Wednesday, November 28, 2018
Kerry B. Collison Asia News: Britain has the chance to bring West Papua brutal ...: The treatment of West Papua has been scandalously neglected by our politicians. Now they have a chance to atone E very colonial ...
The treatment of West Papua has been scandalously neglected by our politicians. Now they have a chance to atone
Every colonial enterprise pretends to be inspired by something other than theft. The General Act of the Berlin Conference in 1885, under which the European powers carved Africa into formal colonial possessions, claimed that their purpose was “furthering the moral and material wellbeing of the native populations … and bringing home to them the blessings of civilisation”.
Similar rhetoric has attended all such seizures. To save native people from their enslavement to the Devil, or the Arabs, or each other, they had to be forced into general servitude, while their land and natural wealth were transferred to more enlightened people from overseas. Preposterous as such propaganda may seem to most of us today, it was taken very seriously. In some quarters, it still is. Take the case, scandalously neglected in both journalism and politics, of West Papua.
West Papua, the western half of New Guinea, is owned and run like a 19th-century colony. But in one respect its situation is even worse, as it is not formally recognised as such. Instead, it is treated by the United Nations and powerful countries – including the United States, Australia and the UK – as part of the national territory of Indonesia, the colonial power.
Until 1962 the Netherlands, which was then the colonial master, had planned to oversee West Papua’s transition to independence. But the Dutch came under massive pressure from the US government, for whom south-east Asia was nothing but a series of counters to be deployed in its great game against the Soviet Union. It insisted that Indonesia be allowed to “administer” West Papua, as long as its people were permitted a referendum on independence by 1969.
Indonesian administration consisted of imprisonment, torture, killing and the theft of everything on which officials and soldiers could lay hands. As the US embassy noted, around 95% of the people of West Papua supported independence. To encourage them to change their minds they were bombed, shelled and strafed, bayoneted and beaten to death. According to the Indonesian governor at the time, between 1963 and 1969 the armed forces murdered 30,000 Papuans.
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Despite the riches being extracted from their land, the Papuans suffer horrendous levels of childhood malnutrition
But there still had to be a referendum. So in 1969 Indonesian officials rounded up 1,026 men, took their families hostage and, under the guns of soldiers, told them to vote. An Indonesian general explained that if they made the wrong choice they would have their tongues ripped out. Swayed by such persuasive arguments, they voted unanimously for annexation. This process was officially known as the Act of Free Choice.
There was, of course, no greater justification for this farce than for the treaties struck at gunpoint with native people in Africa, to fulfil the terms of the Berlin conference. A huge body of international law, including the agreement Indonesia had signed with the Netherlands, shows that questions of sovereignty cannot be decided this way, and that Indonesia has illegally annexed West Papua. But foreign governments affect to take the Act of Free Choice seriously.
Among the most preposterous justifications were those put forward by British officials. “Naturally one sympathises with the natives, but colonialism is not always such a bad thing, indeed it is often beneficial,” one diplomat asserted. A note from the Foreign Office advised that it is “in the general interest to turn a blind eye”, while another official report stated that government policy was “to help sustain the present moderate regime in Indonesia” (the moderate regime being President Suharto’s government, which had already killed around 500,000 opponents).
We’ve had 50 years of such excuses. Last year, foreign office minister Lord Ahmed told the House of Lords that the UK “retains its position on supporting the integrity of Indonesia”. But the principle of integrity does not apply, under international law, to occupied territories.
Doubtless these positions are unconnected to the tremendous mineral wealth of West Papua, now being exploited by multinational corporations without the consent of its people. BP, for example, is working an £8bn natural gas field called Tangguh. Vast deposits of gold, copper and petroleum, timber from the world’s largest contiguous tract of rainforest outside the Amazon, and fertile soils on which palm oil can be grown have been seized from the indigenous people – assisted by the government’s continued imprisonment, torture, rape and murder of those who resist it. Despite the riches being extracted from their land, the Papuans suffer horrendous levels of childhood malnutrition, preventable disease and illiteracy.
