Under The Radar 08.27.12

Posted on Monday, August 27, 2012 by Michael Chen

A weekly compilation of under-reported events in Asia.

  • China tested the CSS-4 Mod 2 silo-based ICBM at the Wuzhai Missile and Space Test Center on August 20. This is reportedly the third missile test in the past four weeks. U.S. intelligence analysts expect China to upgrade to multiple warhead missiles in the near future, but Pentagon officials say that the tests are a result of deficiencies on the part of Chinese missile technologies.
  • The dispute between South Korea and Japan over the Dokdo/Takeshima Islets intensified this week as the two nations clashed over the handling of diplomatic letters between the heads-of-states. On August 23, the U.S. called on South Korea and Japan to resolve their differences peacefully through consultation and constructive dialogue.
  • Amid strong public anti-nuclear sentiment, Japan is considering the elimination of nuclear power over the next 20 years in the formation of a new long term energy plan. This formula would mark a departure from earlier predictions, which forecasted nuclear power to make up between 10 and 20 percent of Japan’s energy mix. A new Asahi Shimbun survey released on August 26 showed a plurality of Diet members in favor of full elimination.
  • While Chinese activists take to the streets to protest Japan’s claim over the Senkaku (Diaoyutai) Islands in the East China Sea, Beijing has taken steps to reign in the protests for fear that they might jeopardize relations with Tokyo or escalate into domestic dissidence. The Chinese government warned its citizens not to blindly boycott all Japanese products because of China’s bilateral economic relations with Japan.
  • South Korea imported oil from Iran in July, in an apparent departure from earlier government statements against importing Iranian oil due to the EU insurance ban. Seoul officials claimed that delayed June shipments led to the cargo’s July arrival. Other government sources said that Iranian crude imports would resume in September, upon shifting the responsibility of insurance to Iran.
  • In the name of national security, India has blocked over 300 internet sites, including many Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter accounts. The government claims it seeks to censor accounts that publish “objectionable content,” such as rumors of revenge attacks by Muslims on migrants in the Northeast. Indian journalists, internet experts, and the U.S. State Department have all called on India to respect internet freedom.
  • Philippine President Benigno Aquino named the country’s first female Supreme Court chief justice on August 24. Aquino praised Maria Lourdes Sereno’s ability to lead much-needed reforms of the judicial system. Yet, critiques questioned her ability to remain neutral, noting that she would be “politically indebted” to Aquino for her appointment.
  • U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is set to visit the Cook Islands, a nation of just 11,000 people in the South Pacific, to attend the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF). Lack of U.S. presence in the small island states has allowed China to increase its influence, experts say, and Clinton’s visit reflects Washington’s renewed focus on Asia-Pacific. 
Rosalind Reischer contributed to this report.

Under The Radar 08.20.12

Posted on Monday, August 20, 2012 by Michael Chen

A weekly compilation of under-reported events in Asia.

