With the obituaries written the analysis can start. The perfect spy and self-effacing journalist Pham Xuan An stood among the most controversial media figures of the 20th century for his dual roles played out during the tumultuous years of the Vietnam War. An was a highly decorated journalist for some of the most prominent American news magazines. But in secret, he was also a senior officer and espionage agent for the Vietnamese Communists and his undercover work was vital to their war strategy. He died Sept. 20 after a long battle with emphysema in the former Saigon at the age […]

BANGKOK, Thailand — The curiously named Caravan of the Poor, former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s own version of Nazi brownshirts who intimidated anti-government demonstrators on the streets of Bangkok earlier this year, has evaporated in the week following Thailand’s coup. Instead, smiling mothers photograph their plastic gun-toting sons who pester to be lifted onto tanks parked in the capital’s streets. Newly married couples choose a backdrop of the flower-festooned armored vehicles instead of the royal palace or a historic temple to commemorate their special day on film. But the calm and the lack of combatants comes at too high […]

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NEW DELHI — The recent seizure here of massive shipments of illegal Ephedrine and the highly addictive sedative Mandrax, as well as the June capture in Mumbai of a container packed with some $100 million worth of cocaine, spotlights the rise of illicit drug abuse and the burgeoning drug trade in South Asia — especially in India. Over the past year and a half alone, authorities say an estimated 216 kilograms of cocaine, more than 600 kilos of Ephedrine, 247 kilos of heroin and 4,400 kilos of Mandrax have been seized in India, the major portion captured in New Delhi […]

TIRANA, Albania — With the price of crude oil having recently hit $70 a barrel and energy markets staying hungry, two trans-Balkan pipeline projects are competing to bring Caspian oil to the West. Russia, Greece and Bulgaria signed an agreement for the construction of a Bourgas-Alexandroupolis pipeline on Sept. 4, and a rival Albania-Macedonia-Bulgaria pipeline is on the drawing board. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, oil companies have devoted vast amounts of capital to developing the oil and gas reserves of the Caspian Sea region. The total oil reserve of the region, estimated at above 200 billion barrels, […]

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In August, employees of the Singapore Ministry of Education received a memo telling them to guard their computers against miscreants “targeting Singapore government’s web presence . . . in an attempt to discredit the event and embarrass the organizing country.” The event is the annual meeting of the Boards of Governors of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. The miscreants are anti-globalization protestors. Yes, the IMF and World Bank are in town, with a total of more than 10,000 delegates, advisors, and hangers-on. This time, the hangers-on will not include the sideshow of civil society and anti-globalization protesters […]

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HONG KONG — Global leaders — meeting far and wide from the UN General Assembly in New York to the IMF annual summit in Singapore — were quick to condemn the military coup in Thailand that ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. But the reality is the coup could actually end months of political uncertainty and benefit the country over the longer run. This was reflected on Asian stock and foreign exchange markets, where benchmarks fell in only a limited fashion in the immediate aftermath of the coup, with investors sensing the end of a difficult and messy era in Thai […]

With the death of a leading human rights activist in prison last week, Turkmenistan has left no doubt that the widely derided personality cult of the country’s President-for-life Saparmurat Niyazov and his iron-handed tactics are anything but a laughing matter. Family members identified the body of Ogulspur Muradova, who died only three weeks after being sentenced in a widely condemned trial. Authorities initially denied Muradova’s family access to the body while insisting they sign off on a death certificate. Access was granted only after the family sought out the help of foreign diplomats. After viewing the corpse, family members reported […]

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On Tuesday, the Thai military seized Bangkok, ousting controversial leader Thaksin Shinawatra and seizing control of the nation. The lack of details has delayed strong international reaction. John Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, released a cautious statement. “We think it’s important,” he said, “that we have peace in the streets in Bangkok, and that their constitutional processes be upheld.” The statement is vague for a reason. The United States has interests in both embracing and condemning the coup. In the final analysis, however, it has a greater interest in condemning the coup and returning Thaksin to power. […]

