Sunday, 29 November 2015

Will Chess, Not Battleship, Be the Game of the Future in Eurasia?

from TomDispatch: The U.S. is transfixed by its multibillion-dollar electoral circus. The European Union is paralyzed by austerity, fear of refugees, and now all-out jihad in the streets of Paris. So the West might be excused if it’s barely caught the echoes of a Chinese version of Roy Orbison’s “All I Have to Do Is Dream.” And that new Chinese dream even comes with a road map.

The crooner is President Xi Jinping and that road map is the ambitious, recently unveiled 13th Five-Year-Plan, or in the pop-video version, the Shisanwu. After years of explosive economic expansion, it sanctifies the country’s lower “new normal” gross domestic product growth rate of 6.5% a year through at least 2020.

It also sanctifies an updated economic formula for the country: out with a model based on low-wage manufacturing of export goods and in with the shock of the new, namely, a Chinese version of the third industrial revolution. And while China’s leadership is focused on creating a middle-class future powered by a consumer economy, its president is telling whoever is willing to listen that, despite the fears of the Obama administration and of some of the country’s neighbors, there’s no reason for war ever to be on the agenda for the U.S. and China.

Asian Forums and Development of the Situation in the Southeast Asia

from New Eastern Outlook: After the G-20 summit held in Turkey on November 15-16, which riveted public attention especially in connection with the latest events in the Middle East and Europe, a top-level session of the forum of the APEC member countries took place in the capital of Philippines, Manila on November 17-20.
Then on November 21, leaders of the major world powers moved from Manila to the capital of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur to participate in several forums of yet another summit of the member countries of the sub-regional association, ASEAN, which comprises 10 countries of Southeast Asia.

China, Japan and South Korea—the three core members of this Association—participated in general and separate forums conducted in the ASEAN+3 and ASEAN+1 formats respectively, held in Kuala Lumpur.

In addition, another forum ASEAN+6 (ASEAN+3 + India, Australia and New Zealand) also took place, where participants stressed the impossibility of formalizing an agreement on the creation of a free trade zone in its current configuration and decided to extend the negotiation process for another year.

All these events were held against the backdrop of a complex (and even alarming) situation in the coastal waters of China. But before we continue our discussion on what influence the recent regional forums had on the current situation, it would be reasonable to conduct a brief study of the role and meaning of such forums in contemporary foreign affairs.

Koreas to Hold High Level Talks in December on Ways to Improve Ties

from Asia Times: North and South Korea have agreed to hold high-level talks next month to discuss ways to improve ties, Seoul officials said Friday, a sign that the rivals are following through with promised reconciliation efforts after a military stand-off in August.

South Korean chief delegate Kim Ki-Woong, right, shakes hands with his North Korean counterpart Hwang Chol during their meeting at the truce village of Panmunjom on Nov. 26

South Korean chief delegate Kim Ki-Woong, right, shakes hands with his North Korean counterpart Hwang Chol during their meeting at the truce village of Panmunjom on Nov. 26

The two countries threatened war against each other last summer over land mine explosions that maimed two South Korean soldiers. The standoff eased in August when the Koreas met for marathon talks and agreed on a set of tension-reduction efforts that include resuming talks between senior officials.

Working-level officials from the two sides met at a border village on Thursday and agreed to hold high-level talks on Dec. 11 at the Kaesong industrial complex in North Korea, the last remaining major inter-Korean rapprochement project, Seoul’s Unification Ministry said in a statement.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Myanmar’s New Dictator: Aung San Suu Kyi

from New Eastern Outlook: Suu Kyi disenfranchised a million voters before elections, and has declared herself above the constitution afterwards. What about that seems “democratic?” 
The Western media is portraying Myanmar’s recent elections as historic. One commentator described Myanmar as an “exuberant nation prepared for a new era of democracy and political freedom.” But one wonders what sort of democracy and political freedom can be borne of elections in which nearly a million voters were banned from casting their ballots and with the apparent victor already declaring herself above the law.

Sidestepping these inconvenient facts, the West is nonetheless excited about the prospect of Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) taking power in Myanmar.

This is in part due to the fact that Suu Kyi herself, along with the NLD she leads and a vast network of supporting “civil society” nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have all been created and sustained annually by billions of dollars worth of backing from the United States and United Kingdom for years. In exchange for this support, Suu Kyi’s long-standing proclivity toward “foreign investment” will lead to the wholesale feeding of Myanmar’s nationalized resources, industry, and infrastructure into the maw of the Wall Street corporations and institutions that have long underwritten Suu Kyi’s rise to power.

South Pacific Showdown? Japan May Send Warships To China Islands

from Zero Hedge: On Tuesday, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin told the press that contrary to the narrative being propagated by Washington and its allies in the South Pacific, Beijing had actually shown “great restraint” in the South China Sea.

China, Liu went on to explain, has tolerated the “occupation” of the disputed waters even as Beijing has “both the right and the ability to recover the islands and reefs illegally occupied by neighboring countries.” Essentially, Liu said China would be well within its rights to forcibly expel The Philippines, Malaysia, and Vietnam from the Spratlys.

Liu’s comments came ahead of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit held in Manila on Thursday and Friday.

At the close of the Summit, Japanese PM Shinzo Abe met with President Benigno Aquino - who earlier this year compared the Chinese to Nazis - to discuss the possibility that Japan could provide Manila with “large ships” that the Philippines can use to patrol the South China Sea. 

Police, APEC Protesters Clash in Philippines

from PressTV: People have taken to the streets in the Philippine capital, Manila, where the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit is taking place, to protest against “imperialist globalization.”

