East Asia Forum http://www.eastasiaforum.org Economics, Politics and Public Policy in East Asia and the Pacific Wed, 03 Sep 2014 00:00:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9 How China can continue to lower its suicide rate http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2014/09/03/how-china-can-continue-to-lower-its-suicide-rate/ http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2014/09/03/how-china-can-continue-to-lower-its-suicide-rate/#comments Wed, 03 Sep 2014 00:00:43 +0000 http://www.eastasiaforum.org/?p=43292 Author: Paul Yip, University of Hong Kong

China’s suicide rate has fallen dramatically in the past decade. In the 1990s, China had one of the highest suicide rates in the world at 23.2 suicides per 100,000 people. An estimated 250,000 suicides were reported every year, accounting for about a quarter of the world’s total. But by 2012 the estimated national average suicide rate had decreased to 9.8 per 100,000 people, nearly 60 per cent lower than in the 1990s.

Two elderly Chinese women chat in Shan county, Shandong province, China. In the 1990s, the suicide rate in China was substantially higher in rural areas and among the elderly. (Photo: AAP).

In the 1990s, the suicide rate in China was substantially higher in rural areas and among the elderly. The imbalance in medical services and social welfare between urban and rural areas has put older residents in the countryside at greater risk. Although mental illness plays a relatively small role in suicides in China, psychiatric help and related support services are insufficient. The improvement in rural health care services as well as better controls on the sale of pesticides, which many rural people have used to take their own lives, have contributed to the decline in the suicide rate.

Chinese women were also more likely than men to commit suicide throughout the 1990s. This was in clear contrast to the situation in Western countries such as Australia where for every female suicide there were four male suicides. The relatively high rate of suicide among Chinese women has been attributed to their low social status and limited opportunities, especially in the countryside. Urbanisation and economic growth over the past decade have greatly decreased gender inequality, creating more education and employment opportunities for women.

An increasing number of rural women are migrating to cities in search of a better livelihood. These women commonly send remittances back to rural areas, and thereby help to improve rural living conditions. For some women, relocation from rural to urban areas also provides an escape route from familial obligations and undesired marriage proposals.

But simply improving China’s GDP may not be enough to guarantee a continued drop in the suicide rate.

There are many areas in China which have not benefited from the country’s economic development. The people living in these areas are still very much deprived of goods and opportunities. Youths’ resilience to hardship is also rather low due to ‘overprotection’ arising from the one-child policy. The growing disparity between the rich and the poor is another cause for worry. Economic and political uncertainty has further caused considerable anxiety among Chinese people.

The declining rate of suicide in China could reverse in the next decade because of social stress associated with the slowdown in economic growth, rapid ageing of the population, income inequality and social instability. Risks associated with urbanisation are likely to emerge during the next decade and could lead to a weakening of ties with family, friends, institutions and local communities. It is important to prepare in advance to meet these challenges.

The Chinese government should develop responsive and people-oriented social policies. The availability and affordability of psychiatric services, as well as public awareness surrounding depression and suicide prevention, should be improved. It is also vital to develop working environments that are more conducive to good mental health. And specific programs should be developed to help vulnerable groups, such as single parents and the unemployed.

The Chinese government must take measures to ensure that economic development benefits all people rather than a select few. Improved transparency and accountability are urgently needed to redress public grievances. Sustained efforts are necessary to maintain the downward trend in suicide rates. One suicide is too many.

Paul Yip is the director of the Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention at the University of Hong Kong.

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Does a global growth target make sense for the G20? http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2014/09/02/does-a-global-growth-target-make-sense-for-the-g20/ http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2014/09/02/does-a-global-growth-target-make-sense-for-the-g20/#comments Tue, 02 Sep 2014 12:00:37 +0000 http://www.eastasiaforum.org/?p=43291 Author: David Vines, University of Oxford

The global recovery is strengthening but remains weak. A global growth target, pursued by the G20, could significantly strengthen this recovery process. But such a macroeconomic target needs to be supported by microeconomic reforms.

In advanced economies, demand is now growing more rapidly than in the previous three years, but output remains below potential. And the growth of potential output itself is low, due to reduced investment, low profitability and low demand. In emerging-market economies, there is a slowdown in growth following a withdrawal of foreign capital and the associated external turbulence. The resultant tightening of financial conditions is reducing growth of demand in these economies too.

G20 trade ministers from industrialised and emerging economies gather for a one-day meeting in Sydney, Australia, 19 July 2014. (Photo: AAP)

Macroeconomic policies are not sufficiently supportive. Advanced countries are undertaking fiscal austerity — particularly the US, the UK and Germany — and seeking to grow their demand by raising exports. Long term interest rates are rising because of fears about the effects of the tapering of quantitative easing. In China, domestic demand is still not expanding rapidly enough, and in other emerging markets such as India and Brazil policies are tightening because of external difficulties. The world faces a ‘new normal’ of low growth.

Many distinguished economists from emerging markets have called for international cooperation in setting macroeconomic policies. For example, Rakesh Mohan, the former Deputy Governor of the Reserve Bank of India, has complained that the tapering of quantitative easing has been carried out without sufficient regard for international spillovers and has called for the US Federal Reserve to ‘be aware’ of the interests of other countries. But in the words of the Australian Treasurer, Joe Hockey:

‘There is no doubt that the Fed needs to be aware of these international implications in detail, and be mindful of them. …[And yet] ultimately, the Fed has to operate in a manner that is consistent with its domestic mandate.’

Is cooperation possible and, if so, of what kind? Countries have a wider range of instruments than the purely macro-economic. Those which cannot offer a different macroeconomic response may instead be able to adopt the global growth strategy that is presently being developed by the G20.

The possibility of a global growth strategy was put forward in a document titled Macroeconomic and Reform Priorities, prepared by International Monetary Fund staff for the meeting of G20 finance ministers and central bank governors held in February this year. That meeting identified a ‘global growth strategy’ as a cooperative process in which countries would be asked to contribute a set of particular policy changes which, taken together, might raise global growth by 2 per cent by 2018. This has effectively become a global growth target.

