The Kim Jong-nam Assassination: Tussle between China and North Korea


February 21, 2017

The Kim Jong-nam Assassination:Kuala Lumpur caught in an Ongoing Tussle between Beijing and Pyongyang

As dramatic and disturbing as the assassination of Kim Jong-nam is, it is simply a sideshow in the ongoing tussle between Beijing and Pyongyang. 

An uppity client state 

North Korea has long been a Chinese client state. It owes its very existence to China which also accounts for 89% of North Korea’s foreign trade. Chinese economic assistance, food aid and investments literally keep North Korea afloat.

As a client state, North Korea is expected to be mindful of China’s overall strategic interests in the region. No one, however, apparently briefed North Korea’s brash young leader about the niceties of client state behaviour. Since coming to power in 2011, Kim Jong-un’s actions have caused alarm and concern in Beijing.

His nuclear weapons programme and poorly timed missile testing threaten to upset the delicate balance of power that China is seeking to maintain in East Asia at a time when there is an unpredictable new occupant in the White House. The Chinese were also chagrined by the 2013 execution for treason of Kim’s uncle, Jang Song-thaek, who was well respected in Beijing. There were also a number of other unpleasant incidents between the two countries involving the treatment of Chinese investors and businessmen in North Korea.

More than anything else, however, a credible nuclear capability would give the North Korean dictator greater manoeuvrability vis-à-vis China and other powers, a worrying prospect for the Chinese leadership. As one Chinese professor put it, “If we choose an ally that can’t be tamed, we might become the biggest loser.”

To show its displeasure, China joined the international criticism of North Korea’s missile tests and last week rejected a shipment of coal from North Korea.

A slap in the face

Kim Jong-nam’s assassination has now plunged China-North Korea relations to a new low. It was no secret that Kim Jong-nam, the elder half-brother of Kim Jong-un, was under China’s protection, having lived in China since he fell from favour more than a decade ago. His presence in China was a constant reminder to Kim Jong-un that China had a convenient replacement, one who had perhaps a better claim to the throne as the eldest son, if he proved too unreasonable. For that reason alone, Kim Jong-nam was a marked man.

However, not even the mercurial and impulsive North Korean leader would have dared act against his half-brother while he was on Chinese soil. It would have been an insult that China would simply not have tolerated.

Malaysia, on the other hand, with its open doors, lax security and indulgent attitude towards North Korea is another story. Certainly, the North Korean leadership would not have expected that Malaysia would react the way it did. The law of unintended consequences just keeps cropping up in international affairs.

The reaction from Beijing was also not long in coming. Shortly after the assassination, China suspended all shipments of coal from North Korea until the end of the year. While the move was presented as part of China’s efforts to implement UN sanctions against North Korea, it is almost certainly a direct response to the Kim assassination in Kuala Lumpur.

As coal is North Korea’s single largest export item to China, the suspension is bound to hit the North Korean regime particularly hard. No doubt other measures are being planned as well although China is unlikely, at least at this stage, to attempt regime change in Pyongyang.

A tougher than expected response

In the immediate aftermath of the assassination, Malaysia appeared to go out of its way to avoid doing anything that would further exacerbate the situation. The Home Minister indicated that the body would, in due course, be returned to Pyongyang in accordance with international practice. He also insisted that the incident would not affect bilateral relations.

The provocative response of the North Korean Ambassador, however, appears to have stiffened Malaysia’s resolve.

In two rambling press conferences, the Ambassador accused Malaysia of a litany of offenses – colluding with his country’s enemies, scheming to implicate North Korea in the assassination, roughing up North Korean citizens and violating human rights and international law.

Failure to respond appropriately to such a provocation would have made the Malaysian government, already beset by a number of domestic scandals, look weak.

Interestingly, while the Ambassador alluded to South Korea when he accused Malaysia of colluding with “hostile forces,” his comments could apply to China as well.

Wisma Putra, which was largely silent in the early days of the drama, quickly responded by summoning the North Korean Ambassador for a dressing down. More significantly, Wisma Putra announced that Malaysia’s Ambassador in Pyongyang had been recalled for consultations – the strongest diplomatic show of displeasure short of breaking off relations.

Image result for malaysian embassy in north korea

Recalling our Ambassador is absolutely the right thing to do given that it is now pretty clear that North Korea was complicit in the assassination. No country can look with equanimity upon such outrageous behaviour.

The North Korean Ambassador is, of course, in a very delicate situation; he has a Damocles sword hanging over him. If he is not seen to be zealous and conscientious enough in defence of the regime, he could suffer the same fate as his predecessor who found himself at the wrong end of a firing squad after being recalled from Kuala Lumpur. It is this fear of the consequences of failure, as much as anything else, that might have pushed him to the point where his actions have now done serious damage to the bilateral relations. It is hard to see him continuing in his present post for long.

Such are the perils of working in the North Korean foreign service.

Diplomatic and protocol issues

The assassination also raises interesting protocol issues. According to Satow’s Guide to Diplomatic Practice, long the go to handbook for diplomats, “If the death [of a diplomat] takes place in circumstances where ordinarily an inquest would be held, the authorities in the receiving state should if necessary be reminded that it has been general international practice not to hold an inquest where a diplomatic agent or other member of a mission dies in office, whether in inviolable premises or not.”

