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  • Author: John Mueller
  • Publication Date: 05-2021
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: The Cato Institute
  • Abstract: China, even if it rises, does not present much of a security threat to the United States. Policymakers increasingly view China’s rapidly growing wealth as a threat. China currently ranks second, or perhaps even first, in the world in gross domestic product (although 78th in per capita GDP), and the fear is that China will acquire military prowess commensurate with its wealth and feel impelled to carry out undesirable military adventures. However, even if it continues to rise, China does not present much of a security threat to the United States. China does not harbor Hitler‐​style ambitions of extensive conquest, and the Chinese government depends on the world economy for development and the consequent acquiescence of the Chinese people. Armed conflict would be extremely—even overwhelmingly—costly to the country and, in particular, to the regime in charge. Indeed, there is a danger of making China into a threat by treating it as such and by engaging in so‐​called balancing efforts against it. Rather than rising to anything that could be conceived to be “dominance,” China could decline into substantial economic stagnation. It faces many problems, including endemic (and perhaps intractable) corruption, environmental devastation, slowing growth, a rapidly aging population, enormous overproduction, increasing debt, and restive minorities in its west and in Hong Kong. At a time when it should be liberalizing its economy, Xi Jinping’s China increasingly restricts speech and privileges control by the antiquated and kleptocratic Communist Party over economic growth. And entrenched elites are well placed to block reform. That said, China’s standard of living is now the highest in its history, and it’s very easy to envision conditions that are a great deal worse than life under a stable, if increasingly authoritarian, kleptocracy. As a result, the Chinese people may be willing to ride with, and ride out, economic stagnation should that come about—although this might be accompanied by increasing dismay and disgruntlement. In either case—rise or demise—there is little the United States or other countries can or should do to affect China’s economically foolish authoritarian drive except to issue declarations of disapproval and to deal more warily. As former ambassador Chas Freeman puts it, “There is no military answer to a grand strategy built on a non‐​violent expansion of commerce and navigation.” And Chinese leaders have plenty of problems to consume their attention. They scarcely need war or foreign military adventurism to enhance the mix. The problem is not so much that China is a threat but that it is deeply insecure. Policies of threat, balance, sanction, boycott, and critique are more likely to reinforce that condition than change it. The alternative is to wait, and to profit from China’s economic size to the degree possible, until someday China feels secure enough to reform itself.
  • Topic: Government, GDP, Geopolitics, Economic Growth
  • Political Geography: China, Asia, United States of America
  • Author: Arzan Tarapore
  • Publication Date: 05-2021
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Lowy Institute for International Policy
  • Abstract: The still-unresolved Ladakh crisis has created a new strategic reality for India, marked by renewed political hostility with China, and an increased militarisation of the Line of Actual Control. This new strategic reality imposes unequal costs on India and China. India is likely to defer much-needed military modernisation and maritime expansion into the Indian Ocean — which would impair its ability to compete strategically with China. In contrast, China incurred only marginal material costs; it was probably more concerned with the prospect of continued deterioration in its relationship with India. Even that cost was more threatened rather than realised, and largely reduced when the disengagement plan was agreed.
  • Topic: Crisis Management, Strategic Competition, Militarization, Disengagement
  • Political Geography: China, South Asia, India, Asia
  • Author: Patrick Porter, Michael Mazarr
  • Publication Date: 05-2021
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Lowy Institute for International Policy
  • Abstract: There is a growing bipartisan consensus in Washington on a tighter embrace of Taiwan, which may soon become a stronger implied US commitment to go to war in the event of a Chinese invasion. Taiwan matters to US security and the regional order, and the United States should continue to make clear that aggression is unacceptable. But those advocating a stronger US security commitment exaggerate the strategic consequences of a successful Chinese invasion. The stakes are not so high as to warrant an unqualified US pledge to go to war. American decision-makers, like their forebears confronting the seeming threat of communism in Indochina, may be trapping themselves into an unnecessarily stark conception of the consequences of a successful Chinese invasion of Taiwan. It would be irresponsible for the United States to leave itself no option in the event of Chinese aggression other than war. But nor should Washington abandon Taiwan. There is a prudent middle way: the United States should act as armourer, but not guarantor. It should help prepare Taiwan to defend itself, to raise costs against aggression, and develop means of punishing China with non-military tools.