But last year something remarkable happened. At great risk to their lives, and in constant danger of discovery by the soldiers occupying their land, West Papuan campaigners gathered 1.8 million validated signatures and thumbprints on a petition to the UN to respect their right to self-determination. This amounts to 70% of the indigenous population. Many people were beaten and tortured for spreading it or signing it.
This month, after a year of being stonewalled, parliamentary supporters of West Papuan independence (who include Jeremy Corbyn) have at last been allowed to present this petition to the Foreign Office. Because the leader of the independence movement, Benny Wenda, lives in this country and because the UK, with its seat on the UN security council, has been instrumental in justifying the seizure of their land, using the age-old excuses for colonial rule, the attempt at international recognition begins here. The question is: will the government listen, or will it continue to pretend, as it did in 1885, that the theft of a nation is a sacred duty?
• George Monbiot is a Guardian columnist
Kerry B. Collison Asia News: Our Obsession with Growth: Our Obsession with Growth The most dangerous implication of the obsession with economic growth is that it may create a society that i...
Our Obsession with Growth
The most dangerous implication of the obsession with economic growth is that it may create a society that is excluded from our economic activities, writes Arief Anshory Yusuf, professor of economics at Padjadjaran University. (Antara Photo/Indrianto Eko Suwarso)
Thirteen economists, including a Nobel laureate and four former chief economists of the World Bank, put forward the so-called Stockholm Statement of development principles in 2016. Topping the list of eight key principles is a warning that economic growth is not an end in itself.
Indeed, we seem to be obsessed with economic growth. Economic growth – or growth, for short – has been the headline of almost all economic discussions in the public discourse or meetings at government offices and economic seminars. It has always been No. 1 on the list of targets to be achieved in annual, medium- or long-term economic planning or government budget documents. Policy makers at the national and regional or local level normally mention growth first in meetings to discuss contemporary or future economic issues. It is not that other aspects of economic development, such as poverty, employment and inequality, are excluded from the discussion, it is just that growth seems to get more attention than it deserves.
Not Without Reason
This lopsided attention to growth has many reasons. Some are valid, but some are questionable. Economic growth is the rate of change over a certain period, such as yearly or quarterly, of gross domestic product (GDP) at the national level or gross regional domestic product (GRDP) at provincial or district level. GDP and GRDP are basically the amount of total income earned by all owners of production that operate in a said region. The main factors of production are labor and capital, such as machinery, land and buildings.
The owner of labor gets a wage or salary, while the owner of capital gets profit. It is important to note that these elements of production operate under the jurisdiction in which the GDP or GRDP is measured, but their owners do not necessarily live in the same region. Hotels and restaurant in Bali or Bandung, West Java, may generate high GRDP (therefore high economic growth) from their activities, but their owners may live somewhere else. Similarly, coal mining in Kalimantan may contribute a lot to that area's growth, but this will not directly increase the prosperity of its residents.
So why do we seem to be obsessed with growth? First, it is a kind of a tradition; a global tradition. The world – promoted by the World Bank – classifies the status of countries to be poor (low income) or rich (high income) based on their income (or GDP) per capita. Higher growth means higher GDP per capita and higher status. Economic growth becomes the mantra to raise a country's economic status to a higher level, such as from low-income to middle-income or high-income. This mantra was spread widely to provincial and local governments, which are given increasing authority over development policy through decentralization. Secondly, GDP has a long history as among the most robust economic indicators. This makes monitoring easier and more reliable.
However, among the most commonly held view, including among academia, on why income per capita (and therefore growth) is important, is that income per capita highly correlates with other important development indicators. Higher economic growth will most likely translate to the improvement of other standard indicators of welfare. How true is this view?
Does Growth Always Lead to Prosperity?
Let us compare GRDP per capita in provinces or districts with another commonly used monetary welfare indicator, namely expenditure per person. Expenditure per person is used in at least three well-known development indicators in Indonesia: Human Development Index, poverty and inequality. Despite both being monetary measurements, they are different in the most important way. GRDP per capita is production-based, so it is prone to capital spillover across jurisdiction (as discussed previously), while expenditure per person is survey-based. It is estimated through a socioeconomic survey that aims to represent the welfare of the residents of the jurisdiction (province or district). That is, those who live in the jurisdiction. This is a very crucial difference.
