Under the Radar News, 12.23.2009

Posted on Wednesday, December 23, 2009 by Prashanth Parameswaran

A weekly compilation of underreported developments in Asia

  • China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC), the country's biggest oil and gas producer, signed an agreement with Myanmar's Energy Ministry for exclusive rights to build a China-Myanmar crude oil pipeline.

  • Top financial research firm Moody's says the Asia-Pacific is already well into the recovery phase and is leading the global economy out of recession.

  • Taiwanese President Ma Ying-Jeou pledges that his government will seal free trade agreements (FTA) with other nations after inking an economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) with China.

  • China will deliver eight domestically designed private business aircraft to Laos in 2010 in its latest bid to find a niche in the international aviation market.

  • Indonesia says it will donate more than 12,000 tons of rice to an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) integrated food security network to assist other countries when they are hit by natural disasters.

  • Cracks within the Malaysian opposition, if unaddressed, could thwart its efforts to take power in the country's next election.

  • Zhang Boshu, a vocal government critic who has advocated constitutional reform, was asked to resign from his post at a leading Chinese think tank.

  • Myanmar's state press declared that the new state constitution adopted last year cannot be changed before planned elections in 2010.

  • *NOTE: Under the Radar News will not be posted during the next week and will resume operation after the new year on January 8, 2010.

    Indonesia's Defense Makeover

    Posted on by Prashanth Parameswaran

    The Indonesian Defense Ministry recently decided to procure three new CN-235-220 maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) and purchase 96 additional patrol vessels to boost its naval arsenal. Further aircraft orders could be filed at the end of 2010, and Indonesia is also eying new submarines and platform docks over the next few years.

    The acquisitions are part of the Indonesian navy’s 2010-2014 Strategic Plan, which aims to achieve the minimum operational requirements of Jakarta’s poorly-funded armed forces – or what Indonesian President President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono calls a ‘Minimum Essential Force’.

    This commitment has been enacted beyond rhetoric. According to Jane’s Information Group, the $4.06 billion-dollar defense budget allocated for 2010 is a 21% increase from 2009, and it will grow in line with the country’s GDP for the first time in four years. Coinciding with an increase in funding, The Indonesian Defense Ministry recently issued a series of military-related reforms to be implemented over the next few months. These included increasing troop salaries, streamlining defense policies and practices, revitalizing its local defense industry, and purchasing new equipment.

    The measures are a welcome development for the Indonesian armed forces. Jakarta has one of the lowest defense budgets as a percentage of GDP in its neighborhood, a mere 0.62% compared to more than 2% in most of Southeast Asia. Experts have long lamented Indonesia’s aging defense equipment systems, poorly paid troops, and bottle-necked and red-tape-ridden policy process. The Indonesian government also came under fire earlier this year when budgetary shortfalls for equipment maintenance was suspected as the main cause of a military transport plane that crashed in East Java killing 101 people.

    Experts, however, remain only cautiously optimistic about this fresh defense outlook. Since the budget increase is barely enough to maintain Indonesia’s current aging equipment, planned purchases of new, updated technology have been pushed back to at least 2013. Indonesia’s uncoordinated legislative process, poor implementation record, and intense inter-agency competition also cast doubts over whether these “ideas” can be “translated into action”.

    Such a tight defense budget also restricts Indonesia to dealing with current problems instead of also adapting to future security threats. One 2008 think-tank workshop predicted that overpopulation, energy shortages, and climate change will severely compound Indonesia’s already dizzying array of security challenges over the next few decades, further straining defense budgets, increasing equipment maintenance requirements and sparking domestic unrest. Yet the Indonesian Defense Ministry recently said that it had “no specific national security agenda for climate change”.

    Despite these cautions, President Yudhoyono remains undeterred, pledging to gradually increase the budget annually until his term expires in 2015. As one of the fastest countries to emerge out of the world financial meltdown, Indonesia’s economy is probably robust enough to financially support this goal. But whether a flood of cash and a deluge of reforms can modernize and professionalize Indonesia’s embattled defense forces remains uncertain. This essential makeover could well achieve only minimal results.

    Picture: A CN-235 marine patrol aircraft (Air-Force Technology.com)

    Under The Radar News, 12.18.09

    Posted on Friday, December 18, 2009 by Prashanth Parameswaran

    A weekly compilation of underreported developments in Asia

    China To Deepen Rural Credit Cooperative Reform (Xinhua) - Chinese Vice Premier Wang Qishan said China would deepen the reform of its rural credit cooperatives in order to better serve farmers and facilitate rural economic growth. The cooperatives are major sources of agricultural loans in the rural areas.

    ADB Approves Loan to Rebuild Cambodia's Railway System (Xinhua) -The Asian Development Bank approved 42 million dollars in investment to boost Cambodia's battered railway system. If successful, rail travel into Cambodia from other Asian countries could be possible by 2013 and Phnom Penh will be at the center of a growing trade network in the Greater Mekong Subregion.

    Japanese Computer Servers Involved in International Cyberattack (Japan Times Online) - Japan's National Police Agency suspects that eight computer servers in Japan were involved in a wave of July cyberattacks that hit government and commercial websites in South Korea and the United States. The attack overloaded the web servers of 35 government and private organizations, including the South Korean presidential office.

    Indonesia Boosts Naval Capabilities (Jakarta Post) -The Indonesian Defense Ministry signed a contract with the state aircraft producer PT Dirgantara Indonesia (DI) to procure three CN-235-220 Marine Patrol Aircraft over the next two years. The signing is part of a wider strategy shift by Jakarta to shore up its procurement of domestic weapons systems and increase its lagging defense spending.

    China Beginning to Reverse 'Brain Drain' (UPI Asia) - Research indicates that an increasing number of Chinese students and professionals who study abroad – mostly in the education and technology sectors – are heading back home instead of remaining overseas. Though the trend, which started in 2001, suggests Beijing may be beginning to reverse its 'brain drain', statistics also indicate that those who stay abroad longer are less inclined to return.

    Palau, Saint Lucia, call for Taiwan Inclusion in Climate Talks: (Taiwan News) - Palau and Saint Lucia advocated the inclusion of Taiwan in global discussions at the 15th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC). Taiwan has previously called on the UNFCC to reconsider its participation in lieu of its extreme vulnerability to climate change. Palau and Saint Lucia are two of the 23 countries that still have relations with Taiwan.

    Increased Thermal Coal Demand from India and China Threatens Supply (Bloomberg)- A new JP Morgan report says supply of thermal coal will be tight over the next two years due to soaring demand from India and China. The fuel's price is expected to rise from $70 a ton this year to $85 in 2011. The report attributed part of the demand upsurge to the rise of electricity generation in China.

    Report Says Burma One of “Worst Affected” Countries By Climate Change (The Irrawaddy)- A report published by the Berlin-based climate watchdog Germanwatch mentioned Burma as the second-worst affected country by climate change in the world over the last two decades. Five other Asian nations made the top 10 list, including Vietnam, India, China, and the Philippines. Burma, one of the world's least developed countries, has been ravaged by illegal logging and struck by devastating natural disasters, including Cyclone Nargis in 2007.

