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Showing posts from May 26, 2014

Asian Omens

Tectonic shifts are underway in East Asian geopolitics. Thursday saw several incidents that called attention to the increasingly insecure and fast changing strategic and security dynamics of a region known in recent decades mostly for booming business. Another Uighur terrorist attack in China, a shoot-out between the Koreas along their disputed maritime border and, to top it off, a coup in Thailand all brought simmering regional conflicts to the fore. These incidents come on the heels of a consequential Russo-Chinese strategy session and an ongoing maritime clash between China and Vietnam. Despite vastly different causes and contexts, each of these events serves as a single piece in the much greater puzzle of assessing where the world's most populous and wealthy region is headed in the future.

To the outside world, the surprising thing about East Asia is how the sudden eruptions of conflict seem to come out of nowhere and then retreat into the background as if nothing ever happened…

Russia's St. Petersburg Economic Forum

Russia is launching its St. Petersburg Economic Forum on May 22-23, attracting top businesses, investors and politicians from Russia and around the world. In the past, the Kremlin has used the forum to promote its economic strategy. For example, in 2008 and 2010, Russia used the forum to attract foreign businesses and investors for the country's modernization and privatization plans. This year, Moscow is using the forum to show that Russia is still a desirable economic partner and a destination for foreign investment and business.

This is important to Russia at this time for two reasons. First, Russia wants to prove that despite the Western sanctions levied against it, the global business and investment community still wants to operate in Russia. Second, Russia has seen massive capital flight from the country -- $51 billion in the first quarter -- due to tensions with the West, which has prompted Moscow to look for new economic opportunities. Leading up to the forum, a number of U.…

Ukraine Gears Up for Elections

Ukrainian independent presidential candidate Petro Poroshenko greets supporters during an election campaign rally on May 20 in Cherkasy.MYKOLA LAZARENKO/AFP/Getty Images


With Ukraine's political future hanging in the balance, the country will hold its presidential election May 25. Insecurity in the east will complicate the election, but after the polls take place Ukraine's greatest challenge will be finding a way to deal with Russia. Moscow's moves indicate it may recognize the results of the election, but Russia will make a strong push to politically neutralize Ukraine.

The outcome of the election is all but certain: Petro Poroshenko, a former foreign minister and one of Ukraine's leading businessmen, has led in the polls by a wide margin for much of the past two months. He may win outright in a single round of voting by obtaining more than 50 percent of the vote, or he may register a resounding victory in a run-off. But numerous complications surroundin…

Reflections on Pyongyang


As someone who has observed North Korea many times through a telescope, or from a sailboat on the Yalu River, I have always wanted to visit the mysterious country. Even for a person who grew up in Liaoning province, which shares a border with North Korea, the country is a closed box. In April, I was offered the chance to travel south of the border with a small group of friends. I was warned in advance that I couldn't use my phone and computer there, and it was even suggested that I bring food and water because "there is nothing to eat in North Korea," but that didn't deter me.

My friends and I took the train from the Chinese border city of Dandong to Pyongyang, making our first stop at the North Korean city of Sinuiju, which faces Dandong across the Yalu. The Democratic People's Republic of Korea is slowly opening up Sinuiju to foreign tourists, and will soon approve a self-driving route from Dandong to Sinuiju. For now, the train is the only route.


Flash Protests in Bangkok Oppose the Military Coup


Amid the growing tensions following Thailand's coup, Bangkok witnessed a series of flash protests over the May 24-25 weekend. These appear to be organized largely through social media, enabling the protesters to rapidly assemble at key monuments and landmarks across the city for a couple of hours and then quickly disperse after that. A Stratfor analyst in Bangkok reported almost being caught up in one May 25.

On the streets of Bangkok, Stratfor's analyst encountered a quickly assembling protest of a thousand or so people as truckloads of soldiers arrived on the scene. The troops were heavily armed -- not with riot gear, but with Tavor TAR-21 assault rifles, extra magazines, and tactical radios. By and large, these protests seemed less connected with the Red Shirt movement in support of the deposed government but rather they reflected a cross section of anyone among those opposing the idea of a coup and ruling junta in Thailand. The view emerging from conversations with …