November 20, 2006
The APEC Teletubbies

Decades from now, when students ask their teachers, "What did APEC stand for?" Those teachers will answer, "Appalling Parade of Execrable Costumes."

See here, here and here for details.

The last one is particularly abominable.

What do we get out of dressing our world leaders up like Teletubbies?

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[boomerang] Posted by HK Dave at 13:15
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September 07, 2006
Bux Americana

A fairly short, provocative article in the Asia Times about American trade pressure being exerted on Southeast Asian economies. I don't entirely agree in the broader picture with Editor Crispin's cynical view of the US-ASEAN trade relationship, but it's definitely worth reading.

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[boomerang] Posted by HK Dave at 10:52
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January 20, 2006
Singapore Buys Thailand

Price Tag: US$1.77 billion. By far the largest deal in Thai history.

Ho Ching, the formidable wife of Singapore's Prime Minister, is apparently set to announce the purchase Monday of a controlling interest in Shin Corp, the company built up and effectively created by Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Billionaire Thaksin had been accused of conflict of interest as being Thailand's richest man (or one of) and also running the country.

So up steps Ho Ching. Much more important than her being the wife of Singapore PM Lee Hsien Loong is her being the helmswoman of Temasek Holding, the holding company of Singapore Inc., which has about US$80 billion of assets under management - at least. The sheer scale of the transaction has driven up the Baht against the US dollar. It also gives Singapore control of Thailand's largest mobile operator, not to mention all of its satellite networks and an airline.

Before World War I, the countries of Europe were united by the bloodlines of their monarchs. It seems in 21st century Asia, they are united by the private equity funds of their de facto national flagship holding companies.

Breathtaking stuff. But who can argue with economic interdependence being the best way forward for ASEAN? It particularly crucial for Singapore, which must define for itself the hinterland in which it will be the paramount provider of capital and services, and indeed, its identity for the 21st century (especially in the face of the China opportunity/threat). This audacious deal surely highlights Singapore's intentions to be a major regional economic power. Let's see if Singapore's people can also step up to the role with regional entrepreneurial horizons - and whether its other neighbors, like Malaysia and Indonesia, can ever become comfortable with Singapore.

To me, the big winner is Thailand - well past the '97 crisis, secure in its China relationship to the north, with ever-growing links with Singapore and other regional neighbors, and one of the most open, cosmopolitan economies in Southeast Asia. Malaysia may be miffed and feel short-circuited, though, to be sure - let's hope Thaksin does more and not less, to assuage his own Muslims and those across the border.

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[boomerang] Posted by HK Dave at 15:57
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January 19, 2006
Chinese Soft Power

A fascinating article in the Herald Tribune about China's efforts with its 'Confucius Institutes' (like the Alliance Francaise or Goethe Institutes for France and Germany) that promote Chinese language instruction in America, Europe and Asia. It discusses the growing importance of learning Chinese in Thailand, a country that forbade formal teaching of the language just two decades ago. The growing bilateral ties between China and Thailand, a nation with many ethnic Chinese, is the backdrop by which language instruction is examined as a projection of Chinese 'soft power' in the latter country. I will quote the article:

Beijing recently established the Confucius Institute, modelled on the British Council and German Goethe Institute, as a nonprofit outfit with the stated mission of "promoting Chinese language and culture and supporting local Chinese teaching." Eleven of the centers have been established in the United States, Europe and Asia. China's national office for teaching Chinese as a foreign language, which runs the Confucius Institutes, will provide textbooks for schools in Southeast Asia with the catchy title "Happy Chinese."

All of this is a sign of expanding Chinese soft power. But what are the implications of the spread of Chinese language and culture? It's a more important question in a region like Southeast Asia where as many as half the people living in urban areas like Bangkok are of Chinese descent. Many of the young students who attend Jiang's class in the Chiang Mai school have Chinese roots - their fathers and grandfathers came from China. Learning Chinese has deeper implications than the earlier fad in the 1980s of learning Japanese. For one thing, it's hard to become a Japanese citizen...

There's certainly a reason in business circles to learn Chinese; Thailand has already signed a bilateral free-trade agreement with China and is negotiating one with the United States. Over a million Japanese visited Thailand last year, but this year a million Chinese tourists are expected to visit Thailand, according to the Ministry of Tourism.

The article ends, half-jokingly, by saying there is a practical reason why ethnic Chinese Thais might want to learn Mandarin - the growing gender imbalance in China, due to that country's preference for boys while subject to a one-child policy.

