Monday, July 24, 2017

The Dutton Colossus #auspol

On the surface Malcolm Turnbull's reorganization of Australia's domestic security apparatus would appear to be a reaction to increasingly visible threats at home and abroad. This sort of consolidation has been proposed before, but has never gained traction until now. In reality it's more of a political play to keep both Left and Right on the back foot. The real changes may in fact be elsewhere, and at least one dramatic change isn't even part of the package

"The new Department of Home Affairs is unnecessary and seems to be more about politics than reform," The Conversation AU 18 July

The Home Affairs model goes against accountability norms established in wake of the 1978 Hilton bombing, weakens general legal oversight, and "risks diminishing the prospects of a clear connection between ministerial authority and ministerial responsibility."  Intelligence reforms are more sensible, but downplayed politically (link)

"UK Home Office a curious model for Malcolm Turnbull's Home Affairs Ministry," Sydney Morning Herald 19 July

The Home Office is the result of centuries of sausage-making compromise and contraction "where success constituted getting to the end of the week without being blamed for anything." Hardly a model for a country with a better chance of starting over (link)

"Why Has Malcolm Turnbull Made Peter Dutton The Most Powerful Minister In Australia?" JUNKEE 20 July

The Prime Minister was never enthusiastic about the idea. Neither are most of his ministers. But then he realized it's an effective way to hand an emerging rival a sop, rob a more established one (plus those further on the Right) of a platform, and prevent the Opposition from opposing him without appearing unpatriotic (link

"Intelligence review: design for a secure home," The Australian, 22 July

Far more effective reforms could be a result of this year's Independent Intelligence Review report, which was overshadowed by the Cabinet shuffle. The "increasing interconnection of international and domestic security risks" needs more than just political maneuvering (link)

Monday, July 17, 2017

#Indonesia & The Predicament of #Pancasila in Combating Extremism #Jokowi

"Jokowi's Diplomacy," Jakarta Post, 12 July

Widodo's growing global profile is accompanied by the emergence of an Indo-Pacific Theater of the War on Terror (link)

"Crackdown on hardline Islamists ‘repressive’ – rights activists," Asian Correspondent, 13 July

Ban on extremist groups draws ire of both conservative and rights organizations (link)

'Security minister fiercely defends decree allowing unilateral disbandment of radical organizations, saying it’s needed to save Indonesia," Coconuts Jakarta, 13 July

Wiranto invokes goals of Pancasila, Indonesia's unifying state ideology, to justify ban (link)

"Indonesia in number two on worldwide list of foreign Islamic State jihadists arrested in Turkey,", 14 July

Almost 10% of Daesh fighters detained in Turkey come from Indonesia, making the country the second biggest farm team for the group, next to Russia. Australia is worried (link)

"Indonesia’s new law to ban extreme groups may backfire: Experts," TODAY, 14 July

Conservative Islam is also one of the pillars of Pancasila and Indonesian society generally. As such, ban on extremist groups may spur a backlash (link)

"Jokowi's new decree is only partly about curbing Islamist groups," Crikey, 14 July

The ban also represents a move by Jokowi to turn the principles of Pancasila against the neo-Suhartoists who want to see him fall, and spurred Ahok protests (link)

Monday, July 10, 2017

Paper Tiger Mountain: The Standoff in #Sikkim

China may not have the footing to achieve the leverage they want over India

(All reports from 7 July)

"Doklam Standoff: Why China is trying to teach India a lesson," DailyO

India's resistance to CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) provokes China into making a consolidating show of force in the Himalayas; best for New Dehli not to take the bait

"China Plays With History, Cites Old British Treaty Days After It Dumped Another," Defence Aviation Post

Disregard of Hongkong treaty makes invocation of (much) earlier Sikkim pact seem not exactly cricket

"Big trouble in little Bhutan," Dhaka Tribune

By precipitating Sikkim confrontation, China is trying to leverage India's Kashmir troubles

"Why China will mend ways to defuse border tension and not boast of 1962," India Today

Past confrontations, balance of trade, and regional expectations show it's likely China will back down

