TIME Vietnam

Top Vietnamese Minister Says It’s Time for the U.S. to Drop the Arms Embargo

China suggests six steps to boost ASEAN ties
Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh delivers a speech at the opening ceremony of the 11th China-ASEAN Expo and the 11th China-ASEAN Business and Investment Summit in Nanning, China, on Sept.16, 2014 Peng Huan—Imaginechina

Washington looks like it might agree

Vietnam’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh has said that Hanoi would welcome the U.S. dropping a decades-old arms embargo against his country.

“Nearly 20 years ago, we normalized the relations with the United States and in 2013 we set up the comprehensive partnership with the United States,” he said during a talk at the Asia Society in New York City on Wednesday. “So the relation is normal and the ban on [selling] lethal weapons to Vietnam is abnormal.”

Minh’s pronouncement came a day after Reuters published a story citing an unidentified American official and two senior executives in the U.S. weapons industry who stated that Washington was on the verge of lifting the 30-year-old ban targeting its erstwhile enemy.

The assessment follows similar comments made earlier in the summer by Ted Osius, who is currently awaiting confirmation of his appointment as the next U.S. ambassador to Vietnam. During a hearing with a Senate panel in June, the veteran diplomat said it might be “time to begin exploring the possibility of lifting the ban.”

“I think dropping of the embargo would represent a significant change in the relationship in a variety of important respects,” says Jonathan London, a professor and Vietnamese scholar at Hong Kong’s City University, and the author of Politics in Contemporary Vietnam: Party, State, and Authority Relations.

“Not only would Vietnam be able to acquire arms and equipment, which it sorely needs particularly with respect to maritime capabilities, but it would also imply opportunities to deepen military-to-military ties between the countries and I think arguably that’s at least as significant as the ability to acquire arms.”

The warming of ties between Hanoi and Washington follows an exceptionally rocky period in relations between Vietnam and Beijing.

In May, Vietnam’s smoldering distrust of its northern neighbor erupted after a billion-dollar drilling platform belonging to a Chinese state-owned company dropped anchor in the middle of fiercely contested waters near the disputed Paracel archipelago in the South China Sea.

The presence of the drilling unit set off riots across Vietnam and led to months of maritime clashes as Vietnamese cutters tangled with Chinese coast guard vessels, until the rig was withdrawn from the contentious site in July.

Despite increased tensions with Beijing, experts say Vietnam’s leadership remains pragmatic and unlikely to abruptly give up its relationship with China for the sake of closer ties with Washington.

“Vietnam is a long way from joining any alliance with the U.S. — it doesn’t even participate in the CARAT [Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training] naval cooperation exercises with the U.S. that almost every other ASEAN country does,” Bill Hayton, author of The South China Sea: The Struggle for the Power in Asia, tells TIME.

“However, it is hedging its bets and warning China to moderate its actions in the South China Sea, particularly.”

During the question-and-answer session at the Asia Society, Foreign Minister Minh brushed off the suggestion by the society’s moderator that the potential sale of U.S. hardware to Vietnam would irritate Beijing.

“If we do not buy weapons from the United States, we will still buy weapons from other countries,” said Minh.

TIME

War to Peace

chuck Searcy portrait
Searcy poses with now harmless U.S. bombs outside a museum in Quang Tri Aaron Joel Santos for TIME

An American 
veteran returns to Vietnam to help make it safer for 
his former enemy

Nearly 40 years on, Chuck Searcy is still fighting the Vietnam War—but now for the other side. It’s a September morning and Searcy, a 69-year-old veteran, is overseeing a team of Vietnamese about to blow up a bomb discovered in a village in the central coastal province of Quang Tri. Because of its proximity to the old DMZ between what was once North and South Vietnam, Quang Tri was subject to relentless bombing by U.S. warships and planes. As a result, the area is infested with unexploded ordnance (UXOs).

Now, after a torrential downpour, a UXO—in this case a baseball-size cluster bomblet—has surfaced in a villager’s garden. Team members use sirens and megaphones to evacuate residents. Sandbags are placed around the explosive. Moments later a concussive detonation rumbles through the hamlet as the deadly weapon is destroyed. “It’s safe now,” Searcy, a co-founder of the ordnance-removal organization Project Renew, says in Vietnamese.

