Archive for the ‘Asia’ Category

23
Apr

As with any presidency, Barack Obama’s agenda has been heavily driven by external events. His landmark foreign policy initiative (if one doesn’t count ending the two wars in the Middle East) was supposed to be the so-called pivot to Asia. Instead, events at home — such as the government shutdown — and abroad have repeatedly hijacked the White House’s foreign policy agenda. But rather than bemoaning this, the president should now prioritize the Ukraine crisis in order to also rescue the Asia pivot.

This, of course, is a tough message for Obama to deliver to America’s allies in Asia when he arrives in the region this week. Countries such as Japan and South Korea, who originally welcomed the pivot to Asia with open arms, have lately grown wearier about Washington’s follow-through. They want to see a stronger security and political commitment from the United States.

These Asian allies may now worry that the Ukraine crisis will further jeopardize the U.S. role in the Asia-Pacific by consuming valuable time, energy and resources. Obama must therefore use some of his face time with Asian leaders to explain to them why they too have an interest in Washington focusing on Europe at the moment. In fact, there are several good reasons why doing so could be a good thing for the Asia pivot. Let’s consider three of them.

First, and perhaps most obvious, the situation in Ukraine is still very tense and can easily take a turn for the worse. The most serious crisis since the Cold War, Ukraine illustrates that Europe is still far from “whole and free.” Countries such as Moldova and Georgia or the Western Balkans may well be next in line for Putin. Unless the United States steps up its efforts, it could risk getting bogged down in potential future crises in the region. Asian allies should therefore welcome efforts to complete the European project once and for all.

At the same time, it’s in the long-term interest of both the United States and its Asian allies to get capable European countries to assume more responsibility for their own neighborhood. Such a “new transatlantic bargain” would allow America to focus its attention elsewhere in the world. Conversely, Europe should support America’s growing role in the Asia-Pacific even if this means less American troops in Europe in the future. In no way does the pivot to Asia mean Washington is pulling back from its commitments to European security. Read more…

Erik Brattberg is a Senior Fellow at the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security at the Atlantic Council in Washington, DC.

Published on April 22, 2014 in http://www.realclearworld.com

20
Apr

Joseph Nye is a professor at Harvard and former dean of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Kevin Rudd was prime minister of Australia from 2007 to 2010 and again in 2013.

While the world focuses on Ukraine, ships and planes from Japan and China challenge each other almost every day near a few square miles of barren islets in the East China Sea that Japan calls the Senkaku and China calls the Diaoyu islands. This dangerous rivalry dates to the late 19th century, but the flare-up that led to widespread anti-Japan demonstrations in China in September 2012 began when the Japanese government purchased three of the tiny islets from their private Japanese owner. The issue is bound to arise during President Obama’s upcoming visit to Japan.

When the United States returned Okinawa to Japan in May 1972, the transfer included the disputed islets that the United States had administered after 1945. A few months later, when China and Japan normalized their relations in the aftermath of World War II, Japanese Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka asked Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai about the islands. Zhou replied that rather than let the dispute delay normalization, the issue should be left for later generations. Both countries maintained their claims to sovereignty over the islands.

For decades, this formula worked. Although Japan had administrative control, Chinese ships would occasionally enter Japanese waters to assert their legal position. When incidents occurred, Japan sometimes would detain the Chinese crew members but would soon release them. Exaggerated reports of undersea oil and gas reserves sometimes raised concerns, but as recently as 2008, the two countries agreed on a framework for joint development of disputed gas fields in the East China Sea.

In 2009, relations between China and Japan were improving, and a large delegation of Diet members from the Democratic Party of Japan visited Beijing. Then on Sept. 7, 2010, a Chinese trawler near the islands twice bashed Japanese patrol boats, and Japanese authorities took the trawler to Japan. After several days of Chinese protests, Japan released the crew but brought charges against the captain. China abruptly halted its exports of rare earths to Japan; Japan soon released the captain, but China did not restore these exports for almost two months. When asked why China had reacted that way, Chinese officials said that they had no choice because once Japan brought charges against the captain, it implied acceptance of Japanese law and sovereignty.

