Xi Jinping and the Perils of One-Person Rule in China

March 3, 2018

Xi Jinping and the Perils of One-Person Rule in China

Last year, during several trips in which I travelled across China by train, two things in particular caught my attention. First, the red hammer and sickle—the universal symbol of the Communist Party—seemed to be proliferating on posters in cities, towns, and villages with the kind of vigor that I hadn’t seen since my childhood, growing up in an army hospital in Chongqing. Second, the only image I saw more frequently—in elementary-school classrooms, in airports and shopping malls, on billboards on highways and in rice paddies—was the face of President Xi Jinping. Each image was identical: the country’s supreme leader, with raven-black hair and a face fastidiously airbrushed to erase any hint of human blemish, smiling calmly, against a sky-blue background: an unimpeachable deity in an officially atheist state.

The announcement, made last Sunday, that the Party is proposing to abolish term limits for the Presidency further confirms the notion that Xi aims to be something other than just another leader in a parade of apparatchiks. In October, when he presided over the nineteenth Communist Party Congress, where his doctrines were enshrined in the constitution, I wrote that Xi’s status licensed him to “play an almost imperial role in shaping the fate of the nation.” Shortly after the term-limits announcement, a widely shared image of China’s last Emperor, Pu Yi, with the caption “Emperor calls: ‘Is my Qing Dynasty returning?,’ ” was banned on WeChat, China’s most popular messaging app.

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The People’s Daily, however, noted of the move to abolish term limits that the “Party’s proposition is in accordance with the people’s will.” It is true that, while China’s liberal intelligentsia laments Xi’s increasingly repressive policies—which have curbed human rights and undermined the rule of law in the most severe crackdown on civil society in decades—the majority of Chinese people, who do not live in the élite coastal cities or have access to news beyond the Great Firewall, take comfort and pride in Xi’s projection of strength. Still, if Xi wants to extend his rule indefinitely, there are a few historic truths that he will need to confront.

The Communist People’s Republic of China was founded in a theatrical break with history. In 1949, Mao Zedong stood atop the Gate of Heavenly Peace and declared that the “Chinese people have finally stood up,” a slogan that became the origin story of the modern nation. Equating the people’s independence with the Communist takeover was imprinted in the minds of every man, woman, and child. To my mother’s and my grandmother’s generations, the Party is what saved the nation from existential peril. China’s current leaders, including Xi, remain the beneficiaries of that origin story.

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Sun Yat-sen, the first President of the Republic of China, had laid the groundwork for it a couple of decades earlier, in his manifesto “The Three Principles of the People.” He wrote, “If we do not earnestly promote nationalism and weld together our four hundred million into a strong nation, we face a tragedy—the loss of our country and the destruction of our race.” Xi echoed that conviction at last year’s Communist Party Congress, promising to “strive with endless energy” to restore China to its rightful superpower status by 2049, and invoking Sun’s principle of “national rejuvenation.” But Sun also highlighted the greatest challenge to that plan. “Despite four hundred million people gathered in one China, we are, in fact, but a sheet of loose sand,” he wrote. This is a point that Xi may do well to heed. He is stridently confident and has broad support among the population now, but, by attempting to concentrate political power in his own hands, in a nation of not four hundred million but 1.4 billion people, Xi is assigning himself the sole responsibility of protecting an origin story that has largely been a myth.

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In the more than a century since Sun’s rule, China’s loose sand seems hardly to have settled into concrete. The market reforms that Deng Xiaoping introduced, in the late nineteen-seventies, ushered in a period of prosperity (there are now nearly six hundred billionaires in China), and Xi, with his immensely ambitious Belt and Road Initiative, clearly intends to go far beyond Deng’s goals and make China the economic engine of the world. But, despite the improvement in the average standard of living, China has gone from being a collectivist state that aspired to be egalitarian to being one of the most baldly unequal societies in the world. According to a report from Peking University, the poorest twenty-five per cent of households own just one per cent of the country’s total wealth, and the income gap is increasing. And the wealth is accumulating among the coastal élites, while the economy in the remote rural regions, many of which are inhabited by minority populations, remains stagnant. China’s Han majority has always been culturally dominant, but the nation is home to fifty-five officially recognized ethnic minorities, and the culturally distinct and significantly poorer western borderlands of Tibet and Xinjiang are the scene of increasingly violent unrest.

One-person rule is also prone to the kind of excesses and paranoia that may not only alienate the citizenry but undermine the institutions that previously insured the country’s stability. The crackdown has affected not only pro-democracy activists but also Xi’s high-ranking opponents in the Party. The military, which Xi heads, has taken an aggressive stance in territorial disputes in both the East China Sea and the South China Sea. Internet censorship is increasingly absurd—this week saw the banning of not only Winnie-the-Pooh (because he has been compared to Xi) but, reportedly, the English letter “N” (because it may denote the number of terms Xi may want to remain in office), along with the words “shameless” and “disagreement.” The portraits of Xi that I saw all across China serve as a reminder that a government’s need for propaganda tends to be inversely proportional to the strength of its political mandate.

China’s slated return to a one-person autocracy is sobering but hardly exceptional, given the rise of populist strongmen around the world. Xi’s particular asset—and what may sustain his support—is the deferred dream of true solidarity that Mao promised the nation nearly seventy years ago and that generations have held onto. But then, as now, authoritarian command of the nation requires not that the Chinese people “stand up” but that they bow to authority.

Why There Is No “Beijing Consensus”

March 1, 2018

Why There Is No “Beijing Consensus”

 by Andrew Sheng and Xiao Geng


China observers can’t seem to agree on the underlying logic of the country’s development model. But, with faith in the West’s long-dominant Washington Consensus breaking down, both sides may be in a similar position – a reality that could facilitate cooperation to deliver global public goods.


HONG KONG – Four decades would seem to be plenty of time to identify the underlying logic of China’s development model. Yet, 40 years after Deng Xiaoping initiated the country’s “reform and opening up,” a “Beijing Consensus” – that is, a Chinese rival to the Western neoliberal Washington Consensus – has yet to be articulated.

