Nothing to fear but the Fearmongers


March 25, 2017

Nothing to fear but the Fearmongers

by Dean Johns@www.malaysiakini.com

Image result for geert wilders, marine LePen, and Trump

Marine Le Pen, Donald Trump and Geert Wilders– The Fearmongers

Possibly the best-known comment on fear is US President Franklin D Roosevelt’s attempt in his 1933 first inaugural address to encourage Americans facing the great depression with the ringing reminder that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”.

But of course what Roosevelt and many others who had expressed this sentiment before him actually meant was that what we have to fear is excessive fear.Because a moderate degree of fear, or at least caution, is essential to the maintenance of human, indeed all animal, life in the face of potential threats like hunger, thirst or physical assault.

So that, as a former Australian government sensibly advised its populace following the terrorist bombings in Bali bombings that killed a good many of its own and other countries’ citizens in 2002, it pays to be “alert, but not alarmed”.

This represented a most welcome change of attitude from the state of xenophobic paranoia if not outright panic at the imagined threat of being swamped by the so-called ‘yellow peril’ that until all too recently inspired the disgracefully racist so-called ‘White Australia Policy’.

However relatively less fearful my country has sensibly and mercifully become, though, ugly traces of old anti-other attitudes unfortunately persist in the disordered minds of at least a small minority of Australians, as witnessed by the existence of the appalling party that Pauline Hanson and her supporters call One Nation.

Or, as I prefer to think of the thing, One Notion, given that its sole policy and preoccupation appears to be the winning of a share of political power by promoting fears of ‘threats’ to Australia allegedly posed by the nation’s admitting and failing to assimilate ‘too many’ non-European, non-Christian immigrants and refugees.

In other words, it’s the same fear campaign that’s being waged around the world by right-wing, or in other words wrong-wing, parties and pressure groups like those headed by the likes of Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, Marine Le Pen in France, and Donald Trump in the US.

Trump being, by dint of his pre-eminence as the President of the world’s richest, most culturally influential and most militarily powerful nation, by far the most dangerous of these and countless other leaders, or rather misleaders, who busily seek to seize or retain power by playing on the fears of their most racist, religionist or otherwise ignorant and insecure citizens.

And as regrettable as Trump’s exclusionary efforts are in theory, they’re even more ridiculous in fact. For example, his list of Muslim-majority countries whose citizens he is determined to deny entry to the US illogically doesn’t include Saudi Arabia, of which most of the 911 terrorists were citizens, or Pakistan, the country whose secret police harboured Osama bin Laden while George W Bush was busy hunting him in Afghanistan.

Furthermore, his exclusion of selected Muslims for the purported purpose of protecting US citizens from terrorism is a spectacular case of errorism, given that home-grown citizen-on-citizen terrorism disguised as the ‘right to keep and bear arms’ costs infinitely more lives than imported terrorism could imaginably do, as US deaths by gunshot total some 30,000, or eight or nine times the toll taken by the 911 atrocity, every year.

And there is as little sense behind Trump’s claims that American jobs have been ‘taken’ by other countries, in light of the fact that the US has been the most tireless promoter of so-called ‘globalisation’, or in other words, US corporations’ exploitive export of production and other facilities to other, poorer countries in the pursuit of cheaper labour, expanded markets and thus fatter profits.

However little sense fearmongering makes, though, it will persist for as long as there are mongrels prepared to resort to it, and to demonstrate that it apparently works, as in the case of Trump’s recent election, for example, and the success of so-called ‘Brexit’ case for the UK to quit the EU.

It doesn’t necessarily work for very long

But there’s also ample evidence that it doesn’t necessarily work for very long. For example, despite his virtually writing the book on fear-mongering, Mein Kampf, in which he declared that “the art of leadership… consists in consolidating the attention of the people against a single adversary and taking care that nothing will split up that attention”, Adolph Hitler only managed to sustain his projected ‘Thousand-Year Reich’ for a decade or so.

On the other hand, however, today’s ultimate example of fearmongering, the North Korean regime’s terrorising and enslavement of its people by sustaining the pretense that it is still fighting a war that it lost over 60 years ago, continues to work after a fashion, though arguably only with China’s assistance.