Monday, July 03, 2017

Kasumigaseki Quakes: What the #Koike Victory Means #Tokyoelection

Original photo K. Nagashima, Asahi

"Japan PM's party suffers historic defeat in Tokyo poll, popular governor wins big," Reuters 2-3 July

Ishiba, likely beneficiary, says result more about Abe than Koike, who was able to pull Komeito away from traditional LDP coalition (link)

"Japan's ruling LDP hammered in Tokyo elections, as voters flock to new force,"
Straits Times, 2-3 July

School scandals, tobacco lobby, government overreach fuel vote (link)

"Despite vague platform, Tomin First outshining status quo in Tokyo, " Japan Times, 2 July

“It’s not like I support the party. There was no choice other than that” (link)

"Damage control vital for Abe after Tokyo assembly defeat," Nikkei, 3 July

One response could be an earlier Diet election to limit damage - constitutional reform at stake if LDP does poorly (link)

"LDP execs say it's fault of media for party's election battle," Asahi Shimbun, 1 July

Gaffe-prone Abe lieutenants blame the messenger, as usual (link)

Monday, June 26, 2017

Nothing Beside Remains: The #Hongkong SAR at 20 #hongkong_news

The Hongkong Special Administrative Region turns 20 this week. The anniversary will also mark Chinese leader Xi Jinping's first official visit to the territory, the installment of a new Chief Executive, and the further alienation of future generations

"Reasons to fret about Hong Kong’s post-2047 future," Breakingviews, 23 June

While 2017 is a milestone, 2047 is the real deadline for normalizing the Special Administrative Region with the rest of China. Growing friction between existing economic institutions and China's greater freedom of action will present the most risk (link)

"Hong Kong SAR at 20: Challenges ahead," The Straits Times, 24 June 

Growing inequality and post-colonial corruption compound Beijing's heavy-handedness to make things harder for everyone (link)

"Beijing cannot wish away the growing sense of hopelessness in Hong Kong,"  South China Morning Post, 25 June 

Futile as it may be, agitation for independence will continue unless Beijing directly addresses actions which alienate Hongkongers (link)

"Beijing's restraint with Hong Kong's rule of law has expired, says law professor," Hong Kong Free Press, 25 June 

The framers of Hongkong's Basic Law failed to anticipate tensions with Beijing, setting the stage for erosion of authority early on (link)

Monday, June 19, 2017

Bleak House: #Singapore 's First Family Tensions Highlight National Worries #LKY

“I’ve seen other houses, Nehru’s, Shakespeare’s. They become a shambles after a while. People trudge through. Because of my house the neighbouring houses cannot build high. Now demolish my house and change the planning rules, go up, the land value will go up,” he said. (link)

The dispute between Lee Kuan Yew's children may be a metaphor for Singapore's general unease in a changed world

"Bitter Squabble Surfaces Among Singapore’s Lee Family," Asia Sentinel, 14 June 
How Lee Hsien Loong deals with this crisis will determine public confidence in his leadership (link)

"Is the First Family Finally Waking from Singapore’s Orwellian Nightmare?" The News Lens, 15 June Restiveness over creeping press controls had never been an issue for family, until now (link)

"Open official inquiry to clear up all doubts on Lee family saga?" The Online Citizen, 15 June A public inquiry into the affair may serve multiple purposes, including reform of press controls (link)

It should be noted that this affair has actually been brewing for a while now (link to previous coverage). It is just one of a number of problems facing Singapore; some of those, such as the stagnant labor market and the increasing danger of being turfed out of their own markets by China, will still be there after this one is forgotten.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Latest Analysis on #SouthChinaSea You May Not Have Read Yet


For Australia, the South China Sea is a sideshow to Chinese encroachment in Southeast Asia. Canberra has four paths to response, none of which are easy


UN Sustainable Development Goals may be the fulcrum for easing tension, undoing resource damage in the region


Necessity of South China Sea to support expanding PLA(Navy) size and capabilities is the chicken-or-egg paradox of the issue


Multiple theaters, the legacies of the Western Pacific Peace, and China's continuing blue-water capability deficits are just some examples of why the Peloponnesian Paradigm simply doesn't apply to the Indo-Pacific


