Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The bombing of Hiroshima certainly brought Japan to its knees but the bombing of Nagasaki was politically expedient for the USA to demonstrate to the then Soviet Union that it had that power to destroy.

The bombing of Hiroshima certainly brought Japan to its knees but the bombing of Nagasaki was politically expedient for the USA to demonstrate to the then Soviet Union that it had that power to destroy.

Obama leaves the question of Human Rights to the side

Thailand agrees to join China-proposed military drills - Willingness to join proposed drills in disputed sea comes amid Thailand’s diminishing ties with US after 2014 coup

Willingness to join proposed drills in disputed sea comes amid Thailand’s diminishing ties with US after 2014 coup

Junta-led Thailand has become the first country to jump on a Chinese proposal to hold military drills with Southeast Asian nations allegedly aimed at easing tensions in the disputed South China Sea, local media reported Tuesday.

Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan, a key junta member and deputy prime minister, said, “we agree to go ahead with the drills, if other countries in the region also agree to take part.”

The call for joint military drills was launched by Chinese defense minister, Gen. Chang Wanquan, during a China-Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Defense Ministers' Meeting last week in Vientiane, Laos.

Chang had also criticized the United States for saying that China is threatening the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea through its navy vessels and construction and land reclamation activities on the Spratly Islands, where several ASEAN countries have claims.

“President [Barack] Obama should stop playing up the issue of freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, as it has never been a problem,” Chinese state media quoted him as saying.

He underlined that more than 100,000 vessels pass through the waters annually "and none has claimed to have encountered any hindrance, trouble or danger".

China considers almost all of the maritime area its territory, but the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam -- all ASEAN countries -- and Taiwan also have overlapping claims in the Spratly or Paracel archipelagos. The waters around these groups of islands are believed to be rich in oil and gas deposits.

Apart from Thailand, none of the nine other ASEAN members have yet expressed willingness to participate in the proposed military drills.

Since Thai generals overthrew an elected government and seized power in a May 2014 coup, Bangkok has made overtures to China, America's rival for hegemony in the region.

Analysts have remarked on a shift in Thailand's foreign policy amid condemnation of the coup, followed by a suspension of high level visits to the kingdom by European Union or U.S. representatives.

At the end of this month, Thailand is set to join a middle-scale naval exercise with Chinese warships.

Annual "Cobra Gold" war games organized by Thailand and the U.S. on Thai soil, however, remain the largest joint military exercise in Asia, with the involvement of more than 8,500 troops including those from other Asian countries.

Last year, the number of U.S. troops participating in the exercise was cut down to 3,600, compared to 4,300 in 2014, to show disapproval for the coup.

In December the U.S. ambassador to Thailand, Glyn Davies, told reporters that Washington welcomed good relations between its oldest treaty ally in the region and China, insisting that the U.S. had not "lost" Thailand.

Max Constant Anadolu Agency

Revealed: How the US Navy would destroy a Chinese aircraft carrier

Ah, yes, the “carrier-killer.” China is forever touting the array of guided missiles its weaponeers have devised to pummel U.S. Navy nuclear-powered aircraft carriers (CVNs). Most prominent among them are its DF-21D and DF-26 antiship ballistic missiles (ASBMs), which the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has made a mainstay of China’s anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) defenses.

Chinese aircraft carrier
Beijing has made believers of important audiences, including the scribes who toil away at the Pentagon producing estimates of Chinese martial might. Indeed, the most recent annual report on Chinese military power states matter-of-factly that the PLA can now use DF-21Ds to “attack ships, including aircraft carriers,” more than nine hundred statute miles from China’s shorelines.

Scary. But the U.S. Navy has carrier-killers of its own. Or, more accurately, it has shipkillers of its own: what can disable or sink a flattop can make short work of lesser warships. And antiship weaponry is multiplying in numbers, range, and lethality as the navy reawakens from its post-Cold War holiday from history. Whose carrier-killer trumps whose will hinge in large part on where a sea fight takes place.

That carrier-killer imagery resonates with Western audiences comes as little surprise. It implies that Chinese rocketeers can send the pride of the U.S. Navy to the bottom from a distance, and sink U.S. efforts to succor Asian allies in the process. Worse, it implies that PLA commanders could pull off such a world-historical feat without deigning to send ships to sea or warplanes into the central blue. Close the firing key on the ASBM launcher, and presto!, it happens.

