Thursday, May 05, 2016

So Much For Rabbit-Proof Fences

Australia's frontier policy is supposed to be compassionate - designed to deter journeys by desperate people who end up subject to exploitation and the dangers of the sea. Nevertheless it has profoundly harmed people in the nation's name, and people are still coming anyway
It was Kevin Rudd who, desperate to minimise the scale of Labor's defeat in the 2013 election, took the punitive policy of indefinite offshore detention embraced by both sides of politics to a new level, declaring those processed on Manus and Nauru would never be settled in Australia. 
Now the mindset of the Coalition (and Labor) is that any deviation from this position will be a "green light" to the people-smuggling trade and trigger an armada of boats from Indonesia. 
The difference is that Labor says it would actively pursue a "pathway to permanent migration in a resettlement country" for those on Manus and Nauru, while the Coalition has comprehensively failed in this area. 
Not only is the Coalition opposed to resettlement of those on Nauru and Manus in New Zealand, on the grounds that it would be possible for refugees to make it to Australia (a position shared by Labor), it says the only option for those on Nauru is Cambodia, one of the poorest countries on earth. As for those on PNG, it says the only option is PNG, where danger is ever present for outsiders and most would have no prospect whatsoever of earning enough money for immediate family members to ever join them. The result of this is that the mental state of those in limbo on Nauru and Manus is far worse than was the case for those who spent as much time on Nauru under John Howard's "Pacific Solution".
Australian and PNG officials are now in negotiations that Australia hopes will find a way to keep the centre going. In a Tuesday statement the two governments said they’d continue “to work together on a road map”, meeting “regularly in the coming weeks”, which suggests the matter is being pushed safely beyond the election. 
The government and the opposition are bipartisan on offshore processing. When it arises, the issue plays in favour of the Coalition, but it is not one Malcolm Turnbull seems naturally comfortably with. For political reasons Labor obviously tries to avoid it. That means the government isn’t being held to serious account – despite efforts by the Greens – in the way it is on much more minor matters. 
In her valedictory speech on Wednesday, Labor MP Melissa Parke described the present system as “a festering wound that is killing off people and eroding our national character and respect”. Some in Labor are deeply unhappy and a few have been recently vocal about the ALP’s approach, but most don’t want the boat rocked. 
As for the Liberals, those who used to speak up for asylum seekers have either left the parliament or gone quiet.
It is also not unusual in PNG for governments to do the wrong thing and only correct their actions when ordered to by the Supreme Court. And sometimes not even then; the illegal ousting of the Prime Minister in 2011 has still not been rectified even after several Supreme Court decisions on the matter. 
However the detention of asylum seekers (or illegal immigrants depending on which side of the fence you sit), has hardly galvanised sentiment in the PNG public except among politicians and lawyers and those on Manus. 
In fact, most Papua New Guineans could not care less about the whole issue.In my hometown of Wewak, the entire population is focused on simply getting on with life in these hard economic times. Next door in Madang, they are just recovering from an ethnic clash which shut the place down. Similar stories can be found all around the country. 
This is what happens when you are ranked 158 out of 170 odd countries in the United Nations Human Development Index (Australia is ranked 2). We are very much inward looking and worried about our own problems.
The unanimous court ruling and the PNG government’s response are fitting in so many ways. 
It’s fitting that PNG sovereignty, so often used as a shield by successive Australian governments to fend off criticism of the Manus camp, has now become the sword, striking a blow to the core of the current detention arrangements
It’s fitting, too, that the rule of law has finally managed to reach the Manus facility, despite the great lengths and expense Australia has gone to in the hope of keeping its remote offshore camps beyond legal and democratic scrutiny (including funding the PNG government’s defense to similar legal challenges in the past.) 
There’s also something fitting about the fact that the case was commenced by an opposition MP. Deliberate harm to innocent people seeking asylum has been a highly contested political issue in PNG. The contrast to the meek bipartisanship Australians have become accustomed to on this issue couldn’t be starker. 
Most of all, the Supreme Court ruling is fitting because it finds that what we know is cruel, harmful, and fundamentally unjust is also illegal. 
No doubt the Supreme Court’s decision and subsequent announcement from the PNG government will give the men languishing on Manus some hope. And so it should – the implications are huge. Right now 900 men are being illegally detained. Every one of them must be released. 
The question is to where.
Whatever the outcome of the situation on Manus Island, the threat that future asylum seekers will be  interned permanently in PNG no longer looks convincing. Transferring the 850 people in the Manus facility to the centre on Nauru would exhaust its capacity. With no other site in prospect for second-country processing, people smugglers will find it easier to persuade prospective clients that they will stay in Australia while their claims are processed.  
So it will be surprising if asylum seeker boats do not reappear in Australian waters over the next few months.  
And they might be all the more likely to do so because of the forthcoming federal election. With the prime minister expected to call a double dissolution election before next week, the government will enter caretaker mode. Major new policies, such as negotiating new offshore locations for assessment centres will be put on hold. New options to repair the damage suffered by the policy will have to await the outcome of the July 2 poll.  
Consequently, people smugglers will have a few months of opportunity in which to resurrect their trade. Any upsurge in boat arrivals will have to be handled by Border Force and the Australian Defence Force  through an attenuated chain of command. Caretaker conventions indicate that any unusual action should require consultation with the opposition. Unilateral ministerial actions may well become a campaign issue, perhaps placing Commonwealth officials in an invidious position. PNG will respond to its imperatives regardless of Australia's election schedules. There could be plenty of scope for confusion, miscalculation or tragedy. 

