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US aid to Pakistan plummets to $526m in 2017, set to fall further

NEW DELHI, Nov 29: US civilian and military assistance for Pakistan has plummeted from an average of more than $2.2 billion a year during the period immediately after the 9/11 terror attacks to $526 million in 2017 and is set to fall further next year, reflecting the strain in ties between the two sides.

The total assistance in 2018 is expected to be $345 million, including $134 million in security-related assistance and $211 million in economic aid, according to figures collated by the Congressional Research Service (CRS).

Despite a sharp dip in relations following the killing of al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in the Pakistani garrison town of Abbottabad in 2011, US assistance increased over the next two years to a little more than $2.6 billion a year before falling rapidly.

Pakistan’s decision to join the US-led war on terror in 2001 led to huge jump in assistance. Between 2002 and 2011, the total aid – including economic support funds, foreign military financing, Coalition Support Fund (CSF) reimbursements and anti-terrorism funding – was worth a whopping $22.14 billion.

This included $8.8 billion in reimbursements from the CSF and a total of $5.7 billion in security-related aid. The CSF is used to reimburse Pakistan for logistical and operation support for US-led military operations in Afghanistan.

The killing of bin Laden in a compound located close to Pakistan’s main military academy had a significant impact on funding from the CSF.

The figures compiled by the CRS showed CSF reimbursements dipped in 2012 to $688 million, before increasing to $1.4 billion in 2013. Since then, the amount has fallen significantly to $550 million in 2016.

At least a third of allocations under the CSF head in the US defence budget since 2015 have been tied to certifications that Pakistan is taking action against the Haqqani Network, a group that targets US troops in Afghanistan.

Foreign military financing, which consists of grants and loans to purchase US military equipment, has not been affected much by the cut in overall aid – it has ranged from $296 million in 2012 to $255 million in 2017.

However, the overall total security-related assistance has fallen from $849 million in 2012 to an estimated $303 million in 2017.

Though the decline in aid for Pakistan began during former president Barack Obama’s second term, the Trump administration has taken a much tougher line with Islamabad. This has coincided with US lawmakers increasingly questioning Pakistan’s reliability as a partner in the war on terror.

The Trump administration has warned there could be further cuts in aid and the revocation of Pakistan’s “major non-NATO ally” status if it does not crack down on terror groups such as the Haqqani Network and Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Pakistan’s weapons programme surest route to nuclear-level war: US think tank

WASHINGTON, Nov 26: Pakistan’s tactical nuclear- weapons programme is not only dangerous for safety and security of the region, but also it is the surest route to escalating conventional war to the nuclear level, according to a report by an American think-tank.

In its report ‘Asia in the Second Nuclear Age’, the Atlantic Council, however, said Pakistan does not appear to have operationalised its tactical nuclear-warfare plans yet.

“Pakistan’s tactical nuclear-weapons programme is dangerous for safety and security reasons, and also because it is the surest route to escalating conventional war to the nuclear level. However, Pakistan does not appear to have operationalised its tactical nuclear-warfare plans yet,” said the report released this month.

The greatest threat in the region comes not from the development of large, sophisticated, and diversified nuclear arsenals, but from the continued stability of the institutions guarding them. “In this regard, the future stability of Pakistan remains a wild card,” said the report.

In the last four decades, the Pakistani deep state’s pursuit of low intensity conflict in Afghanistan and India, via the vehicles of radical jihadi non-state actors, has produced terrible blow back effects on Pakistan itself.

Noting that both the Pakistani state and civil society have become the targets of terror attacks, it said some of the attacks have occurred, with insider help, on sensitive military bases where nuclear weapons are likely stored.

“The possibility that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons could be stolen or that schisms in Pakistan’s military might cause nuclear command-and-control failures is not as fantastic as it once seemed,” said the report.

Authored by Gaurav Kampani and Bharath Gopalaswamy, the report concludes that in the nuclear dynamic in the Indo- Pacific region, India and Pakistan are novice developers of nuclear arsenals; the weapons in their inventory are first- generation fission weapons.

Likewise, their delivery systems are the first in the cycle of acquisitions, the report said, adding that their hardware acquisitions generate outside concern because of the scope of their ambitions.

Observing that both nations plan to deploy a triad capability, the report said nonetheless, this ambitious goal and the selection of technologies underline the central lesson of the nuclear revolution, which is force survival (to enable an assured second-strike capability).

It said force survival through secure second-strike capabilities is also China’s goal.

“It is the only nuclear power among the three that is actually modernizing, i.e., replacing aging delivery systems with newer and better designs,” the report said.

“Thus far, the evidence suggests that Chinese and Indian explorations of multiple-reentry vehicle technologies are aimed at reinforcing deterrence through the fielding of more robust second-strike capabilities,” the report said.