Some would argue, therefore, that Malaysia did not have the authority to carry out the post-mortem and that North Korea is within its rights to demand the return of Kim Jong-nam’s remains given that he was travelling on a diplomatic passport.

However, it can also be argued that although Kim Jong-nam was travelling on a diplomatic passport he was not formally accredited here and is, therefore, not subject to the same protocol.

What this means is that Malaysia has a great deal of latitude in deciding how to proceed with the case. Given that other countries – China and South Korea come to mind – also have a vested interest in the outcome, Malaysia will have to tread a careful path if it wishes to avoid being caught up in the bigger power play that is unfolding behind the scenes.

For now at least, both China and South Korea will no doubt be pleased with Malaysia’s tough stance. They will take satisfaction that the investigation has resulted in prolonged negative exposure for Pyongyang that will both further isolate and discredit the regime.

What happens now will depend, to a large degree, on how things play out between Beijing and Pyongyang. Where the remains of Kim Jong-nam finally ends up will provide interesting clues.

Malaysia, which has been increasingly deferential to China – even quietly sending back to China Muslim Uighur refugees who sought asylum in Malaysia – will likely be mindful of China’s interest in the matter.

Rethinking Malaysia-North Korea relations 

embassy

Address: Diplomatic Enclave Munhung-dong, Taedonggang District Pyongyang …Malaysian Embassy

If nothing else, hopefully the assassination and the angry North Korean response to Kuala Lumpur’s handling of the case will prompt a reassessment of relations with Pyongyang.

For some unfathomable reason, Malaysia has had a resident diplomatic mission in Pyongyang since 2003, one of only 23 missions in the North Korean capital. Unfathomable because trade is practically non-existent (with almost zero prospects of improvement) and there are simply no bilateral issues worth talking about that would warrant the expense of a mission.

Perhaps in a desperate bid to add some substance to the relationship, both countries even explored ways to enhance tourism, never mind that North Korea is a country with no outbound tourists and only a few, possibly insane, inbound travelers.

What is more preposterous, however, was the decision some years ago to quietly take in 300 North Korean workers to work in Sarawak’s mining sector. Why Malaysia would even think of employing North Korean workers – slave labour, to all intent and purposes, toiling in a distant land to augment the regime’s scarce foreign reserves – is a mystery.

Malaysia also plays host to an approximately 1000 strong tightly knit community of North Korean businessmen, restaurant workers and other dubious ‘professionals,’ all of whom are controlled by the North Korean embassy and serve the interests of the state in one form or another.

Clearly, this is a one-sided relationship that benefits North Korea rather than Malaysia. Certainly, not many Malaysian taxpayers will lose any sleep if our mission in Pyongyang is shut for good.

 

Remembering Herman Kahn–A Pioneer in Future Studies–Thinking the Unthinkable


February 6, 2017

Remembering Herman Kahn–A Pioneer in Future Studies

In Defense of Thinking

by Herman Kahn

Social inhibitions which reinforce natural tendencies to avoid thinking about unpleasant subjects are hardly uncommon.–Herman Kahn

https://hudson.org/research/2211-in-defense-of-thinking

Image result for Herman Kahn

Futurist Herman Kahn with President Gerald Ford and Donald Rumsfeld

Seventy-five years ago white slavery was rampant in England. Each year thousands of young girls were forced into brothels and kept there against their will. While some of the victims had been sold by their families, a large proportion were seized and held by force or fraud. The victims were not from the lower classes only; no level of English society was immune to having its daughters seized. Because this practice continued in England for years after it had been largely wiped out on the Continent, thousands of English girls were shipped across the Channel to supply the brothels of Europe. One reason why this lasted as long as it did was that it could not be talked about openly in Victorian England; moral standards as to subjects of discussion made it difficult to arouse the community to necessary action. Moreover, the extreme innocence considered appropriate for English girls made them easy victims, helpless to cope with the situations in which they were trapped. Victorian standards, besides perpetuating the white slave trade, intensified the damage to those involved. Social inhibitions which reinforce natural tendencies to avoid thinking about unpleasant subjects are hardly uncommon.

Image result for Herman Kahn
A Message  for Donald J. Tump

The psychological factors involved in ostrich-like behavior have parallels in communities and nations. Nevertheless, during the sixty years of the twentieth century many problems have come increasingly into the realm of acceptable public discussion. Among various unmentionable diseases, tuberculosis has lost almost all taint of impropriety; and venereal disease statistics can now be reported by the press. Mental illness is more and more regarded as unfortunate instead of shameful. The word “cancer” has lost its stigma, although the horror of the disease has been only partially abated by medical progress.

Despite the progress in removing barriers in the way of discussing diseases formerly considered shameful, there are doubtless thousands going without vital medical treatment today because of their inhibitions against learning, thinking, or talking about certain diseases. Some will not get treatment because they do not know enough to recognize the symptoms, some because they are consciously ashamed to reveal illness, and some because they refuse to think about their condition it seems too horrible to think about. It may now be possible to condemn unequivocally the extremes of Victorian prudery, but less doctrinaire forms of ostrichism must be considered with more care; they are, after all, often based on healthy instincts.

