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As Good as It Gets: Why the West Should Start Preparing Itself to a Ukraine under President Tymoshenko

Sat, 22/12/2018 - 16:46

The prominent Western commentator of post-Soviet affairs Taras Kuzio has recently come forward with a barrel of English-language attacks on Ukrainian opposition politician Yulia Tymoshenko – so far, the clear front-runner in Ukraine’s upcoming presidential elections in March 2019. Kuzio has placed several critical and partly denigrating texts about Tymoshenko in reputed analytical outlets, such as the web edition of the Polish journal New Eastern Europe and in the Ukraine Alert of the Atlantic Council of the United States. Kuzio insinuates that a Tymoshenko presidency may be on par with the rules of Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro, can mean a return to the multi-vector foreign policy of former Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma, or could even lead Ukraine to eventually succumb again to Russia.

 

Who is Mrs Tymoshenko?

Tymoshenko became first a deputy of the Verkhovna Rada (Supreme Council, Ukraine’s parliament), two years before Petro Poroshenko, in 1996. Since then, she has had an illustrious political career in a transition country with exceptionally sudden upheavals and sharp turns. As a member of parliament, party leader, deputy prime-minister and twice prime-minister, as well as today as opposition leader, she has made numerous decisions, announcements and comments which are worth scrutinizing, discussing and criticizing. The Kyiv fact-checking project VoxCheck has singled out Tymoshenko and her speech-writers for biased statements that, according to these well-regarded analysts, do not pass closer scrutiny. The members of her faction in the Verkhovna Rada have repeatedly voted against or abstained from voting for government-proposed reform laws, justifying such actions or inaction with these laws’ alleged flaws. What should the West think and do about this?

If one follows Kuzio’s logic, the West would seem to have to prepare itself to a major political disruption or even course reversal in the foreign and domestic affairs of Ukraine, in the case that Tymoshenko becomes its new leader. Under President Tymoshenko, according to Kuzio’s warnings, Ukraine could follow the path of today’s Venezuela, and eventually end up in chaos or in Russia’s sphere of influence – or in both. With such a grim outlook, presumably, Western governmental and non-governmental organizations – not to mention Ukrainian democrats – should do everything they can to prevent such a sad future for Ukraine.

The problem with Kuzio’s gloomy predictions is not only and not so much that they are overdrawn, but that they hinder constructive thinking about future Western-Ukrainian relations. Whatever interested observers in the West may wish or aspire with regard to Ukraine’s future leadership, Tymoshenko as a presidential candidate and her party “Batkivshchyna” (Fatherland) as a contender in the autumn 2019 parliamentary elections currently lead the polls, with a significant margin. Many Western observers would, perhaps, prefer a relatively young president from the famous Euro-Optimists group in parliament, or from such new parties as the Democratic Alliance or Power of the People. Some are enchanted with the popular singer Sviatoslav Vakarchuk who has recently become interested in politics, started to study social sciences at Stanford University, and could still announce his candidacy. Yet, as of November 2018, a likely scenario for the year 2019 is that Tymoshenko will become the next president and that her party’s share in parliament will significantly increase – independently of what Ukraine’s friends in Washington, Brussels or Berlin may dream of or plan for.

As of today, the only plausible alternative to a President Tymoshenko is, in fact, not the rise of a young reformer, but the continuation of Petro Poroshenko’s rule until 2024. Given the many contradictions in the public announcements and political decisions of both of these veteran politicians over the last 20-something years, Western observers find it difficult to judge what would be better for Ukraine. Continuity or change?

While few serious observers go as far as Kuzio in his statements, many are skeptical of Tymoshenko because of her strident rhetoric, unrealistic promises and demonstrative opposition to the government, during the last four-and-a-half years. Against the background of this experience, some Western observers, like Kuzio, support a prolongation of Poroshenko’s presidency. The problem is that, according to opinion polls, Ukrainian voters are, as of late November 2018, of a clearly different opinion. So far, Poroshenko’s negative rating – i.e. the percentage of those who would not vote for the candidate under any circumstances – is, with 51.4%, exceptionally high and significantly above that of Tymoshenko who has also a relatively high negative rating of 27.5%. Many Ukrainian civil society activists, moreover, are as (or more) critical of Poroshenko as (than) of Tymoshenko who is also disliked by numerous journalists, experts and diplomats in Ukraine and the West.

In any way, as of late 2018, a fundamental change of power in Kyiv during 2019 looks – reminiscent of the results of most earlier national elections in Ukraine – more likely than a continuation of Poroshenko’s rule. And it seems that this change will be to the benefit of Tymoshenko and Batkivhshchyna rather than any new pro-Western force. What exactly will happen, if the former prime-minister, her party and their allies indeed take over next year the presidency, parliament or/and government, is difficult to predict. But the West should already now get ready for that option.

Such a preparation should not only entail identifying, dissecting and pointing out inconsistencies in Tymoshenko’s current behavior in parliament and speeches in public – a process certainly and urgently needed. Being the most probable scenario so far, a prospective ascendancy of Tymoshenko can and should – in spite of some black points in her biography – also be seen as a chance for a new start, improved relations and progressive development. Certain arguably positive aspects of her possible rise could serve as starting points for such a forward-looking approach.

 

Why Tymoshenko may not be that bad

First and foremost, Tymoshenko would be the first female president – after she had already been the first female prime-minister in 2005 – in the Eastern Slavic world. This will, by itself, be a noteworthy achievement in the context of the traditionalist culture of Orthodox Christian civilization as well as neo-Soviet behavioral patterns that are both, to put it mildly, unsupportive of female power and proper emancipation. A Tymoshenko presidency would be a large step forward in terms of sexual equality in the entire post-Soviet world. It would help to encourage not only female Ukrainians, but also girls and women in other successor states of the USSR to seek political careers. A critical issue in Tymoshenko’s possible presidency and/or government will be whether she uses her increased executive and informal power to try raising the share of women in the highest echelons of power to the generally recommended minimum level of 30% — or, perhaps, to an even higher percentage.

Second, whereas Poroshenko was once co-founder of the thoroughly discredited Party of Regions (Yanukovych’s former political machine), Tymoshenko has managed to build, over the last 20 years, a relatively pro-Western party called Batkivshchyna. Creating this organization is by itself an accomplishment and good for Ukrainian democracy – independently of what one thinks about Tymoshenko. The few other more or less real political parties in Ukraine, such as the pro-Russian Communist Party or ultra-nationalist Union Svoboda (Freedom), have tended to be, in terms of their ideologies, explicitly or implicitly anti-Western.

Unlike most other political projects in Ukraine, Batkivshchyna possesses functioning regional as well as local branches. It has been present with a faction in Ukraine’s parliament for relatively many years now (since 2002). It is more or less evenly spread over Ukraine’s territory, and popular not only because of Tymoshenko’s personality, but also because of its socio-economic initiatives. In other words, it is a phenomenon closer, than other such Ukrainian groups, to a Western political party than to a post-Soviet “political-technological” project or pseudo-party of which Ukraine had many since 1991.

Moreover, Batkivshchyna is an official partner of the European People’s Party, the large family of Christian-Democratic parties in the European Union. Its parliamentary faction includes such veteran pro-Western diplomats as Borys Tarasyuk (b. 1949), Ukraine’s Foreign Minister in 1998-2000 and 2005-2007, and Hryhoriy Nemyria (b. 1960), Ukraine’s Deputy Prime-Minister for European and International Integration in 2007-2010. To be sure, Batkivshchyna is – like many previous parties in Ukraine – so far clearly a leader-centered network dominated by and associated with its prominent head. Yet, its relatively long existence as a parliamentary force and developed institutional structure give hope that this initiative could transform into a meaningful political organization outliving its charismatic founder.

Third, it is true that Tymoshenko belongs, along with presidents Viktor Yushchenko, Viktor Yanukovych and Petro Poroshenko, to the old cohort of appointees of Leonid Kuchma, Ukraine’s longest serving president in 1994-2005. Still, Tymoshenko may still be a politician different from them – not only because she is a woman. Tymoshenko was a minister under Kuchma, but she was also briefly incarcerated under her initial patron, in 2001. While Poroshenko was a minister under Yanukovych in 2011-2012, she was, during that time, again in prison from 2011 to 2014.

These detentions are by themselves not necessarily a recommendation. Yet, they indicate that Tymoshenko may not be quite of the same material as Kuchma, Yushchenko, Yanukovych and Poroshenko – none of whom was ever arrested during their political careers (Yanukovych had been imprisoned for ordinary crimes, during Soviet times). Arguably, Tymoshenko’s two arrests as an opposition politician testify to the fear, among her opponents, of her resoluteness rather than to any exceptional misbehavior, in the Ukrainian context. Whether those qualities that led Kuchma’s and Yanukovych’s administrations to put her temporarily behind bars will be to the benefit of Ukraine, once she becomes president, remains to be seen.

Last but not least, during the last months, Tymoshenko and her party have become engaged in a series of well-organized programmatic, so-called “New Course” conferences that allowed wide participation and pluralistic discussion. The relative openness of these large events was illustrated by bizarre incidents caused by unscheduled speakers taking spontaneously and embarrassingly the floor without any hindrance. What is more, these meetings featured content-rich speeches and interactive debates containing a large array of more or less innovative (if, sometimes, half-baked) approaches as well as involving a whole number of activists and specialists not belonging to Batkivshchyna. In fact, the “New Course” conferences introduced so many novel plans that they are, in their entirety, difficult to digest even for seasoned political experts.

One may question, to be sure, the seriousness, realism and wisdom of some of the political, economic and institutional innovations proposed by Tymoshenko and her team. The Batkivshchyna team has, for instance, extensively, angrily and with much detail reacted to a scathing critique of the economic part of Tymoshenko’s “New Course” program by some of VoxUkraine’s editorial board members. Yet, the mere fact that numerous concrete and detailed ideas for Ukraine’s future domestic and foreign affairs were timely developed, extensively presented, openly debated and already criticized is remarkable. This focus on political substance rather than mere propaganda slogans distinguishes Tymoshenko’s campaign – whatever one may think about its contents – advantageously from those of her substantively less ambitious, elaborate and clear competitors (and let me myself briefly participate in one such debate in Kyiv, in autumn 2018).

