14 May 2014

*** Borderlands: The View from Azerbaijan

MAY 12, 2014 

I arrive in Azerbaijan as the country celebrates Victory Day, the day successor states of the former Soviet Union celebrate the defeat of Germany in World War II. No one knows how many Soviet citizens died in that war -- perhaps 22 million. The number is staggering and represents both the incompetence and magnificence of Russia, which led the Soviets in war. Any understanding of Russia that speaks of one without the other is flawed.

As I write, fireworks are going off over the Caspian Sea. The pyrotechnics are long and elaborate, sounding like an artillery barrage. They are a reminder that Baku was perhaps the most important place in the Nazi-Soviet war. It produced almost all of the Soviet Union's petroleum. The Germans were desperate for it and wanted to deny it to Moscow. Germany's strategy after 1942, including the infamous battle of Stalingrad, turned on Baku's oil. In the end, the Germans threw an army against the high Caucasus guarding Baku. In response, an army raised in the Caucasus fought and defeated them. The Soviets won the war. They wouldn't have if the Germans had reached Baku. It is symbolic, at least to me, that these celebrations blend into the anniversary of the birth of Heydar Aliyev, the late president of Azerbaijan who endured the war and later forged the post-Soviet identity of his country. He would have been 91 on May 10.

Baku is strategic again today, partly because of oil. I've started the journey here partly by convenience and partly because Azerbaijan is key to any counter-Russian strategy that might emerge. My purpose on this trip is to get a sense of the degree to which individual European states feel threatened by Russia, and if they do, the level of effort and risk they are prepared to endure. For Europe does not exist as anything more than a geographic expression; it is the fears and efforts of the individual nation-states constituting it that will determine the course of this affair. Each nation is different, and each makes its own calculus of interest. My interest is to understand their thinking, not only about Russia but also about the European Union, the United States and ultimately themselves. Each is unique; it isn't possible to make a general statement about them.

Some question whether the Caucasus region and neighboring Turkey are geographically part of Europe. There are many academic ways to approach this question. My approach, however, is less sophisticated. Modern European history cannot be understood without understanding the Ottoman Empire and the fact that it conquered much of the southeastern part of the European peninsula. Russia conquered the three Caucasian states -- Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan -- and many of their institutions are Russian, hence European. If an organic European expression does exist, it can be argued to be Eurovision, the pan-continental music competition. The Azerbaijanis won it in 2011, which should settle any debate on their "Europeanness."

India’s Trade Policy Options

As the US pushes the TPP and TTIP, India needs to do a better job choosing its trade deals.

By Ritesh Kumar Singh
May 13, 2014

The United States is presently attempting to bypass the World Trade Organization by pushing two highly ambitious trans-regional trade pacts: the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership. Together, these two accords would encompass two thirds of world GDP and one third of world imports, and thus would nudge global trade further into preferential routes.

The U.S. and EU account for 30 percent of India’s merchandise exports. So where does that leave India? Should India follow the trend and aggressively pursue bilateralism to push its exports, or should it stick to multilateralism, especially after the (albeit modest) success of the recent WTO Bali Ministerial?

Studies show that complying with the complex rules of origin to get preferential tariff treatment under preferential trade agreements (PTAs) or free trade agreements (FTAs) add to trade transaction cost. That leads to low net realization from trade – and explains why trade routed through PTAs is so low. The Asian Development Bank estimates that trade through India’s PTAs ranges between 5 percent to 25 percent. A consensus-based multilateral trade regime under the WTO framework would thus work better for India.

Unfortunately, multilateral trade liberalization moves slowly – getting 159 WTO members to agree to a proposal is not easy. Besides, the growing indifference of large economies like China and the U.S. to the WTO leaves India with little option but to explore the bilateralism permitted by Article XXIV of GATT 1994 and Article V of GATS.

Moreover, WTO member countries (India being no exception) are often forced to sign specific PTAs/FTAs to protect their existing markets. For instance, the conclusion of the ASEAN-China FTA prompted the India-ASEAN FTA. Sometimes, geopolitical considerations may induce a country to join a particular trade agreement, such as the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA).

India has joined the talks for a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) that would cover the Asia-Pacific, despite the nervousness India Inc. has about a free trade arrangement with China. In this context, it is pertinent to look at India’s experience in pushing exports through bilateral routes.

Of India’s FTAs, the most ambitious are those with the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), ASEAN, Japan and Korea. There are PTAs such as those with Chile and Latin American trade bloc Mercosur. Experts argue that India’s existing trade pacts are shallow and suffer from limited coverage (the PTAs with Mercosur or Chile, for instance) or cover only trade in goods (e.g., SAFTA and the India-ASEAN accord). India’s trade with SAARC has been stymied by hostility between India and Pakistan.

‘A settlement will give the people of J&K an opportunity to seek a future’

By: Satinder K. Lambah
May 13, 2014 

The settlement will relieve Pakistan from a debilitating military competition with a much larger neighbour that has drained its economy.

India’s position on Jammu & Kashmir is legally, politically and historically correct. Yet, it has remained one of our major post-independence problems, contributing to three wars between India and Pakistan, decades of cross-border terrorism and violence, and incalculable sufferings for the ordinary people of Jammu and Kashmir.