Everyone is going to die, but surely it is a good thing that few of us spend much time dwelling on that fact. Life would be nearly impossible if we did. If thinking about something bad will not improve it, it is often better not to think about it. Perhaps some evils can be avoided or reduced if people do not think or talk about them. But when our reluctance to consider danger brings danger nearer, repression has gone too far.

Image result for herman kahn on thermonuclear war

In 1960 I published a book (pic above) that attempted to direct attention to the possibility of a thermonuclear war, to ways of reducing the likelihood of such a war, and to methods for coping with the consequences should war occur despite our efforts to avoid it. The book was greeted by a large range of responses, some of them sharply critical. Some of this criticism was substantive, touching on greater or smaller questions of strategy, policy, or research techniques. But much of the criticism was not concerned with the correctness or incorrectness of the views I expressed.

It was concerned with whether any book should have been written on this subject at all. It is characteristic of our times that many intelligent and sincere people are willing to argue that it is immoral to think and even more immoral to write in detail about having to fight a thermonuclear war.

By and large this criticism was not personal; it simply reflected the fact that we Americans and many people throughout the world are not prepared to face reality, that we transfer our horror of thermonuclear war to reports about the realities of thermonuclear war. In a sense we are acting like those ancient kings who punished messengers who brought them bad news. This did not change the news; it simply slowed up its delivery. On occasion it meant that the kings were ill informed and, lacking truth, made serious errors in judgment and strategy. In our times, thermonuclear war may seem unthinkable, immoral, insane, hideous, or highly unlikely, but it is not impossible.

To act intelligently we must learn as much as we can about the risks. We may thereby be able better to avoid nuclear war. We may even be able to avoid the crises that bring us to the brink of war. But despite our efforts we may some day come face to face with a blunt choice between surrender or war. We may even have war thrust upon us without being given any kind of choice. We must appreciate these possibilities. We cannot wish them away. Nor should we overestimate and assume the worst is inevitable. This leads only to defeatism, inadequate preparations (because they seem useless), and pressures toward either preventive war or undue accommodation.

Many terrible questions are raised when one considers objectively and realistically the problems created by the cold war and the armaments race. For some years I have spent my time on exactly these questions both in thinking about ways to prevent war, and in thinking about how to fight, survive, and terminate a war, should it occur. My colleagues and I have sought answers to such questions as these: How likely is accidental war? How can one make it less likely? How dangerous is the arms race today? What will it be like in the future? What would conditions be if a nuclear attack leveled fifty of America’s largest cities? Would the survivors envy the dead? How many million American lives would an American President risk by standing firm in differing types of crises? By starting a nuclear war? By continuing a nuclear war with the hope of avoiding surrender? How many lives would he risk? How is it most likely to break down? If it does break down, what will be the consequence? Are we really risking an end to all human life with our current system? If true, are we willing to risk it? Do we then prefer some degree of unilateral disarmament? If we do, will we be relying on the Russians to protect us from the Chinese? Will the world be more or less stable? Should we attempt to disarm unilaterally? If the answers to these last questions depend on the degree of damage that is envisaged, are we willing to argue that it is all right to risk a half billion or a billion people but not three billion?

There seem to be three basic objections to asking these types of questions:

1. No one should attempt to think about these problems in a detailed and rational way. 2. What thinking there is on these problems should be done in secret by the military exclusively, or at least by the government. 3. Even if some of this thinking must be done outside the government, the results of any such thought should not be made available to the public.

It is argued that thinking about the indescribable horror of nuclear war breeds callousness and indifference to the future of civilization in our planners and decision makers. It is true that detailed and dispassionate discussion of such questions is likely to look incredibly hard-hearted. It should also be clear, at least to thoughtful readers, that such questions must be considered. The reality may be so unpleasant that decision makers would prefer not to face it; but to a great extent this reality has been forced on them, or has come uninvited.

Thanks to our ever-increasing technology, we are living in a terrible and dangerous world; but, unlike the lady in the cartoon we cannot say, “Stop the world, I want to get off. We cannot get off. Even the most utopian of today’s visionaries will have to concede that the mere existence of modern technology involves a risk to civilization that would have been unthinkable twenty-five years ago. While we are going to make major attempts to change the nature of this reality, accepting great risks if necessary, most of us are unwilling to choose either a pronounced degree of unilateral disarmament or a preventive war designed to “settle” our problems one way or another. We therefore must face the facts that thermonuclear bombs now exist [and that] unless we are willing to abdicate our responsibilities, we are pledged to the maintenance of terrifying weapon systems with known and unknown, calculable and incalculable risks, unless and until better arrangements can be made.

If we are to have an expensive and lethal defense establishment, we must weigh all the risks and benefits. We must at least ask ourselves what are the likely and unlikely results of an inadvertent war, the possibilities of accident, irresponsibility, or unauthorized behavior on the other side as well as on our own.

