Donald Trump could be the best thing that’s happened to China in a long time


January 15, 2017

Donald Trump could be the best thing that’s happened to China in a long time

by Fareed Zakaria*

https://www.washingtonpost.com

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Donald Trump has perhaps attacked no country as consistently as China. During his campaign, he thundered that China was “raping” the United States, “killing” us on trade and artificially depressing its currency to make its goods cheap. Since being elected, he has spoken to the leader of Taiwan and continued the bellicosity toward Beijing. So it was a surprise to me, on a recent trip to Beijing, to find Chinese elites relatively sanguine about Trump. It says something about their view of Trump, but perhaps more about how they see their own country.

“Trump is a negotiator, and the rhetoric is all part of his opening bid,” said a Chinese scholar, who would not agree to be named (as was true of most policymakers and experts I spoke with). “He likes to make deals,” the scholar continued, “and we are good dealmakers as well. There are several agreements we could make on trade.” As one official noted to me, Beijing could simply agree with Trump that it is indeed a “currency manipulator” — although it has actually been trying to prop up the yuan over the past two years. After such an admission, market forces would likely make the currency drop in value, lowering the price of Chinese goods.

Chinese officials point out that they have economic weapons as well. China is a huge market for U.S. goods, and last year the country invested $46 billion in the U.S. economy (according to the Rhodium Group). But the officials’ calm derives from the reality that China is becoming far less dependent on foreign markets for its growth. Ten years ago, exports made up a staggering 37 percent of China’s gross domestic product. Today they make up just 22 percent and are falling.

China has changed

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China has changed. Western brands there are rare, and the country’s own companies now dominate almost every aspect of the huge and growing domestic economy. Few businesses take their cues from U.S. firms anymore. Technology companies are innovating, and many young Chinese boasted to me that their local versions of Google, Amazon and Facebook were better, faster and more sophisticated than the originals. The country has become its own, internally focused universe.

This situation is partly the product of government policy. Jeffrey Immelt , the Chief Executive of General Electric, noted in 2010 that China was becoming hostile to foreign firms. U.S. tech giants have struggled in China because of formal or informal rules against them.

The next stage in China’s strategy is apparently to exploit the leadership vacuum being created by the United States’ retreat on trade. As Trump was promising protectionism and threatening literally to wall off the United States from its southern neighbor, Chinese President Xi Jinping made a trip through Latin America in November, his third in four years. He signed more than 40 deals, Bloomberg reported, and committed billions of dollars of investments in the region.

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Chinese global leadership on trade gaining support from ASEAN, Australia and New Zealand

The centerpiece of China’s strategy takes advantage of Trump’s declaration that the Trans-Pacific Partnership is dead. The trade deal, negotiated between the United States and 11 other countries, lowered barriers to trade and investment, pushing large Asian economies such as Japan and Vietnam in a more open and rule-based direction. Now China has offered up its own version of the pact, one that excludes the United States and favors China’s more mercantilist approach.

Australia, once a key backer of the TPP, has announced that it supports China’s alternative. Other Asian countries will follow suit soon.

At the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Peru in November, John Key, who was then New Zealand’s prime minister, put it simply: “[The TPP] was all about the United States showing leadership in the Asia region. . . . We really like the U.S. being in the region. . . . But in the end if the U.S. is not there, that void has to be filled. And it will be filled by China.”

Xi’s speech at the summit was remarkable, sounding more like an address traditionally made by an American President. It praised trade, integration and openness and promised to help ensure that countries don’t close themselves off to global commerce and cooperation.

Next week, Xi will become the first Chinese President to attend the World Economic Forum at Davos, surely aiming to reinforce the message of Chinese global leadership on trade. Meanwhile, Western leaders are forfeiting their traditional roles. Angela Merkel and Justin Trudeau announced last-minute cancellations of their plans to speak at the Swiss summit. Trump has only made sneering references to globalism and globalization, and no senior member of his team currently plans to attend.

Looking beyond Trump’s tweets, Beijing seems to have concluded that his presidency might well prove to be the best thing that’s happened to China in a long time.

*Fareed Zakaria writes a foreign affairs column for The Post. He is also the host of CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS and a contributing editor for The Atlantic. Follow @FareedZakaria

China’s Investments–Geo-Political Implications for Malaysia


January 14, 2017

China’s Investments–Geo-Political Implications for Malaysia

by Dennis Ignatius

Image result for China's Investments in MalaysiaHe is praying for the best but not doing his best

China’s ravenous appetite for Malaysian infrastructure assets has resulted in yet another multibillion ringgit deal. In early January, a RM6.3 billion deal to redevelop and expand Penang Port was signed between two Chinese port operators (Shenzhen Yantian Port Group and Rizhao Port Group) and local partner, KAJ Development, a relatively unknown reportedly state-owned company incorporated in 2001.According to press reports, the project would increase the port’s ship handling capacity to 100,000 ships per year.

Dominating the transport sector

The Penang deal comes on the heels of KAJ Development’s RM30 billion Malacca Gateway Project with another Chinese conglomerate, Powerchina International Group. The Gateway project includes extensive land reclamation and the development of what is expected to be the biggest port in the region.

Image result for RM12.5 billion Kuala Linggi International Port

Barely 55 km away from the Malacca Gateway project, work has begun on the RM12.5 billion Kuala Linggi International Port project, funded by China Railway, Port & Engineering Group. When completed, Linggi port will become, according to a company statement, “the world’s preferred shipping hub in the Straits of Malacca” offering port facilities, storage and transshipment of crude oil and petroleum products and repair and bunkering facilities.

