7 March 2015

Tribunal strikes down divisive army promotion policy

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 7th March 14

In a landmark ruling on Monday, the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) struck down a contentious army promotion policy, which has deeply divided the officer class since it was implemented in 2009.

The discriminatory policy rigged promotions in favour of the two biggest arms --- the infantry and artillery --- by allocating them an unfairly large number of promotion vacancies at the “commanding officer” rank of colonel.

The rigged rules ensured the dominance of infantry and artillery officers across all senior ranks, since their preponderance at the rank of colonel --- which the 2009 policy ensured --- translated into additional vacancies at the successively higher ranks of brigadier, major general and lieutenant general.

“The action of the [army in] not granting equal opportunity of promotion to all officers of all corps of Indian Army is discriminatory and violates the fundamental rights of the petitioners under Article 14, 6 and 21 of the Constitution of India”, the AFT has ruled.

The AFT has ordered that all promotion boards to the rank of colonel held after 2008 should be conducted afresh, with other arms and services allocated vacancies based on a “pro rata” calculation.

Army’s 2009 promotion policy for Colonels ‘unconstitutional’: Tribunal

MAR 07, 2015

In the ongoing financial year, the government underspent on the modernisation of the forces.

In a far reaching decision, the Principal Bench of the Armed Forces Tribunal has quashed the Army’s promotion policy for the rank of Colonel from January 2009 onwards after finding it to be violative of Article 14 of the Constitution.

The AFT passed the orders on March 2 acting on a petition filed by a group of officers who had been adversely affected by the changed policy, known as ‘command exit promotion policy’, and had alleged it to be arbitrary and highly skewed in favour of Infantry and Artillery as compared to other branches within Army.

The AFT bench comprising Justice Sunil Hali and Air Marshal JN Burma has also ordered that the Army should consider the case of the petitioners and all those persons for promotion who have been denied the same on the basis of changed policy and create supernumerary posts for the purpose of pay and allowances from the date they were eligible for promotion to the posts based on merit.

The bench ordered that their promotion shall be considered on pro rata basis which was the policy in force prior to January 21, 2009. The AFT bench also said that the persons who have been promoted on the basis of the policy of 2009 shall continue to remain on their posts. The bench has also turned down the application of the union government for leave to appeal before the Supreme Court against the AFT orders.

The Government had released 1484 vacancies of Colonels to be distributed in two phases called AVSC I (750 vacancies) and AVSC II (734 vacancies) in November 2008. The aim was to achieve a reduction in the age of Battalion and Brigade Commanders and cause an improvement in career aspirations of officers of the Armed Forces.

The vacancies in Phase I of AVSC were allocated between the various Corps of the Army on pro rata basis of corps strength of officer cadre and the Phase II vacancies were distributed on Command Exit Model.

'Jon Sen', through bloodstained glasses

Amit Roy

Jogendra Nath Sen

London, March 6: BBC television was due to broadcast another Indian documentary but compared with India's Daughter, it is much less controversial.

This time it is about an army private by the name of Jogendra Nath Sen, who is thought to be the first Bengali soldier to have died for Britain in World War I.

The programme, to be broadcast on BBC1 but only to regional viewers in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, has been billed "the story of an Indian student who became a World War I hero".

As part of the research into tales of bravery to mark the 100th anniversary of 1914-1918 war, the British authorities and research organisations are digging up stories of people from other countries who made the ultimate sacrifice for someone else's "King and country".

Although much better educated than his compatriots in the British army, Sen could not be made an officer since this was restricted to whites. So Sen, who enlisted as a private and the only non-white member of the 15th West Yorkshire regiment, could not rise through the ranks.

Sen was killed in action near the Somme in 1916. He was 27 years old. He was buried in Sucrerie Military Cemetery, Colincamps, France.

Since Jogendra was difficult for his fellow soldiers to pronounce, they anglicised his first name to "Jon".

The story of "Jon Sen" was discovered by Santanu Das, an expert in India's involvement in World War I. Das is a reader in English at King's College London, a Leeds University spokesman said.

Das came across Private Sen's bloodstained glasses in a museum display case on a visit to his hometown of Chandernagore in Hooghly.

Das said: "I was absolutely stunned when I saw the pair of glasses. It's one of the most poignant artefacts I've seen - a material token of the fragility of life at the front."

When Das gave a talk as part of the Leeds University's "Legacies of War centenary project", someone pointed out that Private Sen's name was on the nearby university war memorial and further information began to pour in, he said.

Das added: "The glasses led me to find other remarkable objects, some from my own extended family, and on to a tantalising trail of other educated middle-class Bengalis, who often served as doctors.

Judging the judges - The courts in a changing world

Politics and Play: Ramachandra Guha

Here, in full, is a recent news item in a New Delhi newspaper: "When former Chief Justice of India and current Kerala Governor P. Sathasivam came to Delhi to attend the wedding reception of B[haratiya] J[anata] P[arty] chief Amit Shah, he also reached out to various government functionaries to explore the possibility of a Delhi posting - either as L[ieutenant] G[overnor] or N[ational] H[uman] R[ights] C[ommission] chairperson. While there is lot of speculation that the government could bring in a new face as Delhi LG, the top post in NHRC will fall vacant in May when incumbent Justice K.G.Balakrishnan demits office. It remains to be seen if the powers-that-be will oblige the Kerala Governor."

Reporters are not supposed to editorialize; still, it is remarkable how matter-of-fact this news item was. A governor is a high constitutional post; governors are supposed to act with scrupulous impartiality, and keep their distance (personal and institutional) from politicians. But here was a governor attending the wedding reception of the son of the president of the ruling party, flying all the way from Thiruvananthapuram to Delhi to do so. This in itself was odd; odder still was the motive attributed to the trip, which was to find a way of getting himself transferred to the capital. This too was reported in a bland, neutral, tone, as if it was an utterly normal thing to do.

Before the two men met at the wedding, P. Sathasivam and Amit Shah had known of each other professionally. In 2012 and 2013, Justice Sathasivam was part of a Supreme Court bench that dealt with the encounter killing of a certain Tulsiram Prajapati. Amit Shah was one of the accused in the case. The court cleared Shah of the charges. Soon after Justice Sathasivam retired, he was appointed governor of Kerala. Since the BJP was now in power at the Centre, some saw this as a quid pro quo for his having cleared Amit Shah in a criminal case. The Justice denied this, pointing out (in an interview to The Hindu) that there was little prospect of Amit Shah becoming the party president of the BJP when the case was being heard.

Whatever the reasons for his appointment, the fact remains that P. Sathasivam was the first retired chief justice in the history of independent India to be appointed a governor. When the appointment was announced last September, at least two former chief justices went on record criticizing it. Since the judiciary needs at all times to be insulated from political pressure, this was seen as an unhealthy precedent. Speaking to the Indian Express, the distinguished jurist, Fali Nariman, called the appointment "most improper and unfortunate". He went on to say that "judges seeking jobs or a seat in Parliament... gravely affects the concept of independence of the judiciary, proudly and repeatedly proclaimed - alas only by sitting Judges of the Supreme Court - as a basic feature of the Constitution".

India and Japan Inch Closer to Surveillance Aircraft Deal

March 05, 2015

New Delhi and Tokyo are inching closer to finalizing a deal for the sale of Japan’s US-2 amphibious aircraft to India. 

As India and Japan continue to strategically converge amid mutual fears regarding China’s rise, they have deepened their defense cooperation. Notably, India will likely be Japan’s first export partner for military hardware under Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s principles on defense equipment exports. The Japanese government recently lifted its decades-old self-imposed ban on exporting weaponry to other countries.

The two governments look all set to conclude a landmark deal for the sale of Japanese amphibious search and rescue (SAR) aircraft, a deal that has been in the works for years. India will likely purchase 12 ShinMaywa US-2 short take-off and landing (STOL) SARs this year (down from an earlier estimate of 15). Negotiations for the sale of the US-2 began in 2011 under the Democratic Party of Japan, first under Prime Minister Naoto Kan and then under Yoshihiko Noda.

The US-2 itself is a reliable and capable surveillance aircraft with a range of around 4,700 km, capable of transporting its crew and cargo from Indian territory to anywhere in the Indian Ocean region within 3 hours; its most notable feature is its ability to take-off and land at sea. Once acquired, India will likely station the US-2s off the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the Bay of Bengal, using the aircraft to conduct surveillance of the eastern Indian Ocean region. Indian military sources have also told the press that the US-2 will allow the Indian military to support friendly vessels in Southeast Asian waters, potentially detecting pirates and other threats.

Additionally, the US-2′s versatility and ability to land at sea make it well-suited to assist military and civilian ships that break down at sea or need emergency assistance. The search-and-rescue, anti-piracy, and humanitarian assistance applications of the US-2 make it a compelling option for the Indian Navy. Additionally, amid Indian fears that the Chinese Navy will add the eastern Indian Ocean into its regular area of operation, the US-2′s surveillance capabilities haven’t been a tough sell domestically.

The East India Company: The original corporate raiders

4 March 2015 

The Mughal emperor Shah Alam hands a scroll to Robert Clive, the governor of Bengal, which transferred tax collecting rights in Bengal, Bihar and Orissa to the East India Company. Illustration: Benjamin West (1738–1820)/British Library

One of the very first Indian words to enter the English language was the Hindustani slang for plunder: “loot”. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, this word was rarely heard outside the plains of north India until the late 18th century, when it suddenly became a common term across Britain. To understand how and why it took root and flourished in so distant a landscape, one need only visit Powis Castle.

The last hereditary Welsh prince, Owain Gruffydd ap Gwenwynwyn, built Powis castle as a craggy fort in the 13th century; the estate was his reward for abandoning Wales to the rule of the English monarchy. But its most spectacular treasures date from a much later period of English conquest and appropriation: Powis is simply awash with loot from India, room after room of imperial plunder, extracted by the East India Companyin the 18th century.

There are more Mughal artefacts stacked in this private house in the Welsh countryside than are on display at any one place in India – even the National Museum in Delhi. The riches include hookahs of burnished gold inlaid with empurpled ebony; superbly inscribed spinels and jewelled daggers; gleaming rubies the colour of pigeon’s blood and scatterings of lizard-green emeralds. There are talwars set with yellow topaz, ornaments of jade and ivory; silken hangings, statues of Hindu gods and coats of elephant armour.

Such is the dazzle of these treasures that, as a visitor last summer, I nearly missed the huge framed canvas that explains how they came to be here. The picture hangs in the shadows at the top of a dark, oak-panelled staircase. It is not a masterpiece, but it does repay close study. An effete Indian prince, wearing cloth of gold, sits high on his throne under a silken canopy. On his left stand scimitar and spear carrying officers from his own army; to his right, a group of powdered and periwigged Georgian gentlemen. The prince is eagerly thrusting a scroll into the hands of a statesmanlike, slightly overweight Englishman in a red frock coat.

