Archive for ‘Politics’

19/11/2014

Summitry: The Chinese order | The Economist

FOR the past week China’s state media have conveyed an almost imperial choreography playing out in the Great Hall of the People, in Zhongnanhai, the Chinese leaders’ compound next to the Forbidden City in Beijing, and at Yanqi Lake just outside the capital. Every day, on television and in newspapers, President Xi Jinping (above, right) is portrayed receiving lines of grateful world leaders. And every day he is seen arranging prosperity, ordering peace or, in an agreement with Barack Obama, America’s president, (above, left) on carbon emissions, even saving the planet. It escaped no visitor that not since Mao Zedong has a Chinese leader conducted foreign affairs with such eye-catching aplomb. Yet this was not only Mr Xi’s moment, but also China’s—a diplomatic coming-out party of sorts.

On several fronts, a country known for a somewhat reactive diplomacy has made the running. China was host this week to the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation—APEC, a regional trade gathering that rarely makes waves. Yet in quick succession China declared free-trade agreements with South Korea and Australia, two sizeable Asian economies, all but signed. It announced a breakthrough with America by promising at last to eliminate tariffs on information-technology products. And to the delight of Asian leaders and of Vladimir Putin, president of Russia (reviled in the West but made welcome in Beijing), Mr Xi announced $40 billion in investments to cement a new commercial “Silk Road” that will run overland through Central Asia and Russia eventually to Europe and by sea through South-East Asia to the Middle East and Africa.

Most strikingly, on November 11th Mr Xi urged APEC’s 21 members to move towards a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP). The commitment to “study” the idea over the next two years is in effect to launch it, and for all that an eventual FTAAP is unlikely to be notable for its high standards, the announcement was intended to stand in contrast to the predicament of the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership, sponsored by America, which remains bogged down in negotiations between America and Japan despite earlier hopes of a breakthrough announcement at APEC.

On security matters, Mr Xi appeared to be making the running, too. There had been a “meeting of minds”, according to Benigno Aquino, president of the Philippines, over disputed reefs in the South China Sea. Most striking, though, was an agreement for China to resume high-level contacts with Japan. China has rationed these, and in 2012 began actively challenging Japan’s control of the Senkaku islands (known as the Diaoyu islands to China) in the East China Sea; ties had been frozen entirely since Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, visited Tokyo’s Yasukuni shrine last December. The shrine, honouring Japan’s war dead, has militarist overtones.

Yet on November 7th China and Japan announced a four-point agreement to reduce tensions (see article). The signal agreement was later sealed when Mr Xi met Mr Abe for the first time as president. Admittedly, the withering handshake and puckery expression he offered Mr Abe lent the impression of a dog owner obliged to pick up another pooch’s turd.

That breakthrough was downplayed in state media, perhaps because Chinese ultranationalists might perceive in it a climbdown from China’s hard line over the islands, and towards Japan in general. But given much more prominence was the summit between the Chinese and American presidents, their second full one after that at Sunnylands in California in 2013. Again, there were welcome breakthroughs in co-operation. One was the agreement on information technology, which should now clear the way for a World Trade Organisation pact on IT products. Another was that both sides agreed to find common confidence-building and other measures to help avoid misunderstandings or accidental military confrontations on or above the East China Sea and South China Sea, where the United States shadows China’s increasingly assertive military presence.

But the biggest surprise was the agreement on greenhouse gases. China and America are the two biggest polluters, together accounting for 44% of global carbon emissions. Without their commitment to cut emissions, any global target is meaningless. On November 12th Mr Obama announced a “historic” agreement in which America will cut emissions by 26-28% by 2025, compared with 2005 levels, while China promises its emissions will peak around 2030. It gives a big boost to getting a global deal on carbon emissions at a crucial gathering in Paris next year. For China, a huge guzzler of coal, setting a date for emissions to peak is a first, even though it is five years later than the Americans would have liked. To bring down emissions after 2030, it aims for a big growth in nuclear power and for a fifth of its electricity to come from non-fossil fuels.

via Summitry: The Chinese order | The Economist.

