Are we at ‘peak America’?


December 5,2018

Are we at ‘peak America’?

by Dr. Fareed Zakaria

https://fareedzakaria.com/columns/2018/11/29/are-we-at-peak-america

The Group of 20 summit in Argentina is taking place at a moment when the United States still stands at the center of the world. The U.S. economy is booming, the dollar is almighty, American technology companies continue to dominate the new digital economy, and the U.S. military remains the unrivaled master of land, sky and sea. But there are forces, both short-term and long-term, that are working to erode this hegemony.

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As Morgan Stanley’s Ruchir Sharma has pointed out, the global economy looks as if it’s at “peak America.” U.S. stocks have outperformed the rest of the world this decade, and that sort of trend rarely lasts. The current recovery is now the second-longest in history, and it is due for a downturn. Interest rates are rising, corporate profit growth is slowing, and budget deficits are surging. Even President Trump seems aware of the likelihood of a dip, which is why he has been preparing the ground for it, blaming the Federal Reserve for raising interest rates.

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But there are broader structural realities at work as well. While the United States continues to outperform other advanced economies, the “rise of the rest” also continues, with China, the world’s second-largest economy, growing at three times the pace of the United States. A quarter-century ago, China accounted for less than 2 percent of the global economy. Today, it is 15 percent and rising. China boasts nine of the world’s 20 most valuable tech companies.

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This economic reality is having a geopolitical effect. China is the largest trading partner of major economies in Latin America, Africa and Asia. That gives it clout. Its “Belt and Road Initiative” is designed to extend Beijing’s influence across Asia and beyond, creating not just a market but also a string of allies and dependencies. It has expanded its control over the South China Sea in ways that neither the Obama administration nor the Trump administration has been able to block or counter.

Anywhere one goes in the world these days, leaders talk about the United States’ retreat from the world stage. They note that it began before Trump. Most date it to the aftermath of the Iraq War, spanning the administrations of George W. Bush, Barack Obama and now Trump. And while the Trump administration is bellicose in its policies, especially on trade, they are all in service of a Fortress America mentality that seeks less engagement with the world, politically and economically.

Foreign leaders also note that the United States is likely to be increasingly constrained by its mounting budget woes. The Financial Times’s Gillian Tett points out that the U.S. government now spends $1.4 billion a day on its debt, 10 times more than the next major industrialized country does. As interest rates rise and more Americans reach the age of collecting Social Security and Medicare, the federal government will be unable to fund much else. Ezra Klein has quipped that the American government is “an insurance conglomerate protected by a large, standing army,” and that is becoming truer every day.

American retreat will not produce a better world. It will be messier and uglier. To get a glimpse of it, look at the Middle East today. As the United States has withdrawn from its traditional role as the region’s power-broker — maintaining relations with all sides and striving to achieve some degree of stability — Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia are all jockeying for influence. The United States has simply subcontracted its policy to Riyadh, encouraging the Saudis’ reckless behavior and resulting in the world’s gravest humanitarian crisis, the war in Yemen, where 12 million people are on the verge of famine.

At a time when these forces of entropy are intensifying, when the United States does face real constraints on what it can do internationally, the wisest strategy would be to bolster the international institutions and norms that the United States built after World War II, both to maintain some degree of stability and order and to preserve and extend American interests and values. The smartest path to constraining China comes not from a head-on policy of containment but rather from a subtle one that forces Beijing to remain enmeshed and interdependent with the international community. China recognizes this and tries hard to free itself from multilateral groups, preferring to deal one-on-one with countries where it will always tower over its negotiating partner.

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And yet, nothing animates the Trump administration more than its opposition to multilateralism of any kind. And so, as the world gets more chaotic, the forces that could provide order are being eroded. And as is so often the case, China simply watches quietly and pockets the gains.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

Washington  Post

 

“Decoupling the US from Asia”


My Friends,
I am baffled why my good friend Larry Moy’s commentary titled “Decoupling the US from Asia” has been blocked.  I find nothing nothing wrong with it.  I am  now posting it, as an act of defiance as I resent anyone who attempts to deny me of my right promote freedom of  expression. Let me find out find out the problem, fix it and come back to you, Larry.—Din Merican

“Decoupling the US from Asia”

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<
<I’ve tried to post this in your blog column “Decoupling the US from Asia”. Looks like I’m completely blocked from your blog. Good living and good luck, my friend. It has been a great pleasure knowing you. If you would like to do one last of my post to your blogt the recent summits of the ASEAN and APEC forum, Mike Pence played the role of “teleprompter Trump”, gave up America’s Asia game plan for 2019. And it won’t be pretty for policymakers, markets or investors in the most dynamic Asia-Pacific economic region. Expect Trump to double down on the trade war with China.