Over the years, China has worked to transform its closed, planned economy into a more open, market-based system. Industry and, increasingly, services have replaced agriculture as the main drivers of growth, and the country has gone from technological copycat to global innovator. Meanwhile, China has tackled several difficult challenges, from excessive debt and overcapacity to severe pollution and official corruption.

This has been a highly complex process. According to China Academy of Social Sciences economist Cai Fang, it can be understood only in the context of the country’s unique history, demography, and geography, not to mention broader technological and global trends. All of these factors have, after all, helped to shape China’s governance and institutions.

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Yet the veteran China watcher Bill Overholt – one of the first to predict China’s rise – argues in his latest book, China’s Crisis of Success, that the country’s reforms were driven by “fear and simplicity.” The same factors, he asserts, drove East Asia’s post-1945 development.

Other observers – including the World Bank, the OECD, and think tanks like Harvard’s Fairbank Center for China studies – can’t seem to agree on who is right. They are not accustomed to assessing an economy whose primary influences – including historical legacies, values and ideologies, and institutional and governance traditions – differ so profoundly from those of the West.

Consider governance. Western economic dogma holds that the state should intervene in markets as little as possible. Yet, for China’s leaders, it is not clear whether the state can even be separated, conceptually or operationally, from the market.

For thousands of years, state control was China’s default governance strategy, with a strong central government overseeing stability and preventing regional and factional rivalries from causing chaos. So when China wanted to increase its leaders’ accountability, for example, it focused not on creating a market-based, much less democratic, system, but rather on introducing regulations to curb abuses of power and facilitate the flow of products, capital, people, and information.

Within the constraints of this paternalistic approach, the experimentation and adaptation that have been so crucial to China’s growth had to be carried out by local governments, which have enjoyed considerable, albeit uncertain, authority to do so. The idea was that, by using local-government (and market) expertise, China could generate growth without disturbing social cohesion or compromising national integrity.

Yet Chinese governance has not exactly been beyond reproach. When it comes to the quality of market competition, questions about the state sector’s dominance, as well as the effectiveness of regulations and adherence to international laws, standards, and practices, have persisted. And while China’s government has proved adept at providing “hard” infrastructure, such as highways, railroads, and airports, it has far to go in developing soft infrastructure, such as that related to education, health care, energy, the environment, and finance.

So China continues to grapple with the question of how to balance the state and the market, in order to ensure accountability, market competition, and adequate provision of public goods for one-fifth of the world’s population. Compounding the challenge are rapid technological change, globalization (and the backlash against it), and geopolitical considerations.

But it is not as if the West has proved definitively that its free-market approach works. The state’s role – measured according to the public sector’s share of GDP, for example, and the depth and complexity of laws governing private activities – has been expanding in almost every economy since the beginning of the twentieth century.

The United States, in particular, provides a useful benchmark. Like China, it is a continental economy. But it also represents the global gold standard in many fields, including technology, defense, and research and development.

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Contrary to China’s statist legacy, America’s historical experience has instilled in citizens and leaders a devotion to liberty, including free markets, and local autonomy. The US federal government’s size and power grew only very slowly until the 1930s, when the New Deal – which included federal programs, public works projects, and financial reforms and regulations – was implemented in response to the Great Depression.

The US federal government expanded again during and after WWII, reflecting the country’s new global hegemony and the prosperity of its middle class (created in no small part by the New Deal’s support for unionization and home ownership). The government assumed a larger role in areas ranging from defense and foreign policy to health care and social security.

But even as the federal government increased regulation in some areas, the US remained highly reliant on the market, resulting in rising inequality, the deterioration of public infrastructure, and an unsustainable fiscal deficit and debt. The global recession triggered by the 2008 financial crisis intensified growing doubts about the Washington Consensus.

So some of America’s most fundamental challenges – such as reducing inequality, supporting stable fiscal and financial conditions, and ensuring environmental sustainability – are the same as China’s, and neither country has a clear and proven “consensus” to guide it. Against this background, cooperation to deliver global public goods – including peace – should be possible.

The key is for the two sides to work toward common goals, while agreeing to disagree on certain ideological tenets. Here, the US needs to recognize that global cooperation is not a zero-sum game, and that China’s rise need not be viewed as a threat. On the contrary, China – along with other emerging economies, such as India – can contribute to a global rebalancing that actually strengthens economic and geopolitical stability.

Andrew Sheng, Distinguished Fellow of the Asia Global Institute at the University of Hong Kong and a member of the UNEP Advisory Council on Sustainable Finance, is a former chairman of the Hong Kong Securities and Futures Commission, and is currently an Adjunct Professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing. His latest book is From Asian to Global Financial Crisis.

Xiao Geng

Xiao Geng

Europe needs to step up vigilance on China’s influence

February 21, 2018

Europe needs to step up vigilance on China’s influence


Beijing’s authoritarian brand presents a direct challenge to liberal traditions
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 President Xi Jinping and France’s President Emmanuel Macron

Mike Pompeo, the director of the US Central Intelligence Agency, said last month that Beijing’s efforts to exert influence in liberal democracies are just as concerning as those of Moscow, citing China’s “much bigger footprint”. Indeed, China’s rapidly increasing political influencing efforts and the self-confident promotion of its authoritarian ideals present a fundamental challenge to western democracies.

Drawing on its economic strength and a Communist Party of China apparatus that is geared towards strategically building stocks of influence across the globe, Beijing’s efforts are bound to be much more consequential in the medium to long term than those of the Kremlin. Nowhere is the gap between the scale of China’s efforts and public awareness of the problem larger than in Europe. EU member states urgently need to devise a strategy to counter China’s authoritarian advance.

As we detail in a new report, Beijing pursues three related goals. First, it seeks to weaken western unity within Europe and across the Atlantic. One aim of this is to prevent Europe from challenging China’s human rights record and its hegemonic ambitions in the South and East China seas.

Second, it aims to build European support on specific issues such as market economy status and a free pass for Chinese investments.

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President Xi Jinping seeks strategic partnerships around the world for business. Europe should not be tempted to adopt  Trump’s hostile attitude towards China. Be smart.–Din Merican


Third, Beijing pushes hard to create a more positive global perception of China’s political and economic system as a viable alternative to liberal democracies. To further these goals, China commands a comprehensive and flexible influencing toolset in Europe, ranging from the overt to the covert and strategically deployed across three arenas: political and economic elites, media and civil society & academia.

Beijing uses investments in infrastructure and public utilities to create political leverage in Europe’s periphery. In Greece, for example, it controls the port of Piraeus, leading the government in Athens to torpedo a joint EU resolution on human rights in China in the Human Rights Council.

In the Czech Republic, it placed an adviser in the president’s office. Across Europe, it buys the services of former politicians such as Philipp Roesler, the former German vice-chancellor who was hired by HNA, the Chinese conglomerate, and David Cameron, the former UK prime minister, who has signed up to lead a joint UK-China investment fund.

Many smaller eastern and southern EU members align with China in fits of “pre-emptive obedience”. They try to curry favour with China and lure investment by supporting China’s political positions. Some illiberal governments, such as that of Viktor Orban in Hungary, do so all too happily. They see China’s authoritarian model as attractive and a convenient source of leverage against Brussels and western EU members pushing back against their illiberalism.

Mr Orban has already played the China card to put pressure his EU partners who are considering reducing structural funds in response to his authoritarianism and a post-Brexit recalibration of the EU budget. “Central Europe needs capital to build new roads and pipelines. If the EU is unable to provide enough capital, we will just collect it in China,” Mr Orban said in Berlin this year.

To sweeten the deal for China, Mr Orban is gladly working to prevent a strong EU stance on China’s territorial advances in the South China Sea.

In parallel, Beijing has invested in shaping the narrative on China. Across central and eastern Europe, China-supported Confucius Institutes, as well as China-linked think-tanks and university scholars dominate discussions, while an increasing number of journalists go through training programmes designed and funded by the Chinese Communist party.

In Brussels and other capitals, China funds think-tanks and pays lobbyists to project a favourable image. It spreads Chinese official views and creates subtle dependencies by paying for inserts in European quality newspapers.

It uses the lure of the Chinese market to encourage self-censorship in film, art, and academic publishing. Springer Nature, the German group that publishes Scientific American, has removed content in China that was deemed politically sensitive by the party. China even went as far as demanding that Germany ensure that its visiting football teams are not met by protests about Tibet during paid friendly games on German soil.

If the EU is unable to provide enough capital, we will just collect it in China Viktor Orban, Hungary’s prime minister.


In part, China uses covert methods, such targeting German lawmakers and government employees via fake social media profiles. But most influencing comes through the front door. Beijing takes advantage of the EU’s one-sided openness. Europe’s gates are wide open whereas China seeks to tightly restrict access of foreign ideas, actors and capital.

Beijing profits from willing enablers among European political and professional classes who are happy to promote Chinese values and interests. They do so mostly for financial or other advantages but at times also out of genuine political conviction or convenience. Rather than only China trying to actively build up political capital, there is also much influence courting on the part of those political elites in EU member states.

China has already made significant progress toward a more fragmented and pliant Europe that better serves its authoritarian interests. If Europe intends to stop the momentum of Chinese influencing efforts, it needs to act swiftly and decisively. In responding to China’s advance, European governments need to make sure that the liberal DNA of their countries’ political and economic systems stays intact.

Some restrictions will be necessary, but Europe should not copy China’s illiberalism. While staying as open as possible, Europe needs to address critical vulnerabilities to Chinese authoritarian influencing through a multi-pronged strategy that integrates different branches of government, businesses, media, civil society, culture/arts as well as academia.

To better leverage the collective weight of EU member states, larger member states, such as Germany and France, need to take serious steps towards putting their privileged bilateral relations with China in the service of common European interests. Complaining about the 16+1 format China uses to interact with smaller EU members in central and eastern Europe while engaging in 1+1 formats with Beijing undermines a common EU response to challenges from China.

In addition, European governments need to invest in high-calibre, independent China expertise. Raising awareness about and responding to China’s political influencing efforts in Europe can succeed only if there is sufficient impartial expertise on China in think-tanks, universities, NGOs and media across Europe.

Furthermore, the EU needs to continue providing alternatives to the promises of Chinese investments in European countries. It also needs to enable EU members and third countries in the neighbourhood to properly evaluate, monitor and prepare large-scale infrastructure projects, including those financed by China.

The EU and its members must be able to stop state-driven takeovers of companies that are of significant public interest. In addition to high-tech sectors as well as key parts of public infrastructure, this notably includes the media, as an institution of critical importance to liberal democracies.

Foreign funding of political parties from outside Europe, not least from China, should be banned across the EU. European intelligence services urgently need to enhance co-operation on Chinese activities to arrive at a common understanding of the threat and to deliver joint responses.

EU members should put additional awareness-building measures in place sensitise potential targets of Chinese intelligence activities. In particular, decision makers and scholars should be briefed more systematically about common patterns of contact-building and approaches by Chinese intelligence agencies or related actors.

For the wider public to get a full picture of authoritarian influencing, liberal democracies need to leverage one of the key assets of open societies: the power of critical public debate. Implementing transparency requirements concerning collaboration with Chinese actors for media agencies, universities and think-tanks, among others, would help raise awareness of the various influencing mechanisms Chinese state actors employ.

“Vigilance is wise; confidence a useful adjunct,” the Economist counselled recently in a piece on China’s influence in Europe. With the necessary defensive mechanisms in place, confidence should come more easily.

Thorsten Benner is director of the Global Public Policy Institute in Berlin. Kristin Shi-Kupfer is director of the research area on public policy and society at the Mercator Institute for China Studies in Berlin. They are co-authors of “Authoritarian Advance: Responding to China’s increasing political influence in Europe”. Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2018. All rights reserved

The South China Sea and ASEAN Unity: A Cambodian Perspective

February 3, 2018

The South China Sea and ASEAN Unity: A Cambodian Perspective

by Cheunboran Chanborey

Mr. Cheunboran Chanborey is currently a PhD student at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University. His main areas of his interest include Cambodia’s foreign policy, East Asian security and international relations.

