Asia/Africa update: October 25 2017



Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has significantly shifted his country’s position on foreign trade from what it was under his predecessor, Islam Karimov. Karimov liked to slap high tariffs on imported products to grow domestic industries, and Mirziyoyev has been undoing that policy since taking office. There are a lot of high barriers to trade still in place, but already there are signs that Mirziyoyev’s policy is paying some political dividends, in that developing commercial ties seem to be leading to improvements in Uzbekistan’s relations with Tajikistan, which had been rocky when Karimov was in power.


Rex Tillerson visited India on Wednesday and took the occasion–and the very receptive audience–to level new criticisms at Pakistan over its alleged/demonstrated support for terrorist groups:

“There are too many terrorist organizations that find a safe place in Pakistan from which to conduct their operations and attacks against other countries,” Tillerson said, speaking in India’s capital on the final stop of a tour through the Middle East and South Asia. The extremist groups’ growing strength and capability “can lead to a threat to Pakistan’s own stability,” he said.


Pakistani officials said Wednesday that cross-border fire from Indian forces killed two civilians in Kashmir.


If Myanmar’s Buddhist community really wants to convince the world that it’s not trying to exterminate the Rohingya, its leaders might want to start clamping down on this sort of thing:

Buddhists in Myanmar on Wednesday blocked aid workers from visiting a camp for displaced Muslims in the central part of Rakhine State, where the United Nations fears the spread of violence that has already displaced hundreds of thousands.

The UK has reportedly drafted a UN Security Council resolution that criticizes Myanmar’s military for its treatment of the Rohingya and calls on the Myanmar government to work quickly to repatriate Rohingya who had fled to Bangladesh. Myanmar says it will accept refugees who can prove they are Myanmar residents, though since Myanmar refuses to issue any kind of national identification to the Rohingya, a community it left legally stateless back in the 1980s, that could prove to be an empty promise.


To the extent that you’ve kept informed about the Philippines’ violent anti-drug campaign, perhaps your sympathies have been with the thousands of people killed by police and/or their families. If so, then to be honest you are an insensitive clod. The real victim here, you see, is President Rodrigo Duterte, who has been “demonized” just because it’s his policies that have led to all the extrajudicial police killings. Feel free to apologize to him when you get a minute.


Xi Jinping announced the seven (well, him and six other guys) members of the next Politburo Standing Committee on Wednesday. They are Premier Li Keqiang, Li Zhanshu (likely the next Chairman of the National People’s Conference), Wang Yang (likely the new vice premier), Wang Huning, Zao Leji, and Han Zheng. Congrats, everybody!

Easily the most interesting commonality among this group is that they’re all at least 60, which means none of them is young enough to succeed Xi in 2022 and then legally serve two five year terms as head of the Chinese Communist Party. Even the youngest would hit the party’s mandatory retirement age of 68 in the middle of their first term. This deliberate failure to position a clear heir is probably the strongest signal yet that Xi is giving serious thought to bending the rules and taking a third term as party boss in 2022.


The North Koreans reportedly conducted a non-flight test of a solid fuel ballistic missile last week. While not as provocative as a flight test, the nature of the missile is troubling. Missiles that run on solid fuel can be stored fully fueled and virtually ready to fire, whereas liquid-fueled missiles have to be gassed up before they can be launched. That process can naturally be detected, and so could provide an early warning of sorts that Pyongyang is getting ready to launch its missiles. If North Korea is able to perfect solid fuel the risks posed by its missile program increase significantly.

Speaking of risks, senior North Korean diplomat Ri Yong Pil told CNN on Wednesday that the US should take Pyongyang’s threat to conduct an atmospheric hydrogen bomb test over the Pacific Ocean “literally.” Even figuratively, making this threat was dumb and needlessly provocative.



ISIS fighters attacked a military checkpoint in eastern Libya on Wednesday, killing at least two soldiers with Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army.


A Boko Haram attack in northeastern Nigeria on Tuesday evening killed at least eight police officers and one civilian.


Thursday’s pretend presidential election in Kenya will go off as planned, in part because Kenya’s Supreme Court couldn’t muster a quorum on Wednesday to hear a last-minute petition to postpone the vote. Five of the court’s seven judges were unable to show for the proceeding for various, uhhh, reasons. President Uhuru Kenyatta is calling on all Kenyans to vote, hoping that a high turnout will restore the legitimacy that challenger Raila Odinga’s boycott has taken away from the proceedings. But Odinga is urging his supporters to stay home on Thursday and prepare for a longer term campaign of civil resistance–a “battle for electoral justice”–to oppose Kenyatta. The fact that he didn’t call for widespread protests tomorrow probably means that the vote will happen with a minimal level of violence if any, but turnout, rather than the actual results, will be the thing to watch.


There are growing concerns over the state of press freedom in Tanzania:

A 90-day ban on a popular Swahili daily in Tanzania – the fourth newspaper to be shut down since June – has prompted concern over press freedom in the East African country.


Journalists and activists urged President John Magufuli on Wednesday to overturn the ban on the Tanzania Daima newspaper, and accused him of undermining the country’s democracy by muzzling the media.

The paper’s sin was apparently publishing an inaccurate claim about the number of Tanzanians being treated for HIV, which it retracted and for which it apologized. That should be enough, but one of Magufuli’s avocations is apparently shutting down media outlets, so he availed himself of the opportunity to do so here. The government’s information services office says that Tanzania Damia has been warned multiple times over false claims in its reporting, so this wasn’t a one-off thing.


The death toll from Madagascar’s current plague outbreak has hit 124, and the disease has affected both of the country’s two largest cities, Antananarivo and Toamasina. The typical Madagascar plague outbreak sticks mostly to the countryside, so there’s cause for some concern here even though plague outbreaks are a relatively regular fact of life on the island.

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