There will be NO BREAKTHROUGH with the Trump-Xi meeting in Argentina at the end of this month, if there would be a meeting at all. For the “trade war” is not about trade. Trump wants a total submission of China. He wants total dominance over China. He wants China to be an obedient lapdog.

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N

o one with any understanding of trade will believe that the $505 billion of goods China sent to the US in 2017 means Beijing ripped off American workers by that same amount. Pence’s October 4 “we-will-not-stand-down” China speech suggested 2019 could get even worse for Beijing and Asia. His November 17 comments – “The US will not change course until China changes its ways” – came with fresh warnings of new taxes on Chinese goods. In other words, “we want your total surrender first” . Pence’s assurance that “we’re here to stay” could mean a brutal 2019 for Asian stocks, export growth and epic volatility in currency markets.

Trump’s biggest misstep was believing Xi Jinping, a nationalist strongman, would buckle. The delusional idiot didn’t realize that the current group of Chinese leaders were all Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution era, toughened with nationalism. Just as Trump maintaining his deplorable base requires him looking resolute, Xi’s legitimacy in Communist Party circles relies on projecting Chinese strength. The Chinese leaders have decided to dig in for a protracted trade war, determined to go back to the poor days, rather than surrender to Trump.

 

Bowing to the hate-tweeter-in-chief isn’t an option for a Chinese president aiming to be in office long after the Trump era. China is prepared to go down in ruin with the US (兩敗俱傷). Xi believes that time is on his side. He doesn’t have to stand for reelection. He can wait out Trump.Trump may be thinking he is winning the “trade war” so far, but he is not. Besides tariffs on Chinese goods, which is actually taxes on American businesses, what other major weapons does he has?

So far, Xi’s team has pulled punches in its responses but the retaliations were pretty restrained. And Beijing has a rich selection of weapons, such as start dumping its $1.3 trillion of Treasury debt holdings, slamming the dollar and sending US interest rates skyrocketing. Sure, it would be a Pyrrhic victory. Any step that reduces the spending power of US consumers is bad for China’s ability to grow at 6.5%, but it would surely get Trump’s attention.

 

China could also impose exit taxes on US goods; make it harder for Chinese tourists to visit America and slow the flow of students dropping hundreds of thousands of dollars a year at US universities. China could clamp down on work visas for American executives and corporate licenses; doing surprise tax audits, inspections of US airlines, hotels, restaurants and adding new logistics bottlenecks that halt the flow of vital supplies; Trademarks could be revoked, or new taxes imposed. Capital controls could be imposed to impede the operations of US investment banks on the mainland. China could restrict export of rare-earth to completely disrupt the high tech industry in the US.. .But China has not done any of these. As Xi put it on November 17, “confrontation, whether in the form of a hot war, cold war or trade war, will produce no winners.”

Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong asked the question on the mind of every Asian leader at last week’s ASEAN summit: What to do when they’re forced to choose between Trump’s America and Xi’s China? I believe this is a when and not an if question, and 2019 is the year decisions are due. Good luck with any balancing act.

China in the Xi Era


November 20, 2018

China in the Xi Era

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by: David Shambaugh, George Washington University

Xi Jinping is widely viewed as the strongest leader China has had since Deng Xiaoping or Mao Zedong. But six years into his perhaps indefinite tenure, what has Xi actually accomplished? And where might China be headed under his rule?

 

Like all Chinese leaders since the 1870s, when Qing dynasty rulers launched the Self-Strengthening Movement, Xi also seeks ‘the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation’. The quest has been consistent for 150 years: for China to acquire the material attributes of a major international power and the commensurate respect from others. The legacy of the country’s former weakness and humiliation continues to haunt Xi and his generation.

So too does the collapse of Communist Party rule in the former Soviet Union. Now having ruled almost as long as their Soviet counterparts, Xi and his peers in the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) live in regular trepidation of a similar meltdown. These two issues — augmenting China’s strengths while rectifying the Communist Party’s weaknesses — are intertwined in Xi’s thinking and dominate his agenda.

Xi believes in the absolute power of the Communist Party. As Xi told the 19th Congress of the CCP in October 2017: ‘The party controls all’. Unlike Deng Xiaoping, who launched China’s reforms four decades ago and sought to relatively reduce party power, Xi wants to bring the party-state back into all aspects of national life.

