Asia/Africa update: August 30 2018

ASIA

AFGHANISTAN

The Chinese government is on what seems like the 40th variation of its “we’re not sending troops to Afghanistan” story and it’s only been a couple of days since the South China Morning Post initially reported that it was. On Thursday the story became that Beijing is going to help Afghanistan set up a “mountain brigade” to fight evildoers in, well, the mountains, which coincidentally would include most of the area whereby Uyghur fighters in Afghanistan might try to cross into Xinjiang.

PAKISTAN

Imran Khan is earning a little derision over the fact that he prefers to commute the 9 miles or so to and from work everyday via, uh, helicopter. Khan’s information minister tried to claim that the helicopter flight only cost 55 rupees (77 cents) per kilometer, a figure so ridiculous it left Pakistanis wondering why the government doesn’t swap out all of the country’s cabs for helicopters. It turns out the actually cost is something like 1600 rupees per km, or $23.

Of more importance to Khan’s political future, he’s still trying to deal with that planned Tehreek-e-Labbaik march on Islamabad that kicked off on Wednesday to protest Dutch politician Geert Wilders’ planned “Draw Muhammad” contest. As you’ll see, the impetus for that march has now disappeared, but as far as I know that hasn’t yet stopped the protesters, who should have reached Islamabad by now. The last thing Khan needs right now is a big international controversy, but he also cannot afford to alienate religious conservatives.

INDIA

US officials are warning that despite recent improvements in the US-India relationship, the Indian government could still find itself on the wrong end of US sanctions if it completes its planned purchase of Russian S-400 anti-aircraft defenses. Russia has been selling or making agreements to sell the S-400 all over the place, which of course is cutting into the one thing the Pentagon still does well, arms sales.

MYANMAR

Reuters is reporting on the use of Hashtag Fake News as part of the Myanmar military’s public relations campaign to justify its attempt to genocide the Rohingya:

The grainy black-and-white photo, printed in a new book on the Rohingya crisis authored by Myanmar’s army, shows a man standing over two bodies, wielding a farming tool. “Bengalis killed local ethnics brutally”, reads the caption.

The photo appears in a section of the book covering ethnic riots in Myanmar in the 1940s. The text says the image shows Buddhists murdered by Rohingya – members of a Muslim minority the book refers to as “Bengalis” to imply they are illegal immigrants.

But a Reuters examination of the photograph shows it was actually taken during Bangladesh’s 1971 independence war, when hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshis were killed by Pakistani troops.

It is one of three images that appear in the book, published in July by the army’s department of public relations and psychological warfare, that have been misrepresented as archival pictures from the western state of Rakhine.

CHINA

China is facing calls from multiple directions to free the million or so Uyghurs it’s definitely not holding captive from what is definitely not a massive concentration camp in Xinjiang province. A panel of United Nations human rights experts made the call on Thursday, as did a group of 16 US legislators who are calling on the Trump administration to impose sanctions on China if its treatment of the Uyghurs doesn’t improve. Though given Trump’s ongoing trade war with Beijing I’m not sure what difference sanctions would make.

China fears that radicalized Uyghurs could engage in acts of terrorism, though of course it’s Chinese repression that is most likely to radicalize them in the first place:

A seemingly obsessive fear of Uyghur nationalist and religious sentiment has prompted Chinese leaders to contemplate military involvement in Syria and Afghanistan and risk international condemnation for its massive repression in its north-western province of Xinjiang, involving the most frontal assault on Islam as a faith in recent history.

Chinese fears of Uyghur activism threaten to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Its policies are likely to prompt jihadists, including Uyghur foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq, some of whom are exploring new pastures in Central Asia closer to China’s borders, to put the People’s Republic further up their target list.

It’s somewhat surprising that China hasn’t already become a bigger target for terrorists–its economic prominence alone would seemingly make it a priority. But the Chinese government has managed to avoid meddling in the Islamic world to the degree that the US has and so it hasn’t been seen as an immediate threat. But its treatment of its Uyghur population and its fear of returning Uyghur jihadis might be changing all of that.

SOUTH KOREA

Did you know that Donald Trump’s opposition to joint US-South Korean military exercises has “South Koreans” worried? Well it does, just ask the New York Times, which reached that conclusion by interviewing…a retired South Korean general and a South Korean military think tank guy. You know, a representative sample. Is it possible that there are some other South Koreans out there who see the suspension of some war games as a small price to pay for the possibility that they might not get wiped out by North Korean artillery in the next year or so? Maybe. But you’ll have to go talk to them yourself.

To the NYT’s credit, I guess, they did interview one South Korean professor who argued that holding off on the exercises could give Kim Jong-un the time and space to sell denuclearization to his military. Though of course that still leaves open the question of how the denuclearization issue can advance when Donald Trump is the one handling the negotiations.

AFRICA

Although several African nations are getting themselves into trouble over Chinese debt, borrowing from China remains the most attractive option for funding infrastructure projects across the continent:

Ethiopia and Zambia, heavy borrowers from China, have expressed desire to restructure that debt, while bankers believe Angola and Congo Republic have already done so, though details of such deals are sparse.

The International Monetary Fund says Cameroon, Ghana and others face a high risk of debt distress, as does Djibouti, whose main source of foreign loans is China, the Fund says, and which holds the majority of external debt.

But many countries, even those heavily indebted to China, still say Beijing offers far better terms than Western banks, and that European nations and the United States fail to match its generosity.

LIBYA

Libyan government officials say that at least 26 people have been killed and 75 more wounded this week amid fighting between militia groups in Tripoli. Even though it is located in Tripoli, said Libyan government is mostly powerless to do anything about that.  At this point a ceasefire in the city still seems to be holding. On the plus side, hundreds of migrants who were trapped in detention facilities in Tripoli whose employees had fled the fighting have been evacuated to other facilities where they can have access to food and water.

NIGERIA

Nigerian Senate president Bukola Saraki announced on Thursday that he will challenge Muhammadu Buhari in next year’s presidential election. He’s the first high-profile figure to announce plans to run. Saraki quit Buhari’s All Progressives Congress last month to join (rejoin, technically) the opposition People’s Democratic Party.

KENYA

Theresa May visited Kenya on Thursday and it went really, really well. May is the first British Prime Minister to visit Kenya in 30 years, but fortunately Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta handled that uncomfortable fact tactfully:

“Yes, it has been 30 years, but I don’t want to dwell on the past — we want to look to the future,” Kenyatta said.

Even if May herself hadn’t visited Kenya until now, then-Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson did so last year. But his visit apparently wasn’t memorable enough for Kenyatta to easily recall his full name Thursday.

“Last year, if you recall, the foreign secretary — then Boris, um, Boris, Boris Johnson — the bicycle guy, that one,” he said in the news conference, in an apparent reference to Johnson’s push to roll out a city-run bike-rental program when he was mayor of London. In London, the bikes were nicknamed “Boris bikes.”

Kenyatta is known to tie one on every now and then, but obviously I have no idea if he was in the process of doing so again when he made these remarks.

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO

In possibly his last shitty act on his way out the door, DRC President Joseph Kabila is going to open up the world’s second-largest rainforest to logging:

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