A variation of the objection to careful consideration of these problems focuses on the personality of the thinker. This argument goes: Better no thought than evil thought; and since only evil and callous people can think about this, better no thought. Alternatively, the thinker’s motives are analyzed: This man studies war; he must like war much like the suspicion that a surgeon is a repressed sadist. Even if the charge were true, which in general it is not, it is not relevant. Like the repressed sadist who can perform a socially useful function by sublimating his urges into surgery, the man who loves war or violence may be able to successfully sublimate his desires into a careful and valuable study of war. It does indeed take an iron will or an unpleasant degree of detachment to go about this task. Ideally it should be possible for the analyst to have a disciplined empathy. In fact, the mind recoils from simultaneously probing deeply and creatively into these problems and being conscious at all times of the human tragedy involved.

This is not new. We do not continually remind the surgeon while he is operating of the humanity of his patient. We do not flash pictures of his patient’s wife or children in front of him. We want him to be careful, and we want him to be aware of the importance and frailty of the patient; we do not want him to be distracted or fearful. We do not expect illustrations in a book on surgery to be captioned: “A particularly deplorable tumor,” or “Good health is preferable to this kind of cancer.” Excessive comments such as, “And now there’s a lot of blood,” or “This particular cut really hurts,” are out-of-place although these are important things for a surgeon to know. To mention such things may be important. To dwell on them is morbid, and gets in the way of the information. The same tolerance needs be extended to thought on national security.

Some feel that we should consider these problems but view them with such awe and horror that we should not discuss them in normal, neutral, professional everyday language. I tend to disagree, at least so far as technical discussions and research are concerned. One does not do research in a cathedral. Awe is fine for those who come to worship or admire, but for those who come to analyze, to tamper, to change, to criticize, a factual and dispassionate, and sometimes even colorful, approach is to be preferred. And if the use of everyday language jars, that is all the more reason for using it. Why would one expect a realistic discussion of thermonuclear war not to be disturbing?

The very complexity of the questions raised is another reason why many object to their consideration. There is no doubt that if we reject hard thinking about alternatives in favor of uncritical acceptance of an extreme position we make the argument simpler and most of us prefer simple arguments.

Image result for Thinking the Unthinkable Herman Kahn Quote

To summarize: Many people believe that the current system must inevitably end in total annihilation. They reject, sometimes very emotionally, any attempts to analyze this notion. Either they are afraid of where the thinking will lead them or they are afraid of thinking at all. They want to make the choice, between a risk and the certainty of disaster, between sanity and insanity, between good and evil; therefore, as moral and sane men they need no longer hesitate. I hold that an intelligent and responsible person cannot pose the problem so simply.

The last objection to detailed thought on thermonuclear war rests on the view that the subject is not only unpleasant but difficult. Many people feel that it is useless to apply rationality and calculation in any area dominated by irrational decision makers. This is almost comparable to feeling that it would be impossible to design a safety system for an insane asylum by rational methods, since, after all, the inmates are irrational. Of course, no governor or superintendent would consider firing the trained engineer, and turning the design over to one of the lunatics. The engineer is expected to take the irrationality of the inmates into account by a rational approach. Rational discussions of war and peace can explicitly include the possibility of irrational behavior.

Image result for ostrich head in sand

The Danger for America Today–The Unthinkable is Thinkable under Donald J. Trump  45th  POTUS

Of course, analysts may be misled by oversimplified models or misleading assumptions, and their competence readily attacked. However, except for irrelevant references to game theory and computers, such attacks are rare, and are usually so half-hearted that it is clear that their main motivation is not to expose incompetency. Given the difficulty of the problems, one would expect the critics to work more effectively on the obvious methodological problems and other weaknesses of present-day analysts.

Critics frequently refer to the icy rationality of the Hudson Institute, the Rand Corporation, and other such organizations. I’m always tempted to ask in reply, “Would you prefer a warm, human error? Do you feel better with a nice emotional mistake?” We cannot expect good discussion of security problems if we are going to label every attempt at detachment as callous, every attempt at objectivity as immoral. Such attitudes not only block discussion of the immediate issues, they lead to a disunity and fragmentation of the intellectual community that can be disastrous to the democratic dialogue between specialist and layman. The former tends to withdraw to secret and private discussions; the latter becomes more and more innocent, or naive, and more likely to be outraged if he is ever exposed to a professional discussion.

Finally, there is the objection that thermonuclear war should not, at least in detail, be discussed publicly. Even some who admit the usefulness of asking unpleasant questions have advocated raising them only in secret. One objector pointed out to me that if a parent in a burning building is faced with the problem of having to save one of two children, but not both, he will make a decision on the spur of the moment; it wouldn’t have made any difference if the parent had agonized over the problem ahead of time, and it would have been particularly bad to agonize in the presence of the children. This may be true, but other considerations dominate our nation’s choices; our capabilities for action and the risks we are assuming for ourselves and thrusting on others will be strongly influenced by our preparations both intellectual and physical.

Other reasons for this objection to public discussion range all the way from concern about telling the Soviets too much, and a fear of weakening the resolve of our own people, through a feeling that public discussion of death and destruction is distastefully comparable to a drugstore display of the tools, methods, and products of the mortician. Perhaps some or all of these objections to public discussion are well taken. I do not know for sure, but I think they are wrong.