Long after the Vietnam War ended in 1975, Washington and Hanoi remained foes. Besides being ideological opponents, the U.S. imposed an embargo that hindered large investments in Vietnam. But their relationship improved rapidly after they normalized diplomatic ties in 1995. Today the U.S. is Vietnam’s third biggest trading partner and its biggest export market. The two have also been brought closer by their mutual concern over China’s rise. Hanoi is now a frequent stop for top American officials visiting Southeast Asia, and Washington is even thinking of easing an arms embargo on Vietnam.

Searcy underwent a similar journey of alienation and re-engagement. He wasn’t in Vietnam long—just about a year in the late 1960s, working as an intelligence analyst in Saigon (now called Ho Chi Minh City). That’s all it took to disillusion him. The North Vietnamese engaged in propaganda, but so did the Americans. Searcy says he massaged information to fit U.S. policy: “We were lying.” After the war was over, Searcy felt a sense of relief—and release. “I sort of put Vietnam behind me,” he says in his Southern drawl.

In the next 25 years, Searcy had successful careers in media, politics and public service. He started a weekly paper in Athens, Georgia (his home state), and helped run political campaigns. He also served six years as director of the Georgia Trial Lawyers Association. Yet, try as he did, he could not forget Vietnam. “For me and most American veterans, [it] was the most profound experience of our lives.” Searcy went back for the first time in 1992 with an army buddy. Over a month, the two traveled the length of the now unified communist country. Searcy says the trip was life-changing: “I was astonished at the complete lack of anger or bitterness or hostility from the Vietnamese toward us returning GIs. It was amazing.”

Searcy was struck, too, by the determination of the Vietnamese to rebuild their battle-scarred nation. “I began to think that I’d like to contribute because I felt some responsibility as an American for what happened there.” A few years after his visit to Vietnam, Searcy turned down a good job with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in Washington. His new mission: help make Vietnam a safer place for its people.

During the Vietnam War, U.S. forces dropped anywhere between 8 million and 15 million tons of ordnance across Indochina—several times that used by Allied forces on the Axis powers in World War II. The U.S. Department of Defense estimates that at least 10% of the munitions failed to detonate on impact. Since the war’s end, some 100,000 people have been killed or maimed by the residual explosives. Vietnamese officials say 83% of Quang Tri province is contaminated by UXOs.

Searcy decided that they needed to be tackled in a systematic way. In 2001 he founded Project Renew with support from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund and the Quang Tri People’s Committee. Key to the operations has been the use of Vietnamese teams and resources. The 100-strong outfit is staffed primarily by locals. The province’s Youth Union teaches adults and children to identify ordnance and then call a hotline run by Project Renew when bombs are discovered. Through Vietnam’s Department of Health and local hospitals, amputees are fitted with prosthetics, while the Women’s Union helps manage microcredit loans for victims. “I’m very grateful to international organizations and friends who come back and help clean up the deadly remnants of war,” says retired Vietnamese colonel Bui Trong Hong, Project Renew’s national technical officer. “People like them understand how badly our country was devastated.”

Just in the past 24 months, Project Renew has eliminated about 27,000 pieces of ordnance, with only one accident reported in the past year in the districts where the teams operate. “[The system] results in a lot more ordnance destroyed on a daily basis,” says Searcy. Project Renew wants to scale up the Quang Tri model nationwide with the help of additional funding from the U.S. government. “It could happen in the next five to 10 years, at which point we Americans step back and can say we finally did what we should have done 40 years ago,” says Searcy. Perhaps then, for him, the war will be truly over.

TIME Opinion

How I Got Out of the Vietnam Draft — And Why That Still Matters

amnesty: Sept. 9, 1974
The Sept. 9, 1974, issue of TIME reports on the amnesty proposal, which was issued on Sept. 16, 1974. TIME

The Vietnam draft dodgers were offered amnesty 40 years ago today, but their story isn't over

My ’60s high-school experience was close to the stereotype — smoking pot, trying LSD, seeing the world in a new way, and questioning authority: If the government lied about drugs, why not about other things?

It turned out that the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, the justification for the Vietnam War, was one of those lies — as have been the justifications for most of our wars, I believe — but I didn’t find that out until later. Still, even before I knew that war was based on a lie, I could see that our nation was divided and confused about it. No one could give me a good, clear, convincing explanation of what was going on. Wasn’t that uncertainty a sufficient reason to refrain from killing millions of people? That’s how I felt at the time, though I couldn’t have articulated it so well back then.

I didn’t figure that out all by myself. I had the good fortune to fall in with some other teenagers who were also figuring it out. We spent many hot summer afternoons in someone’s cool basement, playing peace music and reading counterculture comic books. We listened to the sound track of Hair over and over. Clear Light’s cover of “Mr. Blue” was a stunning indictment of authoritarianism, though I didn’t learn the word “authoritarianism” until years later.

