Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Waking Dragon: Rise of the New China

Is there a future China as a superpower?

The rise of China appears to be a popular topic these days, but what does this rise actually mean, and not in connection with the resulting effects on the world.

Only a decade ago, China had barely the international presence it does today and mass urbanization seemed far off in the future. Times have changed drastically. But of course a booming economy and good economic policies would have China eventually join the ranks of developed countries. The question of China’s ascension was never in doubt, but what degree of power will this new China wield?

Formerly the Rising Sun

During the 1980s it had been speculated that Japan would overtake the United States as an economic superpower. American businesses, politicians, and even ordinary citizens, were panicked, frightened by the seemingly inevitable prospect of a Japanese takeover. How could this happen? What went wrong? But as we now know, such a takeover never occurred.

Today, Japan is still recovering from a recession that had crippled its economy. While the 1990s marked the beginning of a 20 year-plus journey for Japan to regain its economic strength, the United States was in the midst of a decade of prosperity. Suddenly, the idea that Japan would have overtaken the United States was laughable, if only because it never happened.

Despite its economic difficulties, Japan has remained a manufacturing giant in various industries, particularly in automobiles (Toyota, Nissan, and Honda) and electronics (Sony, Panasonic, Hitachi, among a plethora of others). Although Japan did not overpower the United States in its entirety, Japan remains a dominant actor in these areas and others.

A comparative advantage

The rise of China should be discussed in terms of its comparative advantage over the United States in mass producing goods at a lower cost. The weak yuan and cheap labor force makes China an attractive place for businesses to relocate. Jobs “lost” to China are simply market forces at work. It is almost inevitable that American jobs would have transferred to China given these market forces; however, is the transferring of jobs leading to American economic decline?

It’s safe to say that China’s economic boom was inevitable. However, it is less certain that China’s booming economy would have sunk the US economy. The housing market crash in the US kicked off the current recession, aided in no small part by poor economic decisions past and present. Given that Japan once posed the same threat as China—fear of losing American jobs to foreign countries—it is uncertain that the US would have “fallen,” so to speak, had the recession not occurred. That said, given the financial difficulties of the US, a recession may not have been far off in the future.

China, along with other developing countries, has established itself as an ideal place for businesses to produce goods more cheaply than in developed countries. Regulations (or lack thereof) and lower living standards are especially enticing to companies looking to expand their profit margins. Yet, for the US, American automobiles are still assembled domestically, even if parts are manufactured overseas. American pharmaceutical companies are still producing drugs at home rather than abroad. So while the US has seen certain jobs leave its borders, there are still other jobs to be had.

There are, however, valid criticisms regarding China artificially suppressing its currency and refusing to let it float. By suppressing the yuan, China is able to create profit-friendly conditions for companies. Yet, if the yuan were to float like the dollar, euro, and other currencies, it’s unlikely that these same conditions would continue to exist over the long run. Wages will increase and, eventually, so will the cost of doing business. As a nation becomes wealthy, so should its people; and if the people become wealthy, so should their living standards.

We need only look at Shanghai and Hong Kong to see where the rest of China could be heading, for it too, in time, will face the same challenges as other developed countries. Massive urbanization has seen millions of people leaving the countryside to find better work, a better life, in the city. Will this urbanization see a shift from a largely agrarian and industrial economy to a service economy? Of course, given China’s massive population, they probably needn’t worry about this just yet.


China has already become a major player on the world economy, but there are also predictions that it will become a superpower. The question we must first ask ourselves is this: “What defines a superpower?” Having economic dominance alone is not indicative of a superpower, although having a strong economy is often necessary.

Japan, for all its might during the 1980s, was not a superpower. Pure military might is not indicative of a superpower, although having a capable military is also not out of the question. In terms of total manpower, Russia possesses the largest military in the world, but its capabilities are somewhat limited.

So is having a strong economy and military the definition of a superpower? Yes but tentatively so. A superpower is more than just having the biggest stick and deepest pockets. It’s also having the ability to project oneself whenever and wherever. During the Cold War, the US and the Soviet Union were superpowers in that, yes, they had both a powerful military and capable economy, but they were also able to project their influence. They had the ability to shape the world according to their foreign policy objectives. Not completely, not totally, but just enough to achieve their desired goals. More importantly, large parts of the world were willing participants in assisting these superpowers, if only to benefit in some way from their dominance.

Since the Cold War, the US has managed to hold onto its sizeable economic and military advantage, and its ability to carry out its foreign policy around the world, for better or worse. It is this combination of economic and military dominance, and the resulting ability to project soft and hard power, that has made the US a superpower.

For China to attain this level of influence, we may have to wait several decades. Should this day come, it remains to be seen if the international community as a whole, never mind its immediate neighbors, are willing to accept China as a superpower.

(Khanh Vu Duc is a Vietnamese Canadian lawyer in Ottawa, focusing on various areas of law. He researches on International Relations and International Law.)

Monday, January 30, 2012

Refugees - The Huddled Masses

“Tony Abbott has done it again!”

I had just written that when news broke that Abbott and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard had been the target of a very vocal protest by aboriginal rights activists.

Abbott, the leader of Australia’s political opposition coalition, had just said in effect that things were so much better for the Australian Aborigines now that it was time to move on — implying that the Aborigines no longer had much to feel aggrieved about.

This so enraged the activists that when they learned where he was — in a Canberra restaurant with the prime minister — they surrounded it. Fortunately, neither he nor Gillard was hurt as security quickly bundled them out of danger.

When I wrote, “Tony Abbott has done it again,” I’d been referring to his earlier reiteration of an opposition proposal to turn back all boats at sea that carried asylum seekers. That time, too, the backlash was instant.

Richard Towle, the regional representative of the UN High Commissioner on Refugees, warned that this draconian approach would violate Australia’s obligations under the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and other international laws.

The former chief of the Australian armed forces, Adm. Chris Barrie, denounced the policy proposal as useless. “Policy can’t override international law,” he said.

The Indonesian government responded by citing the Bali Process as the only comprehensive solution to the problem — where the problem is not that asylum seekers were flocking to Australia, but that they were being transported by people-smuggling syndicates.

The asylum seeker is never a criminal, even when he does not have legal papers for migration. He is exercising a human right to escape persecution. But there are people-smuggling syndicates that demand sky-high fees up front and then pack asylum seekers into frail boats that often sink mid-sea.

The lucky ones make it, but the dream of freedom and the dreamer often perish together.

No better solution is on the horizon than the Bali Process, an effort of the Australian and Indonesian governments to address this problem as part of an inclusive regional agenda involving the asylum seekers’ countries of origin (Libya, Afghanistan, Iran), countries of transit (notably Indonesia) and countries of destination (in the most dramatic cases, Australia). Without cooperation among all three sets of countries, the problem will never be solved.

Behind the Bali Process is a humanitarian concern for the plight of refugees. Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa has said that we must “have an abundance of patience here. These people have suffered and are still suffering. The last thing we want is to add to their suffering.”

But the Bali Process is ponderous. Indonesia is still working on a law criminalizing people smuggling. How do you get Iran, for instance, to agree to an orderly departure program like Vietnam did in the late 1970s?

How do you stop Australian politicians from conjuring the specter of refugees descending on the country like a swarm of locusts, devouring the wealth of the country and stealing jobs from hardworking mates?

Fortunately, the Australian voter is not so easily bamboozled. No prime minister has been made or unmade by the issue of asylum seekers, with the debatable exception of John Howard’s win in 2001.

Minus the drama, the issue is a molehill, not a mountain. According to the Refugee Council of Australia, of the 14.2 million refugees worldwide, only 20,919 are in Australia, less than a tenth of a percent of the country’s 22 million people.

And there is a long honor list of refugees who have contributed to the greatness of Australia, the Czech-born magnate Frank Lowy, who founded the research organization Lowy Institute, being one of them.

Much of the history of humankind is about refugees. Without dissenters fleeing religious persecution in England in 1620, the Mayflower would not have sailed to the New World. No Mayflower, probably no United States of America.

The United States, Australia and arguably several other modern nations were built by tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free. All through its life the human race, in groups small or large, has been on the move: fleeing from the cruelties of rulers or religions or the wolf of hunger to start a new life elsewhere. That’s how the world of today came to be. Otherwise, the only populated continent would be Africa. Thank God for refugees.

By Jamil Maidan Flores poet, fiction writer, playwright and essayist who has worked as a speechwriter for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs since 1992. Jakarta Globe

The Myth of American Exceptionalism

Excepted from punishment for war crimes?

With American power in the world shifting into a decidedly lower gear economically, it might also be time for the United States to reconsider the rules of the road it attempts to impose on others. The time should be ending when the US could simply ignore world opinion, supposedly built on what US politicians call “American exceptionalism” and go its own way when it came to international behavior.

Supposedly the term can be traced to the writer Alexis de Tocqueville, who referred to the country as exceptional because of its unique ideology based on liberty, individualism, laissez-faire capitalism and egalitarianism. That supposedly anoints the United States with a special destiny to lead the world towards liberty and democracy. The phrase has been used in particular by presidential candidate Newt Gingrich in excoriating President Barack Obama, supposedly because Obama doesn’t believe in it, or doesn’t believe in it fervently enough.

