Thursday, November 30, 2006

David Stanley’s South Pacific Travel Blog added to Blogroll

The South Pacific islands are heir to a complex political legacy: indigenous cultures, Western colonialism, and the overseas Chinese and Indian diaspora.

In recent years, populist and democratic movements in the Solomon Islands, Tonga, Papua New Guinea, and Fiji have come into conflict with traditional political elites and Chinese and Indian commercial elements.

Global geopolitics has touched the islands as China and Taiwan jockeyed for influence and diplomatic recognition.

On top of everything else, Australia and New Zealand have laid claim to regional leadership and quasi-suzerainty over the islands with renewed vigor in an effort to extend their reach and counter the growing Chinese presence.

This year has already witnessed turmoil in the Solomon Islands, Tonga, and Fiji, with direct consequences for China and India. And there is probably more trouble to come.

With this background, China Matters is pleased to add David Stanley’s South Pacific Travel blog to our blogroll.

Mr. Stanley has written on the region for over a quarter century and provides an insider’s view of the politics and society of the island nations, as well as providing vital information, historical context, and analysis for the visitor.

His scrupulous and detailed reporting provides a fascinating picture of island societies in traumatic transition and his site is a necessary stop for readers seeking to understand the impact of globalization on this part of the world and its implications for Western and Asian policymakers.

Here’s a taste:

Qoliqoli Extortion in Fiiiji

The Qarase government has introduced a Qoliqoli Bill in Fiji’s parliament which would return traditional inshore fishing rights (qoliqoli) to the indigenous Fijian clans. When Fiji became a British colony in 1874, ownership of Fiji’s shorelines and reefs passed from the Fijian clans to the state. The current bill would reverse that and change the rules for every established beach resort in Fiji.

Needless to say, Fijis tourism industry is in shock, and groups of self-proclaimed qoliqoli owners have already begun calling at the resorts demanding money. To avoid having their properties torched, many resort owners are already paying up, even though the bill hasn’t passed and current qoliqoli demands are illegal...

As they say, read the whole thing.

Asia Roundup for State Dept Press Briefing Nov. 27, 28, & 29

Here’s the Asia crop from the State Department press briefings of Nov. 27, 28, and 29, 2006.

Most of the Asia-related talk was back-and-forth on Asst. Secretary Hill’s discussions in Beijing and whether the Six-Party Talks could resume in mid-December.

My uninformed guess is that North Korea is holding out for lifting of the Banco Delta Asia sanctions before it commits to return to the talks. Which is another way of saying they don’t expect a lot of progress or meaningful concessions from the United States after they rejoin the talks, so Pyongyang will try to get what they can out of negotiating conditions for their return to the talks.

There was an interesting question concerning the U.S.-India nuclear agreement that I’ll blog on later. And things are heating up in Burma with the shutdown of the International Red Cross office.

I don't have the heart to reproduce the full blah blah blah for three days, much of it along the lines of this exchange from Nov. 28:

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. As a matter of fact, the meeting -- there's another meeting that is -- it's planned at this point for tomorrow where he would -- it would follow the same pattern where you'd have interaction with the Chinese and then likely with the North Koreans as well. QUESTION: Well, can I -- QUESTION: So in other words, three-way and then two-way? MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, in theory, that's the way -- yeah, that's the way that it worked today. He had a meeting -- I don't know if he -- I'll check for you.

So I've posted only the parts I found interesting.

First, Nov. 29:

QUESTION: Are the '05 financial sanctions against North Korea still a sticking point? MR. CASEY: You mean the Banco Delta Asia measures? QUESTION: Yes. MR. CASEY: Well, again, as we have said previously, we know this is something that's of concern to the North Koreans and we've talked about establishing a working group in which, you know, we would be able to discuss those issues in the context of the six-party talks. But you know, I assume that's still a valid issue and concern of theirs and, again, we have a proposal in terms of how we would be able to address those.


QUESTION: With the sanctions on North Korea, can you give us a list specifically of what some of the luxury items that have been banned?
MR. CASEY: Well, I do know that as part of our efforts to implement Resolution 1718, we do, in fact, need to provide the UN with statements on how we intend to implement that particular provision on luxury goods as well as several other things. Best of my knowledge, that information hasn't been provided to the United Nations yet. But that information would come from the Department of Commerce. They're the ones that would be responsible for implementing those kinds of trade-related measures. So you might want to check over with them and see.
QUESTION: The AP story today, though, talks about iPods, plasma TVs, Segway electric scooters as part of that list. You can't -- can you confirm any of that?
MR. CASEY: No, I'm afraid I can't. Again, I think you need to talk to the Department of Commerce about that.

Nov. 28:

QUESTION: Sean, Burma has shut down the field offices of the International Red Cross --
QUESTION: -- and some are saying it's like a preemptive strike in advance of a critical UN resolution. Do you have response to what they've done?
MR. MCCORMACK: I guess we shouldn't be surprised by the action given the nature of the regime in Burma. Certainly it's a negative step and we would call upon them to actually reopen these offices and allow the ICRC to continue its critical work. We are working within the Security Council to talk to other members of the Council about a resolution in the wake of Mr. Gambari's report to the Council and would expect in the coming days it would be a topic of conversation in the Council, and certainly this action by the regime in Burma should be an important part of the conversation and an indicator that you do need a resolution.

Nov. 27 :

QUESTION: Sean, are we worried or is the Secretary worried about the expansion -- military expansion by China especially now the signing of the nuclear and defense treaties with Pakistan? And also some experts are saying China may become the future of Soviet -- threat like Soviet Union to the U.S.
MR. MCCORMACK: Look, we encourage development of bilateral relations between Pakistan and its neighbors. Look, you know, China and Pakistan have a long history of relations. As for any sort of nuclear angle on this, I'm not aware of anything new that was announced or is allowed for by these agreements other than what was already grandfathered in by the Nuclear Suppliers Group so I don't think there's anything new on that front.
We would ask that China play a constructive role in the international community. China is a growing power on the world stage, is developing economically, diplomatically, politically and militarily. Former Deputy Secretary of State Bob Zoellick has asked that China be a responsible stakeholder in the international system. So that is our encouragement and our desire for China. China's going to be an important power on the international scene for some time to come. And we would hope that as it develops and as it defines its future role on the international stage that it plays a constructive role.
QUESTION: Just a quick follow. In the past, Secretary of Defense Mr. Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Dr. Rice and many other experts also had a concern about military expansion by the Chinese around the globe.
QUESTION: So where do we stand today -- a threat to the U.S. security or other allies?
MR. MCCORMACK: The way it was put is we are concerned about their military build up. We believe that it is outsized for their stated regional issues that they need to take on or they need to address. The main issue that we have had is an issue of lack of transparency in that build up. We have encouraged over time more military-to-military relations between the U.S. and China so that we become more familiar with one another, so that we know -- we understand better how each other operates, what our objectives are, what our strategies are, what our tactics are so there are no misunderstandings. And that is something that is slowly developing. There was recently a joint search and rescue mission exercise between U.S. forces and Chinese forces, so that's positive development. These are things that are going to take some time, again as China starts to define itself differently on the world stage.


QUESTION: Question on U.S.-India Civil Nuclear Agreement. Recently, U.S. Senate cleared the way for India to get the U.S. nuclear technology. Now there are some hurdles because the House and Senate bills are there and conferee are going to settle next month, I believe. Indian governments are saying that at this moment, they are concerned about those amendments because it's not originally signed between Prime Minister Singh and President Bush at the White House on July 18th. My question is if Secretary is pushing or making some calls on the Hill before those conferees and if she had spoken to anybody in India, with the Indian officials on this issue?
MR. MCCORMACK: I can't tell you if she's had any recent phone calls with folks up on the Hill concerning the India Civil Nuclear Agreement. We -- it is one of our top priorities hopefully in this lame duck session that is coming up to get it passed. As for amendments -- look, we live in the -- you know, Congress has a say in passing this agreement. That's the way our system -- that's the way our system works. We would hope and we would encourage the Congress not to change the -- make changes to the legislation that would materially affect our ability to implement the agreement. You know, that said, Congress is going to have its say. So we're going to work closely with them both at the member level as well as at the staff level on addressing the various concerns that Capitol Hill has about this agreement, but they have a say in this. But we hope to be able to faithfully implement our agreement and our understanding surrounding that agreement.
QUESTION: Are there some things that you're worried about in the legislation -- in the version --
MR. MCCORMACK: There are -- again, there --
QUESTION: -- urging Congress to --
MR. MCCORMACK: Nothing in particular that I would point out to you. But there are a number of specific amendments and particular concerns that various senators and congressmen and staff members have raised with us and we're trying to address each of those in such a way that we can implement this deal.
QUESTION: Should there be penalties, for instance, if India doesn't cooperate with the U.S. enough on Iran? Is that something that --
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, you know, we're -- I don't want to comment on any particular amendment that, you know, may or may not come up.