It said that this conclusion is also supported by the fact that neither India nor China has, nor is developing, the ancillary intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) systems necessary to execute splendid first-strike attacks.

U.S. declares North Korea a state sponsor of terrorism

WASHINGTON, Nov 20: U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday declared North Korea a state sponsor of terrorism, a move that allows the Trump administration to impose additional sanctions on Pyongyang over its nuclear and missile programmes.

North Korea had been removed from the list of state sponsor of terrorism under the George W Bush administration.

The announcement was made by Trump during his Cabinet meeting.

“Today, the United States is designating North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism. It should have happened a long time ago. It should have happened years ago,” Trump said in his address to the Cabinet.

In addition to threatening the world by nuclear devastation, North Korea has repeatedly supported acts of international terrorism, including assassinations on foreign soil, he said.

“As we take this action today, our thoughts to turn to Otto Warmbier, a wonderful young man, and the countless others so brutally affected by the North Korean oppression,” he said.

“This designation will impose further sanctions and penalties on North Korea and related persons, and supports our maximum pressure campaign to isolate the murderous regime that you’ve all been reading about and, in some cases, writing about,” Trump added.

On Tuesday, the Treasury Department will be announcing an additional round of sanctions, and a very large one, on North Korea, he said.

“This will be going on over the next two weeks. It will be the highest level of sanctions by the time it’s finished over a two-week period. The North Korean regime must be lawful. It must end its unlawful nuclear and ballistic missile development, and cease all support for international terrorism -- which it is not doing,” Trump said.

The House Foreign Relations Committee welcomed the move.

“I applaud the administration for relisting North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism. Over the past year alone, Kim Jong-Un and his regime brazenly assassinated his brother with a chemical weapon and brutally tortured Otto Warmbier, leading directly to his tragic death,” said Congressman Ed Royce, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

These are not isolated incidents, but are examples of a consistent pattern of terror, he said.

The regime also continues its push to develop nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles, threatening global security, Mr. Trump said.

“This designation — endorsed by a high-ranking North Korean defector who recently testified before the committee — rightly exposes the Kim regime’s utter disregard for human life and is an important step in our efforts to apply maximum diplomatic and financial pressure on Kim Jong-Un,” Royce said.

Congresswoman Ileana Ro-Lehtinen, chairman Emeritus of House Committee on Foreign Affairs, commended the decision.

“Redesignating North Korea provides the administration with important tools to increase pressure on the Kim regime and I commend the decision to put it back on the list where it belongs,” she said.

Nuclear-armed North Korea fired a ballistic missile over Japan on 29 August in a major escalation of tensions by Pyongyang. Five days later, it carried out a sixth nuclear test, sending tensions soaring over its weapons ambitions and causing global concern.

Modi meets Trump in Manila, says India and US can work for future of Asia

MANILA, Nov 13: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday pitched a vision of India and the US working together in Asia and the rest of the world during talks with President Donald Trump.

Modi’s remarks reflected the growing convergence on strategic issues between the two sides at a time when India, Australia, Japan and the US have stepped up efforts to formalise a quadrilateral alliance aimed at keeping the Indo-Pacific region free, open and inclusive.

The two leaders met on the margins of the Asean Summit in the Philippines a day after officials of the four countries held talks on the Quad, as the grouping is being referred to. The Quad is being seen a counter-balance to China, which responded on Monday by saying such cooperation should not be “directed at a third party”.

In brief remarks in Hindi before his formal talks with Trump, Modi said India-US relations were very rapidly becoming “deeper and very comprehensive”.

“You must also feel that India-US relations, while rising above the interests of India and the US, we can work together for the future of Asia and (see) what we can do for mankind…There are many issues on which we are working together,” Modi said.

“I would like to assure you that whatever expectations the world has of India, and whatever expectation the US has, India has made all-out efforts to fulfil those expectations and it will continue to do so,” he added.

Foreign secretary S Jaishankar described the 45-minute meeting, the third between Modi and Trump, as a “cordial, constructive and very comfortable” conversation on bilateral, regional and global issues.

A White House statement said the leaders had discussed their “shared commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific region”. It added, “They pledged to enhance their cooperation as Major Defence Partners, resolving that two of the world’s great democracies should also have the world’s greatest militaries.”

The two leaders mainly focused on economic issues, including trade and investment, expanding economic ties and improving market access for each other, he said.

A fair amount of time was devoted to Afghanistan, and Modi briefed Trump on the recent supply of wheat by India to the war-torn country via Chabahar. They also discussed defence cooperation, the situation in the Middle East, counter-terrorism, nuclear proliferation and the Korean crisis, he said.