19/11/2014

China and Japan: Out of the deep freeze | The Economist

AFTER Japan’s prime minister worshipped at Tokyo’s Yasukuni shrine last December, China declared Shinzo Abe to be beyond the pale; principles are principles. But Chinese ones are, well, nothing if not adaptable, and on November 10th President Xi Jinping met Mr Abe for the first time. A “four-point agreement” comes as a welcome signal that tensions between Asia’s two biggest powers might, at least for now, begin to ease.

The thorn in the side of relations is Japan’s Senkaku islands, which China claims and calls the Diaoyus. Chinese aircraft and coastguard vessels have greatly raised tensions from 2012 onwards, by making incursions around the Senkakus. So it is progress that Japan and China now acknowledge “the emergence of tense situations” there. For the first time Japan has referred to the Senkakus in a document with China. Chinese analysts claim a diplomatic victory. Even if obliquely, Japan acknowledges a dispute over sovereignty, Huang Dahui of Renmin University argues. Yet the wording also left ample room for Japanese diplomats to insist that they have not acknowledged any such thing.

The negotiations seem mostly about avoiding the hard issues. On Yasukuni, it beggars belief to think the Japanese promised Mr Abe would not visit the shrine where high-ranking war criminals are honoured. The joint statement says that Japan and China will overcome “political difficulties” in the spirit of “squarely facing history” (a favourite Communist Party phrase). China believes that means Mr Abe will stay away. Mr Abe and his right-wing supporters may think differently.

Most welcome is a commitment to set up crisis-management mechanisms in the crowded seas and skies around the Senkakus. For months both sides’ armed forces have seen the need for such a step, says Noboru Yamaguchi, a retired Japanese general. Yet the details remain unclear.

Now the two countries’ ministries can resume their connections, though exchanges are likely to remain fraught. As if to underscore the challenges, this week Mr Abe brought up with Mr Xi a fresh diplomatic complaint, about Chinese coral poachers hunting near Japan’s distant Ogasawara islands. As for the Senkaku islands and waters, will China withdraw incursions by its coastguard cutters? That would be the most genuine proof of a Chinese desire to lower the temperature.

via China and Japan: Out of the deep freeze | The Economist.

19/11/2014

Putin Loses His Grip on Central Asia as China Moves In – Businessweek

As President Vladimir Putin strains to keep Ukraine within Russia’s grasp, he may be losing his grip on another part of his would-be empire: the former Soviet republics of Central Asia, which are increasingly turning toward China for investment and trade.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin and Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon meet on the sidelines of an informal summit of the regional security group in 2013

In the latest sign of its growing economic ties with the region, China is planning a $16.3 billion fund to finance railways, roads, and pipelines across Central Asia, reviving the centuries-old Silk Road trade route between China and Europe. President Xi Jinping first proposed the idea last year during a visit to Kazakhstan, the region’s wealthiest country.

Beijing has plenty of reasons to spend big in Central Asia. Improved infrastructure would help link China to European markets and give China increased access to the region’s rich natural resources. Kazakhstan is a major oil producer, while neighboring Kyrgyzstan has large mineral deposits and Turkmenistan produces natural gas.

At the same time, the planned construction would give an economic boost to adjoining areas of western China where Beijing is trying to quell a separatist insurgency, says Sarah Lain, a researcher at the Royal United Services Institute in London. As it has in Africa, China is likely to bring Chinese workers into Central Asia to do much of the construction.

During much of the 19th century, the Russian and British empires vied for control of Central Asia, a rivalry dubbed the “Great Game.” But the predominantly Muslim region, which also includes the countries of Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, was annexed by the Soviet Union after the Bolshevik revolution and has remained close to Moscow in the post-Soviet era.

