Category Archives: Geopolitics

Headlines of the day: More TrumpLandia™ Turmoil


We begin with the New York Times:

Republican Congress, Stuck at Starting Line, Jogs in Place

  • Republican lawmakers and President Trump have yet to deliver on any of the sweeping legislation they promised.
  • Disagreements, a lack of clarity from the White House and a slow confirmation process have stymied their plans.

Two from the Washington Post, starting with this:

Flynn saga shifts balance of power between president, Congress

  • In the wake of Michael Flynn’s resignation as national security adviser, Republican senators are vowing more aggressive oversight of the new administration, and Democrats are seizing an opportunity to ask pointed questions about President Trump’s ties to Russia.

And then this:

Trump looking at billionaire to lead review of U.S. spy agencies

  • Stephen A. Feinberg has been a major donor to Republican candidates and has served on Trump’s economic advisory council.

Next up, this from the Guardian:

Deutsche Bank examined Donald Trump’s account for Russia links

  • Bank looked for evidence of whether loans to president were underpinned by guarantees from Moscow, Guardian learns

Finally this inevitable TrumpTweetstorm™ subject-to-be from BBC News:

Israel-Palestinian conflict: UN warns Trump over two-state reversal

  • The UN chief has warned Donald Trump against abandoning the idea of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying there is “no alternative”.
  • It comes after Mr Trump went against decades of US policy, saying he would back whatever formula led to peace.
  • Palestinians reacted with alarm to the possibility that the US could drop support for Palestinian statehood.

Game of Zones: China gives Trump a warning


Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was the first foreign head of state received by Donald Trump after his election.

And in the days since the Trump administration has sounded a strident note of support for Japan’s interests in the resources of the China Seas, currently contested by competing claims from China, Vietnam, South Korea, and the Philippines.

But it was finally a declaration by Defense Secretary Gen. James “Mad Dog” Mattis that pushed Being over the line, resulting in a strong declaration from Xinuia, the official state news agency.

The declaration, in other words, is a firm statement of policy from the Chinese government.

From Xinhua:

Three days after U.S. defense chief James Mattis’ remarks on the Diaoyu Islands in Tokyo, China conducted a new round of regular patrol in the territorial waters of the Diaoyu Islands on Monday, showing the world its firm will and determination to safeguard its national sovereignty.

During his first Asia-Pacific debut as defense chief, the former four-star general of the U.S. Marine Corps said Friday that the U.S.-Japan mutual defense treaty applies to the Diaoyu Islands, which was criticized by the Chinese Foreign Ministry as “wrong remarks.”

Washington has long used the Diaoyu Islands as a fulcrum for an “off-shore balance,” i.e., maneuvering Japan while pressuring China in East Asia, particularly under the administration of former U.S. President Barack Obama, who zealously promoted a “Pivot to Asia” strategy during the last eight years.

However, the decaying U.S. credibility in East Asia as well as the rising tensions in the region should make it clear to the new president, Donald Trump, that his predecessor’s “Pivot to Asia” strategy is a deal with no winners and meddling in the waters around the uninhabited islands for so-called “offshore balance” will never pay off.

For one thing, interfering in the Diaoyu Islands issue only provokes China, as Beijing has made it crystal clear that there will be no bargaining over its core interests.

The Diaoyu Island and its adjacent islets have been an inherent part of Chinese territory since ancient times, which is an unchangeable historical fact, and the Chinese government has repeatedly warned that territorial issues are within the domain of its core interests.

If the lesson of Obama’s administration in dealing with China offers any guide to Trump, the first and most important point should be ditching a zero-sum mentality, especially on the issue of the Diaoyu Islands.

For another, by meddling in the Diaoyu Islands issue, Washington is actually risking turning the islands into a powder keg, thus making the issue more complicated and bringing instability to the region.

Meddling in partners’ core interests definitely hurts intimacy. Trump’s business instinct should actually help him realize the simple fact that rivalry between partners hurts business. He and his cabinet members need to think twice about the issue of the Diaoyu Islands, and distance themselves from Obama’s stance and approach.

Philippine cops, vigilantes paid cash for killings


More than 7,000 people have been murdered since Rodrigo Duterte took the helm as president of the Philippines last 30 June, and the government is paying bounties for each body.

And the killers are cops and vigilantes, eager to capture some of that wealth for themselves.