Well, maybe. Why obsess over technical minutiae like firing range? For one thing, the nine-hundred-mile range cited for the DF-21D far exceeds the reach of carrier-based aircraft. A carrier task force, consequently, could take a heckuva beating just arriving on Asian battlegrounds. And the range mismatch could get worse. Unveiled at the PLA’s military parade through Beijing last fall, the DF-26 will reportedly sport a maximum firing range of 1,800-2,500 miles.

If the technology pans out, PLA ballistic missiles could menace U.S. and allied warships plying the seas anywhere within Asia’s second island chain. The upper figure for DF-26 range, moreover, would extend ASBMs’ reach substantially beyond the island chain.

From an Atlantic perspective, striking a ship east of Guam from coastal China is like smiting a ship cruising east of Greenland from a missile battery in downtown Washington, DC. Reaching Guam would become a hazardous prospect for task forces steaming westward from Hawaii or the American west coast, while shipping based at Guam, Japan, or other Western Pacific outposts would live under the constant shadow of missile attack.

Now, it’s worth noting that the PLA has never tested the DF-21D over water, five-plus years after initially deploying it. Still less has the DF-26 undergone testing under battle conditions. That’s cause to pause and reflect. As the immortal Murphy might counsel, technology not perfected in peacetime tends to disappoint its user in wartime.

Still, an ASBM will be a useful piece of kit if Chinese engineers have made it work. The U.S. military boasts no counterpart to China’s family of ASBMs. Nor is it likely to. The United States is bound by treaty not to develop mid-range ballistic missiles comparable to the DF-21D or DF-26. Even if Washington canceled its treaty commitments today, it would take years if not decades for weapons engineers to design, test, and field a shipkilling ballistic missile from a cold start.

Still, the U.S. Navy isn’t without options in naval war. Far from it. How would American mariners would dispatch an enemy flattop in combat? The answer is the default answer we give in my department in Newport: it depends.

It would depend, that is, on where the encounter took place. A fleet duel involving carriers would take a far different trajectory on the open sea—remote from fire support from Fortress China, the PLA’s unsinkable aircraft carrier—than if it unfolded within range of ASBMs, cruise missiles, or aircraft emplaced along seacoasts or offshore islands.

The former would be a fleet-on-fleet affair: whatever firepower each force totes to the scene of action decides the outcome, seamanship, tactical acumen, and élan being equal. The latter would let PLA commanders hurl land-based weaponry into the fray. But at the same time, the U.S. Navy would probably fight alongside allied navies—from the likes of Japan, South Korea or Australia—in near-shore combat. And, like China, the allies could harness Asia’s congested offshore geography, using land-based armaments to augment their fleets’ innate combat punch.

In short, the two tactical arenas differ starkly from each other. The latter is messier and more prone to chance, uncertainty, and the fog of war—not to mention the derring-do of an enterprising foe.

Submarine warfare would constitute a common denominator in U.S. maritime strategy for oceanic and near-shore combat. Nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs) such as U.S.Virginia– or Los Angeles-class boats can raid surface shipping on the high seas. Or they can slip underneath A2/AD defenses to assault enemy vessels, including flattops, in their coastal redoubts.

In short, SSNs are workhorses in U.S. naval operations. That’s why it’s a grave mistake for Congress to let the size of the SSN fleet dwindle from fifty-three today to forty-one in 2029. That’s a 23 percent drop in the number of hulls at a time when China is bulking up its fleet of nuclear- and conventionally propelled subs—to as many as 78 by 2020—and Russia is rejuvenating its silent-running sub force.

American submarines, then, are carrier-killers regardless of the tactical setting. Now, there’s a bit of a futurist feel to talk about battling Chinese carrier groups. At present the PLA Navy has just one flattop, a refitted Soviet vessel dubbed Liaoning. That vessel is and will probably remain a training carrier, grooming aviators and ship crews for the operational carriers—most likely improved versions of Liaoning—that are reportedly undergoing construction.

Let’s suppose Chinese shipyards complete the PLA’s second carrier—China’s first indigenously built carrier—at the same clip that Newport News Shipbuilding completed USS Forrestal, the nation’s first supercarrier and a conventionally propelled vessel with roughly the same dimensions and complexity as Liaoning. It took just over three years to build Forrestal, from the time shipbuilders laid her keel until she was placed in commission.

