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South Asia Summary: August 31-September 3, 2021

In Afghanistan, the Taliban announced a ‘beefing up’ of relations with China while India says it is too early to recognize the regime. The Taliban are struggling with running an economy while the money runs out. The Taliban announced progress in their campaign against Northern Alliance forces in the ethnically Tajik Panjshir Valley. Neighboring Tajikistan says it is unable to fulfill an earlier assurance that it could take in tens of thousands of Afghan refugees; meanwhile Tajik President Emomali Rahmon signed a decree posthumously awarding the country’s highest honor to two notable Afghans, Ahmad Shah Masud of the Northern Alliance and President Rabbani, both of whom were assassinated by the Taliban and its allies.

Bangladeshi attention continues to be focused on how the rise of the Taliban will alter South Asian geopolitics.

In India, Afghanistan remains the most dominant topic, especially how the Taliban victory may or may not boost Pakistani, Islamist, and/or Chinese power in the region. On a more domestic note, commentators are mulling the infighting in Congress-dominated states and a struggle between regional parties and Congress for leadership of the opposition against PM Modi. And, the question of whether or not there will be a caste census remains open.

In the Maldives, opposition supporters of former President Yameen are demanding an investigation into leaked audio recordings of some of the judges who convicted Yameen of corruption. The audio files, which have yet to be authenticated, suggest the judges may have made their decision under political pressure. The judges deny the authenticity of the recordings.

In Nepal, a statement released by the Ministry of Home Affairs has implicated India’s border security service in the disappearance of a Nepali man attempting to cross the border into India. A government advised pressing the Indian authorities on the matter. The Deuba government continues to be criticized for having failed to form a cabinet.

In Pakistan, there is at least as much, if not more, attention being paid to the American failure in Afghanistan than to the rise of the Taliban. More specifically the theme appears to be that Pakistan has played and continues to play a responsible role in Afghanistan, that the Taliban was broadly justified in removing an American puppet regime, that Pakistan will try to moderate Islamist excesses that could emanate from Afghanistan, and that it will be difficult because of the degree to which the US damaged the country.

In Sri Lanka, with a state of emergency under way due to a forex crisis instigating a food shortage, rumors are beginning to spread that it is minority Tamil and Muslim merchants who might be actually to blame, and there is a fear of the government taking advantage of its new powers.

Southeast Asia Roundup: August 30-September 2, 2021

East Asia Round-up: August 27-September 1, 2021

South Asia Roundup: August 27-31, 2021

INDIA
India continues to assess the geopolitical fallout from the Taliban conquest of Afghanistan
The West Bengal-based Trinamool Congress (TMC) Party continues to attract defectors from national parties
BJP agitates to reopen temples in midst of pandemic
Fixing Assam’s border problems won’t be easy
Caste census: BJP trying to figure a path forward through demographic/political minefield

PAKISTAN
Pakistan must commit itself to defending Chinese personnel and interests from Indian-backed terrorists operating from Afghanistan
Pakistan Army: Borders are secured, prepared to meet ‘any’ challenge
Imran Khan’s govt unthreatened by opposition
Railways employees to protest against govt’s privatisation plan

BANGLADESH
Bangladesh National Party vs Awami League: Zia’s grave will be removed from parliament premises
Pro-AL, BNP lawyers get into row over Zia’s role in war of independence
BNP: Bangladesh ruled by two demonic powers, AL and coronavirus
AL: BNP is carrying out supernatural activities with the help of communal forces
Bangladesh’s relationship with India a success but vulnerable to Taliban-style rhetoric

AFGHANISTAN
Taliban celebrates American departure
China, our ‘great neighbour’, will help Afghanistan forge peace: Taliban
The leader of the Afghan anti-Taliban resistance vows to battle in the encircled Panjshir Valley to keep alive his father’s dream

NEPAL
India realizes that it is not the only player in Nepal
Ruling coalition meeting on cabinet expansion today
Prime Minister Deuba seems to be trying to dismiss Dhami disappearance in order not to offend India

SRI LANKA
Pakistan-Sri Lanka Ties: A Game Changer in the Region? 
Sri Lanka signs USD 308 million-loan agreement with China
Boat intercepted with drugs, rifles may suggest LTTE revival

MALDIVES
Nasheed loyalists say President’s supporters don’t treat assassination attempt on Nasheed with any seriousness
India-Maldives ink largest ever infrastructure project

BHUTAN
Jaldhaka Hydro Power Project is testament to Bhutan-India strategic partneership

Southeast Asia Analysis: August 26-30, 2021

There continues a raging debate about the US-China rivalry in Southeast Asia and particularly about what America wants and what it is offering, but what is most interesting about this discussion is what is not being talked about. More on that below.

Most of the strategic thinking in the popular English-speaking press seems to occur in Singapore’s The Straits Times. One often gets the impression that, however disparate the ASEAN member states’ interests are, on such questions, deference is often paid to Singapore’s point of view. Singapore is more than just a city-state that punches above its weight; it’s almost a Vatican of Southeast Asian trade and diplomacy. 

Perhaps the most pointed attack on US designs on Southeast Asia in The Straits Times in recent days was in “US-China Contest: Questions About the Quad” by Hugh White. He says it is “plainly false” when Washington claims “’our engagement in South-east Asia and the Indo-Pacific is not against any one country, nor is it designed to make anyone choose between countries’”. 

[T]here is no question that America’s overriding priority in South-east Asia today is to counter China’s growing influence, and it undoubtedly wants to recruit the countries of the region to align with Washington against Beijing.

And, if the US wants ASEAN aboard its purported anti-China coalition, it should shift its focus away from the Quad (Japan, India, and Australia), where there is naught but sound and fury, to Southeast Asia.

The vision of Asia’s future which the Quad is meant to promote is so vague as to be meaningless. Slogans such as ‘A free and open Indo-Pacific’ and ‘A rules-based order’ convey nothing more than a shared wish that China doesn’t grow too powerful and influential at their expense.

This “shared wish” among the Quad is met by “ a lot of overt enthusiasm to support the US in its contest with China” and yet, “America’s humiliation in Kabul” deepens what was already a lack of real commitment: Would India or Australia go to war with China to help Japan?

Few in Asia outside China would doubt that America has a valuable role to play in balancing and moderating Beijing’s influence, but even fewer in South-east Asia believe that a return to US primacy can work. To win this region around, Washington needs to offer it something the South-east countries can believe in.

The Quad is composed of powers without any real strategic vision or purpose, but if one of them offered such a vision or purpose (one that does not include “a return to US primacy”) to ASEAN (or Southeast Asia?), they could “win this region”.

Thus, by process of elimination, we are left with a Southeast Asia without either US/Quad or Chinese “primacy”. So, what are we talking about? A region — stretching from Myanmar to the Philippines — left for ASEAN to manage on its own? Or an ASEAN-brokered deal involving China, itself, and the Quad? Or a region playing a greater role in its own security with the Quad in support? We will come back to this point.