The slain are alleged drug dealers as well as folks who merely used drugs, but if they were, we’ll never know, since the rewards are paid only for killings, not captures.

Duterte is no stranger to murder. He’s boasted about it, telling this to an audience of business owners last month:

“In Davao [where he served as mayor] I used to do it personally. Just to show to the guys [police officers] that if I can do it, why can’t you. And I’d go around in Davao with a motorcycle, with a big bike around, and I would just patrol the streets, looking for trouble also. I was really looking for a confrontation so I could kill.”

And back in September, when then-President Barack Obama dared to criticize Duterte’s bloody vigilantism, here’s how Duterte responded prior to a meeting with Obama and other regional leaders, via Agence France Presse:

“If you are poor you are killed”: Extrajudicial Executions in the Philippines’ “War on Drugs,” a devasting new report from Amnesty International, provides a look at both the killers and some of their victims, and it’s truly sobering.

From the organization’s announcement of the report some detail about the bounties and the killers:

Incited by the rhetoric of President Rodrigo Duterte, the police, paid killers on their payroll, and unknown armed individuals have slain more than a thousand people a month under the guise of a national campaign to eradicate drugs. Since President Rodrigo Duterte came to office seven months ago, there have been more than 7,000 drug-related killings, with the police directly killing at least 2,500 alleged drug offenders.

Amnesty International’s investigation, documents in detail 33 cases that involved the killings of 59 people. Researchers interviewed 110 people across the Philippines’ three main geographical divisions, detailing extrajudicial executions in 20 cities across the archipelago. The organisation also examined documents, including police reports.

>snip<

The police killings are driven by pressures from the top, including an order to “neutralize” alleged drug offenders, as well as financial incentives they have created an informal economy of death, the report details.

Speaking to Amnesty International, a police officer with the rank of Senior Police Officer 1, who has served in the force for a decade and conducts operations as part of an anti-illegal drugs unit in Metro Manila, described how the police are paid per “encounter” the term used to falsely present extrajudicial executions as legitimate operations.

“We always get paid by the encounter…The amount ranges from 8,000 pesos (US $161) to 15,000 pesos (US $302)… That amount is per head. So if the operation is against four people, that’s 32,000 pesos (US $644)… We’re paid in cash, secretly, by headquarters…There’s no incentive for arresting. We’re not paid anything.”

The chilling incentive to kill people rather than arrest them was underscored by the Senior Police Officer, who added: “It never happens that there’s a shootout and no one is killed.”

The experienced frontline police officer told Amnesty International that some police have established a racket with funeral homes, who reward them for each dead body sent their way. Witnesses told Amnesty International that the police also enrich themselves by stealing from the victims’ homes, including objects of sentimental value.

The police are behaving like the criminal underworld that they are supposed to be enforcing the law against, by carrying out extrajudicial executions disguised as unknown killers and “contracting out” killings.

More than 4,100 of the drug-related killings in the Philippines over the past six months have been carried out by unknown armed individuals. “Riding in tandem”, as the phenomenon is known locally, two motorcycle-borne people arrive, shoot their targets dead, and speed away.

Two paid killers told Amnesty International that they take orders from a police officer who pays them 5,000 pesos (US $100) for each drug user killed and 10,000 to 15,000 pesos (US $200-300) for each “drug pusher” killed. Before Duterte took power, the paid killers said, they had two “jobs” a month. Now, they have three or four a week.

The targets often come from unverified lists of people suspected to use or sell drugs drawn up by local government officials. Regardless of how long ago someone may have taken drugs, or how little they used or sold, they can find their names irrevocably added to the lists.

In other cases, their names could be added arbitrarily, because of a vendetta or because there are incentives to kill greater numbers of people deemed drug users and sellers.

Map of the day: Where the world’s Muslims live


From the Pew Research Center:

blog-map

ISIS hails Trump’s travel ban as a major victory


And, of course, they’re absolutely right.

From the Washington Post:

Jihadist groups on Sunday celebrated the Trump administration’s ban on travel from seven Muslim-majority countries, saying the new policy validates their claim that the United States is at war with Islam.

Comments posted to pro-Islamic State social media accounts predicted that President Trump’s executive order would persuade American Muslims to side with the extremists. One posting hailed the U.S. president as “the best caller to Islam,” while others predicted that Trump would soon launch a new war in the Middle East.