Prior to pursuing a PhD degree, he worked at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Cambodia and taught at the Department of International Studies, Royal University of Phnom Penh. Mr. Chanborey holds an MA in Public Management from the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore, in conjunction of the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. He also holds an MA in Diplomacy and International Studies from the Institute of Diplomacy and International Studies, Rangsit University (Thailand), as well as a BA in International Relations from the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam.


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Since 2010, the South China Sea has reemerged as one of Asia’s hotspots due to increasing military tensions between China and other claimant states, especially the Philippines and Vietnam. Diplomatic stalemate between ASEAN and China as well as within ASEAN further exacerbates the uncertainty. The South China Sea has become what The Economist called a “sea of troubles.”1

Clearly, China is being assertive in the disputed areas. Its massive land reclamation, the establishment of new military landing strips, and the deployment of anti-craft missiles are strong evidence for such a judgment. Moreover, despite the absence of major military clashes, China has been assertive in using Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) ships, civilian fishing ships as well as mobile oil explorations to assert and defend its maritime territorial claims.

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China’s growing assertiveness resulted in numerous confrontations with ASEAN claimant states. For instance, confrontation between China and the Philippines over the Scarborough Shoal escalated in 2012. In May 2014, China moved a large oil ring into waters near the Paracels, which Vietnam also claims. This resulted in confrontation between Chinese and Vietnamese civilian and military ships. In March 2016, Jakarta-Beijing bilateral relations soured due to alleged encroachments by Chinese fishing boats into Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Decoding China’s Assertiveness in the South China Sea

There are many attempts to explain China’s military and diplomatic posture in the South China Sea. Donald Emmerson argues that China’s increasing assertiveness derives from Beijing’s three fears and one megaproject. 2 The three fears include: (1) the repetition of humiliation that China experienced throughout the 19th century by Western powers—Britain, France, and the United States—that arrived in China in ships across the South China Sea, (2) attempts by external powers, the United States in particular, to contain the rise of China to assume its rightful place in the world, and (3) the disaffection of the Chinese over Beijing’s handling of the country’s territorial integrity.

Meanwhile, since becoming China’s new leader in November 2012, President Xi Jinping declared the China Dream as a way to achieve a “rich and powerful country, the revitalization of the nation, and the people’s happiness.”3 The goal is to exert China’s primacy in Asia and the world. To this end, offshore dominance, especially in the South China Sea, may be viewed by Beijing as a requisite step forward toward the goal.

The US Involvement in the South China Sea: Constructive or Divisive?

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Another development that must also be considered while discussing about a more assertive China in the region is the American “pivot to Asia,” which has been seen, at least in the eyes of Chinese strategists, as an attempt by Washington to encircle China.

Controversially, at the ASEAN Regional Forum meeting in Hanoi in 2010, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared publicly that the United States has a national interest in the freedom of navigation and flights in the South China Sea. Since then, military tension has been unabated, and the Philippines and Vietnam have been more assertive both in their bilateral negotiation with China and in using ASEAN as a framework to deal with China. Arguably, Manila and Hanoi might share the same conviction that time is actually on the Chinese side and that it is the right time to push for more compromise from Beijing given the fact that China is not yet a full-fledged superpower and, more importantly, the United States is actively reengaging in Asia. As a result, the South China Sea has always been a hot agenda item in ASEAN meetings and ASEAN-related meetings since 2010.

Although the United States does not exert any claim, it has interests in the South China Sea, which include, but not limited to: (1) freedom of navigation; (2) commitments to its allies in the region, and (3) attempt to prevent regional hegemony.4 To protect its interests in the region, the United States has strengthened its security cooperation with the Philippines, Vietnam, and Singapore. It has also increased joint military exercises with the regional countries and operated maritime patrol aircraft to challenge China’s assertiveness in the disputed area. The US engagement in the South China Sea, in turn, gives ASEAN claimant states leverage in pursuing a firmer stance toward China, which is not supported by ASEAN non-claimant states due to their desire to maintain close ASEAN-China relations. As a result, ASEAN’s division on the issue has been evident.

Hun Sen’s Rebuke Against “Unjust Accusations”

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Inevitably, disagreement within ASEAN on the South China Sea caused a political crisis during the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Phnom Penh in July 2012 as the foreign ministers failed to issue a joint communiqué for the first time in ASEAN’s history. The failure—known in ASEAN circles as the Phnom Penh Fiasco—has allegedly been interpreted as the result of enormous Chinese pressure on Cambodia: Beijing allegedly blocked any mention of the South China Sea in the joint communiqué.5

More recently, the ASEAN-China Special Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in June 2016 in Yuxi, China was concluded without a joint press conference by the co-chairs of the meeting—China and Singapore, ASEAN-China Coordinator—due to a lack of agreement on the South China Sea. Following the meeting, it has been reported that, under Beijing’s pressure, Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar forced the recall of the ASEAN joint press statement by withdrawing their support on the statement, which was to be released separately from the host, China.

Earlier in April 2016, China has reached a four-point consensus with Brunei, Cambodia and Laos that territorial disputes in the South China Sea were “not an issue between China and ASEAN as whole.” Subsequently, Beijing has been accused of dividing ASEAN to preempt any ASEAN consensus on the verdict by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) on the Philippines’s South China Sea case against China just issued on July 12, 2016.

In defending his country’s position, Prime Minister Hun Sen recently remarked that “Cambodia has again and again become a victim of the South China Sea issue because of unjust accusations.”6 He added that the Phnom Penh Fiasco took place not because of Cambodia. The reason was, as he said, “They bullied Cambodia,” referring to pressure from two ASEAN claimant states—the Philippines and Vietnam—to incorporate their strong wordings in the joint communiqué. He also blamed some ASEAN claimant states for “trying to drag Cambodia into the dispute,” saying that “They have a dispute, but they get Cambodia to be responsible.”

Cambodia’s position on the South China Sea is aimed at: (1) continuing implementing the declaration of conduct (DOC); (2) urging ASEAN and China to make the utmost effort to finalize the code of conduct (COC); and (3) encouraging countries concerned to discuss and resolve their issue because ASEAN is not a court. Prime Minister Hun Sen stated that, “ASEAN cannot measure land for them…the South China Sea is not an issue between ASEAN and China.”

