Thursday, August 25, 2016

Looking Down the Precipice

Crispin Rovere's critique of RAND's new analysis of a possible US-China war has at least one big no-shitter Washington should consider:
The authors all but exclude the possibility of nuclear use from either side, especially if the US avoids targets that would threaten China’s nuclear deterrent. In reality, China would have significant incentives for nuclear use if it was greatly disadvantaged in a conventional conflict. For instance, China could use nukes as counterforce weapons against US staging areas in the Western Pacific, calculating the US won’t respond at the strategic level. In extremis, China could even detonate a strategic warhead over a civilian population of a non-nuclear US ally (such as Japan) as a direct challenge to US nuclear assurances and to demonstrate absolute resolve, without forcing America’s hand by attacking the homeland directly. Indeed, I would argue that these outcomes are far more likely than what RAND assumes: China accepting total military defeat.  
In other words, the fact that America enjoys overall nuclear superiority appears to have led to dubious assumptions about US-China nuclear dynamics. It would have been better for RAND to simply assume a high-intensity conflict that does not escalate to the nuclear level, without attempting to justify that assumption. After all, it is just as dangerous for US decision-makers to be presented with an unrealistic appraisal of nuclear risk as it is for Chinese leaders having unjustified confidence in their conventional forces.
A reassessment of the temperament of China's princeling class and their willingness to use certain measures to save face, something often miscalculated by Americans, may be in order.

Lowy Interpreter

The best insurance against such a nightmare scenario may be waging a looking glass war over domain awareness in areas of interest. Brendan Thomas-Noone:

...It’s plausible that we’ll see a scenario developing that has US EW assets focusing on China’s radar infrastructure across the South China Sea, with the PLA’s burgeoning electronic attack and defence capability attempting to defend these new electronic capabilities. More EW capabilities could be poured into the region in an effort to control or disrupt domain awareness, a critical aspect of coordinating military forces across the region for both sides. Increased EW capabilities may also be a less obvious and less aggressive way for US forces to support Southeast Asian allies in the region.

Meanwhile, Central Asia may become the venue for the first modern war over water security unless the grandiose plans and necks of certain leaders aren't pulled back in. David Trilling:
...But since the dissolution of the Soviet Union over a quarter century ago, that system has collapsed. Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan now face constant blackouts and hope to build giant dams to provide for their energy needs. Kyrgyzstan completed its Kambarata-2 power station in 2010 and is building a second one, Kambarata-1, with the help of Russia. Although he doesn’t have the funds, Tajik President Emomali Rahmon often speaks zealously about his mission to build a 335-meter dam, Rogun, which has the potential to turn his impoverished statelet into a powerbroker. But there is one glaring issue: the region’s glaciers, the source of huge and once predictable water supplies, are melting at record rates. Every year, it loses about as much water as consumed by a country the size of Switzerland. And the dams stand to limit water supply even further for the downstream countries. This has set them on edge. 
Along the disputed frontiers of the Fergana Valley, which is spread out over three of the countries, locals bicker with their neighbors over irrigation water. These small spats quickly escalate. In 2014, Kyrgyz and Tajik conscripts exchanged fire over a strategic sluice in Ak-Sai.

Finally, Robert Cutler on why rumors of a Russo-Turkish alliance (and resultant consequence for Central Asia) remain greatly exaggerated:
The big question (is) to what degree a “Eurasian” orientation on Turkey’s part would entail a “de-Westernization” of its society and its foreign-policy line, which could draw Turkey away from the Atlantic world embodied in NATO and the EU. This is unlikely even with the resumption of Russian tourism to Turkey and Turkish construction projects in Russia. Not even China could really offer a substitute for existing Turkish dependence on Western capital and Western markets. The European Union, for example, accounts for 75 per cent of foreign direct investment in Turkey.
Prince Arthur Herald

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Contradictions Among The People

In the Pacific, Democracy is where you find it

Frank Ching on the dilemma of Hong Kong's independence movement - is it truly feasible, or is talk of independence an analogy for preserving HK's system of governance:
From a geopolitical standpoint, Hong Kong's independence is improbable though, ... it would be bigger than either Timor Leste or Singapore... But Hong Kong relies on China for most of its water and for much of its food. Hong Kong can only become independent with China's blessing, which seems highly unlikely. There is little reason for China to decide to expel Hong Kong, as Malaysia expelled Singapore...
So what options are left? Are pro-independence young people, mostly students, willing to go to war with the People's Liberation Army, like East Pakistan took on West Pakistan? East Pakistan had a bigger population and economy than West Pakistan. Hong Kong is tiny compared with the mainland, in all respects. It has no army of its own. 
The only alternative, and a peaceful one, is for China itself to want Hong Kong to be independent. Perhaps that is what the pro-independence advocates should work toward: a scenario in which China is so sick of Hong Kong that it thinks the best thing to do is to expel Hong Kong and its 7.2 million people from the Chinese nation. How's that as a solution...

Hawaii's Democratic Party politics are very much Old Line, steeped in Rust Belt values of loyalty, consensus and patronage, but with an Asian twist. So what happens when it's confronted by the Bernie Sanders movement? Nick Grube finds out:
“The problem with insurgent movements like this is they get discouraged very easily and they often don’t have the resources to sustain themselves,” said Colin Moore, an associate professor of political science at the University of Hawaii. “This is the challenge for that movement. They have to now use that enthusiasm to create a real organization that will nurture these candidates.” The Kuleana Academy might be a good first step, Moore said, to deepen the progressive pool of candidates in Hawaii. But those candidates still must differentiate themselves from established Democratic officeholders. 
Moore said the Democratic establishment will continue to rake in big donations from developers and the business community. It’s also cozy with the labor unions. That doesn’t leave a progressive newcomer a lot of room to work with when it comes to gathering more support.“It can be tough for them to break in,” Moore said of the progressives. “The foundation of Hawaii’s Democratic party is still in this relationship between the unions, the developers and the politicians where everyone gets paid.”

