Modi and Xi Meet Again

Kim Jong Un on a horse; Taiwan’s F-16s; Nepal-China relations

The Big One.

Modi and Xi smile and brush disagreements under the rug.

The second “informal summit” between the leaders of India and China was certainly a summit, but not necessarily so informal. Optics around the event were designed to evoke warmth and solidarity on a personal level between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In a follow-up to their meeting last spring in the Chinese city of Wuhan, Modi and Xi met in the southern Indian town of Mamallapuram on October 11 and 12.

To keep up appearances, both sides appeared to brush aside the real difficult issues that vex their relationship. India and China are simultaneously competitors and collaborators. To keep the mood positive in Mamallapuram neither side pressed on the exposed, raw nerves in the relationship. On the Indian side, this includes the recent decision by the Indian government to abrogate parts of Article 370 of the Indian constitution, changing the internal administrative status of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. For China, complaints pertaining to “core interests ”—including the ongoing protests in Hong Kong, freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, and even the atrocities in Xinjiang—were welcome omissions.

And so, at Mamallapuram, it was economic issues that were the easiest to discuss and announce: rebalancing trade, encouraging mutual investors, and deepening economic cooperation. For India, in particular, slowing economic indicators make China’s salience as a neighbor and investor all the more important.

The Diplomat’s Aman Thakker wrote on the outcome of the summit, observing that “it remains to be seen whether such informal summits achieve their desired result or inhibit real progress on these issues.” On the fundamentals, India and China remain far apart.

Bottom Line: Another informal summit might have made for positive optics, but the India-China relationship remains as competitive as ever.

Introducing Diplomat Risk Intelligence.

I’m excited to introduce a new offering from The Diplomat. Diplomat Risk Intelligence is the new consulting and analysis division of The Diplomat, the Asia-Pacific’s leading current affairs magazine. To learn more, click here.

East Asia.

Pictures of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un have drawn laughter around the world. This latest propaganda display feeds neatly into narratives around North Korea as a strange, Marxist-Leninist basketcase. But Kim’s latest personality cult-building effort is not an idle exercise. Instead, I’ve argued, it presages what will likely be a change in North Korea’s national strategy in the coming year—especially if diplomacy with the United States does not yield results.

Kim Jong Un’s Horseback Stunt Is No Laughing Matter

The display came just days after the breakdown of U.S.-North Korea working-level talks in Stockholm, Sweden. The two sides continue to have little overlap in their preferences, making a negotiation “win set” hard to come by. 

In context, the display makes more sense:

North Korean propaganda isn’t merely an aesthetic; it has a purpose. In context, Kim Jong Un’s snowbound horseback joyride augurs a potential shift in national strategy in the weeks and months ahead. Indeed, with his New Year’s Day warning this year of a “new way” ahead should diplomacy with the United States lead to a dead end, Kim may be getting ready to take his country down a different path.

The Korean Central News Agency’s accompanying text to the images of Kim on a horse, however, tell an interesting story. The article references “headwinds” and “arduous struggle,” the latter an evocation of the “arduous march,” or late-1990s famine in North Korea. With relief from international sanctions appearing a remote possibility as talks with the United States go nowhere, the message here is that harder economic times may lie ahead. But the message isn’t doom-and-gloom: KCNA suggests that the purpose of Kim’s visit to Mount Paektu has to do with his will to pursue economic renewal “by its own efforts.”

These themes evoke a message similar to what Kim delivered at the 4th Plenary Meeting of the 7th Central Committee of the Workers’ Party in April this year. “He underscored the need to more vigorously advance socialist construction by dint of self-supporting national economy … so as to deal a telling blow to the hostile forces who go with bloodshot eyes miscalculating that sanctions can bring the DPRK to its knees,” the Rodong Sinmun report on that event noted. Kim was telling the party that they’d have to buckle up and work hard; sanctions relief wasn’t imminent. Now on horseback, he’s reiterating that same message.

The demonstration also may foreshadow a spectacular event. Kim, it is said, has promised to “strike the world with wonder again.” That sounds ominous, but it may not necessarily indicate something like an intercontinental-range ballistic missile or nuclear test, breaking the April 2018 self-enforced moratorium. Instead, given the economic themes of this event, Kim may be poetically presaging something like a satellite launch. The space program has mostly been dormant in the propaganda sphere since the February 2016 launch of the Kwangmyongsong-4 satellite. Under Kim Jong Un, the space program has received considerable attention and has been set up as the paramount exemplar of North Korea’s self-reliant, scientific capabilities.

Bottom Line: North Korea may be about to change its direction.

Go Deeper: I was in Chicago this week, where I spoke on U.S.-North Korea diplomacy at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. You can view the video of my remarks here. 

South Asia.

Last weekend, Xi Jinping became the first Chinese leader since Jiang Zemin in 1996 to visit the Himalayan country of Nepal. His visit capped years of increasing geopolitical alignment between Kathmandu and Beijing amid China’s attempts to expand its influence in South Asia. His visit resulted in the formal upgrade of ties between the two countries; they are now what China’s Xinhua news agency calls “strategic partners of cooperation.”

In practical terms, the visit resulted in the signing of more than 23 agreements and memorandums of understanding. Xi left Nepal having pledged $496 million in financial assistance. The agreements reached covered everything from infrastructure to trade to tourism and education.

As The Diplomat’s Eleanor Albert writes, “Beijing and Kathmandu stand to benefit from deepening their relationship.” The official joint communiqué released by the two sides summed up the outcomes of the summit.

Primary Source: The Financial Action Task Force’s latest report [PDF] on Pakistan was released this week. It’s a long read, but worthwhile if you’ve been following this issue.

Asia Defense.

Taiwan’s F-16 upgrade program is back on track, according to Yen Teh-fa, the minister of defense of Taiwan. This week, he gave assurances to lawmakers that the estimated $4.5 billion upgrade program for 142 Republic of China Air Force F-16s was going according to plan. As my colleague Franz-Stefan Gady reported, “Parliamentarians had raised their concerns earlier following the revelation that Taiwan’s state-owned Aerospace Industrial Development Corp (AIDC) failed to deliver six refitted jets in the first quarter of 2019.” As Gady writes:

The ROCAF’s F-16 A/B fleet will be retrofitted with advanced avionics including a new flight management system, a new active electronically scanned array fire-control radar, an enhanced electronic warfare system, and helmet-mounted display system.

