Biden’s Upcoming Asia Trip

With US President Joe Biden heading to Asia today, the focus of the US government will pivot away from the war in Ukraine and Europe for the first time in months. Even though the pivot will be temporary, Biden’s trip to Japan and then South Korea will reveal a glimpse or two at future US economic and security policies and postures in the Western Pacific. As expected, even though Biden’s trip will take him to Japan and South Korea, two staunch US allies, this visit is all about North Korea and China.

Tensions in the region are evident at first glance. China is contending with issues close to home stemming from the latest COVID-19 outbreak on the mainland, redoubled efforts to replenish strategic oil reserves and of course, Taiwan. Then there is North Korea, dealing with its first official outbreak of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, as well as preparing for either a ballistic missile or underground nuclear test in the near future. Washington’s preoccupation with Ukraine and Russia has delayed the Biden administration’s intentions to refocus on Asia this year.

The Ukraine crisis and subsequent war is raising concerns about the ability of the United States to handle simultaneous crises in different parts of the world diplomatically and politically. China’s designs on Taiwan are at the core of these concerns. One of Biden’s primary goals for this trip will be to address the worries of allies and non-aligned regions in the region and demonstrate how solid US security commitments in the region are. The president also needs to address why his administration has failed to apply an economic component to US Indo-Pacific strategy. During this trip, Biden is expected to present the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework as an answer to the economic questions.

Philippine Resupply Mission To Second Thomas Shoal Succeeds

Today, the Philippine Navy was able to resupply the marines based on Second Thomas Shoal. Last week, a resupply mission to the island was forced to turn back after considerable harassment by Chinese coast guard vessels. Tuesday’s attempt was successful, however, there was a degree of harassment by the Chinese. It was not as direct as last week when water cannons were used on the resupply vessels. The renewed cat and mouse game around the shoal raised fears of future standoffs down the line. China and the Philippines have competing claims in the South China Sea despite the fact Beijing claims the majority of the sea as its own. The stand off last week, coupled with today’s successful resupply, combine to present a clear message from Beijing to Manila; The South China Sea is Chinese territory, if not in name, then in being. Philippine maritime activity there is dependent upon Beijing’s wishes.

Condemnation for last week’s harassment came from the United States and European Union. U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said that an armed attack on Philippine boats in the South China Sea would invoke Washington’s defense commitment under the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty with the Philippines. The EU urged China and the Philippines to resolve their disputes through peaceful means.  

The US Military Is Woefully Unprepared To Fight The Next War

We are at a pivotal moment in history as the consequences of a global pandemic have created turbulent waters in a wide variety of areas from international trade to socio-economic concerns. China’s increasingly assertive nature has been regarded as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic in the past eighteen months. However, the fact of the matter is that China’s emergence was preordained by two decades of inconsistent and short-sighted US policies and actions. As I mentioned over the past weekend, China has reached a point now where it confidently views itself to be an ascendant superpower, while regarding the United States as a declining power. This new ethos, whether an accurate assessment of the global picture or not, raises the prospect of the People’s Republic of China resorting to military force in to achieve its expansionist-minded ambitions.

The writing has been on the wall for quite some time. For the United States military, the prospect of having to square off against China is hardly new, whether Washington is keen to admit it or not. Unfortunately, the current condition of the US military leaves much to be desired. On the surface, its branches make up the most powerful military force that the world has ever known. With a potential war with China on the horizon, the Pentagon’s priorities are out of order. Rather than concentrating on repairing readiness issues and preparing for the next war, the current Joint Chiefs of Staff, and their civilian leaders in the Defense Department are fixated with implementing ‘woke’ and socially popular policies upon the troops. Even more damning is the fact that every effort to construct and implement a sound doctrine for conducting a future war in the Western Pacific region against the People’s Republic of China has been stillborn or developed into a half-baked abortion of failed past tactics and amateurish concepts on the future of warfare that its growth was stunted.

The failed efforts of the Pentagon, and the dangers of the US entering into a conflict against a near-peer opponent without a plan to win will be discussed at length through 2-3 entries next week. I have not forgotten about North Korea and will return to it by Christmas. But for now, exploring the troubles facing US military efforts to develop both a doctrine and the forces necessary to defeat Chinese forces in a future war seems a more pertinent research topic for November.

Biden Administration Ignoring China’s Rising Geopolitical Power

President Biden’s remarks at a CNN town hall on Thursday that the US would come to Taiwan’s aid in the event of a Chinese attack it has caused confusion and anger around Washington, Beijing and the Western Pacific. The White House and administration have scrambled to either walk back or clarify Biden’s comments without much success. The Chinese government’s response was foreseeably stern. “When it comes to issues related to China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and other core interests, there is no room for China to compromise or make concessions, and no one should underestimate the strong determination, firm will and strong ability of the Chinese people to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told the AP.

This is the second time in his short tenure as president that Biden has publicly said the United States will aid or defend Taiwan if China attacks. Given the current state of the US-China relationship, ill-considered comments are bound to have an effect on future decisions and action by both sides. At first glance, it doesn’t seem that Biden and his handlers really grasp the fact that the game has changed. China is no longer a nation-state hemmed in by adherence to the main components of international order. The PRC has reached the point where it feels confident enough to move in direct contrast to the rules and norms of the international community. China’s moves in the South China Sea and Hong Kong, along with Beijing’s response to investigations on the origins of COVID-19 are examples of China throwing caution to the wind, so to speak. Xi Jinping’s behavior and actions in the last eighteen months have made it apparent that Chinese foreign policy and economy are driven by expansionism. These drives are being fueled by China’s growing military capabilities in the Pacific region and beyond.

US policies, actions and rhetoric have yet to catch up. Even as members of his own party become more cognizant of these realities, Biden continues to regard China as an up-and-comer instead of as a threat to American security and interests.

Questions & Accusations Surround The USS Connecticut Incident

China is demanding answers from the United States over a US nuclear-powered fast attack submarine’s collision with an undersea object in the South China Sea. Last Saturday, the USS Connecticut struck an underwater object of unknown origin while cruising in the SCS. Eleven sailors sustained injuries, though none were serious. Even though the attack boat sustained some damage, she remains fully operational and is expected to arrive in Guam within the next few hours.

A spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry told a media briefing that China concerned. “The US as the side involved in this incident should inform the relevant details including the location, purpose of this navigation, details of the accident and what did the submarine run into and whether any nuclear leakage has taken place and whether local maritime environment was harmed,” he said. He also pointed to the US policy of conducting freedom of navigation exercises in the South China Sea as a culprit.

China’s reaction is unremarkable and fully expected. It serves as nothing more than fluff and an opportunity to castigate the increased US military presence in the South China Sea. Beneath the surface….pardon the weak pun…..it is a different story. The fact that the US Navy publicly revealed the incident involving Connecticut, as well as its location at the time, is a message in and of itself. Washington wants Beijing to know US fast attack submarines are prowling in waters adjacent to China. More significantly, the US wants the world to be aware of this too.

As the sub reaches Guam, critical questions demand answers. First and foremost being; just what did Connecticut collide with? Navy officials have said off the record they do not believe China caused the incident. So that removes the possibility of the sub colliding with material in place for the construction of man-made islands, or ASW netting. It also completely rules out the chance that Connecticut struck a Chinese submarine. Hopefully, as the weekend goes on, answers will become known.

There’s another realm to this incident which demands further discussion and that is the effect it could have on the Taiwan situation. I’ll present some thoughts on that over the weekend.