Saturday, April 07, 2018

More On Beijing's Fitzcarraldo Complex


It really must be Throwback Thursday if they're all talking about the Kra Canal again


Thailand’s Kra Canal: China’s Way Around the Malacca Strait | The Diplomat (6 April): A summary of the history of the idea and its current context within China's Belt & Road Initiative. While the canal can solve Beijing's "Malacca Dilemma," it could create bigger ones for Bangkok

Fears rise in India as China pushes plan for canal to reshape Indian Ocean | Business Standard News (6 April): India's Navy is, shall we say, concerned. As of now the Malacca Dilemma prevents China from having a sustainable military presence in the Indian Ocean. A Kra Canal would drastically change that, and substantially reduce the effectiveness of the Himalayan buffer in any military confrontation between India and China

Thailand's Kra Canal project is China's masterplan to secure Beijing's interests, assert influence in ASEAN, Indian Ocean Region - Firstpost (6 April): A look at the costs and potential economic gains from the project for Thailand reveal a likely sucker's bet. Robbing business from neighbors will make for sour relations, and both tourism business and internal stability in the Isthmus will be negatively impacted. The primary benefits of the project are geopolitical (for Beijing), not economic (for anyone, really) 

Mixed reactions to Kra Canal project - The Nation (Thailand) (25 March): Business and government elites continue to debate the project. Some ex-generals seem to love it, while admirals don't. Meanwhile, “Prayut told me that the right time has yet to come”

The Oil Canal That May Never Be | OilPrice.com (15 March): While support for the project is growing, a look at the potential raw numbers show that any profit would be a long way off. 



Monday, March 05, 2018

Freedom of Action


As #XiJinping moves to complete his consolidation of the Chinese State, the most "Critical Battle" may be for legitimacy


Xi Jinping's unsettling approach to governing modern China - Channel NewsAsia: Xi's move to end term limits is but the latest step in a series of measures to transform the Chinese political system, moving away from the consensus-based leadership model adopted after the Cultural Revolution. It will also make understanding what is going on inside the power structure much more difficult

Can China avoid sliding back into strongman politics as Xi Jinping reshapes charter in his own image? | South China Morning Post: While the Core Leader will have more freedom to achieve long-needed policy reforms aimed at debt and corruption, it also increases risks for Xi himself: “If power is highly concentrated in one person’s hands over the long term, then any time serious problems arise, as for example from the slowdown of the economy which is likely in the next few years, then the one person will have to accept responsibility for everything”

Fear-mongering over Xi's term-limit removal | Asia Times: Western apprehension over the change is misguided as it's aimed at strengthening Xi's ability to better effect domestic reforms. 'Xi has had some success combating corruption, reducing poverty and pushing back US “threats,” and thus is seen as the leader who could effectively navigate the difficult problems facing China in the years ahead. Corruption, though reduced, is still rampant. The demographic issue created by the one-child policy threatens to undermine economic growth. Improving the environment and structural supply reform (reducing industrial overcapacity) are easier said than done because of resistance by local governments and state-owned enterprises'

Xi Jinping and the grip of the party - Lowy Interpreter: More than anything else, the move removes the division of labor between the Chinese Communist Party and government bureaucracy, further undoing the Deng legacy. Whether the new model works as well as the old remains to be seen. "Under Xi, his critics complain, the technocratic expertise in the bureaucracy has often been sidelined in favour the diktats of the central party command. Quite apart from the threat of a dictatorship re-emerging in China, Xi’s critics see this latest decision has chipping away further at the ability to make policy free of crude politics"

Monday, February 19, 2018

Vanaajube's Teapot: More Trouble in the #Maldives



After a previous flare-up in late 2015/early 2016, New Delhi has again been called to intervene to save the Maldives from mercenary proxies. A different regional context suggests caution


In the latest bad news, the Yameen government has started to round up people, arresting 25 persons without charge under a state of emergency that was declared earlier this month, after the Supreme Court ordered the release of nine opposition figures. Protests across the archipelago have attracted thousands, while former president Mohamed Nasheed, ousted by the current government in a 2012 coup as a bitter reward for bringing global attention to the special plight the nation faces from climate change, has appealed for outside help. Nasheed contends that the Yameen regime's impunity is not the only problem – they have also made the country vulnerable to becoming a base for terrorism, as well as falling victim to China's "debt trap" exploitation under their neo-mercantilist Maritime Silk Road initiative.  The crisis is slamming the brakes on the country's substantial tourism income.