Don’t Miss It: U.S. extended deterrence assurances to Japan are no longer what they used to be—or so argues Kindai University’s Shingo Yoshida at The Diplomat

In general, the credibility of extended deterrence depends on the intentions and capabilities of the state offering it. As the U.S. president’s repeated contradictions of earlier remarks and his broken promises, including his abrupt North Korea policy shift, have increased the uncertainty of U.S. intentions, the credibility of U.S. extended nuclear deterrence has become more dependent on its nuclear capabilities. In these circumstances, if U.S. nuclear forces are not to be strengthened as planned in the NPR, the U.S. commitments to defend Japan and other allies can be seen as empty promises and bluffs.  American diplomacy will doubtless be quite unstable in the run-up to the presidential election in 2020, but it will also be important to take careful note of U.S. military trends.

New sale: On Thursday, the U.S. Department of State announced that it had approved a possible sale of beyond-visual-range air-to-air missiles to South Korea. 120 AIM-120C-7/C-8 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAM) were approved for a Foreign Military Sale, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency determined. U.S. Congress was notified of the possible sale’s approval on Thursday.

Extras.

Don’t miss the most recent episode of the Asia Geopolitics podcast. Prashanth Parameswaran and I took a stab at discussion the ongoing controversies involving China and the National Basketball Association and Blizzard Entertainment. Listen here.

This newsletter is written by Ankit Panda, senior editor for The Diplomat, and director of research at Diplomat Risk Intelligence. Please do feel free to reach out with comments, tips, and feedback at ankit@thediplomat.com and follow me on Twitter at @nktpnd and The Diplomat at @Diplomat_APAC.

Trump’s Impeachment and Asia

China’s big parade; North Korea back at it; U.S.-Singapore partnership

The Big One.

As Trump faces an impeachment inquiry, what next?

Image result for impeachment

In the final week of September, the U.S. Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi announced that there would be an impeachment inquiry into the conduct of President Donald J. Trump. Formal impeachment proceedings are not yet underway, but are likely. This is arguably the biggest story out of the U.S. political news cycle in some time. The impeachment inquiry is a direct result of revelations from an anonymous whistleblower within the U.S. intelligence community who alleged that Trump pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to help him in his political crusade domestically against Joe Biden, the former vice president and current Democratic Party primary candidate. Since the whistleblower’s complaint, more disturbing details about Trump using the power of his office for personal political gain have emerged. On October 4, Trump publicly called on Ukraine and China to investigate Biden. (Trump also had an inappropriate call with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.)

Tumultuous political times—well, more tumultuous than usual—lie ahead for the United States. The inquiry will continue, likely spiraling into formal proceedings that would originate with the House Judiciary Committee. What does impeachment mean for U.S. foreign policy in Asia?

Broadly, the first order consequence of impeachment will be that it will take up nearly all of the energies of the president and his political staff at the White House. The foreign policy and national security bureaucracy of the United States will keep running and institutionalized diplomacy will continue, but big-ticket items—the trade war with China, denuclearization diplomacy with North Korea, and alliance management, for instance—will suffer. For instance, CNN’s Will Ripley spoke to a North Korean source who had this to say: 

That view will persist among American adversaries and friends alike. But is it a good bet? I wouldn’t say so. If there’s anything that can be said about Trump’s behavior in both politically stressful and less stressful times is that it is erratic. While the logic of a beleaguered Trump caving in negotiations might have an appealing logic, it would be a mistake to imagine that what comes next can be predicted. Trump could just as easily sour on the North Koreans, for instance, lashing out in a pique of fury (see Nixon’s mad days at the height of Watergate).

In Asian and indeed all world capitals, I suspect C-SPAN will be a mainstay as governments plan for what might come next. Impeachment may fizzle, it may be swift, or it may be drawn out; Trump may survive or he may not. Whatever comes next, Asian states will need to be ready for the consequences.

Finally, if you haven’t yet, make some time to read the whistleblower’s complaint. It’s well-written and will go down in history as a significant document in the history of the American republic.

Introducing Diplomat Risk Intelligence.

I’m excited to introduce a new offering from The Diplomat. Diplomat Risk Intelligence is the new consulting and analysis division of The Diplomat, the Asia-Pacific’s leading current affairs magazine. To learn more, click here.

East Asia.

On Thursday, North Korean state media announced that Wednesday’s test of a ballistic missile involved the Pukguksong-3, a “new type” submarine-launched ballistic missile. The test took place in the waters off Wonsan, off North Korea’s east coast.

According to South Korean authorities, the missile flew to an apogee of 910 kilometers, flying to a range of 450 kilometers. It flew on a southeasterly trajectory, landing in Japan’s exclusive economic zone off Shimane prefecture. If launched on a normal trajectory, the missile would have a maximum range capability of some 1,900 kilometers—enough to range all of South Korea and all of Japan’s four main islands from the center of the Sea of Japan.

Wednesday’s launch of the Pukguksong-3 marks the test of the longest-range-capable solid fuel missile ever seen in North Korea. It also marks the first test of a missile unambiguously designed to carry a nuclear payload since the November 28, 2017, test launch of the Hwasong-15 intercontinental-range ballistic missile.

The test follows months of the United States largely brushing aside North Korea’s test of short-range missile systems, which nevertheless violate UN Security Council resolutions going back to resolution 1718 (2006). This test also comes after the departure of Trump’s third national security adviser, John Bolton, a well-known hawk on North Korea.

In the meantime, working-level talks are kicking off between the U.S. and North Korea for the first time since the June 30 summit meeting between Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump at the inter-Korean Demilitarized Zone. The two sides will meet in Stockholm.

Bottom Line: With few costs to pay for his short-range missile testing campaign between May and September, Kim Jong Un is moving on to bigger and badder missiles.

On the Horizon: Sweden has released a new strategy paper on China’s relationship with Russia, warning the European Union to keep this relationship in mind. The South China Morning Post reports here.

Southeast Asia.

