Sunday, November 30, 2014

Thailand's new prime minister will use a trip to key Asian neighbours to polish his image and prove he is far more than just a coup leader


Thailand's coup leader-turned-prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha is on a mission to secure legitimacy for his junta government as he travels to three Asian neighbours this month.

Troubled by international condemnation over his May 22 coup, analysts say Prayuth is eager to shore up support and attract foreign investment from closer to home as he meets leaders of Malaysia, South Korea and Japan.

Prayuth and his interim junta government, formally known as the National Council for Peace and Order, took power after the bloodless coup that they said was to end six months of political deadlock aimed at removing the government of former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

But the military intervention stirred international condemnation and some Western countries have downgraded diplomatic ties with the junta government.

Since then, Prayuth and his government have taken steps to polish their image. Thai ambassadors and general consuls deployed in 21 countries, for example, have been tasked to explain and defend the coup.

Prayuth may also be asked why Thailand is delaying elections - initially promised for late next year - to 2016.

"They [the military-led government] care about the image, because this would justify the coup," said Kan Yuenyong, executive director of Bangkok-based independent think tank Siam Intelligence Unit.

This month's trips would provide an opportunity for Prayuth to foster ties with Asian neighbours that are generally less openly critical of the coup than Western democracies, Kan said.

While facing intense criticism from Western heavyweights such as the United States and the European Union in the first few months since the coup, the junta government reached out to its Asian neighbours.

Shortly after the coup, a military delegation visited China for talks on joint and regional training. Many analysts saw this as part of Bangkok's attempt to counter pressure from the West by edging closer to Beijing.

In October, Prayuth made Myanmar the destination for his first official visit.

In a visit to Malaysia today, the former army chief will likely seek to shore up ties with a close neighbour that will hold the chair of the Association of South Asian Nations (Asean) next year, said Paul Chambers, director of research at Chiang Mai University's Institute for Southeast Asian Affairs.

Prayuth is also expected to attend talks abridged by the Malaysian government with Malay-Muslim rebels blamed for the insurgency in southern Thailand.

In South Korea and Japan next week, Prayuth's focus will shift to achieving legitimacy and obtaining both aid and foreign investment, Chambers said.

Prayuth will be in South Korea to attend the Asean-South Korea Commemorative Summit on December 11-12.

A South Korean diplomatic source said President Park Geun-hye was likely to discuss the suspension of a multibillion-dollar flood control project involving South Korean company Korea Water Resources Corp, also known as K-water.

Construction on the project - signed by former South Korean president Lee Myung-bak and Yingluck in 2011 - has been suspended since the military-led government took power.

Meanwhile, Japan has been pushing for high-speed railway projects in Thailand and wants to kickstart the Dawei Special Economic Zone in Myanmar, an industrial zone that will include a deep-sea port, in cooperation with Thailand.

Although the military government has promised to bring democratically elected leadership back next year, doubts and criticisms have lingered over the country's deteriorating political stability and human rights abuses.

In the first few months of the junta's leadership, many Western countries imposed soft sanctions on Thailand over human rights problems.

In an official trip to Europe in October, Prayuth sought to deflate criticism and defend his government to Western leaders.

But analysts have cast doubts over whether this has worked.

"Prayuth desperately seeks such legitimacy, and recent events like the banning of the Hunger Games salute have made the government look sillier and sillier, more draconinan and more out of touch with the 21st-century world," said Joshua Kurlantzick, a senior fellow for Southeast Asia with the Council on Foreign Relations.

But in what could be seen as a diplomatic victory for Prayuth, the US recently agreed to go ahead with next year's Cobra Gold military exercise.

There had been calls for Washington to cancel the exercise - the largest multinational drill in the Asia-Pacific and a key symbol highlighting the significance of bilateral military relations - as a gesture of disapproval in the coup.

Analysts said the Thai government had pressed hard to ensure the exercise would take place - while Washington struggled to commit. But ultimately, geopolitical considerations and the rivalry for diplomatic influence with China might have helped Prayuth and his government.

"Washington has returned to support Bangkok irrespective of the latter's dictatorial regime," Chambers said. "The US is afraid that China might otherwise dominate economic relations with Thailand."

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as Prayuth's careful mission for legitimacy


Can China and the US Neutralize the Ring of Gyges?

Plato foresaw how the technological imperative can risk a fragile peace.

We shall have to share out the fruits of technology among the whole of mankind. The notion that the direct and immediate producers of the fruits of technology have a proprietary right to these fruits will have to be forgotten.

Media commentaries about the U.S.-China accord on limiting carbon emissions have been almost dithyrambic, with some justification. The world’s two superpowers have agreed for the first time in modern history to work together to manage a global problem that no nation state can resolve alone. However important this agreement is, strategic distrust between China and the U.S. remains the single most significant risk to peace in our time and neutralizing it will demand much more than an emissions reduction agreement.

At the center of this dangerous forma mentis is an ever-accelerating competition between Beijing and Washington for science & innovation, technological supremacy, and “full spectrum dominance.” A strategic initiative like the AirSea battle dogma, together with hypersonic weapons and China’s anticipation of a century of sustained intellectual warfare, only exacerbates a securitization game that if left unchecked could confirm Thucydides’ ominous prediction about the perils of hegemonic transition.

