Under the Radar News 02.25.11

Posted on Friday, February 25, 2011 by Sophia Tsirbas

A weekly compilation of underreported events in Asia

  • Chinese state media announces that it will conduct its first Mars probe launch in November. The launch will mark China’s first entry into deep space exploration since its moon probe.

  • In North Korea, tunnels are being excavated in preparation for a possible third nuclear test. Its test will come on the heels of failed bilateral talks with the South.

  • China and Kazakhstan pledge to boost bilateral cooperation. Both countries signed cooperation agreements on cross-border water resource protection, high speed railway construction, and joint projects on petroleum, oil and gas resources. Time for An Agenda for US-Central Asian Relations?

  • Japanese public approval for Prime Minister Kan’s Cabinet falls to its lowest of twenty percent. Opposition calls for dissolution of Lower House and new elections.

  • Indonesia will send a team of civilian and military personnel to observe the Cambodia-Thailand border ceasefire. Both countries have pledged to end the violence and resume bilateral relations.

  • During a meeting in Thailand, Burmese ethnic armed groups decided to jointly negotiate with the military regime. The groups also agreed to form a United Nationalities Federal Council and pledged support for one another.

  • In New Delhi, a union-organized rally protests growing inflation. Tens of thousands protesters take to the streets in hopes of pressuring the government prior to its annual budget announcement next week.

  • China plans to invest 1.5 trillion Yuan in the aviation sector within the next five years. China is predicted to have the world’s fastest growing market for air travel by 2014. Project 2049 study on PRC commercial aviation

  • South Korean ambassadors in Africa stress need for greater energy cooperation calling the continent the “last market” for South Korean companies.

  • China pledges to act in a fair and neutral way as it prepares to assume the UN Security Council rotating presidency in March. China’s UN representative, Li Baodong, promises a focus on Africa and the Middle East.

  • Japan agrees to U.S. secret request for military plane propellers to be used by U.S. transport planes in Afghanistan.

  • More Japanese citizens register disputed territories as official places of residence. Public frustration grows over government handling of territorial disputes with Russia, China, and South Korea.
  • Seven Guidelines for U.S.-Central Asia Policy

    Posted on Wednesday, February 23, 2011 by Tiffany Ma

    A comprehensive new report from the bipartisan Central Asia Study Group, chaired by former Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage, and the Project 2049 Institute calls on American and Central Asian leaders to rise to the challenges and opportunities in Central Asia. The paper reflects discussion, debate, and, ultimately, broad agreement among a distinguished group of former senior U.S. diplomatic and defense officials with responsibility for, or interest in, Central Asia.

    Report author Evan A. Feigenbaum (Director, Asia, Eurasia Group, and Adjunct Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations) shares some insights on the new report "Strengthening Fragile Partnership: An Agenda for the Future of U.S.-Central Asia Relations":

    The report does a lot of things. But one central element is its attempt to offer any U.S. administration seven broad guidelines for U.S. policy in the region. So here they are:

    1. Put Central Asians themselves—not Russia, China, Iran, or other neighboring powers—at the center of America’s approach to the region.

    It should be clear to all that Central Asians are the subject of U.S. policy, not principally an object of competition (or, for that matter, accommodation) with third parties. This will require a concerted and sustained U.S. effort to dispel the notion that the U.S. accepts Russia’s claim of a privileged relationship with Central Asia. Similarly, Washington will need to invalidate the perception that it is subordinating its relations with Central Asia to its pursuit of warmer relations with Moscow. In our view, this perception has grown in recent months. U.S. decision-makers must avoid speaking about Central Asia as if Central Asians did not exist.

    U.S. policymakers have been careful to avoid the metaphor of a “Great Game” in Central Asia. Yet it has been often invoked by others, not least by observers in Moscow, Beijing, and other neighboring powers. The U.S. must continue to reject this metaphor, for such notions are based on flawed assumptions and fraught with risks for the United States. The metaphor is flawed because it is both insulting and misleading. It insults Central Asians by suggesting that they are powerless and passive pawns. It misleads because Central Asians have at times manipulated great power competition to their own advantage, successfully creating a balance of power that maximizes their independence. Kazakhstan’s “multivectored” foreign policy is but one example of this effort to fashion balance in relations with Russia, China, the United States, and others. Turkmenistan’s late president, Saparmyrat Niyazov, likewise leveraged Chinese interest in Turkmen gas to Ashgabat’s benefit in price bargaining with Russia.

    2. American policy cannot be naïve, either.

    Strategic and economic competition with other powers does exist. And some neighboring powers have not always wished the United States, or its interests in Central Asia, well. Neighboring powers have sought to eliminate the U.S. airbase at Manas, Kyrgyzstan—an essential mobility and supply hub for the ongoing war in Afghanistan. Neighboring powers have opposed American efforts to extract and transport Central Asian energy resources westward across the Caspian Sea. Neighboring powers have also spread misleading propaganda about U.S. efforts to promote civil society and the rule of law. Indeed, misinformation, especially in Russian-language print, broadcast, and internet media, remains a major impediment to American efforts in Central Asia.

    The United States must respect neighboring powers’ legitimate interests in Central Asia. And it must work with Russia and China wherever feasible, and continue ongoing consultations about the region with both countries. There should, in principle, be some areas of shared interest that can be fashioned into complementary approaches. As a World Trade Organization (WTO) member, for instance, China should share an interest with the United States in promoting WTO membership and WTO-compatible trade regimes in all five countries of Central Asia.

    But if the United States is to seek areas for prospective coordination, the U.S. and its partners must, in turn, advocate that Central Asia’s larger, more powerful neighbors respect their presence, interests, and partnership with the five independent and sovereign Central Asian states.

    3. Rely on capabilities that the U.S. uniquely can offer to Central Asian governments, citizens, and businesses.

    The United States fares best in Central Asia when it plays to its unique strengths. Such strengths include the English language; proprietary industrial and scientific technologies; business skills; military technologies; and Washington’s unrivaled ability to connect Central Asian economies to international financial institutions and opportunities in the global market. Another strength is Washington’s capacity to move more quickly than other powers at mobilizing support in a crisis. The rapid U.S. response to the humanitarian situation following the Kyrgyz-Uzbek violence offers one example; the United States made a $32 million contribution before China and Russia’s pledges of assistance.

    Secretary Clinton on a rare cabinet level visit to Central Asia,
    meeting with Kyrgyz President Roza Otunbayeva.
    Source: www.rt.com.
    While such actions carry occasional weight, especially among ordinary citizens of Central Asia, the United States has failed at more routine forms of engagement. Assistance budgets have shrunk precipitously. In the region’s nearly twenty years of independence, no president of the United States has visited Central Asia. Cabinet visits are rare. Even sub-cabinet visits are infrequent. Engagement in Turkmenistan, in particular, has also been hindered by the absence of a U.S. envoy for more than four years. The U.S. can hardly pursue its interests in Ashgabat or elsewhere if it lacks a Senate-confirmed diplomatic representative on the ground to promote those interests. This is without precedent in any country with which the U.S. has not had an underlying policy dispute.

    Ultimately, the U.S. cannot compete dollar for dollar, visit for visit, meeting for meeting, or chit for chit of influence with other major powers. But neither can these constraints become an excuse for U.S. passivity. There is no substitute for meaningful engagement, presence, and resources—whenever and to the extent that these are available.

    4. Multiply U.S. strengths by working closely with international partners.

    The U.S. should reinvigorate relationships with traditional partners in Central Asia, including Germany, the United Kingdom, the European Union, and Turkey. But the U.S. would benefit, too, from diversifying its partnerships in the region, especially with Japan, South Korea, and India. In 2006, the United States initiated policy talks on Central Asia with both Tokyo and Seoul. And in such efforts, the U.S. should coordinate not just with foreign ministries but also with the full range of agencies involved in project finance, foreign aid, trade, investment, energy, and defense.

    5. Enhance cooperation with the private sector to further multiply U.S. strengths.

    Governments create the regulatory, legal, and operating frameworks for markets. But in many sectors, it is private companies that have been the forward face of the United States in Central Asia. The Caspian Pipeline Consortium (CPC) pipeline is an example of this phenomenon; it could never have been built without a close partnership between government and business. Another example is the U.S.-Kazakhstan Public-Private Economic Partnership Initiative, established in 2008. This joint public-private dialogue on investment and regulatory issues replaced a moribund government-to-government talkshop.

