America and China–Managing the Possible


May 21, 2017

America and China–Managing the Possible

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

Image result for Trump and Xi

The  Go It Alone Eagle and The  Globalist Dragon

THE contrast could not be greater. While United States President Donald Trump raves and rants – and belts this or that person – China’s President Xi Jinping looks measured and assured as he offers an alternative global future to the world.

Xi is no angel of course, as his political opponents would know, but his system conserves and protects him, as Trump’s would not. If only Trump were the leader in a centrally controlled political order – but even then his temperament would blow it apart.

Leadership, like politics, is the art of managing the possible. Trump does not understand this, and does not know how. Xi does, knows why, and knows how.He has a growing economy too behind him, whatever the hiccups. Trump only promises one, without any clarity or logic.

His plan to boost the American economy, based primarily on slashing corporate tax from 35 to 15%, is likely to flounder in an American Congress seriously concerned about its causing the fiscal deficit to balloon.

Already Trump has had to climb down from trying to secure funds from Congress for his dreaded border wall with Mexico in order to avoid budgetary shutdown in September.

The stock market has fallen back from the boost to the price of banks and industrial products following his election. Interest now has returned to what might be termed “American ingenuity stocks” such as Google, Apple and Microsoft on Nasdaq – a proxy for much that is great about America, which Trump’s immigration and closed-door policies threaten to destroy.

Image result for belt and road initiative

Meanwhile Xi has been rolling out his “Belt and Road” plans – something he first envisaged at the end of 2013 – for greater world connectivity and development, committing funds from China and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and engaging global financial institutions such as the World Bank.

Malaysia, for instance, will be an actual beneficiary with additional projects thrown in. China is Malaysia’s largest trading partner. But the US has not been a laggard, being Malaysia’s fourth largest trading partner. And indeed the US remains the largest foreign investor in Malaysia, both new investments and total stock.

A staggering statistic not often recognised is that total American investment in ASEAN is more than its investment in China, Japan and India COMBINED!

The point, however, is that this position is being eroded. Trump’s policies are hastening this process. Abandonment of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) means there is no American strategic peaceful challenge to the Chinese economic juggernaut in Asia-Pacific.

Balance is important to afford choice. Absence of choice means serious exposure to risk. Price, quality and after-service standards are affected, not to mention a new geo-strategic economic underlining.

Over-dominance by China in the region is a price not only countries in the region will pay, something that most probably is on Trump’s mind. It is a price that America too will sooner or later have to pay.

China’s Belt and Road proposition is not without its challenges, of course. India is deeply suspicious of the connectivity with Pakistan which cuts across India-claimed Azad Kashmir, about 3000km of it.

The link to the Pakistani port of Gwadar, in southwest Baluchistan on the shores of the Arabian Sea, is seen by India as a Chinese presence at the entrance to the Indian Ocean and a hawk eye on the Indian sub-continent. With the Chinese also in Sri Lanka, India is circumspect on China’s Belt and Road initiative.

There have also been commentaries on some uneconomic linkages which extend right across the English Channel.

All these reservations, however, do not take into account the benefit of connectivity to economies, the time it often takes to get those economic benefits and, most of all, the patience, persistence and long view of history of China and its leaders.

One of the most striking things about the Belt and Road map is that America is not there. Of course, Xi Jinping does not preclude America just as much as the US did not say that China was not permanently excluded from the TPP. And of course, in the Old Silk Routes and shipping lanes, the New World – America – had not been discovered.

But in their revival, led by now rising and then ancient China after 150 years of national humiliation to the present time, there is the irony that the last three quarters of a century of America world dominance is on course to be marginalised, if not supplanted, by the old Eurasian world centred in an ancient civilisation.

Trump does not seem to understand history. The art of the deal is purely transactional. Short-tempered and short-term gratification does not a strategy constitute.

Image result for make america great again

So we have leader, system and economic promise distinguishing the two leaders – and the two countries.

Instead of America first, what we are seeing is Trump hurrying America’s decline relative to a rising China. We are not seeing a world changed from people wanting to be like a kind of American to being people wanting to be a kind of Chinese. Actually, the Chinese people themselves want to be like a kind of American, with all that wealth, influence and power.

What we are seeing is China – not America – leading the way to that desired, if not always desirable, end. It is China that is driving the next phase in the evolution of world economic development.