They are wrong if we expect our people to participate rationally in the decision-making process in matters that are vital to their existence as individuals and as a nation. As one author has put it: “In a democracy, when experts disagree, laymen must resolve the disagreement.” One issue is whether it is better that the lay public, which will directly or indirectly decide policy, be more or less informed. A second issue is whether the discussion itself may not be significantly improved by eliciting ideas from people outside of official policy-making channels.

There are in any case at least two significant obstacles to full public debate of national security matters. The first, of course, is the constantly increasing problem of communication between the technologist and the layman, because of the specialization (one might almost say fragmentation) of knowledge. The other lies in the serious and paramount need to maintain security. Technical details of weapons’ capabilities and weaknesses must remain classified to some degree. Nonetheless, technical details may be of vital importance in resolving much broader problems. (For instance, who can presume to say whether the military advantages of atomic weapons testing outweigh the obvious political and physical disadvantages unless he knows what the military advantages are.) Moreover, those who feel that in some areas “security” has been unnecessarily extended must concede that in certain areas it has its place. To that extent the functioning of the democratic processes must be compromised with the requirements of the cold war and modem technology. Fortunately, non-classified sources often give reasonable approximations to the classified data. I would say that many of the agonizing problems facing us today can be debated and understood just about as easily without classified material as with provided one carefully considers the facts that are available.

It is quite clear that technical details are not the only important operative facts. Human and moral factors must always be considered. They must never be missing from policies and from public discussion. But emotionalism and sentimentality, as opposed to morality and concern, only confuse debates. Nor can experts be expected to repeat, “If, heaven forbid. ….,” before every sentence. Responsible decision makers and researchers cannot afford the luxury of denying the existence of agonizing questions. The public, whose lives and freedom are at stake, expects them to face such questions squarely and, where necessary, the expert should expect little less of the public.

*Herman Kahn, Founder, Hudson Institute

January 1st, 1962 Adapted from Thinking About the Unthinkable (Horizon Press), © Hudson Institute

<

Najib’s Vocal Defense of the Rohingya Backfire lacks credibility


December 6, 2016

Najib’s Vocal Defense of the Rohingya Backfire lacks credibility, given his domestic human rights record

http://thediplomat.com/2016/12/will-najibs-vocal-defense-of-the-rohingya-backfire/

Image result for Najib and The Rohingnya Protest

While Najib’s remarks at the Stadium Titiwangsa in Kuala Lumpur drew strong support from the Rohingya community in Malaysia, and marked the first time a Southeast Asian leader has condemned the Myanmar state’s actions in such strong terms, they should be treated with some caution.

A cynical reading of Najib’s address would see him reaching for the moral high ground at a time of immense domestic pressure. These, after all, have not been quiet months for Najib, who has battled corruption allegations over the 1MDB scandal since early 2015 – and has just emerged from a series of tense and highly visible protests led by BERSIH, a wide-reaching campaign for clean government. Despite winning a state election in Sarawak earlier this year, Najib’s ruling National Front has struggled to regain its former popularity, and was recently faced with allegations of human rights violations (from Laurent Meillan, acting representative of the UN Human Rights Office for Southeast Asia, no less) over the arrests of several activists at the Bersih rallies.

Image result for Asean and the Rohingya crisis

In this light, there is little doubt that Najib’s statements are at least partly designed to shore up his human rights record and regain much-needed political capital. State violence against the Rohingya in Myanmar has taken place since at least 2012, and it’s hard to overlook the particular timing of Najib’s unprecedented response. In a pointed statement ahead of the rally, the President’s Office in Myanmar called it a “calculated political decision to win the support of the Malaysian public.’”

But this was not simply the case of the wrong person saying the right thing at the wrong time. Najib’s statements reflect several political dilemmas that lie at the heart of the refugee question in Southeast Asia, and three elements of his speech deserve closer examination. First, it is worth noting that he chose to frame the issue with a moral vocabulary that other Southeast Asian leaders have, thus far, kept at arm’s length. He emphatically referred to the abuses as “genocide,” and called them, “by definition, ethnic cleansing.” With a characteristic rhetorical flourish, he asked the crowd: “Do they want me to close my eyes? Want me to be mute? […] What’s the point of a Nobel Peace Prize?”

Such statements, which not only imply that he is acting on a universal duty of response – and holding Suu Kyi to the global ideals that are seen to underwrite her Nobel Prize – are a deliberate departure from the position, long held among Southeast Asian policymakers, that regional and local values hold sway in Southeast Asian contexts. Building on the “Asian Values” discourse, Southeast Asian leaders  and diplomats have previously stressed the region’s “incommensurable differences from the West” as reasons to question the universality of human rights. Najib’s statements suggest a clear pivot away from the default Southeast Asian position, and besides voicing indirect criticism at his own region’s lackluster human rights record, they may also imply that the global community (and the support it can offer) seems somewhat closer to Najib at this point than his immediate neighbors.

Image result for Asean and the Rohingya crisis

The Rohingya Issue is an ASEAN and International Challenge

Second, Najib’s comments on the ASEAN Charter raise difficult questions about regional cooperation in a time of fraught relations. In response to the Myanmar government’s statement – which framed the planned protests as an external intervention in its internal affairs, and reminded Malaysia to adhere to ASEAN principles of noninterference –Najib said: “There is an article in the ASEAN charter that says ASEAN must uphold human rights. Are they blind? Don’t just interpret things as you choose.” In any case, he added, “this is not intervention. This is universal human values.”

