Why a first strike option on North Korea is a very bad idea



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Unification flags hang on a military fence near the demilitarised zone separating the two Koreas in Paju, South Korea.
Reuters/Kim Hong-Ji

Andrew O’Neil, Griffith University

The prospect of South Korean and North Korean athletes marching together under a “unification” flag at this month’s Pyeongchang Winter Olympics signifies a brief respite in tensions rather than being a genuine thawing on the Korean peninsula.

After an initial surge of optimism in response to Pyongyang’s decision to accept Seoul’s offer to march as one Korea, reality has started to bite with the mechanics of implementing the deal.

While welcoming the Pyeongchang initiative, many South Koreans have pushed back against the decision to merge both countries’ women’s ice hockey teams, calling out the sexist nature of the decision (not a single woman was involved in determining the merger).

Meanwhile, citing “insulting” behaviour on the part of South Korean media, the North Koreans have cancelled a joint cultural performance with South Korea, scheduled for next week.

Understandably, the Pyeongchang “thaw” has attracted major headlines. But it obscures the significant possibility that we will witness major conflict on the Korean peninsula in 2018.

The South Korean government has worked hard to engage North Korea in structured dialogue in an effort to defuse the nuclear-armed state’s continued military threats. But there is nonetheless a growing risk that the Trump administration will authorise limited military strikes against the North’s weapons of mass destruction, conceivably within the next few months.




Read more:
The Winter Olympics and the two Koreas: how sport diplomacy could save the world


Despite extracting a commitment from the US that any military action against North Korea is contingent on first gaining South Korea’s endorsement, there is justifiable concern among South Koreans that the Trump administration will act unilaterally if US intelligence assesses Pyongyang is about to deploy an operational nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) force.

Given the extent to which we have underestimated the sheer pace of North Korea’s nuclear and missile development over the past decade, this intelligence assessment might happen sooner than we think. Donald Trump would then face a difficult problem: how to avoid being the president who allowed North Korea to achieve the capability to hit the US homeland with nuclear weapons.

Since coming to power, the Trump administration has been deliberating over whether to carry out preventive strikes to degrade Pyongyang’s ability to sprint to the finish line of acquiring a deployable ICBM that can hit the continental US with a nuclear payload.

An increasingly popular assumption is that the price of living with a nuclear-armed North Korea that can destroy prime targets on the US mainland is higher than risking a second Korean War. And this is not just the musings of a few hardheads in the Pentagon: a growing number of Americans believe some form of military action against North Korea is justified if sanctions and diplomacy fail to achieve denuclearisation.

Most worrying of all, a belief seems to be gathering pace that the US can somehow launch “surgical” military strikes while containing a larger conflict, because Kim Jong-un will not respond for fear of triggering an overwhelming retaliatory response.

There are two basic flaws underlying what one expert has termed “the myth of the limited strike”. The first, and most obvious, is that it’s highly unlikely Kim Jong-un will believe the Trump administration’s assurances that “surgical” strikes are not the opening phase of an all-out US assault aimed at overthrowing the regime.

When the US goes to war, it tends to go full throttle – in recent times, this has translated into regime change (think of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya). Why would the leadership in Pyongyang assess that this time around would be any different?

The second major flaw in the argument is that what is portrayed as limited in Washington, and among some armchair strategists supporting this course, will inevitably be seen in Pyongyang as a major assault on North Korean territory and its prized strategic assets.

Even in the scenario that Kim Jong-un actually believed the Trump administration did not intend to implement regime change, as Van Jackson notes, his position as North Korean supreme leader would be untenable domestically if he did not respond with force.




Read more:
Five assumptions we make about North Korea – and why they’re wrong


Pyongyang would have a compelling incentive to retaliate early with any nuclear reserve that survived a US first strike. In this scenario, the North Korean leadership would confront a stark choice of either using these weapons of mass destruction to maximum effect or risk losing them in follow-on US precision munition strikes.

As I have argued elsewhere, like all new nuclear powers, North Korea will place a premium on permissive command and control systems that allow authorities to use nuclear weapons whenever they want. This will be reflected in a hair-trigger launch posture if it perceives an imminent threat.