A simple scatter-plot diagram between district GRDP per capita and expenditure per capita shows a very weak correlation. On a scale of 0 to 1, the correlation is only 0.37, which means higher economic growth in one region will not always translate into a higher standard of living. It also confirms the large inconsistency between the two most commonly used development indicators in Indonesia.
A recent study by the SDGs Center at Padjadjaran University and the United Nations Development Program also suggests a startling finding. The study calculates the cross-provincial correlation between GRDP per capita and 68 officially published indicators of sustainable development and classifies the correlation into four categories: high, moderate, low and no correlation. They found that around two-thirds of the correlations are either low or no correlation.
Reasons for Inconsistency
The first factor is, of course, the one outlined earlier. The larger the component of growth consists of profit earned from capital, the larger the spillover outside the jurisdiction where the economic activities occur. That is why regions that largely depend on natural resources (capital-intensive sector) or the financial sector will tend to have the largest gap between economic growth and citizens' welfare. In a cross-country context where capital mobility and ownership are very low, this may not be a big problem. But in a national context, where capital ownership can be easily moved across jurisdictions, such as between districts in one country, this can be a serious issue. Here, economic growth or GRDP per capita may be a misleading indicator of prosperity.
The second factor is how income from economic growth remaining in the district is distributed across residents. If the benefit of the economic growth is only concentrated among the few, then it will reinforce the capital spillover. They may spend the money somewhere else. And finally, the quality of the institution or governance in the region also matters. Large royalties from natural resources, for example, will end up benefiting only a few cronies in a district with low-quality institutions.
Should We Be Worried?
Should we avoid the growth obsession? Yes. It can lead to bad policy prescriptions. Think about, for example, directing public infrastructure investment, such as water or sanitation facilities. Should it go to low- or high-growth regions? If growth is the main reason, then the answer is to low-growth regions in the name of reducing inter-regional disparity. But what if the infrastructure is needed more in regions with low prosperity despite high growth?
A growth-promoting strategy can also be politically incorrect in a region with high capital spillover. As the mayor or governor of a city or province is elected by residents, the growth-promoting strategy is not necessarily the best for their political constituents.
However, the most dangerous implication of the growth obsession is that it may create a society that is excluded from our economic activities. A potentially destructive time bomb through diminishing social cohesion. This may escalate our existing problems of inequality, identity politics and intolerance.
Let us stop this obsession with growth.
Arief Anshory Yusuf is a professor of economics at Padjadjaran University in Bandung and president of the Indonesian Regional Science Association (IRSA)
Tuesday, November 20, 2018
There is nothing worse than the sight of a grown man crying. We aren’t robots of course and sometimes we just have no choice. Like most of my gender however, I make every effort to shut myself somewhere out of sight or sound of anyone else before allowing myself to break down.
The thought of dissolving into tears in front of a large group of strangers is the stuff of my nightmares. Last Friday night that nightmare came true and it was Larry I wept for.
Why Larry? I’d like to say that him and me were best mates, thick as thieves and sharing a special bond. It wouldn’t quite be true though. We have become very close and I thought the world of Larry. We were good mates, and I loved spending time with him, but I have lost closer friends and never even welled up over it. So, what was so different about this old bugger.
I’ve known Larry for about 5 years I guess, but for a long time, I didn’t get too close. Larry was quite a private person and I didn’t really want him thinking I was trying to push my way into his world. There are plenty of social climbers about and I didn’t want to be mistaken for one.
Strange as it may sound, me and Larry are both quite introverted and slow to open up to people. Sadly, it wasn’t really until after Larry’s first brush with death when he had a lung removed that we started to get to know each other.
I think Larry was glad to be alive. He was probably thankful he hadn’t had a lung transplant (I can’t imagine anything worse than coughing up someone else’s phlegm).
Whatever the reason, we got to know each other much better after that and I spent many a happy hour with Larry. Most of the time I spent with him, he was sat on his chair in front of his giant TV, rolling up ciggies or occasionally something a little stronger to enjoy through his one remaining lung.
