Feature Article

Military coercion takes upper-hand in Indo-Pacific, soft power era is over

[TamilNet, Thursday, 08 November 2018, 23:36 GMT]
“I think in 15 years — it’s not inevitable — but it is a very strong likelihood that we will be at war with China,” said United States Army Europe (USAREUR) former Commander Lt. General Ben Hodges while addressing Warsaw Security Forum on 24 October in Poland. Hodges was making a point to his European partners that the USA would not be able to deter both Russia and China at the same time at the event of a global confrontation in the future. In his drive to convince the US allies in Europe to take a larger share in their preparedness to deter Russia, the former US Commander was implying that the priorities have changed and the military assets of the USA were going to be concentrated in the Indo-Pacific in the long run. The unitary state of genocidal Sri Lanka is deeply caught up in the geopolitical disputes, on which it has sustained its anti-Tamil political space so far.

Chinese missile destroyer
China's Harbin guided-missile destroyer during a China-Russia navy exercise [Photo: AP]


Independent grassroots activists, academics and the journalists among the Eezham Tamils should grasp the state of geopolitical affairs in the larger Indo-Pacific. The turmoil which has engulfed the Sinhala south of the island has come almost two years after the change of guard in Washington, D.C., Tamil political analysts in Jaffna said.

The vote-seeking Tamil politicians will continue to mislead Tamils into believing the wrong dichotomy on the alleged geopolitical alignments of the Sinhala political actors in the South. China seating behind Rajapaksa and USA promoting Wickramasinghe was a dichotomy that belonged to soft power era, they said.

In their opinion, Eezham Tamils should be more concerned about the role of the USA, which is responsible for the paradigm that sustains Tamil miseries in the island, before 2009, after the physical genocide, as well as, both before and after the Resolution 30/1 at the UN Human Rights Council in 2015.

Trump's administration is only evolving the destructive soft power based paradigm of Obama's administration into a hard power oriented geopolitics as far as the genocide-affected nation of Eezham Tamils are concerned. Tamils have always been at the receiving end.

Keen Sword 19
Keen Sword 19 going on now in the Indo-Pacific is the largest and most complex military exercise to be jointly staged by the USA and Japan, according to US 7th Fleet commander [Photo: US Navy/Mass Comm. Specialist 3rd Class Erwin Jacob V. Miciano]


Mara E. Karlin
Dr. Mara E. Karlin, former US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy & Force Development [Photo courtesy: US Department of Defense]
A Brookings Institute report, “Recommendations for future National Defense Strategy” authored by Mara Karlin in December 2017, identified China as the “most significant long-term challenge” for the United States given its consequential military modernization over the past two decades.

Ms Karlin, who has served in national security roles for five U.S. secretaries of defense, identified Russia as a “medium-term challenge” for the United States.

Eric Li, a venture capitalist and political scientist based in Shanghai, has written an interesting article, titled “The Rise and Fall of Soft Power”, which was featured in the US Foreign Policy magazine in August 2018.

“In the post-Cold War era, the West linked soft power and liberalism, but that coupling was never necessary. In the next century, it may well be soft power decoupled from ideology that could rule the day,” Li writes in the article.

Allison Fedirka, a senior analyst at Geopolitical Futures in Washington, D.C., notes that “in geopolitics, nice gestures and money don’t make the world turn.”

Allison Fedirka
Allison Fedirka, Senior Analyst at Geopolitical Futures
“Many people believe that power can be broken down into two forms: soft power and hard power. Since Joseph Nye popularized the notion of soft power in the early 1990s, it commonly circulates in discussions about international relations,” she says in an article of the online publication, which does analyses and predictions based on geopolitics.

“It is typically accompanied by a belief that hard power is a thing of the past (specifically the pre-World War II world) and that states in this ‘civilized’ age engage in diplomacy and trade to get what they want.”

“But some things never change, and there’s still no substitute for hard power,” Fedrika opines in a feature titled, “Hard Power Is Still King,” published by the company, founded by George Friedman, a Hungarian-born U.S. geopolitical forecaster.

“Soft power reads well on paper, but its dependence on persuasion makes it largely inconsequential in the world of geopolitics, whereas hard power dictates reality and the course of events,” Fedrika further notes.

Ben Hodges
The former commander of US Army forces in Europe Lieutenant General (Retired) Ben Hodges addresses defence experts meeting at the Warsaw Security Forum in the Polish capital on 24 October


In October, the Associated Press interviewed Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, who addressed the meeting in Poland, for further clarifications on his statement.

