Category Archives: Indo-Asia-Pacific

Storm Warning: Chinese Gray Zone Futures Inbound

By Peter Layton

As competition with China deepens, the nation’s use of gray zone techniques is becoming of increasing importance and interest. China has been using this approach for many years in the South China Sea, the East China Sea, and the India/China border, to name some prominent examples. Understanding the history behind these is important, but equally so is where China’s gray zone stratagems may be heading. In this, we live in the future, not the past. Understanding the direction towards which Chinese gray zone activities may evolve could give early warning about China’s likely next steps. Suitable responses could then be considered and implemented in a measured manner, without the time pressures induced by a sudden, unexpected crisis.

This article discusses three forward-leaning aspects: long-term trends, wild cards, and the shape of China’s future gray zone actions. Considered together, these outline future Chinese gray zone possibilities at the strategic and tactical levels, helping avoid potentially nasty surprises. Gray zone as used here builds on Michael Mazarr’s seminal work. Crucially, gray zone techniques are distinct from hybrid warfare. Gray zone techniques do not involve deliberate armed violence; hybrid warfare does, as defined in Frank Hoffman’s influential examinations. In recent years, China has doubled down on gray zone activities while Russia remains attracted to hybrid warfare. Neither the activities nor the countries should be conflated.

This article further focusses on China’s periphery, not globally. Using cyber, China can extend its gray zone activities worldwide, but looking in peripheral areas allows a broader, all-domain discussion. A deeper examination of China’s gray zone activities in the periphery is given in my China’s Enduring Grey Zone Challenge recently published by the Royal Australian Air Force’s Air and Space Power Centre.

Potential Evolutionary Paths

China has been using gray zone techniques for more than a decade, allowing some high-level trends to be discerned. The first trend is that the more China uses such techniques, the more others become involved in one way or another. China prefers to have bi-lateral relationships with other countries rather than work through multi-lateral channels, but gray zone activities tend to work against this. Others notice China’s assertiveness, worry about being picked off individually, and if not join in, at least passively support the country being targeted by China.

The South China Sea dispute has been running the longest and is now noticeably dragging in more countries. Originally, China sought to negotiate bi-laterally and then only grudgingly agreed to accept multilateral discussions under the ASEAN institutional framework. This has further evolved with many countries now issuing diplomatic Notes Verbales so as to involve the United Nations. Moreover, the dispute has been part of the rationale for the formation of the Quad, comprising the United States, India, Japan, and Australia. The Quad is steadily becoming a more cohesive, pseudo-alliance grouping, as India’s border troubles with China worsen, and China steps up pressure on Japan in the East China Sea. More third parties are piling in with the European Union’s (EU) views of China as a “systemic rival.” The United Kingdom, France, and Germany are now sending naval patrols to the South China Sea.

A second trend is that China is making increasing use of non-military means of coercion, particularly coercive diplomacy and cyber. A recent study found that over the past 10 years, there were 152 cases of such coercion affecting 27 countries and the EU, with a very sharp exponential increase in such tactics since 2018. In terms of cyber, China has long been noted for its cyber intrusions to steal intellectual property and industrial secrets. A recent shift though is towards using cyber means to inflict damage on others as part of a gray zone operation. In a notable recent example, China mounted a broad cyber-campaign against India’s electrical power grid that coincided with the 2020 military border clash. Both coercive diplomacy and cyber have major advantages in terms of giving a global reach. China’s gray zone activities can now impact very distant nations, not just those on its borders.

A third trend is a perceptible movement towards more violent actions, even if these do not involve armed attacks. In June 2020, People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers killed twenty Indian soldiers in a border clash. Previously, China’s gray zone actions did not intentionally aim to kill others. The year also saw a PLA Navy warship aim its gun control director at the Philippine Navy’s anti-submarine corvette BRP Conrado Yap in the Spratly Islands. In the naval domain, this can be considered as a hostile act and seems the first time that a Chinese warship has directly threatened a Philippine government vessel in the South China Sea. A second incident involving a PLA Navy warship pointing a laser at a US Navy P-8 maritime patrol aircraft drew criticism from the U.S. Navy as being “unsafe and unprofessional.” This was a new step as such actions, while increasing in the last couple of years, have previously emanated from Chinese fishing vessels, not PLA Navy warships.

Wild Cards

Trends can only tell us so much. There is always a chance of a sharp deviation in the future onto a very different path. Four wild card possibilities are worth discussing.

Embracing Hybrid War. While China is destabilizing the existing international order through its gray zone activities, so also is Russia through hybrid warfare. China may be tempted at some stage to shift up the conflict continuum a notch, move beyond gray zone activities, and embrace Russia’s hybrid model.

Chinese gray zone activities aim to gain lasting strategic advantage over another (Chapter One, pp. 11-25). In contrast, the Russian armed forces define hybrid war as a war in which the means used, including military operations, support an information campaign. The aim of this campaign is to gain “control over the fundamental worldview and orientation of a state,” shift its geostrategic alignment, and shape its governance. China’s gray zone activities may irritate another, but the Russian hybrid warfare model tries for regime change.

Proxy Wars. China might not move as far as hybrid wars; however, its gray zone activities could be extended to include supporting proxy wars. In the Cold War, the Soviet Union and the United States fought each other vicariously through their various client states. Wars in countries as varied as Ethiopia, Angola, Nicaragua, and Afghanistan all engaged the superpowers of the day in providing overt and covert support for their chosen sides. If the U.S.-China relationship deteriorates into approximating a new Cold War, proxy wars may make a comeback.

Playing the Russia Card. There is a possibility that Russia and China may choose to actively work together. In this, there are uncertainties over the synergies their combined actions might generate, in particular how Russia might amplify Chinese gray zone efforts. Today, China is mainly leveraging its Russian relationship to fill gaps in its military capabilities and to accelerate its technological innovation.

In terms of gray zone activities, a new development has been the undertaking of joint China-Russian air patrols in the East China Sea. The first in July 2019 was heralded as taking the two nation’s military-to-military cooperation to a new level appropriate to ‘the new era,’ but finished with South Korean fighters firing warning shots when one of the Russian aircraft intruded into Korean territorial airspace.

