Time to Assess Meles Legacy in Ethiopia

Posted August 22nd, 2012 at 2:12 am (UTC+0)

U.S. Looks to Maintain Security Cooperation

Reflections on the death of Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi are as mixed as his legacy.

The former rebel leader helped end the communist “Red Terror” of Mengistu Haile Mariam, but dealt harshly with his own political opponents. He played leading roles in stabilizing Somalia and Sudan, but could never reconcile with former ally Issias Afewerki, contributing to an internecine border war with Eritrea.

Meles Zenawi leaves a mixed legacy in Ethiopia — strong on economic growth, but questions about human rights. Photo: AP


“He was one of those people who stood for the African vision, who understood very well what it meant and what it means to uphold the African ideals and how to push for it,” says Andrew Asamoah of South Africa’s Institute of Security Studies. “The Horn of Africa has also lost someone who was kind of pro-peace, even though I’m not sure all actors will agree.”

“I think his biggest legacy within the country and beyond has to do with the economic growth in the country since he assumed power,” Asamoah says. “And his ability to keep the country strong and relevant on the African landscape.


A Key U.S. Ally in Africa

That strength made Prime Minister Meles a principal U.S. ally against terrorism, especially following the attacks of September 11th, 2001.

“You have Somalia, which is a failed state in the East, Sudan, which for many years was in the state of civil war, so Ethiopia became the anchor in that part of the African continent,” says Christopher Fomunyoh of the U.S. National Democratic Institute. “I think the U.S. is going to look for ways to maintain this relationship with Meles’ replacement.”

Victoria Nuland, the U.S. State Department spokeswoman, says the Obama administration “does not anticipate at this stage that there would be any diminution of their commitment to security missions in Africa. That is something that we would hope would continue.”

Fomunyoh says the potential vacuum shows the weakness of African leaders who hold too much power too closely.

“If there are institutions in place in a country such as Ethiopia that can have people at the head of its foreign policy and governments, then it doesn’t matter who is the leader of the day; its alliances and relationships would always be maintained.”

Fomunyoh recalls the optimism of 1992 elections when “the rhetoric on democracy and good governance was very strong.” Twenty years on, he says Mr. Meles never found the balance between commercial growth and the expansion of civil liberties.

“On one hand he accomplished quite a lot in terms of economic development, reconstruction, rebuilding of Ethiopia,” Fomunyoh says. “He did a lot to stabilize the country and the Horn of Africa. But he’s also left a very questionable legacy in regard to human rights, respect for the media, freedom of the press, respect for the opposition and creating political space in Ethiopia.”

Though the United States long valued the prime minister’s cooperation on security, Nuland says Washington has “not been shy about expressing concern where it is necessary, particularly with regard to journalists’ freedom and human rights.”


Human  Rights Was a Concern

The current State Department human rights report says the Meles government arrested 100 opposition political figures, activists, journalists, and bloggers. It restricted freedom of the press and imposed severe restrictions on civil society and non-governmental organizations, or NGO’s.

Meles and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, shown here at a meeting in London in February, often discussed human rights in Ethiopia. Photo: AP


“Other human rights problems included torture, beating, abuse, and mistreatment of detainees by security forces; harsh and at times life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; detention without charge and lengthy pretrial detention,” the report says.

Amnesty International believes the change of power in Addis Ababa is an opportunity for Washington to recalibrate its relationship with Ethiopia instead of “consigning itself to a relationship with yet another ‘strongman’ and depend on the luck of the draw over his longevity.”

“The 21 years of Meles Zenawi’s rule were characterized by ever-increasing repression,” says Amnesty International USA’s Adotei Akwei. “Under his direction, Ethiopia stamped out dissenting voices, dismantled the independent media, obstructed human rights organizations and strangled political opposition.”

Akwei says the new Ethiopian government and the international community must change course, “ushering in an era of greater respect and accountability.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reaffirmed Washington’s commitment to “a strong partnership focused on strengthening development, democracy and human rights, and regional security.” Clinton said she is confident Ethiopia will peacefully navigate the political transition according to its constitution.

Richard Downie, deputy director of the U.S. Center for Strategic & International Studies, isn’t so sure.

“Meles’ broader legacy will ultimately be determined by what happens now that he has gone,” Downie writes. “His considerable achievements in delivering economic growth and development risk being undermined by his failure to put in place a viable succession plan. His unwillingness to lay the foundation for the growth of a more mature, representative political system in Ethiopia has increased the odds of a messy, unstable transition.”



China Bashes Western “meddling” Over South China Sea

Posted August 15th, 2012 at 8:17 pm (UTC+0)

U.S. Warns Against “Divide-and-Conquer” approach

China is lashing out at accusations that it’s blocking the Association of Southeast Asian Nations from settling rival territorial claims in the South China Sea. According to Beijing, ASEAN’s failure to agree on a code of conduct over the maritime dispute was caused by Western “meddling” designed to “smear China’s positive role in maintaining the unity of the regional bloc.”

ASEAN foreign ministers met last month in Phnom Penh, but failed to issue a joint communique for the first time in the group’s 45-year history. There was talk that the conference host, Cambodia, had blocked agreement because China prefers to deal one-on-one with rival claimants Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, and Taiwan.

