12 March 2015

Fight deforestation through a Google-powered map

March 12, 2015

The forestry website Mongabay recently reported that United Cacao, a London-listed company that promises to produce ethical, sustainable chocolate, had “quietly cut down more than 2,000 hectares of primary, closed-canopy rainforest ” in the Peruvian Amazon. The company claimed that the land had been previously cleared, but satellite images showed otherwise.

The satellite images came from an online platform called Global Forest Watch, which provides reliable and up-to-date data on forests worldwide, along with the ability to track changes to forest cover over time.

Launched a year ago by the World Resources Institute (WRI), the platform has brought an unprecedented degree of transparency to the problem of deforestation, pointing to ways in which big data, cloud computing and crowdsourcing can help attack other tough sustainability problems.

Before Global Forest Watch came along, actionable information about forest trends was scarce. “In most places, we knew very little about what was happening to forests,” said Nigel Sizer, the global director of the forests programme at WRI. “By the time you published a report, the basic data on forest cover and concessions was going to be years out of date.”

Several technology revolutions have changed that. Cheap storage of data, powerful cloud computing, Internet connectivity in remote places and free access to U.S. government satellite images have all made Global Forest Watch possible. None were widely available even a decade ago.

Governments and NGOs are both using Global Forest Watch, as are companies like Unilever, Asia Pulp, and Paper and Wilmar, all of which have made commitments to stop deforestation.

An ambitious undertaking, Global Forest Watch brought together a broad coalition of NGO, corporate and government partners. Working closely with WRI are more than 60 partners, including Google (which supported the software development and provides computing power), ESRI (a privately-held mapping company), the University of Maryland’s department of geographical sciences (home to mapping and land-use expert Matt Hansen), Brazil-based Imazon, the Center for Global Development (a Washington DC-based think tank), and the UN Environment Programme. The multimillion dollar programme is funded by governments like Norway, the U.S. and U.K.

A sketchy road map for health policy

March 12, 2015

The Hindu“The swine flu epidemic was met with a shoddy response from the public health machinery.” Picture shows schoolchildren in Mumbai wearing masks to protect themselves from the infection.

Much of the National Health Policy document reads like a report of health issues and systemic challenges, and is sorely wanting on policy detail

Health impoverishment — falling into poverty due to health care costs — affects 63 million individuals in India every year. This is a damning statistic, especially when read with the fact that 18 per cent of all households face catastrophic health expenditures (health expenditure greater than 10 per cent of total household consumption expenditure or 40 per cent of total non-food consumption expenditure). We are at an urgent precipice in time for making health policy work for the poor in India — the deep end of dire straits. The 2015 draft National Health Policy (NHP) is pregnant with possibilities. The first federal health bill to come out in more than a decade is a salient opportunity for the Narendra Modi government to present a coherent plan to deliver equitable, efficient and sustainable health care to India’s billion plus citizenry.

The cliff notes version of the NHP recommendations reads thus: make health a fundamental and justiciable right; increase public expenditure on health from 1 per cent of GDP to 2.5 per cent of GDP; raise revenues mainly through general taxation while exploring the possibility of sin taxes (mainly taxes on tobacco and alcohol), and earmarks for health (akin to the education cess); and strengthen health services provisioning through strategic purchasing from the public and private sector.

Jumping the gun

India's Got a Plan For South China Sea Disputes (And China Won't Like It)

March 11, 2015
India’s got a preferred solution for South China Sea disputes — and it’s not a surprise. 

In recent years, India has started to become increasingly more vocal about what it feels is the correct way for the five main territorial disputants in the South China Sea to resolve their differences. What’s particularly interesting is that the rhetoric coming out of New Delhi seems to be growing more specific and pointed as time goes on. Early on Wednesday, the Manila Times reported that that Indian ambassador to the Philippines, Shri Lalduhthlana Ralte, said that India explicitly supported international law and arbitration in resolving these disputes. “Our view with that such kind of disputes [is that], the claimant countries should observe international law and norms that disputes are to be settled peacefully. We should allow ourselves to be subjected to international law,” Ralte said, according to the report.

The ambassador’s comments bookend a string of policy statements by New Delhi that mostly began in 2013. Back then, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, speaking at the East Asia Summit, noted that “A stable maritime environment is essential to realize our collective regional aspirations.” Keen to make his approval known for multilateral processes in Southeast Asia (which I recently expressed some skepticism about), Singh added: “We welcome the collective commitment by the concerned countries to abide by and implement the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea and to work towards the adoption of a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea on the basis of consensus. We also welcome the establishment of the Expanded ASEAN Maritime Forum for developing maritime norms that would reinforce existing international law relating to maritime security.”

Those statements failed to draw much attention. Beijing probably raised its eyebrows at New Delhi’s interest in the South China Sea, but there was little in the prime minister’s statements that suggested a firm backing for a specific resolution mechanism. In early 2014, Shri Anil Wadhwa, Secretary (East) of India’s Ministry of External Affairs, pushed the Indian position a bit further into the realm of clarity. “We advocate that the lines, the channels of trade and communication should be kept open and of course the sea, which, according to UN (United Nations) international law of the sea, is common to all the countries that use it. Definitely we are concerned,” he told journalists at the annual ASEAN-India dialogue in New Delhi. “Our position has always been India stands for freedom of navigation on high seas. We would like to ensure that all countries in the region adhere to the international conventions on the law of the sea in this issue,” he clarified.