These remarks come in the wake of palpable friction among ASEAN members over conflicting territorial claims in the South China Sea, and both the United States’ and China’s increasing involvement in the region. Noninterference by regional and global powers alike has been a core tenet of ASEAN’s institutional stability since its inception, and has been credited for promoting peaceful relations in Southeast Asia especially since the end of the Cold War. However, Najib’s comments have flagged up the uncomfortable truth that this insistence on traditional state sovereignty may be less and less tenable in the present global context, and especially with regards to transnational migration. From Malaysia’s perspective, with more than 56,000 Rohingya refugees already registered by the UN refugee agency within its borders, the question of what constitutes “external interference” seems especially urgent. Najib may have a point: that ASEAN’s ability to effectively tackle regional issues is not necessarily helped by its members’ sensitivities to others’ incursions on their turf.

Finally, Najib’s focus on the “root cause” of refugee flight – Myanmar’s internal abuses against the Rohingya – successfully presents the crisis as a national issue, and sidesteps the glaring evidence that countless refugees are trafficked across the region in horrific conditions, and fall victim to the combined effects of patchy law enforcement, organized crime, and Southeast Asia’s insatiable appetite for cheap labor. Many end up in Malaysia and Thailand, or in refugee camps in Indonesia; because none of these countries are signatory to the Refugee Convention, few enjoy the legal right to work or corresponding protections against abusive employers. In late 2015, the discovery of the mass graves of human trafficking victims in Malaysia brought the regional scale of the issue to global attention.

Najib’s call for Myanmar to cease crackdowns against the Rohingya, while valuable in itself, swept this wider incrimination of Southeast Asian governments, including his own, under the carpet. More than a choice of political convenience, it was perhaps a deliberate decision to downplay transnational aspects of the refugee question, and – by drawing on regional and global perceptions of Myanmar as a pariah state in transition – place the responsibility for regional crisis within the already-tied hands of an unstable administration. While raising his human rights credentials vis-à-vis his neighbors, thus, Najib simultaneously exempted them from adopting a concerted response.

For those concerned – as we should all be – about the increasingly dire situation facing the Rohingya in Southeast Asia, Najib’s decision to take the stage with firm words against the events in Myanmar offer limited consolation. Beyond achieving domestic political motives, his remarks have sharpened the existing tensions between global and local values, ideas of regional integration and national sovereignty, and questions of transnational and national responsibility. At best, we can hope that Najib continues to place valuable political capital behind his rhetoric. At worst, the ideals he has promoted may well be eroded by a failure to follow up with policy. It would not be the first time.

Theophilus Kwek is currently reading for a MSc in Refugee and Forced Migration Studies at Oxford University. He has served as co-editor of the Journal of Politics and Constitutional Studies, publications director of OxPolicy, and vice president of the Oxford Students’ Oxfam Group.

APEC beyond economic cooperation


November 17, 2016

APEC beyond economic cooperation

by Ippei Yamazawa, Hitotsubashi University and Toshiya Takahashi, Shoin University

Brexit and refugee problems in the European Union have caused uncertainty for economic integration, but APEC’s renewed commitment to it will provide some impetus to the global economy. While APEC is regarded primarily as a diplomatic opportunity for regional leaders, APEC’s achievements, based on wide-ranging government–business collaboration, provide it with the possibility to expand its role and help nurture regional stability.

Image result for Trump and APEC

APEC began in 1989 as a series of meetings among foreign and economic ministers in Asia and the Pacific. Invigorated by the European Single Market in 1992 and the conclusion of the GATT Uruguay round of negotiations in 1993, the United States, as APEC’s chair in 1993, created the leaders’ meeting to discuss the creation of a free trade area across Asia and the Pacific. The Bogor Declaration in 1994 set out a roadmap for trade liberalisation by 2020.

APEC’s economic integration has not made linear progress despite early high expectations. The 1995 Osaka Action Agenda, which combined voluntary trade liberalisation with facilitation and technical cooperation, provided concrete measures for achieving the Bogor Goals, but the Manila Action Plan a year later resulted in only small-scale trade liberalisation. Attempts at early voluntary sector liberalisation also failed in 1998.

In the face of the Asian financial crisis, expectations of APEC’s economic integration decreased substantially. By the 2000s the WTO’s Doha Round negotiation began, while free trade agreements proliferated across Asia.

Since then APEC has adopted a modest strategy centred on trade facilitation and technical cooperation, and economists and the media have lost their interest in its message of economic integration. Some of the member economies that were unsatisfied with voluntary liberalisation formed the P4 group, which later expanded to become the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

Image result for Obama, Xi and Putin

But legally binding trade liberalisation did not make much progress in the 2000s. The Doha Round negotiation remains deadlocked even after its 15-year effort. The TPP was finally concluded in 2015 but its ratification has been delayed and is now in question. In the European Union, economic integration is highly developed, but opposition to its centralised decision-making and flows of labour from later-developed member countries shadow its future.