According to press reports, construction has gone ahead despite objections that the project could well be an environmental hazard. Not to be outdone, the Port Klang Authority is now planning to build another giant port on Carey Island which is expected to cost RM200 billion. According to reports, the transport ministry is in talks with China Merchants Group to finance the project.

On the east cost of Peninsular Malaysia, another Chinese company, Guangxi Beibu International Port Group already owns a 40% stake of Kuantan Port Consortium and is investing billions to double the port’s capacity. China is also a key investor in Sarawak’s Samalaju Industrial Port project.

At this rate, and given China’s already sizeable investments in our railway infrastructure, China will soon be the dominant player in Malaysia’s transportation sector.

Unanswered questions

Quite apart from the obvious security implications, China’s massive investments in ports and railways have also raised a number of concerns which have yet to be adequately addressed.

How much port capacity, for example, do we really need bearing in mind that we spent billions developing the Port of Tanjung Pelapas (making it one of the largest container ports in the region) and that not all of our ports are operating at fully capacity?

And how will other major port developments now being planned along the Malacca Straits, such as the mammoth Tuah project in Singapore and the China-funded Tanjung Sauh port in Indonesia’s Batam island impact overall capacity? It certainly looks like this whole port building frenzy has gone off the deep end, especially as no convincing argument has been made that such a significant increase in port capacity is even warranted.

Without credible feasibility studies and greater transparency, these projects could well end up like the Petroleum Hub project which was taken out of service in 2012 after the government had spent more than RM100 billion on land reclamation, costs which Malaysia’s long suffering taxpayers are now having to shoulder. 

It is also unclear what the actual financial arrangements are for many of these Chinese projects and what kind of concessions and guarantees Malaysia has had to offer. That some of these projects involve secret negotiations and secret agreements with companies that don’t appear to have much experience or which have been blacklisted by the World Bank, only adds to concerns about control, ownership, costs, viability and the potential for corruption.

And unlike earlier infrastructure projects where local companies retained significant oversight and decision-making authority, projects with China invariably end up with Chinese companies in charge of management, design, procurement and construction. Even the workers come from China!

Whatever happened to all our national policies about equity, local participation and transfer of technology? At the end of the day, it is hardly the kind of “equal, mutually beneficial, win-win” situation that the Chinese embassy here likes to brag about.

OBOR?

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The other thing about many of these Chinese projects is the constant reference by Malaysian politicians and businessmen to China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative. Suddenly, it is no longer about Malaysia’s national development goals or priorities but about whether or not it is relevant to OBOR.

It is perhaps a testimony to China’s increasing power and influence that many of our political and business leaders are now gamely parroting the Chinese line about how great and magical OBOR is and how fortunate we lesser mortals are to receive Chinese loans, Chinese technology and Chinese expertise to help build OBOR-related infrastructure.

What they don’t see or don’t want to acknowledge is that through clever financing arrangements, China is in fact getting us to pay for the infrastructure that it needs to establish economic primacy in the region. OBOR is primarily about China’s strategic national objectives; whatever benefits to Malaysia are purely incidental.

In the absence of a critical and in-depth assessment of whether these OBOR-related projects genuinely serve Malaysia’s interests and are worth the costs to Malaysian taxpayers, it would be ‘bodoh’ to acquiesce to it.

The geopolitical element

And let’s not be unmindful of the geopolitical considerations as well. Will we see Malaysian ports, for example, being integrated into the Chinese Navy’s regional infrastructure to support its growing naval presence in the region?

While the government is coy about the kind of naval access that has been given to the Chinese Navy for obvious political reasons, port calls by Chinese naval vessels are increasing. Two Chinese submarines, for example, quietly docked at Kota Kinabalu port recently while Chinese warships now regularly use other Malaysian port facilities.

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China of the 21st Century is a nation of geo-strategic thinkers and state entrepreneurs–Keeping Asia secure and safe means China is safe too.

China is making strategic investments to fortify its position as the dominant player in the South China Sea with modern port facilities in ASEAN and expand trade in Chinese manufactured goods and services. It is using Malaysia to have important stakes in the Straits of Malacca (in Malacca, Penang and Johore ports). Why not, particularly when assets in Malaysia can be acquired on the cheap or profitable investments made  at inflated cost (for the benefit of corrupt UMNO and Barisan Nosional politicians). I am not against Chinese investments per se, but I am very concerned with deals done on a hush-hush basis by Najib and his cohorts. China’s moves in Asia does not end with the  South China Sea. It is back to the age-old objective of keeping the barbarians at the gate.–Din Merican

Of course, naval vessels from other countries regularly berth at our ports, and in itself is no cause for alarm. However, only China is aggressively pursuing territorial claims against Malaysia. For that reason alone, caution is called for. Does it make sense for us to facilitate the very naval force that is intruding into our waters, harassing our fishermen, laying claim to our reefs and islands and gathering data to support those claims?

Colony building

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There are also growing concerns about the massive residential and commercial development projects that are being built with Chinese capital.

The RM100 billion Forest City project, for example, one of two being built by Chinese conglomerate Country Garden, will reportedly house more than 700,000 people in a development that will include office towers, parks, hotels, shopping malls and an international school.

Meanwhile, China state-owned Greenland Group is building office towers, apartments and shops on 128 acres in Tebrau, Johor, while Guangzhou R & F Properties Co. has begun construction on the first phase of Princess Cove, another mixed development along the Johor coast, with hotels, offices, parks, shopping malls and clubhouses.

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In Kuala Lumpur, China Railway Group (CRG) will be developing the mega Bandar Malaysia project which is expected to cost between RM160 – 200 billion. Bandar Malaysia will host the world’s largest underground city together with shopping malls, indoor theme parks, a financial centre, residential and commercial units as well as the RM8.3 billion regional headquarters of China Railway.

