Asia/Africa update: May 22 2018



A car bomb killed at least 16 people and wounded 38 others in Kandahar on Tuesday. Afghan authorities were attempting to defuse the bomb, which they believe was going to be used for a much larger attack during the upcoming Eid celebration at the end of Ramadan, when it exploded. There’s not much doubt it was a Taliban device, since ISIS doesn’t have a presence in Kandahar and it’s effectively the Taliban’s hometown. In Ghazni province, meanwhile, Taliban fighters killed at least 14 Afghan police officers in two attacks that began late Monday and continued well into Tuesday.

ISIS, meanwhile, is reportedly making serious bank mining talc and other minerals in Nangarhar province. The talc gets shipped to Pakistan and then reshipped to talcum powder-loving consumers in the West.

Shockingly, the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction’s newest report, issued on Monday, finds the conflict against the Taliban and ISIS in Afghanistan to have made no substantial progress over the past quarter. The Pentagon insists that your lying eyes are not to be believed and that its war effort is making significant progress.


Indian police killed at least nine protesters in the city of Thootukudi on Tuesday. The protesters were calling for the government to shut down a copper smelting facility in the city that they say has caused serious environmental problems.


A new Amnesty International report finds that the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army massacred as many as 99 Hindus in a village in Myanmar’s Rakhine state last August. ARSA’s attacks against Hindus and Buddhists were used as justification by the Myanmar military for carrying out an ethnic cleansing campaign that left thousands of Rohingya dead and drove an estimated 700,000 survivors into Bangladesh.


Donald Trump’s trade talks with China appear to be accomplishing little of substance:

Mr Trump on Monday said the potential agreement could be “one of the best things” to happen to farmers, an important part of his base that has been worried about Chinese retaliation.


But analysts noted that the joint statement issued at the end of the most recent round of negotiations did not include a target for the increased purchases, despite earlier US claims the increase could amount to as much as $200bn.


They say China’s growth would necessitate increased purchases regardless of trade talks.


Meanwhile, China made few concessions to the US concerns about intellectual property theft and government subsidies that triggered the stand-off.

Though China is powerful enough to do as it pleases on intellectual property issues and basically get away with it, the issue of IP protection is a serious one that demands more attention than Washington policymakers are prepared to give it. It seems right that Americans who develop important new ideas should be able to retain ownership of those ideas. But when the manner in which that ownership is maintained reinforces the centuries of global economic inequality that put the United States at the top of the research heap in the first place, it feels like maybe IP rules are little more than another way to lock that inequality in place. At the excellent Fellow Travelers Blog, consultant Yong Kwon takes a deeper dive into this issue:

The Uruguay Round of 1994 birthed the modern WTO with a serious defect. Buoyed by the Washington Consensus credo that liberalization would indiscriminately raise all boats, the industrialized economies called on emerging markets to lift their trade barriers to manufactured goods and accept stringent rules around intellectual property rights. A 2000 study showed that the United States had been the biggest beneficiary of new enforcements around patent usage, receiving a net transfer of USD 1.3 billion. India (USD 1.1 billion) and Brazil (USD 0.4 billion), meanwhile, made the largest net payments. Although long-run analysis revealed that negative effects are eventually mitigated, studies also showed that emerging markets would continue to enjoy smaller gains, suggesting that the current system prices the exchange of knowledge without the aim of closing the disparities between economies.


Meanwhile, given political sensitivities at home, the governments of the United States and Europe indefinitely relegated discussions on lifting restrictions in their own markets for agricultural products (existent in the form of both direct tariffs and subsidies) that the emerging economies could export at a comparative advantage. This left countries that aspired to rise up the global value chain facing either costly payment transfers for the use of patents or heavy scrutiny for intellectual property theft.


Beijing has been making increasingly overt threats against Taiwan of late, threats it says are in response to Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen’s moves toward independence and more overtly pro-Taiwan policies from the Trump administration. But analyst Derek Grossman argues that those moves in turn have been motivated by hostile Chinese behavior that started with Tsai’s political rise:

As much as Beijing likes to argue that Taiwanese domestic politics and the upgrade in U.S. interactions with Taiwan are to blame for exacerbating cross-strait relations, the fault lies in Beijing. Taiwan and the United States are actually responding to increasingly aggressive Chinese behavior in the Taiwan Strait since the moment Tsai appeared to have a good chance of winning the presidency in late 2015. China has ratcheted up diplomatic, economic, and military pressure tactics to express its displeasure. It is difficult to know whether Xi’s recent success in abolishing term limits and his yearslong intimidation of political rivals through his anti-corruption campaign now means he can more easily turn up the heat on Taiwan. But China’s growing economic and military strength only bolsters Xi’s confidence in his Taiwan policy.

That Chinese hostility may be backfiring. Tsai, a relative moderate in her Democratic Progressive Party, seems to be losing popularity in favor of her prime minister, Lai Ching-te, who is far more independence-minded.


