31 December 2015

AUS: Australian Defence Force support to Iraqi Forces in Ramadi

Australian Army soldier training Iraqi soldiers
The Chief of Joint Operations, Vice Admiral David Johnston, has congratulated the Iraqi Forces on retaking key territory in Ramadi and highlighted the Australian Defence Force’s contribution to the operation. 

After months of fighting through the complex urban environment, the Counter Terrorism Service 1st Iraqi Special Operations Force Brigade (1st ISOF) raised the Iraq flag over the Government buildings this week, symbolising the liberation of Ramadi on 28 December 2015.

The success of the CTS is just one aspect of the efforts of Australian Defence Force personnel in Iraq which encompasses the Advise and Assist, Building Partner Capacity, Air Task Group and embedded personnel in coalition headquarters.

Vice Admiral Johnston said the 1st ISOF Brigade supported remotely by Special Operation Task Group in Iraq (SOTG-I) in an advise and assist capacity, including remote-based joint terminal attack control, have successfully fought their way to the government buildings in the heavily defended Daesh-held centre of Ramadi.

News Story: Will Pakistan Land a Deal With US for New F-16s?

F-16 Fighting Falcon (File Photo)
By Usman Ansari

ISLAMABAD — Pakistan continues to talk to the US about purchasing a new tranche of F-16 fighters, but analysts here warn that it is unclear if or when such a deal could close.

Air Chief Marshal Sohail Aman, head of the Pakistani Air Force, was quoted in local media here Monday saying Pakistan was "in talks with US defense officials to get some [of the] latest F-16s but the deal may take some time." He spoke at an event to mark Pakistan Aeronautical Complex having manufactured its target of 16 JF-17 Block II for 2015.

That follows reports from mid-October that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif would use a visit to Washington to push for the sale of eight F-16s for his military.

Pakistan currently operates a number of F-16 variants, so the addition of eight more jets is unlikely to have much impact on the local power balance between Pakistan and India.

However, the US Congress has historically been skeptical of arms sales to Pakistan, in no small part due to Indian lobbying, and any discussion of defense deals naturally must take this into account.

But circumstances could now be in Pakistan's favor. In addition to the Washington's speculated desire to maintain influence in Pakistan, there is a need to keep the F-16 production line open, which in the absence of domestic US orders can only be achieved through exports.

Read the full story at DefenseNews

News Story: Indo-Israeli LR Sam Test Fired Aboard Indian Warship

Kolkata Class Destroyer (File Photo)
By Vivek Raghuvanshi

NEW DELHI — The Indo-Israeli jointly built Long Range Surface to Air Missile (LR SAM), which is also called Barak-8, was test fired Dec. 29 and 30 aboard an Indian Navy's Kolkata class destroyer, which will escort the aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya from Russia.

Last year the Barak-8 was tested aboard an Israeli warship.

The official Dec. 30 press release from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said, "[The] Indian Navy today achieved a significant milestone in enhancing its Anti Air Warfare capability with the maiden firing of its newly developed LR SAM.The firing was undertaken on the Western Seaboard by INS Kolkata, wherein the missile successes fully intercepted an Aerial Target at extended ranges."

While no official would say when the missile would be inducted, a source in the Indian Navy said there will be three more tests of the missile, and the Barak-8 is likely to be inducted after two years.

Read the full story at DefenseNews

Editorial: The Sikkim Anniversary

Image: Flickr User - Kalyan Neelamraju
By Ivan Lidarev

Forty years after joining India, Sikkim continues to trouble Sino-Indian relations.

As 2015 draws to a close, it is worth remembering that it marks a forgotten but important anniversary in the history of India and Sino-Indian relations. Forty years ago, in 1975, the princely state of Sikkim became part of India, following a long political game that saw Beijing try to lure the Chogyal, Sikkim’s king, away from New Delhi’s tight embrace. While India won out in 1975, the Sikkim issue has continued to trouble China-India relations to this day. China has not unequivocally accepted Sikkim as part of India, the Sikkim border between the two Himalayan giants remains a source of tensions, and both sides have interests in Sikkim which are often at odds.

Historically Sikkim – “new palace” in the Limbu language – was a small and pristine Buddhist kingdom in the Himalayas with close religious and cultural ties to Tibet. At different points in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the kingdom had lived under Chinese suzerainty and, later, as a British protectorate, but had mostly managed to preserve its domestic autonomy. India’s independence in 1947 and Tibet’s incorporation into the newly founded People’s Republic of China fundamentally changed the geopolitical situation of Gangtok, Sikkim’s capital, as it emerged as a buffer between its two giant neighbors. Concerned that China might expand its influence in Sikkim, Nepal and Bhutan, and even threaten India’s disputed northern borders, New Delhi pressured the three Himalayan states to establish special relations with India. Hence, in 1950, Sikkim signed a treaty with India which established the kingdom as an Indian protectorate, handed over all of Sikkim’s external relations to India, allowed the stationing of Indian troops and prohibited the kingdom from “dealings with any foreign power.”