For many observers the recent Right vs. Center-Right election in Peru seemed to further confirm the slow death of the Left in Latin America. But as Lucas Iberico Lozada observes, a new more pragmatic progressive movement is rising in its place:
But even as atrophying, corrupted left parties have helped steer the electorate in other South American countries to the right, Peru—where the Shining Path had long drained leftism of its nostalgic heft—is now home to a party with a real chance to not only exert its influence in opposition, but also to open a space for the left in a region increasingly wary of its standard-bearers. Frente Amplio is a fledgling party that did better than anyone could have reasonably expected it to do, and then turned around and made the kind of clear-eyed political maneuver that guaranteed its survival and laid out a plan for growth. 
Brandon van Dyck is a political scientist at Lafayette College who studies left-wing parties in Latin America. His research suggests that successful left parties share two things in common: years of thankless ground-level organizing and fierce ideological opposition. “It’s a lot easier to build a party when you’re building on polarization and conflict,” he told me by phone. “You have strong attachments, and then the party builds on those attachments.” Both Kuczynski and Fujimori play a convenient ideological foil to Mendoza and Frente Amplio, and the one in power is unlikely to prevent them from expanding their gains. Kuczynski has little popular appeal and seemingly no intention to build his party now that it has served as an electoral vehicle...

Finally, Bruce Dickson on how the experience of evolving governance in mainland China shows how relative freedom really can be:
... In a nationwide survey in 2014, more than 4,000 urban Chinese were asked how democratic they perceived China to be at different points in time. The vast majority view the level of democracy as increasing steadily since the late 1970s. Almost 60% believe China is already somewhat or very democratic today. Remarkably, more than 80% are optimistic that in the near future China will enjoy a level of democracy on par with the United States... 
Survey respondents were given the opportunity to define democracy in their own words ... about one-third of urban Chinese defined democracy in terms of checks and balances or other ways that closely match Western notions.  By contrast, a different 30% of Chinese described democracy in terms of how leaders should run the government, not how they are chosen. Comments such as “the people and the government are interdependent” and “government policies reflect public opinion” get at this notion... The purpose of democracy, as seen by many Chinese, is to make the state strong so that it can better provide for the common well-being of the people and the nation as a whole. It is not a way to hold leaders accountable through elections, limit the state’s authority in order to protect individual rights and freedoms, or adjudicate between competing interests.  
But by far the most popular definition of democracy — given by a third of the urban Chinese respondents — was “I don’t know”!

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Never Take For Granted

Lee Kwan Yew offers a warm welcome to Deng Xiaoping, 1978. (Xinhua)

Maria Siow on how China's bully-boy foreign policy has strained its relationship with Singapore - and like any abusive suitor, they now feel betrayed: 
Even before the ruling, there were signs China was getting irritated. In June, a Global Times commentary by Chinese Academy of Social Sciences researcher Cheng Bifan ran under the headline “Singapore has picked the wrong target in its balance of power strategy”. 
The latest comments against Singapore were a reality check that its long-standing approach of not taking sides was being challenged, said political scientist Ja Ian Chong from the National University of Singapore. 
The policy of “not choosing sides” only worked under certain conditions: when relations between China and the US, or when the relationships between either major power and the majority of other regional actors, were stable and relaxed, Chong said. 
“If not, then it becomes easy for one of the major powers or both to demand greater partiality from Singapore. Playing to the middle, as Singapore has done, could seem unhelpful or duplicitous in either or both Washington and Beijing.”

Meanwhile, India is alienating Bhutan, previously her most reliable ally. Omair Ahmad:
Modi received a very warm reception in Thimphu, was surrounded by people all the time and gave a speech to our closest neighbour from their parliament. Of course, there were a few glitches. The official translator struggled to transform Modi’s colloquial Hindi into the staid Dzongkha, Bhutan’s national language, but the more worrying thing was that Modi’s speech, beyond the banalities of grants and historic friendship, hardly addressed any Bhutanese concerns. The comments about terrorism dividing neighbours while tourism brings them together seemed to be addressed more to Pakistan. Moreover, the comments missed a key point: Bhutan did not want to be any closer to India than it already was. 
As Modi expanded on the idea of creating greater links between Bhutan and India’s northeastern states – whether through sports, tourism or trade – he brought home the point that he understood Bhutan not at all. What most Bhutanese see of India around their borders are the badlands of Assam and West Bengal, the tea estates where the exploitation and poverty have been so extreme that they bred the original Naxal insurgency. The militancy prone small states of the Northeast are not that inviting either, especially as Bhutan had to go to war in 2006 to expel ULFA and other  militants from its territory. And Sikkim, just a hop, skip and jump away, was swallowed by India in 1975.

David Beirman on Thailand's vulnerable tourist industry:
For opponents of Thailand’s current military regime, tourism is the perfect soft target. Tourists are easy to identify and many are associated with hedonistic lifestyles that more conservative Thais resent. Targeting tourists through acts of terrorism can result in rapid loss of business to tourism-related enterprises. Leisure tourists normally predisposed to visit Thailand will vote with their feet and instead choose to travel elsewhere in Southeast Asia. 
Thailand’s ability to mount a credible counter-terrorism campaign in response to the bombings will depend on whether the Thai security forces can identify and neutralise those responsible for the attacks. Promising increased security measures to assuage tourist concerns over terrorism is meaningless until the identity of the perpetrators can be established. It is worth noting that a year after the Erawan Shrine bombing, authorities are yet to convincingly explain and identify who was behind the attack.

