Assessing the Development of Chinese Soft Power in Central Asia

Editor’s Note:  This article is part of our Below Threshold Competition: China writing contest which took place from May 1, 2020 to July 31, 2020.  More information about the contest can be found by clicking here.


James Ridley-Jones is a PhD student at King’s College London currently researching Geostrategy in Central Asia. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


Title:  Assessing the Development of Chinese Soft Power in Central Asia

Date Originally Written:  July 15th 2020.

Date Originally Published:  September 23, 2020.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author believes that Chinese Soft Power, initiative failures are indicative of wider Chinese strategic engagement failures in the Central Asian region. For the purposes of this assessment Soft Power is defined as the use of investment diplomacy and cultural engagement to build relationships and project influence below the threshold of armed conflict.

Summary:  Chinese Soft Power initiatives remain key to facilitating relations alongside Chinese investment. Although China retains good bi-lateral relations with the Central Asian states, a closer examination of Chinese initiatives demonstrates failures amongst the region’s general populations comparative to the ruling elites.

Text:  The announcement of the Belt and Road Initiative by Xi Jinping in Kazakhstan 2013 led to the required development of Chinese Soft Power within the region. The purpose of this Soft Power is to enable political security alongside economic investment. The Belt and Road Initiative encompasses economic investment and diplomatic initiatives, which, when combined, develop working partnerships and economic corridors along projected routes. The initiative has also absorbed prior programs and investments into this framework.

Chinese investment in the region allows for key infrastructure developments that might improve economic and social capacities. Diplomatic and co-operative initiatives take the form of exhibitions, student engagement and the notorious Confucius Institutes. All of these aim to engage students, businessmen and key officials in cultural engagement for the promotion of relations.

Chinese Soft Power actions are not without a downside. High levels of one-sided investment can be, and are, perceived negatively. The often debated debt-trap diplomacy employed by China, together with the use of a Chinese workforce for such projects, leaves poor public perceptions of these investments, irrespective of the benefits.

Similarly, the potential reach of Soft Power initiatives is limited within the countries that China targets. This limitation is due to population dispersal and the extent of possible population engagement. Although there have been multiple exhibitions in Tashkent for example, they only reach a small percentage of the population.

Soft power through language learning to encourage engagement is increasing, but still falls behind state languages, the lingua franca Russian, and English for both tourism and business purposes. In Almaty Kazakhstan, the Confucius Institute remains one of the few places Mandarin can be learnt, compared with English which is far more prevalent in foreign language schools.

China, however, does attract significantly more students to its Universities (2017-2018), with approximately 12,000 Kazakh students currently studying in China[1]. Comparatively there are only 1,300 Kazahk students in the United Kingdom[2] and 1,865 in the United States[3]. Although distance can be included as a factor for this decision, there are also additional Chinese grants and scholarships given to Central Asian students to encourage their attendance at Chinese Universities. This Soft Power will go on to affect the next generation of Kazakhs in the future.

The effectiveness of Chinese diplomatic initiatives is impeded in Central Asia by two main factors:

The first is the disparity between key parts of the target countries’ political and financial elite and the general population.

Although policymakers and businessmen in Central Asia benefit from Chinese initiatives and as such look to engage with China on business, such perceptions remain different to those of the general population who do not benefit in such ways. This disconnect requires a two-tier Chinese approach to inter-country relations that currently does not exist.

The second is the Uyghur problem, where current Chinese policy and actions are perceived very negatively by Central Asian populations. These differences on the Uyghur problem are illustrated in the government support given to Chinese actions, compared to feelings amongst the general populace. An indicator of this is a lack of support from specific Central Asian nations. Only the Governments of Tajikistan and Turkmenistan (the two most closed off Central Asian nations) signed a letter in support of Chinese actions, suggesting the other countries are in more turmoil over the decision[4].

The Uyghur have ethnic, cultural and religious similarities to the other Turkic ethnic groups within Central Asia, as well as there being Uyghur minorities in Central Asia. Because of such ties Chinese attitudes in Xinjiang have significant negative connotations within the Central Asian general populace. Although this might not be demonstrated at a governmental level, Sinophobia can be noted across the general population.

Both of these issues take the form of anti-Chinese protests, such as those in Almaty, to even the car bombing of the Chinese embassy in Bishkek (2016). This car bombing, it was reported, was the action of an Islamist, but it has also been suggested that it was in retaliation for the mistreatment of the Uyghur people and Sinophobia.

In 2016, land reform protests revealed underlying concerns of potential Chinese control over agriculture in Kazakhstan[5]. In 2019, there were protests at a Kyrgyzstan mine over environmental quality concerns, greatly affecting the local population[6]. This issue is likely to be compounded with additional mines given or sold to Chinese investors.

More recent protests in Almaty and Nur Sultan, Kazakhstan and in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan September 2019 suggest relations remain frayed. The Kazakhstan protests stem from a variety of reasons to do with increasing Chinese influence in the region[7]. Similarly, in Kyrgyzstan protests grew as a result of Chinese businesses side-lining existing Kyrgyz businesses in the capital[8].

All of these protests demonstrate the disconnect between Chinese investment and maintaining relations with the general populace through diplomatic initiatives.

Given the nature of the regimes in Central Asia, there is no available data on opinion polls of China, and if data was available the validity of results might also be questionable. Public protest in these countries becomes an available method of assessing public opinion, though it is limited in scope and nuance.

The increasing numbers of Central Asian students at Chinese Universities through both grants, scholarships and engagement programs, will most likely be the continued Soft Power tactic.

Although relatively ineffective currently, the Confucius Institutes will look to further develop language teaching capabilities and promote further cultural engagement.

Chinese exhibitions will most likely continue, but at a similar rate of engagement with the population, limiting their effectiveness.

Understanding and analysing Chinese Soft Power failures is important to the development of counter- Chinese strategy. Although inaction by others would allow for continued Chinese failure, these Chinese actions will eventually become successful as newer generations, specifically elites, are increasingly influenced by Chinese Soft Power initiatives, particularly through Universities.

Chinese Soft Power failure is a lack of ability to connect with the wider population beyond the national elites. Critically, Chinese Soft Power failure indicates a lack of cohesive strategy incorporating both investment and diplomacy.


Endnotes:

[1] Uatkhanov, Y. Kazakh Students Also Seek Education in the East – Edge : Kazakhstan. Edge : Kazakhstan. Retrieved 20 July 2020, from https://www.edgekz.com/kazakh-students-also-seek-education-in-the-east.

[2] Shayakhmetova, Z. (2019). Kazakh students seek degrees in best UK universities – The Astana Times. The Astana Times. Retrieved 20 July 2020, from https://astanatimes.com/2019/12/kazakh-students-seek-degrees-in-best-uk-universities.

[3] Kazakhstan – Education. Export.gov. (2019). Retrieved 20 July 2020, from https://www.export.gov/apex/article2?id=Kazakhstan-Education.

[4] Putz, C. (2019).Which Countries Are For or Against China’s Xinjiang Policies?. Thediplomat.com. Retrieved 20 July 2020, from https://thediplomat.com/2019/07/which-countries-are-for-or-against-chinas-xinjiang-policies.

[5] Why Kazakhstan’s protests are unusual. BBC News. (2016). Retrieved 20 July 2020, from https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-36163103.

[6] Putz, C. (2019). Tensions Flare at Kyrgyz Gold Mine. Thediplomat.com. Retrieved 20 July 2020, from https://thediplomat.com/2019/08/tensions-flare-at-kyrgyz-gold-mine.

[7] Dozens detained in Kazakhstan at anti-China protests. reuters.com. (2019). Retrieved 20 July 2020, from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-kazakhstan-china-protests-detentions/dozens-detained-in-kazakhstan-at-anti-china-protests-idUSKBN1W60CS.

[8] Kruglov, A. (2019). Sinophobia simmers across Central Asia. Asia Times. Retrieved 20 July 2020, from https://asiatimes.com/2019/11/sinophobia-simmers-across-central-asia.

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U.S. Below War Threshold Options Against China

Editor’s Note:  This article is part of our Below Threshold Competition: China writing contest which took place from May 1, 2020 to July 31, 2020.  More information about the contest can be found by clicking here.


James P. Micciche is a U.S. Army Strategist and Civil Affairs Officer with deployment and service experience in the Middle East, Africa, Afghanistan, Europe, and Indo-Pacific. He is currently a Command and General Staff Officer Course student and can be found on Twitter @james_micciche. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


National Security Situation:  As China rises to become a Great Power and other nations lack the will to counter this rise via armed conflict, options below the level of armed conflict are required.

Date Originally Written:  July 20, 2020.

Date Originally Published:  September 21, 2020.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author believes the United States must increase its capability and efforts to compete with China below levels of armed conflict.

Background:  The 2017 National Security Strategy (NSS) specifically identifies China as a revisionist competing against the United States. The NSS describes the objectives of revisionist nations as, “contesting our geopolitical advantages and trying to change the international order in their favor[1].” Stephen Brooks and William Wohlforth identify China as the driving force of a systemic realignment, “the system has shifted from 1 superpower plus X great powers to 1+1+X, with China occupying a middle category as an emerging potential superpower[2].”

Significance:  China currently avoids directly challenging U.S. hegemony and instead utilizes two primary strategies to expand influence and advance objectives below levels of conflict.

The first strategy, “Three Warfares,” seeks “to break adversary resistance and achieve Chinese national objectives with little or no actual fighting[3].” The three “warfares” are public opinion, psychological operations, and legal warfare. The first two warfares attempt to dominate the information domain and the third warfare targets both international and national structures as a means to make them more conducive to Chinese objectives.

The second strategy uses China’s growing economic power to expand China’s political power.  This expansion is done through a combination of debt-laden investments, economic coercion, and predatory liberalism, which describes how China weaponizes market access to suppress public criticism from companies and nations alike[4].

These two strategies mutually support each other as predatory liberalism enables information dominance facilitating further coercive economic expansion enabling systemic changes to legal structures. Former National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster described this vanguard of Chinese expansion as “a delegation of bankers and party officials with duffel bags full of cash[5],” rather than the traditional military elements of national power associated with historical revisionist expansion. This paper will provide three options to degrade China’s capability and deter their will to execute the aforementioned strategies.

Option #1:  The United States resurrects previous capabilities in an effort to dominate the information environment.

China’s Three Warfares and economic programs are predicated upon dominance of the information environment which is “comprised of and aggregates numerous social, cultural, cognitive, technical, and physical attributes that act upon and impact knowledge, understanding, beliefs, world views, and, ultimately, actions of an individual, group, system, community, or organization[6].” The United States is unable to compete within this environment due to a lack of bureaucratic coherence and leadership[7]. In this option, the United States recreates an Information Age version of the United States Information Agency (USIA) empowering it not only to counter malign Chinese efforts but also potentially propagate messaging into China itself against an autocratic state that severely restricts external information access to its citizens.

Risk:  Establishing an empowered and aggressive USIA could lead to an increase in China’s use of psychological operations, sharp power, and media manipulation against the U.S. and other regional partners. There are also legal concerns regarding U.S. Government filters on speech, press, or information consumed by U.S. citizens.

Gain:  Reestablishing information dominance enhances U.S. soft power globally and fosters resiliency against Chinese manipulation both domestically and abroad. Gaining the capability to target domestic Chinese populations as a form of punitive deterrence restricts China’s aggression across the whole spectrum of competition.

Option #2:  The United States reestablishes and expands the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) with nations throughout the Indo-Pacific region that excludes China.

This TPP 2.0 would specifically address intellectual property rights, Chinese foreign direct investment review processes, and provide smaller nations access to development funds through USAID, The World Bank, and similar organizations. TPP 2.0 would expand from the original 11 signatories to include India, the Philippines, and South Korea.

