11 September 2014

U.S. Views on God and Life Are Turning Hindu

Filed: 8/14/09 

America is not a Christian nation. We are, it is true, a nation founded by Christians, and according to a 2008 survey, 76 percent of us continue to identify as Christian (still, that's the lowest percentage in American history). Of course, we are not a Hindu—or Muslim, or Jewish, or Wiccan—nation, either. A million-plus Hindus live in the United States, a fraction of the billion who live on Earth. But recent poll data show that conceptually, at least, we are slowly becoming more like Hindus and less like traditional Christians in the ways we think about God, our selves, each other, and eternity.

The Rig Veda, the most ancient Hindu scripture, says this: "Truth is One, but the sages speak of it by many names." A Hindu believes there are many paths to God. Jesus is one way, the Qur'an is another, yoga practice is a third. None is better than any other; all are equal. The most traditional, conservative Christians have not been taught to think like this. They learn in Sunday school that their religion is true, and others are false. Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the father except through me."

Americans are no longer buying it. According to a 2008 Pew Forum survey, 65 percent of us believe that "many religions can lead to eternal life"—including 37 percent of white evangelicals, the group most likely to believe that salvation is theirs alone. Also, the number of people who seek spiritual truth outside church is growing. Thirty percent of Americans call themselves "spiritual, not religious," according to a 2009 NEWSWEEK Poll, up from 24 percent in 2005. Stephen Prothero, religion professor at Boston University, has long framed the American propensity for "the divine-deli-cafeteria religion" as "very much in the spirit of Hinduism. You're not picking and choosing from different religions, because they're all the same," he says. "It isn't about orthodoxy. It's about whatever works. If going to yoga works, great—and if going to Catholic mass works, great. And if going to Catholic mass plus the yoga plus the Buddhist retreat works, that's great, too."

Then there's the question of what happens when you die. Christians traditionally believe that bodies and souls are sacred, that together they comprise the "self," and that at the end of time they will be reunited in the Resurrection. You need both, in other words, and you need them forever. Hindus believe no such thing. At death, the body burns on a pyre, while the spirit—where identity resides—escapes. In reincarnation, central to Hinduism, selves come back to earth again and again in different bodies. So here is another way in which Americans are becoming more Hindu: 24 percent of Americans say they believe in reincarnation, according to a 2008 Harris poll. So agnostic are we about the ultimate fates of our bodies that we're burning them—like Hindus—after death. More than a third of Americans now choose cremation, according to the Cremation Association of North America, up from 6 percent in 1975. "I do think the more spiritual role of religion tends to deemphasize some of the more starkly literal interpretations of the Resurrection," agrees Diana Eck, professor of comparative religion at Harvard. So let us all say "om."

Balance of power in Asia India should join partners like Vietnam and Japan

G Parthasarathy

THE 21st century is often described as “Asia’s century”, primarily because of the sustained and rapid economic growth across the continent. While the US can no longer unilaterally decide the course of events in Asia, it will remain a key player in moulding the balance of power within Asia. This balance of power will primarily be determined by the interplay between a rapidly growing, militaristic and jingoistic China, an aging but technologically innovative Japan and India, still uncertain about how to manage this triangular relationship to its best advantage. India and Japan have no territorial or maritime boundary issues which can escalate bilateral tensions. China, however, has adopted policies on land and maritime boundaries, which could lead to escalating tensions with India, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia.

Narendra Modi's high-profile visit to Japan and the forthcoming visit of President Xi Jinping to India, together with his visits to Pakistan (since postponed) and Sri Lanka, should be seen in this context of emerging power equations in Asia. It has long been Beijing’s effort to “contain” India within South Asia. Nothing else can explain its policies of equipping Pakistan not merely with tanks, warships and fighter aircraft, but also by promoting the development of Pakistan's nuclear weapons and missile production capabilities. This has been accompanied by China’s untiring efforts to undermine Indian influence in Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the Maldives.

China took note of Mr. Modi’s comment in Japan: “Everywhere around us, we see an 18th century expansionist mindset; encroaching on another country, intruding on other's waters, invading other countries and capturing territory”. While noting that Mr. Modi had not named any country, China’s official mouthpiece, the “Global Times”, observed: “Japan is located faraway from India. Abe’s harangue on the Indo-Pacific concept makes Indians comfortable. It is South Asia, where New Delhi has to make its presence felt. However, China is a neighbour it cannot move away from. Sino-Indian ties can in no way be counter-balanced by the Japan-India friendship”. Beijing’s message to New Delhi thus was: “You are merely a South Asian power, bordering a strong China. We will move across the Indian Ocean at will. You should, however, not dare use your relationship with Japan to transgress into what you and Japan describe as the Indo-Pacific”. China has no intention of changing its policy of “strategic containment” of India, even if India is useful in promoting its interests in BRICS and G-20.

The visit of Mr. Modi to Japan has yielded substantial progress in industrial collaboration with a target of $35 billion of FDI in the coming five years together with a projected increase of Japanese ODI. Defence industry collaboration and joint exercises between the two navies, both in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, are to be expanded. Japan will be playing a key role in the development of industrial corridors in India. It is removing restrictions on collaboration in space and defence industries. Indo-Japanese collaboration in exploration of rare earths will erode the Chinese monopoly in this sector. We should welcome growing cooperation in industry and infrastructure with China, if it can match the transfer of technology and development of work skills that Japan is ready to provide. There is much we can learn from the speed and efficiency that characterises the construction of infrastructure projects in China.


Thursday, 11 September 2014 | Hiranmay Karlekar

Control over North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula will give the Islamists a stranglehold on the massive oil resources on which European countries depend

US President Barack Obama said on September 5 at the end of the Nato summit in Wales, “We are going to degrade and ultimately defeat the ISIL [Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant] in the same way we had gone after Al Qaeda.” He also elaborated the methods: “You initially push them back, you systematically degrade their capabilities, you narrow their scope of action, you slowly shrink the space, the territories they may control, you take out their leadership.” He then added, “Thus over a period of time, they are not able to conduct the same kind of terrorist attacks as they once could.”

US Secretary of State John Kerry made clear at the summit's beginning that the United States wanted nothing less than the liquidation of ISIL (which rechristened itself IS or Islamic State on June 29). “There is no containment policy for ISIL. They're an ambitious, avowed, genocidal, territorial-grabbing [sic], caliphate-desiring quasi state with an irregular army, and leaving them in some capacity intact anywhere would leave a cancer in place that will ultimately come back to haunt us.”