We felt that the war and the draft were bad, but I didn’t fully understand what my friends were going through; my own experience was too different. I was good at math, so I knew I’d be going to college, and I’d automatically get a draft deferment. Also, I felt less nationalism than most people. For me it would be just an inconvenience, not a great hardship, to flee to Canada, at that time a safe haven for draft dodgers. I knew that I would never wear a uniform.

Then, in November 1969, after I’d been in college for a year, the rules changed. A lottery began phasing out student deferments. My roommates and I started thinking and talking more about the draft. It occurred to me that the people on the draft board were human beings who deserved a friendly hello as much as anyone did, so I wrote them a letter.

The letter was very brief. I don’t remember the exact words, but they were something like this: “Dear Draft Board, I feel sorry for President Nixon. He must have had a terrible childhood. Why else would he be bombing all those Cambodians?”

It wasn’t just ink on paper. I thought anyone on a draft board must have a terribly drab life and deserved some cheering up – so, when my breakfast cereal box was empty, I cut out the front panel, which included a colorful cartoon character. I flipped it over to the blank cardboard that had faced the inside of the box. In crayon, with the great innocence that can come from LSD, I wrote the letter that I sent to my draft board.

It wasn’t a conscious attempt to get out of the draft. That payoff hadn’t even occurred to me. But my draft board promptly decided I was crazy, and classified me 4F, unfit for military service. They even phoned my parents to offer condolences. I got off lucky; a more authoritarian board would have drafted my sorry ass right then and there.

Perhaps I was crazy, but not as crazy as war. At any rate, I was safe, and home free, and no longer affected by the draft. I hardly noticed the draft-related events of the next few years: In 1973 the draft ended, in 1974 President Ford offered conditional amnesty to the draft dodgers — 40 years ago today — and in 1975 the war ended. But by then the draft had already done great damage to the U.S. military and its image. I’ve heard many stories of soldiers who didn’t like what they were forced to do.

During my college years, at first I joined in a few antiwar marches. But I found political arguments frustrating, so after a while I put them aside; I left the world in the hands of people who claimed to know what they were doing. I grew into a middle-class life, with spouse, house, two kids, and a tenured mathematics professorship at a prestigious university. I didn’t think about political ideas again for decades. Then, in 2006, a number of changes in my life gave me time to think, and I woke up. I realized the world was a mess, and taking care of it is the responsibility of all of us; it seems to me that the people in whose hands I’d left it did not know what they were doing. Since then I’ve been marching for many causes, and reading and writing about politics. Among other things, I’ve formed much stronger opinions about war and the draft.

It turned out that the Vietnam War never really ended — it changed its name and location, but as far as I can see, the questionable justifications have not changed. Politicians tell us that the people “over there” are different from us, but really those people are our cousins. I think we need politicians who will try harder to make diplomacy work.

And the draft never really ended either — now it’s a poverty draft. I hear stories all the time about people joining the military because they can’t find a decent job. Forty years after the draft dodgers were offered pardon, their message still matters: being able to choose what you’ll fight for is a freedom worth fighting for.

Eric Schechter is Professor Emeritus of Mathematics at Vanderbilt University. Since his retirement in 2013, he has devoted his time to political causes.

Read 1974 coverage of President Ford’s decision to grant amnesty to draft evaders here, in TIME’s archives: Choices on Amnesty

TIME Vietnam

Americans Can Adopt Vietnamese Kids Again After a Long Ban

VIETNAM-CHILDREN-DISABLED
This picture taken on May 28, 2013 shows young children playing on the grounds of the Bo De Pagoda orghanage in Hanoi. HOANG DINH NAM —AFP/Getty Images

Certain restrictions will remain in place, however

The U.S. is set to lift a six-year ban on child adoption from Vietnam, albeit with certain restrictions from both sides.

American parents will initially only be able to adopt children who are older than 5, have disabilities or have siblings, Bloomberg reports. U.S. embassy spokeswoman Lisa Wishman said Vietnam’s Ministry of Justice would make an official announcement on overseas adoptions on Sept. 16 in Hanoi.

Washington prohibited Americans from adopting Vietnamese children in 2008, Bloomberg says, following allegations of babies being sold in the Southeast Asian nation. Numerous restrictions on adoption from other countries have caused a 69% drop in U.S. adoptions from overseas since a peak in 2004.

