Quotulatiousness

July 28, 2015

Like a bad monster movie cliché, the INSAS rifle rises again

Filed under: India,Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

India spent a lot of time and money to develop an arms industry that could supply the Indian army with Indian-made weapons. One of these weapons is the INSAS rifle. Unfortunately. Strategy Page reports on the resurrection of the INSAS despite its many failings in combat conditions:

INSAS rifle (via Wikipedia)

INSAS rifle (via Wikipedia)

In early 2015 India seemed to be finally responding to complaints from soldiers and other security personnel fed up with the poor performance of the locally made INSAS (Indian Small Arms System) 5.56mm assault rifle. The government recently reneged on that promise and announced that the despised INSAS would be replaced, in two years, by the MIR (Modified INSAS Rifle). On paper there are some improvements, like full auto-fire (INSAS can only do single shot or three round bursts), folding butt stock, Picatinny rail (for all manner of accessories), more reliable and effective magazines and more ergonomic design (making MIR easier to handle, clean and use). The government also revealed that recent firing tests have shown only two jams after 24,000 rounds fired by MIRs. There will also be a MIR 2 that is chambered to fire the AK-47 (7.62×39) round. Despite all that, to the current unhappy INSAS users the promise of the MIR comes as a huge disappointment. The government weapons design capability has a long and consistent history of failure and disappointing promises. Few INSAS users believe MIR will be much of an improvement over INSAS and will serve more as another source of cash for corrupt officials. While buying foreign weapons uses a lot of valuable foreign exchange it is more closely monitored and has proven to be less corrupt. In 2010 the government had agreed to allow the military to get a rifle that works and that meant a foreign rifle. The leading candidate was Israeli. But now that competition has been cancelled and many troops believe it is all about corruption, not getting the best weapons for the military.

This sad situation began in the 1980s when there was growing clamor for India to design and build its own weapons. This included something as basic as the standard infantry rifle. At that time soldiers and paramilitary-police units were equipped with a mixture of old British Lee-Enfield bolt action (but still quite effective) rifles and newer Belgian FALs (sort of a semi-automatic Lee-Enfield) plus a growing number of Russian AK-47s. The rugged, easy to use and reliable Russian assault rifle was most popular with its users.

In the late 1980s India began developing a family of 5.56mm infantry weapons (rifle, light machine-gun and carbine). Called the INSAS, the state owned factories were unable to produce the quantities required (and agreed to). Worse, the rifles proved fragile and unreliable. The design was poorly thought out and it was believed corruption played a part because the INSAS had more parts than it needed and cost over twice as much to produce as the AK-47.

July 25, 2015

Gurkhas in the SAS

Filed under: Asia,Britain,Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Strategy Page on the (long overdue) inclusion of Gurkha troops in the British army’s elite Special Air Services (SAS) units:

It was recently revealed that the British SAS commandos have, since about 2010 recruited a dozen Gurkhas. The SAS, who were the original modern commandos and were first formed during World War II, are a very selective and elite organization. There are only about 200-300 SAS operators active and several years ago it was decided to recruit some Gurkhas. What was unusual about this was that the Gurkhas are not British and it is very rare for commando organizations to recruit foreigners. The Gurkhas are different in that they have served Britain loyally for a long time. While the Gurkhas are native to Nepal (a small country north of India) for two centuries Britain has recruited Gurkhas from the Gurkha tribes. This was mainly because Gurkhas have an outstanding reputation for military skills including discipline, bravery and all round kick-ass soldiering. Having served in the British Army, most can speak good English and all are familiar with British weapons, tactics and military customs.

There are currently 3,500 Gurkhas serving in the British army, and recruiting more is not a problem. Because of high unemployment in Nepal, a job in the British army is like winning the lottery. British military pay is more than 30 times what a good job in Nepal will get you. There are over sixty applicants for each of the few hundred openings each year. The men who don’t make it into the British army, can try getting into the Indian Army Gurkha units. There are about ten times as many Gurkhas in the Indian army, but the pay is only a few times what one could make in Nepal, and the fringe benefits are not nearly as good. Then again, you’re closer to home.

