Archive for the ‘Asia’ Category


The US takes great pains not to be seen to interfere in other people’s elections. In Afghanistan, any whiff of involvement is deeply toxic. Everyone remembers the 2009 poll and repeated allegations that American officials were manipulating the vote – allegations confirmed by Robert Gates’s memoir this year, in which the former defence secretary said US diplomats tried to tilt the playing field to nudge Hamid Karzai from power.

So it would have taken a lot to get Barack Obama to pick up the telephone and call Afghanistan’s election candidates last night, warning them they would lose aid if they tried to seize power unconstitutionally.

That phone call is a sign of the worst case scenario that foreign governments are entertaining: a shadow government formed by Abdullah Abdullah, a former Northern Alliance figure, and civil war. Iraq’s bleak headlines may offer a glimpse of Afghanistan’s future.

But even the best case scenario is looking like a disaster, leaving the West’s carefully honed exit plans in tatters. That plan demands a string of medium-term commitments to ensure that Afghanistan can make the jump to sustainability, demands that will have to remain on hold as the election crisis is resolved one way or another.

With combat troops heading home this year, Kabul is yet to sign a security deal with Washington to allow trainers and special forces to stay until 2016. That will not happen until a new president is installed.

In September, Nato nations will gather for a summit in Wales. World leaders will discuss everything from cybersecurity to the unfolding emergency in Iraq. Afghanistan needs to muscle its way high up the agenda, and perhaps try to persuade Nato countries to fund not just the 228,500 troops agreed but something closer to the 350,000 or so currently deployed.

That’s not going to happen if we have weeks and weeks of election squabbling, a president backed by only half the country – or Hamid Karzai in his last lame duck weeks – attending the summit.

Figures released by the United Nations today show the problem. The death toll in the first six months of this year shows a 17 per cent rise on last year to more than 1500. The figures reflect that more of the fighting is taking place close to inhabited areas.

Never mind the worst case scenario, and a total breakdown into Iraq-style conflict. Even the best case scenarios will slow down the international aid that Afghanistan needs if it is to have any hope of a stable, secure future.

Rob Crilly is Pakistan correspondent of The Daily Telegraph and The Sunday Telegraph. Before that he spent five years writing about Africa for The Times, The Irish Times, The Daily Mail, The Scotsman and The Christian Science Monitor from his base in Nairobi.

Published on 9 July in


Can Beijing and Seoul Become Strategic Partners?

Written on July 8, 2014 by Waya Quiviger in Asia, Foreign Policy, Op Ed

China’s President Xi Jinping will complete an exchange of state visits with South Korean President Park Geun-hye in the space of a little less than a year. This is a remarkable intensification of the relationship between Seoul and Beijing, especially when one considers that Xi Jinping has yet to visit Pyongyang or receive Kim Jong-un. Likewise, routinized summits between Seoul and Tokyo have vanished as Seoul-Beijing relations have intensified, raising questions in Tokyo about whether Seoul might prefer Beijing over the United States and Japan. But despite a burgeoning trade relationship between Seoul and Beijing that is larger than the combined value of South Korea’s trade with the United States and Japan, what future can Xi and Park forge for China-South Korea relations going forward, and to what purpose?

For Seoul, the strategic payoff would come from Beijing’s acquiescence to Seoul’s leading role in shaping the parameters for Korea’s reunification. This has persisted as South Korea’s main objective for its relationship with Beijing since Roh Tae-woo achieved normalization of relations with Beijing as part of his Nordpolitik policy in the early 1990s.

But while Beijing maintained the pretense of equidistance between Pyongyang and Seoul despite a burgeoning trade relationship with South Korea that has grown by more than thirty-five times over the past two decades, China’s leadership has shown great reluctance to abandon Pyongyang in favor of Seoul. China protected Pyongyang from international outrage following its 2010 shelling of Yeonpyong Island and all the top members of China’s Politburo publicly appeared at the North Korean embassy in Beijing to pay their condolences on the death of Kim Jong-il in 2011. But since North Korea under  Kim Jong-un launched its third nuclear test in the middle of Xi Jinping’s transition to power in early 2013, the political relationship has soured. China seems to have been particularly shocked by Kim Jong-un’s treatment of his uncle, Jang Song-taek, whom Beijing had welcomed as Kim’s envoy a year prior to Jang’s purge and execution.

Will Xi Jinping finally satisfy South Korea’s strategic yearnings by throwing Kim Jong-un under the bus? Probably not, as long as South Korea remains tethered to its alliance with the United States. And not so long as China continues to prize stability on the Korean peninsula as a higher priority than America’s primary objective of denuclearization and South Korea’s main objective of reunification.