The ConversationWhichever way you cut it, a US first strike against North Korea would almost certainly trigger major war on the Korean peninsula, with a high risk of escalation to full-scale nuclear conflict. While the appalling humanitarian consequences of this don’t need to be spelt out, the strategic illogic of the arguments advocating a first strike must be continually reinforced.

Andrew O’Neil, Dean and Professor of Political Science, Griffith University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Banking royal commission will expose the real cost of bad behaviour


Jenni Henderson, The Conversation

Australia’s federal government has announced a royal commission into the financial services sector, following a letter from the big four bank heads supporting the move.

The commission will run for 12 months, delivering a final report in February 2019, at an estimated cost of A$75 million. It will explore not only banking but also the wealth management, superannuation and insurance industries.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull had previously denied the need for a royal commission but said in announcing the move that political uncertainty had forced the decision.

“Uncertainty…over the potential for such an inquiry is starting to undermine confidence in our financial system. And as a result, the national economy. And that is precisely what we have always been determined to avoid,” he said.

The commission should be allowed to go on for longer, for closer to three years, because the 12-month period is the bare minimum, says Andrew Schmulow, a senior lecturer in the faculty of law at University of Western Australia.

“If the commission doesn’t find other skeletons in the closet, I will eat my hat,” he adds.

Schmulow believes there will be more revelations to come from the commission and that the banks will have to answer for covering up these as well.

“You can’t have this many scandals on this kind of scale without a corporate culture that is rotten to the core,” he said.

The royal commission won’t award compensation but will have the powers to compel the banks and other institutions to present documents and witnesses.

Earlier in the year, in an attempt to fend off a royal commission, the government announced a raft of new measures in the 2017 Federal Budget to address concerns surrounding the finance industry.

Timeline of Australian bank scandals

https://cdn.knightlab.com/libs/timeline3/latest/embed/index.html?source=16t5cJvvQqZqnJPl1M9C1t8fNOveF64OxTxKoPDZHJLc&font=Default&lang=en&initial_zoom=2&height=650

Timing of the announcement

Malcolm Turnbull defended the delay in calling the royal commission due to these measures.

“There would’ve been legitimate calls to delay any new measures until the findings of the inquiry were handed down. And that is one of the reasons why we have not established a banking inquiry to date,” he said.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten said the timing of the commission called into question the government’s credibility and said that Australians had every right to be cynical.

“It says everything about Turnbull’s values and priorities that he only agreed to Labor’s Royal Commission when the banks told him he had to. He ignored the pleas of families and small businesses, he rejected the words of whistle-blowers. But when the big banks wrote him a letter, he folded the same day.”

Turnbull’s move comes after the possibility of a Nationals bill on the same issue. Andrew Schmulow, said it was “stage managed”, designed to regain control on the terms of reference and the length of the commission.

“Turnbull either losses control or keeps a modicum of control. It’s one or the other,” Schmulow said.

Costs of a banking royal commission versus bad behaviour

The bank heads, in their letter to the government, described the deliberations on the commission as “costly and distracting”. But the real cost is to the economy and is a direct result of the bank behaviour, Schmulow said.

The funding costs of the banks are based on a risk profile which is underwritten by taxpayers through an implicit bank guarantee, which will only be affected if the government itself suffers a credit downgrade, Schmulow said.

Mum and dad investors are often brought up as having a vested interest in the banks’ strength through their superannuation. But Schmulow says a small portion of super is invested in the banks but it’s also invested in other things in the economy as well. He says investors’ savings are more likely to be hurt by the impact of the behaviour of the banks in other areas of the economy.

“They are already making so much profit off every individual and company that borrows money we have the most profitable banking sector in the world, you only get that by gouging,” Schmulow says.

Banks have traditionally prioritised shareholders and investors have had a superb return on equity said Elizabeth Sheedy, associate professor of financial risk management at Macquarie University.

