East Asia Forum http://www.eastasiaforum.org Economics, Politics and Public Policy in East Asia and the Pacific Sat, 12 Sep 2015 00:00:06 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Will Nepal once again become a Hindu state? http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2015/09/12/will-nepal-once-again-become-a-hindu-state/ http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2015/09/12/will-nepal-once-again-become-a-hindu-state/#comments Sat, 12 Sep 2015 00:00:06 +0000 http://www.eastasiaforum.org/?p=47638 Author: Pawan Kumar Sen, Leiden University

Nepal was constituted as a secular state after the endorsement of the Interim Constitution in January 2007, which was formally ratified in May 2008. The declaration of secularism was taken as a major contribution to the modernisation of a ‘New Nepal’ by religious minorities and culturally marginalised groups. It was an important move towards institutionalising a new Nepali identity based on multiculturalism.

Thousands of Nepalese Buddhist monks attended  protest rally in Kathmandu, Nepal, 06 September 2015, demanding secularism in the new constitution of Nepal (Photo: AAP)

As the draft of a new constitution is being finalised, a number of Hindu groups and religious leaders are demanding that the country again be declared a Hindu state. Prominent Hindu groups have been organising rallies in various cities around the country demanding the restitution of the Hindu state in the new constitution. A nationalist party, Rastriya Prajatantra Party Nepal, has also been demonstrating in numerous cities demanding a Hindu state and the removal of the term ‘secular state’ from the draft constitution.

Some mid-level figures in the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist Leninist) are also opposed to a secular state identity, demanding the inclusion of ‘religious freedom’ instead of ‘secular state’ in the new statute. Demands to retain a Hindu state seem to be an effort to stop proselytisation by Christian missionaries and the slaughter of cows in Nepal. It has even been reported that some Muslim leaders appear to support the Hindu state identity, arguing that the country’s present secular status has increased insecurity for their communities.

On the other hand, non-Hindu groups like the Nepal Buddhist Association, and numerous hill indigenous groups (i.e. non-Hindu Mongolian communities), including Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities, and Muslims groups have repeatedly argued that a religiously and culturally diverse country like Nepal should remain an unambiguously secular state not just one that endorses ‘religious freedom’. An individual’s right to religious freedom is guaranteed as a fundamental right in Article 23 of the Interim Constitution. This clause will be retained in the new constitution, so there is no need to replace the term ‘secular state’ with another one such as ‘religious freedom’.

Analysis of recent opinion polling conducted in Nepal supports the view that there should be no official association between the state and a particular religion. Although the majority of Nepali people still want Nepal to be a Hindu state (this is not surprising since more than 80 per cent identify as Hindus), a significant proportion of Nepalis wish to see their country as a secular state. A strong preference for a secular state is evident at some sub-national levels.

The proportion of those who support secularism is also very significant among certain groups of the population such as Buddhists, Muslims, Kirati, Christians, hill indigenous groups, and supporters of most of the Communist parties. The Nepali state’s official association with Hinduism is not universally accepted. The majority of Buddhists and Muslims, as well as the Kirati and Christian populace, want Nepal to be a secular state. Neither Buddhist nor Muslim peoples have pushed for Nepal to be a Buddhist or an Islamic state. Hindu groups demanding that the Hindu state be reinstated simply because Nepal is a Hindu-majority country are misguided.

Further analysis of the survey data shows that supporters of republicanism and federalism are more likely to support secularism, while supporters of a monarchy and a unitary state are more likely to support a Hindu state. Therefore, Nepal’s disassociation from secularism may lead to a weakening of the country’s other new structures — republicanism and federalism — which are pillars of an inclusive democracy. This further justifies moves to link the Nepali state’s identity to secularism.

Some Hindu groups and religious leaders appear to be promoting a return to a Hindu state because secularism, unlike republicanism and federalism, is the only state restructuring issue they can attack. Nepali society has changed a lot in the last eight years. There is no going back to the structures of the old state. Demands for returning Nepal to a monarchical unitary state are simply a pipe-dream.

An inclusive democracy should accommodate the views of minorities and not just the majority. If a country is constitutionally secular, religious minorities can also feel a sense of ownership of the constitution and enjoy equal freedom. It is crucial that those responsible for drafting Nepal’s new constitution recognise the voices of the entire spectrum of the Nepalese people, not only the Hindu majority. This will not only guarantee an inclusive democracy, but also will make the entire populace, including its minorities and marginalised peoples, true owners of the constitution.

Pawan Kumar Sen is a PhD candidate in Political Science, Leiden University, the Netherlands.

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Malaysia’s troubles just beginning http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2015/09/11/malaysias-troubles-just-beginning/ http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2015/09/11/malaysias-troubles-just-beginning/#comments Fri, 11 Sep 2015 12:00:30 +0000 http://www.eastasiaforum.org/?p=47621 Author: Andrew Harding, NUS

As it tussles with multiple crises of political legitimacy and governance, Malaysia has reached a decisive point in its more than half-century history as an independent nation. What started as a shocking but not exceptional scandal has turned into a political crisis of unprecedented proportions. This was underlined by the Bersih 4 protests on 29–30 August in Kuala Lumpur, attended by an estimated 250,000 yellow-T-shirted Malaysians.

 MALAYSIA, Kuala Lumpur: Thousands of Malaysians took to the streets of Kuala Lumpur on August 30, 2015 to rally for the resignation of Prime Minister Najib Razak. (Photo: AAP)

First, it was discovered that a development agency, 1 Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), set up by Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak in 2009, was in debt to the tune of RM42 billion (US$9.6 billion). Where, it was asked, did this vast sum of money go? What mismanagement or corrupt practices led to such a meltdown?

Then it was reported that the sum of RM2.6 billion (US$598 million) had shown up in Najib’s personal bank account. It has been admitted— in instalments —that this money was indeed placed in that account, but it is claimed to have been ‘donated’ from Middle Eastern sources as recognition of Malaysia’s role in fighting ISIS and maintaining Sunni Islam. Given the timing (just before Malaysia’s general election in 2013) and Najib’s claim that the funds were used for party political purposes, the money was clearly intended and used to ensure victory for the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition, led by Najib’s UMNO (United Malays National Organisation) party.