The CCP under Xi is also reaching back to the Maoist era by constructing a massive personality cult around Xi’s own persona. Maoist rhetorical throwbacks such as zhuxi (chairman), lingxiu (leader), hexin (core), even da duoshou (great helmsman) are again commonly used to refer to Xi. The official ideological canon of ‘Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era’ has now been enshrined in the party constitution too. Xi personally chairs all central Leading Groups and party and military organs. He has also emasculated the authority of Premier Li Keqiang.

Xi is systematically rolling back many of the core elements of Deng’s reforms that guided China’s leaders for the past four decades: no personality cult around the leader, collective leadership and consensual decision-making, bottom-up ‘inner-party democracy’ rather than top-down diktat, active feedback mechanisms from society to the party-state, relative tolerance of intellectual and other freedoms, limited dissent, some de facto checks and balances on unconstrained party power, fixed term limits and enforced retirement rules for leaders and cadres, a society and economy open to the world, and a cautious foreign policy. These and other norms were all central elements of Deng’s post-1978 reform program and they were all accepted and continued under Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao — but all are being systematically dismantled and rolled back by Xi Jinping.

So dominant is Xi that Chinese politics have become a sycophantic echo chamber. Xi is trying to run the party like a military, with orders given and to be followed — rather than as an organisation with feedback mechanisms and procedures to curtail dictatorial practices. Xi is very much a mid-20th century Leninist leader ruling a huge country in the globalised, early-21st century era. There is thus a contradiction between Xi’s modality of rule and the realities of the modern world and China’s developmental needs.

Since coming to power in 2012, Xi has sought to relatively close China’s doors rather than further open them. There has been a significant tightening of the foreign investment and corporate operating environment, a sweeping suppression of civil society and foreign NGOs, stepped-up study of Marxism and an assertion of ideological controls over the entire educational sphere, and xenophobic campaigns against ‘hostile foreign forces’.

Meanwhile, the party continues to enforce strict media controls, carry out pervasive public security surveillance, tighten control over Xinjiang and Tibet, and persecute Christians and other organised religions. Xi has also cracked down on corruption in the party (and government and military), and presided over the most draconian purges and political repression in China since the 1989–92 post-Tiananmen period.

These actions have more in common with Maoism than Dengism. To be certain, Xi has definitely succeeded in strengthening the party institutionally over the past five years — but it is fair to wonder whether he has not actually weakened it in the longer term? How long can such retrograde and repressive actions endure in an increasingly globalised, wealthy and sophisticated society?

Xi’s economic impact is mixed. GDP growth remains very respectable at 6.9 per cent. Xi has also launched programs to eliminate poverty by 2020, spur innovation and high-tech manufacturing under the Made in China 2025 program, increase urbanisation and build eco-cities, expand coverage of social services, attack pollution and transition to a green economy, decrease desertification and increase forestation, deleverage China’s ballooned debt while expanding domestic consumption and services as drivers of growth. These are all commendable goals and initiatives — but they are all just that. Time will tell whether they are achieved.

On the other hand, Xi’s administration has significantly failed to meet the benchmarks or implement the policies of the Third Plenum economic reform plan of November 2013. The significance of this shortfall is that the Chinese economy is not making the structural adjustments needed to navigate through the middle-income trap and up the value-added chain to become a developed economy over time. Structural maladies and overcapacity continue to plague economic efficiency, the stock market has plummeted, while dangerously high debt levels loom overhead.

If there is one policy area where Xi does deserve better marks, it is in foreign relations. China is now widely seen as a global power. Xi has taken a personal interest in global governance. As a result, China under Xi is contributing much more to the United Nations operating budget, global peacekeeping, overseas development assistance and the Millennium Development Goals. And it is more active in a range of areas from combatting public health pandemics to disaster relief, energy and sea lane security, counter-terrorism and anti-piracy operations.

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Xi’s signature Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is also noteworthy. An infrastructure development initiative unparalleled in history, the BRI will build rail lines, pipelines, telecommunications networks, electric grids, deep-water ports, highways, cities and other needed infrastructure from Asia to Europe. While the BRI is encountering criticism of late, it is nonetheless illustrative of China’s new foreign policy activism under Xi.

To be certain, China’s international relationships are not all rosy — but they are, on balance, positive. Only with the United States — and perhaps Australia, Japan and India — are China’s bilateral ties strained. Everywhere else they are sound.

The same must also be said about China’s military and defense — probably Xi’s No. 2 priority (after strengthening the party) over the past five years. Under the new title of Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, in January 2016 Xi launched a sweeping reorganisation — the most comprehensive ever — of China’s military and paramilitary forces. The restructuring is but one part of systematic efforts to build a world-class military and, in Xi’s repeated exhortations, to ‘prepare to fight and win wars’.

