Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Wishing everyone a safe and happy New Year.

Wishing everyone a safe and happy New Year.
Kerry, Sani and the extended Collison Family in Melbourne

Monday, December 28, 2015

Paris climate agreement is a triumph of hope over facts. Illusions are dangerous, particularly in politics

The point here is an old one, brilliantly encapsulated by Niebuhr, about the naivety of liberal internationalists. The selfishness of nations, he argued, is proverbial. The politicians talked a big game at Paris, but they simply preserved their illusions intact.

China's leaders, we are told, are leading us to planetary carbon salvation. For a reality check, consult a new report published by the London-based Global Warming Policy Foundation. "With China's economic growth faltering, the last thing the Communist Party wants is to hobble its economy further by curtailing the use of fossil fuels upon which its economy depends," writes Patricia Adams in The Truth About China. "A major cutback in fossil fuels use represents an existential threat to the Communist Party's rule. It simply isn't going to happen."

Illusions are dangerous, particularly in politics.
Writing in the 1930s, the liberal theologian Reinhold Niebuhr​ observed: "The prestige of the international community is not great enough to achieve a communal spirit sufficiently unified to discipline recalcitrant nations." And he warned against "a too uncritical glorification of co-operation and mutuality" between powers with opposing national interests.

Yet it is the prospect of global co-operation and mutuality that so many politicians and journalists today glorify. On climate change, the argument goes, political convergence is inevitable. Barack Obama, ironically an admirer of Niebuhr, hails this month's UN accord to cut emissions as a historic breakthrough. Indeed, for many influential writers – Thomas Friedman from The New York Times, for example – the Paris climate agreement is a "big, big deal".  In reality, it represents a triumph of wishes over facts. 

True, nations have agreed to volunteer their carbon-cutting promises to the IPCC every five years. But they don't have to set ambitious goals. Nor are they required to meet their targets, because there is no penalty for non-compliance. No disciplining recalcitrant nations here.

Unlike the Kyoto treaty in 1997, Paris is not legally binding. Nations can provide excuses for failure and pledge to do better next time. That's a victory in so far as the UN process continues, but there is a distinct lack of progress in slashing emissions. No wonder the most prominent climate activists – from Jim Hansen in the US to George Monbiot​ in Britain – are outraged.

Climate enthusiasts say Paris heralds a move to a zero-carbon economy. Somebody forgot to tell Malcolm Turnbull. Within days of Paris, his government announced approval for one of the world's largest coal mines. Environmentalists should not be shocked. According to the International Energy Agency, south-east Asian coal demand will triple for at least 25 years and Australia will be the world's largest coal exporter by 2020.

China's leaders, we are told, are leading us to planetary carbon salvation. For a reality check, consult a new report published by the London-based Global Warming Policy Foundation. "With China's economic growth faltering, the last thing the Communist Party wants is to hobble its economy further by curtailing the use of fossil fuels upon which its economy depends," writes Patricia Adams in The Truth About China. "A major cutback in fossil fuels use represents an existential threat to the Communist Party's rule. It simply isn't going to happen."

All that China will commit to, Adams argues, is to continue to improve the energy efficiency of its economy as it grows – a goal it has long pursued. It only says it will start reducing emissions in 2030. Still think China is a green leader? On the eve of the summit, Beijing revealed it had burned 17 per cent more coal a year than it had formally disclosed.

What about India? This month Coal India confirmed that coal production would double in the next decade. Why? Because millions of Indians still live in the dark, their leaders are unwilling to accept anything that depresses their economic growth and carbon remains the cheapest source of energy to reduce poverty.

The Paris crowd hails the global climate fund, where rich nations foot the bill – $100 billion a year from 2020 onwards – for climate mitigation in the developing world. Don't bet on it. This year, the developed world raised less than one hundredth! And it is far from clear how a climate-sceptic US Congress contributes the lion's share. Imagine an American politician asking voters to pay higher taxes so Uncle Sam can help China become energy efficient and more economically competitive.

Climateers treat catastrophic global warming as established fact, but climate sensitivity still appears to be at the low end of the IPCC's range while greening the global economy is not a cost-free exercise. The conventional wisdom always stresses the benefits of decarbonisation. It rarely acknowledges the costs, especially for the non-OECD nations that account for about 60 per cent of global emissions.

Unfashionable though it is to say so, the best way to deal with climate change is through economic growth so nations, especially poorer ones, are better able to adapt to environmental challenges. What will also help is entrepreneurial spirit. Think of the free-market revolution known as fracking, which emits half as much as carbon, and the Bill Gates-led green energy innovation fund.