The document identifies a number of possible changes to macroeconomic policy and a broad range of additional reforms to supply-side policies which might be undertaken in G20 countries. The suggestions include promoting competition, particularly in the services sector, as well as reforms to training programs to address skill mismatches. Consideration is also being given to the taxation and social protection of low-income workers, along with the effects of labour-market institutions on job creation and participation, and policies to support technological catch-up. Success in these domestic reforms will enable countries to better support the development of global value chains.

Addressing obstacles to investment, notably in infrastructure, is another focus. Impediments include regulatory conditions and a lack of depth in financial markets. Progress in this context will depend on a satisfactory division of expenditure and of risk-sharing between the public and the private sectors.

These microeconomic reforms are likely to bring with them the ability to adopt more expansionary macroeconomic policies. Increased infrastructure investment will lead to significant increases in public expenditure, and the ability to create valuable infrastructure assets is likely to induce a moderation of fiscal austerity. Similarly, supply-side reforms in emerging market economies are likely to reduce national risk premiums and external difficulties, which would in turn enable other countries to implement more accommodating policies.

Countries have until June to consider what actual reform polices each might offer as part of a global growth strategy. These proposals will be peer-reviewed at a meeting of finance and central bank deputies in Melbourne in June. A meeting of finance ministers and central bank governors in Cairns in September will set out the agreed global growth strategy, which will form the basis of a Brisbane action plan to be approved at a G20 heads of government meeting in November.

Will the proposed reforms actually be implemented?

It is clear that any reforms will be driven by domestic political agendas. There will always be those who stand to lose from reform. But the international climate can influence domestic political calculations. This was true throughout Asia in the 1990s in the early days of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) process, when a sense of opportunities abroad fed into the ability to galvanise liberalisation at home. Back then, the prospect — and better still the reality — of liberalisation by others abroad, especially when they were important regional trading partners, was used persuasively by trade policy officials and politicians as they embarked on the contest with protectionists at home over liberalisation. This leverage was useful during the period, from the mid-1980s to the eve of the Asian financial crisis in 1997, when virtually all Western Pacific economies embarked on far-reaching unilateral liberalisation in the high tide of internationally oriented growth in East Asia. It became easier to liberalise in a climate in which many other countries were doing the same thing.

What is happening can be described as a similar process of ‘concerted unilateral reform’. In effect, each country is able to be ‘mindful’ not only of the interests of other countries but also of the opportunities created by the actions of other countries. These opportunities will change the way in which each country can pursue its domestic mandate. The existence of a global growth strategy may well act as an inducement to national reform strategies. It does seem likely that such an approach will support a process of global cooperation and enable faster growth in the global economy.

The reform process will be carried out within the structure of the G20 Mutual Assessment Process, or G20MAP. This was developed so that countries could continue the successful cooperation in macroeconomic policymaking that occurred at the G20 meeting in London in April 2009.

But the G20MAP has run out of steam. This is partly because its initial aim was to deal with global imbalances, in particular balance-of-payments disequilibria. A number of deficit countries — including the US — and surplus countries — including Germany and China — disagreed about how to resolve these questions. As discussed above, countries may not have the incentives necessary to change their macroeconomic policies in the global interest.

The new approach described here — combining microeconomic reforms with a macroeconomic strategy and doing this within the framework of a global growth target — offers new hope. It has given countries new incentives to cooperate in the setting of their policies, including their macroeconomic policies. This strategy is likely to revive the G20MAP and lead to higher global growth.

David Vines is a Professor of Economics and Fellow of Balliol College at the University of Oxford.

This article appeared in the most recent edition of the East Asia Forum Quarterly, ‘The G20 summit at five’.

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Why Japan’s collective self-defence is so politicised http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2014/09/02/why-japans-collective-self-defence-is-so-politicised/ http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2014/09/02/why-japans-collective-self-defence-is-so-politicised/#comments Tue, 02 Sep 2014 00:00:48 +0000 http://www.eastasiaforum.org/?p=43278 Author: T J Pempel, Berkley

On 1 July, the Abe Cabinet issued a reinterpretation of Japan’s longstanding self-imposed ban on the right of collective self-defence. It was justified as a minimalist countermeasure to the increasingly severe security environment posed by a rising China and an unpredictable, nuclearised North Korea. But the reinterpretation fell well short of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s long-cherished goal of formally amending the constitution and eradicating what he and others criticise as the Japan’s over-reliance on US security guarantees as well as its collective naiveté ‘about the minimum necessary measures for our self-defence’.

Japan, Abe argues, must prepare to share security burdens commensurate with that of a ‘responsible’ global and regional power.

From this perspective, the reinterpretation represented little more than a logical next step in a long sequence of prior security changes, including: expanding the defence perimeter of the Maritime Self-Defense Forces; deploying the Self-Defense Forces abroad to support United Nations peacekeeping operations and US military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq; boosting the status of the Defense Agency to that of a full-fledged ministry; and enhancing trilateral military cooperation between the US, Australia and Japan.

But there has been widespread public criticism of the reinterpretation of Article 9 — thousands demonstrated, one man self-immolated at Shinjuku Station and the Abe cabinet’s approval rating fell to its lowest level since taking office at 45.2 per cent. In contrast, the US Defense Department was quick to welcome the historic decision to enhance US-Japan alliance security cooperation in the Asia Pacific. While security analysts will differ on the inherent merits of collective self-defence per se, the decision raises two interwoven problems that are particularly worrisome.

First, the decision was made in a context of rapidly diminishing checks on executive authority. In past decades, the combination of a vigorous political left, internal Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) factionalism and electoral sensitivity provided partial checks on executive branch autonomy. Yet the 1994 electoral reforms, the Abe-led triumph in the 2012 elections and a distant electoral horizon stretching into 2016 have combined to eviscerate all three.

