North Korea: Dealing with the “Rocket Man” via Negotiation, not Threats


September 20, 2017

North Korea: Dealing with the “Rocket Man”via Negotiation, not Threats

by Editorial Board, East Asia Forum

http://www.eastasiaforum.org

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War? “Look at the Map”, says French President Emmanuel Macron in an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour at United Nations, New York

The North Korean nuclear threat has ratcheted up in recent months, following new rounds of missile and nuclear weapons tests by Pyongyang. In July, North Korea undertook two tests of an intercontinental-range ballistic missile (ICBM). Then on 3 September, it undertook its sixth nuclear test of a new thermonuclear bomb designed to be used with its ICBMs. US President Donald Trump responded to the ICBM tests by promising to deliver ‘fire and fury’ if North Korea again threatened the United States, to which North Korea responded in turn by threatening to deploy missiles into the seas near US military bases in Guam. And in the midst of all this, Pyongyang continued to unnerve the Japanese government and population by launching two ballistic missiles into the seas beyond the island of Hokkaido.

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The “Rocket Man” says to President Donald Trump: “Show me some respect. I am the leader of North Korea,an independent and sovereign nation. My duty is to protect my people from warmongers like you and to act in the best interest of my country. Aren’t you doing the same for your people when you say to the world, “America First”?

North Korea’s most recent tests and launches are significant. Like it or not, they demonstrate that the regime has crossed the technical threshold of being able to target the continental United States — as well as US allies in Asia — potentially with a nuclear warhead.

Throughout the growing crisis, the Trump administration — along with most of the international community — has viewed China as the key player in bringing North Korea to heel. This perception of China’s special leverage stems from China’s decades-old treaty of friendship and mutual assistance with the North Korean regime and, even more importantly, the fact that around 90 per cent of North Korean trade now takes place with or through China. Given North Korea’s near total dependence on China for its international economic ties, the United States and others have consistently called for China to tighten economic sanctions.

China had resisted tightening sanctions on North Korea for fear that economic pressure could prompt massive inflows of refugees into China’s Northeast, or even the collapse of the North Korean regime. Although North Korea remains China’s most troublesome and unpredictable neighbour, it also serves as a strategic ‘buffer’ between China and US forces stationed in Japan and South Korea.

Yet a combination of growing international pressure, and Beijing’s own frustration with Pyongyang over its unwelcome nuclear program, has made China more willing to apply sanctions and other economic measures. In February, in the wake of North Korea’s test of a short-range missile into the Sea of Japan, and the assassination in Malaysia of Kim Jong-un’s half-brother, China announced it was suspending coal imports from North Korea for the remainder of 2017. More significantly, on 11 September China (and Russia) agreed to a new round of UN Security Council sanctions which will ban North Korean textile exports, freeze its imports of crude oil at current levels and introduce a cap on its imports of refined petroleum. These are the most far-reaching sanctions that have so far been applied to North Korea. In addition, Chinese state-run banks have begun to ban North Koreans from opening new accounts and to suspend transactions on accounts already held by North Koreans.

Yet the key problem in all of this is that there is little evidence that sanctions applied in the past have worked in checking North Korea’s nuclear program. Most regional analysts are fairly pessimistic that even this latest round of sanctions will have much effect on the regime’s nuclear development plans.

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In our two lead pieces this week, Chen Dongxiao of the Shanghai Institute for International Studies, and Jia Qingguo of Peking University, underscore the urgent need for new thinking in managing the North Korean nuclear issue. Both highlight diplomatic engagement, with Pyongyang and among other key states in the region, as the only way forward.

Chen suggests that it is futile to hope that increased Chinese pressure will somehow encourage North Korea to relinquish its nuclear weapons. He underlines Pyongyang’s lack of regard for China’s interests to date, suggesting that, ‘Pyongyang will never shy away from pressing for more concessions by leveraging its nuclear weapons program, even at the expense of China’s national security interests and overall regional stability’.

Instead, the region must find new diplomatic and economic incentives to encourage Pyongyang to come back to the negotiating table. As a first step, both authors nominate China’s ‘two suspensions’ proposal as a way to reduce the dangerous tensions between Pyongyang and Washington. This proposal would see ‘North Korea…suspend nuclear and missile tests in exchange for suspension of joint US-South Korea military exercises’, explains Jia.

As a second step, Jia calls on Beijing to begin active ‘contingency planning’ talks with Washington and Seoul. In the past, Beijing has been hesitant to take part in such talks, out of concern for the signals that this would send to Pyongyang. Jia and Chen carry clear messages for Pyongyang and Washington. Given the gravity of the situation and the risk that North Korea may continue to ignore Beijing’s diplomatic efforts, it is now time for China to put aside its hesitation and engage in serious talks with Washington and Seoul, Jia argues.