In the 1960s, however, Sikkim reemerged as a major concern for New Delhi in the aftermath of India’s disastrous 1962 border war with China and the enthronement of a new Chogyal, Palden Thondup Namgyal, who sought full sovereignty for his Himalayan kingdom. The 1962 war, which saw action close to Sikkim, and the 1967 clashes between Chinese and Indian forces on the kingdom’s northern border, at Nathu La and Chola, underscored Sikkim’s strategic importance as a key military point on the disputed border. The Chogyal’s push to sovereignty, probably influenced by his American wife, inevitably led him to seek relations with China to balance India, an interest reciprocated by Beijing which hoped to lure Sikkim into its sphere of influence. Soon after the king’s accession in 1964, Beijing officially sent condolences for his father’s passing and the two sides cautiously came into contact on several occasions in the next decade, including, famously, on one of the Chogyal’s trips to Britain during which he met Chinese officials at a Chinese restaurant in an outright break with the 1950 treaty. As New Delhi was growing alarmed by the prospect of Chinese influence in Sikkim, the kingdom was increasingly being shaken by the struggle between the autocratic Chogyal and Sikkim’s democratic opposition which, cautiously backed by India, sought to curtain his power. This struggle came to a head in 1973, when law and order in Sikkim broke down and India moved its forces in to stabilize the kingdom and eventually mediate a compromise between the king and the opposition. Soon afterward, over Beijing’s ferocious protests, Sikkim’s new democratic assembly agreed with New Delhi’s proposal to make the kingdom an “associate state” of India. In 1975, probably provoked by the Chogyal’s desperate attempt to get Chinese and Pakistani help against India during a trip to Nepal, Indira Gandhi’s government pushed for a referendum which democratically approved the abolition of the monarchy and a full merger with India, after an amendment to India’s constitution. In spite of China’s indignation, Sikkim became a state of the Republic of India.

However, New Delhi’s success in 1975 did not close the Sikkim issue. Forty years after the former kingdom joined India, Sikkim remains a source of political and military tensions between China and India, with little prospect of this ending. There are three reasons for this.

Read the full story at The Diplomat

Editorial: The Comfort Women Agreement - A Win for Traditional Diplomacy

Image: Flickr User - YunHo LEE
By Yukari Easton

The resolution achieved by South Korea and Japan was a good day for diplomacy.

In a landmark agreement,­ seventy years after the end of the Second World War, Japan and the Republic of Korea appear to have finally resolved the longstanding issue of the “comfort women” that has hitherto plagued relations between the two nations. Japan has issued a “most sincere” apology and will pay 8.3 million U.S. dollars to the surviving victims. In return, South Korea has promised to “finally and irreversibly” end the dispute and endeavor to secure the removal of a comfort women statue in front of Japan’s Embassy in Seoul. Both nations also agreed to mutually refrain from further public criticism in terms of the issue. A symbolic telephone call made by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to President Park Geun-hye, in which he conveyed his apologies, cemented the agreement.

The deal has been largely welcomed. Although there are opponents, notably in South Korea, including activists who support the comfort women and some comfort women themselves, who dislike the deal, the agreement met with wider acclaim in Japan. Even Tomiichi Murayama of the Socialist Party of Japan, a former prime minister and a staunch critic of Prime Minister Abe, conceded that Abe had “decided well.” In the international community, the United Nations’ Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, a former South Korean foreign minister, praised the two countries. And U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice hailed a “comprehensive resolution” that represented an “important gesture of healing and reconciliation.” U.S. support was soon followed by that of the United Kingdom and Germany.

In the larger scheme of things, the agreement is a win for both countries, and a personal diplomatic triumph for both Abe and Park. The comfort women issue tainted relations so severely that summit talks between the two leaders have not taken place since 2012. Sharing so much, the countries simply needed to move on. If the two countries can truly return to business as usual, the deal will confer important future security and economic benefits to both nations. To cite but one common issue, a nuclear armed North Korea potentially threatens the security of both countries who are allies of the United States. Furthermore, from a Ricardian economic standpoint, more trade means more GDP which, in turn, may ultimately even entice South Korea to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Economic recovery is, no doubt, a priority for Park.

Read the full story at The Diplomat

Editorial: Top North Korean Official Dies in Car Crash

By Shannon Tiezzi

The death of Kim Yang-gon will affect Pyongyang’s relations with its neighbors, China and South Korea.

One of North Korea’s top foreign policy hands, and a close adviser to leader Kim Jong-un, died in a car crash on Tuesday, according to state news agency KCNA. Kim Yang-gon, 73, was a secretary in the Korean Workers’ Party and the head of the party’s United Front Department, which is responsible for managing relations with South Korea.

Kim was described as the “closest comrade and a solid revolutionary partner” of Kim Jong-un. KCNA said the leader would preside over a state funeral for Kim Yang-gon on Thursday (interestingly, former regime number two, Choe Ryong-hae, will be on the funeral committee as well, apparently marking the end of his time in “reeducation”).

Kim, who was seen as a proponent of talks with Seoul, became North Korea’s top official on inter-Korean affairs under the late Kim Jong-il, after being named head of the United Front Department in 2007. He helped organize a rare summit meeting between Kim Jong-il and South Korea’s then-president, Roh Moo-hyun, that same year, according toYonhap News. More recently, Kim was one of two senior North Korean officials who attended the talks that defused inter-Korean tensions in August of this year. He also visited South Korea to attend the closing ceremony of the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon.

Inter-Korea relations saw a brief period of optimism in late 2015, with family reunions and high-level talks taking place. But there was little progress on more substantial steps, including a possible meeting between South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Kim Jong-un. Now Kim Yang-gon’s death will likely put the brakes on whatever progress was being made. As Kim was one of the most experienced officials handling inter-Korean affairs for the North, South Korean experts believe Pyongyang may be hesitant to make further overtures in the short term.