We might have lived very different lives, but we somehow had a lot in common. I always remember the picture he had in his living room. I recognised it as soon as I walked in. It was Rose Hill racecourse in Sydney. I have never been there, unlike Larry I have zero interest in horses or horse racing.
I knew it however, because in the background was Shell’s Clyde oil refinery (long since demolished) where I had worked as a welder on a couple of shutdowns.
It was funny to laugh about daft things which I had done in a dirty old refinery while Larry would tell stories of funny things he had done on racetracks.
I have a lifetime fear of horses while Larry trained, and clearly had an extraordinary bond with them. He trained a horse which came within a whisker of winning a Melbourne Cup. He remains convinced that if the jockey had done as he was instructed, that the cup would have been his.
We laughed about stupid things I did on old motorbikes. We laughed about how he lent his Aston Martin to a friend who didn’t have the hang of the weird gear change mechanism.
He shoved it into the wrong gear and the thing came to a screeching halt in a plume of smoke from a well fried clutch. “Cost me thirty bloody grand to fix the thing,” he laughed.
He told me how Rupert Murdoch loved to come into his office and gas bag for hours on end. “It was alright for Rupert, he didn’t have a bloody deadline to meet,” he chuckled. “I had to get a frigging cartoon out by 3 o’clock.”
He loved to talk about flying his helicopter. “I would fly it to the pub, have a skin full and then fly home - no breathalysers up there,” he snorted.
The thing with Larry was that he wasn’t trying to impress you with the fact that he had owned an Aston Martin and a helicopter, or that he was friends with one of the world’s great media moguls.
To Larry, he was just a bloke having fun in an Aston Martin or a helicopter or with Rupert bloody Murdoch. The fact that his toys were bigger just added to the fun. He was just as happy to talk about his life as a runaway 14-year-old living in a phone box and stealing eggs from a local chook farm to survive.
That was what was so special about Larry, he never forgot who he was or where he came from. He never looked down on people for who they were, or where they came from.
I wasn’t anyone special or famous when I met Larry, but he never ever made me feel that way. He always heaped praise on my work and had huge confidence in my abilities.
I know that Larry believed it too because he wouldn’t have said it if he didn’t. Larry Pickering never peed in anyone’s pocket.
Those compliments were special to me however, for two reasons. Firstly, praise from a writer of Larry’s calibre is deeply humbling. But there is another reason.
Larry was a media superstar with a huge following. I was a much younger nobody. When Larry posted articles of mine, particularly on Facebook, sometimes people would mistake them for his own. On some occasions, commenters would praise Larry for writing such a great piece.
That used to make me nervous. Larry could have felt jealous or threatened by that. Many lesser men would have been. He could have started sniping and picking faults in what I wrote. He could have rejected articles. But Larry never gave me anything but praise and encouragement.
That is why I admired Larry so much.I know that Larry’s success never came at anyone else’s expense. Larry Pickering never climbed over anyone else to get where he was.He did it all on his own merit.
Larry was always ready to give someone else a hand up without worrying about whether that might diminish his own position or status. When I measure the size of a man, that quality adds considerably to the numbers on my tape rule.
People may think that Larry simply had a talent for cartoons but talent or no, you still have to put in the hard yards. There is a proper way to draw a cartoon which needs to be learned. Larry told me he drew three cartoons, every day for a year before submitting one to the editor.
That was what made Larry special. As well as his talents, he had true grit and never backed away from a challenge.
It is a couple of years now since Larry’s doctors told him that if he didn’t take the Chemo, that he would be dead by Christmas. Larry stuck two fingers up at them and confounded them since.
Who does that?
Larry’s toughness was legendary. He would fight tooth and nail for what he believed was right. To see him succumbing to the inevitable was beyond sad for me. On Friday, I spoke to his wife who was passing on instructions on the eulogy he wanted to go on the website.
If that isn’t hard enough to take, he grabbed the phone part way through. “Hello Chief!” he exclaimed with his old enthusiasm for life and began telling me what he wanted me to include.
Before long however, he was struggling to get words out and had to hand the phone back to his wife again. It broke my heart and that is why I broke down last Friday night and cried in front of all those people.
