President Trump and Asia: Lest it’s misunderstood–America First


January 23, 2017

President Trump and getting on the front foot in Asia: Lest it’s misunderstood–America First

 by  Editors, East Asia Forum
http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2017/01/23/president-trump-and-getting-on-the-front-foot-in-asia/#more-54137

The inauguration of the 45th US President, Donald Trump, is a game-changer and the fallout threatens Asian interests perhaps more than those in any other part of the world.

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The 45th President of the United States of America–Donald John Trump

‘For many decades, we’ve enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry’, Trump declared in his inaugural speech, ‘[we’ve] subsidised the armies of other countries while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military; we’ve defended other nation’s borders while refusing to defend our own; and spent trillions of dollars overseas while America’s infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and decay’.

‘From this moment on, it’s going to be America First, America First’, Trump hailed. ‘Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American workers and American families. We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies, and destroying our jobs. Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength’.

That the United States under Trump would ‘reinforce old alliances and form new ones — and unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism’ might provide a reassurance to allies in Asia and the Pacific, but one that is deeply qualified by the notion that paying for US deployments abroad is under scrutiny.

What is Donald Trump like and what will his presidency really be about? No one can know for certain: the only predictability about Trump is his unpredictability. But the experts on Trump, those who have studied his life and career and written his biographies, are clear on three things.

‘They see the same person they’ve always seen — the consummate classroom troublemaker; a vain, insecure bully; and an anti-institutional schemer, as adept at ‘gaming the system’ as he is unashamed of that. As they look ahead … to his administration … they feel confident predicting that he will run the country much as he has run his company: for himself’.

Apart from his father, Donald Trump’s chief mentor in life was Roy Cohn, a Joe McCarthy henchman, ‘a guy who stood for cold-eye calculus about how bullying people works’.

The world out there, without its norms or conventions, for which Trump on his record has no respect, is a bigger bully pit than even he has had to deal thus far in his career. On all the evidence we have, there is zero chance that in the fights he picks with world leaders Trump will be capable of separating personal pique from his country’s interests — let alone the interests of the broader public.

Nothing about inauguration day has allayed the two main anxieties for Asia that have been fuelled by the harbingers of radical change under a Trump presidency.

The old certainties that brought prosperity and a significant measure of stability to world affairs for over three-quarters of a century after the Second World War are no longer clear.

The US anchor of the Western security system, on which order in Asia and the Pacific has relied, may be being weighed.

The institutional edifice on which economic certainty and political confidence in the US-led global order has been built — the postwar institutional framework that guaranteed economic openness and the prospect of economic and political security — is under threat as Trump appears bent on trade wars and calls for protectionism. This is not a narrowly economic problem: it affects the global security outlook and especially economic and political security in Asia and the Pacific.

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The comfortable view in Tokyo, Canberra and even in Beijing that Trump in election mode was all political rhetoric, and that US global economic and security strategies would largely remain undisturbed, has given way to deeper disquiet.

Reliance on the enduring operational verities of continuing strategic engagement with Washington, around the uncertainties that Trump brings to the game, is an increasingly doubtful refuge for the business-as-usual camp.

So how do we deal with the new Trump reality show in Asia?

Certainly not by sitting back and taking what the bully pit dishes up, argues Hitoshi Tanaka in this week’s lead essay. Trump’s ‘America First’ foreign policy rhetoric is moving the United States away from its traditional role as a global leader at a time when the domestic and international political environments are undergoing significant change, Tanaka points out. Japan, as the United States’ most important ally in Asia, has to get on the front foot in defining the kind of engagement it wants with America. Prime Minister Abe, Tanaka says, has been right to engage Trump early and, he might have added, to swing through Southeast Asia and Australia last week to seek common positions across the region.

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The Giants of East Asia

‘Given that Trump appears keen on having Japan expand its share of the security burden’, says Tanaka, ‘the best option would be intensive US–Japan consultations that aim to forge a common approach to key challenges as an initial step toward a joint US–Japan strategy for the region’. The overarching objective would be to retain and enhance US engagement in Asia while bolstering Japan’s security roles and functions within the alliance framework, and its contributions to peace, without opening a regionally destabilising Pandora’s box’.