None of these circumstances is a guarantee for a good Tymoshenko presidency, and I am not campaigning here for her. Yet, given that alternatives to her victory are currently less likely, the above aspects of Tymoshenko’s biography can serve as starting points for a constructive discussion between her as well as her team, on the one side, and Ukrainian civil society as well as Western actors, on the other – if she indeed becomes president. Arguably, Ukraine’s person on the top will, in any way, not be quite that important any more, as in earlier times. Ukraine’s formal political system has become more balanced, and its informal mechanisms have become somewhat less patronalistic than before 2014. The ongoing decentralization reform is gradually devolving power away from the center to local communities and municipalities making Ukraine thereby, with every passing month, less and less post- or neo-Soviet.

 

Reforming Ukraine with the old guys 

Many reforms under Poroshenko have, to be sure, been driven not only and so much by Ukrainian politicians than by joint pressure, on parliament and government, from national non-governmental and international governmental organizations, such as the IMF and EU. This so-called “sandwich model” of reform initiation and implementation, in which the still corrupt state is sandwiched between closely cooperating civic activists (principally organized under the umbrella of the so-called “Reanimation Package of Reforms” grouping), and foreign donors, will have to be also used in the future – independently of who becomes the next president. That should be especially so in the likely case that Ukraine’s law on parliamentary elections will not be changed to apply already in 2019.

In such a case, the coming autumn proportional and majoritarian elections to the Verkhovna Rada will happen under the old electoral law adopted under Yanukovych and designed to facilitate political corruption. Certain positions on the closed lists of the competing parties will be sold to the highest bidder. In single-member districts, affluent candidates can purchase so-called “nets” of groups of voters ready to sell their votes. As a result, private interests will again heavily infiltrate law making and governmental processes. One wonders where the enormous amounts that Tymoshenko is currently spending on her electoral campaign come from, and what they will mean for her possible future presidency as well as Batkivshchyna’s likely participation in government.

It would still make sense for both Western diplomats and Ukrainian activists to explore already now whether and how much a possible future presidential administration and/or cabinet under Tymoshenko will be willing to support pushing reforms through an oligarchically subverted parliament, corruption-plagued government, and reform-adverse bureaucracy. One of Tymoshenko’s most consequential actions as newly appointed Prime-Minister in 2005 was the reversal of the flawed privatization and transparent re-privatization of Ukraine’s largest steel-mill “Krivorizhstal’” which, as a result, became “ArcelorMittal Krivyi Rih.” While skepticism is always advisable, this publicly televised action 13 years ago could, in principle, also mean that Tymoshenko may be more serious about reducing oligarchic influence in Ukraine than Poroshenko has been since 2014.

Kuzio’s various articles seem to, instead, suggest that the West should shun or even stigmatize and isolate Tymoshenko because of her current left-wing populist stance, unrealistic social plans and seemingly unconstructive behavior in parliament. Yet, vociferous anti-governmental rhetoric, public resistance to unpopular austerity measures, and hyperbolic promises of quick future improvements are also not unheard-of behavior among Western opposition parties – as long as they are not in government. It is likely that Tymoshenko and her team will, in the same way Western parties adapt to reality after electoral successes, significantly adjust their positions once they have obtained executive power. Given the narrow corridor of action any Ukrainian government currently has and, in the future, will have, Tymoshenko & Co. will probably more productively cooperate with the IMF and EU as well as other donor organizations than their current unrealistic electoral rhetoric suggests.

For the case of such a positive turn, Western national governments and international organizations should not waste a possibly opening new window of opportunity. They should start studying Tymoshenko’s program, and reaching out to her team via, for instance, the European People’s Party channel. How exactly a Tymoshenko presidency and government will look like is difficult to predict, even against the background of her previous two terms as cabinet head during Yushchenko’s presidency. Too many variables have changed since the end of her last term as the prime-minister in early 2010. Yet, given the above peculiarities of Tymoshenko’s political career and her ambitious “New Course” agenda, there could be the prospect of a new wave of substantive political and economic changes that accelerate rather than hinder the transformation process. Ukraine is too important for Europe and the West to not pay attention.

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[An excerpt from this article was earlier published with the Ukraine Alert of the Atlantic Council of the US in Washington, DC. The present text was, in Kyiv, first published by VoxUkraine whose editors Rostyslav Averchuk and Oleksandr Zholud kindly helped improving the text. For all remaining imprecisions and misinterpretations, the author alone is responsible.]

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The return of Russia as a superpower

Fri, 21/12/2018 - 16:43

Russia dwindled from its superpower status on the world stage following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Ever since, Russia has been embroiled in a battle with the Western world to restore its global image as a superpower. On several fronts, Russia has been pursuing both domestic and foreign policies to restore its international presence to compete with the Western world.

In international relations certain states exercise greater leverage than others, due to their exceptional power status. Such a distinction may arise through being labelled a ‘superpower’ which requires for a state to be resolute along four axes of power: military, economic, political, and cultural. In recent times, Russian strategy has been to bolster these sectors to reclaim its status as a global superpower, which was lost following the Cold War.

To better understand how Russia plans to reclaim its superpower title, it’s worth individually exploring how Russia is solidifying its position on all four fronts.

Military

With a defence budget of $44.6 billion, Russia is second only to the USA in the list of most powerful militaries in the world. Russia has long maintained its image as a militarily advanced state, capable of protecting its interests both at home and abroad. Over the last few year, unrelenting Russian military efforts across the world have been making the case for Russia’s worthiness of superpower status.

Russian involvement in Syria has been a contributing factor in exacerbating the ongoing civil war. Russia has equipped President Bashar Al Assad’s autocratic regime with new anti-aircraft missiles; just two weeks after a Russian aircraft was shot down. This rapidity displays Russia’s aptitude to adapt to world affairs to advance its militaristic ventures. This Russian expeditiousness has gradually been unnerving the western-led coalition, that is propping up forces against the Assad regime.

As with the invasion of Crimea, Russian President Vladimir Putin demonstrated to the world Russia’s ability to advance personal goals by exercising military might.  The hostile invasion of Ukraine was a signal to the western world that Russia will not be pressured by international condemnation or sanctions while protecting its interests. Following the events in Ukraine, Putin’s popularity picked up again showing public support in Putin’s vision to boost patriotism for the motherland. Stressing how under the leadership of Putin, a more aggressive militaristic approach is being accepted, to pave the way for the revival of Russian superpower status.

Economic

According to US President Donald Trump, Germany is totally controlled by Russia because they’re getting between 60 to 70% energy from Russia. Though this figure may be inflated, Russia dominates gas imports in Europe through providing 37% of natural gas to the EU with $22.7 billion of monthly imports.  Enjoying the largest amount of natural gas reserves in the world, Russia is able to generate substantial wealth from importing gas, keeping its competitors at bay.

With Brexit in near view, Russia will seek to capitilise on the uncertainty, disruption and disorder it has been and will continue to cause. Russia will be able to seize the opportunity to use uncertainty from investors and businesses to create new business opportunities for themselves. As was seen with the allegations of Russian diplomats and even the Russian Ambassador influencing a key figure leading the Brexit campaign, with international business offers.

Political

The special counsel investigation into the alleged collusion of the Russian government to interfere in the 2016 presidential elections is ongoing with multiple guilty pleas, including the indictment of Trump’s former campaign manager and of 13 Russian nationals. This case of Russia’s blatant interference in foreign elections, with the goal of weakening the health and credibility of democratic regimes elucidates the Russian objective to clamber to the top of the international community. Russia can only succeed in becoming a great superpower if it creates a sense of hostility and disorder in the international community – which will pave its way to dominate on the world stage.

In another show of political defiance, the Russian government has been found to ‘almost certainly’ orchestrated the poisoning of a former Russian military intelligence officer in the United Kingdom. The British Prime Minister Theresa May said that the perpetrators of the attack were from Russia’s military intelligence service, and likely approved at the senior state level. The expedition is one of insolence and gamesmanship as demonstrated by the Kremlin’s following actions.

The Kremlin sought to sow discord in the UK by undermining the authorities, by flagrantly disobeying international law and simultaneously displaying the UK as weak and incompetent. The actions, however, provoked a huge international backlash with more than 100 Russian diplomats expelled from Western countries. Russia, nevertheless, maintained its staunch and aggressive stature by expelling diplomats from 23 countries all the while denying the allegations.

What’s more is that Russia’s intelligence service allegedly attempted to target the Organisation for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) with a cyber attack. The OPCW is investigating the poisoning of the spy in Salisbury – highlighting Russia’s insistence to continue pushing its political agenda, using clandestine and hostile techniques.

Cultural

As with the other axes, Russia has escalated its quest for supremacy by supercharging its global PR campaign to restore its image to the outside world through displaying Russia’s cultural impact on the world. Distancing from its image as a hostile and autocratic state, the Russian government has spent billions of dollars to host major cultural events –  despite them being mired with allegations of corruption. In 2018 Russia hosted the FIFA World Cup at a cost of somewhere between $26-30.8 billion, which Russian officials claimed would have a significant economic impact. Russia also hosted the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014 in which new roads, railways, hotels and leisure facilities helped to attract more tourists.

To keep up with western competitors Russia has been investing heavily into its cultural landscape through launching initiatives such as opening the first cultural institution in Russia specifically dedicated to design. Russian creativity and culture is publicised trough huge infrastructural project, such as the Moscow Metro which is Europe’s biggest mass transport system. As the world’s largest nation, Russian culture displays its diverse heritage through its architecture and colourful domes, ballet companies and nesting dolls – exhibiting to the outside world the deep-rooted cultural values of the Motherland.

With a view of poking at the issues and insecurities of the western world, Russia is running a secret yet highly effective campaign to weaken its opponents and supplement its growth as a superpower.

Though we exist under an anarchical system, the world is very much still governed by power politics, in which Russia is an integral force. With a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council, Russia has a great deal of influence on the international community – and is only seeking to augment that presence. Russian economic, military, political and cultural policies are shaped to showcase to the international community the exceptional power Russia possesses to influence global affairs.

Under Putin’s leadership Russia has found a renewed sense of patriotism and is increasing its velocity on all fronts to continue its efforts to once again take pole position at the world stage. With a view of poking at the issues and insecurities of the western world, Russia is running a secret yet highly effective campaign to weaken its opponents and supplement its growth as a superpower. The bold statesmanship of Putin is helping craft a new legacy for Russia to reclaim its status as a global superpower – and if continued to be unchallenged it may just become reality.

