Islam, violence and the West


June 29, 2015

Islam, violence and the West

First, do no harm

by Erasmus, Religion and Public Policy

http://www.economist.com/blogs/erasmus

SHOULD the United States and its Western partners delve inside the ideological, and theological, debates going on within the world of Islam, in the hope of influencing the results?

David Cameron seemed to answer that question in the affirmative in his first reaction to the ghastly terrorist incidents of June 26: a mass shooting on a beach in Tunisia and a beheading in France. The British Prime Minister said:

The people who do these things, they sometimes claim that they do it in the name of Islam. They don’t. Islam is a religion of peace. They do it in the name of a twisted and perverted ideology that we have to confront with everything we have.

That was an understandable thing to say, in the immediate aftermath of a terrible horror, even though many people may counter-argue (as they have done every time Barack Obama has said similar things) that it is not really the business of a Western political leader to say what Islam is or is not. In the end only the practitioners of a faith, under the guidance of its most trusted interpreters, can decide what that creed really implies…or so the argument goes. It might be added that although outsiders certainly have a strong interest in the final outcome of a great religion’s internal debates, it is hardly their place to interfere in the process.

But a different and more elaborate claim for the legitimacy of deep Western (and specifically, American) involvement in Islam’s deliberations is laid out in the current issue of Foreign Affairs, the journal of America’s Council on Foreign Relations, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Currently a fellow of Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, she has become one of the leading (sceptical) commentators on Islam in her adopted homeland.

She finds fault with President Obama for saying that the terrorists of Islamic State are “not Islamic”.  The real situation, as she sees it, is that both the IS terrorists and more peaceful adherents of Islam are acting out of strongly and sincerely held readings of that religion, whose billion-plus adherents are in the grip of some agonising internal wranglings over what their faith signifies. And in her view, the American government should be weighing on the side of the liberal and reformist camp.

She suggests that today’s American administration should be copying the example of the CIA, which as she approvingly recalls, funded magazines, conferences and influential individuals as part of its ideological battle against communism. The beneficiaries of this American largesse should be those who “oppose the literal application of sharia to apostates and women or who argue that calls to holy war have no place in the 21st century.” She also proposes certain favourites on more narrowly theological grounds, such as an Iraqi Shia cleric whom she commends for questioning the uncreated (in other words, divine) nature of the Koran.

In the same issue, a State Department veteran who introduces himself as a former “senior adviser for countering violent extremism”, makes a powerful and convincing counter-argument. For the American government to get involved in the internal debates of world religions is illegal (it violates the constitutional separation of church and state) and almost certainly counter-productive, he reckons. As the diplomat, William McCants, puts it: “Imagine the US government managed to navigate a thicket of laws and find its Muslim Martin Luther. His or her cause is going to suffer greatly in the arena of Muslim public opinion if it is revealed that the wildly unpopular United States is bankrolling it.”

A Hirsi AliIt might be added that for any reformer labouring inside the Islamic heart-land, the open support of secularist American-based intellectuals such as Ms Hirsi Ali, especially those like her who were born into Islam but later renounced it, could also be a kiss of death.

Perhaps a more modest argument should be made. The awkward fact is that America and its allies did quite a lot, in the late 20th century, to foster the most militant factions within Islam. Islamism gained ground in Pakistan under President Zia ul-Haq, an American strategic partner. During the battle to oust Soviet forces from Afghanistan, some of the most extreme factions of mujahideen benefited from Western assistance, only to morph later into al-Qaeda. In several Middle Eastern countries, including Israel, pro-Western governments cautiously encouraged Islamism, when it first raised its head, as a counter-weight to Marxist or secular-nationalist rivals.

In the present situation, Western governments probably can’t do much to help liberalising theological tendencies within the world of Islam, although they are certainly entitled to stand up for their own ideals of human rights and the rule of law. (For example, they can protest over the flogging and imprisonment of Raif Badawi, the Saudi blogger, without pronouncing on whether his liberal reading of Islam is correct or not.) But first and foremost, they should avoid repeating past mistakes and stop nurturing the most illiberal and violent factions.

Janus-Faced Political Islam


June 28, 2015

Janus-Faced Political Islam

by Charles Hirschkind

http://www.merip.org/mer/mer205/what-political-islam

Janus Faced Political IslamOver the last few decades, Islam has become a central point of reference for a wide range of political activities, arguments and opposition movements. The term “political Islam” has been adopted by many scholars in order to identify this seemingly unprecedented irruption of Islamic religion into the secular domain of politics and thus to distinguish these practices from the forms of personal piety, belief and ritual conventionally subsumed in Western scholarship under the unmarked category “Islam.”

In the brief comments that follow, I suggest why we might need to rethink this basic framework.The claim that contemporary Muslim activities are putting Islam to use for political purposes seems, at least in some instances, to be warranted. Political parties such as Hizb al-‘Amal in Egypt or the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) in Algeria that base their appeal on their Islamic credentials appear to exemplify this instrumental relation to religion.

Yet a problem remains, even in such seemingly obvious examples: In what way does the distinction between the political and nonpolitical domains of social life hold today? Many scholars have argued that “political Islam” involves an illegitimate extension of the Islamic tradition outside of the properly religious domain it has historically occupied. Few, however, have explored this trend in relation to the contemporaneous expansion of state power and concern into vast domains of social life previously outside its purview — including that of religion.

