Tuesday, August 26, 2014

In Thailand’s Surrogacy Industry, Profit and a Moral Quagmire

Thailand — Soon after the first surrogate mother from this remote village gave birth, neighbors noticed her new car and conspicuous home renovations, sending ripples of envy through the wooden houses beside rice paddies and tamarind groves.

“There was a lot of excitement, and many people were jealous,” said Thongchan Inchan, 50, a shopkeeper here.

In the two years since, carrying babies for foreigners, mainly couples from wealthier Asian nations, quickly became a lucrative cottage industry in the farming communities around Pak Ok, a six-hour drive from Bangkok. Officials say at least 24 women out of a population of about 13,000 people have since become paid surrogate mothers.

“If I weren’t this old, maybe I would have done it myself,” Ms. Thongchan said. “This is a poor village. We make money by day and it’s gone by evening.”

The baby boomlet here was just one of several bizarre and often ethically charged iterations of Thailand’s freewheeling venture into what detractors call the womb rental business, an unguided experiment that the country’s military government now says it is planning to end.

Commercial surrogacy has been available for at least a decade in Thailand, one of only a handful of countries where it is allowed, and one of only two in Asia, making it a prime destination for couples in the region from countries where the practice is banned.

Officials estimate that there are several hundred surrogate births here each year, a number that does not include foreign surrogates, including many hired by Chinese couples, who come to Thailand for the embryo implantation then return home to carry out the pregnancy.

But a pair of recent scandals have focused scrutiny on the largely unregulated industry, raising ethical questions and prompting the government’s crackdown.

In late July, the Thai news media reported that an Australian couple who had paid a woman to carry twins returned home with only one of their children, leaving behind the other, who had Down syndrome. Pleas for assistance by the surrogate mother helped produce a sustained national outcry that was further stoked by comments by the boy’s biological father that were deemed insensitive at best.

The father, David John Farnell, told an Australian television program that he would have preferred that the pregnancy had been terminated. “I don’t think any parent wants a son with a disability,” he said.

He also said that he and his wife had told the agency in Bangkok that served as an intermediary to “give us back our money.”

The Australian news media raised questions about his fitness as a father after finding court records showing that he was convicted and imprisoned for 22 counts of child sex abuse in the 1990s.

More recently, police raids on surrogacy clinics in Bangkok uncovered the case of a Japanese man who had fathered around a dozen babies through surrogates — the exact number is not known — whose births were only weeks or months apart. Last week the global police agency, Interpol, said it had begun an investigation into the motives and background of the Japanese man.

Commentators have lamented that Thailand, which already had a reputation for prostitution, was now becoming, as one television anchor called it, the “womb of Asia.”

Others described surrogacy as the exploitation of the weak and poor by wealthy couples from more developed nations.

“This is a symbol of moral erosion,” said Kaysorn Vongmanee, the head of the public health department in Pak Ok. “It’s a symbol that people are concerned above all with money.”

Thai officials say surrogates are paid about $10,000 for a successful pregnancy, more for twins, in addition to a monthly allowance of around $450 and free lodging in Bangkok, where the women are either instructed or choose to carry out their pregnancies.

In the surrogacy cases around Pak Ok, the commissioning parents were mostly from Japan and other wealthier Asian nations, Ms. Vongmanee said.

The surrogates, some of whom are still pregnant, fled to the anonymity of Bangkok last week when officials and a phalanx of the Thai news media descended on the area to publicize what they portrayed as a national scandal. The village is quiet now, with children and chickens scampering along the dirt road that winds along the edge of a steep, bamboo-covered mountainside.

Among the villagers, there is sympathy for the surrogates and anger at what is seen as a witch hunt by the authorities for women who took part in a practice that is not yet illegal.

“There’s nothing wrong with surrogacy — you are helping people who can’t have a baby,” said Pakson Thongda, 42, whose daughter twice sold eggs to a fertility clinic for about $1,000 each time. “I understand the feeling of a mother who really, really wants a child.”

The surrogacy business in Thailand has provided a low-cost alternative to the United States, the world’s largest paid surrogacy destination, and was an outgrowth of the country’s effort to promote itself as a destination for medical tourism. The Thai industry also benefited from regulations in India, which prohibit same-sex couples from hiring surrogate mothers. India is the only other Asian country where surrogacy is legal.

Commercial surrogacy has operated in a legal gray area. There are no laws banning it, but there are some hurdles. Thai law defines a mother as the person who gives birth, so in order for the biological parents to gain custody, the surrogate mother must renounce her parental rights — a concession that may require legal wrangling.

The police investigations and the pending law have left a number of foreign couples wondering whether they will be able to bring their surrogate babies home. One Australian couple, unable to complete the legal procedures for twins born in July by a Thai surrogate, have been raising funds on the Internet to help pay for the legal costs.

The authorities in Australia have requested that the Thai junta allow “transitional arrangements,” before the law banning commercial surrogacy comes into effect.

The law, which the junta has vowed to pass soon through its rubber-stamp Parliament, would still allow surrogacy, but without payment. Surrogacy brokers and advertising offering surrogacy services would be banned.

The junta has not publicly explained its decision, but Sriamporn Salikoop, a senior Supreme Court judge, said the ban was needed to prevent exploitation of Thai surrogates.

“Giving birth to a human is not like breeding animals,” he told a Thai newspaper.

Thai Rath, the Thai newspaper that first published the news about the baby with Down syndrome, said in an editorial on Monday that the surrogacy law was well intended but likely only to push surrogacy “underground.”

“People will carry it out illegally and out of sight — and may resort to human trafficking or kidnapping to get children out of the country,” the paper said.

Poypiti Amatatham contributed reporting from Bangkok, and Michelle Innis from Sydney.


Once Modest Air Exercise, 'Pitch Black,' Concludes in Darwin ...and Grows in Scale

For three weeks in August, the skies over Northern Australia – known here as the Top End – reverberated to the roar of military jet engines as the biennial Exercise Pitch Black was staged out of Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Bases Darwin and Tindal; the two main military airports in Australia’s Northern Territory.

