At 50–Quo Vadis ASEAN

October 20,2016

At 50–Quo Vadis ASEAN

by Tess Bacala

As the international backlash continues over Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody war on drugs, the lack of due process and the consequent deaths of “suspects” in his campaign, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations(ASEAN), along with its individual member states, has been characteristically silent.

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For instance, ASEAN’s leaders and ministers met at their summit in the Lao capital Vientiane last September and discussed a range of issues in the region and beyond. But neither the organization nor its members raised a whimper about rights concerns on the extrajudicial killings of supposed drug users and pushers since Duterte assumed office on June 30.  News reports put the figure of alleged users and pushers killed at more than 3,000 since Duterte took over.

ASEAN’s silence on this issue was not particularly a surprise, but it was the latest example of how it is not the organization’s habit to tell off a member state about its domestic issues.

More typically, it was an outside state like the United States, though not a disinterested country, that brought up the issue of human rights at the September 6-8 summit, where Duterte made his debut on the regional stage.

To human rights advocates across the region, the 28th and 29th ASEAN Summits, held back to back this year, should have been an apt occasion to discuss a subject that is otherwise anathema to the Southeast Asian organization, especially given its theme, ’ASEAN 2025: Forging Ahead Together’, which defines the vision of the ASEAN Community for the next decade.

At the ASEAN-US summit in Vientiane, President Barack Obama called to mind a “common vision” for the region — “(a)n open, dynamic and economically competitive Asia-Pacific that respects human rights and upholds the law-based order.”

But this is far from how the situation is from the view of the sectors that have been at the receiving end of certain governments’ systemic suppression of dissent at home. This also comes at a time when the ASEAN Community has been formed with its three pillars — political security, socio-cultural, and economic – and where its peoples can enjoy “human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

ASEAN continues to steer clear of human rights issues in line with the principle of non-interference in its member states’ internal affairs. But as ASEAN turns 50 next year, critics say this adherence to non-intervention should not be absolute, especially now that economic integration is going full throttle after the launch of the ASEAN Community’s in December 2015.

Economic but not political openness

The organization has shown much more openness – and willingness to let go of sovereignty concerns – in the areas of economics and business rather than in political areas such as human rights.

“ASEAN has promoted a harmful contradiction. Member states have abandoned ASEAN principles of ‘non-interference’ and ‘state sovereignty’ in relation to capital and economic policy but doggedly retained them in relation to human rights,” says the alternative document titled ‘Vision 2025: ASEAN Women’s Blueprints for Alternative Regionalism’.

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Ryerson University (Canada)’s Dr. Sorpong Peou

Over recent decades, Southeast Asia has experienced three ‘miracles’: economic growth, the disappearance of mass atrocities, and efforts to promote regional peace and community building,” said Dr. Sorpong Peou, chairperson of the Department of Politics and Public Administration at Ryerson University in Canada. “Large-scale killings or genocide such as those in Indonesia (1965–66), Cambodia (1975–1978 under the Khmer Rouge), and East Timor (1975–1999 under the Indonesian occupation) “have all disappeared from contemporary Southeast Asia.”

“But authoritarianism keeps threatening to return,” wrote the Cambodian-born scholar in a commentary published by the East Asia Forum in March. “Below the surface of official declarations lies an acceptance among most ASEAN leaders that democracy and human rights should not be pushed too fast and too far.”

Appreciation and interpretation of human rights are subject to national interest rather than international human rights standards,” said Jaymie Ann Reyes, program manager of the Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism. The Working Group, a coalition of individuals and organizations that include civil society and academics, engages ASEAN on specific rights initiatives.

Rights? It depends

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Some human rights themes and focuses are more acceptable to ASEAN such as women’s rights, children’s rights, and rights of persons with disabilities,” Reyes added.

All 10 member states have ratified the UN Conventions on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Rights of the Child, and the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. “But there are more ‘sensitive’ issues that are not discussed for fear of violating the principle of ‘non-interference,’” she said.