Larry was fighting like a tiger to spend just a little more time with his beloved family. He refused painkillers because he didn’t want to miss what little time he had left with them. Sadly, it was a fight that even Larry Pickering couldn’t win forever.
They broke the mould when they made Larry and we can’t all be like him. But the fact that Australians made a hero of Larry speaks volumes as to why this country is one of the most envied in the world. Larry did everything he could to keep it that way.
He leaves behind a gigantic pair of boots to fill.
I can never be Larry, but I will do my best to keep this site running and the community together. I know that was what Larry wanted because he told me so. The Pickering Post was never just Larry. All of us have added to The Post with our comments and links, and all of us are still here for now.
Farewell old friend. You may be gone, but you will never be forgotten and the Pickering Post lives on as your legacy and a gift to all of us.
Harry Richardson is a long-time student of Islam and author of best seller, "the Story Of Mohammed - Islam Unveiled', http://thestoryofmohammed.blogspot.com.au
Monday, November 19, 2018
Kerry B. Collison Asia News: China’s Debt Diplomacy - Payment due: Pacific isla...: China’s Debt Diplomacy Payment due: Pacific islands in the red as debts to China mount Just over a decade ago, deadly riots in the...
China’s Debt Diplomacy
Payment due: Pacific islands in the red as debts to China mount
Just over a decade ago, deadly riots in the capital of Tonga, Nuku’alofa, destroyed much of the small Pacific nation’s central business and government districts.
Out of the rubble, the government hatched a plan to rebuild the city, including constructing a new cruise ship wharf and renovating the Royal Palace – all bankrolled by a new lender, China.
The initial roughly $65 million in Chinese lending now exceeds $115 million - almost one-third of Tonga’s annual gross domestic product - as interest mounted and the government took out a second loan for road development across the country.
An onerous principal repayment schedule starts in September that will double Tonga’s debt financing bill has left the government scrambling.
Tonga’s precarious position is indicative of a wider debt-fueled hangover hitting small Pacific economies, stoking fears the region risks falling into financial distress and becoming more susceptible to diplomatic pressure from Beijing.
In particular, the loans give Beijing a lever in one of the most contested areas in the world over recognition of Taiwan, which has strong diplomatic ties to the region.
Reuters’ analysis of the financial books of 11 South Pacific island nations shows China’s lending programs have gone from almost zero to over $1.3 billion currently outstanding in a decade.
The documents show China is now the region’s biggest bilateral lender, although Australia’s significant aid programs mean it remains the largest financial backer in the South Pacific.
Chinese loans accounts for more than 60 percent of Tonga’s total external debt burden, and almost half the external debt of Vanuatu. In dollar figures, Papua New Guinea has the biggest debt to China, at almost $590 million, representing about one-quarter of its total external debt.
“Given the vulnerabilities of their economies, given the very few sources of revenues they have, they tend to be in many cases at high risk of debt distress,” World Bank director for the Pacific, Michel Kerf, told Reuters in a phone interview.
“Their debt is reaching the limit of what would be considered sustainable.”
Most experts believe China’s lending in the Pacific, which picked up from 2006, stemmed from Beijing’s broader push to increase overseas ties as its economy and global clout rose. Financing packages also provided opportunities for state-owned enterprises to take part in infrastructure projects.
Chinese firms have built facilities throughout the Pacific, from Vanuatu’s Luganville Wharf - built by Shanghai Construction Group - to a water network in the Cook Islands’ Rarotonga, which is being built by state-owned China Civil Engineering Construction Co.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said there was no evidence China was responsible for creating unsustainable debt.
“We have, according to the relevant countries’ wishes, given financing support to the best of our ability, which has provided assistance in the hour of need in promoting relevant countries’ social and economic development, and received the affirmation and welcome of each country,” Hua said at a news briefing in Beijing in response to Reuters questions.
She said China’s relationship with Tonga was “very good”.
Yet experts say China’s recent possession of the strategically important Sri Lankan port at Hambantota as Colombo struggled with a spiraling debt crisis demonstrated the Asian giant’s awareness its loans are also a powerful strategic tool.
Last year, a Chinese state-owned firm took over a 99-year lease of the port, part of a plan to convert $6 billion of loans that Sri Lanka owes China into equity.
