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South Korea’s President Park faces impeachment

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] E [/yt_dropcap] mbattled South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye is facing a pivotal time, possible impeachment , with an effort to impeach her gaining support from within her own party and the heads of the country’s biggest business groups set to give testimony to a parliamentary committee.

The scandal, which has generated huge protests, revolves around Ms Park’s relationship with an old friend, and has brought allegations of cult activities, influence-peddling and leaks of classified information. Ms Park, but has now said it is up to parliament to decide if her term should end early.

Few claims have been off-limits in the media coverage of the scandal, with some reports going as far as suggesting the president is a puppet who hosted shamanist rituals at the presidential compound. But many of the lurid claims are unsubstantiated. The official investigation focuses on Ms Choi’s alleged abuse of her closeness to the president to enrich herself and influence policy, as well as her handling of classified documents.

Park Geun-hye and has said she is prepared to stand down, amid an escalating corruption scandal. Three opposition parties introduced a bill on December 03 to impeach Park, who is accused of abuse of power, putting her in danger of becoming the first democratically elected South Korean leader to leave office early. The heads of nine conglomerates, or chaebol, including Samsung Group’s de facto leader Jay Y. Lee and Hyundai Motor Group Chairman Chung Mong-koo, are scheduled to appear at the inquiry.

President Park is alleged to have been personally involved, instructing Ms Choi and two presidential aides to collect money for the launch of Ms Choi’s foundations, according to prosecution documents submitted to the court. Ms Choi is also accused of having received large numbers of confidential government documents from Ms Park, via an aide. These allegedly included information about ministerial candidates and North Korea.

Ms Choi is also alleged to have used her presidential connections to pressure companies for millions of dollars in donations to two non-profit foundations she controlled. The claims have even swept up Samsung in the investigation. There are even claims Ms Choi took advantage of the president’s wardrobe budget – buying cheap outfits and keeping the change.

On Sunday 20 November, Ms Choi was formally charged with various offences, including abuse of authority, coercion, attempted coercion and attempted fraud. Two former presidential advisers were also charged by prosecutors, who said they thought the president conspired in the wrongdoing.

The allegations are strenuously denied by Ms Park. When she was first questioned in October, Ms Choi said she had committed an “unpardonable crime”, though her lawyer said this was not a legal admission of guilt.

Witnesses have claimed that Ms Choi received briefings and official papers long after that occurred. Documents were also discovered on an unsecured tablet computer found in an old office of Ms Choi’s. But the tone of the president’s pronouncements has changed over time. She began with opaque apologies: “Regardless of what the reason may be, I am sorry that the scandal has caused national concern and I humbly apologize to the people.”

Park has herself admitted some lapses. She says she did consult Ms Choi for advice, and that she helped her edit her speeches, but that this stopped once she had a team of advisers in place. Some days ago, she offered to step down and asked parliament to decide how and when she should leave office. Opposition parties rejected the proposal, calling it a ploy to buy time and avoid being impeached, and vowed to push ahead with impeachment.

The leader has apologized three times over the affair, which started when CNN South Korean affiliate JTBC found evidence that Park confidante Choi Soon-sil had received secret documents on an abandoned tablet device. Choi, who does not hold an official government position, is accused of using her relationship with Park to accumulate millions of dollars in donations to her foundations. Choi is charged with abuse of power, fraud and coercion, and two of Park’s former aides also face criminal charges.

Prosecutors have said they want to speak to Park after naming her as a suspect in the corruption probe. Her attorneys have said she is willing to cooperate, but she said this week she was too busy to meet with prosecutors.

On Saturday, tens of thousands of protesters again took to the streets of Seoul to push for Park’s ouster. A candlelight protest held on the main boulevard facing the presidential offices and residence — known as the Blue House — follows weekly mass demonstrations in the capital and other cities since late October.

The impeachment vote is set for Friday. If successful, it would require the approval of South Korea’s Constitutional Court, a process that experts said would take at least two months. The opposition parties need at least 28 members from Park’s Saenuri Party to secure the two-thirds majority required for the bill to pass. At least 29 of them are believed to be planning to vote for the bill, members of the breakaway faction said. Parliamentary Leader of the main opposition Democratic Party, Woo Sang-ho said, “The chances of the impeachment bill passing on December 9 are 50-50.”

