Sunday, April 26, 2015

Geography and World Power at 100


An important work of geopolitics was written 100 years ago.

One hundred years ago, British writer and teacher James Fairgrieve (1870-1953) wrote Geography and World Power, an important but mostly forgotten work on global geopolitics. Written during the First World War, Fairgrieve’s book sought to “show how the history of the world has been controlled by” geographical conditions.

Fairgrieve was an intellectual disciple of the great British geopolitical thinker Sir Halford Mackinder, and borrowed some of Mackinder’s concepts in formulating his own geopolitical worldview. Fairgrieve factored into his geopolitical analyses topography, location, climate, relative population density, the distribution of energy, the ease or difficulty of movement, and political and social organization.

Geography and World Power traced the impact of geographical conditions on the course of history, beginning with the desert, marsh and steppe lands of Egypt and Mesopotamia; to the near and readily accessible regions of Palestine and Phoenicia; to Greece, Carthage, and Rome; to the forest lands of Germany and Russia; to the great plain of Eurasia from which nomadic tribes invaded the settled peoples of Europe; to the lands of Arabia from which Mohammedans attempted to convert the known world to Islam; to the age of exploration and the discovery of the New World; to the African grasslands; to the Monsoon lands of China and India.

Four years later, after the cataclysm of the First World War, Fairgrieve added an important chapter to the book, “The Great Land Distributions: The World As It Is.” Here he synthesized the geographical analyses of the 1915 edition and looked beyond contemporary events to shed some light on the global geopolitics of the future.

“Within the last generation or two,” he wrote, “thanks largely to increased ease of communication, the world has become a single system with no part really independent of any other part.” The world consisted of two great land masses, he wrote, “the Old World parallelogram and the Americas, set in a greater ocean.” The Old World was home to three ancient settled civilizations – European, Indian, and Chinese. The dominant geographical feature of the Old World was the central “heartland” of “Euro-Asia,” which, Fairgrieve noted, “occupies, from the very fact of its effective centrality and size, a unique position in the world . . .”

Along the periphery of Eurasia on Fairgrieve’s geopolitical map were the lands of the “ocean border,” which included Britain, southern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and the Far East. He also identified a “crush zone” of smaller powers – Scandinavia, the Baltic States, southwest Asia and southeast Asia – situated between the heartland and ocean powers.

Fairgrieve identified three centers from which the Eurasian heartland could be politically controlled by outside ocean powers: Germany, China, and India. “In touch with the sea and tempted on to the ocean,” he wrote, “Germany is one of the sea powers, while her situation on the western and most populous margin of the great heartland makes her . . . a possible centre from which the heartland might be organized.” Meanwhile, “the Chinese are yet in touch with the sea, and reap advantages which they are ready to take from that position.” “[T]o an even greater extent than Germany,” he continued, “China is in a position to dominate the heartland . . .” “India,” Fairgrieve wrote, “is in an even more extraordinary position.” “Nearest of the lands of the ocean border to the margin of the heartland,” he continued, “it would be natural for India to take a foremost place in dominating that heartland.”

Fairgrieve pointed out that the “Old World system” he described shared the global stage with the New World with the United States as the leading player there. He expected that the U.S. would become “the seat of an ocean power, and play the part on a vaster scale which Britain played in earlier times.” “Removed, but not far removed by an ocean moat, from the direct effects of Old World strife, with power of all kinds, material and economic and moral,” he wrote, “the United States can claim to be arbiter in world disputes.”

Finally, he noted that Japan, after defeating Russia in 1904-05, had become a modern state and a world power whose ”influence is felt far beyond the island rim of eastern Asia.”

The world, he concluded, is a single economic system. The real problem of geopolitics, he noted, is not how to live separately but how to live together. He lamented the waste of lives and energy in the recently concluded world war, and expressed the hope that an effective League of Nations might preserve the peace.