Thailand has been the first of the ASEAN states to have done an about-face with regard to its Chinese population - with the previously ethnic Chinese going from being suspicious harborers of dual nationalisms (and previously, Maoist sympathies) to ambassadors and prized links between themselves and the growing regional hegemon. Clearly the fact that race relations in Thailand have been far better than in other ASEAN (particularly Muslim) countries has been a factor.

But to what extent will this trend be replicated, eventually, in other parts of Southeast Asia? And to what extent will the identities of ethnic Chinese in these countries blur as China's presence in Southeast Asia becomes daily more tangible, and it becomes economically more advantageous to identify oneself as one of the 'Happy Chinese' as opposed to Thai or Malaysian?

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[boomerang] Posted by HK Dave at 16:17
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» The Useless Tree links with: Waving the Confucian Flag to Defeat the Confucian Flag
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January 11, 2006
Chinese Engine Greased by Burmese Oil

The bad guys of Southeast Asia, SLORC of Myanmar, the little North Korea in the making on the diametrically opposite side of China, have found themselves a champion. Their regime will quite likely be strongly coddled by a China that is taking an ever deeper interest in it for one major reason - oil. A revelation today that China is the world's second largest consumer of oil in the world after the United States was paired by a lower-key, but potentially as important announcement - that Myanmar (Burma) was declining co-operation with India on an India-Bangladesh-Myanmar gas pipeline and will be working just with China instead.

It has been some time since both Burma and India were both British colonies, but ties of history and of geographic proximity had kept the two countries on speaking terms. However, the greater political similarities between China and Burma (and between China and most of the countries on its western flank) mean that the latter, and other oil-rich states, will be falling increasingly into China's orbit. China offers not only ready cash, but also the prospect of being a counterweight against Indian, and ultimately also American influence.

It seems that most people have focused on Taiwan as the greatest potential flashpoint with the United States. But what is India's concern today may become America's concern tomorrow from a geopolitical standpoint.

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[boomerang] Posted by HK Dave at 11:23
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December 15, 2005
Wen's pen and Hu's hand

In the otherwise boring conflab that is the East Asia Summit, a small but significant gesture could prove the start of the thawing of icy Sino-Japan relations. I'll leave it to the China Daily to describe what happened (the photo is below the jump): the leaders were signing the document, Koizumi leaned over and asked to borrow Wen's pen. But Wen ignored him for several seconds until Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi intervened to repeat the request. Wen then passed the pen to Koizumi with a smile.
It's in such simple gestures that true diplomacy is made. Thank goodness Koizumi is so forgetful...or was it a deliberate ploy? If so, it was a stroke of genius.

Meanwhile, Wen and Hu's efforts in AIDS outreach are having unintended consequences. Two AIDS patients the President shook hands with are now being ostracised in their villages. The same article reports that 60% of city dwellers are "nervous" about contact with HIV positive people. While the example of China's leadership in AIDS education is commendable, far more needs to be done to overcome the typical superstition and suscipions of people. It's the same battle the West fought 20 years ago. Perhaps Japan and Koizumi can help?


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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 09:05
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December 08, 2005
Japan-China: Vicious Circle

For months and years now, we have all speculated on the incomprehensibility of Koizumi's continued visits to the Yasukuni War Shrine. He does it for domestic political reasons, we are told. And often the conversation ends there, or is resumed on some aspect of Japan's World War II past.

That is, of course, legitimate; Japan does have an historic legacy to which it has never fully faced up to, and that ignorance (whether feigned or genuine) is naturally offensive to its neighbors and is serving as a very effective vehicle for China to adopt the mantle of regional leadership in East Asia.

But as staggered as I have been by the baldness of the shrine visits from an international relations perspective, I have striven to understand the domestic pressure for Koizumi to do so. This article, and others I have read, seem to be coalescing into a pattern in my mind. It is not overly profound, and I apologise to those whom have realized this long ago. But it seems clear that the reason Japan has a desire to hearken back to its militaristic roots is precisely because China has grown far stronger in the last ten years than it has been at any time in the last 150. So if China's rise is prompting ever more hardline positions in the Japanese psyche towards its massive neighbor, and converting more of the population to the wisdom of shrine visits, China will only grow increasingly irritated and spend more on its military might as a result. Are there any 'soft-landing' scenarios for this relationship between Beijing and Tokyo, which appear to be in free fall? If there are, I'd like to hear them.

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[boomerang] Posted by HK Dave at 11:30
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November 03, 2005
A Hari Raya Huanying

A few months ago I blogged about an incident at a Malaysian hotel where some Chinese guests were outraged by being handed out hotel dining cards that had a picture of a pig on them - indicating that they were consumers of pork. It was indeed a grave misunderstanding - local Chinese would have understood, but the mainland visitors did not - similar to how baby food in sub-Saharan Africa did horribly until makers realized that Africans generally put pictures of the food on the bottle... In any case, I felt in general that the growing power of China in Asia and the World would eventually spell changes that Malaysia may need to make with regard to discriminatory laws against its own Chinese minority.