By contrast, command-and-control mechanisms lack broad public support – think of the backlash against Labor's carbon tax – and amount to lost jobs, lower growth and higher prices up and down the energy chain. And none of the renewable energy sources is as remotely efficient as carbon.

Some might say climate change represents such a grave threat to humanity that the world will come together to end fossil fuels entirely. But history is not on their side. International agreements do not guarantee practical outcomes while multilateral bodies do not hasten the process of harmonisation and political convergence.

The Kellogg-Briand Pact in Paris outlawed war about a decade before the outbreak of World War II. Test ban and anti-proliferation treaties have not stopped states bent on creating nuclear arsenals. The UN is not a moral arbiter nor is it an effective law-making body. The interests of its member states are too diverse. It is relevant as a forum where disputes and grievances are aired. But the agreements the UN reaches, even when they command broad support, are all too often violated when they clash with vital national interests.

The point here is an old one, brilliantly encapsulated by Niebuhr, about the naivety of liberal internationalists. The selfishness of nations, he argued, is proverbial. The politicians talked a big game at Paris, but they simply preserved their illusions intact.

Tom Switzer is a research associate at the University of Sydney's United States Studies Centre and host of Between the Lines on ABC's Radio National. Illustration: Michael Mucci

‘Comfort women’ deal: compensation and apology from Shinzo Abe as rivals South Korea and Japan reach landmark deal on wartime sex slaves

A statue of a girl symbolising "comfort women" in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul

The foreign ministers of South Korea and Japan said Monday they had reached a deal meant to resolve a decades-long impasse over Korean women forced into Japanese military-run brothels during the second world war, a potentially dramatic breakthrough between the neighbours and rivals.

The deal, which included an apology from Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and a 1 billion yen ($8.3 million) aid fund from Tokyo for the elderly former sex slaves, could reverse decades of animosity and mistrust between the thriving democracies, trade partners and staunch US allies.

The issue of former Korean sex slaves, euphemistically known as “comfort women,” has been the biggest source of friction in ties between Seoul and Tokyo, with animosity rising precipitously since the hawkish Abe’s 2012 inauguration.

Japan appeared emboldened to make the overture after the first formal leaders’ meeting between the neighbours in 3 ½ years, in November, and after South Korean courts recently acquitted a Japanese reporter charged with defaming South Korea’s president Park Geun-hye refused to review a complaint by a South Korean seeking individual compensation for Japan’s forceful mobilisation of workers during colonial days.

Many South Koreans feel lingering bitterness from the legacy of Japan’s brutal colonial occupation of the Korean Peninsula from 1910-1945. But South Korean officials have also faced calls to improve ties with Japan, the world’s No. 3 economy and a regional powerhouse, not least from US officials eager for a strong united front against a rising China and North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear-armed missiles that could target the American mainland.

China has also been calling on South Korea to help with its campaign to make the world more aware of its suffering during the Japanese invasion, successfully having documents on the Nanking massacre listed in Unesco’s Memory of the World register. A deal between South Korea and Japan would help Abe sap China’s efforts, while allowing Park to ease worries in the US that her country is pivoting too much toward China.

“Park’s definitely been feeling the pressure from the US and needs to do more to dispel lingering doubts about whom she’s siding with,” said Yang Kee Ho, a professor of Japanese studies at Sungkonghoe University in Seoul.

 “For Abe, these talks have the purpose of preempting China’s comfort women pitch.”

Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and his South Korean counterpart, Yun Byung-se, made the announcement after their closed door meeting Monday.

Yun said the agreement is final and irreversible as long as Japan faithfully implements it promises.

“Abe, as the prime minister of Japan, offers from his heart an apology and reflection for everyone who suffered lots of pain and received scars that are difficult to heal physically and mentally,” Kishida told the same news conference.

There has long been resistance in South Korea to past Japanese apologies because many here wanted Japan to acknowledge that it has a legal responsibility for the women. Japan, for its part, had long argued that the issue was settled by a 1965 treaty that restored diplomatic ties and was accompanied by more than $800 million in economic aid and loans from Tokyo to Seoul.

Historians say tens of thousands of women from around Asia, many of them Korean, were sent to front-line military brothels to provide sex to Japanese soldiers. In South Korea, there are 46 such surviving former sex slaves, mostly in their late 80s or early 90s.

Better relations between South Korea and Japan are a priority for Washington. The two countries together host about 80,000 US troops and are members of now-stalled regional talks aimed at ending North Korea’s nuclear ambitions in return for aid.

Additional reporting by Bloomberg Photo: Kyodo


Is India’s Judiciary Out of Control? In India, the judiciary is hermetically sealed off from democratic checks and balances

In India, the judiciary is hermetically sealed off from democratic checks and balances.

In countries like India and the United States, activists frequently complain about judicial activism: judges are said to be guided by political considerations in interpreting the law. Certainly, judicial activism is more plausibly a danger in countries that follow common law systems derived from England, where judicial precedents are given more weight than in civil law systems where legislatures codify laws, which then take precedence over judicial interpretations.

Does India have one of the democratic world’s most unaccountable judicial branches? The issue of judicial accountability has been the matter of great debate in India over the past two decades. No country in the world has reached the extreme of judicial power that India has.

As in most other democratic countries, judges in India were initially appointed by the government, after consulting with the Chief Justice of the Indian Supreme Court. However, many politically-biased judges were appointed, leading to the establishment of an extra-constitutional “collegium system” in which only judges could appoint other judges, placing India’s judicial branch outside of the checks and balances of the legislative and executive powers in the country. The collegium itself is made up of three to five senior judges who can consult with the government, which can only exercise its power by sending a proposed appointee back for reconsideration. However, “if the collegium reiterated its choice unanimously the government would have to appoint that judge.”

This practice was rationalized in a strange manner, one which was not laid out in the Indian Constitution. In 1993, the Supreme Court held that since the independence of the judiciary was part of the basic structure of the Constitution, it could not be compromised through executive or legislative interference in the appointment process. Therefore, only the judiciary itself could appoint judges. The basic structure doctrine has been used by the Supreme Court to prevent numerous constitutional amendments, despite there being no stipulation for this concept in either the original Indian Constitution or in the works and thought of its founders. In a 1951 Supreme Court case, the court held that no part of the constitution was unamendable.

While there is no doubt that corruption and nepotism are problems in India to be guarded against, especially by the branch of government whose job it is to upload the law, it would be exceedingly strange for a branch of government to be completely unaccountable by appointing its own successors without public input. Therefore, all major Indian parties agreed unanimously to curtail the collegium system last year with the passage of the ninety-ninth Constitutional Amendment Act, 2014 in the Indian parliament, which was subsequently ratified by state legislatures. The amendment created the National Judicial Accountability Commission (NJAC) which stipulated that “the chief justice of India, two senior-most judges, the union law minister and two ‘eminent persons’ [would be] trusted with the authority to finalise appointments.”

However, the Supreme Court invalidated the NJAC in a ruling in a 1,030 page ruling in October, and the collegium system endures. However, as consolation, in December the Supreme Court came out with a list of guidelines to improve the collegium system, and asked the central government to finalize a “memorandum of procedure (MOP) in consultation with the chief justice of India.” While many of the proposals by the government and judiciary aim at improving communication between the two and increasing oversight, the main problem of there being a lack of judicial transparency and accountability remains. As long as judges appoint new judges, the system perpetuates itself, making it increasingly more difficult for Indian governments to prevent judges–many already issue directives that are usually the prerogative of the cabinet or parliament–from obtaining a role in governance that far exceeds the role normally played by a judicial branch in most countries. By Akhilesh Pillalamarri for The Diplomat

Vietnam Reveals New Drone for Patrolling the South China Sea

The drone prototype will conduct flight tests over the South China Sea in 2016.

Vietnam revealed its largest indigenous high-altitude long endurance unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) this December, IHS Jane’s Defense Weekly reports. According to local media reports, the prototype was completed at the beginning of November and will commence test flights over the South China Sea in the summer of 2016.

The prototype is a joint project of Vietnam’s Academy of Science and Industry and the Ministry of Public Security. The new UAV, designated HS-6L, will perform both civilian and military tasks, judging from the aircraft’s design features.

Vietnamese media reports that the unarmed UAV prototype sports a Rotax 914 engine and a 22-meter wingspan. It has a range of up to 4,000 kilometers as well as an endurance of up to 35 hours. It will be equipped with unspecified optical and radar surveillance systems.

IHS Jane’s Defense Weekly notes that the Vietnam may have received design assistance from Belarus, given that the unveiling of the aircraft coincided with the visit of the chairman of the Belarus Academy of Science.

In 2014, Vietnam purchased a number of Grif-K tactical drones from Belarus. The Belorussian UAV has a wingspan of 5.7 meters, a maximum take-off weight of 120 kilograms, and a payload of 25 kilograms.

In 2014 and 2015,  Vietnam also ordered Israel-made Orbiter 2 and Orbiter 3 drones for use in the Vietnamese Army’s artillery corps.

