In an alarming tit-for-tat, Taiwan’s defense ministry said that several Chinese fighter jets briefly entered the country’s air defense identification zone, and the US took the unusual move of flying a C-40A military transport plane over Taiwan. The US overflight was assailed by Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office as “an illegal act and a seriously provocative incident.” This comes as the US is deploying three aircraft carrier strike groups to the Pacific—the first such triple deployment in three years, seen as an explicit warning to China. The deployment follows accusations by Lt. Gen. Kevin Schneider, commander of US forces in Japan, that China is using the COVID-19 crisis as a cover to push territorial claims in the South China Sea. (Photo of USS Nimitz: US Navy via USNI News)
Following a bitter campaign dominated by “fake news” generated from China and punctuated by sexist personal attacks on President Tsai Ing-wen, the incumbent was re-elected, overwhelmingly defeating Han Kuo-yu of the Kuomintang (KMT). Tsai, of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), received the highest total ever recorded for any candidate in a presidential election in Taiwan. With Han and the KMT calling for closer integration with China, the repression in Hong Kong was an inevitable and pressing context in the vote. The populist Han, described as Taiwan’s Donald Trump, cultivated an “everyman” image despite his own lavish lifestyle. But his closeness to Beijing led to fears that the KMT was willing to accept a “one country, two systems” solution for Taiwan—just as this model was collapsing in Hong Kong. (Photo of Workers’ Struggle demonstration in Taipei via New Bloom)
Dozens of Chinese vessels that were fishing in Indonesia’s Exclusive Economic Zone off the disputed island of Natuna began leaving the area after days of stand-off. Indonesia deployed eight warships and four fighter jets to the area, and summoned Beijing’s ambassador to complain. China reportedly sent three coast guard cutters into the area during the stand-off. The Natuna archipelago, off the northwest coast of Borneo, occupies a strategic spot in the South China Sea. Its waters contain significant oil and gas reserves, and it guards the eastern opening of the narrow Malacca Strait, a critical chokepoint for shipping lanes. The archipelago falls within China’s “nine-dash line,” covering nearly the entirety of the South China Sea. (Map: Perry-Castañeda Library)
Will an "October surprise" in the prelude to the mid-term elections in the US be the outbreak of world war—that is, direct superpower conflict? Things are escalating fast on the frontlines with both of the United States' major imperial rivals. The US Navy's Pacific Fleet is preparing to carry out a "global show of force" as a warning to China, after a near-skirmish between a US warship and a Chinese destroyer in the disputed South China Sea. Meanwhile, NATO is planning to conduct its largest military exercises since the end of the Cold War, Trident Juncture 2018, along Norway's border wth Russia. This comes as Washington and Moscow are odds over missile deployments, accusing each other of violating the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty. (Image: Lockheed Martin)
In addition to stationing troops on the disputed islands it claims in the South China Sea, Beijing is rapidly expanding its network of commercial ports across the Indian Ocean. This comes as China is sending warships into the Ocean with growing frequency, leading to fears that the commercial ports could presage military bases, The latest addition is the port of Hambantota in Sri Lanka, acquired in a debt swap deal—the Colombo government was forgiven $1 billion in debt to Beijing in exchange for the Hambantota facility. China has also gained access to facilities in Burma, Bangladesh, Pakistan, the Maldives, Seychelles and Oman as part of the maritime component of its Silk Road trade and infrastructure initiative. While the Silk Road is an ostensibly civilian project, China has also established its first foreign military base at Djibouti, leading Western wonks to warn that Beijing is seeking a "string of pearls" network of bases across the Indian Ocean. (Map via CIMSEC)
Japan has activated its first amphibious marine unit since World War II, which conducted practice drills to defend the disputed Senkaku Islands from an anticipated Chinese military seizure. Meanwhile, the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier, with a group of Philippine generals onboard, entered disputed waters in the South China Sea, where China is building military defenses on islands claimed by the Philippines and Vietnam. Another carrier, the USS Carl Vinson, patrolled the contested waters last month, taking part in anti-submarine drills with Japanese forces and visiting Vietnam with its 5,000-strong crew—the largest such US military presence there since the Vietnam War ended in 1975. (Map via IDSA)
To absolutely nobody's surprise, China's National People's Congress overwhelmingly approved numerous amendments to the country's Constitution, eliminating presidential term limits and effectively enshrining Xi Jinping as the new "paramount leader." But the inevitable invocation of Mao in this context is misleading. As part of the same restructuring now being rubber-stamped by the NPC come further market liberalization and "supply-side" economic reforms. This is economic "neoliberalism" under a system that is completely illiberal where political freedoms and pluralism are concerned. (Photo: chinaworker.info)
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists advanced the minute hand of its Doomsday Clock to two minutes of midnight from its previous two-and-a-half minutes. "In 2017, world leaders failed to respond effectively to the looming threats of nuclear war and climate change, making the world security situation more dangerous than it was a year ago—and as dangerous as it has been since World War II," the Bulletin said. Finding that the "greatest risks last year arose in the nuclear realm," the statement of course cited the crisis over North Korea's atomic weapons program, but also ongoing military exercises along the borders of NATO, upgrading of nuclear arsenals by the US and Russia, tensions over the South China Sea, a nuclear arms race between India and Pakistan, and uncertainty about continued US support for the Iran nuclear deal. These threats are worsened by "a breakdown in the international order that has been dangerously exacerbated by recent US actions." (Image: misucell.com)
William C. Kirby, author of Can China Lead? Reaching the Limits of Power and Growth, argued in a presentation at New York's China Institute that China's rise is dependent on continued global integration, and that this is now threatened by the authoritarianism of Donald Trump and Xi Jinping alike.
Amid all the hype over North Korea’s threats to fire a nuclear missile at Guam, just a few media accounts have made note of how Guamians themselves are reacting. Guam is usually seen in the US only as a strategic Pentagon outpost. But with a referendum on independence in the offing, growing sentiment on the island holds that the only thing Guamians are getting out of their current US territorial status is being made a nuclear target.
Did Tsai Ing-wen exploit Trump's anti-China stance to score a point against Beijing? Or was she herself played by Cold Warriors who seek to exploit Taiwan in the Great Game?
Xi Jinping is weighing whether he will be invited to join the authoritarian New Order—or whether Putin will desert him for Trump, and the two of them will gang up on China.