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

The Philippine Election - Backlash, and Backlash Against Backlash

The coming vote for who will succeed Noynoy Aquino as president has started to dismay outside observers, perhaps for good reason. But while the country enjoyed outstanding economic growth overall under his tenure, inequality remained largely unchanged, while awareness of and outrage over the Philippines' implacable culture of corruption has steadily increased.  Hence, Trumpism comes to Manila

Mar Roxas and Rody Duterte are on opposite sides of the presidential spectrum. On one hand is Roxas, a US educated technocrat and member of the elite. His family is pedigreed, both in the political and business spheres. The Roxas and Araneta clans are among the handful of oligarchs that control the country. Roxas has had extensive experience working at the national level having had stints at the Senate and the executive branch. He has the advantage of being endorsed by the incumbent, not to mention the full force of the Liberal Party at his disposal.
On the other extreme is Rody Duterte, a provinciano who doesn’t give a hoot about social correctness or propriety. He was educated in local schools albeit expelled twice for misconduct. Nevertheless, he managed to obtain a Juris Doctor degree from San Beda. Duterte is a specialist in local governance having served as mayor for more than two decades. He was congressman for only one term. His handiwork, Davao City, is a model city in many ways but remains underdeveloped, for the most part. He is the standard bearer of the PDP Laban, an underfunded party with a handful of members and a sketchy political machinery.
Pound for pound, Mar Roxas should be the man to beat. But this is not the case. Defying logic, the latest Pulse Asia survey shows Roxas trailing at fourth place with just 17 percent of the votes. Meanwhile, Duterte soars high at 35 percent. This, despite the blowback of slurs against rape victims, the Mexican people and the American and Australian governments. With just seven days before the electorate casts their vote, many wonder – why have the tides turned against Mar Roxas? Is it too late for him to catch up? What can he do to rally?

Now Rodrigo Duterte is at the top of the polls. His grassroots support is nothing short of phenomenal. Jeepneys are plastered with his face. “Du30” is spelled out in packing tape on the back windows of commuter vans. The mass of humanity who cheer him on wear t-shirts painstakingly hand-lettered with marking pens in kitchens across the country, or silkscreened on improvised machines donated to satellite headquarters. Small-time vendors who make a living printing campaign paraphernalia give out Duterte posters at their own expense. Media workers have left their posts to fill the ranks of volunteer videographers. 
This is an electorate that has found its voice in the mayor of Davao City. His movement cuts across class, gender and generation. He is the champion of mothers terrified of kidnappings. He is the savior of the displaced in the war zones of Maguindanao. Whatever happens on the 9th of May, an angry old man from the forgotten south has already changed the tenor of political conversation. The tone is indignant, often violent, but it is hopeful nonetheless, and it has energized a citizenry once resigned to politics as usual. 
He stands instead for the politics of the extreme. He says screw the bleeding hearts, and to hell with the bureaucracy. He voices the helplessness and rage of Filipinos forced to make do in a country where corruption is casual and crime is ordinary. Duterte has their backs, and he says the struggle ends here, today. He goes beyond anger, even beyond solutions. Digong Duterte offers retribution. 
“Kill them all,” he once told a cheering crowd in Lingayen. “When I become president, I'll order the police and the military to find these people and kill them.”