Let’s further suppose that the PLA Navy has made great strides in learning how to operate carrier task forces at sea. If so, the navy will integrate the new flattop seamlessly and speedily into operations, making it a battleworthy addition to China’s oceangoing fleet. Our hypothetical high-seas clash thus could take place circa 2020.

In 2020, as today, the carrier air wing will remain the surface U.S. Navy’s chief carrier-killer. U.S. CVNs can carry about 85 tactical aircraft. While estimates of the size of a future Chinese flattop’s air wing vary, let’s take a high-end estimate of 50 fixed-wing planes and helicopters. That means, conservatively speaking, that the U.S. CVN’s complement will be 70 percent larger than its PLA Navy opponent’s.

And in all likelihood, the American complement will be superior to the Chinese on a warbird-for-warbird basis. It appears future PLA Navy flattops will, like Liaoning, be outfitted with ski jumps on their bows to vault aircraft into the sky. That limits the weight—and thus the load of fuel and weapons—that a Chinese aircraft can haul while still getting off the flight deck.

U.S. CVNs, meanwhile, slingshot heavy-laden fighter/attack jets off their flight decks using steam or electromagnetic catapults. More armaments translates into a heavier-hitting naval air force, more fuel into greater range and time on station.

For example, F-18E/F Super Hornet fighter/attack jets can operate against targets around 400 nautical miles distant, not counting the additional distance their weapons travel after firing. That’s roughly comparable to the combat radius advertised for Chinese J-15 carrier planes—but again, a U.S. air wing will outnumber its Chinese counterpart while packing more punch per airframe. Advantage: U.S. Navy.

By 2020, moreover, promising antiship weaponry may have matured and joined the U.S. arsenal. At present the surface navy’s main antiship armament is the elderly Harpoon cruise missile, a “bird” of 1970s vintage with a range exceeding 60 miles. That pales in comparison with the latest PLA Navy birds—most notably the YJ-18, which boasts a range of 290 nautical miles.

Weaponeers are working at helter-skelter speed to remedy the U.S. Navy’s range shortfall. Boeing, the Harpoon’s manufacturer, is doubling the bird’s range. The Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities Office recently repurposed the SM-6 surface-to-air missile for antiship missions, doubling or tripling the surface fleet’s striking range against carrier or surface-action groups. And on it goes. Last year the navy tested an antiship variant of the Tomahawk cruise missile, reinventing a very—very—long-range capability that existed in the late Cold War. A new long-range antiship missile is undergoing development.

How the navy deploys new weaponry as it enters service is nearly as important as fielding the weapons themselves. Under a concept dubbed “distributed lethality,” naval officialdom wants to disperse firepower throughout the fleet while retaining the capacity to concentrate firepower on target. What that means in practical terms is arming more ships with anti-ship missiles, supplemented by gee-whiz technologies like electromagnetic railguns and shipboard lasers should they fulfill their promise.

The U.S. Navy, then, will deploy no single carrier-killer weapon. It will deploy many. Coupled with submarine warfare and naval aviation, newfangled surface-warfare implements will stand the U.S. Navy in good stead for blue-water engagements by 2020. Trouble is, an open-ocean engagement is the least likely scenario pitting America’s against China’s navy. What would they fight over in, say, the central Pacific? And what would prompt the PLA Navy to venture beyond range of shore fire support—surrendering its difference-maker in sea combat?

No. It’s far more likely any fleet action will take place within reach of PLA anti-access weaponry. The waters shoreward of the island chains are the waters Beijing cares about most. They’re also waters where the United States, the keeper of freedom of the sea and guarantor of Asian allies’ security, is steadfast about remaining the predominant sea power. Conflict is possible in offshore seas and skies should Beijing and Washington deadlock over some quarrel.

And waging it could prove troublesome in the extreme. Talk about distributed lethality! As U.S. forces close in on the Asian mainland, they must traverse an increasingly dense thicket of A2/AD defenses. Carrier-killer ASBMs could cut loose throughout the Western Pacific on day one of a naval war, peppering vessels already in the theater or lumbering westward from U.S. bases. Offshore sentinels—principally missile-armed small craft and diesel attack subs—could disgorge barrages of anti-ship cruise missiles.

