Thursday, September 30, 2010

Afghanistan The Forever War: 2016 and Then Some

Sometimes it’s the little things in the big stories that catch your eye. On Monday, the Washington Post ran the first of three pieces adapted from Bob Woodward’s new book Obama’s Wars, a vivid account of the way the U.S. high command boxed the Commander-in-Chief into the smallest of Afghan corners. As an illustration, the Post included a graphic the military offered President Obama at a key November 2009 meeting to review war policy. It caught in a nutshell the favored “solution” to the Afghan War of those in charge of fighting it -- Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General David Petraeus, then-Centcom commander, General Stanley McChrystal, then-Afghan War commander, and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, among others.

Labeled “Alternative Mission in Afghanistan,” it’s a classic of visual wish fulfillment. Atop it is a soaring green line that represents the growing strength of the notoriously underwhelming “Afghan Forces,” military and police, as they move toward a theoretical goal of 400,000 -- an unlikely “end state” given present desertion rates. Underneath that green trajectory of putative success is a modest, herky-jerky blue curving line, representing the 40,000 U.S. troops Gates, Petraeus, Mullen, and company were pressuring the president to surge into Afghanistan. The eye-catching detail, however, was the dating on the chart.

Sometime between 2013 and 2016, according to a hesitant dotted white line (that left plenty of room for error), those U.S. surge forces would be drawn down radically enough to dip somewhere below -- don’t gasp -- the 68,000 level. In other words, three to six years from now, if all went as planned -- a radical unlikelihood, given the Afghan War so far -- the U.S. might be back close to the force levels of early 2009, before the President’s second surge was launched. (When Obama entered office, there were only 31,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.)

And when would those troops dwindle to near zero? 2019? 2025? The chart-makers were far too politic to include the years beyond January 1, 2016, so we have no way of knowing. But look at that chart and ask yourself: Is there any doubt that our high command, civilian and military, were dreaming of, and most forcefully recommending to the president, a forever war -- one which the Office of Budget and Management estimated would cost almost $900 billion? Of course, as we now know, the military “lost” this battle. Instead of the 40,000 troops they desired, they “only” got 30,000 from a frustrated president (plus a few thousand support troops the Secretary of Defense was allowed to slip in, and some special operations forces that no one was putting much effort into counting, and don’t forget those extra troops wrung out of NATO as well as small allies who, for a price, couldn’t say no -- all of which added up to a figure suspiciously close to the 10,000 the president had officially denied his war commanders).

When, on December 1, 2009, Barack Obama addressed the cadets of West Point and, through them, the rest of us to announce the second surge of his presidency, he was at least able to slip in a date to begin a drawdown of U.S. forces. (“But taken together, these additional American and international troops will allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces, and allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011.”) Hardly a nanosecond passed, however, before -- first “on background” and soon enough in public -- administration spokespeople rushed to reassure the rest of Washington that such a transfer would be “conditions based.” Given conditions there since 2001, not exactly a reassuring statement. Meanwhile, days before the speech, Afghan war commander McChrystal was already hard at work stretching out the time of the drawdown date the president was still to announce. It would, he claimed, begin “sometime before 2013.” More recently, deified new Afghan War commander General David Petraeus has repeatedly assured everyone in sight that none of this drawdown talk will add up to a hill of beans.

More, Never Less

Let’s keep two things in mind here: just how narrow were the options the president considered, and just how large was the surge he reluctantly launched. By the end of the fall of 2009, it was common knowledge in Washington that the administration’s fiercely debated Afghan War “review” never considered a “less” option, only ones involving “more.” Now, thanks to Woodward, we can put definitive numbers to those options. The least of the "more" options was Vice President Biden’s “counterterrorism-plus” strategy, focused on more trainers for the Afghan military and police plus more drone attacks and Special Forces operations. It involved a surge of 20,000 U.S. troops. According to Woodward, the military commanders, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and the Secretary of Defense more or less instantly ruled this out. The military’s chosen option was for those 40,000 troops and an emphasis on counterinsurgency. Between them lay a barely distinguishable 30,000-35,000 option. The only other option mentioned during the review process involved a surge of 85,000, and it, too, was ruled out by the military because troops in that quantity simply weren’t available. This, then, was the full “range” of debate in Washington about the Afghan War. No wonder the president, according to Woodward, exclaimed in anger, "So what's my option? You have given me one option."

It’s also important to remember that this round of surgification involved a lot more than those 30,000 troops and various add-ons. After all, the “president” -- and when you read Woodward, you do wonder whether a modern president isn’t, in many ways, simply a prisoner of Washington -- also managed to surge CIA personnel, triple State Department, USAID, and other civilian personnel, and expand the corps of private contractors. Perhaps more significant, that December the president and his key advisors set the Af/Pak War -- to use the new term of that moment -- on an ever widening gyre. Among other things, that escalation included a significant acceleration in U.S. base-building activity which has yet to end; a massive increase in the CIA’s drone war over the Pakistani tribal borderlands (a quadrupling of attacks since the last year of the Bush administration, including at least 22 attacks launched this September, the most yet in a month); a recent uptick in Air Force bombing activity over Afghanistan (which General McChrystal actually cut back for a while), an increase in Special Operations activity throughout Afghanistan; and an increase in border crossings into Pakistan.

The last of these, in particular, reflects the increasing frustration of American commanders fighting a war going badly in Afghanistan in which key enemies have sanctuaries across the border. Thanks to Woodward’s book, we now know that, in 2002, the Bush administration allowed the CIA to organize a secret Afghan “paramilitary army,” modeled after the U.S. Special Forces and divided into “counterterrorist pursuit teams.” Three thousand in all, these irregulars have operated as proxy fighters and assassins in Afghanistan -- and, in the Obama era, they have evidently also been venturing into the Pakistani tribal borderlands where those CIA drone attacks are already part of everyday life. In addition, just days ago, U.S. helicopters upped the ante in the first of two such incidents by venturing across the same border to attack retreating Taliban fighters in what U.S. military spokespeople have termed “self-defense,” but what was known in the Vietnam era as “hot pursuit.”

In addition, U.S. military commanders, the New York Times reports, are threatening worse. (“As evidence of the growing frustration of American officials, Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top American commander in Afghanistan, has recently issued veiled warnings to top Pakistani commanders that the United States could launch unilateral ground operations in the tribal areas should Pakistan refuse to dismantle the militant networks in North Waziristan, according to American officials.”) In the next year, that label “Af/Pak” could come into its own as a war-fighting reality. All of this is, of course, part of the unspoken Pentagon doctrine of forever war. And lest you think that the 2016 date for an Afghan drawdown was a one-of-a-kind bit of planning, consider this line from a recent New York Times report by Michael Gordon and John Burns on Pentagon anxiety over the new British government's desire to cut defense spending by up to 20%: “American and British officials said that they did not expect any cutbacks to curtail Britain’s capabilities to fight in Afghanistan over the next five years.” Let that sink in for a moment: “over the next five years.” It obviously reflects the thinking of anonymous officials of some significance and, if you do the modest math, you once again find yourself more or less at January 1, 2016. In a just released Rolling Stone interview, even the President can be found saying, vaguely but ominously, of the Afghan War: "[I]t's going to take us several years to work through this issue."

Or consider the three $100 million bases (or parts of bases) that Walter Pincus of the Washington Post reported the Pentagon is now preparing to build in Afghanistan. These, he adds, won’t be ready for use until, at best, “later in 2011,” well after the Obama troop drawdown is set to begin. According to Noah Shachtman of the Danger Room blog, one $100 million upgrade for a future Special Operations headquarters in northern Afghanistan, when done, will include: a “communications building, Tactical Operations Center, training facility, medical aid station, Vehicle Maintenance Facility... dining facility, laundry facility, and a kennel to support working dogs... Supporting facilities include roads, power production system and electrical distribution, water well, non-potable water production, water storage, water distribution, sanitary sewer collection system, communication manhole/duct system, curbs, walkways, drainage, and parking.Additionally, the project will include site preparation and compound securitymeasures to include guard towers.”

A State of War to the Horizon

Tell me: Does this sound like a military getting ready to leave town any time soon? And don’t forget the $1.3 billion in funds pending in Congress that Pincus tells us the Pentagon has requested “for multiyear construction of military facilities in Afghanistan.” We’re
obviously talking 2012 to 2015 here, too. Or how about the $6.2 billion a year that the Pentagon is projected to spend on the training of Afghan forces from 2012 through 2016? Or what about the Pentagon contract TomDispatch’s Nick Turse dug up that was awarded to private contractor SOS International primarily for translators with an estimated completion date of September 2014? Or how about the gigantic embassy-cum-command-center-cum-citadel (modeled on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, now the largest in the world) which the Obama administration has decided to build in Islamabad, Pakistan? And let’s not leave out the Army’s incessant planning for the distant future embodied in a recently published report, “Operating Concept, 2016-2028,” overseen by Brigadier General H.R. McMaster, a senior advisor to Gen. David Petraeus. It opts to ditch “Buck Rogers” visions of futuristic war, and instead to imagine counterinsurgency operations, grimly referred to as "wars of exhaustion," in one, two, many Afghanistans to the distant horizon.