While Trillanes has shown records of deposits in Duterte’s bank accounts over time running into the millions, in no instance did he say that P211 million had been “singly” or “collectively” deposited in the BPI account at the Julia Vargas branch. Not surprisingly, BPI’s response would have to be, “None. Nada. Zilch.” Duterte’s lawyer must think our comprehension of English is faulty. 
Of course, Trillanes’ affidavit, claiming that a concerned informant and former Duterte supporter had passed on the explosive bank records to him, was just as unbelievable as Panelo’s ill-concealed verbal sleight-of-hand.
At any rate, the dark cloud of doubt now hovers over Duterte’s purported honesty and integrity. This leaves Duterte’s claim to the presidency with no leg to stand on. 
After portraying himself as a potty-mouthed lecher and murderer and after having revealed his lack of diplomatic finesse and economic grounding, the only thing left for Duterte’s fanatical supporters to prop him up with is his supposed “incorruptibility,” as shown by his “simple lifestyle.” 
But Trillanes has punched a hole in that, too, with a list of 41 real estate properties, including several condos, in Duterte’s name and in the names of family members. 
Said one disappointed Duterte supporter, “Pu -- ina. Corrupt din pala.”

Supporters of Davao City Mayor and presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte denounced what they described as “orchestrated, virulent” attacks against him, saying they expect it to intensify as the May 9 elections draw near. 
In a statement sent to media outlets, Leoncio Evasco Jr., campaign manager of the Duterte for President movement, said both urban and rural communities are being flooded with posters warning people not to vote for the mayor. 
“(These posters warn that) he will demolish squatter communities, that he will declare martial law and will do what the majority of the people railed and rallied against governments that ran back during (the Marcos regime),” he said. 
Evasco said the mayor’s opponents are “using government machinery and resources to frustrate the will of the people” and called on supporters to close ranks and protect their votes for him.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Nanhai Waiwai - Policy Continuity, Hybrid War & Winning #SouthChinaSea

From The Diplomat, some insights on policy continuity:
The level of tension President Barack Obama’s successor inherits next January, however, hinges in no small measure on what transpires in the weeks and months ahead.  With the coming judgment of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in the case that has been dubbed Philippines v. China, President Xi Jinping may prefer to test the will of a distracted lame-duck U.S. leader now, rather than wait for a new one who may have to demonstrate his or her resolve from the outset. As China has so far been successful at pushing a de facto context further in its favor, Beijing is likely to try to have the new U.S. president face a fait accompli in the South China Sea. 
Perhaps in light of this, the United States is continuing its policy of leaning far forward to reassure friends in the region that Washington is determined to curb China’s excessive claims without precipitating conflict. Accordingly, the Defense Department is investing additional resources in the domain awareness and minimal defensive capabilities of key regional states, and top-level leadership has increased its exchanges with regional powers. 
The South China Sea has become a litmus test for the Obama administration’s strategy of rebalancing to Asia. Hence, what the United States does or does not do in the waters and corridors of power around Southeast Asia in the coming weeks and months will set the standard by which U.S. credibility and regional policy will be judged during the next administration.

More from The Diplomat and the FT, on China's diplomatic pressure at ASEAN and elsewhere:
Just one day before the Lao president’s visit to Vietnam, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said in a remarkable statement that China had reached a four-point consensus with Cambodia, Brunei, and Laos about resolving the South China Sea disputes. Namely, those countries agreed that ASEAN claimant states should negotiate disputes with Beijing directly, not through the group. That means the South China Sea disputes should not cause any problems between China and the ASEAN group, according to Wang.
For Vietnam, government and public opinion alike, it was jarring to see Laos take this position on the South China Sea, particularly as the country and Vietnam are often described as “brothers.” Even more importantly, Laos is the rotating chair of ASEAN this year, meaning its decision on every issue can have a significant influence on the region.

The unfolding public relations battle over the Philippines arbitration case shows that policymakers in Beijing are worried China will look like a rogue international rule-breaker because of its defiance of The Hague tribunal.

(And from last week:

Reuters with more on PRC's Hybrid "Militiafishermen" force:
The city-level branches of the People's Armed Forces Department provide basic military training to fishermen, said the Hainan government advisor. The branches are overseen by both the military and local Communist Party authorities in charge of militia operations nationwide.  
The training encompasses search and rescue operations, contending with disasters at sea, and "safeguarding Chinese sovereignty", said the advisor who focuses on the South China Sea.
The training, which includes exercises at sea, takes place between May and August and the government pays fishermen for participating, he said.
Government subsidies encourage fishermen to use heavier vessels with steel - as opposed to wooden - hulls.

