Big Challenge for Asian Modernization


March 30, 2017

Cultural-Intellectual Reinvigoration: Big Challenge for Asian Modernization

by Michael Heng Siam-Heng (received by e-mail with thanks)

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Asia has been experiencing an economic revival since the 1960s, first Japan, then the Four Little Dragons, the Asian Tigers and now China and India. With Asian economies doing relatively well against the background of global recession, many Asians hope that the 21st century would be the Asian Century. But what kind of Asian Century?

How would Asians like this period of their history to be understood and remembered in centuries ahead?  It could be a period of impressive economic growth but also known for its environmental degradation, crimes, corruption, social disparities, religious extremism, and social conflicts. Or it could be a period that draws on the best of human achievements and advances them.  The second case would contribute immensely to a new global civilization characterized by peace, social justice, cultural brilliance, technological advancement, and sustainable economic growth.

I will dwell on four points.  First, on what basis can we argue for an Asian cultural-intellectual rejuvenation? Second, is such a historical project necessary? Third, three challenges facing us. Fourth, being in Malaysia, I will briefly touch on roles that can be played by this country.

Conceptual Basis for an Asian Cultural Rejuvenation

History tells us that radical economic and social transformations are often accompanied by intellectual ferment and cultural effervescence. The transformations generate social dislocations that challenge existing cultural norms, ideas, and social institutions.  The problems are serious and they engage the best brains of the time. In attempts to solve the issues, these best and brightest draw on their intellectual heritage, learn from other sources, cross-fertilise them and creatively synthesize them to produce original thoughts.

Examples are Ancient Greece, the Spring-Autumn-Warring period of China, the Islamic golden age, and the Maurya and the Gupta period of India. The most recent experience is the European Renaissance and Enlightenment, which produced giants in the fields of philosophy, natural sciences, social sciences, fine arts, music, architecture, and literature. We all know at least a dozen of such names.  These European thinkers or cultural giants acted as a positive force during that critical period, functioning both as a social conscience and as sources of forward-looking ideas. Their works have shaped the character of modern European civilization and continue to exert an influence on our thinking and cultures even until today.

The Need for the Historical Project

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Deng Xiao Peng–China’s Great Modernizer–Pragmatist

Ever since Asia suffered defeat and humiliation in its encounters with Western imperial powers, Asian leaders slowly realized the crucial importance of reform and modernization in order to face the onslaught. Country after country began to borrow ideas from the West, not all of which were positive, as we see in the case of Japanese imperialistic aggression.

By the end of the 19th century, Japan, through its  Meiji Restoration (明治維新), was the most successful in modernizing its military and economy, fulfilling its national agenda of being both powerful and wealthy. Once powerful, Japan began to behave aggressively, turning Korea into its colony, seizing large tracts of Chinese territories and occupying Southeast Asia. It was a military adventure which ended in total defeat at the closure of WWII.  To use a  simple metaphor, modernization is like the flight of a bird.  It requires two wings to function in a harmonious manner.  Being wealthy economically and strong militarily is one wing.  The other wing is sound cultural-intellectual development.

Fast forward into early 21st century, Asia has regained much of its share of global economy.  Statistics provided by the IMF, the World Bank and transnational banks testify to this shift of economic power from the West.

To the ordinary public, this shift is visible, in the form of improved standards of living, and the new physical landscape.  The most visible is the super-tall buildings – architectural icons of modernity.  Of the ten tallest buildings in the world, 8 are in Asia, 2 in the USA.

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In contrast to the modern landscape in Asian cities, Asia has a string of disturbing social ills.  There is dysfunctional culture exhibited by the people at the top running the show.  State infrastructure projects are awarded to friends and relatives rather than to the most competent.  Newspapers are full of examples of practices that reflect mindsets that are out of sync with the demands of a modern economy. In societies where there are modern economic and legal institutions, many of these institutions lack integrity and independence.

Even in a modern economy and society operating efficiently, we need something more.  Again using the example of Japan.  It is the most modern Asian country. Yet its modernization is confined to the fields of economy, technology, and life styles. It has not undergone a philosophical development based on a foundation of critical rationality and humanism. The Japanese nation as whole has not been able to come to terms with its atrocities during World War II.