Under Xi Jinping, China appears to be heroically moving towards an epochal point in its Peaceful Rise. With Donald Trump, America is being led backwards and inwards, with all the problems of its governance now all coming out. It is in grave danger of losing in the peaceful competition.

Not knowing how to play that game – certainly under its current President – there remains the danger of the status quo power lashing out against the rising one.

The Greek historian Thucydides observed: “It was the rise of Athens and the fear that this instilled in Sparta that made war inevitable.” A Harvard professor has studied what is now called the Thucydides Trap and found in 12 out of 16 cases in which this occurred in the last 500 years, the outcome was war.

There are many potential flash points against the background of China’s rise – the North Korean Peninsula and the placement of THAAD missiles in the south, the South China Sea – where Trump may temperamentally find cause to lash out. This is the trapdoor he might take the world down because of failure to compete peacefully.

What China’s Belt and Road has to learn from 1920s America


May 17, 2017

What China’s Belt and Road has to learn from 1920s America

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s plan to resurrect the Silk Road must heed the lessons of a bygone era

By  Sourabh Gupta

Image result for china's one belt one road

Perceptive China-watchers have observed that President Xi Jinping ( 習近平 ) has modelled his political mission on Deng Xiaoping ( 鄧小平 ) – even if his methods bear a whiff of Maoism.

Deng put an end to the turmoil of the Cultural Revolution and engineered China’s transformation towards socialist modernisation. Xi’s sweeping reforms and anti-corruption crackdown aim to engineer an analogous transformation that will deliver China to the cusp of a “moderately prosperous” society by the time of the Chinese Communist Party’s centennial founding in 2021.

In one notable respect though, Xi has broken with the Paramount Leader. Deng had counseled a 24-character strategy on his countrymen: “observe calmly; secure our position; cope with affairs calmly; hide our capacities and bide our time; be good at maintaining a low profile; and never claim leadership.” By contrast, Xi has not been shy to employ assertive diplomacy in support of an ambitious, long-term and strategic foreign policy.

No single political project personifies this more than the “Belt and Road Initiative”, which aims to resurrect the ancient Silk Road through infrastructure projects that will link Eurasian economies into a China-centred trading network. When two dozen or so heads of state assemble in Beijing for the Belt and Road Summit on Sunday and Monday, the magnitude of the imposing soft-power dimension of this “win-win” project that aspires to embed Xi’s “China Dream” within a “neighbourhood community of common destiny” will be on ample display. The BRICS Summit in Xiamen (廈門) this September will be a sideshow by comparison.

A variety of malignant motives, mainly economic, have been ascribed to the Belt and Road plan. It aims to channel Beijing’s allegedly manipulated reserve surpluses abroad, prop up the internationalisation of the yuan, unload China’s industrial overcapacity on neighbours, ensnare the recipient country in a cycle of debt, exploit the host country’s strategic resources and purchase their political affiliation along the way.

Steel pipes are loaded for export at Lianyungang port, Jiangsu province, China. Some critics see the Belt and Road as a way to unload China’s industrial overcapacity on neighbours. Photo: Reuters

While these claims contain merit, the redeeming arguments are more compelling. China’s hard currency reserves are better put to use in hard infrastructure projects in developing countries than deposited passively in New York’s financial market. At a time of volatility in liquidity provision in the international monetary system, yuan internationalisation and the rise of another issuer of safe, short-term and liquid instruments is to be welcomed. Moreover, the bilateral yuan swap lines and dedicated trade payments and securities settlement infrastructure that Beijing has rolled out over the past half-decade will enable recipient countries to denominate their borrowings in local currency, thereby limiting costs and exposures.

Transferring industrial capacity, improving infrastructure and reducing transaction costs on the other hand will enable developing countries to jump-start a dynamic upward spiral of growth and development in sectors where they enjoy latent comparative advantages – on lines similar to China’s own industrial jump-start in the 1980s. A comparison of China’s and the US’ Eximbank (Export-Import bank) loans to Africa, meanwhile, belie the oft-repeated claim that the former is directed solely at natural resources. China Eximbank has contributed to almost all 54 countries in Africa – resource rich or poor – and displays no perceptible pattern of favoured client state lending. US Eximbank loans, by contrast, are concentrated in energy and mining and confined to a favoured few.