Given this fiasco, a second try was not attempted until late December 2020. On the Russian side at least, this was somewhat larger in involving four PLA Air Force (PLAAF) H-6 bomber and 15 Russian aircraft, including two Tu-95 bombers, an A-50U airborne early warning and control aircraft, and 12 Su-35S fighters, presumably to warn off any pesky South Korean fighters. Communist Party media outlet, Global Times, optimistically forecast that “China-Russia joint aerial strategic patrol will become routine in the future,” while avoiding dwelling on the first patrol’s problems.

Nevertheless, such patrols hint at the possibilities of Russia and China at least coordinating actions in their border zones. For example, Russia might conduct hybrid warfare operations in Europe while China ramps up concurrent gray zone activities in the South and East China Seas. Such an approach of working together but separately could tax any Western responses.

Mirror Image. If China is pleased with its gray zone activities, there is a possibility that others might not just take up the technique but use them against China. China has more borders than any other country, leaving considerable space for nefarious actions. Moreover, the Party faces many domestic problems and continually worries about internal stability. A gray zone activity over an extended period, using diverse means, that was ambiguous, stayed within red lines, and exploited the Party weaknesses could be a definite annoyance, shifting the strategic advantage away from China to others. China’s gray zone sword might become two-edged, able to inflict damage on its originator.

The Shape of China’s Future Gray Zone Activities

In general, gray zone activities involve purposefully pursuing political objectives through carefully designed operations; moving cautiously towards goals rather than seeking decisive results quickly; remaining below key escalatory thresholds so as to avoid war; and using all instruments of national power including non-military and non-kinetic tools. These characteristics suggest that in terms of its application in a specific circumstance, gray zone activities have two important variables. These are whether violent or non-violent actions are undertaken and whether non-military or military instruments are used.

The drivers created by these variables implies four possible alternatives as illustrated in the Figure below. These are the manner in which future Chinese gray zone activities might be undertaken. None of these four alternatives are considered more probable than the others, but that which actually occurs is hopefully captured within the wide span of possibilities encompassed.

Figure 1. Possible Chinese Gray Zone Alternative Futures. Click to expand.

The ‘playing by the rules China’ is an optimistic future where a responsible stakeholder China abides by the rules to which it has agreed with others. The ‘whatever it takes China’ is a minor deterioration from now and is perhaps a near-term prospect. The ‘pushing the envelope China’ is an evolved future where much greater use is made of the PLA but in a non-violent way. The ‘do as you are told China’ is a near worse-case possibility that is arguably on the limits of gray zone activities; there would be a high risk of peace breaking down and serious armed conflict starting. An indicator and warning of this might be the shoot down of an uncrewed air vehicle, such as a Triton maritime surveillance drone.

Long-term trends, wild cards, and the shape of China’s future actions combine to give an overview of the strategic- and tactical-level gray zone possibilities, but the future should not necessarily be thought of as simply getting worse. As gray zone activities are undertaken at the direction of the highest levels of the Chinese Communist Party’s leadership, they could just as easily be wound back towards something approximating the positive ‘playing by the rules China’ future. However, the killing of the twenty Indian soldiers on the border with China is a most worrying development. Prudence would suggest paying close attention to China’s near-to-medium term gray zone activities. This appears a “Danger, Will Robinson” moment where the omens look distinctly gloomy.

Dr. Peter Layton is a Visiting Fellow at the Griffith Asia Institute, Griffith University and an Associate Fellow, Royal United Service Institute (London). A retired RAAF Group Captain, Peter has a doctorate in grand strategy and taught national security strategy at the U.S. National Defense University. He is the author of the book Grand Strategy. His papers, articles, and posts may be accessed here.

Featured Image: A Google Maps Street view of the Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C.

Civilian Shipping: Ferrying the People’s Liberation Army Ashore

By Michael Dahm and Conor M. Kennedy

The Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) has been increasing its ability to use civilian roll-on/roll-off (RO-RO) ferries to move troops and equipment ashore in amphibious landing operations. In August 2020, the PLA conducted a cross-sea mobility evolution using RO-RO ferries. Exercise Eastern Transportation-Projection 2020A (东部运投—2020A) was unique in that it discharged military vehicles from RO-RO ferries directly onto a beach using a modular floating pier. Commercial satellite imagery of a PLA amphibious exercise area in late-summer 2021 revealed that the PLA may have developed an improved floating pier system to support amphibious operations.  These capabilities, components of what the U.S. Navy calls “joint logistics over-the-shore (JLOTS),” allows the PLA to use civilian vessels to move large amounts of military equipment into unimproved amphibious landing areas without port infrastructure. A Chinese mobile pier system like those observed in these exercises may have particular application for the PLA in an invasion of Taiwan. 

The PLA has been using civilian transportation capabilities for military mobility for many years, moving military forces and equipment up and down the Chinese coast. RO-RO ferries provide significant capacity to move armor and other rolling stock. Recent PLA innovations are enabling greater roles for civilian ferries to move forces ashore. For example, some Chinese civilian ferries have been retrofitted with capabilities to deploy amphibious armored vehicles at-sea, essentially making them auxiliary amphibious landing ships. This is likely meant to compensate for the apparent shortage in PLA amphibious lift required to conduct a cross-strait landing. The PLA appear to be learning from their American counterparts with solutions for moving forces and supplies ashore in the absence of port infrastructure. This article explores a novel floating pier system that may provide a solution to some of the PLA’s amphibious lift shortcomings.

What the Chinese call an “offshore mobile debarkation platform” (海上机动卸载平台) was spotted in commercial satellite imagery along the fishing wharves of the Lanshan District in Rizhao City, China in September 2020. A PLA 2007 patent application for a similar system indicates sections include “square” or intermediate pontoon modules (方形模块), bow-stern modules (首尾模块), ramp modules (坡道模块), powered modules (推进模块), cargo ferries (货运渡船) and lighters (驳船) as well as warping tugs (绞滩拖船) to maneuver the different sections. The floating pier system was developed by engineers at the PLA Military Transportation University in Tianjin.

Chinese modular floating pier system in port Lanshan, China, September 27, 2020 (Google Earth, Image © Maxar Technologies 2021)

The Chinese system looks very similar to the U.S. Navy’s Improved Navy Lighterage System (INLS), produced by the Fincantieri Marine Group.  The INLS is used principally by U.S. Navy Maritime Prepositioning Force (MPF) ships. The system appears to have the same types of interchangeable modules as the U.S. floating causeway system. The U.S. system is used for off-loading MPF ships miles off-shore and then floating equipment and cargo to the beach. Alternatively, the INLS can be employed as a floating pier as shown in the images below from Exercise JLOTS 2008 off Camp Pendleton, California.

