Are China and Russia challenging US military dominance?

China is strengthening its military might, while Russia is asserting its foreign policy influence. IISS expert Bastian Giegerich talks to DW about changing US global dominance and the threat of a “great-power war.”

China J-20 fighter jet (Reuters/China Daily)

DW: You note in the IISS 2018 Military Balance report that China has been investing heavily in its air force. Is Beijing now on par with Washington in terms of air dominance?

Bastian Giegerich: China is not yet on par with the United States but it’s catching up. And in some selected areas, our assessment is indeed that China is doing more than just catching up. There are a couple of examples to illustrate that: For instance, we assess that China will add an extended-range air-to-air missile to its inventory this year, and we expect its stealth fighter jet, the J-20, to enter front-line service by 2020. And those are indeed advanced capabilities that challenge air superiority for the United States: At the very least, they will have the effect that the air domain will become a very contested domain again. Operational assumptions over the past two decades for the US, and I would say Western militaries in general, have been that the West and the US own the air domain and can operate in it with great freedom. I think those days now are over.

Your report also notes that China is investing heavily in its navy. What’s the goal in that? 

In the last four years, China has built vessels with a total tonnage that is greater than the total tonnage of the French Navy and is roughly equivalent to the total tonnage of the British Royal Navy. So, clearly the goal for China here is to further develop its blue-water capabilities. In other words, the ability to project force at extended range across the seas.

And the other element which is important to this is that China has opened its first overseas base in Djibouti, which will enable more naval deployments because it will be a base that will help to sustain deployed vessels over time and thereby further contribute to China’s ability to expand power across the oceans.

In Russia, the story seems to be very different. Is Moscow having difficulties when it comes to modernizing its military forces?

Russia has felt that economic difficulties … pose limits to its ability to fund its ambitious defense modernization program. So, in our assessment, that defense modernization program has slowed down a little bit.

The important difference is, however, not just in terms of the ability to spend but the ability to operate and practice. Unlike China, Russia has used, and continues to use, its armed forces in conflicts — in Syria and also with a view to eastern Ukraine. So Russia has gathered a lot of experience using new equipment, using new technologies, putting its personnel through different rotations on operations. It has an advantage there. And China has not yet done that.

Bastian Giegerich International Institute for Strategic Studies (James Clements)Giegerich and his team compiled the 2018 Military Balance report

Under President Donald Trump the US has been urging its European allies to invest more in the military. And this year’s report notes a dramatic increase in European military spending 2017. Do you think this is due to the pressure from Washington?

I think more than anything else it is driven by a recognition in Europe that the world is a dangerous place, that threat perceptions have changed. I would say that is mostly driven by Russia’s more assertive foreign policy behavior, and of course the conflict in Ukraine. American pressure has certainly played a role as well, but it would be wrong to say the spending increases in Europe are a Trump effect — they actually started before Trump took office.

The gloomiest part of your analysis might be the possibility of a great-power conflict. China, Russia and the US are modernizing their nuclear arsenals. Are we returning to the beginning of the 1980s?

I don’t think that’s quite accurate. But I think what we are seeing is a situation where the possibility of a great-power conflict is now probably higher than it was at any point in the past 20 years. That does not mean that a great-power conflict or a great-power military conflict is inevitable … but it is more likely. And part of it is a result of Russia and China challenging the global predominance of the United States and systematically preparing for the possibility of conflict. Nuclear weapons of course are the ultimate deterrence, so to speak. And we’ve looked at the nuclear modernization programs of the three big powers — China, Russia and the US — and all of them are in the process of modernizing their nuclear forces.

Bastian Giegerich is the director of defense and military analysis at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS). He leads the team that publishes the annual Military Balance report.

COURTESY: DW

China cracks down on social media giant Weibo to maintain ‘social stability’

China has ordered one of the country’s largest social media platforms to suspend key portals, including its trends-search feature. The internet watchdog has called for social media to “serve the direction of socialism.”

