force.  It’s one thing to launch a single fighter under controlled and planned conditions.  Conducting dozens of flight movements per hour in wartime requires a significant increase in capabilities and training.  To reach this, China must still walk a long road.


Eye on India


However, while most observers were busy with Liaoning, Asia’s only operational aircraft carrier,India’s INS Viraat, has largely been left out of the discussion (sorry, Thailand, but your never-operating carrier is not a serious asset).  The first reason why India’s carrier must be taken more seriously than China: operational experience.  India has been operating its current carrier since 1987 (the now-decommissioned INS Vikrant began service in 1961), and already has in place the necessary supply chains and logistics that the PLAN lacks.  China’s maritime “Long March” could take longer than Mao’s to gain all the experience India already has.  And while both China and India could turn to Russia for potential assistance, only the latter would likely receive carrier support – whether logistics or training – from the U.S., France, or the U.K.


Unlike their Chinese counterparts, Indian commanders already conduct serious exercises with their helicopter and fighter pilots integrated with their carrier crews.  China, due to the lack of capacity (i.e. a carrier at sea) has not yet started the most crucial parts of its carrier training.  Russian experts warn it may take the Chinese another decade to learn how to “efficiently” run carrier operations.  Meanwhile, India’s next carrier INS Vikramaditya (former Soviet Admiral Gorshkov), due the benefits of Russian support, is already training in Arctic waters and is expected despite delays to enter service in late 2013 or 2014.  The indigenously built INS Vikrant is slated to be commissioned in 2015.  In consequence, whenever the PLAN’s first carrier is operational, India will have at least two well-trained counterparts (Viraat is set to decommission in 2020).  Furthermore, India will generally be able to maintain one operational carrier off-shore while China, at least initially, will not.


New Delhi and The Three Carrier Big Boys

Beside Russian support – generous, but not free – India participates in joint exercises with the navies of the other two “Carrier Big Boys,” the U.S. and France.  The PLAN is far from such trials and, beyond search and rescue (SAR), these navies by policy will not conduct full-scale combat training with a Chinese carrier, their possible future foe.


For instance, in April 2012, the U.S. and India conducted the 15th joint naval Exercise Malabar; which also included warships from Australia, Japan, and Singapore.  Training with the U.S. means that India has the opportunity to look at and, thereby, learn from the skills of the world’s best carrier-operating navy.  However, Indians pilots have not yet been reported taking off from U.S. carriers.  Also unprecedented but not improbable, India’s carrier officers, pilots, and crews could hone their skills training side-by-side with the world’s best counterparts.  This is something Chinese sailors are probably never going to experience.  China’s fighter pilots had to travel to Brazil for portions of their carrier flight training.


Moreover, the U.S. is joined by France in using their carriers as political means of improving strategic ties with India.  In 2011 the French Navy sent its carrier Charles de Gaulle, accompanied by surface vessels and a nuclear sub, to India for a joint exercise.  Of course, this was also an advertisement for the French carrier-capable Rafale fighter, which India has since purchased. 


Operating combat-proven (Libya), NATO-interoperable fighters from carriers is surely a positive.  Meanwhile, the competition is mostly working with slight improvements on copied Soviet and Russian designs.  While China is developing a flat-top capable stealth fighter (the J-31), it will take years before it reaches full operational capabilities and production.  In response to the threat of a Chinese carrier with J-31s, India could opt for the F-35C or a carrier-capable version of the Russian T-50 PAK FA.  The U.S. and Russia would probably sell everything to New Delhi to keep a resurgent India in their camp.


Given all these advantages there can be no doubt that India’s already operating carriers deserve much higher esteem than China’s refurbished test-object in Dalian shipyard. However, it’s time to put the carriers into the geo-strategic context.


India’s Lasting Geo-strategic Advantage


For all its current carrier edge over China, India will not become a U.S.-like carrier superpower; but nor does it need to.  Look at the Indian Ocean on the map and you’ll see the world’s most important sea-lanes running in front of the Indian military’s ports and air bases.  Some of the most critical geostrategic hotspots and maritime chokepoints, including the Strait of Hormuz, the Malacca Strait, and the Gulf of Aden are nearby.  For example, from its Andaman and Nikobar bases, India could easily block the northern entry of the Malacca Strait in the event of conflict.


By comparison, the PLAN has natural access only to the Malacca Strait, and to reach it must traverse the South China Sea, which can easily be filled with the subs and vessels of neighboring nations’ and the U.S. Navy.  Thus, due to geography, the PLAN would have a far more difficult time exerting control on, or re-opening, access to the chokepoint than the Indian Navy.  The Indian Navy would have a good deal easier job of accessing the South China Sea than the PLAN the Indian Ocean.  Additionally, India has no “island chains” from which opposing forces can launch strikes, and therefore does not need to concentrate on Anti-Access/Area-Denial (A2/AD) and instead can focus on freedom of action.


The Indo-Pacific Maritime Great Game


Finally, in the Indo-Pacific Maritime Great Game – how I like to describe what is going to happen in the map at top over the next 50 years – the better cards are in India’s hand.


As mentioned, India has the geographic edge.  New Delhi’s maritime lifelines cannot easily be blocked.  And, if someone tried, India’s carriers, surface vessels, subs, and air bases are within striking distance of the chokepoints.  Furthermore, India has the better demography, with a younger (average) population base than China’s, which is “getting older before it gets rich.”  This is important, because the Achilles Heel of the PLAN’s carrier program is the development of the Chinese population.  Changes in society and government could reverse Beijing’s decisions in the carrier case.  In 2060, India is expected to be the third or second largest economy in the world.  Hence, it will have the money and the technology to sustain its number of carriers at an even higher rate than present.


With this in mind, whoever worries in the U.S. or Europe about these Chinese carriers, which could patrol the Indian Ocean’s SLOCs, should remember that India will be there too.  So will other countries, like Australia.  It’s time to recognize that of the two Indo-Pacific neighbors only one can as yet legitimately claim to be a global maritime power.


Besides, it won’t all come down to naval power in the Indo-Pacific Maritime Great Game.  Of course, as the U.S. military recognizes, it must incorporate Air-Sea, but Space and Cyber must play integral roles too.  Remember, all ships and fighters are worth nothing without satellite communications and a working cyber infrastructure.  Therefore, wordy though it is, an Air-Sea-Space-Cyber-Battle is the way ahead (or perhaps Air-Sea+?); perhaps not only for the U.S., but for those developing their influence in the Indo-Pacific too.

DOSID's insight:

"The Great Indo -Pacific Game"...Please attribute this term to DOSID.


Thank you CIMSEC [Center for International Maritime Security ]. For this excellent appreciation. We have scooped your content if full [much against the rules of content curation] because we believe that this is a very important and refreshing piece of "fresh air "  on the subject.

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