Friday News Roundup — July 29, 2022
CHIPS Act Passed; Tory Leadership Contest; Navigation Plan 2022; Lavrov in Africa; Dynamics of Japan’s LDP; Speaker Pelosi’s Planned Taiwan Trip
Welcome to the final Friday News Roundup of July. As Congress approaches its August recess, Congressional leadership has been making a mad dash to wrap up legislation. The big stateside news of this week was the passage of the CHIPS Act (which Dan discusses in detail in his roundup contribution) by both chambers, sending the measure to the President’s desk. Negotiations on the bill’s future had previously been locked up by Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who insisted that he would not allow the bill to pass if a Democratic-led partyline reconciliation bill which contained many elements of President Biden’s “Build Back Better” package from last year was also on the docket. However, after the CHIPS Act was passed by the Senate on July 27, Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), who had previously expressed hesitancy to vote for the reconciliation package over some of its environmental, inflationary, budgetary, and tax provisions, made a surprise announcement of his support for the “Inflation Reduction Act of 2022” — a $740 billion package of spending, tax raises, and deficit reduction.
In Canada, Pope Francis began a reconciliatory week-long trip to Canada to apologize for the Catholic Church’s administration of residential schools surrounded by a history of abuse scandals. The war in Ukraine continues to be a slow-moving slugfest, despite hints that Ukraine may seek to recapture the city of Kherson in a counteroffensive in the near future. Last Saturday, Russian forces struck the port of Odesa one day after an agreement on Ukrainian grain exports was reached, which the White House said casted doubt on the deal.
In politics, former presidential candidate Andrew Yang, Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, and former GOP Representative David Jolly announced that the centrist Forward Party had merged with two other centrist organizations to form what they are calling a viable third party. Their focus will be encouraging open primaries and rank choice voting to pave the way for moderate candidates on 2024 ballots nationwide.
In congressional sports news, last night’s Congressional Baseball Game ended in a steep 10–0 victory for the Republicans, which was a bigger win than their 13–12 victory in 2021. Climate protesters broadcasted their intentions to disrupt the game beforehand (particularly visible to anyone in Capitol Hill who saw a plastered lamp post). Nevertheless, it would not be protesters who would end up disrupting the playing of the game. Instead, heavy showers forced a rain delay.
Joshua C. Huminski, the Director of the Mike Rogers Center for Intelligence & Global Affairs, wrote a piece for Breaking Defense, arguing that as the war in Ukraine shifts to a longer-term attritional fight, the West must ask critical questions, the answers to which will define and shape near-, mid-, and longer-term support to Kyiv.
Huminski also reviewed Rory Cormac’s “How to Stage a Coup” for the Diplomatic Courier. A much-needed corrective to the hyperbole both in policy and Hollywood around covert action, Cormac explores how states seek to influence both friends and foe, alike. A darkly thrilling read, it shows that covert action is not an easy button, but when used smartly it can create space for policy to succeed or buy time for policy to be created.
Senior Fellow Ethan Brown penned a piece for The Hill calling for defense leaders to consider air power options for Ukraine that are more appropriate for the embattled nations sustainment capabilities, highlighting the Light Attack Aircraft options which USSOCOM and the U.S. Air Force have already successfully employed abroad.
In this week’s roundup, Dan Mahaffee looks at the passage of the CHIPS Act and broader ramifications for geotech competition; Joshua Huminski covers the Tories’ leadership contest in the UK; Ethan Brown dives into the Navy’s “Navigation Plan 2022”; Wesley Culp looks at what Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov is up to in Africa; and Hidetoshi examines the internal dynamics of Japan’s ruling LDP party. Our intern Alan Liu looks at the tensions over Speaker Pelosi’s proposed trip to Taiwan.
As a publishing note, we will be an every-other-week roundup in August, so we’ll be back on August 12th and 26th.
CHIPS-plus, just a start for semiconductors and strategic competition
It’s been called by many names, but this bill can finally be called passed. What was once in various iterations known as USICA, COMPETES, Bipartisan Innovation Act, and now “CHIPS-plus”, the Senate and House this week moved in bipartisan fashion to pass a $280 billion package supporting semiconductor manufacturing and R&D, along with a new directorate for technology, innovation, and partnership at the National Science Foundation. Over at AEI, Klon Kitchen provides excellent details on the legislation and that while imperfect the legislation helps to strengthen the U.S. semiconductor base amid supply chain decoupling.