The Cabinet Legislative Bureau (CLB) had previously been a stalwart voice declaring that Article 9 prohibited collective self-defence. But its new chairman, Abe-appointed acolyte Ichiro Komatsu, quickly telegraphed his conviction that the cabinet, not the CLB, should decide matters of constitutionality, declaring: ‘It is not correct for the Cabinet Legislation Bureau unilaterally to decide “left” when the cabinet is thinking “right”’. Japan’s public broadcaster, NHK — which is rarely the most independent of voices, but is legally obliged to be non-partisan — was further muzzled by four right-leaning Abe appointees who explicitly committed NHK to toeing the government line.

Also, a sweeping 2013 state secrecy law now gags government whistle-blowers. And the once fulsome opposition to collective self-defence reinterpretation by the LDP’s coalition partner, New Komeito, evaporated once the party faced the choice between its peace-oriented principles and bringing down the Abe government.

None of this is to suggest that Japan remains anything less than a vibrant democracy, but executive power — in the absence of meaningful checks — risks evolving into an ‘unguarded guardian’.

Second, and equally troubling, are the nationalistic trappings surrounding collective self-defence. Frictions following the decision might have been eased if Abe had focused the bulk of his policy efforts on his key election promise: restructuring the national economy. Collective self-defence could then have been packaged as just one small piece of a multifaceted effort to resuscitate Japanese leadership across a range of issues.

But, before and after taking office, Abe has repeatedly challenged Article 9, dismissing the constitution as a sovereignty-eviscerating manifestation of ‘victor’s justice’. Equally vociferous are his claims that Japan’s pre-war history has been unfairly castigated. Abe’s scepticism about the merits of prior apologies for the Japanese government’s wartime behaviour, including its role in providing sex slaves for the Japanese military, has also been divisive.

Abe has justified politically provocative visits to Yasukuni Shrine by senior politicians, including his own in December 2013, as no more than manifestations of personal spiritual ‘beliefs’. And Taro Aso, the deputy prime minister and finance minister, was caught in a gaffe where he suggested that Japan could learn from the Nazis’ stealth in revising a democratic constitution. In such a climate it is impossible to evaluate security-based arguments concerning collective self-defence solely on their merits. Instead, they are tabled as no more than appetisers whetting the palate for a larger entrée of revisionist nationalism.

Collective self-defence in itself is likely to have minimal short-to-medium term impact on Japan’s grand security strategy. Yet, in the context of sweeping historical revisionism and executive overreach, the constitutional reinterpretation provides an easy-to-wallop piñata for nationalistic South Korean and Chinese leaders anxious to bolster their own domestic support. In addition to poisoning a once blossoming trilateral cooperation among China, Japan and South Korea, recent Abe-led actions have also stymied trilateral security cooperation among erstwhile allies Japan, South Korea and the US. The end result will likely be a more regionally isolated and less tolerant Japan.

T J Pempel is Jack M. Forcey Professor of Political Science, University of California, Berkeley.

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Laying down the law at the Communist Party plenum http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2014/09/01/laying-down-the-law-at-the-communist-party-plenum/ http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2014/09/01/laying-down-the-law-at-the-communist-party-plenum/#comments Mon, 01 Sep 2014 12:00:49 +0000 http://www.eastasiaforum.org/?p=43274 Author: Carl Minzner, Fordham Law School

On 29 July, Chinese authorities announced the long-expected news that former security tsar and Politburo Standing Committee member Zhou Yongkang is under investigation for Communist Party disciplinary violations. Simultaneously, it was revealed that the party plenum in October would — for the first time — focus on ‘ruling China according to law’ (yifa zhiguo).

Of course, Chinese authorities have little intention of building up legal institutions as a truly independent check on party power. Like his predecessors, President Xi Jinping remains committed to one-party rule. He has looked at Tiananmen Square, he has looked at the Arab Spring, and he has drawn his conclusion: weaken the political control of the Communist Party, and you jeopardise the entire edifice. Precisely this rationale is behind the repression Beijing is now directing at a wide range of legal activists, including figures such as Xu Zhiyong and Pu Zhiqiang.

But the plenum will almost certainly confirm some of the high-profile legal reforms launched over the past two years. Chinese authorities have formally abolished the controversial re-education through labour (laojiao) system used to sentence prostitutes, drug users and political dissidents to lengthy detentions without trial. Judicial transparency is being strongly emphasised, with some provincial court authorities striving to make all of their verdicts available online. And central authorities are reviving concepts of judicial professionalism that had gone into eclipse during the later years of Hu Jintao’s administration. One example is the attempt to separate out legal disputes and court cases from the poorly-defined petitioning channels many citizens use in practice to resolve their disputes. And they have attempted to insulate judges from interference by local officials. Experimental reforms in six provinces remove control over the funding and appointment of local judges from the hands of county authorities, vesting it instead with provincial courts.

Such changes appear aimed at fashioning the Chinese judiciary into a more institutionalised tool of party governance. It is not clear how effective this will be. Hu Jintao-era policies emphasising weiwen (social stability) at all costs continue to limit the ability of courts to decide cases according to law (or even party decree), and steer them instead towards doing whatever it takes to stave off impending protests — including simply paying off disgruntled parties. And local judges themselves flag serious concerns regarding some of the reforms. As one put it, ‘if local officials no longer bear any direct responsibility for us, the next time we need their help — executing a verdict, finding housing for judges — they are likely to simply turn us down, or tell us to run to the provincial capital. How are we supposed to operate then?’

A more important question is whether the party plenum will set out a new orthodoxy with regard to the concept of law. Sweeping policy frameworks announced at such meetings affect the direction of government work for years into the future. For example, the recent crackdown on microblogging services such as Weibo and Weixin is a direct outgrowth of the 2011 party plenum statement vowing to strengthen control over social media sites.

If the 2014 plenum statement on law were to set out a new orthodoxy regarding law, what might it look like?

