Asia/Africa update: May 29 2018



Syria on Tuesday became the fifth nation in the world to recognize the “republics” of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which declared independence from Georgia in 2008, as independent states, following Russia, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Nauru. All the great powers. Anyway, I’m sure Vladimir Putin appreciates the gesture, but Bashar al-Assad isn’t getting off that easy.


A Taliban suicide bombing against a police station in Logar province on Wednesday morning killed at least three people–two Afghan police officers and one civilian. The attack reportedly used multiple bombers.

Afghan forces launched a bold nighttime raid in Nangarhar province on Monday night and wound up killing at least nine civilians in the process. Meanwhile, there have been reports that the Chora district, in Uruzgan province, was taken by the Taliban on Tuesday, but the Afghan government is denying it and those reports haven’t been confirmed as far as I can tell.

The United Nations human rights office on Tuesday published a new report detailing the shocking levels of impunity that men accused of violence against women are usually given by Afghan authorities. Crimes against women are often dealt with by community “mediators” rather than the justice system, which results in much gentler penalties for the perpetrators.


The Indian and Pakistani armies reportedly agreed on Tuesday to reduce cross-border skirmishes in order to bring themselves back into alignment with a 2003 Kashmiri ceasefire. Cross-border weapons fire has killed dozens of Kashmiri civilians on either side of the line of control since clashes began to escalate in September 2016.


Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is visiting Indonesia this week, as the two countries seem to be warming to one another over mutual regional concerns:

Indonesian President Joko Widodo had visited India in December 2016 with a promise to elevate India-Indonesia ties. During that visit, the two nations had taken aim at China’s aggressive stance on the South China Sea when they “stressed the importance of resolving disputes by peaceful means, in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law, including UNCLOS.” This is significant as both India and Indonesia do not have a direct stake in this dispute. But both are concerned about China’s territorial expansionism and its reluctance to abide by global norms. Modi and Widodo also want their nations to emerge as major maritime powers to ensure a stable maritime order in the region, one that is under stress because of China’s rapid rise and America’s growing reluctance to be the sole guarantor of regional security. Where India is worried about the security of the sea lanes of communication in the larger Indo-Pacific area, Indonesia has been concerned about Chinese maritime intrusions near the Natuna islands, which it claims as part of its exclusive economic zone, as well as Chinese attempts in the past to include the island chain in its territorial maps.


Against the backdrop of the rapidly changing security agenda facing the two nations, they have also now agreed to focus on their defense and security ties in order to jointly combat terrorism and organized crime. Their joint statement condemned terrorism in all forms, underscoring “zero tolerance” for acts of terrorism. It asked all nations to work towards eliminating terrorist safe havens and infrastructure, disrupting terrorist networks and their financing channels and stopping cross-border terrorism. In a message to China, which has been blocking India’s move to get Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar designated a global terrorist, the two nations called upon all countries to implement the UN Security Council Resolution 1267 (banning militant groups and their leaders) and other resolutions designating terrorist entities. The two nations also underline the need to combat and eliminate “illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing” and recognized transnational organized fisheries crime as one of the emerging crimes which needs to be tackled on an urgent basis


Treasury Secretary and Suicide Squad producer Steve Mnuchin said last week that the Trump administration had decided to table its trade war with China for now. I guess his boss changed his mind, though, because on Tuesday Donald Trump announced that the US will levy a 25 percent tariff on $50 billion in Chinese imports over Chinese trade practices like dumping, intellectual property violations, and subsidies. This announcement, combined with political turmoil in Italy, made for a fun day playing the ponies:

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Commerce Secretary The Corpse of Wilbur Ross is heading to Beijing later this week for more trade talks. Should be a fun trip for him.


The big news of the day is that Kim Yong-chol, a top advisor to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, is headed to the United States to meet with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to, presumably, plan for the June 12 Trump-Kim summit in Singapore. The one that Trump canceled last week, yes. Kim Yong-chol is easily the highest ranking North Korean official to come to the US for reasons other than to visit the UN since negotiations between the US and North Korea were running hot and heavy toward the end of the Clinton administration. He’s due to arrive on Wednesday.

Another piece of North Korea news flew under the radar but might be worth watching. Japanese officials say they’ve detected a Chinese-flagged ship in international waters near Singapore that appears to be transferring items to a North Korean vessel in violation of international sanctions. Needless to say this is an inopportune moment for something like this to happen. Also, the FBI and DHS released a report on North Korean hacking operations on Tuesday that could ruffle some feathers with only a couple of weeks to go before the summit. Right, the summit that Donald Trump canceled in writing, I get it.