This year’s exercise, held between August 1 and 22, saw up to 110 aircraft and more than 2,300 personnel from seven countries taking part. Host Australia was joined by aircraft of Pitch Black regulars the United States, Singapore and Thailand, while the United Arab Emirates and French also sent flying contingents and New Zealand contributed ground support personnel.

Named after the moonless nights in the sparsely populated region, Exercise Pitch Black has grown from a small-scale air defense exercise between host Australia, the U.S. and Singapore when it began in the late 1980s into a complex, multinational wargame considered by the RAAF to be its premier air combat exercise. Encompassing a full spectrum of scenarios that make up modern air warfare, participating air forces use the opportunity to provide realistic, high-end air combat training for their air crew, while at the same time building and cementing professional and personal friendships among the participants.

The main draw of the Northern Territory for such an exercise is the vast expanses of airspace with few flying restrictions and the world-class facilities that make up the Delamere Air Weapons Range and Bradshaw Field Training Area. In the words of RAAF Group Captain Micka Gray, Exercise Director of Pitch Black 2014, “We have very few limitations to where we can fly in the Northern Territory.” Coupled with the excellent weather for flying during the Northern Territory’s dry season, the exercise makes for a very attractive proposition to international participants like Thailand and particularly land-scarce Singapore, both of which lack that kind of airspace or favorable weather at home.

Over the years the exercise has seen several new countries taking part, and Pitch Black 2014 was no different. The United Arab Emirates Air Force were the debutants this time round, with six Dassault Mirage 2000-9 multirole fighters making the long journey Down Under supported by an Airbus A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport for the duration of the exercise. This marks the first appearance by a Middle East air arm at “Pitch Black” and underlines the increasingly close defense ties between Australia and the United Arab Emirates, forged mainly as a result of Australian military deployments to the Middle East for the War on Terror.

There were also debuts by aircraft types, with the Swedish-built Saab Gripen multirole fighters of the Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) making their debut at an overseas exercise since deliveries of the type began in 2011. The Thais were effusive in their praise of the new aircraft, with Wing Commander Chareon Watanasrimongkol, commander of the RTAF’s Wing 701 and Chief Planner of the Thai contingent at PB14, describing the Gripen as being in a “different world” in terms of avionics compared to the older Lockheed-Martin F-16 Fighting Falcons that the Thais had operated at their previous times at Pitch Black.

This was the sixth consecutive time at Pitch Black for Thailand since its debut in 2004, although there were some doubts beforehand about Thai participation due to restrictions on interaction with the Thai military put in place by the Australian government due to the recent military coup. The addition of these aircraft types at Pitch Black 2014 was a boon to the exercise, giving participating pilots an opportunity to fly alongside new types of aircraft not often encountered at exercises in this part of the world.

Split into Blue Air (the Good Guys) primarily based in Darwin carrying out Offensive Counter Air (OCA) missions and Red Air acting as the “Bad Guys” in a Defensive Counter Air (DCA) role from Tindal, the exercise saw Blue Air utilizing Large Force Employment missions in strike packages attacking targets inside the exercise area while Red Force acted as a fictional enemy defending the targets. Led by Tindal-based Australian F/A-18 Hornets, Red Air’s numbers were regularly beefed up by F-16s from the United States and Singapore, or by Thai Gripens.

For the American F-16s flown by members of the District of Columbia Air National Guard (DC ANG), Australia is the last stop after a Theater Security Package deployment of 12 jets from the DC and New Jersey ANG to Kunsan, South Korea. While not mentioned specifically as such, the deployment may well be a demonstration of the “places not bases” concept espoused by the U.S. Air Force’s leadership with regards to America’s Pacific pivot. Designed to increase USAF interaction with regional partners and allies without significantly increasing the footprint permanently-based assets and personnel, the USAF is set to increase temporary deployments across the region in the years to come.

Flying into Australia non-stop from South Korea in late July, the American fighters played flew alternately as Blue and Red Air at Pitch Black, flying both air-to-air and air-to ground missions. After Pitch Black, the DC ANG will cap off this groundbreaking deployment with a three week exercise with the Australians and Singaporeans, whose F-15SG Eagles and F-16s will stay on in Australia for Exercise Tri-Sling, an offshoot of the Commando Sling series of Dissimilar Air Combat Training (DACT) exercise between Singapore and the United States.

At its heart, Pitch Black is still very much focused on the OCA/DCA aspect of air combat. Participants carry out air-to-air combat training, practice attacking ground targets while evading and/or countering simulated ground-based air defense threats simulated by the USAF’s Joint Deployable Electronic Warfare Range (JDEWR). Overhead, Australian and Singaporean Airborne Early Warning and Control aircraft provided command and control of the battlespace while air-to-air refueling tankers belonging to Australia, Singapore and the UAE practiced mid-air refueling with fighter aircraft from their respective countries.

That being said, Pitch Black has significantly evolved in complexity and scope over the past few exercises. More dimensions have now been added to the exercise, with air-land integration training seeing an increased focus. This includes the participation of Combat Controllers from the RAAF’s No. 4 Squadron, who specialize in coordinating air strikes in support of ground forces. This in turn meant that tactical transport aircraft in the form of a RAAF Lockheed-Martin C-130J Hercules were also heavily engaged in support of this aspect of the exercise.

In addition, the French Armed Forces of New Caledonia sent a CASA CN-235 transport normally based at Tontouta to RAAF Base Tindal for their first-ever exercise on Australian soil. Flying either alone or together the RAAF Hercules, the transport aircraft performed parachute drops, tactical (rough-field) landings, and simulated High Value Assets escorted by participating Blue Force fighters.