Like all leaders, Xi’s tenure has so far achieved mixed results. But this variegated verdict is at variance with the overwhelmingly positive portrayals proclaimed in China’s official media. In Beijing’s rendering, Xi can do no wrong. This in itself may prove to be his Achilles’ heel. No leader is infallible. The subterranean grousing about Xi’s ‘imperial’ leadership style now increasingly heard in China (and from Chinese when they go abroad and speak with foreigners), may be a harbinger of difficulties to come.

Having constructed a caricature of an infallible Xi Jinping, the regime will find it very difficult — if not impossible — to deconstruct this image of China’s new ‘great helmsman’. And there are many constituencies in China that are suffering from Xi’s policies — including the party and state cadres and military officers who have lost their positions and privileges as a result of Xi’s anti-corruption purges — all of whom lie in wait for him to trip up.

David Shambaugh is the Gaston Sigur Professor of Asian Studies, Political Science and International Affairs at The George Washington University, Washington, DC.This is an adapted version of an article originally published here in Global Asia.

 

Asia Needs Pence’s Reassurance


November 16, 2018

Asia Needs Pence’s Reassurance

By Patrick M. Cronin

He should confront Trump’s mistakes and put forward a positive agenda.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence at the ASEAN summit in Singapore on Nov. 15. (Roslan Rahman/AFP/Getty Images)

In Asia, anxieties about the United States’ role in an increasingly China-centered world are palpable. While some fear that the United States is retreating from its international obligations, other worry that it is bent on instigating conflict.

.As U.S. Vice President Mike Pence visits Southeast Asia and the South Pacific this week to attend the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders’ meetings, he should make clear that the United States remains a stalwart partner for the region with a vision for peaceful cooperation and development.

No U.S. retreat

The United States is not withdrawing into fortress America. It remains actively engaged in global affairs and is focused on strengthening the economic and military foundations of its power. The country’s central aim is to stay competitive in a world driven by a dynamic Indo-Asia-Pacific region. That goal, of course, derives from a real concern that China is challenging the postwar order and an understanding that the United States needs to find new ways to renew its diplomatic, economic, and military competitiveness.

The United States is not withdrawing into fortress America. It remains actively engaged in global affairs and is focused on strengthening the economic and military foundations of its power. The country’s central aim is to stay competitive in a world driven by a dynamic Indo-Asia-Pacific region. That goal, of course, derives from a real concern that China is challenging the postwar order and an understanding that the United States needs to find new ways to renew its diplomatic, economic, and military competitiveness.

But as U.S. President Donald Trump said last November in Da Nang, Vietnam, the United States has been “an active partner in this region since we first won independence ourselves,” and “we will be friends, partners, and allies for a long time to come.” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has likewise been a forceful advocate for diplomacy in the region. Meanwhile, Congress is on the cusp of passing a bipartisan bill designed to bolster U.S. engagement there. The Asia Reassurance Initiative Act would authorize $1.5 billion in new funding over the next five years for regional diplomacy, development, and defense programs. In short, rumors of America’s disengagement miss the mark.

No Cold War with China

Pence also needs to reassure the region that when it comes to China, the United States is not seeking a war—trade, cold, or hot.

Pence also needs to reassure the region that when it comes to China, the United States is not seeking a war—trade, cold, or hot.

Instead, the U.S. administration wants a fair, open, and cooperative relationship. That doesn’t mean ignoring China’s attempts to compete with the United States, including through grey-zone operations like muscling the Philippines out of Scarborough Shoal and militarizing artificial islands despite pledging not to do so. And America will not shy away from meeting challenges directly. But on a fundamental level, the Trump administration would like to channel competition toward cooperation where possible.

In fact, the Trump administration rejects the idea of Thucydides’s Trap: that conflict between a rising power and a status quo power is inevitable. Leaders have agency, and it is up to them to determine the future course of relations. And for its part, the United States seeks to remain a force for good, not to contain or curb the China’s peaceful rise.

Of course, it would be useful for Pence to clarify that Washington will not tolerate coercion or the use of force against allies and partners in the region. But the vice president should also reiterate what he said last month at the Hudson Institute: “America is reaching out our hand to China. We hope that Beijing will soon reach back with deeds, not words.” That sentiment is broadly shared, even among Democrats, who do not agree with some of the administration’s tactics. (As Joaquin Castro, a Democratic representative from Texas, said last month, China should “compete, not cheat.”)

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US Vice President Mike Pence has confronted Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi at the ASEAN summit about what is being done to hold those responsible for the persecution of the Rohingya ethnic minority in her country to to account.

