Saturday, April 30, 2011

Truth and consequences - Nationalistic fury is good for the government - terrible for Sri Lanka

IN RECENT years the default mode for Sri Lankan diplomats has been a posture of affronted national dignity beneath a mask of outraged, sanctimonious innocence. This week, after the publication of a report by a panel of experts for the United Nations on the final stages of Sri Lanka’s 26-year civil war, some were recalled to Colombo for “consultations”. Maybe they are brushing up their indignant-repudiation skills.

The war culminated in May 2009 with the army’s crushing of the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Its climax was marked by ruthlessness and callous disregard for human life. The panel concluded that “there is a reasonable basis to believe that large-scale violations of international humanitarian and human-rights law were committed by both sides”. Since hardly any of the Tigers’ leaders outlived the war, it is the government of Mahinda Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka’s president, that is in the dock.

It is probably too much to hope the government might adopt a fresh approach to these familiar allegations. There were always at least three ways to tackle them. It could, early on, have argued brazenly that the benefits of ending the war outweighed the cost in human life. The Tigers were as vicious and totalitarian a bunch of thugs as ever adopted terrorism as a national-liberation strategy. Or the government could have insisted that its army’s behaviour was largely honourable, but that some regrettable abuses may have occurred, which would be thoroughly investigated.

Instead, it chose a third path: to lie, and to lie big. It insisted that it pursued a policy of “zero civilian casualties”. Even as its forces shelled the shrinking “no-fire zone” in which the Tigers held some 330,000 civilians as human shields, it either denied it was doing so, or promised to stop and did not. It kept foreign observers out and bullied the local press into silence. The UN report found that “tens of thousands” were killed in January-May 2009, with most civilian casualties caused by government shelling.

The report relates little that has not appeared in accounts by human-rights groups.

But it is unusually blunt, perhaps reflecting exasperation at the Sri Lankan government’s obstructive, aggressive tactics. The three-member panel is distinguished enough to shrug off Sri Lanka’s accusations of bias. The chair, Marzuki Darusman, is a former attorney-general of Indonesia. The report calls the conduct of the war “a grave assault on the entire regime of international law designed to protect individual dignity during both war and peace”.

The government, however, is now too deeply wedded to its strategy of denial to back down even an inch. It lobbied hard against the publication of the UN report, arguing it would damage efforts at national reconciliation. Now that Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, has ignored its objections, it has whipped up a frenzy of national resentment against the perceived calumnies. This goes down well at home.

Standing up to foreign bullying only enhances Mr Rajapaksa’s popularity among the ethnic-Sinhalese majority. Responding to the report, the president has said he would be happy to sit in the electric chair on behalf of his country. A huge turnout is expected for May Day rallies at which he has asked for a show of support for his government.

If the report has brought Mr Rajapaksa short-term political benefits at home, he may also conclude that the diplomatic fallout is easily manageable. Sri Lanka is not without supporters. Just days after the end of the war in 2009, the UN’s Human Rights Council passed a resolution praising its victory, condemning Tiger war crimes and overlooking altogether allegations against the Sri Lankan army. Of its diplomatic allies back then, India is now less staunch. But China and Russia remain firm defenders of the rights of sovereign governments to quell secessionist movements, and do not seem squeamish about the means.

They may be even keener, after the UN-authorised intervention in Libya, to show that was the exception to a rule of non-interference. So Sri Lanka will continue to resist calls for any formal inquiry into the war beyond the “Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission” (LLRC) it established. Though due to report soon, the commission has failed to earn credibility.

In the long run, however, the semi-official status the UN report gives allegations of war crimes will haunt this government. The well-organised, far-flung Tamil diaspora will hound Sri Lanka’s leaders when they go abroad, and put pressure on foreign governments to demand accountability. Skilled at exploiting the rivalry between India and China, whose arms supplies helped win the war, Sri Lanka’s diplomats may argue that they no longer need the West. But, proud of Sri Lanka’s democratic traditions, they will smart at being seen as front men for a shoddy dictatorship, engaged in what now looks like a desperate cover-up.

After such knowledge, what forgiveness?

Though perceived foreign slights may enhance the government’s standing at home, it is there that the concealment of the truth about the war’s end will do most damage. It is not as if there were no witnesses. Some 300,000 people know first-hand parts of what happened. When the LLRC held hearings in the north, scene of the fighting, survivors told harrowing tales of loss and asked where missing loved ones were. Without answers, it is hard to see how they can be “reconciled”.

Nor does the government show any sign of moving towards a political settlement, to meet the grievances of the Tamil minority that fuelled the conflict. Gordon Weiss, the UN’s spokesman in Colombo during the end of the war, predicts in a forthcoming book (“The Cage”) that Tamil emigration will continue, “encouraged by political stagnation, a lack of rights and rule by fear”. And also by the government’s continued refusal to countenance any serious investigation into how it won the war. By Banyan for The Economist

Friday, April 29, 2011

The 1955 Bandung Conference and its present significance

Fifty-six years ago, on April 18-24, 1955, a conference that involved five sponsoring countries (Burma, Ceylon, India, Indonesia and Pakistan) and 24 participating countries from Asia and Africa convened in Bandung. The Bandung Conference turned out to be a historic watershed in the international relations of those countries.

Amid pressure from the growing Cold War bipolarism, those countries were able to concertedly affirm that they would choose neither the East nor the West but pursue their own path and strategy under the guidance of the “Bandung Principles”.

By the later stages, the Bandung Conference had inspired not only the independence of new countries in Asia and Africa and the establishment of the Non-Aligned Movement but also the fight against racialism.

An African-American poet turned anti-racialism author, Richard Nathaniel Wright, said that the Bandung Conference had introduced something new, something beyond Left and Right. He added that there were extra-political, extra-social, and almost extra-human aspects to the Conference.

Wright was present in Bandung and directly observed the conference. He chronicled his observation in his book The Color Curtain: A Report on the Bandung Conference, which was published in 1956.

The Bandung Principles was one of the most important outcomes of the conference. Since their inception, the principles have been navigating countries in the Asian-African continents as well as those in other continents through the turbulence of the Cold War period.

Unlike inter-regional cooperation between Asia and Europe through ASEM or East Asia and Latin America through FEALAC, Asia-Africa inter-regionalism for many decades had been less structured.

This has no longer been the case since 2005 when Indonesia hosted the Asia-Africa Summit where more than 80 heads of state and government attended.

The Summit agreed on a New Asia-Africa Strategic Partnership (NAASP) that aimed to promote a deeper and more structured and systematic cooperation between Asia and Africa.

At the 2005 Summit, the Bandung Principles were enriched. New norms and values were embraced. Those new principles include among others democracy, promotion and protection of human rights and multilateralism.

The Bandung Conference has given Indonesia particular meanings. It revived the bebas aktif foreign policy, and now it has become a national heritage in the gallery of Indonesian as well as Bandung history.

For younger generations of the country, however, the conference and its meaning have unfortunately turned out to be less appealing than other more recent inter-state initiatives such as APEC, ASEM and G20.

The Bandung Conference is also an icon in the history of Indonesian diplomacy. It is a symbol of independence. Independence in policy, in action and in making choices.

In the present context of international relations, cooperation between Asian and African countries remains critical, and even becomes more important than ever before. Both Asia and Africa continue to experience changes.

Geo-economically speaking, Asia has become more and more strategic. With the rise of India and China, and emerging economies like Indonesia, Asia is in a position to contribute to global growth.

Democracy in Asia is also taking roots — becoming more substantive after a long process, whereas democratization in countries in North Africa and the Middle East has only just begun.

Under the NAASP, leaders of Asia-Africa have agreed to cooperate in the strengthening of democratic institutions and popular participation by sharing experiences. Thus, Asia-Africa democracy cooperation is not only timely but also warranted.

Addressing piracy in the Somalian waters is another critical issue that Asian-African countries may consider discussing in their collaborative agenda. Piracy in the area has been increasing, and many incidents have seen Indonesian crews taken hostages.

The NAASP has mandated countries in both regions to jointly promote safety of navigation and communication as well as search and rescue operations in the Indian Ocean, which also includes the Gulf of Aden and Somalian waters, where piracy frequently takes place.

It is also critical to reflect on the best ways to tap the practical and normative meanings of the Bandung Principles in the current context of global politics. It is a daunting task to develop a collective understanding, let alone a collective response, to such emerging norms as a right to humanitarian intervention and the responsibility to protect.

One of the Bandung Principles clearly underlines the abstention from intervention or interference in the internal affairs of another country. But in reality, there are conditions that humanitarian intervention will eventually be invoked if all other efforts have failed.

The Constitutive Act of the African Union, for example, includes the right to intervention as one of the principles to be adhered to in the functioning of the Union. Article 4 (h) and (j) stipulate respectively the right of the Union to intervene in a Member State pursuant to a decision of the Assembly in respect of grave circumstances, namely: War crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity; and the right of Member States to request intervention from the Union in order to restore peace and security.

There are many more issues that Asia and Africa can work together on. Poverty remains a pressing issue in both continents. Compounded by demographic challenges, poverty has become abject and more burdensome.