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The Increased Cost of Living is the Fuel for Protests

Thu, 20/12/2018 - 16:42

Yellow jacket “gilets jaunes” protesters in the streets of France.

It is an anachronism in today’s society that anyone in a developed country would rightly claim that there is no path to warm shelter, food and employment for most in a community. But the effect of added taxes in a policy to reduce carbon emissions is exactly what lead a father in Ontario, Canada to take to rap in protest of high energy prices for his family. Eventually there was a change in government in that province of Canada, and now it seems as if many large Canadian provincial leaders are fighting Justin Trudeau’s new federal Carbon Tax to take effect in 2019. With a government in Ontario that recently fell hard because of high energy prices, it is questionable on how Canada will apply a tax that recently sent French citizens to the streets in historic protests, postponing the application of the new tax by the will of the people clad is fluorescent yellow by way of their gilets jaunes.

Despite the claims that all money taxed will be put back in the pockets of citizens, and that the current government was elected to put in a carbon tax, the protest vote in Canada seems to have come in regional elections for Provincial governments. Canadians often do not spontaneously take to the streets to protest many issues, not to the same degree that has taken place in France. Even when there are large rallies they are often organised by Unions or other political action groups, that is common in Canada and is very common in France and many parts of the EU. The recent protests seemed to be organic in nature, taking on the character or historic French protests that brought down royal families, or more akin to 1% rallies that grouped masses of people in disdain of general inequality in society.

What seems to be clear is that middle income Canadian and middle income French citizens have a common goal, to be able to use enough of their earned money for their family, and not for added taxes, carbon or otherwise. When someone like Macron, who is a symbol of elite French banking executives is seen as being detached from everyday people, there is a natural motivation to challenge that sort of power. While there is an outlet for protest via the regional governments in Canada that are challenging the Federal Government, the French people did not see many effective alternatives for their dislike of the new policy, symbolically wearing brightly coloured vests so they could be seen by those in power. Adding carbon taxes is now seen as a more of a tool in where the least middle class people in a country’s democratic history can alter the lives of everyday citizens to such a degree that they no longer can provide an expected healthy living for their families. With the cost of living in France already one of the highest in the EU and Canadians set to pay up to $400.00 more a year for their food next year, a loss of a job combined with increased costs of living makes carbon taxes an unacceptable burden in those situations. Governments often forget that it is their duty to listen to the people, even if they do not understand them.

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Op-Ed: Why India should not support the Sheikh Hasina government

Wed, 19/12/2018 - 16:41

In recent days, a series of articles have been published, emphasizing that India should be supporting Sheikh Hasina in the upcoming Bangladeshi elections. According to the Weekly Blitz, Sheikh Hasina is opposed to Jamat e-Islami. Furthermore, a Chinese news website argued that she should be supported because under her leadership, the UN reported that the literacy rate for women increased, the life expectancy of babies went up and the number of children enrolled in schools has improved. However, what these articles fail to realize is that Sheikh Hasina is a dictator who has been slowly ethnically cleansing Hindus and other minorities from the country.

On a daily basis, Hindus are being murdered, raped, abducted and forcefully converted to Islam. Their lands are being seized from them, their holy places are being desecrated and their homes are being destroyed. Forces loyal to the Sheikh Hasina government are doing everything in their power in order to make Bangladesh to be a minority-free country. Routinely, Hindus within the country face systematic pressure and threats merely so that they will be compelled to move to India and to leave behind their ancestral homeland. Just recently, a Hindu girl was stabbed to death in Manikganj and a number of Hindu opposition activists were arrested.

However, the minorities are not the only ones suffering under the present ruling Awami League government. In his recently published memoir titled A Broken Dream: Rule of Law, Human Rights and Democracy, Surendra Kumar Sinha, a former Hindu Bangladeshi Chief Justice who was forced into exile due to his support for protecting Bangladeshi democracy, proclaimed that Sheikh Hasina is not a democratic leader as the 2014 sham elections highlighted and that India should not be supporting her for this reason alone: “People cannot be ruled with the help of security forces consistently violating the civil rights of the citizens. No autocratic government can rule the country for an indefinite period. Unless democracy and rule of law are established, the sentiments of the people will keep rising against the tyrannical government and it will go against India as well because India is seen to be propping up an autocratic government for its own interest.”

But Sheikh Hasina is not just a dictator. She is a dictator who is empowering radical Islam within her country. In an exclusive interview with The Wire, Sinha claimed that 40% of Pakistan is under the control of terrorist groups and that under the Sheikh Hasina government, Bangladesh is heading in that direction: “This present government is patronizing Hefazat. Terrorism and fanaticism is spreading across the country through mosques and madrasas controlled by Hefazat.” While Sinha noted that the Sheikh Hasina government is opposed to Jaamat e-Islami, he claimed that Hefazat is even more fanatical than them.

In fact, Shipan Kumer Basu, the President of the World Hindu Struggle Committee, noted that while the opposition BNP Party is tied to Jamaat e-Islami, who has terribly persecuted the Hindu minority, the Awami League is tied to not only Hefazat but also the Olama League, who pose a threat not only to the local Hindu population in Bangladesh but also to India and the entire free world. In addition, under the Sheikh Hasina government, ISIS has established a base in Bangladesh, the country went from being a secular state to an Islamic state and Sheikh Hasina now seeks for it to become a criminal offense to criticize the Prophet Muhammad and the Muslim faith. Even before this announcement was made, there are already hundreds of cases filed against Hindus for hurting religious sentiment. There are also reports that the school textbooks in the country are increasingly encouraging fundamentalist Islamic thought and inciting against the minorities.

In conclusion, Basu declared: “We understand that there is a security problem along the Indian-Bangladeshi border. The Indian government thinks that if Sheikh Hasina does not come to power again, then terrorists can illegally infiltrate into India and then their country would be in a more dangerous security situation.” However, he believes that this mentality is misguided for both the Awami League and the BNP are responsible for implementing minority violence and supporting terror: “During the reign of these two parties, the Hindus and other minorities have suffered from massive human rights abuses.” However, with the rapid increase in the number of Hindus involved in the Bangladeshi opposition, Basu thinks it will be different now for it is not just the BNP against the Awami League but a coalition of groups against the Awami League: “At this moment, if a new government can be formed in Bangladesh, it will be loyal to India and the minorities will be in a better position. In addition, India won’t have any security risks.”

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New York trial casts new scrutiny on China’s Belt and Road Initiative

Tue, 18/12/2018 - 16:36

According to prosecutors, the trial of Patrick Ho was simply business. The Chinese financier, found guilty of orchestrating a multi-million dollar bribery scheme in Africa, wasn’t the victim of a US smear campaign as his defense claimed. No, he was simply brought to justice for violating US laws while working for an US-based organization.

Yet no matter what the prosecution says, it’s impossible to ignore the wider significance of the affair. By jailing one of China’s key international promoters for his role in the country’s ‘Belt and Road’ trade strategy, the US has shown its concerns at the shady practices Beijing is using to secure an advantage overseas. While Ho’s dealings appear to have posed little threat to the US, they epitomize a ruthless global strategy which, in many parts of the developing world, challenges US hegemony and is now forcing Washington to act.

To critics of President Xi Jinping’s regime, Ho summed up their ruthless attempts at economic imperialism. The former Hong Kong politician’s trial heard that, while working for a think tank funded by Shanghai-based CEPC China Energy, he offered $2.9 million in bribes to political leaders in Chad and Uganda to secure oil and development rights. Senegalese politician Cheikh Gadio, the prosecution’s key witness, claimed this included a gift-wrapped $2 million presented to Chadian President Idriss Deby in a rural village.

The case offered an insight into how China is building influence in Africa and Asia through Belt and Road, a $4 trillion funding program that has been likened to ‘WTO 2.0’. The program has long been the subject of rumor and innuendo, particularly in Africa, where Chinese businesses are routinely accused of buying contracts with kickbacks. A McKinsey report published last year found that nearly 90% of Chinese companies were using bribes in some African countries.

These reports, often accompanied by tales of bullying and the humiliation of local workers, are troubling enough. Yet they are mirrored by the Chinese government’s own coercive strategy, which, critics claim, is fundamental to Belt and Road.

Debt diplomacy

Chinese banks have lent money to developing countries at a furious rate – around $20 billion has been extended since last summer alone. The money is typically provided with attractive repayment rates and little scrutiny, perfect for unscrupulous regimes. But the evidence suggests China is simply laying a series of debt traps, which could be used to snare prime strategic assets in regions which previously fell under US control.

A prime example is Sri Lanka, where China provided the money for former president Mahinda Rajapaksa to build the huge port of Hambantota, widely derided as a personal vanity project. The port proved a disaster (in 2012 it attracted only 34 ships) and the financial arrears proved too much for Rajapaksa’s government, which surrendered Hambantota to Beijing on a 99-year-lease. Although the terms specifically forbid the military use of Hambantota, fears are mounting that this condition could be loosened in exchange for further debt relief.

The strategic importance of Hambantota to the US appears relatively low, but nonetheless it’s a headache Washington could do without. American strategists are already worried about China’s maritime buildup, and the ongoing US activity in the Middle East means the Indian Ocean, which has harbored a significant American presence since World War II, is a key artery. China has already invested heavily in the region through its economic corridor with Pakistan – prompting the Trump Administration to show its concern by imploring South Asian nations not to follow Sri Lanka’s lead by surrendering their sovereignty.

Meanwhile, 4,000 kilometers away, fears are growing that China will repeat the Hambantota trick in an area far more important to the US; the Horn of Africa. Beijing has already established a military base in Djibouti, near America’s monolithic Camp Lemonnier, and now appears poised to accept the neighboring Doraleh container terminal as a gift. With his country’s debt to China pushing 90% of GDP, President Ismail Guelleh has already ejected Doraleh’s previous operator, Dubai’s DP World, and allowed China to build a free trade zone.