An important strategic priority among the four that Tanaka identifies is nurturing a stable and inclusive regional order. ‘On its current trajectory, the Asia-Pacific regional order risks fracturing into a two-tiered structure composed of the US-led liberal international order and an emerging Chinese sphere of influence’. The United States and Japan should prioritise engagement with China and find a new way to coordinate among regional institutions and advance cooperation among Asian powers. This requires rapid and immediate elevation of consultation among the Asian powers.Sitting back and relying on old default settings is unlikely to work in the new bully pit.

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In the new Trump era, Prime Minister Abe, on regional engagement, and Chinese President Xi Jinping, on the importance of economic globalisation at Davos, have both set good examples of getting on the front foot in Asia. One hopes that other Asian leaders, individually and collectively, will quickly follow suit.

The EAF Editorial Group is comprised of Peter Drysdale, Shiro Armstrong, Ben Ascione, Ryan Manuel, Amy King and Jillian Mowbray-Tsutsumi and is located in the Crawford School of Public Policy in the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific.
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Japan-US Alliance in the Trumpian Era

by Hitoshi Tanaka, JCIE

Donald Trump’s election to the US presidency came as a major surprise to Japan and the rest of Asia. And Trump’s controversial campaign rhetoric has brought into question the pillars of US foreign policy, including the value of US alliance relationships, its commitment to free trade and its willingness to protect regional stability in the Asia Pacific.

Image result for Japan and the US the Unholy alliance

Yet the region must find a way to work with the Trump presidency. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe signalled Japan’s intention to do so by becoming the first foreign leader to meet with President-elect Trump on 17 November. Looking ahead, the region faces a number of challenges that require intensive consultation and cooperation.

Trump’s ‘America First’ foreign policy rhetoric appears to be moving the United States away from its traditional role as a global leader at a time when the domestic and international political environments are undergoing significant change. Continued US leadership and intensive cooperation with allies and partners will remain critical to the maintenance of regional peace and prosperity.

While the Trump administration contemplates its foreign policy approach, America’s allies must review their regional approaches as well. Given that Japan remains the most important US ally in Asia, the two countries need to move forward and further build up the infrastructure of the alliance.

Japan has responded to the changing security environment with a remarkable suite of defence reforms aimed at expanding its ‘proactive contributions to peace’. Japan will need to continue to expand its contributions, but must do so in a way that is anchored by its identity as a peace-loving nation that does not use military means to pursue its economic or political agenda.

Given that Trump appears keen on having Japan expand its share of the security burden, the best option would be intensive US–Japan consultations that aim to forge a common approach to key challenges as an initial step toward a joint US–Japan strategy for the region. The overarching objective would be to retain and enhance US engagement in Asia while bolstering Japan’s security roles and functions within the alliance framework, and its contributions to peace, without opening a regionally destabilising Pandora’s box.

The Trump and Abe administrations should focus on four key areas. First, a new approach towards North Korea is necessary. ‘Strategic patience’ has failed to change North Korean behaviour. The Kim Jong-un regime is edging closer to producing a miniaturised nuclear warhead that can be mounted on a long-range missile. This poses a serious threat.

Resolving the situation on the Korean Peninsula requires comprehensive and coordinated efforts between the United States, Japan and South Korea to bring China into the fold. Beijing is still hesitant to apply crippling pressure to the extent that it would seriously undermine the Kim Jong-un regime’s political control and run the risk of causing North Korean collapse. The United States, South Korea and Japan must do more to reassure China that a full break with the regime in Pyongyang will not end up being antithetical to its national interests. This requires joint contingency planning among the allies as well as intensive discussions with China to prepare for worst-case scenarios on the peninsula.

Second, greater confidence-building among the United States, China, Russia, Japan and South Korea is sorely needed in order to de-escalate tensions, defuse nationalism and build relations rooted in win–win cooperation. While this may be hard to envision based on Trump’s election rhetoric, operational-level cooperation that is already underway between the United States, Japan and other likeminded countries in the region can gradually be expanded.

The third priority is nurturing a stable and inclusive regional order. On its current trajectory, the Asia-Pacific regional order risks fracturing into a two-tiered structure comprised of the US-led liberal international order and an emerging Chinese sphere of influence. The United States and Japan should prioritise engagement with China. They need to find some way to coordinate among regional institutions and advance functional cooperation among Asian powers.

