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)

Monday, September 18, 2017

Bullet Trains and Bastions - #Japan and #India Come Together #Doklam

original image @ Global Times
The alliance between India and Japan offers economic and security benefits to both nations. Enough to have Beijing grousing

'How India and Japan rattled China with Act northeast policy' DailyO 17 Sept Beijing's goal in South Asia is economic hegemony via CPEC to offset home debt and bolster food and border security. That makes Japan's infrastructure push in India all the more upsetting (link)

'India, Japan and Africa' Economic Times 16 Sept The Asia Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC) will provide the two nations with a means to counterbalance the Belt and Road Initiative while enhancing security ties. India provides "historical connections, maritime contiguity, and the large presence of an Indian diaspora." Japan provides capital and technology (link)

'Growing India, Japan ties irk China' Sunday Guardian 16 Sept 'Abe’s visit is a testimony to the fact China’s economic and military rise is bound to coalesce some of its neighbours against China. And this will happen regardless of the cultural impediments, ideological fixations and political hesitations in these countries. Japan as the only East Asian country with both the interest and the power to construct a regional balance of power to counter Chinese domination in the region, currently faces security challenges from both China and North Korea... Thus, any move that lends a hand to an increase in Japanese power is good for India' (link)

'The lesson from Doklam: Peace is the dividend of power' Hindustan Times 16 Sept 'India and Japan must together provide the fulcrum for a broader regional coalition towards a “pragmatic equation” with China to meet hegemonistic designs of any nation in the region' (link)

Monday, September 11, 2017

#Japan 's Loyal Opposition - Bad Timing and No Traction at the DPJ

The Democratic Party of Japan, intolerant of Renho's neophyte stumbles, crawls back to mediocrity. Seiji Maehara has already made stumbles of his own despite supposedly knowing better. The ship may already be sinking

"39% don't have high hopes for new Democratic Party leader Maehara: survey," Mainichi 4 Sept The DPJ's ideological split continues to hold it down in polls, despite Abe Cabinet's own dismal ratings (link)

"Maehara stumbles over selection of deputy as DP braces for snap election," Japan Times 6 Sept "Maehara’s about-face has put a question mark on his leadership ability as head of the DP, whose members often have failed to unite and have instead engaged in internal strife." And that was before Yamao blew up (link)

"Democratic Party can waste no time getting its act together," Asahi 6 Sept Maehara's penchant for poor judgment leaves his proteges vulnerable to backstabbing (link)

"Maehara must ensure DP is able to govern," Yomiuri 8 Sept A collection of insights on Maehara reveals more about Ishiba's designs on the LDP than anything else (link)

Meanwhile, the real skinny is at Tokyo On Fire: