Archive for September, 2016

POLICY ALERT: Rising Powers React to Collapse of Ceasefire in Syria

The rubble of Syrian Army tanks in Azaz circa 2012 (Source: hristiaan Triebert, Flickr)

The rubble of Syrian Army tanks in Azaz circa 2012 (Source: Christiaan Triebert, Flickr)

On September 19, the Syrian army declared the end of a weeklong ceasefire brokered by the United States and Russia. The Syrian regime accused rebels of violating the truce, Russia blamed a U.S. airstrike that killed dozens of Syrian troops, and the United States condemned an attack on a UN aid convoy as being conducted by Russian forces. Many observers hoped the ceasefire might lead to a longer break in fighting with a goal of finally ending the civil war that has been raging since 2011. However, airstrikes by the Syrian government and Russia against rebel targets in Aleppo have resumed at a steady pace.

While U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry argued “the ceasefire is not dead” yet, rising powers reacted to the deal’s apparent collapse. In this Policy Alert, we examine commentary from Russia, China, India, and Brazil on the current situation in Syria and the breakdown of the ceasefire agreement.


According to some reports, Russian military leaders in Syria and within the Defense Ministry held an “unusually skeptical attitude toward the deal” and predicted the deal would collapse because of Syrian rebels and U.S. violations. In seeking blame for the ceasefire’s breakdown, the Russian Ministry of Defense accused the United States of being “‘preferred to fully distance itself‘ from keeping in touch with the Russian Armed Forces, ignoring their inquiries and not answering the phone.” Once the deal collapsed, the Kremlin said the chances of restoring the ceasefire were “weak.”

For the breakdown of the ceasefire itself, some directly and indirectly blamed the U.S.

Russian officials and journalists all expressed some level of skepticism over the original ceasefire deal:

  • Vanessa Beeley, analyst and journalist, said “there is no guarantee the radical groups backed by the United States, the Gulf states and Turkey will respect the upcoming ceasefire.”
  • Russian political analyst Vladimir Frolov agreed with the pessimistic outlook of the deal and explained that “a gaping lack of trust between Moscow and Washington, unruly and suspicious local proxies, unhappy outside players in Iran and in the Gulf states, a hodgepodge of legal loopholes and lack of viable enforcement mechanisms” make “a successful implementation” quite “hard to fathom.”
  • Looking ahead, Russia announced it would send its aircraft carrier to Syria’s coast for use against ISIS and other groups fighting in the country. Kerry has asked Russia to ground its warplanes in order to save the ceasefire.


China supported the ceasefire deal when it was announced with Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Lu Kang appealing to “all parties involved to enhance coordination and cooperation to continue to carry out the ceasefire in Syria, as well as make joint efforts to help restart Syria Peace Talks and provide humanitarian aid smoothly and effectively.” At the United Nations, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang offered $100 million in humanitarian aid to address the refugee crisis stemming from Syria and other war zones.

Chinese media and experts debated the country’s efforts in Syria and why the ceasefire failed, largely blaming the United States.


The Indian government has largely refrained from taking a strong position on the Syrian civil war as New Delhi seeks closer ties with the Gulf Cooperation Council states as well as Israel. In August, the Indian Minister of State for External Affairs M.J. Akbar met with Assad to restart several business deals – including a $320 million power plant project and investments in the Syrian oil industry – suspended at the start of the civil war due to safety risks for Indian workers. The two countries discussed their “common problem of cross-border terrorism” with support for India’s position on Kashmir and plans for further cooperation on counterterrorism.

When the ceasefire was announced, several India media outlets expressed hope the deal would lead to a lasting peace in the war torn country.

  • Left leaning The Hindu said it was “the best opportunity for a solution to the five-and-a-half-year old civil war” due to its support by the “rebels and the regime” as well as Moscow and Washington.
  • The Pioneer – a newspaper favorable to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party – called the ceasefire “Syria’s chance for peace” though “obstacles remain” such getting Russia to push Assad toward an “honorable exit” or “devises a comprehensive framework under which the major opposition parties are brought under one head.”
  • The ceasefire should evoke “cautious optimism” wrote The Times of India, though the paper did not think the agreement would “solve Syria’s long-term problems” such as who will lead the country.


The Brazilian media covered the cease-fire in Syria, its collapse, and recent negotiations between Russia and the United States to reestablish a truce. While Valor Econômico covered the Brazilian government support for the initial cease-fire, there has been few follow-up reports on President Temer’s position and associated efforts regarding the United Nation’s sponsored efforts to broker a temporary peace. Brazilian Foreign Minister José Serra remarked that Syria is a “sister” nation and Brazil supports efforts to reach a final peace. However, the Brazilian government has not played any demonstrable role in the conflict aside from calling for dialogue.