But there may be another definition of American exceptionalism that is far darker than anything de Tocqueville or Gingrich for that matter ever thought of, and that is an apparent belief in the right of exception from punishment when its citizens and soldiers break the laws of other countries and of human nature itself. It is a message that does not seem to have reached the ears of much of the United States, and particularly a military tribunal in the marathon trial of US Marine Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, who was busted last week to Private E1, more than six years after he ordered the men under his command to “shoot first and think later” after his unit was hit by a roadside bombing in the western Iraqi city of Haditha. The Marines killed 24 unarmed men, women and children before the day was out.

Subsequent evidence, much of it discovered by reporters for Time Magazine and the New York Times, thoroughly discredited the initial claim that 15 of the civilians had been killed by the IUD that hit the convoy and that eight “insurgents” were killed when the Marines returned fire against the attackers. Officers well above Wuterich’s rank were found to have participated in a cover-up of the incident.

In fact, an investigation by the US military alleged it had found evidence that the Marines had deliberately shot civilians including unarmed elderly men, women and children. Ultimately, eight Marines were charged in 2006. Seven of the eight were exonerated by the military or charges were dropped, leaving only Wuterich, who pleaded guilty to dereliction of duty and received a suspended sentence of a mere 90 days in jail after expressing remorse for the Iraqi deaths.

Three officers have been officially reprimanded for failing to properly initially report and investigate the killings. In 2011, the New York Times reported it had found secret transcripts of military interviews from the investigation into the killings in which Marines described killing civilians on a regular basis. One sergeant testified that he would order his men to shoot children in vehicles that failed to stop at military checkpoints.

Nor are Wuterich and his squad alone. Men, women and children were routinely murdered by US servicemen in both Iraq and Afghanistan, supposedly in the heat of battle but far too often in cold blood. The most recent ugly incident occurred in Afghanistan when a YouTube video was made public showing US servicemen urinating on dead Afghan insurgents. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, then a candidate for the presidency of the United States and fervent believer in American exceptionalism, said the Marines who did it were just kids and didn’t need to be punished.

These incidents in Iraq stem from a war that should never have been started, sold on a series of lies on the part of the administration of President George W. Bush and his hawkish henchmen, Vice President Dick Cheney (“I had other priorities,” he said, when asked why he hadn’t served during the Vietnam War), Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (“stuff happens,” he said when Iraq turned into chaos) and a flock of other neocons who sullied the country’s honor and caused the deaths of perhaps 100,000 Iraqis and more than 4,000 American servicemen. An estimated 2.25 million Iraqis were displaced in the country and another 2.1 to 2.25 million were driven out of the country to Syria and Jordan.

Is this American exceptionalism? The same week Sgt. Wuterich was being slapped on the wrist by the military tribunal for his orders, the Chinese government came under international criticism and particularly harsh condemnation in the United States for their actions in suppressing Tibetan protesters, most recently on Jan. 24, when the London-based advocacy group Free Tibet said Chinese forces had killed at least one person and wounded at least 34 in a monastery town west of Chengdu. That crackdown generated 782 news stories, most of them critical, according to an account by Google.

This is not to defend the Chinese for their brutal crackdown on both Tibetan and Uighur minorities. But why do Americans, and especially right-wing politicians, think American servicemen should be allowed to get away with atrocities? The infamous Lt William Calley, who was held responsible for triggering the massacre in the Vietnamese village of My Lai in March of 1968, was convicted of murdering at least 22 civilians himself. In all, as many as 500 women, children, infants and the elderly were killed in what may have been the worst massacre perpetrated by American soldiers anywhere. Calley’s life sentence triggered a massive outcry on the part of the American people, who besieged the White House with telegrams running 100 to 1 against the decision. Eventually President Richard Nixon reduced Calley’s sentence to house arrest, in which he served three and a half years. Nixon eventually granted him a limited Presidential pardon.

Status-of-forces agreements, between host countries and foreign nations stationing troops on their territory, have been lightning rods for criticism particularly in South Korea and Japan. These agreements all too often allow for US military personnel to be tried within the US military or legal system instead of the judicial system of the host country. As with Sgt. Wuterich, the American legal system appears to view offenses against the people of the country in which they serve with a good deal less outrage than the host countries do.

The sum and substance of these episodes is to generate a view on the part of much of the world that Americans believe that their own brand of exceptionalism allows them to kill people of the lesser races – particularly Muslims lately – with impunity. Well, you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet. Leaders of the free world can’t always stop to observe the niceties. But the Chinese damned well better had. Written by John Berthelsen Asia Times

Asian security strategy: one hand not clapping

The whirlwind visit of President Barack Obama to Australia on the way to the East Asia Summit in Indonesia last November, many believe, forever changed the Asia Pacific strategic landscape with a re-assertion of American primacy and power in Asia.

What was the thinking behind the moves that Obama announced in Canberra and how will it shape Southeast Asia’s strategic future?

American power is already well entrenched in Asia and the Pacific. A modest elevation of American troop presence on rotation and training in northern Australia — one concrete outcome of the visit — will have at most a marginal impact on the immediate strategic landscape. But Mr Obama’s visit, and in particular his declaration to Australia’s Parliament that America is ‘all in’ in Asia and the Pacific, changed the tone of the contest for influence between America and China in the region and cast it in more confrontational terms.

In this week’s lead Geoffrey Wade suggests that ‘the Darwin deployment is only one part of a much larger regional strategy, placing US forces far enough from Chinese missiles to be comfortable, but still sufficiently near to maritime Southeast Asian allies to swiftly engage if necessary. The proposed stationing of the US Navy’s newest littoral combat ships in Singapore and the growing American naval and air force cooperation with Indonesia serve a similar function’.

Wade sees these moves as the beginning of a major increment to US-led East Asian security architecture, involving the creation of a Southeast sector to the ‘Offshore Asia’ security zone. He says that the Northeast American security zone is already entrenched, with US bases and facilities in mainland Japan, Okinawa, South Korea and Guam being equipped with over 80,000 service personnel and some of the world’s most advanced defence hardware. The concept of a maritime security umbrella in the Southeast sector of ‘Offshore Asia’ (including the maritime ASEAN states, Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and some of the Pacific states) is now seen in Washington as key to maintaining a balance of power in East Asia, and achieving the US’s stated aim of preventing the emergence of a regional hegemon.

It might seem puzzling that the US would seek to create a security shield just for ‘Offshore Asia’ — the maritime Southeast Asian states and Australasia. One rationale, according to Wade, is that sea lanes in this region are vital to East Asian economic security, a critical choke point in the flow of Middle Eastern oil and Australian resources to Japan, Korea, and also to China. Maritime routes need to be kept open, ‘especially while the South China Sea disputes continues to fester and demand attention’. More straightforwardly, Wade claims, this new strategy is built on the reality that the US and its allies currently have overwhelming superiority in terms of maritime power. The US Pacific Fleet alone comprises 180 ships, nearly 2000 aircraft and 125,000 service personnel. If the US is to maintain influence and allies in East Asia then it needs to provide these countries with some persuasive evidence of its defence commitment and capacities. The ‘Offshore Asia’ security shield — utilising US ‘Air-Sea Battle’ forces — is a low-cost posture that might convince.

There is related hype among the region’s security community about Australia’s integration into a forward American military hub in Southeast Asia. It is, for the moment, just that: hype and hyperbole. That the Australian base has the advantage of having direct access to the Indian Ocean and, therefore, together with the substantial US naval, air and communications facilities in Diego Garcia, provides the US and its allies with unrivalled access to, and surveillance of, Indian Ocean maritime routes is one dimension of this hype. The reports that B-52 long-range strategic bombers, F/A-18 fighters, C-17 transport aircraft and aerial refuelling aircraft will be stationed at the Royal Australian Air Force Base at Tindal, about 320 kilometres southeast of Darwin is another. At another level altogether are reports suggesting that as part of the increased collaboration, Australia is preparing to purchase or lease Virginia-class nuclear submarines from the US. The antidote to this hype is to take a Bex and have a good lie down. Dreams for the so-called American pivot towards Asia need to be based on firmer fiscal and political stuff.

The mainland Southeast Asian states, as Wade argues, are increasingly embedded in tighter developmental and economic relations with China. In all of that the US is a bit player. This is no Chinese imperial plot, as the incautious readers of Wade might conclude: it’s simply the product of the weight of Chinese economic growth interacting with the growth and development ambitions of the Southeast Asian mainland states. It is no different in fact from what is occurring with Japan, Korea, Indonesia or for that matter Australia. In mainland Southeast Asia, it has been promoted with the help of the Asian Development Bank (driven more by Japanese than Chinese agendas), through the creation of a Greater Mekong Subregion linking China and mainland Southeast Asia through economic corridors, which include a Chinese high-speed rail network linking mainland Southeast Asian capitals directly to Yunnan.

