Beijing manipulates Malaysia’s foreign policy to its advantage

July 14, 2016

Beijing manipulates Malaysia’s foreign policy to its advantage

by Philip Bowring (June 15, 2016)

Although China claims vast areas of sea within Malaysia’s 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone and the Spratly Islands, some of which are occupied by Malaysia, China’s purchase of assets from the scandal-ridden 1MDB has enabled it to manipulate Malaysian foreign policy to its advantage. –Philip Bowring, Asia Sentinel

Malaysia is succumbing to China’s efforts to undermine the solidarity of other littoral states in standing up to China’s aggressive claim to almost the whole South China Sea. Just at the point when China seems likely to face a judgment against it in the case brought by the Philippines in the Court of Arbitration in The Hague. Although China claims vast areas of sea within Malaysia’s 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone and the Spratly Islands, some of which are occupied by Malaysia, China’s purchase of assets from the scandal-ridden 1MDB has enabled it to manipulate Malaysian foreign policy to its advantage.

ASEAN Solidarity is also being eroded by the election process in the United States, which is bringing into question the American trade and strategic commitments to East Asia, without which none of the ASEAN countries will resist Chinese pressure for long.

On the face of things, ASEAN Foreign Ministers took a firm line with China at their just-ended meeting in Kunming. Their statement after the meeting said they “express their serous concern over recent and ongoing developments that have eroded trust and confidence, increased tension and which may have the potential to undermine peace, security and stability in the South China Sea.”

“We stressed the importance of maintaining peace, security, stability, safety and freedom of navigation in and overflight above the South China Sea,” the Ministers said. This, they said, was in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

ASEAN retraction

However, the statement was then retracted by the Ministers in an amazing about turn engineered by Beijing with the help not merely of its usual client states, Cambodia and Laos, but also Malaysia. The retraction was also an astonishing embarrassment for Singapore and its Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan. Singapore is current coordinator of the ASEAN-China dialogue.

The Malaysian move followed a remarkable article in The Star newspaper a day earlier by the Chinese Ambassador to Kuala Lumpur, Huang Huikang.  Huang used this platform for an open attack on the Philippines, supposedly a friend and ally of Malaysia. President Benigno S. Aquino III was described as having “acted as a pawn in an outsider’s political strategy” and described the arbitration case as a “farce.” Aquino’s “political legacy will only be a pile of pills from the tribunal.”

Huang went on to praise Malaysia, describing relations with China “the best in history” and urging the incoming Philippine President to follow its example in dealing with China.

President-elect Rodrigo Duterte is wavering in his attitude to China. He clearly wants Chinese money for infrastructure projects that would be forthcoming if he gives ground the sea issue and agrees to bilateral talks, and possible joint resource development. On the other hand, he can hardly walk away from any decision in Philippines’ favor, nor go back on his commitment to the Philippines claim on the Scarborough Shoal, which lies just 120 nautical miles off the coast of Luzon.

Arrogant abuse

The arrogance of Huang in abusing his diplomatic position to attack the President of a neighbor and ASEAN partner should have drawn immediate condemnation from Malaysia. But Huang is accustomed to getting away with this kind of behavior, which suggests he already regards Malaysia as a Beijing tributary and himself as the proconsul. In September 2015, Huang made a highly publicized walk through KL’s Chinatown to indicate that China would look after the interests of its ethnic brethren in Malaysia. Beijing has thereby reversed China’s longstanding commitment not to interfere in other countries internal affairs or use ethnic Chinese minorities for its own political purposes. These are now being used to enhance Chinese interests in claiming a sea whose coastline is only about 25 percent Chinese.

Beijing views Malaysia as the weakest link in the solidarity of maritime states partly by using the position of the Chinese minority as leverage, and partly through the power of money to influence decisions made by the UMNO-led government. The 1MDB case arose at a particularly opportune moment for Beijing, enabling China to come to the rescue of embattled Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Beijing has long focused its military attentions on Vietnam and, more recently with its seizure of Scarborough Shoal, the Philippines. Malaysia has been left alone for now. But Chinese claims are now less of a threat, encompassing as they do waters already exploited by Malaysia as well as others with oil and gas potential, not to forget islands such as Layang-Layang where Malaysia has an airstrip and dive resort. But do not imagine an UMNO government cares about national interests over its own power and money needs.

Hollow Washington

Meanwhile, the US provides little encouragement for a reliable and long-term ally. The emergence of Donald Trump as the Republican presidential nominee is a poor advertisement for western democracy. His anti-Muslim attitudes are offensive to much of Asia, Malaysia included. And his isolationist attitudes suggest that his presidency would see a reduction in the US presence in the region and the withering of the network of cooperation with countries from Japan to Australia and India and including many ASEAN members. President Obama’s “rebalance” Asian rather than Middle East interests would be forgotten.