Finally, Linda Givetash on growing pains in Vancouver's Chinatown:
As the City of Vancouver begins to review the effect of its economic revitalization strategy for the neighbourhood, community members are at odds whether Chinatown’s direction is what they want. 
“With all the developments that are happening in the area, they’re condos for the most part and they’re not being catered to the residents that live there right now,” said Yuly Chan, a member of the Chinatown Action Group. “Just because people are poor, or are income assistance, it doesn’t mean they can be pushed out of their own neighbourhood.”
Vancouver’s Chinatown is one of the oldest in the country, established in the late 1880s when early Chinese immigrants, many of them railway workers, settled in the area near what is now the downtown core. While the area has grown with waves of immigration and development over the decades, it remains one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Vancouver.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Water Under The Dam in Myanmar

China's priorities in normalizing relations with Myanmar are shifting from the the economic to the strategic. The controversial Myitsone Dam project looms large as a major issue; it's one of many grievances for northern insurgent groups - many of which get backing from China -  yet its completion is a strategic priority for China. Something has to give

From StrategyPage:

The dam project has been largely shut down since 2011 because of corruption charges (largely true) and armed resistance from local tribal rebels. China said it was willing to make concessions to save the dam project and Burma is seeking the best acceptable (to Burmese) deal it can get. China needs the 6,000 MW of electrical power generated and 90 percent of it will go to China. There are many similar Chinese hydroelectric dam projects in the north as well as new mines and lots of road and bridge building to support it all. Burma is willing to let it all happen as long as there is minimal corruption and misbehavior. That means compensating the local landowners (mainly tribes that have been in the area for centuries) fairly. China, however, wants more than just the electrical power and profits from these investments. China also wants some diplomatic assistance. Details on those negotiations are less likely to be publicized.

Rajiv Bhatia on how Myitsone became a wedge, but is now an opportunity:
Suu Kyi visit has shown her willingness to reciprocate... Those with a long memory might find something strange here. After all, in Myanmar’s epic struggle between the military and the Suu Kyi-led democracy movement, China was the former’s ally and adversary of the pro-democracy camp. But everything changes when one assumes power. While in the opposition, Suu Kyi consistently conveyed that, as the people’s leader, she would manage the complex but vital relationship with China. She now has a valuable opening...
This is where the exceptional focus on the future of the China-sponsored Myitsone Dam project comes into play. A $3.6 billion, mega hydroelectric development project in the Kachin state on the Irrawaddy River, it was finalized in June 2009, with the agreement providing that 90% of the electricity produced would be for China and the remaining 10% for Myanmar. Due to the likely adverse environmental impact and unfair terms, a huge popular furore followed. In a surprise move, Thein Sein suspended the project in 2011. The Chinese were not even informed in advance. This was a major setback to China-Myanmar ties. With the change of government in Naypyitaw in April, Beijing has accelerated efforts to resuscitate the project.

An editorial in The Nation points to China as instrumental in solving the northern problem:
Suu Kyi can do all the globe-trotting she wants to bolster the new Myanmar. In the end, she cannot escape China's geographic proximity and its role in her government's moves to secure a lasting peace with its ethnic minorities. Two of the leading ethnic armies in northern Myanmar are armed and backed by China.
 One of them, the UWSA, has three regiments near Thailand's northern border. Not only do they pose a security threat to Thailand, the Wa continues to flood the world's cities with methamphetamines. Many Thai youths are addicted to the substance. But we could be waiting for a long time for Myanmar to clamp down in these illicit activities on their side of the border, given the deep mistrust and fighting still plaguing parts of the country's north.

AFP spells it out:
"We do believe that as a good neighbor China will do everything possible to promote our peace process," Suu Kyi told reporters in Beijing ahead of meeting China's President Xi Jinping. "China ... is important in its goodwill," she added. Myanmar will hold a long-planned conference with armed ethnic groups later this month, as Suu Kyi targets peace as a prelude to rebooting the economy ... "If you ask me what my most important aim is for my country, that is to achieve peace ... Without peace, there can be no sustained development".
Several complex ethnic conflicts -- with some groups fighting the government for decades -- simmer across Myanmar's poor and militarized borderlands, hampering efforts to build up the country's economy after the end of junta rule.
 Some of the groups have ethnic and cultural links to the neighboring Chinese province of Yunnan, and the porous border is notorious for trade in drugs, arms and precious stones. 
Suu Kyi's first major foreign trip ... has been dominated by the $3.6 billion Beijing-backed Myitsone dam, on hold since protests in 2011. Suu Kyi confirmed that Myanmar had set up a committee to review the project, without saying whether it would be resumed. "It is for the commission to find out what the best answer is," she said. "I cannot say now what the best solution is." ... (China's) Global Times acknowledged that a "real breakthrough" on the dam was unlikely during the visit, but insisted: "It is only a matter of time before the project will be resumed."

Friday, August 19, 2016

Hard Feelings, Burnt Fingers

Long Tan: Half a century on, a battle memory interrupts Australia-Vietnam friendship - Helen Clark, Lowy Interpreter
The shock caused by the late cancellation reached the highest levels with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull calling his counterpart, Nguyen Xuan Phuc, for an explanation. It seems now that small groups will be allowed into Long Tan, in an orderly manner. For a long time now it has been this way; military uniforms (save for our military attache from the embassy in Hanoi), medals, flags have long been disallowed. 
The controversy is unfortunate for veterans and their families and for all those who worked so hard for the event. The abrupt announcement so close to the event was undoubtedly poor management. However we don't who made the call. Was it the local government in Ba Ria-Vung Tau or the national administration in Hanoi? And, more importantly, why? 
The Australian media has mentioned local sensitivities and fears that the event had simply become too big. It’s important to remember that hundreds of Vietnamese were killed in this battle, which was part of a war that divided a nation. The battle of Long Tan and its commemoration by Australians has long been sensitive locally.