On the plus side, international media have begun arriving in North Korea to cover the demolition of the country’s Punggye-ri nuclear test site later this week, which suggests at least that the demolition is going ahead as planned–though it is notable that Pyongyang hasn’t invited the sort of technical observers who could verify that the closure of the site is irreversible. On the minus side, after a week of hostile noises coming out of Pyongyang, Donald Trump has started casting doubt that his summit with Kim Jong-un is actually going to happen:

“We’re moving along. We’ll see what happens,” Trump told reporters. “There are certain conditions we want to happen. I think we’ll get those conditions. And if we don’t, we won’t have the meeting.”


Trump did not specify the conditions the US was setting for the meeting.


“There is a very substantial chance that it won’t work out, but that’s OK,” he added. “It doesn’t mean it won’t work out over a period of time, but it may not work out for June 12. But there is still a good chance we’ll have the meeting.”

This would be a real shame if only because the White House had designed an incredibly classy, subdued coin to commemorate the occasion:

The coins refer to Kim as “Supreme Leader,” so that’s nice. The thing I like most about the Trump administration is how understated it is.

North Korea’s dander got up last week in part due to John Bolton’s invocation of the “Libya model” as a pattern for North Korea to follow. As we all know, the “Libya model” ended with the US arranging the overthrow of the Libyan government, so you can understand why the North Koreans aren’t all that keen on the comparison. Wilson Center fellow Terence McNamee suggests South Africa as a more appropriate, and less provocative, model.


South Korean President Moon Jae-in is in Washington to meet with Trump over the state of Korean diplomatic efforts:

Moon may get an earful from Trump about misrepresenting Kim’s eagerness to disarm. It seems more and more that Moon, lukewarm about the US in the best of times and downright terrified that Trump was going to provoke a war with North Korea whose costs would’ve been borne primarily by South Koreans, worked with Kim, once the North Korean leader was comfortable with the state of his nuclear deterrent, to maneuver Trump into this summit. In the end, Trump’s greatest contribution to Korean detente could be that his dangerously erratic rhetoric brought Kim and Moon together.



The Moroccan government’s decision earlier this month to sever ties with Iran over alleged Iranian support for Western Sahara’s POLISARIO Front, via Hezbollah and Iran’s Algerian embassy, has caused a deterioration in Moroccan-Algerian relations–which were bad to begin with–as Algeria denies enabling that alleged Iranian support. At least one writer with ties to POLISARIO says the whole thing is bunk, a manufactured complaint designed to get Morocco on Donald Trump’s good side:

However, Nana Labat Rachid, a writer and activist close to the Polisario Front, disagrees. “Morocco wants to woo the anti-Iranian Trump administration, knowing that Trump is angry with the Moroccan regime” for reportedly providing funding in 2014 to the charity of his presidential election competitor, Hillary Clinton, Rachid told Al-Monitor. “Morocco wants to exploit the accusation of terrorism leveled by some countries against Hezbollah to allege its cooperation with the Polisario Front in terms of training and armament to frame the Polisario and portray it as a terrorist group.”


Rachid said that the Polisario Front flaunts its international connections and that Iran has recognized the Sahrawi state since 1980. “Western Sahara had an embassy in Tehran, but in the late 1990s diplomatic relations turned lukewarm and the embassy closed. But the relationship now is not bad in general,” she added.


Emphasizing the strength of the Sahrawi army, Rachid said the force was created before Hezbollah and is more advanced. She said the Sahrawi army has fought against Spain, Morocco and Mauritania and is well prepared. “It is the ally of Algeria; it does not need to be trained and armed by Hezbollah,” she said.


Guinea has a new prime minister: Ibrahima Kassory Fofana, a close ally of President Alpha Conde. His appointment comes in the aftermath of deadly protests earlier this year and a prevailing suspicion that Conde is planning to engage in some constitutional shenanigans to allow him to stand for a third term in 2020.


Burkinabe police killed three suspected Islamist fighters in a shootout in Ouagadougou on Tuesday. It’s unclear if they’re suspected of ties with al-Qaeda or ISIS.


An al-Shabab suicide bomber struck a military convoy outside of Mogadishu on Tuesday. Multiple deaths have been reported, at least 12, but there’s been no count released as yet.


Voters in Burundi overwhelmingly approved, allegedly, a new constitution in a referendum on Tuesday, one that will allow President Pierre Nkurunziza to remain in office through at least 2034. Elections authorities say that 73 percent voted in favor of the new constitution on turnout of, uh, 96 percent, which seems…unlikely? Let’s go with unlikely. Burundi’s opposition is of course calling the vote illegitimate, but that’s unlikely to do them much good.


Two more people have died in the DRC’s latest ebola outbreak, bringing the total death toll since April to 27. The disease has spread to the city of Mbandaka, which is of particular concern because of the regular travel between that city and Kinshasa.

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