India: Mooring in foreign shores?

Manoj Joshi
04 March 2015

In the second week of this month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi plans to visit Sri Lanka, Maldives, Mauritius and Seychelles. This is another version of his South Asian neighbourhood diplomacy, only the neighbours here are long neglected oceanic ones. Modi will be the first Indian PM to visit Sri Lanka in 28 years, and first to visit Seychelles since Indira Gandhi, the last prime ministerial visit to Mauritius was in 2005 and to Maldives in 2011. 

Concern mounted in India in 2007 when Chinese President Hu Jintao rounded off his eight-nation trip to Africa with a stop at Seychelles. Last year, they reached a crescendo with the berthing of Chinese submarines in Colombo, and the visits of President Xi Jinping to Sri Lanka and Maldives, as part of his South Asian tour that brought him to India. 

China is using economic, military and diplomatic tools to gain influence over coastal states and small islands in the IOR and is using its investments and aid to consolidate its strategic positions. In addition, there is the reality of China's steadily growing influence in the littoral through military and economic ties with our immediate neighbours, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. 

Just how intense the competition is became evident last month when Male's main water desalination plant collapsed. Just a day after India sent five aircraft and two ships on an emergency mission to aid Maldives to overcome its water crisis, China pointedly sent a military vessel carrying 960 ton of fresh water and donated $500,000 for the repairs of the plant. Maldives is a particular area of concern to India since it was the object of back to back visits by Chinese President Xi Jinping in September and Defence Minister Chang Wanquan in November 2014. There have been persistent reports about China's desire to construct a naval facility in the archipelago. 

Chinese trade in the IOR has steadily grown in recent years. Beijing has important ties with resource-rich nations of East Africa and the Persian Gulf. It has a major role in the Gwadar port in Pakistan, at the mouth of the strategic Persian Gulf. Last November, China gave a call for the creation of a maritime silk route to enhance connectivity and trade among the Asian nations, and it has now operationalised a $40 billion fund to assist in the building of port and infrastructure in relation to it. 

The East India Company: The original corporate raiders | William Dalrymple

William Dalrymple on the corporate take over of India once again.

As I drifted on past the fort walls, I thought about the nexus between corporations and politicians in India today – which has delivered individual fortunes to rival those amassed by Clive and his fellow company directors. The country today has 6.9% of the world’s thousand or so billionaires, though its gross domestic product is only 2.1% of world GDP. The total wealth of India’s billionaires is equivalent to around 10% of the nation’s GDP – while the comparable ratio for China’s billionaires is less than 3%. More importantly, many of these fortunes have been created by manipulating state power – using political influence to secure rights to land and minerals, “flexibility” in regulation, and protection from foreign competition.

Multinationals still have villainous reputations in India, and with good reason; the many thousands of dead and injured in the Bhopal gas disaster of 1984 cannot be easily forgotten; the gas plant’s owner, the American multinational, Union Carbide, has managed to avoid prosecution or the payment of any meaningful compensation in the 30 years since. But the biggest Indian corporations, such as Reliance, Tata, DLF and Adani have shown themselves far more skilled than their foreign competitors in influencing Indian policymakers and the media. Reliance is now India’s biggest media company, as well as its biggest conglomerate; its owner, Mukesh Ambani, has unprecedented political access and power.

The last five years of India’s Congress party government were marked by a succession of corruption scandals that ranged from land and mineral giveaways to the corrupt sale of mobile phone spectrum at a fraction of its value. The consequent public disgust was the principal reason for the Congress party’s catastrophic defeat in the general election last May, though the country’s crony capitalists are unlikely to suffer as a result.

Estimated to have cost $4.9bn – perhaps the second most expensive ballot in democratic history after the US presidential election in 2012 – it brought Narendra Modi to power on a tidal wave of corporate donations. Exact figures are hard to come by, but Modi’s Bharatiya Janata party (BJP), is estimated to have spent at least $1bn on print and broadcast advertising alone. Of these donations, around 90% comes from unlisted corporate sources, given in return for who knows what undeclared promises of access and favours. The sheer strength of Modi’s new government means that those corporate backers may not be able to extract all they had hoped for, but there will certainly be rewards for the money donated.

Mapping the Sudden and Dramatic Growth of ISIS in Afghanistan

March 5, 2015

Ever since disaffected Afghan and Pakistani Taliban insurgents began pledging allegiance to the Islamic State during the summer of 2014, rumors and reports have emerged indicating how the Islamic State has expanded its presence throughout South Asia. A chronological narrative of the rise of the jihadist group in Afghanistan follows below and the above graphic depicts its emergence.

In late September 2014, fierce battles raged between Afghan security forces and insurgents reported to be associated with the Islamic State in the Arjistan District of Ghazni Province. At the time, Afghan officials reported that the insurgents had raised the black flag of the Islamic State and were burning down homes and beheading captured security forces and local residents alike. The incident in Arjistan is mired in controversy, as local Afghan officials allegedly recanted their versions of events and admitted to embellishing the presence of Islamic State fighters as a ploy to obtain more resources, according to a report by The New York Times.

It should also be noted that in early February 2015, the Chief of Police for Ghaznidenied that the Islamic State had created a presence in the area, stating that the insurgents fighting against the Afghan Government were local Taliban members.