 USNS Pililaau (T-AKR 304) with INLS in U.S. Exercise JLOTS 2008 (U.S. Navy Photo, MC2 Caracci)
 INLS employed as temporary pier in U.S. Exercise JLOTS 2008 (U.S. Navy Photo, MC3 Morales)

China’s National Defense Mobilization Committee ordered development of an offshore mobile debarkation platform for the PLA in 2001. The system was one of the major focus areas under “Project 019” (019工程), an effort to resolve issues of vehicle and materiel lightering when port infrastructure is unavailable or degraded by “blue forces.” A team of engineers at the PLA’s Military Transportation University worked for over a decade to overcome the engineering challenges associated with the system, especially as they related to connections between the modules and shallow water propulsion. Chinese media reports indicate the system has been used in exercises since 2012, but trials likely began earlier.

The offshore mobile debarkation system was featured in news coverage of a 2014 Guangzhou Military Region (GZMR) exercise. This was reportedly the first time the PLA used a civilian, militia-operated RO-RO ferry to embark and offload a PLA unit using the system.  The 2014 exercise took place in the southern port city of Zhanjiang where an unidentified PLA mechanized infantry company (机械化步兵连) was loaded onto the Nan Fang 6, a commercial RO-RO ferry that normally provides service between the mainland and Hainan Island.  As part of the exercise scenario, the ferry was told its destination terminal had been damaged and was ordered to offload over the beach. According to the news report, the PLA dispatched and assembled a “sectional causeway” (拼装式栈桥) system to a beach landing area. Warping tugs were shown assembling five pontoon units, extending the floating causeway approximately 600 feet from the shore.

Chinese offshore mobile debarkation system assembled in 2014 exercise in Zhanjiang, China (CCTV)

Interestingly, a semi-submersible barge, often used in port construction projects, was placed at the end of the causeway to act as the pier head. With a ramp leading to the causeway, the semi-submersible barge could raise or lower its height above the water to accommodate different size RO-RO vessels.

Semi-submersible barge used with offshore mobile debarkation system in 2014 exercise (CCTV)

After the RO-RO ferry docked with the semi-submersible barge, PLA equipment and troops immediately began to stream out of the ship. Reporters stated that the sectional causeway was assembled in just under an hour, a boast that seems somewhat implausible. The GZMR military transportation department director told reporters the floating causeway fixed “a number of bottlenecks in carrying out maritime projection with civilian ships.” There have been few other publicized training events using this system since the 2014 exercise. Prototypes of this system may have seen improvements by PLA engineers over the years, but its basic concept of operation appears to have remained the same.

Civilian ferry off-loading armored vehicles to beach in 2014 exercise (CCTV)

A Chinese television report on the August 2020 PLA exercise Eastern Transportation-Projection 2020A shows army equipment being loaded onto civilian ships in the port of Lianyungang. Footage showed the port’s container cranes loading trucks and other military cargo into the 322 foot general cargo ship Sheng Tai. At the nearby ferry terminal, PLA armored and wheeled vehicles were loaded aboard the Sheng Sheng 1, a 394 foot, 10,000 ton RO-RO ferry as well as the much larger Bohai Baozhu (Bohai Pearl) a 535 foot, 24,000 ton RO-RO ferry. Like most newer Chinese-flagged ferries, the Bohai Baozhu was built to national defense specifications for carrying military equipment.  The Bohai Baozhu is owned by the Bohai Ferry Group (渤海轮渡股份有限公司), which operates eleven RO-RO ferries in the Bohai Gulf. The company’s ships have been organized into the “Eighth Transport Dadui” (海运八大队), part of the PLA’s strategic projection support ship fleet (战略投送支援船队). The Sheng Sheng 1 is seen briefly at the end of the television report offloading tanks onto the semi-submersible barge and onto the offshore mobile debarkation system.  The Sheng Sheng 1 was also seen in the July 14, 2020 high-resolution Planet Labs SkySat image, below, preparing to back into the same semi-submersible barge attached to the floating pier.

Civilian ferry Sheng Sheng 1 off-loading tanks onto semi-submersible barge and offshore mobile debarkation system in the 2020 exercise (CCTV)
Sheng Sheng 1 maneuvering for a stern docking with the semi-submersible barge and floating pier (Includes content sourced via SkyWatch Space Applications Inc., Powered by Planet – SkySat Image © Planet Labs 2021)

A soon-to-be published paper presented at a recent conference on PLA amphibious operations hosted by the U.S. Naval War College’s China Maritime Studies Institute provides a comprehensive account of the 2020 exercise. Two dozen commercial ships, tugs, and military landing craft took part in the large-scale operation led by the PLA’s Joint Logistics Support Force. According to ship automatic identification system (AIS) tracks, RO-RO ferries and cargo vessels sailed from the embarkation port of Lianyungang 24 nautical miles north to Lanshan. According to Chinese media reports, just as in the 2014 Zhanjiang exercise, a major component of the exercise involved ferries off-loading using a semi-submersible barge and a floating pier.  Civilian ferries like the Bohai Baozhu and the Sheng Sheng 1 made several trips between Lianyungang and Lanshan, apparently transporting military equipment in each run before then returning to civilian ferry service across the Bohai Gulf. 

Typical tracks of exercise ships during Eastern Transportation-Projection 2020A (Supported with AIS data from MarineTraffic – Global Ship Tracking Intelligence,

The Chinese offshore mobile debarkation system is large enough to be seen in lower resolution Planet Labs commercial satellite imagery acquired between June and August 2020.  The Lanshan beach area imaged is just north of the fishing wharf where the pier modules were imaged in September 2020.  The floating pier was set up and taken down several times over two months, each time with the semi-submersible barge attached or close by off-shore. The temporary piers in the Planet Labs images correspond to the lengths of the system seen in the much higher-resolution Google Earth/Maxar image – approximately 1200 feet for the green pontoon sections and 720 feet for the grey pontoon sections. The shorter floating pier was used throughout the course of the exercise for landing craft that were off-loading cargo ships and other ferries farther off-shore. Planet Labs imagery indicates the modular system remained in Lanshan until November 2020. Its current location is unknown.