Unravelling these economic-security interests from political-security postures is not as easy as it might seem to the economically untutored defence strategist. Put simply, in this theatre, Chinese maritime security interests are legitimately and fundamentally interwoven with East Asian and all our economic security interests.
The complexity is reflected in the caution of Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa about the Canberra declaration, lest ‘these developments were to provoke reaction and counter reaction … a vicious circle or tensions and mistrust or distrust’, even the ‘innocent’ Indonesian suggestion that China might well be invited to join joint exercises at the Australian base. At APEC earlier in November Indonesia’s President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, observed that, while he welcomed America’s regional presence, it was no longer desirable for the region to be dominated by a sole superpower. ‘New power centres are growing rapidly and power relationships are changing and becoming fluid’, he said, calling for what he called a ‘dynamic equilibrium’.

Therein lies the crux of it. Playing one hand into ‘Offshore Asia’ security might be a reasonable first move. But it is certainly not a viable long-term security strategy. Whether that hand will serve the preservation of peace or contribute to future tensions in East Asia will assuredly depend also on whether another hand can be extended to China, one that provides reassurance of its role and interests in regional security.

Peter Drysdale is the Editor of the East Asia Forum.

BALI Latest Updates Om Swastiastu ...

Selamat Hari Galungan - it's a festive and wonderful time on the Balinese Calendar to be on the island.

Rabies is back in the news. Against the backdrop of Bali health officials lifting the "rabies alert" due to reduced rates of contagion, Bali records its first rabbies fatality of the year.

The weather has been atrocious in Bali over the last week causing deaths, floods, landslides, port closures and power outages. We have a round-up on the weather and its after effects.

We've got reports on bureaucratic problems with Chinese visitors trying to holiday in Bali; increasing price for a liquor license in Bali; new regulations being drafted for Bali tattoo parlors to help control blood-borne diseases; and an accident at the water sports area of Tanjung Benoa.

Indonesia is also looking at building a super-fast train across the the island of Java.

In development news we have several articles on agriculture and rice production, including new proposed rules to preserve agricultural lands.

Bali's Elephant Park at Taro will soon welcome two new elephants purchased in Singapore. Find out more in this week's update.

Aviation news reports on Garuda's cut back of flights to Amsterdam as the European travel picture looks increasingly dim; Garuda is awaiting a response to their request to be allowed to build a dedicate terminal in Bali; and a Trans Nusa flight bound for Bali bursts a tire at Ende (Flores).

We've got an update on renovations at Bali's iconic Nusa Dua Beach Resort and Spa as it approaches its 30th birthday and a list of Gay Bars concentrated on one street in Seminyak

Looking Ahead:
• See the complete schedule of free Friday Sanur Films Nights.
• Follow the Path of Dharma in Ubud on February 4-5, 2012
• Michelin Chef Marcello Fabbri in Residence at St. Regis Bali February 18-22, 2012
• Exhibition of Painting by 7 Indonesian Artists at TAKSU Gallery Through February 16, 2012
• Bali Spirit sponsors a free concert in downtown Ubud on February 8, 2012 to encourage a continuing dialogue on HIV/AIDS in Bali.
• Join the great Chili Cook Off set to start in Ubud on February 19,
• 3 Dimensions of asie.one at the Ganesha Galleru February 9 – April 2, 2012
• Grey Line – Dance and Art meet at the Gaya Art Space in Ubud February 4-March 4, 2012.
• Australian culinary celebrity Tony Bilson appears at the InterContinental Bali February 17-19, 2012
• BII Maybank Bali Marathon on Sunday, April 22, 2012
• The 6th Annual BIZNET Bali International Triathlon returns on June 26, 2012. www.balitriathlon.com
See the exciting video clip on "Devdan – Treasures of the Archipelago" - the latest breathtaking theatrical show opening the Nusa Dua Theatre.

Keep the news coming and advertise your products on Bali Discovery and Bali Update

Support the advertisers who make Bali Update possible.
Contact Bali Discovery for assistance in finding accommodation in Bali over the coming holiday season.
Follow me on Twitter http://twitter.com/BaliUpdateEd

Om Çanti Çanti Çanti Om ...

J.M. Daniels, Editor
Bali Update
Bali Discovery Tours

Sunday, January 29, 2012

From Debt to the Internet, Dispelling 5 Popular Myths About China’s Power

As China gains on the world’s most advanced economies, the country excites fascination as well as fear — particularly in the United States, where many worry that China will supplant America as the 21st century’s superpower. Many ask how China has grown so much so fast, whether the Communist Party can stay in power and what Beijing’s expanding global influence means for the rest of us. But to understand China’s new role on the world stage, it helps to rethink several misconceptions.

China’s rise is marginalizing American influence in Asia.

Just the opposite. Certainly, China’s power in Asia is growing; its economy is now the biggest in the region, and China is the largest trading partner for every Asian nation. The country’s military modernization has made the People’s Liberation Army a far more lethal fighting force.

But instead of marginalizing or supplanting US influence, China’s expanding power is pushing most Asian countries closer to Washington — and elevating America’s status. Uncle Sam’s presence is still welcome because it prevents a regional power from dominating its neighbors and promotes strategic balance. Today, the more power China gains, the more critical the US commitment to the region becomes.

No surprise, then, that when the Obama administration recently announced a strategic pivot toward Asia, China bristled, while most countries in the region felt reassured and applauded quietly. Today, US security ties with key Asian nations — India, Australia, Japan, South Korea and even Vietnam — are better than ever.

China’s massive foreign exchange reserves give it huge clout.

China owns roughly $2 trillion in US Treasury and mortgage-backed debt and $800 billion in European bonds. These massive holdings may cause anxiety in the West and give Beijing a lot of prestige and bragging rights, but they haven’t afforded China a lot of diplomatic sway.

The much-feared scenario of China dumping US sovereign debt on world markets to bend Washington to its will has not materialized and probably won’t. China’s sovereign wealth fund, which invests part of those reserves, has favored low-risk assets and has sought to avoid geopolitical controversy. And in the European debt crisis, China has been conspicuously absent.

China’s hard currency stockpile results from a growth strategy that relies on an undervalued currency to keep exports competitive. If China threatens to reduce its investment in US debt, it will either have to find alternative investments, which is not an easy task these days, or export less to the United States, which is not a good idea for Chinese manufacturers.

The Communist Party has the Internet under control.

In spite of its huge investments in technology and manpower, the Communist Party is having a hard time taming China’s vibrant cyberspace.

While China’s Internet-filtering technology is more sophisticated and its regulations more onerous than those of other authoritarian regimes, the growth of the nation’s online population (now surpassing 500 million) and technological advances (such as Twitter-style microblogs) have made censorship largely ineffective. The government constantly plays catch-up; its latest effort is to force microbloggers to register with real names. Such regulations often prove too costly to enforce, even for a one-party regime.

At most, the party can selectively censor what it deems “sensitive” after the fact. Whenever there is breaking news — a corruption scandal, a serious public safety incident or a big anti-government demonstration — the Internet is quickly filled with coverage and searing criticisms of the government. By the time the censors restore some control, the political damage is done.

China’s regime has bought off the middle class.

Hardly. Three decades of double-digit economic growth has elevated about 250 million to 300 million Chinese — mainly urban residents — to middle-class status. Since the regime crushed the Tiananmen democracy movement in 1989, the middle class has been busy pursuing wealth, not demanding political freedoms. But there is a world of difference between political apathy and enduring loyalty.

At most, the Chinese middle class tolerates the status quo because it is a vast improvement over the totalitarian rule of the past, and because there is no practical or immediate alternative. But as the Arab Spring shows, a single event or a misstep by authoritarian rulers can transform apathetic middle-class citizens into radical revolutionaries.

That can happen even without a precipitating economic crisis. Today, China’s middle class is becoming more dissatisfied with inequality, corruption, unaffordable housing, pollution and poor services. In Shanghai a few years ago, thousands of middle-class citizens staged a “collective walk” and stopped a planned extension of the city’s maglev train, a project that threatened their home values. A similar demonstration last year in Dalian resulted in the shutdown of a polluting petrochemical plant.

The party knows it cannot bank on middle-class support. Such insecurity lies behind its continuing harshness toward political dissent.

China’s rapid economic growth shows no signs of slowing.

The pace of growth is already cooling — from more than 10.3 percent in 2010 to 9.2 percent last year — and the downward shift will accelerate in future years.

Like South Korea and Taiwan, which achieved stellar growth for three decades but have slowed gradually since the 1990s, the Chinese economy will encounter strong headwinds. The population is aging; citizens 60 and older accounted for 1 2.5 percent of the population in 2010. This will reduce savings and the supply of workers, and raise the costs of pensions and health care. If China wants to keep its high growth rate, it must graduate to making Chinese-designed high-tech and high-value-added products. It will need more innovation, which demands less government control and more intellectual freedom.