Stupid Sanctions Tricks

In an obtuse article in the Washington Post, Hitting Kim Jung Il Right in the Cognac, Elizabeth Williamson demonstrates the unhappy results when sniggering condescension, slipshod reporting, and ignorance intersect.

Cloyingly paraphrasing “My Favorite Things”, she lists some of the export items that the United States is blacklisting for North Korea under the UNSCR 1718 luxury goods ban, incorrectly referring to “the State Department's newly released list of no-go goodies”.

As Sean McCormack (correction: Tom Casey--ed.), the State Department spokesman, indicated in his Nov. 29 press briefing, the ban is actually administered by the Department of Commerce, which has not yet published the list on the Federal Register.

But it’s nice to know that Ms. Williamson gets her leaks from the State Department, which is probably grateful for access to so obliging and careless a conduit.

Anyway, Ms. Williamson describes the ban as punitive sanctions designed to discommode Kim Jung Il and his inner circle by depriving them of the luxuries they crave.

She enlists the services of one “Jerrold M. Post, psychiatrist and director of the political psychology program at George Washington University” in an attempt to unravel the mystery of this apparently frivolous ban on frivolity:

"It sounds very clever to me," Post said of the U.S. list. "It's designed only to frustrate the senior circle of cronies," he said, sparing most North Koreans, who survive on less than $1,000 a year.

Putting the kibosh on silk scarves, designer fountain pens, furs and leather luggage might inconvenience North Korea's leaders and their families, but Post doubts the luxury ban will inspire an institutional change of heart.

"Part of the support he musters with his followers is having the courage to stand up and forge forward," despite an iPod shortage, Post said. So lack of luxury won't end North Korea's weapons program "unless they use Hennessy to fuel their rockets."

Contra Post and Williamson, the ban on luxuries has a genuine significance that goes beyond Kim Jung Il’s bizarre and expensive appetites, or his eagerness to slake them.

Kim relies on his exclusive access to imported luxury goods both to demonstrate his power and exalted position through conspicuous consumption, and to dispense patronage to the North Korean elite in order to ensure its gratitude, respect, and loyalty.

The luxury goods ban is an attempt to diminish Kim Jung Il’s domestic prestige and increase the vulnerability of his regime by making it impossible for him to provide the North Korean elite with the lifestyle accessories it desires, especially in the New Year’s season when oriental gift-giving and renewal of social ties traditionally occurs.

In other words, it’s another piece of all-too-clever psy-ops directed toward the Bush administration’s unchanging goal of regime change in North Korea.

Making the gift-giving season a little awkward for Kim Jung Il might not be a big deal, except for the following caveat:

It won’t work.

Given the porous and uneven enforcement of the international sanctions regime, the luxury good ban isn’t going to hold up; even if it did, the North Korean elite is more interested in the outcome of Kim Jung Il’s high-stakes struggle over the nuclear program than the non-appearance of Hennessey and Marlboros in this year’s gift basket.

Instead, the ban highlights the Bush administration’s never-ending quest to push North Korea to the limit and foment regime change, and undercuts our stated willingness to provide security guarantees to Pyongyang, which are the foundation for the DPRK’s participation in the Six-Party Talks.

Like so many other foreign policy initiatives of this administration, the luxury ban is another example of gratuitous, self-defeating malice undercutting the incremental engagement that is America’s only effective foreign policy instrument in the post-Iraq world.

It’s provocative and destabilizing but in an ineffectual and counterproductive way that probably heightens North Korean caution and resolve while isolating, discrediting, and marginalizing the United States in the execution of the diplomatic initiatives we have so grudgingly endorsed.

Merry Christmas, Kim Jung Il.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

China as Collateral Damage in the Tongan Crisis

(as cross-posted on dailykos and revised with a reworked introduction and conclusion)

Photo: Martin Sykes, New Zealand Herald

Tonga is in turmoil. Pro-democracy forces dissatisfied with the slow pace of political reform and resentful of dominance of the economy by ethnic Chinese linked to the unpopular monarchy rioted in the streets of the capital, Nuku'alofa, on November 16 and burned Chinese businesses as well as government buildings.

Tonga is only one of several nations in crisis in the South Pacific as populist, democratic forces battle against entrenched elites, economically dominant non-indigenous ethnic groups, and Australian pretensions to regional hegemony consciously modeled on the Bush administration's policies in the Middle East.

Australia's ability to control events in the South Pacific has already been tested in the Solomon Islands, Tonga, and Fiji. The next crisis--which may force Canberra to decide if it is truly willing and ready to assume the burdens of a neo-colonial power in a volatile and much larger and more dangerous arena--looms in Papua New Guinea.

Yes, there's trouble in paradise.

In some ways, the crisis in Tonga resembles the upheaval in the Solomon Islands in April of this year.

But there are differences.

As I wrote back in April, the Solomon Islands crisis was fueled by Taiwan money and Australian muscle—the unwise decision by Taipei and Canberra to back (and embolden) a political faction that was apparently profoundly corrupt and profoundly unpopular. Popular outrage against some cynical political shenanigans promptly found an outlet in attack on overseas Chinese interests.

In Tonga, Chinese apparently appear on the stage as collateral damage: deeply involved with an unpopular elite, committed to the status quo, but trying unsuccessfully to stay out of the middle in a burgeoning political crisis.

Australia's John Howard, on the other hand, seems intent on re-enacting his role as George Bush's "sheriff" in the South Pacific and throwing Austrlia's weight around as the dominant military power to drive events in the region, even as the Bush Doctrine staggers from failure to collapse in the Middle East.

Tonga, to be unkind but not inaccurate, is run by an idiot in a pith helmet, hereditary monarch George Tupou V, and his rather unattractive family.

The Independent provided some local color as the soon-to-be King and his sister awaited the demise of their father:

The King's most likely successor is Crown Prince Tupouto'a, 58, a Sandhurst graduate with an Oxford degree, who once described Tongans as "squatters who would urinate in elevators". He has also advocated encouraging police to "thrash the habit" out of drug addicts.

The Prince controls Tonga's beer company, its mobile phone company, its electricity company, and its cable television company. He is also the main beneficiary of sales of Tonga's .to Internet domain suffix. He used to be Tonga's foreign minister, but gave it up for a business career.

Princess Pilolevu controls the country's only duty-free franchise and satellite company. She also owns an import business, a travel company, and Tonga's biggest insurance company.

When the Prince ascended the throne in September of this year, Jane Phare of the New Zealand Herald added a few more cutting details:

Though village women spent hundreds of hours making ta'ovala so men, women and children could dress correctly to pay their respects to the late King for a month after his death, Tupou IV scathingly dismissed "basket weaving or whatever it is that they do" in a television interview in which he talked about his skills as a businessman. That drove an even bigger wedge between the people and their new monarch.


[T]he new King, a man ... has attracted more labels - military fetishist, cybervisonary, crazy genius, Machiavelli-like schemer, jet-setting bachelor and playboy - in his 58 years than the royal family would like.


The leader of the pro-democracy movement, Akilisi Pohiva, ...wants to see the new King's powers reduced to a ceremonial role similar to the British system. He says the people want a King who is "a real Tongan, not just biological".

The King's attitude and lifestyle is foreign to Tongans, he says.

"He lives in a fantasy world. He is out of touch."

Freelance journalist Mateni Tapueluelu, who has also been in jail and in court over articles he has written, says the new King is a "modern boy" who wants to modernise Tonga without letting go of his traditional power. "He comes across as arrogant. He portrays himself as a British aristocrat and yet his policy is 'look east towards China'."

Ah, China.

Tonga’s stunning departure from the Republic of China’s orbit in 1999 and the establishment of diplomatic relations with Beijing was midwifed by the current king’s sister, Princess Pilolevu Tuita, whose business and diplomatic priorities sprang from a unique scheme to claim and market equatorial satellite slots—Tongasat.

According to journalist Michael Field, a senior official of Intelsat, Mats Nilson, in a fit of benevolence, tutored Tonga on how to claim a number of satellite slots that, instead of being filled with the fruits of Tonga’s space and telecommunications industries, could be sold to the highest bidder. The Princess, given the brief to pursue this venture, ended up with a 60% share of Tongasat, which for various reasons, incorporated in Hong Kong instead of Tonga.

