Under the Radar News 2.26.2010

Posted on Friday, February 26, 2010 by Matthew Hallex

A weekly compilation of underreported developments in Asia

  • The deputy Chinese central bank governor, Zhu Min, has been appointed a special adviser to the managing director of the IMF, the highest level staff position ever held by a Chinese national. This comes as part of an effort by the IMF to better represent the interests of developing economies in Asia.

  • Rising income inequality is fueling resentment and social unrest in China according to government polls. While China’s growing economy has created opportunities for many to gain newfound wealth, polls show that corruption and nepotism are commonplace amongst the rich.

  • The navy chief of Burma (also known as Myanmar) is in India this week meeting with his Indian counterparts. India has made great efforts to improve its military ties with Burma in an attempt to balance rising Chinese influence in the region.

  • The Japanese government confirmed the existence of a secret nuclear pact that would allow the United States to deploy nuclear weapons to Okinawa in case of conflict in the region. This revelation is likely to lead to a renegotiation of the pact in light of the Japanese public’s strong anti-nuclear sentiments.

  • The Taiwanese government has announced plans to subsidize artificial insemination in an effort to raise Taiwan’s birthrate. Declining fertility in many countries in East Asia is projected to cause economic difficulties as labor forces shrink and the number of pensioners rise.

  • Shanghai has announced that it will become the first city to provide education for the children of migrant workers. Millions of migrants from rural villages work in factories and construction sites in China’s booming cities but are not entitled to the same social benefits as urban residents.

  • China has launched an investigation into its role in assisting North Korea illegally export weapons after South Africa seized a shipment of North Korean tank parts intended for the Democratic Republic of the Congo. A UN resolution bans North Korea from exporting weapons.

  • President Lee Myung-bak has called for South Korea to revise its constitution. His proposed change would replace the current five-year single-term presidency with a four-year, two-term presidency similar to that of the United States.

  • NASA has broken ground on a new set of antennas for its Deep Space Network outside of Canberra. The antennas allow for tracking, control and communications with NASA missions.
  • The Birth of Indo-Burmese Counterinsurgency Cooperation?

    Posted on Thursday, February 25, 2010 by Prashanth Parameswaran

    “We hope to have, in the next few weeks, a joint security operation against the Northeast Indian rebels having bases in Myanmar”, Indian Home Secretary GK Pillai boasted after concluding a high-level meeting with the military junta last month.

    Should this rhetoric crystallize into reality, it would be a huge boost for India’s crackdown on the several rebel groups waging decades-old independence campaigns against it. Groups such as the Manipuri People’s Liberation Front (MPLF) and the Assamese United Liberation Front (ULFA) have exploited northwestern Burma, along with Bhutan and Bangladesh, as safe havens since the 1970s. But their reach has eroded in recent years, fueled by crackdowns by Thimphu and Dhaka as well as internal fissures over whether to pursue reconciliation with New Delhi. India now hopes that the loss of Burma, a key training ground and a strategic conduit for illicit Chinese-made arms, could finally break the back of the rebels.

    The odds of Burma lifting a finger to weed out the nettlesome rebels, however, are slim. Its Deputy Minister for Home Affairs, Brigadier-General Phone Swe, has allegedly promised a joint operation soon in the Kachin state of northwestern Burma. But that vague assurance seems eerily similar to previous pledges, often secured through a flood of Indian cash, infrastructure and arms, which have resulted in only half-hearted and enfeebled efforts by Naypyidaw.

    Prospects for a sudden change of heart over the next few months are dim. The junta is too preoccupied with reining in insurgent groups in the east and north of the country ahead of this year’s upcoming elections to fret about Indian rebels in the northwest. Logistically speaking, the terrain there is rough, and Burmese military presence weak, mainly because resistance groups there only number in the low hundreds. And it is unlikely that a regime fighting for its survival will marshal its limited resources against a force that does not threaten its territorial integrity. Local Burmese military officials also receive monthly payments from the rebel groups to turn a blind eye to their presence, and will be hesitant to slay their golden goose.