Lost in the more dramatic elements of Kamala Harris’s visit to Southeast Asia was the work on the plumbing in US-ASEAN relations, as recounted in “Strengthening US-Asean Supply Chains”. The newspaper describes the US interest in modifying American trade links with Asia as “China-plus”; that is, although China can not be excised from global trade because of how important it inevitably is to the global economy, it would also be imprudent to continue to be as reliant on the country as the world now is, but…

[F]or this “China-plus” strategy to work, it would require large-scale investments in the region in infrastructure as well as technology – much of which would need to come from US companies. It would also need more business-friendly regulations, the upskilling of workers and more robust protection of intellectual property rights. Leveraging the support they will get from the Biden administration, US business leaders will need to work with their counterparts in South-east Asia, as well as governments in the region, to make this happen. If they do, it would deepen the economic linkages between the US and South-east Asia, to the benefit of both.

Singapore and Southeast Asia, it seems, is moving towards Quad+ for security and China+ for trade.

The fall of Afghanistan and America’s abandonment of the project has–as we have seen over the last few weeks–mostly led America’s Asian allies to the conclusion that they need to be both more self-reliant and more reliable. America, as one piece puts it, can no longer be seen as simply a global superhero that shows up to right wrongs:

As the world order continues its shifts and America wakes up to new priorities, and as Singapore resets itself post-pandemic, it is important for citizens to keep their eye on the big geopolitical players around us. We have to remain clear-eyed and realistic about our interests and who we are as a society, and strip our minds of the myths and nice stories we have been told, about ourselves and others.

Pax Americana—the international community’s version of the American Dream—is coming to an end in the South China Sea. How that squares with Quad+ for security and China+ for trade remains to be seen.

As we mentioned above, because of Singapore’s role in Southeast Asian order, it has a unique capacity for looking out over the strategic horizon. And, one place that caught its eye this week is South Korea, which is due for an election in March 2022 and pits the leftist peace-niks of the Democratic Party of Korea (DPK), currently led by President Moon, against the conservative hawks of the People Power Party (PPP). In “South Korea, the ‘Shrimp’ Swept Up in Fight of American and Chinese ‘Whales’”, Chang May Choon describes a South Korea that should be familiar to Southeast Asian readers: “Stuck between two titans, Seoul has for a long time hewed to a policy of strategic ambiguity, relying on the US for its defence while trying to stay on good terms with China, its largest trade partner.”

But there is a difference, it would seem, i.e. South Korean public opinion:

A China-bashing trend seems to have emerged, as the country’s main opposition – the conservative People Power Party (PPP) – attempts to win over the nation’s youth in its quest to return to power in the presidential elections next year. They are frustrated over how their country’s ruling elite has kowtowed to China, its largest trade partner, in the wake of a dispute over the 2017 deployment of an American anti-missile system on South Korean soil. PPP chief Lee Jun-seok, the party’s youngest leader at age 36, took aim at Chinese “cruelty” in places like Hong Kong. “We’re definitely going to have to fight against the enemies of democracy,” he told Bloomberg last month, adding that the public is “not happy” with how the progressive administration of South Korean President Moon Jae-in is leaning more towards China. An online survey of people aged 18 and above by polling firm Hankook Research and weekly magazine SisaIN showed that over 58 per cent of 1,000 respondents considered China “close to evil”, while another survey by Maeil Business newspaper found that 66 per cent of 300 people polled disliked China.

But, perhaps the difference between South Korea and ASEAN is not all that great. Look at Vietnam — which outfits like The Global Times assures us neatly brackets its territorial disputes with China — describe Kamala Harris’s visit:

The US will continue to have high-level security cooperation in support of a strong, prosperous and independent Việt Nam, she said, adding that the country will continue to work with Việt Nam to ‘push back against threats to freedom of navigation and the rule-based international order.’  She said both the US and Vietnamese leaders placed high priority on freedom of navigation not only as a security but also as a commerce issue. ‘The US intends to strengthen our participation and partnership with partners and allies, in a way that is collaborative to meet the challenges of the moment and of the future together,’ she said, whether it’s Việt Nam, Singapore, Southeast Asia or the Indo Pacific.

The question is not whether the elements of Sino-Vietnamese relations are in any way bracketed. The question is how they are bracketed. The US has bracketed relations with the Taliban, at the moment. For relations between two states that are otherwise familiar with each other to not be bracketed would be to have a state of unrestrained war.

But, the larger point we are making here is that just as critical sections of South Korean society are turning against China and this is moving the country as a whole, such is the case in ASEAN. Vietnam, like young South Korean voters, like much of the world, is having to first de-link security and trade and then prioritize security concerns over trade: “US and Vietnamese leaders placed high priority on freedom of navigation not only as a security but also as a commerce issue”.

South Korea’s ruling DPK can no more ignore this tectonic shift in priorities among its people than Singapore/ASEAN can ignore this shift in Vietnamese priorities. Ideally, a negotiated solution would be best, but this is simply not available. Chinese conditions for negotiating a South China Sea Code of Conduct appear to be as serious as Taliban negotiations with the erstwhile Afghan government.

But, much of this begs the question. What is going on here? Is this really a physics problem? That is, is this simply a question of where B grows in mass relative to A that C, D, and F will inevitably be pulled towards B unless A, C, D, or F either reduce B or grow in mass themselves? Is this just about China becoming “bigger” in some abstract sense? Every time someone says that Southeast Asia is not interested in getting caught up in “the US-China” rivalry or Cold War or competition or whatever, that seems to be the implication.

Yet, if one reads Goh Sui Noi’s “Aggrieved nationalism – China’s double-edged weapon”, one might wonder if this is actually more than an exercise in abstraction.

The US, Japan and South Korea have all felt the sharp end of Chinese nationalist fury. But once unleashed, jingoism can be hard to control…China’s nationalism has been on full display in the past few months, doing little to improve the great power’s image internationally. The specific issues and targets may vary but the overall tone is one of a bristling belligerence. The United States – a favourite target given the great power rivalry – was the subject of a torrent of taunts on Chinese social media over its botched withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan…The recent Tokyo Olympics also brought out the Chinese ultra-nationalists, who derided China’s own athletes for not showing, in their eyes, enough patriotism.

If the US has an interest in Southeast Asia, does that mean that Chinese belligerence in the South China Sea is the product of “America’s Cold War with China” as Hugh White describes it? Doesn’t this sort of language tend to sideline Southeast Asian interests in its own backyard? The Chinese have an axe to grind with the US, and with Japan, and with South Korea…and with their teen gymnasts. China has a beef with History itself. Not just the history of the Opium Wars and the Century of Humiliation, but the meaning of suppression of the democratic demands at Tiananmen Square in 1989:

The roots of this more negative nationalism can be found in large part in the patriotic education campaign begun by the CPC in the 1990s to bolster its legitimacy after the 1989 Tiananmen incident in which hundreds – perhaps thousands – of pro-democratic protesters were killed by the PLA….’Thirty years later, the party has successfully utilised its educational, media and cultural systems to socialise mainland Chinese into an aggrieved nationalism primed to view the world as hostile,’ said Professor Gries of the Manchester China Institute, in an e-mail interview. Many adherents of this xenophobic and chauvinistic form of nationalism are young Chinese born after 1990.

Taiwan.

“Taiwan”.

This is a word that is studiously avoided in nearly every geopolitically relevant Op-Ed from Southeast Asia over the weekend, even from the far-sighted Singaporeans. I can only find one off-handed reference to the country.

What is presented to readers is a (Cold) War without consequences.