 Three Major Challenges

Asians face three major challenges at this juncture of their history, namely (a) drawing on their own cultural resources and rejuvenating them, (b) learning from others, and (c) learning from each other.

The first challenge can be formulated as: how and what Asians can draw from their own cultural and intellectual resources in the process of dealing with new problems.

With an open and inquisitive mind, old ideas take on new meanings and interpretations in the context of new social problems. If a new interpretation provides an effective way in solving problems, the new solution is likely to find easier acceptance because it is framed in language familiar to the people. A sense of continuity is useful in coping with change.

Interestingly, there is often a link between the old and the new. Even a new philosophy is dependent on the intellectual achievements of the preceding centuries and millennia.  A scholar of the European Enlightenment observes that “enlightenment philosophy simply fell heir to the heritage of those [preceding] centuries. It ordered, sifted, developed and clarified this heritage rather than contributed and gave currency to new and original ideas.  Yet in spite of its dependence with respect to content, the Enlightenment produced a completely original form of philosophical thought.”  In other words, old beliefs can put on modern attires and assume modern colours. The result is a new idea.

This sounds rather straightforward. But it is not so if we observe carefully around us.  Hardcore conservatives prefer a literal and rigid interpretation of their traditions, all the more so if these are written. There is also the fear that in rejuvenating local culture and tradition to cope with the demands of a modern economy, the local culture and tradition may disappear, and that future generations will become culturally rootless.  Another problem is what to select from the past.

I believe that the proper attitude is to embrace change, and to see culture as something living, tradition as living tradition.  They are products of their times, and they will change with the demands of the time.

The second challenge is how and what to learn from others. To the extent that there are similarities in the issues involved in the transition from pre-modern societies to modern societies, we should learn from others’ experiences, both positive and negative. To quote the Indian philosopher Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan : “Similar experiences engender in men’s minds similar views”. Since the West has a longer history of modernization, Asia can certainly learn from them.

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Again like the first challenge, learning from others is not easy. Some believe that it is very difficult, or even impossible, to transplant ideas, values, and institutions that have sprouted and developed in a different culture and a different set of historical conditions.

Take the case of China’s difficult journey of learning after defeat at the hands of Japan in 1895. While the Chinese leadership welcomed the adoption of obviously more advanced technologies from the West, they had difficulties embracing the Western ideas and value system. The problem is less acute today but is not over.

What happened in China a century ago is happening in West Asia. The common belief was that “Eastern” culture of spirituality was superior to “Western” culture of materialism.  There is a fear that the spirit of local heritage and culture was threatened with destruction by the importation of western ideas and values.

Adoption and adaption of foreign ideas to local conditions is a long drawn out process, which requires creativity, flexibility, and openness. Though the process is complex, it has happened in history, in Southeast Asia, elsewhere in Asia, and Europe.

Evidence in history support the claim that we can borrow ideas that originated in a very different historical context, and adapt them to serve local needs or even improve upon them in the process of creative synthesis. Let me list briefly three examples. First example: Southeast Asia was able to adopt religious beliefs, ways of life, and institutions from India, China, the Middle East, and Europe. These influences from distant lands had originated in settings that were alien to Southeast Asia. Second example is Europe’s absorption of bureaucracy from China. Combining it with check and balance by civic society, the Western practice is more efficient and less prone to corruption, offering useful lessons for China. This is a vivid illustration of the Chinese saying, 青出于蓝而胜于蓝, or the pupil excelling the master. Third example: Buddhism was introduced to China, a country with a profoundly different culture. After centuries of acclimatization, we have a synthesis of the two cultural traditions known as “Chan” in Chinese and “Zen” in Japanese.

The sensible attitude of learning is to be open-minded and rational rather than be influenced by emotion and sentiments. We must be curious and humble while at the same be meticulous, critical and independent minded. Just as Asians should not feel a sense of superiority in being a source of Western modernization, they should not feel a sense of inferiority in borrowing from the West.  Learning from the findings of others can only increase the range of possible solutions.

The above two challenges are related. It is difficult to learn from foreign sources and adopt their useful elements if we are not culturally and intellectually confident. With confidence in our own cultural heritage, we are at ease to critically appreciate the achievements of others. And cultural confidence can only stem from a deep and critical understanding of our own cultural roots, to the extent of discarding outdated ideas and practices of our own traditions.