In mid-October 2014, a small group of disaffected Pakistani Taliban commanders, including the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan’s Emir for Arakzai Agency, announced their initial pledge to the Islamic State. [See Long War Journal report,Discord dissolves Pakistani Taliban coalition]

In January 2015, the same disgruntled Pakistani Taliban leaders, this time joined by a few little-known disaffected Afghan Taliban commanders, published a propaganda video pledging allegiance to the Islamic State. Within days of the video’s release, the Islamic State announced its expansion into “Khorassan Province” and officially appointed Hafiz Saeed Khan as the Wali (Governor) of Khorassan. The Islamic State also appointed former Guantanamo Bay detainee and senior Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Rauf Khadim as Khan’s deputy. While Khan was primarily responsible for Islamic State activities in the tribal areas of Pakistan, Khadim was based in Helmand Province, particularly in his native village located in Kajaki district. It did not take long before clashes broke out between Khadim’s supporters and their rivals belonging to local Taliban factions.

Quo Vadis Afghanistan? General Campbell Testifies on the Hill

March 05, 2015

Afghan officials during a weekly security meeting in Gardez City in Paktia Province in Eastern Afghanistan.

Campbell reports steady progress, but various challenges will remain for Afghan forces in 2015. 

Yesterday, the commander of U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, Gen. John F. Campbell, testified in front of the U.S. House of Representatives Armed Services Committee on the current situation in Afghanistan. Gen. Campbell first and foremost called for “strategic patience” when dealing with Afghan government forces engaged in fighting in the Taliban insurgency.

U.S. forces officially ended their combat mission (Operation Enduring Freedom) in the country in January 2015. Now, troops from 41 nations are assisting and advising Afghan National Security Forces under a new, much reduced, NATO mission called Resolute Support. Also, U.S. special forces continue to carry out a counter-terrorism mission and hunt the remnants of Al Qaeda and other terror groups in Afghanistan.

“Our Afghan partners have proven that they can and will take the tactical fight from here. They are ready, and it is time,” Campbell notes optimistically. Yet he also cautions that “in spite of considerable progress, it is clear that our campaign will remain a challenging one.” He points out that delays in signing the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) and the NATO Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), as well as setbacks in forming a new cabinet, “have created a period of comparative stagnation in ANDSF [Afghan National Defense & Security Forces] institutional development.”

Campbell emphasizes that the next two years will be crucial in determining whether Afghan forces can hold on to and solidify their gains over the insurgents. “In their second fighting season in the lead, the ANDSF proved proficient at securing the Afghan people, fighting their own battles, and holding the gains achieved by ISAF over the last 13+ years,” he states. Campbell also reported that for the first time since Afghan forces assumed the lead in combat operations, they launched a large-scale cross-pillar and multi-corps operation (Operation ZOLFIQAR) to clear out insurgents from historical areas of insurgent activity, including the Sangin and the Upper Sangin Valley in Helmand province.

However, Afghan forces will not be able to bear increasing casualty rates for too long, Campbell said. “A high ANDSF attrition rate, which accounts for casualties and all other losses to the force, has had an impact on combat readiness. If present rates continue, it will pose challenges to force development over time. The main causes of ANDSF attrition are assessed as poor leadership; high operational tempo; inadequate soldier/police care; and poor force management.”

Several well-known weaknesses still persist in the Afghan force structure. “Their most critical gaps are found in aviation, intelligence, special operations, and the ASI’s ability to conduct tasks such as planning, programming, budgeting, and human resource management,” Campbell said.

The Afghan military is shrinking as the Pentagon withdraws its troops

March 3 

In this Dec. 13, 2014, file photo, an Afghan soldier stands guard at the site of a suicide attack by the Taliban in Kabul, Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul, File) 

When the U.S. military sent tens of thousands of additional troops to Afghanistan as part of a surge in forces in 2009 and 2010, a centerpiece of the effort was growing and improving the Afghan National Security Forces to stand on their own. But as the Pentagon has withdrawn its troops, the Afghan military and police both appear to be shrinking, with thousands killed each year and large numbers deserting the force. 

The top U.S. watchdog for Afghanistan highlighted the trend in a report to Congress released Tuesday. The number of troops in the Afghan army shrunk from 184,839 to 169,203 between fall 2013 and fall 2014, the smallest number since August 2011, according to John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR). 

U.S. Forces-Afghanistan reported that the number of Afghan police was up 3,122 to 156,439 in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2014, but SIGAR questioned whether some of those police had been counted twice and said the actual number may be closer to 151,272. That would amount to a decrease of 2,045 in one quarter. 

“Attrition continues to be a major challenge for the ANSF. Between September 2013 and September 2014, more than 40,000 personnel were dropped from ANA rolls,” SIGAR said in the report, using acronyms for the Afghan National Security Forces and Afghan National Army. “Moreover, the ANA continues to suffer serious combat losses. Between October 2013 and September 2014, more than 1,300 ANA personnel were killed in action (KIA) and 6,200 were wounded in action (WIA).” 

A U.S. soldier keeps watch at the scene following a suicide attack on a Turkish diplomatic vehicle in front of the Iranian embassy in Kabul on Feb. 26. AFP PHOTO / Wakil KOHSARWAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images 

India’s Foreign Policy Radar: Imperatives to Delete Pakistan and Afghanistan

By Dr Subhash Kapila
Paper No. 5885 Dated 04-Mar-2015

Pakistan for decades and now Afghanistan lately are strategic dead-weights and non-performing assets in terms of Indian foreign policy and Indian security interests.

