Monthly Archives: February, 2017

 
 

Pivotal arrogance in Western foreign policy

Dominic Huntley

Uncategorized

 

For the first time in centuries the most powerful nation on Earth is going to be non-Western, and this has terrified policymakers from Canberra to Washington.
The almost existential panic which has characterised the response has combined an incredible capacity for self delusion with an almost impressive degree of arrogance that even our Colonial forbears would be staggered by.
Bit players like Australia have mindlessly “reaffirmed” support for the US alliance, as if it was ever in doubt, while the US itself has pursued a “Pivot to Asia” that has about as much substance as a stereotypical American meal.
Neither of these speech acts do anything to change the facts on the ground.
At its core, the re-alignment of power in Asia is a strategic shift, not some transient challenge by a rogue state or an ideological game of the Cold War. This is far less about the application of power than it is the distribution which has yet to be grasped by the West.
Neither the “measuring contest” taking place in the South China Sea nor the angsty equivalent in the East China Sea will have any measurable impact on the long term trends in power distribution. It is in economics, the cold hard numbers that will determine what the major powers can bring to the table and in this China is clearly in the ascendant, if only thanks to the low hanging fruit long since plucked across the sea.
The Western response however has been entirely tactical in its nature, confusing the cosmetics of the power shift for the shift itself. The far too much-lauded American Pivot promised to “reaffirm” the American commitment to Asia, that the 21st century would be “America's Pacific Century” in the words of one particularly unreliable former presidential candidate.
Its substance however has had zero impact on the strategic equation. Since its announcement almost a decade ago China has continued its advance, solidifying its control over the South China Sea and showing no signs of slowing its erosion of American power. The US in the meantime has descended into an almost humorous disaster.
This should come as no surprise of course, as a series of statements and failed economic deals do not translate into the sort of military preponderance needed to roll back a direct military challenge. To the extent that the US has increased its military cooperation with Asian nations no arms deal or joint exercise is going to remove artificial islands or, more importantly, slow down Chinese military spending.
To a degree there is no blaming American failure here, as it is an unwinable battle. Short of an inherently racist worldview that sees Chinese as fundamentally weaker than Westerners, there is simply no paradigm through which 330 million Americans can continue to have greater resources than 1.3 billion Chinese .
There is however reason to believe that there is an inherent racism in the Western approach, a modern version of the Colonial view that the White nations of the West had an inherent advantage over the rest of the world, and that it was this that had given them their technological advantages and not the other way round.
The entire enterprise is soaked in a watered down version of the Atlanto-centric arrogance that until recently has reigned supreme in Western thinking for almost half a millennium, thinking that is proving unable to conceive of a world not slanted in its favour or with its desires not preferenced above all others.
How else could a nation like America, distant and outnumbered, possibly imagine that it could indefinitely maintain primacy over a much larger nation that is adopting all the technologies and practices that gave America its strength in the first place?
In the 19th and 20th centuries this was called the White Man's burden, the view that at best the lot of non-whites is to be “students” of the West, so that one day they might emulate their betters in practice and culture if not in race.
Similar today is the arrogant view that Western countries should unilaterally act against what is seen as Chinese aggression such as the calls to recognise “Taiwan” as an independent state. Whether or not a declaration of independence would be good, there is a great irony in Western commentators calling for a unilateral recognition of “democracy” without the consent of the Taiwanese people, whose lot it is to face the consequences.
Both sides of politics are guilty of this, and it is entirely debatable whether the mindless meandering of Trump is any worse than would have been the calculated condescension of Clinton.
The great blunder of our time is that rather than seeking to amend this flaw in the system Western powers are seeking to deny any criticism. That the attempt will surely fail will be of little comfort in the face of just a fraction of the potential misery that could result.