As if that offshore picket line isn’t enough, there’s shore-based anti-ship weaponry, including not just ASBMs but cruise-missile batteries and missile-armed warplanes stationed along the Chinese seaboard. A nuclear-propelled carrier is a big ship but a small airfield—and it would face off against a host of land-based airfields and missile platforms. All in all, A2/AD poses a wicked tactical and operational problem for U.S. skippers.

The oceangoing PLA Navy fleet could fare far better in a Western Pacific trial of arms than in the open Pacific, the Indian Ocean, or some other faraway expanse. In short, the PLA Navy is a modern-day fortress fleet. Such a fleet shelters safely within range of shore-based defenses—supplementing its own firepower to make the difference in action against a stronger antagonist.

Fortress fleets often meet a grim fate in combat on the open sea, denuded of that protective umbrella. Closer to home—within reach of shore fire support—they can acquit themselves well. China is counting on it.

A quick history lesson in parting. The fortress-fleet concept had humble origins. Sea-power pundit Alfred Thayer Mahan coined it—I think—to describe Russian Navy commanders’ habit of staying within reach of a fort’s gunnery to fend off superior opponents. The fleet was ostensibly the fort’s forward defender against naval assault, but an outgunned fleet could use the fort’s artillery as a protective screen.

Mahan had the guns of Port Arthur, the maritime gateway to the Bohai Sea and thence to China’s capital city, in mind when writing about fortress fleets. The Russian squadron based at Port Arthur stayed mainly under the guns while confronting Admiral Heihachiro Tōgō’s Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) Combined Fleet during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905.

The Port Arthur squadron was more or less safe so long as it remained within range of Port Arthur’s guns, but it accomplished little. Tōgō & Co. made short work of the fleet when Russian commanders offered battle on the high seas in August 1904. The debacle repeated itself in May 1905, when the Combined Fleet and the Russian Baltic Fleet met in action at Tsushima Strait.

Russian fleets, then, were simply outclassed by their IJN antagonists on amano-a-mano basis. But imagine what may have transpired had the gunners at Port Arthur been able to rain accurate fire on Japanese ships not just a few but scores or hundreds of miles distant. That would have extended Mahan’s fortress-fleet logic throughout the combat theater. With long-distance backup from the fort, Russian seafarers may have emerged the victors rather than suffering successive cataclysmic defeats. The weak would have won.

That’s a rough analogy to today. Fortress China is festooned with airfields and mobile anti-ship weaponry able to strike hundreds of miles out to sea. Yes, the U.S. Navy remains stronger than the PLA Navy in open-sea battle. A fleet-on-fleet engagement isolated from shore-based reinforcements would probably go America’s way. But that hypothetical result may not make much difference since the two navies are more likely to join battle in confined Asian waters than on the open ocean.

The U.S. Navy, it seems, is optimized for the blue-water conflagration that’s least likely to occur. Question marks surround who would prevail in the scenarios that are most menacing and most likely to occur. Carrier-killing munitions may make the fortress fleet a going concern at last, long after the age of Mahan. And that suits Beijing fine.

James Holmes is Professor of Strategy at the Naval War College and coauthor of Red Star over the Pacific. The views voiced here are his alone.

This story first appeared in The National Interest.


Monday, May 30, 2016

Prince Andrew and the Kazakh Oligarch - Andrew, while in his position as a special representative for trade, attempted to land a £3.83 million commission

New details on Prince Andrew’s dealings with the Kazakh elite further underscore London’s relationship with Astana. 

While unprecedented protests rocked Kazakhstan last weekend–ending in hundreds of arrests, including the detentions of dozens of journalists and civic activists–a scandal of a different sort was unfurling that tied back to the Kazakhstani elite. According to a report in the Daily Mail, a series of emails revealed how healthily Britain’s Prince Andrew profited from questionable deals involving the son-in-law of President Nursultan Nazarbayev, Timur Kulibayev, and Western companies eager to access the Kazakhstani market.