In contrast, APEC’s pragmatic and flexible approach to trade liberalisation has succeeded in areas like customs procedures, business mobility, and standards and conformance. The 2001 Shanghai APEC summit declared an intention to reduce trade transaction costs by 5 per cent in five years. This was achieved through various task forces composed of governmental officials and the business sector. The Busan APEC summit in 2005 announced another 5 per cent reduction that also succeeded.

Image result for Trump and APEC

They fought over Trade

APEC has provided a program for economic and technical cooperation over small and medium industry development, structural adjustment and food safety that has not been achieved through other economic institutions. And it has contributed to Asia’s globalisation, starting in the 1980s and becoming the East Asian economic miracle by the 1990s. The rapid economic rise of countries like China and Vietnam can also be attributed in part to their involvement in APEC.

But APEC’s role in sustaining regional stability should be re-evaluated. Prosperity is a condition for peace. So is an increase in economic transactions. APEC has served regional peace and stability through prosperity and economic connectedness, though it does not deal with security issues directly.

APEC’s open membership worked for mitigating ideological and political dividing lines in the Asia Pacific after the end of the Cold War. Its early acceptance of ex-communist countries such as China in 1990 and Russia and Vietnam in 1998 promoted the liberalisation of their markets and opened the door to their acceptance in the WTO. Both China and Taiwan’s participation showed that APEC’s identity was beyond political confrontation.

APEC’s wide-ranging framework for talks and its flexibility in liberalising markets helps create political background for further regional cooperation. Voluntary liberalisation allows members to compromise with domestic opposition. The APEC experience shows that different positions on economic issues can be mitigated through continuing talks rather than renouncing them, and this learning can be applied to non-economic issues.

Image result for South China Sea

The South China Sea

Asia and the Pacific today face military build-up and unresolved conflicts in the Korean Peninsula, the South China Sea and the East China Sea. The APEC approach to reconciling differences provides the basis for resolving security and political confrontations in the region. While it is an economic institution, these political functions — which are the product of its twenty-eight-year history — should be remembered and reinvigorated with the aim of developing a regional consensus for ‘peace by talks’.

Ippei Yamazawa is Emeritus Professor of International Economics at Hitotsubashi University, Japan.

Toshiya Takahashi is Associate Professor at Shoin University.

APEC beyond economic cooperation

Australia’s China choice is not between security and prosperity


November 15, 2016

Australia’s China choice is not between security and prosperity–Why not both?

by Paul Hubbard, Australian National University @Canberra

http://www.eastasiaforum.org
Image result for Australia Between US and China

If strategic rivalry between China and the United States escalates, Australia will face uncomfortable choices that could leave one or both partners unsatisfied. But it is wrong to frame this as a trade-off between national security and economic prosperity, as if strategic strength were born from economic pain. National security and economic prosperity are both vital national interests and deeply symbiotic. A stable international order underwrites economic prosperity; international economic engagement supports a stable order.

Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop in her office at Parliament House.

Australia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop in her office at Parliament House. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Unfortunately, economists and strategists have trouble talking on the same terms. The starting point for economists is usually an abstract model that assumes the security infrastructure and norms needed for markets to thrive. If economists think about armed conflict it is usually as a ‘tail risk’ — potentially catastrophic, but highly unlikely. But take away a stable national, regional or global order and the business and commerce that generate material prosperity will evaporate.

Security thinkers don’t sit around and assume thriving societies. Instead they are paid to detect threats and contemplate worst-case scenarios. Mitigating these requires clear thinking, well-resourced diplomacy and defence capability. This, in turn, depends on a prosperous economy.

Image result for Australia and China

Chairman Mao Zedong meeting with the Hon. Gough Whitlam QC, Prime Minister of Australia during the historic Prime Ministerial visit to the People’s Republic of China, 31 October – 4 November 1973. Photo courtesy the Hon Tom Burns AO, Chair of the Queensland China Council, personal collection.

Australia can afford multi-billion dollar submarines and joint strike fighters because it has a US$1.2 trillion economy. The Defence White Paper’s US$32 billion funding target for 2020–2021 assumes that the Australian economy will continue growing faster than the United States, the Euro Area or Japan. Achieving this requires deeper economic engagement with a fast growing Asia.

The complementarity of security and prosperity is not a new discovery. Former US president Lyndon Johnson’s 1965 Peace Without Conquest speech recognised that popular support for communism in Southeast Asia came not from the peasant’s fascination with Marxism, but rather from a desire for basic life necessities and an ‘end to material misery’. He proposed the creation of the Asian Development Bank to show that these needs could be met through markets and capitalism, without resorting to radical communism and violent conquest.

While the United States lost the battle against communism in Vietnam, it won the war for open markets and prosperity in Asia. The examples of Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea and Singapore convinced China’s leaders in 1978 to put aside the horrors of Maoism and adopt not just ‘reform’ but crucially, ‘opening up’.

Unbridled ideology was exchanged for market pragmatism. The result was the largest and most rapid movement of humanity from poverty in history. China stopped exporting international revolution and instead now exports 18 per cent of the world’s manufactured goods, in accordance with the rules-based order of the World Trade Organization. Foreign investment in and out of China puts assets at risk on both sides, giving owners a strong material interest in preserving peace.