Offshore mobile debarkation system moved to several locations during the 2020 exercise (Powered by Planet – PlanetScope Image © Planet Labs 2021)

In late-August and early-September 2021, a new modular pier system was spotted in commercial satellite imagery at a known PLA amphibious training area in Dacheng Bay, China near the southern end of the Taiwan Strait.  This improved system bears a closer resemblance to the U.S. Navy INLS.  It is much more substantial and longer than the older floating pier, extending approximately 1475 feet from the shore. According to AIS tracks, two Bohai Ferry Group ships, the Boahai Mazhu and the Bohai Cuizhu visited the Dacheng Bay amphibious training area on September 4, 2021, probably to off-load dozens of ten-man assault boats in support of an amphibious raid. One significant indicator of floating pier operations in the exercise area was the presence of the same semi-submersible barge that was used in the summer 2020 exercise, the Sanhanggong 8, operated by the state-owned China Communications Construction Company (CCCC).  The new floating pier system, the semi-submersible barge and an unidentified temporary pier may be seen in the low-resolution satellite image, below. Analysis of this exercise and its use of civilian shipping is on-going.

New-type modular floating pier observed at PLA’s Dacheng Bay amphibious training area in September 2021 (Powered by Planet – PlanetScope Image © Planet Labs 2021)

Beyond the media reports of the 2014 exercise and the 2020/2021 exercises, there is little open-source reporting available on the PLA’s use of these sectional causeways. It is interesting to note that in each example, the system was deployed in relatively sheltered areas with calm waters. The original Chinese patent for the system indicates it can operate in sea state 3 (wave heights up to 4 feet), which is identical to the advertised operating limit of the U.S. Navy INLS.

The Chinese offshore mobile debarkation system, while not as striking as the Chinese Navy’s newest amphibious assault ships, may have greater implications for how the PLA projects power over-the-shore, especially in a cross-strait amphibious invasion of Taiwan. Any large-scale landing by PLA Navy amphibious assault ships will require significant maritime lift for second echelon forces and logistics. This modular pier system may allow China’s substantial fleet of large civilian RO-RO ships to offload combat troops and equipment directly onto Taiwan’s beaches. Proficiency with this system and other JLOTS capabilities will be a critical capability in a cross-strait invasion if the PLA is unable seize Taiwan’s port infrastructure intact.      

Michael Dahm is a senior researcher at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) and retired U.S. Navy intelligence officer. His research focuses on foreign military technologies and operational concepts.

Conor Kennedy is a research associate at the U.S. Naval War College, China Maritime Studies Institute. His research focuses on Chinese military development and maritime strategy.

The analyses and opinions expressed in this paper are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Naval War College, the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) or APL sponsors. Commercial satellite images are sourced via SkyWatch Space Applications Inc. and Planet Labs, Inc. and are published under license from Planet Labs, which retains copyrights to the original, underlying images. This work has also been supported with AIS data from MarineTraffic – Global Ship Tracking Intelligence (

Featured Image: An amphibious infantry fighting vehicle attached to a brigade of the PLA Navy Marine Corps launches anti-tank missiles during a maritime live-fire training exercise in mid July, 2021. ( by Liu Yuxiang)

Expect China’s Coast Guard to Conduct Counter-Drug Patrols Off Latin America

By Daniel J. Kostecka

The China Coast Guard (CCG) is growing in capability, capacity, and confidence. With an established presence throughout China’s “near seas” in East Asia and further abroad in the North Pacific on fishery patrols, the possibility of additional long-distance deployments by the CCG should be seen as a matter of when and not if.1 This is especially true in waters where Chinese interests and citizens are threatened but the cooperative look of the CCG’s white hulls presents a more appealing optic than the more confrontational appearance of China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy’s (PLAN) gray hulls. One such location is off the west coast of Latin America in the Eastern Pacific on counter-narcotic patrols due the increasing problem of illegal drugs from Latin America making their way across the Pacific to Chinese consumers.2

The expansion and modernization of China’s maritime forces, in particular the PLAN, has received a great deal of attention. The PLAN is also the largest navy in the world with an overall battle force of over 360 ships, including more than 130 major surface combatants and more than 60 submarines along with its own aviation arm of more than 300 land-and sea-based fixed and rotary wing aircraft of all types.3 The PLAN is an increasingly modern and flexible force capable of conducting a wide range of peacetime and wartime missions at expanding distances from the Chinese mainland. From counter-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden, to hospital ship deployments to Latin America, to submarine patrols in the Indian Ocean, and long-range operations in the Central Pacific, the PLAN is an increasingly global force. It now operates in all of the U.S. Navy’s numbered fleet areas of responsibility in support of China’s expanding interests.4

Matching the PLAN’s impressive modernization is the growth of the CCG. The modern CCG is the result of the 2013 consolidation of four legacy maritime law enforcement agencies. With a combination of the agencies’ older ships, repurposed PLAN ships, and increasingly new construction, the CCG has rapidly grown into the largest maritime law enforcement agency in the world.5 The white-hulled ships of the CCG are now a common sight throughout China’s “near seas” within the first island chain, particularly in contested waters near features such as Scarborough Reef, the Senkaku Islands, and Second Thomas Shoal as well as near foreign drilling rigs and survey operations.6 Backed up by the PLAN and the ships of China’s Maritime Militia, the CCG is Beijing’s tool of choice for intimidating rival maritime claimants throughout the region.7 However, with 140 ocean-going ships of 1000 tons or greater—including 60 ships of 2500 tons or greater—the CCG has more than enough capacity to expand its operations beyond regional waters.

The U.S. Coast Guard Legend-class cutter USCGC Stratton (WMSL 752), left, and the U.S. Navy Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS McCampbell (DDG 85) maneuver into formation during Talisman Sabre 2019. (U.S. Navy photo)

An expansion of its operating areas on the world’s oceans in the coming years should be expected,8 particularly as the CCG is already quietly increasing its participation in international fisheries patrols in the Northern Pacific.9 Since 1994, the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) has hosted its Chinese counterparts onboard U.S. ships operating in the Northern Pacific in support of efforts to stem illegal high-seas driftnet fishing, much of it by Chinese fishermen.10 Since joining the Japan-based North Pacific Fisheries Commission (NPFC) in 2015,11 the CCG has also sent its own cutters to patrol waters in the North Pacific, oftentimes in a cooperative manner through joint patrols with exchanges between the USCG and the CCG in the North Pacific. These patrols serve as welcome examples of cooperation during times of maritime tensions in East Asia.12

