Saturday, March 31, 2012

Indonesia's army Seeking a modern role

THE INDIAN OCEAN tsunami of 2004 exposed the Indonesian army for what it was: outdated, ill-equipped and demoralised. As numerous foreign forces, led by America and Australia, flooded into Indonesia’s ravaged Aceh province to deliver aid and conduct search-and-rescue missions, the local troops were reduced to spectators. The Indonesian army had been banned from buying American military equipment due to human-rights abuses in its former province of East Timor (now the independent Timor-Leste) and other separatist-minded regions, and as a result it didn’t have enough helicopters or aircraft on call to meet demands for food, water and medicine.

Indonesian soldiers spent the first days after the disaster acting as labourers, unloading supplies off American navy helicopters and delivering them to survivors of the earthquake-triggered tsunami, which killed more than 177,000 people in Aceh alone.

Indonesia’s then-new president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, took this humiliation personally. A former general, Mr Yudhoyono made modernising the armed forces a priority of his administration, which is now halfway through its second and final five-year term. The country’s 2012 defence budget of $8 billion, up from $2.6 billion in 2006, is the largest it's been—relative to GDP—for 20 years. Yet according to Ernest Bower, the South-East Asia programme director at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC, this budget remains rather modest for a country of 240m people. Neighbouring Singapore, with little more than 5m people, is spending $9.7 billion on defence this year.

Among the key facets of Indonesia’s military modernisation programme, which aims by 2024 to create the minimum force required to defend the country's territorial integrity, are hardware and spare parts. It has procured Russian and American warplanes, boats for its navy and parts for its C-130 transport planes. In January, Indonesia signed a $1.1 billion deal for three German-made diesel-electric submarines, and lawmakers and army chiefs are currently debating whether to pay the Netherlands $600m for 100 used Leopard tanks. Mr Yudhoyono has also stressed improvements to the welfare of soldiers, ranging from better firearms to better salaries, health care and living conditions. They are also undergoing human-rights training.

Yet it will take much more than airplanes and new barracks to enable Indonesia’s 980,000-strong armed forces to catch up with their smaller but better equipped neighbours. Analysts say the army is being held back by its own resistance to change. It evolved from a “people’s army” that fought for independence from the Dutch after the second world war to the iron fist of the late autocratic presidents Sukarno and Suharto. The army played a dual role in both politics and national defence, but its enemies, real and perceived, were internal. Andi Widjajanto, a military analyst, notes that of 249 operations conducted by Indonesian forces between 1945 and 2009, 67% were against internal threats including separatist groups and religious and ethnic extremists.

After democracy emerged in Indonesia following Mr Suharto’s forced resignation in 1998, the humiliated army soon lost its dual role, which included reserved seats in parliament, and returned to barracks amid calls for criminal trials for its past human-rights abuses. While analysts have applauded the army’s recent shift in focus to national defence, assistance in natural disasters and modernisation, some like Yohanes Sulaiman, a lecturer at the Indonesian Defence University, say there hasn’t been a true epiphany about reform. “It’s very difficult to change the mentality," he says. "They think the threat is still inside. And by focusing on internal threats, they get more budget money.” He also reckons the army’s procurements, while less graft-ridden than in the past, are not necessarily good ones because there is no grand strategy regarding defence from an external threat. “They aren’t thinking about what they need,” Mr Sulaiman says. “They think, ‘Well, other countries have these shiny tanks. We should have them too.’”

In a commentary published in Strategic Review, an English-language policy journal based in Indonesia, Mr Widjajanto says the armed forces have suffered for decades from a “weak state” mentality that makes it impossible to push through more initiatives to create a modern fighting force. Mr Sulaiman says the country’s top brass fully understand the need to reform, but that this would require painful changes in spending and forced retirements of senior officers. “There would be resistance and it would create political instability,” he comments. And that, as Indonesia moves closer to the most wide-open presidential election in its history in 2014, is the last thing this emerging democracy wants right now. Banyan for The Economist

Tibetan Protests in Delhi

When Jampa Yeshi doused himself in gasoline and lit a match, he became one of around 30 Tibetans who chose self-immolation as a form of protest over the past year. What set Yeshi apart is that he set himself alight in New Delhi, days before President Hu Jintao of China was scheduled to arrive in India. The image traveled the world. Eager to avoid embarrassing its guest, India’s security forces cracked down on potential protesters.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world seems indifferent. “One self-immolation in Tunisia shocked the world and triggered the Arab spring,” writes Isabel Hilton in the Guardian. “Thirty self-immolations in Tibet have received little international attention.”

In the Times of India, Shobhan Saxena is also distressed by the indifference. “Why are the world leaders silent on these crimes against Tibetans?” he asks. “Why has the world left Tibet to its fate?”

In the end, though, China “has good reason not to be too concerned” that the unrest in Tibet will lead to trouble in the global arena, says The Economist. Thanks to economic woes, the West is “more than usually eager to cooperate with China rather than confront it over internal issues such as Tibet.”

Yet Beijing shouldn’t get too confident. “The vacuum created by the Dalai Lama’s exit from the political stage is at risk of being filled in by younger radicalized elements of the Tibetan movement … who have lost all hope,” writes Venky Vembu in the Mumbai-based First Post.

In fact, says B. Raman in India’s Daily Pioneer, although the “Chinese security authorities are used to dealing ruthlessly with violent outbreaks,” they’re now confused by the spread of this movement and “don’t know how to deal with it.”
China isn’t the only one that has “a Tibet problem.” So does India, says Sandip Roy in First Post, who notes that young Tibetans are tired of being ignored. “The world is still enamored of this romantic image of the noble saffron-cloaked monk, perpetually turning the other cheek,” he writes. “But after half a century of exile, there is now another kind of Tibetan – frustrated, angrier and more aggressive.”

And it’s embarrassing to Indian democracy that the government worked hard to prevent any protests from souring Hu’s trip to India. “Sure New Delhi shouldn’t get into the business of exporting democracy,” writes the Times of India, “but allowing the right to protest peacefully at home ought to be non-negotiable.” International Herald Tribune

Myanmar’s elections-The general and the Lady

Rarely in politics have so few by-elections assumed so much importance

A YEAR ago few people dared visit the ramshackle headquarters of Myanmar’s main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD). The party was banned from political activity and its offices were under constant surveillance by the police and military intelligence.

No longer. The NLD is running a national election campaign, and its rooms are heaving with eager young volunteers licking envelopes and sorting out election posters. Outside, stalls are selling NLD mugs, key-chains and T-shirts, usually adorned with images of Aung San Suu Kyi, the NLD’s leader, and her father Aung San, who led the country to independence from Britain in 1947. There are no frills, let alone an instant-rebuttal unit. But the scene would be familiar to any Western campaign staffer—testimony to how far this previously sealed and fearful country has moved in a short space of time.

The bustle is devoted to winning 45 by-elections due to take place on April 1st. With 650-odd parliamentary seats in total, over 80% of them occupied by the army’s proxy, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), the result will not change the balance of power even if the NLD were to win everything. These by-elections are significant—historic even—for different reasons.

They are the first polls the party has contested since 1990, when it won a general election but was banned from taking power by the army. They are the first in Myanmar to be scrutinised, albeit patchily, by international observers. Miss Suu Kyi is running for a Yangon constituency, so she may soon take her place in parliament.

Should the elections go well, or well enough, they could also have significant economic consequences. The vote would provide the best evidence yet that the country’s transition from military rule, which started in earnest a year ago under the new president, Thein Sein, is irreversible. The European Union would almost certainly lift more sanctions, imposed on Myanmar in the mid-1990s. And excited, if weary, foreigners might be reassured enough to start pumping large amounts of investment into the impoverished country. In an attempt to encourage them further, the government this week announced plans to float the currency.

So far, though, the campaign has provided plenty of reminders of how fragile Myanmar’s political transition remains. The government postponed three by-elections in the minority-dominated state of Kachin last week because of security worries. Fighting between the army (dominated by the ethnic Burman majority) and the military wings of many of the country’s ethnic groups continues.

If anything, conflict has intensified in Kachin, producing thousands more refugees.

The NLD claims the army has grabbed the opportunity of an election to launch new offensives while people are looking the other way. One of the Kachin constituencies is close to the country’s largest jade mine, the proceeds of which go mostly to generals and their cronies. The unequal distribution of Myanmar’s enormous natural wealth will continue to fuel conflict until there is some sort of political settlement, such as a federal arrangement. But that looks a long way off.

The campaign has also provoked concerns about the health of the country’s two most important politicians: the president and “the Lady”. On March 25th Miss Suu Kyi had to give up campaigning, exhausted. The 66-year-old had set herself a punishing schedule, touring the country on behalf of the NLD’s candidates and drawing enormous crowds. This took its toll; it was her second collapse in a few months. Mr Thein Sein, also born in 1945, is known to be in poor health. He has heart disease, and recently went to Singapore to have his pacemaker checked.

