Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Indonesian General’s Watch Raises Questions

Indonesian state officials like to show off their wealth and lavish lifestyles by sporting luxury brands with price tags in the thousands of dollars in public. From driving flashy sport cars, wearing branded shoes, carrying expensive bags to high-end watches with unfathomable prices, they seem to forget that their normal salary would not be enough to buy those goods.

Such a lifestyle should alert us that such officials are probably dipping into public funds or on the take, and we have every reason to demand that the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK)
investigate the officials in questions.

Realizing this strong public antigraft sentiment, Indonesian Military Chief Gen. Moeldoko claimed on Wednesday that his watch, identified by media in Singapore as a $100,000 model, was a fake. In an attempt to prove he did not spend such sums of money on a watch and quash any suspicion that he was spending far more than his income as a state official would allow Moeldoko performed a bizarre stunt when he threw his watch to the ground to prove it was a fake.

While it is hard to believe that a man of his stature would wear counterfeit products, his public confession shows us how little respect the country has for intellectual property rights. Top leaders like Moeldoko should be an example for the public against buying fake goods, not encouraging the practice, as it not only breaks the law but also embarrasses the nation.

Whatever motives the media may have had for highlighting the top military officer’s accessories, we should be careful not to blame the messenger and overlook the message. Too many of our officials like to show off their wealth, while too many of the people they are supposed to be serving continue to live in poverty. By Jakarta Globe  

Time to double down on the Asia rebalance

President Barack Obama’s Asia trip, which has started with a visit to Japan, will send an unmistakable signal: the United States remains committed to a region that has become the world’s economic and military center of gravity.

Yet once the afterglow of the visit fades, U.S. allies and partners in the Asia-Pacific are bound once again to question American staying power. True, the Obama administration’s signature foreign policy initiative – the pivot or rebalance to Asia – has achieved many of its initial objectives. Countries in the region recognize this. But they are ultimately more focused on what will come next. And with less than three years of Obama’s presidency remaining, now is the moment to lay out a vision for U.S. Asia policy through 2016.

Two opposing sets of forces have long co-existed in Asia. Deepening economic interdependence, a growing constellation of regional forums, and the spread of democratic values promote peace. At the same time, rising nationalism, territorial disputes, military buildups, and the adverse impact of climate change create an undercurrent of instability.

Successive U.S. presidents have responded to these competing forces by deepening engagement with the Asia-Pacific region in order to tilt the balance toward peace. For example, the Clinton administration revitalized the U.S.-Japan alliance, worked to integrate China into international institutions, and reset relations with India. Under President George W. Bush, the United States strengthened ties with Japan and South Korea and inked a landmark nuclear agreement with India. As part of Obama’s rebalance, the United States has joined key regional forums, established a new partnership with Indonesia, enhanced its military presence in Southeast Asia, and launched an ambitious (if unfinished) round of regional trade talks.

The challenge today in Asia is that the forces of instability are becoming more prominent while the sources of peace are waning in influence. The United States must update an Asia-Pacific strategy devised in 2011 to reflect the geopolitical realities of 2014. And while President Obama’s trip to Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, and the Philippines will provide an opportunity to take stock, the next stage will require creating a network of cooperation that spans U.S. partners and allies in the region and beyond.

This web of “likeminded” powers would not contain China, but could shape the context of its rise in ways that deter conflict and encourage China to embrace the resolution of international disputes through peaceful negotiation rather than military intimidation or outright force. The network could also help to integrate transitional countries such as Myanmar and non-democratic states such as Vietnam. European participation in the web would link it to a global order rooted in the rule of law and democratic values.

American leadership will play a critical role in building this network of cooperation. But what can it do to make all this a reality?

First, the United States should partner with Australia and Japan to establish an “Indian Ocean Submarine Center of Excellence” in Perth. With more submarines deployed in the Indian Ocean, often by nations with little experience of undersea operations, there is a need to develop common rules of the road. The school would bring together Indian Ocean navies that possess or plan to acquire submarines. Beyond reducing the possibility of future accidents, the center’s activities would advance naval cooperation among participating nations.

Second, the Obama administration should launch a dialogue among computer emergency response teams from the United States, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United Kingdom. This dialogue would bring together premier cyber response teams from some of the world’s most information dependent economies. Participating teams would exchange best practices for maintaining secure networks and share assessments of online threats.

Third, the United States should encourage Japan, South Korea, and Australia to initiate a caucus of Indo-Pacific countries committed to a free and open Internet. The primary target of the caucus would be emerging democracies in South and Southeast Asia that remain ambivalent about the future of Internet governance and will command an increasing share of the world’s online population in the coming decades.

President Obama has arrived in a region that stands at a crossroads. His initial engagement has succeeded in keeping the peace. Yet with the forces of instability ascendant in Asia, the current U.S. approach risks falling short. The Obama administration should seize the moment and carve out a legacy by doubling down on the Asia rebalance.

By Daniel M. Kliman, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Daniel M. Kliman is a senior advisor with the Asia Program of the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) and a fellow at the Truman National Security Project.

Philippines Oyster Bay, US presence and its impact on the environment

A few kilometers away from the famous Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park in Palawan lies Ulugan Bay. According to a UNESCO study, it is home to around 15% of the mangrove forests of the Philippines with “extensive natural, biological and economic value.”

Within Ulugan Bay lies Oyster Bay where earlier this year, the Philippine Navy announced that the military would build a more-than-half a billion peso port. This is ostensibly to upgrade its naval base at the bay to accommodate “big vessels” of the navy that were acquired to be a “credible deterrent” to protect our shores. One of these ships is the USCGC Hamilton, now renamed the BRP Gregorio del Pilar, which was transferred to the Philippine Navy as foreign defense assistance from the United States.

Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE) raised alarm over the building of military naval base in this area. Oyster Bay is strategically located in West Philippine Sea and just 150 kilometers from the disputed Spratlys Islands. The project for the construction of the naval base was bid out by the government to the private sector in November last year.