Most critically, the investment-driven and state-led economic model responsible for China’s rapid growth must give way to a more efficient, consumption-driven, market-oriented model. Such a shift will not be possible without downsizing the state and making the party accountable to the Chinese people. By Minxin Pei The Washington Post

Minxin Pei is director of the Keck Center for International and Strategic Studies at Claremont McKenna College in the United States. He is the author of “China’s Trapped Transition: The Limits of Developmental Autocracy.”

Another Big Noodle - East Asian trade

CLEARLY the Japanese government does not think it has too much on its plate trying to secure support at home and abroad for its plan to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the America-led free-trade zone. According to Motohisa Furukawa, minister for national policy, Japan’s decision to prepare the ground for TPP entry has stoked China’s interest in a trilateral free-trade agreement with Japan and South Korea. In the past, he observed to The Economist on January 24th, discussions on the issue with China had never progressed very far. “Now they’ve [the Chinese] become very positive.” Japan, too, seems eager. Asked whether the TPP or rather a trilateral East Asian FTA would be the priority for Japan, he simply said: “whichever is the quickest.”

He didn’t mention South Korea, whose government remains preoccupied by historical grievances with Japan and appears keener on pursuing a bilateral FTA with China—perhaps worried that a trilateral deal might boost its already high trade deficit with Japan. But Mr Furukawa said the milestone to watch out for was an investment treaty between Japan, China and South Korea, which is expected to be signed shortly. “That will be the trigger for a fully-fledged discussion.”

Other government officials, too, put high store by the investment treaty, which would be one of the first formal frameworks to connect the three countries. One enthusiastically equated it to the European Coal and Steel Community, out of which the European Union grew. Hyperbole aside, it is clear that a trilateral FTA would not set out to be as rigorously all-encompassing as the TPP talks—which may make it easier to achieve. From Japan’s perspective, the threat of a flood of cheap goods from China is partially mitigated by rising labour costs in its neighbour’s booming economy. The possibility of creating a trilateral FTA might also attract the European Union toward free-trade talks with Japan.

For all the complications for Japan that would come from negotiating two huge trade treaties at once, there is one very positive aspect. It is becoming increasingly clear that efforts to forge a TPP are not isolating China; instead they are coaxing it towards more open trade, even if this remains of the “noodle bowl” variety of Asian FTAs, rather than an over-arching Asian-Pacific agreement. Mr Furukawa noted that one of the main benefits to Japan in joining efforts to expand regional free trade is that it will be able to help set the rules of global trade and investment. If China, too, takes part, such rules would become far more meaningful.

There is still a big question about whether Japan can live up to such ideals, however. It is not clear that the prime minister, Yoshihiko Noda, can persuade ordinary voters that free trade is in their interest. Richard Katz wrote a report in The Oriental Economist (no relation) this week saying that both the Noda and Obama administrations are trying hard to get a “yes” on Japan’s TPP participation. But he said there remain serious doubts in America. “The big fear in both government and business circles is that the strong opposition from Japan’s politically powerful farming sector would make it impossible for Japan to sign off on the sort of agreement that the US and some of the other participants would like to see.”

Japanese farmers might reckon they have just as much reason to oppose a free-trade deal with China and South Korea, too.

By Banyan for The Economist

Saturday, January 28, 2012

See the following by 16 distinguished scientists. This is in today's Wall St. Journal.No Need to Panic About Global Warming

There's no compelling scientific argument for drastic action to 'decarbonize' the world's economy.

Editor's Note: The following has been signed by the 16 scientists listed at the end of the article:

A candidate for public office in any contemporary democracy may have to consider what, if anything, to do about "global warming." Candidates should understand that the oft-repeated claim that nearly all scientists demand that something dramatic be done to stop global warming is not true. In fact, a large and growing number of distinguished scientists and engineers do not agree that drastic actions on global warming are needed.

In September, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Ivar Giaever, a supporter of President Obama in the last election, publicly resigned from the American Physical Society (APS) with a letter that begins: "I did not renew [my membership] because I cannot live with the [APS policy] statement: 'The evidence is incontrovertible: Global warming is occurring. If no mitigating actions are taken, significant disruptions in the Earth's physical and ecological systems, social systems, security and human health are likely to occur. We must reduce emissions of greenhouse gases beginning now.' In the APS it is OK to discuss whether the mass of the proton changes over time and how a multi-universe behaves, but the evidence of global warming is incontrovertible?"

In spite of a multidecade international campaign to enforce the message that increasing amounts of the "pollutant" carbon dioxide will destroy civilization, large numbers of scientists, many very prominent, share the opinions of Dr. Giaever. And the number of scientific "heretics" is growing with each passing year. The reason is a collection of stubborn scientific facts.

Perhaps the most inconvenient fact is the lack of global warming for well over 10 years now. This is known to the warming establishment, as one can see from the 2009 "Climategate" email of climate scientist Kevin Trenberth: "The fact is that we can't account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can't." But the warming is only missing if one believes computer models where so-called feedbacks involving water vapor and clouds greatly amplify the small effect of CO2.

The lack of warming for more than a decade—indeed, the smaller-than-predicted warming over the 22 years since the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) began issuing projections—suggests that computer models have greatly exaggerated how much warming additional CO2 can cause. Faced with this embarrassment, those promoting alarm have shifted their drumbeat from warming to weather extremes, to enable anything unusual that happens in our chaotic climate to be ascribed to CO2.

The fact is that CO2 is not a pollutant. CO2 is a colorless and odorless gas, exhaled at high concentrations by each of us, and a key component of the biosphere's life cycle. Plants do so much better with more CO2 that greenhouse operators often increase the CO2 concentrations by factors of three or four to get better growth. This is no surprise since plants and animals evolved when CO2 concentrations were about 10 times larger than they are today. Better plant varieties, chemical fertilizers and agricultural management contributed to the great increase in agricultural yields of the past century, but part of the increase almost certainly came from additional CO2 in the atmosphere.

Although the number of publicly dissenting scientists is growing, many young scientists furtively say that while they also have serious doubts about the global-warming message, they are afraid to speak up for fear of not being promoted—or worse. They have good reason to worry. In 2003, Dr. Chris de Freitas, the editor of the journal Climate Research, dared to publish a peer-reviewed article with the politically incorrect (but factually correct) conclusion that the recent warming is not unusual in the context of climate changes over the past thousand years. The international warming establishment quickly mounted a determined campaign to have Dr. de Freitas removed from his editorial job and fired from his university position. Fortunately, Dr. de Freitas was able to keep his university job.

This is not the way science is supposed to work, but we have seen it before—for example, in the frightening period when Trofim Lysenko hijacked biology in the Soviet Union. Soviet biologists who revealed that they believed in genes, which Lysenko maintained were a bourgeois fiction, were fired from their jobs. Many were sent to the gulag and some were condemned to death.

Why is there so much passion about global warming, and why has the issue become so vexing that the American Physical Society, from which Dr. Giaever resigned a few months ago, refused the seemingly reasonable request by many of its members to remove the word "incontrovertible" from its description of a scientific issue? There are several reasons, but a good place to start is the old question "cui bono?" Or the modern update, "Follow the money."

Alarmism over climate is of great benefit to many, providing government funding for academic research and a reason for government bureaucracies to grow. Alarmism also offers an excuse for governments to raise taxes, taxpayer-funded subsidies for businesses that understand how to work the political system, and a lure for big donations to charitable foundations promising to save the planet. Lysenko and his team lived very well, and they fiercely defended their dogma and the privileges it brought them.

Speaking for many scientists and engineers who have looked carefully and independently at the science of climate, we have a message to any candidate for public office: There is no compelling scientific argument for drastic action to "decarbonize" the world's economy. Even if one accepts the inflated climate forecasts of the IPCC, aggressive greenhouse-gas control policies are not justified economically.

A recent study of a wide variety of policy options by Yale economist William Nordhaus showed that nearly the highest benefit-to-cost ratio is achieved for a policy that allows 50 more years of economic growth unimpeded by greenhouse gas controls. This would be especially beneficial to the less-developed parts of the world that would like to share some of the same advantages of material well-being, health and life expectancy that the fully developed parts of the world enjoy now. Many other policy responses would have a negative return on investment. And it is likely that more CO2 and the modest warming that may come with it will be an overall benefit to the planet.

If elected officials feel compelled to "do something" about climate, we recommend supporting the excellent scientists who are increasing our understanding of climate with well-designed instruments on satellites, in the oceans and on land, and in the analysis of observational data. The better we understand climate, the better we can cope with its ever-changing nature, which has complicated human life throughout history. However, much of the huge private and government investment in climate is badly in need of critical review.

Every candidate should support rational measures to protect and improve our environment, but it makes no sense at all to back expensive programs that divert resources from real needs and are based on alarming but untenable claims of "incontrovertible" evidence.

