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.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Throwing The Game: Donald #Trump and #Democracy in #Asia

The best chance at balancing China's rising power in the region, which banks on the spread of illiberalism and the retrenchment of existing authoritarianism, is through the promotion and alliance of democracies. Problem is, the current US Administration doesn't seem to be interested. Beijing benefits

"Southeast Asia’s Democratic Decline in the America First Era," Council on Foreign Relations, 27 Oct Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines have all slid into illiberalism, seemingly with Trump's acquiescence. Moreover, the rise and mien of these illiberal regimes are straight from Trump's own playbook [link]

"5 Challenges Trump Will face in Asia," Center for American Progress 1 Nov "So far, Trump and his team have explicitly disowned values and human rights as a part of U.S. statecraft. This will damage long-term interests by alienating beleaguered Asian democrats, who look on as the United States unilaterally cedes its soft power. Trump welcomed Thailand’s military dictator Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to the Oval Office this fall and has repeatedly praised the violent, deadly, and extralegal campaign against drug use being executed by Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte. And the Trump administration has done little other than issue public condemnations to attempt to stop Myanmar’s military from carrying out a genocidal campaign against the Rohingya people—a humanitarian catastrophe." [link]

"If Trump Forgets About Human Rights in Asia, the World Will Suffer," Foreign Policy 2 Nov "Unfortunately, Trump seems unlikely to address issues of democracy, human rights, and governance — his pattern of inviting autocratic, corrupt rulers to the White House is a testament of this. Thus far, his “America First” tagline translates to a more transactional foreign policy, with no room for standing up for human rights and democracy. And taking a sledgehammer to the State Department’s budget hasn’t helped either. It’s no surprise that 72 percent of Southeast Asians believe that the U.S. image has been tarnished in the region since Trump took office" [link]

"Asia is turning its back on democracy, and some say Trump isn’t helping," Los Angeles Times 3 Nov “Trump has created a moral vacuum which China has moved to exploit, and to fill... they’re just much more sophisticated, and much more coordinated, about their foreign policy messaging than Trump is... China’s able to say, ‘We don’t care about your domestic issues, we just want to bring trade and prosperity’ — a Pax Sinica, with Beijing at the center,” he continued. “People who understand China know that it’s a lot more complicated — and one would say devious — than that. But we are losing the ability to say that this comes with a lot of human rights abuses, or moral externalities, so to speak.” [link]

Monday, October 30, 2017

Mountains of Lions & Dragons: the struggle to secure #CPEC

China's grand plan to leverage the resources of South Asia requires Pakistan to clean up its act on regional stability. Meanwhile, the neighbors offer a Bronx Cheer

"WHY THE CHINA-PAKISTAN ECONOMIC CORRIDOR WILL WORSEN TENSIONS IN SOUTHERN ASIA," War On The Rocks, 28 Sept Beijing has Islamabad convinced they both can use CPEC for economic advantage. Pakistan also sees a security advantage. New Dehli, along with both Pakistani minorities and regional players, see a threat. All are "more likely to feed a spiral of suspicion and hostility" than anything else [link]

"Corruption, Not India, Is CPEC's Biggest Threat," Forbes, 3 Oct Security concerns may exist but the more tangible threats are structural tendencies in both Chinese and Pakistani businesses and government toward padding and goldbricking. The resulting cost overruns will hobble Pakistan in debt and the IMF will likely hold Beijing responsible [link]

"Globalisation of Terror," Pakistan Today, 23 Oct CPEC provides East Turkestan separatists with a new theater of operations against Beijing [link]

"WHAT DO YOU GET IF YOU CROSS PAKISTAN’S GAME OF THRONES AND CHINA’S BELT AND ROAD?" South China Morning Post, 28 Oct Washington and New Dehli are united in their opposition to CPEC. Support within Pakistan for the initiative is hollow, and dalliances with insurgent groups hasn't helped. Beijing has let Islamabad's elites know they need to guarantee security if they want to get and stay rich [link]

Monday, October 23, 2017

#JapanElection: Abe Wins The gambit

"Where Japan's election results point the country's politics and economy," Nikkei 23 Oct Abe has successfully fended off both opposition parties and LDP factions, clearing the way for Article 9 reform, more Abenomics, and own re-election [link]

"Top opposition forces see contrasting fates after poll," Japan Times 23 Oct So much for the Party of Hope; Constitutionalists will likely become leading opposition party, bringing long term changes to nation's politics [link]

"Japanese PM Abe’s election gamble pays off," TRT World (video) The illiberal establishment view: North Korean threat, Demographic Bomb major issues in election [link]

Yomiuri: Most of current cabinet will likely stay [link]