A US turn away from its traditional promotion of free trade is also a concern. Not merely is Trump critical of free trade agreements but Hillary Clinton too now says she opposes the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), one of the cornerstones of the US tilt towards Asia to meet the challenge of China’s rising influence.

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New Potus Brief: Getting US-China Relations Right

July 11, 2016

New Potus Brief: Getting US-China Relations Right

Kaiser Kuo

As a seminal Chinese American voice in the U.S.-China dialogue for 20 years in China, what three observations would you offer regarding China’s emerging global role and influence?  

1)  Beijing isn’t interested in pushing its developmental model. China has been far more of a rule-taker than it has been a rule-maker, and has conformed to the extant international order to a far greater extent than it has actually reshaped it. China has its own exceptionalism, sure, but it’s quite the opposite of its American counterpart. Where American exceptionalism tends to see the values and institutions of the U.S. as universal and appropriate, ultimately, for all of humanity, China tends to view its own values and institutions as unique and only really applicable to China. The two forms of exceptionalism may be equally arrogant. But there is no “Beijing Consensus” that the PRC is keen to push out into the world.

2) Of late some analyses of China insist on couching Beijing’s intentions in terms of revival of the imperial “tribute system,” or assume that a latent Chinese belief in China as the natural center of human civilization will somehow shape Chinese foreign policy as China’s relative power rises. These are unhelpful and misleading, and ignore the tremendous extent to which China has accepted a place among Westphalian nation-states, has internalized that thinking, and has played according to those rules. That said, in China’s own backyard Beijing will likely continue to push for primacy, and will bristle at interference. It’s important to remember that the international order to which I’ve suggested China has largely acquiesced was created in a time of Chinese weakness. This doesn’t mean we can expect aggressive Chinese revanchism, but Beijing will continue to be very prickly about the sovereignty of borders it claims.

3) 2008 saw the end of the age of taoguang yanghui – Deng’s maxim, translated often as “keep a low profile and bide your time.” From the perspective of American national interest, from the perspective of anyone who wants to see expansion of civil society and the public sphere in China, or from the perspective of many of China’s Southeast Asian neighbors, China is not off to an encouraging start. Beijing’s initial confidence and buoyancy in this new period has waned appreciably since. Much of Beijing’s behavior is better understood, I believe, as defensive – stemming not so much from newfound confidence as from a lack of it, and from a sense of crisis. I see much of China’s “New Truculence,” as I’ve taken to calling it, as essentially reactive. Beijing believes that liberal interventionism of the sort it believes brought about the color revolutions and the Arab Spring is very much on the march, and that the unstated goal of American policy is regime change in China. That is certainly not the dominant view, even among relatively hawkish people in Washington. And Beijing greatly exaggerates the extent to which there’s coordination among disparate American institutions. The White House is not coordinating press coverage, human rights advocacy groups and other NGOs, big Internet companies, and so on. But it’s easy to see, from Beijing’s windows, how there might appear to be coordination.

What worries and encourages you most about the future of bilateral relations?

What worries me most is the apparent global rise in nativism, which we’ve seen in several countries of Europe, including most recently in the U.K. with the Brexit vote; in the U.S. with the rise of Donald Trump; and in many parts of Asia, to include China. The deleterious effect this is already having on bilateral relations is huge. Beijing has shown a distressing willingness to dance with that devil nationalism, and to deploy the “rally-round-the-flag” effect and fan the embers of national indignation whenever it suits. In the U.S. too – and not just among Trump supporters, but even among more traditionally liberal segments of the American polity – there’s a new confidence in the universality of American values that is no longer tempered, as it once was among liberals, by cultural relativism. Instead of recognizing our own values and institutions as highly contingent, the product of very specific historical experiences not shared by many countries outside the developed West, we’ve embraced a rigidly teleological view of history. Unfortunately the forces of nativism and absolutist thinking are amplified by digital media. We no longer read from the same corpus, no longer agree on basic facts, and this has rapidly eroded common ground and created dangerous fragmentation and tribalism.

What encourages me most about the future of bilateral relations is physical integration: Well over 300,000 Chinese students are now studying the U.S., and hundreds of thousands of Americans are studying, working, and living in China. In my own observations, the scales tend to fall from the eyes of Chinese living in the U.S., and that they come to a more realistic picture of both – less idealization and less unwarranted demonization. The same, I think, can be said for Americans of my acquaintance living in China. I’m especially encouraged by the new generation of China-watchers I’ve met living in Beijing: Younger people who have come of age during the post-Cold War era, with terrific language skills, a solid grasp of history, and a strong sense of empathy.

How are Chinese nationalism and global digital culture shaping the aspirations of China’s youth and middle class?  