Does China want to take Taiwan because of “America’s Cold War with China”? If China were to invade Taiwan, would the Quad react? Is China serious about the Nine Dash Line? Does China have an interest in taking Okinawa? Does China have territorial ambitions beyond those it has already spelled out?

Inch by inch, Taiwan is being brought under the Quad umbrella. The most recent example of this is the party-to-party dialogue on Coast Guard cooperation between Japan and Taiwan. Lithuania, it appears, has kindly offered itself, with American encouragement, as a trial balloon to test Chinese will and capabilities on the Taiwan Question.

Considering that American primacy in Southeast Asia is already a thing of the past, since no matter what happens — a hot war, a cold war, a surrender by either side — the Indo-Pacific is bound to look different than it has over the last thirty years, it is not clear that the US/Quad can simply offer Southeast Asia a ready-to-wear alternative order. The Quad can only start to build such an order and invite the other countries of the Indo-Pacific to participate. If things are not quite that serious, then the question is simply that of an Indo-Pacific absent “threats to freedom of navigation”.

There are real questions about US commitment, competence, and stamina. China’s neighbors have to take that into account. They also have to carefully measure China’s commitment to its own belligerence.

In other opinion pieces about China from Southeast Asia…

Afghanistan, Myanmar Crises Test India’s ‘Neighborhood First’ Policy (The Irrawaddy, Myanmar)
India’s lack of engagement with the interim regimes in both Kabul and Naypyitaw could allow China to increase its influence over them… [C]ommunist China could wield far greater influence over the military rulers in Naypyitaw in the long run than a democratic India can.

‘Alamak’, It Is Kamala (Malay Mail, Malaysia)
Singapore remains the lynchpin of the US naval presence in South-east Asia.  While the US military does not directly maintain bases in Singapore, it co-operates very closely with Singapore’s military. The US Navy uses Singapore extensively for logistics and resupply… China is our biggest trading partner and the US-China conflict is becoming more likely. Do we [Singaporeans] really want to be near the epicentre of it?

Bilateral Talks on South China Sea Dispute (Manila Standard, Philippines)
How should we deal with China on the territorial and maritime dispute in the South China Sea? The prudent thing to do is to let diplomacy and negotiations settle contentious issues that arise from time to time…The hardline stand of the Chinese government, however, has not prevented the two sides from facing each other across the negotiating table.

Chinese Investors Propose Laos-China-Vietnam Triangle Development (Laotian Times, Laos)
According to a report by Socio-Economic News, the Phongsaly provincial administration and Yujia Investment Co., Ltd of China signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on a feasibility study for the development and construction of a new “Triangle” Special Economic Zone (SEZ) at the Laos-China-Vietnam triangle site on Tuesday.

US and China Spar on Asean Stage (The Bangkok Post, Thailand)
It will be intriguing to watch how the US-China rivalry will play out in Southeast Asia, as long as we are not forced to chose [sic] sides. For Washington, it is essential to engage Southeast Asia as a regional collective with Asean having a key role, rather than appearing to write off some states as beholden to China. More engagement, particularly with the presence of President Joe Biden himself in regional summits that Washington skipped in recent years, are vital to intensify the US-Asean reconnection for the sake of both sides’ mutual interest.

 

East Asia Roundup: August 25-29, 2021

China

China, Russia, Iran Military Drills in Gulf Enhance Regional Security, Against External Interference – Global Times
China, Russia and Iran will hold joint maritime exercises in the Persian Gulf around late 2021 or early 2022, according to Russian Ambassador to Iran Levan Dzhagaryan – It is vital for China, Russia and Iran to ensure the safety of international shipping. The three countries are engaging in cooperation in various fields, and as regional countries, are keeping a close eye on the ever changing Afghanistan situation. China and Russia may hope to boost Iran’s military capabilities by virtue of the drills as well, so that Iran can effectively counter the threat from the Western countries.

U.S. Attempt to Pressure China by Politicizing COVID-19 Origins-Tracing Doomed to Fail – People’s Daily Online
The U.S. intelligence community has released a “report” on China’s alleged involvement in the  coronavirus. The origins-tracing of the virus should and can only be left to scientists, not intelligence experts.

Statement by Vice Foreign Minister Ma Zhaoxu on Release of U.S. Intelligence Report on COVID-19 Origins – People’s Daily Online
The U.S. intelligence community has recently compiled a so-called report on the origins of COVID-19. It is a mendacious report made up for political purposes. There is no scientific basis or credibility in it. The United States has also released a statement slandering and attacking China. The Chinese side hereby expresses its firm objection. 

Harris’ Vietnam Stunt an Insult to Hanoi’s Wisdom: Global Times Editorial – Global Times
Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh told the Chinese Ambassador to Vietnam Xiong Bo on Tuesday that Vietnam does not align itself with one country against another. Sharp-sighted Vietnam is trying to gain advantages from both China and the US by staying “neutral”. Southeast Asian countries have been gradually shifting their previous stance toward China.

Malabar Exercise: Quad’s Costly Show of Self-Comfort: Global Times Editorial – Global Times
The US feels uneasy and worried about its hegemony as China develops so rapidly – China and India have border frictions, but India is clear that China has no intention to bring India to its knees. Admiral John Aquilino, commander of US Indo-Pacific Command, noted during his visit to India that China’s military buildup is the largest by a country since World War II, “Both conventional and nuclear.” He then played dumb by stating that he could not explain what China’s intent is. China will make any country which steps on China’s bottom line on security issues suffer without mercy, no matter if it is a frequent participant of joint military exercises with the US or a US ally.

Real Purpose of US Military’s Intensive Exercises in Pacific – China Military
From the beginning of this year, the US military has conducted multiple military exercises centered on the Pacific region one after another, represented by the Northern Edge 21 and Large Scale Exercise (LSE) 2021. The major scenario of these exercises is to get prepared for large-scale operations with China and Russia as potential targets.

Seeking “Taiwan Independence” Leads to Dead End: Spokesperson – People’s Daily Online
A Chinese military spokesperson Thursday warned Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) authority that seeking “independence” by military means will lead to a dead end. The Chinese People’s Liberation Army has maintained a state of high alert at all times and has been ready to smash any “Taiwan independence” plots by the separatist forces, said Tan Kefei, spokesperson for the Ministry of National Defense, at a press conference.

Singing Song of Peace While Wielding Katana, What an Irony – China Military
Japan has made frequent military moves recently, not only forming several new forces, increasing its defense budget by a large margin. Yet on August 15, the anniversary of Japan’s surrender in WWII, Japanese prime minister still claimed “Japan has consistently walked a path of a country that values peace”.

US, Allies Cannot Avoid Afghan Accountability for Human Rights Violations – Global Times
Human rights are not empty slogans, nor are they tools to interfere in other countries’ domestic affairs. Countries and their forces which have violated human rights and committed war crimes should be held accountable, and these countries should shoulder the main responsibility for accepting Afghan refugees. China’s stance shows that it supports Afghanistan to hold the US and its allies accountable for human rights violations through international judicial systems.