With the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) being negotiated between the Philippines and the United States, the bases being upgraded will now be part of the available locations for use of the United States. In the EDCA, the US can lease bases owned by the Philippines so that troops under the Visiting Forces Agreement can use them. All of these agreements brings back the US bases effectively in our country.

Kalikasan PNE questioned the upgrading of the navy base in light of the fact that we still have not yet obtained environmental compensation and justice is still in sight more than a year after the Tubbataha Reef Natural Park. The grounding of the USS Guardian destroyed around 2,345 square meters of vital coral reefs in Tubbataha.

Tubbataha Reef, an atoll coral reef declared by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as a world heritage site, lies at the heart of the Coral Triangle, the geographic center of global marine biodiversity containing at least 40 percent of the world’s fish and 75 percent of coral populations.

The US Navy incurred a $1.4-million fine for the primary damage caused to Tubbataha Reef, but a similar grounding incident in Hawaii last 2009 reached damages valued between $25 million to $40 million. More than a year after, the United States government has yet to pay due compensation for the environmental disaster it caused in one of the country’s most important marine biodiversity hotspots.

Kalikasan PNE also notes that the naval base construction is in the context of the US military’s policy of growing their military presence in the Asia-Pacific region. Clemente Bautista, national coordinator of Kalikasan PNE, said that the upgrading of a naval base in the marine rich area in the area of Ulugan Bay, in particular Oyster Bay, will result in further ecological destruction in our fragile marine ecosystems. Aside from having a diverse marine ecosystem, Oyster Bay also has vast forests around it with a rich flora and fauna.

The International Peace Bureau based in Geneva said in a briefing paper on the military’s impact on the environment described the effect of military activities such as naval construction and exercises to the environment. In their paper, they noted that military activities place a number of stresses on the physical environment such as pollution of the air, land, and water, the immediate and long-term effects of armed conflict and the effect of land use.

Possible effects of the upgraded naval base would be the effects of encroachment on the ecology of the fishing areas, the fragile coastal habitats such as coral reefs, mangroves, and seabeds. The sediment pattern and flows at the project can also change due to the increased activity. This can lead to silt runoff, increased sanitary wastes and other chemical discharge used in construction and operations.

This is not the first time environmental effects from US bases would be felt in the country. After the formal termination of the bases agreement in 1991, toxic waste contamination issues have plagued the former Clark Air Base and Subic Naval Base. As early as 1992, no less than the US General Accounting Office in its report—“Military Bases Closure: US Financial Obligation to the Philippines, accounted for the storage tanks and fire-fighting training facilities that do not comply with US Standards, emitting untreated pollutants in the air, heavy metals directly drained in the bay or buried in the landfill, and toxic chemicals that directly go into the soil and water table. We can list further the Glen Defense dumping of wastes in Subic and the Tubbataha grounding to this list.

We should only remind ourselves of our history with US presence in the country before we let them ruin the beauty and biodiversity of Oyster Bay.
Giovanni Tapang, Ph.D., is the national chair of the organization of scientists, AGHAM.

Thais to their Leader -Madam Prime Minister, please just quit!

You said two days ago that you were prepared to leave office should that be the wish of the "people". We do not know who the "people" you have in mind are, but millions of us who could legitimately be counted as "people" believe it is about time you matched your rhetoric with action.

The country has suffered enough under your stewardship, or rather lack thereof. Lest you have forgotten, the ultimate honour and dignity of a leader lies with her equally incomparable sense of responsibility and accountability. You have pointed the finger of blame at others for all of the country's woes enough now; it is about time you stopped. The country has failed because you failed in your duty. This is not to say you are evil, it is only to say that you have not done your job right.

We have become a nation of discord and lawlessness. Armed attacks, often involving bombs, against citizens of various political status and involvement have become increasingly common. The cowardly perpetrators are left loose, ready to carry out more dirty work.

You have said it is your duty to protect "democracy"; please spare the country this lofty yet empty notion, and stop treating us like morons. Democracy is not possible if laws are not indiscriminately applied across the board. Democracy is not possible when independent organisations come under armed threat and are subjected to both veiled and open intimidation and coercion by those who want to prevent them from doing their job as part of the check-and-balance mechanism necessary to a genuine democracy.

Democracy is not about elections in which ballot boxes are literally stuffed and technically rigged. Democracy is a mere pipe dream if voters are not equipped with real knowledge about their equal rights under the law and, by electing thieves to parliament, are the unwitting agents of the destruction of their own rights.

Your internal security arm - the Centre for Administration of Peace and Order (CAPO) - is a mockery of our sensibility. In Mafia jargon, Capo means a lieutenant who serves the family's boss - think Marlon Brando and Al Pacino in The Godfather movie series. It is perhaps an intended travesty. Nothing that CAPO has initiated and carried out is meant to serve the best interests of the country, only those of a certain few. The most outrageous suggestion came last week when CAPO declared it would seek royal intervention by asking His Majesty's advice regarding a new prime minister under Article 7 of the Constitution. Our plea to those scoundrels is, please leave your dirty hands off His Majesty. He has already suffered the absolute injustice of people who steal and cheat, of those who lie and distort truth and facts to serve their self-interest and their lust for money, power and self-aggrandisement. They are devoid of any moral scruples. His Majesty does not deserve such iniquity. He has, more than anybody, devoted his life and energy to the wellbeing of the Thai people. He is a righteous monarch, and he has given his all for the country and for us.

Madam Prime Minister, please stop your lieutenants from tampering any longer with our heart and soul. His Majesty is off-limits to both you and your people.

There must be a reason - not yet known to us, perhaps - as to why you, Madam Prime Minister, continue hanging on to your office in disgrace. The country cannot do any worse without you or your government. Whatever scares you, you should turn to face it squarely. That's the only way for you and for the country to move beyond the eclipse that has engulfed us all for too long. The country and the people have had enough of being held as political prisoners.

