China: Tiananmen Square Anniversary

Today marks the 23rd anniversary of the repressed Tiananmen Square occupation, a pro-democracy demonstration beginning the night of June 3, 1989 and stretching into the early morning of June 4 in which Chinese troops used lethal force to end the 7 week-long occupation.

23rd Anniversary of Tiananmen Square Massacre – June 4th, 1989

 

After the death of Mao Zedong and a period devoid of leadership due to a rift between those loyal to Maoist doctrine, under the Gang of Four, and the reformist forces under Deng Xiaoping, the reformist leader Deng brought China into a new era.  In the late 190s, Deng embraced elements of free market and socialism, resulting in a mix economy based on market-based reforms.  Because of the rapid change of economic reform implemented under Deng’s ‘4 Modernizations’ and ‘9 Cardinal Points’,  combined with the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, cries for social and political reform rang out in China.  Mass gatherings and protests took place in and around Tiananmen Square.  The movement lasted for about 7 weeks, ending after the declaration of martial law on May 20th.  Military convoys entered Beijing on the evening of June 3-4. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) used live fire to clear their path of protesters.  The exact number of civilian deaths is not known, but the majority of estimated range from several hundreds to thousands.  The results of this massacre was international condemnation and Western imposed sanctions and arms embargoes.  Nevertheless, the aftermath of the protests strengthened the power of the orthodox Communist hardliners.  To this day, China is still world renown for its human rights violations and hard-line suppression, the most recent phenomena being the house arrest of blind activist Chen Guangcheng.  Chen is one of a number of activists who have been imprisoned or are currently detained for campaigning for human rights or religious freedom in Communist-led China, illustrating the repressive nature of the regime.  So saying, the government has taken special measures to further censor the acknowledgement of the protests.  In China, there was no mention of the date in Monday’s newspapers.  China has arrested activists and placed others under increased surveillance to stop them from marking the anniversary.  Searches on social media sites have also been restricted to try to prevent any reference to the 1989 events.  The list of blocked words is extensive, including words, names and numbers that relate to the incident, ranging from “never forget” to “tank” to “-ism”.

“This Democracy Movement deserves universal approval.  We ask that its requests be treated appropriately.  We do not desire revenge but we want to completely reveal the truth.  We are in favor of tolerance, but against forgetfulness.  People who are forgetful have no future.” - Chen Guangcheng, Chinese activist

In memory of that day, more than 100,000 people are expected to gather in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park Monday night for a candelight vigil to remember the lives lost.  Among the heroes and memories of 1989 is Ya Weiling, a 73-year-old father of a student who was shot and killed in the crackdown.  Ya and his wife Zhang Zhenxia spent 20 years campaigning for the government to make amends for those killed in the 1989 demonstration.  In a note written before his death, Ya complained of the government’s refusal to hear his grievances about his son’s death and said he would therefore fight with his death.  Ya was later found hanged in a garage below his home.  Another response to the anniversary came from the Tiananmen Mothers group.  The group called for the end of communist rule, and micro-bloggers have encouraged sympathizers to wear all black and present themselves in public placed.  In Hong Kong, a temporary Tiananmen Massacre museum is also open for the week commemorating the courage of those involved and condemning the actions taken by the government.  Among the noteworthy remarks regarding the anniversary, the US State Department issued a remark condemned by the Chinese.  Despite previous attempts at detente considering the heightened tensions concerning activist Chen, the US statement targeted the Chinese government and encouraged the government to release all prisoners still serving sentences for their participation in the demonstration, as well as calling for a full release of all information dealing with the events of 1989.

“We renew our call for China to protect the universal human rights of all its citizens; release those who have been wrongfully detained, prosecuted, incarcerated, forcibly disappeared, or placed under house arrest; and end the ongoing harassment of human rights activists and their families.” - US State Department statement

In retrospect, China remains today one of the most prominent countries holding a large history of human rights violations and continues to do so.  Along with rigid support for President al-Assad in Syria, targeted aggression at neighboring Tibet, rising conflict over possession of the Spratly Islands with the Philippines,  and an emerging democracy in neighbor Myanmar, Chinese international relations are very volatile and turbulent.  The government is particularly sensitive this year in the lead up to the once-in-a-decade leadership transition.  In Autumn, power will transfer to a new government of politicians who will decide the future direction for China.  Current President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao are both due to step down.

Iran: Nuclear Talks and the Russo-American Dilemma

The tense relations between Russia and the US, between President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin, brings rise to concerns over ongoing Iran nuclear talks, set to resume in Baghdad on May 23.

Iranian Nuclear Talks will Require Closer Russo-American Ties

Russian President Vladimir Putin has unveiled a government dominated by loyalists, leaving hopes for reform slim and entrenching Kremlin’s over the economy’s commanding heights.  Along with Putin’s opting out of the G8 Summit, the tense relations between Russia and the US are worrisome for many due to the importance of a strong front being presented by Putin and Obama against nuclear proliferation in Iran.  With President Obama facing his reelection year, talks between the two nation’s will be scarce and wide-spaced, leaving little room for political gobbledygook, stressing substantial progress on relations that have already been strained by the Syrian civil war.  With Russia and America as the two former superpowers responsible for decades of nuclear standoff, they have also assumed the roles concerning nuclear development and proliferation.  America’s pursuit of hegemony has resulted in a staunch policy condemning countries seeking nuclear programs, demanding countries to disarm despite America’s own unwillingness to denuclearize.  So saying, President Obama’s position on an Iranian nuclear program is clear.  Obama has repudiated any intention of adopting deterrence of a nuclear Iran as an acceptable policy option.  Thus, such rigidity could result in an Iranian agreement to live up any resolve to acquire nuclear weapons; President Obama could retreat from his previously assumed rigidity; or there could be war.