CRG is also involved in another RM2.1 billion project in Ampang to build 7,000 residential units as well as commercial and retail outlets. In keeping with the management practices of most China-based corporations, CRG has been appointed the main contractor with sole responsibility for monitoring, managing and supervising the day-to-day construction and operations of the project.

Reports suggest that these massive residential and commercial developments in Malaysia are being marketed mainly to PRC nationals who wish to work, reside or holiday in Malaysia. Country Garden, for example, has been aggressively promoting its Forest City project in China; it is already the 11thmost popular investment destination for Chinese home buyers on Juwai.com.

In addition, relatively cheaper living costs, affordable private medical facilities, a (mostly) smog- free environment and proximity to both China and Singapore, make Malaysia a preferred retirement destination for middle-class Chinese. China’s ageing population (240 million over the age of 60 by 2020) makes for a huge potential market that Chinese developers are hoping to exploit.

If the expectations of these China-based developers are realized, we could be seeing more than a million PRC nationals living in Malaysia within a decade.

Malaysians must ask themselves whether it would be desirable to see a huge influx of citizens from just one country establishing foreign enclaves here. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that these colonies could soon evolve into exclusive, semi-autonomous zones serviced and managed by PRC nationals for the benefit of PRC nationals.

What impact will this have on the social, cultural and political fabric of our nation? How will it affect property prices? How will any downturn in the Chinese economy influence the local property market? How much of the related infrastructure costs of these projects are being borne by Malaysian taxpayers? And what kind of concessions are being given to these property developers?

Viewed from almost any perspective, therefore, Malaysia’s burgeoning economic, political and military relationship with China ought to set off alarm bells across the nation.

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The combination of a rising power with global ambitions backed by an unlimited stash of cash buying up strategic infrastructure assets, on the one hand, and a local political elite bent on staying in power at all costs tethered to cronies more interested in profits than patriotism, on the other, could prove a fatal one.

Even in the best of circumstances, it would be simply too risky to allow any one country to dominate our economy and control critical infrastructure networks the way China is now set to do. It gives China too much power and influence in the affairs of our nation and it leaves us too indebted, too exposed to a country whose intentions must be considered with some circumspection.

How far will China go to protect its position?

One thing we can be sure of, though, if history is anything to go by: the more China invests in Malaysia, the more China will be tempted to intervene and meddle in our affairs to protect its investments and ensure its strategic position is not jeopardized. Indeed, China has already begun to do so.

In a statement just this week, the Chinese embassy lashed out at opposition leaders and others for questioning the government’s policies towards China, accusing them of having ulterior motives and instigating hatred against China and warned that “China will not allow anyone to jeopardize the mutually beneficial bilateral cooperation between China and Malaysia.”

Amazingly, the Embassy also dared to presume to speak for Malaysian Chinese when it suggested that such actions by the opposition would not earn them the trust of the Malaysian Chinese community.

Clearly, the Chinese embassy now feels it has the right to threaten our politicians, inveigh against those who raise questions about China’s investments and inject itself into what is essentially a domestic discussion.

Such brazen interference in our domestic affairs will only get worse. How far will China now go to stifle domestic opposition and criticism to its increasing role in our nation? Will it work behind the scenes to prop up local pro-China leaders in much the same way as the CIA did in other countries? 

The most pressing foreign policy challenge

Tellingly, while the Chinese embassy grows bolder, many of our own leaders remain silent despite blatant acts of interfere in our domestic affairs.

In the early years of our relationship with China, our security agencies were extremely concerned that Malaysia’s ethnic Chinese community might sell out to China; who would have thought we would end up in situation where many of our politicians and officials would be so blinded to the challenges that China now presents or worse still, resign themselves to the inevitability of some sort of Chinese domination?

One minister, for instance, recently remarked in his blog that “it is futile trying to resist China’s great march forward just like it was futile to resist Western colonialism 500 years ago.” He also said that China is buying up assets all over the world and that is something that “Malaysia needs to accept or else get left behind and perish.”

Let’s be clear: this is not about trying to stop China from rising or about shunning Chinese investments but about ensuring that we don’t get colonized again, about making sure that China does not get to the point where it controls our economy and is able to dictate policy as it already does in some neighbouring countries.

Whatever it is, Malaysians must not be lulled into a false sense of complacency by all the sweet talk of mega contracts, grandiose promises of prosperity and jobs or the effusive pledges of eternal friendship for that matter.

China is no different from any other big power and we would do well to be wary when dealing with it.

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As the late Tun Ghazali Shafie, arguably the best Foreign Minister we’ve ever had, was fond of reminding us at Wisma Putra: small countries on the peripheries of a big power don’t have the luxury of taking anything for granted.

At the very least, we owe it to ourselves, and to future generations, to have a national debate on this, the most pressing foreign policy challenge we now face as a nation. And the Chinese embassy would do well to butt out of it.

 

 

Dr. Munir looks back at 2016


January 7, 2017

Dr. Munir looks back at 2016

COMMENT by Dr. Munir Majid@www.thestar.com.my

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Not a single Western political leader has had the guts to tell their people they had to accept a lower standard of living, that it was time for a great reset. Build up productivity and capacity again. Meanwhile, if you go to the pub, go only once a month. If you shampoo your hair once a week, do it fortnightly. Taking holidays abroad in countries whose people you come to hate when you get home will have to take a rest. If you work only 35 hours a week, as in France, what do you expect?–Dr. Munir Majid

The descent from globalism to nativism is the defining story of 2016, but the analysis of its cause and projection of the world into 2017 by intellectual custodians of the liberal order are flawed and offer no guide on how to break the fall.

