The Daily Brief for Thursday, 21 September 2017

The DailyBrief

Thursday September 21, 2017

Iran deal unraveling? Contrary to a barrage of spin, the P5+1 – the UN Security Council’s five permanent members plus Germany – meeting on the sidelines of the General Assembly to assess the implementation of the nuclear agreement did not go especially well, Pepe Escobar writes. EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said there was no doubt the deal was being respected, warning that “all member states are considered to be bound by its implementation. The international community cannot afford to dismantle an agreement that is working and delivering.” The problem is that the United States has changed the narrative from being about a technical, nuclear-centered agreement, to one that encompasses Iran’s geopolitical reach in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, as well as its missile program and cyber operations – all non-nuclear issues that Mogherini herself stressed were “outside the scope” of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Purge in Vietnam: Communist Party head Nguyen Phu Trong’s anti-graft drive has unsettled the Southeast Asian country’s usually sedate one-party politics and exposed deep rot in the opaque banking system, David Hutt writes. In recent weeks, business executives have been arrested for corruption, state bankers have been sent to jail, leading politicians have gone strangely absent, the Politburo has been shuffled in a rare rotation and an ex-state enterprise leader was kidnapped by agents in Berlin. This is taking place at a highly sensitive time, with rising public pressure for improved human rights and even calls for democracy among social activists who have become bolder in their dissent against one-party rule. Moreover, the economy is in a perilous situation. Some experts think Vietnam’s GDP growth rate will fall short of this year’s 7% projection and crucial infrastructure projects are being delayed because of a lack of government funds.

North Korea crisis: There has been much talk about shooting down the Pyongyang regime’s ballistic missiles, even if they are only being used for testing, but whether it is either practical or possible to do so remains an open question, Stephen Bryen writes. However, two other important defensive steps can be taken. First, most information about Pyongyang’s missile program has come from radar tracks and not from any physical evidence, so the US and its allies should recover the projectiles landing in the sea in order to gain a better understanding of their capabilities and potential as nuclear weapons platforms. Second, the US and its allies must shut down the clandestine international network that supplies Pyongyang with components.

China’s maritime expedition: In the country’s first circumnavigation of the Arctic, the icebreaker Xue Long has completed its historic voyage through Canada’s Northwest Passage, Doug Tsuruoka writes. The vessel, operated by the Chinese Arctic and Antarctic Administration, is conducting scientific research and exploring new shipping routes created by the melting Arctic seas. The vessel is currently doing research work in a region bordering the East Siberian Sea and the Chukchi Sea before it presumably moves southwards to the Pacific Ocean and its home port of Shanghai.

Macau’s casino rebound: Longstanding market assumptions that the government prefers mass to high-end gambling now look dubious as VIP earnings surge, Muhammad Cohen writes. “Chinese officials never said they prefer mass gaming over VIP,” IGamiX Management & Consulting managing partner Ben Lee said recently. “If you think about it, who would you rather have lose their money: poor working class Chinese or a handful of rich entrepreneurs who have a sustainable ability to make such losses? There is no stated objective to transform gaming from VIP to mass, but always from gaming to non-gaming.” But Macau still has much to do on that front: non-gaming revenue barely touches double-digits as a percentage of total revenue, compared with 68% non-gaming revenue for the Las Vegas Strip.

Washington’s economic threat: Proponents of launching a trade war believe China can be coerced into supporting the US hardline policy against North Korea because such a move could topple the Communist regime, Ken Moak writes. They argue that because China sends 18% of its exports to the US, the former would suffer the most harm and believe the Communist Party’s sole legitimacy in governing China is its ability to facilitate and promote economic growth. While it is true that the party’s overwhelming support (85% according to a Pew Poll) is derived from its effective economic management, that is true for all governments or political parties. For such a collapse to happen, all Chinese factories that do business with US firms would have to be shut and the laid-off workers left with no alternative means of earning a living and receive no help from the government. This is a highly unlikely scenario in view of China’s history of addressing economic headwinds.

Asia Times app: Asia Times has launched an app for both iOS- and Android-based devices that delivers the publication’s regular daily news, commentary, blogs and live coverage while also bringing readers added functionality. As we report here, the app, launched on July 25, includes content notification, share and save functions and is free to download from both the Apple Store and Google Play.