| Taiwan's Turbulent Straits

Taiwan and China have engaged in a new round of verbal sparring aggravated by Beijing's announcement of increased defense spending and Taipei's latest call for independence. China said it would increase military spending (LAT) by 18 percent, lifting its defense budget to $45 billion. The announcement came less than two months after a controversial anti-satellite test and coincided with a visit by U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, who called for greater transparency in China's military spending. Beijing, in turn, raised opposition to Washington's plans to sell some $400 million in weapons to Taiwan. Negroponte countered that the weapons “would be for strictly defensive purposes” (IHT). But the proposed arms deal comes as Taiwan reveals it conducted a February test of a cruise missile capable of hitting mainland China (Stratfor).

Read the full text. | India’s Internal Terror Troubles

While Kashmir and al-Qaeda-linked terrorism garner front-page play around the world, India's own internal terrorism problem tends to be off the radar of most American news outlets—or, at best, warranting a postage-stamp-sized wire story (NYT) buried at the bottom of an inside page. Yet terrorism-related deaths in the contested territory of Jammu and Kashmir dropped threefold since 2002, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal report. Violence related to Maoist extremism in India, however, defies New Delhi’s counterterrorism efforts. In April 2006, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called the leftist insurgency “the single biggest internal security challenge ever faced by our country.” A new Backgrounder on terrorism in India explores the Maoist insurgency.

Read the full text. | Pakistan’s Uneven Push for Women

The women’s rights movement in Pakistan suffered a blow (Australian) when a religious extremist recently shot and killed cabinet minister Zilla Huma Usman as she prepared to address a public meeting without a veil covering her face. A prominent rights activist, Usman had previously drawn the ire of conservative Muslims when she helped organize a mixed-gender marathon. Her assassination came within days of Pakistan’s Women’s Rights Day, as well as the proposal of the new Prevention of Anti-Women Practices Bill, which outlaws forced marriages (Daily Times) and strengthens women's right to inheritance. 

Read the full text. | Cheney Presses Pakistan

Vice President Dick Cheney made a surprise stop in Islamabad to deliver a stern warning (NYT) to President Pervez Musharraf that Washington may reduce aid to Islamabad if he does not take a more offensive approach toward terrorists that have allegedly sought refuge close to the Afghan border. President Bush’s new budget includes $300 million in military aid to Pakistan to support counterterrorism activities and stop cross border raids into Afghanistan. The U.S. Congress has threatened to cut the military funding (CSMonitor) if Islamabad does not take a more aggressive approach toward controlling militants within Pakistan. The new pressure marks a change in tone from just last year, when Bush referred to Musharraf as “my buddy.” After Cheney’s brief visit, Pakistan’s foreign office responded pointedly, saying Islamabad does not take orders (The News) on how it handles counterterrorism efforts.

Read the full text. | The Final Frontier for Weapons

China’s decision in January to blast one of its own aging weather satellites out of orbit using a ballistic missile drew global criticism. The explosion left large amounts of dangerous debris in orbit (Defense News) that could damage any of more than three hundred other satellites in orbit, and raised doubts over China’s claims that it plans a “peaceful rise” (Times of London). But the chief concern was that the blast could lead to a space arms race.

Read the full story. | Backgrounder: China’s Anti-Satellite Test

China caused an international uproar in January when it destroyed one of its own satellites, an action that left hundreds of pieces of dangerous debris in space and led to alarm over the possibility of a space arms race. A month later, Beijing announced it plans no further similar tests, but the January 11 test had already established the growing prowess of China's space program as well as its capability to protect itself from satellite surveillance in the event of war. Despite immediate global demands for an explanation for the test, China waited several days before releasing an official response, prompting questions about its goals and just how soft China's “soft rise” policy may be.

Read the full text. | China’s Olympian Challenges

When China won the bid to host the 2008 summer Olympics, it pledged to address environmental concerns, human rights grievances, and restrictive press laws. International Olympics Committee inspectors gave Beijing high marks when they held their first review (Reuters) of the city’s preparations in mid-January. 

Read the full text. | Esarey: China's New Media Laws An “Experiment”

Ashley W. Esarey, a China media expert and author of a Freedom House report on Chinese press censorship, discusses the new regulations giving foreign journalists press freedoms through the end of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. He calls the new laws an “experiment” by the Communist Party and says the press freedoms may become permanent unless they “lead Chinese journalists to call for more freedom themselves.”

Access the podcast at | Bird Flu Season Again

In late January came another reminder of the sturdiness of avian flu. Britain was hit by its first major outbreak in domestic poultry when 2,600 turkeys died (Times of London) at a farm run by one the country’s biggest producers. Roughly 160,000 birds were gassed to contain the disease while authorities sought answers about the source. Although the spread of bird flu can often be traced to migrating wild waterfowl, the British outbreak is likely linked to a poultry plant in Hungary owned by the same company, according to the UK’s Department for Food, Environment, and Rural Affairs.

Read full text. | Asian Military Drift

Four months after promising power would be “returned to the people,” leaders of a military coup in Thailand remain in charge, with half the country under martial law. Talk of a coup is also in the air in Bangladesh, amid a political crisis (The Economist). In Sri Lanka, the revival of the country’s lengthy civil war has raised the prominence of military voices on its political scene.

Read the full text. | Crisis Guide: The Korean Peninsula

Over half a century since Korean War's end, conflict persists on the peninsula. Explore the military, economic, and nuclear dimensions of this frozen conflict.

Served as writer/producer.