Xi’s officials would doubtless claim that Doraleh, perched alongside one of the world’s busiest sea lines, is vital to the Maritime Silk Road, the aquatic branch of Belt and Road. Yet for the US, which uses Djibouti as a jump-off for operations against groups such as Al-Qaeda and Islamic State, there’s a clear military significance, heightened by evidence that Guelleh’s regime is abetting weapons smuggling between Yemen and Somalia. The decision to pick a fight with Beijing in May, after claiming Chinese forces pointed lasers at US planes in Djibouti’s skies, demonstrates how much China’s incursion has rattled decision-makers in Washington.

As Belt and Road expands, so new countries will become pawns in China’s push for global supremacy. In the Indo-Pacific region, for example, Beijing pledged $4 billion to a cluster of islands including Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Vanuatu just last year. Like Djibouti and Sri Lanka, the islands are plagued by corruption and weak government. According to Australia, previously the region’s top donor (and a key US ally), China’s loans have been wasted on “roads to nowhere”, echoing the folly of Hambantota.

Although the populations of these islands typically fall below 1 million, their location makes them strategic. The Indo-Pacific is not only vital in maintaining sea lines between East and West, it is close to the South China Sea, where the US and China have been locked in a regional struggle for years, both building new bases in a prolonged game of one-upmanship. Reports in April that China is planning a base in Vanuatu were hastily denied – but Beijing will surely have noted with interest the discomfort they caused.

Against this backdrop, it’s easy to see why the US was so keen to jail Ho. His activity was straight from the Belt and Road playbook, which arguably poses the greatest threat to US global superiority since the fall of the Soviet Union, and his American connection allowed the Department of Justice to land a blow. Prosecutors may claim there was nothing political about it, but when it comes to China and America, nearly everything is.

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Foreign Affairs Quiz

Mon, 17/12/2018 - 16:30

http://www.quiz-maker.com/Q3YD732

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Are China and Australia beginning to mend a frayed relationship?

Wed, 12/12/2018 - 19:10

Additions to Australia’s recently formed Cabinet have attempted to mend a somewhat fractious relationship between Canberra and Beijing, and economically, there is no relationship more important to Australia. But has the efforts of these ministers been a success, or will the negative actions taken towards China by Australia’s former government caused irreparable damage?

Australia’s sixth change of Prime Minister in eight years brought about a cabinet reshuffle. The recently appointed Foreign Affairs minister Marise Payne met with her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in Beijing in a meeting that ran an hour longer than scheduled, a seemingly positive sign. Payne claimed, “we remain absolutely committed as a government to welcoming foreign investment into Australia. It supports jobs, it helps to increase living standards.” Foreign Minister Wang echoed the sentiments, stating “I think the most important outcome of this dialogue is that we have reaffirmed the course of this relationship.”

Payne’s visit followed Australia’s trade minister Simon Birmingham attending the China International Import Expo in Shanghai, bringing to an end a year long diplomatic freeze by Beijing on visits by Australian officials. Minister Birmingham spoke warmly of the event, claiming “The CIIE is an incredible opportunity to highlight the strength of the Chinese economy since it began to open up to the world.” The expo was an opportunity for Australia to showcase its best products to Chinese markets, with around 150 Australian companies sending representatives. Businesses from Down Under will have “the added benefit of many products entering tariff free from January 1 next year, an attractive proposition for the thousands of domestic buyers attending the Australian stands”, exclaimed AustCham Shanghai chief executive Jack Brady.

Key indicators show how crucial a positive diplomatic relationship between Beijing and Canberra is to Australia. In 2017, Australia’s trade with China was valued at $US133 billion, up 16 percent on 2016 figures, accounting for 24 percent of Australia’s total trade, making it Australia’s biggest trading partner in terms of exports and imports.

The superpower’s presence can be felt throughout various sectors of Australia’s economy. And while the property investment and luxury consumer good sales have had contrasting fortunes recently, they give a snapshot of the magnitude of Chinese activity taking place.

Although the level of investment in the property market has fallen by 26 percent in the financial year 2016/17, leading Chinese global property investment portal, Juwai.com, reported that $US 17.4 billion was still ploughed into the Australian real estate market. The two main factors for the decline have been due to capital controls from Chinese regulators limiting the amount of money that can leave the country, and the introduction of a fee by Australia’s Foreign Investment Review Board on property investment applications. These measures have also resulted in a sharp decline in residential real estate application approvals from 40,149 in the 2015/16 financial year, to 13,198 in the following financial year.

The luxury consumer goods market has brought about tangible changes felt across high-end shopping districts in Australia. Industry insiders estimate Chinese shoppers are responsible for two-thirds of sales in the sector. Tim Starling, head of commercial property services company CBRE’s Australian retail occupier team, claims, “Over the past 12 to 18 months we’ve seen this push towards Australia, a lot of that’s being driven by the success of the stalwarts – Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Prada – who have been here for quite a long time.” A $US 517 million redevelopment to Australia’s largest shopping centre in Melbourne’s east saw the number of luxury brands double to 38, with concierge and in-store customer staff featuring a number of Mandarin speakers and shoppers in stores such as Gucci and Chanel speaking Mandarin. The shopping centre’s tourism manager Anita Donnelly also estimates visits from Chinese tourists doubled in 2017, from 102,400 in 2016, highlighting another burgeoning industry with a Chinese presence – tourism. Examining these industries helps to understand the scale of China’s significance on the Australian economy.

Additionally, the geopolitical tensions of territorial disputes in the South China Sea, along with the US trade war with China has meant the relationship and predictability of future actions by Beijing are as sensitive as they have been since the end of the Cold War.

The cause of tension between the two countries began in earnest at the end of 2017, when then-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced legislation to counter foreign influence in domestic affairs, including a mandate for foreign governments to identify themselves on a pubic register. Turnbull admitted his decision was influenced by “disturbing reports about Chinese influence”, an assertion strongly denied by Beijing.

Naturally, this lack of credibility was viewed negatively by their Asian neighbours, with China’s ambassador to Australia, Cheng Jingye, warning that a “Cold War mentality” would undermine relations. In May, disdain was also shown when Australia’s then-Trade Minister Steve Ciobo’s attempt to meet with his Chinese counterpart was rebuffed.

With efforts to ease tensions by the newly appointed ministers, does this indicate diplomatic relations between Beijing and Canberra are on the mend? Not exactly – in late August, Canberra denied the right for Chinese tech giants Huawei and ZTE involvement in the national rollout of 5G telecommunications upgrades taking place in Australia. Minister Payne defended the decision prior to being sworn in as Foreign Affairs minister, citing the protection of Australia’s national security as the motive, as Chinese law requires organisations and citizens to support, assist and cooperate with intelligence work, making Huawei’s equipment a conduit for espionage. Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang claimed that China expressed “serious concern”, adding that “Australia should not use excuses to artificially erect barriers.” Chinese state media echoed these sentiments, describing it as a “stab in the back” to Huawei, and “disappointing and poisonous” to bilateral cooperation.

So will the olive branches extended by these ministers simply be in vain? Only time will tell.

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Bangladeshi media: Prominent Muslim human rights activist arrested

Tue, 11/12/2018 - 22:43

Aslam Chowdhury, a prominent Muslim minority and human rights activist who also serves as the BNP Central Joint Secretary General in Bangladesh, was displayed arrested recently in the Bangladeshi media and is presently in jail after being disqualified from running in the elections later this month. According to the report, the Police surrounded his home for three hours when a meeting was being held there and 25 leaders were arrested. Later on, Mr. Chowdhury revealed that he was not arrested but his elder brother Nizam Uddin Chowdhury and 17 other members of his political team were.

This incident came after the Bangladeshi Election Committee cleared Mr. Chowdhury to run for Chattogram 4 in the upcoming elections. Mendi Safadi, who presently heads the Safadi Center for International Diplomacy, Research, Public Relations and Human Rights, heavily criticized the incident: “When the election committee prevents Aslam Chowdhury and other opposition politicians from running for elections, in order to increase the chances of winning the elections, under international law, this is equivalent to falsifying elections. This is the conduct of an unfit election campaign and we will consider our actions in this case.”

“It is not enough that the government announced without warning in mid-November that the elections would be held at the end of December, and immediately afterwards, there was an unprecedented wave of arrests of tens of thousands of political activists, which was carried out to rig the election results in favor of the corrupt Sheikh Hasina government,” Safadi proclaimed, noting that 15,000 opposition activists were recently arrested and most of the detained are Hindus. “She refuses to face popular candidates from the opposition and this goes against any democratic value.”

Safadi declared in response: “We will turn to the United Nations and the European Parliament in the coming days and submit a special report to each of the parliaments in Europe, the Kremlin and the US Congress in order to give protection to the opposition in Bangladesh so that opposition candidates will be able to vote and to be elected transparently and legally.”

A couple of years ago, Chowdhury was arrested after meeting with Safadi, who formerly served as Ayoob Kara’s chief of staff. The Bangladeshi government alleged that he was part of an Israeli plot to topple the Bangladeshi government but Safadi related that the real reason he was arrested was due to his role in the country’s opposition. Bangladesh has no diplomatic relations with Israel and Bangladeshi citizens are barred from visiting the Jewish state.

According to the Gatestone Institute, during every Friday sermon, the Jewish people are cursed from more than 250,000 mosques in the country. In addition, Sheikh Hasina declared that Bangladesh is an Islamic state: “Anyone who pronounces offensive statements against it or against the Prophet Muhammed will be prosecuted according to the law.”

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Weekly Quiz

Mon, 10/12/2018 - 17:36

http://www.quiz-maker.com/Q1KJ1Y9

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DPP’s Mid-term Exam

Thu, 06/12/2018 - 17:05

In 2014 Local Election and the Presidential Election in 2016, Tsai Ing-wen and her pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party(DPP) swiped Taiwan, from Parliament to local governments. This Saturday, the first local election after Tsai’ s administrations came to power will be held. From 2014 to 2016, DPP’s power grew rapidly as President Ma from Nationalist Party (KMT) floundered over several political issues and also the economies. However, after Tsai became the president of Taiwan, or formally the Republic of China (ROC) in 2016, the support rate for the DPP continued to decrease. On the one hand, Tsai’s administration did not improve the economic situation as promised and even involved in some political scandals. On the other hand, the bad Cross-Strait Relations damage not only Taiwan’s power on the international stage but also the domestic economy. And The bad performance of the central government has badly affected the local election.

