Under the Radar News 10.29.10

Posted on Friday, October 29, 2010 by Amy Chang

A weekly compilation of underreported events in Asia

  • Amid tensions in the East China Sea, China boosts its maritime surveillance fleet and Japan considers increasing its submarine fleet to offset the expansion of Chinese naval presence. This comes as a Japanese Diet panel is presented a video of the recent boat collisions allegedly showing Chinese trawlers ramming into Japanese coast guard boats.

  • As part of an effort to secure its borders and increase surveillance capabilities, India seeks to acquire six to eight medium-range surveillance aircraft and high-altitude long endurance UAVs.

  • Japan announced a US$2 billion environment rescue package for developing countries in a bid to kickstart tense UN talks aimed at securing a pact on saving biodiversity.

  • Malaysia is expected to build the country’s first nuclear power plant by 2021 to alleviate growing energy demand and diversify energy sources.

  • Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen will not allow the U.N.-backed Khmer Rouge tribunal to prosecute former low-ranking officers of the genocidal regime, citing concerns over endangering national peace. Critics accuse the Prime Minister of trying to prevent his political allies from being indicted.

  • India and Russia completed the Indra 2010 joint counterterrorist military exercises in the Himalayas. The two countries have conducted joint Indra exercises since 2003.

  • China aims to complete a manned space station by 2020; in addition to studying long-term manned space flights, the space station also aspires to boost Chinese national strength and prestige.

  • Sri Lanka eases several checkpoints around the nation’s capital, signaling an improved security atmosphere after defeating Tamil Tigers last May.

  • Chinese Academy of Social Sciences recently released a report on national competitiveness. CASS forecasts that China will rise to second place (from 27th place in 2010) in global ranking of national competitiveness by 2050.

  • Transparency International released its Corruptions Perceptions Index, which indicated nearly three quarters of the 178 countries surveyed scored below five, on a scale from 10 (highly clean) to 0 (highly corrupt). Corruption rankings in Asia run the gamut from very clean (e.g., Singapore, Japan) to highly corrupt (e.g., Central Asian countries, Vietnam).

  • Ministries within the Japanese government are split on whether joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership would result in economic gains or losses.

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    The Shanghai Cooperation Organization: Regional Powerhouse or Military Theatre?

    Posted on Friday, October 22, 2010 by Amy Chang

    According to official statements, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization was officially founded to promote peaceful coexistence and dialogue between China, Russia, and Central Asian states. The SCO’s agenda has since broadened to encompass dimensions of military and economic cooperation. To date, the SCO has successfully executed coordinated cross-border military operations, and developed joint security policies. A recent 16-day anti-terror drill, codenamed “Peace Mission 2010,” was heralded as another advancement in security cooperation.

    The SCO is also an effective platform for regional cooperation in energy and infrastructure as Russia and Central Asian states, rich in energy resources, are eager to increase and diversify exports. In 2009, China, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan commenced construction on a 1,833-kilometer natural gas pipeline. These projects and many others serve as examples of future energy cooperation in the region.

    The vast military and diplomatic agenda often call the SCO’s purpose into question. Its activities to date also raise questions over the organization’s genuine commitment to stated core purposes such as fighting terrorism. The inflammatory invitation to Iranian President Ahmedinejad to participate at SCO meetings and calls for removal of U.S. forces fighting terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan from their Central Asian bases both signal disconnect from original aspirations.

    Problematically, aside from the claim by SCO leaders that the organization has no intention of becoming a military bloc to counterbalance to NATO, there lacks a defined vision of the SCO’s future trajectory; specifically, its role in Afghanistan, its membership expansion, and future conflicts of interest between member nations

    Theoretically, the SCO’s proximity to Afghanistan creates potential to provide positive multilateral engagement to promote stability. While the SCO has pledged to combat drug trafficking, terrorism, and organized crime, there have been few tangible results. The SCO’s efforts in Afghanistan exhibit an organization conflicted between stabilizing the region and overstretching its resources.

