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February 4, 2022-Stealth War 74: Chinese port construction in Cambodia; US Delegation in Lithuania, Brussels; India’s Last Minute Diplomatic Boycott; PLA HADR to Tonga; China Poses Growing Threat to India’s Arunachal Pradesh

By: Jamestown Foundation

Fri March, 2022, Age: 2 years

February 4, 2022



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Strategic Indicator
This issue’s number to watch80%
Approximate percentage of Chinese corn imports that are from Ukraine. China has reduced purchases of U.S. corn due to trade disputes, which has propelled Ukraine to become China’s main source of corn imports. Corn is a critical source of pig feed in China. 




This Week: 

*  Strategic Implications of Chinese Port Construction in Cambodia

*  U.S. Delegation Visits Lithuania, Brussels in Show of Solidarity against China’s Economic Coercion

*  India Announces Last Minute Diplomatic Boycott of Olympics 

*  China’s Humanitarian Mission in Tonga Demonstrates PRC’s Military Capacity

China Poses Growing Threat to India’s Arunachal Pradesh




Top Stories





(source: Asia Times)




Strategic Implications of Chinese Port Construction in Cambodia




In July 2019, the Wall Street Journal reported on a secret agreement between Cambodia and China that would grant the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) access to Cambodian ports in exchange for infrastructure improvements. Days later, Cambodia acknowledged that China would be improving its ports for deep-water use, but Phnom Penh denied claims that military access was part of the deal, stressing its desire to maintain sovereignty. In January, satellite imagery revealed that dredgers (vessels designed to excavate solids from under the water’s surface) were stationed off the coast of Cambodia’s Ream Naval Base, which indicates that the deep sea port improvement phase is underway. These improvements facilitate the presence of large ships and increase the facility’s potential to host large naval vessels. 

The port also has several strategic implications aside from its immediate naval, economic, and diplomatic potential. First, the port’s location may enhance China’s efforts to achieve its South China Sea claims by strengthening its intelligence gathering activities, and ability to project force in to the region. Chinese naval access to Cambodia will likely stretch Vietnam’s navy thin by opening a second front of sorts. In addition, as China makes Belt and Road connections through Southeast Asia, most recently through land-locked Laos to Cambodia’s north, it will have gained passage through two of the more pliable nations in the region (Laos and Cambodia). China’s leverage over Cambodia also allows it to influence ASEAN decisions, particularly when Cambodia cycles through as its chair, which it just did. Finally, Cambodia has historically been threatened by Thailand and Vietnam, with current conflicts including overlapping oil and gas field claims in the Gulf of Thailand, and border disputes with Vietnam. Thus, whatever concerns about sovereignty that Cambodia may have over China, the threats posed by its neighbors likely seem greater, which makes China’s expanding influence an acceptable concession.





(source: Twitter)




U.S. Delegation Visits Lithuania, Brussels in Show of Solidarity against China’s Economic Coercion




Over the past year, China has applied intense economic coercion against Lithuania due to its decision to open a Taiwan Representative Office, as well as growing disagreement between Beijing and Vilnius over a host of issues ranging from human rights to 5G technology. China has blocked EU imports that contain Lithuanian components, and pressured manufacturers in Germany and elsewhere to remove Lithuanian producers from their supply chains. In response, on Thursday, the European Union filed a complaint at the World Trade Organization (WTO) against China’s “discriminatory trade practices.”

The U.S. has also sought to extend support to Lithuania as it seeks to weather the negative impact of China’s economic coercion. This week, a senior State Department delegation led by Jose W. Fernandez, Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment, visited Vilnius and met with Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė, as well as other top Lithuanian officials. During these meetings, the U.S. and Lithuania discussed a potential $600 million agreement to boost bilateral trade. Prior to visiting Vilnius, Fernandez held meetings with top EU diplomats in Brussels, where the two sides discussed how to improve Trans-Atlantic cooperation in response to economic coercion by China.

The U.S. proffer of concrete economic assistance to Lithuania is timely as the EU’s WTO action against China could take years to reach resolution, if ever. As a result, the WTO suit does little to help Lithuanian enterprises that are presently being targeted. Taiwan has also come forward with concrete assistance to Lithuania in its hour of need with Taipei announcing a $1 billion dollar credit program to fund joint development projects. This is in addition to the $200 million that Taipei has promised to invest in Lithuanian enterprises harmed by China’s punitive economic actions.





