Author: eastturkistan1

The U.S. must hold the line against their imperial ambitions in Ukraine, Taiwan and elsewhere.

The U.S. must hold the line against their imperial ambitions in Ukraine, Taiwan and elsewhere.

Russia, China and the Bid for Empire

The U.S. must hold the line against their imperial ambitions in Ukraine, Taiwan and elsewhere.

 
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Intellectuals can’t stop denouncing the West for its legacy of imperialism. But the imperialism on the march today is in the East. Russia and China are determined to consume Ukraine and Taiwan, legacies of the Romanov and Qing dynasties respectively, into the latest versions of their historical empires. Technology has intensified this struggle for imperial geography. Great-power war has become entirely imaginable because of the reduced emphasis on thermonuclear bombs in an era of hypersonic missiles, automated weapons systems, and information warfare. Russia and China demonstrate that the struggle for empire has rarely had such nerve-racking stakes.

The notion that we can play Russia off against China—as the Nixon administration played China off against the Soviet Union—is a fantasy. President Biden’s reward for giving up opposition to Russia’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Germany has been the advance of nearly 100,000 Russian troops to the Ukrainian border area. National security adviser Henry Kissinger’s secret 1971 visit to Beijing occurred in the context of dramatic military tensions on the Chinese-Soviet frontier. China was in desperate need of U.S. help. Russia today has no such need.

True, the Chinese are making large-scale economic advances in formerly Soviet Central Asia, as well as providing security assistance to the Muslim republics there. But Russian President Vladimir Putin has calculated that China, a fellow authoritarian regime, isn’t a threat to his rule in the way the West is. (Indeed, Mr. Putin easily moved antiriot police into Kazakhstan, a place that the Russian empire settled with peasants from Russia and Ukraine in the 19th and early 20th centuries.) He has little need to line up with the West to balance against China.

Rather the reverse: Mr. Putin needs China to balance against the West. Since it is the West, in his view, that has helped install a hostile regime in Ukraine, whose border is less than 300 miles from Moscow, and would like to install a similarly hostile and democratic regime in Belarus, also relatively close to the Russian capital. What we see as potential or fledgling democratic states, Mr. Putin sees as vital parts of the former Soviet Union, a great power whose sprawling territory was based on czarist imperial conquests. While Ukraine was the birthplace of Kyivan Rus, it was also forcibly absorbed inside the czarist empire in the late 18th century, only to declare independence in 1918, before the Soviet conquest.

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Mr. Putin’s goal isn’t only to restore the former Soviet Union in some form or other, but to establish a zone of influence throughout Central and Eastern Europe that approximates the borders of the former Warsaw Pact. Rather than direct rule through brotherly Communist parties—which proved too expensive and helped bring down the Soviet Union—Mr. Putin’s model is a form of mass Finlandization, in which the countries from Berlin to the east and to the southeast will know exactly what red lines not to cross in terms of Moscow’s interests.

A Pharaonic network of gas pipelines, intelligence operations, organized crime, disinformation and constant self-generated crises are the tools of Russian 21st-century imperialism. The crises of the moment are Ukraine, Belarus and Bosnia. In Belarus Middle Eastern refugees have been weaponized against Poland by President Alexander Lukashenko, a Putin lackey. In the western Balkans, Serb leader Milorad Dodik threatens to break up Bosnia-Herzegovina with backing from Russia and China. Russia’s aim in all of this is to insert itself into Europe as a power broker, the ultimate revenge against a region that in previous centuries generated many military invasions of the Russian heartland.

Imperialism throughout history has often originated from a deep well of insecurity. That is the case with Russia and China today. Just as Ukraine was for centuries part of the czarist and Soviet imperial heartland, Taiwan was a Chinese dynastic conquest until the 1894-95 Sino-Japanese War forced China to cede Taiwan to Japan. In Beijing’s view, restoring control of Taiwan to mainland China would right not only a Western depredation against a historic Chinese empire, the Qing Dynasty, but a Japanese depredation as well. Unlike Western countries, which are busy apologizing for their former conquests, the Chinese as well as the Russians take pride in their imperial legacies. Adm. Zheng He, an early Ming Dynasty explorer who sailed a vast armed fleet as far as the Middle East and East Africa, is a Chinese national hero.

If China and Russia didn’t take pride in empire, they wouldn’t be attempting to rule Taiwan and Ukraine today. For China, the return of Macau, the brutal suppression of Hong Kong and economic dominance over Outer Mongolia make Taiwan the only missing piece of its Middle Kingdom’s imperial geography. As for Tibet and Xinjiang (home to the Muslim Uyghur Turks), they represent colonial legacies of former Qing rule.

The problem now isn’t imperialism per se but the melding of imperialism with Leninist methods of control, which continue to define Russian and Chinese rule. Thus, the U.S. has no choice but to be a status quo power—that is, it need not defeat or even seriously undermine these two revisionist empires, but it must firmly hold the line against their advance. Ukraine needs not join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization or the European Union, as long as it remains independent and democratic. Taiwan needs not declare independence, as long as it isn’t incorporated into China. These are unsatisfying positions, but they are moral in the sense that they represent both U.S. values and Americans’ wariness of armed overseas involvements.

 

Containment is a word nobody likes to say out loud. But it works. Remember especially that it was Richard Nixon’s Vietnam-era policy of détente and tactical maneuvering—rather than an attempt to seek all-out victory in the Cold War—that preceded Ronald Reagan’s successful Wilsonianism. The Soviet Union eventually collapsed of its own accord. We should keep that in mind, given that domestic tensions inside Russia and China, though more opaque than our own, aren’t to be underestimated and in fact help fuel their aggression.

Meanwhile, the American left should focus on where empire as an ideal truly endures, which isn’t in the West.

Mr. Kaplan holds a chair in geopolitics at the Foreign Policy Research Institute and is author, most recently, of “The Good American: The Epic Life of Bob Gersony, the U.S. Government’s Greatest Humanitarian.”

 

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MI5 accuses lawyer of trying to influence politicians on behalf of China

MI5 accuses lawyer of trying to influence politicians on behalf of China

MI5 accuses lawyer of trying to influence politicians on behalf of China

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Warning circulated to MPs and peers about Christine Lee, accused of targeting parliamentarians

Christine Lee and David Cameron at the ceremony of the British GG2 leadership awards in 2015.
Christine Lee and David Cameron at the ceremony of the British GG2 leadership awards in 2015.
 

An unprecedented security warning from MI5 was circulated to MPs and peers on Thursday that accused a lawyer, Christine Lee, of seeking to improperly influence parliamentarians on behalf of China’s ruling Communist party.