Though the Trump administration is likely to place lower priority on international institutions, it is in the US interest to find some way to promote smoother coordination between the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the One Belt, One Road initiative on the one hand and the IMF, World Bank and Asian Development Bank on the other.

Finally, the United States will need to find a balance between cooperation with Russia in areas of mutual interest and maintaining a unified front within the international community against unlawful Russian behaviour, such as its unilateral annexation of Crimea in March 2014. There is a strong need for intense consultations between Japan and the United States on this front.

There is a deep sense of uncertainty about the future role of the United States in East Asia. As Trump takes office, it will be crucial that his team makes a concerted effort to understand the positions of US allies and friends. As US domestic politics and the regional balance of power undergo changes, intensive consultations and cooperation with allies and partners will be critical. Forging a joint approach on key regional challenges in a way that opens the door to a shared US–Japan strategy will benefit both countries.

Hitoshi Tanaka is a senior fellow at the Japan Center for International Exchange and chairman of the Institute for International Strategy at the Japan Research Institute, Ltd. He previously served as Japan’s deputy minister for foreign affairs.

 This article is an extract from East Asia Insights Vol. 11 No. 3 December 2016, which is available in full here, and is reprinted with the kind permission of JCIE.

 

The Kindleberger Trap


January 16, 2017

The Kindleberger Trap

by Joseph S.Nye @www.project-syndicate.org

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CAMBRIDGE – As US President-elect Donald Trump prepares his administration’s policy toward China, he should be wary of two major traps that history has set for him. The “Thucydides Trap,” cited by Chinese President Xi Jinping, refers to the warning by the ancient Greek historian that cataclysmic war can erupt if an established power (like the United States) becomes too fearful of a rising power (like China). But Trump also has to worry about the “Kindleberger Trap”: a China that seems too weak rather than too strong.

Charles Kindleberger, an intellectual architect of the Marshall Plan who later taught at MIT, argued that the disastrous decade of the 1930s was caused when the US replaced Britain as the largest global power but failed to take on Britain’s role in providing global public goods. The result was the collapse of the global system into depression, genocide, and world war. Today, as China’s power grows, will it help provide global public goods?

In domestic politics, governments produce public goods such as policing or a clean environment, from which all citizens can benefit and none are excluded. At the global level, public goods – such as a stable climate, financial stability, or freedom of the seas – are provided by coalitions led by the largest powers.

Small countries have little incentive to pay for such global public goods. Because their small contributions make little difference to whether they benefit or not, it is rational for them to ride for free. But the largest powers can see the effect and feel the benefit of their contributions. So it is rational for the largest countries to lead. When they do not, global public goods are under-produced. When Britain became too weak to play that role after World War I, an isolationist US continued to be a free rider, with disastrous results.

Some observers worry that as China’s power grows, it will free ride rather than contribute to an international order that it did not create. So far, the record is mixed. China benefits from the United Nations system, where it has a veto in the Security Council. It is now the second-largest funder of UN peacekeeping forces, and it participated in UN programs related to Ebola and climate change.

China has also benefited greatly from multilateral economic institutions like the World Trade Organization, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund. In 2015, China launched the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which some saw as an alternative to the World Bank; but the new institution adheres to international rules and cooperates with the World Bank.

Image result for thucydides trapSparta Vs Athens–America Vs China

On the other hand, China’s rejection of a Permanent Court of Arbitration judgment last year against its territorial claims in the South China Sea raises troublesome questions. Thus far, however, Chinese behavior has sought not to overthrow the liberal world order from which it benefits, but to increase its influence within it. If pressed and isolated by Trump’s policy, however, will China become a disruptive free rider that pushes the world into a Kindleberger Trap?

Trump must also worry about the better-known Thucydides Trap: a China that seems too strong rather than too weak. There is nothing inevitable about this trap, and its effects are often exaggerated. For example, the political scientist Graham Allison has argued that in 12 of 16 cases since 1500 when an established power has confronted a rising power, the result has been a major war.

But these numbers are not accurate, because it is not clear what constitutes a “case.” For example, Britain was the dominant world power in the mid-nineteenth century, but it let Prussia create a powerful new German empire in the heart of the European continent. Of course, Britain did fight Germany a half-century later, in 1914, but should that be counted as one case or two?

World War I was not simply a case of an established Britain responding to a rising Germany. In addition to the rise of Germany, WWI was caused by the fear in Germany of Russia’s growing power, the fear of rising Slavic nationalism in a declining Austria-Hungary, as well as myriad other factors that differed from ancient Greece.