Field of dreams

To an unusual and possibly dangerous degree, the achievements of reform rest on the trust between the slight, bespectacled former general and the charismatic daughter of a liberation hero. If one or both were to leave the scene, it is not clear that enough momentum has been generated for reform to carry on. Pessimists worry that military conservatives would try to turn the clock back.

The campaign has exposed confusion within the regime about how far and fast it is willing to let the NLD go towards sharing—or even winning—power. The president has made worthy speeches saying that elections have to be free and fair. He needs Miss Suu Kyi in parliament to legitimise reform, with the ultimate aim of getting sanctions lifted. But the message does not always filter down.

Away from the cities, the NLD claims, its candidates are followed, filmed and intimidated by the secret police—just like old times. In the new capital, Naypyidaw, Miss Suu Kyi had to address supporters out in the fields because she was denied access to some of the largest indoor halls in Asia. A few election observers were allowed in, but only at the last minute. Some of this might be the result of bureaucratic confusion. But it could also reflect power struggles within the regime.

The NLD still hopes to win more than two-thirds of the seats on offer. The most significant contests are for the four seats in the capital. Here at least half of the voters are employed by the regime, and they have been promised loans and other goodies by the USDP. The NLD, which has deployed a rapper, Zeya Thaw, as one of its candidates, still hopes to win at least one seat. If it picks up more, that would strip the regime of any lingering claims to legitimacy.
The Economist

Dokdo still limits Tokyo and Seoul’s strategic rapprochement

The South Korean government indicated last year that it intends to construct a significant naval base on Ulleung Island in the Sea of Japan.

The Ministry of Defence announced that it will team up with the Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs to build the complex and establish a port in Ulleung capable not only of maritime defence but also of force projection. This reignited tensions between South Korea and Japan over their competing territorial claims to the Dokdo islets — known as Takeshima in Japan.

The row over the Dokdo islets has been a sticking point since the conclusion of World War II. South Korea has occupied the rocky atoll since 1954, and has consistently repudiated Tokyo’s claims to the territory. Both sides point to historical maps and treaties to prove the legitimacy of their claims. South Korea insists that Dokdo has been part of Korea since the 6th century AD, but that has been rejected by Japan, which points to maps from the 18th century AD showing the rocks as part of Japanese territory. Compounding this seemingly intractable dispute is a conflict over the naming of the sea that surrounds Dokdo. Seoul refers to the sea between Japan and the Korean Peninsula as the East Sea, while Tokyo labels it the Sea of Japan.

Tensions over Dokdo have heightened again recently following Seoul’s announcement that it will see through a US$1 billion commitment to secure the islets through investment in enhanced infrastructure, such as surveillance capabilities and helipads. The naval base on Ulleung Island is a significant part of this budget and is projected to cost about US$300 million. When completed, the base will be capable of housing the country’s largest warships — ironically part of the Dokdo class.
South Korea has ensured there is no ambiguity over the base’s purpose either. Chung Mi-kyung, a parliamentarian of the ruling party which viewed the report on the development, remarked that this new construction will firmly demonstrate that Dokdo is an integral part of South Korean territory. She also stressed that the base will ‘secure Korean sovereignty over Dokdo’ by ensuring that Korean naval vessels have ample time to reach the atoll in the event of hostilities.

Japan has declined to officially respond to the new plan, but has maintained its stance that the islets are an integral part of its territory. Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba emphasised this point last month, vowing that Japan would ‘not accept’ Seoul’s administration of the islands and would continue to ‘take measures’ to ensure the land is returned.

This proposal is sure to further damage the relationship between Seoul and Tokyo. Relations between the two have lagged over the past few years as a result of chronic instability within Japan’s ruling party and an edgy South Korean government that has acquiesced to its military establishment as a result of bellicose actions from North Korea. Nationalist posturing over this dispute is not uncommon and both sides have routinely used the issue to divert attention from other issues or to gain domestic political favours.

The war of words over Dokdo recommenced last July when the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs decided to implement a one-month boycott of South Korea’s national carrier, Korean Air, by banning its diplomats from travelling with the airline. This occurred after Korean Air routed a test flight over the disputed islets. Seoul condemned the action and demanded that Japan reverse the ban. Japanese Diet members responded by planning a visit to the small islets — which never actually took place — that was also quickly condemned by the South Korean government. The tit for tat continued when Japan released its 2011 defence white paper, which declared that Dokdo was an integral part of Japanese territory. In a strange twist, North Korea exhibited a rare expression of solidarity with South Korea, noting that ‘all Koreans, with a united force, should squash the [Japanese] attempt to steal Dokdo’.

While it is not surprising that the North condemned Japan — which it often has done in the past — it was interesting to see this display of unity on the issue.

Tokyo is struggling to chart an adequate policy to resolve the row, while South Korea also has a lot to lose from isolating Japan. Japan remains one of South Korea’s biggest trading partners, with more than US$40 billion worth of goods and services exchanged annually. Moreover, the two countries remain bound together — politically and geographically — against a truculent North Korea and its latent nuclear weapons program. Both sides must leave behind the domestic political gains associated with the Dokdo rhetoric and consider the implications of a strategic divide.
By Jonathan Berkshire Miller Tokyo-based security and defence analyst on the Asia Pacific region at The Diplomat. (East Asia Forum)

Friday, March 30, 2012

Hong Kong’s next leader-Enter the Manchurian candidate

The less unpopular man wins, but governing without a mandate will be hard
IT WAS a contest. That much can be said. Hong Kong’s next chief executive, “C.Y.” Leung Chun-ying, beat his rival, Henry Tang Ying-yen, in the final weeks of a bizarre process that most Hong Kongers refer to as a “small-circle election”. In a city of more than 7m people, fewer than 700 cast votes for Mr Leung on March 25th. But since only 1,193 citizens were eligible, that was enough to win.

The irony is that it turned out to be Hong Kong public opinion, more than anything else, that determined Mr Leung (pictured above, without bow tie) would beat Mr Tang, to replace the outgoing chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen (pictured above, with bow tie). In July 2011 Wang Guangya, the head of the central government’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs office, said the next chief executive, should meet three conditions: love of country (read: acceptance of Communist Party rule, meaning the candidate from the Democratic Party didn’t have a chance); competence; and that “the one elected should be widely accepted”. So all eyes have been fixed on the public-opinion polls, especially those run from the University of Hong Kong’s polling unit.

If either of the candidates whom the leaders in Beijing judged acceptable were to win those polls by a wide margin, the electors might line up behind him. The point was to stage an event that could be guaranteed to produce a safe outcome while at the same time legitimising the next leader. This could be a dry run for the next election in 2017, when some kind of universal suffrage has been more or less promised.

Making up just 0.017% of the population, this year’s Election Committee forms a small circle indeed. It is an odd mix, divided into blocks representing business and professional interests which are themselves aligned with political factions. The Basic Law of Hong Kong, the territory’s post-handover constitution, makes it easy enough for the government in Beijing to stack the deck in any such contest. This time however, unlike in 1997, 2002 and 2007, the competition was real and even fierce. Muck was raked in the local press, flung back and forth between Messrs Tang and Leung. Some of it stuck.

Mr Tang had been the clear favourite to win for most of the past year, but a series of gaffes over many months and admissions about his private life culminated in the revelation in mid-February that he had illegally constructed a lavish basement under a property owned by his wife. The smart money started to shift to Mr Leung. Soon, after discreet signals from Beijing, the pro-Communist Party press stepped into line, giving him more prominent coverage in the days before the vote.

Nonetheless, Mr Leung’s victory is in many ways shocking. Though he is a self-made businessman with longstanding ties to Beijing, he is disliked by the territory’s landed gentry, whose support is supposed to be crucial and who all favoured Mr Tang.

They fear Mr Leung is a populist who will pander to the people by forcing property tycoons to release more land under their control, in order to build more flats, and bring down Hong Kong’s stifling property prices. Many ordinary people hope he will do just that. The tycoons' case will be weakened by the surprise arrest on March 29th, for alleged graft, of two major property developers, reported to be Raymond and Thomas Kwok of Sun Hung Kai Properties, as well as a former high government official, reported to be Rafael Hui. Even before this, though, Mr Leung was already toning down his more reformist rhetoric.

Mr Leung cuts a mysterious figure, with an austere personal style that makes him easy to demonise. He is denounced as a “chameleon” by outspoken liberals, his “DNA” as a Hong Konger called into question. The territory’s pro-democratic figures, joined by Mr Leung’s adversaries in the business community, have therefore begun raising an old accusation: that Mr Leung is a closet Communist. He denies it but seems unable to shake the charge, despite many recent public appearances promising to protect Hong Kong’s “core values” of free speech and the rule of law.

For Mr Leung, though, populist does not mean broadly popular. “Least unpopular” might be more like it. The same polling unit that spelled doom for Mr Tang played host to a mock election on March 23rd-24th, in which all of Hong Kong’s adult citizens were invited to vote. Despite the efforts of hackers to bring down the unit’s website, 220,000 people managed to cast ballots in its straw poll—more than four times the number expected. Although Mr Leung did beat Mr Tang, by 18% to 16%, easily the most popular option among Hong Kongers who could be bothered to vote appeared to be a cry of frustration: 55% of the votes cast were blank. The Economist

Day of Rage Grips Indonesia as Protests Come to a Head

Shots were fired, dozens of people were arrested, some were badly injured and offices and facilities were burned and vandalized across the country on Friday as protests against the proposed fuel price increase reached their fevered peak.

