Category Archives: Asia & Oceania

Unrest in Kyrgyzstan

Before the recent outbreak of ethnic violence in Kyrgyzstan, many people had probably never heard of the country or were barely aware of it. Now however, what has occurred in the Central Asian republic is a matter of international interest and importance. Last week, there was what appears to have been a spontaneous eruption of ethnic violence between Kyrgyz and ethnic Uzbeks in the southern city of Osh, which led to the deaths of hundreds of Uzbeks, of which 400,000 have been displaced, and 80,000 of which have fled to Uzbekistan.

To understand the current situation we must rewind the clock a couple of years. In 2005, after rigged elections were held, the Kyrgyz people overthrew their increasingly corrupt president in what was known as the Tulip Revolution. The new leader was Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who came from the country’s Uzbek south, and who though installed on a platform of reform and transparency, soon ran afoul of the country’s democrats through his involvement in the murders of several politicians and journalists, for initially refusing to curb his expansive executive powers, and for purportedly stealing the 2009 election. All this discontent culminated in his ouster this April, which the BBC gives a good account of. Bakiyev fled to Kazakhstan and then Belarus, while a new provisional government, led by Roza Otunbayeva, came to power.

People protesting during the Tulip Revolution.

The provisional government had not yet consolidated its hold on power and was dependent on the military to keep it afloat. It is rumored that the armed forces had a hand in the violence and the UN has said it might have been orchestrated, while Otunbayeva has accused Bakiyev of stirring up the trouble in his southern power base. Meanwhile, in the afflicted area, many have fled to Uzbekistan, which yesterday shut its borders to anymore refugees, and other Uzbeks have blockaded themselves in their homes and neighborhoods. A worsening humanitarian crisis has also ensued with shortages of food, a lack of medical care, and a dearth of clean drinking water accompanying the violence.

This situation has wider implications for the world’s major actors in the region, the United States, Russia, and China, because of the country’s strategic location. Kyrgyzstan used to be in the USSR and it is today viewed by Russia as part of its “near-abroad,” its post-Soviet sphere of influence, where it continues to have military installments. America has a huge military base at Manas, in the Central Asian republic, which supplies soldiers and military personnel fighting in Afghanistan. China has also been vying for influence in the region, in its quest for resources and as its tries to take on the US’s hegemonic position in Asia. This instability threatens the interests of all parties. Just recently, rumors circulated that the Kyrgyz government would close America’s vital base if Britain did not hand over Bakiyev’s son to the provisional government. Russia, which has been asked by Otubayeva to deploy troops to the country, does not want to be forced to commit soldiers to the Central Asian republic, and China, with its characteristic emphasis on stability and social harmony, can see no benefit in the current situation.

That is why all three countries must act to bring this violence end and once again establish peace in the area. Russia and the US could perhaps send a limited number of troops to the country on a peace-keeping mission, while China could provide economic assistance to Kyrgystan. This way the two pillars of stability; economic prosperity and a solid political system could be erected. Nonetheless, any solution that is implemented should involve the actions of all of these players, the Kyrgyz government, and most of all the people.

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The Tragedy of North Korea

As North Korea continues to defy the international community in its quest for nuclear weapons, its people starve and suffer the worst depredations of communism. All around the North, in China and in the South, economic growth is occurring at break-neck speed and Pyongyang, by reinforcing its failed socialist policies and persisting in its bellicosity toward the world, is missing out on the bonanza. The people under Kim Jong-il’s regime are afflicted with hunger, biting poverty, and hopelessness. They live in ramshackle dwellings with income that goes from hand to mouth. More succinctly, they are serfs, held in bondage to their government, which exploits the fruits of their labor, and through its intransigent nuclear stance leaves them impoverished.  

North Korean woman in her ramshackle village.

 

 However, even in a slave society there are goods to be gotten, money to be  made, and a life to be had. Indeed, in the world’s most closed country, free and private markets — the pillar of a strong economy —  sprung up and flourished until last December when the earnings of North Koreans, and with them the market system, were wiped out by a currency devaluation. The aim of this action was to wipe out the country’s nascent capitalistic elements and unfortunately — by breaking  the intrinsic contract that goes with the use of paper money — it did. In order for North Korea to prosper, these markets have to be nurtured and not butchered, and the communist regime must modify its behavior both internally and externally. 

All it must do is to look  the North’s north and to its southern neighbor to witness a vindication of the free market system and a chilling indictment of the controlled, communist economic model. South Korea, which was poorer than the North in 1950, is now an economic tiger, thanks to its embrace of capitalism. China, with its financial and monetary liberalization program, has awakened a sleeping dragon. The region is awash in cash and confidence. Look at South Korea at night and you will see a blaze of lights, look at the North and you will see everyone equal in darkness, except for the Dear Leader, whose electricity never shuts off. 

Korea at night.

 

While Kim isn’t ailing, the people of North Korea are being left out and literally left in the dark. North Korea and its people cannot afford nuclear weapons, the criticism they bring, and another fifty years of solitude, suffering, and famine.     

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Japan’s Unstable Political Situation

After only eight months, Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, has resigned from his post. The next leader of the newly-empowered Democratic Party and Japan has been chosen, one Naoto Kan. He is the island nation’s fifth prime minister in four years.

Japan's sixth prime minister in five years.

This is just the latest step in Japan’s descent in political instability and economic decay. For twenty years, Japan’s economy has been ailing, and with an aging population and an exploding debt, it needs a strong leader at the helm. The island nation needs to undertake a major overhaul of its political system to ensure more continuity in leadership. It can start by setting a fixed term, say four years, for each government and prime minister. In most functioning democracies, one brush with political unpopularity is not enough to sink a government,  in Japan it is.

The United States should be more forbearing with the new Japanese prime minister, and allow him to rework the agreement over Futenma, an issue that sunk Hatoyama’s job approval and forced him from office. This would give Kan much-needed political clout and might save his government from a similar collapse. A strong Japan, which is reinvigorated both politically and economically, is in the interests of both countries.

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I See You; China’s Internet Crackdown

As of July 1st, all computers manufactured in China will be required to have a censorship program pre-installed on the machine’s hardrive.  The software, called Green Dam,the Chinese government says, is supposed to prevent Internet users from viewing pornographic content. This by itself is an unwarranted, baseless, and controlling goal, which strikes us Westerners as bad enough. However, this is not all Green Dam is capable of doing. Indeed, according to Cnet.com, techological experts believe that the software could be able to monitor users’ Internet activities, allow the Chinese government to block certain categories of information and entertainment, and could be used to mobilize all of China’s computers in cyber-attacks and turn them into the largest fascist fighting force in history.

In short, the Chinese government could use the software to consolidate its power and crush political dissent. The Communists have seen what is happening in Iran, where people are using Internet services like Twitter to organize and galvanize the reform movement and they have every intention of preventing this from occurring in China. Despite the economic strides the Communists have made in the twenty years since the Tiananmen Square massacre, there is no substitute for freedom, something the Chinese people crave. Rather than cede an inch to the reformers, the Grand Poobahs of China will fight them to death.

So, what is the US and American companies to do? They could start by threatening to cut off computer sales in China, unless the government rescind its regulations. this tactic, though extreme, would probably force China’s hand. Another option is for America and the Western World to apply public pressure on the Chinese. Whatever is to be done, we must act to salvage the few shreds of freedom that exist in China.

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