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Shanghai’s vanishing heritage: A cautionary tale of urban development

Harrison Rule

Society and culture | East Asia

 

At a time when China was still writhing from the ‘humiliation’ of two Opium Wars, the city of Shanghai would emerge  as a bustling centre of activity, developing from a frontier market town to the first modern metropolis in China. Foreign concessions, imposed on the city by the ‘unequal treaties’, brought fresh capital and economic opportunity to the coastal port, ushering in a phenomenal surge in domestic Chinese migration.

The Shanghai alleyway house, the city's innovative solution to this great demographic strain, is today however being pushed aside for 21st century urban towers, at the detriment of housing affordability and livability.

The new, strange, almost cosmopolitan dynamic of post Opium War Shanghai would warp the architectural face of a once modest trade settlement. Old and new Chinese districts adjoined the ill-defined borders of the British and French settlements, within which grand neoclassical Western mansions stood side by side with dense sprawls of Chinese stores and dwellings.

[caption id="attachment_5246" align="alignnone" width="491"] Nanking Road, Shanghai - displaying the intimate vicinity between Colonial and traditional Chinese spaces[/caption]

European merchants raced to Shanghai seeking to capitalise on the domestic property demand brought about by the huge surge in domestic migration to the city. A British diplomat at the time, Her Majesty’s Consul Rutherford Alcock, observed that visiting British merchants of the day viewed the Shanghai property market as a kind of 19th Century ‘get-rich-quick’ scheme. He recorded the words of one young, ambitious visiting merchant who concluded “it is my business to make a fortune with the least possible loss of time, by letting my land to Chinese, and building … In two or three years at farthest, I hope to realise a fortune and get away.”

The consequence of this race for ‘fortune’ and maximisation of profit, was an incidental synthesis of European and traditional Chinese architectural design.

The longtang 弄堂 or Shanghai Alleyway House, combined elements of the British row house and working-class homes which ensured dense concentrations of tenants for high rental efficiency, with the principles of Chinese vernacular architecture to appeal to the domestic market. The result were dense, clustered neighbourhoods connect by narrow, intersecting alleyways organised like 'fish skeletons'.

[caption id="attachment_5269" align="alignnone" width="640"] The narrow entrance of an original Longtang neighbourhood[/caption]

These alleyways acted as communal spaces, key arteries of community interaction and public household rituals. They served as a catalyst for the creation of close-knit neighbourhoods, an essential function for a city swelling with new arrivals.

The concept proved so successful that by the end of the 1980s alleyway houses accounted for as much as 80 per cent of Shanghai’s built-up area.

Today however, these former staples of Shanghai’s vernacular design are near impossible to find.

Much like the European merchants of the 19th century, Shanghai’s current patrons and investors are pursing the maximisation of profit. The textured fabric of old Shanghai, is viewed as obsolete and unprofitable compared to the encroaching mega towers of the 21st century.

[caption id="attachment_5281" align="alignnone" width="1920"] Looming towers overshadow a small, isolated alleyway community near Jing'an Villa[/caption]

The few remaining remnants of the alleyway house typology represent distinct pockets of historical memory, threatened by the great Chinese economic machine. The destruction of the longtang is not simply the loss of an incredible piece of cultural and architectural heritage however, but the destruction of a potential solution to a crisis faced by many megacities around the world - the crisis of social sustainability.

In February 2016 Chinese government authorities highlighted the need to provide low-income urban residents with affordable housing as a top priority for the Communist Party. In order to achieve and maintain social and economic diversity within its cities, decision makers in Beijing and Shanghai should heed the lessons of the great alleyway house social experiment. The longtang have successfully forged Shanghainese communities since the mid 19th century, providing socially sustainable and economically diverse housing for residents while creating safe, liveable spaces built on principles of community interaction.

These neighbourhoods, an integral part of the identity of the city, remain however an endangered species. As China faces yet again another gigantic domestic migration to the 'city on the sea', the architectural face of Shanghai must adapt once more. Outside observers can only hope, that the value of social design is recognised – before it is too late.