(source: Global Times)




India Announces Last Minute Diplomatic Boycott of Olympics 




Yesterday, India announced it would not send official diplomatic representation to the opening or closing ceremonies of the Beijing Winter Olympics. India’s last minute diplomatic boycott of the Olympics followed Chinese state medias reports that Qi Fabao, a People’s Liberation Army (PLA) regimental commander who fought in the deadly Galwan Valley border clashes in 2020, was selected as an Olympic torchbearer. The report called Qi a hero who fought “bravely” and suffered a head injury during the border skirmishes. On Wednesday, he became one of the 1,200 torchbearers relaying the Olympics flame to Beijing, which touched off sharp reactions in India. The June 2020 border clashes in Galwan Valley left 20 Indian soldiers dead and likely caused about 40 Chinese fatalities making it the most violent border clashes since the 1962 Sino-Indian war. In its year-end review of 2020, India’s Defense Ministry found that China had used “unorthodox weapons” in Galwan, seeking to change the status quo in the region. China has not officially disclosed the number of PLA casualties, four soldiers who died were awarded posthumous honorary titles and first-class merit citations. Indian state media also claims that China has been engaging in aggressive propaganda and “psychological operations” since the border clashes occurred. 

India’s External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Airindam Bagchi said “it is indeed regrettable that the Chinese side has chosen to politicize an event like the Olympics.” This statement counters Beijing’s criticisms that countries such as the U.S., Canada, Australia, and Britain, were seeking to politicize the Olympics through diplomatic boycotts in response to the Chinese government’s human rights violations and repressive policies in Xinjiang and Tibet. In response to India’s diplomatic boycott, a spokesperson for the Beijing Winter Olympics Organizing Committee Zhao Weidong commented on the inclusion of the PLA soldier, claiming that “for this torch relay, we abided by the principles of a wide selection process according to a specific procedure.”








Humanitarian Mission to Tonga Demonstrates China’s Expanding Military Capacity




On January 31, PLA aircraft and vessels participated in an ongoing international relief mission to distribute food and medical aid to Tonga following the recent volcano and tsunami that wreaked devastation on the small island nation. Notably, the naval transports departed for Tonga on the eve of the Chinese Lunar New Year, the most celebrated and culturally significant events in the Chinese calendar. 

Former PLA instructor and military expert Song Zhongping stated that China is actively undertaking global humanitarian missions, particularly “anti-terrorism, anti-piracy [and] disaster relief” in addition to vaccine distribution. Song claims, “these missions are very important for the modernization of the entire army” as China seeks to achieve a “world-class military” by mid-century. The delivery supply to Tonga was made using two Y-20 transport planes, a Type 071 landing ship and Type 901 combat support ships. This demonstration of combined naval and air capabilities demonstrates the PLA’s expanding ability to conduct joint operations far from China’s borders. 





(source: Indian Express)




China Poses Growing Threat to India’s Arunachal Pradesh




Outrage in India is mounting over reports that the Chinese military abducted a 17-year-old Indian boy, who was walking near the India-China boundary in India’s northeastern Arunachal Pradesh state. The Indian Army negotiated his release after nine days in detention. The boy reported that he had been given electric shocks, and the incident was widely covered by the Indian press.

Arunachal Pradesh state is bordered by Myanmar to the east, Bhutan to the west, and China-controlled Tibet to the north. Its location and terrain offer numerous hydroelectric and trade route opportunities. The territory is also claimed by China as part of a long running dispute over the boundaries between the two nations, and is called “Zangnan” by Chinese sources. On December 30, 2021, China announced that it had standardized another 15 place names in the region. In addition to the border dispute, the move contributed to India’s sense of encirclement as China has strengthened ties with Pakistan, Nepal, Myanmar, Bangladesh and  Sri Lanka.

China’s announcement of place names in Arunachal Pradesh follows the PRC’s passage of a new Land Border Law, which came into effect on January 1, 2022, declaring the PRC’s borders as “sacred and inviolable.” Critics have described the law as legitimizing the use of military force to prevent neighbors from endangering “national security or affect[ing] China’s friendly relations with neighboring countries.” The law also allows for people perceived as crossing the border illegally to be shot or arrested. The law does proclaim that border agreements with other nations shall be honored, but India does not have a finalized border agreement with China. China has built at least one village in Arunachal Pradesh, and has constructed other infrastructure as well.

All together, these events have prompted the Indian government to declare that it will increase planned investments in Arunachal Pradesh, but the relative ease with which the region could be cut off from the rest of India (it’s connected by a 22 km wide strip of land sometimes called “the chicken’s neck”) make progress urgent.





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