Claude Allegre, former director of the Institute for the Study of the Earth, University of Paris; J. Scott Armstrong, cofounder of the Journal of Forecasting and the International Journal of Forecasting; Jan Breslow, head of the Laboratory of Biochemical Genetics and Metabolism, Rockefeller University; Roger Cohen, fellow, American Physical Society; Edward David, member, National Academy of Engineering and National Academy of Sciences; William Happer, professor of physics, Princeton; Michael Kelly, professor of technology, University of Cambridge, U.K.; William Kininmonth, former head of climate research at the Australian Bureau of Meteorology; Richard Lindzen, professor of atmospheric sciences, MIT; James McGrath, professor of chemistry, Virginia Technical University; Rodney Nichols, former president and CEO of the New York Academy of Sciences; Burt Rutan, aerospace engineer, designer of Voyager and SpaceShipOne; Harrison H. Schmitt, Apollo 17 astronaut and former U.S. senator; Nir Shaviv, professor of astrophysics, Hebrew University, Jerusalem; Henk Tennekes, former director, Royal Dutch Meteorological Service; Antonio Zichichi, president of the World Federation of Scientists, Geneva.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Is Atheism Allowed in Indonesia?

Alexander Aan, a civil servant in Dharmasraya, West Sumatra, was beaten and charged with blasphemy after writing “God does not exist” on his Facebook page.

The response has ranged from condemnation by several international organizations to support by local citizens and the Indonesian Council of Ulema. Many people have invoked the first principle of Pancasila, the state ideology, to make the argument that atheism — and Alexander — have no place in Indonesia.

But is this really the case? Has atheism been banned by Pancasila since the dawn of the Indonesian state? Since the argument is based on the text of a legal document, let’s examine this question from a legal perspective.

The first principle of Pancasila says the nation of Indonesia shall be based on the belief in the one and only God. It is usually interpreted literally. As a result, nonbelievers, and atheists in particular, are often accused of violating the nation’s philosophical foundation. Their way of thinking is seen as incompatible with the country’s fundamental “monotheistic” tenet.

This is a naive and simplistic view of Pancasila. Interpreting any philosophy is not all about the exact meaning of the words; it is about context and the systematical connections.

In legal science there are two methods of interpretation: historical and teleological. A historical interpretation requires an examination of the historical context in which a statute was created. With teleological reasoning, it is the goal of a statute that matters most.

Historically, the first principle of Pancasila, belief in one supreme God, has been a compromise between secular nationalists, Islamic nationalists and nationalists from other religions. It had its origins in the first principle of the Jakarta Charter, the obligation to hold Muslims to Shariah law.

When the non-Muslim nationalist founders protested the charger, a compromise was reached: The belief in one supreme God was codified into Pancasila instead.

If this historical context is further analyzed in a goal-oriented, teleological way, it is evident that the first principle of Pancasila was not intended to ban atheism. It was meant to bring together the different religions of Indonesia in a fair-minded, compromising manner.

Some might still insist that every statute must be interpreted precisely as it was written. This, of course, is exceedingly problematic if you consider the six officially “recognized religions” of Indonesia: Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Confucianism, Hinduism and Buddhism.

If the notion that the first principle requires monotheism is correct, then at least two of Indonesia’s recognized religions are obviously incompatible with Pancasila.

Hinduism is henotheistic, meaning Hindus acknowledge the presence of other gods despite worshiping only one. That is why we see many gods in India such as Ganesha, Vishnu and Shiva.

Buddhism includes no concept of a divine creator or deity; it is considered a nontheistic religion. Sometimes the words “a not-born, a not-brought-to-being, a not-made, a not-conditioned“ in Buddhist scripture are cited to support the claim that Buddhism has a creator. But a closer look at the text shows that the words refer to nirvana, not to a god.

Are Hinduism and Buddhism unconstitutional? Do they deserve no place in Indonesia? Should they be banned? Our founding fathers should have anticipated this problem.

Meanwhile, even if the misguided literal interpretation prevails, the people who lean on that to justify their stance against atheism will run into another problem.

There is another foundational passage in Pancasila that addresses religious beliefs. This one stipulates that “the belief in one and supreme God must not be forced on another person.”

This point is specific in nature, while the first principle is general. According to the legal doctrine of lex specialis, specific laws overrule general laws. This means that atheists have a right to their beliefs, and cannot be forced to espouse the views of others. Ironically, this shows that the people who try to force God on atheists are actually the ones infringing on Pancasila.

Atheism does not violate Pancasila. All Indonesians may consciously and rationally choose their own beliefs. The country’s very foundation protects their right to do so.

Jakarta Globe, written by Yordan Nugraha student of international and European law at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The World War on Democracy

January 19, 2012 by John Pilger


Lisette Talate died the other day. I remember a wiry, fiercely intelligent woman who masked her grief with a determination that was a presence. She was the embodiment of people’s resistance to the war on democracy. I first glimpsed her in a 1950s Colonial Office film about the Chagos islanders, a tiny creole nation living midway between Africa and Asia in the Indian Ocean. The camera panned across thriving villages, a church, a school, a hospital, set in a phenomenon of natural beauty and peace. Lisette remembers the producer saying to her and her teenage friends, “Keep smiling girls!”

Sitting in her kitchen in Mauritius many years later, she said, “I didn’t have to be told to smile. I was a happy child, because my roots were deep in the islands, my paradise. My great-grandmother was born there; I made six children there. That’s why they couldn’t legally throw us out of our own homes; they had to terrify us into leaving or force us out. At first, they tried to starve us. The food ships stopped arriving [then] they spread rumours we would be bombed, then they turned on our dogs.”

In the early 1960s, the Labour government of Harold Wilson secretly agreed to a demand from Washington that the Chagos archipelago, a British colony, be “swept” and “sanitised” of its 2,500 inhabitants so that a military base could be built on the principal island, Diego Garcia. “They knew we were inseparable from our pets,” said Lizette, “When the American soldiers arrived to build the base, they backed their big trucks against the brick shed where we prepared the coconuts; hundreds of our dogs had been rounded up and imprisoned there. Then they gassed them through tubes from the trucks’ exhausts. You could hear them crying.”

Lisette and her family and hundreds of islanders were forced on to a rusting steamer bound for Mauritius, a distance of 2,500 miles. They were made to sleep in the hold on a cargo of fertiliser: bird shit. The weather was rough; everyone was ill; two women miscarried. Dumped on the docks at Port Louis, Lizette’s youngest children, Jollice, and Regis, died within a week of each other. “They died of sadness,” she said. “They had heard all the talk and seen the horror of what had happened to the dogs. They knew they were leaving their home forever. The doctor in Mauritius said he could not treat sadness.”

This act of mass kidnapping was carried out in high secrecy. In one official file, under the heading, “Maintaining the fiction”, the Foreign Office legal adviser exhorts his colleagues to cover their actions by “re-classifying” the population as “floating” and to “make up the rules as we go along”. Article 7 of the statute of the International Criminal Court says the “deportation or forcible transfer of population” is a crime against humanity. That Britain had committed such a crime -- in exchange for a $14million discount off an American Polaris nuclear submarine -- was not on the agenda of a group of British “defence” correspondents flown to the Chagos by the Ministry of Defence when the US base was completed. "There is nothing in our files,” said a ministry official, “about inhabitants or an evacuation.”

Today, Diego Garcia is crucial to America’s and Britain’s war on democracy. The heaviest bombing of Iraq and Afghanistan was launched from its vast airstrips, beyond which the islanders’ abandoned cemetery and church stand like archaeological ruins. The terraced garden where Lisette laughed for the camera is now a fortress housing the “bunker-busting” bombs carried by bat-shaped B-2 aircraft to targets in two continents; an attack on Iran will start here. As if to complete the emblem of rampant, criminal power, the CIA added a Guantanamo-style prison for its “rendition” victims and called it Camp Justice.

What was done to Lisette’s paradise has an urgent and universal meaning, for it represents the violent, ruthless nature of a whole system behind its democratic façade, and the scale of our own indoctrination to its messianic assumptions, described by Harold Pinter as a “brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.” Longer and bloodier than any war since 1945, waged with demonic weapons and a gangsterism dressed as economic policy and sometimes known as globalisation, the war on democracy is unmentionable in western elite circles. As Pinter wrote, “it never happened even while it was happening”. Last July, American historian William Blum published his “updated summary of the record of US foreign policy”. Since the Second World War, the US has:

Attempted to overthrow more than 50 governments, most of them democratically-elected.
Attempted to suppress a populist or national movement in 20 countries.
Grossly interfered in democratic elections in at least 30 countries.
Dropped bombs on the people of more than 30 countries.
Attempted to assassinate more than 50 foreign leaders.

In total, the United States has carried out one or more of these actions in 69 countries. In almost all cases, Britain has been a collaborator. The “enemy” changes in name – from communism to Islamism -- but mostly it is the rise of democracy independent of western power or a society occupying strategically useful territory, deemed expendable, like the Chagos Islands.

The sheer scale of suffering, let alone criminality, is little known in the west, despite the presence of the world’s most advanced communications, nominally freest journalism and most admired academy. That the most numerous victims of terrorism – western terrorism – are Muslims is unsayable, if it is known. That half a million Iraqi infants died in the 1990s as a result of the embargo imposed by Britain and America is of no interest. That extreme jihadism, which led to 9/11, was nurtured as a weapon of western policy (“Operation Cyclone”) is known to specialists but otherwise suppressed.