“Iran is not after nuclear weapons because the Islamic Republic, logically, religiously and theoretically, considers the possession of nuclear weapons a grave sin and believes the proliferation of such weapons is senseless, destructive and dangerous.” - Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader

War seems to be a drastic conclusion to draw, as all state leaders are assumed to be rational independent thinkers, yet Iran’s history does not suggest appeasement to be high on the agenda.  Nevertheless, Iran has shown signs of a renewed unwillingness to take seriously these talks between itself and the P5+1 (Britain, China, France, Russia, America and Germany).  Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei has stated that the pursuit of nuclear weapons is considered a grace sin and believes the proliferation of such weapons is senseless, destructive and dangerous.  The supreme leader has also stated his ultimate goal is to make the state of Israel disappear, as well as to the combat the ‘Great Devil’ represented by the American nation.  The transitions from repressive isolation to willing nuclear talks stems largely from international sanctions imposed on the country in recent years, slowly constricting the economy over the past year.  With both the EU and the USA embargoing Iranian oil shipments, Iran’s oil sits in storage tanks.  Iran’s oil sector accounted for 60% of total government revenue, thus the vulnerability of the regime’s strength to said sanctions is apparent.  A dollar decline in the price of crude oil could reduce the government revenue by as much as $1 billion.  So saying, Iran’s intentions may be to purely seem wiling and cooperative so as to relieve itself from such crippling fiscal constraints.  So saying, most of the countries within the P5+1 remain highly skeptical of Iran’s true intentions and purposes.  Many believe that Iran is using the talks as a stalling tactics so as to buy time to produce the kind of highly enriched uranium necessary for bombs.  The tension of such a situation is very evident considering the danger this would present to America’s prime Middle Eastern ally, Israel, who has already stated its intention to use military force to ensure its security.

“I don’t think there is any question that the impact of this pressure played a role in Iran’s decision to come to the table.  The value of their currency, the rial, has dropped like a rock.” - David Cohen, Undersecretary of Treasury

Iran will seek bargaining leverage in the talks, seeking to drive a wedge between an already strenuous connected group of state leaders.  Iran will see to generate further tensions among its negotiating adversaries while maintaining a tight diplomatic unity of its own.  For this reason, the Russo-American relations must grow into a more coherent P5+1 force with which to deal with the Iranian situation.  With Sarkozy out, Francois Hollande is likely to be more accommodating then the hard-line Sarkozy.  Germany and Britain will rally around US but will do little in ways to provide leadership because of the hegemony represented by Russia and US in this area.  China has become more isolated in recent years, more fixated on its economic interests and need for oil, hence the growing tensions over the Spratly islands. So saying, Russia is the last significant player in the equation. Russia has grown skeptical of American diplomacy but many theorists suggest that it has grown concerned about a possible nuclear-armed Iran, thus more wiling to act accordingly.  With US and Russian relations frayed in the past because of American dominance and unstated aims in Libya, later exasperated by the Syrian civil war, the diplomatic ties between Russia and America will be easily torn asunder by Iranian leaders if not properly dealt with.

China: Chen Guangcheng and US Diplomatic Talks

Chen Guangcheg, a Chinese activist under house arrest since September 2010 for opposing forced abortions, has been put under US diplomatic protection in the US Embassy in Beijing.

Chen Guangcheng Escapes Chinese Officials

After 19 moths of stifling informal detention, the blind activists was able to escape after nearly 20 hours of climbing, crawling and walking.  Chen does not seek refuge in America or any form of political asylum in any country; rather, he wishes to stay in China and demand redress for years of illegal persecution.  Persisting in his endeavor to continue his efforts for reform in Chinese society, the activist has nevertheless jeopardized the safety of his family because of his escape.  With China’s already questionable relationship with various forms of human rights violations, there are mounting fears that Chen’s family will endure the worst of officials’ humiliated anger over Chen’s escape.  Despite the consequences for the actions undertaken, Chen’s escape has become a symbol for the Chinese people, becoming a glorified David versus Goliath analogy in which the blind man has defeated the Goliath of ruling Communist Party controls.  Mirroring the man who stood defiant in front a line of army tanks near Tiananmen Square after the crackdown in 1989, Chen represents yet another display of social outrage at the backwards and oppressive nature of China.