“[Islamic State leader Abu Bakr] al-Baghdadi has the right to come out and inform Trump that banning Muslims from entering America is a ‘blessed ban,’” said one posting to a pro-Islamic State channel on Telegram, a social-media platform. The writer compared the executive order to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, which Islamic militant leaders at the time hailed as a “blessed invasion” that ignited anti-Western fervor across the Islamic world.

>snip<

Robert Richer, a 35-year CIA veteran and former chief of the agency’s Near East division, said the ban was a “strategic mistake” that could undermine future efforts to recruit spies and collect vital information about terrorists and their plans. How, he asked, can CIA officers persuade Iraqi and Syrian nationals to risk their lives to help the United States?

“This was a win for jihadists and other anti-U.S. forces,” said Richer, the deputy chief of the agency’s Operations Directorate during the George W. Bush administration. “It fuels the belief out there that Americans are anti-Islam. Otherwise, it accomplishes nothing, because the ones we are most concerned about can still get to the United States.”

But given that Trump has already declared he think America has a right to seize the Iraq’s oil and “maybe we’ll have another chance,” could there be a deeper game involved, one in which more warfare leads to outright invasion with the specific intent of seizing oilfields in the Mideast and, say Libya, which has the world’s finest reserves of light, sweet crude oil?

Given that he’s picked the CEO of ExxonMobil, one of the world’s largest oil companies, as his Secretary of State we’d have to say that ours in a legitimate question and worthy of serious consideration.

Game of Zones: China raises the specter of war


While Barack Obama brought to Sino-American relations to a level of tension not seen sent Nixon went to Beijing, Donald Trump threatens to send them back to darkest days of the Cold War.

And now China is striking back, though only with words — for the moment,

From RT:

Chinese state media has warned that the US would have to launch a “large-scale war” to prevent Beijing from accessing islands it has built in the South China Sea. It comes after secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson said such access should be restricted.

“Unless Washington plans to wage a large-scale war in the South China Sea, any other approaches to prevent Chinese access to the islands will be foolish,” the state-sanctioned Global Times newspaper wrote on its English-language website.

>snip<

The article also said that China has so far “shown restraint” when Trump’s cabinet picks have expressed “radical views,” as the president-elect has not yet been sworn in. However, it stressed that the US “should not be misled into thinking that Beijing will be fearful of their threats.”

“If Trump’s diplomatic team shapes future Sino-US ties as it is doing now, the two sides had better prepare for a military clash,” the article reads, adding that Tillerson’s statements are “far from professional.”

The former ExxonMobil CEO’s comments were made during his Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday, in which he said that China’s activities in the disputed South China Sea were “extremely worrisome.”

More from the Global Times report:

China has enough determination and strength to make sure that his rabble rousing will not succeed. Unless Washington plans to wage a large-scale war in the South China Sea, any other approaches to prevent Chinese access to the islands will be foolish.

The US has no absolute power to dominate the South China Sea. Tillerson had better bone up on nuclear power strategies if he wants to force a big nuclear power to withdraw from its own territories. Probably he just has oil prices and currency rates in his mind as former ExxonMobil CEO.

He also lacks legality. If China is not allowed access to islands it has long controlled, does this also apply to Vietnam and the Philippines? Should the Nansha Islands become a depopulated zone? What does so-called US freedom of navigation around the Nansha Islands mean?

As Trump has yet to be sworn in, China has shown restraint whenever his team members expressed radical views. But the US should not be misled into thinking that Beijing will be fearful of their threats.

Fueled by Trump, the Game of Zones heats up


The Donald’s provocative moves in the delicate multi-power game underway in the China Seas have include incendiary tweets, numerous campaign declarations, and, in particular, two meetings.

The first came in the form of the first post-election visit by a foreign leader, Shinzo Abe’s 18 November visit to the President-elects Trump Tower suite, a meeting also attended by the first-daughter-to-be Ivanka and her real estate mogul/media baron spouse.

The meeting, Trump’s first-ever flesh-presser with a foreign head of state, also came while Ivanka was sealing a business deal with a Japanese company. business negotiations.

Then, on 2 December came another foreign visitor, this time by telephone, when Trump reversed decades of American foreign policy by engaging in direct conversation with the President of Tawan, a government most of the world doesn’t recognize, in part because of its claims to be the only legitimate government of the Chinese mainland.