The Brexit vote in Britain in June, the election of Donald Trump in November and the threatening reactionary outcome of elections in France and Germany next year all point to the end of a certain system by which the world has operated, even if what exactly would replace it is less than clear. If the great Western nations of the world change direction, then the rest must.

A broader perspective, however, would recognise the troubles and decisions of 2016 and what might come in 2017 had a gestation period that began at least from the Western financial crisis of 2008, too often called and accepted as the global financial crisis.

What the West continues to grapple with is how to live beyond its means. There was the criminal excess of the banks leading to the 2008 crisis, of course, but underlying it was the ethic of expectation of a certain standard of living, whether or not one worked for it or was productive enough to deserve it.

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Marie Le Pen, Donald J. Trump and Vladimir Putin–The End of Liberal Global Order

If you do not have the means to get what you want you have to borrow to get it, unless of course you stole and pillaged. So Western states and individuals kept on borrowing, or the central banks printed money to keep the economy going, which it always did not as the money kept going out where it could be more productively used.

Not a single Western political leader has had the guts to tell their people they had to accept a lower standard of living, that it was time for a great reset. Build up productivity and capacity again. Meanwhile, if you go to the pub, go only once a month. If you shampoo your hair once a week, do it fortnightly. Taking holidays abroad in countries whose people you come to hate when you get home will have to take a rest. If you work only 35 hours a week, as in France, what do you expect?

Did any of this happen? People may lose jobs as they could not compete, but they get state support and they blame others like the migrant European workers who could work, who took jobs they did not want to do.

Immigration becomes the issue. And when refugees pour in who also bring with them the threat, and execution, of terror, an inflection point is reached. Sociologists now analyse this as a threat to identity, which certainly is used in rousing emotions during political campaigns, but there was at least equally a revolt against the economic and social condition those not doing so well in life were in.

They are now so widely called the under-served. In the case of Brexit, there was no doubt the uprising of the Little Englander, but there was also the let-us-just-bloody-well-get-out-and-see-what-happens attitude.

While some in the shires thought like this, I also know of a few non-white working class Brits who voted to get out just on this basis. When I asked one such person in London, who is a chauffeur to an unbearable boss, why he did such an irresponsible act, he tried to justify it by associating himself with the workers in Sunderland of whom he knows absolutely nothing.

The thing is, who speaks to such people? The academics and intellectuals only talk among themselves in an idiom only they can understand. Even after Trump, when they pronounced there has been a great failure to address the under-served – which the President-elect on the other hand did so well – they are still talking to and being clever with one another.

My friend Francois Heisbourg, Chairman of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, beautifully describes Marine Le Pen’s appeal to the French: “Donald Trump makes Marine Le Pen sound reasonable…..Everyone knows she’s not Trump – she knows how to use a noun and a verb and is intellectually coherent about what she wants and doesn’t want.”

What, for God’s sake, are the arguments that can be used effectively with the ordinary Frenchman that they can understand and appreciate in favour of the liberal order? Paul Krugman likens what is happening to America to how the Roman Republic was destroyed by individuals disloyal to it serving only their own selfish cause. Pray, how many among the Americans who voted for Trump know, or care, anything about the history of Rome?

The Economist, that great citadel of the liberal order, makes a clarion call for its defence and for liberals not to lose heart. How and what to do? Certainly not by talking to one another. Or by communicating in a language and idiom a lower order would not understand.

With perfect Euro-centrism an English commentator fears the Syrian conflict may turn out to be like the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648). Has he not heard of the Palestinian struggle which has spawned much of the bloodshed in the Middle East and beyond?

There are three gaping holes in the defence of the “global” liberal order. First there is a blind spot about having to have a lower standard of living unless you earn a higher one. Second, an inability among liberal intellectuals to communicate except among themselves. Third, a reflection on the threat through western eyes only.

The second weakness is endemic. It is a truly global malady. Intellectuals, whether in the West or Malaysia or anywhere else, should not disdain populism, which is the bad word now in all the commentary on the threat to the global liberal order. They will not stoop so low – as Trump did – to gain support. Well, stoop less low or in a different way. Dirty your hands. Reach out.

We don’t communicate simply, when there are simple terms that convey meaning. We think we are so high and mighty.

Actually if you think about it – and this is especially for the blinkered Western intellectuals – the exemplar of populism, and darned effective with it, is UMNO. You may wince at the kris-wielding antics and other forms of political theatre, and you may not agree with some or most of the policies propounded, but you have to admit they rabble rouse their way to considerable support.

Yucks… but that was the yucks that caused Donald Trump to win. You have to get popular support. You do not do so talking to one another from university pulpits, in the parlours of Georgetown in Washington DC, in Hampstead or indeed at the Royal Selangor Golf Club in Kuala Lumpur.

Now, why do Western intellectuals particularly not talk about having to accept a lower standard of living? Well, they too will have to do so. The levels of income of the journalists and professors and consultants actually are very high, and they do a lot of talking outside their paid job for which they are paid more. Can they look the lowly worker in the eye and say you have to be paid less?

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Farewell and Thank You Mr. President for keeping the world  safe, despite setbacks . We in Asia will miss you for your engagement with us.

There has been a historic transfer of savings from countries with a lower standard of living to those higher so they stay there. As these poorer countries need and want rich country currency – particularly the dollar – for their economic life in their global liberal order, the rich not only get the savings from the poor to sustain their economic life in that global liberal order. They also are able to print money for the extras they might want.

They would be risking their own interest if they began to start talking to under served workers in their domestic economy about income levels that can be sustained by actual production – which is what developing countries have to live by, global liberal order or not.

Now the most important main benefit poorer countries obtain from that order is being threatened – their ability and success in producing goods and services which can reach any consumer in open global competition.