Risk:  By utilizing their quasi command economy and authoritarian state structure, China could attempt to take substantial economic losses to create an alternative structure to counter U.S. efforts. There might be apprehension from potential TPP 2.0 members due to the unilateral withdraw from TPP by the Trump administration in 2017 placing the United States at a disadvantage in negotiations.

Gain:  TPP 2.0 would provide preferential treatment to U.S. goods, thus increasing market access. It would improve the economies of small Indo-Pacific nations, fostering resiliency to Chinese economic coercion. TPP 2.0 would deny China access to benefits unless it discontinued intellectual property theft, predatory FDI practices, and other malign economic behaviors. Increased trade costs and potential exclusion would undercut much of the funding needed to complete Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects. TPP 2.0 enables the creation of alternate supply chains and offshoring options outside of China allowing U.S. firms to protect intellectual property while still reducing costs to U.S. consumers and remaining globally competitive.

Option #3:  The United States harasses and impedes China’s terrestrial expansion.

Chinese competition below levels of conflict includes land and sea-based building programs ranging from constructing artificial islands within the South China Sea to infrastructure projects associated with the BRI initiative. The United States could take overt and covert actions to drive up the costs of Chinese expansion. Overt efforts include funding local environmental and cultural heritage groups that oppose Chinese projects and foster local resistance, which increase regulatory or construction costs. Covert efforts include incentivizing maritime proxies to harass and impede the use of Chinese paramilitary maritime militia in the South China Sea.

Risk:  If direct U.S. funding of proxies becomes known, there could be irreversible damage to the United States’ reputation and advantages in soft power and the information domains. Funding or supporting proxies can lead to secondary support for nonstate actors that seek to destabilize regional partners as well as China. Any escalation in the South China Sea could lead to armed conflict.

Gain:  Increasing Chinese costs could severely restrict their capability to continue expansion and complete projects per agreements with host nations. Combining overt resistance campaigns with coordinated messaging enables the United States to degrade China’s soft and economic power. Directly confronting Chinese maritime militia with similarly designed forces presents a unique geopolitical challenge with few positive outcomes.

Other Comments:  These options are not mutually exclusive and can be utilized in conjunction with other elements of national power to support competition below levels of conflict.

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

[1] Trump, Donald J., National Security Strategy of the United States of America. Executive Office of The President Washington DC Washington United States, 2017, 27

[2] Brooks, Stephen G., and William C. Wohlforth. “The rise and fall of the great powers in the twenty-first century: China’s rise and the fate of America’s global position.” International Security 40, no. 3 (2016): 7-53, 43

[3] Livermore, Doug. “China’s “Three Warfares” in theory and practice in the South China Sea.” Georgetown Security Studies Review (2018).

[4] Cha, Victor, and Andy Lim. “Flagrant Foul: China’s Predatory Liberalism and the NBA.” The Washington Quarterly 42, no. 4 (2019): 23-42.

[5] McMaster, H. R., “How China Sees the World,” The Atlantic, (2020), accessed April 22 2020, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/05/mcmaster-china-strategy/609088

[6] Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joint Concept for Operating in the Information Environment (JCOIE), Department of Defense, Washington DC (2018)

[7] Cobaugh, Paul, “Combat Ineffective: Ethical Influence, the Broken-down Rusting Vehicle of American Power” Narrative Strategies, (2020) accessed April 23 2020, https://www.narrative-strategies.com/failed-usg-influence

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Boxing Out: Assessing the United States’ Cultural Soft Power Advantage in Africa Over China

Editor’s Note:  This article is part of our Below Threshold Competition: China writing contest which took place from May 1, 2020 to July 31, 2020.  More information about the contest can be found by clicking here.


Scott Martin is a career U.S. Air Force officer who has served in a multitude of globally-focused assignments.  He studied Russian and International Affairs at Trinity University and received his Masters of Science in International Relations from Troy University.  He is currently assigned within the National Capitol Region. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


Title:  Boxing Out: Assessing the United States’ Cultural Soft Power Advantage in Africa Over China

Date Originally Written:  July 16, 2020.

Date Originally Published:  September 14, 2020.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author believes that as a mechanism to counter China’s rising influence in Africa, the U.S. can leverage some of its soft power advantages. In particular, the popularity of American cultural offerings, such as the National Basketball Association (NBA) offers an opportunity for the U.S. to counter China and its soft power efforts in a geographically critical area of the globe.

Summary:  Chinese investment in hard and soft power in Africa over the past several decades presents a challenge to the U.S. role on the continent. While the Chinese focus in Africa is yielding positive results for China’s image and influence, there are still areas where the U.S. outpaces China. American advantages in soft power, such as the popularity of its cultural exports, like the NBA, offer an opportunity for the U.S. to counter Chinese efforts in Africa.

Text:  Since the Cold War, Chinese investment and engagement in Africa is a strong point of their foreign policy. For several decades, China has pumped billions in economic aid, estimated at over $100 billion[1]. The combination of presenting economic assistance on business terms only without dictating values and lack of historical barriers (ala Western Europe’s colonial past and American insistence on adherence to values such a human rights for economic assistance) has made China a formidable force on the African continent, offering an attractive “win-win” relationship[2]. However, while China dominates when it comes to economic engagement, they have not shut out the West when it comes to various forms of soft power. In particular, U.S.-based forms of entertainment, from movies to sporting events, still out-pace Chinese variants.

Since political scientist Joseph Nye first defined “soft power” in the 1990s as the concept of “when one country gets other countries to want what it wants…in contrast with the hard or command power of ordering others to do what it wants”, the concept has gained many political and academic converts[3]. The Chinese look to promote their soft power capabilities, and it is a stated goal of Chinese leaders since Hu Jintao in 2007[4]. These efforts appear to pay off, as surveys show Africans with positive opinions related to China[5].

Yet, while China makes strides in promoting its soft power, it still faces challenges. For all the positive responses it engenders with its efforts, it has not won over all Africans. In various surveys, many ordinary Africans do not always feel that China’s continued investment in their respective countries benefits them as much as it does political leaders[6]. Additionally, Chinese efforts for the promotion of soft power lack the impact of its Western/U.S. competitors. In cultural examples, to include entertainment, the Chinese lag far behind the U.S. It is in this area that the U.S. can leverage its soft power capabilities to help promote itself and counter some aspects of China power projection.

Many aspects of American culture and entertainment find a home in Africa. American cinematic offers dwarf all other international offering by a significant margin, to include China[7]. American music, especially hip-hop and rhythm and blues, dominate African music channels. An American traveling through the continent is considerably more likely to run across American music than the Chinese equivalent[8]. While the Chinese promote their educational capabilities, more African will look towards American colleges/universities if given the chance to attend[9]. While hard power economic and military investment numbers might favor China, the U.S. continues to hold a significant lead in soft power ratings over China in Africa[9].

In one key example, the U.S.-based NBA is arguably the most popular U.S.-based sports league on the continent. While professional football/soccer might be the most popular international sport, the NBA has grown in global popularity over the past 20 years, which includes Africa. Prior to the suspension of the NBA season due to COVID-19, 40 players born in Africa or descended African-born parents were on NBA rosters, to include reigning league Most Valuable Player Giannis Antetokounmpo and All-Star Joel Embiid[10]. Factor in NBA Hall of Famers such as Dikembe Mutombo and Hakeem Olajuwon, and the NBA has significant connections with Africa. Additionally, NBA merchandising and broadcasting takes in significant money, and previous games played in Africa posted sell-out crowds[11]. At the start of 2020, the NBA established an NBA Africa league for the continent, with participation from multiple countries. While COVID-19 disrupted plans for this league, the NBA will be eager to re-engage with Africa post-pandemic.

For the U.S., the NBA efforts offer an opportunity to counter Chinese activity, playing to America’s significant soft power advantage. While the NBA is becoming a more international game, the league is still an American corporation, with mainly American stars. While jersey sales focus on the individual names, which will include African players, the designs and logos are still from the American-based teams. Additionally, with the NBA’s current relationship with China severely curtailed after Houston Rockets’ General Manager Daryl Morey retweeted a message support Democratic protestors in Hong Kong, the NBA, facing a pre-COVID-19 shortfall of $400M from Chinese boycotting, is looking for additional revenue streams[12]. A U.S./NBA relationship in Africa can be a version of “win-win.”

While most view soft power as more effective when it is not directly promoted by the power projecting country, the U.S. can leverage its soft power advantages to counter Chinese actions in Africa. When it comes to the promotion of American cultural imports, U.S. officials, while not explicitly stating that the U.S. government supports that activity, can do things such as promote their attendance at such events via social media as well as take advantage of other communication forums to promote the successes of such ventures in Africa. Additionally, when applicable, the U.S. government can promote favorable messaging at efforts to expand U.S.-based cultural exports, such as the release of American-owned movies and music recordings and clear any governmental administrative hold-ups for entities like the NBA to promote their games and products in Africa.

Granted, promotion of American-based culture and entertainment, such as the NBA, cannot offset the extensive Chinese economic investment in Africa, and the U.S. will have to face its own challenges in soft power projection. However, by playing to its strengths, especially in soft power realm, the NBA in Africa can open the door towards showing a positive image and outreach of American and Western values. This NBA actions can also open the door toward future engagements that can both benefit Africa and challenge Chinese efforts. American cultural offerings are not a cure-all magic bullet, but the U.S. does have the ability to leverage them for soft power advantages, which could stem an increasingly powerful China whose influence across Africa is growing.


Endnotes:

[1] Versi, Anver (Aug/Sept 2017).“What is China’s Game in Africa?” New African, 18. https://newafricanmagazine.com/15707.

[2] Tella, Oluswaseun (2016) “Wielding Soft Power in Strategic Regions: An Analysis of China’s Power of Attraction in Africa and the Middle East” Africa Review, 8 (2) 135. https://www.academia.edu/30299581/Africa_Review_Wielding_soft_power_in_strategic_regions_an_analysis_of_Chinas_power_of_attraction_in_Africa_and_the_Middle_East.

[3] Lai, Hongyi (2019) “Soft Power Determinants in the World and Implications for China: A Quantitative Test of Joseph Nye’s Theory of Three Soft Power Resources and of the Positive Peace Argument.” The Copenhagen Journal of Asian Studies, 37(1) 10.

[4] Schmitt, Gary J (19 June 2014) “A Hard Look at Soft Power in East Asia” American Enterprise Institute Research, 5. https://www.aei.org/research-products/report/a-hard-look-at-soft-power-in-east-asia.

[5] Tella, Oluswaseun, “Wielding Soft Power in Strategic Regions” 137.

[6] Langmia, Kehbuma (2011). “The Secret Weapon of Globalization: China’s Activities in Sub-Saharan Africa” Journal of Third World Studies, XXVIII (2), 49. https://www.academia.edu/31196408/THE_SECRET_WEAPON_OF_GLOBALIZATION_CHINAS_ACTIVITIES_IN_SUB-SAHARAN_AFRICA_By_Kehbuma_Langmia.

[7] 2015-2020 Worldwide Box Office, IMDb Pro, Accessed 13 June 2020, https://www.boxofficemojo.com/year/world/?ref_=bo_nb_in_tab

[8] Tella, Oluswaseun. “Wielding Soft Power in Strategic Regions” 161.

[9] Lai, Hongyi. “Soft Power Determinants in the World and Implications for China” 29.

[10] Mohammed, Omar (2 April 2019) “NBA to Invest Millions of Dollars in New African League” Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-nba-africa-idUSKCN1RE1WB.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Young, Jabari (2020, 16 Feb). “NBA will Lose Hundreds of Millions of Dollars Due to Rift with China, Commissioner Says” CNBC. https://www.cnbc.com/2020/02/16/nba-will-lose-hundreds-of-millions-of-dollars-due-to-rift-with-china-commissioner-says.html.