The Maldives' traditional savior has been India. The last time New Delhi had to intervene was in 1988, during a coup which in many ways had peripheral connections to the ongoing civil war in Sri Lanka. The government that India saved, the longtime technocratic plutocracy of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, was succeeded by Nasheed in 2008, in the nation's first open vote in 30 years. Resentful over the loss of their sinecures, associates of Gayoom led the coup in 2012. And while Gayoom maintained a level of allegiance to New Delhi, and preceded Nasheed in calling for sustainability, his associates have not been so faithful. 

Maldives in crisis: Beijing faces tough choices | Maldives | Al Jazeera:  China's economic connections to the islands have been deepening since 2011, a prologue to their becoming yet another link in the Maritime Silk Road's String of Pearls.  As such, the current unrest puts Beijing on the spot: do they support a crackdown, thus reinforcing the region's anxieties about the true character of  The Belt And Road Initiative, or do they show restraint and risk losing the confidence of more willing (and generally authoritarian) partners?

'China factor' deters India from Maldives intervention - The National:  In the new context, the current crisis represents another friction point between New Delhi and Beijing. Both sides continue to maneuver around tensions in the  Himalayas over the recent Doklam dispute.  Is it really time to open up another front?

Navigating the Maldives crisis - Deccan Chronicle:  A military option for New Delhi is probably off the table. India has to portray themselves as the "good guy" working in support of a rules-based order. Soft Power represents an opportunity for effecting a positive solution, especially since the Maldives is very dependent upon tourism from regional neighbors.

The Maldives Crisis: What Is At Stake For China And India? - Swarajya:  Beijing's position on the crisis has been evolving.  Early on they made calls for regional neighbors to respect the Maldives sovereignty and stay out of the crisis; now, they're offering to step in and mediate themselves.  Meanwhile, New Delhi views the situation from a perspective based on the Doklam experience. While their answer will probably fall short of military intervention,  it will still be an assertive one, and draw a distinct line that Beijing should not cross.










Friday, February 02, 2018

#Bangladesh as Rising Star in The #Jihadi Franchise


The Rohingya crisis, Global Takfiri retrenchment, and political legacies of Bangladesh's Liberation War all play a part in the nation's emerging status as a terror exporter


Bangladesh: Relentless Response – Analysis – Eurasia Review: This unabashedly pro-government view, while praising counterinsurgency efforts post-Dhaka, nevertheless concedes the the insurgency continues to adapt with changing tactics, technology, and message, particularly capitalizing on the Rohingya plight

The jihadist threat from Bangladesh is real and growing - ThePrint: the neoconservative view through an Indian lens - both diaspora and domestic controls are factors in militants taking home grievances beyond foreign borders

Political Islam and Islamist Terrorism in Bangladesh: What You Need to Know - Lawfare: Christine Fair explains that despite Western perceptions, Bangladesh has been from its beginnings shackled to a bitter and often violent political struggle between a post-Marxist establishment and an Islamist opposition, expressing itself in a series of military coups,  and growing corruption and impunity. In other words, the seeds of insurgency have always been there; we just haven't noticed them before

Bangladesh’s New Generation of Militants | The Diplomat: Islamist insurgency in Bangladesh has steadily evolved towards transnationalism since the 2000s. Now with the ascendancy of Daesh, there is an increasing tactical focus on martyrdom

Previous coverage of Bangladesh:


Bangladesh - A Power Vacuum Abhors Peace | Indo-Pacific Monitor:

#DhakaAttack: #Daesh Extends Franchise to Established Terror | Indo-Pacific Monitor:

Monday, January 22, 2018

The Hoover Maneuver: Codependency and the Inter-Korea Talks #korea #unification

Together Again For Another Wild Ride?