In the final week of September, the United States and Singapore renewed the agreement that grants U.S. warships access to Singapore’s port facilities, keeping in place an arrangement that’s existed since 1990. The agreement extends U.S. access to Singaporean bases for another 15 years. Singapore, a U.S. strategic partner, plays an important role in granting the U.S. Navy a strategically located berth astride the Malacca Strait. As my colleague Prashanth Parameswaran writes:

For the United States, the renewal of the agreement reinforces one of the key U.S. access points in the Asia-Pacific at a time when some existing ones have been difficult to sustain and newer ones have been challenging to find, even as it advances its Free and Open Indo-Pacific strategy. And for Singapore, it sends a clear signal about its ability to balance security ties with the United States and China amid growing U.S.-China competition, with the renewal of the U.S. agreement coming just a few months after Singapore indicated it was moving forward on a revised defense agreement with China, which had led to additional scrutiny about the Southeast Asian state’s alignments (despite the fact that U.S. security ties with Singapore far outpace what China currently has in place, and inroads with Beijing have also come amid significant concerns about aspects of its behavior). More broadly, as Lee himself noted in his remarks on the signing, it reaffirms Singapore’s role in providing a way for Washington to deepen its engagement in Southeast Asia and the wider Asia-Pacific.

The renewal of the agreement underscores Singapore’s continued strong security ties to Washington, despite concerns that the city state may have been vacillating between the U.S. and China in the Trump era. Certainly, at the Shangri-La Dialogue earlier this year, Prime Minister Lee Hsein-loong had sharp words on the nature of competition between the two sides. Speaking to the Washington Post’s Ishaan Tharoor in September, Lee said the following on the U.S.-China relationship: “I think, from America’s point of view, you will be right to conclude they are not going to become like you … But on the other hand, you have to ask yourself: Is it better for them to be like this and quite powerful, or is it better for them to be like they were when, during the days of Mao [Zedong], when they were much less prosperous or powerful but much more hostile and troublesome?”

Bottom Line: The U.S.-Singapore strategic partnership remains on strong ground with the renewal a basing access agreement.

Living It Up: The Diplomat’s David Hutt reports on the life and times of Vietnamese Communist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong. In poor health, Trong is one of the most powerful people in the country. Trong is in poor health and his death could upend Vietnamese party politics. Hutt writes: “The decision, in October 2018, to name Trong as president was most probably a stopgap designed to provide some stability within the Party. But if the worst was to happen to him now, it would trigger a power struggle the likes of which the Vietnamese Communist Party hasn’t seen for decades.”

Asia Defense.

On Tuesday, October 1, thousands of pounds of military hardware rolled down Beijing’s Chang’an Avenue and through Tiananmen Square, as top officials of the Chinese Communist Party inspected them. Chairman Xi Jinping, the commander-in-chief of the People’s Liberation Army, presided over the event, which marked a celebration of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.

Tuesday’s parade was a major demonstration not only of national pride and military modernization, but a moment to underscore the loyalty of the People’s Liberation Army to Xi and the Party. Like the summer 2017 parade at the PLA’s Zhurihe Training Base, Xi was driven down the assembled line of parade units, carrying out a total inspection. When PLA honor guards presented the flags at the initiation of the event, the Party’s flag preceded the PRC’s national flag, followed by the PLA’s flag. This was a celebration of nationalism, modernization, and resolve.

I’ve written up longer, detailed thoughts on the systems showcased here. What follows are a few excerpts. (I have plans to follow-up with a longer analysis on the DF-17 hypersonic boost-glide weapon and also the JL-2 SLBM.)

  • “The DF-41 is expected to become the cornerstone of China’s strategic deterrence, bringing flexibility, responsiveness, and increased survivability to China’s ability to assuredly retaliate to any nuclear attack.”

  • “China seeks high assurances that its nuclear weapons will remain impervious to destruction in precision conventional strikes by its adversaries (mainly the United States) and that, after nuclear escalation, they can be used to retaliate successfully and penetrate missile defenses.”

  • “The DF-17 represents a particular type of hypersonic weapon — the kind that most people mean when they use the word. Instead of a normal ballistic reentry vehicle or even a maneuverable reentry vehicle, the DF-17 uses a boost-glide vehicle.”

  • “The WZ-8, for instance, appears designed to serve as an air-launched capability to gather intelligence and conduct damage assessments during conflicts (in addition to other possible roles).”

  • “The HSU001 LDUUV represents one the most interesting appearances at the parade. Its existence is unsurprising given longstanding rumors about Chinese interest in similar systems. What is unclear is the exact role it might play in the PLAN’s strategy.”

There’s a lot more to be said about all of the new capabilities that were celebrated on October 1. China is telling the world—and especially Taiwan and Hong Kong—that it is not to be trifled with.

Bottom Line: China’s armed forces are modernized, loyal, and ready to fight.

Don’t Miss It: Sukjoon Yoon, a retired South Korean Navy captain, breaks down the OPCON transfer debate in South Korea, looking at six myths. 

Extras.

A bit of a special announcement this time, but I’m very happy to announce that my upcoming book ‘Kim Jong Un and the Bomb: Survival and Deterrence in North Korea’ will be released next summer by Hurst Publishers and Oxford University Press

The book covers the development of North Korea’s nuclear forces under Kim Jong Un, the role of nuclear weapons in North Korean national defense strategy, and what lies ahead for Northeast Asia and the world in contending with a new regional nuclear power. It should be out June 2020 (UK and US preorders are up here and here respectively).

This newsletter is written by Ankit Panda, senior editor for The Diplomat, and director of research at Diplomat Risk Intelligence. Please do feel free to reach out with comments, tips, and feedback at ankit@thediplomat.com and follow me on Twitter at @nktpnd and The Diplomat at @Diplomat_APAC.

Attack on Saudi Aramco Renders Oil Risk Acute for Asian Importers

Solomon Islands switches from Taiwan to China; Thailand-China defense ties

The Big One.

Oil supplies tighten for Asia’s importers.

This Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019, satellite image from Planet Labs Inc. shows thick black smoke rising from Saudi Aramco's Abqaiq oil processing facility in Buqyaq, Saudi Arabia. Yemen's Houthi rebels launched drone attacks on the world's largest oil processing facility in Saudi Arabia and a major oil field Saturday, sparking huge fires and halting about half of the supplies from the world's largest exporter of oil. (Planet Labs Inc via AP)

Early morning on September 14 local time, explosive-toting drones—and possibly cruise missiles—struck Saudi Aramco oil processing facilities in eastern Saudi Arabia. The attack disrupted Saudi Arabia’s total oil output, decreasing it by 5.7m barrels-per-day (bpd) immediately. At Monday’s market open, Brent Crude futures prices spiked 19 percent; the attacks had immediately constrained global oil supply by more than 5 percent. 