Washington’s Bid to Alienate Neighbors Futile: China Daily Editorial – Opinion – Chinadaily.com.cn
There are increasing signs indicating that the close relationship between China and Vietnam can withstand the tests of the times and changes in the international geopolitical situation. Which means Vietnam has no interest in dancing to the US’ tune and joining the latter’s geopolitical game to contain China, even though territorial disputes do remain among China and its regional neighbors in the South China Sea.

Xi Calls for Steady, Long-Term Development of China-Philippines Ties – People’s Daily Online
China stands ready to work with the Philippines to keep bilateral relations on the right track and achieve steady and long-term development, Chinese President Xi Jinping said on Friday. During the past few years, the two countries have witnessed a turnaround, consolidation and elevation of their relations, as well as the establishment of a comprehensive strategic cooperative relationship, which has brought tangible benefits to the people of both countries and positive energy to the peace and stability of the region, Xi said. Stressing that the Philippines cherishes its friendship with China, he said his country will not engage in geopolitical activities that harm China’s interests, and is willing to actively push for sustainable development of the relationship between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and China.

China Condemns US as Warships Transit Taiwan Straits – Chinadaily.com.cn
The Chinese military resolutely opposes and condemns the United States sailing a guided-missile destroyer and a coast guard cutter through the Taiwan Straits on Friday, the Ministry of National Defense said in a statement on Saturday morning.

Taiwan

Chinese Diaspora Must Face HK Issue – Taipei Times
China’s long arm of censorship extends well beyond its borders into diaspora communities. – Decades of CCP rule have shaped the discourse on Hong Kong in the diaspora. – Hong Kongers are a diaspora within the diaspora.

EDITORIAL: Balancing Talent Retention, Liberty – Taipei Times
The Mainland Affairs Council on Wednesday said it plans to amend legislation to increase penalties for those found poaching talent for Chinese firms. Taipei is focusing its legislative efforts on China because it sees the Chinese Communist Party as an ideological adversary. If the government wants to solve the brain drain issue, it should work with industry leaders, veteran engineers and new graduates to figure out how to keep such workers in Taiwan.

EDITORIAL: Commemorating 823 – Taipei Times
Monday marked the 63rd anniversary of the start of the 1958 bombardment. The president needed to give a message of unity in the face of a common foe — the CCP — without invoking differences with the KMT, which would have contradicted her message, and appeal to national resilience and Taiwan’s ability to defend itself, especially in the wake of criticism over her perceived overreliance on the US, given the ongoing situation in Afghanistan.

EDITORIAL: Defense Autonomy to Deter China – Taipei Times
The hasty withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan has ignited a debate within Taiwan over whether the US can be relied upon to come to its defense. President Tsai Ing-wen’s Facebook post was designed to ram home an important truth to the Taiwanese public: The events in Afghanistan demonstrate that Washington will eventually lose patience with any US protectorate or ally that cannot stand on its own two feet.

EDITORIAL: Taiwan Ties Boost National Security – Taipei Times
Japan and Australia should bolster cooperation with Taiwan in maritime affairs management. A territorial dispute over the Diaoyutai Islands, known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan, remains a sticking point. Once Chinese forces can sail through the Miyako Strait at will, it would not be long before Beijing extends its dominance over the entire Pacific.

In Service of ‘Xi Jinping Thought’ – Taipei Times
“Xi Jinping thought” is a break from its predecessors and recent developments in China demonstrate that. Unlike Xi, “Deng Xiaoping demonstrated strategic patience in asserting China’s interests on the global stage.” – China today is stronger than it was 20 years ago, and it is undeniably more economically and militarily capable since Xi took power. China has bided its time and is ready to carry out the next phase of its revolution.

Structures Needed to Keep People in Military – Taipei Times
Over the past five years, military personnel accrued fines of NT$400 million for prematurely ending their service, with the figure rising every year, National Audit Office data showed. Among them, former students at public-funded military academies and former military officers who did not serve the required minimum period owe the government more than NT$280 million, while former volunteer recruits owe more than N$105 million. With more encouragement and less criticism, perhaps Taiwan will retain its military talent, which would benefit the military and the nation.

Taiwan Has Allies Across the Strait – Taipei Times
My Chinese classmates in Taiwan despised the constant surveillance and the forced obedience to Chinese President Xi Jinping, whom they called “Emperor Xi.” When I asked them how many other people in China thought the same way, one guessed 25 percent.

‘Taiwan Will Likely Have No Caribbean Allies Within 10 Years’ | Taiwan News
Taiwan’s last remaining allies will swap allegiance to Beijing within the next 10 years.

Taiwan, China Not Engaged in a Civil War – Taipei Times
Few observers noticed something else that Biden said in the interview, namely that the US’ agreements with Taiwan and South Korea are not based on a “Civil war,” but on helping a “Unity government” to resist forces that want to harm them. Taiwan needs to discard the old civil war mentality. Only then can Taiwan convince more countries to realize the importance of the Taiwan Strait question and jointly resist China’s expansionism, while consolidating Taiwan’s relations of trust with its allies around the world.

The Liberty Times Editorial: Watching China’s Economic Path – Taipei Times
Chinese President Xi Jinping’s tightening of and intervention in the economic sphere, and even the de facto transformation of private enterprises to state-owned businesses have made it increasingly difficult to adjust to the differences between the economic systems of the US and China. Xi — who is seen as reviving Mao Zedong’s (毛澤東) political line — has accelerated China’s return to a dictatorship, with the party-state controlling everything and in which tycoons and their giant private companies go up in smoke. As the US and China have substantially delinked their economies, Taiwan has only one choice: to stand firmly with the democratic camp, and help defend world peace and universal values.

Abandonment of Taiwan Unlikely – Taipei Times
Taiwan is fundamentally different from Afghanistan, and highly relevant to US political and economic interests. The US has a vested interest in Taiwan remaining an independent democracy that respects the free market. Through ingenuity and innovation, Taiwan can rely on itself – and the world is relying on Taiwan.

Japan

Editorial: LDP Presidential Election a Platform to Question Credentials of Japan’s PM – The Mainichi
The date of the presidential election of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has been decided. Campaigning will kick off on Sept. 17, and voting will take place on Sept. 29. The election will, essentially, determine the prime minister of Japan. If the party president is merely selected based on the logic of the LDP’s inner circle, then it will only become more distant from the public. The nature of the LDP as a responsible political party is being questioned.

LDP Leadership Election: Suga Has a Target on His Back | the Japan Times
This past week has seen a flurry of activity by party heavyweights jockeying for position ahead of the LDP presidential election — now officially slated for late next month. By design, the party is trying to keep things from spilling out into the media, but there are enough puzzle pieces available to formulate a picture of the back-room battles taking place. Party leaders designated Suga as PM last year only as a temporary measure; after all, if they were fully behind Suga, they would not have limited his presidential term to one year instead of the standard three.

Malaysia returns to the old order, old ways | The Japan Times
Malaysia’s political crisis contributes to the erosion of democracy in Southeast Asia. The return of UMNO without the endorsement of voters is a cynical and disillusioning moment for Malaysia. Overturning the verdict of the voters in a democracy is always dangerous. When Mahathir used Japan as a guide for his “Look East” policy, Japan reciprocated by investing substantially in Malaysia. There are some 1,500 Japanese companies in Malaysia that have created 340,000 jobs in manufacturing alone. Malaysian governments have been zealous defenders of national sovereignty.

