Chinese President Hu Jintao and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev had a pleasant, two-day summit last week in Beijing. The agreeable nature of their public encounter was evident when Hu thanked the Russian government for its assistance to the victims of the May 12 earthquake in southwest China, which may have killed as many as 80,000 people. “Between friends, there can be no other kind of relations,” Medvedev replied, while offering to provide additional help. Their only unpleasant comments were directed at third parties. The two governments expressed resentment of Western criticism regarding their human rights practices and actions abroad. A […]

Musharraf Hangs On

It hasn’t gotten much notice, but in the aftermath of Pakistan’s elections, the post-Benazir Bhutto PPP has been drifitng closer to Pervez Musharraf, and is essentially now standing in the way of the efforts to remove him from office through conventional means (ie. the reinstatement of judges likely to rule him ineligible to hold office). The result has been for the anti-Musharraf movement to harden its posiiton, calling for his removal through article six of Pakistan’s constitution. That procedure would leave Musharraf, if tried and convicted, facing the death penalty for high treason. Arif Rafiq of Pakistan Policy Blog has […]

MAZAR-E-SHARIF, Afghanistan — As the United States prepares for its presidential election, many Afghans are anxiously watching the race that will bring an end to the administration that triggered the 2001 U.S. intervention in their country and that has designed much of the continued military and development strategy there. Given that Afghanistan, one of the poorest countries in the world, has become almost completely dependent on the foreign assistance the U.S. intervention has brought, Afghans perhaps have good reason for their anxiety. “The important issues to Afghans are Afghanistan — and Pakistan,” said 29 year-old Roya Aziz, an Afghan-American filmmaker […]

The U.S. Offer to Burma

In a DOD press briefing today, U.S. Pacific Command Commander Adm. Timothy Keating described what he told Burmese officials earlier this month about the U.S. military’s ability to assist in the distribution of aid in Burma. Keating traveled with USAID director Henrietta Foe on the first relief flight into Burma on May 11. Since then, Keating said, the U.S. military has flown about 70 missions carrying 1.4 million pounds of relief supplies to Yangon. But, despite the seemingly generous terms which Keating recounted in today’s press conference, the government of Myanmar has yet to allow the U.S. military to assist […]

USE OF CHILD SOLDIERS WANING — Fewer conflicts in the world today involve the use of child soldiers, but children remain on battlefields in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East, according to a report released May 20 by the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers. The number of conflicts involving child combatants has dropped from 27 to 17 over the last four years, the Coalition’s “Child Soldier Global report 2008” found. Tens of thousands of children remain on the world’s battlefields, with tens of thousands more former child soldiers suffering from a lack of available assistance […]

Earlier this month, Royal Dutch Shell and Spain’s Repsol pulled out of a proposed Iranian natural gas development project that was estimated to be worth over $10 billion. The decision by the two European energy firms to pull out of phase 13 of the South Pars project was seen as a setback for Iran’s efforts to court foreign interest in its energy sector at a time when the Bush administration is actively trying to discourage it. Shell and Repsol executives did not publicly comment on their reasons for pulling out of South Pars. But whether it was due to concerns […]

HONG KONG — The sight this weekend of an emotional Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon surveying the devastation wreaked by the Sichuan earthquake should allow the rest of the world to breath a collective sigh of relief. Gone was the Beijing-manufactured nationalistic nonsense that had been gaining in fiery strength with every leg of the Olympic torch relay. Instead, the human face of China was visible, humbled by a tragedy inflicted with a brute force that only mother nature is capable of delivering. It wasn’t always like that. Initial offers of help for quake victims […]

China’s Self-Appraisal

Three opinion columns in the People’s Daily Online pretty much run the gamot of the takeaway from the response to the Sichuan earthquake: Chinese pride, international solidarity, and finally pan-Chinese solidarity (Taiwan, Hong Kong, etc.). I don’t think there’s anything cynical about noting that this is about the best possible narrative that could have come out of the enormous catastrophe, mainly because however much it serves the interests of the Chinese government, it also serves the interests of humankind as well. Frankly, if we couldn’t pull together around something of this magnitude, there wouldn’t be much hope left. The only […]