When the SAS quietly sought Gurkha recruits they found fifty willing to try out. A dozen of these passed the screening and survived the training. That’s a slightly higher pass rate than the usual SAS volunteers (British citizens serving in the army or Royal Marines). This was not surprising because Gurkhas have an outstanding military record. Such mercenary duty is now a tradition in the Gurkha tribes, where warriors, and things like loyalty and courage, have been held in high esteem for centuries. Nepal was never conquered by the British, although they did fight a war with the colonial British army in the early 19th century.

July 22, 2015

Tea

Filed under: India,Randomness — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

I was not aware that there were quite so many grades of tea: David Warren explains the rankings (and why you won’t find any in the Tea and Coffee aisle of your local Sobey’s or Metro):

There are six grades of Darjeeling, and the highest, Special Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe (SFTGFOP), will never reach the Greater Parkdale Area. One will need not only money, but contacts to obtain it. Perhaps, fly there, and start networking among the estate managers. You can’t buy it at Harrod’s, because they don’t sell to Harrod’s: it would be beneath them. The Queen might obtain some, but then, she has a staff.

Each grade lower drops a letter off the front, so that my fine tea is of the fourth grade, just short of “tippy,” which refers to the abundance of flowering buds. “Golden” means that in the process of oxidation, these tips will turn a gold colour. “Flowery” is the term for high floral aroma. “Orange” has nothing to do with fruit, but refers to the Nassau family of Holland, whose most creditable accomplishment was pioneering the importation of tea into Europe, four centuries ago. The term insinuates, “good enough for Dutch royalty,” perhaps. “Pekoe,” or more correctly pak-ho, refers to the white down that gathers at the base of the bottom bud, an indication of the plant’s mood, its susceptibility to plucking. (Tea picking is an art; one does not strip the tree bare, but selects each leaf as it is ready.)

Now, survey your local supermarket shelf — let us suppose it is an “upmarket” emporium — and you will find in the tea section nothing but sludge. The teas will all be “blended” — which I esteem as blended whisky, or blended wine, delivered in tanker trucks. This will be especially true of the expensive boxes with whimsical names for the blends — that say nothing of date, terroir, or the specific variety. The tea inside the boxes will be packed in irritating little bags, probably with the absurd claim that they are “organic.” Once cut open, they reveal that the tea was ground by a Rotorvane, even before being stirred in a diesel-electric mixer. Various chain tea stores have sprung up, posing as effete, to separate fools from their money. Their pretensions are risible, and they annoy me very much.

I won’t comment on the “herbal teas” they also sell; except to recommend, to the women (including nominal males) who want herbal remedies for their malades imaginaires, that they take up smoking.

Rather, let us focus on the words, “Orange Pekoe.” They attach to most of the Subcontinent’s black tea supply, as to that of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka (the former paradise of Ceylon). I have explained what the words mean in a series — not much — but standing alone, they mean less. They guarantee that the purchaser will receive, at an inflated price, tea of a low, coarse, common quality, processed by the method called “CTC” (crush, tear, curl), introduced in the 1930s by a ravening industrialist named McKercher (“Sir William …”), and now spread around the planet.

The machinery was designed for volume at the expense of quality. It makes no sense to put good tea in, and what comes out might as well be bagged. This is tea for the masses, who have no prejudice or taste, and do not aspire to the humane. Like so much else in our fallen world, the best argument would be that tea of this sort is “better than nothing.”

July 18, 2015

Want to bone up on India’s armed forces?

Filed under: India,Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

If so, you’ll want to read all of Shashank Joshi‘s recommendations (full disclosure … I haven’t actually read any of the linked sites myself):

Peter Mattis’ explanation of what one should read to be an expert on China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) made me wonder: What might a similar list look like for India-watchers? Western interest in India’s armed forces is considerably slighter, largely because India looms far smaller in U.S. strategic thinking and is viewed as a potential partner rather than probable military adversary. But there’s a large and growing volume of writing on Indian military affairs, almost all of it in English, with cutting-edge books or articles appearing every month. So where should one begin?

Each service has its own doctrine and/or strategy — most recently the army in 2004, the navy in 2009 (remarkably, it is not available online), and the air force in 2012 (the official link is — perhaps aptly — perpetually broken, but you can get it here) — but these are of limited use, not least because they’re not written in close coordination with other services or with a coherent national military strategy in mind. So most analyses depend on secondary texts, occasional statements by serving officers, and writing by retirees.