Vietnam has been trying to build an indigenous UAV since at least 2008. In May 2013, Hanoi flight tested six drones, all with inferior performance characteristics in comparison to the new HS-6L prototype as The Diplomat reported:

[T]he drones have a weight of 4 kg to 170 kg and wingspans ranging from 1.2 to 5 meters. The smallest of these “can fly at 70 kph [kilometers per hour] within a radius of 2 km and at a maximum altitude of 200 m,” while the biggest one “can fly at 180 kph, within a radius of 100 km and at an elevation of 3,000 meters. It can continuously fly for 6 hours in both daytime and nighttime.”

The unmanned aircraft are equipped with cameras, spectrometers and other devices and will be “used for [the] supervision of environmental natural resources in difficult direct approach territories; observation, communication and seashore rescue; exploration of natural resources, control of forest fire[s], and to follow the situation of national electricity system and transport” (…)

The new HS-6L could be used for surveilling the Chinese naval base at Sanya on China’s Hainan Island and military facilities (e.g., ports and airfields) that China is building in the potentially oil-rich South China Sea. By Franz-Stefan Gady for The Diplomat

Tolkachev, Cold War Spycraft, and Modern Risks for China

Among the several platforms he compromised, was the passive phased array radar used by the MiG-31 Foxhound fighter (pictured)

China should be wary of a Tolkachev-esque figure eroding its strategic position vis-a-vis the United States.

Will we ever have a Chinese Tolkachev?

As detailed in David Hoffman’s Billion Dollar Spy, between 1979 and 1985, Soviet radar engineer Adolf Tolkachev turned his hatred of the Soviet regime into some of the most devastating industrial espionage ever conducted. Tolkachev took advantage of his position at the radar design firm Phazotron to make copies and photographs of volumes of material associated with Soviet radar and electronics systems. This gave the United States an inside look at the sensor capabilities of the USSR’s most advanced fighters and interceptors.

The impact of Tolkachev’s espionage was virtually incalculable. The material acquired helped to shift decisions and priorities within the U.S. defense-industrial complex, especially with regard to aerospace technology. It may have given the U.S. a massive, enduring advantage in aircraft effectiveness since the 1980s; understanding the limitations on how Soviet aircraft see the battlespace has made them much more vulnerable to U.S. attack than would otherwise have been the case.

The espionage was even, in broad terms, within the lines that the United States now declares should delineate “legitimate” espionage. The U.S. did not use the information it gained from Tolkachev to attempt to reverse engineer or copy any Soviet systems. It did not, in other words “violate” the intellectual property rights of major Soviet enterprises. Rather, the stolen data provided information on the capabilities and priorities of Soviet technology, thereby giving the United States a strategic advantage in developing its own tech. A fine distinction, perhaps, but one which the United States holds to today.

And so does China need to worry about its own Tolkachev? The idea that someone might play Snowden with a trove of Chinese military and electronic data, secreting away the details of the components of the J-20, or J-31, or Df-21, on a few thumbdrives is alternatively appealing or terrifying, depending on whether you work for Chinese intelligence.

But while the potential for a Tolkachev is real, the impact would likely be far less consequential. The Chinese national innovation system (NIS) shares some similarities with the old Soviet system, but has become far less centralized. The most sophisticated electronics come from a host of different firms, often carrying dual-use applications that make them accessible to the United States without the need for espionage.

Moreover, we know more about the Chinese NIS today than we ever knew about the Soviet. This is true not only of its output (we know more about the J-20 than we did about Soviet MiGs at similar stages of development), but also its internal processes; the Chinese system is more transparent and accessible than the Soviet one.

One of the things we do know is that Chinese military technology is not (yet) as competitive as that of the USSR during the height of the Cold War. The Chinese NIS has become adept at what amount to “architectural” innovations, reconfiguring existing systems in order to produce something new and effective, but has not generally achieved the kind of disruptive innovation that the USSR occasionally pushed for. This means that a Chinese Tolkachev has somewhat less to offer the United States. Of course, this will likely change over the next few years.

Finally, for all the warnings about Chinese theft of U.S. defense technology, the U.S. has its own formidable cyber-capabilities, and undoubtedly closely monitors the development of Chinese military technology. Indeed, the one area where a Chinese Tolkachev might have the most impact would be in the cyber-domain: a clear glimpse into the operations of the PLA’s corps of cyber-soldiers might prove very helpful, indeed.

And so the answer is “Yes, but.”