“Both countries know that adoption is good for these kids,” said Tad Kincaid, founder of an organization in Ho Chi Minh City called Orphan Impact that provides technology training to orphans. Kincaid told Bloomberg that Vietnam has no foster-care system and domestic adoptions aren’t common.

Under the new agreement, there will be only two adoption agencies — Dillon International Inc. and Holt International Children’s Services Inc. — licensed to operate in Vietnam. There were over 40 agencies operating in the country before the ban was put in place.

[Bloomberg]

TIME technology

The World’s Top 5 Cybercrime Hotspots

"More cyber criminals are entering into the game at a quicker pace than quite honestly we can keep up with."

A Russian crime ring is suspected of obtaining access to a record 1.2 billion username and password combinations, shedding renewed light on how vulnerable online personal information can be. Cybersecurity firm Hold Security said the gang of hackers was based in a city in south central Russia and comprised roughly ten men in their twenties who were all personally acquainted with each other, the New York Times reported.
Cybersecurity experts say this enormous data breach is just the latest evidence that cybercrime has become a global business—one that, including all types of cybercrime, costs the world economy an estimated $400 billion a year. Complex malicious software, or malware, is finding its way into the hands of hackers not just in known cybercrime hubs like Russia and China but also in Nigeria and Brazil, while expanding Internet access around the world means that there are more potential cybercriminals who can easily acquire online the skills and know-how to join the craft.
“It appears more cybercriminals are entering into the game at a quicker pace than quite honestly we can keep up with [in the US] to defend our networks from these malicious hackers,” says JD Sherry, the vice president of technology and solutions at Trend Micro, a Tokyo-based cyber-security firm.
Here’s a look at the global hotspots for these cyber criminals:
Russia

Crime syndicates in Russia use some of the most technologically advanced tools in the trade, according to Sherry. “The Russians are at the top of the food chain when it comes to elite cyberskill hacking capabilities,” he says. Even before the latest revelations of stolen online records, the United States charged a Russian man, Evgeniy Bogachev, of participating in a large-scale operation to infect hundreds of thousands of computers around the world. The massive data breach of the retailer Target last year has also been traced to Eastern Europe.
But why Russia, and its smaller neighbors? Trained computer engineers and skilled techies in Russia and countries like Ukraine and Romania may be opting for lucrative underground work instead of the often low-paying I.T. jobs available there. But the Russian government has in the past also been less than helpful in helping U.S. authorities track down wanted cybercriminals. “The key really is the lack of law enforcement environment, the feeling that you can do almost anything and get away with it,” says Dmitri Alperovitch, a Russia-born U.S. citizen and co-founder and CTO of security firm CrowdStrike. “They were able to grow and evolve into organized enterprises.”
China

China is considered to be another stalwart hotbed for hackers, though the spotlight has primarily fallen not on gangs of criminals, but on the Chinese government, which has been linked to economic and political espionage against the U.S. In May, the Justice Department moved to charge five Chinese government officials with orchestrating cyberattacks against six major U.S. companies. Unaffiliated Chinese hackers have also posed a problem inside and outside the country, but according to Alperovitch there’s a surprisingly low presence relative to the size of the country. “We can speculate as to why, but the most likely reason is that the people that are identified doing this activity by the Chinese government get recruited to do this full time for the government,” he says.

Brazil

Sherry calls Brazil “an emerging cybercrime economy.” Cybercriminals there and across South America are increasingly learning from their counterparts in Eastern Europe via underground forums. They’ll also pay for Eastern European tools to use in their own attacks, using highly complex Russian-made software that Sherry says can include millions of lines of code. That black market has become so sophisticated that Eastern European hackers now provide I.T. support for customers buying their malware, according to Sherry. So far, most of the attacks that originate in Brazil target local individuals and firms, including the recently reported cybertheft of billions of dollars from an online payment system. “The question is, when will that change?” says Jim Lewis, a senior fellow at the Strategic Technologies Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Nigeria

The original home of low-tech scam emails remains a key player in underground cyber activity and has become a destination for international cybercrime syndicates, according to Sherry. Authorities in Nigeria and other African countries have been slow to crackdown on scammers and hackers, even as more people connect to the Internet. “It’s proving to be a very comfortable environment for cybercriminals to set up shop, operate, and carry out their illegal activities,” Sherry says. Recent efforts by President Jonathan Goodluck to legislate cybercrime in Nigeria have served to push some of the activity into other countries in the region, such as Ghana.