On the ground, the US has cobbled together a ‘core coalition’, comprising, besides itself, Britain, France, Australia, Canada, Germany, Turkey, Italy, Poland and Denmark against the IS. It has not only been bombing IS formations on the ground in Iraq to prevent them from annexing new territory and to dislodge them from what they have occupied, but carried out air strike to support Iran-backed Shia militia which broke the siege of Amreli. This is a most significant development considering that some of these forces, particularly the Asaib Ahl al-Haq, considered the most fearsome of Iraq's Shiite militias, and linked to the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, was one of the Americans' most tenacious enemies during the occupation.


Thursday, 11 September 2014 | Claude Arpi | i

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s plans to open the Nathu la route for the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra is hardly a goodwill gesture. It offers few benefits to Indian pilgrims and only furthers Beijing’s expansionist plans

New Delhi is getting ready to receive Chinese President Xi Jinping on his maiden trip to India. It will, no doubt, be a significant visit, especially after Prime Minister Narendra Modi journeyed to Japan and met with old friend Shinzo Abe. Many looked at the Tokyo trip as a preparation for the Chinese President’s Delhi visit. The Global Times even threatened that India was getting close to Japan “at its own peril”. But ultimately, both India and China, keeping their own interests in mind, will probably find a consensus on economic and other issues, while some confidence building measures may be taken by the two neighbours.

The Press Trust of India has already reported about a ‘political gesture’ from Beijing. It said that the Chinese President may announce the opening of a new route, via Nathu la in Sikkim, for Indian pilgrims to go on the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra. The question is: Will this be a boon or a bane for India? According to PTI, the proposal has been under serious consideration in Beijing since Mr Modi, during his first meeting with President Xi in Brazil in July, asked Beijing to propose an alternative to the Lipulekh pass (in Pittoragarh district of Uttarakhand) for the yatra. Either Demchok in Ladakh or Shipki-la in Himachal Pradesh was expected to be the new port. It made sense in terms of access and comfort.

The present Ministry of External Affairs’ yatra through the Lipulekh-Purang route, also one of the traditional trade routes to Tibet, is often damaged by floods and subsequently the pilgrimage has to be canceled. Depending on the weather, every year the scheme accommodates a maximum of 1,000 pilgrims in 18 batches (selected through a lottery system); the pilgrimage involves a 22-day arduous journey. It appears that the Chinese have now decided to open Nathu la border point in Sikkim. PTI says: “The new route, though longer, takes pilgrims from Nathu La to Shigatse… [and] from there the pilgrims could comfortably travel to Mansarovar and Kailash using well laid out highway.”

MIRACLE MEN - Modi transforms Indo-Japanese ties

Harsh V. Pant

Building on his personal chemistry with his Japanese counterpart, the prime minister, Narendra Modi, reached out to Japan in an unprecedented manner. Modi entertained his host country by displaying his skills as a drummer; he charmed the students by playing the flute and sharing Indian mythological stories during his visit to an elementary school; he expressed his gratitude to Japan for its “trust” in India; he gifted a copy of the Bhagavad Gita to the Japanese emperor, underlining that he had “nothing more valuable to give and the world has nothing more valuable to get”; chided China that “those with 18th-century ideas, [who] engage in encroachments and enter the seas” of others.

Japan also laid out a red-carpet for Modi, his first bilateral visit outside the subcontinent since becoming prime minister in May. Shinzo Abe also went out of his way to receive Modi in Kyoto, where he landed on August 30. Abe underlined that Japan-India relations had “more potential than any other ties in the world” and expressed his desire to elevate the relationship to a special strategic and global partnership.

Though India and Japan failed to conclude a deal on civil nuclear co-operation that would allow nuclear-armed India to import Japanese technology for its atomic power stations, Japan plans to invest $35 billion in private- and public-sector projects in India over the next five years. During Modi’s trip, India and Japan signed five pacts covering defence exchanges and cooperation in clean energy, roads and highways, and healthcare, among other issues. Japan also lifted the ban on six Indian entities including Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, which had been imposed in the aftermath of 1998 nuclear tests.

During the visit, Modi invited Japanese investments while hard-selling India as a conducive destination for business, particularly for the manufacturing sector. Delivering the keynote address at the Tokyo Stock Exchange, co-hosted by the Japan External Trade Organization, Modi assured the Japanese investors that “there is no red tape, but only red carpet that awaits you in India”. In Kyoto, a pact was signed under which Japan will help Modi’s Lok Sabha constituency, Varanasi, to develop on the pattern of Kyoto as a “smart city”.

A jihadi battle of brands

Published: September 11, 2014 
Bernard Haykel

Differences understood to be ideological and tactical acquire real urgency in the jihadi world when one group is perceived to be more successful in its strategy and propaganda. And here success is measured in terms of military victory, which ISIS has recently achieved whereas al-Qaeda has not

On September 3, al-Qaeda’s media arm, al-Sahab Media, released one of the strangest videos in the movement’s history, announcing the formation of a new branch of “al-Qaeda in the South Asian Subcontinent.” Strange, because of the panicked tone of the three separate statements in the video, and because its content has very little to do with South Asia. The first statement in the video is by al-Qaeda’s notably uncharismatic leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, who essentially rehashes the virtues and importance of armed struggle (jihad) against the United States, which he labels “the global order of unbelief,” and reaffirms, repeatedly, loyalty to Mullah Umar, the leader of the Afghan Taliban. The video betrays a deep anxiety among al-Qaeda’s original leadership about its future as the guiding movement in the globaljihad.

Competition for relevance

This anxiety is no doubt due to the stiff competition al-Qaeda now faces from the newly established Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a self-proclaimed caliphate occupying territory in Iraq and Syria and until recently notching up a series of spectacular military successes. One should not take al-Qaeda’s video’s claims at face value: it has little to do with India or even South Asia, and consists of a cheap propaganda effort to maintain relevance in the dynamic world ofjihadism and the competition for relevance, recruits and funding. More specifically, the video represents the latest salvo in a fierce conflict between jihadi groups as to which of these is the true heir to Osama bin Laden’s political and ideological legacy. Is it to be the hyper-violent ISIS that deliberately targets fellow Muslims along with all others, or is it the older al-Qaeda movement with its branches, which assert that violence must be measured and calculated and mostly directed at non-Muslims?

Peace and prosperity through security and stability

Published: September 11, 2014 
Sergey Lavrov

Russia will use its presidency of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation to advocate for coordinated steps on the economy, financial sector, energy and food security

The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit, to be held in Dushanbe on September 11 and 12, will be attended by the leaders of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, China, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, heads and senior representatives of observer states, international organisations and other guests.

The SCO has become an influential organisation and an important factor in the emergence of a new polycentric world order. The organisation has worked to bring about tangible improvements in the security and multilateral political, economic and humanitarian cooperation of member states.

As a result, the role of the SCO in international and regional affairs is on the rise, attracting the attention of many countries and international organisations. Pakistan, India, and Iran want to become full members of the SCO, while more and more countries are seeking observer or dialogue partner status.

