How to defuse South China Sea tensions?

He Yafei

South China Sea seems to be a flash point for possible conflicts between China and the US. It will be a testing ground for the future of China-US geopolitical ties. Will it be a strategic rivalry, a competition within a rules-based framework, or cooperation? What are the possible signs now? Military competition has become increasingly tense between China and the US. And it’s very likely to involve the South China Sea. US Congressional Research Service argued in February 2020 that general potential US goals for US-China strategic competition in the South China Sea may include fulfilling US security commitments in the Western Pacific, including treaty commitments to the Philippines and so on; maintaining and enhancing the US-led security architecture in the Western Pacific; maintaining a regional balance of power favourable to the US and its allies and partners; defending the principle of peaceful resolution of disputes; preventing China from becoming a regional “hegemon.”
This is quite official. China and the US have different definitions of concepts, such as offense or defense, regarding China’s construction on islands and reefs, and the “militarization” of the South China Sea. Moreover, the shift in the balance of power between the two and a subsequent misperception of the other’s intentions are driving those differences to extremes. The US, I believe, wrongly perceives China’s actions in the South China Sea as posing threats to its strategic interests. China senses that US’ actions, claimed or actually done, are provocative and dangerous. Against this backdrop, US President Donald Trump’s administration has planned more robust measures to curb China’s growing influence in the South China Sea. Unilateral actions by some claimants are a factor of instability in the South China Sea. A small number of countries may push ahead with oil and gas exploration activities in blocs which they have claimed.
The second reading of the ASEAN-China Single Draft Code of Conduct in the South China Sea Negotiating Text has started. But differences have emerged among claimants over various issues, including who and what the code of conduct should regulate, whether or to what extent it should be legally binding, and so on. Legal disputes over the South China Sea islands have also become intensified.
What steps should be taken? How should we manage the South China Sea and its related issues? As Robert Kaplan, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, said, the US, not China, might be the problem in the future. Since the US brought the South China Sea affairs into the great power competition and strategic rivalry from 2010 onward, it is uncertain if efforts by China and ASEAN countries to build a rules-based framework in the South China Sea through code of conduct negotiations will succeed. The US, in this case, has played the role of a peace breaker rather than a peace builder. So we do hope the first step is for the US to reverse its role.
Honestly, peace in the South China Sea serves the best interests of China, the US and ASEAN members. China and the US have been working to build consensus and a crisis management mechanism to avoid direct conflict. This is quite urgent now. We need actionable crisis management mechanisms. However, as mounting US military exercises and activities keep tensions with China high in the South China Sea, rules of behavior for the safety of the air and maritime encounters by the two need to be workable. It will be a test. The absence of security cooperation mechanisms is the main pitfall for security challenges in the region. Mechanisms such as ASEAN+1, ASEAN+3, ASEAN Regional Forum are, to my eyes, inadequate for that purpose. So it is necessary for countries in the South China Sea to formulate legally binding and operational rules for security at sea in order to increase the political costs for parties which violate the rules.
Issues to be addressed regarding security cooperation mechanisms in the South China Sea should include conflicts of sovereignty and security interests among claimants, maritime conflicts triggered by conflicts or crisis, the growing interests and aspirations of extraterritorial powers – with the US in particular. How can we manage that? Long-term mechanisms for crisis prevention should also be put in place. Regional peace and stability represent the best security interest for everyone involved in the South China Sea. Littoral countries of the South China Sea, including Thailand, Singapore, and Indonesia, are keen to maintain regional stability. This needs, of course, a cooperative relationship with China.
It is unrealistic to believe that resolutions for the disputes over the South China Sea could be reached in the short term. Whatever solutions we offer now, the parties concerned differ considerably in their approaches of resolving disputes. They carry a deep mutual distrust.
So, overall cooperation would help build a mutual trust for collaborative resolutions. More importantly, bilateral and multilateral communication and liaison mechanisms, including emergency hot lines, the security code of conduct, and the rules of engagement, will help better manage possible conflicts that seem to loom on the horizon.
—Global Times

Interventionism Will the US ever learn a lesson?

