Saturday, July 31, 2010

In Pakistan, Echoes of American Betrayal

PAKISTAN’S premier intelligence agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, has been accused of many bad things in its own country. It has been held responsible for rigging elections, sponsoring violent sectarian groups and running torture chambers for political dissidents. More recently, it has been accused of abducting Pakistanis and handing them over to the United States for cash.
But last week — after thousands of classified United States Army documents were released by WikiLeaks, and American and British officials and pundits accused the ISI of double-dealing in Afghanistan — the Pakistani news media were very vocal in their defense of their spies. On talk show after talk show, the ISI’s accusers in the West were criticized for short-sightedness and shifting the blame to Pakistan for their doomed campaign in Afghanistan.

Suddenly, the distinction between the state and the state within the state was blurred. It is our ISI that is being accused, we felt. How, we wondered, can the Americans have fallen for raw intelligence provided by paid informants and, in many cases, Afghan intelligence? And why shouldn’t Pakistan, asked the pundits, keep its options open for a post-American Afghanistan?

More generally, the WikiLeaks fallout brought back ugly memories, reminding Pakistanis what happens whenever we get involved with the Americans. In fact, one person at the center of the document dump is our primary object lesson for staying away from America’s foreign adventures.

Hamid Gul, now a retired general, led the ISI during the end years of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and together with his C.I.A. friends unwittingly in the 1990s spurred the mujahedeen to turn Kabul — the city they had set out to liberate — into rubble. According to the newly released documents, Mr. Gul met with Qaeda operatives in Pakistan in 2006 and told them to “make the snow warm in Kabul ... set Kabul aflame.”

This would seem highly sinister except that, today, Hamid Gul is nothing more than a glorified television evangelist and, as the columnist Nadir Hassan noted, “known only for being on half a dozen talk shows simultaneously.” He is also, for Pakistanis, a throwback to the lost years of our American-backed military dictatorships, a stark reminder of why we distrust the United States.

The ISI and the C.I.A. have colluded twice in the destruction of Afghanistan. Their complicity has brought war to Pakistan’s cities. After every round of cloak-and-dagger games, they behave like a squabbling couple who keep getting back together and telling the world that they are doing it for the children’s sake. But whenever these two reunite, a lot of children’s lives are wrecked.

In the West, the ISI is often described as ideologically allied to the Taliban. But Pakistan’s military-security establishment has only one ideology, and it’s not Islamism. It’s spelled I-N-D-I-A. It will do anybody’s bidding if it’s occasionally allowed to show India a bit of muscle.

Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the Pakistani Army chief, has just been given an unexpected three-year extension in his office, due in large part, it is said, to American pressure on Islamabad. Yet General Kayani headed the ISI during the period that the WikiLeaks documents cover. Since he became the head of the Pakistan Army — and a frequent host to Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — the number of drone attacks on Pakistani territory have increased substantially. It seems he has found a way to overcome his ISI past.

While he generally keeps a low profile, General Kayani in February gave an off-the-record presentation to Pakistani journalists. His point was clear: Pakistan’s military remains India-centric. His explanation was simple: we go by the enemy’s capacity, not its immediate intentions. This came in a year when Pakistan lost more civilians and soldiers than it has in any war with India.

Yet it has become very clear that an overwhelming majority of Pakistani people do not share the army’s India obsession or its yearning for “strategic depth” — that is, a continuing deadly muddle — in Afghanistan. They want a peaceful settlement with India over the disputed territory of Kashmir and a safer neighborhood. None of the leading parties in Parliament made a big deal about India, Afghanistan or jihad in their election campaigns. They were elected on promises of justice, transparency and reasonably priced electricity.

Lately, Americans seem to have woken up to the fact that there is something called a Parliament and a civil society in Pakistan. But even so, it seems that Americans are courting the same ruling class — the military elite’s civilian cousins — that has thrived on American aid and obviously wants an even closer relationship with Washington. A popular TV presenter who interviewed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during her visit later jibed, “What kind of close relationship is this? I don’t even get invited to Chelsea’s wedding?”

Pakistan’s military and civil elite should take a good look around before they pitch another marquee and invite their American friends over for tea and war talk. There are a lot of hungry people looking in, and the strung lights are sucking up electricity that could run a small factory, or illuminate a village. Besides, they’re not likely to know what WikiLeaks is — they’ve been too busy cleaning up after their masters’ guests.

By Mohammed Hanif, correspondent for the BBC Urdu Service

Friday, July 30, 2010

U.S. and Cambodia in Controversial Lockstep

Cambodia's first-ever multinational military exercise is part and parcel of intensifying competition between the United States and China for regional influence.
The recently completed US-Cambodia military drills, known as "Angkor Sentinel 10", involved 1,200 soldiers from 23 countries and were ostensibly part of Washington's Global Peace Operations Initiative, a program run jointly by the US Department of Defense and State Department to help train global peacekeepers against insurgency, terrorism, crime and ethnic conflict. The largest contingents of troops in the exercise were from the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) and the US Army Pacific, even as it was billed as a multilateral peacekeeping operation.

Warming bilateral relations come as the Barack Obama administration puts new policy emphasis on Asia and moves to compete with, if not contain, China's growing influence in Southeast Asia. Cambodia, as well as Laos and Myanmar, are viewed by many observers as already firmly in China's orbit. China's influence in Cambodia has grown considerably in the past decade. While not the largest official donor to the country, its aid projects and investments are strongly publicized and come without demands for improved human rights, better governance or less corruption. The US has provided over US$4.5 million worth of military equipment and training to the Cambodian military since 2006, and this was the first time the two sides jointly put the equipment to use. Recent statements by US officials highlighted the cooperation between Cambodia and US forces.

At the May 3 opening of the now-completed, US Defense Department-funded Peacekeeping Training Center, US charge d'affaires Theodore Allegra said the US remained ''committed to enhancing military relations with Cambodia in the areas of defense reform and professionalization, border and maritime security, counter-terrorism, civil-military operations and de-mining." The $1.8 million training center was "evidence of the US government's commitment to enhancing partner capacity with Cambodia", he said.

At the July 12 opening ceremony of the military operations, US ambassador to Cambodia Carol Rodley said Washington was committed to enhancing its military relationship with Phnom Penh and called Angkor Sentinel a "unique opportunity" to expand the friendship between the two countries. The drills, which also included participants from France, Indonesia, the Philippines, Australia, India, Italy, Germany, Japan, Mongolia and the United Kingdom, notably coincided with the 60th anniversary of US-Cambodia relations.

The program for the exercises consisted of two main components: a multilateral UN force headquarters computer-simulated command post exercise held in Phnom Penh and a two-week field training exercise at the RCAF's ACO Tank Command headquarters in Kompong Speu province 50 kilometers west of the capital. However, the exercises did not sit well with some military officers in Thailand, the US's erstwhile security partner in the region. Thailand plays host annually to the region's largest US-led joint military exercise, Cobra Gold. Some Thai officers have expressed dismay that the US is showing increased strategic interest in a country that has emerged as one of its biggest security threats in light of recent border disputes and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen's perceived meddling in Thai domestic politics. United States Under Secretary of State William Burns discounted this view in a July 16 press conference in Bangkok. "We don't see that as in any way contradicting or in conflict with our commitment to working with the Thai military on regional security or peacekeeping operations," he said.

Guns for hire

Cambodia has come a long way since being the recipient of one of the United Nations' largest peacekeeping operations from 1991-1993. After decades of debilitating civil war, the country has in recent years sent peacekeepers, primarily de-mining experts, to Sudan, Chad, Central African Republic and Lebanon. Human-rights activists argue that while Cambodia may no longer need peacekeepers itself, its population is still in need of protection from its own armed forces, including units involved in the recent joint exercises.

In a July 8 report, Human Rights Watch (HRW), a US-based rights lobby, alleged that many RCAF units selected to participate in the joint exercises had abysmal rights records. HRW said that by allowing the controversial units to participate in the drills, the US had undermined its own commitment to the promotion of human rights in Cambodia. HRW, Cambodian human-rights organizations and other international rights groups, as well as the US State Department, have all detailed ACO Tank Command units involvement in illegal land seizures. These include the November 2009 seizure of farmland from 133 families in Baneay Meanchey province and the use of tanks in 2007 to flatten villagers' fences and crops in a forceful move to confiscate land. HRW noted that certain elite units, such as the prime minister's personal bodyguard, Airborne Brigade 911, Brigade 31 and Brigade 70, were all scheduled to participate in the Phnom Penh portion of the exercise. Both the bodyguard unit and Brigade 70 were involved in the 1997 grenade attack on a political rally by the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, according to HRW.