Geography and World Power did indeed shed some light on the future. A hundred years ago, at a time when the United States was mostly looking inward, India was a colony of the British Empire, and China was riven by domestic strife, Fairgrieve accurately foresaw their geopolitical potential.

Francis P. Sempa is the author of Geopolitics: From the Cold War to the 21st Century (Transaction Books) and America’s Global Role: Essays and Reviews on National Security, Geopolitics and War (University Press of America). He is also a contributor to Population Decline and the Remaking of Great Power Politics (Potomac Books).  He has written on historical and foreign policy topics for Joint Force QuarterlyAmerican Diplomacy, the University BookmanThe Claremont Review of BooksThe DiplomatStrategic Review, the Washington Times and other publications. He is an attorney, an adjunct professor of political science at Wilkes University, and a contributing editor to American Diplomacy.

 

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Is This What Shinzo Abe Will Say in Washington Next Week?



A lot is riding on Abe’s speech before US Congress. His address in Indonesia gives an idea of what to expect.

On April 22, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe spoke at the Asian-African Conference commemorating the original “Bandung Conference.” In the speech, he discussed Japan’s strong commitment to upholding widely-accepted international principles such as “(r)efraining from acts or threats of aggression or the use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any country,” and “(s)ettlement of all international disputes by peaceful means.” Abe also stressed that Japan’s resolve is rooted in the country’s “feelings of deep remorse over the past war.” He then went on to lay out his government’s plan of engaging in the activities that aims for helping the countries in Asia and Africa to achieve sustainable economic development.

The structure of his speech parallels the speech Abe delivered to the Australian Parliament when he visited Canberra in July 2014. In both speeches, Abe spoke clearly about how Japan’s foreign and security policy principles today are grounded in the country’s remorse over its wartime past and emphasized that these principles will not change. He also discussed in both speeches his vision for Japan’s engagement with the specific country that he was visiting at the time of his speech.

Based on these two speeches, it is very likely that Abe’s upcoming speech in front of the U.S. Congress will have a comparable structure. Specifically, it will probably have three components: a reference to “remorse” about Japan’s wartime behavior in some form, a discussion of the role of U.S.-Japan relations in Japan’s postwar rise as a “peace-loving country,” and an articulation of Abe’s own vision for Japan’s future role in the world.

Those who look to Abe to repeat the Japanese government’s official apologies for its wartime past — the 1993 Kono Statement and 1995 Murayama Statement, to be exact — will be disappointed.  Abe has already indicated in his interviews with the Japanese press that he would not be keen on, to put it simply, delivering a speech that does a “cut and paste” of these two statements.

If Abe makes a reference to remorse toward Japan’s wartime past, it will most likely come in the context of explaining how such “remorse” and reflection on its past shape Japan’s fundamental policy priorities today. The heavier emphasis will be on reaffirming that Japan will continue to honor these principles as it moves forward while it seeks to play a more robust role as a “rule-promoter, commons’ guardian, and an effective ally to the U.S. and other democracies,” as Abe himself put it in February 2013, during his first visit to Washington after taking office.

And the United States will very much welcome such a speech. A recent poll released by the Pew Research Center shows that a majority of the U.S. public — 61 percent — thinks that Japan has already apologized sufficiently, or that an apology is no longer necessary. Given that the overwhelming majority trusts Japan, America is ready to know more about Abe’s ideas for the future.

For Abe, so much is at stake for his visit to the U.S. next week. At the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, Abe’s performance during the visit could very much define his foreign policy legacy. A lot will depend on what Abe will say before the U.S. Congress on April 29. By for The Diplomat

 

 

Prominent Pakistani Social Activist Shot Dead in Karachi


A revolutionary voice was silenced in the bustling Pakistani city of Karachi.

Sabeen Mahmud, a Pakistani social activist, best known as the founder and director of T2F (The Second Floor), was shot by unidentified assailants on April 24. She died on her way to the hospital. Doctors said they retrieved five bullets from her body. Her mother who was accompanying her in the same car sustained bullet wounds and is currently being treated at a hospital; she is said to be in critical condition.

