Category: Asia (Page 1 of 3)

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Taiwan will suffer most in any Sino-American brinkmanship

So, once again, as usual, Donald Trump when faced with allegations about Russian hacking in his election, quickly gave an interview to Fox News about Taiwan. That helped in diverting much of the traffic towards the issue, in a communication diversion strategy that Trump has mastered since he decided to stand for election. The interview itself was obviously incoherent, and Trumpian…as in he said a lot of things, half said even more, and almost all of them contradictory. Typical example being he claimed Obama’s policies were a failure, but simultaneously claimed that President Obama has been a terrific president. If any observer was watching for signs of Trump’s pivot towards centrism, this is as good as it gets.

However, the important part was his comments about One China policy. Trump said, he understands completely what a One China policy is, and why US governments have followed it for over forty years, but he fails to comprehend why it should be continued if there’s no deal with China. “I fully understand the ‘one China’ policy, but I don’t know why we have to be bound by a ‘one China’ policy unless we make a deal with China having to do with other things, including trade,” Trump told Fox, as reported by Reuters.

(For a Military comparison, check GlobalFirePower)

Well, that’s a bold statement, because for a start, he doesn’t understand One China policy. And, a deal is already in place. The deal is so the planet earth doesn’t look like a sequence from Fallout 4. But on the other hand, he cleverly didn’t say that he wants to topple the One China policy and chart a new US foreign policy towards China. It’s like an art of saying things, without saying things; kind of like thinking out aloud, wondering, what does it matter if the policy is overturned. If the Chinese administration was looking for hint, this is it. Let me explain.

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The long legacy of the Nanjing Massacre on Asian politics

“When will Japan’s war with China become history?”

Today, as with every December 13 for the past four years, Chinese officials gathered at the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall and rang the bell for the up to 300,000 killed by Japanese imperial soldiers who invaded and captured Nanjing in 1937.

The conquest of the Republic of China’s capital six months after the Second Sino-Japanese War started inspired joy and complacency in Japan. Just weeks earlier the Japanese had completed their capture of Shanghai, a three month battle. Nanjing fell in less than two weeks. General Iwane Matsui was confident that taking Nanjing would result in China’s surrender. (It didn’t, and the war went on for seven more years before Japan surrendered.)

Upon victory on December 13, soldiers committed random acts of violence throughout the city. Civilians fleeing were shot in the back. Homes were invaded, women raped and then stabbed. Pregnant woman were bayoneted in the stomach. Dead bodies were thrown in rivers. Much of the city was destroyed by looting and arson.

Japanese soldiers rounded up masses of men on the grounds they were suspected of being soldiers. Some soldiers had indeed thrown off their uniforms and tried to blend in with civilians, but many more of those taken out to be executed had never fought in the first place. Hundreds of POWs were tied up and shot to death by the Yangtze River on December 18.

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Taiwanese are becoming more pro-independence–with or without Trump’s call

Having analyzed the dynamics of how the precedent-breaking phone call between Donald Trump and Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen played out between the U.S. and China, I now place my gaze on Taiwan itself.

In my observations visiting the island during the cross-straits meeting in 2015 and interviewing academics, I found Taiwanese youth especially likely to be pro-independent, and moreover the ethnolinguistic divides that used to animate their parents’ politics in the aftermath of the Chinese Civil War are becoming less intense.

I wrote about it in detail for Red Alert Politics:

For all the focus on how Donald Trump’s phone call with Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen has outraged China, the point of view of the country whose leader was on the other side of the phone has been neglected.

The Taiwanese people have lived for centuries in the shadows of foreign powers, having faced colonialism, invasion, and martial law, before winning democracy. Now, they face missiles pointed at them from an ascendant Communist state intent on eventually conquering them.

For Taiwan and its new pro-independence president, speaking directly to America’s incoming leader was a bold display of its autonomy in the face of Chinese threats.

It wasn’t an overnight shift in Taiwanese policy, but rather the culmination of a trend that has been underway for years. And Taiwanese millennials have played a significant role in that change.

Millennials helped propel Tsai to a resounding 25 percent victory in January’s general election and gave her Democratic Progressive Party its first legislative majority in history.

