News Article | May 25, 2017
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. warship carried out a "maneuvering drill" when it sailed within 12 nautical miles of an artificial island built up by China in the South China Sea, to show Beijing it was not entitled to a territorial sea around it, U.S. officials said on Thursday. The operation near Mischief Reef on Thursday, Pacific time, among a string of islets, reefs and shoals over which China has disputes with its neighbors, was the boldest U.S. challenge yet to Chinese island-building in the strategic waterway. It drew an angry response from China, which President Donald Trump has tried to court in recent weeks to persuade it to take a tougher line on North Korea's nuclear and missile programs. [nL1N1IQ2FH] Analysts say previous U.S. "freedom-of-navigation operations" in the Spratly archipelago involved "innocent passage," in which a warship effectively recognized a territorial sea by crossing it speedily, without stopping. On Thursday, the destroyer USS Dewey conducted a "man overboard" exercise, specifically to show that its passage within 12 nautical miles was not innocent passage, U.S. officials said. "USS Dewey engaged in normal operations by conducting a maneuvering drill inside 12 nautical miles of Mischief Reef," one official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "The ship’s actions demonstrated that Mischief Reef is not entitled to its own territorial sea regardless of whether an artificial island has been built on top of it." Commander Gary Ross, a Pentagon spokesman, said that freedom of navigation operations are not specific to one country and the Defense Department would release summaries of these operations in an annual report and not sooner. "We are continuing regular FONOPS, as we have routinely done in the past and will continue to do in the future," Ross said, using an acronym for freedom of navigation operations. The Pentagon has not confirmed the most recent operation. China claims nearly all of the South China Sea and Washington has criticized its construction of islands and build-up of military facilities there, concerned they could be used to restrict free movement and broaden Beijing's strategic reach. U.S. allies and partners in the region had grown anxious as the Trump administration held off on carrying out South China Sea operations during its first few months in office. Greg Poling of Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank said that under international law, Mischief Reef was not entitled to a territorial sea as it was underwater at high tide before it was built up by China. "This was a statement to the Chinese," he said. "The previous two freedom-of-navigation operations only challenged China's demand for prior notification for innocent passage through the territorial sea; this one asserted that there is no territorial sea at all." The Trump administration vowed to conduct more robust South China Sea operations after President Barack Obama was criticized for potentially reinforcing China's claims by sticking to innocent passage. Even so, this was the first freedom-of-navigation operation since October and since Trump took office in January. It comes ahead of a visit to Singapore next week by U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to discuss security with regional counterparts. Beijing said two Chinese guided-missile warships had warned the U.S. vessel to leave the waters and that it had lodged "stern representations" with the United States. China's claims in the South China Sea, through which about $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes each year, are contested by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.
News Article | May 25, 2017
This was the first such operation in the disputed region under Donald Trump’s presidency, according to reports. A U.S. Navy warship carried out a Freedom of Navigation (FON) operation in the South China Sea, reports said Wednesday. This was the first such operation in the disputed region under Donald Trump’s presidency, and the move was reportedly intended to show China U.S. wants to keep the South China Sea open. China claims the entire South China Sea. Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam have overlapping claims. The guided-missile destroyer USS Dewey sailed within 12 nautical miles of artificial Mischief Reef in the South China Sea's Spratly Islands, Reuters reported, citing U.S. officials. China has built an artificial outpost, which has an airfield too. The Defense Department did not confirm the reports. “U.S. forces operate in the Asia-Pacific region on a daily basis, including the South China Sea,” Defense Department spokesman Jamie Davis said in a statement, according to Bloomberg. The U.S. has been conducting regular freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea, angering Beijing. While the U.S. has continued to oppose China’s growing aggression in the disputed region, Beijing has held Washington responsible for creating tensions in the South China Sea region. Other claimants of the South China Sea have blamed China of militarizing the region. However, Beijing defended its actions saying its military equipment will help in the safety of the region, from where about $5 trillion worth of trade passes every year. In March, the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI), a branch of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), released satellite images showing China finishing the construction of its military infrastructure on the South China Sea islands. According to AMTI, the images showed China’s naval, air, radar and defensive facilities were nearing completion. Following this, China’s military aircraft would be able to fly over almost all of the South China Sea with the help of three air bases in the Spratly Islands, and one on Woody Island, the largest of the Paracel Islands. “The same is true of China’s radar coverage, made possible by advanced surveillance/early warning radar facilities at Fiery Cross, Subi, and Cuarteron Reefs, as well as Woody Island, and smaller facilities elsewhere. China has maintained HQ-9 surface-to-air missile systems on the Woody Island for more than a year and has on at least one occasion deployed anti-ship cruise missiles to the island,” the Washington, D.C.-based think tank said in the report. In March, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang stressed the defense equipment on the artificial islands were to maintain freedom of navigation in the region. "Even if there is a certain amount of defense equipment or facilities, it is for maintaining the FON," Keqiang said. "Because without such freedom or without stability in the South China Sea, the Chinese side would be among the first to bear its brunt," he added. The premier also said his country is not militarizing the South China Sea. "With respect to the so-called militarization, China never has any intention to engage in militarization in the South China Sea," Keqiang said at the time.