Some of the information pertaining to Prince Andrew’s dealings have been known for years. For instance, the Duke of York’s 2007 sale of his Sunninghill Park estate to Kulibayev–which earned Prince Andrew £15 million ($22 million), some £3 million above the asking price–was initially reported soon after the transaction. However, the new emails reveal that, contrary to Buckingham Palace’s assertions, Prince Andrew appeared closely tied to the deal’s finalization. As The Telegraph summarized, one of Prince Andrew’s aides “allegedly discussed interior design and security arrangements with the wealthy Kazakhs,” and additionally attempted to land a pair of adjacent fields for a “peppercorn rent.” Prince Andrew, meanwhile, made moves to recruit Kulibayev as a client of Coutts, the Queen’s bank. As a source at Coutts later said, “Kazakh oligarchs are the sort of people we generally don’t touch with a bargepole.”

The leaked emails further reveal that Prince Andrew, while in his position as a special representative for trade, attempted to land a £3.83 million commission by linking a Greek utility firm and Swiss finance house with Astana. The deal, as it is, eventually fell through; as The Telegraph clarified, the proposal “fell apart in late 2011 when Kazakh police opened fire on a group of striking oil workers[.]” However, Buckingham Palace initially “suggested the email was a forgery, before seeking to block its publication, saying that while it was genuine it would be a breach of the Prince’s privacy.”

The leaks are but the latest revelations surrounding Prince Andrew’s–and Buckingham Palace’s–dodgy relationship with post-Soviet autocracies. The Duke of York already boasts a warm relationship with Azerbaijan’s Ilham Aliyev, and a BuzzFeed News report last week uncovered funding from Baku for the Queen’s 90th birthday celebration.

However, it is London’s relationship with Astana that boasts perhaps the most notable, or at least outsized, track record. Prince Andrew’s cozy relations with Astana are already well-documented: Not only is he reportedly close to socialite Goga Ashkenazi, who has a pair of children with Kulibayev, but he’s gone goose-hunting with Nazarbayev. Likewise, former Prime Minister Tony Blair has helped spin Astana’s rights record on numerous occasions, while Blair’s former home secretary, Jack Straw, picked up a part-time job in 2015 paid for by Astana. Those tied to Blair who’ve profited from Astana’s largesse also include both his wife and former PR head.

London, of course, has come under unstinting fire recently for its role in allowing post-Soviet elites to park their ill-gotten gains abroad–such that “Kleptocracy Tours” have begun shining light on the U.K.’s role as a supply-side vehicle for transnational corruption. In light of the latest revelations, numerous U.K. MPs have called for a probe into the Duke of York’s relations with Astana. As Chris Bryant, the Shadow Commons leader, said, “When I was at the Foreign Office, nobody could ever tell whether [Prince Andrew] was looking out for himself or whether he really had the interests of the country at heart.”

Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear the new revelations–nor the hundreds of arrests a few days ago–will slow those Westerners bent on softening Kazakhstan’s image in the West. On Wednesday Astana shared a photo of Nazarbayev chortling along with a trio of Western members of the Kazakhstani president’s “International Advisory Board”: former Austrian Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer, former Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, and former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski. (Despite being a member of the council, Blair was not featured in the shot.)

None of these Westerners have begun spinning last weekend’s mass crackdown, but a recent report from The Astana Times may offer a taste of what line of rhetoric will come. According to The Astana Times–a publication founded by a public relations firm at the behest of the Kazakh government–the protesters were merely “some citizens concerned about [proposed land reform] changes” and “apparently unaware” of a commission tasked with handling the proposed reforms. The outlet offered no further commentary on the protests and those Westerners close to Nazarbayev’s inner circle, including Prince Andrew, have thus far remained silent on the matter.

The Diplomat


Heated discussions on whether the government of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo should issue an apology to victims of the 1965 tragedy have recently emerged among the political elites.

Almost all mainstream and social media have been flooded by the pros-and-cons of the idea. At the grassroots level, the debates have reached a point beyond trading words. 

If not quickly checked, it will be very difficult to control. History has taught us so many precious lessons. Negligence may have dire consequences. A prompt and proper response from the government is therefore required if we — as a nation — do not want to see our national unity torn into pieces again.

This concern is not without foundation. As a young nation-state of 71 years, Indonesia still has a series of unresolved historical burdens, which once threatened the existence of Pancasila, the state philosophy and the 1945 Constitution, a fundamental legal framework upon which the unitary state of the republic is based. 