Donald Trump is breaking the rules for America because the US cannot otherwise compete. So he wants to protect the American market against better able, more efficient and cheaper producers – the developing countries.

While enjoyment – and denial – of these goods and services is one thing, and while undoubtedly there will in the immediate-term be a rebound of the US economy, who in the medium and long-term is going to hold Western debt so that the high standard of living in rich countries can continue? They do not save to finance the economy. They do not efficiently produce many of the goods and services they enjoy. They need also to take advantage, through trade and investment, of the real growth in developing regions such as in East and South-East Asia.

Therefore on this score alone – the need for an open and competitive global trading system – there is true convergence of interest in the world. The poorer countries will have to take it, warts and all. And the rich Western nations, with their proponents of the global liberal order, will certainly want to keep it all.

The skewered balance in the global liberal order is sustained by an intellectual convention which is Euro-centric but commanding across the globe. Leaders in politics and thought in non-Western countries only have themselves to blame for this.

They accept almost carte blanche what Western liberals submit. Don’t get me wrong. There are so many good things about western liberals and the liberal order.

I don’t think there has ever been in history such a constituency of liberals as there are in the West who would fight for the rights of the victimized and the downtrodden, like refugees, non-whites and Muslims, as there is in the western world today. Even as extreme and violent Muslims blow them up. The adherence to the value of love against hate, and of tolerance against incitement, is of the highest human order.

The other thing developing countries could imbibe from the Western liberal order is the rule of law. This is the strongest defence and guarantee of individual rights there has ever been in human history.

Image result for Lee Kuan YewSuccessful leader: Lee Kuan Yew made Singapore economically successful as a result of the purely utilitarian benefit of the rule of the law

When the laws are applied and enforced without fear or favour, there is faith in the social contract that underlies the polity. This is the main failing of most developing countries, which they would do well to learn from the West, beyond the purely utilitarian benefit of the rule of law that drove Lee Kuan Yew to make Singapore economically successful.

But, despite all this truly profound contribution of liberals and the liberal order of the West, it does not mean we must accept everything from them hook, line and sinker, especially every bit of the analysis of what has gone or is going wrong with the world.

Or the selling of expertise on how to get things right. Their record on that score is poor. We have too many such offerings, in Malaysia for instance, of how to develop our financial system and to train our financial practitioners. We must not be stupid to give money for old rope.

As we go into the new year, we should not be overwhelmed by analyses of what happened in 2016 and why. We must have a clarity and sense of perspective of the causes leading to it. And we must look forward to 2017 without the colonial mentality which makes us slaves to Western thought.

 

2017 — A Thunderous Clash of Politics, Economies and Policies


January 6, 2017

2017 — A Thunderous Clash of Politics, Economies and Policies

Martin Khor is Executive Director of the South Centre, a think tank for developing countries, based in Geneva.

The Paris agreement, which was adopted in December 2015 and which came into force in record time in October 2016 as a demonstration of international concern over climate change, may face a major test and even an existential challenge in 2017, if Trump fulfils his election promise to pull the US out. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS.

The Paris agreement, which was adopted in December 2015 and which came into force in record time in October 2016 as a demonstration of international concern over climate change, may face a major test and even an existential challenge in 2017, if Trump fulfils his election promise to pull the US out. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS.

PENANG, Jan 2 2017 (IPS) – Yet another new year has dawned.   But 2017 will be a year like no other.

There will be a thunderous clash of policies, economies and politics worldwide.   We will therefore be on a roller-coaster ride, and we should prepare for it and not only be spectators on the side-lines in danger of being swept away by the waves.

With his extreme views and bulldozing style, Donald Trump is set to create an upheaval if not revolution in the United States and the world.

He is installing an oil company chief as the Secretary of State, investment bankers in key finance positions, climate sceptics and anti-environmentalists in environmental and energy agencies and an extreme rightwing internet media mogul as his chief strategist

US-China relations, the most important for global stability, could change from big-power co-existence with a careful combination of competition and cooperation, to outright crisis.

Trump, through a phone call with Taiwan’s leader and subsequent remarks, signalled he could withdraw the longstanding US adherence to the One China policy and instead use Taiwan as a bargaining card when negotiating economic policies with China.  The Chinese perceive this as an extreme provocation.

He has appointed as head of the new National Trade Council an economist known for his books demonising China, including “Death by China: Confronting the Dragon”.

Trump seems intent on doing an about-turn on US trade and investment policies, starting with ditching the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement and re-negotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Other measures being considered include a 45% duty on Chinese products, extra duties and taxes on American companies located abroad, and even a 10% tariff on all imports.

Martin Khor

Thus 2017 will see a rise in protectionism in the US, the extent still unknown.  That is bad news for those developing countries whose economies have grown on the back of exports and international investments.

Europe in 2017 will also be preoccupied with its own regional problems.  The Brexit shock of 2016 will continue to reverberate and several European countries facing elections will see challenges to their traditional values and established order from xenophobic and narrow nationalist parties.

As Western societies become less open to the world and more inward looking, developing countries should revise their development strategies and rely more on domestic and regional demand and investments.

As North-South economic relations decline, this should also be the moment for expanding South-South cooperation, spurred as much by necessity as by principles.

2017 may be the year when resource-rich China, with its huge Road and Belt initiative and its immense financing capacity, fills in the economic void created by western trade and investment protectionism.

But this may not be sufficient to prevent a finance shock in many developing countries now beginning to suffer a reversal of capital flowing back to the US, attracted by the prospect of higher interest rates and economic growth.

Several emerging economies which together received many hundreds of billions of dollars of hot money in recent years are now vulnerable to the latest downturn phase of the boom-bust cycle of capital flows.