News Article | May 25, 2017
The South China Sea lies squarely in the tropics. You’ll find a few hundred reefs and atolls in the 3.5 million-square-kilometer tract of water extending from Taiwan nearly to the equator. Six governments claim all or parts of the sea known for its fisheries and undersea reserves of oil and gas. Speaking of gas, China says it turned up a valuable stash of ice. If you said, "huh," you’re right. China, the most militarily and economically powerful among the six maritime title holders, has collected samples of what it calls combustible ice. The Chinese state-controlled news website Global Times last week described the ice-like substance a gas hydrate that contains methane. When melted it turns into natural gas – the search for which is one reason for the broader, multi-country South China Sea sovereignty dispute. Combustible ice sometimes turns up in the tundra but also sometimes in sea beds. Although the extraction of combustible ice won't cut into the waters claimed by other countries, it could still chill overall Sino-Southeast Asian relations that have thawed over the past year as Beijing eagerly negotiates with its neighbors, some scholars argue. Extraction of 16,000 cubic meters of ice per day from May 8-15 took place 320 kilometers southeast of Zhuhai in Guangdong province near Hong Kong. That’s in China’s 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone, which means not technically disputed by the further-flung rival claimants Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam or the Philippines. The news website quotes China's land and resources minister calling the ice finding "a major breakthrough that may lead to a global energy revolution." Ice emits less pollution than other energy sources. China plans to commercialize it by 2030. Here's where things get icy for other countries. Combustible ice is tricky and expensive to extract, by all accounts. The stuff officially known as methane hydrate is usually under sea beds or inside Arctic permafrost. Reserves range from 280 trillion to 2,800 trillion cubic meters, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. China says it has mastered the extraction technique after 20 years of efforts. Other countries with South China Sea claims may get the same idea about exploring for combustible ice in waters off their coasts. They would need to hire foreign technical assistance, likely from experienced contractors in India or the United States -- countries that China doesn’t want to find in the sea that it calls its own despite objections from neighbors and a world arbitration court. “It requires the foreign partner to stick around at the risk of angering China,” says Collin Koh, maritime security research fellow at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. “Involving foreign partners may even prompt China to do more in this area,” he says. “Therefore, it doesn't make sense for ASEAN claimants to try to do anything, unless it's possible to talk about harvesting combustible ice as a joint development initiative among the claimants, a prospect one shouldn't rule out.” Joint development gets talked about a lot but usually doesn't happen because governments or their people might see it as a sovereignty concession. Another thing: The countries with competing maritime claims may resent China for exploiting the new gas source in its economic zone while complaining when others probe for fossil fuel in their own zones, says Gregory Poling, director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative of American think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies. China’s nine-dash line claim to 90% of the sea overlaps the zones of all four Southeast Asian nations. “It raises an issue of hypocrisy,” Poling says. “China gets exclusive rights within 200 nautical miles of its coast but bellows and threatens when any of the neighbors do the same.” The Southeast Asian stakeholders lack capacity to look for combustible ice, he says, and “they're far more concerned about the substantial reserves of conventional natural gas off their coasts that China might prevent them from accessing.”
News Article | May 2, 2017
US deployment of the THAAD anti-missile system in South Korea has angered China and sparked protests in Seoul (AFP Photo/JUNG Yeon-Je) China demanded on Tuesday an immediate halt to a controversial US missile shield hours after Washington announced that the defence system was now operational in South Korea. Washington and Seoul agreed to the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery deployment in July in the wake of a string of North Korean missile tests. But its deployment has infuriated China, which fears it will weaken its own ballistic missile capabilities and says it upsets the regional security balance. "We oppose the deployment of the THAAD system in (South Korea) and urge relevant sides to immediately stop the deployment. We will firmly take necessary measures to uphold our interests," foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a regular press briefing. While Beijing lashed out at the shield's deployment, the foreign ministry expressed support for US President Donald Trump's surprise comments that he would be "honored" to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un under the right conditions. "If it would be appropriate for me to meet with him I would, absolutely. I would be honored to do it," Trump said in an interview with Bloomberg. Asked about Trump's remarks, Geng said that China "has always believed that dialogue and consultation... is the only realistic and viable way to achieve denuclearisation." "We also said many times that the US and DPRK... should make political decisions at an early date, take action and show good faith so that we can create a better atmosphere for resuming the peace talks and settling the issue," he added. Earlier, US Forces Korea said THAAD is "operational and has the ability to intercept North Korean missiles and defend the Republic." A US defence official told AFP, however, that the system has only "reached initial intercept capability". This initial capability will be augmented later this year as additional hardware and components arrive to complete the system, officials said. The THAAD system, which is being installed on a former golf course in the southern county of Seongju, is designed to intercept and destroy short- and medium-range ballistic missiles during their final phase of flight. Beijing has imposed a host of measures seen as economic retaliation against the South for the THAAD deployment, including a ban on tour groups. Retail conglomerate Lotte, which previously owned the golf course, has also been targeted, with 85 of its 99 stores in China shut down, while South Korea's biggest automaker Hyundai Motor has said its Chinese sales have fallen sharply. The THAAD deployment comes as tension soars on the Korean peninsula following a series of missile launches by the North and warnings from the administration of US President Donald Trump that military action is an "option on the table." Further complicating matters, Trump stunned Seoul last week when he suggested South Korea should pay for the $1 billion THAAD system. "I informed South Korea it would be appropriate if they paid. It's a billion-dollar system," Trump was quoted as saying in a published report. "It's phenomenal, shoots missiles right out of the sky." Seoul retorted that under the Status of Forces Agreement that governs the US military presence in the country, the South would provide the THAAD site and infrastructure while the US would pay to deploy and operate it. Thomas Karako, the director of the Missile Defense Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, noted that South Korea's sole THAAD battery does not quite have the range to cover the entire country. But he called it an important first step. "This is not about a having a perfect shield, this is about buying time and thereby contributing to the overall credibility of deterrence," Karako told AFP. "South Korea with THAAD helps communicate to the North that today is not a good day to attack. It doesn't mean that they could not do a lot of damage -- they would -- but it strengthens the overall posture."