Read the full story at The Diplomat

Editorial: CPEC - A Bad Deal for the Baloch People?

By Shah Meer

The people of Balochistan are suspicious of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) will be a “win-win” proposition according to statements made by the leadership of Pakistan and China. But the project is raising eyebrows and fears among the Baloch people, the indigenous community of Gwadar and the entire province of Balochistan. At the heart of the project is the city of Gwadar on the southwestern coast of the Arabian Sea in Balochistan province. Under CPEC, China and Pakistan plan to build a route to connect Gwadar Port in Pakistan with Kashgar in Xinjiang. The Chinese government has vowed to build the deepest seaport in the world in Gwadar, while creating infrastructure, energy and transportation projects along the route, reasoning that the resultant prosperity and economic development would change the shape of the most backward of Pakistan’s provinces specifically, as well as the whole of Pakistan.

So why would the Baloch people at large fear prosperity and progress? Wouldn’t the investment of $46 billion from China improve the living standards of the long-impoverished Baloch people? Why are most of the nationalists, intellectuals, students and ordinary people of Balochistan feeling suspicious? To answer that it is necessary to look back on the long history of Pakistan’s neglect of Balochistan in favor of the more populous provinces that are home to the large urban centers. While Balochistan may contain the richest mineral resources, its people receive little of the income derived from those resources and are deprived of the education, medical care, and concern for environmental protection afforded the most-favored provinces.

As the CPEC project moves forward, the fog of fear grows thicker. The native Baloch are of the view that, under the banner of economic development and prosperity, CPEC might turn them into a minority within their own land. As the influx of settlers begin to move into Gwadar and Balochistan as a whole, the natives are being ignored when it comes to jobs and other opportunities. The sense of deprivation and disappointment within the community is strong. Add to this the ongoing trend of issuing fictitious Balochistan domiciles to refugees (and others) and the list of Baloch grievances continues to mount.

As one Baloch student from Gwadar reminded me, Karachi was once a Baloch-dominant region. It was even named aftera Baloch woman, Mahi Kulachi. But in the name of development and urbanization, the authorities gradually transformed the Baloch majority of Karachi into a minority. He now fears that it might be Gwadar’s turn, and that this time it might even entail all of Balochistan.

Read the full story at The Diplomat

Editorial: Can South Asia Make Nice in 2016?

Image: Flickr User - ResoluteSupportMedia
By Muhammad Akbar Notezai

This month has seen yet another attempt at repairing fractious relationships.

Early this month, the fifth Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process Summit was opened by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital. Attending were the foreign ministers of ten countries – including all four of Pakistan’s neighbors. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi was making his second visit to Islamabad this year, and was joined by Afghan Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani, Indian Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj and Iranian Foreign Minister Jawad Zarif.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had reportedly been reluctant to visit Islamabad given an upsurge in Taliban violence in Afghanistan and the derailing of the peace talks with the Afghan Taliban following the revelation of the death of Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omer, both developments severely straining bilateral ties.

However, according to Afghan media reports, China’s ambassador in Kabul conveyed a message from the Chinese leadership, advising Ghani to make the trip. The Pashtun leadership of Pakistan also visited Kabul to convince Ghani to attend the conference. When Ghani did arrive, it was to an impressively warm welcome. Islamabad-based analysts believe that both the political and military leaderships of Pakistan are now keen to improve ties with Kabul, although skeptics say that it is Beijing that has been robustly pushing Islamabad to amend ties with Kabul ever since the announcement of China’s $46 billion investment in Pakistan.

Farooq Sulehria, a senior Pakistani journalist based in Sweden, told The Diplomat, “Civilians have no control over foreign policy, in particular Afghanistan and India-related policies. They cannot issue a press statement on their own. It is a shame that civilians have capitulated so comprehensively. If capitulation is tantamount to similarity of views, we can say that they (political and military leadership) are on the same page. But ‘to be on same page,’ implies having equal strength. This is clearly not the case. Civilians utter the mundane statements they are told to say in public.”

Afghanistan’s intelligence chief Rahmatullah Nabil, a favorite of American officials and a staunch critic of his government’s policies toward Pakistan, resigned in apparent protest at Ghani’s efforts to achieve a rapprochement with Pakistan.

Read the full story at The Diplomat

Editorial: Colombo’s Military Build-Up - A Strategy of Deterrence

By Ana Pararajasingham

What might explain the recent increase in defense spending?

Contrary to expectations that with the end of the civil war, Sri Lanka would reduce its spending on defense, Colombo has in fact increased its defense expenditure. Defense spending in 2009, the year the civil war ended with the comprehensive defeat of the Tamil Tigers, was Rs 175 billion ($1.2 billion). By 2011, this had risen to Rs 194 billion, and in 2013 it was Rs 235 billion. In late 2015, Colombo was looking to procure 18 to 24 new fighter aircraft to replace its obsolete fleet of MIG-21s by 2017. The budget allocation for defense in 2016 is Rs 307 billion.

Colombo’s 2009 victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was achieved with heavy civilian casualties. Tens of thousands were killed and maimed. There was a purpose, to convince the survivors of the heavy price of war and remove the risk of any future uprising. Colombo was successful and knows it. Not only have thousands of Tamil Tiger soldiers been killed, but many thousands of former fighters and other young men and women have fled the country in fear of their lives Thousands of others are believed to be in government custody. Another uprising is highly unlikely.