"Going overboard" on formally declared operations may actually undermine the goal of maintaining routine freedom of navigation

Monday, June 05, 2017

Lost Horizon, The Sequel: Point-To-Point Navigation

Hands Finding hands. Original photo via AFP

Absent and Absent-Minded Adults at the Shangri-La Dialogue Mean the Older Siblings Have To Take Over. At Least Marawi Got Their Attention

"US allies in Asia dismayed by ‘America First’," Financial Times, 4 June 

Ben Schreer, an Asia expert at Macquarie University in Sydney, said: “America First is incompatible with a leadership model that allies and partners can follow.” “If the United States, the president, continues to primarily see [relationships with] allies as transactional, that’s going to put stress on these relationships.” After Mr Mattis addressed the forum, he was asked by a security expert whether the world faced the “destruction” of the global order the US has traditionally maintained. “Bear with us, once we’ve exhausted all possible alternatives, the Americans will do the right thing,” Mr Mattis said in response.

"Malcolm Turnbull on Asia’s times and Trump’s Hunger Games,"ASPI Strategist 3 June

Australia’s Prime Minister has given a big Asia speech that attacked China directly while aiming indirect attacks at Donald Trump’s world view. 
Malcolm Turnbull didn’t say one critical word about Trump. Instead, Turnbull dumped implicit acid on US policies, while only twice mentioning Trump (relatively positively) by name. 
The problem for Turnbull’s Singapore oration was that all big foreign policy speeches are hostage to the times and the troubles. And Turnbull’s Asia moment was ambushed by Trump’s context.

"Japan defence minister Tomomi Inada echoes calls for rules-based international order in salvo against China," Straits Times 3 June

Speaking at the annual Shangri-La Dialogue, Ms Inada repeated what has turned into the annual high-level security forum's buzz phrase this year: rules-based order. 
"Now is the protect the rules-based order," Ms Inada told Asia-Pacific defence and security leaders gathered at the Shangri-La Hotel. 
She called for nations to build an "inclusive world" in which "all countries are equal before rules" and there are "shared expectations on how other countries conduct themselves without fear of intimidation".

"The Truth About Trump's Asia Commitment Problem," The Diplomat, 1 June the extent that uncertainties remain with respect to U.S. commitment to the region under Trump, they are largely not on the Pentagon’s end, which makes the search for reassurance in Mattis’s speech even more curious. In fact, the defense side has arguably witnessed the most continuity of the various aspects of U.S. policy when you look at metrics such as the expansion of U.S. exercises, even though they often go unnoticed (See: “US, Singapore, and Thailand Launch First Trilateral Exercise in the South China Sea”). 
Indeed, beyond this point, which Mattis will likely touch on in his speech, Trump’s commitments to a more robust defense budget and to end sequestration, if they are followed through on, could also help alleviate anxieties about U.S. staying power. Though forecasts of U.S. decline are vastly overstated – as they have been nearly once every past decade or two – the fiscal irresponsibility and political dysfunction in Washington have nonetheless fed into perceptions about the unsustainability of America’s long-term military power. 
The real issue for Asia policy is how the Trump White House will employ American military power and balance it with other instruments of statecraft with respect to various areas, which are both beyond Mattis’s direct control.

"Asian nations band together to hedge against China threat," Reuters, 5 June 

Regional officials said they were worried by US President Donald Trump’s unpredictability and concerned that his warm praise of Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) after their first summit meeting in April would influence decisions on Asia. 
“We trust Mattis and we trust [US Pacific Commander Admiral Harry] Harris but at the very top? The trust gap is very wide,” one senior Asian military officer said. “Our fear is driven by the reality that it is only the US that is powerful enough to set red lines with China.”

"Respect to India for maintaining stable security in Indian Ocean: US Defence Secy," The Asian Age, 4 June

"For example, we recognise India, the most populous democracy in the world, as a major defence partner. We did so in part out of respect for India's indispensable role in maintaining stability in the Indian Ocean region," he said according to a Defence Department transcript.
Mattis called upon all countries to contribute sufficiently to their own security.
"At the same time, we encourage them to actively seek out opportunities and partnerships with other like-minded nations as we do the same to sustain and maintain peace. We will continue to engage closely with our partners, building on recent progress," he said.

