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South Asian Summary: September 7-10, 2021

With the announcement of a caretaker government by the Taliban, attention across most of the subcontinent is focused on the future of Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and China.

Taliban 2.0

The sheer volume of articles on Afghanistan and Afghanistan-related topics makes it difficult to document all the positions. But, there does seem to be something of a consensus forming.

  1. The Taliban is opting for a hardline government. Not many commentators found it ‘inclusive’. The high place given to the Haqqani network was viewed by many Indian commentators as being the consequence of Pakistani pressure, while some Pakistani commentators said that the Taliban’s hardening stance was a bad sign. Some said this was a gesture of defiance aimed at the US specifically.
  2. Afghanistan will collapse economically. There is still a handful of Pakistani writers claiming that “peace” in Afghanistan will finally allow for the realization of BRI-led South Asian-Central Asian unity and prosperity, but the numbers are diminishing. Some are anticipating waves of economic refugees following the previous waves of war and political refugees. No one seems to think Pakistan has the capacity to stabilize the Afghan economy, and China doesn’t have the will. The Taliban probably does not have the capacity to ensure security for any major economic projects.
  3. China (in Xinjiang) and India (in Kashmir) have been locking down with various degrees of repression their threatening Muslim-majority provinces. Pakistan (in Afghanistan and thus Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) has just set its restive provinces loose.
  4. The impression one gets from this is that if Afghanistan has been sucked into the maelstrom of Pakistani geopolitical considerations, Pakistan is about to get sucked into the maelstrom of Afghan anarchy. How will this impact Pakistani domestic politics? Will that threaten the PTI’s grasp on power? Will that upset the cozy relationship between the PTI and the military? Will Pakistan go to war with the Pakistani Taliban (TTP)? Will China put up with Pakistan’s ceaseless ideological-geopolitical games?
  5. China wants to needle India in Ladakh and would probably be happy to see India get tangled up with Pakistan in Kashmir. But, does China see an upsurge in instability along the Kabul River axis (the line that runs from Kabul to Peshawar to Islamabad to Srinigar) interfering with its plans along the Indus River axis in the shape of the CPEC? One would imagine that the Chinese value CPEC & Gwadar more than Kashmir or short-term gains in Ladakh. This question, however, never comes up in South Asian opinion pieces, and this might be related to the region’s (willful?) ignorance of Chinese priorities vis-à-vis Taiwan and the South China Sea.

India

Domestically, attention is focused on the BJP/Hindutva/RSS conglomerate and the attempts of the oppositions (if you will) to find a way to dislodge Modi and Adityanath and company out of power first in Uttar Pradesh (UP) and then in New Delhi. In UP, the Dalit-dominated BSP led by former Chief Minister Mayawati is trying to reconstitute a coalition between Dalits and Brahmans to break the BJP’s grip on the Hindu vote. The farmer protests in the west of the state suggest that alliances that break against the BJP coalitions might be possible.

A caste census seems to be attracting more and more attention as a tool for breaking up the Hindutva coalitions, but there have not been many strong cases made for precisely why a caste census is needed or, more to the point, what ought to happen once the castes are enumerated. In any case, Congress cannot seem to work up an appetite for the exercise (as it is allegedly dominated by high-caste members of various religious constituencies). It seems difficult to make a caste census the wedge issue without Congress leadership, since the regional parties, neither individually or collectively, have the wherewithal to coalesce around a common purpose.

What the opposition parties have been able to agree on, it would seem, is a need to embrace Hindutva symbolism and gestures, according to a number of articles.

Nepal

In Nepal, the Deuba honeymoon is already over, it seems. The PM is criticized for his single-minded focus on passing an ordinance that he objected to only months ago when he was leader of the opposition, a rule making it easier for parties to split.

Meanwhile, debate about the US-sponsored MCC agreement continues to swirl. Comments by American representatives that the MCC-financed developments were a part of the US’s Indo-Pacific Strategy seem to have been interpreted as an attempt to draw Nepal into an anti-China coalition while others have claimed certain provisions in the MCC agreement would abrogate Nepali sovereignty. According to some Nepali writers, the most virulent opposition has come from both the far (Maoist) left and the far (royalist-Hindutva) right.

Sri Lanka

Members of the opposition have questioned the need for emergency powers in order to deal with the food crisis caused by the depletion of currency reserves.

Southeast Asian Summary: September 6-9, 2021

Both the South China Sea and Afghanistan have largely fallen by the wayside as objects of focus in Southeast Asian commentary in recent days.

China good, bad, and indifferent

In Singapore, the interest has mostly been expressed in the reprint of FT columns concerning China’s ideological transformations rather than regional issues. For example, The Chinese control revolution: Maoist echoes of Xi’s power play and Xi’s digital blueprint for governing China in The Straits Times.

In Thailand, more attention is being paid to China’s role in Thailand, with some—particularly among the anti-establishment elements—continuing to accuse China of interfering in Thai domestic disputes. Questioning the procurement of Sinovac and other pandemic-related materiel from China invites retaliation by both Chinese representatives and members of the Thai establishment, according to some. The Bangkok Post enthuses about the growing connections between Thailand and China yet also slyly points to some of the reasons young Chinese are attracted to Thailand: “Buddhism, cool Thailand and LGBT tolerance have been cited as prominent Thai cultural assets that attracted the Chinese.” Some of these elements have become strictly taboo in China in recent weeks. Others have been taboo for longer: “social media has also reached out to Thai young people with knowledge and perceptions of China in the most extraordinary ways, which are different from conventional thinking. Indeed, the Milk Tea Alliance movement is a good case study.”

Another piece in The Bangkok Post mentions Chinese infrastructure ambitions along the Myanmar-Thai border, how this might intensify fighting on the Myanmar side, and how Thailand’s ruling PPRP party seems eager for China to fund dams on their side of the border as well.

The Irrawaddy, seeming to confirm rumors that China has been putting pressure on the Myanmar junta to give the deposed NLD breathing room, reports “The CPC is planning to hold a virtual meeting with political parties from Southeast and South Asia on Thursday. The party has invited four out of Myanmar’s 93 political parties, including the NLD. The invitation can be seen as Beijing’s official recognition of the NLD despite attempts by Myanmar’s regime to dissolve it.” Could China succeed in Afghanistan and Myanmar where the West (and ASEAN) have failed? In yesterday’s summary we noted how China warned the West about backing the pro-democracy uprising.

The Phnom Penh Post reports on the Chinese foreign minister’s recently announced upcoming visits to Vietnam, Singapore, South Korea, and Cambodia. He will be “Promoting a new development paradigm under BRI framework will be another main agenda of the visit,” an official said. This is a reference to “China’s practice of foregoing…intrusive and demanding requirements regarding the internal policies of developing countries it provides aid to, in contrast to the US and EU’s traditional insistence …[on] democratic governance, civil liberties and human rights.”

VietnamPlus reported a meeting between Vietnamese and Chinese officials, during which the Vietnamese side expressed its hope in “maintaining a peaceful environment conductive to each side’s development, and properly settling differences, including issues at sea, by peaceful means in line with international law.”

In The Jakarta Post, a former Indonesian diplomat enthused about the contributions the Chinese leadership could make to “global governance”. “One particularly important area of participation is for China to play a role as a peacemaker; namely, to play a role in conflict mediation and resolution. China’s influence would help to mediate internal conflicts in many countries. Of course, China is cautious about this role due to its commitment to the principle of non-interference.”