The Nuclear Age

The destabilization of great power relations by relentless, qualitative improvements in military equipment has become a central concern for IR; it is almost the defining issue of Strategic Studies”.

In early September 1939, the White House’s most important occupant received a mysterious letter. It was signed not by military specialists, political supporters, businessmen, or any other of the usual correspondents, but was rather written by two of the world’s leading atomic scientists: Albert Einstein and Leo Szilard. Both men had been German immigrants to the United States, fleeing Nazi Germany in the early 30s to escape rising anti-Semitism. In the letter, they argued that the “bomb” was technically feasible and that uranium could be enriched to fission levels sufficient for a chain reaction. On reading the letter, President Franklin Roosevelt ordered his staff to go out at once “to see that the Nazis don’t blow us up.” By 1942 the Manhattan project, the biggest techno-industrial project in history, was underway. In about two years, the ultimate weapon of the 20th century was ready to rewrite the rules of the game.

The splitting of the atom and the awesome amount of lethal energy it released reshaped war and conflict, for it altered the imperatives of strategic communities around the world. As Bernard Brodie realized: While winning a war had hitherto been the sole and ultimate end of militaries, with the invention of the atomic bomb the new imperative was to ensure that war, at least among atomic powers, would never be fought. Brodie’s recognition recalled Sun Tzu’s famous stratagem that the acme of skill is to win a war without a fight.

Nuclear weapons turned war – at least between nuclear armed states – into a strictly “peacetime” endeavor, with implications for socioeconomic structures and the role of government intervention in R&D projects. It was understood that deterrence would only be possible as long as both Cold War adversaries, the Soviet Union and the United States, had second strike capability; that is, that they could both retaliate sufficiently after a first strike and inflict a heavy cost on their adversary.

Yet nuclear deterrence and the consequent balance of terror was never as stable as is often perceived, for it was highly susceptible to technological disruptions and innovation. When in 1959 the Soviets set Sputnik into orbit, a massive hysteria swept the United States. Elites became obsessed with science and technology and a comprehensive reform of the educational system was accompanied with increased funding to science education, basic research, and a space program. The Department of Defense Advanced Research Agency Project (DARPA), which according to one researcher has contributed to 95 percent of the iPhone’s patents, was created to promote basic research and close the perceived gap with the Soviets. Sputnik was viewed as a decisive technological breakthrough that would allow the Soviets to achieve a successful first strike.

In the 60s, together with the space race, both superpowers engaged in anti-ballistic missile defense research. They gradually understood that no side could achieve a clear first strike advantage but that misperceptions about the other side’s capabilities could prompt one side to attack first, preempting a perceived imminent strike by the other (a use-it-or lose-it situation). The anti-ballistic treaty was signed along with SALT and later START in the early 1970s, a pause in technological competition and the drive for frontier military innovation.

U.S. President Ronald Reagan broke almost two decades of atomic modus operandi with the Soviets when his Strategic Defense Initiative created new impetus for technological disruptions. For some analysts this was a fatal blow to the bureaucratic and heavily centralized Soviet system, which lacked the economic resources to compete with the U.S. in “Star Wars.” The United States demonstrated Sun Tzu’s acme of skill, winning the Cold War without turning it hot. The U.S. strategic community not only followed Brodie’s advice to ensure that war would never be fought; it also found a way to undermine its adversary and eventually build a Pax Americana, at least for a while.

China today is no USSR. Its open and interconnected economy ensures that it commands the economic resources to compete with the United States in a race for disruptive innovation. Tsinghua professor Hu Angang, an influential economist in China’s elite circles, sees the revolution in science and technology as the shaper of both economic and military affairs. According to Hu, by 2030 China is likely to be outspending the EU and the U.S. combined on R&D. At the same time, President Xi Jinping’s frequent public statements on the matter make clear that innovation has a prime role to play in the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. History is back with a vengeance.

The Ring of Gyges & The Technological Imperative

The atomic era has made war among nuclear powers suicidal. It has created the risk that a conventional clash between nuclear powers could lead to catastrophic escalation and has thus enabled the world to avoid another great war. However the atomic era has not drained humanity of its inherent tendency to compete for supremacy. As great theorists (Waltz, Gilpin, Schelling, Yan Xuetong) have argued convincingly, states cannot trust intentions and thus look to assess the capabilities of their adversaries. As a former U.S. Secretary of Defense noted in a Tsinghua university speech, no state can be certain about the exact capabilities of its competitors and thus it must plan for worst-case scenarios and “think the unthinkable.” This concept of strategic mistrust, first found in Thucydides, was at the core of Clausewitz’s* theorizing and has featured in subsequent eras of strategic thought.