As for current analogies, today’s power gap between the US and China is much greater than that between Germany and Britain in 1914. Metaphors can be useful as general precautions, but they become dangerous when they convey a sense of historical inexorableness.

Even the classical Greek case is not as straightforward as Thucydides made it seem. He claimed that the cause of the second Peloponnesian War was the growth of the power of Athens and the fear it caused in Sparta. But the Yale historian Donald Kagan has shown that Athenian power was in fact not growing. Before the war broke out in 431 BC, the balance of power had begun to stabilize. Athenian policy mistakes made the Spartans think that war might be worth the risk.

Athens’ growth caused the first Peloponnesian War earlier in the century, but then a Thirty-Year Truce doused the fire. Kagan argues that to start the second, disastrous war, a spark needed to land on one of the rare bits of kindling that had not been thoroughly drenched and then continually and vigorously fanned by poor policy choices. In other words, the war was caused not by impersonal forces, but by bad decisions in difficult circumstances.

That is the danger that Trump confronts with China today. He must worry about a China that is simultaneously too weak and too strong. To achieve his objectives, he must avoid the Kindleberger trap as well as the Thucydides trap. But, above all, he must avoid the miscalculations, misperceptions, and rash judgments that plague human history.

https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/trump-china-kindleberger-trap-by-joseph-s–nye-2017-01

Book Review: A Great Place to Have a War (Laos)


January 15, 2017

Book Review: A Great Place to Have a War (Laos)

When John F. Kennedy won the election to become the 35th President of the United States, he met with his predecessor, Dwight D. Eisenhower, who repeatedly warned him that the tiny, poverty-stricken country of Laos was the “cork in the bottle. If Laos fell, then Thailand, the Philippines, and of course Chiang Kai-shek [Taiwan] would go.”

Men who say they fought a secret war for the C.I.A. are still on the run with their families in the mountain jungles of Laos. Credit Tomas Van Houtryve/The International Herald Tribune

If Laos were lost, the outgoing president said, the rest of Southeast Asia would follow, and the gateway to India would be opened to the communists.

In actual fact, at that point Laos was so poor that its single most important source of foreign exchange in 1961 was from collect cable tolls by journalists, warning that Laos was a linchpin in the Communist drive for world dominance.

If it was irrelevant, in the words of one CIA operative, it was a “great place to have a war,” the title of a new and disheartening book on the secret war prosecuted by the CIA that convulsed the country for the next 13 years by Joshua Kurlantzick, a senior fellow for Southeast Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations.  Kurlantzick is the author of three other books on Asia.

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The misperception of Laos’s strategic importance was tragic. Thailand, with its strong Monarchist institutions, was never going to go communist.  British-controlled Malaya, with its majority Malay Muslim population and a communist insurgency centered in a minority of the minority Chinese, was battling an uprising that numerically could never succeed. The Hukbalahap rebellion in the Philippines was a rural rebellion that could never really touch the Catholic urban population. The domino theory was pretty much nonsense.

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Does America care?

But from such misconceptions tragedies arise. And in the decades that followed, Laos would be visited by a calamity that its population, numbering only 2.1 million in 1961, could hardly bear.  In this important book, Kurlantzick writes in excruciating detail how the decisions by Eisenhower and Kennedy would turn the CIA from a spy organization to one whose primary role was covert warfare, involving the agency in ever-more controversial actions across the world.

As Laos became a bigger priority for the agency, “the program would balloon in men and budget. More and more Americans would arrive,” Kurlantzick writes. “It would grow into a massive undertaking run by CIA operatives on the ground, and by the agency and its allies in the Lao capital and back in Washington. The United States would build a vast proxy army of hill tribes in Laos—mostly Hmong but also several other ethnic minorities—that would number in the tens of thousands. Overall, by the end of the war in 1975, some two 200,000 Laotians, both civilians and military, had perished, including at least 30,000 Hmong.

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Nearly twice as many Laotians were wounded by ground fighting and by bombing, and 750,000 of them, Kurlantzick writes, were made refugees. More than 700 Americans died, almost all of them CIA operatives, contractors, or US military men working on loan to the CIA, although many of the American deaths would not be revealed to the public for decades.