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Interview with Professor Michael Wesley

Society and culture | Asia

 

Interview conducted by Catia Rizio and Mish Khan, written by Reza Mazumder. 

Michael Wesley is Dean of the College of Asia and the Pacific (CAP) and Professor of International Relations at the Australian National University (ANU).

Professor Wesley gained his PhD from the University of St. Andrews (Scotland) and his BA (Honours) from the University of Queensland. He was Assistant Director-General for Transnational Issues at the Office of National Assessments (Australia’s peak intelligence agency), from 2003 to 2003, Director of the Griffith Asia Institute at Griffith University from 2004 to 2009, Executive Director of the Lowy Institute for International Policy from 2009 to 2012. He took up the position of Dean at ANU in 2013.

Here at The Monsoon Project, we sat down with Professor Wesley to talk about his experiences as an academic and as Dean of CAP.

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The Monsoon Project: What is your role as the Dean of the ANU College of the Asia-Pacific?

Prof. Wesley: I’m responsible for the community of scholars that occupies this college. I look on it as being the temporary custodian of a very proud history - the antecedence of the College of Asia and the Pacific’s stretch back to 1946. Generations of scholars and students have created what I think is a national and international treasure of resource. I see myself as being the custodian of that really important legacy and hopefully setting it up for another proud seventy years and beyond.”

TMP: Why did you come to work at ANU?

Michael Wesley:  After I started at the University of Queensland, ANU became a very big part of my life. Many of the books, articles and scholars discussed in my studies of government, international relations and Asian studies had come from the ANU. From then on, I always harboured a desire to end up at the ANU and did so in 2013.

TMP: Why did you become an academic?

Prof. Wesley: I came to university because I wanted to become a diplomat. The time I started at university was pretty exciting – it was a period in which the Cold War was getting really interesting.  In my second year I studied a course on Soviet Politics. It was at a time when Mikhail Gorbachev had come to power and the Soviet Union was instituting significant reforms.  You felt like you were studying politics as it unfolded.

In 1989, during my third undergraduate year, there was the Fall of the Berlin Wall and the Tiananmen Square protests. I still remember those days very clearly and events like this made my academic journey more concrete and real. By the time I got into my honours year, I didn’t really want to be a diplomat anymore since I really liked the research side of things.

TMP: In terms of your research, what sorts of recent developments do you find the most interesting?

Prof. Wesley: I think the big story of our lifetime is the re-emergence of Asia as the world’s centre of gravity- strategically, economically and politically. You get up, you read and listen to the news and there’s stuff happening that you people will look back on and study as a significant period that reshaped the world for us and our kids.

TMP: What do you find most rewarding in your field?

Prof. Wesley: Coming up against how little I know about the Asia-Pacific and how complex its history, society and cultures can be. The potential for it to surprise you constantly is always there. Who would have predicted Duterte and the way in which he conducts politics? Or how Philippine society and regional Asia is responding to his presidency? It’s something fascinating to watch. That’s just in Southeast Asia - you can look further to the phenomenon that is Xi Jingping in China.  It’s a challenge trying to find an intellectual construct to understand what all this means for the rest of the world.”

TMP: Speaking about challenges, how do you handle criticism as an academic?

Prof. Wesley:  If you’re not prepared to have people criticise or disagree with you, you don’t really have any business becoming an academic. I quite like people disagreeing with me because if it’s in the spirit of academic inquiry it provides for some of the most productive thinking you can do. If you have to defend a position from someone who has a genuine disagreement with what you’ve said or what you’ve done, then that’s a growing experience. It makes you think clearly in justifying what you say. It may even point out something you haven’t thought of.

TMP: What’s your favourite part about living in Canberra?

Prof. Wesley: I love the sheer natural and physical beauty of Canberra. Its sense of intellectual space and absence of pretension. I think Canberra is an open-minded city in ways in which other cities would think they are but really aren’t.