First, it is extremely likely to import language from recent Communist Party propaganda efforts (that is, the ‘China Dream’) that emphasise China’s cultural distinctiveness. Similar lines have already appeared elsewhere. Several months ago, Xi Jinping commented to the Greek prime minister, Antonis Samaras, ‘your democracy is the democracy of Greece and ancient Rome, and that’s your tradition. We have our own traditions’. Naturally, this would help ideologically cage the efforts of Chinese liberals who seek to push for deeper reform based on Western legal models and international standards (as was the case with efforts in the late 1990s to bring China into compliance with WTO norms).

Second, it is probable that central authorities will confirm a heightened role for the Communist Party’s own extra-legal disciplinary system. This apparatus has already been bureaucratically strengthened as part of an intense anti-corruption campaign, in part as a tool to remove supporters of Xi’s rivals. Expect to see the definition of ‘ruling China according to law’ appropriately stretched.

Last, it will be worth watching to see how Chinese authorities attempt to reconcile recent judicial reform efforts with their increasing invocation of extra-legal mechanisms taken straight out of the 1950s and 1960s. The past year has seen a parade of televised public confessions by social media celebrities, foreign corporate investigators and alleged terrorists — rather than statutes and trials — to send signals to society at large. Language regarding ‘confessions and self-confessions’ (piping yu ziwo piping) has re-emerged in party campaigns. Might a central reinterpretation of what it means to ‘rule according to law’ grant space to develop such methods further?

Carl Minzner is Professor of Law at Fordham Law School. Follow him on Twitter @CarlMinzner.

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Securing Pakistan’s democracy? http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2014/09/01/securing-pakistans-democracy/ http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2014/09/01/securing-pakistans-democracy/#comments Mon, 01 Sep 2014 02:00:09 +0000 http://www.eastasiaforum.org/?p=43271

Author: Peter Drysdale, Editor, East Asia Forum

The two-week-old political crisis in Pakistan took a sharp new turn over the past few days as the military leader, General Raheel Sharif, positioned to mediate the stand-off between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and opposition demonstrators on the streets of Islamabad, led by cleric Mohammed Tahir-ul-Qadri and his ally cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan. Whether Prime Minister Sharif or Tahir-ul-Qadri and Khan initiated the move to military mediation and how the military has played into the development of the crisis itself are questions that are at this stage difficult to determine. But senior politicians and constitutional experts have denounced it as a national disgrace that reflects badly on the commitment to genuine democracy across the political spectrum.

It’s little more than a year since Prime Minister Sharif was swept to victory in the first democratic change of government in the country’s history.

This success, despite a violent campaign by religious extremists to derail the election, saw a 60 per cent voter turnout and a result that reflected disenchantment with the ousted Pakistan People’s Party and its corruption and poor economic management, within the framework of the growing strength of the courts and constitutional process.

Sharif, a self-made billionaire in the steel industry, promised a more market-oriented and less regulated economy than that of Pakistan under President Asif Ali Zardari, as well as the prospect of a pick-up in economic growth. But judged on his previous stint in power, it was unwise to expect any marked diminution in corruption or ‘money politics’ from Sharif, or restraint in the victor-takes-all approach to political conduct. Far from providing good governance, security of life and property and basic necessities, Prime Minister Sharif and his political and blood brother Shahbaz Sharif, chief minister of the most populous state of Punjab, have focused on high visibility projects and overseen the descent of the economy into the inflation and electricity shortages which characterised the previous Zardari regime, although capital flows have risen and inflation fallen somewhat. Broken commitments on releasing former general Pervez Musharraf and public condemnation of the former army chief by Sharif’s allies have also incensed the rank and file of the army.

Two things triggered the present crisis. Imram Khan’s belief that there was widespread vote-rigging in the 2013 elections, explains Sajjad Ashraf, led to him to call for an audit of four constituencies where his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party lost. Instead, Sharif offered an audit of four constituencies where PTI candidates won’. Fearing a meltdown in his Muslim League, Sharif stonewalled, leading Khan to up the ante with the campaign for Sharif’s resignation.

Tahir-ul-Qadri’s joining the campaign, Ashraf goes on, was triggered by the ‘attack on his Lahore offices by the Punjab Police killing 14 and injuring 90 on 14 June. For over two months the Pakistan Awami Tehrik’s attempt to get the case registered against the 23 accused — which includes the Sharif brothers and several of their henchmen — has been thwarted despite a court order…Qadri seeks justice for the victims among other demands for the cleansing of the political system’.

As Syed Mahmud Ali points out in this week’s lead ‘Pakistan’s history has been marked by turbulence, as elected politicians vie with permanent bureaucracies — uniformed and civilian — for power and influence. Abysmal governance, rigged elections, violent protests, military coups and separatist insurgencies have plagued national progress. Although democracy has been a useful framework for both governance and power transfers (even by military rulers), popular consent and aspirations have shaped policy only marginally’.

Ali argues that the outpouring of frustration at the base of the present impasse is symbolic of Pakistan’s political systemic dysfunction. The state remains divided along myriad fissures, and the construction of a coherent, overarching national identity is a national task that is still far from complete. Punjab’s overbearing political, military, demographic and economic dominance is not mediated by political power-sharing among the stakeholders, a condition that, in 1971, saw East Pakistan’s secession and the formation of the state of Bangladesh. The non-Punjabi provinces are yet to be ‘tamed’ within the state.

Against this backdrop, Ali argues, ‘Nawaz Sharif’s landslide victory in May 2013 did nothing to resolve the fundamental malaise afflicting Pakistan’.

Civilian governments have in recent times sought to weaken the army’s role in critical areas of foreign policy and security. Though some say that the army is behind the current unrest, the generals do not seem intent on taking over a direct administrative role. But if the political protagonists cannot be brought to resolve their differences through processes that show respect for democratic process, the military was unlikely to watch from the sidelines.

