Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Demonstrations in Mongolia (I eat my words)

demo in ulan bator

Last Saturday I wrote:

It would be pleasant though to think that a popular uprising in Asia just across the border from China's Xinjiang region might encourage grassroots movements across East Asia, just as the revolutions in the Ukraine and Georgia seem to have been a factor in the Kyrgyz revolution. I doubt that this will be the case, except perhaps in Xinjiang.

But on Friday there had already been a demonstration in Ulan Bator (capital of Mongolia), according to this BBC article:

Mongolians protest for new poll

Activists in Mongolia are calling for fresh elections and have demanded an end to official corruption.

They held protests outside parliament in the capital Ulan Bator on Friday, and say they have more planned.

The action appears to have been inspired by the situation in nearby Kyrgyzstan, where the government has been ousted by a popular uprising.

Mongolian Prime Minister Tsakhilganiin Elbegdorj has appeared on national television to appeal for calm.

One protester said another demonstration was planned for 7 April, the day parliament is due to open its Spring session.

"We will gather more people and we will hold more street demonstrations," said J Batzandan, a 30-year-old lawyer and university lecturer.


I am very happy to eat my words. It shows that I know next to nothing about Mongolia.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

"With Regard to Recent Korea-Japan Relations"

The Christian Science Monitor has a useful summary of the ongoing diplomatic row between South Korea and Japan:

Korea-Japan dispute strains longstanding alliances

South Korea's president has called recent disputes with Japan over territory, textbooks a potential 'diplomatic war.'

By Robert Marquand | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA – A messy moment between the South Korea and Japan got progressively messier this week. A sudden, bitter row over history and territory between the two main US allies in the Pacific was called a potential "diplomatic war" by an impassioned Korean President Roh Moo-hyun - who accused Japan of "rationalizing its history of invasion and colonization."

In an open letter to the people of Korea, and in terms that for discreet Asian diplomacy are probably unprecedented in frankness for a head of state, President Roh detailed their grievances with Japan. Among them: a proposed new high school history text that glorifies the early 20th century occupation of Korea by the imperial Japanese Army, and a recent vote by a Japanese prefecture to claim a historically symbolic island mid-way between the two nations.

"These moves nullify all the past reflection and apologies made by Japan," Roh said in the letter titled, "With Regard to Recent Korea-Japan Relations."

The row comes at a time when the US is aligning ever more strongly with Tokyo, and at a time when some analysts feel that the Roh government is drifting away from the triangular US-South Korea-Japan alliance that has been at the heart of Asian security since the Korean war.


I have written about Tokdo/Dokdo/Tokto/Takeshima here before:

Tensions around disputed islands

Bland propaganda in the Japan Times about Dokdo / Takeshima This article fills in the background to the dispute, and also tells a little-known story about a US bombing run that killed hundreds of Korean sailors on the islands.

One of the less good things about the CSM article is its uncritical assumption of the usual anti-democratic stance:

At a minimum, one senior Western diplomat noted, Roh's intemperate statements shift the focus of attention away from Japanese perceived misdeeds or provocations, and onto the character of Roh himself, virtually letting Tokyo off the hook. Roh has made a series of speeches in recent months that have suggested his government is rethinking South Korea's role in the US-led Pacific alliance.

The article lets you think that this is strange, irrational behaviour from Roh, but gives the game away a few paragraphs later:

In Seoul, the current dispute is palpable. It is slathered across front pages, heard in street protests, and debated at dinner tables. Some demonstrators have gone so far as to cut off fingers and attempt self-immolation - one even drowned to death.

In recent days, Mr. Roh's lackluster approval ratings have spiked upward as he has taken a headstrong approach.

In other words, Roh is reflecting popular sentiment. The writer of the article views this with detachment or disdain: in his view, the job of the leader of a democracy is to ignore the views of his electorate and favour the priorities of the 'international community'. (cf Rumsfeld on "Old Europe" and, especially, Turkey, at the time of the build up to the invasion of Iraq.)

I tend to agree with Marquand that "the US is aligning ever more strongly with Tokyo": recent comments by Condoleeza Rice on her tour of Asia certainly suggest this.

The secretary was almost effusive on the U.S. alliance with Japan. In a speech, Rice addressed an issue important to status-conscious Japanese: "Japan has earned its honorable place among the nations of the world by its own effort and by its own character. That is why the United States unambiguously supports a permanent seat for Japan on the United Nations Security Council."
From a Japan Times article.

Marquand's "some analysts feel that the Roh government is drifting away from the triangular US-South Korea-Japan alliance" is presumably based on his reading of a recent speech Roh made:

Roh told graduating cadets at the Korean Air Force Academy that South Korea was fully capable of defending itself against North Korea, thus undermining the reason for posting American combat forces in his country.

At the same time, the president asserted that the U.S. would not be allowed to deploy U.S. forces out of Korea without his government's approval, thus putting a crimp into Pentagon plans to forge American troops in Korea into a flexible force that could be swiftly deployed to contingencies outside Korea.

from another Japan Times article, by the thoroughly biased Richard Halloran (see his first sentence, which I omitted here, for example.)