Time Bomb: The Islamic State Implodes

March 11, 2015

Washington will defeat ISIS by waiting it out as the organization cracks from within.

The Arab League’s call this week for a multi-national force to push Daesh (the Islamic State) out of its strongholds in Syria and Iraq may will be appealing to those who fear the impact of the growing Iranian position in Syria and Iraq but remain concerned that the U.S.-led airstrikes aren’t an effective solution to an on-the-ground insurgency. Boko Haram’s opportunistic pledge of loyalty to Daesh stokes further fears about the group’s growing position in the international jihadi movement and the need for a more assertive solution, which both pushes Daesh back and stems its ability to recruit foreign fighters.

However, Daesh is facing its own existential crisis in terms of both its organization and ideology. Confronted by war on a number of fronts, Daesh’sself-proclaimed Caliph, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, has struggled to create a state in practice, focusing more of the group’s attention on further expansion and elaborate media stunts than establishing an actual institutional polity.

In theory, Daesh has an organizational hierarchy to “govern” its territory, but this structure is dependent on a growing number of Arab and foreign fighters, who have varying aims, motivations, and differences amongst them. As Liz Sly noted this week in The Washington Post, foreign and Arab fighters are unhappily co-existing with the local population and fighting at times with one another over Daesh’s war aims, their status within the new state, and the allocation of the state’s resources.

This raises critical questions about whether Baghdadi will be able to maintain his “state” as he is increasingly pressed on multiple fronts. Numerous reports suggest that Syrians and Iraqis living under Daesh’s rule are finding that life in the new state isn’t what many had hoped for after decades of mismanagement under the former regimes.


March 10, 2015 

War on the Rocks is expanding, and we need your help! 

Code Black is the story of a British Army Officer, Captain Mark Evans, and his deployment to Afghanistan in the summer of 2008. In particular, it focuses on a seven-week period during which Evans and a small multiple of British troops – supported by an Afghan National Army kandak (battalion) – were left fighting for their lives in the district of Nad Ali. In 2008, the focus of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Helmand was directed mainly towards the movement of a third turbine to the Kajaki dam in the north of the province. While the brigade’s head was turned, however, hundreds of enemy fighters pushed upwards from the south and took the town of Marjah (later to be the scene of the clearance operation in 2010 called Op Moshtarak). The enemy were now heading towards the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah and Nad Ali was next in line for their attack. As ever, the UK deployed a woefully under-manned and under-resourced team to try and hold them back. Code Black is a powerful story of defensive warfare and the pressures of command in dangerous circumstances.

In previous articles, I have disapprovingly acknowledged how almost every junior officer’s Afghan tour ends up as a published memoir these days. It’s a well-trodden route and consequently there is rarely any scope for true originality in these types of books anymore. That said, Code Black is firmly focused on a battle that was fought well away from the media spotlightand, as such, it’s fair to say that Evans’ story is a little known vignette of the UK’s war in Afghanistan – one which shares a great many parallels with the fabled Battle of Rorke’s Drift – the defense of a tiny garrison station during the Anglo-Zulu War of 1882.

I am pleased to report that Captain Evans’ book is different in another key aspect too: It is an altogether much more humble effort than many of its contemporaries. Objective and authentic, Evans doesn’t attempt to present himself in a heroic light but instead he makes a point of discussing his own short-comings and moments of self-doubt in leadership. I like that in an author. Guards officers are not generally known for their humility but, in this case, the memoir is not dominated by the author. Instead, Code Blackprovides plenty of space for other characters to play a full role and, ultimately, I think that one of book’s key successes lies in its descriptions of the relationships between different people at war.


March 10, 2015 

Recently released files recovered in Osama bin Laden’s compound show that parts of the Pakistani government made attempts to negotiate with al Qaeda in 2010. The letters were released as evidence in the trial of Abid Naseer, who was convicted on terrorism charges by a Brooklyn jury earlier this month.

One of the files is a letter written by Atiyah Abd al Rahman (“Mahmud”), who was then the general manager of al Qaeda, to Osama bin Laden (identified as Sheikh Abu Abdallah) in July 2010. The letter reveals a complicated game involving al Qaeda, the Pakistani Taliban, the brother of Pakistan’s current prime minister, and Pakistan’s intelligence service.

“Regarding the negotiations, dear Sheikh, I will give you an overview, may God support me in this,” Rahman wrote. “The Pakistani enemy has been corresponding with us and with Tahreek-i-Taliban (Hakeemullah) for a very short time, since the days of Hafiz, may God have mercy on him.” Hakeemullah Mehsud was the head of the Pakistani Taliban at the time. The “Hafiz” mentioned is Mustafa Abu Yazid (Sheikh Saeed al Masri), who served as al Qaeda’s general manager prior to his death in May 2010. Rahman succeeded Yazid in that role.

“We discussed the matter internally, then we talked with Abu-Muhammad later once we were able to resume correspondence with him,” Rahman explained. “Abu-Muhammad” is the nom de guerre of Ayman al Zawahiri. As a result of these discussions, al Qaeda was willing to broker a deal in which the jihadists’ would ease off the Pakistanis so long as the military and intelligence services stopped fighting al Qaeda and its allies.