World history does not lack examples of leaders who have quit with honour by accepting the principle of ultimate accountability. They voluntarily left the office because they knew they had betrayed the trust of the people and thus were unfit to lead. A culture of lack of accountability for our actions is taking deeper root in our society. It is time we stop condoning such a culture.

When King Rama VII abdicated over his disagreement with certain articles in a draft constitution that promised enormous power to a small group of people, not the general public, he did so with honour and dignity intact. The then government was not kind to him and his family, but King Prajadhipok never complained. He left without fanfare, and lived thereafter without it. Trivial things do not interest the great and noble men. King Rama VII never made a single attempt to meddle in government affairs after he left the country. He led a simple life, humble in every respect, until his very last day. When his last remaining close aide asked for leave to join the Free Thai Movement during World War II, he gladly let him go, for he knew that a man's life is only worth living in service to the motherland.

During the Songkran holiday, many of us Thais closed our eyes and prayed for peace. We prayed that both the good and the good people prevail. But we must not close our eyes to the lack of accountability shown by our leader. We must not remain oblivious to the fraud that is being carried out every single day under our nose. Reform was never more needed or more relevant than now.

And quitting public office so that the reform process can start is not as scary as you think, Madam Prime Minister.

The Nation, Bangkok

Obama runs China's pivot gauntlet

In recent days, the People's Republic of China has dropped several public relations clangers: it barred Japan from a fleet review in Qingdao and, after the US pulled its ship in solidarity with Japan, cancelled the whole review; it snubbed Japan's Marine Self Defense Force delegation by refusing a bilateral meeting; and a Shanghai court ordered the seizure of a Mitsui OSK Line vessel - a gigantic ore carrier longer than three football fields - as compensation for a 1937 legal case.

This string of events occasioned a certain amount of triumphalist hooting that China's goonish behavior was a series of own goals and soft-power defeats for the PRC that would contribute to the preferred US dynamic of overbearing PRC behavior strengthening
a defensive alignment of Asia democracies led by, of course, the US of A.

This new Asian security regime is due to be celebrated as the successful implementation of the "pivot to Asia" during President Barack Obama's visit to the region. (Obama leaves the US on Tuesday for a week-long tour, taking in Malaysia the Philippines, Japan and South Korea.)

The question that should be asked is whether the PRC leadership has looked at events in Asia and developments worldwide and decided to do something other than fight on the West's preferred ground of "soft power".

It should be pointed out that whenever the PRC wants to get serious about its Japan-related gripes, it does not engage in what I would characterize as Senkaku kabuki, the ritualized display of sovereignty-asserting chicken-of-the-sea encounters between PRC and Japanese maritime patrol vessels and aircraft.

Instead, it kicks off hostilities on its home ground, where the PRC holds the legal and diplomatic advantage and can draw on the assiduously cultivated anti-Japan hostility of a significant swath of its citizenry.

Therefore, the fact that the PRC has chosen to flex its anti-Japanese muscles in Qingdao and Shanghai, pivot be damned, should be a matter of interest to the US and the Asian democracies.

As to the context in which the PRC is seemingly abandoning its hope of modifying its behavior to win the approval of its perennially disapproving liberal democratic audience, consider recent developments.

While the US was preoccupied with developments in Ukraine, the PRC decided to interfere with the Philippines' resupply of nine marines stationed on the Sierra Madre, a hulk that had been beached on the Second Thomas Shoal/Ayungin Shoal/Ren'ai Shoal in the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea in 1999 in order to strengthen the Philippines' claim to the atoll.

From the UN Law of the Sea standpoint, the Sierra Madre is a man-made structure that is irrelevant to claims of sovereignty, which might explain why the PRC decided it was OK to mess with it. However, blocking the resupply could be construed as a violation of the standstill agreement negotiated in 2002 between the PRC and ASEAN.

The Philippine government failed, then succeeded in resupplying the Sierra Madre by air. Then, on March 29, a civilian Philippine vessel made it past two Chinese coast guard cutters and to the Sierra Madre.

This was presented as one of those heart-warming David versus Goliath stories, with the plucky Philippine vessel successfully eluding the hulking PRC cutters to bring succor to the stranded marines.

The truth is perhaps a little more complicated.

The PRC cutters first intercepted the Philippine vessel an hour before it reached the shallow water of the atoll but was unable to block the vessel. This might have less to do with expert seamanship than with the fact that the ship was chock-a-block with reporters - 12 journos and photographers from seven media organizations, including AP and Reuters. An AFP reporter and photographer were on board a Philippine military aircraft overflying the action.

Perhaps the PRC's unwillingness to play the role of the Ugly Chinese in front of an international prestige media audience had something to do with its forbearance. If the journos felt any ethical qualms about serving as human shields for this display of Philippine bravado, their reporting does not record it.

But there's more.

A US surveillance aircraft - and a PRC "balance beam" early warning turboprop - were also overhead, implying that the US and PRC had prior knowledge of the resupply effort.

So, the resupply mission now looks like a calculated show of US and Philippine resolve against PRC "salami slicing" - the incremental strengthening of China's geostrategic position in its adjoining oceans - and opportunistic testing of US determination subsequent to an embarrassing display of the limits of US power in the matter of the annexation of Crimea to Russia.

But yes, there's more.

Shortly after the resupply incident, two Japanese destroyers made a port call to Manila, something that was reported only by the PRC and Philippine press - not the English-language Japanese press, or the US press, as far as I can tell, which I consider to be a rather telling omission since journos had been packed to the gunwales ion the Philippine resupply ship just a few days before.

