Thursday, 28 November 2013

US flyover in China-Japan island row: Will the real provocateur please stand up?

Washington’s move to fly nuclear-capable bombers over China’s eastern air defense zone as a forceful endorsement of Japan’s claims over disputed islands is both needlessly confrontational and totally counterproductive.

The territorial dispute over an uninhabited chain of islands in the East China Sea – referred to as the Senkaku Islands by Japan and the Diaoyu Islands by China – has been a highly contentious issue in Sino-Japanese relations for decades, and the issue has resurfaced in recent times as both sides assert their sovereignty over the area.

Mass protests were seen in China targeting Japan’s embassy and Japanese products, shops and restaurants when Tokyo’s far-right former Governor Shintaro Ishihara called on Japan to use public money to buy the islands from private Japanese owners in 2012.

The issue stirs passions in Chinese society because Tokyo’s claims are seen as an extension of the brutal legacy of the Japanese occupation and a direct challenge to strong historical evidence that has legitimized Chinese sovereignty over the area since ancient times.

Moreover, the official stance of the government in Beijing is that Japan’s invalid claims over the islands were facilitated and legitimized by a backdoor-deal between Tokyo and Washington that directly challenges international law and post-World War II international treaties.

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Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He can be reached at

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Iran & P5+1: Will hardline spin doctors look to derail deal?

The deal on Iran's nuclear program is promising, but differences among the parties threaten the fragile pact. Israel and members of Congress call for more pressure, and Saudi Arabia signals nuclear ambitions in response to changing geopolitical climes.

The agreement clinched in Geneva between Iran and major world powers is the Obama administration’s most significant diplomatic achievement, and though ‘all options’ remain on the table officially, cooler heads in Washington and Tehran have both understood that even a modest deal is preferable to maintaining the status quo.

The US and Iran have different interpretations of the agreement and its impact on the right to enrich uranium in the long term. Though the current six-month interim agreement technically allows uranium enrichment to continue at 5 percent, Iranian FM Javad Zarif believes that a comprehensive deal eventually brokered after the current pact will fully accept Iran’s uranium enrichment process within the bounds of international law, while at the same time lifting all the sanctions that have crippled the Iranian economy.

On the other hand, Secretary of State John Kerry maintains – with maximum condescension – that “there will be a negotiation over whether or not they could have a very limited, completely verifiable, extraordinarily constrained program, where they might have some medical research or other things they can do, but there is no inherent right to enrich.”

The carefully-worded presentation of the pact – delivered by Obama and Kerry with trademark arrogance – was intended to ease the concerns of US hawks, Saudi spinsters, and Israeli belligerents as diplomats unveiled the most significant agreement between Washington and Tehran since the 1979 Iranian Islamic Revolution.

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Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He can be reached at

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Bloodletting in Beirut: Iranian embassy bombing brings Islamic cold war to Lebanese soil

The double suicide bombing targeting the Iranian embassy in a Shiite district of southern Beirut is directly linked to the Syrian conflict and the external sponsors of fundamentalist militias losing ground to Assad’s forces.

The brutal attack on the morning of November 19 was carried out by a motorcyclist who detonated himself near the Iranian diplomatic compound, attempting to breach the walls to make way for another man in a car who attempted to drive as close to the embassy building as possible before detonating his device. The attackers failed to substantially damage the embassy, but the double-tap bombing took the lives of two dozen bystanders and first responders, while injuring over a hundred more.

These tactics directly reflect the methods used by Al-Qaeda against Shiite communities throughout Iraq in the worsening terror campaign raging between Sunnis and Shiites. For the first time, Iranian diplomats were targeted on Lebanese soil, and the attack undoubtedly represents deteriorating relations between Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia, the latter serving as the principle financier and arms supplier of the hardline Salafist militias fighting to topple the Syrian government, but losing.

The use of Iraqi-style terror tactics on Lebanese soil could be interpreted by some as a spillover from worsening fighting and lawlessness in Syria, but it is more accurately a measure taken by Salafist fighters in response to strategic victories by Assad’s forces, who have the upper hand and are quickly reconsolidating power.

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Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He can be reached at

Friday, 15 November 2013

TPP: From corporation personhood to corporate nationhood

The secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement is the Obama administration’s bid to perpetuate US hegemony in Asia and lay the groundwork for a Pacific century led by American corporate and military muscle.