    Indian officials claim that “the body language” of Burma’s generals was “much more positive” than in the past. But no changes in mannerism or gesture can alter simple political realities. India has little leverage on Burma since it must continue to invest there in order to balance growing Chinese influence, and New Delhi needs the junta to remove a bone in its throat that is of little concern in Naypyidaw. India is beginning to grasp this, and has tried to coax the rebels into political settlements while shoring up its own military capabilities. That might be a better bet than hoping for coordinated counterinsurgency campaigns with Burma.

    Under the Radar News, 2.19.2010

    Posted on Friday, February 19, 2010 by Matthew Hallex

    A weekly compilation of underreported developments in Asia

  • Despite increased tensions between China and the United States following the announcement of arms sales to Taiwan the Chinese government granted permission for the U.S.S. Nimitz carrier strike group to dock in Hong Kong. In 2007 China canceled a port visit by a US carrier group after the U.S. awarded the Congressional Gold Medal to the Dalai Lama.

  • South Korean has deployed a contingent of 240 peacekeepers to support UN relief efforts in Haiti. South Korea has previously deployed troops as part of UN peacekeeping missions in Africa, East Timor and Lebanon.

  • The last group of child soldiers has been released from cantonments housing demobilized Maoist rebels in Nepal. Maoist forces, confined to the cantonments as part of a peace agreement between rebels and the Nepalese government, included almost 3000 child soldiers.

  • The Thai tourism council has issued a warning to tourists to avoid Bangkok due to rising tensions in the city. Violent protests are expected after two attempted bombings in the city and the expected verdict in former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s asset seizure case next week.

  • The Malaysian navy rescued 11 Indonesian sailors who had been set adrift after pirates seized their ship. Despite efforts by law enforcement and navies in the region piracy continues to pose a significant threat to shipping in Southeast Asia.

  • The sister of Kim Jong Il has returned to the public spotlight in North Korea after a six year absence taking control of a government agency charged with the oversight of light industry. The move reflects Kim’s increased reliance on his family after reportedly suffering a stroke in 2008.

  • Gunmen murdered a mayoral candidate in the Southern Philippines. This is the latest instance of political violence that has claimed 64 lives in the lead up to the national elections in May.
  • South Korea's Arms Industry Goes Global

    Posted on Wednesday, February 17, 2010 by Prashanth Parameswaran

    South Korea's arms industry is going global. Within just the last few months, Seoul has held a grand International Aerospace and Defense Exhibition (ADEX) boasting 273 defense agencies from 27 nations, boosted its exports of patrol vessels to Kazakhstan, and delivered eight ground attack aircraft to Peru.

    The moves are part of an all out government-led effort to market indigenous weapons systems abroad and make the arms industry a key engine of economic growth. Seoul wants to sell three billion dollars worth of arms and become one of the world's top ten arms exporters by 2012. They are also a product of the country's broader defense modernization program – Defense Reform 2020 – which aims to create a slimmer, stronger and high-tech army by that year. As South Korea acquires more advanced systems, it will look for places to sell off its older ones.

    The campaign has been quite successful thus far. Since the defense reform plan was formulated in 2005, Seoul has streamlined its arms acquisitions process, supported small domestic firms to help them enter the arms market, and increased its arms sales to Africa and Latin America. And according to the latest statistics, South Korean defense exports in 2009 jumped 13 percent to a record high 1.17 billion dollars, despite the effects of the global financial crisis.

    Future prospects, however, appear more mixed. On the one hand, South Korean products are and will continue to be competitive in the global market because of their edge in both technology and price. Seoul's K-11 airburst assault rifle is drawing much attention as the world's first multipurpose rifle in production, while its K-21 next-generation infantry vehicle can supposedly outperform the U.S. Army's equivalent.

    Whether South Korea can sustain this feverish pace of defense modernization is another question altogether. Lackluster economic growth could scale down Seoul's grand ambitions. As it is, the country has been forced to cut back on its arms plans as GDP rose by over 4 percent over the last few years, instead of the 7.1 percent yearly increase envisioned by the defense reform package until 2020.