Then, in order to ensure a ready market for the slots and to open up China to Christian prostelyzation (the Tongan royal family wears a hereditary spiritual crown as Wesleyan ministers), the princess pulled the plug on relations with the ROC.

Field reports:

The princess explained her position in the bimonthly Matangi Tonga magazine.

She said her father had given her a mandate to negotiate the switch, saying “it is one of the most courageous decisions that his majesty has made.

It was “the first step for Tonga to become a full member of the United Nations”, an odd statement to make given recognition of China was never a pre-requisite to UN membership.

The princess has now set up in Hong Kong with a Chinese business partner, Fred Wang, trying to sell TongaSat’s satellite slots to China.

“I believe that God invented us to do this work otherwise we could have become just another foreigner knocking on doors in Beijing for years without having a chance to meet the leaders of China,” she told the magazine.

“We are honoured that we became part of his majesty’s vision for Tonga’s future.”

The princess said China would become a destination for Tongan missionaries.

“I look upon this new relationship with China as a means of spreading the Lord’s words to China.

“When China opens its doors to Christian evangelists, Tonga should be right there by the door.”

Then came something of a recognition that money was involved.

“Business -- fine, normalising relationships -- true, but this is hat I have been looking at, because his majesty’s vision is for Tongans to be evangelists, for Tonga to be an evangelist country to spread the word, I truly see this as an opportunity for all good Christians in Tonga.”

After Beijing sealed the deal by proffering a larger-than-life bronze statue of Taufa'ahau Tupou IV, who was enshrined in the Guinness Book of World Records as the planet’s most obese monarch, aristocratic Tongan society slid easily into the PRC camp, as Field reported.

Quiet now is the Speaker, Noble Fusitu’a, who was a high ranking member of the Taiwan funded World Anti-Communist League. They convinced him that the democracy movement in Tonga was made up of "crypto-communists”.

He was strongly anti-Communist.

"The exact definition of communist nobody has ever tried to explain. A communist to you is different to a communist to me. Anybody who tries to move the people against the established order, causing chaos, anarchy, that's the first degree of communism.”

On that note—chaos and anarchy—we can fast-forward to November 2006, when the new king and his prime minister fumble away an opportunity to transition from an inept, spendthrift autocracy to a responsive parliamentary monarchy, and an enraged populace takes to the streets and starts burning stuff—including Chinese stuff associated with the despised aristo/business elite—to the ground. Ethnic Chinese shelter in the PRC embassy and get evacuated by chartered plane to China.

Things don’t look too good for China in the short term, at least until it can negotiate a place in whatever populist order establishes itself as a result of the collapse of the monarchy’s privileges.

The king’s brother and heir, Crown Prince Tupouto'a Lavaka, had, in a previous incarnation as prime minister in 2001, ordered the expulsion of Chinese immigrants as part of a power play against his satellite-loving sister:

The princess, who has extensive business interests in China, is understood to support Chinese immigration to stimulate the economy—a policy promoted by her father. An influx of Chinese took place from the mid-1990s on work permits issued with the royal seal. Many found jobs as construction labourers.

Now, in a crude appeal to Tongan nationalism, prince-cum-Prime Minister ‘Ulakalala [the current crown prince—ed.] has changed tack and ordered the expulsions. While the immediate target appears to be his sister, the decision reflects wider divisions in the country’s tiny ruling elite arising from recent attempts to open up the island’s fragile economy to overseas investment, particularly from China.

Maybe not good times ahead, for the Chinese and the Tongans, if the crown prince decides to rev up his political career at the expense of his older brother and sister with some anti-Chinese pseudo-populism.

Fortunately for China, there is always somebody around to do something stupid enough to distract popular rage from the Chinese—the Australians and, to a lesser extent, the New Zealanders.

The power vacuum left by the retreat of Taiwan has been filled by Australia, which has decided to contest the Pacific islands with China on the most dubious basis imaginable.

In a replay of the Solomon Islands story, Canberra sees the unrest as a chance to assert its regional sheriff role in Tonga and has made the potentially ruinous decision to send troops to Tonga to prop up the ever more unpopular king.

Writing on the New Zealand website Stuff, Michael Field (again) writes:

A joint contingent of New Zealand and Australian troops flew into Tonga yesterday at Sevele's request. It includes 62 New Zealand Defence Force personnel plus police and other government staff.

Halapua said Tonga was proud of never having been colonised, and that Sevele, who is royally appointed, had made a serious mistake by inviting foreign forces in.

"That says a lot about him and his government. He knows very well that people don't have confidence in him any more. In other different governments, they would step down," he said.

"If Australia and New Zealand police and army are there to prop up the government, they are propping the government up against everybody else. It's not just the pro-democracy (protesters)."

Halapua said there was a belief among some some people in Nuku'alofa that the New Zealand and Australian forces were coming "to make people afraid and to support the government".

Instead, said Halapua, the government should step down so the foreign forces could work with a new leadership.

As reported on the Planet Tonga Newswire, Halapua—a highly respected figure in Tongan politics—has called on the Tongan prime minister to resign for inviting the foreign troops in.

According to Renmin Ribao, New Zealand, at least, has no appetite for Tongan nation-building and expects all Australian and New Zealand forces to be off the island within the week.

Australia might have other ideas.

Indymedia, a left-wing Australian website, in an article prepared before the Tonga crisis, provided its take on Canberra’s policy choices in the region and in the process updates the situation in the Solomon Islands, where a populist regime is butting heads with Australia over accountability of the unpopular RAMSI (Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands) force:

The Howard government calculates that any concession in the Solomon Islands would undermine its authority throughout the region. In PNG and Fiji the crisis has already emboldened elements of the ruling elite who are looking to China and other powers for aid, investment and political assistance to offset Australia’s domination. Canberra’s increasingly aggressive actions are in turn driven by the fear of ceding geo-strategic influence to rival regional powers in what Howard has designated “our patch”.

The New Zealand Labour government has distanced itself somewhat from Canberra’s approach. “The consent environment for the [RAMSI] regional mission is not what it was,” New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark admitted on November 13 in a speech delivered in Germany. “I believe [RAMSI] can be secured if the mission has a broader Pacific flavour about it, and if clear benchmarks towards an exit strategy can be set.”

Clark senses in the mounting regional hostility to Canberra an opportunity to advance New Zealand’s independent interests. While the New Zealand government has been an active accomplice of Canberra’s neo-colonial interventions in the region, it has long sought to gain regional advantage by portraying itself as a sensitive ally of the Pacific states.“We cannot act effectively without the agreement of our partners in the region,” Clark explained. “A hallmark of New Zealand’s diplomacy in the south Pacific is our commitment to seeking a strong consent environment for what we do.”

The Howard government has not backed down, however. “I think inevitably there are going to be moments of tension with some of the political elites,” Downer declared on November 15. “When we embarked on this change of policy in 2003 we did it very much with our eyes open. We knew that it would be resisted by some people, particularly by some of what you might call the political elite, in some of the countries of the region.... We are a very big country by the standards of the south Pacific and I suppose you put up with a modicum of criticism.”

The Howard government’s stance has led to calls within Australian ruling circles for an open discussion of the implications of the re-emergence of regional colonial rule. “If the job [in the Solomons] is to be done properly, Australia is unmistakably launching a new form of colonialism, the nature of which is not yet fully understood or developed but which is none the less real,” Michael O’Connor writes in the latest edition of Quadrant. “If we are to understand this reality—and support the commitment it deserves—it may be first necessary to abandon the shibboleth that colonialism is irredeemably bad.”

In the bad old days of apartheid, when an international jetliner landed in Johannesberg the pilot would jokingly announce, “We’ve arrived in South Africa. Please set your watches back 15 years.”

For Australia, the equivalent joke would be, set your calendars back 100 years to the heyday of the British Raj or, maybe just three years back—to a time when regional transformation through military force was still considered to be a moral and viable foreign policy.

I don't think even George W. Bush believes in the Bush Doctrine anymore and I can’t think that anyone in their right minds thinks that his all-too-loyal ally John Howard can buck the trend toward populism and democracy in the South Pacific with hard language and determined nut-twisting. Quagmire and repudiation probably await Australia.

It would be rather amazing if the last act of the Iraq tragedy unfolded in some beautiful, angry islands in the South Pacific.

Falun Dafa Newsline

Thanks to Peking Duck for the link. In the original post, I inadvertently omitted the credit for the photo. It's by Richard Hartog of the LA Times.

The Cult, the Christmas Parade, and the Organ Harvesting Allegations

They’re baaaaaaaaaaaack...