According to Dawn, T2F had on Friday organized a talk on Balochistan, titled “Unsilencing Balochistan Take 2: In Conversation with Mama Qadeer, Farzana Baloch & Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur.” Mahmud had left T2F after attending the session, when she was targeted.

T2F is one of the very few spaces in Karachi where people gather to discuss ideas and enjoy intellectually stimulating talks on social issues. Pakistan is a country that oscillates between freedom of speech and a lack of tolerance for dissent. Outside the country, there are pubs, forums, bars, and cafes where people get together to enjoy a stimulating conversation. But in Pakistan, there was dearth of such spaces until Mahmud built T2F, armed with an ambitious vision to serve the community. Without money and lacking market research, she decided to create a space for those curious minds who wanted to discuss their ideas openly and freely, without the burden of the societal and cultural restraints prevalent in Pakistani society. Over the course of six years, T2F had morphed into a very popular spot for gatherings, musical evenings, hackathons, and meetings.

Her last event featured two of Pakistan’s most vilified human rights activists: Mama Qadeer and Farzana Majeed, both of whom have worked to raise awareness about the dire situation in the southwestern province of Balochistan and its “missing people.”

T2F’s website describes the venue as follows: “Since its inception in May 2007, T2F has hosted hundreds of events, ranging from poetry readings and film screenings, to vibrant debates on critical issues. With the support and participation of musicians, artists, writers, film makers, scientists, comedians, thought leaders, and engaged audiences, T2F has contributed to revitalizing Karachi’s cultural landscape and has provided an alternative, independent, safe space for discourse.”

This is not the first time a revolutionary voice has been targeted in Pakistan. In January, Bob Dietz, the Asia Coordinator of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) stated that, for a democratic country, Pakistan ranks worryingly high when it comes to the number of attacks on journalists and activists. In 2014, prominent journalist and Express News show “Khabar Se Aagay” host Raza Rumi narrowly escaped death after finishing a show in Lahore. According to a report in Express News, Rumi said unidentified armed men opened fire on his car. The driver later succumbed to his injuries, while his guard was also injured in the incident. Rumi added that although he had not received any direct threats but he was reportedly on the hit list of some extremist organizations. Similarly, Geo News‘ Hamid Mir was attacked by gunmen just over a year ago, sustaining major injuries.

T2F was created with the vision to protect Pakistan’s visionaries, to give them a space where they were safe to discuss ideas. For her efforts, Mahmud paid the ultimate price to give others a voice. The Diplomat

 

 

South China Sea: China's Unprecedented Spratlys Building Program


Subi Reef looks next in line for an airstrip, as building and reclamation continue with unprecedented speed.

High-resolution satellite images from April 17, 2015 reveal that in the space of ten weeks China has built an island on top of Subi Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands group. The dimensions and shape of the land fill, which is still underway, are compatible with a potential airstrip 3,300 meters long, similar to the prospective length of the runway currently being paved on Fiery Cross, the site of another installation being built by China on a former reef in the Spratlys.

Military analysts have observed that a runway 3,300 meters long could support virtually all types of combat and supply aircraft in China’s navy and air force.


As recently as February 6, 2015, only two small sites of dredging and land fill activity were detectable at Subi Reef, part of a maritime region that is claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Taiwan, as well as China. As of April 17, 2015, the land fill of Subi measured 2.27 square kilometers in area, on a par with the rapidly manufactured island at Fiery Cross Reef, recently assessed as 2.65 square kilometers in area.

A notable difference between China’s buildup at Fiery Cross versus Subi is that Fiery Cross has a sizable new port as well as a runway/taxiway under construction. No such navy-caliber port facility is seen in the new images of Subi; however, a channel on the south rim of the reef is being expanded, and the near-complete enclosure formed by the natural reef provides a protective harbor in its own right. In addition, extensive ongoing land fill at the southern extremity of Subi could be purposed for marine docks.