Roh's speeches are on his website:

A Message to the Nation Concerning Korea-Japan Relations

Address by President Roh Moo-hyun at the 53rd Commencement and Commissioning Ceremony of the Korea Air Force Academy

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Taiwan march update

A Taiwanese supporter holds a democracy sign during a massive march in protest of Beijing's anti-secession law, Saturday, March 26, 2005, in Taipei, Taiwan. (AP Photo/Jerome Favre)
In one of the largest demonstrations in Taiwan's history, about a million people marched through the capital on Saturday to protest a new Chinese law that authorizes an attack on the island if it moves toward formal independence.

AP -- from ABC News.

Aerial photo of big march, Taipei

Reuters has:

Hundreds of thousands of people chanting "Oppose war, Love Taiwan" have joined President Chen Shui-bian to protest against China's anti-secession law that sanctions the use of force against the island.

Chen's ruling Democratic Progressive Party hopes the protest will draw international attention to the new law and put pressure on China to scrap it.

Organisers said one million joined the show of people power on Saturday against Beijing's military threat, but Taipei police estimated the crowd at just over 240,000. [Although Taiwan's United Daily News puts the police estimate at 275,000]

"I am here to protest against a barbaric China which looks down upon the Taiwanese people," said 70-year-old businessman Fan Wen-yi, adding he was not affiliated to any political party and had never participated in a protest before. "The anti-secession law, simply put, is a law that authorises war."

The protesters chanted slogans and waved green flags that read "democracy, peace, protect Taiwan" as they marched towards the presidential office from 10 locations around the capital, symbolising the 10 clauses of the anti-secession law.


Amusingly, Chen Shui-Bian was out on the streets, marching and chanting slogans -- and didn't make a speech. That's the kind of behaviour I look for in a head of state. He's in the middle of the next photo:

Taiwanese president Chen Shui-Bian marching and chanting.

Here he is again, as an inflatable cartoon character: 扁娃 ('Bian Wah'), Baby Bian.

Baby Bian, surrounded by group 9 of the march, the Tai Lian contingent.

By the way, the green on the flags, headbands etc. stands for the governing coalition, centred on the DPP, which was founded in 1986. I assume that green was also the colour of the pro-democracy movement that the DPP grew out of, but I haven't been able to confirm this.

The opposition Kuomintang (Nationalists), one-party rulers of Taiwan from the 1940s to 2000, use blue, from the old Republic of China flag.

Another amusing thing about this is that even when a march is supported by the government, the police estimate is still much lower than the organisers'.

Actually it's not really a surprise, though, because Taipei police are controlled by the local government and the current mayor, Ma Ying-Jeou (馬英九), is in the Kuomintang.

Chomsky on Vietnam and Japan, the 'super domino'

"In the 1950s the US was not prepared to lose the Second World War"

In the case of Indo-china, the US is a very free country; we have an incomparably rich documentary record of internal planning, much richer than any other country that I know of. So we can discover what the goals were. In fact it is clear by around 1970, certainly by the time the Pentagon Papers came out, the primary concern was the one that shows up in virtually all intervention: Guatemala, Indonesia, Nicaragua, Cuba, Chile, just about everywhere you look at. The concern is independent nationalism which is unacceptable in itself because it extricates some part of the world that the US wants to dominate. And it has an extra danger if it is likely to be successful in terms that are likely to be meaningful to others who are suffering from the same conditions.

So in the former colonial world, the Third World and the south, the problem was what planners called the rotten apple that might spoil the barrel or a virus that might infect others. The virus is independent nationalism that seems as though it may be successful in terms that are meaningful to others that are suffering similar problems. That's a theme that goes through the entire documentary record and it was a concern in Vietnam. So the US, during the late 1940s, hadn't really decided whether to support the French in their re-conquest of the former colony or to take the path that they did in Indonesia in 1948 and support the independence movement against the Dutch. But the issue was: suppose Vietnam turns out to be an independence movement that is out of control. They knew it was not run by the Russians and the Chinese: that was for public show. It was clearly an independent nationalist movement which could turn out to be successful. So in the 1950s they became increasingly concerned that North Vietnam was developing in ways that could be meaningful for others in the region. A fully independent Vietnam could truly dominate Indochina, which could become an independent nationalist force, a rotten apple which would affect others: Thailand, Malaya, which was a big problem at the time, possibly Indonesia. They were deeply concerned about Indonesian nationalism under Sukarno, which was going off on its own independent course and was a pillar of the non-aligned movement. If this infection of independent nationalism spread the concern was it might ultimately lead to Japan -- the "superdomino," as Asia historian John Dower called it. Not that Japan would be affected by it but that Japan would be induced to, as they put it, accommodate to independent Asian nationalism in SE Asia, maybe spreading from Vietnam, Indonesia, China, which was by then a huge rotten apple. And if Japan were to accommodate to Asian independent nationalism and offer itself as the technological and commercial and financial and industrial center it would effectively have won the Second World War. The Second World War was fought in the Pacific phase to prevent Japan from establishing a new order in Asia in which it would be the center. And it would be an independent force in world affairs. Well in the 1950s the US was not prepared to lose the Second World War and so it took a nuanced position. It first supported Sukarno then quickly turned against him. In 1958, US President [Dwight] Eisenhower was supporting the break up of Indonesia. It quickly in 1950 decided to support the French in Vietnam. And it just goes on from there. You can go through the steps, but effectively this is what happened.