Finally, with developing and emerging economies forecast to account for 59 per cent of world GDP in 2018 (neatly reversing the average 59 per cent accounted for by advanced economies from 1980 to 2007), as per the IMF, the rise of an alternate model of development financing that is leaner, cheaper, quicker and more flexibly attuned to host country systems and requirements should be welcomed, not stigmatised.

Development economics aside, the most consequential effects of the Belt and Road will be in international relations.

The Belt and Road’s storied predecessor, the Silk Road, two thousand years ago ushered in an age of commerce and civilizational exchange and afforded a set of loose principles of order and self-restraint. The Belt and Road’s ‘open regionalism’, likewise, will showcase Xi’s determination to practice a “new type of international relations” that binds China’s extended periphery as far out as Africa in a win-win embrace. Purposeful translation of his optimistic assessment for peace and development will realise the long-delayed promise of south-south cooperation in the post-colonial age. With luck, it will also confine the fascination with Great Power transition ‘traps’ – particularly the ‘Thucydides Trap’ (in which an established power’s fear of a rising power leads them into a vicious cycle of competition and eventually war) – to the armchairs of zero-sum-minded historians and think tank specialists.

Banners advertise the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing. Photo: AP

China’s re-emergence at the turn of, and the first few decades of, the 21st century bears remarkable parallels to America’s rise a century ago. Between 1890 and the early-1900s, the proportion of US manufacturers engaged in exports rose from less than a quarter to more than two-thirds, as the burgeoning surpluses of farms and factories were absorbed overseas. By the late-1910s and through the 1920s, the US became a prodigious exporter of capital as more than US$1 billion a year in loans surged out of New York. Nearly one-third as many foreign bonds floated on Wall Street as bonds of US companies.

As the Belt and Road becomes a conduit for the export of Chinese capital on as prodigious a scale as the US a century ago, its design and roll-out must also be informed by the cautionary lessons of that era. When boom had periodically turned to bust in the US economy and subjected many of her poorer hemispheric trade partners and raw material suppliers to simultaneous capital and commodity market shocks, Washington failed to provide the public goods (international development financing; recycling of capital flight; inter-governmental institutionalisation, and stabilisation loans, and so on) that could have placed a floor under the crash – and misery – overseas. China’s capital exports must avoid such boom-bust patterns and instead marry hard physical capital with soft technical know-how, managerial skills and local project ownership with purpose and patience.

During the next decade, China will replace the US as the world’s largest economic power. As it grows richer, it must assume the mantle of collaborative leadership and provider of global public goods. The Belt and Road is an appetising start but the proof of the pudding will be in its eating, as well as its ability to draw sceptical bystanders in the West and in Asia to the banquet

Malaysia, UMNO and Zakir Naik: What is the Game here?


May 17, 2017

COMMENT: One of my doctoral students at Techo Sen School at The University of Cambodia who monitors political developments in Malaysia on a regular basis asked me pointedly what is Malaysia’s Foreign Policy? I asked him back, does Malaysia have one in the first place?

All I see I said is a series of politically motivated actions which are contradictory, inconsistent, self defeating, unprincipled and often unrelated to Malaysia’s national interest. Furthermore, I see my present  Prime Minister Najib Razak hoping from one country to another (in recent months  between India and China) with a begging bowl to save his own political skin. His Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs and other loose cannons in his Cabinet are mere chorus boys  including those  others in the civil service and ulamakdom.

Image result for ghazali shafie
Image result for ghazali shafie
The Magnificent Men of the 1960’s

Wisma Putra’s influence in the making of foreign policy too has been minimal since that role is supplanted by the so-called policy wonks on the 4th Floor, Prime Minister’s Department in Putrajaya. I expect our Minister Anifah Aman to react defensively with his comments on my blog soon. But he cannot escape the fact that Wisma Putra is today a mere shadow of what it used to be when Tun Muhammad Ghazalie Shafie was Permanent Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs.

As a young foreign service officer in the 1960s, I was taught by Tun Ghazalie  that international relations is about how in the pursuit of its national interest Malaysia relates to and interacts with other sovereign states. basically with members of the United Nations in the realm of politics and security, and geo-economics.We make friends in diplomacy he never ceased remind my colleagues and I. This depends on our foreign policy.

Image result for Najib in China for One Silk Road Summit

Prime Minister Najib Razak has yet to come to grips with reality that he is immensely unpopular and cannot be trusted to defend Malaysia’s National Interest.