Security forces doubled their presence on a day that saw more than 80,000 people take to the streets nationwide, according to protest organizers.

Tear gas canisters and rubber bullets were fired in front of the House of Representatives in South Jakarta after protesters refused to disband after the sun set.

Hours earlier, protesters took down the three-meter-high gates at the House complex and demanded to see lawmakers who were inside the building deliberating the proposed hike.

The police immediately pushed the demonstrators back, then set up barricades to prevent them from occupying the building.

Around 7 p.m., the police moved to disperse the crowd, which was blocking two lanes of the inner-city toll road, by setting off fireworks. While most protesters fled, some fought back using smashed up concrete dividers and Molotov cocktails, prompting officers to respond with rubber bullets, tear gas and water canons. The Jakarta Police said 21 people were arrested.

National Police Chief Gen. Timur Pradopo said the crackdown “was in line with procedures.”

In Salemba, Central Jakarta, students burned tires and blocked roads to protest the arrest of 54 of their peers on Thursday.

They also accused the police for raiding the offices of the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI) and the Indonesian Administrative Foundation (YAI) for sheltering protesters.

In Bima, West Nusa Tenggara, a 23-year-old student, Khairuddin, was shot in the thigh and had to be rushed to the hospital for massive blood loss and injuries.

His peers suspected that the police were using live rounds, but provincial police spokesman Adj. Sr. Comr. Sukarman Husein insisted officers had only used rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse the crowds.

“[Protesters] were blocking the road and disrupting public activities,” the officer said.

In Samarinda, East Kalimantan, and Medan, protesters set fire to local police stations, vandalizing state property as they marched toward their rally points. One protester in Medan was arrested.

In Makassar, South Sulawesi, students attacked the governor’s office, pelting windows with rocks and rocking the office’s main gate until it collapsed.

In Bogor, one student protester, Abdul Basyid, was rushed to the hospital after the police allegedly beat him. That prompted clashes between protesters and officers, with rocks and taunts exchanged. Eight people were arrested. Jakarta Globe

Behind the Arrests of Hong Kong's Property Tycoons

Sun Hung Kai's owners the highest-profile arrests in 30 years

The March 29 arrest by Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) of a former government chief secretary and two of the Kwok brothers, among Asia’s most powerful property developers who control the giant Sun Kung Kai Properties concern, was a stunning development.

The implications are as yet unclear, although it appears to hand Chief Executive-elect Leung Chun-Ying a golden opportunity to clean up a sector long believed to be uncomfortably close to the government. Leung is already viewed with alarm by the property oligarchs. If two of their most stellar members have been arrested less than a week after Leung was given the job, it gives him additional cachet with the community to start to clean the stables and seek ways to moderate housing prices, among the highest in the world.

The former government official, Rafael Hui, not only occupied the number two post in government for several years until 2007, but he was particularly close to Chief Executive Donald Tsang. He is the most senior official ever arrested by the ICAC. The Kwok brothers are the most high profile arrests of business figures since the Carrian scandal of the early 1980s which saw the arrest of its boss George Tan and several associates and various corrupted bankers.

The investigation is said to center on Hui, who allegedly disclosed confidential information to helpful to Sun Hung Kai pertaining to certain parcels of land. Former Sun Hung Kai Executive Director Thomas Chan was arrested on 19 March. Four others have been arrested in connection with the case, although they are not believed to be either Sun Hung Kai staff or high level government officials.

At one level the latest arrests are very surprising. The public has long believed in the existence of collusion between the government, which controls land supply and development policy, and the top six or so developers who dominate the property market. Nine of the ten richest people in Hong Kong are in property. Developers are known to have close links with officials, some of whom later benefit by retiring early and taking well-paying jobs with the developers. Land use decisions and sales procedures have often been seen to favor them at the expense of smaller developers and the public. However, corruption is easily disguised and hard to prove.

In the Kwok case however, strong leads for the ICAC appear to have come from a third brother who fell out with his siblings a few years ago and who was removed from the board. Another director of SHKP was also arrested earlier and may have provided additional leads. Hui’s past links to the company when he was in the private sector were no secret, but presumably there is now evidence either of payments or other advantages in return for information or favorable decisions when he was Chief Secretary for Administration.

However, it seems more than possible that none of this would have reached he arrest stage if Donald Tsang himself was not a lame duck, even facing investigation himself in connection with a large property in neighboring Shenzhen and acceptance of almost free rides on private yachts and planes from tycoons. The ICAC reports only to the chief executive who has thus had the final say in prosecutions leading to suspicions in the past that big fish would be allowed to go free to avoid wider scandals leaving the ICAC to focus mainly on low level corruption by petty bureaucrats and police. The ICAC has mostly been headed by a rising bureaucrat whose career might suffer from stirring up too much mud.

The arrests thus may be indirectly connected to Tsang’s own weak position and an ICAC emboldened by the victory of CY Leung in Sunday’s selection process for the next chief executive. Leung is viewed as unsympathetic to the developers – as a property surveyor he knows all too well the potential for manipulating the system.

Hui must have had some inkling of an investigation well before the selection in which he participated as one of the 1,200 electors. He had run Tsang’s campaign five years ago and was widely expected to do the same for Henry Tang. But he backed out at the last minute, leaving the Tang campaign rudderless.

It remains to be see what charges are laid and whether they can be made to stick – not easy without smoking guns such as obvious payments or emails evidence of collusion. But for the public they are at once a shock and an apparent confirmation of what they already believed. Given revelations over recent weeks about other sleaze at the top in government – the illegal palace underground at Henry Tang’s palatial home and Donald Tsang’s links with the Macau gambling fraternity and a Shenzhen tycoon in particular – the arrests can only add to pressure for greater transparency in government, in particular relations between officials and the place where big money is most easily made with the right connections – property development and megabuck infrastructure projects. The latter have been proliferating without much economic justification.

So Leung will start with high expectations that he really will be a new broom, sweeping away cozy old relationships and re-examining some of the mega projects. Whether he can fulfill popular expectations is another matter given how deeply rooted at the vested interests in the status quo. Asia Sentinel

Violence in Xinjiang: indicative of deeper problems?

In recent weeks the international media have again been reporting deadly incidents in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of northwest China.

Although not as dramatic as the violence of 5 July 2009, when almost 200 people died in the region’s capital, Urumqi, these latest events continue a pattern which now dates back over two decades. While the narratives of human rights organisations, Radio Free Asia and the official Chinese media offer hugely diverging accounts, there is agreement that the region has a major unresolved problem.

Numbering almost 10 million, the Uyghur constitute the titular group of Xinjiang, speak a Turkic language and profess Sunni Islam. Most historians agree that this territory was effectively incorporated into the Qing Empire in the 18th century. It experienced considerable political instability in the first half of the 20th century and turbulence of a different kind under socialist rule. Following the collectivisation of land and the Cultural Revolution, when minority rights were often violated, the 1980s witnessed relatively liberal policies. But the pendulum swung back toward repression in Xinjiang after 1990, in spite of the expansion of the socialist market economy nationwide, due to Beijing’s fear of separatism.

Uyghurs now feel that their political, economic and social entitlements are not realised equally, when compared to their fellow Chinese citizens, and their intellectuals harbour fears of cultural assimilation.

Policy makers in Beijing consider tensions in Xinjiang to be an internal Chinese affair. Official pronouncements speak about extremism, terrorism and separatism in equal measure. The ‘strike hard’ campaign in 1996 targeted Uyghur ‘splitists’ and, especially following 9/11, tensions are routinely attributed to international terrorism. Violent incidents are now often associated with radical Islam, for example. This connection is encouraged by the well-known fact that a handful of Uyghurs were detained by US authorities at Guantánamo Bay, but is not supported by substantive evidence. While religious freedom is ostensibly granted, many forms of religious expression and worship have been restricted since the 1980s. The vague definition of what constitutes legal or illegal religious activity gives the authorities leeway to interfere arbitrarily. The state tries hard to co-opt imams and other religious specialists, and many graduates of the Theological Academy in Urumqi receive salaries just like other civil servants.

The authorities have acknowledged that reform has widened regional economic differentials and that most interior provinces are dogged by economic backwardness. To tackle these problems, the Great Western Development Strategy was launched in 2000. It has brought a great deal of investment, as well as economic and infrastructural improvement to Xinjiang — but much of this has been accomplished by Han workers, and the overall effect has been to accelerate Han immigration. As a result, the Uyghur see these development policies as a tool in their assimilation and economic marginalisation. Large-scale investment takes place mostly in the northern part of Xinjiang, where mineral wealth is concentrated. These districts already have the largest concentration of Han. Discrimination in the labour market forces many young Uyghur to leave Xinjiang to seek work in China’s coastal provinces. But the recruitment of young men and women, especially in Southern Xinjiang, for work thousands of kilometres away in other parts of China makes little sense to local people, who see Han immigrants finding jobs in lucrative industries in the Uyghur homeland.

