Saturday, March 14, 2009

Too close for comfort?

Taiwan debates cross-strait trade pact

Jonathan Adams, Global Post, March 6, 2009

TAIPEI — To integrate, or not to integrate?

That's the question these days in Taiwan, where debate rages over a proposed economic pact with political rival China.

The two sides are already joined at the hip, economically speaking, with Taiwanese firms invested in China to the tune of $150 billion, by some estimates. But many barriers still remain, such as a 6.5 percent tariff on Taiwanese plastics, nearly 70 percent of which are exported to China.

Taiwan's China-friendly president Ma Ying-jeou wants to scrap as many of those tariffs as possible. So he has proposed a broad cross-strait economic deal to do just that. It's backed by many business leaders, who say the island will be marginalized unless it integrates more closely with the economic giant next door.

But when it comes to Taiwan-Chinese relations, nothing is easy. The island's pro-independence opposition objects to both the substance and process of Ma's proposed pact.

On substance, they say integrating with China isn't the right cure for Taiwan's economic ills. And they warn that such a pact would play into China's strategy for absorbing the island, in which free trade paves the way for political union.

"Their worry is that Taiwan could become a kind of economic colony of China," explained Liao Da-chi, a political scientist at National Sun Yat-sen University in Kaohsiung.

On process, the opposition says Ma is doing an end-run around the island's democratic institutions by unilaterally making China policy. Even the legislative speaker — who is from Ma's own party — has spoken out, saying there should be a legislative review of any economic agreement.

The debate is taking place against the backdrop of a miserable economic climate, as Taiwan and other Asian export-dependent economies get slammed by falling demand for their products in the U.S. and other foreign markets.

Ma has tried to calm fears about the political significance of a trade deal, insisting he would not sign away Taiwan's sovereignty. In a recent interview with the pro-independence Taipei Times, he defended his proposal, chiding skeptical journalists for "lacking confidence" about Taiwan's strategic position.

Still, under pressure from opposition critics, he's renamed his proposed pact, from the former Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA), to the more vague Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA).

One reason, say observers: "CECA" sounds too much like "CEPA" — the type of economic pact signed between Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland after the territory reverted to Beijing's control in 1997.

Most Taiwanese, and especially the pro-independence party, reject any parallels with Hong Kong, insisting that Taiwan is an independent state. The island is hypersensitive to any terminology that suggests belittlement.

"There's concern about whether the title downgrades Taiwan's national dignity," said Liao. "But the main problem is the contents. The government hasn't been clear about what it wants to include in an agreement."

Sensing Ma's retreat, opposition legislators hammered his premier Liu Chao-shiuan in questioning this week. They pressed him to clarify the confusing acronyms, and reminded him (actually, screamed at him) about Ma's promises to fix the economy.

In his campaign a year ago, Ma offered a "633" plan, promising 6 percent GDP growth, $30,000 per capita income by 2016, and an unemployment rate under 3 percent.

The government now forecasts GDP to contract nearly 3 percent in 2009, with a corresponding drop in per capita income (from last year's $17,600). And the latest unemployment rate, for January, rose to 5.3 percent, with record numbers now seeking unemployment benefits.

Since Ma took office in May last year, the two sides have resumed negotiations, reaching agreement on cross-strait air and shipping links and tourism. But whatever economic benefit those deals brought has been erased by the global downturn.

The next round of talks is scheduled for the first half of this year in China, but no date has yet been set. Topping the agenda are deals on banking and finance, as well as crime-fighting cooperation.

With its own economy struggling China, meanwhile, is all too eager to sign a broader economic pact. In a speech March 5, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao called for more cross-strait economic cooperation, and even floated the possibility of a peace deal.

Chu Shulong, a political scientist at Tsinghua University in Beijing, said that China is eager to move the agenda from economic to political issues.

"By the summer, there will be basic resolution of all major economic and social issues," said Chu. "Then, if the two sides want to continue, they'll have to move to political issues. But political talks won't be as easy, because they will touch on fundamental issues for both sides."

With even an economic deal provoking heated protests in Taiwan, a political breakthrough looks like a pipe dream for now.

Original site

Bashir defies court

Sudan's President Bashir defies warrant, expels aid groups

Aid agencies warn of a humanitarian disaster as Omar al-Bashir calls the arrest warrant a "conspiracy."