July 17, 2015

India’s wavering devotion to tolerance

Filed under: India,Liberty,Religion — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Shikha Dalmia looks at India’s changing views on other religions:

If there were ever a religion readymade for liberal democracy — and its commitment to religious freedom — Hinduism would be it. Unlike Christianity (and other monotheistic faiths), Hinduism has no one true doctrine handed down by the one true God to be spread and enforced through the one true Church. It’s a loose, amorphous, and ecumenical faith that accepts that all religions are valid and it doesn’t matter which one you follow, as long as you are going to the same place. Hence, it made sense when Hindu-dominated India, after gaining independence from the British in 1947, enshrined secularism and religious pluralism in its constitution ­— rather than going through a three-century-long process from the Reformation through the Enlightenment that the West did to pry open space for religious tolerance in Christianity.

However, India’s commitment to religious freedom and toleration has been under serious challenge for a couple of decades with the rise of Hindutva or Hindu nationalism. This ideology, that boasts Prime Minister Narendra Modi among its adherents, has always resented the special space that India’s constitution extends its minority religions — like letting Muslims use sharia in their civil matters. But now it has started openly attacking even their right to exist in India because, it maintains, India belongs only to those that can claim it as their fatherland and holy land — a rather hypocritical requirement given that the rapidly spreading Hindu diaspora enjoys strong religious protections in countries such as America and England that aren’t its “holy land and fatherland.”

That a historically tolerant faith could take such an intolerant turn suggests that a religion’s relationship to liberal values might have less to do with its own inner character and more to do with the existential insecurities of its adherents in a given time.

July 16, 2015

China’s LGBT communities

Filed under: China — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Yuxin Zhang looks at China’s misunderstood history of tolerance for gay culture:

The Chinese LGBT community and culture have attracted interest among Chinese youth in recent years. Evidence of this is the use of the Internet slang term gao-ji, indicating two men of the same sex having an affair, which has become well-accepted and entered daily use (including among straight people, as a way of teasing each other). The prevalence of the Internet has contributed to gay activism in contemporary China. Gay parades and campaigns have emerged, as young and sometimes middle-aged Chinese are inspired by the LGBT activism overseas that they learn about online, and by events such as the coming-out of celebrities such as Tim Cook and Anderson Cooper, the legalization of same-sex marriage in Western countries, and the discussion of a same-sex marriage bill in Taiwan, with its linguistic and cultural similarities with the Mainland. Some have taken bold actions. In 2010, two Chinese men, Wenjie Pan and Anquan Zeng, hosted the first public same-sex wedding ceremony in Sichuang, a city in China’s southwest.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the Chinese gay dating application Blued has scored a $30 million round of investment co-led by DCM Ventures, as its users reached 15 million at the end of last year. This number is likely to grow, as China has both the world’s largest population and the most Internet users. A concomitant outcome, however, is worrisome. Most gay Chinese men who use online dating applications do so to have casual sex, and this has fueled a spike in sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including HIV/AIDS. Thus, some middle-aged and older Chinese associate homosexuality with infection by HIV/AIDS and other STDs, and this has contributed to discrimination against the gay community.

One main reason why many people in China oppose homosexuality is because it clashes with their notions of traditional Chinese values. Some even think that homosexuality does not exist in China, and must just be something from the West.

July 13, 2015

Japan’s cross-dressing WW2 spy in China

Filed under: China,History,Japan — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

In The Diplomat, Stephen Joyce reviews Manchu Princess, Japanese Spy: The Story of Kawashima Yoshiko, the Cross-Dressing Spy Who Commanded Her Own Army, a recent book by Phyllis Birnbaum:

Divisive figures often make the most compelling biographical subjects; and Kawashima Yoshiko is no exception. During her life and in death opinions have varied markedly. Loathed by the Chinese as a traitor, extolled by the Japanese for her talents as a spy, more recently she has even become a heroine to the LGBT community.