In the Philippines, an article again questioned why President Duterte assured Xi Jinping that the country would remain “neutral” in any future regional conflicts despite having a Mutual Defense Treaty with the United States. The author questioned whether the Duterte was looking to make the Philippines “the 24th province”.

And, Radio Free Asia reports that some Laos officials are uncomfortable with the alleged unequal benefits of Chinese investment in the country, not to mention that country’s increasing debt load.

Terror

There continues to be concern about Islamist terrorism in the region, especially Indonesia, since the Taliban victory. A piece in The Jakarta Post written by a former jihadi dissects the two maintain organizations of concern: Jamaah Islamiyah (JI) and Jamaah Ansharud Daulah (JAD), a local affiliate of Islamic State (IS). The latter is more likely to engage in violent attacks in the short-term but lacks ideological stamina while the former has a more complex and disciplined organization, is better integrated into Indonesian society, and thus makes for a more formidable long-term threat.

Indonesia

The Jakarta Post  questions the wisdom of going on with Indonesia’s National Games in October both because of the raging pandemic and unrest in Papua where the games are to be held.

Another piece there considers the legacy of Suharto in Indonesia, concluding with reflections on how many New Order apparatchiks have survived and thrived in a democratic Indonesia and the extent to which President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo ‘threatens’ Indonesia’s “fragile democracy”.

Duterte, Isko, and the fate of Philippine populism

All of a sudden, Duterte looks frail, and rumors about a rift between father and daughter Duterte look to be true. Sara Duterte announced her unwillingness to run for president shortly after her father announced that he would run for VP. Meanwhile, the allegations and insinuations of corruption in the Duterte administration’s procurement of COVID-related materiel have, according to some, caused permanent damage to his power and prestige. This is particularly pronounced in the Senate, where he is said to have gone from a supermajority to a minority of support, not only for any of these particular issues, but his questioning the Senate’s authority to investigate such issues. This is causing increased resistance to Duterte’s pronouncements not only in the Senate but among technocrats and the broader political class.

One writer asks if the young, reform-minded, technocratic, populist Manila mayor Isko Moreno might not only be less heir to Duterte’s rude and abrasive populism than Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s “polite populism”.

Malay-Muslim supremacy

The replacement of a Malay-Muslim Bersatu-UMNO-PAS government with a Malay-Muslim UMNO-Bersatu-PAS government built on a legislature that had seemed to have been elected for the express purpose of getting UMNO out of power has left opposition-supporters and reformists steamed. The opposition Pakatan Harapan attempt to have to have the newly appointed PM be subjected to a confidence vote has floundered and caused them to be accused of obstructionism.

The deeper problem, as some see it, of Malay-Muslim supremacy is as extreme as ever, the ethnic minority parties are a party to this supremacy, and demography is working against them. Numerous articles explore the ethnic question in Malaysian politics. One piece looks at the competition between Bersatu and UMNO within the Malay voting bloc. According to it, Bersatu is as strong and well-placed as ever going into the next election, despite having had its PM ingloriously booted out of office.

Thailand

PM Prayut, having been weakened by the recent censure debate, is expected by some to reshuffle his cabinet in response while protests burn brighter in response to the lack of democratic response, says a piece in ThaiPBS.

A question on many minds seems to be, Just how revolutionary are the protesting Thai youths? The answer, although not clear, seems to be that they are not as anti-monarchist as the establishment fear or the republicans hope. Interviews among the Talu Gas Group, allegedly the most violent group, suggest that they are themselves divided on the monarchy. A piece in The Thai Enquirer partly blames the US’s Cold War anti-communist efforts in Thailand for today’s mess. Having linked the monarchy with anti-communism, this radicalized Thailand in a manner similar to US anti-Soviet tactics radicalized Afghans in their war.

One piece in The Bangkok Post describes how the Thai establishment is again trying to undermine protesters by focusing on a ‘virtue campaign’, with the idea being that once virtue is established, then Thailand will finally be ready for a more complete democracy. The question is, Who defines “virtue”?

Senator Sirina Pavarolarvidya, the chairperson of the sub-committee on ethics, reported on the annual progress of the national strategy and the country’s reform plan. She attributed the current social conflict to the generation gap and proposed that the virtuous council be established to provide role models for every sector of society. For her, ethics that define Thais encompass five moral principles — gratitude, discipline, honesty, sufficiency, and a volunteer spirit — which are born out of the love for nation, religion, and king. She also called for the government to invest in human resources by promoting the public health system and sports.

This has echoes not only of previous Thai political-moral campaigns but China’s drive for greater adherence to Chinese communist/Confucian norms and “sports”.

East Asian Summary: September 5-8, 2021

Japan elections

The LDP leadership vote is scheduled for September 29, and the government is considering a vote for PM the following week, on October 4, according to Japan Today. The selection of a new PM would likely be followed by a general election by as soon as November 7.

Japan Today also suggests that Taro Kono, the minister in charge of vaccinations, is the “favorite to become PM” based on his poll numbers. According to the outlet, the Kyodo News agency found 32% support for Kono, 27% for the ‘dovish’ Shigeru Ishiba, 19% for the ‘moderate’ Fumio Kishida, and single digit support for the ‘hawkish’ Sanae Takaichi (backed by Abe). Because of the strength of the LDP, the president of the party is expected to become PM, but the selection of the president is confined to LDP members. Moreover, it is unclear if Ishiba will run.

Chinese publications see no change in Japan-China relations no matter the outcome of the elections. The Global Times view Kishida, Kono, and Ishiba as the frontrunners, but see the country as being lost in both the domestic and international doldrums. Japan is struggling against COVID and is dependent on China for trade but has thrown its lot in with the US on security. Japan will not respect China until China is as powerful as it was during the Tang Dynasty. China can afford to be patient with Japan, even though Japan is expected to get ‘tougher’ on China.

In another piece there, Japan’s ability to support Taiwan is likely limited by Japan’s fiscal constraints. Kishida is termed a “moderate” who “probably will not take any…bold measure[s] to defend Taiwan”, but Japan generally has limited ability to maneuver because it must “follow [the] US’ lead [sic] on the Taiwan question”.

China-Europe-US relations

On a number of foreign policy issues, Chinese outlets advocate taking a calm, patient approach. The democracies are unstable and weak, and China only needs to maintain stability to win the day. “The more steady China is, the more opportunities we will have to see the disputes between the US and Europe”, says The Global Times. Like Japan, Europe “cannot afford ‘decoupling’ with China” economically. As with Japan, they expect Europe to put increasing pressure on China “as leverage”, but China only needs to understand “the basic nature and outlook of China-Europe relations and have confidence in our ability to safeguard our interests in relation with Europe”. Ultimately, due to economic constraints and US unreliability, Europe will eventually have to become more reasonable vis-à-vis China.

Taiwan independence

The tone of patience and reason evaporates when it comes to Taiwan, unfortunately. Taiwan’s ruling DPP is warned of overestimating its strength and blames the DPP for the downturn in China-Taiwan relations. The language from China on Taiwan and Lithuania has been less belligerent in recent days, although the threat of force remains.