Now China’s official Xinhau news agency is rejecting that accusation and denouncing a Reuters news agency analysis that Beijing is “keeping ASEAN splintered” to “suit its strategy on the South China Sea.”

Stoking mistrust and unity?

The Chinese news agency says Western media are “stoking mistrust and enmity between China and its close neighbors” and fail to recognize that China “has a major stake in safeguarding peace and stability in the region.”

Xinhua says what is really blocking ASEAN unity is “the meddling of some Western countries that are betting on a divided Asia. They loathe to see Asia’s incredible economic vitality while their economies are waning, as is their influence in the world.”

“To see its neighbors at loggerheads with each other, undermining the political and economic power of the involved countries, would be the last thing that Beijing wants,” Xinhua says.

China and its neighbors in the region assert rival territorial claims over the South China Sea. Beijing’s claims are within the red lines, above..

The United States, for one, sees things differently. Asked if she agrees with China’s portrayal of what happened at the ASEAN summit in Phnom Penh, U.S. State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland says, “Absolutely not.”

“Our view of what happened is that the ASEAN countries themselves appreciate what a crucial issue it is for them individually and for them collectively to handle this dispute in the South China Sea in a manner that protects their larger security interests,” Nuland says, “that they came at it from different perspectives, and rather than whitewashing that problem and having a weak communiqué that didn’t say much, they chose to continue to talk about it.”

Xinhua’s denunciation of what it calls outside interference that is “doomed to failure” follows Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jeichi’s trip to Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei, during which he said ASEAN must not lose sight of its broader goals.

“We believe the peace, stability and development in East Asia is our common aspiration,” Yang says. “In the context of a complicated international situation, we need to maintain regional peace and stability, promote mutual trust, and boost economic growth.”

“I think it is the call and desire of the people of all countries in this region,” he says. “Therefore, I believe leaders across the region will follow the public demands and make their own efforts.”

Yang says ASEAN countries value their friendship with China as the bloc has become Beijing’s third-largest trading partner.

Justin Logan, the director of foreign policy studies at the U.S. Cato Institute, says Chinese contracts remain a lucrative incentive for ASEAN members, especially those without claims to the South China Sea.

“I think the chances for a code of conduct that meant something, at the outset, were low,” Logan says. “I think that what this might do is create a clearer distinction between ASEAN countries and their position on China.”


Divide and conquer

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, pictured here when she was U.S. representative to NATO, says multilateral talks are the best approach to addressing rival claims in the South China Sea. Photo: AP

Nuland says dividing ASEAN is not the solution.

“An effort to divide and conquer and end up with a competitive situation among the different claimants is not going to get where we need to go,” Nuland says. “If bilateral diplomacy can be supportive of an ultimate, multilateral framework, then that will be fine; but we don’t think that cutting deals with these countries individually is going to work, let alone be the expedient way or the best way under international law to get this done.”

But Xinhua says to accuse China of splitting countries over the South China Sea is “blatantly ignoring ASEAN’s commitment to cooperation. It also is seriously underestimating ASEAN members’ firm will to bar any foreign interference that would hamper peace and prosperity in one of the world’s most dynamic regions.”

China has become increasingly assertive in claiming nearly all of the 3.5 million-square-kilometer sea, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes and which is believed to hold vast energy deposits.

Xinhua says the South China Sea “which lies almost at the center of the regional map, should become a spot that ties the region together, not one that pulls it apart.”

“Any outside attempt to take advantage of minor differences of interests between each country would prove fruitless and could only draw derision from” ASEAN, it says.

During talks in Jakarta, Foreign Minister Yang meet with his Indonesian counterpart, Marty Natalegawa, who has emerged as a leading mediator over the South China Sea.

Natalegawa told reporters that “the issue was discussed principally in a private setting and so I have no wish, and no right, in a way, to provide the detail of my discussion. But what I can assure colleagues is that diplomacy is very much on track.”




Indonesia Working to Calm South China Sea

Posted August 3rd, 2012 at 7:23 pm (UTC+0)

Foreign Minister Natalegawa Out Front in Regional Mediation

Indonesia is distinguishing itself as a voice of moderation and mediation in the troubled waters of the South China Sea.

Even as the rival territorial claims over the sea was splitting the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Cambodia last month, Indonesia refused to quit acting as a mediator.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa meets with reporters at the ASEAN conference last month in Cambodia, where he acted as mediator between China and other conference nations over rival territorial claims to the South China Sea. Photo: AP

“The Indonesians have taken it upon themselves in a way that is a little unusual,” a senior U.S. official told reporters during the ASEAN meeting in Phnom Penh.

“Usually that process is always left to the chair. Indonesia is working very constructively behind the scenes to try to rally consensus,” the U.S. official said. “And Secretary (of State Hillary) Clinton, in her meeting with Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, thanked him for that and encouraged that process to continue.”

ASEAN’s failure to agree on a unified statement for the first time in its history was “utterly irresponsible,” Natalegawa said. But he quickly regrouped, hitting the diplomatic road to keep the association from fracturing even further.

He said says the impasse over the South China Sea is an exception.