Secret to success

What is the secret to the success and appeal of the SCO? The answer is simple: our steadfast commitment to the United Nations Charter and fundamental international norms and laws; to the principles of equality, mutual respect, consideration of each other’s interests, resolving conflicts and disputes by political and diplomatic means, and the right of nations to choose their own path of development. These principles are consistent with the goal of ensuring a stable and democratic international system. The SCO is fully in tune with the realities and demands of the 21st century, unlike the relics of a past era that rely on rigid adherence to discipline that exists within particular blocs of countries.

“Russia will use its presidency of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation to advocate for coordinated steps on the economy, financial sector, energy and food security”

During Russia’s SCO presidency, which will begin right after the Dushanbe Summit, we plan to focus on better equipping the SCO to handle the many challenges facing the world today and on working together to adequately respond to events in the region and the world.

Coordinated approaches to common challenges will be reflected in the Strategy for the SCO’s Development to 2025, which will be finalised in time for the meeting of the council of heads of the SCO member states in Ufa in 2015. The document is designed to deepen cooperation within the SCO while expanding cooperation with leading multilateral institutions such as the U.N. and its specialised agencies. It also contains provisions on establishing relations with the Eurasian Economic Union.

Regional security

Regional security remains the SCO’s top priority. Other priorities include building up joint capabilities to combat terrorism, extremism, and drug trafficking, especially amid the worsening situation in Afghanistan. This will be achieved by strengthening the SCO’s Regional Counter-Terrorism Structure, implementing the Anti-Drug Strategy, and regular counter-terrorism training. The SCO Peace Mission 2014 exercises held in China on August 24 to 29 confirmed that the member states are prepared to deal with emerging threats. The SCO has been clear that it does not seek to create a military-political alliance. However, its core principles include preventing unlawful acts that harm the interests of member states.

In the face of complex and interrelated challenges, Russia will use its presidency of the SCO to advocate for coordinated steps on the economy, financial sector, energy and food security.

The continuing instability of the global economy and the risks of another crisis demand greater economic cooperation. Plans are being outlined to make broader use of national currencies in settlements. Prospects are good for launching large multilateral projects in transport, energy, innovative research and technology, agriculture, and the peaceful use of outer space, though the optimal funding mechanism for such projects remains to be determined. The SCO Business Council, Interbank Consortium, and Energy Club are at the forefront of expanding practical cooperation among member states.

The SCO is rapidly forming a common research, educational, cultural and humanitarian space. Work is underway to expand the SCO university network and to institutionalise information cooperation. And the planned joint celebrations of the 70th anniversary of victory in the Second World War will be a clear indication of the member states’ commitment to preserving our shared historical memory and strengthening mutual trust, including through the Youth Council and the SCO Forum.

The Dushanbe Summit will also formalise the legal, administrative and financial requirements for admitting new SCO members, making it possible to start expanding the organisation during the Russian presidency. At the same time, we will continue to engage with observer states and dialogue partners.

I strongly believe that, in close cooperation with our partners, we will be able to accelerate the SCO’s development and further enhance its role in promoting peace and prosperity in the region.

(Sergey Lavrov is the Foreign Minister of Russia.)


Indian Air Force unhappy at progress of PAK-FA fifth-gen fighter

Rahul Bedi, New Delhi - IHS Jane's Defence Weekly
04 September 2014

The fifth flying Sukhoi T-50 PAK-FA prototype (side number '055') caught fire on 10 June after landing. Source: UAC

The Indian Air Force (IAF) has expressed concerns to Russia over technical problems and delays plaguing the USD10.5 billion Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) programme, which is based on the Russian Air Force's Sukhoi T-50 PAK-FA platform.

Official sources told IHS Jane's that the IAF's primary objections to fighter's preliminary design features included the inadequacy of its AL-41F1 engines, its stealth features and its weapons carriage system.

Differences also emerged over the operational capability of the Byelka active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar. Additional IAF concerns include the overall development cost of the aircraft, its maintainability and safety features, the sources said.

As a result, in recent months the IAF has significantly reduced the number of FGFA aircraft it plans to acquire from around 220 to 130-145. It has also dropped its requirement for 45-50 twin-seat FGFA trainers as Russia had demanded an additional USD1 billion and extended deadlines for their development.

The IAF is also annoyed over Russian reluctance to share design information on the T-50 PAK-FA -officially designated the Perspective Multi-Role Fighter (PMF) by India - despite New Delhi being an equal financial partner in its development costs.

India has so far paid USD295 million towards the preliminary design and considers the programme vital to helping the state-run Aeronautical Development Agency kick-start its indigenous fifth-generation single-seat, twin-engine Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) programme.

Officials claim Russia is unwilling even to share details of a fire that erupted aboard a prototype PAK-FA as it landed at the Zhukovsky test centre near Moscow in June. An IAF technical evaluation team at the site was reportedly not permitted access to the fire-affected platform.

Russian officials, however, have reportedly told the IAF that many of its concerns will be resolved soon. They maintain that the prototype PAK-FA's NPO Saturn AL-41FI engine is a temporary solution, meant only for the duration of flight-testing, and that a replacement power pack is under development. Similarly, the AESA radar's proficiency is being improved alongside other systems.

Another cause for friction between the two sides is the reduced work share of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), India's lead development agency in the FGFA joint venture. The amount has gone from around 25% that was negotiated in 2013 to around 13% in recent months.


In August 2014, Khasi insurgent outfit, the Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC) in Meghalaya declared its intention for starting peace negotiations with the government. Through a bizarre ultimatum, bordering on desperation, it even served an ultimatum on the government for appointing an interlocutor within 24 days. The state chief minister has since responded in affirmation and is asking for the required sanction from New Delhi. In all likelihood, the number of insurgent outfits under peace processes will increase by one in the coming days. Whether this new peace process, like many others continuing at present, will bring peace to the state or the north-eastern region is a different question.

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) maintains a list of over 20 north-eastern insurgent outfits, who are in negotiations with the government. In a conflict-ridden region, where outfits capable of orchestrating intermittent violence have mushroomed, to boast of a long list of groups that have found reason in negotiating is a definite achievement for the government. This constitutes a success of the counter-insurgency approach of the Indian state. Quite naturally, in MHA’s lexicon the rest of the outfits who have not joined a peace process are “secessionists and extortionists who indulge in illegal and unlawful activities like abduction, extortions, killings.” While the portrayal is not entirely false, the ministry’s achievement in converting the ‘ongoing’ status of the peace processes to successful deals has remained abysmal.