In Taiwan, the language continues to grow more confident in tone. In response to both Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense (MND) report that said China could ‘paralyze’ Taiwanese forces and the US debacle in Afghanistan, a piece in Taiwan News noted that Taiwan is moving from strength to strength. Having been embarrassed in Afghanistan, the US is less likely to let the same thing happen in Taiwan, there is growing support for Taiwan in Europe, and Taiwan’s military budget is increasing 10% compared to 2020.

A former official from the US Department of Defense argued in The Taipei Times that if China were to follow through on threats to fly over Taiwan and declare Chinese sovereignty in response to President Tsai’s possible participation in the US-sponsored Summit for Democracy, that would likely be viewed as an act of war and this would force Taiwan to declare independence.

Pakistan-China vs India-US

Chinese media has had a lot to say about Pakistan and Afghanistan and how the US and India relate to the situation there. There is none of the occasional optimism that one finds in Pakistani dreams of Chinese geoeconomics bringing peace to the region. Perhaps the most significant piece is from The Global Times, which is outraged at a reported willingness by the US and India to “cede their influence in Afghanistan” to China and Pakistan so long as Afghanistan does not “foster terrorism”. “The anti-terrorism mess is left to Afghanistan itself, or neighboring countries like China and Pakistan…It is China that binds the US and India together. Washington and New Delhi believe that if they can pass the buck to China and bring China down, then why not?”

China Military also argues that India is becoming increasingly nervous about what it sees as a “new Quad” (China, Russia, Iran, and Pakistan) centered on Afghanistan. It goes on to say that this is a kind of psychological projection of India’s fear of isolating itself in relation to the Indo-Pacific Quad if it is ultimately abandoned by the US and ASEAN. Having contributed to Asian instability, India is afraid of harvesting what it has sown, so to speak.

Myanmar instability

The Global Times accuses the “US and the West” of urging “Myanmar’s shadow government” to announce a full-throttled “public revolution”. It castigates the West for making an unstable situation more unstable; in effect, of repeating the mistakes it made in Afghanistan. Like it or not, the junta “has deep-rooted power in the country” and has successfully withstood “waves of protests…, bomb attacks…and sanctions”. “It has been proven that the Western-style system does not fit Myanmar.” Rumors in Myanmar media have suggested in recent days that China has told the junta it disapproves of attempts to disband the National League for Democracy (NLD), and although it urges the NLD not to start a civil war, it says, cryptically, the NLD, “which was overthrown by Myanmar’s military…is still the legitimate party in Myanmar”.

In its next breath, it says China adheres to a foreign policy of non-interference (something nobody in Myanmar believes), and then seems to make a list of reasons why China has a legitimate interest in Myanmar’s internal politics, a list that can be reduced to one word: spillover.

South Korean foreign policy

Two notable pieces on South Korea’s foreign policy…one on China’s attack on K-Pop and another on South Korea’s possible inclusion in the Five Eyes intelligence alliance, both in The Korea Times.

The first piece argues that the combination of the continued ban on Korean performances in China as retaliation for THAAD and the new ban on K-Pop clubs suggests the Korean entertainment industry is being deliberately targeted. It also argues that China must not forget that “freedom of choice is a basic human right”.

On intelligence sharing with Five Eyes (plus Germany, India, and Japan), the paper sees it as a “double-edged sword”. Apart from the material benefits, South Korea could be seen as siding with the Quad against China. “South Korea…must go all-out to avoid a worst-case scenario in which it will be forced to choose sides”.

South Korean election

Domestically, a lot of attention is focused on the upcoming presidential race. The ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK), especially the frontrunner governor of Gyeonggi, is coming under increased criticism for fiscally irresponsible populism while the opposition People Power Party (PPP) is dealing with two issues. First, the frontrunner has been accused of leaking sensitive information to the PPP when he was Prosecutor General under the current DPK government. Second, there is a great deal of infighting among the PPP candidates, most recently about whether or not non-party members should be allowed to vote in the primary.

South Asian Summary: September 3-7, 2021

Many South Asian writers seem to think that the subcontinent has replaced the Middle East as the most contested/valuable geopolitical prize, apparently because it is where Russia, China, India, the US, and the Muslim world meet. Although some seem to be aware of Chinese claims on Taiwan, they are not aware of the Chinese obsession with Taiwan. As Ashutosh Varshney puts it:

China’s Taiwan preoccupation is not adequately appreciated in India’s intellectual and political quarters, which remain understandably concerned with China’s border plans. But…Chinese security policy has a relentless Taiwan obsession. For Beijing, the border with India is a much less significant game. China has never given up its ambition of capturing Taiwan, which it views as a “renegade province”.

As Varshney argues, it is understandable for India to be primarily concerned with Chinese designs on Indian territory, but it might be dangerous to exaggerate the geostrategic implications of those concerns. Dangerous because it might make Chinese and US moves unpredictable and seemingly irrational.

An example of this kind of strategic myopia can be found in a piece from Sri Lanka, written by a former Minister of Science and Technology and provincial governor under the Rajapaksa regime. The piece imagines an American attempt to start a war with China in the South China Sea that will spread west and make Sri Lanka the strategic battleground:  

In this scenario Sri Lanka is in grave danger. With India under pressure, from re-invigorated Muslim countries on the West and China on the East, besides its sizeable Muslim internal population and Opposition from Congress, the USA is bound to turn to Sri Lanka.

The writer then mixes this scenario with the US’s Millenium Challenge Corporation (MCC)—a bogeyman among Nepalese Marxists and nationalists, as we noted in recent weeks—and Sri Lanka’s current fiscal/food crisis:

Attempts will be made to activate the MCC and SOFA agreements, that would make Sri Lanka an economic colony of US multinational corporations (MNCs), and also a military base of the USA. The deliberate running down of the economy, with a very low foreign exchange reserve, and a high level of debt, will be used against us to compel us to get IMF Loans, with all their neo-liberal conditions. That will end the good move of the present SLPP-led [Rajapaksa] Government to build a national economy free of debt (sic).

In the background is a portrait of a China without territorial ambitions:

China is a (Third World ) country that has emerged from its poverty through industrialization and trade. Sri Lanka and other countries face no military threat from China. Not being an imperialist country it is focused on trade.

The point is not that this particular concatenation of ideas is mainstream in Sri Lanka or South Asia more generally, but rather that, especially it seems in Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, there are wild geopolitical visions in which the US is the villain and China the opponent and the writer’s particular country as the key to the coming battle.

A similar example from Pakistan:

Conventional skirmishes can be enacted in Kashmir and along with the LoC but we need to set up an army of trained civilians and natives for assistance in case of war instead of sole dependency on regular army. We can mobilize, motivate and train the youth only after the economy starts ticking back again…

In the context of India-US-Israel realignment and strategic partnership has raised concerns to national security. The West-ba[c]ked India is threatening the peace of the region. India is dreaming of monopolizing Asian region. India has ventured to empower its defence through war jets. The US is also facilitating India to improve its naval nuclear capabilities to subjugate China, Russia and Pakistan. It is of pivotal significance for us to ponder over deterrence against the enemy at present and in future. We need to reshape our foreign policy to push India back from the world power umbrella…

The long Washington-Islamabad ties experiences have manifested that Pakistan should look for alternative options in the international community especially in strategic fields. Moscow and Beijing can prove very valuable in this regard.

In India, one argues that in case of the outbreak of a Sino-Indian war, perhaps India should turn to Russia for help instead of the US, because if the US is leaving its alliance with Pakistan, it might abandon the US in the future, as well.