    While the SCO approved a procedure for admitting new member states in June, membership expansion is currently difficult to delineate. Observer state Iran applied for membership in 2008, but was denied on the basis of UN sanctions (which China and Russia voted for), other observers India, Mongolia and Pakistan have yet to follow suit. If an observer state applies and successfully attains membership, it raises questions over how the interests of South Asian and Middle Eastern states can be incorporated into concerns unique to the SCO.

    In particular, the impact of India and Pakistan membership would raise challenges. First, it is likely the two would not work consensually within the same organization, and may internally fracture member relations over the Kashmir issue. Second, India and Pakistan are both non-signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which undermines the SCO membership requirement. With Iran blocked from admission, Pakistan and India disqualified for membership, and Mongolia seemingly uninterested, the future of SCO expansion is ambiguous.

    The SCO’s burgeoning portfolio of concerns and responsibilities exhibits an obvious dissonance to its nebulous strategic role and vision. While it began with clear fundamental principles, the organization’s evolving scope and dimensions is yet to be clearly defined.

    Image: Chinese soldiers march past SCO member flags for “Peace Mission 2007” in Russia
    Source: Canada.com

    Under the Radar News 10.22.10

    Posted on by Amy Chang

    A weekly compilation of underreported events in Asia

  • Speculating on whether North Korea is developing nuclear warheads, U.S. and South Korea watch closely as a reconnaissance satellite captures activity at a North Korean nuclear site. While South Korean officials and experts doubt it is preparing another nuclear test, they suspect North Korea may use it as leverage in sanction negotiations.

  • A 2011 climate change index ranked South Asian countries to be at greatest risk from the effects of climate change. Countries with the largest vulnerability are distinguished by high levels of poverty, dense populations, exposure to climate-related events, and reliance on flood and drought prone agricultural land.

  • Burma’s highest court will hear an appeal against the house arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi, who is due to be released on November 13, days after Burma’s national election on November 7.

  • As China’s rare earth minerals embargo continues and expands, Japan plans to help Mongolia develop rare earth mineral mines to ensure supplies.

  • Stuxnet, a computer worm designed to target critical infrastructure, is suspected to originate from China. It has infected millions of computers, including those at Iran’s nuclear facilities, and has vast implications for cyber warfare.

  • China and Thailand are set to embark on a high-speed rail line connecting the two countries through Laos. The railway is expected to expand trade flows and improve infrastructure, though the governments also grapple with inter-operability and feasibility issues.

  • Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan have signed an agreement to construct a 1,043-mile natural gas pipeline between the countries.

  • India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh calls for a modernization of its defense doctrine to better tackle new and non-traditional security threats.

  • At least one Type 093 nuclear-powered attack submarine has been spotted at China’s naval base in Hainan, leading analysts to believe that China is poised to expand its naval presence in the Indian Ocean and South China Sea.

  • The Taiwanese navy will send battleships to the “grey area” between Taiwan and mainland China to protect Taiwanese fisherman from harassment and other cross-border disputes.

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    Under the Radar News 10.15.10

    Posted on Friday, October 15, 2010 by Amy Chang

    A weekly compilation of underreported events in Asia

  • The U.S. may lift the Chinese arms embargo on the sale of C-130 cargo aircrafts to China. A waive on the ban would signal the first time since 1989 that the U.S. has exported arms to China and a resumption of military exchanges since the planned U.S. arms sale to Taiwan earlier this year. China welcomes the lift.

  • Fifteen countries participated in the South Korea-led anti-proliferation drill, “Eastern Endeavor 10.” The drill included maritime interdiction exercises off the shores of Busan and a seminar on countering the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

  • Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense confirmed that it is developing an unmanned surveillance aircraft. While the media reported that the army plans to deploy it, no specific date was given.

  • The U.S. and South Korea commenced an 8-day air defense exercise involving 50 fighter jets and 250 pilots that enhances interoperability and focuses on deterring potential air strikes from North Korea.

  • Undeterred by elections in Burma, Thailand’s largest construction company pushes forward on a US$13 billion deal to build a deep-sea port in western Burma to facilitate access to westward markets.

  • South Korea experienced another cyber breach as hackers stole defense and foreign affairs documents by using bogus e-mails from South Korean officials. The attack has been traced to China.

