2 August 2015

Plane part recovered in Indian Ocean could solve MH370 mystery, say experts

Investigators 'confident' they are on right trail
Officials from Australia and airplane manufacturer Boeing have indicated that they are confident the debris found a day ago by authorities on Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean belongs to a Boeing 777 aircraft. The debris is likely to be part of Malaysia Airlines flight 370, which mysteriously disappeared in March 2014 with all 239 people on board. The debris is currently being transported to France where the French aviation investigation authority will investigate the part and its origins. According to experts and independent investigators, factors like damage on the part and how it broke could indicate the trajectory of the plane before its disappearance, providing vital clues to what may have happened to the flight.

Landslides kill at least 30 in Nepal

Heavy rains since Wednesday afternoon led to landslides that buried several mountain villages in Nepal on Thursday, killing at least 30 people. Officials have indicated that the bad weather is hampering relief and rescue efforts. At least 19 people were killed in the village of Lumle, which is 200 kilometres from Kathmandu. The heavy rains have also grounded helicopters.

Six stabbed at Jerusalem pride parade

Coalition of the Unwilling: Pakistan and India Bring Confrontation to the SCO

By Umair Jamal
July 30, 2015

Pakistan and India’s imminent accession to the Shanghai Corporation Organization (SCO) as member states has been hailed as a watershed moment for the organization’s growing role as a potential regional integration force. In fact, the organization’s significance (though still symbolic) is being seen as a potential counterweight to the Western security and financial institutions, such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and even the International Monetary Fund.

While China and Russia–the two major stakeholders in the SCO–have self-driven motivations to allow these new additions, it would be simplistic to term India and Pakistan’s membership in the SCO as an unambiguously positive way forward for the organization. While the SCO offers novel opportunities for collaboration between its new members, it is probable that Pakistan and India’s well-established bilateral disputes will burden the forum.

In Afghanistan, SIGAR Says Attaching Strings to Aid is a Good Idea

The latest quarterly report from the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) is little different from those that came before–27 other quarterly reports, to be specific. As SIGARs purpose is oversight, it is not surprising that these reports are largely embarrassing for agencies using (and often misusing) U.S. funds. Past reports detailed the booming Afghan poppy business and the troubling fact that the Afghan security forces can’t account for all their soldiers. This report is perhaps a little different in that it discusses reasons for and challenges associated with setting effective conditions for aid–with an eye to the planned reworking of the Tokyo Mutual Accountability Framework (TMAF) in September.

In April, Special Inspector General John Sopko told the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform’s National Security subcommittee that “Every dollar we spend now on training, advising, and assisting the Afghans, and on oversight, must be viewed as insurance coverage to protect our nearly trillion-dollar investment in Afghanistan since 2001.”

Shadow play: how China's unregulated banks feed its boom and bust economy

Shadow banking has helped fuel continued Chinese economic growth. But it could come back to bite if not brought into line.
More turbulence on the Chinese stock market highlights just some of the challenges facing the world’s second-largest economy. Following losses of US$3 trillion in the three weeks from mid-June, the Shanghai Composite has since recorded its biggest one-day fall for more than eight years. It’s clear that regulatory reform is needed in the country’s financial sector and China’s large shadow banking sector is one area in particular need of government intervention.

Shadow banking refers to the collection of non-bank financial institutions that provide services similar to traditional commercial banks. In particular they provide consumers with credit. But they are not regulated like banks and so are liable of making riskier loans.

China has seen shadow banking grow by more than 30% in the last year. The spiralling growth of this industry in a variety of forms runs the risk of precipitating a financial crisis. It’s important to recognise, however, that the industry has contributed to economic growth amid a global slowdown. The Chinese government will proceed with caution when it comes to regulating the industry.

Costs and benefits

Letting China’s Bubble Burst

JUL 29, 2015 7

NEW YORK – The problems with China’s economic-growth pattern have become well known in recent years, with the Chinese stock-market’s recent free-fall bringing them into sharper focus. But discussions of the Chinese economy’s imbalances and vulnerabilities tend to neglect some of the more positive elements of its structural evolution, particularly the government’s track record of prompt corrective intervention, and the substantial state balance sheet that can be deployed, if necessary.

In this regard, however, the stock-market bubble that developed in the first half of the year should be viewed as an exception. Not only did Chinese regulators enable the bubble’s growth by allowing retail investors – many of them newcomers to the market – to engage in margin trading (using borrowed money); the policy response to the market correction that began in late June has also been highly problematic.

