U.S. officials established several key objectives for Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ week-long visit to East Asia earlier this month. It now appears that, at least with respect to China, the trip failed to achieve its key goals. During his Nov. 4-6 stay in Beijing, Gates held a 90-minute conference with Chinese Defense Minister Cao Gangchuan, a shorter meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao, and additional sessions with other Chinese officials and journalists. Although Gates had visited China before, this was his first official trip since becoming Secretary of Defense last November. One of Gates’ major objectives was to induce the […]

The quick one-day visit between President Bush and Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda in Washington Nov. 16 was by all accounts a successful “meet and greet.” However, it fell far short of the substantive policy agreements and memorable photo-ops that characterized such meetings during the era of former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. Bush and Fukuda had open discussions on issues ranging from North Korea to global warming to beef. However, the lack of substantive agreements that resulted highlights alarming trends in the U.S.-Japan alliance. If not properly managed, the new rifts in the alliance — in large part attributable to […]

The German parliament recently renewed the “mandates” authorizing the German Bundeswehr to continue military operations in Afghanistan. On Oct. 12, the legislators voted to approve Germany’s continued military participation in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan (ISAF). On Nov. 15, the Bundestag extended by one-year the authorization permitting Germany’s elite special forces unit, the Kommando Spezialkräfte, to participate in the U.S.-led Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) in Afghanistan, which also involves German naval patrols off the Horn of Africa. The OEF deployment, which focuses on counterterrorism, has proven more controversial among Germans than supporting the ISAF, which is often […]

THE EU TESTS ITS LEVERAGE — Piero Fassino, the European Union’s new special envoy for Myanmar, a.k.a. Burma, is likely to have an uphill battle to persuade that country’s neighbors to go along with new EU sanctions against the Burmese regime. Last week, the European Union drew up a list of sanctions specifically targeting Burma’s ruling junta, including blocking their exports of Burmese gems — a key source of revenue for the leadership — plus a Europe-wide travel ban, and curtailment of other trade. The aim is to pressure the junta to improve on the so far modest concessions made […]

The early-November visit to Azerbaijan of the newly elected President of Turkey, Abdullah Gul, highlighted the strategic importance of the Turkey-Azerbaijan relationship and the two countries’ common economic and security interests. As such, it attracted much attention in the Azerbaijani media, where analysts happily noted that Azerbaijan was the first country visited by the Turkish leader since he assumed his post in July. As Azerbaijaini political scientist Rustam Mammadov suggested in the wake of the trip, Gul’s visit even had implications for the complex political situation unfolding in the Middle East. Speaking to the News – Azerbaijan agency, Mammadov said […]

On Oct. 19, NATO troops on patrol in Afghanistan’s Helmand province fired a warning shot to stop a civilian vehicle that had come too close to the soldiers’ convoy. The round ricocheted, killing a two-year-old girl outside her home, according to Agence France-Presse. It’s an old problem in Iraq and Afghanistan, where occupying troops find themselves targeted by suicide bombers in chaotic urban environments where it’s impossible to tell the good guys from the bad. Most soldiers have no peaceful way of communicating with civilian drivers other than with vague hand gestures — and few means short of a rifle […]

BANGKOK, Thailand — Refugees from the horrors of Burma face legal limbo and police harassment inside Thailand. Indonesian migrant workers in Malaysia complain of mistreatment amid police attempts to lock them in their workplaces at night. The Hmong minority in Laos are hunted like animals by their country’s repressive communist regime. In “sophisticated” Singapore it’s illegal to congregate and raise a voice of protest in public. Against this depraved everyday background, the Association of Southeast Nations is about to create some form of human rights agency as part of its dream to become the European Union of Asia. Fat chance, […]

At the end of October, President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan signed several controversial amendments to the country’s Law on Subsoil Use. The new legislation permits the government to unilaterally change contracts for companies involved in extracting the country’s mineral resources if Kazakh officials deem such alterations necessary to uphold their nation’s economic and security interests. On Oct. 8, President Nazarbayev had reassured visiting Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi that his government would honor the original terms of its contract with the ENI SpA-led consortium that was developing Kazakhstan’s offshore Kashagan oil field — providing its members did likewise. On Oct. […]

