Category Archives: Asia

Tracking foreign interference in Hong Kong

Lawrence YK Ma is the executive council chairman of the Hong Kong Legal Exchange Foundation and director of the China Law Society, the Chinese Judicial Studies Association and the Hong Kong Legal Exchange Foundation. He also finds time to teach law at Nankai University in Tianjin.

Ma is the go-to expert in what is arguably the most sensitive subject in Hong Kong: He meticulously tracks perceived foreign interference in the Special Administrative Region (SAR).

In the West, in similar circumstances, he would be a media star. With a smirk, he told me that local journalists, whether working in English or Chinese, rarely visit him – not to mention foreigners.

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Posted by on October 11, 2019 in Asia


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What Holds China Together?

As another humid Beijing summer passes into a crisp autumn of wind-swept skies and chrysanthemum-decked parks, it’s easy to put oneself in the minds of government propagandists and feel that things are going quite well in China. Yes, faraway Hong Kong is in crisis, with huge antigovernment protests going on since March. But it was always going to be tough to absorb the former British colony; we’ll give them a bit more leeway but if necessary will crack down hard. And perhaps the distant territory of Xinjiang has required a firm hand, but have any countries done anything about our reeducation camps there? As for the trade war with the United States, it causes some pain, but it doesn’t matter because we’ve convinced most people that it’s all the Americans’ fault. The world is tumultuous, but we remain a bastion of stability. Our economy and military are growing steadily. Nothing really challenges Communist Party rule. And soon we’ll have a chance to show our dominance to everyone when we celebrate the seventieth birthday of the People’s Republic on October 1.

This reverie isn’t entirely delusional. But it’s fair to say that today China faces its biggest set of crises in the forty years since Deng Xiaoping began economic reforms after the death of Mao. The most vexing are Hong Kong and Xinjiang. The former has seen regular demonstrations, some involving more than one million people, against efforts by Beijing to impose its legal system on the territory. That’s forced the government to launch a huge disinformation campaign at home and abroad against the protesters, some of whom are violent but who mostly reflect middle-class worries about Communist Party rule. And in Xinjiang the situation is even more dire, with more than one million Muslims being sent to reeducation camps for not following the government line on everything from alcohol and pork consumption to the historical inevitability of Chinese rule.

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Posted by on October 7, 2019 in Asia, Reportages



Fear, Fatigue Could Undermine Afghan Presidential Vote

Afghanistan’s twice-delayed September 28 election could be only the second-ever democratic transition of power in the war-wracked country.

But many Afghans remain wary of the landmark presidential vote, fearing Taliban violence aimed at disrupting the vote and disillusioned at the widespread fraud and corruption that has tainted other elections since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001.

Analysts say voter fatigue and safety concerns could depress turnout to undermine the legitimacy of the vote and give any winner only a weak mandate to rule a country reeling from economic turmoil, an escalating war, and political infighting.

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Posted by on September 30, 2019 in Asia



The US’s new evil empire

The US seems to have decided that it can’t take on China and Russia at the same time, so its principal geopolitical rival in the coming decades will be China. Trump’s Republican administration and the Democrats agree on this, though they are campaigning vigorously against each other ahead of next year’s presidential election. China has replaced the ‘evil empire’ of the Soviet Union and ‘Islamic terrorism’ as the US’s main adversary. But China, unlike the Soviet Union, has a dynamic economy, with which the US has an enormous trade deficit. And China’s strength is far more impressive than that of a few tens of thousands of Islamic fundamentalist fighters wandering the deserts of ancient Mesopotamia or the mountains of Afghanistan.

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Posted by on September 26, 2019 in Asia, North America


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On a Russian outpost in the Pacific, fear and fantasies of a Japanese future

Sergey Starzhinsky figures that his first taste of nearby Japan was a fruit-flavored lollipop that washed up on the beach in the 1970s.

These days, when sailors take his son-in-law’s sea urchins across the strait to Hokkaido, Starzhinsky has them pick up a large order of sushi before they head back.

An Asian Iron Curtain lingers on the edge of the Pacific, eight time zones and 4,500 miles from Moscow. In Russia’s ever-broadening quest for influence under President Vladi­mir Putin, this Cold War-era outpost is emerging as a pivotal piece on the Kremlin’s global chessboard.