Vietnam

Tech firms in Southeast Asia have a long history of working with Western software firms and other tech companies, Sherry says, meaning there is a broad base of tech expertise there. “People who are really good software engineers, those people are going to be naturals when it comes to taking off the ‘white hat’ and putting on the ‘black hat,’ Sherry says. In Vietnam, where the I.T. industry has expanded at a rapid rate in the last decade, a hacker allegedly masterminded the theft of up to 200 million personal records in the U.S. and Europe that included Social Security numbers, credit card data and bank account information. The communist government there has also been recruiting local hackers to spy on journalists, dissidents, and activists, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

TIME Vietnam

Vietnam Cat Owners Must Live With Fear of Pets Getting Stolen and Eaten

VIETNAM-FOODS-ANIMALS
A cook prepares a dish with cat meat at a restaurant in Hanoi on This picture taken on May 13, 2014. AFP/Getty Images

"It’s sweeter and tenderer than dog meat"

In Asia, there’s a growing demand for quirky cat cafés where customers can enjoy tea or coffee in the company of domesticated felines. But in Vietnam, the concept of cat cafés would likely take on a very different meaning — one that any cat lover would find abominable.

Despite an official ban on eating cats, restaurants in the Southeast Asian nation still offer the forbidden meat on their menus, reports Agence France-Presse. In fact, the consumption of felines appears to be rising, prompting cat owners to fear for their pets’ safety.

“Eating cat meat is better than eating dog as the meat is more sweet, more tender than a dog,” said chef Le Ngoc Thien.

According to AFP, at one central Hanoi restaurant the cats are drowned, shaved and burned to remove their fur before being butchered and fried with garlic. A snack of cat meat is colloquially known as little tiger, and typically served with beer and eaten at the beginning of the lunar month.

Thien says the demand for cat meat grows each year. “When I first started working here, I was surprised so many people ate cat,” he said. “But now, fine, they like it.”

It’s this growing demand that has pet owners worried. Cats sell for $50 to $70, depending on the size — a hefty sum for many in the impoverished nation. While cat traders claim to breed the animals legitimately, there are hardly any regulations in place to verify this, opening the proverbial cat-flap for pets to be stolen to keep up with demand.

“My family is sad because we spend a lot of time and energy raising our cats,” cat owner Phuong Thanh Thuy, who keeps the animals to catch rats and regularly loses some to thieves, told AFP. “When we lose a cat, we feel pain.”

[AFP]

TIME Vietnam

China Removes Contentious Oil Rig From Waters Claimed by Vietnam

Chinese Coast Guard vessel passes near the Chinese oil rig Haiyang Shi You 981 in the South China Sea
A Chinese coast-guard vessel passes near the Chinese oil rig Haiyang Shiyou 981 in the South China Sea, about 210 km (130 miles) from the coast of Vietnam on June 13, 2014. Reuters

But as its deployment led to fierce anti-Chinese rioting across Vietnam, don’t except Hanoi and Beijing to rekindle their once fraternal ties anytime soon

The rig is finally gone, but unlikely to be long forgotten.

On Tuesday, the state-backed China Oilfield Services Limited said the billion-dollar platform, which had been drilling in the heart of highly contested waters claimed by Vietnam, had “precisely extracted the related geological data as planned” and was being redeployed to sea blocks off China’s Hainan Island.

The Vietnamese coast guard confirmed the platform was being towed out of the disputed waters south of the Paracel Islands, claimed by Vietnam but occupied by the Chinese, late Tuesday night.

Since early May, the Haiyang Shiyou 981 rig had been anchored in waters that Vietnam claims fall well within its exclusive economic zone. Hanoi responded to the unannounced arrival by allowing the public to hold the first large-scale demonstrations in recent memory.

However, smoldering nationalist anger exploded into deadly bouts of rioting at industrial parks in the suburbs of Ho Chi Minh City and in central Vietnam’s Ha Tinh province in mid-May.

Factories were razed, several Chinese workers were killed and relations between the neighbors deteriorated to their lowest ebb since diplomatic ties were renewed in the early 1990s.

Beijing remained unmoved by Hanoi’s objections, despite continued protests from the highest levels of government.

“The relations are certainly damaged and the outlook is not encouraging, particularly as China has indicated it has plans to send out more oil rigs to disputed waters and has made provocative statements with respect to its plans in the Spratly chain,” Jonathan D. London, a professor and Vietnamese scholar at Hong Kong’s City University, tells TIME.