“It is not the rule. And let’s keep it that way. Let’s keep it as an exception,” he says. “ASEAN continues to remain united, to be cohesive on all issues of common concern, not least, and especially on the issue of the South China Sea.”


Indonesia presses for regional solution

Across Southeast Asia, Natalegawa continues to push a regional framework to resolve rival claims over the 3.5-million-square kilometer sea.

“We do actually need a Code of Conduct for the South China Sea,” he says. “Some kind of rule-of-the-road type of regime so the potential for conflicts in the region can be managed and, even more, betters the potential for conflicts to be resolved so the countries of the region can continue to enjoy the peace dividend that all of us have enjoyed for many decades now.”

As Southeast Asia’s biggest nation, Indonesia’s neutrality is helping sooth some of the maritime tensions between China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Brunei.

“Indonesia certainly has an ambivalence about all of the developments that have taken place,” says Justin Logan, director of foreign policy studies at Washington’s Cato Institute policy research group. “They really are sort of at the fulcrum of this, trying to remain in the center, wherever the center may be. I imagine that will continue going forward. But their status, I think, has really risen as a result of their diplomacy.”

Logan says Indonesian mediation is especially important with the opening of China’s new Sansha City garrison on an island Beijing calls Yongxing but Hanoi claims as Woody Island.

“There have been many countries that have historically been clustered around the center of ASEAN,” Logan says. “I think there is now a sorting going on where there is a taking-sides process happening. Indonesia has remained the anchor in the center as other countries have more or less drifted away from that center.”

From rival claimants Vietnam and the Philippines to Chinese ally Cambodia, Indonesia is working to bridge those differences.

“You have claimant states that obviously have a deeper ambivalence about China’s growing naval power and about its diplomacy in the region, both economic and otherwise,” Logan says. “And then you have other countries that have benefited tremendously from their relationships with China and are increasingly not inclined to take hard stances diplomatically or otherwise against China.”


China claims almost all of the South China Sea as its own, see claim outlined in red, raising tensions with neighboring nations that have claims of their own.

Playing a weak hand

The longer ASEAN fails to resolve South China Sea claims, says Joshua Kurlantzick of U.S. Council on Foreign Relations, the more powerful countries such as Vietnam “are going to opt for other solutions.

“ASEAN has played a relatively weak hand relatively weakly,” Kurlantzick says. “They have, at the same time been able to pragmatically work with China on economic issues over the last 10 years and continue to move forward on regional integration while this dispute has gone on. That does say something about the pragmatism and the thoughtfulness and prioritization of ASEAN countries.”

Analyst Bonnie Glaser at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies says the South China Sea dispute is a major challenge to ASEAN unity, but adds that it might help the group evolve beyond its primarily economic focus.

“Maybe this is a maturation of ASEAN,” Glaser says. “Maybe it shouldn’t be portrayed as a weakening or a demonstration of disunity. Maybe this organization is now beginning to come into its own. So that’s positive.”







Burma Opens Up but Risks Remain

Posted August 2nd, 2012 at 7:30 pm (UTC+0)

 U.S. investors cautioned to take care

International economic sanctions have been eased and American businesses are leading the charge to set up shop in Burma. But the Obama administration wants the business leaders to consider more than just making money as a more open Burma risks exposing more of its population to human trafficking and exploitation.

Google, Coca-Cola, Ford, General Electric, Chevron, FedEx, Cargill, General Motors, and Goldman Sachs topped the largest-ever U.S. trade mission to Burma in recent days.

Meeting with business leaders in Cambodia ahead of their trip, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged them “to invest and to do it responsibly,” saying American firms should be agents of positive change, good corporate citizens and doing business transparently.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Burmese President Thein Sein line up for a photograph at the ASEAN conference in Cambodia July 13. Photo: AP

In Siem Reap, Clinton also met with Burmese President Thein Sein, who appeared far more relaxed than during their first face-to-face in December. U.S. officials say the former general was more animated and confident, speaking of the need for better telecommunications and stronger health care.


U.S. Burma relations more relaxed

“When the new government started to assume state responsibilities, many looked upon us with suspicion and uncertainties,” President Thein Sein told the business leaders. “With the passage of time and because of our transparency and genuine goodwill efforts, we have started to enjoy the support of many nations.”

Nick Baird, the British foreign investment chief, says that support can help keep Burma on the right track. “It’s not just economic,” he says. “Working together in an open and transparent and responsible business way will actually help the stability of this country.”

Even under the looser U.S. sanctions, firms investing more than $500,000 are required to detail their human rights and anti-corruption policies. American energy firms working with state-owned Myanmar Oil and Gas have to notify Washington of those investments within 60 days.


Child exploitation is a challenge

One of the biggest challenges in a country where more than 30 percent of people live in poverty is child exploitation, especially with Burma’s startling pace of change.

“If government opens up as it said democratically, then obviously it opens up for everything,” says UNICEF country representative Ramesh Shrestha. “That would mean the existing tight control of the situation might be loosened up. That would mean people would do what they want to do. This could be legal or illegal, all these things could happen. There are many risks.”

Child exploitation has been a problem in Burma over the years. This boy was photographed carrying sand to a construction site in Rangoon. Photo: AP

The U.S. State Department report on human trafficking says thousands of children have been forced into commercial sex, militias, or labor both in Burma and in neighboring countries. But it also says President Thein Sein’s government is making progress.

