Asia/Africa update: October 26 2018



The Pakistani navy says that China has not asked for military access to its Gwadar port. Developing Gwadar is one of the centerpieces of the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor project, AKA Pakistan’s leg of the Belt and Road Initiative. The large Chinese commitment to the port has raised concerns in the US and India that Beijing will eventually want to station military assets there, but China has consistently denied this. Part of Saudi Arabia’s newly announced financial aid package for Pakistan calls for a substantial investment to build a new oil refinery in Gwadar, which could mean that the Pakistanis are looking to spread the development funding around a bit to ease Washington’s concerns.


Fighting in Kashmir over the past 24 hours has killed eight separatist rebels and two Indian soldiers, and triggered new anti-India protests across the province. Six rebels were killed in “counterinsurgency operations” on Thursday and two more were killed on Friday in the Sopore region.


Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena ousted Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and appointed former President Mahinda Rajapaksa to replace him on Friday, triggering what appears to be a very odd constitutional crisis. Sirisena and Rajapaksa are former (and I guess current?) allies who ran against one another for the presidency in 2015, with Sirisena winning. Wickremesinghe, meanwhile, still appears to lead the majority bloc in parliament, so it’s unclear why Sirisena canned him and it’s also unclear whether Sirisena actually has the authority to can him. Wickremesinghe’s governing coalition is unstable but there’s no indication that it had collapsed before Sirisena took his action.


I’m not quite sure how to parse this story, but it appears that a planned rally of religious moderates in Indonesia had to be called off due to…moderate extremism:

Organisers of an Indonesian movement to promote a moderate brand of Islam cancelled a mass rally after its youth supporters burned the flag of an outlawed hard line Muslim group, sparking allegations of blasphemy.

The rally in Yogyakarta, predicted to draw 100,000 people, was stopped to prevent violence, said Yahya Cholil Staquf, general secretary of Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia’s largest Muslim organisation.

Video of members of Nahdlatul Ulama’s youth arm burning the flag of the outlawed group, Hizb ut-Tahrir, has stirred controversy in Indonesia because the flag is also emblazoned with the Islamic declaration of faith.

Staquf said Hizb ut-Tahrir “operatives” disrupted the youth wing’s celebrations and exploited religious symbols, which led to the flag burning incident. He said the campaign of “provocation and sabotage” was widely believed to be directed by political forces hoping to influence the outcome of Indonesia’s presidential election in April.

I’m really not sure what to make of this. It’s like Senate Democrats rioted and stormed a white nationalist militia camp or something. It’s all topsy-turvy.


Shinzō Abe’s visit to Beijing on Friday–the first official visit by a Japanese leader to China in seven years–produced a $30+ billion currency swap agreement, talk of setting up a joint financing mechanism for international infrastructure projects, and a commitment to improving the strained Sino-Japanese relationship. Xi Jinping probably would’ve preferred that Abe come in as a partner in Belt and Road, but for two close neighbors whose relationship has been frosty in recent years, that’s a pretty productive trip.


The recent upsurge in tensions with mainland China appears to be bolstering Taiwan’s independence movement:

China’s pressure campaign appears to have hardened Taiwanese resolve against the Chinese Communist Party, while fueling resentment toward the awkward Cold War labels Taiwan operates under in the international sphere. As a result, many Taiwanese are hoping to take control of their identity, and their fate, through the ballot box, despite the threat of attack from China that hangs over such moves.

A referendum next month asks whether Taiwan should compete at international sporting events under that name, rather than “Chinese Taipei.” Activists are also seeking to change the law to allow for a referendum on national sovereignty.

Supporters of both were at a pro-independence march and rally in downtown Taipei last Saturday that drew thousands of people. Protesters denounced both China’s goal of annexing Taiwan as well as the continued use of the island’s official name, the Republic of China.


North and South Korean representatives agreed on Friday to destroy 22 guard posts, 11 each, on either side of the Korean border. It’s the first step in a bigger effort to demilitarize the border, including the establishment of a no-fly zone, removal of landmines, and withdrawal of personnel.



Hey, so it looks like South Sudan’s peace deal might be falling apart, even though the government is planning for a celebration of that accord next week. Rebel leader Riek Machar has yet to return to the country to resume his post as vice president under the terms of the agreement, and virtually none of its implementation deadlines have been met since Machar and South Sudanese President Salva Kiir held their signing ceremony in September. Additionally, fighting has continued, as have the accompanying war crimes, and there’s been no substantive movement toward a major prisoner release. Machar says he won’t return unless Kiir makes good on the prisoner release and lifts the country’s state of emergency, and even then it’s not clear he’d feel safe enough to go back.


Cameroon’s already violent anglophone insurgency has been kicked into another gear by Paul Biya’s reelection, mostly because of all the evidence that the vote was rigged:

Aside from the tension surrounding the election in Cameroon, the validity of the vote itself appears suspect. This week, Cameroon’s constitutional council said voter turnout was at 54 percent. But between the violence and the displacement it caused, it’s unlikely that so many voters were able to make it to the polls.

There’s also suspicion of fraud about the votes that were cast. According to the official tally, Biya took 71 percent of the vote and even did well in some Anglophone areas where he has little support. Maurice Kamto, the next-closest runner-up, took only 14 percent of the vote.

Even Cameroon’s state-run television channel found itself in an awkward position after reporting Transparency International was in the country observing the elections — a claim the organization later refuted. “A deliberate attempt to impersonate Transparency International or knowingly portray non-affiliated individuals as employees of the anti-corruption watchdog is completely unacceptable,” the watchdog group said in a statement.

All of this has reinforced suspicions that the vote was rigged from the get-go. Kamto said in a statement that he would “solemnly and categorically reject these manufactured results and refuse to recognize the legitimacy of the Head of State.”


The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet accused Angola of “serious human rights abuses” in its mass deportation of Congolese nationals working in Angola’s diamond industry. Some 330,000 Congolese have been deported, with at least six deaths in the process. The Angolan government categorizes this as cracking down on “illegal immigration.”

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