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The US dropped more bombs on Laos than it did on Hitler’s Germany during the Second World War, causing untold hardships to the Laotian people. This is the legacy of bot.h Eisenhower and Kennedy.

Today, Laos remains strewn with land mines and other antipersonnel weapons that take the lives and limbs of people almost every day.  A third of the bombs dropped on Laos – famously, more than were dropped on Germany during World War II – were undetonated and continue to explode. Since the Laotian war ended, tens of thousands of Laotians, mostly from hill tribes little removed from the stone age, would become refugees and were flung into a vast diaspora in which few have found anything like success.

By most measures, the CIA’s adventure in Laos was a debacle that virtually destroyed a civilization and was lost when the country basically disappeared into the Vietnamese orbit. But by the CIA’s yardstick, it was an outright success.

William Colby, who became the director of the agency, had strongly advocated shipping arms to Vang Pao, the charismatic Hmong leader, and his men.  Both he and his predecessor, Richard Helms, believed the agency had proven itself in warfare and had held off communism far more effectively than the US military had. Helms contended that the secret war had occupied 70,000 North Vietnamese troops who might otherwise have fought Americans in Vietnam, Kurlantzick writes.

After 1975, men with experience in the secret Laotian war started up the ladder of success all over the world. That included Richard Holm, a young CIA case officer who would rise to take over the CIA station in Paris. Ted Shackley would go on to become the associate deputy director for covert operations. Daniel Arnold, the last CIA station chief in Vientiane before the communist takeover, became the chief of the evaluations and plans department of the agency’s Directorate of Operations. Dozens more were similarly on track for agency success.

“Many clandestine officers who had worked in Laos brought to other posts a belief that the agency could now handle warfare,” Kurlantzick writes. “Indeed, several of the agency’s own initial classified retrospectives emphasized not only that [Operation] Momentum had been successful in bleeding North Vietnam and prolonging the United States’ ability to fight in Indochina but also that the operation had given the agency war- fighting skills.”

Eventually, the CIA’s adventurism caught up with it. Utah Sen. Frank Church led a committee probe that brought new oversight. Admiral Stansfield Turner, appointed by then President Jimmy Carter, cut 800 agency jobs in what Kurlantzick said was to be “the worst moment in the agency’s history.”

But when Ronald Reagan came into office, that ended the CIA reforms. Bill Casey, Reagan’s wily CIA director, called the Laotian operations a template for pushing back communism. Budgets skyrocketed. Restrictions were removed on covert operations, especially in Afghanistan, then occupied by the Soviet Union. Casey engineered the training and equipping of the mujahedeen with Stinger rockets. Eventually the muj bled the Soviet Union so badly that its Afghan adventure contributed to the ruin of the Soviet economy.

That too ended in disaster, with the mujahedeen turning their guns on each other, virtually wrecking the country so badly that the citizenry welcomed the Taliban because they promised law and order.

The CIA applied those lessons across Central America, bolstering a series of repressive governments in Guatemala and other countries that have resulted in floods of political refugees seeking to get into the United States.

In the 1990s, as in the late 1970s, despite a downsizing, the CIA paramilitary forces continued to expand, operating in Somalia and training Iraqi exiles opposing the Saddam Hussein regime, and training other guerilla armies.

Today intelligence gathering – the original mission of the agency – “is secondary in the agency’s mission to kill enemies of the United States,” Kurlantzick writes. He notes that other reporting revealed in 2015 that the CIA and Special Forces together had created a kind of global super-elite paramilitary force. In early 2015 the agency’s senior paramilitary specialist was made head of the CIA’s entire clandestine service, which is responsible for nearly all overseas intelligence operations.

Today, as Kurlantzick demonstrates, “CIA activities go almost totally unwatched by the public and the media. The strategies used to keep most of the war on terror secret—prohibiting reporters from coming near CIA paramilitary operations, classifying even the most basic details of paramilitary campaigns, relying almost exclusively on technology, contractors, and local forces rather than US ground troops—would have been completely familiar to the CIA operatives running the Laos war.”

China’s Investments–Geo-Political Implications for Malaysia


January 14, 2017

China’s Investments–Geo-Political Implications for Malaysia

by Dennis Ignatius

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

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

Dominating the transport sector

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

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

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

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

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

Unanswered questions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OBOR?