Hoovering: 1. v. To vacuum a floor or rug; 2. v. Being manipulated back into a relationship with threats of suicide, self-harm, or threats of false criminal accusations. Relationship manipulation often associated with individuals suffering from personality disorders like Borderline Personality Disorder or Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Pyongyang plays Seoul's heartstrings with yet another Olympic romance. Can it be real this time? Friends and family offer little hope


The challenge of turning inter-Korean thaw into longer-term detente - Channel NewsAsia: If it's real, it's going be hard going. The North has already balked at mention of her nuclear program, threatening to walk. Washington's stridency isn't helping as the South endures a painful deja vu: "There are few signs to suggest that this time is any different, but it is still too soon to tell"

China’s agenda behind inter-Korean talks - Lowy Interpreter: Beijing, at least on the surface, is more optimistic about reconciliation. They've actually been facilitating a Track Two of sorts between the Koreas for a while now. China has three goals in overseeing this latest round of family therapy: bolstering support for a "double suspension" of Northern Nukes and US-Southern military exercises; reasserting leverage over Kim; and keeping Washington on the back foot

Will talks lead to US negotiations with NKorea? - The Manila Times Online: Frank Ching points out how all roads lead to Pyongyang; they've set the rules. They've succeeded in getting US-led defense exercises postponed, and they want them eliminated. Until that happens, the door remains closed to Washington. It's up to Moon to make Kim see the Big Picture

What Experts Think of the Inter-Korea Talks | The Diplomat: Christopher Green, Van Jackson, Tim Shorrock, and Harry Sa walk into a bar and discuss the latest Joseon household drama. Only one of them holds out hope








Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Japan - China Relations: The Infinite Hedge


The emerging picture of the United States as a weak link in Asia may have helped resurrect Shinzo Abe's Indo-Pacific Quad, but bandwagons still need to be balanced


Is Japan Ready for the Quad? Opportunities and Challenges for Tokyo in a Changing Indo-Pacific [War on the Rocks]: Several political and diplomatic obstacles remain in the way of Kasumigaseki's full commitment to the four-party conference, apart from a flailing Washington. This includes continuing domestic opposition to expanding the scope of the SDF, effects of Beijing pushback, and the question of who picks up the slack if the US can't or won't reassert herself

Japan, China to mend ties on tenuous foundation in 2018[Kyodo]: Much like India, Japan still has to balance economic ties with China with strategic imperatives. Both Abe and Xi have solid enough domestic support to work on strengthening the former with initiatives like joint Belt and Road projects. History is becoming less likely to force the latter, but there are still more than enough present concerns, not the least being North Korea

Stop pleading for Xi to visit Japan [Japan Times]: This year marks the 40th year of formal peace between China and Japan, making outreach a softer sell at home for Xi. Meanwhile, domestic politics drive Abe's pivot. Xi has more time on his side

Can Tokyo traverse 2018’s geopolitical tightrope between Beijing and Taipei? [South China Morning Post]: Will the promise of Panda Bonds force the abandonment of an already well-developed relationship with Taiwan?

Japan’s Abe ‘keeping enemies close’ by offering joint Africa development projects to China [South China Morning Post]: Preserving opportunities in Africa's Growth Ring are another motivation for rapprochement

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Better to Be a Dog in Days of Peace: a Look at 2018


(links to original articles in red)

Overviews

Chinese politics, North Korea: the economic dark clouds to watch for in 2018 - South China Morning Post: Talks with Kim regime going pear-shaped, blowback from Chinese pressure on foreign firms, challenges to Indian economic modernization, structural reforms in Japan, and Najib wearing out his welcome in Kuala Lumpur are the issues with major economic impacts as outlined by a report by consultancy Control Risks

Which way for US foreign policy in 2018? Don’t look to Trump’s national security strategy for answers - South China Morning Post: The NSS reflects the White House ambivalence toward Beijing and Moscow and keeping the blinders on when dealing with North Korea. Lip service to quadrilateral cooperation simply isn't enough


China and Japan

China: 7 big things to watch in 2018 - Axios: Bill Bishop says it's all about the CPC's reassertion of power - military, sharp diplomacy, and trade abroad, and consolidation of social control at home

Politicking over and team in place, 2018 is when China’s Xi has to deliver on reforms - South China Morning Post: 2017 was a successful year for Xi Jinping. He's consolidated power and gained China a greater global profile. Now he has to deliver on expectations at home - reducing economic uncertainty, inequality, and pollution. Good Luck With That