Pakistan and Afghanistan may be strategic assets for United States national interests in South West Asia and that by itself is no reason for India to adopt American foster children in the region.

Pakistan has never shed its visceral hatred for India for over six decades now and four unprovoked and unsuccessful wars against India. There is something sinister in Pakistan’s DNA and especially that of the Pakistan Army generals. No amount of Indian antibiotics in terms of olive branches, Track II toTrack IV processes and use of Indian Special Envoys can treat Pakistan’s insecurities vis-à-vis India.

Successive Indian Governments of different political dispensations, including the present one, stood and stand distracted, from wider successes in Indian foreign policy initiatives because of the disproportionate attention bestowed on Pakistan.

The above chiefly arises from Indian subservience to American security interests in the region and Indian governments’ propensity to outsource their Pakistan foreign policy to Washington.

In the last fifteen years of the so-called US-India Strategic Partnership, can any authoritative source, quote one instance in relation to Pakistan where the United States gave priority to Indian security interests?

Bangladesh: Avijit’s Murder Heralds Ominous Signs

By Bhaskar Roy
Paper No. 5886 Dated 05-Mar-2015

The assassination of Avijit Roy on Dhaka university campus on February 26 is a message to the secular and free thinking society of Bangladesh that the forces of religious intolerant groups are rising at a pace that even the Jamaatul Mujahidin Bangladesh(JMB) could not attain during the BNP-JEI rule from 2001-2006.

During their government, the BNP-JEI combine had a certain accountability to the international community. Today, in the opposition, they have a free hand in creating havoc and raising a new state within the state in Bangladesh that aims to rule by terror. Their excuse, fresh elections to rectify a so-called “flawed” election in which the BNP and its 20-party alliance declined to take part.

Avijit Roy, a 42- year old American citizen of Bangladeshi origin was returning from the “Ekushey” book fair, held in commemoration of the “21 February 1952” language movement that sowed the seeds of East Pakistan’s (Now Bangladesh) separation from West Pakistan (now Pakistan) leading to the Liberation war of 1971. Roy’s wife, Rafida Ahmed Banna, was seriously injured in the incident.

Avijit Roy, who lived in Atalanta, USA, was in Dhaka to attend the “Ekushey” book fair, where two of his recent books were on sale. Of his several books “The Philosophy of Disbelief” and “The Virus of Faith” received critical appreciation across the world. He also ran a website “Mokto-Mona” (freedom of Thought). A prolific writer promoting freedom of thought, religious tolerance, humanism and secularism, Roy became a target of Islamist terrorist groups. He had received several threats to his life before he was killed.

Roy’s father, Dr. Ajoy Roy, a retired physics lecturer of Dhaka University, stood by his son’s belief and work. His life is also under terrorist threat.

A group called Ansar Bangla 7 claimed responsibility for Avijit’s murder. The Police are not yet sure about this group, or whether it is a faction of Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT), a known terrorist organization. ABT was involved in the 2013 assassination of Rajib Haider, another secularist and anti-Islamic activist. Another well known terrorist group, Ansar al Islam claimed responsibility for killing Prof. Shafiqul Islam of Rajshahi University in 2004.

Confirmed: China’s Defense Budget Will Rise 10.1% in 2015

March 05, 2015

Money will be spent on the informatization of the PLA. 

The People’s Republic of China will increase its defense budget by 886.9 billion yuan ($141.45 billion),according to Reuters. This confirms speculations that the spending increase will outpace China’s sluggish GDP-growth of around seven percent projected for 2015.

As an expert on China’s military notes, “The defense budget is basically no longer tied to economic performance. There is a political decision made across the board in China that defense spending is sacrosanct, untouchable.”

China’s defense budget rose by 12.2 percent last year to about $132 billion, second only to the Pentagon’s war chest, which still boasts the world’s largest military budget at around $534 billion in baseline funding. However, as I pointed out yesterday, the Chinese defense budget does not take into account various expenditures such as weapons imports, research and development, and money spent on the PLA’s strategic forces. Real military expenditures may be as much as 40 – 55 percent higher.

What are the funding priorities of the Chinese military in 2015?

According to Premier Li Keqiang in his report to the National People’s Congress, the principal effort will be the modernization and informatization of the armed forces.

“We will comprehensively strengthen modern logistics, step up national defense research and development of new- and high-technology weapons and equipment, and develop defense-related science and technology industries. Governments at all levels must always take an active interest in and support the strengthening of our national defense and armed forces,” he said.

According to Reuters, Lieutenant General Zhong Zhiming, a delegate to the congress notes: “We must develop our weaponry and raise the standards of treatment for military personnel; only then will we be able to really strengthen our strategic combat effectiveness. Then no enemy will dare to bully us.”

No, China Isn't 'Fascist'

By Jin Kai
March 05, 2015

Once again, Western media misunderstands China’s political system. 

A recent commentary from The Sydney Morning Herald’s international editor, Peter Hartcher, described China (along with Islamic State and Russia) as “fascist,” sparking an angry response from China’s Foreign Ministry. Yet the piece likely sparked cheers among people with similar views. There’s no problem with being so straightforward, even as China celebrate the 70th anniversary of victory in the “World Anti-Fascist War.” But the logic behind this piece does not stand firm.

The article gives three defining characteristics of fascists to support its argument: authoritarianism, highly centralized power structures, and exalting the nation above the people.

