Monday, 23 November 2015

Myanmar’s New Dictator: Aung San Suu Kyi

from New Eastern Outlook: Suu Kyi disenfranchised a million voters before elections, and has declared herself above the constitution afterwards. What about that seems “democratic?” 
The Western media is portraying Myanmar’s recent elections as historic. One commentator described Myanmar as an “exuberant nation prepared for a new era of democracy and political freedom.” But one wonders what sort of democracy and political freedom can be borne of elections in which nearly a million voters were banned from casting their ballots and with the apparent victor already declaring herself above the law.

Sidestepping these inconvenient facts, the West is nonetheless excited about the prospect of Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) taking power in Myanmar.

This is in part due to the fact that Suu Kyi herself, along with the NLD she leads and a vast network of supporting “civil society” nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have all been created and sustained annually by billions of dollars worth of backing from the United States and United Kingdom for years. In exchange for this support, Suu Kyi’s long-standing proclivity toward “foreign investment” will lead to the wholesale feeding of Myanmar’s nationalized resources, industry, and infrastructure into the maw of the Wall Street corporations and institutions that have long underwritten Suu Kyi’s rise to power.

South Pacific Showdown? Japan May Send Warships To China Islands

from Zero Hedge: On Tuesday, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin told the press that contrary to the narrative being propagated by Washington and its allies in the South Pacific, Beijing had actually shown “great restraint” in the South China Sea.

China, Liu went on to explain, has tolerated the “occupation” of the disputed waters even as Beijing has “both the right and the ability to recover the islands and reefs illegally occupied by neighboring countries.” Essentially, Liu said China would be well within its rights to forcibly expel The Philippines, Malaysia, and Vietnam from the Spratlys.

Liu’s comments came ahead of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit held in Manila on Thursday and Friday.

At the close of the Summit, Japanese PM Shinzo Abe met with President Benigno Aquino - who earlier this year compared the Chinese to Nazis - to discuss the possibility that Japan could provide Manila with “large ships” that the Philippines can use to patrol the South China Sea. 

Police, APEC Protesters Clash in Philippines

from PressTV: People have taken to the streets in the Philippine capital, Manila, where the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit is taking place, to protest against “imperialist globalization.”

Scuffles broke out on Thursday morning as police used water cannons and truncheons to disperse the protesters.

Participants in the rally marched down a road near the venue of the summit of 21 economies to express their opposition to APEC’s free-trade agenda.

“APEC and imperialist globalization have only benefited the rich countries while further impoverishing developing countries like the Philippines,” said Renato Reyes, a protest organizer.

Philippine authorities have imposed the country’s biggest security measures ever, shutting down the capital following the recent attacks in the French capital of Paris, which killed 129 people.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Myanmar: Strategic Crossroads in Asia

from Counterpunch: The Western media has lauded the results which have handed a resounding victory to the National League for Democracy, the party headed by longtime dissident and Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi.

However, despite the triumphant cheers of ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom’ from the media, echoing the message from the halls of power in the West, there are issues of much greater significance than slogans and abstractions; geopolitics and strategic alignment are the real interests of Washington, London, and Brussels.  But of course, the Western powers are not the only interested parties in Myanmar; India and China each have major investments and future plans for the country.  In this way, rather than simply a country “transitioning to democracy,” Myanmar should be understood as a strategic focal point of Asia.

Myanmar as Chinese Economic Hub

It is investment, and the political and geopolitical influence that comes with it, that is the overriding interest of China, India, and the West in Myanmar.  With the shifting strategic landscape in Asia, Myanmar’s political evolution has taken on an added significance wherein the once isolated Southeast Asian nation is today quickly becoming a major continental hub.

For China, Myanmar represents access to the Indian Ocean basin, as well as a major infrastructure transit point for energy imports (among others) flowing to China’s Southwest.  In January 2015, a new Chinese oil pipeline through Myanmar was opened, and with it China’s influence in the country, as well as Myanmar’s significance to China, grew immeasurably.  Not only does the pipeline physically connect China’s southwestern Yunnan province to the Bay of Bengal, and consequently to the Indian Ocean, but it highlights the interconnected nature of China’s investment in both pipelines and ports.  For the pipeline is not operable without the Chinese-constructed deep water port on Maday Island which, along with the nearby Chinese-funded port of Kyaukphyu, is envisioned by the government of Myanmar as a future trade hub for the region.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Second Recession Hits Japan Under Abenomics

from Asia Times: We thought Abenomics was supposed to help the Japanese economy grow, not shrink.

Japan on Monday reported that its economy contracted in the quarter ended Sept. 30, pushing the nation into its second recession since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took office in December 2012 and its fourth technical recession in five years.
Shinzo Abe

A recession is defined as two quarters in which the economy contracts. With third-quarter gross domestic product declining at an annualized 0.8% after it contracted 0.7% in the second quarter, it makes it officially a recession.

Economists blamed weak business investment as companies cut back on spending and production in the face of slow growth in China and a weak global outlook.

According to Japan’s Cabinet Office inventories subtracted 0.5 percentage point from growth this quarter as companies reduced stocks and business investment subtracted 0.2 percentage point from growth.

“Abenomics’ first two arrows of monetary and fiscal stimulus were meant to buy time, but Japan failed to make progress with painful reforms needed to boost its growth potential,” Hiroshi Shiraishi, senior economist at BNP Paribas Securities, told Reuters. “Without reform (the ‘third arrow’), the economy’s growth potential remains low, making it vulnerable to shocks and to suffering recessions more often.”

Monday, 16 November 2015

China’s Yuan Takes Leap Towards Joining IMF Currency Basket

from Reuters: China's yuan moved closer to joining other top global currencies in the International Monetary Fund's benchmark foreign exchange basket on Friday after Fund staff and IMF chief Christine Lagarde gave the move the thumbs up.

The recommendation paves the way for the Fund's executive board, which has the final say, to place the yuan CNY=CFXS CNY= on a par with the U.S. dollar .DXY, Japanese yen JPY=, British pound GBP= and euro EUR= at a meeting scheduled for Nov. 30.

Joining the Special Drawing Rights (SDR) basket would be a victory for Beijing, which has campaigned hard for the move, and could increase demand for the yuan among reserve managers as well as marking a symbolic coming of age for the world's second-largest economy.

Staff had found the yuan, also known as the renminbi (RMB), met the criteria of being “freely usable,” or widely used for international transactions and widely traded in major foreign exchange markets, Lagarde said. 

“I support the staff’s findings," she said in a statement immediately welcomed by China's central bank, which said it hoped the international community would also back the yuan's inclusion.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Bangkok’s Pivot to Beijing

from New Eastern Outlook: Despite the common misconception that Thailand is one of Southeast Asia’s staunchest US allies – the steady erosion of US-Thai relations has been underway for years. Cold War concessions Thailand made to the US during the Vietnam War have ingrained the myth of Bangkok’s unquestioning loyalty to Washington in the minds of many. The past decade and a half of Washington-proxy Thaksin Shinawatra holding power has helped bolster this myth, with Shinawatra assigning Thai troops to the US occupation of Iraq, cooperating with the US in its global CIA rendition program, and the privatization of Thailand’s resources on behalf of Wall Street.

However with a 2006 coup ousting Shinawatra from power, and a subsequent 2014 coup which ousted Shinawatra’s sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, the shattering of this myth has begun.

No single move by the new Thai government has signified the shift away from Washington more than a recent deal with China to purchase 3 Type 039A diesel electric attack submarines. Currently Thailand lacks submarines in its navy. The purchase would put Thailand on par with other Southeast Asian nations including Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Vietnam who already possess submarines.

