Thursday, January 31, 2013

China’s New Militancy

Chinese leaders' repeated calls for the PLA to be ready to plan, fight, and win wars is an ominous sign

“We will show the courage to try and resolve our differences with other nations peacefully—not because we are na├»ve about the dangers we face, but because engagement can more durably lift suspicion and fear,” President Obama said in his second inaugural address

How exactly does the international community “engage” hostile states?  Take China, for instance. 
Xi Jinping, named Communist Party general secretary in November, reflects a new militancy.  On Tuesday, he delivered a hard-edged speech to the Politburo in which he effectively ruled out compromise on territorial and security issues.  His tough words were in keeping with the ever-more strident tones of his messages to the People’s Liberation Army about being ready to plan, fight, and win wars. Chinese leaders have traditionally addressed the army and urged improvement in general readiness, but, as veteran China watcher Willy Lam notes, Xi has put a special emphasis on it.  Moreover, his calls on preparing for conflict go well beyond those of his two predecessors, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao. 

In the past, the military’s war talk contrasted with soothing words from senior civilian leaders.  Now, with Xi, the aggressive comments from flag officers are consistent with what he, as top leader, is saying.  Worse, as the Financial Times notes, Xi’s words of war are now “being bundled” with his rhetoric, which seems calculated to “fan nationalism.” 

In this environment, Chinese military officers can get away with advocating “short, sharp wars” and talking about the need to “strike first.”  Their boldness suggests, as some privately say, that General Secretary Xi is associating with generals and admirals who think war with the U.S. might be a good idea.

China looks like it is taking one of its periodic wrong turns.  Is it because Xi Jinping is a nationalist who wants to lead the country down a path of high profile force projection?  Or is he succumbing to pressures from elements inside a regime increasingly in disarray?

Most analysts think the People’s Army remains firmly under the control of Beijing’s civilian leaders.  Sources, for instance, are increasingly reporting that General Secretary Xi is personally directing Beijing’s provocative intrusions into Japanese water and airspace.  Moreover, Rand’s Scott Harold perceptively notes that Beijing’s civilian leaders can turn off the tough talk from military hawks when it is important for the Party to present a peaceful front, such as when Hu Jintao visited the U.S. in 2011.  “All of a sudden, bam, these guys got turned off,” Harold told Reuters, referring to the more talkative officers.

Nonetheless, there are increasing signs of a military breaking free of civilian control.  Last year, there were two sets of coup rumors that circulated around China, one in January and the other in March.  The stories may not be true, but that’s almost beside the point.  These rumors went viral in China not only because they were sensational but also because, for many Chinese citizens, they were credible.  They were credible because top leaders had conditioned the Chinese people over the last several years to believe the top brass had assumed a central role in Beijing politics. 
The Diplomat

Singapore: niche diplomacy through water expertise

Through strategic planning and investment in research and technology, strong political will, and effective governance, Singapore has emerged from water insecurity to become a global hydrohub.

It has built a robust and diversified range of water sources and has successfully addressed its water challenges in the process. As a result it has earned international recognition as a model city for water management. This has also led to a new direction in its water diplomacy, which is no longer centred on securing Singapore’s water supply from Malaysia.

Singapore has in recent years capitalised on its domain expertise in water management. In the process, its water diplomacy has taken on the character of ‘niche diplomacy’. The term was coined to describe how middle powers, through their ideas and positive international impression, can influence international issues regardless of their size and lack of military power. Singapore, in this context, has been able to turn its niche expertise in the management of an increasingly important resource — water — into an approach to diplomacy that has allowed it to enhance its regional and international standing and influence.

It has done this through sharing water expertise as well as humanitarian activities. Singapore’s growing expertise in water management has also enabled the country to set the agenda on a number of global water issues, including water standards, which remain a challenge worldwide.
In March 2012, the Technology and Water Quality Office of Singapore’s national water agency, the Public Utility Board (PUB), was designated World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborating Centre for safe drinking water management and integrated urban water management. Under this arrangement, Singapore serves as the WHO’s regional policy research hub on relevant concerns, such as regulatory issues, water industry structure and water pricing. It will also conduct capacity-building activities and training courses for WHO member states, particularly those in Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific region.

Urban water security has become an important policy agenda in most countries. Cities in developing countries are under pressure to meet the burgeoning demand for water brought about by rapid economic and population growth. With the number of people living in urban areas projected to increase from 3.6 billion in 2011 to 6.3 billion by 2050, the situation is set to become more critical. However, it presents significant opportunities for Singapore to contribute to tackling global water security challenges.

