New American reports that an Arab News poll shows that Qatar is losing the fight for US public opinion. The data gathered showed that 27 percent of Americans view Qatar as a friend or ally of the US, 31 percent view it as an enemy, and almost half do not know how to classify the relationship with Doha.
A Syrian-American analyst and fellow at the New America Foundation’s International Security Program, Oubai Shahbandar, said that Qatar is losing the fight for American public opinion.
He told Arab News that Qatar should save the millions it is spending on public relations campaigns, and instead “agree to meaningful steps that end financial support to terror and extremist incitement.”
Coup puts Myanmar’s crippling military capitalism in the spotlight
Travel bans and asset freezes since February’s coup draw attention to the generals’ sway over lucrative segments of the economy
Western countries likely to impose further sanctions on Myanmar, but Asian neighbors may be reluctant to follow suit
Updated 35 min 59 sec ago
BERNE, Switzerland: Myanmar’s economy has long been shaped by the Tatmadaw — the nation’s powerful armed forces — and by the shifting whims of geopolitics, which together fashion the country’s global trade relations, particularly those concerning its large infrastructure projects.
Since the Feb. 1 coup, which overthrew Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) government, and the violent suppression of protests which has left more than 600 dead, momentum has been building behind efforts to impose sanctions on the junta.
To date, the US and UK have placed sanctions upon Myanmar’s two big military-owned conglomerates. Several OECD countries have also issued travel bans and asset freezes on army officers involved in the coup.
Pressure is building on companies with investment in the country to sever ties with its military-owned entities. For example, pension funds are pushing South Korean steel giant POSCO to break with its army-owned Burmese joint venture partner.
Meanwhile, Japan’s Kirin Beer, which had invested upwards of $1.7 billion in a joint venture with a military-owned holdings company, has split with its partner — although it plans to continue selling beer in the country.
Not all Western multinationals are on board. Total CEO Patrick Poyanne recently said the company must continue producing gas in order to maintain the country’s power grid and guarantee the safety of its workforce.
However, the oil giant said it would not pay its taxes to the military and instead intends to donate the equivalent sums to human rights organizations.
The Tatmadaw’s tentacles are wrapped so tightly around the levers of the economy, it is almost impossible for firms to do business in Myanmar without cooperating with at least one military entity.
Two organizations with direct links to the Tatmadaw hold immense sway over the economy. One is the Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC), the other is Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (MEHL).
MEC is involved in manufacturing, infrastructure, steel, coal and gas. While its raison d’etre is supplying the armed forces with raw materials, it also holds the monopoly over Myanmar’s insurance industry.
MEHL, meanwhile, is involved in banking, mining, agriculture, tobacco, and food manufacturing. Its revenues flow directly back to the military, which shields MEHL from civilian oversight. The MEHL owns Myawaddy Bank and the military’s pension fund.
The military controls much of the country’s banking sector, which was left badly underdeveloped following years outside the international financial system under sanctions targeting the 1962-2011 military regime.
The NLD government had intended to issue banking licences to foreign banks by 2021 — an effort thwarted by the coup.
Combined, MEC and MEHL own more than 100 businesses. They benefited greatly from privatization efforts in the 1990s and 2000s by picking up entities at fire sale prices.
Business practices in Myanmar are opaque to say the least — considered the very definition of crony capitalism. In 2018, Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index ranked it 130th out of 180 counties.
The first NLD government (2015-20) tried to curb the power of the military by opening several sectors to competition, but refrained from going toe-to-toe with the all-powerful Tatmadaw.
The NLD did, however, succeed in transferring power over the General Administration Department (GAD) from the military-dominated Interior Ministry to the civilian government in 2018.
This was an important step in demilitarizing the governance of the country. Given the wide-ranging powers of the GAD, from land administration and service delivery to tax collection, it was evident that taking power away from the military would eventually have ramifications for the Tatmadaw’s stranglehold over the economy.
