Published 23 March 2018
Eagle Eye Issue 305
Summary: Chinese President Xi Jinping appointed a new cabinet of allies, carefully chosen to elevate the country on all fronts and help Xi to execute his vision for a globally dominant China by 2050.
Development and Analysis: On 19 March, Xi appointed a new set of cabinet members following his re-election and the removal of the presidential and vice-presidential term limits. The new cabinet, which the National People’s Congress approved, includes the Vice Premiers (top officials), State Councilors (subordinate to the Vice Premiers), as well as the newly elected vice president, Wang Quishan. All are senior allies of Xi, through whom Xi intends to “revamp the administration.”
Upon his appointment as vice president, Wang received 2,969 votes in his favor and only one against. A longstanding ally of Xi, Wang was head of Xi’s anti-corruption campaign during Xi’s first term. Throughout the campaign Wang oversaw the imprisonment of 1.34 million officials for corruption, leading many observers to regard him as a “feared enforcer” for the Xi administration. In 2007, he was a member of China’s Politburo committee, and in 2009 he served as the chief negotiator in trade talks with the US. Now, as vice president, Wang holds more power than he has before—and more power than his predecessors as well—due to the recent abolition of term limits for the vice presidency. Considering the Chinese constitution allows the vice president to carry out certain duties on the president’s behalf, Wang could possibly hold this role for life, executing both Xi’s duties and orders. Considering his former role as the head of the anti-corruption campaign, it is very likely that the administration will progress towards a more disciplinary and authoritative state. Additionally, Wang’s previous experience as chief trade negotiator with the US should assist in renewed negotiations between China and the US.
In the financial sector, Xi appointed US-educated reformist, Yi Gang, as Governor of the People’s Bank of China. Yi was formerly deputy to his predecessor as well as the head of the State Administration of Foreign Exchange, which oversees the country’s $3 trillion foreign exchange market (forex) reserves. Yi faces the tasks of cleaning up the financial sector and resolving China’s debt-to-output ratio of over 300%. After his appointment, Yi stated that Beijing should implement “prudent monetary policy,” push forward the “reform and opening up” of the financial sector, and “maintain its stability.” Yi will most likely resolve the country’s debt problem successfully, considering his prior role as deputy to the governor of the People’s Bank and his experience with overseeing China’s $3 trillion in foreign exchange reserves, thus proving him well-equipped and qualified for this task. He will also assist another appointee, State Councilor Liu He, who will take the lead on economic policy. Liu, along with Yi, likely aims to boost the economy to take the US’s spot as the largest economy in the world, which would in part fulfill Xi’s plan for a globally dominant China by 2050.
Other notable appointments include Wang Yi and Wei Fenghe. Wang Yi was Foreign Minister since 2013 and was previously ambassador to Tokyo. He was also in charge of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office and will now become China’s special representative for India as State Councilor for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Wang will most likely play an important role in Xi’s One Belt One Road Initiative (OBOR) as he continues talks with India, cultivating diplomatic relations with the country as well as other neighboring nations and those in the South China Sea—all efforts toward strengthening China’s regional dominance. His former role as ambassador to Japan may also indicate his possible plan to improve relations between China and Japan to possibly annex Tokyo into OBOR, or to strengthen Chinese influence in the region. Wei Fenghe, a missile expert, played a key role in splitting the missile force of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) into two parts: the Rocket Force and the Strategic Support Force. Now appointed as the State Councilor for the Ministry of National Defense, he will continue to “modernize” and “reorganize” the military—following through with Xi’s plans to infuse technologies such as drones, robots, aircraft carriers, radar, and missiles into the PLA.
Xi’s new cabinet appears highly qualified and will probably yield concrete and fruitful results for the future of China in all sectors—leadership, economy, foreign relations, and military. Collectively, this means China will probably experience a resurgence of power in the years to come under this new administration. This power may or may not reach the global scale immediately, but by 2050 Xi intends to have a robust and dominant Chinese global influence. Regardless, Xi’s appointing of his allies secures the near future of China and further consolidates his power, as he no longer has political “opponents” in his cabinet, but rather ardent supporters, thus strengthening, solidifying, and eventually executing his rule and his vision for the country.
Summary: Nigeria’s choice to not sign a pan-African free trade agreement could negatively impact its success and other Agenda 2063 programs.