It is the first time that MI5 has issued an “interference alert” relating to China and concerns a high-profile Anglo-Chinese lawyer who received an award from Theresa May and who has donated £584,177 to the office of Labour MP and former shadow cabinet member Barry Gardiner.

 

The alert names and pictures Christine Ching Kui Lee, who has allegedly “knowingly engaged in political interference activities on behalf of the United Front Work Department (UFWD) of the Chinese Communist party”.

It added that the UFWD was “seeking to covertly interfere in UK politics through establishing links with established and aspiring parliamentarians across the political spectrum” and to “cultivate relationships with influential figures”.

 
MI5 warning shows tone has changed when it comes to China
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In a statement issued on Thursday night, the Chinese embassy in London said: “China always adheres to the principle of non-interference in other countries’ internal affairs. We have no need and never seek to ‘buy influence’ in any foreign parliament. We firmly opposes the trick of smearing and intimidation against the Chinese community in the UK.”

The security warning was shared in an email from the Speaker’s office to MPs. In it, the authorities also accused Lee of having “facilitated financial donations to serving and aspiring parliamentarians on behalf of foreign nationals based in Hong Kong and China”.

Lee, 58, has been active in political circles for at least 15 years, promoting Anglo-Chinese relations through a range of groups such as the British Chinese Project and the all-party parliamentary group Chinese in Britain. Photographs also show her meeting David Cameron when he was prime minister, and China’s president, Xi Jinping.

A law firm that bears her name made political donations totalling £675,586, of which £584,177 were “donations in kind” to Gardiner’s office, according to Labour. The first of these was made in 2015.

Electoral Commission figures show Lee’s firm also donated a further £90,029 in cash, largely to Labour party bodies, including Gardiner’s Brent North constituency party. A further £5,000 was received by Labour centrally, the party said.

A further £5,000 was sent to the Lib Dems in Kingston in 2013, where the party leader and then energy secretary, Ed Davey, holds his seat.

Lee had also received a Points of Light award from Theresa May, when she was prime minister. In a personal message, the then Conservative leader praised her for “promoting engagement, understanding, and cooperation between the Chinese and British communities in the UK”. On Thursday night, the award was withdrawn. The online page for Lee’s Points of Light award said it had been “rescinded”.

In a statement on Thursday, Gardiner said he had been “liaising with our security services for a number of years about Christine Lee” and that they were “made fully aware by me of her engagement with my office and the donations she made to fund researchers in my office in the past”.

“All the donations were properly reported in the register of members’ interests and their source verified at the time. I have been assured by the security services that whilst they have definitively identified improper funding channelled through Christine Lee, this does not relate to any funding received by my office,” he added.

Later in an interview with Sky News, Gardiner added that the first time he had been aware there were allegations of influence-peddling by Lee was on Thursday morning “when I had a meeting with the director of parliamentary security and two Security Service agents”.

Gardiner also employed a son of Lee’s as a diary manager. He said the son had resigned after MI5’s disclosure. “The security services have advised me that they have no intelligence that shows he was aware of, or complicit in, his mother’s illegal activity,” Gardiner said.

Under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of Labour, Gardiner was shadow trade secretary and briefly shadow energy secretary in 2016, when he spoke in support the new nuclear power station at Hinckley Point, in which a Chinese company was a minority investor.

When questioned about that, Gardiner told Sky News he “wasn’t a cheerleader for the project” and was “highly critical of the government at the time and the way they were allowing the investors to get away with ripping off British billpayers” with the terms of the deal proposed at the time.

The Liberal Democrats said that Davey was shocked by the revelations, and that it was the first time he had been given cause for concern about the donation from Lee’s law firm. “This donation was reported properly and all rules and guidance was followed – as Ed expects is the case with donations made to colleagues across the house,” a spokesperson for the party said.

The Guardian has attempted to contact Lee. She did not immediately respond to questions about MI5’s statements sent to her law firm from the Guardian.

Interference alerts are issued very rarely, after talks between the spy agencies and parliamentary authorities. No such alerts have ever been released relating to China, and only one relating to Russia, Whitehall sources said.

MI5 is understood to have been monitoring Lee for some time, concerned that she was targeting politicians from all political parties. The decision to issue an alert was made inside the agency, sources added, based on the tools at their disposal and without external political direction.

Despite the warning, however, it is understood Lee is not being prosecuted.

Priti Patel, the home secretary, said she knew it would be “deeply concerning” that parliamentarians had been targeted by “an individual who has knowingly engaged in political interference activities on behalf of the Chinese Communist party”.

 
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She added: “Where necessary, proportionate action is always taken to mitigate these threats, thanks to our world-leading intelligence and security agencies.”

The government is planning to bring in a new espionage legislation to update the Official Secrets Acts. Dr Alan Mendoza, the executive director of the Henry Jackson Society, said the Lee case demonstrated that the bill should be brought forward urgently and “that Britain’s arcane espionage laws require urgent updating”.

Concerns about Chinese espionage have been growing among Britain’s intelligence community. Late last year, Richard Moore, the head of MI6, said China had become the foreign intelligence agency’s “single greatest priority” for the first time in its history.

In 2020, Britain quietly expelled three alleged Chinese spies who it said were posing as journalists. MI5 concluded that the three worked for China’s powerful Ministry of State Security (MSS), although claims of espionage are typically rejected by Beijing.

Moments after being sent on Thursday, the unexpected warning was discussed in the Commons chamber, with the MPs Iain Duncan Smith and Tobias Ellwood demanding urgent updates from the government in a point of order.

Duncan Smith said: “The key issue here is, I understand, that Mr Speaker has been contacted by MI5 and is now warning members of parliament that there has been an agent of the Chinese government active here in parliament.”

Japanese Capacitor Manufacturing giant Murata shifts out of China

Japanese Capacitor Manufacturing giant Murata shifts out of China

Japanese Capacitor Manufacturing giant Murata shifts out of China

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Japan wants to demolish China’s hegemony in the global electronics market. Recently, Tokyo invited semiconductor manufacturers from around the world to set base in Japan. With this, Japan is moving towards absolute control of the global semiconductors supply and is likely to imperil China’s consumer electronics industry that is heavily dependent on semiconductor imports. 

Japan is targeting a new sector- capacitors. Currently, China is the world’s largest producer of capacitors. But this is set to change, as a Japanese capacitor manufacturing giant has decided to shift production out of the Communist country.

Why capacitors are important? 

Capacitors are devices that store electrical charges. They have various uses including energy storage, power conditioning, signal coupling or decoupling, electronic noise filtering, and remote sensing. 