Weibo icon on smartphone

The Cyberspace Administration of China late Saturday ordered Sina Weibo, one of the country’s largest social media platforms, to temporarily shut down several portals for spreading content that allegedly contradicts Chinese values.

Since last year, China has increased pressure on native social media platforms to censor “content of wrong public opinion orientation,” including “obscenity, low taste, and ethnic discrimination.”

Read more: Hello, Big Brother: How China controls its citizens through social media

Targeting celebrity gossip, rap music

  • The content targeted in the internet watchdog’s order included rap music, celebrity gossip, dirty jokes and crude cartoons.
  • The social media platform said it complied with the order and accepted criticism about “harmful content” circulating on its service.
  • The targeted portals included a trending topics search site and a page that allowed users to ask celebrities questions about their personal lives.
  • Weibo, a Chinese microblogging platform akin to Twitter, are expected to leave the portals offline for a week as part of the government order.

Censorship?

China’s internet regulator said Weibo had “violated the country’s laws and regulations, led online public opinions to (the) wrong direction and left a very bad influence.”

The Chinese government said the measures were aimed at maintaining “social stability.” Beijing has continued to argue that online news and social media services need to “serve the direction of socialism and correctly guide public opinion.”

Digital rights groups have warned of growing censorship in China, with the Washington-based Freedom House dubbing China the “worst abuser of internet freedom” last year.

Read more: China’s internet crackdown reaches new level of restriction

Since 2015, China has shutdown more than 15,000 websites for allegedly breaking the law, but rights groups warn its part of a wider crackdown on free expression and dissentSince 2015, China has shutdown more than 15,000 websites for allegedly breaking the law, but rights groups warn its part of a wider crackdown on free expression and dissent

How many internet users does China have: China is considered to have the largest population of internet users in the world, clocking in at more than 735 million, according to figures from the UN International Telecommunication Union.

What happens next: The government order said Weibo must suspend the portals in question for a week. They will likely be brought online after that period, but be subjected to further “regulatory oversight.”

ls/rc (Reuters, AFP)

COURTESY: DW

China unveils huge plans for the Arctic, with ‘Polar Silk Road’ on the way

China unveils huge plans for the Arctic, with ‘Polar Silk Road’ on the way
Beijing has announced plans to extend the ambitious Belt and Road Initiative to the Arctic by developing shipping routes.

In a white paper released on Friday, the country said it expects to have a “major role in expanding the network of shipping routes” and noted that “as a result of global warming, the Arctic shipping routes are likely to become important transport routes for international trade.”

It added that it would encourage enterprises to build infrastructure and conduct commercial trial voyages, paving the way for Arctic shipping routes that would form a “Polar Silk Road.”

Land territories in the Arctic cover an area of around 8 million square km, with sovereignty belonging to Russia, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Canada and the United States. The Arctic Ocean is more than 12 million square km, where coastal and other countries share maritime rights and interests according to international law.

Despite being a non-Arctic state, China is increasingly active in the polar region. It became an observer member of the Arctic Council in 2013. The country has a major stake in the Russian Yamal liquefied natural gas (LNG) project, which is expected to supply China with 4 million tons of LNG per year.

According to the white paper, China is also eyeing the development of oil, gas, mineral resources and other non-fossil energies, as well as fishing and tourism in the region. It vowed to work “jointly with Arctic states, while respecting traditions and cultures of the Arctic residents, including the indigenous peoples and conserving natural environment.”

“China, as a responsible major country, is ready to cooperate with all relevant parties to seize the historic opportunity in the development of the Arctic, to address the challenges brought by the changes in the region,” said the paper.

Focused on trade-boosting infrastructure projects along the path of the ancient Silk Road, the Belt and Road Initiative aims to connect China to Europe, the Middle East and beyond.

Courtesy: RT

Investors dump US dollar & rush to gold

Investors dump US dollar & rush to gold
The gold price rose to its highest level in more than a year on Thursday as investors seek a safe haven after the US dollar dipped to a three-year low against a basket of six major currencies.

