Kelly Induced Asia Strategic Update
My friends have been asking for a Pacific-oriented strategic update and so here goes.
Chinese President, Xi Jinping, has been given a second term by the Chinese Communist Party and continues to strengthen his grip on the party, state and military establishment of China. In real terms President Xi is likely to remain Chinese leader for life. Xi is China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong and his personal goal is to leave a legacy of reunification, forced if necessary, with Taiwan. Other strategic goals include expanded Chinese political and economic influence throughout the world, a divided Korean Peninsula, cowed Japan, control of the South China Sea, access to the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf. Ultimately China would like to replace the US as the world’s Super power. US President, Donald Trump’s recent Taiwan Travel Act allowing high-level official visits to Taiwan and elevated diplomatic status along with North Korea, and US freedom of navigation exercises have antagonized Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party establishment and remain sources of friction in the region. Taiwan brushed off China’s latest military threats and continued to push the US for more modern weapons to deter Chinese aggression.
For his part, North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un and the Hermit Kingdom have been uncharacteristically ‘quiet’ as of late, but that is very likely to change. North Korea’s appearance at the Winter Olympics, deployment of his younger sister to the South for propaganda purposes, promise to South Korea that Kim is committed to the denuclearization of his country, diplomatic negotiations in Sweden and Stockholm and agreement to a summit with US President, Donald Trump, is very likely temporary and geared to buy time for the North to perfect its strategic nuclear deterrent. If the Trump-Kim Summit takes place it will be a first between the country’s two sitting leader and one that everyone will take credit for including China and Russia. Meanwhile, in a sign that not all things are rosy, the US and South Korea have announced plans to resume the annual military exercises Foal Eagle and Key Resolve in early April. It was also announced that the South plans to deploy surface-to-surface missiles in a newly created counter-artillery brigade by October to destroy North Korea’s hardened long-range artillery sites near the Demilitarized Zone in the event of hostilities and plans to acquire more Apache heavy-attack helicopters to lead the deployment across enemy lines should war breakout on the Korean Peninsula. Not to be a worry-wort, but this is the time frame when North Korea ramps up its military training and operations cycle, including long-range missile launches.
In a long-anticipated move, the Japanese government is reportedly planning to buy US F-35B stealth fighter planes for deployment from its Izumo helicopter destroyers to deter and confront China’s growing naval power and North Korea. China has one aircraft carrier currently operating in the Pacific, the Liaoning Type 001 ex-Kutzenov class aircraft carrier, and another domestic designed ship in building. But Japan’s Izumo class helicopter destroyers are thinly disguised mid-sized aircraft carriers (destroyers in name only) and they currently have two operational carriers and two more in the process of building restating Japan’s reputation as Asia’s foremost military power after the US. Political voices in Japan are now cautioning that the country may finally have to change is post-Second World War constitution from Defensive military power to one that can engage in more offensive military operations abroad and this will inevitably bring about a serious discussion of Japan arming itself with nuclear weapons. North Korea and Chinese aggression in the South China Sea and beyond are likely to form the backdrop for the Japanese political debate. Watch also as Japanese and India strategic cooperation ramp up in the Indian Ocean and South China Sea and India asserts itself in its ‘near abroad.’
Russian President, Vladimir Putin, has won a landslide re-election victory, jokingly called a “nail-biter” by some, extending his regime for another six years at a time of increased hostility with the US and NATO. Russia’s recent targeted assassination of a former Russian spy and his daughter, Sergei and Yulia Skripal, in Salisbury, UK, using Novichok nerve agent (that is ten times more powerful than VX nerve gas) along with the building up Russian naval forces in the Eastern Mediterranean are just the latest provocations of an already strained relationship that will likely also be played out in the Pacific. The traditional European Great powers of France and the UK continue to move naval forces in and out of the region to enhance their national interests in the region, support the US and challenge Chinese annexation of the South China Sea.
Finally, US President, Donald Trump, and his more conservative US administration, continue to challenge Chinese and Russian military power in Asia and Europe and to confront rogue regional powers and allies North Korea and Iran in Asia and the Middle East. The Obama administration’s policy of appeasement of strategic competitors and acquiescence to Russia and Chinese bullying on a variety of fronts have left Trump’s beleaguered national security team with the uncomfortable conundrum of putting four ‘genies back in their respective bottles.’ The potential emergence of John Bolton as the new US National Security Adviser will send shivers through the Washington political establishment, friends and foes at home and abroad alike. Be prepared for tougher US stands on North Korea, the dismantling of the flawed Iran deal, the South China Sea, and counter-terrorism on a global basis.
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