political geography

China-Indonesia maritime stand-off

Dozens of Chinese vessels that were fishing in Indonesia's Exclusive Economic Zone off the disputed island of Natuna began leaving the area Jan. 9, after days of stand-off. Indonesia deployed eight warships and four fighter jets to the area in response to the presence of the Chinese vessels, and summoned Beijing's ambassador in Jakarta to complain. A military statement said: "Our Navy and air force are armed and have been deployed to the North Natuna Sea [to] drive out the foreign vessels." China was reported to have sent three coast guard cutters into the area during the stand-off. The Natuna archipelago, off the northwest coast of Borneo, occupies a particularly strategic spot in the South China Sea. Its waters contain significant oil and gas reserves, and it guards the eastern opening of the narrow Malacca Strait, a critical chokepoint for shipping lanes. The archipelago falls within China's "nine-dash line," an area covering nearly the entirety of the South China Sea. 

Podcast: the struggle for James Bay

"Who is James Bay?" That's the frequent reaction from New Yorkers when it is brought up—despite the fact that James Bay is not a "who" but a "where," and a large portion of New York City's electricity comes from there. In Episode 44 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg takes on Mayor Bill de Blasio's so-called "Green New Deal," and how maybe it isn't so green after all. The mayor's plan is centered on new purchases of what is billed as "zero-emission Canadian hydro-electricity." But supplying this power is predicated on expansion of the massive James Bay hydro-electric complex in Quebec's far north, which has already taken a grave toll on the region's ecology, and threatens the cultural survival of its indigenous peoples, the Cree and Inuit. And it isn't even really "zero-emission." Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.

NYC 'Green New Deal' to fund mega-hydro?

New York's Mayor Bill de Blasio is aggressively touting his "Green New Deal," boasting an aim of cutting the city's greenhouse-gas emissions 40% of 2005 levels by 2030. Centerpiece of the plan is so-called "zero-emission Canadian hydro-electricity." Politico reported Oct. 25 that the city had finalized a contract with international law firm White & Case, to explore purchasing Canadian hydro-power via the Champlain-Hudson Power Express, a proposed conduit that would run under the Hudson River from Quebec. The city is also exploring the possibility of financing the $3 billion transmission line. Power purchased from provincial utility Hydro-Quebec would meet 100% of the city government's own energy needs. Canada's National Observer reported in April that negotiations between New York City and H-Q would start "right away," with the aim of signing a deal by the end of 2020.

China, India border disputes spark Nepal protests

Nepal over the past weeks has repeatedly seen both anti-India and anti-China protests, concerning charges that both of the country's giant neighbors are claiming pieces of its territory. On Nov. 19, President Xi Jinping was burned in effigy at one protest. Confusingly, nearly all accounts (seemingly drawing from one report by Asian News International in Hindustan Times) placed the protest in "Saptari, Bardiya, Kapilvastu district," but these are actually three different districts, not even bordering each other, and all along the border with India rather than China. (See Wikipedia entries for Saptari, Bardiya and Kapilvastu districts.) This may loan credence to claims that the anti-China protests were fomented by India. A week earlier, protesters in Kathmandu burned a map of India, Al Jazeera reports.

'Ceasefire' or ethnic cleansing in northeast Syria?

After meeting in Ankara Oct. 17, US Vice President Mike Pence and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reached a deal to suspend Turkey's military offensive in northern Syria over the next five days to allow Kurdish forces to withdraw from a designated area along the border. This is being widely reported as a "ceasefire." However, the 13-point agreement does not use the word "ceasefire," but states: "The Turkish side will pause Operation Peace Spring in order to allow the withdrawal of YPG from the safe zone within 120 hours. Operation Peace Spring will be halted upon completion of this withdrawal." Operation "Peace Spring" is the utterly Orwellian code-name for the Turkish offensive, and the YPG is the People's Protection Units, the Kurdish militia in northeast Syria. The YPG was not a party to the "ceasefire," but nonetheless agreed to abide by it. Still, fighting has continued, with at least eight civilians reported killed less than 24 hours into the deal. There is also no consensus on the geographic limits of the area covered by the deal. The official text does not define it, and Turkey and the US remain at odds on the size the "safe zone" (another Orwellian construction) that Ankara seeks to establish in Syria. Ankara is still asserting it will be 100 kilometers deep, while Washington is calling for 20 kilometers. (RudawMiddle East EyeAP)

Venezuela revives claim to Guyana territory

Well, this is all too telling. Venezuelan prosecutors finally announced charges against opposition leader Juan Guaidó for "high treason"—but not for colluding with foreign powers to overthrow the government. No, Guaidó is to face charges for his apparent intent to renounce Venezuela's claim to a disputed stretch of territory that has been controlled by neighboring Guyana since the end of colonial rule. Fiscal General Tarek William Saab told AFP that Guaidó is under investigation for negotiating to renounce "the historical claim our country has on the territory of Esequibo." 

Net silence in strife-torn West Papua

The Indonesian military and National Police are rushing hundreds of additional troops to the provinces of Papua and West Papua in an attempt to restore order amid a popular uprising in the region. The government has also shut internet access in the two provinces. Thousands of Papuans have taken to the streets in Jayapura, Sorong, Manokwari and other major towns of Indonesia's Papuan territories following a wave of mass arrests, police violence and attacks on Papuan students and activists. The repression was unleashed after an incident in Surabaya, Java, on Aug. 16, the eve of Indonesia's Independence Day, when Papuan students were accused of disrespecting the Indonesian flag. The repression has only sparked a general uprising in the Papuan territories, further fueling demands for independence.

China's rulers fear balkanization —with reason?

Chinese official media (Global Times, Xinhua, China Daily) are making much of a "white paper" issued by the State Council Information Office entitled "Historical Matters Concerning Xinjiang," which seeks to deny the national aspirations and even very identity of the Uighur people of China's far western Xinjiang region. It especially takes aim at the "separatism" of the emerging "East Turkistan" movement, asserting that never in history "has Xinjiang been referred to as 'East Turkistan' and there has never been any state known as 'East Turkistan.'" It denies that there has ever been an independent state in what is now the territory of Xinjiang (a name not in use until the 18th century): "Xinjiang was formally included into Chinese territory during the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220) and the central government of all dynasties maintained jurisdiction over the region. The region has long been an inseparable part of Chinese territory. Never has it been 'East Turkistan.'" The Turkic roots and identity of the Uigurs are even challenged: "The main ancestors of the Uygurs were the Ouigour people who lived on the Mongolian Plateau during the Sui (581-618) and Tang (581-907) dynasties, and they joined other ethnic groups to resist the oppression and slavery of the Turks."

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