The precious metal rose as high as $1,370 during the trading session before dropping six dollars, but still trading in the green compared to the previous session. The 2016 high was $1,374.91.

“Gold is benefiting tremendously from the weaker dollar,” said ETF Securities analyst Nitesh Shah, as quoted by Reuters.

“With traders’ base case scenario to sell the dollar at all costs, gold prices should remain well supported on dips and could be poised to move even higher on the next US dollar wobble,” said Stephen Innes, APAC head of trading at OANDA.

The US dollar fell to its lowest level in three years against major currencies on Wednesday after US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the US administration favors a weak dollar in trade.

On Thursday, Mnuchin confirmed his words.

“I thought my comment on the dollar was actually quite clear yesterday. I thought it was balanced and consistent with what I said before, which is we are not concerned with where the dollar is in the short term,” he said, as quoted by Bloomberg.

President Donald Trump’s administration has repeatedly said that a weak dollar helps make American-made goods more competitive with goods from China and other markets.

Courtesy: RT

U.S. Takes Aim at North Korea’s Shipping and Oil With New Sanctions

Kim Jong-Un speaks in Pyongyang in this picture released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on Sept. 22, 2017.
Kim Jong-Un speaks in Pyongyang in this picture released from North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on Sept. 22, 2017.
STR—AFP/Getty Images

By ELI MEIXLER

11:17 PM EST

The U.S. unveiled a new raft of sanctions against North Korea Wednesday, targeting financial and other support for the country’s development of weapons of mass destruction.

Sixteen individuals, nine companies and six ships were designated as the administration of President Donald Trump piles pressure on Kim Jong Un to abandon his weapons program.

The sanctions primarily target Chinese and North Korean trade companies, shipping firms and vessels, as well as the Ministry of Crude Oil Industry.

Last month, the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution targeting North Korea’s oil imports, shipping companies and foreign labor as efforts increase to disrupt the country’s energy supply.

Among the new designations are 10 individuals associated with the Korea Ryonbong General Corp., which Treasury said specializes in acquisitions for the defense industries and probable procurements supporting chemical weapons development.

The individuals included company representatives in Russia, Georgia and China.

The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assetts Control (OFAC) said the new designations were a response to weapons development and violations of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement the U.S. would also target actors “that continue to provide a lifeline to North Korea,” calling on China and Russia to expel illicit actors.

The Trump administration has vowed to put “maximum pressure” on the Kim regime, which has in recent years accelerated progress toward developing nuclear-tipped intercontinental missiles capable of reaching the U.S.

Courtesy:TIME

  North Korea’s Nuclear Threat and the EMP Deterrence

                

Gabby Ogbechie, The Property Gazette 

 

 

Gen. Jack Keane (Ret.), Fox News senior strategic analyst, on President Trump's strategy for Iran, the North Korea nuclear threat and Trump signing a $700 billion military budget.An analysis of statements by President Donald Trump of the United States, and President Vladimir Putin of Russia on the military might of their respective countries, especially at the commencement of the Trump Presidency on one hand, and the threats of Kim Jong-un of North Korea, which he repeatedly backed up with unending tests of his country’s missiles, would suggest to many observers that someone is eager to prove his country’s nuclear superiority by being the first to push the button.

‘’On April 21, 2017 three major U.S. cities – New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco – experienced virtually simultaneous power outages. Businesses emptied. Schools closed. Subway commuters were stuck underground in the dark.

Rumors immediately started flying that a cyber-attack had caused all three blackouts.

The “official” word in San Francisco was that the outage was caused by a fire in a substation. In Los Angeles, high winds were blamed. In New York, an equipment failure was the announced culprit.

Commenting on the improbability of such occurrences in three major cities simultaneously, an informed observer remarked:  ‘’They’ve ignored dire warnings from experts about the grid’s vulnerability to physical, electromagnetic pulse (EMP) and cyber-attack by North Korea, Russia, China and even ISIS, and other terrorist groups.’’