  • Rising nationalism is escalating tensions in the East China Sea. Following 14 Chinese activists’ landing on August 15th on the disputed Senkaku (Diaoyutai) Islands, 10 Japanese activists – including local assembly members – on August 19th also sailed to the isle to assert Japanese sovereignty over the disputed territories. The outspoken governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara, criticized the Japanese government’s decision to release, rather than indict, the Chinese activists; and several cities in China have witnessed anti-Japan rallies in the past week protesting the Japanese government’s actions.
  • In the latest step of reform for the nominally civilian government, Burma (Myanmar) announced on Monday an end to pre-publication censorship of the country's media. Journalists were “cautiously optimistic” and called the new policy a major improvement, but also expressed concern over self-censorship. Journalists are still required to submit their work to state censors after publication.
  • South Korea’s Park Guen-hye handily secured the ruling Saenuri (New Frontier) Party’s nomination to run for president with 84% of the primary vote. Park has pledged to improve ties with North Korea, but stated that Pyongyang would have to abandon its nuclear ambitions before Seoul would engage. The likely main opposition candidate, Moon Jae-in, vowed to provide unconditional aid for North Korea.
  • North Korean leader Kim Jong-un called on the military to prepare for a “sacred war” before an annual military exercise by South Korea and the U.S. aimed at testing defense capabilities. A U.S. research group warned that Pyongyang may have the fuel to build as many as 48 nuclear weapons by 2015 unless imposed sanctions start to work. 
  • Taiwan’s GDP growth forecast for 2012 was cut to 1.66 percent, down from a previous estimate of 2.08 percent. According to government figures released on August 20, exports in July also dropped 4.4 percent from the same month last year. Local economists urged the Taipei government not to view the free trade pact with China as a long-term solution, pointing to a recent plunge in exports to China.
  • Taiwan’s main opposition party is taking steps to engage China. Following the reinstatement of its Department of China Affairs, two Democratic Progressive Party lawmakers, Hsiao Bi-Khim and Lin Chia-lung, paid separate visits to China to attend forums on cross-Strait relations held by the Shanghai Institute for East Asia Studies and the Shanghai Asia-Pacific Regional Development and Urban Governance Forum (上海亞太區域發展暨城市治理論壇), respectively.
  • Following Japan’s footsteps, India’s government is offering insurance for cargo ship companies willing to transport Iranian crude as a means to bypass EU sanctions. Yet because the $100 million per ship coverage pales in comparison to the $1 billion European insurers offered, most Indian companies have so far declined to resume oil shipments from Tehran.

Randy Schriver on WSJ Live's Opinion Journal

Posted on Friday, August 17, 2012 by Rosalind Reischer

Project 2049's Randy Schriver speaks about China and Japan in the South China Sea and the newly-released Armitage-Nye Report on The U.S.-Japan Alliance: Anchoring Stability in Asia.

India's Look East Policy in the South China Sea

Posted on Tuesday, August 14, 2012 by Rosalind Reischer

In mid-July, Vietnam announced that it would extend the contract of India’s ONGC Videsh Ltd. (OVL) –the international arm of India’s Oil and Natural Gas Company (ONGC)–for block 128, which lies in Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the South China Sea.   After initial exploration, OVL had concluded that development of the block within the time limits of the original contract would be economically unfeasible. Yet, Vietnam’s new offer extended the development timeline and added data that would reportedly make development more efficient. OVL accepted the offer four days later.   Hanoi’s decision to extend the contract comes in the wake of the underwhelming July conference of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Cambodia, which failed to produce a communiqué, much less a Code of Conduct delineating acceptable practices in the South China Sea. The offer signals Hanoi’s wish to keep an Indian presence in the South China Sea to balance China’s assertive behavior. At the same time, OVL’s economic relationship with Vietnam highlights the expansion of India’s Look East Policy, wherein India’s strategic goals are furthered by the presence of legitimate economic development in the South China Sea.

India’s growing engagement with Vietnam, and by extension in the South China Sea, is a logical expansion of its Look East Policy (LEP). The policy was first initiated under then Premier P.V. Narasimha Rao during a visit to South Korea in 1993. While in Korea, Premier Rao called for economic liberalization and an “opening in the floodgates” to South Korean chaebols (mega corporations). Just months after the visit, Daewoo automobile was successfully launched in India.  Beginning in earnest at the start of the 21st century, the geographic scope of India’s LEP extended downward to Southeast Asia and the Pacific. In the process, India appears to be asserting a strategy that combines economic, political, and security leverages in the Asia-Pacific. The comprehensive nature of this policy has enabled the economic activities of India’s private and state-owned companies to be in line with New Delhi’s expanding diplomatic relations with the region. Most recently, the policy manifests itself in efforts by private and state-owned Indian companies and the Indian Navy to actively develop ties with ASEAN countries bordering the South China Sea.