Those burdens were political as a result of various opposing camps trying to seize control of the country, using ideologies that were absolutely incompatible not only with Pancasila, but also with the Constitution. 

These include the 1948 communist putsch, the Darul Islam/Indonesian Islamic Armed Forces ( DI/TII ) uprising of 1949 — 1962 and the People’s Universal Struggle ( PRRI/Permesta ) rebellion of 1958 — 1961.

The fall of president Soeharto in 1998 with all its ramifications, including the loss of innocent lives, is yet another political chapter that the country has yet to resolve.

These burdens need to be overcome urgently. Otherwise, they will continue to hamper the nation’s efforts to achieve its national interests, amid fiercer competition for market access and for the acquisition of, and control over, the world’s rapidly dwindling finite resources.

 If these political agendas continue unresolved, Indonesian progress will soon be eclipsed by other middle-power countries, such as Malaysia, Thailand, Turkey, Egypt, South Africa, Mexico and Brazil.

These emotionally charged debates on offering an apology to the so-called victims of the 1965 tragedy could become our Pandora’s Box, potentially triggering much wider and wilder debates on all outstanding political issues. If that is the case, emotionally exhausted Indonesia will be severely inhibited in performing its constitutional duties to develop a united, just, stable and prosperous country.

Worse, it may serve as a starting point for the balkanization of Indonesia. Some quarters — if not countries — will surely be happy to witness the weakening of the nation, for potential threats from the world’s fourth-biggest country would also be diminished. 

On the brighter side however, these recent heated debates can also serve as an opportunity for the government to try to find an all-inclusive and dignified solution to all those outstanding political disputes, while upholding to the fullest national unity above anything else.

Though political, these historical burdens contain legal facets. It is only natural therefore to assume that they should also be politically resolved. 

In other words, these legal dimensions should not necessarily be resolved through litigation, as amply demonstrated by the experiences of other nations, which went through similar tragic historical trajectories. 

Australia and South Africa are cases in point. Litigation proceedings — especially those that put so much emphasis on the sense of extreme self-victimization — will definitely backfire as the concept of victimhood can be conveniently manipulated by all opposing camps as befitting only them. A vicious circle will ensue to the detriment of national unity.

Some have mentioned that it would be praise-worthy if and when all Indonesian people could and would simply forgive each other as we always do during the end of the fasting month. It would be however more dignified, if we, as a nation, could come up with an all-encompassing solution to enable the healing process to take its course. 

One of the best possible scenarios is to push the government to issue an all-inclusive apology statement not solely addressed to victims of the 1965 tragedy, but to the whole nation, because during those times of political turbulence it had miserably failed to protect the people’s right to life, a constitutional duty, which no democratically governed country should neglect. 

This statement should be designed and interpreted to reflect the government’s remorse, and at the same time reaffirm its strong commitment to protecting and upholding the country’s constitutional duties, a solid foundation to prevent a future recurrence of similar tragedies, hence negating impunity.

Former prime minister Kevin Rudd of Australia also issued a public apology addressed to the whole nation, Aborigines in particular, in 2008, for the crimes committed by his predecessors. 

This apology has historically humbled the nation ever since and the healing process has also borne fruit. Together with South Africa, Australia is able to leave the past behind and march forward as a united and prosperous country. 

The litigation dimension did not appear in Rudd’s apology or in the case of South Africa. 

As a highly cultured nation, Indonesia should also be able to follow South Africa and Australia’s exemplary footsteps, to enable it to focus its energies on developing a united, just, and prosperous country capable of contributing to global peace and security. 

This continual infighting will only prevent Indonesia from shining on the global stage, while it has so much potential, which only a few selected countries possess in this world.


The writer Imron Cotan  was Indonesian ambassador to Australia ( 2003 — 2005 ), and to China ( 2010 — 2013 ). He is a member to the Defense Minister’s Advisory Group. The above views are personal. It was first published in the Kompas daily.

Philippines: 56 killed in clashes in Muslim south in operation against members of Daesh-linked group

ZAMBOANGA CITY, the Philippines

The Philippines military announced Monday that 54 militants have been killed in a series of clashes between a Daesh-linked group and government troops in the predominantly Muslim south, with shelling and airstrikes continuing Monday. 

Maj. Filemon Tan, Western Mindanao Command spokesman, said two government troops were also killed since the military began operations last week against the “Maute group” in Lanao del Sur province.