And Malaysia’s Barisan Nasional (National Front) has sustained itself in uninterrupted power since 1957 by apparently taking a leaf out of Mein Kampf (My Struggle) and literally putting the fear of God into the majority of its subjects by pretending to ‘struggle’ to save not only their religion but also their race and royalty from attack by alleged enemies.

Enemies primarily including ‘the Jews’, George Soros and ‘The West’ in general, according to former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad during his 22 democracy-crippling, rule-of-law-destroying and kleptocracy-creating years in office.

And now, with Najib Abdul Razak desperately defending his even more disastrous premiership, he and his BN accomplices are busy mongering even more frightful fears.

Borrowing or rather stealing Donald Trump’s concept of the spectre of ‘fake news’ to attempt to discredit inconvenient or incriminating truths about them and their crimes; fomenting or at least magnifying a fake ‘conflict’ against an allegedly hostile North Korea to foster faux-patriotism; and just for good measure, inventing untold other, unspecified ‘enemies’ to further terrify the timorous.

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Playing with Imagined Malay Fears

According to BN’s own ‘fake news’ agency, Bernama, Najib recently “reminded the people regarding crucial matters which could destroy the country including being the country’s covert enemies or conspiring with the country’s enemies”, then continued with a litany of alleged lies and further confusion in the same vein.

Thus signifying that he’s absolutely terrified that someday a majority of Malaysians will finally find the courage to face the non-existent fears that have kept them in thrall to BN all these years, and throw these fear-mongers out on their ears.

1MDB–What’s Najib Razak’s next move


March 25, 2017

1MDB–What’s Najib Razak’s next move ?

Journalists from Switzerland’s Le Temps newspaper have unearthed a startling connection between the snooping private investigator, Nicolas Giannakopoulos, who conducted a bizarre seminar on 1MDB at Geneva University and Malaysia’s governing Barisan National party

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The newspaper has in the process identified concerns that individuals closely connected to Barisan National are preparing to employ the latest highly controversial (and expensive) ‘Big Data’ tactics to swing voters at the next election.

Nicolas Giannakopoulos, who was recently suspended from his position at the University following an expose by Sarawak Report, is the Swiss agent for SLC (otherwise known as Cambridge Analytica).

SLC specialises in collecting a mass of data, particularly about individuals in key marginal consituencies, in order to seek to deliberately influence their voting patterns. The company is credited with having swung BERXIT in the UK and the Donald Trump win in the US.

Le Temps points out that SLC has now opened an office in KL headed by one of BN’s established public relations figures, Azrin Zizal, who has made no secret in public that his messaging to voters is to stick with the “safe” and “tried and tested” BN, rather risk than an ‘uncertain future’ with the opposition.

READ: SARAWAK REPORT:

http://www.sarawakreport.org/2017/03/latest-on-genevas-1mdb-snooper-raises-fears-that-najib-is-employing-big-data-tactics-to-try-swing-ge14/

GDP or GNH (The Bhutan Way)?


March 24, 2017

GDP or GNH (The Bhutan Way)–Maybe it’s Time to screw the  Economists and start looking at alternative ways to measure what makes life worthwhile

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Listen to this TED presentation by Chip Conley and reflect. I enjoyed it and wonder why we continue to measure only the measurable (the tangibles) and ignore the intangibles. As  someone who is trained in Economics (and does being taught this academic discipline make a economist?), I am wonder how it is that  I can be so misled and still have not abandoned GDP as a measurement of national wealth if I know it is misleading when intangibles matter more today. Maybe it is a force of habit. Should be I Aristotelian or Maslowian?  Let me know what you think.–Din Merican

 

Assessing the ASEAN Economic Community


March  24, 2017

Assessing the ASEAN Economic Community

by Somkiat Tangkitvanich and Saowaruj Rattanakhamfu

http://www.eastasiaforum.org

Image result for asean economic communityMaking Progress Slowly–The ASEAN Way

East Asia continues to sustain a high level of economic integration, yet a significant proportion of intraregional trade is still uncovered by agreements to guard against current and possible future protectionism. Without multilateral movement under the World Trade Organization, further regional integration can proceed only through agreements that reduce trade barriers within the region.