The oldest of the outfits in negotiations, the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM) has been negotiating for the last 17 years over 80 rounds of talks. Its bete noire, the Khaplang faction (NSCN-K) joined the peace process in 2001. A group of 19 Kuki outfits in Manipur signed a Suspension of Operations (SoO) agreement in 2009. While the Achik National Volunteers Council (ANVC)’s peace process in Meghalaya is 10 years old, the Assam base National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) started its negotiations in 2005.

Why outfits join peace processes has no definite answer. In 2004, a faction of the National Liberation Front (NLFT) in Tripura surrendered and initiated a peace process with the government with the hope that its leader Nayanbashi Jamatiya would be declared as the king of Tripura. After the state government declined, the leader made a disappearing act leaving his 250 cadres in a state of bewilderment and declared his intent to “free Tripura” through a renewed armed struggle. After nine years of faceless existence, however, Jamatiya surfaced in Tripura and surrendered again in August 2013. This time, he had no cadres accompanying him.

Barring this peculiar example, in most cases, a commitment for settlement of grievances through a negotiated settlement develops after a transformation in systemic conditions making continuation of an armed movement highly unfeasible. Barring the NSCN-IM, which hit the peace road through the intervention of the Church and the community elders, rest of the outfits including the Mizo National Front (MNF), the pro-talks faction of the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) and the NDFB joined the peace process after losing their abilities to continue insurgency.

Thus, peace processes in most cases put the state on a high pedestal, allowing it to talk from a position of strength. In these circumstances, the state’s inability to go through a routine process of finalisation of the ground rules and implementing them, locking up of weapons, and reviewing a charter of demands submitted by the insurgents looks perplexing. As is clear with almost all the peace processes, none of these basic requirements have been fulfilled. While New Delhi has not even finalised drafts of peace pacts (as in the case of the ANVC), many outfits are yet to sit for a single round of negotiations with the government. As a result, none of the peace processes (barring the one with the Bodo Liberation Tigers, involving over 10 years of negotiations and a failed peace deal in 1993) has reached a conclusion.


By Jayantha Dhanapala
After an earlier eruption of one-sided warfare in Gaza, I wrote a piece titled “Eyeless in Gaza” in December 2012 referring appropriately to an Old Testament story in the Bible, resonant with both the Jewish Israeli and the Christian Palestinian, and recalling Mahatma Gandhi’s warning that an eye for an eye will make us all blind. I concluded that, “A peaceful settlement of the illegal occupation of Gaza by Israel and an end to the scandalous conditions of its 1.7 million citizens is still very far away.”

Of course no peaceful settlement has taken place. Instead we have had brutal and relentless ground and air attacks by Israel and exchanges of fire finally ending after 50 days of suffering and destruction with a ceasefire on August 27. There is no guarantee that this will be a sustainable ceasefire unless the root causes are addressed.

As the UN Secretary-General said, “Any peace effort that does not tackle the root causes of the crisis will do little more than set the stage for the next cycle of violence. Gaza must be brought back under one legitimate Palestinian Government adhering to the Palestine Liberation Organization commitments; the blockade of Gaza must end; and Israel’s legitimate security concerns must be addressed.”

Additionally the newly appointed UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Prince Zeid Al Hussein said in his maiden statement on September 8 before the Human Rights Council in Geneva: “Another example of the need to end persistent discrimination and impunity is the Israel-Palestine conflict, with the recurring violence and destruction evident in the repetition of crises in Gaza. The most recent outbreak of armed conflict has had a particularly devastating toll in death, suffering and destruction, compounding what was an already precarious situation due to the blockade imposed by Israel in 2007. As of the first week of September, preliminary estimates are that 2,131 Palestinians had been killed during the latest crisis in Gaza, including 1,473 civilians, 501 of them children. 71 Israelis had also been killed, including 4 civilians.

“Current and future generations of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, have a right to live normal lives in dignity: without conflict, without a blockade, indeed without the wide range of daily human rights infringements that are generated by military occupation, illegal settlements, excessive use of force, home demolitions, and the Wall that continues to be constructed across the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The seven-year blockade must end, and there must be effective accountability for transgressions committed by all parties. On this point, I note that Israelis have a right to live free and secure from indiscriminate rocket fire.”

It is timely therefore to relate another old Biblical story which has its origin in the same land of Palestine – David and Goliath. Three thousand years ago on a battlefield in ancient Palestine, a humble shepherd boy felled a giant warrior with nothing more than a stone and a sling. Since then the names of David and Goliath have stood for battles between underdogs and giants. Malcolm Gladwell – the controversial but popular author – has used the story in his book “David and Goliath” to challenge how we think about obstacles and disadvantages. Israel has won the sympathy of the world for the Holocaust and its admiration for transforming desert land into an agriculturally rich and prosperous country in a hostile environment. They were the Davids fighting the Goliaths. No longer. The persistent violation of the human rights of the Palestinians has gradually alienated the support they once enjoyed – except of course with their main supporter the USA.
How the U.S. agreed to Israel’s nuclear programme

Today, as newly declassified documents reveal how the U.S. actually agreed to Israel’s nuclear
program, the Palestinians are the Davids fighting against overwhelming odds to secure their rights of nationhood and a peaceful existence. Even victims of the Holocaust and their descendants placed an advertisement in the New York Times calling for an end to Israeli “genocide” in Palestine .The statement also condemns the United States for its financial and diplomatic support of Israel and “the extreme, racist dehumanization of Palestinians in Israeli society, which has reached a fever pitch.”

A Powerful NATO Flotilla Has Entered the Black Sea to Reassure Ukraine

Sea Breeze training exercise brings together 13 ships from six countries

Yesterday, the U.S. Navy began training with their Ukrainian counterparts in the Black Sea. The naval war game Sea Breeze kicks off as rebels continue to clash with Kiev’s troops in the country’s east—this despite a formal ceasefire that began on Sept. 5.

The Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Ross is the lead vessel for this year’s Sea Breeze. The Navy has been running the event in the Black Sea annually for 13 years, according to an official fact sheet.

Canada, Georgia, Romania, Spain and Turkey are also taking part in the training. Thirteen warships are playing in the war game.

The Pentagon usually insists explains that regularly scheduled exercises like Sea Breeze aren’t linked to any specific real-world event. In other words, officially the training maneuvers have nothing to do with Ukraine’s simmering insurgency, which began this spring when Russian forces seized Ukraine’s strategic Crimean Peninsula and subsequently supported separatists in the country’s east.

Sea Breeze is taking place well away from the main fighting along Ukraine’s long border with Russia. But that doesn’t mean the naval war game isn’t a powerful statement by the U.S., Ukraine and their allies.