Development: On 21 March, African Union (AU) nation leaders gathered in Kigali, Rwanda and signed an agreement on the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), a flagship program of Agenda 2063, a 50-year strategic plan to accelerate African development. The AfCFTA marks the largest free trade agreement since the WTO and will require member states to remove tariffs on 90% of goods to foster more intra-African trade and stimulate economic growth. Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari did not attend and did not sign, despite past expressions of support for the AfCFTA. The initial AfCFTA plan consisted of all 55 African nations agreeing and signing, but only 44 signed. Critics insist that the AfCFTA creates an uneven distribution in favor of more industrialized states and competition that harms low-cost job wages.
Analysis: With the lack of Nigerian support among other AU countries, the AfCFTA will most likely not prove as successful as intended and may lose support as time goes on. Although other states did not sign it, Nigeria’s massive influence and economy and refusal to sign the AfCFTA could significantly harm the AfCFTA and the progress of Agenda 2063. This dismissal of a major Agenda 2063 flagship program could greatly weaken private industry support of the AfCFTA and possibly state support of other Agenda 2063 programs. This lack of Nigerian support could also influence states that signed to eventually back out of the AfCFTA as they struggle to accept the gains that better benefit other states. Additionally, these states could witness a lack of improvement in industrial growth and wage security, further giving them reason to withdraw from AfCFTA. Had Nigeria signed the AfCFTA, these states benefitting less than others would likely still have felt secure in the deal, trusting that Nigeria’s support would indicate greater benefit in the long-run.
[Caitlyn Aaron, email@example.com]
Summary: Nigerian security forces’ lack of response to received warnings of Boko Haram attacks will likely result in further abductions unless it implements changes.
Development: On 20 March, Amnesty International released a report detailing how Nigerian security forces failed to act on warnings of the 19 February Boko Haram attack. Before Boko Haram kidnapped 110 girls from Dapchi at approximately 6:30 PM, security forces recorded five calls between 2:00 PM and 6:30 PM warning that an armed group of Boko Haram fighters were moving towards the city. Security forces did not deploy any forces to protect the citizens in response to warnings, and during the attack many military officers fled. This kidnapping is similar to the 2014 kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls in Chibok, Nigeria, where security forces received early warnings, but also did not respond.
Analysis: Unless the Nigerian military structures a response mechanism to warning calls of Boko Haram and other threats, kidnappings like those in Dapchi will likely continue. The military forces in Dapchi had at least a recorded four-hour notice of the coming attack but failed to react. The lack of response has developed into a trend as evident in both the Chibok and Dapchi abductions. Had security forces adapted after the Chibok attack to respond to warnings, it may have prevented the Dapchi kidnappings. If the Nigerian military organizes a plan for deployment of forces quickly after credible warnings, the mass kidnappings by Boko Haram will likely cease. Boko Haram only succeeded in these kidnappings because of the lack of security force response. To aid in the fight against Boko Haram, the Nigerian military needs to better prepare and respond to warned attacks.
Summary: Recent anti-government protests will likely continue despite recent gains such as the resignation of the Slovak Prime Minister and the replacement of the Interior Minister.
Development: On 19 March, The Slovakian ruling party offered the position of Interior Minister to Jozef Raz, a non-partisan official, to ensure an independent investigation of the murder of journalist Jan Kuciak. Kuciak was previously investigating high-level political corruption in Slovakia with the Italian mafia when he was murdered along with his fiancée in February. The murder gave rise to massive anti-government protests to ensure a fair investigation in Kuciak’s murder and to call for new elections. Prime Minister Robert Fico agreed to step down as Prime Minister to postpone new elections until next term to save his current coalition. Raz will replace the current Interior Minister Robert Kalinak, a close ally of Fico. Protestors had demanded Kalinak’s removal.
Analysis: The move to replace current Interior Minister Kalinak directly follows the resignation of Prime Minister Fico as the Slovak government comes under increasing pressure from anti-government protests. Protests will likely continue despite the resulting government changes. A close ally of Fico’s will lead the coalition kept in place by Fico’s resignation, possibly creating a mouthpiece for populist Fico to continue to influence Slovak politics. New elections could also introduce backsliding for the gains made by protests, as extremist politics continue to gain traction in Europe. Considering the current sentiments of the protestors, however, it is unlikely that another populist will be elected if new elections take place. In contrast to neighbors like Hungary and Poland, whose populations turned to populist leaders, Slovakia seems to continually shift towards Western values.
[Gianna Geiger, firstname.lastname@example.org]
Summary: The Chinese ecommerce giant Alibaba has increased its investment in Singaporean ecommerce, highlighting a broader ecommerce boom in Southeast Asia.