Putin has sought to maintain those ties—for example, by inviting Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan to join a customs union with Moscow. But with the Russian economy in a deep slump, he can’t match the big money that China is offering. Indeed, Russia’s economic malaise is clobbering some Central Asian economies, spurring them to seek help from China.

via Putin Loses His Grip on Central Asia as China Moves In – Businessweek.

19/11/2014

Narendra Modi Is in Fiji. This Shows Why – India Real Time – WSJ

Pristine beaches, blue skies,  it’s not hard to imagine why Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi would want to stop by the island nation of Fiji after a hectic few days at the G-20 summit in Australia.

But there’s another reason Mr. Modi has made the newly-minted South Pacific democracy his final port of call during a three-nation tour that concludes Thursday: China.

In 2012, there was an influx of Chinese investors and companies expressing and registering their interest in setting up businesses in Fiji, according to Investment Fiji’s annual report for the year.

Chinese investors accounted for 20% of the projects registered by foreign companies in Fiji in 2012, while Indian investment accounted for 10%, the report said.

China has tried to raise its profile across the South Pacific over the past decade. The 12 South Pacific island nations that make up the region are much less populous than other parts of Asia, but have vast fishing grounds and potentially large deep-sea mineral deposits.

Chinese companies have bought stakes in Fiji’s largest gold mine and invested in its bauxite industry. Foreign direct investment by Chinese companies in Fiji accounted for around 37% of the value of projects registered this year, compared with just 2.9% in 2009.

Trade figures from Fiji’s Bureau of Statistics show that India lags far behind. In 2013, China exported $27.29 million in goods to Fiji, compared to $4.76 million imported to the island from India.

via Narendra Modi Is in Fiji. This Map Shows Why – India Real Time – WSJ.

19/11/2014

Xi Jinping Visits Tasmania, Is Given (Authentic) Lavender-Filled Teddy Bear – China Real Time Report – WSJ

What does one give to China’s visiting head of state as a keepsake to mark the occasion? Angela Merkel went with an old map that had a less-than-politically correct interpretation of China’s borders. Vladimir Putin presented an example of Russia’s cutting-edge consumer technology. Nahendra Modi handed over a bound copy of the Bhagavad Gita, a sacred Hindu text, in Chinese.

Alighting from his flight to Hobart, the capital of the Australian state of Tasmania, schoolchildren presented President Xi Jinping with a lavender stuffed teddy bear (at 48 seconds). Mr. Xi didn’t appear surprised or puzzled by why he was bring presented with potpourri. Then again, Bobbie Bear is a minor celebrity in China, and has done more than anyone to put Tasmania on the map for Chinese tourists.

Mr. Xi didn’t get to visit Bridestowe Lavender Estate which produces the bears – and where he would have been limited to buying one bear only, a measure taken by the farm’s management late last year to ensure sufficient supply to satisfy the busloads of Chinese tourists. Factories in China have produced knock-offs in numbers that far exceed the farm’s own production capacity, says owner Robert Ravens, which means a visit to Tasmania is the only way to be sure the bear you buy is real.

For Tasmania, Bridestowe holds potential of what China – hungry for clean and healthy produce, and with tourists increasingly willing to travel off the beaten track – can do for a struggling economy.

On Monday, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced at a dinner for the Chinese first couple at Parliament House that Bridestowe Lavender Estate had won the inaugural Australia-China Achievement Award for entrepreneurship. The award went to the farm for its “pro-active and innovative market entry into China and promoting Tasmania as a destination for Chinese tourists.”

Mr. Xi and his wife’s taking custody of Bobbie rounds out a busy schedule of cuddling as many Australian marsupials as possible. And while Bobbie might not have the same novelty value as Australia’s menu of unique fauna, it’s likely the only one the first couple will be taking home with them.

via Xi Jinping Visits Tasmania, Is Given (Authentic) Lavender-Filled Teddy Bear – China Real Time Report – WSJ.

13/11/2014

China offers ASEAN friendship treaty as South China Sea tension bubbles | Reuters

China’s Prime Minister Li Keqiang proposed a “friendship” treaty with Southeast Asian countries on Thursday but reiterated that territorial disputes in the South China Sea should be settled directly between the countries involved.