One of these is refugee protection. The majority of ASEAN countries have not signed the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and the 1954 Statelessness Convention.

A wide range of other rights concerns continues to exist today across the region of 620 million people.

In Indonesia, the vigorous implementation of the death penalty, the enactment of more discriminatory laws against women, and violent attacks against religious minorities are bedeviling the government, according to Human Rights Watch.

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Neighboring Malaysia recently passed the National Security Council Act (NSCA), which empowers the government to declare martial law in areas where there are perceived security threats. Singapore’s Administration of Justice (Protection) Bill, passed in Parliament just a month ahead of the Vientiane summit, is seen as yet another attempt to muzzle freedom of expression in the city-state.

The decades-old Internal Security Act, which allows arrests without warrant and indefinite detention without trial, remains firmly in place in Singapore. (A similar law in Malaysia was abolished in 2012. Yet four years later, the NSCA came into force.)

Thailand’s new constitution — approved in a referendum on August 7 — is seen to reinforce the military’s two-year hold on power.

“For the people in Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Singapore, the democratic crisis has meant increasing crackdowns on journalists, human rights lawyers, opposition politicians, bloggers, activists and religious leaders. Political deterioration has also contributed to internal conflict in Southeast Asia,” said Yuyun Wahyuningrum, senior advisor on ASEAN and Human Rights at the Human Rights Working Group, a coalition of more than 50 groups advocating for human rights in Indonesia.

The Bangkok-based Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), sees “a trend of shrinking civil society space” despite “ASEAN’s aim to be a people-centered and people-oriented community”.

In Cambodia, government critics have been jailed, and more oppressive laws passed. For instance, Kem Ley, leader of the advocacy group Khmer for Khmer, was gunned down in broad daylight in the capital Phnom Penh on July 10 this year.

Although Myanmar has ceased to be a pariah state, its democratic transition has been marked by concern over discrimination against Rohingya Muslims, who are stateless in the mainly Buddhist country.

Punishment under Hudud

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Critics have also dubbed as medieval Brunei’s announcement in October 2013 to impose a tough shariah penal code system, after its chairmanship of ASEAN that same year.

Yet ASEAN prides itself on having an “overarching human rights institution” such as the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR).

In fact, the ASEAN Chair’s statement in Vientiane commended the commission for “the progress of (its) work” and urged it to “promote the mainstreaming of human rights across all three pillars of the ASEAN Community”. But how such “progress” is measured and improves the rights landscape is not clear.

On the eve of the Vientiane summit, the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights appealed to ASEAN leaders “to press the Lao government to cease the abuses that have consistently placed Laos at the bottom of rights and development indexes measuring rights, press freedom, democracy, religious freedom, and economic transparency.”

This referred to the unresolved disappearance of Lao activist Sombath Somphone, missing since December 2012. The Lao government had earlier said the issue had no place at the ASEAN meetings.

Looking back, ASEAN’s road to setting up a human rights commission – whose limitations its own commissioners concede – has been far from smooth. The commission’s creation was already a feat by itself.

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ASEAN launched in Bangkok in 1967

The regional grouping laid down the ASEAN Charter in 2008, which stipulated the creation of a human rights body. AICHR was created in 2009. In a process criticized by civil society for falling short of international standards, ASEAN drafted an ASEAN Human Rights Declaration in 2012.

From being taboo, human rights principles were slowly integrated into ASEAN documents, institutions, and language. ASEAN bodies and government representatives are slowly adopting and using human rights language,” said Reyes of the Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism.

But the AICHR’s limited mandate does not include receiving and investigating rights complaints. “It is high time it (AICHR) evolved from promotion to the protection of human rights,” said a statement by the Thai Civil Society Network on ASEAN and AICHR.

Today, “all ASEAN human rights instruments recognise universal human rights standards with caveats: the principle of non-interference and due regard to the different culture, history, and socioeconomic condition in each ASEAN member state,” Ranyta Yusran, research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Centre for International Law, said at a legal conference in Beijing in May.

