Thursday, October 30, 2014

‘Till Death Do Us Part’ - China tomb-raiding and selling women's corpses for 'ghost marriage' rituals


Police in eastern China have arrested 11 people for their alleged roles in digging up dead women’s bodies which were then sold into ritual “ghost marriages”.

The suspects exhumed a woman’s body from a village grave in Shandong province in March and sold it to a middleman for 18,000 yuan (HK$22,760), Shandong Radio and Television reported.

The custom of ghost marriages requires a woman’s body be buried alongside a newly deceased bachelor so that he won’t be alone in the afterlife. It may date back to the 17th century BC and is mostly practised today in rural areas of Shaanxi, Shanxi, Henan, Hebei and Guangdong provinces.

The lead suspect, identified by the surname Wang, said the fresher the bodies, the more they were worth.

“Years-old carcasses are not worth a damn, while the ones that have just died, like this one, are valuable,” Wang said in a clip aired in the news broadcast, referring to the body of a woman unearthed three months after she was buried.

“They could be sold for somewhere between 16,000 and 20,000 yuan,” Wang said.

The woman’s body was then circulated on the black market, moving across several cities, before it was eventually sold to the family of a dead bachelor in neighbouring Hebei province for 38,000 yuan, the report said.

The suspects were accused of stealing corpses, a criminal offence punishable by up to three years in prison.

Beicheng police officer Zhang Linhai, who is in charge of case, declined to provide more details when reached for comment on Thursday, saying that the investigation was still ongoing.

The tradition of ghost marriages is becoming rarer in contemporary China as authorities had for years labelled it an outdated superstition. But a number of cases have been reported in different parts of the country in recent years, showing that the practice still has deep roots in some rural areas.

In 2009, a grieving father from Shaanxi paid a team of grave robbers 33,000 yuan to find a suitable bride for his son, who had recently died in a car crash. They were later arrested for exhuming the remains of a teenage girl who had killed herself not long after failing her college entrance exam. South China Morning Post

And in 2011, a Shaanxi man murdered a pregnant woman in order to sell her body to a family pursuing a ritual ghost marriage for 22,000 yuan. He was later sentenced to death.



Democracy, Human Rights and All That Take a Back Seat in America’s Asia Policy

WHEN Barack Obama ducked out of two summits in Indonesia and Brunei a year ago, the credibility of the “pivot to Asia” he had proclaimed, giving the region greater importance in American foreign policy, took a big knock. This month he is due to show up at back-to-back gatherings in Beijing, Naypyidaw, the capital of Myanmar, and Brisbane in Australia, giving him a chance to hammer out the dent. It will be a struggle. The centrepiece of the economic aspect of the pivot, a regional free-trade agreement called the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), is still not a done deal. Some Asians remain unsure about whether the strategic, military pivot really amounts to much. And there is yet another difficulty: the perception in Asia that America’s faith in the universality of its ideals of freedom and democracy has weakened.

American leaders used to raise the issues of human rights and democracy in Asia at almost every opportunity, especially where China was concerned, but also in Indonesia, Myanmar, Vietnam and elsewhere. That they no longer hector so loudly is welcome to many governments. But it seems to jar with American professions of continued leadership.

The reticence reflects two trends. One is that the world seems to be in flames elsewhere. The rise of Islamic State (IS), the spread of Ebola and the forced partition of Ukraine: all have hijacked America’s attention. When American leaders have microphones thrust in their faces, questions about Asia are not the first they have to answer, and when they look at Asia it is through the prism of other global problems.

The other is that America’s strategic and economic ambitions in Asia have a higher priority than promoting American political values. Take America’s muted reaction to a number of recent political developments around Asia. In Hong Kong, where student-led protesters this week marked a month of sit-ins on big thoroughfares, American officials have voiced support for their main demand of genuine universal suffrage in the election for the territory’s chief executive in 2017, rather than the sham version offered by China.Yet Mr Obama has held his tongue on the protests. To speak out might encourage the paranoid tendency in China that sees the unrest as part of an American-led plot to weaken and ultimately topple Communist Party rule. To stay silent, however, suggests that Mr Obama does not see Hong Kong as important enough to risk adding yet another complication to a fraught relationship with China.

America’s president will also have to think hard what to say about Myanmar when he goes to the East Asia Summit held there. Liberalising reforms since 2011 have been held out as the great success of his “unclenched-fist” policy towards the country, with the strategic benefit of forging a partnership with a place that had been stuck in China’s orbit. But the mood has soured. Hopes have faded of amending a constitution that guarantees the army a blocking minority in parliament and bars the opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, from the presidency. Some now doubt that the general election due next year will even take place. To emphasise the many positive changes in Myanmar may look starry-eyed; to harp on about the setbacks would blur a rare foreign-policy bright spot.