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In the smartphones industry, they are used for various purposes like maintaining constant voltage, providing ‘boost’ power when the phone is about to discharge and dissipating stored energy to function as a temporary power source for some time. 

Japan’s Murata to shift out of China 

Murata Manufacturing is looking to cut its dependence on China amidst the ongoing US-China standoff. 

Murata is the largest capacitor maker in the world. It supplies parts to the iPhone as well. The company supplies smartphones devices like filters for picking up some radio signals, amplifiers for strengthening transmission signals and duplexers for managing incoming and outgoing signals. 

Murata’s operations in China helped the Communists become a leader in the capacitor market. But now the Japanese capacitor giant is looking to move to Thailand to open a new plant in the Southeast Asian country in October 2023. 

Why Murata is moving to Thailand? 

As per Nikkei Asia, Murata President Norio Nakajima said that the new plant in Thailand will be expanded. Eventually, it will become as big as one in Wuxi, near Shanghai, where Murata produces multilayer ceramic capacitors for consumer electronics. 

Murata Manufacturing is adapting to evolving geopolitical equations and changing business conditions. Presently, Murata is dependent on China for over half of its revenue. But the capacitor maker expects China’s shares in its revenues to go down, as the company looks towards the Indo-Pacific for future growth. 

Norio Nakajima said, “There is a risk of events happening beyond our control.” The Murata President took the example of an uncertain event like the US imposing a technology ban on China. So, it makes sense for Murata to run out of the Communist country before any such thing happens. 

He added, “It is imperative to diversify our supply chain.” Nakajima also pointed out that its key customers like Apple are also looking beyond China. This destroys the basic advantage that China had. A supplier would ideally want to stay close to its customers. And if the customers themselves start shifting out of a particular location, then there is no use staying in that location. 

China’s declining stature as a manufacturing hub

Also, China is losing the advantage of cheap labour and a huge working class with its changing demographics. The Murata President said, “The most populous country today may be China, but in 2030 that will be India, and further down the road it will be Africa.” 

He added, “Will those economies be aligned with China or the U.S.? We don’t know. We should be able to respond to both scenarios.”

China’s population is contracting at an alarming pace. It is estimated that China could see its population getting halved within the next 45 years. A slow birth rate of 1.3 and higher life expectancy is ensuring that China is ageing quickly. 

By 2050, 39 per cent of the Chinese population will be above the retirement age. This will take away the driving factor behind China’s manufacturing prowess- cheap and ample labour. So, multinational corporations and manufacturing giants like Murata see no sense in persisting with Beijing and are shifting production out of the Communist country. 

China growth seen slowing to 5.2% in 2022, modest policy easing expected

China growth seen slowing to 5.2% in 2022, modest policy easing expected

China growth seen slowing to 5.2% in 2022, modest policy easing expected

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FILE PHOTO: Cargo ship carrying containers is seen near the Yantian port in Shenzhen, following the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, Guangdong
 
·3 min read
 
 

By Kevin Yao

BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s economic growth is likely to slow to 5.2% in 2022, before steadying in 2023, a Reuters poll showed, as the central bank steadily ramps up policy easing to ward off a sharper downturn.

The expected 2022 growth would be lower than the 5.5% analysts had forecast in a Reuters poll in October, underlining multiple headwinds facing the world’s second-largest economy due to a property downturn, a crackdown on debt, tougher pollution measures and strict COVID-19 curbs which have hit consumption.

 

Gross domestic product (GDP) likely expanded by 8.0% in 2021, according to the median forecasts of 62 economists polled by Reuters, slower than an 8.2% rise seen in October’s forecast but still the highest annual growth in a decade.

Analysts attribute the solid 2021 expansion partly to the low base set in 2020, when the economy was jolted by COVID-19, which first emerged in China. The ensuing government lockdowns paralyzed activity across much of the country.

But momentum cooled markedly over the course of last year. GDP in the fourth quarter likely grew 3.6% from a year earlier, which would be the weakest pace since the second quarter of 2020, slowing from 4.9% in July-September, the poll showed.

On a quarterly basis, growth is forecast to rise to 1.1% in the fourth quarter from 0.2% in July-September, the poll showed.

The government is due to release 2021 and Q4 GDP data, along with December activity data, on Jan. 17 (0200 GMT).

Chinese leaders have pledged more support for the slowing economy, which is facing a fresh challenge from the recent local spread of the highly-contagious Omicron variant.

“To shore up economic activity, we think sufficient policy support will be provided, especially in H1, to ensure that this year’s economic growth does not fall below Beijing’s comfort level,” Tommy Wu at Oxford Economics said in a note.

China’s leaders aim to achieve economic growth of at least 5% in 2022 to keep a lid on unemployment, policy sources said.

MODEST EASING STEPS EXPECTED

With the new year expected to start off on a weak note, the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) is set to unveil more easing steps, though it will likely favour injecting more cash into the economy rather than cutting interest rates too aggressively, policy insiders and economists said.

Last year, policymakers focused on curbing property and debt risks which exacerbated the economic slowdown. But they have sought to fend off a sharper slowdown that could fuel job losses ahead of a key Communist Party Congress late this year.

The PBOC is likely to cut banks’ reserve requirement ratios (RRR) by 50 basis points (bps) in the first quarter of 2022, according to the poll.

Analysts expect the PBOC to cut the one-year loan prime rate (LPR), the benchmark lending rate, by 5 bps in the first quarter, followed by another 5 bps cut in the second quarter.

The PBOC last cut the RRR – the amount of cash that banks must hold as reserves – by a 50 bps on Dec. 15, its second such move last year. That was followed by a 5 bp cut in the one-year loan prime rate (LPR), the benchmark lending rate, on Dec. 20.

Policymakers have also pledged to step up fiscal support for the economy, speeding up local government special bond issuance to spur infrastructure investment and planning more tax cuts.

Consumer inflation will likely pick up to 2.2% in 2022 from 0.9% in 2021, before easing slightly to 2.1% in 2023, the poll showed.

(For other stories from the Reuters global economic poll:)

(Polling by Vivek Mishra and Devayani Sathyan in Bengaluru, Jing Wang in Shanghai; Reporting by Kevin Yao; Editing by Kim Coghill)

On the front lines against China, the US Coast Guard is taking on missions the US Navy can’t do

On the front lines against China, the US Coast Guard is taking on missions the US Navy can't do

On the front lines against China, the US Coast Guard is taking on missions the US Navy can’t do

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Coast Guard cutter Munro in Taiwan Strait
 
US Coast Guard cutter Munro transits the Taiwan Strait with US Navy destroyer USS Kidd in August.US Navy
  • The US military has turned more of its attention to the Pacific amid competition with China.