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Assessing the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s Surreptitious Artificial Intelligence Build-Up

Editor’s Note:  This article is part of our Below Threshold Competition: China writing contest which took place from May 1, 2020 to July 31, 2020.  More information about the contest can be found by clicking here.


Richard Tilley is a strategist within the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Previously, Richard served as a U.S. Army Special Forces Officer and a National Security Advisor in the U.S. House of Representatives. He is on Twitter @RichardTilley6 and on LinkedIn. The views contained in this article are the author’s alone and do not represent the views of the Department of Defense or the United States Government.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization or any group.


Title:  Assessing the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s Surreptitious Artificial Intelligence Build-Up

Date Originally Written:  July 6, 2020.

Date Originally Published:  August 14, 2020.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author is an unconventional warfare scholar and strategist. He believes renewed American interest in great power competition and Chinese approaches to unrestricted warfare require the United States national security apparatus to better appreciate the disruptive role advanced technology will play on the future battlefield.

Summary:  China’s dreams of regional and global hegemony require a dominant People’s Liberation Army that faces the dilemma of accruing military power while not raising the ire of the United States. To meet this challenge, the Chinese Communist Party has bet heavily on artificial intelligence as a warfighting game-changer that it can acquire surreptitiously and remain below-the-threshold of armed conflict with the United States.

Text:  President Xi Jinping’s introduction of the “The China Dream” in 2013 offers the latest iteration of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) decades-long quest to establish China in its rightful place atop the global hierarchy. To achieve this goal, Xi calls for “unison” between China’s newfound soft power and the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) hard power[1]. But, by the CCP’s own admission, “The PLA still lags far behind the world’s leading militaries[2].” Cognizant of this capability deficit, Beijing adheres to the policy of former Chairman Deng Xiaoping, “Hide your strength, bide your time” until the influence of the Chinese military can match that of the Chinese economy.

For the PLA, Deng’s maxim presents a dilemma: how to build towards militarily eclipsing the United States while remaining below the threshold of eliciting armed response. Beijing’s solution is to bet heavily on artificial intelligence (AI) and its potential to upend the warfighting balance of power.

In simple terms, AI is the ability of machines to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence. AI is not a piece of hardware but rather a technology integrated into nearly any system that enables computing more quickly, accurately, and intuitively. AI works by combining massive amounts of data with powerful, iterative algorithms to identify new associations and rules hidden therein. By applying these associations and rules to new scenarios, scientists hope to produce AI systems with reasoning and decision-making capabilities matching or surpassing that of humans.

China’s quest for regional and global military dominance has led to a search for a “Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) with Chinese characteristics[3].” An RMA is a game-changing evolution in warfighting that upends the balance of power. In his seminal work on the subject, former Under Secretary of Defense Michael Vickers found eighteen cases of such innovations in history such as massed infantry, artillery, railroad, telegraph, and atomic weapons[4]. In each case, a military power introduces a disruptive technology or tactic that rapidly and enduringly changes warfighting. The PLA believes that AI can be their game-changer in the next conflict.

Evidence of the PLA’s confidence in AI abounds. Official PRC documents from 2017 called for “The use of new generation AI technologies as a strong support to command decision-making, military deductions [strategy], and defense equipment, among other applications[5].” Beijing matched this rhetoric with considerable funding, which the U.S. Department of Defense estimated as $12 billion in 2017 and growing to as much as $70 billion in 2020[6].

AI’s potential impact in a Western Pacific military confrontation is significant. Using AI, PLA intelligence systems could detect, identify, and assess the possible intent of U.S. carrier strike groups more quickly and with greater accuracy than traditional human analysis. Then, PLA strike systems could launch swarming attacks coordinated by AI that overwhelm even the most advanced American aerial and naval defenses. Adding injury to insult, the PLA’s AI systems will learn from this engagement to strike the U.S. Military with even more efficacy in the future.

While pursuing AI the CCP must still address the dilemma of staying below the threshold of armed conflict – thus the CCP masterfully conceals moves designed to give it an AI advantage. In the AI arms race, there are two key components: technology and data. To surpass the United States, China must dominate both, but it must do so surreptitiously.

AI systems require several technical components to operate optimally, including the talent, algorithms, and hardware on which they rely. Though Beijing is pouring untold resources into developing first-rate domestic capacity, it still relies on offshore sources for AI tech. To acquire this foreign know-how surreptitiously, the CCP engages in insidious foreign direct investment, joint ventures, cyber espionage, and talent acquisition[7] as a shortcut while it builds domestic AI production.

Successful AI also requires access to mountains of data. Generally, the more data input the better the AI output. To build these data stockpiles, the CCP routinely exploits its own citizens. National security laws passed in 2014 and 2017 mandate that Chinese individuals and organizations assist the state security apparatus when requested[8]. The laws make it possible for the CCP to easily collect and exploit Chinese personal data that can then be used to strengthen the state’s internal security apparatus – powered by AI. The chilling efficacy seen in controlling populations in Xinjiang and Hong Kong can be transferred to the international battlefield.

Abroad, the CCP leverages robust soft power to gain access to foreign data. Through programs like the Belt and Road Initiative, China offers low-cost modernization to tech-thirsty customers. Once installed, the host’s upgraded security, communication, or economic infrastructure allows Beijing to capture overseas data that reinforces their AI data sets and increases their understanding of the foreign environment[9]. This data enables the PLA to better train AI warfighting systems to operate in anywhere in the world.

If the current trends hold, the United States is at risk of losing the AI arms race and hegemony in the Western Pacific along with it. Despite proclaiming that, “Continued American leadership in AI is of paramount importance to maintaining the economic and national security of the United States[10],” Washington is only devoting $4.9 billion to unclassified AI research in fiscal year 2020[11], just seven percent of Beijing’s investment.

The keep pace, the United States can better comprehend and appreciate the consequences of allowing the PLA to dominate AI warfighting in the future. The stakes of the AI race are not dissimilar to the race for nuclear weapons during World War 2. Only by approaching AI with the same interest, investment, and intensity of the Manhattan Project can U.S. Military hegemony hope to be maintained.


Endnotes:

[1] Page, J. (2013, March 13). For Xi, a ‘China Dream’ of Military Power. Wall Street Journal Retrieved June 20, 2020 from https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424127887324128504578348774040546346

[2] The State Council Information Office of the People’s Republic of China. (2019). China’s National Defense in the New Era. (p. 6)

[3] Ibid.

[4] Vickers, M. G. (2010). The structure of military revolutions (Doctoral dissertation, Johns Hopkins University) (pp. 4-5). UMI Dissertation Publishing.

[5] PRC State Council, (2017, July 17). New Generation Artificial Intelligence Plan. (p. 1)

[6] Pawlyk, O. (2018, July 30). China Leaving the US behind on Artificial Intelligence: Air Force General. Military.com. Retrieved June 20, 2020 from https://www.military.com/defensetech/2018/07/30/china-leaving-us-behind-artificial-intelligence-air-force-general.html

[7] O’Conner, S. (2019). How Chinese Companies Facilitate Technology Transfer from the United States. U.S. – China Economic and Security Review Commission. (p. 3)

[8] Kharpal, A. (2019, March 5). Huawei Says It Would Never Hand Data to China’s Government. Experts Say It Wouldn’t Have a Choice. CNBC. Retrieved June 20, 2020 from https://www.cnbc.com/2019/03/05/huawei-would-have-to-give-data-to-china-government-if-asked-experts.html

[9] Chandran, N. (2018, July 12). Surveillance Fears Cloud China’s ‘Digital Silk Road.’ CNBC. Retrieved June 20, 2020 from https://www.cnbc.com/2018/07/11/risks-of-chinas-digital-silk-road-surveillance-coercion.html

[10] Trump, D. (2019, February 14). Executive Order 13859 “Maintaining American Leadership in Artificial Intelligence.” Retrieved June 20, 2020 from https://www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/executive-order-maintaining-american-leadership-artificial-intelligence

[11] Cornillie, C. (2019, March 28). Finding Artificial Intelligence Research Money in the Fiscal 2020 Budget. Bloomberg Government. Retrieved June 20, 2020 from https://about.bgov.com/news/finding-artificial-intelligence-money-fiscal-2020-budget

2020 - Contest: PRC Below Threshold Writing Contest Artificial Intelligence & Human-Machine Teaming Assessment Papers China (People's Republic of China) Richard Tilley United States

Assessing the Dependency of U.S. Below Threshold Competition on Department of State Modernization

Editor’s Note:  This article is part of our Below Threshold Competition: China writing contest which took place from May 1, 2020 to July 31, 2020.  More information about the contest can be found by clicking here.


Matthew F. Smith is an active duty officer in the United States Army. He can be found on Twitter @Matt_F_Smith. The views expressed in this paper represent the personal views of the author and are not necessarily the views of the Department of Defense or of the Department of the Army.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


Title:  Assessing the Dependency of U.S. Below Threshold Competition on Department of State Modernization

Date Originally Written:  June 12, 2020.

Date Originally Published:  August 5, 2020.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The article is written from the point of view of the United States. The author is interested in the strengths and limitations of resourcing the U.S. Executive Branch Departments and Agencies primarily responsible for executing foreign policy strategies below the threshold of armed conflict.

Summary:   U.S. policymakers are deciding how to compete with the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) and counteract their objectives. Given fiscal realities, the opportunity exists to rebalance current militaristic policy tendencies and force institutional reforms. The U.S. Department of State, due to its largely below-threshold mandate, is a good target for modernization so it can better lead foreign policy efforts through diplomacy, advocacy, and assistance.

Text:  Over the last decade, American foreign policy has focused increasingly on competition with the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Regardless of the various administrations’ policies, the central strategic aim has been how the United States can best compete with China while remaining below the threshold of armed conflict. The PRC’s central strategic aim is to undermine current U.S. alliances and other historically U.S. lead global institutions[1]. Given the $2.5 trillion in federal spending in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic and an economic recession, a fiscally conscience U.S. government is likely to exist moving forward[2]. As a result, future foreign policy decisions will focus on the smart application of strategic tools that are gauged not merely by measures of performance but also by the financial effectiveness in achieving the desired outcome. For the U.S. to maintain the fundamental ability to compete below the threshold of armed conflict, the State Department, whose mission is to “lead America’s foreign policy through diplomacy, advocacy, and assistance”; requires equipping through bipartisan commitment of resources to compete in the current environment[3]. Understanding that near-term competition will likely remain below the threshold of large scale combat operations, and U.S. strategy aims to promote a range of acceptable options short of armed conflict, the resourcing of such efforts is a fundamental issue.

Just as the U.S. military is resourced to innovate and adapt in response to emerging military threats, undertaking the institutional reform necessary for the State Department to have the capability to lead an integrated approach to promote U.S. strategic interests is of vital importance. An environment that is competitive but not combative requires the State Department to be capable of frustrating Chinese interests in areas that cooperation is not possible while seizing fleeting moments of opportunity for mutually beneficial agreements. Without a properly resourced and organized State Department, opportunities to frustrate China will be lost altogether or be handled in such a manner that its potential benefit will be greatly diminished. The Indo-Pacific region is vital to U.S. objectives because of its continuing economic opportunities, and yet, to fully reap the benefits of those opportunities, the United States, China, and the other countries that are impacted by regional competition must work together to communally benefit whenever possible. Competing with China requires the U.S. to advance its position by smartly leveraging all instruments of national power that enable the current strategic approach.