The standard reason put forward for these labour-market inequalities is linguistic: few rural Uyghurs are fluent in Mandarin. Accordingly, efforts have been increased to make all Uyghurs competent in the dominant language of their country. But most Uyghurs perceive the program, entitled ‘bilingual education’, as the aggressive promotion of Mandarin, since even in so-called minority schools almost all subjects are now taught in Mandarin. This is an almost complete reversal of the liberal language and cultural policies of the early reform period, which allowed parents to decide whether their children should be educated in a Uyghur- or Chinese-language school up to the age of 18. The Uyghur are frustrated, not only because the possibility of choosing has been eliminated, but also because of the plentiful evidence that discrimination in the labour market does not in fact depend on language at all: even Uyghurs fluent in Mandarin are often overlooked in favour of Han with inferior qualifications.

Many observers consider Beijing’s proclaimed fear of Uyghur separatism to be greatly exaggerated. This is because the vast majority of Uyghurs would be content to live under conditions of meaningful autonomy, in which they enjoy equal access to economic resources and social justice, including freedom of religious and cultural expression. From this perspective, Beijing’s present policies are sure to further antagonise the Uyghur, and Xinjiang is likely to remain a ticking time bomb.
By Ildikó Bellér-Hann Associate Professor at the Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies, University of Copenhagen (KU).East Asia Forum

North Korean satellites and missiles: advantage hardliners

North Korea’s announcement of a satellite test planned for April has kicked up quite a fuss as governments try to decide how to respond.

South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said it would be a ‘grave provocation’, while Japan’s cabinet secretary urged North Korea not to carry out the test, saying it was a violation of UN sanctions.

Pyongyang will argue strenuously that it is a peaceful satellite launch, legally covered by the 1966 Space Treaty to which Pyongyang signed up in 2009. It has also chosen a location in the Northwest in a move to assuage any concerns the Japanese would have over a North Korean missile flying in their direction again.

The counter will be that ballistic missile tests — which these will also be — are forbidden under UN sanctions. Moreover, it violates the spirit, and possibly the letter, of a US–DPRK agreement signed so recently the fax machines are still warm. That agreement has North Korea freezing nuclear activities at Yongbyong and suspending ‘long-range’ missile tests in return for 240,000 tons of food aid.

The initial reaction of many must have been to think this is typical North Korean deal-breaking. But North Korea hasn’t seen a single nutrition biscuit yet, so why would it do something that could very likely scupper the whole deal before it gets what it bargained for?

Many possibilities have been debated.

First, it may be that Pyongyang was negotiating with the United States as a probe with no intention of seeing the deal through. However, while there are some new personalities on both sides — by all accounts very cordial — the Obama government is now more than three years old; the Koreans are acquainted with this administration.

There is also not much logic in attempting to drive a wedge between Seoul and Washington. Lee Myung Bak is in the twilight of his presidency. Obama is gearing up for his re-election campaign. Pressure from Pyongyang only emboldens the candidates they would rather not deal with in both countries.

Second, Pyongyang’s actions could be part of a strategy in which quickly backsliding on the deal was premeditated. In this scenario, North Korea has set a trap for the US. If food aid is apolitical, as the US claims, backing out of the deal makes the US appear disingenuous. The value of this compared to waiting for at least some of the aid first seems uncertain, especially as North Korea appears disingenuous by announcing a satellite launch so soon after inking the food aid deal.

Third, it may be that since the agreement would provide nutritional assistance not in the form of rice or other grains, Pyongyang deemed its value too low to warrant the freeze of its nuclear and missile programs. This may be the case, but then why not just reject the deal at the negotiations themselves?

Fourth, perhaps it is a case of domestic concerns trumping external ones. Symbolism is highly important to North Korea and demonstrating that it is a high-technology great power to its citizens on Kim Il Sung’s centenary birthday may just be more valuable than either food aid or improved relations with the US. Perhaps an ongoing debate about whether to bolster the celebrations with a high-tech show was unresolved until just recently.

Fifth, there is a possibility that assumes a master plan: it is possible that North Korea intends to back out of the satellite launch, using the affair to further demonstrate the new government’s good intentions and reasonableness to the outside world. Making the announcement a month in advance leaves a lot of time for North Korea to back down. But, if this is the case, Pyongyang will have to use its best writers for the tricky job of explaining why they decided against such a symbolic exercise, as they made the announcement in the most public way possible on their domestic TV.

All these guesses make the mistaken assumption that North Korea is a unitary actor — a ‘one mind, one voice’ kind of government. It is not. Like any government, individuals and institutions have varying perspectives and goals. The Foreign Ministry tends to have an interest in bettering relations with the United States, while the military is less inclined to deal with its long-time enemy.

If one accepts this perspective, the most likely explanation is that the people who negotiated the deal — the Foreign Ministry — did not know the satellite/missile test was going to take place, certainly not so soon. Somewhere in the swirl of interests competing for Kim Jong Un’s graces — and vice versa — things became uncoordinated, and antagonistic points of view could not be harmonised by the maximal leader or among the regency surrounding him.

The situation then appears to be two different groups of elites, with two different intentions. One group has sent softline messages, with the ‘food for freeze’ agreement. (There were even reports this week of a North Korean suggestion to set up mutual liaison offices in Washington and Pyongyang). The other has sent a hardline message, with the announcement of the rocket launch.

Ignoring the hardline message will be impossible for Obama. American policy is inevitably formed under the constraints of both domestic and international alliance politics. And US political actors operate under the constraints of a domestic hardline vs. softline spectrum. The voices calling to scrap the deal are strong already — if the test goes ahead, those voices will be overwhelming.

Some North Korea watchers have suggested the US could find a way to admit limited satellite testing is legally acceptable, perhaps while arguing for international monitoring. But this would require spending political capital Obama probably cannot afford to waste, especially in the minefield that has been US–DPRK relations. Obama would simply appear too weak if he continues with the deal.

The political need for the US to yank the nutritional supplements will be unfortunate, then, for two reasons. First, the constitution of the food aid does a pretty good job of targeting the most vulnerable North Koreans; the Korean People’s Army is not interested in baby formula. From a purely humanitarian perspective it should continue.
Second, it tells the hardliners that they can mess up any thaw in relations even with provocations that threaten relatively little. It simultaneously strips the softliners of their achievement. They end up returning to the internal debate empty handed. As such, the parameters of the US–DPRK relationship are perpetually set by hardliners.

At some point, if we are ever to find the road out of this mess, US–DPRK interactions will have to change to strip the hardliners of their influence and to follow through with the softliners.

By Andray Abrahamian Executive Director at Choson Exchange and a PhD Candidate at the Social Science College, University of Ulsan. A version of this article was first published at 38 North.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Groups Urge U.S. Not to Sell Attack Helicopters to Indonesia

Contact: John M. Miller, +1-718-596-7668; mobile: +1-917-690-4391,

Ed McWilliams, +1-575-648-2078,

March 30, 2012 - Ninety organizations today urged the U.S. government and Congress not to provide deadly attack helicopters to Indonesia. Indonesia has announced that it plans to buy eight AH-64 Apache attack helicopters from the United States.

The groups warned that the helicopters will escalate conflicts in Indonesia, especially in the rebellious region of West Papua: "Providing these helicopters would pose a direct threat to Papuan civilians."

The Indonesian military (TNI) regularly conducts "sweep operations," involving attacks on villages where innocent villagers are forced from their homes. The groups write that "Papuan civilians either flee the attacks to neighboring villages or into the surrounding forests where many die or face starvation, cut off from access to their gardens, shelter, and medical care." Sweep operations are now underway in the Central Highlands region of West Papua.

The letter was organized by the U.S.-based East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN) and the West Papua Advocacy Team and signed by human rights, religious, indigenous rights, disarmament and other organizations based in 14 countries.

Signers include: Faith-based Network on West Papua, Fellowship of Reconciliation, Peace Action, International Lawyers for West Papua, Land Is Life, KontrS (Indonesia), and Pax Christi Australia. A complete list of signers can be found here:

The AH-64 is designed for air to ground attack. It can operate day or night and is armed with high caliber chain guns and equipped to fire missiles.

ETAN was formed in 1991. It celebrated its 20th anniversary this December 10, advocates for democracy, justice and human rights for Timor-Leste and Indonesia. See ETAN's web site:

Text of Letter

As organizations concerned about human rights in Indonesia and West Papua, we are writing to urge the U.S. government and Congress not to allow the sale of AH-64 Apache attack helicopters to the Indonesian military (TNI). Providing these helicopters would pose a direct threat to Papuan civilians, who have been the target of deadly TNI assaults for many years.