  • The Coast Guard has been key, conducting missions other services aren’t equipped or allowed to do.

  • But it already has worldwide commitments, and higher demand in the Pacific could tax its resources.

Competition with China has drawn more Pentagon resources to the Pacific, but the most visible US military presence there might be the branch that is outside of the Defense Department.

The ships and personnel of the US Coast Guard, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, are spending more time in the region conducting missions for which other branches aren’t well suited, balancing that increasing demand with a lengthy list of other responsibilities.

“What we do — it’s not big in numbers, but it’s, I think, pretty significant in contribution. We get access. We can go places,” Adm. Karl Schultz, commandant of the Coast Guard, said at a Navy League event in December.

Schultz singled out the cutter Munro, which in October returned from a 102-day Indo-Pacific deployment. Munro trained with allies and partners in the East and South China Seas and “exercised” a memorandum of understanding with Taiwan, Schultz said. Munro also sailed through the Taiwan Strait, which, like past transits, was condemned by China.

The Chinese are “pretty excited when the Coast Guard’s over there training with the Taiwanese,” Schultz said last month. “These are places that move the needle a little bit.”

‘Greeted with open arms’

Coast Guard cutter Munro in Philippine Sea
 
US Coast Guard cutter Munro’s crew salutes a Philippine coast guard vessel during a transit in the West Philippine Sea in August.US Coast Guard/PO3 Aidan Cooney

The Coast Guard has a longstanding presence in the Pacific. Activities Far East, one of only two overseas Coast Guard commands, was set up in Japan 70 years ago. Its ships have patrolled US territories and other Pacific countries for much longer.

“The US Coast Guard has more than 150 years of service in the Pacific region. We’re very proud of that,” Vice Adm. Michael McAllister, commander of the Coast Guard’s Pacific Area, said at a news conference in September.

The Navy has led recent US military efforts to counter China in the region, and its Japan-based 7th Fleet had tactical control of Munro during its deployment.

Navy officials worked with the Coast Guard and others to plan the cutter’s schedule and “incorporate deliberate operational goals, priorities, and objectives,” Lt. Mark Langford, the 7th Fleet spokesperson, told Insider in September.

The “Coast Guard brings unique capabilities and skill sets to the 7th Fleet operating area, which complement US Navy capabilities,” Langford said.

Coast Guard cutter in Guam
 
The Coast Guard commissioned three new ships into service during a ceremony in Guam in July.US Coast Guard/PO1 Travis Magee

Among those unique capabilities are law-enforcement authorities and expertise in search and rescue, marine environmental response, and humanitarian assistance.

“Frankly, those are different missions than the US Navy or the military services here in the United States deal with,” McAllister said in September, calling the Coast Guard “complementary” to the Navy’s defense capability.

That expertise has renewed relevance amid tensions with China. Illegal fishing is a major concern, especially the activity of China’s overseas fishing fleet, and the Coast Guard is increasing its efforts to help countries police their waters. In December 2020, it helped Palau apprehend a Chinese vessel fishing illegally in Palau’s exclusive economic zone.

The Coast Guard also based three new cutters in Guam this summer and renamed its outpost there. The new name, Coast Guard Forces Micronesia Sector Guam, is meant to “showcase that they are our forward-deployed, forward-present operating node,” Vice Adm. Linda Fagan, the service’s vice commandant, said in September.

The outreach isn’t limited to small island countries. Munro trained with the Philippines and Indonesia and conducted a first-of-its-kind at-sea replenishment with Japan’s military.

Coast Guard cutter Munro with Indonesia ship
 
US Coast Guard cutter Munro sails with Indonesia coast guard vessel KN Pulau Dana in the Singapore Strait.US Coast Guard/US Marine Corps Sgt. Kevin Rivas

The service has also given retired cutters to Vietnam, and that kind of engagement has been “tremendously important” for improving US-Vietnam relations, Ted Osius, US ambassador to Vietnam from 2014 to 2017, said this summer.

Current and former officials tout the Coast Guard, in its responsibilities and its conduct, as a model for the region and as a sought-after partner because of it.

“When we show up, we’re greeted with open arms because the mission set is so critical to these countries that we want to be good partners to,” Randall Schriver, assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific security affairs during the Trump administration, said in September.

“At the end of the day, we try to model a type of behavior that keeps commerce open, peacefully resolves disputes, protects valuable resources, and counters illicit activities,” McAllister said, noting that forces in the region often give their ships a stripe that is “very similar to the Coast Guard stripe.”

‘An issue of resources’

Coast Guard Cutter Kimball board in Philippine Sea
 
Coast Guard Cutter Kimball’s law-enforcement team conducts its first at-sea boarding during a patrol in the Philippine Sea in February.US Coast Guard

There has never been more demand on the Coast Guard for domestic and international missions, Schultz said last month, and that appears set to grow under the Biden administration.

“The Coast Guard is an extraordinarily important tool, one that we are looking to see if there’s ways of expanding the presence and the level of engagement, because the issues that really matter to countries in the Pacific in many cases are much more aligned” with the Coast Guard’s missions, Edgard Kagan, senior director for East Asia and Oceania on the National Security Council, said in September.

But the service has limited capacity to meet that demand.

“How do you stretch an organization of 42,000 active-duty across the globe? You do it in chunks. You don’t do it in persistent presence,” Schultz said in December.

Replicating the two back-to-back five-month cutter deployments to the Indo-Pacific in 2019 is “probably the stretch goal,” Shultz said, adding that a more likely commitment is having a cutter in the region for 100 to 150 days a year.

That rising demand has prompted concern about whether the Coast Guard is receiving enough resources to support what it’s being asked to do.

Coast Guard cutter Alex Haley boarding team fishing vessel
 
A boarding team from US Coast Guard cutter Alex Haley boards a fishing vessel suspected of illegal high-seas drift-net fishing, 860 miles east of Hokkaido, Japan, in 2018.US Coast Guard

The service is undertaking what Schultz called the “largest recapitalization program since the Second World War” to replace aging ships, but its operating budget was flat during the 2010s, and it didn’t benefit from recent boosts to the defense budget.

“If we’re going to get serious with the Coast Guard as a tool for international engagement, we have to invest a lot more so that that tool is available,” Schriver said.

The Coast Guard’s defense-readiness mission in support of the Defense Department, one of its 11 statutory missions, is a small part of its operations, but lawmakers are scrutinizing how much support the service is being asked to give the Pentagon.

“I remain concerned that the Coast Guard is being asked to support the Department of Defense in ways that are outside of its defense-readiness mission and stretching its already thin resources even thinner,” Rep. Anthony Brown of Maryland told Insider in a statement.