“You have your ups and you have your downs,” says Jesse Eaves, senior policy advisor for child protection at the aid group, World Vision. “I think what’s important is what positive steps are being made. We’ve seen countries like Burma starting to really take a look at what is happening in its own borders, what is happening to their citizens and trying to take the proper response to it.”

World Vision is raising awareness about human trafficking and child exploitation in Burma by working with survivors to speak out.

“It’s amazing the change that you can see just by addressing the issue, by bringing it out in the open and shining a light on it,” Eaves says. “I think the biggest problem we see is that most people don’t know what it is that they’re looking at. They may just think ‘This is normal. This is what we’ve always done.’ But then once you shine a light on it and say, ‘Actually, this is exploitation. This is slavery,’ it takes on a very different light.”

The new U.S. ambassador to Burma, Derek Mitchell, says “the key is to keep moving in the right direction and move step by step: transparency, accountability, openness, and then having partners, inside the country but also outside the country, to work together to try to get to the right place.”





Challenging Beijing in the South China Sea

Posted July 31st, 2012 at 7:49 pm (UTC+0)

Hanoi and Manila Take Different Approaches

Vietnam and the Philippines are both angry at what they see as Chinese bullying in the South China Sea, but Hanoi and Manila are taking different approaches to the standoff over rival maritime claims.

Vietnam is strengthening military ties with the United States, India, Singapore, Japan, Australia, and Russia, building what Joshua Kurlantzick of the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations calls a “web of ad hoc bilateral relationships to shore up their security.”

With Vice Admiral Viktor Chirkov in talks to return Russia’s navy to Cam Ranh Bay, Kurlantzick says Hanoi is sending a clear signal to Beijing that it is not alone in the South China Sea.

Philippines President Benigno Aquino III tells lawmakers July 25 that Manila will stand firm against Chinese territorial claims on the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. Photo: AP

“It speaks to Vietnam’s utilization of many different partners in order to back itself up,” says Kurlantzick, a Southeast Asia specialist. “Vietnam is in a stronger position that the Philippines simply because for years the Armed Forces of Philippines basically did nothing to upgrade its navy.”

Filipino President Benigno Aquino III is trying to catch up, placing an order for more attack helicopters after China opened a new base in the Paracel Islands to patrol waters claimed by both Vietnam and the Philippines.

Now, more powerful countries such as Vietnam are looking to other solutions after China managed to stymie an attempt to address the maritime claims through the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). But weaker nations such as the Philippines are trying to broaden the mediation effort by taking the dispute to the United Nations.


ASEAN or the United Nations

That move has little support in Washington, says Bonnie Glaser, a senior fellow on China studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). She says the Obama administration is pushing instead for direct code-of-conduct talks between China and ASEAN.

“The United States doesn’t view this as a U.S./China issue,” Glaser says. “Taking it to the U.N. would make it seem like a U.S./China issue because none of the other permanent Security Council members really have any stake in this issue at all.”

“The Philippines is throwing everything at the wall because they are in the weakest position and they want to see what sticks,” Kurlantzick says. “You have senior Philippine national security officials coming repeatedly to the U.S. and asking for certain types of upgrades. You have them sort of trying to maneuver the U.S. into confirming that because of our relationship with them in the past, the South China Sea would come under that” Mutual Defense Treaty.

Though weaker militarily, Kurlantzick says the Philippines has a more open and democratic political system than Vietnam and is less susceptible to public anger over Chinese aggression.

“Certainly President Aquino has taken some strong steps, and he is not going to back down on certain issues. But at the same time, it’s a much more mature political system,” Kurlantzick says. “So I think public pressure works a number of different ways, and the government is less straightjacketed by nationalistic tendencies because its legitimacy can rest on a number of different foundations.”

Demonstrators march through Hanoi July 22 protesting China’s claims on South China Sea territory also claimed by Vietnam. Photo: Reuters

With regular, carefully-guided Sunday protests against China in both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, the Vietnamese government is trying to stay ahead of public opinion at a time when Glaser says nationalist sentiments are running high in Vietnam, the Philippines, and China.

“This has certainly become imbued with a sense of, ‘These are our rights.’ It has become a very sensitive issue,” Glaser says. “On the blogosphere all over China, Chinese citizens, netizens, are calling for their government to defend their interests. And I do believe that the Chinese leadership is very wary of being seen as too soft and not protecting Chinese sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

This is especially so as Washington makes its “Asia Pivot” in military strategy, repositioning Marines and aircraft carrier task forces in the Pacific.

China is pressing huge territorial claims, outlined in red, in the South China Sea region. The Philippines, Vietnam and others are also making claims.


Washington’s ‘Asia Pivot’

“Countries are worried about U.S. staying power, about whether or not there will be a counter-weight to China,” Glaser says. “We are trying to say, ‘Yes. We will be there to ensure peace and security in the region.’ It’s problematic because we don’t want to embolden other countries to engage in a confrontation with China.”

To the extent that they do, Glaser says that would be an unintended consequence of the Asia Pivot.

