Heading into the weekend, here are some stories you may have missed on security developments around the Asia-Pacific region:
India and Japan conclude coast guard exercise. Continuing their steady convergence as close partners, the coast guards of India and Japan concluded an exercise in the Bay of Bengal. The exercise, dubbed ‘Sahyog-Kaijin,’ is in its 15th iteration and dovetails with other maritime security endeavors undertaken by the two countries. In October 2015, the Japanese coast guard sent an Akizuki-class destroyer to participate in the U.S.-India-led Malabar exercise. Japan announced last year that it would participate in those exercises permanently. A Japanese admiral, speaking after the latest coast guard exercise, said he was “extremely satisfied” with the outcome and that Japan would endeavor to expand coast guard cooperation between the two countries going forward.
Xi goes to the Middle East. Shannon Tiezzi analyzed this visit in greater detail over at our China Power section, but keep an eye out next week for Chinese President Xi Jinping’s inaugural trip to the Middle East. Xi will visit Iran and Saudi Arabia. His choice of itinerary has caused some, including Reuters, to speculate that China may be seeking to act as a broker of sorts between the two powers that began 2016 on a bad note, to put it lightly. My sense is that Xi will likely look to continue China’s status quo approach to the Middle East of interacting with Tehran and Riyadh along the economic axis; Beijing is in no rush to be drawn into a diplomatic quagmire. In addition to Saudi Arabia and Iran, Xi will also visit Cairo, where he is eagerly anticipated by Egypt’s Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. (China’s recently released “Arab Policy Paper” outlines Beijing’s foreign policy vision for its interactions with the Middle East.)
Combat robots?! Probably not. Over at Bellingcat, Aric Toler digs deep into the remarkable claim in Russian state media that Moscow deployed combat robots as part of its ongoing military campaign in Syria. A convincing open-source intelligence-based look into the claim suggests that the claim is exaggerated. (Robots on the battlefield are certainly a thing we can expect to see more of in the future.)
China’s new drones. Over at Foreign Policy, Adam Rawnsley writes on China’s cheaply available and increasingly ubiquitous drones. These Chinese drones, he writes, “are fast becoming the Kalashnikovs of the drone world — entry-level alternatives for countries eager to achieve a basic unmanned strike capability quickly and cheaply.”
Markets got you down? Invest in South China Sea artificial islands! Finally, China is reportedly courting private investment to add new bells and whistles to its artificial islands in the South China Sea. Global equity markets being what they are, an intrepid investor or two may find this opportunity appealing, if not for the massive political risk associated with the future of these projects. From a geopolitical perspective, the development showcases Beijing’s growing confidence in its ability to exercise long-term control of these features in the South China Sea–even in the face of a potential unfavorable judgment from the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague later this year.
Winning in Afghanistan? Franz-Stefan Gady, my colleague here at The Diplomat, spent the final weeks of 2015 embedded with the Afghan National Army and the NATO Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan. If you missed it, we spoke on the podcast about the state of the Afghan army and the prospects for success on the battlefield in 2016.