As we know, through this ongoing process central to modern nation building, such institutions as education, worship, social welfare and family have been incorporated to varying degrees within the regulatory apparatuses of the modernizing state. Whether in entering into business contracts, selling wares on the street, disciplining children, adding a room to a house, in all births, marriages, deaths — at each juncture the state is present as overseer or guarantor, defining limits, procedures and necessary preconditions.

As a consequence, modern politics and the forms of power it deploys have become a condition for the practice of many personal activities. As for religion, to the extent that the institutions enabling the cultivation of religious virtue become subsumed within (and transformed by) legal and administrative structures linked to the state, the (traditional) project of preserving those virtues will necessarily be “political” if it is to succeed. Within both public and private school in Egypt, for example, the curriculum is mandated by the state: those wishing to promote or maintain Islamic pedagogical practices necessarily have to engage political power.

This does not mean that all forms of contemporary Islamic activism involve trying to “capture the state.” The vast majority of these movements involve preaching and other da‘wa (missionary) activities, alms giving, providing medical care, mosque building, publishing and generally promoting what is considered in the society to be public virtue through community action. Nonetheless, these activities engage the domain we call the political both in the sense that they are subject to restrictions imposed by the state (such as licensing), and in so much as they must often compete with state or state-supported institutions (pedagogic, confessional, medical) promoting Western models of family, worship, leisure and social responsibility. The success of even a conservative project to preserve a traditional form of personal piety will depend on its ability to engage with the legal, bureaucratic, disciplinary and technological resources of modern power that shape contemporary societies.

This argument diverges from the common one that Islam fuses religion and politics, din wa dawla, in a way incompatible with Western analytical categories. It is worth noting, however, that this frequently heard claim does not deny the fact that Muslim thinkers draw distinctions between din and dawla, only that the specific domains designated by these terms, and the structure of their interrelations do not mirror the situation in Europe in regard to European states and the Church. Moreover, this leaves aside the fact that the division between religious and political domains even in Western societies has always been far more porous than was previously assumed, as much recent work has made clear. [1]

Indeed, as Tocqueville long ago observed, Protestant Christianity plays an extremely important role in US politics in setting the moral boundaries and concerns within which political discussion unfolds, and hence can be considered the premiere political institution in some sense. I do not refer here to the lobbying efforts of church groups and other religious advocacy associations, but rather to the way a pervasive Christianity has been to varying degrees a constitutive element of Western political institutions.

What is clear, in any case, is that greater recognition must be given to the way Western concepts (religion, political, secular, temporal) reflect specific historical developments, and cannot be applied as a set of universal categories or natural domains.

Lastly, although discussions of political motivation or class interest should continue to be important parts of accounts of contemporary Islam, they are not necessarily germane to a description of every problem the analyst poses. Statements like the following have too long been de rigueur in accounts of the Islamic sahwa (awakening): “Marginalized male elites experience socioeconomic disparities as cultural loss, and they are drawn to participate in fundamentalist cadres in order to militate against nationalist structures that they deplore as un-Islamic because they are, above all, ineffective.” [2]

Such analyses reduce the movements to an expression of the socioeconomic conditions which gave rise to them. The “marginalized male elites” speak nothing new to us, as their arguments and projects, once properly translated into the language of political economy, seem entirely familiar. Lost, in other words, is any sense of the specificity of the claims and reasoning of the actors. This is brushed aside as we reiterate what we already know about the universal operation of socioeconomic disparities.

Grasping such complexity will require a much more subtle approach than one grounded in a simple distinction between (modern) political goals and (traditional) religious ones. Terms such as “political Islam” are inadequate here as they frame our inquiries around a posited distortion or corruption of properly religious practice.

In this way, the disruptive intrusions or outright destruction enacted upon society by the modernizing state never even figure in the analysis. In contrast, the various attempts of religious people to respond to that disruption are rendered suspect, with almost no attempt to distinguish those instances where such a critical stance is warranted from those where it is not. It is not surprising, in this light, that militant violence and public intolerance have become the central issues of so many studies of al-sahwa al-islamiyya (Islamic awakening), while the extensive coercion and torture practiced by governments get relegated to a footnote.

Author’s Note: I wish to thank Talal Asad, Saba Mahmood, Hussein Agrama, Steve Niva and Lisa Hajjar for their comments and suggestions on this brief article. Its shortcomings are my responsibility alone.

Endnotes

[1] See William Connolly, The Ethos of Pluralization (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1995).
[2] Bruce Lawrence, The Defenders of God: The Fundamentalist Revolt Against the Modern Age (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1995), p. 226.