“Perhaps some of the actions taken by the Philippines might not have been taken if this series of events had taken place at a time when the United States was not seeking to refocus on Asia.

“When we are asked by President Aquino to say something more forcefully about how we will defend the Philippines if it is attacked, this puts the U.S. in a very difficult position,” the CSIS regional expert says. “We don’t want to leave the Philippines in a weak position. But at the same time we don’t want to tell the Philippines, ‘We’ve got your back.'”






Is China Overplaying Its Hand in the South China Sea?

Posted July 27th, 2012 at 7:40 pm (UTC+0)

China is setting up shop on a tiny island in the South China Sea, deploying troops and civilian administrators in a move that is raising tensions in the region and seriously annoying Vietnam and the Philippines.

The move comes on the heels of a conference of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) earlier this month that couldn’t agree on a Code of Conduct to deal with conflicting territorial claims on islands in the region.

China’s new military garrison is on a 2.5 square kilometer patch of land it calls Yongxing in the Paracel Islands chain. According to Ziao Jie, China’s newly appointed mayor of the island’s capital region, Sansha City, the new settlement is meant to “safeguard national sovereignty and security, to strengthen the protection of resources and overall development in the South China Sea.”

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III doesn’t like that at all. He doesn’t recognize Sansha’s founding and has announced plans to buy attack helicopters.

“If someone enters your yard and told you he owns it, will you allow that?” President Aquino asked the Philippines parliament.

China claims a big back yard in the South China Sea. Neighboring nations stake their own claims. Sources: EIA, Middlebury College, National Geographic, CIA Factbook

Vietnam is equally annoyed. Officials in Hanoi rolled out what they say is a 1904 Qing Dynasty map that makes no claims to sovereignty over the Paracels or the Spratley Islands to the south.

“The Vietnamese are a special race,” museum historian Mai Ngoc Hong told reporters. “We are like a hard constrained spring. Use force on it and it will coil, and watch out when it does.”

Vietnam and the Philippines are the loudest opponents of the new Chinese settlement because Beijing’s Marine Surveillance forces use the island to patrol waters Hanoi and Manila claim as their own.


ASEAN’s diplomatic balance

But what about other ASEAN members, especially those whose economies benefit from hefty Chinese investments?

At the Washington-based Cato Institute, Foreign Policy Studies director Justin Logan says China’s new Sansha settlement could change the diplomatic equation in ASEAN. According to Logan, making territorial pronouncements is one thing; deploying troops and civilian administrators is something entirely different.

“I think that China may be overplaying its hand here,” Logan says. “There are certain countries, obviously Cambodia, and other countries in the region and in ASEAN that have been more or less willing, for a variety of different reasons, to be supportive of China in this context.”

“And I think that this could really put pressure on them to say: ‘Look, we can’t back you up on this. Maybe we will just sort of sit this out or we won’t make a statement on it at all.’ But the idea that they are going to have a diplomatic coalition of the willing saying that this is alright I think becomes really tough to do.”

Cambodia helped scuttle regional unanimity over a Code of Conduct at the ASEAN foreign ministerial in Phnom Penh, contributing to what the International Crisis Group calls a weakness of the multilateral framework that “has also proven ineffective in reducing tensions.”

“Divisions between member states, stemming from different perspectives on the South China Sea and differences in the value each member places on their relations with China, have prevented ASEAN from coming to a consensus on the issue,” the ICG says. “China has worked actively to exploit these divisions, offering preferential treatment to ASEAN members that do not side with its rival claimants.”

But Cambodia sees things differently, insisting that it remains an honest broker.

“Cambodia doesn’t take sides,” Foreign Minister Hor Namhong told VOA’s Say Mony. “Cambodia is the Chair of ASEAN, and we have to make sure that situation remains calm, not to add fuel to fire.”


Washington’s role

Stanford University’s Don Emmerson says the breadth of China’s claim over nearly all of the 3.5-million-square-kilometer sea appears increasingly designed to reduce the role of the U.S. Navy as part of the Obama administration’s “Asia Pivot.”

“One would even suggest that those within the People’s Liberation Army who are among the most vehement nationalists on this issue would like to see the South China Sea actually become a Chinese lake,” Emmerson says.

Cato’s Justin Logan believes Washington is going “a little bit too far into making this a U.S. vs. China competition in the South China Sea.”

“If the United States had a somewhat more distant posture and wasn’t always rushing to assure its friends and allies in the region that we would be on the hook to ensure freedom of navigation,” Logan says, “other countries in the region would be, in fact, more alarmed about China’s behavior.”

“But the idea that they see the United States at the forefront of this effort to constrain China’s ambition in the South China Sea allows them to stand back a little bit and play one side off the other.”



China’s Big Win

Posted July 18th, 2012 at 7:49 pm (UTC+0)

  Maneuverings at ASEAN over South China Sea Dispute Leaves Hard Feelings

China scored a diplomatic win this past week when foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations failed to agree on a unified approach to the territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

But Beijing’s win wasn’t unqualified. The fervor of the debate at the ASEAN meeting in Cambodia showed that some nations with rival claims in the region, most notably Vietnam, don’t intend to let China push them around.