Read the rest: What Trump’s call meant to Taiwan’s “strawberry generation”

China is laughing at Trump’s Twitter feed

After phone call with Taiwan’s president, Trump tweets undiplomatically

Trump’s phone call with Taiwan’s president Tsai Ying-wen upended 37 years of precedent in U.S. foreign policy and potentially raised tensions with China, but his tweets afterwards didn’t help matters.

Since the phone call made the news, Trump tweeted, “The President of Taiwan CALLED ME” in an attempt to deflect some of the responsibility, and then added, “Interesting how the U.S. sells Taiwan billions of dollars of military equipment but I should not accept a congratulatory call.” (Taiwan’s government said that both sides agreed to the call ahead of time and agreed that Tsai would formally initiate the call, according to the Straits Times.)

What these tweets show is Trump is ignorant of world affairs and doesn’t give much consideration to how his words could affect foreign relations. Does he not know the rest of the world can read his Twitter feed, too? More likely he just doesn’t care.

Since 1979, the U.S. has had diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China. China demands that any country with whom they have diplomatic relations not recognize Taiwan as an independent country. While America continues to have under-the-table relations with Taiwan, America doesn’t openly recognize Taiwan as a country and doesn’t have an official embassy on the island. (The American Institute in Taiwan, technically a non-profit organization, serves the functions of an embassy.)

To call Tsai the President of Taiwan is taken by many in China as to imply that Taiwan is a sovereign nation.

Next he tweeted about the fact that America sells weapons to Taiwan. (He could have also mentioned the fact that his company is trying to develop hotels in Taiwan.)

Of course everyone knows that Taiwan has a defacto president and that America sells them weapons–he’s not sharing confidential information. But such comments and actions could unnecessarily provoke China. He could start a conflict through his own ignorance.

Moreover, the DPP, which supports greater autonomy from China and pushes for formal recognition of independence, could use Trump’s ignorance to push for its own agenda. A DPP legislator praised the call as a breakthrough in the Straits Times.

His tweets were widely shared on China’s Weibo microblog:

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Kayes recovering from injuries.

“Then they decided to kill me”: Shahed Kayes on his campaign against illegal sand mining in Bangladesh

The population of Bangladesh has increased by 60% since 1990. Its capital Dhaka is one of the fastest-growing cities in the world, expected to have a population the size of Shanghai’s current population within the next decade. This unstoppable growth is fueling an explosion in construction. Bangladesh isn’t alone. Countries throughout South Asia and South East Asia are growing at breakneck pace as well as urbanizing.

Dhaka traffic near Gulistan Crossing. Photo by Flickr user Twentyfour Students.

Dhaka traffic near Gulistan Crossing. Photo by Flickr user Twentyfour Students.

All of this construction needs massive amounts of concrete. And concrete needs sand. But where does the sand come from? Shahed Kayes is founder of the Subornogram Foundation, which established schools for poor and marginalized families like the fisherfolk who live on islands in the Meghna River. There, he found sand mining companies dredging sands from close to the islands, causing the islands to erode and disappear. When he began to protest the practice, getting Bangladesh to pass laws against it in 2012, he was met with threats–and nearly killed.

Shahed Kayes teaching a class.

Shahed Kayes teaching a class. Screen capture from AdvocacyNet.org video.

I met him in Gwangju, South Korea this summer, where he is working towards promoting democracy at the May 18 Memorial Foundation and studying at Chonnnam University, and then interviewed him. Following is an edited transcript and audio. The audio also includes conversation about South Korea’s historic democracy movement and the Gwangju Uprising of 1980, which was the impetus for the creation of the May 18 Memorial Foundation.

Here’s the audio:

Here’s the text:
Mitchell Blatt: Many people do not think of how much sand is used in the world. But when it comes to building towers or anything that uses concrete, it involves a lot of sand [also for glass, and expansion of landmass in places like Hong Kong, Singapore, and China’s east coast]. Can you give an introduction as to why sand mining is important?

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Duterte’s embrace of China is the latest fruit of Duterte’s irrationality

Paul Mirengoff at the conservative blog Powerline has an article up blaming President Obama for Filipinian president Rodrigo Duterte aligning his country with China.