“Chen Guangcheng’s escape was a miracle, hard to believe unless you heard him tell the story himself.  He had to climb over eight walls and over a dozen barriers by himself, tripping and falling hundreds of times for 19 hours until he crossed a stream and finally escaped from his village.” - Guo Yushan, Beijing-based researcher

Chen’s unwillingness to leave has become a complication for any negotiations between Washington and Beijing over his fate, as well as creating a tense predicament for the scheduled trip of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to China.  Chen’s escape threatens to overshadow high-level talks involving Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, schedule to take place in Beijing later this week.  Chen’s role as a human rights activist, as well as his own experience with illegal persecution, will prove a pivotal movement for US human rights diplomacy.  With China-US relations improving lately over increased negotiations over nuclear talks and Myanmar sanctions, the situation presents an extraordinary test for Obama’s administration’s approach to relations with China, creating a strain between upholding human rights and maintaining steady ties with Beijing.  Moreover, the blind activist’s flight from detention comes at a highly sensitive time for Chinese authorities.  The ruling Communist Party has been struck by scandal involving former high-ranking leader Bo Xilai, whose wife is under investigation in relation to the mysterious death of a British businessman.  The downfall of Bo, being investigated in connection with serious disciplinary violations, has created shock waves ahead of a leadership transition in China this year, an event that transpires only once in 10 years.

“There’s not a lot of precedent for the US treating China as a good-faith negotiation partner on human-rights issues, but the way the case has been handled up till now makes it hard ot trust any commitment they make to rule of law.” - Joshua Rosenzweig, Chinese University of Hong Kong human-rights researcher

In retrospect, for the Obama administration to agree to a deal in which Beijing would provide Chen with an iron-clad guarantee of safety for himself and his family, while also vigorously pursuing the people allegedly responsibly for mistreating him, the diplomatic consequences are extremely risky.  Allowing Chen to stay in China is the best outcome from this development but the lack of any mechanism through which the US would be able to monitor and ensure his safety is highly problematic.  China’s handling of the 2008 financial crisis and its fast economic growth has given many officials confidence, unwilling to succumb to foreign pressures such as they did in 1989.  In 1989, the US Embassy sheltered the astrophysicist Fang Lizhi and his wife in the wake of Tiananmen Square.  They were able to depart for the US in 1990, after a year of negotiations between Washington and Beijing and an offer from Japan to provide aid to China in exchange for their release.

Syria: Ceasefire Failure and Violence Spreads Across Borders

On the eve of the April 10th UN-brokered ceasefire, hopes are fading as conflict in Syria burst over the border into neighboring Lebanon and Turkey on Monday.

The Planned Ceasefire has Resulted in Escalated Violence

The unrelenting violence has indicated that the peace plan promoted by international envoy Kofi Annan and initially accepted by both sides was in tatters.  The Assad regime was to have started pulling troops out of urban areas by Tuesday the 10th, paving the way for a ceasefire to start 48 hours after troop withdrawal.  President Assad agreed on the premise that the opposition forces give written guarantees they would stop fighting and lay down their arms, a demand they immediately rejected considering the security dilemma that would position themselves into.  Without such arms, the security forces would face no challenge to their repressive violence that would quickly silence all domestic violence and therefore make redundant any international efforts to intervene.  So saying, the Free Syrian Army was only acting out of self-preservation by rejecting Assad’s plans.  Moreover, the lack of government forces giving any indication of pulling back verifies the intent of Assad and his loyalists.  The development have come after the US State Department said that the Syrian regime was trying to stall for time with its demands for written guarantees from the opposition forces.  Evidently, the failure of yet another international response has come at the price of more Syrians and the neighboring countries, intensifying the call to action to end the repression in Syria.

“The Syrian regime does not understand compromise.  Its ethos is ‘rule or die’.  Therefore, Syria will continue its inexorable slide into full-scale civil war, especially since the chance for effective foreign intervention to stop bloodletting is also zero.” - Augustus Richard Norton, Middle East specialist from Boston University

Monday has proved to be one of the bloodiest days of the uprising despite the truce deal, which should be marked by troop withdrawals from towns and cities.  Activists reported more than 100 deaths, among them at least 30 civilians who died during the Syrian army bombardment in the central province of Hama.  The violence has also claimed the lives of civilians and journalists in neighboring countries, illustrating the international consequences of this civil war.  Lebanese Prime Minster Najib Mikati condemned the Syrian regime and sent his condolences for the death of Ali Shaaban, part of a 3-man crew with Lebanese television channel al-Jadeed, which was filming on Lebanon’s norther border with Syria.  In Turkey, violence broke out as a group of dozens of Syrians sought to cross the Turkish border, the latest of more than 20,000 other refugees.  The group was spotted making its way to the border and both Syrian nationals and Turkish policeman approached the border.  As the two groups met at the border, they were fired upon by unidentified gunmen in Syria, who injured the Syrian refugees, policeman and the translator on the Turkish side of the border.  With the population in both Lebanon and Turkey deeply divided between those who support the opposition and those who still hope the embattled president will remain in power, some fear that such incidents could prove a spark in a very combustible environment.

“We summoned the Syrian charge d’affaires in Ankara, and told him that every Syrian within Turkish territory was under Turkish protection, and we urged him that the fighting on the other side of the border stop.  We said that if this repeats, we will take necessary measures.” - Turkish spokesman

In retrospect, the diplomatic options open to the international community have been exhausted and the internal strife of the Syria conflict has begun to spill over unto neighboring lands, escalating the immediate need for definitive action.  If Turkey was backed by the US and other Western nations, all members of the “Friends of Syria” contact group, then the long-discussed ‘safe zones’ on the Syria side of the Turkish border could be the next step against violence in Syria.  The worsening conditions of the conflict make the situation far worse for the international community, as well as a bad reflection on their inability to respond effectively.  Much of the blame can be laid on the feet of Assad’s international powerhouse friends.  China has supported Assad in his year-long effort to crush the uprising.  Russia, which has defended him in the UNSC and remains Assad’s most important ally, stopped short of pressing him to rein in his army.