Chinese Internet users – now half the population of the country – are not easily classified. In my years involved in the Chinese Internet I’ve seen three basic types emerge in popular commentary about them: They’re either apolitical pleasure-seekers whose time online is mainly spent with shallow entertainments or shopping; or they’re latent democrats who thirst for freedom and long to break free of the chains of online censorship; or they’re strident, angry nationalists – the fenqing –  who will overwhelm online comments sections with their patriotic ardor or will organize DDoS [Distributed Denial of Service] attacks against websites that offend the honor of the motherland. We need to understand that the “average” Chinese Internet user, if such a thing exists, is a mix of all three: An individual may spend lots of time playing online games, or watching cat videos on Youku, but she may chafe when a video she wants to see gets taken down and casually jump the Great Firewall to watch it on YouTube – only to encounter, say, a group of Taiwan-independence types in the comments section, and may spend the next few hours sparring indignantly with them. To assume, as the more techno-utopian types did early on, that the Internet would prove to be a force for liberalization –  whether at an individual level or for the polity overall – was sadly quite mistaken. In my experience many Chinese, even those of a fundamentally liberal disposition, get very defensive on encountering online criticism of China, even if that criticism is limited to the leadership, or the Communist Party.

The Chinese Internet is becoming increasingly separate from the Internet dominated by American companies and believed (correctly or not) to be “the” Internet. Part of this is because of the Great Firewall and other policies. Much more of it is because of linguistic and ethnic proximity, as one researcher named Harsh Taneja has shown in papers he’s written. And as indigenous Chinese Internet companies offer more and more compelling services within China, catering to the specific preferences, habits and tastes of Chinese users, the separateness only looks to be more and more total. So-called “global digital culture” will I fear become less relevant to China. China’s digital culture will need to be understood increasingly on its own terms.

Explain the strengths and weaknesses of Beijing and Washington in communicating their country’s identity and intentions.

A veteran China-watcher – John Holden, former President of the National Committee on U.S.–China Relations – once told me that the U.S. fails to understand China because of China’s opacity, and the very closed nature of its leadership. Conversely, China has a great deal of difficulty understanding the U.S. for the opposite reason: Because of the very openness and pluralism of the United States. Beijing has trouble deciding which voice carries weight: Is it the White House? The State Department? Congress? The Pentagon? I think there’s a lot of truth to what he said.

Beijing seems to see coordination among state- and non-state actors like NGOs, Internet companies, and the American media where in fact there may be none at all. They see the Pivot, support for Japan on the Diaoyu/Senkaku conflict, support for Manilla on the Scarborough Shoals, the Indian nuclear deal, the push for global Internet freedom, pressure by NGOs on human rights, and the New York Times editorial line as somehow coordinated – all part of a grand plan to contain China’s rise. Americans might smile at this and dismiss it as paranoia, but better security dilemma sensibility wouldn’t hurt: Washington needs a better sense of how its actions, and even the actions of totally independent institutions, are perceived in China, and how that perception impacts Beijing’s behavior. The U.S. might endeavor to communicate better just how separate and uncoordinated these things actually are – that they come spontaneously from shared values in an open, pluralistic society, and not out of deliberate strategy. My sense is that the more international (read: U.S.) pressure China feels itself to be under, the more repressive its internal policies tend to be, and the more belligerent its posture in foreign policy. There’s good reason to convince Beijing that it isn’t in America’s sights – that we don’t want to “pull an Arab Spring.” That said, the real onus is on Beijing, to come to clearer understanding of American intentions. Problem is, the pessimistic and paranoid view that sees it all as American machinations, has its political uses within China.

Why is it crucial for the next U.S. President to get U.S.-China relations right?

The simple answer is that these are two frightfully well-armed nuclear powers, and the cost of actual conflagration is absolutely staggering, just unthinkable. Likely trouble spots are few right now – really, only the South and East China Seas – but in the next four or eight years that number may well grow. The possibility of a severe economic dislocation in China raises the specter of political instability, which might have disastrous consequences that would be felt globally. The next U.S. president will need to make U.S.–China relations a real priority and “get it right” so that we have some hope of tackling, together, the very biggest issues facing this planet, not least of which is anthropogenic global warming. Without the world’s two largest greenhouse gas emitters working together, I truly fear the worst.

INDIA: Modi’s Personal Diplomacy at Work

July 10, 2016

INDIA: Modi’s Personal Diplomacy at Work

by KC Singh*

India needs to reconsider geo-political fault lines, history

PRIME Minister Narendra Modi, after two years in office, finally gave a calibrated television interview to a fawning anchor. The PM’s remarks on foreign policy give an insight into his thinking. Undoubtedly, China blocking India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), despite his personal intervention with Chinese President Xi Jinping at Tashkent, was in his thoughts.

Three interlocking comments are noteworthy. First, that the Cold War bipolarity is over. Hence, it was level playing field and India was free to engage the entire global community. Finally, the PM — on his globe-trotting — postulated that as the world came to know “Modi” (referring to himself in the third person), they would perforce be drawn to India. He, naturally, did not mention that he was also bolstering his own image dented by past visa denials.