The American Plan for a South Asian “Kosovo” In Rohingyaland


June 18, 2015

The American Plan for a South Asian “Kosovo” In Rohingyaland ( Part 1)

by Andrew KORYBKO (USA)

http://orientalreview.org/2015/06/09/american-plan-for-a-south-asian-kosovo-in-rohingyaland-i/

“As complex as it may appear at times, the main consistency of US foreign policy is that it covers its pursuit of geopolitical self-interest with humanitarian and democratic rhetoric. There’s always an ulterior motive behind the US lecturing countries about ‘human rights’ and ‘democracy’, and those two key words should raise immediate red flags to any concerned decision makers in the targeted state that the US is addressing. Being the expert image manipulator that it is, the US never shies away from exploiting human tragedy for its own strategic ends, a lesson that everyone would do well remembering when considering the Rohingya issue in Myanmar“.–Andrew Korybko

As complex as it may appear at times, the main consistency of US foreign policy is that it covers its pursuit of geopolitical self-interest with humanitarian and democratic rhetoric. There’s always an ulterior motive behind the US lecturing countries about ‘human rights’ and ‘democracy’, and those two key words should raise immediate red flags to any concerned decision makers in the targeted state that the US is addressing. Being the expert image manipulator that it is, the US never shies away from exploiting human tragedy for its own strategic ends, a lesson that everyone would do well remembering when considering the Rohingya issue in Myanmar. While there certainly are some legitimate grievances that the Rohingya are leveling against the authorities, it’s evident that the US is already exploiting them for its own geopolitical ends. Washington wants to establish a military presence in the Bay of Bengal in order to control China’s pipelines through Myanmar (both of which go through Rohingya-inhabited Rakhine State), but in order to get to that point, it first needs for the Rohingya to have their own autonomous or independent government there.

The first part begins by unraveling the layers of complex context related to the issue, before going into the specifics of the current migrant crisis. Part II then explains how the US aims to create an autonomous or independent Rohingyaland by capitalizing on this tragedy, and concludes with an examination of the multifaceted benefits it would receive through the creation of the South Asian “Kosovo”.

Unscrambling The Context

The plight of the Rohingyas and their place in the bigger picture of American geostrategy against China can appear to be an overwhelmingly complex topic, but it can be subdivided into three simpler categories of general understanding; American grand strategy; Myanmar’s domestic affairs; and the Rohingyas’ situation. By breaking down the bigger, thematic picture into smaller, finer details, one should be able to acquire a more solid understanding of how the US is relentlessly pursuing its own self-interest at the Rohingyas’ expense.

American Grand Strategy:

The US’ post-Cold War foreign policy has hinged on adhering to Brzezinski’s ‘Eurasian Balkans’ concept, which essentially stipulates that the US could manipulate preexisting ethnic, religious, and territorial issues in Eurasia in order to prolong its control of the supercontinent. This can be done in two ways: the method of indirect disorder has the US utilizing proxy actors to stir endless chaos, much as it’s currently doing with ISIL in the Mideast; while direct control involves the US conventionally asserting its on-the-ground dominance, just like it did by building Camp Bondsteel (one of its largest European bases) in occupied Kosovo after the 1999 War on Yugoslavia. Indirect disorder can be used as a modus operandi for establishing direct control, and this is precisely the game that’s at play with Rohingyaland along the Bay of Bengal.

mapMyanmar:

No place in South or Southeast Asia is more susceptible to the Eurasian Balkans concept of American-directed strategic state fragmentation than Myanmar, which has been fighting the world’s longest-running civil war since 1948. To unduly simplify the conflict, it involves the majority Burmese ethnic group in the central part of the country fighting against the myriad minority groups along its periphery, with the rebels seeking a federation but the government fighting for the status quo unitary nature of the state. While the war has been at a stalemate for quite some time, the opening of a new rebel front in the Rohingya’s Rakhine State could be the strategic shift that’s needed to turn the tide against the government, as none of the other rebelling regions or ethnicities is located along the coast.

This factor is exceptionally important since it could enable a slew of foreign patrons to ship massive amounts of material support to the rebels, perhaps even using plausibly deniable methods such as flying other nations’ flags above their arms-running vessels. The inland rebels have no such tactical advantage in this regard, which may be part of the reason why they have yet to be successful in their half-century-long campaign. The addition of a pro-federation rebel movement capable of receiving such supplies could make the decisive difference in finally tipping the balance of power against the government’s forces.

Rohingyas:

The demographic subject of the present article is at odds with the Myanmar government over its identity. The 800,0001-million-plus Rohingyas claim that they constitute a unique ethnic group, but Naypyidaw sees them as nothing more than the descendants of illegal Bengali migrants, some of whom even fought against the state on several occasions. As such, the government refuses to confer them with citizenship, thus leaving them stateless and unwittingly complicating the present migrant predicament (to be described in the next section). Worse still, because they’re not considered to be citizens, the state is reluctant to actively protect them from the sectarian purges carried out by the ‘Buddhist Bin Laden’ and his pro-Western hyper-nationalist thugs. Instead, it’s settled on a policy of segregation, preferring to force them into separate communities ostensibly out of concern for their own safety. Many Rohingya protest these living conditions that some claim are contrary to their human rights, hence why so many of them have decided to flee the country. Sensing a convenient opportunity for geopolitical benefit, the US has taken up the torch of Rohingya guardianship, advocating loudly in their favor and becoming their de-facto international patron.