Becoming authoritarian was not the inevitable path for China to stand as an independent, sovereign state after being forced open by the West. Why then is China’s political system this way? As Martin Jacques explains, China is a unique civilization-state, rather than a Western style nation-state. If people attempt to analyze China through a Western lens, there will always be problems. Criticizing China for its political reality, developmental model, and “non-cooperative” behavior is easy, but seeing and truly understanding the differences and divergences between civilizations is far more difficult — so much so that quite often people choose not to even try. Instead, they import a Western concept (in this case, fascism) to try and conceptualize a non-Western system.

Now, is China centralized? In general, yes — but how centralized? Actually, China is far less centralized than many outside observers assume. To cite one example: for years, fiscal decentralization between the central government and local provinces has played a critical role in the unbalanced flow of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) into the Chinese market. This decentralization has had several readily observable consequences, including different levels of economic growth and green development among the various regions. In his 2012 book, Pierre F. Landry described China’s political system as “decentralized authoritarianism.”

As for the final point, the nation (and the family) has a uniquely important role in China’s contemporary political philosophy. But this is not new, much less an invention of the current regime. Reverence for authority, emphasis on leaders’ moral quality, and collectivism have all been rooted in China’s political culture for thousands of years and these concepts have had natural and inevitable impacts on contemporary Chinese politics. Yet somehow this has made China unpopular in the eyes of the West and some Western media.

The Boss Christians of Wenzhou

March 06, 2015

Could an economic crisis in Wenzhou bring about dark times for China’s Christians? 

By some accounts, China will soon be home to the world’s largest Christian population. For now, though, much depends on Wenzhou, often called ”China’s Jerusalem,” a city in Zhejiang province and the nation’s most Christian town. Around 11 percent of people in Wenzhou are Christian, almost six times higher than the national average. Wenzhou is also one of the nation’s wealthiest cities and for Wenzhou Christians, these two facts are not unrelated. More importantly, they may not be for Chinese leaders either.

A July 2010 NPR report featured a woman named Yao Hong, who considers Christianity patriotic. “If you look at the U.S. or England [...] their churches are rich,” she said, “because God blesses them. So I pray for China.” This brand of capitalist Christianity, which some would argue is self-contradictory, is best exemplified by the boss Christians, or laoban jidutu, so named because they are in fact Christian bosses of their companies. The article describes one such person, Zheng Shengtao, the biggest boss Christian in Wenzhou, and one of the richest men in China, who believes he serves God by making money.

The economic value of the boss Christians seems to support the theory, popular among some Chinese, that it was Christianity that contributed to the success of Western nations. Whether or not this is true, Wenzhou’s economic success, typified by small businesses in what is known as the “Wenzhou model,” may earn it a measure of leniency from the government when it comes to matters of faith. But even with such success, Beijing will not embrace religious tolerance overnight. In the past, its approach to Wenzhou has been simply to impede it, for example by banning vehicles from entering downtown on Christmas Eve 2006, allegedly for the sake of traffic safety.

Yet not all government regulation of religion in Wenzhou has been unreasonable; last Christmas the education bureau banned all Christmas activities in Wenzhou schools, sensibly enforcing the separation of church and state.

But more recently, Beijing has gotten tougher. Last year, the local government announced a policy called san gai yi chai (three reforms, one demolition), which led to the destruction of many churches in the region as well as the removal of crosses from atop buildings near main roads. The official reason for this was to bring buildings in line with zoning codes, which is smart; after the 2009 Sichuan earthquake, it was discovered many schoolhouses had been built with cheap materials in order to cut costs and had subsequently collapsed, killing thousands of children. Zhejiang province has one of the nation’s highest rates of corruption, so strict zoning regulations are a good thing.

With Lower Growth Target, China Pushes 'New Normal'

March 06, 2015

China embraces the “new normal” of slower growth, with some caveats. 

China’s National People’s Congress opened its annual session on Thursday and Premier Li Keqiang gave the annual government work report speech before the legislators. The speech provides the first official announcements of a number of benchmarks for 2015, including China’s GDP growth rate.

The main takeaway was the announcement that China will, as expected, set its GDP growth target at “around 7 percent.” That’s a “soft” goal that means China’s leaders are willing to accept even slightly lower figures (China’s soft target for 2014, for example, was 7.5 percent growth, but the actual growth rate of 7.4 percent was deemed acceptable). Analysts believe China’s leaders would accept growth as low as 6.8 percent.

The lower growth target, which would mean China’s lowest economic growth rate since 1990, is seen as an indication that China is embracing a “new normal” of slower and more sustainable growth. The new target “is both aligned with our goal of finishing the building a moderately prosperous society in all respects and is appropriate in terms of the need to grow and upgrade our economy,” Li said.

However, if Li’s remarks are any indication, China won’t be too keen on growth slipping too much below this – in 2015 or beyond. Li mentioned that 7 percent growth “for a relatively long time” would allow China to “secure a more material foundation for modernization.” Xinhua also cited Lu Feng, a professor at Peking University’s National School of Development, as saying that the Chinese economy could maintain 7 percent growth – apparently the new benchmark for “medium-high growth” – for the next 20 years. Though it’s moved away from the boom years of double-digit growth, Beijing continues to believe that relatively high economic growth is necessary to meet its development goals. A “new normal” of 6 percent growth or even lower seems out of the question.