For Beijing, a main payoff from the visit to Seoul, aside from sending a not so subtle message to Pyongyang, will lie in securing Seoul’s cooperation with Beijing in criticizing Japan. There is no doubt that by visiting Yasukuni Shrine last December, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has stirred up public outrage and distrust over Japan’s future intentions in both South Korea and China. Both governments and publics will continue to watch Abe’s defense moves like a hawk as Japan has breached its self-imposed cap on defense spending at one percent of GDP and has started a debate over the reinterpretation of Japan’s right to collective self-defense.

But despite China’s sudden decision last year to celebrate the life of Korean independence fighter Ahn Jung-geun with a museum rather than simply a plaque, South Korea has thus far rejected the “outside game” of utilizing summitry with Beijing to gang up on Japan, in favor of an “inside game,” which is focused on pressing the United States to check any possible tendencies by Japan’s prime minister to stray beyond justifiable steps to enhance Japan’s self-defense by pursuing regionally destabilizing historical revisionism. This approach reveals clearly that South Korea is using the alliance with the United States as a hedge and platform that boosts its diplomatic clout in its strategic dealings with China rather than placing the alliance up for negotiation as part of its bid to win China’s support for Korean reunification.

A strong economic relationship between China and South Korea has brought Beijing and Seoul closer together than ever before, but a strategic sense of common purpose and shared common interest between the two countries remains lacking. As a result, while a stronger China-South Korea relationship may serve mutual interests on some issues, there remain clear limits on the development of the political and strategic relationship between the two countries.

Scott A. Synder is Senior Fellow for Korea Studies and Director of the Program on U.S.-Korea Policy. This post appears courtesy of and Forbes Asia.

Published on July 06 in the


June 4th will mark the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square movement which shook China in the spring of 1989. Although there is no doubt that its relevance has been exaggerated outside of China, it is the largest protest which has occurred against the Communist Party of China during its reform period starting in the 1970s. This anniversary allows us to reflect upon this often misinterpreted event, while looking more broadly at some of the political changes in China which have followed.

What happened in 1989?

Between mid-April and the beginning of June in 1989, China experienced protests in cities all across the country as a result of government reforms which were being implemented. The epicenter of this movement took place in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, where protestors, mostly students, had been camped out for weeks in protest of corruption, decreasing quality of life, and prohibition of freedom of speech.

Outside of China, this movement tends to be represented as an effort to establish democracy in China. The Chinese government, on the other hand, condemned this movement as antirevolutionary, declaring it to have come mainly from outside the country. As a result, any form of discussion or commemoration is prohibited. However the reality is far more complex and diverse than these two contradictory views.

It wasn’t so much a planned uprising as a spontaneous revolution; heterogeneous and disorganized designed to reform the system of government not to replace it. Against a backdrop of economic slowdown, high inflation, and dismantling of public services and rampant corruption, Chinese students looked eagerly at the changes occurring in the Soviet Union and asked “Where is the Chinese Gorbachov?”

During the first weeks of the protest, the constructive attitude of the protestors clashed with the stubbornness of the authorities. This was highlighted in an editorial in the People´s Daily on April 26th and further through the martial law imposed on May 20th. This radicalized the student protestors. One of the most influential student protestors commented a few days before the violent suppression of the protestors that the student´s objective should be to provoke a massacre by the Chinese authorities, only then could they create the necessary support to overthrow the current regime.

The massacre finally occurred during the night of June 3rd and 4th when the leadership of the regime ordered the military to stop the revolution in Beijing. In the following days and weeks, arrests, trials and executions followed. And despite the predictions of many, there were no elements of a subsequent national uprising.

What actual impact did the movement from 1989 have?

In retrospect, it seemed to be described as a romantic or voluntary movement, perhaps too emotional, irrational and irresponsible. Chinese dissidents have established somewhat of a tragic interpretation to the events, which is especially relevant in the interpretation of Han Dongfang, one of the most active unionists during the time of the protests. Han described the movement as a fruit that was not yet mature:

“The people were so hungry that when they discovered the fruit, they stormed upon it and swallowed it whole. This produced a sharp pain in the stomach and a bitter taste in the mouth. Should they have eaten the fruit? You could say no, but they were so hungry….you can also say yes, however to eat something that was so green, was not wise.”