In Manchu Princess, Japanese Spy: The Story of Kawashima Yoshiko, the Cross-Dressing Spy Who Commanded Her Own Army, Phyllis Birnbaum provides a measured assessment of the fascinating rise and fall of this erratic, narcissistic, cross-dressing, bisexual princess.

Born in 1907 as Aisin Gioro Xianyu, Kawashima Yoshiko was the 14th daughter of Prince Su of the Qing imperial family. Soon after the establishment of the Republic of China in 1912, she was unwillingly sent to Japan to be adopted by family friend Kawashima Naniwa.

Her formative teenage years were spent in Matsumoto being educated in Japanese language and culture. It was not the happiest of upbringings. An attempted suicide and sexual assault by her new father are noted as potentially life-defining events but are hard to verify. Whatever the root cause of her discontent, in 1925 she shaved her head and started wearing men’s clothes.

In 1927 she married a Mongolian prince in a politically convenient union that quickly failed and Yoshiko soon travelled to China to pursue her dream of a honorable return to power for the Qing dynasty, beginning with Manchuria and Outer Mongolia.

With Japan increasingly active in China she soon found herself a raison d’etre: a spy in the service of the Japanese. Several incidents define her status as a spy; all are shrouded in mystery.

[…]

Although it would be hard to argue that she had a major influence over the key events of her time, Kawashima Yoshiko is a superb subject for biography and should interest all lovers of Asian history. And despite living her life in the public and media glare her essential mysteriousness remains—even in death. Did the Chinese Nationalist government execute her (as Kim Bai Fai) in 1948 or, as some would have it, did she escape and live out her last days quiet obscurity? Birnbaum concludes that the latter outcome is questionable, to say the least. Assuming she was indeed executed, her memoirs reveal a wry acceptance of her ultimate fate, despite her life aims lying in tatters.

The sheer wealth of material — autobiographies, Yoshiko’s letters, interviews, press reports, sensationalist magazine articles and official documents — with which to write a biography to some extent serves to cloud rather than illuminate the life of Yoshiko Kawashima. Much like her futile efforts to restore the Qing dynasty in China, any attempt to firmly pin down her real life story and true character seems destined to fail.

June 3, 2015

China’s PLA conducts military exercise on Burmese border

Filed under: Asia,China,Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Strategy Page posted this informative article the other day:

China announced that it will hold military exercises tomorrow along the Burmese border, including firing artillery shells into jungle areas next to Burma. These exercises are a response to fighting between Burmese troops and ethnic Chinese (Kokang) rebels within a few hundred meters of the Chinese border. This has frequently led to bullets and shells landing in China. Since this fighting began in February this stray fire has killed five Chinese civilians and wounded many more. Burma blames some of it on the Kokang rebels firing into China to cause problems between China and Burma. In any event Burma insists that this fighting is finally over and that the Kokang rebels have, for now at least, been defeated.

The fighting against the Kokang in the tribal north (Shan state) apparently has died down since the middle of May. As usual the rebels lost because the army had more, and bigger, guns (artillery) and aircraft. The rebels were gradually pushed back and the soldiers took over twenty rebel camps or fighting positions (like fortified hilltops overlooking key roads). The action was spread out and gradual. Since February the rebels lost over 500 dead while the army lost over 140 soldiers in about 300 separate violent encounters (ambushes, artillery or air attacks or battles for small bits of territory). Some of the army forces were pro-government tribal militias who suffered fewer losses than the army. Nearly 100,000 tribal civilians fled (most into China) the fighting and for the last few weeks more of these refugees have been returning home. Some of the refugees are fleeing rebels who are more aggressively recruiting new fighters. In some cases the tribal militia recruiters are “conscripting” (kidnapping) young men and when word of that gets around many potential victims flee, often with their young wives and children.

The fighting isn’t over, this is just a pause. A permanent peace deal does not exist yet although negotiations continue on yet another agreement that will finally bring peace to the north. The Kokang tribal rebels of the MNDAA (Myanmar Nationalities Democratic Alliance Army) are accused of starting it all when they ambushed an army patrol on February 9th and wounded four soldiers. The rebels say the soldiers fired first. That led to more fighting which then escalated. The rebels claim it was more army abuse (rape and robbery) against tribal people that set off the latest round of violence. All this is actually a resumption of clashes that began in December. By the end of 2014 the army had moved in reinforcements and the Kokang withdrew gradually, continuing to inflict casualties on the soldiers. According to the rebels, soldiers kept advancing and have attacked other rebels groups near the Chinese border as well. The rebels often ambush army trucks bringing in supplies and reinforcements and are expert at ambushing army patrols. The army responds by attacking villages and driving away the families of the rebel fighters, denying the rebels food, medical care and other support. The rebels have struck back by firing on neighborhoods where the families of local policemen live. In response the government has moved these families further south until the fighting is over.