The sale of this weapons system to the TNI -- notwithstanding its long record of disregard for civilian casualties, corruption, human rights violations and impunity in East Timor, Aceh and elsewhere -- would only increase the suffering of the Papuan population.

Indonesia's Deputy Minister of Defense Sjafrie Sjamsoeddin told the Antara news agency, that Indonesia intends to buy eight AH-64 Apache helicopter from the United States.

The heavily-armed AH-64 is a highly lethal weapon which can be used to escalate conflict within Indonesia and in West Papua. These aircraft will substantially augment the TNI's capacity to prosecute its "sweep operations" in West Papua and thereby, almost certainly lead to increased suffering among the civilian populations long victimized by such operations.

TNI "sweep operations," including several now underway in the Central Highlands region of West Papua, involve attacks on villages. Homes are destroyed, along with churches and public buildings. These assaults, purportedly to eliminate the poorly armed Papuan armed resistance, force innocent villagers from their homes. Papuan civilians either flee the attacks to neighboring villages or into the surrounding forests where many die or face starvation, cut off from access to their gardens, shelter, and medical care.

The AH-64 is designed for air to ground attack. It can operate day or night and is armed with high caliber chain guns . It is also equipped to fire missiles.

Congress must be notified of major weapons sales. We urge Congress to oppose the sale of these helicopters.


Read about ETAN's 20 years of work for for human rights, justice and democracy: ETAN needs you support in 2012.

Follow ETAN on Facebook:

John M. Miller, National Coordinator
East Timor & Indonesia Action Network (ETAN)
PO Box 21873, Brooklyn, NY 11202-1873 USA
Phone: +1-718-596-7668 Mobile phone: +1-917-690-4391
Email: Skype: john.m.miller



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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Vietnam Builds Naval Muscle

Following a series of high-profile procurement deals, Vietnam's growing naval program symbolizes its evolving military posture. Driven by persistent maritime disputes with China and facilitated by an expanding economy, Vietnam is actively modernizing its military through naval, air and electronic-fighting capability upgrades.

A decade ago, the Vietnamese navy was equipped with Soviet-era hardware based on technology from the 1960s along with an assortment of American-made vessels seized from South Vietnam at the end of the war. This outdated force was inadequate for patrolling the country's 200-mile exclusive economic zone or maintaining its claims over the Spratly Islands, an expansive archipelago also claimed in whole or part by China, Taiwan and several other Southeast Asian nations.

Dedicating approximately 3% of gross domestic product per annum to defense spending, Vietnam has gone on an armaments spending spree in Russia, the Netherlands and Canada, among others. The military hardware from these big ticket contracts is now beginning to enter service and promises to boost significantly Vietnam’s naval and air power.

Last year, for instance, Vietnam deployed its first two Gepard-class light frigates which were constructed at the famed Gorky Shipbuilding Plant. The Gepards, displacing 2,100 tons, feature the Uran-E missile system to target other ships, a helicopter deck and purported stealth technology for evasive maneuvers. Two additional Gepard-class light frigates, specially equipped for anti-submarine warfare, have also been ordered. Together, they will serve as the backbone of Vietnam's surface fleet for years to come.

Vietnam is also in the process of acquiring and deploying smaller missile boats. Of special note is the Molniya-class corvette which Vietnam has already received two from Russia and acquired the license to build locally an additional ten. Armed with SS-N-25 Switchblade anti-ship missiles, these 550-ton corvettes can blend in with coastal fishing vessels while packing a punch against adversaries further out at sea.

The move that has garnered the most attention, however, was the recent US$1.8 billion order of six diesel-powered Kilo-class submarines from Russia. These quiet underwater vessels offer Vietnam entirely new capabilities for patrolling the hotly contested South China Sea. The first Kilo is scheduled to be delivered in 2013, followed by one more each year through 2018.

Vietnam's experience in operating submarines is virtually nonexistent. In 1997, it discreetly obtained two obsolete Yugo midget submarines from North Korea presumably to practice underwater operations. Designed for infiltrating special forces commandos rather than naval combat, the midget submarines probably offered only limited training opportunities for Vietnamese sailors.

For full-scale underwater warfare training, it appears Vietnam will turn to India. The two countries have been engaged in high-level military talks with special emphasis on maritime cooperation. Since the Indian navy also employs Kilo-class submarines, New Delhi would be well suited to train Vietnamese crews. China responded warily to this bilateral warming trend in both words and deeds when a Chinese warship reportedly confronted an Indian navy vessel leaving a Vietnamese port in August.

Concerning where the Kilos will actually be berthed, most of the public information so far has come from Russian media. Moscow will reportedly build a submarine base for Vietnam at strategic Cam Ranh Bay, a one-time American and later Soviet naval base on the country's south-central coast facing the Pacific ocean.

In a surprise development, Vietnam is also finalizing a contract to purchase four Sigma-class corvettes from the Netherlands. Currently operated by the Indonesian and Moroccan navies, the Sigmas, two of which might be built in Vietnam, would be the most modern warships in Vietnam's inventory.

To provide air cover to its naval fleet and skies, Vietnam is in the process of acquiring Russian-made Su-30MK2 multi-role fighter aircraft. By the end of this year, Vietnam will have at least 20 of these advanced warplanes in addition to about a dozen relatively modern SU-27s and scores of leftover MiG aircraft that are older than most of their pilots.

Capable as naval strike fighters, Vietnamese Su-27s and Su-30MK2s will
be able to reach the waters adjacent to the Spratly islands which are believed to be beyond the effective range of China's shore-based fighter planes.

To improve naval surveillance, Vietnam has procured six DHC-6 Twin Otter aircraft which will be delivered over the next two years. The amphibious aircraft can land and takeoff from the water and are ideally suited for maritime patrol and resupply. Manufactured in Canada, the Twin Otters represent Vietnam's first fixed-wing aircraft purchased in the West.

The question looming over all these acquisitions is how all this hardware will communicate and fit together given the military’s limited experience operating each of these platforms even on a standalone basis.

The interoperability challenge is especially acute since Vietnam is essentially acquiring defense platforms on an เ la carte basis from numerous suppliers - principally Russia, but also the Netherlands, Canada, France, and perhaps one day the United States. Vietnam's military will thus have to devote significant attention to training and transforming into a modern, professional fighting force.

A further reaching question is what doctrine will guide Vietnam’s military broadly and navy in particular. In 2009, the Vietnamese Ministry of Defense published a highly publicized white paper on national defense. This public document was a start but was laced with outdated communist rhetoric and anodyne pronouncements. Presumably Vietnamese planners are able to fully articulate strategic concepts in private without fear of offending Sino sensitivities.

In a 2010 interview, a Chinese vice admiral expressed concern that several Southeast Asian countries were in the process of acquiring submarine fleets. He stated "if this continues at the current rate, in several years the ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] countries will create powerful naval forces" and that "this is naturally becoming a challenge to neighboring countries, including China."

Just as China is undertaking an "anti-access/area denial" strategy to keep the US Navy away from the Western Pacific, a better armed Vietnam and its potential partners could pursue a similar deterrence strategy with regards to Beijing in the South China Sea.

The analogy is not a perfect one since China obviously borders these contested waters. Apart from claiming almost the entire South China Sea, China is also preoccupied with at least two other major theaters, namely Taiwan and Northeast Asia. Thus, Beijing may reconsider its current ambitions to dominate the South China Sea if it receives enough pushback.

Vietnam is far from challenging China, but its modernizing military - as evidenced by its increasing naval capabilities - is making important strides towards a more credible deterrence.

By The Hanoist who writes on Vietnam’s politics and people.

The China–Philippines dispute in the South China Sea: does Beijing have a legitimate claim?

After relative calm for the past few months, the dispute between China and the Philippines over the South China Sea has flared up again.

Manila’s announcement that it would open new blocks off Palawan for hydrocarbon exploration has triggered the latest exchange between the two countries. China objected to the reported actions, arguing that some of the blocks are in areas over which it claims rights and jurisdiction. The critical question here is whether China has a legitimate claim under international law to rights and jurisdiction in the waters where the blocks are located. If so, it would mean the blocks in question are within an ‘area in dispute’, and China’s objections to unilateral actions by the Philippines would also be valid.

China has a long-standing historic claim to sovereignty over the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, which it refers to as the Nansha Islands, and has consistently objected to the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei each claiming sovereignty over some of the islands. China has claimed sovereignty over the Spratly Islands and their adjacent waters in official diplomatic notes to the UN. The ‘adjacent waters’ refer to the 12 nautical mile territorial sea which can be claimed from any land territory, including islands. China has also stated in its official diplomatic notes that the Spratly Islands are entitled to an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and continental shelf under Chinese law and under the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). A state does not have sovereignty in its EEZ or on its continental shelf, but has ‘sovereign rights’ and jurisdiction for the purpose of exploring and exploiting the natural resources of the seabed and subsoil in these areas.
The Philippines claims that it has sovereign rights to explore and exploit the hydrocarbon resources in the Reed Bank blocks — near the Spratlys — because it claims a 200 nautical mile EEZ, measured from straight baselines connecting the outermost points of the outermost islands in its main archipelago. The Philippines has not claimed an EEZ or continental shelf from any of the disputed islands in the Spratlys over which it claims sovereignty. Rather, its position seems to be that even if some of the features near Reed Bank are ‘islands’, these islands should only be entitled to a 12 nautical mile territorial sea, not to an EEZ or continental shelf.