Even in Thailand, where the army staged its latest coup in May, America’s position has not been entirely clear. It has condemned the putsch, called for the restoration of democracy and suspended a modest amount of military aid to its old ally. But it has stepped back from a threat to move the annual “Cobra Gold” joint Thai-American military exercises out of the country next year. America’s links with Thailand have withstood countless changes of government. It would not want to jeopardise them entirely, and push Thailand deeper into China’s embrace.

Similarly, American policy toward Malaysia has been coloured by realpolitik. Opposition politicians and others identify a worrying repressive tendency in the government, with an archaic sedition law used to hound its opponents. And this week saw the culmination of a ludicrous trial on charges of sodomy of the opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim (whose coalition won the popular vote, though not a majority of seats, in last year’s general election). America, however, has been largely silent about all this, and, in Malaysia in April, Mr Obama did not even find time to meet Mr Anwar. Najib Razak, the prime minister, is an important regional ally—an elected, moderate Muslim ready to speak out against IS, and to take on domestic lobbies to bring Malaysia into the TPP. Moreover, Mr Obama and he are said to get on.

A more natural partner might be another moderate Muslim democrat, Joko Widodo, known as Jokowi, the new president of Indonesia, whose ascension to power as an outsider buoyed by grassroots support recalls Mr Obama’s own. America’s secretary of state, John Kerry, did attend the inauguration last month, and held a 30-minute meeting. But it seems he concentrated on America’s agenda—climate change, IS and Ebola—rather than Jokowi’s, or on how America might assist his shaky new administration.

Softly, softly

Playing down contentious issues of domestic politics in favour of international co-operation seems to make sense at a time of shifting global power and heightened tension. But it has a cost: it squanders part of America’s “soft power”, a great asset. Many in Asia believe that China is the waxing power and America the waning one. But America remains the place that far more young people want to visit and hope their own country can emulate. For all its flaws and mis-steps, it represents not just economic and military might, but an ideal to aspire to, in a way that China does not. And when American leaders appear to give less weight to that ideal, they not only diminish America’s attractions, they also lend more credence to the idea of its relative economic and military decline. By Banyan for The Economist


Dilemma of Being Left at Death's Door (incl: Indonesia)

         photo: Still on death row: Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumuran. Anta Kesuma

With Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's last days in office passing without an act of presidential clemency, two of Australia's "Bali Nine" convicted drug smugglers, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, remain on death row in Indonesia. They are liable to be taken out in the early hours any day to be shot by firing squad.

But even if the new president, Joko Widodo, commutes their sentences, Australia and New Zealand seem likely to remain quite isolated in our region in calling for abolition of the death penalty. So how should this sometimes forlorn argument be carried forward?

Frontal attacks on the "barbarity" of capital punishment only harden attitudes in foreign governments, if the Barlow and Chambers case in Malaysia (1986) and the Nguyen Tuong Van case in Singapore (2005) are a guide.

By contrast, about 35 Australians have faced court in Vietnam since 2001 for serious drug offences and six got the death penalty, as the Asian Law Centre's Professor Pip Nicholson told a recent forum held in Melbourne by the anti-capital punishment group Reprieve Australia. All six received presidential clemency.

Why did these cases not become a public cause in Australia? Professor Nicholson thinks it's partly due to the absence of Australian media in Vietnam, the closed nature of many trials, and language difficulties. More critically, Vietnam's leaders were given space.

"Those who have been involved in assisting with the defence or working with local lawyers in Vietnam on these cases are anxious to let the clemency process run its course without necessarily seeing that upset by the intrusion of a counter narrative from a Western media source about the inappropriateness of the death penalty," Prof Nicholson said.

"It is very helpful to run a moral narrative about a defendant facing serious charges in the local press," she added. "So, for example, if your defendant has been coerced or manipulated into offending, it is good to get that story out there in the Vietnamese press, but it is unhelpful to have Western media or foreign media 'sandwiching' the leadership which is minded to consider seriously clemency applications from a range of governments."

Lex Lasry, now a judge in the Victorian Supreme Court, acted for Nguyen Tuong Van in 2005. "The reality is, looking back at it, I think Van Nguyen was dead from the time he was arrested," he told the Reprieve gathering.