The situation in Africa is more difficult because the poorest billion people of the world’s total seven billion population live there. Moreover, it has become worse and worse whenever armed conflicts — often fueled by the illicit trade of small arms and light weapons — break out in countries on the continent.

What can Asia and Africa do to overcome all of those challenges?

Quoting president Sukarno’s opening speech at the Bandung Conference entitled “Let a New Asia and a New Africa be born,” the answer is that Asia and Africa can do much.

Now it depends on the commitment and determination of the countries in both continents. It is only natural that many quarters would expect the founding countries to take the lead in that regard.

I have full confidence that as always, Indonesia will be able to bear that responsibility when need arises.

By Yayan GH Mulyana assistant special staff to the President for international relations.

Amnesty International's Asia Squabble

Open split over whether the organization is aggressive enough on Thai repression

An open split has divided the Asian operations Amnesty International, one of the world's most prestigious human rights groups, over its operations in Thailand.

Some 70 members of Amnesty International and other human rights organizations have sent an open letter to Salil Shetty, Amnesty International's Secretary General at the organization's London headquarters complaining about the actions of Benjamin Zawacki, AI's Southeast Asia researcher, and Donna Guest, the Asia-Pacific deputy director, in blocking a dialogue to be held by the Malaysia wing of the organization on the issue of human rights violations in Thailand.

Zawacki, in a brief telephone interview referred Asia Sentinel to a written statement saying it was self-explanatory. The statement said that "Amnesty International globally has avoided partisan entanglement in the Thai political crisis. Despite allegations from both sides that the organization supports the Yellow or Red positions and groups, Amnesty has limited itself to the human rights issues and has avoided politics."

However, other human rights organizations in Thailand have been critical of Amnesty International's Thai operations, saying they often have not been aggressive in defending opponents of the Thai regime and the military as the government has slid deeper into repression. Human rights campaigners have charged that the government is using lèse majesté not to protect King Bumibhol Adulyadej and the royal family but to quell legitimate dissent.

"Amnesty International enjoys the support of many rich, elite, overseas-educated Thais, many of whom bear Royal decorations," said CJ Hinke, the head of Freedom Against Censorship Thailand and one of the signatories to the open letter. "AI is considered to be just liberal enough to provide the rich a halo of concern. That support will only continue as long as AI does not investigate Thailand's own human rights violations in any great depth. Lèse majesté in particular.

For its part, Amnesty International Bangkok has repeatedly issued press releases and campaigned publicly for the release of Chiranuch Premchaiporn, an online news editor for lèse majesté charges, and demanded the repeal of emergency powers that were ultimately withdrawn in December.

The open letter complains that Amnesty International Malaysia had planned to meet on April 23 with Robert Amsterdam, the lawyer representing the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship – Thailand's Red Shirt opposition -- who had filed a case at the International Criminal Court against the government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva government for ordering the military crackdown in April-May 2010 which resulted in the deaths of 92 people, mostly civilians, and 2,000 people injured.

However, the letter says, the Malaysia wing "received strong instructions from the International Secretariat demanding them to cancel the dialogue session. The action is a clear violation on the very principle central to human rights for which is on freedom of expression and opinion, toleration of different opinions and ideas, and fighting against culture of impunity."

Amnesty International, the letter said, "is taking the same approach by the Thai government in banning Mr. Amsterdam from entering Thailand, and thus violating Mr. Amsterdam the right to exercise his freedom of expression."

In the statement, however, Zawacki called Amsterdam over the past year "a paid advocate of former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin (Shinawatra) and is thus very clearly a partisan of one side of the political crisis. This is not a value judgment on Mr. Amsterdam's position, it is simply a factual observation that implicates a rule that Amnesty applies in its work everywhere: remain neutral, objective, and impartial. Sharing a platform with Mr. Amsterdam would place Amnesty in breach of that rule."

Amnesty, Zawacki wrote, "must maintain its neutrality and avoid political partisanship. Thus, alongside discussion of the allegations raised by Mr. Amsterdam, considerable reference would also need to be made, among other events, to the thousands of extrajudicial executions as part of Mr. Thaksin's "war on drugs" and during counter-insurgency operations in southern Thailand."

Thaksin, Zawacki said, "strenuously combated Amnesty's efforts to seek accountability for these serious violations. While these infractions of international human rights law do not in any way justify the present Thai government's unlawful use of lethal force against demonstrators who may be generally labeled pro-Thaksin, they are crucial elements of any discussion of the Yellow-Red dynamic in Thailand, and in particular, of any discussion of justice and accountability in the country. Amnesty was not confident that a talk by Mr. Amsterdam, on an Amnesty platform, would refer to this context adequately." Asia Sentinel

South Korea's Food Security Alarm

Korea's Farmers need protection

A new report from the Samsung chaebol advocates a Korean domestic and international food revolution

If there is any country on the planet worried about its food supply, it is South Korea, which imports more than 90 percent of its food from overseas, including almost all of its wheat and corn.

The government recently bought more than 325,999 hectares in Mongolia as part of its effort to develop an overseas food base to procure more food resources. That is after the Daewoo chaebol was stymied in its effort in 2008 to lease 1.3 million hectares of Madagascar – almost half the country's arable land -- for 99 years. South Korean farmers are growing corn in Cambodia. As many as 60 South Korean companies are involved in farming in 16 countries, harvesting some 87,000 metric tons of grain from 24,000 hectares of farmland, according to Anders Riel Muller, a Research Fellow at the Institute for Food and Development Policy, USA and an adviser to the, Nordic Center for Renewable Energy, Denmark in a March 19 article.

The coming crisis, if it is that, has shaken awake the Samsung Economic Research Institute, an arm of the giant Samsung conglomerate, which this week issued a 16-page report on food security. The report, titled New Food Strategies in the Age of Global Food Crises, (registration and password needed) advocates that "it is necessary to secure foreign bases for food production through overseas agricultural development," providing comprehensive support for domestic firms striving to build food production bases abroad," and pay for it through overseas agricultural development funds. Among other things, the report advocates that the government draw up a roadmap for agricultural cooperation to develop food resources in the starvation-ridden North Korea "through inter-Korean agricultural cooperation is useful in the context of building South Korea's overseas food base, while at the same time preparing for surging food demand upon unification."

In particular, according to the report, there are concerns that food-producing companies will "weaponize" food through export restrictions. "It is now increasingly likely that food security among importing countries will be threatened by diminishing supplies," the authors write. "In the summer of 2010 when anxiety over food supplies grew intense, Russia and Ukraine imposed restrictive measures on grain exports. Coupled with a forecast for severe weather abnormalities to increase in the next few years, it is likely that anxiety over food supplies will spread, and weaponization of food will occur more often."

South Korea, according to the report, is particularly vulnerable, suggesting an urgent need to upgrade food security levels. "Korea's food security has significantly worsened since 2006," the authors note. "The overall food security index declined from a peak of 100.9 in 2006 to its lowest level of 95.2 in 2008. In particular, safety appears much poorer than stability (in 2008, the index was 96.2 for stability versus 94.2 for safety). Food security levels stabilized in 2005 and 2006, but significantly fell from 2007 due to deterioration in overseas variables, import structure, and food safety.

Food stability in South Korea has experienced a continuous decline, caused by rapidly increased grain price volatility and intensified import source concentration as the western countries, particularly the United States and the European Union, devote more and more of their corn production to biofuels. It is estimated that 35 percent of corn production is now going into biofuels. In addition, the report says, "food safety fell to its lowest level in 2008 at 94.2, down more than 5.85 compared to 2005, indicating a need for efforts to improve food safety. quality, soil, and ecosystems.

The report notes with something akin to alarm that the international grain market "is subject to an oligopoly of the four major global grain conglomerates: Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland, LDC, and Bunge," which have the power not only to perform grain trading functions but to "affect government policy with respect to international trade and agricultural markets using their massive capabilities to obtain information worldwide. South Korea imports 80 percent of its gran through the four. The four giants, the report continues, "exercise tremendous leverage over the worldwide food industry. Business for grain majors has expanded beyond traditional trading of crops to seeds, fertilizers, food and food processing, finance, and bio-energy production. At times, the four grain majors have encroached on consumer welfare by exerting their influence on agricultural producers, or by creating an oligopoly regime."

As food imports have increased, so has anxiety over agricultural product safety, the report notes, with "spiraling increases in the share of GMO food imports, which have risen from about 30 percent to over 50 percent in 2008, "posing a greater threat to food safety."
Climate change, the report notes, is detrimental to water quality, soil pollution, and ecosystem degradation, hampering productivity.

"Although warmer temperatures and increased precipitation owing to global warming may actually play a positive role in Korea's agriculture by improving conditions for its traditional flooded paddy rice farming, increases in temperature and rainfall beyond optimum levels are likely to bring adverse effects that outweigh any benefits,"the report notes. "In the medium- and long run, uncertainty and volatility from global grain production will increase due to changes in water quality, soil, and ecosystems."