Policymakers can ask themselves how the U.S. can be expected to compete below the threshold of armed conflict without adequately resourcing the primary agency responsible for executing the policies in that environment. The Department of Defense requested $705.4 billion for FY21; and while defense spending on military capability is an important component of a deterrence strategy, it only inadvertently promotes the U.S. capability to compete below the threshold of armed conflict[4]. The State Department requested $40.8 billion for FY21, which is an $11.7 billion, or 22-percent decrease from the 2020 enacted level[5]. In the face of reports calling for the State Department to modernize, the U.S., as is evident in the proposed budget, is prioritizing military capability for deterrence at the expense of investing in deterrence through greater diplomacy, advocacy, and assistance efforts[6]. Ignoring the reality of State Department capability will lead to U.S. policy missteps and encourage China to expand their focus beyond military development and increase investing in other strategic sectors[7]. These sectors, which include the Belt and Road Initiative and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, are effective in increasing the political clout the PRC can wield in forming new alliances and dependencies while degrading the U.S. position in the region.

The current United States strategic approach to the PRC reaffirms many of the incorporative strategic approaches described in the 2017 National Security Strategy, 2018 National Defense Strategy, 2019 Department of State Strategy, and the 2019 Department of Defense Indo-Pacific Strategy Report[8]. Specifically, the current U.S. strategic documents accept China as a major power in its own right and describe many unconstrained approaches that will foster cooperation and competition wherever possible while not allowing rivalry to degrade the entire relationship. While these documents allude to a networked approach for competing with China in some areas while cooperating in others, the fiscal allocation of resources and the demonstration that when under stress, the liberal virtues championed in these strategies are easily sacrificed, make clear that execution of the supporting policies is an issue. To compete with China, policymakers can consider sufficiently budgeting the resources required for the State Department to increase its capability to promote U.S. strategic interests across the many non-military domains[9].

The State Department, as the primary agency that coordinates diplomacy, advocacy, and assistance efforts, is critical in a competitive environment that falls below the threshold of armed conflict. The United States cannot effectively or efficiently compete with China while using inflexible and un-adaptive organizational structures that are ill-equipped to deliver relevant solutions[10]. Just as the U.S. military has been equipped to conduct modernization efforts, the Department of State requires the same focus of resourcing for their modernization efforts to successfully outcompete China. Without adequate funding, the State Department will not reform into a more agile institution that can deliver the strategic objectives in a manner reflective of the current period of great power competition[11]. The undervaluing of non-military strategic tools and agencies such as the State Department, over time, will make the military option the most preferred deterrence and engagement method for shaping foreign affairs. The United States’ costly global military presence as a result of the war on terror and extended campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan have only reinforced this militaristic reality and are an impetus for assessing foreign policy approaches to foster more competitive practices below the threshold of armed conflict.


Endnotes:

[1] Araya, D. (2019, October 20). China’s Grand Strategy. Retrieved June 12, 2020, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/danielaraya/2019/01/14/chinas-grand-strategy/#27ce4ef61f18

[2] Swagel, P. (2020, April 24). CBO’s Current Projections of Output, Employment, and Interest Rates and a Preliminary Look at Federal Deficits for 2020 and 2021. Retrieved June 12, 2020, from https://www.cbo.gov/publication/56335

[3] United States Department of State. (2019, May 13). Retrieved June 12, 2020, from https://www.state.gov/about/about-the-u-s-department-of-state

[4] Department of Defense 2021 Budget Request. 2020, Retrieved June 12, 2020, from https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/BUDGET-2021-BUD/pdf/BUDGET-2021-BUD-9.pdf

[5] Department of State and Other International Programs 2021 Budget Request. 2020, Retrieved June 12, 2020, from https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/BUDGET-2021-BUD/pdf/BUDGET-2021-BUD-18.pdf

[6] United States Government Accountability Office. (2019, March). Integrated Action Plan Could Enhance Efforts to Reduce Persistent Overseas Foreign Service Vacancies. Retrieved June 12, 2020, from https://www.gao.gov/assets/700/697281.pdf

[7] Ju, S. F. (2018, March 6). China’s diplomacy budget doubles under Xi Jinping. Retrieved June 12, 2020, from https://www.ft.com/content/2c750f94-2123-11e8-a895-1ba1f72c2c11

[8] United States Strategic Approach to the People’s Republic of China. (2020, May 20). Retrieved June 12, 2020, from https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/U.S.-Strategic-Approach-to-The-Peoples-Republic-of-China-Report-5.20.20.pdf

[9] Congressional Budget Justification: Department of State Diplomatic Engagement. (2020, March). Retrieved June 12, 2020, from https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/FY21-CBJ-Appendix-1-FINAL-for-GPA-Mar-26-2020.pdf

[10] Daalder, I., & Lindsay, J. (2001, March 1). How to Revitalize a Dysfunctional State Department. Retrieved June 12, 2020, from https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/gs_20170927_dos__usaid_listening_report_2017.pdf

[11] Office of Inspector General. (2019, November). Review of the Department of State’s Organizational Reform Effort. Retrieved June 12, 2020, from https://www.stateoig.gov/system/files/aud-mero-20-09.pdf

2020 - Contest: PRC Below Threshold Writing Contest Budgets and Resources China (People's Republic of China) Diplomacy Matthew F. Smith Option Papers United States

Options for African Nations Regarding Economic Collaboration with the U.S. and China

Editor’s Note:  This article is part of our Below Threshold Competition: China writing contest which took place from May 1, 2020 to July 31, 2020.  More information about the contest can be found by clicking here.


Ekene Lionel is the Executive Director for Military Africa.  He can be found on Twitter @LionelfrancisNG.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


National Security Situation:  The United States and the People’s Republic of China are competing below the threshold of war for influence in Africa.

Date Originally Written:  May 19, 2020.

Date Originally Published:  July 27, 2020.

Author and / or Point of View:  The author believes that the possibility of a U.S.-Chinese economic collaboration in Africa is the only way forward, and that this collaboration will be key to competition in Africa below the threshold of war. The article is written from the point of view of Africa’s relationship between both major powers.

Background:  China is an increasingly important player in the politics, economic development, and security of Africa. China has prioritized strong diplomatic relations and political ties with African states. Beijing’s ideological aspiration, anchored on solidarity amongst the Third World countries, is appealing to African states.

Significance:  With China’s focus on Africa’s rich resources is to fuel its own domestic economic growth, this has placed it in direct competition with the United States.

Option #1:  The U.S. increases bilateral trade and investment in Africa to compete with China below the threshold of war.

Although China and the United States employ different strategies and tactics in Africa, they share very similar interests, and that their competition has been largely confined to the economic domain. Even though there is a fundamental distrust between both nations, particularly as the U.S. is cautious of China’s military entry into Africa, there is still much room for their cooperation in promoting peace and economic development on the continent.

With that said, the U.S. currently lacks a comprehensive approach to multilateral issues such as regional trade, governance, and infrastructural development that will serve Africa better than what China offers. Since trade is vital to Africa’s economic future and to improving lives and livelihoods, the U.S. can recognize that much of China’s appeal is its willingness to respond to Africa’s developmental priorities, and to project Africa as a promising hub for foreign investment. For several decades, U.S. investment is still heavily concentrated in the natural resource sector. Instead, for a long-term, sustainable economic growth, and development in Africa, America can identify and promote other sectors where U.S. businesses might have competitive advantages.

The United States can also work with African countries to take full advantage of both African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) and worldwide trading opportunities and send exports to emerging markets such as Russia, China, India, and Brazil (BRIC). The AGOA, which was signed between 2002 and 2008, lowers tariff barriers for entry into the United States of African-produced textiles and other commodities[1].

Besides trade and foreign direct investment, America can leverage its relationship with Africa to encourage improvements in human rights practices and the pursuance of Western-style liberal democracy. In contrast, China has a policy of no political strings attached to its aid. Beijing maintains close relations with African governments whether they are democracies, autocracies, military regimes, or Islamists.

Risk:  Increased U.S. trade and investment in Africa angers China, who then takes steps to roll back U.S. efforts in Africa or elsewhere.

Gain:  This option will appeal to African nations on the basis of a common U.S-African interest in trade negotiations. At present, Africa has just 2 percent of all world trade, this is still low considering a large number of resources present in Africa. The U.S. will have to convince companies to invest in the region, and also opening its markets further to African exports.

Option #2:  The U.S. and China collaborate economically in Africa.

Militarily, the United States has a robust presence in Africa, and is particularly active in anti-piracy and counter-terror efforts, operating up to 29 different bases in the continent[2]. China cannot hope to match or contest U.S. military dominance in Africa. Africa is no stranger to conflict as the continent has been subjected to constant warfare for the past several decades. Africa will fiercely resist any attempt of international armed struggle for clout within the continent.

The United States and China use essentially the same political, economic, military, and cultural tools for implementing their policies in Africa. For China, the country has placed itself as the infrastructural vanguard of the new frontier, since Africa is now considered the fastest urbanizing continent globally. According to a 2017 report by the International Monetary Fund, in 2017, Africa boasted seven of the 20 fastest growing economies in the world[3].

Thus, China has position itself to capitalize and exploit this growth. Since 2005, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) China Global Investment Tracker determined that the total value of Chinese investments and construction in Africa is nearing $2 trillion[4]. The Chinese investment is compared with the just $39 billion combined trade value for the United States according to a 2017 United States Agency for International Development report. The U.S. is it Africa’s third-largest trading partner behind China and the European Union.

To consolidate its robust economic influence, China recently launched a $1 billion Belt and Road infrastructure fund for Africa, and a $60 billion African aid package[5]. Even though China is presenting itself humbly in its interaction with Africa, it has been accused of saddling developing countries with substantial volumes of hidden debt through its Belt and Road Initiative. This humility is rapidly changing as China’s political and economic power increases. As China looks to diversify its trade and investment relationships amid the protracted trade war with the U.S, Beijing’s opaqueness in issuing loans means debt burdens for recipient countries, which can cause potential problems for the African economy.

For now, Chinese firms have been actively building ports, roads, and railways to enhance integration and trade between African nations, mainly under the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA). AfCFTA intends to bring together all 55 African Union member states into the world’s largest free trade area, covering over 1.2 billion people. Besides, China now has more diplomatic offices in Africa than the U.S., and in some countries, Chinese influence counts for more[6].

In contrast, being the leader of the Western world since the end of World War II, the United States is sometimes perceived in Africa as insensitive and arrogant. U.S.-Africa trade has dipped in recent years. Nearly all of the assistance provided to Africa by the United States is in the form of grants and aids to Africa has been running at about $8 billion annually.

If the U.S continues to pursue military dominance or competition with China even below the threshold of war, it risks being a step or even two behind China in Africa for a long time. U.S. interests in Africa remain shaped, to its own detriment, by a perceived competition with China. The U.S. may accomplish more by focusing on areas of current or potential collaboration and to pay less attention to the debilitating debate about U.S-China competition.

Washington can collaborate with China, smoothing the way to trade will help more entrepreneurial African states, especially those with the thriving private business sector, to grow where it would be welcomed by the new generation of dynamic African entrepreneurs.

While there are areas in Africa where China and the United States might compete as major powers, especially below the threshold of war, there are many more areas where they can cooperate. For example, both Countries have a successful agricultural sector, components of which could be combined and adapted to improve production in Africa.

At this point, America likely cannot sit idly while countries such as China become more engaged with the aspirations of Africa’s next generation of leaders. Frankly, China is not a strategic threat to the United States in Africa. However, Beijing could pose serious political and commercial challenges for influence. Nonetheless, by engaging China more on Africa-centric socio-economic, diplomatic, and infrastructural development can the U.S. meet this challenge effectively.

Risk:  Chinese and U.S. investments in Africa further entangle the two nations and cause both to hesitate to take more important actions to preserve national security.

Gain:  A coordinated and dedicated diplomatic, commercial, and security strategy can increase U.S. investment and challenge Chinese influence in Africa.