Much of the Brazilian media covered accusations that blamed Russia and the United States for the collapse of the cease-fire. Several media outlets drew from Sputnik, the Russian news agency, to report on Russian allegations that the U.S. Department of Defense was to blame.

  • Valor Econômico, the prominent Brazilian economic and financial media outlet, reported Foreign Minister José Serra’s remarks that “the cease-fire serve as a positive step forward toward a resolution of the Syrian conflict through dialogue.” Serra also insisted that all parties comply with the UN Security Council’s resolutions aimed at impeding the flow of weapons to those forces associated with the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda.
  •, the popular Brazilian news magazine, reported on Russian allegations that the United States did not comply with the terms of the cease-fire, quoting Russian Ministry of Defense spokesperson Igor Konachenkov saying “it seems that the objective of Washington’s nebulous rhetoric is to hide the fact that the U.S. government is not complying with the conditions of the cease-fire.”
  • Sputnik Brasil, the Russian government media outlet for the Brazilian audience, claims than an unnamed Turkish diplomat suggested that the recent bombings of Aleppo were carried out by the United States Department of Defense, the Pentagon, and that there as a split between the White House and the U.S. armed forces
  • Globo reported on efforts to reestablish the Syrian cease-fire and the recent meeting of the International Syria Support Group. The Rio de Janeiro paper summarized the meeting as long, painful, and very disappointing in the words of the UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura.
  • The weekly magazine Istoé recounted the failure to restart the cease-fire and Kerry’s call for a suspension of all aerial bombardments while efforts continue to reach a renewed cease-fire agreement.
  • Portal Vermelho, a popular media outlet of the Brazilian left, drew from the Russian outlet Sputnik to summarize an Associated Press story quoting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that the United States intentionally bombed Syrian government forces as the cease-fire collapsed.
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The Okinawa Problem: The Forgotten History of Japanese Colonialism and Ryukyuan Indigeneity

While most observers view the “Okinawa Problem” as one of U.S. military bases, it actually involves the colonial history of the Ryukyu islands and the violation of the Okinawans’ rights as an indigenous people.

On June 16, Okinawans gathered in a 65,000 strong protest rally demanding the withdrawal of the U.S. Marine Corps. Organized as a response to the murder of a 20-year Okinawan girl by a former U.S. marine officer, the rally presents the latest episode of the “Okinawa Problem.”

Okinawa hosts 74 percent of all U.S. military bases in Japan, although it only constitutes 0.6 percent of Japanese territory. Many Okinawans have been demanding the removal of these bases since the rape of a 12-year-old Okinawan girl by three American servicemen in 1995. Very few observers, however, realize the Okinawa Problem is not just about the military bases, but it takes into account of the colonial history of the Okinawans as an indigenous people. (more…)

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Cultural and Linguistic Links between China and Central Asia: An Advantage or a Concern for “One Belt, One Road?”

Winding road in Zhangjiajie, China (Source: Liu Tao, Flickr)

Winding road in Zhangjiajie, China (Source: Liu Tao, Flickr)

The “One Belt, One Road” policy in China has received a great deal of attention over the past few years. This policy is the focal point of Xi Jinping’s foreign policy and domestic economic plan. While it is often referred to as “One Belt, One Road” or OBOR, the policy is in actuality a combination of two individual parts. The first part, the “Belt,” is a network of oil and natural gas pipelines as well as road and rail routes that span the distance between Xi’an and Western Europe. The second part, the “Road,” refers to waterways or a chain of ports and infrastructure projects on China’s coasts that travel from South and Southeast Asia to East Africa all the way to the north Mediterranean Sea.

One subject of particular interest with regard to the policy is the set of opportunities and challenges it presents, both for China and the countries it directly affects. Michael Clarke, in his report “Beijing’s March West: Opportunities and Challenges for China’s Eurasian Pivot,” points to several of these challenges and opportunities. Among the opportunities, Central Asia can act as a safety valve for China as US influence in the region tapers off. On the other hand, the stability of the far west regions of Xinjiang and Tibet is a challenge that China will continue to face as it pursues this policy. (more…)

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POLICY ALERT: Rising Powers Converge in China for G-20 Summit



From September 4-5, China hosted this year’s G-20 Summit in Hangzhou, a city known for beautiful scenery and its historical West Lake. Launched in response to the 2008 global recession, the forum was an opportunity for the world’s 20 largest economies to convene and discuss major challenges. Although commentary in China and Russia was quite positive about the Summit’s results, others in India, Japan, and South Korea were less enthusiastic. The gathering was also part of Barack Obama’s last trip to Asia as president and was closely watched by rising powers for signs of what the future might have in store for the international political and economic order. In this Policy Alert, we examine commentary from China, Russia, India, Brazil, Japan, and South Korea on the G-20 Summit.