Disputed Mischief Reef in the Spratlys, also the site of rapid land reclamation by China, has been filled in with sand and coral cuttings to an area of approximately 2.42 square kilometers as of April 13, 2015, from virtually no above-water terrain as of a few months ago. Satellite imagery shows a minimum of 23 dredgers operating at Mischief on April 13, along with at least two dozen other large construction-related vessels within the lagoon formed by the circular reef. In that day’s satellite image, 28 concrete transport/mixing trucks can be seen, in addition to dozens of other large trucks and dozens of backhoes.

China is expanding its land fill across the northern rim of Mischief Reef as well, along a relatively straight portion of the submerged reef with dimensions that could support a landing strip longer than 3,000 meters. Imagery of the southwest rim of Mischief shows the complete filling-in of a large sector of reef in a mere eight weeks.

Subi, Mischief and Fiery Cross reefs are three of at least seven reefs in the Spratly Islands that have been filled in by China and are being outfitted for purposes that are most likely military in nature

The speed, scale, intensity and remoteness of China’s ongoing manufacture of land and infrastructure within the South China Sea have few or no parallels in history outside of wartime. The frenzy of the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s building program in the Spratlys, a thousand kilometers from China’s shoreline, is a demonstration of its territorial intentions, as well as a show of the current government’s competency in swiftly executing massive projects to back up its ambitions. The result will be an enlarged international footprint for China’s military, submerging the territorial claims of weaker nations.

[Subi Reef is known as Zamora in Filipino, Đá Xu Bi in Vietnamese, and Zhubi Jiao in Chinese. Fiery Cross Reef is known as Kagitingan in Filipino, Đá Chữ Thập in Vietnamese, and Yongshu Jiao in Chinese. Mischief Reef is known as Panganiban in Filipino, Đá Vành Khăn in Vietnamese and Meiji Jiao in Chinese.]

Victor Robert Lee reports from the Asia-Pacific region and is the author of the espionage novel Performance Anomalies.

 

Indonesia - Executions set Tuesday

COURAGE UNDER FIRE In this file photo taken on april 21, drug convict and death row prisoner Mary Jane Veloso, clad in traditional indonesian attire, gestures during a program celebrating kartini day in honor of indonesian national hero and women’s rights activist raden kartini at Yogyakarta prison. AFP PHOtO

Convicted Filipina told when she’ll face firing squad in Indonesia

Mary Jane Veloso, the Filipina convicted of drug smuggling in Indonesia, will face a firing squad on Tuesday, her sister who is in Jakarta revealed on Saturday.

In an interview with Manila-based radio station dzBB, Maritess Veloso-Laurente said it was Mary Jane herself who told her about the execution date.

Laurente said her sister was summoned by prison authorities in the Nusakumbangan jail facility on Saturday afternoon where she was handed a letter purportedly from Indonesia’s Attorney General’s Office.

The Veloso family had earlier received a copy of the execution order, but with no fixed date on when the death penalty would be carried out, independent news portal Bulatlat.com said in a report quoting Edre Olalia of the National Union of People’s Lawyers who is in Jakarta.

A second letter which Laurente said was handed to Mary Jane later in the afternoon indicated the execution date on Tuesday, April 28
“We were already very anxious when we arrived here in Indonesia, but it’s a lot different when there’s already a date set,” she said in Filipino.


Alerted of the development early last night, the Department of Foreign Affairs said the Philippine Embassy in Jakarta did not receive any notice from Indonesian authorities.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario earlier said the execution of Mary Jane would not take place until the Philippine government receives an official notice from Indonesia.

“The protocol calls for 72 hours to be given to the convicted person and the respective embassies. We have not received anything. From the time we receive it they cannot execute within three days,” Del Rosario said on Friday.

Indonesia on Saturday night said it has officially notified eight foreign drug convicts that they will be executed, but a Frenchman was granted a temporary reprieve after Paris stepped up pressure on Jakarta.