ASEAN appears to be leading the Asia Pacific in FTA formation. The ASEAN Free Trade Area was implemented in 1993 and the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) was officially launched in late 2015. The AEC aspires to go beyond typical trade agreements, aiming to create a single market and production base with equitable development across its 10 member countries.

 

ASEAN will celebrate its 50th anniversary in August, 2017. While ASEAN has made some significant political achievements during the past five decades, its economic integration project is still very much a work in progress, and could remain so for many years or even decades to come.

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The ASEAN Secretariat claims that the implementation of the AEC Blueprint 2015 — the community’s formal agenda — has been substantively achieved in many areas. In reality, the levels of integration vary greatly by sector. The only clear success ASEAN can claim is the reduction of tariffs among member countries. Since the implementation of the Common Effective Preferential Tariff agreement in 1990s, about 99 per cent of tariff lines between member countries have been reduced to zero.

Still, the free flow of goods among ASEAN member countries continues to be hindered by the use of non-tariff measures (NTMs). These may have adverse consequences on the sourcing decisions of firms and the structure of trade and related industries.

Countries such as Indonesia or Malaysia that employ active ‘industrial policy’ apply more NTMs. Car assemblers in Thailand, for example, have long complained about Malaysia’s restriction of the number of cars imported into Malaysia.

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While minimising non-tariff barriers is an action target in the AEC Blueprint, ASEAN has relied on a voluntary approach to reduce them — with very limited success. Under the voluntary approach, member countries can have an adverse incentive to under-report the barriers they are using. What’s more, there is no effective monitoring system to keep track of the changes of NTMs among member countries.

ASEAN has been negotiating services liberalisation since the creation of the ASEAN Framework Agreement on Services in 1996. The AEC Blueprint has established clear targets to remove all restrictions on trade in services by 2015. But some ASEAN countries, including Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia, could not meet their targets by the deadline.

Critically, service liberalisation under ASEAN contains no commitment to address behind-the-border issues, such as interconnection for telecom services or access to ATMs for banking, which are crucial to the creation of competitive markets. The difference in laws and regulations among member countries is also problematic.

Service liberalisation under ASEAN in its current form would fail to create a single service market. Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia, still could not meet the targets by the 2015 deadline. Indonesia and Thailand’s specific commitments under the latest offer contain many services that are inconsequential or even useless.

In terms of promoting cross-border movement of labour, ASEAN has achieved very little. From an economic development perspective, the opening up of unskilled labour markets through FTAs would be a useful policy option, given the relative abundance of unskilled labour in many ASEAN countries, but the AEC Blueprint attempts to facilitate only the mobility of skilled professionals, currently comprising just eight professions. The arrangement to facilitate the movement of these professionals is also problematic. In the case of Thailand, for example, the requirements imposed on ASEAN professionals are the same as those of the non-ASEAN countries.

To critical observers, ASEAN integration has so far produced very few tangible results. The Asia Trade Centre’s Deborah Elms concludes that ‘ASEAN officials shifted the rhetoric as the deadline loomed to argue instead that the AEC itself should be viewed as process and not a destination’. In September 2016, The Economist mockingly wrote that ‘[w]hen it comes to elevating form over substance, and confusing a proliferation of meetings and acronyms for a deepening of ties, ASEAN is the Zen master’.

The lack of momentum to deepen regional integration in ASEAN is largely a consequence of most member countries’ protectionist stances, perhaps with the sole exception of Singapore. Many ASEAN countries view one another as rivals in their pursuit of exporting to the global market or attracting foreign direct investment.

Domestic political conflicts, along with a lack of strong and stable government, have led political leaders in many ASEAN countries to look inward and lose their appetite for regional integration. Without confronting the core problems of its integration project squarely and urgently, ASEAN will not realise the AEC Blueprint vision of a single market and single production base.

ASEAN prides itself on being the ‘hub’ of bilateral FTAs in East Asia. The concept of ‘ASEAN centrality’ espoused in the group’s initiatives emphasises its role in facilitating economic integration in the region. But the economic integration among ASEAN countries has so far focused on creating a more attractive package for multinationals looking to operate in the region, rather than on creating stronger bonds between member economies.