While popular culture in Britain and America immerses the Second World War in an ethical bath for the victors, the holocausts arising from Anglo-American dominance of resource-rich regions are consigned to oblivion. Under the Indonesian tyrant Suharto, anointed “our man” by Thatcher, more than a million people were slaughtered. Described by the CIA as “the worst mass murder of the second half of the 20th century”, the estimate does not include a third of the population of East Timor who were starved or murdered with western connivance, British fighter-bombers and machine guns.

These true stories are told in declassified files in the Public Record Office, yet represent an entire dimension of politics and the exercise of power excluded from public consideration. This has been achieved by a regime of un-coercive information control, from the evangelical mantra of consumer advertising to sound-bites on BBC news and now the ephemera of social media.

It is as if writers as watchdogs are extinct, or in thrall to a sociopathic zeitgeist, convinced they are too clever to be duped. Witness the stampede of sycophants eager to deify Christopher Hitchens, a war lover who longed to be allowed to justify the crimes of rapacious power. “For almost the first time in two centuries”, wrote Terry Eagleton, “there is no eminent British poet, playwright or novelist prepared to question the foundations of the western way of life”. No Orwell warns that we do not need to live in a totalitarian society to be corrupted by totalitarianism. No Shelley speaks for the poor, no Blake proffers a vision, no Wilde reminds us that “disobedience, in the eyes of anyone who has read history, is man’s original virtue”. And grievously no Pinter rages at the war machine, as in American Football:

Praise the Lord for all good things ...
We blew their balls into shards of dust,
Into shards of fucking dust …

Into shards of fucking dust go all the lives blown there by Barack Obama, the Hopey Changey of western violence. Whenever one of Obama’s drones wipes out an entire family in a faraway tribal region of Pakistan, or Somalia, or Yemen, the American controllers in front of their computer-game screens type in “Bugsplat”. Obama likes drones and has joked about them with journalists. One of his first actions as president was to order a wave of Predator drone attacks on Pakistan that killed 74 people. He has since killed thousands, mostly civilians; drones fire Hellfire missiles that suck the air out of the lungs of children and leave body parts festooned across scrubland.

Remember the tear-stained headlines when Brand Obama was elected: “momentous, spine-tingling”: the Guardian. “The American future,” wrote Simon Schama, “is all vision, numinous, unformed, light-headed ...” The San Francisco Chronicle’s columnist saw a spiritual “lightworker [who can] usher in a new way of being on the planet”. Beyond the drivel, as the great whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg had predicted, a military coup was taking place in Washington, and Obama was their man. Having seduced the anti-war movement into virtual silence, he has given America’s corrupt military officer class unprecedented powers of state and engagement. These include the prospect of wars in Africa and opportunities for provocations against China, America’s largest creditor and new “enemy” in Asia. Under Obama, the old source of official paranoia Russia, has been encircled with ballistic missiles and the Russian opposition infiltrated. Military and CIA assassination teams have been assigned to 120 countries; long planned attacks on Syria and Iran beckon a world war. Israel, the exemplar of US violence and lawlessness by proxy, has just received its annual pocket money of $3bn together with Obama’s permission to steal more Palestinian land.

Obama’s most “historic” achievement is to bring the war on democracy home to America. On New Year’s Eve, he signed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), a law that grants the Pentagon the legal right to kidnap both foreigners and US citizens and indefinitely detain, interrogate and torture, or even kill them. They need only “associate” with those “belligerent” to the United States. There will be no protection of law, no trial, no legal representation. This is the first explicit legislation to abolish habeus corpus (the right to due process of law) and effectively repeal the Bill of Rights of 1789.

On 5 January, in an extraordinary speech at the Pentagon, Obama said the military would not only be ready to “secure territory and populations” overseas but to fight in the “homeland” and provide “support to the civil authorities”. In other words, US troops will be deployed on the streets of American cities when the inevitable civil unrest takes hold.

America is now a land of epidemic poverty and barbaric prisons: the consequence of a “market” extremism which, under Obama, has prompted the transfer of $14 trillion in public money to criminal enterprises in Wall Street. The victims are mostly young jobless, homeless, incarcerated African-Americans, betrayed by the first black president. The historic corollary of a perpetual war state, this is not fascism, not yet, but neither is it democracy in any recognisable form, regardless of the placebo politics that will consume the news until November. The presidential campaign, says the Washington Post, will “feature a clash of philosophies rooted in distinctly different views of the economy”. This is patently false. The circumsc ribed task of journalism on both sides of the Atlantic is to create the pretence of political choice where there is none.

The same shadow is across Britain and much of Europe where social democracy, an article of faith two generations ago, has fallen to the central bank dictators. In David Cameron’s “big society”, the theft of 84bn pounds in jobs and services even exceeds the amount of tax “legally” avoid by piratical corporations. Blame rests not with the far right, but a cowardly liberal political culture that has allowed this to happen, which, wrote Hywel Williams in the wake of the attacks on 9/11, “can itself be a form of self righteous fanaticism”. Tony Blair is one such fanatic. In its managerial indifference to the freedoms that it claims to hold dear, bourgeois Blairite Britain has created a surveillance state with 3,000 new criminal offences and laws: more than for the whole of the previous century. The police clearly believe they have an impunity to kill. At the demand of the CIA, cases like that of Binyam Mohamed, an innocent British resident tortured and then held for five years in Guantanamo Bay, will be dealt with in secret courts in Britain “in order to protect the intelligence agencies” – the torturers.

This invisible state allowed the Blair government to fight the Chagos islanders as they rose from their despair in exile and demanded justice in the streets of Port Louis and London. “Only when you take direct action, face to face, even break laws, are you ever noticed,” said Lisette. “And the smaller you are, the greater your example to others.” Such an eloquent answer to those who still ask, “What can I do?”

I last saw Lisette’s tiny figure standing in driving rain alongside her comrades outside the Houses of Parliament. What struck me was the enduring courage of their resistance. It is this refusal to give up that rotten power fears, above all, knowing it is the seed beneath the snow.

Indonesia: From Vigilantism to Terrorism in Cirebon


Jakarta/Brussels, 26 January 2012: Involvement in violent campaigns against vice and religious deviance has become one pathway to terrorism in Indonesia.

Indonesia: From Vigilantism to Terrorism in Cirebon, the latest briefing from the International Crisis Group, examines the radicalisation of a group from Cirebon, West Java that was behind the 2011 suicide bombings of a mosque and a church. It argues that ideological and tactical lines within the radical community are blurring, making it harder to distinguish "terrorists" from hardline activists and religious vigilantes.

“The Cirebon men moved from using sticks and stones in the name of upholding morality and curbing 'deviance' to using bombs and guns, and this may become the common pattern”, says Sidney Jones, Crisis Group's Senior Adviser.

Poorly educated and underemployed, the Cirebon men represent a generational shift from the jihadists trained abroad or those who fought a decade ago in two major communal conflicts in Ambon and Poso. They were radicalised through attending public lectures by radical clerics; most had taken part as well in attacks on stores selling liquor and anti-Ahmadiyah activities. They had been members of Jemaah Ansharut Tauhid (JAT), an extremist organisation founded by well-known cleric Abu Bakar Ba'asyir in 2008, but then left to form their even more militant group.

The two suicide bombers, Mohamed Syarif, who blew himself up at a Cirebon mosque on 15 April 2011, and Ahmed Yosefa Hayat, who died in an attack on a church in Solo, Central Java on 25 September, taught themselves bomb-making from the Internet and worked on their own. The others preferred targeted assassinations to suicide attacks and learned bomb-making from friends in a Solo-based group of vigilantes-turned-bombers.

The briefing notes that the merging of vigilantes and jihadists has been facilitated by the proliferation of Islamist civil society organisations and the popularity of public taklim (religious lectures), as forums for spreading radical views. The government needs a strategy, consistent with democratic values, to counter clerics who use no violence themselves but preach that it is permissible to shed the blood of infidels (kafir) or tyrants (thaghut), frequently meaning Indonesian officials and, especially, the police. The problem is that there is no agreement within the country's political elite on the nature of the threat.

If the radicalisation of groups like the Cirebon men is to be halted, the government needs to build a national consensus on what constitutes extremism; directly confront hate speech; and promote zero tolerance of religiously-inspired crimes, however minor, including in the course of anti-vice campaigns.

“Expressions of shock and horror every time there is an incident of religiously-motivated violence as in Cirebon or Solo are not a substitute for prevention”, says Jim Della-Giacoma, Crisis Group's South East Asia Project Director.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Chinese Community Part of the Indonesian Nation’s Fabric

Ethnic Chinese communities across the world celebrated Lunar New Year on Monday as they welcomed the Year of the Dragon. With the rise of China during the past three decades, Lunar New Year celebrations have been given greater prominence in the global media.