International Financial Community Grows Leery of Malaysia - John Berthelsen, Asia Sentinel
“The downgrade will certainly worry bankers especially, all for the right reasons because how much more blue-chip can you get than Petronas?” asked a Malaysian businessman who asked not to be named. Another source pointed out that Petronas is usually higher ranked than sovereign IDRs “so what does it all mean for the broader economy?” 
Both described a global financial system that is tightening informally on Malaysian international depositors as bankers apparently grow increasingly distrustful. However, other than a bland report of the Fitch action, there has been no reporting in the local press of the implications of the report. 
“It’s next to impossible for a Malaysian – especially non businessmen – to open an account in the UK or Europe for children staying there,” said one. “Now, over the past several weeks, even Singapore, where you could walk in and open an account, has tightened screws and a Malaysian would have to jump through fifty hoops to open one.”

North Korea Defector Thae Yong Ho among trusted elite - AFP story in The Straits Times

Prior to his defection, Mr Thae had worked at the embassy for 10 years - an unusually lengthy period of time in such a high-profile posting. Overseas diplomats are generally recalled to Pyongyang every three or four years and undergo a period of "re-education" before being posted abroad again. 
Mr Thae's defection was also eased by having his wife and children with him. Some diplomats have to leave family members in the North, precisely to deter flight impulses..."All of this suggests he had impeccable credentials and must have been considered very loyal and trustworthy in Pyongyang," Prof Yang added. 
According to South Korean media reports, both Thae and his wife were of blue-blooded North Korean revolutionary stock. Thae's late father was believed to be a four-star general Thae Pyong Ryol, who fought with North Korea's founder leader Kim Il Sung against Japanese colonial forces, the Yonhap news agency reported. And his wife Oh Hae-Son was also related to a senior ranking member of the anti-Japanese guerrilla campaign, Oh Baek-Ryong.

Can Russia be a leader in East Asian economic integration? - Ekaterina Koldunova, East Asia Forum
...Russia is still facing several structural challenges in expanding its stance in regional multilateralism. Some positive measures are already in place. For example in the Russian Far East, a special business and visa-free regime for Vladivostok and territories of advanced socio-economic development in other parts of the Far East are making this underdeveloped Russian region more attractive for domestic and foreign investors. But Russia still has a long way to go to bring the Far Eastern business climate and economic conditions to a level comparable with Russia’s more eastern regional counterparts.

Internationally, Russia has to find a way to reconcile its Eurasian integration project with a Chinese vision of the region’s further development embodied in the ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative. Russia also needs to find a way of better coordinating with China in regional institutions where China enjoys a stronger economic position without alienating other counterparts, like ASEAN member states.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Ignoble Rot and Racial Realpolitik in Malaysia

In Happier Times
Increasing disgust with the impunity and capture by Beijing business interests of the Najib Razak regime have opposition forces willing to accept the lesser of evils - including the conflation of racial politics with reform

Sheridan Mahavera outlines the extent of Chinese commercial soak:
1MDB, which is Najib’s brainchild and whose advisory board he heads, racked up RM42 billion in debts within five years of operation ... China’s purchases of 1MDB assets had helped reduce its debts to RM40.4 billion, Najib said in his 2016 New Year’s Day address ... The sale of 1MDB’s power assets to China General Nuclear Power Corp would have breached the limit of foreign ownership rules for local electricity companies. 1MDB critic and opposition law maker Rafizi Ramli had campaigned unsuccessfully to block the sale, claiming that it would threaten local jobs in the energy sector ... Another parliamentarian, Wong Chen, said in the end the cabinet allowed an exemption to the foreign equity rules so that the deal could go through. "The government had made an exception because it was desperate to bring in money to pay 1MDB’s debts," Wong said. “There will be long-term geopolitical repercussions for Malaysia because of this intense interest in embracing Chinese money,” Wong told This Week in Asia ... The RM50 billion Singapore-Kuala Lumpur High Speed Rail project is another venture that could involve either expertise or money from China, he said. “The Najib administration had also floated the idea of a nuclear power plant and this too could involve money from China.” In Sarawak, a region that straddles the island of Borneo in East Malaysia, China’s pull in Malaysia is already affecting the incomes of local fishermen.

JD Lovrenciear describes how the battle lines leave the cosmopolitan multiracial parties compromised:
... Najib is already digging in with a long list of sworn and self-confessed as well as silent loyalists within the Malay community of leaders and followers. On that same account we are now witnessing past leaders and their followers who are opposed to Najib, branding themselves as champions of the Malay cause in mapping out their war strategies... The war cry from both corners is ‘Save the Malays’ from being betrayed ... The Chinese- and Indian-based parties, MCA and MIC respectively (as well as several other smaller parties that are in allegiance with Umno), are being enlisted into the Najib war camp. Given the ‘common enemy’ for those against Najib’s leadership, the Democratic Action Party as well as Amanah and Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), will see that aligning with Bersatu makes more sense, for they have pursued a long battering on the 1MDB debacles while eyeing for the voters’ catch. True, too, all civil society champions fighting a long and hard war against all sorts of corruption-tainted leadership and governance cannot sit back and watch the titans clash ... So the political landscape in Malaysia is well carved out to see a titanic clash between two Malay parties. On the one hand is Umno with its enlisted Chinese and Indian parties; and on the other side of the battle line will be Dr M’s team with alliances roped in from the opposition political parties and non-governmental organisations championing democracy, justice and good governance.

Mahathir himself breaks it down, as reported in FMT:
In his latest blog post, the former president of Umno writes: “The sophisticated and highly educated urban people may believe that racial politics is not in keeping with the times. “But on the ground it is different. For the rural people who largely are poor, race is not only important but they believe (it) is essential for their well-being. Umno’s popularity is because it is a racial party. “If the new party is to compete with Umno, it must give the people in the rural constituencies and the unsophisticated urban constituencies the kind of comfort associated with Umno’s kind of racism.”
Still, he hastens to add, the new party is not confined to Malays but is open to all bumiputeras and it is ready to accept non-bumiputeras as associate members.