Therefore, successive prime ministers of India have made resolution of the Jammu and Kashmir issue a priority. Prime Minister Nehru’s initiatives culminated in the inconclusive Swaran Singh-Bhutto Talks in the early 1960s. Indira Gandhi’s efforts to seek a settlement through the Simla Agreement reflected recognition, even in the moment of decisive victory in the 1971 war, that a solution to the Kashmir issue was important for lasting peace and security. In a generational shift, Rajiv Gandhi tried to chart a new course with Benazir Bhutto. Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s bold attempt to reset the relations in 1999 took place months after the nuclear tests by both the countries; his bus journey to Lahore highlighted the proximity between our two countries and the centrality of people to this relationship. Kargil did not dissuade him to engage its perpetrator in Agra, nor did the Parliament attack of December 2001 stop him from making another journey to Pakistan in January 2004 in search of peace and settlement.

Manmohan Singh picked up the baton and turned it into one of his foreign policy priorities. His vision is rooted in India’s security, economic development and global aspirations, and in the transformation of a region that is central to India’s destiny.

At the highest level of the government, there has always been interest, readiness and resolve. Let me venture to make some suggestions of a possible outline of a solution in my personal capacity.

…it is essential that any agreement must ensure that the Line of Control is like a border between any two normal states. There can be no redrawal of borders;

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Alongside, in accordance with the normal acceptable behaviour between nations, it is imperative that the people of Jammu & Kashmir on either side of the Line of Control should be able to move freely from one side to the other.

The process of progressive removal of tariff and non-tariff barriers in specified locally produced goods already underway has to be expedited to ensure meaningful trade between the two sides of the LoC;

Can the U.S. Embrace India, Welcome Modi, and Reject Religious Persecution?

MAY 12, 2014 

This Friday, the world's largest democracy will announce its election results. India's slow motion balloting has been taking place over several weeks, in an exercise that is both a marvel of logistics and a compelling display of self-government in a stunningly diverse society. Most indications are that, after the votes are counted and the coalition negotiations wrapped up, Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will emerge as India's next prime minister.

Modi's likely win also poses a challenge for American foreign policy. As Jim Mann, an author in residence at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, wrote in the Wall Street Journal, India "will probably elect as its next prime minister a politician who for nearly a decade has been prohibited from setting foot on U.S. soil." This stems from the 2005 decision by then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to deny Modi a visa to visit the United States because of his role in the massacre of over 1,000 -- and possibly over 2,000 -- Muslims in Gujarat state in 2002. In her decision Rice concurred with the recommendation of the State Department's Office of International Religious Freedom and invoked section 604 of theInternational Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (IRFA) which provides for visa denials of any foreign officials responsible for "particularly severe violations of religious freedom."

I have a personal perspective on this, having served as one of the Congressional staff authors of the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act, and then several years later having worked for Secretary Rice at the State Department. It is an interesting experience in governance and civics, to say the least, to participate in the writing of a bill at one end of Pennsylvania Avenue and then later participate in the implementation of it at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue (or in this case the Foggy Bottom annex). At the time of drafting the bill in 1998, we could hardly have imagined that the only time the visa ban provision would be invoked would be against a chief minister of a state government in India. Suffice it to say that while working on State's Policy Planning Staff in 2005, I supported the decision to ban Modi. I thought at the time, and still think, it was a fair and important step to take in response to someegregious acts of religious intolerance, of which the Gujarat massacres were the most visible and heinous. The visa ban also undercut the canard that the United States only advocates for persecuted Christians and helped demonstrate that American support for international religious freedom applies to all faiths, including solidarity with Muslims.

Visa bans have emerged in recent years as a favored tool of American foreign policy. The passage of the Magnitsky Act and now the Obama Administration and European Union's blacklisting of certain Russian officials in the midst of the Ukraine crisis are current examples. At its best, a visa ban provides a calibrated and targeted way to advance a particular policy priority while minimizing collateral diplomatic damage. Other times a visa ban can be less effective, either as a poor alternative for more creative and robust policies or an empty symbolic gesture. To be most effective, visa bans should be one part of a comprehensive strategy, rather than a substitute for one.


US President Barack Obama travelled to Saudi Arabia on March 28 in his first visit to the country since 2009 and met King Abdullah to assure that the US-Saudi strategic interests remain very much aligned. The visit came even as the Saudis worry about the commitment of their security provider, the US, to the region and its willingness to stand by its traditional allies.
Post the visit

The meeting was important from the point of putting out a reassurance that Saudi-US relations were on an even keel. According to Gregory Gause, professor of political science at the University of Vermont, the US dispelled Saudi fears that “some of the more wild interpretations of American policy … about the US leaving the Middle East, throwing over the Saudis, and allying with Iran, were just exaggerations.” It also appears that the Saudis have settled down to the idea that the US is keen to proceed with the Iran nuclear deal, and whatever they need to do to address their concerns regarding Iran and the Shia-Sunni dynamics they would have to find their own partner within and on the periphery of the region.