Re-examining the history of “the Raj”

Filed under: Britain,History,India — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In The Diplomat, Nigel Collett reviews a new book by Ferdinand Mount called The Tears of the Rajas: Mutiny, Money and Marriage in India 1805-1905:

It was the discovery of a book by his aunt, Ursula Low, published in 1936 and entitled Fifty Years with John Company, which opened Mount’s eyes to his family’s history and led to the writing of The Tears of the Rajas.

His aunt’s book, a work long ignored and derided as an eccentricity by her family, was a biography of her grandfather, General Sir John Low. What staggered Mount about his aunt’s account was her matter-of-fact recording of the massacres, mutinies and mayhem in which her grandfather and many of her relatives had been involved during their colonial careers. For General Sir John Low had, during a career in India that lasted from 1804 to 1858, seen the brutal suppression of the mutiny of his own regiment at Vellore a year after his arrival in India, the “White Mutiny” of European soldiers in the East India Company’s Forces in 1808 (which resulted in the massacre not of the European mutineers but of the Indian soldiers they led) and finally, in 1857, of the Indian Mutiny itself, which erupted at a time when Low was the Military Member of the Governor General’s Council.

More than this, Low, in a largely political career up until the outbreak of the Mutiny, had been intimately involved in policies which led directly to it, including the removal from power of three Indian potentates to whom he was attached as Resident (the Peshwa of Poona, the Raja of Nagpur and the King of Oudh) and the annexation of their lands. He was at one point, in yet another posting as Resident, personally involved in detaching a large chunk of Hyderabad from the lands of the Nizam.

During his service, Low had watched, and other members of his family had been involved in, the British annexations of Sind and the Punjab, the conquest of Gwalior and the disastrous attempt to depose Dost Mohammed, the Shah of Afghanistan, which led to the catastrophe of the 1st Afghan War. Mount’s title is well chosen: Low literally reduced several of his Rajas to tears.

[…]

Perhaps more stomach-turning than this, especially to a British reader, are Mount’s revelations of the dishonest policies followed by almost every Governor General of India towards India’s native princes, policies driven by pure greed, conducted with cold ruthlessness in utter disregard of treaties, promises or any code of honor, and hidden beneath layers of hypocritical cant. Much of this has not been made generally known. Few, for instance, in the Far East, will know that as the First Opium War in China ended in 1842, another began in India, for the British conquest of Gwalior was aimed at the control of the opium it grew independently of the East India Company.

The removal of misgovernment was all too frequently the fraudulent public excuse for the imposition of direct rule and the canard of the protection of the peasantry from their own rulers was little more than a front for taxing them more efficiently. Add to this noxious behavior insulting racial pride, ignorance of culture and tradition, and a religious evangelism that persuaded army officers that it made sense to tell their Hindu and Muslim soldiers that they would go to Hell if the wars into which they were leading them resulted in their unconverted deaths, and there seems little need for further explanation of why it all ended in disaster in 1857.

While I can’t claim to have read deeply in Indian history during this period, I still think the best introduction to the at-best-ambivalent legacy of British rule is the fictional exploits of Sir Harry Flashman by George MacDonald Fraser (especially the original Flashman, Flashman and the Mountain of Light, and Flashman in the Great Game). How many other novels have extensive footnotes about all the historical characters and situations the fictional hero encounters? Oh, right … for the younger set: trigger warning in all the Flashman novels for racism, sexism, imperialism, militarism, violence, and pretty much anything that would offend the ears of a young Victorian lady modern university student.