“Today, just now, we just finished notifying every convict, nine people except for Serge,” a spokesman for the attorney-general’s office, Tony Spontana, told AFP, adding it would be at least three days until the sentences are carried out.

Officials said earlier that Frenchman Serge Atlaoui, who was expected to be among the group being put to death, will not be included in the forthcoming batch as he still has an outstanding legal appeal.
Spontana did not give a date for the executions.


The 30-year-old Filipina was arrested in 2010 after undergoing security screening at the Yogyakarta airport for allegedly carrying 2.6 kilograms of heroin. Veloso, who was supposed to work as a maid, said the bag from where the heroin was found was allegedly lent to her by her recruiter, Ma. Kristina Sergio.

Consular officials from the countries whose citizens face execution were arriving on Saturday for a briefing from Indonesian foreign ministry officials, said Charles Jose, Philippine foreign affairs department spokesman.

Jakarta has said an exact date for the executions could not be decided yet, as a judicial review was still pending for the sole Indonesian in the group of 10 people who face death by firing squad.

Indonesia’s Supreme Court said the ruling on that case could be made as early as Monday, paving the way for the executions to proceed.

Authorities said on Thursday they had ordered prosecutors to start making preparations for the executions. However convicts must be given 72 hours notice before executions are carried, and this notice is yet to be given.

Veloso’s family arrived at Cilacap, the town on Java that serves as the gateway to Nusakambangan early Saturday. The father and mother, her two sons aged six and 12, and sister Maritess pushed through a scrum of waiting journalists.

“If anything bad happens to may daughter, I will hold many people accountable. They owe us my daughter’s life,” Veloso’s 55-year-old mother, Celia, told a Philippine radio station. “I hope my appeal reaches President (Joko) Widodo.”

Mary Jane together with the other convicted foreign drug smugglers were transferred to Nusakumbangan island in the wee hours of Friday.
The Filipina was allowed to meet her family for two hours.


Maritess said her sister seems to have accepted her fate. “She has put on weight. She’s courageous, grew stronger but still cheerful. She did not show a tinge of sadness, fear or anxiety,” she said.

Mary Jane embraced her children tightly and peppered them with kisses. She then told her children not to be ashamed about what happened to their mother.

“Mga anak, kapag ako’y namatay, dapat ipagmalaki niyo si Mama. Si Mama namatay na malinis ang puso, namatay siya dahil sa kasalanan ng ibang tao (My children, be proud of your mother. Your mother died with a clear heart. She died because of the sins of other people),” Maritess said as she quoted Mary Jane’s final words to her children.

She said her sister has asked prison authorities to allow at least one family member to be with her until her last moment.

“She said she doesn’t want her body to be desecrated like what reportedly happened to one convict who was executed whose body was allegedly thrown into the sea,” Maritess said.

Priority concern
Malacañang on Saturday said President Benigno Aquino 3rd may get a chance to talk to Indonesian President Jokowi Widodo and make an appeal on Veloso’s case when they meet in Malaysia on Sunday for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) summit.


“It’s not unusual for heads of state and heads of government to talk on the sidelines or between plenary sessions during events such as the Asean summit,” Presidential Communications Operations Office head Herminio Coloma Jr. said on state radio, dzRB.

“Of course, if there would be an opportunity for the President to talk to President Widodo, Veloso’s case would among the priority concerns,” he added.

‘Pray harder’
Vice President Jejomar Binay on Saturday called on Filipinos to “pray harder” for Veloso.


Binay spoke to reporters upon his arrival from Indonesia where he attended the Asian-African conference, also known as the Bandung conference.

“Let us pray for her. Let us just pray harder because those I talked to, they understand, but some say ‘It so happened the current situation is that there is an operation against those involved in drug abuse’,” he said. “But let us pray harder. Let us just pray harder. The power of prayer hopefully.”

Calm and composed
NUPL’s Olalia who was tapped by the Veloso family to help them described Mary Jane as “incredibly strong, calm and composed”.