The third challenge is for Asians to know much more of each other’s history, intellectual achievements, and cultural traditions.  Though language may present a barrier, most Asian intellectuals use English as the second language which renders exchange of ideas possible. What holds them back is their attitude.  Asians tend to know more about Australasia, Europe and America than their Asian neighbours.  

Given the guarded attitude many Asians have regarding learning from the West, they have less misgivings regarding learning from each other. They can benefit from sharing their experiences in modernization.  In fact, Japan’s path of rapid economic development has provided valuable insights to Southeast Asia and later on China and India. This pattern of economic development is described as the Flying Geese, with Japan as the leading goose. In coping with the broader social and cultural issues arising from modernization, the Middle Eastern countries are more likely to consult the experiences of Malaysia and Indonesia than those from the West.

As a concrete project of mutual learning and co-operation among Asian countries, they can compile a set of books – the Great Books of the East, containing the cream of Eastern intellectual achievements. It is a doable project.  It serves as a platform for top scholars of Asian countries to work together, creating as a byproduct a network Asian intellectuals of similar interests.  It would produce a convenient reference work for libraries all over the world.  It world form a key component of common body of knowledge for serious minded global citizens.

Another concrete project is traditional medicine.  Asia is the home of traditional Chinese medicine, traditional Indian medicine, and traditional Middle Eastern medicine. It represents distilled knowledge accumulated over many centuries of medical practice, often under poor material conditions. It is thus evidence-based.  However, critics of traditional medicine often claim that it is not scientific because its research method departs from that of western medicine. Its theory needs a modern set of vocabulary and updated to take into account new medical findings. We can think of a productive sharing and conversation among the three streams of Asian traditional medicine. This is an area for active collaboration of Asian countries that can boost the cultural and intellectual confidence of Asia, while making concrete and valuable contributions to healthcare in the whole world.

Malaysia as the Italy of the Asian Mediterranean(Venice)

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Malaysia is unwilling to tap its rich diversity due to myopic Malay-centered leadership and  corruption–Bodoh Sombong

Cultural and intellectual rejuvenation is often a synthesis and product of the cross-fertilization of cultures and ideas.  Its birthplace is located at the cross-roads of diverse cultures and intellectual currents. For example, Italy, widely regarded as the birthplace of the European Renaissance, was an important meeting point of different cultures and intellectual traditions in the Mediterranean.

Malaysia can have an important role in such a historical process. Here, the four major currents of world civilizations (Chinese, Indian, Islamic and Western) are co-existing as mainstreams of social life. They represent invaluable resources. Southeast Asia is a region with a multi-layered sedimentation of diverse cultures. It is a vibrant, peaceful and forward-looking region when we compare it to other regions with similar historical background. If we borrow the language of the European Renaissance, Southeast Asia may be seen as a kind of Mediterranean region in the cultural revival of Asia and Malaysia can aspire to be the Italy of Asia (Venice).

Reinventing prevalent social-cultural practices is quite common in societies undergoing structural changes.  It is part of the efforts of a society to refine and refurbish the inner resources of their societies. It is through such processes of renewal that societies try to overcome internal stagnation and meet external challenges.

The process touches societies profoundly, involving ideas, values, morality, belief systems, culture, and institutions. It requires us to revisit our concepts of goodness, truth, and beauty.  The blossoming of culture represents the sublimation of the human spirit, the enrichment of human experience and the nurturing of human nature towards goodness. It is a project with both social and spiritual dimensions. It is a project with a historical soul.

Economic resurgence in itself does not guarantee a corresponding intellectual ferment and cultural effervescence. There are formidable obstacles in the long journey. First, Asian intellectuals may not rise to the call. Second, there is lack of freedom and internalized self-censorship that originates from a culture of fear. Third, there is no critical mass of thinkers to stimulate each other. Fourth, there are as yet no powerful social groups willing to adopt and champion new philosophies developed by their people.

The rise of Asia may thus be conceived of as an opportunity for an Asian cultural revival, which may or may not happen. Much depends on how Asians will make use of the opportunity. Will they translate the opportunity into a mission, and turn it into a reality?