Contingency planning talks should cover a range of critical issues including: who would control North Korea’s nuclear weapons arsenal in the event of a collapse of the regime; how to deal with the North Korean refugee problem; who would be responsible for restoring domestic order in North Korea in the event of a crisis; post-crisis political arrangements on the Korean Peninsula; and removal of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system when and if North Korea’s nuclear program has ended.

Each of these issues is a source of considerable anxiety in Beijing, and so far they’ve stymied closer regional cooperation on the North Korean nuclear issue. Indeed, these issues have, in Chen Dongxiao’s words, showcased the ‘deeply entrenched strategic suspicion’ between the US and China. Dialogue and negotiation on these questions may therefore help to alter the current impasse between China and the United States, and lessen Pyongyang’s ability to exploit the lack of unity among its neighbours.

As is now widely understood, both in Pyongyang and around the region, there are no good military options for resolving the North Korean nuclear issue. That will crucially require countries to get much better at talking to their adversaries and negotiating on fundamental, long-term political and security questions.

The EAF Editorial Board is comprised of Peter Drysdale, Shiro Armstrong, Ben Ascione, Amy King, Liam Gammon, Jillian Mowbray-Tsutsumi and Ben Hillman, and is located in the Crawford School of Public Policy in the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific.

Kim Jong Un — smart and strategic? by Dr. Fareed Zakaria


September 17, 2017

Kim Jong Un — smart and strategic?

by Dr. Fareed Zakaria

Kim Jong Un — smart and strategic?

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I am sometimes asked what world figure I most want to interview. For me, the answer is obvious: Kim Jong Un. The general impression around the globe continues to be that the North Korean leader is crazy, provocative and unpredictable, but I think that he might well be strategic, smart and utterly rational. Because I am unlikely to get that interview, I have decided to imagine it instead.

Q: Marshal Kim, why do you keep building and testing nuclear weapons and missiles, even though they result in massive, crippling economic sanctions?

A: My nation faces a fundamental challenge — survival. The regime is more threatened than ever before. My forefathers had it easy. The Great Leader, my grandfather, ruled with the support of the world’s other superpower at the time, the Soviet Union, as well as our gigantic neighbor, China. The Dear Leader, my father, still had Beijing’s help for the most part. But today, the Soviet Union is history and China has become more integrated with the Western system. And the sole superpower, the United States, has made it clear that it seeks regime change in my country. And yet, we have survived with our ideology and system intact. How? Because we have built a protection for ourselves in the form of nuclear weapons.

Q: But China still provides you with crucial supplies of food and fuel. Don’t you see it as an ally?

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2017 News Maker of The Year–Keeping Trump, Xi,  Putin Abe and Moon Jae-in on on their toes

A: China is ruthlessly pragmatic. It supports us for its own selfish interests. It doesn’t want millions of refugees — or a unified Korea on its border that is a larger version of what South Korea is now, with U.S. troops and a treaty alliance. But I believe that China no longer considers us an ally. It has voted to sanction us in the U.N. Security Council. The current president, Xi Jinping, cultivates close relations with South Korea. He has never met with me, the leader of North Korea, something that the leader of China has always done. Meanwhile, he has had about 10 meetings with the last two presidents of South Korea. At the grand celebrations in Beijing two years ago commemorating the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, he placed the president of Russia and the president of South Korea at his side. In North Korea, we pay a lot of attention to ceremonies and what they signal.

Q: Is that why you seem to go out of your way to embarrass China and Xi specifically?

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What does it  take for him to sit down and talk since sanctions only strengthens his resolve to pursue the nuclearisation of his country and unify his proud people?

A: We will not be pushed around. We heard that senior officials in China and the United States were discussing whether to encourage a coup in North Korea to get a more pliable ruler. So I’ve taken steps to ensure that this can’t happen. The man in our government closest to the Chinese, who could have arranged such a coup attempt, was my uncle. The man who would have been my natural replacement was my half brother. Both have been liquidated, as have more than 100 disloyal high-level officials.

Q: So will you come to the negotiating table? Will you agree to denuclearization in return for the lifting of sanctions?

A: Yes and no. We will readily come to the table. But we will never give up our arsenal. We’re not stupid. It’s all that is keeping us alive. Look at Saddam Hussein — and we never forget that North Korea was named as part of the “axis of evil” a year before the United States invaded Iraq. Look what happened to Moammar Gaddafi in Libya after he agreed to give up his nuclear weapons program. Look at what’s happening to Iran right now. After Washington signed a deal and the Iranians have been certified to be adhering to it, President Trump now says he’s going to tear it up anyway. Do you think we would be stupid enough to believe American promises after all this? We are a nuclear power. That is not negotiable. We are willing to talk about limits, test bans, freezes — but we would need to be given something in return, and not just money. We need security, in the form of diplomatic recognition by Washington and guarantees of nonaggression from China, Japan and the United States.

Q: Many Americans worry that you will soon have the capacity and the intention to launch missiles at the United States.