“She told her family not to feel sad and is buoying up their sprits. The little boys were playful with their mom. The parents of Mary Jane who were initially broken regained their composure. Sisters show intense affinity with each other,” Olalia, the NUPL secretary general said.

Olalia said they have asked Indonesian authorities to allow two more visits, Sunday and Monday so that the Veloso family could spend more time with Mary Jane.

Mary Jane, according to Olalia, maintained that she is innocent of the crime she is accused of.

“It was never proven that she was a drug mule or that she was a courier.

The court was only able to prove that she was in possession of an illegal substance but has no knowledge, no consent and no intention,” Olalis told Bulatlat.com.

This, he said, is why the prosecutor, during the trial stage, only recommended a life imprisonment penalty for Veloso.

The human trafficking ground was adopted by the Indonesian lawyers, who were retained by the Philippine Embassy, in collaboration with the NUPL.

If proven that she is a victim of human trafficking, Veloso should be repatriated, said Olalia.

Subhed: Personal appeal
Veloso has personally appealed to President Widodo to spare her from execution.


“I sincerely appeal to you, Honorable Sir, to grant me pardon from the death penalty. I believe and am certain that you have a compassionate heart and are very wise to make a humane decision,” Veloso said in a handwritten appeal.

The letter, which was written in Bahasa, was translated to English by University of the Philippines professor Ramon Guillermo. She wrote the appeal last Apr. 15 at the Wirogunan Correctional Facility in Yogyakarta.
Veloso said her two children need her.


“Honorable Sir, I believe that as the father of your child, you can feel what it would be like if your child were in the position of my own children, it is surely very painful because it would take away the right of my children to be with their mother, if my plea for pardon is not granted,” she said.

She added that as “Father of the Indonesian Nation,” Widodo should protect the people.

“I sincerely pray to to be saved from the death penalty and to be given the opportunity to bring up my children,” she said.

Justified
President Widodo justified the death penalty spree on the basis that drug traffickers on death row had “destroyed the future of the nation.” In December last year, he told students that the death penalty for convicted drug traffickers was an “important shock therapy” for anyone who violates Indonesia’s drug laws.


Indonesia ended a four-year unofficial moratorium on the use of the death penalty on March 15, 2013 when it executed by firing squad Adami Wilson, a 48-year-old Malawi national. An Indonesian court had convicted Wilson in 2004 of smuggling one kilogram of heroin into the world’s largest archipelago.

“President Widodo should recognize that the death penalty is not a crime deterrent but an unjustifiable and barbaric punishment. Widodo should promote Indonesia as a rights-respecting democracy by joining the countries that have abolished capital punishment,” Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch said.

ARES P. GUTIERREZ, MANAGING EDITOR; CATHERINE S. VALENTE, LLANESCA T. PANTI AND NEIL A. ALCOBER, REPORTERS; AFP AND BULATLAT.COM

Asean's pragmatism is playing into China's hands


With its economic clout and trade power, Beijing continues to brush aside criticism on south china sea, while other countries in the region look the other way.


When Asean leaders gather this weekend in Kuala Lumpur, their agenda will be dominated by the launch of the 10-year roadmap toward the realisation of the Asean Community.

But, apart from regional economic integration, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III has other things in mind.

The Asean summit offers him another opportunity to bring up the issue of China's aggressive moves in the South China Sea. Hopefully, he will get his colleagues to conclude the protracted discussion of a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea as a concrete achievement in political and security cooperation.


This was an issue he first sharply brought to the Asean table at the 20th Asean summit in 2012 in Phnom Penh.

For the first time in its history, the consensus-oriented regional bloc failed to issue a joint communique at the end of its meeting after the host country decided to take up the cudgels for China.

This was a moment when semantics could not come to the aid of diplomacy.

That Cambodian summit conveyed in no uncertain terms the president's determination to hold China accountable for its actions under international norms.