But there were lessons to be learnt for future cases. "The most counter-productive thing you can do is be insulting," Judge Lasry said. "It really ill behoves Australians to be too insulting about countries that have the death penalty because, after all, until the 1970s we had a mandatory death penalty too."

Another lesson was that there was the start of a debate in Asia which Australia could join.

Several countries have already shifted position. Notably, the Philippines abandoned capital punishment in 2006. Although they retain the penalty in their laws, South Korea has not carried out an execution since 1997, Thailand since 2009. Rather oddly, Myanmar has not carried out a judicial execution since the 1980s, Sri Lanka since 1976; although extra-judicial killings have been rife in both countries.

Perhaps as a delayed effect of its embarrassment in 2005, Singapore modified its law two years ago to give judges discretion not to apply the death penalty in cases like Nguyen's.

Indonesia, too, is in a bind. It has nearly 200 citizens facing the death penalty in Saudi Arabia and Malaysia mostly, many of them female domestic workers who struck out against abusive employers.

"The double standard is they defend Indonesian citizens against the death penalty overseas, but at the same time in Indonesia they apply the death penalty," said Todung Mulya Lubis, a leading Jakarta lawyer who tried in 2007 to get capital punishment ruled unconstitutional.

China is, of course, the elephant in the debate, almost too big to grapple with. According to the Dui Hua Foundation, which helps political prisoners, China carried out 2400 executions in 2013. This actually represents a "steep decrease" over the last decade or so, says Elisa Nesossi, an expert on the Chinese judicial system at the Australian National University's College of Asia and the Pacific. In 2002, for example, there were an estimated 12,000 executions, and further back in 1983 in a "Strike Hard" campaign against crime, about 20,000 were put to death.

The drop came after the chief justice of the Supreme People's Court, Xiao Yang, called in 2005 for a "Kill Fewer, Kill Cautiously" approach. In 2007, the state ordered all death sentences to be referred to the apex court by lower courts. "The number of reviews has increased and a lot of cases are sent back to the provinces for review," Ms Nesossi said.

A debate continues with some Chinese legal scholars and non-government groups arguing for a reduction in the number of crimes bringing the death penalty. "But numbers and processes remain opaque," Ms Nesossi said, "with the impact of the current campaigns against corruption and unrest in Xinjiang still unclear."

Criminology is part of the debate. Executions have little correlation to the rate of crimes they are supposed to deter. Drug seizures are rising in Singapore. Hong Kong's murder rate has fallen since it stopped hangings in 1966.

The possibility of wrong conviction is also too high to allow a penalty that cannot be reversed, especially in judicial systems like that of Japan which place a high value on confessions, and allow police to isolate and pressure suspects into making them.

But there's a moral argument that might be hardest to win. In many Asian countries (and the United States), politicians agree with majority public opinion that certain convicts deserve to die.

Pointing to a recent opinion poll showing 85 per cent support for the death penalty, Japan's then justice minister, Midori Matsushima, declared last month: "Japan currently has no intent to change its position on this issue."

Andrew Horvat, of Tokyo's Josai International University, says this stern morality quickly leads to criminals being judged incorrigible. "After that, it is quite easy to accept the idea that there are people who are so thoroughly evil or selfish that they no longer have the right to live," he said.

This also dispatches the idea of redemption, and the lessons it can give. The case of Norio Nagayama, convicted for a series of spree killings, is illustrative.

As a recent documentary film showed, psychiatric evidence about the effects of his abandonment as a child by a mother who was herself abused was kept away from the court by prosecutors. In jail, Nagayama became a noted novelist, came to terms with the gravity of his crimes and regularly wrote to the families of his victims, sending them funds from the royalties for his novels. Nonetheless, he was hanged in 1997.

Hamish McDonald is Journalist-in-Residence at the Australian National University's College of Asia and the Pacific.


Australia’s Delicate Soryu-Sub Balancing Act

                         photo: Japanese Soryu-class sub (Courtesy U.S. Pacific Fleet)

The fine line between defense partnerships and alliances must be managed carefully.

