29 September 2009

Indonesian stability

Sam Abrams at War is Boring has something up arguing that Indonesia is less stable than we think. I'll admit that I was shocked to hear anyone thought that Indonesia is stable at all. As part of the overall American problem of only tuning into news when it pops up, I always think of Indonesia as a place of terrorism and secession.

However, as the world's largest Muslim country and one situated right on one of the most used sea-lanes in the world, we should be worried about instability and violence in the country. I'm not sure if the US could do anything to help legitimize the governmental system (it's a democracy after all!), but it wouldn't hurt to do so.

28 September 2009

The Communist Club loses another member...

It was announced today that the Democratic People's Republic of Korea is no longer a Communist country. The constitution has been amended, and Communism has been completely purged in deference to the "military-first" ideology of Kim Jong-il. Moreover, Kim's power has been increased, and he is now Supreme Leader (and not just "Dear Leader").

Does this actually mean anything? I'm not at all sure. It is hard to get any kind of objective analysis on what is going on inside North Korea--everything that is available is pure conjecture. My guess is that it is merely trying to prop up the overall image of Kim prior to his death, to insure more legitimacy for his third son, who is expected to succeed him.

In more substantive NORK news, the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (probably China's #2 government official, after Hu Jintao) will be going to Pyongyang soon. It is thought that this meeting will include the announcement of progress on the nuclear talks. On the other hand, I think it's entirely possible that it will give Wen the chance to try to talk sense into Kim. I think we'll just have to see.

But I'm also curious as to how China feels about North Korea's renouncement of Communism. Not that China is really Communist anymore, but it is still technically Communist. I think China is pragmatic enough to ignore it, but it is still a touch vexing.

22 September 2009

Korean Reunification

Matthew Yglesias posted yesterday about how difficult reunification was for Germany, and why it will be even worse for Korea should it occur.

What this makes me think of most of all is the dilemmas that will be facing the government of South Korea if the DPRK ever collapses. The DPRK is much poorer and more backwards than the GDR ever was. They’ve been separated for longer. South Korea is smaller relative to North Korea than West Germany was to East Germany. And South Korea is also poorer than West Germany. All told, I think there’s ample reason to believe that the South couldn’t really manage a reunification process. Which is something their government seems to realize without quite admitting—their official policy is reunification, but in practice they fear a DPRK collapse. And they’re right to fear it. But political debates about North Korea policy aside, the fact of the matter is that that horrible regime can’t last forever. And I think it would make sense for a broader international community to start thinking about what we can do to support a transition process that’s going to be too big a task for South Korea to shoulder on its own.
This is obviously correct (or at least the conventional wisdom). But this leads to further questions about the North Korean regime and their goals. Do they plan on reunifying the country by force? It has long been said to be the case, and some of the evidence from the '90s would suggest they were still planning that even then.

However, it's impossible to tell the overall plans of the North Korean government. They occasionally "turn up the crazy" with regards to South Korea (such as abducting the fishermen who accidentally crossed the border) but there has not been any real incursion in some time.

Any remotely sane observer in North Korea would have to notice that the utter failure of their experiment in Stalinism is much more likely than any reunification on the North's terms. This then should lead to a "status quo" desire by the regime. So, what accounts for the various provocations that do erupt occasionally, such as the nuclear program or the kidnappings?

Some would just dismiss North Korea, or just Kim Jong-il, as crazy. It's easy to do, and doing so then justifies any possible militaristic posture, because "they're so crazy they could do anything!" However, this ends up being pretty absurd.

On the other hand, there is always the mirroring problem, where those studying the DPRK might be too ready to impart our own thinking on them. However, it really seems to me that there is some kind of overall method to the madness (much like there was a theory behind Nixon's "madman theory").

I wonder if American intelligence has an insight that those of us in the Open Source world are lacking. I hope so.


Most Americans snicker when they think of Thailand. Yes, there is a culture of complete abandon in some parts, and yes it may well be the most trans-friendly culture on the planet (which is AWESOME, not worthy of snickering.)

At the same time, close to Malaysia, you have this:

Thailand has been fighting an insurgency for a long time, but since 2004 it seems to be losing. I knew about this insurgency, but I had assumed that the people behind it had done the straight-forward thing of putting forth demands and offering an end to the violence if those demands were met.