Other Comments:  None.

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

[1] African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), https://agoa.info/about-agoa.html

[2] Nick Turse, Pentagon’s map of US bases in Africa, The Intercept, February 27, 2020, https://theintercept.com/2020/02/27/africa-us-military-bases-africom

[3] IMF Annual Report 2017, Promoting inclusive growth, 2017, https://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/ar/2017/eng/pdfs/IMF-AR17-English.pdf

[4] AEI, China Global Investment Tracker, 2005-2019, https://www.aei.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/China-Global-Investment-Tracker-2019-Fall-FINAL.xlsx

[5] Silk Road Briefing, US$ 1 Billion Belt & Road Africa Fund Launched, July 04, 2019, https://www.silkroadbriefing.com/news/2019/07/04/us-1-billion-belt-road-africa-fund-launched

[6] Ben Doherty , The Guardian, China leads world in number of diplomatic posts, leaving US in its wake, Tuesday 26 Nov 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/nov/27/china-leads-world-in-number-of-diplomatic-posts-leaving-us-in-its-wake

2020 - Contest: PRC Below Threshold Writing Contest Africa Below Established Threshold Activities (BETA) China (People's Republic of China) Competition Ekene Lionel Option Papers United States

Assessing African Strategic Needs to Counter Undue Chinese Influence

Editor’s Note:  This article is part of our Below Threshold Competition: China writing contest which took place from May 1, 2020 to July 31, 2020.  More information about the contest can be found by clicking here.


Damimola Olawuyi has served as a Geopolitical Analyst for SBM Intelligence. He can be found on Twitter @DAOlawuyi. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


Title:  Assessing African Strategic Needs to Counter Undue Chinese Influence

Date Originally Written:  May 2, 2020.

Date Originally Published:  July 13, 2020.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author believes that China’s current posture in Africa, if left unchecked, will turn the continent into a battleground for Great Power Competition below the threshold of armed conflict.

Summary:  China, despite its claims of peaceful rise, has steadily exercised its military, economic and diplomatic might. With strong leadership that is not afraid of compromise, African countries can enforce their independence as they ensure peace and prosperity on the continent.

Text:  When Deng Xiaoping liberalized the Chinese economy in 1978[1], his goals were to lift 860 million Chinese from poverty and power the Chinese economy to overtake its neighbors[2]. From an agrarian, state-controlled economy, China is now an industrial, largely private sector-led economic superpower[3]. However, as China’s economic power has grown, concerns about China’s global agenda have emerged[4]. China, along with Russia, is determined to reorder the world in its image[5], making conflict with the West more likely[6]. Yet, despite professing a policy of “Peaceful Rise[7]”, Chinese actions in the South China Sea[8] and its isolation campaign against Taiwan[9] show that Beijing isn’t afraid to flex its diplomatic, economic and military muscles.

Africa has attracted the interest of Great Powers through the ages. Often this interest has been to the detriment of Africans. From the destruction of Carthage[10] to slave trade[11][12] and colonization[13], Africa has faced privations from empires looking to exploit its resources. Even after independence, warring powers continued to interfere in the internal conflicts of African countries[14] throughout the Cold War. With a large and growing African population, sophisticated middle class, and increased connectivity to the rest of the world, Africa will continue to be both a source of materials and destination for goods and services.

As China expands its international footprint, it has deliberately increased its African ties. It supplies weapons to African countries without regard to the human rights practices of their leaders[15]. China is now Africa’s biggest trading partner[16] while providing financing for infrastructural projects through its Belt and Road Initiative. These projects have often been sponsored without regard to their sustainability or economic viability. The inability of countries to repay such loans have forced them to surrender critical infrastructure, with potential military implications[17][18].

As Great Power competition returns and China’s stance becomes more confrontational, and African leaders fail to act, the continent will again become just another front for global rivalries without regard for the well being of Africans. Global powers have fought their wars on African soil since the 18th Century. Regardless of the winners of these conflicts, Africans lose more than they gain. Africans, more than ever, can shape their destinies and work for the 21st Century to become Africa’s Century.

Africa nations can work to secure peace on the continent. By leveraging multilateral organizations operating on the continent, African leaders can make the painful compromises required to settle their inter-state disputes and move to cooperative models that engender peace based on common interests. African leaders can expand intra-African trade through the African Continental Free Trade Area and exploit regional organizations to tackle transnational crimes including human trafficking, illegal extraction of resources, religious extremism, and corruption under joint platforms.

Leaders can resolve the various internal stresses that keep their countries in political crises. Many African countries have been unable to foster a national identity, leaving their people clinging to tribal and religious identities without regard for the state’s interest. By decentralizing power, increasing citizen participation, respecting the rule of law, and reforming governance models for efficient service delivery, populations can begin to develop their sense of nationhood. Food security, public sanitation, healthcare, power, justice, and education programs can be implemented smartly and with consideration to the direct needs of their citizens, to prevent the resentment that bad actors can exploit.

African countries can take deliberate steps to diversify their technical, industrial, and financial sources. Governments can implement open standards, secure sensitive infrastructure from interference, and break up monopolies. As COVID-19 exposes the weakness of China’s role as the world’s manufacturing hub, countries can invest in manufacturing abilities and build capabilities to scale up production of critical items to safeguard their supply chains.

Most importantly, African leaders can declare that China will not be allowed to use its assets on the continent for military purposes in its competition with the West. Individual countries can also demonstrate the will to prevent the militarization of Chinese financed projects in their jurisdictions. Regional blocs can come together and draw up contingencies to retake control, by force if necessary, any dual-use facilities in member states. The status of Chinese bases on the continent can be spelled out, and appropriate contingencies planned should open conflict break out.

Ultimately, Africans can make deliberate decisions about the future of the continent. They have more agency than at any other time in history to shape the direction of the continent. While many may balk at the redirections needed to make themselves independent of Chinese machinations as well as the costs involved, such actions are crucial to ensure that African countries have the freedom to pursue policies most favorable to them.


Endnotes:

[1] Le, Y., Rabinovitch, S. (2008, December 8). TIMELINE: China milestones since 1978. Retrieved April 19, 2020, from
https://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-reforms-chronology-sb-idUKTRE4B711V20081208

[2] Kopf, D., Lahiri, T. (2018, December 18). The charts that show how Deng Xiaoping unleashed China’s pent-up capitalist energy in 1978. Retrieved April 19, 2020, from
https://qz.com/1498654/the-astonishing-impact-of-chinas-1978-reforms-in-charts

[3] Brandt, L., Rawski, G. (2008, April 14). China’s Great Economic Transformation.

[4] Arace, A. (2018, August 8). China Doesn’t Want to Play by the World’s Rules. Retrieved April 19, 2020, from
https://foreignpolicy.com/2018/08/08/china-doesnt-want-to-play-by-the-worlds-rules

[5] Stent, A. (2020, February). Russia and China: Axis of Revisionist? Retrieved April 19, 2020, from
https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/FP_202002_russia_china_stent.pdf

[6] Kaplan, R. (2019, January 7). A New Cold War Has Begun. Retrieved April 19, 2020, from
https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/01/07/a-new-cold-war-has-begun

[7] Bijian, Z. Speeches of Zheng Bijian 1997-2004. Retrieved April 24, 2020, from
https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/20050616bijianlunch.pdf

[8] Axe, D. (2020, March 23). How China is Militarizing the South China Sea with a Ton of Missiles. Retrieved April 24, 2020, from
https://nationalinterest.org/blog/buzz/how-china-militarizing-south-china-sea-ton-missiles-136297

[9] Myers, S. and Horton, C. (2018, May 25). China Tries to Erase Taiwan, One Ally (and Website) at a Time. Retrieved April 23, 2020, from
https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/25/world/asia/china-taiwan-identity-xi-jinping.html

[10] Kierana, B. (2004, August 1). The First Genocide: Carthage, 146 BC. Retrieved April 23, 2020, from
https://gsp.yale.edu/sites/default/files/first_genocide.pdf

[11] M’Bokolo, E. (1998, April). The impact of the slave trade on Africa. Retrieved April 23, 2020, from
https://mondediplo.com/1998/04/02africa

[12] Nunn, N. (2017, February 27). Understanding the long-run effects of Africa’s slave trades. Retrieved April 23, 2020, from
https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/guides/zxt3gk7/revision/1

[13] Settles, J. (1996). The Impact of Colonialism on African Economic Development. Retrieved April 28, 2020, from
https://trace.tennessee.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://www.google.com/&httpsredir=1&article=1182&context=utk_chanhonoproj

[14] Schmidt, E. (2016, July 26). Conflict in Africa: The Historical Roots of Current Problems. Retrieved April 23, 2020, from
https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/summer-2016/conflict-in-africa-the-historical-roots-of-current-problems

[15] Hull, A. Markov, D. (2012, February 20). Chinese Arms Sales to Africa. Retrieved April 24, 2020, from
https://www.ida.org/-/media/feature/publications/2/20/2012-chinese-arms-sales-to-africa/2012-chinese-arms-sales-to-africa.ashx

[16] Smith, E. (2019, October 9). The US-China Trade Rivalry is Underway in Africa, and Washington is playing catch-up. Retrieved April 24, 2020, from
https://www.cnbc.com/2019/10/09/the-us-china-trade-rivalry-is-underway-in-africa.html

[17] Abi-Habib, Maria. (2018, June 25). How China Got Sri Lanka to Cough Up a Port. Retrieved April 24, 2020, from
https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/25/world/asia/china-sri-lanka-port.html

[18] Paris, C. (2019, February 21). China Tightens Grip on East African Port. Retrieved April 24, 2020, from
https://www.wsj.com/articles/china-tightens-grip-on-east-african-port-11550746800

2020 - Contest: PRC Below Threshold Writing Contest Africa Assessment Papers Below Established Threshold Activities (BETA) China (People's Republic of China) Competition Damimola Olawuyi Great Powers

Options for the United States to Compete with China Below the Threshold of Armed Conflict

Editor’s Note:  This article is part of our Below Threshold Competition: China writing contest which took place from May 1, 2020 to July 31, 2020.  More information about the contest can be found by clicking here.


Matthew Ader is a second-year undergraduate taking War Studies at King’s College London.  He tweets occasionally from @AderMatthew, and is an editor at the Wavell Room. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


National Security Situation:  As China rises and the U.S. wants to avoid direct military confrontation, the U.S. requires options to compete with China below the threshold of armed conflict

Date Originally Written:  May 12, 2020.

Date Originally Published:  July 8, 2020.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author is a second-year undergraduate student at King’s College London with a broadly liberal foreign policy view. The article is written from the point of view of the United States towards the People’s Republic of China.

Background:  The United States has identified China as a key competitor and revanchist power seeking to undermine the U.S.-led international order.

Significance:  China is expanding its influence globally through competition below the threshold of armed conflict, to the detriment of U.S. interests. A conventional Sino-American war to counter or roll back these gains would be catastrophic. The below options enable the U.S. to compete against China short of war.

Option #1:  The United States deploys specialist surveillance and training capabilities, along with Coast Guard and Navy vessels, to enhance and expand existing multilateral efforts against maritime lawlessness – particularly illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing – in the Indo-Pacific theatre.

Risk:  This option would put US personnel in close contact with Chinese maritime militia, coast guard, and fishing fleets on a regular basis – increasing the possibility of a geopolitical incident. It could also contribute to overstretch in the U.S. 7th Fleet. Further, while maritime lawlessness is recognised as a major problem by all countries in theatre, U.S. enforcement action could be seen as high-handed. One particular concern would be how the U.S. treats Japan – it is a key ally but is also heavy enmeshed in the IUU industry. Too heavy-handed a treatment would alienate Japan; too lenient would make the U.S. seem hypocritical. This option might also embroil the U.S. in regional disputes over maritime border claims.