Interventionism Will the US ever learn a lesson?
Tehzeeb Hussain

Leaving behind obliteration, calamity, precariousness, civil wars, hunger after each grisly intrusion has become the hallmark of US attempts to spread liberal democracy in the anarchic world order where nationalism and realism had triumphed over liberalism. Be it US endeavors in Iraq or in Afghanistan.
New York University professor Bruce Bueno tells statistically how miserably US fizzled in its pursuance of liberal hegemonic foreign policy between World War II and 2004. US succeeded only once (Colombia) in its bid to impose its political system out of 35 endeavors which equivalents to 3%, he revealed. On the off chance that one returns, not very far away, US, the sole guardian of liberal international order, an order which emerged in the aftermaths of cold war, with every one of its muscles flexed and practically applying interventionist liberal foreign policy brought down the then tyrant Saddam Hussain.
The 2003 US attack of Iraq and its result have apparently been the most crucial event in the callous history of international relations since the end of the Cold War. US may have been thinking at the time of invading “Oh my goodness! Pretty easy target, not strong army, tremendous reserves of oil, abused individuals, tired of protracted oppression; let’s send our healthy troops in there to make the nation prosperous by forcing failed, illiberal,unpopular government to adobt liberal democracy and set up inclusive political and economic institutions.”
Who might have figured the mighty US would be found be encountering local people saying “listen you big boy! How could you meddle in our issues, we are as of now cut in various parts yet we won’t permit you to choose what is best for us.” Liberals, whether thinkers or policy makers, must be of assessment that US adventure in Iraq wouldn’t be met with obstruction as fundamental common liberties being impinged upon by Saddam transcends states borders. They were additionally engrossed with the thought that well-armed troops would be embraced and saluted. Be that as it may, the endeavors to bring down dictator system of Saddam startlingly went into vein, yielding further chaos for Iraq as well as for the entire greater Middle East.
Why? Beacuse to force the adaptation of one’s political system by other glances tasteful in dreams where human principal rights are valued and celebrated but not in real life.
Not long after the intrusion, as Saad Hasan writes, Paul Bremer, a Washington negotiator was delegated to head Iraq’s interim administration. A large number of the state’s most skillful managers were terminated for the time being, leaving the bureaucracy in parlous state. His choice was an endeavor to de-Baathify the nation — to dispose of the Saddam supporters as well as anybody connected to the Baath party. It ended up being one of the greatest calamities, the implications of which are still felt in post-invasion Iraq.
There were critical economic ramifications for the Iraqi public too. According to World Bank, a year before US invasion, country’s GDP growth rate stood at-6.9% which was followed by -33% in 2003 year of invasion. In next year, it ascended to the record 54%, slightly lower than 57% in year 1992 following second Gulf war of 1991. However, GDP growth rate never remained stable and kept on fluctuating on and off as manifested in proceeding years 2017, 2018 where it fell to negative due to civil unrest, institutional dysfunctionality and proxy wars. Agriculture sector on which its major chunk of population relied for livelihood, its contribution to GDP came down to just 3.6 percent in 2009, down from 9 percent in 2003. Evaporating streams of Tigris and Euphrates further muddled the problem. As the Iraq was at that point profoundly isolated in ethnic, religious and political groups, it was practically unthinkable for US, a liberal interventionist to grab hold with such level of hatred. Post-intrusion Iraq turned into a battle ground between Shias and Sunnis and large number of individuals were executed in 2006 and 2007 as the country slipped into sectarian conflict as Sunnis who felt denied and estranged. Researchers contended ouster of Saddam moved the overall influence in favor of Iran, which thusly prompted the pragmatist goliath of Sunni Arab world to act sanely so as to guarantee their endurance against approaching danger of Iran. The entirety of the issues additionally exacerbated by the gigantic defilement in administration, political squabbling and terrible results of Arab Spring which additionally drove the nation into disorder. Henceforth it got caught in endless viscous cycle of inclusive and political institutions. Bravo! such a bitter interplay of nationalism and realism.
In February US clinched a peace radical Taliban for complete withdrawal of its soldiers by May 2021 if Talibans satisfy US with their responsibility over not permitting Alqaeda and hostile to US groups to work in Afghanistan. Currently the second phase but a crucial phase of securing ever-lasting peace is underway between Taliban and Afghan administration in Qatar. Regardless of whether the war torn nation compasses to an arrangement or not, one thing has unquestionably been established; interventionist liberal foreign policy to impose democracy forcefully has rich history of failing. But, the million-dollar question is still there. What lesson US has learned from its slip-ups of the past? What the US is going to do with Iran around which it has tightened the noose by clamping severe economic sanctions and working for its regional isolation?

Pakistani politics, getting murkier by the day

It is getting giddier and murkier by the day. Things are moving fast even by Pakistani standards where we eat, drink and breathe nothing but politics 24/7.When Bangladesh was East Pakistan, we in what is now Pakistan, used to say that about our Bengali compatriots. That they would grow up to be wiser leaving us to fill the pit never crossed our minds then. We are now in the middle of the whirlpool and our former compatriots in Bangladesh must be laughing up their sleeves. And a large segment of the Pakistani media is not helping matters because while it is informing with who said what, it is not educating on issues. Coming back to the whirlwind, let us not fool ourselves with the usual conspiracy theories. It is not the USA, nor India nor Israel that is causing the chaos when stability was badly needed in an economically battered Pakistan. It is us and us alone who are conspiring against ourselves. And all in the name of democracy and Pakistan and its people .It is a vortex that we are getting drawn into. Sadly, the government looks increasingly dazed too. It gets easily drawn on to the opposition’s pitch. So, who do we look to for saving our (Pakistan) souls. As the opposition keeps pressing with a narrative that is anything but complementary to the country’s interests and continues to provide much needed fodder to our enemies and its media, the Captain is on another plane. At Gujranwala, we saw the launch of an unprecedented tirade. I will stop at that because much has been said and written about it. In Karachi, that tirade looked to be softening a bit until the Safdar episode at the Mazar e Quaid. And the loyal than the loyals did a huge disservice to the PTI government and may I say to Pakistan by arresting Capt Safdar from his hotel room in the wee hours of Monday. It was most ill advised. Filing an FIR was the right thing to do. Arresting him from his hotel room where Maryam Nawaz was also staying was, however, stupid to say the least. Politically imprudent, administratively imprudent. And following the Safdar episode, we saw the unprecedented police officers’ protests. Unprecedented and very ominous for police is an uniformed service. The Police Chief proceeding on leave would have been signal enough followed by Bilawal’s call for an inquiry. The clearly orchestrated leave applications by over a dozen senior officers was uncalled for. More importantly, it was bordering on the mutinous. And yesterday, the narrative was pushed to yet another dangerous direction, Federation versus Sindh. And this time it was not Bilawal or Zardari or Murad Ali Shah saying that. It was Shahid Khaqan Abbasi from Punjab who I believe is an able and restrained person. For him to say that PTI or Imran Khan is pitting the federation against Sindh is not just playing with fire but adding fuel to it. And strangely he wondered why the army chief had to order an inquiry rather than the PM. He has been PM himself. The army chief only responded to Bilawal’s call to order an inquiry. What is the objective? What is the goal? While Imran Khan may not be doing all things right, and in my reckoning there is much that needs to be put on track, the kind of narrative being built both by PMLN and PPP is not in Pakistan’s interest. JUIF is doing the expected. That is not a surprise. Pakistan cannot afford nor allow such a narrative to prevail. Removing a government constitutionally is the opposition’s right. But doing so through street power is neither Constitutional nor democratic. What they are saying and doing will damage democracy immeasurably. And weaken Pakistan. Giving up his anti corruption agenda is a no no for Imran Khan. Its implementation is a no no for the opposition. With no checkmating in sight for either, where will this take Pakistan to? Hope and pray those cautioning that the 18th Amendment was just the beginning are proved wrong. Just learnt that Sindh is legislating its own medical council to regulate medicare and medical education in the province. With its record of past few decades in terms of education standards, one shudders to think of what will happen to Sindhis falling sick. That and the thought of the dangerous narrative being built around the anti government campaign is dizzying and makes one giddy.