This is not to preclude that they should continue criticizing the brutal repression suffered, or to use the 1989 movement as a symbol in favor of the liberalization of Chinese politics. Ignorance and indifference are the most frequent reactions amongst the Chinese population when confronted with the task of recognizing the events from 25 years ago. One of the most startling observations is the apparent disconnect between modern university students in China and those who took up the protest 25 years ago. Throughout the 20th century, Chinese students have taken to the streets on numerous occasions to speak their voice. On the contrary, modern day Chinese students seem to be shockingly apolitical, and in regards to social unrest, seem to largely be of the opinion that their country does not need saving.

However, from an outside perspective, the bloody crackdown on the protests continues to be a lasting stain on China´s international image harming relations with other countries. Could it be safe to say that the actual influence of this tragedy is much greater at the international level than at the internal one within China?



What are the perspectives for political change in China?

One of the principle lessons that the Chinese authorities took away from the Tiananmen movement was that economic development was not sufficient to keep power. During the second half of the 1980s, Chinese leaders discovered through their own experience that no government has the recipe to guarantee a quick and uninterrupted economic growth. This made it that much more pertinent to seek out legitimate alternative sources from which they could consolidate their economic power. Nationalism has been one of their principle means of doing so.

In other words, it was not probable that there would be important political reforms in the short term, as there was not a significant demand neither inside nor outside of the regime. Even though they were quite critical of the regime, the majority of the Chinese population didn’t consider replacing them for another. As a result, we can say that the democratization of China is a theme much more thought about outside then inside their own borders.

What are the most probable scenarios?

Looking at the current situation it seems that only a profound economic or international crisis could provoke a short term end to the monopoly which the Communist Party of China holds over the political state. However if the Communist Party of China wishes to maintain an acceptable level of economic development as well as the territorial integrity of China, the safest bet is towards a process of progressive political liberalization. The Chinese authorities are well aware that society is dynamic and if you wish to remain in power, you should adapt to said changes. Another option which has been done in other Confucian societies such as Japan, Korea, and Taiwan, is that they implement a democratic regime in China. Along these lines, it is possible that within a few decades, a Chinese Nationalist Party could arrive to directly compete with the Communist Party of China within a unified China.

However, since we don’t have a crystal ball which allows us to see the future of China, we can only wait and see what future awaits the Chinese. In order for a more liberal and free China to emerge, two things will need to happen: on one hand Chinese authorities will have to accept the possibility that their society demands a regime change which does not guarantee the perpetuation of power of the Communist Party of China. On the other hand, the West may have to accept the reality that the Chinese society will want a system of governance different than our own.

Will we all be okay with that idea?

Mario Esteban is head researcher on the Asia-Pacific for the Real Institute Elcano and professor of East Asian studies at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid | @wizma9. He also teaches  a class on China in the IE Master in International Relations.


How Putin Won Big in China

Written on May 22, 2014 by Waya Quiviger in Asia, Energy & Environment, Op Ed

Done deal. Photographer: Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin has achieved what Western leaders feared: He has cut a big, long-term deal to supply natural gas to China, a pivot to the East that makes Russia much less vulnerable to whatever sanctions the West might impose.

The gas contract had been 10 years in preparation, mostly because the parties haggled relentlessly over the price. The parameters of the deal made public by Alexey Miller, chief executive officer of Russia’s near-monopoly gas producer, Gazprom, suggest the final price will be roughly $10 per million British thermal units. That is less than Russia may have wished for, but about as much as it makes sense for China to pay. Data from Platts suggest that the weighted average price of gas from Myanmar, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan came to about $10.14 last year. This year, Gazprom expects to export its gas at the average price of $10.62 per million Btu, but traditional consumers in Europe are trying to bargain it down.

Crucially, the deal opens up a major new market in case Europeans make good on their threat to cut their dependence on Russian gas supplies. China has signed up to import 38 billion cubic meters per year, more than its total 2013 pipeline imports (they reached 27.7 billion cubic meters) and about 20 percent of Russia’s 2013 export volume. China can easily take more, too. The country currently gets two-thirds of its energy from coal, which it is eager to replace with gas for environmental reasons. The current gas imports are a drop in the bucket compared with the potential market size.

Two more bonus points: It’s likely that China will help Russia finance the enormous infrastructure investment — estimated at more than $30 billion — required to uphold its end of the deal, and China will probably be paying in renminbi, making the deal safe from any Western sanctions.

A joint statement signed ahead of the deal sounds like an anti-Western pact. Echoing the Russian position on the Ukraine crisis, it contains this thinly veiled invective against U.S. and EU policies:

The parties stress the necessity of respecting nations’ historic heritage, their cultural traditions and their independent choice of sociopolitical system, value system and development path, of counteracting interference in other countries’ domestic affairs, of rejecting the language of unilateral sanctions, or organizing, aiding, financing or encouraging activity aimed at changing the constitutional system of another country or drawing it into any multilateral bloc or union.