China’s Belt and Road Initiative Faces New Security Challenges in 2018 - The Diplomat: BRI remains a primary tool for Xi to meet those economic expectations at home. It, and particularly CPEC,  face major challenges from terrorism and the manifold political problems in South and Central Asia

‘New start’ to China-Japan ties faces big obstacles in 2018 - Asia Times
: Shinzo Abe wants to strengthen economic ties, but sovereignty issues will provide inevitable obstacles

Japan's defense buildup to come under scrutiny in 2018 - Japan Today: North Korea crisis spurs exploration of deep strike capabilities, already a sore point with both opposition parties and certain neighbors

'Kurodanomics' is 2018's biggest question mark - The Japan Times: The Bank of Japan will likely keep its foot on Japan's economic gas pedal, in the hope that the Abe government will see that the rapidly approaching light at the end of the tunnel is structural reform

South Asia

India-US ties: 2017 was ‘Kabhi khushi, kabhi gam’. How will 2018 pan out? - Hindustan Times: The honeymoon will likely be over as immigration, trade, and Pakistan land on the table

India-China relations: Can't change India's mentality on OBOR, but doors of cooperation open: Chinese media Times of India: After Doklam, and realising that CPEC can't work without Indian quiescence, Beijing will offer a Thousand Flowers in 2018. Okay, so we'll have peace in the Mountains; but what about the Sea?

Pakistan awaits a political transition - GulfNews.com: Despite having put himself over a barrel, Nawaz Sharif isn't going away. The "Game Changing" CPEC and other purported economic successes are unraveling. Coming elections will likely be characterized by public disenchantment with the political class, leading to wins by populists like Imran Khan or the military

Elections Might Make Things Worse for Afghanistan - The Diplomat: Past elections have led to less stability and more corruption. Unless genuine efforts at restoring public confidence are accomplished first, it will be more of the same

Myanmar’s 2018 foreign policy outlook | The Myanmar Times: Balancing China and India will be difficult. But at least both want to help sweep the Rohingya crisis under the rug

Into uncharted waters - The Kathmandu Post: Nepal faces many challenges, not the least of which are ethnic divisions and economic pressure from the Belt and Road

Korea

Will there be a war on the Korean Peninsula in 2018? - Nikkei Asian Review: If Kim pulls an atmospheric test, James Stavridis says You Betcha

North Korea in 2018: Kim Jong-un may shoot missile horizontally - news.com.au: A more likely scenario will be another missile test - this time to demonstrate terrestrial range

[Editorial] Still hopeful - Korea Herald: South Korea continues to face strong regionally-based political divisions which will likely express themselves in June local elections. Moon will need to grow further into his job and lighten up on the payback

The 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang might have a new problem — it's too cold for everyone

Southeast Asia

Events in Southeast Asia to Watch in 2018 | Council on Foreign Relations: Populism is on the march. Human Rights are in retreat. The Rohingya crisis, Daesh, and an equivocating Singapore as Asean chair are are just a few of the issues to deal with

2018 will be ′dangerous′ for the Philippines - DW: "Duterte has succeeded in making people believe that human rights are Western values and we have seen human rights and civil liberties pushed over the line." Is a Revolutionary Dictatorship in the offing? Will Maute regroup? Will capital fly out the window? Take a guess

Do or die battle for Najib and BN in ‘father of all elections' - TODAYOnline: It increasingly looks like Malaysia's ruling clique has taken clientelism too far for the public's taste. UMNO will likely win the election, but lose legitimacy

Prospects for improved Asean security in 2018 grim - Free Malaysia Today: A two-or-more-front counterinsurgency in Mindanao, with old faces and new, means the theater will become an Islamist Whack-A-Mole game

Australia

2018 is shaping as a danger year in the Asia-Pacific - The Australian: Despite acknowledging risks from North Korea and China's Pacific expansion, Australia should continue to balance economic ties with China and security ties with US - As usual, the view from Murdoch is to stay where the money is. He might want to look to Japan to see how well that goes

What to expect from Australian politics in 2018 - The New Daily: Everything is ace, right? Not really. The Coalition and Labour will both likely see more stumbles in 2018. Abbott and other figures on the Right will continue to stalk the government, the Greens will continue to stalk Shorten, and infighting will continue to hobble both sides. If the new budget forces Turnbull to renege on promised income tax cuts, expect an election

Parliament's citizenship saga looks set to drag into 2018 - AusBC News:What started out as a novel way to undermine the other side has taken on a life of its own. It's not going away. If the Bogan constituency can be distracted, perhaps an amendment is in order?

Some economic uncertainty, possible political turbulence for Australia in 2018, Australia/NZ News & Top Stories - The Straits Times: The country's economic winning streak is being tempered by slow wage growth, high prices and China's own slowdown. Inequality is set to become a major political issue

New Zealand and Pacific

Can New Zealand’s unlikely coalition deliver in 2018? - East Asia Forum: Inexperience, lack of policy compatibility and legitimacy in the eyes of the public tend toward gridlock ruling the day in Wellington. Economic issues will hopefully provide common ground

Pacific News Projections for 2018: Decolonization - Hawaii Public Radio: While New Caledonia is set for a referendum on independence this coming year, loyalty to the metropole will likely rule. Restiveness over sovereignty will also be an issue in US possessions. The struggle in West Papua will also gain a higher profile







Sunday, December 10, 2017

#SouthChinaSea : Working with what you got


China's increasing presence in the South China Sea has become the new normal. Now the focus, on all sides, is on keeping a sustainable foothold

[Titles in red are clickable links to articles]

ANI Analysis: All Calm In the South China Sea?: Some takeaways from the Bloomberg/Chatham House seminar at Lingan University in Hongkong on 1 December: next steps for Beijing likely include pressurizing other claimants for joint development, which may explain why she is willing to work with Asean on a region Code of Conduct. The question is how the Code, if it materializes, will affect future behavior [4 Dec]

SOUTH CHINA SEA | PH envoy sees no Chinese withdrawal from Scarborough despite improved relations with Beijing | InterAksyon: Duterte's overtures to China are unlikely to quickly bear fruit with regard to Scarborough Shoal. But they may offer a foundation for a new approach by Manila to maintain a presence there [5 Dec]

South China Sea Militarization: Fighters in the Paracels and Combat Logistics | The Diplomat: The military footprint in the Paracels is growing, as is US/Allied concern about it. Beijing is learning that they have concerns as well, though more practical ones: how to sustain such a far-flung outpost, and the limits to what can be based there [6 Dec]

Murky problem in the South China Sea - Nation | The Star Online: Part of any tangible cooperation between Beijing and Asean will have to deal with food security. The Code of Conduct will have to tackle illegal and unsustainable fishing, already a major problem in the area. Can China, let alone other parties, be held accountable? [10 Dec]


Tuesday, December 05, 2017

#DPRK: Can We Talk?



North Korea's newest ICBM test was accompanied by what some observers called signals of a willingness to talk with the goal of ending the current crisis. Belligerent posturing on both sides has made it harder to divine the if, wheres, and hows of coming back to the table, but it must be done

“What took North Korea so long?” The Atlantic, 28 November It's highly unlikely that the DPRK's two-month silence was a diplomatic signal; the Kim regime has no interest in denuclearization under any circumstances. Historical patterns show the real reason for the pause between tests was most likely procedural. If they are willing to talk now, it's only because they've become confident in the development of their own capable nuclear deterrent as a balance against the US. If that's true, the second question is whether the US is will be willing to talk on new terms [Link]

“Let the record show: negotiations with North Korea work,”(Jim) Lobe Log, 29 November the Trump administration has deliberately ignored past diplomatic successes, instead continuing with veiled threats of military action which forced the Kim regime to dig their heels in even further. But in reality there are no military options. A new start must be made keeping in mind the successes of the Clinton Framework. The question is, can we really turn back the clock? [Link]

"William J Perry: diplomacy only viable option to deal with North Korean crisis," Asahi Shimbun, 29 November The former US Defense Secretary reveals Bill Clinton almost approved an offensive military plan against North Korea before deciding that the Framework was the best course of action. Today, North Korea's 20+ arsenal of nuclear weapons precludes any successful first strike by the US. Takeaway: the Trump administration's credibility has been erased by empty threats. [Link]