Trump is now planning to meet with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe at some point before his summit with Kim. Yes, I know, he sent a letter and everything, Jesus Christ get over it. Abe, who may be corrupt but is not stupid, wants to be among the last voices in Trump’s ear because he understands that Trump involuntarily parrots back the last thing he heard on any given subject. Abe is worried, justifiably, that Trump might cut a deal with Kim that satisfies US national security interests but leaves, say, Tokyo completely vulnerable to a hypothetical North Korean missile attack.



The old Macron Magic apparently did the trick on Tuesday in Paris, as leaders from Libya’s feuding governments agreed to what looks like a fairly sweeping proposal to hold elections in December and begin to stitch their respective institutions together. The vote is now scheduled for December 10, with electoral law to be established by September and both governments–the internationally recognized one in Tripoli and the Khalifa Haftar-dominated one in Tobruk–guaranteeing security. The two sides with furthermore start working on uniting their governing bodies and their militaries into one national structure.

It all seems very positive and optimistic–maybe too optimistic. The goal, to hold elections in a country that’s still very much an active war zone in parts and large parts of which still lie well outside the control of either government–held by groups that weren’t represented at the Paris meeting–seems unattainable to say the least, and rushing into a shoddy facsimile of a vote is as likely to hurt the chances for peace as it is to advance them. I guess time will tell, but this process feels like it’s being rushed by outside forces to a very unhealthy degree.


UN Secretary-General António Guterres visited Mali on Tuesday and appealed to international donors to do a better job of fulfilling their pledges of support for the multinational G5 Sahel counterinsurgency army. Donors pledged a little over $500 million for the force at a conference in February but haven’t made with the cash in a timely fashion.


In a stunning development that nobody could possibly have foreseen, DRC President Joseph Kabila looks like he may be about to stand for a third term in office in the election scheduled for December 23. Good for him! Just a couple of things to work out. One, Kabila’s second term in office ends on December 20. Oh wait, I’m sorry, I mean it ended on December 20, 2016. So he’s been on borrowed time for going on two years now. And Congolese presidents are limited to two terms in office. So Kabila, having served his allotted two terms plus 2/5 of a third, now appears to be making plans to run for a full third term. Wild stuff. The other thing to consider is that if Joseph Kabila ran for president of the DRC against athlete’s foot in a fair election it would probably be a tossup.  “Fair” being the operative term there. The DRC is collapsing into anarchy in part because Kabila has long overstayed his welcome. If he announces that he plans to get around the constitution and run again, the chances for escalating violence are pretty high.


Africa Is a Country’s Michael Bueckert examines South Africa’s white power anti-land reform movement and its efforts to connect itself to white nationalist right-wing political movements around the world. The South African government isn’t managing the land reform process well. It’s allowed the bogeyman of “expropriation without compensation” to dominate the debate when in reality the program targets primarily unused land and frankly there’s a decent chance it will never happen anyway. It’s also responded tepidly to the alleged “farm murder” “epidemic” that has allowed Afrikaners to claim that their lives are literally in danger from roving black gangs set on stealing their land. But honestly, those problems aside, fuck these people:

For the international alt-right, however, the timing could not have been more perfect. Only weeks earlier, media personalities Katie Hopkins and Lauren Southern had visited South Africa to produce documentaries for North American audiences about the “ethnic cleansing” facing white farmers. The debate over “expropriation with compensation” allowed them to amplify their narrative that white South Africans face imminent genocide, with Hopkins claiming that “this is not just about land, this is vengeance,” and that it provides “political permission” to murder whites. Their propagandistic videos, only recently uploaded to YouTube, proliferated even further across social media, leading broader sections of the right to jump on the white genocide bandwagon, from Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, to Glenn BeckJordan Peterson, and Gavin McInnis. Thousands have signed petitions frantically urging the US, the EU, or Australia to prioritize immigration by white South Africans fleeing for their lives, a proposal which has been supported by senior members of the Australian government.


In a significant way, the international reaction to land reform in South Africa has been shaped and conditioned by white supremacists and alt-right voices. The surging popularity of the term “white genocide” is clearly associated with rise of white nationalist activity online—it was coined to describe the supposed threat facing “whites” (both culturally and physically) if they become a “minority” in Europe or North America, due to shifting demographics and non-white immigration. The plight of white South Africans has been a welcome addition to this “white genocide” narrative, for it provides an example of the nightmarish future that European and North American white supremacists warn about: a minority white population, surrounded by masses of people of color, facing their very extinction as a people.

AfriForum, the main group pushing this fear-mongering, has taken to rewriting the history of apartheid to pretend that white landowners didn’t benefit from decades of systemic state oppression of the country’s black majority. It’s a real classy effort all around.

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