The Philippines’ position is based on the distinction in UNCLOS between ‘islands’ and ‘rocks’. While islands are in principle entitled to a territorial sea, EEZ and continental shelf, ‘rocks’ that cannot sustain human habitation or economic life are only entitled to a 12 nautical mile territorial sea. The practical effect of the Philippines’ position is to reduce the ‘areas in dispute’ in the Spratly Islands to the islands themselves and the 12 nautical mile territorial sea adjacent to them. Since the blocks in the Reed Bank are more than 12 nautical miles from any disputed island, they would not be within an area in dispute, but would fall solely within the Philippines’ EEZ, as measured from its archipelago.

China could maintain that some of the features in the Spratlys near Reed Bank, such as Nanshan Island, are ‘islands’ under UNCLOS because they are naturally formed areas of land above water at high tide. China could also maintain that some of these islands are entitled to an EEZ and continental shelf because they are capable of sustaining human habitation or economic life of their own. If this claim were successful, China can maintain that it has sovereign rights and jurisdiction under UNCLOS to explore and exploit the hydrocarbon resources in these zones.

Consequently, the EEZ and continental shelf measured from the disputed islands will overlap with the EEZ of the Philippines measured from its archipelago. The ‘area in dispute’ will then be the disputed islands, their 12 nautical mile territorial sea and the sections of the EEZs that overlap. If the blocks in question near Reed Bank are within an area in dispute, this will have implications for the activities that the Philippines and China can lawfully undertake.

For now, China arguably has a basis under UNCLOS and international law for claiming sovereign rights and jurisdiction to explore and exploit the hydrocarbon resources in the waters surrounding some of the Spratly Islands. And its protests to the Philippines can be seen as a legitimate action to preserve its rights. The best way forward may be for the two countries to sidestep the sovereignty and rock–island disputes, and enter into negotiations to define the areas in dispute that can be subject to joint development arrangements. In the meantime, China and the Philippines should exercise restraint and refrain from any unilateral activities which would exacerbate the already complex disputes.

Robert Beckman is Director at the Centre for International Law and Associate Professor at the Faculty of Law, National University of Singapore. He is also Adjunct Senior Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University.
This article first appeared as RSIS Commentary No. 036/2012.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Indonesia Risks Falling Into The Middle-Income Trap

In recent years, Indonesia has done better than many expected. The economy has been robust and resilient, expanding an average of 6 percent over the past five years — and that was despite a minor dip in 2009 as a result of the global economic crisis.

More so than its neighbors, its growth has been generally balanced, with strong domestic demand allowing the economy to weather the subprime crisis well. Core inflation has declined since price spikes in 2008. Rising merchandise exports and foreign direct investment have bolstered the current account surplus.

The fiscal deficit has been contained and the government debt burden has fallen, helping Indonesia regain investment-grade status for its foreign currency debt after nearly 15 years. Despite the slowdown in advanced economies, Indonesia’s superb performance is expected to continue — 6.5 percent growth is forecast for 2012.

These positive trends, however, merely underline the critical importance of facing the long-term challenge of graduating from middle- to high-income status. Indonesia became a middle-income economy in 2003. It actually attained middle-income status in 1993, but fell back after the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis. It took six years to jump back to the middle income bracket. Now it needs to battle the so-called “middle-income trap” — where an economy is unable to move up to more value-added production. Indonesia is not unique to this problem.

Typically, countries trapped at middle-income level have: (1) low investment ratios; (2) slow manufacturing growth; (3) limited industrial diversification; and (4) poor labor market conditions.

Indeed, since the Asian financial crisis, Indonesia’s recovery in investment and manufacturing has been slow. From about 30 percent of GDP until 1997, its investment rate plunged to 11 percent in 1999 before gradually turning around.

Growth in manufactured exports fell to an average of 11 percent in 1996-2000 and dropped a further 2 percent in 2001-05. Industrial diversification has been limited. Underemployment remains high, at three times above the unemployment rate.

Creating decent jobs — particularly for an expanding, increasingly young workforce — is a critical issue.

Yes, Indonesia has done well, particularly in comparison with its neighbors. And its prospects remain good. But Indonesia needs to set itself more lofty goals. It needs to shift gears to reach higher income levels — so its policy priorities must be realigned.

A recent Asian Development Bank publication, “Diagnosing the Indonesian Economy — Toward Inclusive and Green Growth,” describes what needs to be done and offers policy options for how to do it. The book acknowledges the wide range of reforms being pursued to get to high-income status. But more needs to be done to avoid the middle-income trap.

A key priority is structural transformation. Large-scale manufacturing needs to be ramped up to add new jobs, particularly for young workers. This is critical for poverty reduction. So is the drive for more inclusive and green growth, expanding opportunities to narrow the urban-rural divide and reduce inequalities without endangering the environment and natural resources.

New and better infrastructure is essential — and this includes both physical “hard” infrastructure such as transport and energy, and the so-called “soft” infrastructure — boosting education and training to give the young workforce the skills they need.

Doing this requires money, an adequate budget and good governance. Indonesia’s revenue base is too low. It’s clear that transparency and better governance improve tax collection.

But even with that, the budget alone cannot fund the country’s infrastructure requirements. Deeper and more diverse financial markets can help. So can a better business climate that promotes public-private partnerships to help fund large, often complex, projects.

The private sector cannot transform industry on its own, whether it is in agriculture, manufacturing or services. It needs government help. Developing new industries and new products is always risky. There are many costs with no guaranteed returns.

The private sector alone rarely takes such large risks or provides the necessary coordination across component sub-sectors. The government must provide guidance. This does not mean government should pick “winners” under traditional industrial policy.

In middle-income countries like Indonesia, there is no guarantee the government has an advantage over the private sector. But with the private sector, the government can help choose the best mountain to climb, clear a path, provide essential gear and then let the private sector make the trek.

By Changyong Rhee chief economist at the Asian Development Bank. Jakarta Globe

China’s one-child policy should be ended quickly

Over 30 years since launching its one-child policy, China’s demographic dividend is abruptly coming to an end.

Not only is the Chinese labour force set to decline in absolute terms, the old-age dependency ratio (the number of people above the age of 65 for every person of working age) is expected to double over the next two decades, reaching the level of Norway or the Netherlands by 2030.

Some observers have argued that China’s one-child policy is the driving force behind its demographic transition, but this is simply not the case. The sharp decline in China’s fertility rate — from 5.9 in 1960–65 to around 1.5 today — would probably have occurred irrespective of government intervention. The fertility rates of other rapidly growing East Asian economies such as South Korea, Thailand and even Indonesia have declined just as fast as China’s, yet none of these countries has implemented a one-child policy.

It is much more likely that rising incomes are responsible for the decline in fertility rates. Health services improve as income levels rise, which in turn reduces infant and child mortality. Higher incomes also lead to greater access to education, especially for young girls. This often means that women have fewer children later in life. Moreover, the necessity of having multiple children — to act as a safety net in old age — becomes less pronounced as other social security instruments are made available. Finally, education is less of a luxury and more of a necessity within higher-income societies, making the cost of education an influential factor in deciding family size. So, even if the one-child policy were not in place, the decision to have fewer children would likely still be occurring voluntarily within China due to the substantial rise in average income, just as it has in Thailand and South Korea.

Equally interesting is the fact that China’s one-child policy has not been applied uniformly across the country. Enforcement is stricter in urban areas, minorities are usually exempted and if couples have a child with a disability, they are often allowed to have a second. Given the preference of many Chinese to have at least one son, those with a daughter are also sometimes allowed to have another child, especially in rural areas. More recently, some provincial governments have relaxed the requirements in a few select areas as a policy experiment. In most — if not all — cases, the fertility rate has barely budged.

All this suggests that if the one-child policy were to be removed, China’s fertility rate would probably not rise appreciably. Indeed, if China were to grant its rural population and urban migrants the same access to social services as urban residents, the fertility rate would most likely decline even faster.

The Chinese government recognises this and is beginning to dismantle the one-child policy, albeit slowly. This slow pace is unfortunate for two reasons. First, parents desiring a second child are prevented from having one on account of the policy, and in some cases may be forced to undergo an abortion. Second, the one-child policy has contributed to China’s ‘missing women’ — there are over 30 million fewer women in China today than would be the case if its gender balance resembled that of other countries. This imbalance has occurred for a number of reasons, including sex-selective abortions, infanticide, neglect and abandonment. Such tragic occurrences can be partly attributed to the constraints imposed on families as a result of the one-child policy, and is all the more reason why China should accelerate the policy’s removal.