The project of an Asian cultural rejuvenation is an ambitious undertaking.  It is likely to last for several generations. It has no walls and borders. Contributions from all corners of the world are warmly welcome. Though the stage is in Asia, the cast and audience are global.   This opens up a new arena of international cooperation for all those who aspire to contribute to the long term well-being of humanity.  As co-operation and competition with the West can be expanded to include friendly co-operation and competition in the field of ideas, this new arena could well be an alternative to the geopolitical rivalry between an emerging China and a US in decline.

Let us imagine that East Asia or South Asia could provide a case of cultural revival together with economic modernization.  It would be an attractive alternative to the current Western model for the Middle East. It may offer new insights and solutions for solving the whole array of social, economic and political problems there.

If and when Asian cultural and intellectual reinvigoration does happen in its full glory, it will lift Asian civilization to a higher level. In so doing, it will contribute to the cultural resources of the world and indeed to a richer modern civilization.  It will also impart a more profound and enduring meaning to the term Asian Century.

 

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.

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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.

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 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.

History: Cambodia’s King Sihanouk and Zhou Enlai


February 11, 2017

Cambodia: King Sihanouk and Zhou Enlai

Note: All students of Cambodian History and Foreign Policy should read Charisma and Leadership–The Human Side of Great Leaders of the 20th Century by Prince Norodom Sihanouk with Dr. Bernard Krisher (Phnom Penh: The Cambodia Daily, 1990). Why? Leadership matters in today’s world, especially with the election on November 8, 2016 and the  inauguration of Donald J. Trump as the 45th President of the United States on January 20, 2017.

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His Majesty  King Norodom Sihanouk’s Impressions on Zhou Enlai appear on pp.45-66.  The Intellectual Cambodian Monarch Samdech Euv (Khmer: សម្តេចឪ)’s My War with The C.I.A (Baltimore:Penguin Book,1973) with Wilfred Burchett, and William Shawcross, Sideshow: Kissinger, Nixon, and the Destruction of Cambodia (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1979) which deal with Cambodia-US Relations should are also on my recommended read list.–Din Merican
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Chairman Mao Zedong and Premier Zhou Enlai asked Deng Xiaoping and Ye Jianying to see Sihanouk and his family members off. Picture taken on September 9, 1975, Sihanouk (middle), his wife (left) and Deng Xiaoping traveled in a motorcade.

20 years friendship: Sihanouk and Zhou Enlai

http://english.cntv.cn/program/newsupdate/20121015/104851.shtml

Cambodia’s Samdech Euv (King-Father) Norodom Sihanouk’s friendship with China began with his first encounter with the then Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai, in 1955 at the Bandung Conference which was hosted by President Ahmed Sukarno of Indonesia. Their friendship lasted for more than two decades until Zhou Enlai’s death in 1976.

Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai met Norodom Sihanouk for the first time at the Bandung Conference on April  18, 1955.

In the morning, when most of the delegation was outside the venue waiting for the host, Indonesia’s first President  Ahmed Sukarno, Zhou Enlai met the 33-year-old Sihanouk, the then Cambodian Prime Minister.

Cheng Yuangong, Zhou Enlai’s FMR guard, said, “Premier Zhou was talking to other people when he found that Norodom Sihanouk was some seven meters away. Premier Zhou stepped up and began talking to him. Sihanouk was very touched by the Chinese Premier’s friendly move.”

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During the six-day conference, Zhou Enlai made a statement, applauding Cambodia’s fight for independence led by Norodom Sihanouk. He said China fully respected Cambodia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

During the conference, Zhou Enlai also gave a banquet for the Cambodian delegation. In Norodom Sihanouk’s memoirs, he called it an unforgettable invitation. Zhou Enlai’s welcome made him feel part of a brotherhood.

Ten months after the Bandung Conference, Norodom Sihanouk visited China for the first time. One month later, Zhou Enlai was invited to Cambodia. It was very rare in world diplomatic history for two countries to welcome delegations without establishing diplomatic ties.

In 1958, China and Cambodia formally established ambassador-level diplomatic relations. In 1970, Norodom Sihanouk was forced into exile in China when Lon Nol clique staged a coup d’ etat . China continued to support him, and he lived in Beijing for the next five years.