At about the same time-frame, there were reports that in France, the United Kingdom and a few other European nations, services were disrupted; and for a number of hours, governmental departments, train services, Ocean going Liners   which rely on computer services were disrupted and suspended for an appreciable period of time; long enough for enemy operatives to deploy nuclear warheads without allowing the opposition the benefit of a mutually assured deterrence.

What is EMP, Electromagnetic Pulse?

Electromagnetic Pulse is the resultant effect, or ‘eddies’ of a nuclear detonation; the aftermath of a nuclear blast from a nuclear-tipped ballistic missile. It could be likened to the resultant eddies after an object is thrown into or strikes a body of water. While a stone or any relatively small object could cause a little eddy, a Tsunami results from the huge explosion of either an earthquake, or a volcanic eruption in the Sea or an Ocean. The Tsunami is not the blast itself; similarly, the EMP is not the nuclear explosion itself; it is the aftermath of the explosion which could extend vertically or horizontally.

Studies on the EMP, according to available reports, have not progressed into the orbit of weaponization in the Western world, especially the United States. On the other hand, there appears to be evidence that Russia has not only advanced in its study of the EMP, but has already weaponized it. Russia is equally suspected to have shared its knowledge of the EMP with China and North Korea.

‘’A nuclear bomb that detonates 40 miles above a target (and hundreds of miles away) could deliver serious consequences,’’ Henry F. Cooper, who was the director of the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) under President George H.W. Bush, wrote.

He pointed to the time the U.S. detonated a nuclear warhead 900 miles southwest of Hawaii. It was 1962 and the high-altitude nuclear bomb “destroyed hundreds of street lights in Honolulu, caused electrical surges on airplanes in the area and damaged at least six satellites.”

Stretching one’s imagination on the application of the EMP in any warfare scenario, not just the nuclear one, the following could be the results:

  • An enemy, employing the services of Satellites, could simultaneously target nuclear silos, naval nuclear arsenal/missile bearing submarines and vessels, and immobilize them with nuclear blasts several miles above such targets;
  • Having rendered the enemy’s retaliatory capability void, the belligerent may proceed to direct missile attacks targeted at knocking out such battery of nuclear weapons;
  • Send a second barrage of nuclear missiles into major cities and towns to create the required panic and effect as much destruction of lives and property as possible;
  • Release a third set of missiles to completely destroy the command center of the opposition; which would imply the seat of government where the Commander-in-chief resides, the seat of the defense apparatus, and the entire city.

All these could be achieved in a few minutes, while commanders are waiting for orders to launch retaliatory missiles which may never come. Defence systems such as THAAD would work under normal conditions, but if they are attacked with EMPs, they would be rendered inoperable and ineffective.

As someone who intended, ab initio to pull back significantly from America’s involvements in far-flung places all over the world with his ‘’America first’’ policy, President Trump would have significantly reduced the United States’ military commitments all over the world, and made the North Korean issue the world’s problem which it is, rather than America’s problem which it has become.

There’s no doubt that China and Russia, regarding the DPKR missile quagmire are ‘’running with the hares, and chasing with the hounds.’’ If these two countries were to verifiably withdraw or suspend their trade and other collaborative activities with North Korea, the regime would either crumble or hurriedly head to the negating table for long overdue talks. We are not suggesting a one-sided negotiation in which North Korea would not receive an iron-clad assurance of non-regime change and interference in its internal affairs by the United States and any of the other world powers.

However, a nation that is not accountable to any other nation is a danger in our nuclear age. A leader like Kim Jong Un who is not answerable to either any other leader or regional association of nations, with nuclear weapons, is a danger that must receive the undivided attention of every nation; not only the United States.

Finally, the history of the verbal duel between President Trump and Kim Jong-un of DPRK as chronicled by Julie Vitkovskaya, as detailed below, and the recent panic which ensued after the false alarm in Hawaii point to the fact that the world could be closer than we all think to a nuclear holocaust:

April 28: Approaching his 100th day in office, Trump tells Reuters a “major, major” conflict with North Korea is possible but that he still seeks diplomacy.