This will be a difficult balance to strike. And here, China’s approach to the South China Sea is instructive. It alone pursues claims there based in part on historical rights rather than contemporary international law. It showers the region with promises of infrastructure investment, but it fails to deliver transparent, equitably financed, high-quality development. It promises to follow an ASEAN Code of Conduct for the region but seeks a veto on the right of ASEAN members to extract natural resources from the South China Sea or hold military exercises there with Australia, Japan, the United States, and other non-ASEAN states.

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But the fear that a major confrontation, or even war, will play out in Southeast Asia is greatly exaggerated. China seeks to advance its goals by means short of war, and the United States aims to cooperate where it can but compete where it must. The resumption of the Diplomatic and Security Dialogue—a U.S.-China working group involving top defense and diplomacy officials—is thus a good sign.

 

Yes to an affirmative agenda for Asia

Beyond dispelling myths about U.S. retrenchment and bellicosity, Pence should also put forward a positive agenda for Asia. Here, he will have to confront some of Trump administration’s mistakes.

Many in the region question the United States’ predictability, because Trump has reversed major U.S. initiatives, from the Trans-Pacific Partnership to the Paris Agreement on climate change. Meanwhile, he has escalated tariff wars without articulating a coherent strategy for achieving results, and his uneven application of penalties has rankled allies and competitors alike. Nor has the administration deployed soft power well, often ignoring U.S. values like democracy and human rights, turning the country’s back on refugees, using unbefitting language, papering over conflicts of interest rather than cracking down hard on corruption, and being far too comfortable with authoritarians.

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Despite these missteps, Pence can use the trip to Asia to burnish four cornerstones that should be the foundation of the administration’s free and open Indo-Asia-Pacific strategy, especially in Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands. Those four elements are a rules-based order, sustainable economic development, inclusive diplomacy, and effective security cooperation.

First, upholding and peacefully adapting the set of rules chosen freely by strong and independent sovereign states will be the foundation for U.S. engagement with the region. The United States has enduring interests in the South China Sea: stability, freedom of navigation, and resolving disputes peacefully and without coercion.

Although ensuring the rule of law will require far more than freedom of navigation operations, the United States will continue to help maintain the openness of the seas by sailing, flying, and operating anywhere international law permits. Importantly, seafaring nations from Asia and Europe are also demonstrating their commitment to the same cause by conducting similar operations.

Second, for growth to be sustainable, it has to be fair and reciprocal. It should be pursued in a manner that is transparent, non coercive, and environmentally sustainable, especially when it comes to the global maritime commons. There is nothing wrong with China’s Belt and Road Initiative that sunshine and high standards of accountability cannot fix.

Meanwhile, the United States should go even further to mobilize public and private support for trade, investment, and development. Eventually, the country can create a whole constellation of allies and partners that can invest in energy infrastructure, digital connectivity, transportation, and more. For instance, the United States is in active discussions to leverage the BUILD Act to expand joint efforts with allies and partners in the Philippines, Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, and elsewhere. In doing so, it can set a gold standard for development in the region.

Take Indonesia for example. China aside, a prosperous, democratic, and stable Indonesia is in the vital interest of the United States. Yet few in Washington are aware of the opportunities that await in Southeast Asia’s most populous country. The U.S. government’s Millennium Challenge Corporation has just completed a successful economic investment in Indonesia. Pence should ensure Washington starts negotiating a follow-on compact while simultaneously using BUILD Act funds to facilitate new U.S. private sector entry into Indonesia.

A third tenet of U.S. policy in Southeast Asia is inclusive diplomacy, including trust-building with competitors and partners alike.

ASEAN deserves broad support for its unique convening authority. Certainly, that is a major reason why the United States embraces the body having a loud unified voice in Indo-Pacific engagement. It also is in favor a strong, binding Code of Conduct—not one that unfairly limits the freedom of action of Southeast Asian states.

Inclusive confidence-building measures, such as plans to extend the voluntary Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea to include coast guard vessels and efforts to protect rapidly depleted fishery stocks, deserve action. The United States should signal its support for promoting a new framework of “Resilience, Response, Recovery,” which is one of several useful concepts being put forward by ASEAN under Singapore’s chairmanship. At the same time, ASEAN members are pragmatic. The United States will often have to cooperate with them on a bilateral or trilateral basis to find effective responses to real challenges.