South Korea's big problem, according to Anders Muller, is partly to history, in which Japanese colonizers'only interest was to convert Korea in to a supplier of food and other products to fuel their imperial ambitions. In doing so, the Japanese administrators allied themselves with the ruling landlord elite. By the 1920s, the majority of peasants in Korea had been reduced to tenant farmers delivering up to 50 percent of their harvests in taxes."

South Korea, Muller writes, "has historically shown little interest in its agricultural sector throughout the post Korean War period. The rural population and agriculture was primarily regarded as a source of cheap food and cheap labor for the country's dizzying industrial development." Agricultural investment dried up as successive dictators like Park Hung Hee neglected the countryside for industrialization.

Today, the average farmer is more than 50 years old, Muller writes, "often tilling a few hectares with outdated machinery. Poverty is to be found everywhere, and because farm life has become so economically undesirable, rural Korea has become a huge market for arranged marriages with women from countries in Southeast Asia. In fact, one of three marriages in rural areas is now between Korean men and foreign women."

Today, he says, the farm sector is seen by most Koreans as backward and undesirable. Little money is to be made and land is expensive. The Samsung report advocates providing substantial assistance to farm families to reverse the trend.

Despite the import of such an enormous percentage of its food, Korea's farmers are among the most protected in the world despite the country's membership in the World Trade Organization. Attempts to liberalize trade have resulted in bloody riots, particularly over beef and rice.

It appears that although the report doesn't say so, Samsung would lioke to keep it that way.
"Once a food crisis occurs, excessive overseas dependence is greatly detrimental to food security, because it becomes very difficult to purchase food on international markets, regardless of the amount of foreign exchange reserves,"the report notes. "As securing a domestic production base is a fundamental measure to enhance food supply capability, maintenance of domestic production capacity is de facto insurance against shortages on the international market."

Currently idle farmland and reclaimed land "should be developed to raise domestic production capacity. In areas with decreasing rice farming, it is desirable to convert paddy fields to dry fields for the production of wheat, corn, or soybeans; and for farmland that lies fallow during the winter months, it is desirable to expand cultivation of food and feed crops other than rice. In particular, it is desirable to effectively exploit reclaimed land…to enhance domestic production capacity, contributing to a greater degree of food self-sufficiency."

The report advocates increasing the R&D budget for the agriculture and environment sector substantially, from the current 8.3 percent relative to the total national R&D budget to over 15 percent. New technologies that can contribute to expansion of agricultural production capacity must be urgently promoted for maximum utilization of private sector capabilities. by John Berthelsen Asia Sentinel

Thursday, April 28, 2011

China's New Lei Feng

Lei Feng, step aside for Yang Shanzhou

New role model reveals 21st-century anxieties for Chinese Communist Party

It's official: the Chinese Communist Party has a new hero. Following praise from Chinese leaders and an editorial published Wednesday by China's Xinhua news agency, a flurry of articles in official sources have praised recently deceased local bureaucrat Yang Shanzhou, describing his life of selfless dedication to the public as a model for party members.

In the face of recent calls for protests in Chinese cities and strike action in Shanghai, the CCP is responding to widespread perceptions of corruption among local officials which threaten its ruling legitimacy. Accordingly, party members are asked to imitate Yang's life of selfless – and honest – service to his people, revealing the growing concerns of China's top leaders about corruption among lower-tier officials. As the presumed next leader of China, Xi Jinping, ratifies current president Hu Jintao's call to emulate Yang, it may be a sign that he will continue the campaign to improve party discipline and ethics that Hu has called “The Party's Advanced Nature.”

Yang, who died last October, was secretary of the party committee in his home town of Baoshan in remote southwestern Yunnan province until his retirement in 1988, after which he established a public tree farm in the same area. Chinese leaders have praised him as a servant of the people who resisted temptations to profit from his office, living in the same conditions as his district's ordinary residents.

The process of Yang's canonization began last May, when he received official recognition after donating his tree farm to the government. Following his death, top leaders including Hu and Xi have lined up to eulogize him, each telling party members to “study” Yang's life as a guide to resisting the temptations of power in China's booming economy. Local officials are notorious for corruption and profiteering, giving rise to frequent embezzlement and bribery scandals.

In an April 13 speech reported by Xinhua, Xi said that party members would face “more challenges and tests” as China grows richer, and called on officials to learn from Yang's “selflessness, hard work, and clean work style.” Xinhua wrote that he “gave instructions to ask the Party officials to look up to Yang as a model.”

Local governments are taking heed. Wednesdays's editorial was followed by a raft of stories about local party members forming groups to study's Yang's life, with headlines like “80,000 Shuangfeng County Party Staff Members Study Yang Shanzhou's Advanced Deeds.”

The propaganda wave closely resembles official campaigns promoting Lei, whose face still appears in posters on buses in Beijing promoting hard work and economy. Lei, a private in the People's Liberation Army when he died at age 22 in 1962, became a role model for Chinese youth in 1963 when Mao started a campaign to “learn from Comrade Lei Feng.”

Lei's diary, widely viewed by Western historians as a forgery, was required reading for generations of Chinese students. They read of Lei's tireless dedication to helping others in the name of socialism, and his modesty. The diary describes him spending his evenings darning his comrade's socks and gathering manure to distribute as fertilizer. He died, they say, as he lived, when a truck struck a telephone while backing up, knocking it over and killing him.

Yang has much in common with Lei – both spent most of their lives toiling in obscurity and became posthumous models of superhuman altruism. But their differences demonstrate changes in the party's concerns. Unlike Lei, Yang was a government official, and the message of the propaganda campaign seems to aim at getting party members to do their jobs honestly rather than getting ordinary people to sacrifice for production – indeed, ordinary citizens are now being encouraged to seek self-fulfillment instead of success.

This throwback to 1960s methods follows a nationwide focus throughout the Hu Jintao era on improving the quality of lower and middle level cadres through training programs in communist ideology. It also comes as the head of the Chongqing municipality Bo Xilai has led a [high-profile campaign focusing on ‘Red culture' , which also involves the use of Maoist methods to improve the governing abilities of cadres.

Wednesday's editorial, carried in official outlets around China, stressed Yang's honesty, quoting him in its headline with an implicit criticism of self-serving local leaders: “As a government official, my authority can be only exercised for public affairs.”

Stories have focused on Yang's modest life, describing the run-down house he shared with his wife after retirement, “one of the worst in the village.” Yang had refused a modern apartment in the Yunnan provincial capital of Kunming as a reward for his services.

Yang's career – and his temptations – are in many ways a throwback to another era. Working in a small Yunnan city in 80s, he retired before China's economic rise reached the heights of later decades, and the wealth that has provided many contemporary officials with opportunities for corruption, reached the remote inland area. His achievements include record grain harvests, and the great temptation of his story is a government-assigned apartment, a far cry from the mansions a new generation of post-reform officials are buying on the market. Asia Sentinel Written by David Cohen and Peter Martin

Horrific Brutality in Kashmir

Kashmiris protest Indian armed forces brutality

Youth and children as young as 10 are tortured and sometimes disappear completely

"I will never be the same," says Sameer Khan (name changed), a student in his early twenties. Khan at his age has endured plenty. Behind his soft-spoken exterior lies a resilient interior that surfaces with time and trust. In his late teens, Khan was put through physical and psychological torture by the Indian security agencies in the disturbed region of Kashmir.

"I was thrown into a dark room and tortured. They used gun butts to break my back. While I was still in pain, a stream of blood ran through my nose and head… and when it clotted in my left eye, I went blind. An hour later, some policemen came and began to torture my private parts. This was and will be most shameful experience for me for the rest of my life. When electric shocks were given to my private parts, I felt this is the end of world and it was perhaps,” Khan revealed details after a few months.

The United Nation's Convention Against Torture states that torture cannot be "justified under any exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency”.

Last summer, non-government organizations said several youth and underage boys were picked up by the authorities for participating in street demonstrations against the killings of street protesters in the Kashmir Valley.

Regardless of their age or their role in the freedom struggle in Kashmir, detainees are isolated for days in dark dingy, unhygienic and cramped spaces. Often, under draconian and unconstitutional laws, youth and children as young as 10 are hunted down, held and then not produced in court. Human rights lawyers in Kashmir complain that the details of the detention of these cases are not recorded, giving the forces involved impunity from prosecution.

"Torture is a routine practice that has been going on in interrogation centers, police stations, and army camps throughout Kashmir since the beginning of the conflict in the early 1990s, said Shafat N Ahmad, an advocate and human rights researcher. "However, a different pattern of torture was inflicted on people especially in villages and hills."

Ahmad found during his course of research that the forces would allege that families were supporting the militancy, providing food and shelter and bedding etc, especially targeting the families whose sons had joined.

"Mothers and wives of militants were also targeted and interrogated during search operations. In many cases, parents or other relatives of militants were called to camps, tortured and pressured them to surrender their sons,” he said. "But things are better since the nineties."

Survivors report methods such as choking in water, electric shocks, leg stretching, rolling heavy objects over the body, burning by red hot irons, suspension by cord, and beating on the soles of the feet, Ahmad said. No First Information Report was lodged against the torturer and also special laws like J&K Armed Forces Special Powers Act (Section 4) authorize the arrest without warrant adds to this menace, he added.