News Article | April 18, 2017
U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis is greeted by Saudi Armed Forces Chief of Joint Staff General Abdul Rahman Al Banyan (L) upon his arrival at King Salman Air Base, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst RIYADH (Reuters) - A political solution through U.N.-brokered negotiations is needed to resolve the conflict in Yemen, U.S. Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said on Tuesday as he made his first trip in the role to Saudi Arabia. At the same time, officials have said the United States is considering deepening its role in the Yemen conflict by more directly aiding its Gulf allies, who are fighting Iranian-supported Houthi rebels. At least 10,000 people have been killed and more than 3 million displaced in the war, now in its third year. Millions of people are also struggling to feed themselves. The Houthis control the capital Sanaa and large swathes of territory. The United States backs the Saudi-led coalition which is trying to restore the Aden-based government of Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi to power, including through a devastating aeriel bombing campaign. "It has gone on for a long time, we see Iranian supplied missiles being fired by the Houthis into Saudi Arabia and this is something, with the number of innocent people dying inside Yemen, it has simply got to be brought to an end," Mattis told reporters on his way to Riyadh. Seven ceasefires brokered between government and rebel forces by the United Nations have failed while U.N.-backed peace talks have repeatedly broken down. "We will work with our allies, with our partners to try to get it to the U.N.-brokered negotiating table," Mattis said. He gave no details on what additional support, if any, the United States would provide to the Saudi-led coalition. But he said he was looking to deepen and broaden the relationship between the two countries on the trip. Mattis is expected to meet senior Saudi officials including King Salman and Deputy Crown Prince and Defence Minister Mohammed bin Salman. Jon Alterman, head of the Middle East program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said Saudi Arabia was concerned strategically about Iran, its main rival in a regional power struggle. "The near-term Saudi concern is how they send a message to the Iranians in Yemen, and they would like full-throated American support," Alterman said. The review of possible U.S. assistance, which already includes intelligence support, would come amid evidence that Iran is sending advanced weapons and military advisers to the Houthis. Congressional sources say the Trump administration is on the verge of notifying Congress of the proposed sale of precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia. Increased military support for the Saudi-led coalition could fuel controvesy over the air campaign, which has killed a number of civilians and destroyed infrastructure, including hospitals. The United States' involvement in Yemen has also focused on battling al-Qaeda, whose affiliate there has taken advantage of the chaos caused by the war. Mattis will also be visiting Egypt, Qatar and Israel on a trip which may give clarity on the Trump administration's tactics in the fight against Islamic State militants and its willingness to use more military power than former President Barack Obama did. One of the main questions from allies about Syria is whether Washington has formulated a strategy to prevent areas seized from militants from collapsing into ethnic and sectarian feuds or succumbing to a new generation of extremism, as parts of Iraq and Afghanistan have done since the United States invaded them. U.S.-backed forces are fighting to retake the Islamic State strongholds of Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria, and questions remain about what will happen after that and what role other allies such as Saudi Arabia, can play. Administration officials said the U.S. strategy in Syria -- to defeat Islamic State while still calling for the removal of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad -- is unchanged, a message Mattis is expected to reinforce.