Falun Dafa, that is.

In the Hollywood Christmas Parade.

Opening my local paper of record today, I was surprised to see that the Hollywood Christmas Parade, a cheerful schlockfest of marching bands and B-list celebrities presided over by “The Mayor of Hollywood, Johnny Grant” was represented by a photograph of the Falun Dafa contingent doing a waist-drum dance.

This apparently was the second year in the parade for the Falun troupe. Hailing last year’s appearance, the FLG’s Clear Harmony site reported:

The Falun Gong contingent's lively and majestic waist drummers group, elegantly dancing "celestial maidens," huge pink lotus float, plus the brilliant and colourful costumes, gave the audience a pleasant surprise. People constantly exclaimed, "Wonderful!"

Practitioners in the dance group were like a group of celestial maidens coming to the human world. They held flower baskets, elegantly danced to the spectators lining the street and greeted them, "Merry Christmas!" People in the audience shouted back loudly, "Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas!" Applause and singing echoed each other. When the parade was over, many people had photos taken with practitioners.

Apparently all it takes to participate in the Hollywood Christmas Parade is to fill out an application, pay a fee, work with a floatmaker, and convince the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce that your organization has the wherewithal and commitment to make a decent account of itself during the parade.

Although the parade takes place in front of the Chinese Theater, Beijing has not attempted to contest this hallowed ground with Falun Dafa. It’s been a different matter in San Francisco’s Chinatown. At the beginning of 2006, the Chinese Chamber of Commerce banned Falun Gong from the Chinese New Year’s Parade, incurring the wrath both of FLG and SF Supervisor Chris Daly, in turn inspiring angry harumphing from by the Chinese consulate.

Rick Ross’s Cult News website reported on the controversy and publicized some of the goofier and less attractive elements of FLG, including the belief of FLG followers that Li Hongzhi can implant a special law wheel in their tummies, and got his comments page filled up with indignant posts from FLG defenders as a result.

A certain discomfort and unwillingness by outsiders to take this esoteric cult seriously has complicated responses to Falun Dafa’s most explosive allegation: that the Chinese government is slaughtering Falun Gung detainees and harvesting their organs while they are still alive.

Friends of FLG prevailed upon two distinguished Canadian jurists, David Matas and David Kilgour, to investigate the allegations.

Their report, issued this summer and available at concludes:

Based on what we now know, we have come to the regrettable conclusion that the allegations are true. We believe that there has been and continues today to be large scale organ seizures from unwilling Falun Gong practitioners.

However, Matas and Kilgour admit that, without access to a broad range of data, evidence, or witnesses to create an ironclad case, they relied on circumstantial evidence and intuition:

We also used inductive reasoning, working backwards as well as forwards. If the
allegations were not true, how would we know it was not true? If the allegations were true, what facts would be consistent with those allegations? What would explain the reality of the allegations, if the allegations were real? Answers to those sorts of questions which helped us to form our conclusions.

I found the document relatively thin. From Matas and Kilgour’s big-picture perspective, one of the more damning inferences was that, given an execution rate of about 1680 per year over the last five years according to Amnesty International’s count, there was no way to account for the appearance of 41,500 “extra” organs available for transplant.

Executions cannot explain the increase of organ transplants in China since the persecution of Falun Gong began.
That means that the source of 41,500 transplants for the six year period
2000 to 2005 is unexplained.

Where do the organs come from for the 41,500 transplants? The allegation of organ harvesting from Falun Gong practitioners provides an answer.

I was, quite frankly, surprised that Matas and Kilgour assumed that the AI number represented actual—as opposed to the fraction of independently documented—executions in China. As was widely reported, a representative of the National People’s Congress stated that China’s execution rate was “around 10,000 per year”, which undercuts the assertion that only an extermination campaign against Falun Gong practitioners could explain the number of organs available for transplantation.

Matas and Kilgour have marshalled some important information on China’s persecution of Falun Dafa and disturbing anecdotal evidence concerning China’s organ trade, but the case for an organ-harvesting conspiracy targeting Falun Gong practitioners hasn’t been made yet.

Indeed, the Amnesty International factsheet on persecution of Falun Gong (available at the same site) refrains from endorsing their conclusions:

· Report on alleged live organ harvesting of Falun Gong practitioners
· A report published by independent researchers David Matas and David Kilgour on 6th July 2006, concludes that large numbers of Falun Gong practitioners are victims of 'systematic' organ harvesting, whilst still alive, throughout China.
· Amnesty International is continuing to analyse sources of information about the Falun Gong organ harvesting allegations, including the report published by Canadians David Matas and David Kilgour.
· Amnesty International is carrying out its own investigation on this issue. These investigations are being hampered by the particular difficulty of collecting reliable evidence in China, including official restrictions on access for international human rights organizations

Having said that, it’s clear that China’s transplant business is booming, the main source of organs is executed prisoners, and the Ministry of Public Security has jumped into the lucrative organ business in a big way.

And I suspect the government has a queasy awareness that the MPS is faced with a dire conflict of interest when the organs of a dead prisoner—of any felony class or religious denomination—can fetch tens of thousands of dollars not just from a prestigious hospital that might be scrupulous about the paperwork and procedures, but also from some half-assed clinic that will pay extra squeeze to get a rotten kidney that some unqualified surgeon will stuff into a desperate and soon to be dead patient for a quick, dirty, and substantial payday.

It makes one cringe to realize that China has 500 locations performing liver transplants, when the United States has only 100—and has discovered that quality and accountability cannot be guaranteed even for this limited number of facilities.

So I look at China’s transplant regulations announced July 1—which tightened regulation of transplant facilities and required for the first time written permission from organ donors—as a tacit acknowledgement that the transplant system was out of control and creating secret horrors.

The new regulation stipulates that medical institutions must get written agreement from the donors or their relatives before the transplant, regardless of whether the donors are ordinary citizens or executed criminals.

Requiring that the MPS obtain a written release from a potential executee/donor might literally be a lifeline for a prisoner who might otherwise be victimized by a greedy warden...if China’s hospitals decide to take the Hippocratic oath—and their new responsibilities under the law to organize medical science and ethics committees to manage the collection and allocation of organs--seriously:

A key task of the committee is to ensure that the organs used for transplants are voluntarily donated instead of being sold or randomly taken from people

That’s nice!

And “randomly taken from people” has a nice sound, better anyway than “ripped from their still-living bodies during extrajudicial executions-to-order”.

In one of those moves that might make one nostalgic for the command economy (or at least government oversight and regulation) the chances of compliance may be improved by squeezing the fly-by-night operations out of the business.

...there are too many hospitals performing organ transplants, and many of them are not qualified to do so.

Managers of many small hospitals invite doctors from other hospitals to carry out one or two organ transplants and then claim they are able to provide the service in order to attract more patients.
The July 1 regulation also brings a set of medical standards for organ transplants in an effort to guarantee medical safety and prevent the waste of limited organs.

Only Class-3A hospitals, China's top-ranking comprehensive hospitals, can apply for registration if they have doctors with clinical organ transplant qualifications, the related transplant equipment, a good management system and a medical ethics committee.

The measure is aimed at preventing unqualified hospitals from performing organ transplants. Medical institutions wanting to carry out transplants will need to register with provincial-level health departments...

Shanghai Changzheng Hospital did 181 kidney and 172 liver transplants in 2005. Of these, nearly 30 had bad outcomes and were done by unqualified doctors, according to Shanghai-based Life Week magazine.

I would not be surprised if prisoners were being executed in greater numbers—and that Falun Gong practitioners were suffering disproportionately—in response to the perverse incentives created by the Chinese transplant market.

I would also not be surprised if the Chinese government was appalled at the MPS, not out of considerations of humanity, but because those brutal and greedy troglodytes were squandering two unique resources that China wants to exploit scientifically and efficiently—its growing stature in the field of transplant medicine and the biological assets of the thousands of prisoners it executes annually.

Sad world.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

BDA Accounts Reopened: US Concession or Chinese Fait Accompli?

(Includes State Dept. briefing wrap up for 11/20 & 11/21/06)

Here’s an interesting item from the Korea Times:

China has unfrozen some North Korean accounts in a Macau bank that have been suspected of being linked to money laundering and other financial irregularities, Yonhap News Agency and KBS reported, quoting a Beijing-based diplomatic source yesterday.

The move, which seems to have been conducted with the understanding of the United States, is likely to oil the wheels in the expected resumption of the six-party talks on North Korea’s nuclear programs, reports said. The multilateral talks, which have been stalled for one year, are expected to resume as early as next month, as Pyongyang said it would return to the negotiation table late last month.