The Current Crisis

The Rohingya had already been on the Western media radar since their 2012 persecution, but it’s the current migrant boat crisis that’s made their cause seemingly more urgent. While there are no clear-cut numbers available, the UN estimates that around 100,000 of them have fled by sea in the past three years, which would represent between 10-12% of their total population in Myanmar. These discomfiting numbers clearly indicate that there are some serious domestic issues in Myanmar motivating their exodus, but in and of themselves they’re not cause for direct humanitarian concern. The problem arose when it was reported in early May that around 6000 Rohingya were thought to be lost in the Andaman Sea after having been abandoned by their human traffickers, and genuine horror was experienced when 139 graves were later unearthed in Malaysia, believed to be of dead Rohingyas who perished before reaching their ultimate destination. The squalid camps alongside the Thai-Malaysian border that the illegal Rohingya migrants are regularly kept in have led many to believe that they’re either being abused or held captive by their traffickers. All of these dangers have combined to generate what the UN referred to early last month as a “looming humanitarian crisis”, and the deluge of fake images and internet memes related to the issue have contributed to a feeling of global urgency in addressing it.

Regional Response:

Aung San's Hands Up for GenocideHands Up for Genocide

The destination states of Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia don’t want to accept any more migrants, having already absorbed tens of thousands of them in the past couple of years, and previously refused to let the stranded boats land on their territory. According to officials, Malaysia already has received 120,000 Rohingyas, while Thailand claims to be housing 100,000 as it is. Nonetheless, because of the exorbitant international pressure directed against them, all three states countries have agreed to temporarily house the at-sea migrants until they can be sent back home or to a third country, thereby abandoning their earlier policy of turning back the boats. While this may temporarily de-escalate the crisis and give the floating migrants a safe reprieve from the dangerous high seas, it doesn’t address the root cause of why the Rohingya are risking their lives to leave Myanmar in the first place, which is something the US intends to resolve.

Official Myanmar And Bengladeshi Positions:

The issue becomes even more complicated when one takes into account Myanmar’s official position on the matter. Naypyidaw asserts that human trafficking networks are to blame, not government persecution, and that many of the illegal migrants in question are actually from Bangladesh. Government representatives have accused some of them of pretending to be Rohingyas so as to receive preferential aid from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees that they wouldn’t be able to procure with their actual Bengali identity. While critics might hark that Myanmar is lying about Bangladesh’s connection to the migrant boat crisis, the latter’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina decreed that those leaving the country illegally would be punished because they’re “tainting the image of the country in the international arena and putting their life into danger”, on top of being “mentally sick” in their pursuit for money abroad. No matter how one feels about Hasina’s comments, the fact that she addressed the topic in such a way confirms that the Bengali government acknowledges that their citizens are involved in this crisis and that it’s not completely about Rohingyas. Her statement lends credence to Myanmar’s claims that many of the migrants may actually be Bengali and inconveniently dismantles the Western media myth that anti-Rohingya persecution is to blame for the boat crisis.

The American Plan for a South Asian “Kosovo” In Rohingyaland (Part 2)

Carving Out The Asian “Kosovo”

There was no way that the US could resist politicizing such a tempting geopolitical crisis, and as expected, it found a way to diplomatically intervene. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell spoke out against the Myanmar government and sprinkled his statement with strong shades of ‘humanitarian intervention/responsibility to protect’ rhetoric when he announced that “There’s the need for the government to do all it can to protect and assume responsibility for members of a long-suffering religious minority group, the Rohingya, thousands of whom have been forced to take to the high seas on dangerous makeshift vessels to escape persecution .” By claiming that the government is responsible for whatever happens to the Rohingya overseas (an utterly ridiculous assertion to level against any state), McConnell is slyly inferring that it has blood on its hands for initiating the highly publicized crisis. This opens the door for the US to potentially deepen its involvement in ‘mediating’ the situation and dictating proposed ‘solutions’ for bringing it to an end. In fact, President Obama already drew a connection between ‘democratization’ and the government’s treatment of Rohingyas, and the State Department demands that they be given immediate citizenship. The US is clearly pursuing ulterior interests by using the humanitarian crisis as a cover for lecturing Myanmar, but what exactly is its end game?

Towards A Federation Model:

More than anything, the US wants to weaken the centrality of the Myanmar state and impose a federation model on the country. While such a governing template could be constructive step towards resolving certain countries’ internal crises (e.g. Ukraine), in others, it may only accelerate the unravelling of the state. Myanmar falls into the second category, as a federation system would inevitably lead to an archipelago of autonomous nation-states scattered all along the country’s periphery, and empowered within their new framework, they can more efficiently oppose central rule. Not only that, but they’d be extremely vulnerable to foreign lobbying in support of their anti-government positions, and the US could coopt them in order to guarantee that Myanmar remains weak and divided for the foreseeable future. If need be, the US could also manipulate each of the autonomous nation-states against one other in order to manufacture a territorial or political crisis that it could then exploit in intensifying its involvement in Myanmar’s internal affairs. It might even one day make the decision to dismantle the Union of Myanmar (the official name of the state) entirely, using the bloody Yugoslav model as a precedent in coaxing a disastrous ‘Reverse Brzezinskiintervention from China.

The Rohingya Autumn:

To get to this point, however, the US needs to deal a critical blow to the Myanmar government so that it reverses its decades-long policy of unity and finally accedes to devolving into a federation.   As explained previously, the most conceivable way in which this could be achieved is if the Rohingya begin a full-scale rebellion against the authorities. A serious uprising in the coastal Rakhine State could more easily be supported by foreign patrons (i.e. the US) than the ones that have been ongoing for decades along the periphery, but if the latter are strategically ordered to renew their anti-government campaign in concurrent coordination with a Rohingya rebellion, then the authorities would be placed in an extremely precarious and unprecedented situation.