And a positive takeaway from War On The Rocks: US Scores a Low-Profile Win
If this narrative is accurate, then we have a logical explanation for why the United States would send A-10s to Scarborough and a carrier strike group to the South China Sea while cancelling a FONOP. After all, while U.S. freedom of navigation operations are important signals for general deterrence, they have not deterred China from specific reclamation activities. Moreover, the most likely FONOP, one near Mischief Reef, would probably involve the conduct of normal military operations within 12 nautical miles of the reef, which could have triggered a major public reaction from Beijing. On the other hand, deploying multiple U.S. combat aircraft to a disputed feature is a highly unusual move, and the choice of the durable A-10 could signal the United States was prepared to take a hit. 
Despite these strong U.S. moves, the A-10 flights near Scarborough Shoal were conducted with remarkably little publicity, particularly compared to the numerous leaks that preceded recent FONOPs. Avoiding a public spat with Beijing may have been important to give China an off-ramp to forgo reclamation at Scarborough. The Mischief Reef FONOP can always be conducted at another time once tensions have subsided. In the same vein, the so-called “gag order” on the military may have simply been an internal agreement to avoid public disclosure of this plan to maximize Beijing’s “political maneuvering space.”

Friday, April 29, 2016

Angles and Dangles - Why Japan Lost the Australian Sub Contract

A SYMBOL OF HAPPIER TIMES - HMAS Onslow, one of Australia's outstanding Oberon-class boats from the Cold War, at permanent anchor at the the National Maritime Museum, Sydney

In what is already being described as the "defense deal of the century," the government of Australia has awarded the French defense concern DCNS a AUS$50 billion contract to build their next generation of fleet submarines. The decision has also been described as a snub to the government of Japan, who for some reason was expected by many to win the contract. However, a more jaundiced look at both the politics and practicalities of Australia's submarine requirements reveal that Japan probably never had a chance.

When the decision was finally announced, a number of political concerns were aired, some more relevant than others: some argued that the Malcolm Turnbull cabinet did not wish to offend China; others pointed to recent controversies over Japan's continued whaling (notwithstanding the fact that they never bombed a Greenpeace vessel in an allied port), and so on. But the most relevant political concerns around the decision concern jobs in southern Australia, Japan's initial reticence to transfer technology, as well as a desire to disavow the mutual ham-handedness of the negotiations between Japan and Australia (particularly by Turnbull’s predecessor Tony Abbott).

There may also have been some insider political aspects to this deal as well: it should be noted that DCNS is partially owned by Thales, another French defense concern which is already a major defense contractor for Australia. While there may have been some insider maneuvering going on, the fact that DCNS and Thales share some institutional history and management resources should also point to a smoother development cycle for the new submarines. By this same logic, it seems likely that Raytheon, one of the American competitors for the accompanying combat systems contract, has a head start in their competition – given that they are also partially owned by Thales.

But more than anything else, the decision reflects hard lessons learned by Australia with their previous generation of submarines, the Collins class. Unlike many of her neighbors, Australia has security commitments straddling both the Western Pacific and Indian Oceans, into Central Asia. While European-style littoral patrol submarines with relatively small hulls have been popular with Australia's neighbors, she needs something bigger – something with the capability of the nuclear attack submarines operated by the United States, Great Britain, and France. But because of political concerns, nuclear propulsion is a no-go in Australia.  Collins reflected an attempt to take an excellent Swedish littoral-oriented design and turn it into a blue water patrol submarine,  by scaling up the hull.  The end result was a myriad of engineering problems which truncated the useful life of the class. Had Australia chosen either the German or Japanese competitors, they would've had to make the same mistakes all over again. Meanwhile, the French offering is essentially a nuclear attack submarine without the nuclear propulsion, offering the range, endurance, and crew comfort required for Australia's missions.