“Our decision was this: We are prepared to leave you be. Our battle is primarily against the Americans. You became part of the battle when you sided with the Americans,” Rahman wrote, explaining al Qaeda’s position towards the Pakistani government. “If you were to leave us and our affairs alone, we would leave you alone. If not, we are men, and you will be surprised by what you see; God is with us.”

Pakistan Test Fires Shaheen III Nuclear-Capable Missile

March 10, 2015

Pakistan Test-Fires Nuclear Capable Ballistic Missile

ISLAMABAD — Pakistan test-fired a nuclear-capable ballistic missile on Monday, the military said, less than a week after the first high-level talks with arch-rivals India for nearly a year.

The military said the Shaheen III surface-to-surface missile had a range of 2,750 kilometers (1,700 miles) and can carry nuclear and conventional warheads.

"The test launch, with its impact point in the Arabian Sea, was aimed at validating various design and technical parameters of the weapon system at maximum range," the military said in a statement.

India and Pakistan — which have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947 — have routinely carried out missile tests since both demonstrated nuclear weapons capability in 1998.

Pakistan’s most recent missile test came last month with the launch of a low-flying, terrain-hugging cruise missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.

Indian Foreign Secretary Subrahmanyam Jaishankar visited Islamabad last week for talks with his Pakistani counterpart.

It was the first senior-level dialogue between the nuclear-armed rivals since their prime ministers met in New Delhi last May.

US Warplanes Attack Headquarters of Al Qaeda’s Syrian Affiliate Outside Aleppo

Roy Gutman
March 10, 2015

U.S. bombs Nusra headquarters in key city on Turkey-Syria border

ISTANBUL — The U.S. Air Force confirmed Monday that its aircraft had bombed and destroyed a complex of buildings belonging to al Qaida’s Nusra Front affiliate, bringing to at least three the number of American airstrikes that have targets the terrorist group since bombing in Syria began last year.

The attack came one week after Nusra had defeated an American-backed Syrian rebel group and forced it to disband, capturing an unknown number of U.S.-supplied sophisticated anti-tank missiles.

Local and humanitarian sources said Sunday’s strike killed at least five Nusra militants. A 15-year-old boy, who apparently was working at the site, possibly tending livestock, also was killed, a resident of the nearby Atma camp for displaced Syrians told medical personnel in Turkey.

The U.S. Central Command, which oversees military operations in Syria and Iraq, said U.S. fighters and bombers destroyed four terrorist compounds and three tents at what it described as a staging area for the Khorasan group, a designation the United States has given to a Nusra unit that it says is “plotting external attacks against the United States and our allies.”

Centcom described the complex as 26 miles west of Aleppo. But local residents said the buildings were located in the town of Bab al Hawa across from the Turkish border town of Reyhanli and in fact housed the local headquarters for Nusra, which has seized most of the northern province of Idlib from moderate Syrian rebels in the past three months. Bab al Hawa once was the headquarters for the U.S.-backed Supreme Military Command of moderate rebels.

Sunday’s airstrikes could be seen from the Atma camp less than a mile away, causing a fright among the residents, who number in the tens of thousands. Turkey closed the Bab al Hawa crossing, the principal gateway from Turkey to Syria, for all but humanitarian aid and foot traffic after the strike.

Malaysia Wants More ASEAN Cooperation Against Islamic State

March 11, 2015

The country’s foreign minister warns that the movement’s “evil tentacles” are spreading. 

ASEAN and the international community must recognize the grave threat from the Islamic State (IS) and step up efforts to combat it, Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Anifah Aman said earlier this week according to local media reports.

Speaking at a conference, Anifah said the movement was far more dangerous than any terrorist organization the world had ever faced. He said it enjoyed much more support than Al-Qaeda – which remains a marginal movement – and that it had all the resources of an organized state and was seen by many potential recruits as a “winning team.”

“News of the involvement of the citizens of more than 80 countries in the so-called Islamic State movement, including countries in our region, means that the risk of it spreading its evil tentacles to our part of the neighborhood is very real indeed,” Anifah reportedly said.

He encouraged fellow ASEAN countries and the international community at large to strengthen cooperation to combat the threat.

“We must step up our efforts to nip this problem in the bud by strengthening our intelligence and security cooperation,” he said.

ASEAN has already recognized the seriousness of the IS problem over the past few months. As longtime regional commentator Kavi Chongkittavorn recently noted, the grouping has issued several statements in less than four months on the rise of IS. At the ASEAN foreign ministers’ retreat last month, ASEAN’s statement said its ministers “condemn and deplore the violence and brutality committed by extremist organizations and radical groups in Iraq and Syria, whose impact increasingly poses a threat to all regions of the world.”

China Demolishes the Taiwan Consensus

March 11, 2015

Xi Jinping is trying to move the goalposts beyond the 1992 Consensus.

After decades of high tensions between Taipei and Beijing and the looming shadow of a devastating war between the United States and China, relations in the Taiwan Strait underwent a major transformation in 2008 with the election of Ma Ying-jeou and the return to power of the Kuomintang (KMT).

Over the seven years that followed Ma’s victory, Taipei and Beijing made substantial strides in liberalizing their interactions, signing 21 bilateral agreements, opening the floodgates of tourism and investment, and facilitating academic exchanges. Amid the cross-strait summits and handshakes, the international community breathed a sigh of relief, optimistic that the old tinderbox could soon be shelved—as long as we ignored, that is, the mounting apprehensions of a segment of Taiwanese society, which saw behind the rapprochement evidence of Beijing’s machinations to bring about “one China.”