While the exercise’s missions and scenarios are still heavily scripted, the planners haven’t been above injecting a surprise or two for the participants to add realism. On at least one occasion, a Beechcraft 350 Super King Air of 38 Squadron RAAF took time off from providing passenger and light cargo transport between Darwin and Tindal to “stray into” exercise airspace. The purpose was to simulate an aircraft operated by a non-government organization ferrying humanitarian supplies in a bid to see if it would be misidentified as hostile and attacked by Blue Air in the heat of battle (it wasn’t).

Even as an increasing number of regional air forces show an interest in taking part, limitations on the number of aircraft and personnel that can be accommodated at the Northern Territory’s airbases at any one time, along with community concerns about the noise generated by the aircraft at the exercise, puts constraints on the extent to which future exercises can grow. The latter factor was mitigated by a comprehensive outreach effort by the RAAF’s Public Relations team, which published detailed schedules of aircraft movements on their website and on social media.

However, with a renewed focus on security cooperation among countries of the region and with the Northern Territory set to host an increased U.S Marine air component in the near future along with the attendant infrastructure improvement, Exercise Pitch Black will certainly be here to stay. And in all likelihood, grow. By bringing regional partners closer together, that can only be a good thing, from a security standpoint.

Mike Yeo is a freelance military/aviation journalist based in Melbourne Australia


Monday, August 25, 2014

US flags China as a maritime outlaw

A think tank called CNA recently issued a 140-page report titled "China versus Vietnam: An Analysis of the Competing Claims in the South China Sea" authored by Raul (Pete) Pedrozo. [1] It provides a further legal rationale for growing US efforts to inject itself into South China Sea exclusive economic zone (EEZ) disputes on behalf of Vietnam and against the People's Republic of China.

A few reasons why attention should be paid.

First, the institution.

CNA is described as a non-profit corporation. A fuller description would be a "US Navy analytic division dating to 1942 that works exclusively for and is funded exclusively by the US government but was corporatized in the 1990s so it could dip its beak into non-DoD government work through a division called the Institute for Public Research".

You could say that "CNA" stands for "Center for Naval Analyses", the name of its antecedent organization. But you'd be wrong, according to CNA, in a "note to reporters and editors": CNA is not an acronym and is correctly referenced as "CNA Corporation, a non-profit research and analysis organization located in Arlington, VA.

So, consider CNA a meaningless collection of letters for a center that does analyses for the Navy and Marine Corps, whose main job is studying systems, tactical, and strategic issues for the USN and USMC. It has one unique regional focus, a "China Studies" division of 20 or so in-house analysts buttressed by "an extensive network of subject-matter experts from universities, government, and the private sector from around the world".

Second, the author, a "subject-matter expert", Captain Pedrozo:


Captain Raul (Pete) Pedrozo, US. Navy (Ret.). Former Professor of International Law, US. Naval War College; Staff Judge Advocate, US Pacific Command; and Special Assistant to the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy.

Fans of PRC maritime disputes are or should be quite familiar with the work of Captain Pedrozo.

When the PRC harassed the US naval survey vessel USNS Impeccable in 2009 and tried to assert that military surveillance inside the PRC EEZ was a violation of the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea, Captain Pedrozo produced highly important opinions, Close Encounters at Sea: the USNS Impeccable Incident and Preserving Navigational Rights and Freedoms: The Right to Conduct Military Activities in China's Exclusive Economic Zone. [2]

In these documents, Captain Pedrozo made a point of declaring that the USNS Impeccable was not engaged in any sort of anodyne mapping exercises, but was actually conducted military surveillance against PLAN subs, thereby exempting the Impeccable from any UNCLOS obligations to butt out of the PRC EEZ. This argument, judging by the recent dispatch of a PLAN surveillance into the US EEZ during RIMPAC, has apparently won the PRC's acceptance.

Captain Pedrozo's arguments that the PRC was improperly threatening legal military (not commercial) activities inside the PRC EEZ provided the basis for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's declaration at ASEAN in 2010 that the US had a national interest in protecting freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, and got the whole "pivot to Asia" ball rolling.

Captain Pedrozo, it is safe to say, is a big gun in the anti-PRC lawfare arsenal. In passing, it should be noted he is no friend of the PRC or its maritime pretensions.

Rather amusingly, in 2012 he recommended against against the US government concluding a agreement with the PRC to guard against collisions of naval vessels, largely on the novel grounds that it would encourage what might be termed "excessive Chinese uppitiness":

[A]lthough an INCSEA [Incidents at Sea] agreement could, in theory, reduce the possibility of miscalculation during un-alerted sea encounters between US. and Chinese naval and air forces, there are many reasons that the United States should not pursue such an arrangement. First, unlike the Soviet Navy, the PLA Navy is not a "blue water" navy with global reach and responsibilities. Elevating the PLA Navy to such a stature would not be in the best interests of the United States… [A]n INCSEA agreement with the PRC would significantly enhance the stature of the PLA Navy by suggesting it was a naval power on par with US. and former Soviet Navies . It would also force the US. Navy to treat the PLA Navy as an equal, something which it clearly is not. [3]

Rather less amusingly and, I suppose, considerably more significantly, lack of an INCSEA agreement also will increase US Navy latitude in peremptorily brushing aside PLAN ships during the maritime confrontations that, if advocates of a more forward US military posture in PRC's maritime sphere prevail, will becoming more and more common in the upcoming years.

Third, the subject matter.

The terminally FUBAR sovereignty issues of the Spratly Islands do receive a thorough parsing, but the main event is the Paracels, the cluster of islands south of Hainan, near Vietnam, completely occupied by the PRC, disputed by Vietnam, and the locale in which the PRC parked the HYSY 981 rig, partly as a signal that the US military presence in the South China Sea was, by Chinese estimation, neither justifiable nor necessary.

Fourth, an interesting question begged by the report, and actually raised in the foreword, by the Project Director, Michael McDevitt:

Importantly, this analysis of Vietnamese claims versus Chinese claims to the Paracel and Spratly archipelagoes was not undertaken as a prelude to a recommendation that the United States depart from its long held position of not taking a position on competing sovereignty claims in the South China Sea. That is not the intent, nor is it one of the recommendations of the project.