This image provided on Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019, by the U.S. government and DigitalGlobe and annotated by the source, shows damage to the infrastructure at Saudi Aramco's Abaqaiq oil processing facility in Buqyaq, Saudi Arabia. The drone attack Saturday on Saudi Arabia's Abqaiq plant and its Khurais oil field led to the interruption of an estimated 5.7 million barrels of the kingdom's crude oil production per day, equivalent to more than 5% of the world's daily supply. (U.S. government/Digital Globe via AP)

As of this writing, the United States and Saudi Arabia have not yet definitely attributed the attack, which was claimed by the Yemen-based Houthis. U.S. officials have pointed at Iran, suggesting that the attacks may have come from Iranian territory, overflying Iraq and Kuwait in the process. The details remain indeterminate, but what is clear is that the incident has marked one of the most serious geopolitical acute shocks to global oil prices since the First Gulf War.

Asia’s major oil importers have reacted to the attacks. A sampling of a few of the major regional reactions:

  • Japan: Japanese Trade Minister Isshu Sugawara said on Monday that Tokyo was monitoring its oil supply and remained prepared to release its reserves if the situation deteriorated. Japan has oil reserves for 230 days of internal consumption.

  • China: China is the world’s largest importer of crude oil and is treating the recent attacks with the seriousness they deserve. In the months leading up to the attack, Chinese reliance on Saudi Arabia as a supplier had grown as Beijing whittled down its imports from Iran amid growing sanctions and from the United States amid intensifying competition. Beijing has also said that it is unwilling to attribute any blame for the attack without additional “facts”—an attempt to push back on what appears to be an eager effort by the Trump administration to point fingers at Iran.

  • India: India’s total fuel import bills are likely to rise, according to Singapore’s DBS Banking Group. For the Narendra Modi government, a prolonged price hike in crude may adversely affect the broader economy and intensify the economic headwinds that New Delhi already faces. One of the filips to Modi’s first term economic performance was the decline in global oil prices at the time.

  • South Korea: Similarly to Japan, South Korea has also said that it will consider the release of domestic strategic oil reserves if the situation continues to worsen. “The government will do its best to stabilize the demand and supply situation and prices, such as considering release of oil reserves if the situation worsens,” the South Korean energy ministry said.

Bottom Line: Energy risk for major Asian oil importers has shot up with the weekend’s attack on Saudi Aramco’s oil processing facilities and the commensurate 5 percent-plus drop in global oil supply.

Introducing Diplomat Risk Intelligence.

I’m excited to introduce a new offering from The Diplomat. Diplomat Risk Intelligence is the new consulting and analysis division of The Diplomat, the Asia-Pacific’s leading current affairs magazine. To learn more, click here.

East Asia.

The Solomon Islands has formally announced that it will be switching its diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China, leaving Taipei with just 16 diplomatic allies. As I’d discussed in the most recent edition of this newsletter, the Solomons’ decision was virtually assured. Belize, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Nicaragua, Palau, Paraguay,

Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, eSwatini, Tuvalu and the Vatican City are the sole remaining countries to diplomatically recognize Taiwan. Their cumulative GDP stands at around $177 billion. (Guatemala is the largest single economy to still maintain official ties.) The Solomons are the sixth country to have severed ties with Taiwan since the Democratic Progressive Party’s Tsai Ing-wen was elected to the Taiwanese presidency in January 2016. For the duration of former Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou’s tenure, Taipei and Beijing maintained a so-called “diplomatic truce,” whereby neither would attempt to poach the other’s diplomatic partners.

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen discussed the Solomon Islands move on Monday, September 16, citing China’s attempts to win over Taiwanese diplomatic allies as part of Beijing’s broader interference in the upcoming January 2020 elections in Taiwan. “Over the past few years, China has continually used financial and political pressure to suppress Taiwan’s international space,” Tsai said. She described China’s moves as “a brazen challenge and detriment to the international order.” “I want to emphasize that Taiwan will not engage in dollar diplomacy with China in order to satisfy unreasonable demands,” she continued. Tsai had hosted Solomon Islands foreign minister Jeremiah Manele in Taipei earlier this month in an attempt to salvage the relationship. 

Bottom Line: China appears determined to continue to shrink Taiwan’s international space for maneuver; beyond plucking away Taiwanese diplomatic allies, Beijing has taken steps to prevent Taiwan’s participation in international organizations as well.

Don’t Miss It: The U.S. Treasury Department announced sanctions against the North Korean hacker collective known as the Lazarus Group and two of its named subsidiaries last week. A Treasury release also noted that “the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and U.S. Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM) have in recent months worked in tandem to disclose malware samples to the private cybersecurity industry.”

South Asia.

China, which concluded a deal with Bangladesh in 2016 to provide submarines, will help construct a submarine base for the country, the Radio Free Asia-affiliated BenarNews reported earlier this month. The anticipated submarine base will provide facilities for the Bangladeshi Navy to berth its two Chinese Type 035B diesel-electric submarines. “We are going to construct a submarine base in Cox’s Bazar with Chinese assistance. We have procured two submarines from China, so we need a submarine base. Unless we build a base, where will the submarines be stationed,” retired Col. Faruk Khan told Benar News. “The Chinese will help us build the base and impart training to our personnel to operate the submarines and base. The Chinese submarines will not come here. The base is for our submarines,” he added. The project will be China’s first involvement in a naval facility project in Bangladesh.

The move will no doubt be viewed through geopolitical lens in India, where strategists have long been concerned by China’s network of dual-use facilities along the Indian Ocean littoral. A new China-involved naval facility at Cox’s Bazar will not be reassuring for New Delhi—or for Washington, Canberra, and Tokyo, all of whom see the Indian Ocean as an important area to maintain dominance. The Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy has expanded its operations into the Indian Ocean for some years now and Beijing’s first overseas naval base is in Djibouti. Concerns continue to persist that China could expand its basing options by converting the Pakistani port of Gwadar for military use, or by pursuing other sites in the area—including potentially Cox’s Bazar.

Given India’s close diplomatic relationship with Bangladesh, New Delhi will no doubt communicate its red lines to Dhaka. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh has communicated Dhaka’s position on the matter: namely that Bangladesh would remain friendly to India. The Bangladeshi military and Ministry of Defense apparently did not respond to any queries from BenarNews on the question of the naval base.

