Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Sitrep - 9 November, 2016

The US and Turkish governments announced a plan to launch an assault on the Islamic State’s (IS) de facto capital of the Syrian city Raqqa. It comes three weeks into Baghdad’s efforts to retake the Iraqi city of Mosul from the militant group, which has become bogged down already. However, a US general clarified that only shaping operations and the “isolation phase” has begun in regards to Raqqa, not a full assault.

Those operations could take months and it isn’t clear whether the forces agreeing to fight inside the core of IS territory will cooperate. The US is backing proxies on the ground, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which Washington says is a mix of Arab and Kurdish fighters. But Turkey – and the rest of the world – know that group is almost entirely Kurdish which could pose a problem.

Raqqa will be significantly tougher for ground forces to occupy than Mosul. Not only does it constitute IS’ centre of gravity, the surrounding land is not historically claimed by Kurdish groups. To a large extent, if the people around Raqqa want the militant group gone, they will have to do it themselves, and will not appreciate foreign forces intervening. That the people haven’t done so already indicates at least partial preference for the status quo.

Tokyo lodged a diplomatic complaint against Beijing after it discovered a Chinese drillship moored and operating near several natural gas fields along the median line of disputed waters in the East China Sea. The Japanese say up to 12 Chinese drilling platforms could be in the Chinese waters, and more may be planned inside the disputed waters.

Potentially 200 million barrels of oil are estimated under the East China Sea, with another 30-60 billion cubic metres of natural gas, so the geographic area is not exactly important for both economies’ energy needs. The complaint, then, is about setting a precedent of allowing China to take the initiative in pushing into territories claimed by both countries.

To that extent, Japan’s coast guard will find it difficult to stop a determined Chinese industrial push. The lines are not clear at the best of times and seemingly benign actions such as undersea exploitation risk China rearranging the status quo over time. Japan will continue to look for diplomatic agreement, but China shows little sign of halting its gradual push east – at least until it hits resistance.

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