Southeast Asia: Changing Geo-Political Dynamics in the Trump Era

August 30, 2018

Southeast Asia: Changing Geo-Political Dynamics in the Trump Era

Widespread reports of China’s hegemony over the neighboring region miss the nuance of fast-shifting political and strategic dynamics

Phnom Penh 
A historical map depicting China's flag over Southeast Asia. Photo: iStock

Is China truly establishing dominance over neighboring Southeast Asia, or is it a prevailing perception among academics and journalists who have uncritically adopted a pervasive pro-China narrative built on Beijing’s rising investment and influence in the region?

Two recent Southeast Asian elections denote a shifting spectrum. Last month’s general election in Cambodia, by far China’s most loyal ally in the region, was taken by some as indication of how far the country has moved away from its past Western backers and closer to Beijing.

Image result for Hun Sen-President Xi

As Cambodia abandons multi-party democracy for one-party authoritarianism, similar to the dominance of the Communist Party in China, some see Cambodia as the first domino to fall in China’s grand regional ambition for political and economic control over the nearby region.

Indeed, some in Cambodia’s exiled opposition have claimed that the country has become a de facto “Chinese colony” under Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).

The Harapan coalition’s win at Malaysia’s May 9 general election, however, pointed in the opposite direction. The long-ruling United Malays National Organization (UMNO) was ousted by an alliance whose campaign narrative was built in part on opposing Chinese investment, which boomed under the previous government.

Now as prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad has cancelled US$22 billion worth of Chinese-backed infrastructure projects, including a Belt and Road Initiative-inspired high-speed rail line, for reasons of fiscal prudence.

While Mahathir warned of the risk of new forms of “colonialism” during a recently concluded tour of China, he also made the diplomatic point that his government isn’t anti-China.

Indeed, some in Cambodia’s exiled opposition have claimed that the country has become a de facto “Chinese colony” under Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).

The Harapan coalition’s win at Malaysia’s May 9 general election, however, pointed in the opposite direction. The long-ruling United Malays National Organization (UMNO) was ousted by an alliance whose campaign narrative was built in part on opposing Chinese investment, which boomed under the previous government.

Now as Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad has cancelled US$22 billion worth of Chinese-backed infrastructure projects, including a Belt and Road Initiative-inspired high-speed rail line, for reasons of fiscal prudence.

While Mahathir warned of the risk of new forms of “colonialism” during a recently concluded tour of China, he also made the diplomatic point that his government isn’t anti-China.

Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad (L) and China's Premier Li Keqiang talk during a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on August 20, 2018.Mahathir is on a visit to China from August 17 to 21. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / HOW HWEE YOUNG

“We should always remember that the level of development of countries are not all the same,” Mahathir said this week at a joint press conference with Chinese premier Li Keqiang. “We do not want a situation where there is a new version of colonialism happening because poor countries are unable to compete with rich countries, therefore we need fair trade.”

It is undeniable that China now plays a major and growing role in Southeast Asian affairs, even if judged by only its economic heft.

A recent New York Times report noted that every Asian country now trades more with China than the United States, often by a factor of two to one, an imbalance that is only growing as China’s economic growth outpaces that of America’s.

With China’s economic ascendency projected to continue – the International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicts China could become the world’s largest economy by 2030 – some believe that Beijing aims to replace the US-backed liberal international order in place since the 1950’s with a new less liberal and less orderly model.

Cambodia’s case, however, tests the limits of that forward-looking analysis. The US and European Union (EU) refused to send electoral monitors to Cambodia’s general election last month on the grounds the process was “illegitimate” due to the court-ordered dissolution of the country’s largest opposition party.

Washington has since imposed targeted sanctions on Cambodian officials seen as leading the anti-democratic crackdown, while new legislation now before the US Senate could significantly ramp up the punitive measures.