Airborne Brigade 911, meanwhile, has been linked to arbitrary detentions, political violence, torture and summary executions. Brigade 31 has been accused of involvement in illegal logging, intimidation of opposition party activists and land-grabbing, including the use in 2008 of US-provided trucks to forcibly evict villagers from their land in Kampot province. Cambodian military officers and soldiers operate without fear of arrest or punishment, human-rights groups say. ''Hun Sen has promoted military officers implicated in torture, extra-judicial killings and political violence,'' said Phil Robertson, HRW's deputy Asia director.

While some of these acts have been carried out for the benefit of the business interests of military officers, others have been done at the request of private companies with links to the military. Plans announced by Hun Sen in February for corporate sponsorship of military units to cover defense costs have many worried that the contributions will increase companies' control over military units to do their bidding. Cambodian government officials dismissed HRW's claims. The US has likewise defended its involvement in the exercises. In a July 11 statement by embassy spokesman John Johnson, he said all participants in the exercises were "thoroughly and rigorously vetted" by the embassy and the Defense and State departments. This was echoed by Burns during his visit to Phnom Penh. "Any
military relationship that we conduct around the world is consistent with US law. And so, we look very carefully, we vet carefully, the participants from Cambodia, from other countries, in any kind of exercise that we engage in."

HRW called on the US government to suspend military aid to Cambodia until an improved and thorough human-rights vetting process could be implemented to screen out abusive individuals or units from receiving US aid or training. However, indications are that the US has little interest in putting the brakes on rapidly improving bilateral ties with Cambodia.

Symbolic gestures

One major symbolic step was the removal last year of Cambodia and Laos from a list of Marxist-Leninist states. The redesignation opened the way for increased US investment by removing restrictions on US Export-Import Bank financing and loans to both countries. Washington is currently one of Cambodia's largest donors with more than $72 million in assistance this year focused on health, education, economic development and government accountability. The US donated $65 million in 2009. Washington is apparently showing its support in other ways, too. Last month, an American judge sentenced Cambodian-American Chhun Yasith to life in prison for his leading role in an attempted coup in November 2000 by a group calling itself the Cambodian Freedom Fighters (CFF). Although the CFF had previously received some tacit US approval, the verdict sent a message to other Cambodians that support for any anti-government activities from US soil would no longer be tolerated.

Security related ties have also improved, partly out of recognition that several high-profile terror suspects have passed through Cambodia. In January 2008, US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) director Robert Mueller made a visit to Cambodia to open a new FBI office at the embassy. Mueller said at the time, "It's an important country to us because of the potential for persons transiting Cambodia or utilizing Cambodia as a spot for terrorism." Since then Phnom Penh has requested FBI help to solve the assassination of opposition journalist Khim Sambo and his son in July 2008 during a national election campaign. The journalist was known for his scathing criticisms of Hun Sen's administration, including allegations of corruption. The government has also requested FBI assistance in a joint investigation into a failed bomb plot against several government buildings by would-be Cambodian rebels in January 2009.

Prior to opening its new office, the FBI was involved in an investigation into the 1997 grenade attack on a rally by the opposition Sam Rainsy Party in which 16 people were killed and an American citizen was among the injured. The US government and the FBI were later criticized for pulling out of the investigation when it was believed they were on the verge of solving it. A June 1997 Washington Post article cited US government officials familiar with a classified FBI report on the investigation as saying the agency had tentatively pinned the blame on Hun Sen's personal bodyguard unit.

Jousting between the US and China for influence has become more openly apparent. After the US suspended the delivery of military vehicles following the repatriation of ethnic Uighur asylum seekers from Cambodia to China in December, Beijing stepped in with a $14 million pledge of military aid in May. The 256 military vehicles and 50,000 military uniforms covered under the pledge were delivered by China in June.
China has also provided small arms to Cambodia in recent years, including modern QBZ Chinese-made assault rifles for Cambodia's special forces units. With China keen to maintain its edge in Cambodia and expand its influence in the rest of the region, US policymakers may feel Washington can ill-afford to miss opportunities to improve ties. The upshot may be that strategic partners are less rigorously vetted as new friends are sought and military relationships developed. By Clifford McCoy freelance journalist.

India’s Globalization Push Undermined by Lingering Threat of Its Maoist Insurgency

The Maoist insurgency raging through India’s rural heartlands has come to dominate the domestic security agenda in recent months, but this internal struggle for power should also be seen as a vicious by-product of India’s emergence as a global player. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh repeatedly describes the Maoists — otherwise known as Naxalites after the town of Naxalbari in north India, where the movement’s first uprising took place in 1967 — as India’s “gravest internal security threat.” That much of India’s mineral potential exists in its poorest regions, where the Maoists are strongest, represents a direct threat to the country’s growth trajectory at a time when it struggles to meet demand for coal, iron ore, steel and other commodities.

Although the Naxalite movement is somewhat diffuse, the primary threat comes from the Communist Party of India (Maoist), led by a Politburo of 13 members, with an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 fighters and pockets of influence in at least 20 of India’s 28 states. A series of high-profile attacks dominated the news in 2010, including a May 28 train derailment by a Maoist-affiliated group that killed 148 civilians. These attacks are but a few of a daily stream of reports of assassinations, extortion and police gun battles.

In the first six months of the year, 389 civilians, 177 members of security forces and 144 insurgents were killed, with the annual death toll expected to far outstrip the 997 people killed in 2009. By comparison, conflict in Jammu and Kashmir claimed 375 lives last year. Critics blame the government’s counter-insurgency surge launched late last year, nicknamed Operation Green Hunt, for increasing police presence in affected regions without addressing underlying grievances related to poor governance, lack of development and denying basic rights to India’s poorest citizens.

On the surface, the problem appears intrinsically internal. Former links to Nepalese Maoists were severed after the latter entered peace negotiations in 2006, while early support from China has long since dissipated in the face of improving Sino-Indian relations and the embrace of capitalism in both countries. In contrast to many Islamist extremist groups, the Naxalites represent a traditional form of insurgency, with little interest in attracting global attention through attacks on international targets or use of Internet-based propaganda. Nonetheless, India’s growing global stature fuels the Naxalite resurgence. Soaring growth rates of recent years, with the gross domestic product more than doubling to $1.2 trillion since 2003, are to a great extent a product of India’s economic liberalization over the past two decades.

India’s potential as a market for foreign goods, the growth of its services and manufacturing sectors, and its critical geopolitical position between China and Central Asia combine to make the nation a central player in 21st century international relations, a position reflected in a raft of free-trade agreements and its exemption from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. But while economic growth has benefited millions of its citizens, government promises to make that growth more inclusive of the poor through improved infrastructure, social-security programs and work-guarantee schemes have scarcely been realized.

The most recent figures from the government’s Planning Commission showed that 41.8 percent of the rural population still lived below the poverty line in 2004-05, and here, Maoists find an abundance of potential recruits. Moreover, as communications increasingly reach these communities, so does awareness that they are excluded from India’s global success story.

India has 550 million cellphone subscribers with around 20 million new accounts opened every month in 2010; the number of satellite TVs in rural areas increased by 49 percent in 2009 and 64 percent in 2010. In particular, remote tribal communities, lacking in basic government services, have become the core constituency for the Maoists. After years of exploitation by landowners and corrupt forest officials, India’s tribes now find themselves awkwardly sitting atop some of the country’s richest mineral reserves and on land allocated as “special economic zones.” The government sees these resources as vital to boosting foreign investment, ensuring future energy security and meeting soaring demand from domestic industry.

By contrast, India’s tribes view globalization largely as a source of intrusion, dispossession and pollution. India’s economic trajectory exercises strong pressure to industrialize remote areas and expand India’s relatively small mining sector, which currently accounts for 2.8 percent of GDP despite vast reserves of coal, bauxite, copper, diamond and many other minerals.

That pressure tends to be exercised through corrupt channels of state-level bureaucracy, facilitated by weak systems of property entitlement, that leave many of those affected without decent compensation or effective means of protest or redress. These issues have provided the Maoists with the ideological underpinning by which to galvanize popular opinion. Theirs is essentially an extreme form of critique of the globalized, pro-capitalist direction set by India since 1991. In the absence of legitimate governance, the Maoists often represent the only form of political representation available to tribal communities.

Once entrenched in a region, their presence instigates a cycle of deteriorating security and a cycle of violence with security forces, which only serves to embed them deeper within the local population. The biggest obstacle to foreign investment in India remains stifling bureaucracy and rigid regulations on foreign ownership, but the Naxalite insurgency and the violent trend of antiglobalization is a growing source of disquiet for investors. The federal government has attempted to address some grievances of local populations through better protection of the environment and tribal property rights, or more equitable disbursement of profits to affected communities. However, such initiatives often fall victim to corruption or bureaucratic inefficiency at the local level, with reports in the press of legitimate claims rejected or ignored.