Defense ties between Japan and Australia have been progressing steadily this year, with Japan quickly becoming an important partner for Australia. Since their deal for Japan to transfer military technology this July and the subsequent agreement to purchase Japanese Soryu-class diesel submarines, not to mention high-level “two-plus-two” meetings between their defense and foreign ministers, it would appear that the two countries might be drifting toward a more formal alliance. While Japan’s current administration might indeed be interested in such an alliance despite its constitutional restraints, Australia is likely not interested in any formal structure that binds it to helping defend Japan, particularly given the deterioration in tensions with China in the East China Sea over the past few years.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Japanese officials are starting to refer to the relationship as a “quasi-alliance.” They claim the rapid expansion of ties has led them to become each other’s greatest defense partner aside from the U.S., while the principal deputy director of the National Security Policy Division within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Takuma Kajita, has said their cooperation on submarine technology and Australia’s sharing of satellite intelligence reflects the growing relationship. According to Kajita, “[Prime Minister Shinzo] Abe wants to raise the relationship between Japan and Australia considerably, his instructions are very clear, and he wants good trilateral relations between Japan, Australia and the U.S.” Toward this end, Japan established on April 1 an “Australia-Japan Defense Cooperation Office” within the defense ministry to manage the rapidly growing relationship.

Australia for its part appears to be tempering expectations about any formal alliance. It must balance its desire for Japanese hardware and military agreements with the U.S. against its enormous trade and investment relationship with China. So with regard to the Soryu development agreement, Canberra appears to be splitting the difference between its two biggest defense partners, which may in turn still upset China. According to “sources close to the matter” who spoke with the Yomiuri Shimbun, Australia will likely purchase the Japanese Soryu hulls and marry them to U.S. communications and weapons systems. This will ensure that the Australian and U.S. fleets maintain interoperability.

The sources also stated the three partners will probably hold talks in Australia on the sidelines of the G20 summit in November. “Officials of the three governments are coordinating views so that their leaders can exchange opinions on the joint development of the submarine while discussing military cooperation,” and that if the three countries agree to jointly develop Australia’s new submarine, their cooperative military relationship “will enter a new stage.”

This new, higher level of integration between the three is wholly advantageous for the U.S. and Japan, yet Australia has additional constraints. While it seeks the latest and most advanced military hardware, it cannot afford to be encumbered by any formal alliance with Japan, which is becoming more assertive in the East China Sea and boosting defense ties with China’s antagonists in the South China Sea, while simultaneously attempting to reinterpret its pacifist constitution to broaden its defense mandate. Japan’s interests are more in line with U.S. strategy, which seeks to contain China’s military rise at the lowest possible cost, by augmenting the military capabilities of regional allies in order to reduce the risk of direct confrontation. This approach is more difficult for Australia to maintain given its more diffuse interests in the region and less antagonistic relationship with China, creating a fine line Canberra must walk to keep from risking unnecessary conflict with Beijing. The Diplomat


Goodbye to Australia’s Worst P.M. -It remains shocking what Gough Whitlam put his country through in the 1970s.

Goodbye to Australias Worst P.M. -It remains shocking what Gough Whitlam put his country through in the 1970s.