First and foremost, while the legislation provides many incentives for the already proposed expansion of domestic semiconductors fabs — along with yet-to-be-announced expansions — it will still be years at best for these plants to come on-line. There will still be vulnerability to our foreign dependence on a range of chips from the extremely advanced to basic, commoditized processors. As supply chain disruptions have shown and continue to show us, semiconductor supply affects nearly every economic sector — a dependence that will only grow as more-and-more of the physical world is networked. Solving the semiconductor manufacturing questions will also require attention to matters regarding workforce, labor costs, and other matters of competitiveness.
Next, how we got here may color future legislative efforts on similar Geotech legislation — even with significant bipartisan consensus on strategic competition. The COMPETES, USICA, and Bipartisan Innovation Act had represented years-long efforts stalled in an unwieldy conference process. Yet, it was one of the few items that enjoyed bipartisan support and could be something pointed to during midterm campaigning as a legislative success. The legislation had even become a topic on the campaign trail in Ohio — where the construction and expansion of semiconductor manufacturing is proposed.
This passage came as a legislative logjam began to break on Capitol Hill, partially because the CHIPS legislation was no longer hostage to what was perceived to be the moribund reconciliation proposals. Sometimes in the legislative process, you have to first kill the patient to save it. Inexorably, the legislative memory of this legislation (and some Republican ire) is tied to the maneuvers of the Manchin-Schumer negotiations and the separate reconciliation package. It would be a shame if that becomes the focus of needed next steps for Congress to work to foster our competitiveness — which there will be — rather than the fact that this legislation represented a significant bipartisan accomplishment.
Given the more expansive legislative proposals that had been put forward, and that other topics such as outbound investment review that had been considered, many will agree that more could be done. While there is a place to debate that, there is also the need to implement these new policies well, as well as better utilizing the existing tools such as the entity list, export controls, and other tools already “on the books.” It requires thoughtful leadership and administration to understand and evaluate case-by-case dynamics in a global economy, while consistently applying our values and protecting our interests. All of this requires the careful balance of security with our interests in open commerce and trade. So too will the management of the proposed NSF directorate, with its emphasis on commercializing technologies and applied research. This could be a major breakthrough, but it cannot fall victim to hidebound government thinking management culture, nor an industrial policy political hot potato (think Solyndra).
It is also important to protect our existing strengths and foster those. Of those, two continually strike me as the most important: maintaining our innovative edge and continuing our international partnerships. The innovative edge is not just about manufacturing, but also the R&D, intellectual property, and broader thought and talent ecosystem that keeps U.S. chip companies in the driver’s seat of innovation. The CHIPS-plus R&D investments help that, but they are only one part of the broader considerations. Education, immigration, and visas play a role in the talent available to our corporate innovation leaders or the future entrepreneur or researcher seeking the American dream. Intellectual property policy plays a role in how we value those innovations and reward risk-taking and research.
Our international partnerships also provide us with opportunities for shared approaches and joint avenues for supply chain security and technology standards leadership. As China’s leaders look with suspicion on foreign partnerships and threaten the geo-economic status quo, the U.S. and its key partners and allies must continue their efforts — like those we have seen through the Quad and G-7 — to focus on supply chains for advanced technologies and critical minerals/chemicals. It is also vital to work with allies on ensuring the protection of critical technologies and joint approaches to export control. There is an opportunity as our allies and partners also increasingly recognize the challenge and the importance of geo-economic and geotech policymaking.
As the legislative process often goes, the perfect cannot be the enemy of the good. CHIP-plus could be better, but it represents the art of the possible and an important step forward in supporting our economic prosperity and national security. It sends a clear signal about U.S. policy, and is a success to build on for bipartisan efforts to address strategic competition.
Leadership Contest in the UK Well Underway
The race to succeed Boris Johnson, the outgoing leader of the Conservative Party and the current Prime Minister, is now well underway. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss squares off against Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor whose resignation started the collapse of Johnson’s government, in vying for the votes of the party’s some 160,000 members. What was a rather large field was quickly whittled down to the two candidates, who have launched barbs and attacks against one another’s records, but have been largely shy of criticizing the incumbent Prime Minister.
A televised debate between the two was scrapped on Tuesday after the host, Kate McCann, fainted on air. She is reportedly fine, but the debate was nonetheless suspended.
Prior to its suspension, the most recent debate marked a much more conciliatory and friendlier (such as one can use the term in politics) tone between Sunak and Truss. Monday’s debate, by contrast, was much more hostile with the two exchanging personal barbs and even going after one another’s sartorial decisions — Sunak is extremely wealthy, ranking, with his wife, in the top 225 wealthiest in Britain, and rarely appears without tailored clothing.
