Do China And India Hold The Key?

Both the US and UK plan on applying tough sanctions against the military junta running Burma (Myanmar), increasing the economic pressure on the regime in support of the protestors filling the streets. However, the West has had sanctions of varying strength against the junta for years, and it has not yet weakened their grip on power. Bronwen Maddox argues in the Times of London that Burma’s two neighbors have to take action before any change can occur:

Burma will be a test of whether the heat of world attention can burn through the shield around a country which its leaders have gone to such lengths to isolate.
The call for more sanctions from Gordon Brown and George Bush means little. Britain and the US long ago imposed what they could on arms and trade. The effect of sanctions on a regime that does not care about its people’s wellbeing, let alone their happiness, is very slim.
Yet the symbolic effect is important. It will add to the worldwide clamour provoked by the crackdown, which must give the generals pause for thought. It is to be hoped, for a start, that it will put them off any thought of harming Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the pro-democracy movement. Any attempt to repeat their forceful crushing of the 1988 protest, in which they fired into peaceful crowds, will carry a much greater cost than it did then.
More practically, the outrage may also encourage China and India to put pressure directly on the regime. They are by far in the best place to do so, as neighbours and trading partners. Even if only out of self-interest, they would have good reason to try: they want access to its gas reserves, do not want turmoil, and would greatly prefer Burma’s peaceful economic development.

Without much doubt, pressure from both China and India would undermine the military junta. However, one has to wonder whether China wants to see a burgeoning democracy movement on its southern border. The uprising by the Buddhist monks in Burma has to seem uncomfortably akin to those in and out of Tibet. The last thing they’d want is to provide momentum for Buddhist uprisings.
India may be more fertile ground for action. Their border with Burma is roughly the same length as China’s, but more importantly, India and Burma share the Bay of Bengal. They could exert some pressure on shipping in the waters on which Burma relies. However, since China serves as a rival for Burma’s energy exports, India may not agree to sanctions in which China does not share.
Maddox also fails to close the sale in another, more basic sense. Sanctions alone have never collapsed a tyranny. Usually it just results in misery for the people who already suffer under the oppressive tyrants, a dynamic which the UN tried to avoid in Iraq by establishing the Oil-for-Food program. That turned into a massive corruption scandal that wound up enriching the tyrant that sanctions supposedly targeted. Even without the corruption, the sanctions lost popularity in just a couple of years, with some nations arguing that they killed 5,000 Iraqi children a month. The world has almost as little tenacity for sanctions as they do for military action.
The notion that worldwide condemnation would change the direction of the military junta seems mostly naive. It could have an affect on India, although they have their hands full with Pakistan and may not appreciate the extra load. Maddox places too much faith in the power of shame on governments who care not a jot about the approbation of their own population, let alone that of others.

Myanmar Military Shoot Protestors

The military junta in Myanmar has begun shooting the monks whose protests have filled the streets for over a week. According to a French diplomat, bodies and blood can be seen on the ground, but it still has not stopped the demonstrations:

The Myanmar military opened fire on crowds of protesters in Yangon, almost certainly causing casualties, a French diplomat in the city said Wednesday.
“Shots were fired by the security forces, first in the air, then at the demonstrators. We cannot know if many people were injured but we can be sure that blood was spilled,” Emmanuel Mouriez, number two at the French embassy, told French radio RTL.
“We have several witness accounts describing people lying on the ground,” he added.

The counteroffensive started with teargas and cracking heads. When that and a few dozen arrests did nothing, police started firing warning shots above the protestors’ heads. That also apparently failed to move the monks off the street, and the police started aiming lower.
This will have one of two results. Either it will act as a Tiananmen Square moment, where the protests shut down from fear of the government, or it will serve as a death blow to the junta. Killing people openly for peaceful protests is the last resort of tyrants, and when it fails to work, the people find their power to overthrow the tyranny.
Early reports have the protests continuing. Let’s hope the junta reads the writing on the wall.
UPDATE: Jon Swift is relieved that he doesn’t have to care about this, gauging from the blogospheric reaction. Nice tweak, Jon. I don’t see why this issue has to take a partisan bent here in the US, and I don’t think it will.