Today, the technological imperative exists in the sense that “decision makers have to consider how to respond to actual and potential technological change.” This is not merely a deterministic phenomenon. Decisions on which technologies states choose to pursue are shaped by a continuous process of reciprocal responses and by the security imperatives of their competitors. In the industrial era, every major economy has latent military potential, which feeds the “imperative of technology” due to “the linking and indeed blurring of the civilian and military spheres of technology.” The technological imperative is thus the outcome of industrial economic systems that base their economic vibrancy and perpetual growth on technology and R&D. Even if R&D projects are located within the civilian sector, the dual use of their inventions ensures that “recessed deterrence” will follow a rising trend. In that sense, great powers cannot remain indifferent to economic and technological progress of other states and thus competition is unabated and fierce.

The Ring of Gyges is perhaps the most relevant and concise theoretical example of the interaction between unbalanced power and ethical behavior. In the Republic, Plato introduces a parable that has long captured the attention of political philosophers and psychologists around the world. A poor and innocent shepherd is out in the countryside with his sheep when an earthquake reveals an entrance to a mountainside. The shepherd enters the cave where he finds an unusually large male corpse and a bronze horse. The corpse carries a golden ring. The shepherd discovers that the ring can turn him invisible at will. He goes on to use the power of the ring to seduce the queen and together assassinate the king of Lydia. He then sets up his own dynasty.

The Ring of Gyges can be seen as the ultimate disruptive technology, a source of technological power that turns a state into a perhaps perpetual global hegemon. The Ring of Gyges metaphor fully exemplifies the role of S&T in the operational code of the strategic community of both China and the United States. Full spectrum dominance has long been at the core of the Pentagon’s strategy while China’s strategic thought is marvelously summarized in Sun Tzu’s Can you imagine what I would do if I could do all I can?”

A case study that highlights the continuous and accelerating struggle between the United States and China for a Ring of Gyges is the Conventional Prompt Global Strike (CPGS) matched with a national Anti Ballistic Defense system (NABD). If the United States were to develop both a very advanced Anti-Ballistic System with directed energy capabilities and further grow its CPGS then it could achieve a first strike capacity against major rivals and dictate the rules of the global order.

Global Prompt Strike and Hypersonic Cruise Missiles

When we read, say, of some new poison-gas by means of which one bomb from an aeroplane can exterminate a whole town, we have a thrill of what we fondly believe to be horror, but it is really delight in scientific skill. Science is our god; we say to it, “Though thou slay me, yet will I trust in thee.” And so it slays us.

A potential technological disruption that calls for the rethinking of Cold War nuclear deterrence is in its infancy. The United States has led the way in developing the Conventional Global Prompt Strike (CGPS); that is, a missile system that can exceed seven times the speed of sound and hit any point of the earth under any conditions. This capability allows the United States to attack even the strategic forces of its adversaries conventionally and undermine second-strike capability.

This ability, which could endow the United States with a “Ring of Gyges,” has not escaped the attention of Chinese strategists. As Lora Saalmaan, a Tsinghua university trained professor has argued; China has followed U.S. Prompt Strike development closely. The Chinese military has considered scenarios in which the U.S. attacks Chinese strategic forces conventionally and has directed its own R&D at developing similar weapons. The January 2014 test of a glide vehicle should be seen in this context. China is conducting research to counter the U.S. and develop its own hypersonic high precision missiles. Saalman has reported a substantial increase of Chinese technical articles on CGPS, and a review of these papers reveals that the strategic aim of the systems described evolves through close observation of U.S. initiatives and technological capabilities.

R&D in hypersonic technologies is not new, but a potentially disruptive technological breakthrough only became evident in the last three or four years with the successful testing of boost glide vehicles in both the United States and China, with Russia also following closely. These technologies have profound implications for military dogmas and strategic stability on both sides of the Pacific. Misperceptions about CGPS could lead to a new arms race. China is worried about the combined effect of the U.S. Ballistic Missile Defense and the Global Prompt Strike Capabilities on nuclear deterrence. A CGPS attack combed with an ABS defense could undermine Chinese second strike capabilities and turn the U.S. into an all-powerful “Gyges.”

Sharing the Fruits of Technology

While CGPS is an impressive case study of Ring of Gyges technologies, it remains nonetheless a needle in the ocean of full spectrum dominance and disruptive innovation. In the 21st century, the potential for technological disruption is so broad that great powers are engaged in an ever-accelerating competition for innovation. This is the mother of U.S.-China strategic distrust and the most difficult problem for strategists and theorists to resolve. It will take a lot more than climate change agreements or even “military trust” accords.

The U.S. and China along with Russia should actively work on means to improve information about capabilities, agree on strategies, and most importantly agree on the verification of “DARPA type” disruptions. In addition to building military technology, countries need to develop human institutions on the line of existing UN offices and reach verifiable agreements to manage disruptive technological capabilities.

A more revolutionary change and perhaps the surest way to approach a Ring of Gyges would be a G-8 (EU, U.S., China, Japan, India, Brazil, Russia, South Africa) megaproject – say a space initiative to establish a human colony on Mars by mid century. Such an unprecedented techno-industrial project would demand sincere sharing of information and would ensure that disruptive innovation would not lead to an imbalance of power but to the empowerment of humanity, as the “fruits of technology” would indeed be shared among the multinational scientific communities.

