The creeping shadow of army rule – Asian Media Report

May 20, 2023
G7 flags, seven table flags on gray background

In Asian Media this week: Big economies talk about rules-based order. Plus: empire strikes back in Imran Khan showdown; hot Asian summers will add to climate change; US return to Philippines sparks sex abuse fears; Gandhi bests Modi in latest test; post-poll scenarios after progressive victory in Thailand.

The G7 is meeting this weekend in Hiroshima, the home of Japanese Prime Minister (and summit host) Fumio Kishida – and denuclearisation will be a key agenda item.

The summit will discuss concerns about the weapons programmes of North Korea, China and Russia and, says an opinion piece in The Japan Times, will aim to send a message that denuclearisation is critical to preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and stopping nuclear war.

The article, written by Stephen Nagy, a professor at Tokyo’s International Christian University, says the top priority will be preserving the rules-based order – ensuring that the international community adheres to a set of norms and principles that govern the behaviour of states.

Other issues for the G7, a grouping of the big western economies – the US, France, Germany, the UK, Italy and Canada, plus Japan – will be China’s global and regional ambitions (including its approach to Taiwan and to the Ukraine war) and developing relations with the Global South.

“China has … made inroads in building strong relations with the Global South, the article says.

But a senior columnist with Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post takes the view that questions about international financial risk should be high on the agenda – that the G7 has forgotten the Bill Clinton campaign’s crucial slogan: “It’s the economy, stupid.”

Anthony Rowley, a veteran of Asian economic reporting, says in a column: “There is a growing threat of recession hanging over the global economy, ongoing inflation, rising interest rates, tightening credit, weakening investment sentiment, banking stresses, softening employment and supply chain issues.

“But you might never know it from looking at the G7 summit agenda.”

SCMP notes in a separate story that China’s Xi Jinping is hosting a Central Asian summit at the same time as the G7 gathering. He is meeting the leaders of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan in the historic city of Xian.

“Beijing has long seen Central Asia as a frontier critical for the country’s trade expansion and energy security, and the stability in Xinjiang, the far western region where its treatment of Uygur Muslims has been among the most contentious issues between China and the West,” SCMP says.

‘Creeping shadow of army rule’ in Pakistan

The civil and political mayhem in Pakistan is continuing, the result of the confrontation between former prime minister Imran Khan and his army and political opponents.

Khan, leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, was arrested last week, with his detention sparking attacks on public property and military installations. Ten people were killed in the clashes and more than 4,000 arrested, reported.

Khan was released at the weekend but this week police surrounded his home in Lahore, claiming he was sheltering dozens of people involved in the violent protests.

A commentary piece in Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper says Khan crossed the Rubicon by lashing out at the army chief. “Now the empire has struck back,” writes journalist and author Zahid Hussain. “Some of [the protestors] could face trial under the Army Act.

“The creeping shadow of army rule is becoming more pronounced.”

Khan is backed by the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) and the President, Dr Arif Alvi, says a backgrounder in India’s The Statesman newspaper. The government and the army chief, General Asim Munir are on the other side.

“Neither is willing to back down,” says the writer, an unnamed retired army general.

“Every case pertaining to Imran is personally heard by the CJP and immediate relief is granted,” the general says. “The President briefs Imran on the goings on within the government…

“The army chief is anti-Imran and Imran rightly believes him to be his personal enemy. His selection was made solely on this criterion and with the intent of keeping Imran away from the PM’s chair.”

Billion air-conditioners for Asia’s hot, dry summers

Summer in Asia has started hot – and is forecast to stay hot in the coming months. This points to a worrying side effect of global warming – that summer heat in warmer countries will lead to more coal being used to generate electricity, adding to global warming.

According to a Bloomberg report published in The Japan Times, if Asia avoids drought this year the growth in renewable generation might meet the increase in electricity demand, reducing the need to burn more coal.

“Unfortunately, that prospect is looking less likely than it was only a few months ago,” the story says. “Regional climate outlooks suggest the coming summer will be hot and dry.”

Yunnan province, home of the headwaters of the Yangtze River that feeds many of China’s vast dams, has been gripped by drought this year.

Electricity production is suffering. Nationwide hydro generation fell by 8 per cent in the first quarter of this year. Dams were producing power at about 26 per cent of full capacity, the worst performance since 2014.

In warmer countries, power demand in winter is minimal. But in summer, a billion air-conditioners send demand soaring.

A second Bloomberg piece in the same paper says that summer in India is now testing the limits of human survival. “In recent weeks, more than a dozen people died in central India and thousands crowded hospitals with heatstroke symptoms,” the story says. “Temperatures will hover around 45 degrees Celsius across the northern plains this weekend.”

Demand for air-conditioners is surging in countries where incomes and temperatures are both rising – such as China, India, Indonesia and the Philippines.