Europe’s futile search for Franco-German leadership

Europe’s futile search for Franco-German leadership

For decades, France and Germany have been known as Europe’s ruling “tandem” or “couple,” even its “engine.” Together, they aimed to work to unify the continent. But, to pile up the metaphors, the French want to drive the jointly leased Euro-Porsche, while the Germans insist on rationing the gas money. As a long list of crises ― from Belarus to Nagorno-Karabakh ― now shows, the two countries are not following the same road map.
That is not surprising. As former German foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel has put it, France and Germany “view the world differently” and thus have “distinct interests.” The truth is that Franco-German divergence is almost as old as the European Union.
That division bedevils the current French and German leaders ― President Emmanuel Macron and Chancellor Angela Merkel ― as much as it did their towering predecessors, Charles de Gaulle and Konrad Adenauer, ever since the two of them linked hands across the Rhine 60 years ago. They were to turn ancient enemies into trusted friends. But states don’t marry. They obey interests, not each other.
When two powers are so closely matched, the issue always is: Who leads, and who follows? The hyperactive Macron certainly wants to run Europe (as, truth be told, all of his predecessors in the Elysee Palace have sought to do). Meanwhile, the plodding Merkel keeps stressing German priorities.
The current divergence is also a matter of personalities. Tempe-ramentally, Macron is the opposite of Merkel. Whereas Macron craves the limelight, Merkel, known at home as Mutti (mom), reads from a well-thumbed script about continuity and caution.
This is reflected in their foreign policy as well. Since he won the presidency in 2017, Macron has successively flirted with U.S. President Donald Trump, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, and China’s Xi Jinping, then turned away in disillusion from all three. France simply does not play in their league. Merkel, by contrast, has kept her distance from Trump, Putin, and Xi.
Macron has also pronounced the “brain death” of NATO, echoing Trump’s description of the alliance as “obsolete.” But a German chancellor would be the last to turn off the lights at the alliance’s headquarters in Brussels. After all, NATO has guaranteed Germany’s security for 70 years ― and at a steep discount.
The most recent Franco-German disagreements center on the eastern Mediterranean, where Greece and Turkey ― both NATO members ― threatened to come to blows over gas exploration in contested waters. Macron was quick to side with Greece, dispatching warships and planes while promising arms. Last month, he hosted a summit in Corsica involving the leaders of six other Mediterranean EU member states to provide a counterweight against Turkey. Germany wasn’t there. Merkel instead mumbles platitudes about a “multi-layered relationship” with Turkey, which must be “carefully balanced.” German interests are clear: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is guarding the Turkish-Syrian border against an uncontrolled influx of Middle Eastern refugees who will head for Germany if given half a chance. Provoke him, and he can open the refugee spigot at will.
Then there is the current flare-up between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh. Macron, Putin, and Trump have urged the two countries to negotiate immediately, while Erdogan has sided with the Muslim Azeris against Christian Armenia. Germany, however, is merely “alarmed,” because Merkel can’t afford to alienate Erdogan.
After large parts of Beirut were levelled by a deadly explosion in August, Macron dashed off to Lebanon, pledging to organize an international donor conference without coordinating with Merkel. France, which controlled the Levant after World War I, wants to keep a foot in the door to maintain its regional influence; Germany has no strategic interests there and instinctively shies away from anything smacking of escalation. Different interests, different schemes.
Germany is also taking a hands-off approach to Libya, whose civil war has drawn in Russia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and France. The best Germany can do in the Middle East is to arrange yet another peace parley in Berlin, as is the German habit. This is just a short list of Franco-German foreign-policy differences in the last few months. But it confirms the pattern: France likes to jump in, while Germany prefers to hang back. Merkel recently proclaimed “the hour of Europe” in an “aggressive world.” But if France and Germany won’t pull together, how could the other 25 EU members?
The irreducible reason is structural. Twenty-seven do not add up to one, whether on Russia or Belarus, where President Aleksandr Lukashenko is dead set on wiping out the democracy movement. When the 27 tried to hash out sanctions against Belarus, tiny Cyprus refused unless the rest agreed to penalize Turkey over illegally exploring for gas in the Medite-rranean. This could have been anticipated. Cyprus is practically a Russian economic colony, and Lukashenko is Putin’s client. After weeks of wrangling, Cyprus finally relented. The EU will now sanction 40 Belarusian officials ― a punishment that gives Lukashenko no reason to pack his bags. The EU is the world’s second-largest economic power, ahead of China, and on paper has as many troops as the United States. But riches alone do not make a strategic actor. If they did, Switzerland would be a great power.
Of course, no European leader will ever fail to appeal to Europe’s common destiny. But in the EU’s case, “unity” is often the opposite of “agency,” the capacity to act as a whole. A bloc of 27 states bound by a unanimity requirement on issues members consider essential will never be a strategic actor, because it will always be guided only by the lowest common denominator that all can accept.
Even if France and Germany ever do march in lockstep, the others will not fall into line, because they fear the duo’s domination. Unless and until they fuse into the United States of Europe, the EU’s member states will never leave vital strategic issues up to majority rule.
—The Korea Times