But she said the community seemed to be wanting the balance to shift more in favour of the customer rather than returns and this raised fundamental questions about bank governance.

“Should remuneration be based on the metrics of concern to shareholders (profits, return on equity) or metrics of concern to customers (lack of complaints, value for money)? These fundamental questions are not going to be resolved in the ordinary course of business and a far-reaching inquiry seems to be a way that they can be thoroughly aired and debated,” Sheedy said.

“It seems that the community is prepared to pay that price in order to create a better deal for customers,” she added.

The commission won’t examine regulators like the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) or the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) who have recently been given more power to hold the banks to account.

The regulators have been criticised in the past for their inaction on scandals in the banking and financial sectors. But Andy Schmulow said the royal commission would show up their inaction and raise serious questions about who was watching the watchdogs.

Eliza Wu, associate professor in finance at the University of Sydney says the banking sector’s exposure to the real estate market and the lack of regulatory oversight of the fintech and peer-to-peer lending sectors, were a worry.

The Conversation“The heavily disrupted world of banking and finance is evolving very quickly and the regulators and often industry operators themselves, exist under an unforgiving regime of catch-up,” she said.

Jenni Henderson, Section Editor: Business + Economy, The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The budget is the government’s Plan B, but what’s Plan C if polls stay bad?



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Scott Morrison addresses the media on Sunday.
Julian Smith/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The government inoculated itself against the post-budget polls. Budgets don’t produce bounces, people said. The Conversation

True for the most part – though there were Newspoll bounces (three points or better) in 1996, 1999, 2000, 2009, and 2012.

Nevertheless the fact that the first four post-2017 budget polls were all bad must have been a disappointment for Malcolm Turnbull. Newspoll and Fairfax-Ipsos on Monday both had the Coalition trailing Labor 47-53%; on Friday two ReachTEL polls, for Sky and Channel 7, had it behind 47-53% and 46-54% respectively.

Given that polling has found that the main budget measures are in themselves popular – from which Turnbull appears to be taking heart – the government might have hoped for something better in the voting results.

“Polls are not news,” Turnbull told a news conference on Monday, though he admitted to John Laws: “I do take notice of the polls naturally”. His throwaway “not news” line just invited a rerun of the clip from the day he challenged Tony Abbott, when he pointed to the Coalition losing 30 Newspolls on the trot. This week marks his loss of a dozen of them in a row.

Accepting, however, that bounces are not the norm, the Coalition backbench will be holding its collective breath in coming months.

Treasurer Scott Morrison said Australians will be absorbing the budget “over time”. From the government’s point of view, he’d better be right, and they will need to absorb it positively.

If there is not a clawback for the Coalition later this year – and of course factors other than the budget will be feeding into public opinion – things will be looking pretty dire. Some predict Turnbull’s leadership will be in the frame unless the numbers improve; on the other hand, another change would be extremely hard.

Budgets disappear quickly but not before an intense selling effort. On Monday night Morrison was mixing it at a Sky News forum on the New South Wales central coast, where the audience ranged from One Nation supporters and the party’s NSW senator Brian Burston to local Labor MP Liesl Tesch, who scored a question.

Morrison was tackled on debt, housing (at length), the banks, immigration and identity politics. A woman bluntly told him his reference to “mum and dad investors” in the property market was “ludicrous – they are all investors”. A man who described himself as editorial cartoonist to Mark Latham’s Outsiders declared the government had shifted too far to the left and wanted to know “when we’ll get the government we voted for”.

As he’s done in and since the budget, Morrison stressed eschewing ideology and just “getting things done”. The Liberals believed in investing in education and sustainable services, he said; the difference between a Liberal and Labor budget was “the Liberal budget is paid for”.

Morrison reiterated that the banks should absorb the levy the budget has placed on them. The audience thought it would be passed on – something Turnbull admitted earlier in the day the government could not actually stop, although “there are plenty of factors that will inhibit them from doing so”.

For those watching the Liberal Party’s internals, one of the notable reaction to the budget has been Abbott’s. Given that, at its core, the 2017 budget is about trashing the remnants of the 2014 Abbott-Hockey effort, one might have expected him to be much more critical, though his words have had an edge.