China is also moving to implement further economic reforms, with 2015 having already been pegged as a crucial year for progress on the reform goals laid out in 2012 by the 18th National Party Congress. Economically, that means slower and more balanced growth. It will also mean new openness to global markets, China’s leaders have promised.

Beijing Strikes Back in US-China Tech Wars

March 06, 2015

Foreign tech firms will either have to comply with intrusive surveillance requirements or risk being substituted by Chinese alternatives. 

China’s new draft anti-terror legislation has sent waves across the U.S. tech community. If there is a brewing tech war between U.S. and China over government surveillance backdoors and a preference for indigenous software, China’s new draft terror law makes it clear that Beijing is happy to give the United States a taste of its own medicine. The law has already drawn considerable criticism from international human rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch for its purported attempts to legitimize wanton human rights violations in the name of counter-terrorism. Additionally, China has opted to implement its own definition of terrorism, placing “any thought, speech, or activity that, by means of violence, sabotage, or threat, aims to generate social panic, influence national policy-making, create ethnic hatred, subvert state power, or split the state” under the umbrella of the overused T-word.

The problematic human rights issues aside, the draft anti-terror law will have important implications for foreign tech firms within China. According to Reuters’ reporting on the draft anti-terror law, counter-terrorism precautions by the Chinese government would essentially require foreign firms to “hand over encryption keys and install security ‘backdoors’” into their software. Additionally, these firms would have to store critical data — certainly data on Chinese citizens and residents — on Chinese soil. The onerous implications of this law could have lead to an immediate freeze to the activities of several Western tech companies in China, the world’s second largest economy and a booming emerging market for new technologies.

On the surface, the most troublesome implication of this law is that in order to comply with this law, Western firms, including non-technical ventures such as financial institutions and manufacturers, will be forced to give up a great deal of security. In essence, corporate secrets, financial data — all critical data — would be insecure and available for access by Chinese regulators. The new law would also prohibit the use of secure virtual private networks (VPNs) to get around these requirements.

The U.S. diplomatic response to Beijing’s new draft law is perhaps best captured in the fact that a whopping four cabinet members in the Obama administration, including Secretary of State John Kerry and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman, wrote the Chinese government expressing “serious concern.” China, for its part, seemed unfazed by U.S. concerns. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told the press that she hoped the United States would view the new anti-terror precautions in “in a calm and objective way.” Indeed, following Edward Snowden’s revelations regarding the extent of the United States’ surveillance of private firms both within and outside the United States, Beijing likely views U.S. concerns as hypocritical. One U.S. industry source told Reuters that the new law was ”the equivalent of the Patriot Act on really, really strong steroids.”

The draft anti-terror law fits into broader plans by the Chinese government to evacuate “key sectors” of foreign software. Chinese President Xi Jinping called for the government to use more domestic technology as early as a year ago, at the first meeting of the Internet security and informatization group. In Xi’s view, for China to become a more secure cyber power, it needs to know how its critical software was developed and minimize opportunities for foreign cyber infiltration. This means by 2020, China will look to entirely wean itself off Microsoft operating systems and IBM software solutions to homegrown alternatives (China released its ”people’s OS” in August 2014).

Malaysia's South China Sea Policy: Playing It Safe

March 06, 2015

Before asking what the country should do, we should look at what it is doing and why. 

As Malaysia chairs the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) this year, there is no shortage of commentary urging the country to ‘do more’ on the South China Sea. Malaysia, it is said, is after all not only a founding member of ASEAN but a claimant state in the South China Sea disputes that also has a good relationship with China. But as I’ve said and written both publicly and privately, it is wise to consider what Malaysia’s current policy on the South China Sea is before asking it to change its stance or questioning whether and why it is or is not doing so.

So what is the current Malaysian government’s South China Sea policy? Of course, there is no official public documentation of exactly what the country’s stance is. One term often heard is ‘quiet diplomacy,’ which was praised by Chinese president Xi Jinping last year. But as I have argued elsewhere, most recently in a report for the Center for New American Security, Malaysia’s position might be better summed up as ‘playing it safe,’ particularly under the current administration of Prime Minister Najib Razak. That is, Malaysia is pursuing a combination of diplomatic, economic, legal, and security initiatives to secure its interests as a claimant state while also being careful not to disrupt its bilateral relationship with China.

An analysis of this ‘playing it safe’ approach should begin with an appreciation of what Malaysia’s interests are on the South China Sea issue. The first and most obvious one is preserving Malaysia’s claims, which is not just essential to securing Malaysia’s territorial integrity, but its prosperity as well because of some of the fields and platforms it uses to exploit hydrocarbons are within China’s nine-dashed line.

But there are broader interests too. Malaysia is dedicated to cultivating a good relationship with Beijing beyond the South China issue not just because China is Malaysia’s largest trading partner, but also because of the symbolism: the two countries share a “special relationship,” with Malaysia being the first ASEAN state to normalize ties with China in 1974 under Najib’s father, Tun Razak. Besides, China’s treatment of Malaysia on the South China Sea issue has been quite mild relative to that of Vietnam or the Philippines, which is a product of various factors including geography. As a trading and maritime nation, Malaysia also has an interest in ensuring broader regional peace and stability and an open commons. Lastly, Malaysia also has an interest in the preservation of global norms and international law including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) as they provide a common basis of understanding without resorting to “might makes right” approaches.

China’s New Silk Road and Its Impact on Xinjiang

By Su-Mei Ooi and Kate Trinkle
March 05, 2015

China’s plans for Central Asia are likely to see Beijing take a tighter grip on the restive Xinjiang region. 