May 27, 2015

Sir Arthur Wellesley, before the fame and fortune

Filed under: Britain,History,India,Military — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

At The Diplomat, Francis P. Sempa looks at the early commands of Sir Arthur Wellesley (later the Duke of Wellington) as formative experiences:

Before Waterloo, Wellington had brilliantly commanded armies on the Iberian Peninsula, where they wore down and drained French forces, causing Napoleon to refer to it as “the Spanish ulcer.” But Wellington learned how to command, supply, and lead soldiers to victory not in Europe, where he is most remembered, but in India. Wellington in India, wrote biographer Elizabeth Longford, was “a great commander in embryo.”

Wellington, then Colonel Arthur Wesley (the last name was later changed to Wellesley) of the 33rd regiment, arrived in Calcutta at the age of 28 in February 1797, after a journey of more than three months. His most recent biographer, Rory Muir, described Colonel Wesley as “an unusually ambitious, intelligent and well-read officer who looked far beyond the horizons of his regiment … and who was already comfortable assembling his thoughts into coherent arguments …” In all, he spent eight years in India, where for much of the time his brother was Governor-General. Wellington’s time in India, writes Muir, “were crucial years in which he developed his skills as a commander of men, a tactician, a strategic planner and a civil governor.” It was in India that the future victor of Waterloo and future prime minister of Great Britain first dealt with questions of war and peace and civil government.

On March 26, 1799, troops under Wellington’s command came under attack by forces of Muslim ruler Tipu Sultan, the Tiger of Mysore. As the French-trained enemy forces approached, wrote Elizabeth Longford, Wellington’s men held their fire “with the utmost steadiness until the enemy were sixty yards away.” British infantry then decimated the columns of enemy attackers, spreading confusion, while cavalry forces scattered the remnants of the attacking force. Then, during April and May 1799, Wellington participated in the siege of Seringapatam in Mysore, and led an attack on the entrenchments of the fortress there. After Seringapatam was taken, Wellington was made civil governor and remained there until 1802.

During his time in Seringapatam, Wellington was ordered to suppress a rebellion in north Mysore led by Dhoondiah Waugh. For the first time, Wellington exercised independent command in battle. During this operation, Rory Muir explains, Wellington “displayed all the characteristics of his subsequent campaigns, …” which included attention to logistics and “unremitting aggression.” He fought a battle at Conaghul and won a complete victory. Muir writes that Wellington exhibited a remarkable flexibility on the field of battle. A British officer commented on Wellington’s “alacrity and determination” during battle.

May 17, 2015

The Yasukuni Shrine is part of the reason Japan can’t apologize for their historical aggressions

Filed under: Asia,History,Japan,Pacific — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

At The Diplomat, J. Kevin Baird looks at Japan’s continued resistance to examining their own military and diplomatic history after the First World War:

Japan faces the expectations of its friends and neighbors to express itself on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the end of the Pacific War. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will formulate and express those words. In doing so, he faces a dilemma. The focus of that dilemma is Yasukuni Shrine and what it speaks to regarding Japan’s view of the Pacific War. Will Japan demonstrate contrition in seeking atonement, or does it aim for exoneration by rehabilitating its Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere motivations for the Pacific War? Histories yet to be may hinge on that choice.

[…]

In 2014, Shinzo Abe rejected the idea of Japan emulating Germany’s actions, citing differing political contexts for postwar Europe versus Asia. He implied the quest for European unification somehow mandated the German approach. A divided and adversarial East Asia, it seems, made Japanese attempts at atonement futile or counterproductive. That argument may be made, but it skirts the core issue of Japan’s stance, more deeply dividing the region and entrenching adversarial national relationships. Abe and his advisors surely understand this. Japan’s ability to shape regional and world affairs, as it is fully capable of doing and aspires to do, hinges upon how it is perceived by the community of nations, especially those of East Asia. Abandoning the ideal of reconciliation over its wartime actions cannot be an option on the Japan table. What strategy for realizing their ambition is at work? It may not be contrition and atonement.

German artist Hans Haacke wrote, “Museums are managers of consciousness. They give us an interpretation of history, of how we view the world and locate ourselves in it. They are, if you want to put it in positive terms, great educational institutions. If you want to put it in negative terms, they are propaganda machines.” A museum and shrine in Tokyo may bring Abe’s strategic posture on reconciliation into sharper focus. Yushukan Museum stands on the grounds of Yasukuni Shrine. Therein is locomotive C5631, identified as the first to trundle down the Thai-Burma rail line, where more than 100,000 forced laborers and prisoners of war died in its construction.