Wahyuningrum of the Jakarta-based Human Rights Working Group said: “Human rights and democracy issues (in the region) are not going to simmer down. How is ASEAN going to keep up with these changes if it remains too bureaucratic and difficult to engage with?”

But she said there are encouraging signs. At a recent meeting she attended in Bangkok on legal aid and witness protection for victims of cross-border trafficking, participants acknowledged the political differences among the member states they were representing, but nevertheless focused on cooperation. The participants wanted to develop a cross-border witness protection standard operating procedure, which is a “good start,” she said.

Although AICHR has not adapted to “the changing context and structural challenges” of rights protection, Wahyuningrum credited it with initiating activities that have helped set “different platforms for subregional debate on human rights and clarified the ASEAN dimension on responses to human rights issues”.

For Reyes, there has also been “more robust engagement between and among non-governmental and civil society organizations,” though this faces challenges.

All eyes are now looking to 2017, when the Philippines takes its turn as ASEAN chair during the organization’s 50th year. The country has had a record of speaking up against rights abuses in ASEAN, but there are questions about how – and whether it can still do this credibly – given the furore over extrajudicial killings in the Duterte government’s crackdown on illegal drugs.

Tess Bacala wrote this as a fellow of the Reporting ASEAN project of Inter-Pres Service (IPS) Asia-Pacific (  This story was produced under the “Reporting Development in ASEAN” series of Inter-Press Service Asia-Pacific. 

ASEAN: Security remains a serious concern

October 16, 2016

by Bunn Nagara

ASEAN: Security remains a serious concern

Security in the region continues to be a serious concern for all, not least because of the antics of major powers beyond the control of ASEAN countries.

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THE “regional security architecture” of East Asia is often said to be in need of refurbishment.

The decades-long balance of forces deriving from the distinct national interests now being pursued by the major powers is thought to be out of kilter. At the very least, it is unlike what it had been in the postwar period since 1945. In recent years, the key factors contributing to this perceived strategic disequilibrium have been the rise of China, and US and other countries’ reactions to it.

The “Pax Americana” of regional order, peace and security imposed through US dominance is now more than 70 years old.It is an order that began when the US had both economic and military supremacy. Now that its economic prowess is being matched and possibly later overtaken by China, what next?

Thus, at an East Asian Institute workshop in Singapore last Friday to sketch some updates on these themes, more than a few views were aired and debated. And that was how it should be. Germany’s Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung as sponsors invited international security specialists to discuss the issues as these continue to be played out in the region, particularly in the South China Sea.

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The standard narrative is heard often enough: China’s economic rise has been complemented by its enlarged strategic presence, further enhanced by the US military “pivot/rebalancing” of deploying more firepower to East Asia.

The worrisome tit-for-tat, back-and-forth of pouting and posturing between these giants, or “G2”, has been a main event for this region and will remain so for some time.

For many, the US and China seemed destined for a showdown of sorts. But such an alarming outcome is unlikely, given several realities.Unlike with the Soviet Union before, the US is not in bitter ideological contention with China today.

The US and Chinese economies are also deeply intertwined; damage to one also means damage to the other. Washington now also needs China’s help in playing vital strategic roles: fighting terrorism, and keeping North Korea contained.

For more than half a century, all countries including China had accepted a US-led position of military pre-eminence. All these countries including China may still feel the same.

Nonetheless, China’s rise has been so steep, so rapid and so relentless as to set off multiple reactions to it. How will South-East Asia in particular be impacted by it all?

For decades, South-East Asia has informally been taken to be synonymous with ASEAN. Pundits often still talk about South-East Asia as “the ASEAN region”.

ASEAN for many is so broad in scope and implications as to be somewhat imprecise. There are at least three other levels of ASEAN’s state of being.

From the Informal ASEAN regarded as another name for South-East Asia, there is the Intuitive ASEAN: the motif or Zeitgeist of time (now) and place (South-East Asia).