A: We will have the capacity. And it serves my purposes to keep you off guard. But why would I strike America and invite a retaliatory counterstrike that would put an end to my regime? Keep in mind, the whole point of this — my entire strategy, all our efforts and the hardships we have borne — is to ensure that my regime and I survive. Why would I risk that? I believe in assassination, not suicide.

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

Trade Strategy: RCEP offers ASEAN and Asia a critical line of defence


September 14, 2017

Trade Strategy: RCEP offers ASEAN and Asia a critical line of defence with the Trump Induced Collapse of TPP

by Dr Peter Drysdale, ANU

http://www.eastasiaforum.org

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It might seem strange in this time of global crisis to turn to ASEAN, dogged as it is by perceptions of weakness and vulnerability and distracted by the political and security problems in the South China Sea. But ASEAN, with Indonesia at its core, is a regional enterprise with a distinctly global outlook and objectives, an experiment in open regionalism that has succeeded. ASEAN’s economic cooperation strategy has persisted despite its perceived weaknesses and slow pace. It is still the crucible for action on regional cooperation within Asia and across the Pacific.–Dr. Peter Drysdale

Some may think that the Trump shock is a passing moment and US leadership in international trade and economic policy can be quickly restored. But there is little doubt that the postwar trade regime and the primacy the multilateral order delivered are now vastly less certain. That was clear for all to see at the Hamburg G20 summit.

The question is how Asia — that has benefited so much from the certainties of economic openness that the WTO and other global institutions have provided — can protect its strategic economic and political interests in the face of the retreat of leadership by the world’s largest economy. Even if Trump and his White House advisers do not embrace all of the policies that they’ve foreshadowed in trade policy, policy uncertainty will undermine global economic and political security as well as damage US standing in the world.

Trump’s withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership forewent the potential lift to US incomes which that deal would have delivered mainly through the opening of the Japanese markets to US farm and services trade. The threats to impose trade barriers against US trading partners will actually reduce US incomes. The costs of imposing punitive tariffs on China and Mexico, or slapping tariffs on US imports such as steel are calculable. Now he threatens to tear up the US–Korea free trade agreement. All these actions would damage trade and incomes in US trading partners, but they’ll also reduce American incomes substantially. On one scenario US income will be cut by 1 per cent for every year putative higher US tariffs stay in place — paring close to half a year’s growth from US incomes annually.

US protectionism empowers protectionists globally. But other countries would only aggravate the costs to themselves and others if they retaliated in kind. A better strategy is to maintain open trade in the face of the United States’ self-inflicted harm and, a better strategy still, in coalition with other countries, is to protect the open global trade regime by maintaining the momentum of global liberalisation and economic reform.

The rest of the world has a continuing and strategic interest in new commitments to openness however Trump’s United States might choose to damage itself.

No one country — even China which is the second biggest economy and largest trader in the world —can make the difference alone in holding the line as the United States turns inwards. But there is a powerful interest in pushing collective leadership on trade openness from Asia.

Asia has its problems but it remains the most dynamic part of the global economy. There is intense focus on Asia’s response in the unfolding uncertainty about global trade policy because of its size and importance to future global growth and because of what it can deliver to the world through further opening up.

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Asia’s economic dynamism depends, in turn, upon success with its own programs of economic reform, programs that will be made more difficult in a hostile international policy environment. Confidence in the global trading system is important to Asia. It has underpinned the growth of Asian interdependence, economic prosperity as well as its political security.

In guarding these strategic global interests ASEAN has a critical role to play, through the ASEAN-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). RCEP includes not only the ten ASEAN economies but also Japan, South Korea, China, India, Australia and New Zealand. It is a coalition of countries with considerable economic weight, able to deliver a powerful message to the world. But without movement in ASEAN, RCEP is likely to go nowhere.

RCEP trade ministers and officials are now meeting in Manila to meet their deadline to deliver East Asian trade reform this year or wimp it.

 

It might seem strange in this time of global crisis to turn to ASEAN, dogged as it is by perceptions of weakness and vulnerability and distracted by the political and security problems in the South China Sea. But ASEAN, with Indonesia at its core, is a regional enterprise with a distinctly global outlook and objectives, an experiment in open regionalism that has succeeded. ASEAN’s economic cooperation strategy has persisted despite its perceived weaknesses and slow pace. It is still the crucible for action on regional cooperation within Asia and across the Pacific.

RCEP was designed by ASEAN policy strategists to buttress regional trade reform and lift Asia’s growth potential in the global economy. It is now the only active, credible multilateral endeavour anywhere in the world positioned to deliver significant push-back on the retreat from globalisation, soon.

RCEP is not simply another free trade and investment arrangement. It is structured to be open to easy sign-on by other partners. Importantly it incorporates a cooperation agenda, an essential element in building capacity for economic reform and mutually reinforcing regional development over time. That agenda has an important political and security dimension. That will assist in ameliorating regional tensions and managing relations with the bigger powers, like China, Japan and India (on geo-economic issues such the Belt and Road Initiative for investment in connectivity and geo-strategic territorial issues), and those outside it, like the United States and Europe (in staking out Asia’s interest and claims to ownership in the global public good of an open economy).