More significantly, the purchasing of Chinese submarines may signal a shift not only in Bangkok’s geopolitical alignment, but the alignment of Asia altogether.

Friday, 13 November 2015

US Flies B-52 Bomber Near China Sandcastles: "Get Away From Our Islands!"

from Zero Hedge

The Pentagon was pretty proud of itself when, late last month, Washington sailed a guided missile destroyer by Subi Reef, one of Beijing’s man-made islands in the South Pacific. 

The “freedom of navigation” exercise was designed to prove to China that the US wouldn't be deterred from sailing through the disputed waters near the Spratlys even as Beijing claims the islands it’s built atop reefs represent new sovereign territory. 

To be sure, the Obama administration really didn’t have much of a choice. America’s regional allies have become extremely unnerved with regard to the islands and so it was ultimately incumbent upon The White House to green light the pass-by to avoid giving the appearance that the US will no longer stand with its “friends” against “aggression.”

And while the PLA didn't surround the USS Lassen nor fire upon it, Beijing was livid and Admiral Wu Shengli went so far as to tell US chief of naval operations Admiral John Richardson that this needs to stop now unless the US wants to go to war.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Emerging Chinese “Commonwealth” Stands Opposed to U.S./JapaneseThreat

Written by Wayne Madsen:

 People’s Republic of China president Xi Jinping stunned the world, and especially the increasingly bellicose United States and Japan, by holding an unprecedented meeting with Ma Ying-jeou, the president of Taiwan, which continues to call itself the “Republic of China.” It was the first meeting between the presidents of the rival Chinese governments since mainland China fell to the Chinese Communist Party in 1949.

While a watershed event in terms of Chinese history and cross Taiwan Strait relations, the Xi-Ma meeting sent a stark message to the United States and Japan. Washington and Tokyo have been busy building up their military forces in east Asia – the “Pivot to Asia” policy of the Obama administration and the offensive and neo-militarist U.S.-Japanese “blood alliance” promoted by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

To counter the U.S.-Japanese military threat and the recently-announced Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trading bloc of Pacific Rim nations, not including China or Taiwan, President Xi dusted off an old proposal for China to lead the way in creating a “commonwealth” of Chinese nations and regions in east Asia.

This economic-based Chinese "commonwealth" consists of the People’s Republic of China and overseas Chinese in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macao. Currently, four different currencies - the PRC yuan, New Taiwan dollar, Hong Kong dollar, and Macao pataca - are used within a rather small geographic triangle composed of southern Chinese coastal provinces, Taiwan, Macao, and Hong Kong. Businessmen in the region would like to adopt something akin to the euro in order to facilitate greater commerce.

Indonesia's Forest Fires: Everything You Need to Know

from The Guardian:

Where are the fires?

As satellite data of the fire hotspots shows, forest fires have affected the length and breadth of Indonesia. Among the worst hit areas are southern Kalimantan (Borneo) and western Sumatra. The fires have been raging since July, with efforts to extinguish them hampered by seasonal dry conditions exacerbated by the El Nino effect. As well as Indonesia, the acrid haze from the fires is engulfing neighbouring Malaysia and Singapore and has reached as far as southern Thailand

What is the damage?

The most obvious damage is to the forest where the fires are occurring. Indonesia’s tropical forests represent some of the most diverse habitats on the planet. The current fire outbreak adds to decades of existing deforestation by palm oil, timber and other agribusiness operators, further imperilling endangered species such as the orangutan

The human cost is stark; 19 people have died and an estimated 500,000 cases of respiratory tract infections have been reported since the start of the fires. It’s estimated that the fires could cause more than 100,000 premature deaths in the region.

Financial damage to the region’s economy is still being counted, but the Indonesian government’s own estimates suggest it could be as high as $47bn, a huge blow to the country’s economy. A World Bank study (pdf) on forest fires last year in Riau province estimated that they caused $935m of losses relating to lost agricultural productivity and trade.