The former commander of the US troops in Europe cited the recent near-miss between a U.S. Navy destroyer and a Chinese warship in the disputed South China Sea. Hodges said it was only one of the signs pointing to “an increasingly tense relationship and increasing competition in all the different domains.”

Hodges was also telling the news agency that China was gaining control of infrastructure by funding projects in Africa and Europe as well. China owns more than 10 percent of the ports in Europe alone, he noted.

Near-Miss incident in Indo-Pacific
Chinese Lanzhou (right) cut into the front of the U.S. Decatur (Left) at a high-speed in the South China Sea. The US Navy DDG-73 dikit missile destroyer was forced to turn after the 40 meter near-miss incident on 30 September [Photo courtesy: US Navy]


Gen. Paul Selva
US Joints Chiefs of Staff Vice Chairman Gen. Paul Selva (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
United States Air Force General Paul Selva, who is the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Virginia based Defense News in January that any fight with China, “if it were to come to blows, would be a largely maritime and air fight.”

“There are two unique competitions that we have to deal with, and the elements are overlapping but not the same,” Gen. Selva told a meeting by Defense Writers Group, a Washington, D.C. institution.

“It doesn’t mean the Army and the Marine Corps don’t have a place. But when you think about how a potential conflict with China would evolve, it very likely involves a substantial contribution from the naval and air forces, and the Army and Marine Corps would be supporting elements in that fight.”

“The Russia global problem set is largely an air and ground fight. Supported by elements of our maritime component, because you can’t get to Russia, you can’t get to Europe in any large measure without transiting the North Atlantic,” Selva was quoted as saying by the Defense News.

China's aircraft carrier Liaoning
China's aircraft carrier Liaoning takes part in a military drill of Chinese People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) in the western Pacific Ocean, April 18, 2018 [Photo courtesy: Reuters]


In 2001, China’s annual military budget was below $20 billion. However, in 2017, the Chinese military allocation exceeded $150 billion, second only to the USA.

The UK-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in 2017 said Asian countries, except China, spent all-together 25 percent more than China on their militaries. The USA spent four times what China did.

China is spending $160 billion on its military in 2018, while its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is estimated at minimum 1 trillion in expenditure for 9 years (2013 - 2022). The BRI involves infrastructure projects in 70 countries.

Russia is spending $66 billion for its military in 2018.

U.S. military spending for the coming period (October 2018 - September 2019) is estimated at $892 billion.

US Vice President Mike Pence at the Hudson Institute on 04 October [Photo: Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press]


On 04 November, US Vice President Mike Pence delivered a speech on Trump administration's policy towards China at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C., where he warned of a tougher approach towards Beijing.

Pences’ China speech was widely interpreted as a portent of ‘New Cold War’, the New York Times said.

In his ‘Cold War’ declaration, Mike Pence was referring to ‘Sri Lanka’.

“Just ask Sri Lanka, which took on massive debt to let Chinese state companies build a port of questionable commercial value. Two years ago, that country could no longer afford its payments, so Beijing pressured Sri Lanka to deliver the new port directly into Chinese hands. It may soon become a forward military base for China’s growing blue-water navy,” he said.

The US Vice President was passing the blame of China's aggression to previous US administrations that had invested in China hoping in return that freedom in China would expand in all of its forms.

“Deng Xiaoping’s famous policy now rings hollow,” Pence said.

“China wants nothing less than to push the United States of America from the Western Pacific and attempt to prevent us from coming to the aid of our allies. But they will fail,” he stated.

Finally, he came with the statement, interpreted as the declaration of Cold-War against China: “[T]he United States Navy will continue to fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows and our national interests demand. We will not be intimidated, and we will not stand down.”

* * *


Washington based National Bureau of Asian Research (NBR) in a report titled “Tenets of a regional defense strategy Considerations for the Indo-Pacific,” issued in August 2018, identifies seven key players and five US security concerns in the Indo-Pacific.

The following video from the US financial and business news service, the Business Insider, graphically illustrates the maritime situation in one of these five security concerns, the South Chinea Sea:



TBR Special Report 72
The key players according to the NBR outlook are: China, Russia, Japan, South Korea, India, Indonesia and Taiwan, and the security concerns in the Indo-Pacific are: North Korea, East China Sea, South China Sea, India-Pakistan Conflict and the Taiwan Strait.

When the near collision of US and Chinese warships took place near the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, the Chinese Luyang destroyer issued the stern verbal signal to the USS Decatur before sailing within 45 yards of the vessel that it would “suffer consequences” if it did not change course.

The US warships were engaged in a “freedom of navigation” near the disputed archipelago off the coasts of the Philippines, Malaysia, and southern Vietnam.