TMP: What do you see is the future of CAP?

Prof. Wesley:  The changing meaning of Asia-Pacific studies is most significant. Before, it was generally accepted that if you studied Western topics you were a generalist, but studying the Asia-Pacific was more of a niche topic. Today, Asia-Pacific studies are increasingly becoming the mainstream. This is exciting, as it means we will need to reconceive the way we see ourselves, making the case to the rest of the world that this sort of scholarship is path-breaking in understanding what the world’s future will be.

TMP: Finally, what’s an interesting fact about you that students might not know?

Prof. Wesley: I failed to learn Chinese twice. I first took night classes at UNSW but got too busy to keep up. My second time was when I was in Hong Kong with my family - my wife was on a diplomatic posting - but again I was too busy to continue my studies when I moved back to Australia. My wife actually studied Chinese at university and while on exchange at Fudan University for a year. My two boys are also learning it. I may soon have to face the fact that I’m the only person in the family who can’t speak Chinese.

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We'd like to thank Professor Wesley for taking the time to speak with us. If you're interested, you can take a look some of Professor Wesley's publications here.

Image taken from the Annual Asia Pacific Year in Focus Lecture - listen to the podcast here.

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The debate over phosphate for Makatea

Nicholas Hoare

Society and culture | Pacific

 

In late November-2016, the French Polynesian Présidence at Papeete played host to an important, and well-attended, exhibition titled Makatea: Past, Present, Future.

From its opening, the exhibition transformed from a site of historical memory into a site of heated debate. Landowners, office-holders, young job seekers and environmentalists came together to articulate their visions and concerns over Australian engineer Colin Randall’s proposals to re-open mining industry on Makatea for its phosphate reserves.

The exhibition coincided with the Tuamotuan island’s 50th anniversary of the end of phosphate mining. One could be excused in thinking the exhibition’s purpose was purely memorial - a nod to a bygone era where phosphate mining was a pillar of the French Polynesian export-led economy. This exhibition however was imbued with political motivations. It was the brain-child of Colin Randall, who after being a mainstay in the Hunter Valley coal mining industry for forty years, now turns his attention to French Polynesia in order to gain concessions from the Government to re-mine the island of Makatea for its residual phosphate reserves.

[caption id="attachment_5166" align="aligncenter" width="485"] Attendees at the Makatea: Past, Present and Future Exhibition[/caption]

In order to receive the concession it is incumbent upon Randall and his company to demonstrate their project has the support of te fatu fenua (people of the land). The exhibition thus turned into a four-day long public relations exercise where Randall attempted to assuage concerns about the adverse impacts of future mining.

According to Randall, in thirty years’ time his project will have rehabilitated 1,600 ha of land, created a functional port, an airstrip, provided the island with water supply and waste management, and will have laid the foundations for a future based on eco-tourism and agriculture. For Randall, there is no such thing as exploitation without rehabilitation, and his plan is to rehabilitate each parcel of land as the mining proceeds. He labelled rehabilitation efforts on Nauru—a constant touchstone over the four-days—a ‘disgrace,’ and urged people to look towards Christmas Island as a model.

While Randall is optimistic his rehabilitation plans will succeed, others have expressed scepticism. Filmmaker and naturalist Michel Huet likens them to a science-fiction novel, a completely crazy project. While some locals were encouraged by the future benefits of an airstrip, others were discouraged by the adverse impacts of mining on their health. Examples of this were cited, such as that of 2014 when the Israeli Government pulled the plug on a proposed mining project at Sde Brir owing to the potential ill-effects of air pollution on people’s health in the nearby town of Arad.

[caption id="attachment_5174" align="aligncenter" width="421"] Posters advertising exhibition crossed out and tagged with 'non'[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_5163" align="aligncenter" width="465"] More defaced exhibition posters[/caption]

Broader environmental arguments may not have entered the conversation at the Présidence, but the wider implications of continued phosphate dependency have many in the scientific community concerned. Environmental scientists are worried that fertiliser run-off, eutrophication of waterways, and subsequent algal blooms will lead to worsened hypoxia, that is, a higher incidence of global “dead-zones” or regions where life cannot be sustained.