Sources said the Indian side brought up the issue of holding to account those responsible for “proliferation linkages”– a reference to the aid provided by Pakistan and China to North Korea’s nuclear programme.

The leaders also discussed the situation in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, where violence against the Rohingyas has forced more than 600,000 people to flee to Bangladesh.

Energy cooperation, including the first shipment of US crude to India, and the upcoming Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) also figured in the talks. The White House statement said Trump had expressed appreciation that Indian oil purchases had surpassed 10 million barrels, describing stronger energy cooperation as a “geopolitical and economic game changer for both countries”.

Both sides stressed the warmth of the meeting. Modi thanked Trump for expressing a “very high opinion of India” in recent public speeches, while the US president described Modi as “a friend of ours and a great gentleman doing a fantastic job in bringing around lots of factions in India… all together… It’s a lot of good reports coming out of India.”

The meeting is expected to give a boost to the quadrilateral, which is being widely perceived as a joint effort by the four countries to push back against Beijing’s aggressive polices and its ambitious One Belt, One Road connectivity project.

The move to revive the quadrilateral alliance, first mooted in 2007, has coincided with increased Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea and its aggressive implementation of the BRI.

Following the meeting of officials on Sunday, the members of the Quad issued statements underlining the importance of a “rules-based order” and “freedom of navigation” in regional waters – a clear nod to the position adopted by China in its disputes with several countries in the South China Sea.

The Trump administration, which has spoken of the importance of India in its new South Asia policy, has also repeatedly referred to the “Indo-Pacific” region in recent days to underline what it sees as New Delhi’s key role in the region to counter Beijing’s rise.

Trump offers to mediate in South China Sea dispute

HANOI, Nov 12: US President Donald Trump said on a visit to Vietnam on Sunday he was prepared to mediate between claimants to the South China Sea, where five countries contest China’s sweeping claims to the busy waterway.

Vietnam has become the most vocal opponent of China’s claims and its construction and militarisation of artificial islands in the sea, through which about $3-trillion in goods pass each year.

“If I can help mediate or arbitrate, please let me know,” Trump said in comments at the start of a meeting in Hanoi with Vietnam’s president, Tran Dai Quang.

Trump acknowledged that China’s position on the South China Sea was a problem.

“I’m a very good mediator and arbitrator,” he said.

Vietnam has also reclaimed land around reefs and islets, but on nowhere near the same scale as China. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Taiwan also have claims in the sea.

The South China Sea was discussed in Beijing on an earlier leg of Trump’s 12-day Asian tour and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the United States and China had a frank exchange of views.

The United States has angered China with freedom of navigation patrols close to Chinese-controlled islands, which have been continued by the Trump administration.

In August, foreign ministers of Southeast Asia and China adopted a negotiating framework for a code of conduct in the South China Sea, a move they hailed as progress but one seen by critics as a tactic to buy China time to consolidate its maritime power.

The framework seeks to advance a 2002 Declaration of Conduct (DOC) of Parties in the South China Sea, which has mostly been ignored by claimant states, particularly China, which has built seven man-made islands in disputed waters, three of them equipped with runways, surface-to-air missiles and radars.

All parties say the framework is only an outline for how the code will be established but critics say the failure to outline, as an initial objective, the need to make the code legally binding and enforceable, or have a dispute resolution mechanism, raises doubts about how effective the pact will be.

The framework will be endorsed by China and members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) at a summit in Manila on Monday, a diplomat from one of the regional bloc’s countries said.

The next step is for ASEAN and China to start formal consultations and negotiations for the actual Code of Conduct, and the earliest that talks on this can start is February 2018, the diplomat said.

From Vietnam, Trump flies to the Philippines for a meeting with ASEAN leaders before he heads back to Washington.

 

Air force veteran guns down 26 in Texas church

SUTHERLAND SPRINGS (Texas), Nov 6: A lone gunman opened fire on a church congregation during a Sunday morning service in a rural town in Texas, killing 26 people and wounding 20 more in yet another mass shooting in the United States a little more than a month after the massacre in Las Vegas.

The victims ranged in age from five to 72, and included the 14-year-old daughter of the pastor of the church, a pregnant woman and children. Authorities said 23 people died within the church at Sutherland Springs, two outside and one in hospital. Some of the injured were in a serious condition.

The shooter, who took his own life and was found in his car a short distance from the church, was identified as Devin Patrick Kelley, a 26-year-old from Houston.

President Donald Trump, away on a 12-day five-nation tour of Asia, told reporters in Tokyo the shooting was more about mental health issues and less about “a guns situation” as the shooter seemed to a “very deranged” individual.