As Ashraf says, ‘democracy is not just numbers — it is about accountability, transparency, effectiveness and justice in governance, all of which are strikingly absent from Sharif’s agenda’.

That is why Ali sees these protests as far more important than their forerunners. They could, he concludes, ‘represent the arrival of a perfect storm’, with young people comprising half the population, women increasingly engaged in political activism, rising unemployment and deep economic vulnerability.

An awesome responsibility now falls upon the Pakistani military in midwifing the birth of a non-martial, non-corrupt, democratic political culture, since that is what is critical to confidence in investing both domestic and foreign money in the nation’s future and breaking with a ‘tradition of violent agitation and rough justice, interrupted only by corrupt passivity’.

Peter Drysdale is Editor of the East Asia Forum.

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Back to the brink in Pakistan http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2014/08/31/back-to-the-brink-in-pakistan/ http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2014/08/31/back-to-the-brink-in-pakistan/#comments Sun, 31 Aug 2014 12:00:17 +0000 http://www.eastasiaforum.org/?p=43264 Author: S. Mahmud Ali, LSE

Pakistanis marked their 67th independence anniversary atypically. While tens of thousands ‘marched’ (in two motorised convoys) from Lahore to Islamabad to protest Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s leadership, millions of others worried about the outcome of this unusual outpouring of frustration. Led by two charismatic critics of Sharif, cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan and ‘moderate’ cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri, the marchers vowed to besiege Islamabad until Sharif resigned. Although pro-government activists clashed with the protesters outside the capital, security cordons ensured the latter’s progress remained largely peaceful.

Khan and Qadri, the leaders of the political parties Tehreek-e-Insaf and Pakistan Awami Tehreek respectively, issued similar demands. Since last May’s parliamentary elections, which Sharif’s Muslim League won handsomely, Khan has complained that the polls were rigged and the victors corrupt in office. Qadri has also urged a ‘green revolution’ that would see moderate Islamist beliefs undergirding national governance and state behaviour. Until recently, the ruling party brushed aside all accusations, but as the convoys converged on the capital, leaders offered to investigate alleged vote-rigging. However, with Sharif’s vow to stay in office, and with little sign of compromise on either side, a protracted stand-off appeared inevitable.

Pakistan’s history has been marked by turbulence, as elected politicians vie with permanent bureaucracies — uniformed and civilian — for power and influence. Abysmal governance, rigged elections, violent protests, military coups and separatist insurgencies have plagued national progress. Although democracy has been a useful framework for both governance and power transfers (even by military rulers), popular consent and aspirations have shaped policy only marginally.

So, what do these protests portend for Pakistan?

Firstly, they are symptomatic of Pakistan’s systemic dysfunction. One fundamental challenge is that it remains divided along myriad fissures, and the construction of a coherent, overarching national identity remains incomplete. Punjab’s overbearing political, military, demographic and economic dominance has rarely been mediated by political power-sharing among the various stakeholders. In 1971, the establishment’s refusal to address this led to East Pakistan’s secession and the formation of the state of Bangladesh. Non-Punjabi provinces remain restive.

Pakistan is ‘incomplete’ in state–society relations too. Dichotomies between the masses and the elite are apparent in many developing societies, but in few other post-colonial states has feudal predation been so deeply ingrained in the national landscape and psyche. The failure to democratise the national culture and mindset has repressed the masses, left Pakistan’s potential unrealised and bottled up its collective imagination and energy. Pent-up frustration has led to the emergence of numerous demons — Islamist extremism being the most lethally visible.

The essence and purpose of the Pakistani state remain contested. Carved out of Britain’s sub-continental colony as a Muslim homeland, Pakistan has struggled between an empirical-rational future, at odds its founding philosophy, and the restoration of the Islamist glory of an imagined past. Consolidated as an entity that was simply ‘not India’, Pakistan has thrived as a defensive challenge to India’s purported national philosophy and organising principles. The Pakistani elite’s reliance on South Asia’s binary dialectic meant that Pakistan posed an occasionally existential challenge to India, but little else. Against that backdrop, Nawaz Sharif’s landslide victory in May 2013 did nothing to resolve the fundamental malaise afflicting Pakistan.

Sceptics allege both Khan and Qadri are pawns in the hands of Pakistan’s military and intelligence organs although both deny this and their critics present no evidence. Given how power belongs in Pakistan to both official and covert bodies, combined with the penchant for official secrecy and a culture of speculative commentary, it is difficult to separate conjecture from analytical rigour. Still, the irony of Sharif deploying the military to secure Islamabad’s ‘Red Zone’ of official and diplomatic enclaves from these alleged military pawns was apparently lost on most observers.

The coincidence of several factors makes these protests more important than their forerunners. With young people comprising half the population, women increasingly engaged in political activism, and rising unemployment and economic weaknesses, the marchers could represent the arrival of a perfect storm. Whether Pakistan’s divided polity can forge a minimalist consensus, whether the military will allow a non-martial political culture to evolve, and whether investors feel secure enough to place their money in their nation’s future are large questions, but ones that must be answered if Pakistan is to break with its tradition of violent agitation and rough justice, interrupted only by corrupt passivity.

S. Mahmud Ali is an Associate at the East Asia International Affairs Programme, London School of Economics and Political Science. 

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Pakistan’s political quandary: on the edge yet again http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2014/08/30/pakistans-political-quandary-on-the-edge-yet-again/ http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2014/08/30/pakistans-political-quandary-on-the-edge-yet-again/#comments Sat, 30 Aug 2014 12:00:10 +0000 http://www.eastasiaforum.org/?p=43261 Author: Sajjad Ashraf, NUS

The two separate sit-ins in front of Pakistan’s parliament house are into their second week. The first is led by cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party. The second is led by Tahirul Qadri of political party Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT). Both are seeking the ouster of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his brother Shahbaz Sharif, the chief minister of Punjab — Pakistan’s most populous and disproportionately powerful province.

The sit-ins have rattled the Sharif-led government.