Myanmar: Parliamentary By-Elections and Easing of Sanctions

Results from Myanmar’s free and fair parliamentary elections resulted in a sweeping victory of Myanmar opposition leader Auung San Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, challenging the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party which has brutally suppressed pro-democratic ideas and populism for years.

Suu Kyi's NLD Party Defeats USDP in By-Elections

Although only 7% of the legislative seats were up for grabs in the by-elections, the NLD’s win illustrated a hunger for democracy and rejection of the military’s stake in politics after 5 decades of misrule.  Suu Kyi’s NLD party took 43 of the 45 available seats, raising troubling questions for the reuling party and its former generals who had kept Suu Kyi under house arrest until November 2010.  Suu Kyi’s top priorities are to amend a 2008 constitution drafted under the supervision of the then ruling military junta that reserves a quarter of parliamentary seats for the military, and allows the president to hand power to the armed forces chief in an ill-defined emergency.  The country, formerly a British colony known as Burma, has been under 49 years of direct military rule until a rigged election in November 2012 swept into dominance the USDP.  The USDP is merely a front for the military junta and has perpetuated that cult of personality through repression and militarism ever since.  The recent round of by-elections, the USDP had much in its favor: bid spending power, control of 76% of the legislature and powerful allies in the judiciary, civil service, business and military.  Nevertheless, they did not have Suu Kyi, the widely popular pro-democracy champion and daughter of the country’s independence hero.

“Some in the army may see Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD as a threat to the nation and want to take matters into their own hands.  But they can also now see quite clearly that the people will not accept a return to military rule and that a peaceful or stage-managed coup by the army is not really feasibly politically any longer” - Trevor Wilson, former Australian ambassador to Myanmar

The round of elections represent an important political transition period that could prove vital to the stability of the region.  Since the establishment of army rule in 1962, after a coup d’etat by New Win, Myanmar has been come to social instability, fiscal poverty and political repression.  Formerly known as Burma until 1989, the socialist state has played a strategic role in the geopolitical situation of the region, mainly due to its firm alliance with China.  Though popular movement existed before, as in 1988, the junta has been able to violently repress and incarcerate any leaders.  Myanmar’s military crushed demonstrations led by Buddhist monks in September 2007, jailing hundreds and killing dozens.  Now it seems, however, that democracy has a chance of firmly rooting itself in Myanmar.  Suu Kyi is expected to avoid direct confrontation with the military and to prioritize socio-economic improvement to consolidate support inside and outside of parliament.  As Myanmar pushed for sanctions to be lifted to open a wave of foreign investment, a coalition government after the 2015 election is seen as the best hope for stability.

“This election is an important step in Burma’s democratic transformation, and we hope it is an indication that the government of Burma intends to continue along the path of greater openness, transparency and reform.” - White House statement

The apparent thaw in Myanmar’s usually political isolated government has underscored the shift of its dynamics with China and the West.  China has been one of Myanmar’s biggest international backers and has poured billions of dollars in investment into the country to operate mines, extract timber and build oil and gas pipelines.  China has also been a staunch supporter of the country’s politically isolated government.  But ties appear to have cooled recently with China caught off guard by the suspension in September of a $3.6 billion China-funded dam, which was being built by a Chinese company in Myanmar.  The project has drawn protests from ethnic and environmental groups.  Now, China has called for Western countries to immediately lift their punitive sanctions on Myanmar in the wake of the by-elections.  The call by the Foreign Minister, Hong Lei, echoes one made by Southeast Asian leaders after a summit Wednesday.  In the US, President Obama said that the administration would soon nominate an ambassador to Myanmar and ease some travel and financial restrictions on the nation.  Secretary of State Clinton also announced that Washington would allow select senior Myanmar officials to visit the US and ease restriction on the export of financial services.  The US will also open an office of the US Agency for International Development in Myanmar.  Nonetheless, Clinton did state that sanctions against people and institutions in Myanmar that try to thwart democratic progress would remain in place.

 

Syria: “Friends of Syria” Contact Group

Syrian government forces unleashed another round of heavy artillery barrage on a rebel-held district of the city of Homs, killing 21 and wounding some 340 people, a use of indiscriminate violence that is serving to escalate the pressure on the international coalition known as “Friends of Syria”.

Bashar al-Assad Has No Fear of International Retaliation

As security forces perpetuate a near-constant barrage of bombardment for the 18th day on Homs, Western powers and the Arab League are preparing for a meeting of the “Friends of Syria” contact group in Tunisia on Friday to pressure Assad to step down.  The International Committee of the Rec Cross (ICRC) have been negotiating a pause in the fighting to allow them to bring aid to civilians suffering the horrendous conditions of the Syrian revolution, but the use of deadly force against unarmed civilians is evidence of the reality that the regime is devoid of sentiment.  Activists said government forces launched attacks on Homs after rebel fighters holding the opposition Baba Amro district blocked troops from entering.  The London-based Syria Network for Human Rights said at least 250 shells and rockets had hit Baba Amro since the morning, leaving 21 dead and many others buried under the rubble.  Homs, a city of 1 million, has been at the heart of the uprising against Assad’s 11 year rule.