He said on 2GB on Monday (in the spot formerly occupied by Morrison): “We would have liked to have had a savings budget. The Senate doesn’t like savings budgets as they showed in 2014, so instead we’ve got a taxing budget but this is the best that the budget can do in these circumstances.”

In contrast, his former chief-of-staff, Peta Credlin, has been bitterly critical, saying on Sky “the budget is about the Liberal Party junking everything that it has stood for”.

One assumes Abbott’s views are much stronger than he is expressing. So why is he being careful, when often he’s anything but?

Credlin said she thought “he’s trying hard not to be accused … of fuelling an anti-Malcolm sentiment”.

If those polls don’t turn around, Abbott doesn’t want people being able to point fingers of blame at him. He’d been keen for all the responsibility to be squarely on the shoulders of the prime minister and his treasurer.

The government has been candidly admitting that this budget, so out of character for a Coalition government, is not its preferred choice. In other words, it is Plan B. But if Plan B doesn’t help do the trick with the polls, it is not clear what Plan C would be.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/55eic-6aa7da?from=yiiadmin

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

To get the ‘good debt’ tick, infrastructure needs to be fit for the future


Cynthia Mitchell, University of Technology Sydney; David Singleton, Swinburne University of Technology, and Jim Bentley, University of Auckland

In distinguishing between “good” and “bad” debt, federal Treasurer Scott Morrison equates good debt with infrastructure investment. However, not all infrastructure investment announced in the budget is necessarily “good”. The Conversation

We are now in the Anthropocene – a new geological age defined by the global scale of humanity’s impact on the Earth – which places new requirements on our infrastructures. We need to move beyond the AAA ratings mindset, and instead aim for net-positive outcomes in social, economic and ecological terms from the outset.

Infrastructure (such as transport, water, energy, communications) underpins our ability to live in cities and our quality of life. And most infrastructure is very, very long-lived. Therefore, our infrastructure investment decisions matter enormously, especially for tomorrow.

More than half of the world’s people live in cities, and have just one planet’s worth of material resources to share around. This means we must define a new set of expectations and performance criteria for infrastructure.

Rather than settling for doing less bad, such as less environmental destruction or social disruption, we must aim from the outset to do more good. This net-positive approach requires us to restore, regenerate and increase social, cultural, natural and economic capital.

What sort of change is needed?

Examples of this kind of thinking are, as yet, rare or small.

Bishan Park on the Kallang River in Singapore gets close. Formerly a channelled stormwater drain, this collaboration between the national parks and public utility agencies has recreated significant habitat while providing flood protection and an exceptional recreational space. All this has been done in an extremely dense city.

Singapore’s Bishan Park is an example of a new approach to urban infrastructure.

Looking further into the future, in transport, a net-positive motorway might prioritise active transport and make public transport central by design. It might send price signals based on the number of passengers, vehicle type (such as autonomous) and vehicle ownership (shared, for instance).

Net-positive thinking aligns with a groundbreaking speech by Geoff Summerhayes, executive board member of Australia’s Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA), earlier this year. He identified climate change risk as a core fiduciary concern, and therefore central to directors’ duties.

This shift raises significant questions for the financial and operational validity of major infrastructure projects.

For example, in assessing the WestConnex motorway project, Infrastructure Australia queried why a broader set of (potentially less energy-intensive) transport options was not considered. Similar questions arise for the Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund’s support for Adani’s giant Carmichael coal mine and associated water and transport infrastructure.

A core part of the switch to net-positive infrastructure is the realisation that resilience and robustness are different things. Historically, robustness has been central to infrastructure planning. However, robustness relies on assuming that the future is more or less predictable. In the Anthropocene, that assumption no longer holds.

How do we build in resilience?

So, the best we can do is set ourselves up for a resilient future. This is one where our infrastructure is at its core flexible and adaptable.

This could include, for example, phasing infrastructure investment and development over time. Current analysis is biased toward building big projects because we assume our projected demand is correct. Therefore, we expect to reduce the overall cost by building the big project now.