Those fears notwithstanding, it would be difficult to argue that progress wasn’t made in fostering more amicable relations. Instrumental to that success was the so-called “1992 Consensus,” a rhetorical construct that became the mechanism under which Taipei and Beijing, through their respective semi-official agencies, conducted dialogueand negotiated agreements. Although its legitimacy is very much in question—Lee Teng-hui, who was Taiwan’s president at the time of its alleged creation, denies its existence, and the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)does not accept it as a precondition—the Consensus has provided enough common ground and sufficient wiggle room to permit constructive exchanges between the two sides.

For the KMT, the Consensus was the platform, while the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) set it as the prerequisite for negotiations. Both sides papered over their ideological differences and agreed to disagree on the “one China” clause at the center of the Consensus: both agreed in principle that there is “one China,” but conceded that there are differences on what they mean by “one China.”

China's 2015 NPC Session: The Case of the Missing Presidents

March 09, 2015

Former presidents Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao are both MIA at the NPC. Why? 

On March 8, 2015, Madame Shen Yueyue, vice chairwoman of the 12th National People’s Congress (NPC) of the People’s Republic of China, reported to the second meeting of the third session of the NPC that out of 2,964 deputies, 2,875 were present, and 89 (don’t over-interpret; it’s just a coincidence) absent. That obviously begs the question: who was absent from this meeting?

Apparently, former Chinese president Jiang Zemin was absent. The reason could be very simple: he is not a deputy to the 12th NPC. A deputy to the sixth through 10th NPCs, Jiang officially retired from his duty as a “MP” on March 4, 2008. But his absence could also be attributed to his age. At 88, he may not be as active as before, even though he was reported to have “climbed” Dongshan (Eastern Mountain) in Hainan Province just three months earlier.

His absence could also be political. The patron of President Xi Jinping, Jiang’s residual power is evaporating very quickly. Many of his former associates (such as General Xu Caihou and Zhou Yongkang) and their children (such as Guo Zhenggang, son of General Guo Boxiong, former vice chairman of the Central Military Commission and member of the 16th and 17th Politburo) have been investigated for corruption, and Jiang is in no position to protect them.

Jiang’s name is still occasionally listed in the news releases of the funerals for former high-ranking officials and officers, but he is no longer physically present at any major official functions. He was last seen at the National Day Celebration Banquet on October 1, 2014, when he sat to the right of President Xi Jinping. His absence from the 2015 NPC sessions marks the end of Jiang Zemin era.

Similarly, Hu Jintao, another former Chinese president, was also absent. Hu attended the first session of the 12th NPC in March 2013 and also sat through the first session of the 12th Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). Like Jiang, Hu is not a deputy to the 12th NPC. A deputy to the seventh through 11th NPCs, Hu decided to retire from all of his positions in the Party at the 18th Party Congress in November 2012; he officially retired from all of his government positions at the 12th National People’s Congress in March 2013. Hu was last seen in public along with Jiang at the same National Day banquet, where he sat to the left of Xi.

What South Korea’s New Ambassador to China Must Do

By Sukjoon Yoon
March 10, 2015

Chinese concerns over South Korea’s security arrangements with Japan and the U.S. must be addressed. 

Last month, South Korean President Park Geun-hye, whose approval rating has never been lower, made the surprising decision to appoint Kim Jang-soo, a former four-star Army general, as ambassador to China. Was it a wise choice? The leaders of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) have been disturbed by the possible U.S. deployment of an advanced defensive weapons system on South Korean soil, and also by a new military intelligence sharing agreement between Japan, South Korea, and the U.S. China’s military feels threatened by the technological superiority of the US, and fears becoming strategically encircled by an informal but effective ballistic missile defense (BMD) system; Korea is being seen as a strategic buffer zone, as it so often has been in the past. A rift has been developing between the Chinese and South Korean militaries, which could derail the strategic cooperative partnership between China and South Korea. The most urgent task facing the new ambassador is therefore to calm Chinese fears, and to get the relationship back on track.


The strategic partnership between Beijing and Seoul is progressing well, but has recently hit a rocky patch after some third-party interference. This was not by the usual suspect, North Korea, but by the U.S., South Korea’s closest ally, and by Japan, its intractable neighbor. Despite building stronger commercial and political relations with Beijing, Seoul has not forgotten its debt to Washington for the support the U.S. gave during the Korean War. And Japan is far too sensitive about China and South Korea renewing their historical ties, imagining an anti-Japanese conspiracy.

The Real Challenge to Iranian Nuclear Talks

By Richard Javad Heydarian
March 10, 2015

The true reason why opponents are decrying ongoing negotiations. 

Without question, Washington and Tehran have managed to move closer than ever before to a negotiated settlement of a decades-long crisis over the Iranian nuclear program. It remains to be seen, however, whether they have moved close enough to seal a comprehensive, long-term deal in the coming months. But there are growing signs that the two parties may have finally discovered the optimal point of convergence in their possible zones of compromise.

The nuclear negotiations have managed to move this far precisely because both sides’ “red lines” have beentaken into consideration. The Islamic Republic of Iran and the great powers, specifically the P5+1 (a grouping comprising the United States, Britain, France, Germany, China, and Russia), are now primarily focused on hammering out remaining concerns over the duration of restrictions on and intrusive inspection of Iran’s nuclear program as well as the pace and breadth of rollback in sanctions against Iran. And this is where the negotiations have become a classic “two-level game,” where domestic political dynamics in both Tehran and Washington is as crucial as the substantive points of discussion among directly negotiating parties.