Russia’s post-Soviet hegemony is fading

Russia’s post-Soviet hegemony is fading

Vladimir Putin has long sought to portray himself as strong statesman and guarantor of stability, at home and abroad. Now the Russian president is grappling with successive crises among his country’s neighbors. It’s an unwelcome test of Moscow’s role as regional watchman.
From Belarus to the Caucasus, the Kremlin cannot leave the outcomes of these flare-ups to chance. Yet the post-Soviet region is atomized, Russia’s economic might is bruised and its leverage vastly reduced. There seems to be little appetite for military action, and Moscow has few successful models of engagement to draw on. It’s also no longer the only power in town as Turkey and others play a greater role.
While the ructions on Russia’s fringes haven’t been caused by the pandemic, the extra strain hasn’t helped. Remittances from migrant workers, which make up roughly 30% of gross domestic product in places like Kyrgyzstan, have dried up. Management of the health crisis has ranged from mediocre to total denial, as initially happened in Belarus. Turkm-enistan has yet to officially record a single case. Domestic political struggles have contributed more to the unrest, but also the unfinished, three-decades-old business of post-Soviet transition. It makes Moscow’s role, or its absence, all the more significant. There’s a risk more hotspots pop up too, with upcoming polls. There’s November’s presidential vote in Moldova, a country torn between Europe and Russia, and legislative elections later this month in Georgia, the first since rules were changed, reducing the chance of excessively powerful majorities.
For now, the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, a mainly Armenian-populated enclave within Azerbaijan, is the most alarming. In 1994, as it was still emerging from the wreckage of the Soviet Union, Moscow successfully brokered a cease-fire between the two sides, and has since defused serious border clashes. It needs another such breakthrough as the two sides meet on Friday.
Putin had until now largely sought to smooth tensions and to avoid triggering trouble at home, where there is a large population of Armenians and Azeris. Turkey has tested that resolve by supporting Azerbaijan, and linking the crisis to Russia’s occupation of Crimea, portrayed as fueling instability.
Belarus is no less complex. If anything, it is more vital to the Kremlin and to Putin’s future and there are even fewer good options. So far, Moscow has stuck with strongman Alexander Lukashenko, unable to countenance a successful uprising on its doorstep. But mass protests persist two months after his contested election, so it needs to tread lightly. It can’t risk turning a Russia-friendly population into one more likely to turn elsewhere for support. Already, opposition candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya has met European leaders, and EU sanctions are in place.
Meanwhile, Kyrgyzstan is in turmoil once again as groups jostle for power after Sunday’s disputed parliamentary election. The travails of this more democratic but also corrupt state are far less dramatic for the Kremlin, even if it prefers to see stability across the region. Even so, it will still be uncomfortable to watch a tainted poll trigger resignations.
These situations may be driven by internal dynamics rather than geopolitics, but Putin needs each one of them to go Russia’s way. Certainly the aura of hegemony is still there, nurtured by the Kremlin, which sees a superpower role for Russia everywhere from Libya to the post-Soviet states. But the country was ill-prepared for events close to home that should have been predictable, no doubt because of stretched financial and analytical resources.
After years of torpor and Russia’s increased isolation, Moscow’s backyard is not what it was. A multi-polar world is emerging, but not the one Putin has sought to promote.
China is increasingly present as a key trading partner, and accounts for the bulk of foreign direct investment in central Asia. Then there’s Turkey in the Caucasus, and Iran. Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan has skillfully used external conflicts to bolster his domestic support. Add in the U.S.’s relative retreat and every clash becomes more unpredictable. It’s all the more difficult for Putin to project strength abroad with a stagnating economy and signs of some popular disgruntlement at home, as with street protests in the Far East. It’s an unprecedented set of challenges for a leadership that abhors change.
When the two warring sides meet for talks over Nagorno-Karabakh in Moscow, Russia has a real opportunity to show it is still custodian, and not simply a necessary participant. Successfully brokering negotiations is already encouraging. The complexities of the clashes suggest a cease-fire at best — but even de-escalation would be a victory, and a welcome one at that.
—The Japan Times

What if neither Democrats nor Republicans want to win in 2020?

What if neither Democrats nor Republicans want to win in 2020?