Tolkachev could have the impact he did because he worked at the dawn of the era of digital knowledge. U.S. spies could miniaturize equipment to acquire technical data, but could not access that data themselves without direct human intervention. We can certainly still imagine the possibility that a disgruntled Chinese PLA employee could download reams of data on a thumb drive and pass it to the CIA, but we would likely find the information less surprising, and less strategically useful, than we did in the 1980s.  By Robert Farley for The Diplomat



Sunday, December 27, 2015

For Indonesian Christians, the Most Fearful Time of the Year

An armed police officer is silhouetted against against a church decoration in Depok, south of Jakarta, on Christmas eve. (Antara Photo/Indrianto Eko Suwarso)

As Christians across Indonesia streamed into churches to attend Christmas masses and services this year, they couldn’t possibly miss the heavy security presence. The sight may be surprising if not disconcerting for Christians elsewhere but heavy security at festivals held by religious minority groups has become the norm in Indonesia.

The question remains why it is necessary at all.

There’s no denying that the initiative to “secure” religious minority events is laudable. The media was filled with reports about how police officers conducted bomb sweeps in churches and how moderate Muslim youth groups such as Nahdlatul Ulama's Banser activists volunteered to stand guard to help ensure that Christians were able to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

Indeed tales of heroism aren’t in short supply, especially with regard to the voluntary brigade. In 2000, for example, a NU Banser member by the name of Riyanto perished while on duty at the Eben Haezer Church in Mojokerto, East Java. His bravery in volunteering to help guard a church was in no question as the year was precarious, witnessing multiple bomb attacks on churches in the country. It was doubly affirmed in his decision to dash out of the church carrying a bomb he had spotted inside. The bomb detonated outside, killing Riyanto in the process.

Fifteen years have passed since Riyanto’s sacrifice and yet Christians still can’t feel wholly safe when publicly celebrating their most important festivals such as Christmas and Easter without the “protection” of security personnel. While most Indonesian Christians who grew up in the Reformasi era may consider Christmas with guards as a run-of-the-mill thing, the older generations may still remember it wasn’t always like that.

The 1998 Reformasi may have given birth to democracy for Indonesia but it also spawned an increased level of lawlessness that religious minorities have to face. The Jakarta-based Setara Institute chronicled a consistently worrying state of religious freedom in the country. In 2012 there were 145 cases of government abuse of religious freedom, with a total of 264 cases of attacks against religious minorities. The figures for 2013 didn’t show much improvement.

In the run-up to Christmas this year, supporters of the hard-line vigilante group Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) paid visits to several shopping malls in Surabaya to warn businesses against “forcing” their Muslim employees to don Christmas paraphernalia in the line of duty. Interestingly, however, the malls under the FPI watch are traditionally viewed as those most frequented by middle-class non-Muslim Surabaya residents.

Even more noteworthy was the support given to the FPI by the Surabaya Police for these vigilante actions. The media liaison officer of the Surabaya Police, Adj. Sr. Comr. Lily Djafar, confirmed that all the district police headquarters in Surabaya had sent letters to businesses under their jurisdiction with advice to refrain from overt Christmas displays for their shops. She reasoned that it was important so as not to give reason for FPI to raid these businesses.

Prior to the FPI round-the-town patrol, the government-funded Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI) issued a fatwa forbidding Muslims from participating in Christmas celebrations, though it later denied the fatwa meant that Muslims weren’t allowed to convey Christmas good wishes to Christians. However, it certainly emboldened one Facebook commentator to warn Bandung Mayor Ridwan Kamil against entering any church during the Christmas season, which the latter rejected completely, in the name of pluralism.

Admittedly, not all Muslims were to be cowed by MUI’s nannyish injunction. Twelve students from the Islamic State University (UIN) Walisongo in Semarang turned up at a Roman Catholic church to wish everyone a merry Christmas and even stayed to listen to mass.

The courage of these Muslim students was no doubt extraordinary. Their action would have elicited criticism from among the more orthodox sections of their own faith. These students were evidently more courageous than the police officers who, rather than standing firm in defense of pluralism, chose to counsel individual citizens to sacrifice their constitutionally guaranteed freedom in the face of bullies.

Given the information imparted Wikileaks cables that a number of former police generals were linked to the FPI, the blatant refusal by the police to defend minority rights is sinister. But after so many surreal breaches of trust, it becomes harder and harder to believe that police neglect of duty is not the norm in this country.

In a metaphor more suited to Easter, like Pontius Pilate, the police washed their hands of responsibility for allowing the FPI to conduct raids on businesses that overtly acknowledged the Christmas season. Like in all the cases of church closures in the last decade, the police never worked up the courage or perhaps the will to protect minorities from unlawful acts.