It seems, on this holy Islamic Day of Hari Raya Puasa, celebrating the end of Ramadan fasting month, that Malaysia has slipped out a rather interesting announcement - that henceforth, all international airports in Malaysia would carry messages in Mandarin as well as in Bahasa and in English (as well as occasionally in Japanese). The fact that Mandarin has not been an official language despite almost 40% of the population being Chinese has been very significant (with reasons dating back to the Chinese Communist insurgency in the 1950s). But could this change, in response to growing throngs from the mainland, be the crack in the door? Perhaps the Malays may finally start to take a long, hard look at their country, and ask why they legislate affirmative action for themselves with their Bumiputra laws (to the economic detriment of the Chinese) when they constitute over 50% of the population. Mr. Badawi, give your people a fishing rod instead.

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[boomerang] Posted by HK Dave at 21:09
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October 17, 2005
The Confident Nationalist

Update: He did it in a gray suit. But, who's lamer, Koizumi or the ROK government for protesting?

With his postal privatization reform bill firmly in hand, I guess we all hoped Japan PM Koizumi would take a hint, but in 15 minutes he will visit Yasukuni Shrine. So much for the theory, that visits were taken to placate conservatives opposed to reform.

If only the Democrats had won, we could have had both a postal privatization plan and none of this nonsense.

Cross-Posted at Barbarian Envoy

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[boomerang] Posted by Infidel at 09:49
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Harold Brown talk notes

Cross-posted at Andrés Gentry

On October 6 Harold Brown, former Secretary of Defense during the Carter Administration, came to UCSD to give a talk at an IR/PS Dean's Roundtable.  His topic was "Managing Change: China and the U.S. in 2025".  I attended his talk and following are the notes I took.  Any errors are mine alone.

1.    Earlier spoke at Rand China Forum

  • Last month spent a week in China (informed somewhat his view of the path of US/China relations)

2.    Clear major new force is rise of China

  • Civil War in Islam may be a close 2nd

3.    In 2025, what will US and China look like?

  • GDP: US: 3% growth will yield a 2 trillion USD economy: with a population of 350-370 million will yield 65,000USD per capita GDP
  • GDP: China: 8% growth will yield 7 trillion USD economy: with a population of 1.4 billion will yield 5,000USD per capita GDP (but 12,000-15,000 at PPP)
  • Both estimates perhaps over-optimistic because of:
    • US: effects of War on Terror, monetary/fiscal policy, energy shortages

    • China: urban/rural divide, no social safety net, demography (1-child policy), local differences
  • China will be the world’s manufacturing center (today it’s the US: it produces 2x China’s output)
    • Rising wage rates will push some jobs from China to India

4.    Will pass over military balance question.  Just says if US defense spending is level US will continue to be the biggest power in the world and the West Pacific

  • However, China is expanding its military
  • Conflict on Mainland would be to China’s advantage but Taiwan Straits conflict to the US’ advantage

5.    China’s foreign policy is global

  • Unlike Japan’s, it’s not only economic, it has strategic political and military components

6.    China is a rising power: historically leading power/rising power changes have yielded conflicts: this isn’t encouraging

  • One exception: UK to US change
  • 20th Century: particularly noxious: 1900-1945: attempt by Germany/Japan to replace powers, USSR tried  1945-1990
  • And China?
    • Positives

      • Nuclear weapons: worked well with USSR, tamping down US/USSR conflict
      • Unlike USSR, Germany, Japan: China doesn’t have an ideology it wants to spread
        • US has this Wilsonian Impuse, this will damp down in next 10-15 years
      • China wants to be Asia’s greatest power
        • Brazil wants to be Latin America’s premier power and this doesn’t bother US too much

      • Both US and China have common interest in world trading system and we have “balanced” economies

        • Though this leads to some frictions: China’s intellectual property laws, contract enforcement
    • Possible problems
      • Protectionism in US, competition for energy, China already has ½ of US’ oil consumption and 3x US’ coal consumption

7.    Energy consumption effects

  • Increasingly import oil from the Middle East, sea lanes are vulnerable to interdiction by US Navy
    • But China unlikely to challenge US Navy
  • Global climate change
    • By 2025 China and India will produce more CO2 than US

    • Will industrialized countries pay to clean up the mess?