"Trump and Rational Accommodation," Gwynne Dyer syndicated column, 2 December Trump’s pattern of threats has been evolving. What started out as apocalyptic rhetoric is contradicted by the lack of specific details and deadlines, and "his tone continues to soften." Have The Generals finally gotten to him? [Link]

“There is no military option to take out North Korean nuclear program," The Hill, 3 December The current administration has limited itself to binary options, essentially tying its hands. While it is impossible to eliminate North Korea's nuclear arsenal without unacceptable consequences, there are still options that can be taken without threatening preemptive war. This includes evaluating options for addressing China's concerns [Link]

“How long can North Korea withstand international pressure?" The Hankyoreh, 4 December An editorial by a Chinese professor offers one possible signal from Beijing: that sanctions aren’t really working either, and are in fact reinforcing the legitimacy of the Kim regime in the eyes of North Koreans [Link]

"Have we got just three months to avert a US attack on North Korea?" The Guardian, 4 December a former speechwriter for Ban Ki-moon argues Beijing should take the initiative and call in the UN [Link]

"Madeleine Albright: how to protect the world from North Korea," New York Times, 4 December to date, the Clinton administrations agreed framework represents the best success that we've had in dealing with the Kim regime. Reliance on direct military threats, or pressuring Beijing, has simply not worked [Link]

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Getting the #IndoPacific Wrong


So, last week, Van Jackson made us mad.


As It Turns Out, Jackson, a highly astute Asia Hand who has rightly made it his mission to articulate the US's history of mishandling North Korea policy in blunt terms, is not alone.

The Trump administration's possible overuse of the term "Indo-Pacific"  has generated backlash from leadership in China and South Korea as well. The US administration Keeps Using That Term, but the real question is do other players in the theater Think It Means what the US administration Thinks It Means. Some accuse US policy of cravenly adopting the term in order to sublimate the role of China in the region, or on bringing India into the picture towards that end. Or it could simply be that Donald Trump, given his flopsweat performance in recent Asia summitry, has given his reverse Midas touch to the term. In any case, not even Gurpreet Khurana, the first strategist who coined the term's modern geopolitical use, agrees with how the US is using it.

As you can imagine, we find this all rather disturbing (see masthead, above).

"Indo-Pacific" has been used in biogeography since the 1970's, because together, the South Pacific and Indian Oceans for all practical purposes represent a vast, common domain of similar marine life. As fish migrate, so do humans. Historically, these two oceans and their constituent lands also have a history of shared human cultural heritages. Chief among these are the spread of Buddhism and Asian Islam.

Ethnic diasporas, such as from India, ChinaJapan, the Philippines, and the Pacific Islands, the result of migration driven by imperial fortune-hunting, or to work for better pay and send the money home, or even to escape from sea level rise, are also a permanent feature of the region.

These are threads which permeate South, Southeast (it wasn't for nothing that mainland Southeast Asia used be be called "Indochina"), and East Asia. The Indo-Pacific, as the nexus of the Indian and Western Pacific oceans, is where important things have always happened and will continue to happen at an increasing rate. The convergences are real - and Indo-Pacific Consciousness is about leveraging that convergence for engagement, not a false posturing of confrontation.

Rather than a sublimation of China, the emergence of Indo-Pacific Consciousness in international affairs is a reflection of China's reassertion of influence over her western periphery, such as with the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). But it's also a reflection of the economic awakening of South Asia, and of Australia coming out of her shell as a regional power, albeit with much kicking, screaming, and gnashing of teeth. If American policy continues in the direction of transactional (and likely toothless) confrontation, it will reflect that as well.

It also reflects a hub of increasing connectivity generally, reaching out to Africa in one direction and America in the other. Is the ongoing chain of North Korea crises an issue for the Indo-Pacific? To the extent that the DPRK uses the center of that region to evade sanctions and act out internal power plays, the answer is yes. South Korea may not see those connections, but Japan certainly does. Is the Rohingya crisis an issue for Asean? Absolutely, and how they tackle it will define the future viability of that alliance.

So yes, Indo-Pacific Consciousness is A Thing. But it's also become clear that the US is Doing it Wrong.