The two candidates are quite different. Sunak, aged 42, was quite young to become Chancellor and he shot to prominence as a result of the Covid pandemic. He was a supporter of the Brexit campaign. He was a part of “Partygate” the scandal in which 10 Downing Street held parties in violation of its own quarantine and lockdown rules, and was subsequently fined. Both he and his wife have found themselves in the public spotlight, her for her non-domiciled status which allows her to circumvent certain tax obligations, and he for his US permanent residency card — he was found not to have broken any ministerial rules.
Truss has equally had an interesting political career. She started originally as a Liberal Democrat until 1996 when she switched allegiances to the Tories. Having held successive ministerial portfolios, she became the foreign secretary in September 2021, after Johnson’s latest reshuffle. Unlike Sunak, Truss was a “remainer” in the debate over Brexit in 2016, but shifted her position in 2017 saying if another vote were held, she would vote to leave the EU. She also later said that her support for the remain campaign was a mistake. The current secretary of defence, Ben Wallace–at one point a possible candidate, himself–endorsed Truss for the premiership.
It is important to note that this is not a national or parliamentary election. The candidates are vying for the votes of the members of the Conservative Party. The voting window is open from August until September, when the new party head is elected and, by virtue of the majority in parliament, becomes the prime minister. This creates a certain, unique dynamic for British politics. One the one hand, the candidates must appeal to the Tory voters, but they must also position themselves as competitors against the Labour Party and its head Sir Keir Starmer. This leadership contest is, if nothing else, a boon for Labour as it is providing endless fodder for the party’s future campaigns as Truss and Sunak battle for party leadership.
The candidates initially, as noted above, went notably more personal (though considerably less so than would be expected in American politics), but are pushing substance, as well. Sunak has staked out a hard position on China, stating that Beijing is “the biggest-long term threat to the United Kingdom”. Truss, for her part, has said that she will crack down on trade unions and strike actions, which have disrupted the United Kingdom in recent weeks — only one in five services is running this week as a result of industrial action. On Johnson, many within the party see Sunak as the reason for his departure, which may count against him. Truss, by contrast, has suggested that what happened was not sufficient for the prime minister’s removal or resignation. Both have sparred over tax policy, with Sunak reluctant to roll back some of the value added tax, while Truss has suggested she would.
No change in the United Kingdom’s support to Ukraine is expected as it enjoys fairly consistent support both within the party and across parliament.
How this contest plays out will be interesting to watch. It is possible that Sunak is the candidate for the United Kingdom, but Truss, who is consciously aping Prime Minister Margret Thatcher’s style and substance, may be the candidate for the party and, thus, the premiership. In the main, either will inherit a deeply complex domestic economic picture with an uncertain economic outlook, housing crisis, pressure on the National Health Service, and a litany of Brexit-related work that remains unresolved.
Interpreting the Navy’s interpretation of 22’ NDS
The National Defense Strategy 2022 remains classified, but there has been a publically-released fact sheet sourced by the White House which highlights three main priorities: integrated defense, forward campaigning, and force development-both technological and human hardware.
The U.S. Navy, of course, is pivotal in the manifestation of the concept, and the actual execution of that National Strategy, and as with any national strategy, the military must craft and interpret those concepts into actionable initiatives. The Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gilday has released the “Navigation Plan 2022”, which serves to vector the maritime force to achieve those NDS goals, similar to the Marine Force Design 2030.
Upon initial review, the CNO plan bulk appears long on buzzwords, short on substance, but a great deal of hard critique and self-reflection clearly went into the navigation plan. What remains inescapable from the onset, is that the Navy is full-steam ahead on Indo-PACOM and building itself as the key force for containment of Chinese expansion in the Indo-Pacific region, while also vectoring it’s capabilities for safeguarding the economic and trade sealanes that keep the global economy afloat. Competitive advantage over Russian capabilities is referenced, but one thing is irrefutable from this military strategy: The U.S. Navy has one driving concern, and that is the great expanse of the Pacific Ocean, those partners around its rim and within its haunts, and the delicate maritime network of connections under its watch.
Force Design 2045
There are six buzzwords (all beginning with “D”), called “Imperatives”, which form the beating heart of this strategy: 1., Distance, achieve long-range precision fires across all domains to increase survivability. 2., Deception to degrade adversary surveillance via stealth, electronic warfare, emissions control, and maneuver capabilities. 3., Defense through hard- and soft-kill mechanisms to ensure fleet survivability and achieve overmatch against improving CCP/PLA Navy fleets. 4., Distribution of forces across functional zones and domains to enable multiple-axis engagement via smaller, more lethal and cost-efficient platforms; in short, complicating adversary targeting and improving the cost-loss ratio of force management in combat. 5., Delivery of logistics in and around denied zones, enabling distributed forces “down to the last tactical mile”. 6., Decision Advantage, shortening the kill-chain by streamlining commander’s decision matrices via integrated information networks (AI, JADC2, All-Domain Operations), connecting the force to achieve mass firepower without having to mass fleets which degrades adversary targeting.