This strategic perception of the world derives from the Sanskrit phrase Vasudhaiva kutumbakam — the world is one family. While Modi is historically right that the Cold War ended in the early 1990s with the Soviet Union’s collapse, but the new bipolarity between a relatively weaker US and an ascendant China is already upon us. However, while berating Pakistan, he seemed reticent on China. Whether this is dissimulation to avoid open confrontation and calibrated counter-measures, which may follow, or Nehruvian self-delusion, only time will tell.

Rebonding: Mozambique is on the PM’s four-nation African tour, beginning July 7.

Global outreach, as a novel Modi doctrine, ignores history. The developing world, particularly Africa, has always welcomed India because of the relentless Indian support to de-colonisation post-Indian Independence, at the UN. Despite periodic foreign exchange paucity, India maintained training and development assistance to African countries. India joining the Commonwealth led other nations gaining independence from Britain doing likewise. Nonalignment was a quest for the developing world as a family. More recently, Indian lines of credit, grants and training slots to Africa were incrementally enhanced during the UPA rule, as two India-Africa summits were held to bolster ties.

PM Modi’s four-nation African tour from July 7, covering prominent east-coast nations — Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania and Kenya — builds on this past legacy. It also supplements visits by the President and Vice-President earlier to West and North Africa, respectively. While India has traded with East Africa since time immemorial, the British took Indian workers to run their African colonies from which have spawned the diaspora and the modern links. The five-nation East African Community, founded in 2000 to coordinate infrastructure development, is an East African success story.

The China factor lingers whenever India engages Africa. Deep pockets and hunger for resources during the early part of this century, when Chinese economy was growing at double- digit rate, pales the Indian presence. In 2014, while the China-Africa trade was $200 billion, India’s languished at $70 billion. Indian investments are also $35 billion, considerably below China’s. However, two factors now favour India. One, the Chinese use of its own labour to extract resources with unseemly hurry has created a backlash and is seen as exploitative. Two, the slowdown of the Chinese economy — growing, many believe, well below the target rate of 7.5 per cent — presents India an opportunity, as commodity exporting countries are in recession. The US shale gas revolution has also affected gas exporting nations like Mozambique. Between 2010 and 2014, African countries growing at 6 per cent, or more, fell from 25 to 12, and those with low inflation being only six. Three of them are EAC members. Kenya, with its pro-West tilt, was always an exception to the warm India-Africa ties. However, with a new dynamic President, Uhuru Kenyatta, it is perhaps ready to embrace India.

Africa also can be critical for food security, with 600 million hectares of arable uncultivated land, constituting 60 per cent of the global total, making it tomorrow’s granary for a growing population in the developing world. Even in 1950-60, the then Raja of Faridkot applied for permission to acquire land in Ethiopia, ruled by the then Emperor Haile Selassie. In the period 2000-11, 948 land deals for 124 million hectares were registered; among buyers are rich Gulf states. But land can be an emotive issue and there are reports of local ire over the diversion of water, exploitation of labour, etc. In Africa, only 5 per cent of cultivated land is irrigated, compared to 41 per cent in Asia. There would also be the element of security as many of these states have weak institutions.

The Modi doctrine of personalised diplomacy will flounder, as in the case of NSG, if it ignores geo-political fault lines, or the emerging balance of the power game between China and the US, or, indeed, lessons of history. It can be a useful adjunct to a grand strategy in a de-globalising world. President George W Bush erred in 2001 when he declared on meeting Russian President Putin that he found him trustworthy as he “got a sense of his soul”. A Soviet expert would have told him that former KGB agents do not let their souls interfere with realpolitik.

The Cabinet rejig presents an unintended irony in the Ministry of External Affairs created by again personal chemistry trumping objective analysis. Minister of State Gen VK Singh (retd) — persistently advocating honouring of Maharana Pratap, routed in the Battle of Haldighat by Emperor Akbar’s forces — now faces another Akbar, MJ, perhaps wresting the Gulf and West Asia from him. Modi thereby succumbs to the fallacy that a Muslim is best to deal with the Islamic world, a Congress-perpetrated myth which PM Vajpayee rejected. Do the P5 members of the UNSC even send Muslim envoys to Islamic nations? It was Jaswant Singh, as External Affairs Minister, who struck a vital equation with the then Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, laying the foundation of the present close engagement.

Resting foreign policy on seeking universal goodwill through personal diplomacy is not a strategy in a world with assertive China, diabolical radical Islam and anti-globalisation and free trade virus in the veins of Europe and the US. Henry Kissinger, in a 1963 critique of the Kennedy administration, wrote that they ran a “government by improvisation and manipulation”. He added their government lacked strategic clarity in “a period of revolutionary change”. He had Vietnam in mind. It sums up the Indian dilemma today. Hopefully, now that the PM is at spring cleaning, seeking a tangible strategy comes next.

