24 July 2015

U.S., Russia: The Case For Bilateral Talks


Phone calls between relatively low-level diplomats are normally not newsworthy. But Monday's conversation between U.S. Undersecretary of State Victoria Nuland and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin on the simmering conflict in Ukraine is an exception. The bilateral nature of the conversation and its timing amid mounting claims of cease-fire violations from the Ukrainian government and separatist forces makes it uniquely significant. Moreover, it reaffirms that the evolution of the Ukrainian conflict - whether toward a settlement or toward escalation - will be most strongly shaped not by Kiev but by the actions of and relationship between Moscow and Washington.

Since the Ukrainian crisis started nearly 18 months ago, two negotiation formats in particular stand out among numerous talks and meetings. The first is the Minsk talks between representatives from the Ukrainian government, the pro-Russia separatists and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which address the conflict on a tactical level. The other is the Normandy talks between representatives from Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France, which consider the conflict on a broader, political level. Notably absent from both talks, despite being a major political, economic and security player in Ukraine and the broader standoff between Russia and the West, is the United States. Washington has been diplomatically active in the conflict, but U.S. and Russian officials have met at various times only on an ad hoc basis.

However, this practice may have changed over the weekend, when Russian Presidential Chief of Staff Sergei Ivanov said in an interview that Russia and the United States had come to an agreement to set up a "special bilateral format" of talks between the two countries - talks that would involve Nuland and Karasin. In explaining the formal announcement, Ivanov said that expanding the Normandy format to include the United States would simply be too "risky," adding that the two countries would coordinate talks on Ukraine bilaterally "for the time being." Thus the phone call between Nuland and Karasin took place to discuss the implementation of the Minsk agreement and the constitutional reform process in Ukraine, with further discussions likely to follow.

India’s ‘War Doctrine’: The Next Decade

In the natural progression of a country to take its rightful place in the world hierarchy by the middle of the next decade, India has no alternative but to make its processes simple, productive, modern and cost effective. Having a robust National War Doctrine will be the fitting measure to eradicate systemic inadequacies and the pitfalls of short term and tenure based thinking of retiring senior executives in the government. A Military Doctrine is only a component to achieve the aims of the country’s all encompassing and multi-dimensional War Doctrine. A good War Doctrine helps to prevent War whereas a good Military doctrine will help to achieve victory in the event of a war. Making economic progress of high order and promotion of social equity under the democratic framework demands that India pays serious attention to this little understood aspect of power play.

A War Doctrine is a combination of a nation’s policies, future concepts and steadfast principles into an integrated system for the purpose of governing its military forces…

Digital India – Great Ambitions, Hurdles Galore

22 Jul, 2015

‘Digital India’ is arguably the most ambitious initiative of the Modi government. There are hurdles on the way, but there are also opportunities. How exactly will ‘Digital India’ roll out? Read here in the first part of an explanatory piece. 

On July 1st, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Digital India program in Delhi with much fanfare, supplemented by big investment announcements by the leading industry houses in the country. The program aims to ramp up the traditional 256 kbps broadband services to 2 Mbps compatible infrastructure, connect more than 250,000 gram panchayats (GPs) via the National Optical Fibre Network (NOFN), targeting 600 million broadband connections nationwide and aims to deliver a host of government services on this telecom backbone. The infrastructure investment is being made not just to improve the way citizens interact with the government at various levels of governance aggregation, but also to jump-start new businesses which require connectivity for remote service delivery.

Digital India is by far the most ambitious indigenous program PM Modi has launched with a far-reaching impact connecting Indian hinterland to the government services as well as to the rest of the country leveraging technology. The program also faces a series of hurdles, which are onerous, and every hurdle in its own right can derail the entire program.

The Connectivity Conundrum

Afghan Security Forces Struggle Just to Maintain Stalemate

JULY 22, 2015
Afghan national police recruits lined up at a shooting range during a training session in Kabul in 2014. Desertion has been a problem among the police and the army. CreditDiego Ibarra Sanchez for The New York Times

KABUL, Afghanistan — After suffering setbacks and heavy casualties at the hands of the Taliban in 2014, Afghan security forces came into this year with what Afghan and Western officials acknowledge were relatively modest goals: hang on till the end of the fighting season without major collapses.

But with months of heavy fighting still ahead, 2015 is already shaping up to be worse for the Afghan Army and the national police, even as President Obama is set to begin deliberating this year on whether to follow through with a complete withdrawal of the United States military assistance mission here in 2016.

The forces are struggling to maintain a stalemate: an at-least token government presence in the hundreds of district capitals handed over by departing NATO combat troops.