The deal raised concerns from the United States, India and Japan that Beijing might use the port as an Indian Ocean naval base, which both the Sri Lankan government and Chinese embassy in Colombo have denied.
Sam Parker, the co-author of a Harvard analysis of China’s offshore financing and diplomacy, said Hambantota was a “wake up call” and identified the Pacific as being similarly vulnerable.
“We don’t think there was some huge Chinese plot to lure countries into debt,” Parker said in a phone interview. “But now that they have it, we think they’d be willing to use it. They’ve started to be a lot more aggressive in geo-economics.”
Indeed, a recent U.S. National Defence Strategy paper warned China was using “predatory economics” to achieve its strategic ends in particular by coercing neighbors to reorder the Indo-Pacific region to China’s advantage. And New Zealand’s defense policy statement released last month highlighted growing disruption in the Pacific from the rise of China.
“Steep debt burdens associated with infrastructure projects have potential implications for influence, access and governance,” New Zealand noted, drawing a rebuke from China.
The issue ignited recently over media reports China wanted to establish a military base in Vanuatu after funding a wharf big enough to handle warships. Both China and Vanuatu denied the reports.
Despite Beijing’s growing clout in the region, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last week he was confident South Pacific nations would choose the United States as an ally over China.
“I think the South Pacific, like most places in the world, understands the enormity of having an American ally - a country that consistently over decades projects the democratic values,” Pompeo said after meetings with Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.
THE TAIWAN QUESTION
While the loans are relatively small on a global scale and the Pacific islands are less obviously of strategic significance, the region has attractions for the ascending power.
Washington and its allies have warned Beijing against any attempt to establish military bases in an area that proved pivotal in the Pacific battles of World War II.
Each Pacific state represents a vote at international forums such as the United Nations, and they control vast swathes of resource-rich ocean.
What’s more, one-third of countries which have formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan are in the South Pacific. China views the island as a wayward province, to be taken back by force if necessary.
Both Taiwan and China have used lending and aid packages to help keep their supporters loyal, after decades of several Pacific nations switching allegiances.
In February, Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry said China had forced Papua New Guinea to change the name of Taipei’s representative office in the country and remove diplomatic license plates from diplomats’ cars.
“Recent moves suggest a return to heightened cross-Strait competition in Pacific islands,” said a June report from the U.S. Congress’s U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.
TERMS AND CONDITIONS
Much of the criticism around Chinese lending in the Pacific has focused on the projects debts have been used for, and conditions tied to loans.
The Cook Islands has been critical of some of its China-led projects after accepting grants for public buildings including a courthouse and a police station, and a concessional loan for a stadium that used imported labor and materials.
Getting rid of me risks delaying Brexit - May
“A lot of the buildings are so substandard that they are starting to fall apart,” said Mark Short, former secretary of justice for the Cook Islands.
Short said the stadium was rusted and unsafe less than a decade after being built. A make-shift pen was built outside the courthouse because the cells beneath it ran out of oxygen if occupied for more than two hours.
Cook Islands Deputy Prime Minister Mark Brown acknowledged there had been some issues with the selection of materials and quality of workmanship in parts of the buildings.
“To their credit, China has recognized the shortcomings...by undertaking to carry out renovations work on all three buildings,” Brown said in an email. “Chinese assistance was available to meet urgent infrastructure needs in the Cook Islands and we took advantage of those opportunities.”
The majority of China’s financial support comes in the form of concessional loans, while traditional regional players like Australia, New Zealand and the United States tend to provide gifts and leave lending to multilateral institutions such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.
Australia and New Zealand have both recently diverted more funding to the region after years of apparent indifference.
Vanuatu’s recently retired Sydney consul, William Longwah, told Reuters China was an easier financier to deal with than Australia.
“And Australia, when they do something they take so long to process, so long to send the funds,” Longwah said in a phone interview.
Now, debt pressure is mounting on several Pacific island governments.
China has showed no signs it will forgive debt, refusing Tonga’s request to do so in 2013, although it did suspend principal repayments for five years.