Regardless of one’s opinion on the project, it has clearly split the community. While mining is supported by the mayor of Makatea, Julien Mai, and mayor Teina Maraeura of Rangiroa, the commune to which Makatea belongs, during the exhibition there was constant anti-mining protests  surrounding the Presidence. A strong contingent of around eighty protesters were present on the first morning of proceedings despite the rain, with the anti-mining groups Te Fatu Fenua no Makatea, led by Sylvanna Tupuhina Nordman, and Rupe no Makatea, led by Danny Pittman, both in sync as they cried out-loud “Do Not Touch Makatea!”

[caption id="attachment_5173" align="aligncenter" width="521"] Protesters gathering outside Presidence[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_5160" align="aligncenter" width="520"] Protest banner[/caption]

To Randall’s credit, his exhibition provided an arguably overdue chance  for people to express their hopes and fears for the island. Talks were often heated and tempers were regularly stretched, but dialogue was shared amongst different generations. Many of the young Makatean men in attendance expressed their preference for the project owing to the opportunities it would provide them for training and employment.

For those in opposition to the project, environmental concerns outweigh any short-term economic benefits. According to botanist Fred Jacq, Makatea is a “hot spot” for biodiversity. The endangered Polynesian imperial pigeon, known locally as the Rupe (ducula aurorae), which having disappeared from the rest of French Polynesia, has seen its numbers increase on Makatea since mining ceased. Left to their own devices, birds such as the Rupe dispersed seeds across the island,  revegetatating and repopulating the once-mined areas to such an extent that Bird Life International has labelled Makatea an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area.

[caption id="attachment_5169" align="aligncenter" width="515"] Rupe Bird on Makatea (From: www.rainforest-rescue.org/petitions/1075/save-the-noah-s-ark-of-the-south-pacific)[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_5172" align="aligncenter" width="519"] A Rupe featured on protest banners[/caption]

The prospect of renewed mining has endangered this status, and has pushed the two anti-mining groups into vowing their continued opposition to the project. Meanwhile an online petition to ‘save the Noah’s Ark of the South Pacific’ has so far attracted 140,000 signatures. Randall repeatedly said he intends to walk away if te fatu fenua do not want him there. Yet for somebody who has expended such a significant amount of time and  resources, it is difficult to say how true these words will prove to be. Whatever the outcome, the next coming months of 2017 will be critical in determining the future of Makatea and its inhabitants.

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The Rohingya

Hares Shirbaz

Politics | Southeast Asia

 

An article from the Economist once called the Rohingya people ‘the most persecuted people on Earth.’ I, a refugee from Afghanistan now settled in the Netherlands with my family, arguably agree.

The first time I heard about the Rohingya was while reading a Dutch article in March 2014. It reported that Australian and American pilots sent in to find Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 - the infamous airplane that disappeared while on route to Beijing – had spotted a large boat filled with starving and dehydrated refugees. They also spotted floating corpses but upon realising they too were refugees, they flew the plane past them, not bothering to call for a rescue team.

I could barely believe what I had just read. I read it a second time, appalled. I understood the importance of finding the  remains of the MH370 passengers, but could these pilots not have paused just briefly to call a rescue team to these starving, dehydrated people probably in dire need of medical attention?.  After reading the article for the third time I stumbled across the word “Rohingya.” The refugees had been Rohingya people.

Not knowing who they were, I decided to look it up. Just who were these Rohingya that the MH370 search planes had so easily ignored?

The Rohingya are a Muslim minority from the Rakhine (also known as Arakan) a states in Myanmar. They make up around  forty per cent of the population. The majority  sixty per cent of the population in Rakhine are mainly Buddhists. ‘The differences between the Rohingya miniority within the Buddhist majority are currently dividing Rakhine with accute ethno-religious tensions.