Assuming the negotiating parties manage to arrive at a final agreement before the July, 2014 deadline, the real challenge down the road is to sell the agreement to hardliners at home. Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial speech at the U.S. Congress — criticized by a majority of the American people (see CNN’s latest poll), and which, in the words of a veteran legislator, represented as “an insult to the intelligence of the U.S.” — was primarily aimed at the second level of negotiations, specifically the U.S. Congress, which has the sole power to permanently suspend all sanctions against Iran to make the deal work.

The Great Convergence

For First Time in 4 Years, China and Japan to Hold Security Talks

March 09, 2015

Senior Chinese and Japanese officials will meet later this month for a security dialogue. 

For the first time in four years, Chinese and Japanese officials will hold security talks at a high-level, Reuters reported late last week.

The last time we witnessed any serious engagement between China and Japan on security issues was January 2011 in Beijing. Since then, much has transpired. The Democratic Party of Japan left the building in Tokyo, paving the way for a triumphant return to the top by Shinzo Abe, a right-wing nationalist. Similarly, Chinese President Xi Jinping came to power. Japan and China spent nearly 2 years with zero high-level diplomatic interaction owing to a sharp spike in tensions in the East China Sea after Japan nationalized the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in 2012.

The bilateral security summit will take place after a trilateral meeting including South Korea set to be held next week in Seoul. According to the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “the three countries will consult on necessary coordination in view of a possible Trilateral Foreign Ministers’ Meeting as well as cooperative initiatives” in that meeting. This trilateral process has been ongoing on an annual basis with the last meeting having taken place in September 2014, also in Seoul.


March 10, 2015

On 28 October 2014, just three weeks before Prime Minister Abbott and PRC President Xi Jinping signed an agreement inHobart promising ‘increased collaboration in Antarctic science’, the Chinese official news agency Xinhua announced that China would be establishing the first Antarctic base station for its Beidou satellite navigation system.

The Beidou (北斗) system is China’s equivalent of the US-operated Global Positioning System (GPS). Given the broad functionality of such a technology in the civilian, scientific and military spheres, it is not surprising that polities beyond the United States should also have set about developing their own satellite-based navigation systems. These include the Russian GLONASS system, operational globally, the European Union’s Galileo system which is expected to be in full service in 2020, as well as the Indian Regional Navigational Satellite System (IRNSS) and the Japanese Quasi-Zenith Satellite System which are both regional systems.

The Beidou system became operational in China in December 2011, with 16 satellites in use, and began offering services to customers in the Asia-Pacific region in December 2012. It is planned thatby 2020, the Beidou system will comprise approximately 35 satellites (more than the 32 currently deployed for GPS), including both orbiting and geostationary vehicles, as well as related ground stations. China has reportedly already installed the navigation system on more than 50,000 Chinese fishing boats and in November 2014 the Maritime Safety Committee of the UN’s International Maritime Organization formally included Beidou in its listing of satellite navigation systems approved for use at sea. Chips which will enable smartphones and tablets to communicate with the Beidou satellites have already been developed. China has also recently announced that Beidou will tie into allexisting satellite systems.

Thailand became the first overseas client of Beidou in April 2013, when a 2 billion yuan (A$407 million) agreement was signed in Bangkok aimed at promoting the use of Beidou in Thailand’s public sector, including disaster relief, power distribution and transport. Then in March 2014, it was reported that the Royal Thai Army was mulling over the purchase of two new types of multiple rocket launcher systems from China, with these systems being tied to the Beidou navigation system. ABeidou satellite station is now being built in Thailand’s Chonburi province. Wuhan Optics Valley BeiDou Geospatial Information Industry, which is taking part in the project in Thailand, has drawn up plans to build 220 ground stations in Thailand in the coming years and aims to eventually have 1,000 such stations across Southeast Asia.

The Advent of Wireless Hacking

March 10, 2015

The Wireless Hack Makes The Big Time

If hacking weren’t enough of a problem there’s a new and more devastating version coming into use; wireless hacking. Actually, this sort of thing has been around for a long time. But it’s common for new military (and commercial) technologies to take decades to mature. Thus television, radar, lasers, microprocessors and all manner of other technologies existed in more primitive form decades before they became common and widely used. Another new military technology is approaching breakout into the big time and this is wireless hacking. Not just for jamming or corrupting electronic devices wirelessly but even taking control of enemy devices. 

This sort of thing has been in use for several decades in Electronic Warfare Pods carried by aircraft. These pods carry electronics that detect enemy radars and other electronic signals hitting the aircraft, identifies them and then sends “false returns” to confuse the enemy. Radar works by bouncing electromagnetic energy off a distant object then interpreting the signals that bounce back to the large dish most radars have. Radar has been available in a useful form since the 1930s but even back then it was known, in theory, how to deceive a radar by broadcasting back “false returns”. After World War II such “false return” devices began appearing and continue to get better. 

Deceiving radar was part of a trend in wireless hacking that took advantage of the growing use of wireless signals for the transmission of all sorts of information. In response to this it has become more common to encrypt these signals. The user is still vulnerable if the enemy gets access to the users decryption codes, which allow one to read the encrypted date. In some cases it is possible to crack (decipher) encryption quickly enough to read the data. In addition to sending false data, hackers can now insert malware (hacker software) in the enemy wireless receiver systems and there do all sorts of mischief (stealing data or interfering with the operation of the device). 

