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June 2005 Country Archive

PUBLISHERS OVERVIEW JUNE '05

EAST ASIA MOVING UP

  It is a phenomenon of our time that Japan, the second largest economy in the world, a nation whose historic military credentials can hardly be challenged, but exhibits no animus against its neighbours – or anyone else, has for so long punched below its weight in world affairs. Japan has been a good world citizen since it finally threw off seven centuries of military government and became over the past sixty years in many ways, certainly by any Asian comparison, a model of what a democratic state could become. 

Japan has been an outstanding UN member – it has joined in eight UN peacekeeping missions from the Golan Heights to Cambodia; it pays far more than its share of the UN budget, $346 million this year which is nearly 20% of the UN regular budget. It has now joined with Germany, Brazil and India, to lobby for their joining the UN Security Council as permanent members, together with two African nations. Any current appraisal of the state of geopolitics would have to acknowledge the justice, indeed the common sense of their argument – it reflects the global realities. But in this overdue rebalancing of the Security Council, there is a holdout. China is dead set against Japan and employs any means to affect world opinion on its side. 

Recent shortlived riots from a student rent-a-crowd in Shanghai were ostensibly about history books in Japan although it seems on investigation that most schools in Japan do not teach modern i.e.WWII history at all, the syllabus finishing some time prior to that - a not unfamiliar situation in western education. The inference is that Japan is nurturing some militaristic fantasies. The reality is that Japan, its politics and its attitudes are fundamentally informed by a national philosophy called KOTONAKARE-SHUGI sometimes translated as ‘quietlife-ism’. It is easily forgotten that Japan suffered two ‘Ground Zeros’ in 1945, losing as a result of just two attacks to an horrific death, a quarter of a million people, perhaps a majority being women and children and the elderly. Being a player at the geopolitical big table cost them dearly. A quiet life now of butting-out, obviously has its attractions, particularly when they discovered their talent for making money.

The nation’s totalitarian military leaders launched the wars in which they were engaged (but the people that died for it and because of it, did not vote for their fascist government as for example they did in Italy and Germany). The war dead Yasakuni shrine which China claims to be so upset about does contain the remains of 14 executed war criminals, but more to the point perhaps like London’s Cenotaph and Washington’s Vietnam memorial, it is the main memorial of those two and a half million Japanese war-dead that were sacrificed on the altar of militarism and feudal concepts of glory in wars since the 19th Century.

It is not a matter of policy for the Japanese government to send their PM to pay respects. It is however the personal predilection of their present PM Koizumi, who is regarded as an emotional man and who incidentally takes a line that he is not going to be told by Beijing what he can and cannot do. 

The bottom line is that China regards this as China’s, (not Asia’s) century and they do not wish to be crowded by their only heavyweight East Asian competitor, Japan. China wields Security Council veto power and may well veto Japan in the last analysis. It already has given notice that it would veto any UNSC sanctions against Iran, similarly against North Korea, but it would prefer that it was not seen to use that power so crudely to block a rival, hence the demos, the protests and the rest. With the exception of perhaps the 
Lao PDR, Cuba, North Korea, China has no natural or enduring friends or allies at the UN. It does not send its army to UN peace keeping ventures, it does not pay more than its dues, it is all about its own interests. The world should not fall for the illusion that China has any other interests except its own and will be cynically devoted to those and nothing else.

A GREAT SURVIVOR
Every now and then the name of Anatoly Chubais surfaces in matters pertaining to the FSU. A few months ago he was in the news because someone tried to ambush his car on the way to work and kill him, a fate he happily survived, as he has survived so much. He has been a Kremlin 
insider, one of the kingmakers that selected Vladimir Putin from obscurity, since early Yeltsin days. Before that he was one of those who selected the men who would become the billionaire oligarchs.

He had the good sense not to go for the top slot himself, because he knew that RUSSIA being what it is, a Jew would not get to the very top, but after Yeltsin, seemingly settled to become a colossus of industry himself, running the giant power industry Unified Energy Systems, the supplier of electricity to just about everyone, it seems. Our TAJIKISTAN report this month describes his latest coup, the point being that whilst the attention of the west was elsewhere, the leverage of power generation has replaced the old military glue that held the Soviet Union together. The power generation of ARMENIA and ‘rose-revolution’ GEORGIA, are already in the hands of Mr Chubais, who literally has the (very persuasive) means to turn off their lights! 