Some of these countries opened up their capital markets to foreign funds which now own large portions of government bonds denominated in the domestic currency, as well as shares in the equity market.

As the tide turns, foreign investors are expected to sell off and transfer back a significant part of the bonds and shares they bought, and this new vulnerability is in addition to the traditional external debt contracted by the developing countries in foreign currencies.

Some countries will be hit by a terrible combination of capital outflow, reduced export earnings, currency depreciation and an increased debt servicing burden caused by higher US interest rates.

As the local currency depreciates further, the affected countries’ companies will have to pay more for servicing loans contracted in foreign currencies and imported machinery and parts, while consumers suffer from a rapid rise in the prices of imports.

On the positive side, the currency depreciation will make exporters more competitive and make tourism more attractive, but for many countries this will not be enough to offset the negative effects.

Thus 2017 will not be kind to the economy, business and the pockets of the common man and woman.  It might even spark a new global financial crisis.

The old year ended with mixed blessings for Palestinians. On one hand they won a significant victory when the outgoing President Obama allowed the adoption of a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territories by not exercising a veto.

The resolution will spur international actions against the expansion of settlements which have become a big obstacle to peace talks.

On the other hand the Israeli leadership, which responded defiantly with plans for more settlements, will find in Trump a much more sympathetic President.  He is appointing a pro-Israel hawk who has cheered the expansion of settlements as the new US ambassador to Israel.

With Trump also indicating he will tear up the nuclear power deal with Iran, the Middle East will have an even more tumultuous time in 2017.

Some countries will be hit by a terrible combination of capital outflow, reduced export earnings, currency depreciation and an increased debt servicing burden caused by higher US interest rates.

In the area of health care, the battle for affordable access to medicines will continue, as public frustration grows over the high and often astronomical prices of patented medicines including for the treatment of HIV AIDS, hepatitis C, tuberculosis and cancers.

There will be more powerful calls for governments to curb the excesses of drug companies, as well as more extensive use of the flexibilities in the patent laws to counter the high cost of medicines.

Momentum will also increase to deal with antibiotic resistance which in 2016 was recognised by political leaders meeting at the United Nations to be perhaps the gravest threat to global health.

All countries pledged to come up with national action plans to counter antibiotic and anti-microbial resistance by May 2017 and the challenge will then be to review the adequacy of these plans and to finance and implement them.

The new year will also see its fair share of natural disasters and a continued decline in the state of the environment.  Both will continue to be major issues in 2017, just as the worsening of air pollution and the many earthquakes, big storms and heat-waves marked the previous few years.

Unfortunately low priority is given to the environment.  Hundreds of billions of dollars are allocated for highways, railways and urban buildings but only a trickle for conservation and rehabilitation of hills, watersheds, forests, mangroves, coastal areas, biodiversity or for serious climate change actions.

2017 should be the year when priorities change, that when people talk about infrastructure or development, they put actions to protect and promote the environment as the first items for allocation of funds.

This new year will also be make or break for climate change.  The momentum for action painfully built up in recent years will find a roadblock in the US as the new President dismantles Obama-initiated policies and measures.

The Paris agreement, which was adopted in December 2015 and which came into force in record time in October 2016 as a demonstration of international concern over climate change, may face a major test and even an existential challenge in 2017, if Trump fulfils his election promise to pull the US out.

But Trump and his team will face resistance domestically including from state governments and municipalities which have their own climate plans, and from other countries determined to carry on without the US on board.

Indeed if 2017 will bring big changes initiated by the new US administration, it will also generate many counter actions to fill in the void left in the world by a withdrawing US or to counter its new unsettling actions.

Many people around the world, from politicians and policy makers to citizen groups and community organisers are already bracing themselves to come up with responses and actions.

Indeed 2017 will be characterised by the Trump effect but also the consequent counter-effects.

There are opportunities to think through, alternatives to chart and reforms to carry out that are anyway needed on the global and national economies, on the environment, and on geo-politics.

Most of the main levers of power and decision-making are still in the hands of a few countries and a few people, but there has also been the emergence of many new centres of economic, environmental and intellectual capabilities and community-based organising.

2017 will be a year in which ideas, policies, economies and politics will all clash, thunderously, and we should be prepared to meet the challenges ahead and not only be spectators.

A History of U.S. Foreign Affairs in Which Grandiose Ambitions Trump Realism


January 2, 2017

A History of U.S. Foreign Affairs in Which Grandiose Ambitions Trump Realism

Southeast Asia’s Governance Plight


January 1, 2017

Corruption Trends in 2016: Southeast Asia’s Governance Plight

by Dr. Bridget Welsh

hcasean.org/read/articles/324/Corruption-Trends-in-2016-Southeast-Asias-Governance-Plight

Bridget Welsh highlights persistent corruption trend in Southeast Asia through revealing data, including the Asia Barometer Survey. Indeed, 2016 reveals that corruption remains a major challenge for the region emerging economies. (This article is published in Thinking ASEAN 2016 Kaleidoscope special issue)

Image result for najib razak--malaysia's no 1. rogue

The 2016 Most Corrupt Southeast Asian Leader –Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak

Serious corruption scandals continued to plague Southeast Asia as the monies involve reach record levels. In December 2015 Indonesians were riveted by the US$4 billion extortion attempt of Freeport McMoRan involving the Speaker of the House of Representatives Setya Novanto. He later resigned amidst ethics concerns. Next door in Malaysia, the multi-billion 1MDB scandal has made headlines since July 2015. At issue are kleptocracy allegations against Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak involving the deposit of nearly USUS$700 million deposited into his personal bank account, through an investment vehicle that has been tied to money-laundering and embezzlement being investigated in six international jurisdictions. The actual losses involved extend beyond US$3 billion. Najib clings to power to avoid international prosecution. In mainland Southeast Asia an assessment this year by Global Witness alleges that Prime Minister Hun Sen of Cambodia has taken at least US$200 million for his own personal use and claims that the actual amount pilfered may extend to above US$1 billion. He too appears to be using his office for protection and wealth. The amounts in the abuse of office for personal gain is just one of the many worrying trends involving corruption across the region.