The government of Myanmar and hard-line Buddhists claim that  Rohingya are illegal immigrants from the neighbouring country of Bangladesh. According to state rhetoric, the Rohingya arrived in Myanmar during British rule between 1824 till 1942. The Rohingya are not accepted as citizens but instead classified as “resident foreigners”.

The Myanmar government  even refuses to refer to these Muslims as “Rohingya,” instead titling them as “Bengali” in order to support their theory of the Rohingya being foreigners rather than from Myanmar.

The Rohingya refuse to accept this title and claim that their ancestors arrived in Rakhine before British rule. Rohingya theory states that during the 1404 war that reinstated  Min Saw Mon as King of the Launggyet Dynasty after being overthrown by rival Ava Kingdom, a small group of Muslim Bengalis migrated into the territory now called Rakhine. They came with Min Saw Mon when he returned to Myanmar after fleeing to Bengal to seek help from the Sultan Jalaluddin Muhammad Shah to regain his throne. The Rohingya claim this historical legacy as  their legitimate link to Myanmar.

Fast forward to 2016 and I’m  having a discussion with a young woman from Myanmar about a Quartz article criticising Aung San Suu Kyi for not protecting the Rohingya. I agreed with this critique.  Aung San Suu Kyi is revered as the leader of Myanmar who  promises to end military rule and bring democracy and freedom to all the people of Myanmar. This should include the Rohingya.

The young woman thought differently.

She claimed that these Muslims were “terrorists” who’d raped and looted.   Her comments shocked me. She soon ended our discussion as she felt I didn’t understand her.  I on the other hand, was infuriated. The Rohingya are lynched on a daily basis. How could she claim they were the aggressors? I felt curious. I wanted know why she thought this way. I decided to visit her Facebook page and what I saw shocked me - she was a normal student just like me. I saw pictures of her on holiday, with friends and family and with a sign demanding equal rights for women. My anger turned in to confusion. How could this young bright woman who demands equal rights for women not demand these rights for the Rohingya people?

You see I was a refugee too. In 1997, my family and I fled from the Taliban when they took over Afghanistan. We came to The Netherlands and were received with open arms by the majority of the people. The Dutch gave my parents the opportunity to start a new life. My sisters, brothers and I were granted the opportunity to go to school and study. They gave us a new home but most importantly, they accepted us. We didn’t look like them, talk like them, ate different things, and prayed to a different god, but they didn’t let these differences scare them. Their acceptance is the reason why this small country is known for its tolerance, and why I hold it as such an important country to take example from

I thought about destiny and how fearful a life we might’ve had if we’d fled to Myanmar instead of The Netherlands. I thought about the possibility of my family and I sitting in an improvised pontoon, fleeing from possible persecution, hungry and thirsty under the hot sun. Suddenly we would hear the engine of a plane approaching. The plane would fly past us and our hopes would disappear with it. The idea frightens me but the Rohingya are used to it. They are used to being ignored, be it by the Myanmar government, foreign search planes or the rest of the world.

That is their bleak destiny.

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Red Horizons: The NPA’s survival under Duterte

Miguel Galsim

Politics | Southeast Asia

 

Communist insurgents ambushing a police patrol and disappearing into the jungle is an image from a bygone era, but for Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte the rebels of the Communist Party of the Philippines – New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) are a persistent reality. Having plagued presidents since the 60s, it is hardly surprising Duterte used his sanguine relationship with the Communists to kickstart peace negotiations.

Furthermore, with openly socialist individuals handpicked for policymaking positions, and negotiations continuing with the NPA’s political counterpart, hopes for a final peace are running high. However, the optimism surrounding a possible deal should not overshadow the questions of how durable a negotiated settlement will be, and if the deal will ultimately dismantle the NPA. And even if negotiations fail, especially given Duterte’s recent announcement to lift a ceasefire with the NPA, the insurgency may still defy government offensives.