He said: “But this isn’t a guns situation. I mean, we could go into it but it’s a little bit soon to go into it. But, fortunately, somebody else had a gun that was shooting in the opposite direction, otherwise it would have been – as bad it was, it would have been much worse.”

Wilson county sheriff Joe Tackitt said he did not know Kelley’s motive, but the shooter’s in-laws lived in a nearby town and had previously attended the church on several occasions.

Freeman Martin, a public safety department official, told reporters on Monday: “This was not racially motivated, it wasn’t over religious beliefs, it was a domestic situation going on...The suspect’s mother-in-law attended this church. We know that he had made threatening texts and we can’t go into detail into that domestic situation that is continuing to be vetted and thoroughly investigated.”

‘Just want to know why?’: Texas residents struggle with church shooting tragedy
Kelley had served in the US Air Force but was court-martialled in 2012 for assaulting his wife and child. He was sentenced to 12 months’ confinement and discharged with a “bad conduct” mark in 2014.

Dressed in all-black tactical gear and a ballistic vest, Kelley was seen leaving his vehicle at a gas station at about 11.20 am. He began shooting at the church with an assault rifle as he approached it, and continued as he circled to its right and entered while the service was underway.

Kelley dropped his rifle and exited the church, when an armed local resident engaged him in a brief exchange of fire during which the shooter used a pistol. Freeman Martin, an official of the department of public safety, told reporters that Kelley then got into his car and fled.

Two armed local residents pursued Kelley in a vehicle, and his car ran off the road a short distance away and crashed. Kelley then shot himself. Sheriff Tackitt told the media: “At this time we believe that he had a self-inflicted gunshot wound.”

Kelley had used a military-style Ruger AR assault rifle in the attack, and had more weapons in his vehicle, officials said.

Sutherland Springs is a small rural community of about 680 people – residents told reporters it was a place where nothing ever happened and everyone knew everyone. The church, of the protestant First Baptist Church that is the second largest religious grouping in the US after Roman Catholics, is a place for friends to gather and meet every weekend.

Some Americans responded to news of the shooting with numbing weariness.

“Once again, we will pray and mourn the fallen,” David Axelrod, president Barack Obama’s political strategist and political commentator, tweeted. “Our leaders will express the grief of the nation. And do nothing.”

On October 1, Stephen Paddock, a high-stakes regular at casinos, fatally shot 58 people and wounded more than 500, using an arsenal of rifles, some of them modified to fire at a quicker rate, from his room in a hotel overlooking an open-air country music festival. His motive remains unclear.

Asked about gun safety laws at the time, Trump had said there will be time for that discussion, but later. He never got around to it.

Though not always a gun rights enthusiast, Trump has found it politically expedient, from the time he entered the race for the White House, to portray himself as someone on the right side of the Republican Party’s base and the National Rifle Association, which leads the powerful gun lobby that has stymied every attempt to reform gun laws, even those backed by conservative gun owners.

Trump Strikes Hard Line Against N Korea in Japan

TOKYO, Nov 6: President Donald Trump struck a hard line against North Korea's nuclear weapons program Monday and urged Japan to do the same as he closed out two days of talks, dinner and golf diplomacy with ally Japan.

The president refused to rule out eventual military action against the north and exhorted dictator Kim Jong Un to stop weapons testing, calling the recent launches of missiles over Japanese territory "a threat to the civilized world and international peace and stability."

"We will not stand for that," Trump said at news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. "The era of strategic patience is over. Some people say my rhetoric is very strong but look what has happened with very weak rhetoric in the last 25 years."

The president did not deny reports he was frustrated that Japan did not shoot down a ballistic missile North Korea recently fired over its territory. Trump instead declared that Abe "will shoot 'em out of the sky when he completes the purchase of lots of additional military equipment from the United States."

Trump said Abe had agreed to purchase "massive amounts of military equipment, as he should," arguing the U.S. makes the "best military equipment, by far."

Japan's constitution was revised after World War II to include a clause renouncing war and the country spends only about 1 percent of its GDP on defense. Abe has slowly tried to remove some of the pacifist constraints and is already seeking money to purchase upgraded SM3 interceptors with greater accuracy and range, as well as other advanced missile defense systems.

Under its constitution, Japan can shoot down a missile only when it is aimed at the country or if debris is falling on its territory. But some hawkish members of Abe's Liberal Democratic Party say that it may be possible to shoot down a missile headed toward Guam if it causes an existential threat to the U.S. as Japan's ally. Experts say that is questionable.

As part of his Asia tour, Trump will visit South Korea, where he will forgo the customary trip to the demilitarized zone separating north and south — a pilgrimage made by every U.S. presidents except one since Ronald Reagan as a demonstration of solidarity with the South. Instead, Trump planned to visit Camp Humphreys, a military base about 40 miles south of Seoul.

