Here is the latest top situation recap report in the Asia-Pacific region.
Biden and Xi’s Long-Awaited Meeting
The long-awaited meeting of US President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping draws the international community, as this would mark the first time the two leaders will meet since they bonded ten years ago. Biden and his Chinese counterpart will meet in Bali, Indonesia, ahead of a G20 (Group of 20) Summit on Monday, November 14.
Founded in the late 1990s, the G20 is an intergovernmental forum of nineteen countries. The European Union (EU) was formed to address the global economic crisis, climate change mitigation, and sustainable development. All forum members are among the world’s largest economies, including Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, South Korea, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the US, and the EU. Meanwhile, Spain, the United Nations, the World Bank, the African Union, ASEAN, and other organizations can join the forum as permanent guests.
The geopolitics, particularly between the two superpowers, have changed drastically since 2011, and the tension in recent years has been alarmingly inching toward a breaking point.
“I know him well, he knows me.”
— Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) November 14, 2022
An analysis by Stars and Stripes explained that whatever rapport Biden and Xi established a decade ago, the American president might need to “recalibrate” his approach when meeting his Chinese counterpart as the time has radically changed the Xi Jinping Biden met in 2011. After all, back then, Xi was still a newcomer compared to the strong influence he holds today as one of the most powerful men in the world, leading most diplomats to doubt the old connection would be enough to soothe tensions between the US and China.
Ahead of the meeting, Biden told reporters that he and Xi had “always had straightforward discussions,” adding how well they know each other.
“We’ve just got to figure out where the red lines are and what are the most important things to each of us, going into the next two years,” Biden said.
While the meeting might result in a “substantive and in-depth conversation,” a senior administration official remarked that the two leaders might not come up with “substantive progress” on significant issues such as colliding positions on geopolitics, trade, ideology, and especially on the conflict in Taiwan that threatens a potential US-China cold war. On the other hand, though, the official hoped that the meeting would serve as a common ground where both leaders could understand and establish a clear line of communication that would remain accessible at times of tension.
With the upcoming talks, CNN reported that US national security adviser Jake Sullivan had earlier noted to brief Taiwan on whatever discussion the two leaders had during the meeting to assure Taipei of US continued support—which earned an immediate “condemnation” from Beijing via Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian last Friday.
Aside from Biden, Xi is also slated to meet other leaders, including South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, to discuss rising tensions in Asia over North Korea and Taiwan. Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese also said to meet the Chinese leader on the sidelines of the G20 summit to discuss several “official and unofficial trade barriers” and resetting “tattered relationship.”
Ukraine-Russia War: Race to Replenish Arsenal
As the nine-month mark since the “special military operation,” Russia launched on Ukraine approaches, a different sub-war is brewing in the backend. Both sides have received support, primarily Ukraine, which was generously supplied by the US and Europe. But as the stockpile of Russia’s arsenal also depletes, an expected player came to its aid, North Korea.
News of North Korea supplying artillery rounds to Russian troops draws speculations about how South Korea could also provide artillery arsenals to Ukrainian forces through a classified arms pact between Seoul and Washington—unexpectedly pulling both feuding Koreas into the war. In particular, the diminishing 155mm artillery stockpile has been a concern for the Pentagon, as reported in August. The Guardian previously reported that Ukrainian forces use at least 5,000 rounds of 155mm daily, while Russian troops fire approximately 20,000 rounds daily.
Though the arms deal only enabled South Korea to replenish an undefined amount of 155mm artillery shells to the US under the condition that the latter remains the “end user,” Seoul’s Defense Ministry clarified.
Despite vowing to support Kyiv with non-lethal assistance solely, the agreement somehow makes Seoul indirectly provides military aid through Washington. A Saturday report, however, stressed South Korea’s firm commitment to its policy against lethal assistance to Ukraine.
Meanwhile, North Korea’s aid to Russia is not as subtle as the South’s having to offer to transport artillery to Moscow. The news on the arms sale between Pyongyang and the Kremlin did not surprise some observers, noting how a security treaty bonds both nations. Not to mention the compatibility of the former’s military hardware with the latter. This would only make sense, considering Russia could easily trade its technology and fuel to North Korea, which would boost its missile and nuclear programs—a win-win for both sides.
China Boasted Long-endurance UAV at Zhuhai Air Show
Last week, China’s indigenous long-endurance unmanned aircraft vehicle (UAV), Wing Loong-3, took the spotlight at the Zhuhai Air Show.
According to reports, the UAV can execute “extreme missions, including anti-submarine warfare (ASW), ground strike, maritime strike, and search and rescue in a single sortie.”
Manufactured by the Chinese aircraft manufacturing association Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group, Wing Loong-3 is a successor of the renowned Wing Loong 1 and 2, which broadly resembled the American-made MQ-9A/B UAVs.
It has an impressive flight range of up to 10,000 kilometers that can last up to 40 hours, powered by a turboprop engine in the tail with a pusher propeller and a five-blade propeller. In addition, South China Morning Post declared that the range of the Wing Loong-3 was “intercontinental” and could be loaded with air-to-air missiles and hit air targets such as drones, helicopters, and other aircraft.