Finally, Dennis Ignatius tells everyone to Stop Whining:
Take the formation of the new Mahathir-inspired ... (BERSATU). Apparently torn between wanting to be more inclusive but fearful of antagonizing its potential support base, the leadership settled on the asinine idea of opening the party to non-Malays but not allowing them to hold office or vote ... Given the prevailing political culture, surely it would have made better sense to have kept it a purely Malay party while making clear its intention ... to cooperate fully with other interested parties not just to oust Prime Minister Najib but to defend the constitution, work for national unity and fight for good governance... Besides, another multiracial party in an already crowded field might hinder rather than help the opposition. As it is, the DAP and PKR can hardly agree on how to work together as recent events have made clear... A new Malay-based party, particularly one that can appeal to disaffected Malays and working in tandem with Amanah, on the other hand, might pose a more direct challenge to UMNO in competing for the critical Malay-Muslim vote without which victory is impossible.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The China Clipper and the Durand Line

The vast distances associated with strategic activity in Asia and the Pacific has induced some technological anachronisms.  This includes the return of Zeppelins, along with, as StrategyPage reports, the Flying Boat:
China’s neighbors see a more sinister use. If AG600s were assigned to SAR work several could justifiably be stationed in South China right on the South China Sea. In that body of water there are hundreds of islets, reefs and atolls that that China claims, despite closer nations already having prior claims. The AG600s could be used to move supplies, weapons and military personnel to reinforce the growing number of small outposts China is building on platforms and artificial islands (formed by dredging sand from reefs or shallow water). Even without the AG600 China is following a strategy of “if our soldiers are on it the rock/reef/whatever is ours.” The older SH-5 could carry ten tons and the AG600 is believed capable of carrying nearly twice that. Another Chinese manufacturer is also developing twin engine seaplanes as well as a four engine model similar to the AG600. 
There are some other Asian seaplane manufacturers, In 2014 India announced it was buying 15 US-2 seaplanes from Japan. Discussions over this sale had been going on since 2011. The growing tension with China has made India eager to increase ties with Japan, where China is also a threat. Technically air-sea rescue aircraft, the US-2s will be based in the Nicobar and Andaman Islands, which are in the Indian Ocean just west of Indonesia. This would enable the Indians to more easily patrol the western approaches to the Malacca Straits. Each year, half the world’s oil shipments, and a third of all commerce, pass through these straits. India fears that China may use its growing fleet to dominate the waters around the straits. The US-2s will make it easier to keep an eye on the Chinese.
(It should be noted that the tone of the StrategyPage piece is a bit unfair to the Japanese. The US-2 is a product of ShinMayWa, a firm whose heritage goes back to the beginnings of aviation in the country, and which has been something of a global outlier, producing flying boats continuously in the post-World War II period.)

Yun Sun explores how Myanmar's peace process is necessitating a change of heart in her long-term foreign policy pivot toward the West:
Different from the U Thein Sein government, which was seen as turning “pro-West” in Beijing, Aung San Suu Kyi and her NLD government are believed to be more “neutral” in their foreign policy. The destination of her first official foreign visit since assuming office was none of the great powers, but Laos, a neighboring country chairing the ASEAN this year. While China might have been disappointed that she did not visit China first, the fact that she did not pick a Western country, especially the United States, for her first foreign visit is nevertheless regarded as comforting. The sense of reassurance for Beijing is strengthened by the perception that Suu Kyi’s relationship with the United States may not be as smooth and trouble-free as people had previously perceived. The combination of these factors reignites the hope in China that Suu Kyi’s ascension to power could actually bring opportunities to rebuild the damaged bilateral relations and re-strengthen China’s waning influence in the country. 
Aung San Suu Kyi and her NLD government faced a tough situation on China at the time of their inauguration in March. The deterioration of Sino-Myanmar relations since 2011 is widely acknowledged. Former President Thein Sein suspended the Chinese-invested Myitsone mega-dam in September 2011. While the project has never been popular in Myanmar, the Chinese nevertheless saw themselves as the victim of a pseudo-democratic government’s attempt to gain legitimacy, popularity and support by both the Myanmar people and the West. China’s antagonism was exacerbated by Thein Sein government’s lukewarm attitude toward Chinese economic ambition in the country, as manifested by the suspension of the Letpadaung copper mine, the abandonment of the Sino-Myanmar railway and the difficulties it encountered in the bidding for the Kyaukpyu special economic zone. The sense of agony peaked in 2015, when officials in Myanmar appeared to accuse China of supporting ethnic armed organizations in northern Myanmar and undermining the government’s peace process by blocking the participation of several groups in the October Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA), an accusation that China vehemently denies. 
Such a difficult context puts Aung San Suu Kyi’s China policy at a critical juncture in history. The NLD government could continue to cater to anti-China sentiment inside Myanmar and run the risk of losing China’s support for the peace process and for Myanmar’s domestic economic agenda. Or, it could try to improve relations with China and enlist Beijing’s help for Myanmar’s national priorities on ethnic reconciliation and economic development. 