So here’s one way to think about all this: like people bingeing on anything, the present Pentagon and military cast of characters can’t stop themselves. They really can’t. The thought that in Afghanistan or anywhere else they might have to go on a diet, as sooner or later they will, is deeply unnerving. Forever war is in their blood, so much so that they’re ready to face down the commander-in-chief, if necessary, to make it continue. This is really the definition of an addiction -- not to victory, but to the state of war itself. Don’t expect them to discipline themselves.

They won’t.

By Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project, runs the Nation Institute's His latest book, The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s (Haymarket Books), has recently been published.

Asia Needs Japan to Flex Civilian Muscle

We are witnessing a “brave, grave new world” — with the rise and fall of nations underway on a grand scale. China’s rise and India’s advance are two of the most spectacular dynamics. The power shift to the Asia Pacific, however, will be a long transition, and Asia faces three major challenges over the next decade: first, the instability of the North Korean regime in the process of leadership succession and the eventual unification of the Korean peninsula; second, maritime security in the South China Sea, the Yellow Sea and the East China Sea; and third, energy and the environment.

The United States will remain a superpower, but it will also become less stable as a “new world” emerges.

This new world will be characterized by multipolarism without multilateralism — power will be dispersed and centered in local clusters all over the world, but with a less unified front and less effective global governance.

Asia is not alone, and a fundamental question for the world is how to manage restructuring for this emerging multipolar world.

Instability on the Korean peninsula is likely to bring the most problems in the next three to five years. Against the backdrop of a delicate leadership succession, economic crisis and further hardship unfold for North Koreans.

If North Korea implodes, there could be far-reaching ramifications for the stability of the region.

So the vision of a unified Korea is a priority.

At the same time, Asia must devise a maritime security strategy as maritime issues are a source of much tension.

The United States has so far provided maritime stability for the Asia Pacific but is increasingly challenged by China.

India is also ambitious. Maritime issues could reach a peak within five to seven years.

The South China Sea could prove to be extremely divisive as China increasingly perceives the area as its own and denies rival claims to several chains of islands.

Some Chinese call the sea their “core interest,” provoking controversy in other Asian nations.

Of course, China is not solely responsible for the dispute in the South China Sea.

However, it is notable that at a recent Asean regional forum in Hanoi, 12 nations expressed unease about China’s activities in the South China Sea.

Mishandling of East China’s maritime security issue could be a game changer for East Asian geopolitics.

This will be the first critical test for China’s much-heralded “peaceful rise” doctrine, and the country could quickly lose the respect gained over the past 30 years.

Some Chinese vehemently criticize use of the Yellow Sea for US aircraft exercises, accusing the United States of bullying.

General Luo Yuan has warned that China would not be fearful if other countries ignored China’s “core interests,” which suggest the waters surrounding China.

More worrying, the general implied that China considers the Yellow Sea part of its “offshore area” — an absurdity as it would mean that even Incheon is part of China’s “offshore territories.”

Finally, energy and environment issues will come to a head in seven to 10 years. Energy use is rapidly rising. Every country in Asia depends on oil imports.

Desperately trying to catch up with developed economies, developing and emerging countries care little about environmental degradation and lack the safeguards to prevent it.

Almost all of Asia’s major rivers — the Yangtze, Yellow, Indus, Ganges and Mekong included — begin in the Tibetan plateau.

The melting of the Himalayan glaciers, partly responsible for the current floods, will wreak catastrophic consequences across the entire continent if it continues at the present rate.

China, India and Pakistan have the first, second and sixth largest populations in the world and all are heavily dependent on the Himalayan glaciers for their water supply and livelihoods.

Water security could become Asia’s Achilles’ heel.

Amid these new dynamics and challenges, Japan has a role as stabilizer, both in its own right, as well as within in the framework of the US-Japan alliance.

During the debacle that was the 10 short months that Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama was in power, many Asian nations expressed concern over the deterioration of US-Japanese security ties.

This revealed how Asian countries increasingly regard the alliance as an essential part of the “common good.”

Maintaining the solid deterrence factor of the US-Japan alliance regarding North Korea is even more critical as the latter displays increasing instability.

That contribution should be appreciated throughout the region, not least by the Japanese themselves.

Japan must strength its relationship with Asia in tandem with deepening its security tie with the United States. Widening the US-Japanese alliance with a third partner — such as China, India, Korea, Australia or Indonesia — would be useful.

This would answer both the critical need to strengthen the alliance on one hand and enhance regional Asian frameworks on the other.

If the two Koreas were to unify, this would give Japan an opportunity to forge a new strategic relationship and improve stability in North East Asia.

Trilateral cooperation between the United States, ROK and Japan and between China, ROK and Japan is crucial for stability.

Six-party talks or five-party talks in the future will also be useful. A new framework to form a stable and democratic world within Korea could deliver an era of peace and security.

Japan also has a significant role in the non-military field, and the alliance with the US should be directed at bringing together the strengths of each nation, both military and non-military, to achieve maximum effectiveness.

This principle has become relevant as the nature of threats has changed.

In the Cold War era, the US and Japan focused on the single threat of the Soviet Union.

In contrast, the US, Japan and others throughout Asia face multiple, diverse threats, from large-scale natural disasters and climate change to failed states and nuclear proliferation.

Military power alone is not enough to deal with these threats.

The root cause of threats such as terrorism must be ascertained and targeted, which requires mobilization of economic and social forces.

For example, Japan’s strength is civilian power, while the might of the US lies in its military prowess.

Japan can take a lead in many areas, including humanitarian and disaster relief; peace-building and peacekeeping; nation-building; nuclear nonproliferation and nuclear disarmament; a departure from petroleum dependence; and working toward creating a low-carbon society.

Given the sensitive historical issues, Japan’s role as a global civilian power would be more acceptable to other Asian countries and would also strengthen the US-Japanese alliance.

By Yoichi Funabashi editor-in-chief of Asahi Shimbun. Copyright YaleGlobal 2010, Yale Center for the Study of Globalization.

Rising Intolerance amongst Indonesian Muslims

Indonesia’s Muslim majority has become less tolerant over the past decade and the government of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is turning a blind eye to the problem, a survey has found. The new survey by the Center for the Study of Islam and Society found “a worrying increase” in religious intolerance among Muslims in 2010 compared to 2001. Centre chief Jajat Burhanudin said on Wednesday that certain ministers in Yudhoyono’s cabinet actively encouraged intolerance, while the police too often failed to protect minority groups.

Of 1,200 adult Muslim men and women surveyed nationwide, 57.8 percent said they were against the construction of churches and other non-Muslim places of worship, the highest rate the study centre has recorded since 2001. More than a quarter, or 27.6 percent, said they minded if non-Muslims taught their children, up from 21.4 percent in 2008. Burhanudin said the results were good news for radical groups in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country.

Indonesia’s constitution guarantees freedom of religion and the country of some 240 million people, 80 percent of whom are Muslim, has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. But it has a festering problem with homegrown, Al Qaeda-inspired terror groups, as well as stick-wielding vigilantes that constantly agitate, often violently, for Shariah or Islamic law. In the latest serious incident, extremists allegedly stabbed a church elder and bashed a female priest outside Jakarta earlier this month. Thousands of members of the minority Islamic Ahmadiya sect have lived in constant fear of attack since a 2008 ministerial decree limited their religious freedoms.

The Indonesian President, having invited Islamic parties into his governing coalition, “doesn’t dare” to crack down on Muslim extremists.
Jakarta Globe

Addressing Malaysia’s Drug Addict Problem

HISTORICALLY, drugs have been seen as a threat to the country's national security, and the response has been to impose the death sentence on drug dealers and harsh mandatory penalties on drug users. Under the Drug Dependants (Treatment and Rehabilitation) Act 1983, those who tested positive for drugs were sent to drug rehabilitation centres. But from the medical point of view, there was hardly any treatment -- only cold-turkey detoxification and a regimen of boot-camp discipline and training for two years. And despite the shock abstinence-based treatment to wean them from drugs and the two-year after-care programme, about 70 per cent went back on drugs, and the number of addicts kept on rising.