The promotional video above shows the computer-generated version of the UAV zooming over the sea and dropping what looks like mini sonobuoys that can detect submarines. Information gathered will then be transmitted from Wing Loong-3 to its designated command center, usually a surface vessel. While the video successfully highlighted the promising feature of the latest Chinese UAV, some might perceive this as a promotional clip for an upcoming simulation game because it’s too good to be true.
Aside from air-to-air attacks, the UAV can conduct air-to-ground and surface-to-air missile attacks and serve as a suicide drone/loitering munition and a guide to rockets. Moreover, Wing Loong-3 can also drop inflatable rafts to rescue friendlies in the middle of the ocean.
Since it is yet to be operational, the sophisticated features of the Wing Loong-3 remain far-fetched for skeptics compared to the revered, tested-and-proven GA MQ-9A/B.
Renewal Challenges at US Army’s Pohakuloa Training Site
Stars and Stripes reported Sunday the growing concerns of activists over the US Army’s Pohakuloa Training Area (PTA) in Hawaii Island, which sits atop a high plateau identified as “one of the rarest ecosystems in the world” and stretches up to 132,000 acres. Leased by the state to the military in the mid-1960s for just one dollar, the now-65-year-old is set to expire in 2029, and despite facing tons of lawsuits throughout the years due to management-related issues of the extensive area, the Army is looking forward to renewing the lease and keep the training site.
As part of the renewal process, the Army submitted the required environmental draft earlier this year detailing the service branch’s future utilization plans of the valuable area and has since awaited feedback. However, state lawmakers and agencies have responded quite negatively to the draft, “accusing the Army of data gap regarding the effects of its activities”—particularly on the safety of endangered species living in the area and cleanup plans, among many others. A state senator has also noted that while they understand the national security interest in the island, the quality of living is also something to be greatly considered, especially since military training can negatively impact land, air, and water quality. Not to mention the improper land settlement, which they believed to have been “taken without consent or proper compensation.”
The PTA is Hawaii’s most extensive adjacent live-fire range and tactical training area. Military leaders regard it as the only location on the island where the Army can perform large-scale land exercises and artillery practice.
Recently, PTA served as a training site for forces coming from Thailand, the Philippines, and Indonesia alongside US troops.
When there is no scheduled training, the land is mainly left to its native inhabitants under the watchful eyes of only five soldiers, Stars and Stripes noted. Most of its workforce in the base are Army civilians, contractors, and scientists—who are working on classifying and preserving native and rare flora and fauna in the area and conserving critical cultural sites and historical artifacts.
According to the garrison commander at PTA, Lt. Col. Kevin Cronin, soldiers are restricted from entering caves and other treasured sites. But throughout the years, native researchers, scientists, and activists have argued a thing or two of environmental negligence from the Army, like in the 1980s when a botanist found that the Army had bulldozed native floras in exchange for a new training range. The use of live explosives also irked the locals, which damaged the area’s ecosystem.
The renewal draft proposal of the Army includes options to 1) extend the lease and full access to the 23,000-acre state land; 2) retain access to 19,700-acre or 10,100-acre plus the 11 miles selected roads and trails dedicated for training; and 3) the “no action alternative,” which means the termination of the lease as soon as it expires—the least-desired options of the Army.
US B-52 Bombers’ New Permanent Home in Northern Australia
As part of the preparation agreement between the US and Australia in case of a conflict in the Indo-Pacific, the former sent a fleet of its B-52 bomber aircraft. These six nuclear-capable warplanes will be among the first responders should a war with China break out in the Pacific theater over Taiwan.
But for now, it will be parked in its new permanent home in a small airfield base in northern Australia. Moreover, the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) has also reported spending around $1 billion on upgrading its Tindal base south of Darwin to accommodate at least six B-52s, as well as constructing fuel storage tanks, maintenance facilities, and squadron operations for the US Air Force.
Boeing B-52 Stratofortress is a long-range, high subsonic speed, nuclear-powered strategic bomber capable of carrying up to 32,000 kg of weapons and has a typical combat range of at least 14,080 km (8,800 miles) without aerial refueling. It carries out maritime surveillance missions, performs strategic attacks, and serves as close-air support, air interdiction, and offensive counter-air. (See factsheet here)
The unveiling of the newly stationed American bombers was first aired on Australian state television last week in an investigative report before either government could formally announce it, according to Nikkei Asia.
Four Corners has obtained US documents detailing the budget for the Tindal base upgrade that would accommodate the B-52s.
“The [squadron operations] facility is required to support strategic operations and to run multiple 15-day training exercises during the Northern Territory dry season for deployed B-52 squadrons.”
Whether there is an impending war or not, the airfield base upgrade makes sense considering that the US bomber aircraft has been a recurring visitor in Australia since the early 1980s and has conducted training since 2005. However, it wasn’t until both nations agreed on an Enhanced Air Cooperation (EAC) in 2017 that forged a strong air defense alliance between Washington and Canberra, including military training, regional crisis response, and building operational infrastructures in Northern Australia. The in-development permanent aircraft parking apron would boost the US on its peacekeeping and stabilize regional tensions.