Hun Sen aired a combative response to threats of sanctions, saying with bravado that he “welcomes” the measures. Some commentators read this as an indication that Phnom Penh no longer cares about the actions and perceptions of democratic nations because it has China’s strong and lucrative backing.

Yet the CPP still made painstaking efforts to present a veneer of democratic legitimacy on to its rigged elections, something it would not have done if it only cared about Beijing’s opinions. Hun Sen now says he will soon defend the election’s legitimacy at the United Nations General Assembly, yet another indication that he still cares what the West thinks.

China’s rise in Southeast Asia is viewed primarily in relation to the US’ long-standing strong position, both economically and strategically. Many see this competition as a zero-sum game where China’s gain is America’s loss.

Along those lines, some analysts saw US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s recent whirlwind trip to Southeast Asia as “parachute diplomacy” that only underscored certain entrenched regional perceptions of the US as an episodic actor that has no real strategy for Southeast Asia.

The Donald Trump administration certainly lacks an overarching policy comparable to his predecessor Barack Obama’s “pivot to Asia,” a much-vaunted scheme with strategic and economic components that made Southeast Asia key to America’s policy of counterbalancing China.

Despite no new policy moniker, Trump’s administration has in many ways continued Obama’s scheme: Vietnam remains a key ally, support for other South China Sea claimants is unbending, military sales remain high, and containing Chinese expansion is still the raison d’etre.

It’s also been seen in the number of visits to Southeast Asia by senior White House officials, including high profile tours by Pompeo and his predecessor Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, and Trump himself to Vietnam in November 2017 and Singapore in June.

A little noticed December 2017 National Security Strategy document, produced by Trump’s White House, explicitly notes that “China seeks to displace the United States in the Indo-Pacific region, expand the reaches of its state-driven economic model, and reorder the region in its favor.”

Yet perceptions of new Cold War-like competition in Southeast Asia often fail to note the imbalance between America and China’s spheres of influence in the region.


US President Donald Trump (L) and Vietnam's President Tran Dai Quang (R) attend a welcoming ceremony at the Presidential Palace in Hanoi in Hanoi on November 12, 2017.Trump told his Vietnamese counterpart on November 12 he is ready to help resolve the dispute in the resource-rich South China Sea, which Beijing claims most of. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / KHAM

Absent President Donald Trump’s Asia Policy, China emerges as the dominant  player in Southeast Asia

China’s two most loyal regional allies are arguably Cambodia and Laos, countries of less economic and strategic importance than America’s main partners Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore and Vietnam.

The historically pro-US Philippines has gravitated somewhat into China’s orbit under President Rodrigo Duterte, though at most there has been an equalization of its relations between the two powers rather than outright domination by China.

Strategic analyst Richard Javad Heydarian recently noted that Duterte likes to think of himself as a “reincarnation of mid-20th century titans of the so-called Non-Aligned Movement,” though Heydarian suggested that this could prompt a backlash from the Philippine public that remains resolutely pro-America.

Malaysia, another country that was thought to have been moving closer to China, has ricocheted strongly in the other direction after the change in leadership from pro-China Najib Razak to China-skeptic Mahathir Mohamad.

Thailand has boosted military ties with Beijing since the country’s military coup in 2014, which caused some panic in Washington, but a recent incident has shown just how fragile their bilateral relations remain.

After two boats sank near the resort island of Phuket in early July, killing dozens of Chinese tourists, Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan blamed the Chinese tour operators, commenting the accident was “entirely Chinese harming Chinese.”

His claim led to calls in China for tourists to boycott Thailand, which could cost the country roughly US$1.5 billion in cancellations, according to some estimates. Thailand’s tourism sector is now facing a major public relations problem after China’s jingoist state-owned media lambasted Prawit’s tactless response.

More explosively, rare nationwide protests in Vietnam in June were sparked by nationalistic concerns that a new law allowing 99-year land leases in special economic zones would effectively sell sovereign territory to China.

There are strong perceptions, aired widely over social media, that Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party is too close to Beijing, a cause of resentment that some analysts suggest is the country’s biggest potential source of instability.