Why then should Colombo spend a significant proportion of its GDP on defense, funds that could otherwise be spent on restoring the country’s war-ravaged economy? What exactly is the rationale for this exponential increase in defense spending?

Read the full story at The Diplomat

Editorial: 7 Events of Geopolitical Consequence to Anticipate in Asia in Early 2016

By Ankit Panda

2016 will kick off with a bang. Here’s what you need to keep an eye on early in the new year.

2016 is just around the corner and there’s a lot to keep an eye on in Asia in the first month of the year. In January 2016, we’ll see elections in Taiwan, the formal operational launch of China’s Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the possible resumption of peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, the first steps toward renewed comprehensive talks between India and China, and the possible disintegration of a recently concluded controversial deal between the Japanese and South Korean governments on comfort women. Here’s your guide to starting off the new year with an eye to some early developments of geopolitical significance in the Asia-Pacific:

Elections in Taiwan: Taiwanese citizens will head to the polls on January 16 to vote in their latest general elections. Preliminary opinion polling suggests that a victory for the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), led by its presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen, is likely. The ruling Kuomintang party may find its rule at an end in Taiwan. Should Tsai prevail in the elections, Taiwan will see its first female president and possibly some changes to its foreign policy and positioning vis-a-vis the mainland. The Kuomintang government’s most recent term has seen a controversial period of rapprochement with the mainland. Though the DPP and Tsai have said that they will largely avoid rocking the boat with China if they win, Beijing remains wary. In any case, the outcome of Taiwan’s election next month will be worth watching early in 2016.

Read the full story at The Diplomat

Editorial: China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank Enters Into Force - What Next?

By Ankit Panda

The AIIB’s Articles of Agreement entered into force, taking the China-led development bank one step closer to operational status.

On December 25, the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) effectively launched in earnest, marking a major milestone in China’s bid to play a more active role in global governance and development. With the ratification of the bank’s Articles of Agreement by 17 member states, representing 50.1 percent of the bank’s capital stock, the AIIB entered into force. The members that have ratified that bank’s Articles of Agreement include Australia, Austria, Brunei, China, Georgia, Germany, Jordan, Luxembourg, Mongolia, Myanmar, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, Singapore, South Korea and the United Kingdom.

In a press release on the bank’s website, the AIIB interim secretariat noted that “Entry into force under Article 59 of the Articles of Agreement required deposit of such instruments by at least 10 Signatories with at least 50 percent of the shares allocated.” The next step for the bank as it moves toward becoming operational as a full-fledged multilateral development bank will be the inaugural meeting of its Board of Governors, which will be held on January 16 and 17 in the new year. The interim secretariat, in the same release, notes that “the Board of Governors will announce the commencement of operations, in accordance with Article 60 of the Articles of Agreement.”

The inaugural meeting of the Board of Governors is really when the bank will “kick off,” so to speak. According to Article 60 in the AIIB’s Articles of Agreement, the inaugural governors meeting will formally anoint Jin Liqun (whom I wrote about here), a Chinese bureaucrat and vice minister of finance, its first president. The meeting will additionally elect directors for the bank, set a start date for the bank’s formal operations, and decide a range of other administrative matters.

Read the full story at The Diplomat

Editorial: Between Bullying and Flattery - A Theory on Chinese Politics

By Zheng Wang

Whether bullying or flattering the top leader, China’s bureaucracy always has its own interests at heart.

There is a special phenomenon in Chinese politics that characterizes the interactions of the country’s top leaders and the bureaucrats. I call it theorybecause it has occurred repeatedly throughout China’s long history. In China, when the top leader is weak, the bureaucrats—especially the senior officials—would take advantage of the weak leadership and create supplementary difficulties for the leader to carry out his policies. They would steal his power and make him a mere figurehead. Very often powerful warlords, and/or eunuchs, emerged as the real controllers of the country. On the other hand, when the leader is strong and powerful, the bureaucrats will do anything to flatter, praise, and adore their leader and to make him happy—through god-making campaigns and hero worship.

In either scenario the bureaucrats are trying to influence the leader, and protect and maximize their own interests. China’s bureaucratic hierarchic system has a longer history than anywhere else in the world, and China also has the largest number of government officials. It is this group of people that perform the day-to-day governance; they are the ones that are actually running this big country. From the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC) until today, this basic scenario hasn’t changed.

The two recent administrations in China have proved this theory correct once again. Hu Jintao was a weak leader, and during his term (2002-2012) his power was very limited and he was a figurehead to some extent. Several Politburo members such as Zhou Yongkang, Guo Boxiong, and Xu Caihou became very powerful, and Hu’s top assistant and chief of his office, Ling Jihua, was to some extant the real person in charge of many of China’s political affairs. Hu’s retirement paved the way for the emergence of a new strong leader. Xi Jinping is now generally considered China’s most powerful leader since Deng Xiaoping. The history repeating itself now is that China’s bureaucrats have begun a new campaign of “praising our great leader.”

Read the full story at The Diplomat

30 December 2015

Editorial: China, the U.S. and the Coming Taiwan Transition

Image: Flickr User - The White House
By Douglas Paal

The implications for U.S. policy of China’s New Counterbalance in Asia and Taiwan’s election.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is a man in a hurry, presiding over a system that normally resists rapid change. The latest example is a rushed and massive reorganization and slimming of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), announced on September 3 and expected to be inaugurated, though not completed, as fast as by January 1, 2016.