Another ASEAN is the Formal ASEAN: the active transnational agency that had given rise to its founding treaties and declarations, along with ASEAN Plus Three, the ASEAN Regional Forum and the East Asia Summit, besides regular defence ministers’ meetings, Bali Concord documents and others.

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The fourth ASEAN is the Bureaucratic ASEAN: comprising principles, processes and procedures, as well as values, norms and conventions.

Then there are the multiple points at which ASEAN engages with principal players in the region: the US, China, Japan, and increasingly also India and Russia. The EU would also want to relate more and better with ASEAN.

Like practically everything else, ASEAN evolves according to the circumstances of the time. And since ASEAN is amenable to change, it may be time to consider some timely changes.

The first follows from ASEAN’s nature of reaching out beyond its own region of South-East Asia. Thus the many multilateral extra-ASEAN institutions that ASEAN had initiated or are ASEAN-centred.

ASEAN can begin by doing more, and on a regular basis, most naturally with its formally designated Dialogue Partners. From there it can prepare to expand its engagements with other countries and regions.

ASEAN understood that rising global competitiveness meant that it could be decimated, so it decided to reach out beyond South-East Asia early. If ASEAN were to survive in an Asia-Pacific crowded with major powers it had to be consequential; the alternative would be to become inconsequential, fade and perish.

The second area of change involves a multilayered ASEAN Security Regime whose time has surely come. With Total or Comprehensive Security for the region as the goal, ASEAN can move for a regime spanning traditional and non-traditional threats.

The third area is a review of some established norms in the “ASEAN Way,” notably such principles as “non-intervention” and “consensus”.

There is nothing wrong with these universal and uncontroversial principles, which are practised elsewhere and which predate ASEAN. The problem lies only in ASEAN’s peculiar interpretation of them.

In ASEANspeak, non-intervention is stretched to cover refraining from even voicing any disapproval or criticism, in whatever form, of another country’s conduct or character, however deplorable.

So long as there is no malice shown or intended, and no attempt to humiliate or offend, there should be no taboo against passing honest and due judgment on an erring fellow ASEAN member. To ignore troubling faults is to be irresponsible.

But ASEAN’s standing “code” is to treat all commentary, however well-intentioned or diplomatic, as unpardonable sin. That is hardly the way forward in the 21st century.

This inventive, indiscriminate but ultimately self-defeating interpretation is a hindrance and an obstacle to greater candour. It further disables ASEAN countries’ natural communicability among themselves.

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It would help if ASEAN developed a clearer, more disciplined and more consistent application of these principles to render them more realistic. It would certainly help ASEAN and its own credibility. For example, when member nations agree to the text of a joint statement, the original statement should be released even if one or two countries retract their assent. Their late dissent should be recorded as a footnote in the statement, and not become a reason for blocking the statement.

Consensus is fine, but it has to be handled with care, maturity and intelligence to facilitate rather than to obstruct the order of business.

If a country or a minority of some countries succeed in holding up the release of a statement, their identities and their reasons for doing so should likewise be released in place of the statement. And if any member state were to commit a serious wrong, a simple majority of the remaining nine may decide if action is to be taken. A two-thirds majority of the nine may then decide on the type of penalty.

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Obama in Laos for ASEAN Summit

Any organisation, even ASEAN, is free to develop such codes or practices to improve its functions. To insist on not even considering any of these options regardless is regressive. More tough-minded actions in place of woolly fumbling are just as important as benchmarks to help ASEAN achieve Community status. But can ASEAN rise to the occasion?

The time of dithering, muddling through, hoping for the best and spinning for a favourable effect by “massaging” the news media must surely be over. But that assumes ASEAN is serious about real Community status, and not just talking about it.

Bunn Nagara is a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia.