Yeah, so if the US government doesn't take a position on sovereignty claims, why did the top Navy think tank retain the top Navy sea lawyer (now retired) to crank out 140 pages of densely argued and heavily cited verbiage on the topic?

Fifth, the conclusion, a tenacious if not tendentious rebuttal of PRC claims and an unambiguous assertion by Captain Pedrozo of the superiority of Vietnamese claims to both the Paracels and the Spratlys.

Claims, I might add, that are not exactly a slam dunk, as McDevitt acknowledges in his foreword:

The Pedrozo analysis differs in part from two other third party analyses, one by Dr. Marwyn S. Samuels, an American scholar, who wrote the first detailed study on the origins of the disputes among China, Vietnam and in the Philippines. A meticulous scholar who used Vietnam and Chinese sources, his Contest for the South China, holds up very well some 40 years later. Samuels concluded that China had the better claim to the Paracels, but that China's claim to the Spratly's was "highly questionable." His judgments were partially echoed by Australian scholar Dr. Greg Austin, who has legal training. In his well?regarded China's Ocean Frontier, published in 1998. Austin found that China had "superior rights in the Paracels," but the legal complexity of the disputed Spratly claims meant that, "PRC claims to the entire Spratly group are at least equal to any other.

Pedrozo's findings are supported by Professor Monique Chemillier Gendreau in her work, Sovereignty over the Paracel and Spratly Islands. Professor Chemillier Gendreau is a legal scholar and Professor Emeritus at Paris University Diderot.

In reviewing all of these works, it is clear to me that in the unlikely event these claims are ever taken to the International Court of Justice to resolve the disputes over sovereignty the process will be long and difficult. None of the claimants has what might be called an "open and shut" legal case - although the consensus among scholars seems to be that China's claims in the Spratlys are weaker than those to the Paracels.

The reality on the ground is that China has occupied the entire Paracel group for 40 years, and short of military action by Vietnam to recapture the archipelago, will never leave.

So, despite US government policy of not taking sides in the South China Sea sovereignty issue, a US government think tank tasks top Navy lawyer to investigate the issue, and he comes up with his own revisionist take, assigning sovereignty to the Vietnamese for islands the PRC "will never leave".


One proximate motive, it can be confidently advanced, is that somebody within the US military establishment wanted to give aid and comfort to Vietnam in its struggle with the PRC (and in support of the burgeoning reform faction inside the Vietnamese Communist Party elite favoring rapprochement with the United States and a concerted anti-China policy).
The PRC, in parking the HYSY 981 had cannily advanced EEZ/UNCLOS based arguments for the legality of the location. By the PRC's preferred formula, it was within a few miles of Triton Island, the uninhabited spot of land in the southwest corner of the Paracel archipelago and therefore sheltered by the EEZ of the Paracel "territorial sea", a geographic unity formed out of a scattering of tiny islands within an excessively large body of water with a large unitary EEZ that is, by many interpretations, non-kosher under UNCLOS.

But even if the "territorial sea" was disregarded, the rig was still within 200 nautical miles of Woody Isle, the inhabited "capital" of the PRC's South China Sea empire, which the Vietnamese themselves had admitted deserved EEZ treatment.

But Captain Pedrozo adopts the argument that Vietnam, throughout the tangled strands of French occupation, Japanese occupation, French & KMT reoccupation, decolonization, civil war, the extinction of South Vietnam, and the rise of the People's Republic of Vietnam, had maintained sovereignty over the Paracels. When the PRC occupied the Paracels after a series of bloody skirmishes with Vietnamese forces in the 1970s, it was engaged in conquest, something that has been outlawed as a basis for territorial acquisition by signatories to the UN Charter. Therefore, the PRC occupation of the Paracels can never be legalized unless Vietnam cedes the archipelago to the PRC.

No legal sovereignty, no EEZ. No EEZ, the rig is illegal.

In a comment to an article Captain Pedrozo found excessively conciliatory to the PRC, Captain Pedrozo provided a clear statement of the linkage between sovereignty issues and EEZs in the South China Sea:

China does not have valid territorial claims to the South China Sea islands. To suggest that Beijing should be permitted to claim an exclusive economic zone from these islands is counterproductive and will put China one step closer to achieving de facto control of the South China Sea. ASEAN nations can stand by and allow China to incrementally solidify its maritime claims in the South China Sea through threats and coercion or they can stand up to Chinese brinkmanship before it's too late. [4]

As to more fundamental reasons why the US defense establishment were willing to ignore US policy on neutrality in South China Sea sovereignty issues and crank out 140 pages of pro bono lawyering on behalf of Vietnam, I will put on my tinfoil hat and advance the following explanation.

My personal feeling is that the PRC was trying to evolve beyond the foolishness of the nine-dash-line and normalize its maritime boundaries in the South China Sea along the lines of sovereignty + UNCLOS + EEZs, especially in anticipation that the UNCLOS Arbitral Commission will probably support the Philippine position on the line's legal insupportability.

The PRC hoped to come to a separate understanding with Vietnam on the Paracels issue, thereby isolating the Philippines as the PRC's crankiest antagonist in the South China Sea, and also demonstrating that the US had zero influence on PRC economic activities in that sea.

So the PRC sent in the HYSY 981. Whether the appearance of the rig was an unannounced outrage, or whether the PRC actually did some preliminary spadework inside the Vietnamese government (including offering some economic incentives for an agreeable attitude) and the HYSY 981 was a planned escalation is an interesting subject for further research.

In any case, it didn't work. The Vietnamese regime was affronted enough-and expressions of moral support from the US, Philippines, and Japan enthusiastic enough-for the HYSY 981 gambit to be thoroughly excoriated.

As to US thinking on the whole South China Sea issue, beyond giving aid and comfort to Vietnam, I suspect that there may be a rather Machiavellian overall strategy at work.