Gain:  This option would strengthen the U.S. claim of being a status quo power upholding the law and rules-based international order against an aggressive and lawless China. Given that regional trust in the U.S. has sunk dramatically over the course of the Trump administration, this option could constitute a helpful corrective. Substantively, this option could also assist in pushing back on Chinese influence in the South China Sea; the current Freedom of Navigation Operations are inherently transient and can be avoided without change to broader Chinese strategy — persistent presence cannot. Lastly, it would permit U.S. forces to work alongside regional partners, gaining valuable operational expertise and local knowledge.

Option #2:  The United States increases funding for the journalists, civil rights activists, and anti-corruption campaigners in nations involved in the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Risk:  This option may be seen as the U.S. meddling unduly in the affairs of foreign countries, and certainly would be portrayed as such by the Chinese state media. It is also difficult to assess the impact of such investments, which, given the kleptocratic or authoritarian nature of many BRI states, may be negligible. Moreover, this option could lead to activists and journalists being labelled as foreign agents. Further, while the material loss to U.S. interests resulting from states cracking down on individuals and organisations who receive U.S. funding is relatively small, the reputational risk is significant.

Gain:  This option allows the U.S. to contest and bog down Chinese BRI expansion in Africa and central Asia, as activists and journalists expose Chinese elite corruption and oppose predatory debt-trap diplomacy. It would involve no risk to U.S. personnel, and limited expenditure compared to more kinetic options. Moreover, this option could, with appropriate messaging, allow the U.S. to portray itself as siding with local populations against an overbearing China and its puppets – an advantage for international media coverage.

Option #3:  China is a highly aggressive and malign actor in cyberspace. The U.S. encourages and facilitates greater global regulation surrounding cyberwarfare and espionage. One specific option would be an international body, likely under United Nations authority, to identify the origin of cyberattacks.

Risk:  The U.S. is highly capable in the cyber domain, and there is a risk that by encouraging more regulation, it would be creating a purity test it cannot itself meet. This would, in turn, create substantial reputational problems for the U.S. Moreover, attributing cyberattacks is difficult, and it is possible that the U.S. might be inadvertently accused of a crime it did not commit. Lastly, while international naming and shaming can be effective, the extent to which it would matter to China is unclear; the option might therefore involve expending substantial U.S. diplomatic capital for limited returns.

Gain:  This option could lead to stronger norms against aggression in cyberspace. This may not discourage China from continuing its current aggressive policy, but it could increase the reputational costs and diplomatic consequences associated with it. Moreover, an impartial and open-source organisation for attributing cyberattacks could be a helpful resource against non-state actors and rogue states – especially given that U.S. efforts at attribution are often hampered by the need to protect sensitive intelligence sources and methods. Lastly, this option, as a recourse to multilateralism, would signal U.S. commitment to the rules-based international order, which may be important in restoring global trust in U.S. leadership.

Other Comments:  Sino-U.S. competition is and will continue to shape this century. New ways for the U.S. to compete below the threshold of armed conflict may be critical assets in assuring U.S. victory.

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

[1] Larter, D. B. (2019, May 2). Here’s how the Japan-based 7th Fleet has changed since 17 sailors died in accidents 2 years ago. Retrieved April 20, 2020, from https://www.defensenews.com/digital-show-dailies/navy-league/2019/05/05/heres-how-the-japan-based-7th-fleet-has-changed-since-17-sailors-died-in-accidents-2-years-ago

[2] Mackie, J. (2019, October 18). Japan Has an Illegal Seafood Problem. Retrieved April 20, 2020, from https://www.hakaimagazine.com/news/japan-has-an-illegal-seafood-problem

[3] Rudd, K. (2020, May 6). The Coming Post-COVID Anarchy. Retrieved from https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-states/2020-05-06/coming-post-covid-anarchy

2020 - Contest: PRC Below Threshold Writing Contest Below Established Threshold Activities (BETA) China (People's Republic of China) Competition Matthew Ader Option Papers

Options for a Five Eyes Response to Below Threshold Competition with China

Editor’s Note:  This article is part of our Below Threshold Competition: China writing contest which took place from May 1, 2020 to July 31, 2020.  More information about the contest can be found by clicking here.


Alexander Craig works in the United Kingdom’s Armed Forces. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization or any group.


National Security Situation:  Competition with China below the threshold of armed conflict.

Date Originally Written:  May 4, 2020.

Date Originally Published:  July 1, 2020.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  This article is written from the perspective of the ‘Five Eyes’ nations: the United States, the United Kingdom (UK), Canada, New Zealand, and Australia.

Background:  The Five Eyes nations are united not just by security cooperation, but by shared history, language, culture and a commitment to democracy, free market institutions and the rule of law. Being few in number compared to the European Union’s 27 members and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s 30, the Five Eyes have the potential to act with depth and agility against a common challenge on the world stage beyond that of other international affiliations.

Significance:  China is promoting its authoritarian model abroad as a superior alternative to liberal democracy and the free market[1]. In doing so China is seeking to undermine the current rules based international order; with Xi Jinping openly stating in 2014 that China should be “constructing international playgrounds” and “creating the rules”[2]. If left unchecked, this below threshold competition will undermine democratic norms, support for the free market, and subvert global institutions.

Option #1:  The UK grants full citizenship to Hong Kong’s British Overseas Nationals.
There are approximately 250,000 holders of British National (Overseas) (BN(O)) passports.[3] Holders are permanent Hong Kong residents who voluntarily registered prior to 1997. They are not afforded the protection and right that full British citizenship would bring.

Risk:  It is likely that the Chinese government would seek to portray this as an act of interference in its domestic affairs. There is a possibility that BN(O) holders would be seen by the authorities as a suspect group, and this measure could be the catalyst for the victimisation of BN(O) passport holders. Domestically, there would likely be concern in the UK about the possible impact of the instant granting of citizenship to quarter of a million people.

Gain:  By granting full citizenship, the UK demonstrates its support to these citizens of Hong Kong. This act would reassure the people of Hong Kong that international support did not just amount to words; and demonstrates that there can be effective soft power responses to China’s use of hard power against its own citizens.

Option #2:  The Five Eyes nations establish their own Free Trade Agreement.

China uses access to its markets as a tool of both influence and punishment, as seen in recent threats levelled towards Australia[4]. Several unconnected arrangements already link most of the Five Eyes nations such as free trade agreements between the United States, Australia and Canada[5][6]. The withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union presents an opportunity to simplify and formalise arrangements between the five nations.

Risk:  Free trade agreements can prove controversial[7] and domestic support for free trade often fluctuates, especially in the United States[8]. Increased rhetoric regarding the need for protectionism and claims that the coronavirus has highlighted the fragility of global supply chains could combine to make the early 2020s a difficult period for advancing ambitious free trade agreements[9].

Gain: The establishment of a simple and transparent free trade area by democratic nations deeply committed to the institutions of the free market and the rule of law (and with already existing security arrangements) would provide a global market where participants need not be at the mercy of an autocratic state. This free trade area would be the largest in the world, with a combined Gross Domestic Product of 26.73 trillion dollars, almost double that of China and exceeding the European Union’s[10].

Option #3:  The Five Eye nations give Taiwan full diplomatic recognition.

Currently 15 nations recognise Taiwan, a decrease of seven since 2016. This is primarily a result of pressure placed on smaller nations by China[11].

Risk:  The recognition of Taiwan as a sovereign nation would be highly provocative and would almost certainly be met with a response from China. U.S. President Donald Trump recently signed into law the TAIPEI Act[12], which prompted the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson to respond “We urge the United States to correct its mistakes, not implement the law, or obstruct the development of relations between other countries and China, otherwise it will inevitably encounter a resolute strike back by China[13].” This option might entail having to be prepared to face this threatened ‘strike back’.

Gain:  The Chinese government’s opposition to international recognition of a prosperous free market democracy is enforced through threats and coercion. Recognition would be a declaration that, on the world stage, aggressive rhetoric and punitive use of boycotts and market access by larger nations do not trump the rule of law, democracy, and the sovereignty of smaller nations. If China does attempt a forced reunification, previous recognition of Taiwan makes clear what crime has been committed: the invasion of a sovereign nation by another – not a conclusion to the civil war, or the reigning in of a secessionist province.

Other Comments:  Suggestions for addressing the risks posed by Chinese competition are often reactive in nature and assume China has the initiative: preventing dominance of 5G networks, preventing mass corporate theft, reducing the influence of Confucius Institutes etc. While each suggestion is valid, there is a risk that the assumption of Chinese advantage fosters a pessimistic attitude. Instead, what authoritarian regimes often see as the West’s weaknesses are often strengths, and in the words of U.S. Army Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster, “we have far more leverage than we are employing[14].”

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

[1] McMaster, H. 2020. How China sees the World. The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/05/mcmaster-china-strategy/609088

[2] Economy, E. 2018. China’s New Revolution. Foreign Affairs. https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/china/2018-04-17/chinas-new-revolution

[3] UK House of Commons. 2020. British Overseas Passport Holders in Hong Kong. Hansard https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2020-01-29/debates/AC02FF56-64CB-4E14-92FD-D2EF59859782/BritishOverseasPassportHoldersInHongKong

[4] McCullough, D. 2020. China threatens to stop Australian imports. Canberra Times. https://www.canberratimes.com.au/story/6736562/china-threatens-to-stop-australian-imports

[5] Office of the United States Trade Representative. 2020. Free Trade Agreements. https://ustr.gov/trade-agreements/free-trade-agreements

[6] Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment. 2020. Free Trade Agreements. https://www.agriculture.gov.au/market-access-trade/fta

[7] Pengelly, M. 2017.Trump threatens to terminate Nafta, renews calls for Mexico to pay for wall. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/aug/27/donald-trump-camp-david-nafta-mexico-wall-canada

[8] Wofe, R., & Acquaviva, 2018 Where does the public sit on NAFTA? Policy Options. https://policyoptions.irpp.org/magazines/april-2018/public-sit-nafta

[9] O’Leary, L. 2020. The Modern Supply Chain is Snapping. The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/03/supply-chains-and-coronavirus/608329

[10] The World Bank. 2020. GDP (current US$). The World Bank. https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.MKTP.CD

[11] Lyons, K. 2020. Taiwan loses second ally in a week as Kiribati switches to China. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/sep/20/taiwan-loses-second-ally-in-a-week-as-kiribati-switches-to-china

[12] Hille, K. 2020. US steps up support of Taiwan in open rebuke to China. The Financial Times. https://www.ft.com/content/161e1b6b-8b5c-44a8-a873-76687427b522

[13] Blanchard, B., & Tian, Y. U.S. increases support for Taiwan, China threatens to strike back. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-taiwan-usa/us-increases-support-for-taiwan-china-threatens-to-strike-back-idUSKBN21E0B7

[14] McMaster, H. 2020. How China sees the World. The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/05/mcmaster-china-strategy/609088

2020 - Contest: PRC Below Threshold Writing Contest Alexander Craig Below Established Threshold Activities (BETA) China (People's Republic of China) Competition Option Papers

Assessing China as a Complex Competitor and its Continued Evolution of Tactics Below the Threshold of Armed Conflict

Editor’s Note:  This article is part of our Below Threshold Competition: China writing contest which took place from May 1, 2020 to July 31, 2020.  More information about the contest can be found by clicking here.


Matthias Wasinger is an Austrian Army officer. He can be found on LinkedIn. The views contained in this article are the author’s alone and do not represent the views of the Austrian Armed Forces, the Austrian Ministry of Defense, or the Austrian Government.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization or any group.