IS FOGGY BOTTOM BACK IN CHARGE?
One of the current exercises of geopolitical observers is to determine whether the State Department under Condaleeza Rice is now running foreign affairs, or whether the important iniatives still remain with Vice-president Cheney. The jury is still out on that one. But it is suspected, whatever else, that mid-east policy is, as it has been for years past, the result of daily deliberations between Dick Cheney’s office and that of the Israeli prime minister. It is hard to see for example what else is served apart from Israeli interests in the current US policy to SYRIA, as our report this month illustrates. What, we ask, does Washington require of Assad? If they seek his and the Baath’s overthrow, his successors would almost certainly be the long repressed Sunni extremists, the Moslem Brotherhood. SYRIA is the last of the secular Arab states. How could it possibly be in the interests of mid –east democracy for another religious regime to become established, this time in Damascus? Israel of course pursues its own interests amongst which would be a weak and divided SYRIA. Our report recalls the unpublicized and highly questionable part played by the next US ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, in the demonising of SYRIA.

THE ASTONISHING LIBYA
LIBYA and it’s Bulgarian nurses continue to astonish and hopes that they will be saved from execution are only exceeded by incredulity at the bizarre scenario itself. Meanwhile BIG OIL is back with massive programs unfolding and we report more bigger and better (hydrocarbons) exploitation still to come. Our NORTH KOREA report points out that the much vaunted South Korean ‘Sunshine policy’ seems to equate with ‘looking on the bright side’ in its dealings with its grim northern neighbour. There is now a complete absence of unity between the Chinese, the South Koreans, the Japanese and the US on how to go forward in de-escalating the recalcitrant northerners of Pyongyang, but at least the South Koreans are talking with them even though, as we explain, the price for such conversations is steep!

ASIAN UNION
The EU has received its setback with the outcome of the referendum in France. It is ironic that INDIA, quoting the strengths of the Brussels based grouping is right now calling for an equivalent Asian trading bloc. It is probably going to happen, not least because South East Asian countries have been singing for some time from the same hymn sheet. Given the wary circling of emerging Asian powers, it is interesting that this initiative comes from INDIA, particularly in the context of China’s spectacular growth. Would such a Union include or exclude China, is the key question? INDIA with real hopes of normalisation with its northern neighbour Pakistan, is certainly not lagging in getting involved in world affairs. As we have reported in earlier overviews, India is building a sizeable blue water navy and is now going to build itself a new aircraft carrier. 

EUROPE’S BALKAN BACK-YARD
Europe has other problems apart from getting its rule book agreed, not least is the situation in the Balkans. The former Yugoslavia whose five successor republics we report monthly, had their best hope of normalcy by being accepted into the wider, deeper embrace of European Union. It could be that progress towards new memberships will now be slowed down by the reaction of the French voters. Violence is never far below the surface given the horrendous wars of so recent a period of history. It is to be regretted that Paddy Ashdown who has been a forthright leader in what just might be the most ungovernable territory on earth, the thrice divided state of BOSNIA–HERZEGOVINA, as we report, has his four year appointment as High Representative coming to an end this year. He talks about what he will be leaving behind.

SOUTH AFRICAN WARNING OF CORRUPTION
A leading South African politician, as we report in SOUTH AFRICA, critiques Tony Blair’s Commission for Africa, saying that there is a danger of reforms in Africa slowing down if countries are showered with new funds BEFORE they have fixed their problems of corruption and mismanagement. 

A TYRANNY THAT CONDI FORGOT
UZBEKISTAN has already been named by us in this series, but in view of the latest and continuing offences against democracy and humanity – we really think we need to again urge Condi to revisit this hateful regime, in terms of nominating them as a leading tyranny. It is true that the Pentagon has a base there, but why does it need it, now that it has bases not only in AFGHANISTAN itself, but also in KYRGYZSTAN and TAJIKISTAN
The US’s tarnished image would gain immensely more if Washington repudiated this unlovely client, than by hanging on to a military base of marginal importance and thereby seeming to associate with it. 

Our June issue brings you Updates on the forty nations in transition that we regularly cover, including all of the 15 republics that formerly were the Soviet Union; all of the Central and East European nations formerly subjects in the Soviet empire; the former Yugoslav republics and other Balkan nations together with analyses of a number of other highly significant countries. 

Publisher - Clive Lindley

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