RCEP offers ASEAN and the Asian region a critical line of defence against fragility in the global political economy. There is too much at stake strategically at this turning point in global economic history for Asia’s leaders to fail to step up and deploy it.

Dr. Peter Drysdale is Emeritus Professor in the Crawford School of Public Policy at The Australian National University and Head of the East Asian Bureau on Economic Research.

 

ASEAN needs a strategic rethink–4th Industrial Revolution


September 11, 2017

ASEAN needs a strategic rethink–4th Industrial Revolution

by Dr. Munir Majid*

http://www.thestar.com.my

AFTER the deserved 50th anniversary celebrations, ASEAN needs to take a long, hard look into the future, and to be ready for it.

The trouble is the future is here. And ASEAN might just fall short.

In my contribution to the book ASEAN Future Forward: Anticipating the Next Fifty Years”, published by the Institute for Strategic and International Studies, I highlighted two developments that threaten to tear up the script on ASEAN’s future shape.

Leaving aside the definite rise of China which will, planned or otherwise, rewrite and disrupt assumed intra-ASEAN relationships, I would like in today’s column to draw attention to the other deterministic development – Digitisation.

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Now popularly dubbed the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the Digital Economy is already upon us, while in the ASEAN narrative its greater economic integration will attract foreign manufacturing investment based on low labour cost in such destinations as Myanmar, Indonesia, even Vietnam.

Not too many months ago, studies and surveys were being done – including by the private sector – on foreign investments planned in such countries, predicated also on the large, integrated ASEAN market of 630 million people.

Yet even now, intelligent robotics, particularly robotic manufacturing, is readily available to displace human labour. What happens then to the expectant millions waiting to attain employment from the huge investments that would, if they did come, be looking to more efficient, perhaps even cheaper, means of production afforded by robots and artificial intelligent manufacturing?

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Beyond 50–Inclusive, Cohesive, Integrated, Peaceful, Competitive, Prosperous and People-Centered ASEAN

What would happen also to existent MSME (micro, small and medium) manufacturing employment, that would be displaced by digital means of production, and to the competitiveness of that sector – bearing in mind it is hobbling along looking for access to finance – against products whose quality and cost could sweep them out of business?

The level of underemployment in economies such as Indonesia is high. Without new jobs with new investment, expectations of growing populations are going to be dashed. Employment in the MSME sector in ASEAN as a whole is overwhelming, reaching over 90% in some member states.

ASEAN is sitting on a socio-economic time bomb which could blow apart its economic integration assumptions and, indeed, its much vaunted political stability. Already there are so many social and political forces threatening Asean together and separately. If there are no jobs as well and there is economic deprivation, the situation becomes explosive.

All this is just in relation to the challenge of the digital economy to manufacturing employment. The challenge actually cuts across all sectors, including services. A study in Malaysia across all sectors puts the probability factor of “computerisable jobs” at 0.8 for unskilled and semi-skilled jobs. Where the extant of such jobs is greater in less developed ASEAN economies, the threat obviously will be more extensive.

Of course new technologies can also facilitate growth through greater efficiency and productivity, but the main risk I am emphasising is to employment. Even if MSMEs get on to e-commerce platforms or are able to link up with the supply chains of large and globally connected companies – which remains a huge struggle for them across the region – the competition among them demands better quality and lower cost products and services which imply greater application of labour-displacing processes.

It is also true new jobs will be created in the digital economy. When motor cars, for instance, replaced horse coaches in the 1920s, new jobs in automobile manufacturing, car repair, mass tourism, road building and the petrol business were created. The same will follow the advent of new technologies in the digital economy.

However, investment in data and digital infrastructure is first essential to support innovation, growth and jobs in the new economy. Such investment is limited everywhere in the region, with Singapore being the striking exception, and the less developed economies of Myanmar, Indonesia, Laos, Cambodia and the Philippines way behind.

Entrepreneurship is an important part of the digital economy, but what is essential is not present – a regulatory environment in which businesses can thrive and fail, with easier access to finance for small innovative firms and lighter procedures for start-ups and lower failure costs.

The new jobs – by no means in numbers represented in conventional economy activity today – that will be available too require skills not delivered by current education systems across ASEAN.

Overhaul of education systems takes time. The least expressed change that must take place, because of political correctness, is the disposition across ASEAN among the political establishment against argument and questioning. But cognitive skills are the most needed in the digital economy. Apart from this, other specific abilities are also essential.

The Web Analyst has to have digital and marketing knowledge apart from the skills of an analyst. The Business Intelligence Manager has to have a background in computer engineering, economics or mathematics. Other demanding sets of skills are required for the Digital Analyst, Virtual Reality Architect or Virtual Data Scientist.