Above—Hetman Sahaidachniy in the Black Sea during Sea Breeze 2014. Navy photo. At top—USS Ross, in the foreground, sails in formation with HMCS Toronto and ESPS AlmiranteDon Juan De Borbon during Sea Breeze 2014. Navy photo

Russia has countered with statements of its own. A Russian jet buzzed a separate American destroyer in the Black Sea in April. Canadian officials say a similar incident occurred the first weekend of September, when another Russian warplane flew threateningly close to the frigate HMCSToronto.

Washington probably views Sea Breeze as another opportunity to reassure America’s allies in Eastern Europe, including Black Sea NATO members Romania and Bulgaria.

But all things considered, the Ukrainian navy and coast guard definitely appear to be a central focus of this year’s naval practice session. Kiev’s eight vessels dominate the exercise.


Boko Haram 
“The people are fleeing to Maiduguri and Yola, but the Boko Haram advance appears headed toward these cities”, said to MISNA Father Timothy Cosmas, head of the Justice and Peace Commission of the local diocese, after another conquest by the Islamist fighters in north-east Nigeria.

“Boko Haram now controls a large portion of territory in the States of Borno and Adamawa. There are 150km between the city of Bama and Michika, which was the latest town to fall”, explained Fr. Timothy. According to the priest, the withdrawal of troops after Sunday’s fighting heightened fears of a further advance by the Islamist fighters toward Yola, capital of Adamawa. “I spoke with the soldiers returning from the front and they could not understand why the four warplanes available to troops in that sector didn’t enter in action during the battle for Michika”, said Fr. Timothy.

The armed forces over the weekend reported the death of at least 50 Boko haram members, killed in battle near the town of Kawuri. After the proclamation of a “caliphate” following the conquest of Gwoza at the end of August, also Gulak and Madagali were seized last week. “Boko Haram has seized control of at least five local administrations”, added Fr. Timothy. Both local and international sources in fact fear that this could mark a new phase in respect to the “hit and run” attacks begun in 2009.


September 10, 2014

Last month, Gaza was at the center of a struggle between Israel and Palestine that was watched by the entire world. A century ago, however, Gaza was the main battlefield between the British and Ottoman empires in a merciless struggle over the Middle East that was distinctly overshadowed by the war in France and Belgium. The Middle East may have been a secondary theater then, but the conquest of Gaza in 1917 meant the demise of centuries of Ottoman rule and the British takeover of Palestine, which set the stage for today’s conflict. I discuss these important events in my new book, Gaza: A History.

The boundary between the two empires was made official only in 1906. That year, plenipotentiaries representing the Ottoman Empire and Egypt (under British tutelage since 1882) met at the frontier town of Rafah. It was agreed that the administrative border would run right through the town in order to appease the local tribes, since trading and smuggling across the two territories was their main activity. Today, Rafah remains the crossing point between Egypt and Gaza.

This position of Rafah as a neutral ground for both Palestinians and Egyptians was preserved until 1982, when the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt divided the city in two sections with tribes and families torn apart. But back in 1906, the administrative border went straight from Rafah into the desert down to the Gulf of Aqaba, marking the separation between the “Ottoman” Negev in the north and the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula in the south.

So things stood until the outbreak of war in August 1914 when the Ottoman Empire, by then ruled by a triumvirate of nationalist Pashas — Enver, Djemal and Talaat — who sided with Germany against the United Kingdom, France, and Russia. Fearing pro-Ottoman protests in Egypt, London decided to impose a full-fledged protectorate on Egypt. This precaution was unnecessary. Egypt had grown increasingly alien to the Turks through the 19th century and the Arab bond was stronger than Muslim solidarity.

Instead, the Ottoman Turks invaded Egypt. In February 1915, Djemal Pasha launched an offensive toward the Suez Canal. His assault was thwarted, forcing him to withdraw his troops back into the Sinai Peninsula — still, of course, on Egyptian territory. The British Empire took a full year to assemble an Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF) under the command of General Sir Archibald Murray, with major contributions from Australia and New Zealand. From February to December 1916, the EEF progressively rolled the Ottoman troops back out of the Sinai desert, eventually taking the Egyptian oasis of El Arish, then the border town of Rafah.

In Putin’s Shadow

Quick post, but there’s a very good article by Peter Pomerantsev over at The Atlantic on Russia’s new breed of information warfare. Of particular note is the speed at which the Kremlin has managed to manufacture into importance the concept of ‘Novorossiya’ as a term to define the sections of Ukraine that Russia threatens to separate from Ukraine, or annex outright. Pomerantsev’s points about wanton unreality, and the general attack on the notion of objectivity reminded me, in a tangential fashion, of one of my favourite quotes on power from the A Song of Ice and Fireseries. Before continuing, I’d like to point out that this is in no way an attempt to say that anything from George R.R. Martin’s pen is directly relevant to the situation in Ukraine. Rather, it’s an interesting way to think about the interaction between power and truth, and that interaction is important in regards to Ukraine. No “What can Buffy the Vampire Slayer tell us about people dying in Donetsk?”, etc. Since the quote is well reproduced in Game of Thrones, I’ve included the clip below (Safe for work, unlike half the programme, and spoiler free):

For those without headphones at work, the books don’t delve into the riddle’s answer (although arguably the entire series is an attempt at one). Varys (a royal advisor, of sorts) tells Tyrion:

In a room sit three great men, a king, a priest, and a rich man with his gold. Between them stands a sellsword, a little man of common birth and no great mind. Each of the great ones bids him slay the other two. ‘Do it,’ says the king, ‘for I am your lawful ruler.’ ‘Do it,’ says the priest, ‘for I command you in the names of the gods.’ ‘Do it,’ says the rich man, ‘and all this gold shall be yours.’ So tell me- who lives and who dies?

In the TV version, this conversation continues:

Tyrion Lannister: Depends on the sellsword.
Lord Varys: Does it? He has neither crown, nor gold, nor favor with the gods.
Tyrion Lannister: He has a sword, the power of life and death.
Lord Varys: But if it’s swordsmen who rule, why do we pretend kings hold all the power? When Ned Stark lost his head, who was truly responsible? Joffrey? The executioner? Or something else?

Abdullah Declares Victory in Afghanistan’s Presidential Elections

September 10, 2014

Presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah declares victory prematurely, throwing Afghanistan into crisis. 

Afghanistan has suddenly grown tense as presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah publicly declared himself the winner of June’s disputed run-off presidential elections on Monday. This statement came days before the announcement of audited election results, which are expected to give the election to Abdullah’s rival, Ashraf Ghani. Ghani is a Pashtun whose support is in southern Afghanistan while Abdullah is (half) Tajik, with a power base in northern Afghanistan.