Ambitions such as this one for the PLA may be part of what lies behind the extraordinary tactical readjustments of Chinese foreign policy over the past year. After two major conferences on Chinese foreign policy presided over by Xi in 2013 and 2014, China’s post-Olympic, post-global financial crisis period of assertiveness toward its neighbors and the United States has morphed since last autumn into fence mending and economic courtship. Some might call it a tactical retreat. I call it a counterbalance to the American rebalance; that is, Beijing’s efforts to reduce opportunities for the U.S. to build influence on China’s periphery.

For example, Beijing has resisted over-reacting to a U.S. freedom of navigation challenge in the South China Sea, coming not long after Xi’s state visit to the U.S. And China has positively responded at least procedurally to a U.S. initiative to combat cyber theft. China muted its “principled” negative reaction to a U.S. arms sales package for Taiwan that was announced in December, after the U.S. sized the package to avoid provocation. Tensions are down with Japan in the waters around the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands in the East China Sea. Xi has swallowed hard and met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe twice and permitted Premier Li Keqiang to attend a trilateral with Japan hosted by South Korea.

Moreover, after a surge of land filling in the South China Sea this past summer, Xi has moved to lower diplomatic temperatures, attending the Philippines’ hosted Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders’ forum in Manila, and avoiding new tensions with Vietnam. Emblematically, the Communist Party graciously hosted Myanmar democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi in Beijing after decades of giving her a cold shoulder.

Read the full story at The Diplomat

Editorial: Russia’s Far East Realignment - Defense and Security

Image: Flickr User - Thomas Claveirole
By Duncan Brown

Defense trade with the Asia-Pacific has always been a key component of Moscow’s relations with the region.

In 2015, Russia has aimed to revive its expansive Far Eastern Federal District through unprecedented levels of cooperation with the Asia-Pacific region. In this three part series, we’ll explore those efforts. Part 1 looked at domestic initiatives and part 2 explored energy and trade. In part 3, we explore Russia’s growing influence in the Asian security sphere.

Defense trade with the Asia-Pacific has always been a key component of relations with the region. This year however, Russia has seen a more prominent role in transnational forums as diplomatic and security ties continue to evolve with China, Indonesia, Malaysia, India, and others. Within the context of simmering tensions in the Taiwan Strait, the South China Sea and the Korean peninsula, Russia has reoriented itself, capitalizing on increased demand from many Asian nations.

Read the full story at The Diplomat

Editorial: The DPP's Agenda for Contributing to Regional Stability

Image: Flickr User - CSIS | Center for Strategic
& International Studies
By Vincent Y. Chao

Claims that the DPP lacks clarity on sovereignty issues are disingenuous.

KMT spokesman Eric Huang has published the latest in a long line of articles asking the opposition to clarify its policy agenda. The allusion is that the DPP’s presidential candidate, Tsai Ing-wen, has not presented a clear position on important international and cross-strait issues. In fact, the exact opposite is true here in Taiwan.

On the South China Sea, for example, which Mr. Huang writes about in his most recent article, Dr. Tsai has presented a nuanced and well thought-out message that seeks to reduce tension and confrontation in the area. Both are essential in an area with growing stakes for the U.S., China, and the claimants in the area.

Dr. Tsai’s three point agenda includes a call for all parties to base their principles and positions on UNCLOS, maintain the freedom of navigation and flight in the area, and work to peacefully resolve this issue. Underlying these points is Taiwan’s sovereignty in Taiping Island and the surrounding area. It’s a principle the DPP has made very clear, including in a public statement released on May 27.

Therefore, it is disappointing to see Mr. Huang write that Dr. Tsai “continues to avoid statements that clearly state to voters that if elected, she will protect the ROC’s sovereignty claims.” Not only does it consciously misrepresent the DPP’s agenda in this important area of Taiwan’s foreign affairs, it is also misleading to Taiwanese voters in the final stages of the election campaign.

Read the full story at The Diplomat

Editorial: South Korea’s ‘Comfort Women’ Reject Deal With Japan

Image: Flickr User - Melissa Wall
By Shannon Tiezzi

Critics reject the landmark deal as political expediency that does not adequately address the victims’ concerns.

On Monday, Japan and South Korea announced a landmark agreement on the issue of “comfort women,” women coerced into sexual slavery for the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II. The agreement saw Prime Minister Shinzo Abe apologize for the women’s suffering and the government of Japan agree to provide compensation to a fund to be established by the Korean government. In doing so, the deal potentially lays to rest one of the most contentious issues in Japan-South Korea relations – but not everyone is on board.

Most notably, many of the “comfort women” themselves were outspoken in their denunciation of the deal. One of the women, Lee Yong-soo, told reporters that “the agreement does not reflect the views of former comfort women.” She promised to “ignore it completely.”

“We are not craving for money,” she said, dismissing the $8.3 million fund negotiated between Japan and South Korea. “What we demand is that Japan make official reparations for the crime it had committed.” For Lee and other critics, Abe’s apology does not go far enough in officially acknowledging Japan’s legal responsibility for the women’s suffering.

The Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery in Japan was even more outspoken, calling the deal the result of “humiliating diplomacy” that saw Seoul give up too much for too little. “The agreement is nothing but a diplomatic collusion that thoroughly betrayed the wishes of comfort women and the South Korean people,” the group said in a statement.

Read the full story at The Diplomat

Editorial: Sending a Message - Nepal's Prime Minister Will Visit China Before India

By Ankit Panda

Nepal’s prime minister, Khadga Prasad Oli, may be taking the country away from India and toward China.