And then an interesting op-ed appeared on the Huffington Post, by T Dean Reed, writer of the Reed Report, rang the soft power changes, and passed along an interesting tid-bit:

[The PRC] has already shown signs of fear of public opinion branding it as a rogue nation. The first sign came when China appeared to blink and made last-minute offers if the Philippines wouldn't file its case [in The Hague where a five-judge tribunal will determine if China has violated international law by its continuing efforts to take over the South China Sea]. The offers were believed to include withdrawal from contested islands and reefs and a huge trade-and-aid package to the Philippines, described as leading to a new golden age of cooperation between the two countries.

Now China denies any such offer - "sheer fabrication" - because no formal offer was made, only back-channel efforts that were rejected by the Philippines. China has resumed its litany of bluster and threats, warning the Philippines of untold consequences. The next sign came when China displayed anger that the Philippines told the world how its supply ship successfully evaded Chinese naval forces by entering shallow waters at Second Thomas Shoal to feed and rotate troops stationed there. Journalists were aboard, and the story immediately received worldwide acclaim. [1]

What is interesting is that Mr Reed is a registered lobbyist, not for the Philippines, but for the Japanese Embassy in Washington, implying that the Philippines was discussing its PRC policy - and perhaps discretely communicating the price tag for a truly satisfying Philippines-Japanese alliance - with its Japanese interlocutors. [2]

And then the Japanese government publicly stated its support of the Philippines in its island disputes with the PRC.

And the Philippines proposed that all of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, including "unqualified" members, be admitted immediately to the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership trade regime, thereby gutting its usefulness as a "high standards" trade pact, but very much furthering the interests of Japan, which craves a central role in a China-excluding trade bloc, the bigger the better, in order to give the Japanese economy, Abenomics, Japan, and Abe a much-needed geopolitical leg up. [3]

So one has a picture of the Philippines and Japan coordinating a series of moves to strengthen their bilateral alliance and accentuate their polarization with the PRC, with behind-the-scenes acceptance by the US.

The PRC has also not done itself any favors with its hectoring of Malaysia over its faltering management of the MH370 passenger aeroplane disappearance; and Indonesia recently went public with its dissatisfaction with the anachronistic nine-dash line that the PRC uses to stake its geopolitical claims in the South China Sea.

Add to that the KMT's debacle in Taiwan, where a combination of the DPP opposition and student protesters has successfully stalled the approval of a services trade pact between the mainland and Taiwan, further wounded Ma Ying-jeou's crippled presidency, and raised the unwelcome (for the PRC) prospect that an emboldened and energized Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) will take the presidency in 2016 and steer Taiwan further out of the PRC's orbit.

In fact, the DPP, which has a strong bent toward Japan's ultranationalist camp, might even renounce Taiwan's claims to the Senkakus in favor of Japan. And of course, there's always the de jure independence boogeyman.

And there's more.

One of the under-reported stories is the steady stream of high-level contacts between North Korea and Japan, ostensibly on the limited bilateral issue of the abductees. One can also speculate that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is happy to demonstrate that his negotiations with North Korea are more effective than the PRC-led negotiation process with that country - the one meaningful area of US-PRC diplomatic engagement outside of the Iran issue - and, indeed, he is taking advantage of the purge of the pro-PRC faction in North Korea to position Japan as a frontrunner in economic cooperation with the isolated nation.

Add to this catalogue of Asian problems the possibility that the PRC will be declared the loser in the Philippine case in the Hague over the nine-dash line and you have makings of a pretty fraught decade or two for the PRC in East Asia.

The success of the pivot dynamic has also been marked by the concurrent erosion of US credibility as "the honest broker" - ie the grown-up liberal democratic superpower that deters China and also restrains Japan.

The US had worked to sustain its honest-broker credibility by quietly conciliatory sidebars to its vociferous criticism of the PRC on the issue of air-defense zones, and its coordinated pushback on Prime Minister Abe's visit to the Yasukuni shrine for war dead. (Abe, whose visit to the shrine in December was the first by a sitting prime minister since 2006, was not among 150 lawmakers who visited the shrine on Monday, but he sent a traditional offering.)

Recently, an observer optimistically opined to Reuters that there was still room for a cooperative relationship between the PRC and the US, especially if President Obama declined to publicly throw red meat to his allies on the islands issues during his visit:

"They [Chinese officials] are trying to figure out whether it's the lower-level [American] people coming out and making these comments so the boss doesn't have to, or whether it's moving to a crescendo," said Christopher Johnson, a former senior China analyst at the CIA and now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

"I think there is a concern that this debate could be swayed substantially if Obama were to make very forthright comments on this trip," he said, "and that could tip the balance internally and make it more difficult for Xi to emphasize the Sino-US relationship as paramount." [4]

The PRC had also attempted to find some geopolitical (and anti-Japanese) common ground with the United States concerning Japan's undeniable (but frequently denied) capabilities as a threshold nuclear weapon power, complete with a large store of fissionable material, missiles, and scientific expertise sufficient to cobble together a nuclear deterrent. After all, President Obama owes his Nobel Peace Prize to his anticipated and as yet largely unrealized achievements in nuclear non-proliferation, so it may have been hoped that some NPT hay could have been made over suspicions concerning Japan's actual atom-bomb related capabilities.

But no dice. Japan agreed recently to return several hundred kilograms of weapons grade plutonium it had received from the US (while waving aside the issue of Japan's nominally fuel grade but weapon-worthy in-country stash of nine tons of plutonium and its
plans to produce more), occasioning hosannahs from the US.

Per the New York Times in late March:

The announcement is the biggest single success in President Obama's five-year-long push to secure the world's most dangerous materials, and will come as world leaders gather here on Monday for a nuclear security summit meeting. [5]

Events in Ukraine have clearly colored US thinking, pushing the US out of the "honest broker" win-win zone, and will probably elicit something of a sea-change in Chinese attitudes toward the US role in Asia.

Pushed by the need to assert the strength of its deterrent against China during the Ukraine crisis and the supremacy of the pivot during President Obama's upcoming visit, the United States has lurched over to the Japanese side of the teeter-totter.

