Posts Tagged ‘Myanmar’

Gang raped and set on fire: ICC pushes to investigate Myanmar Rohingya atrocities — Aung San Suu Kyi blames ‘hate narratives’

June 23, 2018

“Will the court live up to its mandate to put end to impunity for such crimes against humanity?”

Evidence of horrific treatment emerges as the Hague gives Myanmar deadline to respond to claims

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Harrowing accounts of Rohingya women tied to trees and raped for days by Myanmar’s military and men being pushed into mass graves, doused with petrol and set alight have been sent to the international criminal court.

The evidence has been sent by a coalition of Bangladesh organisations to ICC prosecutors who are pushing to investigate allegations of forced deportation from a country where it has no jurisdiction.

ICC judges met behind closed doors at the Hague this week to begin their discussions and documents seen exclusively by the Guardian will form part of the case for an investigation.

The legal argument for an ICC investigation is being led by prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, and it is the first time such a case has been considered by the court. While Bangladesh is a member state, which gives the ICC power to investigate crimes committed there, Myanmar is not, and denies any ethic cleansing was carried out against the Rohingya.

Bensouda argues the cross-border nature of the forced deportation of the Rohingya into Bangladesh means it could legally fall within the ICC’s remit.

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Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi has blamed ‘hate narratives’ outside the country for the tensions. Photograph: Hein Htet/EPA

Myanmar has until 27 July to respond to the allegations and demonstrate that the ICC does not have jurisdiction over the Rohingya case.

The request is unlikely to be welcomed by the Myanmar government. On Wednesday, a social media account run by the office of Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi quoted her berating “hate narratives from outside the country” which have fuelled tensions between Muslim Rohingya and Buddhist Rakhine communities.

More than 700,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar since August 2017 following a campaign of violence carried out by the military, which saw villages razed, women and children raped and abused and tens of thousands killed. The mass killings have been described as both ethnic cleansing and as “having all the hallmarks of genocide” by the UN.

Gang raped, then left for dead

A document submitted to the ICC by the Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC) and its partner Odhikar, seen by the Guardian, included the story of Marwa, 10, whose family was shot dead before she, along with a group of other young girls from her village, were taken to nearby school where they were repeatedly gang raped.


Also in the submission was the account of Khurshida, 20, who described how she was held captive with several other Rohingya women, before being stripped, tied to trees and raped for days. Khurshida eventually lost consciousness and was dumped outside the camp by soldiers who assumed she was dead.

They also document the case of Sakila, 25, who hid as her family were locked inside a house that was set alight by soldiers, and Nur Jahan, 31, was raped violently and repeatedly in front of her seven-year-old daughter.

Other Bangladesh organisations have argued that the sexual and gender-based nature of much of the violence committed against the Rohingya is fundamental to the case and that ICC action should be taken to put the perpetrators on trial.

The ICC has been accused of racism in the past for focusing most of its efforts on African nations, and many believe the court is looking to create more balance by turning its attention to atrocities in Asia.

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A soldier stand guards in Maungdaw township, Rakhine state, western Myanmar.
 A soldier stand guards in Maungdaw township, Rakhine state, western Myanmar. Photograph: Nyunt Win/EPA

Sir Geoffrey Nice, who led the prosecution of Serbian president Slobodan Milošević at the Hague, believes the prosecutor’s application will inevitably succeed.

“The ICC must be brave and accept it has jurisdiction and ensure these crimes are properly investigated” he said. “Anything otherwise would be a huge setback for justice and undermine the court’s very authority. This is the only clear route available for the Rohingya. We all have a collective responsibility to ensure the perpetuators are held to account.”

Human rights lawyer Wayne Jordash QC said the decision of the ICC judges would have crucial implications for the Rohingya people, who have no other legal recourse under current circumstances. “Will the court live up to its mandate to put end to impunity for such crimes against humanity?” he said.


Record 68.5 million people displaced worldwide: UN

June 19, 2018

A record 68.5 million people have been forced flee their homes due to war, violence and persecution, notably in places like Myanmar and Syria, the UN said on Tuesday.

By the end of 2017, the number was nearly three million higher than the previous year and showed a 50-percent increase from the 42.7 million uprooted from their homes a decade ago, according to a report by the UN refugee agency.

The current figure is equivalent to the entire population of Thailand, and the number of people forcibly displaced equates to one in every 110 persons worldwide, it said.

