Friday 2 Dec. 2022 Update: Indo-US Military Exercises Spark Chinese Objections.

China’s objections to the joint Indo-US military exercises conducted just 100 km from the Sino-Indian border seem to have fallen upon deaf ears. On Thursday, a spokesperson of the Indian Foreign Ministry stated that the exercises have “nothing to do with the 1993 and 1996 agreements” in place with the People’s Republic of China. “Since these were raised by the Chinese side, let me emphasize that the Chinese side needs to reflect and think about its own breach of these agreements of 1993 and 1996.” The ’93 agreement centers on maintaining peace along the Line of Actual Control. This is the area where the 2020 border clashes between Indian and Chinese troops occurred, which led to multiple deaths on both sides. So it goes without saying that the appearance of US troops in Uttarakhand and conducting exercises with Indian forces served to rub Beijing the wrong way. Defense ties between the US and India have grown strong in recent years. China’s behavior and actions have helped push together the US and Indian desire to counter and contain the PRC.  

The budding military rivalry between China and India is not restricted to the Himalayas. The two Asian giants are maneuvering for influence and control in and around the Indian Ocean region. Geopolitically, Beijing’s encroachment here is motivated at least partly by China’s determination to be regarded as the ascendant leader among Great Power equals. The ‘String of Pearls’ doctrine in the IO region was intended to encircle India. By investing in ports, infrastructure and defense exports to India’s immediate neighbors China has laid the foundation for future military bases and cooperation in the event of a large Sino-Indian war.  

Xi’s Zero-COVID Strategy Sparks Public Unrest Around China

Xi Jinping’s unrepentant faith in continuing the zero-COVID national strategy is breeding public unrest throughout the People’s Republic of China. Demonstrations have broken out in at least eight mainland cities as well as Hong Kong since Friday. The government has eased some of the controls and policies in light of the demonstrations, but this is still clearly a carrot and stick situation. Right behind the easing of select controls comes the decision by at least twelve universities in Beijing and the Guangdong Province to send their students home and conduct final exams remotely. Dispersing students back to their hometowns cuts down on the prospect of further demonstrations, thus serving to help defuse the situation. The police presence in Beijing and other urban areas has been reinforced and made more visible.

China’s zero-COVID strategy was never intended to last forever. Yet between almost continuous COVID outbreaks and Xi’s stubborn refusal to bend, it seems like forever to millions of Chinese citizens. The deaths of 10 people in an apartment fire in the city of Urumqi on Thursday has been the catalyst for this round of anti-zero-COVID protests and demonstrations. Almost instinctively, many citizens questioned whether COVID restrictions contributed to the deaths. Urumqi had been under zero-COVID lockdown since August.

What happens next remains uncertain. If the unrest continues and grows, the central government will be forced to implement more censorship restrictions. This will serve as the precursor to a heavy-handed crackdown. On the other hand, if the unrest dies out by later this week most of China’s cities will return to a zero-COVID normalcy. One way or another, zero-COVID has to be overhauled or discarded entirely. The damage it causes to China and its economy increases with every passing day. The sooner Xi realizes this, the better. Unfortunately, it does not appear that China’s leader will come to the realization anytime soon.

Ukraine Update: 28 November, 2022

Nine months into the war finds Ukraine’s allies struggling to keep Ukraine supplied with arms and ammunition. As a rule, expenditure of ammunition and material in a war will exceed pre-war estimates. Ukraine is a classic example of this, requiring an almost constant resupply from the West to keep its armies fighting. Both Russia and Ukraine are burning through ammo and material at a pace not seen in Europe since World War II.  This incessant demand for weapons, ammunition and other material is starting to wear down European, and even US supplies and war stocks. Armories in many NATO nations have been stripped of artillery, anti-tank missiles, ammunition and air defense missiles for Ukraine. There is dangerously little remaining in NATO stockpiles. Now, the West scrambles to continue supplying Ukraine while simultaneously replenishing its own stockpiles.

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As Russian missile attacks against Ukraine’s power facilities increases, the Ukrainian government is considering a limited evacuation of Kiev residents to other areas where services have not been disrupted. The Russian attacks have brought on power outages and the water supply in much of Kiev has been disrupted. Kiev’s mayor, former heavyweight boxer Vitaly Klitschko told the British Broadcasting Company, “This is a temporary relocation of certain categories of people to the suburbs, where there may be services.”

With damage caused by Russian attacks and winter weather setting in, the national power grid is going to be taxed immeasurably between December and late February in many areas of Ukraine. Emergency cut-offs of electricity will become more common as the days go by. It is almost assured that Ukraine will need assistance from abroad to prevent a collapse of its electrical grid.

Author’s Note: I apologize for the longer-than-expected delay. That bug was a little more resilient than expected. It would seem the end of 2022 is shaping up to be busy so I’m getting on the ball. China update tomorrow and then we’ll go from there.

Happy Belated Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you here in the United States. To the rest of you elsewhere in the world, I’ll say Happy Friday. I had planned to post this yesterday and get back to writing this afternoon, but this was before I caught a virus last night. I’m just now starting to feel better and will pick up tomorrow with a brief look at Ukraine’s worsening power shortages in the face of very determined Russian attacks on the Ukrainian energy infrastructure. If I’m not fully recovered by tomorrow I’ll post the Ukraine entry on Sunday and then jump back in on Monday. Have a great day! — Mike

US and Chinese Defense Chiefs Likely To Meet In Cambodia

Following the pre-G20 meeting between US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping, as well as Xi’s apparent diplomatic outreach at the G20, China’s defense ministry is open to meeting with US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin at a gathering of ASEAN defense ministers in Cambodia set for Tuesday or Wednesday. An actual meeting between Austin and his Chinese counterpart Wei Fenghe has not been officially scheduled, but it does seem likely the two defense chiefs will meet while in Cambodia. Austin and Wei have not met or communicated since China suspended dialogue with the US in August after Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan. On the surface this appears to be the latest indication that relations between the US and China are moving in a more positive direction now.

Whether this holds true remains to be seen, but it’s evident that Beijing wants to at least be viewed as seeking a more productive relationship with the US and nations in the Western Pacific. For the domestic audience it portrays an image of China being treated as an equal. This has the potential to provide much needed political dividends for Xi down the line as the future of COVID-19 restrictions remains fluid. On the international stage the image of a less assertive and belligerent China should give Xi a temporary buffer and allow him to either deal with the slew of domestic matters or set the stage for the next phase of maneuvers on the geopolitical chessboard. Or both, perhaps.