May 14: Kim celebrates the test of a ballistic missile. He’s quoted by state media saying, “If the U.S. awkwardly attempts to provoke the DPRK, it will not escape from the biggest disaster in the history.”

May 23: The Post reports that Trump called Kim a “madman with nuclear weapons” during a phone conversation weeks before with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. Trump said: Kim’s “rockets are crashing. That’s the good news,” according to a transcript obtained by The Post.

Aug. 8: Trump warns North Korea that it will be met with “fire and fury” if it continues to threaten the United States. It is his harshest language yet against the regime.

Aug. 9: North Korea responds by saying it is reviewing plans to target the U.S. territory of Guam. “The nuclear war hysteria of the U.S. authorities including Trump has reached an extremely reckless and rash phase for an actual war,” said the KCNA, North Korea’s official state media.

Sept. 17: Trump taunts Kim on Twitter: “I spoke with President Moon of South Korea last night. Asked him how Rocket Man is doing. Long gas lines forming in North Korea. Too bad!”

Sept. 22: Kim calls Trump a “mentally deranged dotard,” prompting the public to search for the definition of the archaic insult.

Sept. 23: Trump tweets: “Just heard Foreign Minister of North Korea speak at U.N. If he echoes thoughts of Little Rocket Man, they won’t be around much longer!”

Sept. 19: Speaking at the U.N. General Assembly, Trump threatens to “totally destroy North Korea” and says “Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself.”

Oct. 1: Trump sends two tweets. One at 9:30 a.m. EST, saying Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is “wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man,” and another at 2 p.m. saying he “won’t fail” to rein in Kim.

Nov. 11: After reports surface that North Korean state media referred to Trump as a “lunatic old man,” Trump tweets: “Why would Kim Jong-un insult me by calling me ‘old,’ when I would NEVER call him ‘short and fat?’ Oh well, I try so hard to be his friend – and maybe someday that will happen!”

We believe the major world powers would do well to co-operate with the United States toward forestalling the looming holocaust by sorting out this North Korea problem. It is not a Trump problem and must never be seen as such.

 

Bitcoin crashes to 6-week low as regulator crackdown escalates

Bitcoin crashes to 6-week low as regulator crackdown escalates
The price of top digital currency bitcoin dipped below $12,000 on Tuesday for the first time since December 5, following reports of a further crackdown on the cryptocurrency market.

Bitcoin slumped by almost 15 percent, trading at $11,816 as of 10:30am GMT. The cryptocurrency’s market capitalization currently stands at around $198 billion.

Other virtual currencies including ethereum and ripple have also dipped significantly. Ethereum was trading at $1,090, down more than 18 percent in the last 24 hours; while ripple fell by almost 26 percent to $1.37 per token.

Regulators across the globe, in countries including China, India, Brazil and South Korea, have been warning investors about the risks of trading in cryptocurrencies.

According to recent reports, authorities in China are planning to block domestic access to Chinese and offshore cryptocurrency platforms that allow centralized trading.

Regulators will also target people and companies that provide market-making, settlement and clearing services for centralized trading.

Bitcoin users in India have been facing difficulties with deposits and withdrawals after the country’s banks blocked all crypto-trading. Last month, the Indian Income Tax Department raided bitcoin exchanges across the country, seeking to identify cryptocurrency traders. The raids were conducted because of alleged tax evasion by exchange customers.

READ MORE: $1mn by 2020: John McAfee will still ‘eat his own d*ck’ if he’s wrong about Bitcoin

“The pullback seems to be coming from a lack of buyers in Asia,” Mati Greenspan, senior market analyst at eToro, told CNBC. “Japan and South Korea usually dominate this market but over the last few days, the volumes have been dropping steadily. This morning the combined volumes from these two countries dropped below 30 percent,” he said.

Courtesy: RT