And we are just talking about high level, new job categories. Lower down the scale, the upskilling requirements are a struggle to meet among those doing less skillful jobs. Serious retraining is required. In ASEAN today, only Singapore has an effective upskilling retraining system to meet the needs of the digital economy.

In America, it has been found, actually three quarters of the jobs lost among the middle and working classes are due to inability to move up the new skills ladder. (Only a quarter is due to imports which President Trump so likes to blame).

The magnitude of the challenge posed to ASEAN by the digital economy is huge. It is a game changer which present ASEAN integration planning fails to even begin to address. It is a sweeping revolution which the lackadaisical ASEAN way of doing things will not be able to contend with.

It requires new thinking in ASEAN if ASEAN is going to be the way forward. There needs to be a regional social and education policy direction, if it is not going to be left to individual ASEAN countries to face up to the challenge with different levels of adequacy, or rather inadequacies. The disparities in ASEAN will otherwise widen. The centre will then not hold.

After 50 years, ASEAN cannot live in the past when the future is upon it. Many cynics have often said ASEAN is only an option to its members – when everything else fails. The more optimistic have always contended that ASEAN to its members is the first, if not exclusive, choice.

In the already current future if ASEAN does not plan to face the challenge of the digital economy together, it is likely to become just an addendum.

*Dr. Munir Majid, Visiting Senior Fellow at LSE Ideas (Centre for International Affairs, Diplomacy and Strategy), is also Chairman of CIMB ASEAN Research Institute.

Myanmar: The Rohingya, Saudi Backed ISIS Militants, Aung San Suu Kyi is a US Proxy


September 10, 2017

Myanmar: The Rohingya, Saudi Backed ISIS Militants, Aung San Suu Kyi is a US Proxy

The unfolding crisis in Southeast Asia’s state of Myanmar has confounded many geopolitical analysts due to its complex history and the intentionally deceptive and now contradictory coverage provided by the Western media.

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Aung San Suu Kyi is a Creation and Proxy of US and European Interests

The current government of Myanmar is headed by Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD). It has ascended into power after a decades-long struggle against the nation’s military who ruled the nation for decades.

Aung San Suu Kyi is a Creation and Proxy of US and European Interests

Suu Kyi and her NLD are the recipients of tens of millions of dollars in US, British, and European aid. Entire networks of fronts posing as nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have been created to undermine and overwrite Myanmar’s sovereign institutions.

The extent of this support and funding is covered by many of the Western organizations themselves, including the Burma Campaign UK, who in its 36 page 2006 report, “Failing the People of Burma?” (.pdf) details extensively how it and its American counterparts have built up Suu Kyi’s now impressive political domination of Myanmar.

The report states explicitly:

The National Endowment for Democracy (NED – see Appendix 1, page 27) has been at the forefront of our program efforts to promote democracy and improved human rights in Burma since 1996. We are providing $2,500,000 in FY 2003 funding from the Burma earmark in the Foreign Operations legislation. The NED will use these funds to support Burmese and ethnic minority democracy-promoting organizations through a sub-grant program. The projects funded are designed to disseminate information inside Burma supportive of Burma’s democratic development, to create democratic infrastructures and institutions, to improve the collection of information on human rights abuses by the Burmese military and to build capacity to support the restoration of democracy when the appropriate political openings occur and the exiles/refugees return.

It also reports:

Both Voice of America (VOA) and Radio Free Asia (RFA) have Burmese services. VOA broadcasts a 30-minute mix of international news and information three times a day. RFA broadcasts news and information about Burma two hours a day. VOA and RFA websites also contain audio and text material in Burmese and English. For example, VOA’s October 10, 2003 editorial, “Release Aung San Suu Kyi” is prominently featured in the Burmese section of VOAnews.com. RFA’s website makes available audio versions of 16 Aung San Suu Kyi’s speeches from May 27 and 29, 2003. U.S. international broadcasting provides crucial information to a population denied the benefits of freedom of information by its government.

Regarding the indoctrination and education of future leaders of this Western proxy political bloc, it states:

The State Department provided $150,000 in FY 2001/02 funds to provide scholarships to young Burmese through Prospect Burma, a partner organization with close ties to Aung San Suu Kyi. With FY 2003/04 funds, we plan to support Prospect Burma’s work given the organization’s proven competence in managing scholarships for individuals denied educational opportunities by the continued repression of the military junta, but committed to a return to democracy in Burma.

In regards to the Open Society and its role in interfering with Myanmar’s internal politics, the report states:

Our assistance to the Open Society Institute (OSI) (until 2004) provides partial support for a program to grant scholarships to Burmese refugee students who have fled Burma and wish to continue their studies at the undergraduate, or post-graduate level. Students typically pursue degrees in social sciences, public health, medicine, anthropology, and political science. Priority is given to students who express a willingness to return to Burma or work in their refugee communities for the democratic and economic reform of the country. 