Christians sometimes refer to Jesus Christ as the Prince of Peace. So it seems highly ironic that the celebration of his birth in Indonesia has been tainted with specters of unease, evident in the presence of armed guards. Noble volunteers from non-government bodies such as Banser aside, the permanent presence of police officers at Christmas becomes a hollow form of compensation by the state for allowing religious extremism to fester, even 15 years after the bold sacrifice of Riyanto, a private citizen who wanted to do something for his fellow human beings.

Johannes Nugroho is a writer from Surabaya.


Friday, December 25, 2015

Why Beijing’s South China Sea Moves Make Sense Now

China’s military activities on its ocean frontier have given rise to a fear that it’s seeking to expand its power at the expense of others now that it has a more powerful navy. The essence of this idea is that China’s activities are expansionist and more aggressive compared with twenty or thirty years ago because it has a new urge for more territory or because it wants to throw its new-found weight around in maritime areas to rewrite regional order.

Another interpretation is possible, more in conformity with the facts, and less sinister.
                                                       South China Sea Conflict Area

China’s ocean frontier has, for the most part, never been settled in the five centuries since the idea of maritime borders under international law was first articulated in 1609.

China’s primary motivation in recent South China Sea military activities, then, is to defend what it sees as its island territories which neighboring countries have attempted to usurp.

Regional order (the balance of economic and military power between Japan and China and between the mainland and Taiwan) has already been rewritten by China’s peaceful rise and any additional gains accruing from the control of its claimed small island territories in the South China Sea would be marginal. For China, the main game on its maritime frontier is successful unification with Taiwan, which sits at the northern end of the South China Sea. Though China has come to describe the dispute in the Spratly Islands as a “core interest” because it involves sovereign territory, that is hardly new and is only a statement of the obvious. The more important characterization driving Chinese policy for decades has remained, as one Chinese government adviser observed in 1996, that the Spratly dispute is “small in scale and local in nature.”

Beginning in the mid-1800s, colonial powers such as the United Kingdom, the United States, Belgium, Italy, France, Germany, Portugal, Russia and Japan successively became involved in carving out spheres of influence or de facto sovereignty (“concessions” of some kind) over enclaves of Chinese land territory in such a way that the country, weak in naval power, didn’t place any priority on asserting or protecting a maritime frontier.

It wasn’t until an 1887 treaty with France delimiting a sea border with the French protectorate of Tonkin that China began to take any action to demarcate and defend an ocean frontier. That came just two years after China had been forced by Japan to cede the island of Taiwan and associated small islands to Japanese sovereignty. And it was only with the defeat of Japan in 1945 that China again was in a position to demarcate and defend its maritime frontier, including around Taiwan, free from foreign military threat, invasion or occupation.

The opportunity was short-lived because the country again fell into civil war, which resulted in an enduring stalemate about the country’s ocean frontier. In 1949, the Communist victory was incomplete. The rival government, the Republic of China (ROC) was able to establish itself on Taiwan and the mainland government was forced into a protracted and still unfinished series of island wars and political contests to mark out a maritime frontier.

Beginning with Canada in 1970, major Western powers still recognizing the ROC began to shift their diplomatic recognition from it to the People’s Republic of China (PRC). This has the inevitable effect under international law of preserving to a unitary China (led by the only recognized government) all territorial rights of the ROC prior to 1949. Of special significance, these include the ROC claim to the Spratly Islands, manifested in 1946 through physical occupation of the island of Taiping (Itu Aba). The ROC and the PRC maintain nearly identical territorial claims in the South China Sea.

China’s current claims on its ocean frontier comprise three main elements: claim to territorial sovereignty over Taiwan and other ROC-controlled islands, claim to territorial sovereignty over a large number of other small islands in the South China Sea (Paracel and Spratly islands) or East China Sea (Senkaku Islands), and claims to maritime resource jurisdictions (not sovereignty) that might flow to China if its claims to the land territories were recognized by adjacent states.

With the exception of the claim to the Senkaku Islands, the territorial claims of China haven’t changed since before 1949. It was the ROC that in 1970 first claimed the Senkaku Islands and the PRC was forced to follow suit since both governments were at that time competing to be seen as defending the sovereignty of “one China."

The extent and character of China’s sovereignty claims aren’t unusual and in broad terms conform to the practice of other states with only one clear set of exceptions: China appears to claim sovereignty over submerged reefs that wouldn’t normally qualify as land territory.

It’s regularly asserted by some scholars, media commentators and other analysts that China claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea. But that is based on a misunderstanding of the so-called nine-dashed line that China has repeatedly included in maps of the South China since 1947. In December 2014, in a study of China’s potential ocean frontier in the South China Sea, the U.S. Department of State observed correctly that China has never clarified the jurisdictional intent of the U-shaped line.