As just one example, a 2007 report by the Center for Environment and Food Security found that Orissa government officials had pocketed 75 percent of funds allocated under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, the government’s flagship antipoverty scheme. Poverty-reduction measures are crucial to undermining the Maoist insurgency and softening the impact of global economic processes on India’s most vulnerable citizens. But when endemic corruption undermines these measures, the case for a globalized India has little to recommend it to the millions still below the poverty line.
By Eric Randolph deputy editor of Current Intelligence magazine and a freelance writer based in Delhi and London . Copyright YaleGlobal 2010, Yale Center for the Study of Globalization.

The real lesson from the leaked records of fighting in Afghanistan

SOME people, including the group that supplied them, thought more than 75,000 secret military records released on July 25th contained devastating revelations about the war the West has been fighting in Afghanistan for the past nine years. Many more saw nothing new, but nonetheless feared that page after page of ugly detail would bring home to the public just how badly the Afghan campaign has turned out. In fact, the most voluminous leak in the history of warfare holds an altogether different message—that, for the moment, the West is tackling Afghanistan with what is probably the right strategy.

The Afghan War Diary contains over 91,000 entries filed between the start of 2004 and the end of 2009, mostly in Afghanistan, and given to WikiLeaks by an unknown hand. It takes a while to make sense of that much raw field reporting, and 15,000 sensitive records are yet to be released. But so far the diary seems to be long on detail and short of revelations.

Individual reports are sometimes troubling; occasionally poignant. One describes a botched attack ordered by German forces on stolen fuel trucks, killing dozens of civilians. A fleeing Afghan, shot after he ignored warnings, turned out to be a deaf mute. Special forces act as death squads hunting down insurgent leaders. Yet there is no corroboration of the most intriguing reports, such as an attempt to poison the drinks of NATO troops. Much of the rest sets out the grim routine and costly errors of an insurgent war: searching for weapons, enduring daily attacks, dealing with locals who could be friend, foe, or something in between. Not much of this would interest a senior officer, let alone someone in search of the Truth.

Even so, they paint a messy, depressing picture. Corruption in Afghanistan is rampant and corrosive; civilians are often killed and the soldiers responsible sometimes try to minimise their wrongdoing; unmanned aircraft go wrong; Iran is meddling; and, most disturbing, even though Pakistan is supposed to be America’s ally, parts of its intelligence service are helping the enemy (see article).

Not the Pentagon Papers

The diary has been widely compared to the Pentagon Papers, a leaked official history showing how Lyndon Johnson’s administration had lied about its strategy in Vietnam. But President Barack Obama has been telling the truth. And none of the big claims is new. Even America’s generals have said that there can be no clear victory in Afghanistan. If ordinary people already know that their soldiers are dying in Afghanistan and that the fight is hard, why should a blizzard of details lead to a sudden shift in public opinion?

Yet despite its absence of startling revelations, the diary is useful. It serves to remind its readers why America changed its strategy in Afghanistan, and why the administration would be wrong to bow to pressure to change it back again.

Debate in Washington about what to do in Afghanistan centres around two military strategies. One is counterterrorism (CT), championed by the vice-president, Joe Biden, which would give up trying to build a state and concentrate on killing enemies. Under CT, troops stick mostly to safeish areas, using airpower to hit terrorist havens. The other is counter-insurgency (COIN), championed first in Afghanistan by the sacked General Stanley McChrystal and now by General David Petraeus, the new commander there. This seeks to win over the population by assuring their security, creating the conditions for stability and isolating militants.

Until 2009 the strategy was pretty close to CT. Then, after Mr Obama ordered a review, COIN came out top. Now its cost has begun to shift opinion against it among America’s politicians. Progress is hard to spot and soldiers are dying; COIN is expensive and the government of Hamid Karzai commands little affection and less respect. But the diary, which describes Afghanistan before the COIN doctrine was favoured, shows that you cannot rely on CT alone for long. Poor intelligence and extravagant firepower kill civilians. This feeds the insurgency and undermines a Western presence of any sort. In the longer run, you may destabilise Pakistan; and you do nothing to hollow out Islamic terrorism—which cannot be contained for ever.

Just now, Afghanistan needs foreign troops to undertake COIN. In a few years newly trained Afghan forces may be able to take over the job. Meanwhile, development and diplomacy are needed to reform the frustratingly poor Afghan government. It is not pretty and there is no guarantee that it can be done before voters lose patience, if ever. But it looks less ugly and less dangerous than the Afghanistan found in WikiLeaks’ War Diary. The Economist

The rising power of the Chinese worker

In China’s factories, pay and protest are on the rise. That is good for China, and for the world economy

CHEAP labour has built China’s economic miracle. Its manufacturing workers toil for a small fraction of the cost of their American or German competitors. At the bottom of the heap, a “floating population” of about 130m migrants work in China’s boomtowns, taking home 1,348 yuan a month on average last year. That is a mere $197, little more than one-twentieth of the average monthly wage in America. But it is 17% more than the year before. As China’s economy has bounced back, wages have followed suit. On the coasts, where its exporting factories are clustered, bosses are short of workers, and workers short of patience. A spate of strikes has thrown a spanner into the workshop of the world.

The hands of China’s workers have been strengthened by a new labour law, introduced in 2008, and by the more fundamental laws of demand and supply (see article). Workers are becoming harder to find and to keep. The country’s villages still contain perhaps 70m potential migrants. Other rural folk might be willing to work closer to home in the growing number of factories moving inland. But the supply of strong backs and nimble fingers is not infinite, even in China. The number of 15- to 29-year-olds will fall sharply from next year. And although their wages are increasing, their aspirations are rising even faster. They seem less willing to “eat bitterness”, as the Chinese put it, without complaint.

Why the goons were called off

In truth, Chinese workers were never as docile as the popular caricature suggested. But the recent strikes have been unusual in their frequency (Guangdong province on China’s south coast suffered at least 36 strikes in the space of 48 days), their longevity and their targets: foreign multinationals.

China’s ruling Communist Party has swiftly quashed previous bouts of labour unrest. This one drew a more relaxed reaction. Goons from the government-controlled trade union roughed up some Honda strikers, but they were quickly called off. The strikes were widely, if briefly, covered in the state-supervised press. And the ringleaders have not so far heard any midnight knocks at the door.

This suggests three things. First, China is reluctant to get heavy-handed with workers in big-brand firms that attract global media attention. But, second, China is becoming more relaxed about spooking foreign investors. Indeed, if workers are upset, better that they blame foreign bosses than local ones. In the wake of the financial crisis, the party has concluded, correctly, that foreign investors need China more than it needs them. Third, and most important, the government may believe that the new bolshiness of its workers is in keeping with its professed aim of “rebalancing” the economy. And it would be right. China’s economy relies too much on investment and too little on consumer spending. That is mostly because workers get such a small slice of the national cake: 53% in 2007, down from 61% in 1990 (and compared with about two-thirds in America). Letting wages rise at the expense of profits would allow workers to enjoy more of the fruits of their labour.

Higher Chinese wages would also be good for the West. This may seem odd, given how much the rich world has come to rely on cheap Chinese labour: by one estimate, trade with China has added $1,000 a year to the pockets of every American household, thanks to cheaper goods in the country’s stores, cheaper inputs for its businesses and stiffer competition in its markets. Just as expanding the global labour force by a quarter through the addition of cheap Chinese workers helped to keep prices down in the West, so higher Chinese wages might start to export inflation. Furthermore, from the point of view of the global economy, labour is a resource, like land or oil. It would not normally benefit from the dwindling of China’s reserves of labour any more than from the drying up of Saudi wells.

Tomorrow’s global consumers

But in the wake of the financial crisis, things are different. Deflation is now a bigger threat than inflation. And with 47m workers unemployed in the OECD alone, labour is not holding back the global economy. What the world lacks is willing customers, not willing workers. Higher Chinese wages will have a similar effect to the stronger exchange rate that America has been calling for, shrinking China’s trade surplus and boosting its spending. This will help foreign companies and the workers they have idled. A 20% rise in Chinese consumption might well lead to an extra $25 billion of American exports. That could create over 200,000 American jobs.
Eventually, this extra spending will help the world economy return to full employment. At that point, foreign companies and consumers may miss China’s cheap coastal workers, who kept profits high and prices low. But there will still be cheap labour to be found inland and in places like India. And Chinese wages were anyway only half the story. The other half was Chinese productivity. Chinese labour costs tripled in the decade after 1995, but output per worker quintupled.

To repeat that feat, as it runs dry of crude labour, China will have to increase its supply of skilled workers. That will require a stable workforce, which stays with its employers long enough to be worth investing in. For that the government will need to relax further its system of internal passports, or hukou, which prevent migrant workers from settling formally in the city without losing their family plot back home. When labour was abundant, it suited the government to have a floating population that made few demands on urban authorities and drifted back to the family farm whenever hardship beckoned. But to maintain fast growth as the labour market tightens, China’s floating population will have to drop anchor.