Zhou Enlai would never miss Sihanouk or his wife’s birthday unless he was on a visit abroad. In 1975, Sihanouk decided to return to Cambodia when the Lon Nol government was overthrown.

At that time, suffering from cancer, Zhou Enlai weighed just 30 kilograms. But he still insisted on making detailed arrangements for Sihanouk. The two old friends said their final goodbyes on August the 26th, 1975. 6 months later, Zhou Enlai died in Beijing. But Sihanouk’s friendship with China never wavered.

READ This:

https://cross-currents.berkeley.edu/sites/default/files/e-journal/articles/jeldres_1.pdf

China’s Quest for Regional Community


February 3, 2017

China’s Quest for Regional Community

by Zhang Yunling, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences

http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2017/02/03/chinas-neighbours-and-the-quest-for-regional-community/

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China’s Xi and Indonesia’s Jokowi

China’s meteoric rise has put the spotlight on the relationships it shares with its neighbours. Distinct national interests and the substantial social and political diversity in the region make the development of a regional community a complex and delicate task.

China shares land borders with 14 countries and has eight maritime neighbours. But to truly understand China’s relations with its neighbours, one must go beyond geography and consider how history, culture, geopolitics and geo-economics have shaped, and will continue to shape, these relationships.

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President Duterte of  the Philippines and China’s Xi Jinping

Serious consideration must also be given to competitive national interests in the evolution of these increasingly interdependent relationships. The rise of China presents new challenges and opportunities for the development of neighbourhood relations and regional strategies. The close involvement of extra-regional powers, such as the United States, Japan and India, serves to further complicate China’s relationships with its neighbours.

China and its neighbours have a shared interest in maintaining a peaceful and friendly relationship. If mishandled, all sides will suffer. This is the implication behind the Chinese leadership’s call for a ‘community of shared interests and common destiny’ with its neighbours through a number of new initiatives. This new, grand strategy is underpinned by China’s growing confidence in its ability to shape the regional environment. It reflects a new mode of strategic thinking on how to position China among its neighbours and how to understand the new importance of China’s neighbouring regions.

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President of China Xi Jinping and Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen

China has developed initiatives to enhance regional ties, but the political, social and economic diversity among China’s neighbours is immense. Relations are further complicated by conflicts of interest between the neighbours themselves, as well as by intervention from extra-regional powers, which engage in overt and covert competition in the region.

As China’s influence rises, its neighbours’ distrust grows. Some of them worry that China’s harbours ambitions for regional hegemony. Maritime and territorial disputes, over the exclusive economic zones in the East China Sea and South China Sea in particular, have resulted in rising tension between China, Japan and some ASEAN members. There has been widespread concern that confrontations may lead to a military conflict. The announcement and implementation of the United States’ ‘pivot to Asia’ strategy, which stokes US–China competition in the region, has amplified these difficulties.

China’s rise has triggered complex reactions among its neighbours. In some cases, it has exacerbated existing disputes. When China was weaker, disputes were more likely to be shelved — China often lacked the capacity to address them, and neighbouring countries considered their relations with China to be a lower priority.

As a rising power, China will naturally expand its interests and exert its influence. This could lead to competition and conflict, particularly with the United States. As a result, a growing sense of anxiety has emerged among regional states that fear that a strong China would seek regional hegemony at their expense.

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Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak with President Xi Jinping

Disputes among nations, including territorial disputes, should — for the sake of all involved — never be resolved by resort to war.

Traditional Chinese culture advocates peace and harmony, commends defusing contradictions, pursues reconciliation and believes in the tactical principle of subduing enemy troops without resorting to war. The time for China to display this ‘culture of harmony’ may be arriving.

The concept of harmony has shaped Chinese culture and politics for centuries. In September 2011, the Chinese State Council Information Office incorporated these values into China’s foreign policy by releasing a white paper entitled ‘China’s Peaceful Development’. This report outlines the core values that should define China’s strategic rise to global prominence, with an emphasis on the concept of a ‘harmonious’ culture.