If the PRC succeeds in its long-standing goal of normalizing its South China Sea disputes on favorable terms on a bilateral basis and peace breaks out in the South China Sea, the United States is deprived of a pretext for involvement and an important point of leverage against the PRC.

By a thoroughgoing repudiation of the legality of PRC claims of sovereignty over the Paracels and Spratlys, the US position exposes any PRC EEZ-based South China Sea strategy to increased risks.

If China has to defy the world in the South China Sea, it's perhaps easier to defiantly hold the nine-dash-line than it is to immerse itself in a legal tangle to try and redraw EEZs with a group of angry and emboldened interlocutors based on questionable sovereignty claims. Therefore, the PRC will think twice about abandoning its long-standing nine-dash-line defense of its maritime claims - and there are indications it already has.

Good news for the United States, in my opinion, if China is unable to shake the nine-dash-line incubus. More conflict, more rancor, better PR, ample opportunities for the United States to step in as part of the international community "protecting the EEZ system", an extremely novel and significantly escalatory doctrine Senator Sheldon Whitehouse advanced during his visit to Vietnam with Senator John McCain. [5]

Take Whitehouse's declaration that the United States is the protector of the world EEZ regime, add Pedrozo's determination that the PRC has no sovereignty or EEZ rights in the South China Sea, and we have a fresh strategic and legal rationale for active US involvement in SCS EEZ disputes.

Or, to put it less charitably, combine dubious US doctrine and bullshit US lawyering (and the predictable assistance of a complaisant Western press and compliant allies) and the United States can unilaterally declare a compelling national interest to intervene in bilateral economic disputes thousands of miles from home ... and declare China an outlaw in its own maritime backyard!

That precious core interest in the South China Seas isn't yours, Mr Chicom. It's America's. Bwahahaha!

Clever ... if "clever" is defined as "institutionalizing conflict in the South China Sea instead of resolving it" and "ignoring the fact that national and international forces that cannot be reversed or controlled have been set in motion".

This might not turn out to be the US leadership for whichthe Association of Southeast Asian Nations is notoriously pining.

As to whether this is a US government stratagem, or just an initiative by the growing number of China hawks in the US military/security establishment, I guess time will tell. But both PRC and US hawks are stepping up their game in response to the perceived drift of the distracted Obama administration.

On the occasion of a close fly by by a Chinese fighter against a US surveillance plane (perhaps engaged in run of the mill surveillance flight but perhaps encroaching on a PLA military exercise), the Washington Times' Bill Gertz presented a hawks-eye view of USN China policy:

The US-China close encounter also is a setback for Adm. Samuel Locklear, commander of the US Pacific Command, who has been leading Obama administration efforts to develop closer relations with the Chinese military.

Locklear has sought to play down the growing military threat from China as part of efforts to develop closer cooperation with the Chinese military.

The commander's dovish policies are being opposed by some in the Pentagon and Air Force who are concerned that the conciliatory approach will appease the Chinese at a time when Beijing has made aggressive territorial claims in the East China Sea and South China Seas. [6]

The hawk recipe is fighter plane escorts for surveillance aircraft, a recapitulation of the "paramilitarization" of disputes with China (by interposing US military assets between PRC ships and Vietnamese and Philippine vessels) that was proposed by Carlyle Thayer in the South China Sea, [7] a remedy that I think we'll be seeing more and more.

In any case, elements within the US government/think tank universe have developed: 1. the legal justification (the Pedrozo analysis); 2. the doctrinal imperative (what I call the Whitehouse Doctrine), and 3. the operational tactics ("paramilitarization") to confront the PRC as an EEZ outlaw in the South China Sea.

How and when this strategy is implemented is now a matter of speculation only. But, as PRC strength waxes and the US government sees its window of opportunity for effective rollback inexorably closing in the South China Sea, I think something will happen sooner rather than later.

Peter Lee writes on East and South Asian affairs and their intersection with US foreign policy.

Macau Cracks Down on Democracy Advocates

Arrest of ‘chickens’ meant to scare Hong Kong ‘monkey’
On Aug. 24, police in Macau arrested a number of activists and closed a series of unofficial polling stations where citizens had been invited to vote on whether they had confidence in Chief Executive Fernando Chui Sai-on.

The crackdown in Macau is being regarded as another signal that Beijing’s ant-democracy campaign is heating up just as it claiming to offer universal suffrage to the people of Hong Kong, a claim greeted with widespread suspicion in the territory, just 65 km. across the mouth of the Pearl River from Macau.

Chui’s first five-year term is up in December and he is standing for re-election – a foregone conclusion since there is no other candidate.

The political apparatus put in place with Portugal’s relinquishment of the once-sleepy 442 year-old enclave in 1999 is theoretically designed to mirror Hong Kong’s “one-country, two systems” government that the former British colony put in place in 1997. However, from the start, Macau has felt the heat from China more than Hong Kong has. The political regime, clearly directed from Beijing, appears reluctant to go through the motions of a contest. The 400 individuals allowed to vote out of a population of 625,000 will rubber-stamp Chui’s second term just as he was first “elected” by a near unanimous vote with no opponent.

That is not to say however that there is no opposition to Chui within a traditionally apolitical Macao. Discontent has been simmering for some time with mass protests by workers and other signs of unhappiness. While Chui has presided over a phenomenal growth rate in the territory’s economy, the growth has been entirely based on the gambling industry where turnover now exceeds that of Las Vegas by an astonishing margin. Macau's gaming market generated $47.89 billion in revenue against US$6.52 billion for the 12 months ended May 31.

Needless to say, enormous amounts of that revenue are flowing down from the mainland, generating industrial-scale money laundering by mainlanders despite official government attempts to stop it. The organized crime activities which casinos everywhere attract has not helped deliver clean and accountable governance to Macau despite the well-publicized jailing in 1999 of Wan Kuok-koi, better known as Broken Tooth Koi, the leader until his arrest of the 14K Triad.