    Indonesia Could Embrace Nuclear Power Next Year (Sydney Morning Herald) - Indonesia could formally embrace nuclear power as early as next year, building up to four reactors to address growing energy demands. The plan raises serious concerns about radioactive leaks, particularly given the reactors' proximity to a Central Javan volcano.

    Heated exchange: Tuvalu forces China’s hand at Copenhagen

    Posted on by Tiffany Ma

    In the lead up to Copenhagen, many speculated that China was going to be the decisive, and potentially divisive, party to climate change resolutions. However, it was the tiny Pacific nation of Tuvalu, supported by other island states and some African countries, which reshaped debates by exposing the disharmony among the G77 bloc of 130 developing nations.

    Tuvalu broke ranks with the powerful informal alliance by proposing a ‘
    Copenhagen Protocol’ that would go beyond the Kyoto Protocol to legally bind CO2 emissions to 350 ppm, from the suggested 450 ppm level, and limit global temperature increase to 1.5 rather than 2 degrees. This injected a new dynamic in the emission reduction debate which previously was divided between two unified camps – the developed versus developing countries. While the G77 had previously presented a united front throughout the Bali Road Map and United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations, Tuvalu’s proposal drew rapid opposition from other member states such as China, India and Saudi Arabia due to the implications for economic growth. Although China supported financial reparations from the developed nations to small island states, as a leading economic powerhouse and greenhouse gas emitter, it was reluctant to open possibilities for broadening its own climate obligations. Furthermore, it was suggested that China’s opposition was also inflamed by Tuvalu’s formal diplomatic relationship with Taiwan.

    In contrast to China, Tuvalu is one of the world’s poorest countries and lowest emitters. As the majority of its 26 square kilometer territory barely clears 2m above sea level, it is highly vulnerable to climate change related sea level rises and growing occurrence of
    king tides that bring salt water intrusion into the arable soil and water supplies. Worst-case scientific projections have warned that rising sea levels have the potential to completely inundate the country. The humanitarian concern of en masse displacement due to loss of national territory is exacerbated by the lack of international protection mechanisms for environmental displaced refugees and stateless persons.

    Going forward, the magnitude of insecurity faced by Tuvalu from further adversarial climate changes far exceeds that faced by many of its G77 peers. While countries with greater political influence like China will experience serious flooding, extreme weather and severe drought, its representative captured the reality when pointing out that China’s “
    basic circumstances” are fundamentally different from small island nations. These include conditions conducive to climate change adaptation and aversive to emission reduction such as economic resources and technology.

    Rather than demonstrating China’s climate clout, Copenhagen has polarized the diverging interests of newly industrialized and less developed countries within the developing countries bloc. In doing so, it undermines the future of China’s
    credibility as the stalwart champion of developing nations’ interests, an image it has presented on a number of fronts from the UNFCCC negotiations to the Doha Development Round.

    Image: The Chinese delegation at Copenhagen. AFP.

    Under the Radar News, 12.11.09

    Posted on Friday, December 11, 2009 by Kolby Hanson

    A weekly compilation of underreported developments in Asia.

    China Pushes Domestic Consumption (Xinhua) Unable to rely as heavily on recession-ridden American markets, the Chinese government is working harder to increase domestic consumption, especially in rural areas. They are extending rural subsidies for cell phones and other appliances, may consider improving their social safety net, and have encouraged banks to open village banks to encourage rural lending.

    Japanese and Australian Companies Sign $90 billion Natural Gas Deal (The Australian) Tokyo Electric Power, and as a result the city of Tokyo, will get much of its electricity over the next 20 years from Australia’s Wheatstone Natural Gas.

    China Launches Remote Sensing Satellite (Xinhua) The Yaogan 7, the latest in a series of sophisticated observation satellites, was launched by the Chinese government this week. They say it will be used for crop yield estimates, scientific surveys, and disaster response, but many suspect it will be valuable in observation of foreign forces and other military uses.

    North Korea’s Foreign Trade Increasingly Goes to China (Korea Times) Thanks to rapid growth in bilateral trade, more than 50% of North Korea’s foreign trade is now with China. Some say it is a result of Chinese rural development plan and other nations’ hesitancy to allow trade. The results of this dependence are yet to be seen.

    Indonesia Considers Death Penalty for Corruption (Antara) A special commission of the House of Representatives in Indonesia advised that the nation implement a reversed burden-of-proof (meaning indicted figures would have to prove their innocence) and a possible death penalty in corruption cases to fight the nation’s corruption issues.

    Chinese Government Embraces Websites as a Platform (Xinhua) More than 45,000 websites have been set up by the Chinese government at various levels to disclose official information and to interact with the public. Supposedly a tool for transparency, these websites offer a wider audience for the government. The Ministry of Defense website has received over 1.25 billion hits in 3 months.

    Hatoyama Proposes Support for Asian Democracy (Yomiuri Shimbun) Japan’s PM Yukio Hatoyama announced on Thursday that Japan intends to provide assistance for democracies in Asia. He also said that his planned East Asian Community should provide election monitoring and other international support for democratic transitions.

    Korea to Build Nuclear Plant in Jordan (Chosun Ilbo) South Korea’s Korean Atomic Energy Research Institute and Daewoo beat out companies from Argentina, China, and Russia for a nuclear plant contract in Jordan. It is Korea’s first exported nuclear plant and shows the nation’s growing influence in the energy market.

    Japan's New Destroyer

    Posted on by Prashanth Parameswaran

    On November 23rd, Japanese media reported that the Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) is planning a 248m long helicopter destroyer – DDH22 – which will be the largest of its kind with a displacement of 19,500 tons. Equipped with a full-length flight deck, it will be able to transport up to 14 helicopters, 4,000 people and 50 trucks.

    Japanese officials say the ship will help refuel other vessels, transport personnel and equipment, and conduct surveillance of surrounding waters. Beyond this, some observers also predict that such a destroyer will allow Tokyo to “project its influence and military force” beyond surrounding waters and the wider region to protect its interests and secure global lines of communication. These interests include supporting natural disaster relief operations and international peacekeeping missions, and perhaps even more ambitious future activities modeled on Japan’s recent participation in UN-authorized counter-piracy operations off the Somali coast in line with Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s principle of “yuai” (fraternity).

    Furthermore, some media sources are speculating that the acquisition is at least partly directed at China’s increasing presence in the East China Sea and training exercises around the disputed Senkaku Islands. Earlier this year, the Ministry of Defense concluded that Japan’s defense posture against potential incursions by surrounding nations was “inadequate”. However, one destroyer will only be a dent in Japan’s naval capabilities vis-à-vis China’s rapid military buildup.