North Korea

Chinese Newspaper Censures the U.S.: The U.S. Is Directly Responsible for Situation in Afghanistan
The U.S. is not a builder, but a destroyer. The U.S. occupied Afghanistan to seek its hegemony and gain its geopolitical ambition, rather than reconstruct it. The U.S. and the West are directly responsible for creating chaos in Afghanistan. They cannot shift their own responsibility onto the Afghan people and the neighbouring countries.

China, Russia Stage Joint Military Exercises
China and Russia held joint military exercises in Ningxia Hui autonomous region, China. The main mission of the drill was to demonstrate the capacity to develop Sino-Russian relations and strategic partnership and strategic mutual cooperation and improve military cooperation and friendship between the two armies.

Justification of Militarism Manifestation of Wild Ambition for Reinvasion
Japanese Cabinet ministers including the minister of Defense, the minister for Economic Recovery and the minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, officials concerned of the Liberal Democratic Party and the ultra-right elements offered visits to the Yasukuni Shrine one after another on the occasion of the anniversary of Japan’s defeat in the Second World War. Prime Minister Suga openly made an offering to the shrine and then visited the cemetery of the war dead in Tokyo to honour them who were killed in the aggression war without uttering a word about Japan’s blood-stained history of aggression. Japan, a defeated nation and war criminal state, is obliged to show deep repentance – Recently the Japanese Defense Ministry worked out and opened to public the “Defence white paper for children”, the first of its kind, reflecting its ambition for territorial seizure.

NAM Needs Unity, Cooperation
The reality demands NAM member nations conduct a vigorous struggle against the imperialists’ aggression and war moves. The key to ensuring the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) thwarts challenges and threats from outside and fulfils its mission and role is to enhance its unity and cooperation between its member nations in every way. If the NAM members make a concerted effort to launch a counterattack against the imperialists’ moves for aggression and interference by achieving a solid unity and cooperation in the struggle for independence and peace, the imperialist aggression and interference will be surely futile and unable to avoid frustration.

The Only Weapon to Ensure Peace and Security Is an Actual Deterrent
On August 25, Deputy Representative of the People’s Republic of China to the UN, at a meeting held in the United Nations, denounced the U.S.-south Korea joint military drill as a root cause of escalating tension on the Korean peninsula. Through the U.S.-south Korea aggressive war drill this time, we could feel keenly once again the need to continue bolstering the national defensive power and preemptive strike capabilities which can strongly contain and eliminate the outside threats. There are ever-worsening military threats from the U.S.

The U.S. Is in Decline
The press and experts of the world now continue to make a barrage of comments saying that “The U.S. is a declining power.”, “The U.S. influence is on the wane.”, “How many allies can be found in reality that count on the U.S. strength?” That the U.S. is obviously “a declining state” is the common recognition gained by the international society through Afghan situation. 

South Korea

Lesson US Needs to Learn From Its Failure in Afghanistan
I hope the US won’t be seen as a country that quits when things don’t work out. The US ought to have either forced the Taliban to change or wiped it out. It owes its wealth and power to the whole world, not just Europe and other regions.

[Editorial] a Tale of Two Lawmakers
Rep. Yun Hee-suk, a rising lawmaker of the main opposition People Power Party, offered to give up her parliamentary seat and presidential bid over suspicions that her father violated the farmland law in the past. Her declaration to quit over dubious allegations is a fresh shock. Yun’s offer to resign stands in contrast to other lawmakers who stick to their parliamentary seats despite suspicions. He sold the building for 3.45 billion won in December 2019, a year and five months after purchasing it. The margin amounted to 880 million won.

[Editorial] Beyond Rhetoric
Five lawmakers from the People Power Party in South Korea have been asked to give up their party membership. The probe follows a similar one conducted in June on lawmakers of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea. The state anti-corruption agency needs to be more active in implementing its role.

Seoul Could Be a Better Ally to Washington
As in the U.S., South Korea’s opposition parties are no serious about North Korea and alliance policies. How a non-DPK government in Seoul would handle North Korea issues is uncertain, but expectations should be extremely low. A U.S. return to the JCPOA which could prevent a nuclear program, just like the Agreed Framework did with North Korea should have been low-hanging fruit, but after months of U.S. bungling, that agreement is hanging by a thread.

A Stifling Law
The press in Korea are being forced into a kind of burqa. They will be constrained under the so-called Media Arbitration Act and Damage Relief Act. Proponents of the law believe nothing will be a problem if journalists stick to reporting the facts.

Mongolia

Intertwined Destiny of L.Oyun-Erdene and Oyu Tolgoi
The term of L.Oyun-Erdene’s government will depend on what happens to Oyu Tolgoi. If the negotiation isn’t beneficial to Mongolia, L.Oyun-Erdene may have to resign. The prime minister will need to raise his game if he wants to protect his position. Generally, this project has become a mainstay of the country’s economy and foreign investment.

South Asia Summary: August 24-27, 2021

There has been a tremendous flood of articles about Afghanistan in South Asia publications over the last three days.

In India, attention is focused primarily on countering the threat the country imagines arising from AfPak in the wake of the Taliban victory there, particularly in Kashmir. Domestically, attention is focused on the growing movement for an assessment of caste-based demographics, something that some believe could threaten the coalition of high- and low-caste Hindus put together by the BJP. The Trinamool Congress (TMC) seems to be gaining national stature as rising stars in Congress defect to the West Bengal-based party. The BJP, however, has won its first court victory in a case asserting that the TMC was to blame for the death of BJP party workers during this spring’s election battle in West Bengal.

Some in India are excited about the prospects of Chinese investment in Afghanistan: It is now only a matter of days, after the change of power in Afghanistan, that China would be given the requisite of the foolproof security by AT[Afghan Taliban], to help run the country, and moreover, China is also to run its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to reach to Central Asian republics…AT are handicapped when it comes to aerial-defense and intelligence, surrounding intelligence and security etc, all which comes through drones and radars, and it is here, where China might take up the platform, which is going to be a further scourge to US and NATO allies!

In Pakistan, the former Interior Minister and (currently) PPP Senator Rehman Malik wrote a fascinating article claiming that President Karzai had, during his tenure, offered to request that the US stop sponsoring terror attacks in Balochistan in exchange for Pakistan returning the Taliban leader Mullah Ghani Baradar to Afghanistan.

Kabul wanted Mullah Baradar to be deported to try him in the alleged murder case [the assassination of former president Burhanuddin Rabbani in a suicide bombing in Kabul in September 2011]. Eventually, we allowed 20 investigators from Kabul to come and interact with Mullah Baradar and interrogate him about this murder incident in the presence of our investigators. He was proven to be innocent, hence Pakistan declined to hand him over to Kabul. We endorsed all the reports showing the innocence of Mullah Baradar. The combination of Siraj Haqqani and Mullah Baradar has been a lethal one…Pakistan had been doing a lot of work to bring peace to Afghanistan but the then Afghan government and India’s Raw [intelligence agency] kept on sabotaging the peace process. Peace in Afghanistan does not suit Indian interests, which is why it keeps making efforts to ruin it…I will be looking forward to a handshake between President Karzai and Mullah Baradar soon. It is a lesson for us that time keeps changing but the values do not change.