Most of the benefits of the casino boom are regarded as having gone to the casino operators, five of which are among the leading stocks listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange, where organizers and financiers of junket operators are also represented by lesser known counters. Senior employees of casinos, five-star hotels and luxury brand retailers have also made very good money from the laundering boom.

But for ordinary Macanese the influx of tourists and mainland flight money into local real estate has pushed up prices, particularly of apartments, beyond locally affordable levels while real wages for the unskilled  and semi-skilled have stagnated.

The irony is remarkable that a regime which survives by being “patriotic” and allowing no real political debate also continues as the laundering center for money which should be captured by President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign.

But the fate of even the most minor expressions of political dissent in Macau is another clear signal to Hong Kong that words like democracy and liberalism are foreign imports which threaten national security – or at least the security of the Communist Party elite headed by Xi, who himself seems destined to want to develop a personality cult around himself, if the Chinese propaganda machine’s recent activities are any measure.

For Hong Kong this means being offered a version of “universal suffrage” which is regarded by critics as a joke and which is likely to be rejected by pro-democracy forces that can prevent Beijing’s proposals passing the legislature by the necessary two thirds majority.

Beijing will not actually be unhappy with this as its legions of acolytes, headed by officials feeding at the government trough, will then claim that democrats rejected democracy. The democracy they have in mind is for the people to have a choice between two candidates carefully vetted by Beijing and approved by an election committee composed mostly of  pro-government stooges. This is barely an advance on the Macao – or North Vietnam – model.

Apparently Chinese civilization is so fragile that patriotism means accepting that Chinese people are incapable of thinking for themselves and must always be guided by the party which brought the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, and others disasters, and now is intent on diverting attention from new failures by threatening its non-Chinese neighbors, Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines. Asia Sentinel

China’s latest boss appears headed for the Communist Pantheon

He is not yet one of the “saints” of the Chinese Communist Party along with Mao and Deng. But already, after less than two years in office, Xi Jinping is, to borrow a phrase from the Catholic Church, being “beatified” – given pre-sainthood status.

On successive days last week, Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post published full-page features drawing attention to Xi’s exalted power and status, in effect condemning his two predecessors, Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin, to insignificance.

The SCMP is edited by a mainland Chinese long assumed to be a party member expected to promote party views while trying to present the SCMP, Hong Kong’s leading English-language paper, as a forum for diverse news and views.

In its Aug. 22 issue, the SCMP used the 110th anniversary of Deng’s birth not just to recall Deng’s contributions to China’s development and the return of Hong Kong, but went out of its way to link Xi to Deng. The overlines to the main article read: “President Xi Jinping’s efforts to exert China’s influence on the world stage mirror those of the former paramount leader who would be 110 today.”

It went on to compare Deng with Xi’s “flexing the country’s military muscle and asserting China’s involvement in regional affairs.” While acknowledging that Deng’s policy had actually been one of lying low internationally while building the economy and modernizing society, it implied that China is now in a position to make demands and get at least some of what it wants internationally.  Nor did it stop to consider the impact of Xi’s adventurism on China’s standing among its neighbors, particularly the supposedly weak but populous – and increasingly unnerved -- countries of Southeast Asia.

The underlying theme was that Xi deserves comparison with Deng because he is making waves around the world while Deng’s role was to make the waves which transformed the domestic economy.

As if this was not praise enough for the time being at least, the following day the SCMP published another full-page article about Xi himself entitled: “Up there with Mao and Deng.” It featured an illustration showing Xi’s portrait appearing on a wall with a China’s red flag background alongside those of the two earlier “saints”.

The article was rather less effusive than the headline, acknowledging that it “would be premature to call him China’s new strongman.” However, Xi was said to have amassed more power in 20 months than his two predecessors had during their terms in office. And for sure, Xi has been making more waves, particularly with his cutting down of Bo Xilai and associates and more recently with the high profile anti-corruption campaign and jingoist stirring of the Chinese soul against Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines. His economic agenda also suggests further reforms to create more competition, improve the management of state enterprises and modernize the financial system.

However the efforts to improve the status of the party and efforts to disadvantage foreign companies relative to domestic ones scarcely suggest that economic reform will be paramount among his goals. Indeed the SCMP’s writers appear to have conveniently forgotten that the boldest economic reform measures were those carried out when Zhu Rongji was premier under Jiang Zemin.

Zhu as central bank governor had earlier rescued China from an inflationary spiral. Zhu’s reforms  involved wholesale closures of inefficient state-owned factories, especially in the northeastern “rust belt”, and layoffs of millions of workers hitherto protected by jobs for life and enterprise-provided welfare. Given that party officials are now deeply embedded in the ownership and well as operation of state enterprises, reform on the Zhu scale looks impossible.

For sure, Xi has been building a personality cult, with his many public appearances with his glamorous wife, and by downplaying the role of premier Li Keqiang. But in that he appears closer to Mao or Bo Xilai than to Deng, who kept his own personality in the background, winning his position among the “saints” from his singular achievement in rescuing the party and the country from Maoism.

Nor does the building of a personality cult fit well with the aim of improving the legitimacy of the party as an institution not the party as agent of an individual as under Mao. For now, however, judging from the likes of Xi’s treatment by the SCMP, the party apparatus is happy enough to promote the future “canonization” of the president Asia Sentinel

How the WEST was LOST

A succession of below par Western leaders has given China an unexpected, and perhaps undeserved, leg-up to geopolitical prominence that threatens a weakened USA. There has never been a more incompetent Administration than that of Barack Obama’s.

Now I’m just a simple bloke who has followed politics for over 60 years. I left school at 13, have worked since the age of 8, I am self educated, I’ve lost more money than I’ve ever made and I’ve failed at most things I’ve tried. But I’ve tried an awful lot of things and I can guarantee I’m smarter than the average politician, most doctors, almost all solicitors and every uni student on the planet... and I’m not really all that smart.

But fair dinkum, why would the US threaten to place even more sanctions on Russia simply because it attempted to supply humanitarian aid to Russian speaking Ukrainians who are being systematically ethnically cleansed by Ukraine’s war criminal, Petro Poroshenko?