Park’s presidential Blue House aides addressed a parliamentary hearing over the allegation that Park and her friend, Choi Soon-sil, as well as a senior aide to Park, put pressure on conglomerates to pay money to foundations that were set up to promote Park’s policy initiatives. They are expected to be questioned about how they came under pressure from Park and whether they were promised favors in return. Park has denied wrongdoing but has apologized for exercising poor judgment.

The large protest rally on Saturday, which organizers said was the largest yet with 1.7 million participants and followed Park’s third apology last week, as the clearest reason why she should be ousted. Police said the crowd in Seoul reached 320,000 at its peak.

South Korea’s opposition parties said they would vote on a motion to impeach Park. With the impeachment vote looming, breakaway members of the ruling Saenuri Party are instead pushing for Park to announce a timeline to resign, arguing that impeachment then would be unnecessary.,

The nonloyalist members of the Saenuri Party members have vowed that if Park does not confirm her resignation date by that deadline they will vote for impeachment two days later. The three opposition parties have a combined total of 165 out of the 300 legislative seats. A two-thirds majority of 200 votes is required to pass the impeachment motion, so members of Park’s party will be needed to help pass it.

If successful, the motion would then pass to the constitutional court for consideration. Justices have 180 days to decide the case after it is referred to them. In a nationally televised speech last month, Park said she deeply regretted her actions. “I again deeply apologize for causing an immeasurable disappointment and worry,” she said. “All this is my fault, caused by my negligence.” However, since the corruption scandal broke, a survey by Gallup Korea showed Park’s approval ratings dipped into single digits, making her one of South Korea’s least popular leaders since the country became a democracy in the 1980s.

Observations

Embattled President Park Geun-hye faces an ultimatum from her own party: Announce a timeline for her resignation or face possible impeachment. Corruption scandal paralyzes presidency.  

Park does not face the threat of charges because the South Korean Constitution gives immunity to the sitting President.

Park, who’s been dogged by a classified information scandal involving a longtime friend, said earlier this week she would resign if that’s what the National Assembly wants.

Many observers see stepping down as a way for Park to avoid the embarrassment of impeachment as opposition parties look to press ahead next week with a vote to unseat her.

Park stopped short of specifying a date for her resignation, leading some breakaway members of her Saenuri Party to ask her to set a timeline for her departure. Mainstream members of her party have stipulated that she must stand down. Her five-year term is set to end in February 2018.

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East Asia

China’s soft power and its Lunar New Year’s Culture

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Authors: Liu Hui & Humprey A. Russell*

As a common practice, China has celebrated its annual Lunar new year since 1984 when the leaders of the day decided to open mysterious country in a more confident and transparent way. So far, the lunar new year gala has become a part of Chinese cultural life and beyond. The question then arises why China or its people have been so thrilled to exhibit themselves to the world, as its economy has already impressed the world by its rapid pace and tremendous capacity.

As it is well-known, in international relations, peoples from different cultural and ethnical backgrounds need to enhance their understanding which eventually leads to mutual respect and tolerance as the key to the world peace and stability. China is well-aware of this norm. As a rising power with 1.3 billion people, it is necessary for China to introduce its culture and notion of the peaceful rise to the audiences globally. Joseph Nye, Jr., the founder of the concept of the soft power, has argued: “The currency of soft power is culture, political values, and foreign policies. During the information age, credibility is the scarcest resource.”In light of this, China has been steadily involved in cultural promotions abroad.

China is an ancient civilization but diplomatically it is a new global player in terms of its modern involvement into the world affairs, particularly in terms of reform and openness. Yet, since China has aspired to rejuvenate itself as one of the leading powers globally, it is natural for the world en bloc to assume Beijing’s intention and approach to the power transition between the rising power like itself and the ruling powers such as the United States and the G-7 club. Consider this, China has exerted all efforts to project but not propagate its image to the world. Here culture is bound to play the vital role in convincing the countries concerned that “culturally China has no the gene of being a threat to other peoples,” as Chinese President Xi has assured. The annual lunar gala is evidently a useful instrument to demonstrate Chinese people, culture and policies as well.