It hardly takes great contemplation to understand that a Sino-U.S. race for technological supremacy has potentially catastrophic consequences for peace. Bringing the scientific communities of the world together and aiming to innovate for peace rather than war is perhaps a parallel path (along with verifiable agreements) in building Sino-U.S. trust and ensuring the survival of the human race. Plato himself believed that if human beings comprehend the true meaning of happiness and thus do not enslave themselves to their appetites, the Ring of Gyges could indeed be neutralized and bow before the ascendency of Man.


The complicated road to Singapore

I BELIEVE the Socialist road is the only road for our people,” stated David Marshall, the English-educated Jewish lawyer who became Singapore’s first elected chief minister in 1955. “Our unique position as a heavily populated entrepot port without natural resources calls for considerable adaptation of socialist methods while maintaining socialist ideals.” Scholar Carl Trocki writes in Singapore: Wealth, Power, and the Culture of Control that in the 1950s and 1960s, “it seemed almost certain that Singapore would adopt a socialist if not a communist form of government” and that “except for a small group of conservative lawyers and businessmen backed by British firepower, there seemed to be no serious obstacle to such an outcome.”

How then did Singapore over just one generation become the capitalist metropolis one sees today? The multiracial, managed, middle-class society is, indeed, an adaptation of socialist ideals to Singapore’s unique position, as well as an adapted product of the polity’s negotiations for independence and of Lee Kuan Yew’s drive for control, reform, and implementation of what scholar John Clammer describes as “quasi-Marxist materialism.”

Colonial Britain, as it prepared to exit Malaya, weakened and humiliated by the swift, easy, and complete Japanese victory over their forces in 1942, had arranged for Singapore to remain a crown colony for an indefinite period, while Malaya would become independent. Yet independence in Malaysia was put on hold due to Malay opposition to Britain’s Malayan Union scheme, which would have given all citizens equal status. Eventually the British helped put in place a system of racial domination under the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) party in favor of its erstwhile colonial clients/allies that assured the Malays their ethnic domination over the Chinese, Indians, and other constituents.

Meanwhile, in Singapore, as parties prepared for the first time for free elections under the British, the People’s Action Party (PAP), the party of Lee Kuan Yew that since 1959 has governed Singapore, articulated a much more radical stance than the other parties, proposing immediate independence and a democratic socialist system. According to Trocki, they seemed almost as far left as the communists, who were not allowed to participate in the elections, but who supported the PAP. As the PAP developed alliances with the left and prominent Chinese labor union leaders filled their ranks, Lee Kuan Yew emerged as an effective legal defender of workers’ and students’ rights. Later, after he had arrested them, Lee would boast that these left-wing activists and organizers were the ones who had originally brought the PAP into power.

Once in office thanks to the left’s grassroots organizing in favor of the PAP’s democratic socialist platform and “open united front” with the communists, the PAP made no room for the left nor for an independent labor movement both in Singapore and within the party’s own ranks. Lee Kuan Yew’s clique used its legislative domination to outmaneuver and isolate the left, and formulated a more conservative economic policy that stressed the need for “industrial peace” in order to execute industrial expansion. As Trocki recounts, Operation Cold Storage took place on February 3, 1963—security forces, in the middle of the night, arbitrarily detained almost 150 student leaders, labor activists, opposition politicians, and journalists; they held no trials, filed no charges, and in many cases didn’t even acknowledge the detention. Kept in jail for many years under inhumane conditions, the PAP even subjected some detainees to torture. However, the path for PAP domination of mainstream politics was now cleared, and the party dominated politics when Singapore separated from Malaysia in 1965.

Without a single opposition member in Parliament over 1965-1983 (and only nominal opposition position holders thereafter), with opposing voices within the party relentlessly silenced and marginalized, local media strictly controlled, the formation of alternative political organizations hindered through legislation mandating deliberately impossible financial requirements, and all forms of civil society coopted or enervated, Lee Kuan Yew had a free hand to act upon what he saw as a tabula rasa. From a small island with no natural resources, high unemployment, and fewer than two million people, he and his right-hand men in the PAP built the Singapore we know today. The cost was high—the deracination of civil society and destruction of true democracy, full freedom of speech, plural discourse, and political participation—but the results are real. Even in the realm of foreign policy, as Trocki notes, Sinnathamby Rajaratnam steered a brilliant course, forming military alliance with Israel that afforded Singapore world-class advice and training and international positioning among the contingent of pro-US, anti-communist countries without making Singapore directly reliant on military and security aid from the US itself.

Lee Kuan Yew effected his managerial, technocratic vision of governance through deep meritocracy, employing a corporate model of headhunting. Strict screening, psychological and academic, preceded party membership, and those who could not live up to Lee Kuan Yew’s exacting, rigorous standards of performance were immediately dismissed. What this ultimately meant was that a strictly professional technocratic elite came to power that did not represent the people governed, but instead a positivist commitment to “rationality” and “professionalism.” In Trocki’s words, “they represented no one but themselves and their own ever-changing interpretation of those standards of which they were the sole custodians.”

