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Improving India-US Relations Unnerves Beijing

Chinese state media both denigrated President Obama’s historic trip to New Delhi this week and excoriated American policy in what appears to be a concerted effort to undermine US-Indian ties. 

On Monday, an American leader attended Republic Day celebrations in the Indian capital for the first time ever, and Obama became the first US president to visit India twice while in office. 

Shifting Relations in North Asia

Discussions this week in Singapore between North Korean officials, led by chief nuclear negotiator Ri Yong Ho, and former special envoy Stephen Bosworth and other American figures ended in calls for the resumption of formal nuclear talks, which have been on hold since 2008. The two-day “Track Two” consultations did not result in any breakthroughs, but the lack of progress in the informal consultations comes amid a flurry of unusual diplomatic activity involving the peninsula.

There was hope in recent days that the Track Two participants might come up with a new blueprint to restart the six-party talks to “denuclearize” North Korea. Instead, Ri used the occasion to lambast Washington and Seoul for their annual joint military exercises, which he termed the “root cause” of problems on the peninsula.

Sri Lankans Boot Pro-China Government

Friday, Sri Lankan voters decisively turned out President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Asia’s longest-server leader. By the end of the day, his former ally and health minister, Maithripala Sirisena, had taken the oath of office. Sirisena, 63, had defected from the government camp only in November, just as the election was called.

The 69-year-old Rajapaksa had called the poll two years before the end of his second term, and it looked like a smart move because, even in the days before the balloting, many expected him to win. He had, after all, ended the civil war by crushing the Tamils and in recent years presided over a period of fast growth.

East Asia's Population 'Death Spiral'

In 2014, Japan experienced the lowest birthrate ever, the fourth-straight year of record low births. There were 9,000 fewer Japanese born last year than in 2013, according to Health Ministry statistics.

Japan is shrinking as it sets one unenviable demographic record after another. Last year, the population fell by a biggest-ever 268,000. “2014’s population decrease was a ‘record’ but it’s a record that is going to be broken annually for the foreseeable future,” writes Forbes’s Mark Adomanis. “By this point it’s essentially inevitable: every January for at least the next 20 or 30 years there will be newspaper headlines stating that Japan’s population just suffered a new ‘record’ loss.”

India Blocks China’s Attempt to Take Over South Asian Group

In late November, New Delhi blocked Beijing’s attempt to gain membership in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation. Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Maldives, and Afghanistan are the seven other full members of what some call a club of poor nations.

At the group’s 18th summit, held in the Nepalese capital of Kathmandu, Beijing allies Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka pushed for China’s upgrading from observer status to full membership. India sought to defeat the initiative because SAARC, as the organization is known, operates on consensus and New Delhi feared that China would block its initiatives in the future.

Is a ‘Proportional Response’ to North Korea a Good Idea?

Last Monday, North Korea lost all Internet connectivity for about nine and a half hours. Tuesday, service was interrupted again, for a half hour. The outages were apparently the results of low-tech denial-of-service attacks. The North's network then went out over the weekend.

So far, a few hackers have claimed responsibility, but some believe the incidents to be the handiwork of US Cyber Command. Yet whether or not the American military was behind the extraordinary events—Obama administration officials are issuing both denials and non-denials—the unusual takedown of the North’s Internet has raised the issue as to what constitutes a “proportional” response.

India’s ‘Annihilator of Enemies’ Takes to the Sea

On Monday, Indian Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar approved sea trials of the INS Arihant, his country’s first indigenously built nuclear-powered submarine. The boat, which first slipped into harbor water in July 2009, is designed to launch ballistic missiles carrying nuclear warheads. “Arihant” means “annihilator of enemies.”

The Indian Navy already operates a nuclear-powered sub. INS Chakra, however, is a Russian Akula-2, leased for 10 years from Moscow and commissioned in April 2012. This “attack” boat, designed primarily to kill other submarines, carries only conventional weapons, most notably torpedoes and cruise missiles.

Obama Cites Dangers in Xi’s Consolidation of Power

At the beginning of the month, President Obama, in comments to the Business Roundtable in Washington, displayed his command of Chinese Communist Party politics. “He has consolidated power faster and more comprehensively than probably anybody since Deng Xiaoping,” he said of his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping. “And everybody’s been impressed by his … clout inside of China after only a year and a half or two years.”

“There are dangers in that,” Obama then remarked.

Yes, there are, and it was important for the president to have said so, even if it was unusual for the leader of the free world to comment on the political standing of an authoritarian supremo.