US officials had evidence of widespread torture by Indian police and security forces and were secretly briefed about the systematic abuse of detainees in Kashmir, according to leaked diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks released last December. The dispatches revealed that US diplomats in Delhi were briefed in 2005 by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) about the use of electrocution, beatings, sexual humiliation against hundreds of detainees. Other cables show that as recently as 2007 American diplomats were concerned about widespread human rights abuses by Indian security forces, who they said relied on torture for confessions.

SM Sahai, Inspector General of the Jammu and Kashmir Police, when asked how booking juveniles and putting them in jail with adults contributes to radicalizing them, he replied, "Sending a impressionable boy to Central Jail can only bring out a more hardened criminal. But we are also stuck in a situation where we have to make a difficult choice. We tell the government what are the kinds of problems we are facing. This is definitely being taken into consideration."

On the other hand, Sahai added, "It’s unfortunate that the parents have allowed their children to step out. Kashmir has a very severe parenting problem. You can’t blame the system for everything. This is the basis of fascism. They always use impressionable youth to drive the society in a particular direction, using the fear factor, to their own disaster. It’s a conscious choice that people have to make. It’s not about juvenile homes. The best home for a child is a parents’ home. If they cannot control their children, then what can the state do?"

While the government mulls over finding better ways to deal with the situation, families of most of the 123 killed in this summer's protests reject state compensation.

Khan, who just completed his post-graduation, recalls what he underwent when the authorities finally decided to let him go. "After a month of being released, I recovered from my injuries but everything changed for me. My smile had disappeared. I lost sleep. When I was alone, strange thoughts came to my mind. It was horrible. Then people from the security agencies began to bother me. They made my life hell. I had to give minute details about myself to them every time. This, again, made me depressed.”

For Khan, things got so out of hand that he had to seek help from his cousin, a psychiatrist. In Kashmir, where sexual torture is never discussed due to social stigma, Khan was left with no choice but to confide in his family. "I had to tell my brother how they had tortured my private parts with cigarette butts, electric shocks, copper wire and how much pain I felt while urinating. He took me to a doctor and finally, I was put on medication."

"On one hand, I had to take psychiatric drugs and on other hand, I had to take antibiotics, healers, etc. I recovered after almost a year... but still I get nightmares about it almost every week,” Khan murmured. He feels that his close relationships have been affected because of the torture, "I hate pity. I just hate it when people do that," he says, as he looks away.

In the Valley, even in the 1990s, at the height of the insurgency, stories of torture were passed on from generation to generation, along with accounts of intimidation and humiliation faced by other family members who frequent police stations, military and paramilitary camps and well-known places of interrogation. Written by Dilnaz Boga

The Scourge of Plagiarism in China

What would Confucius say?

Some of the country's top scholars are routinely caught cheating or stealing

Academic plagiarism is seriously dealt with in the developed world. However in China, it is a tool to gain individual benefit and has become omnipresent in society, gravely affecting the goals the country claims to be pursuing.

A disturbing number of China's brightest scholars, including Li Lianshan, Wang Hui and Wang Mingming, a western-trained sociologist at Peking University, have been accused of plagiarism. Nor are they alone. Top executives are constantly being exposed at having faked their education credentials, or of having acquired them through diploma mills that require no study. China is the world epicenter of theft of intellectual property and copying of foreign products, with western movies often appearing on the street in China almost before they are released in the United States.

Thanks to sparkling new technological innovations such as Google and Wikipedia, students nowadays are able to access a plethora of information including books and articles just by one simple click. That has made life considerably easier for students in China. A plagiarism-screening service CrossCheck found that from 2008 to 2010, 31 percent of papers submitted to the Journal of Zhejiang University–Science, a key academic journal published by the National Natural Science Foundation of China, contained "unoriginal material" without proper quotation. It is likely that there is an even higher percentage of plagiarism for unpublished essays and homework in classes.

The question is whether it isn't a major divergence in thinking between East and West. Professors at the Canadian university that I attended in undergraduate school constantly drilled into the class the fact that plagiarism is nothing more than theft. But C. Custer, writing about allegations of plagiarism against Wang Hui, a noted public intellectual leader in the New Left movement in China, pointed out that the overwhelming attitude was for leniency.

The hot topic today in China's academia is the revelation of the scandal in which Li Lianshan, a former prominent professor from Xi'an Jiaotong University, copied research analysis from others. The data on the economic benefits of his work was also found rigged, as the Ministry of Science and Technology recently confirmed. Li has been stripped of a top national science award by the Ministry.

It isn't the scandal per se that is disturbing. When six retired colleagues found out about Li Lianshan's plagiarism and reported it to the school three years ago, nobody paid any attention. Li's colleagues said that the university tried to persuade them to retrieve their accusations in order to "save school's face" and "save China's face." The unnamed "school leader" also said to them that "it is not easy to see our school being placed among the top of the Chinese universities ranking, so please do not tarnish the school's reputation."

The request was refused by the six retirees when Li Lianshan agreed to share the award prize with the six colleagues to shut them up. The school continued to cover up the scandal and didn't sack Li until a TV program reported it to the public last year.

Nor are they alone. When Wang Mingming was accused in 2002 of copying materials from a book by William A.Haviland at the University of Vermont, he received an outpouring of sympathy on the Internet and in person, with 1,200 messages being posted on an online bulletin board run by his department at Peking University, according to a story by Associated Press.,

The question is how many intellectuals are doing what Li Lianshan has done. What if his colleagues had not retired and were afraid of losing their jobs? What if they took the money and shut up? The "school leader" in this case was quoted as saying that the plagiarism driven by venality can be found everywhere in China, and it has become a sort of "normality".

There are other forms of academic cheating. News outlets in China have often come across about female students sleeping with their professors to get a pass on their papers in order to obtain a degree.

When all the people in this country – ranging from government officials to university professors – strive to gain economic benefits unscrupulously and fanatically in every corner of society; when righteousness and rule of law have been threw into the dustbin, and when the realization of basic morality in the society has to rely on the persistence and bravery of a few citizens with a sense of justice, then the accomplishment of alleged efforts to build a harmonious society where people are able to live with dignity and integrity should be seriously put into question. by Terence Chen Asia Sentinel

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

ASEAN must show its worth as a regional authority

As the border conflict between Thailand and Cambodia drags on, the regional grouping should give full support to Indonesian observers

In less than two weeks, Indonesia will host the first of a series of high-profile summit meetings over the next seven months before its Asean chairmanship ends. It is within this short time frame that Indonesia's leadership credentials in the regional grouping will be tested.

Jakarta has set out with a very big ambition to transform Asean into a global game-changer - something no other Asean member has so far dared to think of.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa offers hope to the new Asean because of his intellect and vitality. Indonesia's move to forge a more integrated and significant Asean also occurs at a time when there is a domestic consolidation of democracy and steady economic progress.

For the past few months, the world's third largest democracy has been trying to pursue several objectives set forth at the beginning of the year. One of them is to prepare Asean for the 2015 deadline for regional economic integration. Asean aims to be a single economic community with over 700 million citizens by that date.

Indonesia - now an emerging global player - wants to ensure that Asean will not be left behind and that the grouping's voice will be heard on the international stage.

However, the ongoing dispute between Thailand and Cambodia is threatening the leadership credentials of the current Asean chair and its overall outlook.

Since February, and following deliberations by the UN Security Council, Indonesia has been tasked by the Asean foreign ministers with finding a solution to ensure a permanent ceasefire on the Thai-Cambodian border. Overall progress has been slow.

But Jakarta knew full well that this would be the case before it took up the challenge. Indeed, there is nothing new in such time-consuming diplomatic efforts within the Asean mindset. To be fair, it is not the fault of the chair either. In Asean, nothing moves forward if there is no consensus. Political will among the member countries and their leaders is the most important ingredient in ending an international deadlock involving Asean members. That explains why sometimes it is so frustrating to see members, for their own benefit, exploiting each other without thinking of Asean's wider interests.

Both Thailand and Cambodia have to work harder to help the Asean chair in its peace mission. Otherwise, Indonesia's greater ambition for the grouping could be easily wrecked.
The renewed fighting between Thai and Cambodian troops on the border this week does not augur well at all for the overall solidarity of Asean or Indonesia's ongoing facilitation process and wider goals. Thailand must finalise its terms of reference as soon as possible concerning the stationing of the Indonesian observers at the border. The Thai Army has dragged its feet for too long. Certainly, when it comes to national sovereignty, the Thai Army is very conservative and sensitive, especially where the presence of outside observers is concerned.

Cambodia, under strongman Prime Minister Hun Sen, has been a one-stop decision country in this affair - which has proved to be its best bargaining and PR asset.

Civil society and media in Cambodia do not have the kind of freedoms enjoyed by their neighbours to the west. Hun Sen's words are final. No questions are asked or comments made. It is not wrong to say he has been the region's most active leader in engaging Asean in every aspect.