The trigger for all of this destabilization could likely be the upcoming autumn general elections, scheduled to take place in either late October or early November. It’s for this exact reason that the US is so insistent that Myanmar grant the Rohingyas citizenship, since it wants them to partake in the election and throw the results for Rakhine State in a predetermined direction. This could take the form of voting for a fringe ‘protest candidate’ or party that has scarcely any hopes of an electoral victory, and when the Rohingya-affiliated candidate or party predictably loses, it could be a general signal for them to initiate their preplanned protest movement against the government. Under such a scenario, the Rohingyas could stage a Color Revolution demanding autonomy or outright independence as ‘compensation’ for what they allege was a ‘rigged election’ (echoing expected US and Western statements on the topic), and per the US’ new patterned approach to domestic interference, this could easily transition into a full-fledged Unconventional War. A similar scenario is that a Rohingya Color Revolution/Unconventional War breaks out sometime this summer in the run-up to the elections, which would be intended to pressure the government in making political concessions to them and the other ethnic rebels prior to the nationwide vote.

The Syrian Model:

The US’ Hybrid War against Myanmar could most likely follow the Syrian Model in extensively involving supportive regional states, in particular, those in which many Rohingya have already settled. This means that Bangladesh, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia are candidates for joining the covert ‘coalition of the willing’ against Myanmar, as each of them could potentially train some of their Rohingyas in Color Revolution and/or Unconventional Warfare techniques before sending them back to their home country for future deployment. Such a plan would mirror what Turkey, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia are doing against Syria, since each of them has already been training regime change-minded Syrians (and members of dozens of other nationalities) on their territory for years now. What the highlighted Asian states would be doing against Myanmar is no different, since it follows the same tried-and-tested pattern that the US has perfected in the Mideast.

Not all of those four countries may participate, however, since political considerations in Bangladesh and Thailand might preclude their involvement. Malaysia and Indonesia, while having their respective reservations, might be tempted to play an active role in the forthcoming conflict if the US succeeds in convincing them that they’d be fighting against anti-Muslim discrimination in Myanmar. It could also sweeten the deal by throwing in certain economic incentives, such as agreeing to bankroll most or all of the operation so long as those respective countries’ territories can be used as training bases. Additionally, it might pressure Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta by making the continuation of existing support (be it political, military, or economic) contingent on them joining the ‘coalition’ in their intended capacities. In exchange for their cooperation, the US might assure them of its support in combating ISIL if it ever establishes a foothold in the Mindanao-Sulawesi Arc, as was nervously speculated upon at the Shangri-La Dialogue meeting late last month. It doesn’t matter whether the US is sincere in this pledge or not (it might even receive some strategic benefit by setting ISIL loose in the region), but what’s important here is that this promise alleviates Malaysia and Indonesia’s greatest insecurity fear and consequently influences them in agreeing to the Rohingya operation.

Chaos For Creative Ends

Weakening Myanmar isn’t the only reason why the US is supporting the Rohingyas, as it has more grand objectives in mind which would be greatly facilitated as well. Here’s what the US has in store for South Asia:

US Bases:

The creation of an independent or largely autonomous Rohingyaland could lead to the establishment of the first American base in mainland South Asia, just as the manufacturing of “Kosovo” led to Camp Bondsteel as its first outpost in the Balkans. The US may exploit the humanitarian concern surrounding the Rohingyas to press for Western ‘observers’ to ‘monitor’ the situation in Myanmar, and the outbreak of any large-scale rebellion there could possibly invite an international intervention (‘justified’ on the false basis of ‘humanitarian intervention/responsibility to protect’) for their support. Whichever way it develops, it’s evident that the US has an interest in gaining a strategic military foothold in the region, since this would then allow it to simultaneously exert more direct influence on the rest of Myanmar, Bangladesh, Northeast India (which the US could contribute to further destabilizing in order to punish Modi for any major forthcoming multipolar moves), and China’s multiethnic and pivotal province of Yunnan.

Break Tf04da2db112214f8b07818he BCIM:

The US’ interest in this corner of South Asia is predicated on the BCIM trade corridor that would connect Bangladesh, China, India, and Myanmar. Should this ambitious plan be implemented, then the resultant South Asian Silk Road would markedly decrease tensions between India and China, stabilize India’s restive Northeast and Myanmar’s rebellious periphery, and lay the groundwork for tangible development in this impoverished cross-border region. All of these benefits would advance multipolarity within the four-country corridor and fortify its defenses against creeping unipolarity, hence why the US has an important stake in sabotaging the project via its Rohingya manipulations.

Pipeline Ploys:

Energy geopolitics is the guiding motivation for the vast majority of American geopolitical decisions, not least of which is its described designs against Myanmar. China recently opened two strategic oil and gas pipelines running through the country, which incidentally end in Rakhine State. As is known, Beijing is disproportionately dependent on energy shipments transiting the Strait of Malacca chokepoint, and the opening of alternative routes is of the highest strategic order in ensuring China’s energy security. While its moves in Myanmar are certainly a step in this direction, if Rakhine State is destabilized with a future crisis (Color Revolution and/or Unconventional War), or becomes autonomous/independent under American tutelage, then the strategic benefit that Beijing derived from these pipelines would be nullified and conversely become a considerable vulnerability.