The report, written in 2006 when another US proxy – Thaksin Shinawatra – presided over Thailand as Prime Minister until his ouster later that year, would detail the role Thailand was then playing to undermine and overthrow Myanmar’s political order:

Last year the U.S. government began funding a new program of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to provide basic health services to Burmese migrants outside the official refugee camps in cooperation with the Thai Ministry of Public Health. This project has been supported by the Thai government and has received favorable coverage in the local press. Efforts such as this that endeavor to find positive ways to work with the Thai government in areas of common interest help build support for U.S.-funded programs that support Burmese pro-democracy groups.

Myanmar’s current minister of information, Pe Myint – for example – underwent training at the NED and Open Society-funded Indochina Media Memorial Foundation in Bangkok.

A US diplomatic cable made available via Wikileaks would reveal just how integral such training was in building up the US client state that now rules Myanmar.

Titled, “An Overview of Northern Thailand-Based Burmese Media Organizations,” the 2007 cable states (emphasis added):

Other organizations, some with a scope beyond Burma, also add to the educational opportunities for Burmese journalists. The Chiang Mai-based Indochina Media Memorial Foundation, for instance, last year completed training courses for Southeast Asian reporters that included Burmese participants. Major funders for journalism training programs in the region include the NED, Open Society Institute (OSI), and several European governments and charities….

…A number of active media training programs attract exiles and those from inside Burma to Chiang Mai for journalism courses ranging from one week to one year. These training programs identify would-be journalists who are active in communities inside Burma, as well as NGOs in Thailand, and help them secure reporting positions with Burmese media outfits in the region. The training programs help ensure that future generations will be able to succeed the founders of the current organizations.

The cable also links US funding to the very predictable “pro-American” attitude adopted by those receiving the benefits of such funding:

In a refreshing take for U.S. diplomats interacting with foreign media, the exile journalist community here remains steadfastly pro-American. Groups such as DVB and The Irrawaddy continually seek more input from U.S. officials and make frequent use of interviews, press releases and audio clips posted on USG websites. A live interview with a U.S. diplomat is a prized commodity, one even capable of stoking a healthy competition among rival news organizations to land a scoop. A 2006 Irrawaddy interview with EAP DAS Eric John multiplied into several articles and circulated widely throughout the exile community and mainstream media. 

USG funding plays some role in this goodwill…

Without doubt, Suu Kyi and those occupying top positions within her government, are the product of decades of US-UK and European backing, training, and indoctrination.

Saudi-backed “Rohingya Militants” No More Represent All Rohingya than ISIS Represents All Sunnis 

An unfortunate narrative is taking shape across the alternative media, portraying Myanmar’s Rohingya minority as “Islamists” taking up “jihad.”

In reality, Myanmar’s Rohingya minority have lived in Myanmar for generations. Until recently, they have lived in harmony with their Buddhist-majority neighbors across the country, including in Rakhine state.

Many of the talking points now being adopted against the Rohingya are quite literally copied and pasted from US-backed extremist groups in Myanmar. Claims that the term “Rohingya” is simply made-up, that the Rohingya are actually illegal Bengalis, and that they should be expelled by force from Myanmar have been the key points of Suu Kyi’s violent “Saffron monk” supporters for years.

The increasingly empowered supporters of Aung San Suu Kyi – many of whom were present during the 2007 “Saffron Revolution” – are the primary agitators of the Rohingya crisis. While the Western media has attempted to portray the military as being behind the violence, it is often the military that intervenes to separate attacking extremists from the Rohingya villages and refugee camps they seek to slash and burn.

It was the military-led government that attempted to move forward the process of granting the Rohingya citizenship, opposed vehemently by Suu Kyi’s political party and her supporters, and ended entirely once Suu Kyi came to power.

More recently, the Western media has noted the emergence of Rohingya-aligned militants who have reportedly carried out several large-scale attacks on police and military units across Rakhine state.

Of course, no militant group exists without substantial political, financial, and material support. And just as other politically-convenient conflicts have erupted in Libya, Syria, Yemen, and the Philippines, US-Saudi funding is evident among the latest outbreak of violence in Myanmar as well.

It is a combination of gasoline and fire – the tools of a single arsonist intentionally put into place to create a geopolitically convenient conflagration. 

The Wall Street Journal in a recent article titled, “Asia’s New Insurgency Burma’s abuse of the Rohingya Muslims creates violent backlash.” claims:

Now this immoral policy has created a violent backlash. The world’s newest Muslim insurgency pits Saudi-backed Rohingya militants against Burmese security forces. As government troops take revenge on civilians, they risk inspiring more Rohingya to join the fight.

The article also claims:

Called Harakah al-Yaqin, Arabic for “the Faith Movement,” the group answers to a committee of Rohingya emigres in Mecca and a cadre of local commanders with experience fighting as guerrillas overseas. Its recent campaign—which continued into November with IED attacks and raids that killed several more security agents—has been endorsed by fatwas from clerics in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, the Emirates and elsewhere. 

