May 13, 2022- Stealth War 87: 90-Year old Cardinal Joseph Zen Arrested in Hong Kong; Satellite Images May Reveal New Class of Chinese Submarine; How Will Marcos’s Win in the Philippines Impact US-China Competition?; Japan Confirms Launch Date of New U.S. Indo-Pacific Economic Framework; China Watches Warily as Sri Lanka Appoints New PM

By: Jamestown Foundation

Fri May, 2022, Age: 1 year


May 13, 2022

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Stat Du Jour 
This issue’s number to watch


Global percentage of  lithium ion battery cells that are manufactured in China. This reflects China’s dominance in processing key minerals, which have extensive industrial applications. For example, China processes 100% of the world’s graphite and 73% of its cobalt. 

This Week: 

* 90-Year old Catholic Cardinal Joseph Zen Arrested in Hong Kong

Satellite Images May Reveal New Class of Chinese Submarine

*How Will Marcos’s Win in the Philippines Impact US-China Competition?

* Japan Confirms Launch Date of New U.S. Indo-Pacific Economic Framework

* China Watches Warily as Sri Lanka Appoints New PM After Incumbent Resigns

Top Stories

(source: CNY)

Xi Warns Other Chinese Leaders Against Questioning Zero-COVID Strategy

Cardinal Joseph Zen was detained in Hong Kong on Wednesday night along with three other opposition figures for allegedly breaking Hong Kong’s National Security Law. According to Hong Kong police, the four individuals were trustees of the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund, which provided legal aid to people who took part in 2019 pro-democracy protests that were crushed by security forces. Cardinal Zen is accused of colluding with foreign forces and appealing to foreign countries or organizations to impose sanctions on Hong Kong, and if found guilty, he could face life in prison. His arrest has raised concerns in the Vatican and around the world that a religious crackdown may be forthcoming, leading Human Rights Watch to condemn the act as a “shocking new low for Hong Kong.”

The 90-year old Cardinal was formerly the bishop of Hong Kong and has been an outspoken critic of the communist government in Beijing as well as an advocate for underground Catholics and Christians across mainland China. He has even gone so far as to criticize the Vatican’s appeasing attitude toward Beijing and the 2018 agreement which allows the Chinese government to provide input into the selection of bishops. His arrest will seriously affect relations between China and the Vatican, which is closely monitoring his detainment. The White House also weighed in on the arrests, calling on Hong Kong authorities to cease targeting pro-democracy advocates and immediately release Zen. Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska summed up the attitudes of many U.S. politicians when he said Chairman Xi is “absolutely terrified of a 90-year old Catholic cardinal. Xi is a pathetic coward.” Despite the scathing rebuke Zen’s arrest has sparked from the rest of the world, basic human rights and freedoms are set to further erode under the administration of John Lee, who became the new chief executive of Hong Kong on May 8th. Lee is a former security bureaucrat who backed and later enforced the controversial National Security Law. He has been handpicked by Beijing to manage the city.

(source: Global Times)

Satellite Images Indicate New Class of Chinese Submarine

Recent satellite images show that the People’s Liberation Army Plan (PLAN) may be working on a new class of nuclear-powered attack submarines. The satellite images, which were taken from April 26 to May 3, show that an unidentified vessel was visible for several days in a dry dock in Huludao Port in Liaoning province. According to Reuters, who obtained the images from Planet Labs, the vessel’s shape looks like the Shang-class or Type 093 submarine. Analysts also mentioned that covers hide areas behind the vessel’s superstructure and stern that could hold additional missile launch tubes and a quieter propulsion system instead of conventional propellers. However, the satellite images are insufficient to confirm whether the submarine is a new model or upgrade of an existing ship. Research Fellow Collin Koh said the satellite images “are very interesting but it is still very hard to be sure yet whether we are looking at some kind of refit for testing or a whole new class of submarine.”

This class of submarine has been on the radar of military analysts since they were named in the Pentagon’s annual China Military Power Report released last November. According to the report, the type 093B submarine “will enhance the PLAN’s anti-surface warfare capability and could provide a clandestine land-attack option if equipped with land-attack cruise missiles (LACMs).” The report also mentions that such land-attack capabilities are part of the PLAN’s “transition into a global multi-mission force” and would “provide the PLA with flexible long-range strike options” that would allow it “to hold land targets at risk beyond the Indo-Pacific region from the maritime domain.” In response, Chinese state media said the reports are “only speculative” but then quoted a Chinese analyst who said, “it is natural and necessary for China to develop more advanced submarines as part of its plan to modernize its military.” The article said this modernization is necessary to counter increasing threats, referring to Chinese reports that the U.S. sent at least 11 nuclear-powered attack submarines into the South China Sea in 2021, as well as the AUKUS alliance with the UK and Australia, which Chinese Foreign Minister Zhao Lijian said was “provoking on arms race.” “The U.S. should not apply a double standard with the bully logic that only the U.S. and its allies can develop military strength while others like China cannot,” the Global Times reported.

(source: RFA)

How Will Marcos’s Win in the Philippines Impact US-China Competition?

On May 10, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. won the presidential race in the Philippines in an apparent landslide, placing him in power for six years once sworn in. His vice president, elected separately, will be Sara Duterte, the daughter of the current president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte. What these wins mean for the future of the Philippines, both broadly and in terms of its strategic relationship with the U.S.; is hotly contested by analysts. Most experts concur that Manila will continue to balance ties with the U.S. and China. Marcos Jr. made it a point to say as little about foreign policy as possible during his campaign, making it difficult to determine what his plans are. This makes his statements in favor of China’s objectives all the more striking, including his rejection of The Hague’s ruling in favor of the Philippines regarding China’s claims in the South China Sea, his pledge to continue President Duterte’s pro-Beijing policies, his downplaying of the Philippines historical alliance with the US, and his warm acknowledgment of his ties to China since childhood (all of which has warmed China towards him). As a result, some view Marcos Jr.’s win as a “boon” for China at the expense of the U.S.