"No ministerial participation from India at the Shangri-La Dialogue," Times of India, 2 June

All this has invited criticism from certain quarters that India does not give adequate importance to military diplomacy in the Asia-Pacific region, especially since SLD is a "Track-1" security forum that allows world leaders to discuss and fashion policy. "India should ensure ministerial participation at the SLD on a regular basis," said an expert.

"Why China sent a lower-ranking delegation to Singapore security summit this year," South China Morning Post 2 June

“Chinese military reform is at a critical juncture. The PLA’s four general headquarters will be reorganised into 15 units. Military officials are busy working now to ensure a better operational start when the reforms are over. So it’s not surprising that there’s no high-ranking official to attend the Shangri-La Dialogue.” 
Another source close to the military said the upcoming Communist Party Congress in Beijing this autumn was another reason China had sent a lower-ranking group to the forum. The enclave will oversee changes to China’s top leadership. 
China’s Singapore delegation is led by Lieutenant General He Lei, vice-president of the PLA Academy of Military Science. He will not give a keynote speech, but will speak during a session on security cooperation, according to an agenda released by forum organisers.
Meanwhile, the People’s Liberation Army has promised to send a higher ranking delegation to the summit next year.

"Singapore must play its part in the war against terror: Ng Eng Hen," TODAY, 4 June

“They (the militants) will start attacking Kuala Lumpur, they will start attacking Singapore, and they will start attacking Jakarta. They won’t just limit themselves to the Philippines and Mindanao,” he added, referring to the ongoing battle in the southern Philippines between government forces and terrorists aligned with the Islamic State (IS) who are attempting to take over Marawi City. 
Dr Ng said this was one of the reasons Singapore had contributed to an international coalition against IS in the Middle East, even though the problem is “far away”.

“If we don’t disrupt this sooner or later, and often sooner, Singaporeans here will be at risk,” he said.
The Republic has renewed its offer to Manila in terms of intelligence sharing and other areas to tackle the crisis in Mindanao.

"Joint patrols off Mindanao to fight militants – Malaysia," Borneo Post 4 June

“If you talk about Sulu Straits (it) … would involve Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines,” Hishammuddin told delegates to Shangri-La Dialogue, an annual security summit. “So within Asean, we decided at least these three countries, to avoid being accused of doing nothing, the three of us took the initiative to have the joint patrol… initiatives in the Sulu Straits,” he added, referring to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. 

Monday, May 29, 2017

Manchester and Marawi

As we mark the anniversary of the Battle of Tsushima,  we may be witnessing an yet another battle with similar consequences for the balance of power in the Pacific. That battle is going on as we speak on Mindanao, where a government attempt to arrest a senior member of Abu Sayyaf has now become a protracted battle in the global war between established governments and the Islamic State.

As a global semiotic and political franchise, the Islamic State manifests in different forms according to what is possible. In Manchester, it's taken on the form of classic terrorism, but in an even more dramatic and lethal way. In Mindanao, Islamic State has manifested itself as part of a classic "Foco" insurgency, similar to those waged in Latin America in the closing decades of the last century.  In Southeast Asia,  the growth of Islamic State will likely be fueled by the same factors which have driven classic guerrilla war: the appropriation of popular reaction to poverty and repression as pretext to effect regime change.

"'Foreigners among fighters' who seized Mindanao city," Straits Times 27 May 2017
"There are... Malaysians, Singaporeans… in the fight that has been ongoing in Marawi. We are continuously verifying that there have been a number of them who have been killed," military spokesman Restituto Padilla said at a news conference here."

"ISIS not a figment of the President's imagination," Manila Times, 28 May 2017 
According to a report by Agence France-Presse, a security expert discussed extensively the creation of a militant base in Mindanao. “Currently, IS is moving towards creating a territory in southern Philippines. The most recent communication issued by IS has announced that they have formally declared an East Asia division of IS in the southern Philippines,” counter-terrorism analyst Rohan Gunaratna said. 
“The instability in the southern Philippines and the availability of weapons, internal displacement, refugee flows … create the ripe conditions for foreign terrorists to come,” he told AFP after his speech.