Post Obama’s visit to Riyadh, there seems to be four perceptible changes in US policy to accommodate Saudi concerns. First is a renewed push to arm the Syrian moderate opposition against the Bashar Assad regime; second is the softening of stand on aid, specifically military aid, to Egypt; third seems to be the tacit US approval to the involvement of Pakistan in Gulf security both in terms of manpower and military equipment; and lastly, the scaling up of US drone operations against the Al Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula. Saudis on their part have progressed with the restructuring of their internal intelligence and counter-terror mechanisms, which had commenced prior to Obama’s visit. The internal changes seem to be primarily driven by Saudi requirements, but may have addressed a few US issues in the process.
Internal reorganisation

Saudi Arabia recently issued a royal decree appointing a new intelligence chief after removing Prince Bandar bin Sultan “at his own request” at the General Intelligence Presidency (GIP), the Saudi equivalent of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Bandar, a formerly ambassador to the US, dealt with the Saudi policy on Syria and had been publically critical of the US for not conducting a military intervention into Syria. Bandar oversaw King Abdullah’s policy of a hard line stance against the Assad regime and thwart Iran’s emergence as a nuclear-armed regional rival to Saudi Arabia. The king took the unprecedented step of naming Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz the deputy crown prince. And in a very directly worded pronouncement, the king decreed that when Prince Salman becomes king, Muqrin will immediately become crown prince.

The Saudi government’s official gazette, Um al-Qura, published the full text of the Penal Law for Crimes of Terrorism and its Financing (the “terrorism law”) on Jan 31, 2014. Aimed at countering terrorism and support to terror groups by Saudi nationals, the law took effect on Feb 1. The decree also prohibits endorsing, donating or financing any violent or terrorist group by any means necessary, even physically, through mass media or social media. Saudi Arabia has initiated economic and social reforms and has further increased intelligence cooperation with the US. On March 7, Saudi Arabia declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization and equated the Brotherhood with other designated terrorist organizations, including Al Qaeda, with all its branches (Yemen, Arabia, Levant), the Al Nusra Front of Syria, DAESH (The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant), Hezbollah (Lebanon), Al Hoothy Shia’ Brigades (Yemen) and all other groups inspired by Al Qaeda.


By T.V. Rajeswar

There is very little doubt that there would be a change of Government in Delhi from June, 2014. It is also most likely that the new Government will be that of the National Democratic Alliance. The BJP is the largest single party among the NDA constituents who will present the new Prime Minister. Notwithstanding doubts expressed that by various persons such as Sharad Pawar, Narendra Modi is most likely to become the Prime Minister of the new Government. His emergence as Prime Minister of India will carry its own message which would reverberate across the continent and even beyond.

An analyst has written that Pakistan has been watching the election scene with considerable trepidation and the prospects of Narendra Modi emerging as the new Prime Minister are causing uneasy feelings among large sections of Pakistan because of his Gujarat antecedents which inevitably trace their origin to Godhra riots. During the electoral process, a few rabble-rousers from the VHP and the Sangh Parivar made some utterances with anti-Muslim and anti-Pakistan overtones which attracted prompt action from the Election Commission. The Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi himself had taken strong exception to such irresponsible statements and appealed to them to desist from making such statements.

Narendra Modi has stated that he would run the Government as per the constitution and that there was only one religion for the Government – India First. He also stated that Muslims need not fear him. Modi also stated that he would carry forward Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s foreign policy. He added that he believed in mutual respect for one another and co-operation should be the basis for relationships with foreign countries.

The newly appointed Pakistan High Commissioner Abdul Basit welcomed the statements of Narendra Modi on his approach to Pakistan. Basit said that Pakistan was interested in engaging quickly, comprehensively with the new Government in India.

Pakistan should remember that during the visit to Lahore by Atal Bihar Vajpayee along with an entourage of journalists and other old friends of Pakistan, its Army General Pervez Musharraf was planning the Kargil attack with the presumed approval of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif which led to the Kargil war soon after. Nawaz Sharif rushed to USA to seek the mediation of President Clinton who advised Pakistan to withdraw its forces from Kargil without delay. Nawaz Sharif suffered the humiliation of complying with the advice of President Clinton, but General Musharraf himself went scot free. Soon after, Musharraf carried out a coup and took over power after overthrowing Nawaz Sharif.

There is speculation that following the footsteps of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Narendra Modi would make an early visit to Pakistan after he becomes Prime Minister. But, is Pakistan in a position to host him?

The reappearance of Maulana Abdul Aziz, an extremist cleric who had earlier failed in his attempt to impose strict shariat law on Pakistan’s capital, carries an alarming message for the future of Pakistan.

Assessing the Taliban's 'Spring Offensive' Threat

May 09, 2014

The Taliban have announced that their 2014 “spring offensive” will begin imminently. 

Spring is in the air in Afghanistan as the Taliban warned on Thursday that they will launch their annual spring offensive next Monday. The insurgents vowed to fight on as the United States and NATO withdraw most of their troops from the country this year, only leaving behind a small contingent force should the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) between the U.S. and Afghanistan, and the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between NATO and Afghanistan, get signed. This year’s spring offensive is particularly concerning given that Afghanistan is currently undergoing a democratic transition — the first such transition in its history as a democracy — and new threats of violence by the Taliban could offset the confidence fostered by the elections.

Traditionally, the spring offensives have been the Taliban’s opportunity to “surge” against Kabul following a period of relative hibernation during the winter when most insurgents fall back to the mountainous Afghanistan-Pakistan border. This past winter, the Taliban continued to stage attacks against the Afghan government well into the winter given that elections were upcoming. Just prior to the elections on April 5, Taliban insurgents attacked the Independent Election Commission, the Interior Ministry, and housing compounds. Additionally, the Taliban attacked civilian targets such as hotels and restaurants in an effort to create an air of insecurity in Kabul and other cities.