However, despite these failings, the government was slow to consider other approaches. Though the Health Ministry was given the authority to introduce drug substitution therapy in government clinics in 2005, it was not available in the rehab centres. Moreover, even when prescribing medication to treat addiction worked and drug substitution therapy was extended to private clinics, law enforcers persisted in treating those who sought treatment as offenders, harassing and arresting them. Fortunately, the government has acknowledged, in the words of the new National Anti-Drug Agency director-general Datuk Zuraidah Mohamed, that "after 27 years" there was not "much progress", and it was time to find more innovative and effective alternatives.

In place of the old rehab centres, which "resemble a prison", there will be 1Malaysia Cure and Care Clinics where addicts can seek treatment voluntarily, without fear of arrest or being forced into registering as drug offenders. The first clinic started operations in Sungai Besi on July 1, five more are to be opened by year-end, and the home minister is making a proposal to the cabinet to expand it nationwide.

This significant change in policy signals a new sense of urgency. As drug dependency is a health issue that should be treated medically, there is a need to take a bolder but softer approach rather than a punitive one. While it is hoped these new measures can help to reverse the unhealthy trends of addiction, it will be hard to convince drug users to come forward to seek treatment if the new open approach is allowed to be negated by regressive laws, enforcement crackdowns, or moralistic attitudes on the ground. This is why efforts must be stepped up to decriminalise drug dependency, actively address the issue of the stigma of addiction and strengthen the community-based programmes to reintegrate rehabilitated addicts into society. The New Straits Times

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

US Government Overwhelmingly Passes Trade Sanctions Bill Targeted At China

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The House has approved legislation that would allow the U.S. to seek trade sanctions against China and other nations for manipulating their currency to gain trade advantages.

The 348-79 vote Wednesday sends the measure to the Senate, where its prospects are unclear. Senate supporters hope to get a vote on a similar proposal after Congress returns following the November congressional elections.

Supporters said the bill would allow the Obama administration to pressure China on an issue that they say has led to the loss of more than 2 million manufacturing jobs in the U.S. over the past decade.

The vote came as lawmakers scrambled to wrap up unfinished business so they can hit the campaign trail with a little over a month before the Nov. 2 elections. Polls show that the state of the economy and an unemployment rate that remains stuck at 9.6 percent are the top concerns of voters.

The measure was passed by a wide margin with 99 Republicans joining Democrats to vote yes. Those in opposition included 74 Republicans and five Democrats.

Supporters said the size of the vote should send a strong message to Beijing that Washington will not tolerate currency manipulation and other trade practices viewed as unfair to American workers.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that in 20 years America's trade deficit with China has gone from $5 billion annually to $5 billion every week, an imbalance she said demanded action by Congress to protect American jobs.

"We do this because 1 million American jobs could be created if the Chinese government took its thumb off the scale and allowed its currency to respond to market forces," she said in a speech on the House floor.

American manufacturers contend that China's currency is undervalued by as much as 40 percent against the dollar. That makes Chinese products cheaper and more competitive in the United States and American products more expensive in China.

The legislation would allow the imposition of stiff sanctions on Chinese imports. It would expand the definition of improper government subsidies to include a government's manipulation of its currency to gain trade advantages. Currently, the Commerce Department does not consider currency manipulation as a government subsidy for which it can impose trade sanctions.

During the House debate, supporters cited studies that they said show the legislation would boost American exports and create more manufacturing jobs in this country.

"Some credible estimates are that we could return a million American jobs to this country," said Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., in urging support for the legislation. "We can either take bold steps or we can take baby steps."

Opponents said the legislation would boost the cost of clothing, toys and other goods that American consumers buy and also ran the risk of sparking retaliation by China against American exports.

"The available evidence is that the price of many of these Chinese goods will go up 10 percent, a pair of shoes that a mother needs for her child to go to school ... toys at Christmas, all become more expensive," said Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas.
Supporters rejected that argument, saying it is critical in hard economic times to protect U.S. jobs.

"Without a job, you can't buy goods at any price. This bill is about jobs," said Ways and Means Committee Chairman Sander Levin, D-Mich.

Passage of the proposal was cleared when Levin led an effort to craft a compromise proposal that supporters believe will be better able to withstand a challenge before the World Trade Organization, the Geneva-based group that oversees the rules of world trade.

Before the House vote, Chinese officials in Beijing reiterated that they support exchange rate flexibility but offered no new indications that they plan to accelerate the revaluation of their currency, the yuan.

In June, Beijing promised a more flexible exchange rate but since that time the yuan has risen by only about 2 percent in value against the dollar.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner told Congress earlier this month that the administration stands ready to find a more effective strategy for pressuring China. He said the administration is not only focused on the currency issue but on such topics as rampant copyright piracy of U.S. products and various barriers the Chinese have erected to U.S. goods.

In a statement, the Treasury Department said, "Today's vote clearly shows lawmakers have serious concerns about this issue. The president and Secretary Geithner share those concerns. They have said repeatedly that China needs to allow a significant, sustained appreciation over time."

The administration has not taken a position on whether it will support the House bill. But trade experts said they believed the administration will use its passage as a way to pressure Beijing to accelerate its appreciation efforts.

President Barack Obama raised the currency issue in a meeting with Chinese officials last week in New York. He is expected to pursue the issue in November at the summit of the Group of 20 major economies in South Korea.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., who is pushing a similar China currency bill in the Senate, said after the House vote that he will work to get a Senate vote on his bill during a lame-duck session of Congress after the November elections.

"The Chinese ought to be aware that Congress is serious about confronting their currency manipulation," Schumer said in a statement. Huffington Post

Thais floundering on Cambodian relations

The government seems to have run out of ideas for restoring ties with Cambodia, because once again the Foreign Ministry has rolled out old stuff re-packaged as a so-called "new plan".

The first meeting between Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his Cambodian counterpart Hun Sen after months of diplomatic rows produced nothing useful either.
The latest plan announced a few days ago encourages local civilian and military authorities as well as central government agencies to come up with activities that will boost ties with Cambodia. The activities such as cultural events, sports competitions, media and academic exchanges and economic assistance is really old wine in new bottle and does not address the actual reason for the breakdown of relations.

Frankly speaking, the poor relations between Thailand and Cambodia over the past years mostly was caused by the government and its political supporters.
Ordinary citizens living on either side of the border, local authorities and even the military have had no problems over the past few months. Relations at this end are normal, even though the two governments are at loggerheads.

The only two issues making relations with Cambodia sour are former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and the controversial Hindu temple of Preah Vihear.

Thaksin's relationship with the Cambodian government seems to be a problem for Abhisit's government, not the country. The government was angered when the former PM was made economic adviser to the Cambodian government and Hun Sen last year. Abhisit used all his means, including the downgrading of diplomatic ties, to force Thaksin to step down.

Thaksin eventually relented and resigned as adviser to Cambodia in August. Then Abhisit agreed to reinstate the Thai ambassador to Phnom Penh and Hun Sen reciprocated.

However, the problem with the Preah Vihear Temple is a bit more complicated because Abhisit's government has been addressing the issue in quite the wrong way. With pressure from nationalist groups, the government mixed up the World Heritage Site inscription of Preah Vihear with boundary disputes in the area adjacent to the temple.

The government has used resources and great effort in opposing the inscription of Preah Vihear on grounds that it feared losing sovereignty over the surrounding areas.

Although there is no real implication, Phnom Penh is clearly dissatisfied with Thailand's moves to delay the World Heritage Committee's consideration of the Preah Vihear management plan.

Abhisit wants the dispute over the 4.6 square kilometres surrounding the temple to be settled before accepting a management deal for the site.

One of most effective ways to settle the boundary dispute, at least for now, would be to allow the joint boundary committee (JBC) to do its job of demarcation. The committee is merely waiting for a Parliament approval of its minutes from three previous meetings.

The last meeting was in April 2009, but the minutes of this meeting were not proposed to the Parliament. There should be no problems in making the proposal, but the government does not dare put it forward for fear of pressure from nationalist groups.

The group under the umbrella of the People's Alliance for Democracy, which helped install this government, demanded that the authorities scrap the memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed in 2000 on the boundary demarcation with Cambodia.

The MoU, a basic legal instrument for the JBC, signed when Democrat Chuan Leekpai was in power, recognised the French-made map that showed the Hindu temple as situated on Cambodian territory.

What the government will possibly do now is use delaying tactics to keep JBC's minutes from being read in Parliament. It could hold a series of public hearings on the document after sitting on it for a year and a half.