Taiwan Voters Reject China-Centric Policies

Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou bowed for 10 seconds Wednesday as he confirmed his resignation as chairman of the ruling Kuomintang, taking responsibility for the party’s worst drubbing since 1949, when Chiang Kai-shek fled to the island after defeat in the Chinese civil war. On Saturday, voters thoroughly rejected the KMT, as the organization is known, in elections for 11,130 local posts across the island.

Voters turned down KMT candidates in seats that had been safely “blue” for decades. It was not so much that the electorate had gone “green”—the color adopted by the opposition Democratic Progressive Party and its allies—as much as they had rejected Ma, who was nearing the end of his second and last term.

As the president said while announcing his resignation, “The results of the election tell us our reforms were not made fast enough and have yet to meet the expectations of the people, which is why the KMT failed to win the support of most voters.”

Criminal States Protecting Their Proxies at UN

On November 18, the United Nations Third Committee adopted a resolution recommending the referral of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to the International Criminal Court, alleging crimes against humanity. This was the first time a U.N. resolution recommended sending North Korea to The Hague.

The General Assembly is expected to accept the committee’s report next month and formally pass the matter to the Security Council.

 China and Russia, among the 19 voting against the Third Committee resolution, will undoubtedly use their Security Council vetoes to make sure the ICC does not get an opportunity to hear the case.

China: Socialist, Democratic, Harmonious by 2050?

“I have never heard a Chinese leader declare that his country would be fully democratic by 2050,” said Tony Abbott, the Australian prime minister, on Monday evening as he toasted Xi Jinping. “I have never heard a Chinese leader commit so explicitly to a rule-based international order founded on the principle that we should all treat others as we would be treated ourselves.” And Abbott said this: “I thank you, Mr. President, for this historic, historic statement, which I hope will echo right around the world.”

What prompted the effusive compliment? Earlier in the day, Xi had addressed the Australian Parliament, and he did make sweeping statements. “We have set two goals for China’s future development,” the Chinese leader said. “The first is to double the 2010 GDP and per-capita income of urban and rural residents and build a society of initial prosperity in all respects by 2020. The second is to turn China into a modern socialist country that is prosperous, democratic, culturally advanced, and harmonious by the middle of the century.”

China and Japan: Breakthrough or Breakdown?

On Tuesday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said his country and China had agreed to establish a “maritime communication mechanism.” The announcement came the day after he and Chinese President Xi Jinping shook hands at a symbolically powerful public event on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Beijing and then met for about 25 minutes. On the proceeding Friday, China and Japan announced a vague four-point plan that looked like a roadmap to improve ties.

Most analysts see a gradual warming in relations between the two nations. Given political distress in Communist Party circles in China, that’s unlikely, however.

Railway Wars in the Himalayas

On October 31st, China’s official Xinhua News Agency announced that the National Development and Reform Commission had approved a new rail line running from Lhasa, capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region, east to Nyingchi.

Toward its eastern end, the line will come close to India’s state of Arunachal Pradesh. Beijing claims most of Arunachal as its own, calling it “South Tibet.” Therefore, the Lhasa-Nyingchi section, part of the Sichuan-Tibet railway, is bound to heighten concern in New Delhi.

Beijing has been expending substantial sums for more than a decade on transportation infrastructure in the Tibetan homeland. The new 402-kilometer-long line is billed as Tibet’s second railway. The first one, the controversial Qinghai-Tibet railway, went into operation in 2006.

Countering the Threat of North Korean Warheads

On Friday, General Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of UN and US forces in Korea, told reporters that he believes Pyongyang has developed the “capability” to miniaturize a nuclear device. The regime, he said during a Pentagon press briefing, also has the “technology” to deliver that device by ballistic missile. The general did not claim North Korea had actually mounted a warhead on a missile or that it had in fact tested the combination, but of course it is only a matter of time before it does so.

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, as the North likes to call itself, has claimed that its February 2013 atomic test was of a “miniaturized and lighter nuclear device.”

Only Tariffs Will Stop China's Cyber Attacks

On Monday, GreatFire.org, an Internet monitoring group, charged that China launched “a malicious attack on Apple in an effort to gain access to usernames and passwords and consequently all data stored on iCloud.”

The “man-in-the-middle” attack, which deceived users into logging onto a Chinese government-controlled website instead of Apple’s, was directly traceable to China’s central government. “We know that the attack point is the Chinese Internet backbone and that it is nationwide, which would lead us to be 100 percent sure that this is again the work of the Chinese authorities,” said Charlie Smith, GreatFire co-founder, to the South China Morning Post. Only the Chinese government and Chinese Internet service providers “have access to the backbone.”

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