The spring offensive this year is acutely tied to the Taliban’s failure to derail the elections and will likely focus on attempts to either delay the run-off vote or make transition very difficult for Afghanistan’s next president. No presidential candidate acquired a majority of the votes on April 5 which means that Afghanistan is headed for a run-off vote between the two candidates who received the most votes: Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani. Both leaders are pro-Western and have indicated a preference to sign the agreements that would allow the U.S. and NATO to maintain some forces in Afghanistan beyond this year. Italian Maj. Gen. Antonion Satta told the Wall Street Journal that given the high turnout and relative stability during the April 5 elections, the Taliban have lost a good deal of credibility as a threatening fighting force in Afghanistan. ”They lost credibility, so we are expecting them to try to prove they are still able to achieve something,” said Gen. Satta.

Am I A Traitor?

The author, recovering from the attack on April 19 after surgery on April 20

After Geo TV aired the suspicion of my family that elements within the ISI could be the masterminds of the assassination attempt on me, the ISI has struck back with this label. 

Traitors are of two kinds. First, those who get into a deal with foreign enemies and help enslave their own people. Syed Jafar Ali Khan aka Mir Jafar, the chief of Sirajuddaullah's army is one such example whose name has managed to stay on top of our local ‘traitors’ list despite a few centuries having gone by. Today, Mir Jaffar’s name is synonymous with treachery. Because of his treachery, Sirajuddaullah’s army was defeated by the British forces in the battle of Plassey in 1757, paving the way for the occupation of United India by the British.

The second, or other kind of ‘traitor’ does not collaborate against foreign powers. Instead, he raises his voice against those high and mighty who are bent on collaborating with the foreign powers in the name of ‘patriotism’. Most of this type of traitors do not carry arms, deploy tanks or possess fighter aircraft. All they have as weapons are their words which they choose from a vast vocabulary to speak the truth, and their pens (and nowadays keyboards) that aid them to deliver the truth to reach out to the masses. When they speak or write the truth, those with guns get rattled and label them traitors.

Our history is brimming with this second category of traitors. At present, a campaign has been launched to label people like myself and some other journalists in this second category. Those who live under the shadow of the gun not only want to label me and my organization Geo TV as 'traitor' but they also want to revoke my citizenship.

60 in Custody After Hangzhou Protests

A demonstration against a waste incinerator turned violent on Saturday, resulting in 60 arrests.

May 14, 2014

On Saturday, protestors held public demonstrations against the planned construction of a waste incineration plant near the city of Hangzhou in Zhejiang province. Financial Times reported that the planned waste incineration plant would be the largest such plant in Asia, expected to process 3,000 tons of waste each day in its first phase.

Protestors reportedly numbering in the thousands joined the march against the incinerator plant, citing environmental and health concerns. Smaller protests had been occurring for weeks before Saturday’s major demonstration, which led to the protestors blocking a major highway. Police were called in to clear the road. According to protestors interviewed by Reuters, the demonstrations became violent when “hundreds of police” arrived on the scene. Protestors interviewed by byGlobal Times made similar comments. Chinese state media reported that 10 protestors and 29 police were injured in the incident.

Environmental protests such as the one in Hangzhou are not uncommon in China. Earlier this year, protests against a paraxylene (PX) plant in Maoming, Guangzhou also turned violent, with protestors reportedly throwing rocks and even setting police cars on fire. As with the protests near Hangzhou, photos of the protests (including images of bloody protestors clashing with police) were quickly circulated on China’s social media sites.

In both Maoming and Hangzhou, local authorities announced that they would not continue the controversial construction projects without public support.

After the Hanghzou protests, local authorities posted a list of suspects online and repeatedly used local television networks to call for the suspects to surrender. The high-profile campaign has apparently paid off — Xinhuareports that local police have arrested 60 people for “their violent and rumormongering behavior” during the protests. 53 were being held for “disturbing public order,” including throwing stones at police and police cars. The other seven were in custody for “spreading rumors” about the protest online.

The seven netizens, each given between five and 10 days’ detention for their crime, represent the latest use of a new law against spreading rumors online. Each of the netizens posted to their social media accounts the news of casualties among the protestors. “A 35-year-old woman surnamed Zhang claimed that four people died in the clash on her Twitter-like Tencent Weibo account, while others spread rumors that three people died and a three-year-old child was seized by police and died after falling from a bridge,” Xinhua said.

New Analysis of the Chinese Air Defense System

May 10, 2014

The Project 2049 Institute has just published a remarkably detailed report detailing the organization and capabilities of the Chinese air defense system. Excellent report with lots of great satellite imagery and detailed maps. The report can be viewed here.

Why China's Terrorists are Targeting Train Stations

May 09, 2014

The decision by Uighur separatists to target Chinese rail stations is both symbolic and strategic 

The decision by Uighur separatists to target Chinese rail stations is both symbolic and strategic. It is because of this latter reason that the Chinese Communist Party is likely to launch a war on terror.