Title:  Assessing China as a Complex Competitor and its Continued Evolution of Tactics Below the Threshold of Armed Conflict

Date Originally Written:  April 1, 2020.

Date Originally Published:  June 17, 2020.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author is an active General Staff Officer. He believes in the importance of employing all national instruments of power in warfare in a comprehensive approach, including non-state actors as well as allies, coalition forces, and partners. This assessment is written from the author’s point of view on how China plans to achieve its objectives.

Summary:  The Thucydides trap – it is a phenomenon destining a hegemon and an emerging power to war. The People’s Republic of China and the United States of America are currently following this schema. China aims at reaching a status above all others. To achieve that, it employs all instruments of national power in a concerted smart power approach, led by the constant political leadership. China fills emerging gaps in all domains and exploits U.S. isolationism.

Text:  The People’s Republic of China and the U.S. are competing actors. As an emerging power, China challenges the current hegemon[1]. Whereas the U.S. sees itself “first” amongst others[2], China aims at being “above” all[3]. To achieve this goal, China adheres to a whole of nation approach[4]. In the current stage of national resurrection, China will not challenge the U.S. in a direct approach with its military[5]. However, it balances hard and soft power, consequently employing smart power[6]. Within this concept, China follows examples of the U.S., further develops concepts, or introduces new ones. Foremost, China is willing to fill all emerging gaps the U.S. leaves in any domain. Its exclusive political system provides a decisive advantage towards other competitors. China’s political leadership has no pressure to succeed in democratic elections. Its 100-year plan for the great rejuvenation until 2049 is founded on this constancy[7].

China’s diplomacy is framed by several dogmata, executed by the Chinese People’s Party that stands for entire China, its well-being, and development. China’s view of the world is not pyramidic but concentric. That given, it might be easier to understand why China is ignoring concerns about internal human rights violations, adheres to a One-China policy regarding Taiwan, and assumes Tibet as Chinese soil. Maintaining North Korea as a buffer-zone to a U.S. vassal and developing the “string of pearls” in the South China Sea are more examples for the concentric world perception. These examples are the inner circle. They are indisputable[8].

Additionally, China’s diplomacy overcame the pattern of clustering the world by ideology. Necessity and opportunity are the criteria for China’s efforts[9]. Western nations’ disinterest in Africa led – like the European Union’s incapability in stabilizing states like Greece after the 2008 economic crisis – to close diplomatic, economic, and military ties with China. Whereever the so-called west leaves a gap, China will bridge it[10]. The growing diplomatic self-esteem goes, thereby, hand in hand with increasing China’s economic and military strength. China exploits the recent U.S. isolationism and the lacking European assertiveness. It aims at weak points.

In the fight for and with information, China showed an impressive evolution in information technology[11]. This field is of utmost importance since gathering data is not the issue anymore, but processing and disseminating. The infinite amount of information in the 21st century requires computer-assisted processes. Since China gained “Quantum Supremacy”, it made a step ahead of the United States of America[12]. Under this supremacy, China’s increasing capabilities in both Space and Cyberspace gain relevance. Information is collected almost equally fast by competitors, but more quickly fed into the political decision-making process in China[13]. The outcome is superiority in this field[14].

In the information domain, China follows a soft power approach, turning its reputation into a benevolent one. Lately, even the COVID-19 crisis was facilitated to make China appear as a supporter, delivering medical capacities worldwide. China makes use of the western community’s vast and open media landscape while restricting information for the domestic population. China will continue to show a domestically deterrent but supportive expeditionary appearance.

A strong economy and an assertive military are the Chinese political leadership’s source of strength[15]. Concerning the economy, China achieved remarkable improvements. From being a high-production rate, but low-quality mass-producer, it switches increasingly towards quality industries — their chosen path led via industrial espionage and plagiarism towards further developing imported goods[16]. Automobile and military industries are two illustrative examples. The former led to Chinese cars being banned, for example, from the U.S. market, not due to lacking quality but to protect U.S. automobile industries. The latter is based on Russian imports that were analyzed and improved. In doing so, China was able to raise its domestic weapons industry, literally rushing through development stages that took other nations decades.

China requires economic development. Only a strong economy ensures social improvements for its population, a precondition for internal stability. As long as this social enhancement is perceived, China’s domestic population bears restrictions. China will, therefore, maintain its economic growth with all given means. Modern technologies will be pursued in China, and resources will be either imported or, as seen in Africa, entire land strips or regions will be acquired. An essential capstone in this regard will be the “Belt and Road Project”, connecting the Chinese economy with other relevant markets such as Europe[17]. Concentrically, China will extend its influence along this trade route and grow its influence by creating dependence[18].

Establishing and maintaining contested economic routes requires capable security forces. China’s military keeps the pace. Founded as a revolutionary force, the military achieved the goal of combat readiness. Until 2049, China’s ambition is to build armed forces, able to fight and win wars. In a regional context, deterrence is the requirement. However, China seeks more. Superseding the U.S. means exceeding U.S. maritime capabilities. China’s strategic goal is to build the most capable blue-water navy[19]. The “string of pearls” is just an intermediate step until its naval fleet as assets of power-projecting will be established. China will maintain its land forces and increase its capabilities in all other domains. Regional conflicts will be facilitated to test doctrine, technology, and combat readiness.

China is aware of its geopolitical situation. It has to deter Russia militarily while marginalizing it economically. It will avoid a direct military confrontation that might hamper economic growth[20]. China has to shape the surrounding Asian nations’ attitude so they would not provide U.S. forces further staging areas. It will exploit U.S. isolationism, influence Europe economically, and diminish transatlantic influence using the information domain.

The U.S., being a maritime power, is eager to maintain its status as a hegemon by controlling opposite coast-lines such as Europe via Great Britain or Asia via Japan and South Korea. Reluctance to directly compete with China will enable the concentric power growth to reach the U.S. territory, finally overwhelming it. Interventionism will be exploited in the information domain, and isolationism is even a precondition for China’s success.


Endnotes:

[1] Allison, G. (2018, 24). Destined for War.

[2] The President of the United States. (2017, 1). National Security Strategy of the United States of America.

[3] Ward, J. (2019, 5). China’s Vision of Victory.

[4] Ward (2019, 92). Ibid.

[5] Ward (2019, 31-36). Ibid.

[6] Allison, G. (2018, 22). Destined for War.

[7] Raik et al. (2018, 33). The Security Strategy of the United States of America, China, Russia, and the EU.

[8] Ward (2019, 54-61). China’s Vision of Victory.

[9] Raik et al. (2018, 22-26). The Security Strategy of the United States of America, China, Russia, and the EU.

[10] Allison (2018, 20-24). Destined for War.

[11] Ward (2019, 85-87). China’s Vision of Victory.

[12] Ward (2019, 86). Ibid.

[13] Preskill (2018, 7). Quantum Computing in the NISQ.

[14] Poisel (2013, 49-50). Information Warfare and Electronic Warfare.

[15] Raik et al. (2018, 36). The Security Strategy of the United States of America, China, Russia, and the EU.

[16] Ward (2019, 92-95). China’s Vision of Victory.

[17] Raik et al. (2018, 33). The Security Strategy of the United States of America, China, Russia, and the EU.

[18] Ward (2019, 116-118). China’s Vision of Victory.

[19] Ward (2019, 61). Ibid.

[20] Raik et al. (2018, 34). The Security Strategy of the United States of America, China, Russia, and the EU.

2020 - Contest: PRC Below Threshold Writing Contest Assessment Papers Below Established Threshold Activities (BETA) China (People's Republic of China) Matthias Wasinger United States

U.S. Aircraft Basing Options in Competition and Conflict with China

Editor’s Note:  This article is part of our Below Threshold Competition: China writing contest which took place from May 1, 2020 to July 31, 2020.  More information about the contest can be found by clicking here.


Captain Walker D. Mills is a Marine infantry officer. He is currently serving as an exchange officer with the Colombian Marine Corps. He is also pursuing an MA in international relations and contemporary war from King’s College London.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization or any group.


National Security Situation:  The U.S. and China are competing below the threshold of armed conflict and trying to best position themselves should conflict occur.  One area of competition focuses on Chinese rockets and missiles, and their potential use against U.S. aviation facilities.

Date Originally Written:  March 3, 2020.

Date Originally Published:  May 27, 2020.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author is an active-duty military member with a stake in potential future competition and conflict with China in the Pacific. The options are presented from the point of view of the United States.

Background:  In recent decades, the People’s Liberation Army within the People’s Republic of China has invested heavily in conventional cruise and ballistic missiles of several types. Today the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force has thousands of missiles with ranges of up to 2,000 kilometers[1]. Their rocket force is among the premier in the world – U.S. and Russian militaries have not kept pace with Chinese missile development and deployment because, until recently, they were constrained by the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF).

Chinese missiles are more than capable of targeting fixed U.S. bases and ships. A recent Center for New American Security report noted that “…a preemptive missile strike against the forward bases that underpin U.S. military power in the Western Pacific could be a real possibility” and named it “the greatest military threat” to U.S. interests in Asia[2]. Analysis of images from missile ranges in the Gobi Desert indicates that the primary targets for these missiles are U.S. aircraft carriers and fixed aviation facilities like airplane hangers and runways[3]. The missiles have repeatedly been highlighted in military parades and are the cornerstone of the PLA’s capability to defeat and deter U.S. military action in the South and East China Seas and their anti-access, area-denial network[4].

Significance:  The increasing threat from Chinese missiles will prevent U.S. forces from being able to credibly threaten the use of force in the seas around China and the First Island Chain because of the extreme risk to U.S. bases and large ships. Without the credible ability to employ force in support of foreign policy objectives in the region, the U.S. may be unable to fulfill treaty obligations to allies in the region and will cede one of its primary tools for competition and foreign policy. The capability to credibly threaten the use of force is the cornerstone of U.S. deterrence in the region.

Option #1:  The United States can embark on a multi-national, multi-agency effort to build dual-use aviation facilities across the First Island Chain. Because the most of the First Island Chain is comprised of U.S. treaty allies, the U.S. can work with allies and partners to rapidly construct a large number of runways and aviation facilities for civilian and military use by foreign partners, which would become available for U.S. military use in the event of a conflict. There are also dozens if not hundreds of derelict runways from the Second World War across the First Island Chain that could be renovated at lower cost than new construction.

Risk:  Such a building program would be expensive, and would have to significantly increase the number of available airfields to achieve the desired effect. This option is also contingent up U.S. partners and allies accepting the U.S. construction programs and the proliferation of airfields on their sovereign territory which may face local political resistance. There is also a risk that this option could spur an arms race with China or spur increased missile development.

Gain:  A significant proliferation of dual-use runways in the First Island Chain would complicate Chinese targeting and force the PLA to spread out their missiles across many more targets, limiting their effectiveness. This building plan would also serve as a type of foreign aid – is it a non-confrontational approach to competition with China and would be a gift to our partners because the airfields and support facilities would be intended for partner use and civilian use in times short of armed conflict.

Option #2:  The U.S. can invest in amphibious aircraft that do not need to operate from runways. Legacy U.S. amphibious aircraft like the PBY-Catalina, also call the ‘Flying Boat’ and the Grumman Albatross were highly effective as utility transports, search and rescue, and maritime patrol craft during the Second World War into the 1980s in the case of the Albatross. These aircraft are capable of operating from conventional runways or directly from the sea – which makes strikes on runways and traditional aviation facilities ineffective towards preventing their operation. These planes are able to operate from any coastal area or inland waterway. Other militaries in the region including the Chinese, Russian and Japanese are already modernizing and upgrading their respective fleets of amphibious aircraft.

Risk:  The risk to this option is that reinvestment in amphibious aircraft could be expensive for the U.S. military or too much of a burden for a niche capability. The risk is also that amphibious aircraft are not capable of performing the necessary roles or do not posses the necessary capabilities for operations in against a peer-adversary like China. There is also a risk that this option could spur an arms race with China or spur increased missile development.