*The writer is a former Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs

Boris Johnson–The BREXIT Buffoon

Washington DC

July 1. 2016

Boris Johnson–The BREXIT Buffoon

by D. D. Guttenplan*

THE problem with spending your whole life pretending to be a buffoon is that eventually people start to believe you.

The British are spared of this Brexit Buffoon

Back in April, when the possibility of Britain actually voting to leave the European Union seemed remote, two newspapers commissioned a poll asking which political figure readers would most like to dine with. Boris Johnson, who had recently announced his support for Brexit, was the winner by a wide margin: 38 percent of respondents said they’d prefer his company, compared with 18 percent for the Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, and just 12 percent for the Conservative Prime Minister, David Cameron.

This morning, I found myself wondering how many had changed their minds, for Mr. Johnson — or Boris, as he’s universally known here — now seems more like the sort of date who’d order a lavish meal and the best wine on the menu and then walk out, leaving his companions with the check.

A week ago Britain had the fifth largest economy in the world. By the weekend, after Britons had voted by a margin of 52 percent to 48 percent to leave the European Union, it had slipped to sixth place, behind France. Mr. Cameron, who had staked his political future on the vote, resigned.His successor, it was widely assumed, would be Boris Johnson.

The tousled blond figurehead of the Leave campaign had been seen as prime minister in waiting since his return to Parliament last year. He and Michael Gove — like Mr. Johnson, a journalist turned Tory politician — were the intellectual heavyweights of the campaign, widely expected to become next-door neighbors in government, with Mr. Johnson as Prime Minister at No. 10 Downing Street and the Goves in No. 11, the residence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Michael and Sarah G0ve

The Goves had other ideas. On Wednesday, Mr. Gove’s wife, Sarah Vine, a columnist for The Daily Mail, inadvertently leaked an email indicating her distrust of Mr. Johnson. “You MUST have SPECIFIC assurances from Boris OTHERWISE you cannot guarantee your support,” she admonished her husband. She also reminded him that both Paul Dacre, The Mail’s powerful editor, and Rupert Murdoch “instinctively dislike Boris but trust your ability enough to support a Boris Gove ticket.” (Before he became a member of Parliament, Mr. Gove was an editorial writer for Mr. Murdoch’s Times).

Yet in her own column that day, Ms. Vine gave no hint that Mr. Gove had any plan to supplant Mr. Johnson as favorite to be the next Conservative leader and Prime Minister. The same could hardly be said of Boris, whose ambition was as broad as his indiscretions.

Playing the clown served Mr. Johnson well, though. It created a cushion of public indulgence around his persona, even as the Old Etonian plotted his next career move. The young reporter who was fired by The Times in 1988 for fabricating a quotation became the editor of The Spectator in 1999. The newspaper columnist who in 2002 wrote scornfully of “flag-waving piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles” was elected mayor of one of the most diverse and cosmopolitan cities in the world in 2008.

Along the way, he fathered two children out of wedlock. In 2013, an Appeal Court castigated him for the “reckless” conduct of his “philandering.”

We can’t say we weren’t warned. When Mr. Johnson took over at The Spectator, his friend and biographer, the political journalist Andrew Gimson, remarked that it was like “entrusting a Ming vase to an ape.” Somehow, though, none of the buffoonery or scandal slowed him down. It was just Boris being Boris.

He even got away with an extraordinary degree of flip-flopping on Brexit: from “finely balanced” in February to all-out in April to his latest, post-referendum column for The Daily Telegraph, in which he assured readers that “Britain is part of Europe, and always will be.”

Recklessness doesn’t get near it. On Thursday morning, after destroying the political career of his old school chum Mr. Cameron, wrecking the British economy and possibly breaking up Britain, Mr. Johnson announced that he wouldn’t be sticking around to clean up the mess he’d made. His erstwhile ally, Mr. Gove, delivered the coup de grâce as he announced his own candidacy for the Conservative leadership: “Boris cannot provide the leadership or build the team for the task ahead.”

Until yesterday, Mr. Johnson seemed to have an ability to outrun boring facts and bad publicity only surpassed, perhaps, by one Donald J. Trump. Boris will not be Britain’s prime minister any time soon, and probably never, so what next?

A break from British politics seems like a good idea. Although he gave up his American passport to avoid paying taxes, Mr. Johnson was actually born in New York City. Perhaps Mr. Trump would take him on as a warm-up act — or even a running mate.

*D. D. Guttenplan is The Nation’s editor at large.

A version of this op-ed appears in print on July 1, 2016, on page A23 of the New York edition with the headline: Boris the Clown Bows Out. Today’s Paper|Subscribe

China’s South China Sea Diplomacy: Some Lessons from Africa

Washington DC

June 29, 2016

The Diplomat

China’s South China Sea Diplomacy: Some Lessons from Africa

China has been actively seeking international support for its position that the South China Sea dispute with the Philippines should be resolved exclusively by negotiations among the parties directly concerned and thus should not have been submitted to arbitration. Among the 40 states that support China are several African countries, including Burundi, Mozambique, Niger, and Togo. China is also seeking the support of Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, and Senegal. Beijing believes that China and Africa should support each other on issues concerning their vital interests, since they had all been “victims of colonization.”