Tonga plans to repay principal of about $5.7 million of its China loans in 2018-19; almost doubling the country’s annual external debt service bill and representing about 4 percent of its overall budget of $135 million.
Tonga’s financial challenges have already prompted the government to withdraw from hosting the 2019 Pacific Games, an Olympic Games-style event held every four years, sparking anger and legal action from the council responsible for organizing the games in the sports-mad nation.
Lopeti Senituli, political and media advisor to Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pōhiva told Reuters Tonga is still negotiating with Beijing to see if it can get its debts forgiven, but is preparing to start payments.
“Of course it would put any government under major financial stress and we are doing the best we can.”
He acknowledged Pacific islands experienced pressure from Beijing but denied it was different to any other country with an economic relationship with China, which is asserting “massive” pressure globally.
“You cannot simply say it’s only happening in the Pacific islands. No, it’s happening to all of us regardless of the size of your economy, regardless of the political status of your government structure.”
Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield in WELLINGTON and Jonathan Barrett in SYDNEY; Additional reporting by Tom Westbrook in SYDNEY and Michael Martina in BEIJING. Editing by Lincoln Feast
Kerry B. Collison Asia News: China under Xi Jinping: China under Xi Jinping Xi Jinping is widely viewed as the strongest leader China has had since Deng Xiaoping or Mao Zedong. But six y...
China under Xi Jinping
Xi Jinping is widely viewed as the strongest leader China has had since Deng Xiaoping or Mao Zedong. But six years into his perhaps indefinite tenure, what has Xi actually accomplished?
And where might China be headed under his rule?
Like all Chinese leaders since the 1870s, when Qing dynasty rulers launched the Self-Strengthening Movement, Xi also seeks ‘the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation’. The quest has been consistent for 150 years: for China to acquire the material attributes of a major international power and the commensurate respect from others. The legacy of the country’s former weakness and humiliation continues to haunt Xi and his generation.
So too does the collapse of Communist Party rule in the former Soviet Union. Now having ruled almost as long as their Soviet counterparts, Xi and his peers in the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) live in regular trepidation of a similar meltdown. These two issues — augmenting China’s strengths while rectifying the Communist Party’s weaknesses — are intertwined in Xi’s thinking and dominate his agenda.
Xi believes in the absolute power of the Communist Party. As Xi told the 19th Congress of the CCP in October 2017: ‘The party controls all’. Unlike Deng Xiaoping, who launched China’s reforms four decades ago and sought to relatively reduce party power, Xi wants to bring the party-state back into all aspects of national life.
The CCP under Xi is also reaching back to the Maoist era by constructing a massive personality cult around Xi’s own persona. Maoist rhetorical throwbacks such as zhuxi (chairman), lingxiu (leader), hexin (core), even da duoshou (great helmsman) are again commonly used to refer to Xi. The official ideological canon of ‘Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era’ has now been enshrined in the party constitution too. Xi personally chairs all central Leading Groups and party and military organs. He has also emasculated the authority of Premier Li Keqiang.
Xi is systematically rolling back many of the core elements of Deng’s reforms that guided China’s leaders for the past four decades: no personality cult around the leader, collective leadership and consensual decision-making, bottom-up ‘inner-party democracy’ rather than top-down diktat, active feedback mechanisms from society to the party-state, relative tolerance of intellectual and other freedoms, limited dissent, some de facto checks and balances on unconstrained party power, fixed term limits and enforced retirement rules for leaders and cadres, a society and economy open to the world, and a cautious foreign policy. These and other norms were all central elements of Deng’s post-1978 reform program and they were all accepted and continued under Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao — but all are being systematically dismantled and rolled back by Xi Jinping.
So dominant is Xi that Chinese politics have become a sycophantic echo chamber. Xi is trying to run the party like a military, with orders given and to be followed — rather than as an organisation with feedback mechanisms and procedures to curtail dictatorial practices. Xi is very much a mid-20th century Leninist leader ruling a huge country in the globalised, early-21st century era. There is thus a contradiction between Xi’s modality of rule and the realities of the modern world and China’s developmental needs.