A memorial to Indian jurist Radhabinod Pal also stands on the grounds of Yasukuni Shrine – a member of the International War Tribunal for the Far East panel of judges, he wrote of the Class A war criminals, “I would hold that every one of the accused must be found not guilty of every one of the charges in the indictment and should be acquitted on all those charges.” Pal considered the Pacific War provoked by the Americans and the war tribunals a sham. He stood utterly alone in this dissent among his 11 peer judges, but Japanese nationalists hold his views as authoritative and see Pal as a heroic figure. In 1968, Japan secretly enshrined 1,068 executed war criminals at Yasukuni as divine martyrs. Like those who did not survive the war, the executed soldiers had nobly sacrificed their lives in defense of the Japanese motherland against European Imperialism. The museum explains this defensive nature of the Pacific War. Abe and many other prominent Japanese statesmen regularly pay homage to those men.

May 16, 2015

Kazakhstan’s looming succession crisis

Filed under: Asia,Government — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

At The Diplomat, Catharine Putz wonders if there can be a Kazakhstan without President Nursultan Nazarbayev:

In a new report, the International Crisis Group says that Kazakhstan is facing a stress test – its only president since independence turns 75 this summer and Russia’s “actions in Ukraine cast a shadow over Kazakhstan.” To date, the report notes, Kazakhstan’s devotion to continuity has trumped needed democratic reforms. Nursultan Nazarbayev’s recent landslide reelection demonstrates his absolute centrality to political stability in the country and could prove to be “a serious vulnerability.”

The report encourages Kazakhstan to act soon – reconfirming its independence from Russia and lifting the veil on government operations in order to reassure citizens and foreign powers “that the state is not the work of one man or an exclusive ethnic project and that the transition to a post-Nazarbayev era will be smooth.” The report recommends that Kazakhstan continue to pursue a multi-vector foreign policy by engaging equally with Russia and the EU; take a “recognizable role” in pursuing a solution to the Ukraine crisis; give senior officials – other than Nazarbayev – some stage time; practice restraint in issues of language, ethnicity, and nationalism; and broaden economic development beyond Astana.

This is not the first time parallels have been drawn between Ukraine and Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan, like all of Central Asia, had a sizeable ethnic Russian population when the Soviet Union dissolved. That population has dwindled; in a country of 17 million a 2009 census determined that ethnic Russians accounted for 23 percent, ethnic Kazakhs more than 60 percent. This is a more modern development, as it wasn’t until the mid-1980s that the ethnic Kazakh population bypassed that of ethnic Russians in the region. Now, most ethnic Russians are concentrated along the northern border with Russia.

How do you say “Après moi, le déluge” in Kazakh?

May 11, 2015

Nepal’s tragic unpreparedness for disaster

Filed under: Asia,Government — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

In The Walrus, Manjushree Thapa explains why Nepal was so badly prepared for the earthquake:

Following the April 25 earthquake, Nepalis have had to learn the value of preparedness in the most painful way possible. In the aftermath, Pushpa Acharya, a Nepali friend at the University of Toronto, observed, “Knowledge was not our problem.” Indeed. We all knew that our country sits on an active fault line, where the subcontinent collided with the Eurasian plate with such force it created the Himalayas. The last big quake took place in 1934. Others have since struck, but none with the force of 1934’s 8.0 or April 25’s 7.9. We knew that a big earthquake was due.

It was our duty to prepare, and though some of us did so individually, as a society we ignored the warnings. In the past ten days, during search and rescue, and then the beginnings of relief, we’ve had to do some hard thinking about how our country could become more responsible going forward. The root problem may seem obvious: Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world. Its poverty is, however, a symptom of our history of ill governance, and the reason for our national failure to prepare, which has kept us from becoming a functioning democracy.