Culturally speaking, the Chinese New Year celebrations can be seen as follows. In a general sense, similar themes run through all the galas with the local cultural and ethnical ingredients, for instance, Chinese opera, crosstalk and acrobatics, as well as the lion-dancing or the dragon-dancing from time to time. Yes, the galas play the role of promoting the Chinese communities over the world to identify themselves with the Chinese culture which surely strengthen the cultural bonds among the Chinese, in particular the younger generations. Moreover, the dimension of the Chinese culture can be found beyond the country since its neighbors like Japan, Vietnam, South Korea and Malaysia, as well as Chinese communities in many other areas also perform those arts at the holiday seasons. The message here is clear that China, although it is a rising great power, has never abandoned its cultural tradition which has emphasized the harmony among the different races and ethnics.

Recently, the lunar new year celebrations across China have invited professional and amateur artists from all over the world. Those foreign guest artists and many overseas students studying in China have been able to offer their talents in either Chinese or their mother tongues. No doubt, this is a two-way to learn from each other because Chinese performers are benefited from the contacts with their counterparts globally. In terms of public diplomacy, Beijing aims to send a powerful and sincere message to the world: China can’t be in isolation from the world because it has aspired to be a great and inclusive country as well. To that end, the rise of China is not going to challenge the status quo, but will act as one of the stakeholders.

As usual, realists have difficulties and even cultural bias to accept the rhetoric from a country like China since it has been regarded by the ruling powers of the world as an ambitious, assertive and communist-ruled country with its unique culture. To that challenge, the Chinese government and the people have done a great deal of works to successfully illustrate Chinese practice of harmony at the societal level idealized by Confucius’ doctrines. This social harmony is made possible only by the realization of the Taoist ideal of harmony with nature – in this case, harmony between humans and nature. This explains why panda and many other rare animals are now viewed as new national symbol of China. Although they are unnecessarily an indispensable part of the lunar new year gala, the viewpoint is that the rise of China would not be completed at the cost of the ecological environment like many other countries did in history.

Practically speaking, the lunar new year celebrations are being conducted in a rich variety of ways such as concerts, cuisines, folk entertainments and even forums and receptions around the world. Major global commercial centers have also served to create a Chinese holiday atmosphere, adapt to the needs of Chinese tourists, attract active participation from local residents, and provide such diversities of cultural and social events. What is worth mentioning is that some Chinese-North American non-profit, non-partisan organizations are beginning to celebrate Chinese lunar gala in partnership with other local counterparts. For instance, the Chinese Inter-cultural Association based in California, recently hosted a Chinese New Year party in a Persian restaurant in partnership with a local non-profit, non-partisan organization called the Orange County Toastmaster Club, part of Toastmaster International. Also, in another Chinese New Year celebration that was open to people of all races in Pasadena, two Americans played the guitar and sang songs in fluent Chinese! Both galas were attended by people of all racial backgrounds around the world. Given this, it is fair to say that China’s soft power supported by its annual lunar new year festival is on the rise globally with a view to promoting mutual respect and friendship among the peoples of various cultural, ethnical and racial origins.

Yet, though the impressive feats are achieved, it has noted that China still has a long way to go in terms of its twin-centennial dreams. First, as a developing country with its unique culture, it is necessary for China to promote its great ancient culture abroad, but it is also imperative to avoid “introducing” China rashly into the globe. Essentially, soft power is more the ability to attract and co-opt than to use force or give money as a means of persuasion. Thereby, it is the very ability to shape the preferences of others through appeal and attraction. As cross-cultural communication is a long process, Nye admitted a few years ago, in public affairs, “the best propaganda is not propaganda.”

This is the key to all the countries. In 2014,President Xi formally stated, “China should increase its soft power, give a good Chinese narrative, and better communicate its messages to the world.” In light of this, Chinese lunar new year gala surely acts as soft power to project the image of China internationally.

* Humprey A. Russell (Indonesia), PhD candidate in international affairs, SIPA, Jilin University.

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East Asia

China’s step into the maelstrom of the Middle East

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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The Middle East has a knack for sucking external powers into its conflicts. China’s ventures into the region have shown how difficult it is to maintain its principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other states.

China’s abandonment of non-interference is manifested by its (largely ineffective) efforts to mediate conflicts in South Sudan, Syria and Afghanistan as well as between Israel and Palestine and even between Saudi Arabia and Iran. It is even more evident in China’s trashing of its vow not to establish foreign military bases, which became apparent when it established a naval base in Djibouti and when reports surfaced that it intends to use Pakistan’s deep sea port of Gwadar as a military facility.

