Asia/Africa update: September 19 2018



In a surprising turn of events, former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, his daughter, and her husband all had their prison sentences for corruption suspended by the Islamabad High Court on Wednesday while they appeal their convictions. It’s unclear whether this will have any political reverberations–Sharif is still under a lifetime ban from running for office, but he could possibly resume some sort of role with his PML-N party now that he’s out of the big house.


The Chinese government says it will not deliberately devalue the yuan, presumably closing off at least one of the avenues open to it in terms of responding to US tariffs. Currency manipulation is one of the main complaints leveled against Beijing in terms of international commerce, and one of the Trump administration’s main justifications for the tariffs.

University College London lecturer Kate Cronin-Furman argues that China’s treatment of its Uyghur population amounts to “cultural genocide,” and says that Beijing has stopped short of physical genocide because cultural genocide is more easily covered up:

Yet there are clear benefits to perpetrators to pursuing a policy of cultural, rather than physical, genocide. Yes, it’s more difficult and costly, but it’s also easier to conceal and obfuscate. There are no mass graves, no tell-tale miasma of death and decay. Arbitrary detention and incidental torture can much more easily be excused as overzealous counterterrorism efforts than mass murder. And even when the protestations of legitimate state purpose ring wholly false (as they must in the case of China’s ruthless treatment of the Uighurs), a limited international attention span and a never-ending supply of atrocities means that systematic repression unaccompanied by a high death toll simply incurs fewer reputational costs than a bloodbath. Given these international dynamics, it makes sense that a high-capacity actor like China might pursue this strategy.


The big news here is obviously the statement signed by both Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong-un to cap the “official business” portion of their summit in Pyongyang. Among its many details:

  • North and South Korea will take steps to demilitarize their border, including the creation of no-fly zones and a commitment to end military drills near the DMZ
  • North Korea has agreed to permanently dismantle its Tongchang-ri ballistic missile development and testing facility, and will allow international inspectors to verify the dismantlement
  • North Korea will close down its main nuclear facility at Yongbyon if the United States reciprocates with its own concessions toward Pyongyang
  • North and South Korea committed to several joint economic projects, including a rail line that crosses the border (the US may object to this) as well as reopening the Kaesong Industrial Complex and boosting South Korean tourism to the North
  • North and South Korea agreed to jointly pursue a bid for the 2032 Summer Olympics

Many of these are major developments if they come to pass, which could be a big if. As I noted above, a cross-border rail line may set off a lot of alarms in Washington. The economic projects already have DC hawks feeling nervous that they could undermine US sanctions. And while closing Yongbyon would be a very big step, notably there’s really nothing in the Moon-Kim statement about denuclearization in the sense that North Korea would give up the nuclear weapons it already has. Moreover, my insider sources (I looked at Twitter) tell me that the Yongbyon proposal was Moon’s, and Kim wants serious reciprocity from the United States if he does it.

But all of these things are frankly secondary to the immediate goal of making it through the Trump administration without starting World War III. And in that sense this summit seems to have been an unqualified success. Trump is apparently happy, his administration is talking about holding more negotiations with Pyongyang, and in general it feels like there’s momentum in the diplomatic process again for the first time in weeks. I think that’s pretty much all anybody can ask for at this point. And Trump aside, the progress that Kim and Moon have made toward better relations between the Koreas is I think highly commendable and will hopefully pay major dividends down the road, building the scaffolding on which a real peace deal can be built.



The Moroccan government would like US help as it tries to deal with Sahrawi fighters in Western Sahara, and it knows exactly which button to push to get it:

Ahead of his visit to Washington this week, Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita indicated in a Breitbart News interview that he would bring up allegations of links between Hezbollah and the Sahrawi independence movement. Rabat is hoping to solidify US support for its position on the resource-rich Moroccan-occupied territory.

“We have an opportunity with this administration,” Bourita told the far-right outlet last week. “We need to make things happen. We have an opportunity also because they are clear in their position about Iran.”

The Moroccan Embassy in Washington told Al-Monitor that Monday’s meeting with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — Bourita’s first since the May diplomatic break with Iran — was a yearly event with no specific asks or deliverables expected. A brief State Department readout of their meeting, however, mentioned “shared efforts to end Iran’s support for terrorism and counter its malign influence in the region” as the only specific agenda item.

Iran has been broadly supporting of Sahrawi independence over the years, and Morocco has accused Hezbollah of providing assistance to the militant Polisario Front. It cut off diplomatic ties with Iran back in early May over this issue. The Trump administration, while it hasn’t exactly made Western Sahara a major foreign policy issue, has pushed an anti-Polisario agenda that is unusual by normal US standards.


Nigerian military sources are telling Reuters that they’re losing their war with ISIS-West Africa:

In the past three weeks, according to military and security sources, ISWA killed 48 soldiers at a military base and, in a separate attack, left 32 dead in Gudumbali – a town to which thousands of refugees were ordered to return in June.

“The situation in the northeast is deteriorating,” said one security source, speaking on condition of anonymity. “They are running out of weapons, ammo and basic equipment. They are exhausted.”

Now, ISWA is winning almost all its battles with the military, security sources said.


An overnight airstrike in the town of Sakow killed “several senior” al-Shabab personnel, according to Somali officials. However, the AP spoke with “an elder in the town” who said that the strike killed several al-Shabab trainees as well as three children. It’s unclear who carried out the strike–the US military says it hasn’t conducted an airstrike in Somalia in about a week. Several countries are candidates, including of course the Somalis themselves.

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