A North Korean official active in Beijing also confirmed the measures, adding ``it seems the United States has partly accepted our demand,’’ according to Yonhap.

Some observers interpret the move as reciprocity from the U.S. as North Korea agreed to resume the six-party talks on Pyongyang’s nuclear programs late last month.

For me, the interesting phrases are “The move, which seems to have been conducted with the understanding of the United States...” and ``it seems the United States has partly accepted our demand,’’, according to the North Koreans, no less, not exactly the most reliable source of information on U.S. intentions.

Lot of “seems” there.

Did the United States greenlight the reopening of the $12 million dollars in BDA accounts that examiners found to be legitimate? (I examined the BDA issue and the question of how much money was actually black funds here.)


One possibility is that the United States has given up on the big stick approach to getting North Korea to return to the Six Party talks, and decided to throw out a carrot.

On a certain level, this makes obvious sense.

The United States has failed to convince China, Russia, or South Korea to sign on to a coercive interdiction and inspection regime that would compel North Korea to make painful concessions before returning to the talks.

Secretary of State Rice failed during her whirlwind tour of the key world capitals.

President Bush failed this week at APEC.

The diplomatic string has clearly run out.

Perhaps the United States has resigned itself to re-entering the talks without a commanding position of advantage, and will participate in a protracted, muddled six-way negotiation with Kim Jung Il.

However logical this might appear, however, I wonder if President Bush was really ready to tuck his tail between his legs and accept restart of the talks on these terms.

President Bush still has almost two months of freedom of action as America’s unchecked foreign policy helmsman before the newly elected Democratic Congress is installed and severely cramps his style.

It doesn’t seem quite plausible to me that President Bush and John Bolton, who epitomize iron will, relentless energy, and imperviousness to compromise, criticism, and reality in their promotion of the Bush Doctrine, would meekly abandon their North Korea policy while any time remained on the clock.

Faced with the Bush administration’s seemingly unending and quixotic quest to obtain harsher sanctions and perhaps emboldened by President Bush’s lame duck status, China may have decided to remove the sanctions on those accounts at Banco Delta Asia as a unilateral maneuver.

In other words, perhaps the Chinese have taken a leaf from America’s book, and conducted a pre-emptive strike on the Bush administration’s position.

In this scenario, China would have pulled the sanctions unilaterally to restart the talks, and is counting on President Bush being too distracted, too weakened, and too dependent on Chinese good offices to challenge this fait accompli.

Unlikely, perhaps.

But what also seems unlikely to me is that President Bush would abandon his hard-line strategy, cut the legs out from under John Bolton, and deny him one final opportunity to seize victory in the struggle against North Korea, before the new, Democrat-controlled Congress and dissatisfied elements within his own party dispatch John Bolton, the Bush Doctrine, and President Bush’s unquestioned command of America’s foreign policy into oblivion.

Finally, here’s the Asia-related haul from the last two State Department briefings:

Nov. 20, 2006:

MR. CASEY: Chris Hill? Did we want to do Chris Hill first? Or we've still got Sri Lanka? All right, let's do Chris Hill. And basically I think most of you know that Chris is in Beijing right now to follow up on discussions that were held in Hanoi. And this is all about the process of preparing for a return to the six-party talks. His main meetings today, as I understand it, were with Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei, and that was the main part of his discussions there.
He does plan, as I understand it, to return to Washington sometime tomorrow after some additional meetings with Chinese officials. As he said, I think he wants to make it home for Thanksgiving. So we look forward to having him back afterwards.
QUESTION: Is he going to meet with any North Korean officials, or is that something that is planned?
MR. CASEY: There's nothing scheduled.

November 21, 2006

QUESTION: Anything more on Christopher Hill, specifically about any possible carrots offered North Korea?
MR. CASEY: Well, as you know, Chris just finished up his trip to Beijing. I think he's headed on back, if not right now, should be employed on his way back shortly from Beijing. He's had some good consultations there with his Chinese counterparts. Main focus of that has been looking at the process of how we move ourselves back into the six-party talks. And I believe you heard from him today in Beijing that he's optimistic that we might, in fact, be able to have that next round take place somewhere in the middle of December.
In terms of specifics of the consultations, I think as he said there, he wants to come back here, have a chance to talk with the Secretary and talk with other officials back here in Washington. We feel we're making good progress in having good discussions. But I certainly don't have anything specific to talk to you about in terms of how we will be proceeding in those negations. I think we'll need to let them play out in private.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Ao Dai!

The most wonderful and important function of the APEC summit is to humble our leaders by forcing them to don ridiculous outfits and parade for our approval like a group of beauty pageant Barbies.

Until yesterday, the prize for best (i.e. most humiliating) costume was held by South Korea.

But now Vietnam has seized the crown.

Vietnam wins, not just for gender-bending goofiness—attiring the big shots in slinky, slit-leg ao dai gowns that Westerners associate with Asian bar girls—but also for spectrum bending, eye-melting iridescent color, and the all important element of all: presentation.

For the group photo, our masters were outfitted in their gaudy finery and marooned on a little greensward in front of a (Miami) Fontainebleau white concrete folly like a clutch of exiled lawn ornaments.

Then the befuddled heads of state had to swallow their dismay and wave and grimace awkwardly to the distant photographers as if nothing pleased them more than to appear as miniaturized, mutely gesticulating Technicolor eye candy in some bizarre Busby Berkeley meets Bollywood meets Arirang Asian-Pacific unity kitschfest.


Thank you Vietnam!

And thank you to Sebastien Berger of the Daily Telegraph for his in-depth report on the Ao Dai Affair.

A tight-lipped George W Bush looked especially unimpressed with his pastel blue ao dai, a flowing garment that is nowadays worn almost exclusively by women.

Next to him stood a similarly grim-looking Vladimir Putin of Russia, although Hu Jintao, the Chinese leader, appeared more comfortable.

On a slender female form the ao dai, a clinging piece of clothing slit to above the hip, is elegant and alluring, but when sported by middle-aged Caucasian men is substantially less flattering.

This year, the leaders had a choice of five colours of ao dai, all of them embroidered with golden lotus flowers. In feudal times yellow was reserved for the king, but it was chosen only by the Thai prime minister and the Vietnamese president, while the Sultan of Brunei, the sole monarch, picked green.

The majority wore blue — traditionally the uniform of petty officials — while all three women leaders dressed in pink.

The Guardian piles on:

Mr Bush grimaced repeatedly and shifted from foot to foot, a portrait of embarrassment in turquoise blue brocade with yellow trim. It was obvious he couldn't wait to get it off and sure enough, moments after the official photographs were taken, he strode away, ripped it off and folded it up, according to reports. His fellow leaders showed more restraint and waited until they were out of sight.

Somehow AP diplomatic correspondent Ann Gearan, apparently reporting from a parallel universe somewhere in the Gamma Quadrant, filed a dispatch claiming that our notoriously travel-detesting, multilateralism-abhorring, impatient prez was “find[ing] solace” in the welcoming East even as his own party takes advantage of his absence to prepare a fresh set of daggers to thump into his back:

A change in scenery seemed to lift President Bush as he soaked up compliments from foreign leaders who appeared nonplussed by his political troubles back home.

Having ingratiated the AP to the White House with this preposterous lede, Gearan is unable to cite a single compliment in the body of the article to support it.

Gearan also passed on this nugget:

“Asian friends will be watching the President and his team in terms of his body language, his statements, to see if he will be weakened or committed going forward with a broad and purposeful agenda in Asia as a whole.” said Kurt Campbell, a former Asia specialist at the Pentagon.

Apparently the spectacle of President Bush struggling miserably with a phosphorescent blue ao dai was enough to convince the Asian powers that U.S. wishes could be safely and profitably defied.

For the US, the APEC summit yielded an empty verbal spanking of North Korea and a sub voce unwillingness to accept U.S. framing of the North Korean situation as a crisis that demanded escalating economic pressure orchestrated through the Proliferation Security Initiative.

As usual, China was quite direct in its pronouncements, while the United States showed its usual creativity in failing to get the message:

The Chinese side expressed caution.

"We don't really think that sanctions are the purpose, rather it is the means. The UN Security [Council] resolution should not be randomly interpreted and should not be expanded," Liu said.

David McCormick, an official of the White House National Security Council, said after the meeting that the two leaders had agreed "on direction and next steps" on North Korea, but he declined to be more specific.

With the coercive sanction regime off the table as far as Russia, China, and South Korea are concerned, perhaps the United States will at last resign itself to a resumption of the Six Party Talks and months of inconclusive muddling.