Najib claims that nothing about this was illegal, given the current lack of statutory control over campaign spending, maintaining that he held the funds in trust for his party. But since BN won the election with a clear minority of votes, yet a majority of the seats in parliament, the legitimacy of the result was already in serious question even before the donation scandal came to light.

It gets worse. Najib’s response to attempts to get to the bottom of these matters has raised further questions about accountability and governance in Malaysia under BN rule. At first he was reluctant to give any explanation. Ultimately, denials followed by evasive answers raised many further questions.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in parliament set about an investigation. The BN government itself set up a ‘task force’ to find out what happened. The task force included the attorney-general’s office, the central bank, the anti-corruption agency (MACC) and the police. Both processes have been interfered with in a highly suspicious way. Four members of the PAC were abruptly transferred into the cabinet in a reshuffle. Two senior MACC officers were transferred to the prime minister’s office, only to be transferred out again after questions were raised. The attorney-general himself was equally abruptly replaced — ‘for health reasons’ — when a report indicated that criminal charges against Najib had been drawn up (by whom is not clear).

These events dismayed the public and rocked the government. The reshuffle involved the sacking of four ministers, including Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, who had called for accountability in respect of 1MDB. Veteran former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad began a political assault on Najib, accusing him of corruption and lack of leadership. There is evidence now of a serious split in UMNO over Najib’s leadership. At this juncture, the official agencies designed to ensure good governance have not been allowed to do their job without political interference. Even the task force supposedly investigating the scandals has been replaced with another multi-agency force that is not empowered to investigate 1MDB.

The question now is: how can Malaysia’s constitutional system move matters towards a resolution in terms of legal and political accountability?

Najib holds the levers of power both in government and within the UMNO party. Party elections have been postponed.. The prime minister owes his office, under Westminster conventions set out in Malaysia’s constitution, to his parliamentary majority and he could therefore, in principle, be subjected to a no-confidence motion. This would require sufficient dissent in UMNO and BN to get 24 of their members to vote with the opposition parties. The response of one opposition party (the Islamic party) remains uncertain, and even 24 may not be enough.

The main problem with all of these potential methods of levering Najib out of power is that there is no obvious successor. For now Mahathir undermines Najib, and Muhyiddin is a focus for UMNO dissidents. UMNO division heads apparently support Najib, but in UMNO what passes for personal allegiance is no more than adherence to a political personality for as long as he can deliver. Najib’s support is therefore potentially fragile. Meanwhile, with its former leader Anwar Ibrahim languishing in jail convicted of sodomy, the opposition too is in disarray and in the process of reconstruction.

Malaysia has thus entered uncharted waters. Despite internal crises over the years, UMNO has historically been able to deliver election wins and legitimacy in government. That record is now in doubt. The economy is in free fall, the ringgit plunging and investors fleeing. Bersih 4 demanded Najib step aside and free and fair elections be held. Free and fair elections cannot be held under the current Malaysian Election Commission’s supervision: constituency boundaries are gerrymandered in such a way as to make an opposition victory almost impossible. There is no indication that the electoral system will be set right before the next election, due by March 2018.

Something, sooner or later, has to give. The survival of Malaysia (not just Najib) politically and even economically is at stake. The only real hope, as one wag put it, is that, when the centre cannot hold and things fall apart, they might just, somehow, land in the right place. The only safe prediction is that this sorry tale of corruption and misrule is by no means over. Perhaps, indeed, it has only just begun.

Andrew Harding is professor of law and director of the Centre for Asian Legal Studies, National University of Singapore (NUS).

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South Korea’s generation of discontent http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2015/09/11/south-koreas-generation-of-discontent/ http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2015/09/11/south-koreas-generation-of-discontent/#comments Fri, 11 Sep 2015 00:00:22 +0000 http://www.eastasiaforum.org/?p=47625 Author: Hyung-a Kim, ANU

In South Korea 410,000 young people in their 20s are looking for work and unemployed. This is up from 330,000 in 2013 and is a 15-year high. But this deepening societal crisis should come as little surprise.

Unionized workers march at the shipyard of Hyundai Heavy Industries Co., the country's leading shipbuilder, in the southeastern city of Ulsan, South Korea, 04 September 2015, after launching a partial strike to demand higher wages, better working conditions and other benefits. (Photo: AAP)

Following the Asian financial crisis of 1997–98, the IMF bailout package called for the restructuring of South Korea’s economy on top of that ongoing throughout the 1990s. An entirely new generation of irregular or contract workers emerged in the pursuit of a more flexible labour market by both the government and family-owned conglomerates — known as chaebol.

While South Korea’s chaebol have recovered nicely from the crisis, high unemployment or unstable employment have been the outcome for its young people, to the extent that they are known in South Korean society today as the ‘seven-give-up generation’. The seven give-ups include love, marriage, childbirth, human relations, home ownership, personal dreams and hope.

Of the seven give-ups, young men in their 20s and 30s, according to a recent survey by the Chung-Ang Ilbo newspaper, have mostly given up on marriage and dreams. Young women have chosen to give up childbirth and marriage. South Korean workers in general feel that they have been abandoned by both their government and corporations.

As elsewhere, participation in employment, education or training is important for South Korea’s youth to establish themselves in the labour market and achieve self-sufficiency. To a large degree, South Korea’s youth unemployment problem is disguised by a relatively low labour force participation rate of only 46 per cent for young people aged 15–29, with only 41.7 per cent actually employed. More bluntly put, South Korea’s overall unemployment figure of 9.9 per cent grossly understates youth unemployment and underemployment because over 58 per cent of South Korea’s population aged 15–29 are without paid employment.

On average it takes young people 11 months to get their first job. The average employment period for first jobs is only 14.6 months. People not in paid employment focus on vocational training and preparation for employment exams (33.2 per cent), or take up child care and housework (19.8 per cent), or simply ‘kill time’ (18.7 per cent). Actual job seeking by those not in paid employment has decreased to 13 per cent. To postpone the inevitable, many South Korean students simply stay on at school because they can’t find a job. In this context, many well-educated young South Koreans compete for a limited number of prestigious full-time jobs, rather than apply for less-desirable employment options.

And yet, many small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) suffer from chronic shortages of labour power, as most college students shun low-paying and physically challenging work in the hope of securing a better job. SMEs are forced to compete to hire more immigrant workers, whose numbers and period of stay are limited by government regulations. Under current labour market conditions, this job mismatch is unlikely to be resolved soon.