The story says air-conditioner sales jump when yearly household incomes near $US10,000, as it has in Indonesia and the Philippines and soon will in India.

“By one estimate, the world will add 1 billion ACs before the end of the decade,” the story says. “The market is projected to nearly double before 2040. That’s good for measures of public health and economic productivity; it’s unquestionably bad for the climate.”

Campaigner recalls ‘recreation sex land’ in Philippines

When Shay Cullen recently saw US warships steaming into Subic Bay in the Philippines, he was overcome with feelings of foreboding, frustration and a desire for justice.

Cullen, a Catholic missionary who has lived in the Philippines for more than 50 years, has long campaigned to protect women and children from sexual abuse, sex slavery and human trafficking.

Writing in, the Asian Catholic news site, he says seeing the ships reminded him of the time the US Navy occupied the Subic Bay base and the nearby Olongapo City became a US recreation sex land.

“Women and children were sold every day and night for a handful of dollars to drunken, sex-starved US sailors,” Cullen says. “HIV-AIDS, venereal diseases and drug trafficking were commonplace.

“The very wrong saying: ‘What is good for the US serviceman is good for the Filipino’ damaged the moral fabric and Christian beliefs of Filipinos.

“As a result, the sexual exploitation of young women and even children, domestic sexual abuse, human trafficking, and online sexual abuse of children for money are now widespread.

“It all stems from the ‘Poison Seed’ of the US bases and the sex industry that was allowed to thrive.”

Cullen says the local authorities in Olongapo and Subic are striving to maintain high standards. Brothels or sex hotels are not allowed in the Subic Bay Freeport Zone.

But he cautions: “Let is avoid repeating the same old mistake.”

Historic win over Modi’s ‘relentless disharmony’

The first test of strength between PM Narendra Modi’s BJP and Rahul Gandhi’s Congress party since Gandhi was thrown out of parliament in March has brought victory to the opposition party.

Elections last weekend for the parliament of Karnataka, a south-western Indian State, saw Congress win 135 seats in the 224-member house.

A report in The Hindu newspaper’s Frontline magazine said the victory was historic, as no party had won a majority in Assembly elections in the state since 2004.

“The BJP, which won 66 seats this time…will be smarting at this defeat, as the saffron party has lost the only south Indian state in which it has ever come to power,” the story said.

A editor’s note in Frontline said the result showed that the largest opposition party was still alive and capable of kicking.

“But it is even more important because the BJP fought the election purely on divisive terms,” the commentary said. “Congress declared it would shut down people and organisations who spread hatred.

“This was a bold move, given how strongly the narrative of othering has become entrenched… For the past nine years, the BJP has spread the tentacles of disharmony with a relentlessness that has threatened to engulf the entire nation.”

Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post published a detailed “explainer” of the poll.

It recalled Gandhi was ousted from the national parliament after being found guilty of making defamatory remarks about Modi’s family name.

“Congress made the case a big part of its campaign, telling voters that the BJP and Modi were attacking freedom of speech,” the paper said. “Gandhi… also showed a greater desire to win: ahead of the vote he completed a 3,500km (2,170-mile) trek from southern India to the north, presenting himself as a man of the people.”

Thai election winner counts votes for next contest

The fledgling Move Forward Party came out on top in Thailand’s national elections but faces severe obstacles in cementing power by winning the prime ministership (as Pearls and Irritations reported this week).

The biggest hurdle is the need get a majority of votes in a joint-sitting of parliament – winning support from senators appointed by the post-coup military junta.

Thai Enquirer, an independent English-language website spelled out three possible scenarios.

The first was a Move Forward-led progressive government, possible if party leader Pita Limjaroenrat can win the support of 63 senators, to add to the 313 lower house seats in his coalition, giving a bare majority of the 750 votes in a joint sitting.

A tall order, says their article, given that all 250 senators voted for coup-maker Prayut Chan-o-cha in 2019. But it is possible: 64 senators once voted to remove the Senate’s power to vote on the PM.

The second scenario was that the Pheu Thai party, which came second in the election, might form its own coalition if Move Forward fails to win the prime ministership. But this would be a public relations disaster as the party had said several times it would not put together a rival coalition.

The third possibility would be a conservative-led minority government. All the parties in the current government would form a new government. They would get the support of the Senate but would later lose in a lower house no-confidence vote. Most unlikely, Thai Enquirer said.

Bangkok Post said in an editorial that the armed forces could stage a coup from time to time, armed with guns, but that ordinary citizens, armed with mere paper and pens, would send them back to their barracks.

“Sunday’s vote outcome should serve as a reminder for the Thai military that tanks can help a soldier win a battle on the frontline but not in a democratic game,” the paper said.

It called on all senators to respect the wishes of the majority and take part in the selection process in a constructive manner.

“Failure to do so will lead to the Senate being remembered as the destabiliser of the democratic institution it is supposed to promote,” the editorial said.

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