By Hal G.P. Colebatch – 10.21.14

Australias worst-ever Prime Minister, Edward Gough Whitlam, died on Monday, aged 98.
Whitlam and the Australian Labor Party came to power at the end of 1972, inheriting from the previous Liberal (i.e. conservative) Government a stable, prosperous country which they proceeded to run into the ground.
 Australia was a long time recovering from their legacy of folly and criminality.
s very first action as Prime Minister was to restore the passport of Wilfrid Burchett, the Australian traitor and KGB operative who had helped interrogate allied prisoners of war in North Korea and helped fabricate fake germ-warfare confessions.
To gain credence in the Third World, Whitlam granted Papua New Guinea independence long before it had a trained and educated class capable of running it. Despite mineral wealth, it is now a typical corrupt broken-backed third world state, kept barely afloat by Australian aid.
When Saigon fell in April 1975, Whitlam directed the Royal Australian Air Force not to evacuate Vietnamese who had worked for the Australians and whose lives were at risk.
Huge Hercules transport aircraft flew out of Saigon and Da Nang empty. He even frustrated U.S. attempts to get them out. The blood of the Australian-associated Vietnamese who died in jungle re-education camps is on Whitlams hands.
Later, in opposition, Whitlam and his cohorts would lead an unsuccessful campaign to refuse sanctuary to Vietnamese boat-people, and demanded their forcible repatriation, à la Yalta. His minister for immigration, Clyde Cameron, spread false statements that they were prostitutes and black-marketeers who were riddled with an incurable venereal disease.
s government was the first in the Western World to recognize the psychopaths who took over Cambodia (an event Labor spokesmen hailed) and proceeded to murder about a third of the population.
He connived at the Indonesian takeover of East Timor and the brutal repression that followed.
The Whitlam Government was also the first in the Western world to ratify the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact by extending recognition to the Soviet incorporation of the Baltic States, Whitlam claiming this was simply recognizing reality as they would be part of Russia forever.
Furious Baltic refugees followed him round Australia demonstrating, and it has been suggested this sparked his hatred of refugees from Communist countries.
At least one would
-be defector, the young Russian violinist Georgi Ermolenko, was seized and forcibly repatriated with the aid of a KGB man from Canberra and the Royal Australian Air Force. Naturally, Whitlam adored Mao Tse-tung and severed relations with Taiwan.
A subsequent Labor Finance Minister, Peter Walsh, said a majority of Whitlam
s cabinet were economic cranks. Fiscal discipline was cast to the winds. Free University places were given to anyone that wanted them at the taxpayers’ expense, and to further buy popularity money was showered on the arts, giving rise to a tsunami of dreadful poetry.
As a small example of this craziness a 10-year-old boy was given, at taxpayers’expense, a set of film-making equipment. Attempts to set up Aboriginal turtle farms (the Aborigines concerned having been taught nothing about turtle-farming) collapsed in farce. (A cartoon showed two small businesses side-by-side: “Toby
s Turtle Farm and Tobys crunchy meat pies.) These were only vignettes against an overarching factor of fiscal policy completely out to control. Inflation, which had been about 4 percent under the Liberals, reached towards 20 percent and unemployment followed in lockstep.
With fixed-income earners suffering, his wife Margaret advised them to “shop competitively.” Asked about the Prime Minister’s domestic arrangements, she claimed, “We control things together, like a King and Queen.”
An Australian Assistance Plan was set up to create regions ”that would allow Canberra to bypass the State Governments for purposes of social engineering, as in Nazi Germany Hitler had set up regions or Gaus, under Gauleiters to directly transmit Berlin
s orders to every part of the Reich.
s sometime deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer, Jim Cairns (even Whitlam had to sack him eventually for serial lying), had a long and prominent record of association with Soviet Peace fronts, and the Americans warned Whitlam he was a security risk. He attempted, through a shady Pakistani, to borrow $4 billion (in 1974 dollars), for purposes that were not stated but which could only have been to enable the Government to function without the consent of Parliament.  How the Australian Treasurer could have done such a thing strains credulity. Cairns printed money, and made large grants to favored companies who were big employers, in a crude attempt at vote-buying and picking winners.” On April 15, 1975, anti-tariff campaigner Bert Kelly sarcastically asked Cairns in Parliament: If printing money is a good solution to the unemployment problem, why not print more of the stuff and get rid of unemployment altogether?
Cairns replied:
We might do precisely that. There are still about 250,000 persons unemployed in Australia. I assure the honourable Member, and every other honourable Member, that if by government expenditure I can ensure that every one of those men is put to work, productively, I will make sure that he is.”
Believe it or not, Cairns was serious. The Australian economy was in the hands of a crack-pot and wrecker.
Of the rest of Whitlam
s cabinet, two, Al Grassby and Lionel Murphy, were thought on very strong evidence to have links with organized crime. (Murphy was made a High Court judge.) After Grassby's death, a number of revelations were made in the media, particularly in relation to his alleged links with the Calabrian mafia, and the disappearance and probable murder of anti-drugs campaigner Donald Mackay. The Melbourne Herald Sun ran a series of articles alleging Grassby used his influence to thwart a National Crime Authority investigation into the mafia, and to let mafia criminals into Australia, and that he was paid to do the mafia's bidding, including receiving a $40,000 payment from the Griffith mafia to smear MacKay widow Barbara.
Another, Rex Connor, had a crazy and bizarre plan to cover Australia with a network of gas pipelines, for what purpose nobody knew, and which had not been costed.
In various ways Whitlam and his colleagues tested the Australian Constitution to its limits. For the first time since Australia became a nation, there were mutterings of rebellion.
Finally, late in 1975 Parliament refused to vote the Government money to continue, and the Governor-General, Sir John Kerr, dismissed Whitlam and called an election. Kerr
s action, taken with the advice of Australias senior judge, was impeccably correct, but Whitlam did not accept dismissal gracefully, or do anything to calm what was at the time a fraught situation, with political violence possible, threatening, he said, “Well may we say, ‘God save the Queen, for nothing will save the Governor-General!
In the event, Whitlam and Labor were rejected by the biggest landslide in Australian history, repeated when another election was called two years later. The rest of Whitlam
s career was a long-drawn anti-climax, fulminating against Vietnamese boat-refugees, and campaigning futilely for a republic.
Ironically, it was a later Labor Government, under R. J. Hawke, that began sensible and needed economic reforms such as Whitlam had had a chance to enact. His one uncharacteristically positive legacy was a 25 percent across-the-board tariff cut. It was unpopular, but right.