“This is a uniquely Naval mission”, as noted by the CNO on page five, and undoubtedly, covering the single-largest security zone on Terra is beyond the inventory capabilities of the Army, or Air Force. Direct deterrence on these high-seas cannot be done via the air alone, and of course the absence of land-mass makes the ground force option moot if the waterways are not secured. Those six imperatives concisely outline what the force must do in order to achieve the charter for the NDS. The Navy alone is capable of presenting forces en masse — the Marine Corps — over the water and into conflict zones, requiring a force that is integrated across the information domain and able to achieve scalable concepts dictated by the demands of conflict potential.
One aspect that bears closer scrutiny is in the strategy’s recognition of gray-zone operations. The document calls these types of operations incrementalism, and cites non-attribution as an adversary’s strength in these endeavors. Contesting these types of destabilizing efforts requires that force projection more than any other facet of the stratagem, and again, the Navy alone is capable of projecting force through its fleet than its service siblings. While the greater bulk of the Navigation Plan has keyed in on conventional force capability, retaining an awareness that competition with adversaries like China is not exclusively beholden to open warfare is an important tenet of the concept.
The policy battle
There is but one adversary that the Navy has no hopes of defeating, and therein lies the greatest weakness of the CNOs Navigation Plan. That opponent is the American Congress which, as I’ve covered in recent weeks, seems hell-bent on keeping the Navy hand-cuffed to a fleet of inadequate vessels and outdated capabilities rather than divesting ships and investing in newer, more capable systems — even if that means we lose the ineffective metric of fleet totals to the growing PLA Navy — by way of halting vessel retirements and sustaining grossly cost-ineffective programs of record. As I stated a few weeks ago, and remains relevant to the release of this new strategy by the CNO: “Will more unworthy vessels rather than fewer, superior craft be a suitable counter-offensive force in the Strait of Taiwan”?
The Navy’s Chief Officer doesn’t seem to think so, as the strategy points to iteratively managing a fleet of manned- and unmanned-combat ships, roughly 3000 aircraft, and making those vessels better, not simply adding more for the sake of having more ships than the adversary. There is hardly a constructive purpose in expanding the fleet when the DoD is facing a recruitment crisis, in which the Navy is suffering the worst personnel management flux; so if the force can’t recruit and retain personnel, how does congress propose it keep the fleet afloat, let alone operate at peak capacity? Outbreak of a confrontation with China would all but certainly bolster the force’s human inventory, but hoping for a war to fix a recruiting problem is…foolish to put it mildly.
Managing the Force of the future
The CNO has taken the personnel management to the center of the issue of ensuring force readiness, recognizing that talent development is key to talent retention. From the Navigation Plan, the priorities include the “Get Real, Get Better” initiative (a little on-the-nose, but perhaps appropriately tailored to the Gen-z recruiting pool), which demands leaders across the force act with ruthless purpose to acknowledge shortcomings and gaps in the system, and be equally ruthless in reporting those flaws to higher echelons so as to appropriately resource the solution. The Navy, unfortunately, is no stranger to toxic leaders and careerists who are largely to blame for the recruiting/retention ails, and this is likely a reflection of the DoD emerging from a twenty-year conflict in which the Navy had a somewhat limited role, at least so far as the forward staging of maritime fleets was concerned.
To correct, the CNO is demanding accountability of his subordinate leaders, down to the lowest platoon and section. While the Navy writ large cannot contend with a squabbling congress (that’s for the Chief and his service secretary and the Defense Secretary to do) demanding it perform the impossible without proper sourcing, the force can improve on its management of the human inventory that will make or break this Navy and the plan to ready it for confrontation in the Pacific.
So yes, this “Navigation Plan 2022” is long on buzzwords, which are always a gateway to simply doing the mission and vectoring the troops towards mission objectives, but a deeper dive into the CNO’s vision for the force yields a stirring, reassuring reflection of how the single most powerful force in human history plans to orient itself for the challenges of the coming decade and beyond.
Lavrov’s Africa Trip Signals Russian Intent to Deepen its Ties Further Afield
While Russia has struggled to maintain relationships with previous interlocutors in Europe and the Pacific Rim following its February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, it has found much more success in cultivating ties further afield, such as in Africa. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s trip this week to a variety of African countries demonstrates the comparative freedom of action enjoyed by Russia in the developing world and among middle-income countries, which factors significantly into Russia’s plans for its future.