Even in perceived pro-China nations like Cambodia and Laos, anti-China sentiment is rising in certain sections of the public. Arguments that Chinese investment actually harms the livelihoods of many Cambodians, especially in places like coastal Sihanoukville and Koh Kong, is on the ascendency.

Social media criticism has centered on a concession deal the Cambodian government entered with a Chinese company that effectively gives it land rights to an estimated 20% of Cambodia’s coastline.

The same goes for Laos’ ruling communist party, which has taken steps to curb the growth of certain sectors dominated by Chinese investment, such as banana plantations and mining, over public complaints about their adverse health and environmental impacts.

The IMF and others, meanwhile, have expressed concerns that Laos risks falling into a Chinese “debt trap”via its Beijing-backed US$6 billion high-speed rail project, a claim that Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith felt the need to publicly rebuff in June.

Still, there is a certain misapprehension that China’s rising economic importance to the region, both as a provider of aid and investment and market for exports, necessarily equates to strong political and strategic influence.

It doesn’t always add up that way. In January, China fractionally overtook America as the largest importer of Vietnamese goods, according to the General Department of Vietnam Customs. Nonetheless, Hanoi remains decidedly pro-US in regional affairs and that position isn’t expected to change, even if its exports to China continue to outpace those to America.

More fundamentally, China’s rising economic presence in the region is in many instances destabilizing relations. Rapid growth in Chinese investment to Malaysia in recent years prompted a public backlash, a phenomena seized on by the victorious Harapan coalition. There are incipient signs the same type of backlash is now percolating in Cambodia and Laos.

Chinese investment is likely to play a role in Indonesia’s presidential and legislative elections next year, perhaps negatively for incumbent President Joko Widodo, under whose tenure China has become the country’s third largest investor.

“The relationship with China could turn toxic for [Widodo],” Keith Loveard, senior analyst with Jakarta-based business risk firm Concord Consulting, recently told the South China Morning Post.

To be sure, China has translated some of its economic largesse to strategic advantage. Philippine President Durterte, for example, said in October 2016 that his country’s one-way security ties with the US would come to an end, though America’s provision of “technical assistance” during the Marawi City siege last year cast the extent of that into doubt.

China has also developed closer ties to the militaries of Thailand and Cambodia, so much so that the latter cancelled joint military exercises with the US last year. It has also resumed its past position of shielding Myanmar’s generals from Western condemnation during the recent Rohingya refugee crisis.

But America still remains the predominant security ally of most Southeast Asian nations, something that will only become more important as concerns about the spread of Islamic terrorism heighten. This month, Washington provided an additional US$300m in security funding to the region.

Only Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar buy more arms from China than America, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. The rest of Southeast Asia’s military procurements, sometimes exclusively, come from the US.

Still, some of China’s recent regional successes have been the result of America’s missteps. China has been greatly helped by Trump’s withdrawal of America from its long-standing leadership role in certain multilateral institutions, as well as his ad hoc policy towards Southeast Asia that favors more bilateralism.

Had Trump not withdrawn the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a multilateral trade deal championed by Obama that excludes China, regional trade flows would be geared more towards America, providing an important counterbalance to many regional countries’ rising dependence on Chinese markets.

By doing so, Trump allowed Beijing’s multilateral economic institutions, like the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the New Development Bank, to gain an upper hand.

Yet most reporting on China’s influence in Southeast Asia rests on the assumption that the trends of the past decade will continue into the future. But it’s not clear that Chinese investment will keep growing at the same rate – or even faster – while America continues to fumble over how best to engage with Southeast Asia.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (C) poses with Thailand's Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai (L), Vietnam's Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh (2nd L), Malaysia's Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah (2nd R) and Laos Foreign Minister Saleumxay Kommasith (R) for a group photo at the 51st Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) - US Ministerial Meeting in Singapore on August 3, 2018. Photo: AFP/Roslan Rahman

China cannot rule out that in 2021 America could have a new president able to articulate and implement a more coherent policy towards Southeast Asia, nor that upcoming elections in Indonesia and possibly even Myanmar see the rise of anti-China candidates.