Australia’s Contentious Strategy in the South China Sea

October 15, 2016

Asia Pacific Bulletin

Number 358 | October 13, 2016


Australia’s Contentious Strategy in the South China Sea

By Orrie Johan

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Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop

Considerable disagreement persists over an ideal Australian policy response to China’s actions in the South China Sea (SCS). In recent days, the Opposition Defense Minister from the Labor Party challenged current government policy by arguing that Australia should begin staging freedom of navigation exercises (FONOPs) in the fiercely contested South China Sea. This view was criticized not only by senior figures in the current government, which holds a razor-thin parliamentary majority, but also by a number of highly influential former leaders of the Labor Party. Australia does not have a direct sovereignty stake in the territorial disputes in the South China Sea. However, as an island nation which is heavily reliant on regional and global trade, Australia’s economic and military security are reliant on the region remaining stable and open.

Australia’s approach to the SCS is also shaped by its relations to the region’s major players, each of which has differing views of how they would like Australia to engage in the South China Sea. Australia has traditionally relied on the U.S. as its primary ally to protect against external threats and the two countries share strong cultural, economic, and defense ties. But U.S. dominance in the Asia-Pacific region and the stability which it has provided is increasingly challenged by China’s rise. Australia’s economic prosperity relies heavily on China’s rapid economic growth to sustain demand for Australian exports — particularly natural resources and services.

Australia faces expectations from the U.S. to assist its efforts to uphold the current regional order. These efforts include support for arbitration cases like that of the Philippines and conducting FONOPs in disputed areas. From China, Australia faces pressure to refrain from challenging China’s approach of using unilateral or bilateral means to resolve many of these disputes. This would undoubtedly include Australia refraining from conducting U.S.-style FONOPs.

Australia’s domestic debate on how to respond to China in the South China Sea is mostly dominated by two competing schools of thought. The first is that Australia should stay in lock-step with the U.S. in challenging China’s unilateral moves in the South China Sea, while the second group recommends supporting the U.S.’s position, but moderating Australia’s responses at the same time to avoid Chinese repercussions. Proponents of each view can be found in both the left-leaning Labor party and the right-leaning Liberal party, as can be seen by the criticism of the Opposition Defense Minister’s recent comments from figures linked to both major parties. The question of whether Australia should participate in U.S. FONOP exercises or even conduct its own represents one of the major fault-lines between these two camps. An additional minority view held by the Greens party and some others proposes reducing Australia’s ties with the U.S. Public opinion in Australia meanwhile has strongly positive views of both the U.S. and of China.

Supporters of Australia’s participation in FONOPs tend to emphasize the importance of the U.S. alliance to Australia and the threat of Chinese unilateralism to Australia’s strategic neighborhood. They maintain that Australia relies on the U.S. not only for its security from external attack, but also to maintain the stability of the region and the international law regime that secures Australia’s economic trade. They argue that Australia should firmly support the U.S. in its dealings with China and should conduct FONOPs because doing so furthers both Australian and U.S. interests. They also argue that Australia has the capabilities to conduct FONOPs, as U.S. FONOPs have used just a single ship in the past. Australia could spare a P-3 Orion aircraft or a frigate for this purpose. Support for this view predominately comes from Australia’s defense and security communities and is also supported by senior figures in both major Australian political parties.

The mainstream opponents of FONOPs agree on the importance of the U.S. alliance to Australia, but they also emphasize China’s importance to Australia and focus on potential risks from Chinese retribution to an Australian FONOP. Australia’s economy relies heavily on China and the Chinese government has punished other countries economically for taking stances which China strongly opposes. Opponents to FONOPs often also argue that Australia supports the U.S. in other ways and that it does not make sense for Australia to conduct FONOPs since no country other than the U.S. has conducted them thus far. This group supports increased flexibility within the U.S.-Australia alliance when cooperation would affect relations with China. Support for this perspective predominately comes from Australia’s diplomatic and business communities, as well as senior figures in both major Australian political parties. A minority of members of Australia’s defense community supports it as well.