“There were hundreds of demonstrators at the main square of Hajar al-Aswad and suddenly buses of security police and shabbiha (pro-Assad militia) turned up and started firing into the crowd.” - Abu Abdallah, Syria activist

In response to mounting international pressure to provide military aid to opponents of Assad, US Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham outlined ways – including military aid, though not necessarily with direct US involvement 0 to usher along the oust of Assad.  Members of the “Friends of Syria” contact group include foreign ministers from US, France and the European Union.  The group was constructed after repeated vetoes by Russia and China of the resolution proposed by the United Nations Security Council.  The US has described the contact group as a route around the UN to pressure the Assad regime, that will discuss sanctions, humanitarian support and support for a democratic transition in Syria.  Meanwhile, Russia and China have remained fairly resolute in their stance to oppose foreign intervention in Syria, backing Assad’s own program for reform, which has been a mocking attempt at a referendum for a new constitution.  The referendum, limiting the term of the presidency, has already begun to crumble and also comes at a period in time in which security forces have unleashed an unfaltering barrage of violence, clearly illustrating the symbolic nature of Assad’s reform agenda.

“We’ll send a clear message to Russia, China and other who are still unsure about how to handle the increasing violence but are up until now unfortunately making the wrong choices.” - Hillary Clinton, US Secretary of State

Parallel to the tactics used by his father Hafez in 1982, Bashar al-Assad is under the impression that since indiscriminate violence work then, it can work again.  The difference between 1982 and 2012 is that the Syrian uprising is much more widespread, publicized and recognized then the one city uprising of 1982.  The use of indiscriminate violence in 1982 was not spoken of until many months afterwards; therefore, there were not perpetuation of domestic anti-government expression because of the knowledge that if one city could be utterly silenced then their risk would go unheeded too.  Now, however, the Syrian rebels are widespread, the international community is aware of it and there is an outspoken cry for reform throughout the country that is publicized and supported.  This unrelenting force for change, a tidal wave that is growing in size, is also beginning to influence those few allies that Syria still has, such as Russia.  The Chief of the Arab League, which has suspended Syria for its crackdown on protesters, said Russia and China might tempter their support for Assad.  It is true that Russia will not attend the international meeting on the conflict on Syria; due to the fact that the Syria government will not be represented, but the Russia Foreign Minister is vocalizing his support for a special humanitarian envoy to Syria from the UNSC.  Russia has called for Europe, the US and the Arab region to join force and bring together the Syrian opposition and government, without preconditions, to help them agree on reforms.  As Russia’s last ally in the Middle East, Russia has been providing arms and tanks for the purpose of protester suppression but this sign, though slight, of willingness to end the violence is a stepping stone to a potential reversion of the former anti-UN intervention policy of Russia.

“There are indications coming from China and to some extent Russia that there may be a change in position.” - Nabil Elaraby, Arab League Secretary-General

Moreover, Chinese leaders will be visiting Turkey where talks are expected to focus on violence in Syria.  On Saturday, China said it supporter the Arab League’s proposal to end the conflict and end the Assad regime.  The seemingly contradictory stance from China appears to reflect their desire for mediation while remaining averse to UN involvement that could lead to the authorization of force, as happened in Libya.  Despite this possibility of Russian and Chinese support, a potential divide at the meeting risks paralyzing the international response to Syria’s conflict as humanitarian crisis widens in part of the country.  In contrast to the caution of the US administration over becoming more involved in Syria’s crisis, some Arab states have sought overt support for Syria’s armed opposition.  A decision not to press to arm the opposition is likely to push countries in the region, such as the Gulf state of Qatar, to act on their own, funneling funds and arms to various factions in Syria, which could spur regional spillover conflict.  However, any multilateral decision to lend support to armed groups in the opposition risks not only antagonizing Russia and China, but also formalizing the sectarian fault lines regionally.

Syria: Russia/China Relationship with Syria is “Incomprehensible and Inexcusable”

With yet another United Nations Security Council resolution blocked by the greed of Russia and China, government forces in Syria have begun to shell the central Syrian city of Homs, killing at least 50 people on Monday morning.

Russia and China Have Vetoed Another UNSC Resolution, Prolonging the Suffering of Syrian People

The uprising began with mostly peaceful protests against President Assad, but government forces responded with a fierce crackdown.  Now, army defectors and others are taking up arms to combat such tyranny, raising fears of civil war.  With Russia and China on the receiving end of Assad’s blood money trade, fears have grown that with such international protection from the UN, Assad will be emboldened to intensify repressive actions.  So saying, escalation in the battle has already been seen, as Assad has intensified shelling with a rate of one shell every two minutes.  On Saturday, Syrian forces were reported to have killed up to 200 people in Homs, the highest death toll since the uprising began.  The news of the perpetuating massacre comes after Syrians had observed for the first time in 30 years the anniversary of the massacre carried out in Hama in February 1982.  It is still regarded as one of the most gruesome events in Syria’s modern history.  Parallel to the current uprising, the 1982 massacre involved former President Hafiz al-Assad, who decimated most of the city of Hama with aerial bombings and tanks.  About 30,000 inhabitants were killed and a similar number of people were detained, tortured and many disappeared in while in prison.  Just like today’s Syria allies in the East, the 1982 event occurred under the cover of the Soviet Union.