Some Western experts have dismissed these states as “small, poor and inconsequential.” They allegedly support China because they receive massive Chinese assistance. Niger’s oil industry is said to be almost totally dependent on Chinese enterprises and the CNPC (China National Petroleum Corporation). It is true that Mozambique declared its support during a state visit of its president to China, when the two states agreed to establish a Strategic Partnership for Comprehensive Cooperation and China promised to assist in Mozambique’s industrialization and modernization.

Nevertheless, as China’s spokesperson rightly pointed out on March 25, 2016, the dismissive attitude is “permeated with arrogance, prejudice and snobbishness… all countries, big or small, rich or poor, should be respected as equals… [It is] particularly preposterous to judge right and wrong based on the size and wealth of a country.”

In that same spirit, China could and should learn a lesson or two from the African countries in the area of peaceful dispute settlement. More and more African states now accept the principle of international adjudication, i.e., dispute settlement through international courts, and actually submit specific disputes to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS). Moreover, the actual conduct at the ICJ of three African states whose support China is seeking — Burundi, Senegal and Niger — is exactly the opposite of that of China in the Philippines v. China arbitration.

African States Accept International Adjudication

The consent of states parties to a dispute is required before an international court can hear their dispute. A dispute may be submitted to the ICJ if states have given their consent in advance under Article 36(2) of its Statute, through a special agreement, or through a treaty on another subject. States parties to the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea may also give their consent in advance to submission of their disputes to ITLOS, created by the Convention.

States prefer to resolve their disputes by negotiation, mainly because they believe that they remain in control of the process without the intervention of third parties. In addition, socialist states believe that international law is a tool of capitalism; for developing countries, it was an instrument of imperialism. At present only 72 UN members (less than one-third of the total), have given their consent to dispute settlement by the ICJ under Article 36(2) of the Statute.

As a socialist state, China is viscerally opposed to dispute settlement by international courts. In contrast, the attitudes of developing countries, in particular the African states, have evolved considerably since the 1980s. Before that time only 12 African states had recognized the Court’s compulsory jurisdiction: Botswana, Egypt, Gambia, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Mauritius, Somalia, Sudan, Swaziland, Togo, and Uganda. Since then they have been joined by Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Lesotho, Madagascar, and Nigeria, bringing the number to 22 (out of 72 UN members from around the world). This group includes four of the states that officially support China: Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal, and Togo.

African states now constitute the second largest group of states that have recognized the Court’s compulsory jurisdiction, second only to the group of European states (27). The number of Asian states that have done so (six, including the Philippines and Japan, but not China) has not increased at all since the 1980s. Understandably, Africa’s role in reconciling the Third World with the ICJ has been described as “considerable.”

Of the 22 African states on the list, eight (Cameroon, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, Somalia, and Uganda) have been involved in eight cases. Seven cases involving ten African states (Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Chad, Libya, Mali, Namibia, Niger, Republic of the Congo, and Tunisia) have been heard on the basis of a special agreement, while five disputes in which five African states were parties were submitted on the basis of a treaty (Burundi, DRC, Djibouti, Libya, and Rwanda). A total of 21 African states have thus been involved in 19 out of 83 cases heard by the Court since 1980. The figures might seem very low but Asian states are arguably even more wary of international courts. Since 1980 the Court has heard only two “Asian” cases, in which three Asian states (Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore) were parties.

As for ITLOS, 36 states, out of 167 parties to the 1982 Convention, have accepted its jurisdiction. Six African states (Angola, Cape Verde, DRC, Madagascar, Tunisia, and Tanzania) make up the second largest group, together with the Latin American and Caribbean group, that has accepted the Court’s jurisdiction, after the European group.

None of the six has been a party to any of the 23 inter-state cases that have been heard by ITLOS, but five other African states have appeared before it. Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire concluded a special agreement requesting that the Tribunal delimit their maritime boundary. Ghana and three other states (Guinea, Seychelles, and Guinea-Bissau) have appeared in five cases relating to the release of vessels.

Beyond the statistics, the conduct at the ICJ of three African states whose support China is seeking – Burundi, Senegal, and Niger – vividly demonstrates the great differences between Chinese and African attitudes toward international courts.

African States Appear Before the ICJ   

Burundi has not accepted ICJ jurisdiction and thus may not be forced to appear before it. Yet when a case was filed against it, it did not boycott the Court. Senegal, which has accepted ICJ jurisdiction, cannot anticipate when and over what issue another state may bring a case against it. If the issue is sensitive, Senegal might still challenge the Court’s jurisdiction. Nevertheless, it chose to appear before the Court when Guinea-Bissau filed two cases against it. Niger, which gave its consent by special agreement, could not predict the outcomes of the cases, but accepted the risk of unfavorable outcomes after decades of negotiations with two neighbors had failed.