I define national interest as the sum total of the individual and collective interests of Malaysians, that it is about safeguarding or advancing the collective welfare and economic well being of  all us, not of a single individual like Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Foreign policy is in reality an extension of Malaysia’s domestic policy; it is about how our elected government protects our security, improves and sustains our aspirations and priorities and addresses our concerns and calms our fears and anxieties. This principle No.1 and that is foreign policy begins at home and defines our relations with other nation states. In turn, foreign policy outcomes have a reciprocal effect on domestic political discourse.

As a nation,  Malaysia must see value in an international or bilateral relationship as a way of securing benefits for Malaysians, whether in security, politics or geo–economics. It is an interaction of our wants and needs. And it always involves a give-and-take attitude and disposition. Malaysia must, therefore, aim for win-win partnership that is beneficial, acceptable and sustainable to its united citizenry. This is the second principle.

Finally, a coherent  Malaysian foreign policy based a careful calibration of our national interest must receive the continued support of all Malaysians. It cannot be driven by the political survival needs or whims and fancies of our incumbent Prime Minister Najib Razak and his cohorts at our collective expense.

The Zakir Naik case is a case in point. How can we as a people accept this Islamic extremist wanted in his homeland India  for wanton acts of promoting terrorism, and grant him permanent resident status when thousands of Malaysians born and bred in Malaysia are still stateless. It is not in our national interest to harbor this felon and conceal his whereabouts and deny India its right to bring him to the Indian courts to stand trial.

Mr. Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Home Affairs, Dr. Zahid Hamidi, you are reckless, unconscionable, and irresponsible. Your job is to protect the security and safety of all Malaysians. It is equally your top priority to locate those missing and unaccounted for because they belong to other religions than Islam. Do that or just resign and fire your Inspector-General of Police. As for our Prime Minister, I say this–your day of reckoning is coming to you soon.–Din Merican

Malaysia, UMNO and Zakir Naik: What is the Game here?

by P. Ramasamy@www.malaysiakini.com

Image result for Zahid Hamidi and Zakir Naik

If the controversial Mumbai preacher Zakir Naik is not in Malaysia, then where is he? Is Malaysia distancing itself from the controversial preacher?

A few days ago, Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi assured the Malaysian Associated Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Maicci) that Malaysia would not give sanctuary to any fugitive, even if the fugitive happened to be Zakir Naik.

Zahid also informed the delegation that Zakir was not in the country and his exact whereabouts were not known. Zahid pretended that he was not in the know, but surely he was aware of the movements of Zakir.

Zakir Naik is not just an ordinary person, for he has become an infamous person in international circles. He is not just an occasional visitor to Malaysia, but a very very important person with the status of permanent resident.

But the relationship between the Malaysian authorities and Zakir Naik might not be the same anymore. There is a slow but sure attempt to distance themselves from the actions of Zakir. In short, Zakir is no longer a ‘darling’ to the Muslim masses in Malaysia, or elsewhere.

Two warrants of arrest have been issued by the authorities in India for his arrest for alleged involvement in terrorist and money-laundering activities. The Indian authorities impressed upon a Mumbai court to issue the warrants, having provided the necessary evidence of the alleged nefarious activities of Zakir Naik.

Recently, it was only after India sought the red notice alert through the Interpol that Zakir Naik might have realised that India was serious about arresting him.

Malaysia has probably realised that Zakir’s presence in the country and his allegedly incendiary speeches might not be conducive to the long term interests of the country. Zakir single-handedly, through his speeches, caused apparently irrepairable damage to ethnic relations in the country.

Malaysia might have welcomed Zakir Naik earlier, but his presence in the country seems detrimental to UMNO-BN in the long run. Earlier, his speeches might have appealed to UMNO to gain Malay-Muslim support, but this perception might not be sustainable any longer.

UMNO-BN might have lost substantial non-Muslim support in the past, but it is not willing to write-them off yet, considering the general election around the corner.

Zakir is a popular figure in the Islamic circles in Malaysia. However, the changing political scenario could have rendered him a liability to UMNO and others in the  Barisan Nasional coalition. Zahid might not say it openly, but he is probably embarrassed by Zakir’s presence in the country.

There is a growing realisation in the official circles that Zakir may have outlived his usefulness.

P RAMASAMY is Deputy Chief Minister II of Penang and the state assemblyperson for Perai.