(L-R) Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Brunei's Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, China's Premier Li Keqiang, Myanmar's President Thein Sein, U.S. President Barack Obama, Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak and Russia's Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev pose for a photo before the East Asia Summit (EAS) plenary session during the ASEAN Summit in Naypyitaw November 13, 2014. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

China, Taiwan and four Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have competing claims in the sea where concern is growing of an escalation in disputes even as the claimants work to establish agreements to resolve them.

“China … stands ready to become the first dialogue partner to sign with ASEAN a treaty of friendship and cooperation,” Li told leaders at a summit of East Asian countries in Myanmar.

The treaty is seen as an attempt by Beijing to dispel any notion it is a threat.

Li added China was willing to sign legal documents with more countries in the region on good-neighborliness and friendship.

Still, the Chinese premier reiterated Beijing’s resolve to safeguard its territorial sovereignty and its position that disputes concerning the South China Sea should be settled directly rather than collectively or through arbitration.

The competing maritime claims have formed an undercurrent of tension at the East Asian and ASEAN summits in Myanmar this week.

The Philippines, one of the ASEAN claimants, has previously irked Beijing by seeking international arbitration over China’s claims to about 90 percent of the South China Sea.

Diplomatic sources from the Philippines reacted coolly to China’s treaty proposal, saying that it lacked substance and was similar to a 2012 proposal made by Manila and ignored by Beijing.

Li will meet the heads of ASEAN countries behind closed doors later on Thursday, with Southeast Asian leaders hoping to persuade their giant neighbor to take a less bellicose approach to overlapping claims in the South China Sea.

The Philippines and Vietnam have sought closer U.S. ties to counter what they see as China’s aggression in the region.

via China offers ASEAN friendship treaty as South China Sea tension bubbles | Reuters.

11/11/2014

Modi’s Make in India Push to Take on China Faces Red Tape – Businessweek

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is seeking to turn India into a global manufacturing hub by curbing red tape. Tell that to Tata Steel Ltd. (TATA), which closed one of its largest iron-ore mines in September over permit delays.

Close up - Clothes marker - Made in India

India’s largest maker of the alloy isn’t alone. Steel Authority of India Ltd. (SAIL) shut one of its top-yielding quarries the same month pending renewal of its lease. JSW Steel Ltd. (JSTL)’s plan to start mining in eastern Jharkhand state has been hampered by a probe begun last month into mine allocations.

Modi is set to trumpet his “Make in India” initiative at the Group of 20 summit in Australia this week as he vies with China to woo manufacturers. The mine closures show lingering bureaucratic obstacles to his push, stemming from court rulings and officials in India’s 29 states that lie beyond Modi’s direct control. India slid two places to 142nd out of 189 economies in the World Bank’s latest ease of doing business rankings.

via Modi’s Make in India Push to Take on China Faces Red Tape – Businessweek.

11/11/2014

For APEC, Beijing Briefly Cleans Up Its Skies, but Can’t Help the Sewage – Businessweek

Beijing has, once again, cleaned up the air to impress the foreign dignitaries visiting for this week’s APEC summit. The phenomenon is so predictable that there’s even a new phrase on Chinese social media, “APEC blue,” used to refer to something that is beautiful or enticing, but also fleeting. As in, “He’s not that into you, it’s just APEC blue.”

A riverbank in Beijing

Yet while China’s government can order factories in and near Beijing to shut down for about a week to clear the skies, it can’t as quickly clean up the capital’s dirty urban waterways. A new investigation by the newspaper Economic Information highlights one nasty but lingering problem in Beijing and other large Chinese cities: lack of adequate sewage treatment facilities.