In the 2020 election, the NLD government ran on a ticket of increased transparency and the transfer of power away from central authorities and the military — a move that would have been felt in the generals’ wallets.
Although boosting competition and transparency would no doubt have liberalized the economy and attracted foreign investment, it would also have threatened Myanmar’s long-established power structures.
Fortunately for the generals, the Tatmadaw has powerful external friends. Myanmar is geopolitically important to many countries, who will cooperate with whoever holds power. These countries do not care who holds power; they just want to advance their political and economic interests.
Myanmar is strategically important to China, offering the rising superpower a land-bridge to the Bay of Bengal and an anchor country for its Belt and Road Initiative.
Until 2011, the Chinese government had a good working relationship with the junta, and had also come to an arrangement of sorts with the NLD government.
During his visit to Myanmar last year, Chinese President Xi Jinping revived the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC) with no fewer than 33 memoranda of understanding.
The oil and gas pipeline linking China with the Bay of Bengal, the development of the deep-water port of Kyaukphyu, and the railroad linking Yunnan province to the Indian Ocean are all integral facettes of CMEC.
It is said to include projects worth $21 billion, in which the MEC and MEHL will no doubt hold substantial stakes. The NLD government, however, had concerns over China’s rising influence and Myanmar’s ballooning debts related to the CMEC.
India, meanwhile, sees Myanmar as an important bulwark against its rival, China. As such, the Indian firm Adani is involved in the construction of the port at Yangon. Delhi feels increasingly encircled by China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is Myanmar’s largest trading partner, accounting for 24 percent of its business, followed by China with 14 percent and the EU with 10 percent.
Fellow ASEAN member Thailand is Myanmar’s fourth-largest trading partner and an important source of foreign currency, sent in remittances by the millions of migrant workers employed there.
The excellent transportation infrastructure connecting Thailand’s northern city of Chiang Rai to the Burmese border highlights the importance of trade (both legal and illicit) between the two countries. Furthermore, both countries are now run by military regimes whose generals have social, economic, and political ties.
Lastly, Russia has a long-standing relationship with the Burmese military. In 2007, Moscow entered into an agreement with Naypyitaw to establish a nuclear research center and the two countries signed a defense cooperation agreement in 2016.
Russia also supplies the Tatmadaw with weapons. It was conspicuously the only country to send a ministerial-level delegate, Deputy Defence Minister Alexandr Fomin, to attend Myanmar’s armed forces’ day on March 27.
Although Western countries are likely to press ahead with sanctions on Myanmar, its Asian neighbors may be more reluctant to follow suit for myriad reasons, ranging from geopolitical considerations to neighborly and profitable business ties. Some ASEAN countries may also want to avoid being seen interfering in the internal affairs of a neighbor.
The Tatmadaw may therefore get away with overthrowing the NLD government and can go on accumulating wealth and economic clout. Likewise, many foreign entities will be willing to engage with the junta at a business level, both because it is profitable and as it is perceived to be in their own governments’ geopolitical interests.
• Cornelia Meyer is a Ph.D.-level economist with 30 years of experience in investment banking and industry. She is chairperson and CEO of business consultancy Meyer Resources.
Israel shocked by self-immolation of traumatized ex-soldier
‘He saw horrible things and nobody took care of him,’ his tearful brother Avi Saidian told journalists at the hospital
Updated 14 April 2021
JERUSALEM: Israel was shaken Tuesday after a 26-year-old former soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder since the 2014 Gaza war set himself on fire, suffering severe injuries.
Itzik Saidian went to a support service for wounded soldiers near Tel Aviv on Monday, doused himself with a flammable liquid and lit it, “due to significant psychological distress,” the army said.
He was rushed to the intensive care unit of Tel Hashomer Hospital near Tel Aviv and was in “critical condition” with “deep burns all over his body,” the hospital said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was “very shocked” and “determined to undertake a complete reform of the way we take care of our disabled and wounded veterans.”