With regard to the PCA’s verdict, Prime Minister Hun Sen has revealed a clear position that Cambodia would “not make any joint declaration to support the decision of the court.” The Philippines has gone too far in unilaterally bringing the South China Sea to the court without seriously anticipating the action’s implications on ASEAN and ASEAN-China relations. Hun Sen made it clear that, “It is the Philippines who sues China. Let the Philippines deal with it. Why call for ASEAN’s support?”

Prime Minister Hun Sen also called upon major powers outside the region to refrain from “pouring the oil into flame and try to keep detente in relations on the South China Sea.” He referred to “one of the major powers outside the region”—widely taken to be the United States—has lobbied ASEAN members to jointly support the PCA’s ruling.

Cambodia Between ASEAN and China

Clearly, the South China Sea constitutes today’s most difficult foreign policy dilemma for Cambodia since ASEAN and China are both crucially important for the kingdom’s security and economic development. Since becoming an ASEAN member in 1999, Phnom Penh has attached a great importance to the integration of Cambodia into the regional grouping. In fact, ASEAN has always been the cornerstone of Cambodian foreign policy. Cambodian policymakers were convinced that ASEAN would be a crucial platform through which their country could safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity as well as promote its strategic and economic interests.

Prime Minister Hun Sen reminded again four main factors encouraging Cambodia to join ASEAN. First, ASEAN’s principle of non-interference would help Cambodia, which is sandwiched by its “two giant ASEAN countries—Thailand and Vietnam,” to address its external security challenges. Secondly, a consensus-based ASEAN would ensure that “Whether the country is rich or poor, big or small, every member has one voice equally.” Thirdly, Cambodia would stand to benefit from ASEAN in terms of “economic construction, socio-economic development and connectivity.” Finally, Cambodia would benefit from ASEAN’s “big diplomatic outreach to partners.”

Prime Minister Hun Sen’s recall of reasons for Cambodia’s membership in ASEAN can be understood as an expression of doubt in contrast to his past conviction on the role of the regional organization. First, it seems that Hun Sen’s confidence in ASEAN has gradually faded due to the grouping’s ineffective response to the Cambodia-Thailand border conflict between 2008 and 2011. In response to Cambodia’s urge for help, what ASEAN and its member states did was the encouragement for Phnom Penh and Bangkok to bilaterally resolve the dispute. In fact, the border dispute was never tabled as an agenda of the ASEAN Summits until Prime Minister Hun Sen broke protocol, possibly out of his frustration, and raised the issue at the ASEAN Summit in May 2011.

Second, his statement related to the fact that Cambodia has been bullied by some powerful ASEAN members implies his unease at ASEAN’s inability to enforce the principle of non-interference and equal sovereign rights among its member states.

Last but more importantly, China, not ASEAN, has become Cambodia’s largest foreign investor and biggest economic benefactor. China is also the biggest provider of military assistance to Cambodia. Noticeably, China’s military assistance increased remarkably at the time when Cambodia badly needed to build up its defence forces during the Cambodia-Thailand border dispute. Moreover, as for policymakers in Phnom Penh, China is not a threat but a protector of Cambodia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, ensured on many occasions by Chinese top leaders.

In this context, it is important for regional leaders and policymakers to reflect the reality of Southeast Asia and how to move forward. Firstly, it is not unreasonable to agree with a Cambodian scholar, Chheang Vannarith, who argues that, “If the regional and external countries keep pressuring the non-claimant states like Cambodia to build a united front against China, ASEAN will be disintegrated”.7

Secondly, ASEAN-China relationship is not only about the South China Sea. There are many areas of cooperation that both sides stand to benefit from, including trade, investment, tourism, regional connectivity, and joint efforts in fighting against non-traditional security issues.

Thirdly, it is unpractical to consider ASEAN a dispute-settlement mechanism. It has never fulfilled that role even in disputes between its member states. Like Cambodia and Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines tried to initially resolve territorial disputes through bilateral mechanisms but eventually brought the issue to the International Court of Justice. At its best, what ASEAN can do is to be a dispute-avoidance mechanism.

Lastly, there is a dangerous risk of internationalizing the South China Sea, particularly by dragging in external powers. By so doing, ASEAN will lose its neutrality in its relations with major powers outside the region. Moreover, ASEAN’s members might be drawn into great-power competition, which will eventually put ASEAN’s unity at risk, for ASEAN members have different interests in the South China Sea and see the role of external powers through different lenses.

End notes:

1. See The Economist, “The South China Sea: Sea of Troubles”, 2 May 2015. Available at: http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21650122-disputed-sea-growing-security-nightmareand-increasingly-ecological-one-sea-troubles.

2. See Donald Emmerson, “Why Does China Want to Control the South China Sea”, The Diplomat, 24 May 2016. Available at: http://thediplomat.com/2016/05/why-does-china-want-to-control-the-south-china-sea/

3. See William A. Challahan, “The China Dream and the American Dream”, Economic and Political Studies 1(2014):143-160.

4.See Ronald O’Rourke, “Maritime Territorial and Excusive Economic Zone (EEZ) Disputes Involving China: Issues for Congress”, CRS Report, 31 May 2016. Available at: https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/row/R42784.pdf

5. Kishore Mahbubani, “Beijing in the South China Sea – belligerent or assertive?” Financial Times, 15 March 2016. Available at: https://next.ft.com/content/58c676ed-f3f4-32ac-b3c9-69efd0ae07fd

6. See Hun Sen’s Remarks at the Graduation Ceremony of the Royal School of Administration, in Phnom Penh, on 20 June 2016. Available at: http://cnv.org.kh/selected-impromptu-comments-graduation-ceremony-royal-school-administration-unofficial-translation/

7. Khmer Times, “Hun Sen: Enough on South China Sea”, 29 June 2016. Available at: http://www.khmertimeskh.com/news/26635/hun-sen–enough-on-south–china-sea/


The Uncertainty of Multipolarity

January 26, 2018

The Uncertainty of Multipolarity

by Bunn Nagara@www.thestar.com.my

ONE phrase captures the complex and often baffling world of international relations today: a shift towards multipolarity.