When the earthquake struck, the country was in a deep and deeply depressing stupor. The governing parties — a coalition of the Nepali Congress Party and the Unified Marxist Leninists — had reached an impasse with Nepal’s thirty-three opposition parties about what kind of constitution to draft. There was no plan for the country as a whole, let alone in the case of an emergency. The drafting of a constitution has preoccupied, confounded, and eluded Nepal’s polity since 2006, when the Maoists ended a ten-year insurgency to join forces with other parties to remove Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah. Nepal’s king had used the war as an excuse to end a fragile fifteen-year spell of democracy and install his own military-backed rule. A mass movement restored democracy, and the subsequent peace process promised to restructure the country along just and equitable lines through the drafting of a new constitution

May 7, 2015

Vancouver – where “happiness” doesn’t co-relate with “quality of life”

Filed under: Cancon,China,Economics — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Reducing the realities of life in a given city to a quick numerical value or data point on a chart requires you to ignore subtleties and local influences. Last month, Mark Collins linked to this article by Terry Glavin on what the “quality of life” numbers for Vancouver actually conceal:

If the Economist Intelligence Unit’s annual top 10 world cities rankings are what you’ve been relying on, you probably weren’t surprised last month when the global human resources outfit Mercer tagged Vancouver on its Quality of Living index as the best city in North America. But you might have been surprised this week when Statistics Canada released a study showing that, by a variety of indices, Vancouverites are the unhappiest people in Canada, falling dead last among the residents of 33 cities across the country.

We like to think of Lotusland’s grand metropolis as a place where people ski, sail, ride their bikes, swim, and hike though lush rainforests, all in the same day. But StatsCan’s annual survey of median household income in Canadian cities routinely puts Vancouver close to the bottom of the heap on that same list of 33 cities, and in January the Demographia International research institute ranked Vancouver second to last in a global survey of 378 cities on its Housing Affordability Survey.

Vancouver’s median household income in 2014 was $66,400, while the city’s median home price was 10.6 times higher: $704,800. Only Hong Kong fared worse, and just barely. Hong Kong also tops Vancouver, again only barely, as the property investment bolt-hole most favoured by Mainland China’s loot-laden millionaires. For years, we’ve been instructed to pretend that this is somehow mere coincidence. You can’t get away with talking to Hong Kongers like that, but Vancouverites take it sitting down.

In happier places like Saguenay, Sudbury and Thunder Bay, there’s manufacturing, dairy farming, forestry and mining, and there’s a high degree of neighborliness and civility. But Vancouverites make most of their money from increases in the real estate value of whatever property they might be lucky to own. This tends to skew any real sense of hometown belonging, and nothing quite so rattles the cages as loose talk about the elaborate, federally-sanctioned swindle that has been keeping the bubble inflated all these years.

May 6, 2015

China’s burgeoning wine industry

Filed under: Business,China,Wine — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

At The Diplomat, Jack Detsch looks at the rapidly increasing Chinese wine sector:

China has surpassed France, the world’s foremost producer and exporter of wine, in total acreage, but don’t expect to bring a Ningxia over to a dinner party any time soon.

“I think they largely have the wrong grapes planted,” Geoff Kruth, Chief Operation Officer of the Guild of Sommeliers, a Sonoma-based non-profit, says. “They’re trying to model Bordeaux and plant cabernet – things that may not even really grow well there.”

Production is still on the rise, with China pushing through the ranks from the world’s eighth largest producer of wine in 2013 to the sixth biggest in 2016, due to growing acreage and soaring domestic demand. Wine consumption in China has increased by nearly 45 percent in the past 15 years, and vine planting jumped by 5 percent in 2014 alone, up to a total of 1.97 million acres, according to the International Organization of Vine and Wine. Chinese consumers have an especially discerning palate for red wine. In 2013, China became the world’s largest market for reds, a lucky color in folklore, downing 1.86 billion bottles, moving past France in that category. Per capita consumption is also on the rise.

But many Chinese vineyards aren’t producing wines yet, and much of the acreage dedicated to growing grapes is still used for appetizers and brandy, not wine. The majority of wine producers in Eastern and Western China, where companies in Xinjiang, Ningxia, and Gonsu have had success, produce bulk wine. At times, they’ve been competitive on a global level: in 2011, Jia Bei Lan, a winery in Ningxia, took home a coveted international gold medal for its 2009 Bordeaux blend.

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