China

Taiwan sacrificed to Central America geopolitics

Panama announced June 13 that it is breaking its long-standing diplomatic ties with Taiwan in favor of establishing relations with China—a clear political coup for Beijing. The Panamanian statement said it recognized "only one China" and considers to be Taiwan part of it. The change was spurred by an unavoidable fact: China is the second most important Panama Canal user after the United States. Last year it sent 38 million metric tons of cargo through the interoceanic waterway, accounting for 19% of its traffic. The announcement of the diplomatic switch also comes just as Chinese enterprises began building a container port, with natural gas terminals, in Panama's Colón province, on the Atlantic side of the canal. "I think Dominican Republic and Nicaragua will soon follow," Mexico's former ambassador to China, Jorge Guajardo, tweeted soon after the announcement.

Antarctica: ...and still it melts

President Trump announced his decision June 1 to pull the United States out of the Paris Agreement on Climate, signed by 195 nations and formally joined by 147, including the US. The United States now joins Syria and Nicaragua as the only nations in the world not supporting the accord. Nicaragua, it should be noted, failed to join because the terms of the accord are not binding, and it was therefore considered too weak. Syria is consumed by internal war, and was iced from the negotiations by restrictions on its envoys traveling to the talks. The agreement, which seeks to limit global warming to 2°C above pre-industrial levels, came into force on Nov. 4, 2016, just days before Trump was elected. Each country sets its own commitments under the accord. The United States, second-largest emitter on the planet after China, had committed to reducing its carbon emissions by 26 to 28% below 2005 levels by 2025. It also commited up to $3 billion in aid for poorer countries to address climate change by 2020. (ENS, June 2; NYT, June 1; WP, May 31)

Guangdong: direct action gets the goods

Authorities in Qingyuan, in China's Guangdong province, canceled a planned waste incinerator project after days of angry mass protests repeatedly shook the city. Clashes erupted after thousands of residents from the outlying township of Feilaixia joined students and market workers in Qingyuan's downtown area May 7. Riot police fired tear-gas and used batons to try to disperse the crowds, but protesters only re-grouped elsewhere—even after hundreds were arrested. Residents accused authorities of failing to consult with local communities in the project, which was slated for Shili village, adjacent to Feilaixia. On May 10, as protests continued to escalate, the city government announced that it had decided to drop the plan. (EJ Insight, Hong Kong, May 11; RFA, May 8)

Global execution stats: good news, bad news

The latest annual Amnesty International report on global use of the death penalty actually has some heartening news. For the first time since 2006, the United States did not make the top five executioners in 2016—falling to seventh, behind Egypt. The 20 executions in the US constituted the lowest number in the country since 1991. Most executions last year took place in China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Pakistan—in that order. And after three years in a row of global executions surging, they appear to have dropped off in 2016. Not including data from China, Amnesty counts 1,032 executions throughout the world in 2016—more than 600 fewer than in 2015.

Trump-Putin breach: real or charade?

This week's unnerving incident in which US jets intercepted two Russian bombers off the coast of Alaska leaves us wondering how to read events. Russia sent the two "nuclear-capable" bombers to within 100 miles of Kodiak Island April 17, prompting the US to scramble two F-22 stealth fighter jets from Elmendorf Air Force Base. The US and Russian craft were side-by-side for a full 12 minutes, until they crossed out of the US Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ). (The Telegraph, April 18) This came as ExxonMobil was seeking a waiver from US sanctions against Russia to move ahead with its Black Sea venture with Rosneft. The decision rested with the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), while Secretary of State (and ex-Exxon CEO) Rex Tillerson is officially recusing himself from any matters involving the company for two years. Still, it is counterintuitive (at least) that OFAC turned down the waiver April 21. (NYT, April 21; Fox Business, April 19)

Control of oil, water at issue in Burma peace talks

Seven of Burma's hold-out ethnic rebel armies formed a new committee this week to prepare collective talks with the government in anticipation of the next round of peace negotiations. Participating groups in what is now being called the "Northern Alliance" were the Kachin Independence Organization/Kachin Independence Army (KIO/KIA), Arakan Army (AA), Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), Ta'ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA), National Democratic Alliance Army-Eastern Shan State (NDAA-ESS), and the United Wa State Army (UWSA). The meeting was held in Pangkham, administrative capital of the UWSA-controlled territory. After eight other northern ethnic armies have signed peace deals in recent years, these groups remain officialy at war with the Tatmadaw, the government's armed forces.

Syria: gas attacks, air-strikes and hypocrisy

An apparent chemical attack on the rebel-held town of Khan Shaykhun, Idlib governorate, left at least 80 dead April 4. After a bombing of the town, medics reported a "bloodless massacre," saying that they were treating people with symptoms including fainting, vomiting and foaming at the mouth. The hospital where gas-attack victims were being treated was itself bombed in the immediate aftermath, "bringing down rubble on top of medics as they worked," according to AFP. The opposition-run Health Department in Idlib has provided a list of the names of some 70 dead, with more still being identified. Some of the victims were brought across the border to Turkey for treatment, where several died. Turkish authorities say autopsies revealed evidence of exposure to sarin. The UN Security Council immediately called emergency talks on the attack. On April 4, US warships in the Mediterranean launched 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at Shayrat air-base outside Homs, from where the Khan Shaykhun attack is said to have been launched. This constituted the first US attack on an Assad regime target throughout the course of the war (not counting last year's accident, immediately apologized for). (CNNCNN, Jurist, BBC News, NYT, NPR)

South Korean farmers protest THAAD deployment

As the US moves ahead with its plans to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system in South Korea, local farmers have launched a protest campaign and lawsuit to halt the installation. Under a land swap deal, South Korean conglomerate Lotte Group is to turn over its golf course in southeastern Seongju county to US Forces Korea (USFK) for installation of the weapon system. In return, the company will receive a parcel of military-owned ground near Seoul. Since the deal was announced in July, local farmers in Seongju and neighboring Gimcheon county have been holding daily protests against the deployment. Fearing that the installation will make the area a potential nuclear target, and that the site's radar system will affect their melon fields, they have been rallying each day outside the site, with signs reading "Bring peace to this land!" and "No THAAD deployment!" With deployment imminent, the farmers have brought a lawsuit, accusing the Defense Ministry of bypassing legally-required procedures, including prior agreement with local communities and an environmental impact assessment. They are also threatening to blockade roads to bar entry of military forces. The area has been flooded with soldiers and riot police, and the deployment site sealed off with barbed wire. (Zoom In Korea, Yonhap, AFP, NPR)

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