Bottom Line: China’s involvement in a Bangladeshi naval base’s construction will raise eyebrows in New Delhi.

From the Ground: Reporting from Indian-administered Kashmir in August, The Diplomat’s Tapasya writes on the Indian government’s ongoing crackdown there: 

Tear gas was shot indiscriminately. As shells landed, the whole street from the mosque to the barricade was covered in clouds of thick smoke. The few journalists who were covering the event, apart from the protesting masses, were affected by the tear gas and had to take cover for a while. The locals were giving salt to apply on the face and water to drink. If it was not for their generosity, I would have been left in the middle of nowhere with burning eyes, coughing and suffocating.

Asia Defense.

Earlier this month, China and Thailand signed an agreement for the construction of a new landing platform dock (LPD) vessel. The deal would see the China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation (CSIC) help the Royal Thai Navy get an export version of the Type 071E LPD built. As my colleague Prashanth Parameswaran noted in his discussion of the agreement, few other details are available. As he wrote:

Few additional details were provided on the deal itself, including the exact cost and contractual terms and timelines. But Chinamil unsurprisingly played up the significance of the move, noting that this was the first time that China had exported the export version of the Type 071E LPD – a product of its advanced technology; maturity of use; and cost competitive – and that it marked “a major achievement” for China and Thailand within their comprehensive strategic partnership that was signed in 2015.

The Type 071E would be the largest warship to date to be exported by China. The Thai deal underscores Beijing’s growing competence as an arms exporter. The Type 071E, like the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s Type 071s, should be able to accommodate several hundred personnel for modest amphibious landing missions. For the Royal Thai Navy, the vessel may have applications in humanitarian assistance/disaster relief missions.

Bottom Line: A new China-Thailand deal underscores their growing defense ties.

In Case You Missed It: U.S. freedom of navigation operations, or FONOPs, in the South China Sea aren’t as newsworthy as they once were, but they’re still worth tracking. On September 13, U.S. Navy Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Wayne E. Meyer sailed near unspecified Chinese-held islands in the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea.

Extras.

Don’t miss the latest episode of the Asia Geopolitics podcast, where Prashanth Parameswaran and I discuss both the Solomon Islands’ decision to switch diplomatic ties from Taipei to Beijing and the energy implications of the Saudi attacks. You can also subscribe to The Diplomat’s Asia Geopolitics podcast on iTunes here; if you use Windows or Android, you can subscribe on Google Play here, or on Spotify here.

This newsletter is written by Ankit Panda, senior editor for The Diplomat, and director of research at Diplomat Risk Intelligence. Please do feel free to reach out with comments, tips, and feedback at ankit@thediplomat.com and follow me on Twitter at @nktpnd and The Diplomat at @Diplomat_APAC.

South Korea’s GSOMIA Decision and Northeast Asian Trilateralism

Solomon Islands prepares to ditch Taiwan; a Taliban deal?; China’s October parade

The Big One.

The end of Northeast Asian trilateralism?

(L-R) South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung Wha, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono following talks in Bangkok, 2 August 2019 (Photo: Kyodo News via Getty)

In August, the government of South Korea announced that it would not renew its participation in the 2016 General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) with Japan. GSOMIA’s demise has been met with great dismay in Washington, D.C., where it is seen as the loss of an important fundamental building block in trilateral coordination in Northeast Asia as the diplomatic crisis between Seoul and Tokyo continues to worsen—and that’s true. 

By many measures, the agreement was a totem for a grand, new trilateral future in Asia. The Obama administration sought to network U.S. alliances to make them greater than the sum of their parts and this decision by Seoul swipes at that legacy. But more seriously, Seoul’s decision shows just how far South Korea-Japan relations have declined. As I told the New York Times shortly after the announcement by Seoul, the two countries have started viewing each other as “adversaries.” (Not enemies, per se, but each is seeking to impose costs on the other.)

GSOMIA, which will remain in effect until November, wasn’t a specialized pact. In fact, GSOMIAs are a fairly generic sort of agreement. The United States has similar pacts with scores of countries and South Korea maintains GSOMIAs with more than 30. The South Korea-Japan GSOMIA allowed—but did not require—Seoul and Tokyo to share classified military information (CMI) with each other seamlessly. In effect, the agreement established agreed-upon practices for the sharing of CMI.

When the agreement was finally concluded in the Obama administration’s final months in office, U.S. Secretary of State Ash Carter issued a statement emphasizing that the ROK-Japan GSOMIA was valuable precisely because of what it offered the two countries in managing the North Korea threat. “By sharing appropriate security information, they will enhance their deterrence posture against North Korean aggression and strengthen their ability to defend against continued missile launches and nuclear tests, both of which are explicitly prohibited by U.N. Security Council resolutions,” Carter noted in a statement.

For South Korea, the loss of GSOMIA will cause an appreciable degradation in the kinds of military information available about North Korean missile launch activity, for instance. Japan maintains a more robust sensor array than South Korea and Seoul will have to rely more on information from the far more superior U.S. land-, sea-, air-, and space-based sensor array to gather information on North Korean launches beyond what its terrestrial radars might offer.

The politics of GSOMIA nonrenewal in South Korea are complex. Informed watchers of South Korean politics have told me that the progressive left in Seoul remains divided on the issue. Writing for The Diplomat, Troy Stangarone takes a look at the public perceptions of the pact in South Korea:

Originally signed in 2016, GSOMIA was controversial even then. At the time, 59 percent of the South Korean public opposed the agreement. However, despite the current tensions between South Korea and Japan, only 47.7 percent of South Koreans initially supported ending the agreement (though since South Korea announced its decision those numbers have risen to nearly 55 percent).

Meanwhile, over at Tokyo Keizai, Dan Sneider writes on the Japanese government’s approach to Seoul’s decision on GSOMIA—and the role of President Trump’s indifference in particular. “There is another reason why Japanese officials do not listen to the even-handed pleas of U.S. administration officials – as long as the blame falls mainly on Moon and Seoul, they are quietly happy,” Sneider adds.

Bottom Line: Economics and national security: the South Korea-Japan crisis is spilling into all dimensions of the relationship.

Introducing Diplomat Risk Intelligence.

I’m excited to introduce a new offering from The Diplomat. Diplomat Risk Intelligence is the new consulting and analysis division of The Diplomat, the Asia-Pacific’s leading current affairs magazine. To learn more, click here.

South Asia.