Obviously, this tactic will do nothing for the bilateral relations, when the government should really let the JBC to resume its job quickly.
A new plan is unnecessary. (The Nation, Bangkok)

The richest Filipinos and the biggest taxpayers are not the same

According to Forbes magazine, the richest Filipinos and their respective net worths are:
1. Henry Sy Sr., $5 billion; 2. Lucio Tan, $2.1 billion; 3. John Gocongwei, $1.5 billion; 4. Jaime Zobel de Ayala, $1.2 billion; 5. Andrew Tan, $1.2 billion; 6. Tony Tan Caktiong, $980 million; 7. Enrique Razon, $975 million; 8. Beatrice Campos, $840 million; 9. George S.K. Ty, $805 million; 10. Eduardo Cojuangco, $760 million;

11. Inigo and Mercedes Zobel, $730 million; 12. David Con-sunji, $715 million; 13. Emilio Yap, $665 million; 14. Andrew Gotianun, $500 million; 15. Vivian Que Azcona, $445 million; 16. Oscar Lopez, $420 million; 17. Manuel Villar, $380 million; 18. Jon Ramon Aboitiz, $360 million;19. Mariano Tan, $330 million; 20. Robert Co-yiuto, $310 million;

21. Roberto Ongpin, $300 million; 22. Alfonso Yuchengco, $260 million; 23. Betty Ang, $165 million; 24. Enrique Aboitiz, $150 million; 25. Gilberto Duavit, $145 million; 26. Menardo Jimenez, $143 million; 27. Felipe Gozon, $120 million; 28. Alfredo Ramos, $117 million; 29. Manuel Zamora Jr., $116 million; 30. Wilfred Uytengsu, $115 million;

31. Benjamin Romualdez, $110 million; 32. Wilfredo Keng, $100 million; 33. Tomas Alcantara, $99 million; 34. Bienvenido Tantoco Sr., $95 million; 35. Frederick Dy, $70 million; 36. Eugenio Lopez 3rd, $68 million; 37. Lourdes Molina, $65 million; 38. Luis Virata, $57 million; 39. Jesus Tambunting, $55 million; and 40. Philip Ang, $50 million.

Now, compare the Top 40 Richest Filipinos based on the Forbes list with the Top 40 Taxpayers of 2008, based on the BIR list, and make your own conclusions.

BNA got hold of the 2008 list. It is a very interesting and revealing honor roll. It is veritably the roster of current heroes of the Philippines. Two conclusions:

First, people who you think are among the country’s richest are not in the Top 500 Taxpayers list. So, too, are prominent and fabulously rich people who often rant about the need for good governance and having good corporate social responsibility.

Second, the most rewarding jobs are not in business or top management. They are in entertainment, broadcasting and movies.

In serious business, mining is very remunerative. The highest-paid tycoons are miners—Philex Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Walter Brown with P26.83 million tax (No. 9) and Rio Tuba Nickel CEO, lawyer Manny Zamora Jr., with P19.96 million tax (No. 12).

Behind them are owners and CEOs of conglomerates: San Miguel Corp. Chair and CEO Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco Jr., with P18.98 million tax (No. 13); PLDT Chair and Meralco CEO Manuel V. Pangilinan, with P18.55 million (No. 14); former Meralco President Manolo Lo-pez, P17.49 million (No. 16); Unionbank Chair and CEO Justo Aboitiz Ortiz, P15.2 million (No. 19); and SMC President and Petron CEO Ramon S. Ang, P14.85 million (No. 20). Trailing them are ePLDT and TV5 CEO Ray Espinosa, P12.27 million (No. 22) and GMA Network and dzBB broadcaster Mike Enriquez, P11.94 million (No. 23).

This makes Enriquez the country’s highest paid media-man. He finds it funny, if not ridiculous, that he paid more taxes than the owners of the two largest TV stations. “That means I pay the correct taxes,” he notes. His channel 7 colleague, Mel Tiangco, is No. 45 with P8.9 million in income taxes paid. That makes her the highest paid female broadcaster.

Television is a big moneymaker.

Four of the country’s 10 biggest taxpayers work in TV entertainment. Willie Revillame leads the pack as No. 2, with P58.6 million in tax payments. He used to make P1 million a day while hosting his hugely popular Wowowee noontime show. Actor Piolo Pascual is No. 3, with P55.8 million tax payments; Kris Aquino, No. 8 with P25.44 million; and Michael V., (Beethoven del Valle Bunagan in real life) No. 10 with P22.26 million.

Boxing’s Manny Pacquiao, the No.1 taxpayer, is by his lonesome self, with P125 million in tax payments. In June 2009, Forbes magazine estimated the Filipino boxing great’s 2008 income at $40 million or P1.778 billion.

He paid P7 of tax for every P100 of income, a tax rate of 7 percent Revillame had a higher tax rate, P58.6 million out of P365 estimated gross for a 16 percent tax rate.

To be sure, 2008 was a crisis year for Philippine business. It was the year the world went into the deepest recession in 80 years. Manila Times

Japan to station troops on islands in row with China

TOKYO: Japan is considering stationing troops near islands at the center of a row with China, a news report said on Wednesday, but Beijing’s move to ease mineral exports raised hopes for an easing of friction. Asia’s two powerhouses have been embroiled for over three weeks in their worst diplomatic spat in years, triggered by Japan’s arrest of a Chinese captain after a tense maritime incident near the islets in the East China Sea.

Although Japan has since freed the skipper, a war of words has raged on between the traditional rivals, with China pursuing a multi-faceted offensive of official diplomatic protests and unofficial economic measures.

Amid the heightened tensions, Japan’s defense ministry has asked for a budget to study a plan to station ground troops in Japan’s southwestern islands near the disputed island chain, the Nikkei Business Daily reported.

The only Japanese troops now permanently stationed in the far south are on the region’s main island of Okinawa, also the main base for US troops in Japan; but the plan calls for troops on the remote Yonaguni Island, close to Taiwan.

China, which has been increasingly assertive about various other maritime territorial claims, insists that the islands, called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, have been part of its territory since ancient times.

Amid the tensions, Beijing and Tokyo have announced no plans so far for a meeting between Japan’s
Prime Minister Naoto Kan and his Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao at an Asia-Europe summit in Brussels next week.

In a sign that tensions may be gradually easing between the increasingly interdependent regional economic powerhouses, Japanese traders reported on Wednesday that China had dropped a de-facto ban on crucial mineral exports.

Beijing has denied claims it blocked the shipments of rare earths, a market in which it has a virtual global monopoly and which Japan’s high tech firms rely on for making everything from wind turbines to hybrid cars.

Don't Surrender U.S. Influence to Beijing

Let us begin with a few abstract matters. Suppose there is Country A, which has its own denominated currency and trades with many other nations, including Country B, which has its separately denominated currency. Suppose the former complains that the latter’s currency is undervalued, thus unfairly hurting the export trades of Country A and making imports to its insatiable citizens unreasonably cheaper than they should be. Then — a big leap of faith here — suppose the currency value of Country B alters, and gets stronger, and stronger, and stronger.

What happens then?

Resist an immediate turn to President Obama’s recent two-hour meeting with Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao in New York, where Obama pressed for the renminbi’s rise, and stay firmly with the abstract. What happens when Country B’s currency gets stronger and stronger in international exchanges, a move encouraged by, indeed urged on by, Country A’s government? Well, Country B’s exports get more expensive, and Country A’s exports get less expensive — and Country A’s politicians and businessmen go jumping for joy in the streets. What a triumph. Such statesmanship.

Is that all? Well, unfortunately, no, and for various reasons. The first is that Country B may possess materials like rare ores that Country A desperately needs and cannot find elsewhere in the world — so it now pays more for the same amount of such imports. And Country A may no longer possess companies that manufacture items such as children’s toys and bicycle gears and high-class binoculars, so it still needs to buy those goods from Country B, unfortunately at a higher price. Perhaps, over time, Country A may find entrepreneurs who will start manufacturing bicycle gears at home, but how long is “over time”? Ten years?

Secondly, and even more importantly in a rough-and-tumble world where nations are not just trading units but power-and-influence units as well, a country with a weakening currency starts to feel the consequences on the international stage. The first is the impact upon its international purchasing power, something that most American economists steadfastly decline to bring into their policy prescriptions, perhaps because they grew up in a dollar-denominated world and think only of domestic purchasing power. But that way of thinking is out of date.

Suppose, for example, a certain African country possesses deposits of vital minerals such as tungsten, manganese and cobalt, all of which are needed for state-of-the-art communications systems, including modern weaponry. These are minerals acutely necessary to America’s economy, but no less so to the economies of China, India, Japan, the European Union and other purchasers. What happens, then, when the value of the dollar sinks on international exchanges, and that of the renminbi rises? Alas and alack, that tungsten becomes more expensive for American industry, and much cheaper for a Chinese military-industrial complex whose appetite seems to grow every day. A weakened American dollar is a weakened America. Thank heavens this is all in the abstract!