Neither can Beijing rule out that India won’t become a major player in the region, despite it so far failing to live up to expectations. A recent report by the Council on Foreign Relations, a US-based think tank, asserted that it can be “a more forceful counterweight to China and hedge against a declining United States.”

Moreover, there is great uncertainty over whether the South China Sea disputes pitting China versus the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam, among others, might at some point turn hot, which would significantly alter the region’s security approach in place since the 1990s.

China’s growing trade war with the US could also impact on its relations with the region. Some believe China could soon devalue its currency in response to the US-China trade war, though Beijing says it won’t.

Not only would a devalued renminbi make Chinese-made products cheaper, negatively affecting competing Southeast Asian exporters, it would also affect the region’s supply chains as Chinese buyers would be expected to demand cheaper prices. Few, if any, in the region would win from rounds of competitive currency devaluations.

But viewing China’s power in the region vis-a-vis America’s is only part of the picture. Japan, and to a lesser extent South Korea, are also major players and potential counterweights to China.

Since the 2000s, Japan’s infrastructure investment in the region has been worth US$230 billion, while China’s was about US$155 billion, according to recent BMI Research, an economic research outfit. The balance might tip in China’s favor with the US$1 trillion Belt and Road Initiative, but probably not for another decade or so, BMI projects.

Tokyo rarely boasts of its own soft power in Southeast Asia. Indeed, while Philippine leader Duterte’s overtures to China are among his major talking points, quietly it has been Japan, not China, that is funding his government’s ballyhooed major infrastructure programs.

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (R) and Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad shake hands during joint press remarks at Abe's official residence in Tokyo on June 12, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / Toshifumi KITAMURA

Japanese diplomacy towards the region falls somewhere between China and America’s. While Washington’s, at least past, insistence on human rights and democracy-building puts off to many regional countries, Beijing’s diplomacy is more laissez faire, as long as Chinese interests are protected by sitting governments.

Tokyo, by contrast, tends to practice quiet sustained diplomacy, decidedly in support of rule of law but without the threat of punitive measures if a partner government strays. That is likely one reason why there is little anti-Japan sentiment in the region and why its relations receive much less public attention.

Malaysia’s Mahathir, whose first trip abroad after May’s election win was to Tokyo, not Beijing or Washington, has recently spoken of Japan’s importance in regional affairs.

Mahathir shaped Southeast Asia’s approach to great powers during his previous tenure as Prime Minister from 1981-2003, and his belief that Japan can play an even larger role in regional affairs could soon be taken up by other regional governments.

“Specific Southeast Asian states are now seeking to diversify their strategic partnerships, beyond a binary choice between Beijing and Washington,” reads a recent report by the Council on Foreign Relations.

Mahathir’s apparent desire is for a more diversified regional network, similar to the hedging policies he promoted in the 1990s. Mahathir is certainly not pro-China, but neither is he pro-US.

What most Southeast Asian nations desire is not unipolarity but competition among many foreign partners that allows them to maximize benefits and negotiating leverage. When America and China, or Japan and India, compete to gain an economic and political footing, regional nations often win through the bidding.



13 thoughts on “Southeast Asia: Changing Geo-Political Dynamics in the Trump Era

  1. The SEA countries principally rely on maximising in deriving benefits from the competition of foreign big powers , China, America and Japan is and unsustainable
    policy. It is too unpredicatable as shown the competing trade between America and China. It has created so much uncertainties here and rest of world leading to conflicts and over-exagerated accusations of hegemony and dominance especially against China

    Despite that , China has continued its policy of ” ShaBoR “=Sharing Benefits and of
    Responsibilities, with mutual cooperation throughout most time .

    This is the practical course the SEA nations should adopt among themselves or individually, and act separately, selectively and /or collectively with the big powers.