Many commentators in the Pakistani press are still reveling in the glorious future awaiting them once the Belt and Road Initiative paves the way for Pakistani power to reach through Afghanistan into Central Asia, bringing peace and prosperity in its train. Gwadar will be the most developed and beautiful city in Pakistan, which will probably outperform Singapore, one dreams.

Jamaat Islamiyah, which associates itself with the Taliban, has something to say to Indian fears of the AfPak threat to Kashmir: The JI’s struggle for the Kashmir cause has always been widely acknowledged by the leadership of the region of Jammu and Kashmir, currently divided between Pakistan and India. It is because of JI’s efforts that the issue of India-occupied Kashmir has key importance on the national agenda and successive governments in Pakistan dare not to compromise on it despite massive international pressure.

In Bangladesh, some worry of the Taliban making their way to their country, as well. The Taliban, in my view, will not limit its activities to only within Afghanistan. Soon it will aspire to expand its sphere of influence to other countries. Pakistan may be its next target. The Pakistani prime minister has already uttered supportive words to the Taliban. So the door is open. At one point in time, it may turn its attention to Bangladesh as well.

One wonders if anxiety about a rising tide of Islamist extremism could be exacerbating Bangladeshi frustrations about the fate of the Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. There has been a growing influx of articles on the social and economic burden Bangladesh has been under. Bangladesh continues to scramble for resources to meet this enduring crisis. This cannot be a long-term solution. The Rohingya, ultimately, must be repatriated to their homeland in Myanmar, and the army that brutalized them must be held to account in front of the world.

In the Maldives, there is a growing debate as to whether the country should switch from a presidential system to a parliamentary one. The impetus for this move appears to come primarily from the former president (and current parliament speaker and member of the powerful Judicial Service Commission), Mohamed Nasheed. One publication questions whether further concentration of executive and judicial powers in the head of the legislature would help the country: Which system better protects minorities and subverts majority mob rule? Which system best serves nation as opposed to party alone?

In Sri Lanka, some are worrying about the country’s fiscal position, damaged by the COVID-19 pandemic and abrupt changes in the country’s agricultural policies. Bond holders are being repaid, but this means that foreign exchange that could otherwise have been used for imports are now being used to pay bond holders instead…avoiding the IMF does not mean we can escape the inevitable austerity that will follow. Austerity is in fact already upon us, in the form of restricted imports. The restrictions are denying essential inputs to the local economy and medicines and food to citizens. These restrictions work in two ways:  1. The outright restrictions on imports  2. The shortages of foreign exchange in the market.

Southeast Asia Summary: August 23-26, 2021

Somewhat unexpectedly, Myanmar was increasingly on the minds of Southeast Asian writers, despite (or rather, because of?) events in Afghanistan and Kamala Harris’s visit to Vietnam.

There may be two connections between Afghanistan and Myanmar. First, with many commentators mentioning how the days of American-led regime change and nation-building are over, there may be less faith in both the willingness and capacity to rewrite given societies’ social contracts. Second, as the US shifts its attention from the Middle East to the Indo-Pacific in order to counter China, the realization is growing that the international community, particularly the democracies, are not going to risk an anti-China alliance over Myanmar, a country led by a military that is not known for being sensitive to foreign pressure. So long as Myanmar can be kept from being a wholly-owned subsidiary of the PRC, it’s enough, especially for India, which is vulnerable in its increasingly restive Northeast.

Myanmar’s The Irrawaddy asks, “Can a UN Arms Embargo on Myanmar Work?” The short answer seems to be that there is very little political will in ASEAN, collectively considered, for such a step, plus the country’s defense requirements are largely domestically sourced, thus leaving the autarchically-inclined junta relatively immune to an arms ban.

Another piece in that publication goes into more detail as to why the intensifying focus on China means Myanmar’s junta will get a pass. One of the biggest reasons is the degree to which China is already involved in local, separatist groups spread from Assam to Shan, and China raised the specter of supporting “secessionist forces” in India, if the latter continued to cut deals with China.

Singapore’s The Straits Times says, considering the snail-like pace of ASEAN’s negotiations with Myanmar, the situation will take months and perhaps years to resolve, “if at all”. The article concludes that the people of Myanmar will have to sort out their own salvation.

But, the international community may have difficulty avoiding the Myanmar question in a couple weeks when the UN will have to determine who the rightful occupant of Myanmar’s seat is, Kyaw Moe Tun or someone selected by the junta.

Publications across the region are still asking what the Afghanistan debacle says about US commitment and competence, but the emphasis has shifted slightly. There is not much of a sense that the US is on course to abandon the Indo-Pacific, but there are questions about why the US allegedly left its NATO allies in the lurch in Afghanistan, as reported in The Straits Times. According to that article, Japan and South Korea have the least to worry about when it comes to the solidity of their alliances with the US, while India and Taiwan have less “clearly defined” relationships with the superpower.

In an article reprinted from The Financial Times, they conclude that the world is confused about American priorities, because the Americans are too. If Trump’s theatrics were an aberration, it no longer appears that his foreign policy was.

President (and vice-presidential candidate) Duterte of the Philippines has caused some confusion in the Philippines after reportedly assuring Chinese President Xi Jinping last Friday that “the Philippines will remain neutral on geopolitical issues and remain true to what he has guaranteed”, to which the Chinese ambassador replied that the origin of the virus should indeed not be politicized. As a writer in The Manila Standard asked, “What did he guarantee?”

Vietnamese publications reported that among other topics discussed, the US and Vietnam agreed on “ASEAN’s central role in the East Sea, Mekong and Myanmar issues as well as the principle of respecting international law in dealing with regional issues, including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, ensuring security, safety, and freedom of navigation and aviation.” “[T]he US treasures [its] comprehensive partnership with Vietnam on the basis of respecting for each other’s independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and political institutions, and not interfering into internal affairs of each other. She reaffirmed that the US supports a strong, independent and prosperous Vietnam.”

The Vietnamese prime minister also met with the Chinese ambassador in appreciation of China’s donation of vaccine, but he also spoke up for ‘internationalization’: the PM stressed that Việt Nam consistently pursues the foreign policy of independence, self-reliance, multilateralisation and diversification of ties, proactive and active international integration, and being a responsible member of the international community. The PM also declared that Việt Nam does not ally with one country to fight against another. The two sides need to strive to maintain peace and stability, settle disagreements at sea in the spirit of high-level common perceptions, the Agreement on basic principles guiding the settlement of sea-related issues and abide by international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, he said. He added that the two countries need to partner with ASEAN to fully and seriously implement the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), as well as step up negotiations on an effective and practical Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC). (VietNam News)

In other words, although China has insisted in recent days that Vietnam brackets off the South China Sea from other bilateral issues, they seem to miss the point. While Vietnam is happy to cooperate bilaterally with China on a variety of issues, when it comes to the South China Sea, Vietnam is happy to appeal to international law and international powers.

In Thailand, there is continued rumination about why US VP Harris only went to Vietnam and Singapore on her Southeast Asian trip. The “real reason” is not because of Thailand’s perceived democratic deficits but just that Thailand is “no longer relevant” economically, especially in comparison to Vietnam.