India, now considered a US ally should judge its foreign policy anew. Despite India being actively involved in QUAD, what is the guarantee that the US will come to India’s rescue in the event of a Sino-India conflict? For security, the countries that are dependent on the USA should keep another option open. Once Pakistan was the closest non-Nato ally of the US. America only prioritizes its own interests; India should not distance itself from her time-tested ally, Russia.

Meanwhile, the debate about the implications of the Taliban’s victory continues. It is not clear whether or not the Taliban will be able to create a stable state, even with Pakistan doing all it can in Kabul and the Panjshir Valley to help the Taliban along. There are fissures both ethnic and ideological in the country and the Taliban. One writer differentiated between the ‘Doha faction’ and the ‘Haqqani faction’.

And then there is the eternal AfPak Question and ultimately whether Pakistan will be more under the influence of Afghanistan or vice versa. Pakistani writers often celebrate the Taliban victory and Pakistan’s role there, and in the next breath warn against allowing any influence of the Taliban and their ideological kin into Pakistan. China, it is hoped, will be able to finance a more stable Afghanistan, since Pakistan won’t.

If things do not go well in Afghanistan, the expectation is that it will have been because of Indian meddling (with the blessing of the Americans), and yet Iran has already kicked up a fuss about the alleged support provided by Pakistan to the Taliban in the Panjshir Valley.

One place where it is feared/hoped that India might have some leverage is the Durand Line, which no modern Afghan government has recognized. Pakistan has been busy fencing the border that cuts through Pashtun lands, and according to India’s The Statesman, the Taliban has asked Pakistan to stop, implying that it does not recognize the border either.

In a piece by a former president of Pakistan’s National Defense University, the obsessions with the AfPak border, India, Islamist spillover, the US, and the China-Pakistan Economic Border are all rolled into one:

India has no shared borders or any religious or cultural affinity with Afghanistan; however, it has enjoyed substantial Machiavellian influence in the country due to its unflinching support to the regime brought in by the US. It used this clout to manipulate perceptions of the occupied, the occupier governments and the masses, about Pakistan, to promote its own agenda. Taking advantage of the post 9/11 environment, it sowed seeds of discord among Pakistan, Afghanistan and the US governments through fake narratives, to divert attention from its barbarity in Kashmir and to bracket the freedom movement there, with terrorism. For the same reasons, they continued to endorse the untenable Afghan claims on Pakistani territory, who myopically opposed our border control measures through fencing. This enabled India to destabilize us through coordinated terrorist attacks by their Afghan proxies like the TPP, Baloch rebels and ISIS (K). Last year, the Indian FM disclosed that India had ‘400 plus projects, spread over all 34 Afghan provinces’. Ostensibly, these are development schemes but as usual, India would misuse them, like their Consulates, to continue its dirty games in Afghanistan. While offers from Pakistan for training the Afghan civil and military bureaucracy were mostly rejected by the former Afghan rulers, according to Indian media, 8000 Afghans, including 800-1000 officers have been trained over the last decade in Indian civil and military institutions. The RAW-NDS nexus, witnessed during all terrorist attacks in Pakistan and the hostility and rancour, exhibited against Pakistan by former Afghan NSA and Vice President and others of the old regime, are indicative that these persons were thoroughly brainwashed, to regard Pakistan as the enemy. The present Indian worry is that the change in Afghanistan may deny them their unlimited freedom to hurt Pakistan besides boosting the morale of the Kashmiris. They have therefore vowed to do all that they can, to oppose and undo this. For this, they will use Afghan dissidents, former Afghan officials and their links with their Afghan alumnus….

[A]rms and ammunition left by the Afghan security forces could have fallen into the wrong hands…

The new Afghan government must be cognizant of the clear and present dangers to its internal security from India. (3) Pakistan must share all previous and new dossiers, containing evidence of Indian terrorism in Pakistan, originating from Afghanistan, with the new regime. (4) For its own sake, Afghanistan must commit to respecting the Pak-Afghan border, disarm all former combatants and collaborate with us in dismantling terrorist outfits and foreign proxies on its soil. (5) Afghanistan must not encourage export of its ideology to Pakistan or elsewhere and (6) make early, serious and sustained efforts for return of all Afghan refugees to their country. (7) We must communicate all our concerns to Afghanistan at the highest level, without mincing words….

China and Pakistan must renew their offer to Afghanistan, to benefit from the CPEC, to support their failing economy…

 It is impossible that the US and its allies were ignorant of Indian misuse of Afghan soil against Pakistan which points at their complicity in the matter. For this, they must apologize to our people and compensate us.

Southeast Asian Roundup: September 2-6, 2021

CAMBODIA

Parties deny using Sokha’s name for political mileage – Khmer Times
Some former court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party officials who are forming political parties have allegedly used former CNRP leader Kem Sokha’s name to galvanize popularity ahead of the upcoming commune and national elections.

Sokha’s lawyers have said when his name is used for those parties’ benefit, it impacts Sokha as he remains banned from politics after the ex-CNRP was dissolved by the Supreme Court in November 2017, and does not want to be associated with a political party.

Kem Sokha’s treason trial has been delayed since the outbreak of the coronavirus last year. The next general election is not until 2023.

Sihanoukville’s dirty secret: Dark rumours and inside information raise questions about The China Project – Khmer Times
Ongoing investigations by Khmer Times have revealed that approximately 25,000 people are in bonded captivity and one-third of them are housed in The China Project in Sihanoukville.

Brigadier General Yi Chon, deputy police commissioner in Sihanoukville, agreed to meet Khmer Times to discuss the issue. Khmer Times journalists posed questions but he declined to immediately respond.

The three largest are The China Project in O’tres Beach II, Victory Paradise in Phum II district and a multi-building complex in a narrow alley, also in Phnum II. The latter lies hidden at the end of a dirt road. Only one car is able to drive down the narrow lane.

Cambodia supports elevation of ASEAN-China ties to Comprehensive Strategic Partnership – Khmer Times
Cambodia has voiced its support for the enhancement of the ASEAN-China ties to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership.

On the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, while ASEAN expressed appreciation to China for the extensive regional support, China further reiterated the commitment to strengthen cooperation with ASEAN, including through the support of regional capacity in the production and distribution of vaccines and medical supplies as well as recovery efforts.

On the South China Sea, ASEAN and China stressed on the importance of the implementation of the 2002 [Declaration on the Conduct of the Parties in the South China Sea] DOC, and welcomed the resumption of the COC [Code of Conduct] textual negotiations towards its early conclusion.

The DOC was an agreement among China and the ASEAN states separately to pursue a COC. “According to diplomatic sources, China has three basic demands regarding the code of conduct: It should not be covered by the Unclos treaty; joint military exercises with countries outside the region must have the prior consent of all parties to the agreement; and no resource development should be conducted with countries outside the region.”

INDONESIA

How Kadin has turned into Jokowi’s lobbying machine – Politics – The Jakarta Post
Kadin, Indonesia’s biggest business lobby group, appears to have strengthened its ties to the government after members of the Cabinet, heavyweight politicians and corporate allies filled up its new board.

Reports previously emerged that several Kadin branch members had been approached by people claiming to be State Intelligence Agency (BIN) officials, headed by Budi Gunawan, a close confidante of Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) matriarch Megawati Sukarnoputri, allegedly telling them to vote for Arsjad (the new chairman of Kadin).