8.    Sensitivity

  • China military expansion makes its neighbors nervous
  • Some pressure may build for US to withdraw from Asia: he thinks this would destabilize East Asia
    • US/Japan cooperation especially makes China sensitive

    • Any Japanese military capability worries China

9.    Managing US/China relations

  • a.    DPRK, Taiwan, internal PRC developments: key points
    • DPRK: we’ve had a good start
      • 6-party talks may be a start to Northeast Asia security architecture
    • Taiwan: things currently damped down
    • Internal PRC developments
      • Will PRC become a democracy?  Not likely
      • Question is how authoritarian will PRC be?
      • There is a lack of transparency in PRC
      • How will CCP try to stay in control?
        • Through greater social controls?
      • If faced with major threats to CCP control then perhaps they will use populism/nationalism to stay in power

10.    He’s fundamentally optimistic: common threats and concerns will trump genuine differences and conflicts of interest

Question and Answer Session

1.    China Navy: submarine fleet?  Local San Diego naval leaders worry about it

  • Fundamentally, China military was a land force
  • Recently made a move to joint land/air/sea operations and make navy/air force less subordinate to army
  • US Navy is especially worried because it will have the primary role in the Taiwan Straits
  • US Navy also trying to hype the China threat to get a better budget (especially since Iraq and Afghanistan have focused monies on US Army)
  • It’s a legitimate worry: US Navy should focus on anti-submarine warfare

2.    US Navy is smaller than before, so how to be optimistic?

  • During Brown years, US Navy was 2x as big, but USSR naval threat was much larger than Chinese Navy
  • China has no aircraft carriers (save for in amusement parks)
  • How to measure US Navy to its tasks?  On this level it’s pretty good
  • China Navy lower power projection ability than UK or France
  • To improve US Navy better to improve current ships than increase their number: communications, intelligence

3.    Higher education: is it in US long-term interests to educated Chinese in US universities and thus help China to catch up to US?

  • Especially in science and technology this is a problem
    • Helps with making sensible decisions to deal with global climate change or pandemics
    • Helps improve productivity
  • So US should continue to be open to foreign students
    • Many of these students will stay

    • Some will return to their home countries: this cuts both ways
      • They will improve their own economies which isn’t necessarily bad
      • If they develop positive opinion of US then that’s good
  • Will foreign Ph.Ds swamp US?
    • If economic system isn’t good it doesn’t matter how many Ph.Ds you have (social and political systems are important too)

      • USSR and Japan produced many engineers and they didn’t overtake US
    • In China the problem is management skill level, also there’s the question of China’s political development

4.    Pros/Cons of Chinese buying US companies?

  • If we’re an open economy we should allow this to happen
  • Will we require reciprocity?  There should be some
  • Outside of classified/strategic technology we should be open to China buying US companies

5.    Chinese leadership has many scientists and engineers.  What’s the effect?

  • Partly this is because there have been no business/law schools
  • Key is not to be a scientist, it’s to understand science

6.    Oil in South China Sea: is this a source of conflict in that area?

  • Yes, but fortunately haven’t found much oil there
  • Energy conflicts have so far been worked out
  • Another reason China is increasing its navy

7.    What will Chinese leadership look like in 2025?

  • Will be people born after Cultural Revolution but parents/grandparents will have suffered
  • Will they have the vision to solve PRC’s problems?  Don’t know, but their style will be much different than the Founding Fathers

8.    Robert Barnett just wrote a book separating world in the connected and unconnected worlds.  US trying to make an enemy of China to justify their budgets.  What do you think of the book?

  • Hasn’t actually read the book
  • China clearly joining the industrial world
  • Mistake to make China an enemy and it will be a mistake if we actively do that
  • Risk in both nations: leadership will excite the public to believe the other is an enemy
  • But we should also not let provocative actions go unchallenged (for either side)

9.    Doesn’t believe USSR is an apt comparison to China: thinks Korea is a better comparison.  Big concern is their legal system and protection of intellectual property

  • That’s why he also made comparisons to Japan
  • China might compete on entrepreneurial level (which USSR never did)
  • Perhaps when China has its own intellectual property it will more vigorously protect intellectual property
  • Chinese enforcement of contracts is quite weak
  • Importance of connections leads to corruption and is a real risk for doing business there and for Chinese themselves

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[boomerang] Posted by Andres at 01:42
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October 15, 2005
What Part Of East Asia Is Important?

According to TNR's Joshua Kurlantzick (Subscription-Required), there's closet militarists in Japan PM Koizumi's entourage. Amid the cheering as Japan's Upper House approved a postal privatization bill on Friday lurks the fear that amending Japan's pacifist constitution to permit remilitarization could be on Koizumi's agenda. East Asian neighbors didn't ry to hide how much they would have preferred the opposition, a pro-pacifist, Democratic party, with its own postal privatization plan, to win the September 11 election. Now, Kurlantzick is get America on the bandwagon.