© AFP/File / by Nina LARSON | A UNHCR report showed 16.2 million people were freshly displaced last year, equating to some 44,500 people being pushed out of their homes every day — or one person every two seconds

“We are at a watershed, where success in managing forced displacement globally requires a new and far more comprehensive approach so that countries and communities aren’t left dealing with this alone,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi.

But around 70 percent of that number are people from just 10 countries, he told reporters in Geneva ahead of the report’s launch.

“If there were solutions to conflicts in those 10 countries, or in some of them at least, that huge figure, instead of rising every year, could start going down,” he said, calling for more political will to halt the crises driving so many from their homes.

– Every two seconds –

The report showed that 16.2 million people were freshly displaced last year, and included those forced to flee for the first time as well as those who had been previously displaced.

This equates to some 44,500 people being pushed out of their homes every day — or one person every two seconds, UNHCR said.

Most people flee within their own country, and are defined as internally displaced people, or IDPs.

By the end of 2017, there were some 40 million IDPs worldwide, down slightly from previous years, with Colombia, Syria and Democratic Republic of Congo accounting for the greatest numbers.

Another 25.4 million people — more than half of them children — were registered as refugees last year.

That is nearly three million more than in 2016, and “the highest known total to date”, it said.

– South Sudan numbers soar –

Syria’s seven-year conflict alone had, by the end of last year, pushed more than 6.3 million people out of the country, accounting for nearly one-third of the global refugee population.

Another 6.2 million Syrians are internally displaced.

The second largest refugee-producing country in 2017 was Afghanistan, whose refugee population grew by five percent during the year to 2.6 million people.

The increase was due mainly to births and more Afghans being granted asylum in Germany, UNHCR said.

South Sudan meanwhile saw the largest increase last year, with the number of refugees fleeing the world’s youngest nation soaring from 1.4 million at the beginning of the year to 2.4 million at the end.

Grandi said South Sudan was experiencing “a very bad emergency” which had apparently escaped the notice of both the government and the opposition who did not appear to be “taking seriously the desperate situation of their own people.”

– Most refugees in poor countries –

Refugees from Myanmar more than doubled last year to 1.2 million, as a brutal army crackdown forced hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims to pour across the border into Bangladesh.

Tuesday’s report also highlighted large-scale displacements in Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, and DR Congo among others.

And as Israel marks 70 years of independence, there are some 5.4 million Palestinians still living as refugees, it said.

Despite the focus on migrant numbers arriving in Europe and the United States, a full 85 percent of refugees are living in low- and middle-income countries like Lebanon, Pakistan and Uganda, Grandi said.

Turkey was hosting by far the largest number of refugees, with 3.5 million registered there by the end of 2017, most of them Syrians.

by Nina LARSON

U.N. rights boss calls U.S. immigration policy “unconscionable” in final speech — Hits out at China, North Korea, Myanmar

June 18, 2018

The top U.N. human rights official called on the United States on Monday to halt its “unconscionable” policy of forcibly separating children from migrant parents irregularly entering the country via Mexico.

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Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, outgoing United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights attends the Human Rights Council at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland June 18, 2018. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, in his final speech to the U.N. Human Rights Council, also said that widespread violations continued in North Korea and against Rohingya in Myanmar. He accused China of preventing independent activists from testifying before U.N. rights bodies.

He urged the 47-member Geneva forum to set up international commissions on alleged violations in Venezuela and Nicaragua, receiving a standing ovation at the end of his lengthy remarks.

Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Catherine Evans

Myanmar hardline monks vow to stay on Facebook despite ban

June 9, 2018

Facebook has been a source of propaganda against the minority

Myanmar’s hardline monks will dodge bans on Facebook and keep using it to “tell the truth”, they said on Friday, after the social media giant barred several Buddhist nationalists for hate messages targeting Rohingya Muslims.

United Nations officials investigating a possible genocide in Myanmar have said Facebook has been a source of propaganda against the minority in a country where it has become a near-ubiquitous communications tool as the economy opens up.

Myanmar’s nationalist monks and activists, who have emerged as a political force in recent years, have been sharing violent and angry rhetoric on Facebook targeting the minority, seen by many in the Buddhist-majority country as illegal immigrants.

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“It is a violation of freedom of expression,” Thuseitta, a member of the Patriotic Myanmar Monks’ Union told Reuters hours after Facebook identified him as a “hate figure”.