News Article | May 4, 2017
U.S. presidents and Cabinet officials have met with worse than Duterte, but the Philippine leader is all but invigorating China's rise. Action, reaction. American forces raced for the Syria/Turkish border last week after Turkish warplanes bombed Kurdish fighters allied with Washington in the fight against the Islamic State. The move angered Ankara, which considers the Kurdish YPG to be a terrorist group, and placed Washington in the uncomfortable position of defending one non-state ally against a longtime NATO partner. It’s also put U.S. forces in the middle of a shooting war, in the role of a human buffer in armored vehicles. On Wednesday, a top aide to Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan told a radio program that those troops aren’t safe: “we won’t be considering the fact that there are armored American vehicles…All of a sudden, by accident, a few rockets can hit them.” Strangeways. “The U.S. show of force is a very public reminder of American support for the Kurds, who make up a majority of the Syrian Democratic Forces, a 50,000-strong collection of local militias currently moving on the Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa,” FP’s Paul McLeary reports. U.S. military commanders have said repeatedly that the Kurds are the only viable military option to defeat ISIS on the ground in Syria. On his way. The threats come about two weeks before Erdogan is due in Washington to meet with president Trump. On Wednesday, the Turkish leader met with Russian President Vladimir Putin, where the two talked about creating “safe zones” in Syria for civilians. Russia pushed the idea at peace talks in Kazakhstan between the moderate Syrian opposition, the Syrian regime, Russia, Iran, and Turkey Wednesday, but representatives of the opposition walked out of the talks over continued Syrian government bombing of hospitals and civilian targets, and the role Iran is playing in the Syrian civil war. The opposition returned to the table Thursday, and the Russians hope to sign a memorandum calling for the safe zones by the end of the day. Damascus appears to be a fan of the idea, but U.S. defense officials say they are not planning to create any safe zones, or no-fly zones in Syria. Values here. In his second address to his department since taking up his new job, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called on his staff to forget what they thought they knew and approach their jobs “with no constraints” on their thinking, writes FP’s Emily Tamkin. Tillerson did not address the expected budget cuts that could decimate plenty of departments, though he did implicitly promise organizational changes. Tillerson also said the days of Washington attempting to export its values — and push for respect for human rights abroad — are over. Insisting that potential partners uphold international norms only “creates obstacles to our ability to advance our national security interests, our economic interests,” he said. Pressure points. But the secretary did outline the White House’s North Korea policy more explicitly than any U.S. official has in the Trump administration. He said that the plan is to lean hard on China to lean harder on Pyongyang. “It’s a pressure campaign that has a knob on it,” he said. “We’re at dial setting five or six now.” Tillerson added that Washington would negotiate with North Korea “when conditions are right,” but there are conditions. “We are not going to negotiate our way to the negotiating table. That is what Pyongyang has done for the last 20 years, is cause us to have to negotiate to get them to sit down. We’ll sit down when they’re ready to sit down under the right terms.” Road rules. On Tuesday, members of the Senate Intelligence Committee boarded a bus to Langley, Virginia, as part of their probe into Russian election meddling. Many facets of the congressional probe into Russian election meddling are unusual, but these field trips are part of yet another “first” for the intelligence panel: access to raw intelligence, reports FP’s Jenna McLaughlin. After “significant negotiations,” the chairman and vice chairman got access to “categories and types of intelligence documents that have never been provided to Congress before” — even beyond what the Gang of Eight has received in the past, one Senate staffer emailed. More on what they saw here. Over there. President Trump is due to travel to Brussels later this month for a critical NATO meeting, which will be the first time many alliance members will meet him in person. He’ll encounter an alliance that is changing, and while he will likely take credit for those changes, most of the reforms and new spending plans were in the works well before January 2017. “For NATO’s newest members, it is Russia, not Trump, that is motivating their spending,” writes FP’s Paul McLeary. Romania is one of the countries at the forefront of this new spending push, and the country’s ambassador to the United States recently pointed out to FP that “Crimea sits less than 200 miles from its shores, and Romania shares a long border with Serbia, which has moved closer to the Kremlin as it buys Russian warplanes and air defense systems. And when NATO opened a missile defense site in Romania last year, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared the country to be in Moscow’s ‘crosshairs.’” Best coast. The commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard issued a stark warning on Wednesday that Russia was leagues ahead of Washington in the Arctic. And while the warming Arctic opens up, the United States could be caught flat-footed while other geopolitical rivals swiftly step in, according to a new report by FP’s Robbie Gramer. Paul Zukunft, the coastie commandant, warned Moscow is building up a huge military and industrial presence in the region while the United States dawdled. Russia is showing “I’m here first, and everyone else, you’re going to be playing catch-up for a generation to catch up to me first,” said Zukunft in remarks before the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “They’ve made a strategic statement,” he said. Welcome to SitRep. Send any tips, thoughts or national security events to firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter: @paulmcleary or @arawnsley. The news today, oh boy. North Korea is extra grumpy with its neighbor to the north following signals from China that it’s open to a tougher line on Pyongyang’s antics. The flareup started with a war of words between both countries’ state-run media. North Korea’s KCNA warned China that the daily “absurd and reckless remarks” in Chinese state media calling for sanctions against North Korea could lead to “grave consequences” and advised that “the DPRK will never beg for the maintenance of friendship with China.” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang responded to the broadside by saying that Beijing is still interested in having “good neighborly and friendly cooperation” with the North. Ain’t no party like a Balad party. Two former investigators for a private security company charged with protecting an Iraqi F-16 base say that company employees engaged in a booze-soaked campaign of corruption, theft, and human trafficking. The AP reports that Virginia-based contractor Sallyport fired investigators after they allegedly uncovered rampant misconduct by company employees at Balad Air Base, where the company had a $700 million contract to provide security. The investigators say employees charged with directing traffic on the tarmac at Balad regularly showed up to work drunk, popping Vodka-soaked gummy bears and smuggling in so much booze, and guns, that a plane carrying the illicit cargo tipped over. Investigators also allege that Balad was home to a prostitution ring patronized by Sallyport employees. Yemen. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) effort to piece together a national army in Yemen is faltering due to political divisions within Yemeni society, Reuters reports. UAE forces fighting as part of the Saudi-led coalition against the Houthi movement in Yemen have been trying to train up local forces to buttress the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi. But UAE troops tell the wire service that their Yemeni trainees are often unwilling to fight alongside troops from other parts of the country. One of the biggest rifts in the force is the hesitance of troops from southern Yemen, previously an independent country, to fight in the north. Missiles. Iran is trying to get its midget submarines to fire cruise missiles, according to Fox News. Anonymous sources tell the cable news outlet that Iran tried to fire a cruise missile from a Ghadir submarine, based on North Korea’s Yono-class design, but the launch failed. The tiny subs are usually reserved for firing torpedoes and laying sea mines. Iran claimed to have successfully fired a missile from a submarine for the first time back in February but whether that claim pertains to a Ghadir cruise missile launch or another platform remains a mystery. Raider. Congressional appropriators tweaked the funding for the B-21 stealth bomber in the latest spending bill, shaving off $20 million for the program and attaching a handful of new oversight requirements, according to Defense News. The 2017 omnibus spending bill shelled out $1.338 billion for the B-21, down from $1.358 billion. Appropriators also called for an inspector general review of the program and clamped down on the Air Force’s ability to transfer and reprogram funding without Congressional approval. Bonus. The Army wants to stand up a new brigade to improve the training of Iraqi and Afghan forces and so it’s offering troops with training experience a $5,000 bonus to sign up for the new unit. The program is aimed at mid-career non-commissioned officers and hopes to address some of the problems caused by the piecemeal approach to training as parts of other units carry out training missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Pic of the day. To the observant celebrating today’s holiday, May the Fourth be with you. Always.
News Article | April 28, 2017
FILE PHOTO: The logo of CNPC (China National Petroleum Corporation) is pictured at the 26th World Gas Conference in Paris, France, June 2, 2015. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier/File Photo BEIJING (Reuters) - As the United Nations Security Council decides whether to tighten the sanctions screws on North Korea, the country's increasingly isolated government could lose a lifeline provided by state-owned China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC). For decades, the Chinese oil giant has sent small cargoes of jet fuel, diesel and gasoline from two large refineries in the northeastern city of Dalian and other nearby plants across the Yellow Sea to North Korea's western port of Nampo, five sources familiar with the business told Reuters. Nampo serves North Korea's capital, Pyongyang. CNPC also controls the export of crude oil to North Korea, an aid program that began about 40 years ago. The sources said the crude is transported through an ageing pipeline that runs from the border town of Dandong to feed North Korea's single operational oil refinery, the Ponghwa Chemical factory in Sinuiju on the other side of the Yalu river, which splits the two nations. The plant makes low-grade gasoline and diesel, the Chinese sources said. The five people outlined previously unreported details about CNPC's deals with Pyongyang and how it came to dominate that business, giving insight into the two countries' relationship and what's at stake as decades of close ties sour badly because of growing concerns about North Korea's missile programs and development of nuclear weapons. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will press the U.N. Security Council on Friday to swiftly impose stronger sanctions in the event of further provocations by the reclusive state, including a long-range missile launch or sixth nuclear test. President Donald Trump's administration is focusing its North Korea strategy on tougher economic sanctions, possibly including an oil embargo, a global ban on its airline, intercepting cargo ships and punishing Chinese banks doing business with Pyongyang, U.S. officials told Reuters earlier this month. North Korea imports all its oil needs, mostly from China and a much smaller amount from Russia. It bought about 270,000 tonnes of fuel, from gasoline to diesel, last year, according to China's customs data. Crude oil exports from China to North Korea have not been disclosed by customs for several years, but the sources say it's about 520,000 tonnes a year. In North Korea, diesel has been critical for farming, especially at this time of year, ahead of the planting season and also around October for harvesting. Gasoline is mainly used by the transport industry and the military, experts say. Earlier this month, the Global Times, an influential Chinese tabloid whose stance does not necessarily reflect official policy, raised the possibility of cutting oil shipments to North Korea if it were to conduct another nuclear test. Most analysts argue such a harsh policy would be potentially destabilizing to the regime of Kim Jong Un and say curbing oil imports may be a more realistic option. "China could potentially be convinced to cap volumes like they did with coal, at the UNSC (United Nations Security Council) as part of a new sanctions resolution following another nuclear test," said Bonnie Glaser of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. Any loss of the North Korea trade will have only a tiny effect on Dalian. Dalian's two refineries having a combined capacity to process over 600,000 barrels of crude oil per day, about 40 times North Korea's requirements. CNPC, which controls both refineries, started to dominate the North Korea business in the late 1990s. Wang Lihua, who ran CNPC's trading arm from 1998 until her retirement this month, was the mastermind behind the dealmaking, beating out state rivals like Sinochem, the sources said. "CNPC has all along been the most politically minded among state energy firms, aiming for that role of North Korea's dominant supplier even if the business makes little money," said one of the sources, who is close to CNPC. CNPC and Sinochem did not respond to Reuters' requests for comment. Pyongyang's increasing nuclear and ballistic missile tests have already put the brakes on the trade. Beijing quietly suspended a decades-long aid program of 50,000 tonnes annually of aviation fuel in 2013. The government officially announced a ban on jet fuel only last June.