Given past experiences with such bubbles, these policy mistakes are puzzling. I was in Beijing in the fall of 2007, when the Shanghai Composite Index skyrocketed to almost 6,000 (the recent peak was just over 5,000), owing partly to the participation of relatively inexperienced retail investors.

Building Amphibious Culture

July 30, 2015

The ADF currently lacks the tradition, culture and organisational expertise to maintain and deploy a world class amphibious warfare capability. The current command and control (C2) structures don’t adequately address the high degree of specialisation needed to meet the likely demands of Australia’s emerging amphibious warfare capability.

One of the main reasons that countries with a genuine amphibious warfare capability have developed specialised C2 units is because of the inherent complexities in the planning and execution of ship-to-objective manoeuvre operations. In most cases, militaries have found that it’s desirable to have a standing C2 organisation for the amphibious taskforce as well as a standing landing force C2 element.

While the ADF has a designated Commander Amphibious Task Force (CATF) and staff, the Army currently plans to rely on the commander of 2nd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (2RAR) and his staff to both raise, train and sustain key elements of the ground combat element (GCE) and to serve as Commander of the Landing Force (CLF). The commander and staff of 2RAR are likely (if they are not already) to experience task overload, especially in the more complex missions that involve an amphibious ready group.

Will China Have a Mini US Navy By 2020?

July 30, 2015

Much has been written about China’s ongoing efforts to become what President Xi Jinping called a “great maritime power” and how the United States should respond. In light of this, it is useful to think about the future trajectory of the of the increasingly modern and powerful People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), which has been charged with both defending China’s sovereignty in ‘near seas’ (eg. Taiwan) and protecting Chinese interests in the ‘far seas’.

Rear Admiral Michael McDevitt, now a senior fellow at the Center for Naval Analyses (CNA), has attempted to do exactly that. In a recent paper delivered at a two-day CNA conference on Chinese maritime power, seen byThe Diplomat, McDevitt projects what China’s ‘far seas’ navy will look like in 2020 and how it would rank alongside the United States and other players – Britain, France, Japan, India and Russia. Getting a sense of the PLAN’s ‘far seas’ capabilities is important since it tells us the extent to which it might be able to project power further from China’s shores.

China Stages Huge Military Drills in South China Sea

Simone Orendain
July 30, 2015 

China is holding a series of military exercises in the disputed South China Sea this week, and one of them involved live-fire drills with more than 100 ships, including some with nuclear capabilities.
Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesman Restituto Padilla said any country is well within its rights to hold military drills, especially if they take place in international waters.

Padilla said the Philippine military has “no problem” with China conducting the exercises, but also called for more dialogue.

“But the point here is they should be taught how to be transparent about these things because what we’re trying to avoid. And what we’re trying to do is to increase the dialogue among the militaries in the region … ensuring that we avoid misunderstandings,” he said.

Live-fire exercises


Laser Dogfights

Air Force Research Lab

The USAF hopes to install Lockheed Martin's ABC laser technology on 6th generation fighters around 2030-2040 to shoot down enemy missiles, drones and aircraft. But judging by advances in China's laser research, the PLAAF will probably be not far behind with frikkin lasers on its frikkin fighter jets.

Growing Militarization of the South China Sea

July 30, 2015

It's increasingly clear that China intends to use its artificial islands in the South China Sea for military purposes.
Admiral Harry Harris, commander of US Pacific Command, delivered this assessment on a panel that I was privileged to be part of at the Aspen Security Forum last week. Harris described the newly-created islands as potential 'forward operating posts' for the Chinese military. Beijing hasn't denied that it will use the outposts for military functions, but it has emphasised plans to provide public goods such as maritime search and rescue, disaster prevention and mitigation and meteorological observation. 

What are the potential military uses of China's artificial islands and do they pose a threat?

First, the outposts in the Spratly Island chain will undoubtedly be equipped with radars and electronic listening equipment that will enhance China's intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and maritime domain awareness capabilities. The newly built 10,000-foot runway on Fiery Cross Reef will accommodate virtually every aircraft in China's inventory, and hangers are being built that appear designed to host tactical fighter aircraft. As Admiral Harris stated, 'A 10,000-foot runway is large enough to take a B-52, almost large enough for the Space Shuttle, and 3,000 feet longer than you need to take off a 747.'

China-Taiwan Relations: Hardly a Crisis

By DD Wu
July 31, 2015

A recent article published in The National Interest, Xi Jinping’s Great Game: Are China and Taiwan Headed Towards Trouble?, argues that “there is a significant possibility that if Tsai Ing-wen is elected president of Taiwan, a cross-Strait crisis could ensue…because Beijing could react harshly.” However, based on an alternative analysis of Beijing’s positions – both lately and in recent years – toward Tsai Ing-wen and Taiwan, Beijing remains cautious and patient, sometimes even quite amiable.