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

‘Free’ Trade and the Sovereignty Squeeze


Mercantilism in trade agreement rules-setting makes weaker economies slaves to the interests of economic hegemons.

A piece of news recently became popular in China: Germany is now the world’s largest trade surplus “bogeyman,” thanks to its persistent adherence to mercantilist policies. Germany’s high trade surplus – the biggest ever recorded in German history – attained amidst a wobbly economic recovery in Europe reminds China that the latter is hardly alone in pursuing economic policies that prioritize national interest over global and regional considerations of economic efficiency and political stability.

The classic mercantilism, the one associated with the idea that the precious metals obtained through a favorable balance of foreign trade were essential to a powerful nation, may be historically obsolete. The core of the mercantilist view, namely that self-interested states maximize economic development by optimizing political control to strengthen national power, is very much alive and well. Indeed, the vitality of mercantilism as a state of mind may have infiltrated every corner of the international political economy. If one considers the essence of mercantilism through Robert Gilpin’s definition – the attempt of governments to manipulate economic arrangements in order to maximize their own interests – multiple examples immediately come to mind: Japan’s “economic totalitarianism” system in which the entire society was united in deterring foreign competition in the postwar period, China’s ascendance since 1980s through an export-led development mode underpinned by a deliberately undervalued currency, and Germany’s unprecedented trade surplus accrued from the stringent austerity imposed on its economy to sustain competitiveness in the aftermath of the euro crisis.

Compared to those national triumphs of classic mercantilism, there is a less visible showroom, but one in which mercantilism presents itself over and over again in the form of legal mercantilism. This would be free trade agreements (FTAs), negotiations of which are usually kept in the dark. In bilateral FTA negotiations, legal mercantilist governments endeavor to impose their own (or desirable) trade rules and economic policies on other sovereign countries, usually with the aid of a combination of economic immensity, political hegemony, and asymmetric trade dependence, to create a sort of “international best practice,” favorable trade rules, and legal gains that can be leveraged and multilateralized at a regional and/or global level. The “competitive liberalization” strategy aptly pursued by the U.S. since 2002 is one such legal mercantilist policy, which aims to create another “gold standard” in international trade standard setting to project U.S.-friendly economic policies all over the world. In short, the U.S. expects the trade policies of other nations to follow those of the U.S., in the same way that their currencies used to peg to the U.S. dollar.

The U.S.–Peru FTA (PTPA) marks the very first success of Washington’s attempts to subordinate other countries’ sovereignty to its own national interest by squeezing non-trade-related provisions into a bilateral trade liberalization agreement and overriding foreign national laws. To provide a level playing field for American companies, the PTPA lays out detailed measures that Peru is obliged to take to govern its forest sector. The Forest Annex of the PTPA requires Peru to set up an independent forestry oversight body and even enact new Forestry and Wildlife Laws to legalize key provisions of PTPA. The U.S.–Colombia FTA (CTPA)’s labor provisions represent an “even more blatant assault on another country’s sovereignty.” Meanwhile, Colombia was forced to agree to establish a dedicated labor ministry; endorse legislations outlawing interference in the exercise of labor rights; double the size of its labor inspectorate; and set up a phone hotline and an internet-based system to deal with labor complaints. Examples of similar provisions abound: Don’t forget that the U.S.-Panama FTA has “helped” revamp Panama’s tax policy on behalf of Panamanians.

In a similarly coercive fashion, the EU has never been shy of imposing its own will on other countries in trade. Last week, a November 2011 diplomatic cable between Ecuador’s then-ambassador in Brussels, Fernando Yepez Lasso, and the Ecuadorian vice minister for Foreign Relations, Kintto Lucas Lopez, was leaked. The confidential communication suggests that Ecuador was “bullied into a EU trade agreement.” Denouncing it as “biased,” Ecuador was convinced the agenda was set to prioritize the trade liberalization component of the agreement that was able to accrue immediate gains to the EU over two other pillars of the EU-Andean Association Agreement, namely, an economic cooperation agreement and a forum for political dialogue, which were of more long-term significance to Andean states. So Ecuador pulled out of the talks in 2009. To compel Ecuador to return to the negotiating table, the EU resorted to stark threats of economic isolation as the Ambassador admitted in the cable that “[t]he proposal of the European Commission, which includes criteria that could exclude Ecuador from the preferences framework [...], is an element of pressure on Ecuador to join the free trade agreement.” Afraid of being left out and sustaining a $1.2 billion loss to its economy if trade ties with EU was disconnected, the Ecuador government crumbled and finally inked the agreement on July 17. This painful experience has taught Ecuador a lesson that what governs trade negotiations is the law of the jungle and prompted Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa to comment in an interview after signing the FTA that free trade “is the most anti-historical thing that exists; almost no developed country used it.”