As the late Joan Robinson, a Cambridge economist, once wrote, “the misery of being exploited by capitalists is nothing compared to the misery of not being exploited at all”. Her quip, written in 1962, was inspired by underemployment in South-East Asia. Since then, capital has busily “exploited” workers in that region and its giant northern neighbour, much to their benefit. Now it is time for capital to invest in them. The Economist

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Hillary Clinton pulls a 180 on Beijing

Hillary Clinton Changes America's China Policy

On Friday Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced that the peaceful resolution of competing sovereignty claims to the South China Sea is a U.S. "national interest." "The U.S. supports a collaborative diplomatic process by all claimants for resolving the various territorial disputes without coercion," she said in Hanoi during a regional security conference, the Asean Regional Forum. "We oppose the use or threat of force by any claimant."

Beijing quickly reacted. Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi characterized Clinton's comments as "an attack on China," and in a sense he was right. China has claimed virtually all that body of water as its own. By doing so, Beijing has said it has sovereignty over the continental shelves of the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia, Taiwan and Vietnam. Most of China's claims there are baseless, and some are ludicrous. That is perhaps why the Chinese have resorted to force to grab islands and islets from other claimants. China seized the western Paracels from Vietnam in 1974 and Mischief Reef from the Philippines in 1995.

Beijing opted for the softer approach by signing a multi-nation code of conduct in 2002. It was seen as largely succeeding in its recent efforts to gain control by preventing other claimants from banding together. China had shrewdly maintained a policy of participating in only bilateral negotiations so that it could use its heft to maximum advantage.

Yet it was nonetheless meeting resistance from nations in the region--especially Vietnam--and so it changed tack recently. When Jeffrey Bader, the top Asia official at the National Security Council, and James Steinberg, deputy secretary of state, traveled to Beijing in March, Chinese officials for the first time said the South China Sea was one of their country's "core interests" and that they would brook no American interference there.

Beijing has tried to paint Clinton's words as the U.S. inserting itself into the region, but that could not be further from the truth. Up until now, Washington has been largely oblivious to Chinese attempts to make the South China Sea a "Chinese lake." It ignored Beijing's seizure of territory and even did little to protect ExxonMobil ( XOM - news - people ) when China, in 2008, tried to intimidate the company from entering into an exploration deal with PetroVietnam, the state energy company, in the South China Sea. In adjacent areas it has done virtually nothing to prevent China's navy from harassing Japanese warships, as it did most recently in April, and to stop Chinese submarines from regularly violating Japanese waters, which they have been doing for most of this decade.

In short, America looked like it was acceding to Chinese demands for control over the South China Sea. Beijing had overplayed its hand in recent months, however, and nations in the region were looking to oppose the Chinese. Nonetheless, all of them were seeking safety in numbers, with none wanting to aggravate Beijing by leading from the front.

In a meeting between Asean members and Yang Jiechi before Clinton arrived in Hanoi, only the Philippines was willing to raise the issue of the South China Sea. Once word spread that Clinton would adopt a firm position, however, 11 participants issued statements on the matter. No wonder the Chinese feel they were ambushed in the Vietnamese capital. Whether or not it was a trap, Clinton, in her finest hour as secretary of state, supplied leadership in Southeast Asia.

And in North Asia as well. The Clinton Doctrine--Is it too early to call it that yet?--will also reassure Japan and South Korea, both formal military allies of the U.S., that Washington is in Asia to stay.

Up until now, both nations were wavering as it looked like President Obama would follow the worst aspects of the "engagement" policies of his predecessor. His particularly disastrous November summit in Beijing seemed to confirm--to the Chinese as well as others--that China was now more powerful than the U.S. It is perhaps no coincidence that Chinese officials displayed new-found arrogance just a few weeks after the summit, going on a bender beginning with the Copenhagen climate-change conference in early December. Up until now, the U.S. was reluctant to confront China as it waited for Beijing to assume a constructive role as a great power. The Chinese, however, interpreted Washington's hope and patience as evidence of American weakness and decline. But in a few short sentences on Friday, Clinton changed that perception, both inside and outside China.

Her South China Sea declaration has been called a "landmark" and a "pivot." It is, and it may end up as the moment she redirected not only America's China policy but the China policies of nations in the region.

Beijing's unimpeded advance to global domination has just hit resistance. And it's about time.

By Gordon G. Chang author of The Coming Collapse of China. He writes a weekly column for Forbes.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Ground-zero of Imperial Japan's Germ War

In 1989, a mass grave was unearthed at the construction site for a National Institute of Health facility in the Shinjuku section of Tokyo.

Flash forward 21 years to another site a short distance from where the remains were discovered in 1989. Excavation work will soon commence at this second site, one of three identified in 2006 by a former nurse who worked at the Imperial Japanese Army Medical College in Shinjuku, and who pinpointed possible locations where human remains were hastily buried. These were all probably the unfortunate victims of a string of medical experiments performed on living subjects in Japan as well as in Manchuria and China by the Imperial Japanese Army. The nurse reported that she and other medical workers were ordered to bury these complete and partial remains after Japan surrendered to the US in August, 1945.

The Imperial Japanese Army Medical College's Research Institute for Preventive Medicine once occupied this site. The infamous Unit 731 created in 1932 - aka the "Kwantung Army Epidemic Prevention and Water Supply Department" or simply the "Manchuria 731st Unit" - was also headquartered there.

Today, a soon-to-be demolished government-funded residential complex is located at the Tokyo compound. Ishii Shiro, the director of Unit 731 who died in the 1950s, was once described as the "Japanese Mengele", a reference to Josef Mengele, the German SS officer and a physician in Nazi concentration camps who was also known as the "Angel of Death".

Unit 731's operations in China included a large contingent in Harbin, along with one in Singapore. Shinjuku was the source of BW agents that infected thousands of people in China. Estimates of the total death toll in China range from anywhere between 250,000 and 1 million. The BW experiments conducted in Shinjuku and elsewhere which Ishii supervised killed more than an estimated 3,000 people, including many Chinese. Many of the army officers and personnel responsible for these horrific acts who were captured by the Russians were imprisoned. But in Japan after the war, the US turned a blind eye and allowed them to simply walk away. The perpetrators were never prosecuted or punished in any way.

According to Koga Kei, a 2009-2010 Vasey Fellow from Japan at the Pacific Forum Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Honolulu and a PhD candidate in international relations at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, the upcoming excavation in Shinjuku is tied to the broader joint effort recently undertaken by Japan and China to jointly explore historical issues often divisive and painful in an attempt to gain a better understanding of each other's different perspective, among other things.

"The issue relating Unit 731 is a point of contention. The research group provided its reports both in Japanese and Chinese last January, and the descriptions in these Japanese and Chinese reports differ," said Koga. "Regarding the issue of biological weapons, the Japanese report did not directly mention Unit 731, while the Chinese version explicitly described that biological and chemical warfare was committed by the Japanese, and that Unit 731 carried out experiments on Chinese subjects." Koga remains concerned that given the sensitivity of the subject at hand, "if exaggerated information about this issue is disseminated, this might instigate anti-Japanese sentiment in China". "This should be understood as a voluntary movement by the Japanese without any foreign and especially American pressure to recognize the dark side of Japan's past, in contrast with the recent 'comfort women' issue," said Yoshikawa. "It often takes time in Japan, but wait in patience, and things will move."

Thanks in great part to the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) and the concerted pressure exerted by a particularly persistent andunyielding Japanese civic organization - the Association Demanding Investigation on Human Bones Discovered from the Site of the Army Medical College - Japan's Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare approved the excavation in Shinjuku. "The health minister under the conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) cabinet of Junichiro Koizumi promised in June 2006 to continue investigations of human remains at the old army medical college originally found in 1989. He was, in fact, responding to questions from a representative of the DPJ," said Professor Frederick Dickinson of the University of Pennsylvania. "A proper accounting of this issue has, in other words, been DPJ policy since at least 2006 and, it is safe to say, with the DPJ now in power since last September, it makes sense for the party to move on the investigation. Funds for the new excavation were approved in the latest budget approval in the parliament at the beginning of March."

In effect, this issue is one of many others including a friendlier relationship with China, and a harder line on the US - Japan security treaty that the DPJ has used to distinguish itself from the LDP and that it is now trying to capitalize on. "Now that the DPJ has completely backtracked on its hardline stance vis-a-vis the US, it needs to maintain some semblance of its identity of being the 'reform' party. The medical college site issue, although a very small one compared to the US-Japan security alliance, is one small way of doing so," said Dickinson.

While there has been a long history of revelations in Japan about wartime Japanese atrocities and while some might argue that the Japanese are very aware of them, many view Japan as moving ahead too slowly and still dragging its feet. "There has been insufficient Japanese scholarly or governmental investigation of these episodes and this new investigation is long overdue. A large part of Japan's difficulty addressing these issues was that the conservative LDP had in its DNA ties to the pre-war leadership, while the left in Japan had a political agenda that went beyond truth and reconciliation and was therefore suspect from the beginning," said Michael Green, senior adviser and Japan chair at CSIS in Washington, DC.