In addition to building on the model established by its operations in the North Pacific, deploying the CCG further abroad in a cooperative manner has additional precedent in how Beijing has used participation in internationally sanctioned missions to expand the global footprint of the PLAN. For example, in early 2009 the PLAN deployed a task group to the Gulf of Aden to participate in international counter-piracy patrols under UNSCR 2125; in early 2014 a PLAN frigate assisted in escorting the removal of chemical weapons from Syria; and in 2011 and 2014 the PLAN assisted with non-combatant evacuation operations in Libya and Yemen. The Yemen mission involved evacuating over 200 non-Chinese citizens.13 Additionally, deployments by the PLAN’s hospital ship Daishan Dao to Africa, Latin America, Southeast Asia, and Oceania help establish the legitimacy of the PLAN as a purveyor of goodwill and maritime security.14 Similar to the deployment of the PLAN for counter-piracy patrols under the auspices of UNSCR 2125, the Chinese could deploy CCG ships to Latin American waters under the provisions of UNSCR 2482 which specifically calls out criminal activity, including drug trafficking, in aiding and abetting terrorist groups.15

Latin America is a region of growing importance to the PRC. China’s massive Belt and Road initiative now involves over 130 countries and over $500 billion in investment and includes a growing list of nations in Latin America with Panama the first to sign on in 2017.16 However, it is the enduring problem of drugs produced in Latin America that could lead to a CCG presence in the Western Hemisphere. Growing Chinese affluence and the fact that drugs often fetch higher prices in Asia and Australia than North America make China a natural market for cocaine produced in Latin America.17 According to some estimates, a kilogram of cocaine can fetch between two and three times as much in Hong Kong as in Los Angeles.18 While increased transportation costs factor into the higher prices found on the other side of the Pacific Ocean, it is easy to see why cocaine producers and distributors in South America view China—and the rest of East Asia for that matter—as a lucrative market. At this time, Chinese authorities are cooperating with those from other nations in combating the problem in East Asia. However, it is possible that in the future Beijing could decide it has an interest in establishing a Chinese military/law enforcement presence in the Western Hemisphere to help stanch the flow of drugs at their source.19

The CCG’s involvement in North Pacific fisheries patrols and the PLAN’s involvement in internationally sanctioned missions provide the basic template and rationale for CCG counter-drug patrols in the Western Hemisphere. The PLAN’s deployment to the Gulf of Aden in 2009 was generally viewed as a welcome addition to the navies already operating in the area; the CCG’s presence in the North Pacific is viewed positively as well.20 With U.S. and partner nation forces stretched thin to battle the never-ending flow of drugs coming from South and Central America, a deployment by the CCG of one or two cutters would likely be welcomed, at least by some of the regional governments that increasingly enjoy good relations with Beijing.21

USCGC Morgenthau and CCG 2102 in the Northern Pacific. (Photo via U.S. Coast Guard)

From a capacity standpoint, the CCG can easily take on this mission. It is worth noting that while approximately 75 percent of the CCG’s 140 cutters displacing over 1000 tons were added in the past decade, the USCG—with fewer than 40 cutters of equivalent size—still relies on some ships built in the 1960s.22 Further, in this specific case the CCG’s white hulls would likely be a preferred option over the PLAN’s gray hulls since counter-drug activity is seen as primarily a law enforcement mission. Even U.S. Navy ships engaged in counter-drug operations on the high-seas embark Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachments due to the provisions of the Posse Comitatus Act.23 PLAN ships could also raise additional concerns in the U.S. due to long standing American sensitivities over the presence of foreign military forces in the Western Hemisphere dating back to the establishment of the Monroe Doctrine.24 A more visibly cooperative presence by the CCG in Latin American waters could also serve an additional purpose of calming growing concerns in the region over illegal fishing by Chinese fishermen. CCG assets deployed for counter-drug patrols could even find themselves diverted to performing a mission similar to what they are currently performing in the North Pacific in cooperation with regional maritime forces.25

USCG long-distance operations provide an additional template for CCG deployments in distant waters. While primarily responsible for maritime safety and security in waters close to the United States, the USCG is no stranger to global operations. The Coast Guard’s proud history includes escorting convoys across the Atlantic in both world wars, riverine patrols during the Vietnam War, and sanctions enforcement in the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Shield. In recent years, the USCG is once again answering the call to expand its operations beyond home waters by deploying ships and personnel to the Western Pacific.26 During 2019 the cutters USCGC Stratton and USCGC Bertholf deployed to the Pacific under the command of the US Navy’s Japan-based 7th Fleet, conducting operations such as sanctions enforcement against North Korea and a transit of the Taiwan Strait by Bertholf in March alongside the destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur.27 The USCG is also increasing the number of ships homeported in Honolulu, Hawaii, with plans to base three Sentinel-class fast response cutters in Guam. In October 2019, two Honolulu-based cutters, USCGC Joseph Gerczak and USCGC Walnut, operated in Oceania with ships of the Royal Australian and Royal New Zealand Navies. The United States has also sold surplus cutters to nations such as the Philippines, Vietnam, and Sri Lanka, and USCG personnel assisted with maintenance and logistics support for these ships.28

USCG goals in the region are ambitious. As the Commandant of the Coast Guard Admiral Karl Schultz stated, “My goal for the Coast Guard is to be a partner of choice in the region. So, we tailor our services to the needs of the nation we are supporting… Through engagement, partnership and presence, we are a maritime bridge between the Department of Defense’s lethality and the State Department’s diplomacy.”29 Admiral Schultz’ diplomatic language aside, the rationale for an increased presence in the Western Pacific for the USCG is clear: supporting great power competition with the People’s Republic of China. Furthering this point, Admiral Schultz stated:

“In the face of coercive and antagonistic behavior, the United States Coast Guard offers transparent engagement and partnership. There’s the Chinese Coast Guard – used to be under civilian authority, it is now through the People’s Military Police, a direct report to the CCP government. You look at the Maritime Militia. I think we are seeing behaviors out of the Chinese Coast Guard, out of the Maritime Militia, that are not consistent with the rule-based order.”30

The CCG’s coercive operations are an increasing concern in East Asia, particularly in disputed areas of the South China Sea. Engagement and partnership building by the USCG in the region provides American strategists and planners with another tool to respond with, particularly since Coast Guard white hulls sometimes provide a better image than Navy gray hulls.31 Such considerations are valid and there is no doubt the USCG will make contributions to maritime security in the Western Pacific and East Asia. However, while USCG operations in East Asia will not be why the CCG deploys to the Eastern Pacific, the possibility that Beijing would publicly call out the precedent established by the CCG’s American counterpart in establishing a CCG presence in foreign waters cannot be discounted.