His dogged pursuit of the South China Sea issue at that meeting, which he did in the politest terms possible, deviated from the customary practice of issuing muffled official protests while signalling a readiness to settle disputes through bilateral talks.

It was a sharp departure from the policy that had characterised his predecessor's cosy relationship with China.

Not too long after the Cambodian encounter, the Philippines filed an arbitration case against China under the terms of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos).

Treating it as provocation, China refused to participate in the arbitral proceedings in The Hague.

While China is within its rights to not submit to the authority of the international tribunal, it is difficult to see how it can stake a unilateral claim on virtually the whole of the South China Sea and expect this claim to be recognised merely on the basis of what it regards as historical rights.

But that is the reason for China's preference for arguments based on maps and archaeological artefacts - whose authenticity has been repeatedly questioned.

Preposterous as it may seem, this line of reasoning is consistent with the doctrine advanced by China's legal experts that "a judicial fact must be appreciated in the light of the laws contemporary with it, rather than the laws in force at the time when a dispute arises". This was cited in Martin Jacques' "When China Rules the World".

China's recent actions have gone beyond the deployment of patrol boats in a vast sea it claims as its territorial waters.

It has embarked in the last few months in a frenetic reclamation and construction programme aimed at converting partly submerged reefs and shoals into islands of concrete, equipped with aircraft landing strips and naval ports.

This crude operation has entailed digging out large amounts of sand from the seabed and piling it upon live corals in order to create a solid foundation.

A marine scientist believes that hundreds of hectares have so far been reclaimed in this ecologically disastrous manner.

This activity has alarmed the developed world, seeing in it a brazen attempt to create choke points along what is regarded as one of the busiest sealanes in the world.

Satellite photos show reclamation and construction work proceeding non-stop on at least seven reefs, all of which are the object of competing claims by other countries.

China has characteristically brushed aside all criticism, saying it is within its rights to do anything on its territory.

Twenty years ago, it would have been inconceivable for China to behave like this.

A region that was just starting to emerge from anti-Communist paranoia would have regarded these moves with extreme suspicion and disdain.

Today, economic clout has made it possible for China to exercise the kind of power and influence it failed to achieve by its support of revolutions in Southeast Asia.

It has long replaced Japan as the economic engine that would propel the rest of the region to the level attained by the Asian "tiger economies" of the 1970s and 1980s.

There is not a single economy in the Asean bloc that is not in some measure dependent on China for trade, investment and tourism.

Without any doubt, the United States continues to be the single most dominant power in the region that has the capability to repel China.

It is expected to issue warnings against any attempt to alter the geopolitical configuration of the region. But so long as its own ailing economy is equally tied to China's economic power, it is hardly in a position to take punitive action against any Chinese aggression in the region.

What this means is that, for all the moral support it is getting from the international community, the Philippines basically stands alone in its fight to make China answerable under international law.

Pragmatic Asean, whose economic fortunes are closely intertwined with that of China, will not turn its back on its most important partner just to make the Philippines feel good.

What Malaysia's defence minister Hishamuddin Hussein told his Asean colleagues in August 2013 that things will not change even if Malaysia is hosting the 2015 summit:

"Just because you have enemies doesn't mean your enemies are my enemies."

This kind of pragmatism plays right into China's hands. Unable to buy every nation in its backyard, it will wait until a new set of pliant leaders is elected. Randy David Philippine Daily Inquirer

 

Lessons of Indonesia’s Tambora ignored, 200 years on


 



Tambora Mountain, on the island of Sumbawa midway between Jakarta and Darwin, was one of the highest in our region until 1815. It then exploded, sending an estimated 160 cubic kilometres of pyroclastic material into the atmosphere.
 

The explosion would certainly have been heard by the few inhabitants of northern Australia, since there were reports from Jakarta and more distant Sumatra. But the pyroclastic material was carried primarily westward by the prevailing winds, dropping mostly on the land and waters of Indonesia before carrying an ash cloud several times around the world.