“We will keep using Facebook with different names and accounts to tell the truth to people.”

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Nearly 700,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled to neighboring Bangladesh, the United Nations and aid agencies have said, following an army crackdown after Rohingya insurgent attacks last August.

Washington has called the army response “ethnic cleansing” – a charge Myanmar denies, saying its security forces have been waging a legitimate counter-insurgency operation against “Bengali terrorists”.

Pinnyawenta, another monk from the union whose account was deactivated in May after repeatedly being asked by Facebook to remove some posts, said he had registered again under another name and would “continue to write about the truth” on the site.

In an email message, Facebook told Reuters it was “investing more in the teams who are working on Myanmar” as it seeks to “understand and respond to Myanmar’s unique technical challenges”.

“There’s always more we can do to get ahead of these repeat offenders, and we are committed to improving our detection tools to remove them from Facebook as quickly as possible,” the company said.

The California-based company will invest more in artificial intelligence to deal with languages in Myanmar, it said.

Facebook added that it had designated as “hate figures and organizations” a radical Buddhist group, Ma Ba Tha, and several prominent monks known for vitriol toward Rohingya, blocking them from the platform.

The move had led to the removal of “a lot of harmful and violating content”, it said.

Ei Myat Noe Khin, a manager of Yangon-based Phandeeyar, which helped Facebook translate its Burmese-language community standards, urged the company to hire more people who are unbiased and understand Myanmar well.

That would be the only way for Facebook to tackle the proliferating accounts behind the rumors spread to trigger violence, riots and conflict, she added.

Reporting by Sam Aung Moon and Yimou Lee; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Tom Hogue


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Islamic State’s Attacks Raise Threat of Southeast Asia Hub

June 7, 2018

Neighbors intensify cooperation to prevent regional growth of militant group

It took Philippine forces five months to drive Islamic State-inspired rebels from Marawi City, on Mindanao Island, shown here as fighting continued in May 2017.
It took Philippine forces five months to drive Islamic State-inspired rebels from Marawi City, on Mindanao Island, shown here as fighting continued in May 2017. PHOTO: FRANCIS R. MALASIG/EUROPEAN PRSSPHOTO AGENCY

SINGAPORE—Islamic State’s collapse in Syria and Iraq leaves global jihadists looking for a new home.

Governments in Southeast Asia, a region that is home to some 270 million Muslims, fear that their part of the world may now turn into the extremists’ new area of growth. These nations are sidelining old rivalries and working together to make sure that doesn’t happen.

This cooperation includes a fresh boost in intelligence sharing and joint maritime and air patrols in the Sulu Sea, where Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia meet. The region’s nations are also tightening immigration rules and Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country is passing new antiterrorism legislation.

Smoke rises from a blast at a Surabaya church amid a series of attacks on May 13 in the Indonesian city.
Smoke rises from a blast at a Surabaya church amid a series of attacks on May 13 in the Indonesian city. PHOTO:ANDY PINARIA/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

Islamic radicalism has a long tradition in Southeast Asia, fueled by a separatist guerrilla war that raged since the 1970s in the predominantly Muslim parts of southern Philippines, a separatist insurgency in southern Thailand, and the communal tensions in Indonesia that allowed al Qaeda’s affiliate Jemaah Islamiyah to flourish more than a decade ago.

In addition to concerns about the Sulu Sea area, the historic hotbed of Islamic militancy, regional officials increasingly worry that the Rohingya refugee crisis in Myanmar and Bangladesh may create another extremist hot spot on the coast of Andaman Sea.

“When we are talking about terrorism, Iraq and Syria already are finished. The future threat will be in the Sulu Sea and in the Andaman Sea,” Inspector-General Hamidin, the deputy head of Indonesia’s National Counter-Terrorism Agency, said in an interview. “While ISIS has been defeated, its ideology remains.”

Several hundred radicals from Southeast Asia, particularly Indonesia, traveled to join Islamic State in Syria and Iraq when it proclaimed its “caliphate” in 2014. Many of them fought in the so-called Nusantara Brigade—and many have since then returned to the region.

Islamic State also tried to establish a ministate of its own in the Indonesian regency of Poso, on Sulawesi island, in 2015. After failing to take hold in Poso, the group focused on the southern Philippines island of Mindanao, where fighters linked to Islamic State seized the city of Marawi in May 2017. Philippines forces regained Marawi only after a five-month military campaign that displaced hundreds of thousands of people.