Cross-Strait Relations after 2016

After Tsai became the president of ROC, there was barely any official communication between Beijing and Taipei as Beijing refuses to talk to the latter. The reason given by Beijing is very simple, that Tsai’s administration does not recognize the “1992 Consensus” which stresses the idea of ” One China, different expressions”: Beijing recognizes People’s Republic of China and Taipei recognizes the Republic of China. The DPP contends that it recognizes the historical facts of 1992 Conferences between representatives from both sides but not the so-called “1992 Consensus” which was not invented until 2004.

As Beijing is not satisfied with Tsai’s policies toward the mainland, it started to pressure Taiwan from multiple fronts. The first one is on countries which maintain formal diplomatic relations with Taipei. Since Tsai came to power, 5 countries including São Tomé and Príncipe, Panamá, Burkina Faso, Dominican, and Salvador stopped their diplomatic recognition of ROC and switched to PRC. So far, there are only 17 countries left which still recognizes Taipei as the legitimate government of China. Taipei contends that it is a systematic strategy by Beijing to constrain the international space for Taiwan. Even the U.S., after Salvador, switched its diplomatic recognition to PRC, criticized Beijing for its pressure on Taiwan.

Beijing’s strategy also includes the pressure on international organizations which reserve seats for Taiwan.  For example, Taiwan was allowed to participate in the World Health Organization as an observer from 2009 to 2016 during pro-mainland President Ma’s administration. However, it was forced to quit after Tsai came into power.  Another case would be the International Civil Aviation Organization, which Taiwan was permitted to join in 2013 but again be forced to leave in 2016.  Pressures can be also observed in organizations where Taiwan wants to change its name from “China Taipei” to Taiwan. One example is the International Olympic Committee which in earlier this year warned Taipei that it will not allow “China Taipei” to be changed.  It should be noted that Beijing does not necessarily directly put pressures on these organizations, but they do not want to anger Beijing anyway.

The bad Cross-Strait Relations has political implications in both domestic politics and foreign policies. In contrast to the DPP, the KMT still recognizes the 1992 consensus and maintains a good relationship with Beijing as the delegation of the KMT, led by its former president Lian can still meet with President Xi in Beijing despite the current situation. As a result, the KMT attacks the DPP that its foreign policy has led to the loss of diplomatic relations and also the opportunities to participate in international organizations.

Since the mainland became increasingly aggressive, Tsai’s administration tries hard to seek help from the U.S. Soon after Donald Trump won the election, Tsai called Trump (and Trump answered the phone), triggering the diplomatic tension between China and the U.S. concerning the “One China” policy that the U.S. promises to follow. The crisis ended up with the State Department reassures that the U.S. recognizes Beijing, not Taipei. This year, as the trade dispute between China and the U.S. escalated, Taiwan seeks a closer tie with the U.S, culminating in the pass of Taiwan Travel Act which allows high-level American officials to travel to Taiwan.

To counter Taiwan’s strategy to drag Americans in, Beijing launched numerous military exercises near Taiwan including dispatching the latest carrier battle group near the island. Such aggressive approaches triggered severe anti-China sentiment in Taiwan and Beijing stopped military actions since about 6 months ago, fearing negative effects on the local election. Interestingly, Tsai’s administration seems to be unhappy with this and the coast guard just started a military exercise in the South China Sea which will last for 3 days and end only one day before the election. So far Beijing does not respond to this, but it will probably not make any comment until the election ends.

Economic issues

The most essential problem for Tsai’s administration is the economic development and the. Although she said in public that “Nowadays, Taiwan’s economy is the best for the past 2 decades.”, the economic data does not support her view. It is now struggling to maintain a GDP growth rate of around 2% and hard to attract foreign investment.

The bad Cross-Strait relationship is certainly one important factor. In 2008, Nationalist administration finally signed documents with Beijing, allowing tourists groups travel directly to Taiwan. (Before that, mainlanders need to transfer at Hong Kong to fly to Taiwan.) In 2011, individual tourism was also permitted. Since then, the number of mainland visitors to Taiwan skyrocketed, as well as the income for tourism. After the DPP started to rule in 2016, visitors from the mainland decreases dramatically. We do not know for sure whether Beijing did something to discourage tours to Taiwan, but mainlanders’ opinions about Taiwan did deteriorate due to pro-independence rhetoric. Tourists related industries did not immune from this. Restaurants, souvenir, transportations, and agriculture suffer in varying degrees. Additionally, foreign investors are discouraged from investing in Taiwan due to the unstable regional environment.

To compensate for the loss of mainland travelers, Tsai’ administration proposed the so-called New Southbound Policy (NSP) to attract tourists from Southeast Asian and Oceanian countries. But to what extent can this policy bear fruits is still questionable. In 2017,  tourists from PRC (including the mainland, Hong Kong and Macao) contributed about 40% of total foreign income for tourism, while those from countries included in NSP contributed around 22%.

Another reason contributed to the lack of investment is the lack of power. One of the biggest initiative by Tsai’s administration is to abandon all nuclear plants in 2025 while developing green energy, such as wind-power and gas. The problem with this initiative is that the development of wind-power and gas plants is still on-going, hence is not able to compensate for the decrease in nuclear powers. The lack of power badly damaged Taiwan’s investment environment as the memory of the island-wide power outage in summer 2017 is still vivid.

The government admitted that the power operating reserves are lower than the set standard and turned to traditional fossil fuel plants, triggering waves of critics as the air pollution became severe in several cities where power plants concentrate. In Taizhong, the air pollution is so serious that KMT’s candidate main rhetoric is brought the blue sky back. Also in New Taipei City, the DPP’s plan to expand a traditional plant was intensively attacked by KMT and was renounced about a month ago.

Domestic politics

So far, the most notorious political scandal of the current administration is the one of Transitional Justice Committee. This special committee was set up to vindicate political prisoners during the “White Terror”, the KMT’s authoritarian rule in the second half of the 20th century. However, in September, one of researchers in the committee leaked the voice recording of a secret meeting held by the vice president with some other officials and researchers, in which the participants planned to attack KMT’s candidate of New Taipei City by contending that he involved in political persecution during the “White Terror” without evidence. Moreover, the vice president claimed that the committee now became “Dong Chang (東廠)”, the secret police composed of eunuchs during Ming dynasty of China. After the leakage, the president of the committee and those members who participated in the meeting resigned, including the one who leaked the recording.

The rise of populist politicians also threats DPP. Four years ago, DPP supported the independent politician Ke and defeated KMT in Taipei’s mayor election. Ke, at that time, was, in fact, new to politics as he was a doctor before the election. As people, especially the young generation became tired of traditional vicious fights between the KMT and the DPP, Ke won the election rather easily. However, this alliance eroded over time and finally broke up as DPP nominated its own candidate for Taipei’s mayor early in this year. So far, the DPP’s candidate was marginalized and Ke still takes the lead in the polls. (Although KMT’s candidate is catching up.)

Surprisingly, another rising star, Han Guoyu, comes from KMT, competing for the mayor of Gaoxiong, the homeland of the DPP. Although he looks new to the public, he actually served as the legislator from 1993 to 2001 but quit politics since then. Several years ago, he was invited to serve as the CEO of Taipei Agricultural Marketing Corporation and gained a reputation for good management capability, making him nominated by the KMT. During the campaign, Han advocated for a “clean” election with no personal attacks on other candidates which is absent from Taiwan’s politics for a long time. In addition, he claims that he can attract investment and visitors, especially from the mainland to Gaoxiong as he recognized the 1992 Consensus. So far, the supporting rate for Han and the DPP’s candidate Chen is very close and the DPP started to treat Han seriously as almost all leaders of the DPP publicly criticized Han.

The common strategy for DPP is to portray its competitors as agents of Beijing. Earlier this year Ke said in public that “People from two sides of Taiwan Strait are one family. (兩岸一家親)”. Later on, some DPP politicians contended that Ke receives assistance from the mainland and even participated in the illegal trade of organs conducted by Beijing. For Han, it is much easier to attack as he wants more cooperation with the mainland. One famous pro-DPP TV show host said that Han “will sell Taiwan (to the Communist) if he wins”. Some rumors on SNS even contend that Han studied in Beijing many years ago and was secretly trained by the Communist to unify Taiwan.

So far, DPP seems to pay more attention to Gaoxiong than Taipei. For the DPP, as long as KMT does not win, it wins. However for Gaoxiong, if Han became the mayor, an internal conflict is likely to break out as it is the base for the DPP which it has ruled for more than 2 decades. President Tsai, who is also the president of the DPP, probably will resign. The No.2 in the DPP, Chen Ju who was the mayor of Gaoxiong for 12 years will also suffer from the defeat. If both Tsai and Chen lose ground, it would be very difficult for DPP to come up with a proper leader.

Although the supporting rate of the DPP decreases dramatically, it is not necessarily that pro-unification rhetoric is ascending. In fact, even the KMT gave up its platform of seeking unification of China earlier this year. Moreover, last week, when former President Ma suddenly addressed that he changed his policy of “no unification” to “not refuse unification”, all KMT candidates for city mayors refused to respond or simply disagreed with Ma. Besides, Mayor Ke also “apologized”  for his pro-mainland statement and never mentions it again.

According to Taiwan’s election law, it is illegal to publish polls’ results starting 10 days before the election date. As a result, it is very hard to predict the result for those hot spots, such as Taipei and Gaoxiong. However, no matter which party will more mayors or city councilors, both the KMT and the DPP needs to reform as they need to rebuild public confidence in traditional party politics. In terms of cross-strait relation, if the KMT wins the local election and hence the presidential election 2 years later, there may be a turning point as the “good old days” during President Ma’s rule return, but unification would be still very unlikely in the foreseeable future.

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Pence’s statement of US intent at APEC

Wed, 05/12/2018 - 17:17

The annual Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit recently took place in Papua New Guinea. Controversy has shrouded the build-up to the event; the local government decided it was a good idea to purchase 40 Maseratis to chauffeur attending dignitaries, in a country where poverty is rampant, while two cruise ships were docked in the harbour because there wasn’t enough accommodation available in Port Moresby to house summit attendees.

The typical pomp was shown by delegates and world leaders, with one particular world leader conspicuous by his absence – the United States represented by Vice President Mike Pence, rather than President Trump. In the build-up to this event, a well-worn line being thrown out there by social commentators and current affairs observers was, “if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.” But if Mike Pence’s address to the summit was anything to go by, the United States were making sure they did their utmost to maintain control within the Asia Pacific region, ensuring they’re very much “at the table”.