However, in a more uncertain future, investing incrementally reduces risk and builds resilience, while spreading the cost and impact over time. This approach allows us to monitor and amend our planning as appropriate. It has been shown to save water utilities in Melbourne as much as A$2 billion.

Maybe the fact that we can be criticised for not having enough capacity ready in time has influenced our decision-making. We should really be challenged over investing too much, too soon, thereby eliminating the opportunity to adapt our thinking.

Or maybe we are so concerned about the need to build certainty into our planning that we are missing the opportunity to build learning through feedback loops into our strategies.

Surely there is a balance to be struck between providing enough certainty for investment without pretending we know with absolute certainty what we need to invest for the next 30 years.

We need long-term plans alongside learning and adaptation to respond to the imminent challenges facing infrastructure everywhere. These include:

  • major unregulated growth in interdependencies between infrastructures;

  • lack of systems thinking in planning and design;

  • radical shifts in the structure of cities and how we live and work;

  • increasingly fragmented provision;

  • no central governance of infrastructure as a system; and

  • much existing infrastructure approaching or past its end of life.

Regulatory reform is part of what’s required to enable public and private investment in better outcomes. Here too we need to learn our way forward.

Sydney’s emerging, world-leading market in recycled water is an example of a successful niche development that delivers more liveable and productive pockets in our cities through innovative integrated infrastructure.

Ultimately, doing infrastructure differently will also require investment in research on infrastructure. The UK is investing £280 million in this through the Collaboratium for Research on Infrastructure and Cities. But in Australia’s recent draft roadmap for major research investment, infrastructure is largely absent. We overlook infrastructure research at our peril.

Cynthia Mitchell, Professor of Sustainability, Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology Sydney; David Singleton, Chair, Smart Cities Research Institute, Swinburne University of Technology, and Jim Bentley, Honorary Director, Centre for Infrastructure Research, University of Auckland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Cricket: The Ashes Report – 15 July 2013


In the end it was a very close match that England won and Australia lost. The first test of the current Ashes series is over with plenty of controversy and action a plenty. It was a great game, though sadly it will be remembered for the controversy surrounding the DRS as much as for the game itself. But having said that, Australia really did a bad job in the way it used the DRS system, while England handled the DRS masterfully and full credit to them. With just 14 runs between the two sides, the second test has a lot to live up to following this match.

I can’t really make any useful comments on the English team, but as far as Australia is concerned I think it is time for Ed Cowan to be shown the door and for David Warner to return. Failing the return of Warner, who I believe has been sent to Africa with Australia A for some batting practice, perhaps it is time for the return of Usman Khawaja. The Australian batsmen really need to lift their game, because in reality the match was a lot closer than it should have been and they have the lower order to thanks for that – particularly the bowlers.

As for the bowling effort – work needs to be done also. There was far too much waywardness in the fast bowling ranks. Thankfully Nathan Lyon should be banished to the sidelines given the performance of Ashton Agar – a spinner who actually spins the ball and he can bat, which is very handy in the absence of a reliable upper order.

Cyprus: Financial Crisis


Just as Cyprus was disappearing from the news, the link below is to an article reporting on just how bad the situation in Cyprus really is.

For more visit:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2013/apr/11/cyprus-bailout-leaked-debt-analysis-bill

Syria: Latest Conflict News


The link below is to an article reporting on the latest conflict news, including reports that the United Kingdom could arm the rebels if things get any worse – I’d hate to think how bad that could be given what has happened there over the last couple of years.

For more visit:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/mar/03/hague-aid-syria-rebels-weapons

Article: Violence in Iraq Continues


The link below is to an article that reports on the current situation on the ground in Iraq. Violence continues on a daily basis and the country appears just as bad, if not worse, that it was under Saddam Hussein. 

For more visit:
http://www.christiantelegraph.com/issue16903.html

Religious Conversion Worst Form of ‘Intolerance,’ Bhutan PM Says


Propagation of religion is allowable – but not seeking conversions, top politician says.