Lee Kuan Yew was an outright elitist; he had little faith in the masses of the population whom he considered mere “digits,” and even practiced a kind of eugenics. Believing that talent was genetic, he organized weekend retreat gatherings through the Social Development Unit to encourage marriageable university graduates to meet and mix, while instructing them in dance classes and social skills. Yet, Trocki notes that Lee was influenced by Fabian socialist ideas when he studied at Cambridge, and indeed the PAP adopted Fabianism’s paternalistic and managerial ethos.

Singapore now boasts free education, a self-funded pension plan, and a self-funded public housing program (over 1 million people have moved from substandard housing to clean, new, high-rise apartments). The PAP argued that the goal of economic growth required central planning and control, and assumed that the people could not be trusted to make decisions. Trocki writes: “This paternalism pervaded the social order and was reproduced in the bureaucracy, education, public enterprises and community centers. It has been sustained by the provision of material rewards and technocracy, with the primary goods being economic in nature.” This, in total, is the PAP’s quasi-Marxist materialism.

As Trocki summarizes, the city has reached full employment, eradicated poverty, solved its housing shortage, and maintained one of the lowest crime rates in the world, and few governments can match the Singaporean government’s reputation for honesty and integrity. Yet, besides the costs previously mentioned, there is also the cultural, intellectual, and social malaise, the stifling of initiative (entrepreneurial as well as artistic), and the ill treatment of migrant workers as non-citizens with few protections and few rights.

Viewing Singapore from the Philippines, this kind of “benevolent dictatorship” often seems deeply attractive, but Singapore is idiosyncratic, and the road to its creation was contingent, and could have been so easily undermined or corrupted at each turn. It has taken an extreme path that has yielded extreme results, good and bad. Singapore is a model of good governance and prosperity in Southeast Asia, particularly for the Philippines, but it is a complicated one.

Nicole Del Rosario CuUnjieng is a PhD Student in Southeast Asian and International History at Yale University.

China's Silk Road poses challenge to US dominance on continent


New Economic Belt and Maritime Silk Road become centrepiece of Beijing's economic diplomacy


"The Silk Road, no longer just a concept in history books, has evolved into a story of modern logistics and Sino-European cooperation," Yang Jiechi, China's top diplomat, told a conference last month.

The New Silk Road Economic Belt - from China across Central Asia and Russia to Europe -and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road - through the Malacca Strait to India, the Middle East and East Africa - have become the centrepiece of China's economic diplomacy.

The belt and the road, as China's diplomats refer to them, were the focus of the recent Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit in Beijing. They aim to cement China's emerging role at the heart of the 21st century economy.

China's President Xi Jinping has pledged US$40 billion (Bt1.3 trillion) to a new Silk Road fund for investing in infrastructure, resources and industrial and financial cooperation across Asia.

Chinese diplomats have also been busy promoting a new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, promising to provide half of its $50 billion start-up capital, to help build ports, roads, power projects and other desperately needed infrastructure across the region.

The Silk Road fund and Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank pose a direct challenge to the traditional primacy of US-dominated financial and trade institutions in the region, including the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and Asian Development Bank, all of which were set up following the US victory in World War Two.

US diplomats have been manoeuvring furiously to limit the impact of China's economic diplomacy. In the past month, Australia and South Korea both declined to join the new Infrastructure Investment Bank following intense lobbying from officials in Washington, which went all the way up to Secretary of State John Kerry and President Barack Obama himself.

Officially, US diplomats are concerned about governance standards at the new institutions. There are fears about the large share of the voting rights that will go to China and the willingness of the new institutions to lend for projects that do not meet the social and environmental criteria currently employed by multilateral development banks.

Under intense pressure from the United States, the World Bank and Asian Development Bank will no longer finance coal-fired power stations due to concerns about climate change. But many countries, including India, have indicated they intend to continue building coal-fired plants to bring electricity to millions of homes that are currently without secure and affordable access to modern energy.

US officials fear the new Chinese-led institutions will lend to projects that are unable to secure financing from other multilateral institutions, rendering the conditionality ineffective.

But there is a deeper, unspoken fear that the new institutions will be used to enhance China's leadership at the expense of the United States and its traditional allies in Asia including Japan, South Korea and Australia.

In the run-up to the Apec summit, US diplomats had sought to keep the focus on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a proposed US-led regional trade deal, rather than the broader Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific, promoted by China.

It is part of a mounting economic, political and military competition between the United States and China across the region.

The Asia-Pacific is not the only area where the post-war economic and financial leadership of the United States and its network of allies is being challenged.

The US pivot to Asia is being matched by a similar move on the part of Russia, which has sought to reduce its dependence on the United States and Europe by upgrading its economic ties with China. In the past six months, Russia has signed two major deals to supply natural gas to China, which has become Russia's most important trading partner.

Economic balance

In July 2014, China, Russia, India and Brazil reached agreement on a $100-billion New Development Bank to be headquartered in Shanghai. China and Russia have also been busy promoting economic and military ties across Central Asia through the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.

The major financial and economic institutions, which experts sometimes call the "international financial architecture", no longer correspond to the balance of power and the shifting centre of gravity in the world economy.