Besides appealing to the Cold War strains still resonating in the Grand Old Party, Trump’s conversation with Tsai Ing-wen inflamed Beijing — probably intentionally — even though he’s the first Taiwanese leader who hasn’t endorsed claims to rightly rule the mainland.

Oh, and former U.S. Senator-turned-lobbyist Bob Dole spent months setting up the meeting, his firm pocketing more than $140,000 for Dole’s labors.

Abe takes heart from Trump’s glad-handing

Bolstered by his meeting with the anti-Beijing Trump, Japan’s prime minister is beefing up his country’s military agenda in the Game of Zones.

We begin with a map from the Yomiuri Shimbun, a conservative Japanese paper charting the competing powers in the Game of Zones:

blog-zones

From the accompanying story:

The government plans to formulate by this summer an integrated defense strategy, which outlines how the Self-Defense Forces would respond in the event of a contingency involving China over the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture, according to government sources.

The measure is aimed at devising scenarios for a possible clash between Japan and China.

To strengthen the defense of the Nansei Islands through cooperation between the SDF and U.S. forces, the government will also compile a Japan-U.S. joint operation plan at the same time, the sources said.

With these measures, the government intends to become fully prepared and, at the same time, to develop a deterrent effect against China, which has been stepping up its military activities in areas around Japan.

Possible scenarios for a contingency over the Senkakus likely include an accidental clash between a Chinese fisheries patrol boat and a Japan Coast Guard patrol vessel, the dispatch by China of patrol vessels en masse, the deployment of Chinese naval vessels, and landing on any of the islands by a Chinese airborne unit.

The strategy is expected to stipulate operations to be conducted in the form of exercising the right to self-defense within Japan’s territories and waters, such as preventing a military vessel from approaching a remote island by using surface-to-ship missiles of the Ground Self-Defense Force, bringing enemy forces under control with ground strafing from an Air Self-Defense Force fighter jet or fire from a Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer, and having GSDF personnel land on the island.

So what are Trump’s motives

Here’s what a Chinese government paper came up with when it looked across the Pacific.

From China Daily:

In light of US President-Elect Donald Trump’s hawkish remarks about China, allied to a number of unexpected moves in the wake of his election victory, experts in Sino-US studies around the world have expressed deep concerns about the key relationship.

Many of the experts have warned that the Sino-US relationship may revert to the deep, mutual distrust that characterized relations between the countries during the 1960s.

Ted Carpenter, senior fellow of defense and foreign policy at the Cato Institute in Washington, said he is “increasingly worried” about Trump’s policies regarding China.

“At first, I thought that Trump was engaging in the ‘China-bashing’ that is fairly typical of US presidential campaigns. Yet once in office, new presidents have pursued policies very similar to those of their predecessors since the early 1970s,” he said, adding that Trump’s post-election actions suggest that something else may be going on.

“The telephone conversation with Tsai Ing-wen was startling enough, but the Trump transition team’s insistence on referring to her as the ‘President of Taiwan’ indicated sympathy with hard-line Taiwanese separatists,” he said, referring to a phone call between Trump and the Taiwan leader on Dec 2, which broke with decades of diplomatic precedent.

The irony is that China turned to the Cato Institute, the libertarian think tank that gave birth to the first draft of Reaganomics.

And China signals possible reprisals to come

More on China/U.S. relations in the Age of Trump from the Financial Times:

Senior Chinese officials have warned the US that Beijing is ready to retaliate if Donald Trump’s incoming administration imposes new tariffs, highlighting the risk of a destructive trade war between the world’s two largest economies.

Penny Pritzker, the outgoing US commerce secretary, said in an interview with the Financial Times that Chinese officials had informed their US counterparts in a meeting after November’s election that they would be forced to respond to trade measures taken by the new administration.

“The Chinese leadership said to me ‘If you guys put an import duty on us we are going to do it on you’,” Ms Pritzker said. “And then they said ‘That will be bad for both of us’.”

She said that the next administration needed to decide “the fine line between being tough and a trade war”, cautioning that such a confrontation would have “enormous consequence” for the US.

The move highlights the concern in China over the risk to relations presented by Mr Trump, who has also offended Beijing by breaking with traditional US policy on Taiwan.

In the words of that venerable China-watcher Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street,  “Come Watson! The game is afoot.”