September 1 has now come and gone. Why does that date matter? Well, earlier in the year, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had said that was the deadline by which he “hope[d]” to have a deal with the Taliban. The exact contours of a U.S. exit deal with the Taliban have been thrown into flux in recent days.

In the last week of August, U.S. President Donald J. Trump said that the United States would seek to maintain a presence of some 8,600 troops in Afghanistan—even after a deal with the Taliban. “We’re going down to 8,600 and then we make a determination from there as to what happens … we’re bringing it down,” Trump told Fox News Radio.

Similarly, General Joseph Dunford, the U.S. chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned that an agreement with the Taliban would take into consideration the security situation in Afghanistan. “I think it’s premature,” Dunford said, to address the prospect of a total withdrawal. “I’m not using the ‘withdraw’ word right now,” he added. “We’re going to make sure our, that Afghanistan’s not a sanctuary.”

Days later, a clearer picture is beginning to emerge. Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. envoy in talks with the Taliban, has presented a deal that would lead to the withdrawal of 5,400 troops from Afghanistan within an initial 135 day period. But there’s still uncertainty. “In principle, on paper, yes we have reached an agreement — that it is done,” Khalilzad said in an interview with an Afghan news channel. “But it is not final until the president of the United States also agrees to it.”

What Trump intends to agree to on Afghanistan remains unclear. On one hand, going into an election year, Trump may see an advantage in becoming the American president to have finally ended the country’s longest-running war. On the other, his recent comments to Fox News suggest that he’s taken a leaf from his military advisers and will seek to maintain several thousands troops through the end of his term. (8,600 troops would be a higher number than the 8,400 that were in Afghanistan at the time when Obama left office.)

Finally, beyond troop counts, the political contours of the final deal remain unclear. The Afghan government has serious concerns about power-sharing. Afghan presidential elections, meanwhile, have been set for September 28, but it’s an open question if they’ll move forward—or go well if they do occur. The Taliban, meanwhile, appear to be no closer to ending their campaign of terror against Afghan civilians. Just as Khalilzad announced the finalization of an agreement in principle, another bombing ripped through Kabul. The future of Afghanistan still contains more questions than answers at this point.

Bottom Line: A U.S.-Taliban deal might soon be announced, but it’s far from clear what exactly it’ll mean for the U.S. presence in the country and the country’s political future.

In Case You Missed It: Mistranslated remarks from Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan on the country’s nuclear policy were widely reported earlier this week. The bad news? There’s no change in Pakistani nuclear policy. 

Asia Defense.

The Dong Feng 41—or DF-41—is one of the most talked-about Chinese ballistic missiles, but the world has yet to get a clear picture of the missile itself or its capabilities. China hasn’t officially unveiled this intercontinental-range ballistic missile, but it’s starting to look like there’s a very good shot that we’ll get our first clean look at the DF-41 at the upcoming October 1 military parade in Beijing to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. The DF-41, known to the U.S. intelligence community as the CSS-X-20, is a multiple-warhead-capable, road-mobile, solid-fuel ICBM.

Not only have well-informed sources said that the DF-41 will make an appearance, but satellite imagery analysts have already spotted large integrated transporter-erector-launchers at a parade training ground northwest of Beijing. 

In the image above, 18 DF-41s, 18 DF-31AG (first seen in 2017) ICBMs, and 18 DF-26 intermediate-range ballistic missiles are seen.

Bottom Line: China’s October 1 military parade is likely to reveal the DF-41 ICBM to the world for the first time.

An anniversary: Two years ago, this week, North Korea conducted its sixth nuclear test—its largest to date and the largest man-made explosion on Earth in some 21 years (maybe even 25 years). 

Two years later, not a single nuclear weapon in North Korea—let alone other facility—has been verifiably dismantled, despite three leader-level U.S.-North Korea summit meetings.

Don’t Miss It: Remember the Stuxnet worm that disabeld Iran’s uranium enrichment facility at Natanz? Well, a critical part of the story that made that malware attack possible for the United States and Israel has just come through. Kim Zetter and Huib Modderkolk report at Yahoo News that Dutch intelligence cultivated a critical human asset in Iran that facilitated the attack.

Southeast Asia.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte met with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping at the end of August. Remarkably, the meeting marked the eighth between the two leaders since Duterte came to power in Manila in 2016. This time, the South China Sea topped the agenda. Duterte has faced criticism domestically for not pressing the Philippines’ maritime entitlements and rights in disputed waters. My colleague Shannon Tiezzi sums up the context leading up to the visit:

Rising anger at the perceived weakness of his China policy pushed Duterte to announce that, during this week’s visit, he would at long last raise the topic of a 2016 international arbitration ruling on the South China Sea that went against China. The case, initiated by Duterte’s predecessor, resulted in a near-complete victory for Manila – most notably the repudiation of China’s claims to “historic rights” over features in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone. Beijing, however, has consistently refused to recognize the ruling, and Duterte had – until now – also declined to bring it up, despite polls showing that nearly 90 percent of the Philippine public want the topic discussed with China. Finally, last week the Philippine president pledged to raise the issue in his talks with Xi.

One of the important outcomes this time was the establishment of a steering committee that they two sides had agreed to establish in principle last November. The steering committee will address the issue of joint resource exploration. On this particular issue, CNN Philippines has an exclusive, reporting on the details of the steering committee. Of note: “The TOR does not specify a specific area covered but Duterte and other officials have mentioned about a 60-40 sharing in favor of the Philippines in the exploration of Recto Bank (international name is Reed Bank; Chinese name is Liyue Tan) in Palawan, within the country’s 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone.” Though South China Sea watcher Greg Poling offers caution on this point:

There are likely to be road bumps in the steering committee process ahead, but Duterte is finally taking China

Bottom Line: After Duterte’s latest China visit, Manila and Beijing look to make progress on the joint resource exploration issue in the South China Sea.

Don’t Miss It: Prashanth Parameswaran and I discussed the implications of the first-ever U.S.-ASEAN maritime exercise on the most recent episode of the Asia Geopolitics podcast. (We also discuss the South Korea-Japan dispute over GSOMIA.)

Oceania.