Vikram Nehru is Senior Associate in the Asia Program and Bakrie Chair in Southeast Asian Studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.An earlier version of this article was first published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Thailand’s constitutional reform in changing times

When Thailand’s royalist-military junta appointed a panel to draft the new Thai constitution following the September 2006 coup, the idea was to ‘firewall’ the document from any changes the regime’s enemies might try to impose in the future.

One of these firewalls was Article 291, which lays down regulations designed to stymie such attempts. The Pheu Thai government of Yingluck Shinawatra, following its overwhelming election victory in 2011, is now proposing to reform Article 291 in preparation for major changes to the constitution, or perhaps even the redrafting of a new constitution altogether.

The 2007 constitution was designed by its royalist drafters principally to limit the power of executive government, which threatened the control of the royalist establishment over Thailand’s political system. The success of Thaksin Shinawatra’s first party, Thai Rak Thai, was due in part to its skill in exploiting the opportunities created by the 1997 constitution — which ironically had been designed to enhance the power and efficiency of the executive and bring an end to the fractious, ever-changing coalitions which had inhibited effective government. The 1997 constitution worked ‘too well’ in the eyes of the royalist establishment. It led to what critics of Thaksin’s electoral popularity would characterise as a ‘dictatorship of the parliament’ or the ‘Thaksin regime’.

Since he was identified as a threat every effort was made to destroy Thaksin as a political phenomenon, but his electoral base remained loyal. The essential problem the royalists faced remained unresolved: if an election was held, a Thaksin-backed party would consistently win at least half the seats in parliament, as has happened in five consecutive elections since 2000. So other means had to be used to change government. The military coup in September 2006, and the ‘judicial coup’ in December 2008 following the seizure of Bangkok’s international and domestic airports by the hyper-royalist ‘People’s Alliance for Democracy’, succeeded in overthrowing Thaksin-led governments. But this overthrow came at the cost of intense political polarisation and, most significantly, the politicisation of the monarchy.

The turning point came in April-May 2010 as troops killed almost one hundred red shirt protestors under the orders of Thailand’s Democrat-led government — effectively the parliamentary arm of the royalist establishment. While the killings ended the month-long occupation of central Bangkok by the red shirts, they also sparked the unprecedented growth and radicalisation of anti-monarchy and even republican sentiment.

The acute danger this posed to the monarchy — and the political and economic order it underwrites — appears to have been enough to bring the royalists to the table. It was widely rumoured that a deal was struck in early 2011 between Thaksin and the Palace to allow a Thaksin-backed party to form government without interference by the military or judiciary, in return for a tacit pledge that Thaksin would end anti-monarchy activism by forces aligned with him.

Since then, despite enormous pressure on the government during the disastrous floods in late 2011, the Pheu Thai government has been allowed to govern largely free of the destabilisation that was unleashed on Thaksin-backed governments in 2005-06 and 2008. In return, the Pheu Thai government has cracked down on anti-monarchy activity, refused to back the campaign to amend the lèse-majesté law, declined to intervene in several high-profile lèse-majesté cases, and has even shown its ‘good faith’ by leaving dozens of red shirt supporters to languish in prison on charges arising out of the 2010 violence. The public appearance at a recent official government function by Privy Council Chairman Prem Tinsulanonda, regarded as the king’s representative, has been interpreted as signifying the monarchy’s blessing for the government — for now.

The deal between Thaksin’s camp and the royalist establishment is an alliance of convenience. The royalists know that if another Thaksin-aligned government were overthrown by a coup or otherwise, the ramifications for the monarchy would be dire. And without a functional relationship with the monarchy and its military guardians, Pheu Thai would be unable to implement its agenda.

Yet the issues of constitutional reform, the proposal to offer an amnesty to those charged with offences related to the political conflict between 2006 and 2010, and above all the prospect of Thaksin’s return to Thailand will put enormous pressure on this deal. And looming in the background is the uncertainty regarding the royal succession. Without the unifying figure of the current king — such as it has been constructed through massive propaganda, military dictatorship and the lèse-majesté law for over five decades — the royalist-military political order that has controlled Thailand since the 1950s is unlikely to survive. All sides are trying to place themselves in the most advantageous position for the struggle that will ensue when the succession takes place — as it must — in the near future.

By Patrick Jory Senior Lecturer in Southeast Asian History at the University of Queensland.East Asia Forum

Monday, March 26, 2012

Lessons from Japan’s nuclear accident

A cataclysmic earthquake and tsunami crippled Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station on 11 March 2011, causing one of the most severe nuclear accidents in history.

The Independent Investigation Commission on the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Accident, a politically neutral panel established by the Rebuild Japan Initiative Foundation, reviewed the emergency responses taken by the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), Japanese government agencies and other relevant actors during the crisis. The foundation’s 400-page report reveals an utter unpreparedness for nuclear crises and an astounding negligence of safety standards.

The industry’s pre-disaster nuclear regulation system was arguably the result of Japan’s Galápagos syndrome — a condition that describes the phenomenon of a particular product or society evolving in isolation from the rest of the world.

Japanese nuclear policies and the attitudes toward safety and security among nuclear professionals unfortunately seem to have suffered as a result of this syndrome; these actors focused exclusively on domestic power games while paying very little attention to what was happening in the outside world.

A culture of overconfidence and arrogance among the national regulatory agencies and other relevant nuclear professionals, once praised as the best in the world, may have sabotaged Japan’s strenuous efforts to improve nuclear safety in the past. The Nuclear Safety Commission (NSC), the authority that double-checks the regulatory activities of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA), issued a statement in 2008 that vividly illustrates how the Japanese nuclear community has isolated itself from the global regulatory regime.

The Integrated Regulatory Review Service, one of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) peer-review systems, demanded clarification in June 2007 of the roles the NISA and the NSC played in the development of safety-assessment guidelines. Nuclear safety regulation suffered greatly as sectionalism and turf wars within Japan’s rigid bureaucracy left the system unnecessarily complex and the accountability of each organisation unclear. The NSC issued a chairman’s statement in response to the IAEA in 2008 dismissing the latter’s recommendations and claiming the current nuclear regulation system had been functioning effectively to ensure safety at an outstanding level, even by international standards.

Japanese electricity companies, including TEPCO, have also been unwilling to cooperate with the IAEA’s other safety-review program, the Operational Safety Review Team (OSART), since its induction in the 1980s. OSART is a peer-review system, in which international teams of experts conduct in-depth reviews of operational safety performance at a nuclear power plant by checking the factors affecting safety management and personnel performance.

The 1992 OSART review of the Fukushima Daini plants led to a number of recommendations, which TEPCO dismissed. It was revealed in 2002 that TEPCO also falsified 29 cases of safety-repair records regarding cracks found at several of its nuclear reactors, including those in Fukushima Daiichi in the late 1980s and 1990s. TEPCO declined an offer by IAEA’s then chief, Mohamed ElBaradei, to help in the fact-finding process, and this seemingly insouciant attitude continued when TEPCO’s then CEO subsequently announced to the media that he thought all the regulations were unrealistically strict and were not in accordance with actual operation.

The culture of secrecy and technical loftiness within the Japanese nuclear community was consequently enhanced through such events, allowing the industry to minimize the disclosure of detailed information about its operation, and to develop its own safety assurance practices which were not in accordance with global standards. This can be described as Japan’s withdrawal into nuclear Galápagos syndrome.

The Rebuild Japan Initiative Foundation revealed in its investigation that the Japanese nuclear community’s safety standards were not only out of sync with the rest of the world, but also completely ineffective and faulty in the face of tremendous, uncontrollable nuclear power. Neither top NISA officials nor NSC nuclear science advisors were able to answer the questions posed by members of the crisis response team once the disaster happened, and offered no proposals to bring the accident under control. Beneath this dysfunction lies the country’s bureaucratic sectionalism, where short-cycle staff rotations prevent officials from serving terms long enough to equip themselves with real expertise in their respective fields. This practice of staff rotations must be eliminated along with Japan’s poorly functioning regulatory organisations.

It is now time to break out of the Galápagos syndrome. The only way out is to develop a new philosophy, create further capacity and attract the right personnel — chosen from among government officials, academics and nuclear professionals — to properly fulfil the role of regulators. The Japanese government is considering the creation of a new nuclear safety agency this coming April that would replace NISA and NSC and function as an extra-ministerial bureau of the Ministry of Environment.

Whether the government can staff the new entity with real experts and whether the proposed agency can stand truly independent of the nuclear community will be key to turning the 2011 disaster into something from which the world can draw lessons. The world should learn from the mistakes of Japan’s ineffectual nuclear regulation system so as to secure greater global nuclear safety for the future.

Yoichi Funabashi is President at the Rebuild Japan Initiative Foundation, which set up the Independent Investigation Commission on the Fukushima Daiichi accident, and the former Editor-in-Chief of the Asahi Shimbun. Kay Kitazawa is Staff Director of the Commision.
East Asia Forum

Sunday, March 25, 2012

India’s foreign policy in the Asian Century

The 21st-century Asian order has entered a long interregnum between the hub-and-spokes security bilateralism of the US-engineered San Francisco system and the re-emergence of East Asia’s pre-modern international system.