Since the 1980s there have been rumors that wireless hacking has actually been used. To be most effective details of wireless hacking capabilities must be kept secret. Israel is believed to have developed military technology in this area by the 1970s and used it for espionage as well as for disabling enemy electronics in combat. The U.S. is also believed to have some of this stuff, either developed independently or in cooperation with the Israelis. Russia is known to have developed some advanced theoretical ideas in this area but apparently was never able to develop the necessary hardware and software to make it work. 

Myanmar May Have Just Bombed Chinese Territory -- Now What?

March 11, 2015

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson confirmed that Myanmar accidentally bombed Chinese soil. What are the consequences? 

Chinese soil was bombed by Myanmar’s air force over the weekend in an accidental strike. The strike resulted in no deaths or injuries, but damaged a Chinese civilian building. During a press conference on Tuesday, March 10, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei confirmed that the brewing conflict between ethnic Chinese Kokang rebels and Myanmar’s armed forces in the country’s northeast had spilled into China’s Yunnan province.

In answering a reporter’s question about the alleged bombing, Hong explained the situation and the Chinese response:

It is to our knowledge that amid conflicts between Myanmar’s government forces and local ethnic militias on March 8, stray bombs hit the Chinese side and damaged a civilian residence. Luckily, no one was injured or killed. The Chinese side has expressed grave concerns to the Myanmar side, asking them to get to the bottom of this incident as soon as possible and take effective measures to ensure that such incident will never happen again.

The incident will test China’s resolve on its policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of other states as per its Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, the decades old guidelines configured by the PRC’s first premier, Zhou Enlai, to guide the country’s foreign policy. Additionally, confirmation of the bombing comes less than a week after it was revealed that a senior People’s Liberation Army (PLA) general had leaked state secrets to the Kokang rebels, fueling conspiracy theories in Myanmar that Chinese military know-how was assisting the Kokang rebels in their insurgency.

China’s reaction to the incidents unfurling in northeastern Myanmar will be an interesting case study in how Beijing handles foreign crises unfurling on its borders. Of course, the China-Myanmar case may not apply to, say, China’s relations with Central or South Asian states, including Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan. China and Myanmar have, in recent history, enjoyed close diplomatic relations though Myanmar’s ongoing political reform and border instability have strained things quite a bit.

Fixing China's Intelligence System

March 11, 2015

China needs to officially admit the existence of its intelligence agencies so it can begin to supervise them. 
This text is a forward written to accompany a proposal for the National People’s Congress from a group of netizens. The original proposal read, “In order to face complex situations at home and abroad, China’s intelligence agency is badly in need reforms aimed at transparency and a supervision mechanism.” In this piece, I’ve swapped “intelligence agency” for “secret service” – not to make a sensational headline, but to make the authorities aware that, under the current situation, we cannot allow such as indispensable thing as an intelligence agency become a “secret service” hated by the people.

In every organization within the Party, the government, and the military, there’s already a quiet prelude to adjustments and functional reforms. Recently, we also saw reforms aimed at the public security system. But one organization, so mysterious that it officially doesn’t even exist, often attracts my attention. Intelligence work is particularly important for China’s rise. Even after “reform and opening up” began (and let’s not mention the period between then and 1949), obvious gaps in intelligence or mistaken intelligence repeatedly caused the authorities to make wrong decisions. Because an intelligence agency wasn’t even allowed to officially exist, there was naturally no way for the public and even relevant government agencies to hold such an agency responsible – much less reform it.

Most countries with a population exceeding 5 million worldwide have set up intelligence agencies. Even Hong Kong, before it was returned to Chinese control, had a “political department” responsible for collecting intelligence. These intelligence agencies secretly collect information relating to politics, economics, and military affairs at home and abroad; information that serves as the basis for leaders’ decisions. In various languages around the world, “intelligence agency” has become a neutral and often-heard term, not that different from the terms “tax bureau” or “foreign ministry.” But in China, a major country with a population of 1.3 billion, this organization seems to be a taboo topic, whether in official documents or in the mass media – it’s as if there’s no such organization at all. The authorities are pretending that they are above such affairs, that they don’t take part in the shady affairs of espionage work at all. But in reality, it gives people the impression of a cover-up, actually drawing attention to what the authorities intend to hide. The situation has also lead people to talk about the intelligence agency using openly derogatory terms like “secret service.”

Imagining China Under a Two-Party System

March 11, 2015

A recent piece in Xinhua posits that a two-party state would have crippled China’s development. 

With China’s National Party Congress holding its annual session in Beijing, Xinhua was inspired to run a piece lauding how China’s “unique model of governance has transformed the ancient middle kingdom into the world’s second largest economy.” Such pieces are not uncommon in China’s state media, but this piece adopted an interesting angle: it asked how things might have played out if China had instead adopted a bipartisan system, like the U.S. model.

Unsurprisingly, Xinhua concludes that such a system (though “not inherently problematic”) “would have been incompatible to a country where efficiency has driven remarkable economic growth and social development.” In particular, Xinhua argues that the lobbying and “seemingly endless political bickering inherent in the Western model” would have prevented China’s government from carrying out necessary reforms. The piece highlights a number of areas where progress would have been “out of the question” if interest groups and inter-party bickering ruled the day: China’s November 2014 commitment to reduce carbon emissions, massive poverty reduction over the past 30 years, and a rapidly growing GDP.