THIMPHU, Bhutan, April 13 (CDN) — In the Kingdom of Bhutan, where Christianity is still awaiting legal recognition, Christians have the right to proclaim their faith but must not use coercion or claim religious superiority to seek conversions, the country’s prime minister told Compass in an exclusive interview.

“I view conversions very negatively, because conversion is the worst form of intolerance,” Jigmi Yoser Thinley said in his office in the capital of the predominantly Buddhist nation.

Christian leaders in Bhutan have told Compass that they enjoy certain freedoms to practice their faith in private homes, but, because of a prohibition against church buildings and other restrictions, they were not sure if proclamation of their faith – included in international human rights codes – was allowed in Bhutan.

Prime Minister Thinley, who as head of the ruling party is the most influential political chief in the country, said propagation of one’s faith is allowed, but he made it clear that he views attempts to convert others with extreme suspicion.

“The first premise [of seeking conversion] is that you believe that your religion is the right religion, and the religion of the convertee is wrong – what he believes in is wrong, what he practices is wrong, that your religion is superior and that you have this responsibility to promote your way of life, your way of thinking, your way of worship,” Thinley said. “It’s the worst form of intolerance. And it divides families and societies.”

Bhutan’s constitution does not restrict the right to convert or proselytize, but some Non-Governmental Organizations have said the government effectively limits this right by restricting construction of non-Buddhist worship buildings and celebration of some non-Buddhist festivals, according to the U.S. Department of State’s 2010 International Religious Freedom Report.

It adds that Bhutan’s National Security Act (NSA) further limits proclamation of one’s faith by prohibiting “words either spoken or written, or by other means whatsoever, that promote or attempt to promote, on grounds of religion, race, language, caste, or community, or on any other ground whatsoever, feelings of enmity or hatred between different religious, racial, or language groups or castes and communities.” Violation of the NSA is punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment, though whether
any cases have been prosecuted is unknown, according to the State Department report.

Bhutan’s first democratic prime minister after about a century of absolute monarchy, Thinley completed three years in office last Thursday (April 7). While he affirmed that it is allowable for Christians to proclaim their faith – a practice commanded by Christ, with followers agreeing that it is the Holy Spirit, not man, that “converts” people – Thinley made his suspicions about Christians’ motives manifest.

“Any kind of proselytization that involves economic and material incentives [is wrong],” he said. “Many people are being converted on hospital beds in their weakest and most vulnerable moments. And these people are whispering in their ears that ‘there is no hope for you. The only way that you can survive is if you accept this particular religion.’ That is wrong.”

Thinley’s suspicions include the belief that Christians offer material incentives to convert.

“Going to the poor and saying, ‘Look, your religion doesn’t provide for this life, our religion provides for this life as well as the future,’ is wrong. And that is the basis for proselytization.”

Christian pastors in Thimphu told Compass that the perception that Bhutan’s Christians use money to convert the poor was flawed.

The pastors, requesting anonymity, said they prayed for healing of the sick because they felt they were not allowed to preach tenets of Christianity directly. Many of those who experience healing – almost all who are prayed for, they claimed – do read the Bible and then believe in Jesus’ teachings.

Asked if a person can convert if she or he believed in Christianity, the prime minister replied, “[There is] freedom of choice, yes.”

In his interview with Compass, Thinley felt compelled to defend Buddhism against assertions that citizens worship idols.

“To say that, ‘Your religion is wrong, worshiping idols is wrong,’ who worships idols?” he said. “We don’t worship idols. Those are just representations and manifestations that help you to focus.”

Leader of the royalist Druk Phuensum Tshogpa party, Thinley is regarded as a sincere politician who is trusted by Bhutan’s small Christian minority. He became the prime minister in April 2008 following the first democratic election after Bhutan’s fourth king, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, abdicated power in 2006 to pave the way toward democracy.

Until Bhutan became a constitutional monarchy in 2008, the practice of Christianity was believed to be banned in the country. The constitution now grants the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion to all citizens. It also states that the king is the protector of all religions.