“Clearly there is a tragedy in that country.  Russia and China are protecting a regime that is killing thousands of people.  We find their position both incomprehensible and inexcusable.  By supporting that regime, they are strengthening it and allowing it to continue with that violence.” - David Cameron, British Prime Minister

As in the past, the tension and disparity between the West and East is evident in the widening gap of relations illustrated in the past UNSC resolution vote.  The UN endorsed norm of ‘responsibility to protect’ mandates a collective response when states wage war on their own populations.  With China and Russia wielding veto powers though, the intransigence of diplomacy in the face of humanitarian genocide is evident.  Moreover, the Syrian regime seems to mock and taunt the UN’s notion of collective action with its brutal assault on the city of Homs just as the UN vote was taking place.  Regional and international hesitancy in dealing with Syria has prolonged the violence, as well as allowing Assad to practice military force without restraint.  In some perverse positive outlook though, the lack of international assistance has aided the Free Syrian Army in recruitment and its ascendancy is now a nearly foregone conclusion.  Nevertheless, the threat of both sides turning to greater force has increased because of Russia and China’s determination to delay any and all international responses to the travesty in Syria.

“We will work to expose those who are still funding the regime and sending it weapons that are used against defenseless Syrians, including women and children. we will work with friends of a democratic Syria around the world to support the oppositions peaceful political plans for change.” - Hilary Clinton, US Secretary of State

China and Russia have drawn the wrath of the US, Europe and much of the Arab world for the weekend veto Protesters could be seen burning Russian and Chinese flags outside of the Russian embassy in Beirut, adding to the increasing numbers of voices demanding that they stop supporting the ongoing massacre. In an attempt to distill and reject such targeted demonstrations and criticisms, both Russia and China have tried to use ethical argument and moralistic diction to bolster their arguments behind vetoing the already watered-down UNSC resolution.  In reality, Syria is Moscow’s only major ally in the Middle East, as well as being home to Russian naval base and client for its lucrative arm sales.  China, on the other hand, has targeted western intervention in Libya, Afghanistan and Iraq, suggesting that the violence still eminent in those territories is evidence enough of the error of forced regime change.  China remains hiding behind its statement that it was not supporting one side and was taking a fair and neutral stance on the civil war in Syria; yet with a 2009 trade quota that was estimated at over $2 billion, the facade is incontestable.

“On the issue of Syria, China is not sheltering anyone nor do we intentionally oppose anyone.  We uphold justice and take a responsible attitude.” - Liu Weimin, Chinese Foreign Ministry

Among those most vocal was Hilary Clinton, a staunch supporter for diplomatic means to end the violence in the tumult that has become Syria.  With US sponsorship, supporters of a democratic Syria intent to create a formal group of like-minded countries to coordinate assistance for Syria’s opposition, similar to the Contact Group on Libya that oversaw international aid for opponents of Qaddafi. Though similar in that sense, the NATO military operations that were seen in Libya is something that is not envision in Syria.  Sadly, with Western pursuits lying rooted in diplomacy and long-winded negotiations, a ragtag army of perhaps 10,000 Syrian rebels must combat and deter an army that while, far from invincible, enjoys an overwhelming advantage in numbers, equipment and firepower.

 

Syria: Assad-Russia vs UNSC

With the Arab League halting its much criticized and fruitless observer mission to Syria, violence and bloodshed have risen with security forces marching through Damascus, catalyzing the rift in Syria and the UNSC.

The Pleas for UN Involvement have Risen

The rising bloodshed has added urgency to new attempts by Arab and Western countries to find a resolution to the 10 months of violence that has killed at least 5,400 people. With Assad standing as a grim reaper above streets awash in his in the blood of his people, the thoughts of peaceful transition and negotiations between Assad and rebel forces are outside to the scope of rationality.  Many of the hopeful initiatives continue to face two major obstacles.  One problem is Assad’s general unwillingness to consider surrendering power and his recent rejection of an Arab peace plan that called for a transition to a unity government.  The other problem is Russia’s willingness to use its veto power in the UNSC to protect Syria from UN sanctions and the possible intervention by peacekeepers and a general Western intervention.  With Russia standing above Syria as some symbol of protection, Assad appears to feel invincible and untouchable, believing his forces will be able to quell and crush any and all anti-government forces.  Evidently, without the threat of Western intervention, such as NATO in Libya, Assad is escalating repressive actions in order to seize control of his country before the UN or NATO is able to intervene more effectively.

“We hope Syria seriously evaluates the decisions of the Arab League, puts an end to repression against its people and start a reform process in line with the demands of its people.” - Ahmet Davutogly, Turkish Foreign Minster

The Gulf Arab states and Turkey, which have spearheaded regional condemnation of the Syrian regime and have sponsored most plans, have been met with similar ridicule and rejection as the UNSC.  The Arab plan, which envisaged Assad transferring power to his deputy and the formation of a national unity government within 2 months, was rejected by Syria.  Saudi Arabia is the largest member of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) and other members include Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.  Turkey, once a close ally of Syria, has been at the forefront of international criticism over Damascus regime’s crackdown on protests and has also become a haven for thousands of Syrian opposition activists.  With peaceful transition and international intervention or sanction being taken to the UN, opposition forces have taken it upon themselves, once again, to rekindle efforts to dismantle loyalist forces.  Syria’s military was forced to send tanks to neighborhoods on the outskirts of Damascus in an attempt to quell the most intense fighting yet seen so close to the capital.  The government attack on the suburbs began after the rebel forces, now known as the Free Syrian Army, occupied the area.  According to those forces, the assault involved more than 2,000 troops and 50 tanks.  The spike in violence has already claimed over 100 lives since it started on Thursday, with more dying each day in gun fights and tank bombardment of residential areas.

