Iran seen from Beijing

Author: Kevjn Lim Source: Think tank Published: 16 June 2015

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and China's President Xi Jinping in Shanghai on May 22, 2014

China views Iran as a central element in its much-touted Silk Road Economic Belt, which aims to extend Beijing’s influence overland through Central Asia to the Persian Gulf and Europe.

Also available in Arabic. Although China has long been Iran’s largest oil customer, international sanctions recently relegated the Islamic Republic from third to sixth place among Beijing’s suppliers — a list consistently topped by Iranian rival Saudi Arabia. Similarly, while China’s bilateral trade with Iran reportedly expanded to around $50 billion by late 2014, it remains dwarfed nearly elevenfold by its trade with the United States. Continue reading


Chinese Grand Strategy Is Not Absent, Just Contradictory

Chinese Industry, courtesy of  AK Rockefeller
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Why do so many analysts insist that China has no grand strategy? Denny Roy thinks it’s because Beijing’s behavior is governed by a basic contradiction – Chinese leaders would like to avoid the responsibilities that come with being a great power, but their country’s growing status makes that unavoidable.

By Denny Roy for East-West Center (EWC)

This article was originally published by East-West Center on 3 December 2014.

Many observers, both Chinese and non‐Chinese, say China’s foreign relations indicate that Beijing has no grand strategy. The term grand strategy means a national government’s plan for fulfilling its national interests. Officially, Beijing’s announced grand strategy is “peaceful development,” but this does not tell us much about what really matters. Everyone wants peace and development. The interesting parts are what a government sees as the real threats and opportunities, what tradeoffs the national leaders will make in employing limited resources, and which courses of action are chosen and which rejected. Governments are never completely open about these calculations because deception is an unavoidable aspect of politics, and especially of diplomacy.  But we outsiders can try to filling the missing information on through observation and analysis. I argue that Beijing does have a grand strategy, but that it has some elements that contradict each other. The result is that a specific Chinese foreign policy might support one objective but at the same time work against another objective. Continue reading

China’s Dangerous Game

The country’s intensifying efforts to redraw maritime borders have its neighbors, and the U.S., fearing war. But does the aggression reflect a government growing in power—or one facing a crisis of legitimacy?

Brian Stauffer

In the tranquil harbors that dot the coastline of Palawan, a sword-shaped island in the western Philippines, the ferry boats are crowded with commuters traveling back and forth between sleepy townships, and with vendors bearing fresh produce. On Sundays, they fill with people dressed up for church. From nearby berths, fishermen set out to sea for days at a time aboard their bancas, the simple, low-slung catamarans they have favored for generations.

Just inland from the shore, narrow, crowded streets thrum with the put-put of motorized rickshaws. The signs on the small shops and restaurants that line them are almost as likely to be in Korean, Vietnamese, or Chinese as in the Filipino language Tagalog.

The shore-hugging seas of this part of the world, from the southern tip of the Korean peninsula to the Indonesian archipelago, have always served as a kind of open freeway for culture, trade, and ceaseless migration. In past times, historians of the region went so far as to call the long waterway that encompasses both the East China Sea and the South China Sea the Mediterranean of East Asia. But more recently, it has begun to earn more-ominous comparisons to another part of Europe, a fragmented region that was the famous trigger for the First World War: the Balkans. Continue reading

Counterinsurgency, Local Militias, and Statebuilding in Afghanistan

30 May 2014

Afghan police force trains to serve, courtesy of NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan/flickr
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With an ongoing insurgency and the pending departure of ISAF forces, will the Afghan Local Police (ALP) have a positive impact the country’s politics and security? Jonathan Goodhand and Aziz Hakimi aren’t optimistic. They worry that the force may fragment into competing militias.

By Jonathan Goodhand and Aziz Hakim for United States Institute of Peace (USIP)

This report was originally published by the United States Institute of Peace on 18 December 2013.