While there is no guarantee the CCG will deploy to the waters of the Western Hemisphere and the Eastern Pacific to conduct counter-drug patrols off Latin America, U.S. planners and strategists who wrestle with how to deal with the growing presence of the PLAN and the CCG on the high-seas need to be open to this possibility. China is a global economic power and a global commercial maritime power.32 China’s growing economic footprint in Latin America and concerns about the flow of drugs from Latin America to China are legitimate national interests that Beijing needs to protect. Given the law enforcement nature of counter-drug operations and the CCG’s success in participating in North Pacific fisheries patrols, the CCG is a more logical choice than the PLAN for the establishment of an initial maritime presence in the Eastern Pacific.33 Obviously, this could grow into something more robust that includes a PLAN component in the future, just as the PLAN’s presence in the Gulf of Aden has led to the establishment of China’s first overseas military facility in Djibouti.34

It is something of a cliché to state that the fleet follows the flag. However, there is truth in that statement, and at some point, China’s fleet is likely to follow its flag to the Western Hemisphere in a way that is more substantive than the occasional exercise or goodwill cruise. This eventuality needs to be considered along with the possibility that when China’s fleet arrives on station, it will be led by the white hulls of the CCG as opposed to the gray hulls of the PLAN. 

Mr. Daniel J. Kostecka is a senior civilian analyst for the U.S. Navy. Mr. Kostecka has worked for the Navy for 16 years and has worked for the Department of Defense and the Government Accountability Office. He was an active-duty Air Force officer for ten years and recently retired from the Air Force Reserves with the rank of lieutenant colonel and over 27 total years of commissioned service. Mr. Kostecka has a bachelor of science in mathematics from The Ohio State University, a master of liberal arts in military and diplomatic history from Harvard University, a master of arts in national security policy from the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce at the University of Kentucky, and a Master of Science in strategic intelligence from National Intelligence University. Mr. Kostecka is also a graduate of Squadron Officer School, the Air Command and Staff College, the Air War College, and Joint Forces Staff College. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of the Navy or the Department of Defense.


[1] Mark Godrey, “China patrols target IUU in North Pacific,” Seafood Source, 28 August 2019,   

[2] “Chinese Cocaine Haul Shows Growing Drug Problem in Region,” South China Morning Post, 27 June 2018,  

[3] Ronald O’Rourke, China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities – Background and Issues for Congress. Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service, 3 August 2021,

[4] Dave Makichuk, “China’s Naval Fleet Delivers Loud Message to US,” Asia Times, 27 February 2020, and Office of the Secretary of Defense, Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2019: Annual Report to Congress. Washington, DC: OSD, May 2019,

[5] Andrew S. Erickson, “Surging Second Sea Force – China’s Maritime Law Enforcement Forces,” Naval War College Review 72, no. 2. Spring 2019, pp. 1-25.   

[6] Office of the Secretary of Defense, Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2019: Annual Report to Congress. Washington, DC: OSD, May 2019,

[7] Richard Heydarian, “US Coast Guard Churns South China Sea Tensions,” Asia Times, 30 October 2019,     

[8] Andrew S. Erickson, “Surging Second Sea Force – China’s Maritime Law Enforcement Forces,” Naval War College Review 72, no. 2. Spring 2019, pp. 1-25.    

[9] Mark Godrey, China patrols target IUU in North Pacific, Seafood Source, 28 August 2019,

[10] LT Katie Braynard, “Interdiction on the High Seas,” Coast Guard Compass, 12 June 2014,

[11] “North Pacific Fisheries Commission,” Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, FAO 2020,    

[12] Jesse Johnson, “Chinese and US Coast Guards Perform Joint Operations – Rare Bright Spot in Sino-American Relations,” Japan Times, August 26 2016, and “US and China Coast Guards Interdict Vessel for Illegally Fishing on the High Seas,” Coast Guard News, 3 June 2014,

[13] UN Security Council Resolution 2125, 18 November 2013, and Office of Naval Intelligence, The PLA Navy – New Capabilities and Missions for the 21st Century. Washington, DC: ONI, December 2015, and “China Evacuates Citizens and Foreigners from Aden,” BBC News, 3 April 2015, and Khushbu Shah and Jason Hanna, “Chinese Ship Arrives to Help in Removal of Syrian Chemical Weapons Materials,” CNN, 8 January 2014,  

[14] Office of Naval Intelligence, The PLA Navy – New Capabilities and Missions for the 21st Century. Washington, DC: ONI, December 2015, and Michael Field, “Chinese Hospital Ship Cruises the South Pacific to Spread Influence,” Nikkei Asian Review, 9 August 2018,     

[15] UN Security Council Resolution 2482, 19 July 2019,

[16] Pepe Zhang, “Belt and Road in Latin America – a Regional Game Changer?” Atlantic Council, 8 October 2019, 

[17] “US $168 Million Cocaine Haul Sparks Fears South Korea Becoming Gateway to China and Rest of Asia,” South China Morning Post, 18 December 2018,  

[18] “Cocaine Prices,” Narcotics News, 2020,

[19] “Chinese Cocaine Haul Shows Growing Drug Problem in Region,” South China Morning Post, 27 June 2018,  

[20] Jesse Johnson, “Chinese and US Coast Guards Perform Joint Operations – Rare Bright Spot in Sino-American Relations,” Japan Times, August 26 2016, and in 2009 the author served a four month rotation as a reservist at Headquarters US Central Command and the view there at the time regarding the deployment of a PLAN task force to the Gulf of Aden was positive and appreciated due to the need for additional assets to combat pirates in the Gulf of Aden.