This interactive helped win a 2007 Knight-Batten for Innovations in Journalism for its for its Crisis Guide Series.

Access this interactive crisis guide. | U.S.-North Korea: Behind Closed Doors

While attention focused on the Bush administration’s new Iraq war plan in recent weeks, the White House strategy shifted significantly on another foreign policy conundrum: North Korea’s nuclear program. presents an in-depth, multimedia look at the standoff on the Korean peninsula in this new Crisis Guide.

Read the full text. | Kux: Musharraf Has Little Control of Border with Afghanistan

Ambassador Dennis Kux, a senior policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Asia program and former Foreign Service South Asia specialist, discusses the porous border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Under international pressure to control the Taliban and other extremists from making cross-border raids into Afghanistan, the government of President Pervez Musharraf recently proposed mining and fencing the border. Kux says the idea is not a viable solution and that the Pakistanis cannot stop “individuals going across what has long been an open border.” He also says that the Pakistani intelligence agency’s longtime links to militant groups as well as sympathy for the Taliban in tribal areas near the border serve as obstacles to stopping incursions into Afghanistan.

Access the podcast at | Rising Moon atop the UN

New UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was known as “slippery eel” by journalists in his native South Korea for avoiding direct answers to difficult questions. But Ban landed himself in hot water on his first day at work over comments during a UN press conference about Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s execution last week. Asked whether Saddam should have been hanged, Ban departed from traditional UN opposition to the practice by saying: “The issue of capital punishment is for each and every member state to decide.”

Read the full text. | Ford’s Impact on Foreign Policy

America honored Gerald R. Ford Jr., the thirty-eighth U.S. president, with a state funeral on Tuesday, a man credited by presidents past and current for helping shepherd the country through the aftermath of the Watergate scandal. Ford is remembered most for his pardon of predecessor Richard M. Nixon, but his two-and-a-half years as president were also marked by some significant foreign policy developments.

Read the full text. | Probing U.S. Global AIDS Policy

Four years after President Bush launched an ambitious plan to address the global HIV/AIDS crisis, the program’s policies will now face ideological scrutiny. The five-year, $15 billion President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), supports prevention, treatment, and care for the dying and for orphans. The plan requires spending at least a third of prevention funds on abstinence-until-marriage programs—a stipulation that set off a policy debate (PBS). But November’s Democratic congressional victory could spell changes in PEPFAR’s abstinence-until-marriage policy by elevating the chances for passage of the Pathway Bill, sponsored by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA). The bill would revise current practice by focusing more on preventing the spread of AIDS among women and girls, and would remove the abstinence-only spending limitations (BosGlobe). AVERT, an international AIDS prevention agency, offers this statistical analysis of PEPFAR policies.

Read the full text | Which Way Will Turkmen Gas Flow?

Peculiarities marked the career of Saparmurat Niyazov, the hard-line dictator who ruled Turkmenistan for twenty-one years until his unexpected death on December 21 (AP). Even as nearly 60 percent of this gas-rich, largely Muslim Central Asian country lived in poverty, Niyazov funded lavish projects (Guardian), including an ice palace outside the capital, Ashgabat, and a manmade lake in the middle of a desert. But the self-obsessed Niyazov, architect of one of the world’s most bizarre personality cults, failed to name a successor. This raises questions about the prospects of a reprieve for the country’s beleaguered citizens, and leaves in doubt Europe’s energy security (FT).

Read the full text. | Dim Prospects for Six-Party Deal

As Six-Party Talks resumed in Beijing on December 18, North Korea maintained its defiance (Korea Times), going so far as to demand mutual disarmament talks with the United States. But Pyongyang's real objective, which its delegates have made a precondition for any other negotiations, is the lifting of U.S. financial sanctions (Asia Times). On Tuesday, finance officials from both countries met on the sidelines to discuss the U.S. restrictions (BBC), including those imposed on a Macao-based bank linked to North Korean money laundering. Ahead of the meeting, Christopher Hill, the State Department’s point man on North Korea, said he hoped for “significant progress” in the first round, though experts say that is unlikely. 

Read the full text. | Wary Peace in Indonesia’s Aceh

More than a year has passed since the Aceh peace agreement ended three decades of bloodshed that claimed some 15,000 lives. In the wake of the devastating 2004 tsunami, leaders of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) agreed to hand in their weapons and halt their demands for independence for the resource-rich Indonesian province. In return, Jakarta strengthened Aceh’s autonomy, solidified last week in local gubernatorial elections in which former rebel spokesman Irwandi Yusuf came away ahead in the polls (TIME).

Read the full text. | On Trade, A Superpower Summit

A high-profile delegation led by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, five other cabinet members, and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke applied for trade relief in Beijing this week, a stark reminder for Americans of how the world has changed. Along with the Sino-U.S. trade imbalance, talks tackled China’s undervalued currency, intellectual property rights, and American hopes of opening up (China Daily) the Chinese market to foreign investors. The first semiannual Sino-U.S. economic summit was part of the “strategic economic dialogue” launched by Presidents Bush and Hu Jintao in September. Writing in the Washington Post, Paulson called the summit a “pivotal moment for China and for our relationship with that country.” But the trip yielded few signs of concrete progress. China agreed to allow the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq open offices in Beijing, but there was no agreement on letting the yuan appreciate. "We have a point of view that there's more risk in going too slowly than there is in going too fast, and the Chinese see that differently," (Reuters) Paulson said at the summit's close. This Backgrounder examines the major issues—trade imbalance, currency concerns, protectionism, and intellectual property—dogging the Sino-U.S. economic relationship.

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