Lavrov kicked off his trip to Africa with a series of meetings with Egyptian and Arab League leadership. After meeting with his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shukry, Lavrov also sat down with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Egypt continues to retain a friendly relationship with Russia despite its invasion of Ukraine, which has proven disruptive for Egypt as a result of its reliance on Russian and Ukrainian wheat exports. Lavrov also met with Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit in Cairo and addressed the organization’s assembled member state representatives, which the Russian foreign minister intended to use to explain Russia’s version of events regarding its invasion of Ukraine and the resulting disruptions to supply chains of food products worldwide. In that address, Lavrov reportedly claimed that Russia sought to free Ukraine from its “anti-people and anti-historical regime,” a reiteration of Russia’s dubiously-based justifications for the invasion.
Following his time in Cairo, Lavrov then flew to the Republic of Congo, where he met with the country’s longtime President Denis Sassou Nguesso at his residence in the central city of Oyo, as well as his Congolese counterpart Jean-Claude Gakosso, who had previously received a master’s degree from Leningrad State University and speaks Russian. Similar to Egypt, Congo-Brazzaville has thus far remained silent on Russia’s invasion, and Lavrov sought to use the meeting to build upon cordial relations between Brazzaville and Moscow. According to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Lavrov personally delivered a letter from Russian President Vladimir Putin to President Nguesso. Lavrov also used the occasion to defend Russia’s strike on the port of Odesa on the same day days after Russia and Ukraine reached an agreement to unblock Ukrainian grain exports through the port.
On July 26, Lavrov moved on to Uganda, where he met with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni. The Russian Foreign Minister and his message of Russian innocence in its invasion of Ukraine was received warmly by Museveni, who expressed that he had no reason to condemn Russian behavior, and pointed to his participation in protests against the Soviet Union’s subduing of the Prague Spring in 1968 as evidence of his qualification to make judgements on the subject. Lavrov communicated Russia’s appreciation for Uganda’s expression of neutrality in the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Finally, Lavrov’s visit to the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa on July 27 was used to advance a similar bilateral relationship as the first three countries on Lavrov’s African tour. Having met with Ethiopian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Demeke Mekonnen, Lavrov attempted to further position Russia as a reliable, non-intrusive partner of the Ethiopian government by noting Russia’s support for the Ethiopian government in its ongoing struggles with internal ethnic power challenges, which have significantly worn down Addis Ababa’s relationship with the West, a partnership which had previously been quite warm. In addition to the usual approach of “explaining” Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and recent supply disruptions to African leaders, Lavrov expressed Russia’s readiness to reinforce “military-technical” cooperation between the two countries. Moscow is keen to remind African states that such cooperation does not come with the same “strings attached” as military or general aid from Western countries does — which often includes requirements that the recipient government adhere to certain standards of human rights and good governance practices.
Ahead of the trip, leading newspapers in Egypt, Congo-Brazzaville, Uganda, and Ethiopia published an open letter from Sergei Lavrov which argued that Russia’s preferred “multipolar” world order would benefit the interests of African countries, and sought to highlight the Soviet Union’s support for anti-colonialist movements as evidence of Russia’s benign relationship with the continent today. The Russian foreign minister also sought to paint an enticing picture for African governments of supposed Russian “noninterference” in the affairs of African states, whose relationships with powers such as the United States would otherwise be shaped by high Western requirements of respect for human rights and other good governance tenets, which Russia tacitly and explicitly swears off. Of course, the letter also sought to rebut assertions that Russia’s war in Ukraine had a direct bearing on grain export disruptions which were being felt across Africa, and instead blamed Western sanctions for “exacerbat[ing] negative trends.”
Russia’s presence in Africa isn’t confined to just the four countries Lavrov visited on his whistlestop tour this week. Russian mercenaries operating under the mysterious and state-linked Wagner Group have been known to operate in the Central African Republic, Libya, Mali, and Mozambique, among others. According to Russian leadership and security expert Mark Galeotti, Wagner is particularly valuable to African leaders since its security services often come with tacit links to the Kremlin itself as well as “political technology” know-how. Wagner’s presence in Africa does not seem to have receded in any meaningful way following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. According to a July 26 online briefing delivered by General Stephen Townsend, the Commander of United States Africa Command, Wagner has been “leaning in” to its deployments in Mali and remaining steady in the Central African Republic, while Libya was the only country which witnessed a limited drawdown of Russian troops since the invasion. Reporting that some Russian mercenaries were being rotated out of Africa was one of the final signs that Russia was serious about its invasion prior to the actual attack.