Firstpost Politics looks at the continuing legacy of the Durand Line in the Afghanistan conflict, and how it may create opportunities for India. Rutu Shah:
Soon after coming to power in 2014, President Ashraf Ghani realised that he needed to mend fences with Pakistan. The rise of Taliban and the power it wields, is of great concern for Afghanistan. As pointed out in an earlier Firstpost article Taliban has been steadily gaining more territories ever since the United States and Nato vacated Afghanistan in December 2014. Since that day the government forces and citizens of Afghanistan have come under constant attack. Many speculate this Taliban too is preparing for a time when it is ready for a political settlement. When that day comes, it will make the negotiations from a position of power. 
This is probably why Afghanistan remains tight-lipped on the issue of the Durand Line. When quizzed about the issue, various Afghan leaders have assumed a diplomatic position. According to a report by The Atlantic, Abdul Ghafoor Liwal, the head of Kabul's Centre for Regional Studies in Afghanistan said that the Durand Line is a matter of national import but its future will be decided by the Pashtuns. "Recognising the legitimacy of this line is in the hands of the masses that live on either side of the border. This is also the formal position of the Afghan government," he reportedly said.The United States considers the Durand line as a modern-day border between the two nations, however Afghanistan has strongly resisted against making the border official. In 2016, the violent clashes between the two nations on the Torkham border crossing brought the issue back to light. Many believe that the construction of a border post on Pakistan's side of the line, created tension because Kabul feared that the structure would make the border official. Even though Pakistan's claim of creating the post and controlling the flow of immigrants was within reason, Kabul strongly opposed it. 
Afghanistan also believes that the imposed border was supposed to be annulled after the death of the king. Some speculate that the Durand agreement was signed under threat of a war and hence did not hold true after the independence of India. Many Afghans believe that the original agreement with Great Britain was only for 100 years after which the lands in question would revert back to Afghanistan. Some scholars also maintain that Afghan laws guide that the treaty was restricted to the lifetime of the king i.e. the agreement of the border should hold true only till the ruler who signed it is alive. 
This presumption has a strong hold over the psyche of the Afghan people. 

Finally, Bruce Pannier on how Kazakhstan's initiative to reach out for public assistance in combating online extremism may have (un)intended consequences:
On the other hand, absent from the statement of the Information and Communications Ministry is mention of a vetting process for the complainer. It is unclear whether those filing a complaint could be found and held accountable for providing false information to the ministry's website if their complaints turn out to be false. That raises the question of possible abuse of the website of the Information and Communications Ministry. 
In 2015 there were several cases of bloggers being arrested and convicted for violating Article 174 of the Criminal Code, which deals with the fomentation of social, national, tribal, racial, class, or religious hatred, and actions that insult national honor or dignity or the religious beliefs of citizens. It was not always clear if those convicted intended to incite or insult, and if their writings genuinely represented a violation of the law. 
Some felt the government used the law to silence government critics. The new site launched by the Information and Communications Ministry could be used toward similar ends if not properly managed. Could it be used for personal vendettas? That is also unclear. There have been numerous examples worldwide of people creating dummy accounts to disseminate information in someone else's name.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Entrance and Extraction

Nauru, or what's left of it. Courtesy: U.S. Department of Energy’s Atmospheric Radiation Measurement Program,

Nauru is best known today as the symbolic center of Australia's controversial refugee policy. But it's also symbolic of the region's legacy of destructive resource extraction and questions over climate-driven migration. Jane McAdam:

Today, “planned relocation” is touted as a possible solution for low-lying Pacific island countries, such as Kiribati and Tuvalu, which are threatened by sea-level rise and other long-term climate impacts. But past experiences in the Pacific, such as the relocation of the Banabans in 1945 from present-day Kiribati to Fiji, show the potentially deep, intergenerational psychological consequences of planned relocation. This is why most Pacific islanders see it as an option of last resort. Unless relocation plans result from a respectful, considered and consultative process, in which different options and views are seriously considered, they will always be highly fraught. 
Nauru today is at the highest level of vulnerability on the Environmental Vulnerability Index. The past destruction wrought by phosphate mining has rendered the island incapable of supporting any local agriculture or industry, with 90% of the land covered by limestone pinnacles. 
It has a very high unemployment rate, scarce labour opportunities, and virtually no private sector – hence why the millions of dollars on offer to operate Australia’s offshore processing centres was so attractive. These factors also illustrate why the permanent resettlement of refugees on Nauru is unrealistic and unsustainable.

Frank Brennan, professor of law at Australian Catholic University, makes the case for Nauru and Manus no longer being necessary to "stop the boats" in any case:
Given that there has been no 'ongoing flow of IMAs to Australia', the only case for maintaining processing facilities on Nauru and Manus Island, in line with the Houston recommendations, would be as part of 'an integrated regional framework for the processing of asylum claims'. To date, the Abbott and Turnbull governments have done NOTHING to establish that framework. Nauru and Manus Island no longer perform any credible, morally coherent, or useful task in securing Australia's borders. Even talk of sending signals is misplaced. The main signal is being sent to Australian voters, not to asylum seekers waiting in Java whose attempts to commission people smugglers have been thwarted by Indonesian officials and Australian intelligence, and whose boats would be turned back in any event. 
Last Thursday evening Dutton said 'we have had discussions with a number of other countries' but then went on to say, 'I think the situation is that people have paid people smugglers for a migration outcome. They want to come to Australia, they don't want to go to New Zealand, Canada, the United States, Malaysia, anywhere else.' It's time for Turnbull, Shorten and Di Natale to agree on a timetable. If the government is unable to resettle the proven refugees elsewhere in countries like New Zealand and Canada by the end of the year, the refugees should be resettled in Australia. If there are still asylum seekers awaiting determination of their claims by the end of the year, they should be brought to Christmas Island for processing. To keep them any longer on Nauru and Manus Island is to tempt fate adverse to their interests, adverse to the national interest of PNG and Nauru, and adverse to Australia's international standing and sense of ourselves. 
Dutton's status quo can't work much longer, and he must know that. His advisers know that in this realm of human activity, the red and green lights require prior calculation of what people will do to save their own lives and to get on with their lives. It's much more complex than the census, and it's much more complicated than being re-elected. The stakes are very high, and not just for those proven refugees we continue to punish so publicly and so unapologetically pretending that we are treating them decently. Turnbull and Dutton have a mandate to stop the boats. They have no mandate to make these people suffer more, in our name, for no appreciable benefit to anybody.