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The Australian government’s actions in the South China Sea thus far fall in the “flexible alliance” camp. Prime Minister Turnbull has built stronger security ties with regional neighbors like the Philippines and Vietnam, a trend which the U.S. and other regional powers support as a way of preserving the rules-based regional order and reducing China’s unilateral leverage in the region. His government has also voiced support for U.S. FONOPs in the South China Sea and has been one of the few countries that has consistently and openly supported the Philippines’ use of an arbitration tribunal to challenge China’s claims in the SCS, despite Chinese opposition to both measures. However, the Turnbull government has thus far decided not to conduct a freedom of navigation operation close to disputed islands in the South China Sea, indicating that they believe such an action risks escalating tensions with China. While Australian military forces periodically patrol the South China Sea in the name of regional stability and intelligence gathering under Operation Gateway, Australian forces thus far have not publicly traveled within the limit of territorial waters that China claims in order to replicate U.S. FONOPs. Instead the Turnbull government has stated its support for a diplomatic approach to encourage China to compromise.

Australia is not facing a binary choice between a security partner (the U.S.) and an economic partner (China); the U.S. is a major economic partner for Australia as well. Australian prime ministers over the last two decades have therefore often stated that Australia does not have to choose between the U.S. and China. Turnbull seems to be following this approach by showing the U.S. that it supports American freedom of navigation operations and by showing China that Australia will not participate in any FONOPs itself. If Turnbull remains in office, then this policy is unlikely to change unless Australia begins to feel that Australian civil and military assets risk losing their ability to travel safely through the South China Sea.

Orrie Johan is a researcher at the East-West Center in Washington. He recently obtained a master’s degree in Security Studies from Georgetown University.

The East-West Center promotes better relations and understanding among the people and nations of the United States, Asia, and the Pacific through cooperative study, research, and dialogue.

Established by the US Congress in 1960, the Center serves as a resource for information and analysis on critical issues of common concern, bringing people together to exchange views, build expertise, and develop policy options.

The Asia-Pacific Bulletin (APB) series is produced by the East-West Center in Washington.

APB Series Editor: Dr. Satu Limaye, Director, East-West Center in Washington

APB Series Coordinator: Alex Forster, Project Assistant, East-West Center in Washington

The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the East-West Center or any organization with which the author is affiliated.

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Being clear-eyed about China’s power

October 13, 2016

Being clear-eyed about China’s power

by  Editors, East Asia Forum

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen (2nd L) and China's President Xi Jinping (R) attend a meeting at Xijiao Hotel in Shanghai May 18, 2014.

There are many anxieties and uncertainties out there in the world about China and its future. In this year’s Pew polling, almost 90 per cent of those surveyed in Japan are anxious about growing Chinese power with only 11 per cent having a favourable view of China. In Australia, the proportion is 52 per cent and 43 per cent of those surveyed saw their country’s relationship with China as important, the same proportion as those who nominated the relationship with the United States important.

A large majority in Australia nominated the Chinese economy a positive factor, while the different system of government and troubles in the South China Sea came through as clear negatives. But despite the average Australian’s clear-eyed view of China, there is a small industry in this country promoting the argument that security concerns on many levels should dominate the positive effects of the big economic relationship and positive inter-personal interaction (79 per cent of those surveyed).

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China’s international economic presence has suddenly become big; people all around the world have to deal with the China factor because it permeates every major issue of the day, whether they know terribly much about it or not.

What China has to deal with in keeping its economy on course and delivering moderate affluence to the Chinese people in the next decade or two — the ambition that the Chinese leadership has declared for the country — is a huge challenge. No country has ever had to effect a set of reforms under such intense international spotlight in the global market or of this scale and complexity ever before in human history.

One major anxiety is that the Chinese political system is different from that of countries which are already rich. Indeed, there are no significantly sized countries in the world that have achieved advanced per capita income levels without some form of representative government, the oil states being the exceptions. Is China capable of delivering on its goals to become rich while preserving its political system, and how can other countries deal with China if it does — or for that matter if it doesn’t?