Nepal’s recently elected prime minister, Khadga Prasad Oli, has stirred the pot in the country’s increasing strained bilateral relationship with India by opting to visit China for his first state visit. Nepali prime ministers have traditionally visited India on their first state visit abroad, in a nod to historically close ties between the two South Asian neighbors. (One notable recent exception was Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Nepal’s 33rd prime minister and chairman of the country’s major Maoist party, who chose to visit Beijing before New Delhi.)

Confirmation of Oli’s trip to China in early 2016 comes shortly after the Nepali government acquiesced to demands by ethnic Madhesi, Tharu, and other protesters for a range of reforms to the country’s recently promulgated constitution. Nepal has been gripped by a national crisis stemming from widespread perceptions that the country’s new constitution purposefully marginalizes the interests of historically disadvantaged groups.

Read the full story at The Diplomat

Editorial: Modi’s Pakistan Trip - A Political Stunt or Considered Diplomacy?

Image: Flickr User - MEAphotogallery
By Sanjay Kumar

What was behind Narendra Modi’s foreign policy stunt in Lahore?

Political showmanship has assumed a new meaning in the Indian subcontinent. Photos of the Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, hugging and walking hand-in-hand with his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, send a powerful message that words cannot convey. These pictures might have some profound implications, potentially signaling the warming of a relationship that has been frozen since the center-right Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government assumed power in Delhi in May 2014. The unannounced visit by the Indian premier to Pakistan, the first in over a decade, and the surprising display of camaraderie in full view of cameras, might promise a new era of engagement between the two South Asian neighbors.

However, while the images seem promising for the bilateral, they have not reassured everyone. Observers in India and Pakistan wonder whether this is just another one of Modi’s publicity stunts. The Indian premier has become famous for his political showmanship.

Modi landed in Lahore unannounced on December 25, after a state visit to Kabul, Afghanistan. Never before had an Indian leader visited Pakistan in such a dramatic and unexpected way. It was widely known that Modi would make a stopover in Afghanistan on his way back to India after a visit to Russia. However, his visit to Lahore was completely unexpected. During his brief stay in Lahore, the Indian leader not only congratulated Sharif on his birthday, but also blessed the wedding of the Pakistani prime minister’s granddaughter.

Although the official version of events in Lahore says that this trip was planned on short notice, some reports in the Indian media are claiming that it was planned well in advance. The world is still clueless as to how and why New Delhi decided to abandon its 13-year-old policy in favor of a complete overhaul of the relationship with its traditional rival.

Read the full story at The Diplomat

Editorial: Afghanistan, Pakistan Lay Groundwork for Taliban Peace Talks in Early 2016

By Ankit Panda

Pakistan’s top general visited Afghanistan this weekend to discuss another round of peace talks with the Taliban.

It appears that relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan are creeping back toward normalcy after a falling out late this summer. Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif, arguably the most powerful man in the country, met with senior Afghan officials in Kabul over the weekend to discuss Pakistan’s role in underwriting peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban.

Since the falling out between Kabul and Islamabad, which took place after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s government initiated a major bilateral rapprochement in early 2015, the Afghan government has seen the threat from the Taliban rise considerably. Peace talks between the government and the insurgents broke down over the summer. Since a recent multilateral conference on Afghanistan, relations between Islamabad and Kabul have improved, creating the conditions for Gen. Sharif’s latest visit.

Gen. Sharif’s visit to Kabul focused on more than just peace talks between the government and the Taliban. According to Asim Bajwa, a spokesperson for the Pakistani military, the general’s agenda in Kabul focused on joint counter-terrorism efforts, border monitoring, and administrative issues. Bajwa also noted that Gen. Sharif visited Bagram Air Base, the largest U.S. military base in Afghanistan, now under Afghan government control, and met with Gen. John F. Campbell, the current commander of the Resolute Support Mission and United States Forces-Afghanistan.

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Editorial: China's First Stealth Fighter Is About to Enter Production

By Shannon Tiezzi

Chinese media reports suggest the J-20 is ready for production, ahead of schedule.

A report posted online by China’s Xinhua News Agency suggests that the J-20 – China’s fifth-generation stealth fighter jet – has entered the mass production stage. The evidence is a photograph of a J-20 on the tarmac, coated with yellow primer paint and bearing the serial number “2101.”

Previous versions of the J-20 have been numbered in the 2000s (with the first prototype labeled 2001 and the most recent 2017). The appearance of a number in the 2100s hints to China’s online military enthuasists that production has entered the production stage – although Xinhua cautions that the initial production run for the J-20 may be limited at first. In particular, unnamed experts cautioned that the software used in fifth-generation fighters will need additional testing, even if the body of the aircraft is finalized.

Experts interviewed by Xinhua said the J-20 would have progressed to production quite quickly if the rumors are true. The first J-20 took flight in 2011, less than five years ago.Xinhua notes there were no major changes from the previous images of the 2017 version to this new 2101 J-20, meaning the design is already fairly set, with only minor alterations expected from here on out. Critics believe the design has progressed so quickly because China based its J-20 on stolen plans for the United States’ F-22 and F-35.

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29 December 2015

Editorial: Repairing Relations With India's Neighbors

By Amit Cowshish

Three perennial problems beset Indian defense: relations with some of its immediate neighbors, especially Pakistan; human resource management; and modernization of the armed forces. To a large extent, defense preparedness is contingent upon the government's adroitness in managing these challenges.