But of course it isn’t. President Obama’s well-meaning administration, sniped at by trade unions on the one hand and Tea Party irresponsibles on the other, is pressing Beijing to revalue (that is, strengthen) China’s currency, and everyone in the United States appears to think that is a good idea. America will sell more to China, China will sell less to America, the trade imbalance will be corrected — and pigs might fly. Of course, there will be a U.S. company here or there that will benefit should the renminbi’s value rise by 20 percent. But I suspect that on the whole, the American economy will benefit far less because so much of it is structurally founded upon Chinese imports. What doth it profit America if, say, Walmart’s $8 made-in-China T-shirts rise to an epic $10 apiece? My naïve non-economist’s hunch is that it profits America not at all; it just adds to the trade deficit.

But the largest reason why the United States should not welcome the steady strengthening of China’s international currency value is geopolitical and, more crudely, military. For the historical fact is that no one nation’s currency (thus, purchasing power) has ceded ground to another’s without a consequent cession of international power and influence. As the coins exchanged by the merchants of Tuscany gave way to trades in the Dutch guilder, and that in turn to the French franc, and that to the pound sterling, and that to the U.S. dollar, so also did the wheels of world history turn, with currency traders ever seeking the next note and coin of strength. Currency traders have, of course, no loyalties. Now they are turning to Beijing; a few of them must have advised the Malaysian government recently to buy renminbi-based bonds, rather than the old, tattered dollar. The Gulf states are following suit. Just note, in general, the U.S. dollar’s diminished share of total global foreign-currency holdings compared with 25 years ago. It is not a pleasant story.

Reduced dollars means reduced influence. Forget about the whinings of the American middle classes as they emerged from their French and Italian cafés this summer with a considerable hole in their dollar-denominated credit-card accounts. That is not the point here. The point is that the more the dollar weakens (or other currencies increase in value, which is the same thing), the more that America’s international heft diminishes. You can’t possess international strength on a slipping currency. For decades, Japanese nationalists had a slogan something like “Strong Army, Big Country!” To paraphrase for today, the saying might be “Healthy Currency, Influential Nation!” Weakness or strength in one aspect of national power usually translates into the next.

In 1945, America stood at the apex of its relative power in world affairs. Almost everywhere else was in wartime devastation, or colonial backwardness, or economic doldrums. The United States possessed almost all of the world’s gold and foreign currency reserves, and everyone was screaming for dollars. Today that is no longer the case. At first, Western Europe and Japan caught up. More recently, the rest of Asia, including the massive states of China and India, have been catching up.

American manufacturing has been in a 50-year secular decline, but the American consumer still wants his furniture, linens, garden tools, toys, kitchenware — all made in China. And the U.S. Treasury still needs to sell its notes to Asia.

Pressing the Chinese to revalue their currency is a fool’s errand. Beijing will simply despise America all the more, and look with amazement at the strong poker hand it has been dealt. Either the Yankees’ request will be politely brushed away, which is always an agreeable thing to happen, or the renminbi will rise, and the greenback weaken further, and then currency traders — and, more importantly, the national governments of Asia, Africa and Latin America — will take note and begin to un-tether their foreign currency holdings from an increasingly dodgy dollar.

But will anyone in Washington, or at the Fed, listen? Right now, they seem prepared to give a further stimulus (sic) to the troubled economy by further outpourings of federally printed notes, like some desperate Latin American treasury in the 1970s. And look what happened to them.

Clearly, there is no easy option for a beleaguered Fed or a beleaguered White House, and a non-economist like myself feels it would be false to offer policy prescriptions. But the strategist and historian feels deeply uneasy at the idea of a much stronger Chinese currency, and in consequence of a much weakened dollar. That would seem like pushing a whole lot of your remaining poker chips across the table, to the guy who already holds a lot more chips than you do. It is not a good idea.
By Paul Kennedy professor of history and director of International Security Studies at Yale University and the author of “The Rise And Fall Of The Great Powers.”Tribune Media Services

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

North Sumatra and breed of religious violence

The increase in religious violence (it should be underscored that the use of any religion by terrorism instead of pursuit of its sacred goals and moral vision, it is too naive to be attributed to one religion only) in Indonesia in general and in North Sumatra in particular is rising.

The latest cases linked to religious violence were the robbery of the CIMB Niaga bank in Medan and the bloody attack on the Hamparan Perak police station in Deli Serdang regency, North Sumatra, on Wednesday morning, where three police officers were killed.

The ruthlessness of the attack has terrified the community in Medan. Why has North Sumatra, often described as a good example of inter-religious harmony suddenly become fertile ground for religious violence? There are several reasons why this area became fertile ground for violence.

First, the proximity of North Sumatra with Aceh Province has provided a safe haven for former Free Aceh Movement (GAM) combatants who did not share the fruits of peace between Indonesia and GAM in 2005. Such former rebels feel angry and frustrated having failed to make any gains from the peace process.

It is not surprising that the top leader of the perpetrators of these incidents could easily recruit new members and set up a military training area in Aceh and then move easily to North Sumatra.

Secondly, North Sumatra has a long coastline with minimal naval surveillance. It has perhaps become a safe entry and exit point for the smuggling of weapons or for illegal transit from neighboring countries.Illegal weapons trading in this “gray area” could mean high profits for a few gun runners and “war-entrepreneurs”, who may prove untouchable, as occurs in other conflict hot spots.

Thirdly, to some degree North Sumatra is a miniature replica of a “messy” and failed state. The Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) has declared the governor of North Sumatra, Syamsul Arifin as a corruption suspect during his reign as Langkat regent.

Unfortunately, even though he has been a suspect for quite a long time, there is no certainty when he will be brought to court.

Former Medan mayor, Abdillah has also been punished for corruption. And a new elected mayor of Medan, Rahudman Harahap, acts little and too late to carry out his campaign promises.

Local media now even accuse him of corruption, collusion and nepotism (KKN) in the recruitment and promotion of senior officials.

The absence of leadership is a big opportunity for the terrorist groups to consolidate their organization and actions. On the other hand, this failed state creates conducive conditions for some of those who might share the same ideology as the terrorists or share their religious links at local, national or international level.

Terrorism is seldom an individual act. When the follower of Sheik Omar Abdul Rahman drove a rented truck into the underground garage of the World Trade Center, then blowing up its lethal cargo, they came as part of a well-orchestrated plan that involved dozens of co-conspirators with thousand of sympathizers in the US, Egypt, Palestine, and elsewhere throughout the world (Juergen Meyer: Terror In The Mind of God, 2000).

The same picture can be seen in the attack on the police station in North Sumatra. The tight-knit nature of the link between those who carry out violence and their followers are illustrated by the difficulties faced by the police in investigating the attacks carried out by this fundamentalist group.

How we can imagine the leaders and perpetrators of terrorism moving safely around Indonesian cities without a support network provided by their followers?

Therefore we need a strong state leadership. Corruption is another side of the coin and a kind of indirect “terror” inflicted on the people. Leadership rooted in nepotism and corruption is fertile ground to recruit fresh blood into terrorist movements, even to become suicide bombers.

The longstanding frustrations of people with their formal or official leaders may to some degree pave the way for other leaders, making use of religious violence.

This alternative moral vision and religious justification is amplified by deep inequalities and injustices between developed countries and developing countries, between the center (Jakarta) and the periphery (outside Java) and between the rich (haves) and the poor (have nots).

They also see how foreign countries or multinational corporations exploit Indonesia’s resources and riches with the help of our elites.

As long as the fertile ground for the breeding of terrorism is still there, the terrorists will remain free to do whatever they want in our country.

Leadership rooted in nepotism and corruption is fertile ground to recruit fresh blood into terrorist movements ...

By Muba Simanihuruk lecturer of Sociology at Sociology Department, North Sumatra University in Medan. Jakarta Post

Next of Kim -A dangerous succession gets under way in North Korea

NORTH KOREA has long been one of the world’s most unpredictable and dangerous states. It now seems to be entering a period in which it could be even more unpredictable and dangerous than usual: the possible handover of power from one generation to the next.

On September 28th, after an unexplained postponement, the ruling Korean Workers’ Party is due to assemble for its first large gathering in 30 years. Its purpose is to “elect the supreme leadership body” of the party. At the last congress in 1980, the current boss, Kim Jong Il, was elevated to the position from which he eventually succeeded his father. This time, rumour has it, Mr Kim’s third son, Kim Jong Un, will be given a job in the public eye, in preparation for taking over in due course.

With relations between the two Koreas fraught after the sinking of a South Korean ship in March, with outside parties keen to persuade a nuclear-armed North to rejoin six-party talks on disarmament and with China apparently still backing the North (economically, at least), the neighbours are watching the opaque proceedings with nervousness.