Kadin describes itself as “an independent spokesperson of private sector interests [and] the only nation-wide business organization mandated by Law…to speak on behalf of private business, maintaining a privileged liaison to Government Officials and covering all relevant sectors.”

Jokowi shores up power base – Fri, September 3 2021 – The Jakarta Post
A day after the country passed the 4-million COVID-19 cases mark on Aug. 24, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo gathered the executives of six ruling coalition parties at the State Palace to introduce the National Mandate Party (PAN), a party with strong support among urban Muslims, as a “New best friend” of the government.

With PAN officially joining the ruling coalition, Jokowi, whose popularity dropped from above 70 percent at the beginning of the pandemic to below 60 percent last month, has now secured the support of 82 percent of members of the House, leaving only the Democratic Party and the Prosperous Justice Party as the opposition.

“Jokowi is anxious about the curse of the second term,” said Adi Prayitno, a political analyst of the Jakarta State Islamic University, when asked about Jokowi’s decision to include PAN into the ruling coalition, a move that could alienate other coalition parties.

The “curse of the second term” is a reference to the tendency of ruling-coalition politicians and parties to weaken the current government in a bid to gain power in the next election (in this case, 2024). Meanwhile, rumors continue to swirl that the constitution might be amended in such a way as to allow Jokowi to run for a third term.

TERRORISM

The rise of familial extremism: Suicide bombings in Philippines, Indonesia linked to family in Malaysia, SE Asia News & Top Stories – The Straits Times
Recent terrorist bombings in the Philippines and Indonesia have been linked to a family living in Malaysia’s Sabah state, say experts, who warn that familial extremism is a growing trend in the region.

The perpetrators of the suicide bombings that killed 23 at the Jolo cathedral in the southern Philippines in 2019, and wounded 20 people at the Makassar church in Indonesia this year, are connected to an Indonesian family who lived in Sabah for about two months.

“The attacks in both Indonesia and Philippines can be categorised as an action mobilised by a group with strong family ties and that was organised by two cross-border groups, namely JAD (Jamaah Ansharut Daulah) in Indonesia and Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines,” said Stanislaus Riyanta, a Jakarta-based security and terrorism expert.

The Sabah connection | The Star
There is a Sabah link to the deadly suicide bombings at Jolo cathedral in 2019 and the church in Makassar in 2021.

“The attacks in both Indonesia and Philippines can be categorised as an action mobilised by a group with strong family ties and that was organised by two cross-border groups, namely JAD in Indonesia and Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines,” says Stanislaus Riyanta, a security and terrorism expert based in Jakarta.

Sabah is the transit point that connected the JAD fighters in Makassar with the Abu Sayyaf gunmen in Jolo.

Foreign threats play cat and mouse games with our forces in Sabah | The Star
The preferred route for Indonesian militants to enter the southern Philippines is through Sabah.

Sabah appears to be a transit point for Indonesians who want to join terror groups or learn to make IEDs in the Philippines.

Stanislaus Riyanta, a security and terrorism expert based in Jakarta, says Sabah is a transit point for JAD members heading to the Philippines from Indonesia.

Sabah is where foreign threats play cat and mouse games with the vigilant Malaysian security forces.

MALAYSIA

The Risks Facing Malaysia’s ‘Second Chance’ Government – The Diplomat
Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s decision to give his predecessor’s cabinet a second chance might just work in his favor.

Of the 69 ministers and deputies named in Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s government, 60 – or about 87 percent – were from Muhyiddin’s last cabinet, with only nine new appointments made, mainly from Ismail’s United Malays National Organization party.

If incompetencies persist, there is no telling if Ismail will even last 100 days as prime minister, given that he is Malaysia’s third prime minister in three years.

Muhyiddin’s return will keep Ismail under control, claims Puad | Free Malaysia Today (FMT)
Umno Supreme Council member Puad Zarkashi predicts that Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob will be “Controlled” by his predecessor Muhyiddin Yassin, who was appointed as chairman of the National Recovery Council yesterday.

He also questioned whether the NRC had a wide jurisdiction, stating that there would now be terms of reference that would make the council more authoritative.

If Muhyiddin’s appointment was forced as a condition for Bersatu’s support, “This means that Ismail will be a prime minister who is ‘controlled’ and allows a Perikatan Nasional 2.0 government to exist,” Puad said.

Pakatan: AG should resign over ‘wrong’ advice that new PM need not prove majority in Parliament | Malaysia | Malay Mail
Opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan’s presidential council today said it was shocked over the attorney general’s statement yesterday that a vote of confidence is not needed in the Dewan Rakyat (Malaysia’s parliament), as it is contrary to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong’s (the Malaysian constitutional monarch) wishes for the new prime minister to present a motion for a vote of confidence in the Dewan Rakyat as soon as possible.

The PH presidential council also said Ismail Sabri should not use the AG’s “Wrong” advice if the current prime minister does not want to follow in the footsteps of the former prime minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, whom the PH presidential council said had caused political instability when his legitimacy was often doubted and disputed.

Earlier in the statement, the PH presidential council noted Istana Negara’s August 18 statement, where the Yang di-Pertuan Agong was recorded as having told the leaders of all political parties on August 17 that the prime minister which he appoints…”Has to as soon as possible table a motion for a vote of confidence in the Dewan Rakyat to validate that he commands the confidence of the majority of Dewan Rakyat members”.

MYANMAR

Tank Troop Of Myanmar Tatmadaw Deservedly Sails Into Final In Tank Biathlon (Division-2) Of International Army Games-2021 – Global New Light Of Myanmar
Tank Troop of Myanmar Tatmadaw deservedly sails into final in Tank Biathlon of International Army Games-2021.

The Myanmar Tank Squad taking part in the Tank Biathlon of the International Army Games-2021 launched in the Russian Federation on 22 August deservedly cruised into the final stage with standing at the second position in the group by passing the different group events.

Members of the Myanmar Tank Squad are participating in the Tank Biathlon of the International Army Games for the fourth time, including this year, with strenuous efforts to have the experiences of competition, technologies and friendships among the international military organizations.

Rebels claim killing 23 Myanmar troops near China border – Newspaper – DAWN.COM
Myanmar ethnic rebels have killed at least 23 government soldiers in days of fighting near the Chinese border, a spokesman for the group said on Friday, in the latest clashes likely to worry powerful neighbour Beijing.

Fifteen soldiers were killed on August 28 and eight more in renewed clashes on September 1, he said, adding one MNDAA fighter had been killed.

Video published last month by Chinese state media CGTN claimed to show the military fighting the Kachin Independence Army – another group that operates in northern Shan state – and “Several other ethnic armed groups”.

Insurgent groups, including the MDNAA, have been accused in the past of receiving arms from China.

PHILIPPINES

DOJ chief: President can run for VP, then take over as president | ABS-CBN News
President Rodrigo Duterte can run for vice president and then take over as president under proper circumstances, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said Tuesday.

“If he ran next year for vice president and won, and something happens to the sitting president or rather the president who will win next year, that is precisely the role of the vice president – to take over if the elected president dies in office, becomes permanently incapacitated or resigns,” he said.