In the context of the Afghan security transition of 2014, when the bulk of foreign military forces are due to withdraw, policy debates have focused on the role and capabilities of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF).[1] Much effort has been devoted to building up and bureaucratizing the means of violence in Afghanistan with a view to establishing a legitimate monopoly over the means of coercion. Yet this has been paralleled by a series of government and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) experiments in arming local defense forces, including local militias under the ALP, to fight the insurgency and provide security at the local level. Frequently, notions of Afghan ownership, local solutions, and cost-effectiveness are invoked to justify such programs. This strategy is not without controversy, however. It has prompted concerns about the efficacy and impact of such interventions on the Afghan state’s capacity to rein in armed groups, impose a monopoly over the means of violence, improve security, balance civil-military relations, enforce the rule of law, create political stability, and end the internal conflict. These debates on the role of irregular forces tend to be driven by agency interests and based on limited or disputed evidence. Continue reading

Op-Ed: The POST “Post Cold War” Era in Europe

English: Map showing the maximum territorial e...

English: Map showing the maximum territorial extent of countries under the direct influence of the Soviet Union — between the Cuban Revolution/21st Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the 22nd Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union/Sino-Soviet split. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

April 24, 2014 | Dr. Jeffrey D. McCausland

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine reflects neither strategic wisdom nor military strength. In fact, it reflects just the opposite. Putin invested over $50 billion and significant personal capital in the Sochi Olympics and the upcoming G8 Summit. That has now been squandered. It was clearly humiliating for Putin to watch as the Ukrainian president he had strongly supported, if not hand-picked, was forced to flee Kiev. This was particularly true, given that President Yanukovych fled in response to a popular uprising driven by opposition to his efforts to establish closer Ukrainian relations with Russia at the expense of closer ties to Europe.

      Putin assuaged this humiliation with a military invasion of Crimea on March 1. On March 20, the Russian Parliament overwhelmingly approved a treaty presented by Putin to formally annex the Black Sea peninsula. At this juncture, it seems impossible to envision Moscow backing down, withdrawing its forces, and returning Crimea to Ukrainian control. President Obama, as well as Western European leaders, have acknowledged this reality. The so-called “post-Cold War era” has now come to a close, and the West must now confront a new European security environment. What is the nature of the new threat? What is the general outline of a new strategy for the United States and its NATO allies?
      It is important to realize that the longer-term threat posed by this new era does not herald a return to the Cold War. That “twilight struggle” had an ideological underpinning. It pitted Marxist-Leninist ideology against democracy and market economies. When Nikita Khrushchev made his famous threat, “We will bury you!” in 1956, he was not necessarily predicting imminent war so much as a belief that history was on the side of Communism. He believed that it was Communism, with its focus on a command oriented economy rather than the Soviet military, that would ultimately triumph. Continue reading

Eastern Europe Goes South

Disappearing Democracy in the EU’s Newest Members

Regression to the mean: unveiling a bust of Hungary’s one-time ruler Miklos Horthy, 2013. (Laszlo Balogh / Courtesy Reuters)

Europeans love to celebrate anniversaries, especially those commemorating a terrible past overcome. This year will offer many such moments, marking as it will 100 years since the outbreak of World War I, 75 years since the beginning of World War II, and, most uplifting of all, a quarter century since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Such milestones are bound to make everyone feel good about European unity.

But another important anniversary is less likely to be celebrated, precisely because it would put a damper on those good feelings. Ten years ago, eight eastern European states joined the European Union, followed by Bulgaria and Romania three years later. Europe seemed to have overcome not just Cold War divisions but also deeper historical differences. The EU had brought East and West together, consolidating the fragile democracies that had emerged from the fall of communism. Continue reading

The Regional Implications of Indonesia’s Rise

The Regional Implications of Indonesia's Rise
Image Credit: REUTERS/Beawiharta

Despite a mild economic slowdown amidst China’s economic rebalancing and the U.S. Federal Reserve tapering—and despite a dip in Indonesian shares following a surprisingly weak performance by the favorites in Wednesday’s parliamentary election—the general direction of Indonesia’s economy seems clear: onwards and upwards. Since the Asian Financial Crisis and the fall of Suharto, Jakarta has learned lessons, expedited political reforms, and taken economic strides that today constitute a platform from which Southeast Asia’s largest country can continue to build on what it has achieved to date. That’s not to say corruption, infrastructure deficiencies and inequality do not remain problems for whoever takes the political baton after President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, but Indonesia’s economic trajectory is bending sharply in the right direction. Continue reading