Why Southeast Asia's Refugee Crisis Matters

For summer and fall 2015, The Diplomat presents “Southeast Asia: Refugees in Crisis,” a series of exclusive articles from scholars and practitioners tackling Southeast Asia’s ongoing refugee crisis. Launched by former ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan and designed with the assistance of students from Harvard University and Oxford University, the series aims to give the readers a sense of the various dimensions of this complex issue.

In our first piece, former ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan and The Diplomat’s associate editor Prashanth Parameswaran launch the series with a framing article on the issue. 

In May 2015, thousands of Rohingya refugees from the Rakhine State of Myanmar and economic migrants from Bangladesh were found stranded in the Strait of Malacca off the coast of Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. This was the start of the latest round of Southeast Asia’s refugee crisis. The image of the overcrowded, shabby boats full of people – haunted and hungry, faced with dwindling supplies of food and water – seized the world’s attention.

Tanker Hijackings on the Rise in Southeast Asia

July 22, 2015 
Source Link

Pirates continue to hijack a coastal tanker on the average of once every two weeks to steal their cargo of fuel, according to data released Wednesday by the International Maritime Bureau’s Piracy Reporting Center.

A total of 134 incidents of piracy and armed robbery globally were reported to the center from January through June, an increase from 116 during the same period last year.

So far this year, 250 crew members have been taken hostage with one fatality and nine injuries.

Eleven out of the 13 hijackings reported in the first half of the year were in Southeast Asia.

“The serious attacks are the hijackings of the tankers in Southeast Asia and this year there has been a higher number in the first two quarters of this year than in the first two quarters of 2014” said IMB director Pottengal Mukundan in London.

The New Japan: Will China's Economy Implode?

July 22, 2015

The risk of “Grexit” may have rattled financial markets, but for the Asia-Pacific region, an even bigger and closer threat is giving policymakers sleepless nights. Memories of Japan’s bubble-to-bust have been revived by China, which like its neighbor has enjoyed a massive stock and property bubble that is now rapidly deflating.

And with the communist giant currently the world’s second-largest economy and major trading partner to most of the countries in the region, the fallout from China’s downturn could be extremely damaging, hitting sectors from commodities to property, curbing investment flows and likely dragging down the rest of the region with it.

Comparing the prospect of “Grexit” compared to a China crisis, Bloombergcolumnist William Pesek put it into perspective.

“The world, after all, has had a few years to contemplate a Greek exit from the euro. But if the world’s biggest trading nation suddenly hit a wall, it would be a catastrophe of a different order, wreaking havoc on economies near and far,” he said.

More Legal Problems Trying to Extradite Accused Chinese Spy From Canada to U.S. to Stand Trial

Geordo Omand
July 21, 2015

Judge uneasy with RCMP bid for U.S. help to extradite accused Chinese spy

VANCOUVER – A British Columbia judge is concerned that assistance from the United States in extraditing an accused Chinese spy has more to do with inadequate RCMP resources than Canada’s international obligations.

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Terence Schultes said on Tuesday he wouldn’t accept that the Mounties don’t have the ability to translate the equivalent of more than 300,000 pages of seized information from Canadian permanent resident Su Bin.

The United States wants to extradite Su to face trial over accusations he masterminded a plot to steal military trade secrets from several American defence contractors.

The Canadian government has asked the court to OK a team of U.S. investigators to help the RCMP extract and translate reams of data found on Su’s seized electronics, written predominately in Chinese characters. That information would then be used by the courts to decided whether to extradite him.

Religion in China

Author: Eleanor Albert
June 10, 2015

Religious observance in China is on the rise. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is officially atheist, but it has grown more tolerant of religious activity over the past forty years. Amid China’s economic boom and rapid modernization, experts point to the emergence of a spiritual vacuum as a trigger for the growing number of religious believers, particularly adherents of Christianity and traditional Chinese religious groups. Though China’s constitution explicitly allows “freedom of religious belief,” adherents across all religious organizations, from state-sanctioned to underground and banned groups, still face persecution and repression.

Freedom and Regulation

U.S. decides against publicly blaming China for data hack

By Ellen Nakashima 
July 21 2015
Source Link

Months after the discovery of a massive breach of U.S. government personnel records, the Obama administration has decided against publicly blaming China for the intrusion in part out of reluctance to reveal the evidence that American investigators have assembled, U.S. officials said.
The administration also appears to have refrained from any direct retaliation against China or attempt to use cyber-measures to corrupt or destroy the stockpile of sensitive data stolen from the Office of Personnel Management.