“For the President to run for vice president is against the intent of the Constitution. It’s an insidious move to circumvent the constitutional prohibition on reelection because the Vice President is the mandatory line of succession to a vacancy,” he said.

Bongbong considering 2022 run for president | The Manila Times
Former senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. admitted he was considering running for president next year amid the support he was receiving from some sectors and political groups.

“Those supporters…say…I do better in the presidential survey than the vice-presidential survey,” Marcos said.

When pressed to comment on the revelation of his elder sister, Sen. Maria Imelda Josefa “Imee” Marcos, that he was in talks with the two factions of the PDP-Laban, he said, “In truth, we talk to everybody.”

Robredo rejected alliance–Lacson | Inquirer News
Sen. Panfilo Lacson revealed on Thursday that Vice President Leni Robredo “Resisted” his offer of trying to forge a unification of candidates between their camps when the two met to discuss possible alliances in the coming presidential elections.

In an interview, Lacson said he offered Robredo a “Sure unification formula” by having a common candidate but this was supposedly met with “Resistance.”

With Robredo not budging, Lacson said the possibility of him yielding to the Vice President is also improbable.

Negrense mayors urge Inday Sara to run for president
Calls for Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio to run for president in the coming 2022 polls have been gaining ground in Negros Occidental.

At least a dozen city and municipal mayors are urging her to join the presidential race, said Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo who recently met and shared their concerns with him.

“We want Sara to run because we want continuity,” said Panelo, quoting the local officials.

SINGAPORE

India, Singapore hold drill in South China Sea : The Tribune India
India and Singapore on Saturday completed their three-day joint exercise at sea conducted at the southern edge of the South China Sea.

Since the first week of August, a flotilla of four Indian warships is on an overseas deployment to the South East Asia, the South China Sea and Western Pacific.

What exactly are Singaporeans angry about CECA? – The Online Citizen Asia
We have witnessed the exodus of villages of Indians into Singapore and watch helplessly as they conveniently plant their roots into our economic success and inevitably drove up our public housing cost and overloaded our infrastructure, public healthcare & socio-economic balance.

If those involved in the CECA agreement can so stupid and naïve to give the Indians numerous loopholes to game our economic success, Singaporeans like myself do not blame the Indians and their politicians for taking advantage of us but are angry at them for trading away a substantial part of our economic success and employment opportunities so foolishly.

When some government officials start labelling Singaporeans as racist or xenophobic for raising their displeasure over CECA, they inadvertently created an unwarranted tension between Singaporeans and Indian professionals working in Singapore when CECA was never an issue of race or nationality.

These are the hard truths as to why many Singaporeans are angry with our government.

Singapore truly needs another human rights ‘naratif’ – Opinion – The Jakarta Post
Reading the recent speech delivered by Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong for the 2021 National Day Rally, when major policy announcements are made, could be one of the best ways to understand the approach of the ruling People’s Action Party toward the greatest challenges faced by the city-state.

The overall impression is that the government there is becoming not more progressive per se, but certainly more emphatic and caring of society in such a way that, to some extent, the projections of Donald Low and Sudhir Thomas Vadaketh in their bold book, Hard Choices, Challenging the Singapore Consensus, are coming true.

If their prognostication that Singapore’s social compact would become more focused on alleviating the needs of the common citizen is now a reality, there is still a long way for the city-state to go before it becomes a “Model democracy” as per the hopes of the book’s authors.

PSP appears intent on carrying on campaign against Ceca: Ong Ye Kung, Politics News & Top Stories – The Straits Times
Health Minister Ong Ye Kung on Tuesday said he was “Puzzled” by the Progress Singapore Party filing a motion in Parliament to debate issues around foreign workforce policy and the India-Singapore Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement free trade pact.

“Unfortunately, the PSP appears intent on carrying on its campaign against Ceca,” Mr Ong wrote on Facebook.

PSP Non-Constituency MP Leong Mun Wai had earlier announced on Facebook that he expected the private member’s motion and debate to take place on either the Sept 13 or Sept 14 sitting of Parliament.

THAILAND

PM survives debate, but takes a hit
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and his five ministers survived the censure debate on Saturday. That is not surprising despite a rumour that made the rounds among reporters in parliament that some dissident MPs of the Palang Pracharath Party, led by Deputy Agriculture Minister Thammanat Prompow, may try to unseat him.

The prime minister was repeatedly accused of “trading in death” by opposition MPs to the extent that he rose up to defend himself that the allegation was very unfair. 

[T]he various protest groups which are leaderless and do not have the support of the workers, especially in Bangkok, [are not] able to accomplish much.

The street protests launched by young protesters prone to violence, like those who gather at the Din Daeng intersection and clash with the police, have alienated many in the capital who prefer peaceful protests.

PM Prayut survives vote but is weakened – Thai Examiner
After this week’s censure debate in parliament and vote on Saturday, it is clear that the man to watch in Thai politics right now is Captain Thamanat Prompow of the Palang Pracharat Party. Minister of Public Health Anutin Charnvirakul also emerged strengthened by the parliamentary trial despite a less than impressive performance before the House of Representatives.

The Prime Minister and his government survived a no-confidence vote on Saturday in the Thai parliament but General Prayut Chan ocha’s prestige and political standing have been left diminished by a damaging week of censure and controversy with swirling rumours that his government was about to fall to a plot engineered by elements in the ruling Palang Pracharat Party and the leading opposition group in parliament, Pheu Thai.

Coup plot against the PM melts in goodwill – Thai Examiner
MPs associated with smaller political parties have confirmed that a coup plot involving Pheu Thai and the ruling Palang Pracharat Party was in play which could have led to another outside Prime Minister being elected but the question was always would the players go through with the parliamentary coup or would it be aborted at the last moment.

[W]ords were expressed between Captain Thamanat Prompow and the government leader in which the PM vowed to correct the complaints made against him that he had not met many serving Palang Pracharat Party MPs while Captain Thamanat promised that the government leader would win the no-confidence debate and do better than other minsters.

The Prime Minister said he would prefer if all government ministers emerged on an equal footing.

Opinion: Dear China, please butt out of our internal affairs – Thai Enquirer
Would the Chinese diplomatic staff like to explain why they are so ardently defending this ineffective medicine that Thailand still insisted on buying up until last week? Or explain what role Thailand’s largest conglomeration CP has in the procurement process given that it owns a part of Sinovac’s parent company?

Would the Chinese diplomatic staff like to explain why it is defending a private company and criticism of the private company? Or is the West right and every company in China merely an extension of the Chinese Communist Party?

The difference between anti-Chinese and anti-Japanese attitudes in South Korea

Cho Mun-young is a South Korean anthropologist who attended “a symposium on Koreans’ attitudes toward China on the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) at the end of August.”

A few interesting points from her description of the presentations:

  1. South Korean youths are more negatively and positively disposed towards China and Japan, respectively, than older generations.
  2. South Koreans tend to differentiate between the Japanese people and the Japanese state.
  3. South Koreans do not differentiate as much between nation and state when it comes to China, perhaps because the party-state claims to represent the nation. (Somewhat ironic when considering that Japan is more democratic than China).

Here are some excerpts from her article on Hankyoreh:

…[A]nti-Chinese sentiment has been heightened since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. A recent speech in which Chinese President Xi Jinping said that foreign countries will “bash their heads bloody” against a “Great Wall of Steel” made of the “blood and flesh” of more than 1.4 billion Chinese has only added kindling to the raging fire of anti-Chinese sentiment.