"Urban warfare still a challenge for soldiers in Marawi," Rappler 27 May 2017
“We are in total control of the whole area but it’s not cleared due to the urban terrain,” Año told reporters at the sidelines of the visit of President Rodrigo Duterte to the Philippine Army’s 2nd Mechanized Battalion headquarters in Barangay Maria Cristina late Friday afternoon. 
“We have to clear one step at a time, house to house, block by block,” added Año, who placed the number of Maute Group members occupying some structures and houses in Marawi at less than 100. 
He said soldiers use simple tactics in operating in a rural setting which cannot be applied to a city battle. “Here (Marawi) all it takes is for an armed person to position himself inside a building….It would take time before it could be cleared," Año said. 
To fast-track the clearing operations of the military, Año said more soldiers have been deployed to Marawi, but did not say how many.

'Marawi, martial law and the 2-track strategy," 29 May 2017
When Rodrigo Duterte became President, ... he adopted a two-track approach. He continued the existing peace processes, mainly in preparation for a new autonomous Bangsamoro region, one part of a possibly federal Philippines. He also gave marching orders to escalate the war against terrorists, above all the Abu Sayyaf.  
This two-track approach reflects a dual understanding of the situation: first, that there are legitimate entities fighting for  himethnonationalist aspirations and, second, that there are peace spoilers or criminal gangs using the mask of global terrorism to increase their “fear factor.” For the latter, he has made use of intensified military operations. 
But will this approach work? 
“From Hunger to Anger” tells us that for as long as the Philippines, especially Mindanao, remains “peripheral regions devoid of employment-generating and high-value-added industries … endemic poverty and economic underdevelopment will persist in the region.” Repeating the well-known wisdom, disenfranchised segments of the population who cannot access basic social services and decent economic opportunities will always be ripe for recruitment.

"Violence to worsen poverty in Lanao del Sur -experts," Business Mirror, 28 May 2017
Lanao del Sur, based on the 2015 Poverty Statistics, is the poorest province nationwide with a poverty incidence rate of 71.9 percent in 2015. This means that 7 out of 10 residents of the province are poor. 
The province’s capital city, Marawi, had a poverty incidence rate of 60 percent, based on the Philippine Statistics Authority’s (PSA) Small Area Estimates in 2012. “Poverty depends on income and livelihood,” Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) senior research fellowJose Ramon G. Albert said. “Livelihood ultimately depends on peace, law and order, and a good investment climate.”

Monday, May 22, 2017

One Belt, Many Yokes


China's "New Silk Road," as exemplified in the One Belt One Road (OBOR) and China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) initiatives, is being sold to the world community as a leveraging of partnerships for a common good. Unfortunately, it increasingly looks like what's really being leveraged are the partners themselves

"CPEC is China's Plan To Make Pakistan A Client State, But The Latter Will Pay For The Privilege," R Jagannathan, Swarajya, 15 May 2017

Leak of a key CPEC document reveals agenda to embed Chinese influence and power in Pakistan while encumbering the nation in debt

Moreover: CPEC driving repression in Balochistan, Kashmir: Business Standard, Jammu Scoopnews

"China's OBOR Vision: No Development Masterpiece," Salman Sheikh, Asia Sentinel, 19 May 2017

Debt-driven projects such as China-Laos Railway, Indonesia light rail, are typical OBOR incentives

"Malaysia's balancing act between Asean and Beijing," Leslie Lopez, Straits Times, 19 May 2017

Infrastructure projects in Malaysia linked to Maritime Silk Road aimed at bolstering China hegemony in South China Sea, influence over Malacca Strait; 1MDB bailout a prime incentive

Furthermore: Mushrooming public debt in Central Asian countries have already paved the way for the western links of the New Silk Road:; Asia Times

Finally: "Chinese taxpayers have most to fear on Silk Road," NASDAQ Breakingviews, 16 May 2017

OBOR likely to foment domestic credit crunch in China, just as economic growth has stalled