Thus, the current maritime territorial disputes predate the rise of China’s power and increase in its naval capability. Any assumption that China has somehow expanded its maritime claims because it now feels more powerful is not borne out by the facts. One of many things that have changed about the disputes is China’s willingness to act robustly, as most states would, to defend pre-existing sovereignty claims that have been in place for at least 66 years.

Greg Austin is a Professorial Fellow with the EastWest Institute in New York and a Visiting Professor at the University of New South Wales Canberra. This article first appeared in the Strategist.

Indonesia alarm bells are ringing in the capital, Jakarta-Islamist militants threat is growing under the government’s nose

Indonesian forces are mobilizing for a manhunt in steamy jungles on the far-flung island of Sulawesi to flush the country’s most-wanted man from his hideout and deal a pre-emptive blow to Islamic State.

The real threat could be much closer to home.

Militant leader Santoso, the first Indonesian to publicly pledge loyalty to the radical jihadist group that holds swaths of territory in Syria and Iraq, has eluded capture for years. He has until Jan. 9 to surrender.

But while the army girds for action just south of the equator, alarm bells are ringing in the capital, Jakarta.

Raids by security forces across the populous island of Java last week netted several Islamic State supporters and foiled a string of attacks. Police said the men arrested were just foot-soldiers and their leaders are still on the run, plotting attacks on government leaders, officials and buildings.

Sidney Jones, a Jakarta-based expert on Islamist militants at the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, says there is only a slim chance in Indonesia of an Islamic State attack like last month’s bloodshed in Paris, but the threat is growing under the government’s nose.

“While the police and army have been focused on going after Indonesia’s most-wanted terrorist, Santoso, in the hills of Central Sulawesi, ISIS has succeeded in building a network of supporters in the suburbs of Jakarta,” she wrote in a commentary last month, using a common acronym for Islamic State.

She said homegrown militants have mainly targeted the police in recent years, but there may now be a shift back to Westerners and soft targets.

‘Distant caliphate’

Australian Attorney General George Brandis, who was in Jakarta this week to bolster security coordination, told the Australian newspaper he had “no doubt” Islamic State was seeking to establish a “distant caliphate” in Indonesia.

Indonesia was the second most popular tourist destination for Australians in 2014-15, official data show, with 1.12 million journeys – a large number to the resort island of Bali.

The bombing of two nightclubs in Bali that killed 202 people, mostly tourists, was among a spate of attacks during the 2000s in Indonesia, home to the world’s largest Muslim population.

Police have been largely successful in destroying domestic militant cells since then, but they now worry the influence of Islamic State could bring a return of jihadi violence.

Officials believe there are over 1,000 Islamic State supporters in Indonesia. Estimates of the number who have returned from Syria range from 100 to 300, though this includes women and children.

The government worries that Santoso, who has run militant training camps from the tree-covered hills of the Poso district where he hides and posts videos on radical websites, could be an ideological lightning rod for combatants returning to Indonesia.

Jones told Reuters that Santoso had developed an international reputation in Islamic State circles, with contacts among fighters in Syria.

“This is one of our priorities because there are lots of networks in other areas affiliated with Santoso,” said National Police spokesman Agus Rianto, adding that authorities could target him because they knew roughly where he was.

Supporters mostly locals

Idham Azis, police chief of Central Sulawesi province, told Reuters the kitchenware salesman-turned-jihadi has followers across Indonesia but his bedrock of support is in the Poso region.

“Islam should be defended in any way possible even if that means using violence,” Adnan Arsal, the head of an Islamic school told Reuters on the edge of the jungle where Santoso is believed to be hiding.

Santoso’s militancy sprang from religious strife that swept through Indonesia after the downfall of autocratic leader Suharto in 1998. Poso, an area dotted with Christian churches and Hindu temples, saw some of the most gruesome attacks.

A friend of the militant, Mohammad Guntur, said Santoso had watched as his parents and relatives were killed in communal clashes.

“One of his cousins was impaled like an animal,” he said.

In the years that followed, Santoso was known to have liaised with militant networks that carried out many attacks, including the 2002 Bali bombings.

Santoso’s wife Suwarni, a 34-year-old mother of three, said Santoso fled three years ago.

“The last thing I remember him saying was to take care of the kids: send them to school, make sure they pray and read the Koran with them,” she told Reuters from her wooden shack in a Poso village.

Determined to capture Santoso, President Joko Widodo in March approved the first major military counterterrorism operation since the bombing of two Jakarta hotels in 2009. A blitz by troops, warships and fighter jets weakened Santoso’s forces, but he got away and officials believe he still commands 30 to 40 men.