It’s starting to look like Taiwan may find itself losing yet another diplomatic ally. The Solomon Islands is about to wrap up a study on switching its diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing. After a series of defections beginning in 2016, Taiwan has just 17 countries that recognize it and maintain normal diplomatic ties, including the Solomon Islands. Under the “One China” principle, Beijing and Taipei maintain diplomatic relations with a mutually exclusive set of countries. No country maintains normal diplomatic relations with both governments. The Solomon Islands has recognized Taipei since 1983. A ministerial task force studying the possibility of a switch in diplomatic ties returned from a tour of Pacific Island states that maintain ties with China. In mid-August, a group of ministers from the Solomon Islands went to Beijing.

The Chinese government has not officially addressed the possibility of the Solomon Islands switching diplomatic ties. Speaking at a press briefing on Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson simply said that China was willing to have diplomatic relations with all countries provided they respect the “One China” principle. In any case, watch this space: the Solomon Islands’ final decision could come as soon as this month.

Extras.

The September 2019 issue of the Diplomat’s magazine is now out. This month, we remember Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement while explaining how the events of five years ago led to the current protests sweeping the city. We also evaluate the pace and scope of reforms in Uzbekistan after Karimov, take a hard look at the human costs of Australia’s immigration policy, and explore how North Korea uses cat-and-mouse tactics at sea to avoid sanctions. And, of course, we offer a range of reporting, analysis, and opinion from across the region.

Read the issue by clicking the image above (subscription required).

This newsletter is written by Ankit Panda, senior editor for The Diplomat, and director of research at Diplomat Risk Intelligence. Please do feel free to reach out with comments, tips, and feedback at ankit@thediplomat.com and follow me on Twitter at @nktpnd and The Diplomat at @Diplomat_APAC.

Taking on China’s Information War on Hong Kong

Also: India’s no first-use, F-16s to Taiwan, the Pacific Islands Forum

The Big One.

American social media companies crack down.

For the first time, American social media companies have alleged that China sought to implement a social media manipulation campaign in an attempt to sway global opinion over this summer’s protests in Hong Kong. Both Twitter and Facebook released statements on the matter on the same day. A couple excerpts from both companies’ public statements are worth reviewing.

Twitter:

Overall, these accounts were deliberately and specifically attempting to sow political discord in Hong Kong, including undermining the legitimacy and political positions of the protest movement on the ground. Based on our intensive investigations, we have reliable evidence to support that this is a coordinated state-backed operation. [emphasis added]

Facebook:

The individuals behind this campaign engaged in a number of deceptive tactics, including the use of fake accounts — some of which had been already disabled by our automated systems — to manage Pages posing as news organizations, post in Groups, disseminate their content, and also drive people to off-platform news sites. They frequently posted about local political news and issues including topics like the ongoing protests in Hong Kong. Although the people behind this activity attempted to conceal their identities, our investigation found links to individuals associated with the Chinese government. [emphasis added]

Both companies have remarkably put out an assessment that the operations on their platforms—both of which remain banned behind China’s Great Firewall—were conducted at the direction of the Chinese government. (Admittedly, the Twitter statement is clearer about this charge.)

A few observations on this development:

  • I suspect Twitter and Facebook, by being proactive over Hong Kong, are attempting to get ahead of the sort of criticism that ensued over their relative inaction during the 2016 U.S. elections. This case—while having nothing to do with U.S. politics per se—serves as a strong signal to policymakers scrutinizing the companies that they’re taking more steps to counter state-backed information operations on their platforms.

  • The step is likely to have real costs. This is more the case with Facebook, which is rumored to have longstanding interests in entering the Chinese market in some form. 

  • China delving into overseas information operations over social media has long been suspected, but this presents the clearest evidence. What is debatable is what the Communist Party is hoping to achieve. Part of the impulse seems to be to turn global opinion against the cause of the protesters—perhaps with the aim of eventually decreasing the costs of any intervention by the People’s Armed Policy should that become necessary.

The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ official statement merits some consideration. Spokesperson Geng Shuang said the following in answer to a question on the charges of state-backed disinformation over the two platforms:

I believe you shall know the attitude of the 1.4 billion Chinese on the situation in Hong Kong. You must also know the attitude of overseas Chinese, including Chinese students, through media reports. I believe they have the rights to express their opinions and viewpoints.

Geng’s remark on the rights of mainland Chinese (he didn’t concede that these were information operations) is particularly ironic given that they lack these rights within China.

This is unlikely to be the last we hear of this. I suspect also that Taiwan, where concerns about China’s United Front operations taking on online dimensions are spiking ahead of coming elections, will be very interested. Future operations, for instance, might not repeat the mistakes that allowed these to be sifted out. Based on the evidence Twitter and Facebook released, many of the images being shared by the fake accounts appeared to be clunky and trumped up, giving away their inauthentic nature. That might not be the case next time.

Bottom Line: Twitter and Facebook have taken the gloves off in their push back against Chinese state-backed information operations on their platforms.

Bonus: Don’t miss the latest episode of the Asia Geopolitics with The Diplomat’s Editor-in-Chief Shannon Tiezzi on the protests in Hong Kong.

Introducing Diplomat Risk Intelligence.

I’m excited to introduce a new offering from The Diplomat. Diplomat Risk Intelligence is the new consulting and analysis division of The Diplomat, the Asia-Pacific’s leading current affairs magazine. To learn more, click here.

South Asia.

Recent remarks by Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh on nuclear policy have focused attention once again on New Delhi’s continued commitment to the “no first use” nuclear policy enshrined in its 2003 nuclear doctrine. Speaking at Pokhran, where India had detonated weaponized nuclear devices in 1998, Singh said, “Till today, our nuclear policy is ‘no first use.’” He added: “What happens in future depends on the circumstances.”

The comments have refocused interest on the inviolability—or rather lack thereof—of India’s nuclear posture. I shared some thoughts over at The Diplomat:

This latest watering-down of the credibility of Indian NFU will serve to validate long-standing suspicions in Islamabad and Beijing regarding Indian intentions. Neither of these nuclear adversaries have ever believed India’s ‘no first use’ policy—just as analysts in New Delhi regularly cast doubt on China’s ‘no first use’ pledge, which has been in place since 1964.

Singh’s decision to make the comment that he did on ‘no first use’ appears highly calculated. After his verbal remarks at Pokhran became news, he followed up with a tweet, reiterating the government’s position.

The tweet repeated the language: “Pokhran is the area which witnessed Atal Ji’s firm resolve to make India a nuclear power and yet remain firmly committed to the doctrine of ‘No First Use’. India has strictly adhered to this doctrine. What happens in future depends on the circumstances.”