Abe Resigns

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe unexpectedly resigned today, apparently tired of political battles over diplomacy and economics. The move stunned the political establishment in Tokyo, which had prepared for an Abe defense of a counterterrorism policy that had encountered some resistance:

Embattled Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Wednesday he would resign in hope of making it easier to extend a naval mission in support of U.S.-led operations in Afghanistan, sending shockwaves through Japan.
The hawkish Abe, who took office a year ago promising to boost Japan’s global security profile, has suffered low support rates and dwindling clout after his ruling camp suffered an election drubbing in July, but the announcement came as a bolt out of the blue.
“I determined today that I should resign,” a weary-looking Abe told a news conference. “We should seek a continued mission to fight terrorism under a new prime minister.”

This comes at a delicate moment for the US and Pacific Rim security. Abe has played a strong role in bringing North Korea to account for its nuclear program, and US and UN inspectors just arrived in Pyongyang to start shutting down Kim Jong-Il’s nuclear plants. Instability in Japan could encourage intransigence from Kim and perhaps quell the enthusiasm for the denuclearization effort in Beijing — if either or both believe a more malleable PM will take Abe’s place.
Abe wanted to continue the Japanese Navy’s support mission for NATO in Afghanistan, a position with only tepid support. His resignation will delay the decision, although it’s likely Japan will continue his policies in the interim. Most of his problems came from domestic issues, such as a failure to contain scandals among his ministers and a dispute over pensions that threaten the fragile Japanese economy.
All of these problems will await the next PM. Abe’s relatively short period of governance will not have left much resolved, and perhaps left an impression of despair on reaching resolutions at all. The US will have to hope that our enemies don’t get the notion that they can stall now and hope for a better deal with the new government in Tokyo down the road.

Abe On The Way Out?

Japan’s new prime minister may become the old PM in a short period of time. Shinzo Abe may have to resign after a drubbing at the polls this weekend and the loss of the upper chamber of Parliament:

Japan is set for a political crisis as the ruling coalition of Shinzo Abe, the prime minister, looks to have suffered heavy losses in elections for the Upper House of parliament.
Exit polls suggest that the conservative ruling camp has lost its majority, which would leave Mr Abe still in government but with a seriously reduced ability to pass legislation, despite the coalition’s two-thirds majority in the more powerful House of Representatives.
The prime minister’s allies have said that he would not need to step down in the event of a loss of majority, but many commentators think it would make his resignation inevitable after only 10 months in office.

That could prove uncomfortable for the US. Abe has been a strong ally in several ways. He has remained firm against Kim Jong-Il even after South Korea had gone a little squishy at times. He also has given logistical support to the war in Afghanistan, with the Japanese navy assisting us in the Indian Ocean.
Interestingly, these policies do not appear to have caused his unpopularity. The Telegraph reports that widespread dissatisfaction on economic issues undermined his party at the polls. Japan has just turned around its economy, and now voters seem more concerned over issues of pension equality and consistent regional investment — the kinds of issues that usually trip up leaders after a much longer period of time.
Abe insists he’ll stay on, but he may find himself hobbled in the legislature to the point where he can no longer be effective. Who will take his place — and will it complicate our efforts in North Korea and the Middle East?

Turkey Faces The Polls

Turkey faces a critical test today in its national elections, and the results could have wide implications for the entire region. The government has remained unsettled since the attempt to elect Abdullah Gul president and the threatened military coup that scotched Gul’s rise. Now the Turks will recast its parliament, and the West waits to see whether Islamists can grab enough power to change the relentlessly secular government (via Michelle Malkin):

Turks voted for a new Parliament on Sunday in a contest viewed as pivotal in determining the balance between Islam and secularism in this nation of more than 70 million.
Many people cut short vacations to head home to cast their ballots, and lines at some polling stations were long as people voted early to avoid the summer midday heat. In Istanbul, Turkey’s biggest city, traffic jammed some main roads and police officers stood guard outside the gates of schools serving as polling stations. …
The new Parliament will face a host of challenges, including a presidential election, violence by Kurdish rebels and a growing divide over the role of Islam in society.
The election was called early to defuse a political crisis over the Islamic-oriented ruling party’s choice of presidential candidate, and the three-month campaign was peaceful. Turkey has made big strides after the economic and political chaos of past decades, but some feared the vote could deepen divisions in the mostly Muslim nation.