Now that the contract is done, it may be worth considering what could be done to mollify Japan. After all, they will remain an important ally with common security goals. Japan is also set on turning its outstanding technology base towards defense exports. Rather than trying to sell Australia an unproven scaling up of a relatively new design, Japan should probably concentrate on offering weapon systems which are are both well proven and competitive in price; a prime example of this is the Kawasaki P-1, their new maritime patrol aircraft. Maybe, just maybe, Turnbull could see it in his heart to broker a deal between Japan and New Zealand, whose P-3 Orion aircraft are growing long in the tooth. Then New Zealand could sell their Orions to the Philippines. The reactions to this from China and Russia would provide endless amusement for defense analysts worldwide.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Thai Junta clamps down on political speech ahead of August vote

As Thailand counts down towards the referendum on the draft constitution, many politicians and activists have urged the military government to lift its tough restrictions on freedom of expression, so that the public can properly discuss the content of the document as well as the future of the country.
Political parties and groups have continued to express their views on the constitution, arguing that the law allows them to point out the pros and cons of the draft constitution.
The former deputy prime minister from the Pheu Thai Party, Chaturon Chaising, is just one of the many veteran politicians calling for clarity over the law and an easing on the restrictions on free speech.
His political opponents, like former foreign minister Kasit Piromya of the Democrat Party, have supported the call, urging the military government to allow critical debate on the draft charter.
"Th(is) transitional government should do whatever it can in order to provide a conducive facilitation and eventually conducive atmosphere for democracy to re-emerge and begin again. So it is the question of facilitating and is not the question of controlling or guiding the people," said the former foreign minister.
The military government has, however, voiced its objection to any open discussion of the document and warned that anyone found guilty could be prosecuted. 

As China takes up slack in Central Asia, it can't help but undermine Russia

  • China's military role in Central Asia will increasingly focus on arms sales, counterterrorism and bilateral initiatives outside the Russia- and China-led Shanghai Cooperation Organization.
  • The country's regional security efforts will reflect the need to protect growing Chinese economic interests, including the Belt and Road Initiative.
  • Beijing will promote Chinese language instruction in Central Asian countries to mitigate linguistic barriers and boost cooperation.
  • China's military influence in the region will continue to trail behind Russia's but will ultimately weaken Moscow's presence in the long term.

#SouthChinaSea - PRC pressure on Asean forces members to choose sides

The four-point consensus reached with the three ASEAN members – Brunei, Cambodia and Laos – says that the SCS dispute is "not an issue of China and ASEAN as a whole" and the territorial and maritime issues must be resolved through consultations and negotiations by the parties directly concerned.
In their consensus, the three countries and China agreed, according to China's Xinhua news agency, that they should oppose attempts to "unilaterally impose an agenda on other countries" and agreed on rights of sovereign states to resolve their disputes between themselves under international law.
Hong Kong's South China Morning Post (SCMP) quoted a Chinese foreign ministry statement that said the South China Sea problem was not a China-ASEAN dispute and the agreement "should not affect China-ASEAN relations".
But, Singapore's Staits Times quoting an unnamed ASEAN diplomatic source said: "China is quite worried that ASEAN will make some sort of joint statement after arbitration decision comes out" and thus they have been wooing "ASEAN's most compliant members".
Four members of the 10-member ASEAN – the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei – have rival claims to parts of the South China Sea with China, which claims that virtually the entire sea belongs to it. China is the biggest trade partner of many ASEAN nations and China's maritime claims are the regional bloc's most contentious issue, as its members struggle to balance their claims against growing economic relations with Beijing.

#1MDB, Other Scandals May be Last Straw for Malaysia's Ruling Party

But what might actually cause Najib real problems is the unlikely coalition that has been forged among opposition politicians, anti-graft reformists, and even former Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, whom Najib sacked in July 2015. The leader of this unlikely alliance, known as the Save Malaysia campaign, is former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, the divisive former strongman who ruled Malaysia from 1981 to 2003. It's not a party designed to compete against the UMNO, but a movement focused on forcing Najib from office.
The group has been preparing for a tour of Malaysia's rural states in a bid to wrest the support of ethnic Malays from the prime minister. The 90-year-old Mahathir is most likely gambling that he can convince powerful figures within UMNO, such as Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, that Najib's position is untenable and that they should try to arrange a face-saving exit for him before the next general election, which must be held before 2018. "A potential threat may come from disgruntled elite figures that have been removed from their post and that will turn against [Najib] publicly," said Michael Buehler, an expert in Southeast Asian politics at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London.
Even opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, whom Mahathir jailed in 1998, has offered support for the alliance. Zaid Ibrahim, a former law minister and ex-UMNO member, says Mahathir's alliance will gain traction for "better leaders and for better government" as the campaign moves toward its goal of gathering 1 million signatures calling for Najib's ouster. Insiders say, however, that the coalition is wary of overplaying its hand by engineering mass protests for fear of provoking a draconian government response.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Asia’s troubled water