As The Diplomat has been covering, terrorists that China’s government says are Uighur separatists have attacked train stations on three occasions this year. Back in March, terrorists wielding knives attacked a train station in the southwestern city of Kunming, killing 29 people and wounding scores of others. Then, late last month, three people were killed and 79 were injured in a combination bomb and knife assault on a train stationin Urumqi, the capital city of Xinjiang province. Then, earlier this week, four terrorists wielding knives attacked Guangzhou Railway Station, injuring six individuals.

These attacks and other recent ones linked to Uighur militants and Xinjiang province underscore a change in tactics. Whereas Uighur terrorists had usually targeted government and military officials and buildings, they are now targeting civilians and soft targets.

The attack on the railways is particularly telling given Xinjiang’s place in China’s economic rebalance. China has hopes of exploiting the provinces rich natural resources to power some of the second and third-tier cities in the interior that the CCP is looking to build up as part of its new urbanization push. In addition, Beijing is hoping to use Xinjiang to more deeply integrate the Chinese economies with those in South and Central Asia, as well as Europe and possible the Middle East.

Building up better infrastructure, particularly railways, is a crucial element in this plan. Xinjiang has historically suffered from exceptionally poor infrastructure. However, in recent years the CCP has stepped up efforts to rectify this problem. As the Wall Street Journal reported in 2011, “The central government plans to invest 2 trillion yuan ($300 billion) on infrastructure in Xinjiang between 2010 and 2015, including six airports, 8,400 kilometers (about 5,200 miles) of railways and 7,155 kilometers of highways.”

Some of these infrastructure projects aim to better integrate Xinjiang with other areas of China. An example of this type of project is the new Xinjiang-Lanzhou railway line, which is expected to be operational sometime this year. China already has a major railway tying these two areas together. While the original one will continue to operate, the new one will use high speed rail to connect Lanzhou City in northwestern Gansu Province to Urumqi, Xinjiang Province. This will help better integrate Xinjiang with inner Chinese cities that the CCP hopes to develop in the coming years.

The Truth About China's Economy

Some say it could pass the U.S. by the end of the year. There might be an even bigger story behind the scenes.

May 9, 2014 

The World Bank just put out a report suggesting that the Chinese economy would overtake that of the United States by next year to become the world’s biggest economy measured by its currency's purchasing power. “The estimate by the World Bank's International Comparison Program says that based on 2011 prices, the purchasing power of China's currency, the yuan, was much stronger than was reflected by exchange rates,” says USA Today.

The World Bank report caused quite a fuss in the media, but the methodology behind it is questionable. CNBC reported breathlessly that “China is set to overtake the U.S. as the world's number one economy, while India has jumped into third place ahead of Japan, according to a new study from the world's leading statistical agencies.” Other media outlets that ought to know better followed suit.

First and foremost, using purchasing power parity to make such a comparison confuses apples and oranges in an economic sense. “Living standards of the average Chinese citizen are still far lower than those in many developing countries, let alone in the West,” notes Jamil Anderlini, Beijing bureau chief of the Financial Times who has lived in the country for more than a decade. He continues:

“Today, inequality in this nominally socialist country is now much worse than the US, the epitome of a capitalist country. The level and availability of social services such as health, pensions and unemployment benefits are also much lower proportionally than in the US and even many other developing countries.”

Even the Chinese government itself expressed reservations about the methodology used by the World Bank. But the more fundamental issue for analysts should start with the nature of the Chinese political economy and the veracity of economic data in China. There is no separation between church and state in China. There is only the state.

The economic statistics issued by the Chinese government are designed to help maintain the control of the Chinese Communist Party in a political sense, not to better inform China’s people or foreign investors. The fact that the World Bank, foreign news agencies and investors are willing to take Chinese statistics at face value says more about the credulity of foreign audiences than it does about China’s authoritarian government.

Even if we decide to take Chinese economic statistics at face value, however, prudent analysts still need to ask some basic questions about the fundamental factors behind the claims of job growth and output. China's economy reportedly grew at an annual 7.4 percent in the first quarter of this year, slowing from a 7.7 percent increase in the final quarter of 2013, numbers that seem too good to be true—and they are.

"Chinese and US Climate Interests are Converging"

May 6, 2014

Author: Robert N. Stavins, Albert Pratt Professor of Business and Government; Member of the Board; Director, Harvard Project on Climate Agreements

Belfer Center Programs or Projects: Harvard Project on Climate Agreements

Bilateral climate change negotiations between China and the US are the most significant development since the Kyoto Protocol

In international climate-change negotiations, the world's two biggest emitters — China and the United States — have sometimes engaged in vehement debates regarding the fundamental question of who should do what. Most recently, these two giants, and their respective allies in the developed and developing worlds, have clashed over their very different interpretations of a key phrase in the agreement reached under the United Nations–led talks in South Africa in 2011.

The point of contention is the call under the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action for a global climate deal to be reached in Paris in 2015 that is "applicable to all Parties … under the Convention". The US and other industrialised countries have insisted that this calls for an agreement containing emissions reduction pledges by all countries. In particular, they understand it to include industrialised countries plus the large emerging economies of China, India, Brazil, Korea, Mexico and South Africa.

But China, India, and most countries in the developing world, point out that the Durban Platform was adopted under the auspices of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), with its key principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities" — the idea that rich countries should bear a greater share of the burden of tackling climate change — as well as the subsequent mandate calling for emissions reductions only by developed (so-called Annex 1) countries. Therefore, they say, the Durban Platform calls only for emission reduction commitments from the industrialised nations.