In its hypothetical, Xinhua warned that a bipartisan China “at best … would have been another India.” In a worse scenario, the piece points to the example of democracies in Africa that have been plagued by “civil wars, military junta, coup d’etats and the ‘curse of resources’ for decades.” The article also warns that a more democratic system in China could have led to fiscal instability and “an inflated military budget” for the PLA.

More broadly, Xinhua warns:

“A system that allows plurality is fertile ground for election rigging, vote buying and the silencing of minorities. In a country as ethnically and geographically diverse as China, the fires of opposition would have been stoked and the nation divided.”

What to Expect From Chinese Diplomacy in 2015

March 10, 2015

Four takeaways from Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s annual press conference. 

On March 8, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi held a press conference to highlight China’s diplomatic goals for 2015 (one of many such press events held on the sidelines of the National People’s Congress). A transcript is online in both English and the originalChinese. To save Diplomat readers from having to go through the entire Q&A session, I’ve outlined four trends to watch below.

1. China is going all-in on its Silk Road plans in 2015. The ideas of a Silk Road Economic Belt and a Maritime Silk Road (often shorted to “the Belt and Road”) were first raised in separate speeches by President Xi Jinping in fall 2013. The initiative was rapidly fleshed out over the next year — by fall 2014, China had developed not one but two avenues of financing the infrastructure projects that will make up the “Belt and Road” (the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the Silk Road infrastructure fund).

According to Wang, China will continue to heavily promote the “Belt and Road.” He told journalists that “one focus” would be one of the “keywords for China’s diplomacy in 2015” – and that “one focus” is on “making all-around progress in the ‘Belt and Road’ initiative.” In other words, except the “Belt and Road” to continue to dominate China’s diplomacy with countries along the planned route.

At the same time, however, Wang tried to quell suspicions that the “Belt and Road” is a disguised attempt at hegemony. “It is a product of inclusive cooperation, not a tool of geopolitics, and must not be viewed with the outdated Cold War mentality,” Wang said. He promised “equal-footed cooperation” with Silk Road partners and said China “will be sensitive to the comfort level of our partners.”

2. China wants to use the 70th anniversary of the UN to promote reform. This year marks the 70th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations. Beijing sees this as an opportunity to push for changes in the way the international organization works (I outlined China’s vision for an updated UN in a previous piece).

In his press conference, Wang firmly denied that China wants to overturn the international order, but made clear that China wants to “improve” the system. “Seventy years have passed. The international situation and landscape has changed dramatically. Naturally, the international order needs to be updated,” Wang said. That means promoting “the legitimate rights and interests of development countries” (a group China claims membership in) and making the UN more democratic by allowing for greater participation by rising powers.

Just How Powerful Is Xi Jinping?

March 09, 2015

China’s leader has all the levers of power, but can he provide results commensurate with his status? 

It has become accepted wisdom now to say that Xi Jinping is the most powerful leader China has had since Deng Xiaoping. This is almost certainly something that Xi himself would not thank people for pointing out. As the National People’s Congress (NPC) in 2015 has made patently clear, the promises made by the leadership that he sits at the heart of are hostages to fortune — every single one of them. A quarter of the way through his likely time in office, the question is beginning to be raise: when do the real achievements start? Xi has been given all the trappings of power, but is he truly using his titles to make a lasting impact?

The signature themes of this leadership are better quality growth, green and sustainable development, and national self-confidence and status. The Congress addressed all of those items, carrying on from the Plenums of 2013 and 2014. There was plenty of coherence and consistency, certainly. But a nagging question started to raise its head over the first week of March as the two meetings (the NPC and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference) were going on: where is the implementation? When is the good news about successful outcomes going to start? Beijing’s pollution continued to be a visible reminder of how entrenched some problems are. And the drama of the anti-corruption campaign, while it shows the muscular side of power, is froth on the surface. For the 1.3 billion people across China, how do they feel their lives are doing under the new leadership? This is the one question that Xi and co. need to fear the answer to.

There are other possible figures of comparison for Xi besides Deng. Xi and Hua Guofeng, Mao’s immediate successor, are linked by their uniquely having all the main levers of power — civil, military and economic — fall into their hands at the same moment. But Hua is not a figure Xi would want to be compared to, with his rapid sidelining under Deng and his fading into a long obscurity. Meanwhile, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao both had substantial achievements under their rule. For Jiang, it was China’s entry to the World Trade Organization (WTO), reform of the state enterprises, booting the military out of commercial activity, and sorting out a Taiwan policy put into disarray after the 1996 elections on the island. For Hu, it was the simple success of quadrupling China’s GDP from 2002 to 2012 and successfully holding the 2008 Olympics.


March 9, 2015

Dr. Amichai Magen maps the increasing interconnectedness of the Islamist terror threats faced by Europe and Israel, and considers how policy makers can work together to keep their citizens safe.

Not long ago, the sensible commuter in an average European city could reasonably assume that she was generally immune from the kind of security threats faced regularly by her friend living in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv.