As a result, Asia, which accounts for 72% of the world's total irrigated acreage, now faces a dilemma: It must grow enough food to meet rising demand, while reducing the amount of water that goes toward irrigation. Unless Asia resolves it, economic development will be imperiled, with major consequences for the entire global economy.
Yet the continent's water crisis is only worsening. According to a recent MIT study, there is a 'high risk' that Asia's water stress could worsen to water scarcity by 2050. Water-sharing disputes between countries or provinces already are increasingly frequent, owing to the proliferation of dam projects that can adversely affect downstream flows—an approach that represents a continuing preference for supply-side approaches over smart water management.
The main culprit in this regard is China, which has heavily dammed the Mekong, Southeast Asia's lifeline. In the current lean season, which will last until the monsoon rains arrive in June, the lower Mekong is, according to a recent United Nations report, running at 'its lowest level since records began nearly 100 years ago'.
China is now trying to play savior, by releasing an unspecified quantity of water from one of its six upstream mega-dams to 'accommodate the concerns' of drought-stricken countries. China's rulers have touted the move as underscoring the effectiveness of upstream 'water facilities' in addressing droughts and containing floods.
Of course, in reality, all of this simply highlights the newfound reliance of downriver countries on Chinese goodwill—a dependence that is set to deepen as China builds 14 more dams on the Mekong. The environmental impact of these projects is sure to exacerbate further the ecological challenges, including drought, already facing Asia.

A Tale of Two Cities - L.A., San Francisco & The New Economy

We hear so much about the high cost of housing in San Francisco, but L.A. is also a very expensive place to live and becoming more so every day. You find that, even when housing costs are taken into account, people still tend to make out better economically in San Francisco than in L.A. But do you also think that high housing prices will affect the economic growth of either city going forward?

The Bay Area's high housing costs are largely a sign of its success in the sense that they are generated by demand on the part of a high-income labor force that must live in the Bay Area to do its work. But most Bay Area workers have more income after comparing housing costs than people in greater L.A. Going forward, both L.A. and San Francisco are facing high housing demand and a new geography of housing demand. In both areas, people now want to live in key centers. Because many have irregular working hours, there is high traffic congestion and people want to live closer to work. As a result, both regions need to expand housing supply, and they need to do so with more density. To do this, they need to tie the region's centers together with much better public transit.L.A. is in the midst of the country's most ambitious urban rail expansion. Hopefully this will allow the city to make its employment centers denser, which facilitates the kind of interaction that New Economy industries require. But transit and dense housing alone do not generate high-wage, high-skill economic development. It is vital to remember this, because urban planners often fall into the belief that if you change the physical environment, it will automatically change the economic environment. This is a trap both regions must avoid, all while making necessary planning and infrastructure changes.

Everything you need to know about India joining the SCO

Central Asia is part of India's extended neighbourhood. Its relations with these countries have however failed to realise the enormous potential in enhancing ties in security, political, economy, trade, investment, energy, connectivity, capacity development etc because India does not share common land borders with the region and also because of infrequent visits at the highest level between India and Central Asian States.
India's membership will provide a welcome opportunity to Indian Prime Ministers to meet with Presidents from Central Asia regularly and frequently. India's potential participation in the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) will be an added advantage to make this partnership more fruitful.
Central Asia represents the ''near-abroad'' for Russia. Both India and Russia can collaborate to reciprocal benefit in all above areas. India's development experience particularly in promoting agriculture, SMEs, pharmaceuticals, IT etc can be of immense benefit to these countries.

Manus Decision: Dutton Digs In

"Both the Australian and Papua New Guinea governments shall forthwith take all steps necessary to cease and prevent the continued unconstitutional and illegal detention of asylum-seekers or transferees at the relocation centre on Manus Island and the continued breach of the asylum-seekers or transferees at the relocation centre on Manus ­Island," the ruling said.
The Australian understands
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PNG may consider a number of options following the decision, ­including passing new laws to overcome the ruling, sending ­detainees to another regional processing centre or changing the centre to one like the 24/7 "open centre" in Nauru, where asylum-seekers are allowed to come and go whenever they like.
Mr Dutton would not comment on the potential legal ­options available to PNG, saying it was a matter for the country's ­Attorney-General, Ano Pala, or Immigration Minister Rimbink Pato.
"Those in the Manus Island Regional Processing Centre found to be refugees are able to resettle in Papua New Guinea," Mr Dutton said. "Those found not to be refugees should return to their country of origin."