Development: On 18 March, the Chinese ecommerce giant Alibaba increased its investment in Singapore-based company Lazada by $2 billion. This brings Alibaba’s share in the company to an 83% stake as it redoubles efforts to gain control of the fast-growing Southeast Asian ecommerce sphere. Alibaba also installed its cofounder Lucy Peng as CEO of Lazada, taking over the company in all but name. Meanwhile, Amazon invested in the primary e-commerce conglomerate in Vietnam, increasing its own stake in the Southeast Asian markets. These investments clearly show growing competition to dominate the Southeast Asian markets, including between the US and China and are driving a boom in ecommerce in the region. As a result of this competition, Southeast Asia has observed large amounts of foreign capital pour into local economies.
Analysis: Southeast Asian nations will likely use the increased investment from the US to increase ties with Australia, which has promised to increase infrastructure developments in the region, likely to counter the Chinese One Belt One Road initiative. As a result, Southeast Asian nations will likely use this competition and influx of capital to shore up their own economies while attempting to balance between countering and following Beijing. Additionally, Southeast Asian nations will likely continue to balance relations with the West and China as they attempt to determine which is more amicable to their interests. The activism of the technology companies will likely result in a faster adoption of electronic payment apps and the growth of ecommerce in Southeast Asia and particularly Singapore. The government of Singapore will likely capitalize on their status as the ecommerce hub for Southeast Asia to raise more revenue by implementing a previously discussed tax on ecommerce. As Singapore boasts the highest GDP in the region, it may see the largest amount of foreign investment and competition.
Summary: Turkey achieved success in its military offensive in northern Syria against a Kurdish-dominated militia, which may lead to greater conflict among nations.
Development: On 18 March, Turkish forces and Syrian rebel allies took control of Afrin, a town in northern Syria, after an eight-week offensive against the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in the area. Turkey considers the YPG a terrorist group with ties to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a terrorist organization that has waged an insurgency against Turkey for decades. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that Turkey’s military offensive will continue along its southern border, forcing the YPG out of Manbij, Ayn al-Arab, Tel Abyad, Ras al-Ain and Qamishli. At least 150,000 people have fled Afrin since the conflict started. The Syrian government demanded Turkish troops leave Afrin and cease the offensive. The US and Russia oppose Turkey’s military actions due to their support of the YPG since 2014 in the fight against the Islamic State (IS).
Analysis: Turkey’s victory in Afrin shows its determination to eliminate the YPG in the surrounding areas. Turkey will likely advance its campaign east along the Turkish-Syrian border in the coming months to continue combatting the YPG, running a risk of clashes with US troops and allied YPG forces stationed in northeast Syria. Additionally, because Turkey’s offensive increased the number of refugees within Syria, IS could find a new foothold among refugees. Considering its diminished ability to defend itself against a full Turkish assault, due in part to the fight against IS, the YPG will likely seek to avoid direct confrontation with Turkish forces.
[Cassie Hettmansperger, email@example.com]
Summary: Britain has characterized a recent agreement with the EU on the transition period for Brexit as a victory, although it represents more of a loss, likely showing the British leadership’s fatigue with stagnant negotiations.
Development: On 19 March, Britain and the EU agreed to 75% of the terms for the transition period, the period immediately following the official date Britain will separate from the EU. Britain made several concessions, including the duration of the period, which will last until the end of 2020, and that Britain will abide by rules and regulations passed by the EU without any input. Britain must also allow free migration without any distinction between British and EU citizens, a major blow to British Prime Minister Theresa May, who very publicly demanded discretion in regard to this distinction. The two sides did not reach an agreement regarding the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, but Britain generally agreed to not enforce a hard border between the UK and Ireland. May and Brexit Secretary David Davis both claimed the agreement a victory for the UK.
Analysis: Despite Britain’s claims of victory, it conceded many of its demands to reach this deal. Britain compromised on the length of the period, the rules it will have to follow during the period, and it did not solve key issues such as the Ireland border. May and Davis most likely decided to concede on these points and claim victory given a lack of progress in talks. The two sides will now likely turn to the difficult issue of the Irish border. Without a definitive plan from Britain, the EU will almost certainly impose its will and force Britain to compromise. Given Britain and the EU’s apparent commitment to avoiding a hard land border between the UK and the EU, a likely agreement between the two sides would involve some form of separate free trade agreement between Northern Ireland and Ireland. However, if Britain maintains its somewhat passive negotiation strategy, the EU may force it to make even more concessions.
[Zach Coffee firstname.lastname@example.org]
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