Why would Obama give comfort to Poroshenko and further alienate Vladimir Putin when he has never needed Putin more than he needs him now?

Blame for the rampaging Islamic State and its atrocities rests entirely with Obama. He armed them via the CIA in the hope they would overthrow Syria’s Bashar Assad. They failed. The US has interfered similarly in Egypt, Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan. Each is an unholy mess as a result of that interference.

Now Obama is courting the assistance of Assad, the very same bloke he has been trying to kill, to help overthrow the Islamic State. And guess who has been militarily assisting Assad toward the same goal? Yep, Vladimir Putin!

Bloody hell, is this some sort of madness? China, which has a sensible hands-off policy in the Middle East and deals ruthlessly with Islamic terrorists, can’t believe its luck! The US is self-imploding and taking the Middle East and Europe with it.

Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan along with north Africa’s Egypt, Libya and half of central Africa is on fire, ignited by an Arab spring the US promoted. Gaza and the West Bank have erupted because of Obama's unwillingness to support Israel, and now the US wants out? Too late, the Islamic hornet’s nest has been poked. 

The Islamic State must be destroyed and quickly but now Obama needs Assad’s and Putin’s assistance. Yet Obama is busily isolating Russia with the assistance of Ukraine, NATO and a bankrupt Europe!

Can Putin really be expected to go sulk silently in a corner somewhere? Has there ever been better ingredients for a World war?

Obama has lit the Islamic fuse yet he still refuses to use the words “Islam” and “terrorism” in the same sentence. 

Islam has infiltrated and infested the West to the extent that liberal/left governments are electorally unable to combat it. Australia is rendered impotent because Islam has been allowed to dominate seats that decide Federal elections. 

And what’s the point in confronting a cancerous Islam if in the process you lose Office?

ASIO’s chief, David Irvine is on the bloody guest speaker circuit for Christ’s sake, he is speaking at the National Press Club this week! The ASIO chief should be neither seen nor heard, he heads Australia’s primary security agency. 

A Rudd appointment, Irvine claims publically that there is, "no link between terrorism and Islam". WTF?

Abbott politely asks Islamic leaders for assistance in stemming terrorism and is impolitely told to get fucked! The Islamic ideological scourge cannot be allowed to cement itself further.

If thousands of Muslims regularly pray in public streets preventing residents from entering or leaving their homes, when an empty mosque is just up the road, then you know there is a serious problem. Clearly they wish to shove it up our noses, they hate us.

When the Islamic State tires of slaughtering its brothers it will turn its attention West. 

There has never been a greater need, nor a greater opening, for a political Party to support the clear wishes of the vast majority of Australians.

But careful, it was Abbott who was instrumental in jailing an innocent woman who was threatening to collar 20 per cent of the primary vote despite her rednecked proclivity for unfairly attacking Asians and Aborigines. 

Imagine her political success had she attacked what is now the real threat!

Pickering Post

Indonesia: A Decade of Development

SUSILO Bambang Yudhoyono should not really look for a post-politics career in singing. At Indonesia’s national independence dinner in the presidential palace a week ago, the President gave a short, typically gracious speech welcoming guests, extolling Indonesia’s national unity and looking forward to his own imminent retirement from office.

Then he told of a decision that had been weighing heavily on his mind — what to sing at his farewell national day dinner. His decision, he said, was as final and irrevocable as that of the Constitutional Court, which a few days later would rule definitively that the presidential election had been won by Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo. The appeal by the defeated former general Prabowo Subianto, based on alleged irregularities in the vote-counting, was thrown out by the court.

SBY’s first song was John Lennon’s Imagine. His delivery was soulful, but not terribly tuneful. The title of the second selection escaped me but it had a country and western sound.

This public singing, common among Indonesian leaders, especially former military men such as SBY, is perhaps the President’s main concession to populism.

For although at times he has been popular, SBY was never a populist. Rather, across 10 years in the Merdeka Palace, he has presided with a grave dignity.

Just now, and just for a moment, you suspect, there is a feeling in Jakarta of impatience with SBY. It is very much like the mood at the end of John Howard’s more than a decade as Australian prime minister. Nobody is generous in their assessment of SBY. The focus is on what he didn’t do. There is a feeling, as with Howard and the mining boom, that good times fostered bad policies, that SBY squibbed the harder tasks of economic reform.

But the rehabilitation of Howard’s reputation has been swift. The same may be true for SBY.

The sense of disappointment with SBY is especially strong among the Jakarta liberal elite. About 10 days ago he delivered his last state of the nation address to the parliament. The politicians were gracious enough to afford him a standing ovation, but The Jakarta Post, a splendid newspaper which trenchantly espouses the modern liberal point of view, began its report by saying that experts criticised the President’s claim that he had pursued persistently pro-people development policies.

In the course of three substantial conversations with the President in the past 10 days, I explored with him his record, and his ­nation’s record, in the SBY decade.

His tone is not boastful, but he makes a solid case for his achievements in office.

“I leave my office with a sense of satisfaction that I have tried to do my best to serve the nation, and that at the end of my 10 years in ­office Indonesia is a stronger nation, a stronger democracy and a stronger economy,” he tells me in a long discussion in his presidential office.

“We had many challenges but, one by one, we fixed our problems. We resolved the longstanding separatist conflict in Aceh. We stabilised the situation in Papua. We survived the tsunami crisis (of 2004) and many other natural ­disasters.

“We reformed our economy and overcame the global financial crisis in 2008. We completed ­direct elections for all our local leaders. We fought corruption hard, not always successfully. We neutralised and disrupted terrorist groups. We pursued a more active international engagement in a turbulent world.

“These are all momentous challenges. I am just glad that ­Indonesia has steadily kept momentum as a nation.”

Of this bald list of achievements, very few would quibble with consolidating democracy, settling the Aceh dispute, improving the situation in Papua or neutralising terrorists. SBY’s critics assume these outcomes more or less as a consequence of nature without affording the President much credit, but they don’t generally deny the fact of a big improvement under SBY’s tenure.