    The destroyer has undoubtedly reignited media and public debates over Japan’s naval posture. In accordance with its post-war pacifist constitution, Japanese law presumably prohibits the possession of aircraft carriers since they are deemed to “exceed the war potential needed for a minimal level of self-defense”. Yet the Japanese media has already raised concerns that the new destroyer “looks like an aircraft carrier” and numerous bloggers have compared the design of the DDH22, as well as its Hyuga-class predecessors, to the British Invincible and Italian Cavour class aircraft carriers.

    Even so, this development does not signal a substantive naval buildup. The DDH22 is intended as a replacement to the decommissioning of five Shirane-class destroyers, thereby reducing the size of MSDF’s overall force. Furthermore, the ship lacks potential offensive capabilities, like a ski-jump ramp which would allow it to be deployed as a light aircraft carrier. The Defense Ministry has also specified the destroyer’s mission scope and offensive limitations, insisting that “the ship will be incapable of having fighter jets land on and take-off from the deck”.

    Nor does it portend a significant shift in Japan’s military ambitions. Even in a more uncertain and complex post-Cold War security environment amidst crises such as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Japan’s capabilities have so far been increasing only incrementally. Though Tokyo plans to commission an additional destroyer in the future, enduring domestic pacifism and mounting budgetary constraints indicate that one should not expect a major military buildup anytime soon.

    (Pictured Above: Japan's Hyuga-class naval destroyer. MarineBuzz.com)

    Under the Radar News, 12.4.09

    Posted on Friday, December 4, 2009 by Kolby Hanson

    A weekly compilation of underreported developments in Asia.

    China’s Legal System to Pressure Local Governments to Transparency (Xinhua) The Chinese Supreme Court rules that local government interests can no longer be used as grounds to keep information secret. This may force all local governments to post their official budgets online. This is the latest move by the central government to crack down on corruption on local levels.

    SDP Threatens to Leave Japan’s Ruling Coalition over Base Issue (Japan Times) The Social Democratic Party, one of three parties in Japan’s ruling coalition, threatens to leave the coalition if the U.S.’s Futenma base is not relocated. If the SDP were to leave, the DPJ would lose their majority in the Upper House and the coalition could collapse. This only puts additional pressure on the alliance and negotiations with the U.S.

    China Relocates Tibet’s Farmers to Government Housing (People’s Daily) The Chinese government is nearing completion of a nearly $2 billion project to build 270,000 houses for itinerant farmers and herdsmen in Tibet. By the end of 2010, they plan to have housed all of the multiple million people. This both continues the Chinese government’s affirmative action programs in Tibet, and may help to reduce social and cultural conflict.

    Indonesian President Under Scrutiny in Bank Century Corruption Case (Antara) Indonesian President Suilo Bambang Yudhoyono, elected largely on his anti-corruption and pro-environmental agenda, allegedly provided stimulus funds to campaign contributor Bank Century (now Bank Indonesia).

    Japan to Deploy Forces to Sudan (Yomiuri Shimbun) Japan’s Ground Self Defense Forces, which pulled its last troops out of Afghanistan last year, plan to contribute several hundred troops to the U.N. mission in Sudan. This humanitarian move is rare for Japan’s military-wary government, and is stark in comparison to its recent drawback on support of U.S. missions.

    China Targets Central Asian Trade with Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan (Xinhua) More than 20 Chinese and Kazakh officials met to discuss encouraging bilateral trade. China is already Kazakhstan’s 3rd leading trading partner, and trade increased 27% last year. Uzbekistan and China are also meeting to expand their growing trade.

    Taiwan and China to Sign Currency Pact (China Post [Taiwan]) China and Taiwan are set to sign an agreement allowing direct currency exchange in order to facilitate cross-strait investment, further integrating Taiwanese and Chinese economies. Sources say it will go into effect even before their Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) is signed.

    Chilean Officials Plan to Replicate Growing Chinese Solar Industry (Xinhua) Chilean ambassador Fernando Reyes Matta says that Chile’s energy establishment should further investigate China’s solar industry and announce an emissions target like China’s. This not only points to China’s success in renewables but also its growing influence in South America.

    Under the Radar News, 11.25.09

    Posted on Wednesday, November 25, 2009 by Kolby Hanson

    A weekly compilation of underreported developments in Asia.

    China admits Sichuan quake funds used improperly (People’s Daily) Chinese government thinktank CAST admits that Sichuan earthquake relief funds were distributed unfairly, largely benefitting wealthy people. The Sichuan quake has already been a topic of speculation on corruption and China’s rich-poor gap.

    Japanese commission calls for foreign aid cuts (Yomiuri Shimbun) Pressed by budget woes and rising costs from DPJ campaign promises, Japan’s Government Revitalization Unit recommended a major reduction in foreign aid, one third of education- and health-targeted aid.

    Controversy over 1960 Japan-US nuclear agreement (Yomiuri Shimbun) With the Japanese public already uncertain about the US alliance and US military presence in Japanese territory, secret documents reportedly reveal that a 1960 amendment to the Japan-US alliance has allowed American military to land in Japan with nuclear weapons.

    Indonesian government lost on meeting President’s emission cut pledge (Jakarta Post) Newly-elected Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono pledged to cut Indonesia’s carbon emissions by 26 percent by 2020 in October, but government officials are struggling to find strategies to do so.

    Australia purchases 14 Joint Strike Fighters from US (Bloomberg) The Australian government has approved a nearly $3 billion deal for 14 American-made F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, the most advanced commercially available fighters. They will be delivered in 2014.

    Japan grants nearly $500 million in aid to the Philippines (Manila Times) Just as they were announcing huge overall cuts, the Japanese government announced a deal to supply $489 million in loans to the Philippines to supply agriculture and infrastructure projects.

    China Keeps its Neighbor Pak-ing Heat

    Posted on Tuesday, November 24, 2009 by Kolby Hanson

    For Pakistan and other developing nations, finding a cost-effective source of arms has always been an issue, especially for jets and other advanced technology. Facing growing demands on its military, Pakistan is relying more and more on Chinese companies even for its most expensive weapons deals.

    This month, Pakistan and China have signed two major fighter deals which greatly expand military and supply commitments on their fighters for years to come. Two weeks ago, the two governments signed a $1.4 billion deal for 36 Chinese Jian-10 fighters produced by the state-owned China Aviation Technology Import-Export Corporation (CATIC). Yesterday, the first of Pakistan and China’s co-produced JF-17 fighters rolled off the assembly line, the first results of a multi-year military cooperation deal between the two countries.

    These two deals look like just the beginning for a growing Sino-Pakistani military and political relationship. Pakistan is not only interested in buying up to 150 J-10s, but also reportedly plans to purchase as many as 250 of the JF-17s they co-produce over the next four to five years. Those two deals alone may satisfy Pakistan’s fighter demand for decades. China also a less judgmental arms supplier than most Western nations, which is especially attractive after Pakistan had its F-16 supplies cut off in 1990 after reports surfaced about Pakistan’s nuclear program.