In the midst of these ongoing international debates, there is a very encouraging reality, however — namely the heightened degree of bilateral discussions on climate change policy between China and the United States. In fact, bilateral negotiations between China and the United States — possibly outside of the UNFCCC — are where real progress is most likely to be made. For global efforts to tackle climate change, they are the most significant development since the Kyoto Protocol.

This is happening because of an emerging convergence of interests between the world's two most important countries as far as climate change — and international policy to address it — are concerned. Five factors stand out:

Address by the Ambassador of China, Cui Tiankai China's Role in the Asia-Pacific Region and China-U.S. Relations

Media Feature
May 2, 2014

Belfer Center Programs or Projects: The Future of Diplomacy Project

It is a great honor for me to come and speak today at the John F. Kennedy School of Government of Harvard University. It would be an understatement to say that this is one of the best universities in the world. Over the years, Harvard has produced eight American presidents and more than 40 Nobel laureates.

Harvard also has long-standing ties with China. Among the first group of Chinese students officially sent to America by the Chinese government more than 100 years ago, one boy studied at Harvard. Now Chinese students are the largest group of foreign students here. The John King Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies is among the world’s leading institutions for China study. Your school of Government, in cooperation with the School of Public Policy and Management of Tsinghua University of China, is also providing trainings for Chinese central and local government officials in recent years, strengthening its bonds with China and, more significantly, helping build up the human resources for China’s modernization.

Therefore, I want to take this opportunity to express my sincere thanks to Harvard University for its great contributions to mutual understanding and friendship between our two countries.

Your excellence and leadership in China study make it really challenging for anyone to come here and speak about China. At the same time, it is truly rewarding to do so, because the audience is most critical and appreciative, and the responses would be most thought provoking and stimulating. It is indeed a great opportunity for me, as Ambassador of China to the United States, to come and share my views with you today.

The subject I am given is China’s policy toward the Asia-Pacific. This is one of the most talked about foreign policy issues in the world now. There are naturally very different perceptions and analyses. But what is really happening there? What are China’s policy goals toward the region?

In order to have a clear understanding of the issue, let me first of all put forward some basic facts. China is situated in the center of the Asian continent. It borders Northeast Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia and Central Asia which further connects it with West Asia and the Arab countries. China has land boundaries with 14 countries, totaling over 22,000 kilometers. China is also a Pacific country. It has a continental coastal line of 18,000 kilometers and numerous islands. It faces 6 other countries across the seas.

China has close and age-old ties with its neighbors, starting long before the concept of nation state came into being. For centuries, cultural, commercial and people-to-people exchanges between China and its neighbors have enriched regional civilization and benefited every nation involved. Confucius is highly respected throughout the region. Buddhism came to China, took roots here and spread on to China’s neighbors. Chinese characters have played an instrumental role in many Asian languages. And chopsticks are widely used in the region.

All this may sound like elementary geography and history. But it is important to keep these basic facts in mind in order to have a good understanding of what shapes relations between China and its neighbors and what conditions China’s policy in the region.

It is not surprising, therefore, that on the basis of past history and present realities, and fully recognizing the affinity and complexities in the region, China’s foreign policy gives the highest priority to its relations with the neighbors. This has been the case all along, but particularly so since China started reform and opening-up 35 years ago. The policy goals have been consistent.

First and foremost, China is firmly committed to peace and stability in the region. The Asia-Pacific region has seen too many wars and conflicts in history. The largest casualties in World War II were here in our region. Even during the years of the Cold War in the world, Asia had two costly hot wars. Such history should never be allowed to repeat itself. The last thing we want to see in our neighborhood today is instability, be it in the form of armed conflicts, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction or rise of terrorism.

What Japan Cannot Learn from Germany

By Stefano von Loë
May 09, 2014

Arguments that Japan need only adopt Germany’s attitude to its wartime past overlook a great deal of history. 

Reports on contemporary Japanese diplomacy usually mention and often focus on the large role that thehistory of World War II plays in Japan’s relations with its Asian neighbors. Japan’s murderous past keeps making headlines, often through comments from politicians, public officials, lobbying groups, or historians. U.S. President Barack Obama’s statement, during his recent Korea visit, that Japan’s use of South Korean comfort women during the war was an egregious violation of human rights is but one of many examples.

In trying to understand why Japan’s past casts such a long shadow onto its present, one promising approach is to compare the country to its erstwhile World War II ally, Germany. That country’s targeted campaign of genocide still plays an important role in shaping the country’s national identity, but Germany’s past still does not weigh as heavily on its relations with its neighbors as Japan’s does. Through a difficult and arduous process of confronting, remembering, and on occasion apologizing for its Nazi past, Germany has come to terms with its history and reconciled with the victims of its past aggression. Faced with this evidence, it is tempting to conclude that the more strained, sometimes poisoned relations that Japan has with its Asian neighbors are a direct product of the way in which it dealt – or failed to deal – with its wartime history.

The most recent instance of this line of argument can be found in Jochen Bittner’s New York Times op-ed, “What Germany Can Teach Japan” published last month. Bittner argues that postwar Germany has become “normal” – defined as “earning and enjoying the trust of its neighbors” – because it dealt properly with its history of genocidal mass murder. If Japan also wants to become normal, he recommends, it should simply follow the German example.