Whoever wins in 2020 will face a reckoning with a technology sector that has become in many ways more powerful than the government itself

Watching the many stumbles of both President Donald Trump and Democrat challenger Joe Biden on the campaign trail, one can’t help but wonder if either really wants to win. Who’d want the thankless job of cleaning up such a mess? No matter his actions, the winner will be blamed for everything that happens on his watch – never mind that these catastrophes have been decades in the making, and a single man stopping them is no more possible than halting an avalanche. In this light, Biden’s doddering-old-man persona and Trump’s own bewildering missteps make perfect sense. What sane candidate would want to be left holding the bag of crumbling American hegemony?
The US spends more on its military than the next seven countries combined – or than 144 other countries put together, according to 2018 figures, but somehow can’t keep from arming its enemies too. Perhaps the Pentagon just feels sorry for them and wants to try to ensure a fair fight, but this ill-thought-out policy has equipped groups like Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) to stage false-flag attacks that can then be blamed on governments like Syria or Iran and used to justify the expansion of the never-ending war.
After taking millions of dollars in donations from rabid pro-Israel ideologues like Sheldon Adelson and Paul Singer, Trump basically owes them their war on Iran, as they’ve made it clear that merely tearing up the JCPOA Iran nuclear deal wasn’t enough. But his reluctance to actually follow through beyond round after round of devastating sanctions suggests he doesn’t have the stomach for a full-on ground invasion. And Biden worked under Barack Obama, who actually defied the US’ Middle Eastern taskmaster to sign that nuclear deal in the first place. Neither really wants that war, but it seems inevitable.
Whoever wins in 2020 will face a reckoning with a technology sector that has become in many ways more powerful than the government itself. Twitter and Facebook have taken to poking the president in the eye by shadow banning or even removing his posts, rubbing their power in Trump’s face, and Google and Amazon have so much dirt on the CIA, FBI, and DHS they could take down the whole system if some crusading president (or prosecutor) crosses them.
And what can Washington do? Government agencies have been using Big Tech as a workaround to skirt the First and Fourth Amendments for years. Constitutionally barred from censoring political speech themselves, they have merely leaned on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter to shut down ‘conspiracy theories’ and other wrong think and used specially-built backdoors to poke around in users’ private lives without the hassle of warrants. Companies that allow these abuses are rewarded with protection of their monopoly status and billions in profits. Despite an executive order and a lot of bluster threatening Big Tech’s Section 230 protections, Trump has not made any real efforts to halt the ongoing censorship by social media of his most vociferous supporters – perhaps realizing these firms are de facto military contractors whose participation in the information war propping up US empire is vital to that empire’s continued existence. And while Biden has been treated relatively well by Big Tech thus far, he needs the support of progressive Democrats in order to beat Trump, a group that has been subject to the same censorship as the pro-Trump conservative Right. The likelihood that he will stand up to Big Tech to win over this group is approximately zero.
So much hype has come out of both parties about a stolen election or “coup” that, whatever the result in November, violent street clashes are inevitable. If the winner tells the rioters to sit down and shut up, he’ll be seen as capitulating to the system he was supposed to bring to heel. If he cheers them on, he risks losing the support of law enforcement and the military – which could really hasten the collapse of the empire. Neither Trump nor Biden – both old men a decade past traditional retirement age – want that kind of trouble. Record levels of income inequality, plus the economic fallout of suicidally-stupid government responses to the Covid-19 pandemic, have pushed the American public into a state of panicked desperation. More than ever, they’re wondering where their next meal will come from and how they’ll pay the rent. But thanks to decades of dumbing-down imposed in the guise of public schooling, most lack the vocabulary to articulate these problems or trace them to their proximate causes (namely, a rapacious ruling class that is frantically asset-stripping the nation in the hope of getting out with the cash before the whole thing blows sky-high). Neither party’s rhetoric is helping: Biden’s “team” blames white supremacy, while Trump’s blames crypto-communists.
Whoever gets elected has to follow through on the absurd fantasy they’ve spun to explain the nation’s problems to their followers while unwinding their opponent’s reasoning – not an enviable task. The Democrats have so amplified the “threat” of racism that a white person declaring him- or herself “not a racist” is actually deemed racist in itself, and Republicans have bizarrely declared anyone to the left of Ronald Reagan to be “radical leftists” bent on turning the US into Venezuela at a time when most Americans could desperately use some socialist-style government programs to get them back on their feet.
As November 3 looms, both candidates have seemingly been campaigning for their opponent. Biden urged voters who thought they were better off under Trump to reelect him earlier this week), while Trump recently threatened to hold cash-strapped Americans’ Covid-19 aid hostage until after the election, only reversing course in the face of public outcry. Whoever is left holding the potentially-explosive hegemonic hot potato, their job as chief rearranger of deck chairs on the rapidly-sinking Titanic of empire is nothing to envy.
—RT

All eyes on Suga’s foreign-policy agenda

All eyes on Suga’s  foreign-policy agenda

Suga may solicit guidance from Abe in addition to his trusted officials within the Foreign Ministry, but his ability to establish mutual trust with the US leadership is currently not a sure thing