    • To be fair, BRI’s original intention was to recycle oversupply from China to the rest of the world. In that, America’s 2008 economic tsunami was a cause of the oversupply within China.
      Yet, I doubt it ever turned out to be the way it is.
      I couldn’t help but quote the song from,_Proud_Wanderer
      Reminding myself of the emotion of the main character who tries to recover despair as he is now an outcast of the “orthodox” side of the jianghu. Clearly LaMoy is a forever green across both sides of the ocean.
      Honestly speaking, is that even possible for second caste wanderers.
      South China Sea…. What are we doing?

      In any case, China might not likely be pushing BRI, as she is dealing with her own economic chaos. Tun Dr would only appear as a poor beggar as he thinks he could beg Japan and America, while trying to game this cosmic cultural trade war as he pushes China back. Malaysia would only layu away even more, as she depends on the next generation of Jho Low.

  2. I believe this article written by David Hutt, a political columnist at The Diplomat in Cambodia, is originally titled: “Does China really dominate Southeast Asia?” Mr. Hutt assumes, by extrapolation of his own Western intention, that China’s intention is to dominate Southeast Asia. That can only reveals his Western intention. But Mr. Hutt has to make a living. The Diplomat is paying for his meat and potato. He has to find something nice to say about Japan and quoting Richard Javad Heydarian, a known anti-China analyst, to support his article.

    China has always been a gigantic and dominant Asian power, except during the periods of Western colonization. But a dominant power does not automatically translate to intention to dominate. The mere size of China has always made its Southeast Asian neighbors nervous. But China has never colonized any of its Southeast Asian neighbors throughout history. Western powers did. China has always lived with its Southeast Asian neighbors in relative peace, and that is a historical fact.

    The West and most of the Western writers today project onto China what the West has been doing for hundreds of years, that is: regime change, invasion, conquest, colonization, control and dominate. The West is still doing it today: in the Middle East, Europe, Asia particularly Central Asia, and Latin America. For the West this is the only way they know and it has caused endless chaos and wars. The West views the world through the lenses of zero-sum psychosis. There is no win-win, no shared future, no live and let live.

    Westerners still believe they are superior over the Asians and the rest of the world. Little do they realize that the source of their wealth and dominance was not their knowledge. Their Prophet of Doom Samuel Huntington says so factually: ”… The West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion, but rather by its superiority in applying organized violence. Westerners often forget this fact, non-Westerners never do.” (The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, page 51.)

    For China, being a gigantic market of 1.4 billion people, a potent geopolitical actor having influence across the globe, and an ancient civilization is both a strength and a singularity. None of the other players of the international community combines these three dimensions of power. The Chinese economic and sociopolitical dynamics are largely covered by the Western media, often negatively, but the more arduous study of “civilizational China” as an object of Sinology and cultural history is much less common, even if it better explains the behavior of the “Middle Country.”

    The Chinese writing system which took form more than three millennia ago is still in use today. It is a taste as much as a quest for political unity more reminiscent of the ancient Roman than classical Greece. But it is also a set of more abstract principles that can be considered as constant features of Chinese civilization. With the passage of time, these constituting elements have certainly evolved, but they have withstood the internal revolutions and external shocks of the incomparably long Chinese history.

    China’s civilization of over five thousand years has the DNA of Confucianism and Taoism. Confucius taught that ” Within the four seas, all men are brothers.” Taoism taught the yin and yang that the world is made up of a mixture of positives and negatives. There is no hell for unbelievers. But the West cast all unbelievers into hell.

    The Chinese philosophical concepts of yin and yang have always had a special status and significance. They stand as a key to decipher the classic I-Ching (Book of Changes) and its combination of broken and solid lines forming the 64 hexagrams. They are the foundations of the rich and vibrant traditional Chinese medicine and contemporary Chinese thinking — art, fashion, cooking, aesthetics, even politics and economics cannot be understood without a reference to these principles inherent to the Chinese mind. Like the notion of Tao (The Way), or Da Tong (The Great Unity), a mere transliteration of yin and yang into other linguistic contexts is preferable to what can only be defective translations.