On the basis of preliminary returns and exit polls, President Mikheil Saakashvili declared an overwhelming victory for his party in yesterday’s legislative elections in the former Soviet republic of Georgia. Many observers had hoped that the vote would end the protracted and vicious political infighting that has characterized Georgian politics in recent years, but Saakashvili’s opponents immediately contested his claim. A prominent opposition leader, David Gamkrelidze, accused the government of the incumbent president of falsifying the results and called for new legislative elections. Nine political parties and three blocs competed for representation in the 150-member parliament. Half of the seats […]

Finishing the Job in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON – Derailing counterinsurgents in Pakistan and combating the state’s narcotics enterprises remain two of the largest obstacles to peace and stability in Afghanistan, and the solutions to these problems might not arrive for years to come, Jeremy Shapiro, director of Research at the Brookings Center on the United States and Europe, said at a May 21 briefing here sponsored by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. “The first goal from the U.S. and European perspective is to ensure Afghanistan isn’t a source of instability for the world,” Shapiro said. “The military on the ground sees it this way, and they see […]

DENPASAR, Indonesia — Ten years after the fall of Dictator Suharto, is Indonesia’s democracy a glass half full or half empty? If one looks only at the news headlines that often portray the archipelagic country as a hotbed of terrorists, radical Islamists and corrupt politicians, it would seem that things have worsened since the student-led Reformasi movement forced Suharto to relinquish the power he had held for the past 32 years. That was 10 years ago, on May 21, 1998. Skeptics also point out that Indonesians have little trust in political parties, and that the country’s political and business elite […]

An investment bank economist first grouped the nations of Brazil, Russia, India and China together based on two shared characteristics: large populations and rapid economic growth. The so-called BRIC nations had little else in common — they covered the full scale of democratization, with varying degrees of financial transparency and vastly different economies. Yet after Goldman Sachs’ 2001 report that coined the acromym was released, the BRIC nations became inexorably linked, at least in the collective mind of the investment community. Last week, the BRIC nations took their union out of the realm of analyst reports and formed a political […]

HONG KONG — Soaring world rice prices are finally showing real signs of abating, easing worst-case fears that inflation-fueled food shortages could lead to widespread starvation and social unrest. A bumper crop in Pakistan, an improved harvest in Thailand and a boost in exports from Japan resulted in a 14 percent drop in the price of rice over the last five trading days, its biggest fall since July 2004. According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), rice prices skyrocketed by 76 percent between December 2007 and April. However, traders said a decision by Islamabad to export 1 million […]

India, Pakistan Resume Talks

The resumption of India-Pakistan confidence-building talks following six months of tit-for-tat cruise missile launches is good news in and of itself. But this passage from a Hindustan Times article on the latest round of the discussions caught my eye: New Delhi is looking for concrete action by Pakistan for ending cross-border terrorism and infiltration, which have witnessed a spurt recently. India believes terrorism is a “common concern” for both the countries and that it is in the interest of Pakistan itself to clamp down on the scourge as it has lost former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto to it. New Delhi, […]

Taiwan’s New President

It’s farfetched to imagine that China and Taiwan can magically resolve their differences overnight, but this passage from new Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou’s inauguration speech is food for thought: “I would like to propose with sincerity that the two sides, whether over the (Taiwan) strait or in diplomatic circles, reconcile, cease fire and assist each other with respect in global organisations and activities,” he said. Noting that the people living on both sides of the Taiwan Strait “belong to the Chinese race,” he said Taipei and Beijing should work together for peace “instead of wasting resources in negative competition”. One […]

The latest figures released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute show a precipitous decline in the volume of Russian weapons sales to the Chinese military. Although Beijing remains the single largest recipient of Russian arms, the figures show a 63 percent decrease in the value of major Russian weapons deliveries to China, which is the lowest level in a decade. The decrease contributed to a 29 percent reduction in Russia’s overall export of major conventional weapons systems between 2006 and 2007. In addition, China and Russia have not signed any major new arms contracts in recent years and are […]

NEW YORK — Sri Lanka, celebrating its 60th anniversary of independence from British colonial rule this year, is using a carrot-and-stick strategy in the war that has enveloped the island nation for some 25 years and brought it to the brink of economic disaster. The country’s government has achieved some initial success in containing the home-grown terrorism perpetrated by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), commonly known as the Tamil Tigers, as it tries to wean away the Tamil population from supporting the LTTE’s agenda of carving out an independent state in the northern and eastern parts of the […]

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