Chinese officials seemed confident all along that they could dodge any tough action by ASEAN on a code of conduct in addressing the rival claims over the South China Sea. Maybe that was because they had the summit host, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, backing their strategy to keep the dispute out of the regional forum.

“We believe the South China Sea issue is not an issue between China and the ASEAN,” said the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Liu Weimin. “It is an issue between China and certain ASEAN members.”

ASEAN, Liu continued, is “an important platform for relevant countries to enhance mutual trust and cooperation. It is not a proper place to discuss the South China Sea.”

Code of Conduct Blocked

With that, China’s conference ally, Cambodia, successfully blocked any consensus on a code of conduct for the maritime dispute — despite mediation by Indonesia and Singapore, and despite concessions from Vietnam and the Philippines. Indonesia’s foreign minister, Marty Natalegawa, called the outcome “utterly irresponsible,” saying “ASEAN should be seen to be acting as one. I find it perplexing, and to be candid and honest, really, really disappointing.”

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi during their meeting on the sidelines of the recent ASEAN regional forum. Photo: AP

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton agrees that, wherever possible, territorial disputes are best resolved directly between claimants. But at the meeting in Cambodia, she said broader questions about national conduct in disputed regions need to be addressed in multilateral settings — such as ASEAN — “because approaching them strictly bilaterally could be a recipe for confusion and even confrontation,” Clinton said.

“We believe the nations of the region should work collaboratively and diplomatically to resolve disputes without coercion, without intimidation, without threats, and certainly without the use of force,” she told reporters in Phnom Penh. “No nation can fail to be concerned by the increase in tensions, the uptick in confrontational rhetoric.”

What Clinton calls “worrisome instances of economic coercion and the problematic use of military and government vessels” include April’s stand-off between Chinese and Filipino ships in the disputed Scarborough Shoal area as well as more frequent patrols by the China Marine Surveillance fleet.

China’s Claims

Beijing’s territorial claims in the region stretch hundreds of kilometers south from Hainan island. According to Beijing, the claims are based on what it says are more than 2,000 years of history in the Paracel and Spratly island chains. Vietnam is equally determined in pressing its claims, saying it has overseen those island chains since the 17th Century, dismissing Chinese claims as less than 100 years old.

Last year, both countries launched rival live-fire exercises when a Chinese fishing boat severed the exploration cables of a Vietnamese ship.

Then last month, Vietnam’s National Assembly passed a law claiming sovereignty over both island chains. Beijing answered that with an offer to lease new oil-exploration blocks inside Vietnam’s 200-mile exclusive economic zone. Malaysia also has claims on some of the Spratlys. And other parts of 3.5 million square kilometer South China Sea are claimed by Brunei and Taiwan.

One of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, the South China Sea is also thought to be rich in oil and gas. Estimates by the U.S. Energy Information Administration put natural gas reserves at more than 25 trillion cubic meters. The agency cites Chinese estimates of more than 200 billion barrels of crude oil, but U.S. projections are closer to 30 billion barrels.

That’s enough to focus the attention of any nation, especially one like China, whose growing appetite for natural resources has it reaching out to Africa and South America for supplies. But the presence of such mineral riches so close to home is making it difficult for Beijing to coordinate as many as 11 ministry-level agencies, local governments, and private sector interests in the South China Sea.

“Some agencies are acting assertively to compete for a slice of the budget pie, while others such as local governments are focused on economic growth, leading them to expand their activities into disputed waters”, says Stephanie Kleine-Ahlbrandt, the North East Asia Project director for the International Crisis Group.

“Their motivations are domestic in nature, but the impact of their actions is increasingly international.”

Long-Suffering Cubs Fan, Clinton Sees Diplomatic Parallels

Posted July 10th, 2012 at 2:12 pm (UTC+0)
1 comment


Then U.S. First Lady Hillary Clinton throws out the first pitch of the Chicago Cubs’ 1994 baseball season. To her left is then Illinois Governor Jim Edgar. The Cubs went on to lose that game against the New York Mets. Photo: AP

The Chicago Cubs of Major League Baseball’s National League are one of the world’s oldest and most unfortunate sports teams.

Born the Chicago White Stockings in 1870, they were back-to-back American baseball champions in 1907 and 1908. But they haven’t won the championship since. They haven’t even been to the World Series since 1945.

To be a Cubs fan, you have to be ready for never-ending melancholy, for suffering, for putting on a hair shirt replica of a baseball jersey and heading out to see a team that has come to be known to many as the “lovable losers.”

One of those long-suffering fans is U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a Chicago area native.


The Diplomacy of Baseball

During this past weekend’s surprise visit to Kabul, Clinton commiserated with the outgoing U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, Ryan Crocker, comparing the sometimes thankless machinations of diplomatic service to waiting more than 100 years for another championship baseball team.

“Like me, he is a long-suffering Chicago Cubs fan,” Clinton told the Kabul embassy staff, recalling the game she and Crocker attended during May’s NATO summit in Chicago when the Afghan commander, Marine General John Allen, threw out the first pitch.

“He and I sat through yet another loss at Wrigley Field, along with General Allen. We tried to put a good face on it. But I think if you are masochistic enough to be a Cubs fan, you are drawn to assignments like this, and what I do every day,” she said.

