Asia/Africa update: December 18 2018

Tonight’s updates will unfortunately have to be our last of 2018. I had hoped to continue for a couple more days before breaking for the holidays but between holiday plans, travel plans, and other commitments my attention and stress levels have reached the breaking point. Owing in part to a strange winter break schedule for my daughter’s school, regular blogging will resume on January 7. attwiw is not going dark over the break and I’ll be back with Christmas and New Year’s wishes when appropriate, but let me nevertheless take this opportunity to thank you for reading the blog this year and to wish you and yours Happy Holidays.

ASIA

AFGHANISTAN

Talks between US and Taliban representatives in Abu Dhabi stretched into a second day on Tuesday, focusing on a six-month ceasefire and, eventually, the withdrawal of foreign military forces from the country. The ceasefire was naturally a US proposal, one the Taliban doesn’t seem terribly keen to accept seeing as how they’ve been winning the war lately. And they still won’t talk to anybody working for the Afghan government.

INDIA

Journalist Pratyush Dubey argues that the Indian government needs to get over the Afghan Taliban’s alliance with Pakistan and start talking with a group that is undoubtedly going to be a major factor in post-war Afghanistan:

As the United States weighs its exit options in Afghanistan, the only thing certain for now is the return of the Taliban to Kabul – either as part of a weakly enforced coalition supporting an elected government or as the sole administrators of the country. In October the recently appointed U.S. Special Representative to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, met with delegates of the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” in Doha, signaling Washington’s willingness to talk with the Taliban. The recent U.S. overtures appear urgent, but Khalilzad is not the only one reaching out to them. The international community has also been known to keep contacts with the Taliban in the expectation that it would be a legitimate party in any eventual political settlement. Given this reality, New Delhi’s reticent in directly engaging with the group is not only perplexing, but also imperils the long-term security balance in the region.

New Delhi’s Afghanistan policy is predicated on two priorities: first, to limit Pakistan’s influence and deny its agents space to plot against India, and second, to gain access to energy markets in Central Asia. So far, the achievement of these goals in Afghanistan has depended upon American munificence. Every time the United States chided Pakistan for sheltering Taliban elements, India celebrated a diplomatic win. On the other hand, India’s objections to U.S. talks with the Taliban have been largely ignored by the international community. The harsh truth is that without the willingness to put actual boots on the ground, or the real military capability to project power in the region, India’s considerable goodwill cache cannot achieve its strategic ends. Today, an increasingly lonely India does not have the luxury to choose when, and with whom, to talk in Afghanistan.

SRI LANKA

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena is continuing to pay for his failed attempt to oust Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. On Tuesday, three lawmakers from Sirisena’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party defected to Wickremesinghe’s United National Party, giving Wickremesinghe 120 seats in the country’s 225 seat legislature.

MYANMAR

Despite its talk about repatriating refugees, Reuters has uncovered evidence that the Myanmar government is trying to permanently displace the Rohingya:

The areas where the Rohingya lived in Myanmar’s western Rakhine State before the army ousted them are being dramatically transformed. The northern reaches of this region were once a Muslim-majority enclave in the overwhelmingly Buddhist nation.

Hundreds of new houses are now being built in villages where the Rohingya resided, satellite images show. Many of these villages were burned, then flattened and scraped by bulldozers. The new homes are being occupied mainly by Buddhists, some from other parts of Rakhine. The security forces are also building new facilities in these areas.

CHINA

Tuesday was the 40th anniversary of the day Deng Xiaoping opened the Third Plenum of the 11th Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, the gala during which he announced that China would henceforth practice “socialism with Chinese characteristics,” or in other words state capitalism. Current Chinese leader Xi Jinping marked the occasion with a speech that called for, well, mostly more of the same:

Xi’s speech emphasized the radical transformation China has gone through in the past 40 years. In 1978, he noted, people struggled to even have adequate food and clothing – by 2017, after enjoying an average of 9.5 percent annual growth since 1978, the poverty rate had dropped by an astounding 740 million people.

Yet Xi attributes this not to a spirit of experimentation and openness to new ideas (which, as David Bandurski explained, was the key to the reform and opening program’s success) but to the Party’s infallible guidance. His narrative of post-1978 China is one of correct decision after correct decision. He saved some of the best praise for himself, albeit indirectly, extolling the CCP Central Committee since the 18th Party Congress (at which Xi assumed control) for showing “immense political courage and wisdom” in proposing the “comprehensively deepening reform” agenda to “perfect and develop the system of socialism with Chinese characteristics.”

History, Xi concluded, proves that the CCP’s post-1978 approach to “socialism with Chinese characteristics” is “completely correct.” And thus the first on Xi’s list of future priorities is not increased opening, but rather “persevering with the Party’s leadership over all work and ceaselessly strengthening and improving the Party’s leadership.” He then repeated a Mao-era catechism that has become one of the CCP’s favorite phrases again: “east, west, south, north, and center, the Party leads everything.”

JAPAN

The Japanese government announced on Tuesday that it will convert two of its helicopter carriers into full-blown aircraft carriers and purchase an additional 45 F-35 aircraft from the United States plus several US-made offensive and defensive missile systems. In all it plans to spend an additional $243 billion on defense over the next five years to counter potential threats from both China and Russia.

AFRICA

LIBYA

Libya’s National Oil Company has totally shut down production at its El Sharara in the country’s southwest. The field, Libya’s largest, was taken over earlier this month by a group of disgruntled tribal fighters and protesters, forcing the NOC to halt exports from the field last week. So far they have been unwilling to leave and the Libyan government has done nothing that might entice them to drop their complaints.

MOROCCO

John Bolton’s recent diatribe about how unfair it is that the US has to pay for United Nations operations in Africa included a tidbit that undoubtedly was unwelcome to Moroccan ears:

When US national security adviser John Bolton unveiled the Donald Trump administration’s new Africa strategy at the Heritage Foundation on Dec. 13, his comments about great power competition with Russia and China stirred much excitement. But remarks every bit as controversial on an obscure, half-century-old dispute between Morocco and Algeria over the status of Western Sahara slipped by unnoticed.

Bolton said the future of more than half a million Sahrawis who inhabit the phosphate-rich former Spanish colony sitting on the edge of the Sahara should be decided in a referendum. Bolton asserted, “All we want to do is hold a referendum for 70,000 voters. It’s 27 years later, the status of the territory [is] still unresolved … Is there not a way to resolve this?”

Morocco, which views Bolton as too friendly to Sahrawi separatists to begin with, doesn’t want a referendum, which it could easily lose. It’s willing to talk about Western Sahara’s autonomy, but not its potential independence.

CAMEROON

The Cameroonian military says its soldiers killed seven anglophone rebels in an overnight gun battle in Bamenda. Four soldiers were taken to the hospital but there’s no word on their conditions, and no word on civilian casualties even though witnesses report that there definitely were some.

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