To Chinese eyes, Japan destroyed the Zhou-Tanaka status quo with the 2010 arrest and then the 2012 purchase. China also believes that Japan is entering a period of right-wing militarist nationalism and that the purchase of the islands was a deliberate effort by Japan to begin a process of eroding the settlement of World War II. Since 2012, Chinese ships have continued to operate regularly in what Japan claims as its territorial waters. Ironically, these Chinese operations are inflaming Japanese nationalism. And so the spiral of action and reaction continues, with no opportunity in sight for both sides to hit the reset button.

Fast-forward to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s December visit to the Yasukuni Shrine, which in part honors Class A Japanese war criminals. Fresh fuel was thrown onto a fire that needed little encouragement. Having watched Sino-Japanese relations closely over many decades, we think it is fair to say things have not been this bad for nearly half a century.

Japanese and Chinese leaders have said repeatedly that they do not want war. And there is no reason not to believe them. They recognize that disruption of the economic interdependence between the world’s second- and third-largest economies would radically disrupt their development plans and internal stability. The real dangers are not in the intentions of the countries’ leaders but in the potential for miscalculation at lower levels, limited experience in “incident management” and escalation in a climate of competitive nationalism.

In this situation, the best we can aim for is to revive the wisdom of the original Zhou-Tanaka formula. One way of doing this, as some have suggested, might be to declare the islands a maritime ecological preserve dedicated to the larger good of the region. There would be no habitation and no military use of the islands or the surrounding seas. Ideally, China and Japan would agree, but that may be unlikely in the current climate. Other mechanisms could be explored to produce the same end. Both sides might commit to revisit their 2008 agreement on joint gas exploitation. This proposal would not resolve the issue, but it could move it from the front of the stove, where it threatens to boil over, to a back burner, where it can quietly simmer for another half-century.

10
Apr

Afghanistan Votes Against the Taliban

Written on April 10, 2014 by Waya Quiviger in Asia, Democracy & Human Rights, News, Op Ed

thediplomat_2014-04-08_16-29-55-386x257

Afghanistan’s election results aren’t out yet but we know who certainly lost the election: the Taliban.

Six women were arguing with the security guards of Zarghuna High School in central Kabul to let them enter the compound for voting. The guards argued that it was already 5 p.m. and the women could not be let in as voting had closed. Still, the women insisted. The head of security came in and he too tried to drive in the point that the p.m. deadline had passed but the women contended that a few minutes here and there did not make much of a difference and if they missed the chance this time they would have a long wait ahead of them to vote, which they said they did not want to do. Seeing  their determination, the chief relented and allowed them to enter the school and they were ushered into the last classroom where the ballot box was just about to be sealed. The women voted and left the school flashing their inked fingers.

This was the mood in Afghanistan on Saturday when the country voted for in its first democratic transition of government; the country had never seen this kind of zeal to vote. According to initial estimates given by the Independent Election Commission, 7 out of twelve million registered voters cast their vote on April 5th, meaning close to 60 percent of eligible voters came out to exercise their democratic rights. The turnout is double what it was in the 2009 elections. It was higher than the first elections in 2004 as well.

But elections cannot be confined to numbers only. One has to fathom the enthusiasm and excitement of the voters to quantify the electoral exercise in a country which is making a history by transferring power through democratic means, a feat Afghanistan has never accomplished in its history so far.

“I was really keen to vote in these elections. I cannot pick up guns, but I have my vote to defeat the forces which have made our life hell and which have reduced such a great country to the margins of all parameters of social and economic development,” says  Tahira, one of the six women who were the last ones to vote in Zarghuna elections. Read more…

Sanjay Kumar is a New Delhi-based journalist and correspondent for The Diplomat. As published on April 9 April in http://thediplomat.com

21
Mar

 

While much of the world was busy watching Russia swallow Crimea, few realised that an also dangerous territorial tit-for-tat had begun to unfold earlier this month more in the South China Sea.