Tensions remain high. A study released by the Pew Research Center on Monday reported that 84% of the Vietnamese polled said they were concerned that conflict could erupt with their northern neighbor.

Professor Bruce Jacobs, an Asia expert at Australia’s Monash University, says the deployment of Haiyang Shiyou 981 must be viewed within the context of Beijing’s brazen maneuvers to consolidate its long-held, albeit highly disputed, grandiose maritime claims across the Asia-Pacific. “The oil rig was just part of that,” he says.

With China unrepentant, the U.S. has attempted to use the episode to strengthen relations with its Asian partnerships and position itself as an arbitrator in the Pacific.

Last week Michael Fuchs, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Strategy and Multilateral Affairs, called on all states claiming a stake in the South China Sea “to clarify and agree to voluntarily freeze certain actions and activities that escalate disputes and cause instability.”

In response, Beijing accused the U.S. of unsolicited meddling.

“We hope that countries outside the region can stay neutral, distinguish right from wrong and truly respect the joint efforts made by regional countries for peace and stability of the region,” said Hong Lei, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson, on Tuesday.

TIME China

Many Asian Nations Believe That a War With China Is Looming

Abner Afuang, a retired policeman, sets fire to an inverted Chinese national flag in a protest action in Manila,
Abner Afuang, a retired policeman, sets fire to an inverted Chinese national flag during a protest in Manila on June 9, 2014. Romeo Ranoco—Reuters

A majority in the Asian countries polled in a new Pew study say they fear a looming military conflict with China

China’s neighbors fear the worst is yet to come.

Strong-arm tactics and tough talk coming from Beijing in the past year have succeeded in convincing neighboring countries that war may just be around the corner, according to a new poll released by the Pew Research Center.

“In all 11 Asian nations polled, roughly half or more say they are concerned that territorial disputes between China and its neighbors will lead to a military conflict,” read the report published by the Washington, D.C.-based think tank on Monday.

In Vietnam, where relations with Beijing have been exceptionally tense since a state-owned Chinese drilling platform moved into disputed waters near the Paracel Islands in early May, 84% of participants said they were “very” or “somewhat” concerned that territorial disputes could lead to war.

In Japan, which is embroiled with Beijing in disputes over vacant outcroppings in the East China Sea, 85% concurred.

Farther south in the Philippines, 93% of those polled feared the possibility of conflict with China. The archipelago nation has a number of ongoing disputes with China in the South China Sea and, much to Beijing’s chagrin, is pursuing international arbitration in a bid to settle those claims.

While many of the territorial disagreements with China have been ongoing for years, a number of incidents initiated by Beijing in the past nine months have led to increasingly strained ties across the region.

The perennially taut relationship between Tokyo and Beijing reached a flash point late last year when China unilaterally declared the establishment of an air-defense zone that covered the skies over disputed isles in the East China Sea.

Both Manila and Hanoi have meanwhile accused China of maintaining a large presence of paramilitary vessels, coast-guard ships and fishing boats in disputed maritime areas in a bid to edge rival nations out of contested waters. Experts following the region say the tactic must have had clearance from the upper echelons of power in Beijing.

“Xi Jinping and the central military commission as well as key figures in Zhongnanhai — they took a calculated risk,” Alexander Neill, Shangri-La Dialogue Senior Fellow with the International Institute for Strategic Studies’ Asia office, tells TIME. “China is testing the tensile strength of the sort of hub-and-spokes alliance system in the region.”

A majority of the Filipinos, Japanese, Vietnamese and South Koreans surveyed considered China as their nation’s top threat and the U.S. as their nation’s most important ally, according to Pew.

Only Pakistani and Malaysian respondents named the U.S. as their top foe and saw China as their biggest ally. (Indonesia was the lone country where respondents named the U.S. as both their biggest threat and No. 1 partner.)

The publication of the Pew poll comes after Washington has upped both economic and military cooperation with its Asian allies and fostered relations with former foe Vietnam to counter China’s increasingly brazen moves in the Asia-Pacific. Beijing has not responded kindly.

“What we seem to be seeing is increasing polarization in Washington and in Beijing,” says Neill. “The Sino-U.S. relationship is going through a rocky period.”

Last week, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution calling on China to avoid engaging in behavior that would “destabilize the Asia-Pacific region” and to refrain from enforcing its air-defense zone.

But Beijing does not appear to be interested in backing down. An editorial published in the state-linked Global Times on Monday fired back at Washington.

“[China] has the right to safeguard its sovereignty and it has no intention to go to war,” read the editorial. “China will not make trouble, but equally is unafraid of any trouble.”