Immediately, the Chinese Defence Ministry claimed that its vessel “took quick action and made checks against the US vessel in accordance with the law, and warned it to leave the waters.”

On 04th November, South China Morning Post documented the episode with transcripts and video, which it had obtained from the British Ministry of Defence.

The recent episodes establish that China is the top military priority to the US, as the former USAREUR commander had pointed out to his European allies at Warsaw.

KNS Helge Ingstad
One of the most advanced naval frigates of Norway, KNM Helge Ingstad F-313, has been seriously damaged after it collided with a massive oil tanker in the early hours of Thursday. The $500 million worth vessel recently took part in the Trident Juncture.


While the Western media was mostly focused on the massive NATO war game known as ‘Trident Juncture’ taking place in Norway with 31 countries and 50,000 troops, ‘Keen Sword 19’ staged at the Indo-Pacific has become the ‘biggest and most complex’ war games to take place with USA, Japan, Canada and 7 other countries in the Indo-Pacific. 57,000 troops are taking part in the Indo-Pacific war games.

The Pentagon has demonstrated its ability to concurrently mobilise the war drills targeting China and Russia, according to the US National Security Strategy and its 2018 National Defense Strategy.

Keen Sword 19
USA, Japan, Canada and 7 other countries joined ‘Keen Sword 19’ war games staged in the Indo-Pacific on 08 November, 2018 [Photo: U.S. Indo-Pacific Command]


US NSS 2018
The December 2017 National Security Strategy (NSS) of Donald Trump lists Indo-Pacific as the first one in the regions of US military focus.

The unclassified summary of the Pentagon's National Defense Strategy (NDS) released in January 2018 mentions Indo-Pacific throughout the document many times.

‘Sri Lanka’ was not mentioned as a partner anywhere in the strategy documents.

Some relevant excerpts from the NDS follow:

“China and Russia want to shape a world antithetical to U.S. values and interests. China seeks to displacethe United States in the Indo-Pacifi c region, expand the reaches of its state-driven economic model, and reorder the region in its favor. Russia seeks to restore its great power status and establish spheres of influence near its borders.”

“We welcome India’s emergence as a leading global power and stronger strategic and defense partner. We will seek to increase quadrilateral cooperation with Japan, Australia, and India.”

Indo-Pacific
An American geographic perception of the Indo-Pacific [Courtesy: NBR special report no. 72]
“In Southeast Asia, the Philippines and Thailand remaining important allies and markets for Americans. Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore are growing security and economic partners of the United States.”

“We will expand our defense and security cooperation with India, a Major Defense Partner of the United States, and support India’s growing relationships throughout the region. We will re-energize our alliances with the Philippines and Thailand and strengthen our partnerships with Singapore, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, and others to help them become cooperative maritime partners.”

“We will deepen our strategic partnership with India and support its leadership role in Indian Ocean security and throughout the broader region. We will press Pakistan to intensify its counterterrorism efforts, since no partnership can survive a country’s support for militants and terrorists who target a partner’s own service members and officials.”

“We will encourage the economic integration of Central and South Asia to promote prosperity and economic linkages that will bolster connectivity and trade. And we will encourage India to increase its economic assistance in the region. In Pakistan, we will build trade and investment ties as security improves and as Pakistan demonstrates that it will assist the United States in our counterterrorism goals.”

US DoD illustration
"Un-invited" Chinese PLA operations in foreign Exclusive Economic Zones, according to US Defense Department


US NDS 2018
The Pentagon's unclassified, 11-page version of the National Defense Strategy (NDS) is another document specifying the strategic as well as the operational defence priorities of the USA.

The NDS document mentions air, land, sea, space and cyberspace as operational domains of the US military.

“Today, every domain is contested — air, land, sea, space and cyberspace,” the NDS says.

Some excerpts from the NDS follow:

“The National Defense Strategy acknowledges an increasingly complex global security environment, characterized by overt challenges to the free and open international order and the re-emergence of long-term, strategic competition between nations.”

“The central challenge to U.S. prosperity and security is the reemergence of long-term, strategic competition by what the National Security Strategy classifies as revisionist powers.”

“China is leveraging military modernization, influence operations, and predatory economics to coerce neighboring countries to reorder the Indo-Pacific region to their advantage. As China continues its economic and military ascendance, asserting power through an all-of-nation long-term strategy, it will continue to pursue a military modernization program that seeks Indo-Pacific regional hegemony in the near-term and displacement of the United States to achieve global preeminence in the future.”