Muhamad Arif explores Jokowi's conflicted South China Sea policy:
Two factors have played an important role in this regard. First, the maintenance of territorial integrity is a specific focus of Jokowi’s presidency, and one he is very serious about – it was, after all, part of his campaign manifesto to guarantee the stronger presence of state in all areas of nationhood and citizenship. Hence we are witnessing the acceleration of defence modernisation and a new outward-looking approach to military deployment that sees the armed forces’ most sophisticated weapon systems deployed in the previously overlooked western area of the country. 
The hardened stance on the maintenance of territorial integrity also manifests in  the ‘sink the vessels’ policy. When Chinese fishermen and coast guard vessels intruded into Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone in the Natuna Islands, it struck right at the heart of the most fundamental guiding principle of Jokowi’s presidency. He simply could not afford to be soft. The assertive part of Indonesian policy in the South China Sea has to be understood within this context. 
Jokowi, however, cannot launch an all-out offensive against China in defence of Indonesia’s sovereign rights. Instead, he must balance national security concerns with economic ones. Like other contemporary Southeast Asian leaders, Jokowi derives his source of legitimacy largely from the country’s economic performance and development, particularly infrastructure development and the eradication of poverty. Hence he has been busy building infrastructure, developing the maritime economy and maintaining the country’s fiscal and monetary health.

Finally Nathan VanDerKlippe looks at how Vancouver's foreign buyer property tax may have soured some moods, but hasn't eliminated the fundamental attractions for Chinese who buy there:
In Beijing, the agents at Global House Buyers began advising clients last year to put their cash into Canada, as the plunging dollar made homes dramatically cheaper.Anyone who listened then is already up more than 40 per cent as a result of home price gains and a partial loonie recovery – and far more in real terms, since most buyers invest only a small fraction of the purchase price as a down payment. A 15-per-cent tax will erase some of those gains but not enough to change minds among those who have doubled and tripled their cash in a year. 
Some clients have backed out on deals, “but only a very small percentage,” said Issac Peng, a Global House Buyer agent. Others have turned their attention to Toronto — the company’s website currently features the city on its front page. But “not many,” he Peng says. Most remain sweet on Vancouver, where a 0.6-per-cent vacancy rate has convinced Mr. Peng the overheated market will not cool down soon. “The key issue is not how many houses were bought by foreign investors, but that too few houses have been built,” he said. 
Canada still compares favourably to other places, too. Australia’s economy is so closely tied to China that it’s less useful for those looking to diversify, while Australian housing markets have been so hot for so long that Mr. Peng sees “big systemic risks,” bigger than in Canada. The U.S. is currently the most popular destination for Chinese overseas home buyers, with economic growth that gives it prized stability. In Canada, however, mortgage rates are half as high, meaning investors can expect better cash flow out of a Canadian home.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Shuttling, Shifting, & Gobsmacking

Hello, I must be going...

Ilaria Maria Sala on the real likely reason Japan's Emperor wants to abdicate:

... But constitutional reforms take time in Japan maybe more so than elsewhere. And the urgency with which Akihito has been pleading for early dismissal from the heavy honour of being the official symbol of the state means that revising the constitution to allow him to step down would have to take precedence on the army’ role. 
“In terms of the constitution issue, certainly it could be a distraction from Abe’s legislative programme and committee debate on changing the constitution. Whether the emperor intended it that way is another question. Ultimately, it is impossible for Abe to railroad through parliament a proposal to greatly change or eliminate Article 9 completely. Even if Abe prioritises Article 9 revision, it will take a lot of consensus building with the ruling parties, the opposition parties, and consideration of what the public will accept. This could take quite some time and the process might even outlast Abe’s administration,” observes Wallace.

In this fashion, the pacifist emperor would have found a last minute recourse to prevent, or at least severely delay, Abe’s determination to change the constitution and unshackle the military. Some think this might be the real reason behind Akihito’s push for retirement. Others see it as a welcome side-effect of a genuine desire to step aside.

Laura Tingle on how the Nauru Files revelations are shifting Australian politics on the asylum debate:
... Labor has been cautious about delving into the issue of asylum seekers because it has felt vulnerable on the issue in the past and not wanted to appear 'soft'. But this position is shifting in light of revelations of abuse and amid outrage from the opposition over the weekend admission by former prime minister Tony Abbott that he should have supported Labor's so-called 'Malaysia solution'... 
... Labor was on a rare attack over offshore detention on Sunday with Labor frontbencher Stephen Conroy saying detention on Nauru and Manus Island would not have been necessary had the Coalition, in opposition under Tony Abbott, agreed to the Gillard government's Malaysian solution. 
In a speech in Adelaide on Friday night,  Mr Abbott said his opposition to the Malaysian solution had in hindsight been a mistake. The former prime minister said that while he doubted the scheme would have stopped the boats, letting it stand "would have been a step back from the hyper-partisanship that now poisons our public life". 
Senator Conroy told Sky News he was "absolutely gobsmacked" to read of Mr Abbott's backflip.

Yusho Cho observes emerging diplomatic flexibility from Laos, traditionally seen as China's client:
But landlocked Laos, surrounded by five countries, including China, seems to have the skills to survive the region's tugs of war. 
These skills could be seen at the ASEAN ministerial meeting, where the host managed to include this phrase in the joint communique despite China's opposition: "We further reaffirmed the need to ... pursue peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with international law." 
In the statement from the ASEAN Regional Forum's chairman, Laos stated parties should "pursue peaceful resolution of disputes ... in accordance with international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)." A senior Japanese foreign ministry official said he gives Laos full marks for its performance.