Anti-China Proxy War:

The article earlier mentioned how destabilization in Myanmar could be exploited to tempt China into a conventional intervention, which is certainly probable, but it could also be used to destabilize it by other means as well. A return to full-scale warfare could lead to a humanitarian crisis in Yunnan with hundreds of thousands of refugees flooding into the province. Limited fighting between the Myanmar government and Kokang rebels earlier this year created a minor international sensation when an unexpected number of people fled to China, some of whom were supposedly turned back. The People’s Republic has reportedly had difficulty accommodating the refugees, demonstrating that it was relatively unprepared for the situation. One should understand that the fighting which prompted the humanitarian exodus was relatively small scale and of minor intensity, and that any real resumption of ethnic warfare along the entire Myanmar-China border would dwarf the earlier refugee crisis and create severe challenges for Beijing.

Jihadist Playground:

Last but not least, the Rohingya issue could become a rallying cry for international jidhadists due to the shades of Buddhist-on-Muslim violence. Experts are already warning that ISIL could recruit disgruntled Rohingyas, and one mustn’t forget that its Al Qaeda rival is also looking to set up shop in the region as well. While a plethora of exploitable regional opportunities present themselves for whichever jihadist group is interested , the Rohingya cause is the only one which has already received global recognition and near-universal sympathy, thereby implying a degree of ‘moral legitimacy’ for aspiring terrorists. Should ISIL or Al Qaeda nest themselves in Rakhine State, the destabilizing repercussions would be enormous and reverberate throughout the entire region. In fact, it might even prompt India and/or Bangladesh to stage some sort of intervention, especially if Rakhine-based terrorists carry out attacks against their countries. Suffice to say, the introduction of Islamic terrorism to Rakhine State would assuredly lead to the further internationalization of the Rohingya issue and constitute a dire security threat for the region’s governments.

Concluding Thoughts

The plight of the Rohingyas elicits understandable concern from many, but the unfortunate aspect is that the US is manipulating the world’s short-term emotional response to the current migrant crisis in order to pursue its long-term geopolitical interests in South Asia. The intended creation of a pro-American autonomous or independent Rohingyaland is akin to the same strategic pattern that it first spearheaded in “Kosovo”, except the US can now achieve its goals via the indirect Hybrid War lessons that it’s perfected in Syria. The crusade for state creation is inherently tied to the destruction of the targeted host state, which in this case would see Rohingyaland (and perhaps many other ethnic nation-states) being baptized through a sea of fire in separating from Myanmar. The US has concrete geopolitical reasons for why it supports the Rohingyas, chiefly concerning the establishment of its first intended base in mainland South Asia and its desire to cut off China’s non-Malacca pipeline routes through Myanmar. Additionally, with a firm regional outpost in Rohingyaland (whether direct or via proxy), the US can obstruct the multipolar BCIM trade corridor and leverage influence in Bangladesh, Northeast India, the rest of Myanmar, and perhaps even further afield in Yunnan Province. The coming months will be indicative of how far the US plans to go in supporting Rohingyaland, but by all current indications, it seems that this is a cause which Washington won’t give up on anytime soon.

Andrew Korybko is the political analyst and journalist for Sputnik who currently lives and studies in Moscow, exclusively for ORIENTAL REVIEW.

http://orientalreview.org/2015/06/09/american-plan-for-a-south-asian-kosovo-in-rohingyaland-ii/

China at the Crossroads


June 17, 2015

Elliot School of International Affairs @ The George Washington University, Washington DC:Lecture by Dr. David Shambaugh–China at the Crossroads

Published on May 1, 2015

Professor  Dr.David Shambaugh discusses China’s political future and the reform challenges faced by the ruling Communist party.

CSIS on China

Claimant Tactics in the South China Sea: By the Numbers


June 16, 2015

EWC AP BulletinNumber 314 | June 16, 2015

ANALYSIS

Claimant Tactics in the South China Sea: By the Numbers

By Christopher Yung and Patrick McNulty

About the Authors

Christopher Yung is an independent consultant and Senior Advisor at Asia Taktik, LLC. He was formerly a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for National Strategic Studies, National Defense University. He can be reached at cdyung@aol.com. Patrick McNulty, at the time of writing, was a contract researcher at the Center for the Study of Chinese Military Affairs, National Defense University. He now works at the George Washington University’s Language Center. He can be reached at pmcnulty@gwmail.gwu.edu.

IN 2012 the Institute for National Strategic Studies, National Defense University embarked on a year-long effort to examine the tactics of the rival claimants to the South China Sea maritime dispute. NDU collected data on and categorized the types of tactics being employed by the various claimants between 1995 and 2013 through an extensive open source internet search. The data were then entered into a comprehensive data base and the results analyzed to discern patterns of claimant behavior. The results provide important findings as tensions in the South China Sea continue to be acute.