Scuffles broke out on Thursday morning as police used water cannons and truncheons to disperse the protesters.

Participants in the rally marched down a road near the venue of the summit of 21 economies to express their opposition to APEC’s free-trade agenda.

“APEC and imperialist globalization have only benefited the rich countries while further impoverishing developing countries like the Philippines,” said Renato Reyes, a protest organizer.

Philippine authorities have imposed the country’s biggest security measures ever, shutting down the capital following the recent attacks in the French capital of Paris, which killed 129 people.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Myanmar: Strategic Crossroads in Asia

from Counterpunch: The Western media has lauded the results which have handed a resounding victory to the National League for Democracy, the party headed by longtime dissident and Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi.

However, despite the triumphant cheers of ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom’ from the media, echoing the message from the halls of power in the West, there are issues of much greater significance than slogans and abstractions; geopolitics and strategic alignment are the real interests of Washington, London, and Brussels.  But of course, the Western powers are not the only interested parties in Myanmar; India and China each have major investments and future plans for the country.  In this way, rather than simply a country “transitioning to democracy,” Myanmar should be understood as a strategic focal point of Asia.

Myanmar as Chinese Economic Hub

It is investment, and the political and geopolitical influence that comes with it, that is the overriding interest of China, India, and the West in Myanmar.  With the shifting strategic landscape in Asia, Myanmar’s political evolution has taken on an added significance wherein the once isolated Southeast Asian nation is today quickly becoming a major continental hub.

For China, Myanmar represents access to the Indian Ocean basin, as well as a major infrastructure transit point for energy imports (among others) flowing to China’s Southwest.  In January 2015, a new Chinese oil pipeline through Myanmar was opened, and with it China’s influence in the country, as well as Myanmar’s significance to China, grew immeasurably.  Not only does the pipeline physically connect China’s southwestern Yunnan province to the Bay of Bengal, and consequently to the Indian Ocean, but it highlights the interconnected nature of China’s investment in both pipelines and ports.  For the pipeline is not operable without the Chinese-constructed deep water port on Maday Island which, along with the nearby Chinese-funded port of Kyaukphyu, is envisioned by the government of Myanmar as a future trade hub for the region.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Second Recession Hits Japan Under Abenomics

from Asia Times: We thought Abenomics was supposed to help the Japanese economy grow, not shrink.

Japan on Monday reported that its economy contracted in the quarter ended Sept. 30, pushing the nation into its second recession since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took office in December 2012 and its fourth technical recession in five years.
Shinzo Abe

A recession is defined as two quarters in which the economy contracts. With third-quarter gross domestic product declining at an annualized 0.8% after it contracted 0.7% in the second quarter, it makes it officially a recession.

Economists blamed weak business investment as companies cut back on spending and production in the face of slow growth in China and a weak global outlook.

According to Japan’s Cabinet Office inventories subtracted 0.5 percentage point from growth this quarter as companies reduced stocks and business investment subtracted 0.2 percentage point from growth.

“Abenomics’ first two arrows of monetary and fiscal stimulus were meant to buy time, but Japan failed to make progress with painful reforms needed to boost its growth potential,” Hiroshi Shiraishi, senior economist at BNP Paribas Securities, told Reuters. “Without reform (the ‘third arrow’), the economy’s growth potential remains low, making it vulnerable to shocks and to suffering recessions more often.”

Monday, 16 November 2015

China’s Yuan Takes Leap Towards Joining IMF Currency Basket

from Reuters: China's yuan moved closer to joining other top global currencies in the International Monetary Fund's benchmark foreign exchange basket on Friday after Fund staff and IMF chief Christine Lagarde gave the move the thumbs up.

The recommendation paves the way for the Fund's executive board, which has the final say, to place the yuan CNY=CFXS CNY= on a par with the U.S. dollar .DXY, Japanese yen JPY=, British pound GBP= and euro EUR= at a meeting scheduled for Nov. 30.

Joining the Special Drawing Rights (SDR) basket would be a victory for Beijing, which has campaigned hard for the move, and could increase demand for the yuan among reserve managers as well as marking a symbolic coming of age for the world's second-largest economy.

Staff had found the yuan, also known as the renminbi (RMB), met the criteria of being “freely usable,” or widely used for international transactions and widely traded in major foreign exchange markets, Lagarde said. 

“I support the staff’s findings," she said in a statement immediately welcomed by China's central bank, which said it hoped the international community would also back the yuan's inclusion.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Bangkok’s Pivot to Beijing

from New Eastern Outlook: Despite the common misconception that Thailand is one of Southeast Asia’s staunchest US allies – the steady erosion of US-Thai relations has been underway for years. Cold War concessions Thailand made to the US during the Vietnam War have ingrained the myth of Bangkok’s unquestioning loyalty to Washington in the minds of many. The past decade and a half of Washington-proxy Thaksin Shinawatra holding power has helped bolster this myth, with Shinawatra assigning Thai troops to the US occupation of Iraq, cooperating with the US in its global CIA rendition program, and the privatization of Thailand’s resources on behalf of Wall Street.

However with a 2006 coup ousting Shinawatra from power, and a subsequent 2014 coup which ousted Shinawatra’s sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, the shattering of this myth has begun.

No single move by the new Thai government has signified the shift away from Washington more than a recent deal with China to purchase 3 Type 039A diesel electric attack submarines. Currently Thailand lacks submarines in its navy. The purchase would put Thailand on par with other Southeast Asian nations including Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Vietnam who already possess submarines.

More significantly, the purchasing of Chinese submarines may signal a shift not only in Bangkok’s geopolitical alignment, but the alignment of Asia altogether.