“We have chosen not to make any official assertions about attribution at this point,” said a senior administration official, despite the widely held conviction that Beijing was responsible. The official cited factors including concern that making a public case against China could require exposing details of the United States’ own espionage and cyberspace capabilities. The official was among several who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal deliberations.

Confirmed: Beijing is Building World’s Largest Sea Plane for Use in South China Sea

July 23, 2015

After months of speculation China finally announced that it is has started to assemble the Jiaolong (Water Dragon) AG600 – the world’s largest amphibious aircraft, according to the International Business Times.

The first airframe is currently being constructed at a facility in Zhuhai in Guangdong province. Final assembly should be completed by the end of 2015 with a first flight tentatively scheduled for mid-2016.

Government sources report that an order for 17 planes has already been placed domestically. As I reported before (See: “Will This Plane Let China Control the South China Sea?”), the AG600 is capable of landing and taking off on water (and land) and could make it easier for Beijing to press its claims in the South China Sea.

Amphibious planes like the AG600 would be perfect for resupplying the new artificial islands that the Chinese are building in the SCS [South China Sea]. At the same time, these islands would be excellent bases of operations for the AG600 to engage in maritime patrols of claimed territories.

A New Chinese Threat in the East China Sea? Not So Fast

As Shannon Tiezzi noted earlier today, the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement clarifying assertions made in the recently released Japanese defense white paper about China’s construction of offshore gas platforms in the East China Sea. The white paper, as Franz-Stefan Gady highlighted, focuses extensively on the threat Japan perceives from China. According to Tokyo, the work (believed to have begun in 2013) violates a 2008 bilateral agreement for joint natural resource development in the East China Sea. Japan’s choice to highlight the offshore rigs as an example of Chinese assertion—similar to China’s island-building and extensive construction work on features it occupies in the South China Sea—is an odd one.

What Did China Bring to the Iran Talks?

On Monday, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution officially endorsing the Iran deal which was negotiated over the course of nearly two years by the five UNSC permanent members (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States), Germany, and Iran. (For The Diplomat’s coverage of the Iran deal itself, see here and here). The deal, called “historic” by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, would see Iran accept limitations on its nuclear program in exchange for relief from international sanctions.

In praising the deal, Ban also took time in his statement to applaud all the negotiating parties. “I know that an immense amount of work went into this and I admire the determination and the commitment of the negotiators as well as the courage of the leaders who approved the deal,” Ban said.

The Hypocrisy of China’s War on Pollution

July 23, 2015

In his March 5, 2014 “Report on the Work of the Government,” delivered at the second session of the Twelfth National People’s Congress (NPC), Premier Li Keqiang said, “We must be keenly aware of the many difficulties and problems on our road ahead.” In particular, he spoke out against pollution, calling it “nature’s red-light warning against the model of inefficient and blind development” and affirming, “We will declare war against pollution and fight it with the same determination we battled poverty.”

It’s a very good metaphor, I think: the importance of being alert while driving, minding red lights, and the danger of steering blind. This means knowing the risks of pollution and how to avoid them. In other words, raising awareness.

On March 13, 2014, the second session of the Twelfth NPC held a press conference in which a reporter asked Li what he meant by “war against pollution.” Li replied:

Those overseeing agencies which turn a blind eye to polluting activities and fail to perform their overseeing duties will be held accountable […] We have to take action ourselves. I hope that the government, the businesses and each and every individual of the society will act together and make persistent efforts to win this tough battle against smog.

3 Reasons the Philippines Will Suffer Because of Its South China Sea Case Against China

By Dingding Chen
July 23, 2015
Source Link

The arbitration case against China launched by the Philippines has attracted a lot of global media attention and global public opinion seems to support the Philippines’ case. However, a closer analysis reveals that the Philippines might in the end suffer from this arbitration case. How so? There are three main reasons for this.

First, there is no guarantee that the Philippines is going to win the arbitration case, even though media reports might suggest that it will. Actually, the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague is being very careful now as it tries to determine whether it has the necessary jurisdiction in the first place. This is not good news for the Philippines. Part of the reason is that the Court understands the huge implications of its decision for not only China, but also for the international law of the sea in general.

The reasons for this are not too difficult to understand. Basically, China has stated openly many times already that it will not participate in the arbitration case and thus will not implement any decision made by the tribunal. Of course, the final decision is unlikely to be entirely favorable to the Philippines. The more likely case is that China will win some concessions and the Philippines will win some as well. Either way, China will not accept the decision. Given this, ruling on the case would put the tribunal and international law in a very awkward position simply because the tribunal has no effective means to enforce the decision. That also means that the tribunal, and perhaps international law itself, will lose a lot of credibility before international society (the last thing the tribunal wants to see). So in this case, if the Philippines wins, it still loses and if it loses, it will lose big time.