Here in Indonesia, Chinese citizens can once again freely celebrate their culture in the open. Indeed, Chinese New Year has since 2001 been a national holiday and an important date in the nation’s cultural calendar. More so, retailers now hawk Chinese New Year goodies while the Barongsai dance is performed throughout the country.

Perhaps it is an indication of how far this nation has come in terms of ethnic integration that visitors passing through Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta International Airport or visiting any of the malls in the capital will be welcomed by Barongsai performers all this week. This is pleasing and laudable.

The nation is stronger if it incorporates all its ethnic minorities into its fold. During the course of its long history, the nation has welcomed peoples from all over the world to its shores, and the Chinese were among the first to arrive. Over the course of time, they have contributed significantly to the nation’s development in all spheres of life.

Preserving such cultural traits strengthens the national fabric. As pointed out by J.J. Rizal, a history researcher with the University of Indonesia, many of the country’s current cultural traits were inspired by the activities of Chinese ethnic communities. Many members of the community were also active in the country’s struggle for independence, although their contributions are not well-promoted.

The Chinese community has in the past faced discrimination on multiple levels, but it has never stopped feeling Indonesian. For various reasons, their economic success being a dominant one, the Chinese have at times been treated as outsiders in this country.

It is a testament to this nation’s strong sense of social justice that the Chinese community is once again allowed to flourish. This will be an advantage as the economy continues to grow, as the country elevates its presence on the global stage and as it deepens its cultural heritage.

Happy Lunar New Year to all our Chinese friends

Addressing the protracted Burmese refugee situation in Thailand

Migrants have escaped intra-national conflict within Burma by seeking refuge in Thailand for over 30 years.

But recent development projects in eastern Burma have further displaced segments of Burma’s ethnic population, with approximately 150,000 refugees now dispersed throughout nine refugee camps in Thailand. Additionally, an estimated 2–4 million ‘self-settled’ refugees reside in communities along the Thai-Burmese border and in Thailand’s larger cities. Both categories of migrants are referred to as the ‘asylum-migration’ nexus, and represent the visible side of human rights abuse in Burma.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) regards these Thai refugee camps as one of 29 protracted refugee situations in the world, with the Burmese refugees currently living in such camps suffering long-standing human rights abuses. They can often stay in camps for decades with little hope of any long-term solution to their plight, and other migrants from Burma live in constant fear of deportation.

The Burmese refugees in Thailand’s border camps remain dependent on charity for survival, as they do not have freedom of movement. And since they are not integrated into the local community, they cannot work and be self-sufficient either.

Worryingly, if Burmese refugees and migrants maintain their current rate of inflow and departures to third countries, this pool of refugees in Thailand will exist for another 30 years.

Most of the self-settled migrants from Burma work in the manufacturing, food processing and agricultural industries throughout Thailand, contributing 6.2 per cent (US$11 billion) to Thailand’s GDP. Further to the constant fear and threat of deportation, they work in poor conditions with neither basic rights of association, nor employee and health rights. The experiences of these two different groups of forced migrants are liminal in that they are ‘betwixt and between’, excluded from mainstream society. Only some forced migrants choose to officially seek asylum and reside under the protection of UNHCR. Other forced migrants decide to earn a living within the informal economy and endure the risks of being deported. This protracted refugee process means the actual refugee camp populations are made up of women, children, the elderly and disabled, as the able-bodied men and women seek work elsewhere. This ‘left behind’ population is prey to corrupt practices such as people and drug trafficking, smuggling, and child labour. The self-settled group is vulnerable to these practices as well, since they have no effective legal protection.

Globally, asylum seekers and refugees pose huge challenges for the world’s destination countries. Developed countries struggle to maintain a balance between controlling national borders and offering protection to millions of displaced people. Overall, there is a tendency for developed countries to be slow in assessing asylum seekers and letting developing countries bear the burden of cross-border forced migration.

The three durable solutions for refugees are repatriation, integration and resettlement, but there are unique barriers to these solutions for Burmese migrants in Thailand. Repatriation is not feasible, as the Burmese military junta cannot guarantee protection of human rights for Burmese refugees. Integration is resisted because of historical conflicts between Burma and Thailand. In addition, Thailand does not want all the responsibility for Burmese refugees when other developed countries are not sharing the burden. Resettlement to third countries has slowed because of the global financial crisis and amidst fears that terrorists may reside in refugee populations.

Two possible solutions to this situation are ‘sustainable living’ and dealing with forced migrant groups as collectives. Sustainable living involves refugees using their skills to develop self-sufficiency through engagement with local communities and their economy. This integration may be a temporary solution or a durable one. Either way, refugees maintain their dignity and decrease their dependence on aid. Self-settled refugee groups need formal processes to develop sustainable living in order to remove fear of deportation.

Dealing with forced migrant groups as collectives involves the provision of democratic freedoms and responsibility to elect representatives. These representatives in turn determine their communities’ sustainable living options for immediate and short-term outcomes; facilitate self-government in complex and difficult circumstances where resources are scarce; and participate in decision making for long-term outcomes for their communities.

Countries in the Asia Pacific region have the opportunity to address these problems and become leaders in reshaping global migration management by relating to the asylum-migration nexus as responsible actors rather than victims. As responsible actors they can encourage the development of sustainable living and democratic principles of self-organisation, eventually electing representatives and facilitating personal dignity through self-sufficiency. In addition, countries in the Asia Pacific can harness their untapped resources so that refugees become national and international assets rather than burdens.

By Mary Ditton Senior Lecturer in Health Management at the University of New England, Australia. East Asia Forum

Monday, January 23, 2012

Thailand’s politics hamstrings economic progress

While Thai politics has long been unruly, it has rarely been so unsettled and intractable as in 2011.

Thailand has entered 2012 bruised and battered, even compared to previous bouts of political instability. This year will see more of the polarisation and conflict that have underpinned the Thai landscape since a 2006 military coup deposed Thaksin Shinawatra. But Thailand’s focus will increasingly shift from Thaksin’s glaring defects to the exposure of his adversaries’ deficiencies and shortcomings. Paramount among the structural issues here will be the untenable hegemony of Thailand’s monarchy-centred socio-political hierarchy in the late twilight of King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s reign. Political manoeuvring and machinations will characterise this contested, overarching superstructure in search of a new balance.

To be sure, the past year was not set up to be another annus horribilis for Thailand. But after former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva called an early election in May, voters on 3 July overwhelmingly returned Thaksin’s Pheu Thai Party and his sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, to power. Soon after taking office, Yingluck’s government went into a tailspin as central Thailand was gripped by its worst floods in years. Structural problems from decades of neglect and poor development plans were compounded by bureaucratic ineptitude and government mismanagement. But while her government was weakened by the floods, Prime Minister Yingluck emerged more intact than anticipated.

After the floods, a stalemate between Thailand’s competing political forces seems to have taken hold. The Yingluck government is upholding the sanctity of the monarchy through repression and crackdowns on dissent and freedom of expression. And unsurprisingly, Article 12 of the Criminal Code — the lèse-majesté law — and its related Computer Crimes Act have been enforced with growing frequency. In return, the government is able to rule without debilitating street protests from yellow-clad and multi-coloured royalist groups or coup threats from the army. The Yingluck government does not have the wherewithal to amend or challenge these laws head on. Nor can Thailand’s establishment muster enough strength to initiate more rounds of party dissolutions and changes of government — let alone a military coup.

The stalemate will encourage various interest and advocacy groups to air their grievances and clamour to get their way. Chief among them this year will be Thaksin’s manoeuvres to return home. He has won four consecutive Thai elections over the past decade, but has also left a trail of liabilities — corruption convictions, conflicts of interest and human rights violations — which will hamper any future ambition to rule. Yet he lurks and rules from abroad. Whether Thaksin comes back this year will depend on his patience and his opponents’ willingness to make a deal, although there may now be too much bad blood for any lasting deal to take place. At the same time, that Thaksin could return in simple defiance should not be dismissed. It would lead to a showdown but could also accelerate Thailand’s endgame.

His former loyalists in the Thai Rak Thai Party (which the judiciary dissolved in May 2007) will be eligible to retake political office after May 2012. Whatever talent Thai politicians have to offer, much of it was systematically banned for the past five years. The 111 former Thai Rak Thai MPs are likely to provide a broad boost to the Yingluck government as they re-enter the political fray, notwithstanding any potential intra-Pheu Thai squabbling.

The charter-change movement is likely to gather steam in 2012. As the pro-coup forces introduced the current constitution back in 2007, the document is essentially anti-politician and anti-political parties. A self-respecting democracy that ensures justice and equality can hardly grow out of it. Any changes to the charter will be mired in acrimony though, and could be a flashpoint of renewed conflict if taken too far.

Thailand’s polarisation is now between traditional monarchists and electoral democrats, with substantial overlap between them. The monarchists do not reject elections and democratic rule as long as it privileges the monarchy-centred hierarchy as a linchpin of Thai society. Most democrats are supportive of the monarchy but they want their votes to count and reject the undemocratic interventions by royalist groups and judicial institutions since the coup.