One of the most-traveled diplomats in U.S. history, Clinton has been to more than 100 countries as secretary of state. So there is less time for baseball, especially with the White House now focused on re-electing President Barack Obama, a vocal fan of the Cubs’ hated cross-town rival, the Chicago White Sox.

As America’s First Lady, Clinton threw out the first pitch at Wrigley Field on opening day of the 1994 season. It was a promising start to the season, with leadoff Cubs hitter Tuffy Rhodes touching Mets ace Dwight Gooden for three home runs. Even so, the Cubs went on to lose the game. And Rhodes hit just five more homers the rest of the year. The Cubs finished last in their division that season, 16 and a half games out of first place.


The Politics of Baseball

Clinton’s Cubs loyalties came under question in 1999 when, preparing to run for a U.S. Senate seat from the state of New York, she told a TV interviewer that she also rooted for an American League team – from New York. “so as a young girl, I became very interested and enamored of the Yankees,” she said.

And running for president in 2007, she tried to split the difference in a debate question about her baseball loyalties.  Who she would cheer in a fictional Cubs-Yankees World Series, she was asked. “I guess I would have to alternate,” she answered.

That didn’t sit well with some Cubs fans, who accused Clinton of pandering and duplicity to win New York votes.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton points to her Chicago Cubs cap to emphasize her loyalty to her hometown baseball team recently as her husband, former President Bill Clinton, laughs beside her. Photo: AP

But it turns out Clinton may have been telling the truth after all. Her 2003 autobiography includes a photo of her wearing a Yankees cap long before moving to New York. She remembers dressing up like Yankees great Mickey Mantle for Halloween when she was seven years old.

With the Yankees’ record 27 championships and 40 American League pennants, Clinton could not have chosen a team more unlike the Cubs.

At least she didn’t choose New York’s other baseball team, the Mets, whose blistering finish to the 1969 National League season shattered the Cubs seemingly insurmountable mid-August lead.

That season’s collapse was typical for the Cubs. During one game, a black cat ran onto the field, creating yet another of the Cubs’ famous curses — the best known of which was an incident in 1945 that came to be known as “The Curse of the Billy Goat.”

Clinton takes it all in strike, concluding that being a Cubs fan was good training for her current job as the U.S. secretary of state.

”I’m so glad I learned to play hard ball when I was a little girl,” she once told a group of former baseball players. “I remember talking with my dad in those days, worrying about the Cubs in the same way you’d discuss an errant child.”

”Being a Cubs fan prepares you for life, and for Washington, which is part of, but not totally synonymous with life.”






Some Somalis Fight Slavery Despite Failed State

Posted June 21st, 2012 at 7:17 pm (UTC+0)
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Mogadishu: The capital of war-torn Somalia. Photo: AP

Prosecution of Traffickers in Puntland Draws Praise

Failure is no stranger in Somalia. From warlords Ali Mahdi Mohamed and Mohamed Farrah Aidid to the Islamist militant group al-Shabaab, a generation of chaos followed the 1991 ouster of Major General Mohamed Siad Barre.

Despite the sacrifices of African Union peacekeepers backing a Transitional Federal Government, Somalia today leads the Fund for Peace’s Failed State Index for a fifth straight year based on the organization’s analyses of political, economic, and social pressures on 178 nations.

Somalia’s unrivaled failure results from what this year’s report calls “widespread lawlessness, ineffective government, terrorism, insurgency, crime, and well-publicized pirate attacks against foreign vessels.” An unenviable ranking to be sure, but at least it is a ranking. Somalia is too often the blank line across human development tables because sufficient information is perennially “not available.”

Al-Shabaab militants. Photo Reuters

Children Forcibly Recruited by al-Shababb


This year’s U.S. State Department Trafficking in Persons report looks at slavery in 186 countries and ranks 185 of them, with Somalia again the lone exception — a “special case” for the tenth consecutive year “due to the lack of a viable central government.” The report says al-Shabaab continues to forcibly recruit young girls who are then “married” to militia leaders and used for sexual servitude, logistical support, and intelligence gathering. It says al-Shabaab uses “systematic force and deception to target vulnerable children, sometimes as young as eight years old,” threatening teachers and parents who refuse to send children for training in roadside bombs and assassination.

But human trafficking is not entirely invisible within this failed state. In April, courts in the self-declared republic of Puntland sentenced a Somali man to 12 years in prison for trying to traffic nine children between the ages of seven and 14 from southern Somalia to Yemen through Puntland. The court transferred custody of the children to a local, UNICEF-funded NGO until their parents could be identified.

Praise for Puntland

“Even in Somalia, there are heroes of the anti-trafficking fight,” says the director of the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, Luis CdeBaca. He says the Puntland prosecution shows that “even in countries where there is not a functioning government, the legal system and others can work together to bring traffickers to justice.”