Schultz said the service has made headway on its funding needs in recent years but has also called for sustained budget growth of 3% to 5% a year to “deliver the Coast Guard the nation needs.”

Brown, who serves on Congressional committees that oversee the Navy and Coast Guard, said lawmakers and policymakers “need to strike the right balance” to position the Coast Guard to be effective.

“This is an issue of resources, and I’ll continue to fight for the funding our services need. But that funding must also be managed correctly and strategically,” Brown said.

Read the original article on Business Insider

US lays out case against ‘unlawful’ China maritime claims

US lays out case against 'unlawful' China maritime claims

US lays out case against ‘unlawful’ China maritime claims

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People protest against China’s claims on the disputed South China Sea outside the Chinese embassy in Jakarta on December 8, 2021 (AFP/Dasril Roszandi)
 
 
·2 min read
 
 

The United States on Wednesday laid out its most detailed case yet against Beijing’s “unlawful” claims in the South China Sea, rejecting both the geographic and historic bases for its vast, divisive map.

In a 47-page research paper, the State Department’s Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs said China had no basis under international law for claims that have put Beijing on a collision course with the Philippines, Vietnam and other Southeast Asian nations.

“The overall effect of these maritime claims is that the PRC unlawfully claims sovereignty or some form of exclusive jurisdiction over most of the South China Sea,” the paper said, referring to the People’s Republic of China.

 

“These claims gravely undermine the rule of law in the oceans and numerous universally recognized provisions of international law reflected in the Convention,” it said, referring to a 1982 UN treaty on the law of the sea ratified by China — but not the United States.

Releasing the study, a State Department statement called again on Beijing “to cease its unlawful and coercive activities in the South China Sea.”

The paper is an update of a 2014 study that similarly disputed the so-called “nine-dash line” that forms the basis for much of Beijing’s stance.

In 2016, an international court sided with the Philippines in its complaints over China’s claims. Beijing replied by offering new justifications, including saying that China had “historic rights” over the area.

The State Department paper said that such historical-based claims had “no legal basis” and that China had not offered specifics.

It also took issue with geographic justifications for China’s claims, saying that more than 100 features Beijing highlights in the South China Sea are submerged by water during high tide and therefore are “beyond the lawful limits of any state’s territorial sea.”

Beijing cites such geographic features to claim four “island groups,” which the State Department study said did not meet criteria for baselines under the UN convention.

The report was issued as the United States increasingly challenges China on the global stage, identifying the rising communist power as its chief long-term threat.

In 2020, then-secretary of state Mike Pompeo explicitly backed claims of Southeast Asian nations in the South China Sea, going beyond the past US stance of challenging China without taking an issue on which countries were right.

The South China Sea is home to valuable oil and gas deposits and shipping lanes, and Beijing’s neighbors have frequently voiced concern that their giant neighbor was seeking to expand its reach.

sct/to

Russia reacts furiously to Blinken jibe over troops in Kazakhstan

Russia reacts furiously to Blinken jibe over troops in Kazakhstan

Russia reacts furiously to Blinken jibe over troops in Kazakhstan

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FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Blinken speaks about Russia and Ukraine at State Department in Washington

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia responded angrily on Saturday to a comment by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken that Kazakhstan might have a hard time getting rid of Russian troops, saying he should reflect instead on U.S. military meddling around the world.

Blinken on Friday challenged Russia’s justification for sending forces into Kazakhstan https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/kazakhstan-detains-ex-security-chief-crisis-convulses-nation-2022-01-08 after days of violent unrest in the Central Asian country.

“One lesson of recent history is that once Russians are in your house, it’s sometimes very difficult to get them to leave,” Blinken said.

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Russia’s foreign ministry called Blinken’s remark “typically offensive” and accused him of joking about tragic events in Kazakhstan. It said Washington should analyse its own track record of interventions in countries such as Vietnam and Iraq.

“If Antony Blinken loves history lessons so much, then he should take the following into account: when Americans are in your house, it can be difficult to stay alive and not be robbed or raped,” the ministry said on its Telegram social media channel.

“We are taught this not only by the recent past but by all 300 years of American statehood.”

The ministry said the deployment in Kazakhstan was a legitimate response to Kazakhstan’s request for support from the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, an alliance of ex-Soviet states that includes Russia.

The Kazakh intervention comes at a time of high tension in Moscow’s relations with Washington as the two countries prepare for talks on the Ukraine crisis starting on Monday.

Moscow has deployed large numbers of troops near its border with Ukraine but denies Western suggestions it plans to invade.

(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Mark Trevelyan and Timothy Heritage)

Amid Crisis, Kazakhstan’s Leader Chose His Path: Embrace Russia

Amid Crisis, Kazakhstan’s Leader Chose His Path: Embrace Russia

Amid Crisis, Kazakhstan’s Leader Chose His Path: Embrace Russia

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With his government under siege, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, Kazakhstan’s president, turned to Russia’s Vladimir V. Putin for support. The choice could realign Central Asia’s politics.

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President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev of Kazakhstan last year at the United Nations in New York.
President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev of Kazakhstan last year at the United Nations in New York.Credit…Dave Sanders for The New York Times
Valerie Hopkins
By Valerie Hopkins
Jan. 8, 2022
Updated 1:42 p.m. ET
MOSCOW — The embattled president of Kazakhstan has the pedigree of an international technocrat. The son of prominent intellectuals, he studied in Moscow at a premier academy for diplomats, and later worked in the Soviet Embassy in Beijing. He served as a key adviser to the strongman who ruled the oil-rich Central Asian country as a fief for nearly three decades — and then, in 2019, became his heir.

The rise of Kassym-Jomart Tokayev to the presidency was looked at as a possible model by other authoritarian regimes on how to conduct a leadership transition without losing their grip on power. Instead, Kazakhstan erupted in violence this week and Mr. Tokayev has overseen a ruthless crackdown on protesters while ousting his former benefactor, Nursultan Nazarbayev, 81, from his last foothold of authority, as head of the nation’s powerful security council.

For support, Mr. Tokayev has turned to another autocrat: President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

It is too soon to know for certain whether Kazakhstan’s moment of crisis will be a victory for Mr. Putin, who quickly responded to Mr. Tokayev’s request for help by sending troops as part of a Russia-led effort to quell the uprising. Moscow has a history of sending “peacekeeping” forces to countries that never leave. And Mr. Putin is intent on maintaining a sphere of Russian influence that includes former Soviet republics like Kazakhstan.