Rohingyas have “never been a radicalized population,” ICG notes, “and the majority of the community, its elders and religious leaders have previously eschewed violence as counterproductive.” But that is changing fast. Harakah al-Yaqin was established in 2012 after ethnic riots in Rakhine killed some 200 Rohingyas and is now estimated to have hundreds of trained fighters.

While many causal observers note that the violence the Rohingya have been subjected to was bound to provoke a violent reaction, armed insurgencies do not spontaneously emerge. Isolated acts of violence, organized gangs with very limited capacity are possible, but the violence the Wall Street Journal is describing is not “backlash,” it is foreign-funded politically-motivated militancy operating under the cover of “backlash.”

Aung San Suu Kyi and “Rohingya” Militants: Gasoline and Fire, Not Good vs. Evil  

The current client regime presiding over Myanmar – created and perpetuated by American cash and support – is being intentionally pitted against a militancy funded and organized by America’s closest ally in the Middle East – Saudi Arabia.

It is a combination of gasoline and fire – the tools of a single arsonist intentionally put into place to create a geopolitically convenient conflagration.

It should be noted that Rakhine state is the starting point of one of several of China’s One Belt One Road projects – connecting Sittwe Port located there to infrastructure that leads across Myanmar to China’s southern city of Kunming.

 

This map provided by VOA accompanies stories by the US State Department-funded media platform eagerly reporting how violence is disrupting China’s OBOR projects.

Not only does the violence in Rakhine state threaten Chinese interests, it also helps set a pretext for direct US military involvement – either in the form of “counter-terror assistance” as is being offered to the Philippines to fight US-Saudi-backed militants from the Islamic State, or in the form of a “humanitarian intervention.”

In either case, the result will be US military assets placed in a nation directly on China’s border – in Southeast Asia, just as US policymakers have sought to do for decades.

For example, The Project for a New American Century (PNAC) in a 2000 paper titled “Rebuilding America’s Defenses” (PDF) would unabashedly declare its intentions to establish a wider, permanent military presence in Southeast Asia.

The report would state explicitly that: 

…it is time to increase the presence of American forces in Southeast Asia.

It would elaborate in detail, stating:

In Southeast Asia, American forces are too sparse to adequately address rising security requirements. Since its withdrawal from the Philippines in 1992, the United States has not had a significant permanent military presence in Southeast Asia. Nor can U.S. forces in Northeast Asia easily operate in or rapidly deploy to Southeast Asia – and certainly not without placing their commitments in Korea at risk. Except for routine patrols by naval and Marine forces, the security of this strategically significant and increasingly tumultuous region has suffered from American neglect. 

Noting the difficultly of placing US troops where they are not wanted, the PNAC paper notes:

This will be a difficult task requiring sensitivity to diverse national sentiments, but it is made all the more compelling by the emergence of new democratic governments in the region. By guaranteeing the security of our current allies and newly democratic nations in East Asia, the United States can help ensure that the rise of China is a peaceful one. Indeed, in time, American and allied power in the region may provide a spur to the process of democratization inside China itself.

It should be noted that the paper’s reference to “the emergence of new democratic governments in the region” is a reference to client states created by the United States on behalf of its own interests and in no way constituted actual “democratic governments” which would otherwise infer they represented the interests of the very people possessing the “national sentiments” that opposed US military presence in the region in the first place.

In 2000, the US had several prospective client regimes emerging – including Suu Kyi in Myanmar, Thaksin Shinawatra in Thailand, and Anwar Ibrahim in Malaysia. Since then, only Suu Kyi remains – while Shinawatra and his sister have fled abroad and Anwar Ibrahim resides in prison.

Conclusions

It is important that readers and analysts alike understand several key points regarding the crisis in Myanmar:

  1. Aung San Suu Kyi and her political party are whole-cloth creations of US and European interests;
  2. The Rohingya have lived in Myanmar for generations; 
  3. Saudi-backed “Rohingya militants” no more represent the Rohingya people than the Islamic State represents the Sunnis of Syria and Iraq; 
  4. These “militants” are admittedly supported and directed from Saudi Arabia and do not represent a legitimate “backlash” against anti-Rohingya violence and; 
  5. The US does not seek “regime change” in Myanmar, it seeks to disrupt Chinese interests, undo Chinese-Myanmar ties, and if possible, place US military assets on China’s border. 

The further from these facts analysts start out with, the further from the truth they will find themselves as the conflict in Myanmar continues to unfold. Readers and analysts should hold in suspicion narratives based on ideological rhetoric or built upon geopolitical analogy rather than actual evidence regarding finances, logistics, and socioeconomic motivations.

In Myanmar, Suu Kyi’s movement, anti-Rohingya violence, and alleged “backlash” all come accompanied with very obvious and significant foreign-footprints. It is a testament to the scale and complexity of manipulation the West is still capable of undertaking and places in jeopardy not only the majority of the people in Myanmar – Buddhist and Rohingya alike – who wish to live in peace, but the entire region as the US attempts to continue its pursuit of regional hegemony.