If the recent past is any clue, Russia can likely look forward to African acquiescence or even vocal support of its invasion at the UN and other fora. In a meeting with President Putin in June, African Union Chairman and President of Senegal Macky Sall publicly called for sanctions on Russian grain to be lifted. Sall claimed that such sanctions deprived Africa of Russian grain, echoing Moscow’s argument on the issue. Of the states which did not vote to condemn Russia’s February 2022 invasion in a March 2 UN resolution, half of the states which voted against, abstained, or were not present at the vote were African states. Russia likely seeks to keep this status quo viable, even as Western leaders and policymakers such as French President Emmanuel Macron or U.S. Horn of Africa Special Envoy Mike Hammer make trips of their of their own to the continent. So far, U.S. and Western policymakers appear to be up against significant headwinds which complicate attempts to convince African countries to take a more oppositional, or at least less passive, role in opposing Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine.
U.S.-China Relations Reach Another Boiling Point Over Pelosi’s Plan to Visit Taiwan
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi plans to visit Taiwan as a show of support for the democratic island’s resistance against PRC pressures. Though not officially announced, the trip is scheduled for next month, coming on the heels of the August 1 anniversary of the founding of the People’s Liberation Army and ahead of the CCP’s 20th Congress. Due to the poor state of U.S.-PRC relations and sensitive timing, there is considerable debate within the United States regarding the consequences of such a visit, though the decision ultimately belongs to the Speaker. PRC officials immediately condemned the planned visit as an inappropriate signal of support to the pro-independence movement in Taiwan. Should the Speaker follow through with the plan, there will likely be a forceful response from the PRC. At the same time, there is the risk the United States could lose considerable prestige on the international stage if Pelosi yields to PRC pressure. Either way, the publicization of her travel plans already introduced another irritant into U.S.-China relations.
On July 28, Biden and Xi held their fifth call to discuss a range of issues from Russia to Taiwan. While the White House reassured Beijing that the “One-China” policy remains unchanged, the latter continued to issue escalating warnings against Pelosi’s visit. Many U.S. officials and Taiwan experts warn that Beijing’s threats should not be taken lightly. On July 27, CIA Director Bill Burns stated that the United States should not underestimate Xi’s resolve on the issue of Taiwan and that military action is increasingly probable. PRC officials also privately communicated to the White House that there could be a military response to the Speaker’s visit, which may involve the use of military jets to intercept and prevent Pelosi’s plane from landing. “Xi Jinping could be criticized if he does not respond forcefully to a challenge to Chinese sovereignty,” said Bonnie Glaser, director of the Asia program at the German Marshall Fund. And Xi could hardly afford to have his image tarnished just before the PRC’s 20th Congress where he will look to take on his third term. The White House has joined the U.S. Department of Defense in publicly stating that they do not support such a trip, citing the possibility of unacceptable escalation. Taiwan acknowledges similar concerns as it holds its annual military drill, which became centered on the PRC’s threat and took on critical importance after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Nonetheless, Taiwanese national security policy insiders recognize that if the United States backs down, then China would have successfully set a new precedent in U.S.-Taiwan relations and challenged U.S. hegemony in the Indo-Pacific.
U.S.-China relations under Biden have largely followed the trajectory established under the Trump Administration, even though Biden had pledged to change the approach of U.S. foreign policy and labeled China more as a competitor rather than a threat. Perhaps reality won out. Despite complaints from certain corners of the business sector and Bloomberg News, China tariffs remain in place. Meanwhile, the United States has also been reinforcing its alliances in the Indo-Pacific via the Quad, AUKUS, and IPEF in an effort to isolate the PRC. And on July 13, the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group moved into the South China Sea to conduct maritime security operations for the first time. Concurrently, China is improving its military capabilities through shipbuilding, espionage, and the expansion of its nuclear arsenal. At the Shangri-La Defense Dialogue that took place in June, both countries presented dueling narratives that blamed the other side for heightening hostilities. Many top U.S. military officials, including General Mark Milley, have since publicly conveyed that the PRC will not back down easily, especially in the Indo-Pacific, which Beijing sees as its backyard and within its sphere of influence. The issue of Taiwan is even more sensitive, as it is framed by the PRC as a matter of sovereignty. The PRC has repeatedly demonstrated the strength of its motivations to reunify with Taiwan and vowed to use any means necessary. Therefore, it came as no surprise that the PRC reacted to Pelosi’s rumored visit with outrage, characterizing it as “a gravely wrong signal to ‘Taiwan independence’ separatist forces.”
