UNIFIL Mandate Renewed Amid Continuing Concerns and Qualified Support from Security Council

September 18, 2018

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Photo: Dutch UNIFIL base, 1981

Edward M. Gabriel (Morocco, 1997-2001) and Jean AbiNader

On August 30th the UN Security Council renewed the mandate of the UN Interim Force In Lebanon (UNIFIL) for a year. UN Security Council members expressed serious concerns, according to VOANews.com, “that violations of the cease-fire agreement between Lebanon and Israel could lead to a new conflict and urged international support for Lebanon’s armed forces and their stepped up deployment in the south and at sea.”

Rodney Hunter, the USUN Mission’s political coordinator, told the UN Security Council during its meeting that twelve years after the council imposed an arms embargo “it is unacceptable that Hezbollah continues to flout this embargo, Lebanon’s sovereignty, and the will of the majority of Lebanese people.”

The centerpiece of UNIFIL’s mandate is UNSC Resolution 1701, which limits the flow of arms into the southern region of Lebanon, provides for routine meetings between the Israeli Defense Forces and the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) brokered by UNIFIL (the only direct contact between Lebanon and Israel), calls for disarming the area south of the Litani River, and assists the LAF forces in providing security throughout south Lebanon. Read the rest of this entry »

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China is stealing American intellectual property. Trump’s tariffs are a chance to stop it

September 17, 2018

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Curtis S. Chin (Asian Development Bank, 2007-2010) and Charlene L. Fu

Cross posted from Los Angeles Times

A U.S.-China tariff war is sure to produce very real economic consequences, and political fallout, in both nations. It also presents an opportunity to reexamine the trade relationship between the world’s two largest economies and perhaps set a new course that would address some of the elephant-in-the-room issues of China’s trade practices.

Whatever else one might think of President Trump’s actions, he is confronting China about its unfair trade practices and theft of American intellectual property when too many others shy away from the truth for fear of Chinese reprisal.

This summer Trump imposed 25% tariffs on a total of $50 billion worth of Chinese goods, and Beijing retaliated. Trump is now considering adding more Chinese products — at least $200 billion worth — to that list. The response in the U.S. has been stock market volatility and hand-wringing about rising manufacturing costs and consumer prices. Read the rest of this entry »

Asia’s Polluted Skies: from Challenge to Opportunity

September 10, 2018

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Curtis S. Chin (Asian Development Bank, 2007-2010)

Cross posted from LinkedIn

BANGKOK – Every year and throughout the year, pollution increasingly takes its toll across Asia. But there is also hope and opportunity as evolving Asian consumer behavior and activism further encourages the transition away from a focus on “development at any cost.” As the Milken Institute Asia Summit #MIGlobal 2018 convenes in Singapore, this trend should be front and center.

Governments and businesses must recognize that there are ways to better align short-term economic interests with the longer-term goal of ending the rampant pollution that too much of the increasingly urbanized Indo-Pacific region is known for.

I see this in my own work with impact investors and start-ups, including through serving on the advisory board of Equator Pure Nature, a Thailand-based “cleantech” company that produces, markets and sells a line of natural, environment-friendly, biodegradable household cleaning products under the brand name Pipper Standard.

With growing numbers of consumers in Asia concerned about the impact of polluted skies and water on them and their children, the trend toward healthier products that began in Europe and the United States has come to the Indo-Pacific region. It is time for all Asia to transition to a more sustainable approach to development—and put an end to the rampant pollution that all too often helps ensure hashtags #smogageddon and #airpocalypse end up trending on social media each year. Read the rest of this entry »

Uganda’s Bobi Wine Brings Attention to Museveni’s Repressive Politics

September 5, 2018

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Michelle Gavin (Botswana, 2011-2014)

Cross posted from Council on Foreign Relations

Recent events have shone an international spotlight on Uganda, where the government’s treatment of parliamentarian and musician Robert Kyagulanyi, better known by his stage name, Bobi Wine, is bringing new attention to the repressive nature of Ugandan politics, and new energy to those resisting the status quo. He recently arrived in the United States to seek medical treatment for injuries allegedly sustained while in government custody.

A by-election held on August 15 in volatile northwestern Uganda to replace a member of parliament who had been assassinated in June triggered the current crisis. Campaigning had been contentious, and Ugandan authorities deployed a heavy security presence to the area in the immediate preelection period. President Museveni traveled to the region to support the ruling party candidate, while Kyagulanyi and others were in the area to stump for their preferred choices. On August 13, rock-throwing demonstrators triggered a violent reaction from security forces, leading to beatings, the fatal shooting of Kyagulanyi’s driver, and the arrest of Kyagulanyi and other opposition figures.

Thus far, the case does not inspire great confidence in the Ugandan judicial system. First, Kyagulanyi and others were charged by a military tribunal with illegal possession of weapons. Their court appearances have been harrowing, as many appear to have been mistreated in detention, a charge the government denies. When the military charges were dropped, they were immediately replaced by charges of treason in civilian court. Within Uganda, demonstrations and riots erupted in protest, and journalists covering them have been beaten along with participants. While Kyagulanyi and others were granted bail on August 27, they remain in legal jeopardy. Read the rest of this entry »

Oh, Canada!

August 31, 2018

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Antonio Garza (Mexico, 2002-2009)

Cross posted from Ambassador Garza’s website

On Monday—just over one year since Mexico, Canada, and the United States officially began the NAFTA renegotiations—President Donald Trump announced the “The United States – Mexico Trade Agreement.”

During an impromptu press conference in the Oval Office, Mexican and U.S. officials declared that they had finally moved beyond the thorniest issues including auto content and Mexico’s energy sector and come to a “trade understanding”. It is undoubtedly a leap forward in the negotiations, but it might be wise to hold off on any immediate celebrations.