“[T]he United States and its allies and partners constructed a free and open international order to better safeguard their liberty and people from aggression and coercion. Although this system has evolved since the end of the Cold War, our network of alliances and partnerships remain the backbone of global security. China and Russia are now undermining the international order from within the system by exploiting its benefits while simultaneously undercutting its principles and ‘rules of the road’.”

“Both revisionist powers and rogue regimes are competing across all dimensions of power. They have increased efforts short of armed conflict by expanding coercion to new fronts, violating principles of sovereignty, exploiting ambiguity, and deliberately blurring the lines between civil and military goals.”

Be strategically predictable, but operationally unpredictable. Deterring or defeating long-term strategic competitors is a fundamentally different challenge than the regional adversaries that were the focus of previous strategies. Our strength and integrated actions with allies will demonstrate our commitment to deterring aggression, but our dynamic force employment, military posture, and operations must introduce unpredictability to adversary decision-makers. With our allies and partners, we will challenge competitors by maneuvering them into unfavorable positions, frustrating their efforts, precluding their options while expanding our own, and forcing them to confront conflict under adverse conditions.”

“Expand Indo-Pacific alliances and partnerships. A free and open Indo-Pacific region provides prosperity and security for all. We will strengthen our alliances and partnerships in the Indo-Pacific to a networked security architecture capable of deterring aggression, maintaining stability, and ensuring free access to common domains. With key countries in the region, we will bring together bilateral and multilateral security relationships to preserve the free and open international system.”

USS Ronald Reagan
USS Ronald Reagan alongside the USS Antietam. The vessel took part in Keen Sword 19 drill in the Indo-Pacific [Photo courtesy: US Navy]


ITF Report
‘Sri Lanka’ has however gained ‘reference’ in a latest document of the Pentagon.

The Pentagon's unclassified version of the Defence Industrial Base report, which was released on 05 October 2018 mentions, amongst others, "recent ceding of a Sri Lankan port" as an economic coercion by China against U.S. allies and partners.

The report was titled “Assessing and Strengthening the Manufacturing and Defense Industrial Base and Supply Chain Resiliency of the United States.” It was projecting the US preparations for a massive, long-term war effort against China and Russia.

As increased references are being made to “recent ceding” of Hambantota port in the US Defence Establishment, it is evident that former SL Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe and Mangala Samaraweera, the proponents of the so-called ‘2013 Singapore Principles’ based discourse, are not popular at the defence quarters in the USA.

* * *


The SL State, during the rule of Mahinda Rajapaksa as the SL president and after the regime change in 2015 with Maithiripala Sirisena and Ranil Wickramasinghe has been toeing the same approach of exploiting soft-power diplomacy with all three geopolitical powers at the same time.

As a consequence, the SL State is currently entangled in a financial and political disaster, and the turmoil it is experiencing is taking place at the backdrop of a hard power raging in the Indo-Pacific.


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External Links:
Reuters: Weeks after a showdown in the South China Sea, the Navy's top officer says the US and China will 'meet more and more on high seas'
Xinhua: Cooperation under China’s BRI accelerates Sri Lanka’s port industry development
Defense News: The Pentagon is planning for war with China and Russia — can it handle both?
Khaleej Times: Cold War 2.0 in South China Sea, Indian Ocean could harm nations
White House: Remarks by Vice President Pence on the Administration’s Policy Toward China
US Department of Defense : Assessing and Strengthening the Manufacturing and Defense Industrial Base and Supply Chain Resiliency of the United States
White House: US National Security Strategy
Reuters: As Chinese influence grows, Japanese warship visits Sri Lanka
Foreign Policy: The Rise and Fall of Soft Power
SCMP: China donates warships to Sri Lanka and Philippines in drive to expand regional influence
Daily News: Ranil: Our Govt. was never pressurised to handover H'tota port to China
Reuters: U.S. carrier leads warships in biggest ever Japan defense war game
NBR: Tenets of a Regional Defense Strategy: Considerations for the Indo-Pacific
The Sydney Morning Herald: China’s 'extraordinary' ambitions: the futuristic city being built on reclaimed land
New York Times: Pence’s China Speech Seen as Portent of ‘New Cold War’
US Department of Defense : US National Defense Strategy 2018
Business Insider: China's sea power is growing— here's what their future carrier strike group may look like
Global Times: Sri Lanka provides right ground for implementing ‘China-India Plus’ plan
Business Insider: 27 countries are taking part in Australia's largest naval exercise — and China is joining them for first time
Economy Next: Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port gets new gear for heavy load handling
The Daily Beast: Top General Fears War With China and Russia at the Same Time


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