With the rapid recent rise of the DPJ, more space has perhaps emerged for less politically motivated inquiries that can enjoy broader political support. "This is not the same Japan," said Green. "And coming at a time of sagging confidence among Japanese citizens about the future, it will be important for the emerging generation of leaders to expose and learn from this tragic history while also instilling pride and confidence in Japan's role in the world." Japan must prepare for what will surely be an extremely sensitive and perhaps painful episode. "Japan's biological warfare program in China was, as far as we know, the first use of scientifically organized germ warfare in history," Iris Chang told the Shanghai Star in March, 2004 just a few months before she took her own life. Chang, a noted
Chinese-American historian, is best remembered for her book The Rape of Nanking, about the atrocities committed there by Japanese occupation forces in 1937.

A close friend and former instructor of Chang informed this writer in 2008 that she was unaware that Chang was engaged in any in-depth research focused on Japan's BW program before and during World War II. Still, Chang appeared to know quite a lot about what transpired. She must have known that Unit 1644 established a forward base in Nanjing. Unit 1644 specialized in BW like Unit 731 and conducted extensive BW field operations in China, especially from late 1940 until 1942. China conducted a formal inquiry into one of this unit's BW attacks - on Ningbo in October 1940 - for example.

"Details from this period were suppressed during the Cold War. The US government cut a secret deal with these Japanese doctors, giving them immunity from prosecution in exchange for their medical data," said Chang in 2004. [2] Decisions made years ago by the Japanese government to undertake government-funded construction projects at these troubling sites are seen by many as no mere coincidence. "According to the former nurse, the public housing for government officials was constructed immediately after the war so that no one could dig up the human subjects buried there," Tsuneishi, who represents the Association Demanding Investigation, was quoted as saying by the Mainichi Daily News. "The search may uncover the facts that the government had sought to conceal." [3]

Asia Times Online's attempts to contact Tsuneishi were unsuccessful. Tsuneishi gave a speech at the annual meeting of the Association for Asian Studies last March in Philadelphia entitled, "The Purchase of the Data of 'experiments' conducted in the Japanese BW Program by the US in 1947." The truth about the role of Unit 731 in so many BW-related deaths in China and the US government's deliberate attempt to
cover up this war crime really did not emerge until the late 1970s and early 1980s. Japanese and American researchers pursued every shred of evidence.

Professor Sheldon Harris at California State University at Northridge stood out early on in this regard. However, while Harris and others helped to expose the fact that the US secretly decided to overlook the criminal acts perpetrated by members of Unit 731 and not prosecute them as war criminals once the US had obtained the data derived from countless human experiments performed by the Japanese, the fact that the US actually paid Ishii and other members of Unit 731 an enormous sum in order to obtain this data only recently came to light, due to Tsuneishi's diligent research.
There was no mention of any payment from a secret US fund in this 1947 memorandum to US General Douglas MacArthur, for example. "For all practical purposes, an agreement with Ishii and his associates that information given by them on the Japanese BW
program will be retained in intelligence channels is equivalent to an agreement that this [US] government will not prosecute any of those involved in BW activities in which war crimes were committed. Such an understanding would be of great value to the security of the American people because of the information which Ishii and his associates have already furnished and will continue to furnish." [4]

In Philadelphia, according to one person who was in the audience, Tsuneishi spoke about the many errors that can be found in English publications and books about Unit 731, and he criticized authors for not doing thorough research on this
topic. However, while historical inaccuracies and distortions are unwelcome and distracting, this does not excuse the conduct of the Japanese government which bears much if not all of the responsibility for concealing the truth about Shinjuku. Among other things, the Japanese Health Ministry has repeatedly denied Chinese requests for DNA tests. [5]

According to Koga, one Japanese Health Ministry official said during the 164th Diet (parliament) session in 2006 that although several DNA investigations were undertaken, sampling was difficult and because a substance known as hormaline might be present in the human bones in question, it would be difficult to reach definitive conclusions. There is no firm indication of any substantive DNA work done prior to 2006 on any remains recovered in Shinjuku.

In late 2010, there might be a change of heart in Tokyo. "The DNA technology may be what makes a more objective and scientific study possible," said Green. While analyzing DNA evidence might reopen the door to another dark dimension of this chapter in Japanese history, it must be done. "As for DNA analysis, yes, it will be very useful to have concrete proof of Japanese, Chinese, perhaps victims of other nationalities at this site," said Dickinson.

What about the American prisoners of war in Shinjuku? Is this file now closed? After all, a quick scan of state and local prisoner of war (POW) accounts from the Pacific theater, for example, has revealed that hundreds of American POWs were held at a POW camp(s) in Shinjuku during World War II for varying lengths of time, and it would have been very easy for the Japanese to conceal their fate. ''It is significant that these are probably the skeletons of non-Japanese,'' said Tsuneishi a short time after the mass grave was discovered in 1989. ''The Health and Welfare Ministry has been very eager to collect bones in the South Pacific islands for decades. I just wish they had that enthusiasm for the mysterious bones here in Tokyo.'' [6]

1.) WWII horrors believed hidden in Tokyo neighborhood, Taipei
Times, September 18, 2006
2) Book Exposes WWII Japanese Biowarfare Program in China,
China Internet Information Center
3) Government to excavate Shinjuku site for remains of WWII-era
live human experiment victims, July 8, 2010, Mainichi Daily News
4) Memos Say US Hid Japanese War Crime, December 18, 1988,
LA Times
5) Human bones could reveal truth of Japan's 'Unit 731'
experiments February 15, 2010, Daily Telegraph
6) Skulls Found: Japan Doesn't Want to Know Whose, August 13,
1990, New York Times
By Peter J Brown freelance writer from Maine USA.

Islam without veil

Since the recent controversy surrounding the French government’s ban on total face coverings (burqa or niqab), the head scarf issue has once again attracted the world’s attention. Indeed, only very few Muslim women cover their face completely, which is a reflection of the attitude preached by Sayed al Tantawi, an imam of Al-Azhar in Cairo, who boldly stated that total face coverings are not in accordance with Islamic teachings. It is therefore not surprising that the education ministry in Syria, a Muslim majority country, has also issued a ban on niqab in all state and private universities.

Looking at classical Islamic literature, one will discover that this piece of cloth was never a serious subject of discussion among Muslim jurists, historians, philosophers, theologians nor any other thinkers. There are much more important issues to discuss than paying attention to whether women’s heads should be covered or left bare. The headscarf issue, which has served a symbol of new Islamic revivalism, is new.The Koran itself never explicitly mentions that women should cover their hair. Nor is there clear guidance on what parts of women’s bodies should be covered with what kind of cloth.

Covering women’s heads with only their faces showing, is part of more recent Islamic conservatism, which has recently penetrated almost all aspects of Indonesian Muslims’ lives.Indonesian women, however, have proven themselves to be creative in making the veil into more of a fashion statement that a symbol of conservatism. Girls in campuses and malls have combined the article with modern trends. Ironically, some headscarf clad women can be found wearing trendy outfits accentuating the female form.

Those who are in favor of wearing hijab head scarves justify their ideology, which they consider as a religious duty, by exploiting the interpretation of verses 33:59 and 24:31 of the Koran.The remainder of the argument rests on unclear Prophetic traditions in the Hadith, whose meanings are then violated. The contexts are forgotten and their main messages are abandoned. The focus of attention is paid to whether there is a piece of cloth covering a woman’s head. They are selective in choosing the part of the tradition that supports their argument.

We may question why they are so concerned with two verses out of more than 6,000 verses in 114 chapters of the Koran. Six years ago in Ciputat, Tangerang, Banten, in a conversation my colleague, Prof. Abdullah Saeed, a professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Melbourne, Australia, wondered that Muslims did not pay enough attention to the prohibition of lying which occurs in almost every chapter of the Koran.

Paradoxically, the unclear message of wearing head scarves in only two verses of the whole Scripture becomes a heated subject of debate among Muslims.Of course, wearing a headscarf is neither a theme of philosophical nor of theological discussion. It can perhaps be inserted in Islamic law, although its place is marginal. Head scarves are certainly items of modern fashion that have become prevalent in Muslim communities.“Looking at classical Islamic literature, one will discover that this piece of cloth was never a serious subject of discussion among Muslim jurists, nor any other thinkers.”

It is of course a product of culture. Studies show that many women have their own various reasons to wear a headscarf — be they religious, personal, or fashionable. Additionally, wearing a headscarf is obligated by certain institutions, supported by parents, or friends. On the other hand, covering head is also an old tradition, older than Islam itself. Images of women covering their heads have been found connected to Egyptian, Sumerian, Greek and Byzantine cultures. Many classical works show that important female figures, such as the Virgin Mary, covered their heads with cloth. Note that men also wore headscarves — a fashion which is less popular now, except in the Arab countries.