The evolution of New Delhi’s LEP to involve ASEAN reflects the increasing geostrategic importance of the South China Sea. India is not a South China Sea littoral state and has no territorial claims in the region. However, the stability and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea are vital interests for New Delhi-- fifty-five percent of India’s trade with Asia passes through this strategic sea route, including crucial energy supplies.  The South China Sea is an economic security lifeline for India and New Delhi relies heavily on the United States and ASEAN partners for cooperation in protecting shared interests in the region. The strategic relationships built with ASEAN nations were even acknowledged by an editorial in the China-based Global Times as paramount to India’s national security. Conversely, the success of India’s strategy is equally important for Vietnam. Potential economic benefits aside, OVL’s presence in the South China Sea and effort towards joint development of block 128 present Vietnam with international credibility over the disputed economic zone.

Apparently in reaction to Vietnam’s decision to extend OVL exploration off its coast, China’s National Offshore Oil Corp. (CNOOC) announced on June 25, 2012 that it would accept bids from foreign oil companies to jointly develop nine blocks (JY22, HY10, HY34, BS16, DW04, DW22, YQX18, RJ00, RJ27) in the South China Sea, including areas that overlap with blocks that Vietnam has already started jointly exploring and developing with India’s OVL, the United States’ ExxonMobil, and Russia’s Gazprom.   CNOOC blocks HY34 and BS16 overlap with Vietnam blocks 148 and 149, which belong to PetroVietnam Exploration and Production Company (PVEP). CNOOC blocks RJ27, RJ03, YQX18, and DW22 overlaps blocks belonging to ONGC, Gazprom, and Exxon, who among themselves are developing Vietnam blocks 128-132 and 156-159. Chinese state media reported a month after the initial offer that the CNOOC tender is progressing smoothly, and claims several U.S. oil and gas companies have submitted offers, but declined to give any specific information about foreign participators.

The latest flare up in tensions in the South China Sea, underscored by China’s reaction to India’s energy diplomacy with Vietnam, is illustrative of the frail state of the South China Sea dispute. To be sure, China perceives any actions that encroach upon what it considers Chinese sovereign territory as unacceptable, and therefore India’s warming relations with ASEAN countries as a hedge against its claim in the South China Sea. The almost-universal acknowledgement of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) as international law and the upward trajectory of Indo-ASEAN relations may set a solid precedent for the peaceful and non-military resolution of future disputes by reinforcing the role of non-littoral states in the South China Sea. Yet, energy disputes such as this one reflect the disjointed state of the South China Sea dispute. While regional peace and stability may be the cited goal of both India and China, the shadow of intolerance that China casts over energy diplomacy will continue to define the potential paths to conflict resolution in the South China Sea.

Under The Radar 08.13.12

Posted on Monday, August 13, 2012 by Rosalind Reischer

A weekly compilation of under reported events in Asia. 

  • South Korean President Lee Myung-bak took a surprise trip to the Dokdo islets, which have long been part of a territorial dispute between South Korea and Japan. Japanese Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto claimed the trip was aimed at garnering a higher approval rating. Classifying President Lee’s trip as unacceptable, Japan announced Saturday it would take the territorial dispute to the International Court of Justice. Observers predict Lee's audacious move will seriously jeopardize relations between the two countries due to the heightened sensitivity over territorial issues.
  • Top ranking Vietnamese officials including the president and party general secretary met with Kim Yong-nam, chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly of the DPRK, in Hanoi last week. The two sides agreed to strengthen cooperation at regional forums such as the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) and the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang said that Vietnam consistently favored a stable, peaceful and nuclear-free peninsula and that concerned parties should make an effort to promote dialogue and nuclear nonproliferation on the peninsula. He also informed Mr. Kim of Vietnam’s decision to provide five thousand tons of rice in food aid to North Korea.
  • A weak monsoon season in India has led to economists reducing growth forecasts for the Indian economy. While agriculture only makes up 14% of the economy, 50% of the population works on farms. As a result, when rain is lacking, the rural population suffers. The latest Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) report concluded that the composite leading indicators (CLIs) of both India and China reflect a continued slowdown in both countries.
  • South Korea’s cabinet and President Lee Myung-bak have endorsed a bill that would set up a fund to cover the incorporation cost in the event of the reunification of the peninsula. The bill, still awaiting approval from parliament, would draw on government and private funding sources. Estimates of the total cost of reunification vary widely, but as the GNP per capita in South Korea is now 19 times that of North Korea, the cost in any case would be considerable.
  • According to a recent report from the U.S. Congressional Research Service, Pakistan has plans to improve its nuclear arsenal to counter that of India and increase the circumstances in which it would use nuclear weapons. The report cited Islamabad’s increased production of fissile material as a response to the perceived nuclear threat from New Delhi.
  • Taepung International Investment Group, a North Korean military investment firm established to attract foreign investments, was reportedly closed last week due to poor performance. According to South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo, experts believe the closure was associated with the ouster of military official Ri Yong-yo and part of a broader initiative by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to loosen the military grip on politics and increase the influence of party technocrats.
  • The Japanese government has decided to extend the role of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces (SDF) in U.N. peacekeeping operations in the Golan Heights region of Syria. The Japanese government, acknowledging the deteriorating security situation in Syria, said steps would be taken to ensure the security of SDF troops.
  • The United States has decided to deploy drones to monitor Chinese activity in waters around the Senkaku (Diaoyutai) Island Chain in the East China Sea. The drones will also conduct surveillance around Okinawa Prefecture. The move is indented to reassure Japan so it does not have to take “provocative action” concerning the Islands.