The economy is a more contested achievement. Critics lament the lack of tax reform, the slow process of reining in wasteful fuel subsidies, the counterproductive nationalism in mining policy, the slow progress on infrastructure, the lack of deep structural reform generally.

But it is the lot of nations and of men to live in a state of imperfection. SBY cites a host of measures that gives some overall context to Indonesia’s performance while he has been President.

Perhaps the single most important is this: when SBY came to office, Indonesia’s per capita income was $US1184. Last year, per capita income was $US3490. That’s an increase not far short of 200 per cent.

“Indonesia’s economic growth has been healthy,” he tells me. “During 2009 to 2013, Indonesia managed an average economic growth rate of 5.9 per cent. While growth decreased to 5.2 per cent in the first part of 2014, we are still experiencing higher economic growth than many countries. In fact, in the G20, Indonesia has the second highest growth after China.”

It is worth looking at a few more raw figures for Indonesia’s economy. National leaders get all the blame if things go wrong, so they surely deserve some of the credit for the things that go right.

Indonesia has a chronic problem with collecting taxes, but the state budget is now nearly four times as big as when SBY took ­office. Indonesia’s foreign exchange reserves also have nearly quadrupled, to more than $US120 billion. The ratio of government debt to gross domestic product has more than halved to be 23 per cent, an extremely respectable figure for a nation at ­Indonesia’s stage of development.

On some measures, though this is more subjective, half of Indonesia’s 248 million people now make it into the middle class. Absolute poverty has declined from 17 per cent of the population to 11.5 per cent, thought this involves a very rigorous definition of poverty and tens of millions are only just, and only tenuously, beyond absolute poverty. Exports have risen under SBY from $US71bn when he took office to more than $US200bn.

Electricity capacity has doubled, while mobile phone ownership, computer ownership and internet connectivity have increased exponentially. Some of these achievements reflect merely the passing of time without major disturbance. But that in itself is an almighty achievement of government. As the developing world demonstrates, it is all too easy for a poor government to throw a ­nation’s development off path.

Economists overall suggest that while you could classify reform as anaemic, overall macro-economic management in Indonesia has been very strong, very sound, under SBY’s leadership. At the minimum, this reflects wise senior institutional and cabinet appointments by SBY and backing of the senior figures in their policy judgments.

The slowdown in the ­Indonesian economy this year reflects a nearly universal slowdown globally. SBY says: “The prolonged slow global economic growth poses a challenge to many economies, including Indonesia. Increasingly our economies are interconnected, and economic difficulties faced by one will be felt by others.

“All emerging economies are now facing difficulties. They all have a challenge in maintaining economic growth and maintaining currency stability. The monetary policy actions taken by the US Federal Reserve have impacted emerging economies, including Indonesia. Overall this year we could still get 5.5 or 5.6 per cent economic growth.”

He is optimistic that within two years, growth can be back at trend of 6 per cent or more.

SBY acknowledges that a lot of economic reform is still to be done in Indonesia. A huge portion of the state budget goes into fuel subsidies, and although these help the poor, they flow overwhelmingly to middle-class and rich people because, as Joe Hockey would attest, rich people use a lot more fuel than poor people do.

“Last year I made the decision to increase the price of petrol,” SBY says. “It was hugely unpopular politically. This year it was electricity and gas. We need to adjust the subsidy. My hope is that the new government will give the subsidy to the poor. We should not give the subsidy to the commodities but to the people who need it: the poor.”

In a country whose history has often been marred by human rights abuses, SBY is rightly proud Indonesia is not responsible for any such breach these days. He is proud of the consolidation of democracy, though he acknow­ledges this is unfinished business. He is glad intercommunal hostilities are much milder than they were before. His critics seem to take all this for granted, or almost assume that it all happened without any active involvement from the President.

After the fall of Suharto, who ruled in undemocratic fashion for 32 years, Indonesians fashioned a constitution full of checks and balances. Presidential power is limited. It is extremely difficult to get legislation through Indonesia’s parliament. No party ever has a majority and coalitions are largely notional. Legislators vote on every issue however they like and negotiate ruthlessly over each vote. A president who remains within the constitutional bounds will always struggle to get a bold reform program passed.

It’s too easy to forget SBY’s historic role as the co-ordinating minister for security under Megawati Sukarnoputri’s presidency. At that time there were still concerns about the potential for a military coup. As the senior general in Mega’s government, SBY’s presence alone made that a much less likely threat.

Then, when he became President, his standing with the military made a coup unthinkable. Now the Indonesian military shows every sign of a thoroughgoing commitment to democracy and civilian control. Indonesia is more affluent and more stable. Civil society is far more developed and ­issues of potential military rebellion seem now very distant from Jakarta.

SBY is aware of the criticism that he is too cautious. But he says maintaining a political balance within a pluralistic society and a multi-party democracy is more important. His supporters point to the sense of calm he has projected all through his presidency. He is not an emotional leader; his tone is never strident. His policy may be cautious but it is never erratic.

Indonesia today is much wealthier, more powerful and more stable than it was 10 years ago. It is assuredly not paradise. It has not reduced poverty as quickly as China has done. But this is a decade of solid social and economic achievement that has been carried out peacefully with all the demands and limitations of a new and vigorous democracy.

And in its latest election, the ­Indonesian nation has opted for another calm, non-flamboyant president in Joko Widodo, widely known as Jokowi. Like SBY, Jokowi is a centrist, a moderate, a figure of reconciliation rather than polarisation.

Tony Abbott, and the man he succeeded, Kevin Rudd, both believe SBY will be recognised in time as a great president, a great and transformative leader of Indonesia and, of course, a great friend of Australia.

It is no disrespect at all to Jokowi, who himself promises a great deal, to say of SBY: we’ll miss him when he’s gone. The Australian By Greg Sheridan, Foreign Editor, Melbourne