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This growing reality is experienced more than it is understood or even commonly perceived. The familiar notion of much in global geopolitics revolving around the US as major pole has stuck.

This is partly because old habits die hard. People everywhere have grown accustomed to the US as leading superpower, and following the collapse of the Soviet Union, as sole superpower.

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The US global position remains unassailable: despite the hype, China is not yet able to compete for the global superpower stakes and is not doing so. A rising China is now focused only on regional big power status.

A real sense of competition may take hold if the US perceives China as a clear rival and acts accordingly. This would force a largely reactive China to define its own geopolitical space and thus be seen as defending or competing for it.

While much in the US or Western narrative still relates to fundamental changes in today’s world, too much is attributed to it. Many changes now lie outside its scope or tend to move away from it that in itself being a sign of growing multipolarity.

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A sign and a result of China’s rise is the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). Factors that prompted the AIIB included China’s marginalisation by major Western-led financial institutions the World Bank, the IMF and the Asian Development Bank, despite China’s growing economic strength.

An obvious funding project for the AIIB is China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), although Beijing played down the connection initially. The bipartisan response from a Washington that saw China as a competitor was to snub or spurn them, even quietly pressing allies to do likewise.

However, before many countries could decide on their own response, closest US ally Britain announced its support for both. That triggered more Western countries to do the same.

Britain’s move is not surprising in historical context, despite the question marks it placed on the US-UK special relationship. For centuries Britain regarded itself as first among equals in the West, if not better, in forging profitable global relationships.

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The British Empire had bested all other European equivalents, holding sway long before any unique relationship with the Americans. But while London’s relationship with Asia then was one between colonial master and subordinate, today it is between partners.

Such adjustments can be tricky or elusive. For decades Australia, as another US ally, struggled and still struggles, with geopolitical changes that shift its centre of gravity from the West towards Asia.

Granted much of this shift is only economic, but economics defines much in the modern world. Since geography still matters, being located nearer to Asia than Europe or North America now limits Australia’s options.

To be at the “arse-end of the world”, as two of its Prime Ministers have put it, means Australia all the more needs to reconcile with its regional realities. But while its 2003 Foreign Affairs White Paper acknowledged China’s rise and the 2012 White Paper on Australia in the Asian Century embraced these trends, last November’s update longed for an Australia more closely tied to the West.

Other regions such as North-East Asia have been more realistic and forward-looking. Events there have also testified to change in the direction of multipolarity.

The Obama years had alienated both China and Russia, making them natural allies over a range of issues. This coincided with the re-emergence of both countries that are also among the five supposedly promising economies of BRICS, together with Brazil, India and South Africa.

The West’s snub of Russia leaned in favour of China and Russia’s subordination to Beijing, given China’s larger economy and vast schemes like BRI. Soon China’s prospect was seen to overshadow Russia’s role in Central Asia and Eurasia such as the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU).

Meanwhile frosty Japan-Russia ties were a given, particularly with Japan’s status as a US ally and its dispute with Russia over the South Kurile Islands (Northern Territories). But Tokyo and Moscow are set for a change.

Among the prizes at stake are Russia’s oil and gas deposits in its Far East region sought by both Japan and China. This competition works in favour of Russia as energy supplier.

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With close China-Russia ties resulting unwittingly from US policies, Moscow now needed to reboot its relations with Tokyo. As projects like the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline have shown, even costs are secondary to geopolitics as a consideration.

To Japan, it could only gain if Russia became a partner or if Russia-China ties loosened, preferably both. Japan is particularly spooked by a sense of growing military cooperation between China and Russia, and their common interests in North Korea.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Russia twice in 2016 to discuss energy and technology with President Vladimir Putin, who returned a visit in December. For years now Abe is seen to be the weaker of the two, so he hedged his bets by acknowledging the prospect of more cooperation with China.

Nonetheless Japan has the technology Russia seeks, and Russia has energy supplies Japan wants. Russia is also courting Japanese investment for its underdeveloped Far East.

Abe gave his Trade Ministry the added responsibility of developing economic ties with Russia, challenging Western-led sanctions against Moscow. For Japan the stakes would seem to be higher.

Visits and meetings between Japanese and Russian leaders continued throughout last year, with Japan as virtual supplicant. Russia did not budge in giving in to Japanese hopes of retrieving four disputed Kurile islands.

Instead, Russia proposed constructing a bridge between Sakhalin and Hokkaido, both as a symbol of peace and as practical infrastructure between both countries. Without the kind of progress in relations Japan has been yearning for, Abe plans to visit Russia twice this year and to invite Putin to Japan next year.

The two leaders will also meet on the sidelines of other summits elsewhere during this time, regardless of their bilateral limitations. Thus the much-presumed pact between Russia and China is not set in stone.

Neither is any prospect of a substantive Russia-Japan partnership. If indeed Russia is wary of a rising China, it is also wary of Japan’s firm alliance with the US.

Although President Donald Trump is supposed to be Russia-friendly, he is under continuing pressure from the same US Establishment keen on preserving the alliance with Japan and wary of both China and Russia.

Meanwhile Britain continues to build a cosy relationship with China unfazed, as Finance Minister Philip Hammond talked up mutual relations in Beijing last month.

Post-Brexit, successive Conservative and Labour governments are consistent in looking East despite the reservations of pundits at home.

And just in case China may seem to have things too easy, even its prized BRI project has already encountered problems with none other than staunch ally Pakistan.

Work on the Diamer-Bhasha hydroelectric dam is suspended over sovereignty issues while talks on railway and airport projects have stalled. Bumps in the road and knots in the belt have also surfaced in Nepal, Myanmar and Thailand.

All told, the other thing about multipolarity is its uncertainty.

Bunn Nagara is a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia.
Read more at https://www.thestar.com.my/opinion/columnists/behind-the-headlines/2018/01/14/multipolarity-sets-in-the-world-looks-more-confusing-today-because-of-growing-democracy-among-nation/#ICGdqPylXqvyHEvW.99

Get the Big Picture – Making of a failed state and the LG Elections: Lessons for Najib’s Malaysia?