Officials in Southeast Asia fear Myanmar’s push to drive out predominantly Muslim Rohingya—refugees are shown here at the Bangladesh border in April—has facilitated the rise of extremism in the area.
Officials in Southeast Asia fear Myanmar’s push to drive out predominantly Muslim Rohingya—refugees are shown here at the Bangladesh border in April—has facilitated the rise of extremism in the area. PHOTO: YE AUNG THU/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

Since then, Islamic State’s activity in Indonesia picked up again. Last month, militants affiliated with Islamic State, also known as Daesh, carried out a series of church bombings in the city of Surabaya, the country’s deadliest attack in a decade. There were several other incidents, including the attack on police by sword-carrying militants on the island of Sumatra.

“The challenges do not end when the military declares victory. While pro-Daesh groups failed to establish a strong foothold in southern Philippines and in Southeast Asia, their initial accomplishments provide a viable blueprint for terrorism operations in the region,” the Philippines secretary of national defense, Delfin Lorenzana, warned at the Shangri-La Dialogue security conference in Singapore over the weekend.

“The terrorist threat continues to threaten Southeast Asia,” echoed the Australian minister of defense, Marise Payne. “Nobody wants to see Daesh take root in our region after being denied territory and legitimacy in the Middle East.”

In Indonesia, increased police capability to monitor militants’ social media and electronic communications means that many future attacks will likely be planned by close-knit groups such as the family that carried out last month’s Surabaya church bombings, said Mr. Hamidin of the Counter-Terrorism Agency.

While Indonesia is able to keep the militant threat in check, that would become challenging if the largely dormant networks of Jemaah Islamiyah become activated again by a regional crisis such as the plight of the Rohingya, and start cooperating with the remnants of Islamic State, he added.

“We have learned from what has been happening in Indonesia: if there is conflict and violence against Muslims, terrorists usually go there,” said Mr. Hamidin.

In Indonesia, the appeal of Islamic State’s brand of radicalism is limited by the fact that rival Islamist movements have been able to achieve their goals through peaceful means. Mass Islamist-sponsored demonstrations against alleged blasphemy by the Christian governor of Jakarta in December 2016 led to his defeat in elections last year, and to a subsequent imprisonment on blasphemy charges.

There is no such peaceful outlet in the Philippines, where a state of emergency remains in force across Mindanao.

“Foreign terrorist fighters consider the south Philippines as their alternative home base. They agitate the grievances of the locals and provide ideological justifications to continue the armed rebellion,” said Rommel Banlaoi, chairman of the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research, a think tank in Manila.

“But even without the foreign terrorist fighters, the locals are fighting for self-determination, and they want acknowledgment of historical injustice committed against them,” he said. “The foreign terrorist fighters only add fire to existing local grievances.”

In Marawi, where fighters from other Southeast Asian nations and places as remote as Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Chechnya participated in last year’s battles, Islamic State-affiliated militants surprised the Philippines army with their use of drones, radio-frequency scanners and advanced sniper rifles, among other sophisticated weaponry. Though battered after losing Marawi, many of its fighters and its key leaders, the militant group remains a potent threat in Mindanao and the nearby islands of the Philippines, security experts agree.

“In Mindanao, they still have the capabilities, they still have the money, and they still have some territory,” said Solahudin, a terrorism expert at the University of Indonesia.

Write to Yaroslav Trofimov at

Illicit Drug Production Rages on in Conflict-torn Areas of Myanmar

May 27, 2018

Illicit drug production rages on in conflict-torn regions in Myanmar, with supplies being smuggled into nearby countries but also reaching as far as Australia, said the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

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Senior drug policy leaders from the Mekong region – Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam – and UNODC officials are in Naypyitaw to discuss the illicit drug situation in the region and to negotiate a new strategic plan.

“Drug production is high in unstable regions and drugs from those areas are smuggled across the world, reaching even to Australia,” Jeremy Douglas, UNODC regional representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific Region, told reporters after the opening of the conference.

Poppy plantations in Shan State. / Kyaw Kha / The Irrawaddy

Methamphetamine produced in the Golden Triangle – the border regions between Laos, Myanmar and Thailand – is being seized in large volumes in Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Malaysia and Indonesia, said a UNODC statement.