    The visualization of the yin-yang diagram reveals a positive approach of contradiction. The yin is not the exclusive opposite of the yang; they nourish each other, they are both separate and one, the yin is in the yang as much as the yang is in the yin. They are simultaneously within and outside each other. Nonexclusive opposites are natural and familiar to the Chinese mind. While the Western mind would tend to ask, like Hamlet, “To be or not to be”, China would answer “To be and not to be”.

    Since yin and yang philosophy fully recognizes the essentially contradictory realities, it is also a representation of a cyclical approach of time. It has to be noticed that the yin-yang diagram is made of circles and that not a single straight line enters in its composition. When Europe during the Enlightenment of the 18th century begun to believe in the notion of progress, it also gradually adopted a linear comprehension of time. Western modernity tends to be the assumption that the future that has yet to come will be better than the present, and it looks at the past as something that has to be overcome.

    As an ancient civilization, China is not exclusively concerned with a future necessarily carrying with it progress, for it remembers itself as an alternation between rises and declines. Time passes, but it does not have to be an advancement into another qualitatively discontinuous step. It is a repetition of the same patterns. The incipit of Luo Guangzhong’s “Romance of the Three Kingdoms” is an obvious reference to the cyclical rhythm of Chinese history: “The world under heaven, after a long period of division, tends to unite; after a long period of union, tends to divide.”

    To the Chinese the rendition of an essentially contradictory reality, the illustration that, in a cyclical conception of time, the past can also be the future, the yin-yang diagram can also symbolize the organic junction between the East and the West. In this perspective, the East and the West, like yin and yang, should not be interpreted as two definitive standing blocks absolutely external to one another, but as two active poles that complement and nourish each other.

    The classical Chinese civilization has been shaped by opposition with the “barbarians”, and barbarians were a degraded otherness in a divided mankind. In the Orientalism” that Edward Said (1935-2003) deconstructed, or in the “Occidentalism” that mirrors it, the imagined other is always in a distant belittlement, but an East-West transformative dualism is the cultivation and appreciation of meaningful interactions. In today’s world of unprecedented interdependence, the contrast between East and West allows the contour of their respective identities to appear with clarity. But at a higher level of awareness, differences are not what separate but what make a concrete universalism possible.

    Cultural identities do exist and they should be allowed to flourish. In their most accomplished forms, they are the realization that they thrive both from the reinterpretation of the traditions that made them what they are but also from the equally valuable existence of the other. In other words, sameness and otherness can be understood as another variation on the yin-yang principle; they do exist absolutely by themselves, but only through their interrelations. But the West is not shy to use their military superiority through the “Clash of Civilizations” to make the rest of the world speak and think like them, and to behave like their followers.

    When Xi Jinping proposes the 21st-century renascent to the world the vision of “a community of shared destiny for mankind” through his Belt and Road Initiative, it is fully itself in the interpretation of the ancient concept of Da Tong. At the same time, it rightly assumes that the East and the West, like yin and yang, can infinitely cross-fertilize. But Donald Trump told 13 CEOs he entertained at a dinner on August 7 that China’s BRI is “insulting”. The “Silk Road effect” is not only the exchange of goods across an objective physical geography, it is the constant transformation of East and West when they are wise enough to appreciate their vital and inherent interconnection.

  3. LaMoy: excellent explication of what China is and to some extent what being a Chinese ought to be. When we talk about being a Chinese, we’re really talking about what, in the Chinese mind, a “superior” human being should be. In a past posting, I tried to talk about this is an everyday fashion, the kind of thinking and behaviour that had been discussed and debated since at least the Spring and Autumn period. The concept that “within the four seas all men are brothers” presupposes mankind as a big family, and as such there are rules of behaviour that should be followed. When the Soviet Union quarrelled with Albania, Zhou Enlai told Khrushshev to make the first move towards reconciliation, just as a bigger and hence stronger brother should when making peace with a younger, weaker brother. This is also the way big nations ought to behave – a reason why the so-called tributary states survived for so many centuries. The smaller states always gained more than they give.