Forcing a prime minister who commands an overwhelming majority in the house to quit sets a dangerous precedent in any democracy. Not one Pakistani prime minister since independence in 1947 has completed their set parliamentary term. The question is whether Nawaz Sharif’s departure could save the current dispensation or if this gridlock will lead to an extra-constitutional arrangement to get Pakistan back on track.

Khan and Qadri’s sit-ins represent a widely held belief that, under the present system, for the most part only people of questionable character make it into Pakistan’s parliament. They are seeking an overhaul of the system. But the beneficiaries vow to protect it.

Two further issues, separately championed by Khan and Qadri, have triggered the current standoff.

First, vote-rigging in the 2013 elections, now publicly admitted to by the senior-most officials of the election commission, led to Imran Khan’s call for an audit of four constituencies where the PTI lost. Instead, Imran offered an audit of four constituencies where PTI candidates won. Sharif’s stonewalling of this demand at multiple levels finally compelled Khan to up the ante. Khan claimed that unless Sharif resigned, entrenched interests in Pakistani politics could not be dislodged.

So why did Sharif not agree to the audit? Sharif’s party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), is built on patronage and power and not on ideology. The party now faces an internal meltdown and the loss of power in a repeat of its ouster in 1999. Revival of its fortunes in 2013, though questioned, was again built on its control over the Punjab through Sharif’s younger brother.

Second, Qadri’s sit-in was triggered by a callous attack on his Lahore offices by the Punjab Police killing 14 and injuring 90 on 14 June. For over two months the PAT’s attempt to get the case registered against the 23 accused — which includes the Sharif brothers and several of their henchmen — has been thwarted despite a court order. The judicial commission report on the incident has been kept secret, raising serious suspicions against the perpetrators.

Qadri seeks justice for the victims among other demands for the cleansing of the political system. Sharif resisted the filing of a police First Information Report (FIR) because he fears a similar fate to Pakistan’s most popular political leader and prime minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Bhutto was hanged by Sharif’s political patron General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq when the FIR included Bhutto’s name in a murder case. This should haunt any politician in Pakistan.

The very nature of Pakistani politics — rooted in exclusivity — lies at the heart of the country’s troubles.

Paranoia resulting from two previous inglorious ousters, both related to power rather than principle, makes Sharif suspicious of all except his close family and friends. The cabinet rarely meets. Sycophancy prevails. Sharif attended the National Assembly only seven times in the first parliamentary year.

Instead of providing good governance, security of life and property and basic necessities, the Sharif brothers remain obsessed with launching high visibility road and bridge projects. Risky and expensive schemes of distributing free laptops only bring momentary respite and are no substitute for effective governance.

The power shortages that contributed to the downfall of the Asif Ali Zardari regime (who though president, controlled power as party head) are back with a vengeance after a temporary respite. Power rates have doubled in the 14 months since Sharif took over. Inflation is rampant. Not one power thief, tax evader or land grabber (key constituencies) has been arrested. This is also a source of the public anger articulated by PTI and PAT.

Broken commitments on releasing former general Pervez Musharraf and public condemnation of the former army chief by Sharif’s closest confidants has incensed the rank and file of the army.

Civilian governments since 2008 have sought to weaken the army’s role in critical areas of foreign policy and security. Where Zardari was a compromiser while in power, Sharif wants unbridled control over the army, causing fissures.

Though some say that the army is behind the current unrest, the generals do not seem intent on taking over a direct administrative role, leaving Sharif to stew in his self-inflicted mess. But, if the government remains dysfunctional, the military cannot indefinitely watch from the sidelines.

Those who now claim to defend democracy must understand that democracy is not just numbers — it is accountability, transparency, effectiveness and justice in governance, all of which are strikingly absent from Sharif’s agenda. Pakistan thus remains on the edge. If the system begins to care for the common people, Pakistan may yet turn a corner.

Sajjad Ashraf is Adjunct Professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore. He was a member of the Pakistan Foreign Service 1973–2004.

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Khmer Rouge tribunal delivers judgment but not justice http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2014/08/30/khmer-rouge-tribunal-delivers-judgment-but-not-justice/ http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2014/08/30/khmer-rouge-tribunal-delivers-judgment-but-not-justice/#comments Sat, 30 Aug 2014 02:00:31 +0000 http://www.eastasiaforum.org/?p=43252 Authors: Kevin Boreham, ANU and Harry Hobbs, NYU

On 7 August, the Trial Chamber of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) found the two most senior surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge — Khieu Samphan, aged 83, and Nuon Chea, 88 — guilty of crimes against humanity and sentenced both to life imprisonment. They will probably be the last Khmer Rouge defendants tried by the ECCC.

These convictions do not provide accountability for the crimes of the Khmer Rouge.

The only other Khmer Rouge defendant convicted by the ECCC has been Kaing Guek Eav, or Duch, the leader of the notorious S-21 security prison, who was the defendant in the ECCC’s Case 001. Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea were the last surviving defendants in Case 002. There were originally two other Case 002 defendants: Ieng Sary, the Khmer Rouge Foreign Minister, and his wife Ieng Thirith, the Khmer Rouge Minister for Social Affairs. The ECCC halted proceedings against Ieng Thirith because she was said to be suffering from dementia. Ieng Sary died in 2013.

Former Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan waits for his sentence in the courtroom of the Extraordinary Chamber in the Courts of Cambodia in Phnom Penh, 7 August 2014. (Photo: AAP)

Two further cases before the ECCC, Cases 003 and 004, remain mired in controversy. The names of the 003 and 004 suspects have remained confidential but are known to be Meas Muth, the Khmer Rouge navy commander; Sou Met, the Khmer Rouge air force commander; Im Cheam, leader of a forced labour camp; and Ta Ann and Ta Tith, two deputies who oversaw massacres in that labour camp. As Khmer Rouge navy commander, Meas Muth was responsible for the torture and murder of two Australian sailors who strayed into Cambodian waters in 1978. Sou Met died last year.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has publicly stated that the 003 and 004 trials ‘will not be allowed’.