The current government has provided a rather stable economic and political environment, although the latter began to erode after the attempt to put Gul in the presidency. Gul is a committed Islamist, who was seen as a threat to push religious dictates into law. His party also espouses Islamist values, but until Gul’s candidacy, had been careful to make those more or less guiding principles rather than legislative goals.
Turkey has been a singular success in the region as a Muslim democracy. (In the South Pacific, Indonesia would be the other.) That success comes from the constant threat of a military coup; the army has taken control of the government on several occasions when it felt that the secular nature of modern Turkey was threatened. That threat keeps Islamists like Tayyip Erdogan from attempting to create an Iran-like state at the juncture of Europe and Asia.
Erdogan’s party will likely win the elections today. The question will be how large their share of Parliament will be, and therefore how emboldened they may feel to push for deeper changes. The nomination of Gul suggests that they may feel strong enough to push the military, and these elections could provide some substantiation for their confidence.
The outcome could have tremendous repercussions for the region, especially Iraq. The PKK has created a lot of tension near the Iraqi border, and the Erdogan government has threatened to send the military into Iraq to target the PKK bases from which the Turks claim the attacks originate. That kind of military incursion could pit the US against Turkey and certainly would enrage the Kurds on both sides of the border, leading to an eruption of fighting in the region. We can’t afford to have Turkey turn against us, not when we have our hands full with Iraq, Iran, and Syria. We can hardly afford to lose our best success in the Kurdish north, either.
The count should be completed shortly. We shall see what direction Turkey has chosen.
UPDATE: Erdogan has won an impressive victory today:

Turkey’s Islamic-rooted ruling party won parliamentary elections Sunday, taking at least 331 of 550 seats despite warnings from the secular opposition that the government was a threat to secular traditions.
The state-run Anatolia news agency said the ruling Justice and Development Party had won with 85 percent of the votes counted. Two secular parties, the Republican People’s Party and the Nationalist Action Party, won 124 seats and 76 seats respectively, Anatolia said. Independents won 19 seats.

The Justice and Development Party now can form a single-party government, with a clear mandate for continuing its current policies. That may not be very good news for the US, Iraq, or Europe, but it isn’t all that bad, either. At least so far, Erdogan and his party has resisted the urge to impose Islamist policies on Turkey, out of fear of the military response. These elections, while a clear victory, do not eliminate that boundary.

Japanese Anger Over The Truth

Anger over remarks about the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki forced the Japanese defense minister to apologize today. Fumio Kyuma had told an audience the previous day that he held no grudge against the United States, as the bombings forced Japan to surrender before the Soviet Union had a chance to invade:

Japan’s defense minister apologized on Sunday for comments about the 1945 U.S. atomic bomb attacks on the country which outraged survivors and drew criticism from the ruling bloc ahead of a key election in late July.
Defense Minister Fumio Kyuma said he had not meant to offend the victims when he said on Saturday the bombings “couldn’t be helped” because they had brought World War Two to an end and had prevented the Soviet Union from entering the war against Japan.
“If my remarks were seen as lacking regard for the feelings of atomic bomb victims, then I am sorry,” he told a news conference.
On Saturday, Kyuma had said in a speech: “My understanding is that it ended the war and that it couldn’t be helped … I don’t hold a grudge against the United States.”