[21] “Coast Guard National Security Cutter Departs for Eastern Pacific Counter-Narcotic Patrol,” Coast Guard News, 31 March 2020, and Pepe Zhang, “Belt and Road in Latin America – a Regional Game Changer?” Atlantic Council, 8 October 2019,      

[22] Andrew S. Erickson, “Surging Second Sea Force – China’s Maritime Law Enforcement Forces,” Naval War College Review 72, no. 2. Spring 2019, pp. 1-25 and “Oregon-Based Coast Guard Cutter Returns Home After 65-Day Counternarcotic Patrol,” Coast Guard News, 23 April 2020,   

[23] William H. Thiesen, “The Long Blue Line – LEDETs,” Coast Guard Compass, 5 July 2018,      

[24] Robbie Gramer and Keith Johnson, “Tillerson Praises Monroe Doctrine, Warns Latin America of ‘Imperial’ Chinese Ambitions,” Foreign Policy, 2 February 2018,

[25] Mark Godrey, “Argentine Coast Guard Opens Fire on Chinese Fishing Vessel,” Seafood Source, 4 March 2019,  

[26] Gidget Fuentes, “Pacific Deputy – Coast Guard a Continuing ‘Force Multiplier’ with Navy in Global Missions,” US Naval Institute, 27 August 2019,

[27] Caitlan Doornbos, “As One Cutter Departs, Another Deploys to Maintain Coast Guard Presence in Western Pacific,” Stars and Stripes, 14 June 2019,   

[28] Dan Lamothe, “To Help Counter China – US Turns to the Coast Guard,” Washington Post, 20 April 2019,    

[29] Dzirhan Mahadzir, “Schultz – Coast Guard Expanding Western Pacific Operations,” US Naval Institute, 7 July 2019,

[30] Dzirhan Mahadzir, “Schultz – Coast Guard Expanding Western Pacific Operations,” US Naval Institute, 7 July 2019,

[31] Caitlan Doornbos, “As One Cutter Departs, Another Deploys to Maintain Coast Guard Presence in Western Pacific,” Stars and Stripes, 14 June 2019,

[32] Rear Admiral Michael McDevitt, “Becoming a Great Maritime Power – a Chinese Dream,” Center For Naval Analysis, June 2016,

[33] Jesse Johnson, “Chinese and US Coast Guards Perform Joint Operations – Rare Bright Spot in Sino-American Relations,” Japan Times, August 26 2016,

[34] Tyler Headley, “China’s Djibouti Base, a One Year Update,” The Diplomat, 4 December 2018,    

Featured Image: The crew from the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Boutwell trains with the China coast guard on August 18, 2007. (Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer Jonathan R. Cilley)

Buyer’s Remorse: The Vatican-Beijing Deal Fractured

By Tuan N. Pham

Not surprisingly, Beijing broke its 2018 agreement with the Vatican and is taking steps to ensure Chinese Communism as the one and only religion in China, and the Chinese Communist Party as its one and only church and clergy.

Two years ago, this author on CIMSEC forewarned of a fracturing Vatican-Beijing deal. On September 21, 2018, to the surprise of many, Pope Francis signed a confidential agreement giving Beijing effective control over who chooses church leaders inside China. The faithful, particularly the 12 million Catholics within China, largely viewed the settlement as a risky proposition based on a flawed understanding of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Many believed then that the ill-advised accord would be yet another episode of Beijing making hollow promises to buy more time and space to strengthen its positions and weaken the Church’s positions for future political advantages and eventual contract defaults.  

How right they were. By 2021, China broke the controversial deal despite perfunctorily renewing the agreement the year before. Beijing also steadily deepened and widened its oppressive “sinicization” campaign against the Christian faith (with an estimated 90 million Christians within China) as well as other perceived threats to CCP ideology like Islam, Tibetan Buddhism, and Falun Gong. Party officials assert that Christianity can only exist in China when it is concordant with Chinese culture, which they define as the incontrovertible doctrine of the CCP. As such, Christianity cannot co-exist in Communist China.  

The religious persecution in China presents a spiritual and political dilemma for the Vatican. The question becomes: How should the Holy See respond? With continued willful blindness in the wishful hope of Chinese benevolence or with determined resolve akin to Pope (Saint) John Paul II’s spirited crusade against Soviet Communism? The geostrategic conditions may be right for the latter. Otherwise, Pope Francis risks further alienating persecuted Chinese Catholics and disillusioned Catholics at large; exacerbating the growing perception of his acquiescence to Beijing’s national will; and ceding papal moral authority through his silence on human rights in China.     

Fractured Deal (Contract Defaults)

Having secured the Vatican’s unwitting assistance in weakening the Chinese Catholic Church (largely driven underground), CCP Chairman Xi Jinping quietly and incrementally reneged on the commitments. Last November, shortly after speciously renewing the 2018 deal, Beijing issued Order No. 15, comprised of new administrative rules for religious affairs to include a nondescript article for establishing a “Chinese process” for the selection of Catholic bishops in China after May 1, 2021. The new policy makes no proviso for any papal role in the selection process, not even a papal right to approve or veto pontifical appointments in China, a key concession to the Vatican in the 2018 agreement.

The new rules mandate the clergy to “adhere to the principle of independent and self-administered religion in China.” The specific language complies with a longstanding passage in the membership pledge of the so-called Chinese Patriotic Catholic Church (CPCC), which all Chinese clergy are required to sign. In practical terms, they must now be autonomous from the Vatican. The new rules also require that CPCC-aligned clergy support the CCP and promote “social harmony” by which Beijing means conformity with the Party’s thinking. Rule enforcement is assured by a statute directing that those entering religious vocations “be regulated through strict gatekeeping, verification of identity, and registration.” Registration is managed by a national database of certified (vetted) clergy whose ecclesiastical behavior is governed by a rigid social system of rewards and punishments. In other words, the new rules aim to transform Christianity into another political and social apparatus of the CCP.

To date, the Vatican has kept quiet and not publicly commented on Beijing’s duplicity. Dealing with China is a risky game because the CCP does not play by the established rules or social norms. Beijing often makes empty promises to achieve its short-term objectives and buy time and space to set the conditions to realize its long-term goals. Beijing accordingly honors bilateral agreements to the extent that they serve its ends. Beijing has no qualms about breaking its end of a bargain after the other party has fulfilled its obligations.

Flawed Papal Assumptions

The Vatican wrongly assumes that Beijing’s public acknowledgment of pontifical authority matters in Communist China and falsely hopes that the Catholic Church will eventually have greater influence and freedom in church affairs within the authoritarian Chinese state. Church leaders, like many secular contemporaries, still cling to the discredited political theory (flawed policy assumption) that China’s economic rise and concomitant social development will eventually lead to democratic reforms. They simply do not understand the true nature of the CCP and underestimate and underappreciate its foremost priority – the survival of the Party. The CCP will not tolerate anyone or any organization (institution) undermining its ruling legitimacy and authority as evidenced by its unrelenting drive to ensure everyone is loyal to the atheist CCP before anything else. 