Santoso styles himself as commander of the Islamic State army in Indonesia.

However, security experts believe the most serious threat comes from growing support for Islamic State beyond Sulawesi’s jungles.

“The thought that Indonesia could be taken over by IS is just absurd,” said Hugh White, professor of Strategic Studies at the Australian National University. “But the idea that Islamic State could undertake terrorist operations in Indonesia aimed at destabilizing it, that is entirely possible.”



Comparing Indonesia's situation to Mexico's 1994 'Tequila Crisis'

Right now the uncertainty caused by the US Federal Reserve's rate hike has already passed, but Indonesia still has to be careful about the next step of the US central bank. Back in 1994 when the Fed increased its rates twice in just two months, Mexico, which was running a high trade deficit and issuing numerous global bonds, was affected.

Mexico faced default; the peso's value slumped, with a total devaluation of 35 percent by the end of 1994. There was capital flight of US$4.5 billion just two days after the devaluation and around $45 billion in mutual funds was liquidated. In 1995 and 1996 the inflation rate reached 35.1 and 34.3 percent, respectively. Previously, in 1994, it had been 7 percent. The crisis also spread to Argentina and Brazil in an effect called the Tequila Crisis.

Currently, Indonesia has similar indications to the Mexico of 1994. First is the current account deficit. 2014 was the third year in a row that Indonesia ran a current account deficit; the last surplus was in 2011. According to the latest data, by the third quarter of 2015 Indonesia still had a $4 million deficit, or 1.86 percent of GDP. In fact, Indonesia is the only one of the ASEAN “big five” (Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia) running a current account deficit. Mexico, prior to the crisis, also ran a current account deficit, at the threatening level of 4.8 percent.

Second is the global bonds position. Indonesia has been issuing many bonds, causing the debt service coverage ratio (DSCR – the percent of debt compared with the export of goods) in 2014 to reach 23 percent, the highest among ASEAN countries; indeed, no other ASEAN countries have a DSCR of more than 8 percent. Mexico was at 37.6 percent prior to the crisis in 1993.Indonesia is also under pressure from its failure to attain its tax income target; tax income this year is expected to be only around 80 to 85 percent of the target. The budget deficit will possibly reach 3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) by the end of the year, up from the safety level of 2.5 percent, meaning the government may be forced to issue further bonds. The tax income target for 2016, an increase of 15 percent from this year’s target, meanwhile threatens Indonesia with the possibility of a higher deficit next year. Mexico's problem of issuing too many global bonds was actually a dilemma because its did not want to increase interest rates despite the Fed's rate increase.

Banco de Mexico regulated the exchange rate (at the time it was pegged against the US dollar) by using global bond instruments and the bank issued dollar-nominated bonds to buy pesos to maintain the value of the peso against the dollar.

Investors saw the peso as overvalued and enacted capital flight.

Will Indonesia be like Mexico?

Some economists say that currently, Indonesia is still safe. Regarding the current account deficit, David Sumual, chief economist at Bank Central Asia (BCA), explained that the deficit could be offset by a foreign investment inflow."The construction of infrastructure helps to attract investors, but we need to carefully prioritize the infrastructure. As long as we build what investors need, such as electricity, ports, road access and logistics, we are safe, but since the infrastructure is financed by debt, if we get it wrong, in three to four years we will be trapped in debt insolvency," he told on Tuesday.

David said that currently Indonesia's currency position was good because it has already depreciated, unlike in 2009 to 2014 when the rupiah overly appreciated. The weakness of the rupiah should be used as a chance, he added, to encourage local industries and decrease imports. Prior to the crisis, the strong Mexican peso caused the demand for imports to increase, resulting in a trade deficit.

Regarding global bonds, Raden Pardede from Creco Consulting said that the DSCR was high, but the important thing was for Indonesia to maintain the trust of foreign investors.According to Raden, the banking system is strong. The capital adequacy ratio (CAR) is more than 20 percent and even higher among state-owned banks, at 29 percent."But we need to be more disciplined in the fiscal sector. The tax target in 2016 must be revised and the administration must be repaired or else we’ll be trapped in a budget deficit again and need to issue more bonds," he said.

Jahanzeb Naseer, head of Indonesian research at Credit Suisse, said he appreciated the government's actions. Rather than playing on monetary aspects, the government is issuing economic packages that stimulate the economy from the consumer's side."The stimulus is creating more purchasing power and in the end will increase consumption. The government is also carrying out structural reform such as cutting red tape and inconsistent regulations and setting more predictable formulae for minimum wages. Anton Hermansyah