January 25, 2018

Get the Big Picture – Making of a failed state and the LG Elections: Lessons for Najib’s Malaysia?

by Sarath Bulathsinghala


 Sri Lanka was drifting towards China. This was obvious in the aftermath of Sri Lanka successfully concluding a terrorist war that was aided and abetted by the Christian West and India. What would the Christian West and India do?

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China is slowly and steadily progressing to become the dominant trading power of the world. Their modus operandi are different from those of others or of days gone by. Their policy towards the Third World is not Gunboat Diplomacy or its modern variants but one of accommodation and mutual benefit with little or no conditions attached. It was more co-existence than sheer dominance and all that entails. In this enterprise China is promoting new trade routes, called the new Silk Road. This is happening through land routes as well as through sea lanes.

Even before the end of the Tamil Racist War called Eelam War, the Rajapakse Adminstration embarked on major infrastructure improvement projects. These involved building of major road networks followed by the development of sea ports and airports. Would foreign countries come to build infrastructure projects in other countries out of generosity? It is the duty of individual countries to invest on such projects. Then only it becomes feasible for investors – foreign and local to pitch-in and engage in commerce, trade and industry.

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Hambantota Sea Port is leased to China for non-military purposes by Sri Lanka

One of the main items in the Chain of Pearls Project of China is the Hambantota Sea Port and the Mattala Airport. Although most of these projects were in the drawing boards for decades, funds were in short supply as well as the political will and courage to embark on such large ventures. Finally, funds came flowing from China and these projects became a reality. Sri Lanka was ready to ‘take off’ reaching Middle Income Earning Country status.

It is obvious that these achievements were and are being viewed with jaundiced eyes by India as well as by US and their US led allies in the Christian West. Situation in Sri Lanka didn’t fit in with their vision of the Third World in the new Millennium where the new normal is CHAOS – a la Tunesia, Libya, Egypt, Syria, Iraq Afghanistan and a myriad other big and small!

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This airport contract may be given to India as part of Sri Lanka’s Balancing Strategy between China and India.

India has Great Power ambitions in South Asia and in the Indian Ocean Region and then in the world. One of their unrealized dreams was to have Sri Lanka as one of their provinces.  Failing their ambition is to have a weak government in Sri Lanka which can be easily cajoled to fall in line. One of India’s ambitions is to have the deep water harbor of Trincomalee as their southern most naval post. It is in this connection that they were contemplating projects such as Sethu Samudra Sea Lanes, Power Project in Sampur and the Road from Mannar to Trinco as well as bridge or tunnel to connect Sri Lanka to mainland India. It is with this picture in the background that one must visualize the Indian manipulations in Sri Lanka at present. Eelam Project which is still alive and the sizeable Indian Community in the hill country constitute political as well as manipulative assets that can be commandeered to do their bidding.

As for the Eelam Project which was earlier financed and executed partly from India, there is not much appetite in India to give power to the Tamils per se. They know very well if Eelam comes into being that it will be US and her allies who will have sway and influence over them. This can one day lead to the balkanization of India through a series of ‘color revolutions across India. Unlike China which is a more a monolith than other and power well consolidated through the Communist Party of China, India is for all purposes and intents still remain a political construct of the British Empire – largely made up of extremely diverse and at times adverse groups of nationalities.  Their geography being what is bestowed to them by the British is not an easy task to manage the centripetal forces that tend to explode India from within. Only way India can bring about a reverse force that can keep India intact is to conjure up external threats from her neighbors.  Pakistan, Bangladesh and China and Nepal and Sri Lanka provide this excuse to India. It is only the external threats that bring up Indian-ness in Indians. At all other times Tamilians,  Maratis, Bengalis, North Indians and Punjabis on the one hand and Hindus and Muslims not to mention the tiny but influential Christian minority are constantly trying to undermine each other in a social fabric that is still enmeshed in caste based discrimination and dominance.  This is why Tamil Nadu adding up Eelam to make up greater Tamil Nadu is a big No No for India. India’s only ambition at present is to have Sri Lanka as a weak vassal state kept forever destabilized doing their bidding when required, same as Nepal and Bhutan!

 Western Christian Powers led by the US too invested on the Eelam project with an eye on Trincomalee as their next Sea Base after Diego Garcia. They are more interested in sea lanes and maintenance of global dominance. Though the powers of the Western Christian nations are in the wane they are not yet ready to give in without a fight. Therefore, their power and influence though residual and intimidatory, cannot be wished away. They still exercise power over and above their ability as movers and shakers of the world! Soon they will realize that theirs is not the only game in town!

It is with this picture in the background India, US and her allies invested on a project to depose the powerful Rajapakse Administration. Given the background of Sri Lankan politics and the mentality of the Sri Lankans it was an easier project than the other Colour Revolutions” elsewhere in the world. All what was required was massive disinformation campaign on the ground through the mobile phones, internet, so called ‘civil society’ well financed with dollars and willing knaves who could betray party, friends and the nation.

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Rajapakses were depicted as utterly corrupt and incorrigible. They made use of some of the already disgruntled and left aside politicians of the SLFP to switch sides at appropriate times to bring about regime change. First to persuade was Maithreepala Sirisena, the most disgruntled of the lack luster politicians of the lot.  It is no secret Mahinda Rajapakse by passed most of these inefficient and party hangers-on to get through most of the important jobs mainly the infrastructure projects. He placed implicit trust on those who could be trusted and his very capable brothers came in very handy. He even ‘imported’ some ‘go getter’ politicians from the UNP for these purposes.

Let us look at the voting pattern, those who voted for Sarath Fonseka in 2010  and those who voted for Maithreepala Sirisena in 2015. Did people personally vote for Sirisena – No.