The 18 months since the National Democratic Alliance's spectacular ascension to power last summer have witnessed a fair amount of oscillation in the government's handling of these critical determinants of defense preparedness.

Inviting the heads of the neighboring governments to the swearing-in ceremony of the newly elected government was a master stroke. It had the potential of generating a refreshing cordiality in India's relations with its neighbors, in particular Pakistan.

Some of this advantage seems to have dissipated. Though some efforts are being made to arrest the drift, there is no denying that the relations between India and Pakistan lately have been in a free fall. Some of the statements from the top leaders of Nepal are disconcerting. Except for the historic land swap agreement with Bangladesh, if there has been any qualitative improvement in India's relations with other neighbors, it is not quite visible.

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Editorial: Japan, South Korea Reach Agreement on 'Comfort Women'

By Yuki Tatsumi

The agreement could provide a long-awaited breakthrough in Japan-Korea ties.

On December 28, Japan and South Korea reached an agreement on how to address so-called “comfort women” issue. While the implementation of the agreement will be the key, this agreement is extremely important in preventing the issue from derailing the relationship between Tokyo and Seoul.

The agreement was announced in a form of parallel statements issued by Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byong-sei, after months of consultations between senior officials from both sides. There are several significant elements in this agreement, for which both Japanese and Korean officials deserve credit.

Most notably, the agreement provides a face-saving solution for South Korea while allowing Japan to remain consistent with its past position that all the issues related to Japan’s wartime wrongdoings were resolved with the signing of Japan-ROK Basic Treaty in 1965 and thus Tokyo is not obligated to compensate the individuals directly. Under the agreement reached on Monday, the Japanese government agreed to contribute funds to a foundation, to be established by the South Korean government, to assist the healing of the comfort women. These funds will be allocated from Japan’s national budget. In the 1990s, an attempt by the Murayama government to provide compensation for comfort women through the Asia Women’s Fund failed, largely because of criticism within South Korea that the Fund was not official and therefore could not be considered as “official” reparations. This agreement provides a clever formula by which Japan financially contributes government resources to a fund for comfort women without compromising its past position.

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Editorial: Japan Approves Record Defense Budget

By Franz-Stefan Gady

Japanese defense spending will increase 1.5 percent during the next fiscal year.

The cabinet of Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe approved a record 5.05 trillion yen ($41.4 billion) defense budget for fiscal year 2016/2017 and slightly below the 5.09 trillion yen requested by Japan’s Ministry of Defense (MOD), The Japan Times reports. This marks the fourth consecutive rise in defense spending since Shinzo Abe assumed office in December 2012.

The rise in the defense budget is primarily driven by a weakened yen, higher personnel costs and an increase in expenses for the planned relocation of the U.S. Marine Corp’s Futenma air base in Okinawa Prefecture, which increased from 24.4 billion yen for the current fiscal year to 59.5 billion yen under what is known as “SACO (Special Action Committee on Okinawa)-related expenses.”

The Diplomat reported in September:

When you take “SACO-related expenses” out of the equation, the actual spending that JMOD has proposed for itself is approximately 4.93 trillion yen ($41.4 billion) — comparable to what Tokyo spent on defense in 2002.

Defense spending for the next fiscal year starting in April 2016 will be heavily focused on solidifying Japan’s position in the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands – an island chain administered by Tokyo in the East China Sea—by investing in additional amphibious warfare capabilities.

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Editorial: What’s the Deal with Sri Lanka’s War Crimes Court?

By Taylor Dibbert

Sri Lanka’s announcement of a special court to handle alleged wartime abuses should still be met with skepticism.

Several weeks ago, Chandrika Kumaratunga announced that Sri Lanka would set up a special court to deal with alleged wartime abuses. Kumaratunga is the chairperson of the Office for National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR); she served as President of Sri Lanka from 1994-2005.

The news about a special court came as a surprise to many people. When the initial announcement was made, Kumaratunga stated that the court was expected to begin its work by late December or early January. Yet it remains unclear if that’s still the case.

There are a multitude of reasons to be concerned about this process. Kusal Perera, a Colombo-based journalist, says that “no credible investigation with victim participation is possible” given the sustained militarization throughout the country’s Northern and Eastern Provinces. Furthermore, Perera believes that, since the administration of President Maithripala Sirisena still refuses to release Tamil political prisoners “with no real charges against them, no domestic process will be taken seriously.” There are also broader questions to ponder, including the nature of international involvement and the additional steps which would be taken to ensure that the process is genuine and inclusive.

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Editorial: Iran Deal Update - 11,000 Kilograms of Enriched Uranium Leave Iran for Russia

Image: Wiki Commons
By Ankit Panda

Iran has complied with a major requirement of the July 2015 nuclear deal and shipped thousands of kilograms of uranium out of the country.

On Monday, Iran reached a major milestone in the implementation of the July 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—the international agreement to place restrictions on the country’s nuclear program in exchange for relief from economic sanctions. Almost all of Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium was shipped out of the country, fulfilling a key requirement of the nuclear deal. According to Reuters, a ship carrying more than 11,000 kilograms of low-enriched uranium (LEU) left Iran. Per the nuclear agreement, Iran may retain 300 kilograms of LEU on hand. That amount of enriched uranium is inadequate for a nuclear weapon.