The first noteworthy finding is that China is the most extensive user of the tactics identified by this research. In terms of sheer volume of numbers of actions, China accounted for over 500 actions dating back to 1995. The Philippines registered just over half of that number with just over 300 actions. Vietnam undertook about 150 actions, and Taiwan, about the same, whereas Malaysia took just over fifty and Brunei registered the smallest number of actions with fewer than twenty. China is also the most active user of both military and paramilitary actions to protect its maritime territorial claims. The research found 89 and 59 uses of military and paramilitary actions respectively in support of China’s maritime territorial claims between 1995 and 2013. This comprised 55% of the total incidents of the use of military and paramilitary actions in support of maritime claims in the South China Sea. The Philippines registered 43 and 17 uses of military and paramilitary actions in the same period and Vietnam registered under 15 combined uses of military and paramilitary actions in the same time period. We recorded Malaysia as using military and paramilitary actions 9 times and Brunei 5 times. Taiwan was recorded to have used paramilitary actions 10 times and the military 22 times. In evaluating this data it is important to recall that this is unclassified data. It is likely that many more military and paramilitary actions have taken place and these have not been publicly recorded. The one category of action where China’s actions are exceeded by one of its rivals is in the legal sphere. The Philippines initiated sizeably more legal actions than did China between 1995 and 2013.

One of the persistent topics of hot debate is: what is the origin of the tensions in the South China Sea? The Chinese argue that the U.S. “pivot” to Asia emboldened China’s rivals to act provocatively in the region, thus triggering Chinese actions. U.S. observers have argued that in the 2009 time frame (prior to the “Rebalance to Asia” policy announced in 2011) China started acting aggressively. The data bear out this latter assertion. The Chinese claim that it was responding to greater aggressiveness of its rivals is not borne out by the data . Although the Philippines registered more actions in 2008 than in previous years, the specific actions recorded do not suggest they would prompt China to ramp up military/paramilitary actions in the South China Sea.

When the research team examined both the ADMM+ and the DoC/CoC negotiations it found a wide array of diplomatic activity being employed. China vigorously pursued an approach that we labeled “Coalition Diplomacy” in which it either sought to build coalitions or break up coalitions against it (Vietnam and Philippines seeking to have ASEAN issue a joint statement identifying the South China Sea as a security problem needing resolution). China was eventually successful in preventing the issuing of such a communique.

The smaller states of Malaysia and Brunei actively supported ASEAN statements and positions on the territorial disputes, even though they were reluctant to specifically state these positions themselves. All of the claimants actively pursued “dispute management” diplomacy by agreeing in principle that maritime territorial disputes should be resolved peacefully, but China would not agree to a binding code of conduct.

A number of U.S. policy implications are derived from this research. The broad policy instruments that China seems to have been willing to use to advance China’s claims suggests that the U.S. must be prepared to be equally nuanced in its policy response. At a minimum, a greater inter-agency approach to U.S. management of the South China Sea appears to be in order. Also, given the Chinese use of a wide range of tools to advance China’s claims, the United States and its partners in the region will need to think through the possible repercussions and benefits of using a wide range of policy instruments of their own as sticks as well as carrots; or to put it another way, whether there is something to be gained from horizontal escalation if China’s behavior becomes too aggressive.

“The U.S. can and probably should be even more encouraging to put these territorial disputes before international courts and the U.S. should strongly consider directly aligning its policy stance on management of South China Sea territorial disputes directly with international law.”

Second, and related to this first point, the U.S. may need to think carefully how it might utilize the U.S. Coast Guard as a possible response to Chinese extensive use of maritime law enforcement vessels to advance China’s claims. This policy recommendation is much more complex than it sounds because at present the U.S. Coast Guard enjoys a very good relationship with the Chinese Coast Guard and the former will not want to needlessly sacrifice the good working relationship.

A third implication is that China appears to be willing to take action to bolster its position in the SCS while eroding or directly challenging U.S. credibility in the region. This strongly suggests that the United States needs to pay particularly close attention to its alliance partnerships and emerging relationships with friends in the region. It also strongly suggests that in order to forestall the erosion of U.S. credibility the United States national security establishment should internally engage in thinking through thresholds of Chinese activities, beyond which the U.S. would need to consider a more forceful response.

Fourth, China appears to have one “soft spot”–legal actions. That suggests that the U.S. can and probably should be even more encouraging to put these territorial disputes before international courts and the U.S. should strongly consider directly aligning its policy stance on management of South China Sea territorial disputes directly with international law. The recent State Department paper on its legal analysis of the South China Sea claims is a solid step in this direction.

Finally, since it is apparent that China’s diplomatic efforts are designed to keep the ASEAN states divided and off-balance, it is in American interest to promote the exact opposite. Anything the United States can do to assist the ASEAN countries in increasing the political and diplomatic costs to Chinese intransigence is a good thing.

Related Articles:

China’s Grand Strategy is not Absent, Just Contradictory, by Denny Roy, Asia Pacific Bulletin, No. 292, December 3, 2014

Asia’s Importance, China’s Expansion and U.S. Strategy: What Should Be Done?, by Robert Sutter, Asia Pacific Bulletin, No. 283, October 28, 2014

China’s New Calculations in the South China Sea, by Yun Sun, Asia Pacific Bulletin, No. 267, June 10, 2014

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Japan Needs a New Mechanism to Bridge the Public and Private Sectors


June 11, 2015

East-West CenterNumber 313 | June 10, 2015

ANALYSIS

Japan Needs a New Mechanism to Bridge the Public and Private Sectors

By Jun Makita

In a democracy, politics and public policy must reflect the voice of the general public. Thus, a democratic society inevitably needs some way to bridge the public sector (including politicians and bureaucrats) and the private sector (individuals and various types of organizations). This is critical if democracy is to function well. The systems and structures that play such a role are different from country to country.