The remarks infuriated victims of the bombings and others in Japan, who continue to see themselves as more sinned against in World War II than sinners themselves. Ten days ago, Japan’s government started a firestorm of protest by toning down significant aspects of their wartime atrocities in history textbooks. Okinawans reacted in fury to one change, which downplayed the Japanese Army’s role in forcing thousands of civilians on the island to commit “suicide” rather than to surrender to the American military.
That reaction paled in comparison to the worldwide condemnation of a group within Japan’s ruling party, who declared that the Rape of Nanking was a fabrication. In six weeks, the Japanese killed between 150,000-300,000 civilians in a city that presented no wartime threat to Japan. The disciplined Imperial Army turned into a pillage movement, raping women, killing civilians indiscriminately and purposely. They put the city to the torch — and it wasn’t an isolated incident. After getting a bloody nose from the Chinese in Shanghai, they pillaged all the way to Nanking.
The Japanese have refused to acknowledge these atrocities, and many more besides, which gives them the intellectual cover to consider themselves victims in the final two bombings of the war. In truth, the Japanese had conducted themselves as brutally and as cruelly as any army could possibly have. In Okinawa, they made it clear that they would murder their own people before admitting military defeat, and they had even less compunction about murdering civilians in other nations, as the Chinese and Filipinos can attest.
Faced off against that kind of enemy, the US had no choice but to use the most powerful weapon in its arsenal to avoid the inch-by-inch massacre of an invasion of the main island. The Japanese refused to surrender, still believing in their megalomaniacal mission to rule Asia to the very end. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were significant cities for Japan’s war effort, and the US warned Japan that we would target them with a terrible new weapon if they did not surrender. And as Kyuma notes, the Soviet Union had finally declared war on Japan, and they would have been more than interested in carving up the islands as they were with Germany and eastern Europe.
Kyuma has no reason to apologize. The Japanese should pull their heads out of the darkness and start acknowledging that their brutality and bloodthirstiness in a decade of war in Asia led to the inevitable in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

China Wins The Coaled Medal

China has overtaken the US in carbon emissions, thanks to a growth rate that has far exceeded predictions and a suprising reduction in US emissions. Of course, the Guardian fails to mention that aspect in its report, but it does note that the US warned that any emissions protocols that excluded China would fail:

China has overtaken the United States as the world’s biggest producer of carbon dioxide, the chief greenhouse gas, figures released today show.
The surprising announcement will increase anxiety about China’s growing role in driving man-made global warming and will pile pressure onto world politicians to agree a new global agreement on climate change that includes the booming Chinese economy. China’s emissions had not been expected to overtake those from the US, formerly the world’s biggest polluter, for several years, although some reports predicted it could happen as early as next year.
But according to the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, soaring demand for coal to generate electricity and a surge in cement production have helped to push China’s recorded emissions for 2006 beyond those from the US already. It says China produced 6,200m tonnes of CO2 last year, compared with 5,800m tonnes from the US. Britain produced about 600m tonnes.

The Senate saw this outcome in 1997, when they refused to consider the Kyoto treaty as long as it excluded China and India. The treaty resembled an economic suicide pact as it hamstrung energy production in Western nations while allowing the emerging economic powerhouses in Asia unrestricted use of its coal and oil resources. The Bush administration agreed and tried to implement an agreement that would have included China and India in a series of voluntary targets and financial incentives.
Europe objected to the effort, claiming that the Bush administration wanted to undermine emissions controls. However, their own track record shows that they have given nothing but lip service to the protocols they champion. A report last year shows Europe on pace to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by a whopping 0.6% by 2010 — less than half of what we achieved last year alone here in the US.
China’s emergence as the top emitter years ahead of schedule shows the folly of both relying on Kyoto experts for predictions and the Kyoto treaty to reduce global emissions.

The Kingdom Made Her Slouch

Megan Stack writes a fascinating account of her experiences as a woman in Saudi Arabia, stationed there for the last four years by the Los Angeles Times. If anyone wonders what being a woman in Saudi Arabia means, Stack gives a firsthand account of the demeaning and oppressive existence that all women — Western or otherwise — endure in the Kingdom. For Stack, the abaya that Saudi law required her to wear not only symbolized her oppression, but actually seeped into her psyche:

As I roamed in and out of Saudi Arabia, the abaya, or Islamic robe, eventually became the symbol of those shifting rules.
I always delayed until the last minute. When I felt the plane dip low over Riyadh, I’d reach furtively into my computer bag to fish out the black robe and scarf crumpled inside. I’d slip my arms into the sleeves without standing up. If I caught the eyes of any male passengers as my fingers fumbled with the snaps, I’d glare. Was I imagining the smug looks on their faces?
The sleeves, the length of it, always felt foreign, at first. But it never took long to work its alchemy, to plant the insecurity. After a day or two, the notion of appearing without the robe felt shocking. Stripped of the layers of curve-smothering cloth, my ordinary clothes suddenly felt revealing, even garish. To me, the abaya implied that a woman’s body is a distraction and an interruption, a thing that must be hidden from view lest it haul the society into vice and disarray. The simple act of wearing the robe implanted that self-consciousness by osmosis.
In the depths of the robe, my posture suffered. I’d draw myself in and bumble along like those adolescent girls who seem to think they can roll their breasts back into their bodies if they curve their spines far enough. That was why, it hit me one day, I always seemed to come back from Saudi Arabia with a backache.
The kingdom made me slouch.

Like most people, I find the experiences of Westerners in foreign lands intriguing, and not just for the supposedly odd behaviors of the natives. It’s interesting to see how Westerners bring their own assumptions and values to their travels, and how they mesh or clash with reality. After all, one hardly can have studied Saudi Arabia at all without knowing of the impulse to cover and hide women that the Saudis have, but knowing it is far from living it, as Stack discovered.
Just the act of covering herself created a cognitive dissonance for Stack. She had little awareness of exposing herself before traveling to Saudi Arabia, but when she was able to finally shed the abaya in public — on the plane out of Riyadh — she felt strangely immodest. Wearing the abaya on some level made her buy into the male fear of the feminine in Saudi Arabia, which might explain why so many Saudi women see nothing wrong with the tribal customs of total submission to males. They’ve lived an entire life under the abaya.
One passage struck me in particular as revealing. Stack met a couple who had traveled abroad and educated themselves in the West. When they lived outside of Saudi Arabia, the wife was independent, outgoing, and able to take care of herself. When they moved to Saudi Arabia, she could not do any of those things — and the husband realized that she had become a dependent, an added burden. The system traps everyone, but no one seems ready to change it, and certainly not the religious police that Stack narrowly avoided on one occasion.
This also points out the dangers of moral relativism and multiculturalism. Obviously Stack objects strongly to the treatment of women in Saudi Arabia, and rightly so. However, a multiculturalist would probably criticize that objection as a result of Western projection — especially since it was Stack who went to Saudi Arabia. She could find herself accused of American cultural imperialism, and in fact had that experience when talking with some of the women. Yet, Stack was expected to abide by that culture while in Saudi Arabia, while some Muslims who emigrate to the West demand that we respect that culture when they arrive here, arguing for multiculturalism that doesn’t exist in their homelands (and that’s not limited to Muslims, either).
Be sure to read the entire article. I doubt the Los Angeles Times will want to send another woman to Saudi Arabia for a lengthy assignment after reading this — but would that conflict with our own cultural norms and legal requirements?

Former CIA Client Built An Army For Laos Coup

Federal agents conducted a series of raids across California to shut down a private army that intended to conduct a coup d’etat against the Communist government of Laos. General Vang Pao, a former CIA client in Laos, wanted to purchase explosives to conduct a terrorist attack on Vientiane and remove the Communists he failed to defeat decades ago:

The ageing former leader of the CIA’s “Secret Army” in Laos was in an American prison last night, accused of mounting a coup against his and Washington’s old Communist enemy. General Vang Pao, 77, and nine other people were arrested in dawn raids by more than 200 federal agents in dawn raids across California.
The detentions were the culmination of ‘Operation Tarnished Eagle’, a six-month investigation into an attempt to bring down Laos’ Communist government.
According to prosecutors Vang Pao and his co-conspirators planned to spend almost USD 10 million (pounds 5 million) on weaponry including assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, Stinger surface-to-air missiles, mines and C-4 explosives.
They were recruiting a mercenary force to attack government buildings in the Lao capital Vientiane and “reduce them to rubble,” they said.