    Bureaucratic and political hurdles could also be formidable. The army has fiercely resisted manpower cutbacks envisioned in Defense Reform 2020, and will probably continue to do so. Much will also depend on who is in power. Under a future conservative administration, such as that of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, Seoul may view North Korea as more threatening, thus increasing the need for greater ground forces and reducing the pace of force reduction and defense modernization (as has been the case over the past few years).

    Regardless of these obstacles, however, one can expect to hear much more about South Korean arms on the international market in the near future.

    Under the Radar News, 2.12.2010

    Posted on Friday, February 12, 2010 by Prashanth Parameswaran

    A weekly compilation of underreported developments in Asia

  • China has decided to draft new poverty reduction guidelines for the next decade. Measures include intensifying relief work by integrating the development of urban and rural areas and strengthening rural per capita net income.

  • A new set of polls indicates that almost 50 percent of South Koreans think the U.S.-ROK alliance is strong, a sharp rise from a dismal 19 percent two years ago. A full 85 percent also considered the U.S. the most important foreign country to Seoul's national security, a thirteen percent increase from 2007.

  • Vietnam's central bank devalued the dong for the second time in three months amid widespread concerns about soaring inflation and a burgeoning budget deficit. Analysts expect further devaluations and markedly higher interest rates as the depreciation pressure continues throughout this year.

  • Su Chi, the head of Taiwan's National Security Council and President Ma Ying-jeou's right-hand man, announced his resignation after his involvement in a row involving U.S. beef. Su had helped broker a deal with the United States to lift import bans on American beef, an unpopular agreement believed to be instrumental in the ruling KMT's poor results in recent local and legislative elections.

  • Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva pushed for the Environment Ministry to draft a bill on marine resources in order to deal with coastal area erosion and conflicts over maritime territory. Thailand has various maritime disputes, including in the South China Sea, and has lost substantial coastal area over the last few years due to the effects of global warming.

  • In its fourth-quarter monetary policy report, China's central bank announced that potential risks to price stability have risen in the country. It says it will strictly control loans to investment projects, the clearest indication yet of a policy shift to scale back its massive stimulus policies amid concerns of an overheating economy.

  • The Burmese military stepped up its attacks on the Karen ethnic minority, razing dozens of houses and causing 2,000 villagers to flee. The move is part of a government campaign to quash armed ethnic rebels ahead of scheduled elections this year, which human rights groups allege has resulted in mass displacement, torture, rape and death.

  • Japan's economy grew at its fastest pace since the start of 2008 as growing world trade fueled demand for its exports. But some say the export-oriented recovery is fragile, and that Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama may still go ahead with a planned stimulus package to further boost growth ahead of legislative elections despite the optimistic trajectory.

  • Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Demetrios Marantis said that a new decree imposing restrictions on U.S. film imports to Indonesia could “disrupt bilateral trade” between the two countries. The decree, Marantis believes, unfairly strengthens the country's small film “oligopoly” while hurting many stakeholders and cutting off film access to the Indonesian public.

  • The U.S. naval presence in Pacific will shrink in the coming years as China and South Korea boost their submarine fleets, according to a fresh report by the U.S.-based Heritage Foundation. It projected that by 2025, the number of U.S. submarines would shrunk to 27, while China would have 78 and South Korea 26.
  • Under the Radar News, 2.5.2010

    Posted on Friday, February 5, 2010 by Prashanth Parameswaran

    A weekly compilation of underreported developments in Asia

  • Japan plans to pass a bill to transfer authority to manage and control uninhabited islets from local entities to the central government. The move is part of Tokyo’s bid to assert its sovereignty in the face of China’s protests to its claim of an exclusive economic zone there.

  • Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya declared his government can end the country’s southern Malay-Muslim insurgency by the end of 2010. But rights groups maintain that as long as the current state of emergency there propagates a ‘culture’ of impunity’, the violence will not ebb.