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No country has trod the path of economic advance before without presuming to use its economic power to carve a greater slice of global political power. Japan — the second time around — is perhaps the exception, with the adoption of its ‘peace constitution’ and its constrained position within the US–Japan alliance. Every move China makes in the political sphere, whether in the South China Sea or in setting up the AIIB, seems open to the interpretation that China is aiming to overthrow the established order. Exacerbating this is that China’s own regional and global ambitions remain unclear. Hence, China’s behaviour in the South China Sea and elsewhere is being used as a proxy for how China might behave when it becomes even more powerful.

These anxieties are major undercurrents in thinking about China in the established industrial powers as well as in smaller countries, especially those within its neighbourhood.

But despite the scale of all the challenges it faces and the anxieties there are about how they will be managed, the clear-eyed perception of China, more now than perhaps even a few months ago, is of a country that is still growing at more than twice the rate of the world economy and appears to be an island of economic stability in a global sea of economic troubles, as Brexit in Europe and the Trump phenomenon in North America have created anxieties in other parts of the world. China’s leadership as president of the G20 this year modestly reinforced that image of reliability and China’s claims to significant ownership in the international public good, though there is still quite a way to go.

James Laurenceson, in this week’s lead essay, reminds us that ‘economics is at the heart of military and strategic power’. Economic analysis, he suggests, is key to getting a clear-eyed understanding of Chinese strategic policy and its limits.

The simple arithmetic is that, with a population of 1.4 billion, income per person in China only has to reach one-quarter of that in the United States for it to have the world’s largest economy, allowing it to buy sophisticated weapons systems from abroad. In purchasing power parity (PPP) terms China’s real output, the measure that is relevant for paying the wages of war, the IMF estimates, will already be 12 per cent larger than that of the United States at the end of this year. China is large and dealing with this reality is not only or even largely at this point about dealing with the risks of its military power. It is more about the risks in China’s transition towards advanced economic power.

‘Economics can also help to restore some clear-headed thinking on complex matters such as the South China Sea’, Laurenceson points out. ‘The narrative proposed by strategic hawks is that since President Xi Jinping came to power in 2012 the Chinese government has begun aggressively pursuing expansionism. Yet since the South China Sea arbitration decision was published in July, both China and the Philippines have shown restraint in their response, albeit neither side has backed down from their original positions’.

Rigorous analysis, informed by a modicum of economic training or business savvy, makes this restraint understandable. The economics opens the possibility of these international relations being a positive, or at least mixed interest, rather than a zero-sum game.

‘With income per person still only at 14 per cent of that in the United States (25 per cent in PPP terms)’, says Laurenceson, ‘China can ill afford a dramatic recasting of its relationship with the rest of the world’.

Continuing to put its own commitments to economic and political reform on the table; moving forward on open trade and investment; committing to deeper financial reform and capital account opening (as well as concomitant political reform); undertaking to be a leading partner in a new global trade and investment agenda; and extricating itself from its overbearing projection in the South and East China Seas will all be critical elements in building momentum for the Chinese in managing to calm some of the anxieties about the impact of China’s rise on the international community.

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

Being clear-eyed about China’s power

Malaysia: Political Chaos by Design

October 6, 2016

Malaysia:  Political Chaos by Design

Politics is behind the current situation in the country by acts of unpunished acts of intimidation and poor governance,


by Lim Sue Goan

UMNO’s Jamal Ikan Bakar Yunos

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The political chaos that is currently sweeping the nation has stems from the 1Malaysia Development Berhad scandal, the RM2.6 billion political donation, Malaysia Official 1 affair, and a host of other issues. But it is the selfishness and the opportunistic character of our politicians that has worsened the whole situation.

I am offering two instances here to support my argument that politics is actually the root cause of our country’s current malaise.

The Bersih 5 nationwide roadshow kicked off recently, and the Red Shirts Group led by Sungai Besar UMNO Division Chairman Jamal Ikan Bakar Yunos simultaneously launched their counterattack with the apparent motive of dissuading the public from taking part in Bersih’s November 19 rally.