It remains to be seen how Asean members will respond to Hun Sen's suggestion that the grouping should get involved more in intra-Asean conflicts - something that would change the very nature of Asean since its inauguration. Cambodia, which succeeds Indonesia as chair next year, will certainly seek to enhance its regional role and prestige through such an agenda.

It is in the grouping's common interest to support Indonesia as chair, as it will propel the grouping to the next level. An Asean that is in tune with global changes and settings will benefit the whole regional community. Editorial, The Nation, Bangkok

Intelligence and morality

Intelligence—military or civilian—is an important matter. It should not be used as a toy. It should not be manipulated—for whatever reason—by the people in the military and civilian government organs that control the collection, analysis, processing and dissemination of intelligence.

Intelligence is too vital a part of a state’s means of insuring its own security and survival to be trifled with.

But that is what happened more than 10 years ago, in connection with the effort to have former President Joseph “Erap” Estrada impeached.

The Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP) was used for partisan politics—and made to fabricate and disseminate intelligence information.
Military intelligence people used what they allegedly saw while spying on then President Estrada. They provided witnesses to help persuade the public—including lawmakers—to decide that Mr. Estrada deserved to be impeached and removed from office.

Later, when Mr. Estrada had been ousted by the revolt of the Makati rich and the politicians lusting to replace him and his coterie in Malacañang, the ISAFP gave prosecutors bent on persecuting Mr.
Estrada alleged A-1 intelligence information. The false intelligence said that hehad, with then PNP Police Director (now senator) Panfilo Lacson, “laundered nearly $1 billion believed to have been amassed since 1996 from drug trafficking, kidnapping and other criminal activities into bank accounts in three countries.”

The revelations were made by the chief of ISAFP, then colonel and now retired Brig. Gen. Victor Corpus. The Inquirer published an article that quoted Corpus as saying “that at least $728,500,293 was stashed in individual and joint accounts in 18 savings, checking and time deposits in Citibank and Bank of America branches in the United States, Hong Kong and Canada.” The article also said Corpus told the Inquirer that a joint team of the Isafp and Philippine National Police left Manila on June 2, 2001, and spent nearly a month in San Francisco investigating the alleged bank accounts.”

Those reports turned out to be rubbish. But it was made a basis for sending Erap Estrada to jail.

Corpus apologizes, Erap accepts

The other day, President Estrada, according to an Inquirer report, “accepted the apology of retired Brig. Gen. Victor Corpus, former head of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP), in connection with the publication in the August 5, 2001, issue of the Inquirer of a news report headlined “Ping has millions in the US.”

Mr. Corpus had apparently written to former President Estrada and Mrs. Estrada (the former Sen. Loi Estrada) asking the couple accept Corpus’ apology “for troubling (them) and (their) family in the past.”

The report said: “The Inquirer also wishes to express its regret for the publication of the news report, which was based on an interview with then Colonel Corpus and on the post-operation report he submitted to then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
No criminal liabilities?

When intelligence operatives damage a person, using false information, should they not be held liable and punished?

This impunity is, sadly, another unjust characteristic of the Philippine system. Military men can tell lies, abuse and maltreat innocent persons—arrest them, disappear them and kill them extrajudicially—and go on with their lives happily without fear of being made to pay for their evil deeds.

Mr. Corpus and the Isapf furthered the interests of politicians in power. They worked against the laws of our Republic to serve the ruling power.

But some other persons with plans different from those of the rulers can also use the power of the military intelligence agencies. That happened with the “Hello Garci” tapes. Those tapes were recordings of phone calls between a woman whose voice and intonation pattern are that of then President Gloria M. Arroyo and the Commission on Election’s Virgilio Garcillano. It is against the law for a candidate to converse with an election commissioner.

The Hello Garci tapes began the destruction of then President Arroyo’s reputation. Those tapes led to her unprecedented unpopularity, her being the most widely vilified figure. Her unpopularity took away the luster of her immense achievements as our president. Because of the “Hello Garci” tapes, until today, when the Aquino administration must follow the good socio-economic blueprints crafted during the Arroyo years, the Philippine public cannot believe what the World Bank, the IMF and other international bodies recognize as then President Arroyo’s exceptional successes in the management of the Philippine economy.

NICA rice-crisis report

How important intelligence reports are was again illustrated by another Inquirer gaffe. Earlier in the month, it made a shocking page 1 banner story of a fictitious report that there was a looming rice crisis. The Inquirer was conned into believing that the report was an authentic intelligence product of the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA), one of the State’s key civilian intelligence services, an agency under the Office of the President.

The NICA head, the Secretary of Agriculture and the President’s spokesmen denied the existence of such a report.

A most important reform

The government has more than a dozen intelligence bodies. In fact, every government department, bureau, and unit has “intelligence funds,” which are not subject to public auditing by the COA.

Among the most serious reforms that must be done to make ours a more just and human-rights respectful government is in the manning of the intelligence agencies.
Apart from being people of exceptional intellectual powers and intelligence, the men and women—and the leadership—of ISAFP, NICA and the other “spook” offices must be persons of the highest moral character.

Unfortunately, such persons are the most difficult to find in our unhappy land.
Editorial, The Manila Times

Limits of Chinese Power in Southeast Asia

China's tough line on territorial disputes worries the region

That China is one of the most powerful states in the world is no longer a contested claim, but cataloging China's increasing material resources does not in itself demonstrate that China is powerful.

A more telling question is how effectively does China convert its growing resources into influence over other states' strategic choices and the outcomes of events?

Southeast Asia presents an apparently "easy" case for investigating China's rising power. Given the significant asymmetry of power, if China's power has indeed grown, we would expect to see altered preferences and behavior of these weaker neighbors in response to coercion, persuasion or inducement from China.

Results so far are mixed. While China has been able to harness much of the region's economic energy in a favorable direction, it does get its way in territorial and resource conflicts.

China's burgeoning economic rise has restructured economic networks in East Asia, fueling regional production for China as the final assembly and export point to the rest of the world. The Chinese government has also tried to consolidate its economic leadership position by driving broader economic regionalism.

In less-developed mainland Southeast Asia, China's participation has made feasible region-wide economic development plans for the Greater Mekong Subregion initiative of the Asian Development Bank, drawing international investment for infrastructural projects.

These connect the poorer states – Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam – to the markets of China and Thailand, while improving China's access to raw material supplies and ports in the Indian Ocean and East China Sea. These schemes have also spurred Japanese and American interest and investment in Mekong regionalism.

More prominently, China's initiative for a free trade agreement with ASEAN overcame the nagging problem of galvanizing an economic integration project. When it came into effect in 2010, the China-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement formed the world's largest free trade area, comprising 1.9 billion consumers and US$4.3 trillion in trade.

Southeast Asian states were unable to achieve effective regional economic integration because of the Cold War and competitive economic profiles in low-cost manufacturing. China has lent weight and momentum to translating their shared developmental imperative into regional economic integration. It exercises power via a multiplier effect: The size of its manufacturing sector produces economies of scale, and its political clout lends significance, even legitimacy, to the enterprise.

While such a multiplier role is crucial to China's political successes in Southeast Asia, it paradoxically does not provide the best evidence for China's influence, because Beijing is mobilizing pre-existing shared preferences and does not have to get others to do what they did not want to do.

In contrast, situations in which the pre-existing preferences of other states are unclear or undecided – such as the prominent debate in the 1990s about whether rising China was a threat – present opportunities for China to influence its neighbors by persuading them that its own narrative of the so-called peaceful rise is more accurate and certainly more profitable. Against the gathering discourse about a China threat, an official Chinese campaign took off from the mid-1990s to shape world perceptions of China instead as a benign, responsible great power.

This campaign involved an alternative narrative about China's cooperative New Security Concept, and its "peaceful rise" or "peaceful development" as it strives for a "harmonious world." The message was intended to reassure neighbors that China's resurgence would not threaten their economic or security interests because of its peaceful intentions, limited national capabilities, mutually beneficial development trajectory and pluralist international mindset.

Rhetoric was accompanied by policy action. In Southeast Asia, China negotiated land, though not maritime, border disputes with Vietnam; fully participated in ASEAN institutions; and undertook highly publicized restraint and aid during the 1997 and 2009 financial crises. China's persuasive power encompassed economic inducement. Its CAFTA Early Harvest Programmes with some ASEAN countries – the partial lifting of trade barriers on selected goods – have been portrayed by Chinese analysts as China "giving more and taking less," working towards harmony and enrichment of its neighbors.

Yet, there are limits to how much policymakers in Southeast Asian states have been reassured regarding the China threat. China's power to persuade is rooted in its ability to sustain benign policy action. Apart from efforts to offset some of the adverse effects of Chinese economic competition, China's neighbors are also watching its behavior in more serious conflicts of interest.

The best way to gauge the conversion of power into influence is in cases where the powerful actor causes another actor to change policy on a significant issue on which they have clashed. In the case of China and Southeast Asia, such issues include policies on Taiwan, defense relations with the US and policies on territorial disputes. On these potential hard cases, it's difficult to find significant changes in Southeast Asian states' policies in response to Chinese actions to date.