  • India plans to spend $2.3 trillion by 2030 to improve its energy sector, focusing on energy efficiency policies and the use of clean technology. Sustainability, however, remains an issue among skeptics.

  • The Sri Lankan government has released 500 former Tamil Tiger rebels after rehabilitation and vocational training.

  • The Shanghai Cooperation Organization voices its opposition to the “politicization” of the Nobel Peace Prize by using it as a weapon to “interfere in other country’s internal affairs.”

  • Vietnam will receive India’s assistance in establishing its peacekeeping forces, the countries will cooperate on training and some information sharing.

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    Under the Radar News 10.08.10

    Posted on Friday, October 8, 2010 by Amy Chang

    A weekly compilation of underreported events in Asia

  • In an effort to usher in economic development to the region, China invests nearly $7.5 billion to for an expansive highway and road construction plan in Tibetan regional townships and along the Himalayan.

  • Latest polls reveal that Japanese Cabinet approval ratings dropped 16.8 percentage points from a 64.4 percent to 47.6 percent. The ratings reflect citizen dissatisfaction with how their government handled the Chinese fishing boat incident in the disputed Senkaku Islands and the Ichiro Ozawa money scandal.

  • The delivery of Russian defense systems such as the Gorshkov aircraft carrier and Akula-II nuclear powered submarine to India have been delayed, but resolved. India and Russia recently signed committed to maintain defense ties through 2020.

  • India and Japan will hold a second round of talks for bilateral civil nuclear cooperation. It is a sign of movement on a potential deal, but the issue is still sensitive and fraught with difficulties that must be carefully flushed out in the negotiation process.

  • The Indonesian military has recently joined the police in the fight against local militants to send a signal to terrorists that they are now enemies of the state. The change in strategy is sparked by the recent increase in terrorist activity in the country.

  • Malaysia has joined early talks on expanding the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an effort to tie economies along the Pacific into a free-trade zone. Current members include New Zealand, Singapore, Chile, and Brunei; Japan, the United States, Vietnam, Australia, Peru, and the Philippines have indicated interest in joining the talks. It is interpreted as an effort to counterbalance an area that is increasingly influenced by China.

  • On Thursday, Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai inaugurated the High Council for Peace, an independent body designed to offer dialogue and reconciliation with Taliban militants. However, the Taliban have yet to accept its offers.

  • Public executions have been on the rise in North Korea, with reportedly 10 people executed in 2010 on charges ranging from robbery to narcotics smuggling. The executions are speculated to be a tool that tightens control over the populace during the regime change.

  • Tonga will send over 200 troops to Afghanistan over the next two years in an effort to show support for the International Security Assistance Force.

  • Two Chinese patrol boats leave waters off Diaoyutai/Senkaku Islands after two weeks of sailing in and around the area.

  • In an effort to create a more strategic mobile force, South Korea plans to reinforce Marine Corps with increased personnel and equipment.

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    North Korea's Food Security Future

    Posted on Thursday, October 7, 2010 by Alexandra Matthews

    North Korea’s December 2009 currency revaluation triggered disastrous consequences. Many citizens lost life savings and some died of starvation as a result of severe inflation and food shortages, which were exacerbated by the recent devastating floods.

    In a country where 33 percent of the population is already undernourished, North Korea faces major threats to its future food security. Environmental and technical challenges include a shortage of arable soil, insufficient infrastructure, shortages of agricultural inputs (such as fuel, fertilizer and machinery), inadequate water reserves, lack of access to international markets and food imports, and vulnerability to natural disasters such as droughts, floods, and typhoons. Although agricultural production accounts for around 23 percent of North Korea’s GDP, its colder climate, brief growing period, and mountainous terrain is not conducive to the cultivation of critical staples such as rice.

    Despite Pyongyang’s adherence to the “juche” ideology, the agricultural sector’s performance has been on a downward trend since the 1990s and remains far from self-sufficiency. Plagued by ineffectiveness, North Korea’s opaque Public Distribution System (PDS) - ostensibly designed for equal distribution of rations to the population - has all but collapsed in recent years, forcing the government to accept aid from China and South Korea. In a rare admission, the leadership has acknowledged its inability to alleviate the food crisis and has encouraged citizens to look to private markets for essential provisions. Another indication of government failure and the increasingly dire food situation comes from reports that the country’s military is storing over 1 million tons of rice in preparation for war.

