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.

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