Although proponents of the TPP may claim that its focus is to help the economies of signatory countries create comprehensive market access, eliminate barriers to trade, improve labor rights and encourage environmental protection, every indication suggests that the wide-ranging agreement intends to maximize dramatically corporate revenues at the expense of public health and safety, civil liberties and national sovereignty.

While the significant majority of the draft text remains inaccessible and shielded from public scrutiny due to draconian non-disclosure agreements, leaks made available by courageous individuals via WikiLeaks indicate that this trade deal intends to champion corporate rights and blur the divisions between governments and multinationals. In essence, the stipulations of the trade deal would make governments – including their national laws to regulate public and environmental health – subservient to corporations and their maximization of profits.

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Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He can be reached at

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Yemen’s got 99 problems, but a drone ain’t one

As Yemen faces a widely popular secessionist movement in the south, an entrenched Shiite rebel movement in the north, and a scattered Al-Qaeda insurgency campaign roused by US drone strikes, the state is effectively being pulled apart at the seams.

The central government in Sana’a is desperately weak and commands little authority outside the capital. Militant groups, rebels, and tribes seized the opportunity to embolden themselves, following the drawn-out resignation of strongman, Ali Abdullah Saleh, in 2011. The ancient capital, one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited cities, is rife with bullet holes, damaged infrastructure, and rubble from past explosions and fires. As the poorest country in the Arab world, some 54.5 percent of the population lives below the poverty line and economic stagnation is worsening. The severe instability of the state today is a consequence of three decades of rampant mismanagement under Saleh’s rule, as he consolidated his power through a system of patronage that wildly enriched members of the country's tribal, economic, and military elite at the expense of the wider public. Following an assassination attempt that significantly injured him, Saleh handed over power to his deputy, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, who became president in February 2012, after he stood unopposed in elections.

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Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He can be reached at

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Is Libya ripe for 2nd civil war?

The Libyan central government is so far failing to assert its authority over the country, buried in rampant infighting and lawlessness that could lead to civil war.

The failed coup that culminated in last month’s kidnapping of Libyan PM Ali Zeidan demonstrated the central government’s glaring lack of authority. Lawlessness has become an everyday feature of life; foreign embassies are targeted and attacked, rival militias and branches of Al-Qaeda vie for power, and the country’s borders are porous and outside the government’s control.

In another symbolic blow, a federalist movement in the eastern Cyrenaica region has declared an autonomous regional government. This region, known as Barqah, was the cradle of the revolt against Muammar Gaddafi and has been historically marginalized, despite being a generator of economic activity, with 80 percent of Libya's proven oil reserves and several strategic ports and oil refineries within its territory.
The people of Barqah seek autonomy and federalism to combat the political and administrative marginalization meted out by the central government in Tripoli, which refuses to recognize the region’s aspirations of self-rule, and has previously warned that it would forcefully respond over attempts to break away.

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Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He can be reached at

Friday, 1 November 2013

Isolated & discredited: Intransigent US policy impedes Cuba’s reforms

Despite the mutual economic benefits of normalizing ties with Cuba, the unceasing and immoral embargo further emboldens the Obama administration’s diplomatic incompetence.

It is no exaggeration to say that the world is opposed to the crippling economic embargo unilaterally imposed on Cuba by the United States. 188 nations approved a resolution calling for an end to the blockade at this year’s annual vote on the issue at the UN General Assembly, with only 2 countries opposing – the United States and Israel. The outcome was unsurprising, as Washington has refused to waver from its policy for over five decades, despite immense opposition from the international community that it so often claims to represent. As a result of the embargo, Cuba cannot sell its products on the US market and cannot use dollars in its transactions, hindering foreign trade, the establishment of joint ventures, and international investment. Third countries have been aggressively fined and pursued by the US to stop them from trading with Cuba, while fines against embargo violators have risen totaling $2.5 billion to date. Cuba is also prevented from accessing medical and surgical equipment, and drugs needed for the effective treatment of tumors, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and cancer.

According to Havana, the cost of the embargo to the Cuban economy is estimated at $1.1 trillion dollars. China and Venezuela railed against the US for its reactionary stance following the recent vote, while Russia criticized Washington’s policy as being “reminiscent of the Cold War.” The stance of every US president since Kennedy has effectively been, “give it time.”

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Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He can be reached at