    The bigger impact for both sides, however, might the future strategic cooperation signaled by these deals. China agreed to base the JF-17 plant in Kamra, Pakistan, and the Pakistani government has proposed a joint venture financing corporation to fund military cooperation in Pakistan. Meanwhile, prospects for Chinese firms are looking up, especially if they hope to compete with Western defense contractors – the J-10 is very similar in capabilities to the US-produced F-16, and could prove a less costly alternative down the road.

    With the success of the deals in Pakistan, China may also become a more attractive arms source among other developing nations, especially those wary of Western dealers. Iran is already rumored to have ordered 24 J-10s, and when the People’s Liberation Army showed off the J-10 at the Zhuhai Air Show in November 2008, delegations from Angola, Nigeria, and Venezuela showed significant interest.

    How much of an influence China can wield over the international arms industry is yet to be seen. But by offering attractive economic deals without judgment, Chinese firms have carved a space for themselves in even the very sophisticated world of fighter jets.

    (Image: prototype J-10 fighter, artist's rendition. China Defense Mashup)

    Under the Radar News, 11.20.09

    Posted on Friday, November 20, 2009 by Kolby Hanson

    A weekly compilation of underreported developments in Asia.

    Ma Promotes ECFA (Taipei Times) Taiwanese President Ma Ying-Jeou argues that the proposed Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement with China would reduce the chance of war with China. The agreement is in the works, and appears to be a large priority for both sides of the Strait.
    But Ma Says Legislature Will Play a Role (China Post[Taiwan]) Ma also reiterates that he will not implement the ECFA without the legislature’s ratification, adding another roadblock to the deal.

    Myint Swe Rumored to be Burma's Next Leader (The Irrawaddy) Inside sources say that Lt-Gen. Myint Swe will succeed Sr-Gen. Than Shwe (who is expected to step down in the next few years) as commander in chief of Burma’s military junta. Myint Swe is younger (58) and lower-ranking (3-star general) than most of the others on the shortlist, and is the country’s highest-ranking ethnic minority (Mon).
    Tin Aung Myint Oo Steps Down (The Irrawaddy) Just last week, another leading candidate, 4-star Gen. Tin Aung Myint Oo, suddenly resigned from the government.

    Chinese Censor Obama's Speech (Sydney Morning Herald) The Chinese government blocked access around the country to Obama’s speech to Chinese students. Television cut away after a few minutes and the live feed never went up on the internet as promised.

    China Expands Supreme Court Petitions Office (Xinhua) China’s Supreme Court opens a larger petition office in order to receive more appeals. This is part of China’s at-least-nominally expanding anti-corruption and rule of law efforts, which include more extensive online corruption databases and a growing effort to publicly prosecute cases.

    Taiwan and China Expand Financial Integration (China Post [Taiwan]) Taiwan and China sign a memorandum of understanding that allows greater interaction between their financial markets. Concerns are being raised in Taiwan about the possible effects of Chinese investors now being able to buy into the Taiwanese stock market.

    India Reacts Harshly to China-U.S. Statement (Times of India) (People's Daily [China]) Indian leaders bristle at China’s increased regional role that they believe was implied in the Obama-Hu joint statement on Tuesday. Many fear that Chinese involvement in India-Pakistan issues may lead to greater hegemony in Asia.

    Obama Meets with Chinese Religious Leaders (Sydney Morning Herald) Obama meets with church officials in China, who have faced a particularly stiff crackdown this year. This was the one clear move on the human rights front for Obama during his trip to China, in which he was largely criticized for ignoring human rights issues.

    APEC Cool on Climate Change

    Posted on Thursday, November 19, 2009 by Prashanth Parameswaran

    “We reaffirm our commitment to tackle the threat of climate change and work towards an ambitious outcome in Copenhagen”, Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders proclaimed in their final declaration in Singapore last weekend.

    The reality, however, was much more sobering. APEC negotiations failed to set concrete targets for greenhouse gas emissions cuts, thereby effectively dousing hopes for reaching a legally binding global warming accord at the Copenhagen climate summit in Denmark next month.

    APEC, whose 21 members account for more than 40% of the world’s trade and over 60% of its emissions, was one of the final forums for leaders to bridge their differences over a climate pact before Copenhagen. Those differences, however, ultimately proved intractable. China, along with other large developing nations, buried a bid to halve greenhouse gases from 1990 levels by 2050 because it did not also include an emissions target for rich countries. Instead, APEC members ended up backing a face-saving proposal by Danish Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen, who hastily flew to Singapore and championed a lackluster “political statement of intent” at Copenhagen.

    APEC leaders insisted that expecting a legally binding agreement in three weeks was “unrealistic” anyway. It was nonetheless clear that the organization had missed another opportunity to grapple with the hard issues instead of just glossing over them.

    In addition to further dampening hopes for Copenhagen, the disappointing summit delays critical measures designed to ameliorate the effects of climate change in the Asia Pacific, already home to 70% of the world’s natural disasters. The future is even bleaker. A recent WWF report warns that unless energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions are curtailed, low-lying ‘mega-cities’ in Asia like Dhaka, Manila and Jakarta will be highly vulnerable to rising sea levels, tropical storms, droughts and heat waves in the near future. The Asian Development Bank also predicts that the region will experience food insecurity, energy shortages and worsening poverty.

    In order to stem the effects of climate change, the WWF report recommends that emissions be cut by at least 40% by 2020 and by at least 95 percent by 2050 – almost twice as much as the proposal APEC initially floated but could not adopt. But the price tag for adapting to climate change in the Asia-Pacific is exorbitant and even prohibitive. According to a recent World Bank study, the region’s fragile infrastructure and large, densely populated coastal zones means developing countries will require anywhere from 75 to 100 billion U.S. dollars per year from 2010 to 2050 to do so – with substantial contributions from developed countries.

    These grim projections and daunting challenges make APEC’s missed chance on climate change seem all the more regrettable.

    Obama Navigates Human Rights in Asia

    Posted on Tuesday, November 17, 2009 by Guest Contributor

    by Kelley Currie, Non-resident fellow, the Project 2049 Institute

    As President Obama prepares to depart China, it seems like a good time to check in on how his trip is going, particularly regarding key human rights issues.

    Reviews of the Japan and Singapore portions of the trip have generally been positive, even as it became clear that there were no substantive outcomes forthcoming. His major set-piece Asia policy speech in Tokyo was well-received. In both tone and substance, the speech presented a far more balanced view of US relations with Asia than others from administration officials, who have at times appeared overly deferential to China and downplayed of the essential nature of our alliances in the region. Moving on to Singapore, he soothed anxieties on trade, climate change and other economic issues during the APEC portion of the trip, and announced that the next APEC meeting will be in Hawaii. More impressively, he managed to pull off the neat trick of embracing ASEAN while keeping one of its members safely at arms length. He issued a tough call for Aung San Suu Kyi's release and broader political reform in Burma during the US-ASEAN summit meetings, and avoided getting caught in a "grip and grin" photo-op with Burmese prime minister Thein Sein, but was unable to secure a condemnation of Suu Kyi's house arrest in the summit document.