    • @icrenoir, call me a sceptical American. The “superior” man, the one who mediates and get things done in the world between heaven and earth, does not exist in current administration. Else, why the waste of Chinese tax payer’s money to the kind like Jho Low?Such superior men died after the first two mythical kings Yao and Shun. Mozi carries that spirit. Part of Confucianism carries that spirit. They were all stories some sage tell the later kings of that and future generation of how a Philosopher King would have acted. No matter how we want to defend today’s China’s claim on SCS.. it is still no more than a fight for survival for the political elites within that system. It is nothing about being brothers when it comes to South China Sea.

      But, I totally agree with you in that they are not enemies of the Melayu. Making them the case would only make them one’s enemy. What we know about today’s Xi’s rakyat were mere sound bites of that self absorbed billion trying to govern and bring order within itself. Perhaps, I could say the same for my land of the macho Trump, in this trade war thingy. I am a Jill Stein supporter. As such, it is an inward looking American first, but one that does not talk bad of every nation, except for one’s own fault. Messed up I am? I dare not dream of being superior. Those are dreams for the Prince and princess. This pendatang dare not have such dream. There must be a reason why my ancestors make us call ourselves pendatang.

    • katasayang:

      It’s obvious to me that you read quite broadly, but you are a very confused man who read mechanically (讀死書). I believe what Icrenoir referred to a superior man is Junzi (君子), the idea of a true gentleman. It is the man who lives by the highest ethical standards. The gentleman displays five Confucian virtues: rén (仁, benevolence, humaneness); yì (義, righteousness or justice); lǐ (禮, proper rite); zhì (智, knowledge); xìn (信, integrity). They are not necessarily to be found among kings and princes but among everyday Joes, and widely so among the Average Joe.

      You are a contentious 包頂頸, like to use a black swan to deny that most swans are white. No wonder you said your niece from UC Berkeley doesn’t talk to you anymore. I don’t know what your experiences in the PRC were, very bad I presumed. I gathered you believe the words of those dissatisfied with the PRC systems to those near 90% of the population who are satisfied. While I often sit across the negotiation table with the CCP opponents, I find them to be polite and very respectable. Knowing nothing much about you but only from what you wrote, I came to the conclusion that, at most, you know skin-deep about the PRC, if not nothing. You heard gossips as a foreigner.

      Re the problems in SCS, the PRC did not draw up the 9-dash lines, it inherited from the 11-dash lines drew up by the ROC in late 1940s. No one protested and contested this in the United Nations at the time, not after Vietnam started to occupy and claim some 27 of the rocks and reefs there in the 1970s. All other claimants did not exist as countries in the 1940s, except Taiwan which is actually ROC. When the area was returned to the ROC after the Second World War, it was the US Navy that helped transported Chinese soldiers from the ROC to be stationed on the Taiping Island. This is a historical fact. And now they are saying China has no historical claim there.

      How this is going to play out will have to depend on the wisdom of all the claimants. Are they going to let the US and the West, and Japan, to instigate and influence them for geopolitical reasons? In the end, when push comes to shove, it’s always the military strength that has the last say.