Politics of the ASEAN Summit–Pay Attention to the Details


May 11, 2017

North Korea and South China Sea and the Politics of the ASEAN Summit–Pay Attention to the Details

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

Image result for munir majid

ASEAN leaders should begin to give stronger leadership and get into some details. They cannot be making platitudinous statements again and again. They cannot continue to spend time over prepared drafts which are becoming like an old record. They cannot be rushing from one meeting to another on a tight schedule prepared by the officials which gives them little time for true contemplation. They cannot be rushing home as soon as the ceremonies are over – and only start dealing with the regional issues at the next summit. ASEAN leaders must give ASEAN quality time.–Munir Majid

THE Chairman’s statement at the end of the 30th ASEAN Summit in Manila was at its clearest on concern over rising tension in the Korean Peninsula. With respect to other parts of the long statement, the world was treated to the usual prevarication on the South China Sea issue and sanguine satisfaction with progress in the ASEAN community pillars as well as its other integration projects.

ASEAN leaders, without qualification, identified North Korea’s belligerence and roguish behaviour as having caused the threat to peace, even if they called for restraint to preserve it.

The fact that China has a 1961 Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance with North Korea, which technically obliges Beijing to come to Pyongyang’s defence in the event of an attack on North Korean territory, did not deter ASEAN from insinuating Kim Jong-Un has been asking for it with his comic and infantile antics.

Of course, China is nowadays not as close to North Korea as “lip and teeth”, which was how Mao Zedong put it in 1961, but still…

Image result for trump and duterte

Thus it was that the Chair of ASEAN for this year, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte had this telephone conversation with United States President Donald Trump when he expressed the regional grouping’s concern as well as hope for restraint in the Korean Peninsula, and got invited to meet his opposite number – some would say his political double – in Washington.

The fact that Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-Cha also was invited in a separate call to come to Washington gives the impression that these invitations are for ASEAN countries with whom the US has formal defence arrangements.

According to the Philippines media, Duterte will not be going. But if he does, it is to be hoped he will carry the ASEAN card with him as well.

And if Duterte brought his common law wife along, there is no doubt it would sit well with Trump. Both revel in the unconventional.

Certainly Duterte has had no cause to call Trump the “son of a whore” just as Trump does not find particular offence in Duterte’s anti-drug warfare in the Philippines.

If they came to discuss the South China Sea issue, however, it would be interesting to see who would outdo the other in double-talk.

For ASEAN there would be great interest in whether the South China Sea would be discussed and what kind of representation Duterte would make. He could only make a representation on behalf of the Philippines, if he could make clear what exactly is Manila’s position.

Duterte’s South China Sea opacity – or more accurately obfuscation – might actually endear him to Trump who is a master of the art. So it could be expected there would be some good coming out of a meeting between the two Presidents, particularly for Duterte and the Philippines.

While Trump has been sitting in Washington like some kind of emperor of a Middle Kingdom with all these foreign leaders coming to pay homage, the solution to the South China Sea disputes and China’s claims, however, lies in Beijing.

So in the Chairman’s statement after the 30th ASEAN Summit in Manila, there was a safe distance between paragraph 7, where there was reference to full respect for legal and diplomatic processes in the settlement of disputes, and the section on the South China Sea (paragraphs 120 to 121) where there was absolutely no such reference, of course.

There was not a squeak on the ruling devastating to China by the Law of the Sea Arbitration Tribunal last July.

Instead, the leaders trotted out the usual asinine hope for a Code of Conduct by the middle of the year which has been long overdue since the Declaration of Conduct of 2002. And even tried to celebrate the imminence of the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES) which has been in existence in many places.

It is as if, right on cue, they have no idea how to move forward. ASEAN leaders must stop this charade. If they do not want to cross China – a perfectly understandable predisposition – they should at least come up with ideas on how to found a long-term cooperative solution. Why has ASEAN always got to wait on China?

There are many ideas out there on how to convert the South China Sea from an area of contention to a zone of cooperation. One involves turning the Spratlys into an International Marine Peace Park.

More than the undoubted oil reserves, the South China Sea is a huge source of fish for the entire region. About two billion people depend on it for their protein, and a not inconsiderable number for their livelihood. Over 12% of total world annual fish catch comes from the South China Sea (valued at US$21.8bil).