In terms of diplomacy with China, it might be worth creating a new crisis avoidance mechanism—perhaps mirroring the 1972 Incidents at Sea agreement. The bilateral pact did not prevent all U.S.-Soviet mishaps, but it helped avert major disasters, something that is even more important in a region where intermediate-range cruise missiles, hypersonic weapons, and the military use of cyberspace and outer space are unrestricted.

Finally, the United States will continue to support effective security cooperation centered on information sharing, capacity building, and interoperability. The United States should buttress such efforts by firming up its commitment to respond appropriately to threats of coercion and the use of force.

Boosting the ability of allies and partners to see better what is happening in their maritime backyards will help them become more resilient. And assistance with capacity building, especially for coast guards and other law enforcement agencies, will give nations a better ability to protect their sovereignty. Bilateral, “minilateral,” and larger multilateral exercises can also help create a readiness for dealing with future contingencies.

In sum, a confident but not boastful United States is neither stepping away from Asia nor trying to provoke wars there. Rather, it aims to ensure stability in the region so that all countries there can advance both sovereign interests and regional cooperation.

Patrick M. Cronin is senior director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security in Washington. @PMCroninCNAS
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2018 in Environmental Review for Southeast Asia


November 10, 2018

By: Gregory McCann

ttps://www.asiasentinel.com/society/2018-environmental-review-southeast-asia/

As 2018 comes to a close it is worth taking a look at the environmental trends throughout the year, with a special emphasis on those within the last six months or so, in order to gain an understanding of what has been happening to this region’s natural heritage and so that we might know what to look for in 2019—and how to address the upcoming challenges.

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A lloincloth-clad tribesmen blockading blockading logging roads in Malaysian Borneo.

While we can say that a lot has been happening everywhere, and this is especially true for Malaysia. The country produces durian that Chinese consumers covet. This means rain forests that are currently home to tigers are being converted into plantations so that more and more of the spiky, pungent fruit can be sold to China. That means bad environmental news, with China the driver. Furthermore, clearing forests will drastically reduce the number of pollinators such as bats and other wild animals, which will in turn lower the durian’s quality.

Another fruit—palm oil—is almost always the whipping boy for conservation problems in Malaysia (and beyond), however, the country is making headway in its own sustainable certification program, which attempts to incorporate Environmentally Sensitive Areas (ESAs) into development blueprints across Malaysian Borneo. Nonetheless, huge development projects in Peninsular Malaysia are pushing the environment to the breaking point, with gargantuan Chinese-funded residential projects such as Forest City across the strait from Singapore serving as a striking case in point.

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However, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad recently shut down several Chinese Belt and Road projects.  Malaysia also wants to ban importing plastic waste, as well as single-use plastic straws. Nonetheless, serious problems remain. Even without the durians-to-China issue, tiger numbers are tumbling fast, scenic Langkawi island is coming under so much stress that it may lose its Unesco status, while in Sarawak the forest-dwelling Penan indigenous group continue to block bulldozers and fight for their traditional lands.

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Tabin Wildlife Reserve is located in the eastern part of Sabah, Malaysia

However, a rehabilitated Bornean orangutan was successfully rewilded in Sabah’s Tabin Wildlife Sanctuary, the first orangutan to fully return to the forest after such a long spell in captivity and rehabilitation, and a clouded leopard was sighted within the vicinity of a local hospital.

Across the Strait in Indonesia ecological issues are festering as well. While a new species of songbird has been identified on Rote Island, five other bird species have lost their protected status. The endemic Sumatran laughing thrush is fast disappearing, while the Helmeted Hornbill is relentlessly persecuted in Indonesia. The caged bird trade is bringing many species to the brink of extinction in the archipelago, and biologists say many forests where they work are becoming increasingly “quiet.”

Forest fires raged in South Sumatra and Riau provinces in 2018, and Chinese developers are stubbornly pushing ahead with a hydroelectric dam in the , home to the rarest species of orangutan in the world. The Critically Endangered Sumatra rhinoceros is still in big trouble but there is a movement on to save it, while a pregnant Sumatran tigress was caught and died in a pig trap in Riau.

Like Malaysia, Indonesia has a major palm oil problem, but the country’s anti-graft department says it’s ready to take action against transgressors who are felling natural forest and breaking other laws. Sadly, the Bali government wants to build an elevated highway right on top of some of its last undeveloped sandy beaches. The small volcanic island of Krakatoa in the Sunda Strait between Java and Sumatra has spewed lava and ash this year.   Widespread deforestation, poaching, overfishing, and plastic pollution has been taking over this island nation. Indonesian Presidential contender Prabowo has said that if he is elected to office he will review China’s Belt and Road plans, which could include a cancellation of the , and a court in Aceh recently threw down its stiffest penalty to date for two men caught trying to sell a tiger pelt.

