sunset from behind the wire

sunset from behind the wire

Friday, October 12, 2018

Friday Follies

I watched a movie on Amazon Prime last night and it said that there were "adult situations". Funny, there wasn't anyone working to make a living, struggling to pay bills, being disrespected, trying to clean up after their children, etc. Things have been busy for me, so it's been slower blogging. There hasn't been much time to do anything but try and please clients who pay the bills and deal with the final phases of this, the White Wolf Mine Project.

China is struggling with the US intention to not let them screw us in trade anymore. It all seems so unfair to the celestials in the Middle Kingdom. One big issue for them is that workers have expectations of continually rising wages and standards of living and it's unrealistic. The Chinese are planning for a post-Trump USA where they can take advantage of America again. I hear this time and time again and my message to them is that the genie is out of the bottle, and no matter how many bribes they pay, it's unlikely to be stuffed back in - even if Slow Joe Biden or Poke-a-haunt-us take the presidency in 2020 - which is unlikely.

China's Belt Road Initiative is the cornerstone of their plans for an economically abundant future. However, things are not particularly hopeful there either. Sierra Leone has joined Malaysia and Pakistan in scaling back some projects. Sierra Leone has canceled plans to build a $318 million airport outside the capital of Freetown with a Chinese company and funded by Chinese loans. The Minister of Transport and Aviation Kabineh Kallon said that the project wasn't necessary and the country's current international airport would be renovated instead.

Sierra Leone is the first African government to cancel an already announced Belt and Road Initiative project. Essentially, the Chinese wanted them to build a new airport in a place where there is very little need for it.

This week, the Malaysian government freed 11 ethnic ChineseUighur Muslims from prison who fled to Malaysia after breaking out of a jail in Thailand last year. The Chinese requested their extradition, but the Kuala Lumpur government sent them to Turkey. Prosecutors in Malaysia dropped charges against the Uighurs on humanitarian grounds and they arrived in Turkey after departing Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday.

Background: In 2014 Thailand captured some 200 Uighurs after a cell of Uighurs attacked passengers at Kunming Railroad Station in south China. 
The men escaped the Thai jail in November 2017 and fled to Malaysia, whose state religion is Islam. They were captured in Malaysia. Prior to the general elections in May, the Malaysian government routinely extradited Uighur Muslims to China on request. Relations with China have become less cordial since the upset election victory of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad’s party, Alliance of Hope (PH). 
This is the second recent action by the PH government to cross China. Shortly after taking office, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad canceled more than $20 billion worth of projects awarded to Chinese companies. He said they were too expensive and not practical.  
Malaysia also opposes China’s assertion of sovereignty over most of the South China Sea. Malaysia claims to seabed rights off Borneo overlap China’s claims. Malaysia also claims 12 reefs, shoals and islands in the Spratly Islands.
These are not large setbacks to the Belt and Road Initiative, but they are setbacks. The Sierra Leone airport, the huge port and recreation complex in Malaysia and the railroad project in Pakistan are impractical or too expensive. 

As for the Uighurs, Malaysia’s change in practice risks significant strain in relations with China. As an Islamic state, Malaysia is sympathetic to the Uighurs, who are Sunni Muslims. China is systematically suppressing all Islamic observances in western China. 

US Policy Shifts in Syria are not reported by the mainstream media in the US, but things are moving subtly. I report these things here just to keep the dozen or so interested blog readers who drift by up to date.

The Syrian Kurds remain in Manbij. Turkish President Erdogan said that the agreement between Turkey and the US regarding Manbij had been delayed but is “not completely dead.” He added that “US Secretary of State Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mattis say they will take concrete steps.”

Commentary: President Erdogan said at least six times this year that the Syrian Kurds had departed Manbij and returned east of the Euphrates River. With extensive US assistance, the Syrian Kurds liberated Manbij from the Islamic State and attempted to linkup with Syrian Kurds in Afrin Canton, until Turkish forces and proxies intervened. The Syrian Kurds were the only group willing and able to defeat the Islamic State forces. Under pressure from Turkey, the US appeared to be abandoning them.

The US supposedly had agreed to their relocation last spring to placate Erdogan’s obsession that the Syrian Kurdish militia, the YPG, was anti-Turkey and communist. Joint US and Turkish military patrols supposedly began in late spring in Manbij. The Turks posted images of the joint patrols.

This week, however, Turkey announced that US military personnel had just now begun training in Turkey for starting the joint patrols. The earlier reporting was perception management.

As recently as July, US policy backed the Turks and the US was seen as preparing the Kurdish militia to return east of the Euphrates because the US was drawing down its support. In July, the US also appeared reconciled to the continuing tenure of Syrian President Assad. That changed during the summer. The justification for the US presence had been to defeat of the Islamic State terrorists. US forces would remain until that defeat was permanent, according to the US Secretary of Defense, then they would leave.

US forces are not leaving. Field reports of new camp or base construction and of new convoys of equipment and weapons deliveries for US and US-proxy forces east of the Euphrates leaked. Then came the public statements of new reasons US forces were not leaving Syria. The new justification was that US forces would not leave until Iran withdrew all its soldiers and advisors and all Iranian-supported militias, such as Hizballah. 

On 11 October, US Secretary of State Pompeo, said that the US supported a political settlement in Syria but US forces would remain until all Iranian and Iranian-supported left Syria. The US policy concerning a political settlement has returned to the position of the prior US administration that President Assad cannot be part of a political settlement. The Secretary said that circumstances change. The most immediate beneficiaries of the change in policy are two: the Israelis and the Syrian Kurds. The Syrian Kurds are likely to remain in Manbij, although the deal is not “completely dead.”