With all their talk about a people-centric ASEAN, should not the leaders get their officials and experts to look into making a proposal which would turn the South China Sea into a zone of cooperation to sustain the harvest of fish? Even Israel and Jordan could do so – under the 1994 peace agreement which created the Red Sea Marine Peace Park in the Gulf of Aqaba in the Red Sea.

In a new e-book, Justice Antonio T. Carpio of the Philippines notes: “The eggs and larvae that spawn in the Spratlys are carried by currents to the coasts of China, Vietnam, Luzon, Palawan, Malaysia, Brunei, Natuna Islands as well as the Sulu Sea. The Spratlys are the breeding ground for fish in the South China Sea.”

ASEAN leaders should begin to give stronger leadership and get into some details. They cannot be making platitudinous statements again and again. They cannot continue to spend time over prepared drafts which are becoming like an old record. They cannot be rushing from one meeting to another on a tight schedule prepared by the officials which gives them little time for true contemplation. They cannot be rushing home as soon as the ceremonies are over – and only start dealing with the regional issues at the next summit. ASEAN leaders must give ASEAN quality time.

Apart from clear concern over the tension in the Korean Peninsula, there was again too much self-satisfaction in the chairman’s statement of the 30th ASEAN Summit. On strengthening the secretariat and ASEAN organs, for instance, the leaders were happy with the progress made by the High Level Task Force. But exactly what progress and in which direction? They did not say.

On the study to update the ASEAN Charter, they agreeably noted the direction from Ministers “for a precise and cautious approach taking into account the views and positions of all Member States.” Does this mean no change in the ASEAN Charter for the next five years? Ten years?

Even on the tension in the Korean Peninsula, they did not make any specific suggestion on what could be done. Another attempt to revive the six-party talks aimed at ending North Korea’s nuclear programme that first started in 2003? Play tough and kick North Korea out of the 27-member ASEAN Regional Forum which North Korea had joined in 2000?

With so many matters covered in such general terms, the Chairman’s statement at the end of ASEAN Summits is becoming more and more superficial. ASEAN leaders must give clear leads with some details on one or more of the issues to show they are on top of them and wish to see a meaningful end result.

Hong Kong: Coming soon, One Country, One System


May 6, 2017

Hong Kong: Coming soon, One Country, One System

by Asiasentinel.com

http://www.asiasentinel.com/politics/china-hong-kong-one-country-one-system/

Image result for Carrie Lum

Carrie Lam (pic center),Hong Kong’s future Chief Executive

Despite strong official backing by Beijing, Hong Kong’s future Chief Executive, Carrie Lam Yuet-ngor, promised to heal the divisions in society. Yet in the run up to her installation on July 1, it appears increasingly that the healing of divisions is going to be accomplished by silencing one half of that divide. Actions and words in recent days have shown the current Chief Executive CY Leung bent on vengeance, and a central government bent on squeezing the life out of the Two Systems concept.

Quite what Lam feels about these moves is unclear, but they have raised concerns in many traditional pro-government circles as well as among the direct target, the advocates of more democracy and the autonomy promised in the Basic Law and Joint Declaration.

Not content with using legal procedures to have two young elected pro-democracy legislators disbarred from office, the authorities had them arrested for “unlawful assembly”  and “attempted forced entry” for trying to attend a Legislative Council meeting. The government then followed this up with the arrest of nine other activists from the pro-democracy faction who took part in a Nov. 6 demonstration against the court decision to ban the two elected legislators. The nine are charged with “unlawful assembly” for taking an unauthorized route during a march to the Liaison Office, Beijing’s power center in Hong Kong.

These charges come in the wake of 18 previous ones against activists, some dating back to the 2014 Umbrella movement, and it is widely believed that more such charges are in the works to cripple the pro-democracy movement and further reduce its numbers in the Legislative Council, thus using loosely framed laws to counter its stunning success in elections last September.

Four other lawmakers face disbarment on the basis of being in conflict with a November 2016 decision by Beijing’s National People’s Congress. If these cases succeed, the ranks of elected legislators would be again thinned, giving the government complete control of a Legislative Council half of whose members are chosen mostly by small, pro-government electorates. Hong Kong’s political system would have no more credibility than that of the military junta in Thailand.

Just possibly, harsh measures by the outgoing and highly unpopular Leung are a deliberate ploy to enable Lam to start her rule with some concessions, such as a general amnesty for those – including policemen – involved in legal actions related to Umbrella and related demonstrations. But that is probably over-optimistic. An autocratic Xi Jinping appears in no mood for compromises with insubordinate Hong Kong residents, of whom there are many.