 

At Second Thomas Shoal, a handful of Philippine marines have long been stationed and re-provisioned on the rusting deck of the BRP Sierra Madre, a Philippine naval ship half-sunk into the reef in 1999. Ever since, the vessel and the marines have served to embody Manila’s claim of sovereignty over the shoal. More recently, China has tried to raise the salience of its own claim by intensively patrolling the area.

 

Protesters picket the Chinese Consulate at the financial district of Makati city east of Manila, Philippines Monday, 3 March 2014, to protest the recent use of water cannons by the Chinese coast guard to drive away Filipino fishermen off the disputed Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea. (Photo: AAP)

 

On 9 March 2014, China made a move to end the status quo at the shoal. For the first time in 15 years, Beijing stopped Manila from delivering supplies to the Sierra Madre. The Chinese Coast Guard forced two Philippine ships to turn away. Manila answered the blockade by successfully dropping food and water to the marines by air. It was then up to Manila whether to send in another supply ship or plane, and up to Beijing whether to leave it alone, chase it away, sink it, or shoot it down.

 

China claims that the Philippine ships were ‘loaded with construction materials’ to build up Manila’s position. Manila says the ships were merely trying to re-provision the marines ‘to improve the conditions there’, not ‘to expand or build permanent structures on the shoal’.

 

A dozen years ago China and the 10 ASEAN states signed a 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, or DOC. The signers undertook ‘to resolve their territorial and jurisdictional disputes by peaceful means, without resorting to the threat or use of force’. China’s threat of force against the Philippine supply ships at Second Thomas Shoal on 9 March violated the DOC.

 

The long and ongoing record of unilateral Chinese assertions or aggressions in the South and East China Sea no longer leaves room for doubt as to Beijing’s intention. China wants and is trying to achieve dominance over the waters behind what it calls the ‘first island chain’ and land features that fringe the U-shaped line.

 

The question is not ‘what does China intend?’ The answer — dominance of some kind and degree — is known. The question is ‘what, if anything, is anyone else prepared to do?’ Read more…

Donald K. Emmerson heads the Southeast Asia Forum in the Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center at Stanford University.

Published on 18 March in http://www.eastasiaforum.org

 

17
Mar

Trade agreements are a subject that can cause the eyes to glaze over, but we should all be paying attention. Right now, there are trade proposals in the works that threaten to put most Americans on the wrong side of globalization.

The conflicting views about the agreements are actually tearing at the fabric of the Democratic Party, though you wouldn’t know it from President Obama’s rhetoric. In his State of the Union address, for example, he blandly referred to “new trade partnerships” that would “create more jobs.” Most immediately at issue is the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, which would bring together 12 countries along the Pacific Rim in what would be the largest free trade area in the world.

Negotiations for the TPP began in 2010, for the purpose, according to the United States Trade Representative, of increasing trade and investment, through lowering tariffs and other trade barriers among participating countries. But the TPP negotiations have been taking place in secret, forcing us to rely on leaked drafts to guess at the proposed provisions. At the same time, Congress introduced a billthis year that would grant the White House filibuster-proof fast-track authority, under which Congress simply approves or rejects whatever trade agreement is put before it, without revisions or amendments.

Controversy has erupted, and justifiably so. Based on the leaks — and the history of arrangements in past trade pacts — it is easy to infer the shape of the whole TPP, and it doesn’t look good. There is a real risk that it will benefit the wealthiest sliver of the American and global elite at the expense of everyone else. The fact that such a plan is under consideration at all is testament to how deeply inequality reverberates through our economic policies.

Worse, agreements like the TPP are only one aspect of a larger problem: our gross mismanagement of globalization.

Let’s tackle the history first. In general, trade deals today are markedly different from those made in the decades following World War II, when negotiations focused on lowering tariffs. As tariffs came down on all sides, trade expanded, and each country could develop the sectors in which it had strengths and as a result, standards of living would rise. Some jobs would be lost, but new jobs would be created. Read more…

 

By Joseph Stiglitz, Mar. 15, 2014; Published in The New York Times

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