When it comes to economic integration, ASEAN has to aim at achieving critical targets while ignoring trivial ones. In other words, ASEAN needs to be much more focused than it is now. Its current agenda is overly ambitious considering its limited resources.  The AEC Blueprint has established 17 core elements and set 176 priority actions, covering the free flow of goods and capital, movement of skilled labour, equitable development and protection of intellectual property rights, to name just a few.

A sharper focus would help ASEAN to deliver meaningful and tangible results without depriving member countries, especially less developed ones, of their limited resources. This requires ASEAN to return to the core missions of an FTA: reducing barriers to trade and facilitating cross-border trade in goods, services and the movement of labour and inputs to production.

Yet the real challenge for ASEAN is not economic but political. Full national sovereignty and economic integration are incompatible. The success of the European Union’s trade integration, for example, is based on pooled sovereignty.

The idea of ‘pooled sovereignty’ is not all-or-nothing in nature. When started, the EU was a comparatively modest project. It had few members and only one policy area for pooling sovereignty: a common market for coal and steel. Only gradually did it expand its membership and its mission.

Unless ASEAN countries are willing to increasingly pool their sovereignty and meet political challenges head on, the AEC project will go nowhere and ASEAN will be little more than a talking shop.

Somkiat Tangkitvanich is President of the Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI). Saowaruj Rattanakhamfu is a Senior Research Fellow at TDRI.

This article summarises a paper prepared for the 2016 Pacific Trade and Development Conference in Australia.

 

Steve Bannon’s Political Mythology


March 23, 2017

Steve Bannon’s Political Mythology  does not stand up to strict rational analysis

 by Nicholas Lemann @http://www.newyorker.com

Steve Bannon is the keeper of the secret formula—that peculiar and potent mix of aggressive bluster and selective empathy—that enabled Donald Trump to be elected. It’s worth remembering how unlikely the success of the formula seemed even a year ago. Before Trump got to Hillary Clinton, and when Bannon was an informal adviser, the candidate mowed down a long list of Republican opponents, without being the biggest spender or having the best organization. That was because the formula worked. It isn’t conventionally liberal or conservative, and it doesn’t have much in common with the standard views of either political party. Essentially, all of Trump’s Republican opponents were more pro-market, more pro-trade, and more anti-government than he was. And Clinton, by virtue of unexpected pressure from Bernie Sanders, had moved slightly in the direction of the Trump formula before she was nominated.

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Last week, Bannon gave an extended interview to the Wall Street Journal, in which he offered an origin story about his (as the Journal’s headline put it) “journey to economic nationalism.” He said that Marty Bannon, his ninety-five-year-old father, a devout Catholic whose education ended at the third grade, had, like his father before him, worked at A.T. & T. for half a century, rising slowly from a blue-collar job to a white-collar one; his loyalty to the company was so great that he put all his savings into A.T. & T. stock. Then, in October of 2008, he was watching Jim Cramer on the “Today” show, and heard Cramer say that it was time to sell—so he did. Poof, a hundred thousand dollars of painstakingly accumulated savings were gone, even as the financial institutions that perpetrated the crisis were being bailed out. Bannon told the Journal, “Everything since then has come from there. All of it.”

This is political mythology, and it doesn’t stand up to strict rational analysis. Steve Bannon was well into his career as a conservative documentary filmmaker who sounded nationalist notes before the 2008 financial crisis. And, after watching Cramer on television, Marty Bannon had lots of better options than selling his stock. He neglected to consult his sons—two of whom, including Steve, had worked in finance—before selling. They would have told him not to. Had he not sold, he would not have lost any money, because A.T. & T. stock regained its value over time. There were many other, more prudent ways he could have invested his savings over the years than putting it all into a single company’s stock, like buying shares in a mutual fund. He had bought some of his A.T. & T. stock with borrowed money, which he should not have done.

