Asia/Africa update: March 8 2018

ASIA

AFGHANISTAN

An airstrike probably from a US drone hit a Pakistani Taliban (TTP) training camp in Saresha Sultan Shah village, in Afghanistan’s Kunar province, on Thursday. At least 20 TTP fighters are believed to have been killed, including two senior figures and the son of the TTP’s top leader, Mullah Fazlullah.

PAKISTAN

Meanwhile, the US State Department on Thursday put bounties on the heads of the aforementioned Mullah Fazlullah; Abdul Wali, leader of TTP faction/splinter group Jamaat-ul-Ahrar; and Mangal Bagh, leader of TTP ally Lashkar-i-Islam, which has been involved in drug trafficking and other kinds of smuggling across the Afghan-Pakistan border.

SRI LANKA

There’s been a period of calm in Kandy that has caused Sri Lankan authorities to temporarily ease their curfew there, but the possibility of more anti-Muslim violence remains prevalent, with several residents saying that they fear another outbreak on Friday as Muslims visit mosques for the communal prayer and are worried that authorities aren’t doing enough to shut down the ringleaders of the violence:

Despite a state of emergency and a curfew to curtail violence that broke out last weekend between Muslims and Buddhists in the central district of Kandy, concerns abound that attacks will continue in Sri Lanka.

 

“I am living in fear and could not sleep the whole night as all the men from my family have gone out to protect us and we are left in the home,” Fathima Rizka, a 25-year-old from Kandy, told Al Jazeera.

 

“The police are not protecting us. They are just standing by while more attacks are being carried out … We don’t know what will happen next.”

MYANMAR

The Myanmar government wants the United Nations to produce “clear evidence” of a Rohingya genocide before it accuses Myanmar of perpetrating such a thing. Which would probably be easier for them to do if the Myanmar government weren’t studiously destroying any potential evidence.

CHINA

Forget being president for life–apparently Xi Jinping is a god. Or something:

Speaking on Wednesday on the sidelines of China’s annual meeting of parliament, the party boss of the remote northwestern province of Qinghai, birthplace of the Dalai Lama, said Tibetans who lived there had been saying they view Xi as a deity.

 

Wang Guosheng said the province had been following Mao Zedong’s advice about inspiring the masses to love the party and its leader, distributing “images of the leader” to people in poverty-stricken areas being moved into new homes.

 

He did not specify if these were images of Mao or Xi.

 

“The ordinary people in the herder areas say, only General Secretary Xi is a living Bodhisattva. This is a really vivid thing to say,” Wang said.

Bodhisattvas aren’t really “gods” per se–they’re people who have attained full enlightenment but choose to forego Nirvana in order to come back and help other people attain enlightenment. Close enough. I guess the small-but-apparently-still-troublesome chorus of critics who don’t appreciate Xi’s new lifetime presidency are really off their rockers.

NORTH KOREA

So the big news of the day is that Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un are probably going to meet face-to-face, maybe as soon as May. This comes after South Korean national security adviser Chung Eui-yong met with personnel at the White House on Thursday to brief them on the results of that South Korean diplomatic mission to Pyongyang last week. Chung said that Kim told the South Korean delegation that he’s “committed to denuclearization” and has agreed to freeze nuclear and missile testing while also agreeing not to raise a stink about joint US-South Korea military exercises.

This is where I think we might all want to pump the brakes once or twice. This is very good news. Talking is always better than fighting or preparing for a fight. And it’s entirely possible that Donald Trump hit on the magic sanctions formula that finally brought North Korea to the table. But the thing is, this is an awfully quick turnaround for Kim, and it just so happens to come right when North Korea is legitimately nearing the goal of building a nuclear weapon that can strike anywhere in the mainland United States. It’s also bizarrely out of order–you’d expect the meeting between the leaders of these two countries to come at the end of a negotiating process, not at the beginning or (worse) as the entirety of the negotiating process itself. That’s not to say it’s a bad idea (it’s clearly not), just that it’s a strange way to handle negotiations like this and so it’s hard to guess how it might play out.

Also, there’s one thing that Kim, and his father before him, have been after for at least a couple of decades now, and it looks like he’s about to achieve it:

If Trump now gets to say that his tough sanctions policy forced the leader of North Korea to buckle and start talking about denuclearization, then Kim also gets to say that his new ICBM and his new hydrogen bomb forced the President of the United States to buckle and agree to meet with him, one on one, as equals. That is a huge victory for him. And, of course, we still don’t know what the price is going to be for denuclearization. Maybe it’ll just be sanctions relief, but there’s no way to know until the talks happen. Which again gets back to the strangeness of having the Trump-Kim meeting happen before any other contact. What’s the goal? Denuclearization? Do we have any other goals? Does North Korea? What if their ask in return for denuclearization is too much? Are we prepared to fall back to some secondary objective? Are we even defining “denuclearization” in the same way? Is there going to be any strategy to these talks or are we just going to put these two guys in a room with a couple of translators and let them shoot the shit? Lots of unknowns to ponder here, where there wouldn’t be so many in a normal, staged negotiation process.

SOUTH KOREA

Japan and South Korea are already worried that Trump is either going to give away the farm in his meeting with Kim or get so pissed if he doesn’t get his way that he starts ordering airstrikes:

As North Korea conducted ballistic missile and nuclear tests and President Trump threatened fiery responses last year, Japan and South Korea feared the worst: a nuclear conflict on their front doorsteps.

 

But now, as President Trump accepts an offer from North Korea’s Kim Jong-un to discuss the country’s nuclear program, another fear is looming: that President Trump might offer concessions that the North’s Asian neighbors would find unpalatable, or, if the talks fail, resort to a military option.

These, again, are concerns that wouldn’t be as significant if there were going to be preliminary negotiations leading up to a Trump-Kim meeting. They also wouldn’t be as significant if Trump weren’t a confirmed moron, but that ship has long since sailed.

TPP 2.0

Eleven Pacific nations–Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, New Zealand, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam–have reached agreement on a wide-ranging free trade pact, a “Trans-Pacific Partnership” but without the United States.

AFRICA

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO

DRC Prime Minister Bruno Tshibala told Reuters on Wednesday that he could “confirm that in December this year the Congolese people will be brought to the ballot boxes.” Which is unnecessarily verbose, but means that the presidential election that Joseph Kabila was supposed to hold two years ago is finally going to happen this year. Tshibala says the target date is December 23. As a member of the opposition, albeit one who was brought in by Kabila last year to run a unity government to try to tamp down public dissent, Tshibala doesn’t have quite as much reason to lie to cover for Kabila as some other members of the government might.

ZIMBABWE

Russia is working on strengthening its ties with Zimbabwe:

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Thursday his country was pursuing military cooperation with Zimbabwe and looking at opportunities in the diamond sector as well as fully implementing a $3 billion joint platinum project near Harare.

 

Lavrov, who is on a tour of Africa, held meetings with Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa and senior government officials, and signed an agreement to establish a special economic zone for Russian firms to manufacture goods for export.

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