At least the conference’s postponement is susceptible of an innocent explanation. Months of torrential rain have caused flooding and landslides all over the country. Though the delay was also put down to Kim Jong Il’s poor health, and even to stories of unresolved factional in-fighting, the simplest explanation, says a South Korean former government adviser on North Korea, is that the government could not ensure all delegates would reach Pyongyang on time, so chose to postpone the start.

The bigger question is what the conference might mean for the future of the reclusive state. North Korea is unique among communist countries in having what amounts to a royal family. The current dictator, Kim Jong Il, inherited power from his father, Kim Il Sung. The personality cult extends not only to them, but to Kim senior’s mother, Kang Ban Suk (“mother of Korea”), to his first wife, Kim Chong Suk (“mother of revolution”), and to his brother, Kim Chol Ju (“the revolutionary fighter”). The picture above shows the two dictators and the mother of revolution.

It would suit the bizarre logic of this communist monarchy that a son of the “Dear Leader” should take control one day. Kim Jong Il is said to be seriously ill. There have been repeated stories of strokes and pancreatic cancer. He would seem to have an interest in planning now to hand over to an anointed successor. (It should however be admitted that according to a former American president, Jimmy Carter, who recently met China’s prime minister, Wen Jiabao, Kim Jong Il told Mr Wen that the idea that a succession is under way was a “false rumour from the West”.)

The difficulty Kim Jong Un would face—if he were anointed dictator-in-waiting—is that at 27 (or 28, depending on whom you believe), he is too young to have real influence over the two institutions that matter, the party and the army. Kim Jong Il had 14 years in which to build up loyalties between his anointment and eventual succession. But if his health is as bad as it seems, his Swiss-educated, basketball-playing son would probably have a lot less. Much would therefore depend on those around him, and especially on Chang Sung Taek, Kim Jong Il’s brother-in-law and the second most powerful man in the country.

The young Un

In June Mr Chang was promoted to the post of vice-chairman of the National Defence Commission, the country’s decision-making body. He himself has been considered a possible successor to Mr Kim but his recent promotion has been interpreted as a manoeuvre to bolster Kim Jong Un. The idea is that Mr Chang will act as a kind of regent. But it is also possible that Kim Jong Un is being groomed as successor in name only. He is thought to have been picked ahead of his two older brothers solely because he is the least bad of a bad lot. It is possible that Kim Jong Il may expect the regent to govern indefinitely.

Whether North Korea can manage a successful transition depends not only on events inside the country, but also on China, without whose help the North would quickly collapse. Privately, many Chinese pour scorn on the Kim dynasty. But the government would probably be content with any arrangement that has a reasonable chance of keeping the country stable and on good terms with Beijing.

Mr Kim’s recent visits to China made clear that, notwithstanding Chinese support for UN sanctions against the North, he accepts that friendly ties with the regional giant remain crucial to his country’s survival. China is unlikely to push Mr Kim or his successor into reforming the North’s political system, though some observers of North Korea think China may want Mr Kim to boost the role of the party at the expense of the army to make the regime less unpredictable. But China will continue trying to prod the North Koreans into reforming the economy and opening the country more to the outside world. It hopes a transformation like the one that China itself has achieved since the death of Mao Zedong might avert a sudden collapse. When Kim Il Sung wanted to build up Kim Jong Il’s authority in the 1980s, the North could still play China off against its rival, the Soviet Union, to ensure the support of both. Now North Korea has only China to turn to if the political transition that seems to be starting goes awry. The Economist

China’s ‘Black Jails’

BEIJING — The authorities are investigating a security company that helps local officials illegally detain desperate citizens who come to the capital to file complaints against them, the state news media reported Monday.

According to China Daily, an official English-language newspaper, the company’s employees posed as police officers and dragooned petitioners into “black jails,” where they were held and sometimes beaten until they could be hauled back to their homes in other provinces.

The Chinese government has repeatedly denied that such extralegal detention centers exist.

News about the company, Anyuanding Security Technology Service, was published by Caijing and Southern Metropolis Daily, two publications that often push beyond the boundaries that constrain much of China’s official news media. According to their reports, the company, which earned $3.1 million in 2008, employs 3,000 “interceptors” whose job is to ensnare petitioners before they can reach the central government bureaus where grievances are filed.

According to Southern Metropolis Daily, the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau detained two of Anyuanding’s executives and charged them with “illegally detaining people and illegally operating a business.” The police did not immediately respond to calls for comment on Monday. The company, whose Web site was taken down over the weekend, could not be reached.

The system of interceptors and black jails has flourished in recent years as Chinese citizens, frustrated by official malfeasance or illegal land seizures in their hometowns, come to the capital in the belief that their problems might be solved if they could gain the ear of senior leaders. Studies have shown, however, that problems are resolved for fewer than 2 percent of those who file petitions in Beijing.

Petitioning, allowed by Chinese law, has become a barometer of civic harmony — one that can affect the careers of local officials.

Because the central government rewards or punishes officials based on their ability to maintain social stability, those officials are eager to catch petitioners before they can lodge their complaints.

The interception efforts have apparently been successful. In its official report on human rights released Monday, the Chinese government cited a 3 percent drop in petition filings as proof that things had improved. It was the fifth consecutive decrease, the report said.

According to the reports on Anyuanding, the kidnapped petitioners were taken to abandoned guesthouses, dank basements or rural compounds, where their cellphones and identity cards were confiscated until officials from their hometowns could come to fetch them. Some prisoners reported waiting more than a month.

The decision by Beijing’s public security bureau to take on the matter is significant given its first response. Last week, after Caijing published its investigation, several unidentified police officers pressed the magazine to reveal its sources, saying the article threatened “stability and unity,” according to the editors.

But after Caijing publicized the incident, Beijing’s new police chief, Fu Zhenghua, personally apologized to the deputy editor and assured him that no one on the staff would be punished.

Shortly afterward, the Anyuanding executives were detained.
By ANDREW JACOBS. Jonathan Ansfield contributed reporting. Li Bibo contributed research. New York Times

US, China and Asean: A new strategic triangle

Do not let the festive mood of "zhong qiu jie" - the mid-autumn festival in Beijing - fool you. Throughout last week's holidays, officials at Chaoyangmen - the offices of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs - worked around the clock following the body language and every word of the Asean and US leaders before, during and after their second meeting in New York on September 24. Beijing wanted to know whether they were ganging up against the Middle Kingdom or not.

The joint statement released after Friday's summit between President Barack Obama and Asean leaders was rather comprehensive and a positive one, demonstrating both sides' paramount goodwill, without antagonising their friends and alliance. It contains two clear messages.

First of all, from now on Asean and the US are strategic partners in principles and policies. This represents a great-leap-forward commitment, given the condescending view Washington used to have towards the grouping and its stands on global issues.
This collaborative effort, which still has a long way to go, will have far reaching consequences in shaping the future strategic landscape in Asia. To accomplish this task, an eminent persons' group will be set up to prepare a five-year action plan (2011-15) by the end of next year when they meet again in Indonesia.

Secondly, the Asean-US strategic partnership is not aimed at China but for peace and stability in the region. It avoided the mentioning of the problem in the South China Sea and the US positions made in Hanoi in July. The earlier draft proposed by the US,specifying the dispute and ways to resolve it, was eventually suppressed at the Asean leaders' request. Kudos should go to them for their strong resistance and solidarity in warding off pressure from the US side.

It was replaced by a more general statement of intention (paragraph 18) which reaffirms the importance of unimpeded commerce, freedom of navigation and relevant international laws including the peaceful settlement of disputes. To foreign policy analysts, this self-explanatory paragraph does not need any elaboration as it automatically refers to the South China Sea and an existing code of conduct promoted by Asean.

After the draft joint statement was leaked to the US media ahead of the New York meeting, China's diplomatic mechanism went into full operation. Beijing issued a directive to its embassies based in all Asean countries urging their host countries to reject the US prepared document, otherwise it would have dire consequences for their ties. For the Chinese side, the mere naming of the conflict, which it argues has nothing to do with the US, is tantamount to an attempt to internationalise this sensitive issue.

At least for the time being, the Asean leaders have been wise to heed China's concern with seriousness. Likewise, the US also plays along. After all, it has succeeded in raising the profile of the South China Sea and the importance of Asean-US strategic relations. Given the current effort by the US and China to work out their delicate relations over currency and other economic issues, insisting on the maritime dispute would render destructive impacts on the world's most important bilateral relations.

Throughout its Asean chair, Vietnam has been instrumental in discussing the issue in discreet ways, knowing full-well any displayed enthusiasm would raise China's eyebrows. Previous Asean chairs, Singapore and Thailand - both were non-claimants - avoided it altogether. It is interesting to note that even with Hanoi's extreme caution, the China-Vietnam relations have continued to take a beating. Although several top Vietnamese leaders have visited China this year to celebrate the 60th anniversary of their diplomatic relations, none of the top Chinese leaders has yet set foot on Vietnam.