But the ideals of monarchy are stronger among the democrats than those of democracy are among the monarchists. Changing times ushered in by the end of the Cold War — which was instrumental in fostering Thailand’s monarchy-military dominance — new media technologies, younger generations, and international norms around democracy and human rights are putting pressure on Thailand’s hierarchy to adjust.

Still, any new order could be even more unwieldy and unstable. If the incumbency has to go, there are no guarantees that any replacement will not be worse. The best outcome would be for the incumbency to adapt while in a position of strength rather than having to change when its hand is weaker. This year, like those that preceded it, offers yet another opportunity for such adjustments. Whether monarchists and democrats can find a way forward will determine if Thailand can get out of its holding pattern, which has hamstrung its foreign policy and economic growth.

By Thitinan Pongsudhirak Professor and Director at the Institute of Security and International Studies, Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University.
This article is part of a special feature: 2011 in review and the year ahead. East Asia Forum

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Pakistan’s clash of institutional authority

Pakistan experienced dramatic political crises in 2011, including the covert raid carried out by the US on 2 May, which killed Osama bin Laden, and the killing of two civilians by CIA contractor Raymond Davis.

It was in these circumstances that an American businessman of Pakistani origin, Mansoor Ijaz, wrote a ‘memorandum’ to the US military commander urging an intervention on behalf of Pakistan’s elected government, which seemed on the verge of being toppled by the country’s historically powerful military establishment. Mr Ijaz, for reasons that are not yet clear, later alleged that this memorandum was written on behalf of Pakistan’s ambassador to the US, Hassain Haqqani, a close aide of President Asif Ali Zardari.

The scandal threatens to sink the fragile government, with the courts — as well as the military — now bearing down on Pakistan’s embattled politicians. The Supreme Court has created a high-powered judicial commission to investigate the origins and veracity of the memo. But the government seems set to fight what it sees as the military establishment, the court and the opposition’s common designs to oust an elected president. There is some basis for such paranoia. Every elected leader in Pakistan’s history has been proclaimed a threat to national security at some stage by the military establishment in an effort to justify greater say in the country’s affairs. Pakistan has undergone three major coups, and the military has ruled the country for nearly half of its post-colonial existence. Even during this latest period of elected rule the military has remained powerful, as the government ceded to it ultimate responsibility for territorial defence, national security and foreign policy.

What is different in this round of tussles between the military and the elected leadership is the role of the superior judiciary. The current Supreme Court is a different constitutional creature from the courts that validated or acquiesced in previous military takeovers. Its Chief Justice was dismissed twice in 2007 by then President and military chief General Pervez Musharraf. On both occasions he was restored to his position, due to a populist movement led by the country’s lawyers, civil society and broad coalitions of opposition political parties. The movement cost President Musharraf his grip on power and paved the way for general elections in early 2008, which brought to power the incumbent government. But this same administration also refused to restore the Chief Justice and nearly 60 other superior court judges who had been unconstitutionally dismissed by the Musharraf regime. The government eventually relented in the face of a ‘Long March’, in which millions demonstrated their support for an independent judiciary in March 2009.

The stance taken by the government’s advocates, who claim the Supreme Court has sided with the military and the opposition, arguably has some justification. But this is also the first instance in the country’s history when serving army and intelligence chiefs, having been made respondents to petitions before the court, have voluntarily submitted responses to the court’s notices. The court has held national security matters to be justiciable before the superior courts, crossing the final frontier of executive prerogative and entering territory forbidden to courts in democratic and authoritarian states alike. This precedent is likely to be as wearisome for the military in the future as it is now for the government.

Current events aside, conflict between the courts and the government has been brewing since the restoration of an independent judiciary in Pakistan. The Supreme Court has taken up several high-profile corruption cases and unveiled irregularities in transactions and appointments. These cases highlight corruption and mismanagement at the highest levels of government. One case in particular has brought the Supreme Court and the presidency into direct conflict and is currently receiving considerable attention, threatening to bring down the Zardari government. The Supreme Court has directed the government to contact prosecution authorities in Switzerland in order to re-initiate corruption and money-laundering cases against President Zardari. The government managed to stall this process for over three years. But it now appears the Supreme Court’s patience has run out and enforcement proceedings are likely to lead to contempt charges and an attritional battle with the government.

What is significant about the memo incident is less that the Supreme Court has decided to side with the military but more that the country’s military establishment appears to have aligned itself with the courts. As Pakistan lurches toward general elections scheduled for early 2013 — and with Zardari facing calls to hold these elections earlier — the current government is coming under increasing pressure from all political quarters, including the courts. But the Supreme Court will do itself and the nation considerable disservice if it is seen to play a direct role in the ouster of President Zardari and his government. It will win itself tremendous credit if it ensures fair elections and adherence to constitutional norms and processes by all, including the military. If it does that, 2012 might become a year of hope — despite the political, economic and foreign policy crises on Pakistan’s horizon.

By Moeen Cheema Teaching Fellow at the ANU College of Law. East Asia Forum

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Vietnam: the beginning of another economic transformation?

Consensus-based policy making is a salient feature of Vietnam, where important decisions are collectively made.

Consensus is needed not only for the formulation of a reform vision but also for the elaboration and implementation of this vision. Doi Moi, the most successful economic reform to date, would certainly not have occurred in 1986 if no consensus were reached at the VI Party Congress.

A series of events in 2011 indicate that a vital consensus for the acceleration of economic reforms has been attained. Vietnam’s first major economic event for 2011 was the Communist Party Congress held in January, which set out Vietnam’s development strategy for the next 10 years. Like its predecessor, the 2011–2020 Strategy adopted at the Congress places great emphasis on rapid economic growth, with a target of 7–8 per cent average annual GDP growth over the next decade. The strategy puts increased attention on the quality of growth, including targets on macroeconomic stability and requirements for clarifying the role of the state in a market economy. Nevertheless, the ambitious quantitative growth target suggests a continuation rather than a fundamental break with previous strategies.

But events took a significant turn just a few weeks after the Congress. In late February the government issued Resolution 11, aiming to restore Vietnam’s macroeconomic stability and cool down an overheated economy. Specifically, the resolution sought to address high levels of inflation, tension in the foreign exchange market, high nominal interest rates and declining foreign exchange reserves. The implementation of Resolution 11 remained a top priority in the government’s agenda throughout 2011, and reviews of its implementation continue to take place regularly. Resolution 11 represents a decisive switch from growth to stability. For the first time, there is an official government policy document that completely neglects the term ‘growth’ in its targets. Its longevity signals a significant change in the mindset of Vietnam’s policy makers.

Signs of a radical shift in economic strategy became more evident when the new administration came into power in July. Several workshops and focus group discussions were held to facilitate policy dialogues regarding the restructuring of Vietnam’s economy to improve efficiency and competitiveness. From this process, consensus was reached on Vietnam’s strategic development priorities, identifying major areas for reform in the coming years. This consensus argues for radical transformation in three areas: state-owned enterprises (SOEs), the financial sector and public investment. The need for reform was also officially documented in the Socio-Economic Development Plan (SEDP) for the period 2011–2015, which was approved by the National Assembly in November.

Following these events, Vietnam recorded good economic growth in 2011, with an estimated rate of GDP growth at 5.8 per cent. Exports performed very well, increasing by 33 per cent despite a significant decline in global demand. This robust GDP and export growth prevailed over a significant contraction in fiscal and monetary policy, and Vietnam’s strong export performance contributed notably to the reduction of trade deficits and the foreign exchange market’s stabilisation. The rate of inflation also slowed in the last four months, largely due to the implementation of Resolution 11.

The adoption of Resolution 11 and the SEDP in particular indicate that Vietnam has achieved consensus on accelerating market-based reforms in ‘difficult’ reform areas, namely SOEs, the financial sector and public investment. The recent release of an ambitious proposal for SOE reform through to 2020, developed by the National Steering Committee for Enterprise Reform and Development, provides further evidence of this consensus. According to the proposal, about 44 per cent of the remaining 1300 full SOEs will be equitised in the next four years.

In this context, 2012 will be a very challenging year for Vietnam. The country still has to deal with an overheating economy, and inflationary pressures remain a genuine threat to the country’s economic stability. The banking sector is vulnerable, with a rising share of non-performing loans resulting from a long period of extraordinary credit growth. Challenges also lie in transforming the SEDP’s vision into specific actions. The plan calls for a fundamental restructuring of the economy, and while many agree on the vision of the reform, the formulation of a feasible action plan will take time, owing to the likelihood of resistance from economically strong interest groups.

The Vietnamese government is developing a detailed action plan for its ambitious restructuring strategy. It is expected that this plan will be approved by the end of the first quarter of 2012. The timeframe looks very ambitious as consensus for detailed actions still needs to be built. But there is a significant factor which may speed up the implementation process: while the market economy was an unfamiliar concept in previous times, it now receives strong support from the vast majority of Vietnamese people.

By Dr Doan Hong Quang Senior Economist at the Poverty Reduction and Economic Management Unit, World Bank, Vietnam. East Asia Forum