    China has of course proven to be the trickiest venue of his long Asian sojourn. With the Shanghai "town hall meeting with future Chinese leaders", he tried to chart a safe course around the many sensitivities of his authoritarian hosts. The White House had hoped that this town hall would be an opportunity for spontaneous interactions with a cross-section of Shanghai youth that would be available live for China's 350 million internet users. Instead, the event was tightly controlled by the Chinese authorities and was largely unavailable to those in China who could not scale the "Great Firewall." Ironically, news stories about his comments supporting internet freedom in response to a question about the Great Firewall were heavily censored. Although the questions were handpicked, there were many opportunities in the speech for raising difficult issues with these "future leaders" of China.

    Instead, he chose to play it safe. He did speak about American values and universal rights, but in an innocuous way couched in "respect for different cultures" and China's "different traditions." He chose to highlight fairly noncontroversial rights issues -- opposition to child slavery and support for women's rights – rather than discuss Tibet, Xinjiang, or indigenous Chinese movements such as Charter 08. This was particularly inopportune, given recent comments from the Chinese Foreign Ministry analogizing the American Civil War to the People's Liberation Army occupation of Tibet, and the detention of prominent activists in the days before his arrival.

    The joint statement and press conference today also held little positive news for human rights advocates. Aside from announcing the next round of the bilateral human rights dialogue, there was little said except that the two sides basically agree to disagree, respectfully, about human rights issues. Instead, Obama publicly acknowledged Chinese sovereignty over Tibet, while mildly expressing support for "dialogue between the Chinese government and the representatives of the Dalai Lama to resolve any concerns and differences that the two sides may have."

    After the Tokyo speech, there was some hope that the lack of meaningful Chinese compromises on key issues and their regression on human rights issues in the run up to his visit might have caused President Obama to be taking a tougher line on China. It appears -- at least while Obama is in China -- that did not happen.

    Regional (Dis)Unity in Southeast Asia

    Posted on Monday, November 16, 2009 by Prashanth Parameswaran

    Just weeks after Asian leaders waxed eloquent about unity at the 15th ASEAN Summit in Bangkok, a simmering diplomatic row between Southeast Asian neighbors Thailand and Cambodia threatens to boil over and tear efforts at regionalism asunder.

    The dispute erupted when Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen decided to appoint fugitive former Thai premier and his longtime friend Thaksin Shinawatra as an economic adviser. The move rankled Bangkok, which views the appointment of a convicted Thai citizen as interference in its internal affairs.

    Both countries have since recalled their respective ambassadors, scrapped bilateral agreements on offshore resource exploration, triggered military alerts in border hotspots, and threatened to further downgrade relations. Analysts say the relationship is at its lowest ebb since mid-2008, when the two countries exchanged deadly fire over the disputed Preah Vihear temple, killing more than a dozen troops.

    But even if the cross-border saber-rattling continues, few expect it to descend into full-scale violence or all-out war. The Cambodian leadership habitually stirs up international imbroglios to score domestic political points, and this case is likely no different. Mr. Hun Sen’s remarks on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit last month indicate that the ‘Thaksin gambit’ is merely retaliation for Bangkok allowing Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy to deliver a searing rebuke of government policy at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club in September, rather than a deliberate attempt to vex Thailand. With Thailand’s interior minister Chavarat Charnvirakul bearing the olive branch earlier this week and broaching the topic of talks, the bilateral spat is probably headed to the negotiating table instead of the battlefield.

    Robust economic relations will also likely inch along even if these prickly historical animosities do persist. Thailand has provided tens of millions of dollars to Cambodia in grants and loans since the mid-1980s for infrastructure development. And despite the barbs traded over ancient temples last year, bilateral trade surged from US$ 1.4 billion in 2007 to US$ 1.8 billion in 2008.

    The regional implications of the squabble are more sobering. The longer it continues, the more it will damage ASEAN’s credibility as a united organization behind the wheels of regional integration. The timing is also particularly inopportune, as the group will look feckless and divided just as U.S. President Barack Obama visits the region later this week and both the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit and the inaugural ASEAN-US Leaders Meeting are held this weekend. ASEAN’s own Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan admits that “ASEAN cannot afford to be seen as being so seriously divided”.

    But unless the Thailand-Cambodia dispute is resolved over the next few days, the specter of mutual hostility will loom large even as Asian leaders air their trite encomiums on unity this weekend.

    Under the Radar News, 11.13.09

    Posted on Friday, November 13, 2009 by Kolby Hanson

    A weekly compilation of underreported developments in Asia.

    National League for Democracy senior member Min Lwin announces that Burma’s military junta will release Aung San Suu Kyi before next year’s elections. The Irrawaddy
    This comes just days after Japan promised more aid to Burma if they released her (Voice of America), and President Obama announced he would meet with Burmese PM Thein Sein (New York Times).

    In Indonesia, new media is being employed to fight an old problem. The Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) reaches 1 million fans on Facebook. Antara

    Two major ethnic insurgent groups in Burma, the Karenni National People’s Liberation Front and the New Democratic Army-Kachin, have been officially disarmed and have become border guard forces for the government. They are the first groups to do so in preparation for the elections next year. This could be the beginnings of general disarming in the longest-sustained set of armed conflicts in the world. Xinhua

    Taiwan reaches an agreement for France to supply and sustain their Mirage 2000-5 jets, and another for the U.S. to supply Javelin anti-tank missiles. eTaiwanNews
    Earlier this week, it had appeared that Western nations were courting China by refusing to supply arms to Taiwan. Taiwan had grounded nine of the jets because France had halted the production of spare parts. Taipei Times

    EU’s attempts to sign free trade agreement with ASEAN or with specific ASEAN nations, including Indonesia, have stalled. Problem countries like Burma seem to be standing in the way of economic integration. Jakarta Post

    Pakistan signs a $1.4 billion contract to buy 36 Chinese J-10 fighters. Defense Industry Daily

    Farmer’s Insurance: China Turns to the Countryside

    Posted on Monday, November 9, 2009 by Kolby Hanson

    For a government founded in the name of the rural proletariat, the Chinese Communist Party has, since the Deng era, been remarkably focused on urban industrial development. Heroic farmers have been replaced on billboards with brilliant businessmen as the face of China’s economic renewal. But for the first time since 1979, the government appears to be genuinely alarmed about the state of the countryside.

    Decades spent fostering urban growth has left China’s rural economy in shambles. Urban incomes (US$1,907 average) are nearly four times higher than rural incomes ($572).

    Over the last few years, the government has set out to spur development in rural regions. The government repealed a 2,600 year-old tax on agriculture, created subsidies for farmers’ medical care, and exempted rural students from most tuition fees. The PRC also has tried to further integrate peasants into nation-wide markets and information networks, subsidizing rural purchases of cell phones and computers. In spite of these moves, the economic gap between the urban and rural populations continues to widen because of significantly lower income growth and higher inflation in rural areas.