Whether Duterte pursues peace or casts a heavy hand, the NPA will not necessarily demobilise during his administration. The insurgency survives off continued grievances in the countryside and the opportunities provided to it by a feeble state, as Patricio Abinales, Francis Domingo, and many other scholars have argued. Unless Duterte makes substantial strides towards resolving these issues, the NPA will survive.

Poverty in the Philippine countryside is undoubtedly a driving grievance that fuels support for the NPA. A mixture of infrastructure underdevelopment and social inequalities between wealthy landlords and disgruntled labourers creates a milieu from which the NPA can easily enlist grassroots support. With a sympathetic mass base, recruitment pools are ever-present, intelligence and offensive efforts against insurgents are frustrated, and the capacity to extract revolutionary tax from local businesses remains unimpeded. Significant government reforms toward a socialist system, or at the very least towards developing neglected rural communities, will be necessary to erode this foundation of NPA influence.

Herein lies the rub – the Duterte Government would face significant opposition to structural reform from entrenched business circles, who are likely to oppose progressive agrarian and labour reforms. Additionally, public support for policy concessions to the Reds is not guaranteed as the Social Weather Station’s Fourth Quarter report for 2016 shows. While it indicates that public satisfaction with Duterte’s reconciliation efforts is much higher than the attempts of his predecessors, the sample was not as enthusiastic for Communist reconciliation as it was for a majority of Duterte’s other policy initiatives. Allegations of broken ceasefires by Philippine armed forces could also allude to reluctance within the military establishment to show lenience to insurgents. Accordingly, the policy revolution desired by the NPA in order for it to disarm would encounter massive resistance from multiple sectors of Philippine society.

Even if the negotiation process succeeds (or continues positively), the NPA could actually benefit from policy reforms yielded by the discussions. With any government concessions perceived as the fruit of NPA pressures, outlets of grassroots support may be maintained. Anticipated prisoner releases will also bolster NPA morale and operative numbers. In addition, the legitimacy bestowed upon the NPA by the negotiations may lessen disincentives to the NPA’s financial contributors. If anything, Duterte’s negotiations will provide breathing room to the insurgency, rather than act as its death knell.

[related_article align="left" show_image="yes" index=1 text="Duterte and the queer community"]

Closely related to the Government’s policy struggles are its operational incapacities. A historical constant of the archipelago has been the central authorities’ inability to extend its coercive capacity to its more far-flung regions. As RAND reported in 2009, a factor of NPA sympathy is their ability to provide law and order where oft-corrupt government officials could not. Adding to the security apparatus’ troubles is the increasing need to build coercive capacities against other violent rebel groups and other states in the region, thus siphoning energy away from anti-NPA efforts. The result is a Government that cannot easily militarily eliminate or displace NPA insurgents, especially when insulated by local sympathisers.

The incapability of extending governance to NPA strongholds also poses another problem – even if the Duterte presidency is significantly more socialist, especially with prominent leaders of the left in policymaking circles, why would the NPA bother disarming if the armed forces lack the capacity to discipline these remote areas? Furthermore, why would remote communities support military and central law enforcement when a history of abuse by security forces still lingers?

So even if rural development is achieved, it does not spell the disarmament and disbandment of the NPA. A vacuum of effective authority would still exist in the hinterlands, of which the NPA will remain the locally-supported actor to fill this role. The Communists would also wish to retain a military capacity in case the government reneged on any aspects of the deal.

Regardless of the outcome of President Duterte’s most recent burst of anti-NPA rhetoric, the insurgency cannot be expected to disband or disarm. Until concerted efforts towards rural development and extension of governance are made under the new administration, the best case scenario for the negotiations is a pacified but operative NPA, continuing to survive on the margins where a weak government cannot yet displace them.

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