A shocking presentation was delivered by Kim Jun-ho, a graduate student in Chinese literature at the University of Seoul. Kim provided a detailed examination of the hatred against China that’s rapidly proliferating online. The language used in the videos and comments was so inflammatory that Kim had to give a trigger warning to the Chinese listeners who’d logged into the symposium…

Videos that present China in a positive light were singled out for hate and accused of being part of a CCP strategy of cultural infiltration. Kim drew attention to the fact that anti-Chinese videos were being viewed millions of times and getting thousands of likes, indicating that anti-Chinese sentiment has taken its place as a dominant cultural code among the younger generation.

…[Y]oung Koreans hold a negative view not only about the CCP and Chinese products but also about Chinese cultural artifacts and cuisine. Lee also reminded readers that Korea was the only country in which young people viewed China more negatively than middle-aged people in a poll about attitudes toward China conducted by the Washington-based Pew Research Center in 2020.

Younger Koreans’ anti-Chinese sentiment is distinctly different from their anti-Japanese sentiment, which was analyzed last year by professor Suk Ju-hee based on the East Asia Institute’s poll about Korea-Japan relations. According to Suk, Koreans tend to distinguish between the Japanese government and people in their views on Japan. Younger Koreans, in particular, are much more positively disposed toward Japan than Koreans in their 50s and show a strong tendency to view culture separately from history and politics in Korea-Japan relations.

Earlier generations became interested in China through various channels, including socialism, martial arts-focused films such as “Little Dragon Maiden,” and historical novels like the “Romance of the Three Kingdoms.” But young people today, Kim says, grew up under an international sense that China poses a threat and aren’t very attracted to the Chinese people or culture.

I also wondered whether the Chinese ruling elite’s characteristic conflation of state and nation had been appropriated against China itself while we were disregarding the diversity of public dynamics.

Taiwan and China differ on VP Harris’s Southeast Asian Trip

China continues to describe Harris’s trip to Vietnam and Singapore as a failure. According to The China Daily, she failed to convince either country of its economic blueprint for the region or of the US’s neutrality.

Although Harris visited the region to look for potential partners for the Quad (a loose strategic partnership among the US, India, Japan and Australia) in Southeast Asia, she did not get any assurance from either Singapore or Vietnam, so she tried to smear China…

ASEAN members, including Singapore and Vietnam, are reluctant to choose sides and instead want to maintain friendly relations with both China and the US.

ASEAN’s goal is to maintain peace and promote common development in the region. Hence, even if some ASEAN members may welcome the US’ increasing presence as a security guarantee, they would still prefer to leave economic policy to ASEAN decision-makers.

Also, ASEAN wants to maintain its centrality in regional cooperation, by limiting the US’ involvement in the region. And since the US’ attempt to isolate China from Southeast Asia can harm ASEAN members’ interests, the US’ plan could face opposition from ASEAN.

…[T]he US-led Indo-Pacific alliance network could pose a threat to ASEAN’s centrality in the region

…[G]iven that the US only pays lip service to ASEAN, for it offers to help the regional bloc to tap into the huge demand for infrastructure, Southeast Asian countries favor China’s win-win solution. As such, the US faces an uphill task in trying to consolidate its foothold and expand its influence in the region to check China’s rise.   

In Taiwanese media, the perception was almost perfectly the opposite:

In the short term, the turbulent pullout from Kabul may have dented U.S. credibility and been an unwelcome sight for America’s allies

By visiting Vietnam and Singapore, Harris sent a strong signal that these countries, and ASEAN more broadly, are at the center of the post-Afghanistan renewed U.S. focus on Asia. Harris was clear about what the U.S. mission is in the region and did not mince words criticizing China for its hegemonic attitude towards its neighbors.

Though Harris’ tour of Southeast Asia sent important signals, the follow-up will determine its impact over the long term. This is especially true given that despite supportive rhetoric from both the Trump and Obama administrations, visits by American leaders to Southeast Asia have been infrequent…

One of the key messages from Harris was that the U.S. focus on the region will cater to the region’s economy rather than a zero-sum security focus on China.

Europe follows Lithuania’s lead on Taiwan

Chinese newspaper have been strangely quiet about Lithuania in recent days. There seems to have only been one instance of Lithuania’s having been mentioned in their English-language press:

Lithuania acts the most radical among European countries on the Taiwan question, and China has made firm counterattacks.

If Lithuania is supposed to be the chicken killed to scare the monkeys, it would appear that the monkeys are, if anything, less scared than before, because China is now complaining about other Europeans, particularly the European Parliament and the French government.

In The Global Times:

France has taken a provocative step forward on the Taiwan question.

The inaugural Australia-France Foreign and Defense (2+2) Ministerial Consultations were held on Monday. The two countries mentioned a series of China-related issues in their joint statement, including “serious concerns about the situation in the South China Sea” and “severe human rights abuses” in Northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. Moreover, the two sides “underscored the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait” and even expressed their support for the island of Taiwan’s “meaningful participation” in international organizations…

France has previously made many provocative moves on the Taiwan question. For example, in May 2020, France dismissed Chinese warnings about selling arms to the island of Taiwan, saying it was implementing existing deals and China should focus on the COVID-19 fight. In March, the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs said French senators are free to meet whoever they wish during a visit to the Taiwan island. The French Senate adopted a resolution in May to support Taiwan’s participation in international organizations.

Now, France and Australia have reached a statement concerning the island of Taiwan, proactively interfering in affairs in the Indo-Pacific region.

French President Emmanuel Macron proposed a “Paris-Delhi-Canberra axis” as early as in May 2018, a strategy he regards as a so-called key to the Indo-Pacific region.

But can France’s comprehensive strength support such a vision? This is a question that Macron must face.

China and the US have greater influence compared to France, and may offset France’s possible role in the region. As a major European power, France is trying to unite Australia, regarding the “Taiwan card” as a bargaining chip in its diplomacy. This is very unwise.

Lithuania acts the most radical among European countries on the Taiwan question, and China has made firm counterattacks. Although France may not act as radically, it may also try to beat around the bush on the Taiwan question.

Countries such as France and Australia should not misjudge the situation in island of Taiwan or underestimate Chinese mainland’s determination to punish their provocative acts at any time.

Meanwhile, as the Chinese government described it:

Despite China’s repeated objections, the European Parliament’s AFET adopted the so-called “EU-Taiwan Political Relations and Cooperation” report, blatantly advocating for elevating EU-Taiwan relations. These moves exceed far beyond the scope of normal nonofficial economic and trade cooperation and cultural exchanges between the EU, its member states and Taiwan

We urge the relevant Committee and relevant members of the European Parliament to appreciate the sensitivity of the Taiwan issue, immediately correct their wrong words and actions, and play a positive and constructive role in upholding the political foundation of China-EU relations.

And Europeans are slowly beginning to show their support for Lithuania, as reported by The Taipei Times:

Sixty-two European lawmakers from 20 countries on Friday sent a joint open letter to Lithuanian officials, backing the Baltic nation’s plan to deepen its ties with Taiwan. “We write to express our solidarity and our support for Lithuania against the threats, intimidation and bullying behavior targeted at the Lithuanian people by the government of the People’s Republic of China,” they wrote. “The Chinese government’s aggressive actions towards Lithuania are symptomatic of its broader refusal to abide by norms, values and standards of the international rules-based order,” the lawmakers added.