Asia Sentinel recently reported on the surprising number of wildlife to be found in Singapore today. Thailand also received high environmental marks in a recent Asia Sentinel critique, however, Thai-language media recently uncovered a story about a Vietnamese national caught with tiger bones in the kingdom— particularly worrying report as Vietnamese poachers are among the most tenacious in Asia.

Making matters worse, a new and improved road through Kaeng Krachan National Park will likely lead to greater disturbance to the forest’s wildlife, while a few provinces to the north a Burmese national gunned down a binturong. There is rising sentiment to build a Kra Isthmus Canal in Thailand. A large crocodile was caught off the Krabi coast, a whale shark was recently spotted of Koh Racha, and local conservationists have thus far succeeded in fending off a new marina development project in Phuket. However, the deluge of Chinese tourists into the kingdom is pushing Thailand to its breaking point, and it was largely Chinese tourists who are responsible for the closing of Maya Bay in Koh Phi Phi, which remains closed indefinitely so that it can recover.

In Laos, the Nam Theun 2 Dam has been such a disaster that its main financer, the World Bank, has thrown in the towel and walked away.  In Dead in the Water: Global Lessons from the World Bank’s Hydropower Project in Laos contributing author Glenn Hunt remarks: “For one of the pillars that was supposed to be the primary source of income, it’s been an unmitigated disaster.” With about 140 dams either under construction or on the drawing board in its quest to be the “battery of Asia,” Laos faces the potential for most disasters and large-scale environmental and social degradation in a country that has already lost its wild tigers, leopards and many other species.

Despite the tragedy that unfolded in Attapeu province when a large dam collapsed, Laos remains bullish about constructing more dams. And the dam-building frenzy is harming the environment and wildlife all around the country. And while a recent Guardian write-up describing the fantastic-look Nam Et-Phou Luey ecotourism program up in the north of the country describes a healthy tiger population in this region, perhaps the author was given old data.

Wild elephants are reportedly being skinned alive in Myanmar to satisfy a new Chinese demand—for “blood beads,” which are blood-filled chunks of elephant fat. The previous link provides a window into some twisted tastes: “The online trader wants his customers to know the elephant was skinned quickly, with blood still fresh in its veins.” Chinese demand for elephant skin used in bags in jewelry was already shocking, but things can always get worse when it comes to wildlife.

But in more uplifting news from the country, Irrawaddy dolphins are being given greater protection, and the government is also cracking down on illegal wildlife trade in the city of Yangon.

Taking note of how poorly elephants working in tourism are treated across Asia, Vietnam has launched the region’s first “ethical elephant experience.” The country has also taken an interest in seeing that its shrimp farming industry become more sustainable, while the government also recently signed a deal with the EU that promises a reduction in illegal logging (though some in neighboring Cambodia have serious doubts about this). We reported earlier this year that Vietnam’s wildlife is in rough shape, and things haven’t taken much of a turn for the better since.

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Virachey National Park—A major tourist attraction in Cambodia

And finally, Cambodia.  A recent camera-trap check in Virachey National Park so delighted the Ministry of Environment that he shared some of the photos on their Facebook page; even the Thai media took notice of the results. Asia Sentinel reported earlier this year that Cambodia is probably the last hope for Indochina’s wildlife, and this still holds true, despite the fact that nearly 110,000 snares were found in a single national park. A man was recently killed by a wild boar near the Cardamom Mountains, while Kratie province is cracking down on illegal mining, and at the same time the central government is demanding that villagers who grabbed national park land return it.

In other news from the region, the Maubere tribe of Timor-Leste is bringing back ancient customary laws to help protect its forests, seas, and coastline. Chinese demand for logs is wiping out the forests of the Solomon Islands. India is losing tigers and elephants, while two elephants were struck by a train and killed in Sri Lanka.

As always, China casts a menacing shadow over Southeast Asia, and nowhere is this more clear than on the Mekong River and in the South China Sea. The region, with the help of the US and Japan, must find a way to manage Chinese aggression in the South China Sea and beyond, and the some of the numerous dams that it has planned for the region have to be cancelled or scaled down.

Beyond that, Chinese citizens have to be educated about wildlife product consumption, including shark fins, tiger parts, bear gallbladder, elephant skin and blood, and much more, which have no known scientific value. And in a shocking and disturbing announcement,  China has said that it will lift its decades-old ban on the trading of tiger parts and rhino horn, a move that will almost certainly put these species in greater danger.  Or else one of the most biologically rich regions of the world loses everything that made it so special.