Much, of course, has been made of President Bush’s lame duckery and how that further reduced the willingness of Asian governments (other than lips-and-teeth allies Japan, Australia, and Singapore) to give anything more than lip service to the president and his global security doctrine.

But there’s more to foreign policy that Iraq, Iran, and North Korea, and I believe we are now seeing the inevitable consequences of President Bush’s tunnel-visioned obsession with these failed and failing initiatives.

The Australian compared and contrasted Hu Jintao and President Bush’s experiences in Vietnam:

The difference in treatment and perceptions between Mr Bush and Mr Hu has been conspicuous in Hanoi.

The Chinese leader arrived several days before the summit for a flower-strewn schedule of smiles and ribbon-cutting intended to show Asians that Beijing, not Washington, is now the capital that counts.

A Chinese diplomat said his country had prepared for Mr Hu's trip months in advance, resulting in the announcement of a dozen economic agreements, promises to resolve border disputes with Vietnam and an agreement to share offshore exploration for oil and gas. By contrast, Mr Bush's Vietnam schedule was abruptly cut back after the US election defeat, diplomatic sources said.

Heavily protected by thousands of elite troops and police, his few public engagements have been tightly controlled.

In the soft-power scheme of things, Vietnam is pretty important to the US: emerging economic dragon, the political and military keystone of Southeast Asia, conceivably the guys who might even lease us Cam Rahn Bay. There’s no love lost between China and Vietnam, so there’s plenty of room for the US to try that hearts and minds deux thing with Vietnam.

Instead, while the Chinese are performing the painstaking diplomatic and economic spadework needed to productively manage a relationship with an important and potentially hostile neighbor, President Bush fumbles away the Permanent Normalized Trade Relations status that Vietnam covets; subjects the country to a truncated, intrusive visit that only seems to highlight how unwilling he is to be there; and spends his brief time in country agitating for a destabilizing, confrontational policy toward North Korea that is resented by all but America’s closest allies in the region.

For President Bush, obstinacy has morphed into obtuseness. Even though genuine victories in Iraq, Iran, and North Korea appear out of reach, he pursues them singlemindedly in an attempt to forestall the day of reckoning for himself and his policies.

Meanwhile, America’s other, important international interests—and the alliances and multilateral institutions that could nurture them—have been neglected.

Although President Bush is apparently oblivious to the fact that the movers and shakers of his own party as well as his nation and the world have reached the end of their patience with an obsessively failure-centric foreign policy, there are rumblings from the Right that the new Congress—with some Republicans joining the Democrats—may finally preside over the overdue demise of the Bush Doctrine.

Friday, November 17, 2006

President Bush in Vietnam: Anatomy of a Snub

A well-worn joke:

What’s the difference between Iraq and Vietnam?

George W. Bush had a plan for getting out of Vietnam.

Via the Houston Chronicle, it’s interesting, and somewhat disturbing, to be privy to President Bush’s ruminations on Vietnam:

Asked if the experience in Vietnam offered lessons for Iraq, Bush said Friday, "We tend to want there to be instant success in the world, and the task in Iraq is going to take awhile."
He said "it's just going to take a long period of time" for "an ideology of freedom to overcome an ideology of hate. Yet, the world that we live in today is one where they want things to happen immediately."

"We'll succeed unless we quit," the president said.

It seems to me that the lesson of the Vietnam War is we screwed up, we got beat, tens of thousands of Americans and millions of Vietnamese died but, hey, the sun still rises in the East, things got better, and thirty years later our President is shaking hands with the political heir of the guys who kicked our ass.

In other words, the emergence of a prosperous, peaceful Vietnam is a pretty strong argument for acknowledging the mistake we made in Iraq and, bluntly, succeeding by quitting.

Other than President Bush’s unique perspective on history, the most remarkable element of his trip to the APEC summit in Hanoi was his inability to bring with him a rather minor diplomatic concession—the award of “permanent normal trade relations” status for Vietnam.

The Vietnamese government had clearly defined PNTR, along with removal from the State Department’s “Countries of Particular Concern” religious freedom blacklist, as two matters they wanted taken care of before President Bush arrived.

The Executive Branch handled the CPC issue.

But the Republican Congress, in disarray after the catastrophe of the mid-term elections, pulled the PNTR bill.

Attempts to blame the Democrats are not particularly convincing, since Nancy Pelosi and Charles Rangel were on record favoring the bill.

Nor is it particularly plausible that the GOP in its lame-duck incarnation had suddenly decided that standing up for American jobs was more important than sending off its President on a foreign trip with a needed bill in his pocket.

My guess is Republican pique at President Bush’s high-handed but unsuccessful foreign policy—and his refusal to lower the Rumsfeld lifeboat from the S.S. Iraqitanic before the mid-term elections—had something to do with it.

And I also suspect that the surprising inability of Vietnam’s one-party Communist state to turn out an enthusiastic crowd to welcome President Bush had something to do with the fact that he came to Hanoi bringing less than he had promised.

Anatomy of a snub, courtesy of the AP, which rubs salt in the wound--and gives an indication of President Bush's emerging lame-duck status with the press--by having the temerity to mention his arch-foe, Bill Clinton not once but three times:

Lac's indifference, which appeared to be shared by many Vietnamese, was a sharp contrast to the reception that Bill Clinton received in 2000, when he became the first American president to visit since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975.

Unlike the joyous crowds that stayed up late for Clinton's unannounced midnight flight into Hanoi's international airport – a half-hour drive from downtown – Bush's late-morning arrival drew mostly the curious rather than the devoted, other than the police maintaining a security perimeter around the hotel.

Bush rode past billboards for multinational companies in fields where people in conical hats toiled in rice paddies, as they have for generations, before coming upon the first group of people waiting to see his motorcade pass.

“I'm here because I'm curious,” said Nguyen Van Dung, 35, who was among about 15 men at a roadside tea stall about a mile from the airport. “I want to see Bush. I like him.”

A quick straw poll of the men minutes before the motorcade arrived showed a dozen saying they liked Clinton better than Bush, while the other three viewed both men the same.

As the motorcade entered the city, more people lined the road, but most appeared to be motorbike riders forced to pull over by Bush's security escort and people drawn out of their houses and shops by the fuss.

More on BDA and North Korea

Following up on the question of whether the U.S. financial pressure exerted against Pyongyang was truly effective, a hat-tip to reader Mahathir-fan for finding an article in the Turkish press reporting that at least $8 million of the $24 million in frozen North Korean funds in the notorious Banco Delta Asia of Macau come from legitimate sources, including $2 million from those legendary nicotine buccaneers, British-American Tobacco:

Don Oberdorfer, a Korea expert, told JoongAng Ilbo newspaper that US investigators had found that "at least eight million dollars" of the funds in Banco Delta Asia (BDA) in the southern Chinese territory of Macau were legal.

Oberdorfer was quoted as saying that six million dollars belonging to Daedong Credit Bank, a Hong Kong-based joint venture, had been verified.

Also verified was two million dollars paid by British American Tobacco, which does business in the communist state.

The U.S. Treasury Department weaseled gracelessly, trying to put the onus for the freeze on the Macau banking authorities:

The US Treasury refused to comment on the claim and stressed it was the Macau government which had blocked the accounts.

Spokeswoman Molly Millerwise said BDA was blacklisted under Section 311 of the US Patriot Act "given the illicit financial activity it facilitated for the North Korean regime".

But she added: "Designations under Section 311 do not freeze funds, and any money that has been blocked in BDA has been blocked by the Macanese authorities."

Washington effectively froze the funds by blacklisting the Macau bank in September 2005, almost the same day the six-party talks made an apparent breakthrough.

The U.S. record on delivering accurate, honest, and useful intel on North Korean illicit financial transactions, clandestine shipping movements, and WMD proliferation is so dismal, it recalls unpleasant memories of how wrong the US was concerning Iraq—or how cynical the US was in manipulating intelligence in order to promote pre-existing regime change objectives there.

One would think the United States would understand that, if it wants to claim leadership of even selective—as opposed to universal--global non-proliferation initiatives, it might want to put in more effort to appear as a credible and honest broker of information.

US State Department Nov. 16 briefing round-up & PSI interdiction of North Korean vessel in Mayotte

The State Department briefing covered South Korea’s vote supporting a resolution condemning North Korean human rights abuses. The money quote in the VOA
coverage is in the last paragraph:

Adoption of the resolution is tantamount to approval by the full General Assembly, since the committee includes all 192 U.N. member states. But it has no legal force.