It’s been a month and a half since Shinzo Abe’s abrupt resignation, and Washington’s attention quickly shifted to successor Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga — virtually an unknown politician among the international community despite the fact that he had played a powerful role throughout the Abe administration as chief Cabinet secretary. Gradually, Washington is beginning to see the outlines of Suga’s policies from the viewpoint of US-Japan relations. His pledge for continuity has been welcomed, but still many questions loom among the foreign-policy community in Washington about the new prime minister.
Abe’s resignation came as such a shock to Washington that the Center of Strategic International Studies (CSIS) — one of the premier think tanks in the US — hosted for the first time in two decades an event featuring the change of government in a foreign country. CSIS President and former Deputy Secretary of Defense John Hamre said that he “would be forever grateful to Prime Minister Abe because he stepped forward to carry the flag of progressive Western values, democracy, free enterprise, transparency, and all those foundational values — at the time America was confused and not leading.”
Certainly, Abe was arguably the most consequential prime minister in terms of the US-Japan relationship since Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida. While Yoshida brought about independence and paved the way for post-war reconstruction by signing the Treaty of San Francisco, Abe fundamentally transformed the expectation of Japan in the international community in the eyes of Washington.
Hamre described the situation that the US and Japan are “no longer big brother little brother but twins,” who “think about the world in profoundly new and constructive ways together.” During his nearly eight years in office, Abe has indeed set a very high bar for Suga to follow. Abe infused a renewed sense of confidence in the Japanese people by bringing long-term stability to the political leadership and firmly establishing a top-down style in major decision making over key ministries. He put national security front and center in Japan’s national political discourse and effectively played a leadership role in the international community by stressing the importance of universal values such as freedom, democracy, and rule of law, which was rarely seen before by a Japanese prime minister.
And lastly, he was pragmatic about China. He stood firm against Beijing on critically important national interests, while avoiding direct conflict. He managed to achieve this highly difficult goal by keeping the US, Australia, and India engaged in the region in the framework of the Free and Open Indo-Pacific Vision and securing relationships with key ASEAN countries by visiting all of them early on in his administration.
Suga certainly understands the political importance of continuity. But Suga, as a self-made politician with a strong sense of conviction, has his own policy priorities. Several issues remain as big questions in the eyes of Washington’s Asia policy experts. First, there is a question of whether Suga can avoid the revolving door of prime ministers, which followed the last stable premiership of Junichiro Koizumi from 2001 to 2006.
In fact, Suga has just 12 months to serve out the remainder of the term for the party leadership, which Abe would have held until next September. In order to be re-elected as LDP president for a regular three-year term to continue on as prime minister, he may call a snap general election. In a way, the new Cabinet, which has only five new appointees among the 21 posts, is essentially a carry-over Cabinet. Suga can form a Cabinet of his own liking only after he solidifies his political base. Second, there is a question of whether Suga can maintain the strong strategic relationship with the US regardless of who that country’s next president will be. With the exception of Yasuhiro Nakasone, Koizumi and Abe, no other Japanese prime minister established a meaningful personal relationship that had a positive impact on the actual bilateral relationship.
Suga, who served as internal minister in the first Abe Cabinet, is mainly a domestically oriented politician who does not display charm in American fashion like Abe or Koizumi. Suga is not known to enthusiastically talk about foreign and security policies. As a matter of fact, he said “Prime Minister Abe’s top-level relation-building is tremendous. I can’t do the same.” Suga may solicit guidance from Abe in addition to his trusted officials within the Foreign Ministry, but his ability to establish mutual trust with the US leadership is currently not a sure thing.
Third, there is a question of whether Suga will try to become an effective and pragmatic leader in the international community to advance Japan’s national interest like his predecessor. Will Suga continue to push forward free trade? Will he continue to press the Free and Open Indo-Pacific Vision with the US, Australia, and India? Will he continue to vocally defend liberal international values and institutions? Will he continue to skillfully manage Japan’s relationship with China? He did not mention or emphatically talked about these critically important foreign policy issues in his first major speech at the U.N. last month. There are several crucial questions with serious geopolitical ramifications. Fourth, there is a question of what Suga’s domestically oriented policies might mean to the US-Japan relationship. One of his priority issues, for example, is a reduction of cell phone charges, which are expensive compared with international standards. The US has held very tough negotiations with Japan to lower telecom interconnection rates in the past. One US Trade Representative veteran said it is now all coming back. A bigger issue is Suga’s desire to create the Digital Agency. One of the goals of the new agency is to raise Japan’s international competitiveness by advancing technological innovation through breaking up vested interests across ministerial boundaries. The US based GAFA (Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple) and China based BATH (Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent, Huawei) are fiercely competing to gain advantageous positions as internet and digital platforms. It is totally not clear how Suga’s idea of the Digital Agency fits into this great competition from both Japan and the US’s viewpoints. Lastly, there is a question of whether Suga will try to help a new generation of LDP leaders emerge. Abe had no interest in a generation change in Japan’s leadership. Both Fumio Kishida and Shigeru Ishiba, who ran for the party leadership, are his contemporaries. Suga is even older than Abe. Suga appointed Taro Kono, who at 57 is 14 years his junior, minister in charge of administrative reform to play a major role in his domestic deregulation policies. Kono, who is known to have a close relationship with Suga, wasted no time in pushing the new prime minister’s deregulation initiatives by promoting online transactions and proposing to abolish hanko personal seals. Among five newly appointed ministers, three are relatively young. Minister of Defense Nobuo Kishi is 61 years old, Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Kotaro Nogami is 53 years old, and the minister in charge of international exposition, Shinji Inoue, is 50 years old. Considering the fact that the two presidential candidates in the US are in their seventies, Suga might play a role in ushering in the next generation of political leadership in the US-Japan relationship. All of these questions about Suga remain in the eyes of alliance managers in Washington. With uncertainty deepening in the US presidential election, one thing is certain, the seemingly stable US-Japan relationship is not on autopilot.
—The Japan Times