This contradiction between China’s policy on the ground and its long-standing non-interventionist foreign policy principles means that Beijing often struggles to meet the expectations of Middle Eastern states. It also means that China risks tying itself up in political knots in countries such as Pakistan, which is home to the crown jewel of its Belt and Road Initiative — the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

Middle Eastern autocrats have tried to embrace the Chinese model of economic liberalism coupled with tight political control. They see China’s declared principle of non-interference in the affairs of others for what it is: support for authoritarian rule. The principle of this policy is in effect the same as the decades-old US policy of opting for stability over democracy in the Middle East.

It is now a risky policy for the United States and China to engage in given the region’s post-Arab Spring history with brutal and often violent transitions. If anything, instead of having been ‘stabilised’ by US and Chinese policies, the region is still at the beginning of a transition process that could take up to a quarter of a century to resolve. There is no guarantee that autocrats will emerge as the winners.

China currently appears to have the upper hand against the United States for influence across the greater Middle East, but Chinese policies threaten to make that advantage short-term at best.

Belt and Road Initiative-related projects funded by China have proven to be a double-edged sword. Concerns are mounting in countries like Pakistan that massive Chinese investment could prove to be a debt trap similar to Sri Lanka’s experience.

Chinese back-peddling on several Pakistani infrastructure projects suggests that China is tweaking its approach to the US$50 billion China–Pakistan Economic Corridor. The Chinese rethink was sparked by political volatility caused by Pakistan’s self-serving politics and continued political violence — particularly in the Balochistan province, which is at the heart of CPEC.

China decided to redevelop its criteria for the funding of CPEC’s infrastructure projects in November 2017. This move seemingly amounted to an effort to enhance the Pakistani military’s stake in the country’s economy at a time when they were flexing their muscles in response to political volatility. The decision suggests that China is not averse to shaping the political environment of key countries in its own authoritarian mould.

Similarly, China has been willing to manipulate Pakistan against its adversaries for its own gain. China continues to shield Masoud Azhar (who is believed to have close ties to Pakistani intelligence agencies and military forces) from UN designation as a global terrorist. China does so while Pakistan cracks down on militants in response to a US suspension of aid and a UN Security Council monitoring visit.

Pakistan’s use of militants in its dispute with India over Kashmir serves China’s interest in keeping India off balance — a goal which Beijing sees as worthy despite the fact that Chinese personnel and assets have been the targets of a low-level insurgency in Balochistan. Saudi Arabia is also considering the use of Balochistan as a launching pad to destabilise Iran. By stirring ethnic unrest in Iran, Saudi Arabia will inevitably suck China into the Saudi–Iranian rivalry and sharpen its competition with the United States. Washington backs the Indian-supported port of Chabahar in Iran — a mere 70 kilometres from Gwadar.

China is discovering that it will prove impossible to avoid the pitfalls of the greater Middle East. This is despite the fact that US President Donald Trump and Saudi Arabia’s powerful Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman seem singularly focussed on countering Iran and Islamic militants.

As it navigates the region’s numerous landmines, China is likely to find itself at odds with both the United States and Saudi Arabia. It will at least have a common interest in pursuing political stability at the expense of political change — however much this may violate its stated commitment to non-interference.

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East Asia

Chinese extradition request puts crackdown on Uyghurs in the spotlight

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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A Chinese demand for the extradition of 11 Uyghurs from Malaysia puts the spotlight on China’s roll-out of one of the world’s most intrusive surveillance systems, military moves to prevent Uyghur foreign fighters from returning to Xinjiang, and initial steps to export its security approach to countries like Pakistan.

The 11 were among 25 Uyghurs who escaped from a Thai detention centre in November through a hole in the wall, using blankets to climb to the ground.

The extradition request follows similar deportations of Uyghurs from Thailand and Egypt often with no due process and no immediate evidence that they were militants.

The escapees were among more than 200 Uighurs detained in Thailand in 2014. The Uyghurs claimed they were Turkish nationals and demanded that they be returned to Turkey. Thailand, despite international condemnation, forcibly extradited to China some 100 of the group in July 2015.

Tens of Uyghurs, who were unable to flee to Turkey in time, were detained in Egypt in July and are believed to have also been returned to China. Many of the Uyghurs were students at Al Azhar, one of the foremost institutions of Islamic learning.