Speaking of democratic deficits, Thai publications are mulling over the meaning of the uptick in political violence in the country, particularly at the anti-government protests of the last few weeks. With some protesters having been shot by as yet unknown assailants, there is speculation that the ominous “third hand” has appeared–people often dressed in black with no clear political agenda killing protesters or police. One possibility is the police.

Coincidentally, a video of police officers extorting and then murdering (or accidentally killing while torturing) a suspect three weeks ago was just released by a Thai lawyer. “[S]ociety knows that the use of torture in interrogation is not unusual,” The Bangkok Post writes.

One of the police officers involved, nicknamed “Joe Ferrari”, was found to own multiple high-end sports cars. The Prayut government has promised swift justice, but the bigger question for many is the lack of accountability within the police and within the structures of Thai state authority more generally. Despite making less than US$2000/month, Joe Ferrari had amassed at least 29 luxury cars. “Somehow the Office of the Inspector General, the Anti-Money Laundering Office (AMLO) and the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) keeps missing these high-earning cops and generals”, as The Thai Enquirer put it.

In another coincidence, the NACC announced that it cannot report PM Prayut’s assets as it could be sued for releasing personal information, says The Nation.

Fortunately, PM Prayut’s spokesperson announced that ‘government agencies are prepared to counter fake news’.

In Khaosod English, a publication that tends to tilt against Bangkok’s military-royalist-industrial complex, a piece by the Taiwanese foreign minister was published that argued for Taiwan’s inclusion in the UN.  

In Malaysia, the new prime minister, Ismail Sabri, has made encouraging comments towards the opposition and minorities, but his previous quotes from his various stints as a cabinet minister are circulating. During his maiden speech, he spoke of the “Malaysian family”, but there is a debate as to who the real Ismail Sabri is. “The Ismail Sabri of old that we knew was an old style race-based politician who believed his political longevity depended on the stout championing of Malay supremacy, rights and privileges. But that was pre-Covid-19”. “This is a different Ismail Sabri we are seeing and hearing,” says one optimistically.

In Ismail Sabri’s defense, although he has not opted for a unity government, he has come to an agreement on political reform with the opposition, an agreement described by some as “rare and possibly historic”.

But, some still see little cause for hope: “People are quick to denounce the current prime minister for this kind of propaganda but the reality is that there has never been, and there will never be, an alternative to the race-based politics of this country… It is sad this desperation of non-Malays to be accepted in this country and every little ounce of inclusivity and race blindness is gulped down with such fervour”.

Finally, in Indonesia, The Jakarta Post is reporting on what is perceived as a major step back towards an oligarchical, Suharto-style constitution and possibly allow President Jokowi a third term. Bambang Soesatyo, Speaker of the Indonesian legislature (the MPR), announced a plan for a “limited amendment” to the Constitution that will grant the legislature the power to extend presidential powers and create 50-100 year plans for the country.

The Post notes that this amendment is being pushed forward as the country is distracted by COVID-19, and it is illegal to protest in the streets.

East Asia Summary: August 22-25, 2021

The implications of Afghanistan are still on the minds of much of Southeast Asia, with China arguing that it signals the decline of American power generally and the unreliability of US alliances more specifically, in Europe, Southeast Asia, and East Asia. Writers from Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan, however, argue that US relationships with these allies are older, deeper, and rooted in fundamental strategic interests.

The Nikkei Asia argues that “[t]o make the de facto encirclement of China more effective, Washington must gain the cooperation of the ASEAN countries, the geographic center of the Indo-Pacific”, but that the Biden administration’s emphasis on human rights diplomacy unsettles potential allies who are otherwise “concerned about [their] growing dependence on China”. Because of Japan’s close relationship with ASEAN states, it can act as a bridge between the US and Japan to alleviate those fears.

Chinese publications see the situation in Southeast Asia somewhat differently. The ASEAN states do not want to have to choose between China and the US. The Global Times says Vietnam, the second country US VP Kamala Harris visited this week, has bracketed its maritime disputes from “overall Vietnam-China relationship”. Even more important is the position of Singapore, per The China Daily:

Singapore, for example, has solid economic and military ties with the US – in fact, Singapore has given the US military access to its bases and holds joint military drills with it. But Singapore also has strong trade and other relations with China. Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told BBC on March 14 that it is impossible for Singapore to choose between the US and China, given the extensive ties the country has with both countries. Lee Hsien Loong knows this dilemma is not faced by Singapore alone…”

The article goes on to mention favorable comments President Duterte of the Philippines, another US ally, has made about being neutral. The article concludes that “This shows that since Southeast Asian countries have their own national interests to protect and diplomatic strategies to promote, they will not choose sides between the US and China”.

Interestingly, although it is true that ASEAN states have very little interest in getting involved in a geopolitical contest and Vietnam does try to bracket off the South China Sea dispute, these states have been fairly consistent about the necessity of abiding by a South China Sea Code of Conduct anchored in UNCLOS 1982. In Vietnam publications, this is a mantra, and in The Philippines, public support for multilateral action is quite strong (>60%), as we saw earlier this week. The debate in the Philippines has mostly been about how hard a line should be taken. As the presidential election approaches there, it might be difficult for candidates to stake out anything other than a strong position.

Let’s jump to Lithuania, which seems to have become the bellwether of China’s diplomatic power. China continues to turn up the rhetorical pressure, at first recruiting the Russians and now the Belarussians into its anti-Lithuanian alliance. Lithuania “is confronting both China and Russia, which have plenty of means including joining with Belarus to impose long-term sanctions on Lithuania and make it pay a heavy cost… China and Russia should unite different forces to humiliate the US over the Lithuania issue and the Taiwan question, generating a new, universally comprehensible ‘Afghan effect’”, The Global Times said.

The Taipei Times points out the jam the Chinese Communist Party (CCP): “The CCP has painted itself into a corner. It is unable to avoid a multinational conflict if it pushes too far on Taiwan, but it is also unable to ease up on Taiwan without appearing weak and losing legitimacy at home.”

But, a piece by a retired PLAN officer in The Global Times insists that it is Taiwan that is in the difficult spot. Washington looks weak after the Afghan debacle, and it has a low estimate of Taiwan’s defense capabilities or willingness to fight. “Some believe Taiwan needs to defend itself in order to inspire the US to commit. This reflects the dilemma of both Taiwan island and the US”. The absence of a clear willingness on either the part of the US or the Taiwanese to defend Taiwan resembles Afghanistan’s situation, the piece suggests. One thing inhibiting the Taiwanese willingness to defend itself is the question, “For whom do they fight?” As he points out, the country’s Constitution makes no provision for secession.

This problem might be most acutely felt in Taiwan’s Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), which is in the middle of a fight for party chairman. A couple of pieces in The Taipei Times suggest that the party continues to implode. Structurally, it is succumbing to centrifugal forces. Factionalism, gangsterism, local party autonomy, and a growing divide between younger members and the older establishment means that it is ‘impossible’ for the KMT to have a strong chairperson. Perhaps more important, as Taiwan’s clout relative to China grows at home and abroad, the KMT increasingly has to confront its commitment to Chinese nationalism and democracy. It has no plan to establish the “Republic of China” on the “mainland” or to create diplomatic space for the Republic in parallel with the PRC. Is the KMT willing for Taiwan to choose a new national flag?