Indonesian thinkers, i.e. Nurcholish Madjid and Abdurrahman Wahid “Gus Dur”, whom we should be proud of, warned us that we should distinguish between the spirit of Islam and Arab culture, the context in which Islam was born. Sukarno, when he was young, once condemned the segregation of men and women in public forums. In understanding Islam, Sukarno often called upon Indonesians to take the fire (the spirit), not the ashes (unessential elements). Without doubt, the headscarf issue is not the fire. It is a part of recent revivalism whose advocates adopted the headscarf as a symbol and “identity”, indicating their unpreparedness in facing the challenge of globalization. They are worried of being lost in the wilds of the global market and feel the need to distinguish themselves.

Since the 1990s in Indonesia, the veil has dominated the public and at times buried our “identity”. In campuses, streets, supermarket, vehicles, the hijab has become a trend. Fewer people wear traditional ethnic clothes even in ceremonies. We often see weddings with grooms and brides who preferred “religious dresses” to traditional ethnic garb. In fact, to wear veil, or not to wear veil, does not indicate the quality of our piety. It is purely fashion. Traditionally, Indonesian Islam was never hidden behind a veil.

By Al Makin, lecturer at the State Islamic University Sunan Kalijaga, Yogyakarta.

Judgment on Khmers Rouges’ Comrade Duch

SLIGHT, well-kempt and dressed in khakis and a powder-blue shirt, the man sitting in the dock cut the image of a schoolteacher. Indeed he once taught maths—in the years before he assumed control of a centre where more than 14,000 men, women and children were imprisoned, tortured and then transmitted to “the killing fields”. The defendant, Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Comrade Duch, was the commandant of the Khmers Rouges’ infamous S-21 detention centre. On Monday, a UN-backed tribunal found him guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Duch is now 67 years old. On July 26th he was sentenced to 35 years imprisonment, effectively reduced to 19 years, against time already served and in compensation for a period of illegal detention by a military court. Reading a prepared statement, a judge told a courtroom packed with journalists and observers, including the hundreds of the regime’s surviving victims, that Duch’s offenses were “shocking and heinous”.

But the judge also described considerations that he said argued against the maximum punishment of life in prison: that Duch had been following orders within a coercive climate, that he expressed some remorse, and that he co-operated with the tribunal and showed a potential for rehabilitation. The prosecutors had sought 40 years.

Cambodia no longer uses the death penalty.

Most Cambodians in attendance thought the sentence unconscionably lenient. Chum Mey, one of a handful of S-21 survivors, seemed distraught as he spoke with reporters outside the court: “I cannot accept the court’s decision. I’ve lost confidence [in the tribunal]. I am worried that Duch will one day walk free.” Theary Seng, a Cambodian-born American lawyer whose parents died under the Khmers Rouges, said that a sentence that amounts to only 19 more years in prison could “embed scepticism” in the public’s attitude towards the tribunal. Attention is already focusing on the tribunal’s next actions.

Human-rights groups and scholars preferred to emphasise that justice had been served, at long last. Moreover, they would have it, Duch’s trial might be held up as positive model for the Cambodian judiciary. “I think that, eventually, we will look back on this as a positive day,” said Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights. “My father was also killed at that time and I was personally disappointed with the sentence. But it addresses impunity…and the display of proper legal proceedings can have a good influence” on Cambodia. Duch’s conviction marks the first time a Khmer Rouge official has been held accountable for his role in the genocide.

S-21 played only a relatively small part in implementing the ultra-Maoist regime’s radical vision. From Phnom Penh, the capital, to the hinterland, the larger project had been to turn the country into an agrarian utopia by forcing the population onto collective farms and banning money, schools and religion. In the process, from 1975 to 1979, an estimated 2 million Cambodians were killed. The terror ended only when a Vietnamese-led force toppled the Khmers Rouges.

During six months of hearings last year, victims’ families watched from the public gallery as Duch explained his role in the Khmer Rouge security apparatus. Many in the audience thought his testimony selective and self-serving. He did profess contrition and said he wanted to co-operate with the court. But families had come expecting answers about how and why their loved ones had been exterminated. They had to settle for a mixture of remorse, sometimes implausible claims of ignorance and, at times, even condescension.

Their frustration had turned to outrage in November when, in his hearings’ closing moments, the defendant demanded to be set free. All of a sudden Duch began to question the legitimacy of his trial. It was a puzzling reversal. Nic Dunlop, the Irish journalist who discovered Duch living underground in 1999—and exposed him—said that somehow “he seemed to be arrogant and contrite at once.”

It remains uncertain how many more Khmers Rouges will face trial. Four of their highest-ranking leaders await trial but they are old and infirm. Those proceedings, scheduled for next year, would be far more complicated than this one. Unlike Duch, who left a meticulous paper trail at S-21 and acknowledged many of his own doings, the movement’s leaders enacted their policies through proxies and have made no admissions or apologies. The process itself is hindered by the prosaic problems of gathering a heterogeneous assembly of judges, lawyers and administrators from Cambodia and around the world to work together effectively. Meanwhile charges of political interference and corruption dog the tribunal, and the donors who have paid for its work are growing weary. The Economist

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Vanuatu is leading the charge against Indonesia to grant independence to W. Papua

Pacific Rallies to Help Free West Papua

A push for independence in Indonesia's rich but troubled territory of Papua is set to become an issue for the Pacific Island Forum. Vanuatu is leading the regional charge in lending open support for the long-standing cause of the territory's independence from Indonesia. The people of Vanuatu consider West Papuans "Wantok" - brothers or "someone who speaks my language" - part of the larger Melanesian brotherhood and have long been supportive of their cause for sovereignty.

In the Vanuatu Parliament, Prime Minister Eduard Natapei and Opposition leader Maxime Carlot Korman jointly sponsored a motion stating Vanuatu's position on Papua. Last month's motion is now a bill called the "Wantok blong yumi Bill" (our wantok bill) reflecting a pan-Melanesian spirit across political boundaries. Essentially, the bill clears the way for the Vanuatu Government to develop specific policies on how to support the independence struggle of West Papua. CCID: 16375 Vanuatu has previously supported decolonisation moves in New Caledonia and kept the issue in front of annual Forum summits - most notably in Auckland in 2003 - and has opened an office for the Free West Papua Movement in its capital of Port Vila. The bill is timely in that it has created a platform for Vanuatu's efforts to get forum leaders to focus on the issue once more when it hosts the 41st summit on August 3-6 in Port Vila.

Natapei has already stated that Vanuatu would work towards getting the forum and the Melanesian Spearhead Group - of which it is the current chairman - to confer observer status on West Papua. It would be a message to Indonesia from the Pacific Islands region and may have repercussions in areas such as security and fisheries, where forum countries work closely with Jakarta.

Papua, formerly known as the province of Irian Jaya, is the western half of the large island of New Guinea (the eastern half is Papua New Guinea). The Indonesian Government split western Papua from the rest of Papua to form the administrative region of West Papua in 2003. Vanuatu's backing for independence covers the whole Papua region.

The territory of larger Papua remained under Dutch control for more than a decade-and-a-half after Indonesia gained its independence from the Netherlands in 1949. But when the Dutch administration agreed to support Papua's sovereignty bid in 1961, Indonesian President Sukarno enforced Jakarta's control militarily, putting paid to Papuan ambitions. Towards the end of the decade, the United States facilitated talks between the Dutch administrators and Indonesian leaders, resulting in the United Nations sponsoring a referendum in 1969, called "Act of Free Choice", giving a choice for West Papuans to decide whether to secede from Indonesia. Only about 1000 Papuans are reported to have voted. Most Papuans believe the referendum was not representative of the vastly larger numbers that never participated. Successive Indonesian governments have countered even the slightest hint of separatism by strict policing and enacting laws of the kind that make flying the West Papua flag anywhere in Indonesian territory punishable by imprisonment (Indonesia's embassy in London is reported to have asked the British Foreign Office to prevail upon the Oxford town council not to fly the morning star flag on December 1 last year).

In recent years, however, the Indonesian Government has granted Papua special autonomy status, allowing indigenous Papuans greater control over tax and other local revenues from natural resources. But activists say centrally sponsored projects are implemented without adequate consultation and regard to local rights.

West Papua and Papua provinces are the least populated and the poorest areas of the Indonesian archipelago. But the two provinces are also some of the most mineral rich within Indonesia, especially for gold, timber and natural gas.

The huge Grasberg mine, run by Freeport-McMoran, the world's largest combined copper and gold mine, is in Papua. The complex is enormously profitable. It provided US$4 billion ($5.6 billion) of Freeport's operating profit of US$6.5 billion last year. The mining facilities are protected by about 3000 soldiers and police, which were supported by Freeport with US$10 million last year, according to the company. Last December the police shot dead Kelly Kwalik, a leading figure in the Free Papua Movement or OPM. Police accused him of a series of attacks on Freeport's operations, a charge he repeatedly denied.