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

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

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

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

The geopolitical element

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

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

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

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

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

Colony building

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

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

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

Image result for bandar malaysia – china’s new regional capital

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image result for bandar malaysia – china’s new regional capital

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

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

How far will China go to protect its position?

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

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

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

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

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

The most pressing foreign policy challenge

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image result for tun muhammad ghazali bin shafie

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

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

 

 

China’s Advice–Pursue the path of mutually beneficial cooperation for regional peace and stability


January 12, 2017

China issues urges small and medium-sized countries to pursue the path of  mutually beneficial cooperation for regional peace and stability

Image result for China the SuperpowerChina–Exercising Soft Power in Asia

by Channel News Asia

SINGAPORE: China on Wednesday (Jan 11) issued its first white paper on issues related to Asia-Pacific security cooperation.

In the six-point proposal, reproduced in full by Xinhua, Beijing stated that “small- and medium-sized countries need not and should not take sides among big countries”.

“All countries should make joint efforts to pursue a new path of dialogue instead of confrontation and pursue partnerships rather than alliances, and build an Asia-Pacific partnership featuring mutual trust, inclusiveness and mutually beneficial cooperation,” the white paper read.

It added that China would step up its role in regional and global security to take on greater responsibilities. “China is ready to pursue security through dialogue and cooperation in the spirit of working together for mutually beneficial results, and safeguard peace and stability jointly with other countries in the region.”

Image result for China the Superpower and the South China Sea

“The realities of geography, military and vast economic power yield China essentially permanent advantages over its near neighbors. They are always going to live in the shadow of China, and their economies will continue to be become more closely integrated with China’s. China’s neighbors will always need Beijing more that it needs them. This leverage means that over the long term, whether control is centralized or not, China’s strategic approach to maritime issues will leave little room for compromise.”http://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/the-real-south-china-sea-problem-the-shadow-china-12015–

China remains committed to “upholding peace and stability in the South China Sea” and will continue to maintain dialogue on the issue with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), it said.

However, Beijing also warned that it could be forced to issue “necessary responses to the provocative actions which infringe on China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests, and undermine peace and stability in the South China Sea”.

It added that no effort “to internationalise and judicialise” the South China Sea issue “will be of avail”.

The paper concluded that China’s development would add to “the momentum for world peace”.In a news conference to explain the white paper, Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin said it proposes to strengthen cooperation by promoting common development, perfecting existing regional multilateral mechanisms, promoting rule setting, intensifying military exchanges and cooperation, and properly resolving divergences and disputes.

“We hope that all countries in the region will work along with China to uphold win-win cooperation and make joint efforts in achieving long-lasting peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region,” he said.

 

 

http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/asiapacific/china-issues-white-paper-warns-small-and-medium-sized-countries/3430786.html

Vacillations and Dramas Exist in Sino-Philippines Relations Too


January 12, 2017

Image result for Asia-Pacific Bulletin
Number 367 | January 11, 2017
ANALYSIS

Vacillations and Dramas Exist in Sino-Philippines Relations Too

By Chu Yin

The new Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has damaged diplomatic relations for his country with his bold anti-US attitude and warming of Sino-Philippine relations. The Philippine attitude towards China has vacillated heavily. Since the founding of the Third Republic of the Philippines in 1946, there have been six distinct periods in Sino-Philippine relations:

The first period lasted from 1946 to 1960 when the Philippines adhered to anti-Communist party and anti-China policies, and thus was opposed to Chinese revolutionary rhetoric.

The second period began in late 1960 and ended in 1986 when the Marcos dictatorship fell. Under the Nixon Doctrine, Sino-Philippine relations began to thaw. The Chinese leadership took measures (such as lowering fuel prices to the Philippines in 1975) to promote economic activities and speed up the establishment of diplomatic relations. This was a steady, long-term process.

The third period from 1986-1998 commenced with the ascent of the Aquino-Ramos government. Due to the growth of the Taiwan economy especially during the latter part of the 1980s, the Philippine government sought Taiwanese investments to develop its economy; to that end, Manila strayed from the One China policy in favor of a One and Half Chinas policy, and thus was seen – successor to Aquino –  with suspicion in Beijing. Although the Ramos government adapted a foreign policy emphasizing full-scale diplomacy with Asia, it did not substantially change the policy prioritizing Taiwan. Meanwhile, sovereignty disputes between China and the Philippines over the South China Sea were on the rise in the mid-1990s.