“I grew up hating NATO.  I was taught it was the devil.  It was unimaginable for decades for any Syrian t even think about asking for help from the West.  But now people on the ground want humanitarian intervention.  They want to be rescued.” - Bossma Kodmani, Syrian-French member of the Syrian National Council

Much hope for the Syrian opposition forces lies with the UN, despite their stalemate in the past because of Russia’s stance as a benefactor from the arms trade with the Assad regime.  The request for international assistance will go unanswered for a while yet.  Members of the UNSC are grappling over an appropriate response to Syria’s violent crisis.  The US, Britain and France are pushing for more international involvement, but veto-wielding Russia, backed by China,has blocked efforts to do more.  The recent draft resolution calls for Assad to resign powers to his deputy, mimicking the Arab plan.  Russia has vowed to oppose this draft resolution.  The failure of the observer mission and the GCC plan signals that regional efforts to halt the carnage have failed and the only alternative is to internationalize the crisis.  New York will not be the focus of concerted lobbying, with the Western power, the Arab League and the Syrian opposition all trying to persuade the Russians and the Chinese to not block a resolution adopting the previous Arab peace plan.  Evidently, the pressure is building up, both on Syria itself and on its international allies such as Russia and China who have so far staunchly protected it even from censure at the UNSC.

Myanmar: Democratic Transition and China

Myanmar, a country located between communist China and democratic India, is the site of an important political transitioning period that could prove vital to the stability of the region.

Myanmar's Democratization Proves Consequential for Neighboring China

Since the establishment of army rule in 1962, after a supposed bloodless coup d’etat by New Win, Myanmar has been home to social instability, fiscal poverty and political repression.  Formerly known as Burma until 1989, the socialist state has played a strategic role in the geopolitical situation of the region, mainly due to its firm alliance with China.  Myanmar was the first non-Communsit country to recognize the “People Republic of China” after its foundation on October 1st, 1949.  Relations soured after a wave of anti-Chinese riots in 1967 but mimicking Tiananmen Square in China in 1989, Myanmar’s junta violently repressed pro-democracy movement sin 1988, quickly repairing past transgressions.  The growing international condemnation led to the re-cultivation of a strong relationship with China, allowing China’s influence to grow rapidly.  Currently, the bilateral trade between Myanmar and China exceeds $1.4 billion, with China being the most important supplier of military aid: jet fights, armed vehicles, naval vessels and personnel training.

With the “Arab Spring” escalating throughout the Middle East and North Africa, countries like China have been experiencing its own social instability which has grown harder to impede due to the expansion of technology and networking.  With such tumultuous times approaching  communist and militarily controlled countries, alliances such as these seem vital to the geopolitical identity of China and the surrounding environment.

Moreover, since the formation of the military junta, pro-democracy movement have persistently sparked civil unrest in Myanmar, escalating at every opportunity.  Now it seems democracy has a change of firmly rooting itself in Myanmar, uprooting a vital ally for China and leading to a possible power shift in favor of democracy and against communist China.  Being led by Aung San Suu Kyi, a cycle of historic reforms under way in Myanmar could lead to Asia’s newest democratic transition.  As seen in Syria and Yemen, the junta has tried to appease demonstrators with calls for free elections, which were held in November, for the first time in 20 years.  Nonetheless, the elections were widely condemned as being far from free and fair.  So saying, the new president of Myanmar, former General U Thain Sein, has raised state pensions for nearly a million people as much as a thousandfold, reduced taxes and dismantled trade cartels.  The thaw comes after the General’s inaugural address, condemning the high poverty rates, corruption, ending the country’s armed conflicts and working towards political reconciliation.

“Burma’s foreign minister would be more convincing if the government released all political prisoners and held security forces accountable for the brutal suppression of monks and peaceful protesters exactly four years ago.” - Elaine Pearson, Asia deputy director of Human Rights Watch

Mimicking past responses to mass protests, Myanmar’s military crushed demonstrations led by Buddhist monks in September 2007, jailing hundreds and killing dozens.  The story has been oft-repeated  throughout the history of the unstable country, resulting in Western nations urging Myanmar to free its more than 2,000 political prisoners.  On July 19th , the democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest and invited to the annual Martyr’s Day ceremony.  Thousands of her supporters were permitted to hold their first lawful march in years.  By August, the Myanmar Parliament began debating previously “taboo” issues, such like the release of political prisoners and passed multiple laws legalizing micro-finance for rural poor and allowing trade unions.  Clearly, the steps being taken by the regime has accelerated, potentially leading to an irreversible track towards democratization.

The impact on China has been exemplified this past week when Myanmar halted work on a $3.6 billion hydroelectric dam being built by China on the Irrawaddy River, which was meant to send power to Chinese provinces in neighboring lands.  The dam project was loudly opposed by Myanmar’s nascent environmental movement and the area’s minority Kachin people.  Apparently, the president knew the Myitsone Dam project was against the will of the people and has stated that he will not let it resume in his tenure, no matter the pressures from China.