Xiong Jianxin, an official in Beijing’s municipal water bureau, told the newspaper that some sewage plants on the outskirts of the capital are easily overwhelmed. While plants are built to handle up to 550,000 tons of water daily, at peak times they send as many as 100,000 tons of unprocessed sewage daily back into rivers or channels. Officials in several other large cities shared similar horror stories.

via For APEC, Beijing Briefly Cleans Up Its Skies, but Can’t Help the Sewage – Businessweek.

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11/11/2014

China unveils sophisticated stealth fighter aircraft | Reuters

China unveiled a sophisticated new stealth fighter jet at an air show on Tuesday, a show of muscle during a visit by U.S. President Barack Obama for an Asia-Pacific summit.

A J-31 stealth fighter of the Chinese People's Liberation Army Air Force is seen during a test flight ahead of the 10th China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition in Zhuhai, Guangdong province, November 10, 2014. REUTERS/Alex Lee

China hopes the much-anticipated J-31 stealth aircraft, developed by the Aviation Industry Corp of China (Avic), the country’s top aircraft maker, will compete with U.S.-made hardware in export markets.

The twin-engine fighter jet was unveiled at the China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition in the southern city of Zhuhai, an annual event at which China shows off its military technology, a Reuters witness said.

The J-31 conducted a demonstration but was not put on display afterwards although a mock-up version was on show.

via China unveils sophisticated stealth fighter aircraft | Reuters.

10/11/2014

Who’s Who in Narendra Modi’s New Cabinet in India – India Real Time – WSJ

In his first Cabinet reshuffle late Sunday, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi expanded the number of ministers in his government from 44 to 65.

That takes him just six shy of his predecessor Manmohan Singh’s coterie before his Congress party was ousted in national elections earlier this year by Mr. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party that campaigned with a mantra for “minimum government, maximum governance.”

The enlargement nudges up the number of women ministers to eight from seven and gives key posts to members of parliament from states that are due for local elections in the coming months.

Here are the main moves, promotions, demotions and new arrivals in the modified Cabinet.

Major Cabinet Minister Moves

Suresh Prabhu becomes railway minister replacing Sadananda Gowda. Mr. Prabhu, 61, a former member of the Shiv Sena party, resigned from the regional party to join the Bharatiya Janata Party on Sunday. A chartered accountant by profession and also a law graduate, Mr. Prabhu served as a cabinet minister in the previous BJP-led National Democratic Alliance for six years, handling key portfolios such as power, heavy industries and public enterprises and environment and forests among others. Mr. Prabhu has often been described by many as that “un-common whiff of much needed fresh air on the horizon of Indian public life,” according to his official website.

Manohar G. Parrikar is the new defense minister. Mr. Parrikar quit as Goa’s Chief Minister last week and takes charge of the defense ministry from Arun Jaitley.

A technocrat-turned-politician, Mr. Parrikar joined the BJP in 1988 and went on to become the chief minister of Goa for the first time in 2000. During his time as chief minister, he was credited with improving the western state’s infrastructure  overseeing the construction of major bridges, building bus stands and improving the road network across the state. “Known to be a man of action and principles, Mr. Parrikar is known as Mr. Clean in Goa,” his website said. As the new defense minister, Mr. Parrikar faces the daunting task of closing the country’s pending defense deals.

Arun Jaitley was relieved of the defense portfolio but was given an additional charge of information and broadcasting ministry previously held by Prakash Javadekar. Mr. Jaitley also continues as the head of the finance and corporate affairs ministries. A lawyer by profession, the BJP leader is known to be media-savvy.

Dr. Harsh Vardhan was deprived of his health and family welfare ministry in the shuffle and shifted to a low-key science and technology, Earth sciences ministry. Dr. Vardhan ran for the post of Delhi chief minister in elections in December but was beaten to the position by Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal who stepped down only a few weeks in to the job.

Prime Minister Modi remains in charge of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions, the Department of Atomic Energy Department of Space; all important policy issues and all other portfolios not allocated to any minister, according to the press information bureau.

more on Cabinet Ministers and Ministers of State …

via Who’s Who in Narendra Modi’s New Cabinet in India – India Real Time – WSJ.

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