Turning north, if North Korea has been making itself the center of attention in the region in recent weeks, in the last few days, attention has been turning to Japan. Japan’s The Asahi Shimbun argues that Japanese PM Suga, who is embarking on a leadership contest in his ruling LDP, just as the country approaches a general election, has questionable views on Japan’s role in World War II. One condition of Japan ‘returning to the international community’ was its accepting Japanese responsibility for the Pacific War, but visits by multiple members of Suga’s cabinet to the Yasukuni Shrine “could be seen as tantamount to denial of Japan’s postwar history”.

“All prime ministers since Morihiro Hosokawa in 1993 have made some reference to Japan’s aggression in Asia by citing ‘deep remorse’ or offering ‘condolences’ to Asian countries” during the annual ceremony to commemorate the nation’s war dead on August 15, but since Abe and then Suga came to power, this was no longer mentioned. Nor did he make mention of Japan’s role in World War II at the August 6 peace memorial in Hiroshima.

“Suga needs to realize that he cannot fulfill his duties as the prime minister unless he sincerely faces up to the nation’s past”, the piece concludes.

North Korea latched on to this theme and connected it to Japanese rearmament. “[T]he Korean people are boiling their blood with a resolve to take revenge upon Japan for its trembling atrocities.”

South Korean publications have been slowly chewing over the icy relationship between Seoul and Tokyo, also related to disputes about Japan’s treatment of Koreans during Japan’s rule of the Korean peninsula and compensation it allegedly owes South Korea. The Korea Herald says it will probably be difficult to break out of this rut with President Moon approaching the end of his tenure and PM Suga “struggling to stay in power”.

Turning our attention to South Korea, a piece by Wie Sung-rak in The Korea JoongAng Daily offers another theory about North Korea’s hot and cold behavior in recent weeks: South Korea is diplomatically unreliable. “[E]ven though our economic power can match the advanced ranks, our diplomatic abilities cannot. We should not leave the situation unattended. We must not hand over such shoddy diplomacy to our next generation.” Wie mentions Korean negotiations with China about THAAD, negotiations with Russia on pipeline construction, and South Korea’s intermediary role in Trump-Kim negotiations to back up his assertion. In the current case, Kim Yo-jong complained of “betrayal” by the Moon government, which was followed by silence by the South Korean side, suggesting that Moon may have suggested that suspension of the US-ROK joint military drills were a real possibility.

The pattern is, he seems to say, the South Korean government inflates expectations on the other side, fails to live up to them, gets accused of “betraying” the other party, and then goes “mum”.

South Asia Summary: August 21-24, 2021

ThePrint’s “India’s Domestic Politics Makes China-Pakistan Nexus More Potent in Taliban Era” is a good place to start this summary. Conventional wisdom in India, it says, holds that Kashmir is most vulnerable to the surge of terrorism that is feared will pour out of a Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, but actually it is the trunk of the body politic that is most vulnerable. If the Taliban is not what it was 20 years ago, nor is India. It is now divided by the Hindutva ideology of the ruling BJP, as well as numerous social and economic problems. In order to check Indian attempts to link up with an American-led alliance, “China can be expected to continue to pin down India’s scarce resources by keeping its sword poised on the Northern borders…The timing of the blow will be decided by the signs of India regaining its strength and it would be carried out by Pakistan but done in conjunction with China. An orchestrated upsurge in the Northern border tensions can be combined with a terrorist attack by Pakistan.

The author, a retired general, is quite specific about the targets that a Chinese-Pakistan alliance might hit. He says it “must have religious significance and should be accompanied by significant loss of Hindu lives. Targets in the Indo-Gangetic belt [the Hindutva heartland] would be the preferred choice due to the deep polarization” already manifest in India.

As if on cue, a debate on conducting the first caste census in nearly a century is starting to pick up steam in India. The last time this became a hot topic, about 30 years ago, it gave birth to the Modi version of the BJP, Hindutva 2.0, as an article in The Hindustan Times calls it. This was a marriage of the older, Brahman-dominated Hindutva with lower-caste politics. The marriage was built on “vilifying the Muslims”, it says. When the VJ Singh government of 1990 tried to mobilize lower-caste voters, the BJP responded with its notorious, ritualized march on Ayodhya.

Interestingly, a piece in Muslim Mirror maps out a parallel process among India’s Muslim communities: “It is now a well-known fact that a majority of Muslims share the socio-cultural and ethnic heritage with their…’Hindu’ counterparts”. If Muslims have needed to shower greater solidarity with each other in post-Ayodhya India, as with Hindus, this has had the effect of papering over their own, internal caste issues. The net effect is that caste-based inequalities, as well as gender/ethnic/class inequalities, tend to be ignored and therefore preserved.

Northeast India, with its mixture of local ethnic groups, Bengali-speakers, Bangladeshi refugees, and rising Hindutva may be an early indicator. Assam currently has less than 45 days to complete construction of “detention centers” for Muslim residents who cannot prove that they are citizens of India, according to India’s The Telegraph.

Perhaps Pakistan represents another aspect of this attempt to resolve real internal differences by appeal to “an illusory monolithic religious identity”. Thus, with the victory of the Taliban in Afghanistan, we see an uptick in terrorist attacks in Pakistan. Yet Afghanistan is the missing link in the grand scheme to tie Central Asia, AfPak, and China to the port of Gwadar in Balochistan, both as the corridor through which infrastructure will pass and as the geopolitical sword of Damocles that hangs over the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor already being put in place. Getting India and the US out of Afghanistan is the first step. Dealing with the Taliban and its sympathizers in the region is the next.

Right now, assuming that India is behind at least some of the attacks on Chinese assets and individuals in Pakistan, it does not look eager to give a Chinese-Pakistani alliance an easy go of it. China’s The Global Times points its fingers at two countries: “In this region, some US and Indian intelligence forces keen to infiltrate into Pakistan have held a hostile attitude toward China’s BRI. Blocking the development of the BRI has become their main target to contain China’s rise. And, the terror attack that targeted Chinese engineers who worked for the Dasu hydropower project is said to be fuelled by the Indian intelligence agency.”

What is more, it speaks almost as if China were willing to make the kinds of commitments the US made in Afghanistan in AfPak. First, demanding that the Taliban “strike the terrorist forces that were groomed in Afghanistan but now active in Pakistan. This is a window through which China could observe the new government of Afghanistan”. Second, “China will not only support Pakistan to strike a heavy blow to [Balochi] terror forces, but also warn all the external forces [the US and India] to stay away from those terror forces. Once China obtains evidence that they support terrorist forces in Pakistan, China will punish them.” China may have a much greater geostrategic interest in Gwadar than the US had in Afghanistan. Whether Chinese meddling in AfPak will be any more appealing to the region than the US presence was will have to be seen.

The Sri Lankan government is under increasing pressure to show whatever progress it has made in its investigation of the Easter bombings of 2019, and it is under a degree of pressure by some Muslims who object to the new Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act.

In Nepal, a ranking member of India’s BJP met with various political leaders there to conduct “wide-ranging discussions”. Opinion pieces continue grumbling about the rule-by-ordinance that Deuba’s recycled prime ministership has recycled from his opponent and predecessor.  Dissatisfaction with the current system of government is making some question the federal, secular republic and long for a ‘unitary Hindu’ state, according to Nepal Live Today.