    6. Remain mindful of the need for a regional strategy.

    A more sustainable economic future for Central Asia will require the reconnection of roads, railways, and power lines, the development of new overflight rights and fees, improved customs and border procedures, and new oil and gas pipelines. But the five Central Asian countries are distinct and unique, so a tailored regional approach needs to address differences in their economies, resources, and political climates. A regional strategy must be especially cognizant of weak cross-border linkages, which are politically, economically, and socially destabilizing.

    By promoting continental trade across Asia—linkages from east to west and, to some extent, from north to south—the United States can help to restore Central Asia to its historical place as a point of commercial transit. Indeed, integrating Central Asia into long-distance trade, encompassing continental routes across Asia, also has direct benefits for surrounding countries, including China, Russia, India, Europe, and the Middle East. It can invest a larger pool of stakeholders in the process of developing more unfettered trade.

    7. Pursue a multidimensional policy in Central Asia.

    The United States must take a multidimensional approach—not pursuing discrete security, trade, or human rights policies but a foreign policy, which combines all of these integral components. At the same time, the U.S. cannot divorce its Central Asia policy from its broader regional policies in Europe and Asia, or from its global strategies.

    The United States has suffered greatly in Central Asia because of a widespread perception that it cannot pursue more than one interest at a time. Some argue that Washington cares only about political development, accusing it of backing, even staging, “colored revolutions.” Others believe that the U.S. cares only about military basing and logistics, accusing Washington of prioritizing the war in Afghanistan above every other objective. This latter perception, in particular, has been exacerbated by the frequency of visits by the commander of U.S. Central Command while other U.S. visitors of similar stature are so rare.

    Meanwhile, there are, undeniably, tangible links between U.S. interests in Central Asia and its surrounding regions. Inconsistent linkages and precarious balancing with other policy agendas highlights the need for a much more coordinated execution of strategy within the U.S. government.

    Read the full report

    This piece was first published here by the Council on Foreign Relations.

    Strengthening Fragile Partnerships: An Agenda for the Future of U.S.-Central Asia Relations

    Posted on Friday, February 18, 2011 by Tiffany Ma

    A comprehensive new report from the bipartisan Central Asia Study Group, chaired by former Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage, and the Project 2049 Institute calls on American and Central Asian leaders to rise to the challenges and opportunities in Central Asia. The report proposes an action agenda on economics, energy, governance, security, social development, and regional cooperation, and places particular emphasis on the importance of reconnecting Central Asian countries to the global economy.

    Report author Evan A. Feigenbaum (Director, Asia, Eurasia Group, and Adjunct Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations) shares some insights on the new report "Strengthening Fragile Partnership: An Agenda for the Future of U.S.-Central Asia Relations":

    Why issue such a report now?

    Well, for one thing, Central Asia remains fragile and sometimes volatile. Nearly twenty years after the Soviet collapse, ethnic tensions, exacerbated by economic competition, simmer and threaten to destroy the fragile foundations of this multiethnic region. Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan have achieved relative stability. But the explosion of Kyrgyz-Uzbek ethnic clashes around Osh and Jalalabad in June 2010 underscores deeper vulnerabilities and demonstrates just how rapidly violence can escalate in both scope and scale.

    Meanwhile, notwithstanding impressive growth rates, most Central Asian economies are weak and underlying fiscal fundamentals are poor. Governance has been only weakly responsive to popular demands and is disproportionately influenced by national elites. The influence of criminal groups has grown across the region. And a combustible mix of corruption, narcotics, poverty, and terrorism threatens all five states in Central Asia.

    Forces within Central Asia—as well as neighboring powers—now challenge American interests in the region as never before.