For the past 15 years after the Mischief Reefs incident in March 1995, Asean and China have been quite successful in containing the conflicts as a mere bilateral matter. Then, exactly 64 days ago, the US entered the fray by commenting on the international aspect of the longstanding territorial conflict - freedom and safety of navigation. While this concern is not new, the timing and way the US expressed it is. By pinpointing its backing of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (2002) between Asean and China, Washington has indeed waved an international red flag - not to mention recent disputes China has ahd with Japan and South Korea.

Washington's dual decisions to sign the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation last July and to join the East Asia Summit recently have levelled out its strategic level playing field on par, if not greater, with the level of China's long-held preference. That explains why Beijing has reacted strongly the way it has. Despite the current cordial Asean-China ties, there is one dark spot - no progress made on joint cooperation related to the South China Sea.

Judging from the Asean leaders' performance, they think they have what it takes to invite major powers to play real-politic in their backyard. In the past four decades, Asean was happy to serve as a fulcrum for these players to exchange views and build up confidence. They like Asean because it is a non-threatening entity and causes no harm. Now, with the wind of change shifts to East Asia, Asean wants to increase its stake and become a player too - no longer a sitting duck - as in the Cold War. Shaping the future strategic environment affecting the region of these powers is their common objective.

As great powers, big and small, are fully imbedded inside the Asean structure and political culture, the frequently asked questions these days are: Can Asean handle all these players at once? Is Asean a key player or just a mere bystander? Will the US-China cooperation and competition undermine Asean solidarity? How can Asean escape being a tool of the US or China?

With Asean, China and the US engaged in triangular relations, it would be hard to predict the outcome. For instance, if Asean and China again fail to overcome their difference over the guidelines for their proposed conduct in the disputed sea in the near future, it could be attributed to the US factor. That would further harden positions of Asean and China. Beijing has already said its sovereignty in the South China Sea is unchallengeable as, like Taiwan, it is one of its core national interests.

In more ways than one, the outcome of the New York meeting could now provide a much need impetus for China and Asean to work closely to break the impasse and make some progress on this front.

Both sides must compromise and agree on the language acceptable to all so that the guidelines can move forward. Indeed, to divert external involvement in this dispute, the two sides will have to demonstrate their efficacy in preventing, containing and resolving together their common challenges in the region. The Nation, Bangkok

Thailand Bombs and a state of emergency

It could be hard work for police to catch the culprits behind a series of bombs in Bangkok this month. But the government cannot afford to let the situation continue like it is at present. Small bomb blasts have occurred every few days.

A government security source suggested that people who organised the blasts were killing two birds with one stone. The masterminds did not want reconciliation efforts to materialise and also wanted to discredit the government. The source said the masterminds were the government's rivals.

An analysis by security agencies is as follows:

Masterminds behind the bombs could be "Men in Black" or hardcore red-shirt protesters who wanted to create a disturbance, either for revenge, or to discredit the government. The bombs showed the government had failed to control security, and this would affect investments and tourism. If the country returned to normalcy or no bomb attacks, international observers would be confident the government could bring the country back to stability.

The series of bombs in the capital were designed to be a slap on the government's face, as they could cut support from some Bangkokians due to the failure to prevent explosions in the capital, the source said.

Another possible motive behind the bombs could be an attempt to block efforts aimed at reconciliation. Those who might benefit from disturbances did not want reconciliation to occur. The political conflict in the country did not only involve yellow shirts and red-shirt demonstrators or the red shirts and the government.

Different groups in circles of power were also involved in a struggle for benefit.

Men in uniform, namely the military and the police, were not happy with the annual reshuffle.

However, the government's accusation that red shirts or 'Men in Black' are involved - without any concrete evidence - could backfire on them, as there have been suspicions that the government or the military planted the bombs to give them an excuse to maintain the state of emergency. The blasts have coincided with public debate on whether to lift the emergency decree or not. The accusation is that the government may have motives to want to maintain the state of emergency.

In this case, if the government decided to maintain the state of emergency in Bangkok, people would understand this was necessary for some further period. But it's likely that the capital will be under a state of emergency for a long period.
The emergency decree is due to expire next week on October 7. Seven provinces still under the state of emergency are Bangkok, Nonthaburi, Samut Prakan, Pathum Thani, Udon Thani, Khon Kaen, and Nakhon Ratchasima. Interior Ministry is set to propose that the state of emergency be lifted in the three Northeast provinces.

Thawil Pliensri, secretary general of the National Security Council, said yesterday that the state of emergency in Bangkok may have to be extended until the end of the year or some time next year to cope with ongoing bomb attacks.

He said the NSC agreed with an assessment by the Department of Special Investigation that bomb blasts would continue to rock Bangkok until the year-end.

However, such decisions may backfire on the government, as Bangkokians may not be so patient. But if no suspects are arrested and there are more bomb blasts, it could make the ruling Democrat Party lose popularity. The Nation, Bangkok

Monday, September 27, 2010

Kim Jong-il’s youngest son Kim Jong-un, and five others had been made generals

The youngest son of Kim Jong-il, North Korea’s reclusive leader, has been promoted to military general, that country’s official Korea Central News Agency reported early Tuesday, the clearest sign yet that he is in line to succeed his father as the country’s leader.

A brief dispatch by KCNA said the son, Kim Jong-un, and five others had been made generals in the Korea People’s Army. It was the first time that KCNA or any North Korean news outlet had mentioned the son by name. The new generals’ roster also included Kim Kyong-hui, Mr. Kim’s sister. She is the wife of Jang Seong-taek, often regarded by outside analysts as the No. 2 man in the North and a potential caretaker for the young son, still in his late 20s, should Mr. Kim become suddenly incapacitated.

The news came hours after delegates to a rare gathering of the ruling Workers’ Party arrived in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, on Monday as the party began final preparations for a meeting that could provide further signals about Kim Jong-un’s debut. Photographs from Pyongyang showed banners and posters announcing the conclave, and there has been heavy speculation in the South Korean news media about the possible anointing of the younger Kim.

The party meeting was due to be held later Tuesday, and although the secretive regime has said a new supreme leadership body will be elected, very little has been disclosed about the details of the agenda. The last such meeting was held in 1980, to introduce Kim Jong-il as the successor to his father, Kim Il-sung. The gathering was originally scheduled for “early September,” as announced by KCNA, and the slight delay touched off speculation about cutthroat internal wrangling over the alleged dynastic succession, Kim Jong-il’s deteriorating health and flooded roads and washed-out bridges that made travel difficult.

John Delury, a professor of international relations at Yonsei University in Seoul, was in Pyongyang last week for meetings with North Korean officials and said the buzz was clearly starting to build around the landmark meeting.

“This is a party meeting, and these are very rare in North Korean history,” Mr. Delury said in an interview on Monday.

Some analysts said they believed Kim Jong-un was almost certain to be named his father’s successor and perhaps given one of eight Politburo seats. Others were more cautious, suggesting his ascendancy could still be undone by political infighting.
Kim Jong-il, 68, is believed to have suffered a stroke in August 2008, and there has since been wide speculation about his health. Some who have seen him in person say he appears wan and diminished, while others say he appears active and alert, despite a slight limp.

“At the very least,” Mr. Sneider said, “the last year tells us that Kim Jong-il knows he doesn’t have the kind of time to prepare his son for succession that he enjoyed.”

At the last Workers’ Party meeting in 1980, Kim Jong-il, then 38, was named to several party posts and confirmed as the sole successor to his father. All told, he had spent more than two decades learning the ropes of North Korean politics and statecraft when he finally took control upon the death of his father in 1994. (Following Confucian tradition, he waited another three years before taking power under his own name.)

If he is proclaimed the heir apparent, Kim Jong-un is unlikely to have such a lengthy apprenticeship.

Some North Korea watchers said they also would be watching for signs about the political fortunes of Mr. Jang, Kim Jong-il’s brother-in-law and the head of the party’s powerful administration department. Mr. Jang’s influence has expanded in recent years as Kim Jong-il has relied more heavily on close relatives, according to Cheong Seong-chang, a North Korea expert at Sejong Institute.

Choe Sang-hun contributed reporting from Palo Alto, Calif. For the Int. Herald Trib

India’s Spy Plan Said to Deter Business

NEW DELHI — In the United States, law enforcement and security agencies have raised privacy concerns with a new proposal for electronic eavesdropping powers to track terrorists and criminals and unscramble their encrypted messages.

But here in India, government authorities are well beyond the proposal stage. Prompted by fears of digital-era plotters, officials are already demanding that network operators give them the ability to monitor and decrypt digital messages, whenever the Home Ministry deems the eavesdropping to be vital to national security.