“As our government is elected by the people, it is to respect the people’s will.  We have the responsibility to address public concerns in all seriousness.  So construction of Myitsone Dam will be suspended in the time of our government.” - U Thein Sein, Myanmar President

Nevertheless, monumental challenges remain for Myanmar’s future.  Much of the future of Myanmar and its transitioning period rests on the shoulders of the Obama administration.  Since the 198 repression of civilians, Western nations have isolated the country for all aid and communication.  Over the next few weeks, the US could make a monumental difference by publicly supporting the democratic transition and supporting the rhetoric by ending the country’s isolation.  Ending the isolation of Myanmar would end limitations on the UN and international financial institutions like the World Bank, who could then offer the country technical expertise and trade.

Yet, the changes could lead to a democratization of neighboring countries like China, thus serving as a strategic attack against China through the geopolitical significance of Myanmar.  China would not allow such a close neighbor the experience of democratization, Western aid and political openness.  Such social liberty and political liberalization have been fought for within China, resulting in various repressive actions by the country.  If events were to unfold in surrounding countries, and be effective, the Chinese people would be emboldened by such success.  With technology being a vital asset of the majority of the “Arab Spring” movement’s, Chin would very well find itself in a similar position.  For these reasons, China will most likely put as much fiscal pressure on the US to avoid such Western intervention. With the mutual interdependence of China-US bilateral trade, the circumstances would very well limit US support, of China would only be able to voice empty threats without serious implications.

Syria: Failure of UNSC and Turkish Military Exercises

As the crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Syria continues, Russia and China have vetoed an effort by Western nations in the Security Council to impose new sanctions against the regime of Syria President Bashar al-Assad.

China and Russia Veto UNSC Resolution

Beginning in March, over 2,700 people have been killed by security forces in Syria.  In early August, the Syrian president released a public decree promising a future that in the government, instituting multi-party elections.  Since then, the crackdowns in Syria have only escalated with Iran, Russia and China still supporting the al-Assad regime with arms, which also prevents the international community from taking direct action against Syria through the UNSC.  The division of the new community exhibited by the recent UN resolution that has been vetoed despite the support by Germany, France and Britain, who all supported the Security Council vote to impose “target measures” against the regime.  Western governments have expressed with the UNSC over its failure to adopt any resolution on Syria since the spark of pro-democracy movements.

“This does not support a move toward democracy that we have seen in the Arab Spring.” Gerard Araud, French Ambassador

Nine nations, including the Untied States and its Western allies, voted for the measure.  The resolution demanded the immediate end to all violence in Syria and accountability for those deemed responsible for it.  Moreover, it also called for a new political process to be conducted in an environment free from such  repressive military action and forceful intimidation.  As states in past posts (Syria: UN Involvement Limited to Words) Russia has stood in the way of a communal agreement on a UNSC resolution.  Along with China, Russia’s opposition lies rooted in the arms trade between the countries and Syria.  The T-72 tanks supplied by Russia have been turned against the protesters on repeated occasions, resulting in cities being shelled to rubble.  Because of the authority of both China and Russia in the Security Council, any direct actions of the international community are slim and may be limited to condemning rhetoric.  The international community will not be able to make any communal commitment towards the actions of Syria, and the tone of the statement illustrates that the UN will only serve as a foreign mediator.

Nevertheless, individual countries have taken more direct actions towards the repression in Syria.  Past Syrian allies, such as Jordan and Saudi Arabia, have both aligned themselves with Turkey on the off-chance that military conflict ensues.  As the relations continue to deteriorate between Turkey and Syria, Turkish armed forces announced on Tuesday that it will conduct a week long series of military exercised in a province along the border of Syria.  The objective of the Yildirim, or “lightening bolt”, exercise include establishing coordination between military and civilian institutions and the testing of mutual activities perform during mobilization and war times.

“Turkey is sending a signal to Syria.  The irony is that it was only a few years ago as part of improved relations that Turkey and Syria started joint border maneuvers.” – Lale Kemal, defense expert and Ankara bureau chief with Turkish newspaper Taraf

More than 10,000 Syria refugees have fled across the border to camps in Turkey in recent months, while hundreds of Syria demonstrators suffering from gunshot wounds have been treated at Turkish hospitals.  Furthermore, Turkey housed a group of opposition activists in Istanbul which resulted in the formal deceleration of the establishment of a new rebel council.  The Syria National Council serves as a frame for the opposition and the peaceful revolution and represents the revolution inside and outside Syria.  With 140 members from associations including the Muslim Brotherhood and Kurdish groups, the broad-based council is seen as a vitally important show of unity for the opposition.

In retrospect, the fight for Syria must be carried out by the Syrian National Council due to the cultural strains that any foreign involvement would escalate.  Most notably is the division within Turkey that would erupt by any direct actions by Turkey against Syria, which is allied with Iran, which would guarantee Syrian Kurds being armed by Iranian Kurds, who could work with the notably anti-government Turkish Kurds; which could all exacerbate the Kurdish problem in the region.  The powder keg of the Syria situation is put forth in the past blog: “Syria: The Powder Keg“.