China Update 25 June, 2022: Xi to Hong Kong, More Taiwan Strait Incidents

Chinese President Xi Jinping will travel to Hong Kong next week to “attend a meeting celebrating the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to the motherland and the inaugural ceremony of the sixth-term government,” according to China’s Xinhua news agency. John Lee will be sworn in as Hong Kong Chief Executive, replacing Carrie Lam who has held the post since July 2017. The trip will be Xi’s first outside of mainland China since January 2020. As the number of COVID-19 cases in Hong Kong have been rising in recent weeks, it was unclear whether Xi would visit the city. But with the 25th anniversary of the handover coinciding with the swearing in of a new Hong Kong Chief Executive, China’s leader obviously decided a day trip to the city is worth the risk.

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China’s military has called the recent transit of a US Navy P-8 Poseidon aircraft over Taiwan Strait as being a deliberate attempt to disrupt the regional situation and endangered peace and stability. On Friday the US Poseidon flew over the strait separating the Chinese mainland and Taiwan. The flight came one day after Taiwan was forced to scramble fighters to intercept twenty-two Chinese aircraft operating in the Taiwanese air defense identification zone. All of this activity around Taiwan Strait comes days after the US government rejected a Chinese claim that the strait is not international waters.

Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Claims National Economy Has ‘Collapsed.’

Sri Lanka’s prime minister has told that nation’s parliament that the national economy has, for all intent and purposes, collapsed. Ranil Wickremesinghe informed lawmakers that Sri Lanka is “facing a far more serious situation beyond the mere shortages of fuel, gas, electricity and food. Our economy has completely collapsed.” Wickremesinghe’s remarks did not bring any new developments to light. In fact, the rather new prime minister’s words seem intended to remind lawmakers and his critics that the task of rebuilding Sri Lanka’s economic foundation will take time and much effort. After being in power for roughly one month, opposition party politicians are attempting to lay blame for the economic collapse upon Wickremesinghe’s shoulders. As the nation slides deeper into economic malaise, the politicians are attempting to cover their own backsides and assess blame upon others.

The collapse of the national economy came about at least partly due to a perfect storm of circumstances. Heavy debt, loss of tourism revenue, a foreign currency crisis and other pandemic-related impacts, as well as the soaring costs of commodities are the main ingredients of Sri Lanka’s economic nightmare. The nation is no longer able to buy imported fuel, even for cash, due to the heavy debt owed by Ceylon Petroleum Corporation. There are no nation-states or supranational bodies willing to provide fuel, creating significant fuel shortages.

The Sri Lankan government plans to call India, China and Japan to a donor conference in early August in an attempt to increase foreign financial assistance. An interim budget will be presented around the same time. This is hoped to help Sri Lanka’s position in negotiations with the IMF. August will be when geopolitics takes on a broader and more significant position in Sri Lanka’s economic crisis. India and Japan will seek to raise their influence with Colombo while simultaneously reducing China’s influence. India and Japan, as Quad members, have political and military incentive to work together and push back China’s inroads in Sri Lanka. Beijing is attempting to move deeper into the Indian Ocean and establish basing rights for Chinese warships in an area historically regarded as the Indian sphere of influence.

China Launches Its Third Aircraft Carrier

Last week’s launching of the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s (PLAN) newest aircraft carrier attracted world attention. The ship, named Fujian, is China’s largest and most advanced aircraft carrier, rivaling US aircraft carriers in size. Capabilities, however, might be another matter altogether. I mean let’s be frank. The US Navy has decades of carrier operating experience under its belt. That has created an expertise which plays a critical role in the development of new carriers and technologies. China’s weapons and electronics, on the other hand, may look nice and comparable to US systems but likely does not measure up operationally. Then there’s the matter of training a cadre of first-rate naval aviators. It could take the Chinese some time to develop enough pilots to successfully operate an air wing from the deck of Fujian.

This carrier is just the latest milestone in China’s journey to develop a navy able to challenge the power of the US Navy. Under Xi Jinping the PLAN has undergone a massive modernization and expansion. Shipbuilding numbers have risen considerably over the last decade in every major warship class. To put it simply, China is turning out ships like hotcakes. Whether the technologies are comparable to the US Navy remains to be seen. In the end it could come down to a matter of quality (US) versus quantity (China).