The young man had been recognized as partially disabled because he suffered from PTSD related to his service during the 2014 war between Israel and the armed Islamist movement Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Around 2,250 Palestinians were killed in the war, mostly civilians, and 74 Israelis, mostly soldiers.
Saidian’s self-immolation came on the eve of Israel’s Remembrance Day for fallen soldiers and attack victims.
It sparked controversy over the support system for wounded or psychologically ill soldiers, which is often deemed inefficient and bureaucratic.
“He saw horrible things and nobody took care of him,” his tearful brother Avi Saidian told journalists at the hospital.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz announced a “thorough investigation to find the reasons for this tragic event.” His ministry pledged to “substantially improve the treatment of post-traumatic soldiers.”
Military service is mandatory in Israel for 18-year-olds. Women serve two years and men two years and six months.
King Salman offers Ramadan wishes, orders best services for pilgrims
Updated 14 April 2021
RIYADH: King Salman on Tuesday offered his best wishes to the Muslim world on the first day of the fasting month of Ramadan.
The comments came as the king chaired the weekly government meeting virtually.
He also instructed that pilgrims be given the best possible services during the holy month, which for a second year will be observed under strict protocols to help curtail the spread of the coronavirus.
Saudi Culture Ministry issues guide to acquiring national artworks
The guide consists of six main chapters, and also includes methods for maintaining and restoring art
Updated 14 April 2021
RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Culture has published a guide for government agencies and institutions wishing to acquire artworks created by Saudi artists.
The guide falls under the framework of a royal order directing government agencies to acquire national artworks and handicraft products for their headquarters, according to a directory prepared by the culture ministry.
Minister of Culture Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan said the order, which was based on directives from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, provided the greatest support for the visual arts sector in the Kingdom, and for the nation’s artists.
He said the guide provides basic information, including the processes of procurement, acquisition, art collections, restoration, maintenance and preserving the integrity of artworks, in a way that guarantees the creation of a national art market and fosters relations between the artist and the buyer.
The guide consists of six main chapters, and also includes explanations on the importance of respecting intellectual property rights.
Accuses Beijing of stoking tensions with the ‘illegal presence’ of Chinese vessels
Updated 14 April 2021
MANILA: The Philippines said on Tuesday it had summoned the Chinese ambassador over the “illegal lingering presence” of Chinese militia vessels in the disputed waters of the Whitsun Reef, which Manila said was “stoking tensions in the region.”
In a statement on Tuesday, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said it had summoned the Chinese ambassador to the Philippines, Huang Xilian, to reiterate the government’s demands for China to “ensure the immediate departure of all its vessels” from the Whitsun Reef (local name Julian Felipe) and other maritime zones of the Philippines.
“The DFA expressed displeasure over the illegal lingering presence of Chinese vessels in Julian Felipe Reef,” it added.
The latest move comes weeks after the Philippines lodged a diplomatic protest against China over the issue.
During the meeting, DFA Acting Undersecretary Elizabeth Buensuceso told Huang that the reef “lies within the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the Republic of the Philippines” and that “the continuing presence of Chinese vessels around the reef is a source of regional tension.”
She also reiterated a 2016 ruling by a UN tribunal dismissing China’s claim to virtually all of the South China Sea, although Beijing has refused to recognize the decision.
Beijing claims the Chinese vessels are fishing boats “escaping rough seas by moving within the lagoon, which Beijing calls Niu’e Jiao and claims as part of its territory.
“Due to maritime situation, some fishing boats have been taking shelter from the wind near Niu’e Jiao, which is quite normal. We hope relevant sides can view this in a rational light,” China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told the media last week.
In a separate message to reporters, the DFA said that “both sides agreed to lower the tensions and handle the issue diplomatically,” but added that “we have yet to see the complete removal of ships.”
Meanwhile, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. tweeted on Tuesday that the National Task Force on West Philippines Sea had told him there were only nine ships at Whitsun Reef. The task force had previously said the Chinese vessels were manned by the Chinese maritime militia.