U.S. and South Korean officials have said the base visit is meant to underscore the countries' ties and South Korea's commitment to contributing to its own defense. Burden-sharing is a theme Trump has stressed ever since his presidential campaign.

Trump and South Korea's liberal President Moon Jae-in agree on the need to pressure the North with sanctions and other deterrence measures. But Trump has warned of unleashing "fire and fury," threatened to "totally destroy" the North, if necessary, and repeatedly insisted that all options are on the table. Moon, meanwhile, favors dialogue as the best strategy for defusing the nuclear tension and vehemently opposes a potential military clash that could cause enormous casualties in South Korea.

On a personal level, Trump and Moon have not developed the same close rapport as Trump has with Abe or even China's Xi Jinping. Part of Moon's mission during the visit will likely be to strengthen his personal ties with Trump, said Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution.

"Now poor President Moon is playing catch-up ball because everyone acknowledges that he's not bonding quite as much with Donald Trump as the rest of the region," said O'Hanlon. He said Moon could face pressure "to deliver a stronger relationship" whereas "in most other parts of the world, people are trying to keep their distance from Donald Trump."

Trump will spend Tuesday in meetings with Moon, hold a joint press conference and be feted at a state dinner.

Trade also is expected to be a major topic of discussion: Trump has considered pulling out of the United States-Korea Free Trade Agreement, also known as KORUS, blaming it for the U.S.-South Korea trade deficit.

Trump and Japan's Abe have forged strong bonds through meetings, phone calls and on the golf course — a friendship that was on display at a Monday banquet that was the final event of Trump's stop in Japan. In a toast, Trump told about how he was bombarded by phone calls from world leaders after he was elected president. Trump said he returned just a few — including one from Abe, who said he wanted to meet with Trump as soon as possible. Trump responded: anytime.

Trump, as he told it, wasn't aware of the protocol against president-elects meeting with world leaders. Trump added that by the time he called Abe to wave him off, Abe was already en route to New York. "So I saw him and it worked out just fine," Trump recalled.

Abe called Trump his "dear friend" and praised the benefits of what he called "golf diplomacy."

Sushma Swaraj seeks report over attack on Sikh boy in US

NEW DELHI, Nov 4: External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj said on Saturday she has sought a report from the Indian Embassy in the US following reports of an attack on a Sikh schoolboy in a city in Washington.

“I have seen news reports about the beating of a Sikh boy in US. I have asked @IndianEmbassyUS to send me a report on the incident,” Sushma Swaraj tweeted.

The 14-year-old boy was beaten up by a classmate in Kent city, with his father claiming that the victim was targeted as he is of Indian descent, the media reported.

The incident happened on October 26, less than a block from Kentridge High School, where both the boys are students, KIRO-TV reported.

In the clip that was posted on mobile application Snapchat, a teenaged boy followed the victim and punched him, knocking him to the ground.

The victim was punched several more times as he tried to protect his head and crawl away.

The victim’s father said he felt pain each time he looked at the video. “I am feeling so, so bad because this happened with my son. They beat him from the backside and hurt him too much.

“This is a very big thing for me, here in America... I can’t explain... how I am feeling,” said the 14-year-old’s father, who declined to be identified.

The family said the incident exposed racial divisions in the city. However, school officials said the attack was not religiously or racially motivated, but was instead a continuation of an earlier classroom dispute.

The victim’s parents denied that, saying their son did not even know his attacker’s name. “He never interacted with this guy. He never knew his name,” said the victim’s father.

Calls and messages from people in the region poured in expressing outrage about the incident.

The Kent area is home to many Sikhs. The family said it wants peace for them and everyone. “I don’t want to see this again happen with my son or anyone else. I don’t want to see this,” the boy’s father said.

A Facebook thread about the incident generated more than 40 comments from parents and community members who said the teen who beat up the boy needs to be held accountable and people everywhere need to stand up to injustice.

Asia Trip a Chance for Trump to Set Things Right

NEW DELHI, Nov 1: Viewed from the capitals of the several countries President Donald Trump will visit next week, it has been a deeply unsettling year. What the United States says and does is central to their security, their economic well-being, and the overall stability of the region. Trump came into office off a campaign heavy on rhetoric that sometimes questioned America’s role in the world. Since taking office, the President’s rolling commentary—whether it is about China policy or the North Korean nuclear threat—has often reinforced those concerns and conveyed what the region perceives as a lack of seriousness, even capriciousness.