China’s goal is to field six carrier battlegroups by 2035. This will give China the naval power and capabilities of a first-class blue water navy. China will be able to to project power and support it anywhere in the world. Alongside the shipbuilding surge, China has been improving its naval infrastructure by modernizing port facilities and securing berthing rights in the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean.

The US Navy has to focus its shipbuilding plan and warfighting doctrine on defeating a peer-level blue water navy at some point in the coming decade. At present, the US Navy is essentially steaming rudderless into a precarious future.

Congo Closes Its Border With Rwanda After Soldier’s Death.

Decades-old tension between the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Rwanda are providing fuel for a diplomatic crisis that is threatening to escalate. Last month, M-23 rebels began an offensive against Congo. The Congolese government accuses Rwanda of supporting the rebels. The Rwandan government, however, denies any ties with M-23, which is made up largely of members of the Tutsi ethnic group. Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame is also a Tutsi. Congo has also directly accused Rwanda of making incursions across the border and vice versa. The new batch of tension is causing alarm in East Africa. So much so that Kenya is urging the deployment of a regional peacekeeping force to the border area.

Congolese rhetoric has grown sharper in recent days, as the government seeking to suspend all current agreements with Rwanda. If Rwanda wants war, “it will have war,” a spokesman for the military governor of Congo’s North Kivu province told thousands of protesters earlier in the week.

This morning the crisis escalated further when the DRC government ordered Congo’s border with Rwanda closed after a Congolese soldier was killed while attacking borders guards inside Rwandan territory. Two Rwandan police officers were injured when the Congolese soldier crossed the border and opened fire, before an officer on duty fired back and killed him 25 meters inside Rwanda, the Rwandan military said in a statement. The incident is being investigated further by the DRC and Rwanda, yet tensions appear likely to continue rising.

Admittedly, I have not kept up with the events in East Africa recently and this crisis has taken me a bit by surprise. I’ll keep an eye on it and do some research to try and get a better feel for the history behind the DNC-Rwanda tensions as well as this present crisis.

Nicaragua and Russia Resume And Deepen Military Ties

As the United States continues to supply Ukraine openly and generously with weapons and other materials in the midst of its war with Russia, it appears Moscow is rekindling a military relationship with Nicaragua. The Nicaraguan government recently announced a new military collaboration with Russia. Beginning in July, more Russian troops, aircraft and ships will start arriving in the Central American nation. Officially, the Nicaraguan government is labeling the program a “military exchange, instruction, and training initiative to support humanitarian aid operations.” Between the lines, however, is the unstated intention to transform Nicaragua into a hub for Russian forces in the Caribbean region. Coincidentally, the announcement comes as relations between Managua and Washington continue to deteriorate. Nicaraguan leader Daniel Ortega, certainly to friend of the United States, will use the program to annoy the US and relieve Nicaragua’s economic troubles, which he blames the United States for.

NATO expansion and the war in Ukraine are providing Russia with all the motivation needed to project military power in the backyard of the United States. This strategy is similar to the one pursued by the Soviet Union in the 1980s during Ortega’s first tenure as Nicaragua’s leader. During that period of time, the US mined Nicaraguan harbors to harass and dissuade Eastern Bloc shipping and undertook other covert activities to frustrate Soviet efforts to establish a toehold in Central America. The effort was ultimately successful, though it nearly caused the downfall of the Reagan administration through the Iran-Contra affair.

This time around, geopolitical dynamics are somewhat different, yet the US would be wrong to ignore an increased Russian presence in Nicaragua. Especially given the free rein the Nicaraguan government appears ready to allow Russian forces to operate with. Decree 10-2022 approved by the Ortega-controlled legislature authorizes Russian military forces to “patrol” Nicaragua’s Caribbean and Pacific coasts. Even though Russia has lost tremendous amounts of international support and respect, the prospect of MiGs and Russian warships operating in such close proximity to US waters and territory is too tempting to pass up. For Ortega, the new phase of military cooperation between Russia and Nicaragua gives him a propaganda victory which could entice otherwise reluctant international companies and nation-states to invest in Nicaragua.