Of course national interests go beyond the economy. Providing for the material welfare of citizens is only one of the legs of political legitimacy. States sometimes adopt goals that cut across the material welfare of their citizens. The first era of globalisation did not stop the imperial follies of the First World War. The following wave of fascism and totalitarianism subordinated individual welfare to the strategic interests of the state.

China’s policies after 1978 were calibrated to reassure the international community that its re-emergence would not follow this menacing route. Deng Xiaoping’s foreign policy mantra was to hide China’s strength and bide its time. Hu Jintao promoted China’s ‘peaceful rise’. Which is why strategists have reacted with alarm to a more assertive foreign policy under Xi Jinping.

Image result for Xi and Australia

What should economists make of this? Is China’s increasing assertiveness ‘a reality that seems to have bypassed many of Australia’s economic commentators’ as one strategic commentator suggests?

The new direction is worrying. Perhaps the risk of conflict is slightly less remote. But there’s not enough to overthrow the central scenario under which China continues to prioritise domestic and international stability. Just as regional stability serve Australian prosperity, so too does it serve China’s own vital economic interests.

The economist would also distinguish threats to international stability from more common but less catastrophic risks that hide among the cross-border movements of people, goods and capital. As Deng Xiaoping famously observed, opening the window invariably involves letting in a few flies.

The best line of defence against economic harm is competition in a well-regulated domestic market. Unlike Mao’s China, which hoped that correct behaviour would flow from correct ideology, the market system does not depend on the goodwill or benevolence of market participants. Where threats appear to specific security interests, the solution is not to shut the window on prosperity, but rather to use some of the proceeds to buy more and better fly-swats.

This approach allows Australia to choose both security and prosperity, putting the country in a more comfortable position to deal with both the United States and China.

Paul Hubbard is a doctoral candidate at the Crawford School of Public Policy, The Australian National University. He is currently on leave from the Australian Treasury as a Sir Roland Wilson Scholar, and is a former Fulbright Scholar in international relations. The views in this paper do not reflect those of the Australian Treasury.

The economics of Australia’s security in Asia

Message to Donald Trump from Mexico’s Ambassador to Malaysia


October 1, 2016

Message to Donald Trump from Mexico’s Ambassador to Malaysia

READ Bunn Nagara’s article here:

http://www.thestar.com.my/opinion/columnists/behind-the-headlines/2016/09/25/realities-behind-the-wall-the-fuss-over-measures-to-prevent-illegal-migration-seems-as-out-of-touch/

Mexico is convinced that the phenomenon of migration and refugees demands an integral approach with a shared responsibility of all the governments involved, with an inclusive and solidarity vision and full respect of human rights. Walls cannot solve the complexity of this global reality.–Carlos Félix, Ambassador of Mexico to Malaysia

 

http://www.thestar.com.my/opinion/letters/2016/10/01/mexico-is-against-putting-up-walls/

Image result for Carlos Felix, Mexico's Ambassador to Malaysia

REFERRING to the article “Realities behind the wall” by Bunn Nagara, (Sunday Star, September 25), I wish to make important clarifications about the view of Mexico on the polemic issue of building walls to deal with migration flows and the best way to treat migrants.

1. Migration is a complex social and economic phenomenon in almost all the regions of the world. In the case of Mexico, Central America and the United States, this issue has related mainly to complementary labour markets and family ties which have prevailed for many years without an integral solution.

2. Mexico recognises the important contributions of migrants. We are a country of origin, transit, destination and return of migrants. Mexico always has promoted the respect of human rights of all migrants with a dignified treatment as human beings looking for better opportunities.

3. In the discussion of the issue of undocumented migrants – no human being can be illegal – Mexico has proposed an integral approach with a shared responsibility of the governments involved to look for an orderly, safe and regular migration with full respect of human rights.

 4. Mexico recognises the sovereign right of all countries to build whichever structures inside their own territory. Nonetheless, history shows that there are no physical or natural barriers that can stop the flow of people, fusion of cultures, cycles of demand and supply of labour markets or reunification of families.

5. For all these reasons, Mexico does not favour walls in any place as part of the solution to this complex reality, as was cited in the article by Bunn Nagara.

Image result for president enrique peña nieto trump

Nieto (Mexico), Trudeau (Canada) and Obama (United States)

6. During the 71st Session of the UN Assembly, President Enrique Peña Nieto (pic) reaffirmed this position. He reiterated that the migrants and their rights, dignity and well-being should be the central element in the global dialogue to find solutions that require international cooperation to strengthen the capabilities of nations to address an integral attention of the migration phenomenon.

7. With this vision, Mexico has proposed to be the host for the preparatory conference for the adoption of the Global Pact for the Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration of 2018.

Image result for trump and the wall

8. Mexico is convinced that the phenomenon of migration and refugees demands an integral approach with a shared responsibility of all the governments involved, with an inclusive and solidarity vision and full respect of human rights.

9. Walls cannot solve the complexity of this global reality.

Carlos Félix, Ambassador of Mexico to Malaysia