Under The Radar 08.06.12

Posted on Monday, August 6, 2012 by Michael Chen

A weekly compilation of under-reported events in Asia.

  • The U.S. State Department accused China of stirring up tensions in the South China Sea by the establishment of a new military garrison on the disputed islands. Patrick Ventrell, acting deputy spokesperson of the State Department urged ASEAN and China to work together on establishing a Code of Conduct. In response, Beijing officials summoned the U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission to warn Washington not to challenge China's sovereignty over the islands.
  • In Japan’s annual defense white paper Defense of Japan, released on July 31, Tokyo took note of China’s growing military influence on its foreign policy decisions, and called for a tougher defense strategy and a Cold War-style hot line between Tokyo and Beijing. Despite praising South Korea as a close ally, the report also reasserted Japan’s claims over disputed islands also claimed by South Korea, a move that angered officials in Seoul.
  • Massive floods between July 18 and 29 devastated parts of North Korea, reportedly killing hundreds of people and submerging vast swaths of the isolated country’s farmland. Calls for immediate assistance by North Korea and UN officials who visited the flooded areas were followed by the UN World Food Program (WFP)’s announcement of shipments of emergency food aid to the impoverished country.
  • India suffered two major power outages in two days. The blackout at one point reportedly left half its population (or 600 million people) without electricity. While power has since been restored, the power outages casted looming doubts throughout the international community as to whether India can become a superpower with its unstable infrastructure.
  • Chinese courts in Xinjiang jailed 20 Uighur Muslims on charges of terrorism and separatism, prompting an exiled rights group to accuse the Chinese state of trying to oppress their culture and religion. Authorities in Xinjiang have also banned Muslim officials and students from fasting during Ramadan.
  • In a joint forum between China and Taiwan’s ruling party, the fourth-top ranking Chinese official, Jia Qinglin, offered a rare, explicit definition of Beijing’s “One-China” Policy, stating that China and Taiwan both belong to “one nation.” Taiwan’s opposition Democratic Progressive Party called Jia Qinglin’s statement part of Beijing’s ‘step-by-step move toward unification,’ and called on President Ma Ying-jeou to protest the move.
  • Taiwan president Ma Ying-jeou proposed the East China Sea initiative to address the disputes over Diaoyutai, or Senkaku islands, claimed by Taiwan, China, and Japan. Ma urged all parties to establish a code of conduct and create mechanism for joint development of resources.
  • Researchers found that a growing middle class in Asian countries, especially China, is likely to cause a food crisis in the near future. The study pinpointed growing appetites for meat and poultry fed on grains and legumes as a major driver of the recent record-high prices of corn, wheat and soybeans.

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