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Ahn Cheol-soo the real winner in South Korea's election

The newly established People's Party led by Ahn Cheol-soo is the election's biggest winner, with Ahn firmly establishing himself as a candidate for the presidential elections. Exactly what Ahn stands for politically is unclear; his success can largely be attributed to protest votes and his image as a successful entrepreneur and political outsider.
In general terms, the opposition's victory should not be confused with a political shift to the left. Policy platforms and political debate were almost entirely absent from the electoral campaign, which was dominated by power struggles among influential individuals and their personal networks. While voters may have shifted to the left, the political spectrum has arguably moved to the right. The two opposition leaders Kim Chong-in (Minjoo) and Ahn Cheol-soo (Googmin) have gone to great lengths to distance themselves from the traditional image of the opposition party as being rooted in the student and labor movement, promising to move their party to the "political center."
What does the outcome of the election mean for the remaining 22 months of the Park administration? In Korea's presidential democracy, the president has wide-ranging constitutional powers, but President Park, who is constitutionally barred from running for a second term, needs the parliament in order to pass bills, and is therefore most likely to become a lame duck president. The prospects of implementing her pro-business agenda to liberalize labor markets and pass tougher security laws now appear slim. Furthermore, she is weakened within her party as some of her key allies failed to win parliamentary seats.
An interesting question is how the Saenuri Party will react to the defeat. The party suffered heavy losses both in the capital region of Seoul, where almost half of all Koreans live, and in other urban areas, including its former regional strongholds of Daegu and Busan in the southeast. Accordingly, the Saenuri Party is in danger of becoming a party of the past, supported by rural voters and the older generation.

Uyghur visa revoked: Did India buckle under China pressure?

With Isa Dolkun regretting the cancellation of his visa, and Naela Qadri Baloch saying, "India lacks the political will to take an initiative in Balochistan", Commander in Chief Xi Jinping and protégé Raheel Sharif would be popping the bubbly.
But there is no need to lose heart. As Lord Krishna told Arjun – a small ant in the ear of the elephant can bring it down to its knees. Same goes for the Dragopus (the Dragon-cum-Octopus), which China has transformed into. The Dragon also has a large soft belly and the octopus may well get entangled in a maze of nations that would come up at some point of time.
Both China and Pakistan need to be paid back in the same coin, this being an era of dirty warfare. Besides, China does need our huge markets while we have other options like that of Japan, South Korean, Taiwan and goods from other countries till our own industrial base catches up.

Combating impunity in Tajikistan

Has there been any progress on protecting of victims of torture in terms of legislation?
There has been a great deal of progress over the past five years. In the past it was impossible to prosecute armed forces officers for cases of mistreatment.
​ ​
First of all, a special article on torture was incorporated into the criminal code and the corresponding legal framework regulating arrest and detention was adapted accordingly.
​ ​
Secondly, Tajikistan adopted an action plan to realise the UN recommendations on freedom from torture [part of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment].
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Parliament is discussing further amendments to the laws regulating arrest and detention procedures.
What else needs to be tackled? Based on your experience, how is legislation realised in practice?
There must be mechanisms to respond to cases in which people are tortured. Victims and their families need to know where to go [for help] and how to address it. They also need to be certain that they won't be prosecuted for making such statements and complaints.
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If a person is found guilty of torture, the courts should punish the guilty person, which doesn't always happen in reality.
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Further, the state should compensate victims of torture for any harm caused, including emotional damage, and develop an effective rehabilitation system ensuring such incidents won't be tolerated in future.

How the San Francisco Bay Area Exemplifies America’s Housing Crisis

(image courtersy Josh Levinger, twitter @jlev)
Robert Joseph: What are some of the historical factors that led to the limited housing affordability we see today in the Bay Area?
Gabriel Metcalf: In most places, people living in poverty have a hard time finding housing they can afford. But in the Bay Area, even people with middle-class jobs face an affordability crisis. The reason is simple: we stopped building housing. We have supply and demand out of whack. But the reasons behind that fact are complicated. The value change that happened in our society between the post-war, pro-growth boosterism of the 1950s and '60s and the NIMBYism ("Not In My Back Yard") of the 1970s was a profound cultural transformation that I don't think we fully understand yet.
At least some of it stems from the reality that city leaders in the post-war era did some terrible things with their power. Urban renewal and urban highways were national programs — there was an almost universal assumption that tearing down the old city meant progress. You also had cities losing population every single year after WWII. There was this deeply held belief that urban life was to be escaped from, so all the cities that are really expensive today were emptying out then. The low point in population was 1980, according to census numbers. For those who stayed, change came to be equated with destruction. For all of these reasons, there was a backlash against development.
Down-zonings didn't cause housing supply problems for a long time because the population loss meant few demand pressures. You could downzone without triggering displacement in the 1970s. You could save historical buildings without any negative impact on housing supply.
But then the whole world changed and cities started growing again. The problem is that we have locked in place the rules and culture from these early '70s preservation movements that today make it really difficult to add housing.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Imran Khan threatens protests against Pak PM over Panama Papers

