Shinzo Abe (1954-2022)

I was shocked and saddened to learn that former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was assassinated at a political event Abe was a towering figure in Japanese politics. The longest serving prime minister in Japan’s history. His accomplishments through the nine years he was in office have significantly shaped Japan’s trajectory for the coming decade at least.

Abe reestablished Japan’s position of prominence on the world stage economically and geopolitically. Under his leadership, Japan reinterpreted the pacifism-centered nature of its constitution. He was convinced Japan had to do more in order to counter China’s growing strength and influence in the Western Pacific. Along with leading the charge to change the constitution, Abe also championed a major defense buildup. This was also aimed at countering China’s power.

He was a nationalist at heart who refused to tread lightly when it came to Japan’s World War II history. In this regard he was the polar opposite of most Japanese prime ministers since 1945. Many of his predecessors apologized profusely to China and South Korea for Japan’s horrid actions and crimes against its people in the war. Abe did not disregard Japan’s past actions, however, he did not dwell on them profusely. The result was a chilly relationship with erstwhile ally South Korea and a deep freeze with the People’s Republic of China.

China has not shed a tear for Abe’s passing. Chinese social media has been filled with celebratory posts and comments. The South Korean people have been somewhat more subdued, but there is little sadness for Abe across the Sea of Japan.

Ukraine Update: 27 June, 2022

At the G7 Conference in Germany, the Group of Seven leaders are working on a new plan to minimize Russia’s oil profits as Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskiy continues to call for more arms as Russian air strikes continue across his nation. It has finally become clear to the G7 that Russia has been able to ride out the heavy sanctions placed upon it in response to its invasion of Ukraine. Russian oil sales have kept the nation afloat while causing a ripple effect of economic fallout from the conflict around the world.

Most G7 leaders are facing domestic political pressure as the conflict in Ukraine continues. The economic fallout mentioned above includes soaring inflation, runaway energy prices and the prospect of more significant hardships as the conflict goes on. To be sure, the Russia-Ukraine War has continued on far beyond the expectations of most analysts, observers and politicians. And while the G7 continues to pledge undying support for Ukraine in public, pressure is building behind the scenes for Western leaders to bring an end to the conflict and contain the spreading economic damage.

Zelenskiy has stated he wants to see the war conclude by the end of 2022. However, given the fact that Russia now has the initiative and Western populations are growing weary of the cost they are being forced to bear, a negotiated conclusion to the fighting appears more probable. Most likely one that cedes the Donbas to Russia in exchange for an end to the fighting.

Author’s Note: Apologies for the shortness of this update, I’m just getting over a stomach bug that kept me down for most of the weekend.

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.

Biden’s Asia Trip Produces More Questions Than Answers

Joe Biden’s first trip to Asia as president was positively gushed over by many in the media. Foreign policy and political pundits attached to left-leaning publications and news channels applauded Biden for adopting a strong position against China during his trip. While in Tokyo, Biden rolled out the framework for the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), a trade pact the administration is hoping will serve as a counter to China’s growing economic power and influence in the Indo-Pacific region. On this past Monday, Biden stated the United States will defend Taiwan militarily in the event of a Chinese invasion. Strong, confident words and proposed action by the leader of the free world.

Unfortunately, some factors were left out of Biden’s calculations. To no one’s surprise, most left-wing and/or mainstream journalists failed to make mention of this. On the economic side, Taiwan has not received an invitation to join the IPEF despite demonstrating high interest in becoming a member. Militarily, despite Biden’s promise and sentiment, the United States does not have a concrete war plan centered on countering a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. Sure, Indo-Pacific Command has dozens of contingency plans and hypotheticals available to work from, as do the individual services. So, Biden has promised to defend Taiwan with American blood even though the military has no realistic plan for this at the present time. Then we have the administration deliberately keeping Taiwan away from IPEF membership because bringing Taipei aboard will be viewed as provocative and controversial by Beijing.  

Not surprisingly, China is less than thrilled by the US following IPEF and Biden’s Taiwan comments. On Tuesday, as leaders of the Quad nations met in Tokyo, Chinese and Russian bombers flew in close proximity to Japanese airspace. Chinese officials were vocal in denouncing IPEF while China’s state-run media claim the pact is ‘economic NATO.’ Xi Jinping will likely limit his country’s response to verbal outrage and a handful of snap air and sea exercises. Quite honestly, China has more pressing problems to worry about closer to home right now.

In time, China will get around to adopting an effective counter to IPEF and Biden’s newfound military confidence. Then the competition for supremacy in Asia will officially begin.

Sri Lanka Crisis Update: Shortages Loom, Some Help On The Way

Sri Lanka is girding for potential shortages of food products and fuel in the near future. Citizens have been lining up for cooking gas, automobile fuel since Friday. As the government attempts to stave off complete economic meltdown, the nation has defaulted on debt for the first time in its history. So, much to the chagrin of Sri Lanka’s leaders, the economic outlook remains bleak as the government lifts the state of emergency decree that has been in place since early May. The state of emergency went into effect as a result of violent street protests and riots in Colombo and across the country in late April and early May. The root cause of the unrest was spiraling inflation and other factors of the nation’s economic crisis.

India and Japan will provide emergency relief to the island-nation in a bid to stave off a complete collapse. The first ship laden with food and other material will depart from India on Wednesday. Japan will provide an emergency grant for $3 million worth of medicine and food. These moves also have geopolitical purpose as both nations would prefer to keep Chinese involvement in the Sri Lankan crisis at bay. Tokyo and New Delhi are wary about offering an opening for China to expand its presence and influence in the Indian Ocean region.