Abdullah’s timing is notable and may be the result of pressure from his supporters to reject the audit results no matter what. It also comes one day before the 13th anniversary of the assassination by Al Qaeda of northern hero Ahmad Shah Massoud, who fought the Pashtun Taliban. Rejecting the results before they are released would be easier than after, since doing so would cast doubt on their legitimacy. Abdullah told his supporters that “we are the winner of the election based on the clean votes of the people. Fraud, fraudulent results and the announcement of the fraudulent results are not acceptable.”

Abdullah’s move comes despite United States Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts. Kerry had previously brokered a deal in which both candidates agreed to accept the outcome of an audit of the elections. However, many northern Afghans, most of whom are Tajiks, feel cheated of the president’s post again; Abdullah conceded the 2009 presidential election to Hamid Karzai. There is a perception that the Pashtun establishment, possibly backed by Karzai, used its influence to bias the present election towards Ghani.

Still, it seems likely that Ghani did actually win the election because of the consolidation of the Pashtun vote around him. In the first round of the Afghan elections, there were several Pashtun candidates in addition to Abdullah, the only Tajik who ran in the election. This would explain how Abdullah won the first round of the elections but not the second one. Additionally, Ghani has some support in the north because his vice presidential candidate, Rashid Dostum, hails from the minority Uzbek community concentrated near the border with Uzbekistan.

The role of Pakistan in the Taliban insurgency

09 Sep , 2014

The name Afghanistan means the land of the Afghans. The origins of the name Afghan remain unclear. Its use dates from the 18th century, when Pashtun tribes began to carve out a region of Central Asia as their sovereign base. As the British Empire expanded, it tried to place the Pashtuns under their rule. Throughout the 19th century, British Indian Military units tried to control the recalcitrant Afghan tribes who may or may not have preferred rule by other Afghans, but certainly opposed that of the British. The frontier Pashtun tribes continue to bedevil Afghan Pakistan relations today since the Pakistanis have inherited the British mantle in this region.

Al Qaeda was both a client of and a patron of the Taliban, which in turn was supported by Pakistan.

The Land and Its People

The Pashtuns form the most important and the most numerous ethnic group in Afghanistan. The twin terms Pashtun and Pakhtun refer to the two separate confederations of tribes, the Abdali or Durrani tribes based in the Kandahar-Herat region and the Ghilzai based in the Nangarhar-Paktia region, who together with the eastern tribes in Pakistan speak the Pashtun dialect. The tribes that belong to neither confederacy, the Afridi, Khattak, Orakzai, Waziri, Mahsud were designated as the hill tribes by the British though increasingly they came under the term Pashtun for the sake of convenience.

The characteristics of Pashtun form the stuff of tales from Rudyard Kipling to George Macdonald Fraser. The 17th century Pashtun poet and warrior Kushal Khan Khattak depicts the acme of Pashtun manhood as brave, love smitten, honourable and heroic. The Pashtuns are overwhelmingly Sunni of the Hanafi School of law. They are known for their Pashtun code or Pashtunwali, the tribal code of honour, which includes Melmastia, or hospitality, Nanawati, the notion that hospitality can never be denied to a fugitive and badal, the right of revenge. Pashtun honour is maintained by constant feuding, revolving around Zar (gold), Zan (woman) and Zamin (land).

The Tadjiks speak Afghan, Persian or Dari and live in northern, northwestern and western Afghanistan. Related to the Tadjiks are the Farsiwan, also Sunni, the Quizilbash and the Hazara, both Shia. Besides these there are Turkic people, Uzbeks, Turkmen and Kazakhs, all Sunni. In the West bordering Iran are the Heratis who are Shia.

It can be clearly seen from the demographic composition of Afghanistan, that its population is heterogeneous. However over the years the Pashtuns have consecrated to themselves that they are the rulers of Afghanistan. This has not gone down well with the people other than the Pashtuns. The crux of the problem in Afghanistan is that for generations the leadership of the Pashtuns had not been challenged by the other groups- the Tadjiks, Uzbeks, the Quizilbash, Turkmen, Farsiwan and the Heratis. Also, the division between the Sunni and the Shia was not as unmanageable as is the situation today. The crux of the problem has been because of the divide between the Western world and the Islamic world that has automatically exacerbated with the extremist Islamic groups becoming well defined like the Jammat Ulema Islam, the Ahle Hadis, and the Wahabi sect from Saudi Arabia. These groups have not taken kindly to the more moderate Shia, or the Jammat-e-Islami practiced by the Tadjiks, Uzbeks. To take a specific example, the Hazaras are Shias, yet the Hazara women represent their community in their defence leadership. This stand is not acceptable to the Pashtun Jamaat-e-Ulema-i-Islam.

Imp Papers

Uplifting the Cities of the Poor

Summer 2014

What Kinshasa, Port-au-Prince, and others can learn from Western urbanization


Refugees are flocking to Third World cities like Dhaka, where the population has swelled to 15 million inhabitants.

Over the last half-century, a once overwhelmingly rural world has become ever more urban. In 1960, the urbanization rate in the majority of poor countries was less than 10 percent. Just 3 percent of Botswana’s population lived in cities, for example, while Kenya was 7 percent urban and Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) was 5 percent urban. Even China had only 16 percent of its people then residing in cities. Nowadays, China is more than 50 percent urban and Botswana more than 60 percent. In those two countries, industrialization and increasing prosperity have accompanied the population shift to cities. China’s real per-capita incomes have risen 25-fold since the early 1960s, and Botswana is more than 17 times wealthier. This has been urbanization’s usual historical pattern. In 1961, a 1 percent increase in urbanization was associated with per-capita earnings growth of 3 percent. And the trend is even stronger today: in 2011, a 1 percent rise in urbanization was associated with a 5 percent boost in earnings.

Yet while urbanization continues to correlate with prosperity, recent years have seen the striking rise of a new phenomenon: urbanizing countries that remain poor. Urbanization has increased from 5 percent to 28 percent in Bangladesh and from 7 percent to 24 percent in Kenya, for example, but prosperity has stood still. The urbanization of these poor nations doesn’t take the form of midsize urban centers, like those that sprouted along most of America’s major nineteenth-century waterways, but typically of a single megacity. The Nairobi agglomeration has a population of 3 million; Dhaka has 15 million inhabitants. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is the ultimate example of this new form of impoverished urbanization. Its capital, Kinshasa, has 8.4 million people, while per-capita income in the country is about $250. Haiti is also an extreme case, with an urbanization rate of over 50 percent and a per-capita income under $1,000. Karachi has 13.5 million inhabitants; the per-capita income in Pakistan is about $1,200.