“While it may well be traditional fishing grounds, tradition yields to law and the law on the matter is UNCLOS (UN Convention for the Law of the Sea) and the Arbitral Award and the common rules of statutory construction,” he said in another tweet, before telling China it was “time to go.”
Monday’s meeting is the second time the DFA had summoned a Chinese envoy, with a similar issue raised in 2019 when a Filipino fishing boat was sunk by a Chinese vessel, leaving the fishermen stranded at sea.
Amid the escalating feud between the two countries, a Filipino MP expressed resentment against China’s “bullying and increasingly aggressive territorial expansion in the region” before demanding that the “Chinese completely vacate” the reef.
“Why are they still there? China is becoming the region’s biggest bully,” Sen. Risa Hontiveros told a media forum hosted by the
Philippine Correspondents Association of the Philippines.
“She (China) exploited a global health crisis by executing a series of coordinated incursions into the WPS and insisting her presence even after several diplomatic actions from our end,” Hontiveros said.
The senator added that the latest intrusion “shows China will do what she wants for her own selfish interest, even if it means
threatening peace and stability in the region; even if it means attacking already vulnerable countries, including the Philippines.”
The senator explained that the Philippines’ Department of National Defense (DND) had ordered all Chinese vessels to evacuate Philippine territory after over 200 ships gathered at the Julian Felipe Reef in March.
The DFA vowed to lodge a diplomatic protest every day until China’s vessels vacated the Philippines waters.
“At first, the Chinese Embassy claimed the vessels were just parking due to inclement weather. But Philippine authorities said there was no storm. Then it went as far as insisting that Julian Felipe Reef is Chinese territory. When will the lies, deception, and hypocrisy stop?” Hontiveros asked.
“Our coast guard should also immediately inspect what the Chinese vessels are doing there to see if our environmental and fisheries laws are being observed,” the senator added.
Hontiveros expressed outrage and anger at what she said was a “deliberate, reckless, and unlawful campaign of the Chinese government to use its military and economic might to deprive the Filipino people of the full use of the waters comprising the country’s EEZ and continental shelf.”
“This is a direct challenge to the international rules-based order that has maintained stability in the region for so long,” she
stressed, urging the DND to deploy more naval assets, including the coast guard, to “provide a protective umbrella for
fisherfolk who want to venture out to sea.”
Hontiveros said that the government must assure fishermen that the nation’s defense forces would be able to “safeguard their means of subsistence.”
“We cannot allow ourselves to be kicked out of our own backyard. The West Philippine Sea is part of the patrimony of the Filipino
people — our national dignity is at stake,” she said, urging the government to rethink its “allegiances.”
“We must be consistent and firm in standing up for our national interests. We should hold China accountable for the damage she has
done to fragile marine ecosystems within our EEZ,” she said.
She added that the government must ensure that Philippines environmental laws, not China’s, are being implemented and enforced in the West Philippine Sea.
Hontiveros also expressed her indignation against China’s “deliberate, reckless, and unlawful campaign of the Chinese government to use its military and economic might to deprive the Filipino people of the full use of the waters comprising the country’s EEZ and continental shelf.”
“The Chinese like to tell others to refrain from irresponsible behavior, but their recent behavior has been far from honest or responsible,” she said.
Hontiveros further said that President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration should stop tolerating China’s “duplicitous strategy.”
She said that to convince Filipinos of its good intentions, China has given the country its vaccines — “possibly for free, or perhaps, as many people fear, in exchange for our waters.”
Hontiveros added: “We must not allow China to shake our hands on vaccines and procurement, but stab us in the back on the West Philippine Sea. But Malacanang has tolerated China’s duplicitous strategy.
“This isn’t how a friend treats you. This isn’t even the act of a good neighbor. China is the bully pretending to be your best friend.
It’s time to say enough is enough. Our government must rethink its current alliances — and perhaps its allegiances. We must be
consistent and firm in standing up for our national interests,” she said.