In the United States, there is a “revolving door” between the public sector–whether it be government employees, appointees, or elected officials–and the private sector, represented primarily by businesses, lobbying groups, think tanks and universities. Thanks to this system, personnel involved in policy planning and research can move back and forth through that “door.” This serves as one bridge between the two worlds.

 In the case of Japan, on the other hand, these American-style bridges do not exist. Labor mobility is quite low and the movement of policy experts across the border between the public and private sectors is still very rare. Furthermore, experts like lobbyists, who can access the Diet and the government, do not play a role in the policy process.

Nevertheless, this does not mean that there are no mediators in Japan. The key actors playing such a role are the various economic and industrial organizations. In Japan’s private sector, there are a number of organizations that have been established by various industries, and these organizations are vigorously involved in the policy process.

The most famous and influential Japanese private entities are the so-called “three economic organizations,” the Japan Business Federation (Keidanren), the Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Nissho), and the Japan Association of Corporate Executives (Doyukai). Their memberships consist of leading companies and executives in each industry. The private organizations represented by the above three associations actively participate in the Japanese policy process, making policy proposals and appealing to the political and administrative executives to implement their requests as public policy. These groups represent their member companies, and what they do and say reflects the voices of the current economic frontline. Accordingly, policymakers–and particularly politicians who need corporate support in elections–cannot ignore their requests. This means that the influence of such organizations on policymaking is substantial.

Arguably, then, Japanese economic organizations wield political power as they bridge the public and private sectors. Nonetheless, in recent years the gap between the two sectors has become larger and it cannot be bridged by the existing organizations. In short, the Japanese industrial structure has changed, and these traditional organizations fail to deal with the new policy demands presented by emerging industries.

In the high-growth period from the 1950s to the 1970s, manufacturing was at the very core of Japanese industry. Producing goods like cars and electric appliances, exporting them abroad, and increasing the national wealth–that was Japan’s national business model. Yet from the 1980s, the relative presence of manufacturing has gradually decreased, and in its place, the share held by the service industry has increased. Looking at each sector’s share of GDP in the postwar period, we find that while manufacturing accounted for 34.9% in 1970, it had declined to 18.2% in 2012. Meanwhile, the service industry has grown from 9.3% in 1970 to 19.9% in 2012.

Within the service industry, IT service companies are particularly conspicuous. According to one source, while the growth of real national GDP from 2005 to 2010 was ¥2.9 trillion, the growth of Internet-related industries, which is one of the main parts of the IT industry, in the same period was ¥4.9 trillion, while that of other industries declined by ¥2.0 trillion. This means that the national GDP growth over those five years was almost equal to that of Internet-related industries, which shows the tremendous importance of IT service companies in the evolving Japanese economy.

Still, because IT service is a very new industry, there are many gaps between the actual business activities performed by emerging companies in the field and the existing public institutions and rules. A typical example is the principle of “face-to-face communication and paper-based documentation.” In most cases, Japan’s government applications and procedures–including getting a Certificate of Residence at the local government office, signing a real estate contract, and so on–require that you go in person and fill out hand-written documents. While these processes could be simplified by utilizing basic IT services like email, Skype, or an online application system, thereby eliminating the need for face-to-face meetings and paper-based documents, those alternatives are currently prohibited by regulations. Obviously, the IT service companies are not pleased with these old rules that hinder their economic activities.

The existing Japanese industry organizations are basically consisting of  traditional companies, including manufacturing, and are not necessarily able to accurately represent the opinions of the newer industries. Therefore, Japan needs a new mediating organization that can represent the fresh voices of emerging business sectors and convey them to policymakers, thereby bridging the public sector and core elements of today’s industrial sector.

New actors are now emerging that could play such a role, the most noteworthy being the Japan Association of New Economy (JANE). This new economic organization was founded in 2012 and consists of major Japanese IT service companies. JANE’s policy proposals are based on the voices of the new economy, and its influence is quickly increasing, reflecting the expanding importance of the IT industry.  For example, JANE’s Representative Director Hiroshi Mikitani, CEO of Rakuten, and Director Yasufumi Kanemaru, CEO of Future Architect, are both members of the Japanese cabinet’s Council for Industrial Competitiveness. It is quite unusual that two executives of such a new organization would become members of a government council chaired by the prime minister, and this indicates JANE’s political potential.

In short, the relationship between the public and private sectors in Japan has changed dramatically in recent years, and because of this, a new actor that can adeptly mediate between the two fields is necessary. It is too early to say whether JANE can become such an actor, but a change in the policy process is happening–belatedly but certainly–in accordance with the industrial transition of Japanese society.

 About the Author

Jun Makita is a visiting researcher of political science at the Institute for Comparative Research in Human and Social Sciences, Tsukuba University, Japan. He can be contacted at makitaj1@hotmail.co.jp.

Related Articles:

Economic and Security Reform in Japan: Harder Than It Looks, by H.D.P. Envall, Asia Pacific Bulletin, No. 277, August 19, 2014

Innovation, the “Third Arrow” and US-Japan Relations, by Sean Connell, Asia Pacific Bulletin, No. 246, January 10, 2014

Abe’s Real Challenge is the Japanese Economy, by Hiroaki Kuwajima, Asia Pacific Bulletin, No. 226, August 5, 2013

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