The Administration’s interlocutors in these countries—Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines—however, are also very practical and want to find ways to make their relationships with the U.S. work. President Trump has already met with all but one of their leaders. This has helped allay some concerns. Indeed, on the power of the personal relationship established between Trump and Prime Shinzo Abe, US-Japan relations in particular are in remarkably good condition. The region has also been reassured by the attention given them by the President’s cabinet. Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, and others have all made constructive—in some cases, more than one—visits to the region to engage their counterparts and make explicit the terms of U.S. commitments to the Asia-Pacific.

Fundamentally, these commitments to Asia are very much what they have been for decades: Alliances, forward deployment of the U.S. military, active diplomatic engagement—both bilateral and multilateral, and America’s unique long-held One-China policy. President Trump’s trip is an opportunity for him to make clear his personal support for these pillars of the U.S. presence and explain what they mean in terms of policy.

Japan and South Korea. President Trump arrives in Tokyo shortly after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party has won a strong victory in legislative elections. Abe’s political gamble of calling for an early election paid off with a renewal of his leadership mandate. As a result, he will continue his signature push for revising the country’s constitution to allow Japan to assume greater security responsibilities in the context of the US-Japan alliance. Abe’s efforts to increase Japan’s defense budget and expand the Self-Defense Forces’ overseas responsibilities are likely to please Trump. It is important for him to understand, however, the domestic resistance that Abe will continue to face.

Another area the two sides appear to be making measured progress is on economics. Abe was able to deal with Trump’s long-standing criticism of Japan’s trade practices by proposing a bold bilateral economic initiative emphasizing benefits for American jobs and exports. The resultant US-Japan Economic Dialogue—co-chaired by Vice President Mike Pence and Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso—emphasizes cooperation in three areas: trade and investment rules and issues; cooperation in economic and structural policies; and sectoral cooperation. This could have wide ranging implications for US-Japan relations as well as the strategic value of the alliance in the region beyond. It has already met twice to explore these possibilities

Despite this, trade will remain just below the surface as a potential source of friction. The Trump administration appears to have only one measure for the health of economic relationships—the trade balance. And the large U.S. trade deficit with Japan is likely to persist whatever progress is made in our dialogue. Meanwhile, Washington’s interest in a bi-lateral free trade agreement (FTA) with Japan has found little support in Tokyo. Japan remains wedded to the pursuit of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), even if it means concluding an agreement without the U.S. in the hope that Washington will join later. While a bi-lateral FTA is an excellent idea, it will continue to be a tough sell. There were trade-offs in the TPP that Japan was only comfortable making in the context of a broader multilateral agreement, and it correctly suspects the U.S. will press for even greater access under a bi-lateral arrangement.

The area where there is little disagreement between Trump and Abe is on the need for increasing pressure on North Korea to abide by UN Security Council resolutions and end its nuclear weapons program. Japan is alarmed by Pyongyang’s growing military capabilities and repeated threats to use nuclear weapons if Tokyo were to assist the United States during a conflict on the Korean Peninsula. As in the past, Japan was unnerved by recent North Korean missile overflights which again spurred decisions to augment its missile defenses.

In Seoul, Trump and Moon Jae-in share a similar confluence of interests, but it is a personal relationship more fraught with risk. Moon’s visit to Washington in June was a success. The two leaders appear to be managing well some very difficult issues, including the Trump administration’s interest in renegotiating the US-Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS) and the common threat they face from North Korea. The South Korean President, however, is from a liberal background, including previously serving as chief of staff to President Roh Moo-hyun. Roh’s term—which overlapped with that of American President George W Bush—was marked by very strained relations with Washington.

Moon, like Roh, initially sought to prioritize dialogue over pressure with North Korea. His tougher, more centrist approach to Pyongyang emerged only after the North Korean regime rebuffed his initial attempts at engagement and continued conducting nuclear and missile tests. So while Trump and Moon now share a common approach toward North Korea, the two leaders remain wary of each other. From the U.S. side, questions remain over how permanent Moon’s conversion is and whether he will revert to a softer stance if Pyongyang initiated a charm offensive designed to split the alliance. For their part, many in South Korea were angered by reports of Trump’s negative comments about Moon during a phone call with Abe, as well as Trump’s harsh criticism of KORUS. South Korean officials were also rattled by Trump’s suggestions of greater conditionality in U.S. commitment to the alliance as well as ongoing signals that the U.S. might initiate hostilities with North Korea.

North Korea will be an overriding issue in all of President Trump’s stops—especially in Tokyo and Seoul. Both allies have pledged to increase their already strong measures against Pyongyang and have been taking a lead role in encouraging international partners to step up the pressure. To encourage South Korea and Japan in these efforts, President Trump should reassure them that he remains committed to working lock-step in addressing the North Korean threat, and that U.S. resolve to defend them remains steadfast.