To harmonise the interests of individual states with the requirements of the system at large in the decades ahead, the foremost challenge in the Asian Century will be to nudge the region’s geo-politics toward cooperation — perhaps even a loose concert of powers — as opposed to competition, conflict and division.

India’s role and strategic orientation within this 21st-century order presents something of a conundrum. It was a non-participant within the San Francisco system and bears only dim familiarity with the earlier workings of the East Asian international system. Yet without the rise of India, on course to become the world’s third-largest economy by 2025, the Asian Century will not progress very far. Yet India’s rise and its participation in the Asian Century are hardly self-evident.

There are four broad choices, each relating to its foreign policy, that India must confront in order to positively contribute to this new order.

First, as a strategic protagonist in the prospective geo-politics of Asia, will India seek to diplomatically forge a broad set of strategic partnerships, while maximising its leverage by not aligning with any particular state or group of states? Or will it develop a preferred partnership with a select power or set of powers?

Second, as a recent entrant to the East Asian equilibrium, will India seek to serve as its ‘external’ balancer? Or will it, with a Machiavellian realism, contrive to lend its decisive weight to the winning side of the immediate regional challenge of the day, and in so doing periodically shift between strategic partners?

Third, will India seek to forge a ‘natural alliance’ of democratic states along the Indo-Pacific rimland, framed in conscious distinction to China and its regional interests? Or will it seek to articulate an alternate, pan-Asian model of international relations that is keyed to regional tradition and historical circumstance and driven at its core by shared Sino–Indian interests?

And fourth, inheriting the strategic compass of its colonial masters, will India aspire to impose a liberal-minded primacy in its Indian Ocean backyard? Or will it affix its strategic identity to a set of shared values that might tolerate coercive strategies of intervention by necessity, but never admit to them as a generalised principle?

India’s leaders have displayed a consistent grasp of the country’s strategic purpose despite the breadth of these questions. Barely four months after India’s nuclear tests of 1998, then foreign minister Jaswant Singh — in a Foreign Affairs article titled ‘Against Nuclear Apartheid’ — noted that India had ‘acted in a timely fashion to correct an imbalance and fill a potentially dangerous vacuum’ in the emerging Asian balance of power. Peering far beyond what his contemporaries could barely glimpse, he presciently projected India as a major stabilising force within the Indian Ocean region and in Asia writ large.

India’s National Security Advisor, Shivshankar Menon, sketched out India’s enduring principles of order for the emerging Asian Century a little under a decade and a half later. Such an order, he noted, ought to be inclusive, comprising all powers — regional and extra-regional — relevant to the practice of Asia’s security. Its geographic scope ought to be extensive, extending from the Suez to the Pacific and seamlessly enfolding the maritime periphery with the rising continental core. Its security structure ought to be plural and open-ended, having learnt its lesson from past collective security failures. Finally, its institutional mechanisms ought to be consultative and non-prescriptive, respectful of the region’s preference for consensus-based approaches to problem solving, and centred in that crossroads of Asian inter-civilisational interaction, Southeast Asia.

The sweep of Menon’s vision and the resolve of Singh’s words outline India’s basic foreign policy strategies in the Asian Century, providing a clue as to the likely nature of India’s future contributions.

India will be an enabling power, seeking to establish a loose understanding of principles and practices related to the core issues of the region’s international relations, such that power is exercised in a spirit of self-restraint by its dominant entities. India will also be an engaged power, and will hope to frame its rise in consonance with the greater Asian region as a whole. India will be a pluralistic power, facilitating the involvement of the widest spectrum of participants in the region’s endeavours, and eschewing exclusivist multilateral constructs (particularly in the area of non-traditional security). Finally, India will, in certain circumstances, be a stabilising power, prepared to use its considerable security capabilities to help resist revisionism and maintain a more stable equilibrium — a key national interest.

Yet even as India gradually grows into this role over the next decade or more, economic modernisation — and the creation of an environment to facilitate this agenda — will remain an overriding imperative during the Asian Century. For the sake of one-sixth of humanity, and in the interest of Asia’s peace, prosperity and stability, it is important that India succeeds in these tasks.

By Sourabh Gupta Senior Research Associate at Samuels International Associates, Washington, DC.This post is part of the series on the Asian Century which feeds into the Australian government White Paper on Australia in the Asian Century.East Asis Forum

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Sri Lanka and the UN - Stricter standards

SRI LANKA suffered an embarrassing defeat in the UN’s Human Rights Council on March 22nd. A clear majority of the council’s members backed an American-led initiative which called on Sri Lanka’s government to account for the massive toll of civilian fatalities from the end of its long and brutal civil war in 2009.

Despite an exhaustive, sometimes aggressive, Sri Lankan campaign lobbying against the initiative, the Geneva-based council’s 47 members voted by, 24 to 15, for a resolution urging the government to implement the recommendations of its own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission and to start a credible investigation into allegations of widespread human-rights abuses. Eight of the member-countries abstained.

In addition to Russia, China and Cuba, most of the support for Sri Lanka came from other Asian countries. A worrying exception, from Sri Lanka’s point of view, was its once-close ally and nearest neighbour, just across the Palk strait. India departed from its record of abstaining in the council’s votes to support the American resolution.

Sri Lankan delegates played down the outcome. “It won’t change anything, we will just forge ahead as planned,” Mohan Peiris, chief legal adviser to the cabinet, said breezily as he left the Council. But in a statement from Washington hours after the vote, America’s secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, said “the next steps are clear. We look to the government of Sri Lanka to implement the constructive recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) and take the necessary measures to address accountability.”

The Americans had carefully framed the resolution as a non-confrontational effort to work with the government of Mahinda Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka’s president, in its efforts to promote peace and reconciliation. But the soft words could not disguise the fact that one of the driving motivations for the resolution was Mr Rajapaksa’s dismal track record of failing to live up to the recommendations of other official commissions—and the strong grounds for suspecting the LLRC’s report will be ignored in the same fashion.

Not the least of these awkward findings were those of a UN panel which last year trashed the government’s official line: that it finished the civil war with a “humanitarian rescue operation”, taking great care to avoid civilian casualties. As many as 40,000 people died in the closing stages of the conflict, the panel said, mainly as a result of the army’s intensive and deliberate shelling of areas that were packed with civilians, including hospitals and sites designated for food distribution. There was credible evidence that both the government and the Tamil Tigers had committed war crimes and crimes against humanity, the panel concluded.
The government has amended its narrative discreetly in the past month, publishing data which suggest that some 8,000 people died in northern areas of the conflict zone, and announcing an inquiry into all allegations of abuses. An investigation that would, as it happens, be conducted by the Sri Lankan army.

With greater volume, the government had undertaken an extraordinary campaign in recent weeks, ranging from presidential phone calls to other heads of state, in an effort to rally opposition to the American initiative, to noisy protests in Colombo and other towns, sometimes of the rent-a-mob style. Scenting an opportunity to distract attention and quell rumbles of dissent over a list of economic and social woes, the government reserved its fiercest reaction for a campaign in the Sri Lankan media. There they blasted civil-society activists, often by name, as Tamil Tiger sympathisers and proxies.

Two Tamil members of parliament were reported to have been stopped from boarding a flight to Geneva. Human-rights activists described a tense scene on their departure: they passed banners on the way to the airport which urged the public to “be vigilant for traitors going to the UN”. The intimidation didn’t stop there. In Geneva, even inside the Human Rights Council, members of Sri Lankan non-government organisations complained that members of Sri Lanka’s delegation were photographing them, and harassing them verbally. The photographers drew a sharp rebuke from the UN’s top human-rights official, Navi Pillay.

“There has been an unprecedented and totally unacceptable level of threats, harassment and intimidation directed at Sri Lanka activists who travelled to Geneva to engage in the debate, including by members of the 71-member official Sri Lankan delegation,” Ms Pillay declared, the day after the vote. She went on to condemn as inflammatory the rhetoric that was directed at the same activists by the Sri Lankan media, both public and private.

Relentless lobbying around the diplomatic missions in Geneva had worked to the government’s advantage in 2009. Then Sri Lanka had managed to persuade a special session of the council to pass a resolution which commended its approach to reconciliation. Three years on however, observers say the dynamic has changed. The government’s failure to live up to its own commitments has become more apparent.

Shocking visual evidence of the war’s carnage emerged in documentaries produced by Britain's Channel 4 Television and it found a wide audience internationally.

Moreover, since the first year of the Arab spring, the council’s members have become accustomed to condemning massive human-rights abuses. It’s become their habit to denounce states that treat their citizens with impunity—at the moment, this means Syria. Which all makes it harder, the council-watchers suggest, for Sri Lanka to brush aside its own civilian fatalities.

The council’s vote appears to show the effects of such trends. “It’s a clear message that the LLRC has not addressed accountability and that is what the international community wants from Sri Lanka,” says a director of Human Rights Watch, Julie de Rivero. “For a government that’s been in denial on civilian casualties for three years, that’s an important message.” By Banyan

The Economist