Image result for Hongkong Skyline

Hong Kong Skyline Digital Art – Hong Kong Skyline Fine Art Print

Adding further to Hong Kong concerns was a speech by a legal advisor to Beijing’s Liaison Office, Wang Zhenmin, which threatened the end of  the domestic autonomy promised under Two Systems if it was perceived to undermine the interests of One Country. Wang suggested that separatist sentiment in Hong Kong has damaged national security and that the territory “needs to actively defend the sovereignty, national security and development interests of the country in accordance with law.”

Wang seems deliberately to exaggerate the extent of separatist sentiment in the territory, confusing demands for genuine autonomy with ones for independence, an entirely impractical proposition supported only by a few naïve youngsters. The “independence” canard and the priority to One Country have thus become sticks to beat those wanting the sustain genuine autonomy and the freedoms of speech and publication which Hong Kong enjoys. Soon it may be impossible to have open debate on issues such as the status of Taiwan, Xinjiang, Tibet or the South China Sea.

What Beijing consistently declines to recognize is that the Umbrella movement itself, and the anti-government vote in the 2016 elections, was a direct response to Beijing’s earlier interference quashing efforts to extend representative government.

The implication that Hong Kong may be a threat to national security has to be seen in the context of China’s National Security law. This is so broadly drafted that it can be used against almost any criticism of the Communist party and its leadership and policies.  For instance, Article 15 reads:

“The State persists in the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, maintaining the socialist system with Chinese characteristics, developing socialist democratic politics, completing socialist rule of law, strengthening mechanisms for restraint and oversight of the operation of power, and ensuring all rights of the people as the masters of the nation, and strengthening restraint and oversight mechanisms on the operation of power.

“The State guards against, stops, and lawfully punishes acts of treason, division of the nation, incitement of rebellion, subversion or instigation of subversion of the people’s democratic dictatorship regime; guards against, stops, and lawfully punishes the theft or leaking of state secrets and other conduct endangering national security; and guards against, stops, and lawfully punishes acts of infiltration, destruction, subversion or separatism by foreign influences and other conduct endangering national security; and guards against, stops, and lawfully punishes acts of infiltration, destruction, subversion or separatism by foreign influences.

“The State persists in the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, maintaining the socialist system with Chinese characteristics, developing socialist democratic politics, completing socialist rule of law, strengthening mechanisms for restraint and oversight of the operation of power, and ensuring all rights of the people as the masters of the nation, and strengthening restraint and oversight mechanisms on the operation of power.”

Wang’s speech elicited a quick rebuke from a former leader of the pro-business and generally pro-government Liberal party Allen Lee Peng-fei. “What authority does he have to speak to Hong Kong people?” and to lay down his view about constitutional reform, a matter for the territory itself. Lee is long retired so has little to lose from speaking up, but his views reflected those of many fearful of expressing views for fear of retribution in one form or another.

In particular, Hong Kongers increasingly resent the overt interference of the Liaison Office which is supposed to keep Beijing informed of Hongkong peoples’ views, not act as the hand guiding a puppet regime.

Such levels of interference and the constant talk of “national security” are worrying traditionally conservative groups such as lawyers and accountants, and those want to see Hong Kong remain attractive to open minds and free expression, essential if its future is to be more than just one of several large cities on the south China coast.

As it is, the territory is spending large sums to celebrate the 20th anniversary of return to Chinese sovereignty. President Xi will be on hand as Lam takes over. But for many in Hong Kong there is a diminishing cause for celebration as the demand for One Country, as ruled by the party, dominates discourse, and the related concept of “Hong Kong People Ruling Hong Kong” is constantly undermined by Beijing’s spokesmen and their army of parrots in the local media. Doubly worrying, it comes at a time when President Xi is bent on reducing or eliminating foreign influence in social, political and cultural domains. Hong Kong is by this measure a gateway for undesirable ideas. For sure, closing the windows will keep out foreign flies, but so are fresh air and fresh ideas. Deng Xiaoping must be turning in his grave.

 

China– A threat to the South China Sea?