In 1999, Burundi was accused of aggression by the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), which had accepted ICJ jurisdiction. Aggression is one of the gravest violations of international law that may be made against a state. International law prohibits the use of force in international relations, and the UN’s fundamental aim is to maintain international peace and security. No state, big or small, wishes to be accused of aggression. The conduct of Burundi in this case should be instructive to China. As Burundi had not given its consent to ICJ jurisdiction, it could have boycotted the proceedings. Yet Burundi appointed an agent to represent it in the case; attended a consultation with the DRC and the ICJ over the procedure; and complied with the deadline set by the Court for submission of its written arguments. The case was terminated when the DRC discontinued it in 2001.

Senegal, which accepted ICJ jurisdiction in 1985, was implicated between 1985 and 1995 in a less dramatic, but more protracted, process: it was a party to three proceedings before two international tribunals over one issue, maritime delimitation with Guinea-Bissau, which accepted ICJ jurisdiction in 1989. In the first case, an arbitral tribunal held that a 1960 exchange of letters between France and Portugal, the then colonial powers, had determined the boundary between Senegal and Guinea-Bissau, but that it did not delimit their EEZs (Exclusive Economic Zones). In the second and third cases, Guinea-Bissau, which was dissatisfied with the tribunal’s award (judgment), requested that the ICJ declare that the award was null and void and delimit the maritime boundaries between the two states. It was arguably not in Senegal’s interest to participate in the second case, since the tribunal’s award was partly favorable to its theses. But both had accepted ICJ jurisdiction.

Senegal’s conduct in this case could not be more different from that of China in the Philippines v. China arbitration. Senegal appointed an agent to represent it in the case; participated in consultations on the procedure; submitted its written arguments by the deadline; and took part in all oral proceedings. Senegal denied that Guinea-Bissau’s case was admissible. The ICJ did not agree with Senegal, but it ruled that the award was valid and binding for the two states. The ICJ’s judgment paved the way for negotiations between the two states to delimit all maritime areas and the withdrawal of the third case in 1995.

Niger, which has not given its consent to ICJ dispute settlement, has been party to two frontier disputes before the Court, which heard them on the basis of special agreements. Niger and the two other states involved could not have predicted the outcome of the cases; notwithstanding the uncertainty they turned to the ICJ because decades of negotiations following independence from France in 1960 had not yielded any solution. This conduct again contrasts sharply with that of China, which insists on bilateral negotiations despite the fact that they have failed over many years.

Niger’s dispute with Benin (2002-05) concerned 25 border islands situated on the delta of the Niger and Mekrou Rivers between them. Although incidents had occurred in 1960, 1993, and 1998, joint commissions meeting in 1961, 1963 and between 1995 and 2000 failed to delimit the border. The two states finally signed an agreement in 2001 to submit the dispute to the ICJ.

African observers believe that the Court’s judgment represented a balanced settlement. In one sector of the boundary, the Court accepted Niger’s thesis; in another sector, it was Benin’s thesis that was followed. Benin thus had title to nine islands situated between the boundary and the right bank of the Niger River, while Niger was granted title to 16 islands situated between the boundary and the river’s left bank.

In the Niger-Burkina Faso (2010-13) dispute, commissions meeting in 1964, 1988, and 1991 had been unable to demarcate the border. In February 2009, the two states finally concluded a special agreement to submit the dispute to the Court. African assessments believe that the Court’s judgment split the difference between the two states. It rejected Burkina Faso’s request for delimitation in two sectors in the North and the South, while at the same time rejecting Niger’s request to modify slightly the delimitation around two localities. The Court’s judgment attributed 786 square kilometers of territory occupied by Niger to Burkina Faso, which acquired 14 villages; 277 square kilometers of Burkina territory were returned to Niger, which received four villages.

A Burkina source implies that Burkina Faso obtained a slight advantage over Niger by being granted greater access to the River Sirba, an affluent of the Niger River, than Niger would have wanted. Yet Niger’s Minister of Justice declared that the two states were winners, because there would be no more disagreement regarding the border. It would seem, then, that the risk of submitting the dispute to the Court was worth running, because the Court gave reasons for satisfaction to both states.

It is sad that China should have to be reminded of the conduct of African states at the ICJ. Based on its own assertions of equality, China cannot dismiss African countries’ attitudes to and conduct before international courts, alleging that their disputes have low stakes and that they are small countries. China would do well to stop canvassing their support for its position and emulate their conduct.

Dr. Alfredo C. Robles, Jr. is an academic based in the Philippines. This is an abridged version of a paper originally published by the Philippine Foreign Service Institute (FSI) here.