Since coming to power in 2012, Xi has sought to relatively close China’s doors rather than further open them. There has been a significant tightening of the foreign investment and corporate operating environment, a sweeping suppression of civil society and foreign NGOs, stepped-up study of Marxism and an assertion of ideological controls over the entire educational sphere, and xenophobic campaigns against ‘hostile foreign forces’.
Meanwhile, the party continues to enforce strict media controls, carry out pervasive public security surveillance, tighten control over Xinjiang and Tibet, and persecute Christians and other organised religions. Xi has also cracked down on corruption in the party (and government and military), and presided over the most draconian purges and political repression in China since the 1989–92 post-Tiananmen period.
These actions have more in common with Maoism than Dengism. To be certain, Xi has definitely succeeded in strengthening the party institutionally over the past five years — but it is fair to wonder whether he has not actually weakened it in the longer term? How long can such retrograde and repressive actions endure in an increasingly globalised, wealthy and sophisticated society?
Xi’s economic impact is mixed. GDP growth remains very respectable at 6.9 per cent. Xi has also launched programs to eliminate poverty by 2020, spur innovation and high-tech manufacturing under the Made in China 2025 program, increase urbanisation and build eco-cities, expand coverage of social services, attack pollution and transition to a green economy, decrease desertification and increase forestation, deleverage China’s ballooned debt while expanding domestic consumption and services as drivers of growth. These are all commendable goals and initiatives — but they are all just that. Time will tell whether they are achieved.
On the other hand, Xi’s administration has significantly failed to meet the benchmarks or implement the policies of the Third Plenum economic reform plan of November 2013. The significance of this shortfall is that the Chinese economy is not making the structural adjustments needed to navigate through the middle-income trap and up the value-added chain to become a developed economy over time. Structural maladies and overcapacity continue to plague economic efficiency, the stock market has plummeted, while dangerously high debt levels loom overhead.
If there is one policy area where Xi does deserve better marks, it is in foreign relations. China is now widely seen as a global power. Xi has taken a personal interest in global governance. As a result, China under Xi is contributing much more to the United Nations operating budget, global peacekeeping, overseas development assistance and the Millennium Development Goals. And it is more active in a range of areas from combatting public health pandemics to disaster relief, energy and sea lane security, counter-terrorism and anti-piracy operations.
Xi’s signature Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is also noteworthy. An infrastructure development initiative unparalleled in history, the BRI will build rail lines, pipelines, telecommunications networks, electric grids, deep-water ports, highways, cities and other needed infrastructure from Asia to Europe. While the BRI is encountering criticism of late, it is nonetheless illustrative of China’s new foreign policy activism under Xi.
To be certain, China’s international relationships are not all rosy — but they are, on balance, positive. Only with the United States — and perhaps Australia, Japan and India — are China’s bilateral ties strained. Everywhere else they are sound.
The same must also be said about China’s military and defence — probably Xi’s No. 2 priority (after strengthening the party) over the past five years. Under the new title of Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, in January 2016 Xi launched a sweeping reorganisation — the most comprehensive ever — of China’s military and paramilitary forces. The restructuring is but one part of systematic efforts to build a world-class military and, in Xi’s repeated exhortations, to ‘prepare to fight and win wars’.
Like all leaders, Xi’s tenure has so far achieved mixed results. But this variegated verdict is at variance with the overwhelmingly positive portrayals proclaimed in China’s official media. In Beijing’s rendering, Xi can do no wrong. This in itself may prove to be his Achilles’ heel. No leader is infallible. The subterranean grousing about Xi’s ‘imperial’ leadership style now increasingly heard in China (and from Chinese when they go abroad and speak with foreigners), may be a harbinger of difficulties to come.
Having constructed a caricature of an infallible Xi Jinping, the regime will find it very difficult — if not impossible — to deconstruct this image of China’s new ‘great helmsman’. And there are many constituencies in China that are suffering from Xi’s policies — including the party and state cadres and military officers who have lost their positions and privileges as a result of Xi’s anti-corruption purges — all of whom lie in wait for him to trip up.
David Shambaugh is the Gaston Sigur Professor of Asian Studies, Political Science and International Affairs at the George Washington University, Washington, DC.
This is an adapted version of an article originally published in Global Asia.