President Park Geun-hye’s administration has attempted over several years to push ahead with a plan to increase the overall employment rate to 70 per cent by 2017. Eager to revive the South Korean economy, hard-hit by the recent MERS outbreak, Park has called for labour market reform to create more jobs, especially for young people. She has pushed for a wage peak system that would offer job security to regular workers earning high income, while progressively cutting their wages after they reach a certain age. Park claimed the system was a win–win deal for both older and younger generations.

But the Federation of Korean Trade Unions, one of South Korea’s two major union associations, has boycotted a tripartite forum with its government and employer counterparts since April in opposition to such labour market reforms. Young people in their 20s and 30s seem no less angry, especially about the poor welfare system.

Still, during the past three years, the minimum wage under the Park government has increased annually by over 7 per cent, from 4,860 won to 6,030 won (US$5.10) an hour, or 24.1 per cent in total. And it will increase further by 8.1 per cent next year.

As part of her plan to resurrect the economy, Park met the heads of 17 chaebol in August to ask their help to solve the country’s worsening youth unemployment crisis. She even released former SK Group chairman Choi Tae-won, who was serving a four-year prison term for embezzlement, from jail. Not surprisingly, SK Group, South Korea’s third-largest conglomerate, recently announced that it would hire 24,000 young people by 2017.

Five of the 10 largest chaebol—Samsung, Hyundai Motors, LG, Lotte and Hanwha Group—have also announced plans to recruit young people over four years from 2015, adding in total up to 96,569, new positions, including the above number from the SK Group. But according to the Han’gyoreh newspaper, almost 90,000 of them are ‘internships’ in various forms. Some chaebol have obviously padded their figures by adding small increases to previously planned recruitment numbers.

Despite these policy steps, overall the Park government is seen as incompetent. Some argue that South Korea’s job market should become more flexible in order to absorb more of the young, idle workforce. But they overlook the fact that South Korea’s job security is the worst (and most flexible) among major economies, with an extremely short average work period of 5.6 years per job.

More drastic fundamental policy change is needed to turn the tide, preceded by a paradigm shift in the government’s economic management and government–business relationship. Politicians and bureaucrats must think strategically to shift more of the fruits of South Korea’s economic growth from business to workers, young and old. One approach could be to direct a greater share of the returns of economic growth to more direct job creation, for example by boosting domestic demand. Just letting the chaebol dictate national policy will only make the rich richer and the poor poorer.

Hyung-A Kim is Associate Professor of Korean Politics at the Australian National University. A longer version of this article was first published at Asian Currents.

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Economic reform needed to achieve Modi’s ‘Make in India’ slogan http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2015/09/10/economic-reform-needed-to-achieve-modis-make-in-india-slogan/ http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2015/09/10/economic-reform-needed-to-achieve-modis-make-in-india-slogan/#comments Thu, 10 Sep 2015 12:00:24 +0000 http://www.eastasiaforum.org/?p=47615 Author: M. Govinda Rao, NIPFP

Of the many slogans coined by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, ‘Make in India’ is the most important. It promises to make India an important investment destination. But, like most other slogans, it is important be clear about what has to be achieved — and how — before assessing whether or not the flowery words may come true.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi unveiling the logo of the 'Make in India' initiative in New Delhi, an event where he called on manufacturers across the globe to come and make India a manufacturing hub, 25 September 2014. (Photo: AAP)

India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, also strived to ‘make in India’ by erecting high protective barriers to trade. The policy completely ignored the interests of the consumers who had to put up with inferior products and higher costs. India departed from that unsustainable strategy in 1991. The new slogan should have a different connotation not merely in terms of its tapestry but also real content.

Today, making India an important investment destination requires a systematic approach involving both policies and institutions. The existing systems and processes must undergo significant changes to remove structural rigidities, improve the quality of institutions and infrastructure, and create a favourable climate for fostering technological progress. The distributional coalitions deeply entrenched in the Indian political system will not easily allow such changes. Union policymakers will thus need a clear understanding of what needs to be done and must cooperate with state-level governments to design strategies for this long journey.

The most important intervention for the Indian government is to change the character and quality of the country’s institutions. Indian labour laws, for example, have constrained labour-intensive industrialisation and led to the declining fortunes of labour-intensive industries like textile and leather. But as labour becomes more expensive in China, India can reclaim some lost ground. The union (central) government initiative to give a greater role to state governments is the best way forward.

A critical component of institutional restructuring is administrative reform. The Second Administrative Reforms Commission has made some useful recommendations on governance and economy which, limits the powers of the bureaucracy. Yet given the enormous influence of the Indian bureaucracy, the status quo is likely to continue. Virtually every regulatory system has been captured by retired bureaucrats. As a result, competence has not always been the major criterion for government appointments. Ensuring accountability, reward performance and making competence-based appointments should be the key aims of bureaucratic reforms.

The union government has to take the lead to reform all levels of India’s government. The licence raj (licence rule), in particular, continues to pose impediments in various ways.  Every initiative from the union, state and local levels of government requires numerous bureaucratic clearances, be it starting a business or constructing a house.

India also has a significant infrastructure deficit. Investment in a multitude of infrastructure projects — equivalent to an estimated 8 per cent of GDP — has stalled for one reason or another. These cobwebs need to be cleared. The land acquisition issue is stuck in the political logjam. In the power sector, the major problem is the disconnection between the policies relating to power generation and distribution. On several occasions, the government has bailed out power distribution companies, but political interference and ineffective regulation have continued to paralyse the sector.

To address the infrastructure deficit, the government needs to step up public investment in infrastructure. The central’s government investment budget is worryingly small, but the government has done well to accelerate capital expenditures in the first quarter. Better revenue collection from indirect taxes may also enhance investment spending. But the government must improve the model concession agreements on public–private partnerships. Private investors desire for low interest rates means that the fiscal deficit should be contained to avoid crowding out in capital markets. With this in mind, increasing public infrastructure investment means increasing the tax-to-GDP ratio.

But tax reform is a lengthy process, not a big bang reform. In May 2015, the government passed the Goods and Services Tax reform, which will introduce a consumption tax of 27 per cent in 2016. While the tax reform promises much, compromises and distortions make it unclear how much it will deliver.

Finally, the government should address price controls, which continue to constrain allocative efficiency and productivity. Even after 24 years of liberalisation, the prices of many goods and services are determined through administered fiat rather than the forces of supply and demand. These controls have distorted resource allocations at the macro and micro levels and have proliferated subsidies. The administered interest rate on provident funds places a floor on interest rates — they cannot go lower. And the associated overvaluing of the exchange rate hurts the export sector.

India cannot continue to distort sugar cane prices while also increasing import duties on sugar to protect the sugar lobby and upping the proportion ethanol blended in petrol. Subsidising irrigated water results in the farmers adopting water-intensive crops even when they are not appropriate and subsidising electricity results in depletion of underground water that would otherwise be used for irrigation. Subsidising urea results in the distorted consumption of fertilisers and soil salinity. The examples can be multiplied.

‘Make in India’ will require coordinated reform and bi-partisan support at both the central and state level. This cannot be achieved through a confrontational strategy. Opposition parties have nothing to lose by opposing reform. But the ruling party has the responsibility to adopt a conciliatory approach to build consensus. Without effort from both sides, ‘Make in India’ reforms will not go far.

Govinda Rao is an emeritus professor at the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, New Dehli, a non-resident senior fellow at the National Council of Applied Economic Research and an advisor of the Takshashila Institution.

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Hypocrisy mars RMB devaluation debate http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2015/09/10/hypocrisy-mars-rmb-devaluation-debate/ http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2015/09/10/hypocrisy-mars-rmb-devaluation-debate/#comments Thu, 10 Sep 2015 00:00:58 +0000 http://www.eastasiaforum.org/?p=47606 Author: Stephen Olson, Hinrich Foundation

The verdict on China’s recent currency devaluations differs depending on who you listen to. To some, the devaluations are either a positive and responsible step in the direction of a more market-determined exchange rate and a liberalised financial system. To others, they are potentially destructive, beggar-thy-neighbour competitive devaluations intended to prop up declining GDP growth by unfairly boosting exports.

A Chinese clerk counts RMB (renminbi) yuan banknotes at a bank in Huaibei city, east China's Anhui province, 11 August 2015. China's sudden decision last month to devalue its currency riled neighbors and fueled investors' fears about a sharp slowdown in the world's No. 2 economy. (Photo: AAP)

In an effort to separate heat from light, let’s start by being clear on exactly what China has done. Every day the People’s Bank of China establishes a reference rate for the renminbi and allows its value to move up or down from that point within a 2 per cent band. China’s recent move has simply allowed that opening point to be determined to a greater extent by market forces based on the previous day’s trading. It is those market forces that have produced the devaluation. So it could be argued that the Chinese government didn’t devalue the currency at all. It simply opened the door slightly wider to the market, and those market forces were responsible for driving the currency down.

Critics of China who have long pushed China to allow its currency to float more freely (on the assumption that this would result in an export-crimping appreciation) now find themselves in an awkward position. Criticising China for doing what they advocated simply because it produced the opposite result they desired smacks of hypocrisy.

An argument could be made that China’s currency moves are in fact not about trade at all but rather about the broader goals of allowing a more market-driven currency valuation, creating greater openness in the capital account and eventually establishing the renminbi as an international reserve currency.  In essence, China is doing what the International Monetary Fund and many Western governments have long called for. Indeed, even the US Treasury Department — an institution that has not shied away from criticising China’s currency policies in the past — noted that China’s actions were ‘another step in its move to a more market-determined exchange rate’.

On what basis then are some analysts and officials ascribing significantly more nefarious motivations to the recent currency moves? In broad strokes, the argument goes something like this: After more than three decades of stratospheric double digit growth, China’s economy is in trouble. The export-led development model that has propelled China’s growth to this point has just about run out of steam. China’s future growth, and its ability to vault over the much dreaded middle income trap, will be dependent on its ability to navigate the tricky transition away from low-cost exports (enabled by a favourable exchange rate) and towards greater domestic demand-driven growth.

But as this fraught transition unfolds, the argument goes, there are limits to how much economic slowing Chinese officials will tolerate. With weakening exports compounded by anaemic domestic demand and lacklustre factory output — to say nothing of a massive debt overhang from the 2008–09 stimulus — even the comparatively modest growth rate target of 7 per cent is in jeopardy. Chinese policy makers are under increasing pressure to take measures to spark growth.

So — according to this viewpoint — China has dipped back into its ‘old bag of tricks’ and attempted to rev up the export engine one more time in order to give its flagging economy a much needed ‘shot in the arm’.

Of course, given how much the renminbi has appreciated in recent years (more than 30 per cent against the dollar since 2008), it remains to be seen just how much of an export boost will result from the recent devaluations. But given the history, the sensitivities and the extremely thin margins in many export industries, China’s move has rekindled deep-seated suspicions amongst many of its trade partners and ensured that this issue will be a hot topic of discussion when President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping meet in Washington in late September 2015.

But regardless of the ebb and flow of the two president’s conversation, it seems safe to say that China’s management of its economy will not be tethered to any rigid doctrines. Policy responses will sometimes incline towards greater market orientation and on other occasions (as in the case of the recent heavy-handed stock market interventions) the government will keep a firm hand of the economic tiller. President Xi has made it clear that he views stabilising the economy as the ‘centre of everything’ — full stop. Expect any and all measures, irrespective of doctrine, to be deployed in pursuit of that goal.

So, how are we to interpret the recent currency move? Is it another incremental step in the ongoing process of financial sector reform or a thinly-veiled attempt to unfairly boost exports? Strong arguments are being made on both sides. The real test will come when market forces begin to push the renminbi towards a significant (and export-dampening) appreciation.  Will China allow market sentiment to hold sway or will we see direct or indirect market interventions? Stay tuned.

Yet one thing seems clear. The marching orders for Chinese policy makers are stability above all, reform when suitable and pragmatism always.

Stephen Olson is a research fellow at the Hinrich Foundation, Hong Kong.

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Why are women supporting Myanmar’s ‘religious protection laws’? http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2015/09/09/why-are-women-supporting-myanmars-religious-protection-laws/ http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2015/09/09/why-are-women-supporting-myanmars-religious-protection-laws/#comments Wed, 09 Sep 2015 12:00:12 +0000 http://www.eastasiaforum.org/?p=47602 Authors: Matthew J Walton, Melyn McKay and Ma Khin Mar Mar Kyi, University of Oxford

In mid-August 2015 Myanmar’s parliament passed the final two of four controversial religious protection laws. The bills have now been signed into law by President Thein Sein, joining the Interfaith Marriage Law and Population Control Law. The international narrative depicts them as a package of legislation that discriminates against women and non-Buddhists, being promoted by anti-Islamic nationalists led by MaBaTha (or the Organization for the Protection of Race and Religion) and the 969 Movement. In Myanmar, the legislation is opposed by civil society groups — led most vocally by women’s and rights groups — who argue that the laws violate international norms, Myanmar’s treaty obligations, and are likely to further inflame religious conflict.

The logo of Buddhist extremist group Ma Ba Tha and the National League for Democracy party campaign sticker lie on a wall in Yangon, Myanmar, 8 September 2015. (Photo: AAP).

Yet this simplistic binary narrative of opposition ignores the appearance of widespread support for the laws not only among large swathes of the male population, but also among some women. How do we explain the fact that some groups of women in Myanmar would back a set of laws that other groups of women claim will be bad for women?

To date, the general discourse focuses on the ways prominent monks may use the laws to gain socio-political influence for MaBaTha and 969. Similarly, political parties and government officials are thought to back the legislation strategically as a way of courting Buddhist voters. But these instrumental accounts cannot effectively explain laywomen’s support for the laws. Most Myanmar women are not in a position to realise these types of political benefits.

Another explanation either explicitly or implicitly suggests that women who advocate for the laws do not fully understand them and are themselves naive, manipulated, and/or exploited by power-hungry monks and political leaders. This argument is equally problematic as it is not only demeaning to women — who have frequently taken a very active, visible role in the protests in Rakhine State or the nation-wide signature campaigns — but also strips them of agency by not recognising them as self-aware, rational actors.

How do women explain their support for these laws and for the monk-led groups that promote them? Interviews in Rakhine State, for example, reveal that the most pressing and immediate fear for many women is the threat, plausible or not, of physical assault or rape by Muslim men. It is undeniably true that politicians have continuously overlooked the issue of physical and sexual violence against women in Myanmar, in part due to the perceived ‘traditional high status of women’. In their rhetoric, monks like U Wirathu, a prominent figure in 969 and MaBaTha, have taken it upon themselves to protect not only Buddhism but specifically, Buddhist women, by acknowledging these fears and pledging to take action in defence of women.

Despite this protection being specifically and only offered against Muslim men, for many women in Rakhine State it is still more of an acknowledgement of the precariousness of women’s lived experiences than they see is typically provided by other groups.

It should be noted that none of the religious protection laws deal with physical or sexual violence against women. MaBaTha’s legislative platform does not do anything to directly address this primary concern that Rakhine Buddhist women have expressed. But the general stance of the organisation and its representatives has been to engage sympathetically with Buddhist women. They denounce other political actors for not responding to their fears and loudly and publicly claim that they are acting on behalf of women.

There is another dynamic at work here. Despite frequent claims regarding the traditional high status of women in Burmese culture, the position of women within Burmese Buddhism remains inferior culturally, if not as obviously in the political or juridical sense. Besides a persistent belief that one must be reincarnated as a man in order to become enlightened, institutionalised paths to religious authority or influence are closed off to women. Burmese nuns (thila shin) are not considered to be of similar status as monks.

Women must also navigate confining roles within marriages and families, producing additional fear, anxiety or unhappiness. While entering the monastery offers other ways of living in the world, it too falls short of enabling the majority of thila shin to freely pursue their spiritual and ethical objectives, as most women remain indelibly tied to familial obligations outside the monastery.

In a highly restricted context like this, supporting 969, MaBaTha or the religious protection laws can be a way for women to take a leading role in the protection of Buddhism — a central and well-regarded means of merit-making. Prevented from obtaining traditional positions of religious authority, it’s unsurprising that some women would embrace these avenues as a way of claiming or asserting a religious identity and achieving the religious objectives that are limited by their role within lay and monastic society.

The intention of this analysis is not to challenge or undermine the argument made by civil society groups that Myanmar’s religious protection laws are discriminatory against women and non-Buddhists, violate international human rights norms and treaty obligations, and are likely to exacerbate religious conflict. These points are all true. But these reasons appear unlikely to convince enthusiasts of the laws — including women — to withdraw their support.

Closer examination of the experiences of women who back a package of laws that some claim runs contrary to their interest reveals the self-aware and nuanced ways in which women evaluate and navigate their religious and cultural circumstances. Civil society groups will need to engage directly and honestly with the full range of Myanmar women’s grievances and desires, if they wish to effectively campaign against these laws and the discrimination and conflict they are likely to produce.

Matthew J Walton is Aung San Suu Kyi Senior Research Fellow in Modern Burmese Studies at St Antony’s College, University of Oxford. Melyn McKay is a DPhil candidate in social anthropology at the University of Oxford and a research consultant in fragile and conflict states for Integrity Research and Consultancy. Ma Khin Mar Mar Kyi is an award-winning film-maker and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi Research Fellow in Gender and Burmese Studies at Lady Margaret Hall, University of Oxford.

This article is adapted from a longer piece that will be featured in a forthcoming issue of the journal Review of Faith and International Affairs.

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Are Japan–China relations sweetening or souring? http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2015/09/09/are-japan-china-relations-sweetening-or-souring/ http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2015/09/09/are-japan-china-relations-sweetening-or-souring/#comments Wed, 09 Sep 2015 00:00:13 +0000 http://www.eastasiaforum.org/?p=47599 Author: Akio Takahara, The University of Tokyo

Are Japan–China relations on a collision course? The two thorny issues between Japan and China are history and security. But despite these problems, there is a case for cautious optimism for the time being.

Chinese President Xi Jinping prepares to review People's Liberation Army troops from a car during a military parade to mark the 70th anniversary of Japan's surrender during World War II. (Photo: AAP).

2015 marks the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s remorseful anniversary statement was received with scepticism in China, while President Xi Jinping’s statement at the commemorative military parade did not touch on post-war efforts for cooperation and reconciliation at all. Chinese patrol boats continue to intrude into the territorial waters around the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands three times a month.

