Asia/Africa update: September 13 2018



Two Taliban attacks on checkpoints in Farah province on Thursday killed at least 13 Afghan police officers.


Speaking at the World Economic Forum on Thursday, Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi allowed as to how that whole “genociding the Rohingya” business probably could have been handled better. Which is big of her. Suu Kyi also defended a Myanmar court’s recent decision to sentence two Reuters reporters to 7 years in prison on the crime of doing journalism, a remark that Nikki Haley called “unbelievable” on Twitter. Hopefully before she tweeted that she checked to make sure her boss hadn’t called journalists enemies of the state or whatever in the previous 24 hours.


The death toll from Wednesday’s car-vs-pedestrians attack in Hengyang city has risen to 11, with 44 injured. Chinese authorities say the attacker drove into a crowded public square and then went after people with a knife. They’ve attributed the incident to the attacker’s desire for “revenge on society,” owing to a lengthy criminal record.

China’s massive camps in Xinjiang province are vocational training centers and not reeducation camps, according to Chinese authorities. Sure, that checks out. Spend a few months learning valuable skills like how to be a docile and loyal citizen, I guess.

Steven Cook argues that China is missing an opportunity to convert its economic influence in the Middle East into political influence:

Still, the Chinese seem more interested in opportunistic mercantilism than becoming a problem solver and provider of regional security. A close look at Xi’s July speech or China’s 2016 policy statement on the Middle East reveals a detailed discussion of economic statecraft, but the barest minimum of boilerplate on politics, diplomacy, and security in the region. Reflecting these official statements, the Chinese foray into these areas has been tepid, at best.  They’ve declared their support for a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict; have resisted American efforts to cut off Iran’s oil exports, which, given how much energy Beijing imports from Tehran, is to be expected; and declared their opposition to extremism and terrorism. There is a certain logic that given China’s dependence on Middle Eastern hydrocarbons, it will have to get involved in the security and politics of the region.

All that said, what have the Chinese actually done?  They hosted relatively low-level delegations of Palestinians and Israelis in Beijing in 2017, reiterating their support for a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders and East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state—a starting point that is doomed to fail. Beijing set up a naval base in Djibouti—strategically located at Bab el Mandeb where the Red Sea meets the Gulf of Aden—and their warships have made port calls in parts of the Middle East.  Maybe these activities presage a more active role in the future, but at the moment, it isn’t even clear that the Chinese have the military resources for a sustained presence in the region.  Beijing’s answer to fighting extremism seems to be rounding up ethnic Uighurs into re-education camps, an issue on which Middle Eastern governments have remained silent.


With Beijing trying to isolate it diplomatically, the Taiwanese government is reportedly trying to broaden its security relationships with regional powers apart from the US–Australia, India, Japan, and Singapore. As is the case with the US, none of these countries will recognize Taiwan, but they do have military ties with Taipei–in India’s case in particular these are relatively recent.


The Trump administration on Thursday imposed sanctions on a Chinese firm and its Russian subsidiary for violating US sanctions against North Korea. Haley later accused the Russian government of attempting to cover up its sanctions violations by seeking to have a United Nations report on North Korea sanctions busting edited.


The North and South Korean governments are going to open a “liaison office” on the northern side of the border on Friday. It’s being treated as effectively an embassy, with top officials in both governments working there and interacting with one another.


Vladimir Putin apparently surprised Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe at the Eastern Economic Forum this week when he proposed Russia and Japan sign a treaty finally ending their World War II conflict before the new year. Abe has talked about signing a peace treaty with Russia but it is longstanding Japanese policy not to do so without a resolution to the Southern Kuril Islands/Northern Territories territorial dispute. The Soviets pledged in the 1950s to return two of those islands, seized during World War II, back to Japan, but never followed through and the issue remains a sore spot in Japanese-Russian relations.


Evidence suggests that Chinese lending in Africa is financing as much corruption as it is useful infrastructure:

But two decades of financial data, evolving business and cultural ties, and the latest news from the just-concluded Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in Beijing suggest that the China-Africa relationship defies simple characterization. There may be an overarching Africa policy. But on the ground, China is engaged in a diverse set of bilateral ties, with the benefits for African countries driven in large measure by how well their leaders defend national interests.

And there’s good reason to be concerned about whether those interests have been well served. Opaque deals, reports of large-scale corruption and mismanagement, doubts about project feasibility, and a stark trade imbalance raise serious questions about how well African leaders are managing the opportunities they receive.


Even though the Italian government and, more importantly, the Libyan government are skeptical that Libya is ready to hold a national election this year, the French government is insisting that it happen. Ah well, I’m sure Emmanuel Macron knows best. He is Jupiter, after all.


While we’re on the subject, Macron issued a statement on Thursday that, to his credit, acknowledged the widespread French use of torture during the 1954-1962 Algerian War:

President Emmanuel Macron issued a statement in the context of a call for clarity about the fate of Maurice Audin, a 25-year-old mathematician and anti-colonial activist who was tortured by the French army and forcibly disappeared in 1957, during Algeria’s bloody struggle for independence from France.

Audin’s death is a specific case, but it represents a cruel system put in place at the state level, the Elysee Palace said. “His disappearance was made possible by a system that . . . allowed law enforcement to arrest, detain and question any ‘suspect’ for the purpose of a more effective fight against the opponent,” read Macron’s statement.

Macron also called for opening state archives with respect to cases involving people who were disappeared, like Audin.


A group of gunmen shot up a movie theater in Zamfara state on Thursday, killing at least 11 people and wounding 20, several seriously. Zamfara has been the epicenter of gang violence in northwestern Nigeria over the past several months.


A US airstrike earlier this week killed two al-Shabab fighters who were engaged in a battle with US and Somali soldiers.


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