Four things stand out: First and foremost, Beijing now appears to have eased its attitude toward Tsai, especially compared to several years ago. Beijing used to simply label Tsai as a “Taiwan independence element.” In 2009, China’s Foreign Ministry publicly opposed Tsai’s planned visit to Japan in a “consistent and firm” way. But these strong expressions have been absent in recent years. Before Tsai’s trip to the U.S. in May, Beijing neither directly referred to her as a “Taiwan independence element” nor opposed her visit beforehand. After her visit, Beijing made no strongly negative remarks, despite the fact that Beijing regarded it as improper for U.S. officials to meet Tsai in government buildings. Instead, China warned that the U.S. “should not be sending the wrong signals to Taiwanese independence forces.”

Better Get Used to it, China: Taiwan and Japan Will Get Closer

Despite applying considerable pressure on Tokyo in recent weeks, Beijing was unable to prevent the Japanese government from rolling out the red carpet for former Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui last week. During a visit to Japan, Lee addressed a packed Diet and had a meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Besides showcasing the longstanding warm relationship between Japan and Taiwan, the Abe government’s decision to stand up to Chinese pressure presages a likely deepening of ties between Tokyo and Taipei, the result of both growing fears of China’s assertiveness as well as political change in Taiwan.

In a strong protest on July 24 after Lee, 92, was allowed in Japan, a spokesman at China’s Foreign Ministry expressed Beijing’s “grave concern” over the visit by the former leader, whom he described as “a stubborn Taiwan splittist.”

On the same day, Ma Xiaoguang, a spokesman for the State Council’s Taiwan Affairs Office, said Beijing “strongly oppose[s] any country providing a stage for ‘Taiwan independence’ activities, and take strong umbrage at Japan allowing Lee to visit.”

Troubled Today, China's Xinjiang Has a Long History

This edition of our ongoing series of archaeological and historical sites of Asia will focus on Xinjiang.
This has been a rough year for China’s western province of Xinjiang, as ethnic tensions between Uyghurs and the Chinese government and ethnic Han mount. Amid charges of terrorism and cultural suppression, before Uyghurs and Han entered Xinjiang, there lies another Xinjiang, a treasure trove for archaeologists, historians, and religious scholars.

Xinjiang is fascinating. It is one of the driest areas in the world and is uniquely inhospitable. The large desert that dominates the region—the Taklamakan (said to mean the place that one does not leave once entering)—is almost completely surrounded by mountains, including the Pamirs and Himalayas, and steppes, unlike the Arabian and Sahara deserts. Xinjiang also contains within it the place in the earth the farthest away from any sea, the Dzoosotoyn Elisen Desert. It should come as no surprise then, that the region was one of the last on earth to be inhabited, well after agriculture was developed.

Beijing Strikes Back: U.S. 'Militarizing' South China Sea

July 31, 2015
China’s Defense Ministry has openly criticized the United States over its South China Sea policy accusing the U.S. of “activities to militarize the South China Sea region,” defense ministry spokesperson Yang Yujun said during a press conference on July 30.

He also accused U.S. officials of “making irresponsible remarks on the South China Sea issue” and applying “double standards” when it comes to assessing their own activities in the region.

“The U.S. side disregards and distorts the fact, and plays up ‘China’s military threat’ to sow discords between China and China’s maritime neighbors in the South China Sea. We firmly oppose such actions,” Yang emphasized.

The spokesperson also accused the U.S. of not openly speaking out against construction activities of other claimants such as the Philippines or Vietnam, despite U.S. Defense Secretary’s remarks at this year’s Shangri-Law Dialogue that “there should be an immediate and lasting halt to land reclamation by all claimants.”

China and Russia to Hold Military Exercise in the Sea of Japan

July 31, 2015

Having conducted joint naval exercises recently in the Mediterranean, China and Russia will look to increase their naval cooperation in Asia. Next month, the two countries will conduct a joint naval exercise in the Peter the Great Gulf, the largest gulf of the Sea of Japan, along the coast of Russia’s Primorski Krai. The exercise will take place from August 20 to 28, and focus primarily on improving the interoperability of the two navies and bolstering strategic coordination. The exercise, which is code-named “Joint-Sea 2015-II,” will take place as tensions remain high between China and Japan, who dispute the extent of the exclusive economic zones in the East China Sea, and between Russia and Japan. Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev recently announced that Russia would accelerate the construction of civilian and military features on the Kuril Islands, which remain disputed between Russia and Japan.