The United States confirmed the departure of the LEU from Iranian soil. In a written statement, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who played a critical role in the negotiations toward the deal, noted that “The shipment included the removal of all of Iran’s nuclear material enriched to 20 percent that was not already in the form of fabricated fuel plates for the Tehran Research Reactor.” “This removal of all this enriched material out of Iran is a significant step toward Iran meeting its commitment to have no more than 300 kg of low-enriched uranium,” Kerry’s statement continued.

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Editorial: Vietnam Reveals New Drone for Patrolling the South China Sea

By Franz-Stefan Gady

The drone prototype will conduct flight tests over the South China Sea in 2016.

Vietnam revealed its largest indigenous high-altitude long endurance unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) this December, IHS Jane’s Defense Weekly reports. According to local media reports, the prototype was completed at the beginning of November and will commence test flights over the South China Sea in the summer of 2016.

The prototype is a joint project of Vietnam’s Academy of Science and Industry and the Ministry of Public Security. The new UAV, designated HS-6L, will perform both civilian and military tasks, judging from the aircraft’s design features.

Vietnamese media reports that the unarmed UAV prototype sports a Rotax 914 engine and a 22-meter wingspan. It has a range of up to 4,000 kilometers as well as an endurance of up to 35 hours. It will be equipped with unspecified optical and radar surveillance systems.

IHS Jane’s Defense Weekly notes that the Vietnam may have received design assistance from Belarus, given that the unveiling of the aircraft coincided with the visit of the chairman of the Belarus Academy of Science.

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Editorial: Philippine 'Freedom Voyage' Lands on Disputed Island in South China Sea

By Shannon Tiezzi

Defying China and the Philippine government, an activist group lands 47 people on Thitu Island.

Just under 50 Philippine protesters set sail for a disputed island in the South China Sea to show their support for Manila’s claims. The group landed on Thitu Island, known as Pagasa in the Philippines and Zhongye Dao by China, on Saturday and planned to stay for three days.

The current trip is far more limited than the original vision, organized by a group called Kalayaan Atin Ito (Kalayaan – the Philippine township covering the Spratlys — This Is Ours in English). In November, Kalayaan Atin Ito said it had around 10,000 young Filipinos sign up to support its “Freedom Voyage,” which was originally scheduled to last from November 30 to December 30. The plan was to have the volunteers spend one month on various Spratly Islands, bolstering Manila’s claim to the West Philippine Sea.

According to voyage leader and former Marine captain Nicanor Faeldon, the campaign was not aimed at China specifically: “We are not doing this to make China see our efforts. We are doing this to make the whole world see the unity of our nation.” The volunteers represented all 81 of the Philippines’ provinces.

However, the group’s Facebook page does seem to target China. The page proclaims “China Out, Kalayaan Atin Ito!” and emphasizes China’s presence in the disputed region.

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Editorial: Tolkachev, Cold War Spycraft, and Modern Risks for China

By Robert Farley

China should be wary of a Tolkachev-esque figure eroding its strategic position vis-a-vis the United States.

Will we ever have a Chinese Tolkachev?

As detailed in David Hoffman’s Billion Dollar Spy, between 1979 and 1985, Soviet radar engineer Adolf Tolkachev turned his hatred of the Soviet regime into some of the most devastating industrial espionage ever conducted. Tolkachev took advantage of his position at the radar design firm Phazotron to make copies and photographs of volumes of material associated with Soviet radar and electronics systems. This gave the United States an inside look at the sensor capabilities of the USSR’s most advanced fighters and interceptors.

The impact of Tolkachev’s espionage was virtually incalculable. The material acquired helped to shift decisions and priorities within the U.S. defense-industrial complex, especially with regard to aerospace technology. It may have given the U.S. a massive, enduring advantage in aircraft effectiveness since the 1980s; understanding the limitations on how Soviet aircraft see the battlespace has made them much more vulnerable to U.S. attack than would otherwise have been the case.

The espionage was even, in broad terms, within the lines that the United States now declares should delineate “legitimate” espionage. The U.S. did not use the information it gained from Tolkachev to attempt to reverse engineer or copy any Soviet systems. It did not, in other words “violate” the intellectual property rights of major Soviet enterprises. Rather, the stolen data provided information on the capabilities and priorities of Soviet technology, thereby giving the United States a strategic advantage in developing its own tech. A fine distinction, perhaps, but one which the United States holds to today.

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Editorial: China's New Anti-Terrorism Law

By Shannon Tiezzi

There’s much more to China’s anti-terror law than the few sections dealing with tech providers.

China has its first anti-terrorism law on the books, after the National People’s Congress Standing Committee approved the new legislation on Sunday. The law, which will take effect in January, provides a legal framework for the country’s war on terrorism, a focus of increasing concern for Beijing after attacks at home and abroad jeopardized the lives of its citizens.

Abroad, most of the debate about the law focused on its technological provisions. A draft version sparked vocal pushback from the United States, with government officials and businesses alike worried about provisions that could require foreign tech firms to handover proprietary data to Beijing. China defended the law as necessary and in line with international precedents.

Notably, the final version of the legislation did not contain some of the most controversial provisions, including requirements for companies to store user data on serves within China and to allow the Chinese government to review their encryption systems. Instead, companies are required to provide “technical means of support” for anti-terror investigations, including decrypting data. They are also told to prevent the spread of materials supporting terrorism or extremism.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang was asked about the changes from the draft to the legislation in a press conference on Monday. He said that the anti-terror law as passed “is the answer to the latest situation and our objective needs” and stressed that it is no different from “relevant legislation [passed] by western countries.”

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