There are already several Singaporean projects along these lines. For example, the Singapore Cooperation Enterprise (SCE) signed an agreement in 2011 with the government of Mauritius to assist it to develop a system capable of providing an uninterrupted supply of potable water, to reduce non-revenue water to a minimum, to improve the country’s Total Water Management system and to develop a plan to meet increasing and changing needs.

In June 2012 the SCE also signed an agreement with the Delhi Jal Board (DJB) in India to set up waste-water treatment plants to generate water for consumption. The program is co-funded by DJB and the Temasek Foundation, and will establish a water reclamation plant with 40 million gallons per day capacity. It is projected that this plant will benefit 3–4 million consumers.

The SCE and Temasek Foundation established a similar arrangement with the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewage Board (BWSSB) of the city of Bangalore in southern India. BWSSB officials would be trained to manage, operate and maintain recycle-and-reuse plants and would also help them develop strategies to raise public awareness and acceptance of recycled waste-water.
Singapore is increasingly integrating its water expertise into its response strategy for humanitarian emergencies in Southeast Asia. In the wake of the devastating floods in Thailand in 2011, which caused more than 800 deaths, PUB delivered water quality monitoring equipment to Thailand’s Metropolitan Waterworks Authority (MWA). PUB, together with industry partners, also provided training to MWA staff on risk assessment and water safety plan formulation, as well as laboratory services for the testing of water samples.

Other initiatives have involved tackling more chronic needs. Through the Water for Life project launched by the Singapore International Foundation in 2010, Singapore helped rural communities in Siem Reap, Cambodia, to gain access to clean water, providing some 2000 bio-sand filters to help reduce the incidence of water-borne diseases. This was followed by a similar project in Kampong Speu.

Singapore has made determined efforts to extend its water expertise beyond its shores. Its niche expertise in water has strengthened its ties with other states and increased its influence at the regional and international level.

Mely Caballero-Anthony is Associate Professor and Head of the Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University.
P. K. Hangzo is Associate Research Fellow at the Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University.
A version of this article was first published in NTS Insight, and appeared as RSIS Commentary No. 221/2012.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Japan Wrestles With A Troubled Institution

Is sumo really a sport?
Aside from vistas of Mount Fuji, cherry blossoms and sushi, nothing says Japan as much as sumo. Yet this quintessential Japanese sport, often called the national pastime, hasn't had a home-grown champion in seven years.

This year looks to be no different, as the Mongolian-born Harumafui captured the Emperors's Cup at the traditional New Year tournament that kicks off the sumo year. He won the trophy by defeating yet another Mongolian champion, not to mention some Bulgarians and Estonians.

Paradoxically, sumo is an international sport that steadfastly refuses to go international. It is international in that many foreigners participate in Japan. Of the approximately 700 professional wrestlers, about 50 are foreign-born, mostly from Mongolia but also from Eastern Europe and even the United States.

Aside from a few demonstration games, usually connected with some "Japan Week" promotion, however, the sport is not usually played outside Japan, not even in Mongolia. Sumo isn't even in the Asian Games, which otherwise include such obscure Asian sports as Sepak Tekraw, Kaddabi and Wushu.

It seems that sumo is one of those sports - or "sports" - that are as much expressions of cultural identity as they are serious athletic contests. Sumo is actually closer in spirit to rodeo in America or bull-fighting in Spain, neither of which, with possible exception of bull fighting, have made much of an impact outside their home countries.

As a spectator sport, sumo and rodeo leave something to be desired. In sumo two behemoths stare at each other, leap forward and grapple until one steps outside the ring. It lasts about 10 seconds and then is repeated. Similarly in rodeo, you see one cowboy rope a calf, you have kind of seen them all.

This isn't to say that there are not aficionados of both sports, people who can appreciate fine skill in calf roping, the toreador's cape work, or finer points that come from watching two giants grappling in the sumo ring.

But I would say that most spectators of rodeo are drawn to it for the feeling of Americanness, or at least Westernness, that the sport imparts. Rodeo tournaments are more than just sporting events, at least in smaller towns; they are community cultural events, a time to put on your cowboy hats and boots and maybe join in a parade or a square dance.

Japanese feel much the same way about sumo. Everything about the sport is traditional, from the elaborate costume of the gyoji, or chief referee, that dates back to the Ashikaga Period (1336-1573). Pictures of sumo wrestlers on 19th century woodblock prints look no different from the wrestlers of today. Sitting in his box, eating a bento lunch, a sumo fan basks in a comfortable feeling of Japanness.

Some fans worry that the influx of foreign wrestlers is subtly changing the game in ways they don't like. This isn't so much an expression of nativism, as it is the fact that many of the foreign wrestlers get their start in other forms of wrestling and are bringing to the sport new kinds of grips and turns. Japanese seem to leave the tricky moves to the judo hall.