  • Topic: Conflict Prevention, Foreign Policy, Territorial Disputes, Crisis Management
  • Political Geography: China, Taiwan, Asia, United States of America
  • Author: Greg Raymond
  • Publication Date: 06-2021
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Lowy Institute for International Policy
  • Abstract: China has land borders with mainland Southeast Asia and strong strategic imperatives to develop land routes to the sea. It has both potential and motivation to pursue an infrastructural sphere of influence in the Mekong subregion through Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects joining southern China and mainland Southeast Asia. The poorer states, especially Laos and Cambodia, have been receptive to the BRI and infrastructure investment, but Thailand and Vietnam, strong states and protective of sovereignty, have been more cautious. This means China’s impact is significantly varied across the subregion. China’s Special Economic Zones (SEZs) in Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar are in some cases dissolving borders and in others carving out Chinese-controlled enclaves, all increasing the People’s Republic of China (PRC) presence and influence.
  • Topic: Infrastructure, Foreign Direct Investment, Regional Integration, Borders, Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)
  • Political Geography: China, Asia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Southeast Asia, Laos, Myanmar
  • Author: Jose M. L. Montesclaros
  • Publication Date: 02-2021
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
  • Abstract: With vaccines not expected to fully roll out until 2024, lockdowns remain a critical priority to save lives today. February 2021 marks the end of a year of COVID-19, and the opportunity to re-visit and improve the way lockdowns are implemented in the year ahead.
  • Topic: Pandemic, ASEAN, COVID-19, Health Crisis
  • Political Geography: Asia, Southeast Asia
  • Author: Julius Caesar Trajano
  • Publication Date: 04-2021
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
  • Abstract: The recent swarming of Chinese militia boats in Whitsun Reef may indicate that President Duterte’s appeasement strategy towards China does not really work. Asserting the Arbitral Ruling must therefore be explored by Manila.
  • Topic: Security, Foreign Policy, Militias
  • Political Geography: China, Asia, Vietnam, Philippines
  • Author: Natasha Kassam, Richard McGregor
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Lowy Institute for International Policy
  • Abstract: China has lost the battle for public opinion in Taiwan. Saturday’s elections are likely to reflect strong anti-Beijing sentiment China is already looking past the elections to weaken the island’s democracy through overt and covert means Whatever the result, Beijing will increase pressure on Taipei to open talks on unification
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Politics, Elections, Democracy
  • Political Geography: China, Taiwan, Asia, United States of America
  • Author: Bobo Lo
  • Publication Date: 07-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Lowy Institute for International Policy
  • Abstract: The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the dismal state of global governance. The rules-based order has given way to a new world disorder, dominated by narrow self-interest. The crisis of the liberal order reflects a collective Western failure to live up to its principles. The actions of Donald Trump have damaged the moral authority of the West. There is a future for liberalism in global governance, but on a more inclusive and less antagonistic basis. The primary focus must be on meeting universal challenges, such as climate change, pandemic disease, and global poverty.
  • Topic: Coronavirus, Pandemic, COVID-19, International Order
  • Political Geography: Russia, China, Eurasia, Asia
  • Author: John Edwards
  • Publication Date: 08-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Lowy Institute for International Policy
  • Abstract: Despite Victoria’s second wave of infection, Australia’s economic recovery from the coronavirus is underway. The bitter aftermath includes high and rising unemployment, vastly increased government debt, and a markedly less congenial global economy. Though formidable, the fiscal challenge is well within Australia’s means, especially if the Reserve Bank remains willing to acquire and hold Australian government debt. It may need to do so anyway to suppress an unwelcome appreciation of the Australian dollar in a world where major central banks are committed to low long term interest rates. Australia’s increasing integration into the East Asia economic community offsets the drag from the major advanced economies, but the US–China quarrel and the dislocation of global trading and investment relationships it threatens heightens the tension between Australia’s economic and security choices.
  • Topic: Debt, Economy, Fiscal Policy, Unemployment, COVID-19
  • Political Geography: China, Asia, Australia, North America, Asia-Pacific, United States of America
  • Author: Lydia Khalil
  • Publication Date: 11-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Lowy Institute for International Policy
  • Abstract: The COVID-19 pandemic has emboldened Beijing to expand its use of digital technologies in the name of public health and safety. From mass surveillance, tracking intelligence, and internet censorship to the use of social credit systems, augmented data-collection capabilities, and big data, China’s new normal exposes and expands encroachments on civil liberties. The pandemic has provided a ‘proof of concept’, but China’s actions in the new digital landscape extend beyond managing its own pandemic response and controlling its own citizens. China is aggressively pursuing global technological dominance by investing in its indigenous tech sector and exporting technological surveillance tools. The reach of Chinese-engineered and monitored social control systems has wide-ranging implications, with current pandemic conditions serving as the justification for a significant increase in state surveillance, the adoption of digital authoritarian tools, and the deterioration of privacy and civil liberties.
  • Topic: Human Rights, Intelligence, Science and Technology, Authoritarianism, Surveillance, COVID-19, Civil Liberties, Social Control
  • Political Geography: China, Asia