China, increasingly concerned that Uyghurs fighters in Syria and Iraq will seek to return to Xinjiang or establish bases across the border in Afghanistan and Tajikistan in the wake of the territorial demise of the Islamic State, has brutally cracked down on the ethnic minority in its strategic north-western province, extended its long arm to the Uyghur Diaspora, and is mulling the establishment of its first land rather than naval foreign military base.

The crackdown appears, at least for now, to put a lid on intermittent attacks in Xinjiang itself. Chinese nationals have instead been targeted in Pakistan, the $50 billion plus crown jewel in China’s Belt and Road initiative that seeks to link Eurasia to the People’s Republic through infrastructure.

The attacks are believed to have been carried out by either Baloch nationalists or militants of the East Turkestan Independence Movement (ETIM), a Uighur separatist group that has aligned itself with the Islamic State.

Various other groups, including the Pakistani Taliban, Al Qaeda and the Islamic State have threatened to attack Chinese nationals in response to the alleged repression of Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

ETIM militants were believed to have been responsible for the bombing in August 2015 of Bangkok’s Erawan shrine that killed 20 people as retaliation for the forced repatriation of Uighurs a month earlier.

The Chinese embassy in Islamabad warned in December of possible attacks targeting “Chinese-invested organizations and Chinese citizens” in Pakistan

China’s ambassador, Yao Jing, advised the Pakistani interior ministry two months earlier that Abdul Wali, an alleged ETIM assassin, had entered the country and was likely to attack Chinese targets

China has refused to recognize ethnic aspirations of Uyghurs, a Turkic group, and approached it as a problem of Islamic militancy. Thousands of Uyghurs are believed to have joined militants in Syria, while hundreds or thousands more have sought to make their way through Southeast Asia to Turkey.

To counter ethnic and religious aspirations, China has introduced what must be the world’s most intrusive surveillance system using algorithms. Streets in Xinjiang’s cities and villages are pockmarked by cameras; police stations every 500 metres dot roads in major cities; public buildings resemble fortresses; and authorities use facial recognition and body scanners at highway checkpoints.

The government, in what has the makings of a re-education program, has opened boarding schools “for local children to spend their entire week in a Chinese-speaking environment, and then only going home to parents on the weekends,” according to China scholar David Brophy. Adult Uyghurs, who have stuck to their Turkic language, have been ordered to study Chinese at night schools.

Nightly television programs feature oath-swearing ceremonies,” in which participants pledge to root out “two-faced people,” the term used for Uyghur Communist Party members who are believed to be not fully devoted to Chinese policy.

The measures in Xinjiang go beyond an Orwellian citizen scoring system that is being introduced that scores a person’s political trustworthiness. The system would determine what benefits a citizen is entitled to, including access to credit, high speed internet service and fast-tracked visas for travel based on data garnered from social media and online shopping data as well as scanning of irises and content on mobile phones at random police checks.

Elements of the system are poised for export. A long-term Chinese plan for China’s investment in Pakistan, dubbed the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), envisioned creating a system of monitoring and surveillance in Pakistani cities to ensure law and order.

The system envisions deployment of explosive detectors and scanners to “cover major roads, case-prone areas and crowded places…in urban areas to conduct real-time monitoring and 24-hour video recording.”

A national fibre optic backbone would be built for internet traffic as well as the terrestrial distribution of broadcast media. Pakistani media would cooperate with their Chinese counterparts in the “dissemination of Chinese culture.”

The plan described the backbone as a “cultural transmission carrier” that would serve to “further enhance mutual understanding between the two peoples and the traditional friendship between the two countries.”

The measures were designed to address the risks to CPEC that the plan identified as “Pakistani politics, such as competing parties, religion, tribes, terrorists, and Western intervention” as well as security. “The security situation is the worst in recent years,” the plan said.

At the same time, China, despite official denials, is building, according to Afghan security officials, a military base for the Afghan military that would give the People’s Republic a presence in Badakhshan, the remote panhandle of Afghanistan that borders China and Tajikistan.

Chinese military personnel have reportedly been in the mountainous Wakhan Corridor, a narrow strip of territory in north-eastern Afghanistan that extends to China and separates Tajikistan from Pakistan since March last year.

The importance China attributes to protecting itself against Uyghur militancy and extending its protective shield beyond its borders was reflected in the recent appointment as its ambassador to Afghanistan, Liu Jinsong, who was raised in Xinjiang and served as a director of the Belt and Road initiative’s $15 billion Silk Road Fund.

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