Critics, though, say India’s campaign to monitor data transmission within its borders will hurt another important national goal: attracting global businesses and becoming a hub for technology innovation.

The most inflammatory part of the effort has been India’s threat to block encrypted BlackBerry services widely used by corporations unless phone companies provide access to the data in a readable format. But Indian officials have also said they will seek greater access to encrypted data sent over popular Internet services like Gmail, Skype and virtual private networks that enable users to bypass traditional telephone links or log in remotely to corporate computer systems.

Critics say such a threat could make foreigners think twice about doing business here. Especially vulnerable could be outsourcing for Western clients, like processing medical records or handling confidential research projects, information that is typically transmitted as encrypted data.

“If there is any risk to that data, those companies will look elsewhere,” said Peter Sutherland, a former Canadian ambassador to India who is now a consultant to North American companies doing business there.

S. Ramadorai, vice chairman of India’s largest outsourcing company, Tata Consultancy Services, echoed that sentiment in a newspaper column on Wednesday. “Bans and calls for bans aren’t a solution,” he wrote. “They’ll disconnect India from the rest of the world.”

Few doubt that India has valid security concerns. In recent years, attacks against India have included the use of sophisticated communications technology — as when the terrorists who stormed Mumbai two years ago communicated with their Pakistani handlers by satellite phone and the Internet. Or when Chinese hackers infiltrated India’s military computer networks this year.

But critics say that India’s security efforts, which they describe as clumsy, may do little to protect the country, even as they intrude on the privacy of companies and citizens alike.

“They will do damage by blocking highly visible systems like BlackBerry or Skype,” said Ajay Shah, a Mumbai-based economist who writes extensively about technology. “This will shift users to less visible and known platforms. Terrorists will make merry doing crypto anyway. A zillion tools for this are freely available.”

Senior Indian officials, though, argue that they have no choice but to demand the data that could help thwart and investigate terrorist attacks.

“All communications which is done by Indians or coming to and fro into India — and where we have a concern about national security — we should have access to it,” said Gopal Krishna Pillai, the secretary of India’s Home Ministry, which oversees domestic security.

During the Mumbai attacks, he said, officials could not gain access to some of the communications between the terrorists and their handlers.

Some legal experts indicate that Indian law — which has few explicit protections for personal privacy — is on the government’s side. But they also say India is trying to enforce the law in unnerving ways.

“The concern of corporate users and general users of BlackBerry is that if this is allowed, the government will become the single biggest repository of information,” said Pavan Duggal, a technology lawyer who practices before India’s Supreme Court. “And we have no idea how this information will be used and misused in the future.”

The Indian government has also clamped down on the importation of foreign telecommunications equipment, saying it wants to ensure that the technology does not contain malicious software or secret trap doors that could be used by foreign spies.

The technology and security debates playing out here are not new or unique to India.
During the 1990s, for instance, American security officials tried unsuccessfully to restrict the use of encryption because of worries that law enforcement would not be able to monitor communications. Now, in legislation the Obama administration plans to introduce next year, officials want Congress to require all services that enable communications — including encrypted e-mail systems like BlackBerry, social networking Web sites like Facebook and software that allows direct “peer to peer” messaging like Skype — to be technically able to comply if served with a wiretap order.

Currently, other countries including the United Arab Emirates and Indonesia are trying to impose various measures similar to India’s.

The debate here, though, is complicated by the fact that despite private industry’s technology prowess in this country, in technologies like cryptography Indian law enforcement agencies still lag significantly behind their counterparts in the United States and other advanced countries.

The Indian government says it is intent on improving its code-cracking skills. But “in the interim, it has this very blunt instrument,” said Rajan S. Mathews, the director general of the Cellular Operators Association of India, a trade group. “It comes to the operators and says: ‘I’m going to make you responsible for giving me access,’ ” he said.

Mr. Pillai, the Home Ministry secretary, said the government was not opposed to the use of encryption to protect the privacy of legitimate electronic communications. But he said that as government-licensed entities, network operators were obliged to give law enforcement officials a way to decode messages when required or to block communications that they cannot decipher.

But network providers say they may not always have the technical ability to do that. In much of the world — including for business users in India — companies and individuals now often use encryption systems that generate new code keys for each message and lack a convenient master key that could unlock everything for government viewing.

Google, for its part, has enhanced the encryption for its Gmail service, making it harder for hackers and the Indian government to read messages. Mr. Pillai said his ministry had begun conversations with Google and Skype, the Internet phone company, which also uses strong encryption, to provide access to decoded data.

Representatives for Google and Skype said that they could not comment because they had not yet received formal demands from the Indian government.

Meanwhile, government officials have demanded that the maker of BlackBerry, Research in Motion of Canada, set up a server computer in India from which law enforcement agencies can gain access to unencrypted versions of messages when they need to. The government has given R.I.M. until the end of October to comply.

The company has said that it is willing to meet “the lawful access needs of law enforcement agencies.” But the company says it cannot provide unencrypted copies of messages of corporate users because of how the BlackBerry system is designed, noting that even R.I.M. cannot decode them.

“Strong encryption has become a mandatory requirement for all enterprise-class wireless e-mail services today,” R.I.M. said in a statement in late August, “and is also a fundamental commercial requirement for any country to attract and maintain international business.”

Vikas Bajaj reported from New Delhi, and Ian Austen from Ottawa. Heather Timmons contributed reporting from New Delhi. New York Times

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Deforestation Enriches a Few While Millions Pay the Price

Indonesia has one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world, and the loss of government revenue associated with illegal deforestation has been estimated at $100 million in East Kalimantan alone.

Deforestation is caused, in part, by land use changes resulting from cash-crop plantations and mining, particularly for coal in East Kalimantan.

Recent increases in deforestation rates have occurred in three stages, and have been exacerbated by a number of policy developments and reforms.

The first stage occurred when small-scale forest concessions were granted for collecting forest products — these were granted through the issuance of a Forest Product Harvesting Permit (HPHH).

Under Indonesia’s centralized government system, HPHH were issued by the provincial governor, while after decentralization they were issued by the head of a district or a city.

While China and the developed Asian economies engage in various kinds of currency manipulation, Southeast Asia’s open economies have been bearing the brunt of inflows from bigger countries and the oil states.

The issuance of HPHH was a key driver of deforestation until 2002, when the authority of the district and city heads to issue HPHH was withdrawn by the government through a ministerial decree.

The second stage of deforestation occurred between 2002 and 2005, mostly due to the expanding plantation sector, particularly oil-palm plantations.

Recently, multinational food corporations General Mills, Nestle and Unilever spurred by a Greenpeace campaign cut off orders for palm oil from Indonesian producer Sinar Mas Agro Resources & Technology on charges that it has illegally cleared woodlands.

These boycotts came about because due to consumer and civil society pressure over environmental issues, such as the damage caused to the habitat of the orangutan, one of the country’s most endangered and charismatic species.

Greenpeace has also put pressure on Wal-Mart to cease buying from Smart, and has successfully lobbied global finance giant HSBC to sell its shares in the company.

There are short-term socioeconomic impacts resulting from the cancellation of palm-oil contracts, such as the loss of employment and the reduction of wealth flowing into rural communities — but these are insignificant when compared with the long-term disaster that unchecked deforestation welcomes.

The third stage of deforestation dates from 2005 until the present as a result of the expansion of small-scale coal mining.

This has been driven by three factors.

First, changes to the law on land use allowed for mining in forest, including protected areas, through the issuance of special permits approved by the forestry minister.

These permits were granted to mining companies under the proviso that they already held rights to mine in forest areas before the changes to the land law were made.

Initially, only 13 companies were eligible under this proviso, but by May 2010, 54 permits had been issued in East Kalimantan alone.

Some 53 of these were issued after a 2008 government regulation that set the tariff rate for exploiting non-forest products, including minerals and coal. This regulation was often perceived as an effort to “sell” forest areas.

Second, the dramatic increase in the price of commodities prior to the global financial crisis increased mining in forested areas.

The financial crisis depressed coal prices, but as of 2010, the price of coal has rebounded, and this has seen an increase in investment in the mining sector.

This flow of capital has been supported by the central government, and local communities and indigenous communities have been more than willing to open up their land for mining.

Third, decentralizing the issuance of mining concessions combined with local direct elections gave rise to local capture and rent seeking.

Mining permits became a political commodity to garner votes, and political campaigners and those who had access to the district head or mayor became brokers to investors.

Unless broad ranging policy reforms occur, and corruption is reduced, Indonesia will struggle to reduce levels of deforestation to internationally acceptable levels — but these reforms will not occur overnight. For now, continued international pressure by the public will be the most successful path of action.

By Maria Monica Wihardja Associate Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Jakarta.

East Asia Forum