    What are those interests? Our group believes they are four:

    • To preserve not just the independence of the five Central Asian states but also their ability to exercise sovereign political and economic choices, free from external coercion.
    • To diversify transit options, thus reducing the dependence of Central Asian economies on a single market, infrastructure link, and/or point of transit.
    • To build institutional capacity, so that states can govern effectively and justly, deliver services, and resist pressure from those who seek to overthrow legitimate institutions; more than one Central Asian state has the potential to fail within the next decade.
    • And to reconnect this landlocked region to the global economy, thus increasing the prospects for sustainable economic progress.
    But an honest appraisal needs to acknowledge the many shortcomings of twenty years of American effort in pursuit of these interests. To date, and in nearly every respect, the United States has failed to achieve its initial, ambitious, strategic objectives in Central Asia.

    Central Asian states have retained their independence—and this has been the first, and most important, objective of U.S. policy. But trade and commercial ties to the United States remain very thin indeed. There is no trans-Caspian oil or gas pipeline, despite nearly two decades of American effort. Millions of dollars spent to encourage transnational water sharing have failed to produce agreement. Democracy promotion efforts have failed utterly, although U.S. assistance has made a difference at the margins with respect to education, civil society, the media, and local governance.

    Now, don’t get me wrong: Central Asia is neither the most significant nor most pressing foreign policy challenge faced by any U.S. administration. Yet its fragile and even volatile nature increases the urgency for American action. U.S. policy toward Central Asia requires greater strategic direction.

    Our study group considered U.S. interests in Central Asia. On that basis, we propose guidelines for American policy. In key areas, we put forth a bipartisan action agenda aimed at creating a more effective and enduring partnership between the United States and the nations of Central Asia.

    Read the full report

    This piece was first published here by the Council on Foreign Relations.

    Under the Radar News 02.18.11

    Posted on by Lana Buu

    A weekly compilation of underreported events in Asia

  • High level meetings between South Korea and Indonesia in Seoul to boost bilateral defense cooperation and defense procurement. Indonesia is reportedly leaning towards South Korea as the preferred negotiator for its planned purchase of advanced T-50 trainer jets.

  • The Shimoda Conference of nongovernmental policy dialogue between the United States and Japan is scheduled to restart after a 17-year hiatus. The Conference was held nine times between 1967 and 1994 to discuss a variety of issues, with the aim to lay the foundation for a more mature and productive relationship between Japan and the U.S.

  • Japan and India have signed a free trade pact, making them each other’s biggest free-trade partners and will do away with tariffs on 94% of trade between the two countries within 10 years, according to the Japanese government. India’s trade minister proposed setting up a revolving fund of $9 billion jointly with Japan to help finance an industrial and transport link.

  • Petroliam Nasional Bhd., Malaysia’s state energy company, said its discovery of “major” oil and gas discoveries off the coast of Sarawak may help replenish the Southeast Asian nation’s diminishing reserves.

  • Philippine troops formally declared a SOMO (suspension of offensive military operations) between February 14 and February 21 with leftist rebels following the resumption of peace talks in Oslo this week.

  • In China, the Ministry of Land and Resources has established national mining areas. The sites are Ganzhou in Central Jiangxi Province for rare earth and the Panzhihua-Xichang area in Southwestern Sichuan Province for iron. According to Beijing, the Ganzhou mining area alone will probably push the proven reserves of heavy rare earth up by 80 percent.

  • At a meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum Ministerial Contact Group (MCG) in Vanuatu, Australia has again urged Fiji to hold democratic elections soon. Fijian President Ratu Epeli Nailatikau said holding general elections in 2014 is part of the road map of the current Fijian regime.

  • According to a top government official, India plans to withdraw 10,000 paramilitary troops from Indian-held Kashmir (IHK) this year and renew efforts to hold talks in the rebellion-hit Himalayan region. There are currently 70,000 paramilitary troops in Indian Kashmir plus 100,000-150,000 army soldiers.

  • The Vietnam Food Association (VFA) has ordered its members to buy 1 million tons of rice from farmers and stock the amount for three months to keep up the price for the grain. Consumption is currently a problem since firms have secured no deals for the second quarter onwards, making it necessary to maintain domestic prices at a high level and support export deals, the bloc said.

  • The Indonesian military (TNI) has decided to accept a grant of two squadrons of F-16A/B Fighting Falcon fighter planes from the United States, TNI Chief Marshall Agus Suhartono said on Monday. The TNI has also programmed the procurement of six more advanced F-16 fighter planes from the US by 2014.