Apparently not. Apparently experts have only been able to guess at what is causing the increase in fighting, and the guess is based on the fact that Buddhists and "Buddhist-collaborators" are the ones being bombed. This can make it extremely difficult to engage in any kind of negotiation.

At the same time, apparently the Thai military is not a legitimate partner for dialogue. They are, at the very least, not engaging in "population centric warfare". Extrajudicial killings, torture and "disappearances" have all been reported, and now the Muslim population refuses to come to the authorities with problems, even as a mosque was blown up.

This won't affect Thailand's reputation as a tourist hotspot. This insurgency is still confined to a small part of the long southern tail of the country. But it's still troubling.

15 September 2009

North Korea vs Pirates!

I almost don't know who to root for here, but North Korean sailors managed to use Molotov cocktails to fight off a pirate ship. 10 pirates came up in speedboats with RPGs and automatic weapons, while the DPRK ship was stopped due to engine trouble. They got the engine up though, and fired back with molotovs.

While I dislike the DPRK, it's pretty damned cool that they used improvised weapons to fight off the pirates.

Seriously...would you use the first against the second?

China in Iraq

China is training mine sweepers in both Iraq and Afghanistan, yet more evidence of China being part of the international order. But, more interestingly, China also has an oil well in Iraq, run by CNPC. CNPC already has guards there, but sabotage and destruction have still been a problem.

The article doesn't go into details about why they are having such trouble, just noting a lack of infrastructure and development near the wells, but I think it is important to remember that China has an image problem in many parts of the Muslim world. While that image is better than the US has, it should be remembered that AQIM recently declared war on China for the rioting in Xinjiang, and has even attacked Chinese workers in North Africa.

China is starting to have its own "colonialism" problem, which I am certain puzzles the Chinese leadership to no end. They are used to being the anti-colonialists; to now be called colonialists themselves must be odd. But it's a fact in many parts of the world, including now Iraq.

Tire tariffs and Chinese WTO suit

I'm not attempting to be contrarian, but I see one major shining silver lining in this whole tire tariff thing. I'm not a fan of tariffs, and I haven't seen a single reason why the US is imposing this tariff.

However, China is responding, not with blistering denunciations and unilateral reprisal, but by instead taking us to court in the WTO.

This is a great thing. In the past, Chinese leaders has often acted like the US was betraying China by taking them to the WTO for trade disputes. This means that China may be instead internalizing the rules of the international order. It can be hoped that, if Chinese leaders are willing to act within the rules on trade, they may also do so in other fields. At the very least, it gives the China optimists more to go by.

Of course, the one thing no one wants is a return to "beggar-thy-neighbor"ism and (from what I can tell) I hope China succeeds in getting the tarriff overturned. In fact, getting the tariff overturned will help strengthen China's faith in the WTO. I think that will be a bigger win than whatever mixed effects the actual tariff will have.

11 September 2009

Today's date and what-not...

I think Matthew Yglesias said it best...

It still rankles—a lot—that Osama bin Laden is still out there. When the attacks happened, and in the days and weeks that followed, lots of notions flew through my mind, most of them wild and fanciful or flat-out insane. But it genuinely never occurred to me to that the main architect of the attacks would still be at large eight years later.

I was fortunate that I didn't lose anyone close to me in the attack. However, a close friend's father worked in the Pentagon, and while he was safe, I remember the dread and worry until I found out. (Obviously, this worry and dread were far worse for her than me, but I was still distinctly worried for her.) I was also an RA in my college dorm at the time, at a school with a high percentage of people from DC and NYC.

But we also heard tons of rumors, about bombs in the Cleveland Airport or warships in the Hudson/Potomac/Mississippi/Ohio river. None of these were true; most were probably crazy. But they were believable that day. Anything was.

Except, perhaps, what was to actually come. A war would come, certainly, even though many of those I went to school with reflexively opposed any use of American military. But that we would, while still fighting a war in Afghanistan go on to fight a country that had nothing to do with the attacks, diverting most of our attention, men, and material, was unthinkable. That we would spend 8 years attempting to put a state together in Afghanistan was also unthinkable.

And that Osama bin Laden would still be free was completely unthinkable.