Vanuatu's backing for Papua comes amid renewed stirrings in the independence struggle itself. Earlier this month, thousands marched in the Papua centres of Jayapura, Manokwari and Sorong, rejecting the autonomy and demanding instead a referendum and a UN-mediated dialogue towards self-rule. There is concern in the regional leadership of the growing discontent at the grass-roots level in West Papua and fears people will take up violent measures of protest in a bid to bring their plight into international focus. By Dev Nadkarni New Zealand Herald

Friday, July 23, 2010

Waking Up to Indonesia

JAKARTA — It may not seem much consolation for the fact that President Barack Obama has twice had to postpone a trip to Southeast Asia’s premier country, one where he enjoyed a happy, multi-ethnic childhood.

But the announcement by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates of a resumption of contact with Indonesia’s special forces known as Kopassus may be symbolically as important as the presidential visit, now set for November. The renewed ties will be limited at first — perhaps only involving staff-to-staff meetings — but are viewed as steps toward U.S. training of the elite unit.

No one doubts that Kopassus behaved brutally in East Timor and Aceh, but up till now the U.S. attitude has been seen as a slight by Indonesians who otherwise have little time for the country’s military. Indonesians feel they have received little reward for recovering both democracy and self-respect. It is arguably the most open, democratic and pluralistic society in the region. It is also one where, unlike most of the neighbors with whom the U.S. enjoys close military relations, civil-society groups can operate freely.

The U.S. decision is not the end of this story. A U.S. congressional vote still bans Kopassus troops from training in the United States. But the announcement may begin to awake Washington to the fact that the United States has much bigger interests in Asia than handing out punishments for actions a decade or more ago.

“Good China policy involves engaging others in the region,” Kurt Campbell, the assistant secretary of state for East Asia and the Pacific, recently remarked. On that score, no country deserves more U.S. attention than this archipelago nation, which is as wide as the continental United States, dominating the strategic straits that link the Indian Ocean to the South China Sea and the Pacific, and with an open, resource-rich economy of 250 million people.

U.S. influence faces a challenge from China, which is using its newfound commercial power to spread influence in Southeast Asia, and to extend the reach of its navy throughout the South China Sea. Prime Minister Wen Jiabao is due to visit Jakarta, too, and though he lacks the personal appeal that Mr. Obama has for Indonesians, he will come bearing many gifts for a nation that traditionally has regarded China with suspicion.

President President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia is basking in the sun of its democratic politics, economic stability and membership in the Group of 20, but he has yet to develop a clear foreign policy agenda. Indonesia is trying to define its role in the world and determine how best to relate to other major players. So the time is ripe for a major step-up in U.S. engagement.

Last year, the two agreed on a comprehensive partnership arrangement but it is proving hard to put flesh on it. There appears scant understanding among U.S. politicians swayed by special interest groups of how much damage has been done to the relationship with a natural ally by the Kopassus issue. Portrayal of Indonesia as a hotbed of Islamic terrorism, despite its successes in hunting terrorists, is another irritant.

It makes little sense to focus on such issues at a time when the United States is strengthening ties with India, gradually building them with Vietnam, and through its links with Japan, Australia and South Korea, shoring up its position in Asia in the face of China’s influence. For sure, Indonesia, like its neighbors, wants Chinese investment but also wants to counter China’s high-profile naval build-up. While China’s territorial claims do not quite extend to Indonesian waters, they have huge strategic implications for an archipelago nation.
Washington attention to Indonesia’s importance should also make U.S. business more aware of the sales and investment opportunities in a market that has historically been very profitable for foreign business. The declining U.S. share of trade and investment may be hard to reverse given the growth of East Asian economies. But there is not much resistance to U.S. cultural influence, however much Indonesians may resent U.S. policies in the Middle East.

Mr. Yudhoyono sees himself as a bridge builder. But between whom? Indonesia has no strong G-20 agenda. It would like to play a larger role in the Muslim world except that its secular Constitution and relaxed attitudes are out of step with Middle Eastern Islam. China business is the talk of the town but there are few signs that Jakarta, always close to Japan, has a clear policy to deal with Beijing. Links with India, closer geographically and culturally than China, are far weaker than they should be.

That makes it all the more important that the United States remove self-imposed obstacles to its influence in Southeast Asia by focusing on an Indonesia seeking to define its own strategic interests and partners. The decision on Kopassus must be just the beginning. By PHILIP BOWRING Op Ed International Herald Tribune

U.S. Strengthens Asia Military Links Amid Concerns Over China

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton joined Asia’s biggest security forum in Hanoi Thursday as the U.S. strengthened defense ties across a region where China’s expanding military reach has triggered unease.

Clinton yesterday discussed military cooperation with Vietnam and Defense Secretary Robert Gates restored ties with Indonesia’s special forces after a 12-year gap. A day earlier, the two officials affirmed U.S. support for South Korea in Seoul ahead of joint naval drills that China criticized.

Clinton is set to meet China’s Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi in Hanoi, where both are attending the 27-member Asean Regional Forum. China considers the entire South China Sea as its own, dismissing rival claims, and is building a blue-water fleet to project power beyond its own borders.

“China’s assertiveness has caused anxieties in the region,” Carlyle A. Thayer, professor of politics at the Australian Defense Force Academy in Canberra, said by phone. Countries around Asia “are quite happy the U.S. is doing the heavy lifting,” he said.

China cut off high-level military exchanges with the U.S. in January over arms sales to Taiwan and has declined to join the Obama administration in blaming North Korea for the sinking of a South Korean warship in March that killed 46 sailors.

Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said two days ago that the inability to speak directly with Chinese military leaders was a cause for concern.

Curiousity to Concern

“I’ve moved from being curious about what they’re doing to being concerned about what they’re doing,” Mullen told U.S. troops in South Korea. “I see a fairly significant investment in high-end equipment, satellites, ships, anti-ship missiles, high-end aircraft.”

China’s military poses no threat to any nation, Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said June 10.

The U.S. regards Indonesia and Vietnam as increasingly important allies in the region, the Pentagon said in a February report. Gates met in Jakarta with his counterpart Purnomo Yusgiantoro and President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

The U.S. will begin a “measured and gradual” relationship with the elite unit known as Kopassus, which is already involved in United Nations peacekeeping operations, Gates said yesterday. Indonesia’s Defense Ministry has pledged to remove from active duty any military officials “credibly accused” of rights abuses, he said.

The move was criticized by New York-based Human Rights Watch, which said it “weakens U.S. standards for military cooperation globally.” U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Russ Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat, also said he was “disappointed” by Gates’s announcement.

South China Sea

Indonesia and Vietnam border the South China Sea, which contains sea corridors vital to world trade, and where U.S. officials say China has become more assertive.

The Paracel and Spratly islands, groups of rocky outcrops with unproven oil and gas deposits that are claimed in part or in full by China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Brunei, the Philippines and Malaysia, have been at the center of tensions.

Estimates of oil and gas reserves vary, with some Chinese studies suggesting the waters contain more oil than Iran and more natural gas than Saudi Arabia, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. China told some international oil and gas companies to halt exploration in offshore areas that Vietnam considers part of its territory, a U.S. official told Congress last year.

The South China Sea, stretching from Singapore to the Strait of Taiwan, is an “area of growing concern,” Gates said in Singapore last month. Exxon Mobil Corp. and BP Plc are among companies that have halted projects in the sea because of China’s objections, according to U.S. government agencies.


Gates and Clinton stressed that relationships with Vietnam and Indonesia were improving. The decision to restore links with Indonesian forces was possible due to Indonesia’s progress in professionalizing the military since the fall of the dictator Suharto, Gates said.

Vietnam is on the verge of becoming a “great nation” and the U.S. wants to take its relationship to a “new level,” Clinton told reporters in Hanoi. She met Vietnam’s Deputy Prime Minister Pham Gia Khiem, who said yesterday they discussed defense links and were “leaving the past behind.”

In contrast, Clinton said her presence with Gates in Seoul and the new sanctions they announced sought to send a clear deterrent to North Korea after the warship sinking that an international panel blamed on a torpedo from one of the North’s mini-submarines.

The USS George Washington and three destroyers called into South Korean ports the same day in a show of U.S. commitment to the region. The ships arrived ahead of planned military maneuvers off South Korea’s east that start July 25.

China’s Military

China has beefed up its military over the past decade, enhancing the capability to deter U.S. ships and enforce territorial claims off its shores. Last year, Chinese fishing boats harassed two U.S. naval vessels in the South China Sea, where American forces have patrolled since World War II.

China doesn’t see U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, which it considers a renegade province, as “normal,” General Ma Xiaotian, deputy chief of general staff of the People’s Liberation Army, said in Singapore last month.

“It is the transparency with respect to China that is probably most vexing because it’s difficult to figure out where they are headed,” Mullen said July 21.