In September 2011, concerns around the defendants’ advanced age and the volume and complexity of material led the Trial Chamber to divide Case 002 into a series of smaller trials. Case 002/01, the decision of which was handed down this month, was limited in scope to the forced movement of the civilian population between 1975 and 1977, and the execution of Khmer Republic officials in the immediate aftermath of the Khmer Rouge capture of Phnom Penh. Future cases will examine further significant allegations of crimes against humanity, genocide and breaches of international humanitarian law between 1975 and 1979. But this will depend on whether Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea live long enough — the Trial Chamber has indicated that Case 002 may finally conclude in 2020–21.

The ECCC was established in 2005 by an agreement between the Cambodian government and the United Nations, in order to try the senior leaders and those most responsible for the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge. Its complex ‘hybrid’ structure of international and Cambodian judges and personnel has made it subject to Cambodian government pressure. The ECCC has been dogged by Cambodian government interference, funding problems and delays.

The ECCC’s failings mainly stem from problems within Cambodia. The judiciary was decimated by the Khmer Rouge’s violent anti-intellectualism, with only six law school graduates surviving the regime. Today the Cambodian judiciary is perceived as the sector ‘most affected by corruption’. According to some reports, ‘only one in six judges has a law degree’.

The limited temporal jurisdiction of the Court also prevents full accountability for the crimes of the Khmer Rouge. The ECCC is limited to investigating atrocities and human rights violations committed in the three-and-a-half year Khmer Rouge regime. Atrocities committed by long-standing Prime Minister Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge cadre, cannot be investigated.

That said, the Court has had some positive effects. Over 140,000 people attended Case 001 and 002, and more than 390,000 people have been directly exposed to the ECCC through its outreach activities, which focus on educating Cambodians about the Court and the Khmer Rouge regime. The Court has provided an opportunity for Cambodian judges, lawyers and students to work with international counterparts. Through mentoring, training programs and guest lectures, the Court has worked to build capacity in trial management, substantive law and advocacy.

More broadly, the ECCC is one of just a few hybrid tribunals established over the past 20 years in order to satisfy demands for a national justice process with some international guarantee of acceptable due process. Other hybrid tribunals include the Special Court for Sierra Leone and the Special Panels for Serious Crimes in East Timor. Each was established under different circumstances and has many different features. But the ECCC has been one of the least effective and most controversial.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has defined the legacy of these hybrid tribunals as ‘a lasting impact on bolstering the rule of law in a particular society, by conducting effective trials to contribute to ending impunity, while also strengthening domestic judicial capacity’.

Unfortunately, the limited results have shown that Cambodia has not made a full transition to a culture of rule of law.

Kevin Boreham is Lecturer in international law at the ANU College of Law, The Australian National University.

Harry Hobbs is a Transitional Justice Leadership Scholar studying an LLM at New York University. He has previously interned at the ECCC.

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Uncomfortable compromises in Russia­–Japan territory dispute http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2014/08/30/uncomfortable-compromises-in-russia-japan-territory-dispute/ http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2014/08/30/uncomfortable-compromises-in-russia-japan-territory-dispute/#comments Sat, 30 Aug 2014 00:00:18 +0000 http://www.eastasiaforum.org/?p=43245 Author: Owen Lindsay, University of South Australia

On 12 August, Russia held military manoeuvres on two of the four disputed islands that lie north-east of Hokkaido. The island chain, known as the South Kurils in Russia and the Northern Territories in Japan, has been the major sticking point in Japan–Russia relations during the post-war period.

The Soviet Union, and then Russia, has exercised de facto administration over the entire island chain since 1945 — Russian citizens and soldiers currently live on all four of the disputed islands. Japan, on the other hand, maintains that the islands remain Japan’s ‘inherent territory’. Disagreement over the territories’ status has proved to be the key obstacle preventing the signing of a post-World War II permanent peace treaty between the two states.

Russian president Vladimir Putin and Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe shake hands at their meeting in the Bocharov Ruchei residence in Sochi, Russia, 8 February 2014. (Photo: AAP).

Russia’s recent military drills involved over 1000 soldiers, five armed assault helicopters and around 100 other pieces of military hardware, and took place on the two largest disputed islands — known as Iturup and Kunashir in Russia, and Etorofu and Kunashiri in Japan. Russia last held military exercises in the territories in 2010.

In response to the exercises Japan lodged a ‘strong protest’ with Moscow, and a senior official at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) stated that ‘the Northern Territories are an inherent part of Japan’s territory, and we cannot accept the move’. Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe stated that the manoeuvres were ‘totally unacceptable’. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin had been scheduled to visit Japan later this year, though MOFA sources say that this visit is now uncertain.

The military exercises came as an apparent reprisal for Japan’s support for anti-Russia sanctions, which had been enacted in response to Russia’s role in the ongoing crisis in eastern Ukraine. In an attempt to avoid aggravating the territorial dispute, Japanese sanctions have been mild when compared to other G7 countries. Tokyo’s targeting of 40 individuals and restriction of imports from Crimea fall short of American and European measures aimed at hobbling Russia’s banking, energy and military industries. Still, Japan’s more measured sanctions appear to have angered the Russian leadership. In addition to the military drills, Russia has responded with its own sanctions, which restrict entry of specific Japanese individuals to Russia.

Negotiations over the disputed islands have long been mired in cycles of dialogue and deadlock. Even so, while Japan’s other territorial disputes have seemingly reached impasses, dealings with Russia over the Northern Territories/South Kurils have held comparatively more promise for resolution. From the mid-2000s onward, successive Japanese prime ministers have met with Russian presidents Putin and Dmitry Medvedev to discuss a way forward on the issue. While a visit to Kunashir Island by then president Medvedev in 2010 — the first ever visit of a Soviet or Russian leader to the South Kurils — put a temporary freeze on talks, Prime Minister Abe’s second term as prime minister has seen a renewal in dialogue.