While watching the address, there were two main points with which one can draw conclusions from. Firstly, it was the warm nature in which Vice President Pence spoke of ExxonMobil’s presence in PNG, boasting about the American multinational oil and gas company investing over $16 billion into the country, while building 450 miles of pipeline and creating 2,600 jobs in the process.

Unfortunately, there were other facts that seemed to slip from the minds of Pence and his script writers. With an expected flood to tax revenues from the venture, PNG went on a debt-fuelled spending spree, with the country’s prime minister Peter O’Neill stating at a mining and petroleum conference in 2012, “we are borrowing now certain in the knowledge the revenue inflows from mining and LNG projects will make repayments manageable.” Somewhat unsurprisingly, ExxonMobil paid about one-thousandth of its expected share of 2016 LNG sales from the project in royalties to the country, resulting in sharp public debt, and undoubtedly a contributing factor in government expenditure falling. It seems the Trump Administration’s catch-cry of “America First” is being heard loud and clear, by ExxonMobil at least.

Secondly, the arguably more significant statement from Pence’s address was the joint agreement between PNG, the US and Australia of a military base being built on Manus Island, and there were a number of reasons that made this announcement noteworthy.

The most obvious motive behind another military installation being established in the Asia Pacific region is one of containment. Throughout his speech, there was a tangible element of pessimism towards China’s geopolitical influence, with Pence accusing Beijing of intellectual property theft, unprecedented subsidies for state businesses and “tremendous” barriers to foreign companies entering its giant market.

Additionally, the Vice President offered assurances to those countries with Chinese offers on the table – “know that the United States offers a better option. We don’t drown our partners in a sea of debt, we don’t coerce, compromise you independence,” claimed Pence. He added, “we do not offer constricting belt or a one-way road,” a phrase not-so-subtly taking a diplomatic swipe China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative. The address showed that Washington does not appreciate Beijing’s intentions on gaining power within the region, whether it be in the sovereignty battles in the South China Sea, or its support for Pacific countries such as Vanuatu.

The site’s proposed location is also sure to have gained attention from Australian observers. Manus Island was home to a notorious detention centre for refugees and asylum seekers aiming to enter a country with some of the most strictest immigration policies of any developed nation. To date, some 600 individuals remain on the site due to the precarious nature of their lives, without any assistance. Allegations of rape, child abuse, and psychological and physical assault were not uncommon, and the PNG Supreme Court ruled the facility unconstitutional in 2016. Australia’s then-Immigration minister Peter Dutton initially rejected the ruling, but later agreed to a relocation plan. One can ascertain that if the ruling was not brought to Canberra in the first place, Manus Island could possibly have been both home to a facility that persecutes society’s less fortunate, and an installation that promotes tension between the world’s two great superpowers.

The main cause for concern however isn’t the fact that this base increases geopolitical tensions within the region, nor is it that Manus Island is becoming a magnet for negative aspects of our society. Pence’s announcement signalled yet another addition to the number of US military installations around the globe, increasing the 770 or so that currently exist. The effects of this vast network of US military sites include numerous cases of pollution and environmental degradation, cases of indigenous cultures being eliminated and, of course, the $150 billion it costs the US taxpayer.

There are many reasons to be wary of Mike Pence’s address at APEC, but they all seem to boil down to one motive – control. It can be described in different terms – an assertion of global hegemony, an overt display of hard power, or a further expansion of the Military Industrial Complex that US President Eisenhower warned of in the 1960s, it all signifies Washington’s unwavering intentions that will seemingly never cease.

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Summary of Large October-November 2018 Political Poll in Ukraine: Tymoshenko and Her Fatherland Party Are, so far, Clear Front-Runners for the 2019 Presidential and Parliamentary Elections

Tue, 04/12/2018 - 19:06
Summary of especially comprehensive poll (ca. 10,000 respondents) jointly conducted by Ukraine’s three leading sociological services KIIS, Razumkov Centre and Rating Group, in October-November 2018: (1) Prominent presidential candidates’ rating among citizens who have made up their minds and plan to vote: Tymoshenko (Fatherland) –   21%, Zelenskyi (comedian) –           11%, Poroshenko (Solidarity) –       10%, Hrytsenko (Civic Position) –  10%, Boyko (Opposition Bloc) –       9%, Lyashko (Radical Party) –        8%, Vakarschuk (singer) –               6%, ….. Sadovyi (Self-Help) –                3%, Yatsenyuk (People’s Front) –   1%; (2) Tymoshenko leads in all macro-regions, i.e. in the West, Center, North, South (on par with undeclared candidate Zelenskyi) & East, with the exception of the Donbas where she (8%) is second to Boyko (12%), while Poroshenko gets 4%; (3) Poroshenko’s “anti-rating” among those who plan to vote: 51.4% (i.e. citizens who will not vote for the candidate, under any circumstances); Tymoshenko’s “anti-rating:” 27.5%; (4) Tymoshenko beats more or less clearly (while Poroshenko loses, with wide margin, to) all likely potential rivals, in 2nd round of presidential elections (undeclared candidate and comedian Zelenskyi comes with 23% vs. 26% closest to beating Tymoshenko); (5) Tymoshenko vs. Poroshenko in likely run-off: 29% to 14% of those planning to vote, i.e. Tymoshenko adds amount of additional votes approx. double to those Poroshenko gains, in 2nd round; (6) Major parties’ electoral support, if next Sunday were parliamentary elections, among citizens who have made up their minds and plan to vote (note: there is a 5% entry barrier, in the proportional part of the voting): – Fatherland (Tymoshenko) –                       21.7%, ….. – Civic Position (Hrytsenko) –                        9.8%, – Opposition Bloc (Boyko) –                           9.2%, – Solidarity (Poroshenko) –                            8.1%, – Radical Party (Lyashko) –                            7.0%, – Ours (Murayev) –                                          4.9% – Self-Help (Sadovyi) –                                    4.4%, …. – Freedom (Tyahnybok) –                               3.0%, – People’s Front (Yatsenyuk) –                       0.6%, – UDAR (Klychko) –                                         0.4%. ————————————– Extracted from: https://www.kiis.com.ua/materials/pr/20181113_Monitoring/RG_3UA_Monitoring_112018_press.pdf



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Foreign Affairs Quiz

Mon, 03/12/2018 - 17:31

http://www.quiz-maker.com/QYLTAHI

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Op-Ed: The U.S. Should Join the ICC – for Humanity’s Sake

Fri, 30/11/2018 - 16:06

The President of the International Criminal Court, Judge Chile Eboe-Osuji, addressing the UN General Assembly during an official visit to the seat of the United Nations

The 4th of July is sacred in the civic culture of Americans. On that day of 1776, their forefathers formally terminated allegiance to King George III. Prominent among their grievances against him was that he ‘made Judges dependent on his Will alone’ – by pulling the strings of term and pay. It is this judicial independence that lies at the heart of America’s idea of constitutional democracy; an enduring ideal, emulated around the world, wherever the rule of law truly matters.

We insist on this ideal with pride at the International Criminal Court (ICC). It is confusing then to behold an American official declare intent to unleash economic sanctions and malicious prosecution upon the ICC functionaries (judges notably included) for doing their job in accordance with the law – just because their work may not please those making that threat. Not even King George III would go that far.

Still, that profound paradox should not obscure the need to address underlying anxieties concerning the ICC. There are now 123 countries that are members of the ICC. They represent all regions of the world. They include France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Ireland, UK and all of America’s closest and traditional allies in Europe (old and new). We miss America’s leadership and presence at the ICC for it is a global project that represents America’s caring instincts for humanity. Its purpose is to ensure that our civilization no longer suffers millions of children, women and men to fall victim to unimaginable atrocities committed with impunity.

It was the Rwandan genocide in 1994 and the ‘ethnic cleansing’ in the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s that gave the immediate impetus to the adoption of the ICC’s founding treaty in Rome in 1998, and the U.S. played a part in formulating its text in many important respects. Before 1998, the U.S. played a leading role in the international efforts to establish ad hoc international criminal courts to bring justice to the victims of the atrocities in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. Those courts were heavily influenced by American judicial ideals. But it was even earlier that the U.S. commenced its leading role in international efforts to use the law to mend tears in the fabric of civilization caused by rampant acts of inhumanity. At Nuremberg, the U.S. was uncompromising that Nazi criminals (however highly placed) must face trial: for the holocaust, for other crimes against humanity, and for sundry war crimes. Robert H. Jackson, the American Chief Prosecutor at Nuremberg, was at the spearhead, rightly insisting that an object of the proceedings was ‘to redress the blight on the record of our era.’

In 1998, the world felt a need for a permanent international court that will be on hand, both to try crimes of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and the crime of aggression; and to serve as an urge of second-thought to the minds of those inclined to commit such crimes. The ICC is that permanent international court.

Current examples of the ICC’s investigations and cases include the alleged or – as the case may be – established atrocities committed in Darfur; by an insurgency group in Uganda; or by Al-Qaeda affiliates in Mali. The charges include crimes against humanity and war crimes. Their details comprise, among other things, rapes and other manners of sexual violence and murder, committed on a widespread or systematic basis. The charges in the Darfur situation include allegations of genocide. A Chamber of the Court has recently held that the Court may exercise jurisdiction over the plight of the Rohingya people, which a recent UN report alleges as possibly including genocide. It must be stressed, of course, that all the suspects and accused are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Precisely as in American courts, charges at the ICC must be proved beyond reasonable doubt and due process (including, most importantly, the right to defence) is fully respected.

An important question was asked about the meaning of ‘complementarity’ – which is a condition built into the ICC’s exercise of jurisdiction. Complementarity captures the idea that the ICC is only a court of last resort. As such, its jurisdiction serves only to complement the national jurisdiction. In both legal and functional terms, this means that the ICC does not usurp the sovereign jurisdiction of any country. The Court operates on the basic principle that every country has the primary obligation – indeed the sovereign right – to investigate and prosecute crimes committed by its citizens or on its territory. It is only when the country proves unable or unwilling to do so that the ICC steps in. To the victims, then, the ICC serves only as an insurance policy against injustice. So, when a country like the U.S., with its reputation for a competent and robust judicial system, is investigating or prosecuting genuinely a case falling within the American jurisdiction – or has done so already, – the ICC will not interfere. This is the law at the ICC.