Speaker Pelosi had originally planned to visit Taiwan in April, but it was called off when she contracted COVID-19. Some experts say that April would have been a much better time for the trip in light of the Russian invasion. Regardless, some U.S. officials, such as Representative Mike Gallagher, an influential Republican lawmaker on China policy, believe that the United States must not bow to the will of Beijing. “This is a bad message from the president and an overall weak message for U.S. foreign policy,” he said. “I urge speaker Pelosi not to back down.”
The Storm before the Calm in Japan
Japan is a parliamentary democracy entering a new era following the July 8 assasination of former prime minister Shinzo Abe and the July 10 Upper House election. The current domestic Japanese politics largely revolves around the intensifying factional power struggles within the ruling party, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), and the rise of fringe populism across the political spectrum. At least for the next three years, prime minister Fumio Kishida and his allies will most likely remain dominant largely due to Abe’s untimely demise and the divided Opposition, including the slain leader’s factional allies in the LDP. Kishida’s influence looks to further expand as the bureaucracy becomes increasingly aligned with his administration and alienates his rivals. The upshot is the emerging golden age of Kishida’s faction, the Kochikai, eclipsing Abe’s Seiwakai, which dominated domestic Japanese politics for the last two decades.
The two consequential events in July 2022, namely Abe’s assasination and the Upper House election, marked a watershed moment in the evolution of domestic Japanese politics. The assasination of Japan’s leading statesman shocked the entire Japanese society while the suspect’s objective of exacting a blood vendetta on him as a symbol of the LDP’s historical ties to the Korean Christian cult, the Unification Church, opened the Pandora’s Box of numerous political taboos for public scrutiny. The LDP gained momentum from the prevailing sympathies for Abe’s tragedy on the eve of the Upper House election and secured 70 out of 125 seats along with its coalition partner, the Komeito Party. The ruling party also secured a two-thirds majority in favor of constitutional amendment, a critical policy consensus needed for a stable administration.
Abe’s sudden demise has provided Kishida with a windfall opportunity to consolidate his power and the influence of his faction, the Kochikai faction. In fact, Kishida’s premiership began last October with Abe’s towering influence overshadowing his administration, leading the new prime minister to seek a delicate balance with his predecessor’s faction, the Seiwakai faction. The Kochikai is the LDP’s oldest and foremost conservative faction led by liberal-minded lawmakers with a dovish approach to foreign policy and national security and economic policy, including Kishida himself. By contrast, Abe’s Seiwakai is a relatively new faction which emerged in opposition to the Kochikai and espouses neoconservative worldviews favoring hard power and neoliberal economics. These fundamental differences remained irreconcilable, and Kishida took extra pains to balance against the former prime minister by appointing Seiwakai members to key administration posts and supporting his legacy agenda of constitutional revision during the first several months into his tenure. After Abe’s untimely departure, Kishida now finds himself virtually unopposed by the leaderless Seiwakai faction, which is increasingly becoming embroiled in internal power struggles for new leadership.
As if to rub salt to the wound, the bureaucracy is beginning to lay siege against Abe’s allies, especially those from the Seiwakai faction, as of late July 2022. Indeed, Abe’s longest-serving tenure of more than seven consecutive years was not a feat achieved without problems, and his own death ironically opened the floodgates containing numerous scandals related to him. First, the revelation of the LDP’s historical ties to the Unification Church invited a public outcry over the party’s bizarre alliance with the Korean Christian cult backed by the South Korean intelligence agency. This has led many Seiwakai members, who drummed up nationalist rhetoric for years while paradoxically receiving support from the Korean cult, to invite public scrutiny into their suspicious ties and become increasingly embroiled in an embarrassing scandal. Second, the Public Prosecutors Office is now zeroing in on the various suspected bribery cases related to the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. In particular, the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (TOCOPG) has long been considered a black box lacking transparency and is now the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation seeking to uncover illicit financial transactions. The common thread running through these emerging political scandals is Abe’s inextricable influence, and the bureaucracy immediately began exposing it, adding additional pressure on the slain prime minister’s allies after his death.