We need less Covid media coverage

We need less Covid media coverage

It’s that time of year again: Fall in the northern hemisphere. And this year, it means climbing coronavirus infection numbers. While it’s shaping up to be a fall like no other, let’s not kid ourselves: Didn’t we in Europe expect this? What with falling temperatures, the transition back to indoor spaces and a stubborn summer hangover that makes us only reluctantly scale back the socialization granted to us by warmer months? Expected or not, the ballooning infection numbers here are unsettling. With an average of around 100,000 new cases a day, European infections now account for roughly one-third of new cases in the world. In comparison, the United States is hovering around 60,000 infections new cases a day. Yes, I know, test accessibility there is somewhere between uneven and nonexistent. Still, the fact remains that for all the different measures European nations have put in place at one time or other lockdowns, widespread mask regulations, restricted opening hours, to name a few – the virus remains defiant.
We would have it otherwise. Tellingly, over the past months, media outlets have stumbled from one article to the next, trying to scour the secret of success in European countries where numbers have remained low and identify fault where they haven’t. What exactly was it about Italian behavior that enabled them to keep a second wave at bay until now? Was it laxity, a too-hasty reopening or political incompetence that saw Spain overwhelmed by a new surge before other nations? And what is Germany’s seemingly winning equation: rigorous rule-following, a largely individualistic culture or Angela Merkel’s magic leadership touch? The stereotypes have been inescapable and quite frankly, I don’t think the never-ending search for clean-cut explanations has brought us much except awareness of our own desperation to be done with this thing. And by searching for answers and trying to keep tabs on numbers everywhere, we’ve tired ourselves out. With headline after headline, 24/7 news tickers, every possible aspect of the coronavirus examined or speculated upon, it’s no wonder people feel emotionally fatigued – especially when summer didn’t offer them a chance to exhale, as it did for many in Europe.
Given the gravity of the current situation, media, including my own organization, should take a critical look at what coronavirus topics it chooses to cover and why. What crucial information does a readership or viewing public need now? Has medical knowledge on symptoms evolved? How can we best protect ourselves and others? How can those who need help get help? And how can we hold our public officials more accountable for their management? The situation is too dangerous to risk peopling tuning out from the information they do need because it is lost in a flood of information they don’t need. And the other existential threats people face around the world – political persecution, human rights violations, violent intolerance – must not get squeezed out. This would be playing into the hands of those who would gladly have abuses remain background haze amidst pandemic coverage. I also have one specific note for non-German outlets: It is easy to idealistically oversimplify the situation here. Germany has indeed been spared the worst so far, but it’s easy to attribute success when the proverbial Scheiße never really hit the fan. Who really knows whether things remained stable because of favorable demographics and density, an adequate initial response made in good time, a dose of luck, some combination thereof, or something else entirely. Having a head of government who listens to science – Heck, who is a scientist! – certainly doesn’t hurt. But with a decentralized federal government whose regional leaders seems hellbent on bickering, Merkel’s ability to act has been limited, and patchwork management is intensifying. So the verdict on Germany is still out. And maybe the world doesn’t even need a verdict.
—DW

Southeast Asia Vietnam’s emergence as a hub of foreign investment

Southeast Asia Vietnam’s emergence as a hub of foreign investment

Investors pay close attention to inflation rates, want a stable foreign exchange rate and dislike bureaucratic red tape – something Hanoi has been committed to reducing by implementing e-tax and e-custom services