Those directly killed by the explosion of gases and lava flows were mainly on the Tambora Peninsula of Sumbawa itself, where the explosion killed virtually everybody — thought to be 11,000 people. Speakers of the Tambora language were wiped out, eliminating what is now understood to have been by far the most westerly survival of a Papuan-type language.

At least 10 times as many died slowly of hunger and disease in the remainder of Sumbawa Island and in nearby Lombok and Bali, as agriculture was destroyed by ash deposits and lack of sunlight. The devastated population was then assailed by infestations of rats, which consumed much of the little food left.

In good times Bali was a major exporter of rice, but for two decades after 1815 its major export was slaves desperate to find food elsewhere. Only after 10–15 years of misery did the ecological curse turn again to a blessing as the ash was absorbed to fertilise Bali’s soils. Those who died of hunger in this way were not reported as victims of the volcano, any more than those who died as the ash cloud darkened skies and lowered temperatures in Europe and America.

The dearth of population figures anywhere in Indonesia before 1820 vitiates demographic attempts to calculate the loss. But using population figures to estimate the later, smaller eruptions of Krakatau (1883) and Kelut (1919) shows a missing agricultural population of a little under 100,000 from the former and well over that figure in the latter.

Why did Tambora remain so little known, despite ejecting at least four times as much material as Krakatau, the second biggest eruption of the modern era?

Krakatau was much closer to the European communication centres of Singapore and Batavia (Jakarta), while the introduction of the telegraph in mid-century had shrunk the world dramatically. Newspaper readers in Europe eagerly consumed descriptions and images of the Krakatau eruption, and some even linked it to strange weather conditions in Europe.

Tambora’s eruption was hardly reported in Europe. Only in the last 30 years have climatologists, geophysicists and historians worked out the relative scale of past eruptions through physical measurement of craters and ash deposit in polar ice cores. The dots were joined to point to Tambora’s impact on the climate.

The explosion is now understood to have lowered global temperatures by about a degree, and produced in 1816 the ‘year without summer’ in Western Europe and New England, with frosts and snowfalls in June and July. There were consequent famines in many parts of Europe, western China and North America, triggering the westward migration of New England farmers rendered desperate by the failure of their 1816 crops. J.M.W. Turner’s darkly yellow landscapes have been attributed to the Tambora eruption, and the ‘incessant rainfall’ induced Mary Shelley to stay indoors on a Swiss holiday and write her classic Frankenstein.

Although our Eurocentric memory continues to be better-informed about Vesuvius and Etna, the science now understands that it is the volcanic arc to the north of Australia that poses the greatest risk to humanity. Homo sapiens came closest to being wiped out, it is now believed, by the massive explosion in Sumatra that left the crater that is now Lake Toba, 74,000 years ago.

A fuller appreciation of the magnitude of Tambora’s effects 200 years ago would be likely to have healthier effects on our national priorities than the obsession with military anniversaries. Preparing for future mega-eruptions on the ‘ring of fire’ to Australia’s north would serve us better than feeding the insecurities that repeatedly send us off to fight other people’s wars on the false premise of an ‘insurance policy’.

It was another, smaller Indonesian volcanic eruption, Galunggang in 1982, which first alerted the airline industry to the danger of volcanic ash to passenger jets, two of which were forced to make emergency landings after engine failures caused by the ash. A mega-eruption on the scale of Tambora or Krakatau repeated in our age of mass air travel would have unimaginable consequences for global communication, isolating Australia for months if not years. There were two such mega-eruptions in the 19th century but none of equal size in the 20th.

All of this suggests that the last century and a half has been unusually fortunate for our region, but another mega-disaster of this kind should be expected in the century ahead. We may have failed to learn the lessons of Gallipoli, but 200 years should be enough to learn the lessons of Tambora and devote more of our defence budget to preparing for tectonic catastrophe.

Anthony Reid is an emeritus professor in the College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University.

A version of this article was first published in Asian Currents, the newsletter of the Asian Studies Association of Australia.