This symbolic, U.S.-pleasing South Korean vote was bookended by Seoul’s reiterated refusal to join in the U.S.-led Proliferation Security Regime as the mechanism for enforcing UNSCR 1718, which sanctioned Pyongyang’s nuclear program.

The Houston Chronicle reports:

Bush sought to persuade South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun to fully implement U.N. sanctions imposed on North Korea for testing nuclear weapons. He also sought South Korea's support in the Proliferation Security Initiative, a voluntary international program that calls for stopping ships suspected of trafficking in weapons of mass destruction.

Roh said his country "is not taking part in the full scope" of the security initiative, but that it would "support the principles and goals of the PSI," and would cooperate in preventing the transfer of materiel for weapons of mass destruction in northeast Asia.

The usual spin about world support for the PSI seems even more threadbare than usual.
Faced with President Roh’s outright refusal to participate in the PSI:

The president tried to put the best face on the disagreement...

"I appreciate the cooperation we're receiving from South Korea for the Proliferation Security Initiative," Bush said.

Tony Snow also pitched in, to little avail:

Snow said South Korea promised support for the PSI program but he offered no details of Seoul's cooperation.

In this context, it’s interesting to
report on a genuine PSI interdiction performed by a genuine PSI participant, France. It did not occur in international waters. The necessary pretext was that the hapless North Korean freighter called on a crumb of French land, the island of Mayotte, just off the coast of Madagascar, to unload some cement.

The Honolulu Advertiser goes on to report:

Customs and police officers first inspected the vessel at sea when it arrived in Mayotte's waters last weekend, he added. It was only the second North Korean boat in five years to dock in Mayotte, he said.

A French diplomat said the inspection started with a routine identity check Saturday. Inspectors decided to unload all the merchandise, and will continue checking the ship through the weekend, he said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

He said the inspection was slowed because the port on Mayotte is so small that the ship had to clear out several times to make way for other vessels carrying perishable cargo.

The haul so far:

A customs official in charge of maritime inspections on Mayotte said the 500-foot-long Am Noenok Gang, with 45 crew members, had been searched "from bow to stern and top to bottom."

The inspectors found a slight excess of alcohol and cigarettes but "nothing really illegal, in terms of weapons or drugs," said the official, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the media about the inspection.

Unless one believes that the offshore islands of Madagascar have been spun into Kim Jung Il’s web of atomic intrigue, it’s difficult to view the French action as little more than economic harassment, designed not only to bug the North Koreans by forcing them to bear the additional expense of prolonging their ship’s voyage (known as demurrage in the biz) but also putting North Korea’s few legitimate customers on alert that, if they buy from Pyongyang, it will be a big hassle and the cement probably won’t show up on time.

I believe it’s this potential use of UNSCR 1718 as a pretext for economic blockade and regime change that makes many states, including China, loath to sign on to the PSI.

With the exception of the U.S. and Japan, most of the main players in the North Korea issue want the problems solved within the context of North Korean sovereignty.

However, the PSI regime as envisioned by John Bolton and the U.S. skates uncomfortably close to undeclared economic warfare against a state that, in the U.S. view, has fallen into rogue state status and has forfeited the usual rights and protections afforded a sovereign state in the conduct of its foreign affairs.

I’ve discussed the Trojan Horse character of the PSI at length in a previous post.

With President Bush fighting a rearguard action against lame-duck status after the mid-term elections, he has signaled his continued determination to pursue the idea of U.S. global security policy unilateralism (by which the U.S. formulates policy in consultation with its allies, puts it into execution, and then presents the international system with a fait accompli and the choice of either going along or defying the United States) by renominating John Bolton, the architect and executor of this policy.

Now, given the fact that China, Russia, and South Korea are committed to regime stability in North Korea, and America's increasing desperation to disengage from Iraq demands dialogue with Iran instead of confrontation, it would seem that PSI-based interdiction and its doppelganger, US supra-UN unilateralism, are doomed to failure in both test cases.

But President Bush announces his determination to continue with these policies just the same.

It does not look like President Bush has a clear vision of what the intransigent pursuit of his policies can actually achieve. Instead, it looks like the world is being held hostage to his desire to assert his autonomy and authority even if it means continuing the pursuit of policies that are increasingly discredited and ever more likely to fail.

With that editorializing, here is the meager Asia-related crop from the November 16 press briefing.

QUESTION: South Korean Government said it will report for UN resolution condemning North Korean human rights situation this afternoon. Do you have any comment on that?
MR. GALLEGOS: No, I don't. Actually, I haven't seen anything on that. I'm sorry.
QUESTION: You don't happen to have the date on the resumption of the six party talks, do you?
MR. GALLEGOS: No. I think we've been speaking to the fact that we'd like to see it as soon as possible that we can have a meeting that will produce results and working with our partners to engage with them, and look forward to the next opportunity to do that.
QUESTION: Thank you.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

U.S. State Dept Briefing Nov 14 2006

November 14, 2006 State Department press briefing touched on two Asia-related matters.

Re North Korea, no new date for the six party talks. Maybe the U.S. is delaying because it is still trying to get other countries on board for more aggressive sanctions so we can go into the talks from a position of strength. However, South Korea has refused to sign on the Proliferation Security Initiative to enforce UNSCR 1718 sanctions, so it looks like crushing sanctions against Pyongyang will continue to exist only in John Bolton’s fantasies.

Re China: “Chinese submarine incident”.

The Washington Times reported that the Kitty Hawk (the aircraft carrier we use to throw our weight around in the Pacific, and the naval keystone of the Proliferation Security Initiative) was “stalked” by a Chinese sub. If the sub was detected by the Kitty Hawk, it means the Chinese still have a way to go in hide and seek activities. But it is interesting that the Chinese appear willing to stick their toe in Pacific blue water, traditionally an exclusive preserve of the U.S.A.

Here’s how the Washington Post reported it:

Confirming the gist of the Washington Times report, [Admiral] Fallon said the submarine had been detected at close quarters by an aircraft carrier and its accompanying warships.
The Washington Times said the submarine had stalked the USS Kitty Hawk and surfaced within range of its torpedoes and missiles in "ocean waters" near the Japanese island of Okinawa.

"The characterization of stalking an aircraft carrier is rather sensational and I think it's probably not close to being accurate," Fallon told reporters in Malaysia, where he is attending an annual meeting of Asia-Pacific defense chiefs.

Relevant portion of the briefing below:

QUESTION: On North Korea, is there anything new and has a date been set for the bilateral talks, for any bilateral talks, and do you have the date of the six-party talks in Beijing?
MR. MCCORMACK: Nothing new on a date for the six-party talks. In terms of our preparations for the talks, those are ongoing. I expect that this is going to be another topic at the top of the list of the Secretary when she's in Vietnam. She's going to have a chance to meet also with her Japanese counterpart as well as her South Korean counterpart, so they're going to talk about preparations for the six-party talks as well as implementation of 1718.
And you had another question in there?
QUESTION: It was -- are there any bilateral talks planned?
MR. MCCORMACK: There's -- again, we get back to the old New York channel thing, but that is a mechanism that's used to pass information, exchange information. It's not a negotiating channel.
QUESTION: So there's nothing special planned during APEC?
QUESTION: Do you have anything about this Chinese submarine incident?
MR. MCCORMACK: No, I don't. The guys over at DOD, I think, have been talking about it quite a bit.
QUESTION: So they're going to be the lead on that? I mean, are you going to talk to the Chinese or --

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't think -- you know, we don't own any aircraft carriers here. You know, if there's a role for the State Department, then you know, then there is. I'm not aware of one in this regard.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Follow Kim Jung Il's Money--But How Far?

I think the Chinese forced North Korea back to the Six Party talks.

But David L. Asher and Stuart Levey want some credit.

In a backgrounder in today’s LA Times intended to show that we’re not just carrying Beijing’s water on North Korean policy, Asher (State Department’s point man for illicit Pyongyang activity) and Levey (Treasury undersecretary for “investigating terrorist financial webs”) talk up their globetrotting efforts to bring the North Korean financial system to its knees, in particular through the U.S. assault on Banco Delta Asia.

In the article, Asher asserts:

“Banco Delta was just a thumbtack against their skin...We knew that behind the skin was a central artery. When we pricked it, blood was going to start coming out fast.”

I think he got the pinprick part right.

We’re talking about a ridiculously small amount of money, even for North Korea—or Kim Jung Il personally, for that matter:

This July, Yomiuri Shimbun reported:

Kim was hit hard by the sanctions imposed upon the Macao bank, which froze about 24 million dollars of his personal funds, money he used to control the country, to buy Mercedes and expensive watches for high-ranking officials on festive occasions, and to buy food for ordinary people to ensure they remained loyal.