But it is not that simple. The fact that Germany has achieved “normalcy” cannot be reduced to the way it dealt and deals with its history. Factors beyond Germany’s control, including fortunate circumstances and cooperative neighbors, played a far more important role and make Germany’s recipe for normalcy impossible for Japan. A brief glance at Japan’s postwar history reveals at least five factors which explain why, almost 70 years after the war, Germany is surrounded by friendly allies and Japan is not.

he Asian powderkeg could blow the world back into a 1914-style disaster

May 12, 2014

IT IS well that we contemplate the abyss, if only to avoid it. This year we particularly remember the ghastly disaster of 100 years ago, when an almost unfathomable complacency shared by the European elite threw a generation into the fire of the First World War, almost as an afterthought. A century on from the fields of Waterloo, statesmen then assumed a general peace to be the rule, rather than a miraculous exception.

This overly sanguine state of mind seems to be every bit as present today as it was in the fateful year of 1914. Everyone knows that tensions are brewing in the seas around China, as Beijing claims the rights to territorial waters at the expense of most of its worried neighbours. But, says conventional wisdom, “So what? A little muscle flexing is to be expected, given the meteoric rise of Beijing, and its understandable determination to safeguard the sea-based trade routes around its shores. A little sabre rattling is all this amounts to.”

For many analysts, last week’s most recent dust-up – this time between Beijing and Vietnam in the South China Sea – is simply more of the same. A flotilla of Chinese ships have been ramming into and firing water cannon at Vietnamese government vessels trying to stop Beijing from constructing an oil rig 140 miles off the Vietnamese coast. Yes, the Chinese are playing hardball and it’s not very nice, say the gormless analytical descendants of 1914. But after all, Beijing wouldn’t jeopardise the present world order, particularly as they are doing so well by it.

Much the same was said after the assassination of Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914, that a rising Germany surely wouldn’t risk its improving global standing over an unpleasant – but seemingly peripheral – incident. But if history teaches us anything, it is that states and especially statesmen do not always act in their best interests. 1914 reminds us that sometimes mini-crises ignite powder kegs beneath them.

Perhaps most hauntingly, the outline of the present order in Asia that surrounds these events resembles nothing so much as the supposedly “unsinkable” pre-1914 world. Barack Obama’s America is Edwardian Britain incarnate. For their time, both were easily the most powerful country in the world, while both being in relative decline. Alone among the great powers, Britain and America were omnipresent – both economically and in terms of their first-class navies – while not being omnipotent. Nothing could be done without them, but they alone did not possess enough power to guarantee the global international order on their own.

China fits the bill as the Kaiser’s Germany, a rising economic and military power bristling with nationalist indignation at perceived slights – both real and imagined – and increasingly believing its rise cannot be accommodated by the present order.

Brother sister survive siege of Syria’s Homs

May 14, 2014 

Antoinette Fares lost nearly half her weight during the hellish siege she and her brother Sobei endured in Homs’ Old City because they didn’t want to be a burden to relatives. Before the Army blockaded the area two years ago, she weighed 77 kilos, but she is now down to only 45.

“I took in my clothes myself,” the 66-year-old said, pointing to her tracksuit with a sad smile on her tired face. Sobei, aged 66, lost 27 kilos as they hung on in the Christian district of Bustan al-Diwan, where the stairs leading to their dim apartment are crowded with boxes and water cans.

Cloistered in their home despite daily bombardment and raging battles, the siblings rode out the siege until its bitter end last week, when the last rebels left under a deal with the government.
A UN-brokered deal in February led to hundreds of civilians being evacuated, but Antoinette and Sobei insisted on staying put. Then last week, some 2,000 people, most of them rebels, were the last to leave the siege. Sobei and Antoinette stayed behind, and watched how the army retook control.

‘I wanted to die at home’

The two spent the entire siege sleeping in their living room, because the bedroom dangerously overlooked the street. “I wanted to die at home,” says Antoinette, from whose house soldiers could be seen taking the rebels’ place. She and Sobei spoke with dignity, despite the hardship they endured. “We didn’t want to be a burden, not even for our loved ones.

We preferred to stay at home,” said Sobei. Like thousands of others during the siege, they survived on supplies of wheat, rice and bulgur, supplemented by tomatoes and parsley that they planted in pots in the corridor outside the flat. But, after most of the civilians left in February, life reached its worse.

“We would pick weeds growing on the streets, and we would mix them with bulgur. We would eat that three times a day,” said Antoinette, for whom meat had become a distant dream. Starving rebels from another neighbourhood, also under siege, twice stole their provisions of fat, wheat and oil. “We had hidden them behind wooden planks, but they still found them,” said Sobei.

Why Is the Ukrainian Military So Incredibly Inept?

Why is Ukraine’s Army So Appallingly Bad?

Linda Kintsler
The New Republic
May 9, 2014

Russian President Vladimir Putin is celebrating Victory Day in Simferopol today, admiring the Crimean peninsula that he so winningly stole from Ukraine this spring. Not too far away, in the city of Mariupol, Ukrainian police began the holiday with a deadly gun battle with separatists. Over 100 people have died in Ukraine since May 2, and despite reports that Ukraine’s “anti-terrorist operation” was successfully driving out separatists in the east, it does not look like the fighting will stop anytime soon. Victory Day celebrations in Ukraine must carry an ironic tone today, as the conflict has revealed the extent to which its armed forces were systemically mismanaged since the country declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, leaving Ukraine almost entirely helpless to stave off the Russian invasion. Here are a few reasons why: 

Ukraine inherited the Soviet military machine when it gained independence.