Singh followed up with his remark that “India attaining the status of a responsible nuclear nation became a matter of national pride for every citizen of this country,” hinting at perhaps the reasoning on his broader comment on ‘no first use.’

Read more here.

Security scholars Christopher Clary and Vipin Narang write in the Hindustan Times that Singh’s comment, while not an upending of the existing nuclear doctrine in itself, effectively throws “into question India’s commitment to adhere to what is now a crumbling pillar of India’s nuclear doctrine.” Clary and Narang have documented how successive Indian governments—Congress and BJP-led alike—have made significant investments in new precision weaponry and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities that would serve to underwrite any shift in nuclear doctrine or policy away from “no first use.”

Indian doctrine might not change today—or even tomorrow—but if it did, don’t say you were surprised. New Delhi has been putting in the investments to realize a change over the years. The consequences, however, would be dangerous.

Bottom Line: The Indian defense minister’s calibrated comment on the country’s nuclear posture may foreshadow important changes in South Asia.

Asia Defense.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of State announced the approval of a possible sale to Taiwan of 66 F-16C/D Block 70 fighters. The sale, if it took place, would come in at $8 billion and easily weigh in as the most significant U.S. arms sale to Taiwan in over two decades. The full release—including the list of material being sold—is available here.

The sale is controversial among American security analysts, many of whom (myself included) see fighters as less of a strategic bounty for Taipei, and more as a serious payout for the defense establishment here. Taiwan, of course, has expressed interest in procuring these weapons, but their primary use lies in peacetime, when they can be used to protect Taiwanese airspace from incursions. In wartime, the People’s Liberation Army Air Force—the Republic of China Air Force’s main opponent—would enjoy swift air superiority.

Particularly for the sum at stake—$8 billion—there could be a range of purchases that would qualitatively ameliorate Taipei’s position across the Strait. The focus should be on developing Taiwanese anti-access capabilities: capabilities that could convey to the PLA that the cost for taking the island of Taiwan will stay high and get even higher.

My colleague Franz-Stefan Gady reports on why Taiwan requested the F-16s:

According to the Taipei Times, Taiwan’s President, Tsai Ing-wen, at the opening of the Taipei Aerospace and Defense Technology Exhibition on August 15 reiterated her intention to buy U.S. fighter jets. “We need to constantly enhance our air defense capability,” she was quoted as saying in an interview. “I hope we can have more F-16 jets.” The Taiwanese president also expressed mild frustration over U.S. foot-dragging over the sale. “I also hope that the US government can make a decision after they complete their internal process,” she said.

Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense officially requested the F-16 fighter aircraft from the U.S. in March to “demonstrate our determination and ability to defend ourselves,” according to the country’s Deputy Defense Minister Shen Yi-ming. The last sale of U.S. fighter jets to Taiwan took place in 1992, under the George H.W. Bush administration. The defense ministry is also reportedly interested in procuring the F-35B, the short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) variant of Lockheed Martin’s supersonic fifth-generation fighter jet.

Either way, this year—which marks the 40th anniversary of the Taiwan Relations Act—is turning into a big one for U.S. arms sale to Taipei. The State Department just weeks ago had approved two separate arms packages at $2.2 billion and $223.56 million each. Specifically, State approved the sale of 108 M1A2T Abrams tanks and support equipment. The additional package included the sale of 250 Block I -92F MANPAD Stinger missiles and four I-92F MANPAD Stinger Fly-to-Buy missiles.

The lingering question—and unease—behind the most recent approved sale of fighters is whether the administration is setting Taiwan up as a political football to be used in broader negotiations with China over trade. American fighter sales to Taiwan have a storied history as far as Chinese sensitivities go and the Trump administration may yet seek to leverage that. Doing so would be disastrous for the U.S.-Taiwan relationship, however, and there are a number of high-level Trump advisers who have a genuine long-term record of support for Taipei.

Bottom Line: U.S. arms sales to Taiwan continue their high tempo this year.

Don’t Miss It: Japan officially selected the Lockheed Martin F-35B for its short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) capable fighter. The F-35B is likely to deploy on Tokyo’s Izumo-class multipurpose destroyers, which are effectively light carriers.

Oceania.

The South Pacific just hit an important institutional milestone. The Pacific Islands Forum met for its 50th iteration this year. The meeting came as the region’s geopolitical profile has grown, given rising interest in the United States and elsewhere in a region that composes the southeastern bounds of the broader Indo-Pacific region. 

Balaji Chandramohan looks at the stakes of the 50th PIF in a feature for The Diplomat

...the Pacific Islands Forum’s 50th anniversary provided a full display of the complexity of geopolitics in the Pacific Islands and the South Pacific. Apart from the Melanesian and Polynesian countries competing for the regional influence, the PIF saw the continued relevance of the West Papua issue. Australia and New Zealand took different approaches to some of the major issues facing the island nations.

And, of course, India and China also reaffirmed and so extended their influence in the South Pacific in an effort to have a significant impact on the wider Indo-Pacific region.

Read more.

Also, related to the PIF, don’t miss a recent interview with the prime minster of Fiji in the Guardian. Frank Bainimarama has some sharp words for his Australian counterpart, Scott Morrison.

Don’t Miss It: Japan doesn’t intend to get left behind as the rest of Asia’s powers intensify their outreach to the South Pacific. Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono just wrapped up a four-country trip across the region, stopping in Fiji, Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands. Read more from The Diplomat’s Grant Wyeth.

Central Asia.

Kyrgyzstan is in the throes of a political crisis that has pitted the current president and his predecessor—once allies—against each other. A glimpse of how crazy things have gotten: “On August 13, the Kyrgyz Prosecutor-General’s Office said Atambayev (the former president) will face charges of using violence against representatives of the authorities, organizing mass unrest, illegal weapons possession, kidnapping and as RFE/RL phrased it ‘masterminding a murder attempt.’”

I spoke to The Diplomat’s Managing Editor Catherine Putz, one of the foremost American voices on the region, about the stakes in the crisis on a recent podcast episode. Listen here to get up to speed.

This newsletter is written by Ankit Panda, senior editor for The Diplomat, and director of research at Diplomat Risk Intelligence. Please do feel free to reach out with comments, tips, and feedback at ankit@thediplomat.com and follow me on Twitter at @nktpnd and The Diplomat at @Diplomat_APAC.

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