China’s theme for the Summit was “Toward an Innovative, Invigorated, Interconnected and Inclusive World Economy.” As the host leader, Chinese President Xi Jinping urged leaders to avoid “empty talk” and instead seek “concrete actions to implement joint plans on sustainable development, green financing, and anti-corruption.” At a business focused event on the sidelines of the Summit, Xi promised China does “not seek to rewrite the international rulebooks” but instead wanted to “refine the existing mechanisms to facilitate global win-win cooperation.”

Most commentary in China hailed the Summit as a success and a clear sign of China’s rising economic and political strength on the world stage.

  • Wang Peng, associate researcher at Fudan University, identified a “Hangzhou Consensus” emerge from the Summit with leaders recognizing the need to “revitalize globalization” in a “more comprehensive, innovative, and inclusive manner.”
  • China Daily thought the host country left “its stamp on the G-20” by demonstrating “unswerving commitment to globalization,” expanding the existing global market system, fighting off protectionism, and aligning the G-20 agenda with UN development goals.
  • Global Times declared “multiple victories” for China at the Summit, including recognition of Chinese soft power in spite of Western criticisms.
  • Global Times blamed Western media outlets for making a “fuss over trifling issues” such as an awkward confrontation between Chinese officials and U.S. journalists/White House staff as Air Force One arrived in China.
  • China Daily praised Hangzhou’s tour as host city and proving “how China has become a leader of growth, as the city is home to many new businesses and new management models.”


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Doing High Quality Research in Myanmar: Four Recommendations

(Source: MCMS, Flickr)

(Source: MCMS, Flickr)

Doing research in Myanmar has not always been easy, possible, or legal. For example, Christina Fink, scholar of Myanmar and author of Living Silence in Burma originally published in 2001, was eventually banned from the country and forced to continue her research and work from nearby Chiang Mai, Thailand. After last November’s elections, Myanmar has largely been on a path towards positive change. Myanmar is slowly opening itself up to development initiatives, foreign direct investment, and even research. While total academic freedom is not a reality in Myanmar today, the country is surprisingly open to academic research.

­­­Nicholas Farrelly, Deputy Director for the Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs at Australian National University (ANU) and Director of the ANU Myanmar Research Center, has demonstrated how accessible some forms of empirical and non-empirical research in Myanmar have become. For example, in a recent Myanmar Times column, Farrelly shares about the process of easily accessing archives in Naypidaw and the many eager Myanmar researchers in Yangon.

This summer through the Sigur Center for Asian Studies at the Elliot School for International Affairs, I had the opportunity to conduct empirical research in Myanmar. Four key recommendations emerged from my recent experience that may help guide the research process in Myanmar as the country gradually opens to academic research. (more…)

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A Trump Presidency: Disaster or Boon for U.S.-China Relations?

Donald Trump at campaign rally in Reno, Nevada (Source: Darron Birgenheier, Flickr)

Donald Trump at campaign rally in Reno, Nevada (Source: Darron Birgenheier, Flickr)

The 2016 American presidential race has been a source of much discussion and debate. It has been an interesting year so far with an unconventional candidate, business tycoon Donald Trump, officially securing the Republican Party nomination. It is not only Americans, however, who are thinking about what a Trump presidency might mean for the world.

The Chinese are pondering this question as well. A brief survey of various views and concerns demonstrates that China watchers in the United States are concerned about how Mr. Trump will approach China. With regard to the Chinese side, however, the views seem to be more mixed. Is the prospect of a Trump presidency really all that dire?

What China Watchers in the United States Think

On July 20, 2016, ChinaFile asked a number of China analysts and thinkers how the Republican Party should approach China in the wake of Mr. Trump’s nomination. The analysis begins with Peter Navarro, one of Mr. Trump’s policy advisers. In his view, Mr. Trump should not support free trade with China that is not also fair. By “fair,” he means that China must stop using what he terms “weapons of job destruction” such as currency manipulation, intellectual property theft, and pollution havens. Mr. Trump has not started a trade war, as some have contended, but should rather be fighting back in the war China and the United States are already in. Mr. Trump, in Navarro’s view, will be a strong leader that China will respect. As one of his top advisers, this positive assessment is not surprising. (more…)

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