A more powerful Japanese military may be inevitable, even necessary, if Washington's relations with other countries in the region, such as South Korea and China, continue to deteriorate. And Japan today is a democracy with strong civilian control over the armed forces, which have participated effectively in international peacekeeping. But many American officials don't recognize the potential damage Japanese remilitarization will do to America's already shaky image in Asia. Americans may have forgotten about Japanese abuses in the Pacific Theater during World War II, but the populations of countries in the region have not, and these abuses are often magnified by nationalist governments in China and other Asian nations eager to deflect attention from their own shortcomings and to justify increases in defense spending.


If the United States openly backs Japan's rearming, it could find itself and Tokyo ostracized by vital allies like Korea and Thailand, moving it even further from China. Many Japanese hawks don't seem to care. "What's the solution to North Korea?" Okazaki asked me when I visited his office. "A closer U.S.-Japan alliance." "What's the solution to China? A closer U.S.-Japan alliance." He pauses. "What's the solution to South Korea?" You can guess the rest. But, in the long run, America might not like the answer.

Putting aside the good reform legislation the Upper House just passed, though, is progressive dread about a remilitarized Japan warranted? The part about China's and South Korea's "shortcomings" is a huge speed pump in the argument to ignore. According to a Joong-ang Daily poll---mind you, ROK newspaper polls are like editorials with a few more quotes than usual, because the polling samples as a percentage of population are smaller than the margin of error---67% favored a ROK nuke. Even more depressing are some of the xenophobic attitudes justifying that opinion. North Korea has also aroused Japanese voters' ire, and, as Kurlantzick argues, Beijing incited more than rhetoric after anti-japanese riots earlier this year:

Beijing also seems to be playing into Japanese hawks' hands. Japan provides China with roughly $1 billion in annual direct development assistance, but a rash of anti-Japanese riots in China this spring reinforced the positions of Japanese politicians like Abe, who have questioned this assistance, as well as the broader Japan-China relationship. After the riots, The New York Times reported, a poll by Japan's trade agency showed that the percentage of Japanese companies planning to expand in China fell by more than 30 points.

These are the choices! Sentimental favorites aside, the choice between which horse to back is like choosing between a crack-backed cripple (DPRK), a slick-looking gelding with a temper (ROK), an obese, oat-slurping manure machine (PRC), and a winner owned by a criminal syndicate (Japan). Let's not even discuss Taiwan! The only aspect of the choice facing Washington, when it considers an East Asian policy, completely in its control is its own reputaion. Whomever Washington favors assumes Washington's faults, too. One choice is not good enough, so Washington needs to buy two, China and Japan. How Washington puts two blood enemies into the same stable is the foreign policy progressive Democrats need to devise.

The long-term dynamic in East Asia is the generations' old rivalry between China and Japan that could erupt into war at any time. Korean unification looms over the horizon. The question of Taiwan's status requires attention. But none of these questions, including economic liberalization and democratization, can proceed until Japan and China are yoked together like Germany and France into a mutual defense community.

So, let's stop making Japan into the bogeyman, or China, North Korea, etc. All choices are bad. Secretary of State Acheson put diplomatic capital on the line, including East Asia's, to bang Western Europe into the Coal and Steel Community, so now Washington owes the region. Or, watch the region go up in flames.

Cross-Posted at Barbarian Envoy

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[boomerang] Posted by Infidel at 18:02
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September 13, 2005
Chinese reaction to Japan's election

Sean asked what the Chinese press reaction to Koizumi's win in Japan has been. As you'd expect, there hasn't been much. After all, China can't stand the man.

Xinhua has a few reports on the Koizumi's landslide victory and a piece on Japan's foreign policy which mentions his pledge to normalise ties with North Korea but says nothing about China. An op-ed piece largely focusses on the postal reform with the only passage on foreign policy saying:

the LDP noted the need to improve ties with Asian neighbors. Yet, the points was rarely mentioned in Koizumi's campaign speeches.

After the voting, the premier stopped short of dismissing the possibility of paying a visit to the Yasukuni Shrine when he was answering questions on a live program of the public broadcaster NHK. His repeated visits to the war criminal-enshrining facility was the major stumbling block in relations with China and South Korea.

And that's about it. Official China is likely in denial...and building up their foam for Koizumi's next shrine visit.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 14:59
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» The White Peril 白禍 links with: What does the PRC think about Koizumi's victory?