Not that nativism doesn't play a part in modern sumo. That was true when the first foreigners began to enter the ring 20 years ago. It seems rather quaint that one of the pioneers, a Hawaiian who goes by the name Konishiki, was denied grand champion status because he lacked the requisite hinkaku, or athletic dignity.

That has gone by the board as the last 70 or so grand champions have been foreign born without anyone questioning their "dignity". In recent years the sport has had its share of "bad boy" champions such as grand master Asashoryu not to mention doping scales (not steroids, just plain old marijuana).

So Japanese fans wait patiently for the Great Hope that will return the championships to their native sons, without much expectation that this year will be different from the previous seven years and that the Mongolians will continue to dominate. That doesn't seem to have dampened interest as this year's basho was sold out. It would appear that for a long time sumo will remain a "sport", tradition-bound and insular. And that is probably the way that most Japanese like it. Asia Sentinel

How will the 2013 Malaysian election affect the economy?

Senior economists at investment houses JP Morgan Securities and Eastspring Investments Berhad have been quoted as saying that investors will act negatively if the opposition wins the upcoming Malaysian election.

However, it is too simplistic to say that a victory for the opposition will have a completely positive or absolutely negative effect on the Malaysian economy. The truth is more likely to lie somewhere in between these two extremes.

Ideologically speaking, the Malaysian opposition coalition is similar to the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN), as both coalitions subscribe to market-oriented economic policies. Both the BN and the opposition accept the value of FDI, the role of multinational corporations and the importance of trade.

The media has depicted the leader of the opposition, Anwar Ibrahim, as being close to the West and some oil-rich states in the Middle East. More generally speaking, media reports indicate that he is close to international capital. If that is true, then it is more than likely that he will use his influence to attract more FDI and portfolio funds.

Regardless of who rules the country, economic realities must be taken into account: Malaysia is a small, open economy that has to rely on foreign investment and trade to drive its growth. Neither of the potential leaders — Najib Razak nor Anwar Ibrahim — can deny this. Whichever party comes to power after the 2013 election will race to liberalise the economy. Differences, if any, will lie only in the manner or pace at which this is done.

The United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), a founding member of the BN coalition, claims to be the sole champion of Malay rights, and the only party that can ensure that Malays (the bumiputera) achieve a fair share of the nation’s wealth. Nevertheless, in its attempts to enjoy the benefits of free trade agreements, the government has slowly reduced some of its preferential treatment for bumiputera businesses.

The bumiputera entrepreneur development programs that some government-linked companies have created will have to end. The scheme to restrict petrol kiosks only to bumiputera businesspeople will similarly have to be cut back. Bumiputera vendors associated with the national automobile project will soon become more sensitive to market forces as the government ceases to protect this industry. The recently enacted Competition Act does not exclude bumiputera business from its ambit.

While the UMNO has to take care of its constituency, protectionist policies will need to be addressed if the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement and the EU–Malaysia free trade agreement are signed. The government no longer has the sort of free hand it once had to extend preferential treatment to promote the growth of bumiputera business.

Will the opposition act like the BN if it comes to power? Perhaps not. One of the opposition’s key policy platforms is transparency. The other platform is the eradication of wastage and leakages from the system. The opposition also speaks about improving the economy as a whole, rather than just the economic wellbeing of particular racial groups — like the bumiputera.

Fiscal policy is another critical area that demands attention in Malaysia. The Malaysian government’s policy of repeated fiscal deficits, especially when they are not needed, has to be addressed. This is an issue that the opposition has shown an interest in resolving, and it is a development that could improve Malaysia’s rating in the eyes of foreign investors, as well as placing the economy on more solid ground.

Another important issue is that of government expenditure. This raises two points. The first is projects and policy initiatives that involve high levels of government expenditure. It would be wrong to say that the opposition is opposed to spending on big-ticket items. They are unlikely to be averse to these projects in principle. Rather, it could be expected that the criteria for commitment to these projects will be assessed on their usefulness, efficiency and projected returns. As the opposition’s policy platform outlines, there would be greater accountability and transparency in undertaking these projects.

The other point pertains to the execution of ongoing projects. Legal requirements prevent the opposition from discontinuing projects that the government has already commenced. It would be wrong and to the opposition’s disadvantage to delay projects perceived to be in the national interest.

In truth, there is likely to be a balance of views among economists regarding the outcome of the 2013 Malaysian election. Those set on the long term, and those who see the prospect of economic reform, will be more positive in their evaluation. Those with their noses stuck in the very short term will wait to see how effectively the new government can run its business of managing the economy. Investors are likely to be bullish if the opposition projects confidence in the first months after their victory — that is, if they do in fact win.

Shankaran Nambiar is an economist who consults for national and international agencies. He lives in Kuala Lumpur. East Asia Forum