Japan's Abe wins big, but could still lose," Australian Financial Review 23 Oct Low turnout and general dissatisfaction with Abe still a factor; will CDPJ benefit in the long run? [link]

Monday, October 16, 2017

#Cambodia, Lawfare State

Brutal Buddies
Press crackdowns, sweeping away of opposition as Hun Sen consolidates power and helps build a bloc of illiberal, pro-China states in Southeast Asia. “Whatever Mr Hun Sen wants, he gets. People are so fearful

"Analysis: Cambodia’s government learns the art of ‘lawfare’," Phnom Penh Post, 9 Oct Completely by the book, Cambodia's leadership swiftly legislates opposition out of existence. “What [Hun Sen] wants to say is that we use legitimate power . . . and if the law still has loopholes, we will draft some laws, because when we win, we can do whatever we want” [link]

"Cambodia heads towards one-party state – and a democratic crisis," Asia Times, 15 Oct Rule by law, not of law: The CPP has continually snipped away at democratic protections since 1993. They maintain that only their continued rule can forestall a civil war. Except that their very action are destroying confidence in elections and the state [link]

"AS ANTI-US FEELING GROWS IN CAMBODIA, CHINA CASHES IN," South China Morning Post, 15 Oct The crackdown is being accompanied by a wave of anti-US propaganda as China pours in replacement capital [link]

Monday, October 09, 2017

#Afghanistan: Not Another Vietnam - Yet

Australia's commitment in Afghanistan to last 'decades' (link)
The need for political justification of the Afghan War has robbed it of what is really required for anything close to victory - "nation-building" and regional integration

"The New U.S. Commitment to Afghanistan Needs a Soft Power Strategy," Forbes 6 Oct The real progress the country's institutions have made remains an untold story.  But the job isn't finished, and these priorities should be increased and combined with regional integration (link)

"(Canadian) Support for Afghanistan Urgently Needed," editorial, Times Colonist (Victoria, BC), 6 Oct Justin Trudeau's withdrawal from Resolute Support, prompted by domestic politics and Trump statements on the war, comes at precisely the wrong time (link)

"Sixteen Years and Counting: The Afghan War Grinds On," Stratfor 7 Oct Mattis plan will have positive impacts, but no solution without addressing India-Pakistan tensions - with a non-punitive approach (link)

"Afghanistan: Another Victory for Tehran?" Lawfare, 8 Oct Kabul's collapse is the last thing Iran wants. Daesh is especially a concern. The goal for them is to balance Kabul and the Taliban to increase influence in the country at Washington's expense (link)

Monday, October 02, 2017

#Pakistan , Interrupted

He Broke It

"Is This The Pakistani Sunset?" Northlines 30 Sept While running point in the US War on Terror, Pakistan laid down with any number of dogs, and now has too many fleas. Add in resentment over impunity and CPEC's increasingly hard sell, and now "The Writing is On The Wall" (link)

"Pakistan’s Costly Plunge into China Debt," Asia Sentinel 30 Sept Speaking of CPEC: The wealth of the country's elites is still tied to London, so giving the store away to Beijing is no skin off their nose. The national economy and job base are another matter entirely (link)

"Beijing has signaled. Is Islamabad listening?" Daily Times 1 Oct Debt issues aside, CPEC could also be instrumental in weaning Pakistan away from fundamentalism and conflict with India (link)

"Confusion and indecisiveness," The News, 1 Oct Islamabad has been too busy scratching those Afghan Policy flea bites (see above) to achieve any sustainable goals in mainstreaming their Pashtun lands; you'd think paying due diligence to one problem would help solve the other (link)

Monday, September 25, 2017

Losing Face on North Korea #DPRK #Trump #Dotard

Shooting off his mouth again, the American (p)resident's blustery war of words against the North Korean regime is blowing away whatever credibility he has left

"Poll: far more trust generals than Trump on North Korea, while two thirds oppose preemptive strike," Washington Post, 24 September  Already low approval numbers are cemented by Trump's reliance on personal insults over conventional diplomacy (link)

"The Madman Theory of North Korea," The New Yorker, 2 October  It didn't work for Nixon; it isn't working for Trump either (link)

"What North Korea wants from the US," Axios  24 September  The Kim regime sees the (p)resident's belligerence as empty threats to save face.  Trump's generals are facepalming. What is really needed to avoid an accidental catastrophe is a concerted effort to get everyone on the same page and at the same table, without the headdesk (link)

 "Kim Jong Un's dark warning," Lowy Interpreter, 22 September  Trump appears to have no concept of the Asian concept of "face." Either that, or he doesn't care.  The rhetoric from North Korea has actually been par for the course up till now; it's Trump's personal insults that are escalatory,  playing into Kim regime propaganda, increasing tensions, and slamming the door to diplomacy (link)