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But analysts and experts on Central Asia say that when his government was under siege and his own position was teetering, Mr. Tokayev, 68, was neither powerful enough nor independent enough to go it alone. And his swift alignment with Moscow portends potentially transformative changes in a region that has seen fierce jockeying for influence among the United States, Russia and China.

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Cars were set on fire near the mayor’s office in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city.
Cars were set on fire near the mayor’s office in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city.Credit…Pavel Mikheyev/Reuters
In effect, analysts said, against a backdrop of chaos and violence, Mr. Tokayev chose Russia to ensure his own political survival.

The Kazakh president “traded his country’s sovereignty to Russia for his own power and the interests of kleptocratic elites,” said Erica Marat, a professor at National Defense University, a military university in Washington.

This move “is really about making Kazakhstan a more submissive, more loyal partner,” she said, adding that Kazakhstan would “have to be more aligned with Russia against the West in geopolitical and global matters.”

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In a menacing speech on Friday, in which he warned that government security forces could shoot to kill to suppress protests, Mr. Tokayev displayed deference to Mr. Putin, offering special thanks to the Russian leader for providing assistance “very promptly and, most importantly, warmly, in a friendly way.” He again expressed “special gratitude” to Russia in a phone call with Mr. Putin on Saturday, the Kremlin said.

But the relationship between the two leaders features a significant imbalance in stature: At a news conference last month in Moscow, Mr. Putin seemed unable to remember Mr. Tokayev’s name.

Mr. Tokayev took office, handpicked by Mr. Nazarbayev, pledging to turn the autocracy into a “listening state” that was “overcoming the fear of alternative opinion.”

His transformation almost three years later to a leader promising this week to “fire without warning” at the protesters, is a drastic one, said Luca Anceschi, a professor of Eurasian Studies at the University of Glasgow. “He has become a truly authoritarian leader, projecting power which he doesn’t really have,” Dr. Anceschi said.

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“If you have to rely on power from Russia, are you powerful?” he added.

When protests turned violent this week, Mr. Tokayev responded by dismissing his cabinet and ousting Mr. Nazarbayev, who had retained great influence as the “leader of the nation,” the chairman of the ruling Nur Otan party and the head of the nation’s security council.

Mr. Tokayev also fired Mr. Nazarbayev’s key allies from prominent roles in the country’s vast security apparatus. Then pitched battles broke out.

The timing of the shift from the initial, peaceful protests in the country’s West to the violence and looting in Almaty — which intensified after Mr. Nazarbayev and his loyal head of the country’s powerful intelligence agency, Karim Masimov, were fired — has given rise to widespread speculation that the rioters were organized by proxies for feuding factions of the political elite, pitting Mr. Nazarbayev and his allies against Mr. Tokayev.

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President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia with Mr. Tokayev in August in Moscow.Credit…Pool photo by Mikhael Klimentyev
Into the security vacuum, at Mr. Tokayev’s request, came elite troops — mostly Russian — from a Kremlin-sponsored alliance called the Collective Security Treaty Organization, Russia’s version of NATO.

Internally, Mr. Tokayev’s decision to welcome the soldiers, tanks and airplanes from the alliance could further erode public trust in the president.

Many working-class Kazakhs have long been furious at the corruption that funnels the wealth from Central Asia’s biggest economy to an elite few. Seeing a leader who supported and benefited from that system, and now chooses to be propped up by Moscow instead of listening to genuine grievances, will infuriate ordinary Kazakhstanis, Dr. Marat said.

“People did not come on the streets to ask for Russian interference in their daily lives,” she said.

For Mr. Putin, dispatching troops to Kazakhstan represents “a low-cost engagement with high returns,” Dr. Marat said.

For decades, Mr. Tokayev built a reputation as an effective technocrat adept at helping Mr. Nazarbayev balance Kazakhstan’s foreign policy between its increasingly assertive neighbors, China and Russia, and its powerful economic investor, the United States.

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Mr. Tokayev in 2019 at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.Credit…Pool photo by Mark Schiefelbein
And for 28 years, he was effectively Mr. Nazarbayev’s understudy.

Since taking office, Mr. Tokayev has not had to contend with real political competition. Under his leadership, there has been a significant crackdown on opposition parties, human rights groups say. And genuine opposition figures are “consistently marginalized,” according to the watchdog Freedom House, while “freedoms of speech and assembly remain restricted.”

Understand the Protests in Kazakhstan
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What’s happening? Protests in Kazakhstan incited by anger over surging fuel prices have intensified into deadly clashes over the future direction of the autocratic Central Asian country. Here’s what to know about how the protests started and why they matter:

What led to the protests? The protests began when the government lifted price caps for liquefied petroleum gas, a low-carbon fuel that many Kazakhs use to power their cars. But the frustration among the people runs deep in regards to social and economic disparities.

What do the protesters want? The demands of the demonstrators have expanded in scope from lower fuel prices to a broader political liberalization by seeking to oust the autocratic forces that have ruled Kazakhstan without any substantial opposition since 1991.

Why does the unrest matter outside this region? Until now, the oil-rich country has been regarded as a pillar of political and economic stability in an unstable region. The protests are also significant for Vladimir Putin, who views Kazakhstan as part of Russia’s sphere of influence.

How has the government responded? President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has called the protesters “a band of terrorists,” declared Kazakhstan under attack and asked the Russian-led military alliance to intervene. Officials have instituted a state of emergency and shut off internet access.

But now, the president has to contend with apparent rivals inside the top echelons of government — some of the people closest to Mr. Nazarbayev, several analysts said.

Days after the protests began on Jan. 2 over ballooning inflation and rising fuel prices, Mr. Tokayev said he would rescind the price increases. But demonstrators had already begun demanding the end of the kleptocratic political system that Mr. Nazarbayev had built and maintained since the country declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

By midweek, protesters were shouting, “Shal ket!” — or “Old man out!” — in reference to Mr. Nazarbayev. But then Mr. Tokayev fired the former president and the intelligence agency chief, Mr. Masimov, along with Mr. Nazarbayev’s nephew, who was the agency’s second in command.

Mr. Masimov was detained on suspicion of “high treason” on Thursday, the agency — known as the National Security Committee — said in a statement on Saturday.

Rioters soon broke into at least one government weapons depot, where they met little resistance, according to local news reports. They raced to take over government buildings and the airport in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city and economic center, where most of the unrest took place. (Elsewhere in the country, especially the West, protests remained peaceful.)

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Protests against fuel prices devolved into violent clashes on Wednesday in Almaty.Credit…Alexander Kuznetsov/EPA, via Shutterstock
Akezhan Kazhegeldin, who served as prime minister of Kazakhstan from 1994 to 1997 but resigned over concerns about corruption, said it was likely that Mr. Tokayev determined that he had “lost control over the military and law enforcement bodies,” leading him to dismiss Mr. Nazarbayev, Mr. Masimov and the government.