    So the government has called in the cavalry. This week, the National People’s Congress (NPC) will pass a new electoral bill that will equalize representation for rural and urban districts. The bill would erase the four-to-one advantage in urban representation per person in the NPC (currently there is one representative for every 240,000 urban or 960,000 rural residents). It will be the first time since Mao’s chairmanship that there will be more rural than urban delegates.

    Critics who consider the NPC to be merely a rubber-stamping organization will likely dismiss this as a cosmetic change. But the move is significant for rural development for at least two reasons: First, it will bring to Beijing more rural activists like CCP delegate Hu Anmei. Hu, a former schoolteacher from the tiny rural village of Taoyuangou, has burst onto the national scene as a voice for rural development, and appears to have the ear of some (at least the media) in Beijing.

    Second, even if reorganizing representation does not directly improve the rural economy, it makes it clear that the Party leadership is very concerned with the rural economy. Not only does the move give us an indication of policies to come, but it also sends a dramatic message to decision-makers throughout China – that it is once again time to live up to the name “People’s Republic.”

    Under the Radar News, 11.6.09

    Posted on Friday, November 6, 2009 by Kolby Hanson

    A weekly compilation of underreported developments in Asia.

    Major Chinese official publically supports Japan’s call for an East-Asian community similar to the EU, calls it a “long-term goal”. Xinhua

    South Korea ratifies free trade agreement with India. Korea Times

    Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao will unveil a new plan for China-Africa cooperation this weekend at the Sino-Africa Summit in Egypt. Xinhua

    Japan will increase its aid to Afghanistan to nearly 500 billion yen (US $5.5 billion) in FY 2010. Yomiuri Shimbun

    China cracks down on human trafficking rings, busting nearly 1,000 rings in 7 months. Criminal Investigation Minister Yang Dong partly blames abductions on rural parents’ lack of vigilance. Xinhua

    Maoists of the Communist Party of India are suspected of killing World Hindu Council (VHP) leader Laxamananda Saraswati to gain support of local Christians. Times of India

    Indonesia’s new president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, sets an ambitious agenda for first 100 days, including significant action on eradicating mafia action and revitalizing strategic industries like energy-production. Antara

    Thai PM Abhisit says he will oppose any sort of regional autonomy for Thailand’s beleaguered southern regions. Bangkok Post

    From Poor to Well-off: Why Aren’t the Chinese Consuming?

    Posted on Monday, November 2, 2009 by Anne An

    It is generally agreed that increasing prosperity among the Chinese populace, along with the expansion of the Chinese middle class will unleash a wave of consumption. More American large manufacturing enterprises have invested in China. They believe that the boost of this middle stratum will not only bring about significant social transformation in the next twenty years, but drive the burgeoning economy as a fertile market for western retailers, banking, insurance and luxury goods. However, will China’s expanding middle class generate significant spending growth in the coming years as the country continues to grow economically?

    Chinese middle class households account for roughly 100 million people, with each earning an annual average income of 150,000 yuan (US$18,137) and holding household assets of 620,000 yuan (US$74,969) to date. However, statistics show that more than 40 percent of household income goes into savings, and their purchasing power for items beyond very basic food, clothing and housing is miniscule. Why hasn’t China’s economic boom generated more enthusiastic consumption, which is usually seen as a principle driver behind economic growth?

    One reason for limited consumption is that since China’s economic reform, many formerly free services from state-owned enterprises such as housing and medical care have to be bought by households now. In 2008, urban residents spent an average 30% of total household income on housing, health care and education, which accounted for less than 20% of household income in 1995--this implies that there might not be much left for other consumption after spending on necessities. On the other hand, the relatively underdeveloped credit market on the Mainland also restricts growth of consumption.

    Second, China’s phenomenal saving rates have been largely a result of its imperfect social security system. The migrant workers are not entitled to change their formal household registration to enjoy social security networks in urban cities, and yet they make up a significant percentage of the urban working population, especially in China’s special economic zones. The sense of financial insecurity in retirement, pension, health care and unemployment insurance combined with the difficulty of procuring personal bank loans largely accounts for China’s increasing saving rates.

    The last reason is that the Chinese are still slowly learning to consume as it takes time to develop a culture of consumption in a country where accumulation of wealth is a highly valued virtue. A recent article in the Los Angeles Times recounted IKEA’s experience in Shanghai where nouveau riche customers make day trips to their furniture themed playlands to browse and make themselves at home by napping and dining in model bedrooms and dining rooms. While it may sound a little absurd, American enterprises have found that it takes some socialization processes for Chinese to learn to spend their money on items beyond their basic necessities, such as acquiring interior decoration ideas and learning home/apartment furnishing lessons from Western furniture chains, like IKEA.

    Chinese middle class is not big consumer yet. In sum, to reverse China’s consumption-saving puzzle is not simply a basic economic problem of supply and demand, but a social equilibrium of institutional reconstruction and cultural infrastructure.

    Under the Radar News, 10.30.09

    Posted on Friday, October 30, 2009 by Kolby Hanson

    A weekly compilation of underreported developments in Asia.

    Singapore announces that it will refuse any emissions cuts at the climate change conference in Copenhagen. Straits Times

    Chinese investment in Africa continues to grow dramatically despite economic crisis. People's Daily

    Japan’s Marine Self Defense Forces successfully test missile interceptor in a joint exercise with the United States near Hawaii. Xinhua

    Chinese legislators consider tort law reforms to allow plaintiffs to sue companies and corrupt officials for damages more easily and more equitably. People's Daily

    Japan refuses to send Self-Defense Forces ships to assist NATO and U.S. anti-piracy operations near Somalia. Yomiuri Shimbun

    South Korea will triple its foreign aid in the next six years, and will officially join the Development Assistance Committee of the OECD in November. Korea Times

    Chinese PM Li Keqiang visits Australia and meets with business leaders. He says FTA is possible if relations improve between the Chinese and Australian governments. Sydney Morning Herald

    Taiwan eases restrictions on Chinese media in Taiwan, increasing the allowed number of staff and easing travel restrictions. People's Daily

    Under the Radar News, 10.23.09

    Posted on Friday, October 23, 2009 by Kolby Hanson

    A weekly compilation of underreported developments in Asia.

    Japan’s Diet proposes new bill allowing Japanese ships to inspect cargo ships coming in and out of North Korea. Sydney Morning Herald

    Reporters Without Borders releases their world press freedom rankings. South Korea and Taiwan fall significantly (to 69th and 70th) while China continues to rise (168th). Reporters Without Borders

    Doubts over U.S. security umbrella leads some South Korean lawmakers to consider nuclear weapons program. UPI Asia

    China has a growing network of governmental feedback websites to expose government misconduct. People's Daily

    Former President Joseph Estrada plans to run for President again despite the expected term-limit lawsuits against his candidacy. The Philippine Star

    Poll shows Chinese prefer U.S. to South Korea, but prefer North Korea to both. 57% are uneasy about North Korean weapons, however. Chosun Ilbo

    Thailand and China will increase their military-to-military dialogue. Xinhua

    Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada pressing to conclude FTA with the EU. Yomiuri Shimbunt

    Rudd's Rebuff

    Posted on Friday, October 16, 2009 by Prashanth Parameswaran

    Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has declined to meet the Dalai Lama in December, citing that the “current arrangements are appropriate” “given the frequency of the Dalai Lama’s visits”, and that “the prime minister has met with the Dalai Lama in the past”,

    This does not appear to be an isolated incident. Earlier this year, the Department of Foreign Affairs excluded, for the first time, Tibetan human rights groups from the reception for the annual Australia-China Human Rights Dialogue.