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UMNO’s Red Shirts

Sure, in a democratic country, the Red Shirts have the right to gather peacefully provided their action does not break the law. However in Perak, the Red Shirts motor convoy attacked Bersih 5 vehicles in a clear violation of the country’s laws. Given rising racial tensions, it is mandatory of the Police to take decisive actions to prevent law-breaking acts in the future.Image result for Chinese Ambassador to Malaysia visit Petaling Street

During their September 16 rally last year, the Red Shirts intruded  into Petaling Street Chinatown, Kuala Lumpur and engaged in physical clashes with the Policemen on duty. This caused a diplomatic row when the Chinese Ambassador  to Malaysia (pic above) visited the place.

Unfortunately, such behavior was endorsed by some of our politicians. It is the politicians who have twisted our laws to serve their purpose of fomenting discord. Another instance is the mass exodus by Sabah Pakatan Harapan leaders led by the state Opposition leader Lajim Ukin, reflecting the reality that party-hopping is still very much the byword of Sabah politics.

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Lajim Ukin–A Sabah Political Opportunist

Although these Opposition leaders claimed that they jumped the ship to strengthen the local Opposition front on the pretext of fighting for greater autonomy for Sabah, no one can deny that they might be eyeing to expand their own influence, given the increasing might of UMNO in the state.

Setting up more local Opposition parties will not fortify the state Opposition but will instead intensify existing conflicts. Take the Likas seat as an example. Following the departure of state assemblyman Wong Hong Jun, it is certain that DAP will not give up the seat in the coming general election, and the eventual three-cornered fight will only benefit the ruling coalition.

Moreover, Lajim’s past record has been anything but convincing. He betrayed PBS immediately after the 1994 state election, causing the collapse of the PBS state government in favour of Barian Nasional (BN). He later joined UMNO but was not on good terms with Chief Minister Musa Aman, and subsequently switched to PKR. There is no guarantee a person with this kind of record will not hop again at a crucial moment.

How can we expect a change of government if the people in the state have lost their faith in the Opposition? By right a confidence crisis within UMNO should provide an excellent opportunity for the Opposition. Unfortunately, such an opportunity has been lost as a result of the politicians’ own selfishness.

There are many other instances of irresponsible politicians creating chaos in the country. All of a sudden an UMNO Minister gives the green light for PAS President Abdul Hadi Awang to table a Private Member’s Bill on amendments to the Shariah law, posing a serious threat to our secular system of  constitutional governance.

UMNO Youth Vice-Chief Khairul Azwan Harun makes a Police report, accusing without any evidence whatsoever, the alleged involvement of three former senior government officials in a plot to overthrow the Prime Minister. And now Jamal Md Yunos insinuates that Bersih is being infiltrated by Islamic State elements.

To end all this chaos, it is imperative that we tackle the problem from a political perspective. Nevertheless, what we see now is that regulatory bodies have been lagging in their effort to rein in such irresponsible acts, even to the extent of condoning the troublemakers.

Take the case of the National Consultative Committee on Political Financing. By right the law should be tightened but in its place, the committee has proposed not to cap the quantum of political donations. As if that is not enough, the committee has even proposed to remove the upper limit of election campaign expenditure.

Image result for Korea's Psy Gangnam In Penang

Psy Gangnam Style

We all still remember the absurd campaigning in Penang during the last general election. Other than a high-profile stage appearance by Korean singer Psy, there were also lucky draws, cash handouts and free dinners.

I wonder how our future election campaigns will be conducted in the absence of a limit on campaign expenditure. The committee should have done much more than this, and should have proposed asset declaration by Cabinet members and senior government officials, as well as heavy penalties for those flouting the rules, as some other countries have done.

Other than monitoring political donations, the government must also make laws to stem racial discrimination and prevent politicians from stirring up racial tension. Politicians must come under the watchful eyes of the authorities more, so that they do not throw our society, national economy and communal  relations into complete chaos.

Regretably, since these are the very people who dominate and manipulate the legislative power, we simply cannot pin too much hope on them to curb their own excesses.

Lim Sue Goan writes for Sin Chew Daily