"The troops continue to towards the enemy stronghold and defeat the LTGs [local terrorist groups] in the area," GMA News quoted him as saying.

Col. Roseller Murillo, 103rd Infantry Brigade commander, had earlier said that the operations were “hatched after the Maute group regrouped in Butig town and staged terrorist activities".

He said that among the dead militants was Wowwie Mimbantas, a son of a former leader of the country’s one-time largest Muslim rebel group, Aleem Mimbantas of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

The military has been using OV-10 bombers and 81mm mortars in its offensive on the group’s lair since Sunday.

The Maute group -- along with fellow militant group the Abu Sayyaf -- has pledged allegiance to Daesh.

The military has blamed the group for a series of kidnappings in Lanao province in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and holds it responsible for the beheading of the two civilians -- sawmill workers -- in Butig town in Lanao del Sur last month.

In February, a conflict had broken out in Lanao del Sur between government troops and a group of Moro insurgents with reported Daesh sympathies.

Three army soldiers were killed and 11 others wounded in the disturbances, which also left 20 members of the group dead.

The fighting forced around 335 families to flee their homes.

The clashes began when a supposed "foreign and local terrorist organization" led by the "Maute brothers" harassed the 51st Infantry Battalion, which had been manning a patrol base in Bayabao village.

Armored personnel carriers and troops were sent to the area, and the military used two helicopters to track down the armed men and conducted air strikes against them.

The military has said the skirmishes turned into a full-blown military offensive with troops using artillery, gunships and armored personnel carriers against the suspected terrorists.

Since 1991, the Abu Sayyaf group -- armed with mostly improvised explosive devices, mortars and automatic rifles -- has carried out bombings, kidnappings, assassinations and extortions in a self-determined fight for an independent province in the Philippines. 

It is notorious for beheading victims after ransoms have failed to be paid for their release.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

OBAMA fooled no one this week when, having announced that America was lifting its embargo on selling weapons to Vietnam

But at a time of increased tension in the South China Sea, where Vietnam is among the countries disputing territory with China, America’s policies there are bound to be seen in a different context. The headline in Global Times, a fire-breathing Chinese tabloid, read simply: “Washington uses past foe to counter China”.

The American president made his announcement a few hours into his first state visit to Vietnam, following a meeting with the country’s new president, Tran Dai Quang, in Hanoi. Official enthusiasm was mirrored in the thick crowds lining the streets in the capital and in Ho Chi Minh City to greet Obama, whose visit between May 23rd and 25th was only the third by an American leader since the end of the Vietnam war in 1975. His star power contrasted with the indifference most Vietnamese show for the stiff apparatchiks of the ruling Communist Party. Locals in Hanoi gawped at Mr Obama tucking into bun cha, a cheap meal of grilled pork and rice noodles bought from a street stall.

Indonesia’s military is whipping up the spectre of a communist threat as their role in the 1965-66 killings comes under scrutiny

Observers believe the military is whipping up the spectre of a communist threat as their role in the 1965-66 killings comes under scrutiny

Police and the military have in recent weeks rounded up people for allegedly spreading communism – which remains outlawed in Indonesia – through logos on T-shirts.

They have also seized books about communism and stopped a film screening that touched on the subject.

It came after the government last month took timid steps towards making peace with one of the nation’s darkest chapters – the killing of at least 500,000 people in anti-communist massacres in 1965-66, conducted by local groups with military support.

The killings began after General Suharto put down a coup attempt blamed on communists. He rose to power on the back of the bloodshed, and went on to lead Indonesia with an iron fist for three decades.

During his rule, the massacres were presented as necessary to rid the country of communism – Indonesia had the world’s third-biggest communist party before the killings.

Public debate about the killings was taboo, and no one was ever held to account.

Since Suharto’s 1998 downfall and Indonesia’s transformation into a freewheeling democracy, there have been growing calls to re-examine one of the worst mass killings of the 20th century, and even for an official apology.

Last month the government took steps towards coming to terms with the episode by backing for the first time public discussions into the killings – attended by survivors and members of the military – and they announced they would investigate sites that activists say are mass graves.

But the moves swiftly sparked a backlash from the military and police.

Conservative elements of the security forces began speaking out against a supposed communist resurgence, despite the fact the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) was wiped out during the 1960s massacres.