Cheong Seong Jang, a researcher at South Korea's Sejong Institute, said that without the funds Kim could not give presents to his subordinates.

A report in the Korea Times also implied that we are not talking about particularly sophisticated financial maneuvers, either by Kim Jung Il or the United States.

The U.S. government has figured out most of North Korea’s transactions in a Macau bank and believes they were mostly personal dealings involving Pyongyang’s leadership, a diplomatic source said Wednesday.

Washington has studied North Korea’s transaction records with the Banco Delta Asia, where about $24 million in cash was deposited by North Korea, but frozen by U.S. sanctions.
The U.S. found that the bank has produced handwritten transaction data regarding North Korea in addition to official computer records, the source said on condition of anonymity. The bank seemed to have used written records of the North Korean transactions as a way to hide them from official view, the source said.

It doesn’t look like the U.S. engaged in any particularly fancy financial forensics here.

And it doesn’t look like we cracked the North Korean criminal ops dedicated to flooding the world with meth, fake Viagra, and counterfeit U.S. currency, or got a handle on the financial channels Pyongyang uses to transact its missile sales and nuclear-related imports.

This whole thing looks less like a hammer blow against the North Korean economy and more like one of those too-clever pieces of American psy-ops—like the ban on luxury goods in the UNSCR sanctions—meant to humiliate and discredit Kim Jung Il in the eyes of the North Korean elite by forcing him to give out home-baked fruitcake and hand-knitted scarves instead of Mercedes, Rolexes, and XO as Christmas gifts to his disgruntled followers.

In other words, it looks like we got a tip and grabbed hold of Kim Jung Il’s piggy bank.

Make that one of his piggy banks.

A small one.

I would like to think that, as an iron-fisted dictator and height-challenged megalomaniac in good standing, Kim Jung Il has squirreled away more than a measly $24 million, presumably hundreds of millions, in the prestigious and secure confines of Switzerland.

Indeed, that’s what Seong Min Kim, Vice Chairman of the Exile Committee for North Korea Democracy, asserted in testimony before Congress in April 2006:

It is a well known secret that hard currency collected from sales of opium produced with forced labor from children, golds mined, collected from slave labor in the Czech, Russia and counterfeit moneys which is laundered by diplomats is deposited in the banks in Macao and Switzerland. The money is a slush fund for Kim Jung Il's personal use.

I implore the U.S. congress to investigate Kim Jung Il's accounts in the Switzerland banks and freeze those accounts.

Asher and Levey claimed that the move against BDA put the fear of God, or at least Uncle Sam, into other banks and made them hesitant to handle North Korea’s business.

The LA Times article states:

Privately, they threatened to go after much larger banks in Macao, including the Bank of China...which eventually froze some North Korean accounts.

You know what?

I don’t think that the United States has the balls to mess with the Swiss. Or the Chinese, for that matter, not with Beijing buying and holding gazillions of dollars of U.S. debt. And the article reports that the Russians have apparently told us to get lost when we asked them to putting the kibosh on new North Korean accounts in its big banks.

America’s is the world’s military hyperpower but financially we’re not in a position to kick anyone’s door down, unless it’s a clapped out bank in Macao.

Which is one reason why the U.S. took pains at first (hypocritical ones, as we’ll see below) to present the move against BDA as a plain vanilla enforcement move against non-state bad guy activities.

When U.S. action against Banco Delta Asia was announced, the Treasury Department met with a North Korean delegation to clarify, against all conventional wisdom, that the move was not a financial sanction.

Instead, it invoked the Patriot Act:

The Treasury Department designated BDA as a "primary money laundering concern" under Section 311 of the USA PATRIOT Act.

The Treasury Department stressed that the Section 311 action against BDA was not intended as a sanction against North Korea and should be considered matter completely separate from the Six-Party Talks, the ongoing negotiations on nuclear programs on the Korean Peninsula that involve the United States, North Korea, South Korea, China, Japan and Russia.

Regulatory action was taken against BDA primarily because of its extensive involvement with North Korean entities involved in criminal activities, according to the Treasury statement.

Post-BDA, the United States reversed course.

Using the ceaseless noodging approach that must make the United States a tiresome and unwelcome presence in international diplomatic circles, the Treasury Department has pushed to assert the viability of the BDA action as a precedent for hassling Iran:

Trouble is, last time I looked, the US has sanctions against Iran but the UN doesn’t.

So abandoning the money-laundering pretense and fast-forwarding to overt economic sanctions is a little premature.

But under the weird “my unilateralism is your multilateralism” approach that the US now takes to the international community, the U.S. is trying to create a “coalition of the willing” that would make UN action moot—and pre-empt efforts to defuse the crisis through the UN.

As the title of Edward Alden and Caroline Daniel's article in the May 7, 2006 Financial Times puts it, US seeks de facto financial sanctions on Iran:

The US is attempting to persuade European governments, banks and companies to isolate the Iranian government by engaging in de facto financial sanctions, according to US government officials and advisers.

The tactics are modelled on those used for the first time last year against North Korea. That country’s financial dealings abroad were largely cut off after Washington put pressure on Banco Delta Asia, a Macau bank the US said was facilitating illicit dealings by Pyongyang.

The risk of similar reputational damage has already caused some European banks to cut their dealings with Iran, including UBS and Credit Suisse earlier this year.

John Snow, the US Treasury secretary, last week hinted strongly at the new effort against Iran, saying: “When the US is confronted with a threat that is unreceptive to diplomatic outreach and when military action is not an option, [financial] tools are often the best authorities available to exert pressure and to wield a tangible impact.”

Well, good luck with that.

As the article points out:

Iran poses a far greater challenge than North Korea because it is far more integrated into the international financial system. Iran had $51bn of exports and $48bn of imports last year, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Proliferation of weapons of mass destruction may be bad, but threatening the international billionaires club and its favorite banks with the threat of aggressive U.S. attacks on bad guy assets in third countries is apparently worse.

However, the defiantly unilateral pursuit of unpopular policies that could only succeed with genuine multi-lateral backing (see War on Terror; see Bush Doctrine of unilateral pre-emption; see Proliferation Security Initiative) is the hallmark of the Bush administration.

In one of those revealing passages that illuminates the obstinate, self-defeating solipsism of U.S. security efforts, the LA Times article describes where de facto but piecemeal economic warfare against North Korea gets us (and I give the author, Josh Meyer, a lot of credit for inserting this perceptive caveat):

“Some former U.S. officials also worry that completely uprooting North Korea’s illicit financial network might be unwise, forcing the secretive nation to resort to tactics that could hamper U.S. efforts to spy on it.

“If you crack down in certain areas, it is like squeezing the balloon. It may pop up in an area we can’t monitor,” said John Cassara, a former Treasury and CIA money-laundering specialist.

The financial crackdown already appears to be forcing North Korea into closer arrangements with organized-crime syndicates...

That is particularly worrisome, the officials said, because these criminal outfits have a well-entrenched presence in the United States and are better at clandestinely moving money, illicit goods – and potentially, weapons of mass destruction –than terrorists.

The Bush administration has not shown itself a particularly responsible or able steward of the world’s business.

The US government’s failures in its stated area of expertise—the sophisticated collection and analysis of critical intelligence product, and its responsible, objective, and effective employment—do not appear to justify giving it a free hand to organize economic sanctions against North Korea, let alone Iran.

Therefore, I don’t think it’s going to get world support for pre-empting UN action and the Six-Party talks with some unilateral financial derring-do.

Instead of a crushing blow, Pyongyang gets a slap in the face—and the space to react and adapt.

So what does unrelenting hostility to North Korea—when the United States lacks the ability to destroy the regime and can only antagonize it and force it to become more creative and unscrupulous in its fight for survival--get us?

David Asher gives us our marching orders:

“’s absolutely critical for us to crack down much harder on North Korea’s ties to organized crime globally,” Asher said. “It’s going to be a much bigger challenge in my mind than even tracking terrorist finances.”

Thanks a lot.

I think it’s safe to say that driving North Korea into a global alliance with international crime to create a proliferation super-threat and a challenge greater than tracking the terrorist networks that enabled 9/11 is something that few people outside the Bush and Abe administrations would consider an acceptable outcome.

For the rest of the world, I think accommodation and containment of North Korea under Chinese auspices is regarded as a lower cost and lower risk option than giving David Asher and Stuart Levey lifetime employment pursuing an infinitely adaptive and constantly mutating illicit financial network centered on Pyongyang.

And that’s where I think the North Korean situation is headed.