The International Monetary Fund, World Bank and regional development banks are all dominated by the United States and its allies in terms of voting rights, capital structure, headquarters location and staffing.

Efforts to reform them to give a greater role to China and the other fast-growing developing economies have largely proved unfruitful.

The multilateral lending institutions are severely undercapitalised and have nowhere near enough resources to meet the enormous infrastructure needs across Asia, Africa and Latin America.

The result is that many multilateral institutions appear to be outdated, too small and entrenched in colonialist approaches to development.

There is still an assumption that economies of developing countries are defined by their relationship with their more developed counterparts. But that world has vanished over the last decade.

More than half the exports from developing economies were sent to other developing economies in 2013, according to the World Trade Organisation ("International Trade Statistics 2014").

Countries in Asia sent more than 60 per cent of their exports to other nations in Asia and to Africa and the Middle East, compared with just over 15 per cent each to North America and Europe.

As the world's greatest export powerhouse, China has accumulated vast foreign exchange reserves and is now becoming a major supplier of capital.

Prior to the financial crisis, that capital was tied up passively and uselessly in US Treasury bonds. Now China wants to use its capital more productively to invest in infrastructure in its major trading partners and at the same time buy more economic and political influence.

There is nothing new in the idea that countries seek to turn financial capital into political power. Britain pursued the same approach in the 19h century, and the United States has done so successfully since World War Two.

Market access and capital can all be traded for various forms of influence. The Marshall Plan traded US economic assistance in European reconstruction for a pro-American orientation in European foreign policy.

As the balance of power within the global economy shifts, it is inevitable that the international economic architecture will have to evolve.

Some western foreign policy specialists have naively assumed that emerging markets would become integrated into existing post-war, western-dominated structures of power and governance.

But it was always at least as likely that those institutions would have to adapt and change to accommodate the rising economic and financial power of emerging markets.

Just as access to American markets and capital was once a key component of US diplomacy, China is now employing its financial and trade muscle to win friends and influence.


Liberal Japan needs to drown out revisionist voices


Abe’s politics towards these issues appears to be influenced by Japan’s diplomacy during Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) governance from 2009–12. A major policy of Abe’s predecessor Yukio Hatoyama, in power from 2009–10, was to embrace Japan’s neighbouring countries to build a stronger East Asian community. But the policy failed. It seemed that neither China nor South Korea was ready to be embraced by Japan. Instead, both countries used the opportunity to assert stronger claims on disputed territories. Abe’s current stance, in line with his overall political agenda of making Japan strong again, is a response to these events.

Abe often seems to have a dual personality: one pragmatic and the other nationalistic. On visiting the Yasukuni Shrine in December 2013, he emphasised that it was not his intention to hurt the feelings of Chinese and South Korean people. While reconfirming the Kono Statement in a speech in May 2013, he broke with tradition by not mentioning those killed by Japanese soldiers during World War II in another speech in August that year. In 2014, on the 69th anniversary of Japan’s defeat, Abe did not visit the Yasukuni Shrine, sending only a ritual offering. He also refrained from going to the shrine for the autumn festival.

This flip-flopping behaviour has been interpreted as an attempt to calm critics prior to the bilateral meeting with Chinese president Xi Jinping at APEC. Yet even Abe’s ostensibly pragmatic rhetoric and offerings to Yasukuni in lieu of personal visits still left a bitter taste and drew harsh responses from China and South Korea.

The South Korean government, for its part, seeks to capitalise on public anti-Japanese sentiment, especially toward politicians. Surveys have shown that Japan and Abe are perceived almost equally as bad as North Korea and Kim Jong-un.

The latest expression of this strategy could be seen when Kato Tatsuya, the Seoul bureau chief of the right-wing Sankei Shimbun, was charged for supposedly libelling South Korean president Park Geun-hye. Tatsuya had speculated about why it took Park seven hours to show up at the Central Disaster Management Headquarters on the day of the tragic Sewol ferry disaster. The president’s daily log, which was later released to public, only stated her absence but said nothing about what she had been doing. Moreover, the recent actions by the South Korean government have created a climate in which South Korean journalists can hardly write anything positive about Japan.

The aggressive rhetoric being pushed by Japan’s right-leaning media further compounds the Japan-ROK tensions. Japan’s biggest daily newspaper, the conservative Yomiuri Shimbun, has engaged in a campaign criticising the more liberal Asahi Shimbun for their coverage of the ‘comfort women’ issue. Their loud criticism targeted several Asahi reports that were based on the subsequently false testimony of Seiji Yoshida, a novelist and soldier in the Imperial Japanese Army.

While the Yomiuri Shimbun is right in discrediting these particular reports of women being forcibly taken, this does not fundamentally change the core of the issue. But the mistakes made by the Asahi Shimbun have been used as an opportunity to do exactly that.

After the UN rejected efforts by the Japanese government to revise a 1996 report which determined that so-called ‘comfort women’ had served as sex slaves, the Yomiuri Shimbun recently published three booklets on the issue. The arguments contained within them are quite disturbing. It is alleged that Korean men also sexually attacked Japanese women during the war, a line of thought also advanced by the extremely nationalistic Japan Institute for National Fundamentals. It is concerning that not only is this obscure think-tank prominently advertised by the Yomiuri Shimbun but also that a number of professors and journalists support and contribute to it.

