With Sri Lanka bankrupt and remaining politically unstable, China looks prepared to move in and take advantage of the situation. Earlier in the week a Chinese flagged vessel arrived in Sri Lanka’s Hambantota Port, a facility constructed by Sri Lanka through Chinese loans. The port never lived up to its potential, Colombo defaulted, and China took over port operations in 2017 with a 99-year lease. Since then, there has been growing concern that China will use the infrastructure it helped build in Sri Lanka, and other nations around Asia, for military purposes. In fact, even though the ship that arrived this week is called a scientific research vessel by Beijing, its real purpose is more nefarious. The Yuan Wang 5 is a PLAN ship used to track satellites and missiles. Hambantota is of little use to Sri Lanka, but it can be used for military purposes and Yuan Wang 5’s arrival could signal a change in China’s stance in the aftermath of heightened tensions with the US over Taiwan as well as domestic and economic concerns at home.
There has always been concern in the West over China’s heavy infrastructure investments across the globe since the early 2000s. Airports, seaports, roads and bridges have been built in many countries through Chinese loans. With its foreign debt crisis mounting, China appears set to assume operational control of many facilities. Sri Lanka might only be the beginning. This infrastructure can quite easily be modified to handle military roles in areas of the world where China has never had a military presence before. Aside from Asia, China has also invested heavily in areas of the Middle East, Africa and is making inroads into the South Pacific. The growing presence and influence in places such as the Solomon Islands and Kiribati are especially alarming and hold significant military implications in the Pacific for the United States and may of its allies in the region.
The process might be commencing in Sri Lanka with the arrival of Yuan Wang 5, but in all likelihood we will see considerably more activity in other locations around the world soon.
For weeks, if not months, Kiev has indicated the recapture of the southern city of Kherson will mark the start of a long-awaited counteroffensive aimed at turning the tide of the war. Despite the assurances and claims by the Ukrainian military and government, the counteroffensive has not taken shape. The heavy attention given to artillery and rocket attacks in the southern Ukraine, coupled with attacks against Russian military installations in Crimea last week certainly give the indication of a major counteroffensive kicking off. Unfortunately, the sound and fury of last week appear to signify nothing. There are no troop movements underway or shifting of supplies. The Ukrainian air force, despite government claims, has not played an effective role in the fighting for weeks.
Kherson remains in Russian hands. Despite the heavy impact Ukrainian artillery and rockets have had on the city, Russian troops are dug in and resisting in kind. The fight for the city has devolved into a stalemate with no signs of a counteroffensive evident. In fact, Kherson mimics the strategic situation entirely: Long term stalemate with no signs of decisive progress looming on the horizon.
Ukraine has been in the periphery for me this summer, admittedly. Between the Western Pacific flaring up and professional obligations demanding to be met, I have not had the time to go into deep analysis of the war in Ukraine. I am planning to address Kherson and the strategic stalemate which now seems set to impact the war and remain an unpredictable element for some time to come. Hopefully Sunday at the earliest, barring any major developments in Ukraine, the Pacific or anywhere else in the world.
Since its invasion of Ukraine in February, Russia’s international clout has dropped tremendously. Many nations Moscow considered to be friendly have jumped ship and disavowed having any sort of relationship with Russia, whether economic, diplomatic, or military. Except for China, Cuba and a handful of other staunch allies, Russia is very much alone. North Korea is not one of the nation-states shunning Russia however, and its loyalty is being rewarded. In a letter to Kim Jong Un for Korea’s Liberation Day, Vladimir Putin said closer ties between Moscow and Pyongyang are in both countries’ interests and will help strengthen the security and stability of the Korean peninsula and the Northeastern Asian region. Kim replied with his own letter, reminding Putin of the long friendship shared between North Korea and Russia. The burgeoning relationship really caught the world’s attention in July when North Korea officially recognized two Russian-backed breakaway republics in eastern Ukraine as sovereign nation-states.
Russia is not the only power competing for North Korea’s attention. South Korea is also trying to entice Pyongyang into closer relations as well as eventual denuclearization. Today South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol on Monday offered comprehensive economic assistance to North Korea if it abandons its nuclear weapons program.
Pyongyang has been quiet over the summer. The underground nuclear test many analysts were expecting never came about. With numerous crises going on simultaneously around the world, Kim Jong Un has been operating under the radar for the most part. With Seoul and Moscow now visibly courting the North, expect this to change in the coming weeks and months. North Korea will be back on the world’s radar scopes for better or worse by late September.
With Germany in the midst of a deepening energy crisis German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is now calling for the construction of a pipeline which would reach from Portugal to Central Europe. Naturally, the goal of such a pipeline would be to reduce Germany’s dependence on Russian gas. Even though Germany and other European nations have made strides to shrink their dependence on gas shipments from Russia, it has become clear that reliance will not diminish before the winter season arrives. Scholz has broached the topic of a pipeline with the officials from Portugal, Spain, France and the European Union. Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa has been pushing for the pipeline proposal to be examined by the EU since the early days of Russia’ invasion of Ukraine. Germany and other nations with a heavy reliance on Russian gas paid the issue little mind.
Now Germany appears intent to push the matter, even publicly admitting regret that a sincere effort was not made earlier. Of course, the geopolitical situation has changed. Now that Germany is anxiously seeking other sources for natural gas supplies, a pipeline from Portugal to Central Europe suddenly seems to be an ideal solution.
Unfortunately for Berlin, the energy troubles confronting Germany are not strictly limited natural gas. Water levels on the Rhine River dropped to a critical low on Friday. This will affect barge traffic on the river and subsequently restrict the flow of essential commodities to inland Europe even more. Not exactly welcome news and a firm indication that the energy crisis facing Europe is a long way from being brought under control.
Between Taiwan and personal obligations, I’m just getting caught up with what has been going on in other parts of the world over the past week. On the surface, the weekend conflict in Gaza seems to have had the earmarks of conflicts in the past. Dozens of civilian casualties, residents and businesses damaged or destroyed, and militant Palestinian leaders killed. Yet on closer examination, the weekend’s clashes between Israel and Palestinian militants was distinctively different in one way which could change the dynamic of the Israeli-Palestinian relationship in the future. Hamas largely remained on the sidelines while Islamic Jihad handled the bulk of the fighting. Hamas serves as the de facto civilian government in Gaza. By not joining the fight and allowing Islamic Jihad to take the lead, Hamas will undoubtedly score points among a Palestinian population exhausted by years of rocket attacks that lead to heavy and destructive Israeli military responses. Israel’s policy of issuing more work permits to Palestinian residents in recent months appeared to have played a major part in Hamas restraining itself in the latest round of fighting. There is hope that this trade off, and the overall more pragmatic relationship forming between Israel and Hamas will reduce the likelihood of more violence in the future.
Of course, there is also talk of a possible rift having formed between Hamas and Islamic Jihad. It’s unclear if there is any truth to this. On the surface, both groups share the same ideology and goals. But their priorities have become divergent. Islamic Jihad is concerned with violent opposition to Israel. It has little taste for joining the political structure of the Palestinian state, and this is where the group differs from Hamas. Hamas is a social and political movement as much as it is a militant one. This is evident from the roles it has played in both Palestine and Lebanon. Therefore, Hamas needs to pay close attention to public opinion in Gaza and conform its actions and priorities to prevent a wedge from developing between it and the people it serves. Right now Israel’s economic incentives are a valuable tool in this regard and Hamas appears dedicated to using them to its advantage.
It does not mean the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is over or that Hamas is seeking a permanent rapprochement with Israel.