At the time, that meant Ukraine had the second-largest standing army in Europe, with some 750,000 troops. But the new government couldn’t afford to keep up such a large force, and began rapidly cutting costs. Since then, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry has been “consistently downsizing to a force of about 120,000, which they thought made sense,” said Steven Pifer, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine (1998-2000). When Russia invaded Crimea, Ukraine was still in the process of downsizing, and had plans to further decrease its forces to 100,000 by 2017. 

Soviet-era infrastructure remains the backbone of Ukraine’s army, which means that most military bases are located in the western part of the country, where they could fend off a NATO attack. (This map shows the relative dispersion of Ukrainian and Russian forces.) “The Ukrainian military inherited what was the Soviet military infrastructure for the Transcarpathian front. It was there to support a Soviet push across NATO’s southern flank,” said Jacob Kipp, a Eurasian Security expert at the Jamestown Foundation. After independence, there were no substantial efforts to build up the army’s defense capability in the east because, said Kipp, “Given the nature of Ukrainian politics, it was very difficult to say, ‘Okay we’re going to prepare ourselves to face a threat from Russia. There was no way you could talk about reorganizing the military to be ‘facing the Russians.’” 

Soviet weapons stockpiles remain in Ukraine, where they are secured by Ukrainian armed forces. Slovyansk, where some of the deadliest clashes of the crisis have occurred, is also the location of a stockpile of some five million Soviet-era small arms, according to the British Royal United Services Institute. “The multiple seizures of government buildings in eastern Ukraine, not just in Slavyansk but also in Konstantinovka in Donetsk Oblast are aimed to make it impossible for Ukrainian forces to fully control the territory and, in effect, to cut it off from its strategic stockpile of light arms,” researchers at the institute found. 

The Russians infiltrated all branches of the Ukrainian armed forces, experts agree.

Former Israeli Nuclear Head: No Iran Bomb for Ten Years—If They Even Want It

May 8, 2014 

A statement highlights the Netanyahu government's tenuous position.

The former head of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission Brigadier General (res.) Uzi Eilam just dropped a bombshell (no pun intended): "The Iranian nuclear program will only be operational in another 10 years," he told the Israeli paper Yediot Ahronoth. "Even so, I am not sure that Iran wants the bomb." And he added that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is employing needless fearmongering about Iran's atomic aspirations in order to further his own political aims.

Mindful of the ongoing—and thus far successful—nuclear talks with Iran, and Netanyahu’s vocal opposition to them, Eilam’s statement must be music to the ears of the Obama administration. It further embarrasses those in Washingtonwho so uncritically swallowed Netanyahu’s talking points hook, line and sinker—and repeated the Israeli prime minister’s arguments as their own.

But when such an Israeli authority as Eilam publicly tears apart the official Israeli narrative about Iran’s nuclear intentions, one must ask oneself why such a unfounded narrative—in the words of Netanyahu himself, “It’s 1938 and Iran is Germany. And Iran is racing to arm itself with atomic bombs”—ever gained foot in the first place.

Particularly when ample evidence has existed in the public realm that the Israeli-Iranian enmity is exacerbated, but not caused or driven by Iran’s nuclear program.

As I write in Treacherous Alliance—the Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran and the United States, not only does Netanyahu’s characterization of Iran have little relationship to reality; Netanyahu himself knows this better than most. Outside of the realm of cynical posturing by politicians, most Israeli strategists recognize that Iran represents a strategic challenge to the favorable balance of power enjoyed by Israel and the U.S. in the Middle East over the past fifteen years, but it is no existential threat to Israel, the U.S. or the Arab regimes.

And that was the view embraced by the Likud leader himself during his last term as prime minister of Israel. In the course of dozens of interviews with key players in the Israeli strategic establishment, a fascinating picture emerged of Netanyahu strongly pushing back against the orthodoxy of his Labor Party predecessors, Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, which treated Iran as one of Israel’s primary enemies. Not only that, he initiated an extensive discreet program of reaching out to the Islamic Republic.

When he took office in June of 1996, the U.S.-educated Likud leader sought not only to undo the peace process with the PLO and the land-for-peace formula; he also sought a return to Israel’s longstanding strategic doctrine of the periphery—the idea that the Jewish State’s security was best achieved by forming secret or not-so-secret alliances with the non-Arab states in the periphery of the Middle East—primarily Turkey and Iran—in order to balance the Arabs in Israel’s vicinity.

Such a shift required efforts to undo Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin’s rhetoric on Iran—deemed “exaggerated and self-defeating” by many in Israel at the time—as well as attempts to quietly reach out to Tehran. Unlike his Labor predecessors, Netanyahu chose to follow the recommendations of an internal Israeli government report on how to address the Iranian challenge, which had concluded that Labor’s inflammatory rhetoric had only attracted Iran’s attention and strengthened Iran’s perception of an Israeli threat, which in turn had made Israel less rather than more secure.