Khan has seized on the Panama Papers scandal as a fresh opportunity to try to unseat Sharif. The former cricketing hero staged protests in Islamabad for months in 2014 over alleged electoral fraud but failed to topple the prime minister.
 Addressing a crowd of tens of thousands in the capital Islamabad on Sunday, Khan said an inquiry into the Panama Papers proposed by Sharif did not go far enough and demanded international forensic auditors be involved.
"We want a commission that has an offshore branch, that has international investigators," he told flag-waving supporters at an evening rally. Many had chanted "Go Nawaz, go".
Leaked documents from the Mossack Fonseca law firm in Panama this month showed Sharif's sons Hassan and Hussain, and daughter Maryam, owned at least three offshore holding companies registered in the British Virgin Islands.
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which studied the papers, said those companies had engaged in at least $25 million in property and acquisition deals.

The Tokyo Whale Is Quietly Buying Up Huge Stakes in Japan Inc.

To critics already wary of the central bank's outsized impact on the Japanese bond market, the BOJ's growing influence in stocks risks distorting valuations and undermining efforts to improve corporate governance. Proponents, meanwhile, say the purchases provide a much-needed boost to investor confidence. With the Nikkei 225 down 7.7 percent this year and inflation well below official targets, a majority of analysts surveyed by Bloomberg predict the BOJ will boost its ETF buying -- a move that could come as soon as Thursday.

"For those who want shares to go up at any cost, it's absolutely fantastic that the BOJ is buying so much," said Shingo Ide, chief equity strategist at NLI Research Institute in Tokyo. "But this is clearly distorting the sanity of the stock market."

More on Kathy Chen's Tightrope at Twitter

Danielle Cave, Lowy Interpreter:

Across two op-eds, China's Global Times attacked those complaining about Twitter's new appointment and usedthe occasion to promote China's global role as an Internet giant. And indeed China is such a giant. Its rapidly-growing tech and mobile industries are some of the most innovative in the world and there's a lot at stake. Which is why the Global Times shouldn't be shocked that background checks are done on senior foreign nationals employed in the industry, a procedure large Chinese tech companies surely undertake as well. Imagine if Internet company Tencent picked an individual with close CIA and US military connections to lead its push into the US and that person kicked off their Weibo presence with a series of posts about working with Fox News and the NY Times to share the 'American dream.' One would expect a bemused, and possibly angry, reaction from Chinese netizens.

While there don't seem to be any current links between Chen and her ex government employers, China's public security apparatus would undoubtedly benefit from information she now has access to. The Chinese government would be foolish not to reach out to someone who was (at one time) one of its own. That's its job. Insights that can be gleaned on the inner workings and politics of Silicon Valley, including interactions these online companies have with their own and overseas governments, would be a valuable commodity. Any well-resourced intelligence community would be seeking to generate such a line of reporting. But that's a conundrum for Twitter's management and any organisation around the world that hires an overseas national with close links to his or her home country's national security community.

Russia Needs China More Than China Needs Russia: Who Knew?

Catherine Putz in The Diplomat:

"Two years after the Kremlin's rift with the West, Moscow's hopes that a new business relationship with Asia would make up for Russia's losses have not materialized," Alexander Gabuev of the Carnegie Moscow Center begins his analysis of Russia's pivot to "nowhere."

Thomas S. Eder and Mikko Huotari began their recent Foreign Affairs article by remarking, "Ever since Europe imposed sanctions on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, Moscow has held high hopes of countering them by strengthening its alliance with China on energy, defense, and agricultural trade and investments."

What's at the core of this failure? One place to look is at the motivation for increasing cooperation in both Moscow and Beijing. Russia's deteriorating relations (and trade) with Europe precipitated a search elsewhere for partners. For this reason, the $400 billion gas deal signed in May 2014 drew headlines. But the devil, as always, was in the details: Russia would be getting less money per cubic meter of gas than when it sold to western Europe and in the past two years the construction dates have been pushed further into the future.

Russia needs China, but China has options.