Opium and heroin production have recently declined in the region but production and trafficking of both low-grade Yaba methamphetamine and high purity crystal methamphetamine have increased to alarming levels, said the UNODC.

Only a few months into 2018, several Mekong countries have already surpassed 2017 seizure totals, it added.

Poppy plantations in Shan State. / Kyaw Kha / The Irrawaddy

Methamphetamine and heroin are currently estimated to be worth US$40 billion in the regional drug market, according to UNODC Advisor Tao Zhiqiang.

According to the UNODC and Myanmar’s Anti-Narcotics Police Force, methamphetamine in the country is produced primarily in Shan State, in unstable areas experiencing armed conflict.

The UNODC suggested that the Myanmar government discuss the drug problem as a topic in peace negotiations.

Not only locals but also citizens of other countries are involved in transnational organized crime groups that run the illicit drug businesses, said Jeremy Douglas.

Poppy plantations in Shan State. / Kyaw Kha / The Irrawaddy

“They are from different countries including China and Taiwan. They have come and are doing [illicit drug businesses] mostly in northern Shan State. We must handle this through collaborative efforts,” he said.

Police Colonel Zaw Lin Tun, the head of Myanmar Anti-Narcotics Police Force, said that it is difficult for the police to control drug production in northern Shan State because of instability and the involvement of government officials in the business.

The police colonel reiterated that the Myanmar government objected to signing an agreement of cooperation to fight drugs between the United Wa State Army and the Chinese government because Wa State is a part of Myanmar and the two governments have already signed an official agreement for cooperation, he added.

Myanmar was able to reduce opium cultivation by 25 percent last year at the national level, but opium cultivation in northern Shan State and Kachin State did not decline, the UNODC pointed out.

The Myanmar government has to make greater efforts to fight drugs. Drug problems, especially in remote and unstable areas, are a major challenge for Myanmar, said the UNODC.

“Responding to the situation requires acknowledging some difficult realities and agreeing to new approaches at a strategic regional level. Here in Myanmar it means focusing on peace and security in the Golden Triangle and places where conflict and the drug economy are connected,” said Jeremy Douglas.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.

See also:

Myanmar: opium cultivation down 25 per cent, but conflict areas remain ‘safe haven’ for drug traders


Chemical firms, casinos in Myanmar targeted as region battles menace of synthetic drugs

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A Chinese company working with Myanmar farmers hopes that farming silkworms can help the farmers, and their country, quit opium production.PHOTO: REUTERS

Myanmar orders Rohingya to leave amid humanitarian concerns — no man’s land between Bangladesh and Myanmar

May 22, 2018

Myanmar security forces have resumed loudspeaker broadcasts near its border with Bangladesh ordering Rohingya Muslims to immediately leave a strip of no man’s land between the two countries, refugees said Sunday.

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Myanmar had agreed in February to stop using loudspeakers to order the stranded Muslims to leave the area immediately and cross into Bangladesh. But, the loudspeaker messages resumed last weekend without warning, Rohingya community leaders said, exacerbating tension along the restive border zone.

“They played it several times yesterday, and have been repeating it this morning. It’s very disturbing and creates panic,” said Mohammad Arif, one of the leaders camped in no-man’s land, as reported by Agence France-Presse (AFP). The messages, broadcast in Burmese and Rohingya, warned the refugees to “leave the area under Myanmar’s jurisdiction or face prosecution.”

“We are citizens of Myanmar. It’s our fatherland. We have every right to remain here. Why should we go elsewhere?,” said another community leader, Dil Mohammad.

The broadcasts also refer to the refugees as “Bengalis,” the term used by many in Buddhist-majority Myanmar to refer to the Rohingya, whom they consider interlopers from Bangladesh.

The refugee crisis has strained ties between Bangladesh and Myanmar. The neighbors had agreed in November to begin repatriating Rohingya refugees to Myanmar but the process has stalled, with both sides blaming each other for the delays. Those living in no-man’s land, and many in the Bangladeshi refugee camps, refuse to return to Myanmar until their safety and citizenship is assured and compensation granted for past injustices.