  • China is in talks with Colombia to build a 'dry canal' linking Colombia's Atlantic and Pacific coasts by rail. The 220km project, dubbed as an alternative to the Panama canal, is one of a series of Chinese proposals that would boost transport links with Asia and improve Colombia's infrastructure.

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    Under the Radar News 02.11.11

    Posted on Friday, February 11, 2011 by Sophia Tsirbas

    A weekly compilation of underreported events in Asia

  • A diplomatic row ensues as Taiwan recalls its envoy to the Philippines over the deportation of fourteen Taiwanese fraud suspects to China. It remains to be seen whether China will send suspects back to Taiwan.

  • South Korea will deploy its first homegrown ship-launched cruise missile, the Cheonryong, with a 500 km range, on warships in the West Sea. The Cheonryong’s range allows it to potentially target North Korean missile bases while staying out of range of their missiles.

  • Afghanistan’s President Karzai calls for gradual disbandment of provincial reconstruction teams (PRTs). It is widely acknowledged that the controversial PRTs have been largely unsuccessful while diverting funds from the Afghan government.

  • A U.S. government issued report states that aid to Pakistan has not been effective. Aid programs are stymied by staffing problems, lack of security, and fraud.

  • A Taiwanese general accused of spying for China since 2004 is the senior most official to be arrested on espionage charges since the 1960s. One Taiwanese lieutenant describes increasing Chinese infiltration into Taiwan as indicative of a ‘smokeless war.’

  • An Asian Development Bank report warns of a climate-induced ‘migration crisis' in Asia. The ADB urges governments to be more proactive in implementing policies to mitigate the effects.

  • In face of a huge budget deficit, Pakistan’s entire Cabinet of sixty ministers resigns; the President is expected to announce a smaller forty-person Cabinet.

  • India and Pakistan will start new peace talks, broken off after the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks. Some of the issues to be discussed will be India’s role in Afghanistan and the disputed Kashmir region.

  • Japan and Uzbekistan agree to strengthen bilateral ties, particularly in the development of natural resources, such as uranium and rare metals.

  • The U.S. Committee on Foreign Investment seeks to block China’s Huawei Technology Co.’s acquisition of a U.S. technology developer. Huawei’s access to core technology could put the U.S. at risk, argue some lawmakers.
  • Under the Radar News 02.04.11

    Posted on Friday, February 4, 2011 by Lana Buu

    A weekly compilation of underreported events in Asia

  • Prime Minister Naoto Kan said Japan will consider backing efforts to conserve forests in Indonesia spearheaded by U.S. billionaire investor George Soros.

  • China will invest 4 trillion yuan ($608 billion) in water conservation projects during the next decade, eradicating the problem of unsafe drinking water in rural areas by the end of 2015.

  • A French aerospace giant wants to make Singapore a launch pad for commercial space flights. European Aeronautic Defense and Space (EADS), a leading defense and military contractor, hopes it will eventually rival Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic, which is to launch the world's first commercial space flight this year.

  • The Vatican's appointment of its first official representative to Vietnam signals a detente between the country's communist rulers and the Catholic Church that could represent the first step towards establishing formal diplomatic relations. The Catholic community in Vietnam is the second largest in Southeast Asia, trailing only the Philippines.

  • North Korea has proposed holding parliamentary talks with South Korea in order to soothe tensions between the two divided countries

  • Jhalanath Khanal, from the ruling Unified Marxist Leninist party, was elected Prime Minister of Nepal.

  • China and Japan are considering a vice-ministerial meeting in late February in Tokyo to discuss measures to prevent maritime run-ins similar to the one near the Senkaku Islands last September that severely strained bilateral ties. It will be the first time Japan and China have held a strategic dialogue since a June 2009 meeting in Beijing.

  • The deployment of the GPS-guided “Spike” missile in Yeonpyeong is a part of the ongoing efforts by South Korea to fortify five islands vulnerable to North Korean provocations.

  • Thailand has ignored calls from the United Nations and prominent human rights groups to access 200 detained Rohingya asylum seekers.

  • The Association of South East Nations (ASEAN) aims to commence cross-border trading this year. It hopes to form an economic community modeled after the European Union by 2015.
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