News Article | April 25, 2017
In an unusual move, the White House will host the entire Senate to update lawmakers on tensions with Pyongyang. But it’s not clear where the Trump administration is headed. The White House will host the entire Senate on Wednesday for an extraordinary briefing on North Korea amid rising tensions with Pyongyang and growing questions about how the Trump administration intends to halt the regime’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. Classified briefings for lawmakers from top officials are not unusual and are held on a regular basis on Capitol Hill. But in this case, President Donald Trump belatedly proposed that a planned briefing on North Korea be hosted at the White House, with the secretaries of State, Defense, the U.S. military’s top officer and the head of national intelligence due to speak to senators. The last-minute decision, coinciding with tough rhetoric from the White House and bellicose threats from North Korea, took lawmakers by surprise and fueled doubts about the Trump administration’s often disjointed efforts at crafting a policy to neutralize the North Korean nuclear threat. Administration officials have publicly jettisoned long-standing U.S. policy on North Korea but have yet to articulate what will replace it. In a meeting with U.N. Security Council representatives on Monday at the White House, Trump cited the urgency of the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, and suggested his administration was determined to address the danger once and for all. “People have put blindfolds on for decades, and now it’s time to solve the problem,” Trump told the diplomats. The White House has repeatedly said that it has abandoned the Obama administration’s approach of so-called “strategic patience,” saying it will not tolerate North Korea’s march toward a nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missile. But it’s not clear how Trump and his deputies intend to crack a problem that has vexed the United States and its allies for more than a quarter of a century. Senior officials say the primary focus of U.S. policy at the moment centers on a diplomatic push to persuade China to use its influence with North Korea to force Pyongyang back from the brink. But it’s doubtful Washington has sufficient leverage to convince Beijing to impose an economic squeeze on the North. Moreover, China has always feared any action that could trigger the collapse of the Pyongyang regime on its border. Previous U.S. administrations have tried the same approach and come away disappointed with China’s cautious steps. “All sides understand the stakes and understand what needs to happen,” a White House official told Foreign Policy, referring to discussions with China. But the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said it remained to be seen if China would take the necessary steps against North Korea. He added that “there is not infinite patience on our side” but did not elaborate. Some experts have urged the White House to impose sanctions directly on Chinese companies if Beijing refuses to press Pyongyang, but administration officials declined to say if that option is under serious consideration. Experts told the Senate Armed Services Committee at a hearing on Tuesday that even if China agreed to ramp up pressure on the regime, North Korea probably would not give up its efforts to build nuclear warheads for long-range ballistic missiles. “We essentially have to prepare for a North Korean capability that will ultimately reach the United States,” said Victor Cha of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, who served in the former Bush administration. Cha said efforts at deterring the North through sanctions or military deployments are worth pursuing but also posed dangers “because of the unpredictability of this regime.” The Trump administration has warned that all options are on the table, including potential military action. But a former senior official in the Bush White House said that destroying North Korea’s nuclear arsenal through military strikes could prove impossible, given the technical advances made by the regime. There are an increasing number of nuclear targets and those targets are increasingly hard to reach, said Aaron Friedberg, a professor at Princeton University who served under former Vice President Dick Cheney. “North Koreans are starting to develop mobile ballistic missiles. The problem with preempting or attacking in a preventative way and destroying the North Korean nuclear capabilities is only getting worse,” Friedberg told the committee. The sense of urgency over North Korea’s nuclear program has steadily mounted in the U.S. intelligence community and the Pentagon over the past decade, as the regime has demonstrated increasing technical prowess. Although the North makes plenty of false claims about its nuclear capabilities, “the nuclear tests are not solely provocations or opportunities for saber rattling,” said Kelsey Davenport of the Arms Control Association. Over the past five tests, the country has increased the explosive yield of its nuclear warheads, and the regime’s scientists are also likely using the tests to experiment with different warhead designs. “After five tests we should also assume that North Korea can build a warhead small enough to fit on short or medium range ballistic missiles,” Davenport said. It’s unlikely that Wednesday’s briefing at the White House will clear up concerns among many lawmakers about the administration’s handling of tensions on the Korean peninsula, particularly after its bungled messaging about the location of an aircraft carrier. The administration suffered an embarrassing episode last week when it acknowledged that a naval strike group, spearheaded by the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier, was not off the coast of the Korean peninsula as officials had announced earlier. In fact, the warships were thousands of miles away, training with the Australian navy. The incident reinforced fears in Japan and South Korea about U.S. credibility and that the Trump administration was failing to consult with allies about its responses to North Korea. One South Korean presidential candidate, Hong Joon-pyo, from