China’s New Silk Road is of interest to the West largely because of the great power rivalry that appears to be once again emerging in the Central Asian region. Some pundits have suggested that China may well be displacing the U.S. and Russia in Central Asia, a region of longstanding geostrategic significance to all parties. Of course, this is not entirely a surprise for those who predicted that U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan would leave a power vacuum. While economic integration with Russia holds its attractions, resistance to the geopolitical designs of Russia is finding expression amongst the wealthiest Central Asian countries. The U.S. invariably ties deals to some kind of reform. China, on the other hand, is increasingly seen by many Central Asian governments as a genuine partner for mutual security and development, not least because it does not interfere in their domestic affairs.

However, China’s newly unveiled Silk Road Economic Belt initiative in effect ties Central Asia in with the restive Xinjiang region, which opens up a new angle of interest – namely, what impact the New Silk Road is likely to have on the Uighur minority in Xinjiang. Although this initiative represents China’s primary interest in energy, raw materials, and markets that will continue to drive economic growth, it cannot be understood only in economic terms. The New Silk Road is undeniably related to security issues in China’s Western frontier, beset with what Beijing calls the “three evils” of terrorism, separatism and fundamentalism. The repression of Muslim Uighurs has long inspired fighters from Central Asia (and Afghanistan) to support them. Indeed, Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s recent threat to occupy part of Xinjiang and his message to the Uighurs that “your brothers all over the world are waiting for your rescue, and are anticipating your brigades” appears to have been taken seriously by the Chinese leadership. One can reasonably infer that Central Asia has become even more significant to the security of China.

The close relationship between security concerns and economic initiatives in Central Asia has had precedent. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) was initially established as a means to prevent “foreign jihadists” from instigating violence in the Xinjiang region, and has helped to secure assurances from Central Asian governments that they will never support “militant separatists” on the basis of religious and ethnic commonalities. Although China generally avoids domestic interference, it has used the SCO to pressure the governments of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan to shut down Uighur political parties and newspapers. China’s interest in greater security cooperation within the SCO appears to also have been revived of late, an indication of how important a stable Central Asian region continues to be to security within China’s national borders. Indeed, China has just recently hosted the largest military drill with SCO members since 2004 within its own borders. It has also been working to shore up the security capabilities of its Central Asian member states through intelligence, equipment and resource sharing, in large part for counter-terrorism purposes.

What Territory Does ISIS Control in Iraq and Syria?

March 5, 2015 

The Institute for the Study of War has put together a handy online map showing the territory in Iraq and Syria that remains under the control of ISIS. The annotated map can be accessed by clicking here

DHS-FBI Bulletin Warns That American Youths Could Want to Join ISIS

March 5, 2015 

U.S. warns about American youths seeking Islamic State connection 

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The FBI and Department of Homeland Security have warned law enforcement agencies across the country about American youths wanting to join Islamic State militants fighting in the Middle East, officials said on Thursday. 

The joint intelligence bulletin was issued during the weekend and law enforcement officials said such warnings are routine. 

One official said there was no increase in U.S. government threat levels, although there is heightened concern lately about recruitment of American and other foreign fighters by Islamic State, which is also known as ISIS. 

A DHS official, commenting on background, said the bulletin was issued “to provide further information on the continuing trend of Western youth being inspired by ISIL to travel to Syria to participate in conflict. 

"We remain concerned about the recruitment efforts made by ISIL particularly through social media engagement and we urge the public to remain vigilant and report any suspicious activity to law enforcement," the official said. 

CNN reported the agencies were tracking “lots of cases” similar to that of a suburban Washington teenager suspected of helping a man get to the Middle East to join the radical group seeking to set up an Islamic caliphate. 

A 17-year-old boy was taken into custody in Woodbridge, Virginia, on Friday after more than a month of surveillance, according to the Washington Post. 

Sources told the newspaper investigators believe the boy used online contacts to make travel arrangements for a man to go to Syria to join Islamic State. 

Syria Says That It Killed Military Leader of Al Qaeda in Northern Syria

March 5, 2015 

Syria Says It Killed Military Leader of Al-Qaida Group 

BEIRUT — The military commander of al-Qaida’s Syrian affiliate was killed Thursday in an explosion targeting a meeting of senior militants in northern Syria which also killed and wounded a number of other fighters. 

State-run news agency SANA said Abu Hommam al-Shami was killed in a military operation carried out by the Syrian army that targeted a Nusra Front meeting in the village of Habeet, in the northern Idlib province. 

It did not elaborate, but the report suggested he was killed in an airstrike. 

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed that a number of prominent leaders, including Abu Hommam, were killed when a Nusra Front leadership meeting was targeted. 

It said it was not clear whether the meeting was targeted by a U.S.-led coalition airstrike or a Syrian army strike. 

The fate of the group’s overall leader, Abu Mohammad al-Golani, was not clear, it said, although there were reports that he had been in the area. 

The reports could not be independently verified. 

The Syrian government, which insists it is fighting terrorists in Syria, has an interest in taking out Nusra and Islamic State leaders to prove it is fighting a shared enemy of the West. It has in the past claimed to have killed al-Golani, but the reports were later refuted. 

The U.S. has been carrying out airstrikes against the Islamic State group in Syria, a rival of the Nusra Front, and has on several occasions struck a cell within Nusra that U.S. officials say was plotting attacks against the West.