TIME

Bombs Bursting in Air: A War on Fireworks

4th of July Fireworks on the National Mall
4th of July Fireworks on the National Mall, Washington, D.C. Matt McClain—The Washington Post via Getty Im

Let’s think about banning the “BOOM!”

I grew up in a town so small and so not ready to spring money for fun (yes, Puritans were involved) that we didn’t even have a football team, let alone fireworks. The first time I heard fireworks, I was 9. They were so loud that I cried, but I also wanted to like them, because everyone else did. The colors were admittedly amazing and people were clapping, which I associated with Ice Capades. So I managed to join the party.

A decade or so later, I was watching a movie in a mall in Bogotá, Colombia, and suddenly, from outside, came a nonspecific rat-a-tat-tat. The movie stopped. We clustered in the center of the theater. Most people were ashen and silent. Some people laughed, albeit nervously. I (never missing an opportunity!) cried and asked panicked, unanswerable questions. We all knew it would have been unusual for a battle to just erupt outside a semi-suburban mall, but, considering a general escalation of violence in the city in 1989, it was not impossible. (And today, I dare anyone to giggle at such a noise.) We waited. After it stopped, a brave man went out to investigate. He came back laughing. It was fireworks, he said, set off to celebrate the mall’s anniversary. We exploded with relief.

Fireworks have been used for all kinds of celebrations in all kind of cultures ever since they were invented by the Chinese in the 7th century. But when we use them on the Fourth of July, we are commemorating a war. And that experience of hearing fireworks divorced from the context of potato salad alerted me to how much they truly evoke the sound of munitions.

Of course, our War of Independence ended long before anyone who’s alive today knew anyone who was alive who knew anyone who was alive back then, and if our last war had been say, the War of 1812, it might make sense to have a holiday wherein we indulged in play bombing sounds. But many wars—Vietnam, the wars Iraq and Afghanistan—are not long over (and for those living in those places, not really over at all). American veterans of these wars do not have the same uncomplicated relationship to fireworks that the rest of us seem to. And what about the millions of Americans who fled here because of wars in Southeast Asia, Central America, the Balkan States, The Middle East, Africa…? Do you think any of them put on their weekend to-do list “1. Tolerate, within a state of heightened anxiety, noises that remind me of a terrible situation from which I barely managed to escape”?

You will notice that the above list of embattled countries basically reads like “half the world.” Most Americans are very, very lucky to have escaped any homefront experience with war. So there’s perhaps something arrogant about being like, “Whoo! Let’s make lots of sounds that sound like war!” To say nothing of fireworks’ considerable expense, or the fact that they aren’t great for the air, or that they tax fire departments who need to be at the ready for other more important things, especially since wildfires are increasing and intensifying with climate change.

I’m not against fun, and I’m not always against maybe-not-environmentally-friendly fun. Meaning: I don’t blame people for loving giant trucks and speedboats and ATVs. I own a Toyota Yaris that is so light you could punt it like a football, but if money were no object and cars burned dried albizzia flowers instead of fuel, I would drive a Ford F150. But we don’t live in a world where driving a giant car means nothing, or where loud, scary, artillery-like noises mean nothing. Now I’m not saying “Fireworks are bad, ban them!” or “Let’s make the Fourth a day to weave God’s Eyes together!” (Though if someone brings beer, I’m in.) But it’s worth imagining a world without them. And if you don’t believe me, ask the nearest Irish Setter.

Sarah Miller also writes for NewYorker.com and The Hairpin, among other outlets, and has published two novels, Inside the Mind of Gideon Rayburn and The Other Girl.

TIME Iraq

So How Successful Is the U.S. When It Comes to Ending Wars?

Kosovo Force (KFOR) soldiers from Greece, Germany and the U.S. stand guard at the closed Serbia-Kosovo border crossing of Jarinje
Kosovo Force soldiers from Greece, Germany and the U.S. stand guard at the closed Serbia-Kosovo border crossing of Jarinje on Sept. 29, 2011. Marko Djurica— Reuters

The U.S. has a mixed record when it comes to wrapping up conflicts, but one thing seems clear: pulling out suddenly, and totally, is never really a good idea

Ending a war is often a complicated affair.

In December 2011, President Obama told U.S. troops returning home from their final tours in Iraq that the American mission in the country was effectively accomplished.

“We’re leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq with a representative government that was elected by its people,” said Obama during a ceremony at Fort Bragg. He was wrong. Iraq was still fragile and haunted by simmering sectarian tensions.