The most pressing challenge is now Canada’s participation. The Monday press conference had a solidly bilateral focus, with Canada almost completely absent from the festivities. Worse, when the country made an appearance, it was as part of a U.S. threat to push for separate deals. Mexico, on the other hand, sent mixed messages on Canada’s involvement. Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto repeatedly called for Canada to be re-incorporated into the negotiations, but Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray simultaneously suggested that Mexico may be willing to move forward alone. Read the rest of this entry »

Thailand’s Cryptocurrency Scandal must not Derail Fintech Momentum

August 30, 2018

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Curtis S. Chin (Asian Development Bank, 2007-2010)

Cross posted from The Nation

The daily media headlines covering the latest Bitcoin scandal to hit Southeast Asia read like a Hollywood script. Indeed a local actor nicknamed “Boom” is now part of the mix. As this story unfolds and governments respond, it is important that the further development and application of financial innovations in the region not be unintentionally undercut.

This time, Asean’s second biggest nation as measured by GDP, Thailand, unfortunately plays a starring role in the latest cryptocurrency scandal.

According to local media reports, an investor in the Stock Exchange of Thailand and staff at up to three Thai banks may well have been complicit in a US$24-million scandal involving a businessman from Finland, a Macau casino and a cryptocurrency called Dragon Coin.

Described by media as an early investor in Bitcoin who made millions from his ventures, the Finnish national Aarni Otava Saarimaa is said to have lost more than 5,500 bitcoins in a well-orchestrated scam. The crypto-millionaire has told Thailand investigators that he was duped into sending bitcoin to Thai nationals for reinvestment, to include purchase of Dragon Coin, a cryptocurrency that would be used at a casino in Macau – a special administrative region of China. Read the rest of this entry »

The United States Should Push for a Genuine Democratic Transition in Zimbabwe

August 23, 2018

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Michelle Gavin (Botswana, 2011-2014)

Cross posted from The Washington Post

Michelle Gavin, formerly President Barack Obama’s senior Africa director at the National Security Council and U.S. ambassador to Botswana, is senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. Todd Moss, formerly deputy assistant secretary of state for Africa, is a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development. Alexander Noyes is a senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The authors were part of a preelection assessment mission to Zimbabwe.

For Zimbabwe’s long-ruling party, the July 30 election was intended to legitimize President Emmerson Mnangagwa, ushering in a new era of global investment into a perilously fragile economy. In the wake of a deeply flawed contest, whether that effort is successful might rest with the international community. While Mnangagwa and his challenger Nelson Chamisa are currently battling in court over the final results, a debate is underway in Washington over how to respond.

Regardless of the court ruling, the verdict is already in: Mnangagwa is no reformer and no longer deserves any benefit of the doubt. Instead, the preelection environment, the management of the vote, and the post-election violence all show why Washington must maintain pressure for a truly democratic transition.

Read the rest of this entry »

U.S.-Russia Cooperation Could Ensure Safer Repatriation of Syrian Refugees

August 21, 2018

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Edward M. Gabriel (Morocco, 1997-2001)

Cross posted from The Hill

As American policymakers begin to learn more details about the summit between Presidents Trump and Putin in Helsinki, a proposal has emerged to jointly collaborate on a humanitarian plan to address the massive Syrian refugee problem.

The Russians signaled that they would like to work with the Americans in drawing up a joint action plan to bring Syrian refugees back to the homes they fled before the civil war broke out in 2011. “The active advancement in this direction has been helped by the agreements reached by the presidents of Russia and the United States during the summit in Helsinki,” Mikhail Mizintsev, a Russian ministry official, was quoted by TASS as saying. Mizintsev said preliminary assessments indicate 890,000 refugees soon could return to Syria from Lebanon, 300,000 from Turkey and 200,000 from European Union countries.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirmed such a discussion, saying, “There was a discussion between President Trump and President Putin about the resolution in Syria and how we might get the refugees back.” The United Nations, however, is hesitant to declare Syria safe for the refugees to return. The United States rightly agrees, and is cautious about fully embracing any plan until it has some guarantee of the safety of returning Syrians. Read the rest of this entry »

In Trade War, U.S. has Economic Edge, but China has Political Advantage

August 17, 2018

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C. Donald Johnson (Office of the United States Trade Representative, 1998-2000)

Cross posted from The Hill

Over the past few months, President Trump has threatened punitive tariff increases — effectively economic declarations of war — with all of our major trading partners.

From one week to the next, no one — including the often conflicting senior officials within his administration — has been certain which country or countries would be among the president’s targets.

After recently calling the European Union a “foe,” he has, for now at least, agreed to a vague commitment to settle his differences with the EU. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) renegotiations with Mexico and Canada seem a bit more promising now but remain in a similarly uncertain state.

With China, the United States’ largest trading partner and its third-largest export market, we are now engaged in the first stages of a full-fledged trade war. Both countries — representing the two largest economies in the world — are destined for damage if this war lasts very long. Read the rest of this entry »

Trump Trade Policy Isolates US as World Moves on Without it

August 17, 2018

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Richard Holwill (Ecuador, 1988-1999)

Cross posted from The Hill

The United States has a trade problem; we buy more goods than we sell to foreign nations. President Trump contends that our trading partners treat us “unfairly.” This is a misperception of the problem. The issue is not that our trading partners treat the U.S. unfairly, they just treat other countries better.

They do so through a network of so-called free-trade agreements (FTAs). That term disguises the actual effect of the FTAs, which has little to do with free trade. They should be called “preferential-trade agreements.”

Through these agreements, the parties offer each other tariff levels lower than those charged to parties outside of the agreement. Most of these agreements also deal with non-tariff barriers, establish mutual-recognition agreements for regulated products and establish procedures for conflict resolution. Read the rest of this entry »