Chinese military ambitions. Beijing may be giving up the pretense that the Belt and Road Initiative isn’t infused, at least in part, with military objectives. According to the Australian Financial Review, Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe told a contingent of visiting military chiefs from South Pacific and Caribbean countries that the sprawling infrastructure project would provide a “framework” for greater military cooperation. Beijing has long and loudly denied that BRI is meant to enlarge its military footprint abroad, making Wei’s apparent admission something of a surprise. For Beijing to feel secure, it needs to be able to prevent outside powers from imposing a blockade around critical chokepoints along its periphery. This means it needs troops far from Chinese shores, and it needs ports, airfields, logistics networks in friendly countries to support them. China was only pretending otherwise to minimize political opposition in BRI partner countries and diminish the sense of urgency in potential adversaries like the U.S. and its allies to counter BRI projects. Still, there’s a risk in overreacting to Wei’s admission and in viewing every China-funded project abroad as a threat. The vast majority of BRI projects are motivated by monetary interests that pose little challenge to the U.S. or its allies. If Beijing wants to sink a bunch of money into commercially dubious infrastructure projects in countries of minimal strategic value, then the U.S. and its friends have an interest in letting them.
More help for the U.S. in Syria. Britain and France have agreed to deploy additional forces to Syria. Earlier this week, it was reported that Germany declined a U.S. request to send ground forces to Syria to replace U.S. troops there. Both the U.K. and France will commit a small number of soldiers – a 10-15 percent increase from their current deployment. It’s still unclear when the additional forces will be deployed.
Patrolling the seas. Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, announced a new plan to form a coalition to patrol the waters off the coasts of Iran and Yemen, including the Strait of Hormuz and the Bab el-Mandeb, two strategically important chokepoints in the Persian Gulf and Red Sea. The plan would have the U.S. provide command and control ships, and would have other nations contribute patrol ships to escort commercial vessels. This isn’t a completely novel proposal – a U.S. aircraft carrier group is already sailing near the same waters. More than anything, this appears to be an effort to get more international support so that the U.S. can keep the pressure on Iran while minimizing its own direct commitment. It appears as though the United Kingdom is already stepping up. Yesterday, the Royal Navy’s HMS Montrose frigate escorted British tanker Pacific Voyager through the Strait of Hormuz.
Getting tough on Turkey. The EU is considering punitive actions against Turkey for its drilling activities in the Eastern Mediterranean, off the coast of Cyprus. Several options are being considered. One, purely diplomatic, would involve suspending high-level contact between EU members and Turkey. Another, financial and therefore with somewhat more teeth, would involve cutting roughly $160 million in foreign aid to Turkey next year. In the grand scheme of things, this is a small amount of money, but Turkey is still in dire need of any foreign currency it can get, given the low foreign currency reserves it has and the damaging impact that has had on the lira over the past year.
- U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said Chinese tech giant Huawei will remain on the entity list, requiring U.S. firms to get approval before exporting to the company, though he assured that exports of goods that do not pose a threat to U.S. national security will be approved.
- More than five years of military rule in Thailand officially came to an end on Tuesday.
- Military officials from Belarus and Ukraine discussed military cooperation and regional security issues during talks on Tuesday.
- A Tajik Defense Ministry spokesman announced that Tajikistan and China will hold large-scale anti-terrorism exercises in late July. The exercises will be the first of their kind and will be held in the Ishkashim region of the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region of Tajikistan, which borders Afghanistan.
- Secret meetings between the U.S. and Iran reportedly took place last week in Arbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan.
- Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky appointed a new governor for the region of Kiev. After assuming office, Zelensky fired the governors of 20 of Ukraine’s 24 regions.
- The Chinese People’s Liberation Army held its first joint medical exercise with a NATO member, Germany. A hundred 100 PLA medics participated.
- About a month after the U.S. and Mexico reached an agreement to stop additional U.S. tariffs on Mexican exports in exchange for Mexico increasing national guard deployments, the U.S. on Monday announced that it will impose duties on fabricated structural steel from Mexico and China, which the U.S. claims has been unfairly subsidized. Mexico said this will not affect the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement.
- Three more members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps were killed in northwestern Iran, near the Iraqi and Turkish borders. As with two other recent clashes near the border, Iranian news agency Tasnim did not announce which militias attacked the IRGC, although given the location, it was likely the Kurdistan Free Life Party or another Iranian-Kurdish group.
- Russia announced that it’s planning to begin delivery of its new S-500 air defense system in 2020, earlier than anticipated.
- The presidents of Turkey, Russia and Iran are planning to hold another trilateral summit on Syria next month, this time in Ankara.