Of these, China has expended most effort in the disputes over atolls in the South China Sea. China and ASEAN agreed a Declaration of Conduct in 2002, committing to peaceful negotiations. Yet, the Chinese navy continued maneuvers to assert its claims, leading to skirmishes with Vietnam and the Philippines. Two months into a Vietnamese concession to develop gas fields off the Vietnamese coast in 2007, BP suspended operations, reportedly as a result of Chinese threats to exclude it from future energy deals in China. In March this year, Chinese naval vessels tried to interrupt oil exploration by the Philippines in waters that Manila considers its own.

At a regional defense ministers' meeting in June 2010, statements suggesting that China now regards the South China Sea as part of its "core national sovereignty interests" led US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to warn that the US "oppose[s] the use of force and action that hinder freedom of navigation." One month later, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reiterated US "national interest" in the peaceful resolution of these multilateral disputes. In October 2010, after the Japanese Coast Guard detained a Chinese fishing trawler for allegedly intruding into Japanese waters, a Sino-Japanese standoff ensued. One direct result was the further strengthening of US interest in China's behavior in maritime disputes. The Obama administration publicly affirmed that the US-Japan treaty umbrella extends to the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands and reiterated the importance of peaceful dispute resolution, freedom of navigation and respect for international maritime laws in the South China Sea.

China's behavior in these disputes constitutes a critical test of its intentions, and its hard line backfired seriously in that it led to a closing of ranks across Southeast Asia, Japan and the US. Beijing's actions lend weight to regional pessimists who are not persuaded of its peaceful rise, and sustained coercive action may prompt its neighbors towards the very containment policies that it wishes to avoid.

Having said this, it is worth noting that, so far, there are few good cases of China managing to make Southeast Asian states to do what they otherwise did not want to do. Alongside Beijing's successful record of persuasion and inducement, it has shown caution in exerting pressure on its neighbors with the most challenging issues. The recent backlash in the South China Sea is likely to make Beijing more cautious. China's still limited military capacity provides an important explanation, since, particularly in the maritime access and security arena, the presence of the United States still serves as a significant deterrent.

By Dr. Evelyn Goh reader in international relations and ESRC mid-career development fellow (2011-13) at Royal Holloway, University of London. This is reprinted with permission from YaleGlobal, the magazine of the the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization, Asia Sentinel

Nuclear Energy Roils Indian Politics

Jaitapur says NO to nukes

The fallout from Fukushima

Protests, political volatility and bloody clashes between the local populace, activists and police in India's Maharashtra state have once again revived the contentious debate about nuclear power safety versus cheap energy production in an emerging economy.

It also raises the question how a country like India, which needs nuclear energy to power its exponential growth, marry its seemingly contradictory requirement for cheap energy production with nuclear safety.

Jaitapur, a small city on the Arabian seacoast, is the projected site for the world's largest nuclear power project, a 9,900-MW, US$10-billion plant in the eco-sensitive geological Western Ghats Belt. Last December, the French multinational Areva Group was awarded the contract by the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd to construct six European Pressurized Reactors, each of 1650 MW capacity, or four times the size of Fukushima. The project is expected to overtake the world's current largest, the 8,200 Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant in Japan.

Work on Areva's reactors, to be operational in 2018, is to begin shortly. However, the project has fuelled concern among Jaitapur's local populace – mostly farmers growing paddy, mango and cashew – about a Fukushima-like catastrophe. Opponents have noted that the area is seismically very active and a record 95 earthquakes rocked it between 1985 and 2005. The seismic activity was minor, government officials counter, adding that the plant's location on a high cliff further cushions it against tsunamis.

Jaitapur's residents have opposed the nuclear project for the past three years. That opposition gathered momentum last week and exploded in the face of the Congress-led state government when a protesting fisherman was shot dead by the police.

The villagers' main concern is that the state government never really took them into confidence about the project and thus failed to win them over. This led to a groundswell of anger that the anti-nuclear lobby and Shiv Sena, a Hindu fundamentalist group, are capitalizing on, for political gain.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, a staunch advocate of nuclear power, nearly staked the survival of his government, the United Progressive Alliance-led coalition, in 2008 on a civil nuclear deal with the United States. That agreement, finally sealed last year, has enabled India to purchase nuclear technology from Western nations that previously would not sell to it because Delhi was not a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

However, following the treaty, opposition parties led by the right-wing Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party, forced the UPA government to buck international practice and make nuclear plant suppliers liable for accident compensation claims as well. This, they deemed necessary, to prevent a repeat of the Bhopal gas tragedy of 1984 in India's central state of Madhya Pradesh, which ranks as of one of the world's worst industrial disasters. Critics say that despite the magnitude of the disaster, the Indian government at the time, led by late PM Rajiv Gandhi, let Union Carbide off the hook quite easily despite the latter's paltry monetary compensation to the gas victims. The lenience of the action against the Union Carbide officials led to an uproar in India.

Since the formalization of the India-US treaty, western companies – including Areva, the US's General Electric and state-owned Russian enterprises – have been vying for India's nuclear industry bandwagon, eager to snag contracts worth billions of dollars.

This competition among western companies, analysts say, is likely to intensify further as by 2030 India gets set to generate 40,000 MW of nuclear energy with modern nuclear technology to sustain its 9-10 percent growth.

Union Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh has ruled out a reassessment of the planned Jaitapur facility although he said over the weekend that concerns raised by villagers' were "rationally justified" and the government must go-slow with the project.

The minister said that his ministry would, if required, reimpose certain conditions and safeguards on the Jaitapur project following a report by a ministry-appointed committee to look into safety issues at all coastal plants.

Even so, the phobia among the Jaitapur residents continues. They fear that the reactor will wreck their traditional livelihoods of fishing and farming. Already, many of the over 2,000 Jaitapur landowners have rejected payment for the land the government forcibly acquired for the plant as a form of protest.

Local farmers are worried that radioactive contamination might have an adverse impact on their produce, mainly the region's acclaimed Alphonso mangoes, which fetch about US$20 for a dozen in Mumbai's markets. Fishermen worry that the millions of gallons of hot water that will whoosh out of the proposed plant into the sea will render the coast uninhabitable for edible fish, ruining an industry that supports thousands of families.

Currently, India gets about 3 percent of its electricity from the 20 relatively small nuclear reactors in the country. But five big new reactors and 39 more modest ones are in the pipeline to help meet the country's gargantuan appetite for power as a fast-growing economy of a billion-plus people.

By 2050, the Indian government hopes to significantly augment the nuclear component in the country's energy profile. It says a quarter of the nation's electricity should come from nuclear reactors over the next four decades. And the Jaitapur project would be a giant step towards that ambitious goal.

According to Robinder Sachdev*, India's nominee for a Global Task Force set up by the World Energy Council (WEC) to assess the impact of Fukushima crisis on nuclear energy sector, one common worry emerging amongst most countries, including India, is the role played – and autonomy enjoyed – by each country's atomic regulatory bodies.

For India, Sachdev proposes that the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) be given greater autonomy and its capacity built upon to strengthen and infuse transparency in the country's nuclear dealings. "Also," he adds, "the AERB must stay at an arm's length from the power producer and policy planners at the Department of Atomic Energy."

A sharp focus on liability issues, according to the expert, would also help – since the operator and vendors would then have to clearly demarcate their responsibilities, and could then even act as a counter-check on each other.

Apart from this, what also needs to be addressed, say experts, is the human resource shortfall within the AERB. "The Board's current human resources capacity is woefully inadequate," Singh says. "India must invest in higher education, training schools and the certification for professionals in this industry to produce trained engineers and other experts to man the power plants."

As further plants are set up in India, especially with reactors from foreign vendors, this professionalism will force greater transparency upon dealings as the terms and conditions of the contracts will be negotiated in a more open manner, opine experts.

To prevent a repeat of more Jaitapur scenarios, Ramesh also advocates effective public outreach programs which demystify nuclear energy. "Right now," says an industry source, "an average Indian associates the word `reactor' with a nuclear bomb! So the government needs to work upon this and win over their confidence."

"However, Fukushima doesn't spell the funeral of atomic energy in India," the source says. "It has just put the spotlight on the industry's unsolved problems." By Neeta Lal New Delhi-based senior journalist for Asia Sentinel

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Bali mastermind Hambali may escape trial despite Guantanamo Bay evidence

HAMBALI, considered responsible for the 2002 Bali bombings, will never face trial for the worst terrorist attack against Australians, despite a WikiLeaks document showing US investigators believe the Indonesian was intimately involved in the plot.

The newly released document, which was compiled by Hambali's US captors at Guantanamo Bay, suggests the decision to attack Paddy's Bar and the Sari Club in the Kuta district may have come about because an earlier target, a Caltex oil refinery in the Malacca Straits, was judged too difficult.

But despite the view of investigators that Hambali (Riduan Ismudin) was heavily involved in the attacks, as well as a spate of other bombings across Southeast Asia, a senior US official yesterday told The Australian that Hambali was unlikely ever to be charged with the bombing.

"All those plots we are working on, and I think we have evidence," the official said.
"Where we are still lacking, though, is the Bali bombing."

