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

The KIO Puts Myanmar’s Dissent in a Kachin-22

Posted on Monday, October 5, 2009 by Kolby Hanson

The Myanmar [Burma] government’s recent crackdown on ethnic separatist groups in the highlands has been interpreted by many critics as a mark of China’s declining ability to pacify the region. If that is true, then the Sept. 9 decision by the Kachin Independence Organization to participate in the government’s 2010 election was the first sign of acceptance that no one is coming to the dissenters’ rescue.

The KIO, one of Myanmar’s largest ceasefire groups, has greatly benefitted from 15 years of peace after many decades of insurgency. But they had threatened to fight rather than lend legitimacy to the government’s new constitution, which would institute a parliament but also give the military 25% of the seats and a veto over any parliament action.

With little support from ethnically Burmese pro-democracy groups like Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, the government has, in the last few months, increased its military pressure on minority ethnic groups.

Emboldened by Sri Lanka’s successes against the Tamil Tigers, they have pushed forward to solidify their reach into the upland jungle regions of Myanmar. Recent offensives against the Karen National Liberation Army and the Kokang Region Provisional Leading Committee forces demonstrated both the groups’ disturbing lack of unity – the Democratic Kayin Buddhist Army were the government’s shock troops and the United Wa State Army folded in its support of both groups – and China’s lack of willingness to intervene.

The KIO’s decision to participate in the election, while perfectly understandable following the crackdown on their Kokang neighbors to the south, is a landmark victory for the government. The dominos have already started to fall as other groups similarly give in. Just two days later, the Kokang Committee also announced that they would follow in stride and accept the government’s package. These decisions only put more pressure on the other ceasefire groups and bolster the constitution’s domestic legitimacy.

Whether or not the government’s new constitution improves relations with Western powers, the KIO’s decision means that the document has become the future of Myanmar’s domestic politics. If the ethnic or pro-democracy groups are to achieve political reform, independence, or revolution, they will have to do so within the context of the constitution and the 2010 election. Myanmar’s dissenters will have to stop thinking like Tamil Tigers and start thinking like Iran’s Green Party.

(photo: Kachin Independence Army recruits at attention. The Irrawady, 2/4/09)

Under the Radar News, 10.2.09

Posted on Friday, October 2, 2009 by Kolby Hanson

A weekly compilation of underreported developments in Asia.

North Korea’s newly released constitution (from April) solidifies the place of Kim Jong-Il. BBC News

Cutler and Obama administration say there’s no timeline to ratify Free Trade Agreement with South Korea. Obama says he’s worried about the car industry, among others. JongAn Daily

Patriotism is alive and well in China. “The Founding of a Republic,” a film celebrating the PRC’s 60th anniversary is set to break the all time Chinese box office record this weekend. People Daily

Taiwan’s political media war over the PRC 60th anniversary parades. The DPP demands an inquiry into TV stations that showed the parades unedited, and “promoted unification”. Taipei Times

Thai-Cambodian border dispute heats up as Cambodian PM Sen orders army to shoot trespassers. Bangkok Post

China’s spreading cultural influence – Malaysia’s Ministry of Information, Communication, and Culture is collaborating with Chinese scholars to “enrich” the Malaysian language. Bernama News

IMF projects 8.5% growth in China for 2009. China Daily

The recent typhoons in SE Asia give nations an opportunity to call Western involvement. China Post

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