Church leaders inexplicably still do not acknowledge (or perhaps conveniently ignore) the philosophical dichotomy between Catholic and CCP doctrines. The authoritative role of the Church as both a religious and temporal power providing spiritual guidance to the masses will always challenge Beijing’s authoritative rule that holds there is a natural harmony of universal order. In effect, conflict exists over who should be responsible for developing humanity in China, underscored by CCP officials stating that “Christianity does not belong in China.”

All in all, Beijing believes that Chinese Communism is the one and only true religion in China, and the CCP is its one and only church and clergy. For the Party, all religious issues have a bearing on “social harmony, ethnic solidarity, and national security” and therefore all religions within China must adapt themselves to the socialist society and by extension to the CCP doctrine. The “sinicization” of religions is part of a larger effort to reinforce the “CCP’s control over all aspects of Chinese life to include religious faith, culture, and public discourse.” Those deemed threatening to the Chinese state are sent to “political sessions” for reprogramming as part of the CCP’s crackdown on unsanctioned religious activity.

Papal Considerations

The geostrategic conditions may be right for a more assertive Vatican. The international community is wary and resentful of China’s complicity in the global coronavirus pandemic, and therefore, more attentive to the genocide of the Uyghurs, suppression of Hong Kong, intimidation of Taiwan, predatory loan practices (Belt Road Initiative), opportunistic vaccine diplomacy, and aggression in the South China Sea.

Moving forward, the Vatican would be prudent to consider the following 10 measures to impose costs and deny benefits to Beijing for violating the conditions and principles of the 2018 agreement. Otherwise, inaction risks rewarding bad behavior and encouraging more bad behavior.

Publicly call out Beijing for its broken promises. Take and hold the information high ground by dictating the strategic narrative, seizing the strategic initiative, and exercising strategic clarity. Respond strongly, unambiguously, and credibly to the expected Chinese backlash of diplomatic, media, and information operations activities. Prepare for potential Chinese overreactions like a nationwide crackdown of the Catholic faith in China (more closure of churches, increased imprisonment of clergy, formal ban on worship, etc.). Highlight the damaging overreach to underscore the CCP as a repressive state that persecutes all perceived threats to its authoritarian rule. Undermine the carefully cultivated Chinese image (brand name) as a benevolent global power that respects human rights. Underscore the blatant hypocrisy.   

Accept responsibility for the ill-advised deal and take steps to regain the trust and confidence of the many disillusioned faithful. Be again that “shining city upon the hill” – the undisputed spiritual authority and moral compass for the 1.2 billion Catholics across the globe. Take to heart the proverb “evil triumphs when good men do nothing.”     

Apply pressure asymmetrically to keep Beijing off-balanced. Expand diplomatic ties with Taiwan and encourage more diplomatic recognition from the other  countries. Give more economic aid to developing countries to promote good governance and increase their resiliency and resistance to Chinese malign influence. Expect and prepare for Chinese asymmetric counter-pressures across the diplomatic and economic realms. Strengthen cybersecurity posture and take active measures to counter likely cyber-espionage of diplomatic communications and cyber-attacks on infrastructure and financial systems.           

Take counsel from informed strategic thinkers like retired Cardinal Joseph Zen, the much-respected former archbishop of Hong Kong who intimately understands the true nature of the CCP and has fearlessly challenged them for decades. Identify, develop, and empower the next Cardinal Zen(s). Do not select (propose) candidates based on Beijing’s preference or political expediency. Rather, select bold and resolute spiritual leaders that will guide and shepherd the flocks within China and the greater Indo-Pacific.      

Use the papal pulpit for strategic communications. Beijing will employ public diplomacy, media, social media, and information operations (United Front) to control the narratives. Reciprocate in kind but maintain the moral high ground. Be clear, resolute, and consistent in public and private statements. Do not make statements that send the wrong strategic signal to Beijing. Avoid defeatist statements like the “Church has no positive contribution to make in Hong Kong.”    

Follow in Pope John Paul II’s footsteps and launch a “global revolution of the spirit” to actively confront Chinese Communism. Partner with political, economic, and social leaders and organizations to persuade, and when necessary, compel China to become a responsible and contributing stakeholder in the international community. One promising collaborative opportunity may be Washington’s growing campaign to counter Beijing by highlighting its blatant violations of democratic rights. U.S. President Biden can frame the geopolitical contest as a confrontation of democratic values, while Pope Francis can frame the socio-theological contest as a confrontation of moral values. Both leaders and their allies and partners can and should stand up against this “model of authoritarian repression that China seeks to impose on the rest of the world.” 

Conduct a papal tour of and periodic visits to Asian countries with large Catholic populations (China, Japan, South Korea, Philippines, Vietnam, and India). Exhort regional governments, rally the faithful, and marshal a consensus of like-minded state and non-state actors to dissuade China from trying to change the global status quo and undermine the rules-based liberal international order that has provided global security and prosperity for over 70 years.

Form a religious coalition (communion) of persecuted faiths in China. Unify collective actions to highlight the many Chinese human rights violations. Initiate and sustain a global “name and shame” campaign against Beijing and any state and non-state actors that support and enable China’s bad behavior.

Be wary of Chinese “sharp power” to infiltrate and undermine Vatican politics, while furtively promoting a positive image of China and misrepresenting or manipulating information to engender favorable policy outcomes from the Holy See.

Be wary of future Chinese settlement offer(s). Do not rush again into negotiations or settle too early. Vatican negotiators would be well-served to heed Chinese promises privately made across the negotiating table and assurances publicly given in the open press. Beijing often gives expedient guarantees during negotiations but rarely offers much that is substantive and enduring in the end. Signing an agreement is merely the start of the real negotiations for the Chinese. Demand transparency (full public disclosure). Publish the entire signed agreement, not just the summary as Beijing has insisted in the past. Be mindful of the adage “fool me once, shame on you…fool me twice, shame on me.”

At the end of the day, Beijing does not seek win-win, they seek win-lose; and when it comes to the battle for the heart and soul of the Chinese people, there can only be one winner – the CCP.

Tuan Pham is a widely published strategic thinker and strategist with over 20 years of experience in the Indo-Pacific. The views expressed here are personal and do not reflect any positions other than his own.

Featured Image: A worshipers waves the flag of China as Pope Francis leaves following the weekly general audience at St. Peter’s square in the Vatican in June. (Photo AFP)