“He’s the backbone of the country, the everyman who plays by the rules, the hardworking dad that delays his own gratification for the family,” Steve Bannon told the Journal. People like that were often treated like dirt during the early Gilded Age days of industrial capitalism in America; that situation was corrected by an expanded federal government, and Marty Bannon was the beneficiary. He lived under a social compact that was created during the two liberal heydays of the first half of the twentieth century, the Progressive Era and the New Deal, and that shaped the lives of many millions of Americans. Beginning in 1913, A.T. & T. was a heavily regulated, government-sanctioned monopoly. It was able to provide the rock-solid stability that the elder Bannon remembers because it had no competitors but did have passive and widely dispersed investors (for decades, A.T. & T. had by far the highest number of individual stockholders of any American company), as well as the heavy hand of the state pushing it to treat its employees generously, through unionization and other means.

A.T. & T., when Bannon worked there, was hardly an exemplar of the prevailing values of the modern Republican Party—or the modern Democratic Party, for that matter. In the nineteen-eighties, the government broke A.T. & T. up into seven smaller companies. Today, many mergers and acquisitions later, two of the seven survive, and telephone service is a duopoly—A.T. & T. and Verizon—rather than a monopoly. Along the way, the company, along with many other big corporations, dropped most of the welfare-state aspects that Marty Bannon misses so keenly. All of this happened because the consensus about economic regulation changed profoundly: telephone deregulation began during the Nixon Administration and proceeded through the Presidencies of Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and Bill Clinton. But it’s fair to say that, between big government and the free market, the latter is far more to blame than the former for what happened to Marty Bannon.

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Steve Bannon himself, as he acknowledges in the Journal story, has none of the fanatical loyalty that has been the touchstone of his father’s life. He is an educated-élite type who has switched jobs and locations repeatedly. One can call him a hypocrite, but he has been able to use his sense of his father’s life effectively in service of his own, and Trump’s, political ambitions. (Remember that Franklin Roosevelt had nothing in common with most of his constituents, either.) Bannon told the Journal, “The problem we’ve had is that in the ascendant economy—Silicon Valley, Wall Street, Hollywood—the Marty Bannons of the world were getting washed out to sea, and nobody was paying attention to them.” This is potent stuff, best thought of as a powerful political weapon that could conceivably be used for good or for evil, and by the Republicans or the Democrats. It could easily be deployed against the Trump Administration, which is now trying to dismantle the Obama-era government agency that was created after the crash to protect small investors like Marty Bannon, and has Goldman Sachs alumni (like Steve Bannon) in its top economic-policy posts. Liberals are missing a big opportunity if they don’t try to tell stories like Marty Bannon’s in a different way, and to offer people who are touched by them a different kind of hope.

 

Cambodia: Stability, Security and Economic Growth amidst Geo-Political Uncertainties remains top priority


March 22, 2017

Cambodia: Stability, Security and Economic Growth amidst Geo-Political Uncertainties remains top priority

by Dr. Sorpong Peou

http://www.newmandala.org

Cambodia’s ruling party is seeking to shore up its chances of electoral success with recent changes to the rules governing political parties, Sorpong Peou writes.

Much has been written about the Cambodian culture of impunity as an obstacle to democratic development, but what is still least understood is the fact that the persisting culture driven by the fear of personal retribution (actual or perceived) has been a principal threat to democracy.–Dr. Peou

Is Cambodia heading towards a single party dictatorship? This is a legitimate question after the Cambodian government took a drastic but unsurprising step in February 2017 to amend the law on political parties – a step that its critics consider undermines liberal democracy. In my view, Cambodia has not resembled any form of liberal democracy since 1997, and the existing hegemonic party system is likely to remain.

If and when it comes into effect, the amended party law will allow the Supreme Court to dissolve any political party with leaders who have criminal records and to bar such party leaders from standing for political office for five years. Moreover, the new law requires that any party that loses its President find a replacement within 90 days of the King’s signature.

The amended law will also allow the Ministry of Interior to suspend indefinitely any political party that the government considers to be involved in activities resulting in an “incitement that would lead to national disintegration” and subversion of “liberal multi-party democracy.”