Gain:  The advantage of this option is that it mitigates the risk to U.S. aircraft in the First Island Chain by creating a reserve of aircraft not tied to easily targeted, fixed-bases. Also, amphibious aircraft can be deployed worldwide – and are relevant beyond East Asia. This option does not depend on allies or partners and the capability to operate from the water can be employed in any theater, against any threat, not just in the Pacific.

Other Comments:  Other types of unconventional aircraft may also be considered for development and acquisition. Wing-in-Ground-Effect vehicles can function like aircraft and operate completely from the water and aircraft with vertical takeoff and landing capability can also be employed without traditional runways though struggle with logistics and maintenance in austere environments.

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

[1] RAND Corporation. (2017). The U.S. – China Military Scorecard. Retrieved from https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/research_reports/RR300/RR392/RAND_RR392.pdf.

[2] Shugart, Thomas. (2017). First Strike: China’s Missile Threat to US Bases in Asia. Retrieved from https://www.cnas.org/publications/reports/first-strike-chinas-missile-threat-to-u-s-bases-to-asia.

[3] DeFraia, Daniel. (2013). China tests DF-21D missile on mock US aircraft carrier in Gobi Desert. Agence France-Presse. Retrived from https://www.pri.org/stories/2013-01-30/china-tests-df-21d-missile-mock-us-aircraft-carrier-gobi-desert.

[4] RT. (2015, September 3). China’s V-Day military parade in Beijing 2015 [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YoC0Xcjko0A&sns=em.

2020 - Contest: PRC Below Threshold Writing Contest A2AD (Anti Access and Area Denial) Air Forces Artillery / Rockets/ Missiles China (People's Republic of China) Competition Option Papers United States Walker D. Mills

An Assessment of U.S. Leadership Potential in Asia via the Trans-Pacific Partnership

Editor’s Note:  This article is part of our Below Threshold Competition: China writing contest which took place from May 1, 2020 to July 31, 2020.  More information about the contest can be found by clicking here.


Dr. Heather Marie Stur is professor of history at the University of Southern Mississippi and fellow in the Dale Center for the Study of War & Society. She is the author of several books, including Saigon at War: South Vietnam and the Global Sixties (Cambridge 2020 forthcoming), The U.S. Military and Civil Rights Since World War II (Praeger/ABC-CLIO 2019), and Beyond Combat: Women and Gender in the Vietnam War Era (Cambridge 2011). Her articles have appeared in various publications including the New York Times, Washington Post, National Interest, War on the Rocks, Diplomatic History, and War & Society. Stur was a 2013-14 Fulbright Scholar in Vietnam, where she was a professor in the Faculty of International Relations at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Ho Chi Minh City. She can be found on Twitter @HeatherMStur. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


Title:  An Assessment of U.S. Leadership Potential in Asia via the Trans-Pacific Partnership

Date Originally Written:  April 15, 2020.

Date Originally Published:  May 11, 2020.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author is a diplomatic and military historian who is interested in U.S. history in a global context. The author is interested in the strengths and limitations of international alliances to address issues of global security.

Summary:  The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) enables the U.S. to assert leadership in the Asia-Pacific region. Although U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the TPP, he indicated in 2018 that he would consider returning to the alliance. Regional tensions make this a favorable time for the U.S. to enter the TPP as a way to challenge China’s dominance.

Text:  As 2019 drew to a close, leaders from China, Japan, and South Korea met to discuss strengthening trade and security ties. But the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed the development of closer regional relations and has created a chance for the U.S. to assert economic leadership in Asia. The U.S. vehicle for doing this is the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The TPP’s origins go back to 2008, when talks between several Asia-Pacific countries eventually brought the U.S., Mexico, Canada, Peru, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, and Singapore together in a proposed sweeping trade agreement aimed at strengthening relations among the member countries and limiting China’s economic influence. Former U.S. President Barack Obama saw the TPP as the centerpiece of his foreign policy “pivot” to Asia[1]. Yet President Donald Trump rejected the agreement, asserting that the U.S. could make better trade deals working on its own[2].

Trump was not the TPP’s only opponent. Critics of the agreement have decried the secret negotiations that shaped it and have argued that the TPP favors corporations over labor[3]. After Trump withdrew the U.S. from the deal, the remaining 11 members forged ahead, renaming the agreement the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). In March 2018, Trump attempted to put his “go-it-alone” strategy into practice, announcing that the U.S. would levy new tariffs on Chinese imports, but in December 2019, he back-pedaled, declaring that not only would the U.S. not impose new tariffs on Chinese goods, it would also lower existing ones[4]. With U.S.-China trade relations in flux and COVID-19 threatening the global economy the U.S. could reconsider its exit from the TPP.

The TPP offers a framework in which the U.S. can assert itself as a leader in the Asia-Pacific region, a primary reason for Obama’s support of the deal. The agreement isn’t just about trade; it’s about international rules of engagement in areas including intellectual property, labor relations, the environment, and human rights. U.S. leaders have been particularly concerned about Chinese theft of American intellectual property (IP), which was one of the motivations behind Trump’s 2018 tariffs. Protecting US IP was also a priority for the Obama administration, and American negotiators pushed for strong IP protections in the original TPP contract[5]. With the U.S. at the helm of an alliance that would cover about 800 million people and 40 percent of the global economic output, the Trump administration could shape and even make the rules. Returning to the TPP now wouldn’t be a radical move for Trump. In April 2018, he suggested that he would consider returning the U.S. to the alliance.

Joining the TPP would also allow the U.S. to capitalize on regional discord. Despite a December 2019 meeting in Chengdu that brought together Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in to discuss regional stability and shared concerns, Japan is using the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity to reduce its economic dependence on China. The Japanese government’s pandemic stimulus package includes more than $2 million USD for companies that move production out of China[6]. Vietnam and China have a contentious relationship that dates back nearly two millennia. One of Vietnam’s most famous legends is that of the Trung sisters, who led a successful rebellion against Chinese control of Vietnam in the year 40 and subsequently ruled their country for three years. Earlier this year, Vietnamese defense officials published a white paper that indicated Vietnam’s desire to build closer ties with the U.S. while drifting away from the Chinese orbit[7]. Japan, Vietnam, and the U.S. are among China’s largest trading partners, and all three were members of the talks that produced the original TPP. A restored alliance that includes the U.S. could modify its terms of agreement to respond to current regional and global phenomena.

Among those phenomena are wild game farming and pandemic preparedness. The wild game industry in China involves the farming of animals such as bats, pangolins, and peacocks, which are then sold for human consumption in wet markets throughout the country. The practice has been at the center of two global health crises, the SARS outbreak that began in 2002 and the current COVID-19 pandemic. A U.S.-led TPP could put economic pressure on the Chinese government to shut down the wild game industry and regulate wet markets more rigorously to uphold internationally-accepted hygiene and food safety standards.

If and when another pandemic occurs, the U.S. will need to be more prepared than it was for COVID-19. Some economists have indicated that Trump’s tariffs on Chinese products caused shortages in the U.S. of ventilators, masks, and other medical equipment that are made in China[8]. A renewed TPP contract could include provisions for the manufacture and sale of medical supplies by member nations.


Endnotes:

[1] McBride, James and Chatzky, Andrew. (2019, January 4). “What is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)?” Council on Foreign Relations. Retrieved April 14, 2020, from https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/what-trans-pacific-partnership-tpp

[2] Dwyer, Colin. (2018, March 8). “The TPP is Dead. Long Live the Trans-Pacific Trade Deal,” National Public Radio. Retrieved April 14, 2020, from https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2018/03/08/591549744/the-tpp-is-dead-long-live-the-trans-pacific-trade-deal

[3] BBC News. (2017, January 23). “TPP: What is it and why does it matter?” Retrieved April 14, 2020, from https://www.bbc.com/news/business-32498715

[4] Franck, Thomas. (2019, December 13). “Trump halts new China tariffs and rolls back some of the prior duties on $120 billion of imports,” CNBC. Retrieved April 14, 2020, from https://www.cnbc.com/2019/12/13/trump-says-25percent-tariffs-will-remain-but-new-china-duties-will-not-take-effect-sunday.html

[5] Baker McKenzie. (2018, April 22). “Reconsidering the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Impact on Intellectual Property.” Retrieved April 14, 2020, from https://www.bakermckenzie.com/en/insight/publications/2018/04/reconsidering-the-tpp-and-impact-on-ip

[6] Reynolds, Isabel and Urabe, Emi. (2020, April 8). “Japan to Fund Firms to Shift Production Out of China.” Retrieved April 14, 2020, from https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-04-08/japan-to-fund-firms-to-shift-production-out-of-china

[7] Kurlantzick, Joshua. (2020, January 30). “Vietnam, Under Increasing Pressure From China, Mulls a Shift Into America’s Orbit.” Retrieved on April 14, 2020, from https://www.worldpoliticsreview.com/articles/28502/as-china-vietnam-relations-deteriorate-hanoi-mulls-closer-ties-with-the-u-s

[8] The World. (2020, March 23). “Trump’s China tariffs hampered U.S. coronavirus preparedness, expert says.” Retrieved on April 14, 2020, from https://www.pri.org/stories/2020-03-23/trumps-china-tariffs-hampered-us-coronavirus-preparedness-expert-says

2020 - Contest: PRC Below Threshold Writing Contest Assessment Papers China (People's Republic of China) Dr. Heather Marie Stur Economic Factors United States

Writing Contest — Below Threshold Competition: China

China, controlled and claimed regions, map

It is a new year and Divergent Options has enlisted Kori Schake of the American Enterprise Institute, Wayne Hugar of the National Intelligence University, and Ali Wyne a nonresident senior fellow with the Atlantic Council to be the judges for our Below Threshold Competition: China writing contest.

What:  A 1,000 word Options Paper or Assessment Paper examining how countries can compete more effectively with China below the threshold of armed conflict.  We are also interested in writers examining how China will continue to compete and evolve their tactics below the threshold of armed conflict.

When:  Submit your 1,000 word Options Paper or Assessment Paper between May 1, 2020 and July 31, 2020 to submissions@divergentoptions.org.

Why:  To refine your thoughts on China, which, depending upon your point of view, could be an important trading partner, a complex competitor, or a sworn enemy.  Writers will have a chance to win $500 for 1st Place, $300 for 2nd Place, $100 for 3rd Place, or be one of three Honorable Mentions who receives $50.

How:  Submissions will be judged by strength of argument, relevance, uniqueness, adherence to format, adherence to length, and grammar, spelling, and punctuation.  Submissions will be published during and after the contest closes.  Contest winners will be announced once the judging is complete.

Other Comments:  For the purposes of this contest we encourage writers to think in an unconstrained manner and to not worry about what authority or what organization would be used to execute a given option.  From a U.S. point of view, some examples of unconstrained thinking could include:

A.  Since China has established Confucius Institutes in the United States, what is the risk and gain of the United States establishing “Thomas Jefferson Institutes” in China?

B.  The U.S. Government provides agricultural subsidies to agribusinesses to supplement their income, manage the supply of agricultural commodities, and influence the cost and supply of such commodities.  What is the risk and gain of U.S. colleges and universities adopting a version of this program?  In this option the U.S. Government would provide subsidies to U.S. colleges and universities that ban the enrollment of Chinese students thus protecting U.S. intellectual capital without affecting college or university financing.  These subsidies would continue until the U.S. college or university could find students from countries that aid the U.S. in its competition with China to take the enrollment slots previously reserved for the Chinese students.

2020 - Contest: PRC Below Threshold Writing Contest China (People's Republic of China) Contest (General)