Mr. Kazhegeldin, who has been in exile for decades, said he was still holding out hope that Mr. Tokayev, who served as his chief of cabinet when he was prime minister, could turn things around.

But he warned that it would be a mistake for Mr. Tokayev to continue seeking help from Russia, with whom Kazakhstan shares a 4,750-mile land border. Kazakhstan maintains close relations with Russia, and is a member of the single-market Eurasian Economic Union. Mr. Putin, though, has at times played down Kazakh independence, employing messaging similar to his recent statements on Ukraine.

Many Kazakhs view the Soviet era with ambivalence, with some seeing it as an extension of colonial rule.

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A campaign billboard for Mr. Tokayev in 2019 in Almaty, ahead of the presidential election.Credit…Pavel Mikheyev/Reuters
“We don’t need any Russian or Belarusian help to settle the situation in one city, Almaty,” Mr. Kazhegeldin said. “We can use our nation.”

Dr. Anceschi, from the University of Glasgow, suggested that the only one with a true choice amid the chaos was Mr. Putin, who decided to back Mr. Tokayev instead of Mr. Nazarbayev and Mr. Masimov. But for Mr. Tokayev, the turn to the Kremlin was an existential choice.

The president, Dr. Anceschi said, “didn’t choose Russia, he chose himself.”

Kazakhstan president gives shoot-to-kill order against protesters, dismissing calls for negotiations

Kazakhstan president gives shoot-to-kill order against protesters, dismissing calls for negotiations

Kazakhstan president gives shoot-to-kill order against protesters, dismissing calls for negotiations

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A burned-out administrative building in central Almaty on Jan. 7, after violence that erupted following protests over hikes in fuel prices. (Abduaziz Madyarov/AFP/Getty Images)

MOSCOW — Kazakhstan’s president said Friday he had ordered his troops to “shoot to kill without warning” in an effort to quash anti-government protests that have been raging since the weekend.

Chaotic and violent scenes persisted in the resource-rich Central Asian country of 19 million, as the first “peacekeeping” troops from a Russia-led military alliance arrived following the leader’s request for foreign intervention to deal with widespread protests over a decrepit political system and dramatic energy price hikes.

 

Russian paratroopers helped local forces clear out the protesters occupying the airport so that round-the-clock flights could bring in some 2,500 troops from the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).

Kazakh president gives shoot-to-kill order on live television
 
 
Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev gave the order on Jan. 7 after protests over fuel prices erupted into a countrywide wave of unrest. (The Washington Post)

Some protesters have also issued a list of demands for peaceful political change. Dozens have been killed across the country so far, with authorities saying that nearly 4,000 “riot participants” had been detained and at least 18 police officers were dead.

In his speech, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said the lives of “hundreds of civilians and servicemen” had been damaged, dismissed calls “from abroad” for negotiations as “stupidity,” and vowed to crush the demonstrations.

 
 

“What negotiations could there be with criminals and murderers? We had to deal with armed and trained bandits and terrorists, both local and foreign. Therefore, they need to be destroyed, and this will be done in the near future,” he said in a televised address.

He said that more than 20,000 bandits with “high combat readiness and animal-like cruelty” had attacked Almaty alone.

In contrast to this portrait of the demonstrators as hardened militants, several thousand demonstrated peacefully in the city of Zhanaozen, one of the first hotspots of the riots, on Friday. They issued the most specific list of demands to date, asking for a change in power, freedom for civil rights activists, and a return to a 1993 version of the constitution, which is considered to have a more democratic tone and a clearer division of power than the current one.

Protesters gather in a square outside an administration office in Aktau, the capital of Kazakhstan’s Mangistau region, on Jan. 6. (Azamat Sarsenbayev/AFP/Getty Images)

Tokayev also promised to “turn the Internet back on” after a nationwide blackout but warned it will be accessible only for certain periods of time and highly monitored by the government. “Free access to the Internet does not mean you can freely post your musings, slander and insults, your incitements and calls,” he said.

 
 

Internet services had been severely disrupted since Wednesday, global Internet monitor NetBlocks said, with connectivity at about 5 percent of normal levels as of Friday morning.

Earlier on Friday, Tokayev had issued a statement that security forces had “mostly” regained control of the country. “The constitutional order has been basically restored in all regions.”

In recent days, protesters stormed government buildings nationwide and briefly held the Almaty airport. Though control has now been regained, it will remain closed for civilian aircraft until Sunday, state television reported. Several other cities are restoring domestic flights but rail and road transportation remains limited due to dozens of check points set up as part of nationwide state of emergency.

 

Into Friday, there were reports of hundreds of people assembling in Aktau and Zhanaozen, two cities in Kazakhstan’s oil-rich west. There were also sporadic demonstrations of up to 3,000 people in other cities.

 

Violent clashes continued on Friday in Almaty, the country’s most populous city, as authorities carried out what they called an “anti-terrorist operation.” The Interior Ministry said that the square had been “cleansed,” though videos showed heavy gunfire continuing through the night and into Friday. In the morning, people gathered near a government building with signs such as “We are residents of Almaty, not terrorists.”

By the end of day, Almaty authorities said control over all government buildings had been regained but warned residents to stay home as “terrorists and their gangs continue to maintain furious resistance,” state television reported.

 

Bodies spotted in central Almaty were slowly being removed, according to Russian newspaper RBC. People were cautioned against approaching a government building in the square, with troops reportedly firing shots in the air to warn people off.

 
Russian forces arrive in Kazakhstan as dozens of protesters reported killed
 
Chaotic and violent scenes persisted in Kazakhstan’s main city of Almaty on Jan. 6. (Reuters)

Public dissatisfaction that started over high fuel prices has escalated into a major challenge to a political system largely unchanged since the former Soviet state gained independence three decades ago.

 

The Kremlin said Friday that Russian President Vladimir Putin held multiple calls with Tokayev in the past two days to discuss joint action “to fight international terrorism and to ensure order and security of Kazakh citizens.” Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu is also coordinating efforts with his Kazakh counterpart.

Moscow has in the past deployed peacekeepers to countries that Putin fears are slipping out of his political orbit, which extends to many former Soviet states. Leaders in Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine have previously complained that such troops prop up pro-Russian separatist forces.

Russian military vehicles wait to be airlifted to Kazakhstan on Jan. 6. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service/AP)

President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus, whose troops will be part of the CSTO intervention, told state media Thursday that demonstrators had tried to seize control of major airports in Kazakhstan to block the deployment of the alliance’s forces.

