Asia/Africa update: June 26 2017



Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford is in Afghanistan this week to try to put together a strategy to go along with the decision to send thousands of additional American forces to that country to try to turn around its war with the Taliban. The additional forces should, in theory, allow for more training at lower unit levels within the Afghan military, as well as training in support functions. There are also plans to build up the Afghan air force and its special forces capabilities. Unfortunately there seems to be no plan to magically create an Afghan government that isn’t riddled with corruption at every level (which, in case I’m being too subtle, is because there’s really no way for the United States or any other foreign power to do that), so the chances of this effort really succeeding in the long run are slim to none.


Here’s another take on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Washington today. While Modi had a number of specific issues on which he was looking to engage the Trump administration, in a broader sense his visit was meant to help transition the US-India relationship from a transactional one (i.e., one based on specific areas of need) to a more comprehensive strategic partnership. The challenge he faces is that strategic anything is just not what this administration does, and Trump himself views every American alliance, even longstanding ones, through a “what have you done for me” lens. He’s also specifically inclined to view India in negative terms because he things it’s been pulling one over on the US for years over environmental concerns. So Modi has his work cut out for him, and while today’s meeting seemed to go OK it will be a while before the nature of the US-India relationship becomes clear. Modi is a hard-right nationalist with a history of anti-Islam behavior, so in that sense maybe he and Trump were able to bond.


Philippine Vice President Leni Robredo’s visit on Monday to a displaced persons center near Marawi is raising new questions about President Rodrigo Duterte’s health. Duterte hasn’t been seen in public since June 20, and has only sporadically been seen in public all month, at a time when insurgents have been holding part of a medium-sized Philippine city. Duterte is in his seventies and seems to be constantly enraged, so it wouldn’t be terribly surprising if he were fatigued or suffering from stress during what is objectively a stressful time in his country.


Well, the results are in, and the winner of the 2017 Mongolian presidential election is: nobody:

There was no winner in Mongolia’s presidential election on Monday, forcing the country’s first ever second-round run-off between the two leading candidates, the country’s General Election Committee said in the early hours of Tuesday.

The populist former martial arts star Khaltmaa Battulga of the opposition Democratic Party won the most votes, but failed to secure a majority, the committee said.

Authorities haven’t announced which other candidate will be contesting the runoff with Battulga. I know, that seems odd to me too, but they haven’t.


This is probably not going to be good for US-China relations:

The Trump administration is poised to declare China among the world’s worst offenders on human trafficking, US officials said Monday, putting the world’s most populous country in the same category as North Korea, Zimbabwe and Syria.

China’s downgrade is to be announced on Tuesday at the state department when Secretary of State Rex Tillerson unveils the annual Trafficking in Persons Report to Congress, said the officials, who weren’t authorized to comment publicly ahead of the announcement and demanded anonymity.

Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and senior adviser, planned to attend the ceremony.

The determination marks the first major, public rebuke of China’s human rights record by the Trump administration, which has generally avoided direct, public criticism of Beijing while seeking its cooperation in combatting North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats. The report is likely to draw strong protest from China’s communist government.

China will be listed under Tier 3, the ranking system’s lowest category, which applies to countries failing to meet minimum standards to prevent human trafficking or making significant improvement efforts. Other countries that have recently been on that list include Sudan, Iran and Haiti.

I’m sure this downgrade is well-deserved, but it loses its impact when you consider that any penalties (sanctions being the most significant) will likely be waived by Trump both for national security interests and because it’s unclear the US could really do much economic damage to China without risking a very painful reciprocation. Beijing is unlikely to take even empty criticism to heart, though.

In other news, Beijing is accusing Indian border guards of crossing into Chinese territory in an area that has been a source of trouble in the past:

Geng Shuang, a spokesman with China’s foreign ministry, said Indian guards “obstructed normal activities” by Chinese forces on the border and called on India to withdraw immediately, according to a ministry statement late on Monday.