There’s a tendency among conservatives and Republicans to blame things on Obama, as he is a Democrat, and conservative critics of Obama have also been making a case that Obama hasn’t been strong enough backing up his words on some issues. There is a case to be made. But even the most hardcore Republican Obama critic would have a hard time making the case here.

Duterte, like candidate Trump, is a very unconventional politician and a tyrant. Since taking office he has waged an extrajudicial war on alleged drug users, killing over 2,000 with no due process, including many who aren’t drug users. He has praised Hitler, saying that if Hitler killed 3 million Jews, he would kill 3 million drug addicts. He called Obama a son of a whore.

Now he has unilaterally decided to tell America to go to hell because he wants to align himself with the totalitarian forces of the world, even as China is asserting claim to islands claimed by the Philippines, even as the Philippines just won a case against China in the UN Law of the Sea court. Duterte said:

America has lost now. I’ve realigned myself in your ideological flow. And maybe I will also go to Russia to talk to Putin and tell him that there are three of us against the world: China, Philippines and Russia. It’s the only way.

If Trump wins maybe the U.S. could join the gang and get back in good graces with the Philippines.

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Psstt…it’s called “Bandwagoning”

Here’s what explains Manila’s Pivot to Beijing.

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Here’s my article.

And here’s more on “Bandwagoning and Balancing” and Alliance Formations, in International Relations.

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On Hiroshima and Apologizing

In the final year of his presidency, Barack Obama took the liberty to do what it had been speculated that he would do for some time: visit Hiroshima and give a speech on the atomic bomb. It should be emphasized that he “gave a speech” and didn’t “apologize,” but nonetheless, “apology” is the word of choice, especially across the right side of the blogosphere.

Nowhere did Obama take a stand on whether or not it was right to drop the bomb. That wouldn’t have been the place to do it. You don’t respect your allies by reasserting the righteousness of your might in the place where 60,000 civilians were incinerated. Even if that was necessary to end the war, it was a tragedy that it had to happen and that it did happen.

Acknowledging that tragedy was what Obama did. “We come to mourn the dead,” Obama said. He included the victims of the Nagasaki bombing, too, in reciting the death toll and made specific note of the one dozen American POWs killed (and made no mention of the British and Dutch POWs).

“Yet in the image of a mushroom cloud that rose into these skies, we are most starkly reminded of humanity’s core contradiction. How the very spark that marks us as a species, our thoughts, our imagination, our language, our toolmaking, our ability to set ourselves apart from nature and bend it to our will — those very things also give us the capacity for unmatched destruction,” he said.

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Weekly Reading List: So, I got published in War on the Rocks and Nottspolitics

Big week, as I mentioned before, with a couple of major publications coming, other than my regular columns.

To start with, the biggest one till date, my essay on War on the Rocks, where I write a Neo-Realist critique of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s latest revisionist history lesson. And was then called a Neo-Con for some reason, in the comments. But that’s another issue.

The second big one was my guest post at the official blog of the University of Nottingham, Dept of Politics and IR, where I talk about a foreign policy course for Philippines and how it should balance between China and US.

Other than that, here are my weekly columns.

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Struggling northeastern China cuts down on steel production, faces labor protests and mass firings

Going into China’s 2016 National People’s Congress, which concluded earlier this month, one of the issues facing the economy was the slowdown of northeastern China, which has been a leader in coal production and steel production.

Southern Weekend, a nationally-distributed Guangzhou-based newspaper, reported that week on the struggles facing China’s rust belt, which saw among the slowest growth in the country last year. Liaoning province, the southernmost of the three provinces referred to collectively as “Northeastern China” (Dongbei), grew at a rate of 3.0%, the slowest in the country, and fell three places from seventh to tenth in total GDP numbers. Heilongjiang, the northernmost of Dongbei, grew at 5.7%, third worst, and Jilin was fourth worst at 6.5%.

Other steel producing northern provinces didn’t do well either. Hebei, which borders Beijing, grew at 6.8%, just better than Jilin. In January, Hebei’s governor announced plans to cut steel output, which is dominated by state-owned companies, in order “to ease pollution and help curb oversupply.” While China does produce about half the steel in the world and exported a record, 112 million tons, in 2015, Chinese steel companies are generally not very profitable, due to overproduction and heavy competition.

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