Officials in the semi-autonomous region continue to boost Puntland’s Marine Police Force patrols to combat piracy and the trafficking of Somali and Ethiopians across the Gulf of Aden to Yemen through Qaw, Mareero, and Elayo.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton holds up a copy of the 2012 Trafficking in Persons Report. Photo: AP

The State Department report says Puntland and the semi-autonomous Somaliland established a referral process for the transfer of trafficking victims to NGOs while immigration officials began using a screening checklist developed by the International Organization for Migration to help identify trafficking cases. Also, clan elders have started referring suspected trafficking victims to IOM workers. Over the past year, IOM and local partners have provided housing, medical and psychological assistance, food, clothes, vocational training, and seed money for starting small businesses to 27 victims of trafficking in Puntland and Somaliland.

Clinton Issues a Challenge

Unveiling the Human Trafficking report, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called it a useful and specific guide for governments looking to scale up their own efforts at prevention, prosecution, and protection.

“What kind of psychological support might a victim need? How should immigration laws work to protect migrant victims? How can labor inspectors learn to recognize the warning signs of traffickers? And what can you and all of us do to try to help?” Clinton says. “One person’s commitment and passion, one person’s experience and the courage to share that experience with the world can have a huge impact.”




Clinton in 2016?

Posted June 8th, 2012 at 4:06 pm (UTC+0)



Hillary Clinton with President Barack Obama: Is she looking at the top job in 2016? Photo: AP

Her supporters hold out hope for a presidential run

Hillary Clinton can’t escape the talk of another run for the White House in 2016. At home or abroad, she is asked about her political future almost as often as she is asked about Syria or Iran.

Announcing that she will not serve a second term at the State Department should President Obama win re-election has only inflamed the speculation about Clinton 2016.

The timing certainly works. Stepping down in 2013 after a well-regarded tour as the top U.S. diplomat would give Clinton at least a year to rest up for the punishing travel and fundraising of another presidential run. And she would be free to campaign for congressional Democrats much as she did before the 2008 primaries.

Publicly, Clinton displays a singular disinterest. She told Harper’s Bazaar magazine that her plans for 2016 are “beaches and speeches.” On CNN, she said another race would be “like saying if the Olympic Committee called you up and said are you ready to run the marathon would you accept? Well, it is not going to happen.”

That has done little to dampen enthusiasm among Clinton supporters, even overseas.

On this past week’s trip to Europe, Clinton said again she is looking forward to pursuing other interests, having felt “incredibly privileged that I served at a time with so much change.”

In a Copenhagen youth appearance hosted by Danish TV2’s Johannes Langkilde, Clinton said the chapter has yet to be written about where all this change will lead.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton makes a point while testifying before Congress May 23. Photo: AP

“But I also think that, for me, I’ve been at the highest levels of American political life for twenty years, and I would like to be able to just take a long walk,” she said. “I’d like to be able to just travel without having a lot of official meetings associated with it. I’m just looking forward to exhaling and seeing what else lies ahead.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is the latest high-profile “Friend of Hillary” to predict a 2016 campaign, telling the San Francisco Chronicle that “she’s our shot” for America’s first female president.

“Why wouldn’t she run?” Pelosi said. “She’s a magnificent Secretary of State.”

Asked in Copenhagen if having women at the highest levels of foreign policy affects the outcome, Clinton seemed to say it does.

“Most of the time, I’m the only woman at the negotiating table,” she said. “When I work with other high-level women in international affairs, like the High Representative of the European Union, Cathy Ashton, there’s a shorthand, in a way, as to what we’re trying to achieve and how we can perhaps work together to do that.”

She believes that women as heads of government “not always, but generally will be more responsive to a lot of the human needs.” As an example, she cited Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s election “because the market women in the country, Christian and Muslim alike, said enough of war and literally forced the men to the negotiating table.”

“Or when there was a recent negotiation over how to end the long conflict in Darfur,” Clinton said. “The men in the room spent days arguing over who would get territory around a certain river. And a woman outside the door said, ‘That river’s been dry for years.’ Because it wasn’t men that went looking for water, it was women.”

Hillary Clinton, here with then-President Bill Clinton in April, 1998 at the White House. Photo: AP

Double Standard?

She says there is a clear double standard for women in the public eye trying to balance family and career.

“How can you have a life and make a living?  How can you have relationships?  How can you have children and be active in whatever you choose?  And it just takes a lot of focus and a decision that you’re going to live your life in a way that meets your aspirations to the best of your ability. And then life happens.”

Part of that life was eight years living in the White House as First Lady to President Bill Clinton. She says he took a leap of faith marrying Bill Clinton “and I think it worked out pretty well, but it has been because of choices I made. I tried to be the lead actor, if you will, in my own life and not to be a bit player and not to let things happen to me, but to try to decide how I was going to respond to whatever happened. You just keep moving forward every single day.”

As for the days when her time as secretary of state is done, Clinton says she will do philanthropic work for women and children. She admits, however, there is no telling what else lies ahead.

“Do some writing; do some speaking. I’m looking forward to it,” she says. “And who knows what I’ll end up doing, but I’m excited for the possibilities.”

Scott Stearns

Scott Stearns

Scott Stearns is VOA’s State Department correspondent. He has worked as VOA’s Dakar Bureau Chief, White House correspondent, and Nairobi Bureau Chief since beginning his career as a freelance reporter in the Liberian civil war. He has written for the BBC, UPI, the Associated Press, The Jerusalem Post, and The Economist. Scott has a Bachelors and Masters in Journalism from Northwestern University.



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