Asean ministers invited the U.S. and Russia to join the East Asia Summit, which includes the 10-member bloc, China, South Korea, Japan, India, Australia and New Zealand. That would provide another forum where Chinese and American leaders meet face to face.

“The U.S. is very important to the whole Asia-Pacific,” Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya told reporters in Hanoi. “Their presence here with the Seventh fleet guarantees peace and security and the safety of sea lanes.” Bloomberg By Daniel Ten Kate

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Pulling W. Papua Back From the Edge of Disaster

The need for an international mediator in the case of Papuan autonomy has been frequently raised, most recently two weeks ago when thousands of Papuans rallied in Jayapura to demand a referendum to determine their own fate . A number of civil society organizations support the idea of outside engagement to bring the problems in Papua to a peaceful and sustainable end. The Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) has even suggested that Jakarta “put aside paranoia of foreign parties and no longer use nationalist sentiment as pretext.”

Just whether international mediation is likely or not in the Papuan cause depends on the government, Papuans and the international community. Regarding the government, LIPI might be correct in assuming that some factions in Jakarta are fearful of international intervention.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with the view that the Papuan cause is a domestic affair. But after four decades without an effective solution, the claim that Papua’s integration into Indonesia is final, legal and irrevocable lacks credibility. Conceiving of the problems in Papua as solely an insurgency threat by the Free Papua Movement (OPM) and giving the armed forces a free pass impedes a comprehensive solution and damages Papua and Indonesia as a whole.

Simply entrusting territorial sovereignty to paranoid factions within the government subsequently closes the door on foreign parties. Any suspicion that these foreign parties are fueling a separatist movement is ill-founded. Such suspicions also suggest that the government has no confidence in what it has done in Papua. An increasing number of leaders with a more globalized, cooperative and rational perspective about the problems in Papua can help others see the international community as a resource for conflict resolution.

Instead of solely deploying armed forces “as if Papua is a dark cave which is always closed and guarded by the government,” as a protest leader put it during the July 8 demonstration, these rational leaders know that they must go a step further to help Papuans fully understand the UN resolution that established the legality of Papuan integration in 1962. Moreover, while these leaders agree that the government should uphold the 2001 Law on Special Autonomy by protecting Papuans’ rights and creating socioeconomic development programs for the region, they also realize that the presence of international third parties is crucial in publicizing the resolution and maintaining national integration.

From the Papuan side, the call for the UN or a neutral country to act as a mediator needs to answer the question: Just who is it calling for a third party? Is it the Papuan People’s Assembly (MRP), the Papuan Presidium Council (DPP), the National Committee for West Papua (KNPB) or regional legislatures (DPRPs)? A representative group will be one united with other Papuans, integrated within cohesive organizations and led by a strong and legitimate leadership.

The peace agreement in Aceh was greatly affected by a clear organizational structure and the leadership of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), which met with Indonesian negotiators and Crisis Management Initiative mediators to solve the conflict. For Papuans to have their calls for international mediation fulfilled, organization is a pressing need. From the perspective of the international community, difficulties run equally deep. The United Nations is frequently mentioned as a potential mediator for the Papua conflict. The Netherlands, the United States, Australia and other countries from the South Pacific have also been mentioned as prospective mediators. However, each party has shown reluctance to assume such a role. It is unlikely that we will see the UN wanting to take part in an activity that could be seen as revising what it institutionally approved four decades ago when it declared Papua an integral part of Indonesia.

Some political elements within the Netherlands may have sympathy for the plight of the Papuans, but the nation’s official policies would not risk damaging bilateral relations with Indonesia. Having a good partnership in security issues, in particular the global war on terror, the United States and Australia have shown no interest in mediating the Papuan conflict to the point of conducting referendum.

The 2006 Lombok Treaty provides Australia limited space for proactive involvement.

Countries in the Pacific Islands continue to show deep concern for Papua. Last month, Vanuatu’s Parliament unanimously passed a motion calling for the International Court of Justice to investigate the legality of West Papua becoming part of Indonesia. Yet with regard to its solidarity with Melanesia, Vanuatu’s prospects for becoming a mediator for Papua are very slim. The options for international NGOs are more open. The Crisis Management Initiative and the Center for Humanitarian Dialogue are only two of the organizations that worked hard to bring peace to Aceh. The International Crisis Group is another possible alternative. But a kind of consortium of various civil society associations including the Red Cross, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International could be taken into consideration.

The Australian West Papua Association and the West Papua Project do not favor Indonesia, but their support and understanding of problems in Papua would be a strong reason to get them involved. But any mediator between the Indonesian government and indigenous Papuans will be determined first and foremost by the level of confidence the Jakarta government has in itself. A successful mediation must also include a highly organized structure, an international third party with robust support from major global actors and extraordinary creativity from all.

Allowing current conditions in Papua to continue without significant improvement will lead to an enduring human catastrophe. International mediation will benefit Papuans, Indonesians and the world.

By Mangadar Situmorang senior lecturer at Parahyangan Catholic University and a visiting fellow at Murdoch University .

United States to Lift Ban on Indonesia's Brutal Special Forces, Kopassus

Visiting US Secretary of Defense Robert M Gates announced on Thursday that the US Department of Defense was lifting a decade-old ban on cooperation with the Army’s elite Kopassus special forces that was put in place over alleged human rights abuses by the unit.

When it imposed the ban in 1999, the United States said that members of Kopassus had been accused of repeated human rights abuses while responding to pro-democracy activists in Papua, Aceh and East Timor between 1997 and 1999.

The US Congress bars the United States from training military units that are credibly believed to have engaged in human rights abuses, unless the units take steps to improve. Defense officials in Washington were quoted by The New York Times as saying that the American military would have limited engagement with Kopassus to start, perhaps only in staff-to-staff meetings, and that there would be no immediate military training. The officials said that the Defense Department was not seeking funding from Congress for the renewed engagement with Kopassus. The US State Department would be in charge of vetting individual members of Kopassus before allowing them to participate in training with the American military.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The unhappy fate of the Hmong

FOREIGN dignitaries in black limos are a common sight in Washington, DC. Rarely though do they hail from Laos, a tiny, landlocked country that was caught up in America’s ill-fated Indochina War. Laos’s foreign minister, Thongloun Sisoulith, who met his counterpart, Hillary Clinton, on July 13th, is the most senior Lao official to visit since 1975, when Communist forces seized power. The two countries restored full diplomatic ties in 1992, but the war still casts a shadow. Unexploded ordnance, dropped by the Americans, remains scattered over the Lao countryside.

Another niggling concern is the fate of 4,689 ethnic Hmong who were forcibly sent back to Laos by Thailand in December. During the war the CIA recruited the Hmong as anti-Communist fighters. Many fled the country after 1975, ending up as refugees in America, Thailand and elsewhere. In 2004-05 America accepted 14,000 Hmong who had been living at a Thai temple. The latest group, which had been stuck in Thai army camps, was less fortunate. Thai officials, calling them economic migrants, blocked most from applying for sanctuary via the United Nations’ refugee agency, UNHCR. And although 158 of them did get somehow get UN refugee status, pending resettlement by America and others, they were deported anyway.

Foreign governments pressed Laos for access to the returned refugees, who were packed off to resettlement villages. In March visitors were flown by helicopter to one village for a carefully staged visit. Handpicked Hmong told diplomats that they preferred to stay in Laos and had been “misled” into seeking refugee status. But when others went off script, pleading for help in getting to the West, the visitors were bundled away. Some of these Hmong have since fled from the village, presumably for the border. In response, a curfew has been imposed, a human-rights monitor reports from Bangkok, the Thai capital.

Laos denies that the Hmong, one of dozens of minority groups, face any ill treatment. But they have reason to be worried. Hmong traditionally farm upland areas where the CIA set up clandestine operating bases during the war and, incredibly, 35 years later, tiny pockets of Hmong fighters are still battling the Lao army. It is unclear how many, if any, of the latest deportees are related to these ragtag rebels. But with such uncertainty, international law forbids the forced return of people to a country where they fear persecution.

Sadly, it is not the first time that Thailand has flouted such rules. It has turned away Myanmar’s minorities, including Muslim Rohingya boat people who in 2009 were pushed back to sea, where hundreds probably drowned. Army officers claimed that the Rohingya were a security threat and had links to a Muslim-led insurgency in the south. They gave no evidence and, despite a promise by the Thai prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, there has been no inquiry.

Thailand’s expulsion of the Hmong drew sharp criticism from American, UN and European Union officials. But it has done wonders for relations between Thailand and Laos. The Obama administration tries to claim that America’s influence in the region is not waning. Mrs Clinton is expected at a summit of the Association of South-East Asian Nations next week in Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital. But shoddy treatment of minorities by Thailand, long an American ally, bodes ill for others hoping for help from the superpower. Nor is it an encouraging sign for Thailand itself. “There was a time when they wouldn’t do this, when the rule of law meant something,” sighs a Western diplomat in Bangkok. The Economist