The Daily Brief for Wednesday, 27 September 2017

The DailyBrief

Wednesday September 27, 2017

A Kurdish pipedream? Masoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), has announced that “Yes” won Monday’s non-binding independence referendum, Pepe Escobar writes. Now the real battle between the KRG and Baghdad begins. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and the Iraqi Supreme Court have denounced the referendum as “unconstitutional.” And as no regional powers are going to ascent to the partition of Iraq, the clannish capo, it seems, has overplayed his hand. The crucial vector inside the KRG is the rivalry between Erbil and Sulaimaniya. Erbil, largely tribal, is run by the Barzani clan. Sulaimaniya, way more cultured, is run by the Talibani clan, and its Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) party has close ties with Iran. Masoud Barzani is viewed in Sulaimaniya as no more than a crude opportunist.

Thailand’s political reset: Fugitive ex-premier Yingluck Shinawatra’s in absentia criminal conviction today strengthens junta rule and raises new uncertainty about the military’s vow to restore democracy, Shawn W Crispin writes. Bangkok’s Supreme Court for Political Office Holders decided today that Yingluck, who recently fled the Southeast Asian country, was guilty of negligence in handling her coup-ousted government’s controversial rice price support policy, a boondoggle scheme which resulted in billions of dollars worth of state losses. The court sentenced the ex-leader in absentia to five years in prison, half the maximum sentence allowed under Thai law. Her conviction promises to once again reset Thailand’s military-dominated politics.

Japan’s populist wildcard: The Party of Hope spearheaded by popular Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike was only announced this week, but plans to field dozens of candidates in a snap general election called for next month could weaken the control of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), Daniel Hurst writes. “Koike party candidates will either win in Kanto area districts [which include greater Tokyo] or split the conservatives so as to allow the progressive candidate to slip through,” Michael Thomas Cucek, an adjunct professor at Temple University Japan, said in an email. “Either outcome is catastrophic for the LDP and Mr Abe.”

Persecuted Singapore blogger: Detained asylum seeker Amos Yee is finally a free man in the US after the Board of Immigration Appeals granted him asylum on Tuesday, making him the first person from the Southeast Asian island state in years to receive political refuge in the West, Kirsten Han wites. Yee was first granted asylum in March this year after an immigration judge found that “Singapore’s prosecution of Yee was a pretext to silence his political opinions critical of the Singapore government.” But the US Department of Homeland Security appealed the decision. “I’m really shocked because I didn’t expect it,” the 18-year-old told Asia Times. “They suddenly told me to pack up my stuff.”

Vietnam’s debt problem: The Southeast Asian communist country’s leadership has failed to arrest a rising budget deficit rooted in government inefficiency and waste, Khai Nguyen writes. Last month, the Ministry of Finance proposed a plan for raising various taxes to curb rising budget deficits and public debt, but it’s not clear how the plan will work. Since 2000, the government has consistently overspent its budget. The budget deficit forecast for 2017–2018 is about 5.8% of GDP per annum. Government revenue had increased over the last 15 years, partially due to economic growth of over 6% on average over the period. However, this growth cannot keep up with the government’s expenditures.

China’s unfair assessment: The recent decision by Standard & Poor’s, a supposedly objective credit-rating agency, to downgrade the country’s creditworthiness when its financial position is stronger and more stable than those of the developed countries is beyond comprehension, Ken Moak writes. China’s external debt is only around US$1.4 trillion, far lower than the G-7 average of $6 trillion and the United States’ $19 trillion, indicating that its companies or governments require little if any borrowing from foreign financial institutions. According to the China Banking Regulatory Commission, commercial-bank assets have reached $36.75 trillion, a year-on-year increase of 11.5%, and non-performing loans accounted for just 1.74% of the total in the first half of 2017.

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.