Coupled with a spate of smaller contracts and agreements, this is all Putin could have wished for. China apparently sees no downside to strengthening its partnership with Russia. It is getting a reliable source of much-needed energy, calm along a 2,600-mile border and easier terms for companies wishing to invest in Russia’s vast natural resources. As for the West, it is dependent on China to produce its industrial goods and maintain a high level of investment in its public debt. Beijing is unlikely to suffer any political fallout from embracing Putin when he’s a pariah in Western capitals.

Putin, for his part, is virtually assured of coming out a winner from his Crimea adventure. The alliance with China allows him to crawl off into the reeds like a sated crocodile. He is no longer hungry, for the moment, and there is no immediate threat of total isolation. The only problem for him is that China is clearly the stronger partner in the alliance: The Beijing talks were politically much more important for Putin than for his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping. Russia could end up China’s satellite if it does not at least partially rebuild a relationship with the West. That, however, is a problem Putin can deal with later.


By Leonid Bershidsky; Published on May 21, 2014



Should Pakistan Welcome Modi’s Election in India?

As others have reported today, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won a landslide victory in India’s parliamentary elections this month. It’s the first time that a single party has won a clear majority in an Indian election in three decades.

The BJP’s victory will bring Narendra Modi to power as India’s next prime minister. As Ankit and I talk abouton the podcast today, Modi and the BJP’s victory are in many ways a nightmare for Pakistan. The BJP is a Hindu nationalist party, and both Modi and the BJP have been perceived as being especially hardline when it comes to Pakistan.

Ankit, for instance, pointed out that Modi has suggested that India might conduct covert cross-border raidstargeting specific Pakistan-based anti-India terrorists. Another harrowing possibility is that Pakistan-based terrorists, at least assumed to be working in cohort with Pakistani terrorists, will carry out another major terrorist attack in India in the mold of the 2001 bombing of the Indian Parliament building or the siege of Mumbai in 2008. A BJP government under Modi is unlikely to act with the same restraint that the outgoing UPA government has shown in these incidents.

Even if incidents as dramatic as these don’t materialize, Modi and the BJP’s victory could put the brakes on the nascent Indo-Pakistani détente. As The Diplomat has reported, since Nawaz Sharif’s assumption of power in Pakistan in 2013, India and Pakistan have made small but notable progress in expanding trade and people-to-people ties. It’s possible that Modi will reverse course on this front, which is probably one reason Sharif has been so quick to reach out to Modi and congratulate him on his victory.

Although none of these possibilities should be dismissed, it’s possible that Modi will actually become an asset for Pakistan on a couple of fronts.

First, the BJP in general and Modi in particular have been widely criticized as being anti-Muslim. Most notably, many believe Modi either acquiesced in or actively encouraged the anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat back in 2002. At the very least, Muslims in India are extremely wary of Modi and the BJP at present. If actions and rhetoric in the ensuing months and years confirm their current suspicions, Indian Muslims and other non-Hindu Indians are likely to become extremely dissatisfied.

Moreover, if the Indian government enacts egregious anti-Muslim policies, or condones anti-Muslim actions (especially something like the Gujarat riots in 2002), this will hurt India’s image in the international community, particularly among Western nations like the U.S. and Muslim nations in the Middle East. Pakistan will have opportunities to exploit this dissatisfaction among Indian Muslims, although it will have to tread carefully so as not to provoke Delhi into a kinetic conflict. At the same time, it will benefit from India’s image suffering in the court of international opinion.

Second, Modi’s premiership might push China even closer to Pakistan. As Ankit discussed on the podcast today, it’s not clear that Modi will take a hard line against China, especially given the importance he places on economic growth. Still, if history is any guide a BJP prime minister is likely to see China with greater alarm than a Congress Party leader. And if India adopts more hardline policies towards China, Pakistan becomes a bigger asset in the eyes of Beijing. This would be extremely beneficial to Islamabad, given its desperate need for Chinese assistance and aid in numerous areas, especially as the U.S. is likely to reduce its own aid to Pakistan as it withdraws from Afghanistan.

Thus, while on the surface Modi’s electoral victory is unsettling to Pakistan, it may ultimately work out in its favor.


Published on 17 May, 2014 in

We use both our own and third-party cookies to enhance our services and to offer you the content that most suits your preferences by analysing your browsing habits. Your continued use of the site means that you accept these cookies. You may change your settings and obtain more information here. Accept