PUNE, India — In his tiny, dimly lit grocery shop, Babulal Borana stands behind a counter topped with grimy plastic bottles of sweets, and surrounded by loose sacks of rice, lentils, and spices. He lights a sweet-smelling incense stick in front of a deity of Laxmi, the Indian goddess of wealth, praying feverishly for the survival of his business. Housed in a decrepit building, Borana’s shop has been doing brisk business for over 20 years. But eight months ago, a dazzlingly lit, air conditioned supermarket — run by Reliance, an Indian business giant — was erected just a few yards […]

article card

Yesterday, the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee, led by Tom Lantos, slammed Yahoo’s disclosure of the identity of journalist Shi Tao to the Chinese government. Lantos also criticized the company’s failure to acknowledge its role in the disclosure when questioned in a 2006 House hearing. Shi used his Yahoo email account to forward a Chinese government memo prohibiting journalists from covering the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. After Yahoo disclosed his identity to Chinese authorities, Shi was jailed with a 10 year sentence for revealing state secrets. Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang, and General Counsel Michael Callahan appeared to represent […]

SARKO’S HEFTY PAYRAISE — French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is on an official visit to Washington this week, wants the French to work harder and earn more. Since his election six months ago, the energetic Sarko has put his ideas into practice by working hard himself — and earning 172 percent more. That’s how much the French parliament has voted to increase the president’s salary, which will now amount to the equivalent of $337,756 a year. This brings Sarkozy’s paycheck close to that of his American host, President Bush, who is paid a comparatively modest $400,000; but not as close […]

As the temperature rises ever more perilously under the cauldron of Pakistan’s political crisis, a nuclear-armed Muslim nation bordering Afghanistan and Iran, the West is urgently pondering what ingredients it might stir in to keep the dangerous pot from boiling over. After all, Pakistan’s combustible mix could leave third-degree burns far, far beyond its borders. Now that Pakistan’s dictator, its president and military chief, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, has declared a state of emergency there, this new crisis could easily spread. It does not take a prophet of doom to envision truly disastrous consequences. The choices for Washington and its allies […]

article card

BURMA JUNTA ACCUSED OF USING CHILD SOLDIERS: Human Rights Watch claimed Oct. 31 that the Burmese army is forcibly recruiting children as young as 10 to make up for a dearth of adult recruits. Burma’s military junta and the country’s various militia groups have long been accused of employing child soldiers, but Wednesday’s HRW report “Sold to be Soldiers: The Recruitment and Use of Child Soldiers in Burma,” says increased military action, combined with higher rates of desertions and lower numbers of willing adults, has resulted in a de facto marketplace for child soldiers. “Military recruiters are literally buying and […]

NEW DELHI – In a dusty alley on the fringe of the capital, a group of 30 women stared at the ground in plaintive silence. They formed a circle around Omwati Kishore, whose grief choked the air as she waited for her husband to return with the cremated remains of her youngest son. Over the weekend, 10-year-old Tushar and his cousin were returning from school on the back of a motorcycle since the van that normally ferried them was broken down. Their driver lost control when a rogue bus hit the bike; the boy fell into its path. “My son […]

TASHKENT, Uzbekistan — Bolstered by a European Union decision to lift travel restrictions on senior officials, the former Soviet republic of Uzbekistan is moving towards elections set for December amid concerns that the reelection of President Islam Karimov would be an inexorable setback for democracy in the country. Though he is technically ineligible to stand as a candidate in the polls set for Dec. 23, the Liberal Democratic Party announced this month that Karimov, in power since the Soviet era, would stand for another seven-year term in order to “secure stability, peace and prosperity” for the nation. The announcement came […]

Patterns of a resurgence in cooperation between Islamic extremists and radical communists — faint in some places, more pronounced in others — are emerging. While much of the current focus is on parts of Europe, South Asia could emerge as the principal arena for a communist-jihadist alliance. Depending on whom you talk to, an alliance between Islamic extremists and radical communists is either more sinister war-on-terror hyperbole or a clear and present danger. At the most basic level, the two groups are divided by their outlook on the supreme being. For Islamist extremists, killing in the name of and dying […]