From a recent interview with David McNeill, on ZNet.

It's a very fine interview, in my opinion. Off-topic (as far as this blog is concerned) Alex Higgins and I are planning a website with rebutals of Chomsky's critics. Chomsky does some of his own rebutting in this interview, since McNeill asks him about (spurious) criticisms Christopher Hitchins and Johann Hari have made.

More on China and Kyrgzstan

Yesterday China closed a border crossing between its western Xinjiang region and Kyrgyzstan, citing the chaos in Bishkek and the need to guarantee the safety of passengers and freight. China has concerns the strife in Kyrgyzstan may spill over the border to Xinjiang, where many Muslim Uighurs hope for greater autonomy. Beijing has waged a relentless campaign against separatists in the desert region.

From the same Times article as this striking photo:

The view through the shattered window of the presidential office was not so rosy after renewed looting (DAVID MOZINARISHVILI / REUTERS)

It seems that Russia was against the uprising, but swiftly recognised the opposition leaders when it saw (I presume) that they are not unfriendly to Moscow (and presumably not radical democrats, therefore). The US administration was not behind recent events or even much in support--they didn't rapidly recognise the new government as they did in the Ukraine, or in Venezuela during the coup they sponsored. And China clearly hates unrest on its border.

Democracy has been off the agenda for all the great powers in the Central Asian region, I think, and this has caught them by surprise.

The options for the Kyrgyz people are quite different from those that present themselves to Ukraininans. The Soviet background and gradual move out of Russia's orbit are similar, but the choice for Ukraine is between becoming a US ally and making steps towards the EU. (Rather like Turkey, in the end the choice is bound to be in favour of Europe). For Kyrgzstan, I don't doubt that it will soon be deeply within China's sphere of influence financially, but rather free in other ways, given that China has no territorial ambitions in Central Asia (as Basil Chamberlain pointed out long ago).

Effects of Kyrgyz revolution?

Central Asia falls outside the remit of this blog, and I know very little about Kyrgyzstan.

It would be pleasant though to think that a popular uprising in Asia just across the border from China's Xinjiang region might encourage grassroots movements across East Asia, just as the revolutions in the Ukraine and Georgia seem to have been a factor in the Kyrgyz revolution. I doubt that this will be the case, except perhaps in Xinjiang.

I think Putin has more to worry about than China's rulers do.

From a Guardian article:
Akayev's departure made Kyrgyzstan the third former Soviet republic in the past 18 months - after Georgia and Ukraine - to see popular protests bring down long-entrenched leaders widely accused of corruption.

Putin, speaking during a visit to Armenia on Friday, said "it's unfortunate that yet again in the post-Soviet space, political problems in a country are resolved illegally and are accompanied by pogroms and human victims."

He ought to know about illegal resolution of political problems, of course, but I doubt he sees the irony...

Putin has also said that he thinks the situation in Kyrgyzstan arose because the government there was not authoritarian enough--and he has a point, since the ousted Kyrgyz government was probably less awful than the Uzbek, Tajik and Turkmen regimes.

Kyrgzstan is considered strategically important by the regional powers--for its location rather than any resources or as a geopolitical player. Both Russia and the US have bases there (in the US case, set up in late 2001) and I'd be surprised if the US had to withdraw whatever the new government in Bishkek.

Taiwanese government encourages street demo

The demonstration, which will be later today, is against China's recent 'anti-secession' law.

Taipei, March 25 (CNA) With more than one million people expected to turn out in Taiwan for Saturday's protest against China's Anti-Secession Law, organizers are taking pains Friday to ensure the event is a success. The Taiwan Democratic Alliance for Peace, which is organizing the protest, is an umbrella group consists of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, the Taiwan Solidarity Union and others. It said Friday that more than 5,000 tour buses will pull into Taipei from around the island Saturday

From an article on the Taiwanese government website

Interesting that the number of coaches is mentioned. Coach bookings seem to be how the UK Stop the War organisers predict the size of their marches: it was clear ahead of time that the march in February 2003 was going to be huge, although they were surprised when it turned out to be close to 2 million. If the march in Taiwan reaches 1 million it will be a greater percentage since Taiwan has a population of around 22.5 million (2003 figure from Taiwan govt site) to the UK's 60 miilion or so.

BBC article on the march

Reaction from a Chinese government academic on Xinhua.

Another BBC article, mentioning the Chinese reaction.