I am confident that American interests and popular opinion do essentially unite with those of the world in creating and supporting the ICC. The prospect of the ‘death of the ICC’ would make the world a more horrid place for caring Americans, who cannot help but be confronted by the plight of victims of heinous crimes around the world: victims who may otherwise be without hope of justice.  It is a modern legend of America to step up to the plate for the powerless. With military might she did so in the two world wars. But using the rule of law, she has also intervened with other countries to redress instances of gross atrocities around the world in modern times, when righteous might did not prevent them. That American instinct finds its place in the reality of the ICC. As with every other human institution, including the most exalted ones in America, the ICC is not perfect. But it is the only one of its kind that we have. Let us all work together to improve it – for humanity’s sake.

In the words of a great American patriot, Eleanor Roosevelt, ‘Our own land and our own flag cannot be replaced by any other land or any other flag. But you can join with other nations, under a joint flag, to accomplish something good for the world that you cannot accomplish alone.’ It is truly time for America to aim to fortify – not weaken or wreck – the ICC as the only seawall that now stands against the man-made tides of barbarity that frequently assault humanity in its weakest parts.

By: Chile Eboe-Osuji, the President of the International Criminal Court

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Op-Ed: What Is American Nationalism?

Thu, 29/11/2018 - 17:15

Can We Put It In Words?

Marking the centennial Armistice Day, Emanuel Macron called nationalism the opposite of patriotism.   Whatever his inspiration, his comment should spur Americans to consider what nationalism means to us.

Macron may have been channeling historian Timothy Snyder, in his cite of novelist Danilo Kis: “… nationalism ‘has no universal values, aesthetic or ethical.’”  Snyder quoted Kis in “On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons From the Twentieth Century.” This 2017 book is his warning from the “bloodlands” of his expertise, and the swamping of personal identity in chauvinistic tribalisms that has brought totalitarians to power.  His examples are almost all European, from the Nazis, Soviets, or Vladimir Putin.

America’s is an unusual nationalism.  The nation created itself in an explicit Declaration of Independence.  Most nationalities arose from mythical origins; no American nation existed until it declared itself.  The North American colonies shared only British nationality before the Continental Congress, and the Declaration’s signers divorced those roots.

The Declaration announced that a “people” was dissolving its bonds to another.  It only identified the new people as “we,” who “hold” certain “self-evident” truths.  Something that “we hold” – credimus in Latin – constitutes a creed.  America conceived itself in this creed.

The Declaration’s creed alone defines the American nation.  The rest of the Declaration only lists British violations.  Americans commonly cite the Constitution.  But that document actually promulgated the nation’s second state, effecting a “more” perfect, already existing union, by better “secur(ing) the blessings of liberty” – as the Declaration charges governments to do.  The Constitution is the nation’s essential edifice of state, but the Declaration’s creed sets the nation’s foundation.

America’s creed provides little of a traditional national identity.  It asserts only the unalienable rights of all persons, and that government exists to secure them.  It expressly defers to free individuals, each to discover and shape their personal identity by their own lights, be those traditional, avant-garde, or something else.  It actually fits one of Snyder’s lessons: to “establish a private life,” as totalitarianism is the “erasure of the difference between private and public life.”

This nationality is radical, and odd.  For almost all of history people lived hand-to-mouth, life was easily lost, and nations addressed human needs and fears.  Government represented an exchange, of persons’ fealty and obeisance for order and security.  Religions and ethnicities were co-opted, and traditions adopted, sanctifying the tradeoff.   Rights were conferred as privileges, by rulers.  That nationalism fits Snyder’s warning, and seems the real target of Macron’s concern.

French nationality has both an ethnic component, and its universalist tradition of “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.”  Macron may have been arguing French domestic politics on Armistice Day, advocating universalist tradition over ethnic identity.  America’s divide is not between patriot and nationalist.    American nationalism rests on the universal tenets in which the nation conceived itself.  America faces a different question.  Patriotism is love of country.  Just how does a patriot love an abstract principle like America’s creed?

Love is an emotion, felt as part of a person’s organic constitution.  Its objects are people, families, communities, places and personal ties, and the ways and means by which each pursues Happiness.  These objects of love are not separate from American patriotism. They are, after all, fruits of Americans’ exercise of the unalienable rights.  But neither do they carry the full meaning of patriotic love, even when viewed under the waving flag.  People’s freedom for their pursuits is, Americans recognize, the national bottom line.  Even outright racists have learned to argue only against what they see as special privileges for minorities, and to profess respect for everyone’s rights.  Even in their virulent emotional attachments and resentments, they sense the primacy of the Declaration’s creed.

The racist’s deference does not equate to love, but most Americans sense how the things they love have the protection of government charged to protect rights – and bristle when they feel that charge misapplied or violated.  We feel the unbreakable connection of flag to universally endowed rights, and the democracy, equality, and due process that guard them.

The political trick for Americans is to discern how any policies, mandates or actions fit, or fit better or worse, with America’s creed.  Judging, or arguing, the fit is a complex exercise, topic for another essay.  But America’s nationality rests in its creed, the bedrock object of American patriotism.  It sets a common standard for all Americans, offers fundamental guidance for national conduct, and signals an endemic commitment to individual liberty.  The Declaration’s creed defines a nationalism that merits a place above political difference, and American patriots should learn it all the better.

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Ramifications of Royal Psychopathy

Wed, 28/11/2018 - 21:47

The scope of the conspiracy, the magnitude of the savagery, the imbecility of the cover-up, and the subsequent cheap royal mea culpa were all appalling. Jamal Khashoggi’s death was a premeditated murder. The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, insisted that this criminal act transgressed against both Turkey-Saudi relations and all diplomatic norms, and that this could not simply be swept under the rug. He demanded that the criminals must be handed over to Turkey, and in a recent OpEd, stated that the murder order came from the highest level of the Saudi government.

The MBS Effect

Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS) is a deformer disguised as a reformer. Since actual political or religious reform was never in his nor in the royal family’s interest, he instituted feeble changes in the Kingdom related to driving and attending recreational public events tailored to temporarily win the hearts and minds of the Saudi youth.

MBS’ obsession with power and his determination to consolidate political and economic power under his command by any ruthless means necessary was apparent to some objective observers in the Middle East and the West, who sounded the alarm early on.

The warnings began when he took over virtually all key ministries, when he claimed he would fight corruption with arbitrary arrests and Mafia-style shakedowns, when he started a mass execution of Saudi Shi’ites—publically executing 47 Shia activists and clerics on the same day, when he arrested the Prime Minister of Lebanon and forced him to resign while visiting Riyadh, when he put a blockade on Qatar and recklessly tried to invade it, and certainly when he turned Yemen into a hell on earth.

Within that context, some may consider the barbaric murder of Jamal Khashoggi as the straw that broke the camel’s back, while others, especially among many Muslims around the world, consider this an unfolding prophecy. Islam teaches that committing flagrant oppression and those who shamelessly dishonor their parents are tormented in this world before they are tormented in the hereafter. The Crown Prince has demonstrated both qualities.

But the Crown Prince does have his own defenders. Both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt have called on President Donald Trump, urging him to save MBS from this public disgrace because he is an indispensable strategic partner.

What Led To Khashoggi’s Martyrdom?

Jamal Khashoggi had ten qualities that MBS and his blind cohorts considered grave threats.

He was widely known and respected in the Arab world and was rapidly gaining fame in the West. He had a keen awareness of regional challenges and geopolitical dynamics that clashed with Saudi Arabia’s national interest. He was an insider who knew the strengths and weaknesses of all the royal players. He supported the Arab Spring and argued that it never died and that another wave was imminent – little did he know that he was destined to become the Bouazizi of that second wave. He propagated that freedom of speech and expression is a God-given right and when a ruler resorts to tyranny it is an Islamic obligation to counsel him, and when necessary, publically call him out. He opposed the thinly-veiled campaign of Saudi Arabia to demonize Turkey and Qatar. He was against the arbitrary arrests used to silence certain prominent figures in the country. He was a genuine patriot who loved his country and rejected the idea of being portrayed as part of the political opposition or as foreign nation’s mouthpiece. He was against Israel’s illegal unilateral decision to take all of Jerusalem as its capital city and Saudi Arabia’s silent consent on the matter. And, more importantly, he was critical of MBS’ repressive modus operandi, haphazard economic reform, and self-destructive foreign policy, especially with the catastrophic war in Yemen.

Future of Saudi/US Relations

The current US administration has a poor record of protecting the freedom of expression, human rights, and the rule of law. It also favors MBS’ decision to abandon the Palestinian aspiration for statehood and to deal directly with Jarod Kushner on Trump’s ‘deal of the century’ (or peace process hogwash). The US has strategically kept the Kingdom without a US Ambassador since 2017.

Granted, Trump will continue fighting hard for a strategic partnership with Saudi Arabia. But when American Senators are openly expressing their discontent and supporting protests regarding this mortal fiasco and how that could irreversibly damage America’s global credibility, when one of Saudi Arabia’s biggest supporters in the Senate, Senator Lindsey Graham, publically declares “I am going to sanction the hell out of Saudi Arabia”, when the global public opinion is in unison in their condemnation and outrage, when international investors boycott Saudi Arabia’s hyped Desert Davos conference, and when the Editorial Board of media powerhouses such as Washington Post calls the kingdom an “outlaw regime”, it should be obvious that resistance is simply futile.

Saudi Arabia will have to choose between becoming like the ‘smiling Hajjaj’—the most ruthless mass murderer in Islamic history—and the upholding the stability of the Kingdom.

Impact on Turkey’s Status In the Islamic World

Turkey has performed exceptionally well on the world stage. Every day that passed has confirmed the sophistication of its intelligence apparatus, diplomatic temperament, and respect for international rule of law.

Mindful of the dynamics, Turkey restrained itself throughout this international ordeal and gave Saudi Arabia enough space and time to confess and penalize those who associated with the assassination. Turkey did not want to come across as an apolitical exploiter, eager to discredit the Kingdom or stain its image.