May 3, 2017

China– A threat to the South China Sea?

by Mark J. Valencia @www.eastasiaforum.com

Image result for China--A Threat to the South China Sea

When reporting on the South China Sea, it has become commonplace for media around the world to draw upon think tank research detailing China’s developing military capable facilities in the region. Some use the information to bolster campaigns to convince the US Trump administration that China presents an imminent threat to the country’s interests, including freedom of navigation. But the deepening drumbeat for the US to militarily confront China in the South China Sea should be considered with a healthy dose of skepticism.

One report by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies describes China’s latest construction projects in the South China Sea, concluding that it ‘can now deploy military assets including combat aircraft and mobile missile launchers to the Spratly Islands at any time’. This is fact. But the AMTI director also warned in a subsequent interview to ‘look for deployment in the near future’. This implies that China intends to use these facilities to do so. This is supposition.
Image result for China--A Threat to the South China Sea

US Aircraft Carrier US Carl Vinson

Australia’s Lowy Institute released a similar report fretting that ‘these strategic outposts will permit Beijing to enhance its power projection capabilities and establish anti-access zones right across the South China Sea’. There are many bad things that could happen in the South China Sea. But that doesn’t mean that they will.

Media distortion flourishes when academic analysts themselves push US-slanted research. Let’s take the concern that China will interfere with freedom of commercial navigation. Media articles often cite the more than US$5 trillion trade that transits the South China Sea. The obvious inference is that China may use their facilities to disrupt this trade. This is possible. But China has not done so, is unlikely to do so and maintains it will not do so. China’s economy depends on seaborne trade through the South China Sea, which would likely be interrupted in a conflict.

The United States has cleverly conflated freedom of commercial navigation with the freedom to undertake provocative military intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance activities (ISR). The US argument is that freedom of navigation is indivisible and includes both commercial navigation and US IRR probes. The United States then argues that China’s interference with its military vessels and aircraft in and over China’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) violates freedom of navigation. But China argues that it is not challenging freedom of navigation itself, only the abuse of this right by the US military in its EEZ.

US ISR missions include active ‘tickling’ of China’s coastal defences to provoke and observe a response, interference with shore to ship and submarine communications, ‘preparation of the battlefield’ using legal ambiguities to evade the scientific research consent regime, and tracking of China’s new nuclear submarines for potential targeting as they enter and exit their base. In China’s view these are not passive intelligence collection activities commonly undertaken and usually tolerated by most states. Moreover, they are not uses of the ocean for peaceful purposes as required by UNCLOS, but are intrusive and controversial practices threatening the use of force which is prohibited by the UN Charter.

Western think-tank research seems often one-sided and focused on ‘outing’ China. More balanced analysis would pay equivalent attention to other claimants’ activities — particularly those of the US navy and its own ‘militarisation’ of the South China Sea. While China might present a problem for the US navy in encounters close to the Chinese mainland, the United States still maintains the overall military advantage in the South China Sea. It currently operates with combat military vessels and aircraft as well as manned ISR assets. It is also deploying aerial, surface and underwater drones to the area.

Research on the South China Sea also commonly neglects the vulnerability of China’s installations to the US capability to destroy them. In any conflict scenario — and interference with commercial freedom of navigation would likely incite conflict — these facilities would be indefensible in the face of US long-range cruise missiles.

According to Dennis Blair, retired Admiral and former US director of national intelligence, ‘The Spratlys are 900 miles away from China for God’s sake. Those things have no ability to defend themselves in any sort of military sense. The Philippines and the Vietnamese could put them out of action, much less us’. Vietnam has deployed advanced mobile rocket launchers to some of the features it occupies thus threatening China’s installations.

China apparently does not consider defensive installations ‘militarisation’. It has repeatedly warned it will defend itself if the United States persists with provocative ISR probes and Freedom of Navigation exercises (FONOPs) near its coast and occupied features. In a January 2016 teleconference with US Chief of Naval Operations John Richardson, Chinese naval commander Wu Shengli said that ‘We won’t not set up defences. How many defences completely depends on the level of threat we face’. Self-defence is every nation’s right.

There is obviously disagreement over the definition of ‘militarisation’ and who is doing it. Was the recent US deployment of the Carl Vinson aircraft carrier strike force into the South China Sea ‘militarising’ the Sea? What about US ally Japan announcing with great media hype that it will send its largest naval vessel there? Both China and the US are ‘militarising’ the South China Sea — at least in each other’s eyes.

Mark J. Valencia is an Adjunct Senior Scholar at the National Institute for South China Sea Studies (NISCSS), Haikou.