Trump should also use the opportunity of his public appearances, particularly during his National Assembly speech in Seoul, to provide greater clarity on its North Korea policy. Whether the U.S. is contemplating a preventative attack on the regime, that could result in millions of civilian South Korean deaths, will be a frequent query during his trip. He can assuage these concerns by addressing them proactively upfront, and by making it clear that while the U.S. will respond “pre-emptively” if necessary to prevent the detonation of a nuclear weapon on its territory or that of its allies, it will not initiate a conflict.

China. Similar to Prime Minister Abe, albeit as a result of a non-democratic process, Xi Jinping has also just emerged from a political process that strengthens his governing mandate. The 19th Party Congress unveiled a new Chinese leadership, in the form of a revamped Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Politburo and Politburo Standing Committee. The line-up reveals a clear consolidation of Xi’s power while his address to the Party Congress indicates continued adherence to a hard line. He appears intent on pursuing military modernization and shows only limited interest, at best, in economic liberalization. Political liberalization and the moderating influence that would have on China’s foreign and security policies have essentially been ruled out.

While discouraging, this moment of clarity is a perfect opportunity for Trump to get essential messages to the new Chinese leadership:

First, on North Korea. China has increasingly demonstrated that it either cannot or will not press North Korea unless it is itself under pressure. While Beijing has issued unprecedented restrictions on North Korean joint ventures and ordered Chinese banks to suspend interactions with North Korea, these moves were only undertaken when the United States finally brought pressure to bear on Chinese banks and businessmen. That China only undertook such steps in 2017 highlights the lack of sanctions placed on them in the past. President Trump needs to make clear to Beijing that these sanctions will stay in place and will be enhanced as long as the PRC is out of compliance with UN Security Council resolutions. In fact, it can expect to face even greater pressure beyond issues directly related to North Korea’s nuclear program as long as it remains the North Korean regime’s economic lifeline.

Second, on the South China Sea. The United States has conducted four Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPS) in and around the Spratly and Paracel Islands since May of this year—the same number as the Obama Administration undertook during his entire second term. President Trump needs to emphasize to the Chinese that such demonstrations of American rights in international waters will continue, as will other lawful surveillance and survey activities necessary for the secure operation of American forces. He should also remind Beijing that the findings of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA), which ruled in favor of Philippine claims over the Spratlys, are now part of the body of international law, and will be treated as such by the United States however Beijing or Manila may regard that decision.

Third, on Taiwan. Just before the opening of the Party Congress, the Chinese threatened the United States with “severe consequences” if the Congress passed measures to strengthen U.S. ties to the island. This is consistent with the harder line Beijing has pursued since the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) scored an overwhelming victory in 2016 elections. It is Beijing that has escalated cross-Straits tensions, suspending all official dialogues with Beijing, and renewing “dollar diplomacy” to woo away the remaining states that recognize the Republic of China (Taiwan). There is no reason for President Trump to raise the matter of Taiwan during his visit. But if it comes up, he should make clear that the United States will stand by its commitments under the Taiwan Relations Act and the Six Assurances, even as it maintains its One-China policy. This includes a requirement that any resolution to the conflict between China and Taiwan have the consent of the people of Taiwan and the continued provision to Taiwan of weapons of a defensive character.

Fourth, on economics. Underlying the US-China relationship is an array of economic ties that link the world’s number one and number two economies and contribute to the prosperity of both peoples. China, however, has too often acted in ways that fundamentally undermine the rules that ensure global economic order and provide it unfair advantages in an open market place. In Washington today, even the most ardent supporters of US-China economic engagement are struggling to find ways to reconcile this state of affairs with ongoing support for free trade with China. The most notable products of this debate are proposals to strengthen the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) and the initiation of a Section 301 investigation into Chinese theft of intellectual property. It is important for Trump to make it clear on this visit that whatever the outcome of these efforts (resort to section 301 for the first time since the establishment of the World Trade Organization is particularly controversial), Beijing’s economic misconduct is having a major impact on debates in Washington and will ultimately have an impact on policy.

The framework for a “free and open IndoPacific” that is emerging as the fundamental operating principle for the Administration’s approach to the region is an important element of its approach to China. Neither it, nor revival of the official quadrilateral dialogue among the U.S., Japan, Australia and India should be open to negotiation.

Vietnam and the Philippines. Trump’s visit to Vietnam and the Philippines is a very important element of the visit. Visiting the capitals of our Northeast Asian allies is an easy call. The U.S. is in blood alliance with South Korea against a threat to its North that could strike at any time, while Japan hosts tens of thousands of U.S. troops, as well as its seventh fleet. Southeast Asia requires a little more strategic thinking.

