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.
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.
Protests broke out in different areas of India on Friday as crowds protested anti-Muslim remarks made earlier this month by officials of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The two officials were disciplined by the party, however, that has not quelled the anger brewing inside of India’s Muslim community. The remarks are seen as another example of the pressure being placed on them by the BJP party. Indian Muslims have complained about the ruling Hindu nationalist BJP restricting aspects of their lives from religious worship to the wearing of hijabs. On Friday, protests grew violent in the cities of Prayagraj and Ranchi. Over 100 protesters were arrested in clashes with riot police. The situations in both cities are now reportedly under control. In the Kashmir region protests and demonstrations were calm and peaceful for the most part.
India has faced backlash over the comments on the geopolitical front as well. A number of Gulf states criticized the weak response of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the offensive remarks made by members of his party. Earlier in June, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke against the decline of religious freedom in India. The Indian government called his comments ‘ill informed’ and suggested the United States get its own house in order.
The incident, as well as India’s handling of it, marks a shift of India’s strategy back to Cold War times as it attempts to maintain a closer relationship with Russia at the cost of its close ties with the US. India’s refusal to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its continued purchase of Russian oil does not sit well with Washington. Indian government officials claim they are simply acting in their national interests with regards to Russia even though their long term strategic interests remain tied to the United States.
Construction of a Chinese naval installation on the Cambodian coast has been an open secret for some time now. But following a report in the Washington Post earlier this week, Beijing and Phnom Penh are under growing scrutiny. The report stated that the base will be used exclusively by Chinese forces and will be the first overseas Chinese military installation in the Indo-Pacific region. Chinese and Cambodian officials have denied the report, with the host nation’s government claiming the construction now underway is a joint Chinese-Cambodian expansion of the Ream Naval Base. Chief government spokesman Phay Siphan denied reports that part of the base will be used solely by the Chinese military. The spokesman said the role of the facility being built at Ream is ship repair.
US officials admitted that monitoring activity around Ream has been a priority for some time. The activity is in line with Chinese plans and ambitions in and around the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean. A sizeable Chinese military presence in Cambodia could undermine Cambodian sovereignty and autonomy, and undermine stability in the region. Strategically speaking, a PLAAN base on the Gulf of Thailand will extend the reach of Chinese surveillance and military power to vital shipping lanes and chokepoints in the region. It also moves China’s naval and air power nearer to the Indian Ocean.
China is hedging its bets on the chance that the region will be unable or unwilling to challenge its designs. Over the weekend, a Chinese government official in Beijing even went as far as to confirm to the WaPo that parts of the base will be used by the Chinese military. Cambodia is not the only nation that Beijing is influencing or quietly strong-arming for basing rights and it will not be the last.
Earlier today, China’s military announced it had conducted a ‘readiness’ patrol in the waters and airspace around Taiwan, claiming the move is in response to “collusion” between Washington and Taipei. On Monday, thirty Chinese aircraft entered Taiwan’s air defense zone, prompting a coordinated response. Fighters were scrambled, and air defense, as well as radar sites were activated. 2022 has seen over 450 incursions of Taiwan’s ADIZ by Chinese warplanes. Since the start of Russia’s war with Ukraine the tempo of Chinese operations around Taiwan has decreased significantly. Following Monday’s ‘readiness’ patrol, there is growing suspicion that the lull is over.
President Biden’s comments on defending Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack was obviously not appreciated by Beijing. The PRC continues to regard Taiwan as its own territory. A primary purpose for the PLAAF and PLAN maneuvers in close proximity to the island nation is warning the United States to stop meddling in ‘Chinese affairs.’ Flexing its military might has not yielded the results Beijing has anticipated, however.
In the wake of Biden’s trip to Asia, the US is moving to establish stronger economic ties with Taipei. A US-Taiwan trade initiative was announced today and is expected to begin trade negotiations between the two nations before a formal free trade agreement can be signed. The initiative comes after Taiwan was excluded from the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity.