Tag Archives: china

 
 

Lessons from Taiwan: The epicentre of East Asian rivalry

Harrison Rule

Politics | Asia

 

Heads of state from across the Asia Pacific congregated in Vietnam this November for the annual APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting. As global political heavyweights gathered around the diplomatic roundtable in Da Nang, however, one placard may have seemed out of place.

Squeezed between household names like Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin and Shinzo Abe sat a Taiwanese politician from a minor opposition party, under the banner of ‘Chinese Taipei’.

‘Chinese Taipei’ is the humiliating label for the largely unrecognized Island nation of Taiwan. This unofficial name printed on placards in front of an unfamiliar flag, flown by an unknown political representative - all echo a history of bloody civil conflict and divisive cold war politics. The fact that Taiwan even has a seat at the table however, tells a far subtler story of East Asian rivalry and grand strategy.

The true epicentre of the region’s seismic strategic relations, Taiwan represents a microcosm of East Asia’s major diplomatic challenges. How the nations of East Asia chose to handle Taiwan and where they are willing to compromise, provide a potential model for future regional relations in an era of impending strategic uncertainty.

The People’s Republic of China and Taiwan

The Cross Strait relationship between Beijing and Taipei is one of jarring hostility and quiet cooperation.

Despite Beijing’s Peaceful Development Doctrine, a 2004 Official Statement from a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson stressed that “If Taiwan leaders move recklessly to provoke incidences of Taiwan independence, the Chinese people will crush their schemes firmly and thoroughly at any cost.”

In the face of this major aversion to displays of Taiwanese Independence however, China has puzzlingly also permitted Taiwan to participate in a number of multilateral organisations such as APEC. While there are a handful of restrictions placed on this participation, Beijing has for the most part respected Taiwan’s role as an autonomously governed economy with significant regional economic interests.

This confusing strategic cognitive dissonance is intimately linked to Xi Jinping’s notion of the China Dream 中国梦. A political concept-cum-nationalist ideology, the China Dream is a push for national “rejuvenation”, attempting to redefine the concepts of ‘Chineseness’ and of Chinese nationhood to consolidate and galvanise Greater China under a single authority.

The Cross Strait relationship is the most transparent testing ground for this new strategy. Whether a peaceful slumber or an offensive nightmare, the pursuit of the China Dream in Taiwan will set the terms of engagement for China’s future relationship with its autonomous regions. The lessons learnt by Taiwan and its significant gains in economic autonomy provide practical utility to keen-eyed observers Hong Kong, Macau, Xinjiang and Tibet.

Japan and Taiwan

The nuance at the heart of Japan–Taiwan relations, as is often the case in Asia, arises from a legacy of colonialism.

Following a humiliating defeat in the Sino-Japanese War, the Qing Dynasty was forced to cede the island of Taiwan to Japanese sovereign control. It was during this period of harsh treatment and widespread discrimination that Taiwanese intellectuals began calling on citizens to challenge the militaristic leadership and to purse modernity alongside mainland China. The very notion of an independent Taiwan only surfaced in opposition to Japanese Occupation.

When one examines the mood in Taiwan today however, this anti-Japanese strand of nationalism is almost non-existent.

Unlike other former Japanese colonial holdings like the Koreas, China, the Philippines and Malaysia, Taiwan seems to greet its colonial past with a degree of nostalgia and amity. While some literature has dismissed this as simply a by-product of elderly Taiwanese citizens sentimentally reflecting on their childhood memories, the trend of Japanese rapprochement is in fact an intergenerational one.

Japan has managed to recontexualise its colonial legacy with Taiwan into a story of shared democratic values, security concerns and opposition to an increasingly assertive Beijing. Japan’s unofficial diplomatic representatives in Taipei have, since the late 1990s, stressed the importance of the triangular security relationship between the United States, Japan, and Taiwan – a move which has time and time again been met with great public enthusiasm in Taiwan.

[related_article align="left" show_image="yes" index=1 text="Tiger on a tightrope"]

Japan has also provided open support for Taiwanese participation as an observer in the World Health Organisation and was a key driving force in the decision to include ‘Chinese Taipei’ at APEC.

In order to continue to challenge the interests of a rising China, Japan will have to win over its former colonial holdings. Taiwan provides a model for reframing colonial contempt into a more positive and enduring relationship. The negative historical burden which still weighs on the Koreas and the Philippines represents a major roadblock to a strong unified region. If a regional-led containment policy to oppose China is a major aspect of Tokyo’s grand strategy, policy makers will be looking to the Taiwan case to inform bilateral relations in the coming decades.

The Republic of Korea and Taiwan

The South Korea – Taiwan relationship is a rarely addressed, but fascinating case study in political parallels. The key security concerns in both Taipei and Seoul are their rogue neighbours which present alternative governments that claim the ancestral homeland as their own.

North Korea is to South Korea, as Taiwan is to China.

This parallel complicates the triangular relationship between South Korea, China and Taiwan – three sizable economic forces which all benefit from economic cooperation.

Despite potential economic benefits, China frequently employs economic sanctions to coerce its neighbours. But no one is more familiar with Chinese sanctions than Taiwan.

In 2000, upon the election of its first pro-independence president, Taiwan incurred significant diplomatic and economic costs from Beijing – as many in the international community expected.

What was more surprising however, was Beijing’s response to the March 2008 election. Following the success of candidate Ying-jeou Ma, Beijing endorsed the new President’s more neutral cross-strait stance, lifting numerous sanctions for the first time in decades. Beijing abandoned its policy of poaching Taiwan’s diplomatic allies, permitted further multilateral autonomy and even looked the other way as Taiwan signed free-trade agreements with Singapore and New Zealand.

This behaviour demonstrated to international observers that China was no longer the spiteful, unwavering Cold War patron it was once considered. Chinese foreign policy had matured as it entered the 21st century – using economic and diplomatic coercion to both punish and reward behaviour in its sphere of influence. It is this maturity that South Korea needs to acknowledge as it shapes its own relationship with Beijing and Taipei.

Beijing’s decision to sanction Seoul earlier this year is less to do with broader relations and more so a response to specific policy issues. Beijing has signalled repetitively that it disapproves of the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense missile defense system installed in South Korea early last year. Heeding the lessons from the history of cross-strait sanctions, Seoul must think carefully about the risks of compromising Beijing’s strategic deterrent capabilities.

China’s sanctions must be understood as a redeemable act of economic coercion. Policy change has proven in the Taiwan case to motivate a rapid retraction of economic punishment.

 

Why bother with Taiwan?

When faced with the question – “why bother studying Taiwan?” -  it is hard not to formulate an answer that comes across as patronising. Ultimately Taiwan is the junction of its region. It is has been occupied, bombed, sanctioned, unrecognised – but has always remained central. To understand East Asia’s major challenges, it always prudent to glance first at Taiwan and consider its potential as lens for viewing the region. After all, should push come to shove, and the superpowers of the regions begin to tussle – Taiwan will likely immerge as the seismic epicentre.

 

8 minute read

Read more
 

To choose or not to choose: That is the question for Myanmar

Liam Brewin Higgins

Politics | Southeast Asia

 

The low sonorous murmurs of Buddhist prayer rising above the sea of twinkling golden stupas becomes distant and distorted, as the startling bright lights of gleaming shopping centres engulfs the crammed streets of downtown Yangon.

Myanmar, like many countries, is a place of contrasts, challenges and complexity.  As an undergraduate student taking part in the ‘Political Economy of Myanmar Course’ this year and a first-time traveller to Myanmar, I became increasingly aware of the great importance of the multi-dimensional relationship between Myanmar and China. From lively karaoke in Naypyidaw, to the green mountain tops of the Shan mountains and to the smallest villages in between, the cultural and geographical diversity of this country should not be underestimated.

Despite intensifying Chinese economic and strategic interests and considerable support from the USA for Myanmar’s ongoing political transition, Myanmar has engaged on a higher pragmatic bilateral level with China. Myanmar as an emerging Asia Pacific state cannot afford direct and confrontational great power competition manifesting into a potentially dangerous Sino-USA rivalry in Myanmar. Aung San Suu Kyi has thus sought to navigate the complexities of the increasing Sino-USA competition in the Asia Pacific Region, by continuing her father’s overarching post-Second World War emphasis on an independent, pragmatic and non-aligned foreign policy for Myanmar.

[related_article align="right" show_image="yes" index=1 text="Should we boycott Myanmar?"]

Since the victory of the National League of Democracy in the 2015 elections, Suu Kyi as foreign minister and state counsellor has pragmatically intensified Myanmar’s paukphaw ‘cousin’ relationship with China amid growing uncertainty in the Asia-Pacific. Prior to the NLD’s landslide victory, relations between the Thein Sein government and Beijing cooled because of the stalling of the billion dollar Myitsone Dam project in Kachin State, in what Jürgen Haacke has described as the military’s fear of ‘...undue military, political or economic dependence on China.’ Indeed, Myanmar’s experience of exploitative British colonialism has a created a strong and ‘pervasive’ nationalistic sentiment that sustains much of the Tatmadaw’s hypersensitivity to foreign interests in Myanmar.

Geographically, China is a key and influential actor in Myanmar’s border regions and peace process.  In a recent New York Times article Jane Perlez highlighted China’s continued indirect support of ethnic armed organisations such as the United Wa Army, despite China’s extensive investment in infrastructure projects in Myanmar. The United Wa Army is believed to have the military capabilities to rival or at least challenge the Tatmadaw, with an estimated 20,000 active soldiers, as well as an arsenal of helicopters and tank destroyers allegedly supplied by China. The Wa region is virtually a self-administered area that has more cultural ties with China, rather than with Myanmar. Its close proximity to the border and an association with the illegal narcotics trade in China has even resulted in the circulation of Chinese currency instead of the Burmese Kyat.

President Xi Jinping’s extensive Belt and Road initiative, including the Kyaukphyu oil, and gas pipelines originating in Rakhine State are geostrategic and economic projects that Beijing has focused on in Myanmar. The Kyaukphyu pipeline is considered as economically and strategically significant because it allows Beijing to transport large amounts of oil and natural gas overland from Rakhine State and transport it into Yunnan Province, where it is processed and sent to power the industrial centres further east. The pipelines are currently in operation, allowing China to source energy from the Bay of Bengal without it having to pass through the highly-contested and geostrategically significant Malacca Straits, currently controlled by Singapore. China has also begun constructing a number of deep-sea ports in Myanmar, as part of the ‘string of pearls strategy’, that has also seen China building ports in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.  The People’s Liberation Army Navy is attempting to exercise influence on the waters to China’s East and also in the Indian ocean, making China what Steinberg refers to as a ‘two ocean country.’  China’s economic interests in Myanmar have been focused primarily in terms of developmental investment and these have rarely come into conflict with the interests of the USA.

Under the de facto leadership of the state counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar will continue to attempt to pursue a foreign policy that isn’t solely reliant on a foreign actor. It is very probable however, that Myanmar’s desire for democratic reform, greater state unity and foreign investment in a wider regional context of great power competition is going to be increasingly difficult to pursue. Especially given the present situation in Rakhine state which has seen, according to the United Nations’ Refugee Agency, over 300,000 Rohingya refugees escaping violence and fleeing to Bangladesh since the 25th of August 2017.

Particular moments in Myanmar stand out to me as being intensely provocative. Standing at the base of the Shwedagon Pagoda the low hum of afternoon prayers still resonating, I realised the great extent to which the challenges facing Myanmar are inter-connected and intricate. Soaring above thunderous monsoon clouds over the Bay of Bengal, I reflected how wonderful it was to live and breathe research and understand how even the simplest human narratives can create a burning desire to explore and to investigate.

5 minute read

Read more
 

China’s internal migrants: Flowing into big cities – but ending up with disappointment?

Ruiying Zheng

Politics

 

When I first talked to Xiao Zhang he was packing his bag in a tiny, shabby room near a construction site where he worked. He has lived there with his wife and other fellow workers since he came to this city.

“I fled from a remote village in Guangxi province to Shenzhen to change my life three years ago.” He said. “But now I realise it is much harder than I expected. I could never actually become part of this city, so I am planning to leave.”

In fact, Xiao Zhang is just one of more than 280 million migrant workers in China. There are also a great number of fresh graduates and office workers moving from rural or less developed areas to large cities.

Today, China’s internal migration is characterised by a flow of people, especially the youth, moving into first-tier cities located in developed provinces in search of fortune, status and a higher quality of life. Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen are their main destinations.

It is of great significance to raise people’s awareness of the current situation confronted by rural migrants as a disadvantaged group, and tackling the issues arising from this mass migration. It also helps China’s government to improve essential services that these rural migrants risk losing when they move to the big cities.

[caption id="attachment_6466" align="aligncenter" width="511"] Source: 'The Impact of Chinese Migration', The Economist, 2012[/caption]

The importance of studying urban migration in China
China’s rural-to-urban migration is a good case study for people who are interested in or doing development studies. The phenomenon of population movement is an important indicator of urbanisation in the modern world.

Regional migration also changes the spatial distribution of China’s population, thereby posing challenges to urban land use such as expanding overall built land and increasing proportion of residential land. It also results in the expansion of urban infrastructure systems. This increasing demand on land and urban facilities could lead to potential environmental disturbance that goes against principles of building resilient and sustainable cities.

[caption id="attachment_6471" align="aligncenter" width="540"] Source: 'Land-use change in China,' National Bureau of Statistics of China, 2004 - 2010[/caption]

Additionally, demographics of a country plays an essential role in its economic, political, cultural and societal domains. Studying urban migration helps the government to formulate appropriate policies and regulations for the society as a whole

 
New attitudes and reforms needed
Since many rural migrants are under great pressure due to the barriers they come across in terms of housing, job seeking, and education for children, is it really worthwhile for people to leave their hometown and struggle in big cities?

While it may be better for them to weigh the opportunities and difficulties of their migration rather than blindly following the trend, the government is still responsible for reforms that aim to assist and support these rural migrants.

For those studying China’s phenomena of rural to urban migration, there are key points to consider when making recommendations for effective policies that can mitigate the threats rural migrants face during their resettlement.

The government is expected to construct affordable and low-rent houses. For example, the average housing price in Beijing is more than 50,000 in RMB (nearly 10,000 in AUD) per square meter which is too expensive for low-income migrants. They can hardly afford their accommodation if there are no alternatives provided.

Relaxation of institutional barriers to civil rights is also crucial. Social welfare systems in China are largely based on the Hukou (known as the household registration system) which limits rural migrants’ access to equal rights such as voting and medical insurance.

Another big concern is their children’s education, so the implementation of preferential schooling policies for their children is required. Left-behind children in rural China has become a social concern because the lack of parental accompany and care has profound impacts on their future outcomes.

It is also helpful to provide subsidies for their transportation costs. China’s great migration during the lunar New Year is the largest movement in the world. It is reported that some poor migrants have to travel approximately two thousand kilometers by motorcycle to head home for reunions.

The most difficult factor can be the changes in Chinese society’s attitudes towards these rural to urban migrants because of prejudices they face in decision-making processes as a marginalised community. They sometimes receive disrespect or even discrimination from citizens, which leads to disharmony in society.

The study of China’s rural to urban migration can help to motivate the Chinese government and China’s general public to pay more attention to this imperative issue. It also contributes to eliminating the potential problems that come with the inequality suffered by these rural migrants who seek only to live a better life.

4 minute read

Read more
 

Trading freedom for functionality: China’s app censorship

Dominic Harvey-Taylor

Society and culture

 

WeChat, China’s most popular messaging app is an integral part of Chinese contemporary culture. The app has over 800 million active users, 90% being Chinese, and is used to conduct virtually every sort of transaction imaginable in China.

The app is also highly censored and heavily monitored by the Chinese Central Government.

I first came across WeChat while researching what essential apps I needed to download before studying in Shanghai for a semester. Amongst useful dictionary apps and metro guides, the website China Highlights proclaims that WeChat is ‘the most popular messaging service in China’ and is a great way to keep in touch with people. The unwritten downside of the app being, that in using it, I would end up feeling like I was surrendering some form of privacy as well as self-censoring my speech.

Not really having any misgivings at the time, I downloaded WeChat and a few weeks later arrived in China. Almost immediately I realised the website had completely undersold the popularity and versatility of this app.

WeChat is an all-in-one platform for messaging, sharing photos, posting status updates and subscribing to newsfeeds. WeChat also functions as an e-wallet. You can use it to purchase movie tickets, transport, send money to your friends or even scan QR codes to pay vendors directly instead of using cash or card.

During my time in Shanghai, I used WeChat to split bills with friends, pay for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and to keep up to date with local and international news.

[related_article align="left" show_image="yes" index=1 text="Media control in China"]

I used the app to communicate with my friends and my teachers. It was also a great way for me to connect with Chinese and other foreign students who were more comfortable and confident communicating via a messaging app than in person.

Although I was in Shanghai to help improve my Mandarin, I found myself using the app’s translation function fairly regularly to help interpret various notices sent to me by the university.

While using the app, part of me was a bit disturbed by my heavy reliance on the service because of WeChat’s biggest drawback: it’s censorship.

It is no secret that the internet in China is heavily monitored and censored. Websites and apps such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are blocked – a big part of the reason why WeChat has grown to be so dominant in China.

Private WeChat messages containing controversial phrases, including ‘Free Tibet’, ‘1989 Tiananmen Square’ or ‘Falun Gong’, are intercepted and then blocked, with no notification to the user. This is especially the case in group chats, where the government monitors for any gathering on online turning into a protest on the streets.

Unlike Facebook, where users can add basically anyone as contacts, see mutual friends and create groups with thousands of members with relative ease, WeChat requires a person’s phone number, QR code or unique user ID to add them into your contacts. There is a 500-person cap on the number of participants in group chats.

These measures make life a whole lot more difficult if you’re an activist wanting to organise a million-person protest movement across the country.

Though I wasn’t particularly desperate to start a political movement, or motivated to promote discussion about controversial issues, I still couldn’t shake off the feeling of discomfort while using WeChat to message people. It’s disheartening to be in a university environment, communicating with people from China and across the globe, using a platform that is fundamentally restrictive about certain topics and ideas.

What’s more disconcerting, is that the censorship of WeChat messages isn’t exclusive to China. Anyone who initially sets up the app with a Chinese mobile number is susceptible to censorship overseas, a fact I only became aware of after returning home to Australia.

I still use WeChat to communicate with friends in China and elsewhere.. For many of my friends, it is the only social media platform they use. Regardless of the feelings one may have about using a censored service, the prevalence and usefulness of WeChat is such that it’s almost impossible to function without it.

Inevitably it seems people will always choose a highly restrictive, but highly effective social media platform over none at all.

3 minute read

Read more
 

Strait differences: attitudes towards same-gender rights in Taiwan and mainland China

Kai Clark

Politics | East Asia

 

On the 24th of May, the Taiwanese Constitutional Court invalided marriage law defining unions between a man and a woman. The court ordered the parliament to amend the law within two years, otherwise, same-gender couples will be allowed to marry under the current law.

Two days later, a popular lesbian dating app in Mainland China, Rela (热拉) was mysteriously shut down; following the earlier removal of another dating app, ZANK. This ties in with the government’s intolerance towards the LGBTIQA community, as it last year issued a ban on the portrayal of “abnormal” sexual relationships within Chinese media, lumping LGBTIQA relationships along with incest and sexual assault.

Despite their similar culture and heritage, both society’s attitudes are undeniably separate.  Taiwan is home to a vibrant LGBTIQA community and there is a majority support for same-sex marriage within Taiwanese society. Mainland China, on the other hand, has only removed homosexuality off its official lists of mental disorders since 2001, let only only having legalised homosexuality in 1997. Homosexuality in China is still viewed as abnormal and conversion therapy clinics remain open within the country.

[related_article align="right" show_image="yes" index=1 text="China’s app censorship"]

Why do Taiwan and China view same-gender relationships so differently?

Following the fall of Taiwan’s authoritarian government, there was a commitment to push forward with democratisation with a strong rule of law and constitution. This promoted the growth of a progressive and active civil society with strong freedom of speech and assembly. In turn, LGBTIQA activism was encouraged to protest and argue lawfully for equal rights.

The Taiwanese government’s passage of the Gender Equity Education Act in 2004 has also assisted in promoting progressive values among Taiwanese society, as the act instructs schools to teach students the importance of gender equity and diversity.

Taiwan also lacks a strong religious resistance, as over two-thirds of its society adhere to Buddhist or Taoist teachings, which hold no opinion over homosexual relations.

Mainland China, sadly, lacks Taiwan’s strong rule of law and civil freedoms which make LGBTIQA activism possible. Not being allowed to properly inform the public and push for better LGBTIQA rights, these activists suffer under the threat of arrest or harassment.

This is not the only reason why Mainland Chinese attitudes towards the LGBTIQA community differ. Within China, there is a strong emphasis on continuing the families bloodline and reputation — especially considering after-effect pressures of the former one-child policy. Many gay Chinese men feel forced to marry into sham marriages to satisfy their families. In 2012, these cases ignited public debate after a professor committed suicide after finding out her husband was gay.

[related_article align="left" show_image="no" index=1 text="Why has Taiwan not passed marriage equality yet?"]

In 2016, Peking University published a survey, Being LGBTI in China, looking at social attitudes towards the LGBTI community. It which found “[f]amilies have the lowest degree of acceptance for [sexual] minorities.” The survey also found 35% of Chinese born before the 1960s “cannot accept my children as any [sexual] minority”. Looking at these results, it is no surprise many feel compelled to be pushed into these marriages rather than risk being disowned by their family.

But there is hope for change.

Many Chinese millennials are far more open towards same-sex relationships. Social media that they use has helped LGBTIQA activists fight for equal rights online. Many millennials are also willing to fight back, as was felt in a landmark win for the Chinese trans community as a transman won a wrongful dismissal case earlier this year.

Sociologist and prominent LGBTIQA activist Li Yinhe (李银河) argues that because of the lack of religious pressure within the country, the only resistance towards same-sex marriage is current culture. In a New York Times interview, Li further argues “real change will only come once this generation of leaders dies out”. Li’s argument may have merit, as the Peking University survey finds many Chinese under 35 support gay marriage. At the same time, The Economist finds the average age of China’s legislators to be 49.

Overall, there is hope for many LGBTIQA-identifying individuals in China — and the recent decision by the Taiwanese Constitutional Court is advancing its cause. In another interview, Li states that critics of gay marriage have always claimed that it is a ‘western’ culture incompatible with Chinese culture. Taiwan’s ruling however, shows how a similar society has independently decided in favour of gay marriage. She concludes saying, “if Taiwan can, we can.”

4 minute read

Read more
 

OBOR: A Checkmate Move in China’s New Great Game?

Toby Warden

Politics | Asia

 

Announced in 2013, China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ (OBOR) economic blueprint has been heralded by some as ‘the number one project under heaven’. The mega-plan sees the construction of an infrastructure project at sea, connecting both South East Asia and East Africa to China, and a revival of the ancient Silk Road- a trade route that lead the way for Chinese geoeconomic and geopolitical expansion. The ambitious initiative stretches across Central and Western Asia, East Africa, the Middle East and Europe. Although described as having ‘trade relations, financial cooperation and coordinated development policies’ in his sights, Xi Jinping has faced considerable regional headwinds, begging for the question: is OBOR becoming the new realm for regional contestation, despite being framed as a way to transcend popular geopolitical issues?

The leviathan project has been announced at a time when China’s foreign policy has been typified by aggressive assertiveness and proactivity. By purposely excluding the western-orientated Japan and the US, OBOR draws upon Edward Luttwak’s concoction of “geo-economics” and “military strategy”, which sees the “logic of conflict” being pursued through “methods of commerce and trade”. In 2015, Shinzo Abe announced Japan’s $110 billion infrastructure investment program for Asia through the Asian Development Bank (ADB)- the major competitor to OBOR’s AIIB bank. Likewise, the previous US’ previous administration’s ‘Pivot to East Asia’, which focused on the ‘expansion of trade and investment’ reflects a challenge to China’s grand strategy. This informal warfare over economic influence is rattling the current global economic order at its pillars, and China is at the epicentre.

The geopolitical creativity of the blueprint manifests in its ability to take advantage of other’s fragility and instability. The China-Pakistan economic corridor, which will deliver China greater preferential strategic access to the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf through the port of Gwadar, runs through Afghanistan and Pakistani tribal areas, including the Gwadar port itself, which has subsequently required a 12,000-strong special unit protection force. Its greater proclivity for corrupt and unstable politics will allow China to assume leadership in a range of security issues. Likewise, the relationship of dependence of these relatively economically, politically and socially fragile countries with the Chinese powerhouse will, as David Arase argues, give China ‘superior leverage in one-on-one economic negotiations’. This relationship gives China the ability to inflict punishment through reduced market access and to incite obstructionism in international organisations at its will.

The anxiety of neo-imperial tendencies and a lack of commercial imperatives have seen international backlash. In April 2017, Australia rejected any involvement in the initiative. As Peter Cai, OBOR researcher for the Lowy Institute, believes, OBOR antagonism and strategic distrust is most prominent in India.

Furthermore, even looking past of what some see as geopolitical expansion through pursuit of Eurasian power, domestic observers are concerned. These financially unsound countries could only add to China’s accelerating burden of debt, which soared to 170% of GDP in 2016. Surrounded in domestic and international worries, Xi Jinping needs to take clear, inclusive and transparent actions to soothe and reassure.

Undoubtedly, OBOR is a major component in China’s grand strategy of national renaissance, the ‘Chinese Dream’ (hence the echoing of the ancient Silk Road). Xi Jinping has agreed with predecessors that China is confronting a “period of strategic opportunity” until 2020, legitimising its actions that pursue great power status. Yet the security environment isn’t as benign as Mr Xi has been taught to believe it is.

The Indian Ocean is, and will for the extended future remain, a significant international space.  Its control by a single security community will always elicit reactionary contest. Possibly motivated by the construction of deep-sea Chinese-built ports, which accommodate the dimensions of Chinese aircraft carriers and submarines in Gwadar, Kyaukphyu and Hambanota, the Modi government has rigorously pursued its ‘Look East’ policy. This has been manifested in the acceleration of the construction of the India–Myanmar–Thailand (IMT) trilateral highway and the reinvigoration of dialogue within the SAARC organisational union to open up more maritime corridors.

While Britain and Russia may have fought for Central and South Asian power in the 19th and 20th century Great Game, China’s OBOR blueprint is a possible checkmate move in the New Great Game. Although competing geopolitical interests and visions stand in the way, the Chinese locomotive has started and it seems there is little to stop it. In Trump’s age of anti-globalisation and Europe’s sweeping populism, Xi Jinping is being served the opportunity to make OBOR the global vehicle for international trade in the 21st century. But if he is truly going to champion our liberal economic order he will need to be efficient. And that means addressing trust deficits, assuring multilateral cooperation and reinforcing the promise that OBOR will serve collective absolute gains for all its members.

4 minute read

Read more
 

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.

5 minute read

Read more
 

To heal or to harm – problematic doctor-patient relationships in China

Jiamei Feng

Society and culture | Asia

 

According to a non-official survey in China, around 60% of medical workers in China are unwilling to let their children become doctors after growing up.

While this figure may be an exaggeration, today the reality is that working in the Chinese medical system is not so appealing. While surgeons and physicians are considered prestigious professions and count among the highest-paid jobs in Australia, in China a doctor working in a tertiary hospital “sees fifty or sixty patients” in a single morning, and may still earn less than 80,000 RMB (around $US 13,000) per year.

Not only is the salary far from satisfying; being on the job can turn into a nightmare.
Health practitioners get beaten or even killed because patients and their families are not content with treatment results. Sometimes people hire hospital violators, organised mobs or “professionals” to get greater medical compensation. To avoid further conflict, hospitals usually make concessions and pay.

On the other hand, the public is unhappy about expensive medical fees. China provides general healthcare insurance to almost every citizen, but the costs are still high. An ordinary family can easily become broke if someone in the family is diagnosed with a serious disease like cancer.

And doctors’ reputations have only worsened in the face of scandals, like news about receiving financial kickbacks from drug companies (thus raising drug fees) and “red envelopes” – when patients give extra cash to surgeons and anaesthetists for special care. The amount of money varies according to the doctor’s title, the hospital’s location and how serious the disease is. Traditionally worshipped as “angels in white” Chinese doctors are now criticised as “white-eyed wolves” – a metaphor for ungrateful souls.

The public also complains about the difficulties in seeing a doctor. The most extreme cases happen in specialist clinics in China’s tertiary hospitals. Patients prefer experts to young, unknown doctors and they are willing to spend hours or days to get registered. The registration fee is genuinely cheap.

Consequently, an illegal but often agreed silent occupation has sprung up – Huangniu, or registration scalpers. They sell specialist registration numbers to those who cannot wait at a much higher cost.

In January this year a video of a young girl went viral when while at a famous Beijing hospital she angrily claimed that she could not see an expert as a result of her rejecting scalpers, and that the hospital was playing ‘footsie’ with them.

[caption id="attachment_4886" align="alignnone" width="449"] A screenshot of the "girl condemning Huangniu" video. Her words sparked country-wide discussion.[/caption]

Medical institutions have attempted to eliminate this by adopting a real-name system and online registration. But scalpers have also upgraded their operations, remaining active in the shadows, while the police complain it is too hard to arrest them all.
The leading cause of doctor-patient conflict is China’s slow healthcare development. In 2014 the government spent $590.2 billion in medical services, accounting for 5.7% of GDP, lower than Brazil -- 8.8%. Financial aid accounts for a mere 10% of a public hospitals’ income, while 40% comes from medicine earnings, which directly pushes up medication prices.

Additionally, community hospitals, a supplement to big infirmaries, are in an awkward position. They are set to offer basic healthcare, yet lacking funds, they can barely afford advanced facilities for comprehensive treatment. Ambitious doctors are not interested in them either, due to disappointing payment and the bleak career path. They remain ‘deserted’ while major hospitals are overcrowded.

Moreover, the Chinese medical system is caught in a bizarre arrangement. In the 1990s, then Premier of China, Zhu Rongji, promoted industrialisation of healthcare services. Trade in medicines and medical equipment become entirely commercial. But supply channels are controlled both by the government and corporations. Staff in public hospitals, on the contrary, are “within the system” and their salaries increase with the rise in career levels and any official adjustment (which happened only twice in the past decade).

Leaving aside verbal and physical abuse, medical workers argue that they do not receive proper pay. A high professional rank and educational background are critical to a doctor’s career, but it usually takes eight years to get a master’s degree and at least four years of working experience to become an attending physician. Long working hours and night shifts make the job even harder. Receiving bribes and red bags seems acquiring what they deserve in an illegal way.

Subconsciously, citizens regard medical resources as public welfare. People pursue top treatment in the hope of a low price. In 2016, the government announced a raise in registration fees in tertiary hospitals -- from $US 1.3 to $US 3.7 to see a specialist. Although the price is low in doctors’ eyes, the new regulation still sparked controversy online.

China is actively promoting medical reform, yet the results are not satisfactory. Both practitioners and patients consider themselves victims and medical disputes continue. An ideal solution is to fully finance all public infirmaries regardless of hospital volume, but funding remains the biggest problem.

5 minute read

Read more

Back to Top