By Jonathan Adams
Christian Science Monitor
Terrorism and Security Update
March 5, 2009

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir struck a defiant note Thursday in his first public remarks since the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for him Wednesday. His government ordered 13 aid agencies to leave the country.

That reaction ratchets up the confrontation between Sudan and the ICC, and has already stirred fears of a humanitarian disaster.

Mr. Bashir faces five counts of crimes against humanity and two counts of war crimes for atrocities in Darfur (see a map of the region here.) He's the first sitting president to be so charged. (See a StudioBendib political cartoon on Bashir's indictment here.)

CNN and other media reported that Bashir danced and smiled Thursday in Khartoum, in an appearance before large crowds that gathered for a second day of protests against the arrest warrant.

The crowd was filled with posters and banners featuring al-Bashir's face or the flag of Sudan. The one banner written in English read, "We are all with al-Bashir."

Al-Bashir gave a fervent speech to the crowd, denouncing the United States, its Western allies and Israel. At one point, the crowd repeated in English, "Down, down, USA!"

Music before and after the speech got everyone moving, including the president, who smiled broadly and raised his walking stick in the air. A camouflaged helicopter swooped over the crowd.

Angry crowds gathered in north Darfur and Khartoum to protest the arrest warrant just hours after it was issued, according to The Christian Science Monitor.

The Associated Press reports that Bashir said the warrant was part of a conspiracy meant to destabilize Sudan and derail Darfur peace talks.

... al-Bashir told a Cabinet meeting that the court, the United Nations and international organizations operating in Sudan were "tools of the new colonialism" meant to bring Sudan and its resources under control.

"This is an attempt to get at Sudan," he said.... "We in Sudan have always been a target of the U.N. and these organizations because we have said, 'No,' " al-Bashir said. "We said the resources of Sudan should go to the people of Sudan."

Reuters reports that Sudan has ordered 13 humanitarian aid agencies expelled from the country since the ICC announced the arrest warrant, and that Sudanese authorities have already begun removing computers and other assets from the groups' offices.

The Associated Press reported that the aid agencies on Thursday began preparations for leaving the country. The groups include Oxfam, CARE, and Save the Children.

Aid workers warned that the expulsion order could spark a humanitarian crisis for up to 2 million people in Darfur who are directly served by the 10 agencies, receiving food, shelter and medical supplies.

At least 2.7 million people in the large, arid region of western Sudan have been driven from their homes in the war between Darfur rebels and the government since 2003 – and many more depend on international aid to survive.

The Christian Science Monitor reports that the warrant could spark unrest in Sudan.

The indictment comes at a time of great political instability in Sudan.

Darfur rebels are expanding their operations into neighboring states as the country prepares for crucial national elections this year. And relations between the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum and the semiautonomous southern portion of Sudan are coming under increasing strain.

Meanwhile, Agence France-Presse reports that the African Union (AU) had gone into an emergency meeting over the arrest warrant for Bashir, which the union says "will hurt an faltering peace process in the troubled country."

The bloc's Peace and Security Council members began the closed door meeting at its Addis Ababa headquarters a day after the International Criminal Court issued the warrants.

The meeting was aimed at "mobilizing support for the AU's position and to ensure the hard-won but fragile gains made thus far in the quest for lasting peace ... in Sudan are not reversed," a statement said.

Regional and global reaction to the warrant against Bashir continued Thursday. The United States backed the court's decision in comments from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Thursday, according to Reuters.

"President Bashir would have a chance to have his day in court if he believes that the indictment is wrongly charged. He can certainly contest it," said Clinton....

The top U.S. diplomat said the ICC had issued its indictment based on a very long investigation and the case was now in the judicial system "properly so"....

"Governments and individuals who either conduct or condone atrocities of any kind, as we have seen year after year in Sudan, have to be held accountable," she said.

China called on the ICC Thursday to halt its case against the accused war criminal "for the time being," according to Al Jazeera.

"China expresses its regret and worry over the arrest warrant for the Sudan president issued by the International Criminal Court," Qin Gang, the foreign ministry spokesman, said in a statement on the ministry's website on Thursday....

China buys the majority of Sudan's oil and is one of the African nation's most important trading partners.

Agence France-Presse reported that South Africa expressed "regret" over the decision, and said the warrant would have a negative impact on peace talks. But one prominent South African disagreed.

South African Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu earlier this week called on the continent's leaders to support the arrest bid, saying it was "shameful" that so many had rallied around the Sudanese leader.

