China on Ukraine and what it means for next 30 years

As the world holds its breath watching the East-West stand-off over Ukraine take shape, one piece of the puzzle settling into place should come as a relief to all peace-loving people: China is not backing Russia’s move. At least not explicitly – and probably not implicitly either.

“We respect the choice made by the Ukrainian people on the basis of national conditions,” Shen Bo, a counselor at China’s U.N. mission said on February 24 statement.

After Russia began sending troops into Ukraine, the Chinese explained it this way (in the transcript of Xi Jinping’s talk with Putin):

“At present, the situation in Ukraine is highly complicated and sensitive and has regional and global impact…China believes that Russia can coordinate with other parties to push for the political settlement of the issue so as to safeguard regional and world peace and stability. China supports proposals and mediation efforts of the international community that are conducive to reduction of tension.”

In other words, as Edward Luck, quoted in the same FP article notes:

the Ukraine crisis underscores the limits of the partnership between Russia and China. As China emerges as a true global powerhouse, its interests have grown more complex, he said, requiring it to act more nimbly in a world where its allies come into conflict. Russia, meanwhile, remains primarily focused on its stature in its own neighborhood.

As for the US, while the Ukraine crisis presents a credibility issue in Europe – it’s not the historical Cold War all over again – despite all the chatter. The new Cold War is really about China and US. And that competition is less about tanks and planes and more about superfast computers and economies.

Russian – American spats, a list compiled after Russia expelled US journalist David Satter

David Satter, working for US Congress-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Library, has been expelled from working in Russia – the first such case since the Cold War. If anyone asks why this blog is called Cold War Daily, look no further than an incident like this. The tit-for-tat diplomatic retaliation has occurred with increasingly frequency between the US and Russia in recent years. And while the case of David Satter has obvious Cold War echoes (even RFE was created by the US in response to the Communist countries during the Cold War) you have to wonder where this is leading. The US and Russia have clashed over Ed Snowden, the Magnitsky case, the role of Western civil society groups in Russia, and the adoption of Russian ophans by the US.

In the latest incident, according to this Time report, Satter was to pick up his visa at the Russian consulate in Kiev.

When Satter arrived in the Ukrainian capital, however, he says he was informed that his presence in Russia was “undesirable” and that his visa request was denied.

Below is an unofficial list of the recent diplomatic spats and retaliations between Russia and the US

And yet, it would be wrong to characterize this as a full-blown return to the Cold War. Russia actively wants to improve its ailing economy and is willing to do business with American firms.  The US currently relies on Russia to get American astronauts into space. The US offered security assistance to Russia after the recent bombings in Volgograd. So it’s not the iron curtain coming back. But in certain diplomatic circles there has been a distinct chill in the air between the US and Russia. This should be a gentle reminder to Americans that although the US “won” the Cold War (was the last man standing), in the words of the Washington Post’s Anne Applebaum “the tactics of the old Cold War are now, at the dawn of 2014, suddenly being deployed in a manner not seen since the early 1980s.”

South Sudan, China, Japan – four things to know

  1. China intervention While China has long professed its non-interventionist intentions in the developing world, including Africa. But now is attempting to broker peace in the South Sudan, where a political struggle in the world’s youngest nation threatens to descend into civil war. For China, the decision to get involved is likely less geopolitical than geo-economic. China buys an estimated 80 per cent of South Sudan’s oil exports. Anything that blocks energy access to China is a threat to the Chinese Communist Party, because it could upset the economy and by extension society in China.
  2. China confidence Quite possibly China feels emboldened to test its hand at intervention in African affairs as it perceives a power vacuum in South Sudan and a US that is absorbed by problems in the Middle East. As the Globe and Mail writes, the US has been blamed for being “far too indulgent” to the human rights abuses and corruption in South Sudan. Meanwhile:
  3. China has already been “making mediation efforts,” the Chinese minister told a news conference, calling for an “immediate cessation of hostilities and violence.” He is expected to meet delegations from both sides during his visit to the Ethiopian capital….By taking a role in the South Sudan crisis, Beijing could help to weaken U.S. influence in the oil-dependent country.  That would seem to be a bonus to China’s goal of assuring steady supply of oil.

  4. Japan in Africa Japan is ramping up its diplomatic and aid efforts in Africa as well. As Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi tours Ethiopia, Djibouti, Ghana and Senegal, Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe visits Mozambique, the Ivory Coast, Ethiopia and Oman, according to AFP. Abe will have officials from 50 Japanese companies pledge $577 million worth of loans to Mozambique for infrastructure supporting Japanese mining.
  5. Japan’s peacekeeping Japan’s participation in peace-keeping operations in the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS) and anti-piracy missions in Africa give Japan a laboratory to showcase the use of its military in modern way. That is, well within the bounds of international norms. This in turn helps advance Japanese PM Shinzo Abe’s goal to revise the nation’s constitution to allow its military to function normally, free of the purely-defensive constraints imposed on it, after WWII. Currently, the Japanese Self-Defense Force isn’t legally allowed to use force to defend South Sudanese civilians, for example.As Jeremy Taylor and Michael Walsh at the US-based Nation Bureau of Asian Research write:

     “UN-sanctioned operations in East Africa continue to provide Abe with a distinct political advantage in pushing forward military normalization measures. The product of the policy decisions of five separate administrations, these missions remain difficult to politicize given that the two dominant parties have endorsed them.”

    Importantly, Japan’s deployment in South Sudan gives Japan an opportunity to demonstrate a central plank of its new National Security Strategy. Japan says it’s seeking to be a “proactive” contributor to peace “based on the principle of international cooperation.” The strategy should hardwire Japan into multilateral arrangements such as these. The flap over the ammunition sent to South Korean troops notwithstanding, Japan’s participation in the UN Mission runs counter to the notion of a remilitarized nation acting as a destabilizing force.

“Germany now has a bright foot in the door”, or, U-boats of the Indo-Pacific

So writes Felix Seidler – somewhat gleefully, as he explains the benefit of Singapore’s purchase of two Type 218SG U-boats.

In addition to the potential for these lucrative arcontracts, Germany has an interest in a stable, peaceful maritime arc running from Singapore and Vladivostok. China’s re-armament, coupled with a more assertive military doctrine, and its aggressive enforcement ensures the opposite.

Seidler flags growing doubt about the US pivot in the region, and says “the countries of the region must be able to balance China’s rise, at least partially, by themselves. Therefore, German-built subs can surely do their share.”

As the post-WWII order erodes, you can’t help but wonder where it will leave Germany. Just weeks ago, erstwhile German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle was on the streets of Kiev, stirring things up with the Kremlin. If geography is destiny, a Germany unchained from that post-WWII feeling, will resume its role in international affairs. I can’t help but think that’s also part of the subtext of all the Stasi-talk regarding the Snowden allegations.

And so, here come the U-Boats of the Indo-Pacific, courtesy of Singapore.