It was a repetition of 2010 when sizeable number of the population voted for Sarath Fonseka seeking CHANGE not to Fonseka per se. However, in 2015 the disinformation exercise was in high gear favored by excesses of some of the high-handed work of the Rajapakse Second Term. That too was buttressed by the fiat votes of the Tamils and Muslims who vote en-block on the dictates of their leaders. These leaders frequently change allegiances to bring about regime change in line with their race base or faith base politics. While Racist Tamils are working towards dismemberment of Sri Lanka and carving out a separate state for themselves, the Muslims are working towards total domination through population increase, land acquisition and economic dominance!

Sarath Fonseka who polled nearly 4.5 million in the 2010 Presidential Elections polled less than 10,000 island wide when he contested elections in 2015 on his own steam. In the case of Sirisena he was not a Presidential aspirant 3 months prior to the election and it was not even in his wildest dreams he could be President of Sri Lanka. His only wish was to become Prime Minister succeeding D M Jayaratne before retiring from politics. What happened was a political coup masterminded by the Christian West aided and abetted by the Indians. They failed in 2010 but succeeded in 2015. The script of the coup is very clear and obvious; it is Made in USA!

When one looks at the Big Picture it is easy to surmise that the plot was hatched by the same think tanks in the US that plotted the overthrow of former Yugoslavia, Tunesia, Libya, Egypt and now trying hard on Syria. They were assisted by RAW operations from India. On their own admission US had spent over US$500 Million to destabilize Sri Lanka and Burma and India’s RAW may have used unknown Millions for the same purpose each to their own ends!

With 8th January 2015 Presidential Election the so called Yahapalana Administration came into being. The foreign agenda for Sri Lanka ran as follows:

  • Topple Rajapakse Administration – done
  • Appoint Ranil Wickramasinghe as PM – brings the Central Bank under his command – done
  • Change of Constitution – Out goes 18th and incomes the 19th reducing Presidential powers and increasing Prime Ministerial powers – done
  • Rob the Central Bank to find finances for fund depleted UNP reserves, finance next parliamentary elections, wreck Sri Lanka’s economy – done
  • Stop Rice Farming and destroy food security – done
  • Stop Fertilizer subsidies to Rice Farmers – done
  • Deny promised prices for Tea, Rubber, Coconut and Pepper Farmers – done
  • Increase taxes – done
  • Depreciate the Sri Lanka Rupee – done
  • Sell state assets – in progress
  • Destroy Sri Lanka’s Buddhist Establishment – in progress
  • Move armed forces from the North and East paving way to re-emergence of terrorism – in progress 75% complete
  • Bring Geneva threats against Sri Lanka and denounce War Heroes as war criminals to satisfy the Diaspora Racist Tamils – done
  • Revamp the entire Constitution of Sri Lanka to suit meddling by the Christian West as a means to balkanize Sri Lanka. This they are depicting as a measure to bring reconciliation among the communities in Sri Lanka and other groups in the shadows such as the LGBTQ. Whether separation of communities and coming out of the closet for the LGBTQ will bring about reconciliation is entirely a different subject! – in progress

After 3 years of Yahapalana Administration, most of the above have come to pass or are earmarked for implementation and Sri Lanka is on the way to be another Failed State. This is where the importance of the coming Local Government Elections become obvious.

All political parties aligned with the ruling cabal – the UNP, SLFP (Sirisena Clique), the JVP, Muslim and Tamil political parties, who were not interested in having Local Government Elections in a hurry could not keep the façade of a democratic regime any longer. After nearly 3 years of constantly postponing Local Government Elections finally there will be elections on 10 Feb 2018. The rulers have suddenly realized that they need  Local Government bodies to bring about development, despite !

They have seen the popular adulation for the ‘defeated’ Mahinda Rajapakse  with the Nugegoda Rally – not long after the ‘change’ of 8 Jan 2105 – Mahinda Handa and now later Pohottuwa, the ruling cabal is very afraid!

People have seen what the Change in 8 January 2015 has brought about. Though the older generations have been fooled before by the likes of Rice from the Moon and Dharmista Samajayak , but now even the younger generations whose dreams are more cyber than real have had a chance to see the reality of chasing after mirages. The promises of Saadharana Samajaya, Wasa wisa thora ratak, Dooshanayen thora Ratak have evaporated like the morning dew. Their proponents – one dead and the other no where to be seen!

They have a chance to show their pleasure or displeasure on the way the Yahapalana has succeeded in bringing about CHANGE”! Ranil- Sirisena joint enterprise is for all purposes and intents gone for good. Only reason it keeps going is self preservation for the incumbent keeping  all the strappings of political  power intact. They say that the country is now stabilized economically and diplomatically abroad and they are now ready to take on developing the villages, towns and cities. They are  promising, they will do the same thing they have done to the Country on a Macro Scale to the villages on a micro scale. It would be good to see if the population be they – Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim or other will have a taste and an appetite for more of the same of Yahapalanaya after a dismall 3 years in power. The nation must see that what remains is only complete subjugation to external forces as a Failed State.

There is no political establishment that is totally squeaky clean. We have seen what has become of Mr Clean. We simply have to choose the party that is less corrupt – just because we are human! Just because we need leaders to rule a country and we need who are capable, experienced and confident. Would South Korea be what they are today if they had Yahapalanaya? Would Samsung, Hyundai, Daiwoo, LG and others would be where they are today if there was no political patronage? Only thing a country can do is to keep it all that is bad to a minimum and within acceptable and economically manageable limits.

It is now up to the people of Sri Lanka to take into consideration all what has happened during the last 3 years and give their verdict on 10 Feb 2018. This is not about getting things done at village, town and city and municipality level. This should be vote on how Yahapalanaya have performed during the last 3 years, how they have kept their promises to the people and on a bigger scale of what is to become of Sri Lanka under the proposed change of Constitution and secret and not so secret dealings with foreign countries.

Go out early on 10 February and vote. See that your vote count. Don’t stay at home unconcerned. We are talking about the future of our sons and daughters. See that you stand to be counted among those who love our Motherland – Sri Lanka! Not a FAILED STATE and a dismembered land continuously at war!

READ THIS : Chinese Investments in Malaysia


B787The Exchange 106, which was formerly known as TRX Signature Tower, at Tun Razak Exchange (TRX) is on its way to becoming Malaysia’s tallest new building upon its completion in 2018