These impoverished big cities are mostly located in poorly governed countries, lacking stable institutions and strong property rights, which helps explain why economic growth hasn’t taken off in them. But if these vast urban agglomerations aren’t providing much economic opportunity, why are rural people still moving to them? And how can such cities, with extremely limited resources, deal with the perpetual demons of density, including contagions, crime, and housing? Can a megacity of almost 9 million people in a country where incomes average $250 a year be anything but a hell on earth? Cholera rages in Port-au-Prince and Kinshasa; hundreds are killed each year by the commuter trains of Mumbai. The awful downsides of urban poverty might seem to support limits on urban growth or a more aggressive focus on rural development. But cities are the present and future of the developing world. The great challenge of our century will be to make them livable.

It might seem that the world’s wealthy metropolises are so different from places like Kinshasa that their experience has little relevance. But the history of New York itself is the story of a city struggling to make itself livable, despite world-class corruption. Developing-world megacities need to learn the lessons of the fight for better urban government, as much as they need technocratic advice and new technologies.

Why has poor-country urbanization become so common when it was once rare? In the broadest sense, it is because the longtime connection between agricultural productivity and urban growth has been broken. From medieval times and for centuries afterward, famine-causing disasters didn’t send peasants flocking to the nearest town or city—that path led only to starvation. Staying close to the land offered the best chance of survival. Cities grew only when they could tap vast agricultural surpluses and, crucially, had the means to get that food delivered reliably from their hinterlands.

***** Chinese Military Modernization and Force Development: Chinese and Outside Perspectives

SEP 9, 2014

The Burke Chair at CSIS has updated its analysis of the trends in Chinese military strategy and forces entitledChinese Military Modernization and Force Development: Chinese and Outside Perspectives. This report is the final review version of previous Burke Chair studies and is available on the CSIS web site athttp://csis.org/files/publication/140702_Chinese_MilBalance.pdf.

This is the final draft before publication, and any comments will be gratefully received. The goal behind this report is not to present the authors’ view of the balance, but rather to provide the basis for an unclassified dialogue on the military developments in China, including the size and structure of the country’s current and planned military forces. It draws on official US, Chinese, and other Asian official reporting, as well as the work of other scholars and the data bases developed by the IISS and Jane’s in an effort to compare different views of Chinese strategy and military developments, and is meant to provide US, Chinese, and other analysts with a better basis for understanding Western estimates of the changes in Chinese force strength and force quality.

The United States and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) face a critical need to improve their understanding of how each is developing its military power and how to avoid forms of military competition that could lead to rising tension or conflict between the two states. This report focuses on China’s military developments and modernization and how they are perceived in the US, the West, and Asia. It utilizes the unclassified data available in the West on the trends in Chinese military forces. It relies heavily on the data in the US Department of Defense (DoD) Report to Congress on Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China, particularly the 2013 and 2014 editions.

It relies heavily on the annual military balances compiled by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), though a range of sources are included. It should be noted that this report focuses on Chinese forces, and therefore presents only one side of the US and Chinese balance and the security situation in Asia. It also draws upon a Burke Chair report entitled The Evolving Military Balance in the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia, looking at the bilateral US-Chinese balance in more detail.

Accordingly, it focuses on the actual changes taking place in Chinese forces, and it provides a detailed analysis of the trends in Chinese military forces since 1985, examining how the often-conflicting trends in outside sources interact with reporting on Chinese military spending and strategy. It also shows that important changes are taking place in US strategy and that these changes must be considered when evaluating Chinese actions.

The study makes it clear that US, other Asian, and other Western sources and analyses of Chinese military developments are not an adequate basis for US and Chinese dialogue without Chinese review, commentary, or more Chinese transparency in providing data on Chinese strategy, military forces, and military spending. There is a critical need for focused military dialogue and for joint US and Chinese efforts to develop common data and perceptions on US and Chinese military strategy and net assessments of the overall trends in military balance and strategic situation in the Pacific region.

Moreover, this report shows that focusing on strategy and concepts in broad terms is no substitute for a detailed examination of specific changes in force strength, the extent to which concepts and strategy are actually being implemented, and how the shifts in US and Chinese forces actually compare.

The report examines a range of data regarding Chinese capabilities and force modernization, focusing on the most reliable sources. Using these sources, it analyzes the full range of China’s military capabilities as well as trends in their growth and composition. The data indicate that the PRC has engaged in a continuing military modernization program that is expanding the capabilities available to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

Although the PLA has consistently reduced its Personnel since the 1980s, reductions in obsolete equipment and the procurement and deployment of modern systems in its land, air, naval, and missile forces have led to increases in the PLA’s overall military effectiveness, especially in the context of its “Local War under Conditions of Informatization” military doctrine.

China tells Dalai Lama again to respect reincarnation

BEIJING Wed Sep 10, 2014 

The Dalai Lama gestures before speaking to students during a talk at Mumbai University February 18, 2011.
BEIJING (Reuters) - China repeated a call on the Dalai Lama on Wednesday to respect what it said was the historic practice of reincarnation, after the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader implied in a newspaper interview he may be the last to hold the position.

The Dalai Lama, in an interview with German newspaper Welt am Sonntag, said the tradition of the post could end with him, adding the Tibetan Buddhism was not dependent on a single person.

The Dalai Lama, 79, has stated previously that he will not be reborn in China if Tibet is not free and that no one, including China, has the right to choose his successor "for political ends". China has previously warned the Dalai Lama he has no right to abandon the tradition of reincarnation.

China, which regards the Dalai Lama as a dangerous separatist, has ruled Tibet with an iron fist since Communist troops marched in 1950. The Dalai Lama fled into exile in India in 1959 after an abortive uprising against Chinese rule.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a daily news briefing that when it came to the reincarnation of living Buddhas, including the Dalai Lama, China had a "set religious procedure and historic custom".

"China follows a policy of freedom of religion and belief, and this naturally includes having to respect and protect the ways of passing on Tibetan Buddhism," Hua said.

"The title of Dalai Lama is conferred by the central government, which has hundreds of years of history. The (present) 14th Dalai Lama has ulterior motives, and is seeking to distort and negate history, which is damaging to the normal order of Tibetan Buddhism."

In 1995, after the Dalai Lama named a boy in Tibet as the reincarnation of the previous Panchen Lama, the second highest figure in Tibetan Buddhism, China put that boy under house arrest and installed another in his place.

Many Tibetans spurn the Chinese-appointed Panchen Lama as a fake.

Traditionally, high lamas, Buddhist priests, can take years to identify a child deemed to be a reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, a search usually limited to Tibet.

Tibetans fear that China will use the issue of the Dalai Lama's religious succession to split Tibetan Buddhism, with one new Dalai Lama named by exiles and one by China after his death.

China says its rule has brought much needed development to poor and backward Tibet. Exiles and rights groups accuse China of failing to respect Tibet's unique religion and culture and of suppressing its people.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Zhou Yongkang, Islamic State and China’s Pivot West

By Yo-Jung Chen
September 09, 2014

The downfall of its oil and security tsar gives China a chance to salvage relations with its Muslim minority. 