National Security Council director Evan Medeiros' recent interview with Asahi to tee up President Obama's trip strongly indicates that, post Crimea, the Obama administration now regards forestalling any PRC moves against the Senkakus as a matter of vital geopolitical necessity and will back Japan to the hilt in order to sustain the credibility of the US deterrent capability.

Q: Finally, the impact of the Ukraine situation on the Asia-Pacific region. You pointed out in the recent speech that China's action regarding the Ukraine situation produced "uncertainty about how China defines its interests and how it pursues them." Can you elaborate on that?

A: Well, very specifically, what I mean is China regularly, publicly, says that territorial integrity and sovereignty are of the utmost importance, but yet, in the face of a violation of them by Russia through its actions in Ukraine, China has remained agnostic, and has provided essentially de facto support to Russia. For example, it has abstained in UN Security Council and UN General Assembly votes.

So, the question is, "Does China feel that there are some conditions that are actually attached to its support for territorial integrity and sovereignty?" It is raising questions all over the world about China's intentions. [6]

Maintaining US deterrent credibility means obsessive attention to the Senkakus, closer integration of the US-Japanese alliance, and a wholehearted embrace of the problematic and polarizing "collective self defense" arrangement.

Concerning the unfortunate fetishization of the worthless Senkaku islands, Kyodo News Agency headlined comments by a US general on Okinawa: "If China grabs Senkakus, US military would snatch them back".

Lieutenant General John Wissler, who heads up 18,000 Marines based in Okinawa, was actually glossing a statement made by Admiral Samuel Locklear, commander of the US Pacific Command, before a senate committee to the effect that the US did not have the amphibious assets in the region to retake the Senkakus.

Locklear's statement, if useful from a budget-enhancement perspective, was not the message that the US wished to send at this particular time, with the Russian flag flying over Crimea. So Wissler made the rather logical observation that US air assets could destroy anything and everything on the island, rendering moot the need to consider an amphibious assault on the Senkakus (downplaying the amphibious assault angle also allowed General Wissler the welcome opportunity to pour cold water on the Army's desire to muscle into the Marines' pivot action by cluttering up Navy ships with its attack helicopters). [7]

The US military's stated eagerness to mix it up in the Senkakus on behalf of Japan and deter the awkwardness of another Crimea grab also adds an unwelcome dimension to "collective self defense", or CSD, for the PRC.

To American military strategists, CSD, together with jamming US military bases down the throats of resistant Okinawans, is apparently the holy grail of pivot planning. It is publicly justified on the rather dubious ground that otherwise Japan could not perform the vital service of shooting down North Korean missiles headed for the United States.

Considering the still rather sorry status of North Korean ICBMs and the rather significant capabilities of the US Navy in the vicinity (which Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has decided to augment with two additional missile-whacking Aegis destroyers arriving in 2017), this threat by itself does not seem to justify the revision of Japan's so-called "pacifist" constitution.

In the eyes of US military planners, it is more likely that CSD would permit Japanese vessels and aircraft to engage in joint operations in a nominal support function to US forces but blast away at anything Chinese or North Korean once things got hot. This crablike segue into an offensive military capability is, understandably, viewed with less than complete enthusiasm by the Japanese public; a recent Asahi poll put opposition at 68%, and support for revising the CSD ban through "interpretation", ie sleight of hand by the Abe cabinet, clocking in at 12%. [8]

I suppose US military diplomacy can draw encouragement from the fact that this level of opposition is about the same as measured on Okinawa to the relocation of the Futenma Air Base, a challenge that the Abe government has met with a relatively successful campaign of bullying and unilateral executive action.

From a US perspective, conditions for President Obama's pivot promotion trip to Asia might appear quite satisfactory. Through a combination of local anxiety, self-interest, and opportunism, PRC assertiveness, and the occasional provocation, the political and economic foundation for a China-containment regime led by the US and keystoned by Japan has been laid.

And with the prospect of a viscerally hostile DPP administration in Taipei in 2016 ready to outdo the Philippines in anti-PRC effrontery and pro-Japanese outreach, the pre-conditions for further rounds of pivot-enhancing crises seem to be at hand.

The question is, what is the PRC going to do about this?

Perhaps the PRC is drawing the conclusion that the tipping point may have been reached, there is no useful daylight to wedge between Japan and the United States, and it is useless and perhaps even dangerous to play along, especially since the PRC can see eight years of Hillary Clinton and her even more aggressive anti-PRC strategy in the offing.

Given the unfavorable west Pacific environment, sitting idly by, or trying to ingratiate itself with the Asian democracies and the United States through soft power gambits do not appear to be high on the PRC's list of options.

During Defense Secretary Hagel's recent visit to China, his PRC counterpart, Chang Wanquan, drew the line: "The China-US relationship is neither comparable to US-Russia ties in the Cold War, nor a relationship between container and contained. China's development can't be contained by anyone." [9]

With its overtly confrontational moves in Qingdao and Shanghai, it appears the PRC is signaling it is prepared to abandon "soft power", give up on the promise of US forbearance, and manage its business in an increasingly hostile regional environment.

And it doesn't seem likely that the PRC is blustering in order to obtain some face-saving concessions or lip service from the US. It is targeting Japan instead of dealing with the US, and challenging the United States to do something effective in support of its ally.

The PRC has always been alert to the need or opportunity to challenge the credibility of the US deterrent and, with the heightened anxiety fostered by Russia's annexation of Crimea, that day has arrived perhaps sooner than anybody wished.

If the PRC intentionally fomented the Ayungin Shoal resupply crisis with the resolve to let the US-PRC relation go south if needed rather than passively let the pivot dynamic play out to its disadvantage, we are definitely in for some tense and unpleasant times - and the costs of maintaining the credibility of the US deterrent might be considerably higher than we prefer.

The PRC appears to be signaling its determination to hunker down and weather the geopolitical storm - which might include a sooner-rather-than-later Taiwan crisis and the need to blame a handy US scapegoat - for years if need be, and pursue the struggle in domestic venues where it holds an advantage.