the conservative party of ex-president Park Geun-hye, said the confusion caused by the American administration’s statements on the whereabouts of the carrier could mean that Seoul would “not trust” Trump’s words in the future. Still, administration officials believe an assertive U.S. military presence in the region in recent weeks has sent an unmistakably stern warning to North Korea as the regime appears poised to conduct its sixth nuclear test. The United States is set to test one of its own missile systems on Wednesday, when an unarmed Minuteman III ballistic missile will be launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. “These Minuteman launches are essential to verify the status of our national nuclear force and to demonstrate our national nuclear capabilities,” Col. John Moss, commander of the U.S. Air Force’s 30th Space Wing commander, said in a statement. Off the coast of Korea and Japan this week, U.S. Navy ships are also conducting drills in the Sea of Japan with the South Korean and Japanese navies. The destroyers USS Wayne E. Meyer and Wang Geon are engaged in one exercise, while two other destroyers — the USS Fitzgerald and Japan’s Chokai — are also operating together nearby. Pyongyang greeted the deployments with typical bombast, after the USS Carl Vinson eventually made its way toward the Korean peninsula, and the USS Michigan, a guided-missile submarine, made a port visit to South Korea this week. “If the enemies dare opt for the military adventure despite our repeated warnings, our armed forces will wipe the strongholds of aggression off the surface of the earth through powerful preemptive nuclear attacks,” Defense Minister Pak Yong Sik said in a televised speech Tuesday. The regime kicked off Tuesday with a vast live-fire artillery exercise that included as many as 400 long-range guns — the same weapons that would be trained on Seoul’s civilian population in the event of a war.
News Article | April 17, 2017
U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis is greeted by Saudi Armed Forces Chief of Joint Staff General Abdul Rahman Al Banyan (L) upon his arrival at King Salman Air Base, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst WASHINGTON (Reuters) - On his first trip as U.S defense secretary to parts of the Middle East and Africa, Jim Mattis will focus on the fight against Islamic State and articulating President Donald Trump's policy toward Syria, officials and experts say. His trip may give clarity to adversaries and allies alike about the Trump administration's tactics in the fight against Islamic State militants and its willingness to use military power more liberally than former President Barack Obama did. One of the main questions from allies about Syria is whether Washington has formulated a strategy to prevent areas seized from militants from collapsing into ethnic and sectarian feuds or succumbing to a new generation of extremism, as parts of Iraq and Afghanistan have done since the U.S. invaded them. U.S.-backed forces are fighting to retake the Islamic State strongholds of Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria, and questions remain about what will happen after that and what role other allies such as Saudi Arabia, can play. There are signs that Trump has given the U.S. military more latitude to use force, including ordering a cruise missile strike against a Syrian air base and cheering the unprecedented use of a monster bomb against an Islamic State target in Afghanistan last week.Administration officials said the U.S. strategy in Syria -- to defeat Islamic State while still calling for the removal of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad -- is unchanged, a message Mattis is expected to reinforce. Arriving in the region on Tuesday, his stops include Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar and Israel. "Particularly with the Saudis and the Israelis, part of the discussion will be clarifying for them what our strategy is towards Syria in light of the strike," said Christine Wormuth, a former number three at the Pentagon. Islamic State has lost most of the territory it has held in Iraq since 2014, controlling about 6.8 percent of the nation. The United States also is considering deepening its role in Yemen's conflict by more directly aiding its Gulf allies that are battling Houthi rebels who have some Iranian support, officials say, potentially relaxing a U.S. policy that limited American support. "The Saudi concern is strategically Iran... The near-term Saudi concern is how they send a message to the Iranians in Yemen, and they would like full-throated American support," said Jon Alterman, head of the Middle East program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank in Washington. The review of possible new U.S. assistance, which includes intelligence support, would come amid evidence that Iran is sending advanced weapons and military advisers to the Houthis. Congressional sources say the Trump administration is on the verge of notifying Congress of the proposed sale of precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia. Some U.S. lawmakers have expressed concern about civilian casualties in Riyadh's campaign in Yemen. Experts say Egyptian officials are likely to seek more support from Mattis, a retired Marine general, for fighting militants in the country's Sinai peninsula. Islamic State has waged a low-level war against soldiers and police in the Sinai for years, but increasingly is targeting Christians and broadening its reach to Egypt's heart. "They would also like more American support in fighting terrorism in the Sinai peninsula and they like more American confidence that they are doing it the right way," said Alterman. Mattis also will be visiting a U.S. military base in Djibouti, at the southern entrance to the Red Sea, where operations in Yemen and Somalia are staged, and just miles from a new Chinese installation. The White House recently granted the U.S. military broader authority to carry out strikes against al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab militants in Somalia. Last week the Pentagon announced that a few dozen U.S. troops had been deployed to Somalia to train members of the Somali National Army.