These emerging internal dynamics of the LDP look to fundamentally change the power relations in Tokyo. The ascendancy of Kishida’s Kochikai faction is already all but an inexorable trajectory and will most likely gain additional momentum following Abe’s state funeral on September 27. Such a scenario would significantly bolster the power of former prime minister and finance minister Taro Aso, who is now the uncontested kingmaker and personally backed Kishida’s candidacy for the election of the LDP president in September 2021. Aso is a grandson of former prime minister Shigeru Yoshida and is Japan’s foremost political royalty leading the Shikokai, his own LDP faction which splintered off from the Kochikai. Since the breakup of the Kochikai in 2001, Aso has been leading the idea of a “Greater Kochikai” which reintegrates the offshoots, including his, into the original faction. Kishida, the incumbent leader of the Kochikai, supports his patron’s idea, and Abe’s demise and the Seiwakai’s subsequent secession crisis would provide them with a timely opportunity to realize their common vision. The advent of a “Greater Kochikai” would almost guarantee Kishida’s long tenure, and Kishida has every reason to support Aso’s vision in light of Abe’s towering influence on domestic Japanese politics.
The emerging influence of Kishida’s Kochikai and its offshoots also looks to fundamentally reshuffle the bureaucratic hierarchy established during Abe’s long tenure. Abe relocated the center of gravity of domestic Japanese politics to the Prime Minister’s Office, or the Kantei and surrounded himself with his close associates hailing from the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI) and the National Police Agency (NPA) while sidelining the Ministry of Finance (MOF) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA). By contrast, Kishida is seeking to turn the tables around by rallying support from Abe’s opponents, especially the MOF, while preserving the power of the Kantei. Indeed, the Kochikai’s founder, former prime minister Hayato Ikeda, himself was a former MOF high official, and Kishida looks to resurrect his faction’s golden age by emulating his predecessor and courting the finance ministry. Moreover, Aso is the de facto kingpin behind the MOF after his whopping eight plus years as its chief and even influenced the appointment of his brother-in-law, Shunichi Suzuki, as his successor. Meanwhile, the MOFA is also increasingly joining the bandwagon in supporting Kishida, who discarded Abe’s foreign policy and decided to confront Russia and China simultaneously in Asia while strengthening the US-Japan alliance and forging new security relations with NATO, especially the UK. By contrast, the METI and the NPA find themselves increasingly sidelined, especially after the economic ministry’s troubled economic cooperation agenda with Russia earlier this year and the police agency’s failure to protect Abe from the assassin on July 8. As a result, the emerging center of power in Kishida’s Japan is the Kantei backed by the MOF and, to a lesser extent, the MOFA.
The golden age of Kishida’s Kochikai or even a Greater Kochikai will most likely consolidate after Abe’s state funeral on September 27. Until then, the double scandals related to the Unification Church and the 2021 Tokyo Olympics will continue to undermine the Seiwakai’s credibility. According to one of the author’s senior LDP contacts in Tokyo, the two scandals will continue to dominate the news cycle with additional leaks and revelations targeting Abe’s allies, especially those from the Seiwakai, at least until the next cabinet reshuffle expected at the beginning of September. After Abe’s state funeral, there are reports indicating the strong possibility of a snap dissolution of the Lower House followed by a general election by the end of this year. Indeed, such a scenario would benefit Kishida as it would allow him to drastically undermine the influence of many of his rivals who are already besieged by the aforementioned scandals. Another possible schedule of a general election is after the G7 summit in Kishida’s hometown of Hiroshima in May 2023. One of the key items of his policy agenda is denuclearization, and the Japanese prime minister looks to unveil his anti-nuclear vision before the world at the site of the world’s first nuclear bombardment. Such a spectacle would further consolidate Kishida’s legendary status in a country with widespread anti-nuclear sentiments given his prior role in inviting US president Barack Obama to Hiroshima in 2016. Regardless of the timing of the next general election, Kishida and his allies now find themselves in an advantageous position at least for the next few years.
Abe’s sudden death on July 8 was the beginning of the political storm now hovering over Japan with the fusillade of scandals virtually dismembering the slain prime minister’s legacies. While the current crisis of Japanese democracy evokes the ugly memories of the veritable “politics by assasination” a century ago, Kishida’s unrivaled position and his faction’s growing influence would point to a future markedly different from the past. Indeed, the fate of Japanese democracy is now in Kishida’s hands. Yet, there are reasons to be optimistic just as his predecessor, Yoshida, resurrected Japanese democracy from the ashes of war and anchored the defeated nation firmly as America’s most important ally in Asia during his long tenure. What followed Yoshida’s years in office was decades of unprecedented stability and growth marked by the Japanese economic miracle. Kishida now finds himself facing both a similar crisis of Japanese democracy and a rare opportunity to boost Japan’s stability and growth by securing his political longevity. He alone is now at the helm of Japanese democracy, but the country’s emerging future looks to instill in its US ally a sense of optimism at a time Washington increasingly faces off Beijing’s looming aggression over Taiwan.
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The views of authors are their own, and not that of CSPC.