    Rudd’s rebuff comes just as Canberra is trying to to smooth its fraught relationship with Beijing, its second-biggest trading partner. Tensions have flared between the two countries over the past few months over unsuccessful mineral deals, the arrest of an Australian citizen Stern Hu, and the decision to grant a visa to Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer.

    But Australia has managed to balance ideals and interests in its relationship with China before. For instance, despite the human rights tussle over Mrs. Kadeer, China and Australia still managed to ink a $41 billion dollar energy deal in August – Australia’s biggest trade deal. Yet, puzzlingly, Mr. Rudd appears to have now concluded that Canberra’s moral commitment to human rights needs to be sacrificed in order to have a good relationship with Beijing.

    This is also hardly the only example of countries giving the Dalai Lama the cold shoulder. U.S. President Barack Obama has postponed his meeting with His Holiness (he will only do so after his trip to China) and Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou snubbed the Tibetan spiritual leader during a recent visit. These moves reflect a growing trend where ideals are subordinated to interests in nations’ bilateral relationships with China light of the global economic downturn and Beijing’s growing economic prowess. As Prime Minister of the Tibetan government in exile Samdhong Rinpoche recently lamented, “a lot of nations are adopting a policy of appeasement toward China…Today, economic interests are much greater than other interests”.

    Meanwhile, for all China’s concern over the symbolism of these visits, the substance of Sino-Tibetan relations remains unchanged. Negotiations remain suspended, while the release of a new White Paper earlier this year shows that Beijing continues to be suspicious of Tibetan autonomy proposals and the Dalai Lama’s intentions. But if it does not work out an agreement with the moderate spiritual leader in the near future, ethnic tensions are likely to worsen, more radical voices will emerge, and the prospects for large-scale violence will increase.

    Hatoyama's East Asia Community

    Posted on by Prashanth Parameswaran

    By proposing an East Asia Community, Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama joined the ranks of other Asian leaders who have envisioned a future of East Asian integration, from former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad’s East Asia Economic Caucus to Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s Asia Pacific Community.

    Yet, emerging details on the proposal, particularly regarding the membership, suggest that critical aspects of the proposal are yet to be defined. The group appeared to initially include just Japan, China, South Korea and Southeast Asian countries, but the Japanese premier later backtracked and assured that Washington, and then Australia, would not be left out. Furthermore, Mr. Hatoyama also has not specified how this would fit in with other regional organizations already in place – such as the ASEAN Plus Three (APT) mechanism which already includes ASEAN nations, Japan, China and South Korea, or the East Asian Summit. The cool and cautious reception the idea has received also suggests that most countries are reserving their judgment.

    For now, it might be more useful to see it as part of the Japanese premier’s strategy to utilize Sino-Japanese cooperation as the first phase in promoting regional cooperation. For instance, he said that Asia’s equivalent of the European Coal and Steel Community of 1952 (which was instrumental in European Union integration) was the Sino-Japanese joint development of East China Sea gas fields. And the most significant movement thus far toward the creation of his community came from Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada and Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi’s discussions in a bilateral meeting in Shanghai (South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-Hwan was not present at those deliberations, although he was in an earlier trilateral meet).

    Although Mr. Hatoyama’s bold idea is still nascent, it may be a positive step toward bolstering Sino-Japanese relations and may serve as a confidence-building measure for broader regional cooperation later. It is also encouraging to see that regionalism appears to be a priority on the Democratic Party of Japan’s (DPJ) foreign policy agenda. But the key question is whether Mr. Hatoyama’s proposal can sustain the necessary momentum, at a time when Japan faces a full plate of domestic issues and the DPJ remains divided and is relatively inexperienced at governing.

    Under the Radar News, 10.16.09

    Posted on by Kolby Hanson

    A weekly compilation of underreported developments in Asia.

    King of Thailand is hospitalized, and anxious Thai markets drop 8%. BBC News

    North Korea issues a letter of regret to South Korea over deaths caused by North Korea dam-related flooding. New York Times

    Korean activists question military’s homosexuality rules. Korea Times

    Chinese overseas investment drops 60% in the first half of the year. People's Daily

    The latest on China-Taiwan economic cooperation:
    - China and Taiwan set date for Cross-Strait talks in December. China Post (Taiwan)
    - Study shows that China-Taiwan free trade agreement (ECFA) would provide 260,000 jobs to Taiwan. China Post (Taiwan)

    Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd seeks a new strategic compact with Indonesia to halt the transit of asylum-seekers through Indonesia to Australia. The agreement would include detention centers, training and intelligence-sharing. The Australian

    Japan’s FY2010 budget will set an all-time mark by topping 90 trillion yen. The increases are largely due to new DPJ promises. Yomiuri Shimbun

    Bangladesh expels hundreds of Rohingya refugees living illegally in refugee camps back across the Burmese border. Dhaka intends to push back all unregistered refugees before Burma finishes erecting a wire fence on its border. The Irrawaddy

    The Hazards of Taiwan: Integrating Traditional and Non-Traditional Security

    Posted on Wednesday, October 14, 2009 by Mark Stokes

    A visit to Taiwan every couple of months is needed to remind oneself of a world that exists outside the ordinary comforts of northern Virginia. The beauty and rich complexity of Taiwan can be mesmerizing. Yet a major typhoon that lingered off the southern coast of Taiwan, a 6.3 magnitude earthquake, and an extravagant Chinese military parade earlier this month are stark reminders of the diverse range of threats that the island’s population faces. Not for the weak of heart, Taiwan is the most dangerous place on earth. Here’s a condensed review of the threats to lives, property at the local level, and overall economic and political stability that Taiwan’s democratically-elected government must manage.