He urged India to respect China’s territorial integrity and the border treaties signed by the two countries, and said China had already suspended official pilgrimages at the Nathu La Pass, which lies on the frontier between Sikkim state and Tibet.

Nathu La connects India to Hindu and Buddhist sites in the region and was the site of a fierce border clash between Chinese and Indian troops in 1967.

China’s Defence Ministry said in a separate statement India’s military had obstructed work on a road, a move it described as seriously threatening peace on the border.


Pyongyang has apparently turned down South Korea’s offer to field a joint Korean team at next February’s Winter Olympics, with one member of North Korea’s Olympic committee saying there’s not enough time to negotiate the terms of such an arrangement.


This isn’t really Japan-related except geographically, but the captain of the container ship that rammed the USS Fitzgerald on June 17 says that the warship failed to take evasive action or respond to warnings in advance of the collision.



The European Union remains keen to do something to head off the flow of migrants from Libya to Europe, but these efforts are collapsing because, shockingly I know, it’s hard to implement migration reforms in a country that doesn’t have a functional government. Would-be migrants, who have already had human traffickers take advantage of them, are taken, if caught, to migrant detention facilities that are often run by people who are acting on their own and are therefore free to brutally mistreat their detainees and take bribes in exchange for letting them out. The EU has promised to invest money in improving and professionalizing these detention centers, but so far hasn’t been very forthcoming–and, really, it’s not clear it would matter so long as the Libyan government remains mostly a theoretical concept.


Johan Gustafsson, a Swedish national who was kidnapped by extremists in northern Mali six years ago, was released days ago, according to a Monday announcement from the Swedish government. No word on what the Swedes paid to gain his release–official Swedish policy is not to pay ransom for kidnapping victims, and Stockholm appears to be sticking to that story.


On the subject of human traffickers:

Dozens of people are feared dead after human traffickers abandoned them in Niger’s northern desert without food or water, a senior local official said on Monday.

Fatoumi Boudou, the prefect of Niger’s northern region of Bilma, told the AFP news agency that authorities on Sunday rescued 24 people who were part of a group of “70 people who had left in three vehicles from Agadez for Libya”.

Agadez is a remote town in Niger on the edge of the Sahara desert that has become a major people-smuggling point.

The traffickers “abandoned them in the middle of the desert without food or water”, Boudou said, adding that those rescued had spoken of several dead bodies without specifying a number.

But the Agadez-based Air Info website, citing a security source, said scores of bodies had been buried on Sunday by troops and locals.

A local radio station had said 52 dead bodies had been discovered by authorities on Sunday.



Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari is being criticized for delivering his Eid address in Hausa. Hausa is one of Nigeria’s major tongues, but it is not universally learned. A speech in Hausa would be unintelligible to most of the country’s Christians, for example, who generally come from other ethnic groups in the south. But even within Nigeria’s Muslim community, a speech like this delivered in Hausa risks upsetting the large Fulani community, most of whom probably don’t speak Hausa either. Nigeria’s massive number of indigenous ethnic groups and therefore massive number of indigenous languages is part of the reason why the country’s official language is None Of The Above, AKA English. Buhari would have been better off delivering his address in that language


Boko Haram was blamed for several terrorist attacks on Monday as well as a military ambush in Chad over the weekend, though it seems likely that these attacks were carried out by separate factions. On Monday, suicide bombers killed nine people and wounded 13 in Maiduguri, and in a separate suicide attack at least eight civilians were killed on the outskirts of the city. A third attack at Maiduguri University seems only to have killed the two bombers. Over the weekend, meanwhile, eight Chadian soldiers were reportedly killed when they were attacked by militants on five islands on Lake Chad. Boko Haram of course split into factions last year when ISIS attempted, with only partial success, to replace long-time leader Abubakar Shekau. Shekau’s faction still operates around Maiduguri, the group’s traditional home, while the other operates in the Lake Chad region.

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