In the rule making of regional and mega-FTAs, the U.S. likewise is not afraid to pressure other negotiating parties to move their stance closer to Washington’s. Although the multilateral nature of mega-FTA talks ensures that the U.S. may not be able to have it all its own way – for instance, the U.S. failed to pressure Brazil to agree to excessive concessions under the framework of the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA) in the 1990s – mega-FTAs, once formalized, will curb potential adversaries’ dexterity in pursuing unfriendly or incompatible economic policies provided they are lured by a potential membership.

A case in point is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Widely seen as an “anyone but China club” in the Pacific Rim as a politically constructed economic alliance to counterbalance China’s growing economic clout in the region, the TPP as a strategic legal undertaking to socialize China is rather less appreciated. TPP envisions locking-in economic reform efforts in China and encouraging it to further integrate into the world economy. As a trading bloc accounting for 40 percent of world trade with four out of China’s top ten trading partners potentially on board, the TPP represents a potent economic magnet for China. However, by explicitly claiming the TPP to be a 21st century trade agreement with a high bar in areas such as intellectual property, labor and environment protection, government procurement, e-commerce, and state-owned enterprises – all areas where China has a tarnished track record – the U.S. is sending a clear signal to Beijing: If China hopes to join the TPP one day, it will have to abandon its mercantilist policies and play by U.S. trade rules.

From China’s perspective, even if it wants to join the TPP, it will face a set of established TPP rules as a fait accompli, a formidable and well-articulated legal fortress guarded by all the savvy signatories. There is no possibility that the TPP will cater to the special needs of China by creating a set of exceptions, since the China-specific rules will undermine the initial strategic objective of using rules to contain China. Indeed, if new exceptions were to be created for China, it makes no sense whatsoever for existing TPP members to negotiate stringent rules in the first place. U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman confirmed this point by asserting that “[o]ur goal is to have high standards. It’s not worth it to have another country join just to lower the standard.” As such, China will not seek TPP membership since it has no control over the process and outcome of TPP rule-making. It will have to pay a high premium for late TPP accession as a rule-taker and not a rule-maker. Given the maturity of TPP negotiations after twenty-one rounds of talks, the likelihood of Chinese participation is minimal.

China is well aware that it is hard to win a game when your opponent gets to write the rules; therefore, it’s highly likely that China will not play the game of TPP at all (although a high-ranking Chinese official did recently make positive noises about TPP membership). Washington’s penchant competitive legalization will also galvanize China to join the global trade legalization race, to fill the legal vacuum in those areas where no multilateral rules exist. Discarding its longstanding favoring of voluntary codes of conduct over formally binding rules in foreign economic relations, China has become more devoted to the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a similar but much less ambitious trading bloc being negotiated among ASEAN and its six ASEAN+1 FTA partners. China sees RCEP as a platform to multilateralize China-friendly rules. A more plausible scenario for the legal rivalry is that these two gargantuan and largely self-sufficient trade blocs will write different trade rules at the expense of each other, eventually giving rise to the fragmented trade structure outlined by Michael Hudson in his book Global Fracture.

FTAs will never be free. The irony is encapsulated in the titles of the mega-FTA, Trans-Pacific Partnership, Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, and Transatlantic Investment and Trade Partnership, which all very noticeably lack the word “free.” FTAs pose an enormous threat to the ability of economically weaker governments to regulate their own economies, and the give economically stronger economies undue control over the domestic affairs of other sovereign states, making the latter slaves to the national interests of those economic hegemons. To paraphrase Jagdish Bhagwati, if you want to join a golf club, you need to play golf. But you shouldn’t have to go to church and sing hymns with the other club members.
Ji Xianbai is PhD candidate at S.Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. He holds the prestigious Nanyang President’s Graduate Scholarship (NPGS), and is also Associate Fellow at European Union Centre in Singapore

Then and now: Sino–Japanese relations 120 years after the war

The year 2014 marks 120 years since the First Sino–Japanese War. While the two nations have enjoyed several decades of peace, there is an uneasy feeling in China that recent developments and revisions to the Japanese constitution draw parallels with the decade prior to 1894.