    Natural Disasters

    A 2005 World Bank report assessed that “Taiwan may be the place on Earth most vulnerable to natural hazards, with 73 percent of its land and population exposed to three or more hazards.” Trends indicate the threat from natural disasters may be getting worse. Perhaps a direct result of global climate change, insurance claims due to natural disasters have experienced a dramatic rise over the past several years.
    • Typhoons. Typhoons make up at least 70% of Taiwan’s natural disasters.Taiwan is highly sensitive to climate change, specifically warming ocean temperature, which is believed to increasing the number and/or intensity of typhoons.The island is affected by four to six per year, each resulting in various degrees of loss of life and economic damage.
    • Floods and Landslides. With some of the sharpest drops in elevation in the Asia-Pacific region and frequency of typhoons, Taiwan is particularly vulnerable to floods and landslides.Typhoons and tropical storms can result in a major amount of rain in a very short period.For example, Taiwan averages about 2500 millimeters of rain each year.However, Ilan County absorbed almost 1500 millimeters of rain over the last four days alone.
    • Earthquakes. Earthquakes can intensify the threat of floods and landslides.On of the world’s most seismically active spots on earth, the island of Taiwan is a collision zone between the Philippine Sea and Eurasian tectonic plates. More than 200 earthquakes can felt on the island every year. More than 3000 perished in an earthquake in the 1930s, and the Chi-Chi earthquake that struck on September 21, 1999 claimed 2500 lives. In addition to occasional failures of its critical information infrastructure, Taiwan’s average annual loss due to 83 disastrous earthquakes since 1900 equals about 0.7% of Taiwan’s annual gross domestic product (GDP).
    • Tsunamis. Earthquakes with epicenters near or in the sea can generate tsunamis along the coast of Taiwan. In fact, before the 2004 tsunami, Taiwan often is credited with suffering the greatest losses from a tsunami in the Western Pacific (see the U.S. National Geophysical Data Center report here). Many in Taiwan’s scientific community have called for fielding a system capable of providing early warning of off-shore seismic and other events, perhaps linking in to the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii.


    The military and natural disaster threats are serious. However, most threatening may be pandemics.
    Widespread urbanization, high population density, proximity and travel to and from the historical source of most of the world’s most severe pandemics (China) indicate that a pandemic may be Taiwan’s most severe threat. A key reason for the high risk of pandemic in Taiwan is its population density, which is the second highest in the world among countries with a population of more than 10 million. One study indicated that if an influenza outbreak similar in scale to that of 1918, casualties could reach 315,000.


    Taiwan often is viewed as immune to terrorism, perhaps due to the island’s isolation within the international community. Yet the unexpected often happens. Taiwan’s role as a hidden center of the global economy and the open nature of its society could someday lead to the unthinkable. The island’s ports have been viewed as a potential transshipment point for weapons of mass destruction. Taiwan has been a active participant in U.S.-led global counter-proliferation initiatives, such as the Megaports Project.

    Use of Military Force

    Taiwan faces the most daunting military challenge in the world. As highlighted in the March 2009 Department of Defense Report to Congress on Military Power of the People’s Republic of China (PRC),
    China’s armed forces are rapidly developing coercive capabilities…[that] could in the future be used to pressure Taiwan toward a settlement of the cross-Strait dispute on Beijing’s terms while simultaneously attempting to deter, delay, or deny any possible U.S. support for the island in case of conflict.” Complicating matters is the uncertainty in Taipei about the U.S. security commitment to Taiwan and America’s role as security guarantor in East Asia.

    Summing It Up: The Evolving All-Hazards Approach 

    To make matters worse, the Republic of China (Taiwan), despite its meeting almost every legal criteria for sovereignty, does not enjoy diplomatic recognition from most of the international community. Despite its nascent democracy, Taiwan's international diplomatic status often falls below thug states like North Korea, and international entities like the Palestinian Liberation Organization and the Vatican. 

    In light of the range and severity of threats and its diplomatically-challenged international status, Taiwan has done fairly well over the last 10 years in coping with its diverse security challenges. A visit in early October to Taiwan’s activated Central Emergency Operations Center during the most recent typhoon demonstrated a professionalism and competency that was refreshing, and put the extremely unfortunate bureaucratic snafu that delayed central government response to Typhoon Morakot in August 2009 in a different light. As in war, Clausewitzian friction stems from imperfect situational awareness, which in turn results in imperfect responses. Friction is the unexpected. It is also Murphy's Law -- if it can go wrong, it will. 

    Rarely if ever is there an emergency – manmade or otherwise – in which human frailties and imperfections aren’t exposed. However, improvement comes from learning. Because it has much more experience than we do, there’s a lot the United States could learn from Taiwan’s evolving “all-hazards” approach to emergency management.

    Photo: Telegraph.co.uk

    China Gambles on the Media Market

    Posted on by Kolby Hanson

    This month’s celebration of the 60th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China was meticulously designed to send a reinvigorated message of unity and patriotism. But while it was demonstrating its might in a Soviet-esque display of missiles and tanks, the Chinese government was in the midst of radically shifting its approach to spreading their message.

    On October 4th, China’s State Council announced an aggressive plan to help their media conglomerates, like Shanghai Media Group and CCTV, to compete on a global scale. The strategy will not only allow conglomerates to more easily acquire domestic outlets, but also permit private financing on the previously state-owned corporations, giving them leverage in the market and encouraging investment. Chinese officials will focus on the slightly-more-independent SMG first, but may soon move on to the government-controlled CCTV.

    The plan throws into question the delicate relationship between the Chinese government, the Chinese media, and the world media market. Can these newly growing conglomerates effectively court private investment and foreign viewership while maintaining close ties to the government? Or do they even want to?

    If they can and do, SMG and others could become effective propaganda devices for the government abroad, a unified voice to counter the scattered voices of Western media. After all, the government has shown incredible organization in mobilizing its media for patriotic purposes. The PRC-produced movie for the 60th anniversary includes over 200 film stars (including Jet Li) and is set to break the all-time Chinese box office record. If any government has the potential to mobilize its media worldwide, it is China’s.

    But if the Chinese government isn’t careful, their plan could have exactly the opposite effect. Rupert Murdoch, at the October 9th World Media Summit in Beijing, told the Chinese media that they “have a remarkable opportunity to expand their international opportunities and revenues” if the government loosened its control. Murdoch is not going to move the Chinese media alone, but private investors and foreign consumers together may have an effect through the market if they stubbornly demand independent coverage.

    Nothing is guaranteed in the global media market, and the Chinese government has shown an amazing ability to adapt to changing times. But by exposing their media to the outside world, China has, intentionally or not, set up a tug-of-war for influence, with SMG at the center.

    (photo: Getty Images)

    Under the Radar News, 10.9.09

    Posted on Friday, October 9, 2009 by Kolby Hanson

    A weekly compilation of underreported developments in Asia.

    Latest on corruption trial of Chen Shui-bian (Taiwan's former President and former leader of the DPP):
    - US Court rejects Chen’s outside plea for release. Reuters
    - Taiwanese High Court rejects request for stay, continues with prosecution. China Post (Taiwan)

    China National Petroleum signs deal to develop Iraq’s largest oil field in Rumaila, along with BP. People's Daily

    US Supreme Court rejects a case that would grant Taiwanese citizens independent status or American passports. The Court argues that diplomatic status is the sole responsibility of the Executive. Boston Progressive Examiner

    Al Qaeda calls on China’s Uighurs to revolt in "holy war". CNN

    Fearing “red-shirt” anti-government protests at the ASEAN meetings in late October, the Thai government invokes the Internal Security Act. Bangkok Post

    South Korea considers feasibility of an undersea tunnel to China. Chosun Ilbo

    Representatives of 12 Asian Nations to meet in Kathmandu for climate change workshop. Xinhua

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