Brexit Outcome: Schumacher’s Lessons for Nations

New York

June 28, 2016

Brexit Outcome: Schumacher’s Lessons for Nations

by Dr. Lim Teck Ghee

Over 40 years ago, a British economist, E.F. Schumacher, published a collection of essays on the theme of “small is beautiful” which argued that the modern growth-obsessed economy is unsustainable.

Anticipating the present global warming and environmental crisis in our land and oceans, he noted that natural resources should be treated as capital, since they are not renewable and subject to depletion. He further argued that nature’s ability to fight and resist pollution is limited as well – a warning which has still not sunk deeply enough into the corridors of power all over the world.

Besides his somber – and now proven to be correct – message on environmentalism, he made the case for sustainable development and against inappropriate technology transfer to developing countries which, in his view, would not resolve the underlying problems of unsustainable economies.

Schumacher was also amongst the earliest economists to question the appropriateness of using gross national product and other pure economic indicators to measure human well-being.

What has been referred to as “his dense mixture of philosophy, economics and politics” struck an immediate chord with Western readers, especially during the era of the 70s and the advent of the first global energy crisis. In 1995, the Times Literary Supplement ranked the slim volume of his work as among the 100 most influential books published since World War II.

Since then his influence appears to have waned. New critiques of conventional economic thinking have emerged; and Schumacher’s concern for the “philosophy of materialism” to be replaced or subsumed to ideals such as justice and harmony, and his counter-cultural ideas on the organic, the gentle, the non-violent, the elegant and beautiful as laid out in his Buddhist economics, have been taken up by less credible “gurus” with new vocabulary omitting his ideas and name.

Today, however, some of the concerns which “small is beautiful” raised in 1973 just before the push for European Union began to take place, are echoing in the popular sentiments and issues raised by the “Leave” voters in the Brexit referendum.

Why Britain is Leaving EU

The historic upset defeat of the “Remain” camp and successful revolt against the EU has been explained and interpreted in many ways.

In a lead article, the day after the referendum result, the BBC listed 8 reasons why Leave won the UK referendum on the EU. These reasons included the backfiring of Brexit economic warnings; bungled leadership of the Prime Minster, David Cameron; Labour’s disconnect with voters; the inter-generational divide with older voters preferring to leave; the ascendency of immigration and national and cultural identity issues in the minds of lower income voters; perceived economic benefits; and finally, the influence of Euroskeptic leaders and critics such as Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson during the referendum campaign.

While all the reasons advanced played a role in the final voting count to tilt the balance towards those opting for an uncharted and potentially precarious future, in one sense it represented a rejection of what local Britishers see as a much too big, too powerful and out-of-touch technocratic Frankenstein’s monster – as described in a United Kingdom Independence Party’s internet newsletter on the eve of the referendum – which has made life not only difficult but has also profoundly alienated the common citizen (

In the immigration issue especially which assumed center stage in the Brexit debate, many Britons resent the EU migrants who legally move to jobs in Britain, are seen as taking jobs away from locals and are alleged to abuse the country’s benefits and welfare system.

And this is by no means just a view found in Britain. Other nations in the EU face similarly disenchanted citizens fed up with the “big is good; bigger is better” philosophy in economic and political systems that Schumacher warned against, and which the enlarged grouping of European nations seemed to signify.

Ordinary people and communities seem to be looking for solutions which call for more local autonomy and for moves away from centralized control towards greater decentralization and a return to local and national economies in which they have greater influence, however naive or impractical it may appear to the political and business elites that run our world today.

The same soul searching in the rest of Europe has already produced populist politicians and a growing number of Euroskeptics. They will seek their own referendums on EU membership and if successful will produce a breakup of the present union; and the need as French Prime Minister  Manuel Valls puts it “to invent another Europe.”

Can Malaysia Learn

In Malaysia the Brexit referendum result has produced the predictable dollars and cents focused analysis of what it means to the nation’s trade and investment flows as well as to the property, education and other sectors whose links with the UK are based on its inclusion in the EU. This is a limiting and inadequate focus which misses the larger lessons to be learned.

In our part of the world, especially in Sabah and Sarawak which opted to join Malaya and Singapore in the formation of Malaysia in 1963, a sense of alienation towards the federalized centralized political entity, run from Kuala Lumpur and beholden to UMNO’s agenda, has been brewing for some time.

In August 2014, a coalition of NGOs, politicians and activists from Sarawak and Sabah drew up a petition addressed to the United Nations (UN) secretary-general to re-open the issue of self-determination for the two East Malaysian states. The petition believed to be signed by some 100 representatives was also copied to the UN Special Committee of 24 (C-24) and the UN Human Rights Committee (

These local autonomy and even separatist tendencies and forces are not going to go away. At some point – unless real reforms are put in place to provide for greater autonomy and to protect the freedoms and sense of local identity that the local communities from the two states feel they have lost – we will have our own version of Brexit demanded more forcefully.