The official, who asked not to be named, said "evidentiary" problems were behind the decision not to lay charges over the Bali bombing that killed 202 people, including 88 Australians. "We have got to connect all the dots back to him, and we are still missing some pieces on that."

The document is one of hundreds of secret US government files compiled on the nearly 800 foreign prisoners held in Camp Delta at the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

It provides intriguing new details about Hambali's journey from moderate Muslim in Malaysia to hardened extremist, with the terrorist claiming he was recruited and "brainwashed" by radical cleric Abdullah Sungkar, who along with Indonesian Abu Bakar Bashir founded the terrorist group Jemaah Islamiah.

The report was signed by US Rear Admiral D.M. Thomas Jr in October 2008, more than five years after Hambali's capture in Thailand in August 2003.

Bearing a recent picture of a slimmer and bearded Hambali, it concludes the terrorist mastermind continues to pose a high risk to US interests and allies, and declares him to be of "high intelligence value" because of his long association with senior al-Qa'ida figures such as Osama bin Laden and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.

The report says the 47-year-old was heavily involved in al-Qa'ida's anthrax and chemical weapons program, and was in Karachi at the time of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the US trying to procure equipment for a chemical weapons assault.

The file says Hambali discussed with another senior al-Qa'ida figure the possibility of using helicopters to attack the US embassy in Jakarta as beefed-up security had made it "more difficult to get cars near the embassy".

Hambali was captured in a joint US-Thai operation in Thailand in August 2003.

In an intriguing new theory, US authorities suggest Bali may have been targeted after JI bombmaker Azahari bin Husin told fellow plotter Mohd Farik Bin Amin - who is also a prisoner at Guantanamo - that an attack on a Caltex oil facility was too complex.

"(Mohd Farik Bin Amin) reported back to (Hambali) that Dr Azahari stated the operation would be very difficult to conduct," the report says.

"(Hambali) speculated that Dr Azahari chose to conduct the Bali nightclub bombing versus the original operations against Caltex, ExxonMobil, and/or the gold mine."
Dr Azahari, killed by Indonesian authorities in 2005, is believed to have constructed the bombs used in the Bali attacks.

The 2002 Bali bombings on October 12, 2002, were carried out by members of JI, which was affiliated with al-Qa'ida via Hambali, who served as the link between the two groups.

Three of the plotters - Imam Samudra, Mukhlas and Amrozi - were executed for their role in the attacks by Indonesian authorities in 2008.

But US authorities have long maintained Hambali played a key role in the operation, with Mohammed even sending Hambali $US50,000 "because the Bali bombings had been a success".

"The money was to be used for the next operation and to help the families of the people arrested for the Bali operation," the report says.

Hambali is accused of funding the 2003 attack on the Marriott Hotel in Jakarta, which killed 12 people, as well as Christmas Eve church bombings across Indonesia that claimed 18 lives in 2000.

According to the US document, Hambali confessed to the church bombings while in US custody.

"He justified his actions because of the injustices being committed towards Muslims in Indonesia," Admiral Thomas writes.

The senior US official said that although the Bali case was weak, Hambali would still have to answer for other attacks when he was tried, either by a US military commission or civilian court.

"The strongest case is the Marriott bombing," the official said.

It is understood police from the Indonesian counter-terrorism unit Densus 88 were given extended access to Hambali at Guantanamo Bay in early 2009. He reportedly was co-operative, and grateful for the Sundanese food the officers brought him.

The Indonesian authorities are understood to share the view of US investigators that the case against Hambali for Bali 2002 is significantly weaker than for the Marriott Hotel 2003 and Christmas Eve 2000 bombings.

Two years ago, in an interview with the Jakarta Globe, convicted terror bombers Ali Imron and Mubarok said they were prepared to testify against Hambali if he was tried in Indonesia. By Paul Maley and Peter Alford for “The Australian”

China's Tibetan problem - More turbulent monks

THE open wound that is Tibetan resentment of Chinese rule refuses to heal. According to accounts seeping out of China, it has been bleeding profusely for some six weeks now at Kirti, a Tibetan monastery in Sichuan province. Kirti is in Aba prefecture, which Tibetans regard as Amdo, a part of historic Tibet.

Two Tibetans in their sixties are reported to have died after being beaten by security forces on April 21st. Their deaths came as the monastery was raided and more than 300 of its nearly 2,500 monks were detained for purposes of “legal education”.

The confrontation started with the death of a young monk, Rigzin Phuntsog, variously described as 16 and 20 years old, who set himself on fire on March 16th. His self-immolation was to mark the third anniversary of bloody anti-Chinese riots in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa. The 2008 riots were followed by a harsh crackdown on dissent across what China calls its “Tibet Autonomous Region” as well as in ethnic-Tibetan areas of adjoining provinces, including Sichuan and Qinghai.

Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, has accused the police of not even trying to put out the flames that engulfed the young monk. He says they beat Phuntsog instead, hastening his death. A county-government spokesman however said the police doused the flames and blamed the young man's death on “treatment delays”. The government has since called his suicide a “carefully planned and implemented criminal case, which was aimed at triggering disturbances”.

The Dalai Lama said the monastery has been surrounded by Chinese troops, who at one point prevented food and basic supplies from entering. Clandestine video has captured the huge funeral held for the dead monk. Local Tibetans, many of them elderly—like the two who were killed—staged a vigil outside the monastery to protect the monks from reprisals for their protests.

The Chinese government has responded to the tension by closing the area to foreigners, never mind that on April 19th they declared that the situation there was “normal”. Since then, the official Chinese press has alleged immorality among the monks at Kirti—which it portrays as a hotbed of gambling, pornography and other misconduct.

What exactly is going on at the monastery remains subject to conflicting claims. That many Tibetans remain deeply unhappy at living under Chinese rule seems hard to deny. By Banyan, The Economist

Grim Report on Food From the Asia Development Bank

But the reasons may have less to do with to do with production than economics

The Asian Development Bank, in a report issued Tuesday, is warning that global food prices, which have skyrocketed by an average of 30 percent year on year, gross domestic product growth for some food-importing countries "could be choked off by up to 0.6 percent."

Combined with a 30 percent annual increase in world oil prices, GDP growth could be reduced by as much as 12.6 percent, tipping nearly 65 million additional people into poverty in developing Asia, according to the report, titled Global Food Price Inflation and Developing Asia.

The question is why this is happening. There have obviously been localized weather problems in some areas, including drought in China’s wheat-growing areas – which was broken before it did real damage to crops – as well as floods in Pakistan and other regions.
But two of the world’s biggest countries have come through largely unscathed. China announced on March 10 that it expects a record grain harvest despite the drought, making it the country’s eighth successive annual record harvest, at 546 million metric tons of grains. In addition, India announced on April 6 that it would harvest an estimated 235 million tons of foodgrains in the crop year ending in June, an all-time record, which is expected to turn India into a grains exporter.

In addition global rice production, which feeds a huge population in Asia, has been outpacing demand since the 2004/05 crop year, the seventh straight year of surplus production. Demand growth for rice has averaged only 1.1 percent over the past 10 years. Soyabean production is expected to rise by 4.1 percent year on year, reaching 269 million tons while consumption, even though rising slightly faster, will reach 268 million tons, just below production.

The ADB report blames production shortfalls due to bad weather as well as structural and cyclical factors at play during the 2007-2008 food crisis. In particular, the report says, the world is coming off one of the worst El Nino-La Nina in recent decades. As well, the report says, "supply-side factors include competing use of food grains, especially corn and rapeseed oil, to produce biofuel; urbanization and diversion of agricultural land for commercial purposes; increasing scarcity of fresh water for irrigation; low crop yields, rising input costs, and neglect of investment in agricultural technology, infrastructure, processing facilities, and agriculture research and development."

In fact, however, there appears to be plenty of land available for planting. Brazil, the Congo, Sudan, Angola, Columbia, Argentina and Bolivia, according to the FAO, have surplus land for planting. Brazil could bring 163.65 million hectares into production without touching the Amazon rainforest, and still leaving 150 million hectares for pasture land. Argentina has 38.2 million hectares of extra land available for planting. Angola has large resources of fresh water and substantial unused land. Russia and the Ukraine still have 41.3 million hectares and 6.3 million hectares respectively that were taken out of production 20 years ago with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Central Africa, Kazakhstan and Australia all have surplus land for planting.

Actually, it appears, the escalation in food prices instead has to do with economic factors more than anything else. Dr Jim Walker, the head of the Hong Kong-based market research firm Asianomics, puts the blame at the door of US Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and other central bank heads across the world for flooding the world with loose money and particularly on Bernanke for QE2, the quantitative easing that got underway in mid-2010. In his April 13 report, Dr Walker reproduces the following chart from Bloomberg:

"There is no doubt in our minds that Fed, and other global central bank policies, are at the heart of the surge in global commodity prices that are ruining the lives of millions of poor people," Walker writes, "even if much of the pass-through is the result of inept monetary policies run in emerging markets themselves. And this on top of the life-ruining zero interest rate policy that has denied countless American, European and Asian savers and pensioners of their hard-won interest income, means that Mr Bernanke really does have a lot to answer for."