It is time that Japan’s liberal internationalists raise their voices to drown the loud noises of the growing revisionist camp. China and South Korea should actively support such efforts instead of continuously criticising, but this would mean the end of capitalising on anti-Japanese public sentiment. For Japan, there would be nothing worse in its quest to revitalise its economy than being isolated any time in the near future.

Benedikt Buechel is a graduate student at the Seoul National University.


Why is the Australian government sending refugees to Cambodia?


The Cambodian deal has been justified by the government as part of building a regional resettlement framework. It is in fact a by-product of current policy which forbids those refugees who have come by boat to resettle in Australia. As Australia no longer permits ‘boat arrival’ refugees to settle in Australia, and because Nauru and Papua New Guinea have very limited capacity for resettling refugees, Australia must find other countries in the region who are willing (and able) to accept them.

The agreement has been widely criticised by academics and human rights organisations on the basis that Cambodia has a problematic human rights record and weak legal institutions. Others are uncomfortable with the notion that we can ‘outsource’ our refugee law obligations to a developing country.

The deal has also been the subject of concern in Cambodia, as illustrated by recent protests by Cambodian citizens. The extent to which this dissatisfaction with the plan is widespread in Cambodian society is not clear. But it does raise questions about whether the resettlement deal is sustainable, as it indicates that any refugees resettled under the arrangement may not be welcomed by at least a segment of the Cambodian population.

The main concern of Cambodians appears to be that their government has agreed to accept and care for refugees referred to them by Australia, when it cannot support its own citizens. Understandably, it is thought that the refugees should be resettled by a country more capable to provide for them, such as Australia. The Guardian reported that the Cambodians who protested the deal were concerned that Cambodia was ill-equipped to deal with refugees. Another report quoted refugee advocates in the country as saying they ‘feared locals would be upset if refugees were given money and were perceived to be better off than others in the community’.

The deal is underpinned by a large aid package from Australia of AU$40 million (US$35 million) over the next four years. It is not yet clear how these aid funds will be used and the extent to which they will benefit the Cambodian community. If deployed properly, they may alleviate some of the economic problems in the country, including poverty, food insecurity, illiteracy and unemployment. But it is widely acknowledged that corruption is widespread in the Cambodian government: Transparency International ranked Cambodia 160th of 177 in its 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index. Therefore it would seem highly unlikely that all of the funds will go to their intended projects. The Washington Post raised concerns about this in 2011, reporting that after donors pledge funds to Cambodia, ‘officials dip into the foreign aid accounts and build themselves mansions the size of small hotels’. It noted that the status of the Cambodian people the aid is supposed to help improves little if at all, with nearly 80 per cent of Cambodians living in the countryside with no electricity, clean water or toilets.

It is also possible that giving large amounts of aid to the Cambodian government may contribute to the systemic political problems in the country. An author on aid dependence in Cambodia, Sophal Ear, notes that between 2002 and 2010, Cambodia received US$5 billion in aid (representing almost 95 per cent of total government expenditure). Ear says this is important because donors enable the government to function without having to raise enough revenue through taxation and this, in turn, relieves the government of accountability to the electorate.

In addition to the AU$40 million aid package, newly settled refugees will be given financial support for the first 12 months of their residence in Cambodia (including support to start their own business). There are two main problems with this. First, this may lead to a sense of antagonism from certain segments of the Cambodian population if it gives rise to a perception that the refugees are receiving ‘special treatment’ (particularly in a situation where many Cambodians are struggling economically). Second, it is unclear how the resettled refugees will cope when that support ceases. Country information from the 2014 Human Rights Watch report suggests the resettled refugees may be at risk if they are unable to sustain themselves financially and become homeless.

Countries in Southeast Asia should be assisted to improve their refugee protection capacity as part of a regional asylum seeker framework and an asylum seeker ‘burden sharing’ regime. There are legitimate concerns about the plan to resettle refugees in Cambodia. It may therefore be wiser for the Australian government to ensure Cambodia’s refugee protection capacity is developed sufficiently, before it transfers refugees to that country for resettlement.

Maria O’Sullivan is Lecturer in the Faculty of Law at Monash University and Associate at the Castan Centre for Human Rights Law.


Is intellectually rigorous research possible in a straitjacketed Communist society?

In June, Communist Party officials accused the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, famously devoted to the study of Marxism-Leninism, of hosting "foreign forces" and lacking loyalty to the party. 

In early September, three of China’s most famous universities vowed to strengthen ideological control over students and teachers, while rumors of a new wave of repression against NGOs continue to arrive from Guangdong, the province that first opened its doors to the West almost 200 years ago. 

That puts into question aspirations on the part of President Xi Jinping, who was quoted in October as saying that "intellectual resources are the most important for a nation, playing a crucial role in governing a country successfully. The more arduous the reform, the more intellectual support is needed." 