How much has the world changed since Pao’s defeat in 1975? Ventiane remains Communist, but is only one of five outright Communist dictatorships left in the world, according to the Telegraph. They remain isolated and disengaged, still fighting internally against the Hmong, who oppose their brutal rule. Many Hmong migrated to the US; in fact, a fair number of them live in the Twin Cities.
Thirty years ago, the US would likely have provided assistance to Pao for fighting Communists. Now, however, we have no reason to target the Laotians militarily, and we certainly cannot allow Pao or any other asylum-seekers to use the US as a base for what appears to be terrorism. The cause may have some nobility, but the tactics appear unacceptable — and we simply cannot have private armies assembling in our nation for an attack on another nation. If we tolerated that, we would be responsible for the act of war just as if our own military had conducted it.
It will be interesting to see how this case plays out. Raising $10 million is no easy feat. Where did he get the money, and who else was involved in this proto-insurgency?

Did We Send Mixed Signals To China On Taiwan?

According to Congressional Quarterly’s Jeff Stein, the Department of Defense under Donald Rumsfeld may have aggravated China’s paranoia over Taiwan by deliberately undermining the long-standing US policy on relations between the two. Colin Powell’s chief of staff, Lawrence Wilkerson, claims that the Pentagon encouraged Taiwan to declare independence against the policy of the Bush administration — a move that would have touched off a military confrontation with Beijing (via Memeorandum):

The same top Bush administration neoconservatives who leap-frogged Washington’s foreign policy establishment to topple Saddam Hussein nearly pulled off a similar coup in U.S.-China relations—creating the potential of a nuclear war over Taiwan, a top aide to former Secretary of State Colin Powell says.
Lawrence B. Wilkerson, the U.S. Army colonel who was Powell’s chief of staff through two administrations, said in little-noted remarks early last month that “neocons” in the top rungs of the administration quietly encouraged Taiwanese politicians to move toward a declaration of independence from mainland China — an act that the communist regime has repeatedly warned would provoke a military strike.
The top U.S. diplomat in Taiwan at the time, Douglas Paal, backs up Wilkerson’s account, which is being hotly disputed by key former defense officials.

During the Nixon effort to “open up” Red China, the US agreed to a formulation which recognized only one China, with its capital in Beijing. In return, China agreed to consider Taiwan an autonomous entity outside of its direct control. The US guaranteed Taiwan’s security as long as the status quo remained.
Three years ago, however, Taiwan began making noises about declaring independence. During most of 2004, a crisis mentality prevailed after an assassination attempt on President Chen Shui-bian and VP Annette Lu failed in March of that year. Many blamed China, as Chen had been talking up independence. Only after the failure of Chen’s party to hold the parliament in December did tempers cool.
Wilkerson accuses Therese Shaheen of manipulating Chen into pushing for independence. Shaheen ran the American Institute in Taipei at the time, which took over the diplomatic functions of the embassy after the US closed it in 1979. Shaheen openly endorsed Chen, and since Shaheen is the wife of Lawrence DiRita, a close aid of Donald Rumsfeld, the Chinese took that endorsement as an official position change for the US — and began acting accordingly.
Stein notes that the people Wilkerson accuses of this shadow diplomacy all deny it in very strong terms. Douglas Feith says that the accusations are too fuzzy to refute in detail, but that the “remarks are not even close to being accurate.” DiRita calls them “completely ridiculous … absurd.” However, Shaheen worked for Douglas Paal at the Institute, and Paal corroborates Wilkerson’s account. In the end, the White House put its foot down and stamped out the effort, according to both men.
The sudden crisis of 2004 in Taiwan has always seemed odd. Wilkerson’s story could explain why Taiwan changed course so abruptly and pushed for a challenge to Beijing so openly. If so, then it calls into question the judgment of some DoD officials, especially considering the fact that we already have a war on our hands against radical Islamist terrorists, in and out of Iraq. We hardly needed to provoke a military engagement over Taiwan.