After years of living under the threat of the likes of Al Qaida, Taliban and other Islamic extremists, the world is discovering a new and much more fearsome brand of terror in the fast-spreading Islamic State, or IS, in the Middle East.

Few people in East Asia would feel directly concerned by the gruesome accounts of the battles and atrocities involving IS in the remote Middle East. But is the threat really all that distant?

In an August 11 article in Foreign Policy, Alexa Olesen observed how China (or at least segments of the Chinese media) is taking seriously a July 4 speech by IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in which he called for a jihad against countries that “seized Muslim rights.” China tops the list of the dozen such countries for the way it is accused of treating the minority Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang. The IS chief even seemed to have threatened to occupy part of Xinjiang.

Even though the threat of occupying a chunk of Chinese territory seems far removed from reality, the Chinese do have a legitimate reason to brace themselves against what amounted to a declaration of war from what is now the most feared Islamic extremist organization in the world. Apart from foreseeable terrorist acts against Chinese citizens and interests both at home (especially in Xinjiang) and abroad, Chinese strategists must also worry about the future of their cherished westward pivot through Central Asia.

As I noted in my January 15, 2014 piece for The Diplomat, China has been exploring a new Silk Road, extending from its western border across Central Asia into oil-rich Middle East, in hopes of achieving an overland supply route for the resources-thirsty country.

As Xuexi Shibao, a Chinese Communist Party newspaper, pointed out on September 8, China has been pushing for two “Silk Roads” to link it to the resources-rich Middle East. One is the traditional sea lane which runs through the Indian Ocean, South China Sea and East China Sea, and which has been re-baptized by President XI Jinping as the “Maritime Silk Road.” The other, less noticed, consists of building a new supply route overland through Central Asia and into the Middle East.

Viewed from China, the Maritime Silk Road is, geopolitically speaking, risk-prone, going through territories that are not necessarily China-friendly. Along this sea lane, China has to deal with regional powers such as India and Indonesia on one end and Japan on the other, not to mention omnipresent U.S. forces. Recent Chinese efforts to beef up its influence along this lane (investing in port facilities in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, for example) have met with a thinly veiled and determined counter-effort from a strategically invigorated Japan. The same sea lane is as vital for Japan as it is for China and, under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Tokyo has embarked on an extensive diplomatic drive in Southeast Asia and in South Asia, in part to make sure that these regions will not be seduced into Chinese sphere of influence.

China: Very Dangerous Thinking.

September 7, 2014: The government is angry and frustrated at their inability to silence demands for more democracy in Hong Kong. The government has made it very clear that there will never be true democracy in Hong Kong but the locals refuse to stop agitating for just that. In June there was referendum on greater democracy for Hong Kong. Some 22 percent of registered Hong Kong voters cast electronic ballots (using their government ID) in the non-binding poll. Most people voted for more democracy. Currently China controls who can be allowed to run for office in Hong Kong and directly appoints many officials. Government controlled media condemned the vote, but Hong Kong does have enough autonomy to get away with this sort of protest, and many others besides. As long as there is no violence the government tolerates it, for now. China does not want to endure the domestic and international backlash that would accompany a severe (sending large numbers of activists to jail and some “disappearances”) crackdown on the pro-democracy movement. For one thing, it would be bad for business. But more democracy would be bad for the communist government, which would lose power in a democracy. Most people in Hong Kong, and a growing number in the rest of China, believe that democracy should be given a chance. These Chinese have noted how so many Western ideas have benefitted China, often after some modifications to suit local needs. Why not democracy as well? After all, it works in Taiwan and Singapore. To the Chinese government this is very dangerous thinking.

While the United States is often accused of ignoring the cultural differences with its allies and opponents, and making bad decisions based on misperceptions, other countries often do the same. While the United States has made many mistakes because American leaders thought foreigners thought like Americans (but in a different language) at least the U.S. has come to acknowledge that this problem exists. Not so in China where this lack of empathy for other cultures is rampant in the government and especially in the military. This includes that part of the military that prepares plans for dealing with foreigners in crises situations that could lead to war. While Chinese leaders are very conscious of their own history and the many lessons they can still learn from all that the one lesson that makes their neighbors nervous is that the Chinese believe Chinese expansion is a natural and justified policy for China. The neighbors are very uncomfortable with China's reemerging (but quite ancient) attitude that China is the center of the universe (the "Middle Kingdom") and that everyone should show more respect and pay tribute. The Chinese government encourages these nationalistic attitudes, and many Chinese are eager to see China become more powerful and "get more respect." This is dangerous stuff and a common precursor for war. But China is run by a communist police state that sees nationalism as a useful tool to keep the communists in power. This is the sort of atmosphere that triggered the two World Wars. In 1914 Germany, long the disunited and picked apart mess in Central Europe was again united (in 1870) and wanted respect to go along with its newfound economic and military power.

The government is now taking on Christianity, treating some practitioners as potentially dangerous to the state. Christianity has been in China for centuries and currently is about five percent of the population and growing fast. In some provinces where Christians are prominent (lots of churches) and numerous the government is shutting down churches and arresting clergy and prominent Christians for the least infraction of the law. This effort is most visible on the North Korean border, where foreign Christians (some of them ethnic Koreans or Chinese) have been assisting North Koreans who have escaped from North Korea. Another hotspot is the southeastern city of Wenzhou, long known as a “Christian city” (because about 15 percent of the population is Christian) where local authorities are shutting down dozens of Christian churches. Even before the communists took over in the late 1940s Chinese governments had long seen religion as a constant threat. What is especially alarming is any religion that attracts too many members and become more visible, especially as critics of the government. Some Christian sects are doing this and now comes the usual government response. The last thing China wants is any religion in China constantly demonstrating that it cannot be destroyed and can still fight back.

Chinese efforts, since the 1990s, to curb corruption in the military are not working. At least these efforts are not helping the military to become more effective. Desperate for a solution the government is trying something different. In the last year the government ordered some detailed studies of how the military operates and how effective the armed forces were. The report found lots of problems, most of them connected in one way or another with corruption. This led to the recent appearance of many stories in state-controlled media detailing how corruption in the military was a major reason for Chinese defeats in the last two centuries. At the same time much media attention is being given to senior generals being prosecuted for corruption. In Chinese culture this is the equivalent of a Western country suddenly accusing senior military leaders of corruption and damaging the national defense. China is also not sparing recent political leaders as these articles are also discussing more recent military disasters (like the 1979 war with Vietnam) and the role political and military corruption played. All this is a big deal in communist China, a very big deal indeed. Until recently the senior communists rarely criticized each other in public like this. This is supposed to send a message to the people and the troops that something is finally being done, and to scare the senior officers, especially the ones who are dirty.