BANGKOK, Thailand — For a time during the dark, stormy night it was feared that rival military factions might clash on the rain-swept streets of Thailand’s sprawling capital for control of the city following a coup during Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s absence at the UN General Assembly. But by dawn Wednesday it became apparent that despite calls by Thaksin in New York for the arrest of the coup leaders, no one was riding to his rescue. Pro-Thaksin elements in the military, police and political hierarchy, including the army supreme commander who had talked directly with the mercurial political leader by […]

Six weeks in hell — or, more precisely, in Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan. That sums up the brutal fighting endured by the NATO troops who took over from U.S. troops in the area at the end of July. But while British, Canadian and Dutch troops have had an unexpectedly hot reception, pleas from the area British commander calling for other NATO countries to “pull their weight” and commit 2,500 more troops to the southern war have fallen on deaf ears. Though 1,000 more Polish troops were announced last week as “on way” to the region, it had nothing to […]

BANGOK, Thailand — The shadow of China and India looming over them is propelling ten much smaller nations of Southeast Asia to fast-track their heady dream of creating a European-style union — a single market and, perhaps, some form of political cohesiveness. The prospects are tantalizingly attractive: a region of 530 million people stretching from the Bay of Bengal and the borders of India to the west Pacific, competing against the economic juggernauts of China and India for foreign investment and a place at the global decision-making dinner table, instead of being one of the dishes. But a new target […]

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After the collapse of the Soviet empire, the Caspian states of Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan generated a great deal of excitement because of their oil and gas fields, about which little was known. Despite falling oil prices, uncertain reserve sizes and a non-existent legal framework, an extraordinary volume of international investment poured into the region in 1997 and 1998. By 1999, more than 20 oil exploration contracts were signed in Azerbaijan alone, representing more than $30 billion in long-term capital investment and some $2.5 billion in committed investment. It was widely expected that the poorly explored, but high-potential Caspian oil reserves […]

Given the way events have been unfolding around Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian, one could understand why he might have simply wanted to go home. On Sept. 9, Chen went to his hometown in Taiwan’s Tainan County, a Democratic People’s Party (DPP) stronghold, to meet with a group of faithful supporters. The storm, meanwhile, was in the capital Taipei, more than 350 kilometers away, where tens of thousands of angry demonstrators, many dressed in red to reflect their outrage, gave Chen the thumbs-down during a sit-in outside the presidential palace. In Tainan County, Chen encountered a sit-in as well, but this […]

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Another piece of the ambitious 87,546 mile Asian Highway (AH) network slotted into place last month as Vietnam completed its section. The milestone was announced by Do Ngoc Dung, vice director of the Vietnam government’s My Thuan Project Management Unit. The Asian Highway now links Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Myanmar. The $144.77 million construction bill was partly financed by the Asian Development Bank. When completed, the $44 billion AH network will weave through 32 countries, connect Asia with Europe, and boost regional economies by facilitating trade and tourism. It also fuels dreams of a Pan-Asian community with a common social-political-economic […]

Japan’s likely new Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, will seek to amend the Japanese constitution to allow the country to use its military for non-defensive purposes. Combined with the material capabilities of the Japanese military and the perception that Japan glorifies World War II, the likelihood that Japan will be viewed as a regional threat is growing. Both domestic and international factors are pushing Japan to amend the Constitution. Domestically, as in Germany, there is a growing belief in Japan that World War II is long past, and the country should no longer act like a chastened nation. Regionally, Japan is […]

Although both China and Africa were home to two of the world’s oldest civilizations, each dating back more than 6,000 years, China has only recently discovered the true value of Africa. China’s initial forays on the continent, during the 1960s and 1970s, were driven by political ideology and thus inherently limited in scope and duration. Today, the basis of the Sino-African relationship has evolved from politics to economics. “China explicitly stated that they were going to shift their focus away from ideology in 1996,” says Christopher Alden, senior lecturer in international relations at the London School of Economics. A major […]