Gregory McCann is the Project Coordinator of Habitat ID, and the author of Called Away by a Mountain Spirit: Journeys to the Green Corridor. You can support his conservation projects in Cambodia and Sumatra here.

Ideals to aspire beyond the Chinese Dream


November 7, 2018

Exclusive to CHINA WATCH

Ideals to aspire beyond the Chinese Dream

By Michael Heng | Updated: 2018-11-06 15:24
Michael Heng

 

Recently I met up with an old friend and we recalled our conversation years ago. He was then a visiting professor at one of the top universities in Shanghai. Though a foreigner, he is a great fan of Chinese literature and speaks fluent Mandarin. He has been all the while a keen student of Chinese history. It is fair to describe him as a Sinophile of some sort.

 

Soon after his arrival at the Shanghai University about 15 years ago, his colleagues brought him out on a sight-seeing tour in the financial district. They pointed out to him the array of skyscrapers dominating the area, expecting him to utter words of admiration. Instead, he kept silent and shook his head. When asked why, he said: “These super-tall structures are bad for the environment. They are expensive to build and expensive to maintain. What if there is a fire? Moreover, these buildings will not last for thousands of years. If you ask me, one thousand of such buildings cannot impress me as much as one Li Bai or one Wang Wei.” Li Bai and Wang Wei are two preeminent poets of the Tang Dynasty (618-907).

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Fast forward to today, I asked for his take on the Chinese Dream. His reply was no surprise. The Chinese Dream is a multi-dimensional project, but he prefers focusing on its cultural dimension. Instead of pouring so much resources into massive iconic structures, it would be more fruitful and enduring to direct the resources to improving the educational conditions for children in rural regions and places lacking decent living environments. He has traveled to many parts of China and the school conditions in most rural areas caused him heartache. Of course, better schools and teachers by themselves will not guarantee production of awe-inspiring poems and novels. But they can increase the chances by widening the talent pools and nurturing potential Li Bais and Wang Weis.

To support his position, he mentioned the legacies of ancient Greece, whose brilliance in literature, astronomy, mathematics and philosophy remains today a gold standard for others to emulate. The achievements not only form a key foundation of European civilization, but are also an immense contribution to the cultural resources of the world. These cultural-intellectual achievements, rather than McDonalds, Hollywood or jeans, are soft power in the most profound sense.

The conversation somehow steers me to reflect on the Chinese Dream and his approach inspires me to come up with three suggestions.

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First, ancient China, like the ancient Greece, was a period of intellectual brilliance with its thinkers and literature. Names like Confucius, Mencius and Sun Zi are well known all over the world, with Taoism of Lao Zi exerting influence in food, healthcare, paintings, science and literature. However, unlike Greek mythologies, Chinese literature of that period is relatively unknown outside East Asia. It is even less well known than The Arabian Nights. In percentage terms, probably more Chinese know about Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves than Arabs about Chang-E Flying to the Moon. China will do well to rectify this situation.

Second, to embark on a project of compiling a set of books, pretty similar to the Great Books of the Western World which was an initiative of the University of Chicago, in collaboration with the Encyclopædia Britannica publishing house. Let us tentatively name the proposed set the Great Books of the Chinese Civilization. The collection shall bring together the essential core of the Chinese cultural and intellectual canons and includes China’s most significant achievements in literature, history, philosophy and science. With authoritative editing and introduction, the books will provide as complete and accurate as possible the background and ideas that have shaped the course of Chinese civilization.

The project can serve as a platform for top scholars of China all over the world to work together, creating as a byproduct a network of intellectuals of similar interests. It would produce a convenient reference work for libraries all over the world. It should become a key component of a common body of knowledge for global-minded citizens.

The third project is to modernize traditional Chinese medicine and widen its scope of application. TCM represents distilled knowledge accumulated over many centuries of herbal medical practice and many associated treatment methodologies. It is evidence-based. However, critics of traditional medicine often claim that it is not scientific because its research method departs from that of Western medicine.

The theory of TCM needs a modern set of vocabulary and to be updated to take into account new medical findings. Asia is the home of traditional Chinese medicine, traditional Indian medicine Ayurveda, and traditional Islamic medicine practiced in the Middle East. It would be a rewarding project for the three streams of traditional medicine to share their insights and exchange their advances. This is an area for active collaboration among Asian countries, the success of which can boost the intellectual confidence of Asia, while making tangible contributions to healthcare in the whole world.

Michael Heng is a retired professor who held academic appointments in Australia, the Netherlands, and at six universities in Asia. The author contributed this article to China Watch exclusively. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of China Watch.