In that year, under the pretence of defending their consulate and expatriates, the Japanese government sent troops to the Korean peninsula and invaded China. Four years earlier, in December 1890, the then Japanese prime minister and ‘father’ of Japanese militarism, Aritomo Yamagata, made a policy speech claiming that there were two lines to be guarded if Japan wanted to be capable of self-defence. The first was the ‘sovereignty line’, which traced the border of Japan’s national territory. The second was the ‘interest line’, which referred to any area within which the safety of the sovereignty line was intimately related.

The Korean peninsula was of course the first to be regarded as part of the ‘interest line’ by Japan. Yamagata, an aggressive proponent of this expansionist theory, became commander of the Japanese First Army in 1894, during the administration of Hirobumi Ito. Under his leadership Japanese troops invaded the Korean peninsula up to Pyongyang before marching straight on to Liaodong, China. After the annexation of the Korean peninsula, with the expansion of its so-called sovereignty line, Japan expanded its ‘interest line’ towards northeast China. By the same logic, the Japanese military subsequently created the Mukden Incident in 1931 and the Incident of July 7 in 1937, and launched an all-out invasion in China, leading to a legacy of war crimes.

Today, nearly 70 years since the Second World War and the retreat of Japanese imperialism, similarities have emerged between Sino–Japanese relations now and the relations in the decade before the outbreak of the First Sino–Japanese War. Despite strong public opposition in Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has recently made cabinet resolutions to amend the interpretation of the Japanese constitution to lift the ban on collective self-defence and proceed with amendments to the Self-Defense Forces Law. There have also been discussions with the United States about modifying the Japan–US defence cooperation guidelines and the division of military responsibilities. All of this indicates that Japan has abandoned its ‘special defence’ policy and is paving the way for joint operations with the military forces of the United States and other close allies.

At this stage the scenarios set by the Abe Cabinet that would permit use of military force include those when nations in close relationships with Japan are under attack and those needed to defend the life and liberty of Japanese people. There is an uneasy feeling in China that this expansion of Japan’s conception of its self-defence marks a return to the ‘line of interest’ referred to by Yamagata in 1890. The mood is that these seemingly unwarranted excuses and vague assumptions are being made with the Korean peninsula and China in mind.

Japan will not only be looking to continue strengthening its US alliance but will also include countries such as the Philippines and Vietnam among those nations with which it shares a close relationship. These countries have maritime territorial disputes with China, and placing them in this category would allow Japan to provide them with patrol boats and other such support.

Furthermore, Japan has been strengthening its ties with NATO—signing a new accord this year to increase cooperation. And Abe, on his latest visit to Australia, announced that the two countries would deepen military cooperation. These seeming attempts to form a wider strategy to contain China mark the first time Japan has acted in this way in nearly 70 years since the end of the Second World War.

The Japanese people are beginning to realise that this revision to the Japanese constitution is a violation of the conception of peace set down in that document. Rather than protecting the Japanese people, it is setting up a regional military posture which risks the lives of Japanese soldiers. It is little wonder then that the Abe cabinet’s actions will inevitably be strongly opposed by Japan’s peace-loving people, and cause vigilance and resistance from its Asian neighbours.

Abe is playing a delicate game of international diplomacy. While expressing his willingness to meet with Chinese leaders, Abe is simultaneously launching a diplomatic battle against China. He has shown no sign of repentance after visiting the Yasukuni Shrine late last year. While claiming that the door is always open for dialogues, he refuses to hold dialogues with China on the territorial issue of the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands. Japan appears to be looking forward to the Sino–Japanese summit in November but in fact refuses any communication when it comes to the most urgent issues to be addressed, such as the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands dispute. The Japanese side is fully aware that without formal lines of communication it will be nearly impossible for the Sino–Japanese summit to take place.

One important motive for Japan behaving in this way is to create the impression that it is China that does not act in accordance with international practice, so enabling it to seize the higher ground of public opinion. Yet no matter how elaborate Abe’s plan is, as long as it goes against the current of developing global peace and the will of the Japanese people, it will eventually fail completely. One hundred and twenty years since the outbreak of the First Sino–Japanese War, relations between the two countries are as troubling as ever.

Liu Jiangyong is a Professor and Associate Dean at the Institute of Modern International Relations at Tsinghua University.