The PRC will draw some succor from Russia which, thanks to the heavy-handed US policy in Ukraine, is driving President Vladimir Putin into China's arms. (Russia's ostentatious increase in air patrols over the Kurile Islands were, perhaps, concrete displays of Russia's eagerness to play ball with the PRC and side against Japan).

A revealing indicator will be if the PRC abandons the World War II "victor's justice" line that it attempted to establish as the basis for the US presence in Asia and some kind of US-PRC condominium. This movement achieved a mini-boomlet with Prime Minister Abe's provocative December visit to the Yasukuni Shrine, sub voce US uneasiness over the essentially anti-US character of right-wing Japanese nationalism, and the PRC's rather clumsy invocations of the Potsdam Declaration (in which the US and Chiang Kai-shek's China jointly called for the unconditional surrender of Japan) as the basis for the peaceful Asian order.

But that dog doesn't hunt anymore, thanks to Prime Minister Abe's support for US initiatives such as Futenma relocation, collective self-defense, and the TPP trade pact. To further mix metaphors, with the tightening US-Japan alliance, it looks like the US "honest broker" ship has sailed for good as far as the PRC is concerned.

If the PRC abandons its celebration of the US "greatest generation" World War II narrative, it will, somewhat ironically, contribute to the erosion some of America's vaunted soft power. As memories of World War II fade (or, to be more accurate, less flattering narratives of the current significance of that increasingly remote conflict gain traction), the US, instead of exercising its historical and moral prerogative to Asian leadership by sashaying into the region and telling the local powers how they should behave, will simply be another outside power trying to shoulder into the "Pacific Century" and belly up to the economic trough as its rivals and partners grow in military and economic strength and the relative US advantage dwindles.

The PRC, on the other hand, will be determined to demonstrate that it is the central power in East Asia, with existential interests and the credible capability to pursue them over decades in the face of US-orchestrated resistance.

Maybe it should be understood that the beginning of the "Pacific Century" is perhaps the end of the "American Century". That would certainly be an ironic coda to President Obama's visit.

1. The Philippines Takes China to Court, but It's Public Opinion That Will Decide, April 3, 2014.
2. See here.
3. Philippines: Invite all SE Asia to Pacific pact, Yahoo News, April 10, 2014.
4. China warns US ahead of Obama's visit, fearing high-profile tilt over disputed isles, Reuters, April 10, 2014.
5. Japan to Let US Assume Control of Nuclear Cache, The New York Times, March 23, 2014.
6. Evan Medeiros: China's attempt to isolate Japan worsens bilateral relations, The Asahi Shimbun, April 6, 2014.
7. Top Marine in Japan: If tasked, we could retake the Senkakus from China, Stars and Stripes, April 11, 2014.
8. Asahi poll: 63% oppose Abe's attempt to lift ban on collective self-defense, The Asahi Shimbun, April 7, 2014.
9. Nobody can contain China's development: defense chief, Xinhua, April 8, 2014.

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

Wardrums in Myanmar's Wa hills

YANGON - Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, commander-in-chief of Myanmar's armed forces, or Tatmadaw, is a man on the move. Since the beginning of the year he has traveled to Laos and Indonesia, attended large-scale war games in central Myanmar, reviewed the country's largest ever naval exercises in the Bay of Bengal, presided over the annual Army Day parade in the capital Naypyidaw and met with a string of foreign dignitaries.

A recent less publicized engagement was arguably more significant for Myanmar's war and peace prospects. On April 6, Min Aung Hlaing flew north from Naypyidaw to the garrison town of Lashio in northeastern Shan State to hold talks with Bao You-ri, the younger brother of Bao You-xiang, the ailing leader of theUnited Wa State Army (UWSA). Based east of the Salween River in a self-governing "special region", the UWSA is Myanmar's largest insurgent group and is at present in an uneasy ceasefire with the government.

That Myanmar's most powerful military and political figure should himself travel from his headquarters for a meeting with a proxy of the leader of an armed ethnic group rather than delegating the task to the relevant regional commander was intriguing. Even more remarkable was that Min Aung Hlaing was flanked by Armed Forces chief of general staff Gen Hla Htay Win, Air Force commander Gen Khin Aung Myint, and Navy commander Admiral Thura Thet Swe. Such a line-up of the Tatmadaw's senior-most leadership is unprecedented in any government talks to date with ethnic groups.

The meeting came at the same time as talks in Yangon between a government panel - including military officers - and a team of leaders from 16 other ethnic factions aimed at drafting a "nationwide ceasefire agreement", or NCA. Intended to mark the end of 66 years of ethnic and political armed strife and serve as a foundation for further progress on the military roadmap towards "disciplined democracy", the signing of the NCA has been postponed several times since July last year. The Tatmadaw has now set a deadline of August 1 for the planned grand ceremony.

The UWSA, however, has remained pointedly aloof from President Thein Sein's self-touted peace process. Formerly a major segment of the China-backed Communist Party of Burma (CPB), the Wa have had their own ceasefire with the Tatmadaw since the CPB collapsed in 1989. After a spike in tensions caused by the Wa's rejection of demands that the UWSA subordinate itself to Tatmadaw command as part of a so-called "border guard force" (BGF), the two sides' ceasefire agreement was renewed in September 2011.

While monitoring the negotiations surrounding the NCA, the Wa last year put forward a demand for their own state within Myanmar which would effectively legitimize the complete autonomy they currently enjoy in their "Special Region No 2" - and, presumably, the continued existence of their own armed forces to safeguard that autonomy.

The Wa have the firepower to back such demands. The UWSA is loosely estimated to field close to 25,000 regulars backed by a large militia reserve. The group has been making consistent efforts to expand its capabilities with a view to deterring any possible Tatmadaw moves against it. Following Tatmadaw pressure over the BGF scheme, fears of such an attack were galvanized first by Tatmadaw incursions in 2009 against the autonomous Special Region No 1 in Kokang, to the north of the Wa area, and then by a major government offensive against the insurgent Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in late 2012 and early 2013.