The US-Vietnam security relationship has been growing slowly and steadily for more than 20 years—in recent years, facilitated by overlapping concerns about the shape of China’s rise. The US and Philippines are formal treaty partners and extremely close across a range of measures—defense, economy and people-to-people ties. But what has most commended them for inclusion on the President’s itinerary this year is their hosting of international conferences. Vietnam is this year’s host of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and the Philippines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Leaders Summit and its associated activities.

That President Trump would understand the strategic significance of engaging these two forums is very encouraging. Leader level involvement in APEC demonstrates a commitment to its value as an economic venue and the stakes that the U.S. has in the region as a whole. But it also indicates support for APEC’s mission to keep East Asia outward looking. (APEC’s membership includes countries from both sides of the Pacific.) Attendance at the ASEAN events demonstrates the Administration’s support for the central role that ASEAN plays in the region’s diplomatic architecture. It also shows that the U.S. values its relationship with a body that is an essential part of its members’ own foreign policies.

While President Trump will attend the official opening of all the ASEAN related events, co-chair the US-ASEAN summit, and have many bi-lateral meetings with leaders on the sidelines of the events, his schedule prevents him from attending one critical venue, the East Asian Summit (EAS). (The EAS brings together the leaders of the ten ASEAN countries, plus those of the U.S., China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, India and Russia.) This is a mistake. But there are things Trump can do to mitigate the damage. He needs to make clear that his decision not to attend has nothing to do with his perceptions of its value. And more importantly, he needs to make clear that he has every intention of attending next year in Singapore.

There are bilateral priorities to discuss in both Hanoi and Manila. In Hanoi, he will likely meet for the second time with Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, but also its president and the general secretary of the Vietnamese Communist Party. This is an opportunity to deepen connections and to discuss broader areas of strategic interest. Vietnam, for instance, should be a candidate for a bilateral FTA with the U.S. Another area of interest that should be discussed is our expanding military ties and Vietnam’s interest in the purchase of American made weaponry. In his meeting with Philippines President Rodrigo Dutere, there are similar strategic issues to discuss—concerns over Chinese activities in the South China Sea, the struggle against terrorism, and the disposition of U.S. forces in the Philippines. Trump should also raise with Duterte concerns that many in the U.S., most notably in Congress, have with the Philippines prosecution of its war against drugs.

Conclusion. President Trump’s visit to Asia is great opportunity. Especially in Asia, nothing is more important than the boss showing up to make clear that he fully and personally endorses the work those in his administration are engaged in. If he does it right, he will leave behind a region reassured about America’s commitment to its security and its staying power over the long-term. This—followed up with a deliberate consistency—will go a long way to ensuring a regional stability that is the best interest of the U.S.

US, India seek to pierce China terror shield

NEW DELHI, Nov 2: After China put up a virtually permanent roadblock for proscribing Masood Azhar+ by the UNSC, India and US are mulling options for their next steps.

In December, Indian and US officials will meet for the first time for a dialogue on coordinating terrorist designations by both countries. The two sides will discuss options of keeping terrorists and terror groups like Jaish-e-Muhammad under pressure.

This will include discussions on the next terrorist that will be put up for sanctions by the UNSC's 1267 committee.

The new consultation mechanism was decided during the Modi-Trump summit this summer. In the joint statement that followed the summit, both sides, "committed to strengthen cooperation against terrorist threats from groups including al-Qaida, ISIS, JeM, Lashkar-e-Taiba, D-Company, and their affiliates. ... the leaders welcomed a new consultation mechanism on domestic and international terrorist designations listing proposals."

For instance, Abdul Rauf Asghar, Masood Azhar's brother, may find his name on the next list for sanctions. He was charged in the Pathankot terror attack. Azhar's second brother, Maulana Ibrahim Athar Alvi is accused of masterminding the IC-814 hijack which forced India to release Azhar from jail in return for the passengers of the jet.

India has a list of other terror leaders operating with the support of Pakistan's military-intelligence establishment, who India wants to put up on the 1267 committee.

India wants China to continue to shield Pakistan at the multilateral level — if Beijing blocks sanctions against deadly terrorists repeatedly, it could succeed in painting itself as a supporter of global terrorism. Chinese officials reportedly expressed confidence that they would not be pressured on Azhar by the US given the US needed their support on keeping an increasingly hostile North Korea in check. China's decision came even as Beijing itself demanded extra security from Pakistan for its new envoy from ETIM terrorists — many of them trained in Pakistan.

The joint statement added that India and United States would work together to "prevent terrorist travel and to disrupt global recruitment efforts by expanding intelligence-sharing and operational-level counterterrorism cooperation."

As part of the travel vetting programmesin both countries, India and US had also decided to exchange information on "known and suspected terrorists for travel screening." The likes of David Headley, who conducted numerous reconnaissance trips to India to prepare for the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, could appear on the Indian security radar.

 

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