Xi appealed to all government departments and even non-governmental ones to develop a new generation of think tanks – but led by the Communist Party and tasked to “adhere to correct direction. They should also demonstrate Chinese characteristics and style."

Can such a rigid system build the intellectually stimulating and effective system of intellectual inquiry that Xi appears to want in these circumstances? It is a troubling question. According to a recent University of Pennsylvania study, China has the the largest number of think tanks in the world after the United States, but none can compare to Western ones such as the Rand Corporation and the Brookings Institution in the US. Only six ranked among the top 100 worldwide in the report, with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences highest placed at 20th. How long it can hold that position in the current atmosphere is debatable.

That manifests itself in high tech as well as governance. In August, Peter Fuhrman, Chairman, Founder & CEO of China First Capital, wrote in a report that “For all the hype, the government policies and cash, China remains a high-tech disappointment, more dud than ascending rocket. As a banker living and running a business in China, I very much wish it were otherwise. But I see no concrete evidence of a major change underway.”  

Intellectually rigorous research is an oxymoron in regimented society.  Singapore has been attempting to do so for decades and largely has failed. The country’s education system, despite the money spent, continues to be criticized for its lack of innovation. And Singapore is far more technically advanced than China. 

This is not the first time that Xi has urged the establishment of new types of think tanks. At the 2013 Third Plenum, a year after the political reshuffle that brought him to power, Xi raised the need to "create a think tank with Chinese characteristics, to help improve the decision-making in the formulation of public policy."

Nicoletta Ferro, an Italian expert on sustainability in China, commented on her blog a few months ago: "It is the first time that [Chinese government] has made explicit reference to the two terms 'country's governing system' and 'governing capabilities' that correspond to our concept of government of the country as a single entity and governance of relations between a number of social and economic actors." 

China, she says, is facing new imperative: "There is talk of think tanks' independence  from the government as a necessary perspective (perhaps to get rid of the deadly embrace of vested interests that traditionally influence policy making and implementation) and the possibility that they may learn from those existing in other countries."

The willingness to strengthen the think tanks is combined with the idea of a "modernized governance," a concept that has not yet been officially defined, but which – according to the South China Morning Post – would seem to allude to practices currently in use in Western countries: transparency, accountability and effective policy formulation combined with an efficient implementation. All requirements become necessary to tackle challenges from an increasingly complex economic, social and political development environment.

In the 1950s think tanks existed in the form of rigid networks modeled on Soviet research and inextricably linked to specific ministries. Thirty years later, the need to keep pace with the rapid rise of China has facilitated the emergence of a "new generation." The Chinese establishment started to need advice and options less empirical and ideological, more innovative and in step with the growing global trends. 

But if on the one hand the recognition of a certain autonomy was essential to ensure genuinely innovative products, on the other hand the leadership did not hide its opposition to creating overly independent institutions with the risk of losing control of them.

"The major think tank was born and grew up, in many cases, as emanations of informal groups of opinion centered on an important leader and formed by a number of intellectuals linked to him, reflecting a strong dose of customization of the structure,” wrote Giulio Einaudi in his book China in the 21st Century [Cina, ventunesimo secolo].

After the 1989 crackdown at Tiananmen Square, existing networks were disbanded and silenced to be replaced, once the crisis was over, by a "third generation" less tied to ministerial structures and dynamics of patronage. 

Beijing felt the need to strengthen key areas such as economic policy and international finance. Meanwhile interest groups linked to the business world, began to perceive greater economic and sociopolitical pluralism as a chance to influence public opinion and official policy.

Li Wei, the Minister for the Development Research Center of China’s state council, its top governing body, said in a report that think tanks lag behind because “there is no institutional guarantee for think tanks as an important part of China's soft power; second, their influence on national policy is unstable; third, because most Chinese think tanks are fully or partially government-funded, they find it difficult to do independent policy research; fourth, they need to improve research quality in view of their insufficient role in strategic planning and studies, and they need a better connection between research results and policy-making for social benefits; and, finally, there are many institutional obstacles in the way of Chinese think tank development, such as training suitable people, funding, and reasonable salaries."

Hence the need to create a new kind of institution to improve communication between the PRC and the rest of the world. The standoff between the two largest economies crossed into the cultural sphere five years ago, when China began to consider shaking off its reputation as the world's factory by exporting values and entertainment with Chinese characteristics. 

It seems that Beijing now feels the need to stimulate the metamorphosis by promoting an upgrade of its institutions in the hope of making them competitive even by American standards. Given the emphasis placed by Xi on a “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation" on the global stage, experts expect a lift in research spending in a distinctly nationalist direction. 

In the meantime, according to a Hoover Institution study, China should start benefiting from the return of young people trained abroad (the so-called hai gui) who "find think tanks to be ideal institutional springboards from which to reintegrate into the Chinese political establishment and play a role in shaping the public discourse." 

Their experience away from home -- in most cases in the United States – is all China thinks it needs to make its soft power more attractive to foreign audiences. It is still unclear, however, how modernization can be reconciled with the party’s authoritarian predilections, especially considering the recent crackdown on academic freedom. 

Alessandra Colarizi is an Italian freelance journalist working in China