While the CSTO has long been seen as Russia’s answer to NATO, its first joint action is against domestic unrest rather than combating an attack from an external force. Kazakhstan and the bloc’s other members, however, have attempted to cast the intervention as a bid to protect the state against “foreign-trained terrorist gangs,” though they have provided no evidence to back the allegations.

Riot police gather to block demonstrators during a protest in Almaty on Jan. 5. (Vladimir Tretyakov/AP)

The United States is monitoring the Moscow-led deployment and looking out for reports of potential human rights violations, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at a Thursday briefing.

 
 

The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, tweeted that “rights and security of civilians must be guaranteed. External military assistance brings back memories of situations to be avoided.”

China, however, has come out firmly in support of Tokayev, the Kazakhstan president, with leader Xi Jinping calling him to say that China firmly supported the country’s stability and rejected any attempts by “external forces” to provoke unrest or so-called “color revolutions” in the country.

China, which shares a land border with Kazakhstan, has invested billions in the country’s energy sector. Color revolutions refer to protests in Eastern Europe in the 2000s that overthrew pro-Russian governments that some see as instigated by Western nations.

Tokayev declared a two-week national state of emergency Wednesday, instituting an overnight curfew as well as a ban on mass gatherings. The restrictions came as the country’s sizable Orthodox Christian community prepared to celebrate Christmas on Friday.

 
 

Kazakh authorities have oscillated between cracking down on protesters and giving in to some demands. On Thursday, they announced a 180-day cap on the price of vehicle fuel. The demonstrations began after the government lifted a price cap on liquefied petroleum gas, such as propane, which powers most vehicles in the country’s west.

 
Kazakh president calls demonstrators ‘international terrorists’
 
Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said on Jan. 5 that he asked a Russia-led military alliance for help to quell anti-government protests. (Reuters)

Oil and gas production, a significant part of Kazakhstan’s economy, has stuttered as the unrest continues. U.S. energy giant Chevron, which owns half of a joint venture that runs the major Tengiz oil field, said Thursday that production had been cut after protests disrupted its logistics.

Cheng reported from Seoul.

Damaged cars in central Almaty on Jan. 6. (Alexander Bogdanov/AFP/Getty Images)

 

US, Japan hail stronger ties, including 2 new defense deals

US, Japan hail stronger ties, including 2 new defense deals

US, Japan hail stronger ties, including 2 new defense deals

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Seeking to deepen their defense cooperation, the United States and Japan will soon sign a new five-year agreement on sharing the cost of the American military presence in Japan, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Thursday.

Speaking at the outset of a virtual conference between the U.S. and Japanese foreign and defense ministers, Blinken said Tokyo and Washington also will sign a deal on collaborating more closely in research and development of defense-related technologies, including ways to counter threats from hypersonic weapons.

The agreement on a new formula for sharing the cost of the American military presence in Japan ends a Trump-era dispute that had been a significant irritant in U.S.-Japan relations. Blinken said the new deal will enable greater investment in the readiness of both countries’ forces and improve their ability to operate together.

 

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who participated virtually from his home because he is recovering from a COVID-19 infection, said the U.S.-Japan alliance is increasingly important.

“We’re meeting against a backdrop of increased tensions and challenges to the free, stable and secure Indo-Pacific region that we both seek — challenges posed by North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and by the coercive and aggressive behavior of the People’s Republic of China,” Austin said.

“We remain grateful for the support that Japan continues to provide U.S. forces deployed there and for an extraordinary level of mutual cooperation across the full spectrum of military capabilities,” he added.

Concerns about China’s growing military might were manifested in the signing of a defense agreement earlier Thursday between Japan and Australia, the first such pact Japan has sealed with any country other than the United States.

Thursday’s talks could be complicated by the surge in coronavirus cases. Japan asked the U.S before the talks began to lock down American military bases on its soil due to the spread of COVID-19.

That request was made to Blinken by Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi in a one-on-one phone call before they joined Austin and Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi for the virtual conference. None of the four officials mentioned it directly in their introductory statements.

Speaking prior to the four-way conference, Hayashi said Blinken had promised the U.S. would take utmost efforts to ensure people’s health, but it was not immediately clear if a base curfew would be imposed. U.S. Forces in Japan would not comment on the request, but said a team was carefully monitoring cases and trends.

The U.S. military has vowed to take more stringent measures, including requiring all personnel, even those vaccinated, to wear masks on base until a third negative coronavirus test.

American forces have been criticized after a spike in coronavirus cases in areas where they are based in large numbers, including Okinawa and Iwakuni, both in southern Japan. COVID-19 cases among U.S. Forces in Japan now total 1,784, about a third of them on Okinawa, according to USFJ. Iwakuni has reported 529 cases.

Yet Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s government clearly sees a benefit to the American military presence and shortly before Christmas agreed to a new cost-sharing pact with the United States that is expected to be formally signed on Friday in Tokyo.

Former President Donald Trump had railed about the costs of deployments of U.S. forces abroad and had demanded that host countries, including Japan, pay significantly more for their upkeep than many were prepared to offer, badly straining relations with allies in Asia and Europe.

President Joe Biden’s administration has sought to smooth those disagreements and last April resolved an impasse with South Korea over the costs of keeping U.S. troops there. The Dec. 21 consensus with Japan on a new four-year “Special Measures Agreement” is another tangible result of that policy.

Under the terms of the hosting deal, which will run to 2026, Japan will spend approximately $1.82 billion annually to support the U.S. military presence. The United States has about 55,000 troops in Japan, including a naval contingent, which makes it the largest forward-deployed U.S. force in the world, according to the GAO.

Apart from cementing those terms, the U.S. and Japan are hoping to increase cooperation and coordination on combatting China’s increasing assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific region as well as explore ways to bring North Korea back to the negotiating table over its nuclear weapons program.

The U.S. and Japan are increasingly worried about threats from North Korea, which on Wednesday fired a ballistic missile into the sea in its first weapons launch in about two months.

The test of what the North says was a “hypersonic missile” was widely seen as a signal that Pyongyang isn’t interested in rejoining denuclearization talks anytime soon and would rather focus on boosting its weapons arsenal.

Despite repeated entreaties from the Biden administration the North has declined to rejoin even preliminary discussions on the nuclear issue. State Department spokesman Ned Price called on the North to refrain from further tests, which he said were a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions, and urged it to respond to offers to restart the talks.

Five countries on the U.N. Security Council — the United States, United Kingdom, France, Ireland and Albania — asked the U.N.’s most powerful body to hold consultations Monday on North Korea’s launch of the hypersonic missile, U.N. diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity ahead of an announcement.