Meanwhile, the Japanese Diet is discussing new security legislations that would allow Japan to implement its right of collective self-defence. The government hopes this will strengthen its alliance with the United States and its security ties with other friendly countries, but the move has been met with concern in China. Abe also did not visit China to commemorate the end of WWII on 3 September.

Despite all these events, it seems the two countries have not lost the momentum to improve their relations. But how long is it going to last?

Simply put, the momentum should continue while Xi stays firmly at the helm. The four factors that brought about the rapprochement between the two countries since 2014 have not been lost.

First, although strategic competition is intensifying due to China’s rapid military build-up and active maritime advancement, neither of the two countries wishes to go to war. In May and June 2014, there were two consecutive near-miss incidents between military aircraft over the East China Sea. One such incident would have been concerning enough, but to have two near-miss incidents was very alarming indeed. Both Japan and China realised that they must resume active dialogue to avoid any accidents that would escalate the situation.

Second, China’s economic slowdown is a reality and many localities are suffering from accumulated bad loans and fiscal deficit. Japan remains an important economic partner for China, especially in these times of need. But after Japan nationalised the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in 2012, violent anti-Japanese demonstrations led to Japanese businesses being destroyed, burned and looted. It was estimated that the damage to Japanese businesses in China amounted to 10 billion yen (US$80 million). The Chinese leadership realised that tension in the political relationship was one factor discouraging Japanese enterprises from investing in China.

Third, China is facing difficulties promoting its ‘new type of major country relations’ with the United States. The two countries agree to cooperate and expand their mutual interests in economic, environmental and other areas, but strategic competition is intensifying in the Western Pacific and extending into areas such as cyberspace and space. The tense relations with the US helped prompt China to refocus on neighbourhood diplomacy and ‘rebalance’ toward Japan.

Fourth, Xi Jinping has consolidated his domestic power base through his anti-corruption campaign and by heading newly established policy-making institutions. He has no reason to worry about domestic criticism if he adjusts his attitude towards Japan. While a ‘soft’ policy toward Japan has traditionally been an easy target for political rivals to criticise the Party leadership, Xi has already established his power and authority, and his image of a tough leader.

All the above factors still remain in place. The two governments continue to seek the next opportunity for their leaders to meet. But there are some signs that promoting relations further will not be an easy process.

For example, the Chinese media continues to bitterly criticise Abe. When Xinhua News reported Abe’s April 2015 visit to the United States, it headlined with ‘ridiculous performance’, even though the event taking place only a few days after Abe’s second, amicable meeting with Xi in Indonesia. In June, Abe sent a goodwill message to the Chinese people in an interview with Hong Kong-based Phoenix TV, but this was treated extremely lightly in the mainland media. This move was counterproductive diplomatically. Abe’s intention was to reciprocate Xi’s unprecedented, friendly message to a delegation of over 3000 Japanese at a convention in Beijing in May.

At the World Peace Forum in Beijing in late June, Foreign Minister Wang Yi ignored questions on what measures his ministry was preparing to consolidate the new, cooperative phase in Japan–China relations. Instead, he stressed that the fundamental problem in the bilateral relationship was that many Japanese could not psychologically accept China’s rise as a power. It sounded like China’s Japan expert did not want to say anything that could invite internal critique.

Do these events signify that criticism of Xi’s Japan policy is increasing? Possibly. A Xinhua article on 25 August demanded that the Japanese Emperor apologise for the war, adding suspicion to this claim. But the provocation had an impact, inviting Japanese Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga to comment that the article was utterly undesirable and could throw cold water on otherwise improving Japan–China relations.

Perhaps a power struggle is intensifying in China. Past experiences suggest that anonymous attacks against Japan are often signs of defiance against the Chinese leadership. But we should not be misled by them. Currently, the four factors underpinning Japan–China rapprochement are still in place. We should keep an eye on the fourth factor: Chinese domestic politics, especially as further economic downturn could have a destabilising effect. But, for now, it seems that Xi stands firmly at the helm and has decided to improve ties with Japan.

Akio Takahara is a professor in the Faculty of Law at The University of Tokyo.

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US presidential campaign mustn’t undermine Xi’s state visit http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2015/09/08/us-presidential-campaign-mustnt-undermine-xis-state-visit/ http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2015/09/08/us-presidential-campaign-mustnt-undermine-xis-state-visit/#comments Tue, 08 Sep 2015 12:22:13 +0000 http://www.eastasiaforum.org/?p=47595 Author: Elizabeth Ingleson, United States Studies Centre

Another year of presidential campaigns, another round of China bashing. In the wake of China’s stock market crash in August 2015, Republican presidential candidates have turned their attention towards China. Citing China’s ‘active manipulation’ of its economy as contributing to its own ‘Black Monday’, candidate Scott Walker demanded US President Barack Obama cancel Chinese President Xi Jinping’s upcoming state visit. Chris Christie, after arguing in June for ‘military action’ in the South China Sea, also blamed America’s own market woes on Obama’s borrowing from China. And Donald Trump turned to Instagram to warn that the Chinese are ‘taking our jobs, they’re taking our money… be careful, they’ll bring us down’.

US Republican presidential candidate Senator Marco Rubio, who wrote an op'ed in the Wall Street Journal detailing his tough stance on China, speaks at a town hall Ohio, 21 August 2015. (Photo: AAP).

Although inflammatory and emotive, there is nothing new about this fear mongering. As The Economist quipped during the 2012 presidential campaign, with a nod to Jane Austen, ‘it is a truth universally acknowledged that a man in possession of a major American political party’s presidential nomination must be in want of a more assertive policy on China’. While Hilary Clinton may upend the gender assumptions in this claim, we can only expect the rhetoric to continue into 2016 once the candidates for both parties are decided.

In August, Marco Rubio ramped things up when he penned an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. In it, he accused President Obama of ‘appeasement’ towards China, evoking Neville Chamberlain’s 1938 Munich agreement with Adolf Hitler and the ineffectiveness and weakness it has come to represent. Rubio declared that if he were president he would deal with China with ‘strength and example’ such as by downgrading President Xi’s to a working visit rather than a full scale state visit. This was a suggestion that the White House’s press secretary Josh Earnest dismissed as sounding like ‘a proposal from somebody who’s running to be social secretary of the White House, not president of the United States’.