    • @LaMoy, I do think your comment about me is most accurate about skin-deep. I really don’t know. I do find many PRC people to be exactly like what you have mentioned. Yet, I also see the competitive side also. Words from Tun Dr’s Melayu Dilemma about us Chinese did come to my head many a times when working in Shanghai for a year. I do know Icrenoir is referring to 君子 and not the kind quoted by Nietzsche. My understanding mentioned definitely is skin-deep and a little biased also. My mom always hated Confucianism. Then, I got to know her grand father fought to prevent the abolishment of Confucianism as a new senator. Since then, I did grow to like the 君子I learned from FungYuLan, appreciate the grace in 儒 from HuShih about Confucianism is about the grace in ceremony, clothing and handling of things from previous dynasty. Then, I am being introduced to 王明阳by the cool kids I grew to know in Shanghai. Attempting to reconcile 心学with other schools of Confucianism led me to suggest what I have suggested. Mostly, you are right. I am a Christian, an American protestant. That might have tainted my thought and messed up my understanding. Mostly, I am a Malaysian. I suspect my generation knows little about our own inherited culture …. Thus, the confusion.

    • @LaMoy My niece grew to like me the past Saturday, as she has happened to fall in love with Taiwan when she visited me and wanted me to tell her more about my skin-deep understanding of Taiwanese’s dilemma. I suggested she should take advantage of her Hong Kong ID to visit Mainland more as an American. She is one unique kind who can reconcile both world, if she works on it. Who knows .. I might have screwed her up. But, she is amazingly “shrewd” in being on the right side of understanding as both an American and a Chinese citizen. Perhaps, I should learn from her.

  4. LaMoy, thanks. I thought it would be enough to write “superior” with quotation marks. But Katasayang is not our generation and so missed the meaning.

    Katasayang: many of our ancestors regarded themselves as pendatangs because they were not recognised as citizens in the lands they migrated. This strengthened the attachment to their identity however wretched conditions were in China during the Ching and Republican period. It must be said, however, that there’s nothing wrong to be proud of one’s origins: in the US the Irish proudly celebrate their Irishness and St. Patrick day, the Danes have their own festivals in many parts of the upper Midwest, the Dutch show their identity at Pella, Iowa, while the Germans flaunt their Germaness at the Amana colonies, etc,.etc. For a long time, under the Western hegemony, several Southeast Asian countries didn’t accept the salad bowl concept for the Chinese: this particular community must be thrown into the melting pot. But the trend is irresistible – dragon boat races are now held in many parts of the world, and so is the lion and dragon dances.

  5. Thank you @icrenoir, @lamoy. This exchange taught me that I have indeed misunderstood the meaning of 君子. I have placed the standard of 君子 too high in my own small world. As I have the audacity to casually say I am a Christian(ie one who is learning to be Son of God-like, which is definitely blasphemous in front of my Malaysian Muslim rakan-rakan), I dare not say I am a 君子,or workng to be 君子like. I gathered the conceptual standing of 君子 is not high as the “Son of God”, yet I dared not say I am trying to be more 君子like. That is wrong of me.
    Back on SCS, and geopolitics, I learned that it is wrong for me to say what I have said. Nothing of those teachings of being 君子 is applicable for the average Joe 君子. After all 已所不欲just does not apply in a more universal claimant of the SCS by the billion君子. Even if were the case, in the world of 君子,why does it matter? Don’t we know what follows the phrase 有朋自遠方來、不亦樂乎 is 人不知而不慍、不亦君子乎. In a world of 大同, isn’t 光我民族 sufficient for the goal 促進大同, in ROC’s national anthem? I have placed the standard of 君子too high.
    As such, it is wrong for me to suggest the ‘superior’ man is dead, borrowing from Nietzsche. I have bastardized all of these idea in just one sentence.

    • To become a Junzi you need not be very highly educated. Just follow the five Confucian virtues. In fact, I know many highly educated people who are real A-holes.

      The Autumn Moon Festival (中秋節) falls on September 24 this year. We have a street fair to celebrate our 27th Annual Autumn Moon Festival at San Francisco Chinatown. This year the two days street fair will be held on September 15 and 16.

      The festivities open with a grand parade on Saturday at 11 am on California Street and Grant Avenue led by civic officials, beauty queens, cultural performers and lion dancers. The famous Dragon appears on Sunday at 5 p.m. as the grand finale of the event.

      Come join us.

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