Whether the younger Bao was flattered or intimidated to find himself facing Myanmar's most powerful military chiefs remains unclear: the details of their April 6 exchange have not been disclosed. However, it seems likely the message from the military's side was the same as that which was passed to a delegation from the Shan State Army-North (SSA-N) - a de facto ally of the UWSA - at a separate meeting in Lashio that same day. As described to the Irrawaddy magazine by one SSA-N source: "He [Min Aung Hlaing] said the armed groups should lay down their guns as there should only be a single army for the country."

Show of strength
In late February Min Aung Hlaing was conveying a rather blunter message from the Tatmadaw: a divisional-level live-fire exercise held outside the central Myanmar town of Meiktila. Dubbed "Anawratha" after the founder of the 11th century Pagan Empire, the well-publicized war games involved a panoply of military power centered on mechanized infantry of the Magwe-based 88th Light Infantry Division using indigenously produced Ukrainian armored personnel carriers and Chinese infantry fighting vehicles.

The infantry was supported by intense firepower from main battle tanks, a range of artillery systems including multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS), 105mm and 155mm howitzers, and close air support in the shape of rocket-firing Mi-35 helicopter gunships and low-flying Mig-29 air superiority fighters. Shortly after, a blog site dedicated to the Myanmar military understood to be close to the Tatmadaw described this display of military might as a "final warning" to the UWSA to join the national peace process or face the consequences.

More optimistic observers of Myanmar politics, including a growing Western lobby that consistently defends Thein Sein's political reforms and national peace initiative, will choose to assume that the ratcheting up of psychological pressure on the UWSA is essentially just that - psychological pressure. The expectation will be that the Wa, not known for their sensitivity to diplomatic signals, will simply call Naypyidaw's bluff as they did successfully to threats in 2009 and that the ceasefire status quo will be preserved.

Such assumptions may well be dangerously misplaced, however. The last time the Tatmadaw staged well-publicized divisional-level exercises outside Meiktila was in March 2012 with a display of firepower primarily intended to impress the KIA, which was then under pressure to renew a ceasefire that had collapsed in mid-2011. When the KIA refused to reenter negotiations, the war games were followed up at the end of year dry season with a full-scale campaign aimed at neutralizing the Kachin headquarters at Laiza.

The mounting pressure on the Wa thus poses some stark questions: will the UWSA continue to reject participation in the peace process and, if so, does Tatmadaw strategy envisage securing a nation-wide cease-fire with a large majority of ethnic groups by August and then, with that agreement hand, moving decisively against the Wa at the beginning of the dry season in December?

Conventional wisdom suggests that such a government offensive is improbable for at least three main reasons. First is the sheer scale of operations that would be necessary to break the back of the UWSA. In their Special Region No 2 along the Chinese border the Wa field three main-force brigades with artillery and armored support units. Further south in what is known as Military Region 171 along the Shan State's border with Thailand five smaller brigades are based. The UWSA also has a reliable ally in the National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA) which fields a further 3,500 to 4,000 mainly ethnic Shan and hill-tribe troops in its Special Region No 4 wedged between Wa territory and the Mekong River.

Simply put, taking on the UWSA - a large, well-trained and highly motivated force fighting on home ground with its back to the Chinese border - would amount to the largest single Tatmadaw campaign since Myanmar's independence from colonial rule in 1948. Considering the likely involved size of forces and firepower in such a conflict, the human cost would be correspondingly heavy. Military analysts believe any full-scale assault on Wa territory would see casualties rising rapidly over the 10,000 mark and possibly far higher during the first few months of the dry season.

A second and related factor centers on doubts over the Tatmadaw's capabilities in conducting sustained, combined-arms operations involving the coordination of infantry, armor, artillery and close air support in rugged, hostile terrain. Tatmadaw performance in the Laiza campaign of late 2012 and early 2013 against the KIA, which faced dogged resistance from a far less capable enemy, was at best unimpressive, particularly in regard to the effectiveness of close air support. At worst, it reflected serious problems of planning and coordination. Finally, war against the Wa would inevitably incur the diplomatic wrath of China. Since May 2011, China and Myanmar have been joined in a "comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership", and Beijing has repeatedly impressed on Naypyidaw the importance of stability along their common border since well before then. The Tatmadaw's 2009 incursion into Kokang - essentially a minor policing operation by comparison with a potential campaign in the Wa Hills - prompted the exodus of an estimated 36,000 refugees into China and heated protests from Beijing. Any invasion of Wa territory would by some estimates drive at least 100,000 civilians across the border.

Expanding arsenal
Nevertheless, there are also powerful arguments almost certainly being aired in the upper echelons of the Tatmadaw in favor of adecisive move against the Wa. The most compelling is that the longer the Tatmadaw waits the more problematic the task will become.

Militarily, the UWSA is clearly playing for time while expanding its forces and modernizing its arsenal with increasingly sophisticated weapons. This rearmament has involved acquiring new systems from across the Chinese border, including armored vehicles and a limited number of 'Hip' Mi-17 transport helicopters for which UWSA crews have been undergoing training in China.

Far more important, however, has been a rapid build-up of stockpiles of infantry weaponry - including man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS) - and ammunition intended, if necessary, to sustain what one senior ethnic commander monitoring the resupply process described in late 2012 as a "10-year war."

Socially and economically, Special Region No 2 has come to resemble more an annex of China than a region of Myanmar. The lingua franca in the UWSA and the region generally is Mandarin Chinese; the currency is the Chinese yuan; and the mobile telephone network serving the area is Chinese. Meanwhile, Chinese investment in both the rubber and, more importantly, rare earth metal industries is significant and growing. Viewed from Naypyidaw, the continuation of the status quo, let alone the recognition of an autonomous Wa State, risks the region's de facto accession to China.