The idea that a formal state reception is capitulating to China’s leaders — whom Rubio has dubbed tyrants — undermines the significant potential that could come from President Xi’s first official state visit. The visit, due to take place in late September, would reciprocate Obama’s trip to Beijing in November 2014. At the 2014 meeting the two leaders announced an agreement committing both countries to control their greenhouse gas emissions. While implementation of this agreement is a different, highly fraught ballpark, the coming meeting could — and should — build on this momentum. For this reason alone, Walker’s calls for Obama to cancel the trip and Rubio’s for it to be downgraded would foreclose the possibilities that such high level dialogue brings.

Of course, there is a difference between the rhetorical posturing of presidential campaigns and the realities of political office, as Ronald Reagan discovered after he won office in 1980. Rubio’s analogous references to Munich may be more symbolic than substantive. China is not Nazi Germany, Obama is not Chamberlain, and Rubio knows this. Indeed, Rubio wrote in the Journal, as President he ‘would respond not through aggressive retaliation, which would hurt the US as much as China, but by greater commitment and firmer insistence on free markets and free trade’. He would do so, he claimed, by expediting the Trans-Pacific Partnership — a policy stance that does little to distinguish himself from Obama.

Yet symbolism matters and Rubio’s language of appeasement raises bigger questions about historical analogies used by the wider commentariat on US–Chinese relations. In addition to Munich, US policy hawks frequently invoke a second historical analogy in their commentary on US–Chinese relations: Europe on the eve of World War I. Many realists, including University of Chicago’s John Mearsheimer, assert that just as the economic interdependence between Britain and Germany did not diffuse the escalating tensions leading up to the war, neither will the present Sino–American economic interdependence provide enough mutual interests to deter military confrontation.

This analogy both underestimates and undermines the power of contingency. It is usually accompanied by calls for an aggressive, more militaristic US–China policy — a provocation that could lead to conflict becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. This use of history matters because it can provide a veneer of academic justification for the kind of political posturing we’re seeing from the Republican candidates.

Black Monday in August was a reminder of the mutual stakes that both countries have in their economic interdependence. It shows that now more than ever the two countries need to engage with, rather than punish, one another. This means that President Xi’s state visit should not only go ahead as planned but should be seized by Obama as a chance to strengthen bilateral ties.

Elizabeth Ingleson is a PhD candidate in the history of US–China relations at the United States Studies Centre and University of Sydney. In 2015-16 she is based at the University of Virginia on a Miller Center National Fellowship.

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Why India’s policymakers need to fire on all cylinders http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2015/09/08/why-indias-policymakers-need-to-fire-on-all-cylinders/ http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2015/09/08/why-indias-policymakers-need-to-fire-on-all-cylinders/#comments Tue, 08 Sep 2015 00:00:59 +0000 http://www.eastasiaforum.org/?p=47586 Authors: Shekhar Shah and Rajesh Chadha, NCAER

India, the world’s third largest economy measured in purchasing-power parity terms, became a middle income country in 2007. It has one of the world’s youngest populations, with some 260 million people below the age of 25, and its economy is once again growing fast, at 7 per cent growth one of the world’s fastest-growing economies as of August 2015. But will it grow rich before it grows old?

India’s economic growth in the years before the global financial crisis was also spectacular and substantially reduced poverty. But India is likely to remain a lower middle-income country for the next 15 years at least. India has one of the world’s largest concentrations of poor people, with more than 723 million people in 2011 living on less than US$2 a day.

Part of the problem facing policymakers is India’s astonishing diversity. Some of the states in the Union are solidly middle income, like Haryana and Tamil Nadu. Others, like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, would be among the world’s poorest countries, were they independent. This means that as India confronts problems that are typically thought of as characterising low income countries, it may also be forced to consider the kinds of policy challenges that bedevil middle-income countries.

India will need to start thinking about how it will compete in a rapidly changing landscape of manufacturing, global commerce and skillsets shaped by global supply chains, distributed sourcing and processing, and disruptive technologies not yet invented. Its low female labour force participation rate — around 33 per cent in 2012, compared to an East Asian average of 63 per cent — must be addressed. Its innovation and education supply chains will require large strategic investments, and its intellectual property regime rethought.

But as important as these long-term challenges are to India escaping the middle income trap — the tendency of once fast growing countries to falter and remain stuck in middle income territory — the necessity of escaping its low-income traps is, if anything, even more pressing.

Manufacturing has traditionally been the sector that contributes most strongly to economic growth in developing countries like India. But there are some disturbing headwinds that will make progress in this area very difficult without concerted policy action.

Even though India ought to have a comparative advantage in low-skilled labour-intensive manufacturing, currently the formal, registered manufacturing sector in India uses skilled labour more intensively. Either the sector will have to change in order to absorb a vast, informal labour force, or manufacturing will struggle to provide the productive employment opportunities India sorely needs. And growth in registered manufacturing as a share of output seems to have stalled well before much of India has fully industrialised. Some recent estimates put out by the government in its 2014–15 Annual Economic Survey show that only in Gujarat and in Himachal Pradesh is registered manufacturing’s share of value added increasing.

Why has growth in this sector remained so sluggish in a country that is so labour abundant? The failure to liberalise factor markets — and in particular labour and land markets — is often blamed.

There are more than 140 overlapping labour laws in India: 44 at the federal and about 100 at the state level. States with overly restrictive laws have experienced weaker industrial growth and have benefited less from investment delicencing. This burdensome regulatory environment is part of the reason for India’s huge informal labour market.

Rational and fair land acquisition is a precondition for largescale investment in growth-supporting, public infrastructure. The law that governed this area of the economy was until 2013 a relic of British imperial legislation, one that provided very few protections for landowners. The new Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act introduced by the last government, however, tipped the scales dramatically in favour of landowners, making land acquisition for public purposes extremely difficult. The Modi Government has struggled with the parliamentary passage of a new land bill, and while it has had a temporary ordinance in place, this is now being allowed to lapse, and fair, settled, long-term land acquisition will remain difficult until its legal basis is settled.