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The U.N. has described the systematic violence by Myanmar against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state as possible genocide and ethnic cleansing. Around 6,000 refugees from the persecuted minority have been camping on the narrow stretch of land since fleeing a brutal military crackdown in Myanmar’s west last August. An estimated 700,000 Rohingya have fled over the border to Bangladesh since an army crackdown was launched in Rakhine state in August. Myanmar blames Rohingya militants for an Aug. 25 strike on security posts in Rakhine state that triggered a fierce army crackdown. At least 9,000 Rohingya were killed in Rakhine state from Aug. 25 to Sept. 24, according to Doctors without Borders. In a report last December, the global humanitarian group said the deaths of 71.7 percent, or 6,700 Rohingya, were caused by violence. The death toll includes 730 children below the age of 5.

The stateless Rohingya have been the target of communal violence and vicious anti-Muslim sentiment in mainly Buddhist Myanmar for years. Myanmar has denied citizenship to Rohingya since 1982 and excludes them from the 135 ethnic groups it officially recognizes, which effectively renders them stateless. The Rohingya trace their presence in Rakhine back centuries. But most people in majority-Buddhist Myanmar consider them to be unwanted Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh.

The new world disorder: is war inevitable in the Asian century?

May 22, 2018

A hard-headed realpolitik now governs the battle for influence between China, the US and India

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Artists impression of a posible Chinese hypersonic aircraft

By James Crabtree

Narendra Modi and Xi Jinping met in China’s historic city of Wuhan last month. Greeting each other warmly, the Indian and Chinese leaders talked over cups of tea and strolled in bucolic gardens. President Xi noted he had only twice met a visiting foreign leader outside Beijing. On both occasions, it was for Modi. Yet rather than demonstrating cordial ties between Asia’s ascending giants, the meeting served mostly to highlight divisions, given Sino-Indian relations have worsened greatly since Modi became prime minister in 2014, in particular after a military stand-off near the Bhutanese border last year. Both sides wanted a “reset”.

Modi’s position was the weaker of the two. India’s economy is smaller than China’s, and its military far punier. Many in New Delhi feared that the subtext of the summit was a plea that China should avoid more meddlesome border incidents that could destabilise Modi’s re-election campaign next year. Xi appeared more self-assured, having recently extended indefinitely his term as leader. Yet for all the rapidity of his ascent, China’s leader also often appears unsure how best to manage the complexities of his new global reach.

This pervasive sense of uncertainty is part of what US foreign policy thinker Robert Kaplan calls The Return of Marco Polo’s World, meaning the emergence of a new global order that would seem oddly familiar to the 13th-century explorer. Conventional wisdom suggests America is in relative decline while China, India and other emerging powers are on the up. Kaplan’s vision is more complex. “The map will increasingly be defined by a new medievalism,” he writes. The power of states will decline while loyalties to “city, empire and tribe” will matter more, as they did before the advent in the 17th century of the modern nation state following the Peace of Westphalia. “The smaller the world becomes because of the advance of technology,” Kaplan writes, “the more permeable, complicated and overwhelming it seems, with its numberless, seemingly intractable crises.” Little wonder even powerful leaders such as Modi and Xi struggle to make sense of it.

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Kaplan’s book is a stimulating account of a coming era of global confusion. Its first chapter laying out his thesis, which started life as a paper commissioned by the US defence department, is especially good. The other chapters are drawn mostly from older magazine essays, including a series of profiles of global thinkers such as Samuel Huntington, the Harvard political scientist, and John Mearsheimer, a controversial “realist” international affairs scholar. Realism views the world as “an anarchic jungle” populated by anxious, self-interested states, and basically sums up Kaplan’s views. He even devotes a highly critical chapter to Donald Trump, arguing that the US president’s policies do not deserve to be viewed as part of the same school.

Technology is crucial to Kaplan’s understanding of the coming world, both for the way it empowers protesters and terrorists, but also because it drags major powers into localised conflicts

Geography matters to Kaplan, as does history. He is upbeat about the future for long-lived civilisations such as Iran and Turkey, even if their economies are shaky. Technology is also crucial to his understanding of the coming world, both for the way it empowers protesters and terrorists, but also because it drags major powers into localised conflicts, as happened in Syria. Other factors, from quarterly growth figures to military budgets, concern him less. The ideas he draws from this worldview are divisive but compelling. In Monsoon, an earlier book, he coined the metaphor of a “string of pearls” to describe China’s proliferating naval bases around the Indian Ocean. Academics often treat the concept snootily, claiming it has little predictive value. But it is still widely used by diplomats and journalists, because it describes so nicely what most think China is up to, namely spreading its reach across India’s backyard.