The time is ripe for launching a campaign of internal healing and restoration in Turkey as well. Erdogan should free the thousands who were imprisoned during ‘the purge”, or during the state of emergency after the failed coup. As documented by various human rights groups, these prisoners include journalists and other civilians whose only guilt is one of association. And, unfathomable as it may seem, extending an amnesty to his nemesis, Fethullah Gulen, whom he wanted extradited for treason, might be another deed for Erdogan to accomplish to further uphold his image.

Can the Monarchy Survive This Madness?

MBS’ bloody ventures have thrown Saudi Arabia down a slippery slope, and that will ultimately create a vacuum within the Sunni world leadership, with more ramifications to follow.

This barbaric killing that crossed all international diplomatic norms will also impact the kingdom’s relationship with the West, especially with the US, UK and France – their largest weapons suppliers and their main logistical support.

Unfortunately, the monarchy’s top leadership is underestimating the magnitude of the gathering clouds in the same way that it underestimated the capacity of the Turkish government.

Saudi Arabia must commit itself to launching a profound reform program that starts with the sidelining of MBS followed by the ending of the war in Yemen, dropping the Shia crescent and Muslim Brotherhood two-headed boogieman nonsense, and empowering its local Shia community. Granted, there will be some who will fight tooth and nail to keep status quo, especially those who believe that scrutinizing the monarchy is equivalent to questioning the custodianship of the two Holy Mosques.

So far, a number of official denials made by the Saudis were, in one way or another, refuted. And each time, the Saudis came back humiliated and forced to accept the Turkish account. Yet the cover up continues, and the Turkish authorities and Khashoggi’s family are yet to find the victim’s body for forensic tests and burial. There is still no closure.

As various objective minds have suggested in one way or another, the best way to get to the bottom of what happened, how it happened, and under whose orders this horrific assassination was carried out, is for UN Security Council to mandate an international tribunal to conduct a transparent investigation.

Every delay and every attempt made to dodge culpability will only push Saudi Arabia closer to a breaking point.

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Weekly Quiz

Mon, 26/11/2018 - 16:19

http://www.quiz-maker.com/QK8WPTZ

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Possible Penalties if Nation States Ignore the EU’s GDPR

Wed, 21/11/2018 - 22:17

In May of 2018, the European Union passed The General Data Protection Regulation, known as the GDPR and many companies worldwide took notice. If you were a company operating within the EU it was well known and services were made available so you could become compliant. Compliance meant that you were required to take diligent care of customer’s personal data, seek detailed permission within reason to access their data, and use their data in an appropriate and limited fashion. Companies and governments outside of the EU also took notice, and consulting firms and law firms outside of the EU offered compliance advice for any company that would affect the lives of any EU citizen. This also meant that companies that operated in some manner related to the EU or possible citizens of the European Union took the GDPR provisions seriously. Violating the GDPR followed much of the same deterrence methods of a competition act violation, fines, large and record breaking fines for violators of the GDPR.

The question to whether or not a foreign government’s action could violate the GDPR might come into play early in the application of the GDPR. Canada and the European Union recently signed a Free Trade Agreement, one that goes beyond most FTAs by including social and labour issues between the two parties. With so many links between the Canada and the EU beyond simple trade matters, many of the stringent EU regulations need to be considered by Canadian companies and even the Government of Canada when trading with the European Union. While many trade agreements would not seek to enforce social values or labour rights, the close cultural, commercial and legal ties between Canada and the EU made it more palatable for Canadians and Europeans alike as the values of Canadians and many Europeans share a common bond.

Recently in Canada many were shocked to find out that a government agency responsible for data and statistical analysis was using their powers to access the private banking and financial information of a large number of Canadians without their knowledge of consent. The agency of the Federal Government, Statistics Canada were forcing private banks to give over data that showed every transaction, loan, deposit, payment and piece of data collected, including names and addresses to the government. The government in parliament defended these actions and said it was their legal right to access any information at any time for statistical purposes. Even during the general census, signed permission is required, but in this case no permissions were asked, or even knowledge of requests given to the clients of the bank. With so many banks, including Canadian banks, having close connections to the EU, it is likely the case that the European Commission could investigate those banks, and in what might be an interesting application of the GDPR, the EU may be able to fine not only Canadian banks, but the Canadian government itself.

The way the law is written in applying the GDPR is that any EU citizen that has their data abused will be protected by the EU. So in the application of laws in Canada, if the client of the Canadian bank happens to be an EU citizen or perhaps even is incorporated or has commercial ties in the EU in some form, the EU may have jurisdiction over the data violation. With large Canadian cities like Toronto and Montreal having much of their diverse populations being dual citizens of countries like Italy, Portugal, Greece and a number of other EU member states, a violation by their bank as well as the Government of Canada of the GDPR may result in the EU issuing fines against firms and the Canadian government. With such a gross violation of data privacy in Canada and the uproar from citizens and even those in the privacy community in Canada itself, the excessive use of powers by the government may prompt a severe backlash against Canada’s government. Using the GDPR as a defense may prove useful to clever lawyers in Canada and the EU, but the application of a law in 2018 that completely ignores the entire world and privacy experts moving towards the GDPR is simply ignorant of how data privacy should be paramount in the EU and anywhere outside of Europe in modern times.

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Special Contributor Op-Ed: The Druze religion…

Tue, 20/11/2018 - 15:04

The Druze religion is a very ancient religion that is proven in the Bible and the New Testament.  It started from the days of Jethro, the priest of Median in the Bible.   At that period of time, the religion consisted of tribes and united ethnic groups.  It wasn’t a religion that emerged of the boundaries of the tribe or ethnic group because every group adopted a unique number of goddesses and idols that they used to pray to.  Everybody respected the people’s willingness to pray to whatever goddess that they wished.

The Prophet Jethro, which is considered the first prophet, brought the words of God to his people.  Jethro was the first of a number of prophets who brought the words of the lord to his people.  The miracles that happened during the Exodus to the Jewish people occurred while Jethro was the figure that guided and directed Moses, who did the actions that became the miracles that saved the Jewish people.

 For example, the Prophet Jethro advised Moses to hit the Red Sea and therefore, the Red Sea split.   He also told Moses to hit the rock and then water came from the rock.  He also advised Moses to have officers and judges that were able to take over what happened in the tribes.  This was the foundation of law, authority and democracy to the present all over the world.  These actions led to the Israelis receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai by believing in Moses.

The history that relates to the Druze faith contain a lot of facts that deny its foundations because most of the historians that wrote about the Druze religion were Muslim.   Also, historical sources from Western countries relied upon those sources and as we know, Islam never recognized the Druze faith as a separate faith and considered them a section of Islam, which went out of it, which is actually the semi-truth and not the whole truth.

The Druze lived in the Mediterranean at a time when this area was named Israel, Bilad Al Sham, the Greater Syria and many other names.   They are the only people that kept their genetic roots because they bar mixed marriages with other nations.  They did not go to other countries and they stayed in the same geographic area, keeping the same genetic root that belongs to this area until the present.   The believers (Muwahhidun) were living in calm and peace until the ninth century, without any fear and they lived in harmony among the neighbors.   But when the Islamic faith started to spread, they were forced to join Islam under the threat of death (or you become Muslim or you die).  So the leader of the tribe said, “If that nation (Islam) took over you, go after it but keep your principles and your faith.”

  This is how the believers (Al Muwahhidun) entered Islam while keeping the principles of their faith.   But the Prophet of Islam did not agree with their original name and changed it to the name the sons of mercy (the sons of Ma’arof) for the Muslims believed that the term believers (Al Muwahhidun) should be unique to Islam.

This is how it was kept until the 11th century, when the fight over the Caliphate heirs and the separation of the Shia from the Sunni section of Islam provided the Druze with an opportunity to leave Islam and to come back to their own principles and faith.  Since the dividing of the Shia from the Sunni referred to all the sections that belonged to the Shia, the Druze are considered to be part of the Shia sect but they never had a religious bond with the Shia.   For the Druze people, the name Druze is a mockery name that was attached to the Druze people but their real name is the Al Al Muwahhidun, the believers, those who believe in one God.

After they came back to the principles of the religion, the areas with a majority of Druze actually came about in order to convince people to come back to their own original faith and also to join new tribes to the Druze faith.   They wanted to live together as a community.  But when the messengers decided upon that mission was chosen, the military leader Nashtakin Al Darazi, who parted ways with the religious establishment, was very upset and claimed that this is an insult to send people that are lower than him on such an important mission.  Since he did not accept the decision of the separation of the authorities, he decided to divide and to take whoever wants to join him.  In order to survive, he started to attack tribes in order to take their belongings and this is how he was surviving.  This person spread fear among the tribes.

In the beginning, the Muslims blamed the whole Ma’arof people (the Druze) since he is part of the Druze people to begin with.  But afterwards, it was known that he was divided from the Druze and because of his cruelty, everyone started to call the people Druze after his name.  By the years, the name of this people became to be Druze.  In the beginning, it was a great insult to call the son of the Ma’arof Druze but now it has become so common that there is no need to get offended and to cause great chaos over nothing.  Also, the name cannot change the nobility of a people who remain leaders until the present.

Until today, after all of the rivalries and despite all of the ethnic cleansing, the believers managed to survive but also today, the Druze people are a minority where the threat of annihilation is still upon them more than any other ethnic group.   As for the separation from the Ma’arof people from Islam, resulting in the people coming back to their own principles and faith (Al Tuchaid), that action made the Muslims very upset and they chased after them in order to annihilate them.

This is why the believers (Al Muwahhidun) moved to live in the mountains, which is a strategic place in which they can defend themselves from Muslims attacks.  In the hill and the mountains, they have the natural surroundings that make it difficult for the Muslims to destroy them over there.   Until the present, the Druze live on the Carmel Mountains, the Galilee Mountains, the Golan Heights, the Lebanon Mountains and the Houran Mountains in Syria.  Until today, they have a unique lifestyle and traditions that they hide in order to avoid a clash among the other populations that surround them.

Written by Mendi Safadi, who has formerly served as Israeli Minister Ayoob Kara’s chief of staff and presently heads the Safadi Center for International Diplomacy, Research, Public Relations and Human Rights.

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Foreign Policy Quiz..

Mon, 19/11/2018 - 15:52

http://www.quiz-maker.com/QS7388D

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