They say from every crisis, a lesson can be learned and undoubtedly, the coronavirus pandemic – a global crisis the likes of which has not been seen in living memory – has many lessons to teach. But from an economic perspective there is one that stands out: the countries with the strongest economic foundation have the best chance of emerging from the crisis intact.
Few countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) could claim to be as economically strong as Singapore. Yet there is one that has been quietly shoring up its resources and laying a solid foundation for growth.
Vietnam has become a hub for foreign direct investment within the past decade, witnessing a steady compound annual growth rate of 10.4 per cent between 2013 and last year’s record high of US$16.12 billion – an 81 per cent increase overall.
Singapore, by comparison, recorded a 63 per cent increase over the same six-year period, while Thailand and Malaysia actually experienced a decline in FDI flows. In the Asean region, only the Philippines saw a greater percentage increase in FDI than Vietnam of 104 per cent, although this was from a lower base of US$3.7 billion in 2013.
FDI is an important source of private external finance for developing countries and contributes significantly to an economy’s long-term development. It is motivated largely by foreign investors’ long-term prospects for making profits in production activities that they have direct control over, often through joint ventures with local companies based in the countries concerned. The results of this cross-border economic relationship include technical training opportunities, technological advancement, impr-oved employment prospects, better public finances and improved export potential. Both Singapore’s economic success and China’s explosive growth over the past few decades can be at least partly attributed to FDI, with the city state seeing double-digit increases in investment flows almost every year since the Asian financial crisis of 1997. China, meanwhile, saw its FDI skyrocket from some US$11.15 billion in 1992 to a peak of US$290 billion in 2013, after which the tide began to turn as increasing labour costs led international investors to start looking elsewhere.
The need for a “China-plus-one” strategy became more apparent in 2015 with Beijing’s announcement of its “Made in China 2025” strategy to upgrade domestic manufacturing, while escalating US-China trade tensions have seemingly given many foreign investors the final push.
Which is where Vietnam enters the story. The huge increase in FDI into the country from 2013 onwards coincided with falling flows into China. A major contributor has been Samsung, which is thought to have invested around US$17 billion in the country since 2008. Hanoi’s proactive implementation of business-friendly investment policies and industrial zones, as well as the country’s ample supply of young workers, has helped attract FDI from other nations too, with Japan one of the new investors in Vietnam’s large energy sector.
Attracting FDI has not always been so easy, however. When Vietnam joined the World Trade Organization in 2007, it initially followed the same approach adopted by some of its neighbours and encouraged state-owned enterprises to try and compete with foreign investors.
But a spate of attacks on foreign-owned factories in 2014 spooked investors, leading the government to ban state-owned enterprises from competing with FDI projects, which helped spur the foreign investment rally seen from 2013-2019.
Competition for FDI within ASEAN will continue and though some may argue that Vietnam’s geographical proximity to China, as well as its young labour force of 95 million, confer it added advantages, the appeal of a stable political environment cannot be underestimated.
Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia have all experienced their fair share of political upheavals and uncertainties in recent years, and would do well to look to Vietnam to understand the importance of stability.
Investors also pay close attention to inflation rates, want a stable foreign exchange rate and dislike bureaucratic red tape – something Hanoi has been committed to reducing by implementing e-tax and e-custom services.
Over the past decade or so, Vietnam has moved from focusing on labour-intensive manufacturing towards more automated processes, and is now entering its next phase.
Investors are keenly awaiting the release of the Ministry of Planning and Investment’s draft FDI strategy for the next 10 years, which is expected to prioritise hi-tech, high-value and environmentally-friendly projects.
The sacrifices that Vietnam has made to achieve these FDI inflows are not negligible. Bold measures like instituting transparency in business and governance processes, and obliging state-owned enterprises to operate in non-competitive areas, required real political will and commitment.
Although its neighbours may not appreciate some of these sacrifices, the governments of Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines will require a clear change in mindset if they want to follow Vietnam’s lead.
—South China Morning Post

Pragmatism starts prevailing as a gear change is discernible within PDM

Pragmatism prevailed over recklessness. Karachi was different from Gujranwala. Mr. Nawaz Sharif stayed away or was kept away. The establishment (read army) bashing too was kept at bay. But when political politicos are kept at bay and the parties are taken over by heirs and heiresses who are bereft of political education, training and grooming that comes from rising through the political ranks, one does what was done at the Mazar-i-Quaid. Democracy brooks no inherited succession. Unfortunately, in Pakistan, democracy has been taken over by the heirs and heiresses, be it the big or the small parties, the so called liberals or the right wingers or the religious ones. Exceptions are the Jamaat-i-Islamic and MQMP and so far PTI. Capt. Safdar, who I have known as a generally decent fellow, did what no seasoned politician would have done. In my living memory I have not seen the kind of hooliganism that was enacted at the Mazar of the founder of the nation on Sunday. It was despicable to put it mildly. Very misguided. What was he trying to prove is beyond me. Even more unbelievable is the conduct of the PMLN leaders who had formed a ring around him. That PTI and now Pak Sarzameen Party and MQMP would exploit it politically is not unexpected. As for PDM, there are parties in its fold whose founders had little respect for the Quaid-i-Azam. No wonder one has never seen them there. One amongst them even willed not to be buried in Pakistan. So their reaction or lack of it on the incident is understandable. But one expected a different reaction from PMLN. An immediate expression of regret by its leadership would have doused the fire. That Sindh Police acted under pressure is also understandable. It had little choice in a case involving the sacrilege of the mausoleum of the Father of the Nation. It is, however, imprudent to have arrested him in the wee hours of the day from his hotel room where Maryam Nawaz was also staying. And whatever the PPP stalwarts in Sindh Government may say and claim, Capt Safdar’s arrest could not have been without their knowledge. May not be with their consent but certainly in their knowledge with a convenient look to the other side. No clarifications and pressers would wash away this reality. It has been further cemented by the Sindh government prosecutor’s opposition to Safdar’s bail application in the court in Karachi yesterday. And this after Bilawal and Murad Ali Shah had told Maryam that the arrest was not even in their knowledge. Maulana said PTI workers raised anti Nawaz slogans at Masjid-i-Nabwi which is an unpardonable sin. He said anyone raising his or her voice in the holiest of holy place will have all his prayers and piety washed away. He may well be right. But then it would apply equally to all including those who have been sloganeering at that holiest of holy places for other Pakistani leaders. Be that as it may, Maryam Nawaz would know and Mr. Mohammad Zubair, a former Sindh Governor, would know or should know that the Sindh Police cannot act without the knowledge of the Zardari controlled Sindh government. In my view, the hairline fracture that occurred within PDM following the London speech at Gujranwala, has further widened. Not too serious a gulf yet but one that will need quick and expert fixing before it starts showing to the naked eye. Meanwhile, one wonders why the Prime Minister reacts the way he does.
His responsibility is much greater and his response and reaction to the opposition sloganeering should of necessity be very calm and composed, measured and restrained. Patience and focused governance should be your assets Prime Minister.