Observers believe the military is whipping up the spectre of a communist threat as their role in the killings comes under scrutiny.

Those caught up in the backlash potentially face tough punishments, as spreading communist ideology is punishable by up to 12 years in jail.

There have been other reports from across the country of people being detained for wearing T-shirts with hammer and sickle images, and police stopped the screening of a documentary about Buru Island where suspected communist sympathisers were once held prisoner.

Security forces have been cracking down on attempts to hold public discussions about the killings since last year, as the country marked the 50th anniversary of the start of the massacres, but the current wave of arrests for promoting communist ideology only began in recent weeks.

Authorities have backed the crackdown, with the interior ministry noting a “growing phenomenon” of communism.

But for many of Indonesia’s younger generation, who are more willing to question the old narrative about the communist killings, the security forces are going over the top.

South China Morning Post


Friday, May 27, 2016

Why coal is a bad bet for Indonesia's future -Countries around the world, from the US to China, are turning their back on coal


This month, across the world, people are standing up for a future without fossil fuels.  The Break Free movement envisages a world powered not with the dirty energies of coal and oil, but with renewables – solar, the wind, geothermal and tidal energy. 

Countries around the world, from the US to China, are turning their back on coal and investing instead in renewable energy. 

China’s National Energy Administration has told all but three provinces to suspend approvals for coal-fired power plants – affecting 90 percent of new capacity.  There is a fundamental shift happening in the Chinese economy, which means that not only will China’s need for coal imports continue to fall, it might even become a coal exporter – in direct competition with Indonesia.

India too, once a huge market for Indonesian coal, is cutting coal imports, down by 34 percent in 2015 compared to the previous year.  With the Chinese and Indian markets shrinking, who will be left to buy Indonesia’s coal? 

Coal exports usually subsidized domestic coal prices.  Now those exports are disappearing.  Most mining companies are cutting their output, and after years of soaring profits, they are now asking the government for handouts.

Meanwhile, the renewable energy market is booming. Renewables supplied 90 percent of the world’s new energy capacity last year, and can compete on cost with coal in most markets.  That’s why state electricity company PLN is switching 8 GW of its capacity to renewables.

The cost of developing renewable energy in Indonesia over the next ten years is Rp 260 trillion ( US$19.1 billion ). It sounds excessive.  But it’s only one-tenth of what has been spent on subsidies for fossil fuel-based energy over the last ten years.  So a renewable energy future is within Indonesia’s reach.

But instead of targeting this goal, there are plans to build more and more coal-fired power plants.  Some of the same countries that are saying “no” to coal at home are investing in coal-plants in Indonesia, even selling us their old, unwanted technology.

And no wonder the Chinese and Japanese are queuing up to sign deals for building coal power in Indonesia.  They get a 30-year power purchase agreement from PLN, backed by the Indonesian government.  Indonesian taxpayers are being locked-in to pay for dirty energy for decades to come.

It’s a double hit for the Indonesian people, who will also have to carry the cost of paying back loans from multilateral development banks for these coal-fired plants.  According to preliminary research by the Bank Information Center ( BIC ) and Greenpeace, between 2007 and 2015, USD 1.4 billion was approved in loans for energy projects, nearly all of which had gone to fossil fuels.                

These loans are supposed to help countries move to a low-carbon development path to better protect the environment. 

But that’s not happening in Indonesia.  The money is instead supporting carbon-heavy infrastructure, which will be with us for decades, regardless of the wishes of local people as we have seen in the development of the Batang coal power plant.  It is just one of many power plants being supported by international development loans and guarantees, backed by global multilateral development banks, like the World Bank and the ADB, and financiers like JBIC. The bank’s president, Jim Yong Kim, said this month that if all coal plants in the south and southeast Asia go ahead, “we are finished […] it would spell disaster for us and our planet”.

The World Bank needs to listen to its president’s warning.  Bank lending for development must prioritize low-carbon development over fossil fuels.  All multilateral banks must cut incentives and guarantees for carbon-intensive projects in Indonesia. 

It is time for us to divest in coal.  There is another energy future which beckons – one that is cheaper, healthier and better for all Indonesians.  We must break free from coal.

Arif Fiyanto is climate and energy coordinator at Greenpeace Southeast Asia