The political economy of reform in both areas is difficult, given the regulatory overlap with different levels of government. The Modi Government’s plan of decentralising policymaking, which feed off the recommendations of the 14th Finance Commission and has been backed by a large increase in the states’ share of tax revenue, should provide substantial incentives for states to implement reforms themselves in order to compete for investment.

More broadly, the task facing Indian reformers will be made more difficult by three factors that were not faced by other rapid industrialisers in the region. One is the political economy of a large but underdeveloped country. India’s democracy is a vibrant one, but the sheer size of the poor population means that there is a constant temptation for policymakers to focus their attention on spending tax revenues on handouts rather than on stoking economic growth in order to create jobs that lift people out of poverty.

Another is the disorderly, fragmented global trading environment, with the kind of open multilateralism that facilitated growth in East Asia rapidly giving way to a thicket of preferential deals and trading blocs. And India must also industrialise at the same time as the world is trying to wean itself off greenhouse gas-emitting energy sources and technologies. This is a constraint that did not face countries such as Japan and South Korea during their development. India must use its late-comer advantage to turn challenge into opportunity.

In all, India’s policymakers face a formidable set of challenges that span the gamut of economic development. The new Modi Government has shown that it understands better than any government before it the scale and breadth of the task at hand. But, like its predecessors, it runs the risk of getting submerged in the many pressing day-to-day issues that confront it. And allowing its rhetoric to run ahead of its results.

What is needed is a small, tightly organised, but empowered group of policymakers, policy researchers and even younger politicians who are charged with thinking about India’s future and the policy strategies required to secure prosperity and productivity. Such a group should not seek to put out the daily fires that beset every government, but apply its strategic reasoning to all current policies and programs under review, and to new ones that no one is yet thinking about.

Dr Shekhar Shah is Director-General of the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER), New Delhi. Dr Rajesh Chadha is the Senior Research Counsellor at NCAER.

This article summarises a paper prepared for the 37th Pacific Trade and Development Conference.

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Why the Iran deal could work for North Korea http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2015/09/07/why-the-iran-deal-could-work-for-north-korea/ http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2015/09/07/why-the-iran-deal-could-work-for-north-korea/#comments Mon, 07 Sep 2015 12:00:10 +0000 http://www.eastasiaforum.org/?p=47582 Author: Chung-In Moon, Yonsei University

On the brink of a crisis that threatened to escalate into conflict, North and South Korea recently reached an agreement on 25 August to prevent further confrontation, resume official talks, hold reunions of separated families and promote civilian exchanges. This was a remarkable reversal in tensions. But the thaw is only the beginning of a precarious and long journey toward peace and stability on the Korean peninsula. As long as Pyongyang keeps its nuclear weapons program, it is virtually inconceivable that confidence-building and peaceful co-existence between the two Koreas can be achieved.

Since March 2009, the North Korean nuclear issue has been stalled and the Six-Party Talks suspended. While North Korea has declared ‘no more talks with the US’, Washington is equally reluctant to engage with Pyongyang unless the hermit regime takes some concrete steps toward denuclearisation. Stuck between the two, China, South Korea and other the other Six-Party Talks members have become lethargic. Are there any ways out?

The recent Iranian nuclear deal could serve as a useful benchmark. As President Barack Obama claims, it was a victory of diplomacy over war. Several factors account for its success. Setting realistic goals was one of those factors. Against the conservative’s all-or-nothing approach of insisting on ‘no deal without a complete removal of nuclear programs’, the US admitted Iran’s right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy, while banning its enrichment programs under a tight inspection regime.

Equally crucial was setting the right priorities. Iran has been notorious for its sponsorship of terrorist groups such as Hezbollah, interference in the domestic politics of neighbouring countries, undermining regional stability and human rights violations. But the nuclear issue was prioritised, with the anticipation that other issues would become easier to solve once the nuclear one was settled. The US also aptly limited sanctions, which was useful in bringing Iran to the negotiation table and making the current deal. Additional sanctions would have created a serious political backlash, which could have penalised moderates such as Iranian President Hassan Rouhani while empowering such hardliners as radical Islamic forces and the military.

Iran and North Korea are, of course, very different. Iran does not have nuclear weapons, while North Korea does. The permanent members of UN Security Council have all reached a consensus on the Iranian deal, but members of the Six-Party Talks have been divided over how to deal with the DPRK. Iran has taken a practical path to denuclearisation for economic gains, whereas North Korea is seeking the perilous nuclear path despite enormous economic costs incurred by sanctions. No matter how limited it may be, Iran has a pluralistic political system with regular competitive elections. North Korea, on the other hand, is an extremely monolithic political system without any free elections.

For all the differences, the Iranian model can still be applied to North Korea. Sanctions, pressure and military action are not viable alternatives. The US should forsake its ‘strategic patience’ policy and engage. Demonising North Korea will lead the US nowhere. As with Iran, the US should set more practical goals. Complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantling of its nuclear weapons will take a long time. As Siegfried Hecker — a renowned US nuclear expert — has suggested, it would be wiser to seek a ‘halt and roll back’ option. Freezing current nuclear programs and rolling back to the level specified by the agreement reached on 13 February 2007 — whereby North Korea agreed to shut down and seal its major nuclear research facility, Yongbyon, and invite international monitoring — might be the most practical solution.

No matter how powerful the US is, it cannot achieve complete denuclearisation, opening and reform, human rights improvements and cyber security in North Korea simultaneously. There must be a reordering of priorities where utmost attention is given to the nuclear issue. The Iranian nuclear deal would have never materialised without personal commitments by top US Department of State officials like John Kerry, William Burns, Wendy Sherman and President Obama himself. In a similar vein, high powered figures need to be appointed solely to deal with Pyongyang.

It is not easy for Obama to change his position on North Korea, particularly given his political schedule. Outside pressure seems necessary. Such pressure can come from South Korean President Park Geun-hye, who will be visiting Washington in October 2015. Using recent improved inter-Korean relations as leverage, Park can persuade Obama to engage with the North and to resume the Six-Party Talks. Such an approach is the only realistic one that can bring North Korea back to the negotiating table and foster the process of its denuclearisation.

It is ironic to note that learning from its failures in dealing with North Korea was vital to the United States’ success in dealing with Iran. Now it is time for the Obama administration to apply what it has learned from Iran to North Korea.

Chung-in Moon is a professor at the Department of Political Science, Yonsei University.

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