The amendments were designed to ensure that the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) led by Prime Minister Hun Sen will remain politically dominant, but not to eliminate opposition parties. They were intended to further empower two CPP-dominated state institutions – the Supreme Court and the Ministry of Interior – to prevent opposition parties, especially the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP), from winning enough seats to form a government.

The CPP does not want to see the 1992 or the 2013 national election repeated. It lost the UN-organised election in 1992, but forced the winning party (led by the Royalists) to share power, and then removed the royalist prime minister from power by force in July 1997.

The multi-party system has since weakened, giving rise to a hegemonic party system, with the CPP as the dominant power. However, the party was badly shaken by the 2013 election results: it won only 68 seats (compared to the 55 seats gained by the CNRP), leaving it with fewer seats than the previous elections.

Image result for Hun Sen-- Peace, Stability and Sustained Economic Growth

Attempts by Hun Sen to seek reconciliation with CNRP’s Sam Rainsy has not been successful

After the 2013 election, the CPP leadership did a lot of soul searching and took a number of steps to weaken the CNRP. Opposition politicians have been subject to intimidation and litigation. Sam Rainsy, ex-President of the CNRP and opposition leader (in exile since 2015), has been sentenced to a total of seven years in prison. CNRP Vice-President Kem Sokha had been subject to criminal prosecution and sentenced to five months in prison (for not showing up in court for a dubious lawsuit against him) before he received a pardon from the King at Hun Sen’s request.

All this goes to show that the CPP leadership was well aware of the fact that it would not do well in the upcoming commune election in June 2017 and the National Assembly election in 2018 – if the CNRP could have its way. After the July 2016 killing of Kem Ley, a popular political commentator known for his strong criticism of the government, the CPP has become increasingly unpopular with growing public anger directed toward them.

Government officials have confidentially indicated that the CPP is determined not to lose in the upcoming elections and that it would not transfer power to any winning party if it lost. The amendments to the party law were just another step the CPP has taken as part of its pre-emptive measures designed to avoid the repetition of the 1992 and 2013 elections.

Much has been written about the Cambodian culture of impunity as an obstacle to democratic development, but what is still least understood is the fact that the persisting culture driven by the fear of personal retribution (actual or perceived) has been a principal threat to democracy.

Top members of the CPP elite remain as insecure as ever. What else can explain the fact that the (CPP) Prime Minister has up to 6,000 personal bodyguards? Opposition members have called CPP leaders traitors and threatened to bring them to justice for their past human rights violations (perhaps including some of those committed under the murderous Pol Pot regime) and rampant corruption. CPP leaders, thus, appear to believe that their political fate would be sealed if they lost the elections.

It is reasonable to assume that the CPP is not interested in turning the country into a single-party dictatorship, as some commentators think. The ruling party would be happy if it could just maintain a party system that would allow it to remain dominant and secure.

Image result for Hun Sen-- Peace, Stability and Sustained Economic Growth

 Cambodia has enjoyed peace, stability and sustained economic growth since 1998

The CPP’s behaviour may s also help explain weak reactions from members of the international community, especially donors, some of whom seem to prefer political stability under a CPP leadership to chaotic democratic politics. Others may simply have come to the realisation that there is not much they can do to weaken the CPP’s grip on power.

Over the past several years, CPP leaders have worked harder to deepen their relations with two powerful authoritarian states – Russia and China. China has emerged as Cambodia’s largest donor. Sino-Cambodian relations have grown much tighter in recent years. The harsh reality is that the CPP leadership remains suspicious of Western democracies’ regime-change agendas and wary of any criticisms directed at the human rights situation in Cambodia.

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The current global political environment also does not allow democracy in Cambodia to thrive. The looming return of fraught geopolitics (the rise of China, the escalating tension in the South China Sea, the ongoing confrontation between Russia and the West over Crimea and Ukraine), the rise of right-wing forces in Europe and the United States, and the persistence of authoritarianism in Southeast Asia – have all produced negative effects on Cambodian politics.

Dr. Sorpong Peou is Full Professor in the Department of Politics and Public Administration at Ryerson University, Canada, and a member of the Yeates School of Graduate Studies.

This article is a collaboration with Policy Forum — Asia and the Pacific’s leading platform for policy analysis and debate.