This article was originally published by Land Destroyer Report.

All images in this article are from the author.

Trump’s China Bashing can be harmful to US Business and Consumers


August 29, 2017

Trump’s China Bashing can be harmful to US Business and Consumers

by Stephen S. Roach*

Stephen S. Roach, former Chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia and the firm’s chief economist, is a senior fellow at Yale University’s Jackson Institute of Global Affairs and a senior lecturer at Yale’s School of Management. He is the author of Unbalanced: The Codependency of America and China.

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Seemingly at odds with the world, US President Donald Trump has once again raised the possibility of a trade conflict with China. On August 14, he instructed the US Trade Representative to commence investigating Chinese infringement of intellectual property rights. By framing this effort under Section 301 of the US Trade Act of 1974, the Trump administration could impose high and widespread tariffs on Chinese imports.

This is hardly an inconsequential development. While there may well be merit to the allegations, as documented in the latest “USTR Report to Congress on China’s WTO Compliance,” punitive action would have serious consequences for US businesses and consumers. Like it or not, that is an inevitable result of the deeply entrenched codependent relationship between the world’s two largest economies.

In a codependent human relationship, when one party alters the terms of engagement, the other feels scorned and invariably responds in kind. The same can be expected of economies and their leaders. That means in a trade conflict, it is important to think about reciprocity – specifically, China’s response to an American action. In fact, that was precisely the point made by China’s Ministry of Commerce in its official response to Trump’s gambit. China, the ministry vowed, would “take all appropriate measures to resolutely safeguard its legitimate rights.”

Caught up in the bluster of the US accusations being leveled at China, little attention is being paid to the potential consequences of Chinese retaliation. Three economic consequences stand out.

First, imposing tariffs on imports of Chinese goods and services would be the functional equivalent of a tax hike on American consumers. Chinese producers’ unit labor costs are less than one fifth those of America’s other major foreign suppliers. By diverting US demand away from Chinese trade, the costs of imported goods would undoubtedly rise sharply. The possibility of higher import prices and potential spillover effects on underlying inflation would hit middle-class US workers, who have faced more than three decades of real wage stagnation, especially hard.

Second, trade actions against China could lead to higher US interest rates. Foreigners currently own about 30% of all US Treasury securities, with the latest official data putting Chinese ownership at $1.15 trillion in June 2017 – fully 19% of total foreign holdings and slightly higher than Japan’s $1.09 trillion.

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In the event of new US tariffs, it seems reasonable to expect China to respond by reducing such purchases, reinforcing a strategy of asset diversification away from US dollar-based assets that has been under way for the past three years. In an era of still-large US budget deficits – likely to go even higher in the aftermath of Trump administration tax cuts and spending initiatives – the lack of demand for Treasuries by the largest foreign owner could well put upward pressure on borrowing costs.

Third, with growth in US domestic demand still depressed, American companies need to rely more on external demand. Yet the Trump administration seems all but oblivious to this component of the growth calculus. It is threatening trade sanctions not only against China – America’s third-largest and fastest-growing major export market – but also against NAFTA partners Canada and Mexico (America’s largest and second-largest export markets, respectively). As the reactive pathology of codependency would suggest, none of these countries can be expected to acquiesce to such measures without curtailing US access to their markets – a counter-response that could severely undermine the manufacturing revival that seems so central to the Trump presidency’s promise to “Make America Great Again.”

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In the end, China’s economic leverage over America is largely the result of low US domestic saving. In the first quarter of 2017, the so-called net national saving rate – the combined depreciation-adjusted saving of businesses, households, and the government sector – stood at just 1.9% of national income, well below the longer-term average of 6.3% that prevailed over the final three decades of the twentieth century. Lacking in saving and wanting to consume and grow, the US must import surplus saving from abroad to close the gap, forcing it to run massive current-account and trade deficits with countries like China to attract the foreign capital.

It is sheer political chicanery to single out China, America’s NAFTA partners, or even Germany as the culprit in a saving-short US economy. Fostering policies that encourage an economy to squander its saving and live beyond its means makes trade deficits a given – as are the seemingly unfair trading practices that may come with this Faustian bargain for foreign capital.

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Let Good Sense Prevail

The US ran trade deficits with 101 countries in 2016 – a multilateral external imbalance rooted in America’s chronic domestic saving problem. The fix for this problem cannot be made in China. Ironically, with the Trump administration’s policies likely to lead to larger budget deficits that put national saving under additional downward pressure, the need for Chinese and other foreign capital will actually intensify and the codependency trap will only close more tightly.

America does not hold the trump card in its economic relationship with China. The Trump administration can certainly put pressure on China, and, on one level, there may well be good reason to do so. But deep questions concerning the consequences of such pressure have been all but ignored. Getting tough on China while ignoring those consequences could be a blunder of epic proportions.