Central Asia is not a focus of this blog. I'm not an Afghanistan expert, nor an expert on Islam. But, today, it bears thinking and writing about.

I'm sorry to see...

that former Taiwanese president Chen Shui-bian has been sentenced to life in prison. From a security standpoint, it probably makes the whole region far more secure (if only because it is certain to please and placate China), and from all the evidence it does appear that he is an utter crook.

But at the same time Chen and Chen's administration was one of the first willing to lay out the plain truth of Taiwan's situation, and acknowledge that Taiwan is not part of China. I found so many of his little steps (all of which, admittedly, tweaked China far more than was sensible) kind of endearing. Also, he was willing to publicly criticize Chiang Kai-shek, and even remove pictures of him. Chiang Kai-shek was a fascist, and does not deserve the good reputation he has in many parts of the world (including the US), and I can also think of many American politicians who have undeservedly heroic reputations.

Chen is appealing, and many international organizations say that his trial wasn't entirely fair. I'm hoping that justice gets served, especially because it is a good sign to broadcast to the world that even ex-President's can be held accountable for breaking the law. But my soft spot for Chen will continue.

07 September 2009

North Korean Dam Issues

Apparently, North Korea has built several dams near the DMZ, and yesterday an unannounced discharge from one of them swept into South Korea and now six South Koreans are missing. Some are accusing the North Koreans of using the dams as a weapon against the South, and it may be the first setback in the recent thaw.

I'm not sure how likely it is that the North Koreans would have intentionally used the discharge against the South Koreans. It would not shock me in the least if the dams were built where they are as a possible weapon for a later time, but at the same time, incompetence seems to be a common problem with all such projects within North Korea. It is known for certain that one North Korean child also died in the incident, as his body was found yesterday in South Korea.

At the same time, this could be a security threat that is even harder to defend against than the traditiona one. Does South Korea have the right to invade or else blow up the dams that are causing these problems, if repeated discharges cause more deaths? It seems kind of ridiculous, but I can't think of anything else South Korea could do about it, short of just taking out the North Korean regime (and all the hell that would come with THAT).

I'm open to ideas. Oh, and for those who want to see where the river that flooded was, it's the Imjin River:

I think this again shows how horrible it is that Seoul is so close to the border. Again, I have no recommendations, but it's very worrisome for South Korea.

03 September 2009

Why we shouldn't worry about China as a global power...

>Once again, there are riots in Xinjiang, as this time to denounce "deteriorating law and order." Apparently someone or some group of people has been randomly attacking people by stabbing them with hypodermic needles. While the needle part is weird, the unrest is not. Riots happen all the time in China, and the numbers are growing. Remember:

Riots in Tibet, Xinjiang, and Guizhou.

Until China can get its domestic population less angry and more involved in the system, or at least pacified into submission, it will not be able to be the great threat to the international system many try to make it out to be. And with the transnational advocacy groups at work in (at least) Xinjiang and Xizang (East Turkestan and Tibet to the inhabitants), I see little ability to stop the unrest there.

Which brings us to the other China related news. Australia and the US have asked China to take part in war games. While (for the above reasons) I don't think we have to worry about China surpassing the US as the global power, it is still good to see the US (and Australia!) engage in this kind of cooperation and tension reduction. Even a minor power that feels isolated can cause trouble, even if not the world-shaking kind. This is the kind of gesture that costs little and rewards much, I think.

01 September 2009

Japanese revolution?

I'm not sure whether we are understating or overstating the importance of the Japanese elections. It is amazing to have a new government in Japan that is not LDP, and as this article makes clear, the new government isn't necessarily keen on keeping the kind of relationship the US has long been used to in Japan. There are some major things they want to change around.

At the same time, Japan is a stable liberal democracy, and normally they don't engage in sudden changes to long-standing relationships. That's why we prefer them; they're stable. Besides, the Democratic Party in Japan knows where the real threats in the region are, and where the friends are.

Seriously...which guy would you rather have at your back?

I am particularly heartened, though, by the idea that Japan and China can pursue better relations without it being seen as dangerous by anyone else. This is the kind of thinking that will help keep tensions low and relations productive in East Asia. China and Japan are the two main powers in the area, and improving relations between the two of them and with the US should be a no-brainer.