The continuing devaluation of the US dollar against other currencies has also played a role, along with panicking governments and over-eager investors. Now, with the worse of the El Nino-La Nina cycle over for now, alarmist investors will probably start to settle down, according to . commodities specialists such as Hugh Peyman, the managing director of the Shanghai-based Research-Works market research firm.

That doesn’t mean life is going to get much better for the world’s poor right away. Whatever the factors that led to the spike in prices, they have been very real. Global rice prices increased by 16.8 percent between June of 2010 and February of 2011. International wheat prices rose by 99.6 percent in the eight months to February. Food price inflation has reached double digits in Bangladesh, China, Indonesia, India, South Korea, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Vietnam, according to the ADB report.

Food inflation in January was running at 10.3 percent, 12.0 percent in South Korea and 11.1 percent in Vietnam, according to the report. Food price inflation in the past has played a major role in bringing down governments, and it could well again.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations lists Afghanistan, the Kyrgyz Republic and Pakistan as among those countries that will experience severe localized food insecurity "in part due to factors such as social unrest and ethnic conflicts. "

The economic prospects because of food inflation, also driven in part by a 39.9 percent annual increase in the price of Brent crude to February, are not optimistic in a world economy that is still fragile because of the 2008-2009 global financial meltdown. Countries across Southeast Asia that have in the past exported their way out of trouble will find difficulty doing that again over the next couple of years. Given the unrest making its way across the Middle East, the prospects for even higher crude prices can’t be ruled out.

"As with the 2007-2008 episode, rising global food prices are being transmitted into higher domestic food prices," according to the report. "For countries that are not heavily reliant on imports, market conditions = local crop conditions, supply costs, and policy measures -- are among the important determinants of domestic food prices. For the poor, volatility in local food prices is more relevant than movements in global prices, since the actual price they have to pay is in the local price."

That is why, when prices grow volatile, government leaders do not sleep well.
by John Berthelsen

Taiwan's combined elections might cause heaven to fall in

Why is this man smiling?

It might seem a long time before Taiwan’s next national elections, but given the raucous nature of Taiwanese politics, nine months isn’t long at all. The scheming has already started.

The first move was the Central Election Commission’s decision, at the behest of the ruling Kuomintang, to merge the presidential and legislative elections. The Taiwanese previously have held their presidential and legislative elections on separate dates. Accordingly, the island's next president was originally scheduled to be chosen in March 2012, three months after lawmakers were to be chosen.

The Kuomintang government pushed for a merger of both polls, arguing that it could save state coffers US$17 million and reduce notorious bipartisan conflicts that occur during election campaigns. A recent survey showed that support for a combined election has grown to 55.7 percent.

However, political analysts say the merged polls create a clear disadvantage for the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), since younger voters tend to favor the DPP. Moving the presidential election forward by more than two months means anyone who was born on or after January 14, 1992 now suddenly turns out not to be eligible, since Taiwanese have to be 20 years of age on or prior to the day before the election.

Younger voters tend to favor the DPP. If the party's candidate is DPP Chairwoman Tsai Ying-wen, the annulment of an estimated 50,000 votes could well tip the balance in favor of the KMT. In 2004, a mere 25,563 votes separated the DPP and KMT candidates.

The decision, however, doesn't fit smoothly with the ROC constitution, which stipulates that the newly elected legislature must convene on February 1. That means legislative elections must be held in January at the latest. As the Constitution provides that presidents-elect must wait until May 20 before taking office, four months will elapse before the new leader – should the DPP win – can take office.

What is perceived by the opposition as a hallmark example of KMT trickery is a much bigger worry to some other observers, who say they don’t put anything past the ruling party. Some of the scenarios reek of outright paranoia. But anything is possible in a political milieu where large numbers of people think the disgraced former President Chen Shui-bian, in an attempt to swing the 2004 election, faked an assassination attempt by having himself shot by an assailant using a low-powered bullet. He won by a mere 29,500 votes.

Equally large numbers of people believe that if President Ma Ying-jeou loses, the Kuomintang might use the long period between the election and the inauguration foment an incident that would bring in help from the mainland. At the moment, things don’t look good for Ma. Tsai leads him in the polls by 50.05 - 35.61 according to a new poll by Apple Daily. Two other DPP candidates have varying but lesser margins.

A seriously suspicious fringe in Taiwanese politics paints a doomsday scenario.

If Ma loses, argued political commentator Tien Nian-feng in an op-ed piece the Taipei Times, "the Chinese Communist Party could order agents here to stir up social unrest to give them a pretext for invasion." A four-month period is a window in which public opinion could swing and conflicts could easily flare up, he added, providing the pretext for an external power to invade.

"These could be Ma's last four months in power, and he might choose to use them to sign a peace treaty with China and invite the People's Liberation Army (PLA) into Taiwan," Tien wrote, speculating that the motive behind the combined elections could well be to set Taiwan up for a takeover like that in Tibet in 1959.

"Extreme caution is necessary; otherwise, the 23 million Taiwanese will suffer the consequences," he added.

That may indeed sound like paranoia. But some analysts Asia Sentinel approached for comment said the theory isn’t overly far-fetched. Peng Ming-min, a former DPP presidential adviser, said the basic spirit of fair play is a foreign concept to the KMT.

"When the DPP won the presidential election in 2000, the KMT lost the absolute power it had held for 55 years as a one-party dictatorship," he said." It tried to recall and impeach the new president, used its legislative majority to block legislation and organized the 'red shirt' protests, turning the political situation into a complete mess."

Peng alleged that in order to hang on to power, the KMT will resort to any measure, whether legal, illegal, peaceful or violent, with the aid of the judiciary and the media, which it controls. The KMT has long been reported to have connections with with organized crime.

"The KMT could also get help from the countless CCP spies who have long been in Taiwan and even the China's People's Liberation Army," Peng argued. "If this were to happen, the DPP would be unable to take power even if it did emerge victorious in the elections.
Gerrit van der Wees of the Formosan Association for Public Affairs, a Washington, DC-based organization that promotes independent statehood for Taiwan, agrees that such an extreme scenario is thinkable, saying the prospect of the KMT asking for China's intervention is a real concern to many Taiwanese.

"As is known, certain pro-China elements within the KMT, like [honorary KMT chairman] Lien Chan, will do everything to prevent the DPP from coming back to power, and they will use their influence to pressure the Ma government to take measures against the DPP President-elect and other DPP officials to prevent it from happening", van der Wees said, referring to estimates according to which the Chinese have several thousand 'sleeper' agents in Taiwan who would be part of the scheme to create social unrest, which would then be used as an excuse for a Chinese intervention.

As an example of the measures the KMT is planning to use to go after DPP politicians and possibly also the DPP president-elect, van der Wees cited a case earlier this month in which the government accused 17 former DPP government officials, including Su Tseng-chang, a possible DPP presidential candidate, of having failed to return 36,000 documents during the 2008 transition of power from the previous DPP administration to the KMT.

"On the surface it appears 'legal' but in reality it is a selective use of an obscure law that has not been applied for ages for political purposes," van der Wees said.

Chen Yaw-shyang, an assistant professor of public policy at National Taipei University, says that "after Lien Chan's son Sean Lien was injured in a shooting incident on the eve of last November's municipality elections, everything is possible in the next elections."

Asked about the prospect of a Chinese intervention, Chen replied: "China wants to play an important role in the coming elections, but I don't know yet how, with whose help, where and when."

Jerome Keating, a retired professor of National Taipei University and writer, doesn't see things quite as dramatic, and probably more sensibly. Creating social unrest to invite in the PLA "of course is the concern of some, and there are some die-hards in the KMT that would do such, but I think they are in a minority," he said. But, given historic precedent, he still sees some danger. Keating recalled incidents having taken place in 2004 when the KMT believed to be winning, but Chen Shui-bian won. The KMT staged a protest at the election commission offices in an attempt to prevent the official announcement on the election results.

"I have a picture of it in one of my books. When you look at the photo, it is like a coup attempt," he said.

About the only analyst interviewed by Asia Sentinel to take no stock in the talk on either KMT-created social unrest or a related Chinese intervention is Steve Tsang, professor at the University of Nottingham and writer of the authoritative If China Attacks Taiwan: Military Strategy, Politics and Economics.

"I do not believe 'heaven' will fall in if the DPP should win both sets of elections or the combined elections. The PRC government will not suddenly invade Taiwan just because the DPP returns to power, as it didn't when Chen Shui-bian won his two presidential elections" he said, arguing that China would only do so if a DPP administration should cross its red line.

Tsang then turns the tables on conspiracy theorists, indeed. To allege that the KMT would ignite social unrest to destabilize Taiwan if it should lose the elections is like advocating the hanging of someone because that person is capable of committing an offense, not because that person has a plan to do so, even less any prima facie evidence that he or she has committed any offense.

"Those who articulate such a view are just irresponsibly rumor mongering," Tsang said. "Taiwan's democracy is robust enough not to be threatened by such irresponsible rumor mongering but those doing this type of irresponsible rumor mongering are, to say the least, bad democrats." by Jens Kastner Asia Sentinel