The Chinese Riddle

Sunil S Bhandare
22 Jul, 2015

With the collapse of stock markets, China is likely to become more aggressive in its export efforts through under-pricing. India will have to watch out.

The unprecedented collapse of Chinese stock markets since mid-June 2015 has created considerable disturbance in the global economic scenario. This has happened even while the ultimate plot of the Greek Tragedy was still being scripted. In just three weeks, stocks listed on China’s two prominent exchanges tumbled, losing out almost one-third of their market capitalization. In terms of absolute value, the loss of market cap was estimated at US$3.2 trillion or twice the size of India’s current market cap. Over 1400 companies or about half of the listed companies had called halting of trading to stem a further downfall. The securities regulator had also warned of a “panic sentiment” gripping investors.

In the last few days, however, there has been some recovery, but the underlying sentiments are found to be one of apprehension and uncertainty about the emerging financial and economic scenario. Some analysts believe that the Chinese stocks markets are undergoing a much needed “correction” of earlier irrational exuberance. Illustratively, witness the fact that there was an unprecedented surge recorded in a short time of little over six months – the Shanghai Composite Index zoomed by over 108 per cent from mid-November 2014 to reach an all-time high of 5,166 by mid-June 2015. It collapsed thereafter to a low of 3,878 by mid-July 2015, and has since been hovering in the range of 3990 and 4275.

Earlier Irrational Exuberance

Pentagon Confirms Loss of PREDATOR Drone in Iraq

July 22, 2015

Pentagon: U.S. drone crashed in Iraq

An MQ-1 drone crashed in southeastern Iraq after losing communication last week, Pentagon officials said Tuesday.

Defense Department spokesman Army Maj. Roger Cabiness confirmed the news in a statement to The Hill after photos of the downed aircraft surfaced on Twitter accounts based out of Iraq.

He said the drone was returning to its base after an intelligence mission when it had “technical complications.”

“There were no weapons on board the aircraft. We are working with Iraqi authorities to recover the aircraft,” Cabiness said in a statement.

Earlier in the day, at least two Twitter users posted photos of the drone reportedly in the Iraqi town of Samawa, about 200 miles south of Baghdad.

The Next Target of ISIS in Iraq: The City of Haditha

Loveday Morris
July 21, 2015

HADITHA, Iraq — One by one, the cities around this Iraqi town have fallen. Fallujah. Ramadi. The walled community of Hit.

Islamic State fighters have slaughtered thousands of people as they have tightened their grip on Iraq’s western province of Anbar. But Haditha has remained an outpost of resistance.

Its local tribes and the beleaguered Iraqi army have fought doggedly in the face of persistent attacks. Perhaps even more importantly, the U.S.-led coalition and Iraqi government have been determined to prevent its large hydroelectric dam from falling to the insurgents.

The people of Haditha, though, are struggling to survive in a town largely cut off from the outside world. Meanwhile, the Islamic State has singled it out as its next target.

“It’s like we’re not living in Iraq,” said one resident, Israa Mohammed, 38, as she waited to receive a rare delivery of food aid last week. “There’s no way in or out. It’s like we are an island in the desert.”

Al Qaeda Branch in Syria Claims to Have Shot Down Syrian Air Force Surveillance Drone

Thomas Joscelyn 
July 21, 2015

Al Nusrah Front claims to have shot down Syrian drone

The Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria, claims to have shot down an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) operated by the Syrian regime. The Twitter feed for Al Nusrah’s “correspondent” in Latakia, a coastal province that has long been a stronghold for the Assad regime, posted four pictures of the drone. The photos can be seen here.

Death of the Tajik Opposition

Tajikistan’s five-year civil war devastated the country. The July 1997 peace accord, achieved after the deaths of between 50,000 and 100,000 people, seemed for a time to be a model of reconciliation. The government, gracious in victory, agreed to lift bans on the parties that made up the United Tajik Opposition (UTO), lift mass media restrictions, committed to reforming the country’s power structure, promised to reserve 30 percent of government posts for UTO members, and pledged to issue amnesty “for persons who took part in the civil conflict.”

After 18 years, few of the government’s promises seem to have held. The leader of one of the core UTO parties, Muhiddin Kabiri of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), decided to remain in exile in Turkey rather than return for the anniversary earlier this month–rumors are that the state is cooking up a case against him. In a recent interview Kabiri said that “some people are still harbouring the desire for complete victory” and that the peace, a compromise, is not enough for “hawks.”