Thus far, the Religious Organisations Act of 2007 has recognized only Buddhist and Hindu organizations. As a result, no church building or Christian bookstore has been allowed in the country, nor can Christians engage in social work. Christianity in Bhutan remains confined to the homes of local believers, where they meet for collective worship on Sundays.

Asked if a Christian federation should be registered by the government to allow Christians to function with legal recognition, Thinley said, “Yes, definitely.”

The country’s agency regulating religious organizations under the 2007 act, locally known as the Chhoedey Lhentshog, is expected to make a decision on whether it could register a Christian federation representing all Christians. The authority is looking into provisions in the law to see if there is a scope for a non-Buddhist and non-Hindu organization to be registered. (See http://www.compassdirect.com, “Official Recognition Eludes Christian Groups in Bhutan,” Feb. 1.)

On whether the Religious Organisations Act could be amended if it is determined that it does not allow legal recognition of a Christian federation, the prime minister said, “If the majority view and support prevails in the country, the law will change.”

Thinley added that he was partially raised as a Christian.

“I am part Christian, too,” he said. “I read the Bible, occasionally of course. I come from a traditional [Christian] school and attended church every day except for Saturdays for nine years.”

A tiny nation in the Himalayas between India and China, Bhutan has a population of 708,484 people, of which roughly 75 percent are Buddhist, according to Operation World. Christians are estimated to be between 6,000 to nearly 15,000 (the latter figure would put Christians at more than 2 percent of the population), mostly from the south. Hindus, mainly ethnic Nepalese, constitute around 22 percent of the population and have a majority in the south.

 

Religious ‘Competition’

Bhutan’s opposition leader, Lyonpo Tshering Togbay, was equally disapproving of religious conversion.

“I am for propagation of spiritual values or anything that allows people to be good human beings,” he told Compass. “[But] we cannot have competition among religions in Bhutan.”

He said, however, that Christians must be given rights equal to those of Hindus and Buddhists.

“Our constitution guarantees the right to freedom of practice – full stop, no conditions,” he said. “But now, as a small nation state, there are some realities. Christianity is a lot more evangelistic than Hinduism or Buddhism.”

Togbay said there are Christians who are tolerant and compassionate of other peoples, cultures and religions, but “there are Christians also who go through life on war footing to save every soul. That’s their calling, and it’s good for them, except that in Bhutan we do not have the numbers to accommodate such zeal.”

Being a small nation between India and China, Bhutan’s perceived geopolitical vulnerability leads authorities to seek to pre-empt any religious, social or political unrest. With no economic or military might, Bhutan seeks to assert and celebrate its sovereignty through its distinctive culture, which is based on Buddhism, authorities say.

Togbay voiced his concern on perceived threats to Bhutan’s Buddhist culture.

“I studied in a Christian school, and I have lived in the West, and I have been approached by the Jehovah’s Witness – in a subway, in an elevator, in a restaurant in the U.S. and Switzerland. I am not saying they are bad. But I would be a fool if I was not concerned about that in Bhutan,” he said. “There are other things I am personally concerned about. Religions in Bhutan must live in harmony. Too often I have come across people who seek a convert, pointing to statues of our deities and saying
that idol worship is evil worship. That is not good for the security of our country, the harmony of our country and the pursuit of happiness.”

The premise of the Chhoedey Lhentshog, the agency regulating religious organizations, he said, “is that all the different schools of Buddhism and all the different religions see eye to eye with mutual respect and mutual understanding. If that objective is not met, it does not make sense to be part of that.”

It remains unclear what the legal rights of Christians are, as there is no interaction between the Christians and the government. Christian sources in Bhutan said they were open to dialogue with the government in order to remove “misunderstandings” and “distrust.”

“Thankfully, our political leadership is sincere and trustworthy,” said one Christian leader.

Asserting that Christians enjoy the right to worship in Bhutan, Prime Minister Thinley said authorities have not interfered with any worship services.

“There are more Christian activities taking place on a daily basis than Hindu and Buddhist activities,” he added.

Report from Compass Direct News
http://www.compassdirect.org