Abe has made resolution of the issue a priority of his foreign policy platform and, during his first year in office, met with President Putin five times. (By comparison, similar bilateral meetings with South Korean and Chinese leaders have remained elusive). Following a 2013 visit to the Russian leader in Moscow, Abe stated that his ‘good personal relationship’ with Putin would be crucial in resolving the dispute. This relationship has been cultivated with some intensity by Abe: in February, he attended the opening ceremony of the Sochi Winter Olympic Games, in contrast to the leaders of major European states and the US, who boycotted the event over human rights concerns.

What the latest setback demonstrates, however, is that the territorial dispute remains volatile. Despite Abe’s intensive diplomatic outreaches, there is not enough goodwill in the relationship between the two states to allow Japan to tread a fine line between placating the United States and not incensing Russia. As Russia moves closer to China through the signing of the US$400 billion Gazprom gas pipeline deal, there is the potential in the future for vested interests on both sides to exert further influence.

Abe is now left in a difficult position.

Japan can continue to hedge between Russia and its position in the G7, and suffer the consequences of having to take the kind of half-measures that have placed it in its present bind. Another option is to react by ratcheting up sanctions against Russia to match those imposed by the US and EU — though such a response would surely only further delay dialogue on the Northern Territories.

Alternatively, Abe can resume his carefully-cultivated personal diplomacy with Putin, perhaps negotiating a deal to ease sanctions in exchange for concrete action towards resolution of the territorial dispute. Given Russia’s increasing economic importance to Japan, and Japan’s desire to diversify its energy imports by expanding its supply of Russian gas and oil, such an option must at least be in the back of Abe’s mind. A personal message of condolence from Putin to Abe in the aftermath of the Hiroshima landslides that killed 39 people suggests that the Russian leader remains open to such talks.

Today’s arguments over the status of the islands are rooted in the interpretation of wartime and post-war agreements, and, like Japan’s other territorial disputes, are muddied by the legalities of Tokyo’s pre-war expansions. An early chance for resolution of the dispute was unsuccessful: in a 1956 peace deal with Russia, Japan was willing to abandon its claims to the two bigger islands, but the United States intervened and forced Japan to reject the terms. Then, as today, the alliance sometimes forced uncomfortable compromises.

Owen Lindsay is a PhD candidate at the University of South Australia.

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Banking integration in ASEAN gathers pace http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2014/08/29/banking-integration-in-asean-gathers-pace/ http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2014/08/29/banking-integration-in-asean-gathers-pace/#comments Fri, 29 Aug 2014 00:00:27 +0000 http://www.eastasiaforum.org/?p=43223 Author: Thiam Hee Ng, ADB

The ASEAN Economic Community, planned to come into effect in 2015, is expected to liberalise goods, capital and skilled labour flows in the ASEAN region. While there has been considerable progress in the area of trade integration, financial integration still lags behind. The ASEAN Banking Integration Framework, which aims to liberalise the banking market by 2020, could help pave the way for further integration and the entry of ASEAN banks into regional banking markets.

Greater banking integration in ASEAN will benefit the region.

Allowing banks to operate across borders enables them to take advantage of economies of scale to increase efficiency and reduce costs. The entry of regional banks into domestic markets can increase competition, leading to lower prices and a greater variety of banking products and services. Heightened competition may also spur banks to expand into rural areas which are traditionally underserved by banks. Extending banking to the rural poor is an important means of promoting inclusive economic growth in ASEAN.

Currently, the level of integration in ASEAN’s banking sector is relatively limited. The share of ASEAN’s banking assets held by regional banks is generally smaller than global banks. Indonesia has the highest share of banking assets held by other ASEAN banks at almost 15 per cent, followed by Malaysia at around 9 per cent. Malaysian and Singaporean banks have been actively expanding their operations in recent years into other ASEAN markets. For example, CIMB Bank from Malaysia has large subsidiaries in Thailand and Indonesia while United Overseas Bank of Singapore has a strong presence in Malaysia and Thailand. Greater intra-ASEAN trade and investment could also help encourage more banks to expand their operations regionally to better serve their clients.

While the share of ASEAN banks in the region’s banking market is still relatively small, it is not that different from that of European banks in the five largest European Union countries which benefit from operating in an integrated common market. This suggests that dropping regulatory barriers alone may not be sufficient to bring about close cross-border integration.

Entrenched incumbents in a saturated market may be hard to dislodge. Hence Singaporean banks which are dominant in their highly developed banking market will be hard to challenge. The three largest Singaporean banks control 80 per cent of assets in the banking system in the country. However, banks in Indonesia and the Philippines which have large populations and relatively underdeveloped banking sectors are likely to come under greater competitive pressure from other regional banks. The banking systems in Indonesia and the Philippines are also more fragmented. The three largest banks in Indonesia and the Philippines only have 35 per cent and 41 per cent of total national banking assets respectively.

As barriers to entry fall, the prospects of stronger competition from other ASEAN banks could push banks to merge as they look to strengthen their domestic position and better compete against regional rivals. Three Malaysian financial institutions, CIMB Bank, RHB Bank and Malaysian Building Society Berhad (MBSB) announced plans in July 2014 to merge. The merged entity is expected to overtake Maybank to become the largest Malaysian bank. The merger will help consolidate the banking market in Malaysia and create a regional banking power that can hold its own in its home market and have the resources to expand to other countries.

While recognising there are potential gains, it is important to note that closer integration can give rise to new risks. As the region’s banking system becomes more tightly knit, there is potential for contagion and spillover effects. Hence, the authorities should work together to strengthen regulatory and supervisory cooperation frameworks to deal with potential spillovers.

As ASEAN is getting ready to reap the benefits from greater banking integration, it should also be ready to cope with the complex challenge of supervising banks whose operations span the region.

Thiam Hee Ng is Senior Economist at the Office of Regional Economic Integration, Asian Development Bank.

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