News Article | April 21, 2017
Globalization and the international rules-based order that underpins it are under siege. Bunkering down and hoping the flames of populism burn out as economic growth picks up is not a winning strategy. The crisis of confidence in the benefits of globalization and multilateralism likely will persist as long as rates of social and economic inequality remain stubbornly high. The best defense of multilateralism and the rules-based order is a good offense. Addressing inequality and updating the rules of the global economy to reflect the needs of the 21st century must guide the agenda for this week’s International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank spring meetings. The finance ministers and central bank governors gathered for the spring meetings should focus on new approaches to reduce inequality and increase resilience, not just on new language for press releases and other official statements. A number of steps to restore faith in the system should be considered, including improving the rules shaping international trade, developing a shared vision for effective regulation of technology, and ensuring the IMF and multilateral development banks (MDBs) are prepared to help prevent and respond to crisis. The post-second world war period has produced the greatest economic expansion in world history, including a dramatic reduction in extreme poverty. Yet the institutions, norms and rules that form the backbone of the economic order have proven remarkably slow to change. The most prominent example was the inability of global financial regulation to keep pace with the innovation and evolution of the financial system, contributing to the most severe global recession since the Great Depression. The rise of a global populist strand that seeks to draw economies apart rather than bring them together also represents an existential threat to multilateralism and the rules-based order. While protectionism makes for good political soundbites, history is littered with examples of the failure of these policies. Yet it is true that changes to the international trading system are needed, especially non-tariff barriers to trade that harm fair competition. All credible ideas should be on the table, including potential penalties for countries with persistently large current account surpluses, particularly those that intervene in the foreign exchange market. While global supply chains may reduce the impact exchange rates have on trade, it is still critical we find new ways to address the unfair advantage some derive from manipulating their currency. The IMF can and should do more to hold countries accountable. A multilateral approach to addressing imbalances will be far more effective and less draconian than any unilateral or regional solution. And additional reforms to the international trading system are needed, including faster resolution of disputes between countries, increased transparency, and improved technical assistance to developing countries. Advances in technology are radically transforming the global economy. The lack of global policy coordination to address technologies that often live outside the borders of any one jurisdiction is already having a negative impact on innovation and regulation. While issues related to taxation have dominated the discussion at previous spring meetings, there are several other subjects deserving of attention. Reducing data localization – the requirement that data is stored, managed and handled within a country’s borders – especially as it pertains to financial data, needs to be addressed. Maintaining information in unnecessary jurisdictions creates a barrier to entry for many smaller firms and slows innovation by way of machine learning with the ability to transform fields like financial inclusion which are central to reducing inequality. A major hurdle to reducing data localization is formulating a global framework for managing data privacy issues. The EU–US Privacy Shield is already providing a structure for the United States and Europe, but officials need to focus on building a framework that includes far more of the global economy. As the memory of the global financial crisis fades, it is critical that the lessons we learned from facing the abyss continue to impact our policy choices. While post-crisis reforms have made the global financial system more resilient, in many ways governments have fewer tools today to protect the system from another crisis. This is one of many reasons it is essential the MDBs and IMF are well resourced. The World Bank’s ability to lend during the Great recession helped ensure it did not become a depression. Those leading the justified efforts to optimize MDB balance sheets should carefully consider how resources can be stretched while maintaining the ability to lend during a crisis. The IMF lending toolkit should not be overly constrained by inflexible requirements that limit its ability to prevent and respond to a crisis. Fears that all but the most rigid standards will put taxpayer money at risk are significantly exaggerated. The IMF has never lost a dollar of taxpayer money, and should maintain the flexibility needed to protect the global economy. After nearly a decade responding to the financial crisis and its economic aftershocks, officials must now devote the same level of creativity and ambition to addressing the crisis of confidence in the international economic order. Protectionism and a retreat from international cooperation is clearly not the answer, but policy makers minimize the underlying mistrust of globalization and multilateralism at their peril. In order to promote sustainable and inclusive growth, policymakers must focus on tangible changes that are responsive to the challenges we face. Wally Adeyemo is a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and previously served as deputy national security adviser for international economics during the Obama administration.