This year, the International Monetary Fund estimated that USUS$1.5 to 2 trillion is being lost to corruption globally, equivalent to 2% of the world’s GDP. In Southeast Asia, the costs of corruption are debilitating to economic growth. An estimated 1% of economic growth annually is lost to corruption in ASEAN, as most Southeast Asian countries rank high for corruption practices. Billions of funds that would have fueled the region’s prosperity have gone into the hands of greedy politicians and bureaucrats, facilitated by unscrupulous businessmen. The 2015 Transparency International assessments that measures bribery perceptions of businessmen puts four Southeast Asian countries in the lowest tier worldwide– Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam. The others largely fall in the shameful middle with only Singapore ranking near the top in performance. Singapore’s supposed non-corruption is challenged in other assessments, however. The Economist’s 2016 Crony Index, which measures the level of political embeddedness in business ranks Singapore 3rd in the world They join other top contenders for cronyism in the region, including Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines.

TI Corruption

Perception Ranking 2015

Economist Crony

Index 2016

Cambodia 150
Indonesia 88 7
Laos 139
Malaysia 54 2
Philippines 95 3
Myanmar 147
Singapore 8 4
Timor Leste 123
Thailand 76 12
Vietnam 112

The close nexus between political elites and business is exacerbated by large roles of the public sector in Southeast Asian economies. Politicians play decisive roles in the allocation of funds/contracts and granting of permissions to engage in business. This is especially the case in leading sectors of the economy, namely infrastructure, natural resources, land administration and defense – all areas were corruption practices are rife. According to Transparency International in 2015, East Asia’s US$8 trillion spending for infrastructure, a sector without strict anti-corruption standards, will provide greater opportunities for further turpitude. China’s deepening role in Southeast Asian economies is also seen to enhance corruption, as they are perceived to be less demanding of good governance. China is even seen to endorse corruption, as exemplified in their bailout of Najib in the 1MDB debacle.

It is not a coincidence that Southeast Asian countries featured prominently in the April 2016 release of the Panama Papers, leaked documents that show efforts to hide funds in tax havens. Indonesia led the count with 6500 citizens, followed by Malaysia at 1784, but no Southeast Asian country was spared.  Prominent among the list were Najib’s own son Mohd Nazifuddin Najib, Cambodia’s Minister of Justice Ang Vomg Vathana and Thailand’s Chirathivats, the family that operates the powerful Central Group of Companies worth an estimated US$11.7 billion. Singapore was showcased as the region’s epicenter of cloaked investments with 5,869 offshore entities linked to the island nation, and listed by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalism (ICIJ) that leaked the documents as one of 21 global tax havens.

Image result for Mohd Nazifuddin Najib
Mohd Nazifuddin Najib

Varied Public Perceptions: Acceptance and Acquiescence

The use of public office for personal wealth – the standard definition of corruption – has been a long standing serious problem in Southeast Asia. In surveys year after year, corruption is the most important governance issue identified by the public. It has served as rallying call for protests and voters. Historically, corruption contributed to the fall of Suharto in 1998-1999. This year anti-corruption promises helped put ‘punisher’ Rodrigo Duterte into office in the Philippines’ May election. Ironically, Duterte gave a hero’s burial to the country’s most corrupt politician, former president and strongman Fernando Marcos this November, six months after assuming office. In the same month anger with corruption also brought people out to the streets in the thousands in Malaysia, as part of the repeated calls for clean government in the Bersih movement.  While the levels involved have reached record heights and the scandals exposed broadening, broad public concern with corruption remains consistent.

What is not appreciated, however, is the variation in the region in public perceptions of corruption. Drawing from the 4th wave of the Asian Barometer Survey (ABS) conducted in eight Southeast Asian countries from 2013-16, there is considerable variation in how corruption is seen.  Significant majorities perceive “most” or “all” officials as corrupt in Cambodia and the Philippines, with only a slim majority holding this view in Indonesia. In the rest of the region’s countries surveyed, significant pluralities believe their officials are corrupt, expect in Singapore and Vietnam. Corruption perceptions are higher at local levels than in the national center, with specific institutions such as the police and judiciary seen to be particularly affected by corruption. The figures hide something that is not often acknowledged, that a share of Southeast Asians support corruption and in some cases do not see bribery and use of public office as immoral, inappropriate or even as corruption at all. For example, a 29% of Malaysians surveyed believed that it is okay to use public office for personal wealth. These norms and practices counter anti-corruption efforts. Not only do they undercut moral pressure, the point to accomplices in the system of elite abuse of power and their selective patronage allocations.

Elite Erosion of Anti-Corruption Efforts

It is thus no wonder that the region has seen an undermining of anti-corruption efforts. Much of the undermining is coming from the top, the political elites. These privileged attacks on the Indonesian Corruption Eradication Commission (Komisi Pemnerantasan Korupsi or KPK) have been ongoing for the past two years, but during 2016 have extended to weak appointments to the commission and perceived weakening of the commission’s authority. Charges of favoritism in prosecutions abound. Similar trends were seen in Malaysia and Thailand, where anti-corruption bodies have been seen to be politically manipulated. Officials that supported a more robust prosecution of 1MDB in the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) were summarily transferred. The Anti-Dynasty Bill in the Philippines, which would have limited the terms powerful families that have controlled power, was not surprisingly defeated in the Congress in February this year. This defeat allows political dynasties comprising of 200 elite families to continue to dominate power – including the Duterte family. In Myanmar, where the new leadership of Aung San Sui Kyi and her party the National League of Democracy assumed office in April, one of the biggest challenges has been to clean up the military’s control of the economy and the entrenched practices of corruption that have evolved in its business dealings.