  • South Korea delivered eight light ground attack aircraft to Peru for use in border surveillance and counter-drug missions. Seoul hopes that the deal will pave the way for a closer arms supply relationship with Lima.

  • The Burmese junta has nuclear ambitions, and is cooperating with North Korea on possible nuclear technology procurement while misleading overseas suppliers in its efforts to obtain it, according to a fresh study by two well-known proliferation experts. The new evidence heightens U.S. concerns about the hermetic state's involvement in nuclear proliferation.

  • A leading energy affairs official projected that Taiwan's green energy production could hit more than thirty billion US dollars by 2015, creating 110,000 new jobs and making Taipei one of the world's leaders in new energy technology development and production.

  • The brutal beating of a demonstrator by East Timorese police in front of United Nations officers raises serious questions about the world body’s training of the local police force, an opposition lawmaker said. The UN said it would launch a joint investigation into the alleged assault.

  • A top security consulting firm concluded that the Aurora cyber attack last month was in fact part of a more sustained effort that has been stealing data for perhaps up to five years. It also said that while it could not determine the extent of China's involvement, it has correlated almost every intrusion to “current events within China”.

  • Indonesia’s energy minister announced the country will not be developing nuclear power anytime soon, dampening expectations that Jakarta would aggressively tap the energy source over the next few years. He said Indonesia would exploit other available energy sources first.
  • ASEAN'S Relief From Disaster?

    Posted on by Prashanth Parameswaran

    With its high vulnerability to the force of nature, Southeast Asia is often referred to by many in the aid community as “the supermarket for disasters”. In just the last few years alone, the region has experienced a devastating tsunami that affected 11 countries, a catastrophic cyclone that paralyzed Burma, and a wave of typhoons that ripped through the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.

    So it was perhaps a great relief that the ASEAN Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response (AADMER) finally came into force in the disaster-prone region last December. Under AADMER, all ten Southeast Asian nations are required to chart comprehensive national plans for managing disasters that include everything from early warning and preparedness to scientific research, as well as coordinate mechanisms for disaster relief on a regional level.

    The agreement is a landmark one. It is the world’s first legally binding document that establishes national and regional structures to deal with disasters; “the Kyoto Protocol of disaster management”, as one UN official put it. It is also a big step for ASEAN, which usually prefers glowing encomiums on regional unity rather than binding pacts. AADMER also advocates dealing with disasters in the future proactively through risk-reduction and coordination before they strike rather than just reactively responding to them as governments have done previously.

    AADMER nevertheless faces daunting future challenges. The agreement is binding in name, but there are no mechanisms with which to enforce it, and no regional bodies – not even the ASEAN Secretariat – with sufficient resources to fund it. If countries can get away with not sharing research or not coordinating aid in the advent of a disaster, and if regional structures are not equipped with the necessary technical know-how, that would render the treaty virtually meaningless.

    Furthermore, while putting all ASEAN countries on the same page regarding this issue may seem sound, the reality is that each nation has varying capacities, disaster risks and developmental levels, and that internal hurdles in one country may obstruct regional objectives. For instance, while AADMER’s program from 2010-2015 prioritizes buttressing emergency response facilities, the Thai government is now belittling its significance and has yet to man its ministries with the means to accomplish the task.

    Power politics may also thwart regional cooperation. ASEAN has still yet to set up the much-awaited regional warning center because it cannot agree on which of the three bidders – Thailand, Indonesia, or India should win.

    There is no question that ASEAN, to quote its disaster relief head Dhannan Sunoto, “needs to have” a disaster management system. The region suffered 152 natural disasters in just 2008 alone, and the WWF warns that, in the near future, low-lying ‘mega-cities’ in Asia like Manila and Jakarta will be highly vulnerable to rising sea levels and tropical storms. The real question is whether ASEAN countries can do what is necessary to tend to national and regional needs. Otherwise, AADMER will not bring the relief the region needs from the disasters that wrack it.

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