    As public discontent increases in response to the food crisis, North Korea remains far from improving its shortage-induced food insecurity. Dependency on continued, or even increased, foreign food aid will not alleviate long-term shortages. The agriculture sector would benefit from aid in the form of pesticides and fertilizers. Output can also be boosted by crop diversification, more advanced tools and machinery, and reduced soil input.

    North Korea’s food security is inherently tied to its political conditions as the latter stifles market drivers and foreign economic exchanges. Despite continuation in authoritarian rule, the country’s strengthening economic relationship with China and improving telecommunications system is facilitating access to information that could buoy public backlash toward Pyongyang. International and domestic pressure on the new regime could possibly induce greater transparency or improvements in the efficiency of the PDS.

    Greater political shifts, particularly unification on the Korean peninsula, could accelerate opportunities for an influx of aid, removal of sanctions, and eventually more sound economic and agricultural policies. Although most North Korea watchers agree that unification will eventually occur, its prospects remain bleak in the near future, as does the chance for a relief in food shortages.

    Image Source: Huffington Post

    Under the Radar News 10.1.10

    Posted on Friday, October 1, 2010 by Alexandra Matthews

    A weekly compilation of underreported developments in Asia

  • The completion of a Russia-China crude oil pipeline was hailed as an important step for energy cooperation between the two neighbors. The pipeline, which stretches almost 1,000 kilometers, is part of a deal in which China provides Russia with a $25 billion loan in exchange for 300 million tons of oil over the next 20 years.

  • The US and South Korea conducted anti-submarine drills in the Yellow Sea as part of a series of joint military exercises is intended as a show of strength against North Korea. The next stage of the joint drills, which the North calls a “military provocation”, will be held at the end of October and is reported to include the USS George Washington.

  • Taiwanese Premier Wu Den-yih expressed that the time is not right for cross-strait political negotiations. Premier Wu cited the constraints China continues to place on Taiwan’s presence at international events as a reason for not moving forward on developing military confidence-building mechanisms or engaging in political talks.

  • Resource-poor Japan will withdraw from an offshore Iranian oil field project in an effort to avoid US sanctions. The Japanese company, Inpex, was originally set to develop the oil field, which contains about 42 billion barrels of oil. Meanwhile, Indonesia has reaffirmed its support for Iran's nuclear program. Indonesia maintains that all nations have the right to develop nuclear technology for civilian use.

  • The world’s first “cyber superweapon”, Stuxnet, has infected millions of computers in China. The virus, which may have been created to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities, has the potential to not only break into computers, but to take control of plants and industrial systems including pumps, motors, alarms and valves.

  • The Taliban has posted messages on its website threatening Bangladeshi leaders after Foreign Minister Dipu Moni was asked by Richard Holbrooke to deploy Bangladeshi combat troops to Afghanistan. Bangladesh currently has aid workers stationed in Afghanistan and is the second largest contributor of troops to the United Nations peacekeeping missions.

  • According to the United Nations, opium production in Afghanistan has decreased by almost 50 percent this year as a result of a disease that affected poppy fields. As Afghanistan’s opium output decreased, the drug’s value skyrocketed by 38 percent to $604 million, five percent of the country’s GDP.

  • Bilateral free trade agreement talks will resume between Malaysia and Australia next month after being disrupted by Australian general elections and the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand regional trade pact, which came into effect earlier this year. The resumption of the talks is another step towards furthering Canberra’s economic integration with Southeast Asian nations.

  • China will resume exports of rare earth metals to Japan. The dispute between the two countries over the Senkaku/Diaoyutai islands halted shipments last month.

  • China has launched its second lunar probe, the Chang'e-2, to conduct tests in preparation for what China hopes will be its first unmanned moon landing in 2013 and first manned moon landing in 2020. The launch of the probe occurred on China's National Day, which marks 61 years of communist rule.
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