At the same time, it remains unclear if such statements are simply politics, and in either case, as of 2020 80% of Filipinos had favorable views of the U.S., whereas only 42% had favorable views of China. Furthermore, some argue, Marcos Jr. may be more concerned with maintaining the nation’s sovereignty, and perhaps even favor stronger ties with the US to do so. Geopolitical and domestic calculations will undoubtedly play a role in determining Marco’s path, but the personal experiences and character of leaders should not be discounted. Marcos Jr. is the son of the former strongman leader of the island nation, who ruled from 1965 to 1986 (declaring martial law in 1972).The elder Marcos oversaw a brutal and notoriously corrupt regime, perhaps personally holding the record for most money stolen for years to come, impacting its economy to this day. More importantly, the family was propped up by the U.S. before they lost support and were forced to flee the Philippines, which the Marcos are known to hold a grudge over. Now, some fear that Marcos Jr. will follow in his father’s footsteps, capitalizing on the white-washing of his family’s past, the attacks on the rule of law by President Duterte, and on the potential for an alliance between his family and the Dutertes.

(source: Wikipedia)

Japan Confirms Launch Date of New U.S. Indo-Pacific Economic Framework

On May 9, Japanese Ambassador to the U.S. Koji Tomita confirmed the formal launch date of the new U.S. Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) that was first announced by President Biden last October. At an online event hosted by CSIS, Tomita said that Biden’s upcoming visit to Japan and South Korea on May 20-24 will “coincide with the formal launch” of the framework. While details are still being finalized, IPEF will have four pillars: 1) fair and resilient trade, 2) supply chain resilience, 3) infrastructure, clean energy, and decarbonization, and 4) tax and anticorruption. Following the new Indo-Pacific Strategy released in February, IPEF is widely seen as Washington’s renewed economic commitment to the Indo-Pacific after four years of foreign policy that undermined long-standing alliances and threatened U.S. regional leadership and influence under the Trump administration. Perhaps most significant was Trump’s withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (now the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership) in 2017, which created an opening for China to assert economic leadership. As Tomita stated, “But this is not just a message. I think the visit will establish in very strong terms that Japan and the United States jointly are ready to play a leadership role in the economic and social development of the broader Indo-Pacific region.” He also confirmed that Biden’s visit will include a Quad summit meeting with fellow members Australia and India. Tomita’s announcement came at a crucial time, just days before the U.S.-ASEAN Summit on May 12-13.

In addition to Japan, the Biden administration also named Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, and possibly Indonesia, Malaysia, and Vietnam, as starting points for IPEF partner nations, and formal partner negotiations are expected to take place this year. South Korea’s new president, Yoon Suk-yeol, who was sworn into office on Tuesday, has already signaled he will join the framework on its launch. Chinese state media has called IPEF “just another tool for the U.S. to push its Indo-Pacific strategy in the economic field where it previously fell short.” And Chinese Foreign Minister Zhao Lijian said that “the Asia-Pacific is a promising land for cooperation and development, not a chessboard for geopolitical contest.” He added that China will work with states “in the spirit of openness and win-win cooperation and reject small circles smacks of the Cold War mentality.” Last September, China submitted its application to join the CPTPP (Taiwan applied six days later), but member states have raised concerns over Beijing’s compliance with reforms to meet the trade bloc’s high standards. Entry for all applicants requires consensus among its 11 members.

(source: Asia News)

China Watches Warily as Sri Lanka Appoints New PM After Incumbent Resigns

On May 12, Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa appointed Ranil Wickremesinghe as Prime Minsiter (PM) of Sri Lanka via a closed-door ceremony, marking the sixth time that Wichremesinghe has held the post. In addition to his abnormal ascension to power, Wichremeinghe belongs to a political party that only holds one seat in parliament, raising questions about his viability as a leader and peacemaker in the face of violent protests over the country’s economic crisis. This follows the May 9 resignation of the president’s older brother, Mahinda Rajapaksa, apparently at Gotabaya’s request after the elder sibling’s supporters attacked anti-government protesters outside the younger’s office. On March 31 protests against the government began, evolving over the next month into large scale, sustained, riots demanding his leave and attacking various politicians.

For almost two decades, the Rajapaksa family has been estimated to control between 5075% of the nation’s budget making them one of the most powerful families in the country, a lightning rod for controversy, and the target of the citizens’ ire. During the same period, China began to invest heavily in the strategically important island nation, much to the chagrin of India. As a result, a relationship rooted in corruption and mismanagement in favor of the political elites and China developed at the expense of the nation’s strategic assets (e.g. ports obtained via debt traps) and the welfare of its citizens. In recent months, as China has withheld assistance, Sri Lanka has attempted to balance China’s influence with aid from India, but this may be too little too late, and either way it is unlikely to ease the suffering of the island’s citizens. Between the entrenchment of the Rajapaksas in Sri Lankan politics (see one and two), their reliance on China, and their penchant for corruption, it is unlikely that the new PM will quell the unrest or significantly change the country’s foreign and domestic policies. Case in point, in spite of Wichremesinghe’s praise of Indian PM Modi, he is still pursuing Sri Lanka’s integration in to China’s Belt and Road Initiative and appears to be viewed favorably by Chinese state media, all while facing the reality that neither India nor China can save Sri Lanka from it deteriorating condition, and that as the nation grows more desperate, China will likely come calling for more payments via strategic assets. Thus, the questions become, will the Rajapaksa era end, and what will follow it?

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