China Is Building a New South China Sea Fleet for its Maritime Militia

China is building a new South China Sea fishing fleet for its maritime militia in a move that could intensify regional disputes, an expert told a conference at the Center for Naval Analyses (CNA) Wednesday.

China’s maritime militia – one of the more understudied agencies in the exercise of Chinese maritime power –typically uses civilian fishing vessels for a range of missions from rescuing stranded vessels to conducting controversial island landings. While voices in China have long called for their inclusion in activities, this would be the first time that the militia would get its own fishing fleet, a boost for the world’s largest producer and exporter of fish and consumer of seafood.

“It appears that China is building a state-owned fishing fleet for its maritime militia force in the South China Sea,” Zhang Hongzhou, associate research fellow at Singapore’s Rajaratnam School of International Studies, told an audience at the two-day conference on Chinese maritime power.

With Latest Ouster, China Steps Up Fight Against Military Corruption

July 31, 2015

China’s anti-corruption campaign is kicking into high gear again. Ten days after Ling Jihua, who served as a close aide to former President Hu Jintao, was officially expelled from the Chinese Communist Party, another high-ranking official was stripped of Party membership. The target this time: General Guo Boxiong, who served as vice chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC) from 2002 to 2012. Like Ling, Guo’s case will now be turned over to prosecutors for trial.

Also like Ling, Guo was rumored to be under investigation long before official Party sources confirmed it. Guo’s son, General Guo Zhenggang, was included on a March 2 list of 14 generals under investigation for corruption. That was seen as a strong hint that the elder Guo would be next.

According to the announcement from Xinhua, China’s Politburo made the decision to oust Guo based on a report from the CMC’s disciplinary inspection authority. That report concluded that Guo’s “acts seriously violated the CPC’s discipline and left a vile impact.” He was accused of accepting bribes and taking advantage of his position to secure promotions or other benefits for others.

Leaked Report Reveals China Is Building New Aircraft Carrier

July 30, 2015

China has all but confirmed that it is building an indigenous aircraft carrier, and that it may even be a nuclear-powered one.

On Thursday, huanqiu.com, the Chinese-language version of the state-run Global Times, published an internal document of the China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation, one of China’s two largest shipbuilding companies. CSIC is a state-owned company.

The report lists building nuclear submarines and an aircraft carrier as the company’s “priority missions.” It also states that progress on these projects has been smooth.

"The priority missions of building the aircraft carrier and nuclear-submarines have been carried out smoothly and with outstanding achievements," the document states, according to a translation provided by Taiwanese media outlets. The same Taiwanese reports go on to say that the document suggests that China’s first homegrown aircraft carrier is likely to be nuclear-powered, without elaborating.

This Is How Big China's Internet Is

The number of Internet users in China has grown to 668 million, according to a report released last week by the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC), a state agency that administers China’s domain name registry and conducts research on the Chinese Internet. Below are the main points from the agency’s annual Internet development report. Full text of the report can be found here.

- The total number of Internet users in China grew to 668 million, a 5.6 percent increase over last year. That’s an Internet penetration rate of 48.8 percent. In the United States, by comparison, 85 percent of people access the Internet, although the penetration rate seems to be hovering around that point.

- Mobile Internet users grew to 594 million, 88.9 percent of all Internet users. Compare that to the United States, where only about 67 percent of Internet users access the Internet through their mobile phone.

Get Ready: Could China and Taiwan Be Headed towards a Crisis in 2016?

With the high likelihood that Taiwan's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) will regain the presidency in the January 2016 elections, many analysts have predicted a return of tensions in the Taiwan Strait after eight years of relative stability under the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) administration of President Ma Ying-jeou.

Whether a DPP victory in those elections would indeed mark a return to hostilities will be largely contingent on how Beijing reacts to this likely development.

From the outset it's important that we clarify what the DPP under its Chairperson and presidential candidate, Tsai Ing-wen, is not. Unlike her predecessor Chen Shui-bian, who served two terms from 2000-2008, Tsai has taken a more subdued approach to cross-strait relations. She has chosen instead to focus on domestic matters and to consolidate the nation. When pressed to explain her cross-strait policies, Tsai has adopted a more centrist position than her predecessor by vowing to maintain the 'status quo' under the current constitutional framework of the Republic of China (ROC) and to seek continuity in the relationship with Beijing.