Japan has long claimed that Russia illegally occupies Kunashir and a handful of other nearby islands on the southern end of the Kuril archipelago, which threads the sea between mainland Russia and northern Japan. Seen from Kunashir, the snow-sheathed mountains of northern Japan tower on the horizon, but there’s no regular passenger service to connect the two worlds.

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Posted by on September 14, 2019 in Asia, Europe, Uncategorized


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“One Solution, Gun Solution”

The sense of siege hit early, in the air, long before seeing the barbed-wire barricades and security forces armed to the teeth blocking the way. Fifteen minutes before the plane touched down at Srinagar, an announcement was made asking the passengers to close the windows. The staff went around making sure all windows are shut—“An order from the DGCA, sir,” one of the flight attendants said upon enquiry, referring to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation. First there was mild disbelief, then there was mocking. A Kashmiri passenger next to me laughed and said, “This is nazarbandi”—house arrest. Others repeated the word as if they were adding it to their vocabulary. Some of them, curious, opened the windows halfway to peep out but closed them in a hurry. It was 7.30 am and I saw a glimpse of the verdant green Valley enveloped in grey monsoon mist. “Probably they don’t want us to see how many (security) forces they have brought into the Valley,” one person said. The passenger was coming home for Eid, which was the next day, on 12 August.

Some tried to laugh about it while others looked anxious. Soon, they had to figure out how to reach their destinations. As the flight landed on the runway, many passengers switched on their cell phones and kept staring at them, probably out of habit, and maybe some hope. The reality struck them soon enough. The Valley has been under strict lockdown since 5 August, with no communication services, when the union government effectively abrogated Article 370 of the Constitution. The green ticker at the tourist department counter next to the baggage belt kept flashing the message: “Welcome to the paradise on earth.”

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Posted by on September 14, 2019 in Asia



How the pursuit of leisure drives internet use

THE CHIEF of Madhogarh, a picturesque village nestled beneath a 17th-century fortified palace in the heart of Rajasthan, came to Indra Sharma three years ago to ask if she would attend a workshop. “Something about the internet,” Ms Sharma, a 40-year-old child-care worker, recalls. She had no particular interest in this internet thing. But she liked the idea of learning something new, so she went along. She and a handful of women from nearby villages were all given a smartphone and some basic lessons in how to use it.

“First we had to learn how to turn it on and off,” says Santosh Sharma (no relation), a 24-year-old schoolteacher from the neighbouring village. Once they had mastered that, they got down to the essentials: “How to take a selfie, WhatsApp, Facebook, YouTube, how to search.”

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Posted by on September 14, 2019 in Africa, Asia, Reportages



Trump Was Foolish to Invite the Taliban to Camp David but the War in Afghanistan Must End

The hashtag #TalibanTrump began trending over the weekend, after Donald Trump made a bizarre and very public admission on Twitter:

The president of the United States had planned to host the Taliban on U.S. soil, three days before the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Can you even begin to imagine the reaction from the right if Barack Obama had made a similar announcement?

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Posted by on September 13, 2019 in Asia, North America


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The Quiet Desperation of Refugees in Japan

An estimated 100 of the approximately 300 detainees at the East Japan Immigration Center in Ushiku, Ibaraki, are involved in a hunger strike that began on May 10. Strikers are demanding an end to exceptionally long detention periods — now typically exceeding a year — and a relaxation of the provisional release system, which places severe and impracticable restrictions on the lives of temporarily released detainees. Detainee anger is aggravated by the isolation, lack of information, and alleged medical neglect experienced at the detention center, where many long-term detainees suffer from deteriorating physical and mental health.

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Posted by on September 12, 2019 in Asia


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There Will Be No Winner in the Japan-South Korea Dispute

A few short years ago it appeared, on the surface at least, that Japan and South Korea had finally put the past behind them and were ready to take their relationship forward. A 2015 agreement was supposed to “finally and irreversibly” resolve the “comfort women” issue, and was hailed as a “potentially dramatic breakthrough between the neighbors and rivals.” Amid the hubris, nationalists on both sides expressed their anger, and there were immediate anti-agreement protests in both Tokyo and Seoul. The 2017 presidential impeachment and elections in South Korea ushered in a change from a conservative to a progressive administration under Moon Jae-in, who had been openly critical of the agreement. A year later the agreement was shredded.

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Posted by on September 12, 2019 in Asia, Uncategorized


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