In this latest work, the image of Polo describes a new and enlarged geopolitical playing field. The path of Polo’s journeys across the Eurasian landmass is often called the “silk road”, even though that phrase was coined only in the 19th century. Kaplan thinks this same region will now be the heart of 21st century conflict. “As Europe disappears, Eurasia coheres,” he writes, suggesting that a weakened west can only watch as Eurasia itself becomes the focus for international competition. Against this backdrop the US must understand its inability to shape global events as it did after the cold war. Instead, America’s objective should be simple: to stop China dominating eastern Asia in the way the US itself does across the western hemisphere.

If one project defines this new moment, it is China’s “belt and road” initiative. Originally known as “One Belt, One Road”, the term “BRI” describes a series of daring energy and transport projects involving Chinese investments of $1tn or more. Some spread overland through Eurasia, while others — that “string of pearls” — snake around the Indian Ocean and towards Africa. BRI’s scale dwarfs the endeavours of earlier great powers, from Britain’s colonial rail building to America’s postwar Marshall Plan. And although BRI’s tentacles now stretch as far as Latin America, few places show its reach more clearly than south-east Asia. Sandwiched between Asia’s rising giants, the region once known as Indochina is becoming an ever more important focus for great power competition. According to Will Doig in High Speed Empire, a short work examining China’s plans, Xi’s ambitions amount to nothing less than “a plan to reclaim the country’s global centrality”.

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A US-based journalist, Doig travels through Laos, Malaysia and Thailand, spinning an engaging narrative that focuses mostly on China’s “railway diplomacy”. This is big business: in 2015, 41 per cent of global rail revenue went to Chinese companies. In landlocked Laos, a communist-ruled backwater, China plans to link its own southwestern city of Kunming to Thailand. Eventually the line will head to Malaysia and join another mooted high-speed link, creating an artery stretching from Beijing to Singapore, as Xi seeks to create “a region infused with Chinese connections, influence and control”.

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Indonesian President Joko Widodo, center, inspects a model of the high-speed train which will connect the capital city of Jakarta to the country’s fourth largest city, Bandung, during a groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of its railway in Cikalong Wetan, West Java, Indonesia in January 2017.

Yet for all its financial and engineering might, China’s mega-projects are often troubled. Doig tells the story of the former deputy prime minister of Laos, a rough-and-tumble dealmaker called Somsavat Lengsavad, who brought in billions of investment via Chinese infrastructure and property schemes. Yet the country’s gleaming new rail line is unlikely ever to turn a profit, while China offered loans at ruinous interest rates, leaving Laos mired in debt. Costing about $6bn, the rail project’s budget amounts to roughly half of the country’s gross domestic product.

Similar problems dot Asia. Debts dog BRI projects from Sri Lanka to Myanmar. Corruption is an issue. Locals complain about projects built by migrant Chinese workers. Doig describes a giant special economic zone in Malaysia that was mothballed when its Chinese developer ran out of funds. Anxieties about China also provided the backdrop to this month’s surprise Malaysian election, when Mahathir Mohamad, the 92-year-old opposition leader and China critic, re-took power. In Laos, Somsavat was purged for his pro-Beijing views, opting to become a Buddhist monk instead. His country’s troubles are not unusual across poorer parts of Asia. “The very qualities that have helped China gain entry — dysfunction, corruption, poverty — are also the qualities that can turn large-scale, long-term projects into mazes with no exit,” Doig writes.

So far, India has been unable to match China’s powerful infrastructure diplomacy, although under Modi it has new ambitions to spread its influence abroad. Like the US, India worries that China wants to become a regional “hegemon”, a fear that has driven the world’s two largest democracies closer over recent years. But it is India’s own burgeoning self-confidence that concerns Alyssa Ayres, a former US diplomat, whose book Our Time Has Come provides a fascinating and timely account of a nation growing “less and less reticent about its global ambitions”.

America’s calculus is crude but logical: if there are two big powers in Asia, namely China and India, one alone cannot dominate

Once a leader of nonaligned nations, India itself now aspires to be a “leading power” able to shape events and win a greater role at global institutions such as the UN. This new assertiveness flows partly from a growing economy. But the accident of geography plays a role too, as Kaplan notes: “If the early-twenty-first century has a geographical focus, this would be it: the Greater Indian Ocean from the Gulf to the South China Sea, and including the Middle East, Central Asia and China.” India is especially fearful of encirclement by China’s powerful military. Modi’s aim is therefore what Ayres calls “attaining primacy in the Indian Ocean”, an aim India is pursuing with plenty of US support. America’s calculus is crude but logical: if there are two big powers in Asia, namely China and India, one alone cannot dominate. So far, India has made only tentative steps to match China’s big-spending infrastructure push, but in time it too will use its economic sway to buy friends and influence allies.