Original site

Is Abu Sayyaf back?

Philippine military closes in on hostage-takers

A spate of kidnappings by Abu Sayyaf raises concerns that the Islamist militants are regrouping under new leadership

By Jonathan Adams
Christian Science Monitor
Security and Terrorism update
February 23, 2009

• A summary of global reports on an issue in terrorism and security.

The Philippines military said over the weekend that it has cornered a militant group that has held three Red Cross workers hostage in the jungle for more than a month.

Just a few years ago, the Islamist militant group Abu Sayyaf was thought to be a spent force, after they were targeted in a successful US-backed military campaign. But a spate of kidnappings in recent months has fueled concerns that the militants have regrouped under new leadership.

In the latest incident, a Sri Lankan peace activist was abducted on Feb. 13, one of 10 hostages now in Abu Sayyaf's hands.

The three aid workers were kidnapped Jan. 15 on the island of Jolo, part of an island chain in the Philippines' deep south that's long been a hotbed for Islamic militancy. (Click here to see a map of the region.)

Agence France-Presse reports that the military has trapped Abu Sayyaf kidnappers and their Red Cross captives in a 1.5-square-mile area of jungle, and is weighing its next move.

"We have a range of options from the most benign to the most violent – that is the final military option," [Military chief Gen. Alexander] Yano told reporters.

"We are dealing here with lives and one of our main objectives is really to safely recover the hostages alive."

Swiss national Andreas Notter, Italian Eugenio Vagni, and Filipina Mary Jean Lacaba were abducted by gunmen while returning from inspecting a water and sanitation project at a prison in Jolo.

The Mindanao Examiner reported that Abu Sayyaf wants to swap its three Red Cross hostages for some of its 135 members now jailed in metro Manila.

The Abu Sayyaf has demanded the pull out of troops in Indanan before it can negotiate with the government.

Gov. Sakur Tan of Sulu province, who heads the task force working for the safe release of the hostages, rejected the kidnappers' demand and called on the Abu Sayyaf to free their captives unharmed. Tan said the government will not pay ransom to the kidnappers.

In a separate operation, the military also announced it had isolated an area on the restive island of Basilan where Abu Sayyaf kidnappedwas holding three public school teachers who were kidnapped on Feb. 7, according to the Business Mirror.

"They [Abu Sayyaf members] were just circling around their base camp as we have already surrounded them. However, we could not just hit and hit them because we might endanger the victims," [Commodore Alex] Pama said....

Pama said the spate of kidnappings in Sulu and Basilan have stretched out military forces in Western Mindanao.

An Associated Press report cited a confidential government report as saying that Abu Sayyaf had raised $1.5 million in ransom last year, and had grown slightly in numbers, to 400.

The rebirth of Abu Sayyaf raises renewed fears of terrorism. So far Abu Sayyaf has focused on raising money through kidnappings, but it is likely to pursue high-profile assaults to reassert its stature as a terror group, the report noted. Abu Sayyaf has also allowed foreign militants, mostly members of the regional terror group Jemaah Islamiyah, to make the region their home.

"As long as they are there, they can provide safe haven for Jemaah Islamiyah where they can train the next generation of bombers and terrorists. That's why they're a threat," said Col. William Coultrup, who heads the U.S. counterterrorism forces in Mindanao.

The US military began to take a keen interest in Abu Sayyaf after it kidnapped 20 hostages – including three Americans – from a resort area in 2001, according to a recent Weekly Standard article. Later the US sent a few hundred troops to the Philippines to provide counterterrorism training, equipment such as night goggles, and intelligence from unmanned aerial vehicles.

That assistance helped the Philippines military hunt down and kill Abu Sayyaf's leadership and drive remaining fighters to remote islands.

In an interview with The Christian Science Monitor in December, a US official blamed the renewed violence on insufficient security following that campaign.

One US official explained, "If you withdraw too quickly without leaving appropriate law enforcement to maintain order, you leave a vacuum."

US officials and analysts say fighting Abu Sayyaf and other terrorists here is a long-term mission with no clear end in sight. They number as many as 200, with another 200 to 400 "lurking in the wings," says Scott Harrison, managing director of Pacific Strategies and Assessments.

"It's immune to destruction. If the [counterterrorism] efforts are successful, their numbers just contract. People bury their weapons, disappear back into the villages, wait for the dust to settle, and then recoup themselves to various degrees. But they are by no means destroyed," he says.

Original site