A second factor is a mood of rising nationalist pride and confidence inside the Tatmadaw. This trend appears to derive partly from a process of rapid military modernization which is reinforcing a long-held institutional mission of upholding and defending national unity and sovereignty - a mission which inherently demands an end to the anomaly of states within a state. Nascent militarism, which blends into rising Buddhist nationalism with decidedly xenophobic tinges, appears to be gaining currency across Myanmar society judging by social media posts and a number of popular jingoistic blogs.

Myanmar's new nationalism has focused on two main foils. Growing discrimination and outright attacks against the ethnic minority Rohingya community and Muslims more generally have been widely reported. Less visible but never far from the surface of the popular mood is angst over Chinese influence in the country.

Unease over China's fast expanding role in Myanmar's economy grew under military rule and found striking expression in the movement to halt the construction of the Chinese-backed Myitsone dam project in Kachin State in 2011. Against this backdrop, a military campaign against an armed group which is widely regarded as a Chinese proxy force operating within Myanmar's borders would likely not be a hard sell. It might even be popular, not least in the run up to general elections scheduled for 2015.

International angles
Internationally, any conflict with the Wa would be presented by Thein Sein's government with little need for cosmetics as a war on Asia's largest narcotics-trafficking cartel. The UWSA's unsavory record as an organization which since the late 1990s has engaged in industrial-scale production and region-wide export of methamphetamine and heroin and whose top leadership has been formally indicted in an United States court would go far to mute criticism in the West.

By contrast, China's reaction would be angry and loud. But having predicated its Wa strategy on deterrence - quietly assisting a UWSA build-up that makes war too costly for Naypyidaw to contemplate - the collapse of that deterrent would leave Beijing with surprisingly few options.

Sanctions against Naypyidaw, let alone active support for a protracted Wa insurgency, would serve only to push Myanmar more rapidly towards the US, Japan and Europe, compounding already lively Chinese fears over perceived containment. A more comprehensive breakdown in bilateral relations would also threaten China's extensive economic interests in Myanmar and the security of new natural gas and oil pipelines built across the length of Myanmar from the Bay of Bengal to fuel the growth of southwestern China.

From Beijing's perspective, allowing matters to deteriorate to that point would be virtually inconceivable. As was the case after the Kokang operation in 2009 and the Myitsone Dam reversal in 2011, China would probably have little choice but to protest and adapt to new realities.

In the final analysis, the central factor in the Tatmadaw's calculus remains a military one. The preferred option would clearly be a combined-arms blitzkrieg with heavy emphasis on artillery and air strikes that would swiftly overwhelm key military and administrative centers and smash the UWSA as a cohesive force. Were the Wa to succumb to the temptation of attempting to defend fixed positions against overwhelming firepower, a victory of sorts might well be achieved.

The risk for the Tatmadaw would be sliding into a morass of open-ended guerrilla resistance. Such a conflict could easily metastasize south into eastern Shan State and along the Thai border, destabilizing a wide swath of territory between the Salween and Mekong Rivers and inflaming relations with other ethnic minorities. Should a war with the Wa drag on with rising casualties, it could also do immense damage to the military's own national prestige and political leadership role.

The purely military calculus suggests such risks far outweigh the costs imposed by Wa intransigence and an unpalatable but hardly unbearable status quo. History, however, is long on examples of strategic miscalculations with far-reaching repercussions triggered by military hubris and national pride.

Anthony Davis is a Bangkok-based security analyst for IHS-Jane's.Asia Times via Joyo News Service

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Indonesia - Persecution and inaction

The persecution of minority groups, including Shia followers, is becoming more blatant despite the nation being globally acknowledged as the third largest democracy in the world.

Instead of debating the root cause of the deprivation of the rights of minorities, we question the state’s inaction in the face of the long-standing practice.

After 16 years of making inroads into the country, democracy has instilled respect for freedoms and human rights. On other hand, democracy has, to some extent, allowed radical thought to grow in the name of freedom of expression, which often bursts into acts of violence.

This creeping radicalism has sown hatred against minority groups. The launch of the Anti-Shia National Alliance in Bandung on Sunday is just one result of the state’s failure to protect the rights of the Shiites, as well as other minority religious groups, to follow their beliefs.

The anti-Shia organization is dangerous. It justifies the use of violence against Shia followers and also challenges Indonesia’s image as a champion of religious harmony. The image of Indonesia as a nation abiding by the rule of law and human rights is at stake if the state apparatus not only allows but also condones this organized persecution.

Neither President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (who last year received the World Statesman Award from New York-based interfaith organization the Appeal of Conscience Foundation) nor security agencies appear able to deal with the anti-Shia organization. Their silence on the group’s pledge to propagate anti-Shia sentiment nationwide will open the door for the widespread disrespect of minority rights.

For the President, his reluctance to draw a line vis-à-vis the radical group will justify mounting protests against his acceptance of the international interfaith award. Since he was conferred the award, the President has frequently called for religious tolerance but has failed to walk the talk whenever acts of intolerance occur.

In the case of discrimination against Shiites, the President has never acted against Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali, who openly called for Shia followers — displaced from their homes in Sampang, Madura — to convert to the Sunni branch of Islam as a solution to protracted conflict between the two groups.

As the head of state, the President is a role model for the nation. His inaction sends the wrong message — it approves the majority group dictating its will on minorities.

Mainstream Islamic organizations are also contributing to rising religious intolerance. Despite their repeated calls for respecting freedom of faith, they have failed to condemn the persecution of the Shiites and other minorities like the Ahmadiyah.

Both the government and moderate Islamic organizations could be afraid of a backlash if they act against the anti-Shia group, which is also campaigning against the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) for nominating Shia figure Jalaluddin Rakhmat in the recent legislative election.

If that is the case, we hope he wins for the sake of respecting minority rights.

Jakarta Post