By the beginning of 2015, the security ecosystem affecting Israelis and Europeans had converged dramatically and negatively. In the coming years, possibly decades, making sure that Europeans can go about their normal business in safety will necessitate a concerted effort to understand the ideology and modus operandi of jihadist terrorism, to contain and ultimately reduce the capacity and motivation of terrorists to attack, and to strengthen resilience in European societies. Indeed, the counter-terrorism posture required to protect civilians, whether in European or Israeli cities, while not identical, will depend on the intelligent and determined application of common guiding tenets and so will greatly benefit from intimate European-Israeli dialogue, cooperation, and learning.

The New Security Ecosystem

In approaching the new security ecosystem it is important to distinguish between three ideological movements animating contemporary jihadist activity – Salafist, Shia, and Muslim Brotherhood led – as well as between three concentric circles of jihadist threats: local, European, and (broadly) Middle Eastern. Each ideological stream and concentric circle impacts both European and Israeli security, albeit to different degrees.

Salafist jihadism: The Rising Threat To Europe

It Is Still Very Easy to Reach ISIS Across Poorly Guarded Turkish-Syrian Border

Tim Arango and Eric Schmitt
March 10, 2015

A Path to ISIS, Through a Porous Turkish Border

GAZIANTEP, Turkey — Under pressure from its allies in the West, Turkey has made it harder for would-be jihadists to slip across the border and join the ranks of the Islamic State group at its base in northern Syria.

But it has been unable — or unwilling — to halt the flow as the group, also calledISIS or ISIL, continues to replenish forces depleted in battle.

Smugglers from border villages who have long earned a living ferrying pistachios, sugar, cigarettes and fuel across the border say they are compelled by the Islamic State to traffic in jihadists, under the threat of death or the end of their livelihoods. Sometimes they receive a late-night phone call from an ISIScommander inside Syria directing them to receive a recruit at a luxury hotel in this city to escort across the border.

“Things have become more difficult because Turkey has stricter procedures on the border,” one smuggler who gave only his first name, Mustafa, said in an interview at a cafe in Kilis, a border town.

Even so, he said, he always finds a way, and sometimes the Turkish border guards in his village, who know him, look the other way.

The increased pressure means the frenetic days of 2012 are over. Foreign jihadists, with long beards and trademark fanny packs who once filled the cafes and streets in border towns, now slip quietly through Turkey, trying to attract little attention. Military supply shops, which once openly sold black headbands printed with Islamist slogans, body armor and, sometimes, weapons to foreigners on their way to Syria, have taken their business into back rooms.

It Is Still Very Easy to Reach ISIS Across Poorly Guarded Turkish-Syrian Border

Tim Arango and Eric Schmitt
March 10, 2015

A Path to ISIS, Through a Porous Turkish Border

GAZIANTEP, Turkey — Under pressure from its allies in the West, Turkey has made it harder for would-be jihadists to slip across the border and join the ranks of the Islamic State group at its base in northern Syria.

But it has been unable — or unwilling — to halt the flow as the group, also calledISIS or ISIL, continues to replenish forces depleted in battle.

Smugglers from border villages who have long earned a living ferrying pistachios, sugar, cigarettes and fuel across the border say they are compelled by the Islamic State to traffic in jihadists, under the threat of death or the end of their livelihoods. Sometimes they receive a late-night phone call from an ISIScommander inside Syria directing them to receive a recruit at a luxury hotel in this city to escort across the border.

“Things have become more difficult because Turkey has stricter procedures on the border,” one smuggler who gave only his first name, Mustafa, said in an interview at a cafe in Kilis, a border town.

Even so, he said, he always finds a way, and sometimes the Turkish border guards in his village, who know him, look the other way.

The increased pressure means the frenetic days of 2012 are over. Foreign jihadists, with long beards and trademark fanny packs who once filled the cafes and streets in border towns, now slip quietly through Turkey, trying to attract little attention. Military supply shops, which once openly sold black headbands printed with Islamist slogans, body armor and, sometimes, weapons to foreigners on their way to Syria, have taken their business into back rooms.

The New ISIS Jihadi Social Media Network Gets Off to Bad Start

March 10, 2015

Islamic State alternative to Facebook gets bumpy start

DUBAI (Reuters) - Facing a ban from mainstream online social networks Facebook and Twitter, supporters of the Islamic State appear to have launched their own “caliphate book.”

But 5elafabook.com was offline on Monday just a day after its launch and its Twitter account was suspended, highlighting the challenges faced by backers of the ultra-violent militants based in Iraq and Syria in spreading their message and recruiting online.

The amateur page showed a map of the world dotted with Islamic State’s trademark Arabic insignia and was crafted by Socialkit, a programme that lets users produce do-it-yourself social networks.

It was unclear who created the site or how many members it attracted. A banner message in its current form said it had temporarily suspended operations to “protect the information and details of its members and their safety.”

"5elafabook is an independent site and not sponsored by the Islamic State. We reiterate that the purpose of launching the site was to clarify to the whole world that we do not only carry guns and live in caves as they imagine … we advance with our world and we want advancement to become Islamic," it added.

Online supporters of the group wondered in an web forum whether platforms like 5elafabook could be trusted or whether they could be used by IS’s many enemies to gain intelligence, according to militancy watchdog SITE Intelligence Group.

"There is no secure website, even if it did belong directly to the Islamic State, because the servers are controlled by the governments, which can take all the IP addresses of those who visited the website," said a user calling himself Taqni Minbar.

IS militants have relied heavily on social media networks for coordination and communication, and the militants use them to publish shocking videos of beheadings and other violent acts against their enemies.