Murat Yetkin outlines the secret shuttle diplomacy facilitated by Kazakhstan to reconcile Turkey and Russia - before the recent coup attempt:
According to high-ranking diplomatic and security sources who asked not to be named, the secret diplomacy ending the Turkish-Russian crisis unfolded as follows: 
Late April, Akar told Erdoğan that there might be a channel that could be used to solve the crisis. He told Erdoğan that Cavit Çağlar, a textile investor, had business in the Russian Federal Republic of Dagestan. Çağlar used to be in politics in the 1990s, serving as a minister of state in Süleyman Demirel’s cabinets and knew the Dagestani president, Ramazan Abdulatipov, well from those times. Abdulatipov had access to Putin through his chief adviser, Yuri Ushakov. When Çağlar was a minister, Akar was the chief of the cabinet for the then-chief of General Staff, and they had known each other well since then. Çağlar had been beneficial to the state as a minister and then as a businessman before, Akar told Erdoğan. He was the channel between Ankara and Heydar Aliyev of Azerbaijan in Nakhchevan and in Baku in the mid-1990s and it was he who gave his private jet to the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) team to fly to Kenya in 1999 to arrest PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan in a joint operation with the CIA. Akar told Erdoğan in a meeting where Kalın was present that Çağlar had financial problems in 2000s and faced court for that but was reliable in state operations. After meeting with Çağlar and Akar in Istanbul on April 30, Erdoğan gave the green light for the operation.
Appointed by Erdoğan as the contact person for Turkey in relations with Ushakov for Russia, Kalın started to pen the draft of the letter from Erdoğan to Putin. Through Çağlar and Abdulatipov, shuttle diplomacy started between Ankara and Moscow, where the content and form of the letter was edited by the two parties a number of times during May and early June.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Chips on Shoulders, Cash or Credit

John Schaus, Lauren Dickey and Andrew Metrick outline the coming Submarine Shopping Spree in Asia:
Despite the long build times and complex operational requirements, Asian countries are expected to acquire over 100 submarines by 2030. In many cases, old submarines will be retired and replaced with newer, more capable vessels. Other countries are looking to either establish a new submarine force or expand their fleet. These decisions, especially taken in aggregate, suggest that the nations of the Asia-Pacific do not believe that the security and stability of their region remains on a positive trajectory. 
Looking to the future, an increase in the number of submarines will not necessarily equate to cutting-edge submarine capabilities nor will it necessarily give nations the capabilities they seek. Most SSKs lack the speed necessary to conduct aircraft carrier escort missions and lack the endurance to operate in the vast expanses of the Pacific or Indian Oceans. To understand the future role and impact of attack submarines in the Asia-Pacific, one must examine the current and future submarine forces in the region...

Htun Ang Gyaw explains how ethnic vs state politics are defining the peace process in Myanmar:
The main problem is they are making a major issue on race identity. In Shan State there are Pa'o, Wa, Palaung, Lahu, Lisu, Kachin, as well as the Shan. So people from races other than Shan want their own state. The Wa are the strongest resistance group and they want their own Wa State - so do the Pa'o, Palaung, Lahu, Lisu, etc. These kinds of demand stem from states based on ethnicity.  
Nai Han Tha said Tanintharyi and Irrawaddy divisions have many races mixed and living together and he wants those areas to be nationality based states not as one ethnic base (he indirectly means a Burman race) division. But Tanintharyi division and Irrawaddy division are names of regions not based on any race. That is the reason divisions in Myanmar have no argument about race issues. The race and identity issue has only been raised in seven states.  
The main ideology of this issue is ethnic minorities want to control Burmans, who are the country's majority race, by proposing eight states in a federal system that has seven ethnic states and one Burman state. So, when they need to make a decision, a vote of 7-1 can beat the Burmans. This idea was presented by the Shans chiefs in 1962 before the military takeover.  
This idea will be rejected outright by the Army, as well as the ruling NLD party, because over half of the population is Burman. They would never accept having one vote while the rest have seven votes; it is not a realistic solution. Also, the Shan deny being a minority. They say we are a majority in our own state and created the term "ethnic nationalities". 

Resentment from an entitled China as well as investors pissed over lost opportunities make sure that Scott Morrison's decision in the Ausgrid affair leave no one pleased. Mark Beeson:
Whatever Morrison decided to do in such circumstances would be criticised by some powerful and influential voices. A key problem is that it is difficult to demonstrate an unambiguous threat to security as a consequence of any Chinese investment, even in what looks like a “strategic” asset. Security types will always suggest that we can’t take chances and it’s better to err on the side of caution. 
Perhaps it is. But many in China will undoubtedly ask why such national interest concerns aren’t raised when the investment comes from just about anywhere else.It will be hard to present this decision as not being all-about-China. The widely held view that there is something very non-transparent and possibly sinister about the way some Chinese state-owned enterprises go about their business, especially when it involves technology and/or strategic investments has clearly carried the day. 
The question now is whether this will actually make it more difficult to reject subsequent decisions about “sensitive” investments in the agriculture sector, for example. The fact that they are sensitive primarily because the Nationals think they are, and because a weakened prime minster doesn’t want to encourage internal critics, doesn’t make them any less consequential. 
The only people enjoying all of this may be students of contemporary Australian policymaking. This decision captures in microcosm the complex reality facing Morrison and his counterparts elsewhere.

Finally, the Pax Global row offers a look at how boardroom culture in Hong Kong turns inward. Ben Kwok:
Lee’s public outburst against the analyst has shocked people in Hong Kong’s financial and investment community.  Also, the behavior is a bit ironical, given that Lee was voted the Asia’s Best CFO (Technology/ hardware) a month ago by Institutional Investor magazine. 
Corporate executives tend to have mixed, and often uneasy, relationships with analysts (also, the same case with journalists). Company owners and top managers seek cheerleaders for their firms. Analysts who are deemed sympathetic are provided access and exclusive information, while those taking a critical view could get shunned. 
Some executives take umbrage that analysts tell them how they can run the businesses better, like selling a certain non-performing asset. 
Analysts can, and do, go wrong many times in their reports and stock calls, but investors still place a lot of value on the recommendations. This is something that riles company managements and leads to frosty ties with analysts. 
Coming back to the Pax Global case, we can only speculate as to why Lee couldn’t contain his anger over Lam. But insulting of analysts is not something new in Hong Kong.