The fourth period took place during the Estrada-Arroyo governments from 2001-2010. The Philippines continued to pursue territorial claims in the South China Sea as its predecessors had, however, both the Chinese and Philippine governments took more realistic and flexible stances and communicated more often with each other, strengthening mutual trust. During this period the Philippines returned to a One China policy. In 1995, Manila removed China from the list of Communist Central Ruled Economies, and in 1996 Chinese president Jiang Zemin made a state visit to the Philippines. During this visit, the two governments agreed on terms for a Sino-Philippine relationship of friendship, mutual trust and cooperation for the 21st Century, and decided to shelve differences and seek joint development over the South China Sea. The Arroyo government, though, continued to strengthen its political connections to the US during this time.

The fifth period was marked by the Benigno Aquino III government from 2010-2016. In 2009, the US, under the Obama administration, undertook a “Pivot to Asia,” while concurrent shifts in the domestic atmosphere of the Philippines earned the Arroyo government massive criticism for its economic cooperation with China. Aquino the Third – being pro-America and anti-China – won the election. Having campaigned on the slogan of anti-corruption, he not only cleared Arroyo’s political assets, but also took a strong stance on the South China Sea issue.

President Duterte, elected in 2016, represents the sixth period of Sino-Philippines relations. In contrast to his tough rhetoric towards the US, Duterte has shown a realistic attitude towards China, after President Aquino III had forced China to take a back seat. The Philippines under President Duterte shelved the arbitration against Beijing and thus won generous aid and the opening of fishing grounds on Huangyan Island from China, though the decision did not solve the impasse facing Sino-Philippine relations over the South China Sea.

Sino-Philippine relations have three basic features. First, relations with China are never the most important diplomatic relationship for the Philippines; Philippine-American ties are always more important. On the one hand, the Philippines adapts its relations with China according to the state of its relationship with the US. During the Nixon-era Sino-US cooperation against the Soviet Union, Sino-Philippine relations improved rapidly; however, when the U.S. returned its focus to the Asia Pacific area, Sino-Philippine progress was largely undone. On the other hand, the Philippines hedge against American influence by entertaining Chinese interests. This strategy is demonstrated in Duterte’s diplomatic turn.

Second, the Philippines’ self-centered, national interest-based foreign policy is always at the core of relations with China. When the Philippines perceived Taiwan as more valuable than China, it distanced itself from Beijing. When Manila saw China as a threat to its national security in the South China Sea, it turned back to the US. Later, feeling the pressure of US interests, the Philippines again warmed to China. Although many hold the point that the Philippines is merely a pawn of China and the US, the Philippines shows its own will and interests through these strategic vacillations.

“On the one hand, China should take advantage of this chance to bolster relations with Manila. On the other, Beijing should remain wary of historical fluctuations in the relationship.”

Third, compared with the US, China functions as a more external and secondary factor for the Philippines. China’s policy on Taiwan and the South China Sea do influence Sino-Philippine relations. On the contrary, the US is the primary actor in American-Philippine and Sino-Philippine relations. American choices for pro and anti-China Filipino politicians are always a crucial factor in Philippine elections. Philippine elite families wield top down influence over the country, and thus when more citizens participate in democracy, the impact of American policy upon Philippine lawmakers will be mitigated. Duterte might represent an inevitable step in the Philippine transition from family politics to democracy. However, this does not mean that the US will lose the Philippines or that Duterte will be an anti-America hero. It only means that the US cannot depend on its historical influence over Philippine elites, and may turn to other means of courting the Philippine decision makers.

As for China, the periodic swing of Sino-Philippine relations means China should remain cautiously optimistic. On the one hand, China should take advantage of this chance to bolster relations with Manila. On the other, Beijing should remain wary of historical fluctuations in the relationship. China should take a realistic attitude and seek cooperation with the US, to steady the swing of Philippine policy instead of attempting to dominate the region. Such a strategy would make Philippine policy less likely to change with each new administration, and would protect Duterte from American scorn. Shelving differences over the South China Sea issue for the time being could make a later renegotiation more likely.

About the Author

Chu Yin is an Associate Professor at the University of International Relations and an Academic Committee Member at the Pangoal Institution. He can be contacted at chuyincn@aliyun.com.

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