During a discussion on the EU’s relations with China at an informal meeting of EU foreign ministers on Friday, Lithuanian Minister of Foreign Affairs Gabrielius Landsbergis said that the EU must adhere to its values and reduce dependence on trade with China.

The EU must also coordinate its China policy with like-minded countries in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond, as well as reinforce EU-NATO cooperation on China issues, Landsbergis said in a statement on the ministry’s Web site.

The longer China waits to demonstrate its ability to ‘make firm counterstrikes’, the weaker it is likely to appear. In previous weeks, China claimed that Russia and Belarus would help it punish Lithuania. If those two countries are helping China to punish Lithuania, Lithuania itself seems to be unaware of it.

The KMT, the new status quo, and Xi Jinping’s Confucianism with Taliban Characteristics

Contenders for the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairmanship are being characterized in Taiwan’s English-language press as doubling down on their Chinese nationalism. Having resigned themselves to their continued wandering in the Taiwanese political wilderness which began with the 2014 Sunflower uprising, the leadership candidates are publicizing the support of retired generals and advocating a return to the ‘1992 Consensus’, a compromise in which Taiwan agrees to accept its status as a Chinese province while China accepts that Taiwan has its own interpretation of what China is.

As one writer in The Taipei Times describes it:

Who exactly were these people [the former generals]? They are hardly household names. None has a sufficiently high national profile to attract votes, and therein lies the rub: The presence of these “heavyweights” will hold no sway beyond military dependents’ villages or the deep-blue vote. Thus, it revealed Chiang’s and Chu’s modest expectations: Their ambition stops at securing the KMT leadership.

Only six months ago, as the article points out, Chiang was willing to consider scrapping the 1992 Consensus as being demographically outdated, as it no longer has any appeal to the main of Taiwanese society. Yet, he now he has a new campaign slogan: “the 1992 consensus based on the Republic of China Constitution”.

This might be a fair barometer of how quick cross-Strait relations are changing. As Taiwan’s international status has been elevating, the KMT looks more and more the anachronism, a political museum piece. Its one hope to remain relevant is to push in the opposite direction, closer to China.

But, Taiwan is a small island, and there might not be a lot of runway to get that policy aloft.

Focus Taiwan described their debate on China as follows:

Johnny Chiang (江啟臣), who is seeking reelection, said his priority is to break the ice by resuming dialogue and exchanges across the Taiwan Strait and building mutual trust between the two sides. Highlighting his proposed commission to promote peace across the Taiwan Strait and holding a national forum on future relations between Taiwan and China, he said there are many options for the next generation without resorting to military conflict….Chiang advocated the “1992 consensus based on the Republic of China Constitution,” adding that the KMT has a responsibility to prevent war across the Taiwan Strait.

…[F]ormer New Taipei Mayor Eric Chu (朱立倫), said the KMT as an opposition party should establish a channel with China to promote social exchanges and focus less on politics. He said the KMT believes in defending the Republic of China and its love for Taiwan, and the party should not be distracted by being labeled China-leaning by the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

…[F]ormer Changhua County Magistrate Cho Po-yuan (卓伯源) questioned what the DPP is doing to Taiwan when there is no public support for changing the status quo. “Were there (Chinese) military planes flying around Taiwan when the KMT was in power?” Cho asked. Cho also said if elected, he will invite Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平), also general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, to visit Taiwan.

Chang Ya-chung (張亞中), president of the NGO Sun Yat-sen School, said his mission if elected KMT chairperson is to save the party, the country, and cross-Taiwan Strait relations. He would negotiate with Beijing on setting up an office in China to assist Taiwanese businessmen, students and their family members living there, Chang said.

The problem is that, at the moment, there is a new status quo: increased recognition by the international community coupled with increased threats by China, accompanied with Xi Jinping’s Talibanized Confucianism.

In order for these KMT formulas to actually work in an election, some serious changes in the new status quo will have to occur. COVID, the global economy, and political instability within China and/or the US could provide the KMT with some relief eventually, but there is nothing to indicate such an opening yet. Plus, the situation would have to become very dire indeed.

What does Suga’s exit imply about Japan’s attitude towards China-Taiwan confrontation?

There is no clear indication that the election of a new LDP-leader-cum-Japanese-prime-minister will lead to a shift away from Japan’s increasingly robust rejection of Chinese designs on the region, especially with regards to Taiwan. Fumio Kishida, the presumed front-runner and former foreign minister, has a reputation for being honest but wishy-washy, but The Japan Times had this to say about him:

…Kishida said Japan should seek to cooperate with Taiwan and countries that share its values of freedom, democracy and the rule of law, as authoritarian countries wield more power. “Taiwan is at the front line of the standoff between the U.S. and China,” he said. “Looking at the situation with Hong Kong and the Uyghurs, I have a strong feeling that the Taiwan Strait will be the next big problem.”

Often seen as a dove, Kishida heads a faction within the LDP that was once known for its friendly ties with China, a policy he said was tailored to the diplomatic landscape of the time and needed to be adapted to a new reality. “The times have changed a great deal,” he said. “China has also changed. China is now a big presence in international society, and I have various concerns about its authoritarian attitude.”

Former PM Abe is backing Sanae Takaichi, who is little known except for being a right-winger. Suga himself is backing Taro Kono. It seems unlikely that either of these two candidates would soften Japan’s increasingly harder line against China.

One LDP wild-card perhaps remains, former defense minister Shigeru Ishiba, who is more popular with the rural grassroots of the party than he is with the parliamentary party. Ishiba is known to be less enthusiastic about altering the pacifist elements of the Japanese constitution, but he is yet to declare his candidacy.

And then there is still the tiny matter of a general election which will follow hot on the heels of the LDP leadership election. The LDP is generally expected to win.

***

The Tokyo Review asks if the LDP—even in its more aggressive wings—is ready to take on China and defend Taiwan:

…is Abe’s pragmatism and Suga’s more assertive posture the expression of a well thought-out strategic vision or rather something closer to ad hoc improvisation in response to the needs and opportunities of the moment?

…a special investigation by the Asahi Shimbun into the politics and foreign policy of the Abe administration has shown that the decision to adopt a cooperative posture was not an object of consensus within the Cabinet. Rather, it was the result of a last-minute decision by Abe to side with the more dovish members of his teams without warning the more hawkish ones.

Abe struggled to use the “Quad” and  a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” as a source of leverage rather than a source of tension with China. His administration found it challenging to insulate Japanese business interests from geopolitical tensions

Suga endorsed relatively tough language on China, signaling a shift away from cooperation and toward more confrontation. But he has yet to spell out his vision for Japanese foreign policy and appears to be largely responding to U.S. pressure and to the current dominance of hawkish voices in Tokyo.

All this suggests that Japan could be stumbling towards a more frictional relationship with Beijing. With an absence of deliberate strategic reassessment, it’s unlikely the consequences and trade-offs that this could entail have really been thought through. What’s more, both countries have just signed a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) which is likely to further anchor China at the center of the regional supply chains of East Asia.

…is Japan truly ready to commit to the defense of Taiwan in case of an attempt at reunification by force? Answering these questions requires a deeper understanding of China’s intentions, capabilities and where relations with China fit within Japan’s broader goals in East Asia.