In turn this explains why Indian and Chinese relations have fallen so low of late. Competition between the two is rising not because their leaders are belligerent. Rather, it is because as they grow, their sense of their own self-interests is growing too. Hungry for commodities and with people spread around the globe, both are expanding what they view as their core national interest. As they do so they risk becoming more entangled in the kinds of new, complex global problems Kaplan’s book describes. Sino-Indian flashpoints are more likely too, even beyond their long and disrupted shared border, over which they fought a war in 1962, which India lost. At their recent summit, Modi and Xi instructed their armies to avoid any further border spats. This lessens the odds of armed conflict, but such a scenario still cannot be ruled out.

Kaplan begins his book with a line from international relations academic Kenneth Waltz, noting glumly that “theorists explain what historians know: war is normal”. Later he quotes US cold war-era diplomat George Kennan explaining the logic of colonialism: “Unless we took those territories, somebody else would.” A similar hard-headed realpolitik now governs the battle for influence fought between China and the US, and increasingly India too. A new world of geopolitical competition is being born, but one where even powerful states cannot entirely control events. This uncertainty makes for confusion, and potentially for conflict too. The amiable tone of summit meetings such as Xi and Modi’s in Wuhan suggests the Asian century might be more stable than the period of American hegemony that preceded it. That impression is likely to be misleading.

The Return of Marco Polo’s World: War, Strategy, and American Interests, by Robert Kaplan, Random House, RRP£15.99, 272 pages

High Speed Empire: Chinese Expansion and the Future of Southeast Asia, by Will Doig, Columbia Global Reports, RRP$14.99, 107 pages

Our Time Has Come: How India Is Making Its Place In The World, by Alyssa Ayres, Oxford University Press, RRP£18.99, 360 pages

James Crabtree is an associate professor of practice at Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. His book on India, ‘The Billionaire Raj’, is published in July

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Beijing urges ceasefire after deadly Myanmar border clashes

May 13, 2018

China on Sunday condemned fighting on its border between Myanmar forces and ethnic rebels that has left 19 dead, mostly civilians, in some of the worst violence to rattle the restive frontier in recent years.

Image result for Myanmar, fighting rebels, may 2018, photos

The fighting erupted on Saturday when ethnic-minority insurgent groups, who are locked in a long-running battle with the Myanmar state, attacked security posts around Muse, a border town and trade hub in northeastern Shan state.

A local resident told AFP she heard gunfire through the night until early Sunday morning, with fear gripping a town that lives at the mercy of both government militias and ethnic armies fighting for more autonomy.

Image result for Ta'ang National Liberation Army, photos

“We heard shooting the whole night until this morning around 6:00 am. We do not know what was going on and who was fighting,” said Muse resident Aye Aye.

Saturday’s carnage, which also left at least 27 injured, was one of the bloodiest days in recent years in a long-running rebellion that is separate from the Rohingya crisis to the west.

Fighting in the remote region in early 2017 sent more 20,000 Myanmar refugees scrambling across the border into China’s Yunnan province, raising tensions.

On Sunday the Chinese embassy in Yangon condemned the clashes and said it had urged “relevant parties” to reach an immediate ceasefire.

The violence “made people from the Myanmar side flee across the Chinese border, and stray bullets have entered into Chinese territory”, the statement added.

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Kachin Independence Army

Observers believe Beijing holds significant sway over the ethnic rebels near its border and is a key player in a faltering peace process steered by Myanmar’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Suu Kyi placed the peace bid — an effort to extinguish around two dozen complicated and long-running ethnic conflicts across the country — at the top of her agenda after she was elected to office in landmark 2015 elections.

But the effort has been severely hampered by a surge in fighting between Myanmar security forces and an alliance of rebel groups in northeastern Shan and Kachin states.

Saturday’s attacks were blamed on the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), which claimed responsibility for operation and apologised for the civilian deaths.

Suu Kyi, the first civilian leader of the former junta-run country in decades, lacks control over security policy and the still-powerful military, which has retained key government posts in a delicate power-sharing arrangement.