Image result for Corruption in ASEAN

Where the undercutting of anti-corruption is being most eroded is in the courts. Getting cases prosecuted is hard enough, especially given the limited enforcement power of anti-corruption bodies across the region. There are examples of tough enforcement. For example, this July in Vietnam thirty-six officials in the Viet Nam Construction Bank (VCB) were put on trial for a case involving the loss of US$405 million and convicted in September with sentences ranging from 22 to 30 years. This has been followed by indictments in six high-profile corruption cases, involving government-linked companies and millions of misappropriated funds. Vietnam has the death penalty for corruption, but it has not been enforced in the high profile cases involving party-linked officials. The government’s tough anti-corruption effort is seen to be selectively enforced, and done so out of political necessity rather than a meaningful drive to end corruption practices.

Elsewhere in the region, corrupt offenders are getting off lightly. Consider Singapore’s actions in the 1MDB scandal. One banker has been jailed – Yak Yew Chee- receiving a paltry sentence of 18 weeks and fine of SUS$24,000. Four banks involved have been fined – Standard Chartered Bank (US$3.7 million), Coutts (US$1.7 million), UBS (1.3 million) and Singapore’s DBS (US$1 million) in amounts that pale in comparison to the flows involved. Singapore has also imposed an entry ban for ten years on former Goldman Sachs director Tim Leissner who fixed up the dodgy 1MDB bond deals involving US$6.5 billion. While these measures contrast sharply with the denials of wrongdoing across the Causeway, they are mere slaps on the wrists for serious ethical breeches. They also do not go after the main players or those that bought bonds, as the focus is on the facilitators rather than the beneficiaries. Implementation of anti-corruption laws has long been a problem. As significant is the lack of judicial and political will to punish corrupt offenders.

Growing Political Risks for Exposure

At the same time, the risks of exposing corruption remain higher. Cambodia’s political commentator and anti-corruption activist Kem Lay was assassinated in broad daylight in Cambodia in July. He was a leading critic of the Hun Sen government’s corruption. In March, Vietnam convicted seven activists, including the 73-year old anti-corruption blogger Dinh Tat Thang. In November, Malaysia did a double-whammy against anti-corruption advocates. It convicted parliamentarian and whistle blower Rafizi Ramli for leaking documents associated with the 1MDB scandal under the Officials Secret Act and imprisoned activist Bersih chairwoman Maria Chin Abdullah in solitary confinement for eleven days under an anti-terrorism law. Within the region, the risks for exposing corruption remain higher than ever. This should not be a surprise given the amounts and scope of graft involved.

Yet, ironically, anti-corruption efforts are being boosted by global developments. First of these has been the rise of hacking and leaks, often tied to intensive in-depth investigative reporting. The Panama Papers is a sign of future trends, as politicians and businessmen cannot assume that they are not going to be exposed. Second, has been a toughening of anti-money laundering enforcement coupled with stronger international corporate integrity agreements (CIA’s) that report bank accounts to tax revenue authorities and tighter counter-terrorist financing measures. These have led to an increase in cross-border investigations and prosecutions as well as fostered greater financial transparency at large. Corrupt leaders and businessmen can no longer rely on their control of domestic levers of power to protect themselves. Increasingly, they can no longer run or hide.

This is perhaps the irony of anti-corruption developments in 2016; within the region anti-corruption efforts are being undermined, but internationally they are being exposed. This is in spite of China’s corrosive regional influence on corruption. Southeast Asia’s corrupt leaders now face greater risk and in the competitive environment for investment more potential losses in sources of income. At the same time, domestic challenges to anti-corruption remain serious and worrying, from the elite attacks on anti-corruption bodies to those on activists. Gaining meaningful traction in anti-corruption in Southeast Asia remains largely elusive as the problem continued to be the region’s plight.

Image result for bridget welsh national taiwan university

Dr. Bridget Welsh is a Senior Research Associate at the Center for East Asia Democratic Studies of the National Taiwan University, a Senior Associate Fellow of The Habibie Center and a University Fellow of Charles Darwin University. She analyzes Southeast Asian politics, especially Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Indonesia and other countries in the region. She is committed to engagement, fostering mutual understanding and empowerment.

Her most recent book is entitled The End of UMNO: Essays on Malaysia’s Dominant arty (2016). She has edited  Reflections: The Mahathir Years (2004), Legacy of Engagement in Southeast Asia (2008), Impressions of the Goh Chok Tong Years in Singapore (2009), Democracy Takeoff?: Reflections on the BJ Habibie Period (2012) ,Awakening: Abdullah Badawi’s Years in Malaysia (2013) (the Malay abridged edition Bangkit 2014). She is currently working on a number of projects examining democracy, electoral behavior and polling in Malaysia and regime support across Southeast Asia. She is also currently studying women and gender in politics in Southeast Asia, and has ongoing projects examining electoral politics, freedom in Southeast Asia, Great Power relations in Southeast Asia, and political conditions in Myanmar/Burma. Her dissertation at Columbia University examined the relationship between state power, political rights and revenue extraction in colonial Malaya. These projects reflect a keen interest in democracy and development in Southeast Asia.

She is the Malaysia Director, Senior Advisor for the Myanmar Survey and Southeast Asia Coordinator of the Asian Barometer Survey Project working on surveys in eight countries in the region. She is also a contributor to New Mandala and malaysiakini, the leading news website in Malay