The blitzkrieg offensive led by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and a smattering of Sunni militias last week across the country’s northwest has renewed discussion about the Obama Administration’s failure to negotiate a deal to leave behind a residual force in the country.

Debates over leaving American boots on the ground in foreign nations, after years of war, are often heated, especially when the conflicts were deeply unpopular. But here’s a quick rundown of how major U.S. withdrawals fared when peacekeeping outfits stayed behind in foreign theaters — vs. what happened when the military simply packed up camp and went home.

Japan

After six years of invasions, bombing campaigns, offensives and counteroffensives across Asia, the Second World War in the Pacific was brought to an end with Japan’s formal surrender on Sept. 2, 1945. The country’s military was disbanded by General Douglas MacArthur and a new “pacifist” constitution was drawn up to govern the nation.

Tokyo and Washington later signed a defense treaty that would allow U.S. forces to remain in the country and, in return, the American military would be responsible for the nation’s security. Today, 38,000 U.S. troops are still stationed in Japan at installations across the archipelago nation. How has the agreement fared? Extremely well. Japan has not engaged in any major military conflict since World War II and currently has the third largest economy in the world.

Korea

In the wake of Tokyo’s pullout from the peninsula in 1945 after the end of World War II, the U.S. established a residual presence south of the 38th parallel that was mostly made up of a small advisory force meant to help train the South Korean military.

However, according to Dr. Kalev I. Sepp, a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense: “Their presence, unsupported by air power or ground combat units, did not deter the North Korean army from invading the South in 1950, and almost conquering the entire country.”

Following years of bloody civil war in Korea, the 1953 armistice brought fighting between Pyongyang and Seoul to an end. In the war’s wake, the U.S. has maintained a massive military presence in the country, which includes infantry divisions, fighter jets and nearby battle fleets. Approximately 28,500 American troops are currently stationed in South Korea.

“This powerful deterrent force held the North Korean dictatorship in check for over a half-century to today, supporting the U.S. policy of defense of democratic South Korea,” says Sepp.

Although the Korean Peninsula is still technically at war, South Korea has enjoyed decades of peaceful development that have transformed the country from a flattened war zone to a humming international hub of commerce.

Vietnam

The precipitous collapse of the Southern Vietnamese government in the face of a massive Hanoi-led offensive marked one of the most embarrassing moments in the history of U.S. foreign policy, after tens of thousands of American lives were lost and billions of dollars poured into the floundering Republic of Vietnam.

In January 1973, Hanoi and Washington inked the Paris Peace Accords and the U.S. pulled out its troops just two months later.

Although President Richard Nixon claimed the deal would “end the war and bring peace with honor,” by April 1975, the North Vietnamese overran the south, and on April 30 tanks slammed through the gates of the Presidential Palace in Saigon. The Republic of Vietnam vanished and the country was reunited under communist rule after decades of conflict and more than a century of colonial occupation.

The country was almost immediately pinned down in large-scale wars with Cambodia and China following the American pullout. Another 20 years would pass before the U.S. and Vietnam would normalize relations.

The Balkans

U.S.-led NATO offensives in Bosnia and Kosovo, in the wake of years of gruesome sectarian war in the former Yugoslavian territories, ended with negotiated deals ironed out in Dayton, Ohio, and in a U.N. Security Council Resolution. Following the agreements, massive peacekeeping forces were left behind in both countries and then gradually withdrawn as tensions cooled between the various ethnic groups and stakeholders in the region.

In Bosnia, approximately 54,000 peacekeepers had boots on the ground in 1995, but by 2011 only a few thousand remained. Similarly, 50,000 peacekeepers were deployed to Kosovo in 1999. As of last year, about 5,000 remained.

“I think the key lesson to learn from the Balkans is when you’ve got a highly mobilized ethno-sectarian identity war, like we had in the Balkans and like we had in Iraq by 2006, people don’t just get over these kinds of fears and hatreds that sort of warfare produces overnight,” Stephen Biddle, adjunct senior fellow for defense policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, tells TIME.

According to Biddle, residual forces in the Balkans provided a textbook example of how peacekeepers can be utilized to create breathing space for states recovering from bloody bouts of sectarian fighting and provide a way for grievances to be mediated instead of allowing them to relapse into tit-for-tat violence.

“[It] in turn tends to keep the temperature down and the violence level under wraps as the various internal parties gradually relearn to cooperate with each other,” says Biddle.

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