The Chinese leadership has recently called for building a ‘community of shared interests and common destiny’ among China and its neighbours, based on the guiding principles of ‘amity, sincerity, mutual benefit and inclusiveness’. But realising this communal dream will depend on the will and wisdom of both China and its neighbours.

Both sides have made great efforts made to develop the China–ASEAN relationship. The China–ASEAN Free Trade Area and strategic partnership is just one example of an attempt by both parties to build a cooperative framework based on good will and real interests. But tensions in the South China Sea, especially in light of the Philippines’ unilateral action through the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, hamper progress. And the United States’ military presence pours oil on the fire.

Fortunately, China and ASEAN have reconfirmed their commitment to a peaceful solution based on negotiations, and the Philippines’ newly elected president, Rodrigo Duterte, supports this approach. Both China and ASEAN recognise that cooperation, rather than confrontation, will lead to the best outcome in handling the dispute. Such an agreement could be based on consultation and negotiation, focusing on easing regional tensions and finding the best way to allocate resources.

The process of regional cooperation helps to build up a sense of community spirit and shared interests. One of the most important changes for East Asia is that the foundation of regional cooperation is now based on a multilayered structure ranging from bilateral to regional-level mechanisms, such as the ASEAN+3 and +6 frameworks and the East Asia Summit.

China has so far played an active role in promoting this kind of regional cooperation, showing that what a rising China wants is to build and reinforce the regional community — not a China-dominated ‘Middle Kingdom order’.

Zhang Yunling is Professor of International Economics and Director of International Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

This article appeared in the most recent edition of the East Asia Forum Quarterly, ‘Managing China’.

Wisdom for the Taking


January 26, 2017

Wisdom for the Taking

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To all my Cambodian students at The University of Cambodia, I say once again. Never quit and never give up in the face of adversity. I know you have the talents and the personal will to stand up for your beautiful country.–Professor Din Merican@The Techo Sen School of Government and International Relations, The University of Cambodia, Phnom Penh.

Foreign Policy: ASEAN and The Trumpian New World Disorder


January 22, 2017

Foreign Policy: ASEAN and The Trumpian New World Disorder

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

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THE buzzword among think tanks on global strategy in the West is “World Disorder”. This follows, particularly, Donald Trump’s victory last November in the United States Presidential election – he will be inaugurated on January 20 – but also the British Brexit vote in June and anxiety over the possible triumph of populist right-wing parties, in France especially, this year.There is a common opposition in these developments to the global and local liberal order, to free trade and movement of peoples, and to the political value system that has characterised the West and, tangentially, the rest of the world.

However the reality for emerging and developing countries is likely to be different, and the stack of concerns over disturbance to the world order is not the same.

For the longest time those not in the West had been buzzing, if we remember, about a new world, particularly economic, order. There has been some little progress, notably establishment of the G-20 in 1999 whose leaders’ summit did not convene until 2008 following the Western financial crisis, but by and large the institutions of the international order set up at the end of the Second World War remained intact.

Developing countries nevertheless benefited immensely from the open system of trade of that international order – China, particularly, since its opening up in 1978 – as they were able to take advantage of their low cost of production to penetrate Western markets.

ASEAN countries have also been beneficiaries of this open trading system. Now ASEAN is on the path of greater economic integration to attract investment and to encourage trade, not just among member states, but also from and with the world. A number of them have moved or are moving up the economic ladder, aiming for greater productivity and higher value-added products and services – all predicated on the existing open global trading and economic system.

Now this system may be changed, or may not be as open. It would however be a mistake for ASEAN – and rising Asia more generally – to succumb to the doom and gloom that seem to have settled on the West. Now is the time for Asia and ASEAN to show their mettle.

Efforts at ASEAN economic integration should be redoubled to extract growth from regional economic activity. Intra-regional trade should be enhanced beyond the present 25% of total trade.

In its first year, the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) did not show any spectacular rise in intra-regional economic activity, or any great push to address barriers to trade and investment.

Thailand, for instance, reported only a 1.8% increase in exports to ASEAN in baht terms for 11 months up to November in 2016. Yet the increase to CLMV (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam) was 2.8%, with an expected 3% increase in 2017.

Related imageFocus  of Future Growth in  ASEAN–Cambodia, Laos,  Myanmar and Vietnam

This shows that where there is greater intensity of economic activity and integration – CLMV+T (Thailand) – there will be potential gains. Many barriers have come down and connectivity is improving. The CLMV+T sub-region is becoming the powerhouse of ASEAN growth, with the inclusion also of China’s Yunnan and Guangxi provinces. CLMV economic growth is actually 6-8% while the ASEAN average is closer to four.

The removal of non-tariff measures and barriers (NTBs) will help generate greater trade, investment and economic activity across ASEAN. Alas, there was no significant NTB action in 2016, despite agreement by ASEAN economic ministers that focused working groups start addressing the problem in four prioritised sectors.

The officials and private sector must step up the pace this year as ASEAN is increasingly challenged by the global post trade liberalisation environment promised by the Trump administration.

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is rightly seen as a further extension of the AEC and, with the impending demise of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), as its successor leading right up to the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP).

The question is who will lead the charge as America shies away from free trade? The obvious – and ironic – answer is: China. Indeed, Xi Jinping was up to the challenge, going by his statements at the APEC summit in Peru last November.

Image result for China in Asia

However, China itself has many adjustments to make such as opening its markets further and liberalising foreign investment in protected sectors. So there is plenty of negotiation to come. But it cannot take as long as the ten years it took to arrive at the TPP agreement.

The point is, alternative regional growth areas have to be founded. Asia’s rise, especially economic, that has been so much talked about, used to come easy in terms of the ready framework of free trade. Now it gets harder. Asia, including ASEAN countries of course, have to take the lead to fashion for themselves the rules and details of the order upon which they will plot their further progress.

There are some among the 11 TPP Remainers who argue for its resuscitation, even if it is without the US. It is, however, going to be a complex exercise. Dropping the entry into force provisions is easy enough, but would it make economic sense without the US? Would China be invited to join? Would the provisions in the TPP form the basis of the FTAAP or should they be introduced in the RCEP which was supposed to have been concluded at the end of last year but is now going full speed ahead for completion this year? Certainly, increased complexity would push it back.

It might be better, therefore, to work on what is there in RCEP and add to it later. Who knows, America may, after Trump, want to join the regional grouping.

So Asian and ASEAN countries must now take the lead in free trade arrangements, regionally to begin with, but with others as well. This is the main challenge they face from the “world disorder” being widely discussed in the West.

Asia – and ASEAN – are less troubled by the two other components of global liberal order threatened by right-wing populism in the West. First, between individual rights and state control, they are far closer to the latter. Thus the threatened values such as equal justice and tolerance are of less concern to them as they found their legitimacy on economic satisfaction – at least for now.

Second, apart from Japan and Korea, they range from agnostic to hostile on security arrangements and alliances. As the wheels come off Barack Obama’s pivot to Asia-Pacific, they will just wait to see what takes its place. The loose screws were to be tightened by the TPP.

With the TPP as good as gone, what has been lost is meaningful US strategic commitment to the region. But it would be wrong to assume America has gone isolationist.

With the rise of China, belief in the region in manifest American destiny – if ever it existed to any degree – has receded. Some ASEAN countries may have wanted greater US commitment in the region as a balancer – but at no time as Roman Consul.

Think tanks in the West, with their affinity to American leadership and commitment, are greatly concerned with the uncertainty that will be caused by Trump’s transactional approach to security. In Asia, even Japan and Korea have come to learn that their security can be exposed to transactional risk. There is no certainty about their security. It is constantly being tested. They see variable results, in the Middle East, with Russia in the Ukraine and Crimea. With this realism they see less movement towards “world disorder”.

Of course, Trump will be more nakedly transactional. In Asia and ASEAN the gravest danger, as they see it, is to their trade. They see that Trump feels the cost of the series of transactions has been too high for America.

But it should not be concluded Trump will abandon American leadership. In fact he is making it more muscular, in his way, whether short-sighted or not. For ASEAN – and Asia generally – the main concern is its ramifications in trade and